The Second Hundred Years
Copyright© 2010 by woodmanone
Please read Chapter 1 to 5 so you will be able to understand the characters and the events that have led to this point.
Constructive comments and emails are welcome and appreciated.
Thanks for taking the time to read my work. I hope you enjoy the story.
Yeah, we've got a cattle ranch, Lewis said to himself two weeks later. I'd forgotten how much work it was going to be. When I was a kid I thought you just put the herd to out to graze, set back and waited for them to fatten up. Now I'm a nursemaid for a bunch of cattle. Then he laughed at himself; I'm as bad as the dudes we plan on having here.
"What are you thinkin about boy?" William asked as he joined Lewis on the porch. "You look like you're a hundred miles away."
Lewis grinned and replied, "Just thinking how much I didn't remember about ranching." He paused to think about where he'd been a year ago and in a more serious voice added, "But I'm glad to be here doing the work."
William knew Lewis was thinking about Iraq and his friends that hadn't made it back. "I'm glad you're here too, son."
Shaking himself Lewis asked, "What's on the schedule for today?"
"Well ... We got all the cattle tagged, we've dipped them for ticks, and spread them out over the valley grazing lands, so not much to do today. Jim said he was gonna climb the trail up to the cave. Tom and I are going into Prescott to see about winter feed. Unless you want to climb a mountain or ride to Prescott I guess you can take a day off."
Lewis nodded and smiled. He stepped back into the house, got his coat, and headed to the barn. In a few minutes William heard the roar of a Harley motorcycle and Lewis rode out of the barn and up to the porch.
"Going over to see Alyssa," he said with a smile and a wave.
William nodded and watched him ride toward Josh Benson's ranch. Like that was a big surprise, he thought with a grin. Like I said, that boy is roped and hogtied.
Jim stepped off his horse and dropped the reins to the ground. The horse was trained to ground tie and would move no more than a few feet from that spot. William's got well trained horses, he thought. Good animals that do their job very well. He started to pull his Winchester 73 out of the saddle scabbard but put it back. If I remember the trail right, it gets pretty steep, Jim said aloud. Better just depend on the .45.
The Colt .45 Peacemaker was the same pistol he'd carried before his long sleep in the cave. He and William had been talking about Jim's desire to see the cave that he'd spent so many years in sleeping. Jim mentioned that it would hard climbing the trail carrying the Winchester.
William said, "Damn, I must be gettin old. I forgot I've got something that belongs to you. Just a minute, I'll be right back."
He left the room and shortly returned carrying something wrapped in several layers of material. William set the bundle on the coffee table and began to unwrap it. The first layer was a heavy material that Jim didn't recognize. The second layer was a piece of buckskin and the third layer was a soft cloth material.
When the last layer was unwrapped, Jim smiled and felt his eyes tear up. There was his Colt from all those years ago. He picked it up, checked to see if it was loaded, and looked up at William.
"I remembered the Winchester because it was hanging over the fireplace in my bedroom and I saw it every day," William explained. "I didn't think about your Colt until you mentioned how steep that trail is"
Jim handled the pistol with an ease that told of years of use. The Colt, just like the Winchester, was a bridge back to a life and time he could never return to. Somehow the weapons and the totem over the ranch house door kept him from feeling totally lost. He nodded his thanks to William and put the pistol in the hostler that William handed to him.
Now at the trail head, Jim pulled the Colt and made sure for the tenth time that it was loaded and ready to be used. Looking up the trail, he took a deep breath and started his climb.
Maybe I should have worn those "sneakers" that Lewis gave me instead of my boots, he thought as he slipped and slid on the trail. It took him almost an hour to reach the tall rock butte that Lewis had told him about. Jim stepped around the edge of the wall and across a small canyon he could see where the cave had been. The mountain had fallen in on itself just like Lewis told him. But he'd wanted to see it for himself.
Jim had never been afraid in his life. He'd been wary, concerned, and downright mad in his life; but never afraid. He was afraid now. The hair on the back of his neck stood up and his breathing increased. He felt a chill down his back and he felt like running away.
He took a deep breath to calm himself and faced the rock filled entrance to the cave. Jim stared at what had been his prison for over a hundred years. After several minutes he shouted at the cave entrance, "I escaped your trap Spirit Healer, you son of a bitch. I'm still here and you're just dust."
