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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.

Bear Tracks


Shade Thornton
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Shade reined Lakota in, pulled his hat off and ran a hand through his thick dark hair to loosen the sweat. He unhooked his canteen from the saddle horn and took a long drink of water before soaking his bandana and wiping his face with it. He had spent the day riding fence along the ranch's southern border. It was time to ride for home. He was looking forward to dinner and relaxing in the evening. With that in mind, Shade touched his heels to Lakota's flanks and headed the horse toward the river and the road home.


They had just crossed the Chogun at one of its lower fords when Lakota threw up his head, his nostrils flaring in and out with the scent of something he did not like. At about the same time, Shade saw the vultures circling overhead in the adjacent meadow. He sighed and patted the horse's glossy neck, "Guess our dinner will have to wait for a bit," he told the animal.


A few yards beyond the road, the wind shifted bringing with it the smell of some large decomposing animal. Lakota's reluctance to continue forward was palpable, but Shade kept him moving. The reason for the horrible smell soon became apparent. Lying in the thick meadow grass was the half-eaten carcass of one of Lost Lake's cows. Shade dismounted from Lakota's back and dropped the reins to ground tie the big horse. Reaching across the saddle, he slid his Winchester from its scabbard and levered a round into the chamber just in case the killer or killers were still in the vicinity. Cautiously, he approached the downed animal. The vultures took little notice of him and he of them. They and the insects that consumed the dead were nature's cleaning crew after all.


Shade stopped where he could see the animal's wounds, the stench of rotting flesh driving him to again remove his bandana. This time he tied it around his lower face to help filter the noxious odors. Picking up a stick, he used it to fend off a few of the more determined vultures, telling them as he moved closer, "Go on, you can have it back in a minute."


After examining the carcass, Shade walked around the animal, widening out in a gradual spiral. The thick meadow grass made tracking nearly impossible and then he got lucky, spotting a muddy spot where other animals had trodden a small area into a patch of mud. The track he saw was very distinct, a firm imprint that left no doubt about what had killed the cow. Shade crouched and laid his hand next to the track in the mud.


It was definitely the track of a bear, but like no bear Shade had ever seen or heard about. The depth of the track suggested the animal was half-again as large as a grizzly. Standing up, he walked back to the carcass and gingerly examined it again. Sure enough, its neck was broken, and the spine was bitten clean into.


Shade walked back to Lakota and returned the rifle to its scabbard. Grabbing a hank of mane, he vaulted into the saddle. Lost Lake riders would have to go armed, and they would need to get word to the other ranches that there might be an unusually large killer grizzly in the area. Setting heels to flank, Shade sent Lakota toward Ishmael's Gate at a brisk canter.

Edited by Stormwolfe (see edit history)
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::At Blackbird Lodge (Main Ranch House)::

 

Shade dusted off his clothing as he stepped through the doorway of the ranch's main house. He would need to wash the day's work dirt off before dinner, but there was plenty of time for that. Right now, he wanted to get something cold to drink and go check the gunroom for something big enough to bring down a huge grizzly. From the size of the tracks that he had found, his Winchester would be no match for the animal.


After getting a cold glass of water, Shade headed toward the ranch's gunroom. His route took him through the kitchen to the dining room and from there back to the main hallway. The main access to the gunroom was through the main floor's office. He thought that he would need to track Quentin and Ezra down to warn them they had a potentially deadly predator on the ranch so was pleasantly surprised to find Quentin ensconced in an easy chair in the spacious office.


"It has been a day!" Shade announced as he dropped into the chair nearest Quentin. Actually, both Monday and Tuesday had been long and tiring thanks to being behind in the ranch's usual work due to the Founder's Day festivities. "We're going to need to check our gun inventory and see the men are well-armed. Found a half-eaten steer in the lower meadow just before quittin' time."

 

Quentin stopped writing and looked up. "You said half-eaten? You mean like a pack of wolves or it's been laying there for a while?" Quentin leaned back in his chair. "...not many single animals can eat half a steer."

 

"Not wolves. A pack won't usually leave good meat behind. Found bear tracks." Shade paused for a moment, aware that his next statements could sound ludicrous. "The tracks indicate a bear of unusual size and if it is killing livestock, it will be back. A grizzly will scavenge, but this looked like a kill - a recent one at that."

 

Quentin leaned back in his chair and rubbed his chin. "Couldn't just be a regular bear...nope, we get a Grizzly..." The older man stared into space a few moments as he thought, then he looked up. "We need to see if we have anything big enough to stop a Grizzly. I also think we need to give orders that no one works alone for the next few weeks. I don't want a man on horseback looking too tempting to one of those things..." Quentin drummed the fingers of one hand on the desk. "Did I miss anything?"

