Dennis Herrick is best known for his writings about Pueblo Indians of the American Southwest. He is the author of Winter of the Metal People, which tells for the first time the native point of view for the 1540–42 Coronado expedition, and the biography titledEsteban: The African Slave Who Explored America, about the first non-Indian to enter Arizona and New Mexico in 1539.
He spent most of his adult life in and around newspapers as a reporter, editor, publisher, and university journalism instructor. He is also the author of eight other books and numerous short stories. His author’s website is atDennisHerrick.com
Prairie dogs, birds, and lizards saw him when he topped the hill and crossed the Texas border into New Mexico Territory in early June of 1870. He rode a brown horse with a white flash on its face that he’d named Drifter for all the miles they traveled.
The sun burned onto both of them, but they were used to it. He stopped at the top of the hill and looked out across the rolling, desert landscape. He watched a buzzard soaring overhead in lazy circles.
“Waitin’ for one of us to die, Drifter,” he told his horse, patting its sweaty neck. “Let’s head for that creek at the bottom and last a while longer.”
He hadn’t seen any Indians for three days. He was smart enough to stay alert, always assuming it wasn’t just critters watching him.
He pulled his Spencer repeating carbine out of its saddle scabbard, cradled it across his left arm, and nudged Drifter with his boot heels to move forward.
His name was Ollie and he was twenty-six. Comanches had killed his parents in Texas when he was a baby, and he’d been handed around from neighbor to neighbor, none of whom could afford another mouth to feed. He didn’t feel enough affection for any to take on a last name. Ollie often wished Comanches had adopted him because he envied their wild, free lives on the plains.
But he was just a cowhand and built like one, muscled and lean. He’d been a rider herding Texas longhorns north for sale that had been abandoned during the war. Ollie recruited some cowboys in 1867 and went into business for himself for two years, gathering stray longhorns and driving them to the new Kansas Pacific Railway stockyards in Abilene.
Then he entered a reckless phase with risky companions. After being almost lynched in late 1869 in Texas, he heard about the job in New Mexico Territory. He figured it might be too dangerous to stay in Texas but his cowboy life would still be adventuresome if he went farther west. The near miss with the hangman’s rope gave him pause to think about his future.
At the creek Ollie held the .52-caliber carbine ready as he looked over the sagebrush, saltbushes, and flowering cactus. After Drifter finished drinking, Ollie filled his canteen, relaxing and counting on his horse to smell or hear anyone skulking out there.
The army had penned up hundreds of Mescalero Apaches with thousands of Navajos at Bosque Redondo near Fort Sumner, only a couple days’ ride away. The Navajos were returned to their western lands in 1868, although most Apaches had escaped the internment camp four years earlier and were still scattered in New Mexico’s mountains and hills.
However, Ollie figured most of the escaped Apaches had gone to join Geronimo fighting in Mexico, or Cochise fighting soldiers and settlers three hundred miles ahead of him in Arizona Territory and thereabouts.
Ollie was more concerned about Mexican smugglers, known as contrabandistas, and American desperados riding the Outlaw Trail through this area from Texas up to two of the most lawless towns in New Mexico Territory—Las Vegas and Cimarron. Contrabandistas and American outlaws wouldn’t think twice about shooting him for his guns and Drifter.
He figured he would fight contrabandistas or outlaws, but if he spotted Comanches or Apaches on horseback, he planned to put Drifter into a race for his life.
He had a good idea where he was because of directions from his friend Bose Ikard, the black traildriver and top man for rancher Charles Goodnight. Ikard had worked cattle in both New Mexico and Texas and was familiar with the Pecos River country.
He pulled Ikard’s sketched map out of a saddlebag, unfolded it, and studied it.
“We’re about here,” he told the horse, showing the map as if Drifter could read. He tapped the map. “And Gabriel is about here. Another day and we should be at the town marshal’s door.”
Gabriel wasn’t as close as Ollie thought. It took another day to reach the Pecos River, and he followed it upstream all the next morning to the town. Gabriel consisted of two dozen or so dried-mud adobe homes, the Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Catholic mission, and the town sign printed in red paint as if someone made the letters by dipping a forefinger into paint.
The same awkward writing was smeared on the mud surface over the door of the smallest adobe building, misspelling the word as marshaLL with two capital L’s. So few people lived in the little town that they all knew how to find the marshal’s office no matter how it was spelled.
He knocked and heard a raspy invitation in Spanish to enter.
Marshal Gonzalo Valdez looked to be in his fifties, mostly Mexican Indian but maybe part Spanish, and he wore a dirt-blotched cowboy hat pulled low to his eyes. He sat on a stool behind two packing crates he’d piled on each other to make a desk, on which he was playing a solitaire game of cards. A muzzle loading, cap-and-ball pistol laid there, its barrel pointed toward the door — and toward Ollie. The marshal wore sandals, rough wool pants, and a sweat-stained gray cotton shirt. His right leg was in a splint made of four pine branches wrapped with rope. He sported a mustache so bushy that it smothered his upper lip, and his black hair was as unruly as an eagle nest. Ollie smelled cigarette smoke and a whiff of whiskey.
Valdez frowned and unleashed a torrent of rapid-fire Spanish, declaring he was busy, which he obviously wasn’t, and asking who Ollie was and what did he want.
Ollie replied in Spanish with a wordy response to prove he was fluent. He gave his name and said a man from Gabriel had told him the marshal needed temporary help because of rustlers stealing sheep and other livestock around Gabriel.
Valdez frowned. “Él no dijo que usted es un gringo.” He did not say that you are a gringo.
Ollie hadn’t expected the marshal or anyone else in town to know English, so he continued in Spanish. “Then you were told about me.” Ollie reached forward to shake the man's hand. “I will call you Marshal Valdez because I respect you.”
Valdez gave a gap-toothed grin and said he wasn’t really a marshal, but everyone called him that to impress Americans moving in since the U.S. cavalry rode into Santa Fe in 1846. He snickered and said the townspeople gave him the single-shot pistol and a badge after he made the mistake of telling a pretty woman that he used to be a Mexican Army soldier.
That led Ollie to telling the marshal that he’d served in the Confederate States Army, guarding the Texas frontier against Yankees and Indians.
“I feel a kinship here,” Ollie said. “After all, just south of here the town of Mesilla voted to join the Confederacy. Colonel Baylor set up courts and Confederate headquarters in Mesilla and Tucson, and General Sibley captured Albuquerque and Santa Fe.”
“Be careful who you brag to about that. Those Texas Confederates were chased out of La Mesilla and Tucson after the Battle of Glorieta Pass here in New Mexico. It’s true that La Mesilla and Tucson were in the briefly formed Confederate Arizona Territory in early 1862. Basically the southern half of New Mexico Territory, which in those days extended to California. When the boundary between Arizona and New Mexico territories was changed to the present division, Tucson stayed in Arizona Territory, but those rebels in La Mesilla found themselves in New Mexico Territory and suddenly in the Union. And our territorial governor is William Pile, a Union Army general.”
“I guess we’re all Yankees now. Heard that Texas rejoined the Union and even Georgia will any day soon, plus the Fifteenth Amendment has been ratified giving Negroes the vote, so now the war must really be over.”
It was still hard for Ollie to believe the war ended five years ago. But since the U.S. Army had fought both Valdez’s Mexican army and his Confederate army, he felt that he and Valdez would get along fine.
Valdez tried to get up, but his splinted leg made him lose his balance, and he cursed as he fell back into his chair. “I guess you will be all right. That new kind of six-shooter in your holster might help.”
Ollie stood with his thumbs resting on his gunbelt’s row of cartridges. The left side was for the carbine’s copper rimfire cartridges, and the right side for cartridges to the .32-caliber Allen and Wheelock revolver, one of the first to fire metal cartridges. He nodded. “I am hired?”
“Yes. The town made a collection for your fee. The money is a mix of dollars and some pesos, but all is good. They will pay you when you catch these rustlers. Until then, the families will feed you and you can sleep here, but I expect you to be out looking for those bad gringos most of the time.”
Valdez seemed quick to smile now. “That is better than I receive. They pay me in vegetables and all the rabbits and quail I can shoot. I go with them on the buffalo hunts on the plains and keep the meat and hides for barter or sale.”
“You must be a rich man to work so cheap.”
They both laughed. “You speak good Spanish.”
“Many Spanish-speaking settlers in Texas. So I grew up with it. And many Texas cowboys and settlers are moving into these parts who also speak some Spanish. Texas ranchers, too.”
Valdez leaned over his desk toward Ollie. “Did you ever work for Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving?”
“I know cowhands who worked for them.”
“Is best not to mention them or any Texan here. In 1866 the Goodnight-Loving Trail came up the Pecos River. His cowboys drove ten thousand longhorns out of Texas and right through here twice. Their cattle ate the grass we had depended on for a hundred years, and the Texas cowboys used any sheep they saw for target practice. Now these rustlers, probably also Texans, have stolen what was left.”
Valdez scowled and used a crutch to hoist himself so he could stand behind the desk. “We have a problem in New Mexico Territory. Too far from heaven and too close to Texas.”
Ollie knew that English-speaking homesteaders had been settling in eastern New Mexico for the last few years and moving into towns, and Texans were starting cattle ranches all over New Mexico’s empty grasslands.
They went outside, the marshal hobbling along on two hand-made crutches padded with buffalo hide and grunting from the pain in his injured leg. He nodded his approval when Ollie showed him the Spencer carbine and how seven cartridges were lined up inside its stock.
“That will help also. How was a cowhand able to buy it?”
“I was on my own for two years. I made better money working for me.”
“Is truth.” Valdez looked straight at him. “Now you want to work for me, and against my better judgment I am hiring a Texan to be my deputy.” He shook Ollie’s hand.
Ollie nodded. Valdez would tell him where to start when he was ready. “Okay. Glad I did not ride all this way for nothing.”
“I must tell you that everything is worse since my friend Crístobal told you these bad gringos steal our few livestock. A week ago one of them shot Francisco Garcia to death in front of his wife. Then they ambushed me and broke my leg with a bullet.”
Ollie frowned. “Is one of them Clay Allison?”
Valdez shook his head. “Why? Do you know him?”
“Met him once during the war and another time in Texas. He calls himself a shootist, and I know he has killed many men. I need to know if he is one of the rustlers.”
