August, 2022

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Issue #155

Welcome, Western Fans!

Looking for free, tantalizing Tales of the Old West?
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Read this month's Tales and vote for your favorite.
They'll appear in upcoming print volumes of The Best of Frontier Tales Anthologies!

Seeking Justice
by Ralph S. Souders
Webb Cranston is determined to find the outlaw who murdered his father. He searches for years until a lucky break helps him to identify the killer and the town where he lives. One way or another, he must bring the criminal to justice—or die trying.

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Some Days Are Just Worse Than Others
by Sumner Wilson
Big Ed Smiley, the biggest man in the county, felt he could do anything he wanted and get away with it. But when he plucked the fifteen-year-old Benson girl off the street and hauled her out to his ranch as a personal toy, he made an even bigger mistake.

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Emma's Decision
by Mike Jackson
Daniel is being taken by a US Marshal to stand trial in Texas for a crime he didn't commit. Emma, another passenger, is convinced Daniel is innocent. Can he escape from injustice while staring into the two dark holes of a double-barreled shotgun?

* * *

Bad Blood
by Robert Gilbert
On Marshal Brothers' morning walk, the blacksmith mentions two troublesome ruffians. The ruffians are found and thrown out of town. The family arrives and settles in, but the ruffians return. Family bad blood erupts and the law must takes over.

* * *

A Favor Returned
by William S. Hubbartt
Teamster Clint Carrigan is delivering goods through territory controlled by Jicarrilla Apaches. There he encounters a Puebloan maiden who fears for her life. But during a deadly battle, the maiden disappears. Will they ever cross paths again?

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The Last Man Out of the Alamo
by B. Craig Grafton
The last man out of the Alamo wasn't a man. He was a boy.

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All the Tales

A Favor Returned
by William S. Hubbartt

At the Henderson Freight building in Santa Fe, Jeremiah Putnam had nearly finished loading a wagon and was making minor adjustments to secure the load. The fifty-year-old Putnam, woolly and whiskered in appearance, was now glistening with sweat on muscled arms, and buffalo-like shoulders from loading the heavy items into the wagon.

"Ready, Putnam? We got one stop before we get on the road, over at La Tienda. This trip is an exchange of merchandise with a merchant up in Taos," said the lean twenty-five year old Clint Carrigan as he walked into the freight-yard from his earlier stop at the cantina.

A few minutes later in front of La Tienda, merchant Hiram Bowersox stood on the boardwalk in front of his store as the teamsters made final adjustments to the load and covered it with canvas. "Which route you taking up to Taos? I hear-tell that the Jicarillas are stirring up trouble. Travelers tell of depredations up along the river route last few days."

"Well then, maybe we'll take the high desert route." Clint glanced at Putnam who nodded in agreement. He clicked his tongue and snapped the reins to get the horses started.

The scattered ranchos and haciendas faded into the distance behind as the wagon pulled along north of town. An occasional mourning dove cooed from the sparse trees and meadowlarks flitted between the bushes in search of food. Occasionally a Puebloan on horseback passed going southward.

"Boss, what do you know about these Apaches?" asked Putnam, as grey clouds drifted across the skies. Instinctively, Clint scanned the horizon from right to left checking for signs of hostiles. He had dealt with the Kiowa while crossing the trail between Independence and Santa Fe. A Paterson Colt hung on his hip, and a Hawken rifle was propped against the bench seat next to his left leg. A small box of ammunition lay down by his feet.

"Most of what I know about the Apaches was from hear-tell in the cantinas. They're tricky, mean cusses who thrive in the desert. Different tribes hereabout. There's Chiricahuas, Mescaleros, and the Jicarillas. Don't seem like they get along even amongst themselves.

"But, they're all Apache. They all talk the same, right?"

"No. Different dialects, they say though, they do get along OK with the Puebloans. Well, the fellers that been here a while say that the Jicarilla are the ones that claim this area. They're treacherous and cruel."

"Mebby that's why they been attacking the white folk, eh? They want the goods from the settlers."

"Yeh, that and they say that, according to Jicarillas' beliefs, the Taos area where we're headed is the heart of the world."

* * *

As men often do on long trips, Putnam sat silently, his body rocking to the motion of the wagon as he considered Clint's remarks. Sometimes, ten or fifteen minutes or more may pass between the parts of a conversation. "So, this is Apache homeland where we're going? Ain't it kinda like kicking a sleeping dog?"

