The weather was warmer than usual for late fall in New Mexico. The sky was a rich blue with white, feathered fronds of high clouds. While enjoying the view from the windows, Daniel turned to his wife, "Sure you remember Alonzo, Pru," the soft spoken man said, "he was the one who passed out with cousin Bobby in your mother's azaleas during our wedding," Daniel looked to see if his wife remembered the man who accompanied Cousin Bobby everywhere. His sister, Iragene Jones, the sheriff of Los Brazos County just shook her head, "Who can forget those two?"
* * *
After a moment, his wife, a striking Texas belle with mahogany hair remembered, "Oh, yes, Ah do remember Alonzo, and Ah recall Mother being quite upset about her azaleas. Ya'll say he and Bobby are inseparable?"
"Have been since they were kids. Their families were friends as far back as when Texas was its own Republic," Daniel responded.
"I always wondered," Iragene asked, "how does Alonzo earn a living? His family lost everything during the War."
"Alonzo earns his keep looking after our cousin. He's a good man, can ride almost as well as Bobby, and is one of the few men that can hold his liquor and keep up with our cousin. I guess he's on the Montague payroll."
"Remember that 4th of July celebration when that little girl dropped her doll out the window onto the roof? It was during one of the worse summer storms in Austin's history. Remember what Bobby did after hearing that little girl cry about her doll?" Daniel asked.
"I sure do," Iragene said, deepening the tone of her voice. "He said, 'Don't you cry none, little lady, Uncle Bobby will rescue yer darlin'!'"
Daniel chuckled, "Everyone tried to stop him, because of the lightening, but Bobby only responded, 'Hell,' unabashed in front of the ladies, 'jes' git me another drink and a ladder and, Ah'll git that doll.' He swallowed the drink, climbed onto the roof, and rescued the doll. He was the hero of the day with the ladies, in spite of his language.
"And remember the dozens of rodeos Bobby rode in, always riding the most brutish bull or the highest kicking bronc. Even as a kid, Bobby chased the greasiest pig and caught it. The man either lacks all common sense or is one of the most daring men I know," he said with the unmistakable tone of hero worship."
"Enough memories, Daniel, I'll help you with the chores. I might have a day off from being sheriff, but I know you can always use an extra hand around here." The two of them got up to complete the chores. They each carried a pitchfork to muck out the stables and lay down some fresh hay. "How many men did you say Bobby was bringing?" Iragene asked.
"A dozen. The others will leave as soon as the horses are delivered, while our men from the Austin ranch will stay on and work. In addition to their pay, Bobby promised all the riders two nights in town." Both brother and sister knew that most of the men would end up spending all their time at any one of the eighteen bars and a visit to Mrs. Brown's girls.
The loud barking of their dog, Oso, interrupted their conversation. He was a large dog, covered in thick brown fur that resembled a bear, hence his name, and now he was barking at two approaching horsemen.
On guard from past experiences, every adult grabbed a rifle and stood ready to fight off any threat to their home. In the distance, they heard a loud whooping. The two siblings looked at each other and said simultaneously, "Cousin Bobby is here."
Bobby and Alonzo came loping up the road to El Tecolote. Both men had their hats in their hands and were whooping and yelling like two happy banshees.
In the doorway, Prudence stood beside Cassie, another member of the Jones family unit. Cassie was orphaned early and grew up along side Iragene and Daniel and had always been treated like a third sibling. Cassie was a healer, but she could shoot a gun as well as the Jones brother and sister.
"Whoa there, Cousins, we come in peace!" Bobby shouted as he looked at the rifles. Gracefully he jumped off his horse and made a grab to hug Iragene. "Ol' Bobby is here and ready to celebrate!" He pounded Daniel on the back and proceeded to lead his horse into the stables. "Hey, where's the stable boy, Daniel?" looking around for someone to take care of his hard-ridden horse.
"Well, until we can get one of those cowboys you brought out with you, you're looking at him," Daniel said.
