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Short Stories & Tall Tales by Tom Sheehan


Sheehan served in the 31st Infantry Regiment, Korea 1951 and graduated from Boston College in 1956. His print/eBooks are Epic Cures; Brief Cases, Short Spans (from Press 53); A Collection of FriendsFrom the Quickening (from Pocol Press).

Books from Milspeak Publishers include Korean Echoes, 2011, nominated for a Distinguished Military Award and The Westering, 2012, nominated for a National Book Award

His newest eBooks, from Danse Macabre/Lazarus/Anvil, are  Murder at the Forum, an NHL mystery novel, Death of a Lottery Foe, Death by Punishment and An Accountable Death. 

His work is in Rosebud (6 issues), The Linnet’s Wings (7 issues),Literary Orphans (4 issues including the Ireland issue), Ocean Magazine (8 issues), Frontier Tales (9 issues), Provo Canyon Review (2 issues), Western Online Magazine (9 issues).

His work has appeared in the following anthologies: Nazar Look, Eastlit, 3 A.M. Magazine, Appalachian Voices,  Jake’s Monthly Recollections, Lady Jane’s Miscellany, Loch Raven Review, Rusty Nail, Red Dirt Review, Erzahlungen, R&W Kindle #2 & 4, Peripheral Sex, Storybrewhouse, Wheelhouse Magazine, Home of the Brave, Green Lantern Press, River Poets Journal , Writers Write and A Tall Ship, a Star, and Plunder.

He has 24 Pushcart nominations, and 375 stories on Rope and Wire Magazine. A new collection of short stories, In the Garden of Long Shadows, has gone to press with solid pre-release reviews and will be issued by Pocol Press this summer. 

His personal site is being developed.


Find his Authors Herald page Here>>


Read his Rope and Wire interview Here>>



Short Stories & Tall Tales


Lucky Luke Newton
Tom Sheehan

"What are you gonna do for the rest of your life, Luke? What are you lookin' for?" Jed Calvern was sitting on the seat of the hay wagon and getting as much free sun as he could while looking around at the horizon, the peaks and valleys and the wide grass of West Texas, as though in complete wonderment of all things, including his best pal, Luke Newton, just about to pitch the last forkful of the day up on the wagon. They considered themselves all-round help for the ranch, with a fierce loyalty to the owners and children they had seen born and raised, Mr. and Mrs. Jack Boxford and family, a girl and two boys. Both men, orphaned early, had troubles remembering any other home they lived in, meeting on the road as youngsters and picked up by Jack Boxford who liked their looks and knew their hunger and thirst, and so he brought them home for good.

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The Concord Roadman’s Last Call
Tom Sheehan

Silence but moments earlier had entered the room like an invisible cloud, and Palmer Brooksby looked again at the young gunman in the corner of the saloon, Bridgie Alcott, a nice enough kid with two pistols in hand, a wild and demonic look on his face, and one man dead at his feet.

In the middle of turmoil and gunfire, the barkeep and owner of Land’s End Saloon, Brooksby, saw the familiar silhouette fall from outside against the large window of the saloon, and knew it was The Roadman, the way his odd hat was worn tipped at an angle, the broadness of the shoulders wide as the backside of an ox, and the twin holsters sitting at his beltline as custodians in the dark. Brooksby’s nerves calmed quickly at the sight and what it triggered for him, and his hand, once reaching for a pistol under the bar, was drawn back.

The Roadman was coming to the rescue.

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An Idyll in Idaho
Tom Sheehan

Rockland Guidry was never addressed, from the time he was 12 years old, as Rockland. "Rocky" he was from his first encounter in a harsh world, and so they remained, Rocky his name and the harsh world around him. He'd never known a true home and this place he was studying after a long ride looked as though it would prove to be the place to tie his horse, drop his hat and rest his bones ... for a spell, if not longer. He'd already decided he liked the taste of the air, how the sun warmed his back instead of burning it, how it dipped its mysteries into secret valleys and canyons he might never visit, how a stream found its way again after a journey through lost routes in the mountains as though it too had found its place.

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Jackson Dorny on the High Trail
Tom Sheehan

He’d been up in the Tetons for almost a year looking for his daughter Mercy. The near 11-year-old was grabbed right out of the south pasture by an Indian seen by a drummer who’d been on the town road. As Jackson Dorny searched an odd section of the range, tried to sleep, lit a fire for coffee as soon as the sun absorbed the firelight, he could hear the parting words to his wife, “Pearl, I won’t come home until I find Mercy and bring her back. If I don’t come home you know I’m still looking for her or I’m dead.” His arms were around her when he said those last words before mounting his black stallion, “I‘ve loved you, girl, since I first set my eyes on you at Carter’s spread these 15 years ago.” He squeezed her tightly;

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The Golden Road
Tom Sheehan

He rode into town unannounced, did not appear furtive or too inquisitive for he asked no questions of anyone, and tended to whatever business was his own, which was unknown to all of Cedar City. He had a drink at the saloon, a quick meal at Sally Fry’s Fried-to-Death Café of Sorts and finagled a sleeping spot in the loft of the livery, not a new thing in itself because others had managed the same deal with Everett Westcott, the livery owner. The thing was Westcott never said much either or asked questions other than in good natured repartee; a coin put in his hand was both insurance and trust and he made that point with his customers, upstairs and downstairs. He gained the new man’s name by slapping his horse on the rump and saying to his helper, “Shorty, this horse, this gray with one white sock, belongs to Mr. … “ who was standing right between the two men, and he let the new man answer the “half query,” as he might have called it.

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The Congo Kid Comes Home
(or the Sailor Goes Horseback)
Tom Sheehan

Raven Narbaught received the letter at Boston’s Charlestown Navy Yard when his ship landed on the 8th day of December in 1879. He’d been a sailor attached to or on the USS Alliance, a screw gunboat, since it was launched four years earlier at Norfolk Navy Yard, and had not heard a word for close to two years from his parents or any of his siblings. Never desperate because there was no communication for so long, he was nevertheless overjoyed at seeing his parents’ names and address on the envelope handed to him by a Navy clerk. He knew it was a special day, the sea calm as ever in the seclusion of the harbor, a slight wind cutting into the background of the city slowly climbing upward, sailors from half a dozen ships at least had touched home or somewhere nearer home in every situation, he believed. They were a jaunty lot and he had enjoyed much of his time on ship, but was looking for a change. The thought of so many sailors nearer home made him pursue the thought as he opened the envelope.

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The Angle of a Star
Tom Sheehan

The town drunk, Ernie Howard, earning his single drinks on single errands, stumbled into Puma City’s Horned Bat Saloon and yelled at bartender Max Stonewalk, “I got another telegraph here for Sheriff Ringwald, Max, and he ain’t at the jail. You gotta pay me.” Howard dropped the telegraph message on the counter and a shot of whiskey was put into his hands. He dipped once, gulped the whole shot, nodded, and ran out of the saloon.

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The Blackguard Father
Tom Sheehan

Only two times had Zack Harbolt seen his son in this life … at birth, when the new father abruptly rode off on another cattle drive north, and 10 years later when he rode back into Texas and watched the boy from a distance riding his mount, a pretty paint that had a bunch of ginger in him. The boy did well on the horse, which was enough for Harbolt to turn and ride away again, satisfied that the youngster showed gumption and a natural ability on a horse. Harbolt had no yen to see the boy’s mother, a Cherokee squaw he had camped with on the plains for nearly a year.

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The Big Job
Tom Sheehan

From a mountainside rim looking down on the town of Silver Ridge, his very presence forecasting danger and evil of heavy odds, Burkes Candler shouted wildly to his band of five ornery-looking trail hands, “Shootin' and scarin’ our game right from the first bite, if we play this right, boys, we’ll own that place down there in a month; maybe some’at less ‘n that.” He let that sink in, then let his real thinking show: “But we got to find all their weak parts. All of ‘em!”

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Exodus Two, Western Style
Tom Sheehan

In the coming morning Bartlett “Bart” Beauvais knew his oxen Reynard and Briscoe would stand as a pair like mountains on their own, their golden hides tossing early sun every which way toward noon, the shadows cast by their gigantic forms flattening on the earth as huge as continental maps fully laid out. Hungers of all kinds were being satisfied, was the way he made himself think.

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Summons of the Mountain
Tom Sheehan

“Loggerheads! Loggerheads! Damned loggerheads the whole damned bunch of them!” Mountain man Javon “Jake” Kirby, big as the morning breaking over the peaks behind him, shoulders oxen-wide, a head of hair like flax or a rich grain of the prairie, had come upon a pile of logs cut to firewood length, and piled so long that some of them looked rotted and punky from first sight.

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Early Knight, Late Knight
Tom Sheehan

He was born as Earl Edward Knight, which became in his social boyhood, Earl E. that changed in a heartbeat to Early Knight. Occasionally, in his Lothario adolescent years, he was also called Range Rider.

Some names, we’ll see, stick with a person.

But he never became a Knight in Golden Armor, eventually landing in Yuma Territorial Prison, the hell hole of the west, as a convicted murderer of a stagecoach driver named Ed Norman. His only visitor in five years at Yuma was his older brother, Lester Attenborough Knight, infamous in his own time as Late Knight. The two carried their genes to the last T.

During the older brother’s last visit the pair concocted a scheme to get Early Knight free of Yuma and back on a mount. The visit was concluded in less than an hour, including all the pertinent details.

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One Town Too Many
Tom Sheehan

A town boy burst up to Sheriff Wilkins’ office yelling out, “He’s dead, Sheriff. He’s dead. Mr. Purley‘s dead in his store. I peeked in the window and he’s on the floor and blood all over him!” The sun had barely warmed up Carver Grove and small bunches of the story came back to the sheriff in flashes, as if they had been announcements in the first place.

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The Comanchero Hunter
Tom Sheehan

What loomed as big news was the small article in the “The Bright Star,” a newspaper printed and issued in the small town of Quipilanta in the cow-rich west. The small article on the bottom of the weekly’s front page simply said, “Local officials have summoned a person of authority to investigate the murderous raids on area ranches and catch, punish or stop the guilty band pursuing these inhuman activities. He is the successful lawman, Chance Greybow, but it is not known when he will arrive in Quipilanta.”

But Chance Greybow was already in town...

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A Gunfighter’s Last Call
Tom Sheehan

He had simply stepped over from one building to the next one, from one flat roof to another, a wide step but one step. The agility in his body, especially in his legs, had diminished from several falls … not unexpectedly. The challenge in the beginning, in getting here to the roof of the Trail Drive Saloon and Hotel in Willowbar, Oklahoma, was climbing from his saddle to the porch roof in the back of the general store.

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The Deputy’s Gun and Girl
Tom Sheehan

The posse out of Tribune Falls rode slowly back into town, with two live prisoners, one dead bank robber, and a wounded deputy tied to his saddle. Sheriff Bridge Salsman told Doc Hansen, “Fix him good, Doc, he’s the best man I’ve had since I been wearing this badge.” He tapped the badge with the long index finger of a gun handler. The doc believed he was touching his heart with the same move; Salsman was such a man, he had much earlier assessed, being in the mix of duels, running gunfights and death.

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Firemouth
Tom Sheehan

He came busting downhill toward the Canadian River, riding the big grey, Jeremiah, to the last inch, both hearts pounding, the pounding felt both ways, and the dozen Comanches riding hard, hungering for his goods … his horse, his guns, his boots, his clothes.

And the only way out was over the edge coming close upon him, the edge of the wild river he’d fished as a boy, worked as a youngster on Hyde’s Ferry for California-bound folks, and as a man leading posses in the endless pursuit of killers, horse thieves, rustlers, kidnappers, and any other kind of critter messing up life.

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Beardsville
Tom Sheehan


The signs at both ends of the small town in Colorado were signed by the sheriff and said, “Bearded men only. No men allowed in town without a beard. If you want to come in here, ain’t got one, wait until you grow one.”

Signs spread around town said, “In one month from this day, June 11, 1868, all men in town are required to have a beard. If you don’t grow a beard, you will have enough time in jail to grow one.”

All the signs, hand-painted, were signed by “Irish Londonderry, Sheriff.”


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A Mountain Man’s Gold
Tom Sheehan

The sun boiled in the cauldron of the canyon where water for perhaps 1000 years stayed hidden, where ants scurried to hide from the heat, snakes rarely showed before darkness was complete, an occasional rabbit came in and left in a hurry, the vultures had long given up hope of finding a quick meal, and it had become a place man ought not enter.

Not a sane man.

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Tall Yarns and Long-Strung TalesBeardsville
Tom Sheehan

Nobody knew why Chet Lincoln bought a big spool of thread every few months over at Josh Silverwood’s General Store, even as they looked to see if any of his duds were sewn or repaired by needle. And, of course, the wise cracks made their way in his path when the word got around about a new purchase of thread, “ladies’ thread,” as the way lots of folks said it. Generally, it was a bit of fun for most of the boys because Lincoln was a thoroughly likeable fellow and could tell a story or two right out of his imagination.

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The Guitar Shooter
Tom Sheehan

His mother, once called “The Diva of Independence,” said only a week after he was born, “He came with the notes, the beat and the rhythm locked in place, deep inside him forever.” And she had the vision of him hailed far and wide as the one who played “The Sweetest Guitar in the West.” She never had an inkling that he’d also be called the “Smoothest Gunman the Gods Ever Sent to Texas.”

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The Mountie and Black Theo D’Antoine
Tom Sheehan

Joe Debner plied the canoe through the waters of the Milk River, the sun nearly igniting the backs of him and his son, Joe Jr., the night’s sleep and a good breakfast beside the river setting the morning on a pleasant start into Canada. Ahead of them several fish jumped out of water or showed themselves; a good-sized brown trout, followed by a voracious Northern pike bent on dominance. The boy, in the prow of the canoe, plying his paddle in similar fashion, smiled as he heard his father grunt, ably reading the elder’s thoughts. Above, in a brilliant blue sky where a single light gray cloud had dared enter, a pair of hawks or eagles floated wing-wide high in their circular endeavors. The paddlers, with the canoe moving as clean as a precious thought, were aimed toward the next quick turn in Alberta’s section of the Milk River. Suddenly, the reverberating sounds of rapid gunfire boomed to them down the tightness of the river, as if bouncing off the top of the placid water and the rocky high left side of the turn. The shots continued unabated for several minutes, perhaps death standing at attention in the air.

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Death Chases the Shadows
Tom Sheehan

Wedge Drummond, in flight, out of ammunition, a hole in his canteen by the last shot from unknown men on his trail for almost a full day with no clear reason, dipped into a rock-loaded canyon where boulders and sheared mountain faces of a long-past cataclysmic interruption had come to rest. The mess of rock and stone extended for one side of the canyon, piled high as possible, pinnacled by huge stones bridging one another, their brute balance in the desperate offing, a sudden tremor promising a new deluge of stone. Mother Earth, he equivocated in a rush, rarely let go of her treasures, meager or not.

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Greybow, Comanchero Hunter
Tom Sheehan

The firestorm of Comanchero raids was increasing and something drastic needed to be done before this end of the country was paralyzed by the ongoing events. There was no available militia, and the local law was a one-man band, the Quipilanta sheriff, Boyd Lister, who kept seeing an impossible task staring at him in return, at which he often drew back if not withered at the thought of a confrontation … it was not a situation for one man, for the raids brought death, carnage, abuse, and relentless fear.

But there existed, by reputation, a hope, a savior for Quipilanta, though he was not yet in the general area.

Folks in the northern part of the territory, for some years now, had simply called this savior Greybow,

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The Cookie Jug Ruse
Tom Sheehan

At a glance in the mirror, you’d have to say I am very particular in what I wear, not how I wear it, what I carry on my person, in my pockets or in my saddle bags, what kind of a saddle I put on what kind of a horse I ride. I am particular.
I am pretty damned particular about this horse I ride. I called him, from the first sight of him on a stable floor in a little Kansas town that long since changed its name, General Lee. He’ll always be General Lee, the General Lee we could have ridden to the top of the world with, but things got in our way.

Lee’s part and parcel of my aching dream for a place where, eventually, I will put my head down, where I’ll have a barrel of kids, a slew of horses, grass I can ride on for miles, a stream to fish, and a woman to make it all come true.

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The Short Tale of Gunfighter Shjon Oh’s
Tom Sheehan

The first public scenes in the life of Shjon Oh’s, as far as we know, occurred in the spring of 1867 in the small Idaho town of Hilton Elvers, on the Snake River and within hailing distance of Oregon. The first scene evolved in the saloon after a discussion of names and when Oh’s‘s name came up the town fist-bully and gun-bully said, “Where in hell did you get a crazy name like that one, fella?” to which Oh’s said, “From my most honorable father and if you have a problem with that, spit it out or shut your mouth, which is too big for such a little man.”

The bully of all sorts was suddenly staring down the barrel of a pistol too close to his nose to ignore, to which posture Oh’s said, “We can buy one another a drink to save spilled blood, or get to it right off.”

The bully slid a coin on the bar.

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Trick Shooter from Pepper Hill
Tom Sheehan

The young man came into the saloon at Pepper Hill and two strangers to town wondered who the kid was. The bartender told them he was Trick Chuter. They, of course, heard it as “Trick Shooter” and each one raised their eyebrows in mock appreciation. The pair wore their guns slung from their right hips, just as Chuter did.

“What’s his story?” one stranger said to the bartender.

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Jehrico and Lupalazo Townships, Inc.
Tom Sheehan

(“Hard work getting done takes hard work getting to.” – written anonymously in scrawling black ink on a collector’s copy of an old western magazine, seen once in a barn in Gilsum, New Hampshire, 1970.)

Jehrico had been gone for 13 days, his first time away from Lupalazo and the longest time ever away from Bola City on one of his junk retrieval excursions. Lupalazo missed him terribly and the town began to wonder; did someone catch up on an old score, or see a new Jehrico find that was worth money, or did he fall stray to chance where his whole life seemed to be buried in chance discovery?

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The Gun
Tom Sheehan

Richie Sandals was shaking in the barn where his father had hidden him. He smelled smoke or burning or an old piece of wood near his nose. He was not sure. Then he really knew something was burning. But his father had told him to stay hidden. There was yelling and noise outside.

He waited until all was silent, and then found his mother and father dead in front of their cabin, the cabin going with the flames, the winds rich with the smells.

The first thing he said aloud was, “I cannot cry. Pa wouldn’t like it or Ma either, no matter what she would have said.” Then some force, some unknown, unseen power, took over him. “I owe somebody for this.”

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Where the Last Star Went
Tom Sheehan

Barney Shilling, sheriff of the town of Morgan, camped well off the Morgan-Lincoln Trail, woke from a deep sleep, swearing the earth under him had shaken him from a dream. He had dozed off beside the remnants of a small fire snugged in the middle of a circle of stones, watching the dimming of hundreds of stars crowding the overhead and wondering where they went when they disappeared.

Another rumble in the earth crossed under his frame and he sat upright. Nearby, in the walls of the mountains, there had to be a rockslide, a canyon wall sheared by ages of pressure. Or perhaps, with another thought, a storm was making its way across the land. When he looked up, a single star, the last visible star, blinked once, twice, and disappeared.

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The Mysterious Grave Digger
Tom Sheehan

The driver of an Overland Stage dropped the reins in front of his regular stop in Portuguese Bend, Colorado and yelled down to the barber sunning in front of his place; “Who died in town, Cutter? I saw the new hole dug nice and neat on Boot Hill.”

“Nobody I know of,” Cutter Cellini said. “It’s been church-quiet for months. Last one buried was old Marshal Betlick and he was porch-sitting for over a year and I went over there to cut his hair and shave him once a month.” He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Jessie’s due in at noon. I’ll see if he made a new box ahead of schedule.”

Both men laughed heartily.

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Texas Town
Tom Sheehan

The times were good for just about all the people in Texas Town, though Sheriff Doug Tollivan and his deputy were constantly on their toes. Generally, there were no whispers in town. Perhaps deep and personal secrets were whispered, but everything else was said straight out and loud, like a man standing upright in his stirrups.

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Jehrico’s Mercantile Hijinks, Inc.
Tom Sheehan

Bola City had some names worthy of collateral of any kind; owners of businesses, a few partners, two lawmen, two saloon keepers and perhaps three barkeeps, and lovely women who made waves in many fashions. But Jehrico Taxico, from my point of view, was the leading citizen of this town. His escapades are often the meat of conversations whenever a new face comes into town and stands dumb-faced and open-mouthed as one of the old denizens spins off a story about Jehrico’s iron tub, or found piano or cock-eyed burro or his artful use of a wolf pup in a get-even scheme of “things Jehrico.” That’s especially rich when the talk gets to Lupalazo, who Jehrico up and married in a week of found, and became the happiest man in Bola City. Most of us say that it was Providence kicking in on Jehrico’s deal, his first shot at romance.

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The Girl with the Long Dream
Tom Sheehan

I had heard about her for a long time. She lived alone in a cave in a deep-set canyon, on a cliff looking sharply down at the edge of the prairie. She was a most beautiful Indian maiden who, I heard from several sources, had been driven from her Cherokee village. The word bandied about said she was bound in her mind to find a good man to be her husband. She would have the best of children and would be the best of mothers. For that she needed the best man she could find.

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Tuckerby and Cutlass and the Noise Holder
Tom Sheehan

John “Cutter” Cutlass climbed the tree right where their wagons had formed up before the first bullet ripped into the side of one wagon. The Indians, Comanche or Cherokee he figured, had come at them in the contorted and tight passage through a rocky stretch.” If they’re coming,” Tuckerby had said a few minutes earlier,” this’d be the place.”

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The Church at the End of God’s Green Grass
Tom Sheehan

A minister of the cloth, weary in the saddle, a long time in his travels, arrived in a small settlement tight against a small stream coming out of the Rocky Mountain Range. The scenic view caused a gasp at his lips as he saw his place of dreams before him. It was a scene he had seen a hundred times, in reveries, in dreams, in silent moments in the saddle when he nearly dozed off with the rhythm of his horse.

He saw no church in the small settlement, and the void touched at his soul. “This is it,” he said as a sense of relief rolled through him.

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The Tale of Kellbren, Confederate Veteran
Tom Sheehan

“I shoulda been dead a hundred times, all them minie balls and slugs plowin’ through the air from them damned Yankee Blue-bellies, them wild horses that threw me off like I was a cow fly, them rustlers runnin’ them cows through our camp a lot of times out on the grass. I tell ya, a hundred times I shoulda been dead.”

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Last Call at Fremont Hill
Tom Sheehan

At the top of a hill outside Fremont Hill in the Montana Territory, Torby McDonough sat his mount as he looked down at a town he knew was dying. Back down the trail he’d heard the beer was gone in the Fremont Hill Saloon his kid brother had opened only a year earlier. Perhaps they had a few weeks left of the hard stuff, and perhaps enough folks had left town already to guarantee that it would probably last until last call, his last call. He also noticed the Crow Indians were not attacking people leaving Fremont Hill with all their goods piled on wagons and heading south, out of the territory, dreams heading south too, like a truce had been declared for them, the fierce Crows standing above trails heading out of Montana.

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A Woman’s Revenge
Tom Sheehan

It was a suspicious feeling that came over Hartford Trask as he sat in a Sedona jail, for a crime he didn’t commit, and to unexpectedly feel the bars in the cell window so loose they could easily be lifted from their settings. Whispers in the darkness behind the jail had woken him and he stood on the bunk to look out the window; that’s when he realized the bars were loose. This discovery, and the whispers in the night, set his mind working on the whole picture, all of which centered on the Sedona sheriff, Ike Kranston, a most unlikeable fellow.

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Aces and Jacks
Tom Sheehan

Jack Kirkness broke out of the Westfork Jail when he was 22 years old, jailed for a crime he did not commit, in a town he had never been in before. Sheriff Jake Slater, of questionable character, in a sudden move, had slammed him on the head in the saloon and announced to all present, “This is the same fellow I saw last month who killed Theron Francgon right in his own corral and got away from me before I could catch him. Now I caught up to him. We’re gonna have a hangin’ here, gents, soon as the judge comes back from Trailhead where he’s sure to get hung the killer he’s tryin’ up there.”

Kirkness, after his escape, headed back home to Tailgate, Texas to see his pals, knowing they’d all be back in Westfork before it was all done with.

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When Guns Get Tossed Aside
Tom Sheehan

Out here, west of the Mississippi like it was a wall, he felt naked when he was not carrying his guns. Without his gun belt, without his Colts, he was a babe on or off the saddle. He’d dread the time when he didn’t have them … and needed them more than ever. That time had not come for him yet.

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Retribution for Red-Dog Tongue
Tom Sheehan

Michelle J. Foxx stood heroically as her ranch house burned to the ground, the barn ignited in three places, and her rifle aimed at Red-Dog Tongue sitting her own palomino he’d taken from the barn but minutes earlier. She knew she could kill him even as he smiled down at her, her husband off chasing a few horses the Indians had set free for that purpose by tossing a snake in among them. She saw Red-Dog Tongue widen his smile as she heard a sound behind her; death or worse was coming her way, so she fired and knocked the Cherokee clear off her favorite horse and heard another bullet shatter the edge of a post and tear through the Indian who crept behind her.

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High Country Hideout
Tom Sheehan

Crazy George Gonzo had his own ideas about the way to run a gang, and where to lay low when a job was done. Often, as he fled a posse, his father’s words came back to him: “If a posse ever gits to chase you down up here in the high country, or them Injuns, there’s only one place to hole up … Banshee Gorge. There’s one way in an’ one way out that one ain’t the way you came in. I’ll show you the whole shebang, the way out for you an’ how it’s marked, but don’t ever share it with anybody includin’ who runs with you, ‘cause they all got mouths like women at a party when the chips come down.”

He admitted one point; “I ain’t never told a single soul alive about Banshee Gorge an’ yore the first one.”

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The Storming of Peltsville
Tom Sheehan

Peltsville was being stormed from every direction; more than 30 of Harry Domino’s men were taking aim at anything that moved other than an animal, but their targets also included odd signs that hung over store fronts, windows that crashed into shards, and the odd lamps that hung in the front of all the active buildings in town. Those included Flannery’s Saloon, the sheriff’s office and jail, the Mortuary of Graceful Departures sitting right beside Alaska Trent’s Barbershop and Attila Honey’s Livery, with a decent-sized loft for hay and broke cowpokes who needed a place to spend a night. The hotel was the tallest building in town, and an artist passing through one time had painted a sign that only showed a soft pillow holding a man’s head, and so one jokester painted a small name under it that read “The Decapitation” and that’s what they called the hotel from then on.

Peltsville was a nice town in spite of how some people looked at it.

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The Bridge at Lomax Falls
Tom Sheehan

Grady McGoldrick, sitting his very calm Appaloosa, Gen’ral Trend, saw the bridge from high on Malvern Hill, and was surprised at the span of it, how it snaked out from a tunnel in a section of the hill and disappeared at the other end in a thick growth of trees so tall he could not see the road coming from anywhere and everywhere else. But he had seen the whole valley on this side that attracted most of its incoming traffic. At this moment of his scouting mission, three wagons on the span and several riders, all as separate as bashful folks at a barn dance, were coming into Lomax Falls.

