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Trails End… Chapter 10


Chapter 10

To Walker, at first, the sound of voices seemed far away and the words were all jumbled up. He felt sick to his stomach and his head throbbed with incredible pain.

An inner voice warned him not to move a muscle or make a sound. As he regained full consciousness he started remembering what had happened, and in realizing this he knew the voices he was hearing were his captors. Walker decided to pretend he was still unconscious and see if he could learn anything that might tell him what was going on.

It was while faking his unconsciousness he heard a voice he recognized, it was the same voice he had heard just before the lights went out.

“Once we find out what that Indian knows we get rid of him and then finish what we started. After that, we take care of fancy pants Blackjack, or whatever he calls himself. Like I said before, why should we take all the chances and do the work while he gets half the take? Just the gold we took off that old fool with the patch over his eye paid mister high and mighty pert-near ten thousand dollars. Look how many of us there is ta have ta split the other half …yah, the more I think about it the more I think It’s time ta deal him out!”

Walker could tell this gent was working the men, standing around, into a lather and he also knew his time was running out, but what could he do? He had tested his bonds as best as he could without revealing the fact he had regained consciousness and found then unyielding no matter what he tried.

How long he could play possum was anybody’s guess, but he knew it couldn’t last long.

“Don’t fer get I come up here fer a different reason than the rest of you fellers. When I ran inta ole Scar Face and he told me what ya all were up ta I figured I’d throw in with ya and get some of that easy gold, but remember, I’m up here figurin’ ta even the score fer my brother Jake a gettin’ kilt and that Sourdough feller’s the one who’s doin’ the payin’!

 Jake was my older brother, if only by a few minutes, we always covered each other’s back, even if it meant takin’ the blame fer the other ones’ crimes …We looked so identical no one could tell us apart”

The sound of a horse outside and then the sound of shuffling feet and guns being drawn from holsters caused the conversation to end prematurely.

In a moment the cause for the commotion came busting through the door.

“Scar Face,” One of the outlaws exclaimed, “Whata ya doin’ here? Ya weren’t sa’pose ta come out here till tamarree.”

“O’ shut up ya fool, an’ the rest of ya holster them irons, a fer I start thinkin’ about throwin’ some lead in yer direction myself,” he bellowed with an obvious southern accent.

“I come out a day early ta warn ya about a U.S. marshal bein’ in town.     After I seen em as I was a leavein’ the Grub Tent, I checked around town and found out he was the genuine thing an’ no one ta fool with. They called him Dusty Sourdough, but I got a feelin’ that ain’t his real name, the fact is I know I saw em somewhere afore. I just can’t remember where . . .”

He pondered his own words for a moment and then added, “but I’ll remember … ya can count on that!”

It was at that moment Scar Face spotted Walker lying in the corner tied and gagged, after Jake’s’ brother explained how he had caught him snooping around, he went over and violently jerked Walker to his feet. This caught the big Indian by surprise and his eyes came open with a startled look.

“I thought ya all said this Indian was knocked out! He’s probably been a lyin’ here a listen ta ya fools spillin’ all our plans.”

The man, whom the others seemed to cower from, still had Walker by the front of his shirt with one hand, and with the other one, he suddenly struck Walker a wicked blow to the face, catching him by surprise. Any other man would have been knocked unconscious, but Walker wasn’t just any other man.

“Well now, I guess we got us here a tuff Indian!” Scar Face said, sarcasm dripping from his voice.

“We’ll see how tuff ya are when I get through with ya. Back in the war, I had me some Yankees thought they were tuff, but when I got through with um they were babblin’ like babies a-tellin’ me all they know’d.”

The cruel look in Scar Faces’ eyes sent a chill down Walkers’ back. He knew this poor excuse for a human being was sadistic and took great pleasure in causing pain. Knowing that, he also knew more of that was on the way, so he prepared himself for the next blow.

When it came the pain was so intense the big Indian almost passed out, his knees started to buckle, but to the astonishment of the outlaw the Indian was still standing, albeit not to steady, he was swaying on his feet, his face bloodied, but the defiance was still in his eyes.

“I don’t have time fer this!” Scar Face spat out. ‘I’ll tend ta ya later after we take care of some business, so ifin you’re smart you’ll know what’s good fer ya and behave yerself.”

He gave Walker a vicious shove causing the Indian to crash back onto the cot.

After that, the men talked in low voices so Walker couldn’t hear their plans, but he was already sure it involved robbery and mayhem of the hard-working people around Hope.

