Chapter Six—The Wind Blows Me Out of Town

          Clem Everett had a wagon that he had parked a few doors down from the general store. He apparently made a few stops, but I didn’t have to wait for him very long at the sheriff’s office. Braniff wrote down what I said and asked me and Ben to sign it, which we were happy to do. It was a justifiable killing in his eyes, so the matter would be pursued no more.
          “At least, I won’t pursue it,” Braniff said. “But, again, watch out for Isabel Reese. If she’s got revenge in her eyes, and it appears she does, then she won’t rest till one of you is dead. Probably both of you. And she won’t play fair, either.”
          “That’s nice to hear,” I said, sarcastically. “Can I ride out there and shoot the lot of them?”
          He half-chuckled. “I wish it were that easy.” It was that easy, to me, but I didn’t especially want the law chasing me again.
          So, with all that done I was ready to leave town. When Everett was ready to go, we headed west. He had bought Rachel a new dress, a pretty green one, and she sat next to him on the wagon seat. She thanked me again for saving her. I was her hero, I supposed, though I didn’t see any stars in her eyes. I figured her at late-teens, early-20s.
          Ben had disappeared, so I didn’t get to say good-bye to him like I wanted to. I rode alongside the wagon, on Clem’s side so that we could talk easier. The land continued to gently slope down, and we quickly got out of the foliage and into rolling, grassy plains. With the descent, the weather became a little warmer, so I shucked my coat.
          “I’s wonderin’,” Clem began, “if’n ye’d be willin’ to ride along with us, you headin’ north an’ ever’thing.”
          “Tell me about it,” I said.
          “Got 10 families or so. We all come from an area just across the Colorado line, but none of us was doin’ very well. Plots of land were too small, too little rain the past few years. So we heard there was a valley up north where land—at least a quarter section, whatever a body could afford—was sellin’ pretty cheap. We decided to pitch in and head up that way and buy some of it. Left a few weeks ago. Haven’t made as good a time as we’d hoped.”
          Kinda risky, I thought. There were a lot of speculators—and railroads—announcing that there were Gardens of Eden everywhere out west. People took the bait and ended up with a lizard-infested desert. But there was some good land up there; I hoped these people weren’t being sold a bill of goods. Leaving in the fall, right before winter wasn’t terribly brilliant, either, but if they could get up there mid-October or so, they might survive the winter. I wasn’t sure about the cattle, though.
          Speaking of which…“You said something about cattle?” I asked him.
          “Yeah. 500 head or so. Started out with 650, but we keep losing ‘em. Rustlers mostly, we figure.”
          “You camp near water every night?”
          “Well, no. Sometimes we cain’t find none, so we park when it gets dark.”
          Ugh. They probably had a number of bunch quitters, who were thirsty and headed back the way they came. Cattle were pretty stupid, but they could remember the last water they had, and if they got thirsty, they’d turn around and return to it unless they were persuaded otherwise. That’s one reason why cowboys rode on all sides of a trail drive, and the larger the herd, the more cowboys needed, of course. But a herd of 650 could be handled by half a dozen cowboys, at most.
          “How many cowboys do you have working the herd?” I asked him.
          He seemed a bit embarrassed. “Well, Mr. Conners, that’s part of the problem, too. None of us is really cowboys. Most of us are farmers, but the land up north, we heard, was cattle grazin’ country, so we all pitched in, bought a herd, and was gonna split ‘em when we got the new land. We got a couple of fellers with us that has done some cattle workin’, but they ain’t too trail wise themselves.”
          This sounded worse and worse the longer we rode. “How big is your horse remuda?” Horses get more tired than cowboys on these trail drives, and it was a good idea to have at least three or four for each rider. More is even nicer.
          “Well, we got 15 horses we shuffle around.”
          I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. What we had here, folks, was the classic definition of “tenderfoot.” Or “greenhorn.” Or maybe just plain “stupid.” They didn’t have a clue what they were doing, and they certainly needed all the help they could get.
          “What do you want from me?”
          “We’ve heard they’s Injuns ‘twixt us and Clearwater Valley where we’s headed. We’d…feel a lot better if’n you’d come along with us, kinda scout and so forth. Help us if we run into trouble.” Then, hastily, he added, “We’ll be willin’ to pay you, of course.”
