Hired Gun From Santa Fe
Things in Tucson valley were starting to get a mite cautious with the hired guns all flocking in for the Cattle Association advertised rewards for rooting out the pesky settlers that had farming on their foolish brains. The deluded dreamers also had a fair amount of barbed wire to fence in perfectly fine grazing land needed for their vast herds of Association stock beef destined for the Eastern markets.
They had already gone through three sheriffs in the county the past year and it was looking like nobody was anxious to fill the boots of the last officer of the law just recently moved up to boot hill like the previous pair of lawmen. All three of them were fair to middling gun-hands but they didn't have that sense of instinctive viciousness needed to survive in a hostile environment.
The ranchers were greatly outnumbered by the settlers but they had violence on their side and they were willing to go to any extreme to get rid of the hordes of migrant farmers looking for a place to put down roots. A good example of that slice of invading humanity was the Logan family. The Logan's were recent arrivals to the American West but they knew their "rights" and that the law was on their side. The ranchers had been using the government land for decades without proper permission and now the newly arrived settlers were claiming their forty acres as provided under the law.
Grandpa Logan was the oldest member of the family at the ripe old age of fifty five. He had been in some of the bloodiest battles of the American Civil War and survived to tell the story. He had landed in New York City and found that his services were needed to protect the Union against the Southern slaveholders with their disloyal secession from the United States of America. He had lost part of his left ear, took a bayonet slice into the meaty part of his shoulder and was minus two toes from frostbite on a cold night in January. He was one of the lucky ones who managed to come through the other end pretty much intact and able to marry the widow of a Union Captain that didn't make it through the first week of the war. Her name was Josie and he loved to whisper it in her ear when he was riding her from behind in their big wooden bed snugly tucked into the Conestoga wagon with the white canvas top. She had two children from her marriage and they were both boys with exceptional high spirits and very little brains. They were Matt and Mark. Grandpa Logan was known as Henry but he didn't like the name and preferred to be called "Pa".
Both Matt and Mark had married Irish girls with names that nobody really remembered and they were just Mary and Molly to the rest of the family and each of them had four young ones like it was some sort of an assembly line. Their little wagon train of three wagons made it west to the Indian Territory in less than nine months which was better than average by most standards considering the time of year that they had started.
Grandpa Logan had kept his military issue rifle and sidearm and now he had them close to hand no matter how safe everyone thought they were in the wild and violent land. There were fourteen of them altogether not counting the Wilsons who had tagged along with them because Sergeant Gerry Wilson was as close to Grandpa Logan as a man could get to another man without being given a jaundiced eye. The Wilson boys, Bobby and Billy were a handful for their mother Charity but their father let them get away with anything because he was tired of making young men follow all the rules and regulations set by people that didn't know their ass from their elbow. Sergeant Wilson was missing one leg from the knee down but it didn't seem to slow him down much in tending to the small farm and he had the help of two strapping boys to take up the slack.
Between the thieving Indians desperate for meat now that the Buffalo had disappeared from the plains and the small ranch and farm operations that helped themselves to the stray steer here and there, the Association was beginning to feel the pinch of lack of ready cash from sale of stock to the meat markets back East.
Grandpa Logan was well-versed in the laws of Economics and he predicted the bankruptcy of the Cattleman's Association before the New Year.
He was one hundred percent accurate.
The hired guns were angry because their source of income was no longer a factor. Many of them just pulled up stakes and headed out to the gold fields of California and the sights of the vast Ocean to the West.
The railroads were buying up land so fast that the farms were being squeezed before they even had a chance to get started properly. Everything started to change when the small ranchers banded together and decided to import sheep to take the place of the cattle that were hard to herd and tend with expensive cowhands. Instead they hired the much cheaper Mexicans and the trained dogs that did all the work without pay. If the Association was still there in the valley, there certainly would have been blood on the range and blood in the streets of the small towns that dotted the area along the major routes to the mountains in the distance. The absence of the large Cattleman's group created a vacuum that even the settlers couldn't fill.
At first, the introduction of the little white creatures was treated like some sort of circus newly arrived in town but some of the older hands that had seen this before in other areas knew that it was a powder keg ready to explode at any moment.
Some of the Association hired guns signed on with the new sheepherding interests because the investors knew they would be needed when the open range would be part of a struggle for dominance and control in the search for profit.
