Western Short Story
Billy Browning-Bounty Hunter
Camp on the Snake River
William F. Stocks

Western Short Story

The Perkins establishment was a combination store/trading post, saloon, boarding house, blacksmith/livery and leather shop, which gave the appearance of a small town but with its buildings kind of all stuck together. It was located on the North side of the Little Snake River near its confluence with Willow Creek, which came in from the South. I halted about a quarter mile away in some trees and scanned the comings and goings with my field glasses.

Even for this early in the morning it was a busy place. The sun reflected off anything shiny on harnesses, bridles, windowpanes and an impressive pile of empty bottles beside the saloon. An American flag flew over the main building, which indicated it might also be a Post Office, or at least a place where mail was delivered.

There were a couple of ranch men loading feed sacks into a wagon out front and several saddle horses stood tethered to a hitching rail. Chickens ran freely about the premises and in and out of a small barnyard near the livery. Two pigs were penned up in a back corner and a woman was rendering them some slop.

Jody Wolfe could be ridin’ one of those ponies,” I thought. I’d better just wait and observe.”

After the wagon left, three men came out of the saloon, which was apparently open all hours and approached the waiting horses. One tucked a pint bottle and a box of cartridges into his saddle bags before mounting. As he swung a leg over, I got a good look at his face, but he wasn’t Wolfe. Neither were the other two ‘pokes, who followed his lead as they rode west on the dusty wagon road down river.

We took Jim’s advice and “moseyed” on in to the hitching rail. I dismounted, tied off Blackjack and tipped my hat to the woman I’d seen earlier, who was now sweeping the boardwalk out front.

“Can I helf you, zir?” she asked in a heavy German accent.

“I’m in need of a small measure of oats for my horse, ma’am.”

“I kin help ya vith dot,” said a young man in his mid-twenties stepping out through the front door. August Reschke and dis ist my mamma, Anna. Vee verk for Mr. Perkins. He ban up late vith da saloon las’ night.”

I also recognized him as one of the men who had been loading the wagon.

“Pleased to meet you both, my name’s Billy,” I said, following him into the store.

Its shelves and counters were packed with just about anything a rancher or homesteader might need in the way of hardware and dry goods. I handed August the canvas bag I’d taken from my saddlebags and he went into an adjacent storeroom, returning a couple of minutes later having filled it with oats. He then carefully tied the top with a leather thong I carried for that purpose.

“Der ya go, Billy.. Dot vill be tree cents, pleez.”

“Here’s a nickel, just keep the change, but I’m wonderin’ if you might have seen this hombre?” I asked, puling the wanted poster of Wolfe out of my coat pocket.

August unfolded and studied it carefully, then shook his head. “No, but I vil ask mama, she’s here more dan me.”

We walked back out on the porch as he asked in German, “Mamma, hast du diesen mann gesehen?” showing her the poster.

“Nein, er war noch nie hier gewesen,” she replied.

“Sorry, but he vuz never here before, Billy, but vee vill keep lookin’. Is der some place vee can let you know if he comes?” asked August.

“Yeah, I stayed at the Baker’s last night. Just tell Ol’ Jim that you talked to me about it.”

“August is sveet on Jennie Baker,” smiled Anna. He von’t mind to take your mezzage.”

“ We’d best keep this under our hat’s too, August. I don’t want Jody Wolfe to find out I’m lookin’ for him just yet.”

“Shoor! Shoor!” said August as Anna nodded in agreement.

“Very well then, I’ll be goin’. How far to the Army Camp at Baggs Crossing?” I asked.

“It’s choost about zix miles, right next to da river,” said August.

“Thanks for your help,” I said, swinging aboard Blackjack. Then I tipped my hat again to Anna and trotted off in the direction the three cowboys had gone.

It was late morning when I arrived at the Army Camp, just prior to the noon mess. It stood on the South side of the Little Snake at the location where the Government Supply Road from Ft. Fred Steele to the White River Agency crosses. Companies F and K of the 9th U. S. Infantry had been stationed here in November of ‘79 after the Ute Uprising was put down.

It being fall, the river was low enough to ford easily, though there was evidence of a well anchored ferry in place for use during high water. Blackjack didn’t like stepping on the loose rounded river stones, but I gave him his head and he adapted quickly to the unstable footing.

