The Gathering
Chapter 2

Copyright© 2010 by woodmanone

I suggest you read Chapter One; the story line, characters, and events will make more sense if you do.

A third shot from Josh's .50 caliber Sharps dropped the grizzly back to all fours; the big bear now critically wounded snarled at Red, roared once more and then slowly slumped to the ground.

"You all right Red?" Josh asked as he quickly came over to his friend.

"That bear skin would have made a nice rug in front of the fireplace," Red replied pointing at the dead grizzly with a grin. "Your Sharps put some mighty big holes in it so we can't likely use it for that."

Josh returned Red's grin. "Ifin I'd known you wanted a bear skin rug, I would have just let you wrestle him to death." Josh knew Red was okay because of his joking manner but Josh felt a little shaky. "It was a close thing partner," he remarked to Red.

Red walked to the dead bear, pacing off the distance. "About 30 foot more and I might have gotten that chance to wrestle the big fellar." He looked over at Josh and said, "Glad I didn't have to though; it might have messed up my new shirt."

Josh put his hand on Red's shoulder and said, "I'm glad you didn't have go hand to hand with him." Then he smiled and added, "Sarah would use my hide for a rug if I let anything happen to you." Both men laughed, they realized that the confrontation with the bear could have had a very different outcome.

They stretched the dead grizzly out and Red pointed to a barely healed wound on its front shoulder. "Looks like he got himself gored by a steer, don't it?"

"That's probably why he was huntin cattle," Josh said. "He was too slow to hunt like he used too. Cattle are big and slow and every time he killed one he remembered his injury and went a little crazy. Should we skin him and take the hide for that rug you mentioned?"

"I was just funnin with you. Don't really want a fir rug; especially one from somethin that tried to eat me," Red responded. "Besides I don't think our horses want to carry a bear skin. Look at them."

Itsa and Queenie were trained to ground tie but the growls and roars from the bear had made them very nervous. The horses were almost dancing; their training told them to stay put but their natural instinct told them to run.

Josh had to smile as he watched Itsa. The horse would take two or three steps away from the entrance to the box canyon and then he would take those same steps back to where Josh had left him. Queenie had her head stretched out trying to maintain the ground tie as she kept stepping away from the canyon.

"Itsa is about ready to run off," Josh said. He walked to his horse and stroked its neck and rubbed its forehead to calm the animal. "Take it easy big guy," he said. The horse began to settle down as Josh talked to and petted him.

"Queenie isn't in much better shape," Red replied. He too stroked and talk to his mare to calm her. "Let's ride over to the Maggie M and let them know we got the bear. Maybe Jerry will want the hide."

Jerry Barnes had been the third partner in the group when they'd left the Hobart wagon train for Colorado. His parent's had been killed during a raid on the wagons; he'd been 15 at the time. Josh and Red had sort of adopted the youngster. They admired and respected the way Jerry had stood up to very bad event.

At 15 Jerry had been about 5' 8 and stocky; not having reached his full growth yet. Now at 23 he was a man grown. He'd hit a growth spurt at 17 and was now 6 foot with big hands that could handle a weapon or a horse with ease. For a youngster from Illinois he had become a seasoned talented hand with stock.

Daniel and Maggie Maguire, the parents of Sarah and Danni, had fussed over Jerry a bit and reminded him of his parents. Their son Jacob was twelve; he and Jerry quickly became friends. Jerry worked and stayed at the Maggie M with the Maguires even after the three partners bought the Lazy L. He had grown from a fifteen year old orphan to a 23 year old partner of a fine ranch.

Jerry was the first to hear and then see Josh and Red as they rode in. He walked down to the corral to greet them. "Howdy, have any luck?"

"Yep we found the big guy over to that box canyon. I wanted to dance with him but Josh was in a hurry to get home so he shot him," Red replied with a grin.

"We left the body in that canyon. If you want the hide you're welcome to it Jerry," Josh said.

"By the way, Sarah's up to the house," Jerry informed them. "I expect you're gonna get an ear full about chasing after dangerous animals and such." Jerry gave his two partners a big grin. "I think you're in for it now, Red."

