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J. Mark Flint #31954 LIFE

Fools' Gold

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I was sitting in the saloon , wahn Sam came in , mad as a hornet with its tail on fire

 

"Bottles , he about half yelled , give me a whiskey " and threw the dollor I had given him earler on the bar

 

Bittles took the dollar and rapped it on the marble slab , ya could see the distain come across his face as he did

 

turnin to Sam he said , WHAT the HE** , you is tryin to pass lead off as silver

 

Sam had plum forgot , he had used the trick back in the Nations , to pay off a bet with me

 

and I knew , what the map was , cuase he had bragged about it , while he was drunk , thinkin I was also

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I sat there for a while trying to ignore the scent of that blue eyed filly in the silk gown that was still on my hand. I was interested in what these men represented; but, those that were sitting here were doing just that sitting and the other two, which included Flint were off elsewhere.

 

I excused myself, told the men I had to find that filly and then a slowly made my way out the door. I almost went to my room to leave the Sharps there, but something told me I'd best keep it by my side.

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"Bill, one of these days that curious pig snout you call yer nose is gonna wind you up in a heap of troubles you don't want. For instance, now I'm not the only one that knows about the map!"

 

He smirked and said, "Nope, I aways knew some about it but maybe not all...just never mentioned it cause you'd a warped me good for the hell of it!"

 

"Well, maybe you knowin will take some of the varmints off my trail and they can chase you around in circles for a change! Dang sure well deserve it ya pryin idjit!" Took a long stride toward him and we both shot hands forward in a steely embrace, "How the hell are ya Bill! Bottles, lets have a Jameson if you don't mind!"

 

Bout that time the rest of the crew hit the batwings so I hollered " Nevermind, Flints here to pick up the tab so bring a bottle or three!"

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Counting in my head I figured five known hands. Culpepper was an unknown. When Flint and I had discussed him it was left up in the air. I knew the others, Bill, Sam and Bama I would back against the devil himself and I knew enough of Cody to say the same for him if it came right down to it. As far as he was concerned, Flint vouched for him and that stood up to any fire by my reckoning.

 

I had a lot to consider as I rode back into Toostone. The colonel and I had come to an agreement on our little ride. Now he would have to put what he would out for the others to decide if they wanted a piece of the action. As I thought on it, some of my part became clearer. Number one was to cover the colonel's behind. A close second was my own hide, a commodity that was likely more valuable to some of the others than it was to me.

 

"Where's Culpepper?" I asked Bill quietly when we sat down. I'd looked around and didn't see him.

 

"He wandered off just as Sam showed up," Bill leaned in closer as he made as if to adjust his chair. "He's fast with a pistol. He had the drop on Bama while ago like you'd not believe."

 

"And Bama didn't kill him?" Bama Red was no fast draw with a handgun. He looked like a soft city feller, but that ten guage shotgun seldom left his hand, and he'd make like he was pulling iron and blow you in half with the other hand wrapped around Ol' Thunder as he called it. Obviously he'd seen something in the younger man's eyes or something that had stayed his hand. I'd seen Red take a lot of lead once and the other men laid at his feet when the smoke cleared. I'd talk to Bama later.

 

"He's lucky!" I said to Chickasaw as I poured a short shot. "I reckon my job starts now," I said to myself.

 

"So, Sam! What've you been prospectin' for?" I looked him in the eye and winked. "Trouble I'm guessing! That getup you were wearin' when you rode into town wasn't fooling anyone that's rode with ya'. Ain't another soul in this world sets a horse like you."

 

"When I first seen 'im he was dressed like a Spanish padre!" Bill chuckled. "But the horse he was leadin' had that big ol' artilery piece a hangin off of it!" As I said before, Bill new guns. He'd converted my iron Henry to shoot the .44 Russian round. Those I could reload if I had to and they were plentiful most everywhere. He'd also fixed me up a ten guage double like Bama's.

 

"Hell! He changes clothes like some women I've known, I guess!" I gouged at Sam goodnaturedly. I poured a round for everybody.

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It was back to normal , with Sam , prank after prank ,

 

Sam , ya know , this is gonna have to rest for a bit , fun is fun , But , this is gonna get serious real fast .

 

Ya know , my squaw , was well versed , in Spanish and the knew the folk storys of the tribes , and the trade routes

 

the seal on the map , gave away what it was .

 

Blackwater , while ya was over to the hardware store , was there a big box , with my name on it there ?

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Bill's question caught me in a moment where my mind had focused on other problems. "Wha? No ! At least I didn't notice anything about a box." I stammered, collecting my thoughts and putting them in a box of their own. "I hardly even talked to the clerk," I concluded.

 

I leaned over to Bama, making like I was easing my back," You and me need to talk after while."

 

He gave the slightest of a nod, but didn't even look my way.

 

We'd only just sat down and already there were more questions than answers. The colonel hadn't but just opened his mouth when the roar of a Sharps split the afternoon quiet of the town outside. In the door of the saloon a man stood with his arm slightly raised, the mangled remains of a hand spewing blood from the end of it. He turned and ran as we all sprung to our feet and charged the door.

