GENERAL TOPICS > Saddlebag Tales

Comanche Creek


Comanche Creek 
By Rob Mancebo

Simon Platt ducked as a spray of sand from a bullet stung his face.  The shot had been close and he rolled over into the cover of a shallow arroyo.  It was the second shot that had been taken at him.  He blew the dust from the sights of his Spencer rifle and cocked the big hammer.  Someone was going to die.  It was his only way out.  He hadn’t started the trouble, but he was planning on finishing it. 

“Did ‘ja get him?”  he heard someone yell. 

“Maybe.  I can’t tell fer sure,”  replied a second man.  That made two for certain, and Platt was surely counting. 

“Well, go find out!” 

“I ain’t gonna find out!” 

“You shot him, you go and see if ya got the job done.” 

Simon waited, his heart thundering, for the man to come and check on him. 

“Awwww, hell, I dusted him through-and- through,”  the first voice called out.  He heard the man walking toward him upon the dry, desert soil.  “Ain’t nobody goin’ ta--“

Simon raised up from his covered position and put a bullet through the man who had shot at him.  The man’s eyes opened wide in surprise when he appeared, but they glazed almost instantly as the half-inch slug blasted through his body.

He heard cussing, but he had already dropped back into the arroyo and was moving.  He crawled several yards before he hesitated and rolled halfway onto one side to reload his rifle.  He had disengaged its magazine and was single-loading cartridges.  He would save the rounds in the magazine for an emergency. ‘Eleven’, he counted to himself.  He’d come out with a dozen rounds.  Just those that were in the gun and a quick handful he’d dropped into his pocket.  Now he only had eleven shots left. 
There was a flurry of rifle fire that churned up dirt where he’d been a few moments before.  His attacker had a repeater and wasn’t scared to use up his ammunition.  Of course, the man might have plenty.  He must’ve come ready for a fight.  Simon had just come out to the mountains to hunt.
He reached a spot where the edge of the arroyo was broken up by some scrub and he removed his porkpie hat and dared to take a peek to search for his enemy.  He didn’t see the man, but the cloud of smoke from the promiscuous rifle fire hung heavy in the still, mountain air.  Simon guessed that the man was using a Henry.  The new Henry fired fast, but spoke with the deep, weak boom of its low powered cartridge.  He racked his brain.  Who the devil carried a Henry rifle?  No one he knew had brought one back from the war.  No one he knew could afford to buy one. 

The war had only been over for a year and the economy of Texas was a shambles. Hardly anyone had any ready money.  Few enough people had proper food to eat.  He was living hand-to-mouth himself, saving the maverick beeves he’d been collecting to make a drive somewhere folks would have the money to buy them. 

Simon bellied further along the arroyo and got into some boulders where he could circle around his unidentified enemy.  He was a good man on the stalk and moved through the brush with all the skill he had.  The sniper had not changed position.  He found the man easily enough.  The fellow was hunched over behind some rocks and kept poking his head up over his cover like a bobbing prairie dog to look for his victim.  The man hadn’t even realized that the tables might have turned. 

Simon pulled the trigger on his long rifle before drawing the hammer to full-cock to avoid the warning ‘click’, then he eased off the trigger and rested the sights upon the man.  He adjusted a little to allow for the angle of the shot and the arc of the bullet.  When he held his breath and squeezed off the shot, he knew that the bullet would hit.   He’d made shots like that too many times during the war to have any doubts. 

The man went down.  Simon shifted his position and watched and waited.  He’d counted two voices, but a body could never be sure.  Maybe the pair had a quiet friend along with them.  He was in no hurry to get a surprise like that.  After three hours of unmoving silence, Simon circled the area and then, finding only the two men’s tracks, he inspected the bodies.
The ant-covered corpses had no papers, no letters, nothing to identify who they were.  Each man had a $20 gold piece in his pocket.  That was a substantial sum in a land with a ruined economy.  The second man had the shiny, brass framed Henry rifle and a cartridge box of ammo for it.  He was also carrying a pair of .44 Army Colts.
“Well you ain’t doin’ no honest work here abouts,” Platt opined as he unbuckled the gunbelt and slung it over his shoulder.  “Not loaded down with this much iron.”  The other man’s rifle was a normal, muzzle-loading Enfield, but he was packing three navy Colts.  Two of the pistols were in holsters, the other one thrust crossways into the front of his belt.  “Fancied yourself a pistolaro, did ya?”  Simon asked the dead man as he took his guns also.  “Lucky fer me, I had a rifle.”

