Thursday, November 29, 2007


Black anger
Welling in the soul of my despair
Seeks vengeance
On the one by whom I am betrayed
And yet the darkness itself
Wreaks havoc
On my spirit
And hammers me with the blows
Of self demolition
As I dwell within the pit
Of my own creation
For my thoughts
Are egoistic
And not centered
In the One who can save me
From myself.

For those of you who might read too much into the brief expression above -- don't. It rises from a moment of frustration that was simply exaggerated through imagining how some might feel who are consumed with anger -- and then applying my own resolution (yet not my own, but God's) to the problem; namely, that Christ bears all burdens when we allow Him to do so. He can lift even the darkest despair from the shoulders of those who trust in Him.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Trade Show Season

Trade Show today. I don't know why, but I love doing Trade Shows. I enjoy the interaction with potential customers. I enjoy qualifying the "browsers." I enjoy selling what I do to those who are interested. I enjoy figuring out what makes people "tick." I enjoy the challenge of "unlocking" the potential customer and turning him into a customer. It's like a giant puzzle with tremendous rewards for each piece that you put into place. -- OK, I guess those are the reasons that I like doing Trade Shows.

I have two more days of this current Trade Show. I'm supposed to be at another one -- in another state -- which overlaps with this one. I will decide tomorrow whether to stay here (if it continues to be productive) or go to the other one. Next week is another show in a different state. 'Tis the season for Trade Shows, fa la la la la la la la la.....

I was pleased today when the account representative from the marketing company that we use brought a couple of her colleagues by to see our booth. She started telling them how the way we had done things was the proper way -- then she told them that I probably should be teaching classes on how to work a Trade Show. It made me feel pretty good. I kept waiting for the "shoe to drop" and hear what I wasn't doing correctly but it never came. Yeah, pretty cool.

I'm bringing one of my employees in tomorrow who has never worked a Trade Show. He has a lot of potential. It will be fun "breaking him in." We'll see how well he picks it up.

Hopefully I will get something posted on Billy before the week is out. It's "in-my-head" but I don't have it written out yet. It's difficult for me to get in the right frame of mind for that project while I'm pumped up with the Trade Show. We'll see how the week goes.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Been Gone But I'm Back

In case some of you wondered why I haven't posted in a few days, it was because we were traveling last week. We went down to the Houston area to see the in-laws. It was cool and rainy the entire time we were there.

On Saturday I gave a presentation in Bastrop for a customer. Then on Sunday we made the long drive back to the Panhandle. Just a note of interest -- from my house to Omaha, Nebraska, a couple of weeks ago was 625 miles. It was 625 miles to my in-laws house near Sealy, Texas (close to Houston). It helps to put into perspective just how big the state is.

The trip back on Sunday was a little rough. We hit snow between Rising Star and Cross Plains. The traffic was heavy and we came upon one major wreck. We finally ran out of the snow around Snyder. It really slowed the travel.

How about those Aggies??! The Big 12 certainly put a kink in all of the polls this week. And then there's Arkansas. I have a hard time rooting for the Razorbacks, but I'm please they beat LSU. I had Missouri picked to beat the Jayhawks. I've felt all along they had the better team.

This week will be busy again. I have a Trade Show in Amarillo starting tomorrow and then will drive to Wichita, Kansas, on Wednesday night for the Kansas Livestock Association annual convention. No rest for the weary.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving Thought

The early morning frost reminds me
Of the approaching end of year
With holidays and gathering
Of the ones that I hold dear.

It is the time of celebration
For the harvest of the fields;
It is a time of giving thanks
For the earth’s abundant yields.

As I think of all the blessings
That my family has received
I marvel that the One above
In whom I have believed

Would look upon me with such favor,
Unworthy as I am
To be honored with such blessing.
And I reflect on how He came

To earth to join in our toil
That is filled with daily strife
And that He gave His very all
That we might have eternal life.

Then I realize this is what
We should truly thank Him for –
He loved us so very much
That He opened heaven’s door

To those who would believe
In God’s only Son
Who toiled upon this earth
Until His work was done.

