It was mid-day on the Santa Fe Trail, heading east with furs, pelts and a remuda of horses. Teamster Clint Carrigan reined in his team and held a hand up to stop the small train of wagons. He stood on the bench seat looking ahead, right hand shading his eyes from the sun. Wrangler Tom Smith nudged his roan up to Clint's wagon.
Clint looked out to the distance ahead, and shook his head. Then he saw a bit of a dust cloud, then momentarily, they heard the distant pops of gunfire. Fellow teamster Jake Owen nudged his wagon alongside. The distant pops continued sporadically and the dust cloud seemed to grow.
"Trouble ahead," said Jake over his shoulder. "Gunfire. Likely Comanches attacking travelers. Bunch the wagons, put the herd in the middle."
After the wagons were pulled together with room in the center for the mustangs, the horses were led in. Then, Jake called out. "Clint, you 'n' me saddle up and go see what's going on. Smith, check your guns. Stay with the wagons and horses."
Clint and Jake had saddled their mounts in minutes and were galloping towards the skirmish up ahead. As they neared, through the dust they could see a number of westbound wagons strung along the trail with a few forms huddled underneath, and a dozen or so warriors on horseback circling the wagons. Some warriors slid to the side of their running horses using the animal as cover while they shot a rifle or arrows towards the cowering settlers.
The pop of gunshots continued intermittently. There was smoke trailing from the lead wagon which appeared to have dead horses slumped in front, along with a couple of lifeless human forms. The warriors, focused on their targets failed to notice the charging riders.
"Comanches!" Jake called over his shoulder as he led his mount towards the right. Clint steered his charger to the left, observing a settler stand to aim his gun at the attackers but the man was suddenly struck by an arrow through the chest. The settler's gun discharged into the ground as he stumbled and fell, clutching the arrow sticking out of his chest.
Clint sighted his Hawken on a feathered warrior streaked with black body paint watching from a nearby bluff in the background. He relaxed to match the stride of his horse and squeezed the trigger. The shot boomed and Clint yelled "Hee yaa! Yahoo!" The buffalo gun had found it's mark because the Indian jerked and his mount reared knocking the rider to the ground. I got one, he thought, I got their chief.
"He yaa! He yaa!" Jake yelled as he charged, now using his five shot Patterson Colt to sight targets. His first shot found its mark as a warrior paused to watch what looked like the leader falling from Clint's accurate shooting. Jake was within 50 yards as he fired at the surprised warrior and watched him spin awkwardly to the ground. There was a cheer from the men and women huddled under the wagon train. Jake immediately targeted and fired at another brave. Aware of the first two shots hitting his companions, this brave reacted quicker by ducking and kicking his horse to full speed around behind the wagons and riding low on the animal to avoid exposing his body as a target.
The other warriors quickly ducked and urged their horses away from the attackers. Several Indian attackers suddenly rose from hiding spots, firing a quick shot towards the wagon train. Then they began to retreat, and were scooped up by others on horseback. One brave warrior stood behind a clump of greasewood facing Clint's charge. He aimed his arrow at Clint as he rode by. A surprised Clint saw the brave seemingly pop up from the ground. The man's face and body were streaked with black paint with what looked to be hand prints on his arms and muscular body. Clint spun in the saddle to aim his Colt.
The arrow cut loose from the bow and Clint was momentarily mesmerized as it sailed towards him. Somehow his Patterson Colt jumped from the fired cartridge, just as the arrow tore through the shirt and cut into the flesh of his shoulder while the shaft and feather fletching slapped him in the face. Stunned and momentarily blinded, he dropped the pistol and hung tightly to the reins as his horse twisted and danced in a circle. The spinning motion was too much, and Clint felt himself sailing through the air. He hit the hard-sandy soil spotted with bunch grass and low succulents, rolling over a flat prickly pear cactus. Clint screeched in pain.
The warrior was knocked to his butt by the force of the shot, but seeing the falling pistol nearby, struggled to his feet, his fingers clutching the bloody hole in his stomach. Driven by the excitement of battle, he screamed a war cry and scrambled to recover the white-man's prized weapon. It would be a real coup. He would fight to the death.
The weapon lay on the ground between them. The first to get there had the advantage to kill the other. Clint caught the oncoming movement from the corner of his eye. Instincts caused his body to react, adrenalin pushing aside the pain, clambering to his knees, and then to his feet to race to the weapon. Just a few steps away, he was closer. But his shoes slipped on the sandy soil.
The warrior's eyes glared daggers as his knife was raised in attack, the war cry continuing like an excited song, his legs churning, pounding the soil. Their hands stretched, each reaching and clasping the gun simultaneously, one hand on the barrel, one hand on the handle. Each man grunted in exertion, squeezing and pulling, the effort turning into a shriek as if the loudest voice would win.
The smell of dirt and dust and sweat and blood filled the air between these two battling men. They rolled and tumbled, kicked and gouged, scratched and spit, reaching deeply to the basest animal survival instinct. To weaken, to give in, was to die.
Clint's mind somehow flashed to an image of the lovely Maria, that first dance together on the Dia de Muertos, then to her last kiss as they parted a week ago with her admonishment, "ten cuidado, be careful."
Reality returned when the Indian's other hand swung downward with the knife. Clint twisted away and the knife stuck in the hard-sandy soil. But the movement had weakened his grip, he could feel the weapon beginning to slip from his fingers. His thumb found the hammer and thumbed it back advancing the cylinder. His index finger found the trigger and squeezed, causing an explosive bang in their faces.
The warrior's eyes opened wide in surprise. Then a hint of a smile came to his lips as the man slumped to the ground, his last breath escaping.