Time had gotten away from us. While we’d been making our mad dash to the Cherokee-Arapahoe Reservation to retrieve Laughing Wolf–and picking up the added surprise of him having a wife and child–calving season had wrapped up without us. Then we’d been nothing but a-holes and elbows getting all the babies branded before moving all three herds back upcountry to summer range.
At least the boys were outa school fer the summer, but we didn’t have much more’n a week left till haying season was on us. How in the dickens were we gonna get the machinery and tack ready fer the hayfields, crank up the ditching machine to start bringing flood irrigation water over from the drainage creeks, and make a sapphire-selling run to Philadelpha…all in the next eight or nine days?
It was this one supper time, a single two-hour period when we were all gathered around the table and ideas could flow freely, that we begun to realize jist what a quality organization we’d actually put together.
By the time Tam was done taking notes, he had a list to end all lists.
1. Haying machinery. Cougar says he can have it ready, single handed.
2. Harness and horseshoes on teams: Bodeen, Wolf Eyes, Lance.
3. Ditching: B.S. Brothers eager to have a go. Quentin (age 11) and Scrap Hannigan will help.
4. Sapphires to Philly: Tam, Dawson. Introduce Dawson to Abraham (jeweler/buyer).
5. Leave Daniel Morgan to help Jack Prosser at Flywheel/Morgan; Slim offered to help!
“Feel a little tight around the edges, partner?” I grinned at the tale teller. “Or do you always look like you’re sucking persimmons when you’re studying lists?”
“Tight ain’t the word fer it,” he admitted. “There ain’t a day to spare fer error in any one of these tasks. But we gotta make our annual gemstone sale. Got too many commitments out there to do otherwise. Doug’s got a big batch ready to go, near double last year’s number of carats. Should bring us $100,000 or close to it. Most of that under the table cash, as before.”
“Well then,” I shoved back from the table and got to my feet, “let’s git to packing. We got a train to catch in the morning.”
In my entire life, I’d not been as far east as Pennsylvania. Not that I much trusted them calling themselves the City of Brotherly Love–not buying it, sorry–but it was still some interesting. The Liberty Bell, if nothing else. Had to see that.
Or not. Knowing we were desperately needed back at Flywheel did tend to put a bit of a damper on the idea of playing tourist.
That, and the converstation we overheard at the next dining room table the second day outa Walsenburg.
“Bass,” was the word that caught Tam’s jug ears. He kicked me under the table–lightly–and I begun to pay attention.
It didn’t take long fer the pair of us to figure out that the notorious Sam Bass and a fair number of his gang had boarded the train somewhere in north Texas. We were choo-chooing through Oklahoma at the time of this discovery–
What? Yeah, that’s right; Sam Bass and his bunch did run from the law up into north Texas about that time; all the western history books tell of it. And yes, it’s also true he was known fer robbing trains, not riding ’em.
But he’d apparently changed up his game a mite. Maybe figured the lawmen wouldn’t be looking for him on a train.
The thing is, Tam and I both knew Sam from the Chisholm Trail. He’d once been a fair hand as a working cowboy, but last year–a good four years after Crazy Rifle and I quit the Trail to go snag his beloved Cheyenne bride from the Greasy Grass country and then head southwest to found Flywheel Ranch–the cowboy had turned outlaw.
From what we’d heard, Bass and three other men had driven a sizeable herd up the Chisholm Trail from Texas to Kansas. Unfortunately, he’d been entrusted with selling the beeves and returning the money to his employer…which he most definitely did not do.
Instead, he and his buddies took off to Deadwood, blew the wad gambling and whoring–and of course turned to outlawry immediately thereafter. As many a man caught with his hand in the cookie jar has done.
Well, with this bit of information under our bonnets, we started paying closer attention to our other fellow passengers…and soon discovered Bass weren’t traveling alone. We only knew a couple of his gang members by sight–Henry Underwood and Sam Pipes–but we put it all together and didn’t much like the final sum.
Six of the eight gang members were on board.
“What do you think, Tam?” We were back in our luxury Pullman sleeper, jist long enough to have a bit of a war council.
