Just after dawn the stranger trudged into Harper's Gully leading his horse. They stopped at the watering trough where the horse plunged his muzzle and the man filled his hat which he poured over his head. The water only removed some of the dust from him. He pumped a stream of water from the pump, captured a double handful and slowly swallowed it.
He pulled the horse from the trough and continued along the street to the livery stable where an old man sat leaning his chair against the front wall. The old hostler dropped the front legs of his chair to the ground and stood.
“That horse sure looks done in. How long have you been leading her?”
“Too damn long for walking in riding boots, but if I hadn't she'd have foundered for sure. I gave her some water at the trough, but she'll need more in a while, but don't let her have too much too fast.”
“Sonny, I've been taking care of horses for over fifty years. You don't have to tell me my job. You staying long? It's two bits a day with oats, in advance.”
“I'm sure not going anywhere on Jasmine here for a while, here's a dollar. Take good care of her, she's a good horse. Is it always this dry around here?”
“Yup, always has been.” The old man looked askance at the younger. “Folks make sure to have enough water when they travel hereabouts.”
“I did have, but yesterday some snake but a rifle bullet through my canteens while I was sleeping. By the time I came awake he was gone.”
“You're lucky it wasn't farther out, that's where whoever he is pulls that stunt. Then he waits 'til they're too weak or dead and robs them. They end up dead anyway.”
“I was far enough out, I rode all day and walked all night but I made it.” He was shown a stall and unsaddled Jasmine. Taking his saddlebags he walked across to a building that said hotel on a faded sign.
Tapping on the counter woke the napping clerk, “ Oh, um, Yes Sir, do you need a room?”
“Yeah, how much,?” he asked as he signed the register.
“Two dollars! I don't want a suite, just a room with a bed. I can get a great room in Denver for a dollar that's a lot better than this flea cage you call a hotel. Fifty cents is what I expected.”
“Huh, you just wait until the news of the gold strike travels. You won't get a room at any price.”
“Gold strike huh. Well, I can see by all the keys on your board that it hasn't hit yet. Take a buck now or I'll sleep in the stable with my horse.”
“Okay, but when the crowd gets here it'll be higher, Mr. Wesson.” The clerk was used to reading names from the register upside down.
“I'm going to leave my bags here while I get a drink. Is that the bar through there?”
“Yeah, I'll be right in, the bartender only works in the evening.”
The clerk followed him in. “Okay, what'll you have.”
“Some water first, a pitcher full, then a shot of rye.”
“Water's a dime, we ain't got no rye, all we got is whiskey. Rye, bourbon, scotch, it all comes from the same bottle at twenty five cents, this ain't Denver.”
“Listen, can you hear that?”
After a few seconds the clerk said, “Hear what? I don't hear nothin'.”
“That's right, that big bunch of gold rushers ain't here for you to rob yet, so give me my water and here's ten cents for the whiskey. I'm in no mood for your larceny so hop to it or you'll need new front teeth. Oh, I see somebody beat me to it them. Well, I'll settle for a couple other teeth if I have to.”
“Okay, okay. No need to get nasty.”
“Do you have a man named Jim Reid stayin' here?”
“Never heard of him.”
“Is there any place in town I can get cleaned up?”
“Sure, for a nickel I'll rent you a bucket and you can get water from the pump. Take it out back and wash up. Uh, there's ten cents deposit on the bucket.”
“I'm talking about someplace I can get a bath. Is there a bath house in town?”
“The barber shop has a tub in the back. I don't know of anyplace else that's public.”
“Okay, where's that?”
“Turn left out the door and left again at the corner. It's just around the corner.”
Picking up his saddlebags he walked to the barber shop and entered to find the barber stretched out and snoring in his chair. Grabbing him by the foot, he gave him a shake.
“Ah, Yes Sir. What can I do for you?”
“I need a bath and a shave. I'm almost afraid to ask but how much.?”
“The shave is two bits, and it depends on what kind of bath you want.”
“Your sign out front says ten cents for a shave and that's what I'll pay. Whatta you mean, what kind of bath?”
Well, a regular bath is a dime, and you're lucky. 'Cause it's early there's only been two fellas in it so far today. Course one of 'em was a buffalo hunter so I don't know if it smells that good. If you want fresh water it's two bits too. Then soap's a nickel and so's a towel. If you want to get real fancy we can heat the water for another two bits, but for that I throw in some lilac water when you're done.”
“I'll tell you what, it's been a while since I had a hot bath so I'll go for the whole thing for six bits with a haircut and you can forget the lilac water. Deal?
“Well... I guess we can do that. BOY, drain the tub and heat some more water. And get that damn sign changed too. You already cost me fifteen cents. I can shave you while you're waiting for the bath to get ready. Been a while since you've had one, ain't it?”
Between strokes of the razor he questioned the barber, “Is this the only place in town to get a bath?”
