Carter Pickard wanted the ranch and the girl, but knew Will Blaisdell wouldn't give either of them up.
As head of the Cattleman's Association, and owner of the largest cattle ranch in the area, Carter Pickard felt Will's ranch, and especially it's precious water hole, should by all rights have been his. He was determined to take it as his due. He felt the same about Will's woman.
The young woman, Maddie Blaisdell, was a sweet and adventurous newlywed, with large blue eyes to get lost in, and a figure that turned heads wherever she went. She had shoulder length honey blonde hair which she tied back in a sassy pony tail. Maddie had a slightly upturned lightly freckled nose over rich red lips, and when she smiled, the effect was dazzling. If she had a fault, it was admittedly her tendency to act impulsively, and deal with the consequences later. Maddie had been raised in the east and came from a very well to do family. Her mother died when Maddie was quite young and her father was a successful financier, who had done well with his motto "Never play the other man's game." Although a caring father, he was reputed to be a cutthroat in dealing with the financial moguls of his day. Maddie brought that upbringing with her, when she married Will Blaisdell, and came west with him in 1878.
The ranch was a wedding gift from Maddie's father. Mr.VanKonnedt had contrived to purchase title to the property, in a fast move, before any of the locals knew it was even available. Probably even the previous owner didn't know it was available, but Maddie's father could be mighty persuasive with a pile of cash in his hands. Will had not been too proud to accept such a gift, considering the huge sacrifice that Maddie was making for the likes of him, in giving up electricity and so many other conveniences which she was accustomed to. That was however, where Will drew the line, insisting "I alone will support my wife. They loved each other deeply and, for them, that made all the difference.
If it wasn't for the Centennial Exposition in 1876, at Philadelphia PA, Maddie VanKonnedt might never have met and subsequently married Will Blaisdell. There was a dance which Maddie attended with some friends. Her heart strangely skipped a beat, when she saw this young man calmly cross the dance floor towards her. "Will you dance with me?" Will boldly asked her. Maddie, looked at the dimples in his cheeks, but still replied "We have not been properly introduced, and I do not know you." "We will have a lifetime for that if you will only dance with me" was Will's response. Formality set aside; she danced with him. Well a girl, from a high society affluent New York background, did not look to marry a western frontier bred and raised cowhand, no matter how handsome and engaging he was. Oh Will Blaisdell was all of that, with steady grey eyes, black hair, tanned skin, lithe movements, very masculine air, and first class manners. Having worked on a number of ranches, first as a top hand and then as a foreman; what he did not know about horses and cattle was mighty little. They say opposites attract and, after a whirlwind of events, Maddie found herself transplanted to that 640 acre horse ranch in Diamond Valley, near the small town of Cardan in Echo County Nevada.
From the first day, Maddie fell in love with the ranch. It was hard to put into words but, as she later said to Will, she felt immediately connected to the ranch; like having come home. That was the warm feeling, which always came to her first and last. Maddie often said to Will "This ranch will forever be home for me." Maddie loved to look out over the fields and see the reds, blues and yellows of the wild flowers waving in the wind. She never tired of watching the horses jumping and running about. She discovered a real peace and pleasure, working the soil, and growing things in her garden. On a very few occasions, she convinced Will to sleep out in the open, where they made love in the grass, after which they laid back and counted the stars. It was a busy and not easy life in many ways, but there was joy if you looked for it, and Maddie did. "I could not abide you ever being sad" Will told Maddie. He even made her promise, if he died first, that she would not wear black at his funeral.
The ranch quarters at that time, rudely boasted a boarded house with three rooms, a partial stone walled cellar, a small loft, and a covered porch. It had a wooden floor once rough, but since worn smooth. A two story timber framed barn stood off to one side, with post and rail corrals beyond that. The barn was unpainted, but was otherwise in good shape. A lean to shed, attached to one side of the barn, served as rough accommodation for the occasional hired hands. There were the usual small outbuildings such as a workshop, smoke house, and chicken coop. The dug well in the front yard had a hand pump and also a wooden trough leading from it. An outhouse was in the back yard, and a copse of leafy aspens shaded the remaining side of the house. In the middle of the ranch property there was a large spring fed pond, which served as a watering hole for the horses. It sent out both a continuous overflow seepage, keeping the surrounding soils moist, and the grasses that grew there lush and green. On one side, a small stream meandered down to a marshy area where birds, frogs and insects loudly advertised their presence. That water hole was the real treasure. This is what made the ranch so especially valuable.