“I think a sane man might be trying to git lost back East this way, disappear into one city or another. But Bass ain’t bent that way. Which means he’ll hold up this train from the inside sooner or later. Probably sooner, somewhere in the Indian Territory where he can quick-like-a-bunny trade fer horses, then maybe start Rez-hopping till he can disappear one more time.”
“Ya think? I mean, yeah, I agree, but what I was asking was, what do you think you and I should do about it?”
“Ah. Now that is the question. One thing fer sure, we ain’t gonna wait fer him and his boys to throw down on everbody and tell us to hand over our money and our jewels. Specially since we got a year’s worth of sapphires on us and really have some jewels.”
“Glad to hear you say that, partner,” I nodded, “and I got me an idea.”
“Scary prospect,” he said, but he was twinkling at me when he said it. “Fill me in.”
We had to wait till the noon meal was served. Fortunately fer us, Sam Bass claimed the same seat he’d warmed at breakfast, his back to the righthand bulkhead, with Sam Pipes sitting next to him but the seats across the table remaining unoccupied.
Tam and I slid into those two seats without being invited. Which made us vulnerable to the rest of the dining car, but there was a mirror behind Sam which let us watch our own backs.
I was on the window side, Tam on the aisle.
Bass recognized us right enough; his eyes first widened, then narrowed. “What’re you two doing here?” he growled.
Tam grinned at him. “Is that any way to greet two old trail partners, Sam? We might ask you the same, you know, except it’s kind of obvious.”
Long story short, Tam got it across to the outlaw that we’d much appreciate it if he and his boys would kindly get the Hell off this steam powered conveyance at the very next stop–without robbing the dang thing–then git themselves return tickets back to Texas on the next westbound.
We’d even pay fer the tickets.
Not surprisingly, Bass weren’t having none of it. After all, he’d only known my left-handed gunslinging white Blackfoot warrior friend as a hardworking cowboy and tall tale teller. Don’t believe he’d ever seen him shoot, not even once.
“What I think,” he kinda sneered, “is I’m gonna have me a leisurely lunch in this here train’s dining car, and then I’m gonna hold it up, and then maybe we’ll git off iffen we feel like it. Whaddya think of them apples?”
“I think,” Tam smiled cheerfully, “you might want to scooch down and take a quick look under the table before you make that decision.”
Fer them who might want to know, Sam Bass weren’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but after a moment or two he did what Tam recommended. Scooched down. Peered under there. Staring at all twelve barrels of my two Garza Surprise .44 pepperbox persuaders. With the hammers back.
At a range of maybe twenty-four inches.
When he sat back up straight, his eyes were still crossed from the experience–but you could see the newfound awareness there, the realization that if I so much as twitched, he was going to have a pair of very scrambled huevos.
Funny how that can give a man a paradigm shift.
We’d timed it right. Ten minutes later, the train screeched to a stop. Couldn’t tell you which tribe’s territory we were in, but the depot looked purty forlorn. Maybe they had a ticket agent there, or maybe not. We didn’t much care.
Sam Bass was persuaded to remain seated after he give orders to the others to git off…until four of ’em, including Sam Pipes, had complied.
“That’s all of ’em,” the outlaw opined.
I shoved the lefthand Surprise forward a bit so’s Bass could feel the barrel cluster resting on his kneecap…and asked, all innocent-like, “You wanna git ’em blowed off here and now fer being a damn liar, or would you like to tell Underwood to finish his business in the john and git out there?”
“Henry!” he yelled so loud the rest of the diners looked up in alarm, “Finish your business and git off this train! Now!”
That about wrapped things up. Henry Underwood was gone, and Sam Bass was going. He turned at the last moment, though. I thought maybe he was gonna go fer a hideout gun of his own, but all he did was promise to kill me–oh, and the tale teller, too–the next time he seen us.
“You always did talk too much, Sam,” Tam told him. Thought Bass was gonna pop a blood vessel. The tale teller, giving him the word on flapping his gums? Huh!
They don’t often git the last word in on my partner.
