"Pecos Valley "

Chapter 1
Ridin' for the Brand

By Brett Matthew West

PROLOGUE: In his epic composition Study Out The Land, the poet T.K. Whipple famously proclaimed, "All of America lies at the end of the wilderness road."

The bard was correct in his assessment because that is precisely where this great country we lovingly call the United States can truly be discovered.

Who hasn't grown up wanting to be a cowboy? Vicariously, through tales like this one, we all can be.

Whipple also stated, "Our forefathers had civilization inside themselves."

It is we who thrive in the civilization those forefathers created, and inside us the wilderness still lingers. We live what they dreamed and dream what they lived. Our dreams of tomorrow are surrounded by fences, but they dreamed at night when fences weren't there.

Told through the eyes of a young cowboy named Wyatt, Pecos Valley is anything but predictable. With prose as smooth as worn saddle leather, it is a tale full of calamity and a wistful but prevailing human spirit.

Follow the camaraderie that develops among cowboys on the trail and consider what's important: is it the way we live our lives or what we accomplish while we are here?

Now listen close and you will undeniably hear voices sound as sad as a coyote howling at the moon as they sing along for this is the last cowboy song.

Welcome to Pecos Valley.

(***NOTE: For 2018, I decided I need a new writing challenge. This is my first attempt at the Western genre.)



Wyatt - a young cowboy on the Bar JS ranch in the Arizona Territory and narrator of this tale.

John Shelton and Vernon Alexander - co-owners of the BAR JS ranch. They are seasoned, but beleaguered frontiersmen who share a unique and unspoken bond.

Eleanor - murdered lady of the evening.


Part One: Ridin' for the Brand

The strawberry sorrel with a white star that burst across his forehead, and a flaxen mane and tail, had never been broke. I spoke gently to him as I eased the rope over his head. Before the day was over he would be mine.

How did I knowed? Because John Shelton said so, and what Mr. Shelton said goes. Least ways 'round these parts it does. If a cowboy don't like that he's free to draw his wages, mount up, and ride off seeking his fortunes elsewhere. Funny thing, since I've been here no cowboy's ever rode off, nor have I ever see'd a finer bangtail in all the Arizona Territory.

'Bout the time I climbed on the sorrel's broad back, Vernon Alexander strolled out on the porch. A boar feasted on a rattler--mind you, not a very big one. Reckon the reptile slithered around seeking shade when it runned into the shoat.

"Git! Go eat that snake some place else," Verne said as he kicked the pig in the rump with the toe of his boot.

The porker waddled down the steps as I and the sorrel bounced around the corral. He throwed me high in the sky. I plummeted head over heels and landed flat on my back with a thud. Stars swirled around my eyeballs. Quickly, I scurried to my feet, snagged the rope that dangled around the horse's neck, and remounted. We was off again.

It weren't the snake Verne begrudged the pig. Temperatures scorched and the boar crowding the porch made them hotter. Verne stepped down into the sandy wagon yard. His jug awaited him in the springhouse. He paid little mind to the snorting sorrel I straddled. That was my battle. To Verne's eye, the long light from the western sun took on an encouraging slant.

Nightfall came slowly to Pecos Valley. However, when darkness arrived it offered a welcome comfort. Most days, the sun trapped the valley in thick dust. Abundant roadrunners, stinging lizards, and rattlesnakes found a haven in the chaparral flats.

A roofless barn and three mended corrals were the offices of the Bar JS ranch, half of which Verne owned. John Shelton, his stubborn partner, owned the other half. Weak-willed people was a thorn in his side. Most things was.

The adobe springhouse was so cool Verne often considered living in it, except yellow jackets, black widows, and scorpions called the lumpy building home. When Verne slid the latch and opened the door, he heared the unmistakable buzz of a nervous rattler. The serpent was coiled in the far corner, prepared to strike. Verne decided not to shoot it. On a quiet day in Pecos Valley gunfire would create unnecessary complications.

The townsfolk would hear the shot ring out. They would assume the Apaches or Mexicans was in an uproar. If any of the drunks in the Silver Cent saloon heared the shot they'd most likely run out into the street, guns ablazin', and shoot whoever they saw just to be on the safe side. Worst of all, Mr. Shelton would stomp up from the feed lot only to be more annoyed it had only been a snake Verne killed.

Mr. Shelton held no fondness for snakes, or anyone who abided them. He exterminated the creepy crawlies with whatever instrument of destruction close by. Verne's philosophy was a mite more leisurely. He gave living critters time to ponder the possibilities and remained in the heat of the noonday sun. The rattler seized the opportunity and slithered out a hole.

Verne extracted his jug out of the mud makin' sure no fire ants, scorpions, red-legged centipedes, or other variety of insects had crawled inside the damp burlap his jug was wrapped in. He uncorked the bottle and drank more than a modest swig.

I recalled a story he told me once about a gaucho with low morals. The good citizens of Pecos Valley was ready to string the hombre up at the first excuse they found. After a two-bit poke of Eleanor, the town's resident lady of the evening, the gaucho failed to shake his pants out before putting them back on. He got stung by a scorpion. This angered the gaucho and he shot the madam. The incensed townspeople, most of whom was down below Eleanor's boudoir in the Silver Cent saloon, lynched the gaucho immediately.


(There is much more to come to this part, however, there are right now 1,189 words posted. By FanStory "standards" that is more than enough for one section. So, this tale will definitely have to be continued.)

***Most FanStorians don't, but READ the notes.

Author Notes This tale is written in Old West jargon. So, these words are not nits or errors. They are intentionally used to assist in creating the setting.

If the use of them bothers you then don't review what I have written.

bangtail - an unbroken horse

Symmetrical Motion, by Paul G., selected to complement my story.

So, thanks Paul G., for the use of your picture. It goes so nicely with my tale.

Chapter 2
Ridin' for the Brand

By Brett Matthew West

Cast of Characters:

Wyatt - young cowboy for the Bar JS ranch and narrator of this tale

John Shelton and Verne Alexander - co-owners of the Bar JS ranch

Scarred Choc'late Charlie, Tad Holden, and Gunther McCuen - Bar JS ranch wranglers


Verne took his jug back to the porch. There he placed his chair so that a sliver of shade covered him. Eventually, the shade would extend over the wagon yard, the Bar JS ranch, and Pecos Valley. As evening fell, Verne would soften. As long as he could find labor to occupy his time, Mr. Shelton would work 'til dark. If not, he'd make something up to do.

The shoat dined on the snake he'd caught under one of the wagons in the yard. That made sense to Verne 'cause the creek that runned along the edge of the ranch was dry. In a lengthy argument with Mr. Shelton, Verne often praised the oinker's intelligence.

He'd say, "That pig's smarter than most people."

The remark infuriated Mr. Shelton, and he'd respond with, "Ain't no pig smarter than a good, hardworking, hand or a horse."

This argument between the two of 'em had been escalatin' for a couple years.

As the sun slowly sunk out of the afternoon, Verne drunk his jug as dry as the heat he sought to escape. The rye took the staleness away. It made him feel foggy and cool. The rotgut also presented the ranch hands more tolerable.

To Verne the Bar JS wranglers was a bunch of raw sorts, including our coosie Gunther McCune. Verne thought Gunther could rustle up grub with the best of 'em, but he weren't too good at cutting cards. One of Verne's favorite pastimes. A good poker game, with a day's wages around the campfire, didn't fit Gunther.

Then there was Tad Holder, all five and a half scrawny feet of the widget. Verne thought he were a sawed-off runt. Claimin' he was from parts unknowed, although he could never be pinned down to exactly where they was, Tad'd rode into camp one day and talked his way into Mr. Shelton's good graces. His cattle branding won Mr. Shelton over.

