Western Short Story
The Comanchero Hunter
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

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, the perennial scout always on the lookout, assaying, judging people, redans and other fortifications, hideaways, shadows of use, and all measures of defense and offense.

Folks in the northern part of the territory, for some years on end, had simply called him Greybow, for the name had grown out of his Indian upbringing and his association with a dozen or more miracle skirmishes. There never seemed to be an encounter with any foe declared less than a win on his side. Never so in any estimation. Tales followed him, grand and grander of course, no matter where he went. And all as if he was riding the high skyline with an incontrovertible eye on the world of the plains; man and beast included.

As a baby, it was bandied about with some authority, he’d been taken from a wagon train by an Indian brave who might have been Pueblo, Comanche, Kiowa, Navajo or Apache. No one was ever sure, but he was taken again and again in following fights between the tribes and went from village to village, tribe to tribe, the warring factions believing the youngster bore a certain charm and a positive future,

The indisputable note in those tales was the locket that was taken from his birthmother by the first brave to hold him and placed around the baby’s neck. It was learned that the locket, as some kind of talisman or totem held in honor by the different tribes, should never have its ownership disturbed less the Gods of the Mountains and the Holy Waters brought down a terrible scourge on the tribe or clan that stole or ruined the locket. Or did not let it run to destiny. That first act of the locket’s adornment had to continue the intention of the first brave to hold him. Greybow, from the first, was bound for glory.

Tales, even the inordinate ones about Greybow, the ones full of courage and honor and fidelity, or the face to face confrontations with those drunk-with-odd-vinegar nights at campfires, became legends, or those that hung on until the new page of the legend came around the corner in full force and at high speed.

And the basic tale took a new twist only when he was taken in tow by Father Leonides Le Pridom, a Jesuit, and where, after learning to read, Greybow understood the words beneath the locket picture of a couple holding a baby; to be “Paul and Ora with our son, Chance, TYOOL 1848,” scratched into the grey field beneath the picture.

As it was, Chance Greybow had a good and nearly holy life put into his own hands, around his neck.

He became a quite efficient hunter of evil men who vandalized, plundered, abused or murdered innocent folks in their quest for gold, goods or their own vision of glory. The wild Comanchero renegade gangs were high on his list because they plagued white settlers without mercy and Indian villages likewise while using Indian tactics to get things done; one role twisted his pain because he was a white boy, and secondly because he had been raised generally by honorable Indians who saw to his tribal education, taught him the true way of an honorable Indian fearing the God of the Mountain.

When Greybow entered towns, he’d sort out all the types of people he had known, met, brushed close to in the saloon, the barbershop, the livery, now and then the jail. He had the ability to check them off as to who and what they were, what part of town life they took on or acted within, for these were cow towns, now between drives’ arrivals and not another seen coming up the trail for the next month or so, and if there wasn’t another one after that, why winter would jump right in on top of them, take them prisoner, hold them there without parole or any hope of release until a bird would tell them in the spring that the clock had changed, the season had changed, that all Earth itself had changed from the flat grass for untraveled miles, the blocked-out structure of canyons caught and quartered by Mother Earth in one of her wild, spasmodic and reformative accidents --- to become once more, once again, a vision of life on the hoof … cattle and horses and the everlasting predators, man or animal, that preyed on them or used them incessantly.

For it was then that travel ensued, carriages came, stagecoaches, freighters too, and oddly-seamed saddle tramps or poor souls winter had beaten near to death --- and only the spring bird had brought the alarm, the warning of rescue to them.

The article in The Bright Star, of course, carried the conversation in the saloon and the general store, and the sheriff’s office, for almost two weeks. The move was received with hope, but belief that one man cold do the job remained in constant question.

