Montana Territory 1883
A lightning-struck tree, tall and majestic, stands watch over a rambling, l-shaped log home carved out of the wild, western wilderness. Not yet devoid of branches, the lonesome pine becomes a perfect perch from which the piercing-sharp eyes of a prairie falcon can find peace and rest. From this roost, the bird of prey sleeps. He is awakened by the rising sun and flies away.
Jake Falcon walked out of his darkened log barn. His eyes looked to the fiery red sun rising in the eastern sky. With his hand tightly clutching the lead rope attached to a sorrel mule, he swore, "Damn, I reckon it's going to be another scorcher of a day!"
A childish, feminine voice sternly admonished, "Pa, you ought not to swear like that! And, especially not today! Why, this is Sunday and the Good Old Lord might strike you down with lightning!"
The father's head swiveled to glance at his eight year old daughter loading a heavy picnic basket into the back of a ranch wagon. He gave her a mischievous grin and replied, "Well Becky, I'm not too much worried about that. That good old fellow up in there in the clouds has been mighty stingy with his lightning here lately. If I thought it would make it rain, I'd swear up a storm!"
Jake Falcon wouldn't be the only one swearing, if swearing would help. The rangeland was dry, thirsty, and begging for moisture. Not a drop of rain had fallen in six weeks. If this kept up, a lot of livestock would be suffering as creeks and waterholes dried up.
Another voice joined the conversation, "Oh Sis, don't you be pestering Pa with your foolishness! Besides, cussing is not a very bad sin. You can't go to Hell for it. Can you, Pa?"
Jake's head swiveled again to see his twelve year old son leading another sorrel mule from the barn. A smile threatened to enliven the proud father's face, yet he subdued it. He answered his son firmly, "Billy, whether or not the Lord will take you to Hell, I couldn't say. But, if I catch you cussing, I'll make your hind end feel like it sitting in a hot place for sure!"
Billy Falcon's face flamed red. He'd spoken too quickly. He now added clarification, "Oh Pa, I didn't mean that I cuss! Why, I never would!"
A contrary opinion from the boy's sister presented itself, "Yes you would, too! I've heard you cuss! I've heard you cuss more than once!"
Thus began another brother-sister argument. This was just one in a long series of sibling spats the father stoically endured. After his wife's passing three years before, Jake was the sole arbitrator in the family. But, it was more than sibling rivalry this man had to contend with. The growing, rambunctious kids were almost too much for one parent to handle alone.
Jake had long ago realized the children needed the presence of a woman in their life. If truth be told, he had the same need! Yet, dang his hardheaded contrariness, he'd made no effort to remedy the situation. His mind silently wondered, "Perhaps it is time to correct this imbalance in our family."
An inquiring voice interrupted the father's musings, "Pa, are we going to get these mules hitched, or not? Are you daydreaming again?"
Jake recovered from his absentminded reverie. Before he could respond to his son's questions, Becky piped in, "I imagine he's daydreaming about a certain lady we saw last week at the Bar SS Ranch barbeque. Why, he had trouble aplenty keeping his eyes off of Miss Suzanne Sullivan!"
The first thought to enter Jake's mind was to wonder, just when did his little girl become so observant. He knew she was smart. Both kids were intelligent beyond their years, yet Becky was wrong about his interest in Suzanne Sullivan. He'd look at her, sure he did that. But, to daydream about her, no, this was ridiculous!
Come to think on it, Jake Falcon had to admit to the fact that the picture of a green-eyed, redheaded woman had popped into his head several times in the past week. Suzanne might not be a raving beauty, but she most certainly had an undeniably attractive and alluring quality about her.
Jake recalled the conversation he'd had with the woman's father last week. Spencer Sullivan had pulled him aside and bluntly asked, "Mister, when are you going to do something about that old maid daughter of mine? Why, she's twenty-two years old and hasn't got a gold wedding band on her finger yet! I know you like her. And Sir, I know she likes you, too!"
Startled by the elderly man's bluntness, Jake hesitantly replied, "Spence, why are you asking me about this? Don't you think you ought to direct your question to the preacher man she's been keeping company with the past few months?"
