Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

The California Trail

The Trail Drive (Volume 5)

Ralph Compton

St. Martin's Paperbacks


Once Gil and Van Austin had agreed upon the trail drive to the California goldfields, they wasted no time in approaching Clay Duval with the proposal.
"You're right," said Clay, "this is somethin' we can't afford to pass up. If the kind of money they're talkin' about is for real, this one trail drive could set us up for life. We'd never have to sell another cow. Trouble is, I don't know if I. should feel flattered that you're leavin' the Bandera spread in my hands, or insulted that you reckon you can take a herd of longhorns on such a drive without me."
"Take it as a compliment," said Gil. "Remember the last trail drive, when the both of us ended up in a Mexican juzgado? Next time, it may be a California juzgado. We may need you on the outside, with a keg of powder."*
"Don't laugh," said Van. "He may be more right than he knows. We're only lookin' at the potential reward of such a drive, without considering all we may have to survive to reach it. We could hire a segundo and the riders to look after the ranches, the longhorns, and the horses, but there's more at stake than that. I want to know that little Van and Dorinda are safe, all the time I'm away."
"And there's Rosa," said Gil.
"Whoa," said Clay. "She's your querida.* She'll grab a horse and light out after you. You want me to rope her out of the saddle and hogtie her till you get back?"
"We still have some time," said Gil. "I'll talk to her." He looked forward to that with all the enthusiasm of a man about to be bucked off into a cactus patch and then stomped.
"You're only leavin' me Solano," said Clay, "but with Mariposa and Estanzio helping, we should be caught up on the gentling of horses before you're ready to move out. Now at your place, there'll be only the cook, old Stump. We'll need a good dozen riders while you're gone, and I don't mean just men with horse and cow savvy. Sooner or later the Comanches are goin' to come after us; if not for our hair, then for our horses. Same holds true for rustlers."
"Why don't you ride to San Antone tomorrow," said Gil, "and make known our need for hard-ridin', fast-shootin' men? While you're there, stop at the mercantile and have them order us new weapons. I want two dozen of the new Dragoon Colt six-shooters, with the seven and a half inch barrel, and a thousand rounds of ammunition for each. If possible, I'd like the same number of .50 caliber Hawken rifles, out of St. Louis. Get plenty of horseshoes too, along with an extra set of necessary tools. I'll want enough shoes for every horse on the trail drive to have an extra set. We'll be taking a sixty-horse remuda and five packhorses."
"My God," said Clay, "do we have that kind of credit in town?"
"We do," said Gil, "and more. Remember, we've been supplyin' beef to the town for nearly six years, gettin' only credit. Nobody's had any gold."
"That reminds me of something," said Van. "The outfit's been taking wages in cows. Do you aim to let that four thousand head include some or all of their stock?"
"I'm inclined to," said Gil. "I think it's fair. We could allow every rider to take as many as fifty, without it hurtin' us."
"That's more than generous," said Clay. "All right, I'll ride to town tomorrow and get the word out that we're needin' riders, and I'll drop this list of needs off at the mercantile. I just hope they have credit enough to buy for us."
"So do I," said Gil.
For three days after she had learned of the impending trail drive, Rosa had sulked in silence. Not so much because she wouldn't be going, Gil felt, but because he would be. She had become so possessive, something had to be done. Thanks to Dorinda and Angelina, Rosa already had a better education than most frontier females, but Gil decided she was ready for something more formal. Such as a four-year girl's school, in New Orleans or St. Louis. If the trail drive to California proved even half as successful as they hoped, he would have the money for such an extravagance. But it soon became apparent that they wouldn't be able to begin the drive until after the first of the year, and that Rosa had ideas that exceeded Gil's wildest imagination.
She had always respected his privacy in the cabin they shared, and Gil had respected hers. It came as a shock when, one night, he awakened from a sound sleep and found Rosa in his room. She stood at the foot of his bed, and how long she had been there, he didn't know. While he wasn't sure why she was there, he had a terrifying suspicion. His first look at the girl dispelled forever his thoughts of her as a child. The light of a full moon shone through the window, and Rosa stood there stark naked, a woman in every sense of the word! Gil almost stopped breathing, but forced himself to continue slowly and evenly, lest she know that he was awake. But his years on the hazardous frontier had so conditioned him, that another's breathing could awaken him, and this Rosa knew. Still he played possum, fearing that she might actually get into bed with him, forcing him to acknowledge her presence. Finally she turned away and, like a pale ghost, swept slowly through the open door, out of his sight. He slept no more that night, discarding one idea after another, a vivid picture of the naked Rosa burned into his mind. When at last the eastern sky paled from gray to rose, Gil got up. He would say nothing of Rosa's nocturnal visit, covertly watching her. It came as no surprise when he found her in her usual garb, breakfast all but ready. He sat down and she poured his coffee. She returned the pot to the stove, and when she turned back to face him, the half smile on her lips was more terrifying than the frown she had worn for the past three days. Something in his expression told her what she wished to know, and she was glorying in it! She spoke not a word, but sat down across the table from him, sipping her own coffee. Her enigmatic smile remained, and in her eyes was the wisdom of a thousand years. Chill fingers caressed his spine, and he sat there looking into his half-empty cup. . . .