 

Outside, the man who'd just stood in the doorway had shoved his shattered hand into the watering trough. Bill and Sam strode forward and grabbed him one by each arm and dragged him to the hitching rail. "And just what're you up to Mister?" Sam demanded as they slammed his back against the rail. I backed away, seeing that this threat was contained.

 

I searched the street to determine if any other threat was present. I saw Culpepper getting up from the ground and Cody lowering his rifle which had been aimed, I thought, at Culpepper. Cody flipped me a short salute as the young Yankee turned to see him standing there. I headed back into the Saloon and joined Flint who'd looked through the doors shaking his head and returned to our table. We exchanged looks of disgust. "We're drawing too much attention," the colonel said, again shaking his head.

 

I nodded and stood back up to take another look. All of a sudden I could hear that same female voice raising cain out in the street.

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I made my way to the middle of town looking for the mercantile; yes that is where that blue eyed vixen should have been but she was nowhere to be found. I turned back to head for the saloon and saw Blackwater and Flint tie off their horses and enter. Something caught me eye, a flash off of something shiny from the alley across the street. I sidestepped until I was in the shadows, keeping an eye on the alley the whole time.

 

I took the caps off of the glass on my Sharps, not knowing why. Soon a figure stepped out from the alley and at a double step headed for the saloon. I spotted what had been glistening in the sun, a bowie knife held in the man's right hand. I had a bad feeling, dropping to my knees, then my elbows, all the while getting the Sharps positioned for a quick shot. I peered through the glass and saw the man raise the knife just as he held one of the doors ajar. He hesitated just long enough for me to lock onto his hand, the noise of the 45-120 was deafening in town, bouncing off of the buildings. I was to my feet before the smoke cleared and had chambered another round. I searched for a sign of the man, finally spotting him by the water trough in front of the saloon. Flint and the others spilled out of the saloon like hornets looking for an invader.

 

Then i heard her, "I thought I told you about that!" Well, at least i found her!

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I eased into the Saloon just as Blackwater was getting out of his chair.

 

"You got a minute?", I asked him. He nodded and as I kept walking, I said in a low voice, "Meet me behind the jakes in five minutes."

 

Behind the privies at the back of the Saloon, there were spots where folks wanting privacy could talk or do most anything else without fear of being seen or overheard. Many a soiled dove had used such spots for conducting business in the past and Bama had no doubt that practice would continue.

 

Blackwater showed up on time, and I started right in, "I just assume the Colonel made you his segundo. No, no, it don't bother me a-tall. I don't think I'd want the job this time around anyway. Just wanted you to know that Pepper has his own agenda and I ain't figured it out yet. He's also God almighty fast with his sixgun. Don't know that I've ever seen anyone faster. Oh yeah, he's also mighty touchy 'bout being called a Yankee."

 

"I really hate to say this, but the only folks I can count on this minute is you, me, the Col. and, probably, Cody. Watch your back trail, pard!"

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"Hmmm, where is Culpepper headed off to", I thought to myself, as he left the saloon. I decided I still really don't trust him, "pardon me fellers, I'm gonna slip around and see what Pepper is up to". I eased out the back of the saloon and walked down behind some of the buildings to the livery stable; from here I could keep an eye on most of the town. About then I saw Flint and Blackwater tie off and enter the saloon. Now I ain't usually one to swear but I did under my breath when I saw him raise that sharps up pointing in the direction where the boys had just entered. "Dammit all, I knew it!" , I muttered as I raised my Winchester and readied to take him out. Lucky for Pepper I too caught a glance of the figure he was aiming at and eased off the trigger just in time. The others came rolling out of the Saloon and as the smoke cleared I saw Pepper look my way and realize that I had been watching him and had he had malicious intent he would not be alive. We gave each other a courteous nod of respect and perhaps we might trust each other a bit more now.

 

As the sounds of the shot finished echoing down the street out of the hotel came that beautiful woman again; mad as hell!

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I had joined Bama Red behind the privies to hear what he had to say. "You can count on Sam and Chickasaw Bill like you can count on me," I told him. He looked a little skeptical at first but seeing the look in my eyes he slowly grinned. "Both of them have sided me and me them more times than I care to count." Bama and I had sided one another as well. It was understood, you did your work and that was it!

 

"That Yankee boy has a short fuse. If I hadn't seen that his eyes weren't set to kill, we'd both likely be dead," Red mused. "It was all I could do to keep from turnin' Ol' Thunder loose on him, and he'd have got his shot off about the same time, or I'm a Commanche!" He shook his head. "He didn't need killin' just now."

 

"I s'pect you done good," I answered. "It stinks back here. Let's get back inside. J. Mark's got some words for us, and I need to talk to Sam!" I slapped Bama on his broad back and grinned as I turned for the alley and the waiting Saloon.

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"Gents, we are going into Mexico. If we are lucky, you may never touch your guns and will come home rich. We need to get moving and we need to split into two groups. I need two freight wagons driven to Santa Fe to wait for us before we go any further, Red-you lead this group, take Cody as he knows his way around a freight wagon and a team. Culpepper, your proving handy with a gun, I'd like you to scout and ride shotgun for the wagons. Split duties with Chickasaw Bill. Red I want those wagons on the road tomorrow. I handed him a wallet full of greenbacks "Spend what you need, and equip yourselves for all possibilities. And I am going to need 2 cases of dynamite."