Now it is the harvest of
The children that He sought
And we should thank Him daily
For our lives which He has bought.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Billy - 9

Billy was headed up the trail for Tom’s wagons by mid-afternoon. He was in no hurry and hoped to catch up to them just before they camped for the night. As he rode up the trail he kept replaying the last few days with Tad in his mind. It was surprising how little he knew about the boy. Usually after several days on the trail you learned a lot about an individual – especially a kid. They liked to talk of their exploits. Not this one. It wasn’t that he was quiet – just evasive. Tad talked big, but the things he described sounded like they were out of a dime novel. Every time Billy had tried to draw him out, the boy had changed the subject.

Billy topped a rise in the trail and could see the wagons ahead of him. Something wasn’t right. The sun was just about to touch the horizon and the wagons were in the shadow of the rise on which he was standing but the light was good enough that he could tell something was wrong. He quickened his pace down the hill.

It occurred to him that there were no mules in sight and it looked like some of the mule skinners were missing. The ones that were there seemed to be hovering over something up against one of the wagons. He spurred to a lope and hurried to see what was happening.

Tom Fanning was lying against the wheel of one of the wagons with his head propped on a bedroll. There was a bloody bandage wrapped around his chest and he was breathing hard. Tom tried to sit up as Billy stepped down from his horse but didn’t seem to have much strength. It was obvious that he wasn’t in very good shape.

“What happened?” asked Billy.

The men all tried to talk at once until they heard Tom speak out in a raspy voice, “They got the boy, Billy.”

“How bad are you hurt, Tom?”

“I think it missed anything vital. I lost enough blood that I’m a bit weak. I’ll be all right though. Jake here tried to dig the bullet out and I think he did more harm than the bullet did. We got it wrapped up just before you rode in. Give me a little bit and I’ll be ready to go.”

“How long since it happened?”

“It’s probably been about an hour,” said Tom. “They ambushed us as we came over that hill up there. Six of them came at us – three from each side. They had us covered before anyone could get their rifle up.”

“Which way did they head?” asked Billy. “I’ll go after them.”

“No, you just hang on and hear me out. They drove off the mules and my horse. A couple of the boys went to look for them. I doubt they drove them very far.”

“Tom, I’ve got my horse and a spare. Why don’t you let me take one of your men with me and we’ll go see if we can find your stock before it gets dark. We’ll drive them back here for the night and then I’ll go after those men.”

“You go get the stock and then you’ll stay here tonight. You need to wait until daybreak to go after them. Those men are experienced and hard. You’ll end up getting killed in the dark if you don’t wait until morning.”

“OK, Tom. I’ll do it your way.”

Houston Davis, one of the mule skinners, rode out with Billy to find the mules and the drivers who had gone looking for them. It was no problem knowing which direction they had driven the animals, there was a wide trail to follow where the mules had been driven across the sandy ground. A couple of miles from the wagons, Billy and Houston came across the two walking drivers. They sent them back down the trail and hurried ahead while there was still enough light to see.

Another mile and they found the stock against the bank of the river where they had been abandoned by the men who had kidnapped Tad. The animals were quietly grazing on the clumps of grass along the banks. The men had apparently crossed the river to the south and left the animals on the near side. It only took a few minutes to gather them and head them back to the wagons.

They overtook the walking drivers when there was barely enough light to see. The mules ran on ahead while the four of them rode double the rest of the way.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Stuck Here

Here I am
Stuck in a motel
Wishing that I wasn't
All by myself.

Home is much better,
It's where I prefer,
Instead of stuck here
Out on the road.

It leads me to wonder
How a muscian makes it
Living out on the road
So much of their life.

As much as the wanderlust
Fills up my life
I still need an anchor
A place to call home.

Instead I am stuck here
Out on the road
About twenty-four hours
From home.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ethanol's Tangled Web

The article below is one that I recently had published in our local paper. I have posted it on my Common Sense Agriculture, Conservation and Energy blog but not here. Several readers have mentioned to me that they are interested in ethanol and so I am re-posting the article here.

Direct subsidies by the U.S. government to gasoline blenders are $0.51/gallon of ethanol. In 2006, the total of these subsidies was $2.5 billion. Such subsidies are the reason behind the ethanol boom that we are experiencing. In 2006, ethanol production earned our country an approximately 1.5% oil independence. According to the USDA, at the maximum practical production level which is likely to be achieved by 2017, corn ethanol would provide 3.7% oil independence.

Ethanol has been around since the first “moonshiner” discovered how to distill corn into whiskey. It is the same thing as 200 proof whiskey. It was used by Henry Ford to power some of the first Model T’s. Today it is fueling a euphoric corn market that has seen prices soar above $3.50/bushel. It has also sent turmoil through the livestock markets as feeders adjust to the realities of higher commodity prices.

