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Authors: Dusty Richards

Texas Blood Feud

BOOK: Texas Blood Feud
5.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Kensington Publishing Corp.

I want to dedicate this book to the late “Doc” C.L. Sonnichsen, a great historian who took me under his wing when I was a rank novice writer at some of my first Western Writers of America Conventions, and told me story after story about the great Texas Feuds. They must have stayed with me for they are still vivid today. Doc was such a realist. He once told a writer friend of mine, John Duncklee, when John sold his first article back in his college days at the University of Arizona, that it was wonderful— “Just don’t quit your day job.”

“Doc” had an eye for Western fiction, too. He worried a lot about
political correctness
interfering with writers telling a good story. I moderated a panel at the Cowboy Symposium in Lubbock, Texas, with Elmer Kelton, and they asked Elmer about that. Mr. Kelton smiled and said in his best Texas drawl, “I sure don’t think about that writing my books.”

Neither do I

Dusty Richards

Chapter 1

The acrid smoke from the blazing live oak fire swirled around his batwing chaps when Chet picked up the branding iron. He headed across the pen for the bawling calf stretched out on the ground by Chet’s cousins, Reg and J.D. Bending over, Chet stuck the hot iron to the calf’s side, and it let out an ear-shattering bawl. Chet left a smoking—
on its hide. It was a good enough job of marking the animal. The letters stamped on the dogie had the color of dark saddle leather. Chet nodded for the two boys in their teens to turn the critter loose.

“You made a swell earmark on that one’s ear,” Chet said to them, then went back to the fire and set the iron’s face back in the red-hot coals,

Chet’s thirty-year-old brother, Dale Allen, came dragging in another protesting calf to the fire with his reata around the dogie’s hind legs. The entire Byrnes clan busied themselves working cattle. Catching the late calves they’d missed in the spring, cutting the bulls, ear-notching, and branding ’em. There’d be plenty of fried mountain oysters for supper. The old man, Rock, and Dale Allen’s oldest boy, Heck, held the herd on the flat. Good cool mid-October day to work them—and maybe the last screwworm flies had gone south for the winter. Not taking any chances, they painted all the surgical cuts with pine tar.

Chet made a note with a pencil in his logbook about the newest steer in the herd. “Steer—black, white spot on his neck right side—Summer 1872 crop.” He kept the records on all the cattle in the herd. Shame someone else had had the “bar-B” brand in the Texas Brand Registry when his dad had sent off for it over thirty years earlier.
stood for Cooney, his grandfather’s name on his mother’s side. Grandpa Abe Cooney and Chet’s father, Rock Byrnes, had brought their families out of Madison County, Arkansas, and settled in the Texas hill country on Yellow Hammer Creek twenty years before the war.

In those early years, the fierce Comanche made raids on them in the fall under every full moon. The Byrnes men farmed and worked cattle with loaded rifles and powder horns slung over their shoulders while they held plow handles or reins. Every night they slept lightly with their cap-and-ball pistols under their pillows. Womenfolks kept shotguns ready beside the front door, and the shutters on the windows at the rock house still bore the bullet holes and arrowheads embedded in them. Over the course of years in the long-running Comanche-Byrnes war, three of the Byrnes siblings were carried off by those red savages and never found or heard of again. Two boys and a girl. Keeping a life-long grudge, Chet’s father, Rock, never saw an Indian, man or woman, he didn’t stop and spit in their direction.

Chet checked the sun time and hollered at Dale Allen as he brought another calf up to the fire. “Better break for dinner after that one.”

His brother nodded to him as the boys took control of the calf, and coiled up his rope. “About a dozen left to work in this bunch.”

“Leave them in this trap. We’ll get them out after dinner,” Chet said as he fetched the book and pencil out of his shirt pocket.

“Good. I’ve got to fix my girth anyway,” Dale Allen said, and headed for the shade of some spreading live oaks.

“Go ahead. We’ll work the rest of them this afternoon,” Chet said over his shoulder.

“Red heifer—scar on right leg—summer 1872 crop,” he wrote in the tally. The two boys flanked the calf and Reg, seventeen, the older of the pair, notched her left ear on the underside. His fifteen-year-old brother painted it. Then they stretched the bawling critter between them for the branding.

“We’re ready for you,” Reg said.

Chet went for an iron and walked back to apply it. He glanced up to see someone coming. The firebrand was stamped on the calf’s right side and the bitter smoke from the singed hair filled Chet’s nose. He looked again at the rider driving in hard.

“It’s Susie,” Reg said, standing beside him. “Wonder what in the hell’s wrong now.”

“Rustlers!” she said, out of breath, and skidded the lathered bay to a sliding stop on his hind legs.

Chet ran over to his twenty-year-old sister. “Rustling what?”

“They took all the horses in the north pasture and headed out with them.”

“In broad daylight?” Chet asked her in disbelief. What fools would do that?

