Old Jim Codwell came to the lands south of the Ochcos after several run ins with the law. Here he found a place, where because of its remoteness, breaking a few laws didnt matter. He meted out justice on his own terms, and those that received it, never crossed him again.
The early years were tough, but so was Jim Codwell. The ranch grew, with Jim claiming most of Juniper valley as his. There was no one to dispute his claim, and over the years and signing several papers and deeds, he ended up owning the land legally. No one starting out now could do the same, as that window has closed.
A marriage to a widow woman, late in his life produced his only Son. Buck Codwell. As soon as the boy was able to ride, he rode with his father and watched the ranch grow. He was there at every business dealing and selling of the cull cattle. The first twenty years, there wasnt a large market for cattle. The raised more than he sold. So the size of the herd grew, and the wages for the Cow hands remained low. Money wasnt that important to a few that came to the Ranch On Indian Creek. There was plenty of work, and the ranch had a good cook. So in the early years, help came cheap. Naming the ranch was a problem. Buck Codwell didnt want to name it after the family. He wanted a name that would tell people where it was located. Hence its name. Indian Creek ranch. Which was on Indian Creek. The brand was a large C with a bar across it. The ranch didnt become well known until later when the main house and head quarters, had several other homes built around it. To keep good men, Buck Codwell figure to provide good housing, especially for the married men.
Codwell made one special trip to Nevada one spring, after the round up and branding was over. He came back with a wife, whose past was never known. There was plenty of speculation, but what people might think, was kept to themselves. Mildred was a strong woman, and took her place beside her husband. As the ranch grew and more people came to work and live there, she increased her knowledge of medicine. The nearest Doctor was a day ride away, so Mildred and a few other wives became the closest they had to doctors.
The ranch became home to several families and a bunk house with steady hands. Most single men stayed only a season or two before moving on. The exception was men from the local small town of Buckthorn. They came back year after year, for the branding and helping out with small cattle drives from the Codwells other ranch further south. The Southern Ranch as it was called, came into being as a place to bunk for the hands that ended up riding herd down there. It wasnt as big, but there was plenty of free grazing, and that enabled a much larger herd.
Before every cattle drive, they brought the cattle to Indian Creek and fatten them up before taking them on to the Rail Head. They would be shipped by rail to Portland, and loaded on a Ship bound for Alaska. Some ended up in Washington, but mostly to the Alaska gold claims. There the beef brought a very good price.
It was that a time of year again, winter was well on the way, and the small town of Buckthorn was celebrating a harvest festival with some local farms and other ranches. Indian Creek Ranch was celebrating Buck Cadwells birthday. It was hard to tell which celebration was which. There was only one bar in town, and it was seeing plenty of business. The town hall was filled with dancers and everyone that could play an instrument. The music was loud, and had a beat that one could stomp a boot too.
The local girls were dancing with all the young men, and saving some slow dances for special guys. Dusty Martin, was once a town boy, but over the years, both parents had passed on from winter flus and he stayed on at the ranch. It became his home. He had dreams of saving his money and one day having his own small ranch. It was a dream, and far beyond his means of attaining it. A ranch hand just didnt earn that much.
Home for Dusty was the bunk house, with six other regular cowhands. Depending on the season, some times there were twenty or more cowhands bunking there. Dustys spot in the bunkhouse, was kept different from the others. He had a couple ribbons from the annual bucking contests, and calf roping. One year he won first place, but that was in a younger category. Competing with the older hands, was more difficult. First place ribbons were a lot harder to earn.
Fred Codwell, Bucks son was pretty good friends with Dusty. They were the same age and had practically grown up together. As time went by, Fred was spending more time at the southern ranch, and the two men didnt have much time to hang out. So when they did get together, they celebrated, just like the rest. With plenty of drink, bought at the only bar in town.