When Gil and Van Austin had departed, Clay Duval sat at the kitchen table so immersed in his own thoughts that Angelina had to speak to him twice before he heard her.
"They are going without you," she said. "Do you have regrets?"
"No," he said. "I was just wonderin' why Dorinda didn't come out breathin' fire and smoke when Van decided to go."
"Dorinda understands. Van is concerned about his brother."
Angelina had pulled out a chair and sat across the table from him. His eyebrows lifted, Clay looked at her, and she laughed.
"Gil is restless, lost, vulnerable," she said.
"So Van is goin' along to protect him," said Clay. "Querida, Gil Austin is about as vulnerable as a lobo wolf."
"I do not question his ability to physically defend himself against almost any odds," she said. "It is you and Van who are forcing him to face an enemy he fears, in a fight he is unsure of winning."
"Well, by God," said Clay, "thanks on behalf of Van and me."
She continued as though he hadn't spoken. "You have a home, a wife, and a daughter. Van has a home, a wife, and a son. Gil is lacking all this, and it is the contrast that is bothering him, making him vulnerable."
"So he's likely to go to California and bring back some female catamount that'll geld and brand him."
"Clay Duval, sometimes you are so crude, I—"
He grinned. "That ain't what you said, but it's what you meant."
"The problem does not lie in California, or at the end of any trail, but within Gil himself. Can you not see what is happening between him and Rosa?"
He kicked his chair back and got up, his palms flat on the table, just looking at her. His nostrils flared and his brown eyes had gone cold.
"Rosa can't be more than twelve," he said. "Thirteen at the most. Are you sayin' that Gil—"
"I did not accuse Gil of anything," she said. "While you think of Rosa as a child, she thinks of herself as a woman, and it is in that light that I see her. So does Dorinda. Rosa has the resources and the yearnings of a woman. A child of twelve, perhaps thirteen? I think not."
He sat down, allowing his temper to subside before he spoke. "So the trail drive to the goldfields ain't just the money," he said. "Gil's leavin' a situation here that he ain't sure he can handle. But a man can't run forever. What's going to keep this thing from gettin' back in the saddle and sinkin' the gut hooks in him again, when he returns?"
"A wife perhaps," said Angelina.
Oscar Stackmeier was a Missourian, a friend of Moses Austin, Stephen's late father. The potential of Texas's American Colony had excited Oscar, and he had given up his trading post in St. Joe for a larger one in San Antonio. Oscar had long been a friend to Gil and Van Austin, even when they were anything but flush, a condition that had plagued them since their arrival from Missouri. It had been Oscar Stackmeier's willingness to trade for beef that had been the salvation of the Bandera spread. He was a thin little man, with watery blue eyes and wire-rimmed spectacles, whose generosity was exceeded only by his bluntness. Having read the list Clay Duval had given him, he looked at Clay over the tops of his spectacles.
"Clay, you boys are a mite late. Two thousand years late. Jesus Christ could of turned longhorn beef into Hawken rifles and Colt revolvers, but I purely can't. I doubt the Hawken brothers make as many rifles in a year as you're wantin' right now. As for the Colt Dragoons, you'll have to get in line behind the Texas Rangers and the United States Army. Now horseshoes, I can get."
That had been setback enough, but the day wasn't over. Clay had made the rounds of the saloons, the stores, the barber shops and bathhouses, even the wagon yard, without finding even one potential rider for the Bandera ranch. Instead he heard story after story of men who had lit out for California in pursuit of gold. He had been about to ride out in total defeat, when he encountered "Big Foot" Wallace and several of his Rangers. In the fall of 1843, Gil, Van, and Clay had brought a herd of longhorns and a herd of blooded horses from Mexico, stampeding them across the Rio Grande, with the Mexican army in pursuit. Big Foot Wallace had been the first Texan they'd seen, and the big Ranger had taken a personal interest in them.*
"Howdy," said Wallace. "Them Mex cows learnin' to eat Texas grass?"
