Chapter 1

Rafe Cassidy rode passed a pile of bleach white bones that had once been a steer. "If I don't find a water hole pretty soon I'm gonna end up as a pile of bones myself," he said aloud. Lifting his one canteen that still had some water in it he took a mouthful. Swishing the water around in his mouth he leaned far over in his saddle and plucked a leaf from an aloe plant. He squeezed sap out of the leaf and rubbed it across his parched cracked lips. The natural salve would help put some moisture back in them.

Turning in his saddle he looked back at the hoof prints that marked his trail across this waste land of the Llano Estacado. Damn high chaparral, he thought. The Staked Plains as they were called were nothing more than high desert. Most of the vegetation was Mesquite, tumbleweeds, Creosote bushes, and scrub brush with a few Palo Verdes dotting the landscape. There were also a few strands of Cottonwoods and Scrub Oak where springs or snow runoff from the mountains that ringed the plains came closer to the surface.

Closer to him, he looked at his pack horse. Poor animal's about done for; so am I he thought. If I don't find a water hole soon it might be best let the animal loose. Maybe he can find some water, graze a bit and make it.

He didn't know how close his pursuers were but he could feel them still back there; further behind every day but still following. "Must want me pretty bad to trail me into this God forsaken country," he told his horse. "I sure wouldn't ride across the Estacado if I didn't have to. Hell even the rattlesnakes give it a wide birth during the summer."

Reckon I better stop and let the horses rest a bit, he thought. Won't make much difference without water for them but with some rest Buddy might make it another day; Bowie was tired but still had a lot of bottom left in him. Rafe topped a small rise; it wasn't more than five or six feet high but in this flat land it seemed like a tall hill. His saddle bronc lifted its head and stared at a small stand of trees on the other side of the rise. The pack horse picked up his head too.

Rafe could feel his horse trying to veer toward the trees. "Okay Bowie, that's as good a place as any to rest," he said to his horse. "At least we'll get out of this damn sun for a spell."

Bowie was named after Jim Bowie, hero of the Alamo and Texas. Rafe and his family had lived in San Antonio for several years and the Texas patriot was still highly regarded even 40 years after his death.

He gave the horse its head and rode to the trees. The closer he got the more excited his horses became. Riding through the scrub trees toward the center of the stand Rafe saw the reason for their excitement. A small spring came to the surface in the middle of the trees. There was a shallow pool of water waiting for them.

A grin spread across his face and he sort of slumped in the saddle with relief. "Reckon we'll make it for a spell longer Bowie," he said as he patted his horse's neck. "Now I can't let you or Buddy drink too much too fast or it'll kill you. Understand?"

Rafe dismounted and carefully tied both horses to a cottonwood tree. He walked over to the water hole and stuck his head down into the water. Taking a couple of big drinks he filled his big Mexican sombrero with water and went back to the horses. He held the hat so his pack horse could drink. When the hat was about half empty he turned and gave Bowie his drink. He repeated bringing water to the horses three more times.

Rafe still had his Stetson tied with a piece of rawhide to his saddle horn. The very wide brimmed, high crowned sombrero was a better choice for riding in the sun on the desert like Estacado. He'd traded for the sombrero and food in a small unnamed Mexican village at the edge of the plains. The old vaquero he did business with gave him the sombrero when he learned where Rafe was headed.

After the last hat full of water Rafe soaked two bandanas and tied them across the horse's noses. Breathing the cool moist air would get some temperature relief into the horse's body a little quicker. It might keep them from foundering when he let them drink at the spring. He wet the bandanas several times as he unsaddled Bowie and the pack horse. Rafe rubbed the horses down with some buffalo grass that grew around the spring

"Okay Bowie, now behave," Rafe ordered his horse. "I'm gonna water Buddy first. He's a bit more done in than you are." The big horse nodded as if he understood. Rafe took the bandanas off the two horses and led Buddy to the pool.

He watered both horses being careful not to let them drink too much. Then he hobbled them and tied them with a long lead to some trees. This would let the horses graze on the grass growing around the spring without letting them get to the water again. Rafe took some of the aloe sap and worked it into a few cuts and scrapes on the horses that had been cause by the tough brush and cactus that grew on the Estacado.

"Ifin I don't tend to these cuts Bowie they could get infected and cause problems," Rafe told his big horse.

The horses were calmer now that they'd had some water and Rafe thought, now I can take care of me. He built a small shelter to hide the fire he lit. "No need to tell God and everybody where we are," he told Bowie.

Rafe took some the oats he carried for the horses, soaked it and some pieces of beef jerky in water. The oats and jerky softened and he boiled them with some wild onions to make a stew. It was the first hot meal he'd had for several days.

After finishing his 'feast', Rafe stripped out of his clothes. His shirt and pants were crusty with dirt and sweat. The shirt had big white circles under the arms and across the back. "Damn that feels good," he remarked after getting out of the foul clothing. "Feel like I had a dozen critters eatin on me the last few days."

Rafe took his pistol and walked downstream of the little pool and sat down in the runoff from the spring; washing the dirt and salt off his body. When he returned to the horses he got a relatively clean shirt a pair of denim work pants and his long johns out of the panniers on the pack saddle and got dressed. He returned his pistol, a Remington .44-40, to its hostler and strapped the gun belt around his waist again; he slid the weapon up and down in the hostler to make sure it would pull free if needed. "I've lost some weight Bowie," he said as he examined himself. "Reckon riding hard for days without eatin regular will do that."

Rafe was tall for the times at 6'2 and he normally weighed about 190. Being on the run had dropped his weight to around 170. He was whipcord thin with big hands and still as strong as a young bull. He was what some would call ruggedly handsome. The only flaw was a scar running down the right side of his face. On his first cattle drive when he was 15, Rafe had roped a steer that got itself trapped in a steep arroyo. He and his horse pulled the animal out and when Rafe leaned over to free his lariat the steer tossed its head and hooked Rafe. The wound wasn't serious but left a long jagged scar.

"First time I get a chance I'm gonna get a haircut," he said aloud to his horse. "Gonna have it cut real short like those Army fellars do. Can't stand it hangin down in my face."

