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Calico Mary

Dreams of the Golden Aspen Ranch

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That afternoon I called a meeting with all the men, and women on the ranch, including Charlie, Mr. Jones and Eddie. I laid it out in no uncertain terms what we expected out of the three of them, none were to be in possession of firearms at any time, or until further notice, none were to leave the ranch proper, and they were expected to do their jobs without complaint. You could just see Charlie squirming, Mr. Jones and Eddie were all smiles, I really wished I could say the same for Charlie, but I couldn't.

 

When the sheriff arrived to take Bart for trial, I sent Karl along with Charlie. I wanted Charlie to see what Bart was going to go through and to see the man swing from the end of a rope, maybe that would help his disposition. Karl needed a little time in town too after the ordeal in Central City. Besides I was tired of hearing him belly ache about me ruining his yellow shirt with the Central City's sheriff's brains. I also knew the Karl would shoot either man on the spot if they tried anything funny.

 

Grumpy Old Man was working out real well as a new hand, he and his cattle dog would ride the fences everyday checking for breaks and if any strays had gotten through the fence Buford would chase them down and herd them back where they belonged. Yes, Grumpy was working out real well, and he was a hoot to listen to during the evenings when we got a chance to sit around the fire.

 

Our new house was nearing completion but both Calico and I were yearning to return to my grandfather's cabin and the quietness it provided. We weren't so sure when we would be able to with my father's health that seemed to be failing somewhat. I had had several dreams about his desire to ride to the mountains, a ride I knew that he would never return from. I was hoping for maybe a weeklong visit to the cabin with Mathew,Sarah and Little Flower. We would have to play it by ear to try to make it work. Calico was seeing a change in my father's countenance but there was something that just wasn't quite right.

 

The sheriff arrived that afternoon with a package from the store in town, a small package that the sheriff handed to Calico. A huge smile came across her face as she handed the package to me to open, which I wasted no time opening. The first clue I saw was the word Hamilton, then the word Watch, my oh my, my Calico had somehow ordered me a beautiful pocket watch. I wound it and then put it to my ear to listen to it's 17 jewel movement, what a marvelous sound it made, and it's second hand twirling around. Calico did tell me that it wasn't to be gotten wet, so it would have to stay out of the water hole, which was fine with me, my pockets never went into the water hole anyway!

 

Just before Karl and the sheriff headed for town I had Little Joe bring some cans, I threw the cans into the air and Karl kept the two cans bouncing in the air until his pistols were empty. I gave Karl and new box of shells and told him to have a good time in town. The sheriff was all smiles but Bart and Charlie didn't look none too happy at all, maybe it was Karl's telling them to go ahead and run with a sick sneer on his face made the men so uncomfortable, I thought it was kind of funny though.

 

I went back to Calico and her twinkling eyes, we had better things to do that evening....

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While we were waiting for the men that Frank had sent to Denver to come back and verify Hank's story, I started showing Hank the ranch's books. Keeping up with them had been one of the few things that I had been allowed to do towards the end of my pregnancy, and I'd continued to work on them as best I could after the babies had been born. But it was really hard finding enough time to do it, so I was glad for the chance to turn it over to someone else. There were just so many hours in the day, and I had other things to deal with.

Frank did still help a little, but recently it seemed like he just didn't have the energy to do much. In fact, it had been weeks since he'd ridden out to the range for anything, and although he did still visit the barns almost daily, it was just to take a quick look around and make sure things were getting done. Mostly he let Cheyenne handle things, and I could tell Frank wasn't real happy about having to do so. Doc Eells had examined him several times, but neither man was forthcoming about what might be wrong, both flat out refused to discuss it. That had both Cheyenne and I worried sick, but there wasn't much we could do other than try to keep the ranch running smoothly. At least Frank still enjoyed spending time with his grandchildren, so I made sure he got to see them as much as possible. I had been worried at first that Frank would only be interested in Mathew, since he had wanted a grandson so badly, but he was just as happy to hold and play with Sarah, showing both babies equal love and attention.

It didn't take long for Hank to understand our account books, and he quickly settled in to his new job. He did tell me that he was impressed by the fact that my arithmetic was all correct, although he did point out that I sure could use some improvement on my handwriting and my spelling. I had to admit to him that I was much better with numbers than writing, and between the two of us it didn't take long for him to fix things up. We also spent a lot of time talking, and I quickly decided that he wasn't such a bad person after all. He did seem to be truly sorry for the mistakes he had made, and was sincere about wanting to make amends. I knew from experience that love can make people do strange or stupid things sometimes, and I sure hoped that we could help this family get their lives back together.

We finally put the books away so that I would have time to feed the babies before dinner, but before I left he had one more question for me. “Mrs. Culpepper, I noticed that the ranch has a church over yonder, and I was wondering...can anyone attend if they want to?” “Sure thing Hank, it's open to anyone who wants to go, our preacher would be more than happy to have you and Eddie there for services next Sunday if you'd like to be there. But please don't call me Mrs. Culpepper, that's way too formal fer my likin', just call me Calico, everyone does,” I told him.

“Thank ya kindly, Mrs....I mean Calico...and I think me and Eddie just might do that. It's been a long time since I've been in a place of worship, and I think I'm long overdue. I know I've sinned, but maybe with this preacher's help I still can find a way to repent those sins, and someday find forgiveness....”

“Seems to me like wanting to is the first step in getting there, and I'm sure the preacher would be more than happy to help ya. In fact, you don't even have to wait for Sunday, he makes himself available to talk to anyone whenever they feel the need. Don't hesitate to stop in and visit him sometime, he'll be glad ya did!” I sure hoped that Hank would take my advice, as much as I liked the man I knew he wasn't completely finished wrestling the inner demons that had almost ruined his life, but I wasn't the right person to help him through it. Our preacher, Biblepuncher, would be a lot bigger help to him with that particular problem. It would be good for Eddie as well, at dinner that night Cheyenne told me that the young man had admitted that he didn't know much about horses, but had tried really hard to learn everything that the men had been teaching him, and really was the hard worker that his father had promised he was. With a little experience under his belt, the kid would end up a fine addition to the crew.

After dinner Cheyenne and I made another trip down to the water hole, but my thoughts that evening were still on Hank and Eddie. I was keeping my fingers crossed that the men sent to Denver would come back with good news. I was also kind of wondering how things were going for Karl, having to deal with Charlie. Somehow I just knew that one was going to be trouble.....

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Karl had an uneventful ride into town with the sheriff, Bart and Charlie. I reckon Bart wasn't to talkative with his hanging looming over his head and Charlie may have been trying to reconcile himself to being a stall hand. I didn't see his problem with that, it was certainly better than the rope Bart had waiting for him.

 

Karl asked the sheriff to put up Charlie in the jail overnight so that he could take care of his "business" properly. I knew the "ladies" at the saloon were going to be glad to see him with a month's wages in his pockets. The next morning found Karl still awake for he wasn't about to waste any free time with his eyes closed and he was at the sheriff's office in time to take Charlie to see Bart's trial and hanging. The trial didn't last but for fifteen minutes, and ten of that was when the judge excused himself to the outhouse for a, well to take care of business.

 

When the guilty verdict was announced the judge looked at Karl and asked him if Charlie was next, Karl looked at Charlie who had turned incredibly white, and asked him what he wanted to do.

Charlie got pretty quiet and told the judge he'd gladly go back to the ranch, please. They led Bart out to the gallows and fixed the rope around his neck and asked him if he wanted to say anything before the door he was standing on opened. Bart just lowered his head and nodded he was ready, and the trapdoor swung open and Bart dropped to his death, the rope knot snapping his neck like a fresh green bean. At the sound of Bart's neck snapping Charlie vomited everything that he had in his stomach and then dry heaved for several minutes. Karl pulled a bottle from his saddle bags and offered it to Charlie who downed about half of it before stopping for a breath.

 

Bart hadn't stopped swinging when Karl motioned for Charlie to mount up for the long ride back to the ranch. Charlie still didn't have much to say, but he did tell Karl that he was going to try to go straight, at which Karl assured him that if he didn't he most likely wouldn't make it to town for a hanging.

 

Back at the ranch Little Flower had been working with the Autumn pony's foal, which was also named Little Flower. Eddie had been watching Little Flower pretty intently and was trying to be where ever Little Flower was. I was going to have a talk with him about watching his Ps and Qs, but after watching Little Flower handle a knife earlier that year I figured she didn't need any protecting. Eddie was picking up horse knowledge pretty quickly and was even trying to volunteer to help break horses when we got around to it. I had to chuckle to myself at his eagerness because I remembered when I was his age my excitement of trying to prove myself I almost got myself killed.

 

Our new house was nearing completion, but my father was talking about him moving into it because it was smaller than the main house and Calico and I would need more space, after all he was sure that we would be giving him more grandchildren. Calico and I had been practicing but neither of us was really ready for any more surprises any time soon. We weren't to sure about moving into the main house instead of the new one, but we still had a couple more weeks before we had to make up our minds. I knew that Hank and Eddie would appreciate moving into our small cabin on the ranch, after all they had been living in one of the barns, but without one complaint.

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The men that had been sent to Denver to investigate Hank's story came back and reported that they'd confirmed every part of the man's story had been true. I was so glad to hear that, both father and son were turning out to be great additions to the ranch. Working on the books didn't take up all Hank's time, so he gladly volunteered to pitch in anywhere else help was needed. He really didn't know much about ranching, but was as fast a learner as his son, and did everything asked of him with a smile on his face. The two of them quickly became popular with all the other hands, no one seemed to have any trouble granting the man the second chance he wanted so badly.


On the other hand, Charlie was not winning himself any friends. Even though he'd agreed to do whatever work assigned to him, he tried his hardest to get out of doing anything, and had to be watched constantly to make sure he wasn't slacking. He complained about everything, and was so surly and rude that none of the men wanted anything to do with him. You could tell Charlie resented the whole deal, and I was beginning to wonder if we should have just let the sheriff have him. As a ranch hand he was worthless, as a human being he wasn't much better. The man made it very clear that he hated us, and it made me more than a little nervous to be around him.

The new house was finally finished, and Cheyenne and I spent one evening talking to his father about who was going to get which house. I could see Frank's point about eventually needing more room, but for now I felt better about moving into the new one, and letting him stay in the home he and Lives Again had worked so hard to build. It didn't seem right, having him move out of there considering his health was fading. Besides, although Cheyenne and I did want more children at some point, we were trying really hard to make sure it wasn't going to happen any time soon. I had my hands full enough with the twins, thank you very much! Still, I didn't mind the practicing at it....

It was finally decided that we would go ahead and move into the new house, at some point down the road if more babies came along we could always switch then. I loved the place, it had been designed to look a lot like the old cabin, just much bigger. The twins had their own room, and so did Little Flower. The babies were at the point that they were starting to sleep through the night, and Cheyenne and I liked having our bedroom all to ourselves again. It was a lot of fun decorating the place, though I did let Little Flower decide how she wanted her room to look. I don't know what I would have done without that girl's help, she was such a blessing to me. And boy did she love helping with the twins, though recently I had noticed that she was occasionally getting a little distracted any time Eddie was in the vicinity. She didn't let it distract her to the point of not taking good care of the babies, so I didn't say anything. After all, if the two kids liked each other, there was nothing wrong with that as long as they both behaved themselves. They were still a little young to be getting too serious.

One more thing that we decided on was that Cheyenne was going to accompany Hank to Denver, to get his younger children out of the orphanage. Hank had wanted to go after them as soon as his story had been verified, but we'd managed to talk the man into waiting until our little house was available to them, we didn't want the youngsters to have to stay in the barn. Living in that little house was going to be a tight squeeze for the family, so Eddie volunteered to move into the bunkhouse with the other single men, to give his siblings a little more room. He'd still be able to see his family any time he wanted, and the other men had no objections, so we agreed.


