Incident On the Colter Range (by Stardust)

Summary:  A Rawhide/Laredo story.
Category:  Crossover
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  13,000


The small southwestern Texas town of Laredo was still and peaceful that morning until shots rang out and four men ran out of the bank with bandanas covering the lower half of their faces. Five Texas Rangers ran out of the Ranger Headquarters to see what was happening.

“The banks been robbed!” yelled a man.

The bank robbers jumped on their horses and spurred them into a gallop. Chad Cooper, Reese Bennett, Joe Riley, and Captain Ed Parmalee drew their guns and began shooting at the outlaws as they rounded the corner at the end of the street.

One man fell off his horse to sprawl unmoving in the dirt. The others managed to get away.

“Cooper, Riley, Bennett,” shouted Parmalee as he ran to where the one outlaw lay. “Get your horses and get after them.” He knelt by the man and checked to see if he was alive. “Dead,” he said as the town doctor ran up. “But he dropped the money.” He picked up a large burlap bag stuffed full of what he thought was the money and handed it to the banker.

*****

The sun peaked over the distant ridge and slowly lit the morning sky. An owl hooted before it swooped off to its preferred tree for a day of sleeping. A dove cooed a morning song to the coming light.

Sleepy cows got to their feet and stretched and began to hunt for a few left over sprigs of the grass that they had missed eating the evening before. Several of the bovine critters bawled a greeting to each other. A horse nickered, another grunted and stomped. The smell of a campfire, fresh brewed coffee and frying bacon drifted across the valley where the cows were. The sound of still sleepy men’s voices grumbled. Saddles creaked as they were tightened onto horses, and a wagon wheel squeaked as it began to roll.

A lone horse walked up onto a prairie hill and came to a stop. The man on its back looked across the valley for a few moments then sat up straight and bellowed out an order. “Head ‘em up! Move ‘em out!”

A drover whooped and the bridle lead steer that always was the first to lead out took his place at the head of the 3,000 beeves and began the day’s drive.

It was about mid morning when Rowdy Yates noticed a rider on a small pinto horse sitting on a rise and watching them. He rode up to the trail boss, Gil Favor, and let him know the rider was there.

“Well, let’s go see what he wants,” said Favor, reining his horse around and heading toward the watcher with Rowdy beside him.

“Looks like a boy,” stated Rowdy as they got nearer. “And a dog.”

“Howdy,” said Favor as he reined in by the boy. Or was it a girl, he asked himself. Maybe about twelve years old.

The big shepherd dog growled low in its throat. “It’s all right, Chief,” said the kid. “We didn’t mean no harm, Mister. We just wanted to watch.”

“No harm done, son. You live around here,” asked the trail boss.

“Yes, Sir. ‘Bout a half mile over to the north of here.” The youth nodded back over his shoulder. “Me and my folks and a couple of others.”

At that moment, a man on a good-looking roan horse came out of the brush at the bottom of the slope and headed for them. Moments later he pulled up beside the youngster.

“Brennan, are you botherin’ these men?” he asked of the youth.

“Ahhhh…”

Favor spoke up. “No. He ain’t botherin’ us. I think he was just watchin’.”

“That’s what I was doin’, Pa. I just wanted to see such a big herd of cows.”

“Name’s Gil Favor. I didn’t know that anyone owned this place. Hope we’re not intruding on your range, Mister… ” the trail boss hesitated.

“Colter – Jake Colter – and my daughter, Brennen. This is my range but I don’t use this section much. No harm done to it by your herd. Where you headed?”

“Dodge City, Kansas,” answered Favor. “Oh and this is my ramrod, Rowdy Yates.” He noticed as he introduced Rowdy the young girl looking at the younger man. Somehow Rowdy always attracted the females, be they young or old, or even not quite grown as this one was.

The girl looked at the handsome cowboy. Tall but not too tall. Slim but not skinny. With bright blue eyes. She thought he was a lot like Yancy, the cowboy that her Pa had hired when they were in Kansas, but really different and better looking. She felt herself blush as she realized she had been staring and Rowdy had noticed. He grinned at her and she ducked her head to keep him from seeing the red on her face.

“We were in Dodge a few months ago,” Colter was saying. “I do some travelin’ ‘round trainin’ horses. We just got back to my place here. Guess we’ll stay for the winter.”

Gil Favor eased his seat in the saddle. “You wouldn’t know any men lookin’ for a job, would you? I could use a couple more drovers.”

“Can’t say that I do. There’s just me and my wife, our two young’ns and my one hired hand. But you might want to go into Denten and see if you can find anyone there. We were there ‘bout a week ago and there seemed to be several men loafin’ ‘bout town.”

“I might do that,” agreed Favor. “You run many cows? I might be willin’ to buy some if you got any for sale.”

“Not too many. We lost a lot durin’ the war and I ain’t never built up much of a herd since. There might be three, four hundred head left. Mostly I raise and sell horses now. But I might take a look-see, and if I find any, I’ll round them up. But they might be prutty wild.”

“If you find any let me know,” said Favor. “I can always add a few head.”

“Your herd looks a bit worn down.”

“Yeah, so far it’s been a rough drive. Should get better for a while now, so the beeves can put on some weight again.”

“If you got the time, you could lay over here for a few days. This grass ain’t been grazed for some time, and I ain’t got enough stock to do much with.”

Favor looked over at the herd like he was thinking. “Guess we could use a few days of rest. If it wouldn’t be a bother to you, Mr. Colter. I appreciate the offer.”

“No bother, Mr. Favor. And if I can find some cows worth your while, I’ll let you know.”

“Guess we better be getting’ back to the herd,” said Favor. Rowdy had already turned his mount and was loping back.

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Favor,” said Colter, then he turned to Brennen. “Let’s be getting’ back, girl.” They rode down off the rise and headed back to the ranch house.

*****

“Yancy, I want you and Cade to get out and beat the brush for any cows you can find.” Colter was talking to his one hired hand and his son, Cade, who was seventeen. “That trail boss said he would buy some if we could round them up. I ain’t sure what might be out there. I’m sure there are some unbranded stuff. Don’t bother with brandin’ ‘em out there. Just drive ‘em in and we’ll do the brandin’ in a day or so.”

The young man named Yancy spoke up. “I done my share of it up in Wyoming, but I ain’t never done none of it in this kind of throne brush. But I’ll sure do what I can.”

“Do that,” agreed Colter. “And make sure that neither of you get hurt. Bustin’ range cows out of the brush is hard work. And Cade, I know you ain’t done any before. But we need the money Gil Favor will pay for them. Drive as many of ‘em as you can down into the valley here next to the house.”

“We’ll do that, Pa,” said Cade. “Think I’ll ride Blaze, the bay gelding I been workin’ with. I think he’ll make a pretty good cowhorse.”

“He should,” agreed Colter. “Yancy, take the sorrel gelding with the one stocking, Rusty. He’s worked cows before. I got a see about fixin’ that roof ‘fore Jody throws another hissy fit.”

The two young men left to saddle their mounts. Colter turned to go to the house stopping short so he didn’t run into Brennen.

“Pa, can’t I go with Cade and Yancy? I can ride near as good as they can.”

“No, young lady. We already been through that. You can’t go after the cows. Your ma would really get mad at me if I let you. And your ma needs help around here.”

“Oh, all right.”

They looked up as a wagon drove up to the barn and corrals. “Looks like Jose and his family are here. I’ll get them started on the roof and fixin’ up the corrals.” He went off to greet the Mexican family.

“Jose, it’s good of you to come. I sure can use you and your family to help me get the house back in shape again.”

“Si, Senior. It is good you come back to the rancho. My sons and I will be more than glad to help you. And Anna will help Senora Colter. But where does your son go?”