His long dark hair was tied back with a piece of rawhide so it wouldn't cover his blue eyes. Rafe dressed and using his saddle as a back rest he relaxed after his meal and bath. Bowie would let him know if anyone or anything came close to the camp.

He pulled his Winchester '73from its scabbard and laid it next to him. The Winchester .44-40 and the Remington were both gifts from his grandfather on his 21st birthday. The pistol had ivory handles and the rifle had his name engraved on the side plate just below the loading gate.

Rafe remembered his grandfather laughing when he gave the guns to Rafe. "Won't be no doubt who owns those," his grandfather said pointing to his name on the rifle and the ivory handles.

As he drifted off to sleep, he thought about the last month and the reason for him being on the run.

Rafe Cassidy was born and raised just outside of San Antonio. His Grandfather, William Cassidy had fought with the Texan army under Sam Houston at the Battle of San Jacinto in April of 1836. William had a brother, Jacob, who died defending Texas; another brother, Emmet, was killed at San Jacinto. Rafe's mother was Sarah Travis Cassidy; she was distantly related to William Travis who died at the Alamo. Others in Sarah's family had fought in the revolution also. The Cassidy clan was part and parcel of the Texas War of Independence from Mexico and Santa Anna.

Barrett Cassidy, named after William Barrett Travis, was a lot like his father William and raised his son Rafe to be the same fiercely independent type of man. Rafe was raised to stand up for what he believed in and damn the consequences. He had learned his lessons well.

In 1874, at the age of 22, Rafe left San Antonio for Fort Stockton. He had a good reason for leaving his home. Rafe had fallen in love with a young senorita, Juanita, but her father refused to let the two young people court. Instead Juan Mendoza arranged for the marriage of his daughter to a business associate.

Rafe was very upset and was going to confront both Juanita's father and her intended husband. His grandfather and his father stepped in and talked to the young man. William and Barrett admired and respected the Mexican people of San Antonio and their culture.

"You have to understand son this is their way of doing things," Barrett told his boy.

"We may not agree or understand it but we must respect the wishes of Juanita's father," William added.

Rafe was still fuming and paid little attention to the advice of his elders.

"What are you going to do when you see her father?" Barrett asked.

"I thought I could talk him into changing his mind about Juanita and me," Rafe answered.

"You won't change his mind boy," William replied. "Arranged marriages are part of the Mexican heritage. There isn't any way you'll change his mind." William paused and asked, "How does Juanita feel? Have you asked her what she wants to do?"

"She said she loves me but couldn't go against the wishes of her father." The youngster sighed and seemed to slump down in his chair. Then he sort of shook himself and stood. "Reckon I can't do anything, can I?"

His father and grandfather both shook their heads. "But if that store keeper hurts Juanita he'll answer to me," Rafe vowed. The two older men didn't argue with Rafe's bravado.

Rafe next saw Juanita in the general mercantile early on a Saturday morning three months later. He turned with the supplies he'd bought for the ranch and she walked into the store. Juanita didn't see Rafe at first and was talking to an older woman with her.

She don't look the same, Rafe thought. Her eyes used to sparkle and now they look dull and almost lifeless.

Juanita turned and saw Rafe. A big smile, quickly hidden, came over her face and her eyes lit up. The older woman had stepped to the back of the store. Juanita walked closer and said, "Buenos Dias Rafe. It's good to see you."

"Buenos Dias mi amiga. How are you Juanita?"

"I am well. We were friends weren't we Rafe?" She asked wistfully.

"Still are as far as I'm concerned Juanita."

Juanita smiled and started to say something but the older woman called, "Juanita, vengan a mi."

"Who's that?" Rafe asked not liking the looks of the woman.

"That's The Senora Ruiz. My mother in law," Juanita said with a frown. "I must go. It was good to see you Rafe."

Rafe nodded and watched Juanita rejoin Senora Ruiz. The Senora is sure givin Juanita an ear full, he thought.

Later that week Rafe was in the saloon, having a whiskey. He'd just driven 20 head of cattle to the stock yards and decided he deserved a drink before heading back home. He downed his drink and turned to leave. Three Mexicans block his way.

Rafe recognized the shorter man in the middle; it was Hector Ruiz, Juanita's husband. Those other two are here to back his play, he thought. The one on the right is a simple vaquero but the one on the left is a gun hand. His hostler is slung low and tied down.

"Senor Cassidy, I'm Hector Ruiz," the shorter man said. "Juanita's husband."

"I know who you are Ruiz," Rafe replied. "What do you want? Or did you come to buy me a drink?"

"You met Juanita in the general store on Saturday morning."

"Yeah, I did. It was nice to see her. Haven't seen her for quite a spell."

"You will refrain from talking to my wife again Senor," Ruiz ordered. Before Rafe could respond Ruiz continued, "Juanita goes to the mercantile every Saturday morning so you must do your business there at a different time."

Rafe chuckled and shook his head. He stopped chuckling and replied in a serious voice. "Senor I won't be told where and when I can do my business."

The vaquero looked at his employer but the gun hand never took his eyes off of Rafe. "You will do as I ask Senor or you will be chastised," Ruiz warned him.

"By this fellar here?" Rafe asked pointing to the man on the left.

"If necessary Ernesto will deal with you Senor Cassidy."

Ernesto was older than Rafe by ten years or so. He was tall and slender with delicate hands; a piano player's hands, or gun fighters. He wore his black hair long, tied in the back with a dark string fastened with a silver bolo tie. His gun belt was hand tooled with silver Conchos for decoration. It looked like a dude's outfit except for the hostler. It was well worn and showed signs of use.

"I am very good Senor," Ernesto said with a mocking smile. "Please listen to Senor Ruiz. I know of your family and admire them. I would not like to shoot you."

"Reckon we might as well step outside and get to it Ernesto," Rafe said with his own mocking smile. "As I said I won't be told what to do by Senor Ruiz, or you, or the Devil himself."

"No Senor Rafe. I will wait for instructions from my employer. But please don't test me. As I said I would dislike having to shoot you."

"You have been warned Senor," Ruiz said and turned to leave.

Later that day, Barrett asked his son about the run in with Ruiz.

"How did you hear about that?" Rafe asked.

"It's all over town about you and that Ernesto pawin at each other. What happened Rafe?" The young man told his father about the confrontation in the saloon.

