The Gathering
Chapter 1

This story is the culmination of a trilogy that started with "The Trail West". The next section "Winterborn" took place in the same era with events that shaped and guided the characters. "The Gathering" continues in the same time frame and with the same characters and their ever changing lives.

To reacquaint the readers "The Trail West" Main Characters are Josh Kelly and Red McCall. They met on the Hobart wagon train traveling from Fort Smith Arkansas to Santa Fe New Mexico in 1862. Josh and Red worked for Mr. Hobart until they got to Santa Fe and then turned north. Jerry Barnes, whose parents had been killed during a raid on the wagon train, joined up with them for their trek to Colorado.

After many adventures on the trail they arrived in Fountain, Colorado. This was where they befriended the Maguire family; they ended up marrying the Maguire girls, Danni and Sarah.

Then in "Winterborn" in 1869 Dillon Gallagher left his beloved Virginia and his conniving father and took the trail west to Texas after serving in the Civil War. Traveling through Texas he found a home for a little over two years in Wichita Falls where he worked as a Deputy Marshall. Leaving Texas he traveled to Prescott Arizona where he discovered a family, the Edwards, in need of help. Dillon later married Elizabeth Edwards. He had to kill the bastard carpet bagger that had murdered her father and tried to take the Triple E Ranch from the Edwards through force.

The "Gathering" brings these adventurous souls together and completes the Trilogy of scenes from the Old West.

Thanks for taking the time to read my story. Constructive comments and emails are more than welcome and appreciated. Please enjoy the tale.

"There have been a lot of changes in this town in the last eight years," Josh Kelly told his wife as they strolled past the new courthouse. "The General even renamed the place Colorado Springs. There's a big difference between this resort town and the old rough and ready Colorado City."

"The General?" Danni Kelly asked.

"General William Palmer," Josh replied. "He's a railroad man that decided that he wanted to build a high quality resort here and did it. "It's sort of a shame but he's forced most of the old saloons and bawdy houses out of business. Now the town is right civilized."

"Joshua Kelly! How do you know that there were those types of houses here?"

"That first cattle drive here, after we sold the cattle, your father suggested that Red, Jerry, and I join him at one. He said it would be an education." Josh's tone and face was serious for all of about five seconds and then he started laughing. "I couldn't keep from laughing when I saw the shocked look on your face."

Danni chuckled and then said, "It's not nice to tease an expectant mother."

"I'm sorry I couldn't help teas ... Wait, what did you say?"

Now it was Danni's turn to laugh at the look on Josh's face. Guess I surprised him real good, she thought. "You're gonna be a daddy again."

"When... ?"

"He'll be born with the spring calves, I reckon," Danni replied.

"He?" Josh asked.

"I've just got a feeling it's a boy again."

Josh grabbed Danni and spun her around as he hugged her. Both of them were laughing and crying at the same time. Many people standing nearby smiled at the young couple. They were a good match; Josh was 6' 1 with dark hair and a strong lean build. Danni was tall for a woman at 5' 9 with strawberry blond hair.

Their trip to what was now Colorado Springs was the first vacation that Josh and Danni had taken since they got married. It was sort of a delayed honeymoon; delayed for close to eight years, Josh said to himself. First there was combining two ranches into the Chico Basin Cattle Company; then William our son was born. Our little Maggie came along two years later, before we really had time to recover from our son's birth. Josh smiled and thought, I miss the kids but it's been nice to have Danni to myself.

The next morning Josh and Danni were ate breakfast before starting their ride back to the CBC ranch. Josh watched Danni for a few minutes and asked, "Can you ride okay? Should we rent a surrey to get back home?"

Danni chuckled and put her hand on Josh's cheek. "You forget honey; I herded cattle with you while I was carrying our daughter. Right up until two months before she was born. I can make the ride back home okay."

Roger and Mary, a couple they had met one evening, joined Josh and Danni. Everyone ordered and got a morning cup of coffee. Roger said, "y'all still heading back home today?' At Josh's nod he asked, "Why don't you stay for another day or two?"

Mary added, "Yes please stay Danni. We can explore those new shops over at the resort."

"We'd like to but our kids are probably driving their aunt and uncle crazy by now," Danni replied. "They need rescuing, so we better get back to the ranch."

"How many children do you have?" Mary asked.

"There are two of the little hellions at home," Josh said smiling. "Our son, William Daniel is seven; he's named after his two Grandpas. Margret Molly just turned five and of course she's named after her Grandmas."

The two couples enjoyed talking as they ate breakfast but it was finally time for the Kelly's to start home. They got their horses from the livery stable, tied the two small duffels behind the saddles, and rode toward Fountain. Danni was riding Sunny, the big buckskin that Josh had ridden from Missouri and 'loaned' her before they were married; somehow the horse became her property.

Josh was on Diablo, a bay even bigger than Sunny. Mr. Hobart had given the horse to Josh for his hard work and dedication to the wagon train that Hobart ran. The only trouble with Diablo is that he doesn't like the slow pace we used coming up here and he'll like it less on the way home, Josh thought. He planned on taking it easy, never pushing the horse past an easy lope. We got a late start so it'll be dusk by the time we get back.

They had been riding for an hour before they made their first stop. Danni helped Josh water the horses and then said, "Where are you Josh? You haven't said a dozen words since we left Colorado Springs."

He smiled at his wife and replied, "Just thinking about how far I've traveled since I left Missouri." Turning to Danni he continued, "And how lucky I've been." He pulled Danni to him, kissed her, and just held her.

"I've been lucky too," Danni replied as she put her head on Josh's chest.

Josh had left Missouri because of the Civil War and a band of guerilla raiders that were trying to force him to join them. William, his father, held off the raiders and afterwards ordered Josh to leave the area; at least until the war was over. Josh turned 18 during his trek west. He traveled to Santa Fe working for the Hobart wagon train. He met Red McCall, who would become his best friend and partner, on that wagon train. Josh and Red also joined up with Jerry Barnes whose parents had been killed in a raid on the wagons.

The three of them had traveled to the Chico Basin area of Colorado; just east of Fountain. Josh and Red befriended the Maguire family; eventually marrying the Maguire girls, Danni and Sarah. Now Josh and Danni were parents as were Red and Sarah.

Josh, Jerry, and Red were able to buy a ranch that adjoined the Maguire's place. Shortly after Josh and Red married they formed a partnership with Daniel Maguire and combined the Maggie M and the Lazy L into one ranch named the Chico Basin Cattle Company.

Jerry and the Maguires, Daniel and Maggie, continued to live and work from what at one time had been the Maggie M. Josh, Red, and their wives stayed at the Lazy L in the big ranch house. The Lazy L part of the CBC ranch is where Josh and Danni were headed.

Danni leaned back and looked up at Josh. "I knew that we'd be together from that time you and Red rescued us from those three cowboys."

"You did, did you?" Josh asked smiling.

