Action & Adventure

Beyond the Goodnight Trail

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A Western where the action springs off the page, you'll find yourself sucked deep into the heart and history of Texas.

Synopsis

When former Texas Ranger scout Pete Horse agrees to join his old friend Charlie Goodnight’s first trail drive across Texas to the New Mexico Bosque Redondo Navajo reservation, he knows the way will be fraught with danger. He expects to encounter bandits, hostile Comanche, bad weather and stampedes, and he’s not disappointed.
He hadn’t been expecting the treacherous Comancheros, renegade Apache, and night riding gangs of unreconstructed Rebels seething with resentment, and all of them fighting over a thousand stolen Army rifles. When he’s forced to kill two men who are stealing his prized horse Pete incurs the wrath of an ex-communicated religious zealot and his sect of trigger-happy disciples. The entire Texas Panhandle is about to erupt in a shooting war that could spread across the West. Riding up with old friends Bigfoot Wallace, Bass Reeves, Britt Johnson and more legendary men of the west, Pete still faces the longest odds of a long, turbulent life on the violent frontier.

In “Beyond The Goodnight Trail,” Roy V Gaston brings real Texas history to life in an action-packed Western. Sure, it features all of the traditional elements one expects to see in such a tale, with bar room brawls, smoking gun fights, and even an amazing buffalo mating ritual. 


But it also presents the idea, which according to the author is true, that there were Black and Black Seminole cowboys, among other types. To a person who is relatively lacking in knowledge of Texas history, this revelation is fascinating. 


The story starts with Pete Horse, the character from whose first-person perspective it is told, as he engages with Comanche Indians in a gunfight. It results in the 1860 recapturing of a woman who became known as “the White Squaw,” as she had lived for many years with those Comanche and thus had little desire to move back among White people. 


From there, we jump ahead to 1866, the year in which most of the events take place. We follow Charlie Goodnight, for whom the trail was named as can be seen in the book’s title, as he and his band of cowboys and rangers herd cattle from the open plains of Texas into New Mexico to be given to Navajo so that they might not starve. Not surprisingly, mistrust has developed because of the way these Indians— Navajo, Comanche and otherwise— have been treated by the U.S. government and other groups claiming to wish to help. But in the end a grudging friendship and a need to vanquish a common foe unite them. 


 As something of a skeptic when it comes to Westerns, I just always assumed I would not be able to get into them, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, though. The descriptions of man and nature provided within these pages sweep me far away from modern surroundings and remind me, and probably us all, of our basic instinct to survive at whatever cost. In addition, the characters, most of whom were real or at least heavily based on real individuals, conveyed so much depth and emotion, not all of it positive of course. It is a relatively short novel that manages to pack epic wallop. I would recommend it to anyone who thinks he or she might have at least a passing interest in knowing a little about Texas history, or who is open to seeing this genre in a slightly nuanced way. 

Reviewed by

‪An avid reader, I have consumed books of many genres. I have reviewed several on my blog, including a few author requests because they know of my potential to reach varied audiences. I also do mini-reviews via Twitter and tag the author if available. ‬

Synopsis

When former Texas Ranger scout Pete Horse agrees to join his old friend Charlie Goodnight’s first trail drive across Texas to the New Mexico Bosque Redondo Navajo reservation, he knows the way will be fraught with danger. He expects to encounter bandits, hostile Comanche, bad weather and stampedes, and he’s not disappointed.
He hadn’t been expecting the treacherous Comancheros, renegade Apache, and night riding gangs of unreconstructed Rebels seething with resentment, and all of them fighting over a thousand stolen Army rifles. When he’s forced to kill two men who are stealing his prized horse Pete incurs the wrath of an ex-communicated religious zealot and his sect of trigger-happy disciples. The entire Texas Panhandle is about to erupt in a shooting war that could spread across the West. Riding up with old friends Bigfoot Wallace, Bass Reeves, Britt Johnson and more legendary men of the west, Pete still faces the longest odds of a long, turbulent life on the violent frontier.

