March, 2024

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Issue #174

Welcome, Western Fans!

Looking for free, tantalizing Tales of the Old West?
You're at the right place.


Read this month's Tales and vote for your favorite.
They'll appear in upcoming print volumes of The Best of Frontier Tales Anthologies!

Slater's Choice
by Robert Collins
He was out-gunned, but Slater would do whatever was needed to save Victoria's ranch. He owed her much, and would see the debt paid.

* * *

The Mountain Man's Testimony
by Richard L. Newman
A Mountain Man tells about his surpising encounter in the high country—and its aftermath.

* * *

The Vaquero
by Ralph S. Souders
A young vaquero visits a saloon to wait while his stagecoach gets fresh horses. A cowboy begins to aggravate him. Will he try to ignore the cowboy and leave town on the stage, or defend his honor and risk the local jail?

* * *

A Bullet for Christmas
by Jason Crager
A ne'er do well ex-convict is determined to finally become the husband and father his family deserves. He's made a Christmas promise that he intends to deliver on, by any means necessary.

* * *

West of Eminence
by J. Daniel Camacho
In the Old West, a sheriff faces down a marshal, his country, and an offer he can't refuse.

* * *

A Ghost, A Jezebel, and a Bank Manager
by Michael Shawyer
As a trailherder wakes by the campfire, a spooky message arrives from his long-gone mother. Why does she want him to compose a story about a picture of three people?

* * *

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

All the Tales

Slater's Choice
by Robert Collins


The snow fell heavily and was more than a foot deep. His horse plodded forward even though he couldn't see more than a few feet in front of him. The man had been riding along the range for several hours and hoped he would be able to get below the storm before dark. Dusk was falling and he knew he had to get out of the weather soon. A gust of wind blew up from the valley, he caught a glimpse of light. He turned his horse and began working his way down in that direction.

As he rode into the valley the snow lessened. He could see the outline of a building a couple hundred feet ahead of him. It was a small ranch house with a barn and shed behind it. A snow-covered rail fence disappeared into the night.

He dismounted, tied his horse to a post and was about to step onto the porch when the door opened and a figure appeared pointing a pistol.

"Hold it right there, mister", a woman's voice cried out. "Don't take another step."

The man stepped back and held his hands out in an unthreatening manner. The woman's shape was illuminated by the back light of the house.

"No ma'am. I'm not moving," he said.

"What do you want?" she demanded.

"I didn't mean to disturb you. I was just looking for a place to bunk out of the snow." he said.

"I don't take in strangers," she said. "Move on."

"Yes ma'am. I understand. Maybe I could bunk in your barn till morning. I'll be no bother. I just want to get out of the storm and rest my horse." he pleaded.

She looked him over for several seconds.

"Can you pay me?" she asked. "It will cost you a dollar."

The man took off his hat and slapped it against his leg. Water and wet snow splashed to the ground. He looked at the figure in the doorway. "I have no money, ma'am. I only need shelter. I mean no harm."

The woman waited a moment, not saying a word. In the dim light she could see the snow stuck to his shoulders like paint and his clothes were soaked through. He had not shaved for several days and his dark hair was plastered to his head. The horse was exhausted. The pony's head was hanging low to the ground and steam was rising off his back and neck like a simmering kettle.

"I want you out of here at first light. Put your horse in the barn. There's a bunk in the tack room with a stove. You can sleep there."

"Much obliged ma'am. I appreciate—"

The woman stepped back into the house and shut the door. He stood there for a moment and then moved away from the house leading his horse towards shelter.

Once in the barn, he fed his horse some old hay, watered and bedded him down. He found the tack room. It was small with no window but had a bunk with blankets. As the woman said, there was a small stove with wood. In minutes, the fire was heating the room and he was in the bunk fast asleep.

* * *

The next morning the woman was up and making coffee, getting ready for breakfast. She heard the whack of an ax and looked out the kitchen window. In the dawn light she saw the man splitting wood.

She went to the door and opened it to the cold. "Hey," she yelled from the porch. The man turned toward the voice.


"When you finish splitting the wood, come in the house. I'll have some breakfast ready."

He waved and worked the axe for another fifteen minutes. He planted the axe into a log and made his way to the house. He stepped up on the porch and knocked and stood at the door for a moment and looked at his muddy and snowy boots.

