GENERAL TOPICS > Saddlebag Tales

Old Guns

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1stSgt Fritz King:
The C-Bar-C was a working ranch.  Jeke and the boys ran the day-to-day operations, but Fritz and Scarlet rode out with them almost every day.  There were horses to train, cattle to tend, and fence to mend.  Scarlet taught him all she knew about ranching, and he was a fast study.  The work kept him busy and honest. 

Since she'd been practicing this morning and hadn't ridden out, Scarlet felt obliged to make lunch.  When she called in the boys, there was chili in the pot over the fire, and cornbread biscuits in the dutch oven.  There was coffee, water, milk, and that tea sweetened with molasses that she'd introduced them to.  The boys ate hardy, and if someone passed a flask around, no one paid it any mind.

"So Fritz," asked Zeke between bites, "what's in the pot?"

Fritz got up to ladle some more chili into Zeke's bowl.

"No," Zeke said, "how much is in the pot?"

Fritz was confused.  "I'm afraid I don't understand."

"Well, the boys and me been wagerin..."

Fritz spat out his coffee.  "On...what...?"

Zeke chuckled.  "On the shootin' match of course!  I put five dollars on you myself!"

Fritz turned towards the porch.  "HONEY???"

Scarlet stepped out, wiping her hands on a towel.  "Yes dear?" she replied sweetly.

"What did you tell them?"

"Oh," Scarlet replied in that 'what...little ol' me?' voice she used for just such occasions.  "The boys saw me practicing this morning.  I had to tell them something..."

"Now boss," Zeke said, "we don't need you this afternoon, and we got a lot of money ridin' on you, so get in that shop and get to work on your front stuffer!"

Fritz handed his cup and bowl to Scarlet, who kissed him on the cheek.  He turned toward the barn, mumbling "sonofoabitch..."


LOL! That gave me a chuckle..


1stSgt Fritz King:
It’d taken him about two hours to get the sights on and the Springfield reassembled.  The Vernier sight took longer, as the Springfield had a very short tang.  He’d mounted it on the wrist of the stock, just behind the tang.  He added a pistol grip to the wrist as well, giving him better purchase.  He replaced the cut down ramrod with one made of hickory, with a brass tip.  He had to drill out the hole so it sat closer to the barrel.  It took time but the results were worth it.  He’d set the molds on the stove to heat, and melted the ingots of lead.  Fritz wanted to roll paper cartridges, but he didn’t know if he had time.

Scarlet came in carrying the Whitworth.  She set the stock in the padded vise and grabbed the cleaning rod off the hook.  She took a .45 caliber brush, screwed it on the rod and went to work on the bore.  The Springfield sat completed on the bench next to her.

“It’s beautiful,” she said.  “You’d hardly recognize it as the same rifle.”

Fritz poured lead into the molds.  “Thanks.”

Scarlet turned towards him.  “What’s bothering you?”

Fritz opened the molds and knocked the still warm bullets onto a folded flannel.

“Nothing,” he replied. 

She stopped and went to him, taking his hands.  “Bullshit,” she said.  “You’ve been off since Grant came to visit.  Why?”

Fritz sighed.  “I was so proud of him, in his new uniform, carrying his new Krag.  I saw myself in him…you too.”

Scarlet nodded, listening. 

“I heard it said that ‘you know you’re getting old when you’re no longer considered dangerous.’  I found that rifle and thought about it.  It was the most dangerous weapon on the battlefield once.  Now it was sitting there abandoned…forlorn.”

She wanted to speak but knew he wasn’t through yet.  She gave him time.

“I just had to bring it home.  I had to fix it up.  I wouldn’t be the same as it was, but it’d still be useful…like me.”

“Now you’re being silly,” Scarlet replied.  “When we met down Mexico way, you were hell with a long-range rifle.  Saved our asses a couple of times as I recall.”

“Not that I regret anything Milady,” Fritz whispered, kissing her hands.  “We have a good life, and I’m happy to wake up next to you every morning, and lay down with you every night.”

She blushed.  He loved that she still could.

“I just miss those days.  To see that same fire in my son’s eyes reminded me of how much.”

“There’s a storm brewing,” Scarlet said.  “I can feel it…I know you can too.  But this time, I think we’ll have to sit it out.  Our son may not be so lucky.” 

“We taught him well,” Fritz replied.  “He’ll be ready.”

He kissed his wife, and hugged her hard.  “Now I’ve got to make rounds for tomorrow’s event.”

Scarlet smirked.  “I’m gonna kick your ass.”

“Nah,” Fritz replied.  “I’d enjoy it too much.”