“I suppose the mayor and his wife have a tub and a few of the more prominent business men. I heard that Madame Bella had one for her girls but I wouldn't know about that. The rest of the business men come here for their weekly shave and bath. Got so I had to schedule 'em, they all wanted to come on Saturday. Huh, I guess I won't be able to charge my regulars my new prices when the rush gets here.”
“Has everyone in this place gone loco? What gold rush? I didn't here about one 'til I got here. I don't see any mad rush.”
“It's all over town. Somebody hit it big in the hills North of here. They had it assayed yesterday.”
“I didn't think you'd have an assay office in a little place like this.”
“Well, it's not a regular one. Elmer over at the stage station acts as the postmaster and assayer though I guess he's not official. But gold is gold. When the word gets around you'll see, this place will boom. Isn't that why you came here?”
“Hell no, I'm supposed to meet someone. You ever run into a gent by the name of Jim Reid?”
“Nope, can't say I have.”
“I'll be damned if I know why he picked this godforsaken place.”
That irritated the barber, “Just you wait, you'll see.”
He became less talkative and only answered curtly to the next question. “Is there a town marshal here?”
“Up the main street.”
After his bath he shook the wrinkles out of some clean clothes he'd taken from his saddle bags and donned them. Now he could be seen to be in his late twenties or early thirties. He stood just over six feet in his socks and, although slim, power was evident in the way he moved and his broad shoulders.
He had almost black, curly locks. Blue eyes showed intelligence in his not quite handsome, deeply tanned face. He made arrangements with the barber's helper to wash his other set of clothes. Then he walked to the marshal's office and knocked on the door.
Hearing, “C'mon in.” he entered. Leaning back in a chair with one foot resting on an open drawer was a huge, gray haired man with a waxed handlebar mustache and a grin on his face. On the wall above his head was a magnificent set of elk antlers with some rifles held by and chained to it. The .44 pistol he was cleaning looked tiny in his massive hands. “You're the first person ever to knock on that door. Are you really that polite or just a little nutty?
“Neither, Marshal, but a couple years ago I opened a marshal's door and almost got ventilated when he took a shot at me. Seems there was a noted gunman in town that said he was going to kill the marshal. I guess I resembled the fella and almost died for it. Now I knock on doors and step to the side, don't cost me nothin' and I find it healthier.”
The marshal chuckled and said, “Take a seat and tell me your troubles. Everybody else that comes in here does so I figure you will too.”
“Sorry I can't add to your burden, but I'm just wondering if you've come a cross a fella by the name of Jim Reid. I'm supposed to meet him here but no one I've talked to knows the name. I'm Tom Wesson, by the way.
“Reid huh. No, can't say I have. What's he look like?”
“You couldn't miss him. He's about six six without his boots and skinny as a rail with red hair.”
“Uh oh, I think I got bad news for ya. Some ranch hands brought in a dead man about a week ago that matches that. I think he was killed by a skunk out there there on the sand hills that leaves them with no water 'til they get weak enough to rob easy. Then, if they're not already dead, he kills 'em.
“Whoever it is out there came close to taking my scalp too.”
“Was this Reid a close friend of yours?”
“No, I only met him once. He was foreman for a place West of here that I want to see if I can do business with.”
“What kind of place?”
“I guess it's a ranch 'cause it has a brand, the circle 3, but they must do some mining too cause that's why they contacted me. I'm a mining engineer.”
“That cinches it, his horse made it to town and it had a circle 3 brand on it. I've heard of it, it's about twenty five or thirty miles West of here, but they don't do any business hereabouts. Wait a minute, you say your name is Wesson, you're not Hat Wesson are you?”
“I've been called that, but I'd rather it didn't get around. I'm not looking for any trouble and if people find out who I am somebody will sure as hell try to pick a fight.”
“I'm not exactly a blabber mouth, Tom. But you gotta tell me, how come you didn't get plugged with two guys shootin' at you and you only ended up with five holes in your hat.”
“There were only two holes, but you know how yarns get stretched. I was either real good at ducking or they were real bad shots. I was pretty lucky too. I wish it hadn't happened. I've been in too many gun fights since then 'cause some hot head wants to prove himself by gunning me.”
“I know exactly what you're talking about. I had the same problem 'til I took this job. Not too many want to gun a lawman.” He stood and offered his hand. “I'm John Gibbs, but I go by Gibson here, no use advertising my location.”
Tom's hand almost disappeared In the huge hand of the Marshal. “I don't know if you know it, John, but the word is that you're dead, shot by the Federales in Mexico.”
“Good, I worked hard enough to get that story started, I'm glad it's working. But be careful, Tom. We've got some sidewinders here that think they're John Wesley Hardin.”
What's the true story on this gold rush? Everybody's going batty with their prices.”
