Monthly Archives: November 2020

Trail’s End… Chapter 9


Chapter 9

“Listen,  did you hear that? That was a shot! Someone’s coming up our back trail,” Pete said with more fear in his voice than he wanted Red and Frank to hear.

“Maybe one of us aught ta go back and see who it is,” Red said, looking right at Pete.

Just then Frank jerked his horse around and faced the woods with his back to his two partners.

“What is it?” Pete asked in a shaky voice, now unable to conceal his fear.

“I don’t know. I thought I saw someone or somethin’ runnin’ through the woods over there,” Frank pointing into the deep woods that surrounded them.

“I caught it out of the corner of my eye, but by the time I turned ta look … It, or whatever it was, disappeared.”

“You two are a couple of cowards,” Red growled. “There ain’t nothin’ in them woods that should scare a full-grown man unless he’s yeller…, but there is someone sniffin’ our back trail, been foller us ever since we left town.… Which one of you’d like goin’ back ta have a look?”

Frank and Pete looked at each other, neither one much wanting to wander around the wood by themselves, but to save face, with more bravado than was necessary Pete said, “I’ll go ifin it’ll make ya happy and stop yer jaws a flappin’!”

Pete didn’t see Red’s hand drop to his Colt, tied low on his hip, or notice the contempt in his shifty eyes. Red was a very dangerous man. 

Red was the genuine article, mean through and through. He grew up on the wrong side of the tracks where you either got tough… or dead. He didn’t like the two he was riding with; they were yellow through and through and he knew it, but there was little he could do about … that is, for right now.

Red let his hand relax.

 “You’d better be watchin’ that mouth of yer’s,” he said in a cold, calculating voice that got Pete’s attention. “No one talk’s ta me like that, next time . . .”

 He froze in mid-sentence. He was looking past Pete and had seen a flash of tan, but then it disappeared. It happened so fast. At first, he thought his eyes were playing tricks on him until he noticed the brush still moving unnaturally. It was in the same place where he had seen a fleeting glimpse of something just moments before.

“Maybe ya did see something” Red recanted, “but whatever it was, it’s gone now, so get on down the back trail and find out who’s sneakin’ around.”

This time Pete didn’t argue. He had seen the cold dead look in Red’s eyes, just a few moments before, when he had back talked the man’s orders. Something inside his head told him he had come very close to the end of the trail.

Without another word, Pete turned his horse and headed back in the direction they had come.

A ways down the back trail, Pete stepped out of the saddle when he heard voices off in the distance. Carefully, he tied his horse to a nearby limb and moved ahead cautiously toward the sound.

Soon, without being detected, he had managed to slip to within the hearing range of the three people standing in the middle of the trail talking. He recognized Dusty immediately, and the man and woman he was talking to were vaguely familiar too. He was listening to their conversation and playing with the idea of finishing off Dusty, and then he noticed a big white wolf.       Something had got the animal’s attention just over Dusty’s shoulder in the deep woods.

As the outlaw watched in fear that the wolf would sense his presence, it started to move away from him in the opposite direction… but then it abruptly stopped, as if by command.

 Suddenly a sick feeling came over him as he realized the precarious position he had put himself in. By sheer luck, the slight breeze blowing was coming toward him, but if it shifted, his scent would be reversed and blowing toward the wolf-dog,  if that happened he didn’t stand a chance, that vicious animal would be all over him, tearing him from limb to limb. All thoughts of back shooting Dusty vanished as a shudder of fear went through Pete.

 Now, almost to the point of panic, he could barely keep his fear under control. He tried to ease himself backward; it was then that lady luck smiled on him in the blessed form of a baby cutting loose in a tizzy fit that saved his bacon.

It was so loud a herd of moose could have stomped through the woods and no one would have noticed. He knew it would shroud any noise he might make. As relief flooded his body, he made his hasty retreat.

Pete hadn’t gone completely unnoticed as he had thought. Unbeknownst to him, a pair of eyes had been watching his every move and when he escaped under the cover of the baby’s crying, the big Indian followed at a safe distance.

Walker didn’t have much of a problem keeping up with Pete, even after he reclaimed his horse it wasn’t a problem because the animal had to stay to the winding trail and Walker could travel, fleet-footed, through the woods in practically a straight line.

In a short while, Pete caught up to his two cohorts and filled them in on what he had seen, and of course, he exaggerated his narrow escape.

Walker listened with amusement and wondered if the two men knew what a coward their partner really was.

After the brief conversation, the men moved out and Walker followed at a safe distance.

It wasn’t far up the trail before they came to a split. One way the trail leads to an old abandon trapper’s cabin and the other way, the right fork, headed into the high country.

Walker had been following along in the deeper woods to the right of the trail and was caught flat-footed when the men took the trail heading away from the old cabin. He was sure the men would head for it, and it was a surprise when they started up the other trail.

The men had gone only about a hundred yards when they began to argue. From his vantage point, Walker couldn’t hear the argument, but Pete was adamant about something and then without a warning he spun his horse around and headed in the direction of Sunrise, the less than agreeable Red and Frank reluctantly did the same even though they were obviously not happy with the turn of events. The two men were still sore from the lumps they had taken earlier at the Grub Tent and didn’t want to explain to anyone in Sunrise what had happened.

Pete had argued he needed to tell the boss what he had overheard on the trail, and he figured he could get back on Blackjack’s good side if he told him about the conversation between Dusty and the stranger.

When Walker realized the three men were riding back to Sunrise, he circled around to get ahead of them and found a vantage point to watch from so he could see where the men would go once they got to town.

The Indian barely got himself situated before the three came into view and rode down the main street. They stopped in front of one of the many saloons, talked between themselves for a few moments, and then split up, Red and Frank went one way and Pete made a beeline for the Sluice Box Saloon. When all three had disappeared, Walker thought about shifting his position but realizing he probably couldn’t find a better observation point so he just made himself comfortable and waited, but for what he was expecting, he wasn’t sure.

