I'm slowly but surely getting back into writing, despite the rather stultifying effects of some serious medication the doctors prescribed for me after my heart attack last year. I'm hopeful that I'll be fully back in harness by the end of the year.
To demonstrate that I'm on the mend, here's a snippet from the fifth novel in my Western series, the Ames Archives. I hope to publish it later this year. The novel doesn't yet have a title, but it'll involve a number of issues from previous books in the series, including the first sales of horses from the breeding herd Walt bought in Mexico in the third volume, "Gold on the Hoof".
In addition, Walt's piece of land further up the Wet Mountain Valley in Colorado, about twenty miles above his horse ranch, the Rafter A, is in close proximity to the burgeoning silver mines near Rosita. He's going to have all sorts of problems preventing over-eager prospectors from overrunning his property - not to mention underhanded would-be mine owners scheming to get their hands on it at almost any cost, up to (and if necessary including) Walt's life.
In this excerpt, Walt has taken the first horses from his Spanish breeding herd via the transcontinental railroad to New York state, to the spring horse auctions in Albany in 1877.
ALBANY, NEW YORK STATE
Sean’s brother Mike had arranged to rent a large, well-grassed fenced field, complete with a stable block large enough to accommodate all the horses. The hands slept in the hayloft, and took turns keeping watch over the animals. Mike had warned that there were always thieves looking for easy prey during the spring horse auctions, so Walt took precautions against that.
They arrived a week before the auctions were due to begin. At first they were ignored, being far enough out of town to be away from the social whirl that was part and parcel of the event. However, when Walt rode one of the best of his horses into town to buy supplies, heads turned to follow him all down the street. It was a gray stallion, so light it was almost pure white in color, with a proud, arrogant gait and its head raised in challenge to all the lesser horses it passed. It made a very impressive sight, and Walt knew it. He had dressed to match the horse, in the best business suit he could procure in Denver. He did not strap on his usual gunbelt, since no-one else was openly carrying a gun, but wore a cut-down Smith & Wesson Russian model .44 revolver in a shoulder holster beneath his jacket.
When he came out of the store, having placed his order and received assurances that it would be delivered that afternoon, he found half a dozen interested men standing around, examining his horse closely. They had many questions about where he’d obtained it. He took the opportunity to describe how he’d found his breeding herd down in Mexico, bought it from Don Thomas O’Halloran shortly before his death, and taken it back to Colorado despite the best efforts of a villainous Mexican bandido to steal his horses. Out of the corner of his eye, Walt noticed a young man scribbling intently in a notebook as he listened, but thought no more of it at the time.
“So what happened with this Enrique Sandoval in the end?” one of his audience asked jovially. “Did he give up his attempts to steal the herd?”
Walt grinned tightly. “In a manner o’ speakin’, yeah. He challenged me face to face on the morning of my wedding. I killed him.”
There was a sudden appalled silence. Walt reminded himself that in the relatively safe eastern states, few had any personal experience of the thunder of guns and the settling of disputes in the most permanent way possible.
“You… you killed him?” the young man with the notebook asked, pencil poised, eyes wide.
“What else should I have done?” Walt asked reasonably. “He and some of his men came down the street at us. I left his men to my guards, and handled Sandoval myself. He was good with a gun, but not good enough when push came to shove.”
A man who’d stood further back in the crowd snorted aloud. “I’ll say he wasn’t! You men probably haven’t heard much about Walt Ames, but he’s a known man out west. He killed Hunting Wolf, a Kiowa war chief, in Kansas back in ’66, and faced down Satank himself a few days later. A few years after that, he hunted down the men who murdered his wife. That’s how he lost his left hand, but he’s still a dead shot with his right. He’s earned a reputation as a good man to have on your side, but a bad man to cross.”
“You have the advantage of me, sir,” Walt said politely. “How do you know so much about me?”
“I’ve traveled a lot out West in connection with railroad business, including the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. My name’s Loren Atkinson. I was in the area when you ran into the Furlong gang in Pueblo, and read about it in the papers. You killed all of them, didn’t you?”
“I had help, but yes, they ended up dead. Pleased to meet you, sir.” They shook hands.
The young man was scribbling again. Atkinson nodded to him. “This is Fred Lowery, a reporter for the local paper. I daresay your name will be in it tomorrow.”
“May I come out to see your horses, sir?” the reporter asked eagerly. “If they’re all as good as this one, and with a name like yours behind them, they’re sure to attract a lot of interest.”
