Chapter Eleven—Head ‘Em Up, Move ‘Em Out

Near the end of September…
          I spent the day I left the Reese ranch, and the next two days, searching for water and was pleased with what I found. The first day's drive beyond Grizzly Creek would be about 15 miles, which would push the cattle some, but for the next three days, there was water within eight to twelve miles. That was a good day's drive. And there would be enough for any extra cattle Red Zimmer and the other Reese men brought with them—if they came.
          I headed back down Rock Valley Road towards the cattle drive and found that they had advanced about ten miles, which pleased me. It was getting on the afternoon, but we should be able to get the cattle to water that night, if we got them moving a little faster.
          "Glad to have you back," Ben said. "Is there water anywhere near? We're just driving on luck and beans."
          "About 4-5 miles ahead. We should be able to get them there by dark. How's the Nelson boy?"
          Ben nodded. "He's going to make it. Some lady named Sadie showed up, said you sent her, and that she had some nursing experience. She seemed to know what she was doing so I let her take over."
          "Yeah. You're needed with the cattle. Anybody else show up?"
          He slowly nodded. "A couple of older fellows with 32 horses and three other men with 200 cattle. We have 715 now." He paused a minute. "They told us what happened and that you said for them to join us. They haven't given us any trouble, so I thought maybe they were telling the truth. Are they?"
          "Yes. And I'm glad to have them. Even if they are rustlers, they know how to drive cattle. Might not be a bad idea to keep an eye on them and make sure they don't run off with a bunch of cows."
          "I've been watching them...."
          I went and checked with Barney, Eddie, Zimmer and the other men that came. I hadn't learned their names, but now did--Miles Canteen and Fly Bonner. "Glad you fellows decide to join us," I told the three cowboys. "We need all the help we can get."
          Zimmer gave me a wry smile. "Well, the three of us couldn't have driven 1,500 cattle by ourselves anyway. Better this way, I reckon."
          "You didn't bring any of the stolen stock, did you?"
          "No. We figure they'll just hang around there until the grass and water run out then maybe head back home. Or maybe their owners will come looking for them." He laughed. "They'll haul the law out to the Reese place and find nothing but cobwebs. We'll be a long way from there."
          "What are you fellows planning on doing up in Clearwater Valley?"
          He shrugged. "Don't know. Don't really want to go back to rustling, so we hope we can catch on with some outfit. Or, we’ve got these 200 cattle. Maybe we can do something with them."
          "Well, good luck. I'll help if I can. Let me know if you need anything."
          "Thanks. These folks seem to be taking us in ok."
          "They will so long as you hold up your end of the bargain. And if you steal any cattle, I'll come after you."
          "We won't take anything that don't belong to us."
          I nodded. "I know. I trust you fellows." I grinned at him. "Whether I ought to or not." They all chuckled.
          I went and talked to Barney and Eddie for a moment. They were going to take care of the horse remuda with a little help from some of the settler men from time to time. The cattle were moving along briskly, the Pickens boys especially were learning rapidly, and everything seemed to be going along fine.

          And that's pretty much the way things went all the way to Clearwater. We had only one interruption and it wasn't a terribly serious one. We were about 50 miles from the valley and I was riding drag with Ronnie Pickens. Ben had the point. Early in the afternoon, I noticed the cattle started to slow down and then they stopped completely. I needed to find out what was going on, so I told Ronnie I'd send somebody back to help him keep check on the tail end of the drive, but the cattle started munching on grass and didn't seem to be in a wandering mood. I sent Ryne McKenzie just in case.
          I rode up front and pulled up next to Ben. "What's up?" I asked him.
          He just pointed. I looked.
          In front of us, about half a mile away and riding down a mildly sloping knoll, I saw--counted--10 Indians heading our way. They weren't in any hurry and they didn't seem to be on the warpath. I was a little surprised to see them at all since most of them were on reservations now, but there were a few braves that couldn't handle white civilization and they escaped until they were either caught again or killed. I didn't know for sure, but that's probably what this bunch was. I looked around at the surrounding hills, however, to make sure there wasn't a flank attack from somewhere. I saw nothing.
