Dave P. Fisher                        
Author & Western Humorist

Double Diamond Books                      
  
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Monthly Feature
        Into the Jumanes  

 In this scene Griffin Allen, former Confederate sharpshooter. recuses men and women captured by
Amidio Vasquez's gang of banditos.     
                     

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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.

As he studied, he realized that the two hitching the mules were not like the four men with the horses. They didn’t have the look or bearing of the other four who were soldiers or something like that. Focusing on the men hitching the mules he did not see any guns on them. They might have rifles in the wagons, but no pistols on them. The other four wore pistols, and rifle butts protruded from the saddle scabbards. He needed to kill those four first, and then see what was required to deal with the two who were probably the drivers.

He got up and pulled the Whitworth from the scabbard. He looked it over, wiping off some dust. He checked and set the adjustable front and rear sights for six hundred yards. The gun was loaded, so the first shot was ready to go. Men witnessing someone shot from a long range tended to stand around confused as they had no idea what had just happened. He was told that the particular hexagon bullet the Whitworth fired did whistle, whether it missed or struck true.

Returning to the rocks he laid out five bullets, caps, and paper rolled powder charges. He pulled out the ramrod and laid it beside the bullets. He wanted to reload and shoot as quickly as possible. When all was set he took a prone position, pulled back the hammer, set a cap on the nipple, and snugged the rifle into his shoulder.

Two of the riders were mounted. They were the easier targets and would likely not dismount when men started falling. The two on the ground would be the first to take cover. He wanted those two first. He chose the outlaw who stood between him and the rear wagon. Taking in a breath, he held it and squeezed off the shot. The rifle kicked back into his shoulder as the report rolled over the flat land. A second later the man fell like a match suddenly being extinguished.

He quickly dumped the next load of powder into the barrel, pushed the hexagonal bullet into the six sided bore and rammed it down with the rod. Pulling back the hammer he flicked off the spent cap and set a live cap on the nipple. The men at the wagons were staring at the dead man.

The second man on the ground was now partially concealed. Griffin aimed at one of the mounted men. The rifle barked again, the mounted man flew off his horse as if he had been thrown. The second mounted man began to spin his horse in a circle trying to locate the source that had killed two of his companions. The drivers had both dove under the rear wagon. The outlaw on the ground hid behind the front wagon. The captives sat staring in confusion.

Griffin could see the legs of the man hiding behind the wagon. Sighting on the board side of the wagon where he estimated the man’s body to be, he fired. The man crumpled to the dirt, his body visible behind the spokes of the wheels. The second rider gave up the search, spun his horse, and began to gallop away.

Griffin settled the rifle, aimed at the fleeing outlaw, and fired. A pair of seconds passed before the man lurched forward and dove headfirst off the horse. The horse continued to run.

Holding his position, Griffin put the glasses back up to his eyes and studied the scene. According to his estimation the four kills had taken less than two minutes. Three men lay still at the wagons. The last one lay out where he had fallen. The two had not come out from under the wagon. The prisoners still sat appearing to be frozen in place.

Griffin stood up and reloaded the Whitworth. He put the last reload back in the ammunition pouch, slipped the rifle into the scabbard, and put the pouch and glasses in the saddlebags. Pulling the reins loose, he mounted and rode toward the wagons. He swung around so to come in behind the men under the wagon. As he drew closer the captives one-by-one turned their heads to watch him.

Griffin pulled the Colt and rode up beside the wagons. He stopped the horse as the two wide-eyed, terrified Mexicans stared up at him from under the wagon. He pointed the cocked Colt at them. They held out their hands and rattled out Spanish words that Griffin did not understand.

“Get out from under there!” Griffin commanded.

Not understanding the words, but recognizing the harshness of the command, the two drivers crawled out from under the wagon doing their best to not use their hands. They rose to their feet staring at Griffin and trembling.

“They are only the drivers, peóns,” the Mexican man who was tied with the other captives called out to Griffin.

Griffin looked at the man who had spoken, “Do you want me to kill ‘em?”

“No. They never did anything to harm us, send them home. They are not the banditos.”

Griffin nodded, “Go ahead and tell them to catch up those horses and get out of here before I change my mind.”

The captive spoke quickly to the men in Spanish. Both men bowed repeatedly to Griffin, shouting their thanks in Spanish. They ran for the horses the dead men no longer needed, mounted, and galloped away.

Griffin dismounted and walked to where the captives sat staring at him in disbelief. He pulled his belt knife and cut all the ropes holding the people. The women began to cry in relief as they realized their rescue.

The men stood up with their eyes on Griffin. The Mexican looked at the dead men, “Did you do that?”

Griffin nodded.

“From where?”

Griffin pointed to the escarpment of rock in the distance, “Yonder.”

The men understood English, and all stared at the rocks shaking their heads in disbelief.

“Can you men drive these wagons?” Griffin asked.

The Mexican nodded, “Yes.”

“Take these people back to their homes. Pick up those guns, too, you might need ‘em.”

“Where are you going?” the Mexican asked.

“To kill Amidio Vasquez.”

“I want to go with you.”

“I hunt alone,” Griffin replied.

“Why do you want to kill Vasquez?”

“Because he has a lot of money on his head, and I don’t care for the way he does business.”

“I also seek to kill him, for better reasons. His banditos tore through a peaceful village. They set the houses on fire and captured these people. I was living with my widowed sister and her little niñas. They were hiding in the house and it burned down on them.”

“Powerful sorry about that, but I don’t need or want company,” Griffin replied.

“How well do you know the Llano Estacado? Do you know where Palo Duro canyon is? Do you know where to find water? Do you know the trails Vasquez uses?”

Griffin looked at him without a reply.

“If we hunt together, we can kill Vasquez. You can have the money, I only wish to kill him, and as many of his band as I can.”

Griffin studied the man for several seconds. The man was no coward, and he could use a guide in this rugged country. “What’s your name?”

“Nacio Fuentes.”

“Griffin Allen. Let’s get these women and youngsters back home, and then you and me will go kill Amidio Vasquez.”

 


 

 


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