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    • "Ain't hardly nothin' to do but hunker down till she blows herself out." The man squatted, "Rance, is the name. Been watchin' you, doin' a fine job. You'll do Wheeler, you'll do. Try and get some rest, might end up bein' a long night. Least you won't be ridin' drag come daylight, there's a plus for ya."   He stood and made his way to his shelter to await the grub that was coming.   @Bongo
    • Meanwhile, in the main house, Reb Culverson was visiting with his old friend Fightin' Joe Hooker, who was the ramrod for the fledgling Montana Territory Stockgrowers Association, Northern District. He was there to convince ranchers to join and support the organization, hoping it would take root.   "And just what good is this here association ya got started?" Reb asked.   "It'll give us a voice in the territorial government, Reb, that's what it'll do. Once that happens we'll be able to git us some sortta range police to protect the herds, and the ranchers." Hooker responded. "Rustlin' might not be the threat it was, but you know as well as me, it can come back."   "You get anywhere with Lost Lake, 'er that cow thief on the Evergreen?" Reb asked.   "Can't say as I have, startin' with the smaller spreads an' workin' my way up to them two. I'm well aware of both spreads, and the men that own 'em."   -------------0------------   They swept down out of the trees whooping and hollering and firing off a couple of shots as they closed on both sides of a big group of cattle, just as they had planned. The  lone night hawk knew he had no chance of stopping the raiders, or of saving the cattle while he watched the chunk of the herd moving toward and then into the trees at a run.  He emptied his Colt at the raiders, the whipped out his Winchester  and levered several shots in the area where they had disappeared.   He could not know that one of his shots had found its mark. A man that had just joined took a slug in his back and toppled from his horse. Toole and the men continued to drive the cattle toward the dry riverbed as planned. It was an acceptable loss.   The sound of the shots, mere pops at the distance to the main house and the bunk house alerted everyone, and men boiled out of the bunk house guns in hand, only to watch the night man shooting after the rustlers.
    • Out on the boardwalk they stopped, "So we managed ta git a deal right off, thet's good, it is. Now all we gotta do is convince ol' Wentworth to free up the money so's ya don't have ta use yers right off." Amos commented, "Seems a fair deal but like you say, minin's not no sure thing."   "John and Mary are good folks. It's not a sure thing, but you saw the vein, went to the floor and it looks rich," Speed responded. "And it looks to be wider where they stopped digging. I can't wait to get it assayed to see what we've really got our hands on."   "And it should assay out pretty good from the looks of it, though I know so little about copper ore." Alice admitted.   "Well, you saw the copper ore, which is clearly distinguishable from the surrounding rock due to its reddish, mottled appearance. And that surrounding rock is granite which is not easy to work, but it can be done, and, if we have hit it, the veins could be as much as a mile long, a mile wide, and a mile deep!" Speed explained with a grin. "With that equipment we'll be able to not only dig deeper, we'll be able to tunnel, and we have the property to do just that."   "Jumpin' Jehoshaphat!" Amos exclaimed. Might oughtta buy up what ground ya can aound 'er, jest ta be certain!"   "First things first, let get on up to the bank." Speed suggested.
    • Justus was more than happy to have a chance to get out of the bulk of the wind, although he knew this was far from over.  And he knew they'd be hacking up dirt for days.     With the picket lines set, he moved over to help put up the shelters for the night, pretty quickly deciding that it was a fool's errand...they were all going to be miserable until this let up.   Squinting, he looked out toward the herd, not able to see but a few in the dust, it looked like they had been swallowed by the big, dirty cloud, and weren't even there.  In fact, he had the eerie sensation that all that was left in the world was this small circle of men and horses.   "Ya need me ta do anythin' else?" he called over the din of the wind.   @Flip
    • Doc Gilcrest walked into the bunck house to see Carson on his feet, dressed. "I may not be able to ride, but I can darn sure walk some. Tired of layin' in that bed."   "I reckon you kin do thet, sure 'nough. No body said ya had ta lie there if'n ya didn't want to. Yer stitched up plenty good. Jest leave thet hog leg where she's hangin' fer now, don't need the weight in thet wound."   "So anybody come sniffin' around?" He asked.   "Not so's you'd notice. There's four men down there keepin' watch, but it don't look like Lost Lake's lost any sleep over their man, that is if'n they even know he's gone." Gilcrest offered.   "He seen that brand an' went ta shootin'!" Carson reflected. "I jest shot straighter. Had no choice in the matter. Fool could'a rode on, but, well, that just ain't what happened. Hell of a mess."   "Oh I dunno. So far nobodies come huntin', the boss ain't upset over it, neither's Granger, so you got nothin' ta worry on 'cept gettin' better."   "I should'a been more careful, but maybe there just wasn't no way to be more careful. Up on the side of that mountain is the purdiest view a man could look at. You can see fer miles, see right where they got them cows of theirs. Now that ain't gonna be no easy matter to get to any of 'em. They're deep on Lost Lake range. Gonna be hard to get at, an' worse to get out. We'll lose some men tryin' this one, that's for sure!'   Gilcrest rubbed his chin. It wasn't like Carson to go on about the prospects of a job.