Jim turned and headed back down the trail to his family and his new home.
Lewis had more than one reason to ride to Josh Benson's ranch. The main reason was Alyssa. He hadn't seen her for three days and that was too long in his mind. I'd like to see and be with her every day. Lewis also wanted to talk to Josh about an idea he had. If anyone in the area could help him it would be Josh Benson.
The balanced roar of the Harley's pipes as he pulled up in front of the house announced his arrival. Alyssa came bouncing out of the front door to meet him. Laughing she ran out and hugged him. I think she's glad to see me too, Lewis thought.
Right behind Alyssa was her grandfather Josh Benson. Standing on the porch he waited until Lewis shut down the Harley and said, "Come on inside Lewis and tell me why you're here." As if I don't know, Josh thought to himself with a smile.
"Gramps, stop teasing Lewis," Alyssa said. "You know very well he came to see me."
"Actually I did want to talk to Josh about something," Lewis admitted.
"C'mon into the office then," Josh offered.
Once seated in a big overstuffed chair with Alyssa sitting on the arm next to him, Lewis looked at Josh. "Mr. Benson, I mean Josh," he said seeing the look on Josh's face. "I want to buy some horses and I thought you might be able to help me."
"I'd be glad to help if I can Lewis."
"Well, I want to buy two maybe three horses. I want to get a couple of real good animals for Grandpa and me. But I want one more and it has to be special. It's for Jim. I don't have any idea of where to look or how much money I'll need. That's why I came to you."
"Good animals aren't that easy to find unless you know where to look," Josh agreed. "What kind of horse do you want for Jim?"
"I'd like a horse that's quick and fast enough to work cattle close in, sort of like a quarter horse. But I want an animal that's got more long distance bottom to him. Maybe a quarter horse cross breed or something," Lewis explained.
Josh nodded. "I understand what you want, but now the big question. How much do you want to spend?"
"I've managed to save about 6 thousand dollars. Will that be enough?"
"You're willing to spend all your savings?" Lewis nodded and Josh continued," Well that might be enough if we look in the right place."
He thought for several seconds and said, "I haven't any stock for my ranch yet but I know a fella that's got horses that will fit the bill. Bill Jackson's got good stock and they're usually well trained as working animals. He's got a buckskin stallion and a sorrel filly that would be good choices for you and William. I was talkin to him over to Cole's just last week."
Alyssa was playing with Lewis's hair and Josh looked to see if Lewis was paying attention. "Bill usually gets top dollar for his horses but he owes me a favor or two and we might get a break on the price. If you're interested I'll set it up for us to go look at them."
Lewis nodded and asked, "What about a horse for Jim?"
"Bill's got another animal he was telling me about a couple of weeks ago. From what you say, it sounds like the horse for Jim," Josh told him. "I won't tell you anything about the animal and let you make up your own mind when you see him."
"When could you go see these horses Josh?"
"Any day this week," he answered. "Bill's place is just this side of Kingman. If you're not too busy we could go tomorrow," Josh told him. "We could be there and back by late afternoon."
"I'll check with Grandpa and Jim and see what they've got me doing tomorrow," Lewis said with a grin. "Call you tonight if they can spare me."
"We can take my truck," Josh said. "I'd rather drive it than sit on the back of that motorcycle."
His business done with Josh, Lewis and Alyssa spent the rest of the day together. She bundled up a little and climbed on the bike behind Lewis. It was early summer but the wind could still be sharp, especially on a motorcycle. They went to Prescott and Lewis withdrew all of his savings; $6200. He left a hundred dollars in the account to keep it opened.
Lewis followed Alyssa as she browsed through some of the shops around the courthouse square. After eating lunch at the Pioneer Saloon, Lewis headed the bike for the Lynx Creek area. He wanted to see the place that Jim had found some of the gold over a hundred years ago.
They sat in an opening on the creek bank and let the sun warm them. Alyssa turned to him, putting her arms around his neck and kissed him; he kissed her back. After several minutes they pulled away breathing hard and aroused. Lewis held off, not because he didn't want her, but because she was special to him. She deserves more than a romp in the woods, he thought.