Some time passed as Clint's eyes scanned the horizon ahead and both sides as he considered his reply. "That's why we carry the armament and took the high road to stay away from the reports of problems along the river route. Besides, Taos is a settled town The Mex people settled there years ago, there's a mission there."

The trail rose upward with a long curving pathway that caused the draft horses to breathe hard even while Clint slowed their pace to a walk.

Soon, the shadows grew long as the sun dropped behind the mountains to the west. The temperature was dropping as quickly as the sun. They came upon the mission at Las Trampas called San Jose de Garcia.

The next day was slow due to the steep upward travel into the heavily forested area of pinyon pines and junipers. Nearby rose a stone mountain, its lower levels tree-covered and capped off with snow called Jicarita Peak. In the shadows of this peak, the teamsters came upon an ancient village called Picuris Pueblo. It was an area that included a small Spanish settlement of Nuevo Mexicanos who tended to flocks of churro sheep alongside the native culture of Puebloans.

As they reached the settlement by early afternoon, Clint determined that it was best to stop and rest the animals after the arduous climb. Clint wiped down the horses and sent Putnam to forage for some wood to build a small fire. Moments later, Putnam returned with an arm full of dead-fall limbs, his eyes wide with excitement.

"Clint, back in the trees, I found a large stone etched with writing. No words that I understand. What do you suppose it is?"

Clint picked up his Hawken as they walked away from the camp into the nearby woods. He glanced around, then spoke in a low voice, barely over a whisper. "I heard talk about this in the cantina. It's the first one I've seen. Oldtimers say it's a rock shrine. The Apache use a large boulder-like this to make etchings about the Jicarilla creation beliefs."

Breakfast was done and the animals were hitched to the wagon as the morning sky greyed and yellow streaks brightened the eastern peaks. As Clint made a final check of the hitches, the horses' ears twitched, one snorted, and the animals suddenly became edgy. From the nearby woods, there was a rustling followed by the crack of a broken twig. Clint heard a squeal, like a critter in distress.

A Puebloan girl, nearly grown, maybe thirteen or fourteen years, wearing a deerskin dress, ran from the forest towards the smoldering fire, crying excitably in her native language. Her words sounded like gibberish to Clint, who was unfamiliar with the Northern Tiwa language of the Picuris Puebloans. But, the excited pitch and tone of her words, with wide-eyed terror clearly conveyed a fear for her life.

"What happened? Do you speak Spanish," Clint asked in Spanish?

Terrified, the girl ran into Clint's arms looking anxiously over her shoulder.

"They're after me. They're going to kill me!" She replied in Spanish, her voice shrill, her body trembling.

Clint pulled the Colt from its holster and quickly led the girl towards cover behind the wagon. His alert eyes scanned the nearby forest, then up and down the two-track pathway that led them to Taos, and then back towards the Picuris Pueblo. The wildlife did not perceive a threat.

Tugging at his britches, Putnam stepped out from the trees where the remnants of the breakfast fire were but a fading trail of smoke. "What you got there, Clint? Who's your friend?"

The girl trembled at the sight of another man.

"It's OK. He's a friend," said Clint as he holstered the Colt and turned towards his companion. "This here young lady come running from the woods saying somebody was trying to kill her. But there's nobody around."

After a few more questions in Spanish, it was determined that the girl would accompany the men to Taos. A few moments later, the wagon was rumbling up the road on its final leg to their destination in the northern valley. Ever mindful of the Apache threat, Clint kept the Hawken rifle between his legs and holster loop off the Colt on his hip. The two-track roadway wended through the forest and began a gradual descent.

Cautiously, Clint periodically checked their back trail and glanced down at the Puebloan maiden who had settled on the canvas that covered the goods in the back of the wagon. An attractive woman-child showing curves blossoming into a woman, her shiny black hair waved in the breezes and she rolled slightly as the wagon bounced over ruts in the hardpan roadway. The tanned leather pull-over dress with decorative beads fit her loosely and her breasts jiggled with the bumps of the ride. Her copper-colored complexion gave off a natural youthful shine to her face and a creaminess to her arms and thighs.

