End of an Era
Copyright© 2011 by woodmanone
Johnny Burrows pulled his horse to a stop in front of the Fountain City Livery Stable. Made good time we did, he said to himself; just 48 days from Portland to Fountain. Dismounting he patted William's neck and said, "Good job, old son. You brought me a long way." He stepped over to his pack horse Buck and repeated, "Good job, big fellar."
The stable master came out to join Johnny. "Stayin long Mister?"
"Don't rightly know yet," he replied. "I'd like these two pampered for a day or two anyways. Give em a bath, brush and curry em, and feed em a good mash please."
The stable man said, "Be $3 for the first day and $1 a day after that."
Nodding his head Johnny flipped a $10 gold piece to the man. "That'll take care of a couple of days, I'll be back with more ifin it's needed. Show me the stalls you'll put em in." He followed the man into the big barn and unsaddled the two horses, storing his gear in one of the stalls. "Mister these two are about the only friends I got. Take good care of em," he said looking the man in the eyes." It was both a request and a warning.
As he walked down the main street toward the town proper, Johnny planned on where he would start looking for Josh. There are three places that you can find all the information about the people and the town, Johnny thought. Rumors and facts are found at the general store/post office, the barber shop, and the saloon. I don't need any supplies and don't have anything to mail; I don't want a haircut or shave; so I guess I'll go to the saloon.
Johnny walked into the saloon and smiled. It's like comin back home again, he thought. I've spent more hours than I can remember in a lot worse places than this. He walked to the bar and ordered a whiskey.
As the bartender served his drink, Johnny said, "Name's Johnny Burrows. Lookin for a fellar that may live around here. Can you help me?"
"I'm Sam. Why do you want to find this man?" The bartender asked.
"He's an old friend. Haven't seen him in nigh on to 14 years," Johnny replied.
Sam nodded and asked, "Who are you looking for Mister?"
"Fellar named Josh Kelly. He's supposed to have a ranch outside of town. Got a partner named McCall."
With a smile Sam said, "Josh and Red own the Chico Basin Cattle Company. They got another partner named Jerry Barnes." He smiled again and said, "Course their wives are the real bosses."
Johnny returned the smile. "Where might I find this ranch?"
"I can give you directions but Josh and Red usually stop in for a beer about this time every Saturday. Should be here anytime, if they follow habit."
Johnny's back was to the swinging doors but he saw them swing open in the mirror behind the bar. Two young men came through the doors and stepped to either side of the opening. He saw them look around the big room carefully before they started toward the bar.
As Josh and Red got to the bar, Johnny kept his head down until the youngsters ordered a drink.
"Reckon you'll serve anyone in here if you'll serve these shave tails," he said in a loud serious voice.
Josh and Red turned toward the rude man. Red started to respond to the man and his insult but Josh stopped him. Turning to his companion Josh asked, "I ever tell you about that old horse thief that thought he was a mountain man and tried to teach me how to track and such?"
Johnny smiled, stood up from leaning on the bar and faced Josh.
Still talking to Red Josh continued, "This is that old bag of bones I was telling you about."
"Josh," Johnny said. The two friends looked at each other for a few seconds. Josh stepped over, shook hands with Johnny and put his other hand on his shoulder.
When they finished greeting each other, Red stepped over and offered his hand. "You'd be the famous Mountain Man, Johnny Burrows," he said. "Read about you. I'm Red McCall, Josh's partner."
"Clint Hobart told me about you and the other one, Jerry Barnes was it, when he wrote to me. Say's you and Josh was as close as brothers, he did. Guess that makes you my friend too. Johnny smiled at Red while shaking his hand. "Now what's this about y'all reading about me?"
"Piece in the paper, written by a lady over to Portland, says you're the last of the real by God Mountain Men," Red replied. "Never thought I'd meet someone famous like you," he teased.
Johnny looked puzzled and Josh said, "Seems you met a lady name of Margaret Anne Dempsey and told her your life story. She wrote a long article about you and it got printed in the Portland paper."
