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Calico Mary

Dreams of the Golden Aspen Ranch

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I was almost tempted to offer to go to Central City with Buick, but it only lasted a second, memories of what usually happened when I left Calico behind chased any ideas of going with Buick from my mind. Besides Korupt Karl had been hinting for some time off so I volunteered his services. I reminded Karl before he left about the last time he spent time in a saloon, when he had brought a "girl" back to the ranch with him. That had been the cause of several near fights among the men, and I strongly encouraged Karl to leave any new sweeties behind.

 

I had been thinking about girls' names had finally had one I really liked, I knew it was a little late so I fugured if any more should happen to come along I had the name ready. Sharon Rose, a play one of the names of Jesus, The Rose of Sharon. We'd just have to wait and see, I knew that I wasn't in any hurry for another one any time soon.

 

Spring was upon us and we had to spend much of the time rounding up cattle from the pastures and seperating the calves for branding. Each time that I heard a calf bawl out in pain I thought of Mathew and Sarah crying out when they would get hungry. The wanting to get home made a long day even longer!

 

We had been seeing signs that rustlers might be in the area again, but at least not many of the cattle were missing. After we got done with the branding we would have to make the rustlers a priority. We did cut out twentyfive head to be used for a village that may be needing help, maybe the two braves we had seen early last fall were still in the area, if so we would have beef ready for them.

 

Crossfire Brown had been working with the Clydesdales in Calico absense and had been making great strides with them, tho I wasn't sure how well Calico really liked that. We were thinking that two of the mares were expecting but if they were it was still pretty early on.

 

It had been a week or so since Buick and the others had left for Central City and most of us were getting pretty concerned about Karl. We decided to give them another two days before we would have to saddle up and go look for them, but until then we had plenty of calves to brand and then rustlers to deal with.

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It took almost two days for Buick, Blackjack, and Karl to reach Central City, and it was late in the day when they arrived. After making arrangements at a hotel and getting something to eat, they headed for some of the town's saloons to see if they could find Pete. The first place they went in was just a few doors down from the hotel, and looked to be a little fancy for Pete's taste, but the three men knew they had to start somewhere. They approached the bartender, and got his attention. The man came over and asked “What can I get you gentlemen tonight?” Buick just shook his head, saying “Afraid we're not here to drink, sir, just looking for information,” to which Karl just looked very disappointed. “We're looking for someone, a young man that's a couple of inches taller than me, slim but muscular, with dark blond hair and green eyes, goes by the name Pete Taylor. Any idea where we might find him?”

The bartender looked at Buick really hard for a minute before replying, “Are you a lawman? And is he in trouble with the law? I don't allow that sort in my establishment, not if I can help it!” Again Buick shook his head, he still carried the badge of a deputy of Hugo Springs, but he wasn't about to admit it to anyone in this town. Besides, this wasn't official business anyway. “No sir, no trouble that I know of, in fact he's one of my employees. He's been working on my ranch for a year now, and I worked with him on a cattle drive in Kansas before that. He's like family to me and my wife, and she's real worried about him. I just need to find him and make sure he's ok.”

The bartender thought about that for a minute, “Cowhand, is he? Well, he's not likely to come in here then, this place is a little pricy for someone like that. You'd be better off going down the street a couple of blocks, he's more likely at one of the saloons down there, if he is in town. I honestly haven't seen him, but I will keep an eye out for him, and let him know you're all looking for him if I do see him.”


Buick and Blackjack thanked the man, then went to collect Karl, who had wandered off to stare at the hostesses waiting tables. Blackjack reminded Karl that they were here to look for Pete, not women, but Karl insisted “No harm in looking at the ladies, maybe one of them has seen him.” Buick just laughed, “Ifn' he came here to try and get enough money to marry young Miss Barrett, he's not likely to be hanging out with whores! C'mon, let's go down the street to some of those other places that the barkeep told us about.”


The three men went down the block to where the cheaper saloons were, and started talking to some more bartenders. None of them would admit to having any idea of who Pete was, but Buick wasn't too sure he believed them. It was likely that someone had seen him, but his description fit too many young men, and Pete probably hadn't been giving out his name to everyone he met. Buick wished he had a picture of Pete, that may have been helpful, but he didn't have one, they'd just have to keep trying. They had gone into about half a dozen places, having to practically drag Karl out of all of them, when they came to a place where the barkeep did finally say that Pete sounded familiar. Buick and Blackjack continued to question the barkeep, but the man couldn't tell them where Pete was, just that he thought he may have served him a few drinks a couple of nights before, and hadn't seen him since.


Karl had again wandered off to stare at the “ladies”, when he came rushing back to talk to his partners. “Try not to make it obvious, but look over there at the woman standing by the table at the foot of the stairs. Is it just me, or does she look awfully familiar?” Buick and Blackjack looked at each other, then one at a time took a quick glance over their shoulders. “Oh my god,” Blackjack whispered, “Is that...is that Water Lilly? What's she doing in a place like this?”

“Don't tell me I gotta explain that to ya!” Karl told him, shaking his head. “A girl's got to make a living somehow....” Buick glanced at the woman again, sure enough it was Water Lilly, though she did look a lot different than she had at the ranch. Cheyenne and Calico had told him all about the trouble the girl had caused, and how she was on the run from the law. He couldn't just walk away and leave her there, but finding Pete had to come first. He didn't think she had seen any of the three of them, and he wanted it to stay that way for now. After asking the bartender to tell Pete that Buick wanted to talk to him if he happened to come back, the men went back out onto the street. Karl wanted to know what they were going to do about Water Lilly, but Buick just told him to be patient. He doubted that she was going anywhere soon, it was best she didn't know they were around for now.


Finding Pete was their first priority, then they would worry about Water Lilly....

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Korupt Karl was having a good time "looking" for Pete in Central City, but he was actually having a better time looking at all the business ladies. He wasn't too keen on not being able drink as much as he wanted, and he wasn't getting to drink at all because Buick and Blackjack were moving from saloon to saloon to quickly. When he recognized Water Lilly he just about fell over. So many thoughts were going through his head that he was getting dizzy, should he get the law involved, should he wisk her back to the ranch to her parents, should he tell Calico so that Calico could wreck vengeance upon her. Of course she was awfully pretty......naw, better not was a better decision for him to make.

 

They left Water Lilly there and moved on until they found a barkeeper that had at least thought he had served Pete at one time or another. It was small, but at least it was something. One thing the three of them did notice, they were being followed by a small group of men that were rather rough looking. They ducked into an alley and waited for the men following them to turn the corner into the alley, when they did finally enter the alley they were met by the muzzles of six revolvers, pointed right at their heads. The men knew that were had and just stood there waiting for Buick, Blackjack or Karl to tell them what to do next. Karl spoke first and told them to carefully drop their gun belts, and then asked them why had they followed him into the alley.

 

The group of men wouldn't say a word even after all sorts of threats made against them, frustrated Karl stepped up to the largest of them and knocked the man on his butt, and told him to give that message to whoever was having them followed. They wanted to pick up their pistols laying in the dirt but Buick told them that they would find them at the sheriff's office later.

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After dropping the guns off at the sheriff's office, the three friends went back to the Teller House where they were staying, and discussed what had happened that night. It was obvious that someone knew they had been asking around about Pete, and didn't like it. That was a good indication that he was in fact here, but where? And what was going on? Those were questions that they'd need to find the answers for, but it could wait until they'd gotten some sleep.

The next morning after breakfast, they went back out to walk around some more, this time maybe they'd start asking in some other places besides saloons, like the stores or maybe they would find the post office. He would have needed supplies, and it was possible that Pete may have sent a letter or two back to his girlfriend. First of all they stopped to buy a paper from a young boy hawking them on a street corner. The boy gave them the paper, then leaned in close and whispered, “Are you the ones looking for Pete Taylor?” Buick nodded yes, and the boy motioned for the three men to follow him. They all looked at one another, just where did the boy want them to go and was this a trap? But they followed him anyway, hands on their guns, but the boy just wanted to get a ways off of the main street and down a less busy one so he could talk to them in private.


“I seen yer friend a few days ago. I heard him talking to a pretty Chinese lady, then he went with her down to Madam Wright's place. Ain't seen him since. Maybe you should go check out the Bob Tail mine, lots of fellas go down to Madam Wright's then end up working up at the Bob Tail, ain't sure why....but I get the feeling they don't really wanna be workin' there....”


Buick asked the boy for directions to both Madam Wright's and to the mine, then gave him a quarter and sent him back to selling his papers. What the boy had told them didn't really make much sense, but he didn't think the child had been lying. Madam Wright's place was most likely a brothel, what connection could that have to a mine? And the part about the Chinese lady, could that be Water Lilly? Of course, there were plenty of other Chinese in town, so it may have been someone besides her, but there was still the problem of what to do about her presence. And why would men who had visited a brothel end up all working in the same mine against their will?


“Well, fellas, I say we keep to our original plan, and keep asking around if anyone has seen him. But let's also try to find out more about this Bob Tail mine and this...shall we say....'ladies boarding house'. I'm really getting the feeling there's something strange going on here...and we need to watch our backs!” Buick told his companions, and they headed off to find the post office...

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Meanwhile back at the ranch I had been getting pretty concern about Karl and the others looking for Pete in Central City. But, I had to admit that I had grown tired of gunplay, but the most important thing was that I had absolutely no desire to leave Cali and the babies for more than a few hours at a time. The big eyes' of those babies had done something to me, let alone watching Calico mother them. The fact that doc had soon, "pretty soon" was a large part of me not want to wander off a part of the decision too.

 

We finally got a telegram that was brought to the ranch by a rider, about the search for Pete, from Karl. Seems that they hadn't found him but had spotted Water Lilly and wanted to know how we wanted that handled. They had also run into a character called Grumpy Old Man by most of the folk in Central City, that may know something about Pete. It was hard getting the man to speak much at one time, seems like it took a bottle of fine whiskey just to get the info that he may just know Peter out of him. Plus they had to buy the man's dog a steak too boot. The pup was a beautiful cow dog, but sheesh, well Grumpy Old Man knew he had them if they wanted any information at all. They seemed pretty confident that they were making progress, slow, but they were getting somewhere in their search for Pete.

 

Later that evening I shared the news about Water Lilly with Calico, and boy did those eyes light up, from deep blue to a blood red in an instant. I quickly tried to follow up the news with my idea to let the law deal with her, I was getting the idea from Cali's eyes that she would like to deal with Water Lilly herself, but I think that idea of hers was put to rest when Mathew let her know in no uncertain terms that he didn't like being interrupted when he was feeding. Her eyes went to the little towhead latched on to her and the color of her eyes went back to sparkling blue. "Long as she doesn't show up around here, I guess I don't care much what she does" was all that Calico had to say about Water Lilly. I was good with that, out of sight, out of mind!

