Authors: Stephen Bly
CODE OF THE WEST
I'M OFF TO MONTANA
FOR TO THROW
CODE OF THE WEST W
It's Your Misfortune and None of My Own
One Went to Denver and the Other Went Wrong
Where the Deer and the Antelope Play
Stay Away from That City . . . They Call It Cheyenne
My Foot's in the Stirrup . . . My Pony Won't Stand
I'm Off to Montana for to Throw the Hoolihan
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I’m Off to Montana for to Throw the Hoolihan
Copyright © 1997 by Stephen Bly
Dusty Trail Books
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Manzanita, Oregon 97130
Cover design by Stephen George
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First printing 199
Printed in the United States of America
Stephen Arthur Walston
onday, October 1, 1883, Bull Mountain Ferry, Yellowstone River, Montana Territory.
“That little woman of yours looks about ready to start calvin’ any day now.” The speaker had two missing upper front teeth, a month-old red beard, plus a shirt so dirty it was impossible to determine where the m
aterial ended and the dirt and grease began. Even a cool autumn breeze drifting down the middle of the Yellowstone River couldn’t diminish his odor. “I reckon I’ve seen some big’ns before, but that one will come out walkin’ and talkin’.”
In the wagon, Pepper Andrews didn’t bother to sit up straight and suck her stomach in. But she did turn to her hu
sband. “Tap, would you please hand me a gun? I believe I need to kill this foul-smelling, disgusting excuse for a man who just insulted me.”
The ferryman scooted toward the steam-driven donkey e
ngine that propelled the craft. “What’d she say?”
Angelita poked her eleven-year-old brown face out from under a wool blanket next to Pepper. “She said she was g
oing to kill you. Can I watch?”
“No, you most certainly can’t.” Pepper flopped the blanket back over Angelita’s head. “Mr. Andrews, may I see your r
“She’s joshin’ me, ain’t she?” the flushed man choked.
Tap wiped his thick dark brown mustache, pushed his black beaver felt hat to the back of his head, his brown eyes as uncommitted as a riverboat gambler’s. “Mrs. Andrews has been a bit touchy lately.”
“Do I get the revolver?” Pepper demanded. “Or do I have to use the shotgun under the seat?”
“Look, folks, this has gone far enough,” the man pleaded. “I was jist tryin’ to be friendly. Idle conversation, that’s all it was.”
“Don’t use the shotgun, dear,” Tap urged. “At this range it would splatter.”
A muffled voice filtered up from the blanket. “Why can’t I watch this time?”
The ferryman took another step back and balanced hi
mself on the far rail of the platform ferry. The roar and hiss of the steam engine almost drowned his shout. “This time? What kind of woman are you married to? She’s done this before?”
Tap pulled his .44 Colt out of the holster. Holding it by the barrel, he started to hand it up to Pepper and then brought it back down. “Do you have to kill him? Couldn’t you just maim him? Maybe shoot him in the legs or something?”
“I’ve thought it through. I believe I’ll kill him.” Pepper ran her fingers through soiled blonde hair, brushing it back between her hat and the collar of her coat. She had given up trying to keep it pinned up in her combs. Cold, gold dangling earrings grazed against her warm neck.
“You have to promise me you won’t gut-shoot him. I don’t want this poor man to be in agony for two or three days b
efore he dies.”
“This ain’t funny,” the cowering ferryman protested.
“All right,” Pepper said, “I won’t gut-shoot him.”
“Sorry, partner, that’s the best I could do for you. Hope you’re settled up with the Almighty.” He handed pepper his gun.
“She’s actin’ crazy. A woman like that shouldn’t be allowed to have a gun. Someone could get hurt by accident.”
“A man’s got to keep the wife happy. You married?”
“Just as well, seeing how things are turning out. I can n
otify your next of kin if you’d like.”
“You ain’t goin’ to let her shoot an unarmed man.” The man eyed the river as if considering a hasty and wet retreat.
“There is one thing you could try,” Tap drawled, dragging out each word.
The ferryman’s voice cracked. “What’s that?”