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1stSgt Fritz King:
The dawn broke cool; sunlight streamed through the lace curtains.  The moment the light her face, Scarlet opened her eyes and smiled.  Her lover lay close in her arms.  His eyes were closed and he was relaxed.  They’d started a game of “trace the scars” last night.  Both Scarlet and Fritz were well suited to that game.  The touches became more intimate and romantic.

Fritz opened his eyes and smiled.  “Morning Hun.”

Scarlet flung the covers off and jumped out of bed to greet the morning.  Her body glowed in the morning sun.

“See my lover come,” Fritz quoted the Song of Solomon, verse two.  “She is like a gazelle, or a young stag…”

She turned and smiled, hands on her hips.  “Surely not a stag…”

Fritz agreed, nodding his head.  He rolled out of bed, suppressing a groan.

“Your lover comes like an old bear, or a sloth…”

Scarlet came to him, swaying her hips seductively.  “That’s only because I took all your vigor last night!”

“Too true,” he replied kissing her.

Fritz looked out the window, and noticed the scud of clouds near the horizon, streaming towards the house, and that was good.  It meant a “no value” wind at the range.

They dressed and went downstairs.  Fritz made the coffee while Scarlet cooked breakfast.  They learned to work together a long time ago.  If they wanted any “personal time” together, they had to.  Now with the kids grown and gone, they could be more like themselves.

With tin cup in hand, Fritz went out to the shop.  He opened the safe and took out the Whitworth and the Springfield.  He ran dry patches down both bores to ensure they were clear.  Fritz stuffed both pockets with rolled paper cartridges, grabbed the rifles and walked out to the range. 

The range was about 500 yards from the front porch.  Fritz noticed that the cairns marking the yard lines had been freshly whitewashed.  He walked all the way down to the 200-yard line and set the rifles into the rack.  Zeke and the boys were making their way down as well.  Chris was riding his mule up, and Scarlet rode Lucky out to the line.  She’d wrapped biscuits in a bandanna to keep them warm, and passed them along.  Fritz pulled a small spyglass from his vest pocket.  It had been given to him by Blackbeard at his retirement.  He’d toyed with him, saying, “keep an eye on her lad, as I might come and steal her one day.”  He laughed to himself.  He could see her as a Pirate’s woman.  Hell, her could see her as a Pirate Queen!

Fritz looked to the line and noticed the target had been painted as well.  They were white with red X’s, at the head and chest.  The boys had been thorough, that was for sure.

“I’m gonna keep this fight fair,” Chris said.  “I’ll flip a coin.  Scarlet calls it for first shot, and which X to shoot.”  He flipped the coin in the air and caught it.

“Tails!” She called sweetly.

“Nope,” Chris said.  “Heads got it.”

“I’ll take center mass.”  Fritz dropped into a good, tight sitting position.  “As the one challenged, and as I’ve never shot this rifle, I request three ranging shots.”

Both Lucky and Chris’s mule were well accustomed to gunfire.  Scarlet nodded.

Fritz pulled a paper cartridge from his vest and tore it with his teeth.  It wasn’t a pleasant taste, but brought back vivid memories.  He poured the powder down the bore and nosed the Minie ball into place with his thumb.  Drawing the ramrod, he pushed the lead down and tapped it in place.  He replaced the ramrod and pulled a cap from the opposite pocket.  Placing the hammer at half cock, he pushed the cap into place.  He looked back at Scarlet.

“Fire at will darlin,” she said.

Fritz brought the hammer to full cock and rested the buttstock in his shoulder.  There was no leaf sight for 200 yards.  He’d have to estimate the elevation and hold off.  Fritz took a breath and let it out slow.  He took a second breath, let it out part way and held.

“Sight alignment, sight picture, breath control, trigger squeeze,” he thought.  When the hammer falls, it should surprise you.  It did.

The Springfield roared as if it was happy.  Maybe it was.  The round struck the target in the upper right quadrant of the lower red X.  The boys hooted.  Scarlet whistled.

Fritz reloaded, hoping the first shot wasn’t an accident.  He let out half a breath and squeezed.

The second round landed almost on top of the first.  He was doing everything right.  The sights were straight.  He adjusted his sight picture, loaded, and fired again.  The third round landed almost exactly where the X crossed.  Fritz smiled.

“Old Soldiers never die…”

Scarlet answered.  “They just go to Hell to regroup!”

Most of the people here had served at one time.  Some wore blue, some wore grey.  It didn’t matter anymore.

Fritz stood.  “The course of fire is as follows.  Ten rounds each.  Three offhand at 200 yards, three sitting at 300 yards, three prone at 500 yards, and the last shot at the shooter’s discretion.  Agreed?”

Scarlet winked.  “Do your worst.”