The feminine scent of her soft body flashed through Clint's mind from her fearful embrace moments earlier. He felt himself wondering what it would be like to hold her, to kiss her tender brown lips. The wagon bounced over a loose stone in the roadway breaking the reverie.

"Who is chasing you?" Clint asked as their eyes met briefly.

The young Puebloan glanced over her shoulder before responding. Her eyes grew wide in fear. "The Jicarilla's. They try to kill me."

"But, why?"

The girl cowered in response.

To the right, a couple of birds flushed from a stand of trees. Was there movement back there? Clint thought he caught a glimpse of a copper-skinned native running parallel to the roadway a hundred yards or more away. His skin prickled in response.

The wagon rounded a curve in the road and came upon a grayed deadfall timber across the roadway, swallowed by a receding dust cloud. The log blocked the roadway, leaving only a steep dried creek bed which likely would cause the heavily top-loaded wagon to tip if an attempt was made to pass the obstacle. Putnam pulled back on the reins to stop the rig.

An arrow thumped into the side of the rig near where the girl was curled into a dip of the canvas. She squealed in fright and stretched out flat to lessen her exposure as a target. Putnam fired the Hawken into the trees from where the arrow had come.

"Save your shots until you have a target," called Clint. "Get under the wagon, behind the wheels." The three travelers scrambled down seeking the paltry protection provided by the wood-spoke wheels. From somewhere in the trees behind their position there was a yelp, and as they turned to check their rear, an arrow thumped into the side of the wagon and another sailed through the wheel spokes and caught Putnam in the thigh causing a yelp.

"Not bad, not bad," grunted Putnam as he pulled at the arrow that had cut his trousers and left a deep bleeding scratch on his left thigh. "I can tie it off with a bandana."

"How many? Two, three, four? Got us from both sides," called Clint. Then he saw movement in the trees and fired the Colt. The reply was a taunting whoop and another arrow bounced off a wheel spoke. From somewhere behind, horse hooves pounded the ground, causing the huddled defenders to turn to the rear. A painted pony came at a hard gallop, its rider hugging the animal's neck giving no target. The hooves thundered, closer and closer. Clint turned his pistol looking for a shot.

Suddenly, the warrior dropped from his horse, reaching under the box grabbing the maiden, catching her ankle, and dragging her out from under the shelter. She squealed in fear, trying to kick her attacker. Clint's shot missed. Without thinking, Clint crawled after the girl trying to reach her extended hand. She struggled to break free, delaying the warrior's escape.

Clint pulled his knife and leaped onto the warrior, breaking his hold on the girl. The muscled warrior, younger than Clint, reacted quickly, clawing at Clint's face, drawing blood that ran into his eyes. Blinded, Clint swung the knife into the sweating slippery arm muscles causing a grunt; blood oozed, but no release. Clint punched into the man's body while waving his knife, looking for contact. They tumbled and rolled, fists punching, legs kicking, now the warrior had a knife in hand.

Somewhere in the struggle, the image of the Puebloan maiden flashed through Clint's mind, her tender softness as she nestled into his arms trembling in fear of being caught by some unknown pursuers. Would this be the death of him because of a moment of weakness giving in to the pleadings of this woman-child momentarily in his arms?

The warrior was lithe and strong, his knife shined in the sun as the men now found their feet and moved in a tight circle, arms spread each with a knife in hand lunging, swiping. Clint had scored an angular slash in the man's stomach that oozed crimson, but the warrior had not weakened. His fast slashes were cutting Clint's hands and forearms, slicing thin cuts that reddened shirt sleeves with blood. The two-horse team snorted and stomped nervously at the nearby struggle and smell of blood.

The warrior's eyes glanced momentarily at the girl who had crawled back under the wagon wheel. Clint sought advantage and made his move, a jab to the warrior's midsection, but his boot stubbed on a boulder causing him to slip. The warrior reacted and Clint felt himself falling backward, his head banging into the hard soil as the mid-day sun blinded his vision. Instantly, the warrior was on top, his glistening knife inches away from Clint's eyes, his putrid breath and yellowed teeth grimacing into a smile of anticipated victory.

Clint's left arm struggled to hold the warrior's knife back as each man's muscles tensed and shivered in resistance. The teamster's legs kicked in reaction, his knee coming up swiftly to find softness in the warrior's groin causing a scream of pain with a release of arm tension. Clint's knife hand pulled free and sent the sharp blade just under the warrior's rib causing a gasp of surprise. The momentum of Clint's kneeing action sent the warrior flying over Clint's head, landing impaled onto a sharp stub of a branch sticking upright from the tree trunk blocking the road.