 

My father had been feeling odd lately and I was having to pay more attention to the behind the scenes running of the ranch, something I didn't care much for, I would rather be out on the range with the wind blowing in my face, but it was something I knew I needed to do. I made sure though that Calico was a large part of that too, she needed to understand the runnings of the the ranch as well. I did know that there was only about two days of branding left and then we would need to deal with the rustling problems we had been having. Maybe I would send a telegram to Karl and tell him to hire the Grumpy Old Man and his cattle dog, if the dog was any good that is, I'd heard that cattle dogs were being used on ranches in California with great success, maybe we'd give them a try.

 

That evening as we sat in our little house with the fire in the fireplace, the babies were asleep and Little Flower was out playing with some of the other children on the ranch, Calico looked at me with her twinkling eyes and simply said, "soon, very soon."

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After having no luck at either the post office or any of the stores they visited, the three men stopped into a little restaurant for lunch. As they were leaving, they started walking by an old man sitting out front on the board walk, with a cattle dog laying next to him. They didn't pay much attention, until all of a sudden the man spoke up, “You the ones looking for Taylor?”

Buick stopped and turned to the old man, “Yes we are, do you know him?” The old man just stared at him for a minute, before replying, “That's gonna cost ya ifn' ya really wanna know.” Buick looked at his companions, who just shrugged. So Buick asked the man “What is it going to cost, and how do we know that you'll tell us the truth? What's your name, anyway?” “People round these parts call me Grumpy Old Man. I'm thirsty and my dog is hungry, and you'll just hafta trust me....you wanna find your friend or not?” was the answer.

Since his funds were rather limited, Buick wasn't happy about having to bribe Grumpy Old Man (the name seemed to fit), but they had been getting nowhere fast, and needed all the help they could get. So they took the man to one of the saloons, bought him a bottle of the finest whiskey the place had to offer, and made sure the dog got fed. Karl started complaining that the man and his dog were eating and drinking better than the three men from the ranch were, but Blackjack pointed out to him that Buick didn't have the Culpepper money behind him. If Karl wanted better he could have it, he'd just have to pay for it himself. That shut Karl up real fast!

It took a while before Grumpy Old Man had enough whiskey in him to loosen his tongue, all Buick could do was be patient and wait. Not what he really wanted to do, he was getting the feeling that Pete was in some kind of trouble, but he didn't have much choice. Blackjack kept busy by sketching a picture of the dog, and Karl was watching the 'ladies'. Finally the man started his story, “Met your friend the day he hit town, he stopped to pet my dog and we got ta talkin'. He was asking me ifn' I knew anythin' bout pannin' fer gold, said he didn't need much, just wanted to make a little somethin' then go back to the ranch he'd been workin' on. Tried to tell him that there weren't much pannin' goin' on anymore, it's all coming out of holes in the mountain now, but he wanted to try. Determined young cuss, that one!”

Buick had to smile, that was Pete all right! Maybe they were finally on to something, so he let the man continue. “We sat and talked fer a spell, and he wus tellin' me all bout the ranch where he worked, whut'd he call it...the Yellow Tree or sumthing...?” Buick interrupted, “The Golden Aspen, it's called, it's my ranch. That's why we're looking for him.” Grumpy Old Man just nodded, “Yeah, that's it, the Golden Aspen, sounds like a right nice place. Anyways, just as he starts talking bout that, one of Madam Wright's 'girls', ifn' ya know what I mean, was walking by, this pretty little Chinese thing, goes by Soon Lee but I don't think that's her real name. Most o' those girls don't use their real names, can't say as I blame em'! She heard him mention that ranch, and she stopped to talk to him. Said she knew the owners, I guess that would be you,” and Buick nodded, “Then she starts asking him ifn' he knew the Culpepper family too. I had no idea who she was talkin' bout, but Taylor sure seemed to. Then she invited him to go back to her 'place' so as they could talk some more about their common friends. He thanked me for my time and took off with her. I ain't too sure that he realized she's a whore, he didn't seem the type to be interested in that kind.”

“Didn't see him again until yesterday, me and my dog were takin' a walk up by the Bob Tail, must have been shift change. Saw the kid comin' out of the mine with a bunch of other fellas, they all looked filthy and tired, don't think he saw me though. Foreman chased me off 'fore I got a chance to talk to him, ain't got no idea how he come to be workin' there. Didn't seem to me from whut he'd said that he was lookin' fer a job like that....” With that, Grumpy Old Man poured himself another drink and admitted that he couldn't tell them anything more than that. He did mention he wished them luck in finding Pete and getting him outta that mine, that was no easy way to make a living, and the job didn't pay diddly-squat. Not exactly what Pete had had in mind when he arrived....

Buick thanked the man, then he, Blackjack, and Karl returned to the hotel so they could discuss what the man had told them in private. None of this was making much sense, but at least they had an idea where Pete was, now they just had to figure out why he was working in that mine. There was obviously some connection between that and the whorehouse, maybe it was time to take a closer look at Madam Wright's. Karl graciously volunteered to go down there and see what he could find out...Buick and Blackjack just laughed. But if Karl was willing to give it a try, what did they have to lose?

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Karl didn't waste any time getting to Madam Wright's establishment, and once there ordered a whiskey, and fine whiskey at that. He threw it back and ordered another one, he threw that one back and thought to himself, "this must be good stuff, my feet are beginning to feel awfully funny. Truth be told Karl never felt the blackjack hit him in the back of the head, whatever the barkeep had put in the whiskey worked fast and thoroughly!

 

Grumpy Ol Man had watched the whole thing from a corner table in the saloon, he tried to act like he hadn't seen a thing but after they carried Karl into the back of the saloon he stumbled out of the saloon so as not to draw attention to himself, once out of the saloon he called his dog and headed for the hotel to find Buick and Blackjack.

 

Karl meanwhile had no idea if he was dead or alive, the men from the saloon carried him on out the back door of the saloon and threw him into the back of a freight wagon, a Studebaker I believe. They tied his hands to rings to were latched to the sides of the wagon and then tied a kerchief around his head going through his mouth to muffle any sounds he might try to make, if he woke up that is. He didn't awaken for several hours and when he did he tried to reach for the pain in his head but was stopped by the chains on his wrists. He tried to holler out but all the came out was some muffled sounds. Karl looked at the chains on his wrists and muttered to himself, "well Karl, fine mess you got into this time!"

 

Meanwhile Grumpy Ol Man had found Buick and Blackjack and had told them what had happened to Karl, it really didn't surprise them that Karl had been shang-haied and was glad that it wasn't one of them that had gotten walloped. They thanked Grump Ol Man and headed for the back of the saloon keeping to the alleys and back ways as they went. There was the Studebaker, but as they watched from the shadows the men from the saloon came out the back door with another victim and tied him in the back of the Studebaker with Karl. They could see that Karl wasn't none to happy with his predicament and one of the men threatened him with the blackjack if he didn't settle down.

 

The men climbed aboard the wagon and started out through the alleys, Buick and Blackjack knew they had to do something but their horses were in the stable at the other end of town that the wagon was headed for. Blackjack ran towards the stable as Buick did his best to keep up with the wagon and keep out of sight at the same time. Blackjack managed to get the horses and meet up with Buick before Buick was completely wore out and they two of them followed the tracks of the wagon out of town in the direction of the Bob Tail mine.

 

As they rode they tried to come up with some sort of plan, they didn't know if they could trust the law in town, and the only ones that had any trust at all in was Grumpy Ol Man, his dog and the young boy hawking newspapers. Now there was only two of them to deal with whoever may be holding not only Pete, but now Karl as well. They watched from afar as the wagon pulled up to an old ranch house and Karl and the other man were led at gunpoint into the barn.

 

Buick and Blackjack headed back to town to rest for the night and then find Grumpy Ol Man in the morning. They would try to find out from Grumpy if the law there was to be trusted, and if the telegraph office was to be trusted. Neither man slept well that night, all sorts of scenarios were running through the heads and when they did sleep it was with all sorts of uneasy visions running through their dreams.

 

Meanwhile back at the ranch I was making plans for taking a group of men in search of the rustlers that had been getting busier as the weather was getting better every day. Blackwater, Crossfire Brown, Prairie Dawg, and Bad Creek Kid were all getting geared up, I was making sure of ammo and the food that we would need for being out for two days. We spent the afternoon sighting in our guns, I didn't have much trouble getting Calico to join us to shoot, she even shot my Sharps, once, she didn't care much for the recoil at all. She did hold her own against the men though with her Winchester and pistols especially shooting a pistol in each hand. I knew she was aching to ride along with us to find the rustlers, but with two babies to care for and feed she knew she had more important things to tend to.

 

We would be leaving early the next morning, we would all get to enjoy the evening at home with our wives and children. We spent some time after dinner with my father who was feeling better, having Calico and the children visit him always seemed to lift his spirits. We all enjoyed a little whiskey and then returned to our homes for the rest of the evening. Then a warm fire, and a little snuggle time before bedtime, ah yes, life was good.....

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My turn, it's coming, just wait

 

Grizz was off hunting when Blackwater got to his cabin. Blackwater let himself in and started a fire in the stove, then went out to the barn to tend to his horse.

 

The outside of the barn was weathered and worn, and seemed right at home amongst the pine trees of the forest Inside was another story, there was daylight coming from above. Blackwater studied on it a while and saw that Grizz had built it with two sections of roof, the upper was separated from the lower by about two feet, and in that two feet there were windows every so often that were letting in the daylight. The upper section over hung that short window wall so snow and rain would still run off with ease. 'Dang clever for a scruffy mountain man' Blackwater said aloud to himself.

 

The layout of the barn wasn't totally different than others he'd seen, the big center section had several stalls, several of which were empty, most likely Grizz's horse and maybe a pack horse. There were rooms with doors on each end. Blackwater wandered aimlessly, nothing better to do while he waited for Grizz to come back. If he was off hunting, which he likely was, it might not even be today.

 

He lifted the latch and peered into the room on the left, inside was an assortment of ltack, leather and other tools, and a workbench. Also a cowhide stretched tight on a frame curing. The room had the same good daiylight streaming through from above, that really was dang clever. In the right room was lumber and wood and woodworking tools, and the smell of fresh saw dust.

 

As Blackwater walked out of the room, he walked right into the barrel of one of Grizz's colts.

 

"Dang it Grizz, it's me Blackwater!" Blackwater growled.

 

'Hell" Grizz laughed "I knowed it was you, or I'd have shot cha!;

 

Blackwater passed on the story of the twins birth as Grizz tended to his horses. The pack horse just held one small bear, couldn't have been much more than last years cub, Blackwater wondered why Grizz would bother with it, with bears coming out of hibernation there should have been lots to choose from. One thing about the yearling though, was that it was cinnamon coloered.

 

'You should have seen old man Culpepper's face when he held his grandson for the first time' Blackwater chuckled, 'I thought he was gonna bust with pride, and when he held that girl baby, well lets just say she'll have him wrapped around her finger afore she can walk'

 

Grizz laughed, 'yup, no doubt about that.'

