Me, I just walked until I found another track closer to the trail and kept on going. I started singing ‘Amazing Grace’ as I rode along hoping to catch up before it was so dark I had a chance of missing her if she turned off.
“Who taught you to sing, cowboy?”
“My daddy’s star attraction,” was my answer.
“Got room on that horse for me?” She stood up right next to the trail not fifteen feet in front of me. The dog was at her side.
“Where’d the dog come from?”
“He’s been around off and on all day. Is he yours?”
I chuckled, “No. He belongs to him. No one is that dog’s master, unless he’s a hound from heaven and belongs to God.”
“Probably. Oh, it is good to see you up and about.”
“I’m feeling better, but I ain’t all the way there yet.” I stuck my hand out and down slightly, “Grab on and let’s get a bit further down the road before it is totally dark.”
She did and we loped along watching for something on our back trail and a place we could fort up and get some rest for the night. Just after it got really black, we crawled into a shallow cave. A rock wall about a third fallen, stretched across the mouth of the cave leaving an opening large enough for Solomon to get in. He refused the shelter and went out to dinner with the dog. The dog loved the place. I let her take the first watch at the rock wall to the front of the cave and I got some shuteye.
I awakened to a low growl from the dog. He was looking back up the trail and just rumbling under his breath. Diane was sound asleep leaning against the wall. Solomon was standing next to his saddle. We saddled in record time. I put Diane aboard Solomon and, leading the horse, I trotted down the trail. The dog disappeared so fast he might as well been smoke.
That running stuff is for the birds in or out of boots and I was wearing high healed riding boots. After a mile, I sent Diane on ahead with the horse and I took the rifle to set up a watch on the back trail. She got the small six gun. I didn’t think to give her extra shells for the gun.
After almost falling asleep in the first five minutes I was hunkered down to watch, I stood up. When I did a slug whanged off the rock right next to my head. The sound of a shot followed as I slid back down into my hidey hole. Taking a quick peek to see what I could see, I saw nothing. Someone else did. Another round went splat into the same rock. Either the first shooter moved or there was more than one. I went with two shooters.
I prayed for that silly dog to show up and for Diane’s safety.
I had checked the terrain before I hunkered down and knew they could not get past me without me knowing it or being dead of course. I was watching for the first and didn’t want to think about the second.
One man popped up and right back down just like a prairie dog after a long winter’s sleep. I didn’t move. He tried it again. I didn’t move. The third time he lost his senses, I killed them with a bullet through his head.
The second, third, and fourth outlaw returned fire. There were some angry because I had killed number one. I crawled to a second spot off twenty feet or so.
The new spot did give them a route to get by me without me seeing them, but I doubted if they could see it from their angle. The way they had followed us and not cut us off told me they didn’t know this area at all and who would unless they stumbled on it like I did.
While I was trying to make up my mind what to do next, the sound of four or five shots rattled off the mountains from the direction Diane had gone. It was time to go.
I flung three shots in the general directions of the outlaws and started around the corner of trail behind me. Once I was clear it was back to running again. Those gun dummies were sure trying to murder those rocks back yonder. Must have fired off at least a box of shells. I smiled. I wasn’t there.
The trail went uphill for a short distance and then topped out in a nice campsite situated in the saddle. A problem became very clear. Going down the other side I would be in plain sight for at least five minutes even if I ran. The trail went zigzag down the mountain with one level not twenty feet above the next. Every time I was going across I was like a shooting gallery I saw in St. Louis once with a bunch of ducks moving across the scene and the object was to shoot them down as fast as they popped up. I never got to try that, but my dad did and didn’t do very well. He could hit a target standing still, but he couldn’t hit the slow moving ducks that were larger than the bullseye he could hit standing still. I was hoping the men behind me were as bad as my dad.
They weren’t. The first one to shoot took a chunk out of my rifle’s butt leaving splinters hanging out for me to poke in my face when I brought the Winchester up to return fire. When I got to the next switchback I just kept on going straight ahead. There was a stream at the bottom of the hill, but it was a long way down there.
After I cut out about half the downhill of the slope, someone saw me and fired a couple shots that sent twigs and needles falling on my head. I turned straight down the hill and did fairly well until I was fifty feet or so above the stream where I tripped and pretended to be tumbling act all the way to the water. The water and I met with no introduction, just a noisy, wet connection. The rifle was still in my hand when I came up for air.
The dog was sitting on the bank.
I reached for him and he took off downstream along a hard rock ledge and disappeared around a rocky corner. He was trying to tell me something, of that I was sure. The trail got a washing as I trotted in his steps shaking out the Winchester and my .44. In no time at all I rounded another corner and ran into Solomon. Solomon without Diane. He had a bleeding spot on his hip that I checked. It was a grazing shot that probably hurt more that it was dangerous.
He actually looked like he was happy to see me. I know I was happy to see him.
My position in the saddle gave me confidence that God was looking out for me. I yelled, “Thank ya, Lord,” and kicked Solomon into a fast walk. It was a gentle kick.