When it rained in the nearby Tuscarora hills, dry washes would fill with water and run down to the rich alluvial soil of the Diamond Valley bottom lands. It was however significantly drier on the surrounding prairie, where a more sandy soil grew sagebrush, pinon pine, stinging nettle and rougher grasses. The nearby Humboldt River tended to dry up in the hot summer months, when temperatures maintained a blistering 90 degrees. In those dry seasons, dust storms occasionally blew in sand and grit from the desert beyond. For those reasons, it was a real struggle at times, on the outlying prairie ranches, to find sufficient water for the livestock.
This was exactly the predicament facing Carter Pickard. The bulk of his large ranch was prairie range. He had already spent a small fortune, digging wells and irrigation ditches, but his growing herds of cattle continuously needed more water. He decided it was time for him to take action, and that meant taking whatever he needed, from whoever had it, however it was accomplished.
Not unlike the cattle he raised, Carter Pickard was heavily muscled, lantern jawed, unshaven, and badly in need of a bath. He was on the short side of average height, but he had piercing brown eyes, with which he stared at people, as to dominate them somehow, until they looked down or away. Considered to be the most prominent man in all of Echo County, Carter was also generally conceded to be the most vicious. He was known to have killed some 12 men in gunfights, many of which he had forced on his victims, and the rumour was there were more that he was not admitting to. It was quietly whispered about, that it was healthier not to cross that "mean son of a bitch," and that it was better to "cosy" up to a rattle snake then get in his way.
Carter never had to worry about law enforcement getting in his way either. Sheriff Dan Beagle, headquartered some 23 miles away in Echo, which was the county seat, politically did his best not to pay too much attention to the affairs of neighbouring Cardan. In his view, Carter Pickard was a dangerous and powerful man and, if he had to shoot someone, well then that person probably had it coming anyway. When something of a perceived more serious nature did happen in Cardan, it was his practice to raise a posse and gallivant with them across the prairie and the Tuscarora hills expending a lot of effort generally with little result. For their part, Cardan appreciated the sheriff for his "live and let live" way of doing things.
Sitting on the California Trail, the town of Cardan served as a main stop for the Central Pacific railroad. It had a wide dusty main street, cantering a library, post office, stores, laundry, a railroad roundhouse with related shops, telegraph and express offices, a hotel, a restaurant, a jail, and of course two saloons. Cardan watched thousands of settlers pass through on their way west, and many of those migrants stayed on to work on freight or stage lines connecting the railroad with other communities. There were also a number of Chinese labourers brought in and left behind by the railroad. They gardened in the area, and many worked in some of the local businesses, such as the laundry or restaurant. Cardan's population was generally less than 800 souls, except in the summers, when it swelled to twice that number, as drifters, hunters, and prospectors made it a base for their endeavours. There were also a number of miners in the area digging for silver. In truth it was a rough town, but as long as they were all more or less prospering and, on the face of things, minding their own business, a certain smugness about their community was felt to be justified.
Somewhat understandably, Cardan had not been welcoming of a "hot house flower" having whisked away one of their most eligible bachelors. The gossip was that "Will Blaisdell done made a huge mistake marrying an eastern gal," and "that there young lady should hev knowed it weren't nohow the right thing for her to be doin." It did not help the situation either, that Maddie was so much prettier than the daughters of those who took offense at her. Blaming Maddie, many of them had chosen not to visit or welcome her in any way. Maddie's invitations to connect with her neighbors fell on deaf ears. When it happened that she met some of the other women in town, they were standoffish, and just short of being rude. Not surprisingly, Maddie's feelings were quite hurt, and so she had given up making any more approaches to them. She decided that future overtures would have to come from someone other than her. Consequently, she had to learn on her own how to get by with less, in managing her comparatively rough homestead and her garden. She had never in her life milked a cow, or plucked a chicken, or churned butter, or preserved jam, or done those hundreds of other things so much second nature to any one of her neighbours. If it wasn't for Will's mother and grandmother taking Maddie under their wings, and lovingly teaching her like a daughter, it might have been a total disaster. Her only other friend was young Eddie Breane, a neighbours pre-teenage son, who Will hired to help with chores before and after school. It was Eddie who taught Maddie how to milk the cow and how to pluck a chicken. Eddie fancied himself quite a hunter and would often bring some rabbits or quail that he had shot with his father's Winchester rifle. He would get all red faced, when Maddie complemented him on his shooting, as he had a not so secret school boys crush on Miz Blaisdell. Then he would say "Oh that's nuthin, my dad ken shoot the eye out of a tick at 100 yards; I'm just hopin to be half as good some day." For his part, Will patiently suffered along with Maddie while she essayed to make the best of things. In the meantime, he was busy looking after running of the ranch which included breeding, buying and selling stock. Being her father's daughter, Maddie struggled through and, as time passed, she not only learned, but developed a quiet competency. Maddie was already an accomplished horseback rider. As often as they could, they rode together, and Will took those opportunities to share his vision with her for growing their brand.