“Sure, we’re about three miles out of town on the Schenectady road. Come out any time. If I’m not there, my men will show you the horses. I’ll let them know you’ll be coming.”
Next morning, a banner headline on the front page blazoned Walt’s name before everyone in the area. Two men came out from Albany to see the horses, bringing copies of the newspaper with them, somewhat to Walt’s embarrassment. The reporter had recounted his exploits out West in breathless detail, and described how he’d brought back a breeding herd of the finest Spanish strain of horses from Mexico. The article concluded with a promise of a follow-up the next day, describing the horses in more detail.
The reporter duly arrived that afternoon, bringing with him more men who wanted to see Walt’s horses for themselves. Several tried to buy them at once, at a discounted price, but Walt refused. “We’ll wait for the auction and let the public set the price,” he said. “I’ve got a pretty good idea what they’re worth, and I don’t want to settle for less.”
Mike Flanagan had taken note of the article in the newspaper, and was on hand to spread the word about the hunting business he was entering into with his brother Sean out in Colorado. “Walt Ames has partnered with us, and we’ve set up a separate company to handle it,” he told his eager audience. “They’ll guarantee a good hunt – our guides know where to find the best trophies in the Rocky Mountains – and they’ll provide as much luxury as possible during the trip, including the best food and wines. It’ll be the experience of a lifetime for any sportsman.” He was soon noting down names and addresses for future reference.
After the visitors had left, Mike joined Walt, ecstatic at the day’s events. “This is the finest possible way for us to kick off both businesses – your horse sales, and my – our – hunting outfit. You just watch. You’ll have people falling over themselves to buy a top-quality horse from a known gunfighter, and they’ll come to me, too, to book a hunt that they know you’ll help to arrange. This is great!”
“I’m not a gunfighter,” Walt informed him frostily, feeling annoyed. “I just happened to come off best in the fights I’ve had so far. I could meet up with a better man at any time. Don’t use that word when you talk about me, please.”
“I won’t, but please don’t sell your reputation short, either. It’s worth money to us.”
He was proved right at the auction. Walt’s horses attracted enormous interest, not just because of their quality – they were as good as the best from other breeders, and better than most – but also because of who and what he was. Bidding was brisk when his animals entered the ring, and all sold for higher prices than he had expected. The two dozen horses went for an average of six hundred and fifty dollars each, and he could have sold twice as many if he’d brought them.
The auction led to another fortuitous meeting. Walt had just finished signing a bill of sale for the last of his horses when a voice behind him said, “I don’t suppose you remember me, Mr. Ames.”
He turned, to find a tall man in his late thirties or early forties standing before him, with an attractive woman on his arm. He thought swiftly. “Your face is familiar, sir, but I’m afraid I can’t place the name.”
“That’s not surprising. You met me more than ten years ago. I was a captain in the U.S. Army.”
Walt’s brow cleared. “Captain Gordon! You were in command at Pond Creek when our wagon train passed through there, on our way to Colorado Territory in ’66.”
“Yes, just after you dealt with Hunting Wolf. I gave you a letter of commendation for the help you provided to the Army in getting the train through. May I introduce my wife, Anne?”
“Very pleased to meet you, ma’am.”
She smiled. “And I to meet you, Mr. Ames. Your reputation precedes you.”
Gordon nodded. “I was telling my wife about you after we read that article in the newspaper. I left the Army as a major last year, and came home to my parents’ horse breeding farm near here. My father has retired, and I’ve taken over the family business. I understand you breed horses in Colorado now?”
“I sure do, at the Rafter A ranch in the Wet Mountain Valley near Pueblo.”
“I understand it’s a rather larger establishment than mine, but we do our best here, too. Will you be sending more horses to our auctions each year?”
“I plan to. It’s a good market for them.”
“We may be able to help each other. I want to buy good breeding stock from time to time, to introduce new blood to our herd. You’ll probably do the same. We can sell or exchange good horses with each other. In addition, you might find it useful to have a local agent you can trust, who can accommodate your horses and help your representatives at the annual auction. I’m sure you won’t be able to come here yourself every year.”
“You speak wisdom, sir. Perhaps we can discuss it at greater length while I’m visiting.”
“That will be my pleasure.”
Walt ended up being the Major’s guest overnight at his breeding farm, which was an extensive operation and clearly very professionally run. They agreed to explore options for the future together, and the Major promised to visit the Rafter A later that year, bringing his wife to meet Colleen.
