I always said some young gun would kill me but reckon I was wrong. My horse stepped in a hole and threw me and I'm all busted up inside. Reckon my back is broke and I fell on a broken tree and am gutted like a pig.
This young fellar with this note is Luke Donaldson. He found me on the trail and tended to me the best he could. Weren't much he could do, but he tried. He'll tell you where my body is and ifin it's not too much trouble I'd like to be buried on that little knoll over lookin Lynx Creek. Always did like fishin in that little creek; never caught much but sure liked tryin.
Anything of value in my shack, give to Pastor Fuller. He'll make the best use of it. There's a Greener 12 gauge coach gun under my bed that might help you with your marshaling. I wished you'd take care of it for me until we meet again.
If the Pastor is right, we'll get together again one of these days. In the meantime thanks for being my friend.
Luke took the gun belt and strapped it on. He used the oilskin ground cloth from his bedroll to wrap around Elwood to protect his body from the elements. Luke started to pick up the whiskey bottle but smiled and left it next to the old man. He sure did appreciate good whiskey, Luke thought.
When Luke rode into Prescott he saw what had to be Marshal Tillman sitting with another man in front of the marshal's office. He got off his horse, hitched him to the post in front of the office, and stepped up to the two men.
"Marshal Tillman?" The lawman nodded and Luke handed him Elwood's note. "Mr. Sloan asked me to bring this note to you."
"Elwood Sloan?" Marshal Tillman unfolded the note and read it. "You Donaldson? Luke nodded. "What happened?"
Luke explained everything he knew and the job Elwood had hired him to do. "Elwood's on that old loggin road that cuts the trail to Chino Valley; about a hundred yards back in the woods; I wrapped him in my ground cloth. If that's all Marshal, reckon I better get on the trail to Wickenburg."
"Mr. Donaldson, thank you for helping my friend," Tillman said and shook hands with Luke. "I'll be headin out to get Elwood; ifin I leave him out there the varmints might get at him. If you got a mind to, I'll put you up at the boarding house and stand you to a good meal. Y'all can ride south tomorrow morning with a good night's sleep and a full belly."
"Thanks Marshal. Another day won't make a difference to me I reckon."
At first light, Luke saddled up and started his ride down the hill, as the locals said, to Wickenburg. All day long Luke rode at a slow lope for half an hour, walked his horse for fifteen minutes, and took the animal back to the lope. He stopped three times that day for about an hour at a time to water and rest the horse. He made good miles that first day and stopped just before dusk to make camp.
Prescott was situated in the Bradshaw Mountains at an elevation of 5400 feet. Wickenburg was in the high chaparral of a semi desert at 2000 feet. The road was mostly downhill and was well traveled. As Luke got closer to Wickenburg, the countryside changed from high country pines to junipers to sagebrush and an occasional Acacia or Mesquite tree. There were a lot of other low bushes and desert plants that Luke didn't know as he'd grown up in the high country.
The weather changed too; from the high country coolness to the hotter temperatures at the beginnings of the desert. The mostly arid land once you got down off the mountain was the hardest part of the journey from Prescott to Wickenburg.
Luke followed the same plan the second and third day. Making camp on the evening of the third day, he told his horse, "We'll make Wickenburg about midday. Then we need to decide if we head back to Prescott or take a different trail."
He was pouring a cup of coffee when a rifle shot rang over the mesa. Luke dropped the cup and moved behind a big mesquite stump; three more shots kicked up dust in front of his hiding place. He pulled Elwood's Remington and waited. A dark figure crept toward Luke but never made it closer than 30 yards; the bark of two shots from the Remington put an end to the figure. Another man rose and fired a rifle at Luke. It was at extreme range for the big Remington but it spoke two more times and that man went down too. A shadowy third figure must of had a horse waiting and rode away, whipping his mount to make the animal run faster.
Luke walked over to the two men on the ground. One looked like an Apache and the other was a white man. Probably from the reservation, he thought as he toed the Indian and the other's what's called a renegade. Luke went back to his camp and changed the cylinder in the Remington. Have to get some more cartridges in Wickenburg.
There were no more incidents during the next morning and as he'd told his horse, Luke rode into Wickenburg at mid day. He thought the two places that might know where Gillian Sloan lived, was the general mercantile and the post office. In this case there were one and the same.
