tagNovels and NovellasThe Trail West Ch. 05

The Trail West Ch. 05

bywoodmanone©

Please read Chapters 1-4. They will give you a better understanding of the characters and the story to this point.

As always, constructive comments and emails are welcome and appreciated.

Also as usual there are no graphic sex scenes in my stories.

Thank you for taking the time to read my work. I hope you enjoy the story.


****************

The three men were two days north of Santa Fe on their way to the Chico Basin near Colorado City. Josh Kelly, John 'Red' McCall, and Jerry Barnes hoped to find work with one of the cattle ranches in that area.

It was about 300 miles as the crow flies to Chico Basin from Santa Fe, but they weren't crows so the trip would be closer to 350 miles. They had to wind their way along the high trails and through the passes of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains just to the north of Santa Fe which added the extra miles. The men hoped to make the trip in about 20 to 25 days with stops along the way to resupply and rest their horses.

The second night, after feeding their horses and themselves they were sitting around their fire resting and relaxing after a hard day on the trail. Josh was never a big talker but Red noticed that he was quieter than usual that night. For a man just turned 18 he's already gone through more than most do their whole lives, Red thought.

"Something on your mind Josh?" Red asked, concerned about his friend.

"Just thinking about what's coming and how far we have to go."

"You worried?" Red asked him with a smile. "We're pretty good at taking care of ourselves."

"Naw I'm not worried. Really I'm excited and looking forward to seein new places."

"You don't look excited."

Josh looked at his friend and had to smile. People underestimated Red because he was always joking around, but Josh knew that Red, who had just turned 23, understood people and situations better than a lot of older men.

"Well, I was thinkin about the raids on the wagon train and all those men that were killed. I guess it didn't hit me until you and I found Fogerty dying in that arroyo. Until then the dead men weren't real to me, they were just things that we had to kill to protect ourselves. But talking to Fogerty before he died made me realize that the others were men just like him."

"Josh those men deserved to die, so did Fogerty. They were trying to kill us and the others on the wagon train. Far as I'm concerned they were bought and paid for when they decided to attack us," Red said, trying to ease Josh's mind.

"I know Red. I wasn't worried about having to kill them defending ourselves, I'd do it again right now if need be. It's just that it's such a waste. With all the killing and dying going on in the war, it's a shame that there has to be more of it out here." Josh stopped for a few seconds and said, "I'm okay Red, don't worry partner."

Jerry Barnes was the youngest of the three at 15. His parents had been killed by the raiders in the first attack on the wagon train. For the first time he spoke up "Damn right they deserved to die."

Red and Josh weren't surprised at the emotion in the boy's voice. They both looked at Jerry as he continued, "It's sorta like Mr. Hobart said, let God forgive them because I sure won't."

That was enough talk about death and killing Red thought. The killing and raids hadn't bothered Red as much as the other two. He was a battled hardened veteran of the war; he had served with the 29th Texas Cavalry at Manassas. Red had been shot in his leg and knocked off his horse; he survived but still walked with a limp. He knew that he'd been lucky because his two older brothers and many of his comrades were been killed in that battle.

"How far will we go tomorrow Josh?" He asked to take their minds off the morbid thoughts.

"I thought you said you were the path finder Red? You should be able to answer that question," Josh teased.

"I am and I can. But I wanted to give you a chance to plan things before I told you the right way to do it," Red kidded back.

The somber mood broken, the men discussed their plans for the next day. As usual they were up at first light; they fed and watered the horses and made sure their gear was ready. This included their pistols and Henry rifles; this was wild country and all three of the men were well armed.

Josh led the way shortly after daybreak. Where they could they rode side by side so they could talk and make the time and distances go faster. Red's horse got spooked by a snake on the trail, he lost a stirrup and was almost bucked off as his horse reacted violently.

"Damn you Jasper, I'm gonna beat you with a knotted plow line," Red yelled at the horse trying to get control again.

Josh laughed so hard he almost lost his seat. "You never did tell me why you named your horse Jasper," he questioned Red.

Red got the horse calmed down a little and answered, "Got an Uncle Jasper back home and he's the orneriest man I've ever met; he's always in a bad mood. He complains about everything and you really have to prod him to get him to do any work. This damn horse is just like him, so I named the horse Jasper. It keeps me from shootin him because I like my Uncle; he's always been good to me."