"That's the easy part," Clay grinned. "We're aimin' to take a herd to California, to the goldfields, if we can find the guns, the ammunition, and the riders. We was hopin' for some of the new Colt Dragoon six-shooters, but I just learned the Rangers and the United States Army's ahead of us."
"You can thank Captain Jack Hays for that," said Wallace. "He's managed to order enough for every Ranger to have two Colts, plus an extra cylinder. The extra cylinder will interchange with either Colt, givin' a man eighteen shots without reloading."
"That's why we wanted our riders on the trail drive to California to have them," said Clay. "We hear there's hostile Injuns every jump of the way, and we come out of Mexico with all manner of foreign-made pistols. I reckon no two of 'em takes the same kind of ammunition, and I'd swap the whole bunch for one good Colt."
"Know what you mean," said Wallace. "How many Dragoons was you tryin' to get?"
"Two dozen," said Clay, "but we could make do with fifteen."
"Captain Ben McCulloch knows you and the Austins," said Wallace. "Ben's after Captain Jack Hays to order enough of the Dragoons so we'll have them to arm new men. You know, Colt went busted in 1842, and Ben thinks it could happen again. Let me talk to Ben McCulloch; if he can get Captain Jack to order a few dozen extra Dragoons, I might arrange for you to get the Colts you need. The Comanches are goin' to give us hell in the years to come, and I'd like to see every Texan armed with one of these Colt six-shooters."
"We'd be obliged," said Clay, "and the sooner the better. Now we need some riders. Ain't got a dozen Rangers, with horse and cow savvy, that you can spare for about a year, have you?"
Wallace laughed, not even dignifying that with a reply. Clay mounted and rode back to Bandera Range.
Gil had delayed his talk with Rosa as long as he could, and when he finally decided to be done with it, he found her every bit as adamant and unreasonable as he had expected.
"If I cannot go with you," she insisted, "then I will stay where I wish to stay, and I wish to stay here at our house. I am no longer a child, and I will not endure all the months you are gone, having Angelina and Dorinda threatening to spank me."
"I'd not mind you staying here," said Gil, "if our own riders were going to be in the bunkhouse. But they're going with me on the trail drive, and Clay will be hiring some new men to take over until we return. I am very much aware that you're no longer a child, Rosa, and I don't want you here alone, with strange riders in the bunkhouse."
"It would upset you, ah reckon," she said, imitating his drawl, "if these new riders had their way with me."
That half smile touched her lips. She was taunting him with the very thing he feared the most, throwing it in his face.
"Yes, damn it!" he shouted. "It would upset me. I didn't drag you out of Mexico to have you become a puta in my own house while I am away. Maybe I've been wrong, but I'd hoped that if you had no respect for yourself, that you'd have some for me!"
That got to her. Her face paled, the smile vanished, and she swallowed hard before she spoke.
"No man will ever use me against my will. I would kill him."
Their conversation ended, resolving nothing, but Gil discovered he had won a small victory. While she adamantly refused to stay with Angelina or Dorinda while he was gone, never again did she taunt him in a manner that opened her morality to question.
When Van and Clay again rode to Gil's place, their concern was for new riders. Or the lack of them. The three men seemed to fill a room, each of them over six feet without hat or boots. Gil and Van were towheaded and blue-eyed. Clay's hair was a faded brown, almost a sorrel. His eyes were soft brown, but when he was angry, they shot sparks of green fire.
"I've got just one possibility," said Gil, "and it's not my idea. Long John Coons claims if he could ride back to Louisiana for a few days, he could maybe bring us some old pards of his."
"For some reason I've never quite figured out," said Van, "I like Long John, but I'd think long and hard before hirin' any rider that's a friend of his. Remember in 'forty-two when we was tryin' to get a trail herd out of Mexico, and we ended up in a Mex calabozo in Monterrey? Who ends up right in there with us, but Long John Coons, big as life and twice as ugly? When we'd left him here with specific instructions to keep an eye on the ranch."*
"It was just a thought," said Gil. "We don't have that many prospects."
"Who wants to stay in Texas and nurse cows?" said Van. "Huntin' gold has to pay better."
"Anything pays better," said Clay. "Hell's fire, I hear a private in the army gets eight dollars a month. That's a regular bonanza, compared to what we've made in the cattle business."
"This is gettin' us nowhere," said Gil. "I'm going to ride into San Antone tomorrow and nose around some. Maybe I'll check with Big Foot Wallace and see if he's havin' any luck gettin' us some Colt Dragoons."