Before leaving Scar Face told one of the gang to guard Walker and if the Indian got away he’d pay for his negligence with his hide.


The outlaws split into four groups, each heading in a different direction. Their plan was to hit four mining camps spread so far apart that it would be impossible to round up enough men to effectively come after any of them. By the time the fools in town were organized they’d be long gone and with any luck, their trail would be cold and impossible to follow … At least that was the plan.

They had picked, supposedly, the four richest mines according to Blackjack and they took it for granted he should know. After all, the miners favored the saloon where Blackjack dealt poker and the flow of nonstop liquor helped to loosen their lips. Even though Blackjack didn’t own the place it didn’t take him long to practically take over. That after cutting Sam, the owner, in on his plans and offering him a generous piece of the action, which he never intended to pay.

Blackjack, being one of the dealers the miners liked, had enabled him to get the inside information on who was doing what at the different mines in the area. It always amazed him how a few drinks and a friendly game of poker could loosen up the tightest lipped sourdough to reveal secrets he would normally not even share with his own mother.

At first, Sam thought Blackjacks’ scheme was a pipe dream and was doomed to failure, but as more and more of Blackjacks’ men drifted into town and the more pertinent information Blackjack eked out of the unsuspecting miners, the saloonkeeper was beginning to believe it might just be a quick way to get rich. Unfortunately, neither he nor Blackjack knew of the treachery being planned by a few of the cutthroats to take more than their share of the stolen gold. The ringleader of this conspiracy was devious to a fault and had no conscious when it came to taking a life, if anyone stood in his way he was a goner. Little did anyone know how catastrophic and out of control things were about to become when the two outlaw groups collided.

To Be Continued …







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…

Trails End… Chapter 6


Chapter 6

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.”

     The main corral held all the horses, but one. Off to one side was a small-holding pin with a big, angry pinto palomino doing his best to kick his way free.

“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…

Trails End… Chapter 5



Chapter 5

Walker didn’t like town all that much, and he wasn’t sure what drew him there this particular morning. He had waked before daylight with his friend Dusty on his mind. Something was wrong or was about to happen, of this he was sure. Long ago he learned to pay attention to the strange premonitions he would get from time to time. The one time he didn’t pay attention, it almost cost him his life.

Breaking up the fracas in the Grub Tent seemed to only pacify part of his anxiety. He knew in his heart he was supposed to do something else, but what it could be he couldn’t imagine. In the confusion that had taken place after he had forced the man with the knife to give it up, he slipped away and found a vantage point from where he couldn’t be observed from the Grub Tent.  

What he saw while watching from his hiding place was a town buzzing with excitement. All the new gold seekers hurrying about gathering the supplies and equipment they would need in their quest for gold. Some, he knew, had already taken to the trail. Those were the ones who came prepared and had brought all the needed gear with them.

Most all the locals were standing around the dock where the L.J. Perry, a sturdy two-mast schooner piloted by “Cap” Lathrop, was in the process of tying up. By the way she was riding in the water, she had a full load on. Like the Utopia, she too was carrying a full complement of passengers and cargo, even the aft deck was loaded with livestock; horses, a few cows heavy with calves, and cages holding chickens and ducks.

Dusty and Dynamite O’Brien strolled down from the Grub Tent and stood watching as they put the gangplank in place and the passengers started coming ashore. Mostly they looked like all the other gold seekers that had come before them, but some. . . Some had another look . . . the look of trouble. They wore Colts tied low on their hip. Personal upkeep wasn’t a top priority, and they all had a shifty look about them, but inspecting their hands told the actual story, they were soft-looking, with no apparent calluses were visible. It was obvious these men hadn’t done a hard day’s work in their adult life, and it was very unlikely they were about to start now. Looking hard at them, Dusty tried his best to memorize as much as he could about each individual’s appearance. By the time all the passengers were ashore, Dusty had counted a total of seven men that were suspect. More than likely they were all wanted for something somewhere, and now they were his problem.

After all the passengers were ashore, then came the livestock. Last fall Jeb over at the livery had sent a friend down to Seattle with a poke of gold for the purchase of more livestock, namely horses and mules. He knew they would take up a lot of space and need a considerable amount of care on the voyage north. So it wasn’t too hard to understand why it would cost more for their passage than it did the actual purchase price of the animal. He also knew what would be involved in their upkeep during the winter and he had planned accordingly for that by having five one hundred pound sacks of alfalfa seed brought up too.  