The old rancher bellowed, "Hell, I don't want my daughter hitched to a bible-thumper! I'd sooner have her drown in a well ... or at least get her petticoats pretty danged wet! I want her wed to a ranchman like you. Why, that gal was ranch born and raised! She'd dry up and blow away if she had to live in town. You listen to me Jake Falcon; you hitch up your team of Kentucky Reds and come fetch this gal! Take her home to your kids. You can wed her, bed her, and fill this range with some fine Sullivan-Falcon bloodstock!"
Jake's meandering musings were interrupted by an insistent voice, "Pa, am I supposed to hook up this team by myself? Ruby and Rose are getting restless."
With his son's voice burning his ears, Jake turned and helped to hitch the team. These two Falcon mules were the finest matched pair of pulling mules in the whole territory. The sorrel-red color of their coats glistened in the early morning son.
When the team was hitched, Jake turned, grabbed up Becky, and sat her in the high wagon seat. Billy was climbing up on the other side. The boy adjusted the .38 Colt belted on his side. He shoved his '66 Winchester into a leather wagon scabbard.
Jake handed up a 12 gauge scattergun. His daughter stowed it securely below the seat. Young, these kids might be, but in this wild and rugged land mastery of firearms was a necessity. In the presence of guns, Billy and Becky ended their sibling bickering and banter.
This day was Sunday, but thirsty livestock didn't pay attention to calendar days. The drought made it imperative to forgo church services. Waterholes needed to be checked. The four Falcon's Roost ranch hands were ordered to check the creek to the north and the waterholes to the east. Jake and the youngsters would check the spring to the west.
As a responsible father, Jake had no intention of leaving his children alone at home. Only seven years had passed since Custer had lost his life just two hundreds miles from this ranch. Renegade Indians, rustlers, and outlaws preyed on farmers and ranchers. Old Tom, the ranch cook, was too old and cantankerous to look after the kids.
Jake stepped into the saddle of his buckskin horse. He checked his '76 Winchester Centennial rifle. He had a plentiful supply of powerful 45/75 cartridges. A brace of matching .44 Smith & Wesson pistols were belted high on his hips. These Russian Model pistols were reputed to be the most accurate handguns available.
Billy took up the reins and snapped the long, leather lines. His soprano voice sang, "Giddy-up there Ruby, giddy-up there Rose. Get along there you beautiful ladies."
Taking the lead, Jake headed west. Stepping lively, Ruby and Rose followed. The powerful team pulled the kids and the ranch wagon effortlessly. The ranch buildings faded into the distance behind them.
Two hours passed. The golden orb of the blazing sun followed the family caravan westward. Without reigning in the mules, Billy stood up in the wagon. His ears and eyes strained to hear and see. Abruptly, he exclaimed, "Hey Pa, I heard a shot! And, there's another. Do you hear them, Pa?"
The father didn't answer. Instead, he flicked his long, braided-leather quirt and whipped Ruby on the withers. The mule turned to the left forcing Rose to turn, too. Jake's voice resounded, "Billy, head for that outcropping of rocks and trees over on the hill! Whip up the mules and don't stop until you get there! If there's trouble, we don't want to get caught out in the open!"
Billy hated to do it, but his hand picked up a blacksnake whip. He wieldy the menacing lash with skill belying his youthful age. The tip of the vengeful, snakelike whip snapped between the ears of the mules. When Ruby and Rose picked up speed their sorrel coats flashed reddened fire as they ran under the blistering sun.
Jake spurred the buckskin and raced to check out the meager shelter offered by the jumble of rocks. He found an unexpected sanctuary. Here, he had the advantage of a high ground outpost with enough stones to provide a makeshift fortification.
Ruby and Rose were pulled up. Billy and Becky climbed from their perch on the tall wagon seat. Both were armed and ready for defensive action. Jake's heart swelled with fatherly pride. Unconsciously, a thought came to this proud father's mind, "God have mercy on any outlaw or heathen who might attempt attacking the Falcon family!"
Following his father's lead, Billy helped to securely tie the buckskin and the mules. This was no time or place to risk having a frightened runaway. A man or child afoot in this country had little chance for survival.
A dust cloud in the west was coming closer. Jake adjusted the focus on his military-issue field glasses. These binoculars had come into his possession as a reward for winning a recent turkey shooting contest. A speeding horse, a multicolored pinto, came into his field of vision. Laying the glasses aside, this man swore, "God almighty, that's Suzanne Sullivan's pinto being chased! Three men are trying to ride her down!"