Earl Simmons owned the only Bar in Buckthorn. Most patrons stopped in to buy a bottle and head out for other places to drink. Simmons bar was small, no more than six men could stand at it and drink. There were the three card tables, and those filled up fast. It wasnt unusual to find a few drunks sleeping it off out side in the morning. Earl swore he didnt, but some one was always selling whiskey to the local indians. Those were the ones sleeping it off out side the bar.
Dusty didnt have the habit of drinking on a nightly basis. Only during celebrations, and it became obvious he couldnt hold his liquor as well as Fred. Buck Cadwell saw this, and decided to separate the two. He wanted his son to be of a sober nature, inside and out. Dusty may not have been an influence, but he was his sons drinking partner. So that was enough, and something had to be done. Alice Cadwell was aware of her fathers concern of Freds drinking, and decided to curry favor by pointing out Dustys short comings around the ranch. Her problem was she wanted to be the one inheriting the ranch and not the brother. Buck wished his son had the drive his daughter did, but never the less Fred was going to inherit.
If her father and mother expected her to marry one of the half bankrupted ranchers sons, and live from hand to mouth, they had it all wrong. Pointing out the immature drinking Fred, and Dusty were always into, Alice was constantly trying to show her father that Fred just wasnt the Man to run Indian Creek Ranch. Buck Codwell wasnt paying that much attention to his daughters digs at Dusty. He wouldnt dream of firing the young man. Dusty had proven himself to be trustworthy and could be relied upon to do what was necessary with out having to be told. The young man was careful not to step on anyones toes, but it looked like he pinched Alices toes and she wanted him gone.
Giving the situation some thought, he considered that maybe separating the two friends, would make Fred pay more attention to his obligation to the ranch. Winter was coming on, and after the harvest dance, there wouldnt be much happening until spring. He was thinking that he wouldnt have to address the problem Alice was digging at, until then.
For the time being, Buck Codwell decided to enjoy the harvest festival and for get about all venom, Alice was spilling out. Tonight was suppose to be for celebrating and not for dwelling on the value of a mans worth to the ranch. He would look into some of Alices rantings after the festival was over, and if needed, make a decision then. For now he was waiting for every one to arrive at the Town hall so the harvest Dance could start. Of course many were there to wish him happy birthday, which the cook had baked a large cake for. Every one got a big piece.
One of the older ranch families was taking a seat on the benches along the wall. Raye Jones was the Ranch foreman, and in charge of assigning men to the work details. He and his wife were friends with Mildred. The women had started several projects during the winter months and one was a quilting bee. It was their social outlet, where they shared important news items heard from different sources. Not much of the goings on, around the ranch or sundays at church escaped them. Church services were rotated among the different homes. Some times even at a neighboring Ranch, if the weather was good, and the roads dry. They left early in the morning and didnt return until after dark. A picnic was usually the reason for getting home late.
Julia Jones, Rayes daughter was quite a looker. Buck had observed Dusty was often helping her split fire wood for the cook stove. A good looking blond haired girl, was always being helped by some young man. Course he got a different report from his daughter, who still was spitting poison about Dusty. He realized that he didnt need to separate Dusty and Fred. He needed to separate Dusty from Alice. The sooner that was done, the sooner he would have some peace and quiet.
The jumbled group that made up the band, was putting out some good sounding music. Even Bucks wife Mildred, pulled him to his feet and made him dance a few. In between dances, a bottle was passed to him for a short pull. The whiskey burnt all the way down. He made a note to check Earl Simmons stock at the bar. It wasnt beyond some bar owners to add something to make the whiskey stretch. It had to be something with a bite, or they would know for sure it wasnt alcohol.
Watching the young ones dance, Buck had to smile at some of the clumsy moves the cowboys tried. Even if they wore spurs they couldnt have tangled their feet any worse. The pretty Julia was light on her feet, and it looked like Dusty was catching on. They were finally moving like a couple. Course the band leader stepped up and announced they were to grab partners for the square dances that were going to start.
Buck tried to slip out side for some fresh air, but Mildred saw him, and he was forced into a circle. Several circles were moving around with the women spinning their dress out. Buck thought that was probably the main reason they liked doing these dances.