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Noah Bickford at the Great Divide
Tom Sheehan

Noah Bickford was running ahead of the mad sheriff of Wilcox Springs, Gunther Ambush, and his underlings, a posse with a completely distorted badge of authority and an irrepressible need for killing quarry or hanging them as soon as caught, guilty or not. Whole towns in Arizona believed that Sheriff Ambush had grown into his family name, assuming what the name really meant in the cruel world that had sent his father to prison to die there alone … for a crime that he did not commit.

Ambush wanted nothing more than to get even with the entire west.

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The Lady Who Looked like Linda Dove
Tom Sheehan

The West Roads Company stagecoach, on its regular run from Timkins Corner to Denver, was a half day late coming into the Pyburn Exchange Station, Jack Slack riding shotgun for Amos Leander. Slack had hurt his leg in a fall a few months earlier and was on the mend when Leander hired him to ride shotgun for a few trips.

“You can pick up a few bucks, a few free meals, and a few free drinks while you’re still sitting on your butt,” Leander had said to Slack as they shared the end of the bar in Timkins Corner Saloon before the ride began.

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Dirty Dan Digby and the Kid Sheriff
Tom Sheehan

Nathan Ormsby slipped out of his blanket at the first call of a morning bird that rolled up Tanner’s Hill and shared the early music of day with him. He also heard, as he did on most mornings, a few words from his grandfather who’d been a sheriff for a dozen years. That sage old veteran of a few wars of his own had said, “No matter where you find yourself of a mornin’, you’re at least half way from someplace and halfway to the place you’ll be on tomorrow mornin’.”

That particular morning, when they were on a long posse chase, ended disastrously when Dirty Dan Digby, wanted killer and bank thief, thought to be cornered in a blind canyon, had spent the night scaling a cliff, knifing the guard on the posse’s horses, and stealing the guard’s horse after he scattered all the other mounts of the posse from the tether line.

The guard was dead from Digby’s knife, his grandfather died a few days later of a severe heart attack, and Dirty Dan Digby had gone loose in the world.

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The Strange Story of an Italian Pinto
(or Death Rides a Long Shadow)
Tom Sheehan

Charlie Danton rode a stolen horse from Cheyenne Wells, Colorado, and was bound to ride clear across Utah and into Nevada and then to California to look for a ship to sail. All he wanted was to be on the high seas forever, if it was possible. But the one thing he never realized was the horse he rode for that long journey, a black and white pinto, was unique among the breed because the markings on each side were so exactly alike that if one side was placed over the other side, they would coincide exactly; nobody had ever said that before about a pinto, or about this horse under him.

Never once did Charlie Danton, dreamer and horse thief, realize the unique patterns on the horse he was riding.

But two other people did.

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Tom Vespers from Waco
Tom Sheehan

Silence sat around Tom Vespers in the foothills of Arkansas as he descended to a wide stretch of grass along the Texas border. The night sky boasted with its display of stars, the moon kept to its sleep elsewhere, and his own sleep was continuously interrupted by thoughts of home, and maybe never getting there, which made him mount his horse earlier than usual.

The day before had been a revelation of many sorts.

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Child of the Grass
Tom Sheehan

The mother said, “I will not leave her out here, not alone. Leave me with her if you must go on. Leave me with my child.” Her cries went off across the wide grass and disappeared the way echoes finally die out, meek and mild and out of breath. Her husband, as sad as she was, hoped she’d stop wailing and get on with their journey … they could not live out here in the open with no one around, with no supplies available once they ran out of the contents of the wagon.

And he had to bury the child. It had to be done, and quickly. They could not hang around out here as if they were not vulnerable to dangers. And he could not stand the thought of animals tearing apart her poor little body that had ailed her from birth, feeding on her who had stopped breathing but minutes earlier.

He unhooked the spade from the side of the wagon and walked off the trail a dozen feet, ready to start digging. His wife was still crying. At that moment, his rifle still at the rear of the wagon and bearing no side arms, the lone Indian stood up in the grass, his bow loaded and the arrow pointing right at him.

He knew he was about to die.

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The Duel at Dusty Flats
Tom Sheehan

The Western Rally Stagecoach rolled into Dusty Flats just before the evening meal. The sun still rode the mountain tops to the west and a breeze had cooked itself up from a few shaded canyons on the Teton Range. A swirl of dust rose in a spiral behind the stagecoach as it came to a stop, like a miniature whirlwind, carrying nothing but road dust. Two passengers stepped down from the coach and Sheriff Al Bitbender came up off his seat in front of the jail and his office seeing a woman in red finery and a man who was long, lean, mean looking, and who as soon as he alit from the coach strapped on two handguns. Standing erect once he stepped on the ground, the male passenger stretched one arm at a time over his head.

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Jehrico’s Mine of Good Deeds and Dead Goods
Tom Sheehan

A hideous and frightening cry, jerking him upright from deep in the old mine that junk collector Jehrico Taxico had found in the back part of a most unpromising canyon, shrieked into his ears as though it was the voice of The Ghost of Guaymas. He suspected that it had followed him all the way from that once-sleepy town. One time he had stayed in that port city of Guaymas, Mexico where the sea meets the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range. He had, on many occasions, told his wife Lupalazo and dear friend Molly Yarbrough about the ghost, a woman who lost her child and cried and wailed so much that her husband threw her out of their home, at the heel of the mountain with the Pacific a favored sight.

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Too Lonely for Dying
Tom Sheehan

There was a special sight out in front of him as he rested near a small cave, the weight of his own body suddenly too much for him to carry on weak legs. The decision to stop and enjoy the sight came quickly, in touch with a rare sense of goodness finding its way in him. It was akin to the old days when Sally and he sat on the small porch he’d built for her mornings, the sun giving a grand start to her day. “Oh, Sal,” he’d said a thousand times since then. A thousand times. Once, he had shrugged his head when he said it, as though belief was elsewhere, as Sally was but how long he couldn’t remember.

That had become a problem.

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From the Palisades to the Sierra Nevadas
Tom Sheehan

Here he was, in a cave on the side of the North Palisade in the Sierra Nevadas, an 18-year old kid from New York-New Jersey and bound by birth, he’d say, to climb this mountain. Beforehand he had been told by good authority, by Cree-born Abel Morningbrook, that it might happen like this, come down to this. He was alone, he was cold, he was wet, but he was under cover. He had to get warm, so he searched the insides of the cave, and found remnants of old nests, an eagle or a hawk nest; scrap wooden chunks, old brush, twigs carried aloft to this place in claw’s clutch, set into the design of the nest or placed willy-nilly, scattered as it was. All of it was dry, ignitable, waiting to serve his needs.

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Cheri’s Place in Booksville
Tom Sheehan

She owned the place, lock, stock and barrel, and let every new customer know she was the boss.
“Listen, cowpokes, saddle tramps, sheriffs who’ve lost their way, drummers, all other gents in the mix if there are any of you, and ladies from elsewhere, where I came from, the highs and lows of Heaven and Hell and all the spots in between, I’m the boss here. Not boss man, but Boss Woman, so best listen up and hear what I have to say.”

Her name was Cheri.

Booksville sat on the Snake River in northwestern Idaho, and Cheri’s Saloon with all social attachments, which meant a second floor up a long stairway to a landing for half a dozen rooms, rode the edge of that river. And at the far end of town, like a totem for the endless history of the place, could be seen the ashy remains of the first library in northwestern Idaho, built by the inspiration of Cheri with her own funds, and which was burned down by the irate, insensible and importunate gun slinger who went by the name of Trace Waco. The remains were a toss of burned beams and planks still caught up in ashy coatings thick with devil-darkness and due to last forever. Shelves and their contents, tossed loose by the inferno, driven dowels torched by fire in their deeply appointed places, and the gutted clusters of memorable literature of the times, stayed as they were for a year by a town council order reminding people of what had happened in Booksville.

And what they hoped would never happen again!

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High Time at Peer’s Point
Tom Sheehan

Background for the story:

A rancher, Devon Killcross, and a few of his hired hands find an unarmed man on their range where a steer had been killed and butchered. Killcross, self-designated judge and jury, decides the man is guilty and should be hanged on the spot.

The rancher orders two of his men to hang the convicted man and as they approach the stranger he draws a weapon from a shoulder holster, kills one of the two men, and shoots Killcross in the leg.

After a scuffle, they hang the man on a nearby tree. Later, in town, Killcross lies about the incident, twists the events to suit his satisfaction and his vanity, with the law of the land in vogue. He arranges for the body to be buried on boot hill with no marker except for the initials he had seen on the hanged man’s saddle, WD, in a script that was worn but legible.

The other man that Killcross ordered to hang the stranger leaves Killcross’s employ and goes elsewhere, down river or beyond the mountain.

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Ghost Shooter of the Tetons
Tom Sheehan

He was mountain high, as far as he could be in this section of the Teton Range, when he heard the shots like faint pops on the air, saw the stagecoach down far below come to a stop, three horsemen knock the driver and the shotgun rider out of their seats, pummel them and two of the passengers onto the ground, one of them a woman, her wide skirt seen easily. Road dust swirled up from her skirt where she fell.

He heard nothing from the scene. He did not hear the woman scream as she was hit, as she fell, and kicked where she had fallen.

Brody Chalmers could feel the curdle in his stomach, taste the hatred in his mouth.

The incident was down in a tight stretch of the Edgarton Pass, promised to be quick, and looked to him that it would most likely leave injury or worse in its wake. The possible picture sickened him again, stressed his uselessness. It would take him over an hour to get down there and the road agents would be long gone. He was not a good tracker.

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Ringer for Hire
Tom Sheehan

The faintest odor, one that was strange to him, came on a breeze as if it was riding on the very edge of that breeze. Job Tribune, new wanderer, most recently the sheriff in the lower territory, deposed of his badge by a nervous Town Council tired of his name constantly in newspaper headlines, saw little of anything in front of him as he topped a slow rise in the trail. He caught the scent again and took it into his lungs; and for the merest second he recalled an unlit lamp shade once stuck under his nose, the old and cold soot riding the interior glass with heavy spots in places, as though burnt right into the glass shade from the beginning.

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Jehrico and Lupalazo
Tom Sheehan

It happened overnight in Bola City, and Jehrico Taxico, local junk man and businessman, was right there in the middle of things again. The whole town never figured Jehrico to fall in love, be more attracted to a woman than to his love of junk and making things work again, those which had lost the chance or the token push to gain the new chance. Junk searching, junk collecting, junk re-use were Jehrico’s main dishes in life. No mere woman was going to displace such talents.

This is not a story of a mere woman.

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Showdown in the Field of Gods
Tom Sheehan

The water trough had been poisoned, his son Ben’s pony the first tell-tale sign where he fell to the ground right beside the trough. Sam Tannwood saw tracks, which were not the pony’s tracks, leading away from the well and cutting into the trees behind the barn. Tannwood thought he might be able to track them later, but it was early morning and he had to get the carcass out of sight before his son Ben woke up.

He saddled the big gray wagon horse and dragged the body off into the deep grass. Waking hired hands Oleon and his brother Pedro from a deep sleep in a room attached to the back of the barn, he told them what happened and to bury the pony as soon as they could. They did as bid and quickly, both hired hands extremely fond of the youngest Tannwood.

While the pony was being buried, Tannwood woke Ben and told him his pony had died, and how that death had happened. Ben did not cry but looked straight into his father’s eyes and said, “You’ll get them, Pa, won’t you, the ones who did it?”

“If it’s the last thing I do,” his father assured him.

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Shoot and Pray
Tom Sheehan

In a night of sporadic shooting and civil madness, it was apparent, a most innocent person, Lon Ashbury, was killed by a stray bullet, and his family wanted revenge on the shooter, supposedly a local young man by the name of Ambling Porter. The arrest had been made, witnesses named and summoned, and the judge had been sat before the principles, in the Red Eye Saloon. One of the Ashburys had said, “It sure looked like Ambling Porter who shot Lon, and he was standing there between the bank and the barber shop with a gun in his hand.”

Defendant Ambling Porter sat on a bench in front of the judge. He was a young man, perhaps 30 years old, sporting a grand mustache with pointed ends and waiting to see who was going to be the next witness. His Stetson sat on one knee and he wore a gun belt with an empty holster, and a nicely pressed pale blue shirt his wife had brought to the jail that morning.

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Mystery Gable of Knobby’s Nook
Tom Sheehan

Knobby Newton stood in admiration as he saw the last nail driven in his new hotel, which he had named Knobby’s Nook and the sign over the front entrance had been put up the night before, in darkness, so that he could surprise the folks of Carson Divide, Wyoming. The sign read “Nestle Here at Knobby’s Nook” and painted pillows adorned each end of the sign. Newton loved that special touch. The last nail was put in place with a single hammer hit by Newton’s pal, Dom Petra, who had conceived and built the hotel for Knobby with twin dormers, a sight not seen locally where most roofs were flat or pitched clean to the edges for handling winter snow.

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Blue Wing, Maiden of the Pool
Tom Sheehan

From a hidden spot uphill from a pool fed by the River of the Nations, Jobie Trask watched the Indian maiden as she swam in the cool-looking water, all the while perspiration cloaking him where he hunched down between two large rocks. He suspected her to be Cherokee, believed her to be beautiful, and had no idea at all that she was nude. None of those facts lined up in his thinking as he watched her swim with an elegant style from one end of the pool to the other end, perhaps 100 feet apart. He wondered if there were any fish in the water, or any big turtles. He shivered at the last thought and it made him stand by just in case she found trouble, or it found her … or so he told himself.

The pool was on the high end of the River of the Nations, at least a dozen miles from Sharpsville, and the abandoned fort there, in high Wyoming.

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The Stubborn Wench and the Stubborn Mutt
Tom Sheehan

Lonnie Belknap, part-time trapper, part-time miner, all-time loner around the Teton Range, sat at a table in Clyde Cassidy’s Saloon, enjoying his first social drink in more than a month. He did not pay any attention to the man and woman arguing on the balcony above him. The small talk of people around him, a bit of bustle in the saloon, some color splashed on the walls and a decent patch of September sun falling in through the window beside him, offered a sense of comfort and fellowship. More than a dozen men talked about horses and cows and now and then the dog sitting for days in front of the saloon, a big gray-black dog. It was mostly a pleasant place and the loud voices above were a bother to a man who had thought about sitting here for a good part of that month. The woman’s voice was a wretched one, full of a vindictive tone and a mess of cusses and words he had not used himself in that same month, though he had been beset by a few Indians, a seemingly mad peccary loose one night in his small garden, a wolf that frightened one horse from his tether, and a bear who stole a chunk of buffalo meat off a high perch.

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The Viking Road
Tom Sheehan

Elvie Vandergaard was full of spirit, and the Viking blood was in her, “All the way back to kingdom come, in Rafn’s world,” as her father used to say, and all that spirit and all the generations were working on her as the new world of the Americas called on her as they had called on the Vikings of yore. She believed adventure had no equal other than discovery, and the Great Dane, fellow Scandinavian, Carl Christian Rafn, had fed them curiosity with the lethal punch of his Viking travel study, a curiosity that dug deep into Elvie.

The new way for her, the new life of dedication, began in a small port in Scandinavia, spring happening, promise rising, the ice breaking apart in the fjords, the sea opening out to the horizon, and a rugged little ship setting sail for quest, adventure, riches.

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An Eye for an Ear
Tom Sheehan

Two old line freighters were sitting at the bar in The Horse Collared Saloon in Shiloh West, Nevada. Taubert Wilkins and Josh Willoughby were partners in the W&W Wagon Freight Company since they had come west from Pennsylvania in 1858 and started a freight line between Shiloh West and several mining towns all within 50 or 60 miles, and there had been a good demand for such work from miners.

“He sure looks like Tate Tundra,” Taub Wilkins said, looking at a man sitting at the bar, “way he sips on that drink like it’s gonna last until Thursday next. But I ain’t seen Tate Tundra since I was to Taxico Springs and that’s a goodly three years ago.”

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The Rare Consequence
Tom Sheehan

It began right in front of Chester Hills Saloon in Assumption, when Millie Alcott, walking on the boardwalk, was spun around by a drunk and she fell against the door off the saloon and another man, drunk as he could be and thinking she had just come out of the saloon, grabbed her and tried to pull her back into the saloon with him.

All hell broke loose in the saloon.

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Shadow Creek
Tom Sheehan

Houston McKee slipped out of the water and the cluster of reeds he had hidden in when the gunfight occurred more than an hour earlier. Hoof beats of the bushwhackers had faded for at least 20 minutes. He looked back at the providential growth of the thick reeds where he had hidden from them, caught away from camp without a weapon, and thanked Mother Nature for another good stand of growth with enough shade and shadow to hide his long frame.

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The Kid from Shadowdance
Tom Sheehan

It all really began with a kid’s game and the kid was touted long before he got out of Shadowdance on the trail to Abilene, because he came lit up like a store window dummy, all shiny and glittery and showing off his duds and guns the way a carnival rider comes into the show tent. Some old folks along that Abilene road said, “He come clear out of Shadowdance with his guns shootin’ and him hollerin’ all the time and all the way like they was no tomorrow.”

The near town used to be called Bellville. After Garth Hornung came along, it became Shadowdance.

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Lady with a Red Umbrella
Tom Sheehan

“I am the Devil’s due.”

He kept hearing her words, as if they were coming out of a long, thin funnel of rocks someplace where he had been; “I am the Devil’s due,” she said, the voice as thin and as narrow as the funnel of its delivery, that old place he could not remember. In the mountains. In his past. Anywhere?

“I am the Devil’s due,” she had said, just like the dice were loaded and had been tossed, still rolling end over end.

“I am the Devil’s due.”

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Tracking in Chimney Hills
Tom Sheehan

From a long way out on the trail he saw the tell-tale landmarks he’d been told about; “They’ll stand out not like mountains but like a row of chimneys back in Chicago or New York or Boston, or so they tell me, some other gents. You can’t miss ‘em, so head straight for ‘em. If Shady John Bigelow stole your woman, she’ll most likely be up that way.” Noel Scott-Northing, born in Boston as a result of a seduction at sea, aboard a ship out of an English seaport on the first night of its journey, now a full-blown land traveler on horseback, stared into the eyes of the old man giving him directions.

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The Prairie Kid’s Revenge
Tom Sheehan

The sun, it seemed that day, had been Hades-hot since it came on the horizon nearly blood-red at first. The bushwhacker on the small farm of Colby Dunne had fired at the farmer and hit the woman behind him, the woman loading the exchange of rifles, the woman who was his wife, the woman who was carrying their 8-months old unborn child. When the woman fell down dead, her child with her, the farmer chased the bushwhacker onto his horse and off the farm, the killer and his horse heading for the hills.

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Sojourn
Tom Sheehan

A few folks on the one wide street of Victory Falls, Colorado saw the rider coming into town, the sun at his back not allowing some of them to see him clearly, nothing but a blur to a few others, and to others a lone man lost on his own horse. Grover Parsons at his blacksmith shop, looking sideways at the rider, figured he had pegged him right away when he said to nobody, “Another saddle bum or else someone that needs fixing in his life,” then said to nobody else, “He’s here to pay amends, to raise a bit of hell, or get killed by the sheriff. Maybe to pass on like another day’s about to get over.”

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The Passage at Muscle Hill
Tom Sheehan

Here was Morgan Gautry in a stoned-up cave, both hands smashed by a rifle butt, a renegade leader sparing him at length at the whim of his woman, a woman who liked the younger boy’s looks, a woman who had smiled at him so many times he couldn’t remember.

“Let him live, Atur,“ Donna Cartè had said to the leader of the pack, “and I will be good to you for a month. We gain nothing by killing him, you and I. Not a thing. Lock him in a cave. Put rocks around him. He will not get out for a long time … if he ever does get out. We’ll be long gone, but leave some food for him.” She smiled her smile of smiles, and said, “Let’s play a game with that boy and see if he lives and see if he can catch up to us out there.” The lone female in the gang pointed to the mountains and the grassy plains that spread between them. “Don’t you think it’s impossible for him to find us --- out there? Wouldn’t that be fun? We could play checkers waiting for him … or whatever else.”

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Death in the Shadows
Tom Sheehan

The Texas evening carried grace and expectation as the sun moved on its last legs; soft shadows fell from all heights as though they were cotton balls shaped into vague contours, and a hush moved across the land the way mystery crawls, unknown, unsure of where to put down its feet, looking for contestants in the arena where life is lived a good part of the time. In Trinity Cove, Texas, it was The Wild Eye Saloon, a catch-all for what the west brings to dry throats, hungry cowpokes, desperate criminals, sneaky card players, and a few ladies lost in the game of life.

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The Back of Beyond
Tom Sheehan

Kirk Taatjes, blond as fallen sunlight, fast gun unknown to most folks west of Pennsylvania, pulled his horse to a halt as they topped a rise in the trail. His gaze sped across three peaks of the Tetons as majestic as any peaks he had seen on his journey and guessed it was where he had been headed all the time, out there back of beyond as Mountain Jack Dawry called it from his last bed. “It’s where you got to go, kid, out past beyond, after the mountains, past the grass.”

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Spurge Wickett’s Murder Case
Tom Sheehan

False dawn’s first signal slipped into the trail-end town of Bountiful, Kansas, the cattle drive over a few days earlier, the train loaded and gone, some cowpokes from the drive hanging on for a few more laughs, a few more drinks, a last look at someone special, before they had to light out for a new drive, cows, dust, work galore on top of work, lousy food some days, thirst, sore rumps, campfire camaraderie, ballads with a guitar to fall asleep with, dreams of another life.

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At Ease with Sgt. Able Startooth
Tom Sheehan

Thunder and lightning pounded and slashed around the Teton peaks as though the gods were angry. Able Startooth, an Indian scout for army cavalry that had been dispatched to the area above the junction of the Uintah and Duchesne rivers in Utah when unrest among Ute Indians took place, watched from the secrecy of a cave as a half dozen Utes looked into the dark and lit skies. They jabbered among themselves. He did not have to hear their voices, knowing what they were saying, having no doubt about their concern; an angry god had come out of hiding, bent on making changes on the land.

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Torby Glibstone’s Enterprise
Tom Sheehan

Torbert “Torby” Glibstone was about the smartest young man ever to come west in a wagon, helping his grandparents to move to a piece of land they had inherited from their son when he was killed in a gunfight in Dawson, Wyoming. Torby was 15 at the time the wagon set off from Independence, Missouri, part of a large wagon train. His grandparents were both just turned 61, on the same day, which got them married in the first place like a celebration was in order, and they were game for the move west. Torby had lived with them for seven years and they made sure some of Torby’s reading books were in the wagon, “But not all of them, son, ‘cause we couldn’t carry half of them in one wagon,” Toby’s grandfather said, knowing his grandson was an avaricious reader at all hours of day and night.

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The Silent Horseman
Tom Sheehan

Javer Moncton, who owned a decent-sized ranch with a decent-sized herd of cattle in Nevada foothills near the town of Jasperville, woke with a start, and recalled the sound that roused him, one that plunked at his cabin door. The first thought was an Indian arrow, but there were no follow-up cries, no ungodly threats, just silence. Besides, the Indians had been quiet in the area for half dozen years.

He found a note printed on a remnant from a sack tied to a small arrow stuck in his door. In rough letters it said, “The cattle rustled yesterday from your herd are at the end of Coyote Canyon. Bring enough men to get them and bring them back.” A large “X” in a circle sat at the bottom of the message. Coyote Canyon was a dozen miles up the river.

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Bounty for a Sheriff
Tom Sheehan

Bearded Max, mean as a barn full of peccaries, was never seen smiling as though he was judging the whole world all at one time and finding it wanting, spoke harshly, as always, to Marshy Barrett, one of the 7-Ten hands. “Everythin’ in place, Marsh?” He said it the way boss men don’t trust any minions under their wing and are quick to place blame for all faults thereafter. “You sure of that?” Max had a way of resettling his shoulders when he was talking to most fellows and it was meant to make them afraid that Max could at any minute slam them on the side of the head. None of them had seen Max use his gun, but his reputation was not lacking on that point.

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The Trouble with Sheriffs
Tom Sheehan

First the trail came, a rough ride at first to the river towns of Beaumont and Breadloaf, then the stagecoach line opened and that was followed in a dozen years by the railroad. People in both towns knew many in the other town, from relatives to old riding pards on the cow trail to acquaintances in the beef business. And from the first the sheriffs of both towns held up their records as the best law-controlled town on the river.

Often, as propelled and fomented by jealousy or ambition, justice took a backseat to personal gain. It seemed a certainty that each new sheriff would get the job because he’d owe allegiance, and experience, to his predecessor. It was bound, one day, to end up in the wrong hands. That thinking was often the general consensus as the two towns spread and grew in their own ways.

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Two Guns West
Tom Sheehan

Prior strangers, leaving Boston on the eve of May 1st, 1867, heading west on a train, neither married, both in their early 20s and veterans of the Great War of the States where they met in the ranks of Company B, 2nd Battalion of the 4th Massachusetts Cavalry Regiment, Merlin Lockland and Pouvard BeLaire knew their friendship truly began aboard the steamer Western Metropolis. The steamer had left Boston, their whole regiment on board, bound for Hilton Head, South Carolina three years earlier in March of 1864, with a gritty piece of the war in the offing.

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The Hawk
Tom Sheehan

The freighter stumbled into the De La Grasso Station in mid-July of 1876, more than 50 miles from Tuscon, blood on his arm from a flesh wound, but yelling out so everybody in the station could hear him, “I saw him! I saw him! I saw The Hawk! They was holdin’ me up, three ornery cusses, and he come out of the trees like he was a fire-eater, shootin’ off his guns and scarin’ them critters off quicker’n any fool can imagine. Yes sir, it was The Hawk! He swooped in like he was on wings and he’s wearin’ a mask makes his nose hook over like he’s gonna kill some critter for eatin’, just like he was gonna rip it apart.”

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Clay Hartung, Kid Wrangler
Tom Sheehan

Clay Hartung’s father said, on many occasions when talk turned to the family around a campfire or at a saloon with pals, “The boy was born on a horse, as far as I know. I was away on a drive at the time and his mother never told me anything different.” He’d chuckle and always add his final word, “The lady knew her way around the horses, too. You can say he was born with saddle and reins in his blood.”

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Lucifer’s Saddle
Tom Sheehan

He was not a gunfighter, not a killer, not a bank robber or prairie brigand, but he was as mean looking as a cornered peccary. When he stepped off the weekly stage in Cross Roads, Utah, the only passenger, a dozen people were waiting around to see and size up new arrivals. It was a game they played calling on insight, first impressions, internal likes and dislikes, guesswork, and open curiosity that had been engineered by the imaginative bartender at the Close Call Saloon, Shank Bellbin. None of those folks checking on the arrivals realized it, but it was Bellbin’s shot at increasing business at the saloon, drawing folks into discussions of newcomers right there in front of him as he spurred the discussions, fueled the differences, and kept pouring the drinks. A share of proceeds was his due.

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Downwind of Murder
Tom Sheehan

As Shasta Corbin, sheriff of Polatta, rode into the canyon in the heat of the day, he saw a pair of vultures high overhead floating on a thermal, which most likely had risen from the heart of the canyon. With that sight, also came a putrid odor. In one drawn breath he caught the ripe smell of death. It was a stench he’d never get used to, and recognized instantly.