 

Blackwater told of how the Culpepper place had problems with rustlers, 'And Grizz, Pard...' Blackwater trailed off, not sure how, or if to continue with that line of conversation.

 

'And you want to know what I"m doing with the hide of a Culpepper beeve stretched out in my tack room' Grizz stated matter of fact.

 

i AIN'T DONE YET, DON'T GO NOWHERE, BUT I GOTTA GO WATCH LONGMIRE

 

'Well, yeah' was all Blackwater could think to say.

 

Grizz led the way into the tack room, and gave the hide a poke and a flick of his fingertip. 'Almost ready'

 

Grizz pulled out a finely crafted wooden box from under the bench and opened it up. Inside was a papoose, with the Culpepper brand square in the middle of it. It had a removable lining made from the softest and blackest bear skin blackwater had ever seen.

 

'So that' Blackwater said, jerking a thumb to the hide on the rack 'is for another one of those' he said then pointing to the papoose.

 

'Ayup, and the hide on that bear out there' Grizz said grinning, 'best get that done, I really thought I had more time.

 

Blackwater spent the next week at Grizz's place while he worked to get the other papoose ready. It wasn't ideal to prepare the hide so quickly, but it would work, it just wouldn't last as long, but then again, the papooses weren't big enough to last a kid much past three anyway.

 

'Why didn't you just take a hide over to the Culpepper place and brand it?' Blackwater asked one day. 'And ruin the surprise?' Grizz said like he was shocked by the thought of it, 'besides, I kind of needed the meat over the winter.'

 

'And what if Culpeppers mean tracked the missing beeves here?'

 

Grizz laughed, like they could, besides, I only took two.'

 

'But Culpepper has thirty head missing'

 

'Not even I can eat that much beef in a winter' Grizz said.

 

After the second papoose was done, they both headed off to the Culpepper place, Grizz ponying along a pack horse with two finely crafted wood boxes, each with a papoose inside. They would act as bedclothes, a sleeping sack, or whatever else was needed. They were simple in design, yet elegant and cleverly functional as well, kind of like Grizz's barn.

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OK, I"m done for now, just had to get a placeholder in there before you all ran off too far in any direction

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In the morning, Buick and Blackjack went looking for Grumpy Old Man, and found him sitting on the boardwalk outside of the restaurant, same place as before. It took another bottle of whiskey and another steak for the dog before they could get him to talk some more. When Grumpy Old Man heard what the two men had seen at the mine, he wasn't really surprised. The mine owner, Horace Baxter, was neither liked nor trusted around town. He told Buick and Blackjack that there were rumors that the sheriff was getting paid to look the other way anytime Baxter broke the law. Blackjack asked about the telegraph office, but Grumpy wasn't sure about that. He did advise it might be best to send any wires from Idaho Springs instead. For yet another bottle of whiskey and another steak, he'd be willing to make the trip for them.


Buick gave him two telegrams to send, and the money to pay for it. The first was to the Golden Aspen, saying “Jesse....get up here...bring Red, Win, and Cutter. Have Gingles watch the horses, Barrett can help if needed. See if Deputy Gibson can come too.” The other was to the Culpepper ranch, “Karl kidnapped by mine owner, sending to Golden Aspen for help. Will keep you posted as possible.” Buick had wanted to ask Cheyenne to send money, they may need it before this was all over, but figured he'd better wait until it was absolutely necessary.


Then the two men went looking for the newspaper boy. It only cost a quarter to get information from him, and he seemed to know a lot about what happened in Central City even if he was only 9 years old. He gave them the addresses of both Mr. Baxter and his foreman, plus the places they would go frequently to eat and drink. He also told them that he was pretty sure Mr. Baxter was the one who had financed Madam Wright's brothel. The man had half the town owing him money, so help from most of the townspeople was unlikely. Buick and Blackjack quickly came to the conclusion that they would have to wait for the other men from the ranch to show up. Acting too fast with just the two of them was likely to get someone killed....

Meanwhile back at the ranch, Calico had just put the twins down for a nap, and decided to take one too. She wasn't getting a whole lot of sleep, it seemed like if one twin wasn't hungry or needing changed, the other was, not only all day but all night as well. Morning Star had told her that it wouldn't last forever, Libby was to the point of only waking up once a night, and surely Mathew and Sarah would eventually learn to sleep longer. Calico hoped so, between taking care of them, helping Cheyenne with the ranch, and helping Crossfire Brown with the Clydesdales, she was exhausted. As she laid down she started thinking about Cheyenne, and wondered just how long it would take for him and the men to track down the rustlers. As much as she missed him, she wasn't too upset about him taking off. He'd been hinting about making a trip to the water hole lately, since the weather was starting to warm up. She wasn't too sure about that idea, that's how they had ended up with the twins. As she started to drift off, all she could think of was that she wasn't quite ready to go through THAT again so soon....

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Hold the place here I'm workin on it

 

Blackwater and Grizz made good time other than the runoff swolen river crossings, Grizz insisted on taking each of the boxes across separately. Blackwater just watched from the other side and Grizz made three trips, one for each box and one for the pack horse. 'Dang fool, you'll freeze in that water.'

 

'You ain't half wrong there' Grizz agreed as he loaded the pack horse back up shivering. It was late in the day when they crossed the last river, and daylight was dwindling so no help drying off or warming up. They stopped and made camp, Grizz happy to skin off his wet clothes and dry them by the fire as he warmed up.

 

It was mid day the next day when they came up on Cheyenne and a bunch of men from the ranch, they were trying to make heads or tails out of tracks in a meadow, the men all saying the rustlers went 'that away' and Cheyenne insisting that they'd gone another way.

 

Blackwater galloped up whoopin and a hollaring, 'I got one of the rustlers for ya Cheyenne!'

 

Cheyenne looked up the trail at Grizz plodding along leading the pack horse. "Ol Grizz got him draped over the saddle of that pack horse or what?'

 

Blackwater laughed, 'nope, ol Grizz is the rustler!'

 

Cheyenne lifted his hat and wiped the sweat from his brow, 'I'd have not figured him as such, but if you say so...'

 

About then Grizz reached the group and noticing the look on Cheyennes face and what he said, Grizz figured what Blackwater had been telling them.

 

'It's true' Grizz said just as even as if he was ordering a whiskey, 'But it were only two, and I'm happy to pay for them, and I figured you knowed I was good for it.'

 

Cheyenne was looking over at Blackwater who was busting a gut laughing. "Damn it Blackwater, I was getting ready to string the man up!'

 

Blackwater laughed even harder, and through the fits of laughter managed to bark out 'You'd need a stronger rope!'

 

Grizz walked over and pushed Blackwater out of the saddle on to a bush his horse was standing next to, that only slowed the laughter a bit as he picked himself up, pulling stickers out of his butt.

 

'So what do ya have on the pack horse Grizz?' Cheyenne asked.

 

'Well, in a way it's them two cows I borrowed from ya' Grizz said with a twinkle in his eye, 'but that's all I will say for now. No one is to touch what's on that horse til I give it to yer loco wife back at the ranch.'

 

Cheyenne eyes flared a bit at hearing his wife called 'loco' but in his mind, he had to agree that Grizz had cause to say such a thing, but most any other man said it would have found himself on the floor, or dead.

 

Blackwater and Grizz mounted back up and headed for the ranch, as Cheyenne and the others were still trying to decide which way to go. Grizz called out over his shoulder "Cheyenne is right, they went that away. You'll find their camp in a box cayon about ten mile up' and they rode on.

 

They were only a couple miles down the trail when Cheyenne caught up to them. "sent the men on to find the camp, I'll ride back to the ranch with ya to get a few more men.'

 

Grizz grinned, 'You just wanna be there to see what I got on my pack horse!'

 

Cheyenne rolled his eyes, 'well yeah! that too!'

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I had grown weary of waiting for Blackwater to return from Grizz's place and decided to deal with the rustlers without him, or at least find him on the way to locate the rustlers. We hadn't ridden far before we spotted tracks from the rustlers, I knew which way they were headed but for some reason the others disagreed and thought the were headed in the opposite direction. Actually I think they were just trying to prank me, after all it's pretty easy to look at a hoof print and tell which way an animal is headed. Anyway I was glad that Blackwater and Grizz showed up.

 

If they men were pranking me, well then Blackwater was even trying a bigger prank, Grizz a rustler, not in a million years, but by then I just played a long a bit, maybe I could get a rise out of the crusty old character. That dog didn't hunt long and I decided to send the men on after the rustlers while I returned to the ranch with Grizz. I would've sent Blackwater with the men after the rustlers but after falling into the pricker bush he needed to see Doc Eells to have the prickers removed from his butt. It was fun watching him ride on the way back to the ranch, his horse wasn't real pleased with him standing in the stirrups most of the way there.

 

The main reason I wanted to return to the ranch was that my head wasn't in the search for the rustler, I was worried about Karl being held in Central City, I really didn't want to be away from the children, and the urge to visit the water hole was getting awfully hard to not pay attention too. An old friend that had passed on had always told me, "Get your head in the game, you're gonna get killed if your head ain't in the game!" My head was sure not in the search for the rustlers. Well, and I did want to see what Grizz had with him for the kids.

 

On the way back to the ranch I was quietly making plans for a visit to Central City, this one I could get my head into. Karl had been a friend for years, he was a Captain with the Union forces during the war and had worked on the ranch for as long as I could remember. I was sure that I would contact Captain Baylor at Fort Collins for help, I knew that there was no way that he would refuse to help, besides we were still a territory and the Army had as much power as anyone to deal with problems such as this.

 

As we rode along, thoughts of Calico went through my thoughts also, I was picking as many of the wild flowers as I could to give her to show her that I was always thinking of her, not that I had any ideas!

 

I would continue to make plans until the men returned from dealing with the rustlers, I had made sure they had new rope with them, deal with the rustlers on the spot. They knew who they could deal softly with, anyone else, at least it was a new rope.

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Karl was pretty disgusted about letting himself get kidnapped like he did, he didn't even have the time to get drunk first or even make eyes at the girls in the saloon. His head hurt something awful, he couldn't see straight, worse yet he was sober. He did start to make mental notes about everything and everyone around him. The young feller that had the misfortune of coming in with him was from Ohio, near Cincinnati, named Mean Gun Mark. Karl got a laugh out of that name, his mean gun hadn't kept him out of trouble, course Karl didn't have much room to laugh, he was in the same predicament.

