Ride for the Sun
Copyright© 2011 by woodmanone
"Would you do something for me Marshal?" Henry Johnson nodded. "Send a telegram to my folks in San Antonio and let them know I'm okay and that I'll write them when I get settled somewheres."
Johnson nodded again and Rafe mounted Bowie. He touched his hat brim in a salute, turned westward and continued his ride for the sun.
Rafe Cassidy rode until midday when he found another stand of cottonwoods on the flat Estacado that stood out like a beacon and stopped to rest his horses, Bowie and Buddy. He'd been holding the horses at a slow lope for half an hour at a time for most of the morning then slowed to a walk for half an hour to rest the horses some. This little oasis didn't have a pool of free standing water like the last one but the sand around a big rock was very wet. He used his metal eating plate to dig a large hole which slowly filled with water
Unsaddling both animals Rafe wiped the sweat from their coats and let them drink. The water was dingy and sandy but it was fine for the horses. Rafe took a drink from one of his canteens. A little later he fed the horses some grain and then let them graze.
"We'll stop for a couple of hours and then ride until dusk," he told his horses. They continued to graze and ignored him. "You two sure ain't very talkative," Rafe said with a grin.
While the horses grazed, Rafe put a bandana over the spout of one of his canteens. Then he used a coffee cup to fill his canteen. The cloth bandana filtered out most of the sand and dirt so the water, if not clean, was drinkable.
About an hour later, first Bowie and then Buddy raised their heads and looked east. Rafe noticed the horse's interest and pulled his Winchester. I reckon another bounty hunter could be on my trail, he thought. Rafe walked to the edge of the stand of cottonwoods and looked back over the trail.
The land was so flat that he could see a couple of miles or more before the shimmering heat waves obscured his vision. He saw one rider coming at a fast trot. As the figure got closer Rafe recognized Marshal Johnson.
Rafe stepped into the open and waved. Johnson rode over and dismounted. "Can't offer you coffee Marshal, I'm running a cold camp." Holding out his canteen he added, "But I can offer you some slightly gritty spring water."
"No thank ye. I've got two canteens of good water of my own," Johnson replied. "Came out to give you some news."
"Seems like your running days are over." Johnson chuckled at the puzzled look on Rafe's face. "Reece Sheldon has more problems plaguing him than you. Seems he was throwin a wide loop and got caught brandin other people's cattle and runnin them to market."
"Couldn't happen to a nicer fellar," Rafe said with a small grin. "I don't have much sympathy for the Sheldons."
"He's was sent to the Texas state prison in Huntsville. Now Reece ain't in any position to pay a reward for you. The state attached all his property." Johnson offered Rafe his canteen and as he drank the Marshal continued, "His son, Jason is it, sent out telegrams callin off the reward. Guess he doesn't want to have to pay out the $500 from his own pocket."
"Reckon the fight upset Reece more than the boy," Rafe said and shook his head. "Never can tell about folks."
Johnson looked at the youngster for a minute. "You know you can head back to Fort Stockton now ifin you want."
Rafe shook his head. "Fort Stockton was just a layover for a spell."
"Well you could go back home then," the Marshal suggested.
"No sir I can't. If I go home I'll be right back in the fightin."
"Sorry Rafe, I don't understand," Johnson said. "You got no one chasin you now. Why can't you go home?"
Rafe looked down for several seconds. Then he told the Marshal about Juanita, her father, and Ruiz. "If I go back Ruiz will keep sending men after me. I'll end up killing him or getting killed and my family would get involved. Grandpa and Pa wouldn't let anyone run roughshod over me." Rafe chuckled and added, "Nor would my Ma. And she'd be the one they'd have to worry about."
He raised his head and looked at the Marshal. "I'm not a coward and I'll fight when I have to but the only way to stop Ruiz hiring men to come after me would be to kill Ruiz. And if I do I still won't have Juanita." Sighing Rafe added, "So I'll make a life for myself somewheres else.
"Where will you go son?"
"West, I reckon. Hear there's good land in California," Rafe answered. "Maybe I can find a place of my own." He shook hands with Marshal Johnson. "Thanks for your concern and thanks for bringing me the news. You've been a good friend Henry. Now you take it easy gettin back to Roswell. Don't want to ride your horse into the ground."
