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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.

The Trail To Kalispel


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Pronto Pike had left Virginia City Nevada and headed north for Montana, Kalispell Montana to be exact. But Pronto Pike would not make a direct line from Nevada to Kalispell, no, he would swing west to see an old friend somewhat farther north. True, he’d then have to turn east, then south to reach this new town Cap had told him about.


The ride was a long one, but Pronto was in to hurry to get anywhere. The big strike? Well, he’d had enough of boom towns, and with his one-third interest in the Yellow Jacket mine, he was more than comfortable as a man of simple tastes, and few needs. Though, should he like what he saw in Kalispell, well, he could invest in land, or perhaps a business.


The thought of his own spread was a sobering one. He’d never had more than what fits in his saddlebags, war bag, or, was rolled up in his soogan. Oh, he’d had two or three horse remuda a time or two. But mostly one horse, his guns and maybe a change of clothes. So having a place to light and set other than another man’s outfit seemed a stretch.


The trip to his friend Nolan Woods’ place coved both desolate and beautiful country. It included working on a number of spreads for twenty-five dollars and found, meals and a bunk. The money was spent on supplies when in a town along the way.


Nolan Woods lived on five hundred acres. His intent had been to run cattle, but since there was a herd of buffalo that called the range home, he had held off convinced there was more than enough time to get back to work. Pronto stayed a week, then saddled up and rode out, swinging due east toward a trail that would lead him to this Kalispell town.

Edited by Stormwolfe (see edit history)
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Odd to have covered this distance that he had without so much as the rumble of thunder. That was until he rode into Whitefish Montana. He had stopped at the café for some beef and beans and coffee he didn’t make himself. It wasn’t exactly trouble he faced, but that feeling that it could be at any time. The man leaning against the post of the Marshal’s Office overhang. It was a look he’d seen too many times before. A silent challenge one to the other.


He sat looking out the window when his plate of food arrived, and a refill of his half-empty coffee. Like most cafe’s along the way, as a stranger, he had paid in advance. The man stepped off the porch, hitching up his gun belt as he started across the street. Pronto went to eating the beef and beans.


The chair across from him made a scraping noise as it was pulled back, Pronto taking another fork load into his mouth. “Yer new around here.”


“I am.” Pronto replied.


“I’m Marshal Case Steelgrave and I run a nice quiet town here.” He stated, almost as a challenge.


“Glad to hear it, Marshal. Me? I’m just passing through, headed south to Kalispell.” Pronto responded, continuing to eat. “Thought to have something to eat.”


“Why two guns? You a gun hand?” Case probed, eyes narrowing.


“Cuz sometimes one’s not enough. I’m a waddie. You know, a ranahan. Puncher, whatever the job calls for.” All the while the name Case Steelgrave tumbled over in Pike’s mind.


“You got a name waddy?” Case asked rather unpleasantly.


“Sure Marshal. Barnabas J. Pike. Late of Nevada.” Pronto responded cheerfully. Steelgrave was a bully, he knew the type. He was on the prod, looking for a fight. Then it came to him. Case Steelgrave was a known man in Texas. The kind other men good with guns would know of.


“You’re a long way from home Barnabas J. Pike.” The tone was menacing.


“Wasn’t home. Just a stop along the way.” He dropped the fork onto the empty plate and picked up the cup, draining it. “Well, got me a ways to travel. Been real nice meeting you Marshal, real nice.” He said getting to his feet and extending his hand. Steegrave stood and gasped Pronto’s hand in a vice-like grip.


“You take care Pike, these are uncertain times, what with Kootenai being notional about white men.” Steelgrave advised in a thinly veiled threat. With that, Pike dropped an extra quarter on the table and left the café.

Steelgrave hung with him the rest of the way to Kalispell. He was on guard for an ambush which never came. That man was a known hired gun, but not a man to hire on for fighting wages, no, it would seem he was a hired assassin. A man to be wary of.


Edited by Flip (see edit history)
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Kalispell was in site, a mass of structures rising up out of the prairie. Fact was, it started out the same as Whitefish had. But as he drew closer it was different, much different. A church greeted him first, at least the steeple did, and then the other buildings began to take shape. Kallispellappeared to be a more organized town that Whitefish, but there was one problem, it looked deserted.


The roan plodded ahead, neither he or the rider in much of a hurry. The main street was wide, buildings on both sides of the dirt thoroughfare, apparently solidly built and well maintained. He reigned in at the  Belle-St. Regis Hotel whose saloon front door stood wide open. Pronto stepped down and flipped the reigns over the hitch rail, then stepping up on the boardwalk, and entered the saloon and strode up to the bar. "Kinda dead ain't it?"


Zane McGhee was not a typical bartender. For one thing, he was younger than the going average. He had a thick crop of curly red hair, worn slightly long, and merry blue eyes. McGhee enjoyed his job. He genuinely liked people. Zane grinned at the man, taking careful note of his rather dangerous looks. Beyond that, he preferred not judging people simply on looks alone. "Most everyone is at the Founder's Day Fair. Makes for a quiet day until the festivities end." That was the other thing that set Zane apart. He was a college-educated lawyer from Boston.


"Have me a beer. No sense both of us standin' 'round." Pike ordered, dropping a nickel on the bar. It was cool in the room. Nice bar, the set up looked spendy, though that wouldn't be much of a problem. "Still a nickel, right. Now, the law in town? Out to the fair, I'd reckon."


