Top Ten Western Short Stories For December
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Western Short Story
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.
At one year of age, in a small adobe shack in Arizona, he and his parents managed to survive an Indian attack by hiding in a covered-over hole his father had dug in the ground and which his mother asked the great god Wakan Tanka to keep sacred. Cosgrove promised that his son would someday know the ways of the Sioux, as his birthright, and told him of the family history in Ireland, where another people’s land was taken from them.
When the boy was 7 years old, and his parents were working a small ranch in Nevada territory, he was taken by Indians in a raid on the ranch. All the family’s horses were taken also, but the parents were saved by a lightning storm that frightened off the Indians. Full Wing Up changed her name to Bright Torch Bent. It was her third name change; and she knew more changes would come because her son’s eyes were particularly bright, his breath sweet as prairie flowers, and his promise open.
When the boy was but a week with the Indians, a squaw noticed a birthmark on the back of his neck and exclaimed about it. The chief, seeing the sign it carried, ordered him to be returned to his parents. Two braves approached the parents’ home, called out to them, and pushed the boy toward his parents, along with the horses they had run off with. The Indians rode off in the darkness. Cosgrove Sr., exalted with the return of his son, was mystified by the turn of events, which the boy’s mother explained easily. “He is a child of the god Wahima from the great god Wakan Tanka who marked him on his neck. It was this way before he was born, for he was promised to me to be a great rider of the plains when I cried for a vision for him, in my ‘Hanblecheyapi.’”
“Who is Wahima? Have I heard that name before?” Cosgrove Sr. said.
Bright Torch Bent said, “He is the God of names and the god of families, who comes forward in the ‘Hunkapi,’ that is ‘in the making of relatives.’ He is the Great Watcher of Souls. He speaks to him who listens. He is grandfather to our son. It is he who sent you that day when you found me at death’s open door and brought me back to my full self. Wahima has promised me to you and this son to us, and says that he will be our son as long as water runs from secret places or the air moves unseen or the sun shines behind clouds few can touch, for Wahima exists where all these things exist.
Cosgrove, trying to recall all the events of that memorable day when he heard a woman’s voice in the forest calling for assistance in a strange tongue, had difficulty realizing the whole scene. Rushing into the thick copse of oaks, he had seen the Indian maiden with a long stick in her hands standing up to a large black bear. She was bleeding heavily from wounds on her arms and one thigh, and her buckskin garment was partly shredded. With one rifle shot he dropped the bear at her feet. He could not remember her crying at all, but found something of hope in her voice after he dressed her wounds. For two weeks he took care of her, fed her, and slept beside her on the cold nights as they moved from the grounds he hunted back to his cabin tight against a canyon wall.
With clarity he did remember the night she said, “I am your woman and my ‘hunkapi’ is here. “ The revelation of that promised vision came at Colin’s birth in the Conestoga wagon heading further west.
At thirteen, an expert on a horse and with a bow and a rifle, Colin Hardy Cosgrove, Jr., called “good son” by his father and “Wings with Air” in the language of his mother’s people, was hailed by all who knew him as a true westerner who had been gifted from birth to do good and honorable deeds.
The promises bloomed early. Once, riding alone, searching for stray cattle and letting some Indians take a few head of cattle for meat, he caught three rustlers who that night had run their catch of Cosgrove cattle into a small canyon. All three were wounded by arrows he shot at them in silence and all three rustlers, bound in good fashion, were brought to the ranch by young Cosgrove, and then to the sheriff in Rockville, the nearest town. He was hailed by all the townsmen who heard the story.
At the general store, run by Arnold Hult, he heard murmurs from the corner where three girls about his age were talking. Hult’s daughter Miranda had a distinctive voice and he swore ever after that he heard her say, “My father says he will be a great man one day, and he’s really handsome too.” That day of promise was marked in Colin’s mind, and he was able to bring those words back any time, hearing the promise in them, and the small dreams they shook awake.
At fifteen, shoulders and chest full, he was on his first cattle drive up the Reese River with his father and a dozen other drovers. Nothing significant happened on the drive, but he saw how full-grown men acted in unison, at one task, and saw leadership working as good as it gets.
It was on the way back from the delivery point that young Colin Cosgrove first fired his rifle at another man, as a band of riders tried to steal the money from the cattle sale. One of his shots knocked a man right out of his saddle, and his second shot took a revolver from the hand of an onrushing thief who threw his hands in the air. When the other robbers saw their apparent leader knocked out of the enterprise, they fled en masse.
Colin Hardy Cosgrove delivered his fourth and fifth prisoners to the law, the last two hurting and complaining about the keen shooter that had brought them in right through the heart of Rockville, like it was a parade. The sheriff told them their disappearing reputation was building onto the newest reputation of a young man that other brigands and road agents had started to call “The Nevada Nuisance.” He also said he’d love to have young Cosgrove on one of his posses, to see how he would act in that oftentimes thankless task.
It was not long after that, in the following spring, Cosgrove just turned 16 and sweet as ever on Miranda Hult, when a prisoner killed a deputy and made his escape from Rockville jail. Colin Cosgrove mounted up with the Rockville posse and set out after the escaped killer. All the details of that chase were explained over and over again by the sheriff every time he stepped to the bar at the saloon or had a new listener at hand, as if he was the young man’s proud father.