In rifling the men’s coat pockets, he found some cigars and matches.  He lit a smoke and had himself a think.  The pair were gunmen, obviously paid in gold.  There were three big ranches in the area, plus a few folks in the town of Trinidad who might be able to afford to hire them.  All he could figure was, that someone in the area wanted his little spread on Comanche Creek and the cattle he’d collected there. 

When he’d finished his smoke, Platt back-trailed the men to their horses.  Both mounts wore a pitchfork brand which he didn’t recognize.  Since he’d been out hunting afoot, he tied the two men onto the back of one horse and led it along as he rode the other one back to his ranch. 

Comanche Creek ranch wasn’t much.  It was a single, low-roofed building of logs and a corral with a shed for a sort of barn.  The logs used for construction were spindly and the walls looked to be more mud chinking than timber.  The door was only hung with nailed leather straps, but it was home.  The real beauty of Platt’s ranch was its location.  It was in a sort of natural enclosure.  A river valley surrounded by natural rock walls.  It was a wonderland of wide, green hills with his ranchhouse bottling up the access. 
Simon had two horses in his corral and he saddled up his favorite.  It was a six year old Morgan, tough and not a little hard-headed.  “Piney,”  he told the horse when it fought with him,  “there’s no sense gettin’ sassy about it.  We’re goin’ on a little trip.” 

He buckled on the .44s and checked their loads.  He hadn’t worn a handgun since the war, but he drew and cocked the right hand gun with speed and confidence. He eased the hammer to half-cock and rolled the cylinder to check the loads.  The gun was fully loaded, the chambers sealed with tallow-- all ready for action.  He checked the other pistol and found it in the same condition.  The gunman had taken good care of his weapons.  Plat didn’t shoot left handed, but if he was going into a gunfight he might need the extra firepower of the second revolver.  He cycled the Henry and made sure that its magazine was full.  The gunman had carried about sixty rounds for the rifle and Platt had only about 35 left for his Spencer.  Taking the Henry and the .44’s, he left the other guns in his ranch house and mounted his horse. 

“Let’s go ol’ son,”  he told the horse.  “We need ta pay someone a visit.”  He slapped the pitchfork horses and let them head for home--  He hoped. 

Sure enough, the horses headed back to the last place they remembered having plenty to eat and a place out of the weather, Jackson’s Livery stable, just off the main street of Trinidad.  Not that the town had many streets.  Even Main Street was a wallow of dust in the summer and a puddle of mud in the winter.  But with three streets, a hotel, a grocery store, and two saloons, most folks figured that Trinidad was the big bright spot for a hundred miles around. 
“Dutch?”  Simon called for the owner.
“Here,”  Dutch Jackson came out from the back with a hay fork dangling in one, big hand.  He stopped as he saw the bodies.
“These fellers tried to dry gulch me.  I was wonderin’ if you recolect seein’ their horses or who they been talkin’ to while they was here.” 

“I seen ‘em.”  Jackson rested the hay fork and nodded across the street.  “Travelin’ folks.  Said that they’d been sent for.  I figured they were up to no good. They came into town last night, put up their horses here, then headed right over to the Taj Mahal.  Came back this mornin’, took their horses, and headed out.”
“I should have known.”  Simon shook his head.  “Sounds ta me like Len Anderson is lookin’ to get into the cattle business.” 
Jackson just shrugged and said,  “He’s got a hand in every other business round abouts.”
Len Anderson truly did own a good deal of the town.  He was the owner of both the Taj Mahal saloon and the grocery store.  He was also at least a part owner in the Hotel.  If money was being made in town, Len Anderson would probably have a hand in it.  He made it a point to get his meat hooks into everything.  He’d run several people out of town who’d resisted.

There were those who didn’t like it, Platt knew that Jackson was one of them, but no one could stand up to the kind of firepower that Anderson could hire.  No one crossed the saloon owner because no one wanted to live the rest of their life looking over their shoulder.

