THE RAID AT CRAZYHORSE
wide shoulders carried all the pressures of a ruinous year that fall night in 1886. What he wanted to do was get drunk and forget the whole stinking mess; the effects of the big dry were that bad. The range was brown and brittle and the streams dry. Cattle bawled for lack of water. The long dry spell had put a kink in the whole country.
But it wasn't all the fault of the weather, the events at the tail end of that disastrous year. It was, in the terms of an earlier generation, the way the stick floated. Looking back, an old-timer remarked simply, "They just had to happen. That's all."
The accidents of fate happened, as they will. All these meshed and the wheels began turning the night Sam Harden came to town, all unaware of forces working outside nature itself. He was of the Flag Hardens, big through the shoulders and chest, flat-bellied, lean-hipped, all dark of hair and eye and high-strung and touchy as the wild mustangs roaming the hills. The Flag spread wasn't the biggest—nor the smallest—though most admitted it was the best run in the Territory of Montana; some went so far as to say in the whole western range, from Canada to Mexico.
But despite good management, Flag was in as bad shape as the rest of the ranchers. The market was down, the range overstocked and now—this drought. The Harden boys, Sam, and Dick, as smart as they were, tasted defeat along with the rest. Observers remarked that Sam took it harder; others answered that that was because Sam was the mainspring of the operation. Dick Harden didn't much give
damn about most things.
Sam Harden, the older of the brothers, put his buckskin gelding past the crossroad corner for which the town was named and felt the wind pluck at his sheepskin-lined coat. It had shifted from the north since nightfall and the hint of moisture in it mocked the drought-stricken country.
The cottonwoods around the dark courthouse were waving wildly and throwing off their clouds of cotton when he went past. He stopped at Ketterman's Livery Barn, folding his big hands on the saddle horn, outwardly relaxed. The stableman moved out of the darkness into the dim glow cast by
lantern hung on a nail beside the door.
"Sam, hi-ya," Ora Ketterman said. "Think it'll rain?"
"All right, Ora, hi-ya," Sam answered. "Not much hope." "I reckon. Your brother Dick. He's drunk and raisin' hell." From down the street a wild yell split the night.
"Yeeoowww! I'm a ring-tailed cattymount an' it's my night to howl!"
"That's him," Ora said. "He's
it since right after dinner."
Sam thought moodily, feeling a stir of anger. He leaned forward and said, "Thanks, Ora. Guess I'll be late for the meeting."
"I wouldn't if I was you," Ora said. "Jesse Kenton's in town."
He turned his horse in the direction of the wild yell. Kid brothers were made to be looked after, he told himself philosophically, trying to stem his rising tide of rage.
Dick, if it was he, emptied a six-shooter at the sky and another wild yell sounded out. The street
empty of people. A dark form staggered out from the shadow of the feed store and stood droop-shouldered in the street. Sam could
that his younger brother was trying to reload his pistol.
He kicked his boots out of the stirrups and slipped from his horse. "Gimme that gun, you knothead," he said.
Dick Harden swung his head uncertainly, trying to find the source of the authoritative voice. "Whosh ashking fer my gun?" he demanded in a bubbling voice. "Ain't gonna do it. Gonna shoot—" He weaved back and forth. "Ah, ha, it's good or big brother come for little brother."
"Listen, Dick, you better come with me. I'll get a room at the Stockman's and you can sleep it off." Sam forced himself to speak civilly when what he really wanted to do was knock his younger brother sprawling.
"Hell, no," Dick said unsteadily. "Ain't gonna do it." He fumbled with his pistol and dropped shells on the ground. "Can't find the hole. Maybe I better get one with hair around it." He giggled.
Sam took his arm and Dick shook it off. "Leave me be," he snarled.
"What got you started, Dick?"