"Me and Jerry will take care of the horses Josh. You go on to the house, we'll be there shortly," Red suggested with a smile. "I'm not in a hurry for Sarah to light into me."

Five minutes later Sarah rushed off the porch and ran to him as Red got close to the ranch house. "Josh told us what happened," she said. "I don't know what I'd do without you," Sarah added as she hugged her husband.

"I'm fine Honey," Red replied hugging her back. "Josh just had to show off with that big rifle of his'n; I had everything under control."

Jerry rode up to the house on his big horse Charger leading a pack horse. "I'm gonna skin that bear before supper. The hide will make a nice rug for in front of the fireplace."

Red and Josh both laughed at Jerry's statement. The young man looked at them not understanding the joke. Josh, Red and Sarah decided to head back home to the Lazy L. Daniel and Maggie invited the three to stay for supper but they said they needed to get back.

"I left kids with Danni and she's probably cussing me about now," Sarah said. Looking at Josh she added, "Besides after today I think Josh is in a hurry to see Danni. Aren't you Josh?"

When they got back to the ranch they fed and watered the horses. Josh spent an extra few minutes with Itsa, feeding him an apple, brushing him, and telling him what a good job he had done. It had been the young horse's first real adventure and he had handled himself well.

Josh was greeted by Danni with a big hug and kiss. Later that evening after getting the children to bed, Josh told her about the run in with the bear. "I thought that big cuss was gonna eat Red up. I don't think I've ever been that scared."

Danni hugged Josh to her. "Don't you know nothing can happen to you two when you're together? You and Red watch out for each other more than a lot of brothers."

Josh looked at Danni and said, "I think we should take everyone on a picnic tomorrow and just spend some time with the ones we love."

In their bedroom Sarah looked at Red, "You were pretty quiet tonight at supper Honey. What happened out there?" Red started to joke about the bear hunt but Sarah stopped him. "No kidding around this time please."

Red looked at his wife for a few seconds put his arm around her and pulled her to him. Kissing her gently he said, "That bear was gonna make supper out of me until Josh stopped him." Red stared at the wall for a few seconds and continued, "I hit that animal with seven or eight shots from my Henry and never slowed him down. If Josh hadn't a been there with that big Sharps of his that bear would be digesting Red McCall about now."

Sarah hugged him back. "Josh and you together are a hard pair to beat. I'm glad I've got both of you in my life."

Dillon was riding Buck and leading the way. He looked back over his shoulder at the two wagons following him. Good thing we bought those wagons, he thought. Don't think regular ranch wagons could have made this trip.

They had bought two Prairie Schooners for their journey to Colorado Springs. Each wagon was a smaller version of the big Conestoga wagons and could haul up to 1600 pounds if necessary and was big enough to sleep in if the weather turned bad. The big wagons were put together so well that the body was almost water tight; they could float them across deep water fords.

Dillon had insisted that they carry no more than 1200 pounds in each wagon. No need to put more stress on the wagons and the animals pulling them that they had too. They could pick up some supplies from little towns and settlements along the way.

Eleanor left most of the arrangements in Dillon's hands. She said he was the one with the most trail experience. He decided to use mules to pull the wagons, instead of oxen or horses. They bought eight big Missouri mules to make up two teams of four. They had two horses from the ranch tied off with a long lead rope to the back of one of the wagons; the animals were saddled and ready if needed.

Dillon explained that although oxen were stronger, they were a lot slower and each ox ate as much as two mules or horses. Mules were stronger than horses and could pull heavier loads for longer periods. On flat land they could use just two mules per wagon; giving the other animals a rest.

"Besides we can sell the mules when we get to Colorado Springs," Dillon said. "Freight companies or the mines in the area can always use mules. If we use oxen we'll end up with pets or a big cook out at the end of the trip. They're not much use on a ranch."