 

Custer split his troops 4 years ago, I just did the same thing-I hoped my result would be better-I took comfort in the fact it couldn't be worse.

 

"Blackwater, Sam and myself will ride out tonight. We'll scout the trail and we'll be making some arrangements as we go. Bama, how long do you need to reach Santa Fe?"

 

Bama did a bit of cyphering and responded "It's a shade over 400 miles but the roads are mostly in good shape. Lightly loaded, we'll need three weeks-unless we get a late snow storm or run into problems."

 

I nodded-"Good. We'll see you there in 21 days." Bama nodded his assent.

 

I looked across the group. "Anyone that wants out or has a problem, now is the time to speak up."

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Not wanting to wait until the last minute, Bama thought he had best go to the bank and withdraw some traveling money. It was only a few minutes business till he had his ready cash in the form of gold double eagles, which he split up and secreted in several places in his rig, bedroll, war bag and saddlebags.

 

This was a secret no one knew about Bama Red: he was wealthy.

 

Bama had inherited several coal mines when his Pappy died during the War and had spent the first five years after the war getting everything set up to operate only on his proxy. Every month he could check in at any bank where he had accounts set up and take care of anything requiring his input in a matter of hours. Gradually, he was becoming less and less interested in business and had begun selling off parts of his business and accumulating gold and silver. Much of the profits went to various Civil War veterans charities and a few other select charities. The remainder went into the bank and served to fund his participation in various "adventures", such as this current project and several others, some of which involved some of the current cast of characters.

 

Now he was ready to head the wagons out in the morning. He had only to top off his ammo, coffee, sugar, lead and powder. A quick trip to the mercantile would resolve that problem. Him, Pepper, Bill and Cody and three weeks on the road heading towards God-knows-what.

 

"Ahhhhhh, what a life", Bama sighed, to no one in particular.

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I put my arm around Cheyenne's shoulder and walked him out onto the porch of the Saloon. "I don't know you too well. I've seen your work now and I've been told you're fast with a handgun. I don't know Cody that well either." I paused for a moment to choose my words wisely. "Bill and Bama are my friends. We've come through the fire together. You take care of business while you're riding with them."

 

He studied my face. He should have studied my hands. One of my hands rested on his pistol, still in the holster, the other held the nearly foot long knife that Bill had made for me. "If you do well, we'll all likely be very rich." My tone changed, "If you cross those men and live to tell it, I'll have your head in a sack before you can clear leather." I held him in that position for another moment.

 

He smiled and looked directly into my eyes. As I released him I stepped away. "I'll do my best," he replied. I extended my hand. He paused for a moment then took it in a firm and reassuring grip. "Your friends mean more to you than your own life! I like that." He started back into the Saloon, "When this is over I expect you'll feel that way about me."

 

I was between him and the door. I made a point of turning my back and entering the Saloon in front of him. I'd know in seconds if he was on the up and up and what he was made of.

 

I sat down next to Bill. "Did you find your box?" I queried.

 

"Got it!" he replied. He looked at me then at Culpepper and back at me.

 

Our eyes met and I gave the slightest nod. I did the same to the colonel. I'd discuss this with Bama before I pulled out tonight. If I read him right, Cheyenne Culpepper would be a good addition to our ranks.

 

I still needed to talk to Sam, but I figured we could talk once we were on the trail. I wanted a siesta before we left. "An hour after sundown?" I asked the colonel. He nodded his approval. I headed for my room, not knowing if or when I'd get another chance to sleep in a bed.

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That blue eyed vixen was madder than a stepped on hornet and as she neared i felt the blood rushing to my face. Dang, was she mad, but oh boy was she pretty. I lied a bit to her and told her that I had word that the man I had shot had come to town to kill the governor. That seemed to calm her a little, enough so that I got to kiss her hand again before she went back into the hotel. I watched her walk back into the hotel and the only thing I could say was, "Oh my!"

 

The sheriff was already taking the man away by the time I got to the saloon, and as I neared he looked at me and asked, "Why didn't you kill him, isn't that how you normally work?"

 

"Wanted to make sure that he had time to dwell on his sin" I told the sheriff, and then, "Besides, I didn't have to mess with him, you do." I gave the sheriff a nod and joined my new found friends in the saloon. Flint had a plan, making me rich, and that's all I needed to hear. I wasn't to crazy about the idea of leaving that blue eyed vixen just yet, but if all worked as planned, I would be coming back a rich man. Maybe then she'd notice me for more than someone disturbed her quietness.

 

Even before Blackwater had his talk with me I knew I was the odd man out, that was ok, it wasn't the first time. I hadn't shown any of them but a couple of my talents as of yet. I chuckled to myself over the thought than none of them had asked me why I went by Cheyenne, being from Virginia. I had spent time in the Colorado Territory with the Cheyenne, had learned their ways and was loved by them and loved them.