The Pease River

TEXAS PANHANDLE NEAR THE PEASE RIVER DEC. 18, 1860 Chief Peta Nocona’s Comanche village spread out along the creek two hundred yards below us, partially hidden by a grove of bare-limbed cottonwoods. After five days of hard riding across West Texas we had cut the trail of Nocona’s raiding party and followed it here, to where the freshwater stream of Mule Creek flows into Pease River. It was called the Rio de Los Lingos, the River of Tongues, for the many languages spoken by those who had met here for centuries to barter horses and women and cattle and children. “A tad airish, ain’t it, amigo?” Charlie Goodnight said. We were in heavy buffalo robes, stretched out on our bellies at the top of a brushcovered sand hill. “A might,” I said. It was time for sunup, but the roiling mass of storm clouds kept the sky black as a coal mine. The front winds of the coming Texas blue norther whipped sand and grit into our faces and the temperature had dropped twenty degrees in the last hour. The cold rain and sleet was just now hitting us. “I don’t see sign of any lookouts,” said Charlie. “The Comanche must figure the storm kept us holed up somewhere east. Or turned back completely.” We had ridden 125 blustering, bitter-cold miles across the ravinescarred mesquite prairies of Texas, from Parker County to this camp high in the Texas Panhandle canyons. Texans rarely pursued this deep into the heart of Comancheria. The rough country of the Caprock 3 roy v. gaston Escarpment was a nature-made fortress for the raiders, but the brutality of Nocona’s latest assault demanded retribution. At least 23 people had been killed and mutilated by the Comanche in their rampage across Texas. Dozens more were slashed, outraged and tortured. Not dead, at least not fast or merciful. Women and children had been stolen, along with hundreds of horses and plunder.The horrors inflicted on the female victims had sickened and enraged the toughest of us. It was as bad as any of the savagery I had seen in my three decades on the frontier. The victims were friends and neighbors. Good, peaceful people, and barely a man with us was not kin to one or more of them. “I don’t see much but squaws and old folks down there. Sure ain’t no five hunnert like some told,” said Charlie. He’d only been with the Rangers for two years, but Charlie knew this part of Texas better than any other white man I knew. He was a cool head and steady hand. “I know it,” I said. “But Sul’s so all-fired determined to attack him some Indians it ain’t gonna matter.” A dozen tipis were beside the icy creek where the red cliffs of the canyon blocked the roaring wind. Small cook fires flickered inside the lodges, creating an orange glow like a field of fire-flies. Outside in the murky light, squaws in buffalo robes loaded pack-mules with heavy loads of hide-wrapped buffalo meat. Fifty yards past the southernmost tipi, a herd of a hundred or so Indian ponies grazed. Hidden by the black clouds, Captain Sul Ross and a company of sixty Texas Rangers and soldiers from Ft. Belknap waited in the ravine a hundred yards back.They were a capable bunch, but they weren’t exactly the Rangers of Captain Jack Hays, the bold and fearless warrior leader I’d ridden with in my youth. “That’s them, I take it,” said Captain Ross after he joined us under the brittle sage bushes. He propped himself up on his elbows to peer down into the valley. A handful of others crouched just behind him. “Some of them anyway,” I said. “The big group split up into half a dozen small ones. Like we expected. Like always.” “No sign of alarm from the camp?” asked Ross. “No, they have no idea we’re here,” I said. 4 beyond the goodnight trail “Complete surprise,” said Ross. “Excellent. They never expected us to follow them all the way home.” “Only problem is, I’ve seen few warriors amongst them,” said Charlie. “Squaws packing their winter meat and old men going about their morning necessary is all that’s down there.” “I’m not sure how you can make that judgment in this poor visibility,” snapped Ross. “Plenty of light to see them folks,” I said. “That’s not your concern. Governor Sam Houston himself has decreed all Indians seen on this side of Red River are open enemies of Texas. Our horses are played out, and, as you said, it looks like they’re packing to move,” said Captain Ross. “Am I not correct on those points?” “You are,” I said. “Let’s get after them before they spot us. We’ll not have another opportunity like this,” said Ross. “Sgt. Spangler, take your twenty men and form a line on those sand hills beyond the creek. If they get across there, they will scatter and disappear.” * “We best hold back a bit when he sounds the charge,” Charlie said as we rode back to the column. “Those boys are awful eager to blaze them pistols hot. I’d prefer not being in front of all that flying lead.” Each Ranger carried a rifle and at least two 