As Pete bent over to wash his hands in the stream, he heard the rifle shot which flew just over his head and slammed into the ground behind him. He dropped the fishing pole and ran to his left where there was a small rock outcropping, part of the same rock formation from which the water descended into the pond in which he had been fishing.
Before sunrise that morning, Pete's older brother, Rick, walked down to the barn. Pete had already saddled his horse, Copper, so named because of his reddish-brown color. Pete had a small pack he was tying onto the back of the saddle. Tied to the rifle scabbard were two sections of his bamboo fly fishing rod. Rick asked, "How long you going to be gone?"
Pete explained, "I'm a fixin' to be back late afternoon or early evening. The fishing hole I favor is only about six miles or so up Cherry Creek. Just below the rim. I'll fish until mid-afternoon and head back down this-a way."
Rick warned, "Keep your eyes open."
Pete smiled and said, "I'll be just fine, big brother. Don't you worry."
"I'm sure you will. But still, be careful," Rick answered. "Joey Two Guns is a rattlesnake. He's killed others before and twice now he has threatened to kill you."
As Pete rubbed Copper's forehead, he looked at Rick and said, "I'll keep my eyes peeled. I've got my rifle and my pistol. We agreed, we're not going to let him cause us to live a life of fear. So, I'm going fishing just as I had planned to do a few days ago, and I'm going to bring home a bunch of nice fat trout for supper."
Rick smiled and said, "You're right. Have fun. See you later today."
All packed, Pete put his left foot into the stirrup, and swung his body up onto the saddle, his right leg swinging over to the right. He pulled his hat down tight and said, "Tell Julie to get the frying pan ready because I'm bringing home supper."
"Sounds good," Rick answered as Pete rode off.
Once clearing the ranch, Pete trotted his horse up the trail for the first two miles. He then let Copper walk as the trail narrowed and made its way up the canyon along Cherry Creek. A few mule deer that had been drinking from the creek scattered as Pete approached. He stopped and watched as they made their way up through the trees and then disappeared over a ridge. He passed a small pond, created by a beaver's dam, that also served as its den. Adjacent to the pond, he spotted a bald eagle sitting on a branch high up in a Ponderosa Pine tree. Pete figured the eagle was watching the pond for a trout to rise toward the surface, providing an opportunity for the eagle to swoop down to snatch the trout in its powerful talons. Pete thought about just fishing right here in this pond, but he was enjoying the ride up the beautiful canyon along the side of the small creek.
Half an hour later, he heard the bugle of a bull elk, calling out to any challengers in the area. He thought it was a bit early for the rut to begin, since it was only the first week of September, but then he heard a very distant response bugle of another elk looking for a showdown.
At one pond, he saw a few mallards and pintails, occasionally going bottoms up as they fed from the bottom of the small pond, consuming a smorgasbord of algae, aquatic plants, insects, worms, slugs, tadpoles and small mollusks. He stopped and inspected some tracks, which he determined were probably that of a mountain lion, the tracks being not more than a day old. The big cat had no doubt come down to the creek for a refreshing drink. He checked his Winchester to be sure he had remembered to load it, and then slid it back into its scabbard.
Eventually, he reached his destination. There was a nice, small meadow across the creek. The water tumbled over a few small boulders into a wide pool through which the water slowly flowed. The few times he had fished it, he had never failed to catch a few trout in this spot.
He dismounted Copper and led him just below the pool to the other side of the creek. While crossing, he gave the horse a few minutes to lower its muzzle into the water for a much deserved drink. Once across the creek, he removed the pack, scabbard, blanket and saddle from the back of the horse. He tied the horse to a fallen log and grabbed a few carrots from his pack, which he fed to the horse. He also dropped a few apples on the ground for the horse to enjoy.