          I hardly heard the last couple of sentences he said because my mind went into overdrive when he said “Clearwater Valley.” Land for sale. River Bend. Kelly Atkins. Gail Sanders….It might not be the same Clearwater Valley, of course (see Book Three of Whitewater), but it would be awfully coincidental if it wasn’t.
          Do I want to see Gail and Kelly again? Gail didn’t inspire me much—well, maybe a little—but Kelly…she and I had had a pretty good thing going when I was up there, but decided not to get married because she was only 19 at the time and I was too close to Julie. And too enamored of Robin. Let’s see…Kelly would be…22 now, maybe. I wasn’t sure. Robin was still awfully close, in time, closer than Julie had been when I was first in River Bend. I had pretty well decided after getting Robin’s divorce letter that I was through with the opposite sex. Hurt way too much. Now, to see Kelly again…or Gail…
          Clem Everett was saying something. “What do ye think, Mr. Conners? Are ye game to go with us?”
          I had to make a quick decision. Come to think of it, no, I didn’t. “I’ll ride with you a little ways,” I told him. “But I can’t say for sure that I’ll go all the way to Clearwater. You don’t need to pay me since I’m heading that way anyway. But I reserve the right to cut out any time I want to.” But I wouldn’t. I knew I wouldn’t. And I was almost boiling angry with myself. I want to see Kelly…I was cursing myself for being so weak.
          “Well, that’s fair enough,” Clem said. “Thankee.” I looked over and Rachel smiled at me, and I smiled back, and that’s as far as it went.
          “There’s one stipulation, though.”
          “Oh?” Clem sounded a little concerned.
          “I take over your cattle drive. I’ve done it before so I know what to do. I’m not a gunman, Mr. Everett, despite my reputation. I’m a cattleman and I want a ranch of my own. I’ve been to Clearwater Valley, and it sure is beautiful, and there is a lot of good land up there, with water, if they haven’t sold it all. But I’m not sure I want to live there.”
          “Why not? If you don’t mind me askin’. I mean, if you know somethin’ bad about the valley…”
          “No, it’s not that. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been up there, and they had some problems at the time, but they had been cleared up by the time I left. So, as far as I know, everything is ok. My reasons for not wanting to settle there are…personal.”
          “Well, ok. I shore won’t pry. Regardin’ the cattle, you may be a godsend. I don’t thank innybody in our camp will object to you takin’ over and directin’ the thing. Hopefully, we won’t have any Injun problems, and with you leadin’ the drive, I ‘spect that would stop the rustlin’, too.”
          We were almost in a flat valley now, and up ahead I could see what appeared to be a camp with covered wagons and cattle grazing to the north. I also saw, about a half mile north of the road, a couple of horsemen chasing a couple of cattle.
          “I assume you made a dry camp last night,” I said to Everett.
          He saw the chase at the same time I did. “Yeah,” he said, sheepishly.
          “Never do that again, Everett,” and I took off after the cattle.
          Ol’ Paint could run and wanted to. He also knew how to work cattle and when he saw the steers on the run, he headed out after them without me even pointing him in that direction. The men chasing the cattle had caught them, but were making no progress at all in turning them back to the herd. When I got close, I waved them off.
          “I’ll turn them,” I yelled.
          They didn’t know me, of course, so they were a little hesitant to do what I said. I went over to one of them and rode beside him. “Let me have your lariat,” I hollered at him.
          “Who are you?” He looked like a farmer.
          “Just let me have the blasted thing and I’ll explain later.”
          He tossed me the rope and I went out after the nearest steer. When close enough I lassoed him and Ol’ Paint hit the breaks. I jumped off, wrestled the cow to the ground, and tied his hind and forelegs with piggin string, something I always carried with me because…because cattlemen always carry piggin string with them. I was a little put out that I didn’t have a rope. I usually did.
          I was about to get up and go after the other steer, when I saw that somebody had already caught and downed him, about a quarter mile away. I was a little shocked at whom I saw. I rode over.
          “Ben, what in tarnation are you doing here?”
          Ben Baker looked up at me from where he was standing over the bawling cow. “Shut up,” he said, kicking the cow. The animal obeyed. Then, to me, “I saw you working cattle and thought I’d help. What are these, bunch quitters?”
          “Yeah. These people set on a dry camp last night. Clem Everett told me they’d lost about 150 cows since they left Colorado a few weeks ago.”
          Ben just shook his head and looked at the two men who rode up—the men who had been vainly chasing the fugitives. The two fellows looked barely old enough to shave; one of them probably didn’t. “Don’t you know what you’re doing?” Ben asked them.