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Hourly Bastion, Bastard Hero
Tom Sheehan

He was “that boy” in town, born in a room above the Bull’s Head Saloon, living there most of his early life, subjected to scornful castigation, taunts, and frequent beatings at the hands of bullies. He spent limitless hours of young exploration in the alleys of Westcott, Arizona, sometimes hounded by peers who maligned him with the harshest nicknames, all speaking directly to his birthright, “that bastard boy born upstairs at the saloon.”

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The Barkeep and the Kid
Tom Sheehan

He had been there, under the bar in the Dead Horse Saloon, in Fairly, Nevada, for 6 days on his hands and knees, resting occasionally on his butt. Sleep came to him fitfully at times, hunger soon assuaged, thirst tended, while anger and revenge sat on his plate like a sirloin steak. He would not leave, and Max Turcotte, the bartender, for the kid’s revenge, had run an auger through the bar front so he could see through to the front door when anybody entered. The boy could remain hidden while he watched for the man who had killed his parents.

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Hobie’s Sugar Still
Tom Sheehan

Hobart Bridgewater, Hobie to most folks, was a freighter who promised delivery of whiskey to several saloons along the Snake River. “I go get it for you and bring it back, and then you pay me. If you don’t pay me, you don’t get the load and I don’t bring you no more. That’s all easy for you gents and tough for me. Some days out there on the trail I have to keep my rifle leveled and ready, that’s why I have the best shot in all the territory riding up there with me. Burke Molton ain’t never missed a target he took aim at, and that includes those three scallywags who tried us on for size on the river road just last week and he knocked two of them right off their mounts with two shots and them riding hard at us all the while and trying to get the best whiskey in the west from us at the point of their guns. ”

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Odyssey of a French Swordsman
Tom Sheehan

“Who among you will swear to devote his life to country and crown? Stand you then and be appointed.”

He had stood up on that solemn occasion, had been counted, and subsequently dishonored and disparaged by his entire country, which quickly had gone under a different rule.

On a night dark as new promises, the year of turmoil 1793, hoof beats announcing organized columns of one belief or another without a known flag borne for identification and loyalty, the air reeking with forebodingness and clandestine alliances, Jacques de Lemoine, 22 years of age, experienced in battle, soldier by profession, horseman by choice, swordsman by desire, bound elsewhere, slipped out of France from an unknown port on a small fishing boat and landed in Spain.

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A Daughter in the Mix
Tom Sheehan

The pickings were slim, if there were any at all, and Thorn Lavery looked down the length of the ranch and saw one mule, three cows, and four cowpokes, all idling like scarecrows, and he made a quick decision.

He saddled his horse and rode toward town; there was payment due and he was on the short end. He carried no side arms and no rifle showed in his saddle scabbard. Some locals said he was average height, average weight, with the usual blue eyes that come with sandy hair the wind often played with. They also said he was short of bad habits, good with good friends, a decent employer at times who was not the best businessman, but he was long on determination.

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The Colonel’s Chagrin
Tom Sheehan

In a dark room of his home, in Beverly, Massachusetts in the year of Our Lord 1908, a man died alone. The house, silent and chilly, had wrapped its cool arms about the man breathing slowly and labored, no caretakers immediately at hand, and none frankly wanted. His name was Edgar Charbonneau, retired colonel of the 4th Cavalry of the U. S. Army, last day of duty on the plains of Texas in 1885, after 37 years of service.

He was the saddest man in the world the day of his death, and the happiest that he was about to pay amends for all his bad deeds.

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Colum Twyne’s Last Leg Up
Tom Sheehan

Not everything is as it seems. Sheriff Colum Twyne had heard that said a number of times, and here he was being the proof of the saying. He was hoping it was a true observation in this case.

This was it, he figured as part of his reasoning; “I’m 49 years old and I feel like I’ve been out here chasing this dude for my whole life as sheriff. Now he’s shot my horse out from under me in the last bit of daylight. He’ll be waiting for me at dawn, that rifle waiting to smoke again. It’s damned sure he don’t want to go back with me, not to Treasure Hills, not to that mob again, the one I kept off his neck a few nights ago. I can’t rightly remember if it was a week ago or a hundred years ago, I’m getting plain tired.”

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Breakheart Station Master
Tom Sheehan

Deacon Almsbury wasn’t an agent of God. He didn’t come from Heaven, but came right up out of Hell … and he was on his way this day to Breakheart Station. Clothed somewhat in cleric’s black but far from the actual garb, Almsbury’s true shape and dimensions were hidden. So were his weapons, cached in some fold of black cloth and often appeared mysteriously in his hands quicker than a pair of rabbits. Almsbury, it had been known for nearly a dozen years, ran ahead of himself, coming well in advance on wings of gossip, in headlines of weekly papers, and with riders who carried the word like a satchel on their saddle.

Once The Deacon visited a place, the impression stayed in place. Even the Cherokee Nation, all the villages in the territory, knew about him, talked about “The Man in Black, man with quick bullet, man shoot from shadow, man know death like brother.”

His infamy ran wide and free.

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Coffee
Tom Sheehan

The grass was brown, the tree line green and the mountain tops white, the highest ones sticking up into the vague, pale sky. Not much at all seemed different in the dawn flash. To the roused cowpoke slipping out of his blanket, it all said, “Coffee to start the day.”

But there remained from his sleep the elements of a dream upon which he could not put a finger of clarity. A cloudy, nebulous nothing seemed to hang on, though he could not recall the first inkling of it. Associations, he said to himself, might bring back the gist of the dream. He’d wait on one of those associations coming along with a mind of its own, the way his imagined aroma of coffee held sway.

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Two-Gun Rock, Singer
Tom Sheehan

Even now, 150 years later, within the family historians, and we have a few of them, old Uncle Joshan Rock is more than a legend, and though none of us have a recording from that time, the stories still pass down through the new members of the family as soon as they are keen on listening, paying attention, hearing the music in the words if not in a song.

Some of the stories go like this one, and every once in a while a pair of young eyes finds an incandescence telling another chapter is taking root:

Joshan Rock left Cobh (Cork) in the old country aboard a ship bound for America on March 5, 1862; he was 16 years of age, last son left to Anna Rock on her death bed, dragging the promise from Joshan to leave on the next boat and “get out of this cursed place that’s taken two sons and takes my own life in the next day or two.” She was dead before the ship left port, and Joshan Rock was alone in the new world coming at him.

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Pearl’s Diamonds
Tom Sheehan

The train sat at a water stop miles before Humphrey Station on the Dakota-Idaho Line, a rifle jammed in the back of the engineer, the conductor temporarily locked in a caboose closet, the telegraph lines already cut in a few places, and Pearl Weber’s gang holding the train for her. She was 10 minutes late coming from the hideout, the wires cut after an incoming message addressed to a “Virginia Alexandria” had included the coded line, “Mother is keeping her bed warm at home in Purchase.”

Purchase was in Idaho and the message from her brother meant her mother was dying.

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Madame Law
Tom Sheehan

The body was prone in the middle of the dusty street, a late morning sun beating down on it, flies checking their prospects, and silence reigning over the entire town.

Not a soul in Welby Falls had gone to check on him, their sheriff shot in the back, his rifle on the ground beside him, and Lily Bentwell, newest visitor in town, at the lone second floor front window of the Black Saddle Hotel. She believed she was the only person who had seen the shooter from a window, also on the second floor, but in the undertaker’s place of business, Longchamp’s Last Resort for Redemption and Paradise, which was directly across the street.

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Quinn Cosgair’s Treasure
Tom Sheehan

Sgt. Quinn Cosgair, two days from the end of his current enlistment, September of 1871, three hash marks earned for his left sleeve, participated in the battle with Comanches at Blanco Canyon, nearly 40 miles long, and when the Comanche women and children finally were able to flee the attack, the fighting Comanche braves drifted off into the silence of the Llano Estacado, Palisaded Plains, like high spirits of old, the invisible ones.

Some of the troops said, “Good riddance,” to the Comanches, and the wise ones, generally to themselves, said they hoped they’d never see the Comanches again.

Captain Ivan Blundell, the commander of the 5th Cavalry, was glad to see the women and children get away. The inevitable would have haunted him again; he’d known too many sleepless nights after such engagements.

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The Trooper and the Dog Star
Tom Sheehan

Pvt. Alexander Mulvihill, still bleeding from a serious wound, sat with his back against a big rock, the Texas night sinking like a lost swimmer, a breath of prairie air mixed with a promise of cool shadows. He kept thinking of home and the smell of a roast from his mother’s great iron stove, her voice lilting and lifting angelic in the kitchen all the way back there in Pennsylvania, and the hills around home lit up in the leaves like flares the whole length of the Allegheny Valley.

He waited through the long night for the sun to come up.

It didn’t.

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The Ace of Jacks
Tom Sheehan

John Bevans Tailback came on the scene in lower Wyoming Territory when he was 15 years old, riding into the town of Looping Wells, looking for the two men who murdered his mother and father in cold blood over the last loaf of bread in her oven. He told the sheriff what had happened, all the details including the descriptions of the two men he had seen on that unforgettable day four years earlier.

He had grown well.

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The Great Brunswick Relic Raid
Tom Sheehan

The host of them, after a great fire destroyed much of their property in Wellesley, Massachusetts, headed west, for open spaces, free land and a new life. Joshua Weddles, a young 50, strong, adventurous, industrious, eventually led the seven wagons out of Missouri bound for the setting sun. They had taken a boat to New Orleans from Boston, gone up the Mississippi River to St. Louis, added some more river travel on the Missouri River to their land mileage, and arrived at Sedalia and a contact there for supplies, information, experience, living almost a year on the Osage Plain learning new ways of the new life.

Adaptation, Weddles knew, was a key to success in the new world.

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The Old Man from Pueblo Ande
Tom Sheehan

They were near Pueblo Ande, at the old walls, and talking to the old man who could have been 70 or 90 and no difference to them. And he could have been as old as the mountains or the winds that played around up there. And that no difference either. He might have been as old as the walls. Maybe he had put the last stone in place. It was all gone now, or almost. Like him, the old Mex.

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Kid Bullet off the Trail
Tom Sheehan

Travis Henry, young sheriff of Winslow Hills, in the Wyoming Territory, was back from his honeymoon of sorts, and was on the job after a quiet period when he was away. He was 21, three times wounded in his short life, and considered lucky by most men who knew him, and gun-fast by everybody else in town.

Going back to work was easy, with a smile on his face.

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Only the Dead Cry Lonely
Tom Sheehan

Jackson Alsop, sheriff of Dunkirk Falls in the Montana territory, rode back into town as evening settled itself like an October blanket, snow promise sitting in the air, a chill with it, and his horse tired from the long chase. Jeff Lundstedt was still out there in the hills, a fugitive but not a fugitive, an escapee from jail, but cleared of a murder charge just after he broke loose, Sheriff Alsop trying to catch up to him before one of the bounty hunters, out there too, killed him and brought back his body … trying to collect a reward no longer available.

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Herman Longburrow, Cherokee
Tom Sheehan

Herman Longburrow, a flat-out 100 per cent Cherokee boy about 9 years old, got his name from a German minister who rode a big black stallion, carried a bible for ready use when he came upon possible converts or those who wanted to pray, and a Colt on his right hip, generally hidden under his black coat in case a different statement was needed.

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Scrawleg and the Turban Man
Tom Sheehan

He tossed a noose of thin wire over the head of the jailer when the jailer leaned too close to the bars of the cell. Moments earlier he’d unwound the wire from the heel of his boot, pulled it taught at the jailer’s throat, demanded the key to the cell, got it, unlocked the door and brought the jailer into the cell. Pulling the wire tighter until the jailer was dead, he walked off into the night taking his own weapons with him.

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Black Possum Down
Tom Sheehan

Former sergeant in the 1st Michigan Cavalry, twice decorated, often honored while serving the Union cause, Hector Threadlove slipped his right leg up over the horse, slipped the left leg out of the stirrup and slid to the ground as easy as a trick rider, landing lightly on his feet. Nothing was jarred in the dismount, not the weapon at his chest, or his beat-up and ugly sombrero, or the casual nature of the man. It was ease at its perfection … and drew a sense of disdain from some of the onlookers who had not seen a black man in Mournful in a few years, and that one time not for a long stretch.

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The Scourge of Nevada and the Cure
Tom Sheehan

The baby boy was forgotten on the side of the trail by his drunken father in 1851, as they headed for the gold strikes in California. He was found a few hours later by a childless couple, and it was the wife who heard the cries first, saw the baby out on the trailside grass and yelled, “Eureka.” That’s how Eureka Doppler got his name, learned how to fight against those who poked fun at him, took that harsh and steady training to guns, and became, before he was 19 years old, “The Scourge of Nevada.” Some spinners of yarns said, “He’ll do in a dozen before he’s done.”

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One Way to McAlister’s, or Manitou’s Tipi
Tom Sheehan

“I’ll tell you, son, that you can’t go any higher than McAlister’s in Colorado, and you’ll go through hell to get there, and never on your own, never without some kind of map.”

The oldest man in the room, in The Chauncy Remney Saloon and House of Good Taste and Better Scents, in the Colorado town of Munitions Mount, had the soap box and nobody was about to take it away from him. Some of them had waited, it seemed ages, for him to break down and say where he had been for a whole year when he was many years younger. Not one man ever heard a word out of him on the subject, but there had been signs in the last few days that a dent had been made, a chink found in his armor of silence. He was one of the two mysteries that had occurred in this section of the Rockies, but the mystery of where he had been that time was pale in comparison to the other mystery, the capture and eventual disappearance of a huge army ammunition train that had been taken in a night of ultra-darkness. In 20 years there had been no sign, word, or whisper about the fate of Captain Nathan Wexler and each and every one of his men on that assignment, bound to relieve Fort Dexter, under months of long siege by Indians.

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A Garden of Plenty
Tom Sheehan

Monroe Boxler and Madeleine Solari were married in Independence, Missouri on the last day of May, 1870, Boxler separated from the army and Madeleine free of a despotic family to which she was more slave than daughter. All she ever wanted was her own garden and Boxler, on their first late night meeting when she slipped out of the house, promised her that she’d have her own garden if she married him and they’d go west, to a new opportunity for both of them.

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The Marker
Tom Sheehan

The crude cross was driven into the ground midway between two trees still wearing remnants of rusted barbed wire. The lone man had thrown the last shovelful of dirt on top on the mound before he set up the cross that he made from two branches broken off the trees. There’d been a swing hanging from one branch for the early years, and he recalled how the remnant barbed wire whistled when the wind was strong. In a last look around, he studied the location of the marker between the two trees and lined up two other sites perpendicular to the tree line, a large rock most likely never to be moved and another rock across the grass only Mother Nature herself would ever dislodge, and which would be calamitous. He muttered a few solemn words, followed them with an epithet not repeated here, and then jammed his hat tightly in place.

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A Prairie Christmas Wish
Tom Sheehan

They were lucky that the mule lasted long enough to haul in all the firewood from the forest, before he fell dead in his tracks. And there was little chance that there’d be any presents for the children, two boys. The snow had drifted in some places as high as 8-10 feet, and the path to the barn was treacherous when any wind was blowing. Gerard Fiddler knew he’d have to walk with a shovel to be sure he’d make it out and back, the snow drifts moving, falling, shutting off what was almost a tunnel at some points. He hoped he didn’t have to try it again before the storm had stopped.

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The Missing Sheriff
Tom Sheehan

He was bound hand and foot and believed he was off the ground, with the falling sensation a constant threat. It was dark, he was in the air and his bonds tied him to some kind of pole with his bare feet firmly on thin limbs. He heard the trickle of water as if it was 25 or 50 feet below him, and the awed sensation of being high in the air still working through him. A hum or dull whistle of an airy sound came around his ears like the moan in a barn with at least one door open and the wind at work on all the corners. He was convinced he was not exposed to the elements, but was undercover somehow. Whoever hung him up here and bound him had to be a strong man, for he had to be unconscious when he was bound; he had no recollection of being bound up like this. Only serious deliberations kept him lucid yet thinking of odd things and circumstances that had brought him to this. He might have been tied to the pole when it was on the ground and then the pole lifted in the air. Even that would take great energy and strength. There was no smell of hay or old leather or the after smell of barn animals; no horse or mule or cow smell or dung. Those observations said he most likely was not in a barn. But there was a rancid stink that a slight breath of air kept bringing to him in odd moments, as if a dead animal was below him. He thought of snakes and rats and mice and other carrion eaters seen and unseen. Only a sense of balance kept him sane on those counts, for some of them would necessarily feed on the others before feeding on him.

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The Lost Badge
Tom Sheehan

The wounded man came from nowhere, it seemed, was headed no place, had no horse, no gun and no money when he was found at the side of the trail by the Somerville Stage due hours earlier in Kellerton, Utah. And he had been mauled by someone or something, but was breathing when the driver and shotgun rider stuffed him in the coach, across the floor.

They got to Kellerton and Doc Smithers’ office about an hour later. The man was bleeding still, but not heavily, and though he had regained consciousness, had not said anything useful. Doc Smithers was mystified too, not just by the man’s silence, but by the abuse his body had taken.

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One Night in Calico
Tom Sheehan

7:00 PM
Tudor Yarborough III rode into Calico as the first light snapped on in the saloon sitting directly ahead of him. He was as thirsty as he’d ever been and a ponderous sense of dryness came over him. Perhaps a bath at the hotel would do him well. It had been a while since he and his horse had forded the river just below Chico Corners, downriver a dozen miles and escaping the posse for the third day. And none of the posse knew they were on a fruitless mission.

His horse had fought a difficulty in the river, and Yarborough’s rifle and lariat were gone, but he had his revolver, a small sum of money in a money belt, and his saddle bag with his earthly remains, which he had tied securely to the saddle. The list of contents of the saddle bag ran through his mind amid his wondering why he‘d kept some things and let others go, tossing them away or burning them in several campfires. In a tin that held off water were two pictures of his parents and kid brother and sister, along with the sheriff’s badge his father had worn at Willow Bend and a copy of the wanted poster that erroneously claimed he had killed the stage driver and two passengers outside Fremont, Nebraska. There was an extra shirt in the bag and a pair of socks.

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Fisher MacKerell
Tom Sheehan

His father was a jokester, Fisher MacKerell’d say, because the last thing he ever heard from him was a long and deep laugh, the echo of which followed him out of Gloucester harbor not far from Boston all the way to the town of Bush Hill on the Pecos River on the western slope of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in New Mexico. The year was 1884. He knew the continuous taunt of his name, but stubbornness refused to let him change his name. He allowed only “Fish” to be used as a diminutive settlement. And “Fish” he was to all those who stood on the other side of the bar.

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Revenge for Garret Byrnes
Tom Sheehan

On the gray, dull morning of April 6, 1878, in the Wyoming town of Westlynne on a crude gallows made overnight by a couple of drinking patrons pulled from the Wild Horse Saloon by the sheriff, young Garret Byrnes was hung and left on the rope until the coffin maker finished his assigned task. It took several hours for that job to get completed.

The sheriff, Corpus Chrysler, had arrested Byrnes the week before for the murder of a young lady Byrnes had been seeing against her father’s wishes. The case was presented to a hastily drawn court and a most curious judge who had been en route to another town, evidence presented, and the jury of townsfolk, in a rapid decision, declared him guilty on the basis of the father’s evidence, and other supposed eye witness accounts.

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Speedwing, Legend in the Making
Tom Sheehan

A few Blackfoot tribal members said, joking or not but in all awareness of numbers, that Speedwing was half Indian, half white and half bird. The elders of the tribe laughed at this description, but held off on their decision on accepting his name as his final name, “to carry into history.”

“Speedwing” had called out the name as a child, pronouncing the word so that many tribesmen nearby heard the name as plain as could be spoken, with the falcon streaking across the sky so often in discussions of the name that such testimony was added to the legend in the making, the falcon coming with the speed of lightning to make note of the name, the event, and the on-going relationship between bird and man.

Many of the tribe thought there could be no higher sign.

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The Roadman’s Last Call
Tom Sheehan

In the middle of turmoil and gunfire, the barkeep and owner of Land’s End Saloon, Palmer Brooksby, saw the familiar silhouette fall from outside against the large window of the saloon, and knew it was The Roadman, the way his odd hat was worn tipped at an angle, the broadness of the shoulders like the backside of an ox, and the twin holsters sitting at his beltline as custodians in the dark. Brooksby’s nerves calmed quickly at the sight and what it triggered for him, and his hand, once reaching for a pistol under the bar, was drawn back. Silence but moments earlier had entered the room like an invisible cloud, and he looked again at the gunman in the corner of the saloon, two pistols in hand, a wild and demonic look on his face, and one man dead at his feet.

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The Ladies of Hatchet Falls
Tom Sheehan

They were as diverse as flowers on a spring prairie, the ladies of Hatchet Falls, and they had been whisked there by gentlemen friends who otherwise were not so gentle but earned their living as hired gunmen. The ladies came in all sizes, shapes and personalities, as may be evident here, but they did manage to rule the hearth in their new homes … or else there’d be murder to pay.

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Hired Out from Hatchet Falls
Tom Sheehan

The common factor with the guns-for-hire gang in Hatchet Falls, other than their love for Hatchet Falls on its own, was their contact man, their hiring agent, Quick’n’Dirty Harry Spillwater. Artful, cute as a kitten in the back of one’s mind, he sat in the Quarter Horse Saloon in Hatchet Falls every night for seven long and busy years running the most notorious guns-for-hire agency known in the west. Into his greasy palm on each settlement would go a percentage of the pay-off. Some folks, whose names were never given, said it was about half the going rate for killing a named person, for any reason that could be termed “appropriate” by no less than Quick’n’Dirty himself.

That left a lot of room between the interpretation of plain old assault and plain old murder.

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Gunmen of Jingo Valley
Tom Sheehan

Wedge Holland could shoot as quickly as any man in all of Jingo Valley, which had a whole arsenal of gunmen who were both fast on the draw and excellent rifle marksmen. If the rough road didn’t keep passing stage coach riders awake, the many practice ranges along the road through the valley would, for each ranch kept up its own shooting range. And such frequent activity, as it was known far and wide, required scrounging and rooting for empty jars, bottles, cans, and old potted vessels, which they used to line up their shooting targets. Practice, the gunmen all believed, could make a shooter damned near perfect. The use of such cast-off target wares, it was said, might in the end eventually toss a few stray rounds into the mix.

It was an omen waiting to come out of the shadows.

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The Independence Watchdog
Tom Sheehan

In the middle of the 19th century lived a widowed teacher in Independence, Missouri where trails to the rest of the country opened up. He was a dedicated teacher, a man of his own black cloth, and once in a while in his schoolroom he’d find a gleam in a student’s eye, or a formulation in an answer that totally and joyfully surprised him with its great promise. In a time like that he felt he was a hungry man sitting at a table suddenly set with a banquet meal.

Carsson proved right from the beginning that he was such a student, most likely born with a natural intelligence.

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Horse of Another Color
Tom Sheehan

Tracker Meglin, part mountain man, part villager, came into Forbes Village in a mad rush, hat gone, shirt flying, no weapons on his belt and no rifle in the saddle scabbard, and he was yelling for the sheriff, Duly Loften. His Paint stallion was in a lather as well. The Paint had a stock horse body of the Quarter Horse, with a muscular build and density that was heavy but not overly tall, was highly maneuverable, and showed powerful hindquarters that allowed quick acceleration. A sprinter in other words, good for quick escape, but not this time, it appeared.

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War Comes to Mount Barr
Tom Sheehan

A troop of Union Mounted Rifles, almost full strength with 73 men, came along a rocky and wooded ridge in Arkansas, the lay of the land about to change again, the War Between the States nearing two years of battle. Captain Franz Ludwig, troop commander, rode at the front with one of his two lieutenants. Ludwig, born in Germany into a military family, immigrated to America in 1847 with his family when he was 12 years old. The move was set in motion with a general revolution about to hit much of Europe because of the rise of grain and potato prices, the rise shocking the common man and his family, while the “rich belly of America,” the heartland plains, promised survival to those who would work for it.

“Emigrate or starve,” might well have been uttered by Captain Ludwig’s family patriarchs.

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Gunman’s Holiday
Tom Sheehan

“The boy’s got his Pa’s talents locked up in them hands of his. Fastest draw I ever seen on a man, but somethin’ mean’s drivin’ him and he won’t say what. I plain can’t figure him out.”

Old Guy Prestle, older than any building in sight, because he was the first man to come into Wachoo Valley in 1828, stood in his stirrups while talking to the Wachoo Valley sheriff.

“That grandson of mine won’t budge a fly’s worth on what’s got into him. I just got the idea he’s not goin’ to be bound by the talent he come by. Whoosh! And them guns are out and blazin’ away. He scares some folks soon’s he comes around, but he don’t appear to be bound by them hands, as I say. He ain’t but shot one man and him a road agent tried to hustle the stage he was on. The extra rifle told me hisself. He was sittin’ topside and before he got his own shot off, the kid blew that road agent right off the backside of his horse. And shot him three times before he hit the ground. Now tell me he ain’t got some fierce thing workin’ hisself lathered.”

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The Gang at Fuerte Verde
Tom Sheehan

They said it was all up to Cawdy Bellrock now. New sheriff. Married the widow of the last sheriff, Rod Baker, gunned down in front of the bank. Standing there, he was, that old sheriff, a dumb look on his face. Three men coming out the bank door, one man holding their horses. No rifles. Just hand guns. All their guns going off at once. The sheriff’s mouth still open. Him in the dust as they rode out of town. Dust behind them. Dust on the sheriff’s body. A slight breeze playing dusty games around his head.

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Stranger in Musket City
Tom Sheehan

“They didn’t know who I was or where I came from or what I’d done and left undone somewhere else, and they didn’t care.”
Orchards of Almonds
Donald Junkins

The only one to see the stranger ride up the main street of Musket City after dark was the sheriff at his rounds. He patched the arrival into his mind, noted the time, and set behind his eyes the image of the man in the saddle as he passed under the light over the livery doorway. There was little more to see; a close guess at height and weight, a stiffness in the saddle not of discomfort but alertness, a wide sombrero, a thick saddle roll, twin holstered hand guns, rifle slung in its sheath, and the black stallion looking like a match for the man riding him.

A cowboy plain and simple; young, most likely, but so was the west.

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Retribution at Great Caves
Tom Sheehan

Great Caves, from the beginning, I can tell you, was Sheriff Jonathon Digsby’s town. Every foot of it, all the way from beautiful and sultry Ma Taylor’s Suitable Emporium of Taste at one end of the town to puckish Noah Cunningham’s Mortuary of the True Stillness at the other end.

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Gaucho from Chestnut Hill
Tom Sheehan

He came west from Boston-town and carried his own bit of history with him, that history being varied, complex, and somewhat international.

For much of the early years of his life, perhaps from 4 to 12 years, Chadsey Brenault Cushing dreamed of someone being nearly strangled by a flying bola, thrown from the hands of a South American Gaucho. He didn’t know the name of the victim, but he hoped it wasn’t himself in such dire straits. From his first days of listening to stories at the knee of his grandfather, to the day he started reading entirely on his own, in a large house on the Newton-Boston line, in Chestnut Hill, Chadsey Brenault Cushing was in love with the cowboys of South America and their talent with that favorite weapon.

