Western Short Story
Massacre at the Canadian
Jack Goodner


Western Short Story

‘Jayhawker’ Jack Henry reluctantly climbed up into his wagon and slapped the reins to get the two horses moving. His trip to buy supplies, get drunk, and visit a sporting girl had been damn disappointing. He was only able to buy a few of the goods he wanted because Indian raids in the area were keeping the supply wagons from making regular trips to prairie settlements. That also meant the saloon was running low on whiskey. Jack was barely able to get moderately drunk and the only sporting girl working there had left town heading for Denver.

Pissed off, Jack thought briefly about taking off and going west to Denver himself. Instead, he headed back southeast toward his sod hut and his mail-order bride. Life from birth forward had been chocked plumb full of disappointments for Jack Henry, but his marriage ranked right at the top of the list.

Once, after a successful buffalo hunt, Jack visited Kansas City where he chanced to meet a fellow who claimed to be a marriage broker for lonely women from Europe. The man was full of big talk about the beauty and friendliness of the ladies and Jack was full of whiskey so it sounded like a good deal. After looking at pictures of the available women, he finally picked one that he thought might be alright. She sure wasn’t the fairest flower of the lot but her dowry fee was the cheapest of the bunch. Jack paid the man and was told his bride would be there in about three months. He would get a letter telling him when to come to pick up his prize.

The next day after he sobered up and read the marriage contract, Jack rushed out trying to find the guy to get his money back. He searched Kansas City for two days without any luck and finally left town knowing he had been swindled.

About a month later Jack was surprised when he went to the general store for supplies and found he had received a letter in the mail. The penmanship of the writer was beautiful but Jack couldn’t make hide nor hair of what it said. Jack thought the letter might be in German but he wasn’t sure. He took it to the town butcher who was a German fellow. The man looked at the writing but just shrugged his shoulders. It turned out he couldn’t read or write any language so he was no help.

Sure enough, close to the three-month mark a letter arrived telling him when his bride would get to Kansas City. Full of hope and lustful thoughts, Jack traveled by wagon to Hays, Kansas where he caught a train to Kansas City. At the stated time he went to the train depot to meet his new bride. A very large woman got off the train and marched up to him speaking a language he didn’t understand in a shrill tone that hurt his ears. Jack’s marriage contract contained a small, blurry picture of a chubby, smiling woman. The woman standing in front of him looked like she could’ve eaten that person and asked for another one. Jack had understood he was buying a pig in a poke when he signed the contract, but the thing standing in front of him was a full-grown hog.

His amorous ambitions were quickly dashed, but trying to make the best of a bad deal he reckoned the woman in front of him could provide shade in the summer and warmth in the winter and might be able to take the place of a draft horse. Maybe, he thought, on a real dark night she might not be so damn ugly.

The woman stared out the window and jabbered nonstop on the ride back to Hays but Jack quit even pretending to listen to her. The train conductor came by once and stopped to listen to the woman. He looked at Jack and said, “She wants to know where all the trees are.” He started laughing and walked away.

The wagon trip from Hays to his sod hut was damn right unpleasant. Even without the benefit of a common language, the woman was able to clearly communicate that she was plenty unhappy. It was plain that Jack’s dreams of marital bliss had turned into a nightmare of constant conflict.

∞∞∞

On the trip back to his hut, Jack started to reflect on his life. He was the youngest of six kids. His old man was a mean drunk who spent most of the money staying liquored up. There usually wasn’t enough food for a couple of skinny brats let alone six. Jack, or Runt, as everyone in his family called him, left home skinny and hungry when he was about ten years old. Truth was, Jack didn’t know when or where he was born. Celebrating birthdays wasn’t much of a tradition in his family.

Against all odds the skinny little kid survived. An older man and woman took him in. They worked the boy like a rented mule and whipped him right often but at least he got enough to eat and a warm place to sleep. The old woman even taught Jack to read and write. After a couple of years, the boy had grown a lot. He repaid the couple's kindness by stealing one of their horses and riding away in the middle of the night.