The Indian watched as Frank and Red had stopped in front of the claims office, doing what? He had no idea. They had been in there for about fifteen minutes when Walker luckily looked back toward the Sluice Box and saw Pete slipping out of the alley at the end of the street. The outlaw made his way to his horse just as the two men were leaving the claims office and spotted him. Walker found it curious, Pete coming from the alley rather than through the front doors of the saloon. It was obvious he didn’t want Frank or Red to see him leaving this way. Why?… The more Walker thought about it the stranger it seemed…  this was getting very interesting, something wasn’t right!

The other two outlaws mounted up and headed out of town headed in the same direction, and it wasn’t long before the trio met up and started back the way they had come.

 Walkers’ interest was piqued, so he decided to still follow them at a safe distance. There was more going on than meets the eye and he knew his friend Dusty would want to know anything he could find out.

 He glanced down the main street one more time and for an instant; he had a feeling something else wasn’t right, but what was it? He couldn’t put his finger on it. Right then he didn’t have time to ponder it because the outlaws had closed the distance to his hiding place to less than a hundred yards.

When they had passed out of sight he loped off on a parallel route, staying just far enough behind them to not to be seen. The fleeting thoughts of something being amiss temporarily moved to the back of his mind.

The Indian followed the men for over an hour before they turned off the main trail and headed into the mountains. Walker knew the only thing up the way they were heading was an old deserted mine. One of the Russians, over twenty years ago, had worked with little success. He also knew there was only one way in and out; it was over a trail sided by sheer walls of granite towering at least a hundred feet in the air. The mine itself was in a small, rock-strewn canyon at the end of the trail and could easily be defended against an army by a lone rifleman, as long as his food and ammo held out. Even water wasn’t a problem, because a small crystal-clear spring bubbled out of the ground less than twenty feet from the mine entrance. What puzzled the Indian was why these men, obviously not prospectors, were going up to this long ago abandoned mine when there were other places much more accessible to stay.

Walker watched from a distance as the men disappeared into the narrow walled part of the trail.          For the time being, he would lose sight of them until they cleared the trail between the granite walls because the walls acted as an echo chamber, the slightest noise was magnified a hundred times as it bounced back and forth in the narrow passage, alerting anyone traveling through that section of trail they were not alone. It would take the three at least twenty minutes or more to move through that part of the trail, so Walker found himself a spot where he could see but not be seen by anyone who might happen along the trail while he waited, for what he thought to be a sufficient amount of time before he took up the chase.

Walker took this time to weigh the events he had seen so far. None of it made much sense, but he had a feeling the answer was there in front of him, he just didn’t see it. Running all of it through his mind again, he remembered the strange feeling something was wrong when he had looked down the main street of Sunrise, but this too wouldn’t jell. Why couldn’t he put it together?

He was sitting there deep in thought, chewing on a piece of moose jerky he had pulled from his possible-bag when he heard a horse’s hooves striking on stone.

The Indian knew he was out of sight, but he still hunkered down as an unshaven man rode into view. The horse he rode looked used up and was on his last leg. It was obvious he hadn’t been cared for with a gentle hand. The man wasn’t faring much better. Not only was he unshaven, but he was also filthy dirty and was one of the meanest looking men Walker had ever laid eyes on. This gent, like the other three he was following, had a Colt tied low on his hip. The nonchalant way he was riding told Walker two things; one he knew where he was going and two, he felt safe, like he was sure no one was following him.

Now Walker would have to wait even longer until this unknown man cleared the walled portion of the trail.

The time passed slowly and after a reasonable amount of it had gone by Walker rose cautiously to his feet, at the same time listening intently, straining his ears for any sound out of the ordinary. He stood there listening until he was sure he was alone. He didn’t need any surprises, and he knew help wasn’t anywhere close if he needed it.

Finally satisfied he was alone, careful not to make a sound, he started into the narrow passage. Fortunately, the soles of his mukluks made no audible sound as he tiptoed along the twisting trail. He stopped now and then to listen for any telltale signs of danger, Walker knew if someone was coming from either direction while he was on this portion of the trail he would more than likely be captured or worse… killed.

The sun was high in the cloudless sky, but it gave very little direct light on the high walled trail, but Walker moved as swiftly as possible through the narrow canyon and in no time merged from the confines of the narrow trail into a grove of poplar trees. Even though this part of the trail was still narrow, the towering walls on either side had melted away to form even a larger canyon.

After getting this far and not wanting to be discovered, the big Indian moved silently off the trail into the thick poplar forest, it had been a long time since he had ventured into this canyon but if his memory served him correctly the mine was just a short distance ahead.

After slipping another five hundred yards through the trees he started hearing the voices of men talking in distance, he couldn’t make out what they were saying, but if he could get closer, maybe he could solve the nagging questions in his mind, about what exactly was going on.

Walker realized the trees he was moving through were thinning out and didn’t offer much protection; if someone was to look in his direction, he’d be spotted. Walker decided to take advantage of a boulder-strewn area that had been created by a slide from a bygone day; this give would give him the cover he needed. He could, with little risk, slip across a small clearing and be safe among the rocks before anyone spotted him.

Stealthily he moved between the boulders until the mine, and the men were in sight and easy to hear.

Walker couldn’t believe what he saw. To his amazement, a bunkhouse and corral had been built, but that wasn’t the big surprise, not by any stretch of the imagination. It was the men … the number of men. Walker was so shocked, he counted twice to be sure, but both times the numbers came out the same. Nineteen men and none of them looked like a miner. He was still trying to figure out what he was looking at and who these hard cases were when he felt, more than heard movement behind him, before he could turn a sharp pain jolted his head, and sagging to his knees, he felt himself slipping into a dark abyss. The last thing his mind registered was a familiar voice . . .

To Be Continued…

Don’t forget, for an uplifting message from Dusty be sure and check out;

on the road for

Trail’s End… Chapter 8


Chapter 8

Aura Lee, with her faithful, furry companion Little Bear by her side, was hanging laundry on the clothesline behind the cabin when she heard Dog, who had been lazing on the front porch up till now, go into her raging cat act. This could mean only one thing… intruder. Little Bear, more brave than smart, dashed around the corner of the cabin, fearlessly growling and barking at whatever got her and Dog riled up. Slipping the colt from her belt, the one she always carried with her when she left the protection of her cozy cabin, Aura Lee moved swiftly to the corner of the building and carefully peered around the logs. From this vantage point, she still couldn’t see the entire front yard, but she could hear a voice trying to calm Little Bear and Dog down. By the fierce sound coming from the two protectors, whoever this person was, wasn’t making much progress.

