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J. Mark Flint #31954 LIFE

Fools' Gold

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Fools' Gold




Prologue


It was late June 1863 when I was still Major J. Mark Flint. I was involved in what some folks now call the Calico Raid, Under the command of Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan we began a campaign throughout the State of Kentucky in an attempt to draw Federal troops away from the battles in the deep south. We were almost all cavalry troops and there wasn't a greenhorn among us.

Outside of Brandenburg, Kentucky, General Morgan gave us orders to attack and take two steamships. With some preparation, we were able to force the “ Alice Dean “ and the “John B McCombs” aground by dumping coal oil into the river and setting it aflame. Both captured crews were placed on the smaller ship, the “John B McCombs" and allowed to travel downstream as General Hunt knew the Captain and felt it would be the gentlemanly thing to do.

The "Alice Dean" was a large ship capable of hauling hundreds of tons of cargo. General Hunt then gave me the field commission of Lt. Colonel and a detachment of ten men with simple orders to wreak whatsoever havoc you can and regroup with Jo Shelby in Arkansas. We steamed it up river a number of miles before again grounding the ship. With a detachment of 10 men we began removing the cargo. It was at this time we discovered that the "Alice Dean" was carrying Federal gold bound for Fort Duffield. The crates were heavy and we unloaded each and every one, ultimately filling 2 freight wagons with what we estimated to be between 1 and a half an two tons of pure gold. General Hunt, unaware of our find, was crossing into Indiana an Illinois with his remaining troops. Setting the "Alice Dean" adrift, we left a small fire burning which would eventually engulf and sink the ship.

Knowing the value of the gold, we all agreed to move it back to Confederate territory with all haste. No dispatch could be trusted, so moving slowly and under cover of thunderstorms and night we slowly worked our way southeast. I can't recount the number of skirmishes we entered into over the next two months, but when we finally crossed the Mississippi, 30 miles south of New Madrid, there were only 4 of us left.

Shelby was now engaged in Missouri. Carrying the gold into Missouri made no sense, therefore after some discussion we headed towards Texas, hoping to join up with General Richard Taylor. We were pretty broken down and worn out by now and decided that we needed to hide the gold. We looked for a suitable location and finally came upon the recently opened Corsicana Female Literary Institute in Corsicana, Texas. Under cover of night we managed to bury the gold beneath the foundation of an outlying building. Jimmy and I were the only two men that knew of the gold's existence now. Jimmy died ion his sleep several nights later and I buried him in a shallow arroyo.


I finally met up with Taylor's troops and after one campaign after another I found myself at the battle at Spotsylvania Courthouse I was wounded and detached from Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry and asked to work as a sniper, as I had been quite proficient in the early part of the war. When the war finally ended, many men would not accept the fact that Granny Lee had surrendered and ended the war. I joined with Shelby as he headed towards Mexico.

Well I have to admit it now, the idea of retrieving the gold was on my mind. If Shelby knew, he would use the gold to start the war again. And there were plenty of others looking to do just that. tired of war and killing, I decided to take a different route. Enlisting the aid of three teamsters, I managed to recover the gold and hide it under the rations we carried for Shelby's men. By the time we reached Mexico City, it was becoming near impossible to hide the fact that we were carrying an excessively heavy cargo for three nearly empty wagons. We found a church building and again buried the gold deep in the basement floor near the southern wall.

Four men now knew of the gold. If we could all remain silent, we could all be rich men soon. But that was not to happen. Shelby kept leading us towards Vera Cruz and under the cover of night the teamsters left camp. Before they could reach Mexico City I managed to overtake them and ended their attempt to recover the gold without me.


"I won't be reconstructed, I'm better now than then.
And for a Carpetbagger I do not give a damn.
So it's forward to the frontier, soon as I can go.
I'll fix me up a weapon and start for Mexico."

 

It was nearly two years later that Jo Shelby decided to go back the United States. I rode north with him, and as life often does, I found my share of joys and troubles. More often the latter, but enough of the former not to complain.

 

Present Day Toostone, 1880

 

As I rode into town for the first time in nearly two years, I was glad to see that little had changed. I headed to the Saloon (ACS) and eased in quietly buying a bottle from Bottles and taking a seat back in a dark corner of the saloon. Bottles recognized me, in spite of my full beard and I had no doubt that he would keep my presence and identity to himself, but I also knew I would be recognized soon enough. The big question was would it be friend or foe.

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Seems as though I've had nothing but hard times and hard work since I'd been forced into the War back in 1862; well it felt forced. Grandpa demanded that we stay out of it at the start of the war and that if I just had to join we oughta preserve the Union. That was until Federal troops came into northern Tennessee and took the farm; needlessly killing some of my own family. To say I was angry and out for revenge was an understatement. Along about that time John Morgan Hunt was forming his 2nd Kentucky Calvary so I just naturally joined in.


Like I said it's been many long years and many hard trails since the war ended and I was lookin' for a new start when I rode into this town. There was one lone horse tied out front and I was sure hopin' it wasn't gonna be trouble cause I needed a drink in the worst kinda way. I stepped into the saloon and asked Bottles who's horse is out front; he just motioned to a cowboy in the back and said "I think you'll recognize him". I walked back and sure enough I did, "Howdy Major Flint, I ain't seen you since Brandenburg. Mind if I sit a spell?"

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"You orta take a bath and shave that ugly face," the big man muttered as he took a chair at the table nearest to where his old friend the colonel had seated himself. With his back to the colonel he continued, "You ain't foolin' nobody with that brushpile you call a beard," still in a low voice.

 

Col. Flint was more than ten years his junior, and they'd crossed paths several times during the recent unpleasantness. They had cut trails a time or two in the years between then and now, sometimes on the dodge, sometimes in persuit of legal endeavor. They knew each other by their christian names as well as one or another borrowed from tombstones or made up in the moment while avoiding recognition. Flint had aged with the wear and tear of life on the run and from just the struggle to distance himself from the past. The older man knew. He'd done the same, and bore the lines in his face and the scars on his carcass to prove it.

