It was hot. Godawful hot. I thought Colorado would be cooler. What I get for thinking, I reckon. I wondered for the hundredth time why we were here.

I grinned at the thought. We were here because my brother Zeke and I got a hankering to go ‘yondering’ as our Pa liked to put it. I’m pretty sure he had no idea what was going to happen, or that I would be hiding from my enemies in a cave while they searched for me.

Zeke was the third son and I was the fifth in our family. Our father had a pretty big spread down in Texas, right on the Rio Grande, but it wouldn’t amount to much if it had to be split between five sons and a daughter. Our two oldest brothers had already left the nest. One was in Arizona. He had a horse ranch and was in the Arizona Rangers. The other was a County Sheriff in the Hill Country of Texas, with a ranch/farm. They were both carrying on a family tradition of service in law enforcement. My father was also a Captain in the Texas Rangers.

Zeke was 23 and I was a month shy of my eighteenth birthday when he started talking about heading for Colorado to try and get in on the gold strikes happening there. We were pretty much partners around the ranch. We worked well together and folks tended to leave us alone. Most of it had to do with who we were but some of it was because of our reputation.

Zeke was the most direct fellow I ever met. He didn’t believe in beating around the bush and if he had something to say he came out with it good or bad. I was the quieter one until I got riled. Even then I didn’t talk much, preferring to let my pistol, knife, or fists carry the conversation. Without bragging I was hell on wheels with a six gun. The only one even close was Zeke. He wasn’t quite as fast but deadly accurate and didn’t stop until everybody he was up against died or gave up.

We never much talked about it and people didn’t realize how we were until the spring before we left. We were going out to a line camp next to the border to relieve the hands who had wintered over. I laughed, telling Zeke the lure of cold beer and hot women would have Jose and Dan ramped up and ready to go when we got there.


Something was wrong. We could read the sign and feel it. There were no horse and cattle tracks around the springs and creeks we crossed newer than last week or longer. Dan and Jose might be a lot of things but slackers weren’t among them. They were excellent stockmen, the main reason Pa had sent them out. If the tracks were off there had to be a reason and it wouldn’t be good.

We came up on the line cabin and sat back a ways, sizing it up. We could see through the field glasses Zeke carried that the door was wide open. Without discussing it I angled one way and Zeke went the other, approaching under as much cover as possible. We may as well have ridden right on in. I stepped through the door first going to the right, Zeke going left.

We found Jose on the cabin floor. He’d been dead two weeks or better and the critturs had been at him something fierce. We rolled him in a blanket as best we could and carried him outside. It took us a few hours to find Dan, hunkered down in a buffalo wallow a couple miles out. His weapons were gone, but judging by the spent shells we found he’d put up a pretty good scrap. There wasn’t much to move so we brought out the shovels, carried Jose with us, and buried them both in the wallow. We put up two crosses we knew would be gone by next spring, read from the Book, and said our farewells.

Neither of us were inclined to sleep in the shack so we rolled up in our blankets under the moon. The next morning we hit the trail. It had been a while but there hadn’t been that much rain and 500 cows left a lot of tracks. They went straight to the river and Zeke didn’t hesitate in following.

We rode in Mexico about as often as we did at home and both spoke pretty good Mexican. In fact, our stepmother was Mexican from one of the better families in the region. I was a little better with the language because I had a weak spot for the exotic looking, raven haired senoritas. A hankering that led to a couple of scraps over the locals objecting to a Gringo sparkin’ their women. It never got out of hand because the family on our mothers’ side made it plain they wouldn’t interfere if it was one on one. Gang up on us, though, and they’d lend a hand.

It only happened once. I thought I was a goner, holed up in a cantina, down to three shells in my pistol when Zeke showed up with Uncle Miguel and cousin Santos and a few of their riders. The got behind the boys, disarmed them, and called me outside.

Uncle Miguel asked who I had the trouble with, cut him out of the herd and gave him his pistol back. “Face him like a man puta, or we kill you. You wanted him, there he is.”

He had sand but I hadn’t had a meal in two days or slept for 36 hours, so I had a little anger built up. I gave him all three shells as he tried to bring his pistol to bear. After that I was mostly much left alone.

