July, 2024

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Issue #178

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!

My Birthday
by Richard L. Newman
When Jamie and his Pa go up into the mountains hunting bighorn for Jamie's birthday, things turn quickly—and violently—in an unforeseen direction.

* * *

Rebel Renegade, Johnny Grey
by James Burke
Johnny Grey thought he could forget the Civil War out on the frontier, but the war found him! Now he must run, hide, and fight with tooth and nail. Oh, and a whole lot of bullets if he hopes to shake his Red-Leg pursuers.

* * *

Excerpt from Boetticher's Official Guide to Gunslinging
by Jon Gluckman
A novice gunslinger devotes himself to following the guidelines of a manual on how to behave as a gunslinger, and he narrates his exploits.

* * *

Mountain Mail Runner, February 1859
by Moss Springmeyer
A loser in the Gold Rush, Jack has triumphed as a frontiersman on a hazardous mountain mail run. But when a blizzard strikes, will he have what it takes to survive?

* * *

Tales of Old Joe
by Phillip R. Eaton
Joe Bartholomew survived the Civil War only to return home to more tragedy. When he finds that his family and his home have been destroyed, he heads west. Every day he is faced with new challenges in his search for tranquility.

* * *

The Phantom Marksman
by Ralph S. Souders
The legend of a mysterious sharpshooter thrives within the town. Over time, he becomes a folk hero revered throughout the region. Everyone has an opinion as to his identity, but only one person is privy to the truth.

* * *

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

All the Tales

Tales of Old Joe
by Phillip R. Eaton

Joseph S. Bartholomew dedicated four years of his life to the Army of the Confederate States of America. Like so many of his fellow soldiers, he had suffered through numerous battle wounds, illness, and starvation. Yet somehow, he managed to survive.

One of the things that helped keep Joe alive all those years, was the thought of returning home to his family. He had left behind his beautiful wife Annalee, and their newborn baby girl, Annabelle. Unlike some of the other soldiers who from time to time were furloughed home if they were close by, Joe never had the chance. Assigned to General Lee's command, Joe most often found himself along the front line of battle. At the war's end, a beaten-down Joe Bartholomew was finally discharged and allowed to go home.

He returned south to find that his plantation had been destroyed by the Union Army. His land had been ravaged and his home burned to the ground. They left behind only piles of rubble. Out back, under the weeping willow tree, the local minister had erected two wooden crosses, one for Annalee, and one for young Annabelle.

Devastated by his discovery, Joe succumbed to his grief and hid away in a shack on his property that used to house the field workers. It was the only thing left standing from the invasion.

Having seen more death in his lifetime than a thousand men deserve to see, revenge didn't enter his mind; more killing was not going to bring his family back.

As more and more soldiers returned home from the war front, word got to Joe's sister Charlotte that he was at the plantation. Upon her insistence, Joe spent the next several weeks convalescing with her and her children. They too, had suffered when she lost her husband very early in the war.

News came that land in the new state of Kansas was being offered up for homesteading, and Joe made the difficult decision to leave his sister and head west.

When he arrived, Joe stumbled upon a makeshift settlement that was commonly referred to as No Name, Kansas. The folks that had settled there were war-weary and wanted as much distance as possible between them and where they came from. It became the one place where the North and the South no longer existed.

It didn't take long before the population of No Name grew to the point that made Joe extremely uncomfortable. He traded off most of his belongings for food and ammunition and kept only the bare necessities. He hung on to a few cooking utensils, his bedroll, a canvas tarp, his rifle, and service pistol, but the most important thing of all was his trusty old mule, Buck. Joe said his goodbyes to the friends he made and headed farther west.

* * *

One fateful morning, while bathing in the ice-cold river that cascaded down a steep mountainside, Joe was startled by a big old grizzly bear who was foraging for his breakfast. The bear decided that Joe looked like a promising meal and lunged at him. The bear's razor-sharp claws swept across Joe's chest, cutting his flesh through to the bone. He stumbled backward into the river; his blood turning the water crimson red. The bear, standing at well over seven feet tall on his hind legs, continued to lunge at Joe.

Buck was tied up among the shade trees along the riverbank. He was as sturdy and muscular as a mule can be, and at fifteen hands high, he was as big as a standard horse. Buck nervously snorted as the bear's loud snarl echoed across the water. When Joe let out yet another blood-curdling scream, Buck broke free and charged through the brush, and headed straight for the bear. That old grizzly bear was no match for Buck's fast-kicking hooves and was soon trampled to death.

A hunting party of Ute natives overheard the commotion and raced to the river. When they arrived at Joe's side and found him still alive, they wrapped him in blankets and took him, Buck, and the bear back to their village.

Joe hadn't been injured as badly during four years of warfare as he had been by one grizzly bear. The tribe's shaman performed his healing rituals over Joe while the women of the village tended to his physical wounds. It was weeks before he was well enough to venture outside of the teepee.

The huge bear was a blessing to the village. The abundance of meat from its carcass provided food for everyone, and the women turned the hide into clothing in preparation for the upcoming cold season.

