The Gathering Ch. 04bywoodmanone©
Please read the first three chapters if you haven't, this finale will make more sense if you do.
For those who have stayed with my story, thank you. I hope you will enjoy reading this last story in the Trilogy as much as I've enjoyed writing it.
As usual, constructive comments and emails are more than welcome and appreciated.
We've done a lot of work in under a year, Dillon thought looking back at the new ranch house as he walked around the clearing with his morning coffee. Especially since we got started so late in the year after buying the place.
It had been late September by the time they'd bought out the Andersons. After getting their wagons and possessions from Colorado Springs, Dillon sold the mules to the freight company in Fountain. One of the Prairie Schooners was sold to a family headed to California and they kept the other one for a heavy haul wagon for the ranch.
About three weeks after they took over the ranch, Red and Josh came over to help lay out the boundaries and foundations for the new house, barn and corrals. Sarah, Danni and the children were talking and giving advice to Elizabeth about what to expect that winter.
Oso was looking over the trees nearby to see which ones they could use for the buildings; he had Ethan with him. They came back to the house place at a high lope. "Lots of riders comin," Oso said. "Looks like horse soldiers."
"Sheriff Kennedy is with them," Ethan added.
A cavalry troop of twenty men, led by a young Lieutenant and a grizzled older Sergeant rode over to where Dillon and his friends were working. The Sheriff rode beside the young commander. Josh and Red heard Dillon mutter to himself, "Damn blue bellies," as he stood to face the soldiers.
"Dillon, this is Lieutenant Smalley," Kennedy said. "He and his men are tracking Running Wolf. Lieutenant this is Dillon Gallagher, the owner of this ranch."
"And who are these two?" Smalley asked with an officious tone.
Josh saw Red bristle at the young man's tone. "I'd be Red McCall and this is Josh Kelley, if it's any concern of yours," Red answered.
Ignoring Red, Smalley looked at Josh. "You're the one that's friendly with that savage, Running Wolf.
"Yes Lieutenant, I consider Running Wolf a friend," Josh replied. "Why do you ask?"
"My men and I are charged with bringing that renegade and his people to the reservation. It's your duty to help us accomplish that. You will guide us through the north country to where the Indian is hiding," Smalley ordered.
The Sergeant said in a low voice, "Easy Lieutenant. You can catch more flies using honey than using vinegar."
"Quiet Sergeant, I'm in command here." Turning back to Josh he continued, "Get your horse and supplies; we'll leave as soon as you're ready."
Josh waited for a few seconds before he answered. Got to watch myself, he thought. I don't want to get Red and Dillon any more worked up than they already are. He didn't like Smalley's manner either.
"I'm not going with you Smalley."
"Sheriff Kennedy tells me you didn't serve your country during the War Between the States; he warned me that you don't care for the U. S. Army very much. Are you a coward sir? Is that why you won't guide us to Running Wolf?"
First Red and then Dillon tensed and Red took a step toward the cavalry man. Josh put his arm out and stopped him. He turned back to the Lieutenant.
"It's none of your concern as to why I didn't fight in that idiotic war," Josh said, his voice tight with anger. "But I will give you my reasons for why I won't do what you want Smalley."
Red was trying to walk around Josh to get at the Lieutenant. "Take it easy Red," Josh said putting his hand on his friends shoulder.
Dillon stepped forward to Josh's side. "Both McCall and I served in the war Lieutenant." Smalley looked Dillon's way. "McCall served with the 29th. Texas Cavalry at First Manassas in '61 and I served with First Virginia Cavalry. Care to make something of that Blue Belly?"
Josh put his hand on Dillon's arm and pulled him back. Dillon resisted for a few seconds and then stepped back; still glaring at Smalley.
"As I said, Running Wolf is my friend; what's more he's my blood brother," Josh replied as he tried to calm Dillon. "I won't help you track him down like an animal." Josh stopped and looked hard at the young Lieutenant. "Unless you're very careful, you'll get yourself and your men killed. Of course Running Wolf may just lead you around until winter sets in and then leave you out there to die. If you do corner him and force him to fight, he will kill you."
Josh paused for a bit and said, "Let him be Smalley. He hasn't raided any white men or their ranches. All he wants is to be left alone."
"I'll remember this incident sir," Smalley said. We'll see about your cowardly refusal to help when I return."