"It was just a matter of waiting for you to realize where your life was headed," Danni answered and kissed Josh. "C'mon let's get on home. I want to see William and little Maggie."

They rode the horses at an easy lope for a while and then slowed to a fast walk for a bit, giving the horses some rest. Every two hours they stopped for about 15 minutes. It was close to 4 PM when they turned off the main trail to head for the ranch.

Josh and Danni had just crossed the western border of their ranch when Diablo and then Sunny got spooked. Diablo's ears laid back and he bared his teeth. Whatever bothered Diablo caused the same reaction in Sunny. The horses were too well trained to bolt and run but it was plain to Josh that's what they wanted to do.

They were able to calm the horses a little and Josh dismounted. Handing Diablo's reins to Danni he said, "I'll go see if I can find out what spooked them." Josh pulled his new Winchester Repeating rifle from its saddle scabbard. "You stay with the horses. I'll be right back."

"Not likely Mr. Kelly," replied Danni pulling her own rifle and dismounting. "I'm going with you."

"Somebody has to hold the horses," Josh tried to explain.

"Nonsense. Diablo and Sunny are trained to ground tie; they'll stay put."

"Danni something spooked them and they might run in spite of their training. Please stay with the horses," Josh requested. He knew if he ordered his wife to stay she would just ignore him.

"Sunny would never run off and leave me." Danni started walking forward. Looking over her shoulder she continued, "If you haven't trained Diablo that well, it's your own fault. You can stay with the horses."

Josh watched her for a few steps and shook his head. Then he had to smile a little. One of the things that makes me love her so is her independence he thought. He hurried to catch up with Danni, cocking his rifle. Josh looked back at the horses and saw Diablo staring at a small grove of trees to the left; Sunny was watching Danni.

He motioned to Danni and they quietly made their way through the trees. In the clearing there were four freshly slaughtered steers within a hundred feet of each other. A huge bear was tearing chunks of meat off one of the dead animals. The killer must have made a running attack from behind the trees and caught the small herd by surprise, Josh thought. It looked up as Josh and Danni cleared the last tree. The bear stopped eating, stood up on his hind legs, and growled at them.

"If he charges, you run for the horses," Josh said. When Danni started to argue he added, "No games this time Danni. That big son of a gun can kill you with one swipe of his paw."

After a couple of seconds Danni replied, "Yes Josh. But I expect you to be right behind me."

Josh raised his rifle, aiming at the bear. Danni raised her weapon also. The bear growled one more time and dropped back to all fours. It turned and ran toward the trees on the far side of the clearing. Josh drew a big breath as the animal ran away.

"Danni, go get the horses and bring them up please. I'm going to look at the cattle."

When she returned on Sunny leading Diablo, Josh mounted. "He killed all four of them and only took a few bites out of each one."

"Is that normal?"

"No it isn't. Let's get back to the ranch; we'll talk with Red about this after supper."

Young William was standing near the hitching rail with a lariat draped over his head and shoulders. He would have his father's build when full grown but had his mother's coloring with a wild mop of reddish blond hair. He looked like someone had tried to tie him up. William turned when he heard the horses and seeing his parents yelled, "Momma, Pa, Uncle Red's teaching me how to rope." He looked as proud as could be at his efforts.

Danni and Josh climbed down off the horses. William shucked the rope and followed closely by Maggie ran to greet their parents. Maggie would be tall also when she grew up. She had the same dark coloring as her father. Sarah McCall, Danni's sister, and her husband Red watched the family reunion from the large front porch. A few minutes later the McCall twins John and Daniel who were a year older than William ran out of the house to join the group in the yard.

There could be no doubt that the twin's father was Red McCall. Both boys were stocky with almost red hair and blue eyes; they were the spitting image of Red. Sarah was almost as tall as Red but with a slender build even after having two children. Her hair was dark and she had startling grey eyes.

For a few minutes it was a loud noisy homecoming. The two dogs were barking and the children were all talking at once explaining everything that had happened while Josh and Danni were gone.

Sarah watched the melee for a few minutes and then called out, "You kids get cleaned up; it's time for supper.

The meal was only slightly quieter than the homecoming. Finally the children calmed down giving Red a chance to speak. "You got home a little later than I expected. Run into trouble on the trail?"

Josh replied, "Not much trouble but something real interesting. We'll talk after supper."

The children were excited by the return of Josh and Danni so it took a little longer to get them bedded down for the night. The evening was quiet and still with a Comanche Moon peeking in and out of a few clouds. Josh and Danni waited on the front porch with a last cup of coffee.

Red and Sarah came out to join them; laughing about the fuss the kids had made before going to sleep. "I know the house has four bedrooms, that's why we all live here. But if we get any more kids we gonna have to turn the guest house back into a bunkhouse," Red joked. "We'll have to build some bunk beds to sleep them all."

Josh and Danni chuckled and Danni said, "I guess you better get to building beds."

"What?" Red asked.

"Danni's gonna have a baby; should be born about spring calving season in April," Josh answered. Josh, Danni, and Sarah laughed at the surprised look on Red's face.

Red stuttered for a few seconds and said, "That's good news. I was just kidding Josh, but we could build another bedroom on the back of the house you know."

"No need to rush," Josh replied. "Maggie won't need her own room for five or six years yet. By that time the boys will be old enough to sleep on their own. We can move them into that third bunkhouse."

Red nodded, thought for a bit and asked, "What's was so interesting on your trip home that it held you up?"

Josh told him about the bear and the four steers that it killed. "It was a grizzly, a big silver tip," he explained. "I don't really mind a bear, mountain lion, or wolves killing a steer now and then. You can't blame them for doing what comes natural, but this is different."

"I think you're right," Red replied. "This griz is killing for sport, not for food. Something needs to be done."

"He's a real big animal; I'd say he's about 900 or 1000 pounds," Josh added. "This bear has run into men with rifles before. I thought he was going to charge and raised my rifle; he took off into the trees when he saw the gun."

"It's getting late, time for bed," Sarah said. "C'mon Red you two boys can talk about your bear tomorrow."

Red chuckled, "Thought I was done takin orders when I got out of the army. I just traded one superior officer for another. Good night all."

Early the next morning Josh and Red walked to the corral next to the big barn. Josh wanted to make sure that Sunny and Diablo were okay after their long ride the previous day. When they got to the corral, Danni was already there making a fuss over the two horses

Josh teased Danni that she worried more about the horses than him; she stuck her tongue out at him and continued petting and feeding the horses pieces of apple. She looked up and said, "Rider coming."

Red had also heard the sounds of a horse coming at a fast trot. He walked to the barn and pulled a rifle from its holder inside the door. The country wasn't as wild as it had been several years earlier but it wasn't tamed by any means; they always kept weapons at hand.