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Blue Morning for Memory
Tom Sheehan

Random reflections of light from Mount Groban made Sheriff Link Colburn think they were caused by something other than natural. A signal for help? A signal for danger? Either one should be checked out, even by any man with the slimmest curiosity and merest concern for a fellow human.

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Pawned
Tom Sheehan

“Sheriff,” the stranger said to the man with the shiny badge, a big, robust man with twin pistols on his belt and a coffee cup in one hand, name of Burt Hollister, “they took my pistol and my rifle and my boots, two men did after gettin’ me in a crossfire position. I was surprised they didn’t grab my horse too, but he might’ve been too damned balky even for them.” He pointed down to the shoes on his feet. “An old lady outside of town gave these to me. Used to be her dead husband’s spent his last years in the rocker on the porch. These shoes are eastern, cut too low, and way out of place out here where ridin’s natural to all folk, but they ‘llowed me to walk right up to your damned door.”

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Me and Tozzer
Tom Sheehan

Me and Tozzer was lookin’ to go to Canada, or at least Montana, which we called Montan, and know the Indians the way they ought to be known like face front and real as us. Course, we had some problems along the way, folks steppin’ on our toes and their kids spittin’ at us bein’ us, but not them older folk, a black and a white kind of cowboy types. But we was quicker’n hell with pistols and gettin’ them outta the holsters and lettin’ loose and it showed I guess ‘cause nary a soul really bothered us, ‘ceptin’ one big bear-mouth talkin’ a whole streak o’ nothin’ right near the last camp we pitched in Ideeho under some pines and firs and had a nice fire goin’ and he blows in like he’s owned ever’thin’ he’s ever looked at, meanin’ what was ours.

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When in Doubt, Which is Not in Texas
Tom Sheehan

Luke Hammard slid off his mount in front of the Lazy Bull Saloon without anyone taking the least notice, dropped the reins over the hitch rail and fell on his face in the dust of the main street of Morgan’s Bend, Texas. At that, on the other side of the dusty road, holding her child’s hand, a young mother screamed for the sheriff.

Dip Allen, recently re-elected for his third term as the sheriff of Morgan’s Bend, looked at the woman who was pointing across the street at someone prone in the road, and a bloody stain beginning to show on his shirt.

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Fire Sticks
Tom Sheehan

Matt Durgin sat with his wife Grace on the porch of their ranch house, evening taking hold for good, the heat of the day still in place, the mountains to the west of them keeping months of rain away from the grass, the eventual winter feed for their animals.

Grace Durgin, at 35 a pretty blonde with a generally good outlook on ranch life and its ups and downs, said “What’s for tomorrow, Matthew?” She lifted her eyes from knitting, saw her husband staring to see the last of the ranch in the shadows, with another deep reflection worry locking him up.

He didn’t answer.

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The Drifting
Tom Sheehan

“No way,” Jed Lawson screamed, his voice full of hate and anger not heard in Tally’s Pass all summer. He swung around at the bar and looked directly into the eyes of River Rowan as if either pair of eyes would ignite. “He ain’t ours. He’s mine. I raised him from the runty colt you wouldn’t look at a second time. No way you claimin’ him back from me.”

He patted the gun at his hip. “Try it an’ I’ll kill you.” The blue in his eyes was bright as a morning sky and they sat under shaggy brows in a sun-browned face the way most drovers looked after a drive.

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Horse
Tom Sheehan

John Joseph “Jack” Mabry, wrangler for the Cross-Bed Ranch in the Texas Panhandle, was as outspoken as any wrangler could be, demanding that his horses be given their honest due and good care “lest that cowpoke not doin’ so be fixed one way or another. I ain’t raisin’ and runnin’ chickens for the drive, but horses good as men and smarter that some I’ve known.”

Cowboys, we know, can say a hundred ways they’re in love, and here are a few of them:

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Chronicle of a Bank Robbery
Tom Sheehan

Note: The following record has been reconstructed by Wm. Longley, Sheriff, Houston, as “Information assumed and/or sworn to by witnesses and a recovered victim, all the parts depending on each other like an overview reading of trail signs, and presented at resolution of the incident involved.”

6:00 A.M. Houston woke up in the midst of blistering heat, every window open in every building, hoping for one breath of sweet air, perhaps captured from a valley deep in the far mountains or off the Gulf itself and then aimed to idle across the grass in its sweet contentment. Only cows, coyotes and birds of every color knew the kind of storm being brewed up. Heat was the least of the problems coming their way.

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Secret of the Cave
Tom Sheehan

Mountain Jackson, no other name known by the few men he met in the mountains or saw at re-supply time or pelt trading, was bigger than his mule, a stubborn but hard-worker, the only kind of an animal that Jackson would lavish any affection on. “You smell that sweet water, Hildy? Smell it like I do? Up here’s someplace hidin’ on us. You be still here and I’ll have a look around. ‘Bout time we had a treat.”

With his great fur coat doffed and sitting across Hildy’s back for an airing, and his rifle in one hand, the big man stared at the walls of the escarpment sweeping in a half circle, and the mass of rocks piled at the base like Mother Nature had set out to cover her tracks at some kind of mischief. At 4000 feet, the land had changed, and underground water he hoped followed a flow hidden from the eyes of any man for over a thousand years.

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The 2nd Dead Horse Saloon
Tom Sheehan

It sits at the fork of a river in Texas, The 2nd Dead Horse Saloon, and at a fork in the road. Water and wherever go two ways at once whenever you get here and look around. The name of the town is Bapst and there’s nobody who knows where that name came from, at least not living here now.

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The Freighters’ Return Engagement
Tom Sheehan

Earl Friscoe and Buckeye Davidson were freighters for a long time and had weathered a few storms along the way, but the one they endured on the Shiloh Two road from Friscoe’s hometown of Mesa Cappo was the only one they went back to and spent time on; all the other losses were written off as part of the big gamble from the beginning.

There was something different about this one.

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Grandpa’s Tale from Johnson’s Ranch
Tom Sheehan

Me? I’m Brady Cross, the 4th, and I am going to tell you a story told me by my grandfather, Brady Cross, Jr., as told to him by his father, the first Brady Cross in the line that ran from Heatherford, Oklahoma to this old saloon practically on the edge of nowhere, but still in Nebraska.

The voice of the story, if you get what I mean, has never changed since the first telling, which happened to be in a saloon much like this one.

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The Dam at Wasahoa
Tom Sheehan

The settlement of Wasahoa in the Utah Territory sat on the Wasatch Plateau and was ripe with game. This cool forest high above the San Rafael Swell provided refuge for an incredible amount of prey, which also included all manner of criminals on the run, from all over the western region. One establishment in Wasahoa was reserved for bank robbers only, the owner figuring her clients were able to spring with cold cash. Her name was Masi Begoyne, widowed three times by the law of the posse. When it was decided to dam waters flowing from the Wasatch Plateau the plan in the very beginning meant to include the San Rafael and San Pitch Rivers and Muddy Creek.

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Caves of the Gods, Heart of the Mountain
Tom Sheehan

Puma-Dog, heavily burdened, yet bound in belief, wondered about the inside of the mountain he was climbing, and the trail so old in the making that he could not begin to measure its age. Even the old chief and man of wisdom, One-Wing-Gone, told him the mountain was as old as the gods themselves. “They came as one before they became many,” he explained to Puma-Dog on the 13th celebration of all his moons. “One becomes many, to serve, to light the path, to push against darkness, to fill tribal history with heroes all going back to where they came from, from the Heart-of-the-Mountain, and to be served.

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Tale of Two Trail Blazers
Tom Sheehan

As evening descended on Bartonsville, Texas, smoke and steam issued in cloudy funnels from the Missouri, Kansas, & Texas Railroad Company steam engine and was quickly absorbed by dusk. In the shadows cast by one passenger car, a man stood still and alone, a small night bag in one hand, his other hand close to a revolver holstered on his belt, under his coat. He stared up the tracks toward the engine puffing away in place, and waited in the darkest spot, hidden from all eyes.

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Decision from the Valley of Lost Sun
Tom Sheehan

One of the members of the army patrol, lead scout Sgt. Jacques Emberly, who had rushed far ahead when he heard the first fusillade of gun fire, came over the brow of the trail well before the other troopers would get there and saw the gun flashes and the cloud of rising gun smoke and realized he was looking at a small war. Sounds of rifle fire, repeating in waves, rolled over him, uphill from the circled wagon train on the wide grass, and the smell of the burnt gunpowder assailed his sense of smell as if he had already known the dead lying about and set the statistics for the report he’d have to write.

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Barn Raising at Escondido
Tom Sheehan

The ridge pole of Luke Faremont’s new barn sat across a pile of lumber also destined for the roof as the sawing and the knocking home of dowels and pegs continued, men proficient at old-time work being pursued. They had gathered for a cause. Off to the side, in another section of the yard behind the ranch house, the remains of Faremont’s old barn, a week earlier ablaze in the night, were plainly visible … piles of half-burnt lumber and beams set aside for possible salvage, mounds of ashes sometimes disturbed by air movement, actions of men . There was grunting and groaning and good-natured reaction to what made a man tick in communal efforts. Twelve of Faremont’s good friends, including the sheriff of Escondido, were ready to set the ridge pole across the skeleton of the new barn, sitting half done in the dusk of a late summer evening. With two days of heavy and constant work, they had assembled most of the pieces of the basic structure, Faremont nodding and smiling at each small success, when the yell came from high on the ridge standing at the back end of the Box-8 Ranch.

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Big Jack Tuppence, Coin of the Realm
Tom Sheehan

”What’s your name, friend?” said Sheriff Jacob Newberry of Bourbon Falls, Colorado, who also owned the saloon and who had been eyeing the newest stranger in town, a tall good looking gent who just plain looked dangerous standing at the bar. “I like to know names of visitors.” He flipped his badge with one finger. “Part of the job. Some days are easier than others. Some ain’t.”

“Big Jack Tuppence,“ the man said, “Coin of the Realm.” His smile was liquid on a face with a rock-hard jaw, a pair of eyes catching dark skies, skin tone firm as a good leather lightened with tan, and a single dimple carved on the chin as if some deity had worked it for women of the world. He was just over 30 years old, some leather in him, some quickness, an edge of charm without recital.

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Weber’s General Store
Tom Sheehan

“Go out and help unload that wagon, Nate,” Lucas Weber said, “and be careful of the peaches. Make sure you put them all in the right place.” Weber owned the general store in San Remo, the biggest store in the territory, and he kept two freighters busy all the time, and he knew cans of peaches were a great delicacy for drovers and chuck wagon cooks; but that wasn’t all that he had in his message. His helper at odd times was Nate Witham, the son of a neighbor. As Weber spoke, he kept eyeing the strange customer in the corner of the store, a man he had never seen before in the store, or in San Remo for that matter, and saw the man reach slowly down inside his heavy coat. Weber knew he was drawing a weapon. Weber’s order to young Witham heading out the door carried one more element, “And make sure the wagon ammo box is full.” He waved the youngster out of the store.

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The Last Train to Silver Creek
Tom Sheehan

At Silver Creek, on a lengthy local branch of the Wyoming-Idaho-Montana Pacific Railroad, which too many people for too long had called the Wimpy Line, the last train ever to come to Silver Creek, in the Territory, and the local mine operation, gave off its whistle and started the transfer of steam power to its wheels. A Cloud of black smoke rose from the engine and climbed into the morning air. Not a soul stood on the station platform to witness the last train to be sent there, a train whose engine was preceded on the tracks by two flat cars loaded with dynamite, packed to the hilt with dynamite bound to explode on impact, as designed.

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The Barber’s Romance
Tom Sheehan

For the longest time in the short history of Bullfront, Colorado, Clark Goodrich’s most prized possession was his barber chair, hauled west from St. Louis, Missouri in 1876 by his father, a barber before him. The chair, the first of its kind ever seen by his father, had been abandoned when it was found in the barn of a barber friend. But it was not a complete chair. With a bit of his own ingenuity, the elder Goodrich completed the chair so it could swing in a circle and, with use of two levers, was able to be swung back to a nearly prone position. It was the centerpiece of the barbershop in Bullfront.

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Coachman’s Find
Tom Sheehan

Dutch Plebis yanked back on the reins of the westbound Fremont-Jehrico Stagecoach. “Whoa, horse,” he yelled. “Whoa, horse.” After a bit of tussling the six-horse team came to a stop almost at the foot of a drop in the road. ‘”D’ju see what I saw, Kirby?”

“I ain’t seen nothin’ yet, Dutch, what ain’t supposed to be where it is. You funnin’ me on somethin’?” Kirby, on his first ever stagecoach ride as shotgun, looked all around and saw nothing so different on the road that it would make Dutch Plebis stop the coach.

Plebis stood on top of the coach and took another look. Way out on the grass he saw the woman fall down. “You stay here, Kirby, and keep good rein on ‘em. I’ll be right back and I ain’t about to walk to Fremont. There’s a woman out there on the grass. No horse. No cover. No company. I’m goin’ out there and get her. Pray she ain’t dead. I ain’t got time to bury her.”

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Murder Plays a Merry Tune
Tom Sheehan

Nobody else in Flagstaff could play the fiddle like Old Jack No-Last-Name, age indeterminate, origin unknown, never seen on a horse from anyone’s recollection, and favorite tune not ever declared. When a dance was being set up by a local, the organizer made sure Old Jack was the chief attraction. If it was a wedding celebration, Old Jack came second only to the bride.

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Cowboy Dawn
Tom Sheehan

He rolled over in his blanket and watched the false dawn migrate from behind the mountains. A sense of peace prevailed about him, the last sound a distant coyote selling his wares, or claiming them, being part of dawn’s celebration, as his sleepy self was. The single howl settled into a canyon and was lost forever; had run its course this time out. In the shadows the hills were still locked into, shapes and shadows of no description but which everything fit into including the steep hills he’d have to climb before the day was done, life was bent on moving at its pace. He was at peace with that, as though it might be a compromise on what was coming his way; as if he’d take whatever was coming along.

He was not hunted. He was not hunting.

He was waiting.

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Fence Buster
Tom Sheehan

When Hugh Brickley, hired gun and hired thug and hired fence buster, tore down a cattleman’s barbed wire fence, he sawed off the bottom of the fence posts, cut the wires, and dragged the fallen sections into whatever place of growth he could find … scrub brush, high grass, copse, wadi, or behind a mass of rocks. The dragging maneuver usually knocked down some original trail signs, but set new ones easily noted soon enough.

Each amounted to a threat as big as life; someone was out to wreck a rancher’s fortunes.

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Crescent Moon for One-Dog-Left
Tom Sheehan

The Indian papoose was found tucked between two rocks in a copse of cottonwoods and pines in the Utah/Idaho territory by a mountain man, Tall Lennie, so named by Indians of the area, who was following a deer he had shot. He found that a wounded dog had fallen at the baby’s side, which from the signs he read told him the dog had been badly hurt in a fight protecting the child and possibly had run off whatever creature was too close. But two other dogs were torn to pieces. Not far away a dead Indian pony had been scavenged by the same fierce creature and perhaps by vultures also.

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The Ghosts of Soldier’s Creek
Tom Sheehan

A soft, steady breeze, with no puff to it, lifted over the edge of Soldier’s Creek and carried with it the sooty odor of a dead fire, a dank, drifting smell that came like the death of an animal a man has long known, perhaps a favorite horse, like a black stallion unseen at night but a dark star in the sunlight. Another person might say the odor was of an old market in a corner of town or an old home left to rot in the wake of a hundred battles that raged around it, the inhabitants, a man and his whole family, gone to dust in one of those fierce battles, so that their essence alone remained of them. One could almost see the house as it stood decorated with gardens, pet animals, and lusty children bouncing with life. Yet the odor, despite various images passersby would have, remained the cold, dank ashes of a fire long gone into night’s realm, thus it came back each and every nightfall thereafter.

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Guilty Billy Never Hung
Tom Sheehan

When they talk about Billy Gatling they say he came crooked and left crooked, bent over the saddle of a posse pack horse, dead as dead can be. But he was never hung by his neck, and that’s what he swore the day in court when he was condemned to hang; “Ain’t nobody in this room ever going to hang me by the neck.” He said it the way a man would say it knowing he already had a way out of his situation.

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Tobin Rally, Regulator
Tom Sheehan

He came of gun age at the time The Regulators were still trying to manage the affairs of a good part of Texas, or their descendants sworn to do so, and being the grandson of Orville Rally, once side by side with Regulator leader Charlie Jackson back in the day, his path was laid out for him in East Texas. Tobin Rally learned quickly, and too easily some said, the way of the hand gun, the rifle, and the odd tools of sporadic warfare.

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God of Two Mountains, Montowanta
Tom Sheehan

Varden DeNoncoeur woke up on a shelf of a cave, in absolute darkness. Perhaps, he thought, the depth of a tunnel, blackness being as thick as a winter coat about him, and not a glint of light showing itself. He had not experienced such darkness because he always knew stars, moon, campfire, torch, or a reflection of last light. He tried to remember the last thing he had seen, but it would not come back to him. There had been noise, lots of noise, like screaming or yells from two separate places. It might have been a chant, a Crow chant, distorted in its hearing.

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The Outlaw Sheriff Otto Pilsner
Tom Sheehan

Darkness reigned in the Virginia valley in 1864 where an advanced unit of the Union army forces was camped. Rifles and cannons were silent, and every few moments a standing sentinel might catch sight of flames from a few distant fires, friend or foe according to the direction where sighted. The silence of the night was broken by the sound of running boots. Immediately there came the order to “Halt,” loud and convincing, and it was followed by the sound of a second set of pounding boots and quickly chased by another yell, and then a third order to “Halt.” A rifle shot dropped the first man running across the area from the temporary jail for army deserters. He fell to the ground screaming, his words spoken in German and only Sergeant Otto Pilsner admitted to understanding the escaped man’s last words.

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Jehrico’s Wolf Pup
Tom Sheehan

When Jehrico’s wolf pup bit the sheriff, on his gun hand, and on his trigger finger to boot, things went from bad to worse.

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Ivaloo outside the Lines
Tom Sheehan

Sheriff William “Chill” Blanes, appearing distant or withdrawn, sat at the end of the bar in The Broken Horse Saloon nursing a drink as the bartender stared at him again with concern. The bartender, Joe Bellville, had known the sheriff of Tascosa for three years, and decided to slip himself into the sheriff’s thinking as he approached him from the far end where he and two customers were talking.

He said to Blanes, “You got either one of them roadmen from last week on your mind, Sheriff, or a woman. The roadman thing will solve itself one way or another, but if it’s a woman, that’s a whole other issue. If she owns you, you ain’t ever getting free, and if you own her, she ain’t ever letting go. It’s that simple.”

He poured a whiskey for the sheriff. “I been there. This one’s on me.”

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Secret of the Stone
Tom Sheehan

In August of 1753, snow having fallen during the night in the high regions, a mountain man, Leman Decareau, an adventurer once of Anse à la Medée in Newfoundland, kicked up a stone on a high pass in the Tetons, almost losing his footing at the same time. The drop over the edge of the narrow trail was a precipitous one and Decareau let the whole range know his displeasure. He made sure his mules did not find the fault in the trail and was about to toss the stone over the edge, when his fingers felt on the bottom side what he thought to be an inscription. Being a man given somewhat to superstition, attentive to what signs any of the gods might leave for him, in whatever manner or disguise, he turned the flat stone over to check the bottom side.

Voila!

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The Circus in the Valley of Ten Chiefs
Tom Sheehan

Kiel McQueen, extraordinary horse rider, was in love … with the circus, with the Wild West, and mostly with Mary Maguire, the best of all equestrian riders, and the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. But he hated the constant work they had to do to keep the circus going, even though better days were ahead. Circus owner Oscar Parmenter often said, trying to raise hopes of his crew, “We’ll most likely be riding on the railroad for our next trip.” The year was 1879 and they were bound for the Valley of Ten Chiefs, and the bustling town of Caliber, in the Wyoming territory, on the same rough roads of travel. The name of the valley, though, excited McQueen and brought up all the images he had heard or read about life in the west full of robbers and road agents, and Indians in great encounters. His sack held a few copies of stories about Wild Bill Hickok and Kit Carson, each of them read nearly clean through the printer’s ink, and a hand-written copy of Ned Buntline’s play titled “Scouts of the Prairie” that a bartender in Chicago had given to him.

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Breakout at Stone Hill
Tom Sheehan

The first time Deputy Jeff Froman, from Stone Hill, saw Myrtle Billings he was in love, head down, straight ahead in love. Every time he turned around in town, she was there in a dress that clung like a wet sheet clings to a pole. At least a dozen times he saw her, free and loose, leaning, bending over things in the general store, getting up in her little buggy that had a tight little seat, or bouncing on a palomino the color of sunset, the color her hair must have been when the full moon grabbed a handful of it.

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The Black
Tom Sheehan

Judd Handley had crawled through a cave, a mass of tumbled rocks, in between two sheer faces of stone, to come out on a ledge overlooking a large green expanse of mountain grass. He had never heard of any place like this in the range. No one he knew had ever mentioned a word about it. It was like a piece of heaven. Peaks of the Teton Range leaned against the sky as he looked up, only to have a black moving mass catch his eye down below at an edge of the green spread.

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Lakota Betty
Tom Sheehan

It had been about 20 years since the ignominious raid on the Indian village at River Hill had taken place. The army captain, Gregory Merton, who led the raid, and all his officers, and supposedly all but one of the enlisted ranks, had been killed in later actions. The sole known enlisted rank not dead was a retired sergeant, Martin O’Keeffe, who told the discharging officer on the day he left the army that there was one other witness to the raid, and he hoped she was still living.

“How do you know that, Sergeant,” the officer said, his head hanging low at the thought of River Hill that must have been weaving through his mind.

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Stolen Flag, Arkansas 1st Mounted Rifles
Tom Sheehan

The Great War was over for almost a dozen years, supposedly, and the mix of ranch hands on many spreads in Texas was composed of young men and war veterans, sometimes those veterans had fought on opposite sides in the war. Because of such history, a strong owner, or a strong trail boss, was needed to ramrod his outfit with a solid hand, trying to prevent personal emotions from getting the upper hand over the duties of the crew.

Largo Fremont, former Confederate cavalry officer, was one tough dude in his own right, and had come up the winner of a decent spread in Texas during a card game when a cheater, and the man who lost his ranch, was shot by another player.

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Yardley Doyle McKee, Widower
Tom Sheehan

He was born in Texas, rode a horse at four, went on a drive at 10, was married at 17, became a father at 18 and a widower at 19.

Anger and cause never left Yardley Doyle McKee, not for a minute.

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The Hawk and a Can of Peaches
Tom Sheehan

The shadow flew above him for the second time. There was no sound of wings. The shadow was gone before he could open his eyes. For that flash of a second, whatever threw the shadow managed to shut off the sun. If it could only stand still, that shadow thrower, and let him cool, let him rest, let him sleep without fear of the great birds feasting, he’d be satisfied.

But he knew it wouldn’t. He wouldn’t.

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The Shepherd’s Keeper
Tom Sheehan

At a campfire in foothills of the Sierra Nevada Range, Igon Mendoza, a Basque sheepherder 24 years of age, industrious and as bright as a reflection, listened to the wind caressing the rocky crests above him. For a moment he again imagined hearing the great singer Gotzen Bartolomine he had heard on the ship that brought him to the Americas from his home high in the Pyrenees country. The man had the voice of an angel, a spirit beyond the clouds, and it could soften a lonely heart. Ten years here and Mendoza still remembered the man and his voice.

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The Ride from Kingdom Come
Tom Sheehan

The lone rider, on a superb gray stallion, rushed down out of the mountain pass and headed for the second pass several hundred yards away. Because his own horse was killed a day earlier, he had chosen this horse out of all the animals offered up to him in Kingdom Come to make a run seeking assistance against a band of mad renegades holding the town under siege. The wild bunch had already killed a dozen people.

And his horse.

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Rabbit in the Stew
Tom Sheehan

Elias Kincaid sat in the grass, behind a small mound, in the middle of a Montana valley. The valley curled upward at its ends toward the mountains, the morning sun, and the remnant crescent moon fading in the west like a silver slipper lost from luggage. He’d promised a meal for the occupants of a wagon broken down in the middle of nowhere. It carried an older man who was an excellent shot with rifle and handgun but had bad legs, the man’s sister, and her son and daughter. The woman’s husband had been killed by a bear and she wanted to get to a decent sized town to find work and raise her children, the boy about 10 and the girl about 13.

Kincaid had seen a cattle drive that was a day away, heading for the railhead at Fenwick Stalls, the next town. There’d be parts available in the drive’s chuck wagon to fix the broken wagon. He’d told the old man, Eaton Webster, that he’d stick around and keep an eye on them, and the man asked if Kincaid would catch a rabbit for rabbit stew. With a loop of wire, Kincaid set a snare and waited for action.

The action that came was not what he wanted.

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The Gunman at Eagle Pass
Tom Sheehan

The clouds parted, the sun broke through, and a single shot rang out from a high point in Eagle Pass.

Mounted on a big red stallion he called Firedog, Flint Chambers ducked as the bullet whistled past his head, spurred the animal, and clawed for his revolver to throw random shots above him, trying to scatter or force the shooter, the bushwhacker, under cover.

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The Raggedies
Tom Sheehan

Sheriff Bill Dobson had an uneasy feeling that something was going on in his town, Ross Corners, on a twist of Colorado’s Blue River. The country around was scenic with great views in every direction, the folks were generally nice folks who said the sheriff kept his ear close to the ground, that sooner or later he’d hear everything on the trail. But he did not have the slightest clue about this new undercurrent.

Neither did Caleb Thornwell, Jr., 11-year old son of the livery owner, sitting on a rock in a cave he’d never been in before, the newest member of “The Raggedies,” a name they adopted because all of them wore hand-me-downs or “worn to the nub” clothes. He kept shaking his head, amazed at what was going on, amazed at how kids, all of them near his age, had this grasp on things, on the whole town it appeared, and kept it all in “The Book.” Caleb was smaller than the others, and probably less interested than his pals, but his father, more than just him realizing it, had a handle on much of everything that went on in town, like the comings and goings of people using his livery, at least for overnight stays. Young Thornwell, without knowing it, was a political pawn, but Billy Talmon, beyond his years, knew his way around and he’d be able to use this new boy who seemed to lack for tight friends.

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Quick Hand of a Loser
Tom Sheehan

Culainaith was quick but not quick enough. Sioux Indians and a mix of renegades caught him in the mountains after he shot six of them. They cut off his right hand, tied him on a horse, and slapped the horse on the rump.

So Devon Culainaith, one-time army bugler, known as Cully to one and all, came into Boyd’s Crossing, on the Snake River between Cheyenne and Casper in the Wyoming Territory, not dead, but damned near it. Through the intercession of one of the ladies of The Black Swan Saloon, Culainaith was bedded and doctored in a room of the hotel above the saloon. At length all infections cleared up, the stump healed, and a new energy slowly heated up in him. Part of that energy was hatred, though he could only identify two of the white renegades who had “done him in.” The others would someday reveal themselves; “I’ll see to that,” he vowed day in and day out.