Josh couldn't stop Red this time. "If you care to step down we can see about that coward stuff right now, Sonny," Red challenged. "I really wish you would because you may not come back and I'll miss my chance at teachin you some manners. Running Wolf will leave you to rot in the snow."
Kennedy guided his horse in between Smalley and Red. "Lieutenant, I think you'd better leave while you still can," he suggested.
The young Lieutenant hesitated and then asked, "Are you coming Sheriff?"
"Nope, don't reckon I will. I agreed to introduce you to Kelly and now I'm done with ya."
Smalley looked at Josh, Red, and Dillon with a scornful look before leading his troop away. The Sergeant was the last to leave as he stayed behind to make sure the troopers followed orders. He turned to Josh and shrugged his shoulders. "Sorry gents," he said.
"You're gonna die out there Sergeant," Josh warned him.
"Maybe so Mr. Kelly, but I'm a soldier and I have my orders." The Sergeant turned and followed the troop north.
Red looked at Kennedy after the cavalry had gone. "Why are they makin such a fuss over Running Wolf? He's never made any raids around here."
"Colorado is gonna become a state in the next two years or so," Kennedy replied. "The Territorial Governor wants to be the first Governor of the new state. So he's using the Indians to gain support from the voters." Kennedy paused as said, "All he's gonna do is get some soldier boys killed. Oh well, not my concern. See y'all; I'm headed back to town."
It was about two months later that Dillon heard Lieutenant Smalley and his men returned to Fountain and then on to Denver. Smalley lost a couple of toes and a finger to frost bite and six of his men died in the high country. Word was that the troopers never actually saw Running Wolf. They just followed his trail around the mountains until winter set in and trapped them.
Meanwhile Dillon, Elizabeth, Eleanor, and Oso had each filed a homestead application for land on the far side of the mountain pass. Dillon was thankful for the bequeathal from his family which made this expense possible.
They laid out the corner markers on four sections of land and filed their homestead claims. Four small cabins were quickly built to meet the law's provision for improvement on the land. Ethan would also file an application when he turned 18.
The new house faced south and nestled at the base of two mountains that formed a sort of elbow. They acted as a natural wind break to protect the house from the cold north winds. The house was built using logs and timber from the ranch. They had cut down some oak trees, took them to the saw mill in Fountain, and had them cut into planks for flooring and shingles.
Josh and Red had offered to help with the building. Dillon thanked them but told them they had a full time job taking care of their own ranch. "Besides, I think you've got your hands full with that new baby boy at your place Josh. I think Danni needs your help more than we do."
Red laughed. "Danni says he's more hindrance than help. Says he's useless while Clint is this young."
"Not my fault that I never got the hang of puttin on diapers," Josh protested with a laugh.
However, Dillon used Josh and Red's knowledge and experience in the area to hire two handy men to help with building the house, the new barn, and the two corrals. It was an added expense but they had the house under roof before the first snow fall. The winter weather didn't affect the work on the interior of the house.
They covered the window openings with canvas or oil paper until the windows and doors they ordered from Colorado Springs arrived. Dillon hired a wood carver from Colorado Springs to hand carve a set of double doors for the main entrance to the house. Everyone, including the hired hands, lived in the Anderson's old ranch house until the work on the house was done; it was a little crowded for six weeks or so.
The new house was two stories with four large bedrooms on the top floor. The main floor just had two rooms. The kitchen was large and open to the eating area; the other room was L shape and ran the length across the front of the house. The leg of the L was used as an office and for storage.
Eleanor was the one that settled the debate about a name for the ranch. Someone suggested "Twin Peaks" because of the two mountains just north of the house site. Another suggestion was "South Fork" because the south fork of Black Squirrel Creek flowed through the property. And one last proposal was "G & E" for Gallagher and Edwards.
"What do you think we should name the ranch Momma?" Elizabeth asked Eleanor.
She hesitated for a few seconds and softly quoted:
"And in the fury of this darkest hour
I will be your light
You've asked me for my sacrifice
And I am Winterborn
Within this moment now
I am for you, though better men have failed
I will give my life for love
For I am Winterborn."
"I think we should call the place Winterborn," Eleanor replied. Turning toward Dillon with a warm smile she continued, "You were willing to sacrifice your life for your family. First you faced that hired killer Wilson, you were wounded but still you went on and faced Cassidy and his men." She smiled and touched Dillon's arm. "Without you we wouldn't have this wonderful new home. We should call the ranch Winterborn."
