Ride For The Sun Ch. 01bywoodmanone©
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Rafe Cassidy rode passed a pile of bleach white bones that had once been a steer. "If I don't find a water hole pretty soon I'm gonna end up as a pile of bones myself," he said aloud. Lifting his one canteen that still had some water in it he took a mouthful. Swishing the water around in his mouth he leaned far over in his saddle and plucked a leaf from an aloe plant. He squeezed sap out of the leaf and rubbed it across his parched cracked lips. The natural salve would help put some moisture back in them.
Turning in his saddle he looked back at the hoof prints that marked his trail across this waste land of the Llano Estacado. Damn high chaparral, he thought. The Staked Plains as they were called were nothing more than high desert. Most of the vegetation was Mesquite, tumbleweeds, Creosote bushes, and scrub brush with a few Palo Verdes dotting the landscape. There were also a few strands of Cottonwoods and Scrub Oak where springs or snow runoff from the mountains that ringed the plains came closer to the surface.
Closer to him, he looked at his pack horse. Poor animal's about done for; so am I he thought. If I don't find a water hole soon it might be best let the animal loose. Maybe he can find some water, graze a bit and make it.
He didn't know how close his pursuers were but he could feel them still back there; further behind every day but still following. "Must want me pretty bad to trail me into this God forsaken country," he told his horse. "I sure wouldn't ride across the Estacado if I didn't have to. Hell even the rattlesnakes give it a wide birth during the summer."
Reckon I better stop and let the horses rest a bit, he thought. Won't make much difference without water for them but with some rest Buddy might make it another day; Bowie was tired but still had a lot of bottom left in him. Rafe topped a small rise; it wasn't more than five or six feet high but in this flat land it seemed like a tall hill. His saddle bronc lifted its head and stared at a small stand of trees on the other side of the rise. The pack horse picked up his head too.
Rafe could feel his horse trying to veer toward the trees. "Okay Bowie, that's as good a place as any to rest," he said to his horse. "At least we'll get out of this damn sun for a spell."
Bowie was named after Jim Bowie, hero of the Alamo and Texas. Rafe and his family had lived in San Antonio for several years and the Texas patriot was still highly regarded even 40 years after his death.
He gave the horse its head and rode to the trees. The closer he got the more excited his horses became. Riding through the scrub trees toward the center of the stand Rafe saw the reason for their excitement. A small spring came to the surface in the middle of the trees. There was a shallow pool of water waiting for them.
A grin spread across his face and he sort of slumped in the saddle with relief. "Reckon we'll make it for a spell longer Bowie," he said as he patted his horse's neck. "Now I can't let you or Buddy drink too much too fast or it'll kill you. Understand?"
Rafe dismounted and carefully tied both horses to a cottonwood tree. He walked over to the water hole and stuck his head down into the water. Taking a couple of big drinks he filled his big Mexican sombrero with water and went back to the horses. He held the hat so his pack horse could drink. When the hat was about half empty he turned and gave Bowie his drink. He repeated bringing water to the horses three more times.
Rafe still had his Stetson tied with a piece of rawhide to his saddle horn. The very wide brimmed, high crowned sombrero was a better choice for riding in the sun on the desert like Estacado. He'd traded for the sombrero and food in a small unnamed Mexican village at the edge of the plains. The old vaquero he did business with gave him the sombrero when he learned where Rafe was headed.
After the last hat full of water Rafe soaked two bandanas and tied them across the horse's noses. Breathing the cool moist air would get some temperature relief into the horse's body a little quicker. It might keep them from foundering when he let them drink at the spring. He wet the bandanas several times as he unsaddled Bowie and the pack horse. Rafe rubbed the horses down with some buffalo grass that grew around the spring
"Okay Bowie, now behave," Rafe ordered his horse. "I'm gonna water Buddy first. He's a bit more done in than you are." The big horse nodded as if he understood. Rafe took the bandanas off the two horses and led Buddy to the pool.
He watered both horses being careful not to let them drink too much. Then he hobbled them and tied them with a long lead to some trees. This would let the horses graze on the grass growing around the spring without letting them get to the water again. Rafe took some of the aloe sap and worked it into a few cuts and scrapes on the horses that had been cause by the tough brush and cactus that grew on the Estacado.
"Ifin I don't tend to these cuts Bowie they could get infected and cause problems," Rafe told his big horse.
