January, 2024

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Issue #172

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!

Hunting Liberty
by Alexander Edmondson
Johnnie Leaden finds himself in the Rocky Mountains, searching for his brother's killer, Liberty Callum. Can he and his new friend, Bill, uncover exactly who Liberty really is?

* * *

The Bisbee Giant
by George Hirvela
The mine foreman called on him to meet me, and as he stepped into the light, my good steady mare wanted nothing to do with that situation and was so flustered I had to slide off and pull her head to my face and tell her to relax.

* * *

When You Have Everything . . . 
by John Porter
A man who has everything wants a poor rancher's land, and he's willing to do anything to get it.

* * *

The Ranger with the Big Gun
by Tom Hale
Comanche Bill had the town of McAllen, Texas, in his outlaw grip until a Texas Ranger rides into town one day to bring justice. But will the young Ranger be a match for the deadly outlaw?

* * *

by C.E. Williamson
Leviticus Lowe, a young Bostonian heads west in search of a mysterious treasure, but he is shot and left for dead by his foreman. Can Leviticus survive blistering heat, grievous wounds, and vivid hallucinations in order to hunt down his attacker and reclaim the lost treasure.

* * *

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

All the Tales

Hunting Liberty
by Alexander Edmondson

The mountain air was still in March, and as he rode along the winding trail, he kept a close eye on the marks in the snow. It was near impossible to tell where the path was or wasn't without them. The firs and pines stuck from the ground like the hairs off an old man, leading to bald summits with smooth white caps. Some of the mountain rims looked like the creases and folds of a loose sleeve, and it seemed that he was riding down the arm and into the hand of an iron grip. He leaned forward, urging his horse every second to ride faster. He was yearning for their arrival at the next town—Cessation.

As he rode, he found a figure down the distant slope, just walking ahead of the trees lining the road. "Hya!" he shouted, urging his horse once more into a tiring run that it so desperately didn't want but that he so desperately needed. The man held the reigns with one hand and clutched his revolver with the other. He slowed his steed as he approached the man, wrapped in a fur coat. The figure waved, and once he was in earshot, he shouted, "Slow down! Slow down!"

The traveler pulled his horse to a stop, and the animal panted and drooled as its head hung low. "Your horse looks tired," said the man in an American accent. He was a big man with gray hair on his chin and brown hairs that wrapped around his cheeks. His hair was greasy with pomade—slicked back with no part.

The man's attention was altogether diverted from the horse when he heard the click of a hammer, and he pulled his gaze to the barrel of a gun pointed right between his eyes. The man knew all too well to stay still and slowly move his hands high above his head.

"What's your name?" said the traveler.

He gulped. "Monroe," said the man. "William Monroe. Call me Bill if you'd like."

The traveler paused and put the gun back in his holster. "Where'd you come from?"

"Durango, sir," said Bill. "But I just came from Meyers this morning, looking for a place to build my hunting cabin. My Quarter Horse was spooked and rode off somewhere I can't find him."

The traveler looked down at him, his dusty and tired face showing no emotion, and then looked on at the road ahead. "Seen anyone else?" asked the traveler. "Especially any nasty folk."

"There was someone about an hour ago who wouldn't glance at me—rode with a Shire. I shouted at him to stop, and he didn't take two looks. I'd reckon he's either deaf or a no-gooder. I shouted, 'Why won't you stop for me, Shireman!'"

"What'd he look like?" asked the traveler.

"He had a mean look about him. You can tell those things about people by their looks—if they're good or bad. He was definitely a bad one."

"Did he have a pair of golden spurs?" asked the traveler.

Bill paused, but then he started nodding his head anxiously and saying, "Yes, yes, I think he did. I remember they were strange because I've seen nobody with such a wild choice of fashion."

The traveler paused. "That's him, alright."

"Who?" asked Bill. But Bill quickly stopped the traveler from saying anything else and asked again, "Could you take me to Cessation? My family's there, and I'd rather go there than back to Meyers."

"Sure," said the traveler. "Get on."

* * *

The horse's trot was slowed, and it became even more tired on the trail. Bill rubbed his hands together, saying, "I'm very, very thankful for this kindness, sir. You'd better let your Morgan eat and sleep in Cessation. It looks pretty tired. It's a Morgan, right?"

The traveler nodded his head.

"Oh my goodness!" Bill said, shaking his head and patting the traveler on his back, "I never got your name, sir."

"Johnnie Leaden," he responded. "Johnnie's fine, then."

Bill seemed to never have a content expression. He always shook his head nervously and had his mouth cracked open. "Where you from, Mr. Leaden? You sound like you're from the South, I'd reckon. Not Louisiana for sure, but somewhere south."

"Eden, Texas," said Johnnie.

"Texas! God, that would've been my first guess if we were guessing. Why's a Texan all the way out here in the Rockies with nothing but a horse and iron?"