"Hell," Bobby said unapologetically, "Alonzo, how 'bout you taking care of the horses while I meet and greet the family?" Bobby's words were more of a statement than a question, and the now silent man got off his horse and took his and Bobby's horses in to the stable.
"Thanks, Alonzo," Daniel said, "we'll have some chili heating up for you." The man looked at Daniel and nodded. When Daniel looked around he found Bobby kissing Pru's hand and then lifting Cassie up and twirling her. Cassie was smiling an indulgent smile as Bobby put her down and kissed her on the cheek, still standing with his arm around her.
"Hey, Cassie, ya'll know you're still the gal that got away. How about some sugar for me!"
"How about some hot chili and fresh bread instead, Bobby?" she smiled indulgently as she slipped out of his grasp and into the kitchen. During this time, Prudence just looked at the bold and handsome cousin. His presence filled the small home. After a brief tour of the place, Bobby went off to join Alonzo and get washed up.
"Oh mah, ya'll grow those boys a lot wilder in Austin than we do in Beaumont, Daniel," Prudence said as she waved a feminine fan across her brow. "Now all of yer stories about Cousin Bobby don't seem so tall." Cassie added, "You'll find that most of the stories about Bobby are actually toned down."
Bobby cut quite a figure. He was over six feet tall, had dark brown hair that curled slightly, and was built as solid as an oak. In contrast to his tanned skin, he had piercing blue eyes. He was everything a cowboy should be, right out of a dime novel, fearless, masculine, and oozing charm. Everyone responded to his charismatic personality, and when Bobby Montague entered a room, every eye was upon him.
Compared to the colorful Bobby, Alonzo appeared like a sepia photograph. Not bad looking and certainly impressive a figure on his own, but when next to Bobby, he almost faded into the background.
The group was interrupted as Bobby Montague and Alonzo Mayfield entered the house. Alonzo looked around the small but pleasant home with surprise. "Very nice, but ah'm
surprised . . . " but he didn't finish after realizing what he was about to say. "Well, ah jes' expected something different." Everyone shrugged and they sat down to a pleasant meal of venison and green chili, fresh bread, and flan. Cassie had been cooking all day, and their helper, Adelaide, served the meal.
"So," Bobby started, "the horses are about twenty five miles east of here. Ya'll were right about there being enough water and grasses this here time of year."
"Did you have any trouble? Lose any horses?" Daniel asked in between chews. "Seven hundred miles is a long way to drive horses." He looked at Bobby and Alonzo, not caring who answered and attempting to draw Bobby's quiet friend into the conversation, but Bobby answered.
"We lost only six horses." Bobby said proudly. "We lost a mare one night while she was giving birth. The foal was breach, and we couldn't get to her in time to save her or her foal. Two yearlings strayed up an arroyo and ended up in a gully washer. Two got into some locoweed, and one broke its leg. Ol' Alonzo here, took care of it. We started out with 115 horses, and we brought ya'll 109 plus five youngins born on the trail."
"Amazing work, gentlemen. We are in your debt! I'll wire the captain from Fort Sumner. He'll be sending some of his men to pick them up. After these horses are sold, I want to add some local mustangs. Cruz, Iragene's deputy, saw a herd of mustangs south of here on some of the mesas. I'd like to pack out a couple of days and see if . . . "
"Stop," Bobby guffawed, "are you telling me those crazy stories about your sister being the sheriff of the county are true?" He looked at Iragene. "How in the world did they make you a sheriff? My cousin, a woman sheriff!" and he laughed. Alonzo's eyes went wide, but he didn't say anything.
"It's a long story," Iragene quietly answered, "let's save it for another day."
"Hell no!" and Bobby turned apologetically toward Prudence, "Sorry ma'am, but ah can't believe mah little cousin Iragene is a sheriff! Must not a' been a lot of qualified men around, I guess," and he elbowed Alonzo who just continued to stare.