"What are you going to do son?"

"I'll not be dictated to by Ruiz, or anyone else for that matter," Rafe replied. "I won't make a point of being at the general store on Saturday mornings but I won't shy away from it either."

Barrett nodded his head. He didn't have to like it but he understood his son's stance on the matter. If I were in his shoes I'd feel the same way, Barrett thought.

It was three weeks later that Rafe was in the store on a Saturday morning. Juanita walked in, again with her mother in law. This time she just nodded to Rafe but didn't approach him. Rafe returned the nod with a smile and left the store. He wouldn't back down from Ruiz or his man Ernesto but he didn't want to cause trouble for Juanita either.

Rafe had left his horse to be reshod. As he approached the blacksmith's Ruiz, Ernesto, and the second vaquero stepped into the street.

"I told you to stay away from Juanita, Senor Cassidy." Ruiz's face was red with anger. Ernesto stood with his arms folded and gave Rafe an insolent smile.

"Ruiz, all I did was nod good morning to her; I didn't even talk to her."

"I told you to avoid the mercantile on Saturday mornings," Ruiz said.

"And I told you I wouldn't be dictated to," Rafe responded.

Ernesto stood a little straighter and slowly unfolded his arms bringing his right hand closer to his pistol.

Looking at Ernesto Rafe said, "There's no need for this amigo."

The tall Mexican just shrugged his shoulders and looked at his employer. Rafe wasn't afraid of the gun fighter nor of Ruiz and the other vaquero. But he didn't see that a simple nod hello was reason enough for fighting. Taking a deep breath he tried one more time to avoid trouble.

"Senor Ruiz, I did no dishonor to Juanita or to you. I simply nodded hello to an old friend."

"So now that you have been confronted you will crawl away to avoid punishment. Like a coward in the night. Is that it Senor Cassidy?"

Rafe tensed and looked Ruiz in the eye. "I'm not crawling and no man calls me a coward." Looking at Ernesto for a few seconds Rafe continued, "Ruiz when I finish with your man here I will deal with you."

He lowered his hands to his side and said to Ernesto, "Let's get on with it."

"Please Senor, apologize to Senor Ruiz and give him your word you will do as he asks. I don't want to have to kill you," Ernesto requested.

The second vaquero straightened and started to move to the side. "Stay out of this Roberto," Ernesto ordered. "Senor Cassidy deserves to face the best."

As he gave the order to his companion, Ernesto's hand moved and pulled his pistol from the holster. He was very fast but Rafe was just as quick. Rafe drew his own weapon and the two men fired at the same time. Rafe was hit in the left shoulder and staggered a little. Regaining his balance he looked at the gunfighter.

"I told you I was good," Ernesto said pointing to Rafe's shoulder. Then he dropped his pistol and put his hand on the wound in his midsection. "But it seems you are just as good. My compliments Senor. Ernesto sagged and fell to the ground.

Rafe pointed his pistol at Roberto. "You want to play a hand in this Vaquero?"

Roberto shook his head and looked at Ernesto in disbelief. He had never seen the Jefe bested before. Roberto knelt to help Ernesto, leaving his employer to face this crazy Anglo. Ruiz's face turned white with fear as Rafe turned to him.

Rafe looked at Ruiz. He wanted so badly to punish this man but Ruiz was unarmed. "Next time I see you Senor you better be wearing a gun." Staring down at the wounded Ernesto he added, "Get a doctor for your man there. He don't deserve to die in the street." Rafe watched Ruiz hurry away toward the doctor's office and turned. He got on his horse and made it home before he collapsed on the front porch.

At dusk Rafe got up and made a turn around the spring, listening and looking back over his trail for signs of his pursuers. If they made camp and didn't hide their fire he would be able to see it for miles. Of course if they made a cold camp or didn't stop at all he'd never see them in the dark. He ate the last of the oat and jerky stew and drank some more of the spring water. Then he checked on his horses, Bowie and Buddy. They already look better, Rafe thought as he led them to different trees so they could continue to graze on the wild grass.

He scratched Bowie behind his ears and thought some more about the events and actions that had led him to this oasis in the middle of the Estacado. "Dang near didn't make it back to the house," Rafe told Bowie. "Reckon I was too ornery to die." The big horse nodded and nudged Rafe to keep him scratching.

"That was a little before your time big guy. Dad and Ma got me into bed and sent a ranch hand for the doctor. Grandpa said he'd go, saddled his horse and kicked him into a gallop for town. Dad told me later that the doctor wanted to stay with Ernesto. Grandpa told the doctor that he was comin out to the ranch on his saddle or across it but he was coming."

Rafe chuckled remembering how mad the doctor was. "Grandpa could be persuasive when he wanted to be." He went back to his resting spot where his saddle laid on the ground.

"It was close to three weeks before Ma would let me get up and around much," Rafe continued explaining to Bowie. "Once she'd let me ride I headed for town. It was a Saturday morning and Ma raised hell but I wouldn't stay home. She said I was gonna get shot again if I forced Ruiz's hand. My Pa told her I had to go to town or else I'd been shot for nothing."

Rafe shook his head. "You know the first person I saw when I went into the saloon was Ernesto. He sure looked drug out. He'd lost a lot of weight and was as skinny as a rail. A few streaks of gray had grown in his dark hair and he looked to be ten years older than when we'd tangled."

Ernesto looked up as Rafe entered the saloon. He tensed and then relaxed showing a small smile. Ernesto motioned to the bartender and had two glasses of whiskey poured and put on the bar. He nodded at Rafe and offered a toast with one of the whiskeys.

Rafe had seen Ernesto when he cleared the swinging doors to the saloon. He hesitated and almost stopped but then saw that his old enemy was unarmed and was offering a drink to him. Rafe walked over to Ernesto, took the offered whiskey and nodded. Both men finished the whiskey with one long drink.

As Rafe turned to face Ernesto, Roberto stood by the table he'd be sitting at. "You may sit down Roberto," Ernesto ordered. "Senor Rafe is not here for trouble."

"Si Jefe," Roberto replied and sat back down.

"I am forced to have a companion to protect me while I heal," Ernesto explained. Touching his mid section he said, "Your bullet did a lot of damage Senor. It will be a time before I am myself again."