More whiskey was drunk, and only a few fights broke out, but were quickly shoved outside, where with out a crowd the anger waned and vanished after a few drunken swings.
The evening finally came to an end, with most families leaving and riding back home in wagons. All loaded with some still singing and others finding reason to sprinkle the trail with the alcohol theyd drunk. He noted that Dusty was holding the reins of one wagon, and Julia was next to him, a shawl wrapped around their shoulders. Seeing them together, Buck remembered how it had been with him and Mildred. He reached over and put an arm around his wife and pulled her closer. This was a good time to be alive.
Morning After problems.
The sun was up, warming the cold dawn. Reba Flowers the cook, had prepared a large breakfast for the family and all hands. This was the official end of the harvest. After all the dancing and drinking, they would start the day with a big breakfast and pick up their chores where they left off. The Breakfast was being served on the cook shacks long dinner table. The coffee was hot, and biscuits soft. Dusty smeared butter on a couple, and then scooted over when Julia entered with her parents. Some of those at the table, looked a little Ashen, still feeling the ill effects of their bouts with the whiskey jug.
Dusty piled several pan cakes on his plate and topped them off with preserves and syrup. He dug in and had to add more syrup half way through. There was plenty of coffee to wash it all down. Fresh milk was in large pitchers for those shying away from the coffee. Mildred Codwell, told everyone one from where she sat, that she had enjoyed the years, watching all the young people growing, and becoming adults. It was her hope that soon there would be children gracing the table, as she longed to hear the laughter of babies. Buck, winced and mumbled under his breath, that most of the laughter was actually screaming and crying. Luckily his remarks went un heard by his wife.
A rider approaching the ranch caught his eye. Buck got up from the table and moved out the door, wiping his hands on a cloth napkin and tossing it back on his chair. There was something wrong. He knew right off as the rider was coming from the direction of Black Canyon. He wasnt suppose to see anyone from there until spring. They were wintering a herd in the Canyon, and the two riders approaching were suppose to be tending the herd. None of the men liked that job, as they had to do all their own cooking. Some outfits only assigned a single man to the job, but spending a winter by ones self, tended to off set a mans head. With two, there was some one to help the other incase of an accident or worse.
Wintering in Black Canyon wasnt the best job on the ranch. It was remote and required riding fence all winter. Snow and falling limbs sometimes take out the fence line, or if the snows deep enough, the cattle can walk right over the top. The job was to keep the fence in repair, and round up the ones that got loose. If the loose cattle got too far into the canyon, they might not ever find them again. Most were found in the spring roundup, but it wasnt a sure thing.
The two men riding in were new hires and of course got stuck with the job the old hands didnt want. Buck went out to see what the problem was, and found it was as he suspected. They couldnt get along with each other, and riding in to see if they could join with the regular ranch hands. Of course that was out of the question. They wouldnt fit in now with the men, and all the other positions were filled. He was going to send two men from the Bunk house, to do the job they just quit, and there was no place for quitters at the ranch.
The two riders were not happy with being cut loose, and even more when they only got half a months pay. They hadnt been up there even a full two weeks, but they wanted a full months wage. Buck told them they were lucky to get even that much. After giving them their pay, Buck watched them ride off towards Buckthorn. Theyd spend most of their money in the small bar, and be looking for another outfit, when they sobered up.
Buck Codwell had a problem, He didnt have the men to send up to the line shack. Fred would have to send a couple of hands from the southern ranch, but that would take some time for Fred to get there and the men to ride back. He needed some one up there now.
At the moment he only had one man he could trust to ride up there, and that was Dusty. He could send one of the other men, but not the married men, their wives would raise hell. He didnt have enough faith in the other single hands, so it had to be Dusty.
Walking back over to the cook shack, he wasnt looking forward to sending the young man away for the winter. That pretty girl Julia was quite smitten with him, and he with her. But his problem wasnt keeping sweet hearts happy, it was running a ranch. One thing he knew, he couldnt let this fall on Raye Jones shoulders. It would cause problems between him and her. So he would sent Dusty to Black Canyon himself.
