Call Me Montana

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Call Me Montana The Beginning A Novel By John E. Richman Published by John E. Richman October, 2007 Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved by the author, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the writer/publisher of this book. This work is fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination, drawn from actual historical places, figures, or events, or are used ficti- tiously, and any other resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental. All Rights Reserved Printed in the United States of America Library of Congress Control Number 2007909843 Chapter 1 I remember that morning like it was yesterday. The sky was blue as a robin’s egg and there was a light breeze coming up from south. I was just two hours into my journey, and already having second thoughts about it. New things are always a little scary at first, and my decision to leave home gave me pause to consider how my life was about to change. At the same time, I took comfort in the familiar scenery around me. Over the course of my youth, I’d ridden that trail many times, and knew it well, but as much as I tried to concentrate on the trip itself, my mind kept flashing back to the look in my mother’s eyes as I’d said goodbye, just hours before. Neither of my parents had been all that comfort- able with my decision to leave, but in the end they both seemed to accept that it was going to happen one day, anyway. I know mother knew it because she was the one who’d exposed me to the rest of the world in the first place. Why would she have 1 John E. Richman had me read all those books, if she didn’t think I was actually going to go? Father’s reaction had been a little different. At first, he was dead set against my leaving. After a while though, once he could see there was no talking me out of it, he seemed to get a little more comfortable with it. It would be another fifty or so miles before the scenery began to look new to me. I supposed it would probably not be much different for a while, but I was watchful for when it would change from old to new. I expected there’d be more adventure in looking at scenery for the first time. My given name is William Dean Ritter. At home they called me Billy, but most folks call me Montana. I suppose it’s because shortly after the war ended, my folks’ wagon train dropped them off near a huge patch of nothing called Bighorn Lake in Montana country. There’d been some sort of argument between the wagon master and my father about directions. Story goes, they were on their way to Oregon, but got a little off the trail. To this day, my father maintains it wasn’t his fault. I was born and grew up on a small, bottom-land farm that bordered Bighorn Lake where the soil was rich and the winters were hard. We grew potatoes, wheat and barley, but mostly potatoes. Seems they liked the moisture in our little valley. 2 Call Me Montana – The Beginning My sister Mary came after me and both of us were home-schooled by our mother, who’d gone to college back east. It was a good life, but at sixteen I’d learned just about everything there was to know about Bighorn Lake, and I was bored. I planned to work my way south to the Wind River country of Wyoming, where I heard a good cowboy could get a job. Now, truth is, at sixteen I wasn’t really a good cowboy. I reckon I wasn’t a cowboy at all, but I had lots of ambition. Now, don’t get me wrong my folks were good God-fearin’ people and our farm was a great place to grow up for Mary and me, but our nearest neighbors were Cheyenne, and while we got along pretty well, I wanted to see more of the country and more folks like me. Bighorn Lake seemed pretty far away from the world in my mother’s books and, by sixteen, it was clear to me that I was going to end up a farmer for life if I stayed there. Of course, nobody called me Montana when I lived there…it just seemed to catch on after. I got my first real job as a cowhand on a large cattle ranch under the Tetons. The ranch bordered the Snake River, not far outside a little town called Jackson Hole. I told the boss that I didn’t have a lot of experience with cattle but was eager to learn. He took a chance on me. A few of the older hands showed me the tricks and I learned fast. After three months at the “Circle R” I was doing pretty well when near-disaster struck. I lost my old 3 John E. Richman horse to a prairie dog hole. He broke his leg and had to be put down. A cowboy needs a good horse, and losing mine would have put me out of work if it hadn’t been for my boss. I guess he’d taken a liken’ to me. Dan Turner ran the ranch and he loaned me the money to buy a beautiful colt sired by his