Clint ducked at the sound of a pistol shot and watched as another Apache warrior fell off the top of the wagon, causing the horses to give a human-like squeal, and pull at their harnesses. Putnam's pistol smoked and his lips curled into a smile. Clint found his pistol in its holster and drew it as he turned in a circle looking for other attackers. In the sudden silence, the high-pitched melodious twitter of a gray catbird pierced the trees from somewhere overhead.

"What's your name you pretty li'l thing?" asked Putnam as the girl mixed a poultice and patched his leg. She looked curiously at Putnam and then to Clint while she continued her work.

"What is your name?" Clint translated to Spanish. After all, they had been through together, it seemed fitting to know the girl's name.

The girl kept her eyes down focusing on the task at hand, her face flushing. Finally, she spoke in barely a whisper. "My name is Lomasi. It means pretty flower."

"My name is Clint," he said in reply. "My friend is called Putnam."

The travelers remained on high alert for the remainder of the trip down the mountainside. There were many places from which the angered Apaches could stage an ambush. The landscape changed from pine forests to a mix of conifer and aspen forests, to semi-desert shrub lands and sagebrush. By late afternoon, the wagon rolled into Taos.

By the time they had reached Taos and stopped at the trading post, the Puebloan maiden had jumped from the wagon unnoticed and disappeared somewhere between the Pueblo and the town center. Merchandise was unloaded and traded for needed items.

Clint talked with Taos merchant Guillermo Chavez describing the Puebloan maiden and her fear of being stalked, followed by the attack by the Apaches.

Merchant Chavez reasoned, "The young girl, she is Puebloan, No? And the attackers were Apaches? Likely she has caught the eye of an Apache brave, but the Apaches don't want their blood mixed with a Puebloan. And two died in pursuit of the girl."

Chavez paused and a twinkle came to his eyes, "Somewhere out there is an Apache brave searching for his amor for a sunrise ceremony. He too is likely in danger. You were lucky, my amigos."

* * *

The freighters were on the road southward towards Santa Fe before the sun broke over the mountains to the east.

The team was hitched as the morning shadows from the canyon wall began to recede. With a click of the tongue and a shake of the reins, the wagon started rolling down to the southward trail.

Its ears twitched and the lead horse snorted. There was the pop of a gunshot and Clint's broad-brimmed hat flew from his head back into the wagon box. Clint and Putnam both ducked, drawing pistols and looking around to their respective sides. A second shot thumped into the side of the wagon and the horses bolted. Putnam let the animals run to put distance between the attacker and the rig.

"Movement to the right. There!" Clint's Colt sighted on a target in the brush and he returned fire.

Now Putnam struggled to control the team as the wagon bounced over the rough rocky trail. The jolting ride caused the canvas cover to come loose; merchandise began bouncing around and falling onto the trail.

"Hang onto the team," Clint shouted over his shoulder.

There was an Apache cat-call from a canyon ridge above. A warrior appeared momentarily, launching an arrow into the brush where the bushwhacker had shot from. From the yelp of pain, it was obvious that the arrow had found its' mark. A man fled up a dry-wash creek bed, an arrow in his butt.

Putnam had pulled at the reins, turning the horses and bringing the rig to a stop. Then Clint saw an Apache warrior rise up from a cleft in the canyon wall. Next to him stood the Puebloan maiden, Lomasi. Her hands held up showing open palms in a sign of peace. She called out in Spanish.

"Don't shoot. He is my boyfriend."

"I recognized that bushwhacker. That was Seamus, one of the freighters who works for our competitor Murphy Freight," said Clint. He called out to Lomasi. "Does he have a wagon of goods around here?"

"There's a wagon there," replied Lomasi as she pointed down the trail.

Clint used a sign language for "thank you" to Lomasi. He chuckled to himself that she and her Apache boyfriend had returned the favor for saving the maiden's life a few days earlier.

The End

William S. Hubbartt is author of fiction and non-fiction books and short stories. This tale is an excerpt from his forthcoming western novel "Against Overwhelming Odds - A Clint Carrigan Adventure."

Link to author page on Amazon: William S. Hubbartt: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle

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