Jed Snodgrass was pretty much your average sort of teen aged boy of the late 1870s in Texas. He was 15 years old and had been on his own for the last four years. His parents had kicked him out to make room for the new baby on the way. He hadn't lost much from that, since the hardscrabble farm really didn't produce enough for a decent living, and his parents drank up all of the corn whiskey they could buy with their spare cash. Jed's father had stopped beating him when Jed was 10 and tough enough to win the "fights." It was definitely NOT a loving home life that Jed left.
Jed had been able to get a job on a nearby ranch as a gofer, and that was where he learned to ride, rope, and shoot. The older hands took a liking to Jed and tried to teach him all that they knew. Jed was a quick learner and truly appreciative of the loving attention he got from the older men who treated him like the son they never would have. By the time he was 13, Jed was a top hand and promoted to the job of assistant to the foreman. That didn't mean that he gave orders, but he did relay the foreman's orders to men who were away from the ranch. All the hands knew that he was just the mailman for the foreman, so they did not take offense at receiving orders from a boy.
By this time, Jed was 5-feet, 10-inches tall and weighed 160 pounds, all of it muscle. His dark, almost black, hair and his brown eyes didn't make him a lady killer, but that went with his pleasant face to make him nice to be around.
One of the hands on the Circle S Ranch was something of a gun fancier, and had saved every pistol that he had ever owned. This was a lot, since the cowboy used every spare penny to buy the latest pistol that the gunsmith in Coyote Flats could find for him. At the moment Homer was sporting a new Smith & Wesson top-break .45 caliber of the Schofield design. Since Jed had no gun of his own, and really needed one to do his job, Homer had loaned to Jed one of his older .45 caliber Colts. This was a dream gun for a 15-year-old boy, because of the noise, the recoil, and the damage it could do. Jed loved the gun and practically worshiped Homer for lending it to him.
Every spare moment and every spare penny that Jed could scrape up was spent on practice with the gun. Homer had convinced Jed to use the cross draw shoulder holster technique, since it was easier to manage on horseback. Jed had no particular goal in mind while he practiced, he just wanted to be as good as he could possibly get with all of his tools, whether it was his horse, his rope, his knife, or his gun. All of his friends admired the way Jed would spend so much time striving to get better at using all of his tools, and encouraged him to keep it up, though no one could really figure out what he could do with these skills, beyond what he was doing, already.
One day, Homer went to town with Jed on some sort of errand, and, while they were there, Homer wanted to drop in on the gunsmith to see what he might have that was new. Glory Be! The gunsmith had found a double-action pistol for Homer to try out. Homer was hooked! He bought the pistol on the spot and swapped out his S&W for the new one. Jed agreed to carry it for him, and stuck it in his waist band.
They left the gunsmith's firing range with Homer convinced that he knew everything he needed to know about the new pistol. To celebrate Homer's new toy, they stopped off at a saloon for a beer. Unfortunately, Homer celebrated a bit too much and was pretty drunk by the time they left the saloon. As Homer stepped out the door onto the sidewalk, Jake Simmons, the town bully, bumped into him. It was obvious that Homer was having trouble walking, but he did have enough command of himself to offer an apology to Simmons. Simmons, the perpetual bully, would not accept the apology and challenged Homer to a duel of honor. Homer was too drunk to realize that he was being set up, so he accepted the challenge. They stepped into the street and chased away the few bystanders so that they would not accidentally catch a bullet.
Jed tried to get Homer to back down, but his honor was in jeopardy, so he would not hear of it. Jake just laughed. They stepped off the agreed upon distance and drew their pistols. Homer actually got his gun out first, but it jammed somehow, so that he was not able to get off a shot. Jake saw this and took advantage of the situation by carefully lining up his pistol and putting a bullet in Homer's gut, knowing that it could take hours for the man to die, the whole time in considerable pain.
Jed screamed at this and drew his gun, even though Jake already had his gun drawn. In one smooth motion, Jed drew his Colt and fired, hitting Jake in the chest and drilling him right through the heart. He turned to his friend and saw that Homer was dying; this was when Jed cried for the first time since he was a baby.
Homer was lucky, Jakes bullet had nicked an artery, so he died in only a few minutes. The whole thing was over by the time the marshal ran up to investigate. He got statements from a few eyewitnesses and spat a stream of tobacco juice in Jake's face. "Well, son, ya did the town of Coyote Flats a big favor, but I 'spect that ya're in a heap of trouble from the Simmons family. Ifen I wuz ya, I'd git on my hoss and lite out fer parts unknown. We'll take care of yer friend, but ya'd best git yer ass out of here. Go on! GIT!"