          Both young men appeared embarrassed. “No, not really. We thought the cattle would stay together and be pretty easy to lead.”
          Ben grunted. “Then you don’t know the first thing about cattle. If you don’t give them water every day, they’ll turn and head for the nearest they can remember. That’s what you’ve got here.”
          “Oh,” was the only response he got.
          Ben and I looked at each other with a “what a bunch of clowns” expression on our faces. Then I said to him, “Ben, what are you doing here?”
          “Let’s get these cattle back to the herd and I’ll tell you.”
          So, he released his cow, which immediately headed towards the water again, in other words, away from the herd. It didn’t take Ben long to persuade him to go back from whence he came. I rode over and released the other cow, and he decided he’d be better off among friends and gave no more trouble.
          The two “cowboys” rode with us. “Will you tell us now who you are and how you came to be here?” one of them asked.
          “I’m Rob Conners and this is Ben Baker. I met Clem Everett in town, by accident, when some thug was trying to rape his daughter.”
          “Rape Rachel?” one of the men said in horror.
          “Yeah, but he didn’t get away with it.” I briefly told him the story. “Everett asked me to join your drive north and I told him I would. At least for a time. Provided he let me ramrod the drive.”
          “Wow,” the younger of the two men said. This fellow was a freckled face kid, probably not over 16 or 17. The other was older, but not by much. I continued. “I don’t know what Ben is doing here.”
          “Watching your backside,” he said. “I decided I’d had enough of Windy and would ride north, too. I’ll go with you, if you’ll have me, or I’ll go my own way if you don’t want me.”
          I was frankly very happy to have Ben around. “You’ve worked cattle.” It was a statement, not a question. His experience with cattle was quite evident from the way he had handled the bunch quitter.
          “Yeah. Did that for a few years when I came out west, till the boss discovered the color of my face.” The cow he was herding was giving some evidence that he might want to turn around again, so Ben busted his backside, hard, with the lariat and the cow opted for continuing on his current course—back to the herd. “Plus, I didn’t like the way that old hag was talking to you back in Windy. I figured you might want a helping hand.”
          “You pretty good with a gun?”
          “Not in your class, but I can handle one.”
          I smiled at him. “What are the people in Windy going to do with a barber?”
          He didn’t smile back. “I don’t really give a rat’s rear what they do.”
          I laughed and had a distinct feeling Ben wasn’t going to miss the town and people of Windy. He said, “What have we got here?”
          I filled him in on what Everett had told me. Ben glanced at me and said, “Maybe I’ll head south.”
          I grinned. “Wouldn’t blame you.”
          “We’re going to have to do all the work, you know.”
          “Oh, no, we’ll help you,” the older of the two “cowboys” said to us. “We just need a little…guidance.”
          I met Ben’s eyes again and the skepticism in his was evident. “What’s your name?” I asked the fellow.
          “I’m Ronnie Pickens and this is my younger brother, Arlie.” Arlie said “howdy.”
          “I’m Rob Conners and this is Ben Baker.” I had told them that once, but I wasn’t sure they would remember if they could or could remember if they would. “We’ll help you out for a while, until maybe you can handle it yourself.”
          “Thanks. We really appreciate it. You fellas look like you know what to do around cattle.”
          Arlie was staring at me. “Are you the Rob Conners?”
          I always hated that question. I’m sure there were more people named Rob Conners than just me, so there was another “the Rob Conners” somewhere else. But I knew what he meant, too.
          “Well, I’m Rob Conners,” is all I said.
          “I heard of you. Man, are we glad to have somebody like you around.” I hoped this kid didn’t become a puppy dog. I didn’t feel like scratching his ears.
         “Thanks. I hope we can help.”
          We had arrived at the settlers’ camp. Clem Everett was already there, unloading his wagon. I rode over to him. “Mr. Everett, why don’t you just keep that stuff in the wagon? We need to move these mongrels out. There’s still enough daylight”—it was barely noon—“and they need water badly.”
          Everett stopped with a sack of flour in his arms. “Oh. We was figurin’ on stayin’ here another night.”
          I leaned on my saddle horn. “Mr. Everett, if you don’t get those cattle to water, tonight, you won’t have any cows left tomorrow morning. They’ll all backtrack to the last watering hole, and Ben and I aren’t going to chase them.” I didn’t even bother to wait for Everett to answer. I looked at Ben. “Go find the nearest water, heading west, northwest.”