“I’ve sent him and Yancy to round up as many cows as they can. We will brand the calves and sell the older steers to the trail boss that’s driving a big herd north to sell in Kansas.”

“Ahhh…we saw the herd when we were near here. I tell you what, Senior Colter. My sons are very good with the rounding up of the cows. I will send them with your son and you and I will fix the roof.”

“Now that sounds like a good idea, Jose.”

*****

“I’m sure glad you decided to lay over a few days, Mr. Favor. I’m needin’ a few supplies and I’ll go into that town and pick them up tomorrow.” The cook handed the trailboss a cup of coffee.

“Well, Wishbone, I figure we can all use a break and this looks like a good place to do it.” Favor blew on the coffee and took a sip.

A rider reined in at the picket line and handed his horse over to Hay Soos, the wrangler, then walked over to where Favor and Wishbone were standing. “Boss, those three cows calved last night. Now we got three calves to deal with.”

“Three at once, huh. Well, Clay, I guess it’s got to be done,” commented the trail boss.

“I sure do hate havin’ to kill the little things. Seems such a waste,” said Clay Forester.

Rowdy had been eating his noon meal nearby and heard the talk about the calves. “Mr. Favor, maybe we could trade those cows and their calves for a few of Mr. Colter’s steers if he gets any rounded up.”

Favor took another sip of coffee. “Maybe so, Rowdy. We’ll give the calves a few days so they’re a little stronger and drive them over to the Colter place. I think there’s a couple more cows that are due to calve in the next couple of weeks. Better to trade them for steers than to have ‘em calving on the trail.”

*****

“Pa. Pa. There’s riders comin’ in,” yelled Brennen to her father as two riders came into the yard. One had a calf slung across the saddle in front of him.

Jake Colter left the corral where he had been fixing a broken place in the fence. He stood by Brennen waiting to see who was coming in. Moments later it was Brennen who spoke. “I think it’s that cowboy, Rowdy Yates, on the sorrel. But what’s he got?”

“I’d say it’s a calf,” said Colter. “They’re herdin’ seven cows and there’s two calves walkin’.” He started out to meet the cowboys. “Mr. Yates, good to see you.”

“Afternoon, Mr. Colter.” Rowdy let the calf slid down so that Colter could grab it and let it onto the ground, where it ran off to its mama, bawling until it could get some milk. Rowdy tipped his hat in Brennen’s direction, causing her to look down at the ground shyly. “Mr. Favor said to bring these cows to you. The calves can’t keep up with the drive. He thought you might want to trade them for some steers.”

“Now how did you come by so many cows?” asked Colter.

“Oh, we got some stock from a farmer that was givin’ up on farmin’ and goin’ back east, and he just sold us everything he had. A couple of them cows even act like they been milked some. Your women might like that.”

Colter rubbed his chin thinking. “Yeah, they might, but someone could get kicked tryin’ to milk them. But I guess we could tie their legs at first. All right. You got a deal. I’ll trade one steer for each cow.”

Rowdy stuck out his hand. “Thanks, Mr. Colter.”

“Well, come on in and have some eats with us, son. You and your friend.”

“Oh, this is Hay Soos. He’s our wrangler. He says he done heard of your horse trainin’ somewhere and wanted to meet you.”

Colter held out his hand to the Mexican. “Good to meet you, too. Hay Soos.”

Hay Soos smiled and shook with Colter. “Gracias, Senior. It is a pleasure to meet such a famous horse whisperer.”

“Well, I don’t know if I’m famous. But I try to do the best I can with the horses.”

All through the meal, Brennen tried to keep an eye on Rowdy but didn’t want to let him know she was doing it. She was self-conscious and embarrassed of her interest in him. Never before had she had feelings like the ones she was having now for the handsome cowboy. She had changed out of the ragged shirt and pants that she had on into a clean white shirt and a denim skirt. And combed her hair.

Jody was surprised when she saw that her daughter had changed into clean cloths and wondered what was up until she saw the way the girl was looking at the cowboy. She grinned to herself in wonder that her baby girl was growing up.

After the meal, the men left as a group to go see some of the horses, especially Jake’s stallion Wind Chaser. Jake was telling them how the horse had been stolen by horse thieves while they were in Kansas and how Marshal Mat Dillon had helped them catch the thieves and get the horse back. * (see Gunsmoke story entitled Horse Thieves) and how the horse had won a race against a very fast horse in Laramie, Wyoming. (see Lawman story entitled July 4th Celebration).

Brennen took a stack of dishes to the sink, bumping into Maggie on the way. Maggie had joined their family while they were in Kansas. She and Yancy were now considered a couple but there hadn’t been any talk of a wedding yet. Maggie wasn’t sure she wanted to get married after the bad experience she had with her former boyfriend, who had turned out to be a horse thief. She knew Yancy wouldn’t do anything like that but still she wasn’t sure she wanted to be tied to any man yet. She liked Yancy but wasn’t sure she loved him, although he kept telling her he loved her. It was becoming quite a dilemma for her.

Maggie saw Brennen looking out the window as if wishing she was out with them to see the horses. Maggie knew Brennen preferred the company of horses to people and would rather be cleaning stalls in the barn than doing housework. “Brennen, go on. I’ll help your ma clean up.”

“Are you sure, Maggie? I don’t want to leave if you need me,” said Brennen hoping she really wasn’t needed.

“Go on, girl,” said Jody. “Maggie’s right. She and I can clean up. I know you’d rather be out with the horses. ‘Specially with that good lookin’ cowboy.” She grinned.

Brennen blushed. “What cowboy?” she stammered.

Maggie laughed. “Anyone can see you like him.”

“Always got a be a first time for a girl to get to likin’ a man,” stated Jody. “Now get.”

Brennen grabbed her hat and dashed out the door.

Moments later Brennan approached the corral where the men were watching Cade ride Wind Chaser. She hoped she looked as if she didn’t really care who was there or what they were doing. She wanted to look like she was only out there because she was bored. Or something like that, she thought. She stayed back out of the way but was always close enough to be able to watch Rowdy. She was too unsettled in her thoughts to get any closer.

About an hour later, Rowdy and Hay Soos left to go back to the herd, agreeing to tell Gil Favor that they would accept the cows and calves, and had about fifty steers to sell to him.

Brennen wondered up on the porch attached to the front of the cabin. She perched up on the rail watching her ma doing some mending and Maggie shelling beans for supper.

Jody looked at Brennen thoughtfully. “You know Rowdy is way too old for you?”

Brennen didn’t answer. She reached down and petted Chief who had come up on the porch and laid down,

Maggie said, “You know he probably thinks you’re just a little girl?”

Again Brennen didn’t say anything while Jody and Maggie waited for an answer. Finally it came in a very small voice. “I know.”

Jody sat there a moment. “But it doesn’t hurt to look, as long as that is all you do. Now, why don’t you go take a look at those calves and see if they’re all right. Must have been hard for those mama cows having their babies in that great big herd of steers.”

Brennen thought about the suggestion for a moment. She slid off the railing and went into the house. In a minute, she returned having exchanged her skirt for a pair of pants. “I’ll ride Dandy so I won’t scare the cows and calves so bad.” She went off to the barn.

“Take Chief,” called Jody hand signaling the dog to go with Brennen.

Quickly Brennen saddled the little dun pinto pony and rode out to the pasture where her pa and the men had put the cows with their calves, and the others that would calve soon. The shepherd dog had gone with her and lay near her pony. For several long minutes she watched a pair of calves playing. It wasn’t long before the babies were nudging their mamas for some food and then they laid down for a nap. Watching the cows cropping grass was boring so Brennen decided to take a ride.

For a half mile she let Dandy set a fast pace. Then she reined her into a walk and let her mind wander as she followed the trail along the north edge of their property.