 

"It's been a spell since I heard anything of ya'. Figured you'd caught a bullet or some female had roped and hogtied your sorry hide." The big man chided him, expecting to get some sort of rise out of him.

 

"Hmmmpf!" was all Flint said.

 

"You got anythin' cookin' or just waiting for the next war to break out?" Both men had tired long ago of hiring out their guns for the sake of money or shelter and found.

 

"Last I heard, you'd married a rich gal and settled down. Something about trouble shooting for a steamship company," the colonel replied after a moment and a long pull on the bottle that sat in front of him. "What brings you to this part of the world?"

 

"I never really liked the ocean. You can't just walk away if something goes to hell," The other man chuckled. Then a stern cold look crossed his face. "Celeste was murdered in '77. There's nothing back there now that I need or miss." His visage softened, "I've drifted mostly since then. I hired out as a lawman for a while 'til the rules started getting in the way of justice. I pushed a herd or two of cows up the trail, but the railroads are gettin' closer to where the cattle are. It's gettin' so a man don't make nothin' for all the dust he eats and I don't need the money that bad."

 

The two men sat for a while. "I've burried all but one of the bastards that killed my wife. If he's still on this side of the grass when I find him I'll gut him and leave him for the buzzards!" the big man snarled in an even lower tone. Then he grinned, "Other than that, I go where my horse takes me."

 

"What're you calling yourself these days?" J.Mark asked.

 

"Ain't wanted nowheres I'm aware of," the older man mused. "You can call me by my given name or just what the Choctaw took to callin' me after I left Bed Forrest and took up residence in the Nations. Oka-lusa!"

 

"Blackwater?" Flint looked puzzled.

 

"That's what it translates to." he nodded. "They said I was like dark still water, peaceful on top, but could drag a man down and kill him before he knowed what happened."

 

"Cody!" the most recent arival looked past the colonel to acknowledge another familiar face, "You ain't takin' up with this varmint are ya'? Might not be the healthiest thing for ya'!"

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Two men from my past in one day-that usually ended badly.

 

"Well if I can't fool anyone, I might as well go get a shave and a bath. If you two gents have nothing better to do, I'll be at the hotel for dinner at sundown. Sorry to hear about Celeste. That kind of thing can drive a man crazy if he's so inclined."

 

With that I pushed back my chair and handed Cody the bottle I'd only half finished "Best have your wits about you come dinner time, I ain't back in town for my health."

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Ridin slowley into town , I thought I reconized , Blackwater's saddle ,

 

last I had heard of him , He had married the duaghter of a shipping line owner ,

 

that was about 4 or 5 years ago , I had left Arkansas , going into the Nations , a couple jumps ahead of Judge Parker in Ft Smith .

 

looks to be several folks in the saloon , judgin from the horses tyed out front

 

not in the mood for any trouble this early in the day ,

 

But the Gray should be shod , and given some grain ,

 

I can get a drink , while that is bein done , then I can sort out , where I an gonna go next

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"Now what do ya make of that?" I asked as Flint disappeared through the door.

 

"Don't rightly know" answered Blackwater, "but I ain't got no plans so I'm gonna find out; how about yourself?"

 

"Well seein' that I'm nearly broke I don't figure it can hurt to go see what's up," I answered. "I've driven a freight wagon out of

San Fran for more years than I care to think about, but that's pretty much dried up now. I don't guess I've run into you since 75'

over in Denver."

 

About that time this grizzled old dude come stridin' in and when he saw Blackwater started grinnin' like a possum. "Blackwater you old

dog, how in the heck are you doin?" he asked. "Oh I'm doin' alright," boomed Blackwater, "just settin' here tellin' lies and shootin' the bull.

I don't guess you've ever met Tyrel?" I shook his hand and said "It's a pleasure, pull up a chair and let me pour you a drink".

 

After drinks I decided I'd excuse myself and go clean up a bit before dinner time.

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Chickasaw Bill wasn't as old as he looked. He wasn't as stove up as he looked either. During my time in the Nations I'd spent time hiding from blue coat bounty hunters who wanted to heel and hide me for the time I spent with ol' Bed Forrest and for some raids I'd carried out to survive after the War of Northern Aggression. Bill had showed me places to hole up and had on occasion repaired one or another of my weapons. He made good knives and knew his way around the inside of most guns. My time with the Choctaw in Florida and in the Nations had taught me the value of a good knife and how to make use of it when a gun was the wrong thing to use. I carried one of those knives.

 

I'd seen Bill stalk and kill all kinds of critters with nothing more than the knife he carried in the sheath hidden behind his head beneath his shirt, the two legged critters included. He was also good with the guns he knew so well. He'd ended the lives of a couple of men who were sent by the government to "reconstruct" Arkansas and that put him on the owlhoot trail.

 

"Wish you'd kept it down when you spotted me!" I told Bill when he let go of my hand. "Not everybody knew I was here."

 

"Sorry," he returned, "I didn't know you was hidin'!"

 

"I'm not. I've just gotten used to goin' unnoticed in the last couple of years. Judge Parker arranged a pardon for me before he put me to work, but there's still a few Yanks and a Red Leg or two that ain't forgot or ain't got the word."

 

"Judge Parker."

 

"Yeah! He covered my ass back then. He finally took down the warrant he had on you, ya' know." When I told Bill that, he looked suprised. "Yeah, I told him them two carpet baggers had kidnapped yer squaw and yer boy, and that they needed killin'! He agreed."

 

I continued, "I'm down to the last bastard that murdered Celeste. I don't know if he knows I'm hunting him or if he even knows who I am. She left me more money than I'll ever need and I'm bound to catch up with him if he stays alive long enough."

 

"How's yer boy?" I finally asked. His family had been good to me, and the boy would be fourteen or so by my reckoning and was the apple of his daddy's eye.

