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Continued from Cattle Drive [Part 1]

Mature Content: No

With: Quentin Cantrell, NPCs
Location: Kalispell to Fort Poison, south end of Flathead Lake.
When: Early September 1875
Time of Day: Varies

 

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Harriet sat astride Shade's big paint, Spirit, that had formerly belonged to Chance Thornton. She had ridden the horse before but never in the animal's capacity as a working cow pony. None of her string of horses had the training for the task at hand. The big gelding flicked his ears, and his body tensed. She could tell the horse was ready to follow the herd of cattle that meandered slowly past. Harriet put a gloved hand on the horse's neck and muttered a few soft words to calm him down.

Three days ago, the San Francisco attorney had been in the office of Lost Lake Ranch's co-owner, Shade Thornton, explaining about the contract and how it had gotten lost. Somehow, it had been misfiled in with completed contracts. The ranch was in the black, but due to a judge's ruling regarding the custody of the five-year-old Thornton twins, it had to show a clear six-percent increase in profits. Losing the contract for twenty-five head of cattle would not impact the ranch's wealth. However, it might cause problems with the custody of the children.

 

Another issue was the fact that the majority of the hands had ridden south to Missoula with Sage Miller, the ranch's night foreman, to deliver the fall herd to the stockyards. That left the ranch with a skeleton crew. They could not strip the remainder of the riders off the ranch, so she, Quentin Cantrell, and two of the younger hands were tasked with taking the herd to Fort Poison. Who knew that it would be Shade Thornton's sharp eyes that would see the codicil that stated the fort's commander would only take delivery from an owner or suitably high-ranking ranch employee, such as a foreman. The fort's commanding officer required the codicil as a means of preventing fraud and possibly the receipt of stolen cattle.

 

Harriet had ridden into town with a letter written by Shade and copies of the appropriate paperwork. She had sent the telegraph on Shade's behalf and put the envelope on the next mail wagon out. It should reach Fort Poison well ahead of the drive. Now, here she sat, wondering precisely what she was supposed to do. Harriet had watched her friend, Regina Thornton, deftly ride, rope, and cut with the best of them. She felt clueless. Harriet hated the feeling of not knowing what to do and of not being in control of her situation.

 

Suddenly a big red and white heifer broke from the meandering herd and shot toward where she was sitting. Before she could gather her wits and shout "Shoo, cow" at the creature, Spirit launched into action. Harriet uttered a soft shriek and hung on for dear life as the paint zigged and zagged after the heifer finally deftly turning it back to the herd.

 

Quentin sat Paladin nearby. He brought his gloved hand up and covered his mouth to hide his wide grin as he watched the shrieking woman atop the cow pony as it herded the stray. He quickly schooled his features as her horse steadied and she shot a look over at him. "Ahem...You're doing fine, Harriet!"

 

"At least I am doing something!" Harriet snapped. She glared at the big paint gelding she was riding. "Bad horse," she muttered under her breath. At least the two hands and wagon driver were pretending to be preoccupied with the herd...or the horizon.

 

Quentin reached up and tugged the brim of his hat, then spurred off along one side of the herd. His free hand swung a coil of rope back and forth. He gave an occasional yell to keep the mass moving in the same direction. Quentin lifted his eyes up to see the other hands, seeing that they both seemed to have a handle on their side of the herd. The supply wagon was on ahead, pulling off into the distance so he could find a good spot to stop and pitch camp for the night. Another series of shrieks and yelps behind him told Quentin that Shade's horse was doing its job again while Harriet valiantly tried not to fall off. Quentin decided that discretion was the better part of valor and he continued on, ignoring the sounds behind him so the only thing Harriet would be mad at would be the horse.

Edited by Stormwolfe (see edit history)

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Location: Trail from Kalispell to Fort Poison, south end of Flathead Lake.
When: Early September 1875
Time of Day: Evening

 

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Harriet felt as if she had been in the saddle for three days instead of just several hours. She was used to driving and managing a high-strung team of horses, not sitting on one for hours at a time. She guessed she was going to have to toughen up and get used to it. After all, Montana was the life she was choosing. She sat down a bit gingerly on the blanket she had spread earlier for dinner. The man driving the supply wagon agreed to do the after-dinner cleanup, but refused to cook. Surprisingly, she and Quentin had managed a good meal between the two of them. More surprising yet, no one had died. She leaned forward and grabbed the spare coffee pot that she had brought along for heating water to wash with and brew tea. She ladled tea leaves into two tea-balls, dropped them into cups, and poured hot water over them. Without asking, she handed one over  to Quentin.

 

"I don't see how Reggie did this. More than that, I don't see how she could love driving cattle!" Harriet glanced toward where the sounds of restless cows could be heard. "Stupid beasts!"

 

"Now, Harriet..." Quentin said as he took the cup of tea and sipped. "...We have spent most of the day chasing them around and wearing ourselves out...I'm not sure which is the stupid beast." Quentin shifted on his blanket as his leg muscles muttered in protest but he was not about to let on that he was sore as well. He had spent straight days in the saddle back in the war but admittedly straight riding with the occasional battle was not nearly as exhausting as herding cattle.