Nodding, Johnny said, "Maggie's a friend and she got her uncle to print that story. But how did you hear about it way over here?"
Red answered, "Seems some of the editors of other papers liked the story so much that they got permission to reprint it." Seeing the surprise on Johnny's face he added, "Half the newspapers in the west have run that article. Including our own Fountain Daily News." As an aside Red remarked, "Don't know why it's called the daily news; it don't come out but once a week."
Johnny shook his head. "Never meant for that story to make such a fuss. I just tried to help a young lady with a lot of grit."
He explained Maggie's desire to do stories about more important things than the society page type stories. "She reminded me of another youngster that had a lot goin against him but that wasn't willing to sit back and take it," Johnny said pointing to Josh as he spoke.
Red saw the look that passed between Josh and the mountain man. "Sam give us three of your best before these two get to blubbering," he ordered.
Sam got a bottle down from beside the mirror behind the bar. He had to wipe off some dust. "Don't get much call for this," he explained. "Too blamed expensive I guess." He poured three double shots and placed them in front of the men.
Johnny put a $20 gold piece on the bar but Sam pushed it back to him. "Reckon I can stand a drink to a real by God Mountain Man," he said with a smile.
Nodding his thanks, Johnny asked, "You finally grow up enough to drink whiskey Josh? You used to just drink beer."
"Still do, but this is a special occasion."
The three picked up the glasses and Josh raised his glass toward Johnny and made a toast. "To old friends."
"And to new ones," Johnny replied raising his glass toward Red. They threw the whiskey back and sat the empty glasses on the bar in one continuous movement. "Dang now you almost got me blubbering," Red remarked as he acknowledged the toast. "Sam give us two more and a beer for the little boy here," he ordered looking at Josh. "Reckon he's had his limit on whiskey."
The three friends sipped the second drink and talked back and forth. Josh told Red the story of meeting Johnny and how he'd taught Josh about the wild country out west. "Many times what he taught me helped save my hide."
"Well ... didn't want no greenhorn's blood on my hands, don't you know," Johnny commented. Then more serious he continued, "You were a good learner Josh. Never too proud to learn or too stubborn to try something a different way than what you were used to. You always asked questions." With a big grin Johnny added, "That is when I wasn't talkin so much that you could get a word in."
"I always thought I was about the best there was at trackin," Red told Johnny. "But I found out I had a lot to learn when Josh and I partnered up. Now I know why."
"So boy ... what happened to you after you left with Clint from Fort Smith?" Johnny asked wanting to know about his friends life.
Josh laughed and replied, "I was gonna ask you the same thing but I guess that newspaper story pretty much tells it all."
"Not by a long shot it don't," Johnny said. "Maggie's a good girl and has a gift with the written word but she exaggerated a mite in that story. Enough about me, tell me your story Josh."
Josh, with Red adding details now and then, told Johnny about the trail west with the wagon train to Santa Fe. Red added the story of how he and Josh met and how Josh vouched for him with the wagon master Hobart.
"He was so grateful that he came all the way to Santa Fe with us," Josh said with a grin. "In fact in spite of me trying to get rid of him he followed me all the way to Colorado."
"More like I led and you followed," Red countered. "You'd never even found the territory much less Chico Basin without my guidance."
Josh laughed at Red's teasing. "Don't rightly know who led who but he were sure a help when we got here." They told of the addition of Jerry Barnes to their partnership and their travels to Fountain and the adventures along the way.
"I thought you were just sittin out the war Josh, but you're still here," Johnny said.
"Well our plans sorta changed when we got to Fountain," he replied. Then he smiled and added, "We met Danni and Sarah our first day in town." Johnny looked puzzled. "Those are our wives Johnny."
"You got hitched?"
"Yes sir, both of us. We married sisters and we've both got kids and a real family," Josh answered. "In fact we're supposed to meet them at the café about now."
Johnny shook his head and smiled. "You look happier than a pig in slop Josh. Good for you and you too Red."
