April, 2016

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Issue #79

Looking for free, tantalizing Tales of the Old West?
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Read this month's Tales and vote for your favorite.
They'll appear in upcoming print volumes of The Best of Frontier Tales Anthologies!

The Burden of Absolutes, Part 2 of 3
by Robert McKee
Jeb, the court reporter, knew that simple and sweet Bobby Joe Thomas was innocent of the murder of Lenny Lukather, but only one person could save him, and she wouldn't leave her farm for anyone. Was there anything Jeb do about it?

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The Hangin'est Rope in Oklahoma
by Jane Hale
In 1906 Frank and Nancy Ford, a negro couple, came to Lawton, Oklahoma, to claim sixty acres of land. The sheriff, Silas Stanley, vowed a black man would never own Oklahoma soil. Now Frank waited in the jail, sentenced to be hung by the hangin'est rope in Oklahoma.

* * *

Wooden Indian
by Keith G. Laufenberg
Black Eagle stood up slowly, his knee dripping blood. He clenched the knife and slid it underneath his buckskin shirt, then spoke to the soldiers in Cherokee. "Today is as good a day as any for me to die; I never liked the cold."

* * *

A Burial of Sorts
by John Grabski
A young West Texas man compromises both his principles and his horse as he repossesses ranch deeds for an unethical bank. A violent snowstorm and the events that unfold will lead him to find his character in the midst of an otherwise harsh and greedy world.

* * *

Chase for Uber Mix
by Robert Gilbert
Mable Tews angrily confronts Marshal Brothers about apprehending her husband's killer, Uber Mix. After escaping from jail, Mix had hightailed it out of town, but when the marshal caught up with him, Mix was handcuffed to bounty hunter Pruitt Moss. The three know that one of them will die—but who?

* * *

The Dry White
by Jonathan Oosterhouse
The Arizona desert is scorching enough when you're trying to drive a herd of cattle across it before winter. But if your partners sell out and steal the drove from you, things might just get a lot hotter.

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Want all of this month's Western stories at once? Click here –

All the Tales

Chase for Uber Mix
by Robert Gilbert

Once again the two intoxicated gentlemen, now prisoners, were brought in and finally squared away in the Cheyenne River Marshal Office jail. It started with name calling, tangling ensued, squaring off in a fist fight. They were charged with disorderly conduct in the middle of rain soaked Front Street. Both had too much whiskey in their bellies.

The bigger of the two, Joe Mays, owner of the Double Diamond spread, was enjoying the festivities inside the Grey Owl Saloon. Ferris Crowd, hired on as foreman and cowpuncher of Mays' property, suddenly and without warning, was fired for spending too long of leisure time with the owners daughter, some twenty years difference in age. Crowd, yet muscular and burly, continued to have distasteful concerns for his previous boss. He was no match in their continuing brawl, ending in the street as a mud bath, rinsed in the nearest trough and hauled off to jail.

Consequences of this goings-on feud would be answered by Circuit Judge Abraham Pitt in a few days. In the mean time, my Deputy Howard McClintick and I would keep the prisoners separated. The least they could do was name call each other and there was plenty of that.

Deputy McClintick had just returned from walking the quiet and empty streets and everything was secure for another night. I was near ready to head home to my small house at the end of town, leaving Howard to handle the night shift. We take turns regarding night duty and I seriously compliment my partner as one the best. No complaints at all.

I was finishing up the last swallow of cold coffee and the front door opened. Standing there in a starched white shirt and blue uniform pants was Silas Tibbs. He runs the telegraph office next to the hotel. He was holding a piece of paper with a lot of inked words.

"For you, Marshal Brothers," he said. He pushed it my direction and, as usual, his hands were shaking. Maybe the news wasn't that pleasant.

"This just arrive?" I said, beginning to read. Howard was looking over my shoulder.

"Yes, Sir. Word-for-word it was just received."

"Says here," I said, "Uber Mix escaped from Issaquena Prison."

"Thought to be headed this direction, Warren," Howard said.

"Salis," I said. "You wire this same message up and down the line. See who else might have more information."

"Yes, Sir. Right away."

"Let me know what you hear by morning," I said. "If you don't find me hear, I'll be in the Gray Owl drinking coffee. You understand me?"

Salis nodded, walked to the front door and made his way across the muddy street, returning to his kerosene lighted office.

Howard and I discussed the telegraph message. We had a run-in and arrest with Uber Mix before, maybe two years ago, being chased into the topmost span of Church Rock, a mountain range area in the upward loop of Mora Range. It's at the northern end of New Mexico Territory, a vast region of continual cliffs and sage, easy to get lost and absolute difficult to locate if running from the law.

