September, 2017

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Issue #96

Looking for free, tantalizing Tales of the Old West?
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Read this month's Tales and vote for your favorite.
They'll appear in upcoming print volumes of The Best of Frontier Tales Anthologies!

A Letter to Quinn, Part 2 of 3
by Jesse J Elliot
Confronted with the death of a stranger by two supposed siblings, Iragene Jones, sheriff of La Madera, must decide if these two are cold-bloodied con artists or the innocent brother and sister they portray.

* * *

Dutch Creek Hideout
by Zeke Ziemann
Walking along a Dutch Creek on his way home from school, a young boy accidently stumbles onto a vicious gang of outlaws on the run. The boy hides but is trapped. Will his father find him? What will the outlaws do if his father comes looking for him?

* * *

Hell and High Water, Part 1 of 2
by William S. Hubbartt
Rancher Douglas goes through hell and high water to track and save his wife Anna when she is kidnapped from their Texas plains homestead by Comanches.

* * *

Cochise County Justice
by Dick Derham
Three men lay dead in the vacant lot behind the OK Corral. Was this the end of the Cochise County troubles? Or the beginning?

* * *

Picnic at Fort Smith
by Judith Emerson
Two young brothers sneak off to observe the hanging of six prisoners in Fort Smith on September 3, 1875. Three of them are white men, one a black farmer. One is a half-breed and the sixth is a Cherokee who speaks no English.

* * *

Bounty Hunter
by Mark Hinton
Time and miles cannot take away memories of killing a man, even a bad one.

* * *

Want all of this month's Western stories at once? Click here –

All the Tales

Dutch Creek Hideout
by Zeke Ziemann

The instant that the teacher rang the three-thirty dismissal bell, Bert Lonigan and Davey Canby bolted for the school house door. The sixth graders leaped down the front steps of the one room school and dashed to the end of the schoolyard. There they picked up the pitchforks that stood against a tree. Bert’s fork once had five tines, but one was missing. Davey’s was a four-tiner, but the handle had been broken off about two feet above the tines.

Bert and Davey’s Pa’s allowed the twelve year old boys to take the old forks to school that Friday, so they could walk along Dutch Creek on their way home and try to spear a trout. In late May the creek was full of carp and an occasional trout swimming upstream.

Bert, small in stature, but well muscled like his father, seldom reacted to any situation rashly. He calculated, made a decision and then acted. His friend, Davey, was tall and wiry. He leaped into action instinctively, usually not considering possible consequences.

Taking the West Verde road that ran by their respective farms, was shorter and quicker than following along the creek bank, of course, but as long as they got home in time to do their chores, things were fine. Nothing could beat the fun of spearing fish in Dutch Creek.

Dutch Creek meandered through open pastures near the road for the first mile from the school, then it turned south and made a horseshoe-like U-turn through a dense thicket. After leaving the thicket the creek zigzagged back north, then turned west again, passing under a bridge near the lane that led to Lonigan’s farm.

Tall cottonwoods, clumps of oaks, box elder trees, milk weeds and brush surrounded ahidden, grassy, quarter acre clearing in the middle of the thicket. To get to the clearing, the boyshiked a narrow path along the creek bank, or walked in the water. If on horseback, they couldenter this hideaway only by riding in the stream. Bert and Davey often met there on Sunday afternoon, speared carp, and had “shootouts” with imaginary Indians or bandits. They called this secluded spot their “Hideout”. It was a mystical, country boy’s paradise.

Davey could follow the creek for about one mile before he reached the driveway that led to his house. Bert could keep following the creek through the thicket, or stay on the road for about another mile until he came to the lane that led to his home. Five miles beyond the Lonigan farm, lay the town of Verde.

The boys walked slowly along the banks of Dutch Creek, one on each side, carefully watching for ripples in the small stream; ripples that might mean a trout was swimming by. The boys were free! Chores were two hours away, and Bert and Davey could imagine a huge trout dangling at the end of the fork.

“There’s a carp!” said Bert.

Davey dropped to one knee on the bank and made a lunging stab at the fat, yellowish, scaly, fish with his short-handled fork. In the process he lost his balance and his right foot slipped into the water, soaking his shoe, sock, and bib overall up to the knee.