Down the trail we found a spot where the ground was all torn up. Must have been the place where the shots I had heard were fired. Three fired rounds lay in the dirt and a piece of wet plaid cloth that matched the shirt Diane had on was lying atop a rock like someone had put it there on purpose. More trail markers from Diane? I wasn’t sure of this one.
The dog barked from downstream. We took off after him. This time I gave Solomon his head and let him go his own speed which, due to the narrow trail, wasn’t very fast. Horse tracks with dog prints over the top of them filled the trail. I could smell fresh dust. Another piece of shirt was hooked on a branch to the high side of the trail.
It was her.
I gigged Solomon telling him to move faster. He held to the pace he had. I let him, he was smarter about the trail than I.
We splashed through the stream and up the other side a bit before going down and across the stream again. After six or seven crossings, I could tell by the water splashed on the bank still soaking in that we were catching up. I pulled back on the reins, not wanting to run into them when they had the advantage and I wasn’t ready. It was a good thing I did.
Around the nest corner there they were, just crossing the creek again into a tangle of aspen and scrub. The one at the back jumped off his horse and unlimbered his long gun. He was pretty good. From about 200 yards, he planted that slug in the tree right next to my head. I mean not even a foot away. Needless to say, I hit the dirt.
From a distance came the shout of victory from the shooter. He was sure I was down and yelled he was coming to get my scalp. Someone else told him to come back, but he kept coming. I could have, but I didn’t take his scalp. He was dead from a gunshot wound when I left him.
I didn’t shoot him, it was the outlaws chasing me.
All I could do was pray and say, “Oh goody, bad guys in front of me and bad guys in back of me. How can I miss?” Right then the story of Elijah and his servant came to me.
Seems the king of the country next to Elijah’s home sent an army to kill him because of his good instructions to the army of Israel. The servant got up in the morning and saw the army of this king lining the hills around the town Elijah and he were in. The servant ran back in the house and told Elijah they were going to die, there was an army surrounding this little town. Elijah didn’t even get flustered. He just asked God to show his servant His army. God opened the eyes of the servants to see the army of God, which was huge and ferocious and more powerful than the king’s army. Needless to say, the kings army got dealt with right smartly.
“Okay Lord. Let me see your army.”
All I saw was the view between my horse’s ears and I wasn’t too happy with that. There was no army between Solomon’s ears, at least not that I could see.
We took off to get in the tangle of trees and scrub before the ones behind us caught up any more. I couldn’t believe my good fortune when there was no one waiting for us there. The tracks just kept on going. The dog tracks were still there on top of the horse tracks. A patch of cloth was on the ground partially buried by a hoof print. It looked to me like the dog’s print had uncovered a big part of it.
What kind of dog was this?
I stopped just inside the dense stand of aspen and scrub, turned my Winchester toward the men behind me, and took another outlaw out of action and of the saddle right. He fell next to the tree that had the slug in it that had been fired at me as I emerged from that opening earlier. He went down and the two horses behind him rode right over the top of him. His scream wasn’t pretty. I really do hate to see men die. God works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform.
I know it’s Old Testament, but the Bible says that if you live by the sword, you will die by the sword. Somehow I was figuring that gun could be substituted for sword. But, then again, Jesus told his disciples that the time would come when they would need to sell their spare robe to buy a sword. Would gun fit there? I wasn’t sure. It sure seemed like God was setting up a bunch of bad men to stand in front of my gun. Would I die by the gun?
I quit thinking on the subject with that question.
Four shots were fired in my direction so I returned the favor with two rounds from the Winchester. Didn’t hit anything important, but it made me feel better. It also scattered the crowd behind me.
Solomon decided it was time to get us out of there. I had to hold the horse back or we would have smack dab into the tail end man ahead of us. We rode slowly along moving from cover to cover always keeping an eye on the back trail. I felt like a dumb kid first time he saw the big city and all the big buildings with his head swiveling as fast as possible.
As we rounded a corner on the trail I saw a fork. One path went up the side of the hill and the other stayed down along the creek in a bottom that was widening. From where I was I could not tell which branch the outlaws had taken with Diane. Both trails led to areas of wide open country. The bottom was wider and had fallen into a different type of growth, small trees far apart. The uphill branch was hanging on the side of the mountain by a hair, a very fine hair.
I crossed the creek through a mess of brush and saplings to get a better look at the uphill branch. There were no tracks on it. There were no tracks on the trail along the stream, either. The revelation was a strange and unfathomable to me as the Revelation of Scripture must have been to the human writers. How could this be possible?
It was a cinch they had not turned around. We would have collided. There was no sign of brushing out tracks on either path. They must have gone down stream walking the horses in the water. I took the path along the creek and began serious watching of both banks for an exit point. The problem became that I had to check out every solid rock exit point very carefully which meant I had to ride up every shelf and rock bottomed side cut until I could be sure they had not used it for an exit and started off in a new direction.