Next came Scarred Choc'late Charlie. He'd been a cotton picking slave in Alabama. That was 'fore he escaped his cruel master and runned away to the North. Mr. Shelton and Verne found him when they were Union officers in the Civil War. When they migrated into the Arizona Territory they brung Charlie with 'em. He could outwork any two men and weren't afeared to ride for the point in a stampede.

Last, there was me. Fifteen years old soon to be goin' on sixteen. Verne thought I was still wet behind the ears and had some more growin' to do. A real greenhorn if ever he seed one.

Many times when he and Mr. Shelton was discussin' matters, I heared Verne ask him, "How do you expect a boy of his tender years to cope with the inconsistencies of his identity?"

Mr. Shelton never responded to Verne's question. I wondered why?

As the sun set in the salmon sky, Verne rose from his perch on the porch. He yawned, stretched, and gave me a nod of approval. In the corral, I slipped the rope off Sidemeat's neck. That was my new name for my horse. Tomorrow, I'd saddle him for the first time. Leaving the corral, I fed him an apple. We was gonna get along fine.

Verne meandered around behind the homestead and kicked on the back door three times. The shoat followed him, probably hoping Verne would drop something for it to eat.

"Better rustle something up in that stewpot of yours, you no account varmint!" he called to Gunther.

The old coosie didn't answer. Verne kicked the door again then returned to his perch on the porch. He seed Mr. Shelton and Charlie walk up from the fields. The Darkie hadn't been much of an injun fighter, but give him a chore to do like blacksmithing, and Choc'late Charlie done a right fair job. If he didn't, Verne knowed Mr. Shelton would have runned him off a long time before. There weren't no room for freeloaders on the Bar JS.

Verne met them beside the wagon on the yard.

"Mite early for you two to be quittin', ain't it?" he asked.

He handed Mr. Shelton the jug he'd nursed all afternoon. Mr. Shelton was middle-sized and two inches shorter than Verne. When you looked him in the eye it didn't seem that way. Everyone knowed he was the boss. Verne was the only living soul in the Arizona Territory who could keep Mr. Shelton under control.

Choc'late Charlie never understood their behavior. Mr. Shelton had a single-tracked mind. He never wasted time appreciating himself. He kept all his minutes for whatever job he decided needed doin' that day.

"I ain't scared to be lazy," Verne ribbed him.

"You may see the light that way. I don't," Mr. Shelton snapped back.

"John, if any man worked as hard around here as you do there'd be no thinkin' done at all," Verne remarked.

"What I'd like is for you to think a roof back on top of that barn," Mr. Shelton challenged him.

A haboob had blowed the roof off the barn two months ago.

If he'd been satisfied with the day's labor, Mr. Shelton would have passed the time conversing with Verne.

After he left, Verne asked Charlie, "I thought you boys was diggin' a well?"

"Hit rock," Charlie replied, "I was swingin' a pick. Tad was shoddin' horses and the dun chomped a hole in Misser Shelton's side."

"Aye God in Heaven, Charlie!" Verne exclaimed, "Don't he knowed not to let a horse bite him?"

(To Be Continued:)

Author Notes haboob - an intense dust storm
coosie - one who cooks food

This tale is written in Old West jargon, so the words used are not nits or errors.

If the use of these words bothers you then don't review what I have written.

Symmetrical Motion, by Paul G., selected to complement my tale.

So, thanks Paul G., for the use of your picture. It goes so nicely with my tale.

Chapter 3
Ridin' For The Brand

By Brett Matthew West

Cast of Characters:

Wyatt - young cowhand on the Bar JS ranch and narrator of this tale.

John Shelton and Verne Alexander - co-owners of the Bar JS ranch in the Arizona Territory.

Gunther McCune, Tad Holder, Choc'late Charlie - hired hands on the Bar JS ranch.


The mouse-colored cayuse that attacked Mr. Shelton had been rounded up in Skeleton Canyon, in the Peloncillo Mountains. Although his disposition indicated he once belonged to the Iroquois, Verne swore he was too tall for an injun pony. Choc'late Charlie claimed he was worthy of the plantations where he'd picked cotton as a slave. I never been there. I don't knowed.

Everybody in Pecos Valley wanted the grulla with it's tiger striped legs and white ear tips. Mr. Shelton wouldn't hear any bids on him. The outlaw once kicked Tad into the barn. After that, he wouldn't go near the horse.

Seein' me round the far corner of the barn, and comin' up from the holdin' pen, Verne asked, "Where you been?"

"Chuckin' rocks at the widow maker that chomped a hole in Mr. Shelton" I told him.

'You plumb loco, Wyatt?" Verne asked me, "You want Mr. Shelton to quirt your young hide?"

"You gonna rat me out?" I wanted to know.

Verne considered the prospect and said, "Nope. I'd a-did the same 'cept for this sore back."

He paused and I knowed one of his pieces of sage advice would follow.

"When you give a lesson in meanness to a critter don't be surprised if they learnt their lesson."

The warnin' issued, he said," You best go up and git some of Gunther's Sonofagun stew 'fore he slops the pigs with it."

Passin' the woodshed, I remembered Mr. Shelton weren't my pa, but I knowed he treated me special from the other hands.

'Bout that time, Gunther laid into his dinner bell and sent it clangin'. None of us was deaf, but when Gunther rung his bell it echoed ten miles the other side of Pecos Valley. It also sent vibrations off the hills surroundin' the Bar JS.

None of us knowed why Gunther banged his bell so loud. There weren't no need for the racket but he done so for his own reason. Even Mr. Shelton couldn't quiet Gunther in that regard. Once Gunther's loud bell clangin' gave Mr. Shelton such a bad headache he considered shootin' him.

The silence of the sunset was drowned out by Gunther's bell. Once the ringin' stopped, we approached the house. Again a yearnin' crossed my face.

Verne read the unspoken words my expression said and remarked, "Mr. Shelton ain't gonna let you wear no gun, Wyatt. For iffen you did wear a gun some caballero would mistake you for a gunfighter. It ain't worth gittin' massacred over."

"That old coosie can't barely cook," Tad stated joinin' Verne, Charlie, and me.

Verne didn't really believe a caballero would gun me down. He only meant to stimulate me, and Charlie. Verne knowed my imagination runned wild. I often fantasized what happened on certain nights when Mr. Shelton, Verne, Tad, and Charlie mounted up their horses and rode into Mexico? Come sunup they had a herd of cattle with 'em that weren't on the ranch when they left. I longed for the day I'd be old enough to ride along on those excursions.

All Mr. Shelton ever told me was, "You can ride with us when you're growed. Until then you stay."

There weren't no need for me to argue with him about it any further. Only Verne could get away with debating Mr. Shelton. Upon entering the house, Verne noticed Mr. Shelton was in the kitchen with his shirt off. He treated the bite he'd received from the stallion with a mixture Gunther concocted.

"John, as long as you've worked around horses you should know not to turn your back on a high-spirited stallion," Verne chastised him.

I had come to the conclusion two things was certain. One was that Mr. Shelton would come up with more chores to do than we could get did. The other was rabbit or snake would be served with every meal: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Mr. Shelton put his shirt back on and came to the table. Verne reached for a second heapin' helpin'. His appetite was ferocious. Mr. Shelton had observed it with wonder for twenty-five years. In their sheriffin' days their deputies were amazed by Verne's eatin' prowess.

Verne scooped up a big ladle of stew. Before he could plop it down on his plate. Mr. Shelton stuck his plate under the ladle.

"Much obliged, amigo," he told Verne.

I thought Mr. Shelton's move was slick and laughed. So did Charlie and Tad.

