The big ranger was dressed like all your waddies were except he had red leather stars on his boots and another one on his hatband. He was running a little bit to fat and a little bit to gray, but he sat his horse easy enough. He his clothes were clean, but close to worn out in places. His saddle and tack were in real good repair, though.
* * *
He dismounted, slipped a halter over his horse's head and tied the lead rope to the hitching rail. I was glad to see that he didn't tie the horse up with the reins; a horse can hurt his mouth bad if he shies when he is tied up like that. Lot of men do it, though.
Any way the ranger came in and said, "How you doin'?"
"Fine," said Dad.
"Nice place you got here," said the visitor. "My name's Percy Hairytown, but you can call me ElPaso."
I looked at ElPaso and said, "You a Texan?"
"Son," he said. "You never wanta ask a man if'n he's from Texas. If'n he is, he'll tell you on his own. If he ain't, they's no need to embarrass him."
Dad grinned, then said, "What can we do for you?"
"Ah'm after some hard cases that are wanted in Texas and I heered they'd been seen up by Green River. Joined up with that bunch that killed the kid in Brown's Hole. We're gittin' up a posse and I hear that your boy here is a man to ride the river with."
"Well . . . " said Dad.
"I don't do that kind of thing any more," I said.
"He's game," said Dad. "He jist feels real bad when he has to shoot somebody."
"Wah I wouldn't want nobody in mah posse that felt any differ'nt," said ElPaso. "There's a sure five-hundred dollar reward on each of them."
I didn't say anything. I did need that money to buy my ranch.
"Boy howdy," said ElPaso. "You can sure tell he ain't a Texan. A Dillo would do this jist for his mornin' exercise. Well, Ah'mo get goin'." As he walked away he said, loud enough to hear, "Boy git out a Texas and it's all hat and no cattle ever time."
"Looks like you got to learn something," I said. "Lemme get my stuff."
It was cold, so I put on two suits of wool unmentionables, a wool shirt, a pair of good wool pants, my sheepskin, a pair of Angora chaps with hair on them, and a pair of wide boots with two pairs of socks. I got two wool bandannas. One for the back of my neck and one to hold the brim of my hat over my ears.
The posse filled me in as we rode. They said there was this kid, Willie Strang, who was real good humored and he was allus pulling pranks. He was of good family and a good worker and well liked.
He was working on this ranch with a Navajo kid by the name of David Lant and a third guy called Pat Johnson. This Johnson was allus asking to borrow money. It wasn't safe to turn him down or ask for it back. People that did that would sometimes disappear.
Any way, this Johnson was real hung over one morning and went to get a drink of water and Willie Strang hit the bottom of the dipper and slopped water all over Johnson and ran off laughing'. Pat Johnson pulled his gun. Lant said, "You aren't going to shoot him are you?"
Johnson said, "No I'm just going to scare him." Only when he shot, he hit the kid and killed him.
Pat Johnson lit out because he knew there would be a Texas Cakewalk for him if he didn't. Lant went with him. Lant figured, being a breed, they would hang him too jis for good measure.
ElPaso wanted to go out there and take them in. Some of the others in the posse had different ideas and they had brought plenty of rope. What made it worse, the Thumpsow brothers came along. There were two of them, Nevil and Elrod. They called Elrod 'Ell so you had Devil and Hell and it was the truth.
I remember one saying, "Boy I'll sure be glad to catch up with that David Lant. I'll hang him real slow. He's a Nancy-Boy. You can tell by his pretty little face."
The other one said, "Remember that one we caught up Rock Springs? Cried like a baby."
They kept that kind of talk up 'till finally somebody said, "You know most people only run into four or five Nancy-Boys in a lifetime. You seem to see that many in a week."
"We look for them," said Devil.
"You keep it up, a body might start to wonder why you do that."
"Now what do you mean by that?" said Devil.
ElPaso pulled up, "Now you looka here. They ain't nobody having a hissy fit on this posse. It's time to paint your hind end white and run with the antelope. You hear me?"
The Thumpsows pulled in their horns. They had notches on their guns all right, but they never started trouble unless they had a big advantage.
Afterwards I fell in beside ElPaso. "How come they brought them along?" I said.
"Dead shots," he said.