Last summer, the old wrangler thinking ahead, and while most of the menfolk were out digging for gold, he had spent the long summer days of never-ending light, getting a plot of ground cleared and ready for planting. He figured it was a win, win situation. If he didn’t sell the animals, he’d have his own hay to feed them, and if he sold the stock to someone, that person would need hay. He would have it available for sale, so either way, he’d be making a living.

Along with Jeb’s stock, there were a few dozen chickens and two milk cows were soon to drop calves. These animals were for George Roll. Like Jeb, he was a real entrepreneur. Eventually, George planned to have enough hens laying that he could sell fresh eggs at his store and once the cows calved there would be fresh milk to sell too.

It took most of the morning to offload all the supplies. When all the passengers had come ashore and of course the mailbag, most of the townfolk lost interest and drifted back to their work or to George’s store to wait for mail call.

Dusty and Johnny decided rather than fighting the crowd at the general store, another cup of coffee was in order, so they headed for V.O.‘.

The two friends found an empty table by the kitchen and made themselves comfortable. It was still busy, so they helped themselves to a steaming hot mug of the dark brew V.O. claimed was coffee.

“Bilgewater!” the old sea Captain declared with a twinkle in his eye, as V.O. approached their table.

“You could always get on your little boat and row to the next port.” The grub tent owner said, jabbing right back in fun. He always could get the better of Johnny by calling the Utopia a “little” boat.

Dusty knew this could go on for a while, so with a smile on his face, he sat back, enjoying the fun right along with his two good friends. Soon it settled down, and the conversation turned to the earlier trouble of that morning.

Dusty looked about, seeing that no one was paying attention to them, then he spoke in a low voice so only his friends could hear.

He told V.O. of the letter asking him to return to active duty with the Marshal’s service and he spoke of the danger the town was about to find itself in and he assured his friends he had a plan, albeit a feeble one. But Dusty needed help, someone not afraid of long odds, and he let V.O know he was his first choice.

This was because V.O. himself had been a [1]lawman in the Arizona territory some years back and was no stranger to danger. He was considerably older now, but then too, so was Dusty.

“I can’t prove it yet, but all these hard cases we’ve seen comin’ ashore I believe are all part of a gang, and whatever they have on their minds I guarantee will bring nothing but grief ta this here town,” Dusty stated this with unmistakable trepidation in his voice.

“Well, what can be done? We just can’t go up and ask one of them . . . hey, are you a crook and what are you doing here?” V.O asked with a chuckle, trying to bring a little levity into the serious conversation.

“That might not be such a bad idée,” Dusty said. “I’m goin’ a need a deputy ta watch my back. I don’t think any of these guys would be opposed ta shootin’ a feller in the back ifin the opportunity presented itself.”

Dusty watched V.O. closely as he said this, and the reaction he was hoping for was instant and showed on the old lawman’s face.

“You know I can do that for you, even though I might be a little rusty with my colt. I haven’t had one of those blackout spells in months. Maybe the Doc down in Arizona was wrong. Maybe I’m over them.”

 V.O. sounded sincere, and Dusty knew he could trust him with his life. V.O.’s integrity and grit were without reproach, and even if he was rusty, he would still be better than most. His gun skills were what legends were made of.

Dusty didn’t hesitate.  After accepting V.O.’s offer and swearing him in as Deputy U.S. Marshal, Dusty explained what their next move would be, and then the trio agreed they would meet up later.

When they split up Dusty headed to the general store to post a notice calling for a town meeting and to check out one of his theories.

“Back so soon?” George asked with a smile as Dusty closed the squeaky front door and a little bell above it jingled, announcing his arrival.

“As long as ya don’t oil the hinges on this here door I don’t see any reason fer that annoying, noisy little bell, this squeaky door could wake up the dead,” Then, taking his friend aside he told George of his suspicions and told him of his decision to return to active duty with the Marshal’s service until they could find someone else to take the job. The storekeeper listened closely and had very little to say at the conclusion of the grim news. Dusty said he was posting a notice calling for a town meeting for the following evening. He would, at that time, let the town folks know the law had come to Hope … and he was it.

[1]The history of the Grub Tent owner can be found in “The Adventures of Dusty Sourdough,” book two, “The Trail to Wrangell.”