Charley White rode into the yard looking for Josh or Red. Charley had been the top hand at the Lazy L when Josh, Red, and Jerry had bought the place from Tom Larson's widow Nancy. The partners had made him the range boss and pretty much let him run the ranch. Josh always said that Charley may not have much book learning but he knew cattle.

When the Lazy L and the Maggie M were merged into one ranch, Charley moved over to the Maggie M; again as range boss. He helped Daniel Maguire and Jerry run the Maggie M part of the ranch. Josh, Red and their wives moved into the house on the Lazy L and took over running it. Everyone involved still called the two ranches by their old names to identify which one they were talking about.

When he saw Red and Josh at the corral Charley rode over to them. He nodded at Red and said to Josh, "We got trouble over to the Maggie M boss." At Josh's nod he continued, "Found 2 steers killed up to the head of Black Squirrel Creek. By the tracks I'd say it was a bear that done it; a big bear maybe a grizzly. But he didn't eat but a chunk or two off each animal."

Josh looked at Red as Danni came over to the corral fence. "Think it's the same one we saw Josh?" Danni asked.

"Probably is, from the sounds of it." Turning back to Charley, Josh asked, "How long you reckon those cattle have been dead Charley?

"Sign was fresh. Steers haven't even started to bloat up yet. I'd say it happened last night or real early this morning," Charley answered.

"Okay, go up to the house and get a couple of those fresh biscuits that Sarah made and some coffee if you like Charley." The cowboy smiled and nodded his head. "After you get done with your snack head back and tell Mr. Maguire and Jerry that Red and I are goin lookin for that cussed bear early tomorrow morning."

"The Maggie M is to the east; it looks like he's headed that way Red. Danni and I saw him on the west side of the ranch yesterday."

"Maybe we should ride over to Chico Springs and come back this way," Red suggested. "That'd put us on the east border of the ranch. If he's still headed east we can follow him onto the Ambrose place."

"Makes sense to me," Josh replied."

Danni was going to argue about Josh going after a dangerous bear but she saw the look on his face and in his eyes. You'd have better success ordering the wind around than stopping him when he in that mood, Danni thought. Instead she asked, "Are you going to ride Diablo?"

"No think I'll take Itsa instead. He's a might faster off the mark than Diablo," Josh answered. He knew Danni wanted to ask him not to go and appreciated that she didn't argue with him.

Diablo was Itsa's sire out of Lady Guinevere, a filly that Josh had bought and then gentled. Lady was one half quarter horse and passed on her short distance speed to Itsa. Diablo could run all day at a pace that would kill most horses and he passed on some of that talent to Itsa.

"Why'd you name him Itsa?" Sarah asked Josh. She had come to the corral after Charley told her about the bear.

"Itsa is Apache for eagle. He's quick like an eagle comin out of the sky after a fish and can run at a lope all day. Just like an eagle can soar on the wind for hours. Anyway, I had to name him something."

"I'm gonna take Queenie," Red explained. "She's a quarter horse and fast too. Might need that speed."

"Why? Do you expect to have to run away from this bear?" Sarah was getting worried about the hunting trip.

Red laughed a little and replied, "Naw, but we if see the griz out in the open we want to get close before he has a chance to get back under cover in the trees. Don't look forward to trackin him through a thicket."

"As fast as Itsa and Queenie are, we should be able to catch him before he runs off. It'd sure be easier to shoot him in open country," Josh explained.

The whole family turned out to say good bye when Josh and Red left the next morning. They had a few trail supplies with them but didn't plan on staying out more than two or three days. It was just after first light when the men hugged their sleepy children and said good bye to Danni and Sarah.

The morning of their second day on the hunt they were following the trail that Josh had found the previous evening just before making camp. The bear was still headed east but just before he would have passed onto the old Ambrose spread, he started to circle back to the west.

They followed the trail as it led back west for most of the day. Must be getting close, Josh thought. The horses were getting a little nervous.

"Reckon he likes our cattle the best," Red joked. He'd noticed the horse's behavior and was a little nervous himself.

They followed the trail until late afternoon and saw the tracks turn and enter a box canyon. "Recognize this canyon?" Red asked with a small grin.

Josh returned the grin. "Yep. This is the canyon where we found the cattle that Larson stole years ago. There's no way out except past us. We got him now Red."

"I don't know what you're so happy about," Red replied. "We'll have to go into that canyon on foot; it's not big enough to get the horses turned around in a hurry if need be."

Josh pulled the Sharps rifle from the saddle scabbard. It was the same rifle he'd used hunting buffalo for the wagon train years ago. The Sharps was a breech loading single shot weapon that Josh had converted to use the new metal cartridges. He'd explained to Red that they might have to take a long distance shot if they saw the bear. "Besides it's a .50 caliber; it packs a lot more punch than my .44 caliber Winchester and I can reload real quick."

They left their horses just outside the entrance to the canyon. Both of their horses were trained to ground tie so they didn't tie them to a tree. If the bear got past them the horses could run away. Josh and Red slowly followed the bear tracks into the canyon. They were about 100 feet inside the entrance when they lost the trail; the ground was hard rock and wouldn't hold a track.

Josh was leading and stopped after losing the trail. He turned back to Red who was about 20 feet behind him. As he turned he saw movement behind Red. It was the grizzly coming from behind a pile of rubble; the bear was headed straight for Red.

"Red, behind you," Josh shouted a warning as he brought the Sharps to his shoulder.

Dillon Gallagher stood next to his horse on a hill overlooking the ranch house of the Triple E. He had served with distinction with the 1st Regiment Virginia Cavalry and when he arrived in Prescott he had a brooding, dark, look about him. He was 6 feet with a strong lean build. His dark hair set off his very intense blue eyes. Those eyes could welcome you as a friend or give fair warning not to cross the big man.

It's been almost a year since the carpet bagging bastard Cassidy was stopped, he remembered. It was a shame that the man had to die but he brought it on himself. The only thing I would have done different was not get shot.

Bob Cassidy had told Dillon he was going to build a cattle empire that would rival the King ranch in Texas. The problem was that he didn't care what means he used to build that ranch. The Triple E sat right in the middle of his other holdings, separating his empire, so he tried to buy it.

John Edwards along with his wife Eleanor owned the Triple E. Their daughter Elizabeth, son Ethan, and adopted son Oso lived on and worked the ranch. John refused to sell out to Cassidy and was shot and killed shortly afterwards. Eleanor and her children knew that Cassidy was responsible for John's death but they had no proof.

When John's widow still refused to sell the ranch, Cassidy began a campaign of confrontations and assaults to force Eleanor off the ranch. Every time the Edwards came into town Cassidy's men would verbally and physically abuse them. Then Dillon Gallagher became involved.

Gallagher was from Virginia and served with the Confederacy during the Civil War. He fought in spite of not believing in slavery; he fought because he did believe in the people's right to run their own state instead of the Federal Government telling them how to live.