 

I was sure glad though when I learned that I was to scout and ride shotgun, I couldn't imagine sitting on a wagon for three weeks, just for starters. As the others went their ways I headed for the livery to check on my horses, their shoes, and make sure they had extra feed that evening and again before dawn. They had saved my life more than once and I had learned to treat them well.

 

After that, I went to my room and went through my Colts, my Winchester, my Remington scattergun, and my Sharps. My next stop was the mercantile for more ammo and some of the canned goods that I was hooked on. I wasn't sure why we were taking the wagons all the way to Santa Fe, but if we were I was going to take advantage of them. I had almost forgotten something, salves, ointments, fabric, rubbing alcohol and liniment. This was going to be a long en devour and I had learned the hard way about not being prepared for everything.

 

After all that was done and things stowed, it was still early and I went to the hotel where the blue eyed, ah, the governor was speaking. I stood around until my eyes finally locked on the blue eyes, dang! The was going to have to keep me for a long time!

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I corralled Flint and Blackwater at the same time and it was hard doins! "Fellers, we've partook of many an adventure and found fortunes, lost some, and got em back. Its a helluva good time and a good feeling whether findin gold or makin the scum of the earth push daisies up in the Nations. Heres how it bucks, I just got a telegram from nephew Bud in Comanche, TX and its not good. A fence cuttin, range burnin, back shootin, war has broke out all along the Cross Timbers. Major Jones of the Frontier Battalion, Texas Rangers has reinstated me as a Ranger and has also requested my help in putting this down. Closer to home they've burnt about a third of our winter range and threatened my niece on the Dublin Road."

 

"What I'm sayin I know you won't begrudge me cause blood is blood, friends are friends, and we 've been through good and bad! Hasta luego mi amigos....maybe I'll see you down the trail."

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Sam , before ya ride out , come over here , I got something for ya .

 

These here Spencer pump shotguns are the newest scatterguns to be had , I wanted 10 gages , but all I could get was 12s

 

slicked up just a tad and the barrel cut back to 22 ins , seem to hande pretty fast , did not have time to put a bead on her

 

but with that open choke , she should be fine , 5 shot mag under the barrel , that should get ya to your rifle

 

ride easy , I will catch up to ya later , then we will settle up on it

 

Guys there be 10 more of these critters to go around besides mine

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Applause was filling the hotel after the governor's speech. Calamity Kris tugged on the arm of her assistant and pulled her closer. Make sure you don't let the governor out of your sight, even if you have to employ the "assistance" of one of Madame Telle's "ladies" she whispered. "Yes mam" replied Sandy, who promptly turned and slipped away through the crowd. Calamity was bound and determined to have the governor sign those railway papers, today if at all possible. She smiled proudly to herself. Once I sell that land to the railroad, for a fair market price of course, I could become one of the richest ladies in the state. Papa would be so proud. Now to chat up the governor. Then to the assayers office to see if he has determined anything about that rock found in the abandoned mine. Ah it's a good day for commerce in our fair town.

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Mexico! Now there is one place I have never been and probably the last place I'd have expected to be headed. And why are we splittin' up? Oh hell, it don't matter to me the chance to get rich will be worth it and Culpepper ridin' scout fer us will give me the chance to keep an eye on him. Should be an interestin ride at least to Santa Fe."

 

Looks like Red had pretty much got everything we'd need. "Red", I asked, "You ever been through this part of the country? All I know is the general direction. And I know you'll help me watch our Yankee friend; between you and me, I think he doth protest too much". "Yeah, he is a bit touchy about bein'called a Yank", replied Red, "and don't you worry none, if you can handle that team half as good as Flint says you can we'll be fine. Bill and I have both covered this ground a time or two; well at least as far as Santa Fe". "Alright then I'll meet you here at daybreak. Need to pick up a thing or two at thd store." I said as I headed off.

 

I need 500 rounds each of 44 Winchester and 45 Colt," I said to the clerk at the Mercantile. He replied "Dang, you fellers fixin' ta start a war? You're the third one in here today buyin ammunition! Here's the 45s and i've got 150 of the 44s." "I'll take em' and I tell you what if ya got one them new Ballard 4 1/2s in .45-100 I'll take her and 300 rounds of that; might need to reach out and touch somethin!", "or someone" I thought to myself.

 

And there was Culpepper on the boardwalk watchin that perty gal as she left the hotel; can't say that I didn't take notice myself. "Howdy again ma'am." I said, and fell in beside her. "I surely hope the shootin yesterday and this mornin' didn't interfere with you and the governer." She stopped and looked at me and said, "No, I believe everything will work out just right." "Well good, if'n there is anything I can do just yell and I'll come a runnin'", I said and turned and headed back to the hotel.

 

Cheyenne was still standin' there in a trance it seemed. "Hey, Pepper", I called him Pepper because it seemed to annoy him a bit, "Just got me new rifle; how bout' we ease off to the edge of town and sight her in? Heck we might even have a little contest"

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I tested my coffee again, staring at the horse while I waited for it to cool. He was done in. Hell, he was done in yesterday, but the tracks were fresh then and I had pushed him to hard. That horse needed a week in a livery with a good groom, but I hadn't seen a town in that long.

