Zach Hamilton was used to being alone.
He had been on his own since he ran away from his Pennsylvania home and his
drunken father when he was fourteen. He had hopped trains going west and
wound up on the Connersí Double C ranch. He worked at cleaning the barns and
helped around the big ranch house. At night he bedded down in the hay loft
of the barn. This suited him fine and the Conners didnít object. The only
person on the ranch that seemed to give him grief was Connersí niece Helen
Forren. She was always telling him he would never be a cowboy. He would
always be a cook hand. At times he felt like tying her pigtails in a knot,
but she did break the monotony of the long days on the ranch.
At round up and on cattle drives Zach would ride the chuck wagon. The
wranglers in the bunk house were much older and Zach did not fit into their
circle just yet. In the evenings and in his free time he would learn to
ride. He found an old military saddle in the barn that no one claimed and
would pick out as gentle as a horse as he could to learn to ride. He had
been doing this every chance he could, but after a couple of months seemed
to be riding worse than when he first started. Ed Conners the owner saw him
one evening and walked over to the large corral where he had saddled up a
"Iíve been watching you Zach, just relax and let the horse do what she knows
best. Horses for the most part are a lot smarter than we give them credit
for. Get a feel for the horse and your saddle before you try to tell her
what to do. If that mare feels you donít know what you are doing then sheís
going to do everything her way."
Zach was even more nervous now that he had someone watching him, but soon as
if a great calmness overtook him, he relaxed and gave the horse slack on the
rein. After a few minutes Zach felt the mare relax too and soon he could
turn her or stop and go with a gentle nudge of the leather. Before long Zach
was riding more spirited mounts and before he was sixteen Zach had moved
into the bunkhouse and was working the range with the other wranglers and
breaking range ponies for other riders.
The years seem to fly by and now he was respected as one of the top hands
One morning as he was checking the cattle he felt something amiss. He
couldnít put his finger on it at first, but things just didnít feel right.
He rode up a couple of draws where the cattle sometimes drifted at night.
Then it hit him cattle were missing. How was he ever going to tell Mr.
Conner? Now he had a big problem. Someone had cut what Zach figured to be
about a hundred head of the best steers out of the herd on the north range.
Zach along with Jack Hunter and Dick Feamster had gone into the back draws,
canyons and thickets and had them all ready for the fall cattle drive. At
last count they had four hundred twenty head to add to the southern herd
that make up around a thousand head to drive to the railhead.
Zach took it as a personal affront that some dirty low down scoundrel would
have the nerve to rustle cows off his watch. Zach and Jack Hunter searched
most of the day before they discovered the tracks of the stolen cows. The
next morning they followed the tracks to La Cinta creek where they just
suddenly disappeared. Zach told Jack that he was going into Mosquero for
some supplies and scout for the trail. "You go back and tell Mr. Conners I
wonít come back without his cattle."
It had been sunny and had mid-day heat before mid morning. Zach Hamilton
rode into Mosquero. It was quiet and only a few horses at the hitching posts
in front of the store fronts. He needed some ammo for his rifle and side arm
and of course enough provisions to do him for awhile. He would go straight
to the General Store, buy the things he needed and head out as fast as
For the most part he did not care for towns. He did not trust crowds. He
always felt that someone was always watching him a little too close for his
comfort. He had visited Mosquero with Bryan Boyd the main cook at the ranch
bunk house and chuck wagon. He did get to know a few of the shop keepers in
town and for the most part could tolerate them.
The general store was empty except for Mr. Shields who owned it. Zach had
traded with him ever since he had started coming into town. He had bought
his first hand gun from Mr. Shields. He got it along with good leather
holster and ammo belt that had been dyed black. Mr. Shields said he got it
from an hombre who traded the rig in for enough grub and a couple of pick
axes to go off prospecting for silver. It had been five years since and Mr.
Shields doubted he would ever see the prospector again.
"Good day to you Zach", said Dave Shields from behind the counter. Got a new
shipment of canned peaches from Georgia. Still in the box in the backroom.
Iíll be glad to get you a couple of cans if you want.?í
"Thatíll be fine Mr. Shields, Iíll have half a slab of bacon and a couple of
pounds of jerky too. Iíll need three boxes of 44cal. cartridges and two
pounds of coffee. Oh, and youíd better throw four or five cans of beans and
ten pounds of oats for my paint."