"Verne, if you ever grow tired of bein' lazy, I'll get you a job at the Silver Cent saloon waitin' tables," Mr. Shelton said.

"I waited tables on a riverboat outta New Orleans. Weren't no older than Wyatt," Verne responded.

"How come you quit the riverboat?" I asked him.

"Cause like you, son, I was too young and purty. The whores wouldn't leave me be," Verne replied.

Mr. Shelton didn't like idle chatter 'bout whores at the dinner table or in front of me. Verne had no compunction when it came to talkin' 'bout whores. Table talk between the two of them seldom lead to much good.

Verne decided he wanted an argument. Arguing with Mr. Shelton occupied much of his time. Even in their days as injun fighters, Verne seized the opportunity for a good dispute with Mr. Shelton whenever it came along. Never havin' been nowhere, I gobbled up Verne's tales about whores and riverboats with youthful fascination.

"Hearin' you brag about your accomplishments with whores don't improve the taste of Gunther's cookin'," Mr. Shelton responded.

"Then shoot Gunther and put him outta all of our mis'ry," Verne remarked.

The stew revived Mr. Shelton. However, he weren't about to sit around and argue whores with Verne after a hard day's work. He pushed his chair back away from the table and rose to his feet. Then, he grabbed his Stetson and Winchester rifle. With nothin' more said, Mr. Shelton walked out the door, his mind on the rustler's moon that was risin'.

The time was about right for another stock raid. Several cattlemen would arrive in Pecos Valley within the next week. Some had begun gettin' trail crews together. The Bar JS needed more cattle.

Author Notes -This tale is written using Old West jargon so these words are not nits or errors. They are used to help create the setting.

-This is my first attempt at writing in the Western genre.

-As I am writing this tale, I plan to keep additional chapters under promotion.

Other chapters still under promotion:

Ridin' For the Brand - Chapter 1 (Continued)
Chapter 4 - Watcher

These chapters can be located in my portfolio.

widow maker - a rank, or badly behaved, horse
cayuse - horse
grulla - sub-breed of a dun horse
Sonfoagun stew - stew made mostly from the organs of a calf
caballero - an elderly Spanish knight or gentleman
coosie - one who cooks food

Symmetrical Motion, by Paul G., selected to complement my tale.

So, thanks Paul G., for the use of your picture. it goes so nicely with my tale.

Chapter 4

By Brett Matthew West

Cast of Characters:

Wyatt - young cowboy for the Bar JS ranch and narrator of this tale

Mr. Shelton and Verne Alexander - co-owners of the Bar JS ranch

Gunther McCune, Tad Holder, and Choc'late Charlie - hired hands for the Bar JS ranch

Abigail Fiona - piano player in the Silver Cent saloon

Isabell Netty - whore in the Silver Cent saloon


BACKGROUND: The Bar JS ranch in the Arizona Territory is the setting as this tale unfolds. It is full of calamity and a wistful but prevailing human spirit.

Verne Alexander is the laissez faire half owner of the ranch. He prefers to enjoy life and let the wranglers do the labor. The tough, hardnosed, John Shelton is the other half-owner of the ranch and the leader. The narrator is a young cowboy named Wyatt who is seeking his own identity.

Strong, and richly, developed characters, as would befit cowboys of the Old West, is the intention of Chapters One, Two, and Three.

In Chapter Four, Verne and the wranglers are sitting around after dinner conversing while John Shelton walks the Gila River, an old habit from his injun fighting days. His mind on rustling cattle.

Penned in Old West jargon, the tale is my first attempt at writing in the Western genre. Therefore, all input welcome.


As was his habit, Mr. Shelton walked the Gila River for an hour. Every night he got away from camp. There he could sharpen his leadership intuitions. He liked listenin' to the country and believed just 'cause trouble descended don't mean you gotta offer it a place to sit down.

In a locale serene as Pecos Valley, where the night was still, there was little threat to search for. The worst that might happen was a coyote sidle in unnoticed and snag a free range chicken. Outlaws tended to traverse 'round Pecos Valley cause Mr. Shelton and Verne's reputations with six-shooters kept them distant.

Near a salt lick, Mr. Shelton crossed the Gila and sat on a bluff. He knowed renegade injuns would never come to Pecos Valley again. Most of his life he'd fought Apache, Comanche, and other warriors...but no mas. Mr. Shelton knowed Pecos Valley quit needin' guardin' many moons ago.

The ranch boss knowed his men relied on him through whatever they encountered. Physical work never bothered Mr. Shelton. Lately, he'd felt bound by the constant needs of others. Never a woolgatherer, Mr. Shelton attempted not to recall the memories of his past. They only galled him. He wondered was he growin' old?

Back at the Bar JS, Verne, Charlie, Tad, Gunther, and me retreated to the porch. The pigs searched for food. They always did. Bein' the possessor of an admirable Bowie knife, Tad held an appreciation for such things. He plucked his out of the frayed leather sheath it was in on his side and flicked its sharp blade with his thumb.

"Whose throat you gonna cut with that, half-pint?" Charlie asked him.

Tad claimed the sixteen-incher had been won from a buffalo hunter in a card game in the Dakotas. I never seed Tad use the Bowie to butcher animals, or for much of anything else. He was always aloof. You couldn't pinned him down to much of nothin'.

"It'd cut your head clean off," Tad told Charlie.

After examinin' the knife Tad placed it back in its sheath. Verne held a dim view of fancy knives, particularly as fightin' weapons. He preferred a good skinnin' knife for wild game. The Colt .45 he weared was all the weaponry Verne needed. He liked to listen to the clicks of a twirled chamber.

On the peaceful night we heared the piano from the Silver Cent saloon as Abigail Fiona played it. Scantily dressed in her upstairs room, Isabell Netty listened to the music. On rare occasions when I had errands that drawed me near the saloon, I waited for the proper thing to say to her. Sociable and uninhibited, Isabell'd only been in town a few weeks, but from what I heared a lot of carrots was gettin' wet.

Quick to talk 'bout my problems with Verne, Charlie, and Tad, I never uttered Isabell's name. The thought of her occupied my mind no matter what chore Mr. Shelton gived me to do. The Bar JS wranglers was no respecters of feelin's.

Abandoned in Pecos Valley by a hooligan, I knowed Isabell was a whore who'd come by her profession as unexpected as I'd come by mine. We can't say what fate has in store for us. We just gotta deal with the cards we're given. I had no doubt Isabell's was the prettiest face that ever been seed in Pecos Valley. Her nature was too. Since I had no family, this weren't a thought to be taken lightly.

Sittin' on the upper step of the porch, I asked the same question every night Mr. Shelton wandered off for his walk down the Gila. Verne smiled at me. I wanted Mr. Shelton close by.

"He's playin' injun fighter," Verne told me when I asked.

I didn't believe him. Mr. Shelton never done nothin' triflin'. If he done something, it needed doin'.

"Mr. Shelton heads off 'cause he don't wanna hear our yappin'," Tad stated. "He ain't amicable, Wyatt. You couldn't keep him in camp iffen you tried.'

"Aye, God, Tad," Verne remarked, "John's gotta be the one to out suffer all of us."

Charlie was never fond of Verne's critcizin' Mr. Shelton. There was a pause. He weren't exactly sure how to handle them.

All he said was, "Someone's gotta take the lead."

I seed Mr. Shelton return and was relieved. Somethin' always eased inside me when Mr. Shelton was around. Somewhere in my mind was the notion some night he wouldn't come back. Maybe he'd saddle up his mount and leave us to our own accords. Me, Charlie, and Tad done our best to pull our weight around the Bar JS. Verne never done nothin' of the sort to oblige Mr. Shelton's wishes, and Gunther was just a coosie.