The horses were calmer now that they'd had some water and Rafe thought, now I can take care of me. He built a small shelter to hide the fire he lit. "No need to tell God and everybody where we are," he told Bowie.
Rafe took some the oats he carried for the horses, soaked it and some pieces of beef jerky in water. The oats and jerky softened and he boiled them with some wild onions to make a stew. It was the first hot meal he'd had for several days.
After finishing his 'feast', Rafe stripped out of his clothes. His shirt and pants were crusty with dirt and sweat. The shirt had big white circles under the arms and across the back. "Damn that feels good," he remarked after getting out of the foul clothing. "Feel like I had a dozen critters eatin on me the last few days."
Rafe took his pistol and walked downstream of the little pool and sat down in the runoff from the spring; washing the dirt and salt off his body. When he returned to the horses he got a relatively clean shirt a pair of denim work pants and his long johns out of the panniers on the pack saddle and got dressed. He returned his pistol, a Remington .44-40, to its hostler and strapped the gun belt around his waist again; he slid the weapon up and down in the hostler to make sure it would pull free if needed. "I've lost some weight Bowie," he said as he examined himself. "Reckon riding hard for days without eatin regular will do that."
Rafe was tall for the times at 6'2 and he normally weighed about 190. Being on the run had dropped his weight to around 170. He was whipcord thin with big hands and still as strong as a young bull. He was what some would call ruggedly handsome. The only flaw was a scar running down the right side of his face. On his first cattle drive when he was 15, Rafe had roped a steer that got itself trapped in a steep arroyo. He and his horse pulled the animal out and when Rafe leaned over to free his lariat the steer tossed its head and hooked Rafe. The wound wasn't serious but left a long jagged scar.
"First time I get a chance I'm gonna get a haircut," he said aloud to his horse. "Gonna have it cut real short like those Army fellars do. Can't stand it hangin down in my face."
His long dark hair was tied back with a piece of rawhide so it wouldn't cover his blue eyes. Rafe dressed and using his saddle as a back rest he relaxed after his meal and bath. Bowie would let him know if anyone or anything came close to the camp.
He pulled his Winchester '73from its scabbard and laid it next to him. The Winchester .44-40 and the Remington were both gifts from his grandfather on his 21st birthday. The pistol had ivory handles and the rifle had his name engraved on the side plate just below the loading gate.
Rafe remembered his grandfather laughing when he gave the guns to Rafe. "Won't be no doubt who owns those," his grandfather said pointing to his name on the rifle and the ivory handles.
As he drifted off to sleep, he thought about the last month and the reason for him being on the run.
Rafe Cassidy was born and raised just outside of San Antonio. His Grandfather, William Cassidy had fought with the Texan army under Sam Houston at the Battle of San Jacinto in April of 1836. William had a brother, Jacob, who died defending Texas; another brother, Emmet, was killed at San Jacinto. Rafe's mother was Sarah Travis Cassidy; she was distantly related to William Travis who died at the Alamo. Others in Sarah's family had fought in the revolution also. The Cassidy clan was part and parcel of the Texas War of Independence from Mexico and Santa Anna.
Barrett Cassidy, named after William Barrett Travis, was a lot like his father William and raised his son Rafe to be the same fiercely independent type of man. Rafe was raised to stand up for what he believed in and damn the consequences. He had learned his lessons well.
In 1874, at the age of 22, Rafe left San Antonio for Fort Stockton. He had a good reason for leaving his home. Rafe had fallen in love with a young senorita, Juanita, but her father refused to let the two young people court. Instead Juan Mendoza arranged for the marriage of his daughter to a business associate.
Rafe was very upset and was going to confront both Juanita's father and her intended husband. His grandfather and his father stepped in and talked to the young man. William and Barrett admired and respected the Mexican people of San Antonio and their culture.
"You have to understand son this is their way of doing things," Barrett told his boy.
"We may not agree or understand it but we must respect the wishes of Juanita's father," William added.
Rafe was still fuming and paid little attention to the advice of his elders.
"What are you going to do when you see her father?" Barrett asked.
"I thought I could talk him into changing his mind about Juanita and me," Rafe answered.
"You won't change his mind boy," William replied. "Arranged marriages are part of the Mexican heritage. There isn't any way you'll change his mind." William paused and asked, "How does Juanita feel? Have you asked her what she wants to do?"