"Havenít seen you for a spell. Everything going all right at the ranch?"
"Just left there. Someone took off with quite a number of Double C cows and
Iím looking to trail them if I can."
"Yea, I understand. I want you to know I am real sorry that happened and I
want you to know if it were up to me, Iíd be out there looking with you.
Better tell the Marshall. Heíll probably want to help "
Out of nowhere, shots rang out from down the street. Mr. Shields grabbed a
shotgun from behind the counter and both went to the front of the store to
see what the commotion was about. The next thing they saw was three men on
horses riding like lightening by the front of the store, their guns drawn
and firing over their shoulders to make sure no one dare give chase. Mr.
Shields started through the front door and Zach grabbed him and kept him
from showing himself. Zach knew for sure that if Shields showed himself it
would be his last act on this earth and that was for sure.
"Why did you stop me, I could have gotten one of them."
"Yea, and theyíd have gotten you for sure."
Out in the street the Marshall was already getting some men together to give
chase. Zach settled with Mr. Shields as fast as possible and threw his sack
of provisions over the saddle horn and joined the posse. They took off west
out of town and gave chase for most of the day. Late in the afternoon they
had them located in some cottonwoods by La Cinta Creek. There were eight
riders in the posse. The Marshall and Zach were the only two with pistols
and Henrys. The others were armed mostly with shotguns. The men they were
chasing had robbed the bank and from what the Marshall was saying, they got
away with about twenty five thousand in new federal bills and gold.
The three robbers had dropped into the creeks bed which was about four feet
deep, giving them good cover from which to hold off the posse. The Marshall
tried to flank the men around the left side. . They were well shielded and
the Marshall could not get an advantage. The robbers had repeating rifles
and was raining down fire that kept the Marshallís men at bay. Soon the
Marshall came scurrying back with one wounded man. The other rider a
clothing store owner by the named of Lawrence Gillespie had been killed.
Their shotguns were no match for the repeaters well hidden on the creek bank
and beyond range.
Zach finally got a chance to speak to the Marshall. He knew the timing
couldnít be worse, but he had to let the Marshall know about the missing
herd. "Iíll look into it, but right now I have my hands full."
The Marshall sent Zach and two others around the right side to see if they
could get a position to get an advantage or at least cut off any escape.
Zack, Paul Harrah and Abe Strealy were pinned down almost before they got
started. Zach returned fire with his Henry, but the advantage was clear. He
decided that pushing closer would get them killed, so they pulled back and
the firing from the creek bank stopped.
The Marshall came over and said he and Harrah were going to try to get
around to the left flank one more time and wanted Zach to try again on the
right side. "When you hear firing, that will be your nod to rush your side.í
Zach and Strealy tried twice more when the firing on the other side began
and finally made it to the creek bank. The firing suddenly stopped and The
two men were glad to get a little relief. They knew they would have to try
to rush the thirty yards or so to where the men were holed up. For the first
time in Zachís life he felt real fear. Not the fear that comes when you have
to mount that unbroken bronc, but the fear of death itself.
Zach and Strealy reloaded their guns. Zach gave Strealy his Henry and pulled
his colt. They looked at each other nodded and ran up the creek bed their
guns spitting bullets to where the robbers had been firing. When they got
there they were amazed that there were no robbers. Zach could see where they
had pushed their bodies into the side of the bank for cover and could see
the boot prints and the hoof prints from their mounts, there were shell
casings and plenty of signs, but it seemed they had just vanished from the
face of the earth.
"Marshall, its me Zach Hamilton. Me and Strealy are here at the creek bank,
but the robbers are gone."
Soon the Marshall approached the bank. After taking a read the Marshall and
Zach finally concluded that the robbers had gone down stream using the bank
to shield them from the Marshall and Harrah. Zach was feeling a bit leery
about the way things were turning out. For one, if the Marshall was flanking
to the left, he should have seen those riders going down stream and the
other thing was the men on that left flank was either dead or wounded and
the Marshall hadnít gotten a scratch.
The Marshall had come over to where Zach was looking down the creek bed and
told Zach that he had a man dead and two wounded and that he was headed back
to town to get them to a doctor and that Zach should come back with them.
"I just got some provisions from Shields General Store, so I think Iíll try
to keep a hot trail for as long as I can. When I feel I have their
destination, Iíll try to get back to you. You can pick up my tracks from
where ever those men ride out of the creek bed."