          “Yes, Massa,” he said, with a twinkle in his eyes.
          “Get outta here,” I said to him, smiling at him, and he headed out. I liked that big Negro and was glad to have him along. Then I spoke to Clem Everett again. “Get your people ready to move out in 15 minutes. I’m starting those cattle.” I called out to the Pickens brothers and told them to get ready to start the drive. “I want one man at point, two on each side, and I’ll ride drag.” That was going to be tough, handling the stragglers all by myself, but if I could keep them tightly bunched, then maybe I wouldn’t have too many bunch quitters. One of us—Ben or myself—was going to have to search for water every day, and I would probably take that job myself. I don’t like eating dust.
          Miraculously, Everett got his caravan rolling within 30 minutes. Ronnie and Arlie Pickens were going to help with the cattle, along with three other men that I hadn’t met yet. I asked Ronnie, “Which of your men is best with working cattle?”
          He thought a moment, “Well, actually, Arlie is probably the best.”
          “All right. Tell him that if he’s not too busy on the side to drop back and help me. Oh, and tell him to get a fresh horse. In fact, all of you get a fresh horse. You don’t want to kill the ones you are on.” Even though nobody had done much riding today, I suspect they all had been riding the same horses almost every day. I could tell those mounts were hanging their heads a little.
          As I had said, Ol’ Paint was an excellent cattle horse and could last longer than most horses, but he was human…well, a horse…and he’d get tired, too. I just hoped we wouldn’t have too much trouble with this herd of cattle, but I wasn’t optimistic—at least what I’d seen so far.
          “Keep the cattle as tightly bunched as possible,” I told Ronnie
          The cattle bellowed their protest when we got them moving, and sure enough, some of them started heading back the way they had come. Ol’ Paint had quite a workout and Arlie dropped back to help, and he did help. We got all the cattle back into the bunch and I told him to follow them closely, as I was doing.
         “If they even give a hint that they might turn around then bust their backsides, hard, with your rope. Like this…” and I whacked a slow-moving steer hard. He bellowed, but sped up and joined the other group. “I don’t want these cattle seeing anything but the rear end of the cow in front of them.”
          He grinned. “You’re the boss.” I’m glad he recognized that.
          Ben showed up about an hour later. “Water about three miles ahead.”
          “Good. We’ll stop there for the day. When these cows get within a mile of the stuff, they’ll smell it in we’ll have a stampede on our hands.”
          “Yeah. Who’s riding point?”
          “Some fellow named McKenzie is what Ronnie Pickens told me. Why don’t you get up and there and tell him to get out of the way once the cattle bolt.”
          “Done.” And he rode off.
          Sure enough, when the cattle got about a mile from the water Ben had seen, they started bellowing and picked up steam. Arlie said to me, almost in a panic, “They are going to stampede!”
          “Let ‘em go,” I told him. “They’ll stop at the water. Go tell those two fellows riding on the right wing, and I’ll tell the men on the left.”
          The cattle took off in a rush and I waved the men away from them. “Let them go!” I shouted, and I guess they heard me because they moved away. By the time we arrived at the water—a shallow but fairly wide stream—the steers were all drinking and having a ball. Or some of them were have a bawl.
          “I didn’t know you could let them go like that,” Ronnie Pickens said to me. “We’ve tried to stop them.”
          “No, when they smell water, you’ll never stop them. That’s all they want—the water. They won’t wander far.”
          I met the other men who were working the cattle—Ryne McKenzie, who’d had the point, Fred Cameron, Angus McCoy, and Elbert Edison, who had been managing the wings. We didn’t lose any cattle, so everything went well.
          “T’day’s the fust day we ain’t lost none,” Edison said. “Mighty obliged to ya, Mr. Conners. You, too, Mr. Baker. Hope you fellows will stay with us the whole way.”
          “We’ll see,” is all I said.
          The rest of the settlers arrived about an hour later. They were moving much slower, partly because the road they were traveling wound around a bit, while we had driven the cattle straight to the water.
          The camp that night was almost a jovial affair. The water crossing the next day shouldn’t be a problem; the stream was no deeper than two feet so that wouldn’t hold anything up too long. “We’ll go on ahead with the cattle,” I told Clem Everett, “and you can catch up with us. I’ll send Ben or one of the other riders back to direct you to where we are.”
          “Ok. That sounds fine to me. Maybe you won’t get too far ahead of us.”