Cheyenne and Hank were going to take the train down to Denver, and Cheyenne would go to the orphanage with the other man and let the nuns running it know that Hank now had a decent job and a place to live, and that the
Culpepper ranch would vouch for his ability to take proper care of them now. Then Hank and the children would return to the ranch, while Cheyenne remained in Denver for a while. The Culpepper lawyer, Mr. Winchester, was spending a lot of time down in Denver now, and Cheyenne wanted to meet with the man to ask for his assistance with something we'd been discussing for a while. We felt it was high time we formally adopted Little Flower, but weren't sure how to go about it. We didn't have any idea of the laws surrounding adoption of an orphan indian child, and were hoping Winchester could help. She was already part of the family in our hearts, it was time to make it official.


Cheyenne and Hank had to leave early one morning in one of the wagons to get to Fort Collins to catch the train to Denver. Frank, Eddie, Little Flower, and I walked outside to see them off. I was going to miss Cheyenne, but he promised he wouldn't be gone too long, and told me to make sure to be ready for a trip to the water hole when he did get back. He hitched his horse to the wagon, he would leave both the horse and the wagon at the fort, if everything went smoothly at the orphanage Hank would be returning later that day with his children, and would use the wagon to bring them back here. Captain Baylor had promised to take care of the horse until Cheyenne returned, so that he would have a way to get back to the ranch.


After they had departed, the rest of us turned to go back into the house, and get started with the day's chores. As I was walking to the house, I glanced over at the barns, and saw Charlie standing just outside the door of one of them. It was obvious that Karl had just dragged Charlie out of bed, but was having a hard time getting the man to get busy with his chores. Charlie noticed me looking at him, and stared back at me with such hate in his eyes that it sent a shiver down my spine. Somehow I was getting the feeling that he was up to something.....

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Before I left for Denver with Hank I had had a talk with the men about Charlie, they were to drop him in his tracks like a hot potato if needed. I was really regretting not letting the man hang with Bart, something just wasn't right with the man and his attitude. I assured everyone of the men that if the need arose that they would be doing the sheriff a favor if Charlie did anything wrong. I also told the men they were to go heeled at all times and that someone was to keep an eye on him continuously. I let them know without doubt I would not be pleased if he had pulled something and was still alive when I returned.

 

I had a long talk with the young preacher, Biblepuncher the night before I left for Denver. My dad had been seeking his counsel quite a bit lately and he assured me that my father had "gotten right" and that if anything were to happen to him Biblepuncher assured me he was ready to meet his Maker. The young preacher also told me that Hank and Eddie had stopped by and that he had a long talk with them. Seems Hank knew that he had backslidden severely and was eager to show his son how to live a righteous life. It seemed that our new church and the young preacher would be a great addition to the ranch. Not to mention the affect his preaching about the love of Christ was having on my life as well.

 

As Hank and I rode out that day on the wagon I actually felt pretty good about leaving, except for Charlie. But with the instructions I had left with the men and the advice I had given Calico and Little Flower about him I was pretty confident every thing would be fine. After all, the last time I left Calico had actually captured the rustlers almost by herself, even if it was luck.

 

As we rode Hank was curious about my Cheyenne blood and how my father had met my mother. It sure helped the time fly by as we drove the wagon to Ft Collins and then on the train to Denver. I was almost hoarse answering all of Hank's questions, but luckily the train had plenty of liabations for us to choose from to quench our dry throats.

 

We arrived at the orphanage and was met with somewhat unpleasant looks, I guess that they weren't used to buckskins and long hair on someone vouching for a parent to retrieve their children. It was funny though how they reacted when Hank introduced my to them, it seems they had heard the Culpepper name once or twice before, and had seen it on checks that was regularly sent from my father. After several apologies Hank's children were brought to him and we were out the front gate in very good time. The wagon we had rented at the livery came in real handy with the children along and after a stop at eatery I dropped off Hank and his children off at the train depot for the start of their trip to their new home. I shook Hank's hand as I was turning to leave and the tears were flowing freely down his cheeks as he thanked me for his second chance, and the opportunity to have his children again.

 

I had a few minutes before I was to see Mr Winchester and I stopped in at a hardware store to check out the latest firearms available. My eyes immediately spotted an exquisite pair of nickel plated Colt Lightnings that I knew would fit Calico's hands perfectly. I knew she loved her Winchester and once I saw the 1876 Winchester in 45-70, that was set aside for her as well. Next was a Sharps for her, I knew she had quietly coveted mine over the years and knew that this trio of firearms would be greatly appreciated by her, and I knew that that would be a good thing!

Then I asked the man just how many firearms he had in stock and what kind of price that I could get on his entire inventory of his latest arrivals. After a bit of haggling with the man we settled on a price and had him start boxing them back up and be prepared to deliver them to the depot. I also bought out his inventory of ammo, after all what's good a gun without ammo?

 

I arrived at Mr. Winchester's office and found him waiting for me. We spoke at length about my father, Calico and the children and the ranch. He assured me that it would only take a few days to get the paper work in order to adopt Little Flower. The fact that I was a Culpepper and half Cheyenne didn't hurt matters one little bit. He suggested that we meet his wife at the restaurant on the corner and continue our conversation there, and he told me his wife was intrigued with the story of my quest and how I had met Calico and wanted to hear the whole story. Oh my, I thought, I wasn't sure my throat was going to get through the evening without a lot of liquid refreshments.

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Hank and his children made it back that evening right before dinner, and just in time too. A storm was moving in, and while we were eating we could hear the wind picking up and the thunder, and saw plenty of flashes of lightning. We didn't get any rain out of it, which was rather disappointing, as the land was really starting to dry out and the weather was turning much hotter. I was just glad the family hadn't been caught out in all that lightning. The children....Laura, Rose, and Tommy...were happy to be reunited with their father and older brother, and were a little in awe of their surroundings...they'd never been on a ranch before. We got them all fed, then Hank took the younger ones to their new house, and Eddie headed off to the bunkhouse for the night.


In the morning, Little Flower and I were heading for the main house with the twins for breakfast when Prairie Dawg came running over to us. “Hey Calico, we got a problem....Karl and I were heading for the barns a few minutes ago and we noticed smoke rising over west, looks like it's coming from the foothills somewhere. Could be some of that lightning set off a fire up there, Karl's climbing up to the loft of the tallest barn to see if he can get a better look, ya think we need to go check it out?”

I turned to the west and sure enough there was a big plume of gray smoke rising off in the distance. It looked to be quite a ways off, but I knew that with as dry as conditions were, a forest fire could spread very rapidly, and I couldn't tell just how close it might be to the old cabin. Not only that, if the fire spread east out of the foothills, it could easily turn from a forest fire to a grass fire, and cause a lot of damage to the Culpepper lands. “Let me get the twins inside and let Frank know what's going on, and see what he thinks. While I'm doing that, can you please get all the men together and let them know what's going on?”

Prairie Dawg nodded, then ran off to spread the word. Little Flower and I continued on to the main house, and quickly explained the situation to Frank. Little Flower and Lu Sing volunteered to watch the twins while I went back outside with Frank so he could get a look at the smoke, and when he saw it he quickly frowned. He told me “Looks like this could be a pretty bad one, I think it's best we send almost everyone up there. If I'm wrong, they just got themselves a nice ride to start the day, but if I'm right they're gonna need all the help they can get. Just keep a skeleton crew down here, have everyone else mount up, and take axes and shovels with them. Oh, and make sure Doc Eells goes too, I don't want him involved in fighting the fire, but he needs to be close by in case anyone gets hurt. I just hope it doesn't come to that.....now I'm going to go see the babies, you go talk to the men.” With that Frank went back inside, leaving me staring after him in shock. I certainly hadn't been expecting this! What did I know about handling forest fires, besides absolutely nothing? Oh well, hopefully some of the men had some clue what to do....


By then the men had started gathering in the yard, so I let them know what Frank had said, and asked for about a half dozen volunteers to stay at the ranch, while everyone else would saddle up and ride out to the fire. Charlie was of course the first man to volunteer to stay behind, in fact at first he was the only one. Hank finally admitted that he knew nothing about fires, and since his kids had just arrived I told him to stay, and Eddie as well. Grumpy Old Man decided that he and his dog would probably be more help to me if they stayed behind, which made sense because I couldn't see his dog being much help with the fire. Even Biblepuncher wanted to go, saying he had some experience with such things. Finally it was decided that the two youngest hands, relatively new hires named Ike and Jack, would round out the skeleton crew, and everyone else ran to saddle their horses and grab the supplies they would need.

It wasn't long before all the men rode off, and things got really quiet then. Grumpy and his dog Buford rode off to make sure the herds were ok after last night's storm, and Jack went with them. Hank had already gone in the house to get busy on his day's work, his children were playing with some of the other kids over by the schoolhouse. I sent Eddie to feed and water the Clydesdales, and told Ike to keep a close eye on Charlie while he got started cleaning the stalls, he would have to do all of the barns himself, whether he wanted to or not. I knew it would be best to help Ike watch Charlie, but I needed to get the twins fed first, so I went back in the house. Little Flower asked if she could go help Eddie, and I saw no reason not to let her.


I had just finished nursing both Mathew and Sarah when I heard Eddie screaming my name. Hank and I both rushed outside and met Eddie on the porch, he was out of breath from running, but managed to tell us what had happened. “Little Flower had gone outside to get more water for the horse, and I heard her yell. I got outside in time to see Charlie dragging her up onto the horse he was riding, and he pointed a gun at me and told me not to try anything stupid. Then he rode off with her....Ike's laying in one of the corrals, and there's a shovel by him, I think Charlie musta knocked him out with it and stole his gun....”

“Eddie, I need you to saddle a horse and ride into town, an' get the sheriff fer me. Hank, please go see if Ike's ok, I'm going after Charlie!” Hank protested, saying “No, I can't let you go after him alone, I'm going with you!” I just shook my head, he wasn't that good of a rider, and I didn't even know if he could handle a gun. “I know what I'm doing, and Ike needs help....” I tried to tell him, but the man wouldn't be dissuaded. “Ok fine, but if you slow me down I'm not waiting fer ya....go grab a rifle outta the rack inside, and I'll go get a couple of horses. Tell Hop Sing to see to Ike.”

Hank went inside to get a rifle and Hop Sing, and Eddie and I raced for the barns. Most of the faster horses had already been taken by the other men, but we saddled up a couple that weren't too bad, one for Eddie and one for his father. I grabbed the reins of my autumn pony, but didn't bother with the saddle, I wasn't about to waste any more time. We led the horses out, and all three of us headed off, Eddie towards town, and Hank and I in the direction that Eddie had said Charlie went. If that scum had hurt Little Flower, I was gonna see to it that was the last thing he ever did.....





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Mrs Winchester was a striking woman, with not one item out of place. I must say that while I recounted my escapes during my quest her eyes would nearly bug out of her head at times. A few times I swear her face turned as red as mine when I told her about seeing Calico bathing at the water holes and Calico just staring at me, until Gloria pointed her rifle in my direction. She was truly interested in meeting Calico for she had never met such a woman who would work a cattle drive and then be able to get my attention as well. The Winchesters had seen my grow up and had sworn that no woman would be able to tame my wild spirit. They were sure that Calico must be some kind of woman!

 

We visited until late that night at the restaurant, as I walked to my hotel I must say my feet were feeling more than a little weird. As I entered the lobby of the hotel a woman quickly rose from her chair and greeted me as I made my way to the stairs and invited me to join her for a drink. I could feel hair on the nape of my neck start to raise. I may have been half lit by the wine I had earlier, but not so much as to confuse my judgement. It took several tries before the woman would leave me alone and finally I was able to get to my room.