 

I was closer to the man I was following than I had been in ten years, and I was almighty frustrated to be stopped now. I'd had a look at him two days ago, across a small valley. He'd seen me then and the chase had started.

 

Last time I'd seen him was two days after the war ended. I was no more than 15, and I'd gone lookin for my brother the day it ended, figuring on riding home with him and lettin the girls see me next to him. This man found me first though, and didn't figure he needed to run from me. I guess the two bullets he'd put in me and me layin in that road made him brave.

 

I didn't know the mans name. But the yellow ranked corporal I was riding with had gotten three rounds off before he died, one had hit the man's fingertips and sent his .44 army spinning, the next had notched his ear. The man had a pocket .36 though, and he'd come up with that in his other hand and done for the corporal, then figured to get rid of the witness and put two in me, a 15 year old kid. I had been so frightened I would have given him my horse without argument, but he just smiled and pulled his trigger.

 

I was some time healin up from that. A blue belly doc found me and dug one of the bullets out. The other he couldn't get to, and my left leg goin numb now and then reminds me it's still in my gut somewhere near my spine.

 

I hadn't been afraid of a gun since. My sister told me it was because I had died in that road, and I guess maybe the boy in me had. I certainly didn't discourage the rumor back home that I was dead... Felt better to be thought dead than thought a living failure.

 

By the time I was moving again, I had discovered my brother wasn't comin home. He was buried somewhere in Ohio. Part of a cavalry raid gone wrong. The farm I'd worked so hard at keepin up while my brother was gone had been folded into the neighbors farm when he married my sister. So there wasn't a whole lot keepin me in TN.

 

I drifted west on the road stake my new brother in law give me, and hired out to a few ranchers havin trouble with two legged varmints. Barely knew how to shoot a pistol when I hired on for the first job, but the worn trapdoor Springfield and the bullet scars convinced the Forman I could back his play. He still hesitated to hire a sod buster, but I assured him I'd long since hammered my plow into a sword...

 

A few jobs later and I could write my name with a colt quicker than I could with a pen, but that ain't sayin much.

 

One job has become another, until a month ago. A man back to the ranch from town talked about a man with two short fingers and a notched ear roughin up a store keep for talkin back to him, and I'd lit out that night.

 

I was about out of money now, but I could live off the land most places. I had two saddlebags full of 44's, two well worn colts, and a Winchester 66 the old Forman had given me after the first scrape at my first job.

 

I wasn't sure what I was gonna do next, but if I tried to keep up with the man, I'd be walkin...

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I sat on the edge of town, watching the goings on in the town and the stinger that roamed the shadows below in the alleyways. I was impressed by my friend Blackwater when the long skinny man fired his rifle at the man in the shadows and Blackwater let him live. After all, Blackwater did have a big hand on the skinny man. But they went into the Saloon together so I guess they worked it out. Still, I didn't trust the skinny man too much. He was always after the women in town and I didn't like that.

 

So, the Colonel, Blackwater, Cody, Bama, Chickasaw Bill ....all my friends where there. That meant one thing. They where going to need me....soon. But Blackwater would have to come to me, I could not go to him as a half breed aint too welcome in town these days.

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I felt the loss of Yellowhouse Sam McAllister would be hard on our crew. He was a fine shot, a master scout and tracker,fearless in a fight, and mostly a good friend. Home is home and family is family. I envied him both. Now he was about to ride out and our trails would part again. "You want we should ride with ya'?" I asked, but I knew the answer before the words crossed my lips.

 

"Nah! Major Jones still ain't forgot the last time you and the colonel passed through down there," he chuckled, " 'Sides, the moto of the Rangers is 'One riot, one Ranger' and I suspect he's figurin' on me scoutin' for him."

 

Chickasaw Bill handed Sam a box, "We'll do this some other time."

 

Sam nodded, "Don't let 'em git your hair!" he shook Bill's hand, "Bama! Keep yer powder dry!" and with that he mounted his horse and spurred it out into the road.

 

I turned to Flint and asked, "This change anything?"

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"I don't think so." I replied. In my head the answer wasn't quite as simple. Two men could scout the trail, but when it came to guarding a camp at night, it meant no one really got quite enough sleep. "The wagons are light and they are carrying enough fire power to fend for themselves if we aren't around. We can ride in and pick up Bill if I'm wrong."

 

With that I returned to preparing my horse as well as my pack horse. I pulled out my sharps and checked the vernier sight and wiped the bore with a dry patch-clean and dry. I slipped it back into the scabbard on the pack horse and checked the rest of the guns, Finally all the tack got a final once over and I was ready.

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I tended the horses. Both had had plenty of rest and grain. I'd had both of them reshod when I arrived in Toostone, but I checked them just the same. My handguns were cleaned, oiled, and reloaded. The long barreled Remington holstered in a crossdraw on my right hip. The Colt double action in a waist high holster under my left arm. The Henry would be in it's usual scabbard and my ten guage double in a matching scabbard on my left. My Arkansas toothpick hung in its sheath on my right side where it was laced to the belt that secured the Colt.