The USDA estimates that ethanol yields about 25% more energy than is required to produce it. Most of the energy gain is in the form of co-products available for feed. If you measure the energy equivalence of the ethanol itself, it takes about as much energy to produce it as it yields. One gallon of ethanol contains about 2/3 of the energy of a gallon of gasoline. This means that if your vehicle achieved 30 mpg with gasoline, it would achieve only 20 mpg burning pure ethanol.

Ethanol co-products make excellent cattle feed for inclusion in feedlot rations. Some studies indicate that Wet Distiller’s Grains contain 100-112% of the value of dry rolled corn. Dry Distiller’s Grains however are only about 88% of the feed value of dry rolled corn. In the larger feedlots that primarily utilize steam-flaked corn, the comparative feed value is much lower. That is why the cost of the co-products will be one of the primary determining factors driving its use as a substitution for feeding corn in livestock rations.

One of the most controversial issues surrounding the production of ethanol from corn revolves around concerns over the impact to food prices. Most of the corn produced in the United States is utilized as animal feed. Rising corn prices have already had a significant impact on the cost of feeding livestock.

Most planting decisions are at least somewhat based on relative commodity prices of various crops that are feasible for planting in a particular area. In areas where corn is a viable alternative, significant crop acreage is being shifted to corn production at the expense of other crops. The effect is to lift commodity prices for all crops that are being replaced by corn production. Again, the primary impact will be on crops that are destined for animal feed, such as soybeans and other grains.

As ethanol production capacity increases, the pressure on substituting ethanol fuel crops for other commodities will increase. The result will certainly be upward pressure on the prices of food crops due to the scarcity impact on supply and demand.

Should we be concerned? The U.S. consumer pays a smaller percentage of his income for food (less than 10%) than consumers in any other part of the world (20 – 50% for middle income countries). In countries that struggle at a subsistence level of farming, there will be pressure to divert land utilization for ethanol fuel production. The impact on such economies will depend on government policies related to land ownership and control of production. In some instances, it could help to lift economies above subsistence level by creating the opportunity for higher revenue crops.

Ethanol is only a tiny piece of the energy puzzle. It is a tiny piece that is creating turmoil across the globe in the agricultural sector. Turmoil generally creates opportunities for some and failure for those who do not adapt to changes in the marketplace. It is hoped that new technologies for producing ethanol from plant fibers rather than highly concentrated energy sources such as corn will transform ethanol production in the near future. In the meantime, we can expect commodity prices to remain high which will hopefully be a boon to our rural economy.

Related articles:

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Billy - 8

The first leg of the Dodge City trail ran northeast to Little Blue Station at Silas Maley’s farm on Bluff Creek. It would take about three days for the mule-drawn wagons to reach there. The entire trip to Dodge City would take several weeks for the wagons. Billy didn’t plan on staying with the wagons.

After replenishing his pack at the general store, Billy headed over to where Tom was waiting for him and said, “Tom, you go on ahead and I’ll catch up shortly. I want to visit with Henry a minute.”

As the noise of the leaving wagons died down, Billy turned to Henry and said, “Do you have a horse you can spare? I need to buy a horse and rigging before I head out.”

There was no rush for Billy to hurry and catch the wagons. At their slow pace of travel he could easily wait around Tascosa for most of the day before heading after them. He didn’t plan on taking that long but he did want to visit with a few folks around town and find out what he could about the men who had been asking about the boy. The logical place to start was McCormick’s saloon.

McCormick’s was one of the oldest of the several saloons that lined Tascosa’s streets. It was typical for the time. It had been built quickly of lumber freighted in from Las Vegas. Billy didn’t expect to find any customers at the early hour but he hoped to visit with one of the bartenders. It was likely they would be cleaning the place getting ready for another night of harvesting the hard-earned dollars from the local cowboys and hangers-on.

Billy was fortunate that Tuff Hardeman was there. Tuff was polishing off some glasses as Billy walked through the door. He looked up and said, “we’re closed.”

Billy replied, “Tuff, is that any way to treat somebody you haven’t seen in nearly a year?”

“Billy McCall. You sure must have picked up some bad habits to be coming in here at this hour of the morning. Where’ve you been?”