Jed mounted and rode back to the ranch to tell them what had happened to Homer. Everybody was pretty upset about the whole thing, but agreed with the marshal that Jed would have to watch his back if he stayed were he was. Life would be easier for everybody if he just rode away. The foreman told him to keep the horse and tack, he had earned it. Jed was paid for the whole month, even though he had not worked but two weeks of it, and he was told to keep the guns that Homer had given him, since Homer would want that. That was all the send off that Jed got, but everyone wished him well.
Jed was riding through a section of woods when a shot rang out and a bullet creased his right side and deflected off a rib. No fool, Jed pushed his horse off the trail in among the trees. The only weapons he had were the two pistols that he had inherited from his friend Homer. One was in the shoulder holster and the other stuck in his waist band. He dismounted and drew the Schofield .45 from his waist band.
Based on the way he had been facing, it was obvious where the shot had come from, besides, there was some powder smoke still hanging in the air. Jed ducked as low as he could to get some shielding from the undergrowth as he made his way toward the assassin. He had gone about 30 yards when he saw some movement among the trees. Jed didn't want to give himself away, prematurely, so he moved toward the motion without firing a shot.
He found his man and slipped up close behind him. When he was about 10 feet away from the man, Jed asked, "Why fer did ya shoot at me?"
"Cuz ya killed my cousin, ya bastard!"
"Ya related ta Jake Simmons? Cuz that's the only man I ever killed."
"I shore am, an' I'M GONNA KILL YA, NOW!" With that shouted challenge, the man started to swing his rifle around to point it at Jed. This was stupidity, personified, since he could not possibly get the rifle to bear on Jed before Jed pulled the trigger of his pistol. In line with what was to become Jed's usual practice, he aimed for the man's breast bone, and his bullet hit it squarely, killing the man on the spot. Since Jed had shot in self defense, he figured that any of the man's former possessions now belonged to him.
Jed found a money belt with $33. He took that and the man's pistol, rifle, knife, horse, and tack. Leaving the man's body lying in the bushes, he rode toward Brier Crossing. Reaching town, he sold everything but the rifle and its ammunition. Jed debated with himself about keeping the Henry rifle, but it was .45 caliber and could use the shorter Colt .45 ammunition, so he decided to keep it to complement his other weapons. However, considering the miss made on him earlier in the day, he did plan to spend some time on sighting it in so that he would not have that trouble.
On second thought, he planned to visit a gunsmith to get his opinion about whether or not to switch all of his guns to .44-40 and go with a Winchester. Oh, well, that was for tomorrow. Jed was tired and wanted to rest for the evening, so he checked into the hotel and ate supper. After supper, he spent some time visiting a couple of saloons and having two beers. He never had gotten into the poker habit, so he was saved from that.
The next day, Jed went by the gunsmith in Brier Crossing, but found that he didn't trust the man. He decided to put off a decision on his guns until later. He wanted to put a few more miles between himself and Coyote Flats before settling down, so he rode on to the next town, Franklin.
It was still early afternoon when Jed reached Franklin, so the first place he went was to a saloon to inquire about job prospects. Nothing interesting was available, except two rival ranchers were hiring men in anticipation of a range war over water rights. Jed decided to think about that overnight, so he took a room and ate supper. After supper, he visited the other two saloons in town, but there were no better job prospects offered there.
When Jed woke up, he found that his unconscious mind had rejected the idea of getting in on a range war. He had enough money to carry him for three or four months, so he could afford to be choosy over jobs right now. He did go by the gunsmith to talk about changing guns, but the gunsmith didn't have much of a stock, so he couldn't help Jed very much. However, he did say that he thought that the .44-40 was a better cartridge than the .45 for some arcane reason that Jed didn't understand. Jed decided, to hell with it, and stuck with his current weapons, though he did get a holster for his hip to carry his Colt.
Jed rode out of town toward Wild Flower, but had not gone far when he heard gunshots. He picked up speed to see what was going on, and soon came across a gun battle of four against one. Everybody was using pistols at a range of 50 yards, so there was a lot of shooting, but no hitting, going on. Jed kept his head down and rode in behind the lone man. Giving warning so that he would not be shot by mistake, Jed road in the rest of the way, and that was when he saw that the lone man was wearing a Ranger badge.
"Howdy, Ranger. What's goin' on?"
"Them galoots over there are wanted fer bank robbery. Ifen ya're interested, I'll deputize ya as a Ranger ta he'p me capture 'em. The pay is $1 per day, an' any part of a day counts as a whole day. By the way, I'm Al Jones."