Surprisingly it was Prudence who replied, "Bobby Montague. We have seen a lot of violence out here. We women fought off vicious murderers while the old sheriff not only did nothing to help us but was actually married to the woman who planned the murders—which, if she succeeded, would have included our own. We ladies resent yer disparaging tone of voice and mockery for a woman sheriff," Prudence said and then sat back somewhat mollified.
Iragene and Cassie just stared at this proper Southern Belle, not only saying what she did, but taking on a dinner guest in her own home. Prudence had indeed changed from the pampered lady she had been when she left Beaumont. Since that time she had had a child with only the assistance of Cassie, a women whom she had at one time considered a woman of lesser worth, and only a day later, she had had to kill a man to protect her husband and herself from certain death. New Mexico had changed her.
"Ah'm sorry, ma'am, Iragene, and Cassie. Ah guess Ah got a lot to learn," and Bobby put on a face of contrition.
"Bobby, we almost lost our lives. Out of that mayhem, Iragene was singled out to be our sheriff, and so far things have worked out for us and the town," Daniel explained.
"But how do you arrest anybody?" Alonzo spoke for the first time, "Yer such a tiny little thing."
Iragene laughed, "Oh, I have my ways."
"She can outshoot, outdraw, and kick faster than anyone in the county," Cassie said proudly. "She and her deputy, a fellow about the same size of Iragene, took down three of the biggest, ugliest, and meanest brutes La Madera has ever known—the Titus brothers," she continued.
Shock appeared on both men's face. "We ran into the Titus brothers in Amarillo two years ago," Alonzo continued. "Me 'n Bobby got the best of them with a little help from the bartender who hit one of them boys with a billy-club. We barely made it out with our lives." Turning quickly to Iragene, "And you took them out?" he finished, his face filled with awe.
"Yes, well let's not talk about me anymore. What do you think of your new cousin, Bobby?" Iragene quickly changed the course of the discussion, pointing to the baby in Prudence's arms.
"He's a real beaut, Daniel, Pru, and ah love that tassel of red hair on his tiny head. Yep, a real beaut. Got a horse picked out for him yet, Daniel?"
Daniel laughed, "Not yet, but soon."
"Well now, we have jes' one last job—bring in that there bunch of horses and close the deal. Then we're off to town for some nights of celebration, huh Alonzo?"
Alonzo nodded and smiled, "Lookin' forward to meeting some of them New Mexico gals ya'll got in town," than realized his audience and looked around sheepishly. "Oops, sorry ladies."
Iragene tried to hide her smile, "I'm sleeping in Cassie's house, so you two can take my place. It's the adobe closest to the corral." Iragene lit two lanterns, and they all said goodnight.
The next morning the two young men showed up for breakfast. Cassie was ready for them. She had green chili, eggs, ham, potatoes, and fresh coffee. Besides being a midwife and healer, Cassie loved cooking, and her well-eaten meals reflected it.
"Why lookey here, Alonzo, Cassie ain't only purty, but she's one talented cook, as well," Bobby said. Alonzo just stood there.
The rest of the family joined the two men now. Everyone sat at the table, eating and talking about old times and now the arrival of the horses. "I just can't begin to thank you boys for bringing those horses up. They've been eating our feed and running in our fields on the Texas property. Now their sale can help pay some of the bills!" Daniel laughed. "I'm a lucky man, got my family, my land, and now my horses—thanks to both of you."
"Well, before ya'll get teary eyed on us, Daniel, don't forgit ya'll are paying us for this," Bobby added to keep from being embarrassed by his cousin's words.
"Why, I almost forgot," he laughed. "When you boys are finished, I've got some supplies for the last day of the drive. You can bring the horses in tomorrow. Everyone can feast here, get paid, and then head for town."
" Sounds mighty fine to me. Any special gals in town I should keep my eyes out for?" Bobby asked, turning to Iragene with a twinkle in his eye.
"Lots of beautiful New Mexican women, but none who want to get their heart broken, Bobby. Just promise me you and your men will stay out of the cantinas. We had some problems here not too long ago, and a lot of distrust exists between the whites and the locals," Iragene replied matter of factly.