For the next several years the boy fought tooth and toenail just to survive. He worked when he could and stole when he couldn't. The young man reckoned he was about 15 years old when the War Between the States broke out. Jack saw some soldiers walking around in fancy uniforms and decided to join up. In truth, he was in a little bit of trouble with the law, and joining the army seemed like a good idea. He didn’t give a shit about fighting to free the slaves. Hell, he thought if he could afford to buy a couple of black girls, he’d damn sure do it. The thing was, he was living in Kansas and Kansas was siding with the North to fight slavery so Jack became a Union soldier.

He joined the Fourth Kansas Volunteer Infantry. His real name was Henry Jackson but since at least one sheriff was looking for him under that name he enlisted as Jack Henry. After a couple of days, he and some other men were shipped off to be trained. Most of the men he was with griped and complained about the training and the food. Jack thought the training was the easiest thing he had ever done and he got plenty to eat. He didn’t much care for all the fancy marching they did but he liked shooting the rifles and was damn good at that.

After Jack’s skill with a rifle and his ability as a horseman became known he transferred to the Fifth Kansas Cavalry under the command of James H. Lane. Fifth Kansas was better known as the Jayhawkers and preyed mostly on the civilian population of the neighboring slave state of Missouri. Jack took part in the raid on Osceola, Missouri. During that action, he killed two men and stole as much stuff as he could carry. The best thing he acquired was a beautiful Henry .44 cal. lever action rifle and a fancy English-made Bowie knife.

Jack stayed with the Fifth for about a year and took part in several bloody and lucrative raids. He liked the raiding and looting but was becoming plenty worried about the number of Jayhawkers that were getting shot on the raids. He began thinking that he’d done his fair share to free the damn slaves. One night when most of his fellow raiders were drunk on stolen whiskey, Jack saddled up his mount and loaded as much stuff as he could carry on another horse and lit out south toward the Indian Territory.

As soon as he was out of Kansas and in the Territories he turned west toward No Man’s land and the buffalo trails. Jack stopped in every settlement he came to and sold some of his stolen loot. By the time he reached Guymon, he had sold all of his war treasures and accumulated enough cash to buy the goods he needed to become a buffalo hunter.

Jack talked to a couple of outfits that wanted to hire him as a skinner or wagon driver. He made it plain that he wasn’t going to skin the animals, or drive a wagon full of the stinking hides. He wasn’t that hard up for a job and waited until he got hired on as a shooter.

Jack spent the next several years chasing the buffalo herds across the plains from Texas to Nebraska and back again several times. Jack and his team of hunters came across a number of white settlers, men, women, and children who had been scalped, tortured, raped, murdered, and mutilated. He and his friends developed a deep hatred for the Indians and participated in several reprisal raids by whites on the Indians. He and his party of market hunters barely avoided being caught up in the Battle of Adobe Walls when Kit Carson and his force of approximately 400 Army soldiers and scouts were chased from the Texas Panhandle by some 3,000 Comanche and Kiowa Indians.

∞∞∞

About a mile from his sod hut Jack’s thoughts were jolted back to the present when his nose picked up the scent of a fire and burning flesh. He stopped the wagon and set the brake. His saddle horse Bucky was tied to the back of the wagon. Jack grabbed his Sharps buffalo gun from the wagon seat and put it in the scabbard on the right side of the saddle. His Henry lever action was in the scabbard on the left side. He was also armed with a pair of 1860 Colt Army revolvers he had worn ever since he was a Jayhawk raider.

Jack mounted Bucky and took off at a trot. He didn’t want to tire his horse out in case he had to turn tail and beat a fast retreat. When he got close enough to see his place he knew the Indians had been there and gone.