After about four days, we were getting close. Spent the night at a ranch house fairly close to the canyon. Mid morning we went over to the canyon and looked around. We thought we saw smoke upstream so we rode into the canyon and started upstream. It was easier riding on the ice and we figured they were less likely to see us coming.
I was riding along I kind of got the feeling I'd missed something. I looked around and saw a little dirt and dead pine needles at the base of a cliff. I was about to ride on, figured a coyote or something had kicked it down, but then I noticed a line of shallow holes going up the rock. Your old cliff dwellers did that. They'd take a rock and chip holes in a cliff until they'd made themselves kind of a rock ladder.
When I saw that, I figured there was a cliff dweller house up there. Yes and somebody in it, too. From the tracks, there probably wasn't mor'n one man. And that one man was probably Lant; he'd know about those rock ladders. He'd probably hung back and took his chance of getting shut of those hard cases. It made sense. He'd have shelter up there and we'd seen plenty of bighorn tracks. He could shoot a sheep, wait a while, and maybe get away.
I was about to say something but I thought twice about it. If it was Lant up there, the Thumpsows would hang him and maybe skin him first. I didn't want to be a party to that. And if I played a lone hand bringing him in, I could collect the whole $500 reward for myself and not have to share it with those mudsill Thumpsows. So I didn't say anything.
Next afternoon, we caught up with the other outlaws. They were setting around a campfire like they hadn't a care in the world. We got between them and their horses and they ran up into the rocks on the canyon wall. We were all for going up after them, but ElPaso said, "Hang fire a minute and listen. That canyon wall is pretty rough. We go up there, we'll walk right into an ambush. We'll be like gnats in a hailstorm. Look, they got no horses, they got no blankets, they got dang little food, and they probably left their phosphorous matches in their saddlebags. They'll git cold and hungry pretty quick. All we got to do is wait."
He was right. Couple days and those outlaws wanted to be captured. But we were one outlaw short and that was Lant, Everybody was wondering where he had gotten to, but I kept quiet. I did tell them there was a blizzard coming, a real sockdologer. When they said that Lant wasn't likely to live through it, I kept quiet again. My mommy taught me it was rude to contradict.
We all waited out the blizzard at the ranch, figured out reward shares, and everybody headed home. Only I doubled back and headed for the rimrock over where I figured the cliff dwellings were.
It was one of those clear blue days you get in winter sometimes. When you cross the little creeks you'd see frozen rapids sparkling in the sun. I don't think there's a lot of things as pretty as that white snow on the red rocks and dark green trees. It sure looked like Christmas to me and I was fixing to get me a $500 Christmas present.
When I got up to where I figured he was, I dismounted, tied BettyBea well back from the edge, put on a nose bag to keep her quiet and looked over the edge and there he was. He must have been pretty good at stalking game because he'd shot a bighorn and was butchering it up. He was using a big ponderosa log for a butcher block; he'd set the head on it and was skinning a leg. I saw he had one of those Colt Peacemakers, but no rifle. They were sighted in at 25 yards and had broad sights so that hitting anything at any longer distance was a matter of luck. I backed off 75 yards and found a log with some branches I could wedge my rifle in. It was a perfect day for shooting. Next to no wind at all.
It didn't seem right to jis shoot him since he really hadn't done anything. I did need that money for my ranch, though. I sure didn't want to end up like old Waco Edwards after 40 years of cowboying. Waco was so crippled up he was looking forward to being hung. I thought hard, but finally took careful aim, fired, and hit him right between the eyes. The bighorn that is. That sheep's head went flying back off the log and Lant jumped a foot. The crack of the rifle sounded extra loud on that still day. Lant ducked down behind the log, pulled his pistol and shot once. Never even heard the bullet.
"I got the bulge on you, Lant," I yelled. "You'll never be able to hit me from there with that pistol. You might as well give up."
"You'll lynch me anyway,' he said.
"No I won't," I said, "I jis want the reward. Look, stay right there and I'll come around the rimrock and holler over the cliff and we can make a deal. I give you my word I won't shoot you unless you go to shoot at me."
We dickered a while and I ended up promising to find him a lawyer, to give him forty dollars out of the reward money, and to keep the Thumpsows off of him. I took him into Grand Junction jis across the Colorado state line where there was a lawyer I knew.