"Okay, Sheriff, mah boys and Ah'll watch ourselves. We won't cause you no grief, ma'am," and Bobby cuffed Alonzo on the shoulder, apparently a favorite gesture of his. "Let's go, amigo, one more day in the saddle, and those ladies in the town are ours!" Both men stood.
"Thank you for the fine vittles," Alonzo said to no one in particular, and he walked over to retrieve his hat.
As the men walked over to the stables to saddle their horse, Bobby let out another hoop and holler, "Amigo, we got some fun days ahead of us. I can't wait to git to town and enjoy the ladies." Realizing Alonzo hadn't responded, Bobby looked over at his friend saddling horse. "What's got into ya'll, boy? I haven't heard you this quiet since ya' dove into the pond and cracked your head senseless."
Alonzo looked at his friend, "Guess Ah'm tired, Bobby. Also, that high yeller gal, Cassie, hell she acts just like a white, eating with us and all, and your cousin being a sheriff. Don't them women know their places, Bobby? Ah'm telling you it ain't natural."
"Dammit, Alonzo, can't ya'll let it be? My uncle was an odd one—some say a Quaker. They've always been the mavericks of the family, but who the hell cares? As I said, you don't have to marry them, so jes' drop it."
Alonzo knew the conversation was over, so he didn't respond. But he thought it mighty queer to have a female as Sheriff and a yeller gal as an equal. Maybe this would make things easier to justify later, he thought, and then jumped upon his horse and followed Bobby out of the stable and onto the trail.
The day was much cooler than the former one. As the two men rode along, they could hear the chatter of ground squirrels and the sound of scrub joys squawking out their melody. The two men rode side by side as if they'd been in this formation most of their lives—and they probably had. Bobby looked over at Alonzo and said, "Come on, I'll race you down to the stream where we can water the horses and take a lunch break."
* * *
"Nah, Ah'm jes' enjoying this easy gait, relaxing after over a month on the trail. Let's jes' take our time," Alonzo said quietly.
"Ya'll do that, Alonzo, but I think I'll let this here horse let out some of his thunder!" and he dashed away down the trail, letting his horse have his rein, and the two of them galloped out of sight, leaving Alonzo in a cloud of dust.
"Phew, Ah'm exhausted from one day of Cousin Bobby," Pru said, sitting down to nurse her baby. "Ah glad he's headin' back to Austin soon."
* * *
"Well, I guess it takes that much energy to drive more than a hundred horses over 700 miles," Iragene responded to her and got up. "Guess I'd better go and pack. I want to leave early tomorrow for town and see what Cruz has been up to."
"I wish you didn't have to get back so soon," Cassie said. "It's not the same around here when you're gone—too quiet," and she smiled.
"Why not come with me? We have a couple of hams in the smokehouse, Daniel brought a bunch of supplies from town, and all you need to do is bake a few loaves of bread for Pru and Daniel and the men. Come on, Cassie, it will be fun having you in town. You've been wanting to meet the new doctor and share medical procedures. He told me he's excited to hear about the local herbs.
"I don't know," she hesitated looking at Pru, "the ranch will be awful busy tomorrow with all the men coming. What do you think, Pru?"
Prudence looked at the two women. She knew she was dependent on Cassie being there to cook and organize, but she also knew it was time for her to accept the responsibility of her home, besides she had Adelaide now to help with the meals and a neighbor, Dorothy Powell to help her with baby Alexander. "Of course, Ah'll be fine. If ya'll could just bake up some bread and biscuits for us and a pot of calabasitas with the last of our squash," she said, trying to sound confident.
"Okay, then it's settled. Tomorrow we'll leave right after breakfast," Iragene sang out, then turned and gave Pru and Cassie a hug. Cassie smiled and Prudence tried her best not to be too surprised at her sister-in-law's unusual display of affection.
It was sundown before the two men arrived where the horses had been kept, but when they got there, only a trampled field remained with five hobbled mares and their foals. There was no sign of the other horses or the dozen men who had driven them from Texas.