“No, do not worry. Clay Allison is a dangerous man, but now he owns a ranch near the cowtowns of Cimarron and Springer.” When Ollie looked uncertain, Valdez added, “Up north near the border with Colorado Territory. Allison hates sheep. He would not steal sheep.”
Valdez tilted his head and grinned. “But he keeps many cattle with Texas brands.”
Ollie nodded. He knew Indians stole hundreds of Texas longhorns each year, which often ended up on New Mexico ranches. “What is the wife of Francisco Garcia called? I will go see her tonight.”
“Beatriz. I drew a map for you in my office. She lives north along the river. And she can show you where they shot me.”
Valdez looked down, knocked puffs of dust off his left pantleg with one crutch, and rubbed his weathered face with both hands. “So dry,” he said. “No rain to talk about since last fall, so everyone fears a drought and the locusts who come with it sometimes.”
Ollie remembered the plagues of Rocky Mountain Locusts that descended on Texas in every year from 1853 into the 1860s, although strangely taking a break during the war. The insects devoured prairie grass, crops, and gardens as swarms of them invaded Texas in countless trillions. He understood anyone’s fear about when locusts might return again.
“They even eat the wool off a live sheep,” Valdez said. “Did you know that?”
“I’d heard that. The locusts are slowing settlement of the West.”
The marshal almost lost his balance on his crutches but steadied himself by grabbing Ollie’s shirt. Then he showed a stern look. “The people want you to catch these bad gringos and take them for trial to Albuquerque, ninety American miles west. But I tell you Deputy Ollie, it will please me if you bring them slung over their saddles. Dead dogs do not bite.”
It was still daylight, but sunset was coloring the western sky in purple streaks when Ollie rode up to the Garcia adobe house.
The door swung partway open, and the most attractive woman he’d seen in a long time looked out at him. Her skin was a natural reddish-brown similar to his suntanned and burnt face, neck, and hands. Her long hair was as black as obsidian and dropped to her waist. She looked to be about his age in the mid-twenties. She wore a black dress designed to hang from one shoulder. Her moccasins had white leggings wrapped to the knees around her legs.
Her right hand was hidden behind the door, and Ollie reckoned it held the double-barrel shotgun that the marshal said she kept close now.
“I am Ollie,” he called to her in Spanish. “Marshal Valdez sent me.”
She relaxed and smiled. “I knew you were not one of them.” Her Spanish had an accent he’d never heard before. Marshal Valdez had said she was a Pueblo Indian.
Ollie dismounted and led Drifter to a hitching post in front of the house. A solemn boy of about six in patched clothes appeared at her side. A baby started crying, but it was too dark inside the house for him to see.
She motioned toward two chairs beside the front door. He put his Stetson cowboy hat on a knee and they sat next to each other, neither saying anything for half a minute or so while the boy stood beside her and stared at him.
When she spoke at last, she introduced herself, saying Beatriz was her Spanish name. She gave her Indian name, which Ollie couldn’t pronounce, and said she was a Tiwa from San Esteban Pueblo near Albuquerque. She talked about her husband and looked toward his grave.
“A man with a beard like you but wearing two revolvers shot my Francisco when he grabbed the reins of that rustler’s horse to save our seven Spanish churro sheep,” she said in Spanish. “Each of the rams had four horns, and Francisco was so proud of them. Nothing is left. I have only five laying hens, a vegetable garden, and kind friends who help feed my children.”
They talked as the day faded into darkness until Ollie gave Beatriz a wooden match so she could go inside and light a homemade beeswax candle. She returned holding the baby and calmed it by rocking her body. A few minutes later, the baby started fussing.
“I must feed my children. My friends the Herreras come tomorrow to watch them. Then I will show you where they shot our marshal. He was lucky he was able to stay on his horse and escape.”
Ollie told her he would sleep beside the house in case the rustlers returned.
In the morning, he pulled her up onto Drifter to sit behind him, and she headed him northwest along the Pecos River. When they came to a trail going due west, he stayed off to one side amid bushes and twenty-foot juniper trees.
For the next hour she remained silent except when describing what the rustlers looked like. She broke another long silence by asking him, “What did the marshal mean when he said it might take an outlaw to catch a rustler?”
Ollie snorted. So news had spread all this way. He glanced over his shoulder at her and then returned his eyes to the landscape around them.
“Well, there were a lot of longhorn cattle running wild in Texas after the war. I rode with Joe McCoy for a while, gathering and driving them up half-Cherokee Jesse Chisholm’s famous trail to Abilene. Then I struck out on my own, doing the same thing. One day some cowboys wanted to hang me because a friend and I had a disagreement with some of their pals.”
“You are not a gunman?”
“Not really. Just a cowpoke who got in trouble once.”
“Oh,” she said, sounding a bit disappointed. After another long silence, she said, “Best if you are a gunman. When you find these men who murdered my husband, I want you to shoot them.”
When he told her they might leave him with no other choice, she seemed satisfied. She didn’t talk any more until about eight miles later, when she steered him onto a northern trail climbing into hills with pine trees. She pointed to two trees, each wider than a man. “The man who murdered Francisco shot Marshal Valdez there.”
Ollie took out Bose Ikard’s map and decided Mesa Sola was what he saw ahead among hills rising into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
He turned Drifter around and back toward her house, urging the horse into a trot, taking quick looks behind and around them all the way.
Carlos and Luisa Herrera came out of the adobe house to welcome them. Ollie helped Beatriz off the horse, and she walked toward them. She turned and looked at Ollie, then at the Herreras, saying, “He will find the man who killed my dear Francisco and bring him to justice.” Her body shook and both her hands covered her eyes. She ran over to Francisco’s grave and slumped beside it.
Carlos walked over to Ollie on his horse. He tilted his straw hat back to look up. “You know how to find the rustlers and that man who shot my friend?”
“I have a good idea where I can start looking. I need to report to the marshal and head out tomorrow.”
His saddlebags bulged the next day with the town people’s buffalo jerky and water bags.
“Be careful they do not ambush you,” Valdez said, leaning forward on his crutches as Ollie mounted Drifter. “Remember,” he said, quoting an old Mexican proverb, “the rabbit jumps out where you least expect it. Come back when you find their hideout. There might be more than just two. I wish you would take more men with you.”
“A big group will make it easy for them to spot. Better if I go alone for now.”
“Cemeteries are full of brave men, so take no big risks. I want you to find the hideout, Deputy Ollie. When you do, some men here with guns will help us.”
Ollie headed back to the hills and pine trees. Despite a heavy rain two days before and strong winds, he’d spotted hints of sheep and cattle tracks near the marshal’s ambush site, signs that the rustlers took stolen livestock to that area. He decided their hideout must not be far. Valdez had said he also figured as much but wanted Ollie to decide the same thing.
He camped that night without a fire a mile from where the marshal was ambushed, staying to the east where the few Mexican settlers in that direction had already lost their sheep, a couple horses, and what few cattle they’d had.
Before dawn, he tied a rope to a stake to give Drifter enough slack to reach grass, a small creek, and shade. “I’ll come back tonight or tomorrow,” he told Drifter. The horse raised its head and looked at him. Then it resumed grazing.
Ollie went forward on foot, keeping to as much cover as possible and dragging a branch of pine needles to sweep over his tracks where necessary.
The marshal had violated the first rule for avoiding ambushes by riding on the trail. Ollie stayed off it but kept the trail in sight. He moved along hills and ridges, keeping far enough down them so no silhouette would show and high enough so he could watch a large area.
In the late morning he stopped to rest and sat with a large boulder at his back between two four-foot-tall saltbushes. He took out his telescope and examined the area around the ambush site.
The land rolled in hills and canyons, always rising northward toward the mountains and mesas. It was poor land for cattle, covered with juniper trees but not much grass, suitable only for Mexican farmers with their small livestock numbers. Ollie figured some big rancher’s cattle had overgrazed the grassland several years ago, which caused an invasion of bushes and cholla cactus. The wind swayed bushes, sagebrush, and junipers. The red and gray rock sides of mesas shimmered from heat and gleamed in the sunlight. He watched two dust devils swirl sand through the air as they spun across the desert like ghosts of Indian spirits. The sky arched overhead, cloudless and blue to the horizons, while the sun baked the dry land.
He studied the area around the two trees of unusual girth where Valdez had been shot. They marked the start of ponderosa forests on the higher elevations.
He lowered the field glasses and breathed in the high desert’s clear, dry air spiced with the aroma of sagebrush.
His head jerked to the side when he spotted a figure walking on the trail. Behind the man was a woman on a horse. He recognized Beatriz, so he focused the telescope on the man.
The man was an Indian with black hair almost as long as Beatriz’s. He wore a brown cotton shirt under a black vest and also buckskin pants, all of which melted him into the landscape. A brown pork-pie hat perched on his head, worn the Indian way with the brim level and not tilted or lowered to the eyebrows the way cowboys and Mexicans wore their hats. Ollie studied the large-caliber percussion rifle the man carried.
Beatriz and the man stopped when they reached the trees. She dismounted and the man sat in the shade, almost invisible.
Ollie waited several minutes, scanning the area for movement. When he stood, they both watched him. He walked down the slope, holding his Spencer in both hands and keeping his eye on the man and his rifle.
“This is my brother Santiago,” Beatriz said as he approached. Beatriz added her brother’s Indian name of many syllables that Ollie never would remember.
Santiago rose to his feet and leaned his rifle against the closest tree. “I learn what happen when I arrive en la noche,” he said in English that included Spanish words for at night. “I will help you find hombres who killed Francisco.”
“I don’t need help,” Ollie said in English. He switched to Spanish, saying, “Voy solo.” I go alone.
Santiago shrugged. “That is fine. You go alone. I walk far to one side because I also go in same direction.”
“Two men will be easier to see than one.”
“They not see me. You not see me. But I always close as rifle shot.”
Ollie looked him over. He was about thirty, as close as Ollie could figure. A warrior in appearance and determination. A cow’s horn sealed with a wood plug hung on a leather strap across his chest for black powder, and Ollie knew a bag strapped to his waist contained lead balls and percussion caps for the old rifle, balanced on the other side by a large knife and pottery canteen painted with water symbols. Another strap crossed the opposite way across Santiago’s chest to a bag on his hip containing jerky and trail supplies. He wore boots with the heels cut off, and also leather leggings up to his knees to protect his legs from cactus spines.