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Caleb Bonner, Loaner
Tom Sheehan

Jed Horning, at the gate to his ranch in East Texas, eyed the lone rider heading his way across the grass from the direction of Pottsville. He’d been watching the rider for almost an hour coming along slowly as though he was smelling all the flowers, counting all the prairie dogs. Horning figured any man riding so slow brought an odd baggage with him, other than contemplation on horseback. Chances were it wasn’t good news, with all that had been going on in the region for almost six months or more. Rustling had been rampant for a time, with murder along with it. Raising and selling cattle was his business, and trouble, of course, joined up sooner or later for the steady ride.

He wondered if the lone rider might even be a new chapter in an old business.

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Sharpe’s Mountain Inn
Tom Sheehan

Preston “Prez” Sharpe was a regular, industrious, dreamy kind of a miner who had been looking for a “find” or “the mother lode,” for a good dozen years. Never deterred from whaling away with pick and shovel at the foot of a mountain, or in the confines of any passageway in the heart of rock, he used, when he could, a bit of dynamite. Life could be easier if he kept his head down at those blasts, and attentive at all other times. Attention, he would say, paid the dues for other times, lapses one comes upon.

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Boots and Squeakers
Tom Sheehan

At the Last Good Find Saloon, in Tremont, Texas, two old pards, Josh Madison and Max Kemler, at the end of a hard day, came in off the trail.

A third man, tall, rugged in the face and across the shoulders, early forties, entered the saloon shortly after them, and walked directly to the bar. He wore a wide sombrero, a dark blue vest over a lighter blue shirt, dark pants and no boots or gun belt. His feet were shod with a pair of strange looking “slippers,” to use another term.

Madison, a tall cowpoke and strangely neat as a pin, said to his pal, “Hey, Max, who’s the gent in the girlie boots?”

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The Soul of Shiloh Two
Tom Sheehan

For anyone’s money’s worth that summer in Shiloh Two, the summer of 1872 in Nevada, the pair of them was the strangest sight seen in a long while. At first people became gawkers, then studied the pair for a while, and found resolve or resistance of a sort in their feelings. That was when the two pals were perhaps arm in arm having a drink at The Lost Mine Saloon or when Good-shot Charlie Magnum sat out front of Singh Tu’s tent like he was on a veranda back east. But Good-shot Charlie Magnum and the Chinese cleaner, Singh Tu, were buddies from the first day. It was like Magnum let it be known from the first conflict: “This here is Singh Tu, my good buddy, and nobody plays games with him, games of any kind.”

He stuck his rifle in the air at the statement as though a flag pole had been stuck in hallowed ground.

Singh Tu only smiled. That’s all he ever did was smile, except provide good service with his laundry and cleaning efforts … and share a few drinks with his pal.

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Shortchanged in Rockweed
Tom Sheehan

Rench Lester was a former sheriff in town and on the day when a rancher’s young son was killed, it all fell down in Rockweed. A number of crimes had been committed up to that point, all of them on the outskirts of the town … drummers, freighters, stage drivers and lonely travelers came under the gun of a lone robber out on the trail. The incidents were scattered, somewhat infrequent, but constant because of the lone gunman, nondescript to hear the word from victims or witnesses, with hardly a clue in all their reports … “he’s dressed in clothes you can’t remember, masked, never talks, just points his gun at valuables that are worn, carried openly, clutched openly, or strong-boxed.” And in just about all the incidents, the current sheriff, Marv Shadlick, was off chasing known killers and robbers who were posted on the wanted board in his office.

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Tenor in the Canyon
Tom Sheehan

“Shoot! Damn it. Shoot!” The Stetson on the shouter’s head sat crookedly, not like a range rider’s would sit squarely and proudly. The voice was young, and even while yelling it was understated, as if real control was not included. The words, indeed, sounded hollow and without a solid threat.

The unfortunate bank robber, Briggs Canford, 16 years old if a day, caught alone, at fault, without hope of getting away, was yelling at the sheriff, gun drawn, Mango Village people looking on from every perch and space available in the crowded end of town.

It looked like the show-down of show-downs, with bullets flying about any minute, crime and law face to face.

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Dead Canyon Hideout
Tom Sheehan

His horse went down at last; the great, friendly and courageous beast with his last breath had taken him into the canyon and dropped dead. “You even saved me a bullet, Red,” Burt Clanwood said, as he piled what loose rocks he could find atop the corpse of Red Herman, his mount for almost 7 of his 25 years, in the hole he had died in.

A tear in his eye found a small place in his cheek to start a roll. One tear. “Not a lot, Red, but I’m not a crying man. You know that, horse. You know that.”

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Dust and Shadows
Tom Sheehan

In his office at the end of the street in the little town of Clagman, Arizona, Sheriff Will Dennehy felt caught up in two mysteries. They pounded at him in separate ways, weighing in differently but at a similar level of intensity. Some quick summoning told him he was in love with Molly Breda without having even kissed the girl, not once, not even after dancing two nights with her at MacCaffery’s barn. And she was dearly kissable. “To be with you at the morning light,” kept repeating itself in his head, in his ears, atop his heart. Oh, how he kept wanting to be with her at morning light.

And the other impact, just as heavy, just as sure, with a sense of muscle behind it, said danger was headed his way, a bundle of it.

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Mexico George and the Cabin at Rio del Poncho
Tom Sheehan

There were known and unknown forces at work in the region of the Rio del Poncho.

Deep in the ravines of the Rio del Poncho country of west Texas, at the edge of Sierra Padua range, stood for generations of passing riders on that circuitous trail a small cabin belonging to a robust woman whose name was Leeda. Local Indians never bothered the woman and assured ample protection for her the year round.


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A Mannequin for Missy Drumm
Tom Sheehan

Every good morning the sun sat like a flame in the window of Missy Drumm’s women’s store in Wallow Creek, Wyoming. She went outside early each day to see that window display for herself, from where her customers could see it and warm up to a purchase as they came into town on errands, visits or head off to jobs. Since the day the store opened she felt the scene was incomplete for some reason. The store was a gift on her 21st birthday from her father, Caleb Drumm, exactly one month before he was killed by an unknown person out on the road to town from his ranch. He had requested her not to go into town until he said it was okay, her knowing all the while that he was planning something special for her birthday coming along.

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The Sheriff of Crawford’s Corner
Tom Sheehan

He grew up in Pennsylvania, part of the Main Line as they might have called it even in the early days. But he seemed forever bothered about his place in life, as if all efforts came down to nothing at the end of the day. That’s when he usually took stock of what he had done, what he had tried, what he had not accomplished … not as yet.

Somewhere out there, beyond Pennsylvania, was a challenge for him and a place to hang his hat.

He decided to go west to find that place.

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The Last Gun in Wentworth
Tom Sheehan

It was late in the day and a stranger appeared at the bar of the Tall Rider Saloon in Wentworth, Texas, had a shot of whiskey, a beer chaser, checked his gun by looking at its load and assuring the barrel rolled smoothly, and then put the weapon back in its holster.

He had commanded attention.

Walking out of the saloon quickly, he mounted his horse and rode out of town.

Townsfolk talked about him for a week - a gunman.

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Music of the Mountain
Tom Sheehan

Everyone in his hometown in Colorado said he was a winner, he’d get it all, and here he was flat on his back hiding in deep brush; gone were his horse, his holstered guns and rifle, his hat and canteen. The only thing he had held onto was the rope his hand fell on when his horse was shot out from under him. The horse fell down a ravine and he hoped the big gray was dead before hitting the ground; he’d been a good mount for five years.

Chad Lumsden could hear someone scavenging down below; there’d go his saddle, reins, weapons, and canteen - his survival possessions.

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The Liar‘s Game at the Wobbly Cow Saloon
Tom Sheehan

Asa Finstock, retired sheriff, was taking part in the liar’s Game at the Wobbly Cow Saloon, in the heart of Texas. It was a believability contest about whoppers and was celebrating its fifth year in a row. Finstock had been in all of them, his retirement allowing him time to compose, reflect, enjoy “older age,” as he called it every time out, older age, not old age, his deflection of time and comfort. For a man who had been a number of times to the edge of Hell, or any other such place, he was a most pleasant man with a day-long smile.

Married once, no children, widower at fifty, Finstock had been a savage enforcer of the laws all around Mansfield, Texas, a town that could well have died if it had not been for him and his view on murderers, brigands, bank robbers, out-and-out criminals in any of their insidious arts. Wounded three times, recovered at home with the help of his wife, and then by a neighbor’s daughter versed in the medical arts, he was a living testament for those who lived around him. Neighbors and law contacts, and just about everybody acquainted with him, knew there was something special about Finstock, possibly indefinable, but evident to those who knew him.

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Wilton Yawbloc, Railroad Detective
Tom Sheehan

He didn’t know how many times he had seen a broken telegraph wire out the window of The Villager, #2 passenger car of the train, Union Pacific Line, heading across Utah. Maybe two or three times? He wasn’t sure. It was his first time on a train. Trees rushed by. Gullies. Wadies. Ravines. And rock, as bold as the old Earth herself, coming through on ledges, canyon beginnings, and now and then beside a stream or a rush of water catching the sunlight; then, as if in pardon, all the other parts of imagination came along in their flow. Glare from the slanting sun at times on the car window spoiled his vision. But he knew the unsettling feeling crawling up from nowhere --- something was not right. A notion asserted itself, saying he had to pay heed, read into his observations, make judgments, and spur action. Detectives, not born but made, like he was, must be like this, get off the mark when the heat is on. Find out what’s going on, expose what’s hidden.

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Gray Day in a Gray Town
Tom Sheehan

It was a gray day in a gray town, somber, like the day after a holiday, hangovers plentiful, the sheriff still sleeping off a bad night and locked in one of his own cells and so far totally unaware of it, the stagecoach from Mercyville almost a full day late and carrying a delivery of canned peaches as a favor for Bart Hall of the general store, and the gruesome, merciless gunfighter Boxer Agrunts was newly arrived in Boothill Leveled, a new town barely 10 years old at the edge of the Snake River where it makes its sharpest turn in the long route south. The somber day sat atop him.

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The Great Raid on Quipilanta
Tom Sheehan

Grant Reed, the sheriff in Quipilanta, stood out among the territorial lawmen like an iron fist, of which he boasted two. And one night when noted bad-boy Marcus Loften started a ruckus at a corner table of Reed’s favorite saloon, the sheriff smashed the chair he was using onto the top of the table where Loften was screaming about a cheating waitress. The waitress was being accused of stealing a bill from Loften’s money pile with a tray wet on the bottom, so that the bill stuck to the underside.

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The Smoky Mountain Hideout
Tom Sheehan

At first sight, he didn’t believe what he could see, looking directly over the edge of the rim. “Colorado and then some,” the lone cowpoke said aloud to no one but himself. “Must be a whole corral of mysteries out there.” For a second and third time he looked over the edge of the rim and down on the spread of the foothills leading up to where he had found himself … surveyor of all the lands, the trails, the merging of two rivers, the passes up into the mountains as if they passed through the core of rock itself.

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The Grand Royal Stand-off at Darby’s Creek
Tom Sheehan

Willard Joseph Lord Puffington, late colonel of the 1st Regiment of Hodson's Horse, India-released, Asia-departed, separated from the British Army in 1870, reined in his horse at the head of Darby’s Creek as it flowed from the heart of earth in the Rockies foothills. His trained eye had found a minor change in the geography from the previous day; the small tree at the crest of one hummock had moved (“Been moved,” he muttered) to another hummock closer to the wagon train’s position. The year was 1873; he was working for a wagon master as the wagon train was set to renew its journey on another day, its destination a valley in far California, his new education in progress.

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The Drummer’s Place
Tom Sheehan

For an Irish drummer, Cornelius Avergood McCloran, fateful events always travel in threes. The old superstition has a strange way of holding on … when only two of the events come to passing, he’d be wakeful for the third.

Now, on this day, on the verge of Willowville, at the edge of the grass and not far from the Snake River, Cornelius Avergood McCloran, book drummer, is about to kick his mule into another start. There has been half a dozen unsuccessful attempts before the mule falls dead in the traces. Perhaps because of the strain on the lead elements of the wagon, the wagon breaks down for good; it is not going anyplace any more. He is sure of that when he hears something crack. The front axle, he thinks. He kicks the wagon.

“That’s two,” he says under his breath, fearing to let his fear be so exposed.

He thinks of walking the short distance into town, going to the saloon, and having a shot of whiskey. Does he not deserve it after all of this? Of course he does.

He heads into town.

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Linked
Tom Sheehan

Shaking his head, confounded, disbelieving what he was seeing, Sheriff Wade Gordon stood over the dead man, his face beaten and torn as if some beast of malevolent proportions had committed the murder.

Turning to his young deputy, Clay Simmons, a still-green youngster wearing a bright badge, highly impressionable, but a good man with a gun and on a horse, the sheriff said, “This ain’t a bit natural, Clay, what I’m looking at. It sure ain’t natural.”

“I never seen a man who died like this, Sheriff. Looks like he was clubbed to death. Had holy hell beat out of him. Ain’t much left of his nose, both ears ripped like rags, and I don’t know where his teeth have gone, at least most of them. I don’t see a one of them on the ground.”

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A Place for Smitty
Tom Sheehan

It happened in a split second, the way quick decisions can hang on a person’s life with a grasp that is often an enormous weight. To this day, Smitty says he was never conscious of making a decision. “The wagon came busting down the street, the team of horses in a panic runaway. The kid being carried away was clutching at the seat with no reins in his hands and screaming as loud as he could. Some ladies across the road were screaming as well. I just bolted off the boardwalk in front of the general store and ran to head off the animals, trying to stop them or slow them down. It was just a plain reaction.”

His eyes said he was still searching, bewildered. “That’s all I remember.”

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Town without Color
Tom Sheehan

It began gray and ended gray and ran without color for 100 years, this town of Pilgrim’s Plight. Oh, the grass was green some of the time running up to its edges, and green half the year behind it in the Rockies’ tree line hefting up the hillsides to white caps, and now and then the sun caught a swirl of dust and tossed a cloud of rainbow hues for a few seconds, but mostly it was road-dragged gray, burnt gray, somber gray. Pilgrim’s Plight couldn’t be any sadder, not for a town expected to grow, even though its name said, “Not this place, not here.”

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The Judge
Tom Sheehan

Judge Herman Guest, holding court in The Alibi Saloon, said, “He was the wiriest, ridin’est, ropin’est, hallaluajin’est, shootin’est cowboy I ever did see, That cowboy I damned well saw more than a fair share in my time. I tell you he could shoot the top off’n a bottle at 50 feet hardly ever lookin’ like he was aimin’, and he never missed it. Not ever.”

“What was this critter’s name, Judge? You ain’t said so much as a nickname and no initials to set us knowin’, and that’s the truth.”

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Jehrico and the Cock-Eyed Burro
Tom Sheehan

The townspeople of Bola City began laughing at Jehrico Taxico and his new cock-eyed burro just as he started into the town. He was returning to town from a junkie’s jaunt and haunt as he might have called it. He heard the snickers, the titters, the sneaky laughter coming from, of all places, the slopped pen where pigs dug their ways through the day, then at the livery where a few poor folk of town labored for endless hours for measly nickels, and then at the side of Grunty’s blacksmith shop where a midget Mexican carried coal and wood to keep the fire hot and managed, every now and then, to almost set the place on fire. For a nickel a day, Bib Grunty could put up with a fire possibly bigger than what he wanted. He didn’t believe in insurance, which was a word he did not know.

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Cowboy from Afar
Tom Sheehan

He knew he had passed out from the pain at least twice. He didn’t know how many other times it had happened. But he was still here, moving a bit though not kicking, at least not with the leg in the cumbersome splint he had constructed. The revolver was in his belt, tucked there for easy transport. The spy glass was slung over his shoulder in its special pack. He thought: “I am on another excursion, as short as it is.” The journal was under his shirt, it too in a protective pack, but a soft one. He looked at the scratches on the wall of the cave. He had his schedule noted. He had theirs noted too. ”Today the red men will dance. Tomorrow they will start their hunt.”

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Prairie Fire
Tom Sheehan

The train of 17 wagons, all canvas-covered and drawn by oxen, moved at the least pace imaginable. The land was dry, with water spots far between according to an old hand-drawn map, some of the sketch work faded, a corner of the map torn away. The wagon master had steered them away from Kiowa country by the directions on the old map. An earlier pioneer, his name lost in the torn corner, had drawn it from a trip to the area made over 40 years ago. Now, the area still dry for the most part, it was 1797, all the noted waterholes but two had appeared as shown on the map. The missing water holes had been swallowed whole by the earth, no signs remaining of their once being vital.

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A Greater Kingdom and a Lesser Court
Tom Sheehan

“Hey, Ward,” said the livery man, “did you see that new dude in town, looks like he got dressed up in New York for fun and was kicked out here on the stage to give us all a laugh. Sure is a funny lookin’ dude. I almost laughed aloud when he near fell off’n the stage with them funny boots he’s awearin’, never mind the flummery shirt with ruffles a girl can’t get enough of.”

“Don’t know nothin’ ‘bout that gent,” Ward Hagler said, running the oil swab over his gun again for the hundredth time in the afternoon. “Man don’t mean nothin’ to me dressed like that. Could be a drummer drummin’ up business by his looks ‘fore he tells us who he is. Guess is as good as mine.”

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Gunsmoke Valley
Tom Sheehan

The war had started. Not the Great War between the states, which was over by a few years, but a war in Gunsmoke Valley, a war sure to eclipse all actions up to that time. It was June of 1868, mid-day, the sun working like a stud, a horse limping into the Prescott spread, the Snake River in the distance like a slow rattler, poised.

Time, in all matters, in all elements, was exerting itself.

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The Return to Quipilanta
Tom Sheehan

He came up out of a side trail where long-gone Indians had carved a way up to the stone of the Singing Star, old territory for him. On the skyline ahead was the outlaw he’d trailed for more than 100 miles, the wanted man almost saying his name the way he rode a horse, head tilted left, gun hand never on the reins. Another day’s work was ahead of bounty hunter Frye Pitts and then they’d be in Quipilanta, him and his quarry.

Pitts, just past his 30th birthday, wore the marks of time on his face. His brow was carved by long concern and his chin firmed up from life’s lessons. In the saddle he was aware of the earth around him, and things that moved on it.

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Never Too Late for Promises
Tom Sheehan

Jed Carlin, out on the edge of the wide prairie beyond Testa Verde, rode his cow pony in short sprints, liking the wind in his face, the heave in his chest. Clear blue eyes caught all moving things around him; a prairie dog scuttling away, a hawk using an upper wave of air, a falcon taking down a dark bird in flight, a peccary sow guiding two little ones at a water hole, and the rider on the distant horizon riding towards him as though his life depended on it.

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A Freighter’s Connection
Tom Sheehan

Creighton Glastenbury, last of his family, impoverished from birth despite his name and lucky to get to his 16th birthday, found his journey working on a wagon train ending in the small California town of Newbridge. Across seven state borders he had traveled seeking warm weather, safe winters, and a chance to find a cause other than simple survival. He was tired of the eternal scratching for meals, good cover over his head, and silence in the night. The stars of evening, holding sway like magnificent emeralds over wide grass, were his greatest comfort, took him to sleep most nights of the journey though he shared them with coyotes, owls and other creatures of impending darkness. He remembered at odd hours an old Indian, met out on the trail, saying, “Count on the stars. They do not fail.” When one of the stars, loose as a runaway horse, streaked across the pebble-lit sky, he found comfort in it, and once in a while a sign of coming luck.

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The Saga of Bin Whitestock
Tom Sheehan

Some journeys, from here to there, are quite direct, with minor side attractions and distractions getting in the way of arrival. Other journeys, with or without known destinations at the start, are full of twists, turns, course changes, and dynamic revelations that come of interests discovered en route.

Chicago of 1894...

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The Other Side of the Badge
Tom Sheehan

Moses Hardacre, called “Flip” by his many friends in the Wyoming settlement of Brazos Connection, studied the ridgelines that loomed around him on the uneven horizon of tors, mounts and jagged rock peaks. Nothing moved. Not earth or sky or vegetation, sparse as it was in this area, showed any sign of movement … man-made movement. He kept watching. Out there, in that complex region of the area, notorious Brook Tarbox might, at the moment, be eyeing him. It would be, if he were doing so, from a dim retreat, a notched space in a wall, a smidgeon of a cave as lowdown as a snake. Tarbox, as Hardacre knew so well, had a problem facing any odds even-up or superior; if the drawn gun wasn’t in his hands before an adversary’s gun, he begged for distance in any way possible. And he was a murderer. Plain out, the worst murderer that Flip Hardacre had ever come across in his ten years on the job.

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The Broomstick Cowboy
Tom Sheehan

In the heart of Chicago’s new butchering center, in a ramshackle apartment in a ramshackle house, a truly destined cowboy was born to a hard-working Scots-born butcher and his wife. The year was 1864 and the Scotsman had just got a job with the newly formed Union Stock Yards. Ralston Condor was a meat cutter, one of many that came with the swelling herds in the yards. Eventually, after 7 years on the job, he’d come home at night and tell his wife and son all the stories he heard during the day, at work, at the tavern on the way home, from friends on the corner … all about the great herds of the west, the cowboys and drovers and ramrods and trail bosses and the Indians along the way as cattle headed for Chicago and the stockyards and the butcher plants. For all those years he longed for the open country again, like the land he had known on the moors of Scotland with Angus cattle, a distinguished and hardy breed.

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Montana’s Invisible Bandit
Tom Sheehan

The three towns along the Red Rock River in lower Montana were constant targets of a bandit and home robber that nobody saw, in the act, fleeing, or as suspicious looking. People soon began to call him The Invisible Bandit of Montana.

In Corroville, one of the towns The Invisible Bandit had hit three times, men of the town were talking in The Blue Horse Saloon.

Jeff Bronteck was the loudest, his house having been robbed as well as a nephew’s house at the end of town, nearer the Red River. He was at the bar, into a few drinks, and getting louder. “We ought to string him up the minute we get him.” He kept saying it and several men replied, “But we don’t even know what he looks like, Jeff. Nobody’s ever seen him. We got to take that into account. Can’t hang the first man we think it’s him.”


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Flat Rock’s First Cigar Store Indian
Tom Sheehan

Jacob Bessemer, tobacconist, retailer, gunsmith on the side by necessity, received a letter from his brother in Baltimore saying he had purchased a wooden Indian, almost 6-feet tall, to stand at the entrance of his tobacco store on a main street of the city. “It attracts people, it brings customers, and it paid itself off in 6 months, the cost of having it carved by a local artist. Think about it, out there where there are real Indians. The curiosity fact would be a real customer grabber for you.”

As a command of sorts, it sent Jacob Bessemer scurrying to find a suitable carver to do the same for his shop, a wooden Indian to stand in front of his shop.

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Duel at The Dividing Sun Saloon
Tom Sheehan

The old man from the livery stable, Horn Bixel, came into The Dividing Sun Saloon and said, in a rather strong voice for such an old body, “I got a message for Boyd Doutty. Is Boyd Doutty here?” His gaze swept around the room looking for a new face, a stranger’s face, at least to him.

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“Here comes Cutler”
Tom Sheehan

It had happened again, in East Texas, in the Top Knot Saloon, just as sundown happened on the little settlement. One of the locals, sitting outside in his favorite chair at the saloon rail, slipped into the saloon, put up one hand for attention, and said, “Here comes Cutler. I seen him once before in Soldiers’ Pass, not more than three years ago. Me and Chas there.” He pointed at his old pard. “Ain’t that right, Chas? Didn’t we see him and heard all the talk after he left, like it was a book opened for us.”

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Seven Cave Canyon
Tom Sheehan

Noted Indian hater Jed Cawley, owner of the J-Box-C spread, was the only rancher in the whole of Mildred’s River Valley who had complained about missing cattle … not rustled or stolen one way or another or eaten on the premises … but missing cattle. Three times he had complained to Sheriff Tim Cassidy about “these situations going on around here. Sometimes I take a count and I’m down 40-50 head in a week. There’s not much sign, so you know it’s got to be injuns doin it.”

“I admit,” the sheriff replied, “that injuns are the only ones who can go through a place without leaving sign, them and the ghosts hanging around in the canyons.”

“You don’t believe that, do you? This stuff about ghosts, spirits, shamans near to God?”

“Well, we’ll see,” Cassidy said, as if it was the closing of the conversation. He stood abruptly, reaching for his sombrero.

“Yeh, we will,” Cawley put into the air. The simple words hung as heavy as a threat.

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Jehrico’s New Venture
Tom Sheehan

It wasn’t Collie Sizemore who called out the news this time, about Jehrico Taxico coming back into town after his excursion out on the prairie on his recent search, which really amounted to his annual scavenging adventure. The town drunk, Larrupin’ Lou Pinnette, tromped back into the saloon just after getting kicked out by the barkeep.

“Hey, gents,” Larrupin’ Lou yelled, as if in command for the first time in the day, whole again, his throat cleared, an octave reached, “he’s coming back. He did it again.” He threw his hands into the air, the new great herald, bugling out the news, “Jehrico’s got some damned fangled thing all done wrapped up on that sketchy little tote wagon of his, only this time it’s a three-wheeler.” He raised his hand and his voice for another delivery, sweet affirmation, yet holding the wonder of it all; “I swear it’s so, Bobby Bell. It’s got three wheels, and one a them’s in the back.” Barkeep Bobby Bell forgot he had kicked Pinnette out but minutes earlier and joined the out-going crowd.

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The Quiet Ghost of Drover Down
Tom Sheehan

It was the blacksmith of Drover Down, a small settlement in Nevada against Rocky Mountain foothills, who first saw the ghost behind his shop, a black figure lit up by a lightning strike in a tall tree near the edge of the stream. For a while, until the lightning bolt lit up the world, it was black, noisy and pure hell-raisin’ in the skies around Drover Down.

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Valley of the Lost Swan
Tom Sheehan


Dan’l L’Fleur was caught up in two mysteries that would confound any man on any continent; the marked stone he discovered, with the graceful bird imposed on it, and the Indian maiden he saved from certain drowning in the St. Lawrence River, and the night following when she empowered him.

From then on the girl held his imagination at odd hours as he moved inland on old routes of travel. And the strange markings on the flat stone, found right at his feet at “Anse à la Medée,” supported his long-held belief that early Norse explorers and settlers had gone inland right from “Anse à la Medée,” a known Norse site at the tip of Newfoundland. They too had gone west and he believed they had gone farther than any interested party had thought.

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A Twin’s Revenge
Tom Sheehan


In 1857 the wagon train came west to Wyoming, to Torson Valley, so fertile and rich-looking that Dabney Brunton bought a nice big piece of it along a stream that carried clear mountain water. His wife Lila had twin boys, 6 years of age, Roy and Rob. En route, without any warning, the wagon train was assaulted by a large group of horsemen. None of them were Indians from the Plains tribes. None of them were half breeds or renegades, a mix of red and white, but all of them were white men as cruel as false dawn is on some bad days.

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Doc Hannah’s Replacement
Tom Sheehan


Caliper, Texas poured just about every citizen out for the goodbye to Doc Hannah and his wife Beth as they were bidding goodbye to the pair, off for a new location in west Texas. With two boys in tow the pair was bound for Clinton after Doc had arranged for Toby Maxwell, his assistant for two years, to be his replacement in Caliper. The gala was attended by the whole town of Caliper, saying goodbye to the good doctor who had served them for almost ten years. The doc was a beloved individual whose work had touched practically every person in the town.

