Cowboy Times Vol. 1: Seven Devils Sample

    As Ryan approached the big grey, his head came up and his ears went fully erect. The cowboy moved slowly to the point that the ol’ bronc’s nostrils began to flare. Then came that low, rolling snort that both cowboys knew all too well. If the horse was a mountain lion, he would be snarling. Instinctively, Ryan knew to stop there and buy a little time. Nolan quietly observed - things were getting tense.

     "Easy boy . . . ." Ryan cooed. "This ain’t your first cold morning."

     With some time and assurance, Wolf relaxed just enough that Ryan was able to approach and get his hand on the lead rope. Untying it, he led the grey out away from the other horses and put him through some tight circles on the end of the lead rope. Nolan had the brush and curry comb at work removing the snow off of a lined back Dun gelding he called Rockin' Chair.

     "Sure is a fine morning to get your head piled into the rocks," he offered. "Makes a feller thankful he brought his old dead broke charger just right for old ladies and kids."

     Ryan ignored the comment and stayed with the exercise routine. Before too long, he had managed to get his saddle secured in place and began stalling for enough time for that cold backed mountain lion to warm up a little. Wolf stood tied to a tree shivering and shaking with his tail tucked firmly between his legs. Nolan was throwing some sandwiches together at the kitchen boxes. All four dogs encircled him with great anticipation.

     "Why the hell don’t you saddle one of those other two ponies you brought in?" he inquired. "I won’t tell your girlfriend."

     "Ol’ Wolf’s never bluffed me out yet. I’d hate to get that started now."

     "Your funeral," Nolan muttered.

     Ryan was rustling around getting gear ready for the day. He rolled an extra pair of gloves and a wool sweater into a rain slicker and gingerly tied it behind his saddle. In the process, he kept one eye on the saddle strings and one eye monitoring the ears on the big grey gelding; the ol’ booger was still shivering and grumpy. Once the lunch fixings were completed and loaded into saddle bags, the two cowboys sat across from each other and began a strategy session.

     "This snow will give us a serious advantage for now," Ryan offered. "I vote we stick with the main trails and cover as much country as we can this morning. With any luck, the escapee will have crossed a trail somewhere and we can pick up his tracks."

     "Sounds like a plan. You know this country a little better than I do. What direction do you propose we take him in if we do get lucky enough to locate him?" Nolan wondered.

     "Well. . . down country is always going to be our best bet. We can’t get out the bottom of the drainage with him. It gets way too steep and thick down there, but we should be able to pick up the trail going through the saddle just below Scott Peak on the West side of the canyon. If we get him through that saddle, it’s three miles down to the just above the old Clifford place."

     "Any other places we can get out of this canyon?" Nolan continued.

     "There are likely some other options, but we may not know until we can get up high and study it out. Let’s figure on going out under Scott Peak. I know we can get a truck and trailer to that trail head."

     "Okay. So do you want to stay together this morning or split up?" Nolan inquired.

     "Let’s split up. You go up country from here and I’ll go down. If either one of us locates Mr. Bull or his tracks, fire one pistol round into the air as a signal. Whoever gets back to camp first can hobble out horses to graze and start supper."

     "That’ll work."

     "Leave the shotgun stashed here in camp for now. Let’s see what the day brings," Ryan stated.

     With a viable plan between them, the two cow punchers tidied up the kitchen boxes and the gear they would leave behind and covered them with tarps. Ryan checked the knots on the halter ropes of the horses they would leave in camp to ensure they wouldn't be spending time hunting horses upon their return.

     Still a little uptight about what was inevitable, Ryan approached his chosen mount for the day and slowly untied the halter rope from the high line. Wolf was still snorting a little and seemed coiled up as tight as a two dollar alarm clock. Ryan had no trouble mounting his horse Rockin' Chair. As soon as he was in the saddle, he worked the Dun through a few tight circles to see if he had any kinks left in him. Feeling none, he settled in and sat his horse looking very much forward to having a front row seat for whatever it was that ol’ Wolf had in mind for Ryan.

     Ryan was leading the grey around some, watching him close for any sign of relaxation. Seeing none and realizing that the morning was wearing on, he finally decided to just face the music and climb aboard.

     All four cow dogs were scattered out, quietly observing from a distance.

     Gathering his reins, Ryan stood on the left side of the horse sizing up the area surrounding them. Wolf was still shaking like a leaf and looking wild-eyed. He reached in front of the stirrup leather with his left hand and slid the latigo on his front cinch just one notch tighter. Then, slipping his fingers under the layers of latigo, he tested the tension and it felt just about right.

     "Why don’t you bring ol’ Rockin' Chair over here and block for me? At least that way I might stand a chance of getting my butt in the saddle," he said.