          And as this contingent of natives drew nearer, I noticed that the one riding in front was older, much older. And familiar. In fact, after a few moments thought, I recognized him. And smiled.
          Ben and I rode up to the Indians and they stopped. I spoke to the old man in the lead. "White Crow, what are you doing wandering around these hills?"
          The old Indian was from the Nipita tribe and was introduced in the Whitewater story. Before the big raid on that town by about 3,000 natives, the purpose of which was to stop Kilmer Mining Company from digging in a sacred Indian burial ground, the Nipita had kidnapped about 25 white women to take care of domestic chores while they prepared for the attack. One of the women they had taken was my future--now ex--wife, Robin. White Crow had been among that contingent of Nipita; he didn't go on the raid, he was too old. But I had met him when I went to the Indian encampment to free the women. He seemed a good enough sort and had a sense of humor. Readers can get the full story in Whitewater.
          He remembered me. "Robert Constance. I might ask you the same question." He looked behind me. "Although I think I see the answer following you."
          Robert Constance was the alias I had used at the time to hide who I really was from the army, for whom I was working as a scout. It struck me that that was the name Kelly and Gail knew me by as well. I guess I'd have to correct that all around.
          "Actually, my name is Robert Conners. I was sorta running from the law at the time and needed to travel incognito." I introduced Ben to him, who had looked at me peculiarly. The other Indians, younger braves, stoic-faced, hung back.
         White Crow nodded at my explanation and then at Ben. "Robert Conners. I've heard of you. Not a man I'd want to meet in a dark alley at midnight. Unless my daughter was with me. I could give her to you and get away myself. She's an ugly hag anyway, fat and with a wart on her nose."
          I laughed. "Sounds like just my type and the kind of daughter you would sire. But let me repeat my question. Why aren't you on the reservation?" The army had rounded up all stray Indians after the Whitewater battle and put them on reservations.
          White Crow scratched his cheek. "Well, we decided to take a vacation. The mountains are nice this time of year, you know."
          I chuckled again. "Yeah, they are. Not a good place for Indians, though."
          "Oh, I don't know. Beats the reservation and the food's better, even though we can't find any. The game is awful scarce this time of year."
          I hadn't seen much, either. Demars, the cook, stayed on my case all the time about bringing him some deer or antelope or bear or buzzard or something different, but I kept forgetting and hadn't seen anything anyway. "What are you doing for grub?" I asked the old Indian.
          "We've set a few traps for rabbits and squirrels, found some berries, a few edible roots. Got a deer or two." He shook his head, and looked grave. "Winter is going to be rough."
          "You could go back to the reservation," I said.
          He gave me a rather sour look. "Yeah," he replied. Then, "You haven't got a cow or two you could spare, do you?"
          "They aren't mine, White Crow. They belong to these settlers. I can't give away what doesn't belong to me."
          Just then, Clem Everett rode up. "What's a-goin' on, Mr. Conners? Folks is wonderin' why we stopped and we seen these sav--uh, Injuns and was thinking there might be a problem." There was concern in his face and voice, and he was inspecting the surrounding hills, too.
          "No problem, Clem, I'm just visiting with an old friend." I grinned at White Crow. "Emphasis on old."
          The Indian grunted. "I'm only 35. I just haven't aged well."
          I gave him a half-smile, but then an idea came to me. I looked over at Everett. "Clem, we haven't settled yet on my wages for leading this cattle drive. I'd like to negotiate right now."
          He looked puzzled. "Well...ok. How much do you want?"
          "I work cheap. I want two cows."
          He just blinked at me, not understanding.
          Ben caught on, though. "That's good enough for me, too," he said.