“Some drifter came through here and and cashed in a couple ounces. Elmer at the station spread the story and it grew. I talked to the drifter afore he left and he told me he won it in a poker game. I tried to tell people the truth but they don't want the truth.”
“Yeah, some people don't want their dreams trashed, no matter how goofy they are. It was nice meeting you, John, but I better see about renting a horse. I'll have to go to the circle 3 and let them know about their man. Can you give me directions?”
“Better yet, I'll draw you a little map. Are you planning to return here afterward?”
“I'll have to, my horse won't carry me for a few days and I'll have to come back to get her.”
“If she's in good enough shape to be led you could do me a favor. You could ride Reid's horse and return it and his things. That way you wouldn't have to return here.”
“I'd be glad to if you'll give me a letter stating why I'm riding their horse. I'd hate to get hung for a horse thief. With a day's rest I'm sure Jasmine will be fine if I take it easy.”
The Marshal drew a map and wrote the letter. After shaking hands again Tom left.
The morning of the third day Tom went to the stable and picked up the horses, then stopped at the barbershop for his clothes and the general store for supplies. It was still early when he left town.
Following the map led him from the dry country into the hills which were cooler and had more vegetation. The farther and higher he went trees became more numerous and there were delightful valleys with small streams meandering through the green grass waving in the breeze.
Seeing that his mare was still not completely over her past trial and was tiring he made an early camp and continued the next day. In the late morning he came across a cattle trail. Following it he ended up on a rise overlooking a low slung stone and wood beamed ranch house and outbuildings. Surrounding the house was a stone wall, only interrupted by two gates with heavy wooden gates that were ajar.
As he rode up to one a voice curtly called out, “Hold it right there, Mister.” A man with a rifle stepped out from where he had been hidden by the gate. “What's your business here?”
“For one thing I'm trying to return your horse if you'll point that rifle the other way.”
“Hey! That's Stretches horse. What the hell are you doing with it?”
Tom was irritated by the man's hostility and said, “I'll explain it to the owner. Either shoot me or take me to him.”
“Okay, get down slow, take your gun belt off and hang it on the saddle horn. Then just sashay toward the house. I'll bring the horses.”
As they approached the house an older, well built man hobbled out on the wide porch with the assistance of a crutch. “What's all the yelling about, Jasper? Who's this?”
“I don't know, Mr. Haynes, but he's riding Stretches horse. He said he'd tell you.”
“Hang his belt on the hitching rail. Take those horses and take care of them. That mare looks like she could use some extra care. Now, young fella, you want to explain yourself?”
“Yes, Sir. I'm Tom Wesson. “I'm sorry to have to bring you bad news, but Mr. Reid is dead. He was killed by a bushwhacker over East of Harper's Gully. The Marshal asked me bring his horse and things as long as I was coming here anyway. I have a letter here from him.”
“That was mighty nice of you, Mr Wesson, and I'm glad you were able to get here, we've been expecting you. I'm sorry to hear about Jim, he was a great guy and a good foreman. But I don't want to burden you with our problems. We were just about to sit down for dinner and you probably haven't eaten yet, so c'mon in and have some food. We'll go over everything after we eat and get you a room made up. I'm Amos Haynes.”
“If you don't mind, Mr. Haynes, I'd like to go check on Jasmine first.”
Mr. Haynes had turned to enter the house but spun saying, “Wha...What did you say?”
“I said I'd like to check on my horse Jasmine. I won't be long.”
“Jasmine huh,” he chuckled. Then with a grin on his face, “You go right ahead.” He turned again and as he went through the door Tom heard him snickering, “Jasmine! If that don't beat all.”
Tom thought, “I guess it is a little unusual name for a horse, but I don't think it's that funny.”
After checking that she'd been taken care of he shouldered his saddle bags and walked to the house. Upon entering Mr. Haynes escorted him into the dining room and motioned him to a place at the table. Just before they sat a young lady walked in. “Mr. Wesson, this is my daughter.”
Although dressed in pants, well worn boots and a checkered shirt she gave a regal impression with her long auburn hair tied in a tail and haughty expression on her beautiful face. Her hazel eyes with glints of gold measured him briefly and just as quickly dismissed him.
“How do you do Miss Haynes, I'm glad to make your acquaintance.”
“I'm well, Mr. Wesson. It's a pleasure meeting you.” Her customary greeting held little warmth.
While being served by an elderly Chinese man they sat silently except for Mr. Haynes quietly chortling. Then he said, “That's a nice looking mare you led in, but she looks a little over used.”
“She had a rough time in the desert with no water but she'll be back in no time.”
“Spirited, is she?”
“Only in the morning. Slap Jasmine on the butt a couple times and she learns quite quick to act pretty ladylike.”
When Miss Haynes surged to her feet the tablecloth snagged in her belt buckle and over turned the water pitcher spraying the length of the table. “ What did you just say, Mr. Wesson? How dare you make a statement like that!”