 

Just before sun up Karl and Mark were awakened and taken out into the yard for breakfast, with about twenty other men and boys, the youngest looking to be about thirteen. Karl tried to count the men guarding them, seemed to be six men, all with shotguns in the vicinity. There was the old farm house where most of the activity of the guards was focused, he was sorely disappointed to see a man with a badge go in the house and stay for a while. Just before the men were hustled off to the mine Karl watched as the sheriff left with Water Lilly, Karl tried to make sure she didn't see him, but with that yellow shirt he wasn't sure how successful he was. It didn't take long to find out that he was spotted by Water Lilly. One of the guards pulled him out of line and led him to the house where Water Lilly, the sheriff and another man were yelling at each other. Water Lilly was screaming at the man telling him that she had told them not to mess with Karl, now they would have to deal with the Culpeppers and all the influence they could wield in the territory.

 

Karl's chest was just starting to get a bit puffed up when the man said he fix it all by taking Karl out back and just shooting him, at which Water Lilly nearly went ballistic. "You actually think they aren't gonna find out that he's here, if they don't know already?" Hearing that made Karl's head feel a little better, though he still sure wasn't happy being there.

 

Karl's head was starting to clear up a bit and he remembered seeing Pete at breakfast, he was hoping that Pete had noticed him. As he looked down at his feet his yellow shirt caught his eyes, yep, he was sure that Pete knew help was coming, somehow....

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While Buick and Blackjack were waiting for the men from the Golden Aspen to arrive, they took turns keeping an eye on what was going on at the mine. They took notice of the number of guards, the number of men being guarded, the sheriff coming and going, and it was hard not to notice Water Lilly. It figured that she was somehow all mixed up in this...what was that girl thinking?

It was right before dinner time on the second day before the ranch hands showed up, and Deputy Gibson did in fact come with them. That gave Buick six men in addition to himself, seven if Grumpy Old Man was willing to help. Jesse was very upset to hear what was happening to his brother, and to Karl as well. He wanted to go down and attack the farm house immediately, but the others talked him out of it. They needed a plan, and there was no telling how many more men were involved beyond just the guards at the farm house. Buick remembered the group of men that had confronted them the first night, and managed to convince Jesse to be patient, they'd get Pete outta there as soon as they could.


The men went down to the restaurant for dinner, and while they were eating a well-dressed man approached their table, followed by a rough-looking gunslinger. The man asked “Which one of you is MacKane?” Buick replied, “I am...and you are...?”


“Mr. MacKane, I am Horace Baxter, and I've been told you've been looking for one of my employees. I'm here to tell you that I don't appreciate it, and I highly suggest you leave town and take all these men with you. You aren't welcome here, and you're just asking for trouble. I'd hate to have to have the sheriff arrest all of you for disturbing the peace....”

Blackjack spoke up at that point, “We haven't disturbed anything, and as for Pete Taylor, he already has a job, one he actually wants, unlike having to work for you...” Buick put his hand on his friend's arm, silently warning him not to lose his temper. He noticed Deputy Gibson doing the same to Jesse, it was obvious the young man was furious. Last thing they needed was to let trouble start in the restaurant....

Buick got up and stood face to face with Baxter, which didn't make the gunslinger very happy. “Mr. Baxter, I'm not trying to cause any trouble in your town, but I came here to find Pete Taylor and I'm not leaving without him. I'm also not leaving without my other friend Karl. We can do this all nice and peaceful, and you let ALL of us ride outta town unmolested, or we can do this the hard way, and damn your soul to Hell. Your choice, it don't matter to me either way....”

The gunslinger started making a move for his gun, but before he could Deputy Gibson was on his feet with his pistol pointed in the man's face. Baxter looked mad, but calmly said “You're pretty fast, young man, if you need a job I can always use another good bodyguard....” but the deputy just shook his head. “Not a chance, Baxter, I wouldn't lower myself to your level for all the gold in this town!”

Baxter wasn't happy to hear that, so he turned back to Buick. “I'll make you a deal, rancher, you want your friends back, you can have them. But you have to win the chance first. Tomorrow night you meet me down in the Wild Horse Saloon. I have a faro dealer there, you will play one game with him. If you win, you can take your two friends and leave, and I give you my word no one will try to stop any of you. But if you lose, you and these men here leave town without the other two....they're working in my mine because they owe me money, and I am not one to forgive such debts....”

Buick knew darn good and well that Karl didn't owe this man a cent, and was pretty sure Pete didn't either. But faro was his game, and he was darn good at it. He agreed to Baxter's terms, sure of at least a good chance of winning straight out. But even if he didn't win, he had no intention of leaving the area without Pete and Karl....





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Grizz watched as they rode up to the Culpepper place, Calico handed off them babies right quick when she saw it was Cheyenne coming. The way those two carried on you'd have thought it had been months since they saw each other.

 

Grizz used that diversion to unload his pack horse on the porch, and cover the two boxes back up with the canvas.

 

After the mushy stuff died down, Calico asked where Blackwater was headed off to all walking funny. Cheyenne bust a gut telling the story. About that time he looked over at Grizz standing by that canvas tarp and whatever was under it.

 

'Say Grizz, how did you put it? My beeves are under the tarp?'

 

Grizz forced himself not to crack a smile. 'The lady best come take a look' and he stepped back, carefully making sure his colt wasn't tied down without the others noticing he was doing it. That gal had shot at him more than once, he didn't have any expectations that she wouldn't again.

 

Calico and Cheyenne looked at each other, then at the tarp, then at each other again. 'Go on' Cheyenne urged, half pushing Calico towards the tarp. She gingerly pulled back the tarp and smiled. "you made my babies hope chests, how wonderful! Are they cedar lined?' She looked at Grizz waiting for an answer while running her hand over the smooth wood and intricate carvings.

 

Grizz nodded. Maybe having babies was taking some of the loco out of her. But he wasn't gonna bet on it.

 

Cheyenne looked puzzled, 'and how is two boxes my beeves?'

 

Grizz couldn't hold back the grin now, 'you ain't looked inside yet'

 

Calico looked back to the boxes and opened the one closest to her, inside was the papoose with the cinnimon bear skin liner. The edges had long leather fringe, that she ran her fingers thru. "I figured you might could do some fancy beadwork on those or something' Grizz grunted.

 

Cheyenne walked over to get a closer look, and the first thing that caught his eye was the Culpepper brand right in the middle. 'you scruffy mountain man, you did rustle my cows' By that time Calico was opening the second chest and had pulled out the black bear skin lined papoose. 'Just two, I told ya that, how much I owe ya?' Grizz said.

 

Those around were amazed by the gifts and were telling Grizz how wonderful they were, which seemed to embarass him. About that time he figured a way to get out of the situation, at least somewhat. 'So you all gonna feed me or what?' he bellowed.

 

They all laughed and moved the chests into the house and headed for the kitchen.

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It seemed every time I saw Grizz lately I was getting tickled, just never knew what to expect out of the old cuss. I have to admit though, he did do some mighty fancy woodworking and his tanning abilities were top notch. Calico sure liked the papooses and boxes too, her eyes were twinkling even more than when she saw me at home earlier by far than expected. I always did like it when she had a twinkle in her eyes.

 

After lunch I sent Bob to the fort to talk with Captain Baylor and tell him about Karl's kidnapping in Central City. I knew that the Captain would be seeing red when he heard this latest problem, after all army guys always stick together, watch out for each other, and most of all never leave a pard behind. We wouldn't hear back from the Captain until the next day, but I was sure that the Captain would be chomping at the bit to head to Central City. From what I knew of the Captain, we would be heading for Central City in about two days time. That is if the problem hadn't been taken care of by then.

 

Karl mean while had made eye contact with Pete, but they both made sure that no one had a clue that they knew each other, but it was sure a relief for Pete who was beginning to feel like he was going to spend a long time stuck in the mine. He was sure looking forward to getting back to the Golden Aspen, money or no money. Karl was still making mental notes of everything, guards, meal times, different shafts, and how many men were stuck in that hell hole. He was looking forward to repaying everyone involved in this whole nightmare with hot lead.

 

Back at the ranch Doc Eells had come up to the house laughing until he could hardly breathe, he never seen a butt as white as Blackwater's, nor one with so many prickers either. It was good that Doc hadn't shown up until we were all done eating because he had us all laughing until our sides hurt with the story about Blackwater screaming like a woman in labor as Doc pulled the prickers from his white baby smooth butt.

 

Even that evening Calico was still giggling at the thought of Blackwater screaming like he was having a baby, I think the sipping whiskey may have been helping Calico laugh too, after all we did have Little Flower watching the babies for us that evening.

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The next night, Buick and his friends all went down to the Wild Horse Saloon about a half hour before the appointed time. He wanted to make sure they had time to have a good look around, he didn't trust Baxter to not have a few surprises waiting for them. They ordered drinks, then split up to check the place out. Buick and Deputy Gibson concentrated on watching the faro dealer, if the man was working for Baxter then he probably wasn't running an honest game. Sure enough, it wasn't long before Buick whispered to his companion, “Yep, he's cheating, his dealing box is rigged. No big deal, I can tell what he's doing...won't be much of a problem. But I'll still need you to watch my back...this could get interesting!”


Interesting wasn't exactly the word the deputy would have chosen, but as long as Buick was sure he could handle the man, well, that would have to be good enough. But as the time for the game drew near, the men of the Golden Aspen took positions around the saloon that would allow them to keep an eye on pretty much everyone in the place. There was no telling how many of these people Baxter had paid off to make sure Buick and his friends didn't walk out of the place alive.

Baxter and his gunslinger showed up about 20 minutes late. The crooked mine owner smirked as he told Buick “My apologizes for my tardiness, I had important business to attend to first.” The gunslinger just glared at everyone, but Buick and Gibson were not at all intimidated. Buick replied “That's quite all right, we all need to spend time in the outhouse occasionally”, which brought a lot of laughter from the saloon's patrons, but Baxter was furious. “Just get on with it, you're wasting my time!” he growled. Buick shrugged, saying “Ok, but this was your idea, you coulda just let my friends go and saved us all the trouble.”

Baxter just ordered the game to begin, and the men that had been sitting at the faro table quickly moved away to give Buick room. He sat down, and then Baxter started explaining how they were going to proceed. “You'll start with $50 dollars and a fresh deck, and play through the deck one time. You will place three bets each turn, no less than $5 each. If at the end of the game, you have more than $50, you win. If you have $50 or less, you and your men will get the heck outta my town and never come back. Is that clear?”


“Crystal,” Buick replied, and then he concentrated on placing his bets. He put $5 on the ace, four, and eight, and $15 on the queen. Deputy Gibson moved to stand behind Buick, but a little to the side, where he could keep an eye on the dealer, the game, and the gunslinger all at the same time. The dealer shuffled the cards, then placed them in the dealing box. He then discarded the soda card, and the game began. The first losing card he placed was a nine, and then the first winning card was an ace. Baxter grimaced, he had given instructions that Buick wasn't to be allowed to win anything, even if it was only $5. But the dealer just ignored his boss, better to let the outsider win a little so he'd be less likely to realize the dealer was cheating....