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I had a mighty uneasy feeling after I left the saloon like I was being watched. "Forget it Tyrel," I said to myself, "you've been out on the trail way too long and just ain't used to being in town." I stopped in at the barber for a shave, haircut, and bath. As I looked in the mirror to see if he'd done a half decent job, I saw a feller duck into the shadows between buildings; coincidence? Dangit, I was determined I would have me a bath. "Mister," I said to the barber, "I'm going to keep this here Colt close to hand. If'n anyone comes through that door before I'm finished they're gettin a belly full of lead and then I'm coming after you!" He promptly hung his "Closed" sign out and told me he wouldn't let anyone in until I said so. When I was finished I stepped out and paid him and thanked him for standing guard.

 

"Just about time to head to the hotel," I muttered to myself as I walked across the street towards the mercantile. As I passed between buildings I looked just in time to see him duck around the back corner of the store. Dangit it all, why in the heck would anybody be following me. Well I went through the front door of the store and straight out the back; the store owner didn't even protest when he saw the angry look on my face. There he was, peering around the corner. "You just ain't too smart," I said, "you ease that gunbelt off and head on over to the hotel." You ain't never seen anyone be more delicate whilst taking off a belt.

 

I shoved him through the front door of the hotel with my gun barrel and there was Flint just like he said he'd be. "You got any idea who this is?" I asked, "or you should I just gut shoot him for following me around town?"

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I had felt the pull to return "home" for a few months now, yet it didn't feel as much like home as it had in the past as I came down the main street. "Well, Bama, what's it to be then - a drink and a bath or some grub?", I asked myself. My big gray gelding, Stonewall Jackson, made the decision for me as he stopped at the hitching rail of the Saloon. It seemed to me that an uncommonly large percentage of the horses or rigs seemed mighty familiar and the hair on the nape of my neck began doing a two-step that immediately brought my alert level way up. Just because I recognized the horses didn't mean that the owners and I liked each other.

 

I went straight up the outside stairs of the Saloon, to the bathhouse on the second floor.

 

"A good hot bath and a change of clothes can surely change a man's outlook for the better", I said , to no one in particular, "Now let's go see about some grub." I grabbed my sawed off ten gauge and again took the outside stairs down to street level. I wasn't sure I was ready to meet anyone just yet, and Bottles could be as nosy as an old woman.

 

As I crossed over from the Saloon to the hotel, I could hear voices from the dining room, becoming more clear as I walked. "Blackwater!", I muttered, "and unless I miss my guess, that semi-refined Southern voice belongs to none other than Col. J. Mark Flint! Looks like some interesting times ahead", I said, stepping up my pace and heading straight for the hotel dining room.

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"Don't recollect seeing him before. If you want to gut him go ahead." I replied to Cody as I pulled out a razor sharp Bowie knife as long as my forearm and extended the handle towards Cody. "Just do it outside if you don't mind and bring my knife back clean." Cody didn't take my knife, but he shoved the man out through the door.

 

I slipped the knife back into its sheath and turned to look across the room at Bama Red holding a sawed off 10 gauge and heading my way. My hand dropped to my Colt and I eased to my feet. "Red, that 10 Gauge ain't exactly giving me a sporting chance." I moved my empty hands away from my guns and spread my arms wide. "Now put down that scatter gun before I have to kill you."

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"Awwww, hell, Colonel!"

 

"You know I'm just funnin' ya! And you also know me well enough that I don't put Earthquake down for nobody or nothing lest maybe it's a bath or a woman..........and dang few women, come to think of it! Now, I've had me a bath, a set o' clean clothes, some lilac water and I have worked up a helluva appetite. Let's start out with some food."

 

Turning to the one guy in the dining room I didn't know, the fella who had threatened to gut the cowboy 'fore we'd had a chance to eat, I said, "Son, why doncha go back in that there kitchen and tell that cook to kill three or four cows and start the steaks heading this way. Oh, and you might want to roll a keg o' beer back with ya so's we can cut the trail dust a bit till we can back over to the Saloon."

 

From the look he threw my way, I wasn't sure he liked my attitude, and I guess I had slid back into my old order-giving habits from my Cavalry days.

 

Oh, well! I turned my back on him and went to shake Col. Flint's hand.

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Since Flint didn't seem to know him I decided he'd get a second chance; so I "helped" him out the door with the toe of my boot and sternly said, "You won't get another warnin! STAY OFF my back trail and if I see you west of the Mississipi again I'll shoot first and ask questions later." That feller lit out of town faster than anybody you ever saw.

 

"Son", ol' Red is callin me? Seriously? "Red durnit, you can't remember nothin! Of course I probably look a whole lot different than I did back in sixty-three. I was one of the sniper's what rode with General Morgan and Major, I mean Colonel, Flint here. And don't you remember sellin' me that 75' Remington a while back? By the way I was going by Tyrel then, it's only the ones that knew me real well in the war that call me Cody. Well no matter, I ain't easily offended and I'm mighty dang hungry"

 

So I walked over to the kitchen and said loud enough so Red could hear me, "Fix us all a big ol steak, a side of taters and gravy, post haste. And give us a couple of bottles of yer finest whiskey." Then for effect I pointed and grinned real big and finished with, "Make sure the bill goes to Red!"

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I'd spent the week laid up in the Toostone Hotel. The last of the scum that had killed my wife had been through here in days before. After days of snooping around the trail had gone cold again. No one could say when he had left, or what trail he'd taken out of town. The man had the two middle fingers on his right hand gone to the first knuckle and part of his right ear missing. Only two other people besides me had known these facts, and both of them burning in Hell already. There were other features that some folks knew about and these were how I'd get wind of this rotten piece of dung from time to time.

 

Now I was idling away the time, waiting for something or someone to show me what trail to take next. J. Mark Flint, by design or by chance, was always into something or other that got people killed or kept someone from dying. His appearance at this point could be a "pleasant" distraction for me if he cared to have me along.