Calling Dusty out from the breakfast, which he had finished eating and was enjoying a last cup of coffee, Buck broke the news to him. He could see the disappointment in the young mans face. Hed been looking forward to a winters spooning with his gal, and now he was being sent off to a line Cabin. Buck explained that he would have another rider up there as soon as he got one from the south ranch. He needed him up there straight away.
The news spread like wild fire. Julia was clearly distraught, and Bucks wife Mildred gave him the evil eye. She thought he should send one of the other hands. He tried to explain it all to her, but it finally came down to Buck saying his word was final.
Dusty had his pick of the remuda, hed need a good horse. He just had time to grab his bed roll off his bunk and rain slicker. Buck told him to get a good rifle from the house, as he didnt want him going up there empty handed. There were still some renegade indians roaming the hills. Not many, but it didnt take a lot to cause problems.
As Dusty rode off in the direction of Black Canyon, Mildred started to have a few sharp words with Buck, but cut her off. Listen, if you want to do anything for that young man. Get some supplies ready. You can send Alice with them tomorrow. I dont suppose those other two went easy on the food.
How much do you want me to send? Mildred wasnt sure that Dusty would have to be there the whole winter.
Send what you can, and well run a wagon up there with more later. Buck headed back to the house, where he could take refuge from all the questions. He would have sent Fred, but he had him doing other things. Besides he didnt think Fred could hack it being up there by himself.
Julia managed to get to Dusty while he was saddling the horse he picked out. Looking over her shoulder to make sure no one was looking, she planted a kiss on the young man. Having her in his arms, and her warm soft lips pressed against his, was having a strong effect on the young man.
I dont want you to go. It was almost a whine, but said with pretty pouting lips. I want you to keep me warm this winter?
I have to go, Julia. Dusty had the horse saddled and was suppose to be leaving now. Taking her again in his arms, Im sure Mr Codwell will send some one up to take my place. I dont plan on being there all winter. Then as an after thought, Maybe you and Alice might ride up there once or twice. I dont think your mom would let you come alone. I know your dad wont. Dusty tried to get her to smile a little.
Im not cut out for this kind of life. She blurted out. How can some dumb cows be so important?
I know. he tried to find her lips again, but she turned her head, avoiding the kiss.
You want to go. Your too eager to leave. she challenged.
Mr Codwells orders. Im suppose to be gone already. Dusty put a foot in the stirrup and swung up into the Saddle. Im missing you already. Try if you can. I would really like for you to visit. The last he saw of her as he rode off, was her cute smile, telling him everything was okay.
Dusty knew the way to the Cabin. It was large enough for several men, and had a covered stable for the horses. The wagon road leading there, crossed several springs. Water wasnt a problem for Black Canyon. The cabin had been built near a good flowing spring, but in the summers it did slow a bit. There was one winter, when every thing froze and the line riders had to use an axe to break the ice to water the horses. There was a couple axes at the cabin, along with fire wood cut during the summer, and plenty of stored up hay for the horses.
When Dusty got to the cabin, he tossed his bed roll inside and then went on a short inspection tour. There was half a day left, so he made good use of the light and cut across the canyon to check on the fence line there. So far every thing was okay. The cattle stood around, watching him ride by. He thought about beef steaks, and wondered if there was any meat hanging back at the Cabin. Even if there was, he figured on shooting a buck for himself, rather then chance anything the other two men might have left.
It was getting cold when he returned to the cabin. Unsaddling his horse, he brushed and rubbed it down, like hed been taught by Julias father. After that he filled a feed bucket with some oats and brought a bucket of water in for the small trough inside the stall.
After taking care of his horse, he finally went inside the cabin and lit one of the oil lanterns. The place was a mess, the two men hadnt done a clean up the whole time they were there. Dusty built a fire in the stove, and filled some pots with water to heat. Every dish in the cabin was sitting in the wash pan. The shelves were pretty bare, from over indulging. Dusty ate a bowl of oatmeal and honey for supper. He had a few cooking skills, enough to put some beans in a pan to soak. Hed been taught to make only the amount he was going to eat, as left over beans spoiled if they were left out. Course once he got a stew pot going, he would just add more to it each day.
