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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.

Neighbors: The Good and the Bad

Clara Redmond Lutz

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It was mid-afternoon and already the Redmond family had put in a hard day of chores, there was so much to do on their new homestead. The weather was fine, hot with lots of sunshine but not too humid and a welcome breeze helped. Aurelian was chopping wood again, this time for material for the property fence line but had told his children they could take a well deserved break. Neither of them were lazy but they were still not adults, despite what Clara might think and he sometimes felt guilty working them too hard. Wyatt begged to be allowed to go swimming for a bit in the small lake on the edge of their property. He and Clara had discovered it the very first few days of their arrival. Now though it wasn't exactly common in society, Aurelian had insisted his offspring know how to swim. He'd seen soldiers drown in the war, such a waste when swimming was not that hard to learn in his opinion.


Clara sat with her back to a thick tree trunk and read another chapter in her book while Wyatt took to the water first. When they were both younger, Clara had swam with Wyatt at the same time, both of them naked as when they were born. But now that she was a young lady, she was reluctant to continue such carefree but bold exposure, not that Wyatt cared. So as the young lady waited her turn, she buried herself in the novel while Wyatt splashed about by himself. Maybe once he began school, he'd meet some boys his own age or close and make some friends. Clara hoped so. As for herself, she was too old for school. Besides, she didn't need friends, she was fine without the company of girls her own age. Now as for a teenage boy, well .....no, that wasn't going to happen either, of that she was quite confident.


Her attention was drawn from the pages when Wyatt left the water to pad on up to her, his clothing and boots piled up safe and dry next to the girl. Again Wyatt was not the slightest bit bashful, it was just his sister anyhow.


"The water was great, Clara! I could live in there ya know," he grinned.


"Sometimes I think you have the brain of a frog so I believe you," Clara shut her book as she looked up to him.


"You think you're funny," he frowned as he reached for some clothes.


"It is called sarcasm, Wyatt," she just rolled her eyes then set the book aside then waited patiently while her little brother dressed again.


"Think Pa is back yet?" he wondered aloud.


"I do not know. You know Father when he puts his mind to something," Clara remarked as she now began to untie her shoes.


"You gonna be safe with me not around?" Wyatt asked as he finished buttoning his shirt, hair still dripping.


"I will be fine," she replied, left unsaid was she had her father's Colt Dragoon revolver, that had come in very handy when that Thornton cowpoke came charging up like he owned the place.


"What if Indians come?" Wyatt wondered aloud.


"No Indians around here, I will be fine," she pulled off one shoe.


"Well could be a big ol bear?" Wyatt persisted.


"There are no big bears around here either, you worry too much. Now go, go so I can undress myself," Clara insisted.


Wyatt just sighed, he didn't see the big deal of her being so shy to take her clothes off anyhow. She never used to be like that. Oh well, who could understand girls anyhow? With a dismissal wave the boy then tromped on off to head back to their cabin home and wait for his father to show up. Besides there was still one molasses cookie left and Pa said he could have it then today sometime. That time was now!

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Clara had, of course, neatly stacked her various items of clothing next to her pair of shoes, each shoe with a stocking stuffed inside it, then tiptoed into the water until she got used to the water for a moment. It was cooler than the air temperature on this July day it was actually refreshing as opposed to chill. Soon she was deeper into the water, head above the surface and legs kicking below. She dunked her head a few times too, it felt good to wet her hair and scalp. Suddenly it came to her, she would have to remind her father to buy some cheap whiskey to use as shampoo. Many folk out on the frontier utilized the strong liquor to cleanse the scalp and it was easier on hair and skin than lye alright.


Her enjoyment of the water and her privacy were suddenly interrupted by sounds coming from the shoreline. Her eyes narrowed at the sight of two men on horseback pulling up on the reins as they also had obviously spotted her. Cowboys, their clothing told her that much, and strangers too of course. Why the Redmonds barely knew anyone as they were such new arrivals. It definitely was not Shade Thornton who had barged in on her earlier at the cabin. This was even more an unwelcome intrusion though as when Thornton came by she had two important things going for her she did not now possess, clothing and the Dragoon Colt. She debated going under in the hope they may not have yet seen her, maybe they would just move on?


"Hey there, girl! What you doin' 'round here anyhow?" called out one of them, both were grinning like the cat who ate the canary.


Clara thought it a foolish question, wasn't it obvious? She fought back a sarcastic reply but the one she settled on wasn't far from it.