Lewis smiled, kissed her on the nose, and said, "I guess we better head back or we may be here all night."
"Yeah, it'd get cold tonight," Alyssa replied returning his smile. She held onto Lewis tighter on the way home.
It was early evening when Lewis got back to Eagle's Nest. William, Jim, and Tom were already there; they'd waited supper for him.
"Y'all didn't have to wait on me, but thank you," Lewis said.
"Figured you'd need a lot of food to replenish your strength," William said with a big grin. At the look on Lewis's face he added, "Just teasin you son."
He returned William's grin and sat down at the table. As he filled his plate with food, he thought of how different his relationship with Alyssa was.
"It's sort of funny Grandpa, Alyssa and me, I mean. I think if we do get together it'll be after we're sure of how we feel about each other," Lewis said. "It's easier to wait when you've got something worth waiting for."
William stared at Lewis for a bit. "I think you're right son; you have grown some since you came back to the ranch."
Lewis nodded and said almost to himself, "It's different with Ally than it was with Julie."
Tom was lost. He hadn't met her but he knew about Alyssa. He had to ask, "Who the hell is Julie?"
"She's my ex fiancée," Lewis replied laughing at the look on Tom's face. "Part of my past."
"Speaking of loved ones, what's your wife think about you being gone so much Tom?" William asked.
"Helen says she glad to get rid of me for a while," Tom replied laughing. "Said it's like taking a vacation every week." He continued in a more serious voice. "No, she's fine with it. Helen knows I'd rather be doing this than working in that office. And getting to go home at least three days a week helps too."
"How long can you keep that up though?" Lewis asked.
"Well ... I'll tell ya. I'll stay until after we get the cattle to market this fall," Tom said. "If y'all decided to keep ranchin I'd like to stay on." William and Jim nodded. "Okay then, Helen and I will sell our place back in Prescott and find somewhere to live closer to the ranch." Tom smiled and added, "Helen's been wanting to quit her job anyway."
Lewis changed the subject by asking, "Can you get by without me tomorrow? I got some errands I'd like to run."
"You had today off," William replied trying to be stern. He couldn't do it and laughed. "Sure Lewis, you go get done what you need to do."
Lewis stood and said, "I need to make a phone call, be right back."
"Tell Alyssa I said hello," William responded and Jim laughed.
Lewis made his call and the next morning, just after first light, he rode his Harley to Josh Benson's place. In spite of the early hour, Alyssa came out to meet him.
"I'm going with you today if you don't mind me tagging along," she said as she put her arms around Lewis's neck.
"I was hoping you'd go, but didn't want to ask you to take the long ride," Lewis replied.
Josh joined them carrying a thermos of coffee. "Let's get going before you two decide to ride off on that motorcycle again," he said.
They jumped in the truck and headed to Bill Jackson's place. When they got there, Lewis and Josh examined the two stock horses Jackson had for sale; the buckskin stallion and the sorrel filly. As they looked at the horses, Jackson kept up a running monologue on the virtues of the two animals.
"Bill you make em sound like they're related to Pegasus," Josh said laughing. "You've known me too long to try and fool me, my friend. Where's this wild horse you told me about?"
"He's in his stall, c'mon this way," Bill said as he led them into the barn. When they entered the barn a black horse stuck his head out of his stall and watched the humans approach. He didn't act concerned or afraid, just curious. Jackson attached a lead to his halter and led the animal out of the stall. The horse tossed his head several times and then settled and stood still.
"He is a big horse isn't he?" Lewis said.
"Yes he is. He stands just over 16 hands. Crossbreed of quarter horse and Andalusian and is just over 4 years old. He'll fill out some and get stronger as he gets older. He'll carry you all day at a lope but is still quick enough to cut cattle. He's got more bottom than a quarter horse and is almost as fast off the mark. Damn fine animal." Bill finished his description of the horse.
Josh slowly and carefully ran his hands over the horse's legs, chest and rump. Turning back to Lewis he nodded. Unless the horse had been unsound Lewis had already decided that this was the animal for Jim. Fits the description Jim gave us of Sampson pretty close, Lewis thought.