          “We may not. I don’t intend to drive the cattle too hard, unless watering holes are few and far between. Hopefully, we can find water something like every 8 to 12 miles; that’s a good day’s drive. If we have to go beyond 12, the cattle are going to start getting thirsty and we’ll have our hands full of bunch quitters.”
          Everett nodded. “You’re the boss. I’ve already told ever’body that.”
          “Ok. Ben’s my segundo”—second in command—“and if anybody has any problem taking orders from him, they’ll answer to me.”
          Clem looked a little skeptical. “Well, if you say so…” I was hoping we wouldn’t have any problems with Ben’s color.
          I met the rest of the settlers; I’m not good with names, so I didn’t remember them right off, but eventually I learned most of them. Rachel Everett always smiled at me, but I never made any attempt to talk to her and she largely stayed away from me, too.
          The cook was a man named Otto Demars, and he was a grouch. I’ve never known a cook who wasn’t. I guess it was standing over a hot fire for much of the day, but for some reason, those guys were always grumblers. Most of them had a good sense of humor, though—a lot of grumbling was put on—and nearly every one of them could be trusted almost to a fault.
          “Wish we had some more meat,” Demars muttered as he was dishing out the beans for supper. “Gettin’ tired of cookin’ beans, beans, beans.”
          “I’ll see if I can get a deer or antelope tomorrow,” I said to him.
          “We could butcher one of them cows,” he muttered, but he said it with a twinkle in his eyes.
          There was only one problem that night and that was with the camp bully. Big fellow named Carson, who thought he ought to run everything and tell everybody what to do. Everett said that the rest of the people just tolerated him; they’d tell him “yeah, yeah,” then go on and do what they wanted to anyway. Clem told the whole group that I was now the “trail boss,” and they’d all take orders from me first, and Ben, second.
          Not surprisingly, Carson objected. “I ain’t takin’ no orders from you, Conners, and I shore ain’t takin’ orders from a nigger.”
          “Yes, you are,” I told him. “You’ll either do what you’re told or I’ll kick you out of this wagon train. Your choice.”
          He came over to me. “You ain’t big enough, Conners, to do that.”
          Before he got half way to me, I drew my gun and parted his hair with a bullet.  He stopped, his eyes as big as a frog's.  He ran a hand through his hair to make sure it was all there.  I gave him a wicked smile.  "Oops," I said.  "I missed.  Maybe if I aimed a little lower...." and I shifted my gun down a few inches.
          Carson backed up, lowering his head as he did.
          “Any of the rest of you have a problem with taking orders from me?”  I asked.
          Nobody did, but, unfortunately, there were some serious problems with Ben being second-in-command.
          There were a group of them. “Sorry, Conners, but we ain’t takin’ orders from Baker and that’s final.” That from a man named Joel Hartenstein.
          “You’ll take orders from him or you’ll find yourself a different trail boss. And you can chase your cattle all the way to Texas for all I care, because that’s where they’ll probably end up, given the way you men have handled them so far.”
          The situation got quiet and serious. There were 10 of them, almost the whole contingent of men in the caravan. I didn’t see many friendly, positive expressions on the faces looking at me.
          Finally, McKenzie spoke up. “Well, I guess you’ll just have to ride then.”
          I was about to say, “fine,” and “adios,” but Ben spoke up. “Rob, it’s ok. I’ve been here before. I’ll head back to Windy. I’ve got a shop there.”
          “No, Ben…”
          I looked at him. He just shook his head.
          I was really angry now. I looked back at McKenzie and the other men. “I’ll compromise on one thing. He stays, and rides with us, but you don’t have to take any orders from him that don’t come directly from me.”
          The ten men looked at each other, and there were some nods. “All right, but he sleeps outside the camp, not with us.”
          I sighed, disgusted, and glanced at Ben. He nodded. “Somebody needs to keep an eye on the cattle anyway.”
          “We’re going to have nightly watches, Ben, you know that.”
          “I know, but I’ll stay close to the herd just in case. I’m a light sleeper.”
          I stared at him, my face hard. I didn’t like any of this, except for the fact that Ben would be staying with the drive. He was a proud man, so I knew this had to be hurting him some, but then, I suspect he’d had to put up with it a lot in his life. I resigned myself to the situation.