Early in Quipilanta, from shadows, corners, views from afar, Greybow saw and studied a hale young man, about 25, a good rider, a non-drinker, a gentleman who stepped aside only for ladies and the elderly. His name was Corvin Stillwing and the name had garnered his interest, and readily sparked it, for he felt some mutual connection and decided it was a Native connection … though Stillwing was as blond and as fair-skinned as one could be, except for his hands and the lower part of his face open to the sun, the part below his hat’s shade line. If there was a distinguishing mark about him, other than those already mentioned, he carried a distinctive cleft on his chin, but early in the Quipilanta assignment it was covered by a beard thick enough to do the job

And there appeared about Stillwing a durability inscribing a note of character abounding about him, not a conscious thrust of power but something latent, ready, real. He was six feet and some measure, not excessively wide in the shoulders, but large biceps filled his arms. Hands that flexed easily and languorously graced the muscled arms promised quickness with rope, rein and weapon.

Greybow took him to be a perfect ally and set about to confirm his decision. It did not take long. Several talks went underway, secrets revealed, wishes and needs explored, and Corvin Stillwing was enlisted at Chance Greybow’s deputy, without badge for the time being, in Quipilanta.

One of Greybow’s and Stillwings’ early conversations was spotted by a surly looking character that also held himself in shade and shadow. He wore a course-looking bandana, spoiled with earth and sweat, about his neck, a Stetson beat by wind, rain and snow sat his head, and he carried two Colts and a bandolier across his chest only partially hidden by a vest angered and spoiled by the times.

He rode slowly out of town, and then set his horse, a dull gray mare, into a steady trot once they were out of town. Into a deep canyon the next day he lead his horse and dismounted in front of a crude cabin, with a dozen horses at the hitching rack.

He dismounted, yelled a cry, and stepped inside to a crowd of men. “Amigos, allí es un visitante en la ciudad que se mantiene en shadowsm fuera de la vista. Sólo habla con el jefe de Stillwing, Corbin bonita. Creo que el extraño en las sombras es Greybow, el que nos espera.”

One man in the corner, the lone white man in the group, had a bit of trouble understanding what had been said, but finally understood the message: “Amigos, There is a visitor in town who keeps himself in shadows, out of sight. He only talks to the Stillwing honcho, Corbin the pretty one. I think the stranger in the shadows is Greybow, the one we wait on.”

The group all looked at the white man with so many scars across his face a hot thin wire might have been dropped on him. His ugliness was brought out by the scars, as if hate was a burning and live thing swelling his insides. In a black Stetson, gray vest and shirt, black pants, and expensive-looking boots with shining spurs that caught the glint of puffed cigars, he stood out even in the semidarkness of the cabin. The room was heavy with smoke that poured out an open window.

The ensuing chatter, often initiated with new questions by the scarred man, went back and forth in Mexican and English, turns being taken by the speakers so that all understood.

The white man looked to be the boss man. The only name used to address him was “Rich Dave.” He allowed no other name for him to be mentioned, if, indeed, any of the others knew his real name. To a man they addressed him as “Rich Dave.”

He said to Tombino, the messenger, “Are you sure it’s Greybow? We must be sure.”

The messenger who had spotted Greybow said, “We knew he comes to town. We were told. He is the only stranger in three days.” Standing suddenly, a favored whip still in his hand, he said, “Él es el diablo al Comanchero, estoy seguro.”

Rich Dave nodded and said,” Tell me where and when he talked to the pretty boy.”

“Down an alley two times, then beside the livery in deep evening, like they had more secrets than the Aztecs. They shake hands three, four times, and slide into shadows like the coyote after “el canejo” with the big ears.”

Rich Dave said, “What way does he go back to the hacienda? How long does it take him?”

“On the north road, toward Lynch Hill. He rides, rests at the river, goes along. Two hours.”

“How many men to catch him? Tie him up?”

Tombino said, “Me and The Snake.” He pointed to the ornery looking man sitting beside him. “”That’s all.”

Unaware of any problem, any danger, Corbin Stillwing was trussed and bound to his horse before he knew it, The Snake had leaped from the branch of a tree directly above him as Tombino waved at Stillwing from afar, drawing all is attention as he stood below the tree and let his horse drink from the stream.

And Chance Greybow, reinforced by native learning, student of people and their ways, which put him three steps ahead of the whole west, watched from his own hidden place, momentarily sorry that he had chosen such a good young man to be bait for this hyena pack of Comanchero, but a lot more lives were at stake than just Corbin Stillwing’s, who would always bear some of his Indian character, who would be graced with his place in the world and his outright sense of justice and fair play in the constant battle against evil.