 

I saddled the Dunn with my pack saddle and mounted and tied down my gear. The cook gear and extra ammunition on the outside where they were easily retrieved. Some bacon, dried apples, flour and dried peppers along with some hardtack biscuits and a bundle of jerky were packed a little harder to get at but still handy. On the top I lashed a twenty pound bag of oats. We had grain on the wagons, but I had no idea when we might meet up with them. The grain wouldn't last long on the trail, but if it was rationed properly my mounts would be in better shape than if they fed only on grass. Finally I lashed on the case that held my big Swiss hunting rifle. The 45x120 shells were boxed seperately and secured in a leather pouch strapped to the case.

 

I saddled the sorrel gelding and tied on a bedroll with a change of clothes and a heavy oil cloth slicker wrapped on the outside. I slung a small brass spy glass in a hard leather case over the saddle horn and slipped my Remington .41 derringer into my bottom left vest pocket.I led the horses out to the hitching post in front of the livery and tied them, paid the hostler for his service, and walked back to the Saloon.

 

I ordered a drink and sat down where the wagon crew had come to roost. I had a small sack of horse shoe nails that I handed to Bama. He felt the sack, smiled and handed it back. "Got plenty already on the wagon and shoes for the teams too."

 

"We'll be gone in a little bit," I told them. "I figure we'll ride 'til daylight and then rest a couple of hours." I looked around the Saloon one last time. "We'll likely have a day's lead or more, so keep a sharp lookout and stay on yer toes." I downed my drink and stood, motioning the others to stay seated, touched the brim of my hat and walked out into the gathering darkness. Returning to the horses. I grabbed the three canteens that hung from the pack saddle and filled them with fresh water from the town well then hung one from my saddle horn and returned the others to the pack saddle. I stashed the horseshoe nails with the ammunition.

 

"Time to go?" i asked the colonel as I led the horses into the street.

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With a soft tap of my heels I moved out, my pack horse's lead rope draped loosely around the pommel. Blackwater's question need no other answer.

 

I spoke to no one in particular as I recited an old poem from the end of the war once we cleared town and the earshot of others.

 

"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."

 

Blackwater chuckled as we rode along and passed the time. Then he asked me "Why did you split us up? I didn't want to ask in front of the others."

 

"Same reason I've not shared too much detail with the others. Until we are in Mexico, I'll not admit to what's been done to Cheyenne Culpepper. If he turns out to have a problem with it, I'd rather bury him there. If he is hiding something, we'll know by then. In the meantime he's Red's problem."

 

We kept riding south until it was time to set up camp for the evening.

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J. Mark pulled up in a small grove of trees. "Here looks like a good place to bed down for a while."

 

It was a little past midnight by my reckoning and the moon was full and bright. "I ain't tired and the horses are still fresh. You sure you wouldn't just as soon keep movin' 'til daylight?" I was having a gnawing feeling that someone was following us. If I was right, they weren't trying to gain ground just yet, but whoever it was, IF there was someone on our back trail, I'd rather call 'em out in the light of day!

 

The colonel sensed that I was edgy. "What's eatin' you?" he asked

 

"I can't shake the feelin' that there's somebody trailin' us." I confided.

 

"Close? Or far?" Flint pressed.

 

"Far I think, but they ain't .......... they're keepin' their distance." I said. "Dawn's only a few hours away and I'd rather catch 'em with the sun at my back, if you get my drift."

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I awoke with the sun, and an ill feelin in my stomach. I didn't move right away, lying there I listened to the sounds around me.

 

Right away I could hear that my small fire hadn't gone out... It should have, I'd not placed much wood on it as the night was warm and I didn't want a bright fire givin away my location.

 

The small man sittin at my fire was ancient. Old beyond description, and though I knew immediately that he was one of the old Indian renegades that would resist bein moved to a reservation until the end of his days, I could not have guessed which. He was dressed as a white man, in that style that had been popular just after the war, save he was barefoot and bareheaded.

 

He stared at me without speaking while I eased out of my blankets and pulled my hat and boots on. My horse was ground hitched where I left him, and my meager camp appeared undisturbed.

 

Once I had returned from the bushes he pointed at the coffee pot, and I filled a cup he produced from a possibles bag that was older than I am.

 

When he opened his mouth to take a drink I was surprised to see clean white teeth, and no tongue.

 

After a few minutes he pointed south, and held up one finger, then after a pause pointed at the sun and held up a single finger again. While I was puzzling out the possibility that he knew who I was trailing, and that he meant I was a day behind, I considered asking him where I was. Or at the very least where the closest town was.

 

I had no idea where I was, and I was sure there was a town closer than the one I resupplied my coffee in a week earlier. But I had been trailing a man on the scout, and he was avoiding civilization when he could it seemed. Two Stone or something like it... That was where I'd spent half of the two dollars I had left, and the only time he'd gone into town in the month I'd been following him.

 

While I sat thinking of a way to make myself understood, he finished his coffee and put the cup away. Without a word he stood up and dropped two squirrels next to the fire, spun on his heal and moved quickly and quietly away into the brush.

 

"That's that then," I said out loud, and looked to the squirrels. I hadn't eaten a squirrel in 15 years, but I thought these smaller than the ones back home.