 Aura Lee was never one to be bashful or afraid of facing danger, so taking the bull by the horns, with a gun in hand she stepped into the open to confront the stranger in her yard, but to her surprise, there were three sets of startled eyes staring back at her. One set, blue as an alpine lake, belonged to the cutest baby she had ever seen, and the other two pairs obviously belonged to the baby’s parents.

Quickly Aura Lee called the feisty little cat off, and Little Bear to her side, at the same time she tried to apologize to the young couple and their beautiful baby. Realizing she hadn’t holstered her colt yet, she dropped it back into the leather-like a professional, in one smooth, swift movement. Even after holstering her gun and making her apologies, Aura Lee saw the woman was still a little wary and couldn’t figure out why until she followed the man’s gaze to the porch. It was at that moment Dog made a hasty or maybe a noble retreat.

Dog did her best impression of a ferocious wild lynx, then turned, walked to the end of the porch, jumped down, and without even looking back strolled off into the woods.

Aura Lee had to stifle a laugh as she turned back to face the bewildered young family.

“That’s only Dog. She thinks she’s a guard cat. She’s Shadow Spirit’s pal and has kind of adopted us, now she thinks she’s part of the family. To tell you the truth, we’ve grown really fond of her.”

The young family still looked a little skeptical, but the tenseness had left their faces, and a warm smile formed on the lady’s lips. After introducing themselves, they explained their meeting up with Dusty and how that had come about. They even got a chuckle out of it when they told about Dusty’s sudden, flying dismount from his horse.

“Wait, a minute! Aura Lee said as they stopped laughing, “Dusty doesn’t own a horse.”

“Well he does now, it’s a big pinto palomino, and believe me he’s quite a handful, he’ll be a good one, that is, if your husband can ever catch him,” Mac said with a chuckle. “When he shucked Dusty off, he lit out like his tail was on fire and the way he was moving, he’s probably still running.”

“I guess that means Dusty won’t be home for [1]dinner,” Aura Lee said with a frown.

 “I bet you guys are starved, come on in, I have a big pot of moose stew on the stove and it’ll only take a minute to put a pan of biscuits in the oven, the coffee is hot and you’re more than welcome to make yourselves at home.”

Everyone was on their second helping of Aura Lee’s tasty moose stew and enjoying each other’s company around the table when the sound of horse hooves outside sent Little Bear into a barking tizzy. When Aura Lee opened the door, the little fur-ball shot headlong between her legs and through the door, not knowing or even caring what might be in the yard. In her mind, she was “the” guard dog, and she wasn’t about to take her job lightly. Little Bear hardly noticed Shadow Spirit make her charging leap from the porch. What she did notice, however, was the big animal Dusty was sitting astride it. The horse reared and danced a little at her incessant barking, but Dusty, thankfully, had him under control and swung down to the ground telling Little Bear, in his usual manner with animals, she was a good guard dog and then told her she was going to have to make friends with the strange giant he had brought home. Dusty reached down and gave the little dog a loving pat and then tied the horse to the porch rail.

“Where in the world did you get that beautiful horse?” Aura Lee exclaimed.

She started to move toward it, but the pinto laid his ears back, bringing her to an abrupt stop.

“Easy,” Dusty said, protectively restraining Aura Lee by the arm. “He isn’t to use ta people just yet; he’s still a little particular about who touches him.”

“Well, we’ll just see about that.” She shook loose of Dusty’s hand and slowly approached, cooing softly and holding her hand out to the pinto. Of course, being curious, but leery, he allowed Aura Lee to get closer. All the while Dusty was holding his breath knowing Aura Lee’s stubbornness, he knew he knew it would be useless to try to stop her.

“Stop, wait a minute,” Dusty pleaded as an idea came to mind.

“Here, this should help”, he reached into his vest pocket and pulled out a sugar cube.

The pinto had seen the exchange between Dusty and Aura Lee and was a fast learner. He already knew what Dusty kept in his pocket, so when Aura Lee approached this time his ears were forward, but he was still a little skittish and leery of this new human with a soft voice.

When she reached out to the stallion, he jerked back to the full extent of the reins holding him to the porch, and again she noticed how really beautiful he was. His golden coat with splotches of white seemed to dance in the noonday sun.

“Here now, you just settle down!” Aura Lee scolded.

“You may be fooling everyone else with this act but the look in your eyes tells me something altogether different, it’ll be a cold day in July when you can convince me you’re all that tuff, so come on now, take this sugar and let’s be friends.”

She just stood there with the sugar cube in her outstretched hand, waiting for the horse to make up its mind. It was up to him, he would either take the cube and be friends or he wouldn’t, it was just that simple.

The horse’s eyes shifted from Aura Lee to the sugar cube several times before he shook his head in defiance one last time, snorted, then eased forward, gingerly reaching for and taking the morsel of sugar.

This time when Aura Lee’s arm came up, he allowed her to rub the white blaze that streaked down between his eyes like a lightning bolt.  In an instant Aura Lee knew in her heart, a new friend had been made.

Dusty, seeing the interaction between the two, breathed a deep sigh of relief and went to the well for a bucket of water to slack the pinto’s thirst. Then he headed inside to do something about his own thirst and gnawing hunger.

“That was quite a show your wife gave us”, Mac said.

 Everyone else had eaten earlier, but while Dusty ate they all sat around the table talking. Martha caught Aura Lee up on the latest news from down below, and Dusty talked with Mac. He offered to help as much as he could, to get them set up before the winter set in. He even told his new friend he would be glad to share what he had learned about surviving in the Great Land. Dusty warned him, however, every day was a learning experience, and those that didn’t take heed to those lessons sometimes paid the ultimate price for their arrogance, foolishly losing their lives, all because of stupidity.