“What are you going to do about it?”  Jackson asked.
“Well, ya know that fellow, Anderson, he has the money to hooraw most anyone out of the area,”  Platt told him.  He waved a thumb at the dead men.  “If ya stomp on one snake, he’ll just hire another one.  I figure that he’s a danger so long as he’s breathin’.”
“You going to brace him?” 

“Well I sure ain’t goin’ ta wait for him ta hire anyone else to put a bullet into my back.” 

“Don’t expect any help from folks around here,”  Jackson warned.  “And you know he’s got three or four of his folks about all the time.  He probably won’t even come down out of his office.  He’ll just leave it to his bully boys to cut you down.”

“Well, Dutch,”  Platt said while hefting the Henry rifle.  “I know weall lost the war, but I don’t ever recall as how I ever lost a battle.”   

The stable owner nodded in reply, but as Platt walked out he called after him,  “I’ll buy you a drink when it’s over.”   

“Oh,” Platt shook his head,  “Not at the Taj Mahal, you won’t.” 

The stable owner looked after him and rubbed his jaw thoughtfully.  He bit off a chaw of tobacco as he watched Simon walk into the grocery store.  Finally he spit and grumbled to himself,  “That Len Anderson, he’s bit off more than he can chew this time.” 

When Simon Platt paid the grocer for his purchases with a $20 gold piece, the man’s eyes got big.  “Wilson, I owe you for the coffee, beans, bacon, and lard last week.  You can just use the change to set us straight.” 

“Yes, Sir, Mister Platt.  That’ll more than cover it.”
“And you know that widow woman with the three youngsters out west of town?”
“Mrs.  Rivera, yes,”  the grocer told him.  “Pretty young thing.  Nice as pie.  It was a shame, her husband dying of pneumonia in the spring.  She won’t be a widow long though.  Not in a country short on women.” 
“Well you just put this other twenty towards whatever she owes ya.”  He handed the man the second $20 gold piece he’d picked up off the killers.
“Why, Mister Platt that’s mighty nice of you.  That’ll just about take care of her bill.  Say, you must’ve come into some money!  Are you a rich man now?”
“No, but where I’m goin’ I just might not need any money.  I thought it should go to a worthwhile cause.” 

“Well, I’ll sure tell her where it came from,”  the store keeper promised.
“Don’t you dare!”  Simon warned.  “You just tell her that bill was taken care of by concerned citizens of the town.”
“Yes, Sir,  If you say so.” 

“All right. You take care.”
“Did you want Warren to load that for you?” 

“Nope, but thank you kindly,”  Platt tucked a small keg under one arm and picked up the handle on the five gallon jug with the other.  “I don’t have too far to carry  ‘em.”
When he left, Wilson turned to his delivery boy and said,  “Nice to see folks embrace the future.  We don’t sell too much of that coal oil yet, but it’s the coming thing.  Pretty soon no one will be using candles to light their house anymore.” 

It was no big thing because Platt didn’t mind if he got caught.  It was a quiet afternoon and no one was around on the streets.  He simply uncorked the jug of coal oil and let it drain as he walked across the boardwalk of the Taj Mahal.  Then he put the jug down at the corner of the building, uncorked the keg of powder and set it down next to the jug.  He walked back to the far side of the building and scratched a match.  The coal oil caught, which lit up a wide swath of the porch.  When the flame had swept all the way over to the powder, the explosion took out the corner of the building.  Burning coal oil and the explosion turned what was left of the front of the Taj Mahal into an inferno.  Simon didn’t see it though, he was waiting at the back door.
Men came rushing out of the back door.  Simon knew mostly everyone around and he let the patrons pass, but whenever one of Anderson’s people tried to exit, he put a bullet into the door frame and shouted,  “If you come out, you come out unarmed!”

As the building began to really burn, several of Anderson’s bravos came out with their gunbelts in hand and tossed them as they exited.  Platt let them go.  Several others tried taking wild shots through the open door.  A scattering of shots from the Henry drove them back.  Finally, they rushed him.  Three gunmen at the point and Len Anderson sweeping up on the drag.   Anderson had never been a coward, but whether he just wanted his boys to try first because he thought they were better shots or because he was afraid, no one would ever know. 