After General Lee surrendered in April of '65, Dillon didn't return to his home in Richmond. He didn't want to be there for the punitive actions of the Union against the southern states. His hatred of the Northern Reconstruction efforts in the south, the Yankee regulators, and the carpet baggers that raped the southern states was deeply ingrained.

Dillon had looked for a job as a ranch hand. He accepted a job with Cassidy but once he learned the man had been one of those Union regulators he refused to work for him. After he stopped two of Cassidy's men from roughing up 12 year old Ethan Edwards, Dillon told Cassidy in no uncertain terms what he thought of him. He also made it plain that he was going to work for the Triple E.

While working for the Edwards he had several run ins with Cassidy's men. He saved Elizabeth from a severe beating almost killing a man with his bare hands. Dillon and Elizabeth slowly fell in love and got married. Shortly after the wedding Cassidy killed some of the stock at the Triple E and challenged Dillon to meet him in town.

But Dillon was confronted by Cassidy's hired gun Bill Wilson outside of town limits. Wilson was killed and Dillon was wounded but he continued to his meeting with the self styled empire builder. Just before he began his ride into Prescott, Dillon had told his family that it was time to put an end to Cassidy.

He confronted Cassidy and his two men even though he was light headed and swaying from the gunshot wound in his side. As one of Cassidy's men drew his gun, a rifle shot by Oso put him down. Before the other man could clear the holster with his pistol another rifle shot from Elizabeth stopped him. This left Cassidy on his own to face Dillon.

Dillon called Cassidy out telling him to fight or die where he stood. Cassidy pulled his gun and Dillon shot him twice. He was dead before he hit the ground. Dillon swayed for a minute and big Oso picked him up and carried him to the doctor's office. It took three weeks for Dillon to completely recover from his wound, but he did recover.

Dillon had been in town getting a few supplies, mail, and to post a letter to his mother. As he came out of the general store a younger man approached him and asked, "Would you be Mr. Gallagher?" At Dillon's nod he said, "I'd like to have a word with you please."

"And who might you be?" Dillon asked.

The young man hesitated and then replied, "My name is R. Thomas Cassidy Jr., Mr. Gallagher. I'm Bob Cassidy's son."

Dillon stood straighter, looked around to see if the boy was alone, and swept his duster to the rear uncovering the pistol worn low on his hip. "What do you want?" His manner and tone was less than friendly.

"I understand your distaste for my family name and I can't blame you. But I do have a business proposition for you. If you would join me for a drink at the hotel, I'll explain."

By this time Dillon saw that the younger Cassidy was alone and wasn't even armed. "All right Mr. Cassidy, I'll listen to what you have to say."

The two men went to the hotel bar and sat at a table. Cassidy asked the bartender for a brandy. Dillon had to smile a little; most men in Prescott drank whiskey or rye. The boy's a bit of a dude Dillon said to himself.

"Water's fine Sam," Dillon said to the bartender. Turning his attention back to Cassidy he said, "I won't drink with a man until I know he's not an enemy." As the young man started to protest Dillon added, "Not quite sure about you yet Mr. Cassidy."

"I understand your hesitation Mr. Gallagher. My father was not a good man; as you and the Edwards found out. I didn't approve of his methods in building his ranch but I do approve of the idea of owning the biggest ranch in the territory."

In spite of the choice of words and the way he spoke, Dillon saw intensity in Cassidy. Wouldn't hurt to see what his game is, Dillon thought.

"Go ahead Mr. Cassidy; I'll listen to what you have to say."

"I go by Thomas or Tom. My first name is Robert but I don't think the name Bob Cassidy will be looked on very favorably around Prescott. As I said I didn't approve or like my father's actions. That's one of the reasons I stayed in Chicago with my mother. Now that my father is gone, I'm going to take over the Circle C."

"No offense Thomas, but do you know anything about ranching?" Dillon asked trying to hide a smile.

"I know how to run a business Mr. Gallagher. I've hired a good foreman to run the ranch. He'll take care of the cattle and I'll tend to the business side." Young Cassidy paused looking at Dillon for a few seconds. "The reason I've explained is that I want you and the Edwards to understand that I don't do business like my father."

"Why would we care about how you do business? If you leave us alone we'll get along just fine," Dillon told him.

"I would like to buy the Triple E and hoped you would set up a meeting between Mrs. Edwards and me," Cassidy replied. Dillon hesitated and Cassidy added, "I'll be in town for another two weeks or so before I move out to the Circle C Mr. Gallagher. At least think about meeting with me."

Dillon stared at the young Cassidy for more than a minute. Cassidy returned the stare, waiting for Dillon's response. You have to admire this youngster's courage and determination, Dillon thought.

"Okay Thomas, I'll pass the message along to Mrs. Edwards. That's all I'll do; it's her decision if she wants to meet with you."

Dillon had ridden most of the eleven miles back to the Triple E before stopping on top a low rise. He got off his horse and thought about the meeting with Thomas Cassidy and how to tell Eleanor of the meeting. After a few minutes, Dillon mounted Buck and pulled the pack horse up close to ride the last mile to the ranch house, he smiled thinking of the surprise he had for his family.

Eleanor had said that she'd sell the Triple E if she could get a reasonable price for the ranch. She didn't really care for the place; she had wanted to return to teaching school. But her husband had been a rancher so she had been a rancher's wife.

She had refused to sell to the elder Cassidy. First because she knew he was responsible for her husband's death and secondly she wouldn't let Cassidy basically steal her husband's legacy. Now Eleanor wanted to sell the place and get on with her life. The ranch had some good memories but with John's death and the troubles afterwards it had more bad ones.

Dillon rode up to the hitching rail in front of the ranch house. Before he could dismount, a welcoming committee came out to greet him. His wife, Elizabeth, was the first to reach him. Elizabeth Edwards, now Elizabeth Gallagher, at 5' 9 had the height to not be dwarfed by her husband. Her auburn hair and green eyes told of her Irish ancestry. She was followed closely by Ethan, her younger brother. Right behind Ethan was Oso the huge Mexican that had been adopted years before by the Edwards. And last Eleanor Edwards came out on the porch.

Eleanor took charge after Ethan and Oso had a chance to say hello to Dillon. "Oso would you and Ethan unload the pack horse please?" Walking to the edge of the porch she asked, "What's the latest news from Prescott, Dillon?"

With an arm around Elizabeth, Dillon stepped up on the porch. He leaned over and kissed Eleanor on the cheek. "Well ... I met an interesting young man today."

"And who was that?"

"Let's get supper and then I can tell everyone all at once after we eat," Dillon answered grinning.

"That's not fair Dillon, making us wait until after supper," Eleanor said grinning back at her son in law.

"Maybe not, but that's the way it's gonna be Mrs. Edwards." Still grinning he turned to Elizabeth and added, "And don't you try to get it out of me either Mrs. Gallagher."