“You could apologize for hintin’ she was a little overweight. You could, perhaps, say what a fine-lookin’, thin woman she is. But that’s up to you, mister.” He glanced at Pepper. “Now, darlin’, try to take care of things with just one bullet. There’s no use wastin’ valuable ammunition.”
“Wait! Ma’am, you surely are, eh, one of the finest-lookin’ ladies I ever did see. Yes, ma’am, you are as purdy as one of them actresses in Cheyenne.”
“And thin?” Pepper dangled the revolver in her right hand.
“Oh yes, ma’am, very thin indeed, a picture of feminine lovel
Pepper adjusted the hat ribbon around her chin. “Did you hear that, Tap?”
He nodded and smiled.
“I heard it,” came Angelita’s muffled reply.
“Thank you, sir. You are very perceptive.” Pepper lifted her nose and tried for a fresh breath.
The ferryman released a long, deep sigh and returned to his steam engine. Several times he glanced over his shou
Pepper eyed the approaching shoreline and patted the worn wooden seat for Tap to climb up and join her. As he swung up, she shoved the .44 back into his holster. He u
ntied the reins from the hand brake.
“Can I come out now?” Angelita asked.
“Come on up, girl,” Tap said. “We’ll be at the house before dark, providin’ someone don’t rile Mama again.”
The grey sky and thin, wispy clouds hinted of winter’s co
ming. But they showed no threat of immediate precipitation. The buckboard, piled high with belongings, rattled its way north over the parallel tracks in the treeless prairie. Thick bunches of brown grass and scattered sage filled the landscape from the Yellowstone River up the gradual grade to the Bull Mountains.
The wooden hubs of the wagon wheels creaked as the buckboard springs bounced. The hooves of the draft horses clopped ahead of them. Onespot and Roundhouse, the sa
ddle horses tethered behind the wagon, whinnied.
The air was dry and slightly cool, but Pepper felt sweat form on the back of her neck and forehead. Her back ached. Her de
rriere seemed permanently attached to the wagon seat. The beginning of the two-week journey north from Pine Bluffs was a dim memory. She could not recall a time when she wasn’t pregnant. The plain, long brown dress was the only one she owned she could still wear. She refused to alter or purchase another.
I will burn this the day the baby is born. Why couldn’t an
ything have been average?
I knew I was going to get big—but not this big.
I knew I would grow weary—but not this tired.
I knew it would seem like a very long time—but not for eter
It’s time to get this over with. I’m ready. The baby’s ready. He’s been kicking and slugging me for months. If we get to the house tonight, I’m going to lay down in bed and not get up until baby’s born.
Frankly, Lord, with all Your wisdom and power, couldn’t You have figured out a better system than this? At least a more comfortable one?
Pepper slipped her gloved hand through Tap’s right arm. The stiff canvas jacket felt rough as she leaned against it. He patted the top of her hand as his brown eyes were lost in thought on the northern h
She laid her face against his sleeve.
But he has his ranch. Our ranch. Thanks to Stack. The Lowrey and Andrews Land and Cattle Co.
When this baby’s born, we’ll all forget these last lousy nine months. It’s been tough on him too. He worries about my health. It’s always on his mind. I can read it in his eyes.
Like right now.
I wish he wouldn’t worry about me so much.
She snuggled a little closer.
Tap glanced down at Pepper, then slapped the reins. The horses picked up their pace. “Come on, Gringo. Come on, TwoShoes. Heyaah!”
I ought to be able to run 600 pairs of cows and calves down here most all summer. There’s plenty of water. The grass looks thick. I’ll take the steers up to the hills.
’Course, I’ll need to put on some cowpunchers for the su
mmer. I think I can winter out with just four men—hire a crew for the roundups and maybe keep on six, eight men all summer. Lorenzo’s a good man. I wish I had Wiley too, but it’s not right to ask him to leave his place down in Texas.
The 500 head we bought from Tom Slaughter will give us some increase in the spring. Then we’ll buy 2,000 head of Texas beef cows, but that depends on how we scout it out.
Stack wasn’t sure of the boundaries. I’ll go into Billings and check out the county maps. Maybe we’ll spend the winter puttin’ boundary markers out. Probably spend the winter choppin’ firewood and keepin’ the place warm for Lil’ Tap.