To Be Continued …

Trail’s End… Chapter 4


     Chapter 4

Pete, grumbling to himself, pushed his two unstable groaning partners toward their horses tied at the hitching rail. After a struggle to get them mounted, the trio road out of town toward Sunrise. The conversation was nonexistent, and the tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Red and Frank, Pete’s not so bright partners, were still recovering and trying to figure out in their feeble minds what had taken place just before everything went wrong. They were sure the advantage was in their favor. Pete, on the other hand, was fuming and being the vengeful coward he was, he was already conjuring up a plan to get even.

Blackjack was sitting at a corner table dealing a crooked game of cards when Pete came busting through the saloon doors.

Blackjack had told all the boys not to act like they knew him and not to hang around together in any groups larger than three. But Pete, with such a mad on, either forgot the orders or just plain ignored them. Whatever the case, Blackjack had to act and act fast.

Pete didn’t slow his pace, shoving people aside as he headed directly for Blackjack’s table, but before he had a chance to open his mouth, Blackjack jumped to his feet, pulled his gun and swung it hard. The blow caught Pete above the left ear, dropping him to the floor like a hundred-pound sack of feed. Pete didn’t move. It was obvious he was either out cold or dead. The incident took less than a few seconds and was over before anybody knew what was happening, including the two miners Blackjack was in the process of fleecing in a friendly game of poker.

“Get this troublemaker out of here. Throw him out back!” Blackjack yelled at the barkeep while sitting back down at the poker table like it was normal to knock someone unconscious for no apparent reason. He apologized for the interruption as if he had just swatted an annoying fly and started dealing a new hand. In a moment all was forgotten, and the activities at the “Sluice Box” resumed without a second thought. It was, after all, an everyday occurrence, and men who frequented such places expected fights to break out, and generally they weren’t disappointed.

Blackjack dealt a few more hands, then made up a lame excuse to end the game and abruptly left the table. Even though the miners still had a little gold sitting in front of them, there would be another time.

He stopped at the bar, whispered something to Big Mike, and then sauntered back to his office where the barkeep had unceremoniously dumped Pete on the floor. Blackjack walked over to the washstand, picked up the pitcher of water normally used for washing, and rudely threw it on the unconscious man’s head.

Pete jerked up, spitting and sputtering and reaching for his gun. As it cleared the holster Blackjack kicked it from his hand and viciously yanked him up by the shirtfront.

While still gripping the shirt in a twisted ball, he pulled the man’s ugly face within inches of his own.

Blackjack’s face contorted into a hideous mask, his entire body shaking with anger, barely controlling his voice, speaking through clenched teeth to the petrified man.

“I should have killed you . . . If these fools around here figure out we all know each other, the whole plan will blow up. If that happens I will kill you, you fool! Do you understand … do you?”

Blackjack violently shoved Pete away from him and tried to compose himself.

“Most of them,” he continued with a little more self-control, “around here aren’t smart enough to come in out of the rain, if they were, they surely wouldn’t be up here looking for something, probably only [1]one-in-a-hundred will find. There are, however, some a little too smart for their own good. Like that fool called Dusty Sourdough …”

“Yah!” interrupted Pete. “That’s who I was comin’ ta tell ya about. I was fixin’ ta teach one of them worthless, good fer nothin’ prospectors some manners at that Grub Tent over in Hope when he stuck his two cents worth in. He acts like he’s the law, but we didn’t see a badge . . .”

“What do you mean, we?” Blackjack interrupted in a menacing voice. “Who else was there?”

“Red n’ Frank, we were about ta cancel that Dusty feller’s ticket when some others took a hand in it. One of them was a big Indian who had the drop on us. We got run out of town and told not ta come back!”

Blackjack’s anger started to boil again, and he was about to erupt like a volcano. He had nothing but contempt for the man standing in front of him, “GET OUT!” He exploded, “you and those two worthless idiots go out to the hideout and stay there until I send for you . . . If I see you or them in town again, I’ll make you regret the day you laid eyes on this place.”

By now, even Pete was smart enough to see how livid Blackjack was, so cautiously, not turning his back on this mans’ fury, he started backing toward the door leading to the alley. He reached for the handle, yanked the door open, and without another word, or any wasted motion, made a hasty retreat down the alley, never knowing how close he had come to meeting the Grim Reaper.

Pete slowed to a walk as he reached the end of the alley. He wanted to pull himself together before finding his two friends; it wouldn’t do to have them see him in such a cowardly state. He had to tell them they had to leave town, and it needed to be in such a way it would sound like it was his idea; it wouldn’t due to have the boys think he cowed down to Blackjack, or anybody else.

