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Authors: Jonas Ward

Buchanan's Seige

BOOK: Buchanan's Seige
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BUCHANAN'S SIEGE

B
y
Jonas Ward

1

Tom
Buchanan rode outside on the stage mainly because
they
had not built a Conestoga suitable to his six-foot-
four,
two-hundred-and-forty-pound frame, but also
because
he had not been in big-sky country for some years
and wanted
to enjoy the view. They were coming onto the
plain
toward Buffalo with green graze all around in early
summer,
trees luxurious along the road, cattle waxing fat,
p
r
oduce
now growing where it had not grown before.

The
driver, Jackson, handled the ribbons Yankee style,
fancy,
each horse under separate guidance. He was good
at
it, so
good that he could answer questions. A sligh
t wind was fresh against Buchanan's scarred but comely
face.
Old wounds ached a bit from the jouncing, but he
was accustomed to that.
;

He said, "Down New Mexico the plain's higher by a
couple thousand feet. But this here is greener."

"Water," said Jackson. "Irrigation, some. Whoa there a
bit. Nellie. Gee, Napoleon."

Buchanan thought of the Southwest, where he had
meant to stay awhile, visiting friends. He seemed always to
be going away from home. Right now, it was some kind of a job offer from Colonel Bradbury, an old acquaintance. It
was
coming on evening, and he was to meet the man in
Buffalo, which would be the night stop of the stage.

Hr thought of Coco Bean, the black prizefighter, who was somewhere
in Montana for a bout. He did not particularl
y care to catch up to Coco for more than a howdy be
cause of a matter of unsettled business between them. For
some time, the battler had been earnestly seeking to enga
ge Buchanan in fisticuffs, not out of anger but to de
cide who was the better man with his fists. And Buchanan
was a peaceable man.

It was not that he feared Coco, who was shorter but
weighed in about the same. It was merely that fighting for
no reason seemed to him to be the most senseless endeav
or in the world. Also, he was very fond of Coco, and to
hurt him would be an indecent project indeed. He would, he thought, prepare an alibi, some sort of injury to post
pone the battle.

That should be easy. Buchanan bore the scars of many
an outraged fortune. On the frontier, the very fact of being peaceable by nature seemed to invite trouble. People were always shooting at him or punching at him or cutting holes
in him. It was something he faced with resignation if not
with pleasure.

"Sure is fine cow country," he said aloud.

"Fine country for killin' people, too," said Jackson.

"That's hard to believe." The evening sky was dark
blue and covered them like a monster bowl. Stars began to blink behind fantastic, light cloud-banks.

"Nesters," said Jackson. "Little old ranchers scrabblin'
to put a herd together. Bradbury and them call 'em
rus
tlers.
Whoa there, Dan, easy now, the stable's right nearby."

"Uh, is that
Colonel
Bradbury?"

Jackson turned his weatherbeaten countenance a
quarter way toward Buchanan. "Yep."

"I see." It was a time to keep silence. Buchanan looked
ahead to where, atop a slight grade, a grove of tall trees
shook gently in the breeze. Rustler was a dirty word here,
there, and every place else on the plains of the West. A
man of peace was wise to avoid the subject altogether. He
never knew to whom he might be speaking. The stage
company would be against strife
—strife slowed down
movement of people and merchandise. But an employee
could be related to either faction in this kind of controver
sy. Jackson's side glance might also indicate that he was suspicious of Buchanan.

That was the way of range wars, neighbor against
neighbor, everyone mistrusting the other. Buchanan was
from West Texas, where his father had been sheriff; he
knew about cattleman against homesteader, big fish
against minnows.

Bradbury was big business, owner of the Bar-B. He had
been one of the first to recognize the advantage of fatten
ing trail herds on this Wyoming graze, wintering them,
then driving them to railhead for sale. He had prospered
from the start, a bluff and hearty man, loud-voiced, generous but contentious.

There were others who stood with the colonel from the
start, Dealer Fox of Z-D, a canny veteran; Morgan Crane of M-C, a violent man. All were middle-aged and set in
their ways, all were vastly wealthy and determined to hold
onto every dollar they did not lavishly spend on them
selves and their families.

Buchanan knew these men. He was acquainted with
most of the older frontiersmen, having been up and down
the land for several years, always involved with one cause
or another. They all knew he did not wear a sixgun except
when absolutely necessary. They knew he was a man of
strong convictions, which he kept to himself until occasion
arose. They knew his code, that of the Old West, which held each man accountable to his conscience first and to
the law second, which allowed freedom within these
boundaries.

He had thought well of Colonel Bradbury. Now he
wondered. That word
rustler
rankled in his mind. Too
many men had been falsely accused of stealing cattle.
Branding of any maverick over a year old and still un
marked was range law. Poor men began by owning a few
head, then putting the iron to mavericks. Poor men were
most often victims of richer men, Buchanan had noted in
his travels. Not that he had anything against the wealthy;
most of them had earned their way by hard work arid as
tute management and were to be admired.