Ollie looked toward the black stallion that Beatriz had ridden, then back at Santiago. “Is that your horse?”
“Sí, but I leave it for her. I go on foot. Even if you gallop your horse, I find you.”
With his next question, Ollie signaled that he realized Santiago would go with him, one way or the other. “You any good with that rifle?”
Santiago handed the muzzle loader to Ollie.
“An old Hawken rifle,” Ollie said, turning the half-stock gun over in his hands. “It used to be a flintlock, that’s how old. Converted to percussion. Probably fifty-three caliber. Where’d you get it?”
“It belong one time to my Ute grandfather. Do not ask how he got it in the year you Americanos call 1832. It is old, but it shoot straight and hard.”
Ollie could guess how a Ute might obtain a mountain man’s rifle back in the old days. “It’s in excellent condition.”
Santiago raised his eyebrows. “You surprised. Maybe you think Indian does not know how to shoot and clean rifle?”
Ollie handed back the rifle with its heavy iron octagonal barrel. “A man who takes care of a Hawken for so long knows how to use it.” Ollie decided he wouldn’t need a posse from town if Santiago were with him.
Later, when Beatriz mounted Santiago’s horse, she wished them both good luck, saying, “Buena suerte.” She held her double-barrel shotgun across her saddle and turned southeast toward her home. Ollie and Santiago walked across the trackless desert to retrieve Drifter.
Two hours after they left, Beatriz returned on the black horse to the ambush site. She rode off to the right, studied the message in a drawing in the sand that her brother left for her, and then turned her horse west.
The next morning the men traveled back to the ambush site. Ollie rode Drifter a hundred yards left of the sandy trail, while Santiago walked a hundred yards or more off to the right side. Santiago was right. Ollie never caught a glimpse of him as they climbed into more rugged country, not even when he needed to move closer to the trail because of the terrain or to verify its path. He knew Santiago must be near.
Ollie stopped to camp for the night without a fire among towering and thick ponderosa pines. With the ponderosas around him, he knew the elevation had to be at least six thousand feet.
At dusk, Santiago walked into Ollie’s camp, greeting Ollie in his mixture of English and some Spanish. “You find good place, amigo.” He looked around and then sat cross-legged opposite Ollie, his Hawken rifle lying across his lap. “We find them. Maybe mañana, yes?”
Each slept that night beside a tree they could duck behind if necessary, their rifles held in their hands. Ollie lay under a blanket against the mountains’ cool night air, but Santiago lay on the ground in just his clothes with a mound of pine needles for a pillow.
Ollie woke at dawn and saw Santiago already awake a hundred yards away crouched beside a tree and several bushes, guarding their camp with his Hawken.
As they sat for a breakfast of buffalo jerky and water, Ollie asked, “You think we are close to the hideout?”
“Maybe. I also saw some, how you say it, Apache signs. Apaches like cattle for a good meal and horses to ride. Not much interested in sheep. Maybe they already find hideout and steal cattle and horses from rustlers.”
Ollie gnawed a chunk of tough jerky. “Robbers robbing robbers. Some justice to that.”
“A Mexican came to San Esteban to tell me about my sister and Francisco. He said there is a box canyon ahead big enough to hold a small herd.”
“Small enough that they could block the entrance?”
“That explains why the same two rustlers are seen each time. They don’t need anyone else to watch the animals while they’re out gatherin’ more.”
They found a canyon only about a hundred yards deep. A pond watered the back at the base of steep cliffs rising on three sides. Animal hoof prints pockmarked the pond’s muddy ground. The canyon floor had been grazed down to the dirt, brown and dusty.
“Dammit,” Ollie said, standing in the entrance that was only about ten yards wide and cluttered with brush and tree trunks cut to block it. “They’re gone.”
Ollie searched the area east of the canyon and Santiago examined everything to the west.
When they regrouped an hour later, Ollie gave his report. “I saw where Mescalero Apaches took all the horses and cattle and left the sheep. Old tracks lead east from here and then turn into the desert hills.”
Santiago pointed with his chin to the west. “A hundred sheep and the two horses of the rustlers go west from here. Trail is three or four days old. I maybe pass south of them when I go to sister’s house.”
“That’s only a few days after one of them shot your sister’s husband. Some Mescaleros must have found their hideout while they were gone rustlin’. Because of that and overgrazing here in the canyon, the rustlers decided it was time to move out. It will be hard to catch them if they have that big of a head start.”
“We catch them. The best pass through the mountains is where your Santa Fe Trail goes through. We go there and find their trail. Or maybe….” Santiago’s voice tapered off.
“I heard the priest at my San Esteban Pueblo expected to buy sheep from cowboys. If we leave in morning and go to San Esteban, we arrive there before the rustlers and their sheep going long way through pass. The sheep slow them.”
Ollie shook his head. “Lot of guesswork. We should just follow their tracks. You don’t know for sure they will end up at San Esteban.”
Santiago leaned his Hawken against a tree. “I am sure. They promise San Esteban priest some churros. He likes them for their many horns and meat. Mostly different sheep in New Mexico now with better wool. These far-away Mexican villages are only places with old Spanish churro sheep. And Beatriz lost her churros.”
“You follow their tracks if you want. I go to San Esteban.”
Ollie sighed. “Okay, let’s go to San Esteban. It’s a far way no matter what we do.”
To Ollie’s surprise, Santiago was able to run and keep up with Drifter’s trot the next day. Ollie felt more tired than he thought Santiago looked as they made camp between hills in an opening of bunch grasses between ponderosas and other pine trees.
By the time Ollie set up camp and started a small fire, Santiago returned with two rabbits he’d killed silently with a bow and arrows Beatriz had given him. After they’d cleaned, cooked, and eaten their dinner, Ollie asked again about Santiago’s old muzzle-loading gun.
Santiago patted the Hawken rifle. “Grandfather hide gun. Back then, if Spaniards find him with it, they hang him in plaza at Santa Fe. Then Mexicans come and stop hangings. Later you Americans come. We like Americans. They let us own guns and horses. Now at San Esteban many speak the English good like me.”
When Ollie woke, Santiago was nowhere to be seen. Probably out hunting for breakfast, he thought. He saw Drifter acting nervous and pulling at the rope tied to a juniper. “It’s just Santiago coming back from hunting,” he said, patting the horse on the neck and rubbing its nose.
He laid two short branches on the fire. As he squatted by his saddlebags rearranging the contents, he looked up and saw a shadow step out from behind a ponderosa. The sunrise lit the figure of a Mescalero Apache warrior pointing a rifle at his chest.
“You get up,” the warrior said in thick English. Ollie stood and raised his arms without being told.
“You drop,” the Indian said, motioning his rifle’s barrel toward Ollie’s holster gunbelt. Ollie unbuckled the belt and let it slide out of his hands onto the ground.
The Apache was bare-chested with a U.S. cavalry belt buckle of tarnished copper on a leather thong around his neck. He wore buckskin britches and moccasins and had wrapped a brown bandanna around his forehead and long black hair. He’d also tied strips of brown cloth above each bicep. The bore of his rifle barrel looked as black as death pointed toward Ollie.
He motioned for Ollie to back up. He knelt beside the saddlebags. Watching Ollie, he glanced at the saddlebags just enough to see what was inside.
He stood and looked toward Drifter. “Good horse.” He looked toward Ollie’s Spencer propped against a tree. “Good rifle.”
When the Mescalero raised his rifle again toward Ollie’s chest, Santiago’s voice called out in a language Ollie didn’t understand. Ollie saw Santiago appear behind the Apache, his Hawken leveled and cocked. Santiago shouted more orders and the Apache lowered his rifle and handed it to Ollie.
Ollie took the rifle. “Damn, Santiago. Where you been?”
“Go more away, amigo. He still have knife.”
Ollie stepped back toward Drifter.
The Apache turned toward Santiago, scowling. “You help this White Eyes?”
“Is truth.” Santiago kept his Hawken pointed at the Apache.
“He is friend?”
“We help each other.”
In an instant the Apache leaped toward Ollie, spun around behind Drifter, and ran into the mountain’s thick forest of pines. Santiago stepped sideways to see around the horse and find the Apache’s dodging figure. His Hawken roared and a cloud of white, sulfurous smoke hung in the still air. Ollie ran around to the front of Drifter and raised the Apache’s rifle but couldn’t spot him.
“Missed.” Santiago added an angry Tiwa curse.
“Drifter and I will catch him,” Ollie said, dropping the Apache’s rifle and scooping up his Spencer.
Santiago shook his head. “No, too much cover with trees, hills, and bushes. You never find him. But he find you. We leave quick. Other Apaches maybe near.”
Ollie saddled Drifter, tied on the saddlebags, and put the bridle’s bit into the horse’s mouth while Santiago reloaded his Hawken. Ollie strapped on his revolver and bent to pick up the Apache’s rifle, but Santiago told him to leave it.
“You make him mad if you take it. Leave it and maybe he not bother follow us and cut our throats some night.”
Ollie stepped into a stirrup and mounted Drifter, and Santiago jumped up to sit behind him. Ollie relaxed the reins in the signal to gallop as Drifter burst out of the clearing. They galloped for several minutes until Santiago told Ollie to stop. He jumped off the horse.
“No Apaches follow. We lucky today.”
“You spoke to him in Apache. How many languages do you know?”
“Many as I need.”
They resumed their journey west, Ollie putting Drifter into a trot while he scanned around them for any sign of Mescalero horsemen. Santiago ran beside him.
They took turns keeping guard the second night, worried that Apaches might be near. The night passed without any trouble, but they weren’t willing to bet their lives that the first Apache hadn’t followed them alone or with others.
Santiago looked over their small campfire and grinned. “Mescalero Apache is fierce warrior. Afraid of nothing. He not chase us because he not want to.”
They took off before dawn, traveling as fast as they could toward San Esteban.
Ollie wasn’t prepared for the massive flocks of sheep he saw the closer they got to Albuquerque, which was surrounded by large haciendas as well as subsistence farmers growing orchards and small fields of wheat, corn, and vegetables. They had to ride through the flocks, scattering sheep bleating in protest, because to go around them would have required a large detour. He told Santiago he’d never seen so many sheep before.