 

"I'm dead sure Harriet, Josephine, and Clara will not like this...we also need to mandate they take one of the men with them when out riding or with the twins," Shade agreed with Quentin's plans. He ran a hand through his dark hair, mussing it slightly, "I think that bear may've been what startled the picket line at the dance on Saturday. If that's the case, it ain't too afraid of humans."

 

Quentin stood up and moved around the desk. "I wasn't even thinking about the ladies. Do we know where they are right now?" He walked past Shade and headed for the Ranch Gunroom. He walked past the few rows of normal Winchesters near the door and to the wall farthest from the door. He fished in a pocket for a set of keys and unlocked the padlock holding the two large cabinet doors closed. He tugged them apart and pushed them all the way open and stood back, looking at the two cabinets' worth of special weapons that had been built up over the years. He reached and picked up a Sharps rifle, turning it over in his hands. he slipped a thumb into the loop built into the trigger guard and slid the bold down with a snick, looking at the action and into the barrel. ".45-70 might be a little light, but it handles faster than one of those buffalo guns..." Quentin looked down at the shelf below the rack and saw a few boxes of shells, noting there were four of the Sharps in the rack. He looked over at Shade as he stood behind him. "...You think this will be enough?"

 

"Personally, I would go for one of the Sharp's .50-90s," Shade stated. He shook his head, "Truthfully, Quentin - I have tracked grizzly before. I've never seen tracks like this. With luck they will still be near the carcass tomorrow, not likely to rain tonight. I'll see if I can follow them."

 

Quentin looked at Shade. "Weren't you listening just now? We decided no one goes anywhere alone for the time being..." Quentin set the .45-70 Sharps down beside the cabinet and reached in to pick up one of the beefier pair beside the one left like he had taken. He tugged out one of the Sharps with the longer barrel and handed it over to Shade. He then pulled out a box of shells for each and set them aside before closing the cabinet. "...have you ever fired one that caliber?"

 

"Once or twice," Shade said as he checked the rifle's operation. "Father was insistent that we knew every gun on the place." He paused, "You know I was not in the military? I rode dispatch, worked some as a civilian scout. We used whatever weapon they handed us."

 

Quentin grinned as he walked over to a nearby set of drawers, setting the .45-70 Sharps on a cleaning table. "I can assure you, buffalo rifles were never standard issue in the cavalry." He began rummaging and came out with some looped bandoliers. He tossed one to Shade and then sat down in a chair and began thumbing .45-70 shells into the loops. "I am not going to go any larger than this...nothing I ever got comfortable firing would even scratch the paint on that monster..." The older man held up a shell in his fingers and thumb and wiggled it in the air. "...I will just hope I can hit a sensitive spot."

Edited by Stormwolfe (see edit history)
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"I've hunted a few buffalo in my time as well," Shade grinned. He carried the gun, a bandolier, and ammo to the table in the center of the gunroom. It was bruised and scarred from many years of gun cleaning, reloading cartridges, and other weapons' maintenance. More than one set of Thornton initials were carved into the top of it. Shade dragged a chair out, sat down, and began pushing shells into the loops with easy, practiced motions. There had been a wagon train or two he had guided that had kept him busy hunting bison instead of actually guiding the wagons.

 

Out of nowhere, a chill crept down Shade's spine and he looked toward where the gunroom outside wall was, "This bear is a killer, Quentin. I think probably a man killer."

 

Quentin was rubbing a slightly oily rag along the action and metal of his Sharps. He looked up as he lay the rifle across his lap. "Maybe. I don't expect a bear that size got to that size and age without tangling with men at least a few times..." Quentin took a breath and exhaled before looking at Shade. "We have already been through a lot to get where we are right now, and if that bear thinks it is going to threaten our family, our friends, and our home, then it might be a mankiller, but I sure as Hell am a bear killer."

 

Shade turned to look directly at Quentin, his dark blue eyes were troubled, "Got that right!" He gave a shake of his head, not sure how to put his feelings into words. "Quentin, you know that feeling you get along your spine when you know someone is sizing you up, but you can't see who it is? That is the feeling I got when I saw that steer carcass. Yes, it was in bad shape from the kill and predation. It wasn't just that though...it was savaged."

 

Quentin nodded at Shade. "For all you know he may have been watching you from the trees..." He reached and set the Sharps on the table. "...If there was that much of it left, do you realize it may not have killed it for food? It may have killed that steer just because it could..."

 

"Yeah," Shade nodded and laid the rifle he had been cleaning and loading on the table, "I'm afraid that we have a bad'un on the prowl."

Edited by Stormwolfe (see edit history)
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