He spurred Bucky forward at a faster pace to see the carnage. His sow and her three piglets lay dead in their pen. Jack’s old dog Bob was lying halfway in a smoldering fire. Bob had a lot of heart and courage and Jack was sure he didn’t get killed running away. The Indians had started a fire in front of the hut and tossed everything of value into the blaze. He saw his wife’s huge German bible sitting in the middle of the glowing embers.

The garden plot that Jack and his wife tended had been destroyed by the Indian horses. Jack rode Bucky all around the area looking for his wife’s body and was surprised that he didn’t find her. He did find a bloody piece of cloth that could have been from her dress.

He rode around his property in ever-widening circles looking for tracks. He could see the raiders approached from the north and left going south. It looked like there were about a dozen warriors.

Jack rode Bucky back to the wagon and drove it to the hut. He unhitched the two horses. He planned to follow the raiding party. He didn’t have any desire to save his German wife from the savages. As far as he was concerned they’d done him a favor by taking her and were welcome to her. Since she had shown up he’d thought numerous times about murdering her. Only the work of digging a big enough hole to fit her huge body into had kept him from doing it.

The main reason he was going after the raiders was pure hatred of the murderous savages and to get revenge for them killing his dog Bob. He figured the Indians were headed for somewhere in the Texas Panhandle. Jack had tired of living on the barren flat plains of Kansas and decided if the Indians didn’t kill him he might just stay in Texas.

The raiders had stolen or burned nearly everything he needed. Before the raid, he’d owned two good pack saddles that he could use to carry some supplies. He cut the leather reins from the wagon and tied the supplies he wanted to take with him to the backs of the two horses.

Jack found a spade that somehow had escaped the carnage and used it to dig up an old gallon syrup can that held the deed to his place and a sizable stash of cash. While he was digging he made sure his horses got a good drink and then he mounted Bucky and headed south.

He followed along directly behind the tracks for about a mile and then turned west to check on his closest neighbors. Jack could tell from a distance that the Indians hadn’t been there.

As he rode up both the man and woman left their work in the garden patch and walked up to him.

“Where ya headed, Jack.”

“Indians burned me out, Charlie. I’m going to try to find the bastards and settle up with them.”

The woman asked, “What about your wife?”

“I didn’t find her body so I guess they took her.”

Jack dismounted and said, “I’ve got a deal for you, Charlie. I’ll give you the deed to my land for two pack-saddles, some canvas, rope, a couple of blankets, and a canteen.” He handed the man the deed to the property.

Charlie and his wife studied the paper and then looked at one another. “I’ll get the pack-saddles and the rest of the gear. Sarah, go get the blankets and give Jack some jerky and those leftover biscuits.”

While Charlie helped Jack reload the two horses he asked, “Why do you think they took your wife instead of just killing her?”

“I’ve been studying on it and I’m guessing it’s because she’s so damn big she’s a curiosity to them. They may be planning on breeding her to get some big Indian babies. There’s not much telling with savages.”

“Are you planning on trying to get her back?”

“That damn sure ain’t my first aim. If it works out that way, I’ll take her someplace, but I’ll not be getting back together with her.”

As soon as the pack horses were reloaded, Jack shook Charlie’s hand and remounted Bucky. He headed toward the southeast looking for signs. After about an hour he found the trail. The raiding party was still heading pretty much due south. He figured they were on the way back to the panhandle of Texas. Jack knew there was a large Comanche encampment in the Palo Duro canyon. He hoped he could catch them before they got there.

Since there was a stiff wind from the north Jack didn’t want to be directly behind the war party. He was afraid the Indian ponies might smell his horses and alert the warriors. Jack angled off toward the west for a ways and then turned back south.

As darkness fell Jack began looking for a place to camp. He had been this way before and knew there should be a small creek somewhere in front of them. In about an hour they hit the stream. Jack was relieved, he was dry and knew his horses also needed water.

After he tied the two pack animals to a cottonwood tree he remounted Bucky and rode to a small hilltop and started studying the eastern horizon. Eventually, he thought he saw a small campfire way off to the east. He rode Bucky a little closer until he was sure it was the raiding party. He went back to the pack horses and settled down to get some sleep.