Dusty told Mac of a small valley not far from their place and said he would be glad to show it to him, but first he would have to build a corral and some type of shelter for his horse. Mac was more than happy to volunteer his help, and of course Dusty wasn’t about to turn down an extra set of hands.

A new bond was being formed that would last a lifetime.

When Dusty had his fill of moose stew, the men went outside and got started on the project.

Little did Mac know he was about to get his first Alaska lesson Dusty had mentioned during lunch.

Getting saws, axes, rawhide striping, and other tools Dusty thought they would need for the building of a corral; they loaded everything into a homemade wagon and started across the clearing that surrounded the cabin.

Dusty had been watching Mac out of the corner of his eye and noticed a puzzled look on his face. This caused him to wonder if the man knew anything about building a corral, so he decided to ask him a few questions about his building experiences. “Ya have any hosses back where ya come from?”

“Sure we do, plenty of them,” the young man answered, not knowing why Dusty would ask such a foolish question, didn’t everyone owned at least one horse?

“Ever built a corral before?” Dusty went on.

“Why all the questions, didn’t you believe me when I told you I was a farmer? I’ve built corrals, barns, houses, and even dug a well or two … and did a fair job of it … if I might say so myself!” He added indignantly.

“Now don’t get yer dander up. I’m only askin’ cuss of the curious look on yer face. It was like you hadn’t seen a saw or an ax before, that’s why I was askin’, I wasn’t tryin’ ta get ya all riled up.”

All the while the heated conversation was going on they walked, pulling the small wagon behind them toward the place where Dusty envisioned a corral. It was just south of the cabin, in the center of a patch of birch trees. There was somewhat of a natural clearing in the middle, and a year-round spring ran through it. The place was close to the cabin but not too close as to bother Aura Lee when he was working with the pinto later in the summer. If he had time, he intended to build a barn next to the corral, knowing it would be a necessity during the long-frozen winters.

“Well, if you must know what I’m thinking,” Mac said with a little indignation in his voice. “I was wondering if you knew anything about building a corral.” With hesitation and doubt in his voice, he continued. “Whoever built a corral without digging postholes? You didn’t bring a post-hole digger or even a shovel, so how do you plan to go about it?”

“Son,” Dusty chuckled, “here in Alaska you’ll find some of the ways you did things back home doesn’t work so well up here. For instance, digging fence postholes can’t be done this time a year. Ya see, even though the air is warmed up some, the ground, just a few inches below the surface, is still frozen. You’d be here all day chippin’ out the ice just ta dig one hole. What we’re gonna do is cut down enough trees fer the rails and use this here rawhide,” he held it up, “ta lash them ta the birch trees surrounding part of this here clearing, making it like a natural corral.”

“I’ll be, that’s a good idea,” Mac said sheepishly. “I see what you mean; I do have a lot to learn about getting along up here. Thanks for taken the time and having the patience to teach me.”

“When we’re through here, we’ll build a water trough out of some floor planks I had leftover from building the cabin. A little tar in the joints and she’ll be watertight and as good as any of them new-fangled things you buy at the general store.”

By late afternoon the two men had made short work of the new corral and water trough and it was almost ready for its new resident. After filling the trough with fresh water brought up from the creek… one bucket at a time, they headed back to get the horse they had left tied to the porch next to the rain barrel.

Rounding the corner of the cabin, the men got quite a surprise. The pinto was standing untied, dozing in the shade, and Little Bear was fast asleep, partially lying on the trailing reins at the big horse’s feet.

“I guess I’m not the only one ta make a new friend today,” Dusty said as he slapped Mac on the back. “Let’s get that critter in ta the corral and then find out what all those good smells are comin’ from the cabin.”

The meal that night was fit for a king, a bear roast seasoned to perfection, string beans Aura Lee had [2]put up last fall, flavored with bacon and wild onions. She had roasted potatoes and had her freshly baked bread to go along with it. Of course, for dessert, Aura Lee had baked Dusty’s favorite, dried apple pie and, as usual, plenty of hot coffee to wash it all down with.

After supper, the men took their coffee and went into the living room as the women giggled and talked in the kitchen while finishing their evening chores.

Sitting by the warm crackling fire, burning on the hearth of the great stone fireplace, the men made their plans for the next day. Dusty decided they would go into town at first light and pick up the bay mare he had bought the same time he had purchased the pinto. They would be able to get to the small valley he had told Mac about much faster on horseback than walking. This would also give him some extra time so he could check up on an old friend who lived up that way.

Dusty was telling Mac a little more about the valley he wanted to show him and how he had come across it when Martha and Aura Lee came into the living room to join their husbands.

Jada Rose, being carried in her mother’s arms, also let her presence be known by being very verbal in her demands. Martha said she was causing such a ruckus because she was hungry and then excused herself and slipped out of the room to feed her.

Aura Lee retrieved the quilt she was working on and made herself comfortable in the rocker Dusty had built for her out of small lodge poles and bent alder. She always enjoyed listening to Dusty talk, even when he was just making a plan, like tonight. He had a way about him that made it sound like he was telling a story instead of mapping out a hard day’s work and no matter what it was about, he almost always said it with a sense of humor. When the men started talking about the horses again, Aura Lee interrupted their conversation. “You know sooner or later you’re going to have to name that horse as well as the other one. You can’t just keep calling him the pinto.”

“You’re right,” Dusty said with a knowing smile, “I suppose you already have one in mind fer him?” He chuckled, knowing the answer before he had asked it.

“Suppose I do smarty pants and it’s a good one too! Remember when I was making friends with him and I had said that I thought his beautiful coat looked like it was dancing sunlight? Well, how about Sundancer? It’s a beautiful name, I think it fits him perfectly and I’m sure he’ll like it and, and . . .”

“Okay, Okay,” Dusty said with a laugh. “You pleaded your case real well, Sundancer it is!”

“What about the other horse, you’re not going to leave her nameless, are you?”

“Of course not sweetheart, but we’ll have ta wait till ya see her ta give her a right proper name, seein’s how yer so good at pickin’ ‘em.”

Mac could see how much fun Dusty and Aura Lee had with each other and hoped he and Martha could always be that much in love.