Some nights I dreamed Mr. Shelton left and took me with him to the high plains or the Oregon timber country. But, I knowed those was dreams. If Mr. Shelton left, he'd probably only take Charlie with him. They'd rode together fifteen years.

"This would have been a good night for crossin' stock," Mr. Shelton commented upon his return.

"Cross some stock and do what with 'em?" Verne asked.

"Drive 'em to buyers," Mr. Shelton replied, then he added, "it's been done before."

"Can I go next time you cross stock?" I eagerly asked Mr. Shelton.

He hesitated. It weren't really fair to me. I knowed Mr. Shelton would have to say yes sometime.

"There's plenty of work to be done tomorrow. You'll only grow old if you sit up all night. Best you go to bed," Mr. Shelton told me.

Dejected by bein' put off again, I immediately went.

"Night, son," Verne said as I departed.

Mr. Shelton didn't speak. Verne looked hard at him. The music from the piano at the Silver Cent saloon echoed up to the Bar JS. Verne stretched and got up out of his chair. Far as he was concerned, the night was young although the hour was late.

"You ought not be so mule-headed about Wyatt," he told Mr. Shelton. Headed for the Silver Cent, Verne remarked, "I'm gonna go scare up a card game. See ya for lunch."

Deep in thought, Mr. Shelton remained on the porch.

***Most FanStorians don't, but read the notes.

Author Notes -This tale is written in Old West jargon so these words are not nits or errors. They are used to help create the setting.

-This is my first attempt at writing in the Western genre.

-Other chapters still under promotion are:

Ridin' For the Brand - Chapter 1 (Continued)
Ridin' For the Brand - Chapter 1 (Conclusion)

These can be located in my portfolio.

-As I am writing this tale, I plan to keep more than one chapter under promotion. Enticement to get members to read my tale? Why not?

-I have been told Westerns don't play well on FanStory. I'm not sure I agree with that statement.

-because of limited daily online writing time, I can only offer reciprocal reviews. If you review one of mine, I will review one of yours. This may take me a little time, however, I always do.

mas - Spanish word for more
woolgatherer - daydreamer
coosie - one who cooks food

Symmetrical Motion, by Paul G., selected to complement my tale.

So, thanks Paul G., for the use of your picture. it goes so nicely with my tale.

Chapter 5
Chapter 5: Patch

By Brett Matthew West

Cast of Characters:

Wyatt - young cowboy for the Bar JS ranch and narrator of this tale

Verne Alexander and John Shelton - co-owners of the Bar JS ranch

Patch Murphy - cowboy Verne encountered in the Silver Cent saloon

Isabell - whore in the Silver Cent saloon

Abigail Fiona - piano player, and owner, of the Silver Cent saloon

Esther Madison - Verne's old flame

The Blanes - outfit Patch Murphy drives cattle for to Dodge City

***NPTE: The POV of this tale is 1st Person Omniscient, not 1st Person Limited.


When Verne left Mr. Shelton on the porch, he strapped on his .45 and strolled down the street. Quiet as a sleeping babe, the night was not one he reckoned he'd have to shoot any outlaws. Still, Verne knew it was always wise to have his pistol with him in Pecos Valley. One fell whack with the Colt would halt most drunks he encountered.

Nights in Pecos Valley were so dry Verne could smell the dirt. Even with only a crescent moon, the stars shone bright enough to cast eerie shadows. Verne knew some skittish cowboys who'd blazed away at chaparral bushes on just such clear nights mistaking them for Mexican banditos.

From out of the darkness, a prairie dog raced past Verne's boots.

Annoyed, Verne told the rodent, "Git!".

He kicked at the critter but missed. Rapidly, the prairie dog scurried away out of range of Verne's long leg.

Pecos Valley weren't brimming with people, nor was it illuminated with lights. Verne noticed one paint hitched outside the Silver Cent. Tobiano belonged to Patch Murphy. With a solid black head, Tobiano had dark-colored flanks, four white legs below his hocks, and a two-toned tail.

Patch liked playing cards but weren't good at it and probably lacked dinero. Verne wouldn't rule out a game of poker with a cowboy like Patch, who he knew was a good trail hand. They could always play for future wages.

Verne moseyed into the Silver Cent. He noticed everyone there was highly agitated because Abigail Fiona kept pounding out "Camptown Races" on the piano. The eighty-eight keys caused a hullabaloo. I wished Verne would shoot the dern clavier. After all, how can a hard-working, young, cowboy like me get his much needed beauty sleep with all that commotion? I pulled my bedroll tightly over my head to drown out the noise as best I could. It didn't help. Verne found it difficult to extend pleasantries with Isabell at the height of Abigail's performance.

He liked Isabell's distracting comeliness. Her picturesque beauty was created by her hollowed cheeks. Those features were what drew Verne's attention the most. He once loved a woman like Isabell...a long time ago, in another place. Her name was Esther Madison. She'd chosen a horsetrader over the free-roaming ex-lawman. Somehow, Verne never quite got over her.

Patch Murphy was seated at a table on the far side of the saloon. A bottle of rye whiskey kept him company. Mid-thirties, Patch wore a beaver-colored, upwardly curved, handlebar moustache he kept well-waxed. Verne's was more of a horseshoe.

Verne walked over to where Patch Murphy was seated and said, "Aye, God, Patch. I never expected to see you dilly-dallying down here in Pecos Valley in the Spring. Ain't you got no cattle to drive?"

"Leaving in a week for Dodge City," Patch responded, "riding with the Blanes."

Verne was well familiar with the outfit.

Born in Brownsville, Patch had been raised on the Rio Grande. He often returned home in his fondest thoughts. Patch fit in well with the Mexican charros and their bullfights. He'd lost a month's wages to a dicer and was down to his last two bits.

Seeing Patch's disposition for what it was, Verne asked him, "Life's short, Patch. Why stay in the Arizona Territory iffen you long so bad for Matamoros?"

"I wish I could get back there," Patch said with a sour stomach, "but, there's cattle needs driving to Dodge City."

He reckoned in the Fall he'd go there.

"Work always comes first with you, don't it, Patch?" Verne wanted to know.

However, he didn't want to talk cows. What Verne desired was a card game. Isabell often played when the Silver Cent wasn't full of cowboys. Those times she weren't allowed to. When Isabell won a little cash, her eyes lit up and she'd laugh a bit. Verne'd let her win a pot or two to watch Isabell's metamorphosis. He liked the change.

Finishing his drink and full of melancholy, Patch stepped into the slim light of the moon to unhitch Tobiano. Verne followed him as Isabell went to her room. He dug deep in his pocket and pulled out a gold piece. He handed the coin to Patch, who smiled.

Never able to figure Verne out, he weren't the only one in Pecos Valley with those troubles, Patch wondered, "Why'd you give me this gold nugget?"

"I'd not want the notion considered I'd refuse a loan to a friend," Verne told him.

"Much obliged, Verne," Patch replied mounting Tobiano.

"Don't git yourself drowned, stomped by no heifer, nor hanged along the trail," Verne remarked, "and, if you care to, you're welcome to bed down at our place tonight."

As Patch slowly rode off, Verne saw the lantern in Isabell's room glowed. A woman's touch pleased him. The card game would wait for another time. He went back inside the Silver Cent, made his way up the wooden stairs, and knocked on Isabell's door. Verne always believed nights were made for sportin'.

Author Notes For those who have been following my tale this chapter should have come before Verne and Isabell sported. But, like the dumbass I can sometimes be, I forgot to write this chapter first. DUH! Completely missed it on the outline of my book. For those of you who are just now discovering my Western tale, that won't matter.