We followed the tracks for three days until they ended in a pretty good sized town. Most of our cattle were in the pens, bound no doubt to the slaughterhouse as food for the military. We barely glanced at the cattle as we rode in. We didn’t stand out being as close as they were to the border so people mostly ignored us.

Two riders in a hurry can travel a lot faster than a herd so we weren’t much more than two hours behind them when we hit town. We knew they probably hadn’t finished the sale of the cattle and were still in town somewhere. As near as we could figure from the tracks they were no more than five or six riders. That few vaqueros pushing that many cattle that fast would leave them pretty wore out.

We stopped in front of the best looking cantina, beat as much dust as we could off us, and stepped inside. It was afternoon so there wasn’t a large crowd. We bellied up to the bar and ordered the dark Mexican beer we were partial to, thanking the bartender in his language. We let the first two slide down to give them time to get used to us, then started talking to the bartender and one of the patrons at the bar.

We introduced ourselves by first names only, bought a round, and started talking about range conditions and general business. “Our Pa sent us down to see about maybe selling some beef to the Army. We heard they were having a hard time fulfilling their quotas,” said Zeke. “He’d sure like to get in, business is a little slow in the States right now.”

What he was talking about was common knowledge. Central and Western Mexico had been in a hard drought for a couple of years and the cows responded, losing weight and not dropping calves as often. Good beef was hard to find right now. Mexico bought from border ranches when they could, as did the U.S. when opportunity came up.

They were full of information and directed us to the local Quartermaster, who happened to be in town to purchase a small herd. We bought them another round, chatted for a few more minutes, and left.


The quartermaster was a middleaged man who wore his years on his face. Despite his droopy appearance and his massive mustaches he was a pretty sharp cookie.

Zeke introduced us as potential business associates, asking about prices, delivery dates, and numbers. The man knew of our ranch and was pleased we had expressed interest. His prices were fair, even a bit higher than what the US was paying. Zeke set the hook.

“Can you handle about five hundred head now, maybe 500 more in a few weeks?”

“We can, Senor. More if you have them.”

“Well good then. Those cows that just came in are ours. They carry our brand. Now we can handle this a few ways. You can take my word for it and pay us, we can get the Federales involved, or better yet your commanding officer. I don’t give a damn who drove them in or what kind of deal you struck those are our cows. How you handle this will bear on any further business we do. One thing you may want to think about. They killed two of our hands in cold blood and we will be looking them up as soon as our business is over. After we meet one group or another won’t be your problem anymore. Maybe both. Just in case I’ll post a letter to our father saying you acted in good faith and he should honor the deal I made with you. I would ask that if this ends badly for us you contact Miguel Vasquez and hold our bodies for him. He’s our uncle and will fetch us home.Your decision, Major.”

Talk about a rock and a hard place! The Major had a hell of a decision to make. I think the opportunity to purchase more beef swayed him and the fact that we claimed Miguel as our uncle sealed the deal. He was a pretty big deal in that part of Mexico. “All right. I’ll pay you the agreed upon price right now, in gold as requested. The men you are looking for are the Montoya Brothers. They have three men with them and right about now they’ll be at Marias’ Cantina. I have to warn you they do not like Americans there and they won’t be happy when you show up.”

“Thanks, amigo. They’ll be even more upset when we leave. It should take us about an hour to conclude our business. We’ll stop by for payment on the way out of town. A pleasure doing business with you, sir.”

We shook his hand and he surprised us by offering to send a few troopers with us to the cantina.

“No need to bother the Military. They got their own problems. We’ll handle it.”

By now it was gettin’ pretty late in the evening. We checked our weapons and took a liesurely stroll down the boardwalk. I nearly stopped and went in when we passed a restaurant, it smelled that good. Zeke’s stomach growled and I grinned.

Maria’s Cantina was not a first tier place. It was smaller than I hoped and the locals eyed us with displeasure when we walked through the door. We scanned the room looking for men that matched the descriptions the Major had given us. It was pretty easy to spot the Montoya brothers because of their beards and better cut of clothes. They were at a table by themselves and everyone gave them a wide berth. The other three were at a table about halfway across the bar looking nervous. Probably waiting for their bosses to pay them.