Brennen rode along wondering about Rowdy and men in general. She was fourteen and Maggie was eighteen. That was only four years difference. Maggie and Yancy were walking out with each other. Walking out was what it was called by her parents. Others might say they were seeing each other. And others would call them a couple. Everyone expected them to announce that they were getting married any time.

Her brother Cade had seemed interested in Maggie, too. He seemed fond of her but Maggie didn’t seem to have any interest in Cade, except as a friend. Maybe it was he was a year younger than she was, while Yancy was a couple of years older.

Did a few years make that much difference she wondered? And how old was Rowdy? How old did she have to be before a good-looking cowboy would pay attention to her the way Yancy, and even Cade, did to Maggie?

Suddenly there were gun shots. She pulled Dandy up and stared around her. Where had the shots come from, she wondered. Maybe someone was hunting deer. There were lots of deer around. The shots sounded as if they were in front of her on the trail. She figured she had to be a couple of miles from the house. She turned off the trail and rode up into a maze of boulders and brush, calling Chief to go with her.

At that moment, three horses came running down the road toward where Brennen was. But she had stopped her pony behind a large tree and they riders didn’t seem to notice her as they galloped by. In a second, they were out of sight. But in another couple of heartbeats, a rider-less horse appeared. It ran with its head held high, trying to avoid the reins that flapped around its head and legs. It stepped on one rein, breaking it, and slowed to a walk.

Brennen recognized the horse as the blaze-faced sorrel that Rowdy had been riding. She drove her heals into Dandy’s sides and rode out to catch the horse, which had stopped and whinnied when it saw the pinto pony. She grabbed the one long rein left and calmed the sorrel horse. She wasn’t sure what to do but she figured that Rowdy was probably back the way the horse had come from and would appreciate her bringing his horse back to him.

She rode down the trail leading the sorrel behind her. About a half a mile farther, she saw a man lying in the road. As she rode closer, she saw it was Rowdy and she thought he was way too still.

Reining up the horses, she waited a moment, looking the situation over. Even though she was only fourteen, she had grown up in a dangerous time and knew that something was wrong. When she didn’t see anything, she rode up to where Rowdy lay on his belly. She dismounted and knelt beside him wondering what to do now. Then the cowboy groaned and rolled over. He opened his eyes and stared at her but didn’t really seem to be seeing her. Brennen saw the blood on his shoulder and knew he was hurt.

“Rowdy, what happened?” Brennen asked, but he lay there staring up at her.

She shook his arm slightly, causing him to mutter something she didn’t understand. “Rowdy, I’m goin’ to ride back to the house and get some help. I don’t know what else to do. I don’t think I can help you get on your horse. But I’ll leave him here.”

“No,” whispered Rowdy. “Hay Soos. His horse fell.”

“Hay Soos?” asked Brennen. She had forgotten about the other man. She looked around trying to see him and his horse but there wasn’t anything in sight. “Where, Rowdy? Where did you see him fall?”

The cowboy just closed his eyes and didn’t answer.

Brennen climbed up onto her pony and led Rowdy’s sorrel horse to a tree where she tied it. Then she rode down the road a ways looking for any sign of Hay Soos. Chief went with her. It wasn’t long before she saw his bay horse standing in a low spot beside the road. At the horse’s feet lay Hay Soos. Dismounting again, she ran to him but by the time she got there he was trying to sit up.

“Hay Soos? Are you hurt too?”

“Ohhhh,” moaned the wrangler. “My head, it is broken, I think.” He had his hands around his head as if he were holding it on.

Brennen tried to look at the scrape that she saw through his fingers but he pulled away from her. “Rowdy? Senorita Brennen, where is Rowdy?”

“He’s back on the road. He’s been hurt. There’s blood all over his shirt.”

“Is he…he… Is he dead?” asked Hay Soos hesitantly.

“Oh, No. No, he’s not dead. He talked to me. Told me you had fallen off your horse. So I came to find you. I need to ride back to the house and get help.”

“Se, Senorita. We need help. There were bad men that tried to hold us up. They wanted our money and horses. They shot Rowdy and my horse ran from the gun fire and he fell in this ditch. I fell and hit my head. I think.”

“Your horse is hurt, too,” said Brennen. “He is standing on only three legs and holding the forth up like it hurts.”

“Oh, no. And he was such a good horse,” said Hay Soos as he struggled to his feet. He walked the three steps to the horse and bent to examine its leg. “It is a bad sprain or maybe even a break. I hate to do it but I will have to shoot him.”

“NOOO!” wailed Brennen. “I won’t let you shoot him.”

“I am sorry, Senorita. But he is hurting and the trail drive is no place for a hurt horse. He couldn’t keep up. It is better this way.”

“Oh, no, you don’t. I won’t let you.” She pushed between the horse and Hay Soos. “My pa will take care of him. He can stay here.”

“It is a good thought. Your papa is very good with the horses. And he is a very good horse, too. I will ask Mr. Favor.”

Brennen sighed. “Good. Now we need to help Rowdy. You can stay with him while I go get my pa to help.” She called the dog to her. “Chief, you stay here with Hay Soos and Rowdy. You take care of them ‘til I get back.”

*****

“Well, Rowdy, what kind of a fix did you get yourself in this time?” said Gil Favor, frowning down at his ramrod as he lay on a cot in a big room off the west side of the Colter home. The room had six bunks and was set up like a bunkhouse.

Rowdy groaned and looked away from his boss. Did it always have to be his fault, he wondered. “Weren’t nothin’ we could do, Mr. Favor. Those men came on us sudden like, with guns drawn. They wanted our horses and any money we had. Looked like they had been ridin’ long and hard. When we said no, one of them just up and shot me. I got off one shot and think I might have winged one of ‘em. I don’t remember anything else until Mr. Colter and his son were puttin’ me in a wagon to bring me here.”

Favor snorted as if he didn’t know what to make of the story.

“It is so, Senor Favor,” said Hay Soos, who was sitting at the small table near the one window in the room. He was drawn and pale looking. Almost as bad as Rowdy was. “It is as Rowdy said. And after they shot Rowdy, they were goin’ to shoot me but my horse; he spooked and ran but tripped on something and fell into the ditch beside the road. I was thrown and hit my head and Senorita Brennen found me. My horse is badly lamed but Senor Colter said he will take care of him until he is well again.”

“He wanted to shoot the horse but I wouldn’t let him,” said Brennen, who was standing to the side of the room. She wondered if she had ever seen so many men crowded into such a small room. Besides Rowdy, Hay Soos, and Mr. Favor, there was her pa, Cade and Yancy. Her ma was standing by the door. Her parents had doctored Rowdy and Hay Soos after her pa and Cade had gone with the wagon to get them. She hoped both of the men would be all right but especially Rowdy, who had been shot. Her pa had dug the bullet out and her ma had bandaged him, and helped him eat some broth.

“I ain’t concerned about the horse,” said Favor, frowning some more. “I want to know about the men that shot Rowdy and caused Hay Soos to crack his skull.”

Brennen sucked in several words that her parents wouldn’t approve of when she heard Favor say he wasn’t concerned about the horse. Didn’t he understand that without horses he would never get his herd to where ever he was taking them? Horses were always important.

“I really don’t know, Mr. Favor,” said Rowdy as he sunk lower in the bed trying to get comfortable.

“Now, Mr. Favor, the boy doesn’t know. He just got shot and then had the bullet dug out of his shoulder and doesn’t feel like talkin’, and I want you to go on now and let him rest.” Jody tucked the covers in around Rowdy. “And Hay Soos needs some rest, too. He’s got a concussion and needs to keep still for a while. Hay Soos, you get in that bunk like I done told you to do.”