As Eleanor and Elizabeth began supper, Oso and Ethan carried in the pannier bags, stuffed with supplies, from the pack saddle. Oso was 6' 6 and carried the load in one hand like a suitcase. Ethan was using one leg to help push the heavy bag along. Every time Oso tried to reach over and help, Ethan would shake his head and say, "My job."

After helping to unpack the panniers and put away the supplies Dillon had brought, Ethan went to the desk in the big living room to work on his school lessons. His mother Eleanor had been a school teacher and taught him to read and write and do his sums. But he made it plain that was all the schooling he wanted or needed and Eleanor didn't push him.

Then Dillon came into his life. Ethan developed an instant bond with the man from Virginia the first time they met. Two of Cassidy's men were hitting the boy when Dillon stopped them. Later when Dillon came to the Triple E to work and live, Ethan confessed to Oso that Dillon reminded him of his father.

"Senor Edwards never quoted poetry," Oso said, teasing the boy a little.

"I don't mean the poetry. Dillon is tall like Pa was. He can be very serious and then turn around play a prank on you to make you laugh. He's got the same easy way with folks; he makes you glad to be with him. Just like Pa."

When Dillon stopped Cassidy and saved the ranch, Ethan's bond quickly turned into hero worship. After Dillon married his sister, Ethan decided that if being educated was good enough for his brother in law it was good enough for him too. Eleanor was glad to see than her youngest wanted to learn so she set up lessons for him in several subjects.

When he was in Prescott, Dillon would often visit the town library and read while he waited on Elizabeth or Eleanor to finish their personal shopping. Ethan began to go with him to the library. He began to listen intensely when Dillon read aloud or quoted poetry.

Some evenings Ethan and Dillon would sit on the floor, leaning back against the sofa, reading by the light from a kerosene lamp and discussing history or some other subject. But this evening there was family business to discuss.

"Okay Dillon, suppers over. Now tell us about this interesting man you met?" Eleanor's curiosity was getting the best of her.

"I met Bob Cassidy's son today," Dillon answered. "He wants to meet with you." He saw Eleanor tense up and before she could speak he continued, "Don't get all riled up Eleanor. Let me tell you what happened."

Dillon explained that Thomas Cassidy had approached him and asked for his help in meeting Eleanor. Seeing that the family was interested, Dillon recounted his conversation with Cassidy almost word for word.

"Do you believe him, Dillon? Do you trust him?"

"I believe he wants to build the biggest ranch in the area. Haven't dealt with him enough to trust him yet," Dillon answered. "But I do believe that the boy is not like his father. I got a feeling that he's just what he says he is."

"So you think I ought to sell the ranch to him?"

"Eleanor, that's your decision. I think that if you really want to sell the place, it'd be reasonable to meet with him. Hear what Thomas has offer; then make up your mind," Dillon replied. Looking at his wife and Eleanor with a grin he added, "Besides, it'd be a good excuse for a day in town for you ladies."

"I'll expect you to go with me," Eleanor said. "In fact I want the whole family there."

"Wouldn't think of letting you go alone ma'am. We can go to Prescott for supplies on Saturday and meet with Cassidy that day. If you like we can stay over and go to church on Sunday," Dillon suggested.

Early Saturday morning, just after dawn, the crew of the Triple E rode into town. Oso had two pack animals on a lead rope and Ethan led another one. They kept the horses at an easy lope and got to Prescott in a little over two hours, stopping at the general store.

Dillon escorted the ladies into the mercantile and then walked down the street to the hotel. He asked the desk clerk to tell Cassidy that he would be in the hotel bar. Dillon entered the room and found a spot at the bar where he had a wall at his back; it was an old habit of his. A few minutes later Cassidy joined him.

"Last time we talked you offered to buy me a drink Thomas. This time let me buy you one," Dillon opened with a small smile. He motioned to the bartender, who put a brandy in front of Cassidy and a beer in front of Dillon.

"Mrs. Edwards has agreed to hear what you have to say. About 11 in the hotel's side parlor be okay?"

"That would be fine Mr. Gallagher. But I would be happy to have you all as my guests at brunch."

Dillon grinned and said, "I don't think Eleanor wants to socialize, she just wants to hear your offer for the ranch. And I warn you, put your best offer on the table. Don't try to horse trade with her. Understand?"

"By all means. I'll present a fair price from the beginning."

"See you back here about 11 Thomas. Be prepared, I don't think you've ever dealt with a woman like Eleanor," Dillon said as he turned to leave.

He returned to the mercantile and to his family. The supplies for the ranch had been bought; Oso and Ethan were loading them into the panniers. It had been decided that they wouldn't stay in town overnight but would return to the ranch after the meeting with Cassidy.

"We're to meet him about 11, Eleanor. He invited us to brunch but I told him this wasn't a social visit."

Eleanor grinned at Dillon and nodded replying, "Its 9 now, I suggest we go have a late breakfast at the diner. Maybe we will have time to visit Charley Jackson and Doc Reynolds before we go to the hotel."

Dillon, Elizabeth, and Eleanor walked into the hotel and entered the parlor about a quarter after 11; Oso and Ethan had decided to wait with the horses. Dillon thought that they'd been more interested in the candy displayed in the store than going to the hotel. Cassidy and another man were sitting at a table waiting for them. They both stood to greet the crew from the Triple E.

"Thomas, this is my wife Elizabeth," Dillon said. "And this is Mrs. Edwards, the owner of the Triple E."

"It's a pleasure to meet you Mrs. Gallagher and Mrs. Edwards. Please have a seat," Cassidy replied. Eleanor and Elizabeth sat down but Dillon remained on his feet, standing behind the ladies.

"This is Mr. Dobbs, he was my father's attorney and now represents me," Thomas introduced the other man at the table.

Dillon had been standing in a relaxed way but suddenly tensed and stood straighter. Elizabeth felt the change in her husband and turned to look at him. She was surprised to see an angry look on his face and the challenging stare from his eyes.

"Were you with Bob Cassidy in Virginia, Mr. Dobbs?" Dillon's voice was hard.

"Why, yes I was Mr. Gallagher," Dobbs answered.

"I won't deal with someone that helped Bob Cassidy cheat, steal, and ruin folks in Virginia." Dillon's voice was tense with a suppressed anger. "This carpet bagger was in the middle of what Cassidy tried to do to us too," he told Eleanor. "I'll wait for you at the horses; if I stay here I might just shoot the son of a bitch."

Before he could leave, Eleanor stood. Looking at Cassidy she said, "If my son in law leaves I leave. I suggest you tell Mr. Dobbs to retire."

"But Mr. Gallagher, I had nothing to do with Robert Cassidy's actions," Dobbs protested.

Now Elizabeth was standing too. "You knew his methods were unethical if not totally illegal; you were his legal lap dog doing what he needed for your thirty pieces of silver." She paused trying to control her anger remembering her father and the other assaults against her family. "You're as guilty as he was."