"She said she loves me but couldn't go against the wishes of her father." The youngster sighed and seemed to slump down in his chair. Then he sort of shook himself and stood. "Reckon I can't do anything, can I?"
His father and grandfather both shook their heads. "But if that store keeper hurts Juanita he'll answer to me," Rafe vowed. The two older men didn't argue with Rafe's bravado.
Rafe next saw Juanita in the general mercantile early on a Saturday morning three months later. He turned with the supplies he'd bought for the ranch and she walked into the store. Juanita didn't see Rafe at first and was talking to an older woman with her.
She don't look the same, Rafe thought. Her eyes used to sparkle and now they look dull and almost lifeless.
Juanita turned and saw Rafe. A big smile, quickly hidden, came over her face and her eyes lit up. The older woman had stepped to the back of the store. Juanita walked closer and said, "Buenos Dias Rafe. It's good to see you."
"Buenos Dias mi amiga. How are you Juanita?"
"I am well. We were friends weren't we Rafe?" She asked wistfully.
"Still are as far as I'm concerned Juanita."
Juanita smiled and started to say something but the older woman called, "Juanita, vengan a mi."
"Who's that?" Rafe asked not liking the looks of the woman.
"That's The Senora Ruiz. My mother in law," Juanita said with a frown. "I must go. It was good to see you Rafe."
Rafe nodded and watched Juanita rejoin Senora Ruiz. The Senora is sure givin Juanita an ear full, he thought.
Later that week Rafe was in the saloon, having a whiskey. He'd just driven 20 head of cattle to the stock yards and decided he deserved a drink before heading back home. He downed his drink and turned to leave. Three Mexicans block his way.
Rafe recognized the shorter man in the middle; it was Hector Ruiz, Juanita's husband. Those other two are here to back his play, he thought. The one on the right is a simple vaquero but the one on the left is a gun hand. His hostler is slung low and tied down.
"Senor Cassidy, I'm Hector Ruiz," the shorter man said. "Juanita's husband."
"I know who you are Ruiz," Rafe replied. "What do you want? Or did you come to buy me a drink?"
"You met Juanita in the general store on Saturday morning."
"Yeah, I did. It was nice to see her. Haven't seen her for quite a spell."
"You will refrain from talking to my wife again Senor," Ruiz ordered. Before Rafe could respond Ruiz continued, "Juanita goes to the mercantile every Saturday morning so you must do your business there at a different time."
Rafe chuckled and shook his head. He stopped chuckling and replied in a serious voice. "Senor I won't be told where and when I can do my business."
The vaquero looked at his employer but the gun hand never took his eyes off of Rafe. "You will do as I ask Senor or you will be chastised," Ruiz warned him.
"By this fellar here?" Rafe asked pointing to the man on the left.
"If necessary Ernesto will deal with you Senor Cassidy."
Ernesto was older than Rafe by ten years or so. He was tall and slender with delicate hands; a piano player's hands, or gun fighters. He wore his black hair long, tied in the back with a dark string fastened with a silver bolo tie. His gun belt was hand tooled with silver Conchos for decoration. It looked like a dude's outfit except for the hostler. It was well worn and showed signs of use.
"I am very good Senor," Ernesto said with a mocking smile. "Please listen to Senor Ruiz. I know of your family and admire them. I would not like to shoot you."
"Reckon we might as well step outside and get to it Ernesto," Rafe said with his own mocking smile. "As I said I won't be told what to do by Senor Ruiz, or you, or the Devil himself."
"No Senor Rafe. I will wait for instructions from my employer. But please don't test me. As I said I would dislike having to shoot you."
"You have been warned Senor," Ruiz said and turned to leave.
Later that day, Barrett asked his son about the run in with Ruiz.
"How did you hear about that?" Rafe asked.
"It's all over town about you and that Ernesto pawin at each other. What happened Rafe?" The young man told his father about the confrontation in the saloon.
"What are you going to do son?"
"I'll not be dictated to by Ruiz, or anyone else for that matter," Rafe replied. "I won't make a point of being at the general store on Saturday mornings but I won't shy away from it either."
Barrett nodded his head. He didn't have to like it but he understood his son's stance on the matter. If I were in his shoes I'd feel the same way, Barrett thought.