While the horse was consuming his treats, Pete unstrapped his fishing rod from the scabbard, connected the two halves, then found his fishing reel in his pack and connected it to the handle of his fishing rod. He fed the tippet, leader and line through the guides and pulled enough line through so that it would not slip back. He retrieved his small case of flies, selected his favorite, tied it to the tippet and walked over to the edge of the water. There he began to slowly work his line, working the rod back and forth from the ten o'clock to two o'clock position, while slowly letting out some additional line. Ultimately, he let the fly land softly on the water, near the top of the pond, and immediately began stripping line as it slowly floated toward the downstream end of the pond. When the fly had reached the downstream end of the pond, he repeated the process and again landed the fly just below the spot where the water tumbled into the pond. This time, it only took a moment to get his first strike. He quickly set the hook and began working the fish. He played it just a bit, letting it run back and forth along the other bank. He reeled in the line he had stripped, and then slowly began to reel in the fish. He enjoyed the five or six minutes it took him to land the feisty Apache Trout. He tossed it up on the shore behind him, checked to make sure the fly was in good shape, and then started the entire process over again.
Pete was happy. He loved the beauty of the meadow, the various trees, the stream, the wilderness in general. He looked up at the bright blue sky and the white, puffy clouds that were slowly making their way along the rim above him. As a child, he didn't always enjoy going to church, but his family did so faithfully. Once in a while the preacher would say something that caught his attention. On one such occasion, he wrote down the verse the preacher was discussing and spent the next few days committing it to memory. Moments like this brought to the forefront of his mind that verse. He whispered it now as he worked his fly rod, watching the fly drift across the pond: "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities— his eternal power and divine nature— have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. Romans chapter one, verse twenty."
He let out a sigh of contentment as he continued to strip line as the fly floated across the pond. Then the line tightened, the pole bent, he set the hook, and the fight was on! He immediately sensed that this trout was larger than the other. Eventually he caught sight of it as it made another run, pulling line from the reel as it went. It was indeed larger. He thought to himself, "This trout fights like it was sired by a bull!" In his experience, Apache Trout tended to be a bit more aggressive and larger than the other trout native to this area, the Gila Trout, but he was happy to catch either. The fish began to tire, and Pete brought it to the shore, holding the rod high in the air, pointing it behind him, he brought the fish to his feet, and grabbed it just behind the gills. He rarely used a net, and it may have cost him a fish or two over the years, but landing it by hand was part of the challenge. After removing the fly from the lip of the trout, he tossed it up onto the shore next to the first one he had caught. He then bent over to wash the fish slime from his hands. That is when he heard the rifle shot which flew just over his head and slammed into the ground behind him. He dropped the pole and ran to his left where there was a small rock outcropping, part of the same rock formation from which the water descended into the pond. Another shot ricocheted off the rocks as Pete ducked behind them. He looked at his horse, who was now about twenty-five yards away, head up, ears back, eyes wide open. He wished he had the Winchester that was still in the scabbard, leaning against the tree on the other side of the horse. It was too far to run for the rifle; no covering of any kind between him and the gun. He had his Colt 45 strapped to his hip and he'd have to make do with that. The individual with the rifle obviously had the advantage of accuracy from a greater distance. But Pete wasn't ready to concede the fight just yet.
He guessed that the shooter was using a Winchester Rifle that had a range of, with accuracy, up to one-hundred-fifty yards. Although his Colt had a range of just over one-hundred yards, it wasn't nearly as accurate from that distance. Pete had to figure out how to get within forty to fifty yards, without getting himself shot first. He figured he'd have about three seconds between shots, allowing the shooter the time to work the lever, take aim and then fire. However, if the shooter were shooting rapid fire, that is, shooting with the lever action instead of aiming and using the trigger, they could get shots off in just under one second. This method of shooting, however, was not nearly as accurate from long distance. Therefore, Pete figured on three seconds between shots.
Scanning the area around him, he saw a large boulder to his left, in the sand next to the creek. He was certain he could cover the distance in three seconds. He also liked the fact that it took him farther from his horse. The last thing he needed was for his horse to get shot, either directly or by ricochet. Now, how could he safely draw a shot from whoever that was up the hill? The hat trick was an old trick, he doubted that the shooter would fall for it. However, sometimes a guy would shoot at the hat, even though he figured it was empty, just to send a message of how good a shot he is. Therefore, Pete got set to make the quick dash to the large boulder, and after placing his hat on a short stick, he slowly raised just a small amount of the hat above the rock outcropping. The shooter took the bait. As soon as Pete heard the shot and felt the hat fly off the end of the stick, he dashed over to the large boulder, diving behind it and landing on the sand just before another shot ricocheted off the boulder.