* * *
"What the hell! What happened to the damn horses and the men!" Bobby shouted and turned to see Alonza with a gun pointing at him. "What the . . . are you nuts, man!?"
"Git off your horse, Bobby." Bobby glared at him and didn't move. Then when least expected, Bobby made a grab for his gun. Alonzo, with his gun already out shot his friend in the arm. "I sorta suspected you would try that. Sorry, shooting you in the arm might hurt but not as much as shooting the hand you draw with, and it should heal quicker. Ah ain't such a bad guy now, am Ah?"
Bobby grabbed his arm. It hurt like the devil, but the bullet seemed to have missed the bone. His elevated adrenaline and anger kept him on his feet.
"You goddam bastard, we're friends, almost brothers. What the hell is going on?" He looked around. "What happened to our Austin men? Did your buddies kill them? You murderin' sonafabitch. Now ya'll are gonna kill me too, huh?" he jabbered on with the shock of what just happened. He looked at Alonzo with venom in his eyes.
"No, ah'll jes' leave ya'll with the rest of the men that weren't interested in making a little more than what they were getting' for their hard work. Some of us are jes' tired of having to work for others that were born into money and never had to worry."
"Hell, you sonafabitch, you never minded eating those rich folk's food, staying at their house, or spending their money. Even now you're on the payroll, have been all your life."
"Yeah, and having to follow you everywhere, do what you want me to do, like Ah was your slave. This here boy got tired of being told where to go and when. We're selling those horses up in Las Vegas to a man named named Silva. He offered us $100.00 a horse—same as the army."
"You fool. How long do you think you'll be able to live on a few hundred dollars if you're an outlaw, even if they let you live long enough to collect—which I don't see happening."
Doubt shadowed Alonzo's face for a brief moment. "Ah'll live, and for the first time in mah life, I'll live the way I wanna." Alonzo got down from his horse, approached the injured man, and took his gun and rifle. "Now git off your horse and walk towards those rocks. I'll follow ya."
They had only a few hundred feet to go, but the pain was beginning to hit Bobby and every step became unbearable. Finally they walked around a large rock surrounded by shrub oaks. There were the six men from the Austin ranch, beat up and tied up. "Hell," Bobby managed to say, "how could you let those bastards beat up on these men? Damn, Alonzo, you've worked with these men and spent all those months on the trail with them. Are ya loco?"
"Shut up, Bobby, Ah guess they put uppa fight. Ain't no one killed, so don't sweat it none."
"Don't sweat it?! You bastard! We've been friends all our lives. Doesn't that mean nothin' to you?"
"Bobby, ya'll don't know what it's like to always be the poor one, the quiet one, the unnoticed one. Ah've lived in your shadow all my life. Now ah want my own life without you."
"Poor bastard," Bobby managed to insert enough sarcasm to make his words hurt.
He then looked at the men who were bound and gagged. "At least let me remove their gags and let them have some water."
Alonzo hesitated and then nodded. Barely able to move with the pain from the gunshot wound and the bleeding, he went to get water for the men, knowing dehydration was the deadliest killer next to man in the Southwest. By the time he had given them water, he almost collapsed with the pain. Alonzo just sat astride his horse and watched.
"Ah'm takin' yer horse, Bobby. He should fetch me another couple o' hundred bucks. The saddle alone will bring in some extra bucks, doncha think? Oh yea, and thank the Joneses for the extra vittles." But the exertion of walking and then giving the men water had taken its toll, and Bobby lay there unhearing next to his men.
The next morning found the Jones family sitting and eating breakfast together. The smell of cooking, baking and coffee filled the air, but Daniel was up and out of the house long before the others had finished eating. The excitement of seeing his horses and starting his horse breeding ranch up again wouldn't allow him to do anything but walk around, checking the stables and the corrals. He filled buckets with water and put them in the wagon to refill the troughs. He was so busy, he almost missed Iragene's and Cassie's departure.