     Nolan moved the Dun horse to stand broadside across Wolf’s nose, effectively blocking a big forward jump. Ryan screwed up his courage, adjusted the length of his reins one last time, and stabbed his left foot into the stirrup. Grabbing a good hold of the black mane hair hanging in front of the saddle horn, he swung into the saddle quickly and got his right foot into the stirrup on the far side. Instantly, he felt the big grey gelding bunch his muscles, and he knew he was in for a battle. Gripping the reins tightly, Ryan turned his toes out in the stirrups and gave Wolf a gentle nudge with his spurs. Ordinarily, that would have been the signal to move out. Oh, he moved out alright. The first big jump put them into Nolan and the Dun just as expected. Thankfully, because of the contact, Ryan survived in good shape and was well seated for the next big jump. Like an over sized jack rabbit, ol’ Wolf proceeded to jump and kick across the small meadow squealing his displeasure with every move. Ryan was doing well staying in time and in the saddle, and Nolan kept pace with them yelling encouragement. At first, there were no significant hazards and Ryan was beginning to enjoy himself. He even thought about grabbing his hat and fanning the grumpy ol’ grey. That thought evaporated quickly when Wolf’s front feet landed in a depression in the ground hidden by the tall grass and he stumbled badly.

     Throwing his head down hard between his front legs to catch himself, the ol’ bronc jerked his rider forward and out of balance, pulling a good amount of rein through Ryan's clenched fingers in the process. When the big gelding regained his feet, the cowboy was slumped over the saddle horn and badly out of position. With the next big powerful jump, Nolan could see a lot of daylight between the saddle seat and his ol’ buddy’s backside, and he instinctively knew that things were going in an ugly direction. Ryan fought hard to re-gain his seat and timing but with each new jump, he lost ground. Sensing the shift in weight, Wolf took the opportunity to seal the victory and jumped hard to the left, effectively sending the cowboy head first in a high arch toward mother earth. That development was bad enough, but as Ryan’s left leg came over the saddle, his foot hung in the stirrup temporarily and jerked his body back, generating a very nice flip just before he made contact with the frozen ground. Nolan had a front row seat to all the action and his eyes winced hard when he saw Ryan hit the ground. It looked like his left shoulder was the first point of contact, but it got pretty sloppy after that. Coming up to the scene of the crash, he reined the Dun to a stop and swung down, running over to his fallen comrade. By now, Ryan had rolled onto his back and as Nolan knelt down beside him, his eyes were wide and he was sucking for air like a fish out of water. Archie the dog, hovered near whining about his concern for the situation.

     "Damn," Noland grumbled, "He got your air." After what seemed like twenty minutes, Ryan was able to get some air into his lungs and had rolled over onto right side gripping his left shoulder, growling in pain. "Talk to me you dumb turd!" Nolan pleaded. "Tell me it’s not broke."

     Ryan continued to growl and moan, pulling his knees up in the process. Nolan knelt beside him, anxiously awaiting some sort of encouraging news from the fallen cowpuncher.

     Finally, Ryan began to relax a little and said faintly, "Damn the luck, I thought I had him rode."

     "You did . . . . right up until he stumbled," Nolan observed.

     Rubbing his shoulder, Ryan gingerly began to move his left arm up and down. Squeezing his eyes shut and gritting his teeth, he rotated the arm in a full circle.

     "Well???" Nolan inquired.

     "I don’t think it’s busted, but it hurts like hell."

     Relieved, Nolan stood up and looked around the meadow for the horse called Wolf. He couldn’t see him. His Dun stood dutifully right where he had dropped the reins.

     Looking back down at Ryan he laughed a little to himself and said, "Hell of a way to start the morning off."

     Nolan found the big Grey in a patch of lodge pole timber about two hundred yards from the clearing where they had camped. His bridle reins were hung up in some downed poles. Nolan stepped down and freed the reins. In a minute more, he was jogging the Dun back to camp with the bronc in tow. They met up with Ryan who was standing by the fire pit still massaging his sore shoulder.

     As the two horses approached, Ryan stared intently at his choice of saddle horses for the day. He didn’t say anything at first; he just walked over and took the reins from his buddy. He didn’t seem to care that his old felt hat was seriously disfigured. The crown was all pushed out and there was a big streak of black dirt ground into the front and one side. His coat was wet and muddy on the side he had laid on. None of this seemed to matter. He and Wolf were having a silent conversation, eyes locked on each other. After a full minute had passed, Ryan led the Grey in a couple of circles and then just stepped on like he knew what he was doing. Nolan watched as the two of them trotted around the meadow a couple of times.

     "Adios Bart," Ryan proclaimed as he headed out on his assigned route. "See you in the Spring!"