After the name debate, Martha came back from feeding Jada Rose and started a conversation with Aura Lee, and the men returned to theirs as the women started making plans of their own.

For a while, Dusty and Mac kept the conversation light and spoke of the future the men had planned for their families, but at some point, it eventually turned to the problem at hand and what had been on Dusty’s mind all day.

“Well now, how about tellin’ me a little about yer trip up here?” Dusty ask.

Dusty had his suspicions but wanted to hear what Mac had to say about the shifty characters he and his wife had traveled with on the L.J. Perry.

When Mac had finished his tales of the rudeness, some passengers had been subjected to, Dusty had a mad on that was barely under control. The information wasn’t surprising; it just confirmed what he thought he already knew. It did make him wonder all the more when this gang would be putting whatever they were planning to do into action.

The fire had burned low when the two couples called it a night…

It was lucky for the newcomers’ Johnny had decided to stay on the Utopia so he could keep a better watch on her; he too had a bad feeling about some of his latest passengers. While the ladies made a comfortable sleeping pallet on the floor near the fireplace where Johnny had had his, Dusty and Mac stepped out onto the porch into the crisp Alaska night to enjoy God’s magnificent display of stars and to allow Shadow Spirit and Little Bear to run about and do their nightly duties.

“I never cease ta be amazed when I look up inta the Heavens and see the Lord’s handy work,” Dusty said almost reverently. “How there can be such beauty and wonder and at the same time so much cruelty and dishonesty in the world, it just befuddles my mind?”

Being a rhetorical question not requiring an answer, there was a long silence that followed, giving each man a chance to be alone with his own thoughts. In the distance, a lone wolf called out, and another answered. This brought a smile to Dusty’s lips and at the same time made him think of Shadow Spirit. He called to her and like her implied; she seemed to just appear out of the shadows with Little Bear close behind. He gave them both a good ear rubbing and a pat on the head before saying, “let’s get ourselves inside, tomorrow’s gonna come early and we’ll be a leavein’ at first light.”

Dusty’s troubled mind didn’t allow him to fall asleep immediately. Instead, he tossed and turned for hours trying to come up with a solution for the town’s problems. Not until the hour swept past midnight did sleep finally overtake him.


Sometime before daybreak, in the wee hours of the morning, he awoke and sat straight up in bed. He wasn’t sure what had woken him, but there was sweat on his brow and his heart was racing like a runaway horse. The only sounds were that of normal breathing of one in deep sleep. Dusty turned to look at Aura Lee sleeping peacefully beside him. He wondered how someone so beautiful could have fallen in love with a good for nothing like him, he still hadn’t figured it out, but he was sure thankful that she had.

He reached over and lightly touched her cheek and then eased himself out of bed. 

After getting dressed quietly, Dusty slipped down the stairs and into the kitchen. It was hard trying not to make noise while getting the fire started in the cook-stove for a pot of coffee.

Dusty realized he had failed miserably at it when Mac stumbled into the kitchen sleepy-eyed and ask with confusion in his voice; “Hey, I thought we weren’t leaving until first light? It’s still the middle of the night!”

“I know,” Dusty said in a whisper, trying his best not to wake up Martha or the baby. “Somethin’ woke me up, so I decided ta get a jump on the day.”

Dusty didn’t tell him about the cold sweat or the rapid heartbeat. Only Aura Lee knew of his recurring nightmares, and he wanted to keep it that way. The one he had last night was a doozy, and the strangest part was it didn’t have anything to do with his war experiences.

“It was probably Martha getting up to feed Jada Rose,” Mac said apologetically. “She still doesn’t sleep through the night and is pretty demanding about her needs. I’ll tell Martha to try and be a little quieter, but Jada Rose … well, that might be a different story.”

Both men stifled a laugh, trying hard not to wake up anyone else.

“What say we get an earlier start than we’d planned? We’ll head into town that is after we get a cup or two of this hot coffee in us so’s we can walk upright.” Dusty suggested with a quiet voice and a twinkle in his eye.

In a short time, the smell of fresh brewing coffee was permeating the kitchen.

 As it boiled on the cook stove, Dusty took down two mugs hanging from pegs that were pounded into the side one of the ceiling logs. He poured the strong hot liquid, then tested his cup with a satisfactory, “ahhh” and handed the other steaming cup to Mac, who had been sitting at the table with a smile on his face, watching Dusty go through this morning ritual.

“It seems to me you really like your morning coffee,” Mac said, trying to keep a straight face and sound as sincere as possible.

“Yep, I’m not a drinkin’ man and I don’t take ta smoke or chew either, so coffee’s my only bad habit, yes-sir-ree, I do love my strong, hot coffee… I surely do!”

Mac, still trying to keep a straight face after taking a sip of the strong coffee, said, “Shucks Dusty, this coffees’ got some stayin’ power … We ought to be able to chew it all the way to town!”

At first, Mac wasn’t too sure how Dusty was going to take having fun poked at him, because when Dusty turned and looked at him he wasn’t smiling. He walked over to the table with a straight face, pulled out the wicked-looking knife, he always carried, scaring the daylights out of Mac, and slammed it down in front of him saying, “Here! You can cut it with this!” Then they both started shaking with uncontrollable laughter. It was right then Mac realized Dusty had quite a sense of humor, not only could he take it; he did a fair job of handing it out too.

When the men had finished their second cup of coffee they went out to the corral and saddled up Sundancer.

With Shadow Spirit taking the lead with leaps of joy and energy, they headed down the trail for town, walking and talking with Sundancer on a lead rope, trailing close behind.

The day had started with fun and laughter, two good friends poking fun at each other. It was the start of a perfect day. Little did they know what lay in store for them would be just the opposite… By no means would it be perfect or laugh.


[1] In the 1800s, the noon meal was called dinner. Today, in some parts of the country, dinner still means the noon meal, but that, just like so many other things probably or should I say sadly, isn’t politically correct. The evening meal was and still is called supper. (I hope)

[2]This is a term used for canning vegetables to preserve them for later consumption.