 

I turned to Bill and studied his face for a moment. He was a steady hand and he didn't take water when the chips were down. "Could you travel hard and fast for a spell if the situation called for it?" I asked.

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"Go easy on that hooch Red, I have business to discuss tonight." I threw back a single shot and pushed my glass away. Bama Red chuckled and slowed his pace just a tad and everyone ate their food quickly. I finished the poor excuse for a steak and pushed my plate away and pulled a cigar out of my pocket and began to chew on the end a bit. Cody ribbed me a bit, "You smoke 'em . . . if you need a light. . . " He reached in his vest pocket and produced a match, which he struck on this thumbnail and extended it.

 

"Nah, I gave up smoking, hard to be quiet when your hacking up a lung. Just a little something to pass the time til I figure if this is the right time. . . . "

 

Inside my head my own words made me wince . . . the right time. It was the only time left and it had been too long a waitin'

 

After some more catching up, I made progress with my thoughts

 

"Blackwater, when you were at sea, how much portuguese did you pick up?"

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"Some," I replied, puzzled. "The boatswains mate and a couple of hands on one of the four-masters I shipped on were Portagee."

 

When I married Celeste I didn't know her father and his family owned a large ocean going freight company consisting of seventeen ships. She had traveled to Houston with her mother and a sister.

 

They'd put up in one of the swankiest hotels in the port city and were taking in the sights of the harbor when a couple of thugs from the waterfront accosted them and demanded that they give them all of their valuables. The southern cavalier in me wasn't having any of that. Men who took advantage of a woman were the lowest. These were cowards as well, I offered to show them the error of their ways, and after a short but violent discussion, they came around to my way of thinking.

 

The three ladies were suitably impressed and when I offered to escort them to their lodgings, they accepted gladly. I asked Celeste to join me for dinner a couple of days later and she obliged me. We kept company almost continually for the rest of her time in Houston. On the day her family was to leave for New Orleans, she asked me to go with them. "You can see to our safety," she said offhandedly. Her mother approved and off to the Big Easy i went.

 

Our courtship was a hurricane affair. The day we married, her father returned from New York to attend the wedding, and in giving his blessing to us he informed me that I was now his personal trouble shooter. "Trouble shooter?" I asked. "Just what am I trouble shooting?" And that's when Celeste giggled and explained that I married into a fortune. That was the fall of 1870. I spent the next six years traveling around the world, providing security for the old man and carrying comunications and contracts for the shipping company.

 

"I can get by in Portugese, there's a lot of it that's like Spanish." I wondered what the colonel had in mind.

"He'll tell me when the time is right" I thought to myself.

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"Gentlemen, all I am ready to say right now is I have an opportunity that could easily make each of you more money than you need for an entire lifetime. What we will be doing doesn't involve killing anyone and the only part that is illegal. . . well that's been done for a number of years."

 

I took a drink and tried to read faces. Bama Red eyes twinkled-heck I imagine he would have joined up for a cattle drive for found and a dollar a day. The others were interested and rightly suspiscious. If Blackwater would join up, they would follow suit.

 

"Blackwater, why don't you and I meet over at the Hardware store tomorrow when they open up?" He nodded and with that we all agreed to keep this conversation to ourselves.

 

As the table was cleared I ordered the table two more bottles of the best whisky in town and paid the bill with a handful of gold coins.

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I probably drank more than my share. Hell! It was on the colonel's tab. Yes! I had access to more money than I could ever spend, living as I did out of a saddlebag or off the back of a pack horse, but I'd also been born the son of a hardscrabble Tennessee farmer and part time lawman, and knew what it was to do without.

 

I hadn't seen ol' Bama in three or four years. We spent most of the evening catching up on the events of each other's lives. That and a game of who could tell the biggest windy. I hardly knew Tyrel Cody and none of the others knew Chickasaw Bill. Before the night was over that was a little less true.

 

What J.Mark had in mind was a mistery to me and why he'd singled me out to palaver this morning was even more of a puzzler. I'd put Bill up in a room at the hotel. I figured I owed him that much for all the times back in the Nations when he'd given me shelter and a hot meal. He protested, but in the end he saw my reason and resolve and chose to graciously accept. I doubted that he was still asleep, but he was nowhere to be seen when I passed through the hotel lobby.

 

Cody sat on a bench on the porch in front of the hotel as I came down the stairs and I nodded to him as I descended into the street, a move that he returned in kind. I'd just passed in front of the Saloon when a blast of a shot was fired, followed by another of lesser volume. "Cody!" was the only other sound I heard.

 

I spun and drew in one motion, taking in the scene at a glance and coming to a stop looking at Chickasaw Bill holding a smoking long rifle aimed at a body collapsed in the street. The man lay motionless at the opening of the alley beside the hotel, a Colt in the dirt beside him. I holstered my old Remington and walked over to where Bill stood still covering the man in the street. "He was drawed down on Cody there!" Bill growled as he lowered the big repeater.

 

The colonel strode across the street from the hardware to join the growing crowd, arriving at the same instant as Cody. "Ain't that the man you waltzed into the barber's shop and showed me yesterday?" Flint asked, rolling the dead man's head to where his face could be seen with the toe of his boot.

 

"Looks like him," Cody replied flatly, "But it's hard to say for sure with half of his face gone." He shuddered slightly, though I could see it, "Thanks, Bill!"

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I heard several shots that woke me from a deep sleep, sleep that had been welcome after spending two weeks on the trail hunting whatever I could for whoever would pay for fresh meat. The down bed had sure felt good after all those nights spent on the hard ground. I wiped what was left of the sleep from my eyes as I looked from the window above the diner and out into the street. I wiped my eyes again as I strained to see a bit clearer, could it be?