Billy picked up the binoculars. Jake racked a cartridge into the chamber of his Winchester. The heavy brass and lead load seated tightly. Becky screamed, "Pa, Miss Suzanne's horse is down! It's been shot out from under her! Oh no, those men are going to get her!"
The specter of death lay heavily on Jake's mind. He'd seen men die before. He'd been a helpless witness as his wife succumbed to illness. This man was determined that no innocent woman would die this day. If blood is spilled then let it be the blood of the cowardly jackals pursuing her!
Thick plumes of smoke billowed from the long barrel of Jake Falcon's Centennial Winchester. A thunderous explosion followed. 75 grains of black powder propelled a heavy, .45 caliber, 375 grain lead projectile towards its target. With unerring deviance, the speeding bullet hit its mark.
While holding the field glasses pressed to his eyes, Billy's voice spoke in a matter-of-fact manner, "Pa, that's one down. The other two have scattered. Do you reckon they're fool enough to fight?"
Even as the first rifle shot's reverberations echoed in the distance, the Winchester bellowed again. In the distance a man jerk and slumped over his saddle. His horse spooked, grabbed the bit in his teeth, and ran for his life.
Becky pried the binoculars from her brother's hands. She focused her sight on the woman lying prone on the ground. She spoke excitedly, "Oh Pa, Miss Suzanne is moving! She's alive! You've got to help her!"
Jake strode to the buckskin and leapt into the saddle. Before spurring away he instructed, "Kids, I want you to stay here. Keep your eyes open and your guns close. Billy, watch your back. Those scoundrels may try to slip in behind us. Becky, use the field glasses and keep a watch below. I'm riding on down. I imagine Suzanne is hurt pretty badly."
Guided by an expert horseman's hand, the buckskin sped down the hill and ran out onto the flat prairie. Strong arms pulled on the reins and the horse skidded to a stop beside the figure lying face down in the grass. As Jake dismounted, the prone body abruptly turned and sat up. A nickel-plated revolver glinted in the noonday sun. The face of a redheaded woman sneered. She pointed the pistol and, before thinking, she fired. Crimson fire flashed.
Luckily, Jake's strides had taken him close enough to kick the barrel of the gun aside. He grabbed the smoking weapon and wrestled it from the combative woman's hands.
Woman... ? Yes, woman she was, but Suzanne Sullivan was dressed as no female he'd ever seen. She was clothed in a pair of old, well-worn men's bib overalls. The cuffs of the too-big, too-long pants were turned up at the ankle. The pants looked casual and comfortable. Twin straps crossed over her shoulders and hooked to the bib buttons in the front. A bright-blue gingham blouse was tucked carelessly within the bodice of the overalls. The tiny, vivid, checkerboard pattern on the blouse created a brilliant contrast to the faded denim of the pants.
This woman's wide-brimmed, floppy cowman's hat lay a few feet away from her body. Her brilliant-red, long, curly hair had escaped its bonneted bondage and was now cascading over her shoulders, her neck, and her back. These vibrant feminine tresses flew wild and untamed.
Suzanne Sullivan's magnificent mane of flaming-red curls shook back and forth in anger. Her Irish temper was inflamed. She spoke irately, "Damn you Jake Falcon! I almost shot you! I thought you were one of those rustlers. Mister, you had no business riding up on me so sudden-like! Good Lord, I'd never have forgiven myself if I shot you!"
Mischievous laughter tinged Jake's reply, "Why Suzie, I wouldn't have forgiven you for shooting me either! Now, you listen here Lady, I thought you might be dead or hurt pretty bad! With a stubborn, Irish constitution like yours, I guess you're neither!"
The woman responded impatiently, "Mister, you'd better guess again. I'm not dead, but I am injured. Why, I've been shot! And, Jake Falcon, I've told you again and again not to call me Suzie! You may call me Miss Suzanne or Miss Sullivan!"
Jake dropped to his knees beside the sitting woman. He spoke with genuine concern, "Suzie, what do you mean 'I've been shot'? Where are you hit? How bad is it?"