The lawyer was sure there wouldn't be any trouble with the trial, but then the Thumpsows showed up. I waited for them when court let out. "Evening boys," I said. "I'd like to have a real short talk, if you don't mind. When I brought Lant in, I gave him my word that, whatever happened, he wouldn't get lynched. Now you know as well as I do that a man's only as good as his word. If something happened to Lant when he gets out of jail, I jis wouldn't take it very well. I wouldn't take it very well at all."
Devil said, "You Nancy-Boys really stick together don'tcha."
I said, "I'm going to ignore that, though I'll remember it. What you had better remember is that friendly warning you jis got."
Jis about that time, the Sheriff walked up. "What's the deal here?" he said.
"These are the Thumpsow brothers—" I began.
"There will be no lynching around here," said the sheriff.
The Thumpsow brothers didn't say anything, but walked into the courtroom looking sour.
Well, they didn't acquit Lant; they gave him one year on some kind of a lesser charge that I never did understand. I think the idea was to get him off the range until things cooled down.
Me, I went back to Dad's trading post. Worked cows when I could. Then one day I got word that Lant was dead. I'd misjudged the Thumpsows. I guess they jis couldn't miss out on the fun they wanted to have with him.
I felt real bad about that . . . real bad. I ain't ashamed to say I took on a little, shed tears. It was my fault. I should of watched Lant closer. Lot of people, too, would think I was a coward since I wasn't with him when the Thumpsows showed up. Out here, you can't have people thinking you're a coward.
No way I could keep away from a shootout. It was a shootout that probably wouldn't turn out too well for me. There were two of them and they could shoot straight when the bullets were flying. And I had to give them a fighting chance if I didn't want to get hung myself. I didn't like it. I didn't like it at all. I couldn't let it go though, so I headed north toward Beaver in Utah where the Thumpsows had a ranch where they hid the stock they stole.
Beaver is in the middle of a wide park with green hayfields down in the bottom. Above that, you get slopes loaded with that gray sagebrush and above the sagebrush you get tall hills with dark green juniper and piñon pine. To the northeast you have the Tushar Moun'ens that go way up above timberline. I came in about sundown and there was a storm blowing up. There was a lot of wind blowing dust and tumbleweeds. There were big thunderheads over the Tushars and you'd see lightning come down and bite, bite, bite the moun'ens like a rattlesnake in a campfire.
Before I got into town there was a lightning strike and a heck of a bang right ahead of me. It took a while for me to get my horse, BettyBea, calmed down, but when we finally got up there, I saw a big pine lying in pieces with four or five dead steers lying around it. I touched up with my spurs and got myself and BettyBea off the flat and into town as quick as I could. It was candlelight when I got in there with a big half moon and fast-moving clouds. It would be as dark as pitch one minute and then the clouds would move and the moon would light up the buildings almost as bright as day except for the black shadows under the porches. All the signs were banging and creaking and the false fronts were jerking back and forth in the wind. I put BettyBea in the livery stable and went into the Green Parrot Saloon to get the lay of the land.
I wanted to talk with Maw Cheryl that owned the bar, but she was real busy so I sat down to poker with some old friends I knew from when I worked around there. We hadn't played mor'n a hand or two when in walks the Thumpsows. Right away, Maw Cheryl pulled those sawed-off shotguns of hers out and set them on top of the bar. The Thumpsows thought that one over for a minute, sat down at our poker table without being invited. The other waddies looked at me, but I didn't say anything, so they dealt the Thumpsows in.
I figured I was in trouble. If I got up and left, they'd follow me and shoot me down. I wouldn't of stood much of a chance against them both. Especially with only one gun. So I played bad poker and tried to think.
"One way you can tell a Nancy-Boy," said Devil, "he talks big but it's all blow. He never has the guts to do anything. Two cards."
"I wouldn't take it very well," said 'Ell talking in a high squeaky voice and fluttering his hands, "I wouldn't take it very well at all."
"Yaller clean through," said Devil. See that and raise you five."
"Yeah," I've seen guys like that," said 'Ell. "Meeting the boats down there in 'Frisco wearing ear-bobs and rouge. I'd like to bed them all down with a shotgun. Knock."
"Hah," said Devil, "remember that little Nancy-Boy in Dodge? We shucked him down, put horse hobbles on him, and let him run. Then we loaded our shotguns with rock salt and rode after him." Devil started to laugh but went to coughing.