The woman opened the door. "Don't worry about that. Come in and shut the door. You're letting the heat out."

He noticed she was wearing work pants; something he had not seen very often. But it certainly made sense. Working a ranch in a dress had to be an inconvenience. He hung his coat on a hook by the door.

He nodded his head in thanks and sat at the kitchen table. The woman was setting it with bacon, eggs and biscuits. She sat and poured coffee for both of them. He removed his hat and revealed a head of black hair with streaks of gray and dark eyes. He put his hat on the back of the chair.

"I appreciate the breakfast, ma'am. I haven't had a hot meal for some time," he spoke.

"I wouldn't normally, but it was kind of you to split the wood."

"You didn't have to let me stay in your barn, either. It was quite comfortable. I'll be sure to stack the wood as soon as I'm done here. Then I'll be on my way." he said.

They ate in silence for some time and the woman set her knife and fork on the table and looked at the man. "What's your name?"

"I'm sorry, ma'am. I've forgotten my manners. They call me Slater."

"Nice to meet you Slater. Is that your first or last name?" she asked.

"Just Slater." he said.

She looked him over. He was clean shaven now and wasn't as young as she thought; mid to late thirties was likely and taller than most men. He looked strong and she liked his disposition.

"Well, Slater, I think I had you wrong. My name is Victoria Miller". They shook hands across the table. "This is my ranch. My foreman, Carlos, is in Santa Fe and I'm a little short on help."

"Nice to meet you, Mrs. Miller. I was glad to help with the wood." he said.

"Call me Victoria. I run this ranch. If that's what you want to call it. My husband was killed three years ago. He fell off a horse."

"I'm sorry to hear that Mrs.  . . . Victoria."

She regarded him and said, "Would you be interested in some work?"

Slater looked her over. She was in her mid-forties he guessed; thin and almost as tall as him. Her eyes were blue with light brown hair pulled back into a bun. Her face was a little weathered from life on the ranch but in an attractive way. She was a handsome woman.

"Don't know." he said. "I was heading for Santa Fe, too."

"There's a lot of snow out there. You might be better off here for a little while until it becomes more passable. I'll pay you a dollar a day and keep, but I can't pay you until the weather breaks. You could escort me to Santa Fe." she said. "That's where we'll meet Carlos."

"You don't know me. How do you know I'm a good man?" he asked.

"I don't." She said. "Most men wouldn't have split the wood. They would have been gone at sun-up."

"Well, the weather's still disagreeable. How 'bout if I give it two or three days of work and decide then?" he asked.

She sat back in her chair, crossed her arms and looked into his eyes. "All right Mr. Slater, fair enough. I can agree to that." she said. He saw her smile for the first time. He guessed that was relatively rare.

* * *

Slater had stayed longer than he anticipated. After a week, he repaired a number of fence rails, cleaned out the barn and replaced some siding, collected more firewood, fixed a leak in the roof of the house and chased a family of raccoons from living underneath.

Victoria was happy with Slater's work and hoped he'd stay until spring. Once the snow began to melt, there would be a tremendous amount of work; almost too much for one man and one woman. How Victoria was able to keep the ranch running was a mystery to him. He was getting a general feel for the place and found the work was agreeable. It was the first real work he had had in over a year, ever since he left Kansas City. He was a deputy sheriff there and was involved in a fatal shooting. It was self defense and he was completely exonerated but was unable to put it behind him. A short time after he was cleared of any wrongdoing, he packed the little belongings he had and left Missouri. He had spent what little money he had and the prospect of food and keep was agreeable to him.


His stay became four weeks and the weather began to break. Slater was beginning to get a real feel for the ranch. He had ridden over most of it and realized it was quite an endeavor. He was returning from the north portion of the property and saw two horses tied-up in front of the house. He saw no one and assumed there were two people in the house with Victoria. As he approached the dwelling, he pulled a double-barreled Cimarron Coach twelve-gauge shotgun from his scabbard and laid it across his saddle. It had side-by-side barrels and was a favorite of stage coach teamsters. Just the sight of it made people take pause. It was a constant companion during his time as sheriff. It was a lethal weapon from close range. Two clicks broke the silence as he pulled back both hammers. He stopped about ten feet from the front porch.