"I'm in no hurry now. You take care of yourself Rafe." Johnson handed Rafe one of his two canteens, mounted, and rode back toward Roswell.
Rafe rode at an easy clip as he headed west. He had no one following him or on his trail so he wasn't in a hurry. Rafe still hadn't decided on his final destination. Every day he thought a little less about Juanita and more about what was over the next rise or might be at the end of the trail.
He rode southwest from Roswell to Ruidoso skirting the Llano Estacada. Ruidoso was surrounded by mountains in the middle of Lincoln County. It was beautiful country and a good place to raise cattle. But Rafe heard about the trouble brewing between two men named Murphy and Tunstall. There was gonna be fighting between the Murphy-Dolan faction backed by Sheriff Brady and John Tunstall who had Billy the Kid and others riding with him. No need for me to get involved, he thought and continued west.
Rafe crossed the Magdalena Mountains and his trail cut the Rio Grande. He was finally out of the Estacada and into a more hospitable land. He caught up with a wagon train traveling along the river and hired on as a guard. The wagons were headed to a little settlement called Show Low in Arizona. Three large families and eight wagons made up the group. The families had joined together and bought a large ranch just outside of Show Low.
What they need is a nursemaid, Rafe thought on the fourth day of the journey. I've never saw so many folk that know so little about horses and wagons. It was slow going for the wagons as they made their way over mountains and learned what was needed to travel a long distance by wagon. By the second week on the trail things got better and their trip went a little faster. The wagon train was making twelve to thirteen miles a day.
It was coming on to mid October before the wagons arrived in Show Low. The wagon master offered Rafe a job on the ranch but Rafe didn't want to ride in cold country. Even though Show Low was more like the high plains Rafe had been told about the cold freezing weather in the surrounding mountains. Show Low got little rain or snow from the mountains but did get cold winds that swept across the flat land. Sounds like a northern back home in Texas.
One member of the families, who had been on the original scouting trip to the area, suggested Rafe try Prescott Arizona. "The area has several cattle ranches and the weather isn't as severe as Show Low," the man told him. "There's a ranch called Eagle's Nest about a day's ride out of town that's always lookin for good hands. I met the owner a couple of years ago. Man named Randal; look him up if you get there."
Rafe thank the farmer and the man continued, "Be careful comin down off the Mogollon Rim this time of the year," the rancher told Rafe. "It's five thousand feet and can be tricky if the weather turns bad. I'd say the best way would be to head west to General Crook's Trail and follow it down to the Verde Valley. You can rest up at Camp Verde and then head due north to Prescott."
General Crook's Trail meandered along the high bluffs of the Mogollon Rim. Sure glad I followed Crook's Trail, Rafe thought as he came down out of the mountains into the Verde Valley. Got lucky the weather held. Would have been real interestin in the rain or snow.
Sure is pretty country, Rafe said to himself; but it'd be damn cold in the winter. Lots of snow too I bet. Weather's a lot warmer down here in the valley, more like the hill country back home. He pulled his horses to a stop in front of the Camp Verde livery stable and dismounted. He arranged food, water, and a stall for his horses.
"Know a place I can stay for a night or two?" Rafe asked the stable hand.
"Depends on how fancy you wanta get Mister. The hotel is a fine place from what I've heard. There's a couple boarding houses or if you're not picky you can sleep in our loft." The man smiled and added, "Course there'll be an extra charge for the use of our loft. Four bits will cover it."
Rafe returned his smile. "Reckon if the stable's good enough for Bowie and Buddy, ought to be good enough for me." He handed the man the money for the horses and his 'bed'. "Now if there's no charge can you tell me where I can get a good meal?"
"Café down yonder serves a good supper."
Rafe finished his supper and went next door to the saloon for his first drink of whiskey in over two months. I sure do deserve this, he thought as he drank. Reckon I better stay put for a while and rest Bowie and Buddy. Won't do any harm to rest me either.