A frown creased the hot-tempered woman's face. This man was paying no attention to her name-calling admonishments! Yet, even though angered, her hand moved from her chest to reveal a darkening stain. The top of the bib overalls was bloody.
Without a second's hesitation, Jake's hands reached out and unhooked the two bib straps. He jerked the gingham blouse out of the woman's pants and released her bodice buttons. Abruptly, he stopped.
This man was not ignorant of the ways of the feminine mind. Why, he'd been married to a woman for years! He certainly knew this; no grown female ever left her house without first clothing her upper body in a strong, stiff, supportive corset! Contrary to this fact, Jake now found his eyes gazing at a feminine chest with no corseted covering! This woman's bodice had not even the protection of a thin camisole to provide concealment!
A temperamental voice interrupted Jake's meandering thoughts. Suzanne implored, "Mister, are you going to sit there all day or are you going to stop this bleeding?"
Jake had not let go of the buckskin's reins. He had no intentions of allowing the horse to wander away. With no hitching post near, he tied the leather reins to the woman's leg. Springing to his feet, he grabbed a canteen and then he rummaged into his saddlebags. Two wide bandanas and a small medical kit were found.
Dropping back to his knees, this man examined the woman's wound. A grazing bullet had left a nasty, red-inflamed whelp across her upper abdomen. Thankfully, Jake surmised, the wound was not life threatening. Nonetheless, it was bleeding profusely and was most likely very painful.
Wetting one bandana, Jake cleansed the wound as best he could. Suzanne's face was grimacing from the burning discomfort. If not for her good health and strong vigor she may have fainted from the pain. Although finding herself in a compromising position, this woman was trying in vain to cooperate by holding her exposed bosoms out of the way. Finally, giving in to the inevitable, she became too lightheaded to give support to her unmentionable mounds. Reluctantly, she released her hold and allowed them to fall where they may.
Trying his best not to ogle or stare, Jake continued the task at hand. Despite this man's best intentions, Suzanne's fleshy Grand Tetons proved difficult to work around. More than once this makeshift medicine man was forced to disregard propriety and manually move them aside. Finally, when the bleeding subsided, do-it-yourself-doctor Jake Falcon applied a copious layer of thick ointment into the raw whelp. Using the other bandana, he fashioned a bandage. He removed the belt from his pants and encircled the woman's back and chest. The belt was fastened atop the bandage and securely tightened.
Jake's steady fingers buttoned the gingham blouse and tucked it back into the woman's pants. His face accidentally pressed against a feminine cheek as he reached for and hooked the bib straps. Suzanne's hands were trembling too much to help in the buttoning task, yet she unconsciously turned her head and inadvertently allowed her lips to brush against those of Jake Falcon's. The whinnying cries of a horse drew their attention away from any further intimacy.
Suzanne's pinto gelding was down. The horse was thrashing and attempting to stand. Jake helped the grimacing, wounded woman to her feet. Together they approached the injured animal. One look told them all hope was lost. Both front legs were shattered and a gaping bullet wound in his side spurted blood. In one motion Jake's pistol was pulled from its holster, cocked, aimed, and fired. The .44 slug ended the horse's suffering. He twitched and then lay still. This man and woman were born of the west. Love of horses was imbedded in their souls at birth. This magnificent steed had given his life in a race to save his beloved companion. Suzanne's tears flowed freely.
After only a minute or two for grief and regret, Jake sprang into his buckskin's saddle then reached out a hand to the woman. Suzanne steeled her nerves and grabbed the outstretched hand. This man's strong arms lifted and the woman's legs straddled the horse behind him. The ride back up the hill was made slowly. Neither party wanted to reopen the painful wound.
Billy and Becky met the twosome at the hilltop fortification. The kids eagerly helped Suzanne dismount. They led her to the sheltering shade of the ranch wagon. Becky spread a blanket on the ground and helped the injured woman sit.
Jake securely tied the buckskin and strode to confront the strong willed, hardheaded, temperamental woman he had been forced to rescue. If not for the presence of his children he might have allowed blasphemous language to pepper his words. As it was, he spoke harshly, "Suzie, what in the devil are you doing out on the range alone? This is the Lord's Day. Shouldn't you be in church with that preacher fella you've been keeping company with? Does your pa know you're out by yourself? I swear, sometimes you damn fool women don't have half sense!"