Western Short Story
The Son of Cattle Barons
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

When beloved Welcome "Kucky" Ross was shot by a bushwhacker, no range war rampant, nor enemies of common knowledge, two of Texas' cattle barons met at the boundary of their ranges after interment, to discuss the death of a son, a son-in-law as well.

Both men were heart-broken and neither one tried to hide his feelings, though they had long been on opposite sides of many deals. "He's my son, too," his father-in-law said, the words drawing the two men tighter than they might ever have been.

Welcome Ross, I, had carved out his ranch on the wide grass with years of effort, the ranch known as The Duke's Edge. Father-in-law Jade George, Junior, of the Bull's Head, had inherited his property from his mother, who died only two months after her husband, from a bushwhacker's bullet also, a quickly dispatched posse only finding a horse trail faded into a wind storm that forced the retreat of the posse, their return to home, no guilty party named, no resolution ever determined.

Sadness and loss had brought these ranchers closer.

The latest victim, 24 years old, was born as Welcome Ross, II, on a celebrated day for grandparents owning two of the largest ranches in Texas, to the daughter of one of those ranches, and her husband from the other ranch. There was a huge celebration at his birth, a boy welcomed and so named for his arrival by parents and grandparents. A few folks said he was born laughing, "or at least smiling through the whole ordeal."

It was evident he had a head start on the good life for those times in the wide stretches of Texas.

The burial was put off for days to allow the word to spread, which brought visits from every hand who had once worked for either ranch in Kucky's time.

It quickly became known that two younger siblings had nicknamed Welcome, II, as Kucky, whatever way it might be spelled, from a day when he soiled his pants riding an untamed pony wild as a pig with a poke.

With that nickname, obviously on for the long ride, he developed a remarkable sense of humor, treating the name as if given to him by the Overhead, amusement abounding in him at its use, accepting the taunts and harsh words thrown as taglines to the name. With duty, acceptance, non-interruption, he responded to the name immediately; it set him for all to see, as friendly, affable, but serious of name calling. No other name came in the calling.

Priscilla George, Prissy to one and all, never once addressed Welcome, II, as Kucky; from an early age she had decided he was the man she'd marry one day ... and he'd not be Kucky to her. Her father spoke his negative thoughts until he observed his dead wife, and Prissy's mother, coming back in his daughter, and wisely backed down. He'd been caught in that twist before.

Prissy, of a certainty, handled the proposal: "You will marry me before I turn 22 or never. That's all I'll say, and if you agree, we can seal our love this very night." The stunning went both ways, as she received more than what she dreamed. They were together, she thought, forever, until the world fell down on top of her.

She had proposed, loved, married, was bearing a child ... and widowed, in that first year.

She told her father and father-in-law, "You get him, who took my husband, or I swear I'll go looking myself, before his child is born."

The two men met at the rage line on a splendid day, but crowded by loss and threats and dire promises of the expectant mother of Kucky Ross's child.

In the employ of both her father and father-in-law she had a few close friends among the ranch hands, especially those that had hung with her husband in his early years and/or worked trail with him in good times and hard times. She selected hard riders, tough workers, good listeners,

smart interpreters of innuendo, rumor, campfire talk, bar talk sober or drunk they might hear concerning the father of her unborn child.

Four men she commissioned for the tasks explained to them as a group at a very secretive meeting, swearing each one to secrecy, loyalty and dogged search for the simplest of clues. remarks accidentally exploited, slurred at bar or poker table, or in raucous story telling at trail camps and similar gatherings ... daring to call them Kucky's Rangers, or the KR Boys.

She'd send them in a variety of directions,, to nearby towns and villages, across the state of Texas, and into some of those places bordering Texas including the Mexican States of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas to the southwest, and U. S. states of Louisiana to the east, Arkansas to the northeast, Oklahoma to the north, and New Mexico to the west. If necessary, the waters of the gulf of Mexico would be targeted.

"That," she said to herself in sound concern, "will be enough to set them to work from the first word."

They responded with sworn determination to unearth the Earth itself to find the thinnest leads concerning the death of their friend..

One of them, from her father's ranch, was a rugged and handsome cowboy, veteran of four drives north, Steve Anchor, who was the quietest of the lot, stared deepest into her eyes at explanations and reasons, and the only one who asked by what means they might relay information to her if it could not be brought directly to her person.

She reacted womanly, with quickness, bright ideas, and a side-saddle of humor. "Pretend, in any manner you wish, that you are seeking my favor. You may not realize the payment, but it will ease the burden on all of us to get Kucky's killer."

It was the first time any of them had heard the name from her.

As she might have foretold, it was Steve Anchor who reported back first, a note to her delivered by messenger, simply saying, "The best prospect for a new sheriff, mouthy on the cause carries a new Sharps in his saddle, the long range beauty now for sale. He drinks rum. Always has a cigar lit, smokes 'em to the stub. Worked short time TDETH, will revisit this fined village twene ArborsV LudlumT cigar fire rumble."

Prissy smiled at her interpretation, Anchors' language concepts, resigned to its meaning, "I have met a man who spoke ill of your Kname, carries a new long-range Sharps in his saddle sheath, smokes cigars to the final stub, once worked for a time at The Duke's Edge, TH his initials, in a saloon between Arborsville and Ludlumtown drinking rum. I will track him down again in towns named."