"Shore, I ain't got nothin' else ta do. I'll be happy to he'p ya. And my name's Jed Snodgrass."
The four fugitives had not seen Jed ride up, so they were very surprised when he showed up behind them. "I got y'all covered. Drop yer guns an' put up yer hands. Y'all're under arrest. I'm knida new at this, so don't git me excited. I might shoot y'all by mistake."
All four of the men jerked around to see who was behind them. Seeing that it was only one man, one of the fugitives raised his gun to shoot Jed. Jed fired first and there were only three fugitives. One of them said, "Did ya see that? He shot Jasper like he wuz nothin'."
Another one said, "Jasper always wuz pretty dumb. What'd ya expect the Ranger ta do? Stand there an' let Jasper shoot 'im? I swan, Ed, sometimes ya're pretty dumb, yerself."
Jed shouted, "COME ON OVER, AL. I GOT 'EM COVERED."
Al showed up a few minutes later, leading his horse. "Congratulations, Jed ya did a right smart job of it. Ya shore earned yer money, today. Let's get these galoots on their hosses an' locked up, an' I'll pay ya yer wages. We'll need ta go inta Wild Flower, since Franklin don't have a jail."
The three live bank robbers were tied on their saddles with their legs tied under the horse's belly, but the rider's feet not in the stirrups. With hands tied to the saddle horn, a man was able to keep his seat, but not able to ride fast. If he tried to move too fast, his balls got pinched, and no man was going to do that for very long.
The dead robber was thrown across his saddle and tied down. The robbers' horses were fastened to a lead rope, and they all rode to the town of Wild Flower. The bank robbers were locked up for the night, the dead man was thrown in with them, and Jed was paid off. He collected $1.04; the four cents was to pay for the one bullet that he had expended.
Al invited Jed to join him for a beer, and Jed accepted. They went into what was reputed to be the best saloon in town and ordered their beers. They sat in chairs next to the wall and talked. Al said, "Ya did a mighty fine job of workin' with me, today, and I appreciate it. Ya saved me a passel of work. Ya ever consider bein' a lawman?"
"No, I ain't got nothin' 'gainst it. I jus' ain't never thought of it. What would I have ta do ta join up, an' what's the pay?"
"Ya kin join the Rangers by applyin' at any Ranger Station. The only requirements are that ya kin read and write yer own name, kin shoot, an' kin ride. I know ya kin ride an' shoot, but how's yer readin' an' writin'?"
"I ain't never been ta school, so I can't read nor write, but I 'spect that I could manage my name ifen somebody showed me what it looked like, the first time."
"That's good enough. The pay is $55 a month, plus pay fer the ammunition ya use up while on duty. Ya kin live and eat at the barracks ifen ya want to, so ya don't have much in the way of livin' expenses as long as ya ain't married."
"How old do ya have ta be? I ain't but 15, though I'll be 16 next month."
"I ain't never heard of an age restriction, soz I guess that ya're OK that way."
"That sounds good. How much trouble would I have leavin' ifen I find that bein' a Ranger ain't fer me?"
"It's pretty much like any other job. Ya stay in as long as ya wants ta, an' ya leave when ya git tired of it. I've been a Ranger ever since I got back from the war, an' I ain't never regretted a minute of it. I'm headed inta Laredo tomorrow ta deliver them crooks we caught today. Ifen ya're interested, stay my deputy soz ya gits paid, and ride in with me. Ya kin git more details from the capt'n an' join up after ya hear more 'bout it from him.
"It's a deal. I'll give it a try." They spent an hour or so over their beers just talking about this and that, then they retired for the night. The next morning they headed for Laredo and pulled in five days later.
Al took Jed to meet the captain and left him to talk about joining the Rangers while Al took care of processing the prisoners and the dead man. Al could write only slightly better than Jed, so it took him several hours to finish his report. Meanwhile, Jed was signed on with the Rangers, and Al was assigned to teach him the ropes.
Al had paid Jed the $5 for helping him take in the prisoners, so the first thing Al taught Jed was how to put in a claim for expenses. Al emphasized that this was one of the most important things a Ranger needed to know!
When they finished in the office, Al showed Jed where to stable his horse and keep his tack. He said that Jed could sell his horse if he wanted to, since horses were furnished to the Rangers as they needed them, though most of the men had their own tack.
The men could draw guns if they wanted to, but most men preferred to use their own. The issued gun was the .44-40 caliber Colt six-shooter, but Al used his own, a .44-40 Smith & Wesson top-break because of the faster reloading, and he recommended that Jed change over. The issue rifle was the Winchester in .44-40, so that was what Al used.