I left home in late May and now it's October, he continued thinking. Never thought I'd be on the trail for that long; or cover as much ground as I have. I'm not a coward. Could have stayed put at home but I'd be always shootin someone or gettin shot at. My family would have gotten involved in the fightin and I still wouldn't have Juanita. Could have stayed in Fort Stockton but it seems just plumb loco to have to fight over some stupid spoiled son of a rich rancher.
Rafe got a second whiskey. Better make this the last one tonight or I'll start feelin sorry for myself. He looked down the bar and saw an older man leaning against it with a bandage on his leg that ran from his knee down to his ankle. The big man had a beer in front of him and two crutches leaning next to him.
"How you gonna work the roundup Everett?" The bartender asked as he gave the man a fresh beer.
"Don't rightly know," Everett answered. "Molly and Emma can do some of the work but I need a good wrangler to help out." He took a small drink of his beer. "But it's so late in the season most all the cowboys have already signed on to a ranch. There's nobody to hire."
Rafe thought as the men continued to talk. Reckon I could winter here and head out come spring, he told himself. Workin a roundup along with my stake should get me through until spring. Rafe walked down the bar toward the older man.
"Excuse me sir," Rafe said. "I couldn't help but overhear you talking. I'm Rafe Cassidy and I'm looking for a job. Gonna winter in Camp Verde and could use the money. Been working cattle and horses since I was twelve or so. I know which end of a steer to rope and which end to slap with a lariat."
"I'm Emmett Riley," the man said. "I reckon two Irishmen ought to get along. Tell me a little about yourself Rafe. Where you from?"
"Just got in from Show Low. Rode guard for a wagon train from Socorro New Mexico," Rafe explained. "Didn't want to winter up in those mountains so I came down here."
"That's a far piece Rafe. You from Socorro?"
"No sir. I was in Roswell before that," Rafe answered.
"That's near 350 miles," Emmett said almost in wonder.
"Closer to 400 miles," Rafe said. "Mr. Riley there are some things about me you should know."
"All right son. Tell me your story," the older man replied.
Rafe told Emmett about Juanita and why he had to leave San Antonio. He continued his story telling Emmett about Fort Stockton, the Sheldon's, and Reece Sheldon putting a price on his head. Finally he explained about Reece going to prison and his son calling off the bounty.
"I had to kill a man that tried to take me back to Fort Stockton," Rafe said. "Too bad the bounty wasn't canceled before that. I just thought you oughta know who you're hiring." He paused and added, "You can telegraph Marshal Johnson over to Roswell Mr. Riley," Rafe suggested. "He'll vouch for me."
Riley looked over the young man in front of him. Emmett considered himself a good judge of men. I think this one seems to be a good bet. "No need Rafe," Emmett said. "You didn't have to tell me about your troubles. The fact that you did, tells me the type of man you are."
Motioning to the bartender Emmett said, "Give us a couple of beers here Charley. Do believe I've found the wrangler we need."
Rafe and Emmett saluted each other with the mugs of beer.
"I'm stayin in town tonight. It's hard to ride with this leg, even in a wagon. Come out to the R Bar R with me in the morning and we'll talk about a job for you. If you don't like the place or the pay you can have a good lunch and come back to town."
"R Bar R Mr. Riley?" Rafe asked.
"That's the name of our place out west of town," Emmett explained. "And callin me Mr. Riley or sir just don't fit. Name's Emmett."
Early the next morning Rafe, mounted on Bowie followed Emmett's wagon out of Camp Verde. They took what Emmett called the river road and headed west of town.
"Sure is a good looking animal you're riding Rafe," Emmett said admiring Bowie.
"He was a gift from my grandfather when I left home," Rafe replied patting the big horse on the neck. "That the Verde?" Rafe asked.
The Verde River was lined with cottonwoods, a few white oaks, and the first sycamore trees Rafe had seen since he left San Antonio. The land stretching away from the river toward the mountains was lush with bushes and grass. Great clumps of buffalo grass also dotted the landscape. Good range land for cattle, Rafe thought.
"Yep, that's the Verde," Emmett said. "Looks peaceful enough now but in the spring with the snow melt from up on the Rim it gets real rambunctious. Not safe to cross it during the spring. That's one reason most of the town is built on the uphill side of the river."