Jack was up and on the trail before daylight. He hoped he could reach the Canadian River before the Indians and set up an ambush for them. He guessed they should reach the river sometime the following day. That night caught them on a grassy plain with no sign of water. The grass was high and he hoped the horses could get the moisture they needed from grazing. Jack huddled up in a cocoon of his blankets and canvas.

When the sun rose in the east, Jack and his horses had already traveled a good way to the south. Prairie winds are usually pretty calm at daybreak, but that morning there was a stiff breeze from the north. About noon Bucky started sniffing the air. Jack hoped the horse had smelled the water at the Canadian but was worried it might be the Indian ponies. When he turned to look behind him he caught the faint whiff of burning grass and could see a high cloud of smoke behind them. The country was becoming rougher and Jack thought they might be getting close to the Canadian but based on how hard the wind was blowing, he didn’t think there was any chance they could outrun the blaze.

The sight of the smoke made Jack’s blood ran cold. Nothing on the plains is more terrifying than a prairie fire. He would sooner face Indians any day than burning grass. Jack’s mind immediately started working on a solution. As far as he knew the Indians were still to the east of him so he didn’t want to go that way. The prairie fire was to the north and coming fast. Jack looked to the west and thought he could see a gully off in the distance. He planned to head off at an angle south and west to try to get on the outside of the fire. He hoped the gully or ravine would provide a little bit of a fire break. It wasn’t the greatest plan but he thought it was his only choice so he spurred Bucky that way.

Traveling to what he hoped was safety, Jack started remembering the last time he had faced fire and Indians at the same time. His thoughts jumped back in time when his team of buffalo hunters was set up on a shoot west of Mobeetie, Texas. Comanche warriors set a prairie fire that stampeded the herd of bison. The huge animals charged right through the hunters. A skinner and two wagon drivers were trampled and killed. Jack and two other hunters took off trying to find the bastards that set the fire. After about two hours they came upon five young bucks. The Indians jumped on their ponies and took off at a gallop. The Comanche horses were a lot faster than the big mounts the hunters were riding but not nearly fast enough to outrun a big .50 caliber slug from a Sharps buffalo gun. Three riders fell but two lucky ones got out of range before the shooters could reload. Jack and the other two men rode up to look at the bodies. All three had massive wounds from the huge lead bullets. Jack’s shot had blown the savage’s guts out and then took the top of his horse's head off. The three buffalo hunters scalped the Indians and headed back.

The first gully they found didn’t amount to much so Jack kept moving to the west. Pretty soon they came to a bigger, deeper ravine heading south. The smell of burning grass was getting stronger but the smoke wasn’t making it hard to breathe yet. Jack turned Bucky south and urged him forward over the rougher terrain. The ravine was heading downhill and was getting deeper which Jack hoped meant they were getting closer to the Canadian.

Jack knew he was taking a desperate gamble by going into the depression. He was hoping the fire would stay on the flatter prairie but knew if it got into the ravine the wind would push the fire down the enclosed space like a blow torch and Jack and his horses wouldn’t stand a Chinaman’s chance of getting out alive.

For better or worse, Jack had made his choice. The rider and horses kept pushing ahead and soon started seeing some damp ground in the bottom of the ravine. Jack’s spirits rose when he saw a little puddle of water in front of them. He knew his animals needed water bad, so he let them get a quick drink and then spurred Bucky on.

Shortly after they stopped for water Bucky started sniffing the air again, and without Jack’s urging, he began moving faster. The way the horse was acting, Jack was pretty sure Bucky smelled water at the Canadian and let him have a loose rein. Soon, the ravine widened and opened up at the edge of the river.

Jack got out of the saddle but kept a tight hold on Bucky’s reins and the rope holding the pack horses. The animals were thirsty and he let them have a good drink before pulling them away. He didn’t want to let them drink too much at one time.