He sat back, saw the play developing, and the entrapment most likely to be put into play.

Rich Dave and his gang, with Stillwing tied to his saddle, rode away from the cabin, ascended a steep rise above the river, and all dismounted near a single tree that grew out of the edge of a cliff 200 or more feet above the river.

The Snake tied a noose in a rope and on his second attempt managed to swing it onto a limb hanging out over the river. He fed it enough slack so that the noose lowered from the branch almost a dozen feet. Then Tombino used his whip to snare the loop and draw it onto the cliff’s edge.

They slipped Stillwing off his mount, put the noose around his legs and swung him loose … out over the river.

Rich Dave tied off the end of the rope at the foot of the tree, summoned Tombino at his side, handed him a hastily scratched note and said, “Make sure Greybow sees this.”¡Vaya! Vamoos!”

Tombino nodded, remounted his horse and set off for town.

The rest made camp. It would take at least a day and a half for Greybow to respond and join them here.

But Greybow, watching them from his new hiding place, his horse hidden as well, slipped into a space to plan his next move. His mind drifted over what he knew, what he had seen, what had been provided to him as valid information, what the feelings in his gut were telling him.

The Comancheros, this bunch lead by Rich Dave,” was as evil and merciless as they come: they had murdered at will all who stood in defiance of them … the old, the maimed, the young, the infants, all for very rudimentary gains of a few pieces of gold or silver, a few trinkets, a lot of food and cattle and horses to sell off. Rich Dave, as a result, lived high on the hog!

His approach was not from the back of them, not from a higher ground with greater protection, but from a lower point, along the edge of the cliff where the Comancheros could not see him from the vantage … but Corbin Stillwing saw him in his stealthy approach, a smile flooding his face.

Greybow’s finger crossed his own lips in an order of silence, then, in the evening shadows falling about them, he motioned for Stillwing to try to swing himself back and forth. The young man did as he was bid, and heard one Comanchero say, “He tries to swing himself loose, Rich Dave, Free as a bird but locked in place. Ha ha ha!”

“He’s going no place. Let him be. If he falls, we won’t have to worry about him.” He too laughed as his subordinate had, and they all settled back into place as the shadows kept pace with the vanishing sun.

In less than half an hour, from his spot on a ledge sporting a slight indentation in the cliff face, Greybow had a rope around Stillwing after yanking upward on his own loop of rope.

Slowly, silently, without seemingly the air itself remaining still, he drew Stillwing to the ledge, cut loose the loose the bonds on his legs, and sat him on the ledge until feeling came back into his legs,

In the semidarkness the part moved along the ledge until they could stand tall and crawl over the top of the cliff face. Silent as hunters, they made their way to Greybow’s’ hiding place, loaded weapons for a fight, ate few biscuits and jerky and prepared for a night of sleep under the stars, and a small war under the risen sun.

Night went quietly, the stars illustrious by the hundreds upon hundreds, animals at odd choruses, the breezes and higher winds in a natural harmony.

Dawn, on the other hand, did not start off as well for the Comancheros.

Greybow and Stillwing rose before the sun, got into position above the Comancheros after Quipilanta’s new peace officer explained what needed to be done. He explained it all to Stillwing, who was a good listener and understood the consequences of mistakes.

At length, life about the canyon in a kick-start, they heard someone make a ruckus, and then a yell came that flooded the canyon: ¡“Oye, Rich Dave, Él ha ido! ¡Él se hizo suelto! ¡La cuerda fue cortada! ¡Él ha ido! ¡Aquel Diablo entre nosotros, Esto Greybow!”

To a man, including Rich Dave, they all understood the cries as, “Hey, Rich Dave, He’s gone! He got loose! The rope was cut! He’s gone! That Devil’s among us, That Greybow!”

The Comancheros scattered to get weapons, their horses ran off, and a hail of gunfire slammed into the rocky ground at their feet. Rich Dave raised his hands, the gunfire, slightly altered, would drop too many of the gang, including him. The edge of the cliff was behind them, no more than a few feet, a long fall behind that, and the river ran wildly below, a river that had carried many of their victims to a cruel end.