Simon put a bullet into each gunman as fast as he could work the lever.  The men flinched but didn’t go down.  He missed the power of his Spencer.  A Henry was fast, but it just didn’t have much umpfff to put men down.  They were all going to die, but not soon enough to keep them from blasting away at him.  Luckily he was thirty yards away.  That was an easy shot for a rifle, a lot harder with a handgun.  He fired twice more and then the Henry’s magazine went dry.  With all the bullets it carried, he hadn’t been counting his shots! 

When he heard the hammer click, Simon dropped the rifle and drew his right-hand Colt.  He lined it up smoothly with a man blasting away with a gun in each hand and ended the fellow’s career as a gunfighter before it really got rolling.  Another man was down, dying.  The third was steadying for a shot when Platt flipped his gun muzzle up and lowered it to point at the man’s center shirt button. Their shots crossed and Simon felt a burn across his right arm.  The other man went down and stayed there.
Anderson stepped out of the smoke-filled building with a gun in his hand and Simon cocked and fired from the hip.  He was a good hip shot, but the Colt snapped impotently.  He’d been in a hurry and by not raising the revolver’s muzzle when he cocked it, the spent cap had dropped into the action and jammed the gun.
Anderson fired and Simon felt a burn in his side.  He drew left handed and rested the revolver across his bloody right forearm.  Anderson fired again, but Simon focused only upon his shooting.  He wasn’t a good left-handed shot and wanted to make sure he scored.  When he squeezed the trigger, he saw the saloon keeper flinch.  This time he let the recoil raise the gun muzzle to the sky and he cocked it on the way down so that the spent cap scattered free of the gun.  He fired his second shot low, not to kill, but he knew that a gut-shot man would fold up.  It worked.  Anderson bent double and his next shot went wild.  Simon flipped the Colt to his right hand, raised the muzzle, and cocked it as he walked toward Anderson.  The saloon keeper was bleeding from his mouth, but still game.  He cocked and fired into the dirt at Platt’s feet.  Simon kept walking forward.  He raised his Colt and put one more bullet into the saloon keeper.  The man grimaced and tossed down his smoking gun. 
“Don’t-- don’t shoot me no more!”  he begged.
Simon walked up to the dying man and kicked the gun away from his hand. 

“You shouldn’t have sent them fellers ta dry gulch me,”  Simon told him.
“They were supposed to be good.”

“Not good,”  Platt told him.  “Just cocky.”
“With your ranch and herd, I could’ve moved into the cattle business too.” 

“Yeah, you could’ve had it all.  The whole town.  Maybe the whole territory.”  Simon looked down at the man as the world began to spin around him.  “Now though, all you’re ever goin’ to get is six feet of boot hill.  And ya know. . . that’s more than you. . . deserve.”  The world went black and Simon fell across Anderson’s corpse.
Simon Platt awoke to pain.  He was wrapped like a mummy from his hips to his ribs and his side felt like fire.  Likewise there were clean linen bandages swathed about his right arm where he’d been creased.  It took him a few moments to realize that he was reposing in a bed.  A real bed with a corn shuck mattress and cotton sheets.  A patchwork quilt covered him overall and the room was unfamiliar. 

He heard the strangest sound.  It sounded like humming.  A woman humming.  He touched his brow with his left hand but he felt no fever.
“You’ve had a bad shock and lost a lot of blood.”
The widow Rivera came into the room with a big bowl of soup.  Simon blinked and looked around.  The room was clean and had a woven rug tacked up onto the wall for decoration.  At his Comanche Creek ranch, he was sleeping on a pile of straw under an old buffalo robe.
“You need to eat this,”  the woman told him.  “It’s chicken soup.  It’ll help you get your strength back.”

He ate the soup without comment, but snuck glimpses at the woman between bites.  It was good.  His meat had mostly been rabbits and whatever fish he could catch in the creek.
“Young Warren, the delivery boy over at the grocery, told me what you did.”  She looked at him curiously.  “I’ve had plenty of offers by men to pay for my family’s groceries, but none without any strings attached.”  She blessed him with a radiant smile and told him, “Thank you Simon Platt.”
“My pleasure, Ma’am.”   Simon felt something warm inside when she said his name.  She was an almighty pretty woman.
“You stay until you’re healed.”  she told him as she stood to leave.
Simon was propped up on pillows and he naturally tried to sit up as she took her leave.  However, he realized something was terribly wrong when he tugged on the blankets.
“Hey!”  he called after her.  “Where’s all my clothes?”   


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