Read an Excerpt
From "Caprock Rancher"
When I rode up to the buffalo wallow, Pa was lying there with his leg broke and his horse gone.
Out there on the prairie there wasn't much to make splints with, and Pa was bad hurt. It had seemed to me the most important things for a man to know was how to ride a horse and use a gun, but now neither one was going to do much good. Earlier in the day Pa and me had had a mean argument, and it wasn't the first. Here I was, man-grown and seventeen, and Pa still after me about the company I kept. He was forever harping on Doc Sites and Kid Reese and their like...said they were no-goods. As if he was one to talk, a man who'd never had money nor schooling, nor any better than a worn-out coat on his back. Anyway, Doc and Kid Reese weren't about to be farmers or starving on a short-grass cow ranch.
Pa, he'd been at me again because I'd be dogged if I was going to waste my life away on what little we could make, and told him so...then I rode off to be an outlaw. For the first two miles I was good and mad, and for the third mile I was growling some, but I'd made most of ten miles before my good sense got the better of me and I started back to help Pa. He had a far piece to go, and he was a lone man packing twenty thousand dollars through some mighty rough country.
It was midafternoon of a mighty hot day when I came up to that buffalo wallow, and Pa had been lying there four, five hours. His canteen had been on his saddle and the horse had taken off, so I got down and gave him a swallow or two from mine.
All that argument was forgotten. Times like that a man is best off doing one thing at a time and not worrying around too much.
"Thanks, boy." Pa returned the canteen to me. "Looks like I played hob."
"That gray never did have a lick of sense," I said, and then I told it to him. "You got a busted leg, but your jaw's in good shape. So you set back an' argue with me whilst I set that bone."
"You just forget about me. All that money is in those saddlebags, and less than a third of it ours. You forget me and hunt down that horse."
That twenty thousand dollars was from a steer herd we'd taken to Kansas and sold, and folks back home were a-sweating until we got back with the money. Cash money was hard to come by those times, and most of this would go to mighty poor folks who hadn't seen a hard dollar since who flung the chunk.
"You got a broke leg. We'll take care of that first."
Nothing was growing around but short grass and some knee-high mesquite, but I got Pa's leg set and cut mesquite with my bowie and splinted up best I knew how. All that time he set there a-looking at me with pain in his eyes and never let out a whimper, but the sweat stood out on both our faces, you can bet.
If you were ever seventeen years old and standing in a buffalo wallow one hundred and fifty miles from home, and your pa with a broke leg, you know how I felt. And only one horse between us.
With my help he got straddle of that horse and we started off with two things in mind. To get to a creek where there was water, and to find that fool horse.
Judging by the tracks, that gray had taken off like wolves was after him, but after half a mile he began to slow up and look back expecting to be chased. Then on, he got the smell of water and just sort of ambled, taking a bite of grass or mesquite beans now and again. Pa, he sat up in the leather and never said I, yes, or no. This time it was up to me and both us knew it.
The sun was beyond the hill and color was in the evening sky when we saw those other tracks. They came in from the southeast and they were the tracks of three shod horses...and they caught Pa's horse.
This was just across the border from Indian Territory and while honest men crossed it, but aside from the Indians, few honest men lived there. To be a Deputy U.S. Marshal in Indian Territory was like standing yourself up in the business end of a shooting gallery. Every outlaw in the country spent time there, and we knew if those had been good men who caught up Pa's horse, or even a decent kind of outlaw, they'd backtrack to find the rider. In those years folks were helpful to one another, and to be afoot in a country like that was about the worst that could happen. It left a man with mighty few possibilities.
These men had caught up Pa's horse and checked the saddlebags, and they didn't come looking for Pa.
"Son,"Pa could read those tracks as well as me"don't you get any notions. You ain't about to go up against three men, not with me in this condition."
"Ain't nothing to worry about. Those boys are friends of mine. One of them is Kid Reese and another is Doc Sites. Why, I'd know those horse tracks if I saw them in Gilead. This time of night they won't go far and we'll have your horse and money in no time."
Pa, he just sat up there on my horse and he said nothing at all for a while, and then he said, "Ed, you reckon those boys would give back twenty thousand dollars?"
It gave me an uneasy feeling, him saying that. Pa set no store by either of them, but they were good boys. Free and easy, that's sure, but they were friends of mine. When Pa and me moved into that Texas country they'd let me take up with them. We-all were usually up to no good, but that was what you'd expect from three youngsters caught somewheres between being boys and being men. It's true we were always talking of standing up a stagecoach or robbing a bank, but that was mostly talk. Taking money from a friend...well, they weren't that kind.
It was not much of a creek. Stars were in the sky when we fetched up to it, and it wasn't more than two, three feet wide and maybe four, five inches deep, but it was wet water, lined with willows and cottonwoods and grass aplenty. When I helped Pa off the horse, I bedded him down and filled the canteen for him.
"You set quiet," I said, "I'll go fetch your horse."
"Don't be a fool, Edwin," Pa said. "You say those boys are your friends, but there's a sight of money in those saddlebags...not many who value friendship that high."
Pa never called me Edwin unless he was downright serious. That money was important for reasons beyond what it could buy. Pa was always holding on about the value of a good name, and for the first time I was faced up to what it could mean. Pa was a respected man, but if we showed up without that money a lot of folks were going to remember that I'd been swaggering it around town with Doc Sites, Kid Reese, and that outfit. Some of them were going to say things about us losing the money, and Pa would take the blame as well as me.
We Tuckers never had much but an honest reputation. We were never able to get ahead. A while back we lived in Missouri, and that was the year Pa had his first good crop, and the year the grasshoppers ate him out. Two years of bad drought followed and we lost the place. We settled in Texas then and worked like dogs, and when we got our first trail herd together the Comanches came down and burned us out in the light of the moon. They burned us out, drove off our cows, and killed Uncle Bud.
They killed Uncle Bud and they'd taken his scalp. Pa, he rode after them but he never got back with any cows. Somewhere along the way he found Bud's scalp, which we buried out where the body was.
This herd we had just sold in Kansas was our first since then, and the first thing Pa had to show for twenty years of hard work...and the first many of our neighbors had to show. If we'd got through to the ranch with that money we'd have had an edge on the future.
I guess it was my fault. While we were separated that morning the gray shied and threw him, and had I been where I should have been I'd have dropped a loop over that gray's neck and he wouldn't have gone anywhere at all. It was lucky I'd quit sulking and started back; I'd been mad but I wasn't ready to strike on my own yet. I was figuring on hooking up with Kid Reese and Doc before I did anything permanent.
Those boys were friends of mine, but something was gnawing at me. What were they doing away off up here at a time like this?