"Yeah, the San Antonio River back home is the same way," Rafe replied. "Course we don't have mountains up close like you do here about."
About eight miles along the river there was a big cottonwood tree growing next to a rock outcropping. They turned north at the tree and went another three miles before they got to Emmett's ranch. The house backed up to the base of a tall rock butte. The house would be protected from the cold North winds coming down off the Mogollon Rim. Two women came out of the house to greet them as they stopped.
Must be the Molly and Emma I heard Emmett talkin about, Rafe thought. At first glance the women looked to be sisters. One was older and told the younger one to help Emmett down off the wagon. She may be older but not by much, Rafe thought.
"Hi Daddy. I'm glad you're back," the younger woman said.
"Hello Emma," he responded. "Help your old father down will ya?" He used Emma's shoulder to steady himself and climbed off the wagon. "Hi Honey," he greeted the older woman. "Y'all do okay while I was gone?"
"We did fine," she replied. "Hope you didn't spend too much time in the saloon last night."
Emmett chuckled and turned to Rafe. "Why is it that when you marry a woman she thinks you ought to give up all the things you enjoyed when you was single and running free?"
Reckon I was wrong about them being sisters, Rafe thought. He smiled at the obvious love between Emmett and his wife. He shrugged his shoulders. "Don't rightly know Emmett but my Ma rules the house too. Pa said he thought he was done takin orders when he got out of the army."
"This is my wife Molly and our daughter Emma. Ladies this is Rafe Cassidy. He's looking for a job and a place to winter," Emmett said. Smiling at the women he added, "Just so happens we have need of a wrangler until my leg heals."
The family resemblance between Molly and Emma is easy to see, Rafe thought. Molly's about 5' 6, she's slender but looks strong. As Molly brushed her strawberry blond hair out of her face he could see her green eyes. Emma's just a younger version of her mother, Rafe continued his thought. Her hair's a little darker but she's got the same eyes. He surprised himself with his next thought. Eyes that could bind a man to her.
"Welcome to our home Rafe," Molly said.
"Emma, why don't you give Rafe the five cent tour of the ranch?" Emmett suggested. Turning to Rafe he said, "When y'all get back Molly will feed you that lunch I mentioned and we'll talk about the job."
Nodding, Emma went to the corral and got her horse. Motioning to Rafe she rode to the west of the house. It was more than a half an hour before she spoke.
"This is the west boundary of our place. It runs from the foot of that mountain yonder down to the Verde," Emma informed Rafe. "Pretty much the same on the east side of the ranch."
"How much land do y'all have?" Rafe asked.
"We've got a deed for a thousand acres. Got grazing rights on another thousand on to the west and across the Verde," she answered. Emma turned her horse to return to the ranch house. She stopped while Rafe sat on Bowie and looked over the land. "You comin?" Emma asked.
Rafe looked at Emma for a few seconds. "I do somethin to make you mad Miss Riley?"
"No. I'm sorry, it's not you. I can do all the work but Daddy thinks I need help." Emma stopped and gave Rafe a small grin. "I don't think he realizes his little girl is full grown."
"Herdin cattle is tough work." Rafe held up his hand as Emma started to argue. "Not saying you can't do it but two people would make it easier."
Emma turned her horse, put him into a lope and headed back. Rafe shook his head and grinned. " Don't think I convinced her," he said aloud and followed her.
"You can wash up at the pump out back," Emmett said as Rafe dismounted in front of the ranch house. "Then come on in and we'll see if Molly remembers how to cook." Molly swatted at Emmett's shoulder and went back into the house.
"That's the best meal I've had since I left home Mrs. Riley," Rafe said as he finished eating. "Thank you."
Molly nodded and Emmett said, "Let's talk about the job Rafe. Normal pay is $40 a month and found."
"Daddy I told you I can do the work," Emma interrupted. "We don't need to hire anyone." Turning to Rafe she added, "No offense intended Mr. Cassidy."
"None taken Miss Riley. How do you plan on doing the ropin and brandin all by your lonesome?"
