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Thread: Pathways of Thorns - chapter 3

  1. #1
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    Pathways of Thorns - chapter 3

    After the cattle were safely delivered in Abilene,Mr. Starks paid off the crew, and most of them headed for the south side of town. It was the area on the south side of the railroad tracks that held the interest of most of the cowboys. This was where the Saloons and the girls were numerous and quite available, as long as the money lasted.


    When Ethan saw that Rio had stayed in camp, he walked over and asked, “Not going to town Rio? I'm not going because I plan on getting married after next year's drive and need to save all my money. You on the other hand, are young and unattached. You've done a man's job on this drive, and you are entitled to blow off some steam and have some fun. Why don't you take off and catch up with them?”

    A few seconds passed before Rio responded. “I appreciate what you said Ethan. Maybe next year I'll go with the boys, but this is the most money I've ever had. My family never had any money. I'm going to send half of it back to them.”

    Ethan walked over and grabbed him by the shoulder and said, “Rio, I reckon I'm pretty proud that I pushed Starks to hire you that day you walked into our camp.”
    Ducking his head to hide his embarrassment, Rio said, I came into this country with nothing but some scraps on my back. Mr. Starks lent me a horse to ride, you gave me a pistol to use, several of the guys gave me various items of clothing to get me by. I dearly appreciate everything you and all the rest have done for me. However, if I get to ride on the drive next year, I'm going to be riding on a horse that I paid for, wearing clothes that I bought, and carrying a pistol that I own. I don't like owing folks.”

    Ethan had been cleaning his rifle while Rio talked. “Rio, I suppose you and I are a lot alike. I respect what you want to do. However, scratch me off the list. I was just a boy when I came into this part of the country, and an old prospector gave me that gun. It saved my life a couple of times. So hang on to it, and maybe someday you will find someone deserving of passing it along to.”

    Grabbing Rio by the arm, he said, “Come on, let's get down to the telegraph office before we both fall to temptation and lose our money. Then we can ride out to camp and feel sorry for ourselves for missing out on all the fun!”

    The next day, Mr. Starks walked over to Rio and said, “Son, you did a fine job on this drive, and from what Ethan tells me, you have a good head on your shoulders. There's always a place on my ranch for someone like that. Job's yours if you want it.”
    Standing straight, and looking Starks in the eye, Rio said, “I certainly do want the job Mr. Starks, and I thank you very much.”

    By noon, all the crew were in the saddle on their way back to Texas, complete with hangovers, bruises, and black eyes.


    For the better part of a year, Rio worked on the ranch until the time arrived to start another trail drive. On his first drive, Rio had started out riding drag, a position normally assigned to the riders with the least amount of skill or judgment in the handling of cattle. This time, he was given the job of riding Left Point, second only in importance to the Right Point assignment, manned by Ethan.


    With a few minor exceptions, this drive had proceeded smoothly as they moved northward thru Texas and Oklahoma. A half day into Kansas, Starks rode up to Rio's location and stopped to talk. “I sent Ethan forward to check on the water ahead. He's overdue in returning. You're the best tracker in the outfit. I need you to follow his trail, and find Ethan and make sure he is o.k. This area is used by a lot of outlaws and renegade Indians. Keep your eyes open. We will hold the herd here until you return.”


    After an hours ride, as Rio topped a small hill, he spotted Ethan. He was standing facing four mounted men with his hand positioned to draw his pistol. Using a stand of thick timber as cover, Rio was able to move down without being noticed, until he was less than fifty yards away. When he rode out of the timber, he was to the left of the riders, putting them in a crossfire position between Ethan and himself. Clearly, the outlaws had tired of talking, and were ready to start shooting, so Rio spoke up, “Howdy Ethan. Mind if I join in this little disagreement?” Without taking his eyes off the riders, Ethan answered, “Why not? Nobody I'd rather have siding me.”