Dillon smiled and had to gather himself before he said anything. "I think it's a fine name, Eleanor."
Elizabeth, Ethan, and Oso agreed and the ranch became Winterborn. Elizabeth sketched a brand for their cattle. It was a large capital W and a small open triangle on each side to depict the two mountains that guard the house.
Elizabeth walked across the clearing and joined her husband; she was bundled up against the morning chill. She was wearing pants and carried a coffee pot. It was late April and spring was on the way but the mornings were still cold until the sun got higher in the sky.
"Nice pants," Dillon teased her.
Elizabeth had started to follow the example set by Sarah and Danni and wore men's pants when she was working around the ranch. In the evening she would change into a dress or a split riding skirt. She said she didn't want Dillon to forget that he was married to a woman and not a ranch hand.
"Thought you might like a refill but if you're going to be mean to me I might not give you any," she replied with a smile. Turning back to look at the house she said, "We did a good job. It's a fine house."
Dillon took a sip of the fresh coffee and nodded. "Never seen one I'd rather live in." He grinned and added, "Okay, no more teasing."
Elizabeth smiled and gave Dillon a side long glance. "It a good place to start a family, don't you think?"
Returning her smile Dillon said, "Now that's a fine idea Mrs. Gallagher." He grabbed her in a bear hug; she laughed and put an arm around his neck. They stood holding on to each other for a minute.
"Y'all save that for later," Oso laughed yelling at them from the porch. "We got work to do. That new corral won't build itself."
Dillon and Elizabeth walked back to the house. "The corral will have to wait until tomorrow Oso. We're going into town to see Eleanor and pick up some supplies," Dillon said.
"Tell the Senora that I miss her and will see her next week," Oso replied. "I'm gonna stay and work on a couple of things while you take it easy."
"You sure amigo? We'll probably have supper with Eleanor and spend the night." Dillon looked at his friend and added, "You don't have to do all the work. Take a day off and come with us."
"Next week I'll make the supply run and spend some time with the Senora," Oso replied.
Dillon nodded and called for Ethan. The youngster came from the barn riding his horse, Shelley. He was leading a pack horse; he was ready to go see his mother. Ethan split his time between the ranch and with his mother in Fountain. He was going on fifteen and was considered a young man but he still wanted to spend time with his mother. He had already saddled Balin and Sandy for Dillon and Elizabeth and hitched them to a corral post.
"Been waitin on y'all most of the morning," Ethan said with a grin.
The three waved good bye to Oso and started their ride to Fountain. They arrived in town in time to meet Eleanor for lunch. "I have to get back to the school in 30 minutes," she told them. "If I give my students too much time for lunch, I'll have to retrain them," she added with a smile.
On their first supply run back in September after taking over the ranch, Eleanor mentioned to Steve Mitchell, the owner of the general store, that she had been a school teacher and hoped to go back to teaching one day.
"You should talk to Nancy Larson, Mrs. Edwards," Mitchell told her. "She's our school teacher but she wants to retire; the only reason she's still teaching is that the town hasn't been able to replace her yet."
Eleanor, with Elizabeth tagging along, had gone to the school house to talk to Mrs. Larson; the two women had talked for over an hour. Nancy asked a several questions about Eleanor's qualifications and experience. She sent the children home early and went with Eleanor to talk to the Mayor. Before the afternoon was over, Eleanor was the new school teacher and secured a room in a very nice local boarding house.
Every weekend, weather permitting, Eleanor would come out to the ranch to help and to spend some time with her family. Ethan sometimes spent the week in town with his mother when the weather was bad. Once for a period of almost three weeks the snow and the cold winds kept Eleanor and Ethan in town.
Dillon, Elizabeth and Ethan met Eleanor in the hotel dining room for supper. As they were having supper, Sheriff Kennedy came over to their table. "Mrs. Edwards, I just got a telegram from the town Marshal in Colorado Springs. I got some bad news for you."
"What is it Sheriff?" Eleanor asked, alarmed by the Sheriff's tone and the look on his face.
"There was an attempted bank robbery and two people were shot and killed. One of them was your brother in law Ted Clark." Kennedy hesitated and added, "Sorry ma'am."