"I plan to sink a snubbing post into the ground. You know what that is I assume; like we have in the corral. I'll rope the steer and drag it over and take a turn around the post. Then I'll tie him off and heel rope the steer and pull it to the ground. When he's down I'll put the branding iron to his hide." Emma smiled as she finished; sure that she'd solved the problem.
Rafe gave her a smile. "Sounds real complicated Miss Riley. You plan to leave your heel horse to hold tension on the line without a rider do you?" Not waiting for an answer he continued, "I've had a lot of cow ponies but never seen one that could think on its own."
Emma puffed up, ready to argue. "Plus you'll have to gather all the cattle near the snubbin post or you'll have to dig holes all over the ranch movin that post. Even if you got the brandin done before the snow comes, how are you gonna get them to market? Takes more than one person to drive a herd of any size."
"The boy's right Emma," Emmett said. "Using a post won't work with cattle. And branding takes more than one person. He's right about the cattle drive too."
"Three should about do it I think," Rafe offered. "Miss Riley you and I can herd the cattle, rope and tie them and Mr. Riley can put the hot iron to them."
"But Daddy can't ride and it'll be too hard on his leg to work all day," Emma protested.
"He won't be ridin, we'll bring the cattle to him and the brandin iron," Rafe explained. "Emmett can rest a bit in between cattle."
"I can help and let Emmett rest a bit," Molly said. Seeing the look on her daughter's face she added, "Don't look so shocked Emma. Your father and I ran this ranch for quite a spell before you came along."
"Reckon with all this talk you're gonna take the job Rafe," Emmett said.
"Been thinkin along those lines Emmett," Rafe replied. "With your permission Miss Riley," he said with a mocking grin.
Emmett coughed to ease the tension between the young people. "We'll give you $60 and found to work the round up, do the branding, and help take the herd to market. How's that sound Rafe?"
Rafe looked at Emma until she dropped her eyes before he answered. "I believe I'd like to work for you Emmett."
"I've worked harder Bowie," Rafe said aloud. "But I sure can't remember when." He was using a curry comb on the big horse after another day of roping and branding. "You've done a good job big fellar but I'll ride Buddy tomorrow and give you a rest."
The Palomino shook his head. "Don't argue with me," Rafe said and scratched Bowie's ears. "Buddy's gettin fat and needs to work a bit or he'll forget that he's a horse. Sides we're gonna be cuttin cattle out of the herd tomorrow and he's a mite faster off the mark." Rafe put Bowie in the corral and walked toward the ranch house for supper.
The Riley's, all three of them, and Rafe had been hard at work for the last seven days. Rafe, Emma, and sometimes Molly would round up the cattle. He was surprised at the women's skill on horseback. Rafe and Emma worked very well together. They cut out the calves and other cattle that needed branding and drove them to the area where Emmett was waiting with the hot irons. Throwing a lariat around a steer's horns, Rafe and Bowie would drag the animal as close to Emmett and the branding fire as he could. Emma would rope the steer's hind legs and the two horses pulled in opposite directions until the steer fell to the ground.
Emmett would rush in and apply the red hot branding iron to the steer's side. Then he loosened the ropes holding the animal and released it. Rafe and Emma would go rope another steer and they'd do it all over again. Emmett seemed to handle his part of the job just fine in spite of his broken leg.
During this period of almost back breaking work, Rafe and Emma became much closer. They began to talk a lot as they waited for Emmett or Molly to finish branding the cattle. Emma would walk to the barn with Rafe to check on the horses. Sure beats sleeping on the trail, Rafe thought. Then he chuckled to himself. Emma talks more than Bowie or Buddy too.
Rafe had asked Emmett how he broke his leg after the first day's work. "Just plain bad luck," Emmett replied. "I was drivin a few head of cattle down from the mountains on the west end of the ranch toward the Verde. A cougar let out a hunting cry which spooked my horse and he threw me. It spooked the cattle too and they turned to run from the cougar and one of them stepped on my leg." Emmett smiled, "Hurt like the dickens it did."
"Wondered why you're running white face Herefords instead of Longhorns or cross breeds," Rafe sorta asked Emmett.