Favor looked at Jody and decided that his men were in good hands and there was no way he was going to get anything else out of anyone. He turned and left the room, entered the living area and stepped out onto the porch. He pushed his hat farther back on his head. Well, at least they had planned to let the beeves graze for a couple of days, he thought. He could leave Rowdy and Hay Soos here until they decided to move on.

But it worried him that they had been ambushed. It could happen again to some of his other men or himself. Or even the Colter’s. It wasn’t a pleasant thought.

“Ahhh, Jake, I’m sure you already thought about this but you need to warn everyone to be really careful when they ride out. Might be those men are still lookin’ for some fresh horses and would ambush someone else for them.”

“I did already warn everyone. Plus I’m gonna keep a look out tonight as they might come lookin’ for horses here.” Jake had followed Favor outside.

As they stood there, they noticed a cloud of dust moving toward the house. Several riders were rapidly approaching.

“A black, a buckskin, and a bay,” said Colter, always the horseman. “Wonder who they are?”

“Doubt if they’re the ones shot Rowdy. Those kind wouldn’t just come ridin’ in. They’d wait ‘til they could surprise us, or sneak in,” said Favor.

“Uhhh-huh,” agreed Jake.

The riders slowed as they came closer, dropping to a walk when they were about a hundred yards out. They came on and stopped a few feet from the porch steps.

The shepherd dog, Chief growled and the hackles on his back rose. “No, Chief. It’s all right for now,” said the horseman to the dog. To the men, he said, “Howdy.”

“Howdy,” said the older of the three men as he sat on his bay. The man on the buckskin had noticed everything about place as well as the two men. He had also noticed the rifle barrel lined up on him that someone was holding behind the curtain hung over the window.

The man on the black horse spoke. “We’re lookin’ for three men. Might have passed through here in the last day or so. Their horses might a been hard rode.”

“Why are you lookin’ for them?” asked Jake.

The man on the bay shifted his seat and spoke in his deep, gravelly voice. “ ‘Cause we’re lookin’ for them. Names Reese Bennett. Who might you be?”

Jake studied the men for a few seconds. “Jake Colter, and this,” he nodded at Favor, “is Gil Favor.”

“This here is Chad Cooper,” Bennett nodded at the man on the black, “and that’s Joe Riley.” He nodded at the man on the buckskin.

“You can tell that fella in the window he don’t need to keep that rifle on us,” said Riley.

Jake put his hands on his hips. “We’re kind a careful ‘round here. Mind tellin’ me why you’re lookin’ for those men?”

Cooper spoke. “We’re Texas Rangers and those men are wanted for murder.”

“Yeah, yeah I remember,” said Favor, still leaning against the support post to the porch. “You three were the Rangers that checked over my herd a few years ago down by Laredo.”

“Yeah, I remember, too,” said Reese. “Old Cactus, here, threw a shoe and your wrangler put a new one on. Was a good job, too.”

Jake looked at the men and at Favor. “So they really are Rangers?”

“Yeah, they are. Sorry ‘bout the way you been treated. But we had some trouble with some men that ambushed my ramrod and my wrangler. Tried to steal their horses,” said Favor.

“Probably the same men you’re after,” added Colter.

“Most likely,” said Riley.

“Who did they kill?” asked Favor.

Cooper answered, “The teller at the bank in Laredo when they robbed it last week. We been after them ever since.” He dismounted from his horse.

“Been a long ride,” agreed Bennett, getting down off his horse, too. “Can we water the horses?”

“Yeah,” said Jake. “Over there at the corral. There’s a creek runin’ through the middle of it. And I’ll stand you to a meal and a night’s sleep, if you want.”

The three Rangers looked at each other. “Sounds good,” agreed Reese.”

All of them looked to the west when there was a rumble of thunder. No one had noticed the sky had darkened and there might be a storm on its way.

Favor went to his horse and mounted. “I better get back out to the herd ‘fore that storm hits. Those beeves‘ll be restless tonight. I appreciate you taken care of Rowdy and Hay Soos.”

“Be glad to do it, Favor. Don’t worry ‘bout them none.”

*****

Brennen lay in her small bed listening to the rain drumming on the roof. The storm had come, but had gone on leaving a soft rain behind. They needed the rain so she couldn’t complain about it, but the mud would be a problem for the next couple of days.

Her mind wondered. She had thought Rowdy was handsome but Chad Cooper was even more handsome. But then he was probably older than Rowdy was and didn’t act as if he even saw her at all. Why weren’t there some men – er – boys that were closer to her age? Except for her brother, Cade, she couldn’t think of a one.

Mixed with the sound of the rain, Brennen could hear Maggie’s soft breathing and occasionally a snore. Did she snore, she wondered. She turned over, and punched her pillow trying to make it feel softer instead of like it had rocks in it.

She wondered if her ma and pa were asleep in their room. She had heard them whispering together for a long time after they had gone to bed. Before that her, pa and the Rangers had talked in the front room. Mr. Favor had gone back to the herd not long after the Rangers had arrived.

She thought of how the house was arranged. The large front room with the big fireplace in one end with a small sofa and a rocking chair near it. There was the cook stove in the other end with the cabinets for the supplies and dishes. The dining table sat in between with six cane –bottomed chairs. Then there were the two small bedrooms — one for her folks and she and Maggie shared the other one. She had shared it with her brother when they were little but now Cade slept in the bunkhouse that was attached to the main house.

The bunkhouse had six cots and a woodstove in it. Rowdy had one cot. The three Rangers had three of them. Cade and Yancy had the other two cots. It was probably the first time all six cots had been in use at the same time since before the Civil War.

Before the war, so Brennen had heard, there had always been about six hands on the ranch to help with the work. But after the war, that had changed. Now there weren’t any hands except for Yancy, who her pa had hired up in Wyoming. This was his first time to Texas and the Colter Ranch. Maggie’s, too. Maggie had joined the family in Kansas after her boyfriend had stolen her pa’s best horse, Wind Chaser. Her boyfriend, Logan, had been killed and her folks had offered Maggie a chance to come with them to help with the house work and the garden. Within a few weeks, it was obvious that Yancy and Maggie really liked each other.

She was glad to have Maggie to talk to. She was closer to her age than any other girl she knew. Of course, she didn’t know very many. There was Rosa, who lived on the next farm and whose family helped her family when there was work to be done, like re-roofing the house. She and Rosa had been good friends before her pa had loaded everyone up in the wagon and gone north for jobs. Now it seemed that she and Rosa didn’t have much in common. Rosa was only interested in boys and dresses, and learning to cook. While Brennen was interested some in boys, she was more interested in horses. She could care less about dresses and cooking.

All her thoughts had left her confused but at last she fell asleep.

*****

The early morning light was still dull and misty from all the rain. The three rangers ate breakfast with the Colter family. Horses were saddled and they rode slowly down the road leading to the east. Chad Cooper tipped his hat to the little Colter girl who was standing beside the corral fence as they rode by.

“No since in bein’ in a hurry,” said Reese Bennett. “We ain’t gonna find no tracks to foller after all that rain last night.”

Joe twisted in his saddle to look at his friend who was lagging behind him. “Yeah, but, Reese, if we do find their tracks, they’ll be real fresh and easy to follow.”

“But, Joe, how you gonna know that they’re the tracks of that there Johnny Farley and Tom Odle.”

“Don’t forget Haze Carlson,” added Cooper.

“Yeah, him too,” said Bennett.

They rode on for an hour or so, and when they saw tracks in the road, followed them into the brush where they found the remains of a camp.

Riley knelt and pointed to the pile of thin, cigar butts near where the campfire had been. “I’d say it’s them, all right. That’s the kind of cigars that Odle likes to smoke. And them horse tracks show one horse has a loose shoe, which would be Carlson’s. He don’t care for his horses at all.”