"Swimming....by myself."  Instantly after saying it, she wondered if she shouldn't have thrown in the admission she was out here all alone so she added, "My family is real close by. Just so you know."


That only brought a chuckle.


"If you mean that fella splitting wood we saw a little bit ago, he ain't all that close," one smirked.


The other now spoke up, he was the younger of the two, closer to her age she guessed though a mite older if she had to narrow it down some.


"No, we mean what are you doing here? This is private property and afraid yer trespassin'."


"A lake isn't private property, it borders on my father's homestead though which IS private property and you and your horses are on it now. You should leave," Clara countered with her usual spunk.


"Who's gonna make us? You? Well....come on outta there then and make us, sweetie!" that was the older one, he had a rough look about him, unkempt hair under that hat and needing a proper shave.  She did not like the way he was staring at her either.


"Yeah, miss, come on out and give us a look at ya," the younger one joined in then pointed down a few feet from his horse's hooves, "Those all yer clothes? What if we were to take those and present them to our boss? Must belong to some trespassers alright."


Clara was alarmed now but tried not to sound it as she snapped back, "Those are mine and I am not trespassing. And secondly, I am not  coming on out while the likes of you are around. You leave right now, have you no decency to you?"


Her attempt to shame them failed miserably, rather they were entertained by it given the laughter.


"Decency? Yer the one who is nekked, girl.  But we ain't gonna do anythin' to ya. Just you come onta  the shore and let us have a quick see and tell ya what....I'll hand ya yer clothes right back myself, bein' the gentleman I am," even as he made his offer the cowpoke dismounted and reached for the girl's hat.


"I think not. I have no faith in the word of someone who obviously is getting such enjoyment out of tormenting a  lady," Clara kept treading water. If they wanted her, they were going to have to come in after her.


"What's yer issue, girl? Me n' Billy here have seen nekked wimmen before...in the town whorehouse. Billy has it right, we ain't meanin' you no harm, just a look at the goods is all we're askin' for," the veteran cowboy pressured.


"Then ride on into town and look at those ...............ladies," Clare snapped back angrily, not that she for one minute thought women like that qualified as ladies, disgusting!


"Awwww, darlin'....that costs money and yer right here," Billy grinned holding her hat then glancing downward once more, "Well, I'll be damned! Trespassin' and totin' a gun?"


He reached down then to take hold of the Dragoon, admiring it, "So you can even hold this big ol' iron?"


"If I had it in my possession right now, you would certainly find out!" Clare snarled, "Will you two please just leave me be and be on your way. In return I will not report you to either my father or the local law."


More laughter.


"We ain't afraid a neither, girl. In fact the sheriff will see it our way. Law don't take kindly to trespassers," the older cowboy argued.


Clara could have contended - yet again - she was not a trespasser but this was getting them nowhere, apparently she was just going to have to wait them out. Unless her father showed up or Wyatt. Wait! No, she didn't want Wyatt to appear, these two might turn their nastiness on him? Wait, what were they doing now?


Billy, being younger and more impatient, was tired too of the stand off. He had considered wading in after the girl but that might only cause her to swim out deeper and truth was he couldn't swim. He decided to see if he could force the issue and get her on out. Bending down he began collecting her clothing and then turned to begin stuffing it into his saddlebags. While he did so he continued this forced conversation.


"Very well, sweetheart. Since you won't be nice and cooperate, we are going to take your clothes and go on our way."


"You leave my clothes alone! That is theft!" Clara protested loudly but made no move to head ashore.


"It's not theft if yer breakin' the law, yer trespassin'! We're gonna present these to our boss and let him know we got us illegal squatters out here," Billy announced, pleased with himself over all this.


"Who is this boss of yours? So I might know who I can report to the town sheriff," Clara was near tears by now but still refusing to take the risk of cooperating. Coming out of the lake might be even more than embarrassing, it might be dangerous. Who knew what these two might do to her?


Once he finished packing up her things, some of it hanging out the saddlebags, Billy turned to face her, he had a brilliant idea, sure his partner would find it clever also.


"We work on the LLC....that's the Thorntons Ranch. And told ya, the sheriff ain't gonna care about some prissy little bitch's clothing. Last chance...come on out or we're leavin'."


Clara just knew it!  That two faced lying ex-outlaw...well probably once an outlaw always an outlaw! Pretend to be all nice and gentlemanly and then sic these thugs on them. That Thornton would no doubt get a good laugh out of this. She had been way too nice, she should have shot the man right from the moment he rode onto their property.