Tom was befuddled with a very furious woman on one and of the table and a wildly laughing man at the other.
Mr. Haynes was able to say through his guffawing, “I guess, Tom, ha ha, that I didn't tell, ho ha, you that my daughter's name, he he, is Jasmine, har har har.”
“Poppa, you set that up on purpose, you randy old goat!” Then she threw her napkin on the floor, turned, and forgetting that the tablecloth was still snagged, started forward, pulling her dishes onto the floor. Really irate now, she ripped the cloth from her buckle and strode from the room with her chin held high.
That commenced an even more boisterous laughing bout from Mr. Haynes. After a few moments Tom joined him.
When they had settled down Mr. Haynes said, “She takes herself a little too seriously at times, but after I pull something like this she gets over it for a while. I'm sorry I roped you in on it, Tom, but it was worth it. Now, finish eating, it's not all wet.”
When they'd finished they went to Mr. Haynes office, a rather plain room, unlike the rest of the house Tom had seen. There were a couple of comfortable chairs, a battered desk, a large safe in the corner, and a spittoon on the floor. The walls were roughly plastered and had some crowded book shelves on an interior wall.
Mr. Haynes winced as he sat at the desk and said, “ Damn this leg, I wish it would heal up. Smoke if you'd like. Jasmine doesn't like me smoking in the rest of the house, but I'll be damned if she can stop me in here.” He jammed tobacco in an old pipe and lit up with a lucifer and held the light for Tom's thin panetella.
“Did you get thrown from a horse, Sir. I noticed your problem, of course.”
“Bite your tongue, Tom. I haven't been thrown since I was four years old, and call me Amos. No, some sidewinder shot me and then rode away. I think he figured I'd die and he'd come back and rob me.”
“That's what happened to Jim Reid and almost me. But that was at least fifty miles East of here. I doubt if it's the same skunk.”
“Tell me about that.” Tom related his experience and what he knew about Jim Reid's death. He showed Amos the letter from the marshal.
Amos read the letter and said, “I've heard that he's a good lawman, keeps the lid on but still allows some of the boys to act up sometimes.”
“Yes, my impression is that no one wants to try him. It's too bad his jurisdiction is only in town. I'll bet he'd have that bushwhacker by now if he had the authority.”
“The election for sheriff is coming up soon, I'll see what I can do. Let's talk about why I sent for you, Tom. We, actually Jasmine, found a very rich pocket of ore in one of the mountains but it's in a very scary place. It's in the bottom of a cliff and I'm afraid that if we start digging the whole mountain will collapse on us. It's on the ranch but pretty far out. I'll have somebody take you there tomorrow if that suits you.”
“I think Jasmine will be able to be ridden by then.” At the mention of the name both men smiled with their thoughts.
The next morning as Tom was saddling Jasmine, the horse, who should appear but Jasmine, the daughter. “Good morning, Miss Haynes.”
She was much more cordial,“Please, you must call me Jasmine. I've come to apologize for my behavior at dinner. Poppa told me why you're here and we should become less formal. May I call you Tom?”
“Certainly, but I think it may get confusing with two Jasmines. I don't want to make you angry again.”
She blushed a bit more which made her face even more beautiful than Tom thought it was yesterday. “I said I was sorry, isn't that enough?”
“Sure, but you have to admit, it was pretty funny the way your dad suckered you into it.”
She blushed even deeper, but was smiling too. “Yes, and I'll get even with him too. As for the name, just call me Yaz, that's what the hands call me. Are you about ready to go?”
“Yeah, I'm just waiting for a hand to show me the way.”
“I think they have my horse saddled and the pack horse loaded. I'll get them and we can go.”
“Wait.. Are you leading me to the location?”
“Darn tootin', it's my find and I'm the only one besides poppa that knows where it is. I'll be right with you.”
They left the ranch and proceeded to travel higher and higher until they were deep in the mountains. They had passed many meadows where fat cattle were grazing on the deep grass. Late in the afternoon they arrived at their destination at the side of a mountain stream.
“This is it Tom. See that slope of scree that ends down here? Where it starts up there at that cliff face is what I think is the mother lode. There's a seam over three feet wide of almost pure nuggets. Let's set up camp and we'll take a look.”
“Oh no, I'll go by myself. Even from here I can see how unstable it is. I'm not even going to climb the talus but go at it from the side. How did you find it?”
I was riding along the creek and saw something shining in the water. It was a small nugget and I looked for more as I rode upstream. When I quit finding them was right here so I checked the scree and it was full of them. I kept climbing higher and finding more until I found the seam. I could see it wasn't very stable so I left and went home and told poppa.
“You were lucky that you didn't start a slide on that talus and bury yourself. I'll take a roundabout way in the morning and check it out. It's too late now. Let's find a good spot away from here to camp.”
