Dave P. Fisher                        
Author & Western Humorist

Double Diamond Books                      
  
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Monthly Feature
      Book 1 of the Ten men of Courage trilogy
 In this scene, Confederate Sharpshooter, Griffin Allen heads for Texas at the end of the war. Deciding to work as a bounty hunter, he pursues the notorious bandito band led by Amidio Vazquez for the price on his head.

 

 

Griffin Allen had ridden away from the war still wearing his Confederate uniform. The word had passed down the lines that Johnston had surrendered in North Carolina and the war was over. As a member of the prestigious Whitworth Sharpshooters, Griffin realized that his position in an elite unit was over. He also realized that the Whitworth .451 rifle he cherished would be confiscated by the Federals.

Returning to his previous meager life in the hills of Tennessee, or being forced into a dull life working at some job was not what Griffin Allen wanted in life. He had learned from his compatriots in the Texas units that the furthest west edge of Texas was filled with marauding Indians, and bandits of both white and Mexican extraction. It sounded like his kind of country.

When the Confederate soldiers were ordered in to relinquish their weapons he pointed his horse’s nose west and rode out of Mississippi. Sticking to the border of Louisiana and Arkansas he picked up the Red River and used it as a bearing to take him deep into Texas. The Whitworth was in his saddle scabbard on the right side. On the left side was a second scabbard holding a Henry rifle he had taken from the body of a Federal Captain he had killed. Around his waist hung a Navy Colt.

Continuing through Texas he stopped in the frontier towns, and from conversations learned that there were outlaws in west Texas that the state was willing to pay a bounty on, dead or alive. That was work to his liking.

It was the last week in May when he rode into Gainesville. The town was active with growing commerce and population. He had long since exchanged his uniform for civilian dress. Federal troops rooting out Confederate soldiers, and pockets of resistance, had yet to make it far into Texas. Still, he found no reason to speak of his past not knowing who was loyal to the North.

Pulling the horse to a stop in front of the postal office he dismounted and walked inside. The clerk gave Griffin his attention as he stepped up to the counter. “Is there law in this town?” Griffin asked.

“There’s a Town Marshal. Do you have need of the law?”

“I have business with him. Where is he?”

“Down the street a piece.”

Griffin nodded and walked back out of the office to see three men hovering around his horse in discussion. He narrowed his eyes as he watched them. The stock of the Whitworth was exposed, and now he was concerned that they were Federal officials. No Yankees were arresting him, or taking his rifle. He loosened the Colt and stepped forward.

“You men find my horse interestin’?” he asked.

The three men all stopped their discussion and turned toward Griffin. “This is your horse?” one asked.

“I said it was.”

“We were just noticing the rifle.”

Griffin casually rested his right hand over the butt of the Colt. “What about it?”

The men recognized the defensive posture and expression of the rifle’s owner. The man asking the questions raised his hands palms out, “We ain’t Federals, sir. We served in the Confederate Army and recognized the stock of your Whitworth. We figured the Yankees had took them all.”

“They didn’t take this one,” Griffin replied coolly, not sure if this was a trick to trip him into a confession.

“You were with the Whitworth Sharpshooters?”

“You ask a lot of questions,” Griffin remarked.

“No offense meant, friend. This is a town that never accepted the Union rule. Back in sixty-two, these folks hung a bunch of Union loyalists. Sentiment hasn’t changed much since. You’re among friends here.”

Griffin held his position, “That’s good to know.”

“We didn’t mean to butt into your private affairs. We were just surprised to see a Whitworth this far from the battlegrounds. Glad to see one made it out. We’ll let you go about your business.” The three men walked away.

Griffin watched them as they continued to walk. He stepped into the saddle and rode down the street to a building with a sign on the front indicating it was the Marshal’s office. Stopping, he dismounted at a hitchrail and walked into the office.

A man with a trimmed beard and stern face sat writing at a desk. He looked up at Griffin, “Help you with something?”