Santiago laughed. “So many you cannot count them, amigo. The padre at every pueblo owns hundreds. Some Spanish ricos own thousands, so all you see to horizon are white backs of sheep.”
Ollie was used to seeing large herds of cattle on the Texas and New Mexico grasslands. But sheep?
He thought about that for a few minutes, finally saying, “I can understand rich Spaniards owning lots of sheep, although it surprises me that missionaries also do.”
“Priests say they own sheep and farms to feed us in emergency. But funny thing. Every year San Esteban priest have us take many sheep to Mexico. We bring back paintings and statues for church and wine, clothes, and supplies for him.”
“Why do you let him?”
Santiago shrugged as if the answer were obvious. “We kill most white religion people in your 1680, but just more come. Now we are Catholic, but Indian religion is more important, so we hide it from priests.”
The next morning they entered through a gate into the rectangular apartment complex of San Esteban, the walls coated with dried mud that gleamed light brown in the sun. Ollie tied Drifter to a hitching post and followed Santiago toward the mission. The adobe church rose at one end of the dirt plaza. A cross was atop each of three wooden belfry towers across the church’s roof with bells behind wood-slatted windows. Ragged mountains edged the horizon beyond.
Smoke curled from an area in the plaza where women swathed in colorful blankets chattered to each other and bent over a small fire for hardening their pottery. Ollie enjoyed the fragrance of the pine wood smoke. Three men worked in front of the church, carving a life-sized religious statue out of a tree trunk. They had white cloths wrapped around their heads with their hair tied in a bun in back, and they wore white shirts and patched white pants. A turkey trailed by a line of chicks scampered past a skinny mongrel dog that ignored them. Other Puebloans wandered around and climbed up and down ladders to reach rooms inside the four doorless walls surrounding the plaza. Other men in the plaza also wore white shirts and either a sweat-stained headband around shiny black hair or a hat, while the blanket-draped women wore long black skirts and leather moccasins. Several paused to look at Ollie and Drifter. Children ran laughing through the plaza like quail bursting from cover.
The missionary, a French Jesuit priest recruited by Bishop Lamy, opened the church’s massive wooden door and stepped into the sunshine in his flowing black robe. Unlike the thin Indians, the priest was heavy with a big belly.
Santiago waved to the priest. “Bendiciones a usted, Padre Jean.”
The priest, whose name Ollie would learn was Jean Baptiste Langlois, returned the blessing and welcome to Santiago in Spanish. Then, looking with interest at Ollie, he told Santiago in halting English. “I heard this cowboy and you were coming to San Esteban.”
Ollie wondered if a Pueblo hunter had recognized Santiago and ridden ahead of them to alert the priest.
He dropped his hunter theory when Beatriz walked through the church door. He stepped back in surprise. He still thought she was beautiful, and now that she’d ridden across the grass-and-brush desert alone, he knew she was also brave.
“Santiago drew a picture of San Esteban in the sand,” she said in Spanish. “So I rode his horse during day and under moon most of each night to get here before you.” She switched to the Tiwa language as she and Santiago spoke back and forth for a few minutes.
Ollie sensed that the priest was almost as ignorant of Tiwa as he was. He looked toward Santiago. “What did she say?”
Santiago gave Ollie an odd look. “She tell me about her ride. She said she must avoid Apaches on way here. Herrera man and wife are taking care of children. She say she came to identify her sheep when you catch rustlers. I explain all later.”
Ollie looked toward Beatriz and she smiled.
Santiago waved at the priest. “Gracias, Padre.” Then he said in English, “My sister and I go to greet family now.”
The priest frowned and took a step forward as Ollie said, “Wait. Don’t we want to—?”
“We see family first.” Santiago and Beatriz began walking toward a block of rooms at the far end of the plaza, leaving the priest by the mission door. Ollie waved good-bye to Father Jean, untied Drifter, and plodded after them.
Because there was no doorway, Ollie had to climb a ladder to the roof and follow Santiago and Beatriz down another ladder into their parents’ apartment, cooled by its thick walls. The parents sat on the floor of their small room under six pine logs that held up a ceiling made of branches. A small fire flickered on the room’s floor, more for light than warmth. Both parents smiled at Santiago and Beatriz but showed blank expressions toward Ollie. The parents had wrapped blankets across their shoulders and held them gathered together in front, with the father wearing a white shirt and trousers and the mother barefoot and wearing a black dress.
Ollie looked around at two dozen small figures carved from wood and dangling from rafters and wall pegs. They were painted and wearing feathers and leather clothes, and they held gourd rattles and bows. Ollie had heard that such Pueblo figures represented supernatural beings.
“Are these your gods?”
Santiago leaned toward him. “The priest thinks so, and he burn these if he find them. Then we make more. The men you saw in front of church carve saints for Padre Jean. When he not watch, they carve these small figures of katsina spirits in our religion. But no, katsinas not gods. Katsinas a bit like Catholic saints, and our katsinas take Indian prayers to the Creator. Offer my father tobacco. He maybe trade you one.”
While Santiago and Beatriz answered their mother’s questions, Ollie and their father worked out a trade of a bag of tobacco for a katsina figure called Crow Mother that was not much longer than Ollie’s hand and wrist. Ollie wondered about two carved wooden wings painted as black as a crow’s that came out of each side of the head’s cylindrical mask instead of ears. The katsina figure had a green face with two black triangles balanced one above the other on their points.
Because the family spoke mostly in Spanish with only occasional Tiwa, Ollie could understand almost everything. No one asked him to speak, and so he didn’t. Instead he studied the katsina figure as the old man filled the room with smoke from his new tobacco supply.
It took only a few minutes with the parents for Ollie to figure out why Santiago didn’t want to talk in front of the French priest. The priest owned nearly all of the pueblo’s sheep, and many villagers worked for him for nothing or a pittance inside the church, in the fields, or herding the sheep.
Suddenly, after Santiago told his father something in Tiwa, the old man spouted several angry words in their language, his voice rising to a shout.
Ollie turned to Santiago. “What’s wrong?”
Santiago shook his head. “I tell him Padre Jean tried to kiss Beatriz. My father is angry. He say too many priest children running around San Esteban.”
Beatriz laughed, which made her father even angrier. “No hay problema,” she assured her father in Spanish. She smiled at Ollie.
Ollie held up the Crow Mother katsina and swept his other hand to indicate the other figures around the room. “I see you still practice your Indian religion,” he said to everyone in Spanish, “so how can you go to a church that has tortured, robbed, enslaved, and killed so many Indians for more than three centuries?”
The old man’s scowl relaxed, and he spoke in accented English. “Ai, our Catholic mission? We go there because you can never pray too much. And besides, I hear even Protestant Christians have been killing Indians in the name of Jesus.”
“I reckon that’s true.” Ollie set Crow Mother on the dirt floor beside him.
The father spoke better English than Santiago. “My ancestors and I remember how Franciscan friars hang our religion leaders in Santa Fe plaza and whip us if we practice our religion of kiva chambers and katsinas. So we adopt Catholic faith. In those days faith was another word for fear.”
The old man adjusted the blanket around his shoulders. “It not so bad after Mexicans chase away Spaniards and friars. Then Americans come and chase away Mexicans, so priests come and also Protestant ministers. Our priest cannot hang or whip us anymore.” Santiago’s father grinned. “We still not have complete trust in Americans, but we see.”
Father Jean insisted he was busy, but he agreed to meet after Ollie’s third request, which had escalated into a demand. Most Puebloans spoke their own language but also spoke Spanish. Many also were now learning English, so the priest accepted the new American order and decided to practice his English when Ollie and Santiago showed up in his church office, where they also met Father J.B. Brun, who was visiting from Isleta Pueblo. Father Brun was a thin man with thick black hair who was Isleta’s missionary.
After half an hour of socializing with the two priests, Ollie managed to get Father Jean to finally admit that two cowboys named Harris and Boyd were bringing sheep to stock his herd and the herds of two other priests. The descriptions he gave of the two men matched what Beatriz had told Ollie.
Father Jean spoke through tightened lips. “We asked them to buy sheep for us in other parts of the territory. They are expected to arrive at Santa Fe any day now.”
Ollie leaned forward in his rickety wood chair. “Those cowboys didn’t buy the sheep they’re bringing. They stole them. I have come to take the sheep back.”
“That crime cannot be true. We asked them to buy the animals. As a man of God, I could never agree to them stealing. Is rustling the word for that? They said they knew where sheep were for sale, and we agreed to pay fair price.”
“Padre, these cowboys are worse than rustlers. They are murderers. One killed Beatriz’s husband.”
The missionary gasped and looked at Santiago. “Is that true? Beatriz never told me that. Did someone kill Francisco Garcia?”
“Not just someone.” Ollie’s voice turned low like a growl. “Harris or Boyd. We’ve been chasing them since they left the small town of Gabriel about a hundred miles east of here.”
The priest sprang from his chair and walked back and forth. He made the sign of the cross, clutched his rosary, and whispered prayers in French.
Ollie rode Drifter toward Albuquerque, whose thirteen hundred people gave the town a reputation for being a wild place. So wild that Santiago refused to go with him. “The only Indians in Albuquerque are women who sell jewelry and pottery,” Santiago said. “An Indian man must fight every ten steps.”
He said he’d stay at San Esteban and see what he could find out about Harris and Boyd.
Sandia Mountain loomed above Ollie to the northeast, its towering rock cliffs rising above the Rio Grande as the river flowed through the desert grassland and beside the town.
With his rifle hidden inside his bedroll, he hitched Drifter with other horses to a long rail in front of San Felipe de Neri Church in the center of town. By far the tallest building, the adobe church had been built in 1793 with brown plastered walls and an oak door hung on large wooden hinges. Twin bell towers were added just nine years before in 1861.
The town’s plaza was laid out in a large square in front of the church. Ollie would have felt he was in a Mexican town except that new American arrivals had erected a pole with a U.S. flag. A white picket fence circled the flag and park-like plaza.
