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Western Short Story
The Horsemen of Prairie Junction
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

The first one to step forward was the youngest in the lot of them, Greg Sandby, 16 if a day, blond as they come, sure to be some lovely girl’s delight before too long, but the rustlers rousting that end of Texas were a closely-organized bunch of thieves, and seemed bent on ruining too many ranch owners in East Texas, three owners already chucking in the towel, heading north for new tries at running steers to markets.

The loudest rancher in their midst was Earl Coombs, already promoting young Sandby toward his daughter Nancy, cuter than the old button, looking closely at young Greg for her own partner down the lonely trail to happiness as she saw it, the way her mother and father had managed their long partnership, thirty years now and no stop evident or hinted.

At the moment, in the Silver Horn Saloon in Prairie Junction, a host of speakers, one at a time, or several at once until young Sandby jumped on top of a table and yelled, “Stop all the damned talking and do something before we all go under the plow. I’m for riding the rustlers down with our own posse, guns loaded and primed for action, no holding back, shooting them off their saddles or at a campfire someplace out there after we scrape them up,” at which he pointed to several directions, and continued, “when they’re holding a campfire meeting just like this one, only one of them does all the talking, the smartest one of the bunch, but still a plain old rotten thief waiting to be hung by the neck but not by a bunch of talkers like us but like what we could be.”

He suddenly sat down amidst the silence of ranchers measuring their fates, or their next move in the very salvation of Prairie Junction, all knowing the town could fold up if they let go of it too early in the game, a bit of embarrassment catching hold of him, like a kid shooting off his mouth when it should be one of the older men in the crowd, who had been through their own wars earlier in life.

The silence continued, unrest moving through many of the ranchers in the crowd at seeing and hearing a youngster set them back in their slowed-down measurement of actions. It was near shame gathering for reaction.

But the unrest and the silence had stirred their collective selves, and the youngest in the room had set the pace for action. It was his father, Roger Sandby, who spoke next, as if the lot of them had looked to him to be the one his son had almost nominated by suggestion, the way he had carried on, as if it was a twist of ‘like father, like son’ coming off as ‘like son, like father.’

Roger Sandby said, “I’ll be glad to stop ranching for a while, leave my family on their own, and go headhunting, my guns loaded for the rustlers, and who else will give up some time away from home and get the job done, all done, even if there’s one person in this room who’ll let them know what we’re up to, and don’t think for a minute that they won’t know before we can count on too much of a head start, like tonight, like we’ll be thieves on our own, stealing time from our own places, our own families.”

He slammed his fist on a table and said, “Who’ll ride with me?”

When many men volunteered, he selected a core group, and said, “Look at the map I have here and start drawing connection line to sites they’ve hit and see what’s common ground for them. We have to start some place, and this is about as good as I can use.”

As a group, lines were drawn across the map and it showed most connections coming right near the deserted Los Solunda Mine area, closed down for so long that many of them had never even visited the area. “It’s as good as any place to start, but we have to be careful and not let them know we’re onto their hideout, if it proves to be that. Whoever checks there, keep an eye on it for a whole day and make a report next day to the group of us. Luck might be on our side this time.”

He was looking directly at his son, who volunteered on the spot. “I’ll give that place a once-over for a whole day, staying away from anybody seeing me, and collect what I can. It’s something I can do easily; stay off my horse and root around on that hill of rocks all around that area. Piece of cake for me.”

He was on his horse and ready to ride out. “Wish us luck,” he said, as he patted his horse on the neck, and headed off toward Los Solunda Mine area, once run by a couple of ancient Mexicans who apparently died, one buried and the other carried off by animals, birds or whatever feeds on carrion.

Three days later, he made his report: “Something sure going on there. One man, different each time, makes a checking round every few hours. I don’t think they’ve seen anything because I didn’t either, but they’re keeping tabs for some reason and it’s my guess it’s their hideout.”

He had thrown it out like it was a day caught up on easy checking, from a safe distance. All thought the report was important, and showed some reasoning for the regular rounds.

It loomed as a good place to start.

Off went 8 riders, fully-armed with rifles plus sidearms, to check the area, stay out of sight until they found something positive. They set up a perimeter around the approach to the old mine, dug in, waited for signs.

It didn’t take the whole of that first day, them dug in, horses hid out of sight, itchy fingers though on rifle triggers. Two of the roundsmen at the old mine were recognized as having been in Prairie Junction in the previous month or so, proof enough for arranging the perimeter watch, being ready, waiting for action, getting back at rustlers and thieves, near tying a neck rope in its tough knot, wistfully making amends.

When it became obvious what they were looking at, Roger Sandby said, “We, the Horsemen of Prairie Junction, go at them once we get close enough and see that enough of them are inside the mine and can get cornered there if we play it right. We want to catch as many as we can on the first hit.”

He rubbed his hands together, reparation and even-steven getting close for all their losses.

In three days, feeling like a month, three horsemen came out of the mine as if to make a run for it, changed their minds, and went back into the mine, Sandby’s group wondering how the gang’s supplies and water would last, and if they might already be short of one or the other.

It was a cake-walk for the posse, forcing the hungriest or thirstiest of the gang off their escape mounts before they moved any more than a mile away from the lair, and without trouble, even the promises of hanging being lost in their quick, verbal exchanges; like the threat of hanging being less real than hunger and thirst ramming their bodies with awesome and realistic powers.

When Roger Sandby died of a heart attack a few years later, his son already had a wife, once Nancy Coombs, and he became a ranch owner on the day of his father’s death.


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