Eleanor was shocked at the news. Dillon took her hand and Ethan got up and stood behind his mother with his hands on her shoulders.
"What happened Sheriff? You said it was an attempted robbery," Dillon requested more information.
"Well, Bill Simpson and his gang tried to rob the First Colorado Bank on the south side of town. One of the gang, James Butler, had a wanted poster out on him and he was recognized as he rode into town. When the gang rode up to the bank they were greeted by the Marshall, his two deputies and about a half dozen town folk. The gang wouldn't surrender and a gun fight broke out." Sheriff Kennedy stopped for a few seconds; he dreaded telling Eleanor what happened next.
Dillon saw his hesitation, patted Eleanor's hand and said, "Go on Sheriff. How did Ted get shot?"
"I guess Mr. Clark heard the gun fire and came out of the bank to see what was going on. The gang must have thought he was another lawman and shot him down; one of the town's people was killed too. The Marshall and a posse followed the gang but lost them south of town." Sheriff Kennedy tipped his hat and said, "Real sorry about your loss Mrs. Edwards. If there's anything I can do for you, please let me know."
Eleanor stood quickly and said, "I have to go to Tillie. She must feel so alone right now." She started to leave but Dillon stopped her.
"You can't ride at night. We'll leave at first light and can be there before midmorning," Dillon suggested. "Elizabeth and I will ride with you; Ethan can head on back to the ranch."
"I'll go with Momma," Elizabeth said. "You and Ethan go back to the ranch."
Over hearing their discussion, Kennedy said, "I suggest you ladies take the stage. It'll get you there almost as fast as you riding and you won't be alone on the trail. Simpson and his boys are still out there somewheres. Stage leaves at 7 tomorrow morning; that's just after first light."
"Thanks Sheriff, that's a good idea," Dillon replied. "Elizabeth why don't you spend the night with Eleanor; Ethan and I will bed down here at the hotel and come get you in the morning." Elizabeth nodded, kissed Dillon, hugged Ethan and walked Eleanor back to her boarding house.
At 6 the next morning as Dillon and Ethan left the hotel to go to the boarding house. Eleanor and Elizabeth were already at the front door of the hotel. They didn't even have time to greet each other when the stage pulled up in front of the hotel; it almost an hour early.
The driver tipped his hat to Eleanor and said, "Reckon we can get an early start if you're ready ma'am. The Sheriff told me what happened. Climb aboard and I'll get you to Colorado Springs pretty damn quick."
Eleanor nodded her thanks, hugged Ethan and Dillon and he helped her into the stage. "If she wants to, Tillie is welcome to come stay with us. The house is plenty big enough and she might want to be with family," Dillon suggested. Eleanor smiled her thanks. Elizabeth kissed Dillon, ruffled Ethan's hair, and joined her mother.
"I'll send Tillie a telegram as soon as the agent opens and let her know you're on your way," Dillon told them. We'll get Josh and Red to keep an eye on our place and join you by the end of the week."
The stage driver whipped up the horses and started toward Colorado Springs. Dillon and Ethan watched until the stage was out of sight. "C'mon, we'll get some breakfast, send the telegram, and buy the supplies before we head back," Dillon told the youngster. "Might as well make the trip worthwhile."
They were waiting at the door when Mitchell opened his store; Dillon explained the reason for the early visit. He and Ethan with Mitchell's help quickly gathered and loaded the supplies they needed. They stopped at the telegraph office and then headed back to the ranch.
Dillon kept the horses at an easy cantor for close to thirty minutes and then slowed to a walk for ten minutes to give the horses a breather. Balin wasn't happy with the slow pace; he nodded his head up and down and shook it from side to side to show his disapproval. Ethan's horse Shelley wasn't happy either; you could see that she wanted to run by the way she pranced as she walked.
Ethan laughed at his horse. "Shelley don't understand why we're going so slow," he said to Dillon.
"Balin wants to run too. Maybe we'll let them run a little after we get back and rid of the pack animals," Dillon suggested.
"What will Aunt Tillie do, now that Uncle Ted is gone?" Ethan asked; he liked his Aunt and was worried about her.
"I don't know," Dillon replied. "She's welcome to move down here with us if she likes." He paused for a bit and said, "Let's get a move on. The sooner we get back to Winterborn, the sooner we can head up to Colorado Springs."