"We're gonna have a late lunch and start back to the ranch. Come meet our families," Red invited.
"I'm not hardly fit to meet womenfolk," Johnny protested.
At Josh and Red's insistence he went with them to the café. As Johnny followed Josh into the café he saw a big table in the back. At the table were two young women and six children.
Not hard to figure out whose kids are whose, Johnny thought. Those three have the same reddish blonde hair as Red. The other two boys are the spitin image of Josh and that little girl looks just like her momma.
The children looked up and saw their fathers come into the café. There was a stampede of six children running to greet them. Cries of "Papa" and "Daddy" rang out in the room. The few customers smiled and laughed at the children. Greeting their children Josh and Red finally got them calmed down and back at the table.
Josh took Johnny's arm and pulled him over to the table. "Danni, this is my friend Johnny Burrows. Johnny this is my wife Danni." Johnny nodded at the pretty young woman. "That other beauty there is Danni's sister Sarah and she owns this one here," Josh said pointing a thumb at Red.
"Please to meet cha both ladies," Johnny said pulling off his hat.
Danni stood holding a child on her left hip and stepped around Josh holding out her hand. "It's good to finally meet you Mr. Burrows. Josh never seems to tire of talking about you after that newspaper article. He's like a little boy telling tales," Danni said with a big smile teasing her husband.
Returning her handshake and her smile Johnny said, "Johnny'll do just fine Mrs. Kelly. Never was much for that mister stuff."
She nodded and replied, "And you must call me Danni, I feel like I know you already." Danni motioned for the children to come to her.
"Johnny these are our children," she said with William and Molly standing in front of her while she held the two year old Clint.
He turned to Josh with a grin and then turned back as Danni introduced the children.
"This is William, our oldest," she said. "He's nine but he'll be the man of the house one day." William stepped forward and offered his hand.
Johnny said, "Pleased to meet you William. He solemnly shook hands with the youngster.
"Gee Mister, you smell funny," William said then ducked his head at Danni's call of William!
"Well William, that'll happen when you spend two months on the trail," Johnny laughed.
"This is Molly, she's 7," Danni continued the introductions.
Johnny bent over at the waist and smoothed Molly's hair. "You're about as pretty as a speckled pup," he said. Molly smiled and the room seemed to light up.
"And this is Clint our youngest. He's two and sometimes I feel like he's twins," Danni said smiling. "He surely likes to get into things."
Johnny had never spent much time around children, other than the older ones in the Indian camps he'd lived in. He wasn't sure how to react to Clint. But he put his finger out to tickle the little one. Clint giggled and stuck both arms out wanting to go to Johnny.
"Bear," Clint proclaimed. He struggled and almost jumped to get into Johnny's arms. Once there he put his little arms around Johnny's neck and repeated, "Bear."
To cover the tears that came to his eyes, Johnny turned to Josh. "I knowed where the names William and Molly come from, but Clint?"
Josh smiled and answered, "After Mr. Hobart. He was the one that started me on the trail west."
After a few minutes Red stepped over and said, "Like to introduce you to my brood if I might."
Johnny nodded and tried to hand Clint back to his mother. The boy would have none of it and hugged Johnny ever tighter. Johnny carried the boy with him as he stepped to the other side of the table.
"As you heard, this is my boss Sarah, she's Danni's sister," Red began. "The twins are John and Daniel, they just turned 11. And the little one in Sarah's arms is Elizabeth; she's one and a half."
"Pleased to meet you ma'am, boys," Johnny said. "There's no doubt whose brand the boys wear, with that hair and all."
"Please call me Sarah Johnny. I feel the same way about ma'am as you do about mister. Besides I've heard the stories too and feel like we're old acquaintances.
"Mr ... I mean Johnny, you must join us for lunch," Danni invited. "If you don't I'm afraid I won't see my husband for the rest of the day. And we need to get back to the ranch by evening. Please sit here, I'll take Clint so you can eat."