"How much for this black and the other two we looked at?" Lewis asked. It was time to get down to horse trading. Lewis was no stranger negotiating deals. That was part of his job back in St. Louis; usually he worked with amounts in excess of 100 thousand dollars.
"Well ... since you're a friend of Josh's and since you brought this pretty young lady to see me, I'll give them to you at the bargain price of eleven thousand dollars," Jackson replied.
Lewis didn't hesitate and said, "Thanks for your time Mr. Jackson. I guess I'll just have to keep looking. C'mon folks, we need to get home." Lewis, Josh, and Alyssa started back toward their truck.
"Now wait a minute boy. Like I said, Josh is a friend. Maybe I could do a little better," Jackson told him. "How about ten thousand for all three? And I'll deliver them to you."
"Sorry to waste your time Mr. Jackson," Lewis replied and kept walking toward the truck. "That's more than I can afford."
Josh stopped walking, turned to Jackson and said, "Bill you said yourself that your regular customers don't want a spirited horse like that black. What are you gonna do, keep him around as a pet?"
Jackson nodded and thought for a few seconds. "Bottom line Lewis, how much can you spend?"
Now it was Lewis's turn to think. Looking at Jackson he decided to be honest. "I got $6200 Mr. Jackson; that's the whole bankroll."
Shaking his head, Jackson replied, "I'd like to help you Lewis but I can't let em go for that. I've got close to that tied up in them."
"What's your bottom dollar Bill?" Josh asked breaking into the discussion.
"I have to get $8000 to make a little profit Josh."
"Take the deal Lewis," Josh ordered. Lewis started to object and Josh repeated, "Take the deal. I'll cover the shortage."
Lewis and Jackson shook hands. "I'll have cash money for you when you deliver them, Mr. Jackson."
Jackson nodded and smiled. "I'll bring em over tomorrow Lewis. Now get out of here before you end up owning my ranch for another $100."
Back in the truck, Lewis asked," Why'd you get involved Josh? I won't be able to pay you back until after we market our cattle."
"I figure you're good for it Lewis."
Alyssa grabbed Lewis's arm and said, "If Gramps hadn't of stepped in I was going to." Before Lewis could say anything she added, "You're not a chauvinist are you Lewis?"
He looked at Alyssa for a few seconds, smiled and replied, "Not me."
Josh changed the subject. "I didn't know you knew about horse trading, Lewis."
"It's not any different than trying to get a better price from your suppliers. It's what I used to do," he replied.
"Then why did you let Jim do the dickerin for the cattle?"
Lewis chuckled and said, "You two seemed to be having such a good time, I didn't have the heart to step in. Besides we both got a fair deal; don't matter much who did the dealing."
They stopped for lunch at a roadside café. Alyssa and Lewis talked excitedly about the new horses and Josh sat back and enjoyed the young people. I wish I still had all that energy, he thought.
"You must think a lot of your Jim," Josh said. "You bought a couple of good horses for yourself and William, but that black is somethin special."
"Yes sir, I do. Jim's something special too."
After saying goodbye to Josh and Alyssa, he spent a bit more time saying goodbye to Alyssa, Lewis rode his Harley back to Eagle's Nest. My biggest problem now is keeping my mouth shut about the surprise for Grandpa and Jim, he thought.
As he walked into the kitchen William asked, "Get all your errands ran?" Lewis nodded. "Gonna need you here for the next couple of days, if you've got nothing planned. Jim, Tom, and I are going into Prescott to talk to a couple of cattle buyers. Let them know we'll be shipping cattle this fall. We're gonna arrange for the trucks to haul them to market too. We might decide to spend the night; just depends on how late it gets to be."
Lewis nodded again, thinking this will work out perfect. Mr. Jackson will deliver the horses tomorrow to the Benson's and I can bring them over here and surprise Grandpa and Jim. "That's fine, I'll be here," he replied.
The three men left early the next morning and they hadn't been gone more than ten minutes before Lewis called Bill Jackson and asked to have the horses delivered to Eagle's Nest. Then he called Josh and told him about the change in plans. Josh said he and Alyssa would be right over; he wanted to be there when Jackson delivered the horses. Lewis and Alyssa got to spend almost two hours together before Bill Jackson showed up.