“Well, like you said, Joe, the tracks are fresh now. We can’t be far behind them. This is where they spent the night,” said Chad. “And it must have been a wet one, too. Glad we didn’t have to be out in the rain.” He bent over and picked up something hid under some brush. “And not very good for some one that’s injured. This rag has blood on it. Didn’t that drover say that he thought he hit one of them?”

“Yeah, he did,” agreed Joe. “Looks like he was right. Gives us a better chance at catchin’ ‘em.”

“What are you guys waitin’ for, then. A special invite? Let’s get goin’.” Bennett mounted his horse and rode out.

Joe and Chad shrugged and followed his lead.

*****

The wagon pulled up in front of the Colter home and the bewhiskered man jumped down off the seat. Another drover drew rein beside the wagon and dismounted.

The door opened and Jody asked, “May I help you.”

“Ma’am.” Wishbone took off his hat. “My name is Wishbone, and this here is Jim Quince. Mr. Favor sent us to get Rowdy and Hay Soos. We’ll take ‘em out of your way.”

Jody looked over the two men. The shorter one with the whiskers didn’t really look like a drover but then it took all kinds she thought. “Your men aren’t botherin’ us none. We were glad to take care of them. And they need another couple days of rest ‘fore they go back to work.”

“And we sure appreciate what you done for them, but I know them two boys and they can be a handful. Especially that Rowdy. We ain’t gonna put them back to work yet. They can lay around the camp and rest.”

“Senior Wishbone? You have come to get us? I am afraid we have taken enough of this good lady’s time. We need to get back to the herd. I need to make sure the horses are cared for.” Hay Soos had stepped out on the porch. He still had a bandage around his head but had his hat sitting gingerly on top of his head, too.

“You’re right, Hay Soos,” agreed Quince. “I know you couldn’t been too much trouble for Ms. Colter but I’m sure that Rowdy was. So I’ll just help him get into the wagon.” He got off his buckskin horse and walked up on the porch. “Can you point out where he’s at, Hay Soos?

“Si, Senior Quince. He is in here.” The Mexican wrangle led Quince into the room where Rowdy lay in a bunk.

Unnoticed, Brennen had left the barn and come to the house to see what was happening. She peaked into her brothers room where Rowdy was. “No. You can’t move Rowdy yet. He isn’t well enough.”

Wishbone looked at the slip of a girl and wondered how Rowdy always managed to find some woman to look after him. He had not only Mrs. Colter but this girl, too. “Now, Miss, I’m sure you and your ma done a good job taken care of him, but you don’t know Rowdy like I do. He can sure be a handful when he first starts feeling better. He can get all kinds of fussy and cranky when he thinks he should be up and doin’ things but really isn’t well enough. So I’ll just take him off your hands and back to our camp.”

Jody took a quick look at both Brennen and Rowdy. She knew Brennen really liked Rowdy but the young man was really too old for her and didn’t need a fourteen year old girl chasing after him. “Brennen, Rowdy is a lot better today. And he should get back to the cattle drive. If he doesn’t get back soon, Mr. Favor could hire someone else to take his place.”

“But then pa could hire him to work here,” said Brennen quickly with a big smile on her face.

Jody sighed, thinking she had gone about that all wrong.

Rowdy, his left arm held to his side with a sling, swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood with help from Quince. “See, Brennen, I am getting better. And I hate to say this since you have been so kind to help me and Hay Soos, but I could never work on no ranch like this. Not that I wouldn’t want to some day. But I’m not the kind to settle down and stay put in one place. Not yet, anyway. I got to be movin’ from one place to another.” He walked slowly across the room, through the door, and down the porch steps to the wagon. He put his right hand on the seat but was unable to pull himself up on to it.

“Here,” fussed Wishbone as he helped Rowdy up onto the seat. “You’ll be fine in a day or so.” Then Wishbone climbed up beside him. He picked up the reins but Rowdy put his hand over the cook’s to stop him from starting the horses.

“Brennen, why don’t you come out to the herd before we leave, and if I’m feelin’ like it, I’ll show you around. Let you see how a cattle drive works,” said Rowdy smiling at the girl.

Brennen gave him a big smile back. “Could I, Rowdy? Could I visit you at the herd?”

Rowdy looked over at Jody. “That is, if your ma and pa will let you?”

Jody nodded her thanks to the drover and spoke, “I don’t see why not. Maybe I’ll come along with her, if it’s alright with you, Rowdy and your trail boss, Mr. Favor.”

“It will be,” agreed Wishbone. “You come on out any time you want, Ms. Colter. You and Brennen. And Mr. Colter, too. You’ll all be welcome at the camp after all you done for Rowdy and Hay Soos.” Wishbone looked around for the wrangler who was still standing on the porch. “Hay Soos, get down here and in the wagon.”

Quickly Hay Soos walked around to the back of the wagon and climbed in over the tailgate.

Wishbone clucked to the horses and they set of for the herd with Quince following.

*****

Two men rode into the trail herd camp and dismounted. They looked tired and dusty, as if they had ridden hard for days. One of them spoke to Joe Scarlet, who was watching them. “Where can we find the trail boss?”

“He’s out at the herd. Should be here in a few minutes. You men lookin’ for work?”

Moments later, the hard looking trail boss rode in, dismounted and poured himself a cup of coffee.

Scarlet spoke to him. “Two men here, lookin’ for work,” he said in way of an introduction.

Gil Favor looked over the men. They didn’t really strike him as drovers or even cowboys. They wore their guns low on their hips like gunmen. But then, lots of men did that. One was skinny and the other on the chubby side. Both were dusty and unshaven. “I wouldn’t normally need any more help, but two of my men got hurt the other day. Guess I could use a couple more. You ever drive cattle before?”

The skinny one spoke up. “Not much. Mostly been doin’ ranch work but it played out. We’ll do most anything. Even drivin’ wagons or camp roust-a-bout.”

“Don’t need camp help. Got plenty. And a good cook. But I could use some more men to help with the cattle. We’re layin’ over here a day more, then movin’ out. You’ll be ridin’ drag. What’s your name?”

“Mine’s Gault and this here is…” The skinny cowboy hesitated.

“Name’s Jones,” said the chubby man, sticking out his hand to Favor who shook it briefly.

“All right,” said Favor. “Turn your horses into the remuda. Scarlet will let you know which horses you’re to ride. Get some grub and sleep. Jones, you’ll take the first shift tonight. Gault, you take the second shift.” The trail boss turned away from the new men as if they didn’t matter and looked out over the horizon. He hoped they availed themselves of the stream that was near the camp. He knew that all cowboys and drovers were dusty, dirty and unshaven most of the time. But these two were worse than normal. He knew he was lucky that most of the men he hired cared about their appearance and did what they could to stay halfway clean on the drives.

Jones and Gault led their horses to the picketline. “Well, we got on. We can stay with this crumby outfit for a few day’s ‘till the Rangers quite huntin’ for us,” said Gault.

“You don’t think they’ll look for us with this herd?” asked Jones.

“Nah, they’ll think we kept ridin’ north.”

“What about Odle?” whined Jones. “We just left him there.”

“His fault for steppin’ out in front of that bullet. Anyway, the Rangers’ll find him and take care of him.” Gault turned back to the camp, carrying his saddle and gear with Jones following him.

Minutes later, the supply wagon came into the came with Wishbone and Hay Soos on the seat. Rowdy had laid down in the back of the wagon. Quince helped him out and over to where he could lay on a bedroll using his saddle for a backrest.

“Mushy?” yelled Wishbone. “You got anything started for the noon meal?”

The camp swamper appeared from behind the chuckwagon, a knife in his hand. “Yes, sir, Mr. Wishbone. I’m cuttin’ up some spuds to go in some stew. Like you told me to do ‘fore you left this mornin’.”