TH, in a quick session with one older foreman, was revealed as a cowpoke named Thorn Hurley who was let go for lack of effort.

She called in another trusty soul, Martin Reed, young, imaginative, one of her favorites, and said, "Draw a map with a circle around it where my husband was killed, Marty. The size of the circle should be determined by the distance a long range newer Sparks rifle would be effective. Mark all the spots you find where a man could hide and with a clear sighting shoot and kill Welcome. I hear those new Sharps rifles are excellent weapons. Don't mark any spot where sight is obstructed by a rise in the ground, trees, boulders, a shack or barn or a lean-to. It has to be a clear view. Be particular about any place you find with cover behind the shooter, keeping him out of general sight. It's a hard job, takes some decisions, but I know I can trust you all the way, Marty."

A look went across Prissy's face as though a moment of unseen history was playing itself out. Then her look changed and she said, "You know what I mean, a place where a killer, a back-shooter'd pick out just like I've explained to you. I know it's spooky business, but maybe you can do what he did in setting up Welcome as a target. Mark them all, the good spots. I'm going searching when you're done. It's wild stuff, but it could be the very first lead to come from all of this."

Her hand touched his arm. "Don't tell my father or Welcome's father, Marty. Do it as a favor for me. I want the killer caught before this baby's born." She patted her swelling full of coming life. "There's a bonus in it for a good job." Her expression could have swept up the whole world for her.

"Yes, Ma'am," he gulped, to a woman younger than he was, even as she wondered who'd get back to her first, Mary Reed or Steve Anchor. Both of them, before the other two searchers, would be out and about where she wanted to be in the limited amount of time she had to work on her end of a murder demanding to be solved.

It was almost with a divine hand in the matter when Marty Reed showed her his map, with a dozen possible places where a shot could be fired.

But one mark was bolder than the others.

"This place here, by that small crop of rock and boulders sticking out of the ground like it came from the middle of the earth in the middle of the night, and trees behind it. Even a horse would be out of sight there. It's the perfect place."

An embarrassing smile fixed his face, an apologetic smile, an innocent-as-all-Hell smile.

Prissy smiled, touched by his innocence, his youth, and said, "I know the place. Let's ride out there. You see any shell casings around?"

"Not a thing," he replied, "and I did look around. Old tracks was all I saw, dozens of them, range riders out of the sun, maybe for a rest, slop his hat for water for his horse." He shrugged, as though his mission had been diminished in its intent.

Prissy Ross searched the ground from one part of morning shade to the end of it, the rock as craggy as any ill-formed cluster thrust up out of the ground a thousand or more years earlier. She was on her hands and knees much of the time, scratching away at dirt, running her fingers through it, now and then resting as if the new weight she carried was talking to her, telling her to rest.

"You oughten't be down there like that, Prissy. It's not good for you. And I did what exactly you're doing now ... and found nothing. Not a sliver of a thing. Nothing." He put his hand out to help her get up from the ground.

She rose slowly, thanked him, and then began scouring on the rock formation as if lightning had hit it a dozen times, rending and chipping it, making cracks and fissures in the faces of the element.

And there! In one crack! In one horizontal fissure, the first solid clue! One she had been looking for. Retrieving something from that crevice, she slipped it into her shirt pocket. "Let's go, Marty, I'll never be able to thank you enough. She hugged him.

They rode back to the ranch, once in a while Marty Reed saw her hand feeling the mound on her stomach, making him extremely nervous.

But determination, dedication, effort and thorough work often come together for erstwhile souls, for as they approached the ranch house they saw Steve Anchor riding toward them from further west, waving his hat in the air.

"I found him, Prissy. He's been seen in The Cross Trails Saloon in Ludlumtown, only a few hours' ride from here."

At her direction, the two hands mustered a crew of six more men, each one newer at the ranch, and all set out for the short ride, a posse commissioned en route.

Steve Anchor checked out the saloon, came back and said, "He's in there, playing cards, cigar lit up. Not too many folk there yet."

Prissy sent in three men ahead of the others, telling them to be noisy and regular on entrance, and go right to the bar as they usually would.

When she walked in with Marty Reed and Steve Anchor she put a gun to the back of Thorn Hurley's neck. She jabbed it tightly against his neck as she felt a labor pain strike through her body.

:Thor Hurley, we're arresting you for the bushwhacking murder of my husband, Welcome Kucky Ross." She slipped her free hand into her shirt pocket, withdrew it, and dropped the stub of the cigar butt onto the tabletop in front of Thorn Hurley, the stub she'd found suck in the crevice of the bushwhacker's shooting spot..

Steve Anchor disarmed Hurley, and Marty Reed grasped Prissy Ross as her labor pains suddenly intensified.

Welcome Kucky Ross, III, was born in The Cross Trails Saloon in Ludlumtown, Texas on the 28th day of August in 1879. He lived until the ripe old age of 88, at the Duke's Edge Ranch, where he is buried in a family plot. He lies beside his mother, father, grandfather, grandmother, and a number of ranch hands alone in their world.