The camp was built of new log cabin structures that had been laid out in the orderly configuration of a military post, though there was no surrounding stockade wall. The Army was obviously transitioning from what had been an initial bivouac of tents into a more permanent presence of force and governance. I reined in at the first cabin, which was an administrative building/checkpoint and asked the young soldier standing guard for directions to the mess hall. He saluted me and then directed me toward a building near the middle of camp.

“Why did you salute me?” I asked.

“Well sir...er...yer saddle an’ clothes, sir. I thought…..”

“Son, there ain’t no bars on these shoulders, nor stripes on these sleeves. I’ve done served my hitch and moved on. There’s no need to ever salute me again.”

“Yes sir….. I mean.. No sir... I mean...No mister. I won’t do it again.”

The mess hall was noisy and cramped, but nobody even looked when I walked in.

“Got enough for one more?” I asked the portly Chef du Jour, who was serving roast beef and potatoes with gravy, biscuits and tinned fruit.

“Git in line!” he barked, indicating I should go to the back.

Seeing that there was apparently no separate officer’s mess, after getting my food, I approached a corner table where two lieutenants sat eating.

“May I join you gentlemen?” I asked. “I’m in need of some information.”

“You certainly may, but neither of us qualify as gentlemen,” said the older of the two, who grinned and stood to shake my hand.

“I'm First Lieutenant Jerry Stimble and this is Second Lieutenant Charles Noyes,” he said.

“Name’s Billy. Glad to meet you,” I said, shaking hands with Charles.

“Captain Hay and First Lieutenant Bowman are away today on a fall hunt. What can we do for you?” asked Jerry.

“Well, gentlemen,” I said with a grin. “I’m a onetime trooper with the 5th Cavalry, making a livin’ as a bounty hunter nowadays and I’m lookin’ for a previous customer who jumped bail. I have reason to believe he may be somewhere in this area.”

“Ya think he might try to enlist?” said Charles, jokingly.

“Definitely not. He’s a rustler and you’re eating fresh beef, so I’d be more willing to think he might try to sell you some meat.” I replied.

“You’d best talk to the sutler then,” said Charles. “He sees that all our goods get delivered and also manages most of the supplies going down to the agency.”

“The Northern Utes are being moved and combined with the Southern Utes near Fort Duchesne, Utah Territory,” said Jerry. I don’t expect us to be sending much that way soon. The whole rez is gonna be opened up to homesteaders and land speculators.”

“We’ll be here at least a couple more years to provide security in case any renegades peel off and come back,” said Charles.

“Where might I find your supply personnel then?”

“In the commissary, it’s right there, that big building across the parade ground,” said Jerry, pointing out the window, beyond where soldiers waiting to eat were drilling.

The food was quite good and it took me very little time to finish eating.

“Thanks for the information, Sirs,” I said. “Maybe we could get together sometime for a drink and swap a few stories?”

“I’d be grateful,” Charles laughed. “Jerry’s repeated stories are gettin’ kinda old.”

“See ya later then,” I said. “Thanks again.”

After returning my plate, I asked the Cookie what I owed for the meal.

“Nuthin’!” he grinned. “Lookin’ at ya, I’d say Ol’ Uncle Sam prob’ly owes you.”

I led Blackjack across the camp parade ground circumventing the drilling infantry and tied him to a pole on the corner of the commissary. Inside I found a fellow whose appearance definitely declared he was a book keeper. He stood when I approached extending a hand.

Hello, I’m Josiah Chesterton. How may I help you?” he asked.

“Names Billy, I was just talkin’ to Lieutenants Stimble and Noyes in the mess hall about how you receive your beef supply, so they directed me here. Is it brought in butchered or on the hoof?” I asked.

“We normally get beef delivered on the hoof,” he replied. “Sometimes they have to trail it in from Rawlins or up from the agency herd. We’re expecting a delivery from there any day now. If they don’t arrive on schedule, I make small purchases locally, with the proper inspection and authorization, of course.”

“Of course,” I said.

Are the cattle branded ID?” I asked, referring to the brand used by the Interior Department on government agency beef.

“Yes, but if we buy here, I usually have it delivered already butchered, as we need to use it right away. It expedites the whole process. Why do you ask?”

“Just putting together some pieces,” I replied. “I’ll need a little more time, but will explain when they all come together. Thanks for the information, Josiah,” I said, turning toward the open door and stepping back into the afternoon sunlight.

Plenty of wiggle room in this loop,” I thought, “for a steer snatcher like Jody Wolfe. I definitely need to find this George Baggs fella.”

© WFS 2018