For a moment, he reflected on the sequence of events and his face twisted into an ugly smirk, he’d show ‘em, nobody pushes Big Pete around and lives ta talk about it, Blackjack included, he’d get his too and he wouldn’t even see it comin’.

As a young boy, Pete was a bully. He was bigger than other kids his age and took pleasure in pushing them around, beating them up when they didn’t obey him. It wasn’t until Billy Taylor, a new boy his own size, came along. Did he show to be the coward he was? One day when he started picking on a smaller boy, Billy, who didn’t like bullies, stepped between the two and showed Pete for what he was. Of course Pete backed down with fear, begging not to be hit. The next day he refused to return to school and in the end he ran away from home. It wasn’t long after that his life of crime began. Through the years it escalated to where it was now, still a coward who took all he could from the weak and unsuspecting without concern for human dignity or life.

After finding his two cohorts and explaining the situation, his version, of course, they headed out of town. Unbeknownst to them, they weren’t alone, more trouble was following very close behind . . .

[1] In truth, only about 1% of the gold rushers who came North ever struck it rich.

To Be Continued…

Trail’s End… Chapter 3


Chapter 3

Dusty had spent a restless night tossing, turning, and getting very little sleep. He knew he had little time to get his personal affairs in order, not to mention getting prepared for the winter that always came too soon.

When he heard the Captain moving around downstairs, he slipped quietly out of bed, trying not to wake up Aura Lee, and quickly got dressed and then headed down the stairs to meet the day.

“Mornin’ Johnny,” Dusty said with a smile, just as Shadow Spirit pushed in through the door.

“Well, well, you decided ta grace us with yer presence?” Dusty said, as relief flooded through his body. The magnificent animal, sensing Dusty’s emotions, came to him and licked his outstretched hand. 

“If only ya could talk, I’d be a askin’ where ya wondered off ta all night. I bet the answer would be mighty interestin’.”

Shadow looked at her master with her intelligent eyes and seemed to understand every word he said. When Dusty had finished talking to her about her disappearing act, with as much sternness as he could muster, she barked once and lifted her head to him. Her tail was wagging in anticipation of the loving pats and the ear rubs she knew would be administered to her with gentleness and love.

After a quick breakfast of bacon, biscuits, and plenty of hot coffee to wash it down, Dusty wrote a brief note to Aura Lee, explaining he had things to do and would try to be back in time for the noon meal.

Without making much conversation, each in their own thoughts, the two friends walked the trail to town, and neither seemed to mind the quietness. Their friendship was such that it didn’t always need words, they both just enjoyed each other’s company along with enjoying the start of a brand new day.

Both men knew the days ahead would be filled with danger for Dusty, and the way he handled each obstacle could and would probably change the way of life for everyone concerned. Other than the circuit judge, Dusty was about to become the only legal authority in the territory.

When they reached the town, Captain O’Brien and Dusty headed over to V.O. Rollie’s Grub Tent. Another cup of coffee sounded good to them and besides, if one listened to the talk going around while enjoying a cup or two, you were sure to catch up on the latest happenings around town.

The Grub Tent was booming. It looked like everyone who’d arrived on the Utopia had shown up at V O’s to have breakfast. You could feel the excitement in the air.

As Dusty looked at the hopeful faces of these cheechakos, again he couldn’t help wonder how many would actually find the wealth they were seeking or even be able to survive their first brutal Alaska winter. They came from all occupations. Some of them were city dwellers who didn’t have a clue how to survive in any type of wilderness environment, much less that of Alaska. These would be the first to give up. Most, after a month of mosquitoes, grizzly bears, and hardships beyond their wildest imaginations would leave on the first boat they could book passage on heading south. Many that remained through the entire summer would leave on the last boat out before the inevitable winter ice sets in and chokes the waterways, making them impassable by boat. Some though would stay, they were the ones the new territory needed; a fearless lot who expected the worst and met it head-on. These, with few exceptions, would learn to coexist with the land and its people. Unfortunately, there was another type of newcomer; these were the ones that were now officially Dusty’s problem.

Standing just inside the door, Dusty and the Captain looked the busy Grub Tent over, searching for a vacant table. Spotting a couple of guys that looked to be brothers that were getting up from their table, Dusty and Johnny sauntered over and introduced themselves to the boys.