"Wasn't my choice Ernesto. I told you that fight wasn't necessary."

"Yes you did and I agree with you but I was under orders from my employer."

"Why did you fight if you agreed that I hadn't done anything wrong or dishonorable?"

"As I said I was following the orders of my employer." Ernesto could see that Rafe didn't really understand. "I gave my word and accepted payment to do what Senor Ruiz required of me. My word is my life Senor Rafe."

"So do I have to worry about facing you again when you're healed up? Will Ruiz send you after me again?" Rafe asked almost dreading the answer. He didn't want to have to kill this man.

"No, I don't work for Senor Ruiz anymore," Ernesto replied. "He wasn't happy with what I told the Sheriff when Ruiz wanted to have you arrested." Rafe gave him a questioning look. "I told the Sheriff that you were defending yourself and that it was a private matter."

Ernesto chuckled. "I'm going back to my village of Reynosa. I think maybe my days as a pistolero are over." He paused and continued with a warning. "But Senor Ruiz is not done with you yet amigo. He has hired two gringo gun fighters. I'm sure he will send them to meet you and these men have no honor. They will not face you but attack from the rear or out of the night. Prepare yourself."

Rafe nodded and motioned for two more whiskeys. He toasted Ernesto and drank his down.

"What will you do Senor Rafe?"

Shaking his head Rafe answered, "I don't rightly know just yet. Gracias. Vaya con Dios amigo."

Rafe turned and left the saloon. He mounted his horse and rode back to the ranch; his shopping trip for supplies forgotten. He was very quiet when he entered the ranch house.

"Where's the supplies you went for?" Barrett asked. He could see something was bothering his son.

"Reckon I forgot them. Somethin came up," Rafe answered.

"What's put a burr under you saddle son?"

Rafe told his father about the meeting with Ernesto and his warning.

"Maybe I ought to have a talk with Senor Ruiz," Barrett offered.

"No Pa, you'll just end up shootin him. I've got to figure this out on my own."

That evening at the supper table Rafe surprised his family. "I'm gonna ask Juanita to head to California with me."

His mother, Sarah, was the one who responded first. "You can't do that to her Rafe." At her son's puzzled look she continued, "You can't dishonor her like that son." Rafe started to object but Sarah held up her hand to stop him.

"She may not like her life but she gave her word; to her father, to her husband, and before God." Sarah took Rafe's hand and said, "Even if she agreed to go with you she would come to resent you over time. It would eat at her until she couldn't stand to be with you."

Putting her hand on his cheek Sarah added, "You have to let her go Rafe. You have to get her out of your heart."

Rafe nodded and left the table. He told his folks he was going to check on the horses and went to the barn. The real reason was to think about what to do. Rafe loved Juanita but in his heart he knew they couldn't be together.

Looking up at the stars he said aloud, "Reckon it's time for me to leave home." The tension and worry seemed to lift and he felt at peace for the first time since the gun fight with Ernesto. "I'll tell the folks in the morning."

At breakfast Rafe told his family of his plans to leave. "It'd be simpler to shoot Ruiz but he never carries a gun and I can't shoot him in cold blood. And if I stay here Ruiz will keep sending men at me and I'll have to kill somebody or they'll kill me."

"When you leavin boy?" Grandfather William asked.

Rafe shook his head and gave a small smile. "Think I'll leave by the end of the week. Should give me enough time to put together supplies and such."

Sarah tried to hide the tears that came to her eyes. She knew Rafe leaving was probably the best thing but even at 22 he was still her baby. Wiping her eyes she left the kitchen.

"She'll be alright," Barrett said to Rafe. "It'll just take her a little time getting used to the idea that you're grown." Barrett cleared his throat and asked, "Where you headed?"

"Don't rightly know. Reckon I'll head west and see where I end up. Maybe California."

A few days before he was due to leave, William called Rafe down to the barn. "What horses are you planning to take son?"

"Thought I'd take Buddy and one of the stock horses as a pack animal," Rafe answered.

"Buddy's a good mount," William offered. "But I don't think he's got the bottom to get you to California. Hold on a second."

William went into the barn and returned leading a big horse. The animal was almost 17 hands tall, with a deep chest and strong legs. But the most striking thing about the horse was his color. He was a Palomino with a creamy gold color coat and an almost white mane and tail.

"This'in got plenty of bottom," William said as he handed Rafe the lead rope. "Take care of him and he'll take you to hell and back. He's my gift to you boy."

Rafe was speechless. He stepped closer to the horse and stroked his forehead. "Thank you Grandpa." The youngster didn't know what else to say and stepped to his grandfather and hugged him.

William hugged him back for a few seconds and then coughed and stepped away. "You'll need to have a firm hand with him for a bit until he gets used to you. But he'll do you proud."

At first light, two days later Rafe mounted "Bowie" and with Buddy as his pack animal left his home. Barrett, Sarah and William waved good bye to him. They were all thinking the same thing. "This may be the last time we see each other."

"And that's how you got drug into this Bowie," Rafe said to the big horse. He laughed at himself, "Never thought of it before but if people could hear the way I talk to you and Buddy they'd think I was loco."

Rafe watered the horses again. Lot of makin up to do for all those hard days without, he thought. I'll do a little scouting at daybreak and if I don't see any signs of that posse maybe I'll spend another night at this spring. As he led the horses back to the trees he continued to talk to them.

"Headed for Fort Stockton. Course you both know that. Figured I could catch on with one of the ranches there. Thought it would be a good place to start a new life. The mild winters make for good cattle ranching. Maybe after a couple of years I could get my own little place.

But it didn't work out that way."

It took Rafe near twenty days to ride the 300 plus miles to Fort Stockton. He didn't push his horses and rode easy; resting for a day or two here and there along the way. When he finally rode into the town he was surprised. Fort Stockton wasn't the sleepy little town he'd heard about a year or so ago.

The town was growing up. It had a railhead and a lot of cattle were shipped back east. Rafe could see by the number of saloons in one part of the town that the cowboys liked to let off a little steam at the end of the cattle drives. Be a good place to get into trouble, he thought.

