Ringnecked pheasants flush from under the feet of the black stallion, followed by two blasts from a double
barrel shotgun. Two roosters fall from the sky and Gabe Tackett dismounts to collect his bounty. This scene
is repeated five more times on the western prairie, giving the weathered warrior an even dozen.
Gabe puts the birds into two sacks that are tied onto the horn of his smoothly worn saddle. A tailwind pushes
the rugged cowboy back to the cattle drive which is currently camped along a wide, shallow river. Gabe's
mouth waters at the thought of the roasted birds. Gomez will season them just right and create a tasty treat;
this he knows.
Later that evening, Gabe sits at the campfire and enjoys a cup of coffee. Trail boss, Ty Colter, sits on the
other side of the fire. The other men give these two rugged, ace-high, cowboys a wide berth. Respect is earned
in the west, not given, and these two have earned it in spades. Their legendary deeds could fill volumes of
the 10 cent booklets that marvel the talents of much lesser men.
Ty looks at Gabe and grins, "Fire-roasted pheasant, it don't get no finer."
"I thought some white meat would be a good change of pace," replied Gabe.
The men spend the next several minutes sitting in silence savoring the occasion. Cowhand Hank fills the air with
the sound of his brass harmonica.
When Ty speaks again a serious tone resonates in his voice, "I'll need you to scout and find our next water
tomorrow, but be careful. I have a feeling down in my gut that trouble is awaiting. Do you want me to send
Hank out with you?"
Gabe drains his cup, stares at the stars and says, "I prefer to go alone, I'll be out well before light."
It is as Ty expected it but as boss he had to voice his concern. He couldn't count on one hand the number of
times that his gut feelings were actually wrong. He hopes that this will be one of those times, but he highly doubts it.
Sitting at Hank's campfire is a young buck named Luke and a wise old-timer named, Sam. Luke's been pondering
for a while so he decides to finally ask, "What's Gabe's story? Boss sure favors him. Why is that?"
Sam looks at the green-horn and blurts out, "Let me give you some advice boy. Be careful before you pry into
another man's business while out here. You could find yourself killed. I can tell you Gabe's story because it
ain't a secret. His mother named him after the archangel, Gabrielle. Gabe was a top lawman in Tennessee. Folks
in those parts loved him and even wanted to make him the next governor but Gabe wanted no part of that. He said
that it would cut into his hunting and fishing time. As a lawman he sawed-down a half dozen outlaws with those
cat-quick reflexes. He was, and for that matter still is, highly respected. Gabe's heart hardened when the fever
took his wife and son. Ten days after his wife's burial, Gabe turned in his badge, mounted up and came out west.
Boy, you will probably never again ride with men with such a strong pedigree as Gabe Tackett and Ty Colter. If
you are smart, you need to watch them and learn."
Gabe's worn, dusty boots hit the stirrups early the next morning. Strapped into the scabbard is a .44 caliber
Henry rifle with a 16 round magazine. Holstered on his side was a Colt .45 revolver.
When the rising sun made its first appearance, Gabe was five miles from camp. The black stallion was hidden under
a grove of sycamores. Gabe had climbed a rock outcropping that gave him a view of the stretching valley floor.
From this lofty perch he would sit and observe. There were no fresh tracks of fellow travelers but these parts of
the west were crawling with rustlers, killers, and thieves. A wolverine scampered along some rocks below. He had
heard of this vicious animal but this was his first time actually seeing one. A half-hour later a mountain lion
took the same path as the wolverine. The area must be rich with wild game for this kind of predator activity. Gabe
kept a watchful eye on a grove of cottonwoods that probably held the desired water source.
A mule deer buck casually grazed in a grassy meadow wearing a wide antlered rack that easily exceeded anything else
that the hunter had ever shot. Normally, Gabe didn't shoot game this far away from the cook and gunfire would alert
anybody within hearing range of his presence and that is not a good thing considering that he is alone, but this
buck was exceptional. The antlers were in velvet which made them look even bigger. From a prone position, Gabe
placed the fat muley into the sights of the Henry rifle and with the pull of the trigger the barrel spit fire. The
buck hunched up and ran into a cluster of pines.
Gabe left his lofty perch and descended down into the pines. Slowly working the blood trail, the grizzled hunter
found the big buck lying on the bank of a small stream. Good memories from his hunts in the Tennessee mountains
reeled through his mind. He specifically recalled shooting a wide buck that carried ten comparable tines. He had
taken the tines and crafted them into silver-ware handles as well as for the knife that is sheathed on his belt.