“Good,” said Wishbone, lifting a lid on a cast iron pot hung over the fire. “Well, hurry up and get ‘em in this pot. The water’s boilin’.”

Favor walked over to where Rowdy lay. “How you doin’, boy?” He hunkered down on his haunches so they could talk better.

“I’ll be back to work in a day or so,” said Rowdy, trying to look like he felt better than he did.

“Well, don’t push it. I hired a couple of men this morning so we still got a full crew. You and Hay Soos can take it easy for a few more days. Then you can make up for being lazy.” Favor looked over at the wrangler stretched out on a nearby bedroll. “You hear that, Hay Soos? You’re to take it easy for a day or so. I’ll have Scarlet takin’ care of the horses.”

Hay Soos nodded his head then grimaced at the pain. “Si, Senior Favor. But I can take care of the horses.”

“So can Scarlet. Do as I say. Both of you take it easy.” The trail boss walked over to the fire and filled a cup with coffee.

*****

A rider rode up to the stand of trees where the three Texas Rangers were resting their horses.

On seeing who the rider was, Reese Bennett grumbled in his rough voice. “What the heck are you doin’ here, Buckmeister?”

“Well, Bennett, you ain’t checked in with the Captain fer several days, so he sent me out here to make sure you weren’t lollygagging’ around, doin’ nothin’. Like I see you’re doin’.”

Joe Riley spoke up, “We ain’t lollygagging’, Cotton. We’re givin’ the horses a rest. If you’ll look, you can see they’re ‘bout done in.”

“We haven’t checked in with the Captain because we haven’t been near a telegraph office for a week or so,” added Chad Cooper. “We been on the trail of those bank robbers.”

“You really ‘spect me to believe that?” asked Cotton.

“Yes, we do,” said Bennett. “We tracked ‘em ‘till there was a storm and there weren’t no tracks. Then we found the tracks again but they keep movin’ hard and we ain’t caught up with ‘em yet. But we will.”

“Well, I’ll just give you fella’s a hand ‘till you do catch them. Seems like you need some help.”

The three looked up at their fellow Ranger in disgust. “We don’t need your help, Buckmeister,” said Riley. “We can manage on our own. We been Rangers a lot longer than you have.”

“Then why ain’t you caught those bank robbers yet.”

“We didn’t want to. Yet,” stated Bennett.

“Come on. Let’s get riding before that trail gets any colder,” said Chad as he mounted his black horse.

They rode for several hours as the trail wandered here and there and looped back on itself several times. Near sunset, they pulled up to rest again in a nest of boulders. After a few minutes, Riley’s buckskin horse nickered low.

“What’s the matter, Buck,” asked his rider. “You hear something?”

“He’s just tired,” said Chad.

A moment later, Joe cocked his head then put a finger to his lips and hissed very softly. “I hear voices,” he whispered so low the others almost couldn’t hear him. “On the other side of this mess a rocks.”

“You sure?” asked Reese.

Joe nodded his head. “They’re there. Leave the horses here. Chad, you go round on the left. Reese, you and Cotton go to the right. I’m goin’ right over the top. What say we hit them in five minutes?”

“Let’s go,” agreed Cooper. He and the others spread out to surround the half acre of large rocks. They were all in place by the end of the five minutes. Each of them could just barely make out three men and horses.

Gun drawn, Bennett was the Ranger that decided to make a play first. “Drop them guns and get your hands up!” he yelled at the men.

“You’re surrounded,” yelled Cotton Buckmeister.

One of the men went for his gun. “I wouldn’t do it,” shouted Cooper. The man hesitated then raised his right hand.

The other two men decided to make a run for it. They flung themselves back on their horses and rammed their spurs into their mounts sides. Both horses squealed and spun around and were at a full gallop in seconds.

Having left their horses on the other side of the boulders, there was nothing the Rangers could do but listen to the sound of running horses as the robbers disappeared in the dark.

“You just hold still,” said Bennett as he sidled up to the one man that hadn’t tried to escape and slipped his revolver out of its holster. “Put your other hand up.”

“Can’t,” said the man. “It’s broke, I think. That’s why I didn’t try to get away, too. I can’t keep up this runnin’ with a hole in my arm.” With a groan, he sank to the ground holding his left arm.

Joe snickered. “That drover was right. He did wing one of them. I’ll go get the horses. We can camp here tonight.”

“Sounds good to me,” agreed Cotton.

It wasn’t long before they had done some first aide on the injured bank robber and boiled a pan of coffee and opened a can of beans to go with some hardtack that they had for food.

“Sure not like the food that Ms. Colter fixed at the ranch, is it?” asked Bennett.

“Well, maybe we’ll get a chance to stop by there again before we have to head back to Laredo,” said Joe.

Chad nodded agreement. “We’ll have to make a point to do that.”

“Ranch? What ranch were you fellers at? You was supposed to be trackin’ these robbers,” said Buckmeister.

“We was,” agreed Reese. “But we went up to this ranch to see if they might a seen the robbers and they had. Or at least some drovers from a cattle herd had. The drovers were in a fight with the robbers who tried to rob ‘em of their horses. That’s how come this feller got a broke arm. One of the drovers shot him.”

Cotton tried to make since of what the older Ranger had just said. “So what are we gonna do with him while we’re lookin’ for his friends?”

For a moment, there wasn’t an answer. “Chad, don’t you think it’s the job of the newest Ranger to take care of the wounded and the helpless when we’re on the track of renegades?” declared Joe.

“I do, Joe. Doesn’t it say that somewhere in the regulations?”

“I don’t remember nothin’ like that,” added Reese.

Joe waved a spoon full of beans in Reese’s direction. “Sure you do, Reese. I don’t remember the page or rule number but I know I read it somewhere.”

Chad spoke up. “It is some sort of rule. I remember that. Which means that since Cotton is the newest Ranger, he has to stay here with…with…what’s your name?” he asked the robber.

“Odle. Tom Odle,” said the outlaw.

Chad when on. “That means Cotton has to stay here with Odle. What kind of name is Odle?” asked Cooper of the robber.

“My name,” said Tom Odle. “What’s it to you?”

“Oh, nothing, nothing,” said Chad.

“So does that mean I have to stay here with Odle?” asked Buckmeister.

“I guess it does,” agreed Riley. Reese and Chad nodded in agreement with Joe.

“So how long do I got a stay here, while you fellas look for the other outlaws? We ain’t got much food.”

No one answered for a minute. Then Chad slapped his leg and looked around the camp at the other men, very pleased with himself. He said. “I got an idea. What don’t Cotton take Odle and go on into Denton where there’s a doctor to take care of Odle’s broke arm.”

Joe smiled. “Now that’s a good idea, Chad.”

“It sure is,” agreed Reese.

So it was agreed that the next morning Cotton would go to the town of Denton with the prisoner while Chad, Reese and Joe continued after the other two bank robbers.

*****

A couple of days passed but the trail herd stayed in the valley. Favor decided it would be worth their while to let the beeves put on some weight eating the rich grass. Hay Soos was up and taking care of the horses. Rowdy was still wearing the sling on his arm but was doing what he could, including some riding.

It was mid-morning when Rowdy looked up and saw Brennen leading the way on her pinto pony. Her parents were following. They reined in when they reached the camp.

“Myyyy…” stammered Brennen. “That’s a lot of cows.”

“Howdy,” Jake greeted Rowdy. “Sure hope you don’t mine our comin’ out to see how you’re doin’. You and Hay Soos. Brennen just had to come.”

“I’m glad you came,” said Rowdy. “Get down, and take a rest,” he invited the guests to dismount.

