"Any idea who this bird is, Colt?"
"Not a clue, Sheriff."
"Have you moved the body?"
"Nope. All we did was strip the horse and
put him in
the corral, make sure he was fed proper. We put the
an' such in the barn."
"Well, once the coroner gets here and
cause of death, we'll see if he's got anything on him
tell us who he is and where he came from. In the
take a look at his saddle, see if there's any markings
on it that
will help us figure out anything. Mind taking me to
the barn and
showing me where it is?"
"Follow me, Sheriff."
"I wish you'd just call me Eric, Colt.
each other for quite a spell now, and as much as I
treating me with the respect of my title, that's all
it is, a
title. I'm not looking to do anything but my job, and
'Sheriff' won't change that."
Colt chuckled at the young man's attitude
opened the barn door. "Here ya go, Eric."
The sheriff looked the saddle over, and
the saddlebags, opening first one side and then the
"Saddle maker has his mark here, says 'F. A. MEANEA
WT', so I think we can say this cowboy is from
inside the saddlebags, he said, "Hmmm… What have we
here? Hard tack
and jerky, and two cartridge boxes, one that's empty
and the other
with just half a dozen cartridges left. Looks like
they'll fit both
this Winchester and his Colt. .44-40's with two
slugs. That's what you carry isn't it, Colt?"
"Yup, me an' near ever'body that uses both
a Colt an'
a Winchester. Saves carryin' double the ammo. What's
Lifting the sealed envelope out of the
Swenson looked it over before handing to Colt, "Got
your name on
it. Go ahead and open it. Let's see what it says."
"Ya sure ya want me ta open it 'fore the
here? He might wanna take a look at it first."
"I'm not worried about that at all. He'll
to worry about with that body out there. Go on, open
Walking over to where he kept his knives,
selected the Arkansas toothpick, slipped it out of its
smoothly opened the top of the envelope. Sliding the
into the sheath, he carried the letter back to the
barn door, but
there wasn't quite enough light to make out what it
we're gonna have ta take it inside an' get it under
'less'n ya wanna stand out here in the barn under a
reckon Sissy's got a fresh pot o' Arbuckle's on by
"Now, that sounds good. All right, let's
There's not much more out here I can see anyway. I'd
like to leave
all this here for now. I'll send out one of my
deputies to retrieve
"Sure, Eric