Griffin looked at the wall where bulletins for town events were pinned. He passed his eyes over them, “Got any outstandin’ warrants?”

The marshal put down his pencil, leaned back in his chair, and studied Griffin. “Are you a man hunter?”

Griffin glanced back at the Marshal to see the man giving him a disparaging eye. “And if I am?”

“Not an honorable trade, let’s say that.”

“Interestin’. I got paid to hunt men for the past four years. Shot ‘em for wearin’ a different color coat’n me. I was told it was honorable. Don’t see where huntin’ men for pay now is much different.”

The marshal pursed his lips at the response he hadn’t expected. “Which color did you wear?”

Griffin defiantly locked eyes with the Marshal, “The color different from the men I shot. Which color did you wear?”

The Marshal’s body went rigid with indignation. He growled, “I was here defending the citizens from Indian attacks.”

Griffin nodded, then turned back to reading the bulletins on the wall. His eyes stopped on a sheet of paper that indicated a Leroy Hawkins was wanted in Cooke County, and by the state of Texas, for robbery of a Butterfield Overland stage, the murder of the driver, and the murders of four posse members. There was a fifteen-hundred dollar reward on his head.

“What about this Hawkins?” Griffin asked.

“Hawkins robbed a stage and killed the driver. He was arrested, but he managed to escape from jail. We figure he had an accomplice, but we don’t know who that was. When the men formed a posse to go after them they killed four of the posse.”

“Were you in the posse?”

“I was.”

“Where did you lose them?”

“Up in the Indian Territory. Haven’t seen Hawkins since.”

Griffin took a notepad and pencil from his pocket and wrote down the information regarding Hawkins. He put the pad and pencil back in his pocket, turned and looked at the Marshal, “Thanks.” He walked out the door.

Pulling the reins loose he mounted and rode down the street looking for the busiest saloon in town. Bartenders always knew everything that went on. It didn’t take long to find what he was looking for.

Walking into the saloon he looked around and then made his way to the bar. The bartender stood across from him. “Beer,” Griffin said.

The bartender filled a glass and set it in front of Griffin who in turn laid a coin on the bar. “I’m interested in knowin’ about Leroy Hawkins,” Griffin said casually.

The bartender shrugged, “Robbed a stage, broke jail, and killed the men who went after him. Don’t know much more beyond that.”

“Where did he come from?”

“Stranger in town. No one knew him.”

Griffin drank from the glass, put it down and nodded.

“Are you a lawman?” the bartender asked.

Griffin shook his head.

“Friend?”

“No.”

“Man hunter, then.”

Griffin looked at the bartender, “It seems to give folks around here a sour taste in their mouths if a man hunts criminals for pay, but not to kill men in a war for pay. I got paid to hunt men in the war. What’s the difference?”

The bartender studied him for a moment then nodded, “You have a point there. Were you an infantryman?”

“Sharpshooter.”

“Confederate or Yankee?”

Griffin looked directly in the man’s eyes. The fact he said ‘Yankee’ indicated he favored the Confederacy. “Confederate.”

A smile broke across the bartender’s face, “You’re among friends here.”

“So, I’ve heard.”

“A man of your abilities shouldn’t be wasting his time chasing a squirrel. You want to put your skills to hunting big game.”

“I don’t consider one-thousand and five-hundred dollars squirrel meat.”

“To the west, out in the Llano Estacado, there’s a band of murdering outlaws. They steal stock, kidnap women and children to sell for slaves in Mexico, and have murdered every man who went after them. They’re led by a Mex named Amidio Vasquez, they call him The Scorpion. There’s a five-thousand dollar reward on his head.”

Griffin continued to look at the bartender, “I’m interested. Where can I learn more about him?”

“Word has it Vasquez and his band raided the white settlement of Belknap yesterday, or maybe it was the day before. It’s about a hundred miles west of here. They made off with some women and children, killed a couple of men. Folks out there know all about Vasquez. You need to go there.”