All Work and No Play


The Old Ranger
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fairgrounds.png.59120ec36f22152c3521f52049a43682.png

 

The Kalispell Fairgrounds, most often referred to as the Fairgrounds, was located about two miles west of the town of Kalispell. The long, river-fed meadow's western border lay along the eastern border of Lost Lake Ranch and the foothills of the Chogun Mountains. It was a long, wide expanse of rolling grasslands. The landscape is spectacular with the meandering foothills being overlooked by the towering Chogun Mountain Range. The meadow has long been a gathering spot for local ranchers when they needed additional grazing for their herds. It has also been used as a place to muster several herds together for joint cattle drives. Shimmering blue pools dot the meadow where aquifers bring life-giving water to the surface. Even in mid-summer, the grass is green and verdant.

 

The location of the meadow made it an ideal gathering spot for major town events such as the annual Founder's Day Celebration. The region's prominent families shared the cost of the fair and its events with the businesses from the town. This way it was never a burden for any one group. It also kept undue influence from being wielded over the events. The only event held on private property is the horse race which takes place on Drover's Meadow adjacent to the Fairgrounds and owned by the powerful Thornton family.

 

The Founder's Day Celebration was created to commemorate the establishment of Kalispell as a town separate from the fort. The goal was to bring the community together to celebrate the town and the people of the region. Despite decided unease with the local Indians, it was not unusual for a delegation of Blackfoot to attend the gathering. This year will be one of the few that Indians are notably absent from.

 

As with years before, the meadow is teaming with people working on the last minute preparations. They are putting the finishing touches on the grandstands, enclosures, and constructing the dance floor for the following night. The day is sunny and hot. At its peak, it will reach 95º. Day workers have been employed to help ensure that everything goes off without a hitch!

 

Nothing bad ever happens on Founder's Day.

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It was hot and bound to get hotter. Already, Shade's work shirt was sticking to him, wet with his sweat. The week had been hectic with all of the preparations for the Kalispell Founder's Day Celebration, but they were finally almost done. Drover's Meadow had been transformed into a fairground with the majestic Choguns as its backdrop. Workers were putting the final touches on the booths with their gay banners streaming in the breeze, inviting everyone to stop and look at their wares. A few traveling vendors had already arrived and parked their wagons in the designated area. Kalispell's shopkeepers were setting up select items from their stores, and a few children played nearby.


Shade narrowed his eyes against the morning sun's glare as a horseman rode toward the arena where the rodeo events would be held. It was just Ezra, returning to his role of foreman and overseeing all of the preparations. He had forgotten what a taskmaster the older man was, but it was impossible to resent it because Ezra and his wife, Kate, worked as hard as everyone else.