“New Mexico. I’ve been riding some for Pete Maxwell over at Fort Sumner. How are you?”

“Never better. Business is booming, there’s talk we’re going to be the county seat, and I even heard we might get a railroad. Can I buy you a drink?”

“No thanks, Tuff. I’m just lookin’ for some information.”

“OK. What do you want to know?”

“Has there been anybody new in town -- maybe someone askin’ lots of questions?”

“As a matter of fact there was,” said Tuff. “I didn’t know ‘em, but one of Tom’s freighters said he thought they were from over around Fort Griffin. They were asking about some boy. It wasn’t you was it? Heh, heh – you still got that baby face of yours hiding under that mustache.”

“Nope it wasn’t me. But I think I might know who they were looking for. Did they say why they were looking?”

“They said the boy stole something from them and they just wanted to get it back. They wouldn’t say what it was though.”

Billy visited with Tuff a little longer and then headed back over to the general store. Bob Bassinger might have heard something. Everyone that came to town eventually stopped at Bob’s store for some kind of supplies.

After quizzing him thoroughly, Billy learned that Bob didn’t have anything new to add to what he had learned at McCormick’s. The results at a couple of the other saloons and the livery were the same. The men hadn’t stayed in town long and no one seemed to know them. They couldn’t have been part of the Dodge City gang of Hoodoo Brown because most of them were well known and frequent visitors to Tascosa. The one thing that Billy did learn was that the men were well organized and on a couple of occasions made reference to el corazon de Cristo – the Heart of Christ.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Cell Phone Ettiquette

One of the most annoying things
Is for a speaker to be interrupted
By a cellphone going off
In the middle of a presentation.

No, annoying isn't the proper word.
Rude would be a better description.
Sometimes I want to just walk over,
Grab the phone and stomp it to pieces.

Almost every program nowdays
Begins with the admonition
"Please turn all cell phones
And pagers to off or to silent."

And yet, they ring anyway.
No, they don't ring. They blare out
"The Imperial March" from Star Wars,
Or some other personal ringtone.

It's never a quiet ring.
It's always turned as loud as possible --
That's for old folks like me
Who need it turned up to hear it.

It just drives me crazy.
The phone rings,
The speaker pauses,
People look around --

Oops. I guess I forgot to turn mine off.....

Sunday, November 11, 2007


It is been difficult to get to blogging lately. It is partly the result of travel, work, social and family demands -- not necessarily in that order -- and attitude. I've just had a hard time wanting to sit down and blog.

I have been continuing to work on "Billy" but not in a disciplined fashion as I had intended. I can usually tell when something is worthwhile because there are suddenly a million things trying to pull me away. That seems to be the case here.

I attended a great conference in Omaha, Nebraska, this past week. The focus of the conference was the impact of ethanol on the beef industry. I will probably be posting some things from the conference in my "Common Sense Agriculture, Conservation and Energy" blog over the coming weeks. I think though, to sum it up, ethanol is here to stay, get used to it. Those who adjust to the new economic realities will thrive and those who don't will fail.

It seems that is the way with everything. As society/culture/economies/knowledge, etc. advance, things are destroyed and new things arise. Hopefully the new is better than the old. Sometimes I doubt it. My optimistic side says that we are advancing. We must always be vigilant however to see that we advance in the proper direction.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Billy - 7

The quiet creaking of the barn door awakened Billy. He could see the furtive figure of Tad slipping silently out into the moonlight. He lay back on his blankets and thought about what might be going through the boy’s mind.

After giving him a couple of minutes to get away, Billy quietly rose and slipped on his boots. He wanted to see which way Tad went. The boy hadn't taken the mule so he had to be on foot.

Peering through the door he could see the shadowy figure slowly fading into the dark toward the river. It looked like he was headed to town. Tomorrow would be soon enough for Billy to try and locate him. There weren’t many places that Tad could hide. More than likely he would try to slip on a freight wagon heading for Dodge City. That would be the best place to try and find him.

Billy rose the next morning when he could hear the faint sounds of clattering pans in the adobe up the hill. Lucinda was up and about cooking breakfast. Soon there would be a call to come and get it but in the meantime Billy decided to slip down to the river and see if he could make certain which way Tad’s tracks led.