“Got him!” Davey said as he pulled his muddy foot from the water. “I’ll take him home to the hogs.” But he forgot that the fork had no barbs, and the slippery fish slipped off of fork. Fortunately, it landed on the bank and Davey speared the flopping fish once more before it could gain the stream.

Bert looked at Davey’s soaked leg and laughed. “You’re all wet! Your Ma will be mad.”

“So what,” said Davey. “It’ll dry out.”

“Wish you’da got a trout. I’m mighty partial to trout. Ma fries ‘em up and boy they’re good,” Bert said. “You can’t eat carp . . . but I guess the hogs like to root around with ‘em.”

Fifteen minutes later they reached Canby’s lane. “You gonna follow the road or go through our hideout in the thicket?” Davey asked.

Bert squinted into the late afternoon sun. “I got enough time. I think I’ll go through the thicket. Might be a trout in there.”

Davey shook his wet foot, then turned up the half-mile graveled driveway that led to the house, leaving a wet footprint with every other step. “Okay. Gotta go. I’ll see you Sunday at church.”

* * *

Bert waved to his friend, walked along the bank for another ten minutes and then took the narrow path into the thicket. He stepped softly, watched the water, and wondered if fish could hear. He came to a sudden stop. He listened. I hear voices. Voices! Then quiet.

The muffled whinny of a horse broke the silence.

“Dammit Oney, keep those horses quiet,” came a mysterious utterance from the hideout. “You want some dumb sodbuster to find us here?”

“Why ain’t we movin’ on?” said Oney. “Hell Jarvis, ain’t nobody gonna look in these brambles.”

“We wait until dark,” said Jarvis. “Ain’t that right Bob?”

“We come nigh to fifty mile,” muttered Bob, in a low sober tone. “We play it safe and wait 'til dark. Two more full night’s ride and we’ll reach the border.”

Bert slinked backward slowly and softly. A dry twig snapped under his foot.

“I think I heared something,” said Bob. “Oney take a look-see on the other side of that creek . . . but stay out of sight.”

Bert froze. Crouching low, he eased back a few more paces.

“I din’t hear a damn thing,” said Oney. “Bob, you been hearin’ things ever since we robbed that Holbrook stage. Anyhow, if some sodbuster does find us here, we’d have to shoot him. That’d cause some fireworks.” Following a drawn out, subtle, silence, he added, “All right Bob, all right. I’ll take a look-see.”

“Any sodbuster comin’ in here is a dead man. That’s for damn sure.” said Bob.

Bert looked for a place to hide. Behind him, about six feet away stood a tall cottonwood tree. He crept to the back side, grabbed a low branch, and started to climb. Remembering his fork, he reached down and took it with him. About fifteen feet in the air, the huge tree divided into two branches with a large limb bending away from the main trunk. Bert crawled on it, and lying on his stomach, placed the fork next to him. He wasn’t sure if anyone standing below the limb could see him.

Oney walked right under him. A tall gaunt man, he wore high boots and a torn plaid shirt. Seeing the six-gun tucked in the waistband of his dirty trousers sent a shiver down Bert’s spine. “There ain’t a damn thing ‘cross the creek,” Oney announced as he headed back toward the hidden clearing.

Bert was trapped. He had heard his folks comment on a stage robbery that had taken place near Holbrook, but the Verde Weekly reported that the posse chasing the three robbers headed east, toward New Mexico, not down here in Verde Valley. He struggled to remain calm when he remembered that the robbers had murdered the stage guard.

Bert knew his folks would worry when he was late. Then it struck him. Pa will come lookin’ look for me. He’ll walk right into these killers.

The leaves of the cottonwood shimmered in the slight breeze. Bert peered through them and could see that there was about an hour, maybe two, of daylight remaining. Pa will be here before sunset.

Bert froze on the limb. By 5:15 Ma will start to worry. Pa will just be mad. He’ll think I stopped at Davey’s house. By dinner time Pa will start to worry too. Then he’ll come looking for me.

Bert knew he should do something. But what? Should he try to get down and run? They were too close. They’d hear, and shoot me sure. Wait until dark. He stayed quiet, and listened.

“Why don’t we divvy up now and then I can ride out?” asked Oney.

“No you fool!” Bob demanded. He sounds like the boss. “You’d spend yours at the first saloon. Then the law would back track you and all of us would get shot.”