* * *

The Utes had come into possession of rifles and ammunition, receiving them in trade from the wagon trains passing through their lands, however, their poor marksmanship rendered the weapons useless, and they continued to hunt with the more familiar bow and arrow.

Early one morning when the men of the tribe had left to go out hunting, Joe spied one of the young Indian boys attempting his hand at firing one of the rifles.

Joe watched as he took aim. Not a single shot hit the target. Joe approached the youngster and through a very primitive sign language offered to help.

When the boy acknowledged that he understood, he handed over the gun and watched intently as Joe hit the target dead center. Joe pointed to the sight on the gun and showed the boy how to line it up. With a firm pull of the trigger, his face lit up as he hit the target.

Thrilled by his success, the boy anxiously awaited the return of the hunting party so that he could show his father what he had learned. Joe, unaware of who the boy's father was, was taken by surprise when the Chief stood witness to what had been accomplished. The boy showed his father what he had been taught, and the Chief hit the target on his very first try. One by one the Chief relayed instructions to the rest of the warriors on how to sight the rifle. It didn't take long before they were all quite proficient at shooting. Joe earned much praise from the Chief for what he had done, and as soon as he was better, he was allowed to go along with the hunting parties.

It was several more weeks before Joe had fully regained his health, and winter was starting to show its ugly face. Chief Longbow, gracious for everything that Joe had contributed to the tribe, invited him to stay with them until spring. Throughout the winter, Joe became very adept at the seasonal hunting and survival techniques taught to him by the Ute warriors.

Amazed by how well Joe had adapted to their lifestyle, the Utes made him their blood brother and gave him the name Bear Claw, thereby creating an unbreakable bond between them.

When the snow melted and spring began to bloom, Joe, who had become well respected by members of the tribe, was allowed to continue to live amongst the Utes, but his internal desire to be on his own prevailed. Now proficient in the Ute's native tongue, Joe thanked his blood brothers and sisters for all they had done for him, and with the Chief's blessing, headed into the mountains.

* * *

With no breeze stirring the trees, no birds singing, and no crickets chirping, the morning was suspiciously quiet. The only sound came from Joe's feet as he crunched his way through the woods. He was hungry and looking to find a young rabbit or maybe a grouse, but they were eerily absent.

The hairs standing up on the back of his neck was Joe's sixth sense warning him that something was amiss. He stood perfectly still and listened; he heard nothing. He surveyed the overgrown forest floor for any kind of movement; he saw nothing.

Joe became overwhelmed with the sensation that he was being watched. He suspiciously tilted his head back, as his eyes scanned the foliage in the trees above. There it was. High up on a limb staring down at him was a young cougar. Joe feared that he just might be on the mountain lion's dinner menu. He knew he was never going to outrun the beast. His only chance of survival was to try and fight him off. Loading his rifle was going to take too much time, so he reached for his bayonet, carefully slid it onto the barrel, and locked it in place.

The cougar's tail twitched just before he leaped from his perch. Watching the lion coming right at him claws first sent terrifying shivers down Joe's spine. With barely enough time to react, he raised his bayonet high into the air.

The weight of the cougar knocked Joe off his feet. The two of them lay on the ground side by side. Other than his heart feeling as if it was about to pound right out of his chest, and trying desperately to catch his breath, Joe escaped unhurt.

Blood oozed from the cougar's chest when Joe extracted the bayonet. He had to make sure the wound was fatal, so he poked at him with his rifle. The cougar didn't move. Joe was about to find out just how edible mountain lions are. It wasn't exactly rabbit meat, but when you're hungry, almost anything will do.

* * *

Communities continued to spring up in the strangest of places as more and more people pushed westward. Joe, intent on being alone, moved higher into the mountains, only showing his face when he needed supplies.

He was a scary sight to most of the migrating population. In true mountain man style, Joe hadn't had a haircut or shaved his face since before he had lived with the Utes. Most of his clothing was made from skins of the animals he had harvested for food, and worst of all, he smelled like them too. He could clear a space at a bar just by walking in the joint. Even the grungiest cowpoke wouldn't stand by his side, and that was just fine by Joe.

Joe had also grown ornery enough to never back away from a confrontation. Once when frequenting a local establishment, a couple of the town's affluent men approached Joe about hiring his services to hunt down a man who had been terrorizing the town folk. They offered to compensate him with a year's worth of supplies if he would eliminate the possibility of that man ever entering their town again, by any means that he thought necessary.

Joe tracked him down, and after informing him of the town's demand, Joe found himself staring down the barrel of a Colt-45. Joe explained that he had a very sharp hunting knife in his coat pocket that he used for skinning hides, and threatened to use it on him unless he holstered his gun right then and there. When the man refused, Joe grabbed him by the wrist and squeezed it until the gun fell from his grip. With the hunting knife at his throat, Joe explained to the guy that the town was paying him to kill him, however, he would be willing to let him live for $200, with the understanding that he leave town and never return, or Joe would hunt him down and finish the job. That $200 bought Joe many more provisions.