"Is it your business?" said Johnnie.

"No, I suppose not. Well, maybe it is. I want to know who's taking me to town, especially if they're being chased by the law. It'd look real rotten for me to be on the horse of a criminal when the sheriff shows up."

"Your fine," said Johnnie, still talking in a monotonous and tired-like fashion. "I'm looking for someone."

"Ah, I see," said Bill. After a few moments of silence, he continued, "Well, you've hooked me, Mr. Leaden. I got to know who this fella is, you're finding."

Johnnie murmured, made tired noises a tired man would make, and said, "Ever heard of a man named Liberty Callum?"

"No, I don't reckon I have. What'd he do to you?" Then Bill threw his hands in the air and shouted, "Oh! I know! You're a bounty hunter, ain't ya? This fella's got a big bounty on his head, doesn't he? Is he the fella who robbed that train in Reno?"

Johnnie was silent for a moment and said, "Nope, haven't seen a bounty yet."

"Huh, then why are you chasing him?"

Johnnie was once again silent, but then he spouted, accentuating each word, "He killed my brother. Kindest man you'd ever meet. That son of a bitch killed my brother, and he's going to get what's coming to him." His hand went to the grip of his pistol, and Bill could hear (and see) his breath. He was steaming mad.

Now Bill was silent, and his mouth was as wide open as ever, gawking at the angry man. Johnnie looked back at Bill, his belt and buttons shaking, and then looked back at the road. "Sorry," said Johnnie. "Always a burden to hear another man's troubles."

"No, no, no," Bill responded quickly. "Don't be like that, Mr. Leaden. Hell, I tell my troubles too much. You ought to tell 'em. It's only human."

Johnnie was quiet but, in a hesitant fashion, said, "Oh, alright. It isn't too much to explain. My brother came back from his first cattle drive and had a good stash of money. He went to the store to buy my daddy and me some tobacco. I went from the watering hole to go find him, and in front of the general store, I saw my dead brother with a man standing over him. I've been hot on his heels ever since—and those damn spurs of his."

"Damn!" shouted back Bill. "What a tale! How'd you learn his name?"

"An old timer told me. He was old and tiresome and burdened by worries. He said he had been chasing Liberty Callum, that he was hot on his heels, and that he was the meanest son of a bitch in Columbia. He said he was the refuse of Hell and that Satan himself threw him out."

"Damn!" shouted Bill again. "This sounds like something my Paw would tell me! Mr. Leaden, you think you're going to get him today?"

"I can only hope," said Johnnie. "I've seen him once after the incident in Eden when he was struggling with those spurs of his after killing a man in Phoenix."

"What'd he look like?" said Bill with his mouth gaping.

"Like the meanest son of a bitch in America," he responded, his teeth gritting like a grindstone. "The refuse of Hell. The shit that Satan didn't even want. Stretched from ear to ear was spotted bristle, and his face was loosely bespeckled. He was calm and collected, chewing on a toothpick when he saw me. Took him half a second to pull his iron, and he missed the hairs on my head by an inch when I saw the bullet in my hat later that night."

"What happened to him?"

"Absconded as quickly as he drew."

"Well, you oughta find him today," said Bill. "It's that kind of day—I can tell—the day to get revenge on—" Bill's words trailed off into a winter silence that only the wind filled.

Johnnie had seen what he'd seen, furrowing his brow and pulling his revolver out. "Do you have an iron, Bill?" he asked.

"No, my Paw said killing's for God and the devil. Though, this fella seems to be asking for it. I have a tomahawk, though. An Injun fella gave it to me. A cayuse horse he was riding," Bill smiled as he said that and shuffled through his big fur coat, trying to find the thing.

"That'll do." Johnnie whipped the horse. "Hya!" The beast released a howling yelp and lifted itself from the ground. Bill had to grip his hat as he held onto the saddle. Then the beast galloped down a fork in the road—not to Cessation—but to a pillar of awful smoke that the deep woods emitted. It reminded Johnnie of the pillar of smoke he saw in a town called Blythe. It was Liberty—burning folks.

Johnnie imagined seeing that bastard Liberty. He imagined pressing the heel of his boot against his dry and weary palms. He imagined resting his iron between the two eyes of Liberty. He imagined asking the rotten fool if he remembered his brother and if he remembered shooting him in the back and stealing his money. Johnnie imagined taking the tobacco his brother had bought—shoving it in Liberty's mouth with his black teeth uselessly chewing on it as it slid down his throat and choked him.

* * *

The trees stood straight like they were at gunpoint, and they barely blocked the campsite that the smoke billowed from. Bill and Johnnie were as quiet as mountain predators, taking each careful step into consideration as they scanned each break in the tree line for the dreadful figure of Liberty Callum.