          "That don't sound like very much, Mr. Conners. You done a lot of work for us," Everett replied.
          "Maybe so, but that's all I want. Ben, go cut us four good steers out of the pack. I think you know what to do with them." He nodded and headed off. Then I said to Everett, "Go on back and tell everyone we'll be leaving in just a few minutes."
          I wasn't sure Everett knew what was going on, he had a rather blank expression on his face, but he nodded and said, "Ok. Just give the word." He rode back to the wagons.
          I turned back to White Crow. "You ever rustled cattle before?" I asked him. "Ben and I have four now. I'm not sure we can handle that many by ourselves and might be vulnerable to somebody stealing them from us."
          The old Indian's eyes showed his gratitude. "I've never stolen one cow in my life. I've stolen hundreds. Four more shouldn't be too much of a difficulty." He turned and spoke in his native tongue to the men behind him and they all glutinized something. Thanks, I supposed. Then White Crow rode over to me and held out his hand. "You're a good man, Robert Conners, even if I wouldn't trust you with my daughter."
          I smiled and shook with him, Nipita-style, each of us grabbing the other by the wrist. "You're daughter is safe, White Crow, especially if she looks--and smells--like you."
          He grunted. "Somebody's perfume isn't working today. Can't be mine, I didn't put any on."
          Ben rode up herding four fat kine. "Probably don't taste as good as buffalo," he said, "but they'll be better than insects and tree bark."
          White Crow nodded and thanked Ben as well. "You two are welcome in our camp any time." His eyes met mine. We both sensed that we would never see each other again, though frankly, I hadn't expected to see him again after the Whitewater episode.
         "Take care of yourself, old warrior. And keep an eye out for army troops, especially since you've got these cows now." Then a thought struck me. "Hang on a minute." I reached back into my saddlebag and pulled out a pencil and piece of paper. I wrote out a receipt for him, identifying that Ben and I had given these four cattle to White Crow and his band. "Here," I said, handing him the paper. "If the army does catch you that might at least keep them from stretching your neck."
          He took the paper, read it, and sighed. "If all white men were like you, Robert Conners, none of you would be here on our land." We shook again and he reached over and shook with Ben. "Go with your God," he said, then turned and rode back to him braves, who had gathered the four cows. They rode off without looking back.
          There was one sour note to the whole episode. That night at camp, Rig Carson, the fellow who had ragged me from the beginning, asked in front of everybody, "Conners, what were you doin' giving them savages our cattle? Let 'em starve to death, I say."
          "Carson, they weren't your cattle, they belonged to Ben and me. Clem Everett gave them to us as wages for our work. We can do with our own what we want."
          He grumbled. "I don't like Injun lovers."
          "Carson, you don't like anybody. And I don't know anybody who likes you. Why don't you just shut up and mind your own business."
          "I second that motion," Ronnie Pickens said.
          "Third." Arlie.
          "Fourth." Angel McKenzie.
          "Fifth." Flo McCoy. And we all laughed.
          Except Rig Carson.

Monday, October 21...
          Or thereabouts. I'm not good with dates, especially when I was going nowhere with no place to be. Our wagon train neared Clearwater Valley. It was getting chilly, but not yet unbearable. It was cloudy, though, and the wind was picking up so it wouldn't be long before some nasty stuff arrived. I hoped these folks could get settled before it hit.
          I discovered there were two good ways into the valley, one from the north, basically following the river into the valley, the other from the south, which was the route I had taken before. We stopped the cattle before we crossed over the northern pass and held a pow-wow.
          "I would suggest," I said to all the men, "that several of you go into River Bend"--that was the town in Clearwater Valley--"and see about land availability, cost, etc. You're going to need somewhere to put those cattle before you drive them over that pass." Again, I was amazed at the ill-planning that had been done before the journey had begun. What if there wasn't any land available in Clearwater Valley? What would they do then? They should have checked on this before they left Colorado.