He knew he didn’t have much time to waste but the river looked so inviting that he took off his pistol belt, hung it over the saddle horn, waded a short way into the river, and lay face down in the cool water. Jack took a big drink, refilled his canteen, and then started looking for a good spot to cross.

During his days hunting buffalo Jack had crossed the Canadian numerous times. Quicksand was a big danger if you picked the wrong spot. He had never crossed at this area but he thought it looked safe. He found a long branch and began using it to probe the bottom of the river but didn’t find anything that concerned him. He had his bedroll tied to one of the packhorses but he took it off and tied it to Bucky’s saddle so if the other horse went down he wouldn’t lose his bedding.

He had forded quite a few rivers and creeks on Bucky and he knew his horse was good in water. He urged his mount forward with a loose rein. Bucky led them across the river without any problems and Jack felt a big sense of relief.

Jack needed to head east to try to intercept the Indians if they were still alive. He didn’t want to ride down the bank so he could be seen. He rode up out of the river bed and got behind a little rise and headed east. About every ten minutes he would get off Bucky and crawl forward to look at the river. After about half an hour they came to a stand of large cottonwood trees. Jack liked that spot as a potential ambush location.

He tied the horses so they could graze, took his rifles and ammunition to the edge of the cliff that looked down on the river, and settled in to wait. Jack wasn’t sure the Indians could have gotten out of the fire but this was a comfortable place to wait and see.

It was almost too comfortable. The last few days in the saddle had been brutal and Jack wasn’t used to that kind of work anymore. The longer he lay by that tree the harder it was to believe the Indians were still alive.

He had started to nod off when Bucky gave a soft snort. Jack was instantly awake and he looked down to see a lone Indian raider standing by the river. The warrior appeared to look right at him but didn’t seem to react. The young man stood still for several minutes and then gobbled like a tom turkey.

Soon, more Indians rode into the open. In addition to his wife, there were 11 mounted warriors and six extra horses. All of the Indians looked pretty young. He assumed this raid was a way for them to count coup and gain status with the tribe. Bringing back a huge redheaded white woman was going to be a big leg up for them with the tribal elders.

His German wife was naked sitting astride a big gray horse that Jack assumed had been stolen on the raid. Her hands were tied in front of her. All the time they were together the woman remained piously clothed and Jack never saw her naked. What very little of her skin he ever saw was a pale white. The white skin was now burned a beet red by the brutal Kansas sun. Her flaming red hair that she vainly brushed every night now hung in lank strands off her head. The Indians were splashing around in the water like kids. One of them came over and untied a rope that held her ankles together underneath the horse’s belly. He grabbed her leg and jerked it up and pushed her off the other side of the horse. She fell face-first into the shallow water. Every time she tried to stand someone would push her down and laugh at her. It was plain that her captivity had been brutal and would probably get worse if they got back to the tribe when the Indian women would join in torturing the white captive. Jack didn’t like his store-bought wife but he vowed that if he couldn’t kill all of the Indians he would at least kill her so she wouldn’t have to meet the Comanche squaws at the bottom of the Palo Duro.

Jack couldn’t do anything while the raiding party was on the other side of the river. If he started shooting now they would just turn tail and run. He had to be patient and wait for them to cross the river. He hoped they would try it there and not go somewhere else. The river was wide but looked shallow. He figured that being young, these braves didn’t have much experience with river crossings. Jack thought there was a pretty good chance there were some quicksand bogs between him and the far side of the river. He hoped so anyway.

Eventually, the braves tired of playing in the water and mounted their ponies. It took two of them to get his wife back on top of the gray horse. Her hands were still tied but they didn’t tie her ankles. Once everyone was mounted they started across.

Jack hoped Bucky and the other horses would remain quiet for a while longer. Once he started shooting they could make all the noise they wanted. The warriors were riding two abreast much like cavalry troopers. Jack decided to start with the two riders closest to the far bank. The old buffalo hunter took a deep breath to calm himself and exhaled slowly as he started to squeeze the trigger. The big .50 caliber gun roared and the last rider’s dead body shot backward in a red mist of blood, bones, and guts. The brave beside him tried to turn his pony back but Jack’s second shot put a quick end to his escape.