He walked down a street lined with mud adobe houses and one-story, flat-roofed stores. He saw Mexican laborers along with Mexican women shoppers crowding the boarded walks and crossing the dirt streets at every angle. Most women seemed headed for an adobe building with its sign advertising the Stover mercantile store. He waited as pairs of mules pulled two wagons driven by cursing freighters that rolled by in a cloud of dust. Then he crossed the street while avoiding three men on horses and two plodding mules pulling another wagon from the opposite direction.A lot of western towns had laws banning guns, but not Albuquerque, where armed and unarmed men walked about, so Ollie kept his revolver in its holster. He paid six Indian-head pennies to a newsboy on a corner for a copy of the local newspaper. Then Ollie stepped into what looked to be Albuquerque’s only saloon.
Coming out of the sunlight, he paused inside to let his eyes adjust to the dim interior and the air thick as fog from cigarette smoke. The room rumbled with voices and laughter amid the clink of glasses and bottles.
A stocky man with a ruddy face, black mutton-chop whiskers covering his cheeks, and hair over his ears gestured at him from a table by the door.
“Hey, cowboy, you know how to read?” The man pointed at the newspaper in Ollie’s hand. Ollie stepped over to his table.
“I saw you had a copy of The Republican Review, so I figured you must be an educated man.”
“Well, I guess educated enough to be able to read a newspaper.”
The man laughed. “Pull up a chair. You’re the first person today I’ve seen with my paper.”
“Yessir, William McGuiness, at your service. I’m editor and publisher of that weekly scandal sheet. News in both English and Spanish every Saturday. Just started it in March, but it’s already catchin’ on. But you missed the biggest news two weeks ago. That’s when a young woman named Francisquita Montoya was shot in the head during festivities around wine barrels set out on the street when everyone was trying to make the most noise.”
Ollie gave his name, said he hailed from Texas, and sat. “How’d it happen?”
McGuiness tossed down the last of his drink from his glass and leaned so far across the table that Ollie could smell the tang of beer on the man’s breath.
“Well, I’ll tell you cuz that issue is sold out, so you can’t buy it anyhow. It seems a man named Mitchell voluntarily accused himself of the deed, stating he was drunk at the time, had three shots in his pistol, knew not in what direction he was firing, and most deeply regrets the dreadful accident.”
McGuiness leaned back in his chair. “Such is the inevitable result of drunken men being allowed to carry arms in public assemblages.”
Ollie asked how Mitchell was punished, but McGuiness just waved his question away as if he had something else to say. “That’s nothing compared to thirteen years ago,” he said. “In 1857 a troop of American soldiers came through here. With camels! Can you believe it? They camped a bit south but came into town for a fandango, got roaring drunk, and shot up the dance hall. Folks here still talk about it.”
He laughed at the memory and motioned to a barmaid. “I’ll buy you a drink. What’s your poison?”
“Same as you. Beer. You say a man named Mitchell. Everyone I’ve seen in this town so far seems to be a Mexican except you. Where did Mitchell come from?”
“Well, you just ain’t looked close enough. Lots of other folks around. Hellfire, I’m from Ireland. We even got four Italian priests and a Frenchy trying to make us change our sinful ways. The richest men in town are Christoval and Salvador Armijo, but the dry goods merchants Henry Springer and Aaron Zeckendorf have money piled nearly as high. That Springer is an energetic fellow. He can touch a man’s heart if he can’t find the pocket first. We got five lawyers, starting with my crafty pal Simon Smith, and two doctors, and John Murphy the druggist. We even have Miss Antonia Houseley, who was one of the leading scholars of the college that the Sisters of Charity had here until recently. She is now teaching future subscribers of the feminine gender how to read.”
McGuiness leaned back in his chair. “Yep. Right fine little town we got here.”
McGuiness nodded toward a table where seven swarthy men were drinking, shouting, and slapping cards loudly on the table playing faro. “As for Mexicans, well, there are a few, but many of these families have been in New Mexico since 1598, so I reckon they’re a helluva lot more American than I am.”
Both looked up at a tall, thin, bald man wearing an apron and walking toward them carrying the two glasses of locally brewed warm beer they’d expected the barmaid would bring. The man set the glasses on the table and picked up McGuiness’s fifty cents. “Who’s the stranger, McGuiness?”
“He’s a Texas cowboy.” McGuiness grabbed his glass of beer. “Ollie, this is Morris Miller, the owner of this fine billiards and card-shark establishment.”
Miller glanced at Ollie’s holstered revolver. “Texas, huh? Not plannin’ to cause trouble here, are ya, Texas Cowboy Ollie?”
“I’m looking for two rustlers who stole some sheep out by Gabriel.”
Miller frowned and walked back to the bar, muttering, “Yup, you’re gonna cause trouble.”
They stepped out of the saloon and were hit by the hot afternoon sun as if a large fire had flared up in front of them. McGuiness wiped a sleeve across his sweaty forehead and groaned. “The weather today is as hot as that subterranean dwelling place where all dead sinners are bound to go,” he said, and then he grinned at his eloquence. Ollie remembered reading that same phrase in the paper he’d bought.
McGuiness showed an afternoon of several beers and whiskeys by wobbling a bit as he avoided others on the boarded walk to the Republican Review office. All the way McGuiness grumbled that Ollie shouldn’t have told the barkeep that he was hunting rustlers.
“Rustled the sheep around Gabriel, huh? Not a surprise. Got to expect things like that happenin’, what with the disreputable ruffians riding up and down that Outlaw Trail out there.”
“They also killed a friend’s husband.”
“Don’t matter. See, the problem is, if any livestock comes from far enough away, rich owners of the big haciendas up and down the river and even the priests are ready buyers, not to mention every poor sod who wants some sheep and maybe a horse for hisself if he can afford it.”
“Might help me anyway if the word gets around.”
McGuiness shook his head, muttered “Nothin’ but trouble,” and swung open the door to the dingy newspaper office.
The first thing hitting Ollie’s nose was the odor of ink. The one gloomy room lit by dirty windows was crammed with piles of newsprint and old newspapers along the walls, a Washington Hand Press, a desk and chair smudged black with ink, and a cabinet of metal type also smudged. A young man of nineteen or so was standing behind a worn and stained counter, arranging loose metal letters backward into a long metal tray held in his left hand. The wood floor with its dust, scraps of paper, and other debris looked as if it hadn’t been swept for months.
McGuiness led Ollie up to the counter. “He’s setting type for next week’s issue. Got a big story on the latest news ’bout the railroad coming here. This is my business partner, Transito Mata. Can’t put out a paper without a good printer.”
Ollie offered a handshake, but Transito displayed his ink-blackened hand, so they just nodded to each other.
McGuiness veered toward his desk, talking all the way. “The Kansas Pacific Railway completed surveys for a line to Albuquerque three years ago, and their rails reached Kit Carson, Colorado, in March. And the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway is already at Burlingame, Kansas, and pointing our way. They expect to make it to Emporia, Kansas, this year.” His voice was slurred with words coming more slowly, but Ollie could still make out what he said.
McGuiness rubbed his thumbs against the first two fingers of both hands and grinned with the right corner of his mouth turned up. “Hellfire, we already got ten mercantile stores here. Albuquerque will really start growing when the railroad gets here.”
“I’d heard the railroad was headin’ this way.”
“Sure is. I just hope my newspaper—” he nodded toward Transito, “our newspaper, that is—can survive until then. We’ll finally make some money.”
“That will take a few years, and I need to find those rustlers before then.”
McGuiness shouted across the room. “Transito! You hear about any rustlers bringing sheep from east of here?”
Transito looked up from his typesetting, shook his head, and went back to work.
“There, see, the newspaper doesn’t even know. But I’ll bet William Brown does.” McGuiness’s eyelids started to droop. He managed to maneuver around the desk and plop into his chair.
“He was our dentist, but patients kept advising him to pursue a different career. So now he’s our only barber, but he still keeps a dentist office in the back. He’ll shave that two-week-old bear rug off your face and tell you all the town’s gossip. That’s where I get my news tips. Up the street.” McGuiness fluttered a hand at the door, shut his eyes, and sagged in his chair. “That way.”
Ollie had arranged for Santiago to come into town after dark and tie his horse in front of Major Melchior Werner’s wood-frame hotel. They met outside and went up the side stairs to Ollie’s room.
As they settled into chairs, Ollie’s first question was, “How is Beatriz?”
“Interesting. My sister told me to report back about you.”
Ollie could feel his face flush with heat. With his freshly shaved face, the redness looked even more obvious. “Never mind that for now.” He calmed himself so the heat would diminish. “Have you heard anything about Harris and Boyd and the sheep they stole from Beatriz and others at Gabriel?”
“Padre Jean no longer upset. He tell one saint carver that soon he have more sheep. Might need another herder.”
Santiago said information was vague, but the priest apparently thought his new flock of sheep, including several churros he favored, would be delivered in a few more days.
Ollie reported on his visit to William Brown’s barber chair. “No word about any rustlers of sheep, but he said I should talk to a ten-year-old domestic servant boy named Domingo. He lives on the Sedillo hacienda south of town but comes to town every Tuesday afternoon in a buckboard to pick up meat from Tom Post’s butcher shop. And other supplies. A laborer at the hacienda drives the team to bring the boy in. Everyone thinks Domingo is stupid, but Brown says the boy just pretends.”
“Yes. Brown says the domestic servants are like a spy ring, and they tell the boy everything that’s going on at all the haciendas. For some cash, the boy gives regular updates. Men put up with the bad haircuts just to keep up with what the boy tells Brown.”
Santiago grinned. “Then you can talk to the boy.”
“No. There’s a problem.”
Santiago arched his eyebrows.
Ollie tossed up his hands with a what-do-we-do gesture. “Apparently domestic servant is just another term around here for household slave. Most by far are captured Navajo women and children. The Spaniards love Navajo rugs, so they buy or kidnap women and girls to weave all day at looms. They keep Navajo boys to do work.”
“Is truth. Your Civil War free black slaves, but it take much longer to free Indian slaves in New Mexico. Nearly every hacienda and many people in town have Indian slaves. Rich man with most land and sheep north of here in Bernalillo, José Leandro Perea, he own five Navajo slaves.”
“This boy is also a captive Navajo. Here’s the problem. He doesn't speak Spanish or English, and Brown’s Navajo translator is gone for a month. Most slaves in town and on the haciendas are also captive Navajos, so the boy learns things from them as they shop in stores and talk to each other.”