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Water Rift
Tom Sheehan

A variety of things in a bunch were suddenly bothering rancher Todd Margin, things that he could not directly put his finger on, nor a clear piece of his mind. He was afraid that he had been too comfortable for too long and life did not move that way … not for as long as it had for him. His herds were good and fat, the periodic rustlers had been tailed almost to extinction, the stream flowed as freely as ever, but the heaviness continued to inflict itself on his psyche. He thought it to be an alert, a warning of change. Age might have entered the equation; he was not sure, nor was he sure of Luke Purdom’s part in it, Purdom who had sworn in a drunken rage one night in Lucie’s Saloon that he’d “get Todd Margin someday, one way or another.”

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Hooligan Hide-out
Tom Sheehan


The trap, without the slightest hint obvious, was already set, and Kate Osgood, studying one strange and suspicious rider, was in turn studied by another rider she did not know, behind her, above her.

Kate Osgood, on her red sorrel on one rim of Los Gatos Canyon, stared down at the floor of the canyon studying the lone rider roaming the area as if lost. Or, came a second thought, as if he was searching for the secret exit from Spider’s Valley, location of the Kay-Bar-Kay Ranch, her home for the past 15 years. The ranch, and the valley, was now hers since her father had been killed, in error, by a misguided posse just a few weeks earlier.

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Tied One On
Tom Sheehan

The afternoon sun was brutally hot, air difficult to breathe even on the water, and the man in the boat was a caricature at best, a full-blown western caricature, a comic piece. If he was made-up, wore a mask, was in a costume, whatever, it’d be no different. In his hands he grasped a pair of oars, yet he wore a gray Stetson that sported a sky-blue band on it, a black denim shirt gone darker already wearing his heavy and continual sweat. On his boots he wore a pair of spurs the sun would not let go of, the silver of them taking on brightness in flashes.

He felt as foolish as he looked, but he had “escaped.”

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Trent Coyne and the Bounty Hunters
Tom Sheehan

He’d come across the horse, still saddled, in a small ravine where a blow-down had corralled the big gray. A rifle was still nestled in the scabbard, a rope looped to the pommel, and a canteen on the other side. He could imagine the rider taken off the horse’s back by an arrow, a bullet, a puma in a wild leap, and the horse racing off for its own life. He’d never know what it was, but spent three days looking for the lost rider. In the end, reality punching him in the face with larger doses each morning, he figured the body’d been torn apart by vultures or dragged off into a cave, devoured, no words said over the final resting spot.

In those three days, Trent Coyne, wanderer who had his own horse cussed by a bear and run off, figured luck, providence, fate, or whatever name he could give it, had saved him.

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Pike
Tom Sheehan

Pike rode into Shirley’s Glow almost silently, hoof beats muffled by road dust a month old without rain. The town was dark all over and then a light went on in one building. It was the sheriff’s office and the jail. He saw the bars lined on the windows when the lamp was lit, and knew he had one of the killers, a deputy or the sheriff himself. The late rider’s horse, in the light of one window, was tied off on the side of the jail. The bay snickered once, snorted, and drank from a trough after the hard ride from the Cosgrove settlement in the hills, where all the miners and their families had been killed.

Even before all of this happened, Shattuck wanted answers, action, about all the troubles taking place around Shirley’s Glow, at its end of the Rocky Mountains. The sooner Pike got to all of it, the better off everybody would be … except the dead back there at the mining settlement.

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By Arizona Sunsets
Tom Sheehan

Now, at sundown on his latest approach to Poor Man’s Edge with a visit to Missy Gilbert on his commitment list, Cavan O’Malley thought about the night he had fallen in love … and gained a deadly enemy at the same time.

And he remembered every detail of the incident.

And so it went:

Morning had handled itself as it usually does in Arizona, bright and effervescent and wide as open arms, and so evening had its turn when the sun started below the horizon. It crawled, a peg at a time, a whisper at a time, out over the Arizona landscape and the last town on O’Malley’s route on his goods delivery. The settlement of Poor Man’s Edge lay out in front of him like a flower on a desert rim.

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Chigger Boom and the Night the Devil Broke Loose
Tom Sheehan

Lots of folks down in south Texas still tell the story of the relentless search for one most prized horse stolen down Rancho Lobo way. They tell the story even years after the horse was stolen during the night of one of the greatest storms that ever roared in from the Gulf of Mexico. Like Hell was shot out of a cannon, they said of that storm, and calling it “The Night the Devil Broke Loose.” The winds, roaring like wild steam engines, ripped inland from the Gulf and cut a scandalous path of devastation more than 80 miles wide. Roofs of barns sailed in the air like wings of ungodly giant birds, windows in meager huts imploded before their scanty roofs came free. One small settlement not very far from Rancho Lobo saw every one of its buildings blown apart the way dynamite could do it. And the horse, a 6-year old stallion, a prized animal from the first day, went by the name of Chigger Boom and belonged to 16-year old Chuck Curtin, the son of a small rancher.

That’s going too fast for some folks, I’d guess, so we’ll have to go back to just about the beginning when Chigger Boom came into the world of Texas, near the grass town called Rancho Lobo that lasted almost 50 years, but folded up one night and died a sudden death in another weird storm from the Gulf.

But that’s beside the real story.

So, we go to the very beginning of the tale of Chigger Boom:

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Rubin Barnstead, Optimist
Tom Sheehan

A young town of booming west Texas, Gray’s Cottage had grown from a mere cabin at the juncture of two rivers rushing out of the mountains and merging into a rugged river now simply called Gray’s Cottage River. A small ferry was located right there at Gray’s Cottage, at a distance from the center of town, with the nearest fording ten miles downstream. Pretty as a picture, the site of the river, with its great obstacles to fording, had halted a few wagons on their further westward trek. It made some folks, bound for California but caught up by the site, to put down the start of new roots.

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Romance on the Trail
Tom Sheehan

“Ladies,” wagon master Joe Ditson yelled out to a small group of women working on a small collection of weapons, “make sure each rifle is loaded and ready. No telling what’s coming at us from that noise out there. Joe knows how to shake things awake, bring stuff down that’s hanging in the trees for the plucking. Never was one to miss a fight, I can say that for him.”

“You can say that for me, too, Joe Ditson,” said a woman in a long pale blue dress with a wide dark blue collar, a red kerchief on her neck, and a pair of rifles in her hands being handled as if they were mixing spoons. She was a tall, beautiful redhead who had not collared a man as yet and who shared a wagon with her widowed father. The two Joes of the wagon train, Ditson and Dixon, realized they sat well in her eyes, but neither one had advanced the situation, content to look on as partners in sharing an observation of beauty. The lady’s name was Millicent Coombs, lately of Illinois and bound for Texas, cattle, and marriage, one way or another.

“I’m ready for anything the right man throws my way,” she had announced on occasion.

Ditson, from the first day, believed every word she said.

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Prairie Crossfire
Tom Sheehan

A pinnacle of rocky Amber Mountain split the evening sun into bright pieces, and a good chunk of an orange ruddy glow settled into the town of Widow’s Walk as Hank Grob, son of a ranching father, standing beside his horse in the middle of the road, tossed his dare onto the feet of the gathered citizens. Evening dust sat still after a hot day.

Silence all around was as thick as the ruddy glow, and just as soft on the ears as the glow was on the eyes. Young Grob, humiliated by his own townspeople, rage setting its teeth for a bigger bite on his senses, let the orange glow turn to fire in his eyes.

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Duel at Misery Creek
Tom Sheehan

No way was it a lock-down, straight-out shootout between two adversaries, the street blocked down, the whole town looking on from the edges. It was just about dark in Misery Creek when the first gunshot of the day went off, followed by what sounded to be a running battle between two shooters. Townspeople, not knowing where the shots were fired from, scattered for cover and stayed there, aware the sheriff would be on the job soon … unless he was at it already, being not what he was but who he was.

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Renegade Sheriff
Tom Sheehan

When the wife of William Gifford, a prominent rancher near the small town of Butte Legends, was murdered because she protected a child that was not hers, the law was demanded for the town. Mrs. Gifford was kicked in the head by the horse of a fleeing bank robber as she rushed to rescue a child from the path of the animal. The citizens were aghast at the latest event in a series of illegal calamities. The uproar ensued, screaming for new law enforcement.

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The Broken Spur
Tom Sheehan

Red Cornell came up out of Grace Canyon into bright sunlight, a small breeze under his hat brim and across his face, and a spread of yellow flowers out on the grass as far as he could see. Not a living thing brought any movement to his eyes, except for a large-winged bird sitting on a shelf of air high over his head. “Stillness can be smothering, Chaps,” he said to his horse riding under him smooth as ever. “We’ve been sitting still too long, old boy, waiting for those rustlers to make a move.”

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Miss Martha’s Signature
Tom Sheehan

In his later days Joel Bishop, sitting around the cracker barrel in his general store, had a few favorite stories he told when some of his cronies gathered. The stories mostly dealt with some of the older folks in the little prairie town of William’s Toss. He liked to relate how they made their way in the early tough times, early heroes, like Miss Martha sitting out there on the grass and running her own spread, and once in a rare situation a youngster got into the story-telling, like Bishop’s favorite tale of all, about Willie Braxton, now owner of a prosperous spread out of town a few miles.

“Got it on a platter, that boy, and he plumb deserved it.”

When Bishop and his cronies gathered they played cards, played checkers, and told stories over and over again. If a pal brought along a guest, Bishop was ready with his favorite story.

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White Boy, Indian Brave Charlie Two-Tents
Tom Sheehan

I was Christopher Happs (white) when I was born and Charlie Two-Tents (Indian) now, this day, as I am about to be hanged. Life for me, as will be evident, was always hanging in the balance. Looking back on it now, from this late circumstance, that life turned on more accidents in one man’s existence than the mind can apprehend fully. Accidents are the unaccounted moments and deeds, some in tandem and some in their singular overtures, where lives, not just a life, in this case being my own, are involved.

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The Boy from Boston
Tom Sheehan

With fifty dollars in his pocket and a newspaper tucked under his arm, Schuyler Bowdry, known locally in Boston and other Commonwealth cities as “Sky,” boarded the stage heading west from the town of Worcester where he said goodbye to his grandfather. He was glad to leave the area, as he hated fog that crawled in from the Atlantic, sat like moss on everything in sight, not just the north side of trees. He’d always wanted a clear sky over him, either on a sunny day or a star-lit or moon-lit night, which he never got with the fog, and ground under his feet. For too long he had dreamed about a horse being under him, over hill, over dale, over miles of wild grass.

And out west, people still pushing toward the Pacific against all kinds of odds, where wild horses roamed the land in large numbers, he heard they’d rarely have fog between him and that Pacific Ocean. He took that fact on faith.

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Brace Danby, Pony Rider
Tom Sheehan

It was June of 1861, turmoil running across the land all the way from the big-citied East. Not far from Hayes Jackson’s Bar-B-Bell ranch in a northern corner of Colorado, a rider on a galloping pinto came up out of wadi and headed down the worn trail leading to the town of Broken Eye. One of Jackson’s cowpokes, 16-year old Brace Danby, saw the rider tottering in the saddle. From the same way came two other riders firing at the pinto rider. When Danby rode into their sight, the two men opened fire at him. He dropped off his horse with rifle in hand, an experienced hunter and marksman, and dropped one man right out of the saddle. When he hit the horse of the second man, the man leaped off the horse before it fell to the ground and ran into a wooden tract. The young cowpoke chased the supposed bandit with a shot at his feet before he disappeared.

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Bad-Boy Goode
Tom Sheehan

Out of East Texas, from a ranch as small as a postage stamp, a ranch that sent forth one of Texas’ great law officers, Marshall Pat Goode, came his brother, just as notorious but on the other side of the badge, Bad-Boy Goode.

If their mother had lived past their childhood years, she would have kept shaking her head. As it was, their father, Duval Goode, steady as a year-round stream, dogged as a stump, must still be thrashing under grass about the differences in his boys, trying to figure out what day in the lives of the three of them had made the separation … if there was such a day. He always believed there was, a day of an accident, a day that could be laid at the feet of another person or power, a day where a single act pulled his sons apart.

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Dog Bone for the Bounty Hunter
Tom Sheehan

His father’s past had holes in it, questions, great open areas, but his mother had always said, “Shush now. Shush. He’ll be back soon’s the job’s done he went to do. It may be a while. We’ll keep busy doin’ what needs be done.” She had soft eyes and leathery skin that the sun no longer bothered.

With her hand shielding her eyes, she followed the slimmest shadow of her husband, Burt Steggins, going over the last rise out on the grass. Every time he went off she made the same moves, loved the shadow she saw, knowing it was part of her man.

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Packer and Son
Tom Sheehan

Outside Kamlock Falls, at least six miles from town and down river, early in the morning, a small ranch home was about to be invaded by three riders who were wearing masks. They had fired on the ranch house and demanded that any gold and money in the house be put out on the front steps or the house would be invaded and burnt to the ground. Inside was an old man and his wife and he said to her, “It’s all for Chester. Nobody gets it but him. Do you agree, Mary?”

“Yes, Walter,” she said, “and he knows where it’s hid.” Her arm circled the waist of her husband. “It’s all right, Walter. Perfectly all right.”

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The Trial of Bonner James
Tom Sheehan

The jury was sitting against the wall of Big Mike’s Saloon in Oak Grove, in an assortment of chairs. The sheriff, Dolph Bernais, sat at a poker table drawn up for the trial, and the accused, a young, good-looking man by the name of Bonner James sat relaxed beside the sheriff. Donner smiled at the judge who said to himself, “I hope he’s not guilty, he looks so much like my nephew Harry, a special boy to say the least.”

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The Neckstretcher
Tom Sheehan

He answered to the name of Grubb; no first name, just the last name. If he was needed for his specialty, a telegraph wire would go out to a dozen towns making the request public all the way. The wire would be talked about in every saloon, barbershop, freighter’s site, stagecoach station, ladies parlor, campfire or branding session. It would read something like, “A verdict in Bent River needs fixing.” Most often the wire message was initially pinned to a sheriff’s office or the telegrapher’s office, from where the word spun off with fact or conjecture. All the wire meant was the hangman was wanted to drop a man who had been convicted of a hanging crime, a hangman called The Neckstretcher.

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Two Fathoms Down
Tom Sheehan

“Though curious, be you kind to yourself, and leave here now, lest you ….”

Anton Chalkov thought he chased only a dream out of Siberia, a dream and nothing more. He boated across the Bering Strait, with divine intervention on few occasions, and into Alaskan waters. Once ashore in Alaska it was obvious he had not gone far enough and set out, overland for a portion of his journey and then back on coastal waters in the company of fishermen, for the New World of America. All this travel in pursuit of the dream. The dogs, he bought for the overland portions of his trip, were masterful, they too having good blood in them, born for the snow and the task. The dogs got him all the way through a few of Canada’s territories, before he swapped them for one horse in Montana territory of America, where he had been headed all the time.

He’d been a Cossack, now he wanted to be a cowboy.

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A Shadowed Amulet
Tom Sheehan

Garcy Pewter, owner of the small Box B spread, squeezed himself into a ball, pulled his legs up as tight as he could, and held his breath. He could smell the moisture on his body. If the Indians with their keen sense of smell found him, he didn’t know how long he’d last. “They have ways,” he kept hearing from all the old timers of the area, and they always raised their eyebrows when they made that statement. He was on a ledge under an overhang in the canyon. His horse was dead on the floor of the canyon after the fall, ready to feed whatever animals fed on dead horsemeat. The bullet had missed him by inches, but the horse was not so lucky. When the old gray went down, Pewter was hanging on to the reins, and was able to swing inward and land on the ledge. The horse kept going. Pewter never heard him hit the bottom.

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The Horse Keeper
Tom Sheehan

Jake Caylen came into a strange town, Crossed Roads, not in a saddle, not on a horse, not walking in boots, and not wearing much of anything. He kept muttering, “I’m cold, mean, thirsty, hungry and mad as hell.”

There had been a kick and a punch and a knock on the back of his head. He remembered that much. On his forehead and down the side of his face, into three months of beard growth, he could feel how the blood had dried and hardened on his skin. At odd moments he could swear the blood had become so stiff he could peel it off, but was afraid it would start flowing again. Half his face felt like it was cast in a mold.

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Freighter’s Holiday
Tom Sheehan

They were paired up for six years in a freighter’s seat, content with each other’s attitude and contribution, survivors of scams, battles, life’s threats on their persons by a scattering of road agents, brigands and renegades of different orders. Harry Molson and Gobi Manfred were partners in the Molson & Manfred Movers, which became known as The 3 Ems across the territory. The team sported four of the biggest, grandest, handsomest Percheron horses in the whole land. The two freighters had done well in their time, but they realized the railroad, in many growing branches and lines, was chasing them clear across the territory and would one day boost them right out of place.

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Incident at Devil’s Claw
Tom Sheehan

A friendly freighter passing by the ranch told Trace Gibson to expect his brother Turner in town Friday week. Turner had gone off a few years earlier after a stupid family argument. Trace missed him a great deal.

Waiting for Turner a whole day in Devil’s Claw, Trace had ridden out to greet him in the tail part of the day and found him dead. Turner, as life made its demands on a 20-year older, had been cut down by a bushwhacker or by someone he knew who got close enough to kill him. It was no gunfight to end gunfights. Go figure, Trace thought.

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The Howling Beast of Catlo County
Tom Sheehan

The moon slipped behind a cloud black as a bat. It was midnight and a breath of air, cool as a deep hole, swept downhill from the mountain range above Chandler Springs. At the darkest part of the night, at the very stroke of midnight, the cry of some malevolent beast broke free of the mountains and came down over the prairie and all the nearby ranches the way a rampant disease might come. Any ranch hand still awake, whether in the bunk house or out on the grass, curled in his blanket and shook in his bones. None of the listeners had ever heard such sounds before, not in Chandler Springs, not near it.

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No-Hugs Calhoun
Tom Sheehan

Calhoun, the road agent, brigand, robber, any of those obscene names you could throw at a man, and which often were publicly received by him, for starters wouldn’t hug anybody. As it turned out he wouldn’t hug his mother on her death bed. That aversion also went for the two sons he fathered and a daughter that could have been the light of his life, never mind the woman who brought those children into the world. She was no quitter on loves’ sake, just as her husband, No-Hugs Calhoun, carried on in his horrible life of not knowing a person close enough to hug.

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The Start of Hansen’s Beer, Best in the West
Tom Sheehan

Michael Delahanty Hansen, scrounger, miner, laborer, dreamer, had taken his wagon and team off the dusty road for a meal break and a decent night’s sleep. It had been a long tough journey for him and the team. In a thickly wooded area he found an old campsite and unhitched his team from the wagon, gave them water, and tied them to a line near the fire. He’d let no preying animal near them. He went to sleep in the bed of the empty wagon, under a few blankets. His whole load had been delivered, as stated by the freight agent, to Hattie Comersford at her ranch and he was on his way back to Crossed Roads, deadheading or empty, to find another load.

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The Teller at Waco Grand Bank
Tom Sheehan

At one minute before 8:00 o’clock on a Monday morning in April, Jasper Wills opened the front door of the Waco Grand Bank, not off by a minute from all his mornings for almost a year, since Mr. Powell gave him his own key and his new assignment. In that time Wills married Powell’s daughter Samantha, had a son he called Lawrence, and built a new house on a piece of land just on the edge of town. That piece of land had been held by Powell since he had bought it almost 20 years earlier.

Both men were looking down the sunny trail.

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High Stakes Teacher
Tom Sheehan

The six-foot tall man stepped down from the Brazos Stage and stood in the dust of the road that cut right through the town of Molten Meadows, a town barely five years old. Dust clung to his boots and pants legs, and continued to swirl about him. Not more than 30 feet away, at the door of his small jail, a rather small wooden structure with one side of it formed by the livery in a mark of economics and labor shortcomings, Sheriff Carl Oberlin noted the tall, athletic-looking arrival. Despite the collection of dust working about the man, he did look like a teacher. Oberlin was pleased at the arrival and thought about the search that had brought the new teacher to town, the word having been sent up and down the line by whichever way was available, rider or driver or stagecoach passenger.

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Part Sioux, Part Soldier
Tom Sheehan

Arizona Tyle, rancher along the Squash River, rode into Fort Sunbury screaming that his wife Olive had been taken by Indians while he was chasing down loose horses up along the river. His two ranch hands had been driving a small herd of cows down the river to meet up with other stock.

“She was only alone for a few hours,” he said to the captain, “Everything’s been quiet for months. No sign of any Indians. I tried to trail them, but when they crossed the river, I lost them. I could be looking for them all day, so I thought I better come in here and get some help.”

Captain Harry Mason saw how distraught Tyle was, and feared for the safety of his wife.

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Biography of a Cowboy
(or The Nevada Nuisance)
Tom Sheehan

At two minutes past midnight of October 13, 1858, in the back of a Conestoga wagon en route to western plains, to an Indian maiden was born a son. His father, a dreamer of wide expanse, named him Colin Hardy Cosgrove, Jr. His mother, Full Wing Up, named him Dark Horizon, part Irish boy, part Sioux warrior, who was bound to find his way in the darkness.

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A Soldier’s Legacy
Tom Sheehan

The rider sat awkwardly in the saddle as he came onto the Benedict Road, his horse moving as though he was hobbled. Clara Wilson, at the reins of the ranch wagon, her father flat in the back of the wagon after a visit to Doc Traverse in town, eased her own horse to a halt. The rider, in a gray sombrero, black vest and faded gray shirt, did not notice her approach. Clara had a rifle at hand, but did not reach for it. As ever she was ready for surprises, recalling at that instant her grandmother saying happiness and sadness come in the strangest shapes and at the strangest times. She wondered if this was one of those times.

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The Mysterious Passenger
Tom Sheehan

The four road agents had come out of the trees at a bend in the road, rifles aimed at the driver and shotgun rider of the stagecoach. The driver pulled the coach to a halt, and then put his arms in the air. The other man in the driver’s box, the shotgun rider, put his rifle down and also raised his arms. None of the passengers offered any resistance, as they climbed down the carriage steps.

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Shooter in Buckskin
Tom Sheehan

Stories are still told in the mountains of Utah, Wyoming and Colorado and in many ranges that connect with high outposts, how the shooter in buckskin always came out ahead in shooting matches. He’d show up on the day of a shoot, nobody knowing how he found out, and drop his gear at the shooting site and wait for things to get going.

The man, dressed head to toe in buckskin, answered to any and all names, as if saying he was all of them, at least to those speaking to him. Most people, wanting for his real name, just called him Buckskin.

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The Ghost Riders of Calico County
Tom Sheehan

A trail of dust swirled out behind her as a young girl came galloping into Wells Springs on a Sunday afternoon. People on the outskirts of town heard her screams coming from the prairie before they even saw her, and she went right past all of them to the Marshal’s Office in the center of town.

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The Texas Legend Makers
Tom Sheehan

Up from Texas they came, a whole railroad carload of experienced deputies and posse men, with their horses, to chase down a most dangerous gang of killers in the “Four Corners” of the country where Colorado bordered the territories of New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. The war was over for a dozen years, but in places like Durango and Cortez and Teec Nos Pos and Littlefield, the war had not stopped, and no signs been seen that it would end soon. It was 1877 and the day started with sunshine and ended with a raid on the train by a gang of outlaws who were banished by heavier gunfire than they had ever seen. The response was deemed by the gang leader as “military, organized, knowing what they’re up to. We got our hands full,” he might have said to his gang.

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The Texas Shadow
(or the Hoodlum Hill Hideout)
Tom Sheehan

Every person in the area around Pecos, and west of the river, knew that a gang of robbers and brigands and desperadoes always retreated to their hideout somewhere in the West Texas high ground after their escapades. The hideout was up there in a region of lost hills, missing men, and trails that disappeared too hurriedly in mazes of rocks, landslide debris, and toppled cliffs. The gang had robbed and ravaged many people of the territory between the Pecos and the Rio Grande Rivers. Residents were most apt to call the hideout Hoodlum Hill because this gang had little pity for their victims. Some people even said it was as if the gang was out to wreak revenge and vengeance on the whole population on the west side of the Pecos River.

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Posting to Oregon
Tom Sheehan

The rope was around his neck, his hands were tied behind his back, the crowd in front of him was as quiet as a rabbit in his tracks, everybody holding their breath, and the hangman was standing by. Out beyond them he saw a swirl of dust on the road coming into town. It was a single rider, he decided, out and about on his day, and he wondered what that day would be like for that rider.

He was pretty sure what his was like.

The crowd shuffled around, making little noise, waiting for the end of a dreaded killer’s life, the notorious Will Burke whose story ran ahead of him everywhere he went, from Texas up to Montana and here in Oregon.

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A Saddle in the Desert
Tom Sheehan

He was in the sparse land between shifting sands of the great desert and the last tree bearing green when he saw the vultures descending from their high flight. Breward Chandler, “Brew” to friends back in the mountains where breathing was much easier than here in the midst of little life, sat bareback on an Indian pony he had freed from a natural corral behind a blow-down. Chandler had learned that the horse would obey pulls on his mane and in this manner he had escaped from sure capture by heading into the desert, with his pistols loaded and a lariat and a canteen he had grabbed on the run. He was not sure who was after him, either renegade Indians or renegade whites out for the kill, looking for guns, clothes, saddles, anything for free. He was hoping that they’d measure the little he might have against the rigors of a chase in the desert. Perhaps, he also hoped, they were smarter than he thought they were.

The canteen was almost empty and water had to be found.

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A Fulsome Moon for Abby Newt
Tom Sheehan

Her father, Adolph Newt, told her that when she was due to be born she was going to be either Andrew or Abigail. So Abigail Newt became Abby Newt in one big hurry, and stayed Abby Newt right up through her 18th birthday, for that’s the day she married Tom Chisholm of the San Antonio, Texas Chisholms.

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Roscoe Drummond to the Rescue
Tom Sheehan

His name was Roscoe Drummond, a rugged, quick-spirited veteran of the Great War that lay in shambles at his feet as he prepared to take off his uniform. The sounds of war had almost disappeared from the air about him, though he had been wounded twice on the very last day of the war. Blood now crusted on his uniform as he sprawled in the hay of a barn, ready to don some clothes he had already stripped from a clothesline when the second stray round hit him. The shot had been meant for the man who was now stretched out in the barnyard. The dead man’s pleas had not been heeded by his killers, their thinking the war would go on forever, as if war was their due, war was their passion.

All of it was a sign, he believed, a sign that would send him on a mission for the remainder of his life.

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Empty Saddle at Dawn
Tom Sheehan

Some days, Sally Purcell knew, the sun wouldn’t come up. This was one of those days. Her husband Clint was a week overdue, more or less, and she could hardly stand the worry. The small amount of money he was carrying did not seem to be an attractive gain for robbers in her mind, but how would they know the difference. Word across the range said that at least three small gangs were responsible for many thefts and robberies. And Clint Purcell, man of men, would protect all his goods, small or large, against any foe or thief. Since the first day she met him, at the dance in Jeff and Wilma Calgary’s new barn, she knew what he was made of. Five years of marriage, hard work, cutting a home and a ranch into the wide open spaces of the Shag River Range, had not changed her first impressions of him or her knowledge of him.