 

Noon of the second day out of Gainesville the deserted stone buildings of Fort Belknap came into Griffin’s view. Spread out around the structures sprawled a number of small buildings constructed of gray boards battered by the wind and sand. A few men wandered about the buildings that turned out to be houses and businesses.

The settlement had the distressed appearance of many towns he had seen after a battle had raged around and through it. A morose air hung over the place, reminding him of the shocked civilians who had survived such a battle. Wooden markers in a graveyard seemed to outnumber the living.

Stopping the horse he looked around to the buildings. Two men walked up to him. “Are you looking for someone?” one of the men asked.

Griffin looked down at them, “I understand Amidio Vasquez raided this town a few days back.”

“You heard right,” the man replied. “He made off with some women and children. Killed two men. Left a few others shot up. Stole all they could.”

“That don’t sound too good.”

“No, it’s not good at all!” the man snapped. “You have a purpose here, or you just come to gawk and make smart remarks?”

Griffin looked at the man, “I’ve come to kill Amidio Vasquez.”

Both men stared at Griffin momentarily dumbstruck by the matter-of-fact answer. The man shook off his amazement at the announcement, “No one has been able to kill him. He’s got at least fifty bloodthirsty killers with him.”

Griffin ignored the remark and asked, “Which way did he go with the prisoners?”

The man pointed out to the flat, sun baked land to the west, “Out there somewhere.”

“Any of your men go after ‘em?”

The man looked ashamed and hung his head as he shook it.

The second man broke in, “You have to understand, no one has ever returned from chasing them. We have other women and children here to protect. Between the Comanche, and now Vasquez, we can’t leave them alone.”

Griffin nodded, “I’ll bring ‘em back.” He heeled his horse and rode into the heat waves rising off the land.

The horse tracks left by the raiders were only scars on the brown grass. Studying them closely Griffin found that the horses were not shod, which made the tracks harder to see against the hard ground; however, he didn’t need tracks. Being raised a poor boy in the Tennessee hills where they survived by hunting and trapping he had developed into a skilled tracker. There were other signs that stood out as obvious to him as tracks. He knew the direction the raiders had fled, the rest he could figure out.

Fifty riders was probably an exaggeration, but even half that many horses left enough manure behind to look like a blazed trail. The hard branches of mesquite scraped the passing horses holding bits of hair stuck in the rough bark. All of these he found as he followed the escape route of Vasquez’s raiders. To Griffin it was a marked highway.

He arrived at the broken and crumbled bank where the horses had slid down into the Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos. Sitting on his horse he studied the buttes rising up in front of him. Between and around them, covered in brown grass and dotted with mesquite trees, the land ran flat. The scars on the opposite bank showed where the riders had gone up and on.

Moving the horse across the narrow stream he followed the signs that led toward a draw that cut into a continuous line of flat topped hills. Pulling the Henry he held it in his hand as he rode toward the draw. Before he reached the gap in the hills he crossed the twin ruts of several wagons coming from the south.

Stepping down from his horse he held the reins in one hand and the Henry in the other. He examined the wagon tracks. The ground was hard, yet the iron rimmed wheels had dug deeply into the sod indicating they were heavily loaded.

Mounting up again he rode on. Stopping at the mouth of the draw he looked up into it. Seeing no one within its length he again examined the ground. The wagons had stopped short of the opening, but horses had been up into the depths of the draw.

He rode on into the draw with all of his senses alert. The indications of a large camp were everywhere. The place had been left a clutter of thrown off refuse. Several spots of ash and partially burned wood showed where fires had been. The signs told him that these outlaws were bold, brazen, and held no fear of retribution.

He was certain the prisoners had been put in the wagons. Riding back out of the draw he crisscrossed the area. He found where horses and wagons had headed north. He followed the northbound tracks for a short way. He quickly ascertained that there were only two wagons, more than two had come from the south. The wagons were heavily loaded as the wheels bit deep into the sod, but what did they carry? Where did the other wagons go?