Clint didn't want to leave his own personal 'bear'. "He ain't a bother Danni," Johnny told her. "You can leave him be for a spell."
All of the children were fascinated by the big man wearing the buckskins and crowded around as Johnny tried to eat with one hand. His other arm held Clint on his lap.
"Are you really a famous Mountain Man?" Young Daniel asked. He was the more outgoing of the twins just like his father.
Johnny wasn't sure which of Red's twins asked the question, they looked so much alike. "I don't rightly know about famous but I'm a mountain man sure enough."
"You ever seen any Indians? Did you live with them? How'd you stand the winters up in the mountains? Are Indian children like us? Johnny was besieged with questions by the three boys as he tried to eat.
William asked, "You ever killed a bear?" And before Johnny could answer the boy continued, "My Pa did, Uncle Red helped him. It was a big one too. Uncle Jerry's got the skin on his cabin wall."
"I was gonna wrestle him," Red kidded. "But Josh just had to show off and shoot him before I got close to the big dickens."
"Boys. Leave Mr. Burrows alone so he can eat," Danni ordered. The tone in her voice would brook no argument and the children went back to their chairs. "You'll have plenty of time to talk to Mr. Burrows. He'll be spending some time out at the ranch." She looked at Johnny with a smile but the tone in her voice left no room for disagreement.
Danni asked, "You will spend a few days with us, won't you Johnny? I'd consider it a favor or I might not see Josh at all while you're here."
"Please do Johnny," Sarah added. "If Josh spends all his time with you, Red will be right by his side. Sometimes you can't separate those two with a branding iron."
"Well, I wouldn't want to keep Josh or Red away from their families," Johnny replied. "So I reckon I can spend a few days at your ranch. Got no place I need to be anyway."
"Thank you Johnny," Danni said pleased that her husband's friend would spend some time with the family. "We'll finish lunch and leave for the ranch."
"Wait a minute Miss Danni," Johnny said with a laugh. "I'll stay in town tonight and come out to your place tomorrow. Probably be late mornin fore I get there." At Danni's look he added, "I ain't been in a town for two months.
Josh and Red chuckled and Danni laughed out loud. "I don't think it's the town you're interested in Johnny," she said. "I think it's the saloon you want to visit." Johnny looked surprised that Danni knew what he was thinking. "I've heard stories about you mountain men," she added still laughing.
"Maybe me and Josh ought to stay with Johnny," Red suggested. "Just so's he don't get lost tomorrow."
"You'll do no such thing Red McCall," Sarah said. "Johnny just came better than 1200 miles on his own. I think he can travel another 14 or so without your help."
"I'll go look in on my horses," Johnny said after lunch. "See y'all tomorrow."
Josh and Red loaded their families into the big wagon, mounted their horses and left Fountain for their ranch. Johnny waved to them as they passed the livery stable. After making sure William and Buck had been bathed, groomed and well fed, he walked back toward town.
After the comment that William had made about his smell, Johnny decided since he was going to be around kids and womenfolk that maybe a bath was in order. He grabbed a pair of clean twill work pants and a shirt and went to the barber shop. There was a sign on the front of the building that said they had hot water baths available.
Johnny took a bath, got a haircut, and had his beard trimmed into something else than the tangled mess that it normally was. He thought about shaving it off but decided that it would just itch when it grew back and he knew he wouldn't shave much out on the trail.
Johnny changed into his clean clothes but still wore his moccasins; they were more comfortable than the boots. He took his buckskins back to the stable. Now, let's just see if the saloon is as good as it looked, Johnny said to himself.
In spite of the good time and the late hours he spent at the saloon, Johnny was up and saddling William and Buck at first light. Maybe I'm gettin smarter in my old age, Johnny thought. I enjoyed myself last night but didn't get too much of the whiskey and didn't get in no fights. He chuckled, didn't go to jail neither.
Following the directions Josh had given him, Johnny made good time getting to the ranch. Figure another two miles or so, Johnny thought as he made the turn east off the main trail. Then he heard a gunshot. He stopped his horse and listened and heard another shot.