But Buick had dealt enough faro himself to know all the tricks, and this dealer wasn't really very good at it anyway. The game continued, with both sides winning or losing occasionally. Most of the rounds were a draw, but as the game progressed Buick changed his bets accordingly based on what cards had already been played, and managed win enough to keep an even $50 in front of him. He kept his largest bet on the queen though, and a little over halfway through the deck it paid off. The dealer turned over a queen as the winning card, and it was obvious by the look on his face it wasn't the card he had been expecting.

 

“Yer cheatin'!” the dealer yelled, “Don't know how yer doin' it but ya are!” Buick just calmly replied “No sir, you are the one that's trying to cheat, but you really need to get a whole lot better at it!” Just then Baxter's gunslinger made a move for his pistol, and so did Deputy Gibson.....

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Deputy Gibson was just waiting for the gunslinger to make a move for his pistol, the gunslinger had hardly cleared leather when a bullet from the deputy's gun tore it from his hand with the lead shrapnel tearing the flesh on his wrist. In a flash the deputy's gun cut down a man with a drawn pistol behind Baxter, then his pistol settled on Baxter's head, "next one is for you, now tell your men to back out of here real slow like, and then we're going to finish this game, real nice like!" the deputy snarled at Baxter. Baxter wasn't none to happy about the way things were turning out, he tried to whine about Buick cheating, to which Buick replied, "you tell me how I'm cheating with your man dealing and we'll walk out of here, if not, then shut your trap. If you dealer tries another one of the tricks he's been pulling I reckon the deputy will be sending him to deal for the devil, now dealer, let's finish this!"

 

Blackjack slid over to the doors of the saloon to keep an eye out for anyone wanting to sneak in, or to try to take a shot at Buick or the others from the outside. About that time the sheriff came through the doors, very careful like after being warned by those who had been thrown out, and once inside tried to act all official like asking what was going on and so forth. Deputy Gibson showed his badge to the sheriff and told the sheriff, "I may not have official power here, but I guess Mr. Colt here will do my talking for me if this dealer tried to cheat again, or Mr Baxter here tries any more funny business."

 

The sheriff knew he had stepped into a hornet's nest and tried to back out the doors of the saloon, but then it was Blackjack's turn to put the sheriff in this place, "I reckon you ought to best just take a seat there sheriff, we want you to see how this turns out, wouldn't want you misinformed about the outcome of a honest game."

 

Back at the ranch Captain Baylor had sent word back to the ranch that he and fifteen men would be ready to ride at noon the next morning, his written reply was quite colorful in explaining what he had planned for anyone stupid enough to mess with an ex-army officer. I had to smile when I read it because it sounded pretty much the same as I would have expected from Karl.

My head hadn't been in the right place when we had started out for the rustlers, but it was now. Most of the friends I had were from the ranch and I had know Karl since I could remember. When I told Calico that I would be leaving in the morning she wasn't surprised at all, it was more like she was surprised that I hadn't left sooner.

 

I didn't have much prep to do to leave as I had prepared things for the raid on the rustlers, so that evening I got to spend with Calico and a little sipping whiskey sitting before the fireplace. Calico was letting me know how much she appreciated my going to help with Pete and Karl's recovery, but I have to admit I wasn't thinking much about Pete and Karl then.

 

The next morning Bob, Little Joe and I set a path to meet with the captain and then head for Central City. We met just after noon south of Fort Collins and continued on until near dark when we set up a quick camp. That evening we sat around the fire and shared stories, Captain Baylor had a host of stories about the war, most were carried on behind enemy lines. He was rather happy to have the opportunity to take care of the problem in Central City and we could all tell from his tone that he didn't expect to show any leniency on anyone that had anything to do with Karl's kidnapping.

 

That night my eagles soaring dreams visited throughout the night, I awoke just before sunrise and went out and sat facing the sunrise. I made my peace with the Great Spirit and asked him to guide me and to please return me safely to my wife and children, something I had never done before.

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Grizz had been invited to stay on for a while after delivering the baby gifts, but next morning he was nowhere to be found, his pack saddle was still in the barn, but Grizz and both horses were gone.

 

Grizz made good time back to his place, switching horses every few hours, and not bothering with a saddle on the pack horse. And as such, his shifts on the pack horse were not as long as on his saddle horse.

 

He arrived at his place just as the last of the sun was fading from the sky. Bone tired, he still took the time to tend to the animals before heading into the cabin for a quite bite of food and some sleep.

 

'Dang ol' fool' Grizz swore at himself as he put on his fightin' guns. He pulled two winchesters out of the cabinet and carried them, along with his sharps out to the barn. At least he was home and could use fresh animals, with saddles on both for the journey he was setting out on. He outfitted both animals about the same, bedroll, saddle bags, and a pommel holster for his every day colt that he'd transfer with him as he rode. Each had a Winchester, and one held the sharps, and the other his shotgun. If one animal was lost to any problem, be it bullet or broke leg, he could continue on without missing a beat, not that he had any intention of losing the animal, or the gear on it.

 

As he reckoned it, he should beat Culpepper to Cental City by a day or two. He'd spent some time there years ago, and knew the lay of the land, or at least he did back then. He'd had friends there at the time, but gold fever tends to make men lose their minds, and knew that even if any were still around, that he couldn't count on them for much more than a drink, if that, much less to back him in any gunplay.

 

Grizz's cabin being part of the way already, he made it easily by noon the second day. The place had been built up since he was there last, but it still smelled the same, it stunk. Lots of folks hoping to strike it rich that never would, and a few that made money off the sweat of the others backs paying barely enough to survive.

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The sheriff sat down next to Grumpy Old Man, then tried to grab his bottle of whiskey. One look from the older gentleman convinced the sheriff that it wasn't such a good idea after all. At the faro table, the game continued, with the dealer getting really nervous as the game progressed. It was obvious to him by then that this was one punter he couldn't cheat, Buick wasn't just another dumb cowhand fresh off the range. In fact, by the time the dealer was down to the last 3 cards, Buick had already more than doubled his original $50, despite all the dealer's attempts to cheat.

“Ok, sir, let's make this interesting,” Baxter suggested, “If you can call the turn, you'll make $500 easy and I'll let your friends go. If you lose, we keep all the money and you get outta town now!” Buick knew he had already won the game, there was no reason to risk it all, but he still nodded, agreeing to the terms. Jesse quickly came over and tried to talk him out of it, but Buick was confident he could win. The coffin showed that the three remaining cards were an ace, a seven, and a jack. The dealer told Buick to call the order, so he did, “Seven, Ace, Jack...turn 'em already!”

The dealer flipped the first card, and sure enough it was the seven. Baxter started squirming, but with Deputy Gibson's pistol pointed at his head there wasn't much he could do about it. Buick noticed that the dealer had put one hand in his lap, but pretended he didn't...until the dealer flipped the next card....the Ace! Buick quickly threw himself to the side, and sure enough there was a loud blast from the shotgun under the table, but it missed him entirely. It did hit the bartender, who had been going for a shotgun of his own from under the bar, the man dropped like a rock. Buick quickly pulled his pistol and shot the dealer right between the eyes. Gibson had spun around to face the sheriff, who slowly raised his hands, he liked Baxter's money but not enough to die for it, and this kid from Hugo Springs was just too good. Grumpy Old Man reached over and relieved the sheriff of his pistol. All around them people were running for cover, and Blackjack had to quickly move out of the doorway to keep from getting trampled.

In the confusion, everyone had taken their eyes off of Baxter, well, everyone except for Jesse. He noticed Baxter reaching under his coat for the pocket pistol he had hidden in there, but one bullet from Jesse's gun went right through the crooked mine owner's heart, and he was dead before he hit the floor. “That's fer Pete, ya shouldn't have messed with a Taylor!” Jesse said, even though he knew Baxter couldn't hear him. Then he looked at Buick, “Can we please go rescue Pete and Karl now and get the heck outta this place?”

Buick just smiled, “Sure thing, just let me get my $500 dollars first, I think Pete deserves the money, don't you?” Jesse smiled back, and all of the Golden Aspen men helped pick up the money, it had gotten scattered during the fight. Then they reloaded all their guns before they left the saloon to go get their horses, who knew what waited for them at the mine?

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As Grizz rode in to town, there seemed to be a lot of folks milling about outside the Saloon.

 

As he got closer, gunfire broke out inside the Saloon. Grizz calmly reached over and got the shotgun out of the scabbard on the spare horse and laid in across the front of his saddle.

 

The battle inside didn't seem to last very long, and a group of men soon emerged, guns drawn as if expecting trouble outside. Grizz scanned the onlookers for any signs of trouble, singling out one or two who looked the sort to pay attention to, but as of yet, they hadn't filled their hands.

 

The last of the men out of the Saloon was Buick and that deputy from down around his place. Grizz stayed on his horse and drew closer, moving his spare horse to his left side, to keep a clear view of the na'er do wells in the crowd. His left hand not only holding the lead rope, but carefuly holding the pistol grip on the shotgun.

 

Just as Grizz as called out 'hey Buick!' the man a short ways to Grizz's right pulled his pistol. Grizz let loose with one barrel of the shotgun cutting the man down and splattering the other onlookers. The spare horse reared up and Grizz let the lead rope slide from his fingers, keeping firm hold on the shotgun, raising it to his shoulder 'anyone else want some of what he just got?' Grizz barked pointing to the corpse on the street and then leveling the shotgun at the other gunslinger looking fellow who just slowly raised his empty hands.

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The second day on the way to Central City we made good time, stopping only to water our horses and to give them a rest. It must have been about four in the afternoon when we road into town, as we did people were smiling and pointing at us, least those that would stick their noses out of their shops. We pulled up to the saloon and saw the fresh blood splatter on the wall and a large pool of blood on the sidewalk. Capt Baylor spoke first, "looks like somebody's been busy, but whose blood is that?"

 

Grumpy Ole Man came sauntering out of the saloon, walked out to the sidewalk and told his cattle dog to sit. He looked us over and finally spoke, "Been expecting you fellas, the gunplay here in town is over, your friends killed Baxter, the boss around here and a couple of his men, his sheriff turned and ran, don't know what became of him but I reckon he's still running. I reckon you all ought to head for the mine south of town, if there's going to be more gunplay that's where it we happen. I reckon that ought to be worth a bottle of whiskey."

 

I told Grumpy that we'd be back and take care of him then, but he was welcome to ride along and watch the fireworks if he was a mind too, and to my surprise he and his dog joined us. We hadn't gotten far ought of town when we started to hear gunfire, sounded like a Sharps to me and the Captain concurred. As we neared the gunfire we circled around to what we figured would be the rear of the mine camp. By the time we could see buildings the gunfire had picked up, the Sharps still spoke occasionally but there was also small rifle, pistol and shotgun fire going on.

 

We dismounted and Captain Baylor told the five of us with Sharps, "You have five shots apiece to do your work, if you don't end this, then we're going to charge down there and show them boys what a sabre feels like!" The five of us spoke among ourselves real quick like, figuring out who was who, when we had a handle on things we spread out and began picking targets.