November 5, 1849. San Antonio, Texas
When Gil reached San Antonio, Wallace and his men were away. Captain Ben McCulloch was there, however, and that proved even more beneficial. Gil, Van, and Clay had fought under McCulloch's command at San Jacinto. Then, in 1843, when the trio had brought a miraculous trail drive from Mexico, they had so impressed Big Foot Wallace that the Ranger had arranged for them to tell their story to Sam Houston. The information Gil, Van, and Clay had supplied had been helpful in the eventual war with Mexico. As a result, Clay Duval and the Austins were well thought of by the Texas Rangers and by men at the reins of state government in Austin. When Gil saw Captain McCulloch go into a restaurant, he followed.
"I hear you're taking a trail drive to the goldfields," said McCulloch.
"I'm beginning to have some doubts," said Gil. "We've run headlong into a couple of problems, and haven't found a solution to either of them."
"I reckon I can solve one of them," said McCulloch. "The one you spoke to Wallace about. Eventually, I'll be forced to account for the, ah, items in question, and this is something you are not to speak of. Not to anybody."
"I understand," said Gil, "and I'm obliged, but I have to be honest. I purely don't have the money to pay for them, and won't until this trail drive is done. God knows, we've survived only by swappin' beef for everything from horseshoes to bacon on the hoof."
"I'll have a few months' grace," said McCulloch, "before I have to pay. We're a state, but Texas still ain't flush. Not by a jugful. Have you hired the riders Duval was lookin' for?"
"No," said Gil. "Looks like everybody's lit out for the goldfields."
"I can maybe get you some good men," said McCulloch. "That is, if you ain't opposed to Injuns."
"We brought three back from Mexico as part of our outfit," said Gil, "and I'd pay double wages for some more riders as good. We already have the riders for the trail drive, but I need some men on the spread I can trust. I agree with Big Foot—sooner or later the Comanches are going to try and run us out. I want some fighting men with cow savvy, but the longhorns can pretty well take care of themselves. The riders we leave behind will be working under Clay Duval, and he's responsible for the safety of all three of our homes and outbuildings on the Bandera spread."
"Then I think I may have the solution to your problem," said McCulloch. "You ever hear of the Lipan Apaches?"
"Yes," said Gil. "Captain Jack Hays has been using them as scouts against the Comanches."
"That he has," said McCulloch, "and a Lipan Apache will ride a hundred miles to fight Comanches. The tribes are bitter enemies. Otherwise, the Lipans are peaceful Injuns. There's a village south of here, on the San Antonio River. The Lipans catch a few cows, sometimes crossing into Mexico. They trade beef for goods at different villages, and are well thought of. They were friendly to the padres when the Spanish had missions here. The time's comin' when Texas will be cattle country, and these Lipan Apaches were the first cowboys, learning from the Spanish. They ride like they're part of the horse, they got cow savvy, they're hell on Comanches, and my God, they can follow a trail across solid rock. Someday—and you'll live to see it—there'll be many trail drives such as yours. Then I believe you'll see cattlemen turning to these Lipan Apaches as hard-ridin' cowboys, scouts, and Injun fighters."*
"They sound like our kind of people," said Gil. "Will there be a language problem?"
"Not if you speak Spanish," said McCulloch. "Most of them speak it well, but I'll ride down there with you, if you want."
"I'd take it as a favor," said Gil, "but can we do it tomorrow? Since Clay will be in charge of these riders, I'd like for him to go with us."
"Tomorrow, then," said McCulloch.
Returning to the Bandera spread, Gil rode immediately to Clay's, telling him of their good fortune and setting a time for them to ride out the next morning. When Gil returned to his own place, it was nearly suppertime, and Rosa had the meal ready for the table. She seemed unusually contrite, and had a smile for him. There had been a change, and he had no more than sat down at the table when she told him what it was. Or what she wished him to believe it was.
"While you are gone on the trail drive," she said, "I will stay with Dorinda and little Van."
"Pardon me if I seem suspicious," said Gil, "but why the sudden change?"
"I decided that I was being selfish, and that you would worry about me. I remembered what you said about bringing me out of Mexico, and I decided I was being very ungrateful. You could have just left me where you found me."
"You've done some growin' up since we talked last," said Gil, telling her what she wished to hear. His own private conclusion was that she had decided what she was going to do, and that staying with Dorinda was the furthest thing from her mind.
Gil and Clay reached San Antonio an hour after first light, and a few minutes later, when McCulloch led out, they followed. They traveled south along the San Antonio River for a little more than three hours.
"Lipan Apaches aren't nomads," said McCulloch. "They live in mud and log huts, and they have some pretty decent farms. The women do, that is. The men still hunt with bows and arrows."
"If they ride for us," said Gil, "I aim for 'em to have guns. How do you feel about that?"