 

That night my dreams were again visited by eagles, but this time I was watching as another eagle went into an attack dive, folding it's wings back and it's talons outstretched. It's eyes were focused on it's prey without wavering, faster, faster it continued it's dive and finally sinking it's talons deeply into it's prey. Was the eagle the woman I had just escaped from or was there some other meaning to my dream?

 

The next day was not filled with any obligations, Mr. Winchester would need a day to two to draw up the adoption papers and get things moving. I found another hardware that had new shotguns, a Lifter model made by Remington with double barrels. The store only had five so I bought those and ordered twenty more, plus several cases of shotshells for them. My nest stop was at a livery, the Winchester's had told me about Clydesdales that the livery had been breeding and suggested I check them out. They were fine specimens and I thought that four more would help Calico's breeding program immensely. The livery owner was going to see that the horses would be ready for the train when I was ready to head back to the ranch.

 

My next stop was unplanned, I was walking past a fire department and noticed a wagon with a water pumper on it. This was indeed something that the ranch needed, it sure beat the idea of a bucket line trying to put out a fire. There was a place in Denver that produced them so one more stop and one more item heading to the Culpepper Ranch. I was thinking that I may need to contact the rail line for another car just for the things I had already purchased.

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I was feeling like a child in a candy store, no wonder my father had always enjoyed his trips to Denver! My next stop was by McCormicks, I spied a new reaper that had just come out, it actually baled whatever you were reaping. I could see that it would use at least two less men, which would free them up for other tasks. I left the delivery of it up to the store, I imagine that it would come boxed to the ranch along with a couple of men to put it together and demonstrate how to use it.

 

Then came something frilly for Calico, I knew she liked her buckskins, but the only fancy things were from my mother's closet, she needed things of her own. I just knew this was going to be an easy task, until I walked into the dress store!

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As we rode in the direction that Charlie had gone, it didn't take long before I was far in front of Hank. He was trying his best, but he wasn't the most experienced rider in the world, and besides my pony could run faster than the horse Hank was riding. He did manage to keep me in sight, so I kept going, figuring that it wouldn't take me long to catch up to Charlie, and when I did Hank would be able to catch up to me. I had only gone a couple of miles when I spotted Charlie's horse, lying on the ground abandoned, and in great pain. That monster Charlie had tried riding through a prairie dog town at full speed, and sure enough the horse had stepped in one of the holes, and broken a leg. I knew where the town was, and had slowed down enough to switch directions and head around it. Obviously Charlie had either not known or not cared about the town, and his horse had paid the price for it. What upset me the most is that the rustler and Little Flower weren't still around, that scumbag had just gone off and left the horse laying there in agony.

I reined my pony in a little ways from the town, and dismounted to get a better look at the horse. One of its front legs was obviously badly broken, and I could tell as soon as I saw it that there was no hope for the creature. I knew what had to be done, but had never actually had to do it before, and by the time Hank caught up to me there were tears streaming down my face. I was trying to pull one of my pistols out of it's holster, but for some reason my hands were shaking so bad that I couldn't get it out. Hank put his hand on my shoulder, and gently said “Here, let me do it...you need to calm down and pull yourself together, you can't face Charlie like this!” So I let him take one of my pistols, and I walked over to my pony and threw my arms around his neck, burying my face in his mane. One quick shot and I knew that poor horse wasn't suffering anymore, but I still had to take several deep breaths before I started to calm down.


Hank came over to me and handed the pistol back, and asked me “Are you sure you don't want to wait for the sheriff and let him handle this? Charlie and Little Flower won't be getting very far ahead on foot, and the sheriff should be here soon. Besides, if you can't even put the horse out of its misery, what are you going to do if Charlie decides to start shooting at you?”

“Ain't the same thing, so quit worryin' about it,” I told him. “The horse didn't do anything wrong, just went where his rider made him go. I ain't gonna have any problem sending Charlie to hell! And no I ain't waiting fer the sheriff, there's no way those two have gotten far enough away to have not heard that shot, an' I don't trust that low-down snake not to hurt Little Flower. If it was one of your kids, would you keep going?”


Hank stared at the ground for a few seconds, then said “Let's get going, but please be careful!” I just got back on my pony, and headed off around the edge of the prairie dog town, with Hank making sure to follow on the same path I took. When we had skirted the edge of the town, it didn't take long to find two sets of footprints, one large set that were obviously made by boots, and a smaller set of someone in moccasins. It wasn't going to be hard to follow their trail, and there weren't many places out here for them to hide. Even though we were clear of all the holes, I still kept my pony to a walk, and advised Hank to do the same. Charlie had to know that we were getting close, and to rush after him at this point might push him to do something awful to the girl. I had to make sure I didn't let my emotions get so carried away that I would do something stupid, and put us all in even more danger.....

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Once inside the dress store I knew immediately that I was way out of my element. Why? you ask? For one thing I was the only male in the store, secondly, every eye in the place was trained on me, thirdly the looks I was getting from the women weren't the same as the woman last night at the hotel, matter of fact I had never seen those kinds of looks before, even from Calico.

 

Then I heard a cold voice, that matched the cold stares the I was the object of, "The men's store is across the street, perhaps you've made a mistake" the woman with the coldest eyes said to me. Then the woman from the hotel came out from the back, "Mildred! show crude of you, don't you realize who this is?" the woman from the hotel quickly blurted out. "That's the young Mr. Culpepper from the Culpepper ranch northwest of here, biggest ranch in the new state of Colorado, that's who he is!" The woman with the cold stare finally got the cat loose from her tongue and asked if she could be of any assistance. "Yes ma'am I do need some help" I told her, "but I'd like her to help me" nodding toward the woman from the hotel who had obviously done her homework on me.

 

The cold stares had miraculously disappeared as Miss Cora introduced herself to me formally, after all last night we hadn't gotten that far before I went to my room, alone. I told her I was looking for some proper clothes for my wife who was built somewhat like her except Miss Cora wasn't quite as well endowed as Calico. As my eyes searched the room for anything interesting I spied a hat on a shelf with the wildest feathers I had ever seen, they appeared to have eyes all over them. Miss Cora noticed my stare and asked me if I like the Peacock feathers, two which I replied, "Yes, and I'll take it, and that one beside it with the flowers."

 

Miss Cora asked me if Calico had proper undergarments which left me totally confused. "Undergarments? What are undergarments I asked her." She whispered in my ear, "well last night I would have shown you, but let me show you here on the table." I could feel the heat in my face as my embarrassment grew, "You just pick out whatever you think she should have" was all that I could get out of my mouth.

 

I quickly turned from the table with the unmentionables and asked to see some pretty dresses and such. I picked out two dresses that I thought were just right and Miss Cora totaled it all up and asked where I would like it delivered, like she didn't know where I was saying. I told her what hotel anyway and she said that it would be waiting for me later that day, and with that I quickly made my exit from the store.

 

The dress store had pretty well worn me out so I found a place to eat and after good steak I made my way to the room in my hotel. There were no packages yet from the dress store so took my buckskin shirt off and plopped on the bed, about that time there was a knock on the door, I hadn't locked it so I told them to come on in. Yes, you guessed it, it was Miss Cora with her arms loaded with packages. I just stared at her standing there until she asked me if I was going to let her stand there all night. I invited her in and as she passed the open door her foot pushed it closed. "I figured you might need me to show you how proper unmentionables are to be worn" she said with an alluring smile.....

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We rode for about another quarter of a mile, and were coming up on a stand of trees down by a stream when I heard what sounded like a struggle. I brought my pony to a stop and signaled Hank to do the same, just as Charlie stepped out from behind some trees, dragging Little Flower with him. It was obvious that he had hit her, and more than once, her face was bruised and bloody. It also looked like her clothes were a little torn, heaven only knew what that creep had been trying to do to her. I wanted to shoot the man right there and then, but he had the pistol he'd stolen from Ike pointed at the girl's head, so I didn't dare.

“Don't you come any closer!” Charlie yelled, “I'll kill her, I swear I will! You just get down off that horse right now, I'm gonna make you pay fer whut you did to me!”


“She didn't do anything to you that you didn't have coming!” Hank shouted back. You oughta be thanking her that you didn't hang like Bart did. The Culpeppers didn't have to give you a second chance to go straight, yet this is how you repay them?”


“Figures you'd say something stupid like that,” was Charlie's reply, “You ain't nothin' but a little lapdog ta all them Culpeppers now! They is gonna have you kissing their rears fer the rest o' yer life, and you is just lettin' em' do it! I ain't gonna live like that, no way!”


While the two men were arguing with each other, I slowly got down off my pony, making sure Charlie could see that I was keeping my hands away from my guns. “What's it gonna take to get you to let Little Flower go?” I asked him, “She's just a kid, she didn't do anything to you! If you wanna leave that bad, just put the gun down and let her go, and you can just walk away, I ain't gonna stop ya!”

“Yeah right, if I put the gun down you'll just shoot me in the back as soon as I can turn around! I ain't that stupid, and I ain't goin' anywhere while yer still breathin' anyway!”


To be honest, the thought of doing just that had crossed my mind, but I wasn't going to admit that to him! What I couldn't figure out was why he hadn't tried shooting me yet, he had obviously heard us approaching and could have shot me before we knew exactly where he was. He also wasn't making any attempt to kill me now, instead he was keeping the gun pointed at Little Flower. So I asked him again, “Just what is it you wanna do? Ifn' ya wanna kill me, just do it, but let Little Flower and Hank go!”


“You ain't in any position to be makin' any demands, now are ya, Mz. Culpepper?” Charlie told me. “I don't give a darn about the girl, though it's too bad you interrupted us before we got a chance to have a little fun, and Jones there ain't nothin' but a coward, I ain't got no use fer him any more! You an' me lady, face ta face at ten paces, ain't no way yer as good with those pistols as you were with that rifle...I'm gonna kill ya, and then maybe I'll think about letting the girl go...after we've had some fun...”

“Don't do it Calico! He's faster than you think,” Hank quickly whispered to me, but I shook my head. If I hadn't been totally disgusted with Charlie before, his threats of what he intended to do to Little Flower had settled it for me. No way was I going to let that scum do that to the girl, she was barely in her teens! How dare he even think such a thing....I didn't care how fast he was, I wasn't half bad either, and I wasn't about to let him get away with this without
a fight....

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I've got to tell you, I didn't have any words at that point. Like the old saying, Cat got your tongue?, well something did for sure. Miss Cora was setting the packages down and of course she was looking away from me as she bent over to set the packages on the floor. My tongue still wasn't working, but boy my mind was! What was she really after? I wasn't so naïve that I didn't know she was here because of my family's wealth and influence. After she straightened up she turned to face me and lickety-split she had her fingers working at the buttons on her dress. All I could get out was "Whoa, hold on there just a minute!" Which brought an immediate frown to her face.

 

I heard footsteps running up the stairs, down the hall and then a knock at the door and the words "Telegram Mr. Culpepper sir". I jumped up and went to the door and opened it just wide enough to let the boy hand me the telegram. I gave the boy a tip but before he left he asked me if I wanted him to wait in case I wanted to send a reply. I thought about it for a second and decided to send him on his way, I was stuck here in Denver and couldn't get out until morning at the earliest anyhow.

 

I sat on the bed to read the telegram, and wouldn't you know it Miss Cora sat right down beside me so close that I could smell her sweet perfume and feel her warm breath on my neck. She was making it awfully hard for me to concentrate on the telegram. I managed somehow to start reading it, "Fire in foothills, most of men gone to fight it, Charlie grabbed Little Flower and took off on horse back with Calico and Hank in pursuit, father at ranch overseeing things."

 

I had three different emotions fighting for control of my body, well four with Miss Cora sitting there next to me trying her best to get my attention. I finally found the words to tell her to please leave, I was very happily married and had no desire to mess that up. She reluctantly got up, kissed me on the cheek and told me, "Well, if you ever find yourself unattached look me up" and with that she was out the door.

 

My emotions could now fight it out for control, I was worried sick about the fire, if it made it down from the foothills it could be devastating. Charlie, that SOB, I hoped Calico could put a bullet in his brain somehow and be done with the fool. My father, he had NEVER stayed at the ranch for any type of emergency, the fire or something like Charlie running off and taking Little Flower. And I was stuck in Denver! The train didn't leave until ten the next morning, I would have a lot to do before then.

 

I put my shirt on and ran for the telegraph office, the boy told me he figured I'd been in soon so they had waited for me instead of closing for the night. The first telegram went to the ranch, "Will be on morning train." The second went to Captain Baylor at Fort Collins, "Charlie kidnapped Little Flower, Calico and Hank in pursuit, please help. Will be on morning train. Fire in foothills, please alert townspeople of need for help."

 

After leaving the telegraph office I found Mr. Winchester's home and told him all that was happening and that I would be leaving in the morning for home. His brow narrowed as he heard the news and told me I wouldn't be traveling alone, that he full well intended on going with me. I knew that there was no deterring him and told him he would be welcome. From there I got both hardware stores to open up for me and told them that they would need to expedite my orders and have them at the depot for the morning train.

 

My next stop was the train depot, the Clydesdales were already in the stable there ready to travel. I had to take a deep breathe and force myself to talk slowly so that the depot manager could understand me. He assured me that he would add a freight car if necessary and that the engineer would be given orders to open her up on the way to Fort Collins. I let him know how appreciative that I was and then returned to my room, but with a quick stop at the little white church first. There I found the pastor, told him of my news and spent time in prayer with him.

 

That night the eagles returned to my dreams, the one eagle was still attacking, over and over again. Another eagle was flying off alone towards the mountain, flying lower and lower as it flew. The third eagle was flying in circles, not knowing which eagle to follow. Needless to say, I fretted a lot that night, and morning couldn't come fast enough.

 

A lot had happened that evening since Miss Cora had delivered the packages, and I was thankful that she wasn't any part of any of it!

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I told Hank to hold the horses, and made sure my pistol was loose in it's holster, then moved to a spot about 10 paces in front of Charlie, and turned to face him. “You need to let Little Flower back off, we can't do this ifn' yer holdin' her!” I told him, so he shoved her away from him, and she fell hard. As Charlie was holstering his pistol, she managed to get to her feet and get out of the way, but I could tell she was still terrified. I just couldn't let Charlie win, not just for myself but for her sake too...

After seeing the hatred for me in Charlie's eyes, it wasn't easy for me to not be scared either. I took a deep breath, and tried not to let my hand start shaking, though I was pretty sure my knees already were. Charlie stared at me without saying anything for a few seconds, then gave a quick nod of his head and went for his pistol, and I did the same....

My gun was only halfway out of its holster when his cleared leather, and I heard a loud “BOOM”, and for half a second I froze, I couldn't believe someone that fast had missed me that badly, his shot went way off to the side. I knew I had but one chance to get a shot off myself, so I didn't dare miss. I aimed as quickly as I could and squeezed the trigger...and hit him right between the eyes, the exact spot I was aiming for. The outlaw had been in the process of lining up his second shot, this time straight at me, when my bullet hit him, and he dropped like a rock, his shot going harmlessly into the dirt a few feet in front of me.

 

I lowered my pistol, and then Little Flower threw herself into my arms, crying hysterically. I hugged her really hard, telling her “It's ok now sweetie, he can't hurt you any more.” She just kept crying and pointed in the direction Hank had been standing. I turned to look at him, and instead of seeing him standing there I noticed he was laying sprawled out on the ground between the two horses. I quickly let go of Little Flower and ran to Hank's side, dropping to my knees beside him. Now I understood why Charlie had missed so badly, he wasn't aiming his first shot at me, but at Hank! The bullet had struck my friend in the chest, and I could tell he was badly hurt.


“Hang on, Hank, we'll get you some help, just hang on!” I said, but he just opened his eyes a little and shook his head. “Damn fool that I am, I thought I could get the rifle out in time to stop him...but he saw me doing it...it's ok, you and the girl are safe” Hank whispered, “Tell Eddie...tell Eddie to take care of the little ones....”

With that, I saw the light fading in his eyes, and he took one more shallow breath....then stopped. “NO!” I screamed, “Don't you do this to me Hank...don't you die on me! Oh Lord, please don't let him die....”, but I could tell it wasn't going to do me any good, my friend was gone. What was I going to tell his children? This just wasn't fair, the man had just managed to get his children back and was trying so hard to get his life back on track, how could this happen to him now?

I heard the sound of hoof beats approaching, but I didn't even look up. I didn't even care at first who it was, all I could think about was Hank had been killed for trying to protect me, and I was overcome with guilt. Then I heard Eddie scream “Pa” and looked up to see him jumping off his horse and running towards his father laying there. I quickly stood up and grabbed the boy, telling him “I'm so sorry Eddie...I'm so sorry...but at least he died a hero....” The boy struggled to get away from me, and threw himself at his father's body, bawling his eyes out. I didn't blame the boy, I was doing the same thing. By then the sheriff and his two deputies had also dismounted, Eddie had brought help like he'd been asked, it just came too late.

I quickly told the sheriff everything that had happened, but my voice sounded strange to me, like I was hearing someone else speaking, and from a distance. I felt so cold, and next thing I knew everything was spinning, and I couldn't seem to stay on my feet. As I started fainting, one of the deputies grabbed me to keep me from falling, then everything went black....

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Before daybreak a clear distinct voice awakened me, "Be still, and know that I AM God" was all that was said. Suddenly a strange calm came over me, the panic I had wrestled with during the night had vanished, replaced with a peace that passed all my understanding. I sat up on the edge of the bed trying to phantom what had just happened to me. I fell to my knees at my bedside and stayed in prayer until the noises of an awakening city drew my attention.

 

The peace was still with me, but what to do now, it didn't take me long to come to grips that I needed to continue my plans to head home, but now I was at peace with the future and what it may bring. It was still four hours until the train would depart and I decided to have breakfast, this was going to be a long day and I wanted to start out right.

 

After breakfast I stopped at the water pumper factory to inquire about a second pumper, they just happened to have one that was still unspoken for and had two men head out with it for the depot. I was aware we might not be able to get it loaded for todays train, but it was worth the try.

 

As I walked out into the street a troop coming down the street caught my attention, and everyone else's too. The troops just weren't seen in the city that often, especially with full gear. I was standing on the wooden walk staring at the troop in all it's regalia when they stopped directly in front of me. "You wouldn't happen to be Mr. Culpepper, would you?" the Lt asked. I affirmed that I was and the Lt. told me that Capt. Baylor had telegraphed their detachment and had asked for help with the forest fire. He said that they were headed for the depot and would meet me there for the trip to Ft Collins. I almost dropped to my knees when he gave me that news, I knew that Capt. Baylor and I had a great deal of respect for each other but this went beyond comprehension.

 

Then I heard that quiet calm voice again, "Be still and know that I AM God."

 

I met Mr. Winchester at his office, he had his baggage with him ready to travel. His wife had decided during the night that she was going too, she had a sure feeling that for some reason she needed to be a part of the trip. She gave me a big hug and a kiss on the cheek and said she was tired of the big city anyway. Then she laid a bombshell on me, her niece, Miss Cora would be joining us on the trip. I kept telling myself, "Be still and know that I AM God."

 

I asked for their pardon and told them I would meet them at the depot and headed for the telegraph office just in case anything had came in for me. I was hoping that no news is good news was going to hold true when there wasn't anything waiting for me. With that I headed for the depot, what a busy place it was that morning. The troop was loading their horses on a livestock car along with the four Clydesdales I had bought for Calico, and to pull the reaper.

 

There were several large boxes of firearms and ammunition being loaded up into the freight cars, along with both pumpers. The Lt. was amazed at the amount of firearms that were being loaded for the ranch and was more that a bit jealous because his men weren't equipped nearly as well. I told him we'd have to work on that.

 

The trip to Ft Collins was filled with conversation and to my joy Miss Cora and the Lt. seemed to be getting along quite well. One could only hope! The trip was much faster than normal, the engineer did have that steam beast just a huffing and puffing the whole way there.

 

 

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“Mrs. Culpepper....are you alright?” I heard someone say, and I opened my eyes to see the sheriff leaning over me, smelling salts in his hand. “Yeah, I guess so...” I replied, shaking my head again to get rid of the cobwebs. With his help I sat up, but he told me not to try to stand for at least a few more minutes, to make sure I wasn't going to pass out again. I looked over and saw Little Flower trying to comfort Eddie, and the memory of everything that had happened came rushing back to me, and I started feeling sick to my stomach. I didn't regret going after Charlie, but I did feel guilty about Hank getting killed, why did I let him come along?


While I was sitting there, the sheriff had his men start building a travois to use to transport Hank's body back to town. As far as I was concerned, Charlie's body could be left for the scavengers. The sheriff said he would take Hank to the undertaker, and tell him to prepare the body for burial, but not do anything else until he heard from the ranch. I knew that there was a small burial plot on the ranch, Cheyenne's mother and paternal grandparents were buried there, as well as a small number of ranch hands that had died over the years. I hoped Frank and Cheyenne would agree to lay Hank to rest there as well. We'd also have to have a long talk about what to do about the children, Eddie was a good kid but far too young himself to take on full responsibility for his siblings.


We rode back towards the ranch, with Little Flower riding double with Eddie. Both teens were still very upset, though Eddie had finally stopped crying. As we rode, the sheriff told me about Captain Baylor's decision to send soldiers out to help the men from the ranch with the fire if necessary, and I was thankful to hear that. I had noticed that the smoke off to the west seemed to be getting worse, and there was no signs of rain clouds moving in. I prayed that the men could do something to prevent the fire from reaching the ranch, the damage it would cause in the foothills was bad enough, a grass fire on ranch property could be devastating.


When we got closer to the ranch, the two teens and I parted ways with the sheriff and his deputies. Eddie did not want his younger brother and sisters to see their father's body, feeling that it would be too upsetting for them, and I agreed. The men rode off towards town, promising to return Hank's horse (which was dragging the travois) later. The kids and I dismounted in front of the main house, and Eddie then took his horse and my pony back to the barns, to unsaddle them and get them fed and watered. Little Flower and I went inside, and Hop Sing came into the hallway to greet us.


“Mr. Culpepper, he is up in bed, he is real sick. Lu is with him, but he need the doctor....” the man told me, and I cringed. We had sent Doc Eells west with the other men, someone would have to ride to town to see if the doctor that lived there would be able to come to the ranch. Ike had followed Hop Sing, his head was bandaged and he didn't look like he felt too good, but he did volunteer to ride into town. “If you're sure you're up to it, go ahead, I ain't got a whole lot of other choices....but take it easy, if you push yourself too hard you won't make it into town at all,” I told him, and Ike left on his errand, promising to be careful.

“I'll go up and see if there's anything I can do for Frank,” I started to tell Hop Sing, but just then Skipper appeared in the doorway of the den. “Calico, I know you need to see to Mr. Culpepper, but both twins are getting fussy, I think they're hungry and there's not much I can do about that....” Skipper told me. She had a point, but I was really torn between attending to them and seeing to my father-in-law. I took a deep breath, and came to the conclusion that Frank would be furious with me if I neglected the babies to go to his room, when there probably wasn't anything I could do for him that Lu Sing wasn't already doing. I went into the den to nurse the twins, and sent Skipper upstairs to help Lu. As I was sitting there, I started crying, and hoped Cheyenne would be home soon. After everything that had happened that day, I needed him there with me....to put his arms around me and let me know that he loved me, and that he would make everything all right.....

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I knew we were getting close to Ft. Collins when the locomotive pulling the train wasn't pulling so hard. The trip had been much faster than normal, but the conversations that were had between all of us would prove advantageous for years to come. I had never really gotten to talk with Mr. Winchester much and the time on the train with him brought us closer together. I still had my doubts about Miss Cora, was she paying attention to the Lt. just because her aunt and uncle were there? I surely hoped not, I didn't need that kind of distraction, or temptation! The Lt. on the other hand had definite ideas he wanted to share with me, which included training his men with the Sharps. He was also trying to figure out how to get his hands on 73 Winchesters, something we all knew the Army needed but congress was hesitant to provide them for the Army.

 

As the train slowed I could feel the eagerness to get back to the ranch and Calico growing within me. Capt. Baylor was waiting at the depot for the train and had Blackie all saddled and waiting for me. His face was grim though and my heart nearly fell into my stomach when I saw the sadness in it, was it Calico? Capt. Baylor quickly assured me that Calico was fine but that Hank had been killed in the gunfight with Charlie who was also killed. Hank? Gone? With those four kids! Gone? I took little solace in knowing that Charlie had passed and was burning in hell at that very moment. The Capt. told me that the sheriff had just gotten into town from the ranch and had brought back one body with him.

 

Capt. Baylor was sending ten of his own men with the troops from Denver and I insisted that they take the pumpers with them, there were plenty of water sources and I was hoping that the pumpers would be a great help in fighting the fire. The troops wasted no time in hitting the trail to fight the fire taking the pumpers with them.

 

I sent Mr. Winchester, his wife and Miss Cora to the livery to procure I buggy for the ride to the ranch while I headed for the sheriff's office. The body was still covered behind the horse and being sure that it must be Charlie under the tarp I pulled a pistol to put one last shot into the s.o.b.! My heart nearly broke when I saw Hank under the tarp. I would have dearly loved to have put one last shot into Charlie! As I was re-holstering my pistol the sheriff came out and quickly filled me in on what happened. He finished it with "greater love hath no man than this, that he give up his own life for his friends." I told the sheriff to have his body taken care of by the undertaker and then have him returned to the ranch for a proper burial. The sheriff asked what was to become of Hank's children and I told him that not a single child had ever left the ranch as an orphan and I wasn't about to let that happen know.

 

As I arrived back at the depot the Clydesdales were teamed up by twos and each team was hooked up to two large freight wagons loaded with the new firearms and ammunition. Capt. Baylor was nearly slobbering at the boxes of new Winchesters, Sharps, Colts and Remington shotguns stacked high on the wagons. I patted him on the back and assured him that I had a feeling that more may just happen to show up at the fort soon which brought a smile to his face. There's nothing worse than sending your men into battle that are under armed and ill supplied.

 

Once we finally hit the road to the ranch I thought we would never get there. I so wanted to ride ahead of the buggy and the wagon but my father had taught me better than that. I did have to excuse myself from them though when I caught sight of the house and Blackie quickly responded to my urgings for a full run. Someone must have heard Blackie's hooves because before I got near I could see several people gathering on the porch but best of all was seeing Calico clear the steps in a single bound and on a dead run straight for me!

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After I was finished with the twins, I put them done for naps and went to see Frank. He was laying in bed with his eyes closed when I walked in, then he opened them and looked at me. “Charlie?” he asked, so I told him the whole story, and the tears returned when I got to the part about Hank. Frank reached over and took my hand, saying “I know it hurts, but at least Little Flower is ok...be thankful for that much....and the Jones children will be taken care of, you have my word.”

I could tell just that little bit of conversation was tiring for him, so I told him to try and get some rest. “I'll be alright, just a little tired today...” he replied as he drifted back to sleep. Lu Sing looked at me and shook her head, obviously there was more to it than just simple exhaustion, and there wasn't a darn thing any of us was going to be able to do. I had thought my heart was broken already earlier that day, but now I felt ten times worse. Frank had done so much for me, and I knew Cheyenne would be devastated to lose his father. I sure knew how that felt, and the tears started again, this time I didn't even try to stop them.

I sat there with him for quite a while, letting Lu and Skipper leave to get some lunch. Lu volunteered to bring me something to eat as well, but I wasn't hungry. It was getting late in the afternoon when I heard the sound of a horse approaching, and went to the window to look. A quick glance was all it took to realize Cheyenne was home, and I went running downstairs and out the door. As soon as Cheyenne dismounted I threw myself into his strong arms, bawling hysterically. I tried to tell him what had happened, and what was happening with his father, but I doubt he could understand a word I was saying, I wasn't making much sense. Finally Hop Sing had to take over the narrative, turned out Cheyenne already knew the part about the gunfight from talking to the sheriff, but when he heard about his father he quickly let me go and headed straight for his father's room.

He came out a while later, looking almost as pale as his father had. “Just make sure....make sure he gets to see Mathew and Sarah as much as he wants from now until......” Cheyenne started, but he couldn't finish his thought. I knew what he was getting at though, so I just nodded and hugged him to me. He wasn't crying like I had been, but I could still feel him shaking. Then he asked about Little Flower, and I told him she was down at the house we had given to the Jones family, helping Eddie and his siblings. The Winchesters had also gone down there to see what they could do to help comfort the children. “I'm glad they came with you, Bea Winchester is a lovely lady, and so sweet to be so concerned for those young ones. Her niece I'm not too sure about, but maybe it's just because I haven't really had the chance to get to know her yet,” I told him. I did notice that he looked away when I brought up the subject of Cora, and I couldn't help but wonder why....

I don't think either of us felt like eating, but when supper was ready we joined our guests in the dining room. Both Cheyenne and I just picked at our food, we weren't very hungry, and except for Eddie the Jones children didn't eat much either. I wasn't surprised that Eddie ate everything on his plate, boys his age seldom were ever not hungry. Little Flower didn't eat much either, but in her case I think it was just because her mouth was a little sore where Charlie had slapped her a couple of times, her injuries weren't too bad but would be tender for a few days. All in all it was a very depressing evening for all of us, and there was still the uncertainty of what was going on with the fire and how much longer Frank Culpepper would be with us.....

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As I sat with my father that afternoon he shared with me that he knew that he wasn't going to be around much longer, but that it was OK. He was prepared and ready to walk on the streets of gold in heaven with my mother who he had missed so terribly much since she passed over. Who could blame him on being ready to go, with those promises it really took the sting out of him leaving soon. That one thing he did ask, and that was for me to take him to the mountains before he passed so that his last breaths would come from the mountain air. It was then that the dreams of the eagle flying towards the mountain made sense.

 

I didn't share that with Calico right away because I didn't want to upset her any more than she already was about Hank. I would have to find a good time to tell her, but it wasn't now.

 

I decided to send Grumpy Old Man with a freight wagon loaded with supplies to the men fighting the fire, I knew that he and his trusty dog Buford would get the supplies to them in good time and make sure all was going well, hopefully. I did get him a new bottle of brandy for the trip, for I knew he enjoyed a sip every now and then. We had a team of the new Clydesdales hitched to the loaded wagon in short order and he was headed west towards the mountains in record time. I was beginning to feel the attachment my father had for so many of his men, men who would devote so much of their lives to the ranch and with such dedication, it was a sure way to be humbled.

 

I was started to get used to being home again, never did like the big city much, and was thinking the water hole was sounding like a good idea. But man, with the kids now, guests, and responsibilities trips there sure weren't as often as they used to be. But that didn't stop me from thinking about it!

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I'd had bad nightmares before, but nothing as bad as the ones that hit me after the battle with Charlie. It seemed like as soon as I closed my eyes I would see him staring at me, eyes full of evil and hatred, both of us surrounded by fire. Over and over again I saw him shoot Hank, and start to point the pistol at me, and all I could do was stare beyond the fire to where Cheyenne and Frank were riding away....

That same nightmare started happening over and over, and every time I would wake up screaming or crying, or both. Not only did it make it impossible for me to get any sleep, but it was affecting Cheyenne and pretty much everyone else in the main house as well, including Frank, which upset me deeply, he didn't need this right now. Cheyenne and I had moved back into the main house (were we ever going to stop moving around so much?) so that we could be closer to Frank. We were letting the Winchesters use our new house, and they had the Jones children stay with them. I finally sent Little Flower back to the new house to stay with the Winchesters as well, at least then she could get some sleep.


It wasn't long before Cheyenne and I were completely exhausted, and not just from lack of sleep. Between worrying about his father and the fire, concern for the men fighting the fire, having to do almost all the work around the ranch, and making sure all the kids were taken care of, we had no energy left for ourselves. We did still have Jack and Ike there, and all the kids except the littlest girl Rose pitched in as much as they could, but there was still far more work to be done than we had time to do. All we could hope for was for the men to get that fire under control, and soon!

I quickly lost track of how many days had passed since the hands had gone west and I'd had the fight with Charlie, was it four or five? I didn't know, time was just a blur, the days were spent rushing around trying to get everything done, and the nights were spent trying not to let my terror get the best of me. I knew Charlie wasn't going to hurt anyone again, but my mind just couldn't seem to let it go. Not only was I not sleeping, but I was having trouble eating, and couldn't keep anything down. Cheyenne sent for the town doctor again, fearing that I might be pregnant again, but the doctor was pretty sure it was all just symptoms of the depression I was feeling over the loss of Hank.

The undertaker had brought Hank's body to the ranch for burial, and although we would have preferred to wait for the rest of the men to return, in the heat of the summer that just wasn't a good idea. The minister that had performed our wedding had come out for the funeral, and we had a beautiful service for our friend. Even Frank had insisted on going, we were concerned that it would be too much for him but he wouldn't even consider missing it. He somehow managed to make it through the funeral ok, but I passed out again when the men started lowering the casket into the ground. I didn't know why Hank's death was affecting me so badly, it wasn't like I hadn't lost anyone close to me before, but I just couldn't help it. Cheyenne was starting to get very worried, and tried to convince me to take it easy, but there was just too much work to be done. I went around crying most of the time, but I couldn't let the tears stop me from pitching in.

Finally one night we got the break we had been hoping for....rain clouds finally appeared in the sky to the west. Over the last several days the smoke had gotten worse at first, but had finally started fading a little, if a good storm could soak that area it would be a huge help. I went out on the porch that evening after dinner to watch the storm roll in, and as I was standing there Cheyenne joined me. “I'm really getting worried about you, Cali,” he said, putting his arms around me. “Is there anything I can do to help? I can't stand seeing you so upset....”

“Just keep reminding me that you love me, I guess....that helps more than you think. I'm sorry I'm causing so much trouble...again!...lord knows we got enough other problems....” I told him, “We'll get through all this, we always have before!” Just then the raindrops started falling, and as if our prayers were being answered the rain kept going most of the night...

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It was a good thing my father had literally taught me the ranch from the ground up because with most of the men gone it was not only my responsibility to see that all the chores got done, but it was my responsibility to do most of them. If it hadn't been for Calico's nightmares I would have been sleeping like a log, but as it was I was sleeping very little, and I was getting more rest than Calico was and that had been hard on my spirit too.

 

The Winchesters were a big help, we didn't have the time to be with the Jones kids or to even spend much time with my father and they filled those two gaps tremendously. I wasn't sure how Miss Cora was spending her time but at least she wasn't bird dogging me, at least that I was aware of.

 

The rain was more than welcome, it was indeed an answer to many prayers and I was more than ready for the men to return, though I knew that they would need some deserved time off from their chores for a few days. I was dearly looking forward to having some time to spend with Calico and to have the time to help her through her nightmares. I had killed enough men in the last few years and had never really been bothered by it, for all of those I had slain I had few duly justified in doing so. I wasn't sure how I was going to try to help her, maybe a trip would help, or maybe even a week or so at my grandfather's cabin.

 

to be continued...

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CC, I should have Calico slap you for the whats the call thread on the wire! OY!

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As the rain started to fall Calico and I sat on the back porch enjoying the sound of the rain on the tin roof. The kids were in cradles their too enjoying the cool breeze the was gently blowing. I was hoping that the rain would last through the night and finally put an end to the fire that the men were fighting. We stared off towards the mountains not saying much and holding hands. It wasn't long before Calico found her way to my lap and we enjoyed each other's touch for quite a while.

 

Hop Sing called us in for dinner and much to our pleasure my father was able to join us and he held and played with the children for most of the evening. We talked about the fire and the hopes that the men would be able to return in the morning for a much needed rest. My father was really interested in seeing the new reaper and how it actually worked, after all a machine that could cut, separate grain, and then bale the straw was a new thing. He had taken the time to look over the new Clydesdales and was pleased with them and wanted to see them hooked up to the reaper real badly. The Winchesters were enjoying their time on the ranch and even Miss Cora let us know how much she liked it, maybe even better than the city, which brought a lifted eyebrow from Calico.

 

The rain continued through the night and I think it helped Calico to rest better, at least she didn't wake me up as much with her nightmares. The morning light woke us and the freshened air from the rain was welcomed by us all. My father was waiting at the table for us as we came down the stairs and was wondering if we were going to sleep away the best part of the day. We just laughed at that as Hop Sing brought in our breakfast which we all devoured.

 

The men finally returned from fighting the fire about noon that day, and thanks to Prairie Dawg riding ahead Hop Sing had a huge spread awaiting the men. Hop Sing had actually started preparing the day before as he had felt in his bones the rain moving in. It had to be a lot of food because it was not only our men but the troopers from Ft Collins but the troopers from Denver as well joining us for a meal of thanksgiving and celebration. The Lt.s both celebrated a little extra as I gave them the order confirmation of Winchester rifles for both of the groups of troopers.

 

The men finally got enough to eat around three in the afternoon and then the libations were brought out and dispensed among the men. The men all sat around swapping stories and each man vying for Miss Cora's attention, which she was enjoying tremendously. The pumpers had come in handy though they needed to be more mobile in rough areas. It was early the next morning by the time the men turned in, or just fell asleep where they were sitting around the fire pit.

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When the men returned from fighting the fire, I was glad to see that none of them had suffered any serious injuries, although they were all exhausted. Thankfully the fire had started in a small canyon, with rocky walls on two sides, and a lake and meadow at one end, so the fire could only spread one direction. They had managed to cut enough trees down at the other end of the canyon to make a fire break, which help contain the fire where it was easier to put out. It was tough though, having to tell everyone what had happened to Hank, in the end I had to let Cheyenne do it alone. I ended up running inside in tears, I just couldn't face everyone with the guilt I was feeling.

Why had I let Hank go with me that day? I knew he was a city slicker, and was just putting himself in danger, I should have been more insistent about him staying behind. Oh, I knew that if he hadn't been there I most likely would have been the one killed, and probably Little Flower as well, but that fact wasn't helping my mood any. Eddie knew I had tried to talk his father out of going, and at least he didn't blame me, and Laura agreed as well, especially after her and Little Flower started becoming best friends. Rose was a little young to understand much beyond the idea that daddy wasn't coming back, and although it made her very sad, as long as she knew there were other adults around willing to show her affection she handled it well.

Tommy though, he was another story entirely. He had made it clear from the very first afternoon that he blamed me for his father's death. For any of the other adults, he behaved himself fairly well, the minute I would come around him he'd turn into a little monster. He wouldn't hardly speak to me unless he had to, and even then he was rude. He did everything he could to avoid me, or misbehave in front of me, and that just broke my heart. I wanted nothing more than to help these four kids, they deserved that much at least, but Tommy's attitude towards me wasn't doing much to help us decide on a permanent solution of what to do with them. Oh, one way or another we were going to make sure they were provided for, but they needed love and affection as well, and Tommy just didn't want any of that from me. Cheyenne and the Winchesters all tried talking to the boy about it, but as soon as the subject of me would come up, Tommy would stop talking and refuse to listen to anything they said. All I could do was hope time would help us both start to heal....but what to do in the meantime was still a mystery.

During the celebration, I did go out and try to eat with everyone, but I still didn't feel up to eating much, and as soon as I was done I excused myself to take care of the twins and didn't return to the party. After nursing Mathew and Sarah, I just sat in the den and stared at the wall, I didn't want to disrupt all the fun the men and their families were having. After a while, I heard a knock, and looked up to see Biblepuncher standing in the doorway. “Cheyenne asked me to come check on you, he's a little concerned. Would you like to talk about it?” he asked me.

I wasn't sure I did want to discuss it, but invited him to come in and sit down anyway, and before I knew it I was pouring my heart out to him, telling him everything that had happened since then, and how I was feeling so bad about it all. I'm not sure how long I talked, and cried, the preacher just sat quietly and listened to every word I said in silence. When I was finally done, he reached over and took my hand, and looked me straight in the eye, asking “Just exactly why do you feel so guilty, do you even know the reason?”

I had to think about that one for a minute, nobody had thought to ask me that so far. “I guess it's because if I hadn't have been so insistent on getting revenge on them for stealing from us by shooting at them that day, maybe Charlie wouldn't have done this. I shouldn't have done it, that was nothing but stupid, if it had never happened Hank would still be alive....”

“Maybe, maybe not,” the preacher replied, “and no matter what you did, it doesn't excuse Charlie's crimes. He certainly had no business hurting Little Flower in retaliation for anything, she caused him no harm. As it is, you could have let the men string him up when he was first brought here, or let the sheriff have him as well as Bart. You could have also shot him that day, I was watching and I know I couldn't have come so close and still not hit him, I'll give you credit for your marksmanship if nothing else. Charlie could have decided to take advantage of the second chance you had offered him, like Hank was trying to do, and it certainly isn't your fault he chose not to. But none of that really matters now, all that matters is that you need to start forgiving yourself, so that you can move on from this. There's a whole lot of youngsters that need you to do just that...”

“I don't think Tommy is ever going to forgive me, and I'm not sure I blame him...I'm not sure I CAN forgive myself this time,” I told him, starting to cry again.

“I'm going to try and help with that,” Biblepuncher told me, “but first I need to do some praying for guidance on how best to handle the situation. I think some prayer on your part as well would not be a waste of time, if you need help with that please stop in and see me tomorrow. My door is always open for you, but for tonight I think I'll leave you two alone. Please try and get some rest Calico”.

When he said that I looked up and noticed Cheyenne standing in the doorway, listening to the conversation but not saying anything. Cheyenne escorted the preacher out, then returned to the den and held out his hand to me. “How about I take you upstairs, and you try and follow the man's advice about getting some sleep. I think both of us could sure use it....” my husband said, and I gratefully took his hand and let him guide me towards the stairs. The idea of a good night's sleep sure sounded wonderful, but maybe not right away....

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As I listened to Biblepuncher talk with Calicowith I was struck with the simple truth that Hank had died a free hero because Calico had seen something in him and had insisted that he not be hung for being a cattle rustler like Bart had received his just reward. I sat Calico on the edge of the bed and then knelt before her and shared this with her. A smile slowly found it's way to her lips which were then used to reward me for helping to ease her pain. After that we just got lost with each other for a very enjoyable time.

 

The next morning I found Tommy and the two of us went for a walk. He didn't like it one little bit when I called his father a cattle rustler who deserved to hanged. But then I explained how Calico had seen something in his father's heart, a love beyond measure for his children. How could he have not tried to help Calico? Was it Calico's fault that Charlie killed him? Or should she have let him die a thief? I left him sitting on the porch of the little church on the ranch to think it through. I made sure he knew the tenants of forgiveness, and that no one could live with themselves without forgiveness, either given or received. I wanted him to come to the truth on his own without beating him on the head with it and as I walked away from him I could tell that I had him thinking, but would he really get it?

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Later that day I spotted Tommy sitting with Calico, there were tears streaming down Tommy's red cheeks, and you could see his chest heaving as he cried. Calico's eyes were laden with tears too as the two of them hugged. I guess Tommy had come to grips with the truth of forgiveness and I was hoping that Calico was being able to forgive herself as well. I left the two of them to their selves for it was their moment and I went on about the business of keeping the ranch going.

 

The reaper had arrived early that afternoon and the two men with it figured to have it assembled and in working order for the morning, something my father was looking forward to seeing work. We had alfalfa that was ready to cut and this would be the perfect test for the huge machine. We had Sodbuster Brown and Blackwater working with the men to learn how to operate the beast and if needed repair it if it broke down. I figured that Blackwater ought to be good at the repair part, after all he was always repairing his firearms. It was a beautiful machine, painted bright red and it would be quite a sight being pulled by four behemoth Clydesdales that were pure white. We told all the men to be at the alfalfa field after breakfast in the morning for it's debut and I knew the men were excited about making that job much easier.

 

Before the Lt from Ft Collins had left the previous day he had told me of the Shoshone war party that the men had come across while fighting the fire. He was amazed that the warriors had wiped the paint from their faces when they saw the troops helping our men fight the fire. They didn't speak at all but knew that they had a common enemy in the fire and any animosity between them was used up fighting the fire instead of each other. What we had to figure out now though was why the Shoshone were wearing war paint. The men fighting the fire were aware of this and I made sure everyone went armed whenever they left the confines of the ranch proper, something they all did anyway, but as I told them I handed each one a new 73 Winchester as a thank you for fighting the fire.

 

My next stop was Doc Eells place, I had lots of questions for him about my father. He wasn't much help though, he just kept shrugging his shoulders and saying "only time will tell." I knew something wasn't right though or my father wouldn't be talking about "going to the mountain." I let Doc know my displeasure with the lackluster answers, something he wholly understood as he tried to convince me that this was the way my father wanted it. Phoeey!

 

As I left Doc's place Calico spotted me and came running and gave me one of her wonderful hugs and kisses. "What did you tell Tommy? How? What?" was all she could stammer between kisses. "All I did was explain to him how you had seen the love in his father's heart." was all I told her because she was hugging me so tightly I could hardly breathe.

 

As we walked to the house hand in hand we saw Little Flower and Eddie between a couple buildings staring into each other's eyes. I started to say something to them when Calico shushed me. "Leave them be" she told me, "they remind me of us" she continued. I smiled at her and dropped her hand as I put my hand around her waist.

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For the last couple of days, I had noticed that Little Flower and Eddie seemed to be trying very hard to find time to be alone with each other as often as possible. As long as they got their chores down, I didn't see any harm to it, but I also knew the time was fast approaching that I would have to have a little “talk” with Little Flower, and I intended to have Cheyenne do the same with Eddie. At 14 and 15, the two were far too young to be getting too serious, but it was still kind of cute watching them.

It didn't take long before we got news that our adoption of Little Flower was finalized, and we had planned a huge celebration that night. Cheyenne and I were so proud to have her as our daughter, and she was thrilled to be a real part of the family now. As I was helping the Sings get everything ready for the party, Eddie asked to speak to me in private. I took the young man out to the back porch, and asked him what was on his mind.

“I heard Mr. and Mrs. Winchester tell Cheyenne that they would be having to move back to Fort Collins soon, now that things are calming down a little, and it made me start wondering what's going to happen to me and my brother and sisters. Ain't nobody told us yet what yer gonna do about us...are you going to send us back to the orphanage when they leave?”


“Most certainly not!” I assured him, “We haven't said anything to the four of you yet because we haven't really had time to make up our minds for sure. I know Mrs. Winchester cares for all of you, but I'm not really sure if she and Mr. Winchester are really prepared to take you kids back to town with them. That's one possibility, but it's just as likely that the four of you will be staying here on the ranch. One way or another, you all will be taken care of until you're old enough to take care of yourselves, I give you my word on that. But I'm not sure yet if Cheyenne and I will formally adopt you like we did with Little Flower, or whether we'll see about placing you with one or more of the families that live here. A lot of them would be more than willing, and although most of them don't have room for all four of you, even if we have to split you up it's not like any of you would be more than a few houses away from your siblings, you'll still see each other constantly. Since you brought it up, have you given any thought to what you would like to see happen?”

Eddie stared at the floor for a minute, and then started talking, but he wouldn't look me in the eye as he spoke. “I like the Winchesters a lot, but I'd rather not move to town. I really appreciate everything you and Mr. Culpepper are doing for us, and I'd really like to stay on the ranch, but to be honest, I don't really want you to adopt us.....”

When he said that, my heart just sank. Things were still a little rough between Tommy and I, but we were both working on it, and Eddie had always seemed to like us just fine. I couldn't begin to guess why he didn't want us to adopt them, so I finally just had to ask, “Is there a reason you feel that way? Please don't be afraid to tell me, I just want you kids to be happy, but I'd really like to know, if there's a problem maybe I can help fix it...?”

The young man hesitated, then took a deep breath, and blurted out “I don't wanna be Little Flower's brother! I wanna marry her when we're both old enough, and I can't do that if we're brother and sister....”

I had a really hard time not laughing, but I knew I better not as he was dead serious, and I didn't want to hurt his feelings. “Oh Eddie, even if we did adopt you as well, that wouldn't mean the two of you couldn't get married some day....you still wouldn't be related by blood. And I think it's a little early to be making those kind of plans, how about you two finish growing up first?”

“Oh, we know we have to wait a few more years at least, but our minds are made up, we love each other and wanna spend our lives together, just like you and Mr. Culpepper. And nobody is gonna talk us out of it! We want to get married, and it don't matter to us how many years we have to wait, we're gonna do it...”


“Ok, ok, you've made your point....I have no objections to the idea, as long as both of you understand it won't be happening any time soon. As for you and your siblings, I promise that Cheyenne and I will be talking about it soon, and we'll certainly take your feelings into consideration. For now, how about we go back to helping get this party for Little Flower going?” I was having trouble keeping a straight face, young love can be sweet but it also can be a big pain in the rear!

As we were heading back to the kitchen, I glanced over towards the firepit, I knew Cheyenne was over there supervising getting things set up for the evening's festivities. I smiled when I saw him, then I noticed the Winchesters' niece, Cora, was standing not far away watching Cheyenne as well, with a strange look on her face. It reminded me of watching a cat stalk a mouse, and that brought a frown to my lips. The woman had hardly spoken to me the entire time she had been there, although she seemed more than friendly enough to all the men, especially the single ones...so just what was she doing staring at MY husband that way?!

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Early in the morning Calico went and got the Clydesdales to hitch up to the new McCormick reaper. My how she strutted as she lead the huge horses across the barnyard to the reaper, and the horses seemed to know that everyone was watching them as the high stepped under Calico's command. Sodbuster Brown and Blackwater both had their chests puffed out as they climbed the ladder up to the seat high on the red beast of a machine. Calico went over each connection on the hitch and when she finished with that she went to each of the four behemoths and kissed each one on it's nose. I saw her wipe a tear from her cheek as she turned from them and walked to my side. I nodded to Sodbuster and with a gentile shake of the reigns he urged to four monsters to pull the reaper forward. As the reaper entered the alfalfa Blackwater moved the lever that put the innards of the reaper into motion. The machine gobbled up the alfalfa and every ten feet or so spit out a bale of hay behind it onto the ground. I don't know who had the biggest smile, Sodbuster, Blackwater or Calico as the machine and horses covered the field. Actually I think my father enjoyed it the most, sitting on a buggy and clapping as the machine lumbered along. "We'll be able to stack those bales neatly in the barns and we'll be able to get a lot more under cover." he yelled over to me, "You done good boy, you done good!"

 

We watched as the machine made several rounds through the field before we turned and headed back to the house. On the way back Calico told me of her conversation with Eddie and I almost doubled over laughing at the two lovebirds. Of course Calico not I couldn't say much because the two of them reminded us of ourselves, we would have to keep them away from the water hole though!

 

We had lots to do the get ready for Little Flower's party and I left Calico at the house and went on to start getting things ready at the fire pit. There were hogs to slaughter and cook, all on the spit. I've got to say thought that Miss Cora was almost giving me the heebie jeebies with the way she was looing at me at times. I was beginning to feel like a piece of candy in the candy store being desired by a hungry child. I had managed to turn her away in Denver at the hotel so I wasn't worried about that, but it was still unnerving. I had no idea what she had up her sleeve and was hoping that she would set them on someone else.

 

I found Eddie after I knew that things were moving along and told him we needed to have a talk. His face showed a good deal of fear as I told him but I tried to ease his fears. We saddled our horses and I grabbed my Sharps and we rode off toward a prairie dog town not far away. We stopped several hundred yards away and dismounted. Eddie wasn't sure why we had stopped so far from the town of prairie dogs and the myriad of holes they had dug. I gave him a glass and pointed to the edge of the town and told him to watch. I sat down and slid a round into my "firestick", set the trigger and picked out one of the little varmints. With a gentle squeeze of the trigger the varmint disappeared into a red mist. "Wow!" was all that came out of Eddies mouth. Then, "you can shoot better than Calico." I dispatched three more of the little pigs and then told Eddie to sit beside me and I started to show him how to use the Sharps. His eyes were as big as dinner plates as I handed him a round and told him to load the rifle. He picked his target and fired, a huge cloud of dust appeared well in front of the varmint. I reminded Eddie to slowly squeeeeeeze the trigger when he was on target, then gave him another round. This time the target disappeared at the report of the rifle leaving behind his guts on the ground. We took turns after that then returned to the ranch where I taught him how to clean the rifle to preserve it. Eddie wasn't so keen about that part of the day's activities!

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While Cheyenne was off at the prairie dog town with Eddie, I helped the girls get bathed and dressed. Bea Winchester had taken the kids to town the day before and bought them all new clothes to wear for the party. Little Flower and Laura both looked lovely, and little Rose was adorable. After reminding them not to mess up their new dresses, I sent them to take the twins to visit Frank, while I got ready myself. Skipper had promised to stop by and help me with my hair, and I was going to wear one of the new outfits that Cheyenne had been so sweet to buy for me in Denver.

As I was soaking in the tub, I couldn't help but think it would have been more fun to go down to the water hole with Cheyenne to get cleaned up, but there simply wasn't time this afternoon. Oh well, it was still turning out to be a pretty good day anyway. The new reaper had worked even better than we had hoped it would, and the Clydesdales performed beautifully. We would need to think about maybe using oxen on the reaper for a while though, a couple of the mares were showing signs of being pregnant, and I was hoping the other three would at some point as well. If we were going to be successful at breeding them, we couldn't always be working them too hard. Using them on the ranch could come later, after we had enough foals born to keep the program going.


Frank wasn't feeling too bad that day, for which I was extremely thankful. He couldn't stop smiling about Little Flower joining the family, he had made it very clear he was thrilled at my and Cheyenne's decision to adopt her. At one point he had told me that she reminded him of Cheyenne's mother when she was younger, and not just the physical resemblance. Little Flower had the same sweet and caring disposition that Lives Again had displayed, but she was also intelligent, and had a fair amount of courage. “She's really something special, and I don't blame Eddie for being smitten with her,” Frank had told me, “but don't be surprised if he's not the only suitor she ends up having!”


Oh, I would be more surprised if she didn't attract more attention from the young men in the area, but that was a problem to be dealt with later. Laura would probably be the same, the next few years could prove to be interesting where those two were concerned. For now, I was more worried about the attention Cheyenne was getting from Cora! Just what was she up to anyway? I didn't want to dwell on that too much for now, I had more important things on my mind. Skipper showed up as promised and before too long my hair was done, my dress was on, and it was time to go celebrate.


I went down to the kitchen to help carry things out for dinner, and picked up a huge stack of plates and a bag full of silverware. I probably shouldn't have tried to take so much at once, since I wasn't used to wearing such fancy dresses, I got out of the door ok but then realized I was going to have a hard time getting down the back porch steps. I needed to lift my skirt a little to go down the stairs, but both my hands were full. One of our new hands, Jack, was standing a few feet away talking to a tall, handsome man in a cavalry captain's uniform, and when they saw me they came over to help.

“Ma'am, I'd like you to meet my big brother, Captain Jake Barton, he just arrived this afternoon to visit me,” Jack said, “I hope that's ok....”

“My apologies for intruding on your family's celebration, ma'am, I'm on leave from Fort Laramie for a while and I thought I'd come see how my little brother is doing. I can return to town and come back tomorrow instead.”


“Nonsense! Please join us, you are more than welcome to stay,” I told him, and the two brothers relieved me of the plates, and the three of us carried the stuff over to the long tables set up over by the firepit. “Is there anything else I can help you with, ma'am, since you've been so generous to invite me to stay?” Jake asked me, and I gratefully agreed to let both men help me carry some more things out. In fact, I really didn't have to carry much else, the two of them pretty much did it all for me.

As we were doing so, I happened to notice that Cora had planted herself right next to Cheyenne, who was trying to supervise the cooking. I didn't think he looked too happy about it, but she was grinning ear to ear. Oh well, I'd deal with that later....in the meantime I just kept Jack and Jake company while they helped out, and found myself talking more to Jake than to his brother. The man was handsome, and looked very nice in that uniform, and it was flattering to have his attention. When we were finished, I tried to thank him, but he just tipped his hat to me and replied, “It was entirely my pleasure ma'am,” and gave me a big smile. I swear, the look in his eyes made my knees weak, and there had to be a whole flock of butterflies in my stomach just then. I managed to whisper “Thank you, but please, call me Calico,” and his smile got even bigger and then he excused himself to finish the tour Jack had been giving him. I couldn't help but wonder just how long the Captain was going to be around......

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Everything was ready for the party so I found a spot to sit and to my surprise, well not really, Cora found her way to the empty spot beside me, and I did notice how wonderful she smelled. I think I had actually seen her testing the wind before she sat so that she would be upwind of me so that her perfume would be sure to waft past me, and well, it was working. As we were sitting there Cora did make a point to make sure that I saw Calico with the Captain that was visiting Jake. I didn't think much of it, though I did find myself casting an eye in her direction often until the Captain went off with Jake.

 

I was having a good time watching Little Flower and Eddie as they sat next to each other at the fire and they had even caught Cora's eye as well for she kept leaning over to me to tell me each time she saw something cute. I was hoping that Calico would find her way to her spot beside me soon because I was starting to feel the influence of Cora's perfume and her slight touches.

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Since this was Little Flower's big night, Laura had offered to help Frank keep the babies entertained until their bedtime, for which I was thankful. Getting everything ready had been a lot of work, and I was looking forward to relaxing a little. Dinner was ready, so I went over to Little Flower and Eddie and told them to go ahead and get their food, then everyone else could get in line. As I did, I noticed that Cora was sitting on a bench next to Cheyenne, and seemed to be trying her best to flirt with him. I wasn't too pleased about that, but then again she was a guest, and had to sit somewhere....

I called out “Come and get it!” then I filled myself a plate of food, and started looking for a place to sit at one of the tables. I didn't really want to sit on one of the benches and risk spilling food on my new dress. As I was standing there looking around, all of a sudden Captain Barton was next to me, and he asked “May I help carry your plate for you, ma'am?”

“Thank you Captain, that's very sweet of you, but please, you must call me Calico. Ma'am makes me feel so old,” I told him. He took my plate and walked over towards the seat I had pointed to, and then held my chair for me as I sat down.


“My pleasure, Calico, but then you must call me Jake. Captain makes me feel like I'm still at the fort instead of on leave,” he said, smiling at me again. I laughed, then smiled back at him, and he left to get his own plate of food. A few minutes later he returned and asked if he could sit with me, as he had some questions about the ranch that his brother Jack had been unable to answer. I glanced over at Cheyenne, he was still in line to get his food, with Cora right beside him....obviously she intended to shadow him the whole evening, so someone had to entertain our other guests, right?

Jake and I took quite a while with dinner, as we were both talking so much we almost forgot to eat. I told him all about both ranches, the Culpepper ranch and the Golden Aspen, and he responded by telling me all about life at the fort, and about him and Jack having grown up on a farm in Nebraska. I hadn't talked that much to anyone in a long time, and thoroughly enjoyed the conversation. Not only was Jake extremely handsome, he was easy to talk to and had a great sense of humor.

After everyone had pretty much finished eating, some of the men brought out musical instruments and started playing. Usually at these celebrations Cheyenne and I would start the dancing, but as the first song started I looked over to see Cora grab Cheyenne's hand and start leading him out to the dancing area. Jake saw me frown, but I don't think he really understood why I did. Quickly he bowed to me and asked “May I have this dance?” and held out his hand. “Certainly, sir, it would be my pleasure,” I responded, and together we joined the other couples that were starting to dance. As the song went on, I found myself staring into Jake's gorgeous eyes, and the butterflies in my stomach returned. It just didn't seem real that a man that handsome and personable would be wanting to dance with little ole me....but seeing how Cheyenne was otherwise occupied, at least someone was paying attention to me....

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Several of the men had come to me about the Captain and Calico spending so much time together and to forward way that the Captain had
been acting towards Calico. But I got really frosted when Eddie and Little Flower came to me with their concern about
the Captain. I managed to force Cora over towards Calico and the Captain and when we were just a few steps apart I
released Cora except for one hand and told the Captain, “I have something you may be interested in, I’d like to dance with my WIFE.”



You would have thought I had told him the sky was falling the way his jaw dropped. I took Cora’s hand and placed it in his and then I took Calico by the hand and bent down and threw her over my shoulder. Calico was actually speechless for a minute or so until see hollered out, “just where do you think you’re taking me?” I took a few more steps and answered her, “I saw that twinkle in your eyes and that always meant you were ready for a trip to the water hole, so that’s where we’re heading.”



We could hear the laughs and cat calls behind us and when we were out of sight I put Calico down and before she could utter a sound I kissed
her like I had been yearning to do all day. Then I took her hand again and led her to the water hole. Hop Sing must have read my mind because there were fresh towels on the log and a new bottle of wine on ice and already opened. “Who was this for, Cora?” Calico asked. “I turned her down in Denver and had no desire to have anything else to do with her” I told Calico, then I slapped her on her butt and pushed her into the water hole, clothes and all and then I followed her into the cool water.




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At first I couldn't believe Cheyenne was acting that way, what was he thinking? Dragging me away from the party like that, then shoving me into the water hole in my brand new dress? I knew he had a jealous streak, but this has going a little too far....At first, all I could think of was I hoped my dress wasn't ruined, but it wasn't long before I had more important things on my mind....


The next morning, we were just about finished with breakfast when Jack came into the dining room, hat in hand, and sheepishly told Cheyenne that his older brother wished to speak to him outside. I thought Cheyenne was going to explode there for a second, until Jack assured him that Jake just wanted to apologize. We went out to the porch where Jake was sitting and waiting for us, and he stood up as soon as we came out.

“Mr. Culpepper, sir, I am so sorry for the misunderstanding last night. I honestly meant no disrespect to you, or to your wife. I had been hoping for the chance to talk to you sir, my brother and I have been considering getting a ranch of our own once I get out of the Army, and I wanted your advice on the subject. But you seemed a little occupied, so when I saw the chance to speak to Mrs. Culpepper I thought maybe she could answer my questions, it was never my intention of giving anyone the wrong idea. But you see, sir, I don't get much of a chance to talk to a real lady often up at the fort, most of the women around there certainly don't qualify as ladies. I guess I was just enjoying the conversation so much that I didn't even realize what bad manners I was showing. Then the dancing started, and she looked so sad there for a few seconds, that all I could think about was making her smile again, that's why I asked her to dance. You must be the luckiest man alive, to be able to wake up to that smile every day, I only hope I meet someone special like that myself at some point in my life. I sincerely hope you will accept my apology for my actions, and that we can be friends.”

At that Captain Barton stuck out his hand, but Cheyenne at first hesitated, and I wasn't sure he was going to forgive the man. I hoped he would, after all, Captain Barton really hadn't done anything all that incredibly wrong, and he couldn't help it that he was handsome. I had just been trying to be a gracious hostess to our guest, didn't Cheyenne trust me? And I certainly had no illusions that Cora would be offering me any similar apology. I held my breath, and crossed my fingers hoping Cheyenne would be willing to shake the man's hand and forget the whole thing had ever happened.....

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When Jack came in and told me that his brother the Captain wanted to apologize I knew that I had them all, including Calico. I was going to milk this for all that it was worth. I pretended to be rather upset yet from last night as I slowly excused myself from the table and slowly walked outside. The Captain started hem hawing about this and that and the whole time I looked anywhere but at him. I could just feel Calico squirming more and more the longer the captain spoke. I also noticed that several of the men were now also watching and I knew that they were hoping to see the Captain and I rolling in the dust soon, ha! fat chance of that happening.

 

When the captain got to the part about wanting to talk about ranching in the area and decided to talk with Calico instead of me I saw my opening. "Oh I see, you wanted to learn all you could about ranching in these parts and instead of talking with me or my father you instead chose the prettiest woman on the ranch to talk too." Out of the corner of my eye I could see Calico's face go from a big smile to a not so certain look and the captain started yamering some more. I could see Calico start her wind up to belt me so I quickly turned her way and gave her a quick wink and one of my boyish smiles. First her eyebrows frowned and the she rolled her eyes back into her head, whew I was quick enough that she hadn't punched me a good one.

 

I turned back to the captain and told him that we ought to handle this like men as I lowered my right hand toward my pistol and as his eyes got as big as saucers I diverted my open hand towards him to shake his hand. As I smiled at him I had to apologize for taking advantage of the situation because I didn't get the opportunity to often to yank someone's chain out here in the wilderness too often.

 

"By the way," I continued, "Miss Cora had been telling me last evening how much she wanted to make your acquaintance and was hoping that you would escort her and her parents back to Fort Collins this morning." That bit of news brought Calico's hand to my shoulder as she brushed herself up against me. "Oh, does she really need to leave sooo soon?" Calico said with a slight touch of sarcasm. "What a shame, but I'm sure that Jake, I mean Captain Barton would be pleased to escort her back to Fort Collins." Calico continued. "Why didn't you tell me that bit of news" Calico told me as she let me have a good one in the arm.

 

By then I could see money changing hands among the men, apparently there had been some betting going on over whether a fight was brewing or not and it seem that Korupt Karl, Sodbuster Brown and Grumpy Old Man were cleaning up pretty good. And just like I figured the three of them came begging to escort the Winchesters into Fort Collins along with their new found cash. Since they had bet on my level head I decided to let them go, but for only one night, that would take them two days to recover from.

 

I could see a dirty look brewing in Sodbuster's wife's face so I told her that I'd like her to tag along to see if she could find a wet nurse for the children because it was high time that I took Calico for a few days in the big city. After all, I had ruined her new dress by throwing her into the water hole. That news brought a serious frown from Sodbuster but wonderful smiles from his wife and Calico.

 

With all that said I excused myself by saying that I had a ranch to run and needed to check on things such as the water hole, and with a wink I was off and hoping that Calico would follow.

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I noticed that Grumpy Old Man was pointing his dog, Buford towards the captain and as I watched, Buford went straight to the captain, lifted his leg and relieved himself all over the captain's shiny boots.

 

I couldn't help but smile as I watched Grumpy Old Man gathering more money from the men, he'd have plenty of cash for his trip to Fort Collins. Then I found Hop Sing and told him to make sure that Grumpy and Buford had steaks for the next month, at least. Calico caught my attention and as I looked into her deep blue eyes I saw that twinkle ....

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When I saw Buford mess up Captain Barton's boots I was mortified, I just couldn't believe how badly Cheyenne and the men were treating the officer. And all because he'd done nothing more than talk to me for a while? I was furious, how dare they act like this just because a man paid me a little attention? Captain Barton hadn't done anything to deserve this, he'd been a complete gentleman the entire time. I quickly offered to help Jake clean his boots, but he politely declined, saying he would take care of it himself, but I could tell he was very upset. I didn't blame him for being mad, and it was humiliating to think that he would be leaving our ranch with such a bad impression of us.


Then I went looking for Cheyenne, and found him laughing about the whole thing with Hop Sing. My temper was at a boiling point, and I could just feel my eyes blazing, I don't think I'd ever been so mad at Cheyenne before. “Just what the heck were you thinkin', treating Captain Barton like that? How dare you? All because he was nice to me? Would you have preferred for him to be as rude to me as you and the men are being to him? Fer cryin' out loud, Cora was practically throwin' herself at you and you don't see me bein' mean to her!”

“Aw, Cali, we were just joking around with him, calm down...” Cheyenne started to say, but I cut him off. “Well, it wasn't at all funny, and you should be ashamed of yerself, Cheyenne Culpepper! I have news for you, Captain Barton is one of the few army officers stationed out here that is in favor of fair treatment of the Plains tribes, he wants to see them allowed to keep their lands, do you have any idea of how rare that is? Most of the officers and pretty much all of the enlisted men just either want to run all the indians off, or even worse kill them. The Captain even told me his career is at risk right now because he's spoken out about how much he disapproves of how the treaty with the Sioux is being broken so that whites can look for gold in the Black Hills, land that is sacred to both the Sioux and the Cheyenne! That's why he's thinking of retiring and taking up ranching, he wants no part of the trouble he sees coming with the tribes. He knows you're half Cheyenne, I just hope he doesn't change his mind about the whole subject because of the lousy way you treated him!”

I was getting more and more furious by the minute, and Cheyenne immediately started trying to calm me down, but I still wasn't sure if it was because he regretted the way the Captain had been treated or if he just didn't like me being mad at him. “Look honey, if it will make you happy, I'll get ahold of him when we get back from Denver and apologize, but for now, why don't we just forget about it and go on down to the water hole for a while....” Cheyenne said, and tried to give me a big smile, but I wasn't going to let it go that easily!


“I'm not sure I even want to go to Denver with you until you remember yer manners a little bit better, and I certainly ain't going to the water hole any time soon! In fact, I'm going fer a ride, ALONE, and give you time to think about how yer acting!” I growled, and then I stomped out of the kitchen and headed for the barn to get my pony. I didn't even bother with the saddle, I just climbed up and took off, I was still so mad. I didn't have any specific destination in mind, I just started riding, and without even thinking about it me and the pony ended up heading east. It wasn't long before I spotted another rider up ahead of us, also heading east, and I realized it was Captain Barton, heading for town. Obviously he had decided he wanted nothing to do with Cora, and I didn't blame him one bit. I quickly urged my pony to run after him, someone needed to apologize for what had happened, and I certainly didn't mind the idea of getting to talk to him one more time...

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