“Yes, two hours ago. I had to wait for May to get back to watch the children. You know Mother can’t do that.”

He gave her a grave nod. His mother, Theresa, hadn’t been right in her mind since the Comanch’ took little Cagle. Then when those reds got the twins, Phillip and Josephine, she’d lost it all.

“Who was it?” he asked.

“I don’t know for sure, but I think one of them was a Reynolds—I recognized his paint horse.”

“What in the hell’s going on?” Dale Allen asked, coming over on his stout roping horse from where he had been working on his saddle over at the side.

“Rustlers took our cavy out of the north pasture a couple of hours ago,” Chet said. “You boys put out that fire. Reg, you go get Pa and Heck up here. Branding’s over for today.”

“Is May back?” Dale Allen asked about his wife as he sat on his fretting horse that circled around under him.

Susie nodded. “I had to wait for her to get back to watch Ma and the kids.”

“They’ve got a big head start,” Chet said. “But they can’t race that many horses.”

“They can sure scatter them from hell to breakfast.” Dale Allen shook his head in disgust.

“Aw, they must be nuts,” Chet said, the consuming anger firing his veins. “They sure as hell know we’ll run them down.”

“We won’t standing here.”

Chet heard his impatient brother’s comment and tried to ignore it. When he could see Reg and two others riding up from the cowherd, he went for his mount. “Paw’s coming with Heck. You tell them what’s happened.”

Damn, what next? About the time the Comanche had been run off that part of Texas, white rustlers had taken their place. There were close to sixty broke horses in that pasture, and Chet intended to use them on their cattle drive in the spring. No small investment, and one he could ill afford to lose—he had every intention of sending Dale Allen as the ramrod on this year’s push north. Chet had been up there several times, and possessed no big urge to sit on a horse that long again. Besides, it was his brother’s turn. Chet needed to gather up another herd for the following year—something he was better at than anyone else in the family. Most of it involved dealing with Messikins on the border. Any more the cattle available for them to drive north besides their own had to be bought up from deep in Mexico—those were the last remaining ones aside from them from the small outfits’ assignments.

He tightened the cinch on his blue roan and threw a leg over, reining him back to the others. Even in the distance he could see how red Pa’s face was over the news of the theft. The old man hated rustlers—red or white.

Waving his finger at all of them, the old man shouted, “I want them sons a bitches hung by the neck till they’re dead.”

“We’ll catch ’em, Pa. We’re headed for the house to get some grub, bedrolls, and rifles. They won’t get away.”

“Well, by Gawd, they’ve got a good head start—”

“Easy, you’ll have your ticker all upset,” Chet said, concerned about the old man’s anger flaring up his heart again.

Pa spit to the side and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. “If I was ten years younger, I’d go after them by myself.”

Chet nodded. From his boyhood, he recalled how the old man and a posse went to look for the abducted Cagle. When they returned empty-handed, Pa was never the same. But it was his last desperate trip five years later, looking for the twins as he pursued the Comanche, that hurt his heart so deeply. He hadn’t been heard from for three months. Nothing to eat, nothing to drink for days. He’d returned broken down and demented from his relentless pursuit and coming up empty-handed. For months on end afterward, he never said a word, simply sat on the front porch in a rocker and stared off at nothing.

That year, Chet turned eighteen and began running the ranch, and had ever since. His brother, Dale Allen, younger by a year, would always stand back and let him do it all, too. Then Dale Allen would complain if it wasn’t just right. The thing Chet regretted the most was that he’d never had time to be a boy—to ride off and see some new country, raise some hell, stake out a place of his own, his own brand, his own house, and even find a woman of his own like his brother had.

“Susie, you take Reg’s fresh horse and he can ride that hot one back. Go home and get some food ready for us to take along and we’ll be coming.”

“How much?” she asked, stepping down and exchanging reins with the lanky boy.

“Oh, enough for a couple of weeks.”

“I’ll get the bedrolls out.” She looked at him with the question of how many as she slipped into the saddle and pushed down her dress to cover her exposed knees.

“Three. Reg and J.D. are going along.”

“But they’re boys.” Dale Allen frowned in disapproval.

“I need you here to run things.” Chet knew he sounded sharp, but sometimes his brother needed the truth spelled out. “Pa can’t go and your oldest boy’s too young. We’ll find them and deal out the justice that’s needed.”

“What’ll Aunt Louise say about you taking them two after rustlers?”

“Maw’ll say good riddance.” Freckle-faced Reg grinned big at him.

“Like hell—you better think about this, Chet Byrnes,” Dale Allen shouted after him.

Chet was already trotting his horse and a hundred feet ahead of the rest. He had thought it over and that was his answer. Dale Allen didn’t like it, he could go stick his head in a pail of water. Chet ran the ranch. He jabbed spurs to the blue roan. Already out of sight, Susie was heading for the ranch house.

There was lots to do.

BOOK: Texas Blood Feud
5.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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