Excerpt from The Lonesome Chisholm Trail:
He was exactly what I envisioned as a Texas cowboy, a tall, handsome man with straight white teeth and a Stetson Boss of the Plains as black as a crow's wing. With his shining blue eyes, high black boots and crimson bib-front shirt, he looked as if he had stepped off the cover of a Beadle's half-dime novel. Of course, he carried a sidearm, a new model Colt revolver, fast becoming the choice of weapon for plainsmen everywhere.
And it was pointed right at me.
"Now, Ty," he said, maintaining his smile and friendly voice while leveling that long-barreled .45-caliber cannon. "Just ease that money belt off and put it on your saddle."
I had dismounted to nature's call for the first time since we had left San Antonio. When I came out of the bushes, I was dumbfounded to find my new friend pointing his Colt at me. Now the shock was wearing off and I realized the man who called himself Rip Ford had intended to waylay me all this time. With a dry throat and sick stomach, I loosened the belt that held the only money to my name -- not that it was much.
After placing the belt on the saddle, I stepped back from the spare horse he had loaned me. He shifted the gun to his left hand, then deftly picked up the reins to the roan I had been riding. He smiled again, and with his gun barrel, motioned toward the canteen on the roan's saddle horn. I took the canteen and waited.
"I don't want you to think badly of me, Ty," he said, "and I ain't one to leave a greenhorn without any water. Better take that blanket, too. It's apt to get a mite chilly tonight." I unlashed the heavy wool blanket strapped behind the saddle's cantle and threw it over my shoulder.
"I just need a stake, Ty. Now you just wait here by the road and someone's bound to come along by morn and take you back to San Antone or down the road. You can tell all your friends that you was robbed by the great Rip Ford." He laughed at that, holstered his gun, and kicked his horse into a trot, pulling the roan behind him.
"You'd leave a body in the middle of nowhere without a horse!" I cried, finally finding my voice.
"Hell, Tyrell," he called back. "It's my horse."
When he had disappeared down the road, I sat down and studied
my options, none of which I liked. It would be dark soon, and the thoughts of Indians, wild animals and snakes didn't make me comfortable. Here I was, a sixteen-year-old orphan, penniless and alone, with only a blanket, half a canteen of water and the clothes I wore -- and most of those were stolen. I thought about walking back to San Antonio but dismissed the idea, realizing I could easily get lost at one of the many crossroads we had traveled. Rip Ford -- and I was starting to doubt that was his real name -- was right. My best bet was to wait, so I settled down for a cold night, alone in South Texas, suddenly wishing I had never left Florence, South Carolina.
The shock of being robbed soon wore off, gradually replaced by anger, then of foolishness for being suckered like that. I had let a stranger charm me, befriend me, rob me and leave me stranded. I should have never stepped inside that saloon.
It was the music that had drawn me there, a rich baritone voice and soft guitar strumming that carried above the sounds of glasses clinking and laughter inside the building and traffic in the streets. I was on the wrong side of San Antonio, and I knew it, but I was looking for my uncle, or directions to his ranch, and had been unable to find anyone who knew him in the city proper. Now I was in the rowdy part of town, what the locals called Hell's Half Acre, and, remembering his letters to my mother, I knew this was his element.
Stepping into The Clipper, I smiled. The place was full of cowboys, women in frilly dresses and an assortment of rawhide-looking men. This was the West I had imagined. To my right, sitting on a stool and leaning against the far wall, was the source of the music. He was a dark-haired young man in a yellow shirt and blue pants, smiling as he sang to a small gathering of cowboys and dance-hall girls, the latter hanging onto his every word.
I spent my years pushin' cattle
Down that lonesome Chisholm Trail.
Herdin' all those dogies
Through wind and rain and hail.
The only thing I ever owned
Was a horse and a gun.
Keep on drivin' 'em
Until the day is done.
I leaned against the bar and listened to him sing. His voice and boyish good looks were those of an actor, but his boots were worn and brown, and the spurs hooked on the stool gave him away as a cowboy. Why he was singing in a saloon in the red-light district, I had no idea.
"What'll it be, sport?" a booming voice sounded behind me.
Turning, I saw a burly bartender with mutton-chop whiskers and a scarred forehead. "Whisky," I said dryly, caught up in the moment. He nodded, uncorked a bottle and filled a shot glass of some reddish looking liquid, then waited.
I pulled up my shirt and found my money belt, withdrew a Yankee greenback and handed it to him. When he gave me my change, I quickly put it back in the belt and reached for the shot glass. Quick death is better than slow death, I thought, and gulped the whisky. It burned its way down and exploded in my stomach. I leaned against the bar and coughed.
Whisky wasn't new to me; I had stolen sips from my father's private stock, and stills were common around Florence. But this wasn't what I would call whisky.
The man to my left laughed and summed up my thoughts perfectly: "That rotgut goes down about as smooth as coal oil."
Through watery eyes, I saw him. He had blond hair, a neatly trimmed mustache, blue eyes that reminded me of my mother's and a smile that immediately put you at ease. After he tipped back his black Stetson, he held out his right hand. "Rip Ford," he said.
Copyright 2000 by Johnny D. Boggs