 

"I think Shade let that bear knock him about on purpose," Harriet stated emphatically. "He had best still be hobbling about when we get back."

 

"If he is walking around normally when we get back, you have my permission to return him to limping status." Quentin settled back more and rested his hat farther forward so it shaded his eyes as he settled back against the side of his saddle on the ground.

 

She carefully leaned back against the fallen log. "I wonder how far we got today? Do you think we will get to Poison tomorrow?"

 

The younger of the two hands had a sudden coughing fit while the wagon's driver, a much older gentleman's mustache twitched with amusement, "Ma'am, at this rate, we'll be lucky to get there within the week."

 

Quentin looked thoughtful then nodded. "That sounds about right, barring outside interference, although we might be a little slower each day if we feel like this at the end of each one..."

Edited by Stormwolfe (see edit history)

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Location: Not too far from Fort Kilpatrick
When: Early September 1875
Time of Day: Late morning, 4th day on the trail.

 

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Harriet reigned Spirit to a stop. She spent a moment looking around and smiled. She would never be a top-hand but after three days on the trail and with the help of the big medicine hat paint she was riding, Harriet felt that she was acquitting herself reasonably well. She was even adjusting to the long hours in the saddle. Well, she might be doing pretty good now, but the morning after their first full day on the trail, Harriet had barely been able to move. At the end of that second day, she had crept off alone to the nearby creek to wash up, sat there and had a good cry due to the amount of pain she was in. Today was the fourth day on the trail and she had been told that Fort Poison was a short distance beyond the nearest rise.

 

Although the fort backed up on the lake, it was decided to go ahead and stop for their midday meal and water the stock at a wide creek. Spirit lowered his head to the water, lipping at it gently before snorting a bit. The ripples seemed to interest the horse which amused Harriet. She continued to relax and let him take a long drink. After a bit, she tugged his head up and deftly backed him up the shallow bank to wait for the signal to move the herd across. 

 

Spotting Quentin's tall figure mounted on his golden dun, Paladin, Harriet had to smile. Their squabbling and arguing had reached new heights during the journey. That was until the second night when Weems, the wagon driver, commented on the fact that they sounded like an old married couple. From that point forward, Harriet had restricted herself to the odd sarcastic comment aimed at Quentin. Spirit distracted her by tugging gently on the bit. The big gelding was anxious to get the herd moving again.

 

@Longshot

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Quentin rode Paladin in a lazy back and forth path behind the herd, not hurrying the animals but keeping them moving. They had had to slow down a bit when they realized the cattle were losing weight. Forage for them was not as plentiful as they had hoped when they set out, and the last thing Quentin wanted was the army to start whining about how skinny their cows were. The only control they had was not to work them too hard on the trail.

 

He angled his horse away from the herd and circled around the edge closest to Harriet. Quentin reached up and tugged his bandanna from his neck and used it to wipe at the sweat on his face. As he pulled the cloth down his eyes caught motion past Harriet in the brush on the other side of the creek. Normally he might have brushed it off as an animal, but most game animals and even predators tended to stay farther away from a herd on the move. Quentin saw no flashes of reflection so figured it was Indians instead of rustlers. He smiled and nodded to Harriet as ht wheeled Paladin around to sit his mount beside hers with their backs to the water.

 

"Harriet..." Quentin said in a steady tone without changing his expression or looking back in the direction of the creek, "...Do not look or react, but we are being watched from the other side of the creek."

 

Harriet was able to do as Quentin said. His quiet tone had been the first hint that something was not quite right. It was far different from the querulous one that both used to speak to one another. Her many years of training with Fang had taught her how to be still and not react automatically. This meant she was able to prevent herself from looking around. However, her heart did speed up. She had little experience with Indians beyond the members of the Crow nation that were both friends and blood kin to the Thorntons.

 

"My guess would be Indians, because I think one picked the wrong moment to move or I still would not know they were there..." Quentin said as they slowly began to walk their horses back toward the herd. "You need to ride over and let them know what's going on, and tell Weems also..." Quentin suddenly reared upright in his saddle. "I don't CARE what you want, woman!..." He roared. "I told you to go let the others know when I plan to camp! Now do as I say!"

 

This time Harriet could not prevent herself from reacting instinctively. Her usual indignation was sublimated by the rampant memories of her childhood and her father's frequent anger when she did something he disliked. It gave her time to gather her wits and although she glared at Quentin, promising retribution at some point, Harriet whirled Spirit around and sank spur.

 

Quentin watched her ride off. He knew his little show was so she could get started back without the indians suspecting she was going to warn the others, but he also had seen her expression as she reacted to his words. As long as she had a chance to get back to some relative safety, Quentin figured he could live with some anger down the road. Quentin reined Paladin around in a leisurely fashion so he stood sideways to the river. Quentin reached into his jacket and tugged out the small leather holder and extracted one of his cigarillos. He bit off the end and stuck it in his mouth as he pulled one of the lucifers from the small tin he kept in the leather holder. Quentin struck it off his belt buckle and held it to the end of the cigarillo, puffing it a few times to make sure it was burning. He then shook the match out and let it fall. He lifted his head and blew out a cloud of smoke as he let his gaze drift along the far bank. Quentin hoped that his staying where he was would make them wait.