Dick put his arms around Sam and sagged against him, laying his head on Sam's shoulder and beginning to whimper. "Didn't you hear?" he moaned. "Liz Porter killed herself this mornin'. A purty girl like that shot herself right in the head, Sam." He pushed away from Sam and tried to reload his gun again. "That damned buddy o' your'n," he said fiercely. "I'm gonna kill 'im, Sam—"
Sam was shocked at the suicide of the prettiest girl in Crossroad Corners but that didn't stay his anger. He slapped the gun out of Dick's hand and kicked it away. All the frustration of the long, hard summer was in his rock-hard fist as he slammed it against Dick's chin. He knocked the younger man flat. Then he lifted him to his shoulder and trudged down the street to the Stockman's Hotel.
Molly McGee's pretty brown eyes widened when she saw him coming in. She didn't waste words, though, reaching for a key and heading for the stairs ahead of him. He tramped up the steps, watching the motion of her hips under the linsey-woolsey skirt and liking what he saw.
been drinking all day," she said. "Ever since he heard—"
"It hit me, too," Sam said.
"But not enough to send you drinking. I'm surprised he passed out. He doesn't usually—"
"I knocked him out," Sam said.
"Oh," she said. She bent to the door, unlocked it, and threw it open.
Dick moaned as Sam placed him on the bed. He straightened. "Haven't time to undress him," he said. "Anyway, he doesn't know."
She followed him out of the room.
I'll bring him coffee when he wakes up and starts yelling," she said. She placed a soft hand on his arm. "Don't you worry about him, Sam. You've got enough to worry about."
"Thanks, Molly," he said. He went down the hallway, down the stairs and back to his patient horse still standing where he'd left him. He fisted the reins and walked toward The Mint, seeing the momentary glow of a cigarette
the alley between the Ace Bar and the courthouse.
he thought. He swung down the alley that led to the back door of The Mint and tied his horse to a worn hitching post, a big, dark-moving shape against the black of night. Then he pushed open the back door of The Mint and walked down a dark corridor, toward a gush of yellow light and the bum of voices.
Sam strolled in through the open door and saw with a mild shock, despite what Ketterman had told him, that Jesse Kenton was sitting at the green-covered card table, dominating the group in the room.
"Hi-ya, Sam." Kenton nodded, his hard bright eyes cold and unfriendly. He held a copy of the
his hand. Marv Teller, Kenton's gunfighter, leaned against the wall behind his boss, his ankles crossed, his eyes dull as lead.
The others in the room were George Balfont, from Limber Creek, and Reno Milser of the Circle M, all as hard-pressed as Sam Harden.
"Where's Dick?" Balfont asked Harden.
Sam reddened and didn't answer.
Kenton's voice, colorless and without inflection, asked, "Don't you know, George?"
I wouldn't be asking if I knew," Balfont answered testily. He was a handsome man, with bold brown eyes and prematurely gray hair.
Kenton stared at Sam Harden, his eyes narrowed under bushy, blond brows. He deliberately took out his watch; the lamplight glinted on it as he flicked the cover open. His eyes returned to Harden and he said,
I'll give him five minutes . .."
Sam returned the stare. "Don't wait," he said in a hard, flat voice. "Dick's drunk and won't be here."
"It's his range, too," Reno Milser said petulantly. "I say—"
"Don't say it right now," Kenton said, shaking the paper, his face ugly with anger. "I want to read this juicy bit to all of you before we go into anything else." He looked at them, first one then another, scowling darkly. He shook out the paper, cleared his throat and read in a heavy monotone: "I, the undersigned, do hereby notify the public that I claim the valley off from Crazyhorse Creek, six miles east of Crossroad Corners, to the source of the creek south of the railroad, as stock range. Signed, John Cooney, also known as Tex and Texas John Cooney." Kenton lifted his head and glared at them as though they were responsible for the published notice of preemption.
All of them stared back at him.
"There goes our winter range!" Reno Maser complained. "It's not enforceable in any court of law," George Balfont said uncertainly.
Sam looked at him, wondering if George was thinking about Liz Porter. What went through that handsome head? But he said, "Not any more than our claim is." His voice was unchanged, hard and flat.
Jesse Kenton shifted his angry glance to Sam. "Whatever you do Sam, don't go maverick on us now."
"We don't have to worry about Sam," Balfont said quickly when he sa ...