 

My fire had a good bed of coals, and if the man I was following had a full day lead on me, my horse would never catch him. So as I began to gather my few possessions, I gave some thought to moving south just far enough to find easier water an layin up for a few days...

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"Well big man, you haven't let me down before, so if you think we need to ride, let's ride." With that I pulled on my boots and began to break camp.

 

"How do you want to play this, bait em in or lose 'em?" I asked

 

Blackwater did not hesitate with his answer "Let's see what were dealing with-but leave ourselves some options."

 

I nodded my assent and finished breaking camp, my Sharps riding across my lap. "There's a cut east of here, maybe 5 miles or so, it'll put the sun at our back and give us the high ground. Circling around won't be easy for anyone following and we'll have a ready escape route if it is more than we want to address. Best of all it is off the wagon's course, so it should keep the others free of this particular trouble - -if there is any."

 

 

"I know the spot" Blackwater started "With a little climbing we could set up a nice crossfire."

 

With that we broke camp and headed towards our next position.

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"I halfway think Col. Flint separated us just so's he wouldn't have to deal with Culpepper the next three weeks or so. He figgers that by setting him out to scout, there's just a slight chance he might get shot and save himself some grief!" Bama had muttered this all under his breath, but in truth, didn't care if anyone overheard him or not.

 

Everyone was gathered in the Saloon, having their morning heart-starter, when I walked in and announced we'd be on the trail in half an hour. The livery had the wagons hitched to the mules and it was just up to Cody to make any adjustments to suit his personal preferences.

 

"If any one runs into any problems, I want to hear about them in no less than ten minutes, so's they don't hold us up none. Pepper, while we're still close to town, don't range too far ahead. Once we get out in open country, you can range out ahead farther. Any questions? I'll be right here, easy to find, for the next half hour, then it's trail time."

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Tyrel and I went out to sight our rifles in just outside of town, fur enough as to not raise the ire of that blue eyed vixen. I knew that if I ever wanted to get close to her, I couldn't be irritating her every little bit.

 

We both took a few shots, and to anyone unfamiliar with this ritual would have sworn that neither of us could hit an elk at 10 paces. I would call a shot and then pick a spot short or further out from it, and it was my opinion that Tyrel was doing the same thing. I had actually guessed his hits on more than one occasion. I heard him chuckle more than once as I shot too, and no man laughs at another man when he misses a shot that badly.

 

Before dark I paid the livery another visit, I needed to check the shoes on Flint's and Blackwater's horses. That way I would know if other tracks had followed in behind them. I wasn't really sold on their acceptance of me just yet and the more information I had the better I would feel.

 

We met for breakfast early and as I was about to leave to go to the livery Bama laid out our plans, making a point to tell me just how to do my job. I fought the urge to tell him that I wasn't no tenderfoot, but I bit my tongue. Maybe by the time we got to Santa Fe I might finally have earned the trust of these men.

 

I made a point of going by the mercantile as I was on my way to the livery. There she was, she motioned me to stop as I removed my hat to say good morning. This was the first time I had heard her speak normally, it was like honey dripping into my soul. She thanked me for taking care of the man that I had told her was out to kill the governor, and that had helped the evening go extremely well. "Maybe I'll see you around" she said as she looked away.

 

I sighed heavily, "wont be for a while ma'am, but I'll be back, got a job to do." and with that I tipped my hat again but, as she protested a bit, I removed it again to kiss that silky hand. Man was I tempted to bail, but I had given my word, so that was it.

 

Bill was at the livery and he reached into one of the wagons and threw me one of those new shotguns he had. "5 shots you say?" I remarked. Well this man trusted me, well if this new fangled thing actually worked. I dug through my things in the wagon and threw him a can of pineapple. Thank me later I told him as he squinted at the can.

 

"I'll meet you on the edge of town, I told him as I swung up onto my horse. I reached for the reign of my second horse as Bill asked, "You taking him with you too.?" "Won't do me no good iffn he ain't with me" I told him as I urged them toward the edge of town. I picked up Flint's and Blackwater's trail before I cleared the town but at the edge of town a chill went through me. I third set had followed in behind them. Either someone was following them, or possibly there was another member of our party that I knew nothing about.

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I sat waiting at he edge of town, when I had two terrible distinct pains in my right leg! Then there was sweet scent that seemed to permeate my soul. Not a soul was any where near me, was it a warning or something from another life?

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We'd ridden on to the south, the first shades of false dawn, deep purple and grey, taking the place of a million stars to our left and the moon racing towards the western horizon on our right. The cut that J. Mark had mentioned was just ahead.

 

"We could set up camp and use one of us for bait," I suggested when I saw the layout. This was as good a place for an ambush as I'd seen since I'd ridden with Forrest's Raiders!

 

"We can set up on the heights on either side and catch 'em in a crossfire too!" Flint added with a nasty grin.

 

"Let's ride in and we can hide the horses in that stand of juniper at the other end there on the right. If they're tracking us we can make it look like we've bedded down, then climb to the high ground and wait on 'em." I noted that there was plenty of dead fall to build a fire and mentioned that as well.

 

"You start the fire and I'll stuff the bed rolls and unsaddle our two horses," the colonel agreed, his smile ever growing.