The small wagon train made its way east from Prescott Valley to the freighter trail than ran north and south from Phoenix to Flagstaff. This route added a few miles to the trip but the trail north had passes through the mountains. It also avoided having to climb the Mogollon Rim; a rocky escarpment which was 7,000 feet in places. The hardest part was the climb out of the Verde River valley. The trail was actually pretty good up the mountain but it was very steep and hard on the mules.

Once they climbed out of Verde Valley and up on the Rim, a good portion of the trail was across grass lands and they made good time. When the trail became more dangerous Dillon would take over from Eleanor and Elizabeth. But he let them drive as much as possible; he felt he was needed to scout ahead for the easiest routes, places to camp, and to keep an eye out for Indians.

Dillon and Oso hunted along the way to add to their food supply and Ethan became very good at setting snares for rabbits and grouse. When they stopped each night he would scout out the game trails and set his traps; he was usually successful. One advantage this trail offered was a plentiful water supply; they usually found water holes, springs, or creeks every day or so.

There was a period of three days they spent crossing a high desert with no water. That was when the four water barrels they carried on the wagons really made the difference. They rationed the water they used to make sure the mules and horses didn't suffer. If anything happened to their mules they would be in a dangerous situation.

At night Eleanor usually chose to sleep in their wagon. She said sleeping on the ground hurt her back. The real reason she stayed in the wagon was to give Elizabeth and Dillon some time by themselves. Weather permitting they would pull a feather bed under the wagon and sleep there.

They had just crossed into the Colorado Territory and were about half way to Colorado Springs. The wagons stopped for the night at a large spring fed creek. After supper Dillon decided he was going to take a bath; he was dusty, dirty, and needed a shave. He heated a little water on the fire, shaved, and headed for the creek to wash himself and his clothes.

He undressed and washed his clothes using a little lye soap. Dillon hung his pants, shirt, and socks on a limb and waded naked out into the stream. He was washing his hair when he heard someone sneaky around on the bank of the creek. Dunking his head to rinse the soap out of his hair and face he stood and faced the direction the noise had come from.

When he saw who was making the noise, he grinned and chuckled. It was his wife Elizabeth wading out to join him; she was dressed the same as he was. "Maybe the most private time we've had," she said returning his grin. "Want to wash my back?"

Dillon nodded and replied, "Maybe I should take a bath more often." It was better than two hours before they got back to camp.

At first light the wagons were on the trail again. "Things will get easier when we get to Trinidad," Dillon told them. There is a trail north to Pueblo and on to Colorado Springs that's used by the freight wagons."

The spent two days in Trinidad, resupplying and taking a short rest to get ready for the last 150 miles. They were all eating supper at a diner when the Sheriff walked over to their table.

"Howdy folks, I'm Sheriff Blevins," he said. "Thought I'd just say hello. Y'all just passing through or you gonna stay with us?"

Dillon stood, shook hands with the Sheriff, and introduced the rest of his companions. "No sir, we're on the way to Colorado Springs. Hope to set up a ranch and raise cattle." It's nice to hear a Texas drawl again, Dillon thought.

"Where y'all from?"

"We sold our ranch in Prescott Valley," Eleanor said. "That's our stake for the new place."

"Sorry to be askin all these questions, ma'am," Blevins said tipping his hat to Eleanor. "You folks take care; there's been some trouble with some road bandits on the other side of Pueblo. Keep on your toes and good luck to ya." He nodded and walked out of the diner.

Eight days later they pulled into Pueblo and got ready for the last part of their journey. Dillon suggested resting for one day because half of the remaining journey was through mountain passes. He wanted the mules to be rested and as fresh as possible.

"How much longer Dillon?" Eleanor asked; she and Elizabeth were getting a little tired of life on the trail.

"With any kind of luck we should be there in about 7 or 8 days," Dillon answered.

"I'll sure be glad to get there," Oso said. "My butt's developing calluses from sittin on this wagon seat."

The next morning they were on the trail again. We had our share of good luck so far, Dillon thought, as he rode point on the trail. Sure hope it keeps up for a while longer. It was the middle of their third day out of Pueblo when Dillon noticed a dust cloud coming up behind them. He turned Buck and rode back to the wagons.