44 caliber Colt sixshooters with spare, loaded cylinders. The soldiers carried about the same. Ross had made it clear we were going in under a black flag. There would be no quarter. “I’m with you,” I said. “They’re ready to boil over. I don’t think Ross could stop them now even if he wanted to. I sure understand avenging dead kin. I just don’t think them down there is the responsible party.” The roaring wind covered the noise of our approach as Captain Ross led the column slowly around the hills and onto the flat river bottom. We formed a mounted line of battle in a thicket of mesquite a hundred yards from the camp. An Indian boy at the edge of the camp saw us and shouted the alarm. It was too late. 5 roy v. gaston “Charge!” screamed Ross. The Rangers howled and thundered toward the camp, galloping full out and blasting their six-shooters. The squaws shrieked and ran for cover. Tent flaps flew open and Comanches sprang out, eyes wild in shock. Bullets, arrows, Indians, and cavalrymen flew in all directions. The few warriors who tried to make a stand were shot to pieces by the onslaught of galloping Rangers. Soldiers charged the tipis, six-guns blowing holes through the animal skin covering. Panicked mules bucked and kicked through the camp, scattering cooking fires and kettles. Bursts of sparks and red-hot embers set tipis afire. Death struggles spun through the flickering orange light. Riderless Indian ponies stampeded through the camp and wounded Indians were trampled under charging cavalry horses.The wind spread the flame and whipped it higher. Gunfire roared over the storm as the Rangers and cavalrymen shot down fleeing Comanches. In front of me a squaw slung a kettle of hot soup into the face of a charging horse. The horse went wild and pitched the rider. The next trooper shot a hole in the woman’s head and galloped on. A charging cavalry horse slammed into a stumbling old Indian, sending him rolling through a campfire. A dozen figures in flapping blankets and buffalo robes ran for the river and the safety of the wooded canyons on the other side. As the Indians plunged into the icy water, Spangler’s men stepped out of cover and unleashed a volley. A blanket-shrouded Comanche leapt out from behind a burning tipi with an old musket rifle aimed at the back of a mounted Ranger. I fired twice. The Indian screamed and fell backwards onto a half-burned tipi. I trotted my horse forward a few paces and looked at the downed Comanche. The face behind the dirt and blood was that of a young girl. The heavy red blanket had fallen open and ugly pink bubbles leaked out of the hole in her chest. Her lips moved as if to speak but no sound came out. She didn’t look at me, just lay there, eyes somewhere in the sky. I was contemplating whether to finish her suffering when a movement snapped my eyes away. I met the glare of a young Indian boy, ten 6 beyond the goodnight trail feet away, younger even than the girl. He was unarmed, but coiled and ready to spring. His light-colored eyes burned with fury as they moved from mine to the pistol I aimed squarely at his bare chest. Before I could squeeze the trigger, three mounted Comanches rushed past, leaning low into their horses’ flowing manes. Right behind came two whooping Rangers. One Ranger’s horse crashed to the ground with an arrow in its ear. The rider skidded across a campfire, sending up a shower of sparks. He cursed and rolled out of the fire, hot ash falling from his buffalo robe. “Come on, let’s get after ‘em,” Charlie shouted and pointed at the fleeing Comanches. I looked for the unhorsed Ranger, saw he was already swinging up onto a loose Indian pony. The boy was gone. * We galloped after the Indians who split up when they reached a long, flat valley. The Rangers pursued the ones that went left. Charlie and I chased the one that veered right and we gained ground quickly as the rider struggled with a heavy bundle. I realized it was a woman with an infant just as Charlie closed in from the other side, unable to see the child. “Charlie, don’t shoot! Don’t shoot! She’s got a baby,” I shouted. I was surprised he heard me above the wind, but he holstered his pistol and spurred to catch up to the fleeing Comanche woman. At a full gallop we pulled abreast of her and pinned her between us. Charlie grabbed the horse’s bridle while I grabbed for the rider. She swung and clawed at my face but lost her balance and plummeted down between the galloping horses. She twisted as she fell, landing hard on her back, but keeping the child hugged safely to her chest. Charlie hopped down off his horse while I scanned the ridge for any returning Comanche. The woman lay silently on her back, staring at the black sky with wide, terrified eyes as she squeezed the baby tighter. We pulled her to her feet and she didn’t resist. “Americano! Americano!” she suddenly sobbed out. With tears rolling down her face