"That guy is good," Pete thought to himself. He would have to change his plans accordingly. He had thought he might be able to work his way up the mountainside, going tree to tree. But having witnessed the accuracy of the shooter, he began to formulate another plan.
Step one of the new plan was patience. The large boulder provided ample protection. Settle down behind it and wait. Let the shooter deal with the anxiety of waiting. Let the tension build. Let the shooter's eyes grow weary as they watch intently for any movement behind the boulder.
Step two was listen. If the shooter grows impatient, he might try to sneak to a different vantage point. The shooter might even try to move far enough to one side or the other to be able to get a clear shot. However, every human makes noise when moving in the wilderness. It might be slight, barely perceptible, but it is there. The manmade sounds that, to most people, would blend in with the many sounds in the wild, sound slightly out of harmony to the ear trained by years of listening to the sounds of the wilderness. Pete had spent many years in the wilderness, listening, watching, learning. While he was growing up in Texas, his father had befriended Hawkalawa Masikee, or Hawk, as he preferred to be called, a Shawnee.
The Shawnees were a peaceful people who raised crops and hunted game. Hawk taught the boys a lot about hunting. Included in that education was the ability to hear things in the woods that most others would simply miss. Some of the sounds were easier to distinguish than others. They quickly learned how to tell the grunt of a black bear versus the grunt of an elk, the whining of a raccoon versus the moaning of a porcupine, the difference between the bark of a fox and the bark of a coyote, the screech of a red tail hawk as opposed to the sound of a barn owl when it chooses to screech rather than hoot. But there were other sounds that took longer to learn: How to differentiate the sound of a twig snapping under someone's foot versus the sound of a pinecone making a snapping sound as it hits a branch when falling from a tree. Or the difference between the sound of grass swaying in the wind versus the sound of someone's foot sliding slowly along the ground.
Many sounds were very subtle and took time to learn. It was those subtle sounds that Pete now listened for.
He also had one more trick up his sleeve: his horse, Copper. A cowboy's horse is oftentimes his best sentinel. Like most horses, Copper's senses were more highly developed and more nuanced than those of a human. As such, he was very much in tune with his surroundings. Any movement out of the ordinary caught his eye. If the horse sensed danger, his head would come up and his ears would perk up. Additionally, his ears would turn in the direction of any perceived danger. Therefore, Pete kept an eye on Copper as he waited to see what his would-be assailant would do.
He would implement step three of his plan in an hour or so. Let the stress build. Let the shooter wonder. Let the shooter grow impatient. Time was on Pete's side. He was in no hurry. His goal was to survive. The large boulder he hid behind provided the protection to survive. The shooter had an objective to achieve. The pressure was on his shoulders.
After working his plan over and over in his mind, and waiting for over an hour, Pete put his plan into action. He took off his shirt, and buttoned it up. He tied one sleeve into a knot, at the end, then filled that sleeve with sand, to make it look like there was an arm in it. He then tied the bottom of the shirt into a knot and also filled the shirt with sand. He pressed his body close to the boulder, intentionally made a scratching sound in the sand with his boot, and extended the elbow part of the shirt sleeve beyond the boulder and then quickly pulled it back in. He waited for a moment, as if waiting for a trout to take one of his lures. He then turned the shirt in such a way that he could extend the back of it beyond the edge of the boulder. No sooner had the shirt cleared the edge when a shot rang out. The bullet tore through the shirt, Pete cried out as he quickly pulled the shirt back and fell to the ground behind the safety of the boulder, out of sight from the shooter. He sat perfectly still and waited. After about ten minutes, he let out a long, low moan. He waited a few more minutes and coughed lightly. Then, sitting with his back to the boulder, holding his revolver in his hand, he waited. And listened.
For thirty minutes.
And then an hour.
And then an hour and a half.
And then, Copper's head came up. The horse looked up the slope. Then Copper looked over at Pete, and then looked back up the slope, as if to say, "Did you hear that?" Copper then went back to nibbling on some of the grass along the bank of the creek.