As the thought of his wife bringing the venison roast to the table crossed his mind his ears took in the sound of
horses walking the stream.
Gabe removed the tie down from his side-arm and cocked the hammer of his rifle. Four riders were approaching and
they looked like trouble. Before Gabe could seek cover they were upon him. Gabe cussed himself for foolishly
letting these rough-riders close in on him. The excitement of the hunt had dulled his common sense and now he was
in a predicament that only he could solve.
A heavy set man sitting on a black and white mare grinned mischievously and said, "Howdy friend, what do you got
there? Looks like a load of venison, care to share?"
Gabe recognized the man. Walt Lilly. Walt and his companions were wanted for the murder of a homestead family. A
ten-year-old boy had survived their ambush and slaughter by hiding high up a pine tree. The kid easily described
the overweight scoundrel to the Sheriff. Walt had a distinctive limp and red birthmark on his neck that grew up
into his right cheek. This obviously riled Gabe who lost his own family and his sympathies were with the young boy.
"This venison is for the men working the cattle drive," Gabe sternly replied.
Walt and his crew started laughing before Walt said, "Your cattle drive is still some miles back and me and the
boys are hungry right now."
Gabe raised his rifle and aimed it at the fat man's belly and spoke deliberately and slowly, "I know who you are
and I know what you did. Now I need you four to slowly undo your belts and let those side-arms fall to the ground."
A lean man wearing a red bandana around his neck glared back and declared, "There is only one of you and four of us.
You realize you're going to die today, don't ya?"
Gabe didn't flinch and retorted, "We're all going to die someday, but if you don't do what I tell ya, then you and
the fat man will be dead within the next few seconds."
Quick tempered, the lean fellow reached for his gun. As he did this, Gabe shot Walt in the chest and then peppered
the initiator with two bullets toppling him from his horse to a quick death. The other two riders were taken aback
by the quick exchange and while one of them froze in place the other fumbled for his gun. Gabe shot the fumbler in
the shoulder and followed up with a shot through the heart. By this time the fourth fellow had drawn his gun and
shot Gabe in the shoulder spinning him to the ground.
After hitting the turf, Gabe looked up to see the shooter fleeing down the creek. Gabe drew his pistol and took three
quick shots. Two of them hit the rider in the back and, like his outlaw hombres, his soul went straight to hell.
Gabe started tending to his wound and was pleased to find out that the bullet went straight through. The bullet
severed a nerve and the pain was intense. Right before passing out, Gabe heard another horse approaching. Hopefully
this rider was a friend or this would be the end.
The following morning Gabe awakened to the smell of tenderloins cooking over the fire. Tending to the meat was Hank.
Hank looked at him and simply said, "I thought that the smell of venison might bring you out of that deep sleep. That
buck you shot is like no other."
Gabe attempted to rise but his shoulder was stiff and sore. Hank stopped him, "Whoa, don't you mess up my bandages.
You need to rest right there. Let's get some food in you before you go attempting any movements."
Hank pulls some meat off and feeds Gabe. The juicy protein tastes good and will be vital for recovery.
Hank continues to cook and while he roast the meat over the fire he says, "Ty had me follow you. Ty's gut told him
there would be trouble and he knows that his gut is never wrong. He also knew that you wouldn't want anyone to accompany
you but shortly after first light he told me to go find you. I was just approaching the valley when I heard the shooting.
I see that you got four of them. By the looks of the tracks it looks like that is all there was. Is that correct?
Gabe nodded but fell back to sleep. While he recovered, Gabe's mind continued to return to his life in Tennessee. Images
of his lovely wife and bright-eyed boy filled his mind.
The good book says that it is appointed for all men to die and Gabe's time came all too soon. Just when it looked like
he was going to pull through the wound became infected and a strong fever took hold. Gabe died one week after the shootout.
Ty spoke a few words over his friend and then he led the men on down the trail. A wooden cross marks the grave of this
brave western hunter. You can't miss it; Hank lashed the wide antlers from the mule deer buck to the cross.
The cowboy is now reunited with his family in a much better place. The legendary tale of Gabe killing Walt and his gang
of ruthless outlaws continues to live on as the story is repeated time and time again by cowboys seated next to campfires
all across the western plains. One cowboy who has told the story the most is named Luke and he always finishes his account
with, "I never rode with anyone finer. Gabe Tackett was Ace-High, and I will fight any man who says otherwise!"