"Howdy Mister. How can I help you?" The older man behind the long counter asked.
"Need a couple of boxes of .44 cartridges and some information."
"Got the cartridges right here," the man said and reached behind him, took two boxes of ammunition, and set them on the counter. As far as information I might be able to help, might not."
As Luke paid for the cartridges, he asked, "I'm looking for Gillian Sloan and her boy Caleb. Can you tell me what part of Wickenburg they live in?"
"Can't," was the reply.
"They don't live in Wickenburg; haven't for over a year."
"Can you tell me where they went?"
"Why do you want to see them?" Luke turned at the voice and saw a large man with a Sheriff's star on his vest.
"I have some personal things from her husband. Promised I'd deliver them to Mrs. Sloan."
"What's your name Mister?"
"I'm Luke Donaldson, from up Chino Valley way."
"And you rode all the way from Chino Valley to make a delivery?" The Sheriff's tone showed his disbelief. "I'm Sheriff Deevers, and I was a friend of Gillian and Caleb's while they were here." Deevers paused for several seconds. Changing the subject he asked, "How do you know Elwood Sloan? Did you gun him down?""
"No sir. Mr. Sloan and I got to be...well sorta friends." Luke explained how he'd found and met Elwood; and the promise he'd made to a dying man. "I aim to keep my word Sheriff. With your help or without it, I aim to make that delivery to Mrs. Sloan."
Sheriff Deevers stared at Luke for almost a minute. Luke had just turned back to the store clerk when Deevers spoke. "I like your looks youngster and not many would make that trip just to keep his word. Gillian and the boy moved to Tucson about a year ago. She said she knew some people there that would give her a job. Johnson here," the Sheriff pointed to the store clerk, "has been forwarding her mail to the post office in Tucson."
"Any more you can help me with?" Luke asked. "It ain't a lot of information to find a woman and a boy."
"Not much to add son," Johnson said. "I've been sending any of Mrs. Sloan's mail to general delivery at the Tucson post office."
"She said a woman she used to work with years ago had opened a general mercantile there. Said she was gonna help with the store," Sheriff Deevers offered. He paused, took off his hat, and scratched his head. "Don't rightly know the name of that place, but there can't be too many general stores in the Old Pueblo."
"Old Pueblo?" Luke asked.
"That's what a lot of folks call Tucson. They tell me it comes from Tucson being founded back in 1775."
Luke nodded and waved at the clerk. "Thanks for the help Mr. Johnson, Sheriff. I'll get a bite at the café and head out."
"Nobody would blame you if you didn't keep goin. Sloan only hired you to go to Wickenburg," Deevers said.
"I would blame me," Luke replied. "Like I said, I gave Mr. Sloan my word to get this stuff to his wife."
"What's so important that you'd ride four days from Prescott and then another week to ten days further south?
"I've got some money for her. Also got a journal written by Mr. Sloan that he wanted his wife to have. Of the two things, I think Mrs. Sloan will appreciate the journal the most."
"The country between here and Phoenix is a hard land Mr. Donaldson and it gets worse south of Phoenix; there's not many water holes. There' be a lot of bandits and other outlaws along that trail, so you stay sharp."
"I ran into a couple of, guess you'd call them renegades, comin down the mountain. Thanks for the warning Sheriff, I'll keep my eyes open. Maybe I'll see you again on my way back." Luke nodded at Deevers and left the mercantile.
As Sheriff Deevers had said, the land between Wickenburg and Phoenix got worse the farther south he rode. It was hot, and windy. Luke followed a trail that ran along the Hayassampa River for several miles before having to cut cross country. The river was lined for long spaces with cottonwood trees and the water made for easy camping.
That first day out from Wickenburg, Luke was chased for a few miles by a group of men. They had no way of knowing that Luke carried a lot of money; they were just bandits trying to pick up what they could. Luke and his horse were able to out run and outlast the bandits. There would be a full moon that evening and Luke had planned to ride late into the night to put some miles between him and the outlaws.
Phoenix was the biggest town Luke had ever seen. He looked around, marveling at the number and different types of people walking the streets. Along with the whites, he saw a lot of Mexicans, some blacks that had to be freed slaves, and several riders that looked to be ex soldiers. Luke rode past a "bawdy house" with several women sitting on the front porch, who called out invitations to come join them to most of the men that rode in front of the building. He resisted the temptation to see if the "ladies" were as friendly as they seemed.
