Authors: Clay More
Tags: #action, #ranch, #classic western, #western fictioneers, #traditional western
STAMPEDE AT RATTLESNAKE PASS
Stampede at Rattlesnake Pass by Clay More
Copyright © CLAY MORE
Published by the Western
Cover Design L. J. Washburn
Western Fictioneers logo design by Jennifer
Image credit: Charles Russell
All rights reserved.
For Tricia and Quincy
Ben Horrocks struck a light to his cigar as
he urged his palomino along the zigzag trail leading down from the
mesa. He puffed contentedly for a moment; a man at peace with
himself and with his lot in life.
"I love this country, Saul," he said to the
young man riding along beside him. "It does this old heart of mine
good to have you back at the Rocking H. I missed you all that time
you was away, boy."
Ben Horrocks was a tall rangy man with an
iron grey moustache and deep wrinkles etched in a darkly tanned
face. His son, Saul, was a younger version, clean shaven, unlined
and apparently without a care in the world.
"And I am glad to be back, Pa. When Ma died
I figured I just needed some time to cut loose and grow up a bit.
But something told me it was time to come home and help you and
Elly." He shook his head and whistled. "And I reckon whatever told
me got it right. I hadn’t realized how hard it must have been for
you trying to run the place on your own."
Ben blew out a ribbon of smoke and squinted
up at the blazing midday sun hanging in a cobalt cloudless sky.
"Yes, it has been tough, Saul. But I have a good feeling that we’ll
be able to turn everything around now." He patted the bulging
saddlebag in front of him. "With this loan from the Tucksville Bank
we'll be able to pay the boys what I owe and buy a new bull. I
think our luck is about to change, son."
They reached the bottom of the zigzag and
the trail narrowed as it crossed the semi-desert with its numerous
saguaro cactus and thickets of yellow blossomed paloverde.
"I think you’re right there, Pa," Saul
replied with a grin. "What say we speed up some and get this money
back to show Elly? My little sister could do with some cheering up.
She needs a man in my opinion."
Ben tossed his head back and gave a short
snort-like laugh. "Well she might get one soon as well. It could be
helpful, if you catch my drift."
"You mean Jeb Jackson at the Double J?"
"That’s what I’m thinking. He’s real keen on
her, you know."
In reply Saul raised his hat and gave a loud
whoop. "Well, Pa," he said with a mischievous grin, "I reckon I’d
better hurry off home right now and tell Elly just what you’ve got
in store for her." And with a kick of his heels he urged his roan
down the narrow trail.
"Don’t you say any such thing, you young
varmint!" Ben cried in mock annoyance. "Anyways, I reckon my
palomino will be home long before that piece of crow-bait you call
a horse." And with a guffaw of good humor he kicked his heels to
set the big palomino after the roan.
The palomino had only just begun to lengthen
its stride as he watched Saul streak past a thicket of paloverde.
Then he watched in disbelief as he saw the unmistakable shape of a
rifle barrel suddenly protrude from the thicket and discharge.
He saw the puff of smoke and heard the
report of the gun. And as he flicked his eyes ahead, he saw his
son’s arms go out and his head shoot backwards as if he had
received a battering blow to his back. Then he tumbled from the
saddle to lie unmoving in the sand.
Fear and anger fought for mastery as he
reined the palomino in and clawed for the Peacemaker at his side.
In his young days he had been no slouch with a gun. He cleared
leather, his thoughts now being a tumble of self-preservation,
desperation to get to his son, and a desire for revenge against
this murderous bushwhacker.
As if in slow motion he saw the rifle barrel
swivel in his direction as he raised his gun, his thumb ratcheting
back the hammer.
But the rifle fired twice in rapid
succession, both bullets hammering into his chest. He tumbled
backwards off the horse.
And as his life ebbed away he cursed himself
for not being there for his son. For not being there for his
"Luck – just changed –" he gasped as his
heart beat its last ever beat.
Elly Horrocks stood over the two graves on
the butte that marked the highest point of the Rocking H ranch. It
was a weekly ritual that she had gone through over the past six
months, ever since the bushwhacking of her father and elder
brother. Yet it never seemed to get any easier. She laid posies of
flowers and said her silent prayers as usual, then shed a few
lonely tears before letting herself out of the little picket fenced
"Come on, Trixie," she said to her sorrel
cowpony. "Let’s chase the wind." And mounting up she let the pony
have its head for a mile or two before turning and heading back for
home and the depressing atmosphere of the ranch-house and all the
problems that seemed to go with it. But as she rode back her mind
conjured up the image of a young man breaking in a colt. She warmed
to his sandy colored hair and roguish smile, wishing that he could
be riding alongside her now.
"Someday soon, we’ll be able to tell the
world, Trixie," she said to the back of the sorrel’s head, grinning
to herself as the animal's ears seemed to prick up with interest.
"But first we need to find a way out of this mess."
And with her mind now on other more mundane
matters she rode up to the ranch-house and tied Trixie at the
hitching post with its cast iron Rocking H sign atop it. She
mounted the steps two at a time, unencumbered as she was by skirts
and petticoats, preferring to wear men’s range clothes, which did
little to conceal her attractive curves. At the door she pulled off
her hat, ran a hand through her long corn tresses, and let herself
"We were worried about you, Miss Elly!" came
a gravelly voice from an inner doorway.