Rafe picked a small boarding house near the livery stable for his temporary home. He planned to spend a couple of days resting up from the long ride and then see about getting a job on one of the nearby ranches. His father had told Rafe to look up Alex Springer; an old friend of Barrett's. Alex owned a small ranch about ten miles west of Fort Stockton on the edge of the Llano Estacado. Even if Alex didn't need a hired hand he'd know who did.

Alex didn't need another ranch hand. "I'm full up until roundup next fall," he said. "Why don't you stay at the boarding house for a day or two and I'll talk to a few other ranchers for you?"

Rafe took the next two days looking around Fort Stockton. He talked to the owner of the general store, the barber, and a bartender at one of the saloons. Maybe one of them will hear about a ranch needing a cowboy, he thought. Men talked to each other at the store or the barber's and in the saloon.

On his third evening in town he visited one of the saloons after supper. I deserve a drink after my ride, he told himself. Rafe had one drink and a short beer and left the saloon. No need to go crazy, he thought. As he came out of the saloon he saw a young cowboy standing by Bowie.

The man ran his hand over Bowie's chest and down his front legs. He put his foot in the stirrup and started to mount up. Bowie kept sidling away from the man making it hard for him to climb into the saddle. The big horse didn't like strangers.

"Something I can do for you Mister?" Rafe asked. He didn't like the cowboy handling Bowie without at least asking.

The cowboy stepped back as Rafe walked in between him and the horse. "Appreciate it if you didn't get on my horse," Rafe said with a cold voice.

"Nice animal. Just wanted to see how he sat before I bought him," the young man said.

"He's not for sale," Rafe answered as he calmed Bowie.

"Sure he is. Everything's for sale for the right price. You don't understand. I'm Jason Sheldon," the man said. My Pa owns the Lazy S ranch; it's the biggest place in these parts. So I can afford to pay top dollar. How much you want for the animal?"

"You're the one that doesn't understand. My horse isn't for sale at any price," Rafe replied. He turned his back on Sheldon and untied Bowie.

"I want that horse Mister and I always get what I want. Now quit being stubborn and name a price," Sheldon ordered.

Two other cowhands that had been waiting for Sheldon stepped forward. They could see that Rafe was upset.

"C'mon Jason," the older of the two said. "Man don't want to sell his horse. Let's get back to the ranch."

"Stay out of this Bill," Sheldon ordered. "I'm gonna buy this fellar's horse."

"You got more horses than you can ride at the ranch," the other man said. "The man don't want to sell his horse."

"I'll tell you again, my horse ain't for sale. Now let me be," Rafe warned. Before he could mount Sheldon grabbed his shoulder and turned him around.

Rafe knocked Sheldon's hand off his shoulder and pushed him away. Turning to the two cowboys he said, "You better get control of your friend."

Sheldon tried to take Bowie's reins and said, "I'm buying this horse whether you like it or not."

Rafe tried hard to keep his temper. He didn't like the man's attitude or his actions. When Sheldon reached for the reins Rafe hit him with a short right hand, knocking him to the ground. Sheldon looked up from where he was laying on the ground with a red face. He quickly stood and faced Rafe.

"Nobody lays hands on me and gets away with it," Sheldon said and reach for the pistol on his hip.

Rafe was surprised that Sheldon would take things to this level but it didn't slow him down. He quickly drew and fired. The young cowboy yelled in pain and dropped to the street. Rafe turned toward Sheldon's companions. They both held up their hands indicating they weren't involved.

Stepping over to Sheldon, Rafe kicked his pistol away. He knelt down and looked at Sheldon's wound. "I hit him in the shoulder. Best get the doctor and sheriff," he ordered the two men.

They picked Sheldon up and walked him toward the doctor's office. As they left the Sheriff hurried over to them and then walked over to Rafe.

"He drew on me," Rafe told the lawman before he could say anything. "I was just defending myself Sheriff."

Three men that had come out of the saloon spoke up. "That's right Sheriff. Jason tried to buy this fellar's horse," one of them said pointing to Rafe. "Man didn't want to sell and Jason forced the point. Jason drew first." The other two men nodded their agreement.

"What are you doing in Fort Stockton, Mr... ?" The Sheriff asked.

"Rafe Cassidy Sheriff. I was hoping to find work on a ranch."

"Well Mr. Cassidy I suggest you find work someplace else," the Sheriff said.

"But all I did was defend myself Sheriff," Rafe protested. "Don't seem right to run me out of town for defending myself."

"I'm not running you out. I'm just giving you some good advice son. Reece Sheldon won't like his boy being shot.

"Maybe Mr. Sheldon will understand when he finds out what happened," Rafe said.

The Sheriff shook his head. "Don't matter that Jason was wrong and had it coming; Reece will want to even the score. I can probably stop any gun play here in town but I got no jurisdiction outside the town limits. You'd be on your own."

"Reckon I can take care of myself Sheriff."

"Maybe so, if Reece came at you one on one. But he'll bring help with him," the Sheriff explained. "He's got a couple of gun hands working for him and he'll most likely send them after you the first time you ride out of town. He might have them brace you in town and they'll claim self defense."

Rafe shook his head. Hell all I wanted to do was get a fresh start, he thought.

"Son, you ought to ride out before Reece hears about this." Pointing to the west the Sheriff suggested, "Ride for the sun boy; while you still can."

Rafe nodded, mounted Bowie and went back to his boarding house. I'm not afraid but if I stay I'll probably have to kill someone, he thought. Reece Sheldon doesn't sound like the forgiving type. Don't mind fighting but not over something as stupid as a spoiled brat. Think I'll move on.

Back at the boarding house he collected his gear, went to the livery and got Buddy ready to travel. He rode west out of Fort Stockton toward Alex Springer's ranch. It was full dark when he rode into the clearing in front of Alex's house.

"Hello the house," Rafe called still sitting on his horse. "It's Rafe Cassidy, Mr. Springer."

Alex Springer opened his door and stepped out onto the porch. "Little late for calling ain't it Rafe?" he asked with a grin. "Get down and come on in."

Rafe stepped down and joined Alex on the porch. "Mr. Springer I've got a problem." He quickly explained about the run in with Jason Sheldon. "He drew on me Mr. Springer but the Sheriff said it wouldn't matter to his father. He said Reece would send men after me."