-clavier - keyboard of a musical instrument

Symmetrical Motion, by Paul G., selected to complement my tale.

So, thanks Paul G., for the use of your picture. It goes so nicely with my tale.

Chapter 6
Chapter 6: Painted Cat

By Brett Matthew West

Cast of Characters:

Wyatt - young cowboy for the Bar JS ranch and narrator of this tale

Verne Alexander and John Shelton - co-owners of the Bar JS ranch in the Arizona Territory

Isabell Netty- whore in the Silver Cent saloon

Tom Bollinger - held Isabell captive for three years before being gun downed after cheating in a card game

Ike Torrence - blacksmith for Pecos Valley

Dalton Brothers - murdered Isabell's parents during a train robbery

Bar JS wranglers


"Colorado was cool and flourished, even when the sun lit up the Rockies." That was the promise Isabell had been told by the polecat Tom Bollinger.

Almost twenty-three, Isabell did not dwell on could-have-beens. A small room above the bar in the Silver Cent saloon was her certainty. She observed Mexico from her window. There she could ply her trade and strike it rich if she be bothered. She weren't.

Verne told her he'd been to Denver. That was back in his sheriffing days in the two-bit hole-in-the-wall known as Eagle Butte. Isabell liked Verne's stories.

"I figured out why you and me get on so good, Isabell," Verne said, "it's 'cause I talk and you listen."

He tossed her a five dollar gold piece. Like all else, Verne over-talked his sheriffing days. Listening to his jabber, Isabell thought she had a clear picture of the mountains. Before his time was up, she lost it and laid there flat on her back on the bed. Verne on top of her. Another conquest made.

Having to hear Verne's non-stop chatter, Isabell felt underpaid although he always gave her shiny ingots. They was more than her other customers offered. Verne was also her most regular caller.

Isabell was twenty when she encountered Bollinger. He held her captive for three years. Both her parents had been gunned down by train robbers in Biloxi. The law later hanged the Dalton Brothers. Isabell hadn't done no whoring up to then. Bollinger promised her marriage. Wedding bells never rung.

Isabell did go with Bollinger to San Angelo. She knew he wasn't much more than a whiskey-talking drunk but followed him to a lofty house there. Smoke kettles kept the skeeters from eating them alive. Bollinger's hounds were the only critters in the house treated good, beasts he swore he'd turn loose on Isabell if she ever ran away.

In Texas, Isabell's spirits sunk so low she quit talking. The whoring begun with Bollinger's compadres, mostly ones he owed debts to. Regulars soon followed. Bollinger did buy Isabell some sporting clothes, though she serviced one of his friends to get them.

The first time Isabell sassed Bollinger he slapped her so hard her ears rung for a week. His threats were worse. Isabell knew they weren't idle and kept a civil tongue in her mouth. The whore habit was what Bollinger expected her to acquire and Isabell knew it was her only chance to survive.

A bad gambler, Bollinger's luck ran out after he was caught dealing off the bottom of the deck. His final cards were cashed in by a bullet fairly ripped from Ike Torrence, the town's blacksmith.

Verne was the first to get Isabell started with men in the Silver Cent. She rarely spoke to her callers and preferred the silent treatment instead. Most of them chatted like squirrels. Isabell's silence struck Verne peculiar, especially since he was a gabber about most everything.

Verne always wore his spurs. He also liked to jingle them. Sometimes in the early morning as dawn broke, Isabell saw Verne, Mr. Shelton, and the Bar JS wranglers drive a small herd of cattle through Pecos Valley on their way to the low brush.

At least Isabell didn't walk the solitary dirt road through Pecos Valley carrying a sheet to lay down on the ground on, like some sporting women she knew in Texas did. Nor was she illiterate.

With no other means to support herself, Isabell sold the one thing she had at her disposal. She knew the risk of sporting included she might be killed by a caller. Some of her women friends in San Angelo befell violent ends. They were commonplace in the whoring business. Isabell's red hair made her more amorous to the cowboys who knocked on her door.

Isabell often wore brightly colored ruffled skirts, hued petticoats, a low cut bodice, boots, and silk stockings. Some of her callers said she was a soiled dove. Others stated she was a fair belle or a painted cat. Isabell reckoned her job was to brighten the night for lonely men in Pecos Valley. A jeweled dagger was concealed between her breasts. This she'd use to keep any boisterous cowboy who called on her in line, if need be.

For Isabell, sporting was easier than tending cows, raising crops, or breeding young'uns. The Silver Cent kept its red lanterns aglow. Bold red curtains adorned its lower windows and leant credence to the type of establishment the saloon was. Chairs flanked the walls and the Silver Cent's parlor was lavishly decorated.

Her finery purchased from peddlers along the trail, Isabell could only be seen by appointment. Verne kept her calendar filled. He was the lighthouse in Isabell's storm.

-Most FanStorians don't but read the notes.

-If you have not been following my tale, you will probably be lost with this chapter. Suggest you go back to the beginning and catch up.

Author Notes -Had a reader ask how Wyatt can know what other characters think, feel, and do when he is not on the scene? The answer is easy: this tale is told in first person omniscient, not first person limited. One classic example of this POV is Markus Zusak's internationally bestselling 2005 historical novel known as "The Book Thief".

-Up to this point I have written this tale in Old West jargon to help provide the setting. In this chapter, I have eliminated that as a test for my readers. I would very much appreciate it if readers who have been following my tale would kindly tell me in your review which style you prefer.

-sporting clothes - skimpy clothing worn by whores in the Old West. Among other things, prostitutes of those days were known as sporting women.

-skeeters - mosquitoes

-soiled dove, fair belle, and painted cat - cowboy terms for whore

-In the Old West, red lanterns and red curtains displayed by a saloon most frequently told its clientele the joint provided a sporting woman

Symmetrical Motion, by Paul G., selected to complement my tale.

So, thanks Paul G., for the use of your picture. It goes so nicely with my tale.

Chapter 7
Chapter 7: Cottom

By Brett Matthew West

Cast of Characters:

Wyatt - young cowboy for the Bar JS ranch and narrator of this tale

Verne Alexander and John Shelton - co-owners of the Bar JS ranch

Patch Murphy - unexpected cowboy sleeping on the Bar JS ranch porch

Gunther McCune - cook for the Bar JS ranch

Tad Holden - cowboy for the Bar JS ranch

Scarred Choc'late Charlie - runaway slave who has ridden with John Shelton and Verne Alexander for fifteen years

Ben Cottom - a psychologically unbalanced, yet exceptionally charismatic vigilante whose moral compass did not always point to true north

***NOTE: The POV of this tale is 1st Person Omniscient, not 1st Person Limited.


Because he never wanted to miss seeing the sun rise, Verne was a short sleeper. He enjoyed being outside to catch the first light of breaking day. The chaparral flats were lit up by the red eastern sky. A nearby bush was filled with little diamond rainbows as the sun touched the dew.

Mr. Shelton stepped out the door of the tumbledown house and pulled his shirt on. Getting up early and feeling awake was one talent he'd never developed. He noticed Tobiano tethered to a juniper tree by the corral.

"What's Patch Murphy doing here?" he wanted to know.

"Didn't ask his business," Verne replied, "all I do is try to have fun and enjoy the meager existing we do here in this calamitous hole we stuck ourselves in."

"We came to Pecos Valley to make money," Mr. Shelton reminded Verne.

From my place at the breakfast table, I heard them discussing matters. Course, their talk weren't nothing new. I'd heared it all before.

"John, you don't like money," Verne told him, "I've known you for more than thirty years and all you've ever done in all that time is spewed in the face of every rich man you've ever known."