"If it was anybody but the Lipans," said McCulloch, "I'd draw the line at guns. But for these Injuns, I'll have to make an exception. I doubt they'll be a danger to anybody but Comanches, and for every one they shoot, it's one less we'll have to track down."
McCulloch knew the chief—Feurza—and when Gil had been introduced, McCulloch explained to Feurza what Gil wanted. Feurza called a meeting, and although he had excluded the women, they peeked from behind every bush and tree. Some of the men had seen at least seventy summers, and might not see another, while the youngest were only children of maybe nine or ten. Once Feurza had explained what Gil was seeking, there arose a clamor that would have drowned out a buffalo stampede. McCulloch spoke to Feurza, and the chief managed to restore order.
"He's telling them you want nobody younger than seventeen," said McCulloch.
"Ganos!" shouted a youth. "Ganos!"
He was muscular, a man by anybody's standard, and looked strong enough to throw a bull. But Feurza shook his head and spoke to McCulloch.
"His name is Goose," said McCulloch, "but he's not quite fifteen. By God, when he grows up, he'll be a man."*
One by one Feurza chose a dozen men, not a one older than twenty-one or -two. Much later Gil learned that the chief had honored him by choosing men that Feurza believed were a credit to the tribe. When it was all done, Gil was dismayed to learn that the dozen young Apaches would be riding with him that very day!
"We won't move out with the trail drive until sometime after Christmas," said Gil, "and until we do, there won't be room for them in the bunkhouse."
McCulloch chuckled. "No matter. You don't see a bunkhouse here, do you?"
Gil and Clay shook the hands of their new riders, and then Clay turned to McCulloch with a grin.
"Cap'n Mac, we owe you one. The Comanches come lookin' for a fight, I purely believe these hombres will see they get one."
McCulloch laughed. "I'm countin' on that. Why do you reckon I brought you here?"
Gil, Clay, and their new riders passed to the east of San Antonio, and it was there that Ben McCulloch left them, riding back to town. When they reached the Box AA, the new riders created a sensation. Rosa spoke to them in rapid Spanish and soon had them laughing. Ramon and the vaqueros greeted the Lipans in Spanish, and everybody was excited over their arrival except old Stump, the cook. Gil thought he swore in all five languages, and then slipped in a couple more of which nobody was aware.
"I got to bring Angelina over here to see these hombres," said Clay.
"Make it tomorrow, then," said Gil. "Bring Van and Dorinda too."
The following day was Sunday, and they made it a festive occasion. Rosa set a table for Van, Dorinda, Clay, and Angelina. Despite Stump's grousing, he rose to the occasion and fed the riders a meal they never forgot. While Dorinda was lacking in Spanish, she was readily accepted for her smile.
"They ain't a bit like the Indians we brought from Mexico," said Van. "But when we get back from California with our regular riders, what happens to our Lipan Apaches?"
"If this trail drive's the success we're lookin' for," said Gil, "we'll build another bunkhouse and keep them."
Suddenly there was a commotion outside, followed by a mad rush, as everybody in the house jumped up and headed for the door. The riders had finished eating and had gathered in a circle outside the bunkhouse. At the center of the circle, facing one another, was a grinning Long John Coons and one of the newly arrived Lipan Apaches. Each man grasped a deadly Bowie, and they circled each other warily, like a pair of lobo wolves.
"Dear God!" cried Dorinda. "Stop them!"
"No," said Van, "leave them be. Go back in the house."
But Dorinda didn't move. Her eyes were frozen in hypnotic horror on the two combatants. The lanky Long John was tall, gawky, seeming to loom over the Indian. Like a striking rattler, Long John's blade nicked the Apache's brawny forearm, drawing blood. The Indian laughed in savage glee, retaliating by slashing Long John's shirtsleeve from shoulder to elbow. Time after time they parried, until finally the Apache's blade struck Long John's with such force that the Bowie was torn from his grasp. The Indian then began what might have become a death thrust, slowing the drive until the point of his blade stopped just short of Long John's belly. Dorinda screamed, but nobody heard her except those on the porch. The riders, including Long John and his Indian adversary, were shouting and laughing. Angelina was pale and Dorinda was trembling. Only Rosa seemed at ease, dashing off the porch and joining the shouting riders.
"Don't swoon on us, ladies." Clay laughed. "They're just havin' themselves some frontier fun."
"Dear God," Dorinda cried, "if they call this fun, what happens when they get serious?"
"Somebody dies," said Clay.
* Trail Drive #4, The Bandera Trail
* Sweetheart.
* Trail Drive #4, The Bandera Trail
* Trail Drive #4, The Bandera Trail
* Trail Drive #3, The Chisholm Trail
* Trail Drive #1, The Goodnight Trail