It took only a few minutes to see that the boy had definitely headed toward town. The crossing down stream was plenty shallow so it shouldn’t have been difficult for Tad to get over to the other side and into Tascosa. He headed up to the house for a breakfast of eggs, beans and tortillas. It sure was nice to have some good home cooking after being on the trail for the last couple of weeks.

After they had eaten, Juan asked, “How do you plan on finding him Billy?”

“Are there any freighters in town?” he asked in return.

“I think Fernandez may be there. He’s taking the last load of wool to Las Vegas. Tom Fanning is there too. He came in yesterday from south of here with a load of buffalo bones. He’ll be heading to Dodge City with them. That’s about it,” said Juan.

“It would probably be easier for him to slip in with Fernandez to Las Vegas but I have a hunch he’s headed for Dodge. I think I’ll see if I can find Fanning and have him watch out for the boy. I might even see if he’ll let me ride with him to Dodge. Is it OK if I leave that old mule with you? In fact he’s yours. Maybe you can put some meat on him.”

Finding Tom Fanning was no problem. There were five wagons loaded with the bleached white buffalo bones already hitched and lined up in front of the livery. Tom was bellering something about how long it took to shoe a mule to a mountain of a man that could only be Henry Kimball. Henry was the first white man to settle in Tascosa. He had set up shop in 1876 shortly after Romero completed his rambling adobe.

Billy walked up to Tom and said, “Hey, old man. You look like you’ve been robbing graves with all those bones.”

“Well, Billy McCall. How are you boy? I ain’t seen you since you got into that little scrape in Las Vegas a couple of years ago. What have you been up to?”

“I’ve been keeping my nose clean and my saddle polished Tom – just bouncing around a few outfits chasing cows,” replied Billy. “Can you walk over to the store with me a minute and let Henry finish his job without you yelling at him?”

“Sure, Billy. What’s up?”

The two walked down the street past McCormick’s saloon to the general store. Billy filled in Tom about Tad and asked if he’d seen the boy.

Tom said, “Yeah, I seen him. He doesn’t know I did but I seen him. He’s in that third wagon under a pile of bones. I thought I’d get up the trail a ways and then surprise him. I was gonna make sure he had a good walk back to town.”

“Tom, I think this boy is in some trouble and I want to help him. Is it all right if I tag along with you toward Dodge and we’ll flush him out tonight when we make camp?”

“Sure, Billy. Have you got your gear ready? I’d like to head out just as soon as Henry gets that mule shod.”

“Give me a few minutes here in the store Tom. I’m a little low on a couple of things but I’ll probably be ready before your mule is.”

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

New Picture

Hopefully some of you out there have noticed the new picture in my header. It is compliments of the creative talents of Hillbilly Willy. If I understand correctly, he merged the poet leaning against the fence into the background scene. I appreciate him sharing it with me. I don't know if he's planning to enter the market as a graphic artist, but you never know. Y'all drop by and give him a shout.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Billy - 6

Tad reluctantly headed for the barn where they could hear him muttering and shifting things around.

Billy said, “What do you think Juan? Is he going to stay the night or make a run for it?”

“I think he will run for it. Then, what will you do? Will you go after him or let him make his own way?”

Billy thought a minute before he replied, “What can you tell me about these men who are looking for him?”

“Not much,” replied Juan. “Ben Sublette, the freighter, says he thinks they are part of The Dodge City Gang out of Las Vegas, New Mexico. He says there are a couple of bad hombres in the bunch.”

“It could be. They were ran out of Las Vegas just last month. I had heard they were headed for Mexico but they might have come this way. That Hoodoo Brown is sure a bad one. They were robbing stagecoaches and settlers on the old trail. Hmm,” said Billy. “I wonder why a bunch like that would be interested in the boy. Do you suppose he might have fallen in with them?”

“I doubt it,” said Juan. “More than likely he has something on them. Maybe he saw something they didn’t want him to see. Now tell me Billy, where did you find that boy?”

“I found him down on Spring Lake. I’ve been over at Fort Sumner working for Pete Maxwell.”

“Ah, and how is Doña Luz?”

“She is well, Juan. Didn’t you once work for Lucien?”

“I didn’t actually work for him, but I lived on his land. He would protect us and buy our wool and we would share part of it with him. Don Luciano was a good man. He’s been gone now – what? -- five years? I hope his son Pete is half the man he was.”