After they had setup and made some stew for supper Tom sat smoking a cigar while Yaz waded into the icy water hunting nuggets. After a while she tottered back over the rocky shore in her bare feet in the dusky evening.
“Wow that water's cold, my feet are freezing. Throw some more wood on the fire will you, Tom? Look what I found.” She held out her hat and Tom could see the bottom covered with almost pure gold nuggets.
“You found in a hour what most prospectors would be happy to get in a couple of days, Yaz. Let's get some sleep, tomorrow is going to be a long day.”
Tom was wrong, it was a series of long days. It took him a few hours every morning to go by a difficult route to reach the area he needed to inspect. Then he had to climb, crawl and shinny over the rocks and crevices to his inspection points.
During this time Yaz trolled for nuggets or explored the near country, finding some ancient Indian cave sites where she picked up some artifacts. She also hunted some small game to eke out their supplies.
Finally Tom returned from his climbing to say, “I think I have a solution. It's either going to work or it'll bury everything. It's too late to leave today but we can go back to the ranch in the morning.” It was fortunate timing as they ate the last of their supplies that night except enough for breakfast and a light lunch the next day. That left room on the pack animal for the amazing amount of gold Yaz had winnowed from the area.
As they approached the ranch said, “We'd better stop at the house and get that gold in the safe before the hands see it or we'll have a sure enough gold rush here. I'll take the horses to the stable, you tell your dad we have to have a pow wow.”
When he returned to the house Chen Li, the Chinese cook, had laid out a cold supper for them. Amos joined them at the table. “Well, Tom, what's your verdict, can it be done?”
I'm pretty sure we can, but it'll be chancy, and it'll take a huge amount of explosives, probably a ton or more. There's a new explosive that's just starting to be used and I think that's the way to go. It's called dynamite and it's a lot safer than black powder. We need all the safety we can get.”
“Do you know where to get it and how much will it cost? If we start hauling in tons of explosives and tools there's going to be some very curious noses around here. I don't think we should bring it in locally, maybe a mule train from Harper's Gully would be better.”
“Cash is not the problem, Amos. The gold we brought back will cover it and the equipment we need easily. I know where to get some men that know how to handle it too. I agree that we'll have to come through Harper's Gully but I want to go farther East to exchange the gold and get the supplies. I was thinking Denver. It's big enough to hide the gold exchange and purchases. It will take a little longer but time we have, secrecy we need.”
“Alright, Tom, how do you want to handle it?”
“I'll need some men to guard the gold until Denver and the supplies on the way back. How many dependable ones can you spare? I don't want to take a chance with that bushwhacker in the desert.”
“Take all you need, it's pretty quiet until roundup, better too many than not enough. By the way, I wired the Territorial Governor and he's trying to get some Federal marshals after that scoundrel. This is a very big area and that fat sheriff doesn't like to leave his office.
“Good, I'll leave as soon as you can get your men ready. This is still a gamble, Amos, if I can blow that spire away from the gold you'll make Midas look like a piker. But one little mistake could bury the whole thing past retrieval.
“I understand, but I won't be any worse than when we started either. Give 'er hell, Tom.”
Tom and six good men left the morning of the second day and stopped in Harper's Gully for the night. The men went to the bar and Tom went to the marshal's office and tapped on the door.
He heard through the door, “That has to be you, Tom, c'mon in before I shoot through the door.” He opened it to find John in his usual spot, leaning back in his chair with one foot on an open drawer. This time he was holding a rifle. “I saw you when you rode in, what kind of mischief are you up to with those hard men.”
“We're going to get some supplies. Tell me John, if I was to bring a mule train through here in a couple of weeks what kind of supplies would draw the least curiosity?
“Huh, you don't ask easy questions. Let me think. Mining supplies would have the town going nuts again just when that craze faded. Wait... I got it, food! The Indian reservation is in sad shape. That yahoo Indian Agent that was supposed to be taking care of them was stealing them blind and they're hungry. If you can hide what you're hauling in mixed in with food no one will think about it. It would be a good thing for the redskins too.”
“You think that bunch I've got with me look like missionaries? I think you've been out in the sun too long, John.”
“Naw, I never go in the sun if I can help it. Tom, any mule train has to have guards, it'll look like usual, believe me.”
“Well, the sun's down now, can I talk you into going over and have a drink with me?”
“Maybe if you beg a little, I might.”
“That did it, you're mighty persuasive for a missionary. Let's go.”
When they walked in the bar Tom saw his men at a corner table with a bottle playing low stakes poker. There were a few more men at tables scattered through the room and a small group of ranch hand at one end of the bar. He and John went to the other end where the bartender poured their drink.
John slugged his down, made a face while shaking his head violently, “Lord, that's terrible stuff. Any chance you can slip in a couple bottles of good whiskey when you bring your food through here? Bartender, do it again.”