she looked Charlie in the eye, opened her deerskin 7 roy v. gaston blouse and exposed her pale breast. Charlie stared hard at her deeply tanned face, darkened even more by dirt and blood and grease from handling the buffalo meat. There was no denying that breast was of a lighter complexion. “This here is a white woman,” said Charlie. “Indians do not have blue eyes.” “Me Cincee Ann, Me Cincee Ann,” the woman shouted, slapping her chest with one hand and holding the whimpering child with the other. “Not just any white woman,” I said. “I do believe that is Cynthia Ann Parker. You have rescued the most famous white captive in all Indian country.” “Well, I’ll be,” said Charlie. We put Cynthia Ann and the baby on her horse and returned to the smoldering fires and anguish of the few Comanche survivors. Dead Indian bodies sprawled between the charred tipis. The ground was littered with buffalo robes and pieces of lodge cover, blankets, bowls, and moccasins. We had captured some women, children, and ancient whitehaired men. They huddled together in misery as cavalrymen gathered souvenirs. At Spangler’s cut-off, Indian bodies bobbed face down in pink water. Bright red blotches stained the ice. Charlie and I left Cynthia Ann with Captain Ross and rode down river to a side canyon that blocked the storm. We built a small fire and seared a big buffalo steak we had pulled out of a Comanche cook fire. “What did you see back there that’s got you so dumpish?” asked Charlie. “Other than the kilt women and kids?” “Yep, beside them.This ain’t the first fight you been in where people got killed that wasn’t supposed to.” “I don’t know,” I said. “Myself maybe. Maybe nothing.” “What do you mean?” “Did I ever tell you about when General Jesup’s men raided our village in Florida, and shot my people down like dogs? When I was about the age of that boy back there?” “What boy?” 8 beyond the goodnight trail “Never mind. I’ve just soured on this whole mess, Charlie,” I said. “I’ve staved this off a long as I can. I just can’t do this anymore. I don’t know, if by God’s rights, whether it’s Comanches or Texans or Americans or even Mexicans are entitled to this land. Or none of them. I’ll let someone else puzzle that out. I took my personal vengeance long ago. It don’t seem right anymore. My daughter and my farm are in Ohio, and I need to get back to ‘em. I can’t do nothing like this again.” “I reckon you’re right, but when they finally start their shooting war back east, they’ll need soldiers,” said Charlie. “They’ll empty every fort in the West. Someone’s gotta stay here and keep these settlers safe.” “I venture it’s going to be rough on everybody, but I just can’t stomach it no more,” I said. “I just want to do some farming, raise some horses. If a shooting war breaks out, I’ll have to throw in. I hope it don’t come to that, but it ain’t right, people owning people. I should know. I was owned once myself.” “But it was your pa what owned you, and he set you free before you was growed.” “He did,” I said. “I have no memory of my days in bondage. But all them other people, they ain’t free, and ain’t about to be.” “Yes, sir,” said Charlie. “I agree with you there, but, well, I’m a Texan, and I’m duty bound. I got no dog in this fight, but I can’t hold with Yankees coming in here and taking over. I’ll protect my home from interlopers, Comanche or Yankee. If you join up, I sure hope you don’t come this way. I’d hate to have to shoot you.” “That ain’t likely,” I said. “I figure the fighting will stay well to the east.” * 9 ALONG THE CROSS TIMBERS APRIL 1866 “Charlie’s a good man to ride the river with. You’ll learn a lot from him, as long as you ignore his churlish manner. He generally don’t mean anything by it,” I said. “If he does, they’ll be no mistaking it.” Andy and I were riding south from Oklahoma Territory, headed toward Fort Belknap, Texas. Charlie Goodnight had asked me to scout for a big cattle drive from Belknap up into northern New Mexico Territory. “I reckon I will,” said Andy. “I’m just eager for life off the reservation. I ain’t meant to be no plow jockey. This Goodnight fellow, he was a Texas Ranger when you was?” “We scouted a few trails together.” “He rode with Devil Jack Hays, too, killing Comanche?” “No, Devil Jack was 20 years ago. Charlie didn’t join the Rangers until shortly before the War,” I said. “Charlie’s a good deal younger than me.” “I was hoping to meet me a great Comanche killer,” said Andy. “I’m hoping to get a shot at a few out here.” “He’s dispatched his fair share. You shouldn’t be so eager to fight a Comanche, or you’ll likely have a short, unhappy life,” I said. “It can’t be made right, what happened to your ma. That was a long time ago. You just got to forget about it.” “Have you? What happened to your mother and sisters?” “No, I ain’t forgot. But I know it’s frivolous to be thinking it could be made right.” Andy was as