 

The five of us opened fire almost simultaneously to a deafening roar, we saw two men crumple to the ground, and one man grabbed a box and headed for the mineshaft. I drew a bead on him as he ran, I put the crosshairs on the box and squeezed the trigger, the sound of the box of dynamite exploding was tremendous. By then the men we were shooting at had turned their attention to us, we could here bullets whistling by but we were not to be denied and our large rifles continued to speak. When our last round was fired the Capt had his bugler blow charge and off he and his men rode down the hill towards the camp, suddenly a white shirt tied to a stick came from the house, the Captain charged on keeping to his promise of no mercy.

 

A man stepped from the house with a stick of dynamite ready to throw towards the Capt, my bullet found his sternum driving him back through the door, three seconds later the whole house sent up in a huge blast as the Capt and his men pulled up their horses just short of the house. I turned to look towards the mine and there was the sheriff standing there with a pistol to Karl" head, I didn't give the man time to issue his commands and lifted his head clean off of this shoulders, splattering Karl's yellow shirt with blood from the sheriff.

 

Then an eerie silence filled the camp, only broken by occasional moan followed by a scream of a man being run through with a sabre. Karl came towards us hollering that we'd ruined his favorite shirt, I told him I liked him in red better anyway and was just doing him a favor, he got tickled and a huge smile came across his bearded face. "Water Lilly is in there, I reckon she'll be out when the men are done with her, if they don't kill her first."

 

I felt a slight pain of remorse for Water Lilly, after all we did grow up together, but she chose her path and this is where it led. She never did make it out of the mine, the last man out lit a stick and threw it into the mine, closing it forever.

 

We met up with Buick and his men and headed back to town, it was time for refreshment and time for the men to clean up from their time in the mine. As we neared town, Buick spotted the Studebaker wagon and declared it as spoils of war.

 

The next morning Karl, the rest of our men and I headed back to the ranch, Buick and his men headed for the Golden Aspen and the Captain and his men stayed in town to sort things out.

 

As we rode towards the ranch my thoughts were on Calico and the children, and mustangs, it was high time we went after mustangs again, after all, I needed to find out if I was a horse whisperer indeed.

 

As we got further away from the town I turned back to see Grumpy Ole Man and his cattle dog making tracks in our direction, hmmm seemed like we had a new hand for the ranch, didn't know about Grumpy though....

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The ride back to the ranch was uneventful, giving me plenty of time reflect on the happings at Central City. I couldn't figure out why in the world a town would let someone come in and take over and then not have the stomach to throw the evil out. I guess if someone were to win the confidence of the people and then slowly take things over a little at a time, helping here or there, making people more reliant on him each time, then I could start to imagine how someone could take over a town. But why didn't the good people take some kind of stand before things got completely out of hand. I guess I never would understand such things.

 

Ol Grizz had his Sharps just a speaking at the mine, I was beginning to think that he may be almost as skilled with it as I was with mine, almost mind you. He had left earlier in the morning than we did, as we walked out of the hotel to head for breakfast he was already headed out of town with just a wave as he departed. I figured had things he needed to get done at his place, after all he had been away from it for quite a while now. From the gifts he had made for us I was beginning to see and know a new side of Grizz, a much softer side, nothing like when he threw the dynamite at, well not at, but near Calico and I after we had made him dance with our pistols. I guess we were fortunate he hadn't thrown it right at us, I guess I should have known all along that Grizz was really an old softy.

 

Karl hardly shut up on the way home, he kept telling us how close he was to taking them all on, he had all kinds of plans in his head, but we got there before he was able to put any of them into fruition. One thing was good though, the shopkeeper in town felt sorry for him because his yellow shirt was covered in blood and brain matter that he gave him a brand new RED shirt. The shopkeeper had winked at the rest of us as he gave Karl the red shirt, heck I would have gladly paid the man for the shirt, but he quickly let us know that he would have felt insulted if we did.

 

That evening we were still only halfway home so we camped near a creek that had a nice deep pool, grass for the horses and trees. We round up som dead wood and built a fire, pulled out some of the best whiskey we could find at the saloon, then sat around the fire telling stories, hopes and dreams and pretty much what ever came across our minds. The sky was cloudless and the stars were brilliant, the moon was just rising, it reminded me of many of the nights during my quest. I almost longed for those days again, until I felt the urge for Calico, her soft touch and they way she made me feel, even if she had almost gotten me killed a half dozen times or so, there was just somthing about her, maybe it was the water hole behind me that was making me think about her, all I knew was that I sure was looking forward to seeing her again.

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Cheyenne had sent a telegram from Central City, he didn't explain much but did say that Pete and Karl were safe and everyone was heading home. Buick and the others from the Golden Aspen were heading straight there, they had too much work waiting for them to come north before going back. Buick sent word for Morning Star to take the train back home with the baby, and to bring Sadie with her. He'd offered Blackjack a job down there, and as much as the couple had enjoyed their time at the Culpepper ranch, Blackjack had accepted Buick's offer. Sadie did assure me that if I ever needed her again, she'd be more than happy to come back. As much as I'd miss her, I hoped it would be a while before we had to think about that! I had my hands full enough with Mathew and Sarah....


Doc Eels had told me I could start riding again, so while I was waiting for Cheyenne to come back I asked Little Flower to go for a ride with me. Morning Star and Sadie were more than happy to look after the twins one more time before they had to leave the following day. So I saddled up my autumn pony, and Little Flower and I mounted up and headed for the foothills. It was a nice spring day, nice and warm, perfect for a short ride to start getting back in shape. It had been so long since I'd been in the saddle for long as I knew my muscles were going to regret this later, but I was still anxious to go. Maybe if Cheyenne made it back that day we could go for a nice soak in the water hole, the water would sure feel good after our “girls day out” was done.

Little Flower was finally starting to speak English well enough to attend school, and she spent most of the ride telling me all about the things she was learning. Schoolmarm had spoken to me about how impressed she was at Little Flower's desire to learn everything she could, especially to read. The girl was also trying very hard to learn to write, she explained to me that she wanted to be able to write stories about her childhood. As young as she was, she knew that things were changing for the indian tribes of the west, and not for the good. She was determined to write about as much as she could about her past, and also about her tribe, their customs, their lifestyle, and their history. She was terrified that such things might be forgotten if not put to paper, and I can't say as I blamed her. News from the plains indicated that the situation between the tribes and the army was deteriorating rapidly, and the mountain tribes weren't much better off. I still occasionally had nightmares about the growing conflicts, and wished there was something I could do to stop the bloodshed I knew in my heart was coming.

We didn't have any specific destination in mind, although I did want to avoid the area where I knew our men had been searching for the rustlers. I had my pistols and rifle with me, but I knew I was a little out of practice, and didn't want to put Little Flower in danger. So we headed a bit north of where I thought they'd be, and then followed a small creek upstream. Wildflowers were everywhere, and we had to stop once so Little Flower could pick some for me. She had seen how happy I'd been when Cheyenne had given me some, I just didn't think she understood exactly why I had. That was ok, the girl was trying to be sweet, and I did appreciate her efforts. While she was doing that, I did get some target practice in, making sure she stayed behind me the whole time. When I was finally able to hit what I was aiming at more than I missed, I decided I'd had enough for one day, and it was time to head home. I knew that my two friends were taking good care of my twins, but as long as I was nursing it wouldn't be a good idea to be away from them for too long.


As we were heading back to the ranch, we must have taken a wrong turn somewhere after we left the creek, as I suddenly realized that the area we were riding through didn't look familiar. I figured as long as we kept going east, we'd be fine, until we found ourselves at a dead end in a canyon. If we'd been on foot we'd probably have been fine, but the rocks ahead of us were way too steep for the horses. We turned around to head back the way we had came, to try and find a better route. But we hadn't gone far before I heard the mooing of some cows, coming from the other side of a stand of trees. Next thing I knew, a couple of cows crossed in front of us, and to my surprise they both had the Culpepper brand....we'd found the missing stock. But if the stock was here, where were those rustlers??

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After Grizz left Central City, he took a round about way home, going down the the flats to pick up supplies before going back into the hills to his cabin. Spring was well in bloom and there was work to be done, and he had orders for several bear and mountain lion pelts from the mercantile down in Boulder. They'd tried to offer way too little, but Grizz had seen that even crappy quality hides were going for well more than the year before, and he know any that he'd take in would be much higher quality. While in town he stocked up on ammunition as he hadn't had a chance to reload during the winter months as he usually did.

 

He'd planned to stick around the cabin a day or two and rest up, but after all the time at the Culpepper place, then Central City and Boulder on the way back, even his cabin was too civilized. So he tended his stock, saddled a fresh horse, and lashed provisions for a week or better to his pack mule and set off. His plan was to hunt and fish until he felt like going back.

 

Next morning he caught a couple of brook trout and at them for breakfast, with his only plan to take a nap afterwards. But his plan was interrupted by the sound of gunfire, it wasn't close, maybe next draw over, and sounded like someone was just popping off a few rounds, maybe doing some target practice.

 

Nothing to worry about, but as long as he was awake, might as well get up and have a look around to see if anything might be moving his way after taking flight from the shooting. Nothing was, so he just worked his way down the draw to see what he could see, not really caring if he saw anything, it was a warm day with a cool breeze, and he was just happy to be out in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to worry about, and nothing he had to get done.

 

He was about to circle around and head back to camp when he cut the trail of about 30-40 head of beef, with four riders herding them. From the looks of the tracks, they'd come through a few days earlier, but from the direction it didn't make sense where they were heading, there was nothing up that way cept'n a box canyon and an old run down abandoned prospectors cabin. Only ones that would take a herd, even such a small one up there were either rustlers or trying to find a place to wait out a storm, and the weather had been great as of late.

 

Tweren't really none of his affair, but he figured he'd check it out anyway and worked his was carefully towards the canyon, sticking to the trees for cover and being careful not to be seen, if indeed there was someone out there to see him.

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You would have thought I slept good that night, out under the stars, just enough whiskey to wisk away cares, but I hadn't been asleep long before I was soaring as an eagle again. But this time I wasn't enjoying the view from the clouds, I was searching, searching, and searching. I had no idea of what I was searching for but I was searching everywhere, but for what? Finally I realized what I was searching for, I was alone, no mate or eaglets. Needless to say I didn't rest well, and neither did the men, they said I kept screeching out all night long.

 

The next morning I made the decision to not return to the ranch but to veer off towards where we figured the rustlers might be. For some strange, well maybe not so strange reason, I was thinking Calico might have gotten into trouble with the rustlers. The men thought I was nuts, but then they weren't married to her either. We picked up the pace pretty good as we rode towards the foothills west of the ranch figuring we could make it there by just after noon. We were right on with the time and as we reached the spot we wanted to start looking for sign we ran into the men from the ranch as they were ready to return to the ranch. They had been out for six days without any luck at all, well, I changed their plans and we all headed back into the foothills towards higher ground.