The two young men said their names were Elijah and Micah. They didn’t give a last name and keeping with the code of the West wasn’t asked for one. Elijah said they were brothers; which confirmed Dusty’s suspicions. They said they came from a little town called Ellensburg, in the new state of [1]Washington. The two were strappin’ young men, standing over six feet tall and Dusty knew, after just a short conversation, these two were from good stock and were men of strength and integrity; the kind Alaska would need.

As the two brothers walked out the door Dusty said, “There are two fellers ta ride the river with, I’ll guarantee ya they don’t know the word quit.”

“Yah and I’ll tell you something else,” the jaunty sea Captain said with a twinkle in his eye. “With their good looks and that red hair, the young female population around here will be chasing them like an old grizzly after spawning salmon.”

They both had a good laugh and were still chuckling when three unsavory characters came through the door. The men caught Dusty’s attention immediately. All three of them were in need of a bath and just one look told you they weren’t prospectors. Dusty had seen, all too often, their kind before. Every mining camp, railhead, or frontier town drew this type just like bees to honey. Dusty knew these three spelled trouble with a capital “T.”

“How many of these hard cases ya reckon ya brought up?” Dusty asked Johnny, whose attention was now scanning V.O.’s grease spotted menu.

“What, what did you say?”

Dusty repeated the question, nodding in the direction of the three scruffy men. The Captain’s gaze followed the men as they sat down and then he replied,

“Well, as I said before, nine came on board in Seattle, but there could’ve been some already on board that got on in San Francisco. I was in town picking up needed grub and supplies for the voyage when we started taking on passengers. I could ask my first mate?”

“Don’t bother” and he quickly changed the subject.

“What are ya lookin’ at that menu fer?” He asked, with a slight grin starting to turn up the corners of his mouth. “We done had breakfast, ya can’t still be hungry?”

“Well, to tell you the truth, the smells in here are kind of making me hungry all over again. I don’t want ta hurt your feelings, but you’re a lucky man finding a woman like Aura Lee; pretty, smart and. . . a good cook. ‘Cause you see, to tell the truth. . . Those biscuits you made this morning?. . . Well, I fed mine to Shadow Spirit and I think she didn’t want ‘em either, if she’s as smart as I think she is she probably buried them somewhere out in the woods. The good side to your cooking is it could cause a man to lose a powerful lot of unwanted weight.”

Dusty tried his best to act hurt and was searching for something to come back with, when the sound of crashing dishes and a fight breaking out, disrupted the friendly bantering.

Before Johnny knew what was going on, Dusty, with surprising speed, was in the middle of the fisticuffs. Next, coming out of the kitchen wheeling a cast- iron skillet, was V.O. himself and he had a full head of steam. V.O. was a former lawman down in the Arizona Territory and was a little past his prime, but he still had something left when the need arose. He wasn’t sure what had started the fight, but broken dishes and food was all over the place and one of the old prospectors, a regular at the Grub Tent, was out cold on the floor and bleeding from a wicked cut on his forehead.

Dusty had the element of surprise when he charged into the fracas but was losing ground fast. Two of the three bullies had him by the arms, and the third was about to work him over. Johnny was on the move with a piece of cordwood in his hand he had grabbed up as he passed by the big potbelly stove. He and V.O. arrived simultaneously and the ring of a skillet bouncing off the head of the first guy sounded like someone ringing a bell, and the cordwood slamming into the midsection of the second man, taking the wind and the fight right out of him. . . and then there was one.

The third guy was the biggest of the three. He had a good sixty pounds on Dusty and stood a full head taller, but he was caught completely off guard when Dusty suddenly came free. All at once, the odds had changed, and he didn’t like it. Before he could react, a left caught him on the end of his chin and he felt his knees start to buckle. Staggering back, he shook his head to clear the cobwebs. Pete still shaking his head, took a closer look at Dusty and didn’t care much for what he saw. For a moment he thought he had an advantage, being much bigger and at least ten years younger, but then he looked into Dusty’s icy blue eyes and he realized quite the contrary, and just like the bully and coward he was, he reached down to his boot and pulled a knife. The room became deathly quiet.

“Well now,” Dusty said in a flat monotone voice edged with steel. “I guess everyone here can see that yellow streak runnin’ down yer back.”

About then a menacing voice came from the doorway. “If I were you, I’d drop the knife. . . that is unless you’d like going through the rest of your miserable life missing a few of your fingers.”

Standing in the doorway was the biggest Indian Pete had ever laid eyes on, and the rifle he was pointing directly at him even looked bigger than life.