close to family as I had. He was my size, small and lean. 11 roy v. gaston Like me, his long black hair was tied in a thick braid down his back. We had the same dark skin and, with our 25-year age difference, we looked enough alike to be father and son. We were both Black Seminole, both born as slaves. By years, Andy was still a boy, just seventeen. But three years ago his mother had been stolen by Comanche. He’d been riding as a border guard, protecting our people from slavers, ever since. There wasn’t much call for border guards on the reservation now with theWar over and slavery abolished.The situation had been different when I’d first arrived twenty-five years ago, along with a thousand other Black Seminole forced from our home in Florida. We’d been marched across the country to desolate Oklahoma with 100,000 Creek, Cherokee, Seminole, Choctaw, and Chickasaw. We were the Five Civilized Tribes, uprooted by Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act and exiled on a journey known as the Trail of Tears. As Black Seminoles, we were escaped slaves or descended from them. My brother, John Horse, was the man who’d negotiated our surrender with General Jesup. Jesup had promised our emancipation in the new Indian Territory if we laid down our weapons. Of course, that had been a lie. The shame of being duped in that agreement had haunted John ever since. The acreage allotted for our Black Seminole settlement was actually on Creek land, and the Creeks were very different from the Seminole. The Creeks and Cherokees, both much larger tribes than the Seminoles, had been the earliest tribes exiled to the west under the Removal Act. Unlike the Seminole who had fought ferociously, and very nearly to the last man, the Creeks and Cherokees had barely resisted the Americans. Instead, they had negotiated for cash payments to give up their fertile Georgia territory after gold had been discovered there. For their compliance, the Creeks and Cherokee had received better land, and positions of authority over the other tribes in Oklahoma. Many of the Creek were slave owners themselves, and viewed us as property, either theirs to take, or somebody else’s to be returned for a reward. Slavers raided the Black Seminole settlements. At first the slavers were Creeks or whites, but wild Comanche soon followed. There were substantial 12 beyond the goodnight trail bounties to be paid for any escaped slave they returned to bondage, and free blacks were snatched up to be sold in Mexico. By the time I reached Oklahoma, I had been manumitted twice, once by my father and once by Colonel Jesup. But our freedom depended on the gun, which never lied, and not the pen, which often did. “You act like I ain’t shot it out with no bad men,” Andy said. “You ain’t shot it out with no men as bad as a Comanche war party, that’s all I’m saying,” I said. “Just don’t be all cocky and overconfident, make some dumb mistake. That pretty hair of yours will be adorning an Indian pony bridle.” The boy had guts all day and was a solid hand but chasing a few half-drunk Creek slavers or Army deserters off the reservation wasn’t the same as a painted-up war party charging at full frenzy. I knew how he felt. I had once burned with the same hatred of the Comanche. I was barely twenty when I left the reservation in ‘42, chasing Eagle Claw. That blood-thirsty savage and his band had just committed a rampage through Oklahoma, killing twenty Seminole and Black Seminole and taking several captives. The captives included my mother and sisters. I set out to take my vengeance at the same time Jack Hays and his Ranger Company showed up in Oklahoma. They were also chasing Eagle Claw and his band, after his similar rampage through Texas. Since we were chasing the same man, I had practically begged Jack Hays to let me join his Ranger company. Jack couldn’t hire me outright as a Ranger, but he did buy fifteen of the horses I’d been ranching. He also paid me a wage to scout. After I signed on with Jack never again was I asked about my manumission papers It took more than a year for the Rangers to catch up with Eagle Claw’s band, after a slight detour of a few months to fight the invading Mexican army.We finally jumped the Comanches atWalker’s Creek after they had joined Yellow Wolf ’s large war party. Fifteen Rangers fought two hundred Comanche, and we whipped them soundly. Captain Jack had armed each of us with five-shot Colt Paterson revolvers. We had one for every pocket and two more around the saddle horn. The Comanche didn’t know what hit them. We’d killed nearly fifty Indians at the loss of only one Ranger killed and four bad hurt. 13 roy v. gaston Eagle Claw escaped, and my search for him continued for several years after. Sometimes I rode with Captain Jack; sometimes not. Besides being a fearless warrior, Jack was also a highly sought-after surveyor and was often called away for