Read This Calder Range Online

Authors: Janet Dailey

This Calder Range

BOOK: This Calder Range
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“Are
You
Really Serious About Going to Montana, Benteen?”

He seemed slightly taken aback, a dark brow arching. “Yes.”

“Don't you think we should talk about it?” Lorna asked.

“What is there to talk about?” He frowned, his gaze narrowing on her. “We've already discussed that I was going to look for a place.”

“Yes, but you didn't say anything about Montana,” Lorna protested. “I thought you were going to buy a place in Texas.”

“There's nothing around here, Lorna,” he stated. “Up there, the sky's the limit—and what a sky it is! Wait until you see it. It's beautiful country.”

“I'm sure it is,” she murmured. “It's just that it's so far away.”

A smile touched his mouth. “You have to leave your parents sometime.” He was beginning to understand her hesitation. He'd forgotten she was so young. Her attachment to her parents was still very strong. That would change once they were married.

He reached out to take her in his arms. It had been too long since he'd seen her, and his body was hungry for the feel of a woman's softness.

Books by Janet Daily

Calder Born, Calder Bred

Stands a Calder Man

This Calder Range

This Calder Sky

The Best Way to Lose

Touch The Wind

The Glory Game

The Pride of Hannah Wade

Silver Wings, Santiago Blue

For the Love of God

Foxfire Light

The Hostage Bride

The Lancaster Men

Leftover Love

Mistletoe & Holly

The Second Time

Separate Cabins

Terms of Surrender

Western Man

Nightway

Ride the Thunder

The Rogue

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.

An
Original
Publication of POCKET BOOKS

POCKET BOOKS, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
www.SimonandSchuster.com

Copyright © 1982 by Janet Dailey

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Pocket Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

ISBN: 978-1-4391-8910-8
ISBN-13: 978-1-4391-8910-8
eISBN-13: 9781451640328

First Pocket Books mass market printing October 1982

24   23   22   21

POCKET and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster Inc.

Cover photo by Ric Ergenbright
Cover design by Jim Lebbad

Printed in the U.S.A.

I

Free grass for the taking—

My luck's gonna change,

'Cause there's nothing left in Texas

To match this Calder range.

September 1878

1

It was a country of benchlands and breaks, coulees and cutbanks—and grass that stretched a hundred miles in every direction. The dominating expanse of blue sky overhead seemed to flatten it, but this vast northern range undulated like a heavy sea. The lonely grandeur of it gripped at the heart of the strong and intimidated the weak.

A pair of riders leading packhorses topped a crest of this virgin Montana Territory and reined in. From the stout, double-rigged saddle to the shotgun chaps and the low crown of their cowboy hats, their clothes and their gear marked them as Texans. They were covered with a thick layer of travel dust.

They walked their horses partway down the gentle slope and stopped again when they were no longer skylined by the plain's swell. Saddle leather groaned as the taller of the two men swung to the ground in a fluid motion. The chalk-faced bay he was riding blew out a snort and dipped its nose toward the grass.

Rawboned and lean, Chase Benteen Calder carried his near-six-foot height with the ease of a shorter man. His weight was distributed in hard muscles that lay flatly across his chest and broad shoulders and the long girth of his legs. The twenty-six years of his life had beaten a toughness into his boldly spaced features. It showed in the quickness of his dark eyes, the small break along the bridge of his nose, and the pale track of an old scar on his right temple. Experience had made him closemouthed and vigilant, and the sun had darkened him.

He kept a hold on the reins to his chalk-faced bay while it lowered its head to graze. The rattle of the bridle bit briefly drew his glance to the horse tearing at the curly, matted grass growing close to the ground.

It was native buffalo grass, more nutritious than any other kind. Heat and drought couldn't kill it; cold winters cured it into hay; the trampling of hooves couldn't destroy it. It was said this short grass could put two hundred extra pounds on a steer at maturity. A few minutes ago they had ridden through some ripening blue joint. Taller than the buffalo grass, its wheatlike heads had brushed the stirrups of his saddle.