As he got to Elizabeth in the first wagon he said, "Some thing's coming up behind us; not sure what just yet. Let Oso take the lead and you follow whatever he does."

"Think its trouble?'

"Don't know but I'm going to scout back down our trail a ways to find out what or who it is."

Dillon rode to the second wagon; turning to ride close so Oso could hear him. Pointing with his chin he said, "Some things causing a big dust trail behind us. I'm going to check it out. I want you to take the lead and if you hear my gunshot find a defensive position for the wagons and hunker down."

Oso nodded his understanding and kicked the mules up to catch and pass the first wagon. Dillon saw Ethan climb into the back of the wagon and look back down the trail; the boy was carrying a Henry rifle.

About an hour later, Oso saw a rock bluff and pulled the wagons up close to it. The bluff would protect their backs in case of an attack. We can wait here for Dillon until he returns, he thought. The mules can use the rest and if there's any trouble we'll be ready for it.

They'd just gotten the wagons pulled in when a gunshot rang out. Oso saw that there were now two dust clouds moving toward them; they were closing the distance much faster than before. It wasn't long before he could make out Dillon riding at a high gallop back toward them. He pulled Buck up as he rounded one of the wagons and jumped off.

"Ethan, take Buck; he's got a rock under his left front shoe. He pulled up lame those last twenty yards or so. See if you can get it out and then get back to the wagons," Dillon ordered. Oso and Elizabeth already had their Henry rifles in their hands.

"There's a group of about twelve riders coming fast. I think it's those bandits Blevins warned us about," Dillon told them. "Anyway they shot at me when I got close to them." Dillon retrieved a shotgun from one of the wagons and handed it to Eleanor. "We'll try and keep them at bay with our rifles Eleanor, but if any of them get close blow them to hell."

The twelve raiders rode at the wagons firing their guns. Dillon told the others to wait until he fired before they started shooting. "Idiots," he said. "You can't hit anything with a gun from horseback riding at a gallop."

At fifty yards, Dillon opened fire and the others quickly started shooting too. Two of the bandits were knocked out of their saddles before they could get turned around. They regrouped at a distance of about three hundred yards. Ethan rejoined the wagons.

"Buck's fine Dillon. I got the rock out but he'll have a sore hoof for a couple of days. I tied him off to a tree back there and gave him a little water."

Dillon nodded at the youngster and passed him a rifle. "Give us a hand here Ethan," he said. Seeing the disapproving look on Eleanor's face he added, "This is a harsh land sometimes Eleanor. He don't have time to be a boy right now."

"No quotes Dillon?" Oso asked. Dillon enjoyed poetry and usually had a quote ready for most times. Dillon smiled and shook his head.

Ethan smiled and made sure the rifle was loaded. "For that which we are about to receive, we thank thee, Lord," he said.

Dillon looked at him with a question. "Strange thing to say."

"It's the only quote I could think of," Ethan answered.

The bandits tried another assault on the wagons, again starting to shoot while riding hard. This time the volley from Dillon and the others downed three of the raiders. The remaining group turned and rode even harder away from the wagons; they'd lost five men. The horses of the dead men followed the retreating bandits.

Dillon watched them ride away and then turned back to his people. "Anyone hurt?" Everyone was uninjured. The only casualty of the attack was one of the water barrels; it had several bullet holes in it and was leaking. Oso and Ethan quickly used cooking pans and Dutch ovens to transfer the water to the other barrels.

"Reckon they thought the cost was too high," Oso said with a grim smile.

"Shouldn't we bury those men?" Eleanor asked as they drove away. "It's the Christian thing to do."

"Think they would have bothered with us if it'd turned in their favor?" Dillon's eyes were cold and hard. "Hell is empty and all the devils are here," he quoted. Dillon paused and added, "We sent a few devils back to hell today."

Oso had seen Dillon in his battle mode before but it never failed to amaze him that this big gentle man could turn into a cold and ferocious warrior when the need arose. "What about their horses? Should we round them up?" Oso asked.