As they chatted Tom surveyed the room through the back bar mirror. “Did you see that guy, John?”
The man had been sitting at a table across the room and suddenly gave a start when he noticed who had entered. His eyes widened, then gulped his drink and hurried out.
“Of course I did, and he wasn't looking at me, he's seen me plenty of times. I think somebody is either very interested in you or loves you. Which do you think it is?
“John, I swear, I've never even kissed him. I think I better watch my back. Do you know who he is?”
“Nope, but I've been keeping an eye on him. He comes into town every week or so for provisions and then disappears again.”
“You think he has anything to do with the shootings? There might be some Federal marshals coming around that might be interested in him.”
“How in hell do you know that? I just got a wire today that they're coming.”
“It's my charming personality. I have good friends in high places.”
“It's a good thing you have those boys with you to watch your back, I don't think your good friends can help you there.”
After some more idle palaver they decided to call it a night. Tom motioned to his men and they went into the hotel part of the building. The rooms were back to fifty cents a night. Tom paid and they went to bed except for one man whom he had stand guard. In a few hours he'd awaken another and that one another at intervals throughout the night. They had too much gold to be careless.
The trip to Denver was uneventful. He was easily able to exchange the gold at the Federal Mint. In a city this side Tom had little trouble getting the dynamite and caps by buying small amounts in many places and not gaining undue attention. The food they made no secret of, even held a press conference for the papers. They even had donations made for the Indian's food by some goodhearted businesses.
They packed the dynamite and tools spread throughout the food packages and had them conspicuously marked as food for the reservation. Tom wired the demolition men he needed and sent them to a town West of the ranch where they would be met and taken to it. He hired a few more men he knew and trusted to accompany them back.
They had no trouble on most of the trip back except that they became aware that they were followed. They didn't know by how many, but kept a constant guard. When they reached the desert things changed, there were rifle shots at the water barrels but only one was hit and that was high on the barrel.
One of the men Tom had hired had grown up with an Indian tribe and was half Indian. He slipped away from camp that night. In the morning he showed Tom three scalps. The rifle fire stopped.
Tom asked, “Don't you think that was going a little too far, Ed? Do the Indians still scalp their enemies?”
“Nah, not around here. They didn't even start until the white man started scalping Indians to collect bounty on them. Besides, those men didn't care either way after I had cut their throats, but their friends might think about a different career choice.”
Just in case, when they reloaded the mules in the morning Tom had them put the dynamite caps with the water and kept those mules surrounded by other mules. If one of those shots had hit a cap it could have set off an explosion if dynamite was near.
They reached Harper's Gully late in the afternoon. The mules were unloaded in a strong building and a guard was set. Most of the men headed to the bar, but Tom took a package and went to the Marshal's office.
When he knocked on the door he heard, “If you haven't got a bottle with you don't open it, I'll shoot you myself.” He pushed open the door while standing to the side and held a bag in front of the opening and shook it a little. The tinkle of glass could be heard. “Saved by the bag. I would have only wounded you, Tom, but you're safe now, c'mon in.”
John took a bottle from the bag and locked the rest in a vacant cell. They settled in their chairs as John said, “Tell me about your trip, how'd it go?”
Tom related his experiences and then finished with, “There's something going on here, John, and I don't know what it is. They must know about the gold and don't want us to get it.”
“You're probably right. One of the Federal marshals came to see me the other night and said there's a recruitment of hard cases going on all over and they're being sent to somewhere around here. I've been sworn in as a deputy marshal so I can go outside town now. Be extra careful, Tom, there's a few fellas in town now that I'm not happy with.”
“I think you should meet my men, John, so you don't confuse them with the others. Mine don't look like missionaries either.”
Night had arrived when they left the office and started to cross the street. They hadn't gone far when they heard the unforgettable sound of a pistol being cocked. Both men threw themselves prone with drawn guns as a shot whistled over Tom's head. Three shots rang out almost as one as John bracketed the muzzle flash that had come from a nearby opening between two buildings. A deep groan and the sound of a gun hitting the ground followed.
This was almost immediately followed by another series of shots from the other side of the street. Dust puffed up from the street as the bullets hit around them and there was a sharp yelp from John. Tom fired at the muzzle blast as his men boiled from the bar with their guns drawn. Silence fell over the scene except for some very expert swearing from John.
“Are you okay, John?”
“No, dammit, I got hit in the ass. There goes my sunrise rides for a while.”
“A couple of you men find a doctor or a vet or somebody, the marshal's been hit. Two more, no, make that four of you carry him inside onto one of the big poker tables. Make sure you put him face down.”
The men struggled with the huge marshal but finally had him on the table. Tom removed John's gun belt and pulled his trousers down, then put a fairly clean bar towel over the bleeding wound and put pressure on it.