“You could take a chance I might miss, but then I’d probably just blow a hole clean through you,” the Indian said in perfect English with no humor in his voice.

A sweat broke out on Pete’s forehead and he knew this Indian meant business. Slowly, so his movement wouldn’t be misconstrued, he slipped the knife back into his boot. Straightening up, he glared at Dusty and said, with hatred in his voice, “This ain’t over, there will be another time and that’s when I aim ta killing ya…! Nobody makes a fool out a Big Pete and gets away with it … nobody!”

“For right now. . . “Big” Pete, you and yer two friends’ clear outa here and I’d advise ya not ta be comin’ back. But befer you go, fork over twenty dollars, which oughta cover the damages and yer breakfast.”

Pete started to say something, but instead, he reached into his pocket, pulled out what looked to be a brand new twenty-dollar gold piece, and threw it on the floor. He then grabbed both his dazed cohorts by their collars, shoved them toward the door, careful to avoid the big Indian who stepped aside to let them pass.

Dusty turned to thank both of his friends for the much-needed help and then bent down and picked up the twenty-dollar gold piece. It was the first brand new one Dusty had ever seen, and he wondered how a saddle tramp, who probably hadn’t earned an honest dollar in his life, had come by such a coin. Dusty flipped it to V.O. and said, “I think there’s more here than meets the eye. Those three ain’t by any stretch of the imagination prospectors and bein’s they’re not, what do ya suppose they’re doin’ in Hope and how do ya think one of them could come by a brand new twenty-dollar gold piece?”

The question was meant more for himself than anyone else, and he really didn’t expect an answer …With a puzzled look, he said his goodbyes and left the Grub Tent.

He wanted to thank Walker before checking out his suspicions, but after stepping out on the boardwalk and looking in both directions, he realized, once again, the aloof Indian had disappeared before Dusty could thank him.

Deep in thought, with a lot on his mind, he headed for the general store to follow up on his suspicion.

“Howdy George,” Dusty said with a smile. “I bet your landslide business hasn’t let up one minute with all these new folks in town.”

 “It’s been crazy around here,” George replied. “Some of these folks don’t have the foggiest idea of what they need or what it takes to make it up here. If they don’t die from exposure, a grizz will get them and I’m not ashamed to admit, it’s got me bamboozled some. A few of them are buying things that haven’t spit to do with gold prospectin’, like for instance, one mean-lookin’ fella bought up enough .45 shells to start a minor war, and he wasn’t the only one. Yesterday another ye hoo did the same thing, no grub, no prospecting tools and no cold-weather gear, just .45 shells. 

Dusty waited until George was through relating a few other strange purchases and then he asked a very important question and if the answer was what he thought it would be, it meant trouble had surely come to Hope… BIG TROUBLE . . .

[1]Washington was admitted to the Union on November 11, 1889, becoming our 42ndState. 

To Be Continued…

Trails End… Chapter 2


Chapter 2

Shadow Spirit had seen Aura Lee and that yapping Little Bear stop at the stream, but her sense of smell told her this man who had Aura Lee so upset hadn’t come this far, in the chase’s excitement she had lost the scent and now needed to backtrack and find it. This person had a foul smell about him, and if she could, she would not let him do any harm to her family.

As Shadow loped back down the trail on full alert, it wasn’t long before her highly sensitive nose once again detected the intruder’s scent.

She stopped to sniff around a large cottonwood tree that set off the trail three or four yards. By all the scents and footprints, this was where the man had slipped off the trail and hid till they had passed. Moving in a circle, it didn’t take long for her to pick up the scent of his trail heading through the woods towards town.

By the time Shadow Spirit reached the edge of town, the sun had already dropped below the horizon and the night sky was coming on fast. The first stars were beginning to twinkle over the Chugach Mountains and later a full moon would be rising, casting its silver glow over the landscape. The smell of fires burning in cook stoves and on open hearths filled the air with the smells of home and family. These smells were pleasant, but confusing, when mixed with the scents of other men and the man she was tracking. It wasn’t long before the trail was indiscernible and Shadow Spirit became confused, not knowing which way the culprit had gone. She decided circling the town was her only option. Trying to pick up the scent amongst all the other smells in town would take too much time and for some unknown reason, she felt time was of the essence.

She had come almost the full circle around town and was approaching the wagon-rutted road that led to the nearby town of Sunrise. Sniffing from one side to the other it wasn’t long before she detected what she was after. It was faint, but she was sure she was back on the right trail . . .