The trail boss walked up to his guests. “Those are beeves, Brennen, not cows. Or that’s what we call them, anyway.” He remembered having a similar conversation with his two daughters when they had visited him while he was on a drive. Brennen was about the same age as Gillian, he thought.

He and Rowdy spent several minutes explaining how the cattle drive operated. Then Wishbone stepped in and explained how he was the cook and what he did and his helper was Mushy. Mushy gave Brennen and Jody a handful of the hard cookies that the drovers liked. Wishbone had hid some back when he made them that morning.

“How is your arm, Rowdy?” asked Brennen shyly.

The ramrod moved his arm a bit. “Doin’ fine. That doctorin’ you and your ma did just fixed it up fine. I’m still wearin’ this sling to keep Wishbone from yellin’ at me.”

Wishbone made a noise deep in his throat. “You shouldn’t be ridin’ yet, Rowdy.”

Brennen giggled at the bickering between the two men, but knew they must be good friends.

Jody noticed a drover getting closer and closer to Brennen. He was filthy dirty and she saw Brennen wrinkle her nose in disgust at the smell. He seemed different to Rowdy, Mr. Favor and the other men. Wishbone had a beard but was still clean as a man could be on a cattle drive.

About that time, Wishbone saw the drover getting closer and closer to the girl. “Hey, you, Jones. Get away from Miss Brennen. Ain’t you got no manners. Quite your gawkin’. Ain’t you got work to do?”

Jones snickered at the cook. “You quite your fussin’, Cookie. I just rode in to get some of that there half rotten grub you serve.”

Wishbone raised a skillet and threatened the man. “I done told you, if you call me Cookie again I’m goin’ a smash in your head. My names Wishbone. Use it or don’t call me nothin’.”

“Take it easy, Wish.” Favor had walked between the cook and the drover. “Jones, we got guests and you will give them some respect. Now get your food and eat it over there.” He nodded his head at the other side of the camp were the other men were eating or lounging around. Jones swaggered over to where Gault sat on a chunk of dead log.

“Miss Brennen?” asked Rowdy, wanting to take the girl’s mind of the incident. “Would you like to ride out to the herd with me and take a turn around it? If it’s all right with your folks?”

Jake nodded his head in agreement. “Sure thing, Rowdy. It’s fine with us.” He looked at Jody to make sure she, too, was willing to let Brennen ride with the young man. His wife nodded her head. Jake knew his daughter was growing up. He knew she would be thrilled to go with the drover, even if he was so much older than she was. He would be leaving in a few days and she would probably never see him again. He, also, knew she would be mooning after him like a lost puppy for a month or so but life was a hard lesson that had to be learned.

In moments, Rowdy and Brennen had mounted their horses and ridden off.

It was only a few minutes when Quince rode into camp. “Riders comin’ in,” he announced.

Moments later, a buckskin, a bay, and a black horse came into the camp. It was the three Texas Rangers.

“Howdy,” said Favor to them. “You boys do get around.”

“We’re still looking for those bank robbers. When we saw your herd, we thought we might be able to talk you out of some chow,” said Chad Cooper

“Sure thing,” agreed the trail boss. “Wish, these men could use a meal. Their Texas Rangers trailin’ a couple of bank robbers.”

“Right over here, men. Grab a plate, and get some stew. We got plenty. Coffee, too,” said Wishbone.

The Rangers didn’t hesitate to do as the cook had suggested. They were hungry and tired of their own attempts at cooking with the small amount of supplies they could carry in their saddlebags. They each took a plate full of stew and biscuits over to a couple of wooden boxes and sat down to eat.

None of them noticed the way that Jones and Gault slowly turned so that they had their backs to the newcomers.

Gault set his plate on the ground. “Think I just lost my appetite.”

“Yeah,” agreed Jones, but he kept shoveling the food into his mouth. “What we gonna do now?”

“Keep your voice down and just try to act natural.”

“Huh? What’s that?”

“Don’t do nothin’ to draw their attention. Finish eatin’ and get your horse and pretend you’re gonna ride out to the herd.”

“What then?” asked Jones.

Gault looked at his friend as if he couldn’t believe how stupid he was. “We’ll make our way to the herd and then slip out and get away. Now finish eatin’.”

“Any luck in finding those robbers?” asked Jake. The Rangers had sat down near him and his family.

“Some,” said Reese with his mouth full. “We caught the one that that drover, Yates, injured.”

“Oh,” said Jody looking around as if expecting to see the captured outlaw. “Did… what did you do with him?” she asked. She hoped they hadn’t had to kill him.

Joe Riley sensed her concern. “Oh, he’s all right, Ma’am. We met up with Buckmeister – he’s another Ranger – and sent the outlaw into Denton with him to the doctor.”

“Oh.” Jody expelled a sigh of relief. She hated the thought of anyone getting killed, even if he was an outlaw.

“Were the other bank robbers with the one you caught?” asked Favor.

Reese answered. “Yeah, they was but they got away while we was tendin’ to the hurt one. But we been on their trail ever since.”

“You think you’ll catch them?” asked Jake.

“Of course we will. Us Texas Rangers always get our man when we go after him,” explained Reese Bennett.

Joe Riley had been looking over the drovers that were eating here and there around the camp. Most of them were looking at the Rangers and the Colters with interest, but two of them sat off to the side staring at their plates like there might be rattlesnakes in them. Joe thought he would like to get a better look at their faces which were hid by the sloppy felt hats they had pulled low as if they were trying to hide from someone.

Joe figured he would keep an eye on them. He stood up and took his empty plate over to the pan full of soapy water kept by Wishbone for the dirty dishes. “Thanks,” he said to the cook. “That was sure better than the jerky I got in my saddlebags.”

“Anytime,” answered Wishbone as he chopped up more meat for the evening’s meal.

Joe Riley wandered out to the picket line where the horses were tied. He stopped by his buckskin and tightened the cinch which he had loosened when he had tied the horse there when they first came in. Trying not to be too noticed, he tightened the cinch on Chad’s black and on Bennett’s bay. He glanced back at the camp and saw that Chad Cooper was looking at him. He nodded his head slightly. Chad nodded back. He hoped that Chad realized he had spotted the two robbers.

Chad walked over to the wash pan and added his plate to the stack. He was glad it wasn’t his job to wash all those dirty dishes. He muttered a thanks to Wishbone and walked to the picket line. Moments later. he was mounted and walked his mount after Joe’s as they slowly headed for the cattle herd. He hoped that Reese hadn’t noticed and would keep the trail boss and the Colters entertained for a few more minutes.

But Reese had noticed. “Hey, where them two fellers goin’ off to without me?” He stood, letting his plate fall to the ground.

“Looks like they’re gonna go out to the herd,” said Gil Favor. “I wonder why?” He looked at the Colters. “You stay here. I’m gonna go check the herd.” As if knowing that his boss would need his horse, Hay Soos was right there handing the reins to him. Favor mounted and rode out to follow the two Rangers.

Jake and Jody had stood when the trail boss had stood. “Wonder what’s goin’ on?” asked Jody. “And where is Brennen?”

“I got a feelin’ those bank robbers might be hidin’ out here as drovers and the Rangers know it,” said Jake. “And Jody, you are gonna stay right here, out of the way. I’m gonna go find Brennen.” He ran to the picket line and quickly mounted his bay horse.

Jake rode by Rowdy and Brennen as they returned to the camp. They reined in and dismounted near where Jody stood beside Reese Bennett. “What’s goin’ on?” asked Rowdy, nodding to where he could still see Jake and Gil Favor riding toward the herd.

“I ain’t sure,” said Bennett, who was also wondering why Cooper and Riley had ridden off without him. “My partners rode off and then the trail boss and Mr. Colter followed.”