Word had spread that Mix and two others had robbed a bank in Ensenada and hightailed north, using an escape into Colorado on the Chama train. Pretty smart thinking, I guess, but little did they know that at the end of the line, through Cumbres Pass, ending in Antonito, they were greeted by Howard and me. Their escape from the train wasn't too pleasant, an unwelcomed shoot out, killing the two others and wounding Mix. He was brought back to Cheyenne River and kept alive by the good hands of Dr. Mason. Thereafter he was put on trial, found guilty and the prison wagon escorted him to Issaquena.

I pushed the telegram in my pocket, said good night to Howard and proceeded home on the boardwalk. The cloudy night had cleared up, a full moon was finally visible and a thousand stars were like pin holes against an ebony canvas.

Early the next morning I relieved Howard of staying with the prisoners, letting him get some shuteye in the boardinghouse. Both men being held were fed and at the same time their finger pointing and insults to each other continued. A heavy door separated the two from me, and all I heard was muffled arguments.

I had paperwork to get done, keeping me busy through the morning hours. After filing some of my work, the front door opened and Howard had returned.

"Couldn't sleep," he said. "Kept thinking about that telegram."

"Yeah," I said. "Me too. I need to saddle up, searching where I think Uber Mix is headed."

"Want me to come along?"

"No," I said. "We got prisoners. If we release 'em, guaranteed they'll beat the shit outta each other. That ain't the way I run this town."

"How long you expect to be gone?" Howard pulled up a chair next to my desk and sat down.

"Don't know. But right now I'm needin' a fresh cup of coffee across the street."

"Bring me back one when you return. Black, no milk, and a biscuit."

"I'll do what I can." I said. "Coffee ain't no problem. The biscuit might cause some difficulty."

I made my way across Front Street, filled with ruts and mud that easily caked my boots.

A lot of my time was spent inside the Gray Owl Saloon, and today was no exception. I was nursing another cup of coffee, minding my business, giving random thoughts about the telegram message in my pocket. Something bothered me about Uber Mix's location and my hunch tells me that this outlaw has a passion for railroads.

For the second time in the past ten minutes, widow Mable Tews, sitting across from me, sipping on sour mesh, continually tapped her free fingers on the table. She was making an issue out of the noise.

I looked in her direction , continuing to listen to the distraction as her fingers kept tapping.

"I heard the news, Marshal Brothers," Mable said. "Rumors spread like front page news."

I ignored her long enough to take another sip of hot coffee and began to enjoy a good rolled smoke.

"'Bout time you go after 'im, Marshal," she said. Her voice was harsh and direct after lowering the glass to the table. "The more I keep yappin' at ya, and you jus' stiin' there, the longer Uber Mix is a damn distance away, somewhere maybe 'cross Pawnee land."

"Mrs. Tews," I said. "I'm sure he didn't get that far." The back of my mouth was becoming throaty from the bitter coffee.

"Sure right about that, Marshall Brothers," Conrad Devers said. He was playing solitaire the next table over and enjoying his favorite brand of whiskey. His words tended to slur the more he drank. Solitaire wasn't his favorite table game and he cheated to win.

"What ya meanin', Devers?" Widow Tews said. She showed her disbelief, looking straight at the card player.

"He's shot in the leg," Devers answered back. "Prison escape alright, but a guard got 'im with a Winchester. Ain't runnin' too far that way. That's what I'm hearin'. Word come through about that."

"Yes. Sir," I said. My words edged out slowly. I didn't know the extent of the wound to slow Mix down.

"So what ya gonna do, Marshal?" she said. "Sit here an' drink coffee all day 'till it runs out, or what? Time's passin' away real quick like." Widow Tews was a heavy drinker and allowed to come sit in the saloon, and most times enjoyed my company.

I moved my chair back to stand and swallowed the remains of coffee. I stared in the direction of Mable Tews.

"You get 'im, Marshal," Mable said in a matter-of-fact tone. "Do your job 'cause we pay you our fair share to keep Cheyenne River a peaceful place to live."

"Don't you folks worry none 'bout me," I said. "Been here long enough to keep this town quiet and respectable. If there's any bitchin' 'bout my business, put words to paper and take it to my office. I'll read it when I get back."

"Sure thing, Marshal," Devers said, trying to locate a lost Queen of Spades.

"Who's gonna be in charge once you leave town?" The question came from across the room. Billy Bently didn't want any fights as bartender of the Gray Owl. He didn't advocate trouble remembering the last skirmish that completely wiped out his business, having to start over.

"I'll send over my deputy," I said, "to take charge tonight. He'll be armed with a no-doubt-about-it shotgun. He has guaranteed practice with that fine weapon.