By the time he got the place cleaned up enough to live in, it was late and he spread his bed roll out on one of the hard bunks. Later if the snow didnt come and cover everything, he figured to gather dry moss or even hay and make a warm comfortable bed. There was plenty of time to add to the comforts of the cabin.
After a breakfast of more pan cakes and honey. He saddled up and began riding fence line, he had a lot of ground to cover, and it was going to take at least three days to cover the whole line. He started at the cabin and rode north along the east side of the canyon. He carried plyers and gloves to work with broken strands. He also had a hammer and staples to nail the wire to the fence posts and trees. So far, he only had a few minor repairs, caused by elk not clearing the fence when they jumped it. It just took a staple or two to secure the lose wires again.
He kept his rifle close when ever he dismounted. He didnt want something spooking the horse and leaving him a foot with no fire arm. The horse wasnt a skittish animal, and seemed to like his company. The real test came when he saw a small buck trailing behind several does. Dusty didnt dismount, but shot the buck while sitting in the saddle. The horse only shied to the side, but settled back down. Only one shot was needed, but Dusty was confident that the horse would have behaved even better with a second shot.
Needing to dress out the buck, Dusty returned to the cabin early. He had the buck skinned and hung and was frying up slices of heart for dinner. A small shed in back of the cabin, was used for smoking meat and making jerky. A lot of the buck was cut in strips and hung over a smoldering fire of Ash wood and Oak. He added some mesquite to the smoke, for flavor. In a day or two he would have some good tasting jerky.
Dusty started each day in the saddle, before sun up. The air was much colder this morning, and an over cast sky kept the dawn from breaking through. The Section of fence he was checking today was the north end of the canyon again. During the ride up there, he used his rope to pull a calf out of a jumble of rocks. It had stumbled over a small ridge of broken stones, and fell between some boulders. Once out and the lariat off, it ran to find its mother. The incident was a validation for needing a fence rider.
Moving along the trail beside the fence, Dusty drew his coat collar up and pulled his hat down tighter. The wind was picking up and had a bite to it. He decided not to stay out any longer than it took to ride straight back to the cabin. His ears were feeling the cold even worse, so he used his bandana to tie his hat on against the wind, and also cover his ears.
Snow was blowing in his face. He kept his head lowered so the brim of his hat, protected his eyes from the sleet mixed snow. He rode passed several groups of cattle, standing together for protection against the wind. Most of the herd was finding low spots where they would find shelter out of the wind. Dusty concluded It was going to be a hard winter if it kept up. He was beginning to dread the next day. If it was as bad in the morning, Dusty decided to stay bundled up in the cabin. He didnt want to lose and ear or fingers to frostbite.
Nearing the cabin, he could smell smoke in the wind that rushed pass. He was glad that some one had build a fire, but was leery of who would be calling on a day like this.
There were two horses in the stalls, one saddled and the other had been used to pack some supplies. Dusty unsaddle his horse and the other one too. Who ever was inside, wouldnt be leaving today, not in this storm. So he took care of all three animals and brought water for them, even though they didnt seem to want it. The oats and hay he laid out for them, they took to, as the cold had them burning lots of energy to stay warm. Before going in side, Dusty covered each with a horse blanket.
Coming through the door, he saw Alice standing by the stove, tending to what ever she was cooking. It smelled like venison, and he hoped she was frying a a lot, because he was hungry and didnt want to eat another pot of beans.
Brought you some supplies. Alice gave him a welcoming smile. She nodded towards the bunk where his bed roll lay. You the only one here?
Dusty was standing by the stove, and taking off his coat and tied down hat. Yeah, I was hoping you were the other rider. I need some one to play checkers with.