 

We rode for a couple hours when we picked up some sign of cattle being pushed towards the mountains, that didn't make sense at all, but tracks like that don't lie. We tracked them for two more hours before we found ourselves at a box canyon that most of us knew well. Why in the world would someone push rustled cattle into a box canyon? Yes, it had an old cabin, but no escape available at all.

 

We had only ridden into the canyon a short spell when Grizz came riding down one of the walls to meet us, he nearly fell off of his horse he was laughing so hard. "You ain't gonna believe it, you ain't gonna believe your eyes at all!" he kept repeating over and over. I bet it as ten minutes before we could get him settled down so he could tell us what was so funny. "You just wait here a spell you'll see!" was all the more that we could get out of him.

 

We were tired, our horses were tired so we took Grizz at his word and got into some shade, dismounted and broke out some grub and waited. Soon we heard cattle bellowing and then the sound of hooves marching slowly in our direction. Then we saw what Grizz was laughing about, thirty some head of cattle being pushed by four men on foot, followed by Calico and Little Flower sitting tall in their saddles. Little Flower had Calico's Winchester and Calico had a pistol in hand with her hand resting on the horn and Calico barking directions to the men, who were unarmed. The walking men seemed happy to see us, and the way Calico was barking at them I almost felt sorry for them and made a note to myself, her punches weren't nearly as bad as her bark!

 

We did let the men mount their horses, but they still had to continue working the herd, heck they pushed them up here they could push them back home! I could hardly get a word in edgewise the whole way back to the ranch. Calico and Little Flower were like buzzing bees talking, and believe me they didn't leave out nothing. Nothing at all!

 

We had said goodbye to Grizz soon after we had run into Calico but made sure that he knew he was welcome at the ranch anytime he saw fit, and welcome to make use of our cattle anyway he saw fit.

 

As we neared the ranch the sudden knowledge that we were going to have to listen to the whole story of Calico capturing the rustlers again. But then I decided the men that had been out after the rustlers and were going to return empty handed were going to be present when she told it again, and any other time she felt like telling it again. Maybe they'd look harder next time instead of ridding around taking a vacation.

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When I saw the brands on those cows, I knew we had located the missing stock, and boy, was I furious! If there was one thing I couldn't stand, it was a thief. Oh, Grizz had taken a couple of em', but only for food and then he'd used the hides to make presents for the twins, and he'd offered to pay for them, this just wasn't the same thing. Plus he'd helped us out in a few scrapes, and was fast becoming a really good friend. No, having strangers steal so many was a totally different story, and taking that many head meant they weren't just hungry either. There was no way I was just gonna ride off and leave the cattle there to maybe disappear again before I could fetch help from the ranch.

I knew those rustlers were probably around here somewhere, I just needed to figure out where before they realized Little Flower and I were around. I dismounted and had Little Flower take the ponies behind some rocks to hide, and told her to wait for me. I took my Winchester and one pistol with me, and left the other pistol with the girl, in case she needed to defend herself. Before moving off though, I had her quickly climb a little ways up a tree to get a better look around. After a minute or so she climbed back down, pointed a little ways to the southwest, and told me, “Smoke rising over there, maybe from campfire or chimney....”

Well, I was hoping the rustlers weren't so stupid to light a fire then leave it unattended, with any luck if I could find that fire I'd find the rustlers. I slowly started working my way in the direction that Little Flower had pointed to, thankful that the cattle were making a bit of noise to cover any I made. Pa had taught me to move silently through the woods when I used to go hunting with him, but that had been a long time ago and I was rusty at it. But as I got close enough to the fire to smell it and realize I was getting close, I also realized that the rustlers wouldn't have heard me anyway, they themselves were making too much noise. I heard them long before I could see them....boy, they really must be stupid if they thought any pursuers wouldn't hear that racket!

I crept closer, and finally could see a little clearing ahead. There was an old cabin off to one side with smoke coming out of the chimney, it looked almost ready to collapse. I could see four horses tied up out front, but no signs of any humans. The noises were coming from beyond the cabin, so I stayed in the trees but moved around so I could get a better view of the other side of the building. There was a small stream running along the side of the canyon wall, and it wasn't long before I spotted the men, all four were splashing around in the water. A quick glance showed that their clothes and their guns were all in a pile several yards away from where they were messing around.

There was too much clear space between the tree line and the stream for me to keep heading that way. So I went back the way I had came, and snuck up on them from around the side of the cabin, that way I could get a lot closer to them before they could see me. As I got to the corner of the cabin, I took a deep breath, levered my rifle and brought it up to my shoulder, then stepped out from the building and shouted “Ok, you thievin' varmints, hands over your heads, NOW!” Four sets of hands immediately shot into the air, but then the men turned to face me, and realized that they had been caught by a woman.....and just as fast four sets of hands went back down, as the men all tried to cover their....well....their private parts.


“Get those hands back up where ya had em', and do it fast! I ain't kiddin', anyone who don't is gonna get shot right quick!” I informed them, but they all just turned bright red and didn't move. “We can't do that, lady, we ain't got no clothes on!”, one of them shouted out, and the rest quickly nodded. “I can see that, and frankly I don't blame ya fer wantin' ta cover up, since ain't none of ya got nothin' worth lookin' at. All the same, ya git those hands back up now!” I yelled back, and boy were they mad at hearin' that! But when they made no move to raise their hands, I fired off one shot, intentionally hitting a spot on the near bank right in front of them. “I hit exactly what I was aiming for this time, wanna see if I can do it four more times?” I asked them, and slowly four sets of hands went back up...

Just then I heard a voice from behind me, calling out my name. “Calico...it's me, Grizz. I'm coming up behind ya, just keep yer eyes on those snakes ya just caught.” I could hear my friend moving up behind me, and he stopped at the pile of clothes laying on the ground. First he went through and removed all the bullets from every gun these men had, then gathered them all up and dumped all the guns in the stream several yards from the rustlers. That of course didn't sit too well with them, but they kinda weren't in any position to do much about it. Then Grizz took a big knife to most of the clothes, shredding them into little strips. The only thing Grizz left intact were the men's long johns, which Grizz then tossed towards the stream one at a time.


“Ok, whichever one of ya owns that pair, git out an' git yerself covered. Then the next one of ya can get dressed, and so on, don't none of ya try anything funny! Mz. Culpepper has every right to kill all of ya' fer stealin' her family’s cattle, and I ain't gonna try and stop her! Even I ain't that crazy!” Grizz informed the men, who slowly moved out of the stream one at a time and got their long underwear on. Grizz did let them put on their boots too after I insisted, I was gonna make these cretins walk all the way back to the ranch, barefooted woulda taken too long. Grizz did first make sure to check all the boots for hidden knives or such, then took the time to go wash his hands, I can't say as I blamed him!

It wasn't long before I heard another voice calling my name, this time it was Little Flower. She had heard the shot from my rifle and headed that direction with our horses. I was glad to see that she did have my pistol in hand and ready to use if necessary. By then all the men had their long johns on, and I told them they were taking the cattle back to the ranch, and I was gonna leave it up to my father-in-law whether to call the sheriff or just hang them on the spot. I made it clear that if I had my way, I'd just shoot em' all, but I didn't really want to drive the cows all by myself, as long as they behaved and did what they were told I'd try and put in a good word for them. I really didn't have any intention of that, but hey, I had ta get the cows home somehow....

They had wanted to use their horses, but I said no, that would have made it easier for them to try and escape that way. I had Grizz take the horses, then me and Little Flower made the men round up the cattle as best they could and start heading them out of the canyon on foot. This wasn't gonna be easy, but I knew it could be done. Grizz rode up ahead of us, and before long I heard him laughing and talking to someone, and I wondered who it was. As we got closer, I realized it was Cheyenne and Karl and a bunch of men from the ranch, and quickly jumped down and ran to Cheyenne. I was so glad to see him, I'd missed him so much, and was more than happy to let the men take over handling the rustlers. Maybe this way we could get back to the ranch that much faster. After the day I'd had I wanted to see my babies, and I needed a good long soak in that water hole....

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When we did finally get back to the ranch Calico made a beeline for the babies to get them fed properly, I hung around with the men as the cattle were taken to one of the pastures. When the men returned I let the ones that had be searching for the rustlers but had been out done by Calico and Little Flower that their punishment would be to listen to Calico tell the story each and every time she had a notion to tell it.

 

By the time I had finished with them and returned to our cabin Calico was already putting the babies down for the evening, then Calico took me by the hand and led me to the water hole, oh that cool water felt so good, and well, so did everything else.

 

I hadn't even given the rustlers a second thought, could you blame me? We were walking back down the trail from the water hole when Grump Old Man and his dog met us on the trail. "I got elected to come fetch y'all since I'm the newest hand, and I got warned about arriving too soon, so I'm real glad to see you're already finished with "business" said Grumpy. "They wanna know what you have in mind for the rustlers, hang them, shoot them or save them for the sheriff?"

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I looked at Calico and asked her what she thought, after she had caught them and she was a Culpepper and thus had ownership of the rustled cattle. At first she lit up, I think she liked the sound of being part owner but when she realized that she had the men's lives in her hand her brow deepened a bit. "Well, let me think about it a little while" was what she came up with on such a short notice.

 

Grumpy gave his two cents worth saying, "I think you ought to give them the same treatment you gave the sheriff in Central City, quick and final!" I hadn't had the opportunity to tell Calico about all that had gone on in Central City so Grumpy's idea got her attention. "Well you gonna tell me what happened or do I have to guess!" she said followed by a slight punch in my shoulder. "Well" I started, "you remember the Comanche at the river who's head vaporized as he started to charge you and the herd? Well, that's the treatment the sheriff got when he put a pistol to Karl's head. No man does that to a friend of mine and lives through it, or for very long afterwards" I told Calico.

 

"You mean I have to decide if they die now or let the sheriff take them for trail? Of course I think they ought to die, but I'm not sure I want to decide that,,,," Calico answered quietly. "Grumpy, you tell my father let the sheriff have them, we've seen to much bloodshed lately, let the people of Fort Collins deal with it" I told Grumpy, "but make sure they sweat it real badly first."

 

I sent Grumpy on his way and then I took Calico's hand and turned back to the direction of the water hole, "I'm not sure we've done the water hole justice yet," and, well we make a trip back to the water hole, in no hurry at all.

 

The stars were beautiful that night, and so was the twinkle in Calico's eyes, and her heart.

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After we got done at the water hole Calico asked me if she could have some fun with the rustlers before the sheriff came for them. I thought sure, why not? I guess she wanted to show them she could really shoot and wanted to play some games with them with her Winchester. She told me she wanted me to introduce them to my Sharps too, I wasn't sure what she was up to, but it had been a while since I'd shot the Sharps for fun so I was good to go with her idea, whatever it was.