That's no Winchester, he thought. Big rifle, like Sharps buffalo rifle. Johnny dismounted, dropping William's reins and Buck's lead rope. The horses were trained to ground tie and wouldn't move from that spot. He began sneaking through the trees to bring him closer to whoever was doing the shooting.
I'm as nosey as a cat and as careful as an old woman, he thought. But being nosey and careful has saved my scalp more than a few times.
As he came out of the tree line on a small rise he saw two men hiding behind some rocks. About 600 yards in the distance Johnny saw a ranch house; must be Josh's place, he thought. One of the men firing a .52 caliber Sharps buffalo rifle at the house. The other man cackled like an old hen at every shot.
Johnny saw two men appear from each side of the house. Keeping under cover the two started to make their way toward the shooters. That'd be Josh and Red, Johnny said to himself. That there open pasture will bring them out into the clear. They won't make it, not with that big Sharps firing at them.
Slowly, taking care not to make any noise, Johnny got closer to the bushwhackers. Finally he was close enough for what he had planned. Stepping from behind the last tree, Johnny swung the butt of his Winchester and hit the man with the Sharps in the back of the head. His victim fell over and was motionless. The other man yelled and reached for the pistol on his hip. Before he even got his hand on the grip, Johnny swung the rifle around and pointed it at the man's head.
"Y'all go on a draw that Colt if you've a mind to die," Johnny said. The man slumped back against the big rock. "Now, real easy, draw that pistol with your left hand and toss it away." The man hesitated and Johnny pulled back the hammer on the Winchester. "Your choice Mister."
The man pulled the weapon with his left hand and threw it over the rock he'd been hiding behind. Johnny motioned with his rifle barrel and the man laid face down on the ground.
"Put your hands behind you," Johnny ordered. He stepped over and put his foot on the back of the man's head. Turning his head down the slope of the hill he yelled, "Josh, Red, come on up. I got em treed."
Josh and Red climbed up the rise and walked around the rock to where the two men laid on the ground. The man that Johnny had hit was regaining consciousness; the other one sat up after the foot was taken off his neck. Johnny greeted his friends.
"I was gonna kill em but thought y'all might want to hear why they shot at you," Johnny told Josh.
Josh's face was a study in anger. Never saw the boy so riled up, Johnny thought. And Red's got a crazy gunfighter look in his eyes.
Red cocked his rifle and pointed it at the sitting man. "Red," Josh said sharply. "We need him alive to talk."
Releasing the hammer on the rifle Red remarked, "We got another one."
Johnny laughed; he liked the way Red thought. "Let's get this fellar on his feet and give him a fair chance Red." Turning to the bushwhacker Johnny continued, "Just you and him for it." He had no intention of letting Red kill the man; at least not until they got the information they wanted.
"Not me, I'm not pullin down on Red McCall," the man whined. "He'll kill me ifin I do."
"Why should I let you go?" Johnny asked. "Y'all seemed happy enough to try an kill Red and Josh." As he said this he stepped in front of Red. Red had a nasty evil grin on his face. Johnny had seen that type of grin before; just before someone got killed.
"No Mister, that ain't the way it was," the man answered as he circled to keep Johnny between him and Red. "We weren't trying to kill any one; we were just trying to scare em a bit."
"Why?" Josh asked, speaking up for the first time. He had the same look in his eyes as Red; it was called a death stare.
"Don't know. Man hired us to come out here and shoot at the house. He didn't' say nothing about no killing."
"Who was this man?" Josh asked. He'd taken over now. "Why did he hire you to scare us?"
Johnny thought how much the boy had grown. Josh wanted to find out the why, Red just thought about settling with the two men.
"All I know is his name is Jackson," was the answer. "We were at a saloon in Colorado Springs and he bought us a drink. Then he said he wanted to warn some people off and gave us both a $50 gold piece to shoot at your place over there."