Jackson was slowing down the stage as they mounted
the gentle rise. Now Buchanan saw his first barbed wire. It
ran from the road east to the extent of a section of land,
then stretched northward past the grove of trees.

Jackson explained. "Adam Day's farm. That's his wife
you seen, the lady passenger."

She was a medium-sized lady in a bonnet and traveling
dress. Buchanan had noted her slim ankles. She seemed
demure, rather pretty, composed when she had come aboard. The other passengers had been a drummer and
two nondescript men of no particular vintage. Buchanan
had noted them mechanically, out of habit, without much interest.

Jackson said, "Farmin's good hereabouts. Hard winters
make good growin' come spring and summer."

"Vegetables taste better from land like this," Buchanan
said. "But what about the bobwire?"

Jackson shook his head. "Cuts across Bar-B graze.
Adam and some others took up sections. 'Twarn't Brad
bury land, you know. Gov'ment turned it a-loose. But
Bradbury was here first. Same old story."

"Man runs a herd long enough, he figures he owns the
grass," Buchanan said. "Government's far away, back
there in Washington."

"Caused more trouble'n Injun wars," Jackson said.
"It'll cause more soon enough."

"You believe that?"

Jackson said, "First off, thought you was one of 'em.
Now
,
seems like you ain't."

"One of what?"

Those rannies we're carryin'. Hired by the association.
Gunners. Bradbury and them are bringin' in an army,
li
ke."

"I see." He was uncomfortable. Jackson had guessed
right
t
he first time. Bradbury had sent for him. Not for his
gun
s,
the colonel knew better than that. For some other
reason
yet to be divulged
—but meaning no good to nest
ers
or
small cattlemen, Buchanan knew now.

Jackson said, "Day's house is just beyond the trees,
I’ll
be droppin' Miz Day off. Nice people, the
D
a
y
s."

""Most
people are, if you get to know 'em."

"Yeah. Well, Adam works hard. Strong-minded man,
b
ut
honest and all. Crazy about Amanda. That's his wife."

They topped the rise. The view was splendid, the snowcapped, tall mountain ridges plainly visible in the waning
ligh
t,
t
he sloping land running toward them, birds circling.
Big birds, Buchanan noted, black, wide-winged. They
were
circling.

Jackson said, "Oh, my God and Jesus."

There was a long tree limb outstretched toward the edge
o
f
th
e road.
Its burden dangled in awful silence, twisting,
turning
in
the breeze. The ma
n's feet and hands were tied. H
is
head
lo
ll
ed, tongue protruding. It was a bungled job,
they had
failed to break his neck, he had strangled to
death. Buchanan choked on his bile.

Jackson
fought the alarmed horses. Buchanan swung
down
from
the high seat and stared upward. There was a
s
ign on
the
man's chest, crudely lettered.

Rustlers
Be Ware.

Jackson was calling, "That's Adam! By damn, it's
A
d
am
s
."

The stage braked to a stop at the side of the road. The
pa
ss
engers piled out. The woman was first, running,
screaming,
her arms outstretched. The bonnet fell from
her
head;
her hair tumbled down, chestnut color. She was
white as a ghost, and now Buchanan saw that she was
beautiful in her emotion, star-eyed, weeping. After the
first outburst, she was silent. When he caught her, she
leaned against him, her face upturned as if she could never
stop staring at the body of her husband.

Buchanan said, "Steady. Steady does it."

She was silent, but he felt acquiescence in her. She must
be frontier bred, he thought. Now she turned her face
away by force of will and looked up at Buchanan. Her lips moved, whispering. He bent to hear her.

"Before God, I'll make them pay. One way or another. They'll pay, damn their souls."

"Yes, ma'am," Buchanan said. "They've got to pay.
One way or another."

"Not the law. The law can't touch them."

"There's all kinds of law," he told her. "Some we got to make ourselves."

The two men stood by. The drummer was being sick at
the rear wheel of the stage. Jackson held the ribbons in his
skillful hands, speechless, agonized.

One of the men said, "Another rustler. Let's git the fool
outa here, driver. No business of ours."

Amanda Day pulled loose from Buchanan. She faced
the two men. "Rustler? You fools, he was a farmer."

"Prob'ly shot a steer for beef." The man shrugged.

Buchanan said, "Best you get back in the stage. All
three of you."

The drummer hastened to obey. The two men faced Buchanan and the lady.

"You tellin'
us what to do?"

"Suggestin'," said Buchanan. He spoke to Jackson. "I'll
stay with Miz Day. If you run into Coco Bean up in
Montana, send him out here. And anybody else might be
helpful."

BOOK: Buchanan's Seige
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