What? Yeah, that’s right. Sam Bass did git himself killed a bit later on that same year. Texas Rangers put a bunch of lead in him on July 19. Took him till July 21 to die.
Folks who were there say he was cussing Tam Tamson and Dawson Trask something fierce at the end.
Kicking the trash off the train put us in fine fettle fer the rest of the journey to Philly, and Abraham lightened our spirits even further. Remember when the jeweler first met me, it was only when he found out I was actually the dime-novel-famous Crazy Rifle, the white Blackfoot warrior from up where the glaciers are at home and the Blackfeet roam, that he’d give me the time of day?
Compared to that, Dawson had it easy. Oh, I suppose it must have helped some that our first year’s batch of sapphires had made everyone a tidy profit, but the kicker turned out to be politics. On a hunch, I mentioned that Mr. Dawson Trask had been one of the delegates to the Colorado Constitutional Convention and had been instrumental in keeping a modicum of common sense in the laws that now ruled our land.
From the moment he heard that, Abraham acted like he thought Trask was close kin to the Second Coming. Then, after he asked if we’d had any excitement on the way East, I hadda go tell him about us turning Sam Bass and his gang around and shipping ’em back to Texas.
More or less. I mighta exaggerated a little.
Good thing my partner ain’t the Pope. I swear the jeweler woulda kissed his ring right then and there, if Dawson had been wearing one. Men that work hard ranch labor as we do wouldn’t git caught dead wearing finger rings…or we might actually be dead. Them things can git you hung up in more nasty places than you can shake a stick at.
We didn’t rush the man, but he seemed to sense our urgency. Two days after we first walked into his office, we were headed back out the door with a bank draft in the amount of $23,094 and more’n $80,000 in gold. Which woulda been a heavy load fer one man to carry without it being noticeable, but between the two of us and our specially reinforced briefcases, we made it work.
“You can’t leave yet, Tam,” he told us, digging out a bottle of the finest blackberry brandy ever made. “I’ll pour, you talk, wet your whistle as needed–but tell me a tale, tale teller. Tell me a tale!”
Guess a little true story like the Sam Bass incident didn’t count.
I thought a bit, then nodded. “Okay. This one is true enough, but it should do. You’ll be meeting my son Cougar next year, unless we decide to make another run this way this fall. Anyway, this happened on the ranch while we were branding calves, jist a couple of weeks ago. Hope you don’t mind if I sing it.”
The city man’s eyebrows rose. “You sing? Go for it, my good man. Go for it.”
“All right, then. This here’s the true song of Cougar and the Cow.
Cougar is my number one son out Colorado way
He’s been a gunslinger but he’s ranching nowadays
The other day while helping the entire crew brand them brand new calves
He demonstrated the danger that every rancher has
The mud was deep where Cougar stood when he got mad at a cow
And he lifted one big booted foot to help her move on out
He kicked ‘er high and he kicked ‘er hard, smacked ‘er right in the tail
But his spur hung up in the hide and hair, and she drug him down the trail
His other foot stayed in the mud till he was all stretched out
And that mama cow drug him around and round and round about
His bride reports that Cougar is jist sore as any old thing
And the moral of the story: Don’t stand and take a swing
Don’t high-boot kick no big old cow while she’s chewing her cud
Your spur might hang up in the tail with your other boot in the mud
I thought that this was funny till my wife told me the truth
She grinned and said now honey, sounds like something you might do!
When I finished the song, Dawson was standing there doing his best not to bust out laughing. We both appreciated the song…and Cougar most definitely did not appreciate it, not even one little bit and most especially not coming from me.
Which of course was half the fun of the thing.
“That really happened?” Abraham asked. And, before Tam could reply, “Where’d you learn to sing like that?”
“It really happened,” I nodded. “Guess I learned to sing listening to the coyotes.”
We headed fer the train station in high good humor. When Coug made his first trip to Philly, he’d find the jeweler already knowing of him–and if Abraham didn’t ask him about Cougar and the Cow, I’d eat Daniel Morgan’s hat.
Which, in case you didn’t know, is one big danged skull topper.