Western Short Story
Reno Wilson was, in Mexican language, a caballerango groom, a ranch hand who takes care of the saddle horses. One who knew his place on the ranch and his duties, and as good as any employee boss Harley Bates had hired flat-out on their first meeting, trusting in his observation and quick-study of any man in a saloon surrounding, knowing the why’s and when’s and what’s behind a new character, coming under his capacities as ranch boss in the heart of Texas, near the small town of Bootstrap, Texas.
He liked Reno’s name right off the bat, so to speak, a short name shouted out quickly catches attention right away. It was a cinch move for the boss, and a good station for Reno, looking for permanent work, like calling Alexandrovich for help might lose valuable seconds, or a lifetime;
And Reno a snap issue.
They clicked, in the first early weeks, but Hell was coming down the trail for the ranch, no three ways about it.
George Lugo, and his local barbarous gang, picked on quiet and profitable ranch spreads; the neater, the less rework needed once squeezed from one owner to a new owner, preferably Lugo himself. There were ultimate funds made in the change-over. Even the bankers were aware of such changes, such re-arrangements in life, much to their interests in the growing West.
It had proven itself numerous times, Lugo getting things under his control, making a new deal, putting money in the Bootstrap Bank under his name. Already it was being said by some know-it-alls that the Bootstrap Bank would never get robbed. Not a chance of it, not where Lugo heard whispers in the middle of the night, in the middle of town or the wide prairie, so many listeners on his side, easy money for easy listening. Who cared who knew, for Lugo had his paybacks in order, all of them under gun control, and at instant demand?
When it did get robbed, once, Lugo and his boys caught the unknowing Colorado gang as they slept by their night fire not far from town, tied them up, and marched them en masse straight to the Bootstrap jail.
Lugo and boys were treated like local heroes, ignorance notwithstanding.
All of which takes us to Lugo’s contact with Larry Stewart, a soft-spoken cowpoke who bumped into Lugo in a saloon and enraged him, but Lugo played it cool, checked him out and he looked like a meek character up for easy pickings, offering little in the way of his own defense.
“Let’s shake up this cat,” Lugo said to his boys one night sitting around doing nothing, “and have some fun. He looks like a sure patsy in a crowd. We could drag it out for a full night of entertainment.”
He slapped his hands in anticipated enjoyment, laughed loudly and uproariously, and his gang of thugs looked forward to an easy night at the hands of some nobody living a sad, quiet life on a little cabin and a small chunk of land, entirely enough for his own deep soul.
Life, as we all know, comes loaded with surprises.
For quiet Larry Stewart, thin, wiry, quick on his feet, nearly bald under his sombrero, was actually Civil War Medal of Honor winner, Jebel Stuart, no one to fool around with, a man with a ton of guts, who wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of his life in a comfort zone, at his own peace, the shootings in his life hopefully done, death an occasional visitor to those around him, and him fully believing the massive amount of deaths in his times at crucial battles were enough to last until eternity came and went for him.
When Lugo turned his men on Stewart, the real Stuart, the quiet hero, met them face to face, guns drawn, rifle ready and loaded beside him, and not only drove some of Lugo’s men off, but dropped a few in places near Stuart’s cabin, the cat now out of the bag, as he buried three of Lugo’s men on his property, him remembering burying enemy dead practically on the spot where they got killed in battle, eternity on hand for them, one at a time , or a squad at a time, lessons never over and done with.
Lugo let well-enough alone, and turned his attention elsewhere; a lesson learned often comes with a surprise on the tag end of things too common to be common, little Stuart more truth than the innocents in a country classroom, the teacher a blossom of a woman, her students entranced by learning all that they might never know, Time never at a standstill.
Reno Wilson, attentive as ever, know little of neighbors who labored dawn to dusk, but knew those who spent their days in their own servitude, let Time make its own moves. Saw all, tried to gather all of it to his knowledge. His boss readily acknowledged the man’s intelligence, his friendship with all hands and all decent neighbors, not all friendly for the asking.
Thus, it was that Lugo and his crew picked on Harley Bates ranch as a new target for takeover, only Reno Wilson standing in their way from all that they heard about the ranch, about Bates, about his chief wrangler, about his money in the bank.
Like Stewart or Stuart before them, they had little fear of Reno Wilson, just a chief wrangler, a Saturday steady at the saloon, little else on his mind but ranch horses and a weekend night with a bottle or half a dozen beers. It would be a cinch, not remembering they had declared that outlook on other matters, other persons. The Stewarts, Stuarts, never entered their minds.
“Let’s start with that wrangler that the owner hired not too long ago, a new guy in the territory, a plug himself who wandered here to get hired as a wrangler and nothing else but booze on his mind. Doesn’t even have a girlfriend, I’ve heard. A quiet sissy of a man, a cinch for fun and then we grab the whole place, force the owner to sign a paper saying he traded it to us or so he could move to California or someplace west like that. And the place can be ours. We might even make it our headquarters for the next 50 years.”
He laughed so hard at the idea, he almost cried. His gang was in hysterics.
“Hey, Chief,” one of them said, “why not make it a 100 even?”
But Reno Wilson was not just a wrangler on a ranch, he was a collector of horses, by the hundreds, and had lost count of them all, thinking he had about 700 horses, only about 100 of them saddle-broken, but a remuda to please the biggest rancher in the world. He loved his horses and never dreamed they’d be a force for him, or for Harley Bates, their real owner.
But that time was coming near.
Lugo’s bandits came in force, sweeping over the ranch, forcing Reno to the back of one of the many barns and setting up their headquarters in another barn, “That big house becoming ours before they’ll know it,” said Lugo. He looked around at his gang and said, “First thing in the morning, guns drawn, we make our pitch for the big house. We’ll walk right through it, pick out our own rooms, become somebody else.”
He clapped his hands again, laughed again, repeated, “Remember, first thing in the morning, we advance on the big house,” and Reno Wilson, in the mow, hearing every word.
They tell the story over and over again in Bootstrap, how Lugo’s gang gathered and advanced on the big house of Harley Bates, not a single shot fired from either side, until Reno Wilson’s horses ran loose between the fences where the gang advanced, crushing the gang almost into oblivion, Lugo down for the final count. Not a single member ever again daring to say that he had taken part in the failed takeover of The Harley Bates Ranch, because a bunch of horses had broken loose.