Mr. Shelton sat at the table. Gunther stumbled around the stove attempting to cook some vittles.

"Wake up, Wyatt," Verne told me.

I must have dozed off. Most mornings, I too had a hard time waking up. Mr. Shelton shook my shoulder and I roused.

"If you fall over at the table you're gonna poke your eyeball out with your own fork," Verne warned me.

Gunther spilled coffee grounds into the Mearns' eggs he fried. This infuriated Verne, who preferred orderly meals. 'bout that time, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, Tad came 'round the corner of the barn. His morning water passing routine complete.

Tad let loose a bowel howl that thundered off the hills. We wondered how something that little could make that much smell? He plopped down at the table and tied on his feedbag. For his puny size, Tad could out eat all of us, except maybe Verne.

His morning peace ravaged for the day, Verne repined, "If a fine woman ever stumbled onto this ranch at this time of day she'd be revolted!"

None of us disputed him. The smell of Gunther's frying bacon urged Patch to join us. His being on the ranch bewildered me a mite. Instinctively, I reached up and tried to make my cowlick lay down. I knowed Patch had been up the trail a time or two. My great ambition was to drive cattle to Cheyenne. I didn't believe I could ever be what Mr. Shelton was, but being a top hand like Patch weren't out of reach. I liked studying how Patch did things.

"Mornin', Patch," I gave him a friendly greeting when he sat down next to me.

"Howdy, Wyatt," he replied.

Patch never treated me like a young'un the way Mr. Shelton and Verne done. Gunther brought the fried eggs and bacon, along with some fatback, to the table. He liked to call it ruckenspeck, said that's the German word for salt pork. I didn't care. I ate it.

Turning to the ranch boss, Patch said, "Howdy, Mr. Shelton."

He got a nod in return. Food always brought Mr. Shelton to life. He planned the day's work 'round bites. It astonished Mr. Shelton that the Bar JS could occupy the wranglers from sunup to sundown every day.

"Reckon you're goin' to Dodge?" Mr. Shelton asked Patch.

"Hope to," came Patch's answer.

Mr. Shelton looked Patch over. He was amply built, rangy as a rail, and a good rider. Patch was someone Mr. Shelton could use if he ever drove his own cattle somewhere. The notion had been inside Mr. Shelton's head for a time. He'd even mentioned the thought to Verne more than once. Verne laughed him off.

"You're plum loco, John. We've forgotten everything we need to know to drive cattle," Verne would scoff when the talk came up.

"I ain't," Mr. Shelton countered.

Seeing Patch put the notion in Mr. Shelton's mind again. He didn't cater to spending his remaining years on well digging or rundown ranch repairs. He knew a good herd would mean good money.

"Are you plannin' to ride with someone?" he asked Patch.

Patch decided to feel Mr. Shelton out and replied, "Nope. Nary a one. Got something in mind?"

Verne studied Mr. Shelton hard, "Aye, God, John. You hear what you're proposing?" he asked out loud.

"We're going to Aqua Prieta tonight and look around, make up our own herd. If Patch wanted to wait a day or two, might have work for him here," Mr. Shelton replied, his mind made up.

Caving in, Verne replied, "Suppose we might drive'em over to Yuma, but, that ain't enough work to keep Patch steady all Summer."

Verne's tone was somber. Mr. Shelton had decided and there weren't no changing him. Like it or not, he'd scrounge up some more like Patch and they'd be on their way to Cheyenne. Maybe even Idaho.

"Wish Charlie would get back," I commented swallowing my eggs whole.

"He'll be back this morning," Mr. Shelton told me, "ain't been but four days since I sent him to Maricopa."

"Mr. Shelton, if you meant what you said I'd be inclined to stay on a day or two," Patch stated.

Mr. Shelton stepped away from the table. He cast a glance down the dirt stagecoach road that led into Pecos Valley. He didn't seem to hear Patch's remark but was distracted by something he seed off in the distance. Two riders were coming east toward the Bar JS.

"Verne. come here pronto!" Mr. Shelton said.

"I'm eatin'," Verne replied though the act was obvious, "if it's Choc'late Charlie, I knowed who it is."

"It's Charlie all right and he ain't alone," Mr. Shelton remarked, "who he's drug along is an old amigo of yours."

Curious as to who was coming, I was a step behind Verne when we reached Mr. Shelton. Charlie strattled Domino like he was born on him. The other rider rode a cinnamon mustang. It took a mere moment for Verne to recognize him. He could tell by how he fit the steed.

"Aye, God, John. That's Ben Cottom!" Verne stated.

Suddenly, I was numb, stiff as a board blowed in a twister.

(End of Part One)


Excerpt from Pecos Valley (Part Two - Cottom):

Mr. Shelton placed his arm tightly around my shoulders. In a warning tone he told the stranger, "You can't have Wyatt, Ben. Ride on out of here while you still can. You ain't welcome here. But, the boy stays!"

Glancing down at me from the saddle of his horse the stranger replied, "You read me wrong, John. I don't want the boy. From where I'm at, looks like you and Verne done a right proud job nurturing him the last twelve years. Much obliged."

Ben Cottom was a psychologically unbalanced, yet exceptionally charismatic, vigilante whose moral compass did not always point to true north.

"What do you want, Ben?" Mr. Shelton demanded.

"Same thing you always have, John," Cottom told him, "justice. It comes in many shapes and sizes."

Mr. Shelton's right hand slipped down to the butt of his pearl-handled .45. The stranger's hand went to his gun.

"For Wyatt's sake, don't draw on me John. Ain't no need to see who's faster. You won't clear leather!" Cottom warned Mr. Shelton. Weren't hard to tell ice water run through his veins. Then, efficaciously, he said, "I come in peace. No need to get all riled up, nor for bloodshed. It's time to bury the hatchet."

"What do you want, Ben?" Mr. Shelton asked again. His hand remained on his gun, "I know you didn't return back to Pecos Valley after all these bygone years for no social calling. What are you running from?"

(All of this will be explained in Part Two. So, stay tuned!)


***Part One has been dedicated to character development because I wanted strong characters for this tale.***

***Part Two will delve into the meat and potatoes of the tale.***

***For 77 more Member Cents, Chapter 5 is still up for review for 2 more days. Just go into my portfolio and pull it up. Simple as that.***

Author Notes Mearns' eggs - the eggs of a species of quail found in Arizona

Symmetrical Motion, by Paul G., selected to complement my tale.

So, thanks Paul G., for the use of your picture. It goes so nicely with my tale.

Chapter 8
Chapter 8

By Brett Matthew West

Cast of Characters:

Wyatt - young cowboy for the Bar JS ranch and narrator of this tale

John Shelton and Verne Alexander - co-owners of the Bar JS ranch

Isabell Netty - whore in the Silver Cent saloon

Pedro Martinez - gaucho who killed Wyatt's mother

Abram Askew - Governor of the Arizona Territory

Ben Cottom - vigilante

Laurel Cordova, Ernestine Eloy, and Bud Gilbert - passengers on the stagecoach bound for Fountain Hills

Hayden Kearny - engaged to Laurel Cordova


Ben Cottom's presence chilled me to the bone. I felt my knees grow weak. Ever since I was a tiny whippersnapper, I feared the day he'd ride back into my life where he weren't wanted. Iffen I wore a gun, I'd shoot 'im. 'Twas glad he didn't want me. I'd never left the Bar JS with him.

I knowed Cottom was my pa. We had the same name, but he didn't hold no candle in my wind. Far as I was concerned, that was Mr. Shelton. He'd always been there for me, not Ben Cottom.

"Come on over here so your pa can get a good look-see at you, boy," Cottom coaxed me, "last time I saw the likes of you, you was just a seedling starting out."