It was three weeks later that Rafe was in the store on a Saturday morning. Juanita walked in, again with her mother in law. This time she just nodded to Rafe but didn't approach him. Rafe returned the nod with a smile and left the store. He wouldn't back down from Ruiz or his man Ernesto but he didn't want to cause trouble for Juanita either.
Rafe had left his horse to be reshod. As he approached the blacksmith's Ruiz, Ernesto, and the second vaquero stepped into the street.
"I told you to stay away from Juanita, Senor Cassidy." Ruiz's face was red with anger. Ernesto stood with his arms folded and gave Rafe an insolent smile.
"Ruiz, all I did was nod good morning to her; I didn't even talk to her."
"I told you to avoid the mercantile on Saturday mornings," Ruiz said.
"And I told you I wouldn't be dictated to," Rafe responded.
Ernesto stood a little straighter and slowly unfolded his arms bringing his right hand closer to his pistol.
Looking at Ernesto Rafe said, "There's no need for this amigo."
The tall Mexican just shrugged his shoulders and looked at his employer. Rafe wasn't afraid of the gun fighter nor of Ruiz and the other vaquero. But he didn't see that a simple nod hello was reason enough for fighting. Taking a deep breath he tried one more time to avoid trouble.
"Senor Ruiz, I did no dishonor to Juanita or to you. I simply nodded hello to an old friend."
"So now that you have been confronted you will crawl away to avoid punishment. Like a coward in the night. Is that it Senor Cassidy?"
Rafe tensed and looked Ruiz in the eye. "I'm not crawling and no man calls me a coward." Looking at Ernesto for a few seconds Rafe continued, "Ruiz when I finish with your man here I will deal with you."
He lowered his hands to his side and said to Ernesto, "Let's get on with it."
"Please Senor, apologize to Senor Ruiz and give him your word you will do as he asks. I don't want to have to kill you," Ernesto requested.
The second vaquero straightened and started to move to the side. "Stay out of this Roberto," Ernesto ordered. "Senor Cassidy deserves to face the best."
As he gave the order to his companion, Ernesto's hand moved and pulled his pistol from the holster. He was very fast but Rafe was just as quick. Rafe drew his own weapon and the two men fired at the same time. Rafe was hit in the left shoulder and staggered a little. Regaining his balance he looked at the gunfighter.
"I told you I was good," Ernesto said pointing to Rafe's shoulder. Then he dropped his pistol and put his hand on the wound in his midsection. "But it seems you are just as good. My compliments Senor. Ernesto sagged and fell to the ground.
Rafe pointed his pistol at Roberto. "You want to play a hand in this Vaquero?"
Roberto shook his head and looked at Ernesto in disbelief. He had never seen the Jefe bested before. Roberto knelt to help Ernesto, leaving his employer to face this crazy Anglo. Ruiz's face turned white with fear as Rafe turned to him.
Rafe looked at Ruiz. He wanted so badly to punish this man but Ruiz was unarmed. "Next time I see you Senor you better be wearing a gun." Staring down at the wounded Ernesto he added, "Get a doctor for your man there. He don't deserve to die in the street." Rafe watched Ruiz hurry away toward the doctor's office and turned. He got on his horse and made it home before he collapsed on the front porch.
At dusk Rafe got up and made a turn around the spring, listening and looking back over his trail for signs of his pursuers. If they made camp and didn't hide their fire he would be able to see it for miles. Of course if they made a cold camp or didn't stop at all he'd never see them in the dark. He ate the last of the oat and jerky stew and drank some more of the spring water. Then he checked on his horses, Bowie and Buddy. They already look better, Rafe thought as he led them to different trees so they could continue to graze on the wild grass.
He scratched Bowie behind his ears and thought some more about the events and actions that had led him to this oasis in the middle of the Estacado. "Dang near didn't make it back to the house," Rafe told Bowie. "Reckon I was too ornery to die." The big horse nodded and nudged Rafe to keep him scratching.
"That was a little before your time big guy. Dad and Ma got me into bed and sent a ranch hand for the doctor. Grandpa said he'd go, saddled his horse and kicked him into a gallop for town. Dad told me later that the doctor wanted to stay with Ernesto. Grandpa told the doctor that he was comin out to the ranch on his saddle or across it but he was coming."
Rafe chuckled remembering how mad the doctor was. "Grandpa could be persuasive when he wanted to be." He went back to his resting spot where his saddle laid on the ground.