Santiago nodded. “Maybe boy understand Spanish. Maybe he pretend not to speak it. That way he share what hacienda Navajos learn. No matter. I speak good Navajo.”
Now it was Ollie who responded with raised eyebrows. “You speak Tiwa, Spanish, English, and even Apache. Now you tell me you also speak Navajo?”
“Apache capture me when a boy. In seven years father raise enough to ransom me back. I learn Apache, and it is same as bad-talked Navajo, so I also learn that. I talk to boy tomorrow. Yes?”
“Okay. But you need to stay in my room tonight. You already told me that if you walk around town, folks here might not take a liking to you.”
Santiago eyed Ollie’s lumpy bed suspiciously. “Floor more comfortable. Tell you what. There is school teacher, José Lucero. His house near butcher shop. You take my horse to stable with your Drifter. José is friend. I sleep on his floor when I in town.”
“Okay. I’ll find out where José lives and meet you there tomorrow. Then maybe I can talk my new and only friend William McGuiness into inviting the hacienda’s wagon driver into the saloon for a few free drinks. If I pay for them, of course. That will give us time to talk to the boy. Tell me how to say in Navajo, My Navajo-speaking Pueblo friend and I need to talk with you.”
Ollie wrote Santiago’s Navajo words down phonetically and practiced saying them over and over to Santiago. He knew his pronunciation would be terrible, but he felt he could make the boy understand that one phrase.
Ollie hadn’t given Beatriz the details of what happened in 1869, and he knew he never would, but he remembered as he lay in bed that night trying to get to sleep. It was a time in western Texas when cowboys found themselves adrift and asking in saloons when the next cattle drive would begin and where.
Almost everyone was a son of the Confederacy, but after several drinks they were quick to argue and fistfight with each other if no Yankees were around.
Like Ollie, his friend Clay Allison was a former Confederate soldier, and he was between cattle drives, wondering if he should set out on his own like Ollie had done. His clubfoot identified him as the dangerous gunman that many had heard of. Allison carried a reputation as a quick-tempered, some would say maniacal, killer. That scared off some men, but it attracted others—like a big man in a bar draws challenges from other big men wanting to test their mettle.
Ollie and Clay had been drinking beers and whiskeys one day with two other former Confederates in a West Texas saloon, reminiscing about their times fighting in Tennessee, Alabama, and Texas, when four roughneck cowboys turned at the bar to glare at them. The leader, a drunken bear of a man with a full chest of muscle and a knife scar across his right cheek above his black beard, threw a shot glass at them that bounced off the table. The two other men at Ollie’s table got up and walked away, but Allison and Ollie stayed as the big man shouted drunken curses at them.
The confrontation was so unprovoked that Ollie’s first thought was that the man’s erratic behavior was because he might be addicted to morphine, like so many veterans of the War Between the States.
“I heard you-all talking ’bout the war,” the man snarled. “But none of ya had the guts to fight in Georgia. Especially a coward like you, Alice-son.”
Even together, Allison and Ollie were no match for scarface in a fistfight, but Allison relied on guns and knives, not on his fists.
“Only a fool would call me a coward.”
“I’ll call you what I want.” Scarface said with a sneer. “I heard you was a Galvanized Yankee,” a term referring to Confederate soldiers who enlisted in the Union Army in 1864–66 in exchange for release from Union prisons. Ollie knew that former POW Allison would consider that the worst of insults.
“Galvanized Yankee?” Clay Allison’s face turned red with anger as he leaped to his feet. “That’s a damned lie.”
Drunken insults and curses were traded back and forth across the twenty feet separating them as other men in the bar stepped to the saloon’s sides. Ollie considered following others away from the scene, but when scarface threatened to kill Allison, Ollie rose to stand on the other side of the table from his friend.
“I ain’t afraid of you, Alice-son,” the big man snarled, holding his right hand on the butt of his holstered revolver. The three men with him also lowered their hands toward their guns. “Heard there’s a big reward posted for you, dead or alive. I could use that money.”
The bartender walked quickly to the far corner of the bar.
Allison’s hand hovered above his Colt six-shooter. “Even if there isn’t a reward, fat man, I’ll pay a hundred dollars to any of you left standing.”
The big man and his companions swept their guns out of their holsters, but Allison was faster and Ollie drew, too. In the next three seconds clouds of black-powder smoke poured into the room, the saloon reverberated with explosions from six revolvers, and bullets whipped past Ollie’s ears with sharp cracks as he realized the truth of what Clay Allison had told him once: “Most men panic if another man is shooting back. Their shots go wild because they dodge and weave to avoid being hit while they fire. Best to be the man who stands firm and aims at his targets.”
Ollie stood firm with Allison as they picked their targets through the smoke, muzzle flashes, screams, and gunshots. Allison shot two and maybe three, while Ollie knew he hit one and maybe two in those seconds of violent confusion.
“Goddam,” the bartender said, rising up from behind the bar. “You two kilt all four of ’em.”
Allison spun toward the door. “C’mon, Ollie. Let’s get outta here.”
A posse of the barroom cowboys’ friends chased them the rest of the day. They would have gotten away except Ollie’s horse stumbled in a prairie dog hole at dusk, hurling Ollie to the ground. As soon as he regained consciousness, the nine cowboys tightened a noose around his neck and slung the rope’s other end over a cottonwood tree limb.
They froze when a rifle slug blasted into the tree. Clay Allison was kneeling on a hill a hundred yards away, out of dependable range of their revolvers. Allison shouted that he wondered how many of them his rifle could shoot on the open prairie unless they left their horses and started running back to town. They started running.
The next morning in his hotel room Ollie practiced the Navajo words again and then walked over to the newspaper office to haul out McGuiness, take him to breakfast, and ask for his help stalling the Navajo boy’s buckboard driver with free drinks.
McGuiness looked up from his eggs and potatoes. “I’m always happy to buy a man a drink with someone else’s money if I get a drink, too.”
Ollie clattered three silver liberty-seated dollar coins onto the table.
McGuiness slapped his hand onto the coins. “That’ll get us started.” Ollie tossed four more of the U.S. silver dollars on the table, and McGuiness gave him a crooked smile. McGuiness pulled out his pocket watch with his other hand and flipped up the cover. “That driver’s always on time. He’ll be pulling up at Stover’s general store in fifteen minutes.”
Ollie found the Indian boy after breakfast on the boardwalk in front of Stover’s store. He took out the paper on which he’d written the Navajo words and stumbled over their pronunciation more than he’d thought he would.
His pronunciation must have been good enough, because the boy grinned and held out a hand palm-up. Ollie gave him ten silver half-dimes, and the boy’s grin spread much wider. When Ollie motioned toward the alley between Stover’s and another general store, the boy glanced toward his driver walking with McGuiness into the saloon just two doors down the street. When they disappeared inside, he followed Ollie into the alley.
The alley led to the Lucero house two buildings away that Santiago had shown Ollie last night. They met next to the house and sat on some boxes. Santiago and the boy talked in Navajo for several minutes, and when Santiago stood, Ollie asked, “What did he have to say?”
“He say you speak terrible Navajo.”
The boy laughed, which made Ollie think he could understand some English, and so he must also understand the Spanish that he heard all the time.
“Besides that, I mean.”
“Boy say two men Harris and Boyd have more than hundred sheep about fifteen miles southeast of abandoned Pecos Pueblo along the river. They sell some sheep but keep all churros.”
Ollie, with Santiago riding his black stallion that Beatriz had taken to the pueblo, rode out of San Esteban Pueblo at sunrise the next morning,
“I’m glad you’re not spookin’ Drifter by running alongside on foot.”
Santiago laughed. “Maybe your horse afraid I beat him to Pecos, yes?”
“Maybe so. He didn’t say.”
The sun rose above the top of Sandia Mountain and flooded them with brightening light through rows of red-tinged clouds, the crimson fading as the sun climbed higher and melted the color with its heat and brightness. They nudged their horses to a miles-eating trot.
Ollie looked over at Santiago riding beside him who was still grinning about the horse race joke. “We should make it to Pecos by tomorrow night without pushing the horses too hard. McGuiness said the old Pecos Pueblo is about sixty-five miles from Albuquerque and east of Santa Fe.”
“Must be careful when close.”
They rode northward along Sandia’s base across the river from Albuquerque. Once past the mountain they angled to the right across a barren grass-and-cactus desert. At camp on the first evening they could see their destination of more mountains on the northeast horizon.
Near sunset two hours after they set up camp, they looked up while eating and saw Beatriz in the distance approaching on a brown horse traveling over their own horses’ tracks. Five armed men on horseback rode with her.
Within a few minutes the riders pulled up in front of Ollie and Santiago. Beatriz’s horse had white circles painted around its eyes, and she wore a black cloth top with a red and blue blanket wrapped around her waist that draped over her dress and legs. She addressed them in Spanish: “Friend Ollie and brother Santiago, we bring help for when you meet these bad men near Pecos.”
Marshal Valdez had sent three men from Gabriel, and the other two were warriors from San Esteban Pueblo. The men cradled muzzle-loading rifles in their arms, and Beatriz carried her percussion shotgun, the ends of its two barrels looking like menacing black holes.
Ollie didn’t know the two warriors from San Esteban Pueblo, although it was obvious from Santiago’s greetings that they were close friends. And he knew only one of the three men from Gabriel—Carlos Herrera, who he thought had been taking care of Beatriz’s children with his wife Luisa.
“There is no problem,” Herrera replied in Spanish to Ollie’s question around the campfire that night. “We brought her children with us. The grandparents are taking care of them.”
Later in night’s darkness, talking to Beatriz while sitting by the fire, Ollie told her she should return to San Esteban and her children. “For their sake, don’t risk your life with these rustlers,” he said. “The men you brought with you are more than enough help for Santiago and me.”
“We hear there are now more than two of them,” she said in Spanish. “Maybe more than the seven of you. I do not want the man who shot my Francisco to get away.”
“I will not let him get away. I promise.”
She stiffened her posture. “I must go with you. I must see there is justice.”
Ollie stood and looked down at her. “No,” he said. “Your children need you, and I will not let you go into this danger. You will return in the morning with one of the men from your pueblo. If you do not go, then all of us will ride back.”