own horse. I found out later that the colt had been promised to Dan’s son, Drew. But Drew’d been killed in a droving accident the year before and, when the colt was born, Dan couldn’t bear to sell him. It took me another year to work off the loan, but it was well worth it. I named the colt Spirit, and I knew right off he was special. What I didn’t know, was that he was to become a big part of my life. After almost two years at the Circle R I’d become a pretty good cowboy. Dan didn’t want to lose me and I really didn’t want to leave, but I’d heard that a good hand could make a lot of money moving cattle between Texas and Oklahoma, through Indian country, and I wanted to try it. I wanted to see more of the world and I liked the idea of making more money. So it happened that early one morning, I packed up and headed south. I didn’t know exactly where I was going, but with the two-hundred and twenty- two dollars I’d saved, and what was now one of the fastest horses in the territory, I looked forward to the adventure. It was cold and rainy the morning Spirit and I left. It was only mid-October, but the winds of 4 Call Me Montana – The Beginning winter were already beginning to stir in the mountains, and there was a chill in the air that went right through you. The Snake had swollen to the point that I gave some thought to turning back and waiting for better weather. The water was fast and we had to search some time for a wide section where I figured the water would slow down enough for us to get across. We finally found one a mile or so down-river from the trail. Spirit isn’t fond of swimming anyway and was pretty spooked as we entered the river. He balked a few times as the bottom dropped away. Halfway across, with the wind and rain pushing up my shirt-tail, Spirit gave up trying to walk the bottom and began to swim. We’d barely left and already my saddle and pack were soaked But Spirit’s strong legs kept going for the several minutes it took to reach the other side. I’m not usually superstitious, but had to wonder with this ugly start, if God wasn’t trying to tell me something. Over the next week, Spirit and I worked our way down the eastern edge of the Rockies. The endless rain blended the trails and fields into swamps and ponds. We were constantly wet. We camped each night on the highest ground we could find, but had increasing trouble finding dry wood for our fires. On the seventh day, the rain stopped and the sun came out. We dried out and things started to look a little better. I began to enjoy the scenery that only a few days before had been scary and threatening. I’d never been south of the miner’s camp before, 5 John E. Richman so everything that I saw I was seeing for the first time. I guessed this was the new world my mother’d talked about. After two weeks on the trail, we came to the little town of Green River. I was glad to see civilization again. Green River was just another little mining town, with a church, two hotels and several saloons, but it looked pretty big to me. The livery was on the west side of town and the blacksmith said he’d keep Spirit cleaned and fed for thirty-cents a day. The place looked clean and I figured he deserved a little special treatment as much as I did, so I paid in advance for two days, grabbed my bedroll and walked into town. That night I checked into the Baxter Hotel and took a bath to get the mud and rain off me. I went right to bed and didn’t get up until noon the next day. That evening, I was sitting in the hotel saloon enjoying my first cool beer in weeks. I’d been in saloons before, in Jackson Hole, but nothing like this one. Dozens of men, dressed in all kinds of fancy clothes, mingled with young and old women who wore the most colorful dresses I’d ever seen. In the corner was a piano and a real good player. He played non-stop, and fast, too. I couldn’t imagine where he learned all those songs While I sat there, taking in all these new sights and sounds, I was aware that two different poker games were being played at the tables behind me. At one point, in the midst of the saloon noise and 6 Call Me Montana – The Beginning activity, the piano player stopped cold. The crowd turned quiet. I looked around to see what had caused this oddity and noticed that everybody else was looking toward the door. There, standing in the center of the swinging doors, was one of the largest men I’d ever seen. A giant…bearded and dressed in skins. I thought to myself, if the sun had been out, he’d have surely blocked it and plunged us into darkness. By the sudden silence, it was obvious that this man was either greatly respected or sorely feared. I was afraid to guess which. The calm was broken when somebody behind me shouted, “Hey…Captain