Zane scooped up the coin, nodding at the man's questions, "Yes. I don't think Marshal Cory is on duty until the dance tonight. His daughter, Deputy Marshal Cory, is at the fairgrounds keeping an eye on things today. You can't miss her. Hair like the main of wild mustang's mane. Pretty enough, though," he winked at the man. "If you need the marshal, he's probably at his house - just at the edge of town - or sleeping in the backroom at the office."


Pike smiled. “Not like that lawdog up to Whitefish.” He sipped the beer, then set the glass aside. “I knew of a Steelgrave down Texas way. Gun hand for hire. Never seen him in action mind you, but heard tales of his graveyards.” He paused. “I’m thinkin’ this might be the same hombre. Know anything about the man? Tryin’ ta put my mind at ease one way ‘er tuther."


"I have seen him in here a time or two, real elegant looking gent with the eyes of a rattlesnake. The talk I've heard is that everyone knows he's a hired gun, but he's really slick. Never draws first so it's never murder." Zane paused in the act of wiping the bar down with a wet rag. "The Steelgraves are a nasty lot. Wealthier than Midas. The Thorntons have more land and are wealthy enough too, but they are good people. Shame about what happened to Mr. and Mrs. Thornton and those oldest two young'uns of theirs." He gave the stranger a steady look, "I think Case Steelgrave lived in El Paso for a lot of years. Not a man to cross - so I hear." Zane knew he was repeating himself, but it was something he felt needed said again.


“El Paso was it? Then I reckon this Case Steelgrave is the same hombre what I’d heard of.” He smiled, picked up the glass and took a swallow. “He come at me lookin’ for a fight, he did. Pushin’, but me bein’ seated an’ him towerin’ over me gave me no chance. Figger’d I’d get buffaloed at least an’ come to in the jail.” He appraised the golden liquid and then had another swallow. “Or get shot outright. What’s this about the Thorntons?”


"Back in early June, Mr. Chance Thornton, his wife, and their two oldest children were ambushed. They were on their way back from Missoula. Wagon burned, bodies burned beyond recognition. It's a miracle the little boy got away and was found. They say it was a renegade band of Indians. Our marshal isn't sold on that theory though. Thorntons always had good relations with the natives. After all, they have Blackfoot blood in 'em." Zane reached for the man's beer mug and topped it off, waving off any offer to pay. It was a hot day and a slow one for business. Besides, the conversation was good.


“Abliged.” He took a slow sip, letting the new information sink in and sort of swirl around. It wasn’t a new trick, far from it. The Indian ruse had been used almost everywhere in the west. Even the Mormons were suspected of using it. Convenient way of getting rid of a problem. A problem that most times dealt with either land or mining or both. “Not the first I’ve heard of such suspicions. You thinkin’ mebee these Steelgraves got their hands in it? Mebee wantin’ to take property from these Thorntons?” He took a swallow, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “How about the small spreads? They gettin’ pushed about too?”


Zane thought about his answer for a moment, "There's bad blood between the two families. Started back when Ishmael Thornton settled the Chogun Valley, really heated up between old John Caleb Thornton and Elias Steelgrave." He paused for dramatic effect. Zane loved an interested audience and sharing local history, "Now, as I heard it, it got even worse when the youngest Thornton boy killed the youngest Steelgrave boy after he tried to rape Thornton's future sister-in-law. Happened down in Missoula. The boy was cleared, shot Calvin in self-defense. Old man disowned him though."


There was another pause while Zane once again sized up the stranger, "Shade Thornton's now half-owner of the ranch and guardian of the twins who now own the other half. He came back here a few weeks ago. Heard he made a name for himself with his gun too." Zane finished wiping down the bar and began drying glasses that had just been washed by the backroom boy. "I would not put killing a family above old Elias. He's far meaner than even Case. And the Steelgraves want Lost Lake. Heck, they want everything so I'm sure they've harassed others."


“Yah, sounds like a right friendly place to light ‘n set.” Pronto quipped. “So blood’s been bad for some time then. Sounds about right. Now this Thornton fella, he all wound up in this feud, or just waitin’ ta see how she plays out?” None of this, of course, was his business. And that sort of fit. There had been other places where it hadn’t been his business, but he made it his. As he sipped his beer he recalled the look in Case Steelgrave's eyes. That look of disdain, I’m better, faster than you. A lot of fast men had died. Since he was considering Kalispell as a place to light, maybe this Thornton was a man to talk with. He’d get the answers to his questions then ride on out to the Founders Day Fair and see what’s what.


"To be honest with you, mister, I don't really know that much about Mr. Thornton. Seen him in time a few times with that little niece and nephew of his. He worked as hard as anyone getting the meadow ready for the fair. Seems an affable enough sort." Zane reached up and scratched his head. "Come to think of it, never heard anything about any of the Thorntons going looking for trouble, just they won't back down if it comes looking for them."


"Well, ain't gettin' nothin' done loafin' here. Thanks for the beer an' conversation." Pronto said as he pushed the half-empty glass away from him. "Reckon I'll have me a look-see at this here fair, an' mebee hunt up this Thronton character. Been a help." And with that, he turned and walked to the batwing doors.


Zane nodded at the man's comments, wished him a pleasant day and turned back to his work as another customer hailed him for a refill of his beer.

Edited by Flip (see edit history)
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