Turning the horse he rode quickly back to the draw where the wagons had stopped. He found the torn places in the sod where the iron wheel rims had dug in as the wagons were turned. Two wagons headed south. They were also heavily loaded. Which wagons were the prisoners in? He remembered the Gainesville bartender had said prisoners were being taken to Mexico. It would stand to reason then that the women and children stolen from Belknap would be in the wagons headed south. Even with the lead they held on him he was confident he would catch up to the slow moving wagons.

He paused and looked in both directions. But, which way had Vasquez gone? The leader of the band was the one with the price on his head. Still, the fate of the women and children bore heavily into his thinking. He had seen too many terrified and tear streaked faces of women and children to cast the thought aside. The idea of the horrific fates that awaited these innocents was enough. He reined the horse to the south. Maybe Vasquez was with them.

The gelding he rode was tall and powerfully built, accustomed to long marches, and the sound of gun fire. He had a fast walk, was tireless, and nothing startled him. He gave the gelding a loose rein which allowed the horse to lower his head and break into its normal fast walk.

The gelding kept that pace for the next two hours, which in Griffin’s experience was worth ten miles. A good deal faster than a loaded wagon at two or three miles an hour. He moved the horse off the wagon tracks and climbed a rise in the plains. Before him lay miles of open country. In the distance the land rolled into the horizon.

Dismounting he tied the reins to a mesquite bush and dug the field glasses out of the saddlebag. Sitting down he began a slow scan of the country before him. He saw nothing of the wagons. Remounting he rode down off the rise and continued on the wagon tracks.

He allowed another two hours to pass before he climbed a knoll and used the glasses again. As he searched in a methodical back-and-forth pattern, beginning with the country directly in front of him and moving toward the horizon, he again spotted nothing. Then, training the glasses on the furthest stretch of land he could see several moving specks. The afternoon heat waves distorted his view at such a distance, but two of the objects were definitely wagons. The flatness of the land made it difficult to estimate distance. They could be twenty miles or a hundred.

Putting the glasses back in the saddlebag, he mounted and resumed his ride. The gelding was beginning to tire under the hot sun, water had been scarce, yet he let the horse drink whenever they came on any water. The sun was spreading out over the western horizon in brilliant hues of red and orange. He continued on until dark.

Finding a shallow dry wash where the remnants of the spring rains had left a few standing pools of water Griffin stopped. Filling his canteen from the deepest pool, he then let the gelding drink from it. He unsaddled the horse and staked him with a rope and picket pin where grass had sprung up around the water.

He expected the wagons to stop for the night, then continue on in the morning. His intention was to rest for a few hours and then continue on. When day broke he wanted to be on a hill overlooking the enemy camp with the Whitworth in his hands.

The moon rose up into the star-bright clear sky as Griffin saddled the gelding. The land around him was flat with the stars seeming to disappear over the edge of the earth. He had never seen country like this before, but he was coming to like it. Stepping into the saddle, he put the rising moon on his left shoulder and continued south. The moon and starlight caused the deep ruts of the wagons to appear as black lines against the lighter ground.

A few hours passed before light broke along the eastern horizon. The sunrise began to light the flat plains around Griffin. Studying the trail with the aid of the light he found a scattering of horse manure that was still fresh. He was closing in on the outlaws. He searched around him for a high point of land and was perplexed to find the country was flat as a playing card. He needed a position that put him higher than the wagons if he wanted to take the long shots.

In the distance he could see where a fifty foot long escarpment of rock had pushed a good ten feet up above a dry wash. Kicking the horse into a lope he headed for the rock. The dry wash was fringed with brush and mesquite. Reaching it he dismounted and tied the reins to a bush. Taking the field glasses he climbed up on the escarpment and scanned the country to the south. There stood the wagons less than half a mile away.

Studying the scene he counted at least twenty men, women, and children all tied together and sitting on the ground. Two men were hitching mules to the wagons. Four men were saddling horses. He estimated the range at six-hundred yards. Shooting the men from that range was not difficult, he had made such shots many times with success. The problem was how to kill all six men before they could harm the prisoners.

 

 




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