Pulling off his bandana, Shade leaned down and soaked it in the icy cold water of the small pool. Several of these little aquifer fed water holes dotted the meadow. Most were only a few feet deep with sandy bottoms. The water came from deep underground which meant the number of pools appeared and disappeared depending on time of year and rainfall. Someone had driven a post into the ground next to the pool with bent nails for holding dippers. After mopping his brow and replacing the bandana around his neck, Shade pulled one of the dippers off its hook, filled it and took a long drink of water. He then filled the two canteens he had carried over from the building site and filled them.


Shade was on his way back to the area where they were going to construct the large dance floor for the next night's festivities when a cacophony of shouts got his attention. He grinned as one of the large tents was raised from the ground. These would be used for the livestock displays and shows as well as some of the other events such as the cooking and baking contests. This was his first Founder's Day Celebration and Shade felt a thrill of excitement at the prospect. If nothing else, it meant the end of a grueling work week.


"Hey, boy, you're not loitering out here are you?" Ezra's pleasantly deep voice startled Shade. His big mouse-gray gelding's hoofbeats had been muffled in the thick, recently mown grass.


"No, sir!" Shade was quick to respond out of habit. He could not quite shake the feeling that Ezra was the boss even though the man made it clear he respected Shade's half-ownership of the ranch. "Just refilling a couple of canteens. We should be finished by dinner time. None too soon either," he chuckled lightly, "my blisters have blisters."


"At least the tents will be up soon so the ladies can start preparing the workers' day lunch and dinner," Ezra responded. Although the workers were provided with food as well as pay for the week, there was always banquet held in their honor the night before the celebration. "I'll check back to see if you men need anything."


By this point they had reached the area where the dance floor and band's dais would be constructed. Shade gave the gelding a gentle slap on its flank as he passed him and turned to the workers. Signaling to the workers to gather around, he laid out the plans that Ezra had drawn up for them. "We should be able to knock this out by late afternoon, plenty of time for a swim before dinner." He grinned at the men he would be supervising for the day.

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A big festival, Aurelian thought that was a fine thing for the locals to put on. Things like that were good for communities, building histories, and also a great place to allow newcomers to mingle with the locals. He and his family fit that first category.  It hadn't been easy for them this past year and even now their early experience with the locals had been mixed but definitely leaning toward the good. He did not regret his decision to buy the homestead from the Sidwells. By next time this year just maybe he'd be turning some sort of profit, meanwhile they just had to hang in there.

 

Dropping his children off in town, for he did not trust their safety by themselves on the homestead, he had decided to join in on the preparations required for this local celebration.  And there certainly was plenty to do. He was put to work right away. Not that he minded, he had never been afraid of a some hard physical labor his entire life.  Perhaps the only drawback was the damned mid summer heat, it was like working in an oven. A few of the older men had to call it quits early and no one begrudged them either. He knew from his military past that men could die from heatstroke. Least they had plentiful water. 

 

It wasn't all work though, he got his chance to meet a few of the locals even as they shared various tasks. People seemed accepting of his homesteading even though he was enough of a realist to know some of the ranchers looked down upon such endeavors as detrimental to their livelihoods. But his immediate neighbor, the Thornton Ranch, had been friendly and cooperative.  The incident with Clara had been unfortunate but the tough minded girl had bounced back quickly and neither of them believed the Thornton Ranch was behind it. It remained unsolved but who knew what the future would bring. At least there had been no new visits by those two mysterious cowpokes or anyone else hostile.

 

Hanging over all their heads though was the ongoing Indian problems. Scattered incidents of violence had taken place all over Montana and the Dakotas, no one should let down their guard. Some frontier newspapers constantly were calling on the government to have the army forcibly clear all Indians from the entire territory as the only way to guarantee peace. It was a powder keg and being a former officer he was rather certain in the end it would result in a bloody war. Wasn't that always the case with the Indians since the white man first landed on this continent. Aurelian did not hate all Indians for the loss of his wife but he sadly realized the two quite different life styles of these societies could never really mesh. One was going to have to emerge on top, he knew who it would be too.

 

His thoughts were interrupted by a loud call for a few of the men to assemble for the next task, wiping his brow he headed on over.