“Hell Oney,” added Jarvis. “Just wait. It’s only a couple of hours ‘til dark.”

“Aw damn,” Oney moaned. “Jarvis, toss me that bottle.”

“Quit pullin’ on that jug. Yer gonna drown yer brains . . . what little you have,” threatened Bob.

* * *

“Where is that boy?” asked Sarah Lonigan as she dried her calloused hands in her apron. She pushed back her silver-streaked dark hair and turned to Hank, who wiped his boots on the door mat as he entered the kitchen. “He’s way late. Shouldn’t you go looking for him?”

Hank hung up his straw hat, wiped the sweat off his balding head with his sleeve, and poured water in the basin. He grabbed the soap, washed and dried his hands, using the towel that hung on a peg. The towel hung limp in his hands. “The boy’s gotta learn some responsibility. I just done his chores.”

He glanced at the clock that hung between the cupboards. “Good heavens, is it nearly supper time? He’s never been this late.”

Sarah’s motherly intuition leaped to full alert. “Something is wrong. Look for him now, before it gets dark. Take the buggy and go look for him!”

Hank forgot his hunger and the anger subsided. Concern, fatherly love and instant courage replaced it. “I’m going to ride over to Canby’s. He might’ve took sick there or something.”

Sarah’s forehead wrinkled with worry. “I’m going along.”

* * *

Gus, Davey, and Betty Canby had just finished the evening chores and entered the house, when Hank and Sarah rode up in their buggy.

Betty opened the screen door. She wore her customary man’s bib overalls and held three potatoes and a paring knife. Davey and his Pa stepped outside to greet the visitors. “What brings you over? Care to take supper with us?”

“I’m looking for Bert,” said Hank. “He hasn’t come home from school yet, and I—”

“What?” interrupted Davey. “He said he was gonna go through the thicket when I left him. He should’a been home an hour ago.”

“I didn’t see him on the road when we rode over. I was hoping he was here,” said Hank. “He must have followed Dutch Creek into the thicket then.”

Gus Canby did not hesitate. A tall, strong, burly man of action, he donned his straw hat, covering up a huge shock of coal black hair. “Let’s go. I’ll help you look for him Hank.”

Gus took down the double barreled ten gauge shotgun from over the fireplace and grabbed a few shells. “Never can tell, Bert might have been treed by some wolves or javelina or something.” Then he hurried to the barn and hitched up the buck board.

Betty climbed in. “Maybe we can help.” Then watching a teary-eyed Sarah, she said, “Gus, ride in the buggy with Hank. Sarah, Davey, come ride with me in the buckboard.”

Hank slapped the reins and urged the horse into a trot. Puffs of dust rose behind the buggy. The men rode in silence as the shadows lengthened and cool evening temperatures arrived.

Sarah looked toward Betty with anxious eyes. “Tain’t like him, Betty. He’s been late before when he stopped to play at your house, but never this late.”

Betty put the reins in one hand and patted Sarah’s forearm. She hid her own concern with resolute words. “He’s an able lad, Sarah. Don’t you fret. Gus and Hank will find him. He’ll be alright.”

The buggy and buckboard hurried down the lane, turned up the road for a half-mile, and stopped where Dutch Creek coiled into the thicket.

Hank secured the reins and got down from the buggy. “The brush is dense. Keep a sharp eye. Sing out if you see him.”

“I’ll hurry around and walk in from the other side. That way we’re sure not to miss him,” said Gus. “Davey, you and Ma stay here with Sarah.” Reluctantly, Davey obeyed.

* * *

Lying on the limb, Bert whispered a prayer when he heard the outlaws saddling their horses. Maybe they’ll be gone before Pa gets here.

The setting sun created a dusky amber glow in the thicket. The breeze waned. The hue and calmness created an eerie atmosphere. The only noise came from chirping crickets.

Suddenly a familiar voice shattered the silence. “Bert, Bert. Where are you son?”

Bert sat up on the limb, but remained mum, afraid to reply.

“Who the hell is that?” said Bob. “Oney, you and Jarvis walk upstream and take a look. Somebody’s comin’! Don’t shoot unless you have to.”