~ ~ ~
Jim Dunnett was waiting at the station in Denver to meet the train from Cheyenne as it pulled in. He greeted Walt and his men and escorted them to a nearby hotel, where they’d spend the night before taking another train down to Pueblo. Walt saw his people settled in, then met Jim in a nearby high-toned saloon. They ordered drinks, and sat down at a table against the far wall, far enough away from other patrons to be able to talk undisturbed.
“What did the assayer have to say about those rocks?” he asked, sipping his whiskey.
The lawman shrugged. “He reckoned they weren’t anything much. There was silver there, all right, but in low concentrations, only about two to three ounces per ton of ore. That’s not enough to bother with digging it out. Sorry it isn’t better news.”
“Oh, that’s not bad news at all. It means I don’t have to worry about prospectors finding something rich, and causing a rush that overruns my land.”
“Not on these results, no, but the assayer warned they were only from one small sample. He reckons he’d need to test a lot more rocks, from across the width of the area where these were found, and also from deeper down, before he could say for sure what’s there. He told me some of the silver mines didn’t show much in the first shallow samples. They had to dig down fifty, sixty feet before they found the good stuff.”
“I get it. I’ll wait and see whether any of those black rocks in other places turn up pay dirt. If they do, it might be worth digging deeper on my land; but if I started that myself, without a real good reason to do so, the miners in the area couldn’t help but see and hear the explosion of my dynamite charges. They’d want to know why I was digging there. I’d as soon not give them cause to wonder about that.”
“Makes sense to me. So, how did the hoss sales go?”
“Really well!” Walt told Jim about their success. “It looks like I’ve found a local partner there, who’ll put up my horses when I send them every year, and my men too, and help look after them. He’s a former Army officer I met comin’ out here back in 1866. He’ll be visitin’ us soon to look over the Rafter A. This might turn into somethin’ good for both of us.”
“I hope it does. You’re stretched awful thin, tryin’ to run your hoss ranch, and your freight business, and this new hunting enterprise, and your half-share in that cattle ranch in Texas. I dunno how you find the time to stay on top of it all.”
“I couldn’t do it on my own. I hire good men to run each of them, and take the load off my back. That means I mostly need to supervise. That’s a lot easier.”
They arrived at Pueblo late the following afternoon. Walt sent his men to a local hotel for the night, then hurried home, where Colleen and the children were waiting eagerly. He kissed his wife lovingly as his three-year-old son Thomas – named for Colleen’s father – tried to climb his leg, and baby Samanta – named for Colleen’s mother – burbled her delight at being in Daddy’s arms again. He handed the baby to Colleen and picked up Thomas, squeezing him tightly.
Colleen leaned against him contentedly. “I got your telegraph message about the auction. That’s wonderful news!”
He nodded. “Our two dozen horses fetched over fifteen thousand dollars between them. Even with the costs of taking them all the way there, along with so many grooms, we still cleared over twelve thousand dollars. Next year I’ll send two to three times as many.” He told her about meeting Major Gordon, and his forthcoming visit.
“That’s wonderful! It’ll give us someone we can trust halfway across the country. You won’t be on tenterhooks, wondering if our hands are coping without you.”
“Yeah, and we’ll probably do business with him ourselves, and he with us.”
She hugged him again. “That’s a great start to the Rafter A’s sales. Let’s hope we can move the rest of this year’s horses as easily, and those Nastas is bringing. He telegraphed that he’ll be at the Rafter A with a score of his people late next month. He wants them to work on the ranch over the summer months, to learn how we breed and raise our horses.”
Walt grinned. “It’ll be great to see him again. We’ll plan to go out there with the kids for a week or two. We can spend time with Nastas, check on the builder’s progress, and go through the ranch’s books. I also want to ride up to Rosita and see what’s happening at the new Bassick mine. It’s not far from our land. I don’t want the mine’s workings straying over the boundary.”
Colleen looked worried. “What if they have? How will you stop them?”
“They just took the southern half of Fremont County, where we are, and made it the new Custer County. I wouldn’t have renamed it to commemorate a man who led his entire command to their deaths because he was too damned careless to reconnoiter what he was facing, but I guess that’s politicians for you. Ula’s the county seat now, about three miles from Rosita, so I’ll see the County Sheriff there. If he won’t help, I’ll have to do it the hard way, with lawyers and courts, but I reckon a word in the right ear should help. I can be real persuasive when I have to be.”
She winked. “As soon as the children are asleep, you can show me just how persuasive you are.”
He winked back at her. “Promise?”
I hope you enjoyed it. Look for more in due course.