Daggot” The giant just nodded as he waded through the crowd and took up a chair at the bar next to me. He ordered a bottle of whiskey and, in a voice as rough as he looked, told the rest of the folks to stop staring at him and go back to what they were doing. Slowly, the crowd did just that, and resumed their previous commotion. Now fully settled, he turned and looked right at me. “I thought I told you to stop looking at me.” Without daring to respond, I quickly turned back to my glass, staring into it, trying to find the courage to get up and move. “Sorry, sir,” was all I could muster up as a response. “You’re new around here, aren’t you boy? Where do you hail from?” Not wanting to bother him any further, I turned back toward him and noticed I was staring at his 7 John E. Richman chest. His head was somewhere higher than mine, so I had to look up to properly answer. “I’m from Bighorn Lake, Montana, sir. I’m a cowboy.” Captain Daggot glared at me as if I’d insulted his mother. Now I was really beginning to get nervous. After a long pause, his face opened up in a giant smile and he responded, “Well, cowboy from Montana, you’re a long way from home. Is that butter-brown horse down at the livery yours?” “Yes sir. That’s Spirit. He’s the fastest horse in the territory.” With that he laughed and told me that was quite a boast since, as a newcomer, I couldn’t have any way of knowing how fast the local horses were in Green River. “But then again, he’s a fine looking horse and you might just be right.” At least this odd giant seemed to know some- thing about horses. As rough as he looked, I could see he had a glimmer in his eye when he spoke. It gave me some comfort this might be more a “gentle” giant than the rest of the saloon had let on. Over the next couple of hours, and several more beers, Captain Daggot explained to me how he knew his horseflesh so well. Seems he spent a career in the Cavalry, fighting everything from Indians to Confederates, retiring as a Captain after the war. After that, he’d spent some time in Kansas before settling in the country around Green River, where he hunted just enough buffalo to make a living. 8 Call Me Montana – The Beginning In the course of our conversation, he told me he was leaving in the morning for a buffalo hunt five days ride east and invited me to follow along. “It won’t get you to Oklahoma, but it’s on the way, so it won’t cost any time and I could use another fast horse.” Truth is I was getting tired of traveling alone, so the offer sounded good. We agreed to meet up at the livery at sunrise, packed and ready to move out. He then bid me good night and walked out the door, drawing nearly as much attention from the crowd as he had on the way in. 9 Chapter 2 “Irish Dan” McVey was, at best, a drifter. At worst you could rightfully call him a criminal. He’d been in the territory since the war, though nobody was aware that he’d ever actually served. Given his general disdain for the law, he probably didn’t. Deserter, if at all. But, as bad apples tend to attract more bad apples, Irish Dan had recently assembled a small gang of n’er-do-wells, much like himself. As self-appointed leader, he’d been successful in directing a series of low-level robberies and assaults throughout the Cheyenne territory. They were beginning to be thought of as a pretty mean bunch. Lately they’d become adept at robbing from ranches while the owners were away. Starting small with tableware and occasionally livestock, their criminal appetites were growing and they were becoming ever more bold…and more danger- ous. Contrary to what you might read, most folks in the Wyoming territory in 1885 weren’t gun- fighters. Most didn’t even carry guns. Those that did, did so mostly for hunting. Even fewer 10 Call Me Montana – The Beginning carried handguns, as they were not very accurate beyond fifty feet. But Irish Dan was a exception to the rule. In recent months, he and his gang had been arming up with both Winchesters and handguns. The morning of November fourth found Irish Dan’s gang working their way north to the stage trail, from a night’s mischief involving two barns and a ranch house. Their saddlebags were filled with ill-gotten merchandise consisting of near forty-five dollars in cash, a handful of gold coins, a set of silver plate tableware, a custom made hunting knife, and a finely carved wooden box. That was the pride of their night’s work. The box contained a matched set of silver, engraved, Colt 45 revolvers and they were beautiful They’d run across them quite unexpectedly inside an old saddlebag that was hanging on a barn post at a small ranch some ten miles behind them. Irish Dan, a man who knew his guns, estimated them to be worth