I adjusted my Stetson , walking passed where Mable Tews continued sipping her third drink of the morning. My spurs jingled against the wooden floor and made my way through the batten doors. I stood momentarily on the boardwalk taking in the town. Peaceful is was and I was proud in keeping it that way. I was about to roll a another smoke, changed my mind knowing the cigarette would taste better when I got to my destination. I carried coffee back to the office. No biscuit.

From the west another storm was brewing and that's the direction I was headed. Not knowing how long this ride would take, the saddlebags were filled with the usual necessities to be out on the trail for a period of time.

After saying goodbye to Howard who was standing on the boardwalk in front of the Marshal's Office, I grabbed the reins and mounting my roan. Heat of the day was already around me. Beads of sweat trickled from beneath my brimmed hat, curving down my rough face as I eased out of town.

Within three miles the storm had increased. Dipping my head to fight the on-coming gust of wind, venturing became slow into Cobble Canyon. I could barely see what was supposed to be the main road. Instead, I found shelter for the time being inside a sizeable cavern.

Although the storm was coming on strong, I knew in my mind what a characteristic Colt hammer sounded like when being cocked. From a distance that's what I heard from inside of the open cavern.

Before I had the chance to quickly dismount, a single round whizzed over my head into the muddy floor behind me. I was hidden behind a sizeable boulder, peeking upward to where the shot was fired. My entire body was being drenched by the continual pelts of rain.

I waited for a goodly amount of time before easing from my secluded location. I worked my way to the next formations of shrubs and rocks, with nothing heard but raindrops being absorbed within my clothing. The wind and rain finally subsided, I was completely drenched, still guarding my location. I waited for anything yonder to be fired my direction and nothing was heard. Even if the person came on horseback, no noise prevailed from his escape. I was certain to hear the clopping of fresh mud, but there was no evidence of any gunman poised to shoot again from above me. Was this Uber Mix, responsible for making Mable Tews a widow, losing her husband in the same canyon years back? Maybe so, but nothing was heard again.

I made my way to the roan, eased over the wet saddle and maneuvered out of this location without another shot being fired in my direction. I'll be through this location again when returning to Cheyenne River, knowing to be on the look-out for this culprit.

On the other side of these jagged slopes was the Western & Pacific railroad tracks, westerly in the direction of Buffalo Corners. Half way between here and there was Meeker Junction. It was a small way station run by John Hobbs, a friend of mine, who I've known over ten years. Their home was walking distance from the station and I've watched his youngin's grow faster than pesky weeds in a garden. Damn nice family that takes care of the responsibilities of a good business.

With the rain now to the east, the sun finally came thru, returning to devastating heat of afternoon rays. I was able to dry off from the previous storm, now smelling real bad. The smell wasn't awful enough to make me sick; rather a noticeable stink that painted over my entire body. Not much to brag about other than keeping a distance from others until I could find me a sizeable bathtub with some ordinary bath soap. Nothin' fancy in the whiff to make me smell like a sweet woman that prefers that kind of fragrance.

In the distance, perhaps another mile in following the railroad tracks, was the station at Meeker Junction. This was part of my territory that I liked to come visit, especially the cool of spring or when seasons would begin to change in the fall. Up in the higher elevation leaves would turn hues of brown and orange and deep scarlet; natures playground of turning colors.

I dismounted in front of the station and noticed the ticket window was empty. I climbed the few wooden steps and crossed the platform. The sound of my spurs tingled as I reached the front door, turned the latch and entered.

John looked busy, gazing at sheets of messages on a wide table and listening to the nearby telegraph line. He finally looked up at the presence of my big smile.

We came together to shake hands and my grip was strong compared to his gentle grasp.

"Warren Brothers," he said. His smile was white teeth. "The good marshal from Cheyenne River comes to visit again."

"Just here to cool a spell," I said. "The next train is on time?"

John looked across the room at the wall clock and nodded.

The telegraph key was vibrating a message. John sat down, writing something on a sheet of paper, trying not to be disrespectable.

The station was empty, quiet as the inside of a filled church before the Sunday sermon, except for the sporadic tones from the telegraph machine.

"Two telegrams come in for ya," John said, now standing, "not knowin' when you'd be here."

"You already read 'em?" I said.

"Yes, Sir. I had to write the messages on paper. But what's said ain't none o' my business."

"You get a lot o' messages through here, don't ya?"

"I ain't bein' nosey if that's what you mean, Marshal."

"Just doin' your job without pokin' your nose inta 'nothers business. Right?"

John kept a straight face when he looked at me. The telegraph key continued to hammer.