He backed the horse trailer up to the corral and dropped the tailgate. The first horse off was the buckskin. He looked around as he was led into the corral and as soon as the lead was taken off his halter he trotted to the feed trough on the far side of the corral. Next the sorrel filly was led out of the trailer and she immediately joined the buckskin.
The big black came out of the trailer prancing. His ears were up and perked forward and his head was turning from side to side inspecting the area. When he was released into the corral he trotted around and around looking over the top rail. The other two were a little skittish about their new surroundings. The black was interested but not cowered or afraid.
He and Jim will be a good match, Lewis said to himself. Neither one of them has a timid bone in their body. Jackson accepted payment for the horses, wished him luck, and headed back to his ranch. Lewis got an apple, cut it into pieces, and sat on the top rail of the corral and watched the horses for a few minutes. The black stopped his circling and stood about ten feet away, studying the human.
Lewis talked softly to the horse and after a couple of minutes the big horse stepped closer and stretched his neck out toward Lewis's outstretched hand. The horse snorted and gently took the offered piece of apple. As he moved away, Lewis got down into the corral and slowly moved toward the other two horses talking softly. He was able to feed them their share of apple and run his hands over their necks and ears.
Josh watched Lewis with the horses for a few minutes and walked over to the corral. That boy knows more about horses than he lets on, Josh thought.
Alyssa led the filly; Josh led the buckskin, leaving Lewis to lead the black into the barn and into their stalls. Two of the horses went to the feed boxes in the back of their stalls; the black stuck his head back over the door and looked around with his ears perked up.
Josh and Alyssa stayed around for about an hour after the horses were delivered. Now all Lewis could do was wait for William and Jim to get home. I hope they don't stay overnight, Lewis thought. I can hardly wait to surprise them.
At dusk Lewis had given up on William and Jim getting home that evening. Headlights shining on the front of the house proved him wrong. Lewis quit pacing and sat down in a big easy chair. William, Jim, and Tom came into the house and greeted Lewis. He listened as they told him about meetings with two cattle buyers.
Lewis caught Tom's eye and motioned for Tom to follow him outside. He explained about the horses and the surprise he had planned. Tom hustled down to the barn while Lewis went to get William and Jim. At his request they followed Lewis to the barn.
"If we're going to be cowboys Grandpa we need good horses," Lewis said. Tom led the buckskin and the sorrel out to the men and went back into the barn. "I bought these for us. You get your pick and I'll take the other one."
William was speechless and touched. He looked at Lewis for a few seconds and walked over to look at the horses. He took a deep breath and cleared his throat. "Think I'd like the sorrel. Thank you Lewis."
Jim watched William and smiled. Nice thing for the boy to do, he thought.
"I didn't forget about you either Gran ... Jim," Lewis continued. Tom returned, leading the big black. Lewis saw Jim's eye open wide and said, "This one's for you. Man of your experience should have his own horse."
Jim looked at the black and got tears in his eyes. The horse looked very much like his beloved Sampson. He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and walked over to the horse. The black was prancing and tossing his head. Talking softly to the animal Jim reached out and stroked his forehead and scratched his ears. The black settled down and closed his eyes in contentment at the attention; all signs of wildness gone. The Randals spent several minutes looking at the new horses and then put them back in their stalls.
Back at the house in the kitchen William was the first to speak up. "Thank you Lewis that was a fine thing to do."
Jim cleared his throat. "Thank you. That horse makes me feel at home. Thank you son."
Lewis was almost bursting with pride that he'd done something for the two men who meant so much to him.
Late that night, actually the early morning, Lewis came out of his bedroom going to the kitchen for a drink of water. As he passed, He noticed that Jim wasn't in his room. Lewis went out to the porch thinking Jim was out there; he wasn't on the porch. Looking around Lewis saw a light on in the barn. Who can that be?
Lewis walked down to the barn and peeked around the open door. He smiled when he saw who had the light on. Jim was sitting on a couple of hay bales in front of the black's stall and talking to the horse. The animal had his head hanging over the stall door and seemed to be listening to every word Jim said. Lewis stayed outside not wanting to interrupt Jim as he bonded with his horse.