I weren't 'bout to go near him. Yes, he'd led the hunt for Pedro Martinez, the gaucho that killed my ma. He even made sure Martinez was lynched for committin' the act, though my ma weren't but the town whore before Isabell came around.

Ben Cottom had rangered with Mr. Shelton and Verne in Tucson. This was 'for their fallin' out happened in Pecos Valley and they parted ways shortly after my ma died. Mr. Shelton took me in.

Verne often told me, "Ben Cottom rode west when he shouldn't have. And, he ain't been heard from since."

No one was surprised he disappeared. Mr. Shelton never told me much about Cottom. 'Bout the most I got from Mr. Shelton when I asked him was what he wanted me to know. No more. No less.

I always knowed Cottom would return some day. News 'bout him, and his vigilante ways, circulated down the cow trails. His famed reputation with a six-shooter preceded him. Now, here he come riding up to the Bar JS with Charlie. I seed the dust puffs their mounts kicked up as they stopped in the wagon yard and drew rein.

"I swear, Cottom, like every horse you had you rode this one down to the bone," Mr. Shelton commented. He remained uneasy about the loose cannon being on his ranch, but instructed Tad to, "Give the mustang a good feed. Ain't hard to tell he ain't had one for a while."

"Much obliged, John," Cottom stated, "as I told you boys, I don't want trouble. We got enough of that in this letter from your friend Governor Abram Askew."

Cottom pulled a dispatch out of the pocket of his shirt and handed it to Mr. Shelton. A portion of the Governor's note read,

"Brutally violent, and consumed by hate, with a lust for revenge, they stalk the land in search of something to kill. A homesteading family trying to tame the land became their latest target. Desperately need your help, John. No one knows the Arizona Territory better than you and Verne. Come quick!"

Mr. Shelton noticed the Governor's signature and seal on the bottom of the dispatch.

"We're not vigilantes, Cottom," he responded.

He folded the dispatch in half and handed it back to Cottom.

"Don't have to be," Cottom replied, "I have your badges in my saddlebags. Askew's asking you to track down and bring this gang in dead or alive for 500 dollars in gold. But, it's a paradoxical choice of what is the difference between your desires and your responsibilities, John?"

"We've often stared down death before and lived to tell the story," Verne said.

One hundred and forty miles west of Pecos Valley, an enemy lurked. Concealed by a fallen tree, for three days they had seen no travelers, not even a lone Iroquois. Still, they waited.

There had been an overnight layover at Bisbee, but that was the only break the stagecoach made in its monotonous trek from Apache Junction. Uncomfortable passengers took turns staring out the window at the desert. The scenery remained unchanged. A gentle breeze sent a coolness through the heavy heat of the afternoon.

The ungraded road bounced the heavy coach along the rocky, dusty, trail. Laurel Cordova was bound for the tiny cow town of Fountain Hills twenty miles further up the road. Seated across from her was Ernestine Eloy, who operated the boarding establishment in the village. She alternated between perspiring and fanning herself from the stifling heat of the day. Occasionally, she dozed.

The horse buyer Bud Gilbert sat next to Laurel Cordova. He snuck peeks at the young woman with the slightly wide mouth. He liked how she laughed easy.

Finally, he asked her, "You staying in Fountain Hills, Miss Cordova? It's a welcoming town."

"Yes, I'm going to make my home there. Hayden Kearny and I are to marry," she responded.

The friendly smile left the trader's face. Laurel's countenance waned. Second thoughts about her engagement crept more into her mind the closer they got to Fountain Hills.

She wondered to herself, 'Was she making a mistake coming this far to marry a man she'd not seen in six months?'

Before they'd left Brewers Gap, she'd decided with her mother succumbed to the fever, she had no place else to go. Her small dowry paid for the trip. The decision had been instant, now uncertainty filled her mind.

Author Notes Symmetrical Motion, by Paul G., selected to complement my tale.

So, thanks Paul G., for the use of your picture. It goes so well with my tale.

Chapter 9
Chapter 9: Cochise Canyon

By Brett Matthew West

***NOTE: There is a major scene shift in this chapter.***

Cast of Characters:

Wyatt - young cowboy for the Bar JS ranch and narrator of this tale

John Shelton and Verne Alexander - co-owners of the Bar JS ranch

Laurel Cordova, Ernestine Eloy, and Bud Gilbert - passengers on the stagecoach bound for Fountain Hills

Governor Abram Askew - Governor of the Arizona Territory

Ben Cottom - vigilante

Bert Livingston - miner shot in the back in Cochise Canyon

Clay Richards - cattle baron in Fountain Hills

Tom Ens - settler shot in the back near Hayden Kearny's cabin

unnamed bearded stranger on the stagecoach


"Hayden Kearny," Laurel Cordova said.

The name made Ernestine Eloy cringe. She and Laurel exchanged astonished glances. Bud Gilbert stiffened.

"Is something wrong, Mr. Gilbert?" Laurel wondered.

Never tactful, Ernestine Eloy blurted out, "I should say there's something wrong, Hayden Kearny is an insufferable fool! How can you marry a clodhopper like him?"

"Please, Enestine, we're talking about Miss Cordova's fiance," Bud Gilbert cautioned her. Then, turning to Laurel, he asked, "I presume you have not been informed of the murders in Cochise Canyon, Miss Cordova?"

Not sure she wanted to hear the terrible news the passenger beside her seemed determined to tell her, Laurel finally responded with, "No, I have not been told of any such murders. What is Cochise Canyon?"

"Cochise Canyon is a mysterious and strange place to be avoided. Many folks have died there under suspicious circumstances. Then, Hayden Kearny settled into the canyon and built his cabin there," Ernestine Eloy stated not holding back any words.

"About a year ago, Hayden Kearny had trouble with another settler named Tom Ens. Weren't but a week later a cowhand found Ens' body close to Kearny's cabin," Gilbert explained before adding, "he'd been shot in the back."

Ernestine Eloy dabbed her forehead dry with the folded cloth she held in her hand. She drew a harried breath before she spoke.

"Then, there was the old miner, Bert Livingston who was panning for gold in the gorge. The harmless old coot had been there for months. He too was shot in the back after Hayden Kearny settled in the canyon. Mark my words, he's the cold-blooded killer behind it all."

"Those were only two of the murders, Miss Cordova. There have been others," Gilbert stated.

For the first time, the fourth passenger in the stagecoach spoke. He asked, "According to my perspective the two of you seem to be condemning Hayden Kearny for these murders. Have any witnesses seen him shoot anybody?"

"Who else would ride into that awful pass except Hayden Kearny? We warned him to stay out, but the know-it-all wouldn't listen to what we told him," Ernestine Eloy stated, "now, people are dying. Who else would be behind these murders?"

"That's not true!" Laurel Cordova defended her espoused, "I've known Hayden for years. There's not a nicer man anywhere."

A dictator in her own world, Ernestine Eloy became rigid. She could not believe the little scamp seated across from her would contradict her opinion about Hayden Kearny or anyone else.

"Young lady, you have a lot to learn and you will learn it soon enough," she remarked, turned her head, and stared out the window.

"There is some truth to what Mrs. Eloy claims," Gilbert commented, "Hayden Kearny has a bad reputation around Fountain Hills. When he first arrived in town, he was offered good work for Clay Richards and refused the offer. That aroused suspicion in the people of this town. They wanted to know why he would decline such an opportunity."

"Perhaps he is independent, or chooses to build his own ranch. There is no law against a man not laboring for another man," the unshaved stranger stated.

Bud Gilbert ignored the comment. He turned to Laurel and declared, "Miss Codova, why don't you pause a few days and inquire around for yourself before you commit the rest of your life to Hayden Kearny?"