work. He made a handsome living with that trade in between fighting Comanches, bandits, and Mexicans. By 1850, Jack had his fill of Comanche and moved out to San Francisco to become sheriff. Mine had been a life of adventure which the boy envied. He ignored my warnings that it was also a life fraught with danger and fear and burying friends. And that the main reason I was alive was almost entirely due to the poor marksmanship of my enemies. I had gone east after the Pease River incident and made a life. When the War came, I joined the Union Army. I’d been a sergeant in the U.S. 6th Artillery, Colored, defending Fort Pillow, when Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest sent his cavalry in. I’d taken a bullet to the skull in the slaughter and looked so dead they didn’t finish killing me. My brother John paid for a private ambulance to bring me all the way out here to Oklahoma Territory to recuperate. Six months later, I was healed enough to ride as a border guard against Creek slavers. I soon made fast friends with Andy, who was already guarding our people. After the War, we’d hired on a few times to guide Federal Marshals from Fort Smith across Indian Territory. We’d tracked some half-way tough outlaws and exchanged a few long-range shots with Comanche or Creek raiders. Young as he was, I trusted Andy in a tight predicament. I’d gotten Charlie’s letter back in March, telling me of his grand plan to drive a herd of several thousand wild longhorn cattle six hundred miles, from Central Texas into northern New Mexico, to feed eight thousand starving Navajo at the Bosque Redondo reservation there. His planned route crossed prairie, desert, and hostile Comanche hunting grounds. When Andy found out what I was contemplating he was determined to ride along. He would not take no for an answer. We were riding light, staying near the edge of the Cross Timbers. The Timbers was a twenty-mile wide strip of dense blackjack and post oak that stretched from the Red River in Oklahoma south to the Brazos, 14 beyond the goodnight trail splitting Texas about evenly in half. We stayed close enough to get to the cover of the trees in a hurry, but far enough away not to get jumped from someone hiding in them. We carried spare guns, ammo, and a little food and grain on two spare mounts. I’d killed an antelope that morning, to go with the hardtack crackers and cans of beans in our saddlebags. We took our time, as I wanted the horses to get as fat as they could before we started the cattle drive. Our mounts were hot blooded, deep chested, Anglo-Arabian geldings that could run like the wind and keep it up for miles. They’d leave any Indian pony in the dust, and I knew this because they already had. I rode the flaxen-maned silver dapple. The others were bays. I’d raised them on my little ranch, and they had the blood of the best racehorses in the Oklahoma territory. We rested often in the meadows bright with bluebonnets, orange Indian paintbrush and pink primrose. Streams were plentiful with bass and blue gill; game and graze for the horses was abundant. We spent about half of every third day with fishing lines tied to long sticks soaking in cool pools in the creeks. I figured we should pamper ourselves now since over the next couple months such opportunities would be rare. * “Hold up,” I said to Andy. I pulled my binoculars out of my saddle bags and watched the line of specks cresting a distant hill.We were riding right down the Comanche War Trail and my eyes were always on the horizon. It wasn’t time for their fall raids yet, but we always needed to be wary. “Twelve riders, fifteen, coming fast. Get to the trees,” I said. “Trouble?” “Not if they don’t see us,” I said.The trees were half a mile to the east, and these riders were a good five miles away.They were pushing latheredup horses and looking over their shoulders. In these parts, people didn’t run their horses into the ground without reason. We reached the trees and walked the horses back a hundred feet into the cool darkness of the forest. After we hobbled the horses in a patch of shaded sweet grass, we laid our rifles and ammunition out behind a log 15 roy v. gaston and waited. It was unlikely they’d spot us, but we could handle a siege if it was called for. Each of us had two 15 round 44 caliber Henry lever action repeating rifles, one carried in our saddle scabbards, another on a spare mount. We also each had five 44 Caliber Colt 1860 Single-action Army pistols. One on our hip, two on pommel holsters, and two more in the saddle bags. The bags also held six extra loaded cylinders apiece, ready to switch out. That was the Hays way. Always carry all the pistols you can. When I rode with Jack, each Ranger was armed with enough Colt revolvers to fire twenty shots before needing to reload. Central Texas had been cleared of hostiles for a good many years that way. An hour later