"Kept squalling 'til they put him in the bone orchard. Blood poisoning," said 'Ell. "Shouldn't of put gravel in with the rock salt."
"Yeah," said Devil, "Tore the blazes outta the shotgun barrels. Say whatcha want, us Thumpsows sure know how to have fun. Three jacks."
Well, they went on like that. Real flannel mouths both of them. I didn't say anything. Jis played and tried to think. I sure wished I had a few of my Navajo friends down here. The only Indian around was that wooden Indian they put up in front of the cigar store. That gave me an idea. That statue was like most of your wooden Indians. It had a war bonnet, leggings and a loincloth and was holding out three leaves of tobacco. This one was bigger than most, almost life size. That was good. The storm hadn't blown through and the light was changing every minute. This was the time, all right.
Now all I needed was patience. It didn't take long. Devil got a good hand and started betting it heavy. I raised him and he raised me back. Then I threw in my hand and headed for the door, walking as quick as I could. I knew Devil wouldn't follow me out. He wanted that pot. Soon as I was out the door, I ran to the stable, got a bridle on BettyBea, got aboard bareback, and lit out at a gallop.
I rode until I couldn't hear them laughing in the saloon anymore and I doubled back and walked BettyBea in through the back of the livery stable. "Hobson, you there?" I said.
"Yahsuh, I is heah," he said, "what can Ah do you for?"
I picked up my Winchester. "Here's five dollars," I said. "I need you to take care of BettyBea and I need to borrow your shaving mirror and a long piece of string and this."
What you want wit dat? You going to go play Indians with l'l Opie?"
"Something like that," I said. I grabbed a chip from the wood box and whittled it into a smooth peg and cut a double notch at one end. I cut a notch in each side of the sole of my boot up by the toe. I remember thinking that I needed new soles anyway. I tied a long length of string to the wood chip, tied the mirror to the barrel of my Winchester and tied a short length of string to the ring on my Winchester. Next, I got some soot outta the stove and blacked my face. Lucky thing I had a dark shirt on.
"What de debble is you doing Misto Snakeskin?" said Hobson.
I picked up all that stuff and left without answering. That wooden Indian must of weighed at least 200 pounds, but I don't remember it being heavy at all. I no more'n got it all fixed up the way I wanted it when two of my old friends came out of the bar: Big Greg and Little Harry.
I went over to them. "Hey boys," I said. They kept walking. Little Harry stuck his chest and his hind end out and went into a strut. Big blond Greg didn't change his easy saunter, but that's about the only time I ever saw him without a smile. I didn't blame them, really. You can't afford to have anything to do with a coward, and that's what they figured I was. "Listen," I said, hurrying to catch up with them. "Could you do me a favor and tell the Thumpsows—" They stopped and turned around. They were surprised at the way I looked, but they didn't say anything. "Tell those Thumpsows," I went on, "that I'm waiting for them out here. Greg, I'd take it as a real big favor if you could loan me that pistol of yours for a few minutes."
"You want us to stand with you?" said Harry. He wasn't that serious about it.
"No, jis give me a minute or two and tell the Thumpsows what I said. If they come around the back, come out and tell me. Only stay out of the way of any stray bullets. It would help if you'd stand where you could see what happens. For when it comes to court. OK?"
"Yup," said Greg, handing me his pistol.
This pistol a yours still throw a little to the right?" I said.
"Yup," said Greg.
"Tell you what," said Harry, "I'll go up to Rosie's and get in Mandy's room. I can see from there and be out of the way."
Big Greg and I waited until we saw Harry waving from the window. I went and sat down in front of the cigar store, tied the string to my boot toe, and drew my guns. Big Greg went into the bar. A minute later he came out saying, "They're right behind me, Snakeskin." and dove down behind the horse trough. The Thumpsows came out with their guns already drawn and stepped real quick to the side and out of the light from the barroom.
A second later Devil hollered, "OK Nancy boy . . . " and jis then the moon came out from behind a cloud.
I jerked the foot I'd tied the string to. The peg I'd whittled came out and the Winchester swung down towards the Thumpsows and hit the hitching rail with a thump. The Thumpsows saw a flash of light from the mirror I'd tied to the end of the rifle barrel. They both fired and hit what they were aiming at dead center. The wooden Indian. When the Indian didn't fall, 'Ell shot again. Then I opened up. One shot from each gun. Caught them both in the right shoulder. It knocked them back up against the wall and they dropped their guns. 'Ell had a lot of sand and he reached and picked up his gun with his left hand. I shot again jis before he did. Caught him in the other shoulder.