Josh and Jerry laughed at Red's story and for the rest of the day chuckled every time Red cussed at his horse. That evening after making camp, feeding and watering the horses, and getting something to eat for themselves, the men planned the next day's ride; this was done every night as they relaxed. Red tried to feed an apple to Jasper and then cussed at him when the horse tried to bite him.

"Why do you ride that animal if he's so mean? We've got other horses, heck you could ride my Sunny for a while if you liked," Josh suggested.

"Thanks for the offer but Jasper's as sure footed as a mountain goat and as strong as a bull. He may not be as fast as my little quarter horse but he can go all day every day. Besides I sorta like the big guy, even if he is about half mean," Red answered with a grin and a shrug.

It was ten days before they stopped to give the animals a couple of days rest and to get some supplies. They were in Springer, a small settlement at the base of the mountains. Red suggested that they board the horses, at least for one day and night. Josh questioned him and Red explained that the horses would be fed grain along with sweet hay.

"The horses have been eating dry oats and whatever grazing that been available. Boarding them will pamper them some; they've got a long way to go and we need them strong," Red said.

"I see what you mean. What do you think Jerry?" Josh asked, bringing the youngster into the debate. That was a nice thing for him to do, Red thought.

Surprisingly Jerry wasn't about to go along with just anything the two older men said. "I think pampering the horses is a good idea." Josh nodded at him and started to say more but Jerry interrupted him. "But I don't see the need to pay the stable for grain when we can buy it for less."

Red said, "Yeah but then we'd throw away what the horses don't eat. I don't see how that saves money."

"A 50 pound sack of grain feed will cost us about two dollars more than what the stable owner would charge us for putting up our seven horses for a full day; I asked him his prices earlier while you and Josh were in the general store," Jerry said.

Josh looked at Red with a smile and nodded at Jerry to go on.

"We can feed the horses ourselves and pack the rest with us on the trail. The horses will get better feed for a longer time that way."

"But that's an extra fifty pounds they have to carry," Red said in protest.

"Not really, but it doesn't make that much difference," Jerry answered. "We've got seven horses, five of which are trained to carry packs. Depending on which horses we're riding we have at least two and as many as four that can share the load."

Josh smiled shaking his head. Guess I got spoiled having wagons to carry the gear, he thought. I'm the horse trainer here, I should have thought of this.

Jerry saw Josh's smile and was more confident about speaking up. "We can split the weight between the pack animals and load up the saddle bags of the two not trained to carry packs. The extra weight of the grain will go down every day."

"You figure 10 to 12 days and the grain will be gone?" Josh asked.

"Well, we could stretch it out by mixing it with the oats. Heck we could even make a mash out of the oats and corn which would make it last longer. Maybe all the way to Chico Basin."

Red began to laugh so hard he had a coughin fit. "Josh old friend, outta the mouths of babes. We're supposed to be the ones that are older, smarter, and more experienced. Jerry just showed us we're not as smart as we think we are. Good figurin Jerry and smart. Maybe we oughta ask you opinion on things from now on, instead of just givin you orders." Red started laughing again.

Josh shook his head and chuckled, a little embarrassed. "Okay Jerry, good idea and I think we ought to do what you said. We'll have to find a place to camp outside of town."

"No sir, we don't have to do that. I talked to the stable owner and he'll let us put the horses in his barn overnight, he won't feed them and we can sleep in the hay loft," Jerry said. "It'll cost us three dollars but a hotel or boarding house would have cost more. So we're pretty well set for the next two days."

Josh and Red stared at the boy for a few seconds. Red laughed again and said, "I think maybe we oughta stop thinkin of you as a boy. Maybe we should get you to work all our deals." Jerry blushed, pleased at the compliment. For the first time he felt like a full partner in this group instead of a homeless boy tagging along. The three "men" put their horse in the barn and went for supper.

"Where did you learn so much about a stable, Mr. Barnes?" Red asked.

"I worked for one back in Illinois for a spell, to help out at home. I paid attention when Mr. Johnson the owner talked. Learned a lot from him," Jerry replied.