 

I was a 16 yr old on the McComb during the war, still green behind the ears when we were captured by the rebs. We all figured that we would be spending the remainder of the war as a prisoner of war, if we lived out the day. When we were released I swore an oath that day that I would find the officers leading the rebs and thank them. I had learned from our captain some of the names of the confederate leaders that day but after the war I couldn't much stomach trying to remember anything that had to do with the war, whether good or bad. But now, staring down at Flint, that oath flashed before my eyes and I knew what I had to do.

 

I dressed quickly, strapped on my colts, grabbed my Sharps and let out for the street. I knew better than to bust through the doorway out onto the street after a gunfight and so I took a deep breath before I opened the door and slowly stepped out. I felt the burn of several eyes on me as I did. I put my free hand up away from it's Colt and held the Sharps low at my other side.

 

Just a word sir, if you would please, just a word, I spoke to the one time confederate officer. Flint twisted his head a bit as he was trying to figure out who I was and want I wanted of him.

I stood there motionless and silent waiting for his response. The others around him had their firearms though not aimed at me, sure ready to swing them into action should I prove to be a threat.

 

Flint spoke in a low tone to the others, "Easy boys, had he wanted to do evil to me he would have from up there" as he pointed to the upstairs window. "I reckon with that Sharps there would have been less of me left than this here feller." He motioned me over to him and as I neared I reached out my hand to shake his. "Sir, I swore long ago that I would find you", again I felt the eyes of the others boring through me, "and thank you for the kindness that your force showed us that day on the river. I was but 16 that day and was sure I wouldn't live a day longer. Thank you sir!" Then I went silent again, not sure what would happen next, but I had the weight of that oath off of my shoulders now.

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"What's name might you favor and how good a shot are you with that Sharps?" I asked as I searched for any hidden meaning to this man's presence. He seemed sincere and, as I said to the others, if he had ill intents, that Sharps would have made it easy enough to carry them out. If nothing else this "chance meeting' if that was all it was made me more anxious to get under way with my plans.

 

"Culpepper, Cheyenne Culpepper, Sir." He replied, his face seeming to brighten up a bit.

 

"Well Pepper, I have some business to attend to, but you tell Bottles over to the Saloon that you are drinking on my tab today. I'll be by later and we can talk some more if you wish."

 

He looked back at me "I'm not much of a drinker." With that Bama Red slapped an arm around his shoulders. "We'll take care of that, come on over to the Saloon."

 

I grabbed Red's shoulder "Vet him for me, but don't be obvious" I whispered and a curt half nod was returned. With that I headed to meet Blackwater to tell him what the others weren't ready to hear. He was not one to be tempted by money or wealth, and my only fear was if his sense of honor was a bit more overdeveloped than mine. If it was . . . he wasn't bullet proof.

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I hope no one noticed how shaken I was. I just can't figure out what was going on. I never have had any enemies that I know anout, well except pretty much every damn Yankee I came across during the war; but that was thd war and along time ago. I certainly didn't recognize whoever was following me and I'm fairly certain it is the same person as the one layin in the street with his head tore half off. Sure am glad that Bill feller showed up when he did.

 

As Red and Pepper head off into the saloon and Blackwater headed off with Colonel away to talk, I looked at Bill and said "Thanks again Bill", I said, "I just met you and already owe you one. How about we follow Red and Pepper over to the saloon, I'll buy you a drink and a fine cigar. Besides I don't know if like the looks of that Pepper feller; maybe if we listen in and talk a bit he'll change my mind."

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Red accompanied (led) me to the saloon and ordered a bottle from the barkeep. He was doing his best to act friendly and such, but I knew full well what he was just trying to figure out what I was about. He didn't exactly start out real friendly like when he called me a "yankee". I looked him straight in his eyes, "Johnny, you ever hear tell of a Culpepper what came from north of the Mason Dixon?".

 

I knew what his response would be and I had my Colt resting flat on the bar before his cleared leather. "Now, let's start over before you make any more assumptions" I told him as I holstered my Colt as two of the other men with Flint entered the saloon.

 

My family is the family that founded Culpepper VA. Maybe you've heard of the battle of Hoover's Gap in Tennessee, that was my mother's side of the family. I ran away from home at 13 because I wanted to see what was out west. The furthest west I made it was Cincinnati, there I was conscripted into the union forces and made to serve on the McComb. They figured I wouldn't be able to bolt from service if i was constrained to a boat.

 

"So, Yes, I was a yankee, but not at heart and only because I had no choice. Hold that agin me iffn you want, but call me a yankee agin and you'll see the blast of my Colt, but you'll ne'er hear it." I told Red loud enough for the other two to hear and then I downed the shot of whiskey set before me. Then I finished with, "That is why I had to thank Flint, for making sure I didn't die as a blue coat yankee that day.!" I poured another shot from the bottle, downed it, and then sat there silently waiting for someone else to say something.

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while everyone else was looking to make thair place in the order of things

 

I found a table with a good sturdy wall to my back , so I could have a cup of coffee and watch it play out

 

I had saved Cody , cuase , I did not like seein folks shot in the back

 

I figure Blackwater , will find me and tell me what , He has in the works , Kinda think it has to do with the dude , he is huntin

 

I had overheard a couple of folks talking about Blackwater trackin someone

 

Checked on the Gray , been reshod , feeling real sassy , after having lots of grain and a couple of apples for a treat

 

ready to get to moving , towns lead to trouble , like this morning , in a shootin before I had a cup of coffee

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"Now gentlemen, was that really necessary?" shouted a female voice as she bursts through the door. "The governor will be here in less than an hour and we are preparing for his visit with a killing?" The gentlemen were ready and able to handle themselves with trouble from men, but trouble from weemens, well that was a whole 'nother kettle of fish.

