Authors: Ralph Compton
“Compton writes in the style of popular Western novelists like Louis L'Amour and Zane Greyâ¦thrilling stories of Western legend.”
The Huntsville Times
“Compton may very well turn out to be the greatest Western writer of them allâ¦. Very seldom in literature have the legends of the Old West been so vividly painted.”
The Tombstone Epitaph
The Sundown Riders
Published by the Penguin Group
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First published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First Printing, May 1998
Copyright Â© Ralph Compton, 1998
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
REGISTERED TRADEMARK-MARCA REGISTRADA
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.
This work is respectfully dedicated
to my brother,
William F. (Bill) Compton.
The saga of the “American Cowboy” was sparked by the turmoil that followed the Civil War, and the passing of more than a century has by no means diminished the flame.
True, the old days and the old ways are but treasured memories, and the old trails have grown dim with the ravages of time, but the spirit of the cowboy lives on.
In my travelsâwhich include Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Arizonaâthere's something within me that remembers. While I am walking these plains and mountains for the first time, there is this feeling that a part of me is eternal, that I have known these old trails before. I believe it is the undying spirit of the frontier calling, allowing me, through the mind's eye, to step back into time. What is the appeal of the Old West, of the American frontier?
It has been epitomized by some as a dark and bloody period in American history. Its heroes, Crockett, Bowie, Hickock, Earp, have been reviled and criticized. Yet the Old West lives on, larger than life.
It has become a symbol of freedom, when there was always another mountain to climb and another river to cross; when a dispute between two men was settled not with expensive lawyers but with fists, knives, or guns. Barbaric? Maybe. But some things never change. When the cowboy rode into the pages of American history, he left behind a legacy that lives within the hearts of us all.
In 1821, William Becknell first opened a trade route from Independence, Missouri, to Santa Fe, New Mexico. It quickly became known as the Santa Fe Trail, and for more than seventy yearsâuntil the coming of the railroadâtrains of pack mules and heavy freight wagons moved millions of dollars in goods to the western frontier.
But for some, Santa Fe was the “jumping-off place,” the beginning of their quest for riches, for New Mexico was sheep country. In California there was a ready market for wool, and an abundance of horses and mules, which were in short supply in New Mexico. But following the war with Mexicoâwhen Mexico ceded California to the United Statesâa series of changes began that eliminated commerce between Santa Fe and Los Angeles.
The discovery of gold attracted miners from as far away as England, China, and Japan, while California's ready access to the Pacific made its ports attractive to sailing ships from around the world. By 1855, goods muled in from Santa Fe were no longer worth the cost and the danger.
The country west of Santa Fe had little attraction, except for groups of Mormons who had settled in northern Utah, near the great salt lakes. But there were a few hardy souls who fought the land, the elements, and the Ute Indians to prospect for gold along the rivers of south central and southern Utah. The land, as one old prospector put it, “warn't good fer nothin' but holdin' the world together.” There was cactus, scorpions, rattlesnakes, cougars, and grizzlies. Men sweated by day and froze by night. The land was laced with a variety of canyons and arroyos that flooded during cloudbursts, and when dry, provided excellent cover for hostile Utes with ambush on their minds. In the mountains, the weather was as unpredictable as the land was dangerous. Within a matter of hours, men could be drenched by cloudbursts, pelted by hailstones, or frozen by sleet and snow.
In the glory days, when traders risked their lives to reach gold-rich California, there were no wagons west of Santa Fe. There were only pack mules, and with good reason. The terrain was such that a wagon might be forced to travel for miles just to avoid a deep and dangerous arroyo. But minersâsnowed in for the winter in the mountains of southwestern Utahâseldom owned enough pack mules to freight in needed goods, and removing gold ore by mule was a slow, dangerous process. That, and the fact there was a continual lack of mules in New Mexico. A good mule, when one could be had, sold for as much as two hundred dollars.
Some miners, desperate for a means of freighting in goods and freighting out gold ore, sought out teamsters who were bold enough to take their wagons into the
treacherous mountains. Men who armed themselves with Bowie knives, repeating rifles, and Colt revolvers. These men, who fought hostile Indians, outlaws, the elements, and the land itself, were the first mercenaries. These were the
, blazing a trail ever westward.
Santa Fe, New Mexico. August 1, 1870
“It ain't hard to spot a galoot that's spent all his days lookin' at the stinkin' end of a mule,” said the big man with a black, bushy beard. “His face gits to lookin' just like that mule's behind.”
He sat across the table from Faro Duval, a teamster from Independence, Missouri, who had just won his fourth pot and ended the game.
“Juno Shankler,” said the barkeep, brandishing a sawed-off shotgun, “you ain't startin' no fight in here. Git up and git out.”
Faro's fellow teamstersâShanghai Taylor, Tarno Spangler, and Dallas Weaverâhad their backs to the wall, their hands on the butts of their Colts.
“Faro,” Dallas said, “back off. He makes a move, we'll fill him full of lead. Lay down that scattergun, barkeep. If anything's to be settled, we'll settle it outside.”
“You got it, mule jockeys,” said Shankler. “One at a time, by God, or all at once.”
“I stomp my own snakes,” Faro said. “If anybody needs help, it'll be you.”