Jack shifted his sights to the brave leading the way across. He appeared to be the leader of the raiding party. He was carrying a long lance with several feathers tied near the point in one hand and had a rope in the other hand controlling the gray horse his wife was on. Jack had the sights on the middle of his chest but just before he squeezed the trigger the rider’s pony stumbled forward and started fighting wildly. The rider tumbled off the horse and Jack’s shot missed him.

Jack decided the Sharps was too slow to load and he didn’t need the long-distance the big gun offered. He grabbed the .44 Henry and rushed down to the bank. It appeared the Indians were only armed with bows and lances and the effort of crossing the river was making shooting their bows difficult.

More of the Indian ponies had got caught in quicksand but the riders seemed unwilling to get off their mounts. Jack walked up to the edge of the river bank and started methodically killing the raiders with his Henry rifle. By the time Jack ran out of shells, the barrel was hot from the rapid shots.

Jack scanned the river and it looked like he had killed all of the warriors. The Henry was empty so he leaned it against a log half-buried in the sand.

He was looking at his wife sitting on the gray horse trying to figure out how to get her out of the river when the brave he had missed rose up out of the water and threw his lance at him. Jack lunged to the side and the deadly spear barely missed the mark. As Jack was standing up he saw the Indian grab his wife’s leg and flip her off the horse like he had done before.

The young brave tried to climb up onto the gray horse but quickly realized the animal was stuck and gave up. He slid under the gray’s belly and smashed the sharp blade of his tomahawk into the red hair of Jack’s wife. The young Indian started running through the water and somehow didn’t hit any quicksand.

He hit the bank with his tomahawk in one hand and his scalping knife in the other. He was snarling as he charged toward his enemy. Jack realized he should’ve reloaded the Henry but it was too late for that now. He pulled the two Colt Army revolvers out and pointed them at the charging savage. He cocked back the hammers and pulled the triggers but the guns didn’t fire. Jack quickly cocked the hammers on both weapons, but again neither fired. He hadn’t thought the guns got wet in the river crossing but it looked like he was wrong.

The young Indian seemed to realize what was happening and slowed down to enjoy the white man’s terror. The enraged brave was circling and taunting him as Jack cocked the hammers back one more time and pulled the triggers. The Colt in his left hand misfired again but the percussion cap on the right side pistol hit dry powder and a .44 caliber lead ball and about a foot of flames flew from the barrel and punched a hole in the young brave’s forehead.

Jack walked forward and kicked the hawk and knife aside. He stood over the Indian and began working the hammers and triggers on the revolvers but he had already used his only good round.

He holstered the Colts and walked back and sat down on the log. While he was sitting there letting his nerves settle, he reloaded the Henry just in case any more surprises were waiting for him in the river. As he sat there he thought about the woman he had summoned from Germany. He didn’t like her and sure wouldn’t miss the displeasure of her company but seeing her skull split apart was an image that would stay with him a long time. He started feeling a little guilty about what had happened to her. But Jack wasn’t a man prone to self-doubt or blame so he eventually decided it was the Indians, not him, who were responsible for her fate and he didn’t think about it again.

Jack finally walked back to Bucky and got his spare .44 cylinders and rearmed his Colt pistols. He put both rifles in the saddle scabbards and rode Bucky down to the river to see if he could save any of the horses.

He managed to get the big gray horse out pretty easily. Jack liked the look of the horse and decided he would keep him. He managed to get a rope on three of the Indian ponies and drag them out of the river. One had a badly broken leg so Jack led it down the bank and shot it.

When he finished with the horses he looked for his wife’s body but didn’t see it. He had to admit to himself that he didn’t look all that hard. He walked back to the young brave he had killed and collected his breastplate, lance, tomahawk, scalping knife, and beaded sheath. He knew a couple of collectors who would pay good money for the items. The last thing he did was to take his scalp and roll the body into the river.