Got better things to do with my time and my money, he told himself. Sides, if I stop there I might stay for a week or more and I need to get to Tucson. Luke got a sleeping room at what was called a flop house and had the first real supper he'd had for three nights. Before going to bed he bought some trail supplies, including an extra canteen. Luke thought he might have need of it if the water holes were as few and far between as he'd been told.
At first light, Luke put his horse on the road to Tucson. He wanted to ride in the relative coolness of the early morning until around mid day when the heat was almost torture; then he'd hole up until late afternoon or early evening and ride as long as there was light to see. The pleasant spring weather in Prescott had changed into the searing heat of summer in the desert.
The land along the trail wasn't quite desolate but what little vegetation grew was mostly Creosote bushes, stunted Mesquite trees and more of the short, knee high bushes he'd seen riding into Wickenburg. That first day he followed his plan and stopped at mid day. That evening he rode till nearly 8 PM and as he began to look for a place to bed down until morning, he saw the light of a fire. Riding closer, he could make out a camp of ten freight wagons.
"Hello the camp," Luke called sitting on his horse about a hundred feet from the wagons. "Like to come in if I might"
"C'mon in Mister but keep your hands in the open and don't make no sudden moves." Holding his hands out to his side, Luke used his knees to guide his well trained cow pony into the circle of wagons.
"You don't look like trouble," a very large man holding a Winchester said. "Climb down and sit a spell. Jacob get the man a cup of coffee and a plate of that stew," he ordered. A young man of no more than 17 jumped to getting the food. "Name's Toland Stafford," he said. "I'm the boss of this group of misfits."
"Luke Donaldson," he replied and shook hands with Stafford. Toland was very large standing close to 6'7 and looked like as wide as a buffalo. Toland looked to be in his 50's and with his long brown hair, streak with gray here and there, wore down his back and the full bushy beard, the man had a striking resemblance to a big grizzly bear.
He told Toland about his run in with the bandits two nights earlier. "Like to camp here with you tonight if I could," Luke said.
"Where you from and where you headed?" The big man asked.
"Come from up Chino Valley by way of Prescott. Headed to Tucson to find a woman and her son; got some possessions for her from her late husband."
"Came through Prescott did ya?" Toland asked. Luke nodded with his mouth full of stew. "Run into Marshal Summers up there?"
Luke wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Only Marshal I met was a man named Tillman. Didn't know there was two Marshals in Prescott."
"There's not," Toland said and smiled. "Just testin you boy."
Luke sat down his plate and cup and stood up. "Why would you do that?" He asked in a voice that didn't quite hide his anger.
"Take it easy Luke." Toland picked up Luke's cup and motioned for Jacob to refill it. Once Luke had coffee, Toland, said, "I just wanted to see the cut of your jib fore I let you stay the night in our camp."
"What did you say? Cut of a jib, what's that mean?"
Toland laughed. "It's a seafarin term. Means see what kind of man you be. Guess I forgot not everyone knows nautical terms."
"You were a sailor then," Luke replied.
"For thirty of the last forty years, I was a seafarin man. Started as a cabin boy when I was twelve. Worked my way up to first mate and then begged, borrowed, and stole until I could buy a ship of my own."
"What are you doin running a freight business here in the desert? If you don't mind my askin."
"Lost my ship in a typhoon in the Philippine Sea off the coast of Japan I did." Toland looked down at the ground but was seeing his ship go down. "Had everything I owned tied up in the 'Rose Marie', when she sank so did my life." The big man shook himself and raised his head. "Havin become used to eating at least a few times a week, I got a job with a freight company when I got back to San Francisco, and here I be. Put together a stake and set up this company a couple of years ago."
"Don't you miss your old life? I mean you said you'd been at sea for thirty years."
"Well now...let me tell ya. Sometimes I miss the feel of a ship under my feet somethin fierce. Then I remember how many times the sea tried to kill me. I remember how she picked up my ship and shook it like a dog with a bone and I don't miss it so much anymore. Lost nine men when the 'Rose' went down; damned near drowned myself." Toland smiled. "The sea is like a beautiful woman; full of promise and excitement. But she can be a vengeful bitch at times. That's the part I don't miss."