the group passed our hiding place, walking their drooping horses now. With binoculars I could see every detail. They looked about done for, red eyed and flagging. I worried they might stop right in front of us, but they continued on a few hundred yards to a finger of trees where the stream formed a small pool. I’d never met him, but I knew the man in front. Luther Walsh, with his plumed Hardee hat pinned with a Jeff Davis eagle. Walsh, depending on who you asked, was variously a dashing Rebel cavalry colonel, a firebreathing radical secessionist, a wealthy slave planter or a wanted outlaw and murdering bandit. He still wore his cadet gray officer’s shell jacket with the two yellow stars of a lieutenant colonel on the collar. Gold braided Austrian knots covered his sleeves from wrist to elbow, and black dragoon boots rose over his knees. “That’s the Luther Walsh gang,” I said. “Good thing we came over here.” “They have a problem with you?” “No, not personally, but those boys are true believers in the way things was before the War,” I said. “They’re the ones been burning Freedmen’s homes, along with assorted destruction and disruptions waged against the Yankee government in Texas.” It was a rough looking group in odds and ends of tattered and sun-bleached Confederate jackets or yellow-striped cavalry trousers. They wore black knee-flap boots and battered kepi’s, or wide brimmed slouch hats pulled down low over their eyes.The outlaws carried smooth 16 beyond the goodnight trail handled tied-down Colts worn cavalry style and bandoleers of rifle cartridges crisscrossed on their chests. There were many defeated Rebels at the end of the War, but these men did not look defeated. Trail-worn and hungry looking, no doubt, but still itching for a fight. Rugged, expert horsemen, absolutely fearless in battle. All were heavy with trail dust, unshaven for days or with long unkempt beards down to their chests. There were a couple Indians in cast-off army coats and black, flat-brimmed hats. They were Creeks that had ridden with Colonel Stand Watie’s Cherokee Confederate Cavalry, probably some of the ones who used to hunt slaves on the Seminole Reservation. All of them had pistols or long guns sticking out of every possible holder. Texas had a lot of trouble right then. Charlie had explained it in his letter, but I knew it anyway. The War had ended just about exactly a year ago and Texas was full of resentful young veterans with few jobs. They nurtured a seething resentment against their Yankee occupiers and Freedmen. There had been few battles in Texas during the war, but 70,000 Texans fought for the South. Walsh, Cullen Baker, and a few other Confederate officers weren’t taking the loss well and were trying to start a guerrilla war against the Northern invaders. The outlaw gangs were still fairly small, but recruitment was relentless. “Well, still, we can’t hide from every dust cloud or we’ll never get there. We’ve come across people almost every day,” said Andy. The outlaws sat cross-legged in the shade and smoked, letting their horses graze and water freely. “We don’t hidefrom everybody. Just the ones I think look dangerous. These looked dangerous and they are. Lots of folks look dangerous in these days,” I said. “One day you’ll see the wisdom in my ways. We’re in no hurry. That’s why we left plenty early.” The gang made a fire, ate, and moved on with two hours or so of daylight left. They were apparently concerned enough about whoever it was chasing them that they didn’t want to risk a fire after dark. “We might as well make camp here,” I said. It was a good place to hold up if we had to, with the creek nearby. “These trees will hide the campfire.” 17 roy v. gaston I sliced a couple tenderloins from the young pronghorn and stuck them on a skewer over the fire while Andy rummaged through a pannier and pulled out the skillet, a can of tomatoes, an onion, and some Tabasco sauce. “What are you going to do with all that money you’ll make on the drive?” I said, once the juice from the seared steaks was dripping and sizzling in the fire and the aroma had filled our little hideout in the trees. “Maybe I’ll become a big rancher,”Andy said, breaking some branches and tossing them in the fire. “Hell, son, I’ve seen you get discombobulated trying to get that cantankerous old milk cow of yours in the pen,” I said, stretching out on my bedroll and laying my head on my saddle. “Wait until you’ve been two months with 2,500 of them.” *

About the author

I'm am an author and history fanatic, mostly around the American Civil War and the American West of the mid to late 1800s. I have published two novels, How Can a Man Die Better and Beyond the Goodnight Trail. view profile

Published on October 11, 2020

80000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Genre: Action & Adventure

Reviewed by

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