Red suggested they celebrate this new partnership by having supper at the café. "We've been eating smoked buffalo, rabbit stew, and beans for more'n a week. If the horses get better feed, so should we."

After two days and nights in town, the men resumed their journey. It had taken them ten days riding through the mountains to get to Springer. We'll make better time now that we down in flat country, Josh thought. He was right, they had average about 13 miles a day through the high country, but now they were able to cover almost 20 miles a day.

In three and half days they rode into Trinidad. It would be the last town until they reached Pueblo. They had covered about 200 miles and were within about ten days of Chico Basin; assuming the weather held, assuming that nothing happened to their horses, and assuming they didn't have trouble with the Indian tribes living in the area.

"We'll be at Chico Basin in a few days, if nothing goes wrong," Red said as the three sat around their fire.

"Something always goes wrong," Josh replied.

"You're always thinkin things are goin bad Josh. Don't you ever look at the bright side?"

"I look at the bright side every morning when I get up. If I'm not sick, if I still got my horses, and if I still have my scalp, I look at it as the bright side," Josh answered with a grin. "We've had a good run so far and odds are against us getting to Chico Basin without somethin happening, that's all."

"What about you Jerry? Do you always think about things goin bad or do you look at the bright side?" Red drew him into the conversation.

Jerry hesitated for a few seconds and answered, "I don't think about it either way too much. I do what I can to get ready for the day and ifin somethin comes up I'll deal with it then. Worrying or hoping neither one changes anything nor gets anything done."

Josh and Red were again surprised at how mature this young man was. Josh had invited him to come with them mainly because the boy had nowhere to go after his parents were killed in a raid. Jerry didn't fold up after the death of his folks and had shown he could be trusted to do most any job given to him. I think we got more than just a boy riding with us, I think we got a smart young man that can make his own way, Josh thought.

They made one last visit to the general store and were getting ready to leave town, when the town sheriff walked up to them. "Howdy boys, I'm Sheriff Blevins. Y'all leavin town?"

"Yes sir, headed for Chico Basin up near Colorado City," Josh replied.

"Just wanted to say hello; I like to check on strangers in my town. Be careful there's been some Indian trouble in that direction. Nothing really serious just a few shots fired back and forth. There ain't been no raids or stock stolen, at least not yet."

"Maybe Running Wolf's coup stick will keep them away from us Josh," Red teased his friend.

"Thanks for the warnin Sheriff; we'll keep a sharp eye. C'mon boys let's put in some miles fore evening."

The next two days they made a lot of miles and had good spots to camp over night. They cut a buffalo trail leading north in the general direction that the men were traveling. The land they were riding through was a high plain, about 6,000 feet, with a few low hills covered in scrub bushes, not many trees, and buffalo grass that was belly high on a horse.

Where the horses had to weave their way through the scrub, the buffalo just walked over it. Their passing left a wide, fairly smooth trail. The buffalo had been running and it wasn't too old because there was still some dust in the air. The men decided to follow the trail, it was easier on their horses and they made better time. They weren't in a hurry but it was mid July and winter usually set in around mid to late October in this high country. Josh wanted to find work long before the weather changed.

Josh called a halt at midday to water and rest the horses for an hour. He'd been riding Diablo since they left Santa Fe. He switched his saddle to Sunny to give Diablo a rest, although the big horse looked at him as if to say "I'm not tired".

Red had been rotating his mounts, using Jasper for a day or two and switching off to Queenie, his little quarter horse mare for a day. Jerry had rotated between the two horses he "bought" from Hobart in Santa Fe. The big chestnut he named Charger and the Morgan horse he called simply Morgan. Both Red and Jerry rode Josh's other horse Joey a few times.

"We got company boys," Red told his two friends, nodding his head at the crest of a hill not far away.

Ten to twelve Indians could be seen on the skyline. They were about a half a mile away and walking their horses slowly toward Josh and the boys.

"Let's get back to that arroyo we just crossed, it'll give some cover if they decide to attack. If we have time make sure your saddles are on the horse you don't want to lose. Get ready to cut the cinches of the pack saddles and we'll make a run for it ifin we have to. If it gets too hairy we'll have to leave the extra horses," Josh ordered.