 

We slept well that night, the soaring eagle was soaring high in the cloulds that night, but something wasn't quite right, off in the distance was an older eagle that kept getting further and further away, flying in the direction of the mountains. The dream woke me up several times that night, but each time I went back to sleep it came back, the same dream each time. I was really glad when I awoke and saw the sun streaming into the cabin.

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After helping out Calico with the rustlers, not that she really needed it, Grizz spent a few days working his way back to his cabin. He'd camp at a lake at night and eat fresh fish for breakfast, and never passed up a chance to take a nap. After a couple of days his old bones ached for a proper bed, or at least something better than a quickly thrown together pile of pine needles. If he'd have planned to stay more than one night as any given place, he'd have take the time to make a more comfortable place to sleep, but it didn't really seem worth the effort.

 

 

(quick little throw away chapter just to get it back on page one)

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I hadn't been awake long before Calico came back from feeding the babies and told me "I'm feeling awfully randy this morning." It took us awhile to take care of it and when we did we headed to the main house to take care of the rustlers, I still didn't have any idea of what Calico had in store for them but she had her Winchester and I had my Sharps.

 

My father was waiting for us on the porch and when he saw us heading his way called for Karl to bring the rustlers up to the house. Calico had each one of them sit with her for a while and interrogated each one for quite a while.

 

She gave the first one a choice, wait for the sheriff or try to outrun my sharps on his horse.

 

Then she gave the second a third a choice, work on the ranch as servants, try to outrun the sharps or wait for the sheriff. If they chose to work the ranch then they would have to prove their bravery as Calico proved her marksmanship with her Winchester.

 

The fourth, just a young man of about fifteen she gave him this choice, work on the ranch helping with the Clydesdales or wait for the sheriff.

 

I looked over at my father and he was just shaking his head from side to side and rolling his eyes.

 

Calico looked at the first man and said "Well?" The man answered with a sneer, "we all know about him and that Sharps, but how about him and me with pistols at ten paces, or is he too much of a yellow bellied half breed to face a man eye to eye?" Calico seemed taken aback by the man's brashness and looked to me to see what to do next. I simply nodded yes, and simply told Calico, go get my Colts, "if it's eye to eye he wants we'll have to accommodate him." Calico got a real concerned look on her face and said, "But those are brand new and you haven't shot them yet?"

 

She was off in a run and was back with them quicker than greased lightning. Oh, they were a beautiful pair, the pistols!, nickel plated with pearl grips resting in a gorgeous set of holsters tooled to the hilt! Karl handed the man his Colts and as he tried to hand them to the man he must have been having second thoughts after seeing the nickel plated Colts I was strapping on. Then man finally took them from Karl, put them on and said, "Alright fine, let's do this, you're good with that Sharps let's see how good you are with those Purdy Colts!"

 

We stared at each other for a few seconds before the man made his move, my first instinct was to shoot the pistol out of the man's hand, but then it was Karl's prized engraved Colt so I shot the man in his shoulder that he was pulling the Colt with. As my bullet tore through his shoulder the man's shot hit about five feet in front of him and he reeled backwards the pistol dropping onto the ground. I walked up to the man laying there in the dirt writhing in pain and told him, "I never said I wasn't good with my pistols, I just like the Sharps better." I'd heard that somewhere before. Doc Eells walked up to the man and told him that he would live, until the hanging that is.

 

The next two looked at me and asked,"is she as good with that Winchester as you are with your Sharps?" "Not really" I answered, for which I received a smack upside the back of my head from Calico.

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Calico then pointed to a rock about a hundred yards away brought her Winchester to her shoulder and then missed the rock by at least a foot, then with the second shot turned the rock into dust. "Was it luck or did I try to miss the first shot on purpose" Calico asked the men. The two men looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders and said "What have we got to loose, we die for sure if we wait for the sheriff", then they looked at Calico and said "lets do this, if we're lucky we get a second chance."

 

Calico sent the men twenty yards away and had them each light a cigarette and hold it out with their hand. She took two shots and two cigarettes disappeared into thin air. She then had the men light two more and step back ten more yards, but this time they had to hold them in their lips. The one man turned white as he looked at the finger he was holding the cigarette with and it's blood dripping from where the bullet had nicked the tip of it. Still he put it in his lips while holding it with as little of the end of it that he could.

 

The first shot Calico lifted the man's hat clean off of his head, she just laughed and told the man she hadn't liked his hat from the day she first saw it. Then she lowered her aim and took the fire right off of the end of the cigarette. The man let out a loud sigh of relieve and picked up his hat and after inspecting the hole through it gingerly placed it back on his head.

 

The other man was pushing his cigarette out from his lips as far as possible and sweating profusely as he waited for Calico to take the shot. Her first shot drew blood from the man's nose, not much mind you but it was bleeding. Calico pulled her rifle off of her shoulder and held her hand pretending the it was shaking beyond control. She took a deep breath, shouldered her rifle again and quickly removed the cigarette from the man's lips.

 

Calico then had Little Flower fetch her two gourds and gave them to the men telling them to take another twenty steps back and place the gourds between their legs, held only by their thighs.

The men again shrugged their shoulders and placed the gourds between their legs just above their knees. Calico shook her head no and then motioned for the men to raise the gourds as far as they could. Calico fired off two quick shots, each hitting the ground right between their feet and then called out, "would you rather me miss high or low?" Before either man could manage an answer she removed each gourd from the men. The one man was bleeding a bit but then he called out that he didn't need anymore kids anyway!

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Well, that kind of shocked me when the man said he didn't want any “more” children, so I lowered my rifle and told him I wanted to talk to him some more. If he had kids, why was he out rustlin' other peoples' cattle? I took him back to the porch of the main house and we sat down, on the way he asked if the youngest rustler could join us too. I wasn't sure why he wanted that, but saw no reason to refuse. Cheyenne and Frank just sat quietly listening as I told the man “Ok, I wanna know the whole story of how you ended up stealing those cows, now start talking!”

“My name is Hank Jones, and this here is my oldest son, Eddie. I got three more kids, another boy and two girls, they're in an orphanage down in Denver. I used to work for one of the banks down there, as a bookkeeper, didn't make much but enough to get by. Then my wife died giving birth to our fifth child, baby did too, and I started spending all my time in the saloons. Just couldn't take losing Becky, I guess, but it wasn't long before I lost everything else too. Got fired from my job, sold off just about everything I owned but drank away the money, then the bank took back the house. Nobody wanted to hire a drunk for much of anything, couldn't find another job. The sheriff in Denver came and took the three younger ones, said I couldn't take care of them so they'd have to go to the orphanage. He wanted to take Eddie too, but my boy refused, said someone had to make sure I was ok. That was the worst day of my life, and the last time I had a drink.”


“It wasn't easy getting sober, but I did it, too bad the damage had already been done. Too many people knew the trouble I'd gotten into when I couldn't put down the bottle, and no one was willing to give me a second chance. All I wanted was a way to earn a little money so I could get my children back, didn't matter to me how I did it. I would have preferred something legal, but I guess I was a little too desperate. When those other two fellers, Bart and Charlie, asked if Eddie and I would help them steal some cattle, and offered to split any money we made selling them, well, I knew it was a bad idea but I went ahead and said yes anyway.....fool that I am! If I had known they were planning on stealing from the Culpepper ranch I'd have never said yes. Now, I know I ain't got any right to ask you to trust me, ifn' ya still want to turn me over to the sheriff fer hangin' I don't blame you a bit....all I'm gonna ask is that you give my boy Eddie here a chance to redeem himself. He's a good boy, and a hard worker, he'll do whatever ya want him to. Hopefully someday he'll be able to earn enough money to get his brother and sisters outta that darn place....”

By the time Hank had finished speaking, I could see a couple of tears rolling down his cheeks, and Eddie's eyes were watery too. I still didn't think it was right for anyone to steal, but if the man's story was true, then I could see why he'd done what he had. I couldn't begin to say what I'd be willing to do for Mathew and Sarah, maybe I'd go that far too, I just hoped I'd never have to even think about it. I could tell Frank was thinking really hard about it as well...

“Mr. Jones, here's what I'm going to do,” Frank told him, “I'm going to send a couple of men down to Denver to investigate your story. While they're gone, you will remain under guard here on the ranch, your son will be allowed to stay with you while he's not helping with the horses. If I find out that what you've told me is true, well, I could sure use a good bookkeeper here, I just don't have the energy for it anymore, and I know my son and daughter-in-law don't like getting stuck with that particular chore. I'll expect you both to work real hard, and I won't tolerate any more attempts to steal from me, either money or cattle. But if you do a good job, I'm willing to do what I can to help you get your other kids back. But if I find out you're lying, then I'm turning you over to the sheriff. Your boy can stay here or he can join his siblings down in Denver, his choice. That's as fair of a deal as I can offer you...”


“Sure sounds good to me, sir, and I certainly ain't gonna say no! You'll find out I ain't lyin'....and I'll do whatever you want me to, if it'll help me get me get my family back!” was the answer. All I could do was hope that things really would work out in his favor, I was actually starting to like the guy, and feel sorry for him. I did apologize for shooting at him as well, he just kind of smiled and said “I'm just glad you're a better shot that I would have given ya credit for!” There was still the matter of what to do with the other two men though....

Doc Eells was just finishing up patching up Bart's shoulder, and Cheyenne told the man that the sheriff was on his way to take him back to town for trial, and for hanging. Bart just laughed in Cheyenne's face, but we ignored him. We told Charlie that a deal was a deal, as long as he didn't try anything stupid again and did whatever chores he was assigned, we'd let him stay. Otherwise he could go with the sheriff as well. He seemed to agree to it, at least until he was told he'd have to help clean out the barns. “Let me guess, yer gonna stick me with all the jobs no one else wants to do....ain't ya?” he asked, and we admitted that's the way it was going to be. Cheyenne told him in no uncertain terms that it was his decision to make, either agree to do what he was told or face trial for his crime. “Can't I at least think about it?” Charlie asked, and Cheyenne said sure, “You have until the sheriff gets here to make your choice, you better start thinking fast!” I wasn't sure what he was going to choose, but I had the feeling that this one was going to be trouble if he did stay...


But I had more important things to think about just then, Little Flower had come over and informed me that Mathew was making it clear he was hungry again...so I left the men to wait for the sheriff and returned to our house to take care of my son. As I was nursing him I again started hoping I would never have to do something so desperate for my children as Hank had done for his!

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It wasn't a few minutes until I repented of my idea not to drill Bart through his hard head with a bullet instead of just wounding him! Then Charlie gets testy about having to clean stables instead of swinging from a rope? Hmmph!! I was ready to hang him with an old stretched out rope!

 

We would have to keep an eye on Charlie, I would need to give the men orders, or permission to shoot him on sight if he decided to try to pull the least possible shenanigan, if I didn't first.

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