I had done two shelves and three side cuts before I hit the right one. It was a shelf of sandstone three feet wide and angled off uphill and away from the stream. There was a beautiful campsite centered on a flat red rock that would have made a great dinner table and kitchen next to the fire pit. I could see where someone not too long ago had set their saddle and blankets on the ground not too far from the fire and spent the night. A reasonably new flour sack was draped over a limb to confirm my findings.
That shelf went on for a ways, but fortunately, I saw two fresh strike marks where an iron horse shoe had recently hit the soft sandstone. About two hundred feet into it and there was a silver disc and a shred of plaid shirt. Diane was still thinking. Not too far after that point the tracks became clear as the path hit damp clay and I could pick out individual horse’s prints.
From the length of strides and position of the tracks I got to thinking they had started moving faster, but like a bunch of dummies they were going uphill and were going to tire their horses much faster. Having been on the trail for some time and on tired horses, they needed to find a campsite right soon or kill their horses.
The trail rounded a corner and started going down, at the bottom was a plume of smoke. Someone had just lit a fire of wood that wasn’t very dry and I had a real good idea who it was. Sitting in the trail was the dog. The location was ideal if they hadn’t started the smoke pouring into the sky. There was a ten acre hollow filled mostly with threes so close together you couldn’t see very far into the patch of woods.
Looking around offered me no way out of the fix I was in now. Thinking on the crowd behind me and the location of the ones with the smudgy I was the meat in the sandwich. ‘Charge, always charge,’ rang through my head. Solomon started walking down the hanging trail into the hollow as the dog stood and trotted into the woods. I lifted the rifle out of its scabbard and check for a round in the chamber and a full magazine. That was about as ready as I could get.
Nobody challenged us in any way as we approached the thick woods in the hollow. The dog came out of the trees and moved toward the creek we had been following, disappearing around a pair of rocks. Still no challenge. Behind the rocks I found the dog laying down in a sunny patch of sand in the bottom of a dried up pool not six feet from a drop off into the stream thirty feet below.
So, now I was not the meat in the sandwich. I had a hidey hole just big enough for the three of us as long as only one of us stretched out at a time. It was defendable, but it would be a fight to the death, there was no exit except the entrance. I sat myself in the entrance behind a clump of brush I pulled out at the side and moved to block the entrance and waited.
Within moments, a man walked out of the woods not a hundred feet from me. I could have shot him with the greatest of ease except for the idea that it would blow my cover. There was no way I was gonna do any shooting until the followers caught up and joined up with the ones in the woods with Diane. Then and only then would I know how many and where they were.
Solomon nickered twenty minutes later. The horses in the woods responded and so did a horse coming over the hump into the hollow. Both sides thought the nicker came from the other group of friends. The following group of men saw the smoke in the hollow and pulled their rifles out in preparation of finding me. I had to chuckle at that idea. Unless there was a trail out the other side, and I hadn’t seen one, I had them bottled up real nice. Of course I had no way of stopping a concerted charge of the whole bunch of them even if every shot was a killing shot. With ten rounds in the Winchester and six in the pistol, I’d be two bullets short of dealing with the crowd I figured was down there. Twelve men had just ridden in. From the sounds of things whooping and hollering down there, they must be old friends.
Two men walked to the edge of the woods and began walking back to the ridge on the trail. They were posting guards and the fox was already in the hen house. I guessed there wasn’t a decent tracker in the bunch if they didn’t see my tracks coming up that rise before the hollow.
Two hours later the dog woke me up with a paw on my lap. I looked around to see two more men coming from the woods with rifles in their hands, walking up the trail with rifles in their hands. The changing of the guard was nothing fancy like I’d read about in the paper a couple years back, but that is what they did. I went back to sleep figuring the dog and horse were gonna be on lookout.
I was wrong.
I was awakened by a gun prodding my ear and a voice, “You listen here, boy. I will blow your head off if you move sudden like. Keep your hands where they are a Lefty gathers your armament.”
“Now, stand up slowly, very slowly.”
“Walk on out here.”
“Lefty, get the horse and keep him covered from behind.”
He did. At least I suspected he did. I could hear Solomon walking not too far behind me as we walked out of the hidey hole and down to the tree line where we were met by three real bad men who welcomed me with a heavy handed slapping up-side of my head. I pretended to be knocked out and fell to the ground. They kicked me until I got up.
The voice with the gun said, “Stop. Boss man wants him alive and whole. If he screams loud enough the girl might sign the papers.”
I just couldn’t keep my mouth shut. “Not if I have any say in this. She won’t.”
“Then she’s gonna die, preacher.”
Oh, so at least one of them had seen me in Denver or someplace earlier. “Lefty,” the speaker was behind me, “Did you listen to the sermon?”
“Yeah. Didn’t like you sayin’ we’s all sinners. I ain’t never sinned in my life, yet.”
“Did you just join this gang?”
“Nah. Did most of the horse wranglin’ for the ranch until you come along.”
“You must feel right proud riding with outlaws that are trying to take a ranch away from a woman after they killed her father, right proud.” He hit me in the back of my head sending my hat flying.