 

After about two minutes had passed, Quentin let out a smoke tinged breath he did not realize he had been holding. Maybe this would work...Maybe...

 

A puff of white smoke from the far bank cut off his musing and a bullet passed within a few feet...the hiss and snap was something you never forgot after the first time it happened. "Well, Hell..." Quentin muttered as he wheeled Paladin around and spurred him so the horse sprung into motion, galloping hard after Harriet in the distance as the rising sound of yelps and gunshots rose behind him.

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Although Harriet had no experience with hostiles, she easily recognized the sounds as the Indians broke from cover. She had barely gotten word to Weems and the other two men when it happened. Harriet reined Spirit in so hard that he slid to a halt on his haunches, rearing slightly and tossing his head. She turned in the saddle and a wave of relief swept over her as she saw Quentin riding hard in their direction. With some luck, the Indians were after the cattle although it was equally likely that they wanted the horses and weapons too.

 

Whirling Spirit around again, Harriet sank spur and the big paint leaped forward toward the herd. The shouts, yelps, gunshots and screams were already making the cattle nervous. It took little effort to spook them entirely. Even a mob of only twenty-five cows could do a great deal of damage. Harriet rode to the outside of the herd, planning on turning them back toward the band of hostiles as a delaying tactic. The two hands intuited her plan and also circled to the outside. They needed the delay to allow Weems to mount one of the second string of horses they had brought with them. The wagon would be too slow even with a strong pair of horses pulling it. Hopefully, they could recover the wagon, the team, and most of the herd later. Right now, their lives were more important and the best way to stay alive was to get to the fort!

 

@Longshot

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Quentin heard the occasional snap as a round came near, but with him riding hard and the Indians also mounted and galloping, the chance of getting hit by a bullet was like getting hit by lightning...it might happen, but it wasn't something you could spend time worrying about. Quentin looked ahead and realized that Harriet and the hands were up to something, and as he drew still closer Quentin could see Weems working to get mounted. Realizing what was going on and knowing from his own experience that the Indians were bearing down far too quickly to give them the time they needed, Quentin reached down and yanked his Winchester from the saddle scabbard, flipping it up and into his hand in a better grip before he leaned up and back, left hand pulling rein to slow Paladin and turn him around to face the oncoming scatter of hostiles. Paladin reared then came back down, freezing as much as a horse could as Quentin's boot toe bumped his foreleg.

 

Quentin worked the lever and brought the rifle to his shoulder. He aimed at the closest mass of horse and rider and his finger curled on the trigger. The rifle (Quentin carried a full 24 inch barrel unlike most with 20 inch carbines), barked and the horse in the distance reeled as the rider went flying from inertia. Quentin was already working the lever and aiming again, firing at another Indian, levering, then firing with an economy of motion as he took the leading riders under fire. Paladin shivered a few times and his muscles twitched in reaction to Quentin's firing and the oncoming attackers. Quentin himself would probably have been terrified if he took the moment to think about what he was doing, but he had a lot more on his mind. Once the Indians closed to under a hundred yards, Quentin reined Paladin around and let his horse run as it must have wanted to. He only caught a glimpse of three or four Indians down or on foot after losing horses, but that was better than he hoped for when he had stopped.

 

@Players

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Harriet felt her heart drop like a stone when Quentin whirled his horse around to face the hostiles. She only had a second to think on it though. She and Barnes, the younger of the two hands riding with them, had bought enough time for Weems to get sorted. He had given up trying to snag one of the second string. Instead, he'd unhooked the team from the wagon and vaulted onto the back of the wheeler. With the wagon driver safely mounted, Harriet and the two hands made a last charge, firing a few shots in the direction of the milling cattle. With loud and frantic bellows, the animals finally scattered, many of them running toward the group of Indians. It would buy them a little more time...

 

Wheeling the big paint in next to Quentin as he caught up to them, Harriet turned long enough to fire off two more shots. She had been stingy with the ammunition in her Winchester. She had come a long way with her marksmanship since Quentin's first lessons, but she was a long way from being able to reload while on the back of a running horse. She had seen Shade do it, holding the reins in his teeth and managing his horse with his legs. 

 

There was no way they were going to make it all the way to the fort. Harriet knew from the previous night's conversation that there was a long expanse of brush on this side of the river, some low-lying hills, and a couple of large meadows between them and their approach to Fort Poison. She gritted her teeth and focused on managing her horse although she spared more than one thought for their scattered herd. When the crisis was over, perhaps they could round up most of the herd and make-up the shortfall later. Harriet refused to consider that the ranch would default on this contract. A bullet whizzing far too close to her head brought her rambling thoughts back to the immediate issue at hand...

 

Continued in The Long March...

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Sagas of the WIld West is a roleplaying game set in a fictionalized version of the town of Kalispell in Montana territory. Our stories begin in 1875 and are set against the backdrop of actual historical events.Sagas was inspired by the classic television and movie westerns. Our focus is on writing, storytelling and character development.

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