* * *
"Hey, you two weren't leaving without saying good-bye, were you?" Daniel looked up to see the women already astride their horses, both wearing the long, split riding skirts with their saddle packs on their horses.
"Of course not," Cassie laughed. "You were so busy that we thought we'd ride over to you."
"I'm not so sure that he would have noticed we were gone," Iragene feigned seriousness, "until he came in and tasted his afternoon coffee and lunch. Prudence is in charge of the kitchen for the few days we'll be gone."
"Oh, yes. But then, how can anyone spoil cutting slices of ham?" he asked, uncertainty shadowing his voice.
The two women, friends since childhood though they were from two worlds, one a wealthy rancher and the other slavery, waved good-bye and headed out. Looking at their backs, they almost looked like sisters, same height and dress, one a sheriff now, and the other a healer and midwife. Daniel smiled and went back to his work.
Bobby woke up that next morning with a burning pain in his arm and a mouth that tasted like foul cotton. "What the . . . where the hell am I?" he groaned as he tried to open his eyes in the bright sun.
"Boss, you're in New Mexico. Don't ya remember? Alonzo shot ya yesterday and then took off to meet the other rustlers," one of his men explained. "Ya'll been out since early yesterday evening. We was startin' to get worried about ya ever waking up."
Bobby looked at the man speaking, "Why Tim Everett, you old cowboy, you, worried about Bobby Montague? Huh, no need. I'm fine," and he attempted to focus on the man and not slur his speech. Everett was about five feet eight and lean and wiry. Right now Everett seriously needed a bath and some bandages for the weeping wounds on his face and arms. Bobby looked at the other men, some in worse condition than Everett. Though his head and arm ached, he began to recall the events. He remembered Alonzo acting a little odd, and then he remembered his so-called best friend shooting him in the arm—even going so far as to steal his horse. Damn! What got into the man?
"Boss, what are we going to do? We're all hog tied an' hurtin something fierce. That water helped, but we're all dried up, thirsty and hungry," another man, Doc, asked. Doc was one of those men that could doctor any horse. He didn't, however, have any people skills, and he was no good even bandaging a hand, but show him a sick or hurt horse, and he could work miracles.
Bobby was becoming more alert. His hands had been tied as well, but for some reason, Alonzo had failed to remember that he carried a knife in his boot.
Bobby looked around at the six men who lay next to him. Everett seemed to be the one in the best shape. "Tim, put your back to me and put your hand in my left boot. I got a knife in there. See if ya'll can pull it out and hold it steady so I can use it to cut my ropes."
"We knew ya would git us out of this mess, Boss!" another rider said hopefully.
"Well, let's just see if we can get these ropes cut," he answered as Everett angled his body to pull out the knife from his boot.
"Got it!" Everett croaked out, his voice as dried up as the rest of him.
"Tim, hold it still, up and out." Bobby moved back to back to Tim, and hoped his cutting the rope off his wrists would not lead to a major artery being cut instead. Since neither man could see, they depended on the other riders to help them out. "A little to the left, Boss. Now up about an inch. Yeah sir, you got it. Now move your wrists up 'n down," another man said.
Those men who were able to speak encouraged the cutting of the rope and let out a strange bellow of joy through their dried up mouths when the rope around Bobby's wrists gave way. Though exhausted, Bobby turned around and with his good hand, sawed the ropes off Everett. Everett then sawed the rope off of Doc and the others.
Some canteens were lying around empty, and those who could make it down to the stream filled the canteens for those who couldn't. Open sores and some broken bones were tended. Luckily the breaks were mostly fingers though some ribs had been bruised or cracked.
Bobby's wound was painful, but having washed it out in the cold stream, he noticed with relief that no infection had set in and the bleeding had stopped. There had been a lot of bleeding but the bullet had gone through his arm without doing serious muscle or bone damage.
While rummaging through the campsite, one of the men found a bag of spilled flour. There were also some berries bordering the stream. Tootsie, the camp cook gathered up what he could find and made the men some pretty decent biscuits with berries. After not having eaten for two days, the meal was a feast.