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Though of course he made trips in town, Robert certainly did not live there and did not consider himself one of the townsfolk, but news of the festival sounded quite exciting really. Also he found out that they were paying those who showed up to set up the thing and were willing to hire anyone who would volunteer.  The young man could certainly use the money given his prospecting thus far had been mostly fruitless. Not like he could give up though, he had no experience or skills to work on a ranch and he couldn't hold town jobs such as store clerks because he did not even read or write. Plus, there was always a percentage of people who really detested the Irish. About the only group held in lower esteem was the negro. Well, there were the Indians too but those folk were not even considered a part of society.  Robert knew almost nothing about the Indians other than he had been constantly warned about them and their thieving and murderous ways. No, he had no desire to run into any of those red devils.

 

Once he arrived, the young man was assigned to one of the work crews and he immediately began earning those wages. It was physical labor and it was hotter than Hades too. He would show them though, he pitched in wherever needed without the slightest complaint. The young Irishman was tough and stronger than his thin build indicated at first glance.  He was determined to show any doubters he was not one of those 'lazy useless immigrants'.

 

There was only one moment of real tension though. The blacksmith's assistant was on one of the same work crews he was assigned to. Those two had a run in awhile back, a fistfight that Robert had surprisingly won. He preferred to remember that was his introduction to young Sissy May though, not dwell on his victory.  The other man gave him some hard glares but held his temper in check..........for now. Robert, for his part, also said nothing nor did he even try and make eye contact. He wasn't afraid of the other man but he had no desire to risk a second bout of fisticuffs. Next time he might not win and even if he did, it might prove to be a painful victory and for what?

 

It was with relief that the work crew took a short water break. Robert drank down some gulps of the precious liquid then poured some more over his tousled hair.  His shirt was soaked already with sweat so no matter than the water splashed onto his shoulders. Besides it felt good.

 

 

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Quentin rode up to the edge of the meadow. He inhaled a deep breath of the air and watched the busy preparations. Quentin had only attended one of these festivals in the past when his time at the ranch right after Charleston had coincided with the occasion. He remembered it had been a great time.  One thing he had not had to do before, was the preparations for the Festival and dance...and Quentin had to admit, this past week had worn him out. Ezra had an endless list of things that needed to be done before Saturday. Quentin looked around as he rode across the meadow, occasionally slowing to thread among the groups until he ended up near Shade. 


Quentin dismounted and sidled over to Shade. "So, have you seen Ezra this morning?" Quentin asked, eyes constantly moving in case the older man was nearby or approaching. Quentin brought his eyes back around to Shade. "What?..."


Shade laughed, his deep blue eyes dancing in amusement. He enjoyed working outdoors but had to admit Ezra had worn him to the bone. Quentin was far from lazy, still, the Hales were quite the taskmasters! "Ezra stopped by a little while back, rode off toward town. I figure he's gone to terrorize the town council."
 

Quentin visibly relaxed. "Good. I needed a break after the last few days."


The younger man looked around at the busy groups of men and women working around the meadow. Spotting a familiar figure, Shade remembered another task he had in mind. After the incident with the men that had harassed the young Redmond girl, he had talked to Quentin about offering her part-time work as a babysitter and mentor to the twins. Right now, Harriet Mercer's younger sister was filling the role of the governess, but Shade thought she could use some time off or even just a break here and there. The twins were not mean or even badly spoiled, but they were little whirlwinds.


"There's Aurelian Redmond. I want to ask him about Clara working for us before I forget," Shade said and pointed to where Aurelian was working with a group of men to unload the last of the lumber from the delivery wagon.


Leading Quentin around the edge of the area staked out for the dance floor, Shade walked up to Redmond as he finished laying the last planks on the stack, "Mr. Redmond," he greeted the man pleasantly, "thank you for helping out this week. We could use a few men like you on the ranch."


Quentin stood a little behind Shade and to the side. He nodded to the other man while Shade conducted his business. Idly he turned, keeping an eye peeled for Ezra's return.