We eased on up to the bar. I didn’t trust the glasses so I asked for a bottle of mescal. That would kill any germ in the universe. The bartender took his own sweet time getting the bottle down. I reached into my vest pocket but instead of money I came out with a little two shot derringer. It was about a foot from his belly button. I started talking softly in Spanish.

“You be calm and you will live to see another day. We’re here for the Montoya brothers. That them to the right?”

He nodded slightly, sweat popping out on his brow. “Gracias. Now to avoid any misunderstanding I want you to ease to the end of the bar. I wouldn’t want you gettin’ hit by a stray bullet. As a gesture of good faith I’d like you to bring that scattergun out from under the counter and lay it on the bar. That will keep bad thoughts out of your head. Understand? Good. Now do it real slow.”

He made damn sure his fingers were nowhere near the triggers as he slid it on the bar top. “Both barrels loaded? With what?”

“Buckshot, nails, glass, anything I thought might do damage, senor.”

I looked down. Ther shotgun was an old muzzleloader. I hoped that if I had to use it it didn’t blow up in my face. “Good man. It always pays to be prepared. Now ease on over.”

While I was having my conversation Zeke was facing the room, arms on the bar, looking all relaxed. He was even grinning. When the bar man was out of the way I slid the derringer back into my vest and grabbed the scattergun.

“Which of you sombitches are the Montoyas?”

He said it in English but they understood just fine. The older one leaped to his feet while the younger got up more slowly, wobbling a little. Too much cervaza if I had to guess.

“Who wants to know?” He said it in Spanish so we answered in kind.

“The men whose hands you killed and own the cattle you stole. Bad news about I’m afraid. The Major has seem fit to deal with us so we’ll get the money. All you did was half kill yourselves getting them here. Thanks for that but it’s not enough to atone for your sins. You got a choice. Surrender and face the Federales or buck up and face us. Which one you think you’d like best, a rope or a bullet?”

The other three were easing out of their chairs, along with what probably were a few of their friends. The sound of both hammers going back on the shotgun stilled them mighty fast. I spoke for the first time.

“You boys are fine where you are. You start things rolling and I’ll turn loose with both barrels. I might not kill all of you but I’ll make you damn uncomfortable. You think about that.”

A twelve guage shotgun barrel looks pretty big when you’re on the wrong end of it so they stopped where they were. I thought we might get out without shootin’ anybody but the younger Montoya obviosly thought alcohol made him faster. He screamed and started grabbin’ so I swung over and let go with both barrels. The thing was mighty old, percussion powered, and damn near broke my wrist. Seems the bartender hadn’t lied about the extras he’d shoved into the barrel. Nails, broken bits of metal, even a few marbles. They both went sailin’ backwards. The older one was almost cut in half and the younger had caugt a few nails to the face. They were both dead before they hit the ground.

Zeke had palmed his left hand pistol and shot the three at the table. When the barrel swung away they figured they had a chance. Not against Zeke. He had one pistol on his right hip, another in a crossdraw facing right, and a third in a crossdraw pointed left. He was the only truly ambidexterous man I’d ever seen, good with both hands at anything he tried, but he was more lethal lefthanded. The trick stood him in good stead over the years. He put seven bullets into them, the last three from his righthand gun. They twitched a little but not much.

Everyone else was frozen, hands as high as they could reach. I talked to them gently. “That’s a good idea boys. You keep them hands up. Bartender, this is a hell of a shotgun. Thanks for the loan. You take what them boys have on them for your trouble.” I pulled out a handful of silver dollars and laid them on the bar. “This is for the undertaker. See they get a proper burial. It was more than the boys they killed got. Leave enough to buy everybody in here a drink, our way of aplogising for disturbin’ their afternoon. We’ll be leavin’ now. You boys stay put for a few minutes.”

Zeke walked over to the Montoyas, reaching dowm and pulling out a fancy knife and four mighty fine lookin’ pistols in hand tooled holsters and belts. He looked over the bar. “You tell anyone who objects to me takin’ this stuff to look me up.”