Oney and Jarvis worked their way through the undergrowth until they were nearly under the tree where Bert hid. Oney looked a foot taller than the squat, bowlegged Jarvis. Jarvis was old. His long, dirty white hair hung out the back of his old floppy hat. When Hank appeared, Jarvis drew his gun. “Keep coming stranger. What the hell are you doin’ in this brush?”

Hank took a step back as he looked at the pistol pointed at him. “I’m lookin’ for my son. He didn’t come home from school.” His answer was direct, calm.

“We ain’t seen no kid,” said Jarvis. “Oney get Bob. You, Sodbuster, stand where you are!”

Bert stayed quiet. Maybe they’ll just ride out.

Bob came up leading three saddled horses. He had a long scar across his forehead and a huge black beard. He appeared plain-old mean, and straight-out ugly. “What the hell is this?”

“Sodbuster came through the brush lookin for his kid,” said Oney, pointing at Hank with with his gun. “But there ain’t no kid around here nowheres. What’ll we do with this plow pusher?”

“Can’t have no witnesses that we was here,” said Bob. “You two get mounted up and I’ll take care of him. Then we ride out fast!”

When Oney and Jarvis were mounted, Bob drew his gun and walked toward Hank.

Bob stopped under the tree where Bert was hiding. Bert grabbed the fork with both hands, aimed, and threw it as hard as he could down at Bob’s gun arm.

“Eeeyahhh!” Bob yelled in pain as two tines of the fork went clear through his forearm.He dropped the gun; fell to his knees, then pulled the fork from his bleeding arm. He tried to rise, but Bert leaped from the tree and landed on Bob’s back. With his bloody arm dangling, Bob got up and spun around, but Bert clung to Bob’s neck, riding him like a cowboy on a bucking bronco.

Hank charged Bob like a raging bull, driving his head into Bob’s stomach. The three of them flew backward and splashed into Dutch Creek. Hank rose and his fist hit Bob’s jaw like a sledge hammer. Bob flopped back into the water and didn’t move.

Oney’s mount squealed and reared. He desperately tried to calm the horse. Jarvis recovered his wits, drew his gun and pulled the hammer back. He peered through the tall reeds and attempted to get a clear shot at Hank. Paying no attention to Jarvis, Bert and his Pa dragged the unconscious Bob from the creek.

They dropped Bob to the ground, and moved out in the open. Jarvis was about to squeeze the trigger when suddenly the roar of a shotgun erupted from the bushes. Jarvis screamed and grabbed at a gaping wound that had ripped open his side. His startled horse reared and Jarvis tumbled backward and lay twitching in a pile of leaves that reddened with his blood.

Gus emerged from the brush and pointed the shotgun at Oney. “I’ve got one shell left for you if you want it. Throw down your gun or expect the same.”

“Don’t shoot,” Oney said throwing his arms in the air. “Bob did all the killin' . . . twern’t me . . . was Bob.”

Bert looked up and saw his Ma, Davey, and Betty, running down the narrow trail. Sarah ran to her son and hugged him.

The isolated calm of the thicket slowly returned.

“Who are these bad men?” asked a wide-eyed Davey.

“They’re the robbers who held up the Holbrook stage and killed the guard,” said Bert. “I heard ‘em talkin’ about it when I hid up in that tree.”

Hank took a deep breath of relief and directed a smile toward his wife and son. “You know I read that there is a $1000 reward.” Then he whispered a few words to Gus who grinned and nodded.“Boys,” said Hank. “When we get the reward money, how would each of you like a real fish spear, one with barbs and a strong handle?”

“Yippee!” said Davey.

“Maybe then I’ll get a trout . . . huh Pa?” said Bert.

Davey laughed. “Guess this’ll teach outlaws not to come fiddlin’ around in our hideout!”

The End

Zeke earned a Master's Degree in Mathematics and coached sixteen years. His athletic career earned election into three Halls of Fame.

He entered the financial services industry eventually serving as the Compliance Supervisor for the Arizona office of a Wall Street firm.

He uses his vast library of Western magazines and biographies, and membership in the Wild West History Association to make certain that the settings, language, and conditions of the time are accurately represented.

Zeke's stories can be found at Frontier Tales, The Western Online, Rope and Wire, and Author's Stand. Three of his anthologies are on Amazon.

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