Aurelian wiped his hands on the sides of his trousers as he then glanced at the men, "Mr. Thornton, Mr. Cantrell, pleasure's all mine though my back and hands might disagree by tonight. So....you do a lot of floor laying at that ranch of yours?" It was all said was a grin of course.

 
Shade grinned, "With Ezra, you never know what we'll be workin' on. And please, make it Shade." He nodded off toward the west in the direction of the rest of the ranch. "I was hoping to catch you before we started work here today. I'd like to ask your permission to offer Clara a job two or three days a week babysitting my wards. The judge mandated they be supervised at all times. We have a governess, but she needs time off."

 
"Shade then, I'm Aurelian, but if that's too fancy for you, Aury is fine," Aurelian replied then listened to the man's unexpected offer.


"A job? Babysitting for your children?  Ahhh yes, I believe I met them at the general store when I met Mrs. Hale. Well, we would have to figure out arrangements as to how Clara would get to your place, but otherwise, I have no objections. Of course, I would like to hear Clara's thoughts on this but knowing her, she will jump at it."

 
He left it unsaid the family could use any extra money they could get, and Clara was well aware of that too. Also, he had every confidence she could do the job properly.


"Perhaps, if you can spare her, we can set her work days so she can stay at the ranch?" Shade said, his mind working to think out a solution that would work for the Redmonds and the twins. "Sage Miller's wife works at the ranch house, and they have a cabin not far from here." Shade indicated the nearest foothills. "I'm sure Mary and Sage would be glad to see that Clara gets back and forth safely."

 

"Well..........I do admit, that girl does a lot of work for our family. The laundry, the cooking, the sewing, she is a gem, my Clara. And as you've seen she takes a big interest in the garden too. I do need her but as long as it's not too much time out of the week, I think I can spare her. As long as the Millers do not feel put upon for their part in this too," Aurelian seemed positive to this possibility and imagined Clara would jump at this also.

 

"I figure a couple of days a week if both of you are agreeable. We'll arrange transportation so don't worry on that. In fact, if she rides and you approve, I have a little mare she can borrow. Thank you for considering it. Should I negotiate the rate of pay with Clara?" Shade grinned slightly at that, trying to imagine entering into a negotiation with the teen and figuring he'd lose in the end.

 

"A couple of days.....sounds reasonable unless something comes up, one can never forecast such things," Aurelian nodded, "She does ride, she's actually very capable on a horse, I tease her that the horse doesn't know anybody is even on top. My one worry though is given the situation I am leery of her riding about on her own, you understand I hope."

 

"Of course! All things considered, you're right to be cautious," Shade pulled off his hat and ran his bandana over his hair as he considered. "We'll offer the mare with the condition that she meets up with one or both of the Millers for the ride to and from the ranch house - at least until we all see how it works out." That seemed to be a good compromise. It would give Clara some control yet have her traveling in the company of reliable people.

 

"And yes, you can work it with Clara then about wages.....I warn you, she can drive a hard bargain at times. Don't take it personal though, that's just her personality," Aurelian smiled.

 

Shade grinned, "I'm looking forward to it. Thank you, Mr. Redmond - uh, Aurelian. I'll make the job offer to her the next time I see her and she can talk it over with you." Looking around the meadow, he spotted Ezra riding their way and winced, "Best get on that dance floor. The Old Man's on his way."

 

Quentin's eyes widened. "Well, um...I need to be going. I have that...thing I have to be doing...very important...can't wait..." He then turned and moved around the side of a nearby wagon, glancing back occasionally...

 

Ezra reined his big gelding in and then set him to a trot, circled the wagon and effectively cut Quentin off, "I think you're lost, Quentin. The dance floor is over that way," he gestured to where the men were working of the platform for the band. "Shade, boy! Get a move on or we'll be putting down planks while people dance."

 

Shade's laugh at Quentin's escape attempt was abruptly cut off by Ezra's sharp-voiced order. "Play-time's over," he told Aurelian and grinned.

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