All that came north on the first boats of spring wasn’t gloom and doom; there was a bright side too. Not all the passengers were hard cases, some were legitimate gold seekers. Dusty noticed something else, something that really excited him. Among some passengers were families, families perhaps hoping to strike it rich, but it seemed to Dusty there were other reasons for coming north. These were people searching for a fresh start, and he knew they would be the ones to settle this great land, raising their families to continue on after them. Some would become trappers, while others would learn to farm the fertile soil during the long summer days. There would be builders, blacksmiths, and an entire spectrum of other valuable trades.
After finishing at George’s, Dusty headed for the livery. He would need a strong, sure-footed mount for the days ahead, and earlier that morning he’d seen a few excellent prospects being unloaded from the L. J. Perry.
“Mornin’ Jeb, ya got anything worth lookin’ at in that new bunch of broncos’ ya got in this mornin’?”
After asking his question Dusty could see Jeb was a little flustered, or maybe mad was a better word.
“I’ll tell ya what I got!” He growled. “I got me a load of dynamite on four hooves. I don’t know how he was shipped in this bunch. I told Karl I wanted good, sturdy, riding stock, and he sends me this airhead. I probably couldn’t even give him away. Come, take a look, you’ll see what I mean.”
“Wow!” Dusty exclaimed, “That’s some Cayuses, he’s beautiful.”
Before Jeb could stop him, Dusty started moving with slow steps toward the pin holding the angry horse. He spoke softly to the rearing, snorting animal, trying to calm him down with his reassuring voice.
As the man approached, the big pinto stopped and stood still. Snorting, he looked at him with big-brown-intelligent eyes filled with curiosity. His ears came forward, wondering what this man was about. When Dusty was within reach, the horse’s ears went back and he bared his teeth. He looked anything but friendly; ready to lunge at the man the instant he came within striking range.
All the while Dusty was moving up next to the rails he continued a one-sided conversation with the trembling, fierce-looking animal. He knew horses were curious by nature so when he extended his hand the snorting horse stretched his neck to its full length to sniff at it or was it to bite it… Even though he knew the horse’s jaws were stronger than a lion’s and at any moment this animal could do severe damage to his hand. Dusty showed no fear as the muzzle touched his open hand; he held it still for examination by this magnificent animal. Continuing to whisper as the stallion’s curiosity took over, Dusty brought his other hand up to stroke the muscular gold and white neck. The pinto shied back and tossed his head a little, but didn’t bolt. For whatever reason, he was tolerating this man with a soft voice.
“Now,” Dusty said, “That isn’t so bad, is it?”
Turning to the speechless, amazed hostler, Dusty asked, “How much? If the price is right, I’ll take your problem off yer hands and if ya do me right, I’ll take that bay mare in the other corral too.”
The old wrangler couldn’t believe his good fortune, he was getting rid of the temperamental pinto and one of the bays. . . and then the other shoe dropped.
“This here letter authorizes me ta purchase whatever I feel necessary ta conduct the business of the United States Marshal’s Service,” Dusty said, as he pulled an envelope from the inside pocket of his vest. It also says I have the authority to commandeer if in my judgment the price being asked is too high. If ya choose to charge a fair price, you’ll receive payment from the United States Government. Either way, you’ll receive payment, it can be yer asking price or they’ll just guess at it and send ya what they think the horses are worth.”
By now Jeb was thoroughly confused. This letter was authorizing a U.S. Marshal to make purchases in the name of the United States government. So what was Dusty doing with it? When he put this question to Dusty, a look of astonishment came on his face as Dusty produced a badge from his vest pocket. Dusty gave a brief explanation and said everything would be clarified at the town meeting tomorrow night.
After buying the tack he would need for both horses and giving a short lesson in much-needed manners to the pinto, Dusty attempted to saddle up the big stallion. At first, the horse wasn’t having any of it. His ears went back, and he kicked out at Dusty. To Jeb’s surprise, Dusty took it all in stride. Calmly he gently talked to the pinto until the horse just stood there trembling, still wary of the soft-spoken man, but tolerating him.
“Easy big fella,” Dusty spoke firmly, but with kindness in his voice. “We’re gonna be grand friends, the two of us.” He slowly reached into his vest pocket and retrieved a white lump he had taken from the grub tent. Offering it to the horse Dusty waited while the horse’s natural curiosity got the better of him causing him to forget what was happening as once again this man offered his hand. But this time it was different, something else was being offered besides the hand.
Dusty could see the horse’s curiosity was getting the better of him; his ears were no longer pulled back and the wild look was gone from his eyes. Stretching his neck toward the man, his soft muzzle was now hovering a scant inch from Dusty’s outstretched hand. Jeb was holding his breath as he watched all this unfold before his eyes. He knew a horse could bite a man’s fingers off and was sure Dusty knew it too. But Dusty continued talking ever so softly as the magnificent horse gently took the lump from Dusty’s hand.
“There now,” Dusty said with tenderness in his voice, “That’s pretty good stuff, isn’t it?”
He offered another lump to the animal, and this time there wasn’t any hesitation.
Jeb had heard the tales about how Dusty could talk to the animals, but he never put much store in it… until now, that is. Watching what was happening before his own eyes were irrefutable and it and it certainly made him a believer. He had never seen anything quite like it and as Dusty started saddling the horse, Jeb knew the tales were more than just rumors spoke around a campfire… this man truly could talk to the animals.
“Well now, if that’s all ya got?” Dusty said after a half-hearted bucking session. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
Jeb, who was staring with amazement at the mounted man, could only scratch his scruffy whiskers and shake his head; he had to believe his own eyes.
After making arrangements with the hostler to stable the bay at the livery until he could make other arrangements, he headed the pinto down the trail leading toward Sunrise.
Dusty had almost forgotten how enjoyable riding a good horse could be. The pinto had a smooth gate and seemed to be enjoying the trail as much as Dusty, unfortunately, unbeknownst to the rider, this serenity was about to come to an abrupt end.
Dusty was deep in thought and caught completely by surprise when a man with a rifle stepped from behind a big cottonwood and straddled the trail.
“That’s far enough,” he said with an edge to his voice. “What are ya fallerin’ us for?”
The man had caught Dusty with his guard down, and now he could very easily pay for it with his life. The man confronting him had him puzzled, looking about he could see no other person, so what was this guy talking about “us” for was someone else hiding close-by ready to shoot? Not wanting to excite a man pointing a rifle at him whom he didn’t recognize, he started trying to tell him he wasn’t following him, but the man wasn’t having any of it. Dusty could tell the man didn’t like confrontations, and he seemed very nervous as if he were protecting something… or someone. Trying to look around and not be too obvious about it, Dusty noticed the pinto’s head turned toward the big cottonwood where the man had stepped from, and the horses’ ears went forward.
Dusty shifted his weight in the saddle and started to explain who he was, but at that exact moment, all the talk was put on hold. First, there was the sound of something crashing through the brush, a shot ringing out, then a woman’s scream, and a baby crying… A baby crying? This was more than the high-strung pinto could take; he exploded into a wild bucking frenzy, catching Dusty completely off guard. In all the confusion, Dusty wasn’t sure whether he should duck the shot or just hang on. The latter seemed the best choice at the moment, but to Dusty’s chagrin, the decision was made a moment too late. The pinto went up in the air and switched ends so fast all Dusty had time to do was to roll into a ball as he sailed through the air. He knew the landing was going to hurt . . .
To Be Continued…