 

A little later, from the high ground, I studied the scene below. From this vantage point it looked like two weary travelers had bedded down and the fire burned low. There was nothing to indicate anything else. I could see my compadre was all set and well out of sight from below. We'd agreed on signals and now there was just the waiting. The sun would show itself in half an hour or so.

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"Well, fellers," I said, "I reckon it's time we hit the trail". There stood that perty blue-eyed gal again. Surprisingly she doesn't look as excited to have us leaving as I figured. I threw up a hand just before crackin' the whip and the customary "Roll em' out!". Seems like all stagecoaches, freight wagons, and such did that as they left a town. That lady just grinned real big like and waived goodbye; I kinda hope I can make it back through here some time and see her again. Now that's an odd thought fer me. I'd worked so dang hard most of my life I guess a woman just don't enter my thinkin too often. Danged if that gal don't put it on a feller's mind though; not that a girl that beautiful would notice a homely old country boy from Tennessee.

 

I gave Pepper a quick little tap on the leg with my whip, not too hard, and yelled, "Dangit' Pepper, quit starin' at that woman and git movin' before I run you down with this wagon." I swear I thought Bama was gonna fall off his wagon he was laughin so hard. Bill on the other hand just grumbled, "This is gonna be a long trip." Pepper snapped out of his trance, spurred his horse, and rode off out of sight.

 

"Durn that boy," complained Red as he drove his wagon alongside mine, "I told him to not get too far out front for a while." I just grinned wryly and said, "He don't seem to like follerin your orders does he? He'll probably slow up and wait fer us when he simmers down a bit. I'm sure both of y'all noticed the extra set of tracks follerin Flint and Blackwater?" Bill chimed in, "You got the followin part right. Them tracks was fresher than theirs by at least a couple of hours. We better keep an eye out." "Agreed," I said, "I do have to ask if either one of y'all have any idea what is at the end of this trail? Don't get me wrong; I already followed Flint through the gates of Hell back in the War and I'd do it again. Guess im just curious."

 

It was about thirty minutes before sundown when we caught up to Pepper. I'll have to give him credit; he had picked us a nice little spot among a juniper grove and had started a small fire.

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I had decided I was not going to go out of my way to antagonize Culpepper, but was going to keep an open mind. After all he had been vouched for and vetted by folks who knew what they were doing and who I respected.

 

So, when we pulled into the first night's camp, and I saw how good it was, I was determined to say so.

 

"Culpepper, dang fine job on scouting us a camp for the night, and I appreciate the fire already going. You located that fire just so and left it small enough that I don't think it'll attract any attention. I don't reckon you've anything to report or I'da heard it from you already. Most of us already noticed the single set of tracks following Flint and Blackie. Anything else on your mind I should know about?"

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I was a might taken back that Bama hadn't given me grief over not checking in with them during the day. He didn't know it, but I had cirlced around them three times that day. I did ask him how he liked the way Bill's new shotgun worked, I figured that would keep him wondering a while.

 

I pulled out five fat rabbits, "I like that new fangled scatter gun right fine" I told them as I started to peel the fur off of the first one. "I did come across another set of wagon tracks that's out in front of us maybe 5 miles or so, i reckon we'll overtake them tomorrow, the right rear wheel is wobbling pretty badly. No riders with it either, front or rear. Two horses pulling it that won't be pulling long either by the looks of their shoes."

 

Then I concentrated on dressing out the rabbits while I listened to the others. Tryel was right there with water to wash out the rabbits, and Bill was rigging up a spit to roast the rabbits. My mouth was already watering, roasted rabbit with canned sweet potatoes and pineapple. Only thing that would have made it better was a sweet thing to share it with!

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I sat by my low fire and checked my weapons very close. 1860 Navies that I worn butts forward, sharpen my Arkansas toothpick fighting knife, putting it in my left moccasin boot top and scalping knife in my right . Loading my Henry rifle I was taken back to the battle of the Orange Turnpike to where in 1863 I took the rifle of a dead yankee and met Blackwater. The bodies where as thick as cord wood and smoke as thick as fog in the wilderness that a man could not tell who was friend nor foe.

 

I set it aside and loaded 5 rounds into a new lever action shotgun I took off a stage guard after he didn't want to give me a ride. Seems he moved when I told him not to and got his throat cut. His fault, not mine, after all.....I told him not to move ! I put out my small fire and saddled my appaloosa stud and rode out, following the trail that I could see very well, even though it was still at night. "Blackwater and the Colonel are going out of their way to make me feel welcomed !" I thought.

 

I rode to where the cut was and smelling the smoke on the breeze I remembered how we Apache had used that same trick before to ambush the Federalizes and steal their food, weapons, ammo, horses and kill them men for killing our people . I smiled as I knew Blackwater and the Colonel where no fools, but neither was I so, I would circle around wide and wait........Blackwater knew I was tailing him and would not give up tip he had an answer as to who it was. The Colonel trusted Blackwater and I trusted Blackwater as well. So, I lead my horse around the rocks and when I found the trail they would use to come out, I sat down and waited. And I felt the sun's rays warm my back.....Mother Earth was awaking........Father Sky was coming anew ! This was going to be a good day.

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