Because of the time she had spent circling the town in search of the trail, the scent was fading fast and it took all her K-9 powers of smell to follow it.

She followed it to within a few hundred yards of the town of Sunrise and then, for whatever reason, she went no further.

This place had an evil smell to it. It wasn’t like Hope, where people knew her by name and patted her head when she walked up to them. She remembered last year when she and Dusty had come to this place. On that day she hadn’t entered the town either. She had watched her master from a vantage point where she couldn’t be seen, but yet was able to keep a protective eye on him. Her master had told her never to enter this place without him because dogs had been known to disappear from there, [1]never to be seen again. Instinct told her the person she had been following was in that town. With that knowledge, she decided to lay in wait to see if he would come out of wherever he had gone.

The full moon was bright, and it made the shadows deep and ominous. All but one of the saloons had closed down hours ago, and Shadow Spirit was about to give up her vigilance and start for home when movement behind that particular saloon caught her attention. She stealthily moved forward from her place of observation and followed the sounds of footsteps on a parallel course. The scent of the human was a familiar one, and it caused a snarl to appear on Shadow Spirit’s lips, exposing her wicked looking canines.

When an involuntary low guttural growl broke the silence of the night, the man froze in his tracks.

“Who goes there?” He asked with a shaky voice as he drew his gun. “Show yer self ‘afore I start blastin’!” Matt Sledge yelled with as much authority as he could muster, trying to hide the fear he felt in his stomach.

Matt was a no account petty thief and back shooter. From the young age of fifteen they had caught him stealing from the widow Prichard, who was trying to do him a good turn by giving him a job. The ranch foreman was the one who caught him red-handed and ran him off. A month later the foreman was found dead alongside a watering hole he’d been cleaning out; he had been shot in the back. Everyone knew who had done the deed, but it couldn’t be proved. From then on Matt road the owl-hoot trail and there wasn’t much he wouldn’t do for money.

When Ace (Blackjack) had run into him in San Francisco and told him some of the plans he was putting together for a big haul. Matt jumped at it when offered a piece of the action . . . That is, until Ace explained to him where this untold wealth was to be found.

Matt was a coward, yellow through and through. He’d never faced a man head- on, and with any luck he never would. The stories that were already coming out of this far-off, gold-rich place called Alaska, gave him cause to pause and rethink his snap decision. Tales of grizzlies of monumental size hiding behind every tree, attacking without provocation, caused a cold chill to rack his body even though it was a warm California day. The stories of the never-ending, long, dark winters also scared him witless. Like most cowards, he was paranoid of the dark, always believing something was lurking in the shadows to do him harm. He had, a few times, used the night to his advantage, but most of the time he preferred to do his dirty deeds in the light of day . . . so he could see to shoot his unsuspecting victim in the back.

Ace needed a man without scruples, such as Matt, even though he knew him to be a greedy little coward. Using Matt’s greed against him as a lever, knowing he would never have to make good his offer, he doubled the stakes. This made the offer more money than Matt had ever seen or hoped to see in his lifetime. His greed for money once again overshadowed his cowardice, so the decision was sealed with a handshake and enough money in his pocket to book passage to Hope, Alaska, on the next steamer heading north.

As Matt peered into the dark, with scary shadows that surrounded him, the thought of riches was the furthest thing from his mind. Being the coward he was, he stood literally shaking in his boots, listening for any sound that might warn him of an impending attack, but the only sound he heard was his own heart beating. Nothing else reached his ears.

There wasn’t any other sound. Even the woods had become deadly quiet, and this implication only added to his horror. He could taste his fear, it was as familiar to him as life itself and at this moment he thought his life might be over.

The natural response to fear is fight or flight. However, in Matt’s case, the thought of fighting never crossed his mind. His only thought now was in what direction to run. Frantically he looked about, but not being able to see or hear what he was sure was there, caused panic to overtake him and he bolted back in the direction he had come. Little did he realize how close he had come to his demise in the form of slashing teeth…?

When the human bolted, Shadow Spirit’s first thought was to attack. She could’ve run this man down in a heartbeat and she knew, by his scent, he was the one who had been sneaking around their cabin; but for whatever reason, she let him escape. The great wolf-dog would remember his scent, and if their paths crossed again, the outcome would a whole different ending.

[1] During the gold rush, sled dogs were at a premium and often stole and sold on the black market.

To Be Continued