So Carter Pickard had watched all this develop, and it left him feeling like he had an abscessed tooth. He wanted that ranch and its water hole. He wanted that girl. Like a bull after a cow in heat, he wanted . . . wanted . . . wanted them. He considered Will Blaisdell as just a bug to be squashed. Carter's plan was simply to manoeuvre Will into a gunfight. He figured to easily dispatch him, which would leave the way open for him to move in on all of Will's property. The pressure point was obviously the woman. Carter started by boldly winking his left eye at Maddie every time he saw her. It did not matter that she immediately turned her back on him and pretended to ignore him. He was arrogantly certain she was actually flattered. "Every herd needs a prime bull", was one of his favorite sayings, and that was the way he thought about himself. If he was sure no one else was looking, while still winking at her with his left eye, he also puckered his lips to make kissing sounds. He expected it to be just a short time before Will Blaisdell found out, and that was just what Carter wanted. But Maddie never mentioned it to Will because she knew that, while he could handle a pistol as well as any cowman, Will was not in the same class as a known gunfighter like Carter Pickard. It would be just plain murder if they were to meet and shoot it out on the street. Maddie had no intention to let that unwashed ox slaughter her husband, and so she had just carried on. She decided to never let Carter know how annoying he was either, because she expected any response would just have encouraged him and led him to escalate his appalling behavior. Strangely, fingering a silver locket hanging around her throat helped her to see her way past it.
Having seen no result, Carter decided to increase the pressure by a more direct approach. It was a sweltering hot still air summer day, and Maddie was home alone, as usual, but in her garden. That's when, Carter rode his horse right into her yard, and hoarsely said "This is a very nice ranch, and you are one pretty little filly. I hev my eye on you, and I hev had my eye on this ranch. You tell yer Will it be better fer him to walk away, alone and alive, than stay here and be dead." Maddie, with the silver locket swinging on her necklace, ran white faced into the house and barred the door behind her. Carter hollered after her "You'll change yer tune when you are a widow." Then he angrily spurred his horse back and forth through her garden before heading off in the direction of Cardan.
When Will Blaisdell returned and saw the fresh horse droppings by the house, and the horse tracks tearing up the garden, he knew something had happened. How he finally got Maddie to tell him about Carter Pickard, and all what he had done, was a mystery because the embarrassment, misplaced shame, and violation that she felt was beyond words. Overriding this, was her blinding terror that Carter, being a gunfighter, given the opportunity, would most certainly kill her husband.
Beside himself with fury over the insults to his wife and the threat to his own life, Will immediately buckled on his gun belt. In a mounting rage, he stormed out of the house and spurred his horse toward Cardan.
The word was quickly spread around that Will Blaisdell, with his gun tied down and mad as a hornet, was searching all over town for Carter Pickard and why. Everyone in Cardan knew that Will would have no show in a gunfight with Carter, but nobody was prepared to step in and do anything about it. Certainly no one was foolish enough to get in Carter Pickard's way, and the sense was always, no matter the reason or justification, you "scotched your own snakes."
Carter had earlier passed thru Cardan and gone out to his own ranch, but when word came that Will Blaisdell was looking for him with a gun, he saddled a fresh horse and headed back to town. He was laughing to himself during his ride because he finally had Will right where he wanted him. He considered that very few men could match his speed in a gun fight, and certainly Will Blaisdell was not one of them.