The first couple of years, it seemed like some sort of peace had descended on the valley and the people in the town, the merchants and the whores all thought the cattle wars were a thing of the past.
Eventually, the hard cold facts of the sheep flock's grazing habits sunk into even the dullest of brains and the slow erosion of the eco-system from the total stripping of the grass covering right down to the very roots started to result in sudden dust storms. The thin top-soil covering was slowly turning into the tiny grains of desert sand expanding with every day of sheep incursion.
Soon, the sheepherders brought their bleating flocks down into the valley where once the vast cattle herds had roamed freely despite the settlers and their shiny new rolls of barbed wire. The scene was set and the battle was about to begin.
Meanwhile, the large cattle consortiums in Texas that had huge herds increasing ever since the Civil War decided now was the ideal opportunity to expand into Arizona and New Mexico and Indian Territory to find grazing land for their herds and have access to the railheads that went both East and West for the distribution of their beef.
One fine morning, the advance elements of a vast herd of Texas longhorns started filtering into the valley at the forefront of a miles long cattle train of over 30,000 head of cattle. The dust that was thrown up into the cloudless sky looked like one of the dust storms created by the tiny hooves of the destructive sheep flocks filtering down from the foothills. The Cattleman's Association had been replaced by the more efficient Texas Longhorn Consortium and this time the hired guns were true professionals and not merely young men willing to risk their lives for a fat paycheck.
Sam Chisolm and his younger brother Saul were riding stray round-up on the West side of the long cattle drive spooking the outliers back into the main herd. It was funny how the grass always looked a little greener further away from the center of the herd. The steers were a little bet leaner now after the long trek but that could be remedied after a bit of fattening up in the grassy valley that was their final destination. Some of the settlers that they bypassed seemed relieved that the heard was continuing on past their farms but they all knew it was possibly a sign of changing times and that their efforts to farm might not be a success if new herds of grazing cattle competed for the land right next to them.
Sam was the eldest son in the family back in the Red River home that he had grown up in along with his seven siblings and his cousins that had lost their parents to an Indian raid several years ago. There weren't many Indians left in the Red River area any longer and that was a good thing as far as he was concerned but there were a lot of bleeding hearts newly arrived from back East that had a different view on the subject seeing the Native Americans as victims in the surge to settle the Western States and change Indian Territory into part of the American dream of land and home ownership.
Sam didn't like to talk about it much but he had acquired quite a reputation down Santa Fe way by awe-stricken tales of his fast draw and accurate shooting. He once had sent three drunken killers to boot hill with a one-way ticket like it was a turkey shoot for some kind of prize. His brother would tell the others about his older brother trying to stick to the hard, cold facts but most of them just put it down to exaggeration and not "gospel" truth like you got on cold Sunday mornings. They did notice that Sam wore his pistol a mite lower than most and that he was often seen cleaning it like it was some special tool that needed a lot of attention. He certainly didn't look like a hardcase because he generally shaved daily and tried to keep himself washed more than most fellows out on the trail. Besides, he was sort of shy around females not at all like his younger brother who collected young ladies like other fellows had a string of ponies or sharp duds that made them look more handsome.
Sam's old horse was a bit over the hill just like his rider and Sam never attempted to push the Appaloosa on a difficult trail. He kept him in reserve for his personal riding and generally used the string of broken-in mustangs that he had been allotted just like all the other trail riders hired by the Texas Consortium. It didn't make no never-you-mind with him what people thought because that horse and he had been through a lot in last ten years and that was a fact.
The vast herd filtered in slowly but soon the entire Eastern end of the valley floor was dotted with their presence and the remnants of the Cattleman's Association riders now working with the sheepherder's were a bit envious but kept their distance because those Texas fellows were notorious for short tempers and were none too fond of anyone associated with sheep.
There were a couple of small confrontations that took place in the local whorehouses between the two factions but it didn't really come to a head until a group of drunken Texans drove a large flock of the frightened white bleating creatures over a high cliff halfway to the foothills. The mass of destruction was stacked so high that the ravine was filled with the stench of their death.
After that, the two sides tended to avoid each other but everyone knew it was just the calm before the storm and that the explosion of their conflict would ignite a range war far worse than the confrontation between the settlers and the cowboys.