To Be Continue…

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Trail’s End… Chapter 7



Chapter 7

Walker didn’t have long to wait. The three gunslingers, two of them virtually being dragged by their collars, came out of the Grub Tent, mounted their shabby-unkempt horses, and headed through town taking the trail leading to Sunrise.

The Indian knew all the trails and shortcuts that existed, so it took very little effort to get ahead of the three men. Walker trotted down an unnoticed trail used only by wild game and the local natives. In no time he was well ahead of his quarry. Walker found an outcrop of rocks that offered enough concealment to watch the trail without being seen. He knew he would hear them way before they came into view, so he made himself comfortable and settled down to wait. He started to reach into his possible-bag and froze. In his peripheral vision, he saw the brush off to his left move ever so slightly, like a soft breeze had touched it. The only trouble with that thought. There wasn’t any breeze… none. He realized someone or something was sneaking toward him through the underbrush.

Carefully, Walker reversed the direction of his rifle and stood up, trying to make the movement look as natural as possible. For a moment, all was still. The Indian knew his eyes hadn’t deceived him, something was there watching him, who or what it was, was the only question. Usually, Walker was a patient man, but time wasn’t on his side this time. Any moment the three men he was trailing would ride into view and they would catch him in the open. Walker had to confront this unexpected danger and had to do it now.

“Well, pard’, it looks to me like we have us an old fashion standoff. I figure you’re either friend or enemy, so why don’t you just stand up and show yourself and we’ll figure that part out?” Walker was speaking softly with the hope the person hiding in the alder brush, just a few feet away, was the only one that could hear him.

The brush moved and the big Indian braced himself; to his surprise out sprung Shadow Spirit, tail wagging, with a look on her face of pure innocence, as if nothing was wrong.

“What are you doing? For a wolf you ain’t too sneaky, you scared the daylights out of me rattling around in the brush like that!”

The wolf-dog and Indian had been friends a long time and Walker believed Shadow Spirit understood every word he said. Of course, he didn’t expect an answer, not verbally anyway.

Shadow Spirit moved next to Walker and took his shirt cuff in her mouth and tried to pull her friend down the trail toward the three Walker had been trailing.

“Whoa! … Easy girl,” Walker whispered, “we’re waiting on three yahoos to find out what they’re up to.”

But Shadow Spirit wasn’t giving up; she kept pulling until Walker jerked his arm free. “Okay, okay,” he relented. “Maybe you know something I don’t, we’ll head in the direction you want and see what’s so all-fired important.”

Shadow Spirit took the lead, running a few yards ahead and then stopping to wait for Walker to catch up before moving further down the trail.

They hadn’t traveled far when Walker started wondering why they hadn’t run into the men he was following. He knew this trail and knew there weren’t any other trails branching off, so where could they be? Knowing this caused an alarm to go off in his mind, causing his steps to quicken as he tried to keep pace with Shadow Spirit.

By now Shadow Spirit was on full alert with her senses heightened, charging up the trail at full tilt. Obviously, she had given up waiting on her Indian friend. Feeling an unsettling urgency, she veered off the trail, taking a shortcut through the woods. This gave her the ability to cut a lot of the twists and turns out of the winding trail. Traveling in a straight line through the woods saved a lot of time, and before long she heard voices. One voice she immediately recognized, the other was that of a stranger, and the instant they came into view she saw the danger and sprung forward with lighting speed to defend her master.

It all happened so fast, the stranger holding the rifle on Dusty didn’t have time to react. As Shadow Spirit attacked, she hit the man in the middle of his chest with her full body weight and teeth snapping. He went down with a startled cry of pain; the rifle he was holding on Dusty hit the ground and discharged. A woman came charging out from behind a cottonwood holding a spruce limb like a club and swung it at Dusty, barely missing his head. The weight and momentum of the club took her over backward, and she landed in a pile of petticoats on the ground. If the situation hadn’t been so volatile it would have been funny, but having a gun pointed at you isn’t a laughing matter. Calling Shadow Spirit off, Dusty said, “I thought we left you at home this morning?” He said to his four-legged protector as he extended his hand to the man lying on the ground. He reached with the other hand into his vest pocket and produced his badge.

In all the excitement Dusty had all but forgotten about the woman. That is, until a blood-curdling scream came from behind him. Remembering the near-miss from the woman just a few moments before, Dusty whirled around and ducked at the same time. To Dusty’s surprise, the lady was moving away from him, stumbling back toward the cottonwood she had been hiding behind, screaming something about a baby and that vicious wolf. The man, ignoring Dusty, charged after his wife, calling with panic in his voice, “Jada Rose!”

Dusty wasn’t too sure what was going on until the woman stepped out on the trail with a crying baby bundled up in her arms. This was what he had heard the instant before he found himself flying through the air. His ears weren’t deceiving him… he did hear a baby crying.

“Well now, I’ll be. If he ain’t a cute little shaver, what’s his name?”

Dusty knew he’d said something wrong the moment the words had left his mouth because the woman looked at him with fire in her eyes and an unmistakable tone in her voice as she lit into him with both barrels.

“If you had any brains, and were capable of using them, you could see this is a sweet little girl!”

“Beg yer pardon ma’am, she sure is pretty. What’s her name?” Dusty asked, trying to make amends.

“Not that it’s any of your business, her name is Jada Rose.”

“Martha,” the man said, stepping in to apologize to the Marshal. “My wife and I thought you were one of those thugs on the boat. They threatened us and said they would take whatever they wanted and would do it when they wanted, so we thought the time had come and we weren’t going to give in without a fight. We sure are sorry and we wouldn’t want you to think we were thieves or something… This is my wife Martha and I’m Jay, Jay McGregor, but everyone calls me Mac.”

Dusty took a liking to this polite young man immediately and understood why he had taken the action he had. He judged Mac was a man that didn’t scare easily and would protect his family at all cost. Dusty found himself hoping the family would settle close by. Mac would be a good man to have on his side when this bunch of cutthroats he was worried about went into action. Dusty could tell Mac could handle himself. He was a big guy, over six feet tall, and he had an air about him that said; “don’t mess with me.” When he spoke of protecting his family, hardness came to his dark brown eyes that caused Dusty to have an involuntary shutter. He shook the man’s hand and noted it was a good solid grip and could tell when the man apologized, he was genuinely sorry for the misunderstanding. Mac said they were looking for land to farm and of course he was also hoping to find gold and strike it rich too. They didn’t have much in the way of tools and supplies, and Dusty knew they would have to be very lucky to just survive, let alone find gold and scratch out a living.