hundreds. With his newfound prize, McVey planned to leave the area for one of the way stations on the stagecoach line and sell them to some unsuspect- ing traveler. The rest of the night’s loot could be traded in the usual way, either in Laramie or in any of the camps they’d run across along the way. The morning dawned bright for a change, and McVey’s gang made the stage trail around nine- thirty. “We’ll go west,” he grumbled. “There’s a station about an hour’s ride from here.” That was 11 John E. Richman all he said but it was sufficient instruction for his partners in crime who, having been up all night, were too tired and hungry to argue. But, early as it was, McVey was already thinking. After last night’s raids, he harbored the concern that the owner of those Colt’s might return to find them gone and be persuaded to saddle up and come looking for them. Or as bad, that word of the loss of these special Colts might travel and catch up to them. Within the hour, just as McVey had predicted, they arrived at the way station along the stage road. On hearing the horses, Amos Carey walked out front to see who had arrived. “You boys surprised me,” he offered. “We don’t expect a stage until noon and we don’t get too many other visitors. Feel free to water your horses and come in out of the sun to freshen up.” “Thanks, we’ll do just that,” McVey responded. “We’ve been up all night and we’re dead tired. You say there’s a stage expected around noon?” “Should be, but you can never tell with stages. Might be sooner… might be later.” After watering the horses, McVey and his men followed Amos into the station and ordered a round of waters. “Where’s your brother? I thought this was a two man operation,” observed McVey. “Oh, Isaak should be back shortly. He went hunting over the ridge this morning and I haven’t seen him since. I hope he gets something ‘cause we’re getting a little low on grub. So…I can’t offer 12 Call Me Montana – The Beginning you anything to eat but you and your men are free to freshen up and rest a while if you want. Of course we don’t have beds but you’ll find that the ground under the big pine in back is mighty soft on a tired back.” “Maybe we’ll just take you up on that, but before we do, I got a little proposition for you. Seems I recently came into a nice pair of silver Colts and, as it is, they’re for sale.” McVey then walked outside and returned with a dark, carved wooden box, laying it on top of the cold stove. Amos Carey had no need for guns and no money to buy them with, but wandered over anyway to see what the stranger’d brought in. McVey stood back letting Amos move his fingers over the polished wood box and the silver latch. “That’s OK, open it” whispered McVey. With the curiosity of a child, Amos gently lifted the latch and opened the box. Inside, nestled in a pile of blue velvet, were two of the finest revolvers he’d ever had the pleasure to see. “They’re really something,” said Amos as he reached to lift one from its velvet cradle. “Hold it” McVey grew louder. “That’s close enough. I don’t want you gettin’ ‘em dirty.” Amos quickly removed his hand and turned back to McVey. “I hope you can stay long enough for Isaak to see these Mister. He’s got the gun sense and I don’t think I could do justice to describing 13 John E. Richman ‘em. But I hope you know we don’t have need for such finery and no money to buy them anyway.” “That brings me to my proposition,” answered McVey. I’d like to wait out your next stage and see if any of the travelers would be interested in buying them.” As Amos was about to respond, the door opened and in plodded Isaak with muddy boots and a large dead rabbit in each hand. “Amos, get a knife. You gotta clean these rabbits before they turn bad.” As Isaak looked around the room, he saw the visitors whose horses he’d seen out front. “Looks like I interrupted something. What goes on here?” Amos responded, “Mr. McVey here is looking for a buyer for his hand guns,” pointing to the opened box with the Colts. “Wants to wait out the noon stage and see if there’s a buyer aboard.” Isaak placed the rabbits on the table and walked over to the stove. He stared at the Colts in their box for near a minute, speechless. He finally looked up he turned to McVey. “May I ask where you obtained these Mr. McVey? They look a mite familiar.” McVey didn’t like being questioned and fumbled putting the cover back on the box. “Won ‘em in a poker game a while back. They’re too pretty to use, so I’m looking for a buyer.” Isaak pondered McVey’s response and answer- ed, “Poker, huh? Must have been a pretty high stakes game.” 14 Call Me Montana – The Beginning “Yeah, yeah,” replied McVey, “Are you going to let us wait out the stage here or do we have to stop