* * *

When he would hear of ranchers being terrorized by wolves or mountain lions, Joe would hunt them down and present the carcasses to the ever-grateful ranchers, who paid him a bounty for the kill. He soon gained quite a reputation and would find messages, left for him along the trail, for his services.

Joe survived just fine high up in the mountains. The seasons came and went, and the only time Joe had contact with another human being was when he made a pilgrimage for supplies.

On one of those trips, Joe headed back to No Name. The town had become a populated city, something that no one ever wanted, but with the influx of easterners, it was inevitable.

A plume of black smoke in the distance grabbed Joe's attention, and he nudged old Buck in that direction. He came upon a young lad by the name of Seth Owens, who had just buried his folks.

The story was that Seth had finally stood up to the school bully, and the bully's father retaliated by killing Seth's parents and setting their cabin on fire.

Joe understood Seth's desire for revenge, but he also recognized how, at such a young age, any attempt by him to do so may have catastrophic results. He offered to take Seth into the mountains and teach him how to hunt and survive without the need for others. Then if he still felt the need to retaliate, Joe would not interfere.

* * *

Word reached Joe's ears about random killings in No Name, and after finding out the names of the victims and that no one had been apprehended for the killings, Joe knew that Seth had learned his lessons well.

Old Joe retreated into the mountains, but they too had been populated by more people than he was comfortable with, and he was forced to move farther north. Wishing that he could've been the last person on Earth, even one other human being had become too much for Joe to bear.

Word was that the United States had purchased the Alaskan Territory from Russia, and tales were being told of land there that no man had ever set foot on. Uncomfortable with the infusion of people where he was, Joe set off for the high north country. He followed the coastline through Canada and arrived near the end of the last few weeks of the Alaskan summer.

Joe found an area high up on a mountainside to his liking. With nothing but rocky cliffs above him and a cool stream running below, his view of nothing but treetops for miles was a comforting sight and already it felt like home.

Making a temporary shelter became a priority. As he was cutting pine limbs and clearing brush, he was visited by the largest elk he had ever laid eyes on. Joe stopped what he was doing and stood perfectly still while the elk walked right up to him, sniffing his scent with each step. When it was within arm's length of him, the elk snorted, then ran away, only to stop a short distance from him and let out a loud bugling sound. When it stopped, Joe attempted to echo that same sound, letting that elk know that he was there to stay.

Within a couple of days of settling in, disaster struck. He was approached by another human being, the exact thing that he was trying to avoid. A very weathered old man stood off in the distance, watching. He didn't approach, and when Joe moved in his direction, he vanished.

Upset that he wasn't alone in his new surroundings, Joe set out the next morning to see if he could find the old fellow. After a short hike up the mountainside, Joe saw what he thought looked like an opening to an old mine shaft. The soil was all packed down around the entrance, indicating a lot of foot traffic. He contemplated entering the shaft, but an eerie feeling told him not to. Behind him stood the old man he had seen the day before.

The old man spoke no English and didn't respond to Ute. Joe was able to finally communicate with him through sign language taught to him by a Paiute woman whom he met in the Nevada Territory. Joe learned that the old man had been living in the abandoned mine shaft after being shunned by his people. He had gotten too old and feeble to contribute to his tribe, so he was cast aside to die alone.

The old man pointed at Joe and then pointed at the entrance. He then took off his bow and arrow and handed them over. He removed his heavy outerwear, his hat, and his thick deerskin boots, and set them at Joe's feet. The old man put his hands together and bowed, then turned and slowly walked away into the woods. Joe didn't need to hear words to understand what he was witnessing.

The mineshaft turned out to be a godsend as winter came early. Joe stocked up on grasses for Buck, who became very comfortable in the mine when the temperatures dropped below zero outside.

Maneuvering through the heavy snow made hunting difficult, but the snow also helped to preserve the meat. Joe was able to sustain himself by rationing the lone deer he was able to bag. There were plenty of timbers in the old shaft for firewood and he made drinking water from melting the snow.

As winter progressed, Joe relied on what he had learned from the Utes, and between rabbits, and an occasional fox, he had plenty of meat, and he found winter berries by watching the birds that had remained in the area.

Come springtime, the world came alive again. Hibernation was over, the leaves turned green, the snows melted and fed the streams which were stocked full of fish. Heaven had been reborn. This was what Joe had always imagined and had longed for.

It all seemed too good to be true. But as life would have it, Joe's Eden unraveled. Gold was discovered in the far reaches of the Alaskan wilderness and soon there were wannabe prospectors everywhere you could see, trampling over Mother Earth with no consideration for anything but their greedy selves.

Feeling as though his personal space had been invaded, Joe headed as far away from the chaos as his feet and Buck would take him. Although Joe was never seen again, the local folklore indicates that Joe and Buck are still wandering around Alaska to this very day, avoiding the rest of us.

The End

Phillip R. Eaton is an author from Western New York. He has been featured in Frontier Tales Magazine. He has published two non-fiction historical novellas: Col. Frank N. Wicker, from Lockport to Alaska and Beyond, and My Civil War Uncles, and the fiction mystery novella, Living Here Still. He also writes fictional short stories, exploring sci-fi, westerns, sports, and some romantic fantasies.

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