Thomas Cassidy rose from his chair, "Excuse my ignorance Mrs. Edwards, Mr. Gallagher. I see your point; I never thought of the connection between my father's actions and Mr. Dobbs. Please accept my apologies." Turning to Dobbs he said, "I won't require your services any longer Mr. Dobbs."

"But you can't..." Dobbs began.

Cassidy interrupted him. "Oh but I can. Our business is finished sir. Please leave."

Dobbs started to protest and argue but Dillon stepped in. "I suggest that you leave Prescott carpet bagger; I don't think you'll like the conditions around here. Chicago might be a healthier place for you."

The attorney looked at the four people facing him. Dillon was the one that he worried about the most. The tall man face was a study in hatred and his eyes looked cold and deadly. "Very well Mr. Cassidy, I'll leave on the next stage." He turned, left the parlor, and went back to his room to pack.

"Please sit down Mrs. Edwards. I know this must be distasteful for you but I would like to continue our discussion," Cassidy almost pleaded. He was upset at himself for not seeing the connection between his father's behavior and the attorney's part in it.

Eleanor looked to Dillon for guidance and at his nod she and Elizabeth returned to their chairs. Dillon walked to the door and watched Dobbs climb the stairs. When the man was out of sight Dillon returned to his spot behind Eleanor.

As everyone sat back down, a waiter from the hotel's dining room entered carrying a serving tray. "I took the liberty of ordering tea for us. Or would you prefer coffee?" Thomas asked Eleanor.

In spite of the situation with Dobbs, Eleanor had to smile at the boy's manners. He's been raised well, she thought. Eleanor said, "Tea will be fine. But let's not turn this into a social call." After the tea was served, Eleanor asked, "Why do you want the Triple E so badly? There are other ranches in the county you could buy."

"Yes there are and if things go according to plan I will attempt to buy them. But your ranch and its grazing rights are right in the middle of my holdings. I have to drive my cattle around your place to move them from one grazing area to another. The same obstacle applies to watering the herd."

Cassidy refilled the tea cups himself then said, "I understand that you hold 800 acres with grazing rights to another 400. Is that correct Mrs. Edwards?" Eleanor nodded and Thomas continued, "I'll give you $6000 dollars for the Triple E. That price would be for all land, structures, stock, and water rights." Turning to Dillon he smiled and said, "I heeded your warning Mr. Gallagher."

Dillon returned the smile and nodded. Eleanor was a little surprise; she had been ready to dicker. That's a fair price she thought. She turned to look at Dillon but he had played too much poker to let his feelings show during a business transaction.

"I can't guarantee the grazing rights Mr. Cassidy," Eleanor informed him. "Jim Simpson let us run our cattle on his spread; that's the extra 400 acres. You'll have to make a deal with him."

"I've already come to an accommodation with Mr. Simpson," Thomas replied. "Of course that's only if you decide to accept my offer." He stood and bowed to the ladies and nodded at Dillon.

"Take a day or two to think it over Mrs. Edwards; I don't want to pressure you. If I may, I'll ride out to the ranch on Monday for your answer. Thank you all for meeting with me."

Cassidy left the parlor but as he got to the door he turned back to Dillon. "Rest assured Mr. Gallagher, Dobbs will be out of town by tomorrow. I'll find a local attorney to help me." He continued to the entrance of the hotel and went outside.

After a couple of minutes Eleanor said, "Well the boy's got good manners anyway. Let's head back home; we can discuss his offer over supper."

Eleanor, Elizabeth, and Dillon were sitting in the breeze way after supper. Ethan was inside doing his lessons and Oso started for the bunkhouse but Eleanor called him back. "Ethan, come out here please." Turning to Oso she said, "We're going to have a family meeting so sit down Oso. You have a stake in this too."

The big man smiled warmly and sat on the walkway leaning back against a wall; Ethan came outside and sat next to Oso.

"So what do you think about Cassidy's offer?" Eleanor's question was directed at the whole group. Before anyone could answer she asked Dillon, "And what did Cassidy mean about you warning him?"

Dillon smiled and replied, "I told him to put his best offer on the table and not to try and horse trade with you." Looking at Eleanor his smile got bigger. "I knew that if he tried to haggle over the price you'd cut him off at the knees and walk out."

Eleanor chuckled, "You're right, I probably would have. Well, should I sell the ranch?"

"You're the owner, it's your decision," Dillon said. Elizabeth and Oso nodded in agreement.

"It's a family decision. If you all want to stay I won't sell the place," Eleanor replied. "Ethan what do you think?"

"Me?" The thirteen year old boy said, surprised that his mother wanted his opinion. Eleanor smiled and nodded. "I'd just as soon move on," Ethan said. "I miss Pa and everything about this place reminds me of him and how he left us."

"Fair enough son," Eleanor said. "How about you Oso, what do you think?"

"I just want to be with the family Senora. Where we live is not important."


She looked at Dillon for a few seconds. "Whither thou goest I will go," Elizabeth quoted and smiled at her husband. She paused and added with a small smile, "Although it wouldn't bother me to leave." Dillon reached over and took Elizabeth's hand, kissing the back of it.

"And how about you Dillon? What do you want to do?" Eleanor asked.

Dillon smiled at Elizabeth, "I've wandered all over since the war looking for something; I found it here. Not the ranch but my family; somebody to belong to. The place doesn't matter as long as we're all together." He stopped to gather himself. "It's still your decision Eleanor."

Eleanor looked around at her family, thought for a few minutes, and finally said, "The price he's offering is fair and if the terms of the sale are good, I'd like to accept the offer. I feel like Ethan, every day this place reminds me that John was killed for it. Eleanor paused and looked over the ranch for a minute. "Hope John won't be disappointed in me. Well, that's enough for tonight; we'll talk some more in the morning."

Dillon made one last turn around the house and barn before turning in. He was both happy and sad that the Triple E would probably be sold. As he stepped onto the breeze way headed for his bedroom, Eleanor came out of the shadows.

"In spite of what you said, I get the impression you don't want to leave here Dillon," she said.

"No, I meant what I said. Being with family is more important than where. But I've wandered around enough, I want to put down roots," he replied.

"Am I doing the right thing? Should I stay and carry on John's legacy?"

"From what you and Elizabeth have told me, you stayed out here because this place was John's dream. It wasn't yours but you stayed for him. I think you have to move on now. You need to follow your own dream, whatever it is." Dillon paused and then gave a little laugh. "The sermons over, I'm done preachin."

Eleanor gave her son in law a hug and said, "Thanks for understanding." Shaking off the melancholy feeling she said good night and went to her room.

Sunday was a day of rest, at least as much as it could be on a ranch. The day to day chores still had to be done but nothing major was started or worked on that day. Eleanor and Elizabeth put together a picnic lunch and the whole family went down by the spring branch to eat and laze around. Nothing much was said about selling the ranch, there would be time enough that evening and the next morning to make a final decision.