“We were near a feeder to the river where the escaped killer’s trail had led us, and we were sure the trail had finally died out. Some of us went downstream and some up, but young Cosgrove, studying everything in the lay of the land, just nudged his horse into some deep brush and sat in the saddle, watching the other side of the stream. After a long spell, the killer came out of the trees on the other side and started to backtrack on his own trail. Cosgrove, like he had seen the whole thing the way it would happen, waited until that hombre was in mid-stream before he fired a shot over his head and ordered him to drop the guns he had taken from the dead deputy. None of us knew what was happening, but we heard the shot and rode back. He had the killer hog-tied and walking beside his horse and was headed back to town just like it was another day at the ranch.”
Once in a while, as though he had his own vision of things coming down the trail, the sheriff would say, “One day that young man will be a great star wearing a star. He’ll be a sheriff or a marshal and his name will spread to all corners of the west.”
The word spread on the wind about the kid as people all over began to call him The Nevada Nuisance, the name spoken in hideouts and dens of thieves, rustlers, claim jumpers and killers, only not with the same disdain. The saloons of Nevada echoed the same message, how a half-breed sheriff or marshal was going to take care of the land and all its people. And they heard his mother’s words of the given prophecy: “He will ride the morning star into evening and come out the other side of night. My ‘Hanblecheyapi’ says it is so, my vision for him.”
On his 20th birthday he married Miranda Hult and carried her into a home he had built on a piece of land his parents gave him, not far from the family ranch house. The traffic between the two homes was constant, as the two women both loved Colin Hardy Cosgrove with an unrelenting love. When a son was born, his grandmother called him Son of the New Star and said very private words over the new infant. Her vision was a new vision and nobody in the family questioned her about it.
Just after the sheriff of Rockville was killed by a desperado he encountered on the trail, Colin Hardy Cosgrove Jr. went out and brought the killer back to town, across the saddle of his stolen horse. Town fathers pinned the sheriff’s badge on the shirt of young Cosgrove as his wife, mother and father looked on, as did a pair of eyes from the second floor of Rockville’s hotel. Those eyes belonged to the son of the man that young Cosgrove had brought to justice, and his hanging for the murder of the sheriff. Reason found no place in the mind or heart of Booth Blackmon who sustained his own promises. Descending to the street, Blackmon retrieved his horse from the livery and left town without a soul noticing his departure.
Two days later a man and his son were murdered beside the well on their property and their house set on fire. Three days after that discovery, about a six miles further down the river, a man and wife were killed in their barn and their house set afire. Four days later, the same type of grisly murder took place. On the next morning, Sheriff Cosgrove, the Sioux part of him leading the way, rode up into the mountains along the river. From a high point on the mountain he could see where the murders and fires had taken place, and knew where the next one would take place. Near darkness he came down from the mountain, crossed the wide grass along the river, and secretly entered the property of one Grant Purbonne and his two sons. With some difficulty, he convinced Purbonne and his sons to leave the ranch in darkness and go to a neighbor’s ranch up the valley.
In the morning, wearing Purbonne’s dark green shirt and vest and working close to the barn, Cosgrove spotted a rider approaching the ranch openly and directly from the river road. He stepped into the barn carrying a small wooden box he had been working on. His rifle, Purbonne’s rifle, was leaning against the work table where he had been banging nails into the box, when the rider yelled out, “Hello the house. May I get some water for my horse?”
Cosgrove yelled from the door of the barn, “Come ahead, stranger, I can’t drink all of it.” He waved him on, adding, “Be with you soon as I set this contraption in its place.” He showed the wooden box. “Be a minute. Help yourself.”
When Cosgrove walked through the door of the barn, Blackmon had Purbonne’s rifle aimed at him. “Don’t bother to come out of the barn, mister. We’re going to take care of some business in the barn.”
Cosgrove backed into the barn, his hands over his head, Purbonne’s sombrero pulled down over his eyes. He wore no gun belt at his waist. Blackmon, with half a laugh and a sneer on his face, pulled the trigger on the rifle. The near silent “click” sounded all the way into the depth of the barn. As Blackmon pulled the trigger again, and nothing happened, he dropped the rifle and reached for the handgun at his waist.
With a deft motion, Cosgrove withdrew the revolver at his back waistband and shot Blackmon in his right shoulder, stepped closer, whipped off Purbonne’s sombrero, and said, “Mister, you are two days from your hanging.” He nodded at him and said, “You laid out a path for me like I was stupid enough to follow you to my death. You killed for one purpose, to draw me into the spider’s nest, but that is an old tale that my mother taught me long ago. You have no idea of the way of the Sioux. Your path was straight and unerring all the time and yet erring all the way from its concoction. The Sioux believe the spider is known by the bird above him, high above him.”
He tied Blackmon onto the saddle of his horse and led him off to find Purbonne and his sons.
“You folks come on into town with me,” he said in explanation, “and collect the reward for this fellow who has killed a number of our neighbors, and who was trying to lure me into the spider’s trap for some reason, which we will bring to light. I promise you that. He would have been waiting here for me or in the next place, in a straight line right from here and those other places he has destroyed. For your part in this, you have earned the reward.”
Heavy praise rained down on Sheriff Cosgrove, and his fame spread across the territory and across the west, The Nevada Nuisance arriving everywhere in stories, newspaper headlines, and in the body of lore and legend extending all the way from a small Indian village in the mountains. In a short time he was Marshal Cosgrove of the whole county. His wife had four more children, two boys and two girls and they grew with special knowledge coming upon them.
After many escapades in the coming years involving claim jumpers, rustlers and murders right from the card table, Cosgrove retired to his ranch that his brave and curiously intelligent children ran for him and his wife.
When his wife died, the family returned her to the mountains, and when Marshal Cosgrove died a few years later, he was taken to the same exact spot by his children who knew all the ways of the Sioux, a trail of stones setting the way.