He stopped for a few seconds and then continued, "I'm not afraid Mr. Springer. I can take care of myself. But I don't want to kill someone over something like this. That's why I'm movin on."

"Okay Rafe, I understand. Reece Sheldon has run rough shod over this whole town for a long time. What can I do for you?"

"Would you send a telegram to my folks and explain what happened? Tell em I'm okay but on the run for a spell. I'll let em know when I get settled somewheres."

Alex nodded. "I'll ride in tomorrow and send the wire for you. Where you headed Rafe? You could stay for the night and get a start early?"

"No sir but thanks. I think I better hit the trail. Sides I wouldn't want the Sheldon's to come down on you if I was here. Reckon I'll head west for Arizona or California."

"You'll have to cross the Llano Estacado if you head due west. Be careful that's a nasty piece of land," Alex warned.

Rafe mounted Bowie, tipped his hat at Alex and left at a slow lope.

"Reckon spendin all that time huntin when I was younger wasn't wasted," Rafe said to Bowie at daylight. He held up a rabbit. "Caught this fellar in the snares I set last night."

He skinned and cleaned the rabbit and put it on a spit over the low fire. Rafe added a few small branches to the fire and turned the spit. Bowie snorted and pawed the ground. "Don't look at me like that. I can't eat grass like you two."

After eating the rabbit, Rafe watered the horses again. Looks like they're about recovered from the hard riding during the last two days, he thought. Bowie was feeling better and danced a little as Rafe led him back to a different tree. The big horse pushed his head against his human wanting his ears scratched.

He made a warm mash out of the oats and fed the horses. "Sorry about having to run y'all for as long as I did but we were outnumbered too bad to stay and fight."

Rafe rode Bowie at a fast walk after he left Alex Springer's place. When the full moon came up it gave enough light for him to ride a bit faster. He would ride at a slow lope for 20 minutes or so and then slow back to the fast walk for half an hour.

His plan was to ride due west from Fort Stockton through Van Horn and on to the Rio Grande. Then he wanted to follow it north to El Paso. From there he would ride north by northwest to Arizona. It was a little longer this way but he could stay along the edges of the Llano Estacado.

Rafe made his first stop at daybreak. He was going to rest his horses for an hour and then ride until midday. It was going to start getting hot and he would stop until dusk before starting west again. Rafe had just finished watering the horses when he saw about six riders in the distance coming hard.

He was on one of the high hills on the border of the desert like land and could see for many miles. Damn, didn't think they'd get after me this quick, he thought. They're sure not worried about tiring out their horses. The men had their mounts a full gallop. They stopped and walked the horse for a short time as they checked for Rafe's trail. A couple of times they had to look around to find the trail in the hard ground. Then they would continue riding hard.

Rafe had no doubt that the men were following him. "Course they don't have to worry about their horses," he said to Bowie. "They can take all the time they need to get back after they catch me. Well boys looks like we won't get that rest after all."

He tightened the saddle cinch on Bowie and the pack cinch on Buddy. The men across the plains were at least two hours behind him so he felt there was no need to panic and start running his horses. Rafe calmly mounted and put Bowie on the game trail down the hill.

As Rafe came down onto the plain he found a rock shelve that extended for miles. They'll figure I'm heading for Van Horn, he thought. But they'll have a hard time trackin me in this rock shale. I got to cross the Llano anyway might as well start today.

He pulled a copy of a map done by the Army back in '69 from his saddle bags. Reckon I can throw them off the trail if I turn northwest toward Pecos and then on into New Mexico, he thought. Rafe looked up at the rising sun and knew it was going to be a hot day; especially out on the Llano plain. "It'll be a four or five day ride in this heat, ifin I don't want to kill my horses," he said aloud. "Think I'll ride for a couple of hours and find a place to hole up until night. There'll be a Comanche Moon tonight and I can ride in the dark."

Two days later he found the spring and decided to hole up for a spell.

"Reckon we've laid around long enough," Rafe told his horses after another full day at the spring. He filled all three of his canteens, watered the horse one last time and at dusk headed out. "Should ride into Pecos about midday Bowie. I'll get you boys some real grain and me a decent meal when we get there. We'll rest for a night and then it's on to New Mexico."

Rafe wasn't far off with his time estimate. He was almost to Pecos when he got to thinking. If Sheldon's men got to Van Horn they'll realize I wasn't headed that way, he thought. They could send telegrams to other towns in these parts to see if a man on a Palomino had ridden through.

"Now it wouldn't be too smart to let them see us together would it Bowie? I doubt they'd recognize me but you stand out a bit," Rafe told his horse as he patted his neck. "Tell you what, we'll ride around Pecos and find a wash or a gulley or somethin to hide you in. I'll ride Buddy into town, get some supplies, and see if anyone is lookin for us. " Rafe chuckled as the horse shook his head. "Don't worry I'll bring you back some grain and molasses as a treat."

Rafe found a deep wash at the bottom of a small hill and hid Bowie in a stand of Palo Verde. He hobbled the horse and tied him off to one of the trees so he could graze on the sparse vegetation. Rafe fed Bowie the last of the oats and gave him water. Bowie was less likely to raise a fuss now that he was fed and watered.

Riding slowly Rafe entered Pecos. He bought a feed bag of oat mash for Buddy from the livery stable, put it on the horse and tied him to the hitching rail in front of a saloon. The horse could eat while Rafe had a meal in the saloon and listen to the men gossip like old women. As he sat at a table eating a boot tough steak the town Marshal came into the saloon.

The Marshal made a circuit of the room, leaned against the bar, and got a beer. Then he saw Rafe sitting at the table. He walked over and sat down across from Rafe. "Mind if I join you?" The Marshal asked. "I'm Tom Stoddard, the Town Marshal. And you'd be?"

Swallowing a piece of the chewy steak Rafe answered, "I'm Sam Talbert Marshall."

"Are you passin through or you gonna stay a spell?"

Rafe looked at Stoddard before he answered. The man was short and squat but he had an air of confidence about him. He'd be a hard man to cross Rafe thought.

"Just passin through," Rafe replied. "Headed down back home to Odessa."