    The leader of the outlaws clearly did not like this change in developments. If shooting started, some of his men were going to die, and one of them could be him. Without a word, he turned his horse and led his men up the hill to the right. Ethan and I followed them to the top of the hill and watched as they rode out of sight.
    Thanks partner”, Ethan said as they started back toward the herd. “They wanted us to give them fifty cattle as payment for crossing their land. I knew they didn't own this land, and told them so. They threatened to kill me as an example for the rest of the crew, and it looked like they were getting ready to make good on that threat until they saw you riding up. Now I'm a fair hand with a gun, but I knew I was going to come out on the short end of this deal. I don't mind telling you, I was mighty glad to see you flank them as you rode out of that timber. As you know, Debby and I intend to get married when we get back home, and this would have been a terrible time to die. Of course, I guess there ain't no good time.”


    The next day the drive hadn't been on the move for more than a couple of hours when they heard several gunshots in the direction Ethan had been riding. Rio yelled at the nearest rider to tell Starks to hold the herd, then took off in the direction of the shots. When Rio found Ethan, he was dead, lying face down alongside his horse. After checking the tracks of the attackers horses, Rio knew that the killers were the same men they had met the day before. Clearly, they had waited in ambush, and killed Ethan without warning. He never even had a chance to draw his weapon before his body was riddled with bullets.

    As he sat alongside the body of the man that had been like a father to him, Rio realized that if he would have started shooting when he rode down on those men the day before, his friend might well be alive today. A bitter lesson was learned that day – Never let the enemy choose when and where they will fight.

    Ethan Sand's body was taken back to camp and buried as Mr. Starks read a passage from his Bible. The next morning, he approached Mr. Starks, and said, “I hate to leave you short handed, but Ethan has been like a father to me from the time we first met. There is no law around to turn this over to. Someone has to make these men pay, and I guess I have it to do. If I can have what wages I've earned to this point, I'd be much obliged.”

    Mr. Starks peeled off his pay, and as he handed it over, said “Wish I could go with you, I surely do. You be careful boy, but you get it done. When it's done, there's a job waiting for you anytime you want it.” Rio stopped by the chuck wagon and asked the cook if he would sell his sawed off shotgun. The old grizzled cook knew what the kid had in mind, and as he handed over the shotgun, refused his offer of money. Looking Rio in the eye he said, “When I was younger, I covered a lot of country, and had my share of close calls with both Indians and outlaws. You listen to me, when you find those men, make sure you surprise them, and kill them before they have a chance to do it to you. This is serious business. Kill them anyway you can. Make sure you come out alive.” Rio nodded his head, and took off to pick up the killer's trail.

    Three days passed before he eased up on their campfire. All four of them were sitting by the fire, enjoying their supper. These men had given Ethan no warning, and they were not going to get one from him. Stepping out of the brush, into their camp,he saw them look up. Two men went down from the two barrels of the sawed off shotgun. In a flash, he dropped it, drew his pistol. And continued firing before the shotgun had even hit the ground. It was over in seconds. After collecting their guns, and horses, Rio rode away leaving the killers where they had fallen.


    Upon arrival in the next town, Rio went directly to the Western Union office and sent a telegram to Abilene that would be waiting for Mr. Starks when the herd arrived. It read, “Job done. Signed, Rio.” He then sold the outlaw's guns and horses. Ethan had no family to notify or to leave the money with, so Rio rode back to Texas and gave it, along with his own wages, to the girl that Ethan had intended to marry.
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  2. #2
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    Hi Barnburner, just catching up with this story and its another great read. Paintings are lovely too. Well done and thanks again
    Sometimes...I remember better with my eyes closed

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  3. #3
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    Always like the stories of the old west. Looking forward to the nest chapter.

  4. #4
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    Barney, great story and I do like your painting, thankyou for your stories

  5. #5
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    Katie, thank you very much. So glad you are enjoying my story. I've got 10 chapters written, and I may not be the best judge of my own work, but I really think this is the best one I've done.

    Jasmine, I appreciate that. Hopefully I will get the next chapter posted soon. Just got to come up with an image for it.

    Pat, Thank you so much. I'm delighted that you like the story, and I hope you will continue to find it entertaining as it makes it's twists and turns.
    Last edited by barnburner; 07-28-2011 at 06:22 AM.
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