I backed out while Zeke faced the street. It was like a ghost town. the doors were shut and there wasn’t a soul on the boardwalk. We took the five horses standin’ at the rail, three had our brand and the other two were fine animals with fancy rigs. We figured them belonging to the Montoyas and they wouldn’t be in need of them any longer. I stayed outside with the horses while Zeke collected the money from the Quartermaster, then we got the hell out of town. We had seven horses saddled and ready to go so we switched off every two hours and rode for fourteen hours before we stopped. Anybody chasin’ us better have a remuda with them.

The horses were worn out as we were when we stopped. Zeke took the first watch and I slept three hours before rolling out and giving Zeke a rest. I had coffee made and bacon fried when he woke up. We shoved the bacon in some stale biscuits, swallowed as much as the hot coffee as we could, and took off again. Two days later we rode through the gates of our ranch.

Pa took one look at us and told us to get some rest and we’d talk over dinner. Mother gave us hell for being so dirty and we had to have baths right away. I know it isn’t right, but I was proud of the fact that even though she denied it Zeke and I were her favorite sons. Maybe it was because we were little when she married Pa and bonded more easily. Zeke remembered our birth mother better than I did. All I remember is a lot of blond hair and a good smell and singing. Dolores sang to me too, in Spanish. I think that’s when I learned to love the language.

Zeke was our sister’s favorite brother and she had a way of wrapping him around her finger. She was the only child of Pa and Dolores and was extremely upset when she found out we weren’t full brothers and sister. Zeke made her happy.

“Hear that Brad? She’s only our half sister. That means that I can tickle this half and you can tickle that half.” Her eyes got wide and she tried to run but I caught her. After we stopped, exhausted on the ground, she snuggled up between us. “So you’re not mad I’m only a half sister?”

Zeke grinned and snuggled her tighter. “Silly girl. You’re our ONLY sister. It don’t matter that we had different mothers. you’re a Walters, and one of us. We’ll never love you less.”

They told us later she cried for two days after we left.

That night at dinner I told them the whole story of finding Jose and Dan, our trip to Mexico, recovering and selling the cattle, and the contract we had struck to deliver more. “What about the rustlers?’

Zeke just grinned. “Oh, we came to an accomodation. They won’t be bothering us anymore.”

Ma had seen the groove the bullet left on my arm, and the hole through Zeke’s leg. I thought about it later, wondering if I was tough enough to ride that far that fast with a bullet hole in my leg. Zeke never let on. I guess he didn’t like the alternative all that much.


Three weeks later we were on the range moving some cattle to keep the grass in shape, when we told Pa we were leaving soon. He just grinned. “I figured. You boys been kind of antsy lately. Got any idea where you’re going?”

“We think we might like to see Colorado, see if every creek up there is really filled with gold.”

He frowned a little but didn’t say anything. He paid us wages just like the regular hands and we’d saved a mite up. Almost three hundred each. That was more than most cowboys make in a year. Pa bought the two horses we had brought back, and we sold the fancy pistols for eighty dollars. There was a silver mounted saddle on one of the horses and we both thought it was a bit too gaudy for a regular puncher. We got another forty out of that.

Two weeks later we were saddled up and the pack mule we were taking was loaded down. Little sister and Mother cried. The men of the family just gave us a firm handshake, and Pa told us to watch out for each other.

We took our time, looking over the new country, going steadily North and West. Zeke spotted a small herd of wild horses led by a mighty fine looking stallion. We studied on them for a while and decided it would be a good thing if we had a few extra mounts, so we set a brush wall in a little box canyon and waited until they were close. We rode up slowly, the stallion snortin’ and pawin’ the ground, easing them before us.

When we got close we pulled our revolvers and charged the herd. The stallion was no fool but we managed to split up the herd and drove about a dozen into the canyon, dragging brush in to block them off.

If we would have had time, we’d have spent all summer gentling the horses down, but time was of the essence. We picked out the four best mares and a little dun stallion that looked to be no more than two years old. The rest we turned loose to rejoin their herd.

Over the next two days we got beat up pretty bad. Zeke had a black eye and a bloody nose where the stallion rared up on him, slamming his head backwards into his face. I had a scraped arm and a bruise the size of Dallas on my back but we topped them, working with them every day for a week before going on. Zeke took an old cinch ring and put a brand on them, BZW, our initials.