She started despite herself and spun around
to face Yucatan, her brother’s friend and former saddle partner,
now the Rocking H general factotum. He was tall, broad shouldered
and narrow hipped with angular features and dark complexion. His
eyes were sharp, his movements quiet and fast, feline almost.
Although he professed to Mexican ancestry she suspected that
through his veins also flowed Apache blood. He stood in front of
her in a black shirt buttoned to the neck and trousers tucked into
calf-high soft leather boots.
"I was visiting the graves," she said,
disliking the way that he fussed over her since the shootings.
"It is not a good place. There are
rattlesnakes about up there."
A suitable reply was forming in her mind
when another voice called through.
"Elly? Is that you back now? God, I’ve been
Elly looked up at Yucatan and fancied she
spied a knowing look hover across his lips.
"I said we were worried, Miss Elly," he
She nodded silently as she brushed past him
to go through the hall to the main room. A young man was sitting in
a wheelchair by the large bay window, a paper in one hand and a wad
of documents on his blanket covered knees. His resemblance to her
was unmistakable; same corn colored hair, blue eyes and lightly
dimpled chin. Yet there was a hardness, a bitterness about the
mouth that was foreign to Elly’s visage. She was aware that it
never used to be there on him.
"I’ve only been visiting Ma and Pa’s graves,
Saul," she said, taking in the worried expression.
Saul Horrocks dropped the paper on top of
the others, shook his head and smiled past her as Yucatan entered
and stood a pace behind her shoulder. "It would have been three
graves up there if my friend Yucatan hadn’t found me."
"We are friends, Master Saul. You saved my
life once, now I will always look after you."
Elly felt her cheeks redden as a surge of
guilt came to consciousness. She knew that it had been such a close
thing. If Yucatan hadn’t found them that morning then her brother
would have bled to death with a bullet in his spine. There had been
nothing that he could do for her father, of course. And the
murderers, whoever they were, had stolen the money they had just
borrowed from the bank. As it was, Yucatan had taken her father and
brother back in the buckboard and while the hands took care of Ben
Horrocks’ body, in the absence of a trained medical man Yucatan had
removed the bullet himself with a red hot knife, then cauterized
the wound. Undoubtedly, it had saved Saul's life, but apparently
the bullet had smashed his spine and permanently taken away the use
of his legs. Over the months that followed Yucatan had looked after
all of Saul’s manly needs, while Elly saw to feeding him back to
some semblance of health.
"I should be dead, Elly!"
She dropped down on one knee beside him and
took his right hand. "Well, you are not dead, Saul, so don’t get
maudlin again. Please! You have still got me, and I am here for
Suddenly, anger flared, as it seemed to do
so often these days, and he viciously raised a fist and brought it
down on his thigh scattering the papers on the floor. "Goddammit!
There’s no feeling there, Elly. I might just as well be dead for
all the use that I am. I am condemned to this chair and I can’t run
a ranch from here, can I?"
"We will manage, Saul," she protested.
His eyes flashed upwards, challengingly.
"How, Elly?" he queried, a tone of desperation having crept into
his voice. He pointed to the papers on the floor and Yucatan
crossed the room and silently began picking the sheaves up and
stacked them into a pile which he laid on the nearby table.
"Bills, bills! How are we going to pay them
off?" Saul went on. "We’re getting deeper in debt every day – and
now the bank is threatening to foreclose on us." He gritted his
teeth and thumped his other thigh with his other fist. "That damned
bank knows that those dirty bushwhackers stole the money Pa
borrowed, but Wilber Goodson the new manager had that letter
delivered to me today. They won’t wait more than another two
Elly gasped. She straightened and walked to
the window, looking out at some of the ranch-hands going about
their early morning chores. Her eyes fell on one in particular
leading a couple of horses towards the corral and for a moment her
angst was distracted.
She heard Saul sigh, then:
"Elly, there is still one way – "
She spun around, her mouth firm. "No, Saul!
We’ve been through all this before. I will not marry Jeb
Saul nodded to the tall Yucatan. "Give us a
moment, will you? I could do with some coffee."
With a nod the factotum left silently.
"Now see here, Elly, the morning we were –
shot – Pa told me that –"
"I won’t consider it, Saul. Jeb Jackson is
near twice my age and I – I don’t love him. I can’t! I won’t do
Saul clicked his tongue. "Then we only have
a couple of weeks to find enough money to pay back the loan and
stop the bank foreclosing. We’ve got to show them that we have
plans – big plans! But first we need to raise money."
"How, Saul? What can we sell?"
He hesitated for a moment. "I hoped it
wouldn’t come to this, but I have been thinking. We sell half the
herd, straight away. Then we pay the bank and instead of buying a
bull like Pa planned, we buy sheep. We’ll have to tighten our
belts, cut back on some of the luxuries, but with a good price for
our beeves at Silver City and a whole parcel of luck we might
manage it. I reckon we can sell half the herd at Silver City, then
go south and buy a goodly sized flock of Navaho-Churro sheep then
we can start to build the biggest sheep ranch in the territory.
Meat and fleece, we might just manage it."