"Anyone in the house?" he yelled.

A moment later, Victoria came out onto the porch followed by a middle-aged man in a sheepskin coat. He stepped forward facing Slater. Victoria stood beside him with a look of dread. The man was tall and slim with a long white mustache. His eyes were black as coal.

"Who are you?" the man in the coat asked dryly.

"I work for Mrs. Miller. And you?" asked Slatter.

"I'm a friend, stopped by to visit.

Slater looked at Victoria. "Is there anything I can do for you Mrs. Miller?"

"No Slater, tend to your work." she said tersely.

Slater saw an image pass in front of the kitchen window but made no indication he saw anything. He didn't move for a moment and eyed the man carefully.

"You heard the lady. Get back to your work." The man growled.

"Go ahead, Slater". Said Victoria. "Stop back at supper time."

"I'll be heading to the west pasture, Mrs. Miller. There are some fence posts that need tending." Slater said.

Slater slid the shotgun into its scabbard and pulled the reins and moved away from the house. He felt very exposed with his back to the man but slowly made his way past the barn and into a copse of trees. Once out of sight, he tied his mount to a low branch and made his way to the rear of the barn. Carrying his shotgun, he went to the tack room and lifted his six-gun and holster from a hook.

From inside the barn, he opened the door a couple of inches so he could get a good look at the house. He was about a hundred feet from the side of the dwelling and had a full view of the porch. He waited. A few minutes later two men stepped onto the porch with Victoria between them. The man with the white mustache was first and a young man in his early twenties was behind Victoria. He was carrying a single barrel shotgun. Though, dusk was beginning to fall and shadows were long, Slater recognized the younger one at once. He was from Kansas City and Slater had arrested him a number of times for drunkenness and petty crimes. He must not have seen Slater when he was talking to the other man, he thought, or there would have been trouble then.

The older man grabbed Victoria's arm and pulled her down the steps. The younger man hung back on the porch.

Slater quietly opened the barn door enough and slipped out. He moved along the wall in the shadows and stopped at the edge of the barn. Leaning against the wall, he saw the older man push Victoria to the ground. She sat there in a sitting position with a look of defiance on her face.

She swatted her arm at the man. "Leave me alone," she shouted. "I don't have any money".

"OK, Mrs. Miller. I know you are lying. Now is the time to tell me where your money is hid. I know you are too far away to use a bank in Santa Fe". He then slapped her across the face and she fell on her side to the wet ground.

Slater saw that both men were looking at Victoria. He quickly moved towards the house raising the shotgun and pointing it at the younger man who was standing at the top of the porch. He was the one that concerned him most. He had a weapon in his hands and would be able to move the quicker of the two.

As Slater moved in, the younger man turned and began to raise his shotgun but Slater was a split second ahead of him. He let go a blast from the twelve guage and the buckshot tore into the man's upper right chest. Blood splashed from the wound and he disappeared from the porch.

Slater then turned his attention to the older man who was turning toward him. Slater dropped the shotgun knowing that Victoria was too close to the old man to use it and would likely be wounded from the spreading charge. Slater fell to the ground and rolled once while retrieving his Colt from his holster. At the same time the man tried to reach for his gun but his heavy coat slowed his movement. Just as he drew his weapon and began to raise it to fire, Slater pulled back the hammer on his gun and fired once. The slug hit the man in the stomach but did not slow him and he was able to fire back. The bullet creased Slater's right shoulder. Slater was able to fire a second time, hitting the man square in the chest. The man dropped his gun and put his hand to the wound and looked down as blood ran through his fingers.

Looking at Slater he said. "You kilt me." He dropped to his knees then pitched forward in the mud. Slater walked over to the splayed man and nudged his head with the toe of his boot.

"Is he dead?" Asked Victoria.

"He's dead. And so is the other one on the porch. Are you all right?"

"Yes, I'm fine."

Slater knelt down next to Victoria and put his arm around his shoulder. "Let's get you into the house and put some ice on those bruises."

She leaned against him to get to her feet. "Thank you, Slater."

The End

Robert Collins is recently retired from Connecticut and living in North Carolina. He has been writing short stories for decades and have had a few published. He mainly writes about the old west but some of the more current west as well (post 1900).

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