"Names Talbert you say?" Marshal Stoddard asked with a sarcastic tone. Rafe nodded. "Got a telegram from Sheriff Joe Harris over to Fort Stockton; we've been friends for close to 20 years you know. Said a fellar got into it with the son of Reece Sheldon, the big he bull in those parts. Said this fellar had to shoot the boy in self defense." The Marshal looked at Rafe to see his reaction.

William Cassidy had taught his grandson how to play cards and to keep a poker face. Rafe put that lesson to good use and didn't react to the Marshal.

"Joe said this fellar was dealt a bad hand but that he, Harris I mean, couldn't do anything about it," the Marshal continued. Said he advised this fellar to leave town."

"That's an interesting story Marshal. But it's got nothing to do with me," Rafe said.

The Marshal ignored Rafe's statement. "Joe said this fellar, name of Rafe Cassidy, had a scar on the right side of his face. Said he was riding a big Palomino stallion and carried an ivory handled Remington." Looking into Rafe's eyes the Marshal observed, "Now I didn't see no Palomino tied up outside Mr. Talbert but I did see a sorrel that looks like he's been travelin hard." Pointing to Rafe's pistol he added, "But that there is a ivory handled six shooter. Not to mention that scar of yourn."

Rafe looked around to see if anyone else had heard the Marshal. He tensed and was about to stand and leave. The Marshal held up his hand and motioned Rafe to stay seated.

"Reason I'm tellin you all this Mr Talbert, is so you can keep a look out for this fellar on the Palomino. That Reece Sheldon has put a $500 reward out for him. Saw the telegram posted at the telegraph office myself. It's also posted in most of the businesses in town. Thought if you spotted him you might make yourself a lot of money." The Marshal took a drink of his beer and stared at Rafe for a few seconds.

"It's for sure that others are gonna be looking for this fellar; $500 is more than a year's wages to most." Looking around the Marshal lowered his voice. "If you was figuring on stayin a spell you might want to change your mind Mr. Talbert. Maybe head on home to Odessa."

Three cowboys standing at the bar were watching the Marshal and Rafe closely. They would stare at Rafe and then talk among themselves. Marshal Stoddard stood.

"Let me show you the road to Odessa Mr. Talbert," the Marshal said in a loud voice. Loud enough that the three cowhands could hear him. "You'll have daylight for another 5 or 6 hour and you can get in a lot of miles before night fall." Stoddard could see the three men relax.

"Believe we threw those three in the saloon off your trail," Stoddard said softly to Rafe as they left the saloon. "At least for now anyway."

"Thank you Marshal."

Out in the street Marshal Stoddard made a suggestion. "I understand you can't head back east and those telegrams said you was headed west. Were me I'd ride northwest to New Mexico. Maybe up to Roswell. That trail is across the Estacado but with nobody chasin you and ridin easy you can make it in 10 days or so. You can head west from there." Marshal Stoddard shook hands with Rafe and added, "Course that's just an old trail hand's opinion. Take it easy Rafe."

Rafe rode east on the trail to Odessa and stopped at a Mexican store and cantina on the outskirts of Pecos. He picked a few supplies and continued east until Pecos was out of sight; then he turned back toward the gulley where he'd left Bowie. He switched his saddle back to the big Palomino and put the pack saddle back on Buddy. Rafe headed northwest toward New Mexico and Roswell.

Marshal Stoddard was right, Rafe thought as he rode into Roswell. It was ten days on the trail. He rode to the livery and stabled his horses. Before he put them in their stalls he unsaddled and washed them down. They had a lot of alkali dust on them.

"Give em a good corn mash Mister," Rafe ordered as he paid the stable hand. "We've come a long way and got a long way to go. Those two are my best friends in this world so take good care of them for me."

"Gonna be here long Mister?" The livery man asked. "If y'all gonna stay for a few days, I'll put your horses in stalls that open into the corral. That way they won't be cooped up in a small space." The man smiled. "Being they're your best friends and all."

"How much extra will this concern for my friends cost me?" Rafe asked with an answering smile.

"Extra dollar a day for the pair ought to handle it, Mister... ?"

Rafe caught himself about to give his real name. No need to advertize that I'm here, he thought. "Talbert, Sam Talbert. Reckon I'll be here for a couple of days so go ahead and put them in the bigger stalls. I'll settle up with you when I leave."

"I'm Jake, Mr. Talbert. I'll take good care of em for you," the livery man said. He turned to put Bowie and Buddy into their special stalls. "Bad Lands Café down the street yonder serves a right nice supper if you're hungry."

Rafe nodded his thanks and walked to the café. "Reckon I deserve a good meal too," he said aloud.

A big jolly woman met him at the door as he entered the café. "Have a seat anywhere you like young man. I'll be right with you," she said.

Rafe sat down and the woman brought a cup and coffee pot to his table. She sat the cup in front of Rafe filled it and said, "Steak, fried potatoes, corn on the cob, and apple pie are the special tonight. Or I can fix you something else."

"The special will be fine ma'am," he answered with a grin. She reminds me of Ma, he thought. Waiting for his supper he thought about his folks and got a little homesick.

He'd made arrangements with the livery to sleep in the loft and after supper he returned to the stable. Rafe could have afforded better accommodations but thought he'd better save as much of his stake as he could. He had close to $300 given to him by his family before he left home. There was also a bank draft for one thousand dollars from his Grandpa. Another gift to help Rafe start his new life. It's a long way to California, he said to himself. Reckon I'll hole up for three or four days and let Bowie and Buddy rest up. Won't hurt me to take it easy for a spell either.

Rafe had just sat down in the café for the third night in a row. Emma the waitress and owner came over to the table with coffee and told him the special of the day. As he finished his supper of pork chops, corn, and potatoes a big man with a star on his chest sat down at his table.

The lawman was close to 6' 4 with a big body to go with his height. He carried a short double barreled scatter gun known as a coach gun. It was usually used by armed guards on stage coaches and freight wagons.

"Howdy. I'm Henry Johnson the Town Marshal," he said with a smile and laid his shotgun on the table in front of him. Rafe nodded but didn't offer his name.

"Got a story to tell you son," Marshal Johnson continued. "Jimmy tolt me about a interesting telegram he got today."

"I don't know a Jimmy or about any telegram Marshal," Rafe replied.