Jack carried the tomahawk and scalping knife down to the dead horse and cut off one of the hind legs to roast and to make some jerky. He moved back to the cottonwood trees and got a small fire going. He figured this was as good a place as any to spend a couple of days resting and thinking about where he was going next.

∞∞∞

After two days of rest, the stink of the dead pony was starting to bother Jack so he decided to head out. He added the gray horse to his pack string and started heading south toward Amarillo. He knew it shouldn’t be too far south but he didn’t know if it was west or east of his location. It turned out to be just a little bit to the east.

Jack remembered there was a horse trader and livery operation on the north side of Amarillo so that was where he headed.

He was surprised the Indian ponies followed along beside the other horses instead of running off. It took about four hours to make the trek to the livery but the trip was a lot less tiring than the last several days had been. He had just finished tying Bucky and the pack horses to the corral fence when a grizzled old man walked up.

“Can I help you, young man?”

It had been a long time since Jack had considered himself to be a young man but compared to the old fellow who had addressed him he guessed it was fitting.

“I’d like to sell some of these nags and feed the rest.”

The old man pointed to the two ponies standing beside his pack animals and said, “Those two look like injun ponies.”

“They were, but they ain’t no more.”

The old man’s eyebrows went up but then asked, “What the hell am I going to do with ‘em?”

“Ride ‘em or roast ‘em. It don’t make a damn bit of difference to me.”

“You’re kind of a hard case ain’t you fellow?”

Jack told the owner which horses he intended to keep and which ones he wanted to sell. The old man looked them over and then said, “I ain’t real flush with cash right now.”

“I’m goin’ to need a wagon. Maybe we could make a trade?”

“Movin’ are ya? How far do you figure to go?”

“Far enough that the ground ain’t so flat that I can see all the way to next week and where I can find a tree to sit under when the sun’s high.”

The old man cackled and said, “Gawd damn young fellow, I ain’t got no wagons good enough for a trip that damn long.”

Jack said, “I was in Austin one time and it seemed passable so I’m thinking of heading there.”

“I heard that place is full of politicians and whores.”

“That sounds alright to me. I’ll try to ignore the politicians and pay close attention to the whores.”

The old man laughed again and said, “Well, let’s go take a look at what I’ve got.”

Jack looked at the wagons and found one that he thought might work but it needed some repairs. The two men haggled over the terms but finally, the old man said, “I’m short a hand right now. How about you stay here and help me while you work on that wagon and we’ll call it ‘even steven’?”

“Does that include room and board for me and my horses?”

“It does. There’s a cot in the tack shed and a trunk where you can lock up your stuff.”

Jack held out his hand and said, “Deal.”

He stayed two weeks and helped Hank, the livery owner with the horses when he was needed and worked on the wagon when he wasn’t. The two men talked a lot during the day and sat around every night swapping lies and half-truths. The old man loved reading dime novels and he and Jack would talk about some of the stories. Jack had lived a pretty rough life and had personally known some of the men Hank had only read about. He knew for a fact that most of the stories Hank liked were nothing more than pure horse shit but he mostly kept those thoughts to himself. He didn’t see any point in throwing mud on Hank’s heroes.

At the end of the second week, Jack had finished the wagon repairs and was itchin’ to head south to Austin. Hank had been trying to convince him to stay in Amarillo. Jack could see the logic from Hank’s point of view but not from where he was standing. He liked the old man but damn sure didn’t share his love affair with the Texas Panhandle. It reminded him too much of Kansas – too flat, too windy, and the women were too few, too far between, and too damn ugly. He was ready to see new country and couldn’t see any point in waiting until the snow flew.

Jack didn’t have any idea what he planned on doing in Austin but he figured something would work out. The only thing he knew for damn sure was that his days of being a sodbuster were over and done!