Motioning again to Jacob, Toland said, "He'll show you where to spread your bedroll. Ifin you like you can ride with us on to Tucson. Won't be a fast as by yourself, but we've got guards and outriders so the bandits and such usually leave us alone. And if they do make a raid, we've always been able to beat them off. See you in the morning; we'll be leaving at dawn."
At daybreak Luke had saddled his horse and helped hitch the teams to a couple of wagons. Toland watched him for a few minutes. When Luke saw the wagon boss watching, he said, "Figured I'd earn my spot with you. I'll be an out rider if it suits you."
The wagons stopped at midday to rest the horses and then rolled on toward Tucson. They had slowed down crossing a dry arroyo, when Toland saw Luke coming at a high gallop. Shooting back over his shoulder with his Remington, Luke was being chased by about 25 riders; they were about a hundred yards behind him and returning fire.
Toland ordered the wagons into a protective circle. As the wagons circled, he shouted orders to the guards and outriders. He placed them in the best positions to beat back the raiders; 'repel the boarders' was the term he used. Some of the men making the trip for the first time were confused but the veterans who knew of Toland's background smiled and did as ordered.
Luke pulled his horse to a skidding stop when he got inside of the circled wagons. He pulled his Winchester 1866 .44 rim fire "Yellow Boy" from the saddle scabbard and quickly climbed up onto one of the wagons. Beneath the front or driver's seat of the big Conestoga type freight wagons was a fairly deep space. The 'well' was large enough that a man could crouch there and fire a rifle while he was protected by the sideboards.
Most of the other guards and riders carried Sharpe's military carbines .52-70s that had been converted to use a metal cartridge like Luke's Remington; some still carried older types of rifles. The Sharpe's was a single shot weapon and had to be reloaded after each firing; their rate of fire was much slower than Luke's "Yellow Boy". The lever action of the big Winchester could bring 15 rounds to the fight before reloading.
In spite of the defensive fire from the wagons, four of the bandits made their way inside the circled wagons. Luke jumped off his wagon and faced the raiders. He didn't wait to face them down or challenge them; Luke pulled his Remington and started shooting. Two of the men went down with the first shots; the other two returned fire. Luke wasted little time and put the two remaining bandits down with four more shots. As he climbed back onto the wagon, he reloaded the Remington by changing to a preloaded cylinder.
Picking up the Winchester, all Luke could see were the backs of five or six robbers riding away from the wagons at a high gallop. The raiders had lost better than fifteen men and wanted no further part of the wagons or their defenders.
"We better hole up for the rest of the day," Luke suggested. "They might get more men and come back."
"Nope," Toland said. "They've had enough. Looks like they're headed back to Perdition to lick their wounds a bit."
"Perdition?" Luke asked.
"It's an outlaw town down in the Alvarez Mountains southwest of Tucson. Reckon that bunch will spread the word that we're best left alone."
The remaining trip into Tucson was just the boring, normal, slow pace of the freight wagons. Toland didn't know anything about a Mrs. Sloan. He told Luke that the town marshal knew about everyone in the area and should be able to help track her down.
The wagons tracked down the main street and Luke peeled off in front of the Marshal's office. Toland stopped with him and introduced Luke to Marshal Dixon. As Toland was leaving he handed Luke $20 in gold coins. "That's for riding guard and helping to beat off those damn raiders." He refused to let Luke return the money. "Anytime you need a job, look me up. There'll always a spot for ye on my crew."
Luke thanked his new friend and turned to Marshal Dixon. "Looking for a Mrs. Sloan and her boy Caleb, Marshal. Know where I might find them?"
"I do," Dixon answered but asked, "And why might you be lookin for them Mr. Donaldson?"
"Got a delivery to make; from her husband." Luke stared at the Marshal and decided he could be trusted. "Her man is dead and he hired me to bring her and the boy some money; also sent a journal written by him."
Marshal Dixon was impressed with Luke. Toland had told him of the man's actions during the attack and Luke had an air about him that led people to trust him.
"Mrs. Sloan works at the mercantile on the south side of town." Dixon pulled his watch out of his vest. "She should be about ready to close up but you should be able to meet up with her fore she leaves for home."
Luke nodded his thanks and left the office. He mounted and turned his horse toward the south side of Tucson. As he pulled rein in front of the general store, a handsome woman, with a pock marked face, came out and locked the door behind her.