"Well, I'll tell ya," Emmett replied smiling. "My neighbors thought I was loco to raise Herefords. Said they weren't sturdy enough." He nodded at Rafe and said, "They told me I should stick with Longhorns or cross breeds too. But just because I'm an old cow hand don't make me dumb." Emmett poured another cup of coffee.
"Herefords are plenty tough if they're kept fed and if they don't have to travel on long drives to the railhead. We've only got ten days or two weeks to either Flagstaff or Phoenix instead of a month or more like some of those ranches in Texas and New Mexico have."
Rafe nodded his understanding and smiled. Got to admire a man who can see a better way to do things, he thought.
"Both trails have good water and grazing along the way to boot," Emmett continued. "Herefords don't eat any more than a Longhorn, give you more weight on the hoof, and bring more money at market too. Granted Longhorns can stand the weather and long trail drives better but we don't have to put up with either one. Winter here in the Verde Valley is pretty mild as compared to other places." Emmett smiled and leaned back in his chair.
"One more thing," Emmett offered. "Herefords aren't as mean and ornery as Longhorns. They'd break a leg tryin to keep from stepping on you where a Longhorn will lower its head and run over you. Make's a world of difference when you're herding cattle."
"Reckon you know what you're doin," Rafe said. "I've worked Longhorns and wasn't lookin forward to the next few days."
It had been the evening of the second day and Emma was watching Rafe take care of Bowie. "You were right you know," she said. Rafe turned to look at her. "I couldn't have done all the work by myself."
Rafe nodded and smiled at the young woman. "Oh I don't know. You can be downright stubborn sometimes. Don't think you'd have got it done before snow fall but I bet you would've got it done."
"My, my. Was that a compliment Mr. Cassidy?" Emma asked chuckling.
"Just an observation Miss Riley," Rafe answered with his own laugh.
Now, as Rafe went to wash up, Emma was waiting for him with a clean towel. "Wash behind your ears please Mr. Cassidy," she said with a teasing grin.
"Yes em, I sure will."
After supper as Rafe drank a last cup of coffee he looked at Emmett. "How's Emmett holdin up Molly?"
"I'm right here Rafe," Emmett said.
"Oh, Daddy you wouldn't say anything if your leg was falling off," Emma butted in.
"He's doing pretty fair," Molly offered. "I make him skip every third steer or so. Seems to help."
"Will y'all quit talkin about me like I'm not here?" Emmett asked in an exasperated tone.
Molly ignored him and continued, "There's no swelling and no sign of infection." She reached over and patted her husband's hand. "Now if he'll pay attention to what I tell him he'll be okay."
"I give up," Emmett said.
"Why do you ride different horses for different jobs Rafe?" Molly asked.
"Well if we have to cut the calves or particular cattle from the herd I use Buddy," Rafe replied. "He's smaller, very quick on his feet and makes a good cutting horse. Bowie is bigger and stronger but a mite slower as far as switchin directions real fast; I use him to rope and drag the steers over close to the fire.
Five days later the round up and branding were done. They had cut the cattle intended for market from the herd. Emmett decided to rest the horses and people for a couple of days before starting the drive to the railhead.
He stood and walked to a kitchen cabinet and pulled out a bottle of whiskey. "One drink won't hurt us and we deserve it" Emmett poured two big drinks and handed one to Rafe since the ladies declined. "Here's to the end of the roundup," he said and raised his glass.
"And to the cattle drive," Rafe added. Rafe and Emmett drank with appreciation.
"How many head are you plannin to sell?" Rafe asked. "And where are we takin em?"
"Thought we'd take a hundred head this trip," Emmett replied. "We're a little short on drovers so that'll be about all you three can handle." He smiled at his wife; this was the first she'd heard about her going on the drive. "You helped round em up and brand em, might as well see it to the end Molly girl."
"I suppose you're going to sit here in comfort waiting for us," Molly teased.
"No, I'll be drivin the chuck wagon. Fact is I'll probably be on point most of the trip." Emmett smiled at the expression on Molly's face. "Ridin in a wagon got to be easier that brandin 1000 pound steers. I'll be fine Molly."
"So where are we headed?" Rafe asked again.