Laurel Cordova was angry, but, she was scared too. With all this talk about murders, she wondered what she'd gotten herself in the middle of?

She also thought to herself, 'Just because he lived in Cochise Canyon didn't make Hayden Kearny a killer, did it?'

"You make your inquiries, ma'am. That's sensible. But, judge no man on evidence like that," the stranger stated.

The stage rolled on through the tufted and green fescue with its coarse broad leafs. Like the people who lived in the Territory, the sturdy grass grew well in the heat of the Arizona desert where water was scarce.


Mr. Shelton answered the question he'd been asked, "Why, yes, Patch. We might be needing some hands if you don't mind chasing killers."

They exchanged eye to eye stares. Mr. Shelton wanted to see if he could rely on Patch or if he'd slither like a snake and slink out of real work. Charlie, Tad, and I was already walking towards the corral.

"You should have rode on last night, Patch. You may never see the last of this outfit now," Verne told him with a clap on the shoulder.

Ben Cottom looked thoughtful. His milky brown eyes seemed to be traveling over scenes from his past. They also gave the impression he was a man of constant sorrows. Nothing could be further from the truth. Cottom did what he pleased and kept his boots unmuddied doing it. Somehow, in a country as big and rugged as the Arizona Territory, he managed to slither through life.

"I've been meaning to get down this way and see you boys for some time," he told Mr. Shelton, "I can smell an opportunity when I see one, and this gold Governor Askew's offering is to my taste. The biggest problem I saw all the way from Prescott was persuading you and Verne to say yes."

"The law's the law, and we might against my better sense ride together, but that don't make us partners, Cottom," Verne told him, "we don't handle affairs like you."

"I abide by the same laws you boys do, Verne," Cottom retorted.

"'cept you sell out to the highest bidder, Cottom," Mr. Shelton told him, "we don't." Turning to Verne, he said, "Tell the boys to mount up. We're riding. And, that includes little Wyatt. We can't leave him here."

"That boy's not the greenhorn you fancy him to be, John," Verne fumed as he stomped off to round up the wranglers.

Mr. Shelton and Ben Cottom glared at one another. The heat was intense, but no words were spoken. Neither trusted the other. Their past could not be resolved. Too much bad blood had been shed.

Author Notes Prescott - the capitol of the Arizona Territory from 1863 until 1912

Symmetrical Motion, by Paul G., selected to complement my tale.

So, thanks Paul G., for the use of your picture. It goes so nicely with my tale.

Chapter 10
Chapter 10: People of the Horse

By Brett Matthew West

Cast of Characters:

Wyatt - young cowboy for the Bar JS ranch and narrator of this story

John Shelton and Verne Alexander - co-owners of the Bar JS ranch

Ernestine Eloy, Jed Brownstock, Laurel Cordova, and Bud Gilbert - stagecoach passengers

Morgan Eloy - Ernestine Eloy's husband

Hayden Kearny - engaged to Laurel Cordova


Verne knowed the Bar JS wranglers were people of the horse. He and Mr. Shelton had settled in Pecos Valley thirteen years earlier. The ranch they'd acquired was so worthless in value neither one of them would feel unjustified in riding off from it like they were.

Mr. Shelton knowed Verne would not be satisfied rustling Mexican cattle forever. His eyes scanned west across the dusty flats. Mr. Shelton knowed the country like Verne knowed his whores. As Rangers, they'd made the Arizona Territory safe for white settlers in the land of the injuns. Now, summoned by the Governor, they were in pursuit of a gang of killers.


"A lot you know about nothing," Ernestine Eloy said as she glared at Jed Brownstock, "what about the wagon train that went into the canyon and never came out again? Or the three side-by-side graves?"

Conversation tailed off and Laurel thought, "What if Hayden is what these strangers tell me he has become?'

Still, she could not bring herself to believe the man she loved was a cold-blooded killer, not with his clean-shaven face, bright eyes, and flashing smile.

Suddenly, a shot rang out and the stagecoach growled to a halt. A shrill voice followed and Laurel looked out the window. A man laid dead in the middle of the trail, a .45 was by his right hand and blood stained his leather vest.

Four mounted riders sat on the opposite side of the trail with their hands in the air. A young man with wavy black hair faced them. His chaps were badly worn, his boots scuffed, and he wore a red and blue-checkered shirt. In his hand he held a smoking six-shooter.

"You come hunting trouble and you found what you were after. Now, gather up your man and ride out of here," the armed horseman told them.

Laurel softly gasped, "Hayden. Hayden Kearny."

"Is that your man?" Jed Brownstock wanted to know.

Unable to vocalize her thoughts, Laurel replied, "Yes, and he just shot that man dead."

One of the four riders grabbed the reins of the riderless horse. Two of the others dismounted. They loaded the corpse across the saddle of the bay.

As they remounted their steeds, Hayden Kearney said, "Ride on. I've no use for any of you waylaying marauders."

Ernestine Eloy stated, "What did we tell you, missy?"

"So unfortunate you had to witness this, Miss. Cordova," Bud Gilbert chimed in.

Laurel placed her hands over her face. Horror filled her. All she could see was the deceased's still, limp, body that Hayden Kearny killed.

Admiringly, Jed Brownstock said, "Your Hayden's a right handy fella. Appears to me you picked a good one. He stood off five of them, he did. Any one of them would of killed him iffen they had a chance. But, no way they wanted no part of him. No siree!"

The stage began rolling forward. All Laurel could think was, "Hayden, her Hayden, was a cold-blooded killer." She was peaked.

As the stage rambled out of sight, Hayden Kearny picked up the dead cowpoke's gun. He never saw any use in wasting a good Colt. He also feared he may have a need for the six-shooter if events played out like he suspected they would. Kearny took a quick glance around and headed up Cochise Canyon.

Kearny knowed working as a cowhand would not let him save enough pesos to build a home or marry a wife. And, Laurel Cordova was all he could think about. So, from the moment he first eyed Cochise Canyon, Kearny felt it was all he'd dreamed about.

Falling in a series of miniature cascades, Elk Stream, with its rushing rapids, plunged into a capacious basin surrounded by colossal cliff walls. Coming out of the basin, the stream followed a wide meadow and several acres of good grazing grasslands. Blue spruce and aspen trees dotted the country. A long valley laid below the flatland. The narrow passageway bottlenecked into timberland then bordered the Sonoran Desert.

When Hayden Kearny first arrived at Cochise Canyon he found no trails of horses or cattle in the area. Choosing a homesite, he built his cabin and corrals. Then, he journeyed into Fountain Hills. There, he was confronted by Ernestine Eloy, a woman of superstition and prejudice. She had come to the town from Omaha and married a Camelback Mountain Trailboss named Morgan Eloy.

The mountain resembled the head and hump of a kneeling camel. Brittlebushes, lavenders, sunflowers and other colorful wildflowers grew in abundance in the area. A cave on the north side of the mountain was a hidey-hole for weary renegades, outlaws, and stagecoach robbers pursued by posses. Fierce Apache, Navajo, Hopi, and Paiutes used the cave for shelter.

Morgan Eloy withstood her constant nagging before their difficulties came to a head. He left her after a final dispute over another woman became public knowledge. Shamed by his transgressions, Ernestine Eloy began her boarding house and searched for a new husband. It was upon his first arrival in Fountain Hills, to purchase supplies for his cabin, that Ernestine Eloy set her sights on Hayden Kearny. He was thirty years younger than her.

Author Notes Symmetrical Motion, by Paul G., selected to complement my tale.

So, thanks Paul G., for the use of your picture. It goes so nicely with my tale.

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