 

Miss Calamity Kris had arrived the evening before to prepare for the meeting with the governor. She stood before them now in her finest blue silk dress with her hair perfectly placed about her head. "You know how fast talk gets around this town. We don't want to give the governor the wrong impression about our home." The gentlemen rose when this "lady" entered the room but were non too happy to see her. "We want to make a good impression on him so he'll appropriate funds for the railroad line just outside of town. That will bring in business and help us grow." Miss Calamity knew a thing or three about business. Her father had owned one of the largest mercantile's in the state. She inherited it when he passed a year ago and it was her intent to grow the business. The increased traffic from the railroad would be just the ticket.

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I had eased away from the crowd at the scene of the killing. From the far side of the street I studied my surroundings and decided to make the rendesvous with the colonel. I hadn't a clue what J. Mark Flint had up his well hashmarked sleve, but being as it most likely would mean getting back on the trail, any trail, I was more than interested. With any trace of my quarry gone, moving to some other vantage point was my only hope.

 

I walked across the street without drawing attention to myself and stepped up onto the porch of the hardware store. There I paused and lit a cheroot, glancing around one more time and settled into a chair under the overhanging roof to wait for Flint. I watched as a well appointed woman stormed into the Saloon and heard, although I couldn't decern what she was saying, her shouting loudly at someone inside. "Glad she isn't after me!" I thought to myself.

 

About then, the colonel appeared as if by some magician's trick on the stairs in front of me. "You're as sneaky as I am," I said to him in a low voice. "Are we good out here, or have you got someplace more private in mind?"

 

"Inside," J. Mark said quietly and nodded toward the door.

 

I got up and tossed my cigar into the street, tipped my hat back out of my eyes and followed the colonel into the store. Both of us stopped just inside the door to let our eyes adjust to the lower light in the store and to size up the room. It was late in the morning and only the clerk was there. "Can I help you?" he asked.

 

"Nah! Just lookin' fer now," I said. "We'll get with you when we've looked around."

 

I followed J. Mark to a back corner of the store, pausing to look a the merchandise a couple of times. "Okay, what's on your mind?" I asked when we'd reached the place he'd chosen.

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After this Culpepper fellow's little spiel, I told him I had been born in Pennsylvania and lived there till I was ten, so I was technically a "Yankee", too.

 

"Look, Culpepper, we're gonna have some drinks and get to know each other a little better. I've been on one of Flint's little "adventures" before, and if this anything like that, we're gonna hafta be able to depend completely on one another. Here comes Cody and that Chickasaw Bill fella. Seems like Big Jake ain't using his table under the stairs, so........"

 

"Bottles, bring us four glasses and two bottles to Big Jake's table and put them on the Colonel's tab, if ya don't mind." Then, turning my head toward the bat wings, i hollered, "Cody! You and Bill come over here and set awhile. We all got a little talking to do and a whole lot of listening."

 

Once we'd got settled in, drinks poured and cigars lit, I introduced myself. "Boys, I been down the trail with the Col. and Blackwater, as well. They are two to ride the river with, and as long as they trust and believe in ya, they'll have your back at all times. Whatever this little ride in the sun entails, Col. Flint will probably make Blackwater his segundo, they work well together.

 

"What about you, Bama? Why're you here?", asked Cody. So I told them about being a student at VMI when the Corps of Cadets was called up to help stop the Union advance down the Shenendoah valley, about the Battle of New Market, where we routed the Yanks under Maj. Gen. Siegel. I had been appointed liaison between the Cadets and Brig. Gen. John Imboden's cavalry brigade he must of seen something in me, since he asked the Commandant of Cadets to permanently transfer me to his unit, where I served out the rest of the War.

 

"Since then, let's just say I've managed to keep myself busy and mostly out of jail, doing this and that. That's enough talkin from me for now. Now it's time to listen - someone else tell us your story."

 

With that I refilled my glass with a large rye, tilted the chair back and waited.

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Just before i could take my turn at Red's little game of "who am I," one of the handsomest women I ever did see come burstin' through the door a shoutin' something about the governer and shootin'.

 

"Ma'am," I said, "let me be the first to apologize for the ruckus this morning. You see me an the feller that was shot had a little disagreement about him following me yesterday. Well this morning Bill here saw that feller draw down on me with my back turned, so he shot him for me. Now I believe you and your governer would both agree that yes a shootin was necessary! If you'll allow me to introduce us, to my left is Bama Red, the gentleman to my right is Chickasaw Bill, he's the one that saved my bacon this morning, and lastly the shy one here that's all red around the gills is Cheyenne Culpepper. My name is Tyrel Cody; those that know me from the war just call me Cody."

 

For a minute I thought Culpepper was gonna try and draw and shoot me after that comment but instead he gently took the lady's hand and kissed it and said, "Allow me to properly introduce myself, my name is Cheyenne Culpepper. Just as you, I was rudely awakened by these ruffians this morning, but would have to agree with mister Cody that the backshooter needed killing. Now that we know the governer is coming in I believe we can all behave ourselves." She looked us all over again and said, "See that you do, or I'll be doing the shooting next time!" She left as abruptly as she had arrived.

 

We all sat back down to wait for Flint and Blackwater. "Gents I have to admit, if the damn yanks hadn't have killed most of my family back in 62', I'd have either stayed out of the war altogether or fought for the North. I served under General Morgan and along side Major Flint as a sharpshooter in 62' and 63'. We wound up seperated after Brandenburg and I finished the war with a different cavalry unit. After the war there wasn't any reason to stay in Tennessee so I headed west. Worked for the railroad for a couple of years and then drove freight out of San Francisco for several more years. I've ran into both Red and Blackwater several times throughout the years. Was just driftin' through town tryin to figure out what to do next when I saw Flint at the saloon for the first time since we parted during the war. What I don't know is why that feller was following me, I ain't made no enemies that I know of. So Pepper, if not for circumstances I might have been on the wrong side, and am certainly willing to give you a pass. Tell us a bit more about yourself?"