Beatriz rose so quickly to her feet that it seemed she’d jumped. She thrust her face to within inches of Ollie’s and shouted a Tiwa curse. Men around the campfire turned to watch.
“I don’t need any man to go back with me,” she said with gritted teeth. “I rode from Gabriel to San Esteban without help from you or anyone else, and I will go back to San Esteban the same way. I can take care of myself.”
Ollie raised his hands and backed away a step.
“You catch that murderer,” she said. “Or never speak to me again.” She stomped off to her blanket, lay down, and yanked the cover over her.
Santiago stood and walked over to Ollie. “So, amigo, she go back to pueblo and we go to find rustlers, sí?”
Ollie didn’t reply. He just looked toward Beatriz, the campfire flickering light onto her blanketed form with her back turned to him.
In the morning Beatriz mounted her horse, scorning all offers to help her with anything, and silently headed back to San Esteban. Less than an hour later, another figure on horseback appeared riding along her trail.
Ollie rose from the small fire as the rider came closer. “I’ll be damned. What are you doin’ here, McGuiness?”
The newspaperman got off the horse and handed the reins to a San Esteban warrior called Indian Billy. He tottered a step toward Ollie, then arched his back and rubbed the seat of his pants, making a low groan.
“Got a late start. Been all this time catchin’ up with ya. Ain’t used to this kind of riding. Don’t know how you fellas do it.”
Ollie stepped forward and clutched McGuiness’s right arm to steady him, then escorted him to the fire. McGuiness stood by the fire slapping dust off his clothes as the Gabriel and San Esteban men stared.
Ollie broke the silence. “I asked, what are you doin’ here?’
“Hello to you, too, Mister Ollie.”
When Ollie remained silent, McGuiness hitched up his pants and scratched the whiskers covering his right cheek. “Kinda risky out here, even though most Apaches are around Mesilla, the Navajos are west of Santa Fe and Taos, and the Utes mostly do their depredations in Colorado. Same with the Comanches raidin’ in Texas. Still, it pays to be careful. Apaches raided one town a ways south of Albuquerque in March and their pursuers killed half a dozen of them marauders. Troops A and C of the Eighth Cavalry are now in New Mexico, but it still pays to be careful even on the wagon roads with the return of summer and grass when—”
Ollie interrupted by again asking the newspaperman why he’d come. McGuiness pulled a pencil out of his shirt pocket. “A Faber pencil,” he said. “Hard to get out here. In my saddlebag I got a ledger book I’ll write on. Gonna write a story about this noble venture. Make for good reading in the Review. Hellfire, I might even turn it into one of those dime novels about desperados and cowboys, you know.” He looked around him. “And Indians and Mexicans.”
It was already starting to turn dark the next evening when they saw Charles Kennedy’s traveler’s rest stop on a forested mountain pass of the Santa Fe Trail’s southern route.
“Do not trust this scoundrel,” McGuiness told Ollie, leaning across the space between their horses. “Some folks say travelers who stay here never leave, never reach Santa Fe.”
Ollie looked toward the cabin. “Good camping ground in those trees around the cabin. We’ll stay there tonight and then move to where the boy told Santiago the rustlers and their sheep are. I don’t think this Kennedy will mess with eight armed men, do you?” He looked up and down at McGuiness. “Seven armed men and your pencil, I mean.”
McGuiness shrugged. “I’m just lettin’ you know what folks say.”
As they rode up to the mountain cabin, an obviously drunk and disheveled big man staggered through the door with a revolver in his right hand. “Whaddaya want?” His greasy hair was matted and clumps of hair stuck up over his head. His full beard was scraggly. He wore no shirt, and his pants were patched and too long for his legs, dragging and fraying along the ground.
Ollie walked his horse up to the man, who stank with sweat and cooking fires. “We need to camp tonight over there,” he said, gesturing toward an area a hundred yards away where one man already was camped among trees with a horse and two pack mules.
“Ain’t no room. Ever’body just keep ridin’.”
“We won’t be any bother to you. Don’t need any food, cuz we brought our own. We’re staying just tonight.” Ollie nodded at a woman who appeared in the cabin’s doorway in a tattered dress.
“No you ain’t,” Kennedy said, raising his revolver. “I told you-all to git, so git.”
The metallic click of a gun being cocked drew both Ollie and Kennedy’s eyes to Indian Billy, who had lowered his rifle’s barrel to point at Kennedy’s chest.
“Reckon we’ll stay,” Ollie said.
The men turned their horses and rode over to the lone camper, who stood up beside his tent and waved to them. “Mighty glad ta see you fellers,” the man said as the eight of them dismounted in front of him. “After I got set up here, another man rides through and warns me that this Kennedy kills and robs unsuspecting travelers comin’ through here. But I stayed put. I just weren’t planning to sleep tonight.”
Ollie shook the man’s hand. “We post a guard every night anyway, so you can go ahead and get your rest.”
The camper said his name was Belder. The piles of supplies around indicated he was a hunter operating in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which tapered down at the Kennedy pass before rising again in pine-covered giant mounds to continue southward. Belder said he’d seen a group of men up by Cimarron with a bunch of sheep. He’d avoided them and kept heading toward Taos, where he hoped to sell deer hides at a trade fair there.
“How many men?” Ollie asked.
“I’d say ’bout ten.”
Later, while Ollie was talking with Santiago, Indian Billy walked by. Ollie caught his attention and asked, “Would you have shot that man if he’d kept that pistol pointed at us?”
Indian Billy frowned and replied in heavily accented English, “I like to need gun he has.”
Ollie decided that Kennedy might need a guard tonight more then the rest of them, but Kennedy never left his cabin again and the night passed without incident.
After Belder loaded his mules and horse and rode off west in the morning toward Taos and Santa Fe, Ollie’s group saddled up and headed east.
Indian Billy scouted ahead on the trail to alert them when they might arrive near the rustlers’ flock.
But the Pecos River meadow was empty at the base of the mountains where the Navajo boy had told Santiago they’d find the rustlers and their sheep. From what Belder had said, Ollie decided the rustlers had moved toward Cimarron. Ollie decided to head toward Cimarron even though that was much farther from the rustlers’ original destination of Santa Fe and despite it didn’ make much sense for them to turn toward Cimarron.
Everyone were remounting their horses at the meadow’s edge when Indian Billy told Santiago, “Look.”
Santiago’s eyes followed Indian Billy’s gaze toward a gap between rocks and trees on the mountain rearing above them, and just then the spotted black and orange form of a jaguar leaped soundlessly to the top of a boulder. There it laid down on its belly to watch them, the shadows and sunlight dappling over it and making the big cat almost invisible to their sight.
Indian Billy turned toward Santiago. “Did you see it?”
“Yes,” Santiago replied in Tiwa. “It is a rare and wonderful privilege for us to see Spirit Hunter in its home. When we return to San Esteban, the elders will ask all in the pueblo to do a dance in its honor. But do not tell the cowboy or the Mexicans. We revere Spirit Hunter as our Older Brother, but they see only a menace to their livestock. They shoot every one they find. Soon there will be none left, and our people will be made more poor because of the Mexican and American savagery.”
Indian Billy nodded, a habit he’d picked up from the white men.
“We are trespassing on its territory,” Santiago said. “Spirit Hunter wants to come down to drink from this stream.” Both turned their horses to ride after the others, never looking back. Indian Billy hurried forward to lead the group from in front again.
It took all day to reach an area south of Cimarron. Indian Billy rode back to them and said the sheep, rustlers, and several cowboys were about three miles ahead.
Ollie decided to camp where they were and head toward the rustled flock at daybreak. No one had seen any sign that the other side might also have a scout out looking for them.
After dawn, however, Ollie noticed a lone rider watching them from a ridge.
The rider walked his horse down the ridge toward them as everyone gathered around Ollie.
McGuiness grabbed Ollie’s arm, asking, “Who is it?”
Ollie shook off the newspaperman’s hand. “I’m figuring it’s someone coming from the rustlers to call on us.” He turned toward the men around him. “Mount up. Let’s not be standing around when that stranger gets here. Santiago and I will ride out to meet him. The rest of you wait here, but stay alert in case there are more of them.”
McGuiness stuffed his ledger book into his rear pocket and wedged his pencil behind his right ear. “I’m going, too,” he said as he ran to his horse.
Ollie shouted that McGuiness should stay behind. Then he and Santiago mounted their horses and started walking them forward to meet the other rider.
Not as experienced with horses, McGuiness had trouble getting his foot into the left stirrup but finally managed to hoist himself onto the animal. “I ain’t staying behind,” the other men heard him mutter. “I’m coverin’ the story.” He trotted his horse, riding a little unsteady in the saddle, until he was about ten yards behind Ollie and Santiago, and then he slowed to a walk to keep his distance.
As the rider rode to within ten yards, Ollie’s heart quickened. He noticed the way the dark-haired man sat straight in the saddle. He recognized the intense eyes, trimmed mustache, and the short, pointed beard with clean-shaven cheeks. It was Clay Allison, looking the same as when he and Ollie had been together a year ago.
“Howdy, cowboy,” Allison said. “We meet again. When they told me they were being chased, I never suspected that my old partner Ollie was doin’ the chasin’.”
McGuiness spoke up right behind Ollie. “You know him? That’s Clay Allison!”
The newspaperman struggled to yank his ledger book out of his rear pants pocket while Allison showed a crooked grin as he shortened the distance between them.
“We rode together some,” Ollie said over his shoulder to McGuiness before turning back to face the rider. “Heard you were ranching up around here, Clay. Thought I might look you up when I finished with those rustlers. Maybe talk about old times.”
Allison pulled thin paper and tobacco out of his shirt pocket and began filling and rolling a cigarette. When he finished, he asked, “Where’d you hear about my ranchin’?”
“Marshal over in Gabriel. He said you couldn’t be involved with these rustlers because you hate sheep.”
“That I do, old friend. Hate ’em, I do. Good to eat, though.” Allison scratched a match, lit his cigarette, and blew out a cloud of smoke. “But those fellas back there —” he pointed behind him with a thumb “—they bring me cattle sometimes. So I help ’em out when I can. ’Pachies stole the cattle they were bringing, dammit, but when they found out some mean Texas cowboy and his savage Indian pal were after them, they asked me to see what I could do about it.” He looked at Santiago and then at Ollie.