"You and I are gonna get it done boy. We'll show em what a cowboy with a good horse can do, won't we?" Jim grinned at the horse and gave him a piece of apple. "Gotta have a name for you I can't keep calling you boy now can I? Let's see." Jim thought for a short period and said, "I've got it. I'll call you Joshua."
He stood and walked over to "Joshua". Rubbing the horse's nose he added, "Your spirit horse I called Sampson, a hero from the Bible. Joshua was another hero so I'll call you that." Jim continued to talk to "Joshua"; Lewis went back to the house.
For the next two weeks it was fun for Lewis to watch Jim train Joshua. As he watched Jim and Joshua working together one morning he said to himself for the fiftieth time, I done good. Jim had always had a layer of sadness but since Joshua came into his life he'd changed. He didn't spend as much time staring off into the distance and he seemed happier.
Lewis was pleased with his buckskin too. He named the horse, Casey, after the Guardsman that he'd pulled out of the destroyed Hummer. Casey was like a big dog, so anxious to please that it was almost comical. The horse was trained to neck rein and ground tie. The slightest touch of rein on his neck and Casey turned quickly. He was a bit big for cutting but he could run all day and still have something left at the end of the day. All and all, Lewis was very happy with Casey.
William felt the same about his sorrel filly; he called her Susie, after his wife. Tom said she was one of the best cutting horses he'd ever seen.
It was coming up on midsummer and Jim suggested they go to the high country pastures to see if there was enough grazing to move the rest of the herd. Lewis offered to make the trip and invited Alyssa to go with him. They reached the north pastures and found there was more than enough grass to move the rest of the herd up the mountain. On the way back, they stopped by a small creek for a lunch break.
One of the things they talked about was the three horses that Lewis had bought. Lewis bragged a little on Susie and Casey. "But the prize was Joshua," Lewis admitted. "He and Jim together are about the best pair of cowhands I've ever seen. Tom thinks so too."
"I wanted to ask you about Joshua," Alyssa said. "You must think a lot of Jim to buy that horse." Lewis nodded and she continued, "You treat him with a lot of respect, love too I think. He must be special to you."
"Jim is special, to me and to William," Lewis replied. Lewis turned quiet and Alyssa asked him if something was bothering him. He smiled and took a deep breath.
"I've got something to tell you, actually a couple of things. But I need you to listen to me without interrupting before I finish. Okay?"
Alyssa smiled and nodded her agreement.
So Lewis told Alyssa the story of finding Jim in the cave, nursing him back to health and finding out who he is. He explained about the family resemblance, that Jim knew things about the family that only he would know, and the picture of Jim and Chante. When he finished he said, "I know it sounds crazy but I swear it's the truth."
Alyssa looked at the creek for a couple of minutes; Lewis waited for her reaction. Finally Alyssa looked directly at Lewis. "You're right; it sounds crazy. How could this happen?"
He shrugged. "Doc Samuels and me think that smoke coming off the flame had something to do with it. But there was the cave in before we could get samples."
"You're not crazy or a fool," Alyssa said. "And neither is your grandfather; if you say it's true I believe you."
Lewis smiled and said, "Now I can tell you the other thing I wanted to talk to you about. Taking another deep breath he said, "Ally I love you. I think I have since that first day in your grandfather's office." She smiled at him and he was encouraged. "Ally will you marry me?"
Alyssa waited all of three seconds and replied, "I always wanted to marry a cowboy."
"Is that a yes?"
"Yes that's a yes silly," she said leaning in to kiss him.
They were a couple of hours late getting back to the ranch house. Jim was standing on the porch when they rode in. Alyssa greeted him but didn't dismount; she was headed on home.
Jim took one look at the pair, smiled and said, "It's about time. You two have been mooning around here for the last three or four months."
Both Lewis and Alyssa blushed. He leaned over and gave her a quick kiss goodbye. "Talk to you tomorrow. If this old work horse here will let me go, I'll be over to see you." Alyssa waved at Jim and rode home.
Lewis walked Casey down to the barn with Jim following him. Jim watched as Lewis took care of his horse. When he finished Jim put his hand on Lewis's shoulder.
"She's a fine young woman Lewis," Jim said. "You could do a lot worse."