Fritz readied the rifle and took his stance.  He adjusted his footing so his rifle was on target.  He now knew where the sights pointed.  It should be easy to put the rounds where they needed to be. 

When he’d finished.  Three rounds were practically touching at the center of his X.  Fritz stepped off the line, and ran a wet patch down the bore to remove the fouling. 

Now the boys looked to Scarlet.  The Whitworth had belonged to Travis, just as the Dragoons and the bowie had.  They were like extensions of her body…deadly extensions.  It took her longer to load the hexagonal bullets, but there was no rush.

The Whitworth belched fire.  It was louder than the Springfield.  Fritz was using the government load of 60 grains of black powder under the .58 caliber Minie.  Scarlet used the military load for the Whitworth; 90 grains of black under a .451 caliber projectile.  She needed no ranging rounds…she knew where they’d hit.  Dead center.

Chris checked the targets with military binoculars.  “I’d say it’s a dead heat.  Shooters, move back to the 300-yard line.”

Chris walked with Fritz.  He pulled a cloth wrapped item from his saddlebags.

“It thought it wouldn’t be done for a week,” Fritz said.

“It’s not,” Chris replied.  “This is something else.”

Fritz handed Christ the Springfield and took the parcel.  Unrolling it, a beautiful weapon fell into his hand.  He recognized the birds head grip of the Lightning.  Attached to it was the frame and barrel of an 1860 Army Colt.  The barrel had been bobbed to about three inches.  The loading lever had been removed and the hole plugged.  It was lovely.

“If figured if you were gonna carry a belly gun, it should have some oomph to it!”

“Thanks Brother,” Fritz said.

“Lemme know if you want it converted,” Chris replied.

At the 300-yard line, Fritz dropped into the sitting position.  It was his forte; it took longer to get into (and out of) than the kneeling position, but it was more stable.  He’d gotten into a rhythm now.  Load, aim and fire.  He held low and to the left.  The rounds struck in a group just below the first.  It wasn’t as tight but they were touching.  He levered himself out of position with the buttstock of his rifle. 

“It’s a bitch to get old,” Fritz said, “but I’m happy I’m still here to do it!”

Scarlet dropped down into a sitting position, and wiggled her butt to get lined up on her target.  Fritz noticed.  She knew it.  Everyone else noticed too but were too discreet to say it.

Scarlet’s rhythm was slower due to the loading time.  It was tougher to force the hexagonal rounds down the bore, but she did it.  He’d recommend running a patch down it between this and the 500-yard line.

There was no doubt where the rounds would land…center mass.  The boys applauded. 

Chris used Fritz’s glass to check the targets.  “You’re slipping buddy,” he said.

Fritz grunted.  He helped Scarlet up.  “Do you want to run a patch down that bore?”

“We didn’t do it in a fight…I won’t do it ‘til it’s over.”

“Stubborn girl,” he thought.  It was one of her qualities he admired.  It also vexed him.

They walked side by side to the 500-yard line.  Scarlet noticed the pistol in his belt. 

“Ohhh…pretty!  Lemme see!”

He handed it over.  She admired its lines.  “Chris sure does good work.”

He smiled.  She liked what he liked.  “Yeah.  A lot like the one you gave me before the Rosebud fight.”  That one was hit by gunfire while it was in his hand.  It wasn’t salvageable.

She stuck it in her belt.  “I’ll hold onto it for a while.  Maybe I’ll give it back.  If you’re nice…”

“Tease,” he said.

“Always,” she replied.

Once on the 500-yard line, Fritz got down into a prone position.  This was also very stable, and good for long distances.  He flipped up the Vernier sight and set it for 500 yards.  He gauged the wind, which remained at zero value.  He rolled onto his back and loaded.  Once done, he rolled back into shooting position.  He checked his position again and knew he was dead on target. 

“Sight alignment, sight picture, breath control, trigger squeeze.”  He said the words aloud this time.  He heard the round strike the target.  Chris glassed it to spot for him.

“Hit!  Center mass!  One the red!  Three o’clock.”

Fritz adjusted the windage slightly.  “One minute of angle at 100 yards…” he whispered.

The Springfield roared.  It was happy.  That was its name now.

“Hit!  Center mass!  One the red!  Dead center!”  The boys hoorayed. 

Fritz reloaded, taking his time.  He had all the time in the world.  No one was shooting back…for a change.

“Hit!  Same location!  Good job!”

Fritz rose slowly to his knees.  Scarlet helped him the rest of the way up.

“That was incredible!” she sang.  “Of course, I will only do slightly better…”

He smacked her on the rump.  She purred.  “You do that again and I won’t shoot.”

“I win either way,” he replied.  “But, I wanna see what you can do.”