Monday, just about mid day, Thomas Cassidy and another man rode up to the ranch house. Dillon came up from the corral to greet them and Eleanor stepped out onto the porch. The two men waited for an invitation before dismounting; it was the polite thing to do.

Eleanor nodded at them and said, "Step down and come in out of the sun. Can I get you something to drink?"

Thomas replied, "A drink of water would be welcome Mrs. Edwards.

Eleanor sent Ethan to fetch some fresh water from the spring behind the house and offer seats to Cassidy and his companion.

"This is Carl House, my foreman," Thomas said. "He's from Texas and knows cattle ranching."

Dillon saw a tall lean man of about 40. His face and hands showed the effects of working out in the weather. When House removed his Stetson, there was a tan line across his forehead and his hands were calloused and rough looking. House had a competent air about him, secure of his place in the world. This man knows his business, Dillon thought.

"Where bouts in Texas Mr. House?" If you don't mind my asking," Dillon questioned.

"Down San Antonio way," House replied. "Been working cattle since I was a youngin'."

Dillon nodded and looking down, he got a grim smile on his face. Got some history there, don't I, he said to himself. While in San Antonio Dillon had to kill two men that attacked him and tried to steal his horse. That was about eight years ago he thought.

After a few more minutes of polite conversation, Thomas came to the point. "Mrs. Edwards, have you made a decision on my offer?"

Before she could answer Dillon spoke up. "There's a point that I'd like to bring up." Eleanor nodded her permission and he continued, "We'd planned on takin about a hundred head of cattle to the rail head this fall. At the current price that's close to $1500 dollars. Figuring it that way, Eleanor is selling the ranch for about $4500. That's not enough for the Triple E."

Eleanor looked at Dillon, turning her head so that Cassidy couldn't see the small smile on her face. Maybe Dillon had warned Cassidy against horse trading but that didn't stop Dillon from doing it. She turned to face Cassidy and said, "That's a fact Mr. Cassidy. We've been working all year to get those cattle ready for market. It'd be hard just to let them go."

Thomas looked at Eleanor and then Dillon with a smile. "The offer I made was for the ranch and its stock. Besides, you'd have to wait until fall to ship them; the price may go down by then." Cassidy realized that in spite of Dillon's warning the horse trading had begun.

"That's a chance we're willing to take," Dillon said. "We're not in any hurry to move, we can wait for three or four months."

Thomas looked down at the floor but smiled and Dillon saw it. This young man knows exactly what's going on he thought. He's not as much of a dude as people would think. Waiting for Thomas to respond, Dillon saw Carl trying to hide a smile. He knows what's going on too.

Cassidy raised his head, "I don't want to wait until fall to take possession of the Triple E. How about this? The present price for cattle is $14. I'll give you $12 a head for the cattle you were going to take to market. That way you reap the reward for your hard work and I get the ranch right away. That makes the price $7200 dollars to be paid in one installment." Turning to Eleanor he added, "That's more than fair Mrs. Edwards."

Eleanor looked at Dillon and when he nodded she said, "You just bought yourself a ranch Mr. Cassidy."

"Can we get a round up later in the week to count the stock? I'd like to finalize our transaction as quickly as possible," Cassidy asked.

Eleanor looked at Dillon for the answer. "Yeah, we can do a round up and hold the counting on Friday if you like Thomas," Dillon replied. "Bring your own crew to help if you like."

"Thank you. I'll send Mr. House and a couple of hands early Friday morning." Cassidy stood, shook hands with Eleanor and Dillon. As he got to the door he turned and said, "I'd like to take possession of the ranch no more than two weeks after I pay you Mrs. Edwards. Will that give you enough time to get your family and possessions moved?"

Eleanor nodded and watched Cassidy and House ride away. "I guess we better figure out where we're going," she said smiling.

For the next three days, the whole family pitched in and brought all the cattle to a large meadow near the ranch house. Dillon and Oso built a counting pen at one end of the meadow. The pen was basically two lines of fencing that the cattle would be driven through. One or two men would sit at one end and count the herd as it passed them.

Just after first light on Friday, Carl House and two other riders pulled up in front of the ranch house. Dillon was leaning against the hitching rail in front waiting for them.

"Good morning Mr. Gallagher. Looks like a good day for working the stock," Carl said in greeting. "This is Jason Wright and his brother Gary. They'll be helping us today."

"Howdy boys. Like a cup of coffee before we head out?" Dillon offered.

Carl smiled and replied, "No thank you, maybe later. I don't think Mr. Cassidy is too interested in us being social Mr. Gallagher."

"Okay let's head out," Dillon said. He smiled and added, "Carl, my name is Dillon if you've a mind to use it. Anyway Eleanor will have lunch ready for us when we're done."

Dillon poked his head into the kitchen and said good bye to Eleanor. Carl and his two men followed Dillon to the meadow. Carl sent Jason with Dillon to the end of the run to verify the counting. Each man would sit on the fence or horse back and tie a knot in a tie rope for every ten cattle than passed by.

Oso sat on one side of the run to keep the cattle headed between the two fences; Ethan sat on the other side. Carl, Gary, and the Triple E rider drove the cattle from the rear. After two groups of steers had been driven past there was a short break before the next group could start through.

"Been working for Cassidy very long Jason?"

"Not long, bout two months now," he answered. "Work up in Colorado until this spring."

"Why'd you leave? I hear its real pretty country up there," Dillon responded.

"Oh it's pretty enough but sometimes it really gets cold. Ifin you get one of those blizzard blowin out of the north, you begin to think about movin to Hell to get warm," Jason said laughing. "We'd still be there if Gary hadn't takin a fall and broke his leg."

"He seems to be alright now," Dillon said looking at Gary helping drive the cattle.

"Oh he can work stock just fine," he said pointing at Gary. "Look at him and your man catch and force those strays back in line."

Dillon laughed, "My man is actually my wife Elizabeth. She refused to be left in the kitchen with her mother."

"Well I'll be. She sure do ride like a man now don't she?" Jason had a smile of admiration on his face. "Anyway Gary can handle stock but the cold weather up there pains his leg somethin fierce. It'd drop down below freezing and he'd almost be a cripple. So we decided to move south to warmer weather."

He watched his brother for a minute and added, "Damn shame really. There's some good land for stock up around Colorado Springs. Lots of work for a good hand."

"Here comes another group, guess we better get back to counting," Dillon suggested.

It was midday before the count was finished. Jason and Dillon's tally agreed at 310 head, including calves and yearlings. Cassidy's men joined Dillon and the crew for lunch and then headed back to town.

"I'll give Mr. Cassidy the count as soon as we get back to town," Carl said as he mounted his horse. "He said he'd arrange for payment within the next couple of days."

After Cassidy's men left Eleanor said, "Guess we'd better start thinking about what we're going to do.