Lewis nodded his thanks and then smiled. "Hell, I have done a lot worse and not too long ago either."
"Y'all planning on gettin hitched?"
"Yes sir. We thought just after round up and we got the cattle to market would be a good time."
"Well ... we better get back up to the house and let William know we got a new boss movin in soon," Jim said with a laugh. "I don't think he's gonna mind too much. He thinks the world of that girl."
William's only comment when he was told about the upcoming wedding was, "I wondered how long it would take for you to come to your senses. Anyone could see that Alyssa is crazy about you. Congratulations Lewis." He walked over and hugged Lewis, embarrassing both of them.
"We'd better break this up and start planning to drive the rest of the herd up to the high country," Jim said.
Five days later, just after sunup, the drive started. The Randals had 168 head to push up to the northern pastures but they had lots of help. Tom was going of course, he was the range boss. Alyssa was there, as if she would be anywhere else. Josh surprised them by offering to come along.
"I haven't been on a real cattle drive since I was a youngster," Josh explained. "Thought I'd see if it is as miserable as I remember."
Even Tom's wife, Helen, decided she'd give them a hand. "Got tired of waitin for Tom to come home so I thought I'd make sure he wasn't up to any mischief," she said.
Tom rode point, leading the herd in the right direction. He'd worked at Eagle's Nest for years and knew the best trails to take; Helen rode with him. Alyssa was in the swing position on one side of the herd with William and Josh on the other. Jim and Lewis rode drag, pushing the cattle along.
"How's Casey doing?" Jim asked.
This was the first time that Lewis and his horse had actually worked the cattle. Driving a herd was very different than just riding around checking up on them.
Lewis nodded. "This was what he was born to do. Look at him, his ears are perked up and he's almost prancing."
Casey stretched his neck forward and nipped at the rump of a steer that wasn't moving fast enough to his way of thinking.
"See," Lewis continued. "I don't even need to be here. Casey can handle it without any guidance from me."
Jim laughed and nodded. "William's Susie is doing good too. She runs around pushin cattle back into the herd when walkin would do but she's young, she'll learn."
"Why are you back in riding drag?" Lewis asked. "You're the ramrod; I thought you'd be out front."
"Tom knows the way as good as me," Jim replied. "Joshua needs some training on ridin slow and doin the job. He wants to run and rush around everywhere he goes." Jim reached down and patted Joshua on the neck. "He'll learn too. But that don't mean he likes it"
They rode without talking for several minutes. Lewis looked around, feeling grateful that he'd made it back to Eagle's Nest. Looking Alyssa's way he thought, this is where I was meant to be.
"I told Alyssa about you," Lewis said to Jim. "Thought it might come out later and I didn't want any secrets between us."
Jim stared at Lewis, thinking about what he said. "How'd she take it?"
Lewis smiled and replied, "She just said that now she had a great, great, grandfather too. Then she laughed and said you were just one more Randal for her to care about."
After a minute or two of silence, Jim said, "Reckon I'll go trade places with Alyssa." He turned Joshua and rode over to Alyssa.
The crew pushed the cattle hard and made the pastures just about dusk. They camped overnight and the next day they divided the herd among the three meadows where they would graze until fall. Helen, Alyssa, and Jim of all people, fixed a big supper when they got back to the ranch house late that afternoon.
Now there was nothing left to do but let the cattle fatten up on the lush grass. About every third day someone would ride up to the high country and check on the cattle. It was mostly to make sure that the pastures weren't getting over grazed and that the herd was eating well. Most of the time it was Lewis and Alyssa that made the ride.
Time for round up and shipping Lewis thought as he saddled Casey. It was the last week in August and they were going to bring the herd down from the high country. Besides the Randals and Tom, they had a few additions to the group. William looked at his "crew" and smiled. Alyssa was there of course; these days it seemed like if Lewis was around so was Alyssa. Josh had joined up for one more cattle drive to relive old times.
Tom's wife Helen had decided to move out to the ranch; she moved into Tom's room in the house. Helen said since Tom was going to stay on it was silly for him to drive back and forth to Prescott. She immediately took over the cooking and housekeeping chores. Helen was also going on the drive as the camp cook.