it ourselves?” “Doesn’t make no never mind to me,” answered Isaak, who turned to pick up his rabbits and the skinning knife that Amos had placed on the table with them. He walked out the door with nothing more to say. With that, McVey sat down in a chair and poured himself a cup of water from the pitcher on the table. “Not very sociable, is he?” he said to Amos. “That’s not like him Mister, but he’s probably tired from chasing those rabbits. You and your friends can wait in here or sleep under the pines. The stage should be along in a few hours.” After a few minutes of puttering in the sink, Amos excused himself and went outside to help his brother clean rabbits. The younger of McVey’s men spoke up. “What the devil do you think of that? You suppose he recognized those Colts? What are you going to do about it McVey?” “Nothin” McVey sniped back. “Not a damn thing. Even if he did, we’ll be long gone by the time he could tell anybody.” Another of McVey’s men spoke up. “Just the same, it doesn’t seem too friendly around here. Maybe we ought to just move on.” “I’ll decide when we move on,” McVey’s response was gruff. He knew there was some risk 15 John E. Richman now in staying, but didn’t want it to show in front of his men. He moved over to look out the window, but didn’t see either of the Carey brothers in the yard. “Mighty quiet out there. Maybe I’ll go for a little walk.” As McVey entered the yard, he heard horses rustle behind the station. He walked around the corner just in time to see both brothers mounting their horses. The rabbits were still in one piece on a nearby table. “WHERE DO YOU BOYS THINK YOU’RE GOING?” shouted McVey, who had now drawn his handgun from his holster and was holding it on both Isaak and Amos. “Looks like my boys were right. Maybe you two should get off those horses and come back inside for a chat.” One more second and the Carey brothers could have ridden off, but they knew they couldn’t beat a drawn pistol, so they both dismounted as instructed and headed back around to the front of the station. McVey stayed a few paces behind, keeping them in his sight. “And take that knife out of your pants and drop it the ground.” Isaak McVey slowly pulled up his shirt and, with two fingers, removed the knife that had been hidden under it, allowing it to drop to the ground. As the brothers were about to reentered the station door, Amos apparently panicked and started to run. McVey followed him with his eyes and pulled the trigger. A loud “Crack” exploded from his pistol and Amos Carey dropped to the ground. 16 Call Me Montana – The Beginning It was clear to all that Amos’ decision to run had just cost him his life. “Dammit,” cursed McVey, “where did he think he was running to?” By this time the other three of McVey’s men were fully alert and on their feet. One spoke up. “You never said anything about killin’ McVey. “I didn’t sign up for this.” “Shut up,” was the only reply the nervous McVey could muster up. With all eyes fixed on the body, no one noticed that brother Isaak had, himself, fallen to his knees and was slow-crawling over to where he had just dropped the knife. In a suddenness that startled the other men, Isaak grabbed the knife from the ground, raised it, and in a single motion, threw it at McVey, just missing his face. On seeing the knife pass by his head, McVey’s reaction was just as sudden. He pointed his pistol at the remaining Carey brother and again pulled the trigger. Crack Isaak dropped, joining Amos in his journey to heaven. This time there was no quick comment at all from McVey or any of his men. Just silence. They must have known their lives had just been changed forever. 17 Chapter 3 Sarah Rogers was supposed to have been a schoolteacher by now. She’d had already complet- ed most of two years of teacher’s college in Philadelphia, but with the news that her Uncle Stuart had taken sick out west in California, Sara’s father and mother decided to pull up stakes and move west to help out. The trip, this late in the year, had already been long and uncomfortable. The Cheyenne-Laramie stage was working its way west, an hour out of Laramie, carrying Sarah, her father Tom, and mother inside. They were crowded onto two wooden seats just large enough to hold the three of them, and a very large trunk. All the discomfort aside, the weather was surprisingly good for early November and they’d had a good sleep the night before in Cheyenne. All in all, Tom considered that things could be worse. Since none of them had ever been west of the Pennsylvania mountains, they were most anxious about the life they were entering. Mrs. Rogers hoped it would as satisfying as her life had been as 18

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