The loan from his cousin would take care of the ranch mortgage for the foreseeable future, but any dent in it would hurt them.

The weight of this thought would fill her mind as she tried to work her way through the day: watching little Greg, baking, sewing, feeding the animals, brushing down the horses, being her ranch-wife best. Just as she had done through the past six days of worry. The pain of worry was genuine; the expectations almost as real.

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Yuma Tranquility
Tom Sheehan

“Nothing’s out there, boys, as far as you can see or ride in three days,” said the jail keep of Yuma Territorial Prison as he locked the first iron gate behind Paulson and Newberry, convicted of robbing three banks in the territory, killing one teller, and another robbery, a botched one, in which two customers did not live past sundown.

Their short saga at robbery was known far and wide in the territory, and their trial was meat and potatoes for local papers all the way to St. Louis and Chicago. The two men could not cast more difference in their appearances than what came to the jail keep’s eyes right from the first. Hubie Newberry, meek and mild looking, with an innocence locked into his eyes, was a stark contrast to an up-and-at-‘em type of scoundrel everybody saw in Russ Paulson… but not harsh or mean or with a killer instinct.

They had loudly protested their innocence before and after their trial, which was completed in short order.

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A Shivaree for Goldilocks
Tom Sheehan

Two mountain men, Berle Pauper and Smudge Henry, seeking pelts of any kind, found the baby girl at the tail end of a narrow canyon, her cries bouncing off the palisades of stone. The men were heavily covered even for a summer day as if they wore sleeping covers for the coming night. They evoked an aroma that was known by mountain animals of all kinds, and saloon patrons upon their immediate entry, which was about two times a year. Their sight was as good as it can get, their hearing without flaw and they could tell an animal solely by smell on the trail. That included town people before they came into sight.

“What the hell is that? Smudge Henry initially said, as he drew his mule to a stop. “Sounds like a baby, and just around the bend of the canyon. It’s got to be deeper in there. Let’s go.”

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Bugle Calls from Graves Hill
Tom Sheehan

“Mommy,” 4-year old Billy Baird yelled at midnight for the third night in a row. “I heard the horn again.” An August night hung its heaviness over the ranch house, between mountains in Utah.

Billy’s father Hal rolled over in bed and said, “Hannah, will you get him squared away. I did it last night, but I have corral work all day tomorrow. Would you please?” He patted her on the backside and rolled back where he had been sound asleep, and was soon gone that way again.

Hannah Baird had a blanket wrapped around her as she went to the little room where Billy was whimpering again about hearing horns in the night. It was the third night of hearing the horns and the boy was still restless, she thought.

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Boot Hill Legacy
Tom Sheehan

Byron “Legs” Mackler told everybody when he was about thirteen years old that he would be buried in Boot Hill just outside Sawchuck, Nevada with no mourners hanging around the edges of the hole in the ground. “That’s because I’ll be the worst dude around, meaner ‘n’ hell ‘n’ whatever ‘n’ that’s how folks’ll pay me back for what I’m gonna be …plain mean ‘n’ ornery.”

The words had come out in a hurry, run up the way he wanted them.

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Falcon Eddie
Tom Sheehan

The two men had stepped from behind the barn with guns drawn and aimed at the family of cowman Jiggs Marion, sitting on the porch of their ranch house. Marion sat beside his wife Merle and their daughter Alva and son Eddie sat on the steps. Alva was nine years old and Eddie was soon to be fourteen.

The men were hatless, wore no gun belts, and blood was evident on the shirts of both men, looking as if they had escaped from prison somewhere in the territory and had a bad run of it.

“Don’t move,” one man said. “All we want is some food and a couple of horses. We won’t hurt anybody if you just do as we say. No tricks. No going for your guns.” He was pointing at Marion’s side arms. “Throw them down, mister. We won’t hurt anybody.”

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The Legend of Bear-with-Wings, Kiowa
Tom Sheehan

A lone rider, Parker Cartbridge, on his way home from visiting a comrade wounded during the Civil War that ended three years earlier, came up out of a wadi and saw the column of smoke far down the river. The smoke rose almost arrow-straight, not an extra breath of air to be known coming down from the mountain or across the river. He closed down on the source, riding in an easy manner, alert, his horse Big Jip enjoying the leisurely moves. Rugged as stone in his features, Cartbridge was broad at the brows that were thick as maize, alert of eyes and ears with slight movements of his head, and sat the saddle as if he was born in it. His alertness on the trail was a sign of the times; readiness was the first requirement, and demand, of any man on the move. Brigands and road agents and renegades had been around for a long time, but in this part of Wyoming they had thinned out in recent years, as well as Indian surprises.

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Doc Hannah Goes to Town
Tom Sheehan

The small sign, hardly visible from the road, said, “Wm. Hannah, MD.” It was hand-painted, almost saying so by the quality of the script, loose, off-hand, all things tolerable. And Doc didn’t wear a tie, never wore a suit, wanted nothing ornate in a life that touched life and death, sometimes in turn. The only doctor “near to town” was thirty-five on his next birthday, unmarried, “as good looking as a man can get,” one woman had said in Caliper, Texas, a mile or so down the road. He was a born Texan, sent east by his parents to discover new things on the horizon, found doctoring, came back to settle about 100 miles from home.

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Doc Hannah’s Honeymoon
Tom Sheehan

The marriage of Beth Neville and Doc Hannah had taken place, guests and the balance of the wedding party had departed a few hours earlier from Doc’s house outside Caliper, Texas, and night, darkness and ultimate romance fostered in the mix. Beth was in the bedroom changing for comfort and Doc Hannah was cleaning up a few odds and ends left over in the kitchen. The clatter at the porch threw everything out of kilter and the door was thrown wide open.

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The Kidskin Killer
Tom Sheehan

He was standing at the edge of the ravine on the great river, the late morning sun beating at him stiff as arrows. The strange call had come out of the ravine, the way panic might sound with a voice. Austin “Boots” Mallory, a mountain man by choice, had never heard the sound before. In his kidskin outfit, rabbit fur hat, and his hand-tooled kidskin boots that spawned his nickname, he thought he had heard all that nature could offer.

Locked in that thought, he came aware of another sound, from his backside. When he spun around, alarmed, the sun catching his eyes, the force of an object hit him in the chest. In one move, he fell and rolled over the edge.

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Fast-draw Hickey
Tom Sheehan

When the Quantrill Raiders left Bob’s Village ablaze near Sherman, Texas in 1864, the only person left alive was a 14-year old boy who was working in a neighbor’s well. He stayed in place, just above the water line, for almost four hours as the raiders killed all the inhabitants, young and old. He heard the voice of the leader (later declared as William Quantrill) giving orders to destroy everybody and everything. The smell of smoke and burning flesh descended to his hideaway during the four-hours.

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The Mystery of the Grafton Stagecoach
Hold-ups

(or The Whipping Bandit of the Road)
Tom Sheehan

For a dozen years, from the time she was eleven years old, a girl carried the solution to the mysterious hold-up of the Grafton Stagecoach headed to Abilene back in August of 1867. She kept it to herself because she didn’t know what to do with it. The girl’s name was Madeline Coombs. She was a bit slow in most things, mute for much of her life, though she had a magical eye for graphic images. She was in the company of her aunt Sophia Coombs who was taking her home in the stagecoach after her father and mother died in a runaway wagon crash.

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The Stomping on Boot Hill
Tom Sheehan

Some members in my family think this is a love story before it’s a cowboy story. William Andrew Dickersby, called by all as Wadi, handsome as a new arrow or a new saddle, was a lonely young man working on his father’s ranch. He was 18 and never dated, never danced with a girl, spending all his time learning about the animals on the ranch, and he knew just about everything his father knew. And then, the way it sometimes happens in a story, a niece came to live on the neighboring Pumphrey ranch, the Ox-Bar-X. Her name was Winifred Alice Pumphrey who could sit a horse prettier than the sunrise on the prairie, or a prairie flower high in blossom. She answered to Winnie with a smile each time, and with each smile woke young Wadi Dickersby from a youthful slumber.

He was never the same after that rousing.

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The Battle at Ford’s Creek
Tom Sheehan

Many Quigley descendents still live in Nevada, and when they gather the stories abound about the old days and the Quigley place in local legends as well as across the globe.

We know this; that the Quigley history in Nevada began in 1864: Graham Quigley, Australian by birth, shanghaied aboard a clipper ship through the ruses of a siren of sorts, managed to jump ship off California and swim five miles to freedom. His sole theft once ashore was a horse, with a saddle in place, which took him away from the sea after a year of torturous work for an evil captain. His one great desire thereafter was to avoid evil men. But, as fate make demands and presents choices, he ended up in Ford’s Creek, Nevada, a small and newer town not with a shortage of evil men pursuing mining and cattle riches, preferably by illegitimate means.

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Sunset Duel by Demand
Tom Sheehan

Shy, still-slim, handsome as a new coin, Davie Gantrill, just turned 16 by a week but trail-wise all the way, heard the warning while he was trying on a pair of pants behind a curtain in Slade’s General Store in the Texas town of Torn Creek. He pictured one of Clint Caswell’s crowd shooting his mouth off the way they usually did, bullies punching out demands at will, the bunch of them squeezing the town almost to its knees in little more than a year. He also pictured old man Slade taking himself across the store so as not to be in hearing range of what was being said. It was, Gantrill decided, a move to protect himself and his family. “Nothing heard, nothing to admit,” he summed up silently, as he noted the pants fitting him the way he liked. Tricia Reagan, he brought back in his mind, like a signal had been flashed, he’d caught looking at him recently with a funny look in her eyes, yet staying pretty as a prairie flower in June.

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Revenge of a Lonesome Lady
Tom Sheehan

Each day was as bleak and as lonely as the previous days to Mary Pearl Scott, rancher’s daughter and a Texas beauty of the first order. No matter where she turned a vision of her once-promised husband appeared, in a shadow, beneath a tree, at the far end of a fence line he might have been recently working on. Clyde Bennett, son of her father’s best friend, had been gut shot at a line cabin just a week before their wedding was to take place. Rio Lobo had been gearing up for the biggest event in years.

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Jeremy Slade’s Trip to Oblivion
Tom Sheehan

Never had the search for his father seemed so impossible, so calamitous. It was supposed to be a long search, he always believed, but also a fruitful one full of contemplation of what the end would be like, his getting hugged for the first time in more than a dozen years by a soldier missing since the great war a dozen years earlier. Many times he felt that hug, the power of a loving squeeze, the worldly smell of a man surrounding him and his joy.

It would be worth it all.

But now!

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Great Sky
Tom Sheehan

Nothing showed as splendid and wide as the sky he slept under every night, counting stars, watching the moon develop anew every time out, listening to the ballad and chorus of wolves and coyotes. To him they seemed to enjoy the same grandeur that grabbed him by his boot straps while he dreamed of home beside the river back in Kentucky. Tim Hotchkins, now and then, slept the grandest sleep imaginable. Yet that sleep was full of images, scenes and faces from the past as he moved on his long journey across the middle of America. The one face that stayed the longest, and truest, was his mother’s. The Great God above had touched her with a grace he found nowhere else on his journey.

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Posse for the Taking
Tom Sheehan

The wind was fierce. The desert was an animal. The riders of the posse had slowed because of heat, sand like sandpaper on the fly, rough going for horses in the random sandy soil, a full day away from Bison Springs and the few cool spots it offered to a man with a dry throat and a hot brow. All of it went along with the general feeling of ill spirit that grabs men not all in full agreement of a mission. Behind the posse, his eyes alert to every move, Chad Thornlick, part of a posse looking for his own father, reflected on the actions that had brought him to this point. The posse, as if in escape of the elements, had entered a canyon and out of the harsh wind the desert seemed to employ in its defense against intruders.

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The Cimarron Split
Tom Sheehan

In the wild west of our recent history, some days went without the great dangers and escapades we continually read about. Thoughtful decisions at specific times often cemented the future and deeded the past. Such is this story about a man of vision in the westward plunge, in America’s splurge into open spaces and unclaimed land. The pot at boil that was America continued its mixture, becoming what it would be by individual desire and hunger for a better life, and every now and then was reinforced by a collective decision that changed a trail, chose a road, set a marker.

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The Horseman of The Davidos
Tom Sheehan

Legends begin in strange settings with strange characters in strange times. This was such a story, in the shadows of The Davidos, where it began and where it ended on a very mysterious note.

And it was a time when the west was wild and wooly; sheep wars raged, stagecoaches and banks in small towns were objects of quick riches in the minds of scattered gangs, murder became commonplace in saloons at the drop of an ace of spades not fitting the deck, and out of the Davidos Mountain Range, in the Utah shadows, a black clad horseman, a single horseman, came off the rocky skyline and thwarted a series of holdups, robberies and thefts of all magnitudes. In a short time, the way legends move at breakneck speed, he became the dream of maids and maidens, the envy of sheriffs and marshals of the territory, and the figure young boys imagined when they looked down-range on their future.

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Jail Break at Bear Creek
Tom Sheehan

Not a soul in the whole west, including Bear Creek, where the desperado Cleve Hallows was jailed and waiting trial for numerous murders and robberies, had any idea of the man’s ingenuity and wiles. Hallows, for all intents and purposes, was ahead of his time and his capture this time was due to good old-fashioned luck on the part of Bear Creek’s sheriff who once operated on the other side of the law, “was saved,” and like a reformed drinker or smoker, could not stand to see any other bad man make good. It became his sole aim to make sure that development did not occur in his territory, in his town.

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Gregory Tolliver, Tascosa Gunsmith
Tom Sheehan

In his heart and mind, down in the core of his nerves, Tolliver knew momentum had started anew in Tascosa.

The newest stranger in a black hat and a vest matching its color and trim was riding into Tascosa on a magnificent black with one white sock. Only Tolliver the gunsmith took note of everything as he sat in front of his shop, the evening sun sloping on him and the rider, shadows getting long legs. It was said of Tolliver, settled in Tascosa for almost ten years, like a native son, that he had the eyes of a Pawnee scout and the fingers of a piano man. Those eyes measured the stranger on the big black, as his fingers twirled on the makings of his own smoke.

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Portrait of a Bushwhacker
Tom Sheehan

The bullet, from unknown source and direction, had penetrated his thigh, passed through a clutch of meat and muscle, ricocheted off a piece of saddle, and killed his horse. Ben Stovall and the roan were flat on the canyon floor of the Paley Range breakout to the Cross Box spread’s home grass. Rolling under an overhang, he knew help, if it ever chanced by, was an hour away. Serious doubts existed that any Cross Box rider had heard the gunshot.

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The Rousting at Circle Creek
Tom Sheehan

Hubey Danforth, a kid wrangler for the Jay-Bar-Jay, bloody as all hell, fell off his horse right in front of the bunkhouse, the August moon rays folding over him gentle as a blanket. It was three in the morning, a southwest breeze coming off the grass smoother than chewed leather. Hurt ran through him with abandon, touching every which way, perfecting the art of pain, triggering him aware of body parts he often paid little heed to … the back of his legs, the back of his shoulders, the hip line on his left side, his left elbow feeling yet the blows that had rained down on him.

He could have cried, but called, meekly, for help. “Amos,” he cried. “Amos.”

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The Game
By Tom Sheehan

The black trey fell on the table with the crack of a gunshot, directly across from young Hal Kirkness. His jaw dropped open. As suddenly, the door to the saloon creaked as a young cowpoke rushed to spread the word and night shadows as well as silence fell with velvet touch into the room. Unseen dust rose from the road that cut through the heart of Ben’s Retreat, a fast-growing cow town only a mile from the Snake River. On one bare horizon the moon, breaking the far mountain’s hold, leaped up swift as a candle in a back room. Coal smell crawled into the air from a train engine on a spur rail puffing little more than idleness. A few “railhead cowboys,” not prairie huggers, not real trail drivers, temporary hires from the same dusty road cutting the town in halves, had about finished the loading of cattle into slatted boxcars looking half a mile long. The wind, with the rise of the moon, shifted to the northwest, pulling the dust and the scent of the engine in tandem.

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The Ladies from Kitesville
Tom Sheehan

In a cave deep in the mountain range, past some circuitous canyons that seemed a maze of comings and goings without an exit at times, Myrna Williams, a rancher’s daughter of 17, was still under a blanket, hands trussed at her side, her ankles bound. Not hurt yet, not “bothered” either, she did not know who her captor was: had not seen him, not a glimpse; had not heard him, not a sound. She felt some consideration for him, though, after her abduction.

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The Miner’s Son
By Tom Sheehan

Few people in Gallop Springs, a plain old mining town along the Ridgely Range, realized it was Sunday. Sundays seemed to have no place in Gallop Springs where one rich mine had created the whole town, almost in an instant. And now the mayor was waiting the stage bringing the mine owner’s son to town, confirming the news that his father was dead in the mine, four days imploded, four days dead, no known survivors of the mine’s collapse.

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Little Man, Big Gun
By Tom Sheehan

He was checking the canyon for stray cattle yet to be rounded up from a stampede, when a single shot tore the Stetson off his head. It damned well hurt and he expected to see a lot of blood. Bigelow, hitting the ground in a roll, was glad he was short, glad he was just barely five feet tall, glad he was still alive. The bullet had creased his scalp. Blood flow was minimal, but if he was an inch taller he’d be an inch dead. Nothing moved out and beyond him in the passage of the canyon, tight as a stall, in the Bear Mountain area. For long minutes, waiting another shot, he stayed prone and still on the ground. The bushwhacker, he realized, would not show himself, telling Bigelow it was likely someone he knew, not just a down-to-earth coward looking for a horse or another saddle.

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Revelations 1, 2 and 3
By Tom Sheehan

John Grocker, minister of the Anywhere Church of God, clad in a dark suit and bow tie, black hat, and riding the biggest, blackest horse in all of Arizona, rode up to the Yuma Territorial Prison to visit the first female prisoner ever locked in one of Yuma’s cells. From which there was only one escape in the history of the prison, at least to his knowledge.

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Music Slow Enough for Dancing
By Tom Sheehan

Clutch Maynard, still saddle-worthy though he had too much to drink, heard the music coming from Saddler’s barn, where the dance bounced against the walls, shaking Wells’ Ford to the joists. The fiddles, enough for an army, set his feet moving in the stirrups in an odd rhythm. He didn’t care how drunk he might be, he was going dancing. “A bit of dancin’ s what I need now,” he said, knowing his horse understood every word out of his mouth. “I been too far, Big Jack, doin’ too much, seein’ one side of hell, not to have a piece of music for my own, slow down and lazy like I’m hearin’ right now.”

The buzz in his head was telling him to hold his mouth when he got inside. No need to let the whole town hear what happened.

They’d know soon enough, what he had come across, what had happened at the Bar J.

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A Rescued Boy
Tom Sheehan

She was right, and pleading, when she said, “The storm is coming. We can’t get out of here, not all of us. Take my boy with you. You have the only horse. Our horse broke his leg and we had to kill him, and then we ate a lot of him. Four of us can’t make it on one horse, and my husband’s sicker than I thought.” She nodded at him, bundled in old rags, a heavy jacket and blanket parts, a sicker man I had not seen since the war. With cheekbones like two rocks on the trail, his eyes had stayed shut for more than two hours as she argued with me, finally winning her way. “Take the boy,” she said again, “and give him some kind of life. Don’t let him be vagabonds like us.”

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Hostage on Horseback
By Tom Sheehan

In a gift from providence or, the least of chance, from someone’s carelessness, Cody Burrill had found a coiled lasso hanging on a small rock, as if it had all been planned, which he wouldn’t believe in a hundred years. He found himself in a steep canyon as narrow as a rifle bore. As a cowboy, married to the plains and herds, rope and leather were his world, and now and then a shirt of denim, or, if his luck was better, some finery of lace once touched never letting go. Fabric held sway for cowboys, getting to town or just leaving town, no matter what the situation. And his situation was, or had been, as close to final as it might get. The coil of rope gave him hope.

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The New Balkan Empire
By Tom Sheehan

The show-down came in the middle of Cross Corners, a small town that no longer exists in Texas, and a stray bullet from that face-off hit a lamp hanging lit in the livery. When wind whipped the resulting fire with a frenzy, coming in the open front door and out the back door, while the small gathering of townsmen and ranchers were watching Jerry Zambaza and Gus Luongon staring down each other. Zambaza had been ranching here for 25 years, from a country in far Europe, and Luongon was the shiftless son of a Zambaza contemporary.

The fire, with so much wind behind it, had too much headway to be beaten down before it consumed half a dozen buildings.

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The Legend of the Old Man of the West
By Tom Sheehan

At the Gila City Saloon that very night, hard-working, long-time rancher in the region Everett Jensen entered to laughter and glee and was hailed not as a new hero of the still wild west but as the wily old man he was.

“Hey, Everett, you old man of the west, how’d you figure on all that stuff today?” said one man at the bar, nodding his head in a salute and, with a broad grin on his face, offering up a glass of whiskey.

Jensen sipped the offered drink. “Well, Harry, you don’t hang around out here for 50 years and not learn something. If it looks like you’re not learning anything, better move on to someplace else. And you better not take 50 years to learn that much because you won’t last that long in the first place.” Jensen showed his run at age with his gray hair that twirled over his ears, the long years of saddle-riding and sun-beating on his face, and a slight infirmity just now touching his left knee, a long-ago throw from horseback. But his blue eyes had not lost a second of clarity, or powers of observation.

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The Vigil at Coffin Corners
By Tom Sheehan

His name was Clint Vaughan, closing on 20 years of age, working a small ranch outside of town that had been left to him by his parents, killed in an aborted robbery a good twelve years ago. An aunt had raised him on the ranch until she had died a year earlier. For those intervening dozen years, he had come into Coffin Corners every weekend and checked out every strange rider who entered the town. He thought he was discrete at these actions, but the word had long sifted around the town, and eventually found an avid listener in Sally Burroughs, who was a fairly new arrival in town. She was lively, lovely with golden tresses worn long and curly, inquisitive about people and “things” that were unsaid, and didn’t dodge much in the way of conversation, overheard or involved.

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Trouble on the Paper Trail
By Tom Sheehan

There was a reason why Wesley Helms had gotten into this current predicament, with the full weight of the load sitting squarely on his shoulders. It was more than his being a bright young man, but something intrinsically good about him touched those who knew him for even half a day. All the people at the settlement were depending on him. And here he was, at The Portage at the lower end of the Reece River, on the raft ready to cross the troubling waters, a gun stuck in his back, jammed in by an unknown character. Through the thin material of his shirt, he could feel the thrust of the barrel, the cold steel and the hot promise it carried. For a moment the danger caught his breath in place, though his mind worked as quickly as ever.

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Lament of a Lonely Cowboy
By Tom Sheehan

The “thing” on the skyline was still in place. And in four days at the line camp Jack Harbors had herded 57 loose cows into the small corral against the cliff face and he’d keep them there until the crew came this day, or tomorrow at the latest, to run them into the main herd. The boss, Harold Ledgewick, had told him, “Anything beyond 40 head is a small bonus, and anything less will be the subject of a discussion between me and you. That was always my least favorite job, out there alone, but it has to be done. You’ve got a shot at something good here, a little extra, because there’s always been some strange activity around that canyon and I need a good man to keep an eye out for me.”

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Will Halfloaf, the Bumbler
By Tom Sheehan

His name was Will Halfloaf and he was known by everybody in Craterville most simply as The Bumbler, or The Halfwit, or The Idiot. Tordlique the blacksmith, around for ages it seemed, said, “I saw the kid the day he came into town on that half dead mule he was riding, the pair of them as out of place as they could be. Nothing’s changed for Will the Bumbler since that day, take it from me. He was wearing these dang spurs, on a mule if you can imagine. They were more like leg irons on him, like they were dragging him down and the mule too. And him dressed like he stole his duds off half a dozen clothes lines or out of stolen luggage, they were so different, like he was never going to be himself, and that’s just about what it’s come to. I don’t think there’s two good slices in him, but he won’t hurt a fly, and that, my man, might get him into heaven. Not much else will.”

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Snake
By Tom Sheehan

The name stuck. It was that simple.

The slim, black-clad stranger was thereafter referred to as Snake. Not a soul in town used his real name, Thomas Pitchpen, once of Tennessee, but, for all that matter, the town of Asheville, Utah was looking for a killer, a hired gun if they could get him for free, to stand up to the sly, devious, and artful gun-hand who came to town every so often and often tore it apart with death at the end of a challenge. Mike Hankler, the swift gun hand, usually hunkered out up in the hills in an abandoned line shack. Nobody in Asheville seemed to know what else he was up to, except he killed often and in earnest, after cajoling and teasing a man into going for his gun.

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Last Stage From Crow's Hill
By Tom Sheehan

It all started when Gentleman John, a Comanchero of double mix, hot as his Mexican blood, cold as his Comanche stance, advised the mayor of Crow’s Hill that he would attack the town at noon the next day. “I will burn the town to the ground and take all the horses,” was written on a note in a decent and easily-read handwriting.

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The Legend of Blue Soldier Riding, Kiowa
By Tom Sheehan

The High Chief of Clouds, he was sure, had sent the landslide, and vengeance was left to him and him alone. All the others were gone. Gray Dove was gone. One Wing was gone. Puma Path was gone. His best friend Eagle Claw and all the others were gone. For his own life, he said his thank you to The High Chief of Clouds, “Aahóow” it was said. In a soft chant deep in the cave, he sang his thanks repeatedly. But when he tried to chant “in the language” the names of those he had lost in the raid, they jumped around like hummingbirds and caught in his throat, threatening to choke him. “I will die with a hard memory,” sounded in his head, but strong Kiowa vengeance tossed it away like a feather from a nest, no more to be remembered.

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Plumbeck the Fiddler
By Tom Sheehan

Watching every move about the campfire, studying each face lit up by the flickering flames, the fiddler Sam Plumbeck idly held onto his instrument, waiting for the proper moment. Time, he could feel, was pressing down on him; it had different parts that moved in different ways. The stars all the way to the horizon dip were many and miraculous, the horses silent for the most part even though a coyote cry filtered in now and then, and the darkness beyond wrapped them like a giant robe spread under those stars. He had ridden in, apparently aimlessly to all the trail hands, and joined up with them on their way back to their ranch, the promise of music being hailed by all the hands who had delivered the herd, were through with the drive. He alone, out of all these trail hands who had hit the jackpot, knew what was coming down on them. Nothing is supposed to be perfect or fair; at least this side of heaven, or the mass of a blue sky, or the dash of sunlight on a rainy day. And he, just a picker of strings, with not a coin of the gold in the lot having his name on it, could only wait it all out, hoping for the best and only seeing the worst coming up.

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Cross on the Hill, Hawk in the Sky
By Tom Sheehan

Bang! And the masked bandit fired from the saddle just as Harry Bantry reached down on the stagecoach boot to grab his rifle. The driver, Jim Foster, tasted Harry Bantry’s blood as it spurted on his face; blood brothers forever was the first thought that hit him. A better brother he could not have chosen, but cold before he knew it. The only other memory of that sad day was the cry of the hawk as it rolled over on a thermal edge high above them, marking the place forever, that limitless and phantom space in the western sky. The sound stayed with Foster as if it was a monument of sorts, the cry as mournful as a late evening bugle call brought back from his 7th Cavalry days. He imagined the quivering lips of the bugler playing “Retreat.”