One more addition to the crew was a young couple that Helen knew, the Campbell's. They'd just moved to Prescott from some big city back east and were fascinated with the west and cowboys. Knowing the plans for Eagle's Nest, Helen arranged for the Campbell's to be the first "dudes" at the ranch.
"It'll give you an idea if you want to do this on a bigger scale," Helen told William when she informed him that he would have guests.
Roy and Shirley Campbell arrived about two the afternoon prior to the trail drive. It was obvious from the way they were dressed that they knew very little about working on a ranch. Roy was taller than Lewis's 6' 2 and built like a string bean; Shirley was much shorter at 5' 6 and almost voluptuous. Their clothing was new and more appropriate to an Urban Cowboy setting than to a working ranch. The shirts had sequined designs on the front, the hats were oversized, and the boots were dressy and made to show off.
Shirley wore a split riding skirt, also with sequins on the front while Roy wore whipcord western dress slacks. Jim almost hurt himself trying not to laugh when he was introduced to the new comers. He quickly turned and walked toward the barn. Damn, that boy's belt buckle is as big as a pie plate, he said to himself.
It was left to Helen to suggest more appropriate and useful clothing to the Campbell's. She tried to tactfully tell them that although they looked very nice their clothing wouldn't really work on a cattle drive. The Campbell's and Helen were discussing what they needed when her husband walked up.
"Y'all look like dudes going to a gall darned rodeo," Tom said laughing. "Best get your working duds on before we start the drive."
Lewis and Alyssa took the Campbell's to Cole's Corner so they could get working clothes. When Tom saw them the next morning he nodded his head in approval. "Now you look like cowhands instead of drug store cowboys."
The drive was scheduled for three days. They rode up to the northern pastures on the first day. Helen, Lewis, and Alyssa set up camp while Tom, the Randals and their guests, the Campbell's, handled the round up. They worked all day gathering the cattle into one meadow. The next morning they started the herd back to the valley.
The next day was more of the same. Head the cattle back onto the trail, stop at midday for lunch and let the cattle rest and graze for a couple of hours, and back on the trail until late afternoon. They made camp and started all over again the next morning. They pushed the herd back into the home valley late on the third day.
As they were leaving, the Campbell's told William that this was the best vacation they'd ever had and they wanted to come back next year. They handed him a check made out to the Eagle's Nest for $1500.
William walked into the house as Tom was talking to the transport company. "The trucks will be here day after tomorrow," Tom said to William.
He nodded, paused, and held up the check. "I guess we got a dude ranch too," William said with a smile.
Eagle's Nest had a good year. In September they shipped 112 head to the stockyards in Phoenix and cleared just over 85 thousand dollars. Lewis used part of his share to pay Josh back for his help buying the three horses. It was enough to encourage William, Jim, and Lewis to stay with cattle ranching. The Dude Program looked financially promising too. The next order of business was Lewis and Alyssa's wedding.
The wedding was scheduled for the first weekend after shipping the cattle. Josh rented the dance hall at Cole's Corner for the wedding and reception. William was touched when Lewis asked him to be his best man. Alyssa and Helen did most of the planning for the wedding; the only input Lewis had was that he refused to wear a tux.
Josh and Alyssa called her parents to invite them to her wedding, but they said they would be on a cruise that week and couldn't make it. Her father suggested she move the date; Josh suggested that he and his wife go to hell.
There was one other bump in the road for the ceremony. Alyssa asked Josh to give her away but three weeks before the actual day, Josh had an accident. He took a fall off one of the young horses he was working with and broke his leg. Josh was okay but with his leg in a cast he wouldn't be able to escort his granddaughter down the aisle.
Alyssa got her grandfather home from the hospital and made him comfortable. The next day telling Josh she'd be back in a couple of hours, she saddled her horse and rode to Eagle's Nest. Lewis was surprised to see her as they'd planned to get together that evening for supper.
"Where's Jim?" She asked after hugging and kissing Lewis. He pointed down to the barn and then followed her.
Jim was brushing Joshua and talking to the big horse. He saw Alyssa and stepped out of the stall to greet her. "Hi little girl," he said with a big grin. He loved to tease her.
"I need a favor Jim and you're the first one I thought of," Alyssa told him.
"Sure Honey, anything you need."