"When did you say the next train was due in?" I said, beginning to walk around, being nosey as I usually am. Always like to quiz people, making sure they know their business. I've met some real stupid sons-a-bitches over the years who don't know shit about their business.

"Maybe in another 20 minutes, or thereabouts," John said. "I have the complete schedule memorized." He remained standing and momentarily stopped his work. Taking a break, he had time enough to roll a smoke.

"You sure about the time?" I said. "This new telegram here in my pocket says the next Western & Pacific is due here in about 8 or 9 minutes."

"Somethin' special 'bout that train comin' in?" he said. "Not too many lawmen stop by here that often. 'Specially a lawman comin' all this direction from Cheyenne River."

I kept the business to myself without John asking too many question. A few minutes went by before John spoke again.

"You're in luck, Marshall," he said. He walked to a large front bay window that took in the distant view. Every east bound could be seen for over a mile, depending on the weather.

Outside, the nearing sounds of the train could be heard, finally stopping at the designated platform. A family with two children were first to exit, continuing to stand outside. A businessman departed next, looked to be wearing the fashions of New York City, walking in the direction of inside the way station. He found a comfortable seat in the far corner after using the privy.

At last I saw the reason for my coming here. Two men were handcuffed together and the smaller man had a limp to his step.

The first man turned the latch to the station door and entered. They stood a distance from me and both immediately caught a glimpse of my U.S. Marshal badge.

John hence trouble and immediately footed to the telegraph desk and sat down.

"Uber Mix?" I said. My hand was around the butt of my Colt .44, holding back from lifting it from leather.

"Marshal Brothers," Uber said. "Ain't this somethin' that we meet again." His smile was a hollow mouth. He leaned on the better leg, with blood in patches on the other.

"Don't raise that .44, Marshal," the first man said. In full view he was gripping a Colt .45, pointed my direction. "He's my prisoner with a nice cash reward."

"Bounty hunter?" I said.

"I'm Pruitt Moss," he said. "Make my livin' findin' those with cash on their head." He was tall and lean, beginning white hair dominated his temples below his shabby hat. In front of his eyes were round glasses. His smile was wicked, missing several teeth and those visible were yellow.

"He's my prisoner, let 'im go," I said.

"Full 'o shit, Marshal," Pruitt said. "Gettin' my money after reachin' Cheyenne River."

I was irked by his cool, aloof manner.

"You just back away," Pruitt continued. His smile increased. "The train outside is waitin' for us. You can follow us, but he's my property 'till the money's in my hand."

"Once more," I said, "give 'im up!" A shadow of annoyance had crossed my face.

Suddenly the rear door to the office opened and running inside was Timmy Hobbs, the youngest of John's family.

"Bang, bang, bang," Timmy said, pointing his wooden play gun around and finally toward Pruitt. "Got ya covered!"

Pruitt acted too quickly, turning, leveling his Colt toward the boy. Uber reacted as the gun was fired, lifting Pruitt's arm and the bullet entered a ceiling post.

My reaction was instant, free to remove my .44 and squeeze the trigger once. The bullet lodged into Pruitt's mid-chest. A swift shadow of anger swept across his face, blood oozed from the entry hole and within moments he fell to the floor entering death. The weight of his body pulled Uber down, still handcuffed together.

"Don't go for his gun, Uber," I said. There was a critical tone in my voice.

Later that day, Pruitt was belly down over his saddle, Uber handcuffed to his pommel and I foot the stirrup and eased over hard leather. I gave my regards to John Hobbs and his family.

The return home didn't seem that far. It was moving into sunset as the few lighted kerosene lamps in Cheyenne River came into view. All around me the cliffs of red stone and rust were slowly being painted over in hues of deep plum and hints of midnight.

Making my way into an empty and quiet town with two horses in tow, I had stories to tell.

Two days later, as scheduled, ranch owner Joe Mays and Ferris Crowd stood in front of Circuit Judge Abraham Pitt. The fine was ten dollars each. Ferris didn't have the money and was put to work cleaning my office and outhouse for one week.

Nothing more was said between the two men, guessing the feud was over. I still think Ferris had a liking for Joe's daughter but nothing was ever mentioned again.

The End

Robert Gilbert, author of Westerns, romance and children's stories, lives near Chicago. Hooked on Westerns began when Gilbert lived in Hollywood, California as a entertainment writer. He spent numerous occasions on the Western back lot of Warner Bros. movie studio. His action packed Western heros come to life on his computer and have been enjoyed world wide. "Too Much of a Kid" was published in the December 2014 issue of Frontier Tales. "Pointed Gun" was published in the March 2016 issue of Frontier Tales.

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