Tap glanced down at Pe
pper’s ample stomach.
Lord, I surely hope I know what I’m doin’ bein’ a daddy. I don’t even have this husband stuff down very good yet. My only conf
idence is others have gone on before and somehow survived.
I reckon we will too.
He glanced back at the Yellowstone River. The ferryboat steamed across with the distant blast of a whistle.
“That old boy at the ferry will have quite a story to tell ’em at the saloon tonight. You came across mighty serious, da
Pepper sat up and tried to stretch her back. Giving up on any r
elief, she folded her hands across the stomach that filled her lap like a full, immense, overflowing lunch basket. “I was serious.”
Angelita swatted a giant mosquito off her brown cheek and wri
nkled her nose. “How come you made me hide under the blanket? I’ve seen men get shot before.”
“Because,” Tap reached around Pepper and tousled A
ngelita’s black bangs, “we just wanted to scare the man. Having you hide made it seem more realistic. Pepper wasn’t really goin’ to shoot him.”
“I seriously thought about it. The next person that even hints about me being fat is dead. This is all your fault, Tapadera A
“It’s, eh, not all my fault.”
“Sure it is. If you had never pretended you were Zachariah Hatcher and never came up to Colorado to claim that ranch, then this would never have happened.”
“Right. You’d be in some dance hall, and I’d be back on the bo
rder dodgin’ lawmen. Sounds pretty borin' to me.” He winked and gave her a squeeze. “I’m mighty glad it turned out this way, Mrs. Aimee Pepper Paige Andrews.”
Pepper pulled his head closer and kissed the stubble of a three-day beard.
“You’re not supposed to do that,” Angelita broke in.
“What?” Pepper asked.
“That kissing stuff.”
“A woman great with child is not supposed to kiss.”
“Says who?” Tap demanded.
“I read it in a book.”
“What kind of books do you read?”
“It was in the library.”
“Well, it was wrong. You aren’t supposed to ride buckin’ horses when you’re in a motherly condition, but it’s all right to kiss your husband.” Tap kissed her again.
“If you two are going to keep that up, I’m going back under the blanket.”
“We’ll try to control ourselves,” Pepper assured her.
“I should hope so.” Angelita pulled her long black pigtails around to the front of her dress and twirled one in each hand. “That reminds me. I’ve been wondering, what do a husband and a wife do on their honeymoon?”
Tap stared up the road. “I’ve got to drive the team. Pepper, darlin’, why don’t you answer Angelita’s question?”
Pepper took a deep breath. “Exactly why did you ask that que
“Well, Daddy and Mrs. Baker got married, and she left her five kids with a sister of hers in Denver. Then she and Daddy were going to go down to Colorado Springs for a honeymoon. But Daddy can’t move his left arm much, and his legs are next to useless. They can’t go for a walk or swing in the park or shop. What do you think they’re doing?”
“Probably just sitting still on a bench and holding hands.”
“That sounds very boring.”
Tap glanced back. “We got riders coming up behind us. Looks like some drovers.”
“Do you think they kissed?”
“Who? Those drovers?” Tap teased.
“No,” Angelita huffed. “My daddy and Mrs. Baker. Do you think they kissed on their honeymoon?”
“Are you going to always call her Mrs. Baker?” Pepper quizzed.
“At least when I’m not around them. She might be married to my daddy, but she’s not my mother, and you didn’t a
nswer my question.”
“Yes,” Pepper replied, “I think they kissed. What do you think, Mr. Andrews?”
Tap glanced over his shoulder again. “I think . . . Those riders are gaining ground on us. Angelita, grab that shotgun off the floor and hold it under your blanket.”
“Trouble?” Pepper asked.
“Just cautious.” Tap pulled his ’73 Winchester rifle from the scabbard, cocked it, and laid it across his lap. He drove the team to the right of the roadway and slowed to a walk, giving the drovers room to ride around him.
Instead, three of them pulled up alongside the parked wagon. The fourth rider hung back near Onespot and Roun
dhouse tied to the rear of the wagon.