Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Billy 10

There was a fire blazing and the cook putting together something for the crew to eat as Billy and the other three made it back to camp. It took a while to catch the mules in the dark and get them tethered, but it wasn’t long before everyone but the night guard was gathered around talking about the events of the day. Freighting was usually extremely boring work. Most of the freighters had seen action fighting Indians and in the war so they were getting worked up about going after the men who had taken the boy. Tom was the only casualty of the brief encounter and Billy wondered why.

As the men began to eat, it quickly got quiet except for the rattle of the tin plates and mugs. Eating was serious business for the men. They knew that on the Plains, a good meal was never a sure thing. It should be eaten when the opportunity presented itself, so they wasted no time.

Finally, as he handed the cook his plate, Billy said, “OK, Tom. What happened? How did you get shot?”

Tom said, “It was my own fault. They had us cold. They gathered up our weapons in a sack and hauled them off with them. They left them about a mile down the trail. Houston had already collected them and brought them back when you rode up. They got all of them except my spare saddle gun which was in my bedroll in the cook wagon. As they were leaving, I took a chance and pulled it but one of them shot me before I could get a bead on them. I’d swear he shot high intentionally. I think he just wanted to take me out of commission without hurting me too bad. He could have killed me.”

Billy was full of questions. “Tom, you’re going to have to tell me the whole thing. I need to figure out who these men are and why they’re after the boy. Tell me everything that happened since you left Tascosa.”

Tom said, “We were a couple of hours out of Tascosa when the boy stuck his head out of the wagon. Buried under those bones like he was, it must have been beating on him pretty good as the wagons bounced along the trail. I happened to be riding beside the wagon when he looked out and I grabbed him by the arm and asked him what he was doing stowing away in my wagon. He told me there were some men after him and he needed to get out of town. I told him that I normally didn’t put up with runaways, but if he’d behave I’d let him ride with us until night camp and then we could discuss his situation further.

“We made pretty good time with only a brief stop at noon to eat a bite and check harness. We didn’t see anybody until about mid afternoon. Travis was on the lead wagon and when I talked to him around 3 o’clock, he told me he thought we were being trailed off to the north. Normally I would have thought it was just some ranch hands, but after that boy told me he had someone after him, I figured it was worth keeping an eye on.

“I rode back along the line and told everyone to keep a sharp eye out but no one saw anything else all afternoon. Then, as we topped that hill back there, they came at us from out of nowhere. Like I told you earlier, there were six of them. They came at us from both sides. I never noticed it before, but that hill is perfect for an ambush. They could hide below the bluffs on either side until all of us were over the top. There’s no place we could turn. We were trapped.

“They let Travis in the lead wagon get even with them and then one man stepped out on his horse. He had a bandanna over his face and just pointed his pistol at us but didn’t say anything. The rest of them came from the sides and were staggered so they each covered a couple of wagons. No one had a chance to grab a rifle or anything. Coming off the hill we were all busy with brakes and lines and had our hands full so we just sat there while they rode along relieving us of our weapons.

“Then, the one who stepped out first told me to get the wagons moving to the flat which is where we are now. He had us circle and then gathered us in a group. Three of them kept us covered while the others unhitched the mules and stripped the harness. Then the one who spoke before, he must have been their leader, said for us to relax, he only wanted the boy. That boy was white as a sheet and kept saying ‘do something mister, help me.’ There wasn’t anything we could do. We just stood there while two of them drove the stock off. Then the other four headed out with the boy and the sack full of our guns. That’s when I tried my fool stunt and got shot. It was the leader. He didn’t even say a word after he shot me. One of his men stepped down and picked up my rifle and they headed off. They were about as cool as I’ve ever seen. That’s about it. Nothing much happened after that but what you already know.”

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