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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.

More Than a Fistful of Dollars

Shade Thornton

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Like a beautiful woman donning a gown for a spring social, the land was turning green as the cold of winter retreated. Her shoulders, the high peaks of the Laramie and Snowy Mountain ranges, still showed white with snow-capped splendor. Soon, though, the snow would only remain on the highest summits. It was the time of year to round-up and inventory the ranch's herds of horses and cattle, make repairs to home and out-buildings and get crops planted. 

The Sherman Ranch lay a few miles outside the town of Laramie along the main stage routes from Cheyenne and Denver. With the foothills of the Laramie Mountains behind it, the ranch was well-watered and the soil fertile. Its primary source of income was the stage relay franchise and supplying horses to the stagecoach line and the army. It also raised cattle for ranch consumption as well as holding contracts to supply the army with enough beef for themselves and the Indian reservations. The Shermans weren't rich, but they weren't destitute either, able to pay their bills with a little left over for improvements to the ranch and a few simple pleasures.

Shade Thornton had been born into wealth but left it all behind at the age of seventeen. Chance Thornton, Shade's older brother, had inherited the family's fortune, ranch, and other business assets after the death of their father in 1868. The younger children were usually given the means to start their lives, but the killing of a man and the subsequent row with his stern and often unforgiving father had sent Shade off to make his own way. Time had healed some of the hard feelings from the original rift and opened others as Shade's reputation as a gunfighter reached his father's ears, not to mention the occasional wanted poster. Still, Shade and Chance had exchanged letters on occasion although he had not returned home other than to attend his mother's funeral from a careful distance.

No, Shade had made his home with the Shermans in Laramie. He almost had enough money saved for a downpayment on a spread of his own, but he was in no hurry. In one of the letters he'd exchanged with his older brother, Chance had again asked Shade to come home, stating that he would happily deed over half of the ranch. Shade had refused. His past tended to follow him and bring trouble with it. It was bad enough that it had put the Shermans in danger more than once, he didn't want the same to happen to his brother and family.

Shade's big horse snorted and sidled sideways bringing his attention back to business. He was posted on a slight rise where he could watch for trouble and spot any horses trying to break from the herd. John Sherman, his wife Marianne, and their two sons were driving the herd of twenty animals toward the largest of the ranch's corrals where they would cut out the colts and fillies that were old enough for saddle breaking. They only had a short period of time before the army representative would be arriving to look over the horses and make their selections. They didn't like taking green-broke animals, preferring horses that were ready for cavalry training. Shade smoothed a tangle of glossy black mane and chuckled as a big two-year-old broke from the herd and Lakota's muscles tensed.

"Let's get 'em, boy," Shade told the horse, laying the reins against his neck and setting heels to his flanks. Lakota leaped forward, galloping down the slight rise and angling away from the running colt, calculating the best track to take to cut off the stray. It was the mark of a good stock horse. Whether running cattle or other livestock, a good one learned how to anticipate the moves of the quarry and bring them in.

Edited by Stormwolfe (see edit history)
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Two hours later, Shade and John Sherman leaned against the rails of the corral's fence and watched twenty head of top horseflesh mill around while John's two sons, Andy and Mike, filled the water trough. The horses were still nervous from the roundup, not unusual after a winter running loose. Sherman gestured at the two-year-old that had tried to escape earlier, "Bringing in the bloodstock from back east is starting to pay off. The youngsters are showing more leg and heft."

Shade nodded, "And more speed. You'll need to upgrade your working stock to keep up. It's a good looking bunch this year. Should get top dollar."

"Think you can get them ready in time?" John asked. He didn't doubt Shade's ability with the horses, but the other man also had his duties with the stage company to keep up with. 

"I think so," Shade replied, narrowing his blue eyes against the morning's sun. "The boys can start halter breaking them, and you know Marianne will be out here as much as she can. That gal is a better bronc rider than either of us."

Shade preferred having time to really gentle a horse, teach it to trust the humans around it before putting a saddle on it. There wasn't always the luxury of that much time, however, especially with the first round-up of the season. Not only did they have the horses to get ready, but they needed to tend to the spring calving and foaling. "If time gets too tight, we can see about hiring an additional man or two. Prefer to handle it ourselves if we can."

"Right! No sense in souring them before we have the rep out to see them," Marianne's soft voice said from behind the two men. She stood on tiptoe to kiss her husband's cheek and patted Shade's arm. "Lunch is ready."

Shade grinned, "Best thing I've heard since breakfast is ready this morning." He trailed behind the Shermans toward the ranch house. John and his wife walked arm-in-arm, talking quietly about the horses, occasionally tossing a question over their shoulders to Shade. The Shermans were the best friends Shade had ever had. There had been others during his years of riding rough, most were not to be trusted when you were down and out. It was different with John and Marianne. Shade's past had come calling in Laramie on more than one occasion, and they had stood by him through everything.

He stopped at the sink in the kitchen to pump some water into the basin for washing, laughing as Marianne sent her two sons back outside to rinse off. The smell of fresh cornbread and hot beef stew made his mouth water while the companionship of his friends helped ease the occasional longing for the Montana mountains. Andy and Mike crowded in, chattering excitedly about a couple of the horses they'd helped bring in. Shade took his place at the table, bowing his head and linking hands with Marianne and Mike as John began to say grace.

The boys were clearing the table as the sound of hooves and rattle of the noon stage reached them from the yard. John and Shade moved together to help unhook and change the team while Marianne hurried to lay out refreshments for the passengers. "Another day, another dollar," John said as they unbuckled harnesses from the horses.

"Amen, partner," Shade grinned, "Amen!"

Edited by Stormwolfe (see edit history)
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