Jody explained some more. “Reese and the other two Texas Rangers rode in after you and Brennen rode out. Then the Rangers, Mr. Favor, and Jake rode off. I got the impression they thought that the bank robbers that shot you might be here trying to hide by being drovers.”

“That could be, Rowdy,” said Wishbone as he joined the group. “I ain’t sure but I think that Jones feller and that Gault feller rode off right before the Rangers did.”

“What!” shouted Reese. “You got two drovers you think are the outlaws we done been trailin’. And no one told me.”

“Those two hired on while I was stayin’ with Mrs. Colter, didn’t they, Wish?”

“Yeah, they did.”

“I still don’t understand why Cooper and Riley didn’t let me know,” said Reese as he took off to get his horse and go after them.

“Well, I think I’ll ride out and find Mr. Favor,” said Rowdy as he turned back to his horse.

“Now, Rowdy, you need to stay here. Your shoulder ain’t healed good yet,” Wishbone ordered.

Rowdy had his foot in the stirrup when there was the thud of horse’s hooves coming into camp. His foot came back down as he realized it was Jones and Gault that were riding in. They both slid out of their saddles with their guns drawn before Rowdy could pull his own revolver. They had decided to come back when they saw everyone riding out. Gault thought a hostage might help them get away.

“Hold it right there, Ramrod,” commanded Gault, pointing his gun at Brennen and Jody. “Or I shoot the women.” With a quick move, he was by the women pulling Brennen in front of him and holding his arm across her throat.

“Don’t, Gault. You’re makin’ a mistake,” said Rowdy.

“What mistake would that be?” cackled Jones, who held his own gun on Rowdy. “Don’t make no moves, Yates, or you’re a dead man. Might be a good idea anyway.” The outlaw giggled at the thought. “Gault, what we gonna do now?”

“Let me think,” muttered Gault.

Brennen struggled but the man held her tighter. “Be still,” he yelled at her. “Or I’ll shoot your ma.” At that, Brennen stilled.

“Brennen, do what he says,” said Jody grimly. She was terrified the man would kill her daughter.

No one saw Reese as he sneaked up behind Gault until the Ranger spoke in his harsh, gruff voice. “Mister, I got my gun on you. And you best not hurt that little girl.”

Gault could feel the round end of the six gun barrel pushing into the back of his neck. He hesitated. The gun pushed harder.

“Let her go,” commanded Bennett.

Gault growled something that was better left unsaid.

“NOW!” shouted the Ranger.

At that moment, the other two Rangers came riding back with Jake Colter and the trail boss with them. They pulled their mounts to a stop when they saw what was going on.

“Now hold on,” cautioned Jake as he stepped off his horse. “This isn’t really necessary.”

Jones had been holding his gun on Rowdy and now he whined a question to his partner. “What now, Gault?”

Gault slowly pulled his arm away from Brennen and she quickly fled to her pa’s side. Jake eased his daughter over to Jody and advanced toward the outlaw. Now that Brennen was safely out of the way, he intended to have a talk with Gaul, with his fists doing the talking.

“No, Jake,” said Jody, knowing what her husband was about to do. “He’s still got a gun.”

“Put down the gun,” commanded Chad Cooper. “Both of you.”

“Might as well drop your gun. You can’t get out a here now,” added Riley.

For a moment, it looked as if the bank robbers were going to give up. Then Gault spun around and started shooting at Bennett. The Texas Ranger fired back hitting the outlaw in the chest. Seeing Gault lying on the ground, Jones dropped his gun like it was suddenly very hot and threw his hands up over his head. “I give up,” he squeaked in his whinny voice. “I give up.”

“Good thing. I was just fixing to shoot you,” said Chad as he snapped handcuffs on the prisoner.

Gil Favor, Jake, and Bennett stood over Gault while Riley knelt beside him. “He’s dead,” Joe said calmly as he stood.

Brennen had hid her face in her ma’s shoulder and tried to stop her shaking. Jody patted her daughter, trying to comfort her by speaking soothing words.

Favor turned to the Rangers. “I guess you’ll be takin’ Jones here, or whatever his name might be, off my hands.”

“Yeah, we will, Mr. Favor. And Jones is actually Johnny Farley. But could you do us a favor.” It was all Chad could do to keep from laughing at his clever remark of the use of the trail boss’s name. “Could you see to buryin’ this other one? Called himself Gault, didn’t he? But I it is really an outlaw named Haze Carlson.”

“Yeah, he said that was his name Gault but I didn’t believe him any more than I did Jones. But never figured they were the outlaws you were lookin’ for. And, yeah, I guess we can do you that favor,” the trail boss emphasized the word, “and see to it Gault or Carlson is properly laid to rest.”

“Now see here, Ms. Colter. You and Brennen come over here on the other side of the chuckwagon and leave all this to the men. Ain’t nothin’ for you to do or see here.” Wishbone led Jody and Brennen away from where the dead man was and seated them on a couple of upended wooden crates. “I’ll get you a cup of coffee, Ms. Colter, to help settle your nerves. Can get you something stronger if you want it?”

Jody was thankful for the older man’s consideration. More for Brennen than herself. It wasn’t the first man she had seen killed. “Yes, Wishbone, that would be wonderful. The something stronger especially. Even for Brennen.” She felt that a good stiff swallow of whiskey would be the right medicine for her daughter, considering all that had happened to her. “But only one.”

It wasn’t long before Jake came to check on his wife and daughter and to let them know they would be going home in a few minutes. Hay Soos led their horses to them and they mounted for the trip.

“Mr. Colter. Ms. Colter. Brennen. I want to apologize for what happened while you were here,” said Rowdy, looking a bit embarrassed at the situation.

Gil Favor was right behind him. “Let me add my apologies to Rowdy’s. If I had had any idea those two were wanted, I would never have hired them.”

“We know that, Mr. Favor. Things happen sometimes that can’t be helped,” said Jake. “But I think it’s time for us to go.”

Chad Cooper walked up. “Yeah, we got to be goin’, too. Got a get this feller on to Laredo. We’re glad for the help in findin’ these outlaws. Mr. Favor, if it hadn’t been for you hirin’ them on, we might never a caught them.”

“Chad, if you or any other Rangers are ever up this way again, stop by for a visit,” said Jody.

“We’d sure like to see you again,” added Brennen.

Chad tipped his hat to the women. “I’ll sure do that.”

After deciding to get together in the morning so that Jake and his boys could move their steers into the Favor herd and another round of goodbyes, Jake, Jody and Brennen started the ride for home. They rode for about a mile when Jody spoke up. “Sure will be glad to get home. It’s been a long day.”

“Never figured to run into those bank robbers in the middle of a cow camp. Jody, I’m sorry you and Brennen had to be involved like that.”

“It’s all right, Pa. Everything turned out all right,” said Brennen as she urged her little dun pony into a faster trot and went on ahead of her parents.

Jody smiled at her husband. “Don’t go worrin’ ‘bout Brennen, Jake. She’ll be fine. All the women in this family have to be strong to put up with the shenanigans of our men folk to start with. As well as life on the frontier.” With that, she put her sorrel mare into a trot to catch up with Brennen, leaving Jake to wonder how he had been so lucky as too have married a women like Jody.

*****

Two days later, as dawn broke, the drovers were up and pushing the cattle off the bedground. They let them drink their fill at the stream that crossed the valley. As the sun dried the dew from the grass, the herd began to string out and the brindle steer with his bell ringing softly started leading the way north. There was the addition of one hundred and twenty-nine Colter steers that would have to be watched closely so they didn’t try to stray back to their home range.

Gil Favor rode his bay horse up on a knoll so he could see as much of the herd as possible. After a long look, he took in a lung full of wind and yelled out. “Head ‘em up. Move ‘em out.”

***The End***

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