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The Shoshoni Sheriff
By Tom Sheehan

For a long time Jimmy Ditson nursed a deep desire to become sheriff of Sunquit. It sat in him like a tree had taken root, socked down deep, making way. Behind it was a love of the land that did not need to be nurtured: rather, providentially, that love had been in him since the beginning and that love continued to flourish. He was only 18 years old at election time but every knowledgeable person in Sunquit knew he was the best rider, the best roper and, most important, the best shooter in the whole Snake River region. He’d be the best sheriff, of course. Hadn’t he by himself faced up and beaten off five rustlers who wanted a piece of his father’s herd, had driven them clean across the valley and up along the river like a banshee was chasing them? Nobody ever heard from them again, the way stories eventually come back to their point of origin, the way crooks somehow have to come back to the scene of the crime.

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The Gentleman Banker from Calico Split
By Tom Sheehan

Calico Split, out in Wyoming territory, is less than a ghost town now, a few stone foundations of fireplaces or hearths might be found with arduous search, and not much is known of its people, neither the upstanding types that establish and characterize all such places, and others, like those who hung at the edges, dark caretakers of secrets and enmity and the great unknown, but Gentleman George Q. Piersoll hangs on in legend and stories.

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The Aztec Raiders
By Tom Sheehan

It was, all of them would agree later, as if they had passed through a sense of time. And few of their countrymen, and few occupants of the first saloon they’d go to to singe their thirst, would believe where they had been and what they had accomplished … gone deep into Mexico and brought home a chunk of the Aztec treasury, right out of one of Montezuma II’s formidable Holy Caissons dug for eternity. Where many historians attested to the grand structures the Aztecs had raised in the midst of jungles, Pappy Dyk, in his own right, knew about the secret caissons the Aztecs had dug and chiseled into Mother Earth herself. No one in Hidalgo but Pappy Dyk knew from what tribe he had come on the land, coming a whole year earlier to Hidalgo to plan the expedition, now coming back from Mexico.

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The Hangmen
By Tom Sheehan

Floyd Prescott, hardly able to sit the saddle, yelled out to his middle son Jasper, “Damn it, boy, is that your brother Joshua up there hanging by his neck?”

The world of Utah, life itself, had come to a standstill in the middle of the road passing through the center of Pembroke, a growing town that felt too frequently all kinds of muscle, mayhem and mischief. A man was hanging from the loading arm of the town livery stable, and the lynch mob was still gathered beneath its victim.

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An Incidence of Alliance
By Tom Sheehan

The Mogollons towered beside him for over three miles of trail when a cougar leaped from hiding. His horse reared, slipped and was tumbling. Noah Brittington fell off the edge of the trail, above Silver Creek, and went down into the mad current. He thought 16 years on this Earth was too short a lifetime for anybody to bear. If the good Lord was cheating him, what had he done for such a quick end, this simple run for gold?

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Fair Exchange
By Tom Sheehan

When Marshal Max Preshong walked into the biggest saloon in Waco, after being out on a posse for almost three days successfully chasing down a rustler and killer, a small man, not a cow man, slipped out the side door. Nobody saw him leave except Max Preshong. From outside the door for a short time he had noticed the man sitting alone at a corner table studying every man in the room, every new-comer, all the while playing make-believe with a deck of cards, waiting. Preshong was sure the man was waiting for him, waiting to scramble and tell someone that the marshal was back in town.

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The Dragoon's Adventure
By Tom Sheehan

The cowman Oliver Weddle sat his horse on a small hillock, looking out over his ranch, the grass running off to the hills, Texas itself stiffening his backbone as it always had. He tried again to count the help he’d need to get the ranch back in prime order after his return from the war, wishing that some of his command had come along with him when he separated from the service. They were good soldiers, good riders, and courageous and loyal to the duties; but had their own visions of search. Three foremen in a row had failed him and their mission, one or two of them he suspected had complicated issues on purpose. So glaring were the failures that they cost him a good deal of his money. Now he was contemplating what would happen if he did not get a good man for the job.

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Trouble in The Sycamores
By Tom Sheehan

The Sycamores, the whole awful mountain range of trouble and turmoil, were behind him, and trail signs of the bushwhacker, who tried to gun him down in near darkness, led Marshal Jonas Northcross out of The Sycamores and right to Calico Tail, a small and seemingly insignificant cowboy town near the Tongue River and the Bighorn Mountains in the high distance. The scarred bark of the trees that gave the region its name, sometimes growing in heavy groves, kept reminding the marshal of old men gathered in saloons wearing their hard years.

He had tracked alone, rode alone, and ate alone at the river’s edge or at the foot of escarpments and overhangs, no longer an easy target. He was as alert as his horse Birmingham, a big red and as powerful as they come. They were, he had long affirmed, a formidable pair. His mind had been made up; he would follow the coward until the end, taking it all personal, putting his badge in his shirt pocket, putting The Sycamore assignment to bed for the time being; someone wanted him out of there, out of the mix of actions. The actions seemed in concert.

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The Blue Trooper
By Tom Sheehan

The whole bizarre situation and all its facts have been buried under a ton of hush and red tape of one sort or another since the murder took place not long after the Civil War came to a halt; a cavalry trooper, a Bluecoat on his way to report to a new assignment at Fort X west of the Mississippi River, well west, was shot in his sleep in the haymow of the lone livery stable in a small town in the Arizona Territory. The trooper, Private First Class Josh Harding, was two days dead before three boys, playing hide ‘n’ seek, found his body and went screaming to the sheriff’s office.

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The Last Juror Standing
By Tom Sheehan

Harvey Walton, sixtyish, slightly bent, white beard as full as a good poke, was still wearing his outer coat, as the last juror in the last row in Elmer Gentil’s Saloon, though it was warmer inside than outside. But his attention had not been lost for one minute in the on-going trial of Karl Rickert, a young man he had known a few years here in Daw’s River. He fidgeted, squirmed and tormented himself with the nature, manner and intent of the murder trial. Everybody in the room had heard him gasp loudly several times at statements made by the sheriff, by one supposed witness (who was “nearby” when the commotion or crime was in progress), and even some legal folderol and ministrations tendered by the judge. And he knew everybody in the room but one big gent near the back wearing a Mexican-type sombrero and the sleazy looking fellow leaning on the bar as if he thought the bar would open in the middle of the trial.

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The Wagon Master
By Tom Sheehan

Stall Pillings, man of the world, had allowed it to happen; a woman had gotten under his skin, and the discoverable joy was his gain. Astride his horse, motionless, he stared into the high ground and wondered how it happened. Then another mysterious awareness took place; she had been as sly and as furtive as Indians and that thought brought him straight up in the saddle, to his full senses, on full alert.

It was at an abrupt realization where he found himself, and the real wagon master took over as he shucked off the woman in his mind.

But he didn’t throw her far.

He sat his horse on the skyline, a brazen silhouette to three braves sitting their ponies bareback, at the dip in a wadi, who uphill watched him with solemn curiosity. They were only 200 yards away.

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Max Braden, Trail Blazer, Bronc Buster
By Tom Sheehan

He first hired out as a drover when he was 14, mother and father dead just weeks from unknown causes, sister married off quickly to advantage, the small cabin and plot of ground his to sell to the first bidder. He took 50 dollars and ran to the first meal ticket he could find, a herder’s chuck wagon at a round-up in a canyon a few miles away, adventure calling him by name, escape as well. The cattle, at a standstill, filled his mind with their immensity, the long drive sitting in the field of his eyes.  On his cheek was a solid black birthmark he had fought over a dozen times. It was as big as a silver dollar and for a long time it was as ugly as dung. He managed the difference, control a natural dictate for him, given to him at birth and always well employed.

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The Gambler from Norcross, Wyoming
By Tom Sheehan

My grandfather Johnny Igoe said it was so. On many occasions, as we sat side by side listening to “The Lone Ranger” on the radio long before there was television, he told me about “The Gambler from Norcross,” out there in Wyoming, his perky pipe throwing off its Edgeworth aroma or, in darkness only lit by the radio dial, a single and momentary glow from that small briar as he puffed at it, a faint star pointing its location on the far horizon. Oh, how that little old man loved the Lone Ranger and the cowboy west of his youth. Those hours, on a dark porch or a dim room by firelight, were magic and mythic, framing so much around the two of us.

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Full Flight From Yuma
By Tom Sheehan

Crackbak Mellon-Mellon sang the song endlessly, “Ain’t No Jail Aholtin’ Me,” sang it, mouthed it, uttered it, yelled it, from one minute of the day to the next. For his five years in Yuma Territorial Prison the guards always knew where he was, in what disposition, secure in one cell or another, or laboring on a prison work detail. Prisoner #127 was known by the only name ever used by him, Crackbak Mellon-Mellon, but history had other versions that are worth unveiling if the man is to be known if not understood. Yuma Territorial Prison, as described by some Arizona folks in the know, was “200 miles of nothing between here ‘n’ there,” and about the driest and hottest place in the territory. He was 24 years old when he was brought to Yuma, the prison then just over a year old, and 29 when he escaped, in 1881.

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The Worst Bandit in the West
By Tom Sheehan

There was hell to pay out west. Clogner was an abomination. A curse. Evil itself. The ultimate danger on the loose. He’d shoot a dog if it made too much noise. Or a horse. And a good horse wouldn’t make any difference at all. The bankers wanted to shut down their banks, but they couldn’t. Posses didn’t want to get into the chase for him, but they had to. And sheriffs hoped that Ditch Clogner, the worst bandit in the west, the deadliest, the meanest, the craziest, would never come into their towns.

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Gun Hero Comes Clean
By Tom Sheehan

The territorial telegraphs hummed, the once-a-week presses rolled out their sheets one page at a time, and every saloon, barbershop, general store and bunkhouse in the reachable west called it, in varying degrees, “The Waco Walk,” “The Waco Walk-away,” “A Waco, Texas Treat,” or, as simply said as The Bridger Herald put it, “Jigger’s Out of Jail.” That issue of the Herald put all of Bridger, Nevada into a week-long party celebrating the escape of their hero.

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Covana From Wolf Hill
By Tom Sheehan

It was July of 1869, the day already beset by strange sights and signs, like human bones and animal bones found on the trail aside the hill flanking the wagon train, flesh long-gone to carrion seekers, long-bleached by the sun, and the howls of unseen wolves as if they were stalking each individual.

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The Badger
By Tom Sheehan

The man leaning on the bar that Marshal Clint Cogswell was after was not making the move with his right hand. But the second man on his right was slowly dropping his hand toward his holster. The move was in real slow motion, deceptive, almost hidden. Cogswell knew his badge, shining on his chest all the way from the state capital for nearly 25 years, had cowed a number of men over the years, but the fugitive’s pard was not of that breed. The marshal kept his eyes on his quarry. Those eyes were hazy and burning with two months of trail dust and a sun that often felt it was burning his face right through the brim of his Stetson. But he was aware of the last dip of hand of the fugitive’s apparent henchman.

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The Salt of Vatcher's Mine
By Tom Sheehan

Crusty Yancy “Yank” Palmer, “sixty if a day” he was always saying, was telling himself under his breath that a good dream never dies. He was riding down a long crest-line finger two days from Pikes Peak, looking for the site of the old Vatcher Mine. The continual awareness hit him that he was once again in a two-way discussion with a one-way mind. It made him snicker with small delight and his heart was keeping time with the excitement of the dream being uncovered again.

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The Bridle Couples
By Tom Sheehan
The Torson brothers, Jack and Chad the younger, part of the original posse pursuing the Clevold gang that robbed the Great Red Bank, had been split from the main party by rifle fire from atop Mercy Canyon. They dove in under the slightest cliff overhang after hiding their mounts in a small growth of trees. They had their rifles and enough ammunition to fight a decent sized gang, but only two days of water. This was their fourth posse in a row in only two months, because their part of Kansas was on fire, with brigands and desperadoes in every corner. They carried on the way their father would want them to; for fourteen years he had been a no-holds barred sheriff with a deep secret,

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The Jug at Chaco Canyon
By Tom Sheehan

For much of his youth and all of his adult life, 48-year-old Bart Tarpin had heard the music of the spheres, as his Uncle Charlie called it. And Charlie had told him, in a hearthside talk that “The ancient people who lived in the caves and cliff-side rooms of Chaco Canyon once conversed with the gods, and brought the holy music away with them, down to Earth. A gift it was, the most memorable of all gifts, humming with heaven itself.”

His eternal interest was aroused.

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The Kelly Green Colt
By Tom Sheehan


....The day that Bracko had come away from seeing the new colt at The Dublin, he went in haste, his stories suddenly fortified with the most mythical of his tales. It was something the Little People must have weaved for The Dublin, and he himself had seen the physical proof of it all… a stark, green-all-over colt, born to the mare Cavanish shipped all the way from Shaun Treacy’s birthplace in the old country.

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Deadeye Dolly Provident
By Tom Sheehan

She had carried the vision with her practically all her life, since she was a six-year older on a ranch in Copa Verdi, Texas, and in the sights of her rifle that vision brought itself back to life. Dolly Provident, her accurate eye set on the sights of the rifle, felt the first tear begin to crowd itself into being. The whole scene from the past terror spread across the back of her mind; she had been tending new kittens in a corner of the barn’s hayloft where they had been born, when she heard the argument first and then the shot. In a hurry she ran to the open loft load door and looked down and saw the stranger, tall, in a dark Stetson and a black shirt, standing over her father flat on the ground. The stranger reached down and took her father’s gun belt and then a fold of money from his pocket. He looked around, saw no one, remounted his horse, a big black stallion, and rode off as if hurry did not exist.

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The Osage Company Well
By Tom Sheehan

The young man’s name was Dante Aliberti. He came from Italy on an overcrowded boat on a chilly March day in 1879, and hit Ellis Island running. Grabbing a train heading west, he ended up in Missouri and on the very next day attached himself to a wagon train heading further into open land, putting himself out to hire for any kind of work, in the Promised Land or on the way there.  He could work with marble, limestone, wood, and knew the warp and set of good steel under heat. He could dig with a long handled spade as long as the sun lasted and on a few pronounced days might even feel the thriving and promise in a forked stick at water dousing.

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Lizard Mountain Waterhole
By Tom Sheehan

The sign was stuck in the ground on a stick, and read, in a rough hand not used to lettering, “Water 5 cents a canteen, or else.” What happened to look like a bullet was hair-pin drawn across the bottom of the sign. The first sight of anything civilized he had seen in weeks of trailing a murderous fugitive caught Pretend Hardy by surprise.

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Death Too Quick For a Hurry
By Tom Sheehan

Tova Van Dorn, known simply as Swede in his few days in town, with a rope around his neck for a murder he did not commit and without a merciful cover over his eyes, saw three men walk to the edge of the crowd, and yelled out, just before the hangman ran the horse out from under him, “The man I saw is back there in the crowd.” The rope shut off his voice, his wind, and his life as a broken bone slammed up into his brain.

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The Barber of Copa Verdi
By Tom Sheehan

Just after the break of dawn, a cool September morning, Stem Swensen rode into Copa Verdi with a near empty saddle bag, a rifle without ammo, and no change of clothes. He looked the part he announced, or announced the part he looked… on the skids, on the run, on the take if he could find an angel with gifts. Even with all that, some people of the town took notice when he entered Paulie’s Tonsorial Palace. His beard was, without doubt, a month’s worth of bush.

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Man With the Black Hearse
By Tom Sheehan

His new black suit was as shiny as his hearse back under the cover of the barn he had rented, but Alibert Pumphrey was on a strange errand as he entered the jail the morning of his arrival in town. The mayor had set up this visit with a young convicted murderer who was slated to be hanged at high noon the next day. The first thing that had touched Pumphrey, the new undertaker in town, was the scheduled time of the hanging. Noon was a cruel time to begin with, dragging half a day along with all the baggage the fairly new town of West Sentry might muster. It would be most tolerable, he thought, to hang a criminal at dawn. The schedule gave him a chance to talk to the prospective customer, his first one in a new location.

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Dead Pony Lookout
By Tom Sheehan

Darkly Armitage, astride Bullet, a magnificent stallion he had corralled himself when he was just 16 years old, sat atop Dead Pony Lookout, a two day ride from the Bar-B ranch where he earned his pay and keep these days, just a scad over his 20th birthday. Rustlers had been active for more than three months in many points of the territory and cautions were about. The marshal said he thought all the troubles were being done at the hands of different pieces of the same gang. Their timing was more than adequate to fluster posses and private searches, “coming,” like he said, “at opposite ends of the clock and the compass… morning here, night there; northerly here, southerly there.”  Darkly had been posted by Bar-B boss Devon Armstrong and his wife Barbara to a week long search for any signs of the gang.

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Jehrico's Tub
By Tom Sheehan

From the top of the ravine wall, in a remote canyon of the Drago Mountains, Jehrico Taxico spotted an old wagon on the canyon floor, hundreds of feet below him. It was hidden from any lower view by a few trees and brush and a huge chunk of palisade wall that had fallen long ago like a dish on its edge. He judged that the wagon had not fallen from the high escarpment because it looked to be still in one piece. Probably its driver and occupants had sought safety by hiding in that place, he thought, only to get caught by whatever they were hiding from, or yielded at length to animals or nature getting as cruel as it could. No survivors lurked in the scene, or any horse or mule or ox that had hauled the wagon to this point. Only the long shafts for a single animal hitch appeared solid still sitting at an angle on the ground. A fallen rock had crushed one of the rear wheels. There were no other traces at all. And not a bone to be seen.

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The Bridge to Maggie's Meadow
By Tom Sheehan

Margaret Brody, on the rim of the huge ravine that plunged hundreds of feet down to the dark earth, studied the far side. Her hat thrown back, blond and beautiful, her horse as still as silence, she sat her saddle with ultimate ease. Any fall from the edge would be certain death, yet she concentrated on the opposite wall, a seemingly blank facade but one with slight discolorations in the strata, lines that moved in strange fashions if she changed her position or her line of sight. Even the slightest move on her part provided additional information to her inquisitive mind. She read the strata colors as if she was reading ancient hieroglyphics, each turn or shift having something to say to one who is observant. Abruptly, in the swift light of the mind, in one swift moment she would remember forever, the magic was on her.

Heaven was at hand.

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Before The Morning Star
By Tom Sheehan

The old man, beggar of drinks, spittoon cleaner, dung shoveler, was shot and killed behind the livery. Taylor Maxon rushed from his card game. He was kneeling over the town drunk when the others came from the card game. “He’s dead,” Maxon said, “and he said he felt a whole lot of curses coming right up from his belly and then he said Shearwell did it. In his last breath he said Shearwell did it. Called him a liar and then shot him.” He looked up from where he still knelt over the dead man. “I heard a galloper heading out of town. Round up a posse!”

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Mrs. Binnie Minn of Shangri-La
By Tom Sheehan

For the third time in a month, Crater Barnes had not seen Mrs. Binnie Minn at her home up in the end of Grob’s Canyon. But this was the first time that his suspicions were aroused. The man who answered the door to the huge house was the third man in a row who said that “Binnie, being sick, is not able to see anybody, or have any visitors.”

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Mother McCree and Me
(or Dynamite in the rough)
By Tom Sheehan

The early sun was late arriving for Hannah O’Toole. She’d been more than an hour saddled when she saw the sun strike on the crest of Stalwart Mountain in the chain of the Rockies as if someone had spilled a bucket of light. “Lazybones,” she muttered in momentary joy. She was glad to be safely up-range after the trouble the night before. Then she spoke of her awe, half and half, part in the old way and part in the new way, saying her blessing for the day, “Mother mo chroi,” meaning “Mother of my heart”, and it came out, as always, as “Mother McCree.”

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Josiah Weaverlake and the Dog Pack
By Tom Sheehan

“That damned dog almost bit my leg off.” The cowpoke, Sledge Burke, noisy as his pals, and getting as drunk, swinging his arms around, was making excuses about a near fight with an old man beside the livery stable. He and his trail-hard pals, dust squeezing out where they walked and talked, were making a racket as they drank at Gee Buff’s Open Tavern. The three young herders were hardly 20 years a piece, made room for themselves with false noise and bluster, and were therefore extended some tolerance by older hands in the saloon, men who had grown the same way with the same sudden leaps of confidence, and the same paltry mistakes.

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The Rose Bar
By Tom Sheehan

Ben Gammee, story teller, standing back against the saloon wall, was the point of the gathering.

Some of the cowpokes in McColley’s Saloon might not admit it, but they had come to hear Ben Gammee spin a few of his yarns. Of course, they’d have a shot or a beer, or two, in the process, all softening the end of day for most of them. The clink of glasses or mugs had lessened as attention swung to the lean but blond-bearded cowboy whose reputation as a story teller had leaped ahead of him no matter where he went west of the Mississippi. And right here, to the foot of the Rockies where I live. His eyes, I had heard, were almost as expressive as his mouth, as though they carried more of the trail in them than was allowed for one man not yet 25 years old.

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Micah Topaz, Born Sheriff
By Tom Sheehan

Some men, whether you believe it or not, come bidden by fate to fill holes in the human condition. So it was with Micah Topaz, born in a wagon train heading to California. He never got much further on the family journey than the place of his birth, a small corner of Nevada with the mountains staring them in the face. When the dispute among the wagon train leaders erupted, and deep factions developed, Micah’s family decided to stay pretty close to where they were at the time. The place was called Mattsville.

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A Western Proposal
By Tom Sheehan

A fanatic reader of western stories, a dreamer of the wide and far land and what it had to offer, Fenwick Mercer had come all the way from Boston to find his way in the western plains. Early on he was proper, courteous, well-dressed, but that demeanor, raiment and habit became old, worn, discolored, faded, as the west introduced its real self.

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The Giant Lobo Killer of Howza City
By Tom Sheehan

Ten-year old Sarah Gregson screamed in her bed at the back of the cabin where she lived with her mother and father and younger brother Teddie.  Her mother Millie rushed from her bed, half asleep. “I saw him,” Sarah screamed again. “I saw him, up there on the hill, against the moon. I saw him. I saw the Lobo Killer. He’s the biggest wolf I ever saw.” Her mother hugged her. “You’ve been dreaming, darling. It’s only a dream.” Sarah settled deeply in her mother’s arms, struggling to find extra warmth. She exhaled a soft sigh, “It was him. It was.” Her eyes closed softly, accepting the comfort and security of her mother’s arms, the known odors sweet around her head.

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The Craterville Catastrophe
By Tom Sheehan

Craterville came up like the rock came down, in one helluva hurry. When the dust cleared, there was a town where the hole used to be, and a hundred or more shafts were slicing down into the earth. After six men were shot, five of them bushwhacked, one surprising a thief deep in his digs, the saloon owner, Harry Wilkes, called a meeting of town businessmen. Wilkes once was a conductor who got off his train one day outside Omaha and never got back on.

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Mission in the Desert
By Tom Sheehan

Out to avenge his brother Max’s death and two days deep into the desert on the trail of a bushwhacking rat, the last thing Justin Tolliver could remember, as he fell over the edge of the cliff, was wondering why a stranger had taken a shot at him, a man he did not know, had never seen before.

And never out in the torrid Mojave, as though neither one of them belonged here. There was a twist of irony floating in his thoughts; it seemed to be pointing at him, making observations that should not be disregarded. He also realized there were days he’d rather shoot than think. This was one of them, but he had been too slow on the draw.

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The Boy From Great Red
By Tom Sheehan

One of the passengers getting off the Grimsby stage, a young man of perhaps twenty years of age, somewhat handsome, was strangely hatless and frowning. The last one off the stage, stepping lightly down onto the dusty road, he visibly fought for recognition of the town of Great Red on which an August evening had established its grip, with a pinyon jay calling from the distance and purple setting its own table.

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The Kid from Crevasse City
By Tom Sheehan

Not one customer in Colbrook’s Saloon paid much attention to the boy with the glazed look on his face, the dumb-looking gape of his mouth, the staring eyes as if he’d just been stung by a wasp.

“Maybe the kid needs a beer,” one patron at the bar said, his guffaw running about the room, gathering up agreement. “Maybe the smell of it might wake him up.” The boy had walked into the bar and looked at every customer with the same stupid grin, as if all the while he was enjoying his way of life. “Give him a smell, Bart. Mine’s gone again.” He laughed at the man standing beside him at the bar as the boy continued his walk around the room. “Kid’s got nowhere to go, that’s for sure, and he ain’t getting’ there in any hurry.” He laughed again. Others laughed with him, some self-consciously.

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Death of the Pale Rider
By Tom Sheehan

Life had its full range of artillery out for him, front and center. Oh, Death of the Pale Rider sounded anew in the silence of Briggs Thornton’s mind, even as the day bore itself harsh as a frozen thunderbolt, a huge icicle with breath and as cold as the bank was to his latest overture. Around his neck the muffler was not a comfortable wrap, a trade-off of an itch to keep the chill off his nape.

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Odyssey of a Saddle
By Tom Sheehan

1.       Jim Chaliver

The single shot, from lower down the valley, rang out in the late afternoon stillness when one would think there was no war.  Jim Chaliver, hidden in a thicket, saw the rider fall out of the saddle even as the horse rolled into a hole and came down on both front legs. He cringed, swearing he could hear bones snap at the impact. The fallen rider did not move, but for long, long minutes the horse made the sad and almost endless noise of dying.  The uniform of the rider he had not determined.

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The Lonely Line Rider
By Tom Sheehan

Dutch Malick was lonely; for a deck of cards, a friendly voice cracking with warm humor or saddle gibes, for something that would tell him he was not the last person about in the world. For most all his life he was a line rider, low man on the totem pole, singular but almost invisible, a dot on the prairie or up a strange draw or wadie, a ghost of a person…

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Jacques Cree and the High Camp Stand-off
By Tom Sheehan

In the midst of deep thought in the fire-lit line cabin, solitude pleasantly surrounding him, ranch hand Pete Binchey heard the low, menacing, yet alerting growl of Jacques Cree come from the corner where his bed was. Slowly, in the shadows, as if not even disturbing the air or the meager illumination about his body, the wolf dog rose from rest, lowered his head, set his eyes on Binchey as though demanding attention, and stood immobile. In a quick series of images, the middle-aged cowboy saw the past history of the animal and the forebears that had nurtured the wolf dog’s being. 

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From The Other Side of the Saloon Bar
By Tom Sheehan

I pour and they drink, and I am always mesmerized by their desires, their needs, their dry heaves between drunks so calamitous they’ll never know the impact till they get to the great beyond. I’m a bartender, barman, pourer, scoop setter, sudsman, but I will say at the same time that this menial job, though one with a great overview of the human soul, has saved my own soul for the long ride into the hereafter, though my travels don’t go beyond the 25 feet of the bar.

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High Canyon Deadlock
By Tom Sheehan

Bart Mastiff lowered his rifle off the top of the stone rim and sat back on the rocky ground. Sweat poured off his brow, his back ached, and the sun seemed to reach its fingers into each extremity of his body. Trying to continually advise himself to accept the pain, he was twisted in position, the one wound having seeped two days of redness at his side where the dry remnant toasted in the sun. Two days without water and he knew they were near the end of the trail, both him and his nephew Mark, also wounded, lying a dozen yards away. They had been delivering the deed to his niece’s little ranch to the district land office when they had been jumped.

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