While the introductions were going on, it remained unnoticed by everyone except Shadow Spirit, Walker had slipped upon them and was listening with interest to the exchange that was taking place. It was no surprise to him when Dusty invited the young couple to spend a few days at his place and volunteered to help get them settled. Walker had expected nothing less from Dusty, and he wasn’t disappointed.

Since Dusty didn’t need his help, Walker started to slip away and when Shadow Spirit turned to follow him, Walker simply held up his hand, waist-high, and the great wolf-dog turned and went to Dusty’s side.

Dusty told his new friends they’d have to backtrack through town and gave them directions to his cabin, assuring the young couple it would be easy to find. He told them how excited Aura Lee would get and how thrilling it would be for her to have houseguests, especially another woman for her to talk to. At first, Mac tried to put up an argument, but Dusty wasn’t having any of it. He could see the look of relief on Martha’s face when he had made the offer and knew it greatly relieved her. Dusty told them he would be along shortly after he rounded up his horse and finished what he was doing before their encounter.

He watched the family make their way back down the trail and then nonchalantly turned around and gazed about as if trying to decide which way to head, but if the truth be known, Dusty was never nonchalant about anything, and this time wasn’t any different.

Not much got by Dusty’s ever-vigilant keen eyes. Even though no one else had noticed Shadow Spirit’s attention go to full alert, Dusty had, and when he casually followed the direction her ears were pointing, he caught the slight movement of a bush just off the trail. He didn’t want to alarm Mac or his wife so he kept on with the conversation, but he knew they weren’t alone, he knew someone was watching and listening to everything that was said.

Dusty reached into his possible bag and pulled out a piece of moose jerky, broke it apart, and tossed the bigger half to Shadow Spirit saying to her, “I guess that pinto is gonna need a little work,” he chuckled. “I don’t much like walkin’ when I could be ridin.” All the while Dusty was talking to the wolf-dog he subtly moved his eyes about, taking in the surrounding brush, looking for any sign of telltale movement. After convincing himself whoever was there had long gone, he patted his faithful companion on the head and said, “Let’s go find that fool hoss ‘afore he gets his self into something he can’t get out of.”

Dusty stood there a moment and then walked straight to the spot where he had seen the movement a short time before. Looking down, it was reassuring to know his eyes hadn’t deceived him. He saw there in the soft ground the footprints of one he recognized, the mukluk tracks of his native friend, Walker. Knowing the eyes he had felt watching him earlier were those of his friend gave him a sense of well-being, even though he knew others were about that would just as soon put him under with a quick shot in the back.

“No wonder you didn’t raise a ruckus when you looked over here, you knew who was here all along, sure do wish you’d learn ta talk, it would sure make my life a whole lot easier.” Dusty chuckled to himself and moved out onto the trail.

In no time at all, he and Shadow Spirit were hot on the trail of his runaway horse.

Less than a quarter-mile up the trail Dusty saw where the pinto had stopped abruptly. The ground was torn up as if something had spooked the animal badly. The tracks had suddenly stopped, changed direction, and were now heading off into the trail-less brush.

It was rumored that Dusty could tell what an animal was thinking just by reading his tracks, but it didn’t take a genius to figure out what was going on with this horse; it scared him senseless and running blind, but what the horse was running from…  now that was the question and Dusty hadn’t a clue.

The big pinto’s trail was easy to follow through the broken alder brush, he wound around small ravines, crossed a stream, and when at last the trail finally broke into a clearing Dusty decided to stop and catch his breath. He hadn’t been sitting on a large, downed cottonwood long when Shadow Spirit, lying near him, sprung to her feet and growled deep in her chest. It was an all too familiar growl and Dusty knew exactly what it meant…danger was close at hand.

Looking in the direction of Shadow Spirit’s attention, Dusty saw the movement she was growling at, but unlike her, he knew what he was looking at posed no real danger.

“Easy girl, it’s nothin’ ta get worked up about, it’s only that fool hoss we’ve been thrashin’ around the woods fer the past hour alookin’ fer. Ya just sit yer self-down and I’ll try n’ catch that hoss before ya spook him into runnin’ again.”

Dusty moved slowly toward the wild-eyed pinto. He could tell it wouldn’t take much to put the animal into a headlong, brush crashing panic again.

While speaking soothingly Dusty had moved to within a few yards of the trembling horse, when it shied and dashed for the center of the clearing, ending any hope of a fast solution to his problem. Dusty stood there watching the nervous pinto for a few minutes, letting the animal calm its nerves. He could see a head-on approach wasn’t going to work and decided on a different tactic. If it worked, his problem was solved, if it didn’t, well… he and Shadow Spirit would be in for a long day. Moving back to Shadow Spirit, who had obeyed Dusty and was still lying on the ground where he had left her, he picked up his possible-bag and rifled through it. Finding what he wanted, he slung the bag over his shoulder, picked up his rifle, and on his command he and Shadow Spirit headed back in the direction they had come. At the edge of the clearing, before stepping into the woods, Dusty turned and spoke to the puzzled horse.

“Now as I see it, ya got two choices; one ya stay out here and get ate by a bear or starve ta death, or two, ya foller me and Shadow Spirit back ta town ta a nice warm stall and all the grain ya can eat, it’s up ta you, I’m through a chasin’ ya all over the countryside, I got better things ta do!”

With that said Dusty turned, and with Shadow Spirit at his heels, started into the woods picking his own trail this time rather than following the zigzagging one the pinto had made in his head-long rush to nowhere. Dusty’s way would be a much shorter distance back to town, and probably a whole lot easier.