“I didn’t know Señor Maxwell, but Pete is a good man too. I helped him through the spring branding. He didn’t have much else to do so I cut loose from there and was headed over to casas amarillas. Pete said he had heard that Colonel Slaughter was driving a herd up from Big Spring and I was going to try to intercept him. When I got to Spring Lake I ran into the boy. I decided it would be better to head up here to Tascosa where I could leave the boy with somebody. Besides, maybe one of the big outfits around here is hiring.”

“Did he tell you why he was at Spring Lake?”

“He said he had been working for Charlie Goodnight and decided to light out for the Seven Rivers country. He claimed his horse stepped in a prairie dog hole and broke its leg. That’s why he was afoot. Every time I’d try to get more information out of him he would change his story. I knew from the start that he was hiding something, I just didn’t know what. He wasn’t even taking the most logical trail. He should have come through here and over to Las Vegas and then south down the Pecos to Anton Chico and Fort Sumner.”

Juan replied, “We still don’t know what he’s hiding Billy. We may never know. So, what will you do if he runs off during the night?”

“I think I’ll follow him if I can,” said Billy. “Once upon a time I needed someone to help me get through some trouble. Maybe I can repay the favor that was done for me by helping this boy.”

“Yes, I remember the story,” said Juan. “Maybe it is your fate to pass on to this boy the blessing that you received. Let’s turn in for the night. Tomorrow may be a long day.”

Monday, November 5, 2007

Billy - 5

The draw that Billy and Tad had been following passed just to the west of Juan Garcia’s barn. It was fairly shallow by the time it reached the river at the base of the slope and could easily be seen from Juan’s adobe which perched on a slight rise that kept it above the flood plain. Juan was standing on the porch watching as Billy and the boy made their way to the corrals and led their mounts to the water trough.

With the sun setting behind them, it was difficult for Juan to see them well but he called out, “Billy, is that you?”

“Yeah, Juan, it’s me. Do you mind if we turn these flea bags into your corral?”

“Go ahead,” he called back. “Wash up. Lucinda has supper almost ready.”

Billy looked at the boy and said, “Tad, let’s get some grub in us. I don’t see those riders anywhere around so maybe they were lookin’ for somebody else. What do you think?”

“I think I’m hungry. That piece of jerky didn’t last very long. I hope they have something besides beans and tortillas,” he replied.

“Now you be careful of your attitude. These are nice people. They don’t have much but they’re willing to share. Be sure and show some gratitude for whatever they offer. Otherwise, you can have another piece of jerky and muddy river water for supper.”

The two made their way up to the house where Billy introduced Tad to Juan and his family. Besides his wife Lucinda, there were five children. The oldest was Juanita who would celebrate her Quincienera this year. She was turning into a beautiful young lady who would have all the boys calling on her in a few months. Billy thought he might call on her too.

Lucinda had Billy and Tad join Juan at the table while she had the children sit on blankets near the cooking area. She and Juanita served the men large plates of beans with a choice piece of mutton and stacks of tortillas before joining the children. It wasn’t necessarily customary for the women and children to eat separately. It was a matter of space. The home was small and there wasn’t enough room at the table for everyone to sit.

When they had finished eating Juan said to Billy and Tad, “Let’s go out on the porch where it is cool and we can talk.”

After a pleasant exchange of news, Juan looked at Billy and said, “Some men have been in town asking about a boy that sounds a lot like Tad here. They say he stole something of theirs and they want it back. They are offering a reward of $50 in gold.”

Billy looked at Tad and said, “OK, Tad. It’s time you came clean with me. Are those men looking for you?”

Tad said, “I didn’t steal nothing Billy. Honest. I don’t know what they want.”

“Come on Tad. We’re nearly partners after riding together for four days. You’re gonna have to tell me why they’re looking for you.”

“I can’t Billy. If they find out I told anybody they’ll kill me.”

“Told anybody what? What is it you can’t tell or they’ll kill you. How can I help you if I don’t know what’s going on,” said Billy.

“I just can’t tell you,” said Tad, “that’s all.”

Juan looked at Billy with a wink and said, “Billy, maybe it’s none of our business. Those men will be in town tomorrow. We’ll just take Tad to them and be done with it. Fifty dollars is a lot of money.”

“You know Juan, maybe you’re right. We could split it. Maybe it’s a good thing I couldn’t get that old pastorale to keep him.”

Tad was fidgeting as the two talked. It was obvious that he wanted to tell them what was going on but was afraid.