Well, maybe tonight. Im not going home in this weather. So after we eat, you play your best game. I need some extra money. She made reference to the fact that she like to play for a nickle a game. Dusty pulled out an empty pants pocket to show that he wasnt carrying any cash. She laughed and told him his credit was good.
The evening meal was venison, biscuits, gravy and a can of green beans. A better meal than the pan cakes he was planing on having. While they were eating, Alice asked him what he planned on for tomorrow. To which he replied, he was staying in and keeping warm. There would be a better day to ride fence, and this storm wouldnt last.
What about you. Im sure Buck doesnt want you spending the night here. But I can use the company, I just dont want the boss to string me up.
Why would Dad do that? Alice laughed at him.
I wouldnt want my daughter staying over night with a man that aint her husband. Dusty was serious, he was worried that there would be some consequences resulting from the visit.
You know, I could very well be the sole owner of this ranch some day. So I dont think theres going to be much said about anything?
Well, just so they dont take it out on me, I dont know what other jobs that could be worse than this one, and Id hate to find out.
Like I said, Im usually the one handing out the pay. So there wont be any talking, at least not where I can hear it. If you hear some, you be sure and let me know. Then she looked around again at the bunks. Fred was suppose to send another hand up here. You dont suppose he got lost?
Dont know. Im just a little worried about the weather. I was hoping the snow would hold off for a while.
Why, you got something special in mind? Alice reached into a bag beside her, and pulled out a bottle. Care if I sweeten your coffee.
I really dont drink any more. Dusty shook his head. So Alice asked him why not, and he explained that he and Julia decided to stay away from the sins of the bottle.
Alice squinted one eye at him, and took a deep breath. I wouldnt let. she started to say, then caught her self. Well, if you do decide to have a snort, even just to warm your insides. Your secret will be safe with me. There was something he didnt know but she wasnt going to be the one to tell him.
Well that brings up something I wanted to talk to Your Dad about. Dusty was a little hesitant. Since you figure to be running the ranch, I was wondering if there was another bunk house, for married people.
That can all be discussed come spring. A lot can happen between now and then. She was regretting the conversation had turned this way. Alice, added a dollop of whiskey to her coffee, and enjoyed the effect. After helping to wash up after dinner, they sat down and she beat him several games of checkers. Finally saying they could take up the game in the morning, Alice pulled her bedroll out of a pack. She made a trip out to the stable and came back in with half a bale of straw. She was going to make sure she slept warm. After they turned in, and both comfortable in their bed rolls, Alice took another long swig of whiskey and pulled her blanket up around her ears. She was done for the night.
The storm continued the next day but began to wane towards the after noon. Alice carefully avoided any mention of Julia. Seeing that Dusty was determined to check the wire close to the cabin, she accompanied him on a small excursion. The snow was still falling, filling in old tracks till there wasnt even a dip in the leveled snow. Looking out across the wide expanse of the snow covered grass, Dusty observed that it wouldnt last. He could see the sky was much lighter in the west, meaning an end of the waning storm was passing. The depth of the snow on the ground would also recede. So by the next afternoon, Alice would be able to ride out with no problem. That didnt mean that more snow from the next storm wouldnt bury the trail until the spring thaw. Dusty commented that he was concerned that Julia and who ever she came with might find themselves in the middle of a blizzard. He was expecting his sweet heart to come visit, even if it was only an hour before they had to head back.
Alice said that when she returned to the ranch, she would relay his concerns. Dusty was quick to add, that he wanted a visit, but not at the risk of anyones life because of harsh weather conditions. Looking at Dusty with a new regard, Alice could see a tender side of the man she had worked so hard to defile in her fathers eyes. She began to regret her words. That night which was to be the last before she rode home, They again played some checkers. This time, while Dusty was distracted for different reasons, Alice added a little whiskey to his coffee. It didnt take very much and Dusty was feeling the effects. Giving Alice a reproachful look, she responded that they must have switched cups by mistake. The result was that Dusty became very talkative, and the two began discussing every topic that wandered by in their conversation.