The great herds of buffalo that had once roamed this range were well on their way to being exterminated by buffalo hunters and hiders. It was an act encouraged by the government in Washington in a deliberate attempt to break the spirit of the Plains Indians and subdue them once and for all. A year before, on October 5, 1877, Chief Joseph of the Nez Percé had surrendered over in the Bear Paw Mountains. Most of the Sioux and the Cheyenne were corraled on reservations, and the rest had fled to Canada with Sitting Bull and Dull Knife. After years of pressure from clamoring ranchers and railroads, the government was finally throwing open the last isolated island of open range. All this land was going to be free for the taking.

Chase Benteen Calder scanned the limitless expanse of the plains with sharp and knowing eyes. His glance stopped on the wiry rider sitting loosely on his horse. Both men were seasoned veterans of a half-dozen trail drives of longhorns north to the railheads in Kansas and beyond. They had just come off a drive Benteen had bossed for the Ten Bar ranch south of Fort Worth, Texas, to deliver a herd to an outfit in the Wyoming Territory. The horses they were riding and the ones that carried their packs all had the 10-brand burned on their hips.

It was on the trail during a stopover at Dodge City that they'd heard the first talk about the Indian country
of Montana Territory and Benteen's interest had been aroused. Then, the ramrod of the Wyoming outfit had mentioned the free grass opening up to the north. Instead of heading directly back to Texas, Benteen had taken this side trip to get a look at the country, and Barnie had tagged along.

This vast rolling grassland was all that they had claimed it to be, and more. Its lower altitude made it more desirable than the plains of Wyoming and Colorado, and its grasses were rich—capable of putting hard weight on cattle.

There would be a stampede into the territory. Free grass was like whispering “gold.” Right now, it looked like a sea of gold. Summer had ripened it to a rich yellow and autumn's cool breath was bronzing the heavy-headed grasses that covered hundreds of square miles. Its location wouldn't stay a secret for long. Soon the place would be overrun with people arriving to make their big chance. Would-be ranchers and speculators would come crawling out of the woodwork like cockroaches to try to make a quick buck and run. But Benteen made up his mind to be here before the cockroaches came.

“I think this is it, Barnie.” His narrow smile was cool and sure.

“Yep.” Barnabas Moore didn't need an explanation of that statement.

Three things were required to make a good cattle range—grass, water, and natural shelter from winter storms. There was grass aplenty; plum thickets and chokecherry trees offered brush shelter; and just ahead there was the wide course of a riverbed meandering through the heaving plains.

Looping the reins around the horse's neck, Benteen swung into the saddle and turned his mount and packhorse toward the cottonwood-lined banks of the river. The taciturn Barnie Moore followed, swaying loosely in rhythm to his horse's gait.

“Look there.” Barnie nodded, the rolled front brim
of his hat pointing to a cutbank where erosion by water and wind had exposed strata of rock and earth in the slope. Close to the surface, a wide seam of shiny black coal gleamed in the autumn sunlight. “Won't lack for fuel.”

Surrounded by virtually treeless ridges, it was an important scrap of information to be tucked away for future use. Benteen made a mental note of it as both men continued toward the river without slacking their horses' pace.

Summer had reduced the river's flow to a sluggish current. It was well within the banks carved by spring melts, the shallow water running crystal clear. But it was water—life-giving, life-sustaining water.

Benteen let the reins sag on the saddlehorn. Beside him, Barnie reached into the deep pocket of his vest and fetched out his tobacco sack and paper. Certainty eased through Chase Benteen Calder. There was no longer any need to search this stark, lonely Montana land.

His eyes were filled with the enormous landscape, the sprawling plains valley with its shallow river flowing through it, the upthrust of range beyond it—and the high blue sky. This range reached from here to forever.

And it sang its promise to him. It sounded crazy to think the land was singing to him, but it was. The low murmur of the water set the rhythm while a keening breeze swept down the slope, playing a melody in the grasses and the dry leaves of the cottonwoods and willows bordering the river.

In his mind's eye, Benteen could see it all as it would be, herds of cattle growing fat on the native grasses, big barns walled with thick wood beams, and a big house sitting on that knoll from which he could view it all. Not in the beginning, but someday. In the meantime, there was plenty of room in these wide-open spaces to think and breathe and dream—and work like hell to make the dream a reality.

Benteen knew about work. He'd been working all his
life for somebody else, but always watching and learning, putting aside money for a place of his own. All of it had been preparing him for this day when he rode onto this land where his knowledge and skill would be put to use. These trackless plains were going to carry his mark. Here he would build something that would endure.

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