Billy looked at Tad and said, “I’ll tell you what, you sleep on it tonight and in the morning you can decide whether to tell us or not. You and I will bunk in the barn.”

Juan said, “Tad, why don’t you go get settled in for the night. There’s plenty of loose straw in the barn that you can spread your blankets on. I want to visit with Billy for awhile before we turn in for the night.”

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Billy - 4

Billy sat down in the shade of a Hackberry that had taken root in the side of the hill. He could see the riders in the distance and he could see the silvery line of the Canadian river off to the north. It would be awhile before the riders reached the jumble of adobe buildings on the north side of the river where Casimero Ramirez had settled in 1876 and Plaza Atascosa was born. That was the same year that Billy had left Missouri.

It was also the same year that Charlie Goodnight had moved his herd into the Palo Duro Canyon. Some of the cowboys said that Goodnight was forming a Stockman’s Association. He and the other ranchers were tired of losing cattle to the little ranchers who they claimed were branding mavericks from their herds. There was certainly some truth to their claim. How else could a cowboy working for $25 per month end up owning a spread covering several thousand acres?

Just a couple of miles to the west of the ford and on the south side of the river, Billy could see Juan’s place. There wasn’t much to it, just a small adobe with a barn and corrals for his sheep.

Juan had followed Ramirez out of New Mexico to graze the open lands along the Canadian river. Romero was a Comanchero and leading citizen of Mora, New Mexico, before moving his herds to the Texas Panhandle and establishing a new town. He brought around 3,000 sheep with him and they had now increased to almost 5,000 head. His relationship with the local ranches was never secure, but they had learned to live in peace together. There was still plenty of open range available for grazing.

As Billy watched, two more riders headed south across the ford out of Tascosa. It looked like they were going to intercept the riders that he was watching. It seemed strange to Billy. Normally in this open country you didn’t run across many other riders unless you were on one of the main trails. The trails here ran mainly along the river except for the big freight trail headed north out of Tascosa to Dodge City.

The riders he had been watching picked up their pace a little when they saw that they were being met. It looked as though they were expecting it. They quickly drew together and the four of them appeared to be having a heated discussion. He could see the riders that he had been watching pointing in his general direction. It didn’t look good.

It wasn’t long before the group broke up. The pair that he had watched were headed back the direction from which they came. The other two riders headed off to the west up the river. Billy couldn’t think of any reason why, but it looked as though they might be going to circle around him so that he and the kid would be trapped. You could probably chalk it up to four years of wariness over his past, but Billy had found his intuition on such things was usually pretty good.

Billy scrambled back down the slope to where Tad was standing and watching him. He said, “I think those riders are looking for someone and it could be us. Do you know any reason they might have for that?”

Tad looked a little pale but said, “No. I can’t imagine why anyone would be looking for me. Are you an outlaw or something?”

“No, I’m not an outlaw and it may be nothing, but I think we’d better follow this draw and try to stay out of sight. Maybe we can make it to Juan’s before anyone spots us. I’m not in any mood to be answering a bunch of questions from those fellows if they do come across us. Get on that mule and lets get moving.”

The draw provided a small amount of cover for the two as they headed down the slope toward Juan’s place. If their luck held they might not be spotted. It was getting close to sundown and in another thirty minutes the light would start to fade. If those riders weren’t looking for them there would be no harm done. If they were, it would be better to be closer to town so that someone might see them if the riders meant harm.

As they got lower on the slope the danger of being seen would be from behind. If the riders were to get up on the bluff, they would be able to look back toward the river and see them in the draw.

Billy couldn’t help but wonder about the strange behavior of the riders. He couldn’t think of why anyone would be looking for him but he wasn’t sure about the kid. Tad’s behavior had been a little bit suspicious. Why had he been all alone when the horse he had been riding broke his leg? He was too young to be out by himself without someone missing him.

Billy had tried to get the boy to tell him a little about himself but hadn’t had much luck. He was hiding something. His story was consistent, but any time he pressed the boy with questions, he would change the subject. Billy felt sure there was a connection between those riders and the boy. He just needed time to sort it out to make sure he landed on the right side of the issue. He didn’t want to be turning the boy over to someone that meant him harm if it wasn’t well deserved. This country was still pretty lawless. There wasn’t much telling whether the riders had honorable intentions or otherwise.

Friday, November 2, 2007