I put a bullet through a bar window to keep anybody from getting too curious, shoved Greg's gun in my belt, holstered my own, and ran to the cigar store Indian. I grabbed my hat off his head, jerked my Winchester loose from where I'd tied it, ran back and picked up the peg I'd used to prop the rifle straight up until I'd jerked it loose with the string. Then I headed for the livery stable. The string I tied to my boot toe caught on something and threw me flat. I got up, broke the string and kept going.
Ducked into the livery stable and sat down to untie the string from my boot. I started to put my hat back on, but I couldn't because I was still wearing Opie's war bonnet. I took it off and gave it back to Hobson. I untied his mirror from my rifle. It was broken and I offered to pay extra for it, but he said the five dollars would cover everything. I wiped the soot off my face with some sacking and finished up with Hobson's soap and water. Wiped off my shirt collar. Then I went out the back door and around to the street where the Green Parrot was. There was the local sheriff and a small crowd of men with looking at the cigar store Indian with a lantern.
Harry was talking. "I say it's good enough. He gave them Thumpsows a lot more chance than they gave little Dave Lant. Or five or six other guys, if you ask me. If they going to wobble their jaw like they done and then get too drunk to remember to let their eyes get used to the dark, it ain't Snakeskin's lookout. I heard Devil say just before the shooting started, 'OK Snakeskin'. Didn't he Greg?"
"Yup," said Greg.
"And Snakeskin let Thumpsows fire three times before he opened up. Three! Ain't that right, Greg."
"And 'Ell said he was going to bed him down with a shotgun, didn't he Greg?"
"Not plumb but pert near," said Greg.
"Well gol-dang it, that's what he meant," said Harry.
"Yup," said Greg.
"It looked plenty fair to me. Don't it to you Greg?"
"Well, said Greg, "I might of hung a few guys, but I ain't no judge."
The sheriff was looking at the three bullet holes in the wooden Indian. Two in the forehead and one in the chest. "The Thumpsows fired four times," he said and turned and went over to the cigar store and held up the lantern. There was another bullet hole in a porch post. Jis about then, Maw Cheryl showed up carrying some bandages and a basin. The sheriff looked at her. "Well?" he said.
"Doc don't give Devil much of a chance. He wasn't no more than half over that pneumonia and the bullet touched the lung. 'Ell's a sure goner, though. One bullet in the shoulder, one in the lung, and about bled out. Won't last 'til morning. He'd never use either arm again anyway. Good riddance to both of them." I hadn't allowed enough for that gun of Greg's throwing to the right. It didn't sound like a Texas Cakewalk was building so I nudged Greg and gave him back his gun.
"Here he is," said Greg.
The sheriff lifted up the lantern and they all turned toward me. Maw Cheryl squinted at my left leg. "You're bleedin' Sonny." She called us all 'Sonny'.
"Hunh?" I said.
"Hold still," she said and reached down. "Big splinter," she said. "Doc's busy. Sit down on the box here and don't move. Bring the lantern over and somebody get me some well water." She grabbed the splinter and jerked it out. It bled quite a bit. She drug up my pants leg and washed the wound down. She poured some whiskey into the wound and took some bed linen out of a basin where she had been soaking it in whiskey and slapped it on the wound and tied it in place. It stung, but I didn't holler. "You better get over to the Doc with that," she said. "After you pay me two dollars for my window."
"Come by the office when you're done," said the sheriff, "I'll release you on your own recognizance. Don't forget."
"I won't," I said.
Anyway, that wound healed up jis fine. Helped at the trial, too. That was the end of that difficulty, but it jis led to another one a little bit later . . . uhhh. I guess the statue of limitations has fallen over on that particular business so I can tell you about it. One afternoon I was making hatbands out of rattlesnake skins at my Dad's trading post and in walks ElPaso again. We howdied and shook and shared a shot of the Oh-be-Joyful and got down to business. "We got a problem," he said.
If you liked this story, you can find others at marionlouispatton.wixsite.com/buckimmov,
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