"Jimmy's the operator at the telegraph office," Johnson explained ignoring Rafe's comment. "Anyway he said he got a telegram from Pecos talkin about a Rafe Cassidy passin through there. It described this Cassidy and his horse pretty good. Said the man rode a cream colored Palomino. Said he had dark hair and was sorta tall. Also said he had a scar runnin down the right side of his face."

The Marshal gestured at a biscuit on Rafe's plate. Rafe nodded and Johnson picked it up and took a bite. Emma brought the Marshal a cup of coffee and went back to the kitchen.

"The message was to a Ralph Colbert. He's sort of a bounty hunter and hired gun that works out of Roswell sometimes. Seems some man named Reece Sheldon is offering $500 for the capture and return of this Cassidy to Fort Stockton." Johnson paused and shook his head. "Cassidy must of done something pretty bad to have a private citizen offer a reward for him."

Rafe still didn't respond to the Marshal but he did lean back in his chair to free up his pistol and his gun hand. He picked up his cup of coffee with his left hand and took a drink. "Could be that this private citizen has a vendetta against this Cassidy fellar," Rafe offered.

"Don't lean too far back in the chair son," Marshal Johnson said as he slowly put his hand on the butt of scattergun on the table. "You might fall over and hurt yourself."

Rafe looked the Marshal in the eye and after several seconds relaxed. Johnson nodded. "I know you're Cassidy and I know you've been here for three days." At Rafe's surprised look he added, "I like to know what's goin on in my town."

Johnson raised his empty cup to Emma. She came and refilled both cups and went back to the kitchen. "Like I said I know you been here a spell but I think it's time for you to ride on." Rafe started to speak but Johnson held up his hand.

"I don't want no trouble in my town. You don't have the looks of a man that'll just let Colbert take you back. Innocent people in my town could get hurt if you two face off. I ain't gonna have it. Ride on son. Please."

"You could tell this Colbert to leave Marshall," Rafe said with a little anger. "I've done nothing to be run out of town."

"Now don't get on the prod with me. I intend to talk to Colbert later tonight over at the saloon and give him the same suggestion." Johnson took a drink of his coffee. "Look Cassidy, I won't make you leave but if you and Colbert tangle and someone in town gets hurt I'll arrest whoever is left standin. I don't think you'd like the jails in New Mexico."

Rafe sat for about 30 seconds thinking about the Marshal's request. "Why are you warning me Marshal? This is the third time a lawman has done that."

"Can't speak for the others but I don't like people takin the law into their own hands," Johnson answered. "If there was a warrant on you, I'd arrest you and send a telegram telling em to come and get you. But I have a hard time lettin some rich rancher decide that he's above the law."

Emma brought two pieces of pie to the table surprising both men. "You boys look much too serious. Have some pie and relax," she ordered with a smile. Both men nodded and took a bite of the apple pie.

"I'll leave in the morning Marshal," Rafe said. "I was planning on movin on anyway. But..."

"But what Rafe?"

"If Colbert or anyone else tries to take me back, I'll defend myself," Rafe answered. Johnson nodded. "I'll leave at daybreak," Rafe added.

As Rafe saddled Bowie the next morning, Marshal Johnson rode up to the livery stable. "Thought I ride with you for a spell," he said. "I talked to Colbert last night and he said he was leavin too." Johnson chuckled but said in a serious voice, "Don't want you two crossin paths this morning."

"Where you headed?" Johnson asked as they rode toward the edge of Roswell.

"Reckon I'll head to California," Rafe answered. "Never been there and I hear there's good land for the settlin. Thought I'd get a job with one of the ranches and maybe end up ownin my own place one of these days."

"Oh hell," Johnson said. He pointed with his chin toward a man sitting on a horse waiting for them just outside of the town limits. "That's Colbert; reckon he decided he'd brace you outside of my jurisdiction."

Johnson rode in front of Rafe and confronted Colbert. "Thought I told you to let it be Colbert."

"Marshal I followed your orders and didn't start anything in town," Colbert replied. "But you got no say out here." Turning to Rafe he ordered, "Reece Sheldon wants you back at Fort Stockton Cassidy. Drop your pistol and your rifle boy and come peaceful."

He's a hard one, Rafe thought as he looked at the man that wanted to take him to Sheldon. Reckon Colbert's about my height but he's probably got thirty pounds on me. Wears his pistol tied low on his hip; Yep he's a gun hand alright. This man won't back down.

Rafe guided Bowie out from behind the Marshal. "Don't reckon I'll let you take me back Colbert. You that hard up for money that you got to do Sheldon's bidding?"

"Man's gotta make a livin and I don't cotton to pushin cattle," Colbert answered. "I'll tell you one more time put down your guns."

"Gettin killed ain't much of a way to live Mister," Rafe replied.

Colbert pulled his pistol but his horse shied at the sudden movement. Bowie was better trained and didn't move as Rafe pulled his Remington and shot Colbert. The man fell over the rump of his horse to the ground.

Marshal Johnson had watched the fight. He got off his horse and looked at the man on the ground. Colbert had a wound in the middle of his chest. "Reckon he was dead before he hit the ground," Johnson said. "Good thing his horse acted up Rafe."

"Didn't make a difference Marshal. I'd already cleared my holster before he brought his gun up." Rafe rode closer and shook his head. "He was dead the minute he came out here to face me."

"Bit of braggin there don't you think?"

"No sir. My grandpa William taught me to shoot. He was a pretty good gun hand and a lawman before he met my Grandma."

"You're William Cassidy's grandson?" Johnson asked. "Hell I heard tell about him when I was grownin up in DeWitt, Texas. Didn't they call him Pistol Bill when he was the Bexar County Sheriff?"

"Yes sir they did," Rafe said with a smile. "Called him that because he wore two guns and wasn't afraid to use them."

Johnson looked down at Colbert's body. "Y'all head out Rafe. I'll take care of this."

"Would you do something for me Marshal?" Johnson nodded. "Send a telegram to my folks in San Antonio and let them know I'm okay and that I'll write them when I get settled somewheres."

Johnson nodded again and Rafe mounted Bowie. He touched his hat brim in a salute, turned westward and continued his ride for the sun.

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Story tagged with:
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