Western Short Story
The End of a Peaceful War
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

Morning came upon the prairie with a suddenness, as though shot there by a mighty rifleman at a universal distance, an echo in its haste the way horse clops are deciphered from a valley, from behind a pillar of stone. Mark Gentry was only half awake at the most, caught by the single sound of hoofs at a beat, between eve and dawn, not a shot had been fired from either side in a contest for water rights off the spur of the Kettle River, as stated, between them and us.

Claude Rendue, mighty opponent in any struggle, stated in the Snuggle-up Saloon in Kettle River City, “The spur off the river marks the edge of my land and I was the first man hereabouts to cross that source of water with my family and lay claim to it as part of my property; it’s in the paperwork the judge has in his hands.” He pointed at the building across the street where Judge Mathis kept his office, and his papers, official and otherwise.

Gentry, top man for his boss, Max Portell, repeated nearly word for word, the same statement: “Max said the same thing last night, and right here at this bar, how he crossed the river in the other direction, claiming the same rights, and the judge has them locked up over there. “He, too, pointed at the judge’s office. “I don’t think he wants to come out and be in the middle of a firefight, or a duel at the most. He thinks accidents are made to happen, which we all know, and have seen over the years, how they swung into action from the minute a gun’s drawn as part of a statement on a claim.”

He shrugged his shoulders, looked aloft for an answer, shook his head at the ensuing silence. “I think He ducks us when we’re trying to solve our own problems, leaving it all to us, right in the palm of our hands,” He touched a pistol with one finger, meaning what he said in other words, another way.

The two foremen, from two dueling ranchers finally agreed they’d never get a piece of the pie, no matter what they did for their respective bosses, including, and most likely, falling down dead, knocked down dead, dead on the run from the other side in a useless war of desperation on the lone side of growth and ownership, a mere loss of life in a mere lesson in avarice, the cheapest way to go, apparently.

They set out on their own, in two different directions, each with an intention of never crossing lines with each other; live alone, be alone, be at peace and leave the war or others, if they so wish.

Within a year, and miles apart, each one heard about the owners dying in the saddle and younger sons, in each instance, taking over control of their ranches now. It would be a daunting task for each youngster, so they packed up their problems, packed up their gear, and headed back to where they had been, each to find themselves quickly rehired to run the ranches as run before; cooly, cleanly, neat as a dime.

Not a spat of any kind arose for over a full year, all things moving smoothly as directed, mostly from the saddle, then the most basic of all problems arose in the most innocent of forces, as most people would term it; a pretty girl moved into town, a most pretty girl, in fact, a most beautiful girl, aware from the first moment of impact that a small war would be in the action before an honest deep breath was taken, as she saw fit to fire the first shot, asking about if there was at least one handsome man connected to the town in any fashion, as she had not seen any in a moth of Sundays, as she termed it.

Those words rode horseback through the town and through the territory, making a few wise old people understand war had actually been declared whether people saw it or not.

Votes began to get collected in a quick onset, one camp being for Kenny Markins, and the other camp for Pete Welfinn, each one more handsome than a dog, as some ladies added in the argument. “That Petey boy can light my fire by one serious look from that face of his,” and another pretty lady would add, “Kenny Markins doesn’t even need to look my way, ‘cause I know him from a sense of feeling without the look, as others make note.

Of course, it was an old timer who turned the tide, so to speak, even on the good old sod from his chair on the deck of his porch, following one of the ladies on her daily ride on a timid mount, getting her to listen to him. “My son is bleary-eyed. About you, but it won’t work out, and I’m putting you on the stagecoach due here in the hour and you’re going to go to Tucson. Don’t worry, I’ll find out where you end up and will personally end all your gear on to you in a short spell, You get yourself known to Mr. Eddie Dodge at the Hotel of Hotels down there and tell him I said to give you a room on my name, and I’ll have all our things sent to you.”

It worked to both their satisfactions, her getting a new place, him sending her goodies on to her new location, and practically nobody the wiser, except his own son who managed to put two and two together and come out with Tucson, a most simple route to his dreamy heaven languishing elsewhere but merely down the line.

Some of the folks, hearing the stories later, figured the old man had set the whole thing up for his son, sooner on the road than even he realized. That’s the way some men get things done, by hook and crook, or by the best laid plans of old men sleeping occasionally in a comfortable chair on a porch, with not much else to do, but spread the good word, milk the good deed, take care of their own, up, fast, before anybody else can squeeze into the act.