          "That's kinda what we was a-plannin'," Clem Everett said. "Do you think we could sell some of these cows, as sort of a down payment on some land? We was plannin' on divvying up the cattle, maybe 50 per family, an' gettin' a quarter section of land apiece. If'n we sold, say 25 head, how much do you think that would bring? And would 25 cows be too many to run on a quarter section?" He looked sheepish. "We just don't know too much about cattle, Mr. Conners, but we's willin' to learn. We could all have a garden on the side to help with food."
          "It's going to be tough, Mr. Everett, getting a garden in this late in the year. I'm sure you know that. It might have been better to have made this trip in the spring." That was all I was going to say about. "About the price of your cattle, I don't know what they will bring. I don't know the price of land up here. And 25 head on a quarter acre can be stretching it some, especially since you'll need a house and you're planning a garden, too." How would they get all this done before the snows hit? "Figure on ten acres per cow, especially this time of year when the grass won't be as good." In fact, it was almost dead now. "You may have to buy some feed and hay to tide you over till spring. Do you all have any money at all?"
          "We got some, just prolly not enough to buy some land free and clear. I think most of us can handle food and such. We was all plannin' on pitchin' in, helpin' each other build shelters, and so forth, hopin' to get that done afore winter set in real good."
          "It's going to be tight, but you can probably do it. But I'd send some men into town, pronto, talk to the land agent, banker, whoever you need to and get something done as quickly as you can." I looked over at Red Zimmer and the two other Reese men, Canteen and Bonner. "What are you fellows planning on doing?"
          "We've been talking," Zimmer said. "The five of us, along with Eddie, Barney, and Sadie, are going to try to stay together.” He included the two men who had been shot during the firefight with the Reeses. “We know each other and have been together awhile. We'll probably have to do the same thing as the others, though. Sell some cattle to get some land. But we have 200 so we've got some to spare."
          I wasn't optimistic that they'd get top dollar for their beef; in fact, I suspected they'd get bottom dollar. But if they could get even $10 a head, that would give them a start. I guess. It wasn't my problem, but I'd help them as I could.
          "Ok, good luck to you." I looked at Ben. "Have you thought about what you're going to do?"
          He gave me a wry smile. "Reckon River Bend needs a barber?"
          I pulled a face. "I don't know, Ben. I don't know the situation here, but if the area has grown like they were hoping it would, there might be some opportunities." I looked around at the group. It was night, and we men were all sitting around a camp fire, the women standing behind us, wrapped in coats and shawls. "Unless I miss my guess, you're about 15 miles from River Bend. If I were you men, I'd get up early in the morning and try to get there by mid-morning at the latest. Get your business done as soon as you can." I shrugged. "That's what you came for, so get after it."
          Ben was looking at me thoughtfully. "What are you going to do, Rob? You act like you aren't planning on being around."
          I'd given plenty of thought to Ben's question and had come to an absolutely firm conviction that I had no idea what I was going to do. For some reason, the thought of seeing Kelly and Gail again put my stomach in knots. I felt like I had done my job for the settlers--gotten them to Clearwater Valley, or at least on the fringe. They could divide the cattle and drive them from here. So they didn't really need me.
          So I answered, "I don't really know, Ben. I may get a ranch here, too. I haven't decided."
          Ben and I had become good friends over the past month. He was an intelligent, perceptive man and he could read me pretty well. "What's eating you, Rob? You've been getting tighter and tighter the closer we've gotten to this place. Did something happen the last time you were here?"
          "," I said, hesitantly. "There were some problems, but they were taken care of before I left. I just...don't know what to do and I need to make a decision."
          Ben looked skeptical, but he didn't push it. "All right."
          "Are you going to be around for awhile, Mr. Conners? We might could use your help." This from Ryne McKenzie.
