Excerpt from The Big Fifty:
Rifle in hand, he bellied up the collapsed side of an arroyo and stared at the swaying brown ocean before him. The scene took Coady McIlvain's breath away. Hundreds, no thousands, of buffalo had cut through the tallgrass prairie with the efficiency of one of those mechanized reapers produced by the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company he had heard about -- not that he ever cared much for farmers or their equipment. No, as a scout and a hunter, in fact one of the best ever to fork a horse or pull a trigger, James Coady McIlvain had little use for farmers.
He had some hunting to do this fine spring morning.
The great shaggy beasts mulled about, chewing their cuds, grazing, bawling, like a herd of Jersey cows. Well, maybe not a bunch of milch cows. Coady McIlvain had never heard tell of a herd of cattle this big, not in Kansas anyway. As far as he could see, buffalo blotted out the prairie. In his years on the border, he had seen some big herds, but nothing like this. He lay still, barely breathing, and studied the horizon for any signs of Indians, although the thought of running into any Kiowas or Cheyenne didn't scare him -- least ways, not as long as he had his Sharps rifle and a bandoleer of true-shooting cartridges -- but it paid to be careful. He hadn't lived as long as he had acting foolishly.
Nothing but buffalo.
He smiled then, breathing easier, and drew his .50-caliber Sharps closer, checked the breech, pulled off his leather gauntlet, wet the tip of his pointer finger and rubbed it on the sight at the top of the long barrel. He did that with the practice of a veteran to cut down on glare, and for luck. By nature, buffalo runners were a superstitious lot, and he was no exception. He removed his weather-beaten Boss of the Plains, placed it crown down by his side, and brushed the long, sandy bangs out of his eyes.
For the next ten minutes, the steely-eyed hunter studied the herd. Find the leader, he told himself, drop him first and the buffalo won't stampede. He'd have himself a stand, one of the best ever, maybe even top that record he set a few years back when he killed two hundred and seventy-nine in one sitting, a feat that had even impressed his good friend and fellow borderman, William F. Cody. Yeah, Buffalo Bill would be jealous when he heard about this day, the young hunter thought, smiling in satisfaction.
He spotted the leader a second later, a big cuss still shedding his winter coat, birds dancing on his back, pecking away at ticks and fleas. The old bull's beard almost dragged the ground as he snorted and pawed the earth. High-humped, standing six feet at the shoulders, weighing probably a ton, the leviathan sported battle-scarred horns and flesh. His hide wouldn't fetch top price, but he needed to be eliminated first to thwart a run. Yes, this was the leader. Drop him, and the rest of the herd would stand around dumbly and get slaughtered.
It almost seemed a shame, he thought, to kill an animal this magnificent, a herd this stunning, but the vultures and wolves would appreciate the meat he would leave behind, and he would enjoy eating rump and tongue tonight. Besides, buffalo hides were fetching ten bits per over in Dodge City, so after today's slaughter, Coady McIlvain would have himself a right smart of money.
He brought the stock of the Sharps Big Fifty to his shoulder, thumbed back the hammer, and pressed his finger against the trigger. Right between the eyes, he told himself, let out a breath, and started to squeeze.
"Coady, what the Sam Hill are you doin'?"
Twelve-year-old Coady McIlvain dropped the tobacco stick and jerked to his feet, brushing off his trousers and looking sheepishly in his mother's garden as he found his watching father. He felt the rushing blood, knew he was blushing from embarrassment, as his pa just shook his head and said, "Beans ain't gonna get planted that way, son. Best hurry up and finish, "cause I got another chore to saddle on you once you're done here."
Coady mumbled a -- "Yes, sir." -- and dropped his head as his father strode away. Caught daydreaming again, confound the luck, playing buffalo hunter rather than dropping seeds in Kansas earth. At best, this evening his sisters would bedevil him till bedtime after hearing Pa tell Mama about the incident. At worst, Pa would tan his hide in the barn before washing up for supper and scold Coady for slacking off with his chores. Come to think of it, a whipping might be better than hearing those demonic snickers from his sisters.
Copyright 2003 by Johnny D. Boggs