"Most of them are just nags from what I saw," Dillon replied. "They'll follow the rest of the bandits and their horses. Let's collect any weapons and such from the bodies and get on our way. If any of the stuff is good we'll keep what we want and sell the rest."

Elizabeth, Eleanor, and Ethan came to join Oso and Dillon in examining the dead men. "This isn't a job for a lady. Why don't you two stay here? Oso and I can handle it?" Dillon suggested. "You too Ethan, stay with the wagons."

"But you said I didn't have time to be a boy," Ethan complained.

"That's right I did, but there's no reason for you to grow up all in one afternoon. As wild as this country can still be, I'm afraid you'll see your share of dead men as you get older." No need to rush it, Dillon thought. "Go help your mother and sister water the mules and get them ready to travel please."

Ethan was disappointed at being demoted back to a boy. "Yes sir," he replied.

They didn't find much of value on the men. Not very good bandits, Dillon thought. The weapons were mostly old and almost worn out, the clothing were close to rags, and the men had little money on them. Dillon left the gun making sure they couldn't be used by Indians or anyone else that might find them.

"Let's water the mules and get going," Dillon suggested. "I don't think they'll come back but I'd like to put some distance between us." He changed his saddle to another horse and led the wagons to the next camp sight

The weather had been extremely good during their journey; now it decided to pay them back. It started to rain and the wind picked up until the rain drops were coming at them from the side. Riding close to Elizabeth driving the wagon Dillon smiled and said, "Never saw sideways rain before. It puts a whole new meaning to being wet, don't it?"

Elizabeth laughed and replied, "This wagon cover doesn't help much when you're sitting out here on the seat. Oh well, we won't have to take a bath tonight anyway."

"That's too bad," Dillon said chuckling. "I was sort of looking forward to another bath."

Dillon had been impressed with Elizabeth and Eleanor on their trek. Neither of them used the excuse of being ladies to slack off from their share of the work. In fact several times Dillon had to order them to rest and take it easy. Hell of a woman that I picked, Dillon thought as he smiled at his wife. Or was she the one doing the picking.

The freighter trail was almost as good as a road and they made good time using it. But now with the heavy rain it turned into a mud bog. Three times they had to stop and take the mules from one wagon to help pull the other wagon out of a mud hole in the trail. Even Oso's great strength couldn't push the wagons free of the clinging mud. After freeing a wagon for the third time, Dillon called a halt.

"We're spending more time getting wagons out of the mud than we are traveling. We'll make camp and hold up for a day or two until the storm passes and the trail dries out some," he told his crew. "As close as we are I don't want anybody getting hurt or the mules injured just to save a couple of days."

The rain stopped that evening but they waited two days for the trail to dry out before they resumed their journey. The night before it had started raining, Eleanor looked at the clouds and decided to stow a lot of dried wood in the wagon. Because of her they didn't have a cold camp; they were able to stretch a canvas from one of the wagons to the other and have a dry place to cook and eat over a small fire.

Sitting under the canopy leaning back against his saddle, Dillon thought this isn't too bad; he gently stroked Elizabeth's hair as she leaned back against him. Got a warm dry place out of the weather, got my wife and family, and got a full belly; not bad at all. If nothing else the two days rest will give Buck a chance to heal up some.

Other than a few still wet and muddy spots on the trail they had no more adventures. It was just the normal ten and twelve hour days plodding along with the wagons. It took them six more days to reach Colorado Springs. They followed directions given to them at one of the general stores to Ted and Tillie Clark's. As they stopped the wagons in front of the house, Tillie came running out to greet them.

The trip from Prescott to Colorado Springs had taken them 71 days. Pretty good time, Dillon said to himself.

Tillie suggested that they pull the wagons out back of the house until they decided what they were going to do and put the mules in the corral out there. The three horses were put in the barn. Ted returned from his office about two hours after their arrival. He told them they were welcome to stay as long as they wanted. After supper sitting in one of the parlors of the old bordello, Ted asked what their plans were.

"Suppose we'll start looking for ranch land right away," Dillon answered.

"I hope it takes a while," Eleanor said. "If I never sit on a wagon seat again, it'll be too soon."

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