One of the men entered and said, “They ain't got a doctor and the vet must have been drinking some of his horse liniment, he's out cold.
Old Jed from the stable stepped up, “I've been sewing up horses and men for quite a while. Do you want me to patch you up, Marshal.”
“Why no, Jed. I just thought I'd just lie here 'til I bled to death. Of course I want you to, you damn fool!”
Jed pulled the towel off and said, “Well, the bleedings slowed, it could have been worse. He might have hit you in the head and you can't spare any brains but you sure got an abundance back here that you can do without.”
Someone had fetched Jed's horse doctoring kit and he was ready to start. “We should clean this out some first. Hand me some whiskey.”
Tom said, “There's some of the good stuff on the marshal's desk.”
“NO, that's sippin' whiskey. Just use some of that rotgut you got here. If it hasn't killed me on the inside it'll be fine for the outside too. On second thought, go get it, I need a little pain killer.”
“This is going to sting like hell, Marshal.”
“Gee, you think? Just get it over with.”
The following procedure led many of the men to admire the marshal's vast vocabulary of swear words.
When Jed was finished many of them complimented Jed on his fine needlework until John shouted, “If you're all done admiring my ass do you think you could help me to a bed?”
Jed said, “My, he does get a little testy when he gets scratched, don't he?”
That remark led to another lesson in profanity as he hobbled from the bar supported by two struggling men. He had one arm over the shoulder of the man on his wounded side. His other hand was holding pants at half mast.
Tom took charge, “I want a guard throughout the town tonight. Wake some locals up if you need to. What did you find of those back shooters?”
“One's dead. The other got away but there was a lot of blood where he was, so I think you can count him out too.”
“Alright, I'm going to leave two of you here to back up John. In the morning the rest of us are leaving, but get some rest now, I think we're going to need it.”
Before leaving in the morning Tom hired four more known townsmen for guards. After going some miles he instructed them to hide to see if the mule train was being followed. If it was they were to follow the followers and be ready to catch them from behind if they started trouble.
The men secured their horses well off the trail and hunkered down to observe. It wasn't long before a group of six men came along with long range rifles held ready across their saddles. They weren't hurrying but were still traveling faster than the mule train. They wouldn't catch the train for some time and would be well away from town.
The four men waited until the six were out of sight before they scrambled to their horses and trailed the them. At intervals one of the four would ride ahead a bit to assure that they hadn't lost the others. It was late in the day when they heard gunfire a head. They spurred their mounts for aways until they knew they were approaching the fracas.
Tyeing their horses they slithered through the brush on the uphill side of the trail until they could see the six rifleman laying fire on the train that had started setting up camp in a protected hollow. The riflemen hadn't even sought cover. They knew that the Winchester rifles in the train didn't have the range to reach them while their single shot Sharps rifles could easily and accurately reach the train.
The four spread out and crept even closer. They suddenly released a fusillade of fire on the six, downing three immediately. Only two could return fire as they were loaded while the other hadn't reloaded his rifle yet. When that two returned fire they were killed before they could reload. The one with the empty rifle had thrown up his hands in surrender.
Two of the townsmen marched the prisoner to the camp while the other two retrieved the horses and cleaned up the bloody aftermath.
Tom met the prisoner as he was marched into the camp, “Alright, what's your story? Who paid you to kill us?”
“Mister, you may not believe me but we weren't supposed to necessarily kill anybody. We were trying to set off the dynamite somebody knows you got in those packs. That's what we were paid to try. That's all I know, really.”
“It's a good thing for you that you only wounded two men or you'd be hanging by now. How many do you think would have died if you did set it off? Tie him up, we'll save him for the marshals.”
The only trouble they had that night was when one of the guards shot a coyote that he thought was someone sneaking up to the camp. He was hoorawed pretty badly in the morning. They didn't have any more trouble that day and arrived at the ranch in the early afternoon.
The dynamite was stored in a small stone building that had been a milk-house. A two man guard was set on it.
That evening after supper Tom, Amos, Yaz, and Roy Dalton, the head of the demolition experts met. Tom drew a sketch and explained his plan, “Here's how I see it. The gold vein is in what we see as the bottom of this spire of rock. We don't know how far down it goes from there as there's detritus all around it . It's pretty rotten stone all the way up to the top.”
Roy asked, “So why not just dig it out? The seam isn't very big in relation to all that stone above it.”
That's true, but where do you stop? You might be able to get tons of ore but maybe the next spoonful will bring the whole thing down and bury it. Even if we just washed the talus it might collapse the whole thing. The talus might be holding it up, in fact I think it is. I think the only safe way is to blow the whole spire away above the gold.
“Whoa, Tom, if it's as rotten as you say just drilling holes for the explosives might trigger it too.
“You're right, Roy, but I'm not planning on drilling. We're going to put the explosives on the outside.”