Zach helped the Marshall mount the wounded and wrap a blanket over Lawrence
Gillespie and drape him over his saddle for transport back to Mosquero. Soon
Zach was alone and tracking the three robbers down the creek. Up ahead he
could see where they had ridden out the west side of the creek and appeared
to be headed west, but Zach new better. He knew this country and he knew
these men would soon turn east and head into north Texas.
Zach felt good about this because he was sure he had seen these same tracks
before. It would not surprise him any if these same three men were the ones
who stole the cattle.
The rain began to beat down on Zach as he rode through the dessert at dusk.
The water had made the inside of his britches wet and as he rode they began
to chaff the inside of his thighs. In the distance he could see the butte
and the outcroppings and over hangs. If he could make it to there he could
make him a fire and dry off. It doesnít rain very often in these parts, but
when it does it seems to change the entire flow of life.
The paint was as hungry as Zach and was twice as tired. He had been trailing
three horse tracks since late in the afternoon. Taking only a brief rest at
that last water hole before he would start over the stretch of desert ahead.
Zach could tell by the markings of the hoof prints he was following that
those horses were being driven beyond their endurance. He could only believe
that the men were desperate enough to ride their mounts till they dropped.
Zach knew he had to stop for the night. He wasnít about to push his mount or
himself, and if those who were ahead of him were smart they would be
stopping too. The way they seemed to be treating their animals theyíd wind
up walking the rest of way to wherever they were going.
The weather cleared and the sky lit up with the moon and stars. Zach built a
small fire under the overhang and brought his saddle blanket to the fire to
dry. He had a little jerky and some water and bedded down.
The next morning after some coffee and bacon Zach headed back down from the
butte to pick up the trail of the three bank robbers. Zach didnít care for
that Marshall but he did care for the people who lived in Mosquero. Besides,
some of the money taken in the robbery was his. He had been putting a little
away every month in hopes that one day he would be able to get his own
spread started. Mr. Conners was a good man and a good boss but Zach was too
much of a individual to work for someone else the rest of his life. It still
bothered him though, how the Marshall had taken so little interest in his
missing cattle and how fast he dismissed any effort to try to catch those
who had robbed the bank.
Zach was not about to give up on those cows and now that they had shot at
him from the creek bank, he was going to get those bank robbers. It was
personal with him and he would ride into Hades itself to try to find them
and the cattle.
About noon Zach picked up the trail. Just as he thought they had turned back
East and was now headed back in the direction of Mosquero and La Cinta
Creek. Again at La Cinta Creek they went into the creek but did not cross
it. There were no tracks going out on the other side. Zach figured they
would either head back to Mosquero or the other direction which would go
South again as they did before. Zach knew they would gain little by going
back to Mosquero so he headed down the creek. In most places the creek bank
was wide enough to ride his horse in and out of the cottonwoods and at other
times he had to go into the creek itself to pick up signs of their
movements. Then all of a sudden there they were, tracks going out on the
East side of the creek and Zach elated to know for sure now they were
heading for Texas. But wait just a minute here. There were other tracks as
well. These made by cattle and from the looks of it there had been a lot of
them. There was a wide swath where they had come out of the creek heading
into Texas as well.
For the rest of the day Zach trailed the tracks. Now he had to make a
decision. Did he want to go back and get the Marshall or did he want to
trail on. For one thing he couldnít say for certain that the cows he was
trailing were the ones stolen from him, but he was for sure the hoof prints
did belong to the three hold up men who had held up the bank.
Zach decided to trail on. He was almost positive that he had crossed into
Texas. If he did go back for the Marshall he had no assurance the Marshall
would cross the line out of his jurisdiction. The trail turned South and
headed in toward a canyon. Zach did not know this country well and decided
to ride up to and along the rim. He did not want to suddenly ride upon a
situation where he might get himself in a bad corner.