          "I'm not planning on leaving immediately, if that's what you mean, so yes, I'll be around. If I do decide to go, I'll let you know. But frankly, I don't really know what else I can do for you. I don't know anybody of importance in River Bend. Well, I did have some dealings with the banker. Homer Kragan is his name. At least, he was the banker when I was here. You can give him my name, if you think it will help. Um...for personal reasons, I was using the name Robert Constance when I was here before. That's the name he would know."
          "Robert Constance," Everett repeated, as if trying to implant it into his brain. Then, he said, "Ok." He looked around and spoke. "Joel, why don't you, me, Ryne, Ronnie, Zimmer, Kliegel, and Edison go into town tomorrow and visit with that banker? We'll talk to him and try to get back by nightfall. If all goes well, maybe we can get them cattle sold and land bought by the end of the week." It was Tuesday. I thought that was pushing things a bit, but at least they weren't dilly-dallying. Everett continued, "The rest o' you stay here and watch the cattle. Mr. Baker, do you mind stayin' and helpin' with that?"
          Ben replied, "Be glad to."
          "Mr. Conners?"
          I hesitated. "There's...something I'd like to do, so I think I'm going to leave in the morning. You don't need me. I'll probably be in River Bend in a day or so--maybe tomorrow--and I'll check back with you occasionally." Then, trying to think of an excuse, I said, "I want to look around, see if there's a ranch or area I'd like to settle. I've got a little money so I could buy a bigger spread than you folks."
          "Would you buy some of our cattle?"
          I estimated that the chances of me staying in River Bend were about zero. Or less. But I responded, "That's not beyond the realm of possibility." Frankly, most of the cattle in the herd were junk and I wouldn't feed them to a starving wolf, but I wasn't going to tell them that. But that was one reason I didn't think they'd get much for them. "Go ahead and find a buyer if you can, though," I continued. "Don't wait on me because I'm not sure what I'm going to do yet."
          Ben was looking at me like he didn't believe a word I was saying, which was fine, because I didn't believe a word I was saying, either. Well, I didn't know what I was going to do yet. But I did know where I was going tomorrow.
          "Well, I think I'm going to turn in," I said. "I wish you folks luck. Like I said, I'll be in the area for awhile, so I'll be in touch."
          I stood up to a chorus of "thank yous," as the people expressed their gratitude for my assistance. They'd offered to pay me, but I didn't--wouldn't--take it. I had no idea how much money, collectively, they had, but I figured they might need every penny they did have. And I didn't need the money, I had plenty from the sale of the ranch in Whitewater.
          I started to walk away to a lonely spot while the settlers continued their discussion. I heard my name called. "Rob."
          I turned. It was Ben.
          He came up to me. "Maybe it's none of my business, and tell me so if that's the case. But what do you really have planned? I know something is going on in that head of yours."
          I smiled at softly. "Yeah, Ben, there's something in my head. I know what I'm going to do tomorrow morning. I'm heading to the southern pass into Clearwater Valley. Beyond that, I really don't know."
          "Something's got your gizzard.  What is it?  Again, if it's none of my business..."
          "No, it's not that. I'd just...rather keep it to myself, for the moment, if you don't mind."
          "All right, I won't pry any farther." He smiled at me. "But I can't watch your back if I don't know where you are."
          "I'll see you again. Soon." With that, we shook hands, and parted.
          Sleep didn't come easily for me that night. There wasn't much of a moon behind the clouds so it was hard to see anything in the sky. But I wasn't cloud watching anyway.
          River Bend...Gail...Kelly...River Bend...Gail...Kelly...River Bend...Gail...Kelly....
          I guess I had a three-tracked mind. Well, four. The fourth told me to mount Ol' Paint tomorrow and ride out of there as fast as I could. And as far away as I could. Julie and Robin were still too close; and they might always be.
          But could I do that? Ride away...without knowing...Would I always wonder what would have happened? Would I regret leaving? Or staying?
          I sighed. River Bend...Gail...Kelly...River Bend...Gail...Kelly...River Bend...Gail...Kelly...