They saw him standing in the shade, with his back turned to them. Fifteen feet from the devil, they stood in the protection of the trees. Johnnie held his revolver up, pulling back the hammer as he turned the corner to the camp. He sprinted, with Bill following, anxious and surprised-like, with his tomahawk in hand.

"Liberty! It's time for you to die, Liberty!" Johnnie shouted, shooting at the shoes of the man at camp. He shot thrice, his arm jolting with each pull of the trigger. The campfire reflected into his eyes, and the man turned around to see his rage.

"Remember me, Shireman!" shouted Bill as Johnnie shot the ground, missing the man's feet.

"God dammit, kid!" shouted another on a horse who was out of sight. He pulled back the hammer of his shotgun. "Hold it right there."

The man twitched in a frightened and all-around terrified motion, facing Johnnie with his hands high in the air. Johnnie turned to the man with the shotgun. He was an old folk with a star pinned to his chest. "Who are you?" questioned the old sheriff. "What are you doing out here?"

"Trying to find this one!" shouted Johnnie, sounding more like Bill than anyone else. "Liberty Callum!"

"Liberty Callum is horse shit," said a goateed deputy who was standing behind the criminal. "Just a load of horse shit."

The sheriff lowered his shotgun and dismounted, looking at the deputy with a wise air about him. "Now, now," he went on, "don't be so rash, Millet. What do you know about this Liberty guy? I've never heard of him before."

"This is him!" Johnnie interrupted, pointing his pistol at the man with the golden spurs. "He killed my brother in Eden, Texas! Remember!"

"I ain't never been to Texas," said the man with the golden spurs. "Honest, I swear. That train was the first crime I've ever done!"

"Liberty Callum's what old folks tell to get pity," said the deputy to the sheriff, holding his rifle to the ground as his alert and angry eyes darted back and forth. "I heard it from a coot in Pheonix. Knew it was horse shit the moment I heard it."

The sheriff looked up, contemplating, "Is that the one who only kills wives or the one who Satan sent out of hell?"

"The second one," said the deputy.

"Yeah, yeah, 'meanest son of a bitch, ' right?" asked the sheriff.

"Right again."

"Yeah, buddy, that's just tall talk. Liberty Callum isn't real," said the sheriff. "Now, are you ready for the court?"

"Naw, send me to jail, please. I don't wanna get the noose."

"You killed a man," said the sheriff. "I'm sorry, but that's the way."

"Wait, wait, I know this is Liberty," interjected Johnnie. "Liberty has those same golden spurs, and I've seen them before twice—once in Eden and the other in Phoenix."

"I ain't ever been to Phoenix either!" said the man, who was cleanly shaven and more distressed than anyone else.

"Now, wait," said the sheriff. "You said your brother's murderer had these same spurs, and you saw them again in Phoenix?"

Johnnie nodded.

The sheriff looked up again in contemplation. "Well, I'm thinking," he said. "If you shot someone dead, wouldn't you take their valuables, especially if you were robbing them?"

"Yessum, yessum," cried the criminal. "I saw these on a drunk man in Meyers and slipped them off him. That's how I have 'em. I've had 'em since yesterday."

"Liar!" shouted Johnnie as he shot once more at the ground where the criminal stood.

"Will I have to take that pistol away?" shouted the sheriff angrily. "Please, sir, control yourself! What I see here is a sad spout of mourning. The man who killed your brother in Eden was shot somewhere west, and then his spurs were stolen, and that man went west. The spurs were stolen again, where you saw then in Phoenix, no doubt, and the spurs went west once more, or twice, or thrice, or however many times to here. They've been nothing but a burden to the poor fools who've had them.

"Now, mister, I suggest you reach Cessation and sleep. Maybe your friend can help you with that. I also suggest that you stop this Liberty nonsense. This man is not Liberty, and neither was the man who killed your brother. He might've not existed anyhow. Go along, mister, because there are better things to spend your time on."

The sheriff mounted his horse and tipped his hat, moving along with the criminal behind him and the deputy following. "Here, crazy," said the criminal, kicking the spurs to the side. "Keep 'em. They won't help me."

The deputy walked past. "The frontier hasn't helped you, has it? That's the frontier for you." Then they all trotted away, leaving Johnnie and Bill in their dust.

"What are you going to do now?" asked Bill, with his lips barely touching.

Johnnie was trembling and stayed silent.

"You're always welcome to stay with me and my folks. We might not have much, but you'll be welcomed with open arms and cornbread."

Johnnie sat down on the ground in front of a smoldering fire that had but faint glowing sparks. Gazing at the golden spurs, he took a tin of old chewing tobacco out of his coat and put a slip in his mouth. It tasted worst than ever, but at least it was something to occupy his mind.

The End

My name is Alexander Edmondson. I'm a historical fiction writer living in the Southwest. All I want to do is write entertaining fiction that'll make people happy.

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