McGuiness piped up again. “You’re a gunman. Killed a lot of folks. I’d like to interview you for a book I’m gonna write.”
“Shut up, William,” Ollie ordered.
“Oh, that’s all right,” Allison said, as he rested his right hand on the Colt revolver in its holster and fastened a hard stare on McGuiness. There was no expression on Allison’s face. “I ain’t no gunman, mister. Ain’t never kilt anyone who didn’t need killin’. But asking me a lot of questions is one reason why some needed killin’.”
McGuiness stuck his pencil back behind his ear, hid his ledger book behind his saddle horn, and backed his horse up several steps.
Allison looked back at Ollie and moved both hands to his horse’s reins. “Now what were we talking ’bout?” His lit cigarette wobbled a bit in his lips as he spoke.
“About our old friendship,” Ollie said.
“Yeah. That we were. It’s damn good to see you again, partner. I see you got yourself a new pony, and it sure looks like he can run. We coulda used him last year. Stop by my ranch sometime. Ask anyone in Cimarron. They’ll know how to find me.” Allison turned his horse to return and looked back at them. “Reckon I’ll advise Harris and Boyd they better leave their sheep and hide in the Sangre de Cristos so some mean Texas cowboy can’t find ’em.”
Allison looked at McGuiness. “Course, they might talk to you and that notebook of yours, Mister Writer—if they don’t shoot you first.” Allison laughed and urged his horse into a trot, heading back toward Cimarron.
They sat on their horses and watched Allison ride away.
Santiago moved his horse ahead a step and leaned toward Ollie. “What you think is his plan before he see it is you?”
McGuiness rode closer to hear the answer.
Ollie sat straighter in his saddle. “I suppose he planned to tell us to turn back. If we refused, more’n likely he figured to outdraw and shoot the three of us. Me first, then Santiago, and then he’d blast our newspaperman out of his saddle. I reckon that likely would have persuaded the rest to head back to San Esteban Pueblo.”
Indian Billy scouted ahead again as they approached a prairie field of boulders and hills.
A gunshot echoed through the area as Indian Billy’s horse reared up with a whinny of pain and threw his rider off its back. The scout dropped his rifle when he fell. As the horse staggered a few steps before collapsing, Indian Billy scrambled behind a boulder while Ollie and his men jumped off their horses and took cover behind more boulders.
A cowboy ran his horse around the boulders toward Indian Billy, shooting his revolver as he tried to hit the scout.
Ollie had pulled his Spencer out of its saddle scabbard before dismounting. Over the top of his boulder he laid the gun’s sight on the rider and fired.
The cowboy arched backward, his six-shooter spinning in the air and a spray of blood behind him as he toppled from his horse. One foot caught in a stirrup, and the horse turned back and dragged the cowboy’s body over the ground’s rough rocks.
More shots rang out, ricocheting bullets off the boulders around Ollie and his men and ripping past them in the air. Ollie quickly counted locations of the shots’ puffs of smoke before ducking behind his boulder again.
“Looks like about six of them,” he told Santiago, who’d run up to be at Ollie’s boulder.
“Belder say there are ten,” Santiago said.
“Yeah. Well, maybe some left with Allison when he said he would not help them.”
“Maybe. Or maybe the rest might come around behind us.”
Ollie shook his head. “That’s what Allison would do with his military training. But I doubt he is out there. He wouldn’t have revealed his ambush by shooting at just the man riding out in front, and he certainly would have caught us out in the open before we reached these big rocks. I think we got just a bunch of trigger-happy cowboys itchin’ to start a gunfight. Young hotheads looking for some excitement.”
As Ollie’s men began returning fire, the battle became so loud that Ollie and Santiago had to shout at each other.
“If they not come behind us,” Santiago said, “I go around that hill and get behind them.”
“Long way to run with no cover.”
“You shoot. Make them duck.”
Before Ollie could talk him out of it, Santiago took off running. When a first bullet blew out sand on a small hill past and just in front of him and another clipped off a pine tree branch by his head as he ran by, Ollie popped his head over the boulder again.
Ollie saw a cowboy who’d stepped out from behind a boulder with a revolver in each hand who was firing rapidly at Santiago sprinting across an open area. Ollie’s first shot hit its mark. The man screamed and staggered from the heavy bullet’s impact and then pitched forward, his body rolling down an incline.
Working the lever action and cocking the hammer as fast as he could, Ollie fired his remaining rounds across the attackers’ front. After about fifteen seconds he’d fired the carbine’s remaining six bullets. By then the gunsmoke was so thick that he couldn’t see what he was shooting at, so Ollie ducked down as bullets slammed into his boulder. That fifteen seconds had been long enough for Santiago to put the hill between him and the cowboys. Reloading the Spencer, Ollie noticed blood drip from his face. A bullet had propelled a rock splinter into his left cheek.
The next time he looked around the boulder, poking his head out in a different place, he noticed that Indian Billy had retrieved his rifle while everyone was shooting at Santiago and Ollie. One cowboy hadn’t realized Indian Billy was now armed, and he moved to where the scout could see him, and Indian Billy shot him.
A few seconds later Ollie heard the roar of Santiago’s Hawken.
“They’re running for their horses,” yelled Carlos, who was in the best position to see past the farthest boulders.
Ollie found McGuiness curled in a fetal position behind one of the field’s smaller rocks. He didn’t judge him because McGuiness was the only one without a weapon and therefore unable to defend himself. Ollie helped the newspaperman to his feet and made sure he was unharmed.
“You’ve got quite a story now for your book,” Ollie said. McGuiness only smiled weakly at him.
After making sure everyone else was all right, Ollie had the four bodies of the attackers pulled from where they’d fallen and lined up on the grassy area at the far end of the boulder field. The one that Indian Billy had shot through the side had been still alive but died less than a minute after they found him.
Ollie rummaged through the pockets of the cowboy with two revolvers that he’d shot. A blood-stained receipt with his name on it for ammunition bought the previous day in Cimarron identified the man as Caleb Harris. The two guns he had and the description Beatriz had given made it clear that Harris was the man who’d murdered Francisco Garcia. Ollie took the receipt with the name on it to show to Beatriz.
There was no way to identify the cowboy that Santiago had hit with his Hawken, and the names on the other two were of other people, so there was no way to be sure if Boyd escaped.
They found Harris and Boyd’s rustled sheep in a cattle pen on the other side of two hills. Only about thirty had not been sold, including sixteen multi-horned churros. Seven of those had been taken from Beatriz, while the rest belonged to her neighbors.
They camped that night by the boulders. Rock splinters, but no bullets, had wounded two other men besides Ollie, and Indian Billy claimed the horse of the man who’d charged at him.
In the morning, Clay Allison came on horseback toward their camp with two cowboys driving a team of two horses pulling a buckboard wagon. He reined his horse to a stop in front of Ollie, who was standing with his men.
“Well, old partner,” Allison said, leaning forward in his saddle and resting his hands on his saddle horn, “I see that you killed Harris and three of my cowhands. I warned those fools not to go up against you because you’re too calm and accurate in a gunfight.”
Ollie walked up to Allison and his horse. “You taught me well. Remember that saloon shoot-out in ’69?”
Allison grinned and nodded. “Now I’ll load these bodies and take ’em back in this wagon for a decent burial at my ranch.”
As the bodies were loaded into the buckboard, Allison dismounted and walked off to one side with Ollie.
“Word is that you met that snake Charles Kennedy a day or so back,” Allison said.
Ollie rubbed his mouth. “He acted mighty hostile, but backed down when he realized Indian Billy might shoot him. Heard rumors that he kills travelers who come to his rest stop.”
“I’ve heard the same. And I’m gettin’ tired of nobody doing nuthin’ about it. I’m riding out there in a few days. Gonna tell him if he ever hurts that Ute wife of his or his young’uns that I’ll come back and kill him.”
Ollie later learned that Kennedy’s wife escaped on horseback weeks later and told Allison in a Cimarron saloon a shocking story of how Kennedy murdered one of his sons and had killed at least fourteen travelers. Allison, so the story went, captured Kennedy, discovered bodies buried around the property, and took Kennedy back to Cimarron. Three days later Allison led a mob of men, snatched Kennedy out of jail, and lynched him.
Ollie agreed to go to Allison’s ranch in the spring and talk about old times.
For now, however, he had to take the remaining sheep back to San Esteban Pueblo and then on to Gabriel.
They left that afternoon driving the sheep along. They noticed a huge plume of smoke to the southeast, but they were heading southwest.
They stopped at Albuquerque to drop off McGuiness at the paper’s office. Transito walked out from behind his counter to greet his business partner.
“We have a good story about a prairie fire killing two thousand sheep near the Canadian River,” Transito told McGuiness excitedly. “You might have seen the smoke. But I saved a hole in the paper for your story about going after the rustlers.”
McGuiness waved him away. “That’ll be a dime novel, not a short newspaper story. But right now I need a drink.” McGuiness opened the door and was gone.
“He’ll be all right,” Ollie told a puzzled Transito. “I doubt he’ll ever get around to writing that dime novel though.”
At San Esteban, Beatriz was grateful to have her Spanish churro sheep with their four horns apiece returned, and she even started talking to Ollie again. They would learn that Harris and Boyd had stolen horses and livestock all along the Outlaw Trail. She kept the receipt with Harris’s name, saying she would bury it in Francisco’s grave.
When they reached Gabriel, Ollie presented Valdez with Harris’s gunbelt and two revolvers. “You might find these more useful then that old pistol,” he said.
“Thank you, Deputy Ollie,” Valdez said, surprising Ollie by saying it in English.
Then the marshal reverted to Spanish again. Holding up Harris’s gunbelt, he told an old Mexican proverb to Ollie: “Quien mal anda, mal acaba.” Who badly walks, ends badly.
He told Ollie that he was welcome to stay in Gabriel, suggesting he could start a small ranch on the grasslands. Poor as grass might be in spots, it would get better with some rain, he said. And he thought Beatriz would look on him kindly in a few months if he stayed around.
Ollie smiled, but Valdez wasn’t done dispensing old Mexican sayings.
Balancing on his crutches, the marshal reached out and put a hand on Ollie’s left shoulder. “No consideran inútil el consejo de un viejo amigo.” Do not consider useless the advice of an old friend.
— Ω —