"Jason talked about the area south of Colorado Springs as being a good place to ranch," Dillon said. "He and his brother just come from there." Dillon paused and added, "Still, it's a long way to go on a couple of cowhand's word."

"Wouldn't be just on their word," Eleanor remarked. "My sister and her husband, Ted Clark, moved to Colorado City back in '58, when it was still a rough and tumble mining town." She chuckled, "Now she says it's all grown up. Some mining and railroad big wig named General Parker has made the town into a sort of fancy resort. He renamed it Colorado Springs."

"That's right, you've been writing to Aunt Tillie for a quite a while now," Elizabeth said. "I'd forgotten that she lived there." Turning to Dillon she added, "Uncle Ted and Aunt Tillie went there and opened a mining supply company when the Pike's Peak Gold Rush started."

Eleanor continued, "When the mines started to peter out in '71, Ted became a cattle buyer for a meat company back east; he'd certainly know about the ranching opportunities in the area. Tillie said in her last letter that a lot of families are moving into the area and she started teaching school. I should send her a telegram and ask Ted's opinion about ranching up there; maybe ask about me teaching too."

"Why not just write her Momma?"

"It'd take too long to get an answer; remember we've got to be out of here in two weeks or so," Eleanor replied. "What do you think Dillon?"

"Sounds like a fine idea to me." He looked thoughtful and continued, "But it's a long way to Colorado Springs; close to 800 miles. We need to talk about what we're taking with us when we leave; no matter where we decide to go."

The rest of the afternoon and most of the evening was spent discussing, debating, and arguing about what possessions and items should be taken with them and what should be sold or given away. Dillon pretty much sat back and listened, not saying anything. Finally Eleanor turned to him.

"You're very quiet Dillon. What do you think we should take?"

"Take what you feel you need to but I think we should limit our load to what we can carry in two wagons," he replied.

"Why just two wagons? We've got four drivers. Five counting Ethan; he can handle a team pretty well," Eleanor asked.

"I take it you've pretty well made up your mind that we're going to Colorado," Dillon said.

"Unless Tillie tells us different, I thought that would be a fine place to make a new start," Eleanor responded.

"Like I said before it's almost 800 miles to Colorado Springs, at least according to Jason and Gary. We'll be going thru mountain passes, some desert like areas, and all on average trails at best. It's gonna be hard on the animals and on the drivers," he said.

Dillon paused. "I don't think y'all have thought about getting to Colorado; just what we're gonna do when we get there." Eleanor and Elizabeth got a funny look on their faces; realizing that Dillon was right.

"No disrespect ladies but handling a team and wagon through that country is a lot more difficult than driving a wagon on the nice trails and roads we have around here."

Eleanor and Elizabeth both started to object but Dillon kept talking. "I know you both can drive but I don't think you can do for ten or twelve hours a day, every day, for 2 months. You two are going to have to spell each other during the day."

"TWO MONTHS," Elizabeth exclaimed. "It's going to take us two months to get there?"

Dillon almost laughed at his wife. "Maybe more. We can make the trip in two months if the wagons don't break down, if the weather doesn't work against us, and if can put in 15 miles a day. But if we're going to Colorado we should start soon."

At Eleanor's questioning look Dillon continued, "According to Jason the winter sets in about the middle of October. We want to be there and have some idea what we're going to do before that happens."

Looking at the ladies as they thought about what he'd said Dillon asked, "Are we sure we want to go to Colorado? You know we could look for a place around here or even head to California."

Eleanor looked thoughtful for a minute. "I think we'd better hear from Tillie before we make a final decision." Addressing Dillon she added, "But I think you're right about how many wagons we should take; no matter where we head to. Let's sleep on it tonight and go into town tomorrow to send Tillie a telegram."

In their bedroom that evening Elizabeth cuddled up to Dillon and asked, "Do you think we should go to Colorado? Or do you think we should head for California?"

Dillon put his arm around Elizabeth and pulled her closer. "I think we should do whatever you and Eleanor want to. As long as we're together it doesn't make much difference where."

"I feel the same way," Elizabeth said kissing him quickly. "But you're dodging the question husband. What's your opinion?"

"This is between you and me wife; I don't want to sway Eleanor's thinking. I think we should go to Colorado Springs. At least up there we know someone who can advise and help us."

Two weeks later they were loading the last of the possession into the wagons for their trek to Colorado Springs. Eleanor had sent a telegram to her sister on a Saturday and received an answer on Tuesday. Tillie replied that her husband Ted said that the area south of Colorado Springs was as good ranch land as he'd ever seen. Ted and Tillie told Eleanor that the whole family could stay with them until they found a place of their own.

"Maybe we could find a boarding house or something," Dillon said to Eleanor. "It might be a little tight with all of us staying with your sister."

Eleanor laughed, "When General Parker started cleaning up Colorado City, Ted and Tillie bought a bawdy house from the owner just before he was run out of town. They've got six or seven bedrooms on the second floor and another two on the ground floor."

Ethan asked, "What's a bawdy house Momma?"

"Never you mind young man," Eleanor said a little embarrassed. "You'll understand when you're older."

"Oh..." Ethan replied with a red face and a grin.

The Triple E had an auction the previous day and sold off most of the things they were leaving behind. They weren't taking much of the furniture with them. The exceptions were the huge dining room table, the bed that John had made for him and Eleanor, the roll top desk, and a rocking chair that Eleanor had used to nurse both Elizabeth and Ethan. Eleanor was also taking a few favorite skillets, Dutch ovens, and her china. The china had been a gift from John's mother.

As they started their trek Eleanor stood on the wagon seat and yelled, "Pike's Peak or Bust." It was the rallying cry of the miners headed for the gold fields.

Dillon was driving one wagon with Oso handling the other one. Ethan rode with Oso and would be taught how to drive a team so he could spell the big man. Eleanor and Elizabeth took turns working with Dillon to learn how to handle a team and wagon in the mountains. Their saddle horses were tied off to the wagons on long lead ropes.

"Man's yesterday may ne'er be like his morrow; Nought may endure but Mutability.'' Dillon quoted as they left the Triple E for the last time.

Red turned at Josh's shout and looked behind him. Coming toward him at a loping run was the grizzly they'd been tracking. He sure moves fast for such a big animal, Red thought. He dropped to a knee to give Josh a better shot and brought his Henry rifle up. Before he could fire he heard the big Sharps open up.

Josh quickly reloaded while Red put four more shots into the grizzly. The big animal didn't slow until Josh hit him a second time with the Sharps. He slowed, stopped, and rose up on his hind legs in defiance. Red put three more rounds into the bear as it dropped down on all fours and continued toward him.

Red shook his head partially in admiration and said softly, "Damn, is this big son of a gun ever gonna stop?

For the rest of this story, you need to Log In or Register

Story tagged with:
Western /