Dusty followed a small stream for a short time before finding a little-used game trail heading in the same direction of town. He picked up his pace. He was getting hungry, and the town promised a bite to eat. A while later when he stopped to rest he could hear a noise behind him. He knew it was the pinto following at a discreet distance behind them, so far, so good, his plan was working well. The actual proof would come when he got closer to town, there the sounds and smells could spook the pinto, and then he’d be off and running again.

As time wore on Dusty occasionally looked over his shoulder and noticed the horse was closing the distance between them. With this bit of encouragement, he decided to make a slight change to his plan. Dusty started looking for just the right place to play out what he had planned. It wasn’t long before he spotted the perfect stump jutting up alongside the trail. Figuring this would do the trick, he stopped and made himself comfortable sitting cross-legged on top of it. Then he gave Shadow Spirit the hand signal to drop where she was.

All this happened so abruptly the pinto didn’t have time to stop his forward movement before he had closed to within ten feet of Dusty. Still, even though Dusty knew he could probably move fast enough to catch up the loose reins, he didn’t move … that wasn’t his plan.

If someone would have been a witness to the events that followed and he was to repeat what he had seen, he would probably be called a liar, but the fact of the matter is it really happened.

Dusty sat on the stump a good twenty minutes, looking deep into the intelligent eyes of the big stallion. Dusty didn’t make any move to reach out to him. All the while he talked to the pinto as if the animal understood every word he was saying. At first, the horse snorted and tossed his head, his front hooves pawing the ground nervously, but after a few minutes, he stood still and started listening intently.

“Now ya see” Dusty was saying. “If ya settle down, we could be great friends, ya seem ta be right smart, and I know ya’d fit right in.” While Dusty continued to talk, he slipped his fingers into his vest pocket and pulled out the lump of sugar he had put there after digging it out of his pack back at the clearing. He offered it to the pinto, wondering if the horse would remember. The horse’s ears twitched ever so slightly, and with that little bit of movement, Dusty knew he had him. “I see ya remember about these little sweet lumps of sugar,” and a smile came on his face too as he too remembered how very gentle the big animal had taken the sugar cube from his outstretched hand back at the stable.

The pinto didn’t back away after taking the sugar cube from Dusty this time either. The look of fear was gone from his eyes. Dusty reached up and stroked the neck of the great horse, and then he moved to check the cinch to make sure it was tight and hadn’t slipped. Still talking to the horse, Dusty took hold of the saddle-horn and swung up into the saddle. As soon as his backside hit the saddle, he was ready for whatever was going to happen, but to his surprise, the stallion just sidestepped a little and then stood still.

“Well now, that’s better,” Dusty said with a big smile, “we’ve been foolin’ around out here long enough, we got lots of work ta do, let’s get ta it!” With a loud “EEEHAA!,” the pinto, Dusty, and Shadow Spirit shot down the trail at breakneck speed and covered an unbelievable amount of ground in a remarkably short period of time.

When the outskirts of town came into view Dusty slowed the reluctant pinto to a walk. It had been quite an exhilarating ride and Dusty felt like the animal could run forever and would have probably raced straight through town. But Dusty would never want to endanger anyone’s life by recklessly charging up the main street like a runaway train.

Tying up in front of the Grub Tent, Dusty slipped the pinto a sugar cube and then stepped up on the wooden walk that fronted the Grub Tent and went inside.

“COFFEE?” V. O shouted from the kitchen as Dusty came through the door and headed for his favorite table.

“Sure, and how about one or two of those [1] sinkers yer so proud of, they’d go mighty fine with that coffee?”

When V. O. brought Dusty’s order he dropped into the empty chair across from him. In a hushed tone, so only Dusty could hear, he asked. “Did you find out anything? You did trail those three… didn’t you?”

It surprised Dusty, even though he shouldn’t have been. Knowing V. O. was a former lawman it was only a simple deduction to assume Dusty would try to follow them and learn as much as he could about the three troublemakers.

  1. O. listened as Dusty explained why he hadn’t learned anything new about the men. The ornery old law dog got a big belly laugh, visualizing Dusty sailing through the air when the pinto exploded. The Marshal finished off the story by saying he thought the new family he had run into on the trail were more than just gold seekers; he said he was as sure as he could be about anything that they were here to stay. After the laugh at Dusty’s expense and the good news about the new family, V.O.’s demeanor changed, becoming very serious when he asked, “Do you have any idea what this gang is after? They sure are trying hard to look like they’re not together, but if you ask me, with them all showing up here, even though on different boats and steppin’ wide of each other it’s just too obvious to be a coincidence.”

“Yer right about that” Dusty said grimly, “but ta answer yer question, I’m thinkin’ gold. They gotta be after gold. The only problem with that theory is no one around here has found enough gold ta make it worth their while, gangs as big as this one would need a pretty substantial payoff to keep everyone happy.”

The two friends sat there in silence, each with their own thoughts on the pending situation they both knew would soon come to ahead.

While deep in thought, Dusty didn’t see Blackjack enter the Grub Tent, not until he heard his loud, obnoxious voice that is.

“Who owns that paint tied up at the rail outside?” He demanded in a loud voice. “I’ll pay the owner five hundred gold for him… Who’s it belong to?”

The tent went dead silent. The only sound was a tiny shrew scurrying under the lunch counter for a crumb of bread a miner had brushed to the floor after finishing his breakfast.

“He’s mine!” Dusty answered in a harsh, unfriendly voice none of his friends had ever heard him use before when answering someone’s question.

Dusty pushed back his chair and stood to face the sinister-looking man. And you could feel the tension growing between them.

“He’s not fer sale, not at any price, and especially not to you!” The finality in Dusty’s tone didn’t leave any room for doubt at what he meant by “especially not to you,” and for a moment everyone in the Grub Tent thought lead was about to fly.

Blackjack’s hand hovered above his six-gun, tensed for a moment, and then dropped to his side when he noticed for the first time that Dusty’s Winchester was casually pointed in his direction. How this had escaped him before was a mystery, but it could have been a fatal error on his part because Dusty’s blue eyes had turned as cold as glacier ice and looking into them gave Blackjack an involuntary shudder. . .

[1] “Sinkers,” in the Old West was the common name for donuts.

To Be Continued…