Josh was able to change his saddle back to Diablo. Sunny was a strong horse but a little slow, his other horse Joey was pretty fast but his endurance wouldn't hold up to a daylong race to escape the Indians. Red was still mounted on Jasper and Jerry changed his gear over to Morgan. Guess Red really liked his uncle, Josh thought with a chuckle.

They set up a defensive position just below the lip of the arroyo and waited. The Indians had seen them and turned in their direction. As they got closer the Indians spread fan like in front of the three white men as Josh took a position about ten feet in front of the arroyo. He put the butt of Running Wolves coup stick on the ground and held it upright with his left hand; in his right hand he held his Henry Repeater with the butt brace on his hip.

"They'll see that it's a powerful coup stick, even if it is Apache," Josh explained to Red and Jerry. "Hopefully they won't mess with a warrior carrying that coup stick. But if they do my Henry will do more than count coup on them."

One Indian rode forward in front of the other riders. He was obviously the leader and one of only three men carrying a rifle: the rest were armed with bow and lances. When he got closer he saw the coup stick and stopped. Josh wasn't sure if he stopped because of the coup stick or the Henry resting on his hip; doesn't matter he thought, either way he stopped.

Laying the coup stick against his shoulder, Josh used sign language to say that they were friends. The Indian looked at Josh and the other two set up and ready for a fight. He raised his rifle over his head in sort of a salute and turned motioning the rest of the band to follow him. They road off to the southeast and were soon out of sight. When the Indians rode off Josh let out a huge sigh and turned and grinned at Red and Jerry.

"You sure do keep things interestin Josh," Red laughed. "No sir, never a dull minute around you."

Josh smile at his friend. "You boys go on ahead; follow the buffalo trail. You'll make better time that way than you would fightin through that brush. I'll catch up to you about midday."

"Where you going," Jerry asked.

"Gonna ride rear guard for a spell just to make sure that group don't double back on our trail. See ya in a bit," Josh said as he mounted Diablo and turned to follow the Indians.

He caught back up to Red and Jerry just after midday. They stopped and watered the horses. "Nobody on our back trail far as I can tell. I think we're good," Josh reported.

They were up and riding by daybreak, as usual. "I hope there some word from my folks when we get to Pueblo; I sent a telegram to them when we left Santa Fe and mailed some letters. I'll send another telegram from Pueblo and mail the letters I wrote on the trail. Maybe I'll have a telegram waiting for me," Josh said.

"Did you say hello to them for me in your telegram?" Red asked.

"No, but I did tell them that Fogerty was dead," Josh answered. When he saw the look on Red's face he added, "I did mention you to them in the letters I mailed in Santa Fe; I also went into more detail about Fogerty and his gang. Told them not to worry because I had Texas Red McCall riding with me for protection."

Red and Jerry both laughed at Josh's teasing.

"You know we might not all get jobs on the same ranch. Sometimes they need a man but we'll be lucky to find someplace that needs three men," Red told them.

"We'll figure something out," Josh replied. "If nothing else we'll give a ranch three for the price of two or even one and a half plus found."

"What's found mean Josh?" Jerry asked, not knowing the term.

"Found is like room and board; someplace to sleep and usually two meals a day. Understand?" Jerry nodded.

It took the three partners 18 days to get from Santa Fe to Pueblo and the men and horses were ready for a little rest. They planned on resting the animals for at least a full day before heading north toward Chico Basin. Jerry worked his magic with the stable owner and the boys slept in the hayloft over the horse stalls again. Josh figured they'd only have a two day ride to the Basin when they left Pueblo; he hoped they'd find a ranch that needed a couple of hands.

There wasn't much to do at night after making camp; they checked equipment, made some repairs, and talked a little about the next day's ride. Red thought up something to entertain them. So during their nights on the trail, he began to teach Josh and even Jerry, some of the gun handling skills that he had learned from his cousin Texas John Slaughter. "Never know when it might come in handy," Red told them.

After several nights of teaching and practicing, Josh and Red would square off and practice fast draws against each other. They unloaded their guns and would test each other to see who was faster. Josh couldn't overcome the natural speed that Red possessed but he came close.

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