The canyon rim was changing as he traveled higher. Trees and grass started
to appear and wild flowers growing on the hill side. Even the air started
turning a littler cooler as he headed up the grade. The soft westerly wind
cooled his body. His paint was stopping every once in a while to take in
some of the soft green grasses. Zach felt a little bad that he had the bit
in the horses mouth, but figured he could take care of that at a more timely
moment. Right now he had to know just what he was dealing with in that
He rode the top of the rim for a ways and found the canyon to be boxed in on
three sides. It stretched for about three miles. Looking down he could see
toward the head of the canyon there was a small shack with a nice spring
coming out of the base of the hill. There were trees and lush grass growing
on the canyon floor. To one side of the shack there was the start of a small
herd of cows. Zach took it all in for a moment. To him it was the most
beautiful place in the world.
Zach starting now to recognize most of the cows he saw. He had ridden night
herd on them until the calves were to an age where they were feeding well
and could run. Zach had lost some of them to wolves, but for the most part
he still had most of the calves, that is until those men down there had
decided to cut them out of the stock.
Zach made a cold camp at the top of the rim in the midst of the trees and
watched as the men went in and out of the shack. It would appear they were
very much at home here and much of the time they walked around without their
sidearm. Zach looked over the situation and decided the best time to go in
there would be late at night, after everyone had bedded down. Zach changed
the halter on the horse to one without the bit and hooked the twenty foot
tether line to him so he could eat from the grasses that grew so well on the
hill side. Zach pillowed his saddle up against a big fir, ate some hard tack
and slept for most of the late afternoon.
Cool air was blowing over Zach as he woke. The night had already made its
way in and the moon and stars made it appear almost daylight. Zach walked to
the edge of the rim and surveyed the shack again. There were lights still on
but there was no movement and everything was quiet.
Zach saddled up the paint and made his way back down the canyon rim staying
far enough away so he would not appear as a silhouette against the sky. Up
into the canyon he walked his horse until he came within view of the shack.
He dismounted and crept up to the side of the house. Looking in the window
there they were, three men and the money from the robbery laying in plain
sight in the table. Looking closer Zach saw that the third man at the table
was Marshall Ralph McClung from Mosquero. They were laughing and counting
The Marshall spoke. "We are getting way to hot for this country. I aim to go
back to Mosquero and resign after I have satisfied the town folk that I have
done all in my power to find the culprits who stole their money." Maybe Iíll
head west to one of the Silver camps and set myself up as the Marshall
there. Iíll send word to you as soon as I can. Meantime I brought you a
branding iron that says crossbar double o. re-brand those cows out there
before you take them east."
"Oh, by the way he added, there is a five thousand dollar bounty on your
Zach looked around. Where was the third man who had held up the bank? Making
his way around the back corner of the shack, Zach could make him out,
cleaning up the supper dishes. Zach crept up and hit him over the head with
the butt of his rifle. Catching him before he fell he carried him to the
where the paint was tethered to a small pine and used his lasso to tie him
up and gag him.
Going back to the shack he checked the window once more and the three were
still at the table. Zach knew it would have to be fast and it would have to
be unexpected. The men knew their other man was on the back porch and would
not be surprised to see the door open. But what then. Zach made his way back
to the front of the house and found the marshal's horse. He searched the
saddlebags and came up with two pair hand cuffs.
Charging through the rear door Zach fired two shots into the ceiling and
told the men to sit still. The two outlaws did as they were told, but the
Marshall went for his gun and Zach shot him in the right leg. The Marshall
went down and the other two had their hands up.
As Zach rode into Mosquero the next evening there was no one on the street
so he had to lock up his prisoners on his own. He rode down to the saloon on
the south end of town and found the town doctor Phillip Wood and Dave
Shields the general store owner having a drink. He placed the bag of money
down on the table and told them they could find the people responsible for
the robbery locked up in the jail. They wanted him to stay for a drink, but
he said no.
The next morning Zach headed up to the big house and asked to speak with Mr.
Conners. Helen met him at the door and smiled as he entered.
"Mr. Conners, I let a hundred head of cows get stolen from your range, but I
found them across the line in Texas. I would like to know how much you want
for them? I just came upon the place I want to settle down and ranch. but
Iíll need a starter herd."
"Jack Hunter came in and told us what happened. I want you to know that I
am very proud of you and your actions. Iíll make you a deal, Iíll ask two
dollars a head and you can join the rest of my herd when we drive ours to
market if you want to sell any of them."
"Thatís great Mr. Conners and by the way Iíd like to come a calling on Helen
if sheís a mind."
Zach headed back toward north Texas. With the reward money and the finders
fee from the bank, Zach had enough to buy that canyon start some
improvements on the cabin.