"I told you, I am not coming out. Steal everything. You both are ruffians, bullies. I assure you, you leave with my belongings and you will regret it!" Clara raged, all the while feeling more than just helpless but betrayed. And to think, she liked Shade Thornton....sort of...maybe. Not any more. Her eyes were opened.


"Yer scarin' us, girl. And yeah, this is just the beginning. If you and your Pa don't clear on out, it's only going to be a lot worse for ya'all," the older cowboy yelled back.


And with that the two of them yanked on the reins to turn about their mounts and galloped on off. Clara waited until they disappeared out of sight and even then she waited, eyes straining to see if she might spot them lurking on the ridgeline or in some of the trees. It didn't seem like it though she could never be sure. And her problems weren't over yet either. She still had a long walk back to the cabin. Her father would have to be informed. Well another issue too, she was in her birthday suit now for the whole walk back. What if someone else came along? It would be just her bad luck.


Though she was a God fearing young lady, damn that Shade Thornton!

Edited by Wayfarer (see edit history)
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Hannah guided her black-roan Appaloosa along a small game trail that followed the shores of the lake. She had been hunting just over the boundary line on Lost Lake Ranch. Instead of riding all the way to the ranch's front gate to access the road, she was planning to cut across the Sidwell's property, maybe even check in on the older couple and offer them one brace of the hares that she'd shot. It was something she had done on more than one occasion. She had not been out that way for quite awhile and didn't recall seeing the Sidwells in town recently.

They rounded a bend in the trail and came out on the lake's shore that was a popular swimming area. There was grass, a spit of sand, and a few rocks jutting out into the water that people could use for diving. It was a rather sheltered cove, not easily seen from the trail. Jingo had started to lower his head for a drink when something startled him. The big gelding snorted and shied, almost unseating Hannah who had been paying more attention to the scenery than what the horse was doing.


It took Jingo's fixed stare at the water for Hannah to spot the reason for the horse's alarm. Her eyes followed the horse's line of sight where she spotted a young girl, several feet from shore, apparently treading water.

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Those men were long gone, well at least that was both her assessment and fervent hope so finally, Clara made her way out of the lake and onto solid ground. It was strange to feel the breeze all over but she at least could take comfort in the fact it was a hot summer day so she wouldn't freeze to death before she reached home. It felt different of course being naked, a real helpless feeling, a realization how vulnerable human beings really were. Enough of such thoughts, it was time to work her way back to the cabin, she already was considering how to do it too. Stick close to any bushes or trees for as long as she could and when she had to cross in the open go low and fast, always ready to dive to the ground. Although...that indeed might hurt.


Well, turned out she didn't get twenty yards when she heard something? Not those men again! Spinning about she raced full tilt into the water once more and didn't stop til she was neck deep and turned around. How long she waited to see anything...she wasn't really sure. It might have only been a few moments but it felt like two hours. And that's when a stupid deer wandered on out of the closest tree line and jaunted on past her, plainly either not noticing the human in the lake or just not caring as there was no threat. Clara breathed deeply and once more began to go for the shore. Only this time she didn't even clear the water, there was sound again, definitely a horse's snort. She'd been around enough horses in her life to know that sound. Oh lordy, back she went yet again until only her head and tops of her shoulders were visible.


This time is was indeed a horse but importantly a rider too. A woman at that. Better than a man as far as the embarrassment angle...well somewhat but still what if she was from the Thornton ranch. Ranches had womenfolk too. Clara remained still well except for treading water and watched. The horse was spooked first and that signaled the rider who then spotted her and called out.


"Are you alright?" Hannah called out.


"Who are you and what are doing around here?" Clara had her own questions and maybe then she MIGHT just answer the woman's. Right now the jury was certainly out on that matter.


"Deputy Marshal Hannah Cory," Hannah answered affably. "Do the Sidwells know you're swimmin' in their waterin' hole?" She pushed her hat back so that it dropped and fell against her back. She eyed the teenager curiously, "I don't see your clothing." Surely, the girl had not walked to the lake in her underthings or naked.


A deputy? They got women deputies? Surprised and not quite certain she even believed this person, Clara settled for answering her inquiries.


"They do not, the Sidwells have departed for their original home back East and sold the property to my father, Aurelian Redmond," Clara called out. "And I do not have my clothing because two louts rode up and stole all of it....plus my father's Colt Dragoon," she declared with more than a touch of anger in that voice.


