In New Mexico Territory

Esther May and the man she thought of as Mustache stood posts on the enclosure’s front wall. Gunfire popped continuously from the rear where the barricaded hacienda paralleled a stream.

“Apaches don’t waste their lives in frontal assaults,” said Mustache.

Esther May wondered if the man talked to calm her down after the action at their front. If he did, it worked. “Did they learn not to do that from the Civil War? The North and South killed a lot of men running into enemy positions.”

“No. Only white men are stupid enough to walk up to someone trying to shoot them. Indians never fought that way.” Mustache leaned his back against the wall and pointed rearward. “What they’re doing now is hiding in the heavy brush along Cala de Maria. If they get a shot at someone on the wall they take it.” He lifted his shoulders and dropped them. “What we do is shoot at any bush that moves.”

Tactics Forgotten

Esther May leaned on her shoulder and faced him. “Doesn’t that waste a lot of bullets?”

Mustache pulled a burrito out of a sack and stopped to answer.

“Maybe, Bu—”

His head erupted in a crimson and white explosion that flung grisly gray matter over Esther May. His body slid, back to the wall, until he sat and fell away from her. Thankfully, enough of his sombrero remained to hide most of the carnage.

Esther May bent over, ducking under the sharpshooter’s sight, and threw up.

In Arizona Territory

Skewy, C.J.’s little skewbald mare was a natural cowpony. She quickly picked up the idea of falling behind cattle and herding them in the right direction.

The spunky horse now taught C.J. as more strays stepped from oak brush and pines, Skewy turned her head to identify fallouts and uncooperative cattle.

Weaving back and forth, C.J. kept the cluster of cattle bunched and moving down the canyon. It wasn’t that hard, he admitted to himself. Cows seemed to want to be together. C.J. grinned. He could do this. He could be a cowboy.

Then Again …

“Uh oh. Are we in the right place, Skewy?” C.J. stopped as they came to the end of the trail. Vertical cliffs on both sides and ahead identified the area as a box canyon. A stained waterfall course marked how the pond originated at the bottom of the rock wall.

The cattle seemed familiar with the pond, and C.J. finally noticed all the tracks around it. He wasn’t such a cowboy after all. The only thing he did was take the steers to their drinking hole.

He’d better go back and ask Clem or Bud if he was in the right canyon. He headed Skewy around, then stopped. Grinning at the idea, he decided he’d take a “headcount.” He’d heard cowboys say the phrase before, and now he understood it.

He pointed at each cow or steer as he counted … fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen.

“That’s a nice number, Skewy. Let’s go back and tell ‘em what we got and find out where to take these critters.”


C.J. pulled up when he heard voices.

“It’s a good thing you boys don’t have a running iron on you. You’re on Harlan Webster’s land, and he don’t cotton to rustlers. He strings ‘em up and never asks questions.”

Was C.J. herding strays?

Will Apaches breach the hacienda?

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Do you think the live-by-stealth rustlers of Hollywood are romantic? Read this short article.

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