          “All right,” I told Hartenstein and the others. “But I think you’re all a bunch of louses and the whole lot of you put together don’t make one Ben Baker.” They didn’t like that, but I didn’t care. “We’re dividing up into three watches. Carson, you, McKenzie and McCoy take the first watch. Edison, Hartenstein, and Kliegel the second, and Ben, Frazier, and I will take the third. The rest of you men get a good night’s sleep. We’ll switch it around every night and let everybody have a chance to sleep the night through. The shifts will go from nine to midnight, midnight to three, and three to six. Any comments?”
          “How come you get the last shift, Conners?” That from Carson, who was still a little sore and was trying to save face, I suppose.
          “Because I’m the boss and I say so, Carson. Plus, a lot of rustlers hit about that time because it’s usually when men are at their most tired or deepest sleep. I want a fresh team out there, especially me and Ben, at that time. What are you complaining about? You have the first watch and will be able to get to bed at midnight and sleep the rest of the way through?”
          He mumbled something I couldn’t hear but let the matter drop.
         “Any more questions, comments, or complaints? Get them out now so we can deal with them and not let them fester.”
          Clem Everett spoke up. “Mr. Conners, we been a’puttin’ our wagons in a circle or semi-circle ever’ night. You thank that’s a good idée?”
          “Yes, I do. And men, keep your rifles and pistols cleaned and loaded. We want to be ready in case we’re hit by outlaws or Indians.”
          Edgar Frazier’s wife, Marge, spoke up, and her voice cracked a bit with fright. “Mr. Conners, do you think there’s a chance we’ll get attacked?”
          I shrugged. “Always a chance, Mrs. Frazier. The Indians between here and Clearwater aren’t as bad as you’ve been led to believe, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some young bucks around who won’t try to win a few points with a kill or kidnap. And rustlers are always a concern. But, frankly, I’m more worried about finding water than anything. I’ll start out early in the morning and scout ahead. Hopefully, we won’t have to travel farther than 10 miles in any one day to find some.” I looked around. “There will be no more dry camps, even if that means we have to push the herd 20 miles. They can do it. You’ve lost cattle, not to rustlers, but to watering holes.” I glanced over at Ronnie Pickens. “Do you have an exact count of how many cattle you have?”
          “Well, not exact…”
          “Get it, first thing in the morning. I need to know exactly what we are dealing with. How will we know if we’ve lost any if we don’t know how many we have to start with?”
          “I think we ought to take turns lookin’ for water.” Carson again, still trying to reassert himself.
          “Carson, I want to ask you something.”
          “What?” He was looking at me suspiciously, his bushy eyebrows almost hiding his eyes.
          “What’s a piggin string?”
          He stared at me blankly, and his mouth flexed a couple of times. “I…I dunno.”
          I gave him a disgusted look. “I doubt you’d know a cow from the back end of a horse. You haven’t the foggiest how much water these cattle need at night, and I wouldn’t trust you to find some, or find your way back here if you did find some. I’ll thank you to just do what you’re told and quit bothering me.”
          He grumbled again. “We ain’t finished, Conners, you and me.”
          “Anytime you’re ready, Carson.”
          He wasn’t ready at the moment.
          I took my eyes off him and looked around again. “Any other questions?”
          "Uh, Mr. Conners?"  Ronnie Pickens.
          "What is a piggin string?"
          "That piece of leather I used to tie that cow's legs with earlier today.  Get you some of it.  You'll probably need it."
          "Yessir.  Thank you.  I don't know much, but I'm willing to learn."
          I nodded.  I liked the boy's attitude.  "Anything else?" I asked.
         There wasn't, so I said, “Ok, first watch get to work. Keep the remuda of horses close to the herd so you can watch them as well.”
          People began to slowly scatter back to their wagons. I walked over to Ben. “I wouldn’t blame you if you cut out,” I told him. “What a bunch of horse’s backsides.”
          He half-smiled at me. “I’m used to it, Rob. You still need me to watch your back.”
          I grunted. “But who’s going to watch yours?”
          “You are,” and he walked away into the dark.
          With all that solved—and unsolved--I was hoping for a peaceful drive. At my estimate, we were about 250 miles from Clearwater Valley. If we could average ten miles a day, we could get there about mid-October, which would—hopefully—be before bad weather hit and the settlers could get their land and get under some kind of shelter before the cold weather set in. I shook my head again. Whoever planned this trip wasn’t thinking very clearly.
          But if I was hoping for a peaceful journey…I was hoping in vain. It was anything but that. I’m not sure why I even expected it might be.