Hannah tilted her head. The girl's explanation sounded plausible. Both Sidwells had mentioned they were weary of the work and of dealing with the big ranches that resented homesteaders. Right now, it was more important to address the girl's predicament. She couldn't walk all the way home naked. She twisted around to rifle through each of her saddlebags. She usually carried a spare set of clothing when she went hunting in case she wanted to spend the night away from town.


"I have a spare shirt, trousers, and socks. No towel, but you could use my blanket to dry off," Hannah called out to her. "We can ride double back to your house. Right now, we need to get you dried off and dressed."


Clara heard her but still hesitated, "That is kind of you, Deputy Cory. Before I come out of here though, would you be willing to turn around so I may have a bit of privacy?"


Yes, they were both females of course but still.....she was reluctant to show herself to anyone like this. She had her dignity.


Hannah considered the girl's request, "I'll hang the blanket on that branch there so you can towel off and dress. I need to loosen Jingo's girth and let him drink. I'll be just over there." She pointed to a spot where the land sloped to a gravelly beach. "I'll keep my back to ya." She untied the straps holding her bedroll across the rear of the bareback rig, pulled the blanket free and then retrieved the clothing from her saddlebag. Carrying all of the items over to a small, scraggly pine, Hannah draped the blanket over a low-hanging limb and laid the shirt and trousers on a rock.


"There ya go," Hannah called out to the girl. Keeping her promise, she returned to Jingo and loosened his girth before leading him over to the lake a few feet away to let the horse have a drink. While he filled his belly with the cool, clear water, she pulled a curry brush from her saddlebags and began currying the horse's mottled coat. "Can you identify the men who took your things?" Hannah asked, raising her voice slightly to make up for the distance between them.


The woman probably was legitimate, Clara decided and she certainly was being very nice and helpful, a true Good Samaritan like the Bible talked about. Given how embarrassed and angry she was about her current circumstances, Clara would not describe herself in a Samaritan mood.  More in an Old Testament mood, 'eye for eye, tooth for tooth'. The girl swam out and hastened behind the cover of the tree and spread out blanket. Of course she had to lunge for that and use it to towel off but as she did so the deputy asked her a question.


"Oh I saw their faces. My eyesight is fine, I have no need of spectacles. I would know them anywhere. One of them called the other 'Billy'," Clara answered, their faces etched in her memory.


"Did they mention where they were from?" Hannah asked idly. It was probably just some drifters looking for trouble. However, if they were the type to harass a teenaged girl, the incident needed reported so alerts could go out.


"They most certainly did. The Thornton ranch. And I know this Thornton also. His cattle stampeded our garden the other day then he came riding on in too. It was fortunate for him my father showed up right about then," Clara gave her version of the event, leaving out some very big details though. Omission was not lying though, she was pretty sure of that.

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Hannah stiffened at the girl's words but stopped herself from turning around. Shade Thornton! She had known from the moment she saw him in Kalispell a couple of weeks earlier that there would be trouble. An inner voice said that she still wanted him to pay for humiliating her all those years ago. Hannah dismissed that quiet voice, firmly telling herself that she only wanted to see justice done and that Shade Thornton was not the same man that left Montana. He was dangerous, an outlaw - even if not currently wanted for anything.


"Shade Thornton?" Hannah kept her voice neutral. "Would you be willing to come to town and swear out a complaint?"


"That was the man. He is a snake. He seems nice enough but as the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words," Clara declared with conviction.


She now stepped out clad in trousers and buttoning up the shirt still, she was comfortable enough with the lady as to lose some of her shyness at her embarrassing situation.


"I certainly would be willing to swear out a complaint and I believe my father would insist upon it also. We were burned out by Indians at our last place and that dress they stole is one of two I currently own. And also that is father's pistol and he will want it back....unbroken too," she added.


Hannah pulled Jingo's head up, stopping him from guzzling more water. "I'm turning around," she warned the girl, but she did not walk in her direction. "We'll do our best to recover your property or the damages. If you're ready, we should start toward your home."


"You can look, I am presentable now," Clara informed her, "Yes, I will show you the way...........oh that is right, you knew the Sidwells."


"Yes, I knew them," Hannah said. She dropped Jingo's reins. Grabbing the blanket, she rolled it up. It wouldn't fit in the saddlebags, but the bags, the blanket and the brace of hares could be draped over the horse's withers. With everything situated, Hannah vaulted onto Jingo's back and guided him close to a boulder so that Clara could step up behind her.


The pair then headed for the homestead cabin, Clara couldn't wait to tell her father what had befallen her. He was not going to take this lightly, he had been in the war, he would not be bullied.


Continued in Part 2.

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