“You're pulling my leg. You know that if you don't get it deep enough into the spire to direct the force it'll just be a big firecracker on the outside, but might bring it straight down where we don't want it.”
“Right again, and there's another problem. We don't know how deep the seam is, it might be only inches, but we know there's probably tons of gold ore and nuggets in the talus. We can't drop it there, we have to blow it to the side. Amos, did you get the cement?”
“Sure did, it's in the barn.”
“Fortunately the mountain itself is sound so an explosion shouldn't disturb it. I believe this spire was from a later lava flow and at one time was inside of even softer rock that has eroded away into soil.
Look at my sketch, Roy. See how the mountain wraps around the spire on this side? There's only a few feet of space between the spire and the mountain where we want to blow it at the bottom and only about eight feet at the top.”
“Yeah, I see that, but so what?”
“If we form heavy concrete pads around the dynamite thats against the spire, and and brace the pads to the mountain with timbers, that should direct the blow over here, away from the talus slope.”
“Huh, if what you've said is true that might work. I'll have to see the spire before I say yes though. I hope you did all the math on this already. Has anyone tried this sort of thing before?”
“I've worn all the numbers off my slide rule, Roy. The only one that I'm aware of that's done it is your's truly. I did it in South America a few years ago on a much smaller scale, but it worked.”
They were interrupted when a ranch hand walked in, “We've got company, Mr. Haynes. Some fella is out in the dark hailing the house.”
“You know the procedure. Take his gun and bring him here, but keep an eye on him. Tom, will you check him out? My leg is really hurtin'.”
“Sure thing, Amos.” Tom went out on the porch followed by Yaz. A tall very dusty man approached the porch. He appeared to be about forty years of age and very tired as his stride was slow. When he saw Yaz he removed his hat, then opened his vest to reveal a badge. “I'm US Marshal Arthur Hagen. Are you Mr. Haynes?”
“No, my name is Tom Wesson. This is Miss Haynes. What can we do for you, Marshal?”
I'm glad to meet you both. I've come to give you a warning but it'll wait for a few minutes. Could I implore on you, Miss Haynes for a place to clean up a little?”
“Certainly, Marshal. Jasper, show the Marshal where he can wash up, then bring him in, we're in the dining room.”
Tom and Yaz returned to the dining room and explained the disturbance and waited for the marshal. Within the quarter hour Jasper led him in and turned to leave.
Mr Haynes said, “Wait, Jasper, let's see what the Marshal has to say before you run off. Go ahead Marshal.”
“My partner and I have been following some hardcases to see where they were headed and ended up close to here where they met a young army. There's about thirty men out there and I don't think it's for a picnic. We were able to get close enough to here them talking about this place so I skedaddled here to warn you that we think they're planning to jump you. My partner's watching and if he sees them getting ready he'll come running.”
Mr. Haynes ordered, “Jasper, you know the plan. Warn all the men to sleep in their clothes with their guns handy and put extra guards out. Hop to it. Marshal, they're in for a surprise if they try this place. My daddy and uncle built this place when there was still Indian trouble. It's built like a fort and that's why there's a stone fence. It's too high to jump most horses over but just right for riflemen behind it.”
“That relieves me, I didn't feel that me and my partner would have much luck against a bunch like that. I'd better get back to my watching.”
Yaz said, “Forgive our manners, Marshal, have you eaten? Would you care for a drink?”
“I wouldn't turn down either, Miss Haynes. I'd appreciate a little grub for my partner too, if that's not asking too much. Beans three time a day does get tiresome.
“Nonsense, Marshal, I'll get you a plate and have a basket made up for you both. Tom, get Marshal Hagen some whiskey, better yet, bring the bottle and pour us all one.”
The Marshal said, “So you're Tom Wesson, Marshal Gibson said I might meet up with you. He thinks pretty highly of you. By the way, my mama didn't name me Marshal, she named me Arthur and I'd appreciate you-all just calling me Art. Seems I should recollect your name.” With that he made a point of waving his hat and winking at Tom.
“I think highly of Marshal Gibson too, especially after he saved my hide the other night. And call me Tom.”
“You mind telling me what's causing all this folderol? We were sent up here because of some backshootin' varmints, Tom. We never expected this.”
“I don't know who's behind it but I can tell you what's behind it, we think.” Yaz brought the food for Art and while he ate Tom gave an accounting of the past weeks.
When he finished Art said, “I think you folks should stay in here for now. You should be able to whittle them down if they attack you here but you'd be sittin' ducks at the gold site. If I can I'll try to pony over there and see what's going on at the site, but I don't know if I can.”
“You know,”said Tom, “Ive got that half Indian fella that snuck those scalps right off those buzzards heads. I'll bet he could get there and find out. I'll see if he will.”
Amos said, “Alright, we're here for the time being. It's a lot better place to wait than some I can think of. Jasmine honey, pour your old dad a little more, will you?”