But Pete had been alerted. He continued to wait, listening intently to any manmade sound. After about ten minutes he heard it. It was a very subtle sound, barely noticeable, but he heard it. The sound of a boot that slid just a bit in the dirt. The shooter was coming down the hill. Slowly, meticulously, but he was coming. Pete smiled. The shooter had taken the bait. Now he just had to determine which side of the boulder the shooter would inch around. The shooter would not climb the boulder and come over the top. No, there was too much risk of making noise: a boot scuffing the hard surface, a pebble knocked loose and bouncing down the boulder, a slight amount of sand that could cause one to slip. The shooter would not take that chance. He would creep, as silently as he could, around one side of the boulder or the other. But which side would he choose? Pete would have to wait, and listen very attentively, to find out.
And so he sat, and waited, and listened, intently.
Copper lifted his head a time or two, but he couldn't tell Pete which side the shooter would choose. It would be up to Pete to react quicker than the shooter could step around the corner of the boulder, draw a bead on Pete, and pull the trigger. Pete stared straight ahead, listening like he'd never listened before. He reminded himself: Step one is patience, step two is listening. Two important lessons he had learned from his father's friend, Hawk.
The wait continued.
And then, the shooter made a mistake. A very small mistake, but a mistake nonetheless. A very small mistake, but a costly mistake. A very small mistake, but one that Pete heard. As the shooter stepped over a small log, just on the other side of the boulder Pete was behind, he bumped the butt of his rifle against his belt. It was a very light bump, one that the shooter didn't even realize, but it made a very slight sound. A sound that Pete heard. In spite of the noise of the water flowing a few feet away from him. In spite of the sound of the breeze rustling the leaves in the trees. It was a very subtle sound, but one that was out of harmony with the sounds of nature all around him. Pete heard a slight tap of the rifle on the belt. The sound came from his left. Pete slowly pointed his gun in that direction. Not more than two minutes passed before Pete saw the tip of the rifle and then the shooter peered around the corner to see if Pete was alive or dead. A second later, the shooter was the one who was dead. Without hesitation, Pete shot the shooter in the forehead, killing him before his body hit the ground.
Pete sat for a moment, staring at the shooter. He took a deep breath and then slowly let it out. He mumbled to himself, "Joey 'Two Guns' Johnson." After standing, he took a few steps to where the shooter lay, reached down, and picked up the shooter's Winchester. He worked the lever, ejecting all of the shells that were in the gun. Once emptied, he placed the gun on the shooters chest, then picked up all of the shells on the ground and put them in his pocket. He then removed the shooter's two pistols from their holsters and tucked them into his belt.
He went back to his hiding spot behind the rock. He shook all of the sand out of the shirt before putting it back on. He then went to the first rock he had hidden behind and picked up his hat. He placed his finger in the hole the bullet had made and mumbled to himself, "Nice shot Joey."
He walked over and picked up his fishing pole, dismantled it and walked over to his horse, Copper. He patted the neck of Copper, who, in turn, rubbed his nose against Pete's chest. Pete smiled, then placed the blanket and saddle on his horse. Once saddled, he rode Copper slowly up to the top of the ridge from where the shooter had been taking his shots at Pete. He found a fallen log that the shooter had hidden behind and from which he took his shoots. Pete saw three empty shell casings on the ground, which he left right where they were. As he looked around, he spotted the shooter's horse, tied to a tree about forty yards down the other side of the ridge. He rode down to it, without dismounting he reached down and untied the reins from the tree and then led the horse back to where the shooter's body lay. He allowed both horses to drink from the stream, then draped the body of the dead man over the back of his horse. He placed the shooter's rifle in its scabbard, which was still tied to the saddle. He placed the pistols into a small pack, which was tied to the back of the shooter's saddle.
He retrieved the trout he had caught, placed them in a small canvas bag, and tied them to the back of his saddle. He tied his fishing pole to his rifle scabbard, looked around to make sure he wasn't forgetting anything, took a drink from his canteen, refilled his canteen in the stream and swung up and into his saddle. Leading the other horse behind him, he made his way slowly back to the ranch.
* * *
This story is an excerpt from my book, Shootout at the Soaring Eagle Ranch. Self-published on Amazon.