Scarlet sighed and dropped to her belly.  She lined up the Whitworth’s sights and pulled the trigger.  The round sizzled downrange.  He heard the impact.  He already knew.

“Hit!  Dead center!  Nice shot!”

“Now,” she said simply, “to show you that wasn’t an accident…”

The second round struck on top of the first.  The third round struck on top of that. 

Chris eyed the targets.  “Hmm…Both of you are shooting well.  Scarlet is shooting a little better, but she has the advantage.  The Whitworth is in original military configuration.  Fritz’s ‘Officer’s Model’ is nicely done, but the shorter barrel gives him less velocity.”

“Officer’s Model?” Scarlet asked.

“The Officer’s Model was produced at the Springfield Armory as an optional purchase for officers.  The barrel was shorter than the rifle’s but longer than the carbine.  It was probably about Cadet Rifle length.  It had a carbine profile to the wood, with a pewter or silver fore end.  They were equipped with Vernier sights and were highly engraved.  Though they were Trapdoor’s taken off the line, they were usually un-serialized.  They added the wood cleaning rod under the barrel.  There were only about 500 made.”

They started back towards the house.  Fritz was counting his pace.  He loaded as he walked.  Everyone was ahead of him and Scarlet.  No one was behind the line.  He’d paced out a little over 200 yards when he called to Chris, “Shooter ready!”

“All-ready on the firing line,” Chris called out.  “Shooter, you many commence firing!”

Fritz put the appropriate setting on the Vernier.  He wanted to see if he could still do it.  Fritz took a knee and steadied himself.  His knee ached but it held. He squeezed the trigger.  The Springfield roared once more.  He heard the round strike steel, but wasn’t sure where. 

Chris glassed the target.  “Six o’clock low, six inches down from the bull.  Still on red.”

Fritz’s leg trembled.  “Help me up, please.”

Scarlet helped him to his feet.  He shook his head.

“It’s still a good shot,” she whispered. 

“Yeah,” Fritz replied.  “It might’ve killed him.  Who knows?  Your turn darlin’!”

Scarlet mounted Lucky and rode back to the house.  She dismounted, drawing the Whitworth from its scabbard.  She took her time to load.

Zeke called out.  “Boss…you wanna get out of the way?”

Fritz took two steps to the left and sat down.  “No.  I trust her.”

Scarlet rested the Whitworth across her saddle.  It bellowed.  He heard the bullet race by like an angry hornet.  He heard the impact but couldn’t see the hit.  Not at this range.

Chris glassed the target.  “Gimmie a minute…Three inches below the bull, center mass.  Scarlet wins!”

The boys hoorayed.  Fritz whooped.  He knew he’d been up against it.  Being whipped by “The Scarlet Angel” wasn’t a bad thing.  Fritz walked to the porch and set the Springfield on his rocker.

“Like I said,” Scarlet purred, slipping her arms around him.  “Only slightly better than you.”

1stSgt Fritz King:
Fritz's hands were red and raw when he finished up the laundry.  Scrubbing on a washboard with soap was no joke, but a deal was a deal.  He'd finished up and was hanging to dry when he heard the shots.  Six shots on the iron skillet out back.  As he put the last piece on the line, there were six more shots, only much faster than the first set.

As Fritz dumped the washtub, Scarlet walked around front with a big grin on her face.  She was spinning Fritz's short Colt in her right hand.

"Does it pass your muster, Milady?"

Scarlet smiled.  "It does.  In fact, I'm willing to cancel our wager if you'll let me keep it."

"Not a chance," Fritz replied.  "You shot it, now clean it!"

Scarlet sashayed to the shop.  "By the way, we do bed linens tomorrow."

Fritz shook his head.  "Shit."


Fritz sat on his porch, enjoying a cigar and a bourbon in his rocker.  He saw the rider coming up path.  By the way he sat a horse, Fritz knew it was his son-in-law. 

"Good evening Deputy Bona.  Care for a drink?"

"No thank you sir," Glen replied.  "I'm still on duty.  Marshal Ross sends his compliments, and asked me to drop this off to you."

Scarlet came out and smiled.  "Hello Glen!  How's my little girl?"

"She's fine Miss Scarlet.  Telegram for you.  I think it's from Grant."  Glen tipped his has and turned his mount.

"Y'all come over and see us sometime!" she called out. 

"We will," Glen said, and rode off.

Fritz opened the envelope and pulled out the flimsy.  "It is from Grant," he said.

Scarlet knelt by the rocker.  "What does it say?"

Fritz read.  "Dear Mom and Dad, stop.  Hope all is well at C-C, stop.  Send all info and maps regarding Cuba, stop.  Give Sis my love, stop.  Grant, end."

A cold wind blew across the porch.


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