So shortly thereafter, as Cardan watched from the windows to see the outcome, there was Will Blaisdell standing in the middle of the otherwise deserted street, facing Carter Pickard, the gunfighter, and saying to him "You either crawl like the snake you are, or I will have you dead, no matter you get a bullet into me first." Relishing the moment, Carter hissed back "I am a dead shot Will; one bullet will do for me."
Suddenly there was a shot and Carter flew back, bounced, and moved no more. He had taken one bullet through his left eye. He was dead before he hit the ground. The bullet had blown the back of his skull away.
Will Blaisdell had not had a chance to get his gun out and stood there in shock.
The only action taken directly, was the undertaker quickly getting Carter Pickard put under ground in the local graveyard.
Cardan got angry. They had been expecting to see a fair fight. Never mind that the match was far from even, and the result predictable. It was classic good against bad and, despite the stacked odds, they had wanted to see the outcome. Of course, they had secretly wished the underdog would somehow triumph. Subconsciously, they had been hoping for a hero . . . for a white knight. So they felt cheated. In fact, they were outraged. The sentiment was "This were not how things was done in a law abiding society," and that "Shooting a man that way, were out and out murder." They wanted justice.
When Sheriff Dan Beagle got the news, he made it a point for once to hot foot it to Cardan. By the time he arrived, the Cattleman's Association had already hired a range detective to bring the shooter in dead or alive. It was determined that Carter Pickard had been shot at long range by a powerful rifle. Nobody knew exactly where the shot had come from, and no one had any idea who could shoot so far that accurately. A posse went out, and beat around the prairie and the Tuscarora hills, but to no avail. The range detective hung around Echo County for a while, but also came up with nothing.
Sheriff Beagle eventually came to the conclusion that, if someone had to shoot Carter Pickard, well then he probably had it coming anyway.
The murder was never solved.
Discovering only one heir living in the east, Carter's ranch was put in the hands of a manager who broke it into smaller parcels and sold it off.
In time, Cardan came around to the idea that Maddie Blaisdell was staying. A number of the neighbouring women had already experienced a sincere regret over their unwarranted treatment of her. They went out of their way, to stop by, offering friendship and a belated welcome. It took Maddie a little while to be truly accepting of them, until she realized she was, in some sense, doing the same thing to these women that they had done to her. After that, it was easier, and some very close friendships developed. In fact, Will's young wife was observed to have brought a breath of fresh air to the social fabric of that small community of hardy frontier women. In return, they introduced Maddie to a level of practical common sense, that seemed to steady her more impulsive tendencies. Maddie made sure she did not neglect her earliest friend and would spend time with Eddie Breane while he tried to teach her to shoot a rifle. "Land sakes, Miz Blaisdell" he would say "Don't forget to hold your breath and just gently squeeze the trigger." She never seemed to quite get the hang of it which always left Eddie feeling unconsciously somewhat superior. Finally Cardan watched, as over time, Maddie was instrumental in starting up an Episcopal Church, in organizing for a district school, and in attracting artists to put on concerts of a quality never before experienced by her neighbors. She even saw to it that the local grave yard got fenced, and that all of the graves there were regularly tended to. The gossip was "You ken always count on Maddie Blaisdell to be doin the right thing."
Will Blaisdell, recognized to be one of the bravest men in Echo County, successfully built up his ranching operation and was respected by all who knew him. He predeceased his wife by a year. One of their two sons, and their daughter, continued capably to manage the ranch and his other far flung investments. Their other son studied law and, in time, was elected to the state senate.
Maddie Blaisdell lived to a good old age and passed away peacefully at the ranch in 1929. As expected, her adult children gathered to sort through and settle the estate. In a closet behind Maddie's bed, they found her wedding dress. It was beautifully styled, with all the stitches still in place; only the white satin had lost some of its lustre, making the dress look more silvery. They had to smile, recalling how shocked everyone was, when Maddie had worn that silvery dress at Will's funeral. Behind the dress, wrapped in a blanket, they found an ornately tooled 1874 Sharps .44-90 long range single shot rifle, brightly polished, cleaned, oiled and quite ready to be fired. Also, digging through Maddie's most cherished possessions, they discovered a silver locket. Opening it, they were very surprised to find a small medallion, on which was written "National Rifle Association Maddeline VanKonnedt Champion 1000 yards Rifle Shooting Creedmoor, New York 1875." On the outside of the locket were stamped the words "Never play the other man's game."