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I started off quietly "Blackwater, I need to ask you a question. If you were to suppose that someone had stolen Union gold during the war and stashed it someplace, rather than turn it to the confederacy, what would you think?"

 

He scratched his beard with his right hand as if pondering and I relaxed, just a bit, already knowing the answer would be positive." "Well, as I see it, a fellow can be too honest for his own good sometimes. Gold is gold, if that there hypothetical fellow was to ask me to help him recover it for a share, I suppose I'd be grateful."

 

I grinned just a bit "Well then, have I got a story for you. Best we go for a ride and talk out of earshot."

 

Blackwater nodded "Alright then, I'll meet you at the livery in half an hour. How much are we talking about anyway?"

 

I held up two fingers and then what would likely be called a smirk crossed my face as I said the word "Tons."

 

Blackwater's eyes narrowed and he looked at me. "I'll have my horse ready in ten minutes-I have got to hear this story."

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Even though we hadn't see one another in nye ten years they looked about the same mean and ugly critters of yesterday. Why they didn't even hardly nod as they passed by me riding out of town. Well, I'd make Flint and Blackwater buy me a drink later that night or in a few nights. Wasn't in no hurry to traipse off to the Pecos country nohow and besides, Flint was always looking for an angle to make another fortune. Since we'd both made a couple together and lost them in short order it didn't take much thinking that his little secret might be more exciting than mine....maybe deadlier. Sure wouldn't be the first time for dangerous doins for us and wouldn't be the last. Pecos could wait and I'd probably need their help anyway.

 

Had to shuck this old prospector garbe, bathe, and get shed of an army of nits pretty soon or go crazy. On the other hand, the disquise had helped to elude a passel of downright snakes along the way to Toostone. Better to get there and settle in a few days and rehide the map un malo viejo hombre gave me in Socorro. Had no reason not to believe his tales of Maximillians gold buried near Castle Gap on the Pecos as he didn't want any money....just piece of mind but only attainable by his impending death due to dropsy . He too, had been dogged for years by possessing the map. Fearful for his life, Manuel Solis had assumed other names after he too was given the map by a relative who was with Maximillian's treasure as it was transported out of Mexico. There was another survivor who knew where and who held the map. It didn't take much duress to relieve him of that information.

 

I kinda loitered a bit at the livery where I sold off that flea bitten mule that carried all my gear and gave the stable hand a dollar to send a telegraph to my nephew in Comanche. That gave me a chance to bury the brass box containing the map in the first stall I came to. I rolled up the canvas britches and old shirt and buried them under a bunch of hay then jumped into water trough for a quick bath to get some of the stink off. Drying quickly, I donned a fresh pair of long johns, a shirt and pants, then strapped on my pistols. Damn I hated to do it but the only way to keep those buzzards off my trail was another disquise so a pair of huaraches complemented the cloak thrown around me.

 

As I stepped from the livery and made my way down the street a feller bumped into me that looked real familiar. Another shock in seeing Chickasaw Bill! Dang! What in tarnation was going on with some gatherin of ole pards? Pulling the hood of my cloak tight I stammered in my best castillian spanish "Por favor senor, have you alms for the poor?"

 

Har!!!! Couldn't wait to find a mirror to see how good a Fransican Monk I made! Ole Bill flipped me a whole dollar! Now, if I could keep this up and my disquise it wouldn't be hard to pull enough out of these ole saddle bum pards of mine to hustle up a bottle, grub, and maybe keep.

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I was flustered for sure when that lady came in and dressed us down in no uncertain terms. My father though had taught me the proper way to treat a lady, no matter the circumstance, and as she entered the room I was on my feet before she had cleared the doorway. The only thing that would have made her any more beautiful was if she had had a Virginian accent, although the words seemed to drip from her lips like honey out of a full bee hive. I didn't know what the next few days would bring, but if I was here for long I knew that I would have to find a way to kiss that silky smooth hand again.

 

I was brought back to the present by Cody, but I've got to admit that my mind was still full of the smell of the lady's hand as he talked. But now he wanted to know more about me, so I tried the push the sight and scent of that woman from my mind.

 

After the war I went home to find the homestead burnt and my mother out of her mind from the despair of losing my father and two older brothers during the war. She had no idea who I was any longer, so I lit out for the west again. The only thing I knew how to do was shoot and hunt, so that's what I've done for a living since. Man or animal, I'll hunt them if the price is right. Although I do have my limits on hunting a man. I'll only hunt an evil soul, one who has killed without cause or just causing mayhem, or a man who has killed women or children. I don't care to bring them in alive either, I don't bring an animal in alive, an evil man deserves no better. I tried farming for a spell when I fell for a pretty thing, but she died in childbirth. This is what I'm good at, I reckon this is how I'll meet my Maker one day.

 

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I saddled my horse, the big Dunn Morgan, and slid the iron Henry I used for a trail gun into the scabbard tied to the inside of the right stirrup leather. As an afterthought, I threw on a bedroll. My other horse snorted, expecting the packsaddle to be thrown onto his back. "Not today boy," I said to him as I swung my leg over the cantle and ducked to clear the stable doorway as the Dunn walked out into the street.

 

Flint sat his horse at the edge of town and i reined around and headed that way. We rode in silence for a spell, the late morning air helping to clear the mind and refresh the body. Flint made small talk as we ambled along. This trail was often busy and folks from outside town were known to use it, as were travelers from farther away for business and at times it was less than a safe place to be. In this part of the country, the worst element was just as likely to cross your path as not. I wondered what this new adventure held in store and awaited the colonel's story.

 

It seemed that Flint was just about to give me the details when we spotted an old prospector with a mule in tow approaching for out of town. Prospectors this close to Toostone weren't all that uncommon, but something about the way this man sat his horse set off a bell or two in my head. We passed in silence and I met the gaze of this old man for a moment, and felt another alarm as much as heard it in my head. As he disappeared around a turn in the road, I looked a J. Mark and nodded. He looked back again and as he turned, he raised an eyebrow. Then he looked back at me and returned the nod.

 

We both knew who it was and for a minute wondered aloud what he was up to. On the trail you often saw men that you knew. You could tell when something was amiss and when it wasn't in anyones best interest to acknowledge one another. This was one of those times. When we returned to town we'd clear up the mistery.

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Dammit, I thought to myself. I forgot to throw something over my Remington Sporting Rifle on the way in. Those yahoos would recognize it in a heartbeat!

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Once we were far enough out of town I began to tell the story, well enough of the story to establish that it wasn't just talk. Blackwater wanted in and that was a relief. As to the others in town, I wasn't sure. While there was plenty of loot to go around, I just didn't see this taking more than 4 men. Blackwater wisely reminded me that men die unexpectedly when gold is nearby and that a few extra men at the start might mean the difference between recovering the gold or getting shot.

 

Then there was the appearance of Cheyenne Culpepper and his having been on board the companion ship to the ship I had looted. He might well know what was on that ship-and he might not. 2 tons of gold is not that much on a ship that size. We considered our options as we rode, take him along as a partner in our endeavor, send him on his way and watch our back trail or just kill him and be on the safe side.

 

Culpepper seemed a likeable sort and he had done me no wrong. If he had any ideas, we'd have him close enough to watch or to take care of-whatever might become necessary.

 

"Well, I guess we ought to head back and see if we can stay out of trouble . . . til we can't.

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Yellowstone Sam , thought he was being slick , I saw the rifle and knew he was foe sure .

 

I flipped him a dollor , just to make him think , He had got away with it .

 

As soon as he headed down the street , I went in a retreved the package , he had hidden .

 

I pulled everything out of the box , and saddled the Gray , I knew a spot to stash this for safe keepin

 

Figured I would let Blackwater and Flint in on it soon enough .

 

Slipped back in to town , fed the Gray well , and headed over to get a bite of supper

 

Sam is gonna , get a suprize , real soon , No map and gonna get cuaght unaware

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At that last I nodded. "I wonder what Sam McAllister is up to. Did you get a load of that gettup he was sportin' when we passed him while ago?"

 

"Yeah, I did. Knowing ol' Sam, he may just have been prospecting, though I don't figure him to work that hard for long," the colonel chuckled.

 

"That's how I read it too. He's either up to something or he's running from whatever it was." I nudged my mount into a slightly faster pace and J. Mark did the same. "We'll find out soon enough if he don't just ride out the other side of town."

 

Personally, I'd ridden into Toostone hoping to find Sam. I needed a better tracker than I was myself and he was the best there was. That Chickasaw had showed up after I hadn't found Sam had been a relief. Now, with what Flint proposed, we had a greater need for both of them, IF they were willing. I hoped that I could finish my personal business somehow. The money I didn't need. The distraction of this adventure I did.

 

Three years on the trail of my wifes killers had pushed me to the wrong edge of sanity. My hatred of the men who'd done this and the malice in me that grew by the day was all but overwhelming. Now only one of them remained. I had gladly paid them the ransom they demanded. They had killed Celeste anyway and done other things to her as well before she had died. For that, the first two had suffered long at my hand. My family lived by the feud and my time with the Choctaw had taught me ways to carry a feud to new levels.

 

The recent unpleasantness had forged the savage in me to a hardness like the finest steel. Ol' Bed Forrest was the most feared general on either side of the conflict. The men under his command were much of the reason why. I had spent the entire war, from the day of my enlistment, in his Black Horse Brigade. We'd lost a time or two, but had never surrendered nor had we been captured or cowed. Bill Sherman had made it his mission in life to capture Nathan Bedford Forrest. I guess ol' Sherman's life was unfulfilled. Come to think of it, I'd never officially surrendered.

 

When we disbanded I went home to find that I no longer had a home. My mother had moved to Kentucky and lived with my younger brother. My father had passed while I was off soldiering. With no real ties, I drifted into Missouri and ran affoul of a band of Red Legs who, though the war had ended, took exception to my southern drawl and especially what remained of my confederate cavalry gear. My good horse and my knowledge of warfare saved me from a hangman's rope and with the loot I had grabbed as I made my escape, I rode into the Nations and for a while I disappeared. I met Sam there and a little later Chickasaw Bill as well.

 

Sam and Bill knew each other and were forever trying to outdo one another with tricks and mean jokes. I didn't know for sure, but I thought that they had some token or totem that they exchanged on the event of one getting the better of the other. "It'd be a good idea if we get back to town before Bill and Sam get to bullyraggin' each other!" I urged the colonel and heeld my mount again into a more hasty gait.

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Shed the priest frock long enough to get me an upstairs room overlooking main street and directly across from the Red Bull Saloon. Wanted a good view and especially since some ole pards were likely up to no good. Needing to retrieve my other gear from the livery I sauntered down in the fading light of day and found my way back to the stalls. Shock hit me like a range bull just run me down! It wasn't right....something wasn't right there at the spot where I'd buried the map. An animal hadn't been in the stall but what? Struck a lucifer and bent down to study the goings on that prints in the dirt were trying to tell me. Smiling, I backed on out, shouldered my warbag and made my way back to the the old boarding house where I'd rented a room.

 

Yessir, ole Bill had just forgot to dally that rope cause he still left a signature mark with that half cripped gait he had that made him put an inordinate amount of weight on the outside of his foot. Plain as day ole Chickasaw had recognized him from the seeing the rifle, putting two and two together, and then planned the chance meeting. Well, if had then so had Flint and Blackwater.

 

Time to check out the saloon it was.but not now....soon enough. That jack leg better do a good job of protecting that map else there would be some kinda hell to pay...friend or not! Besides, he didn't know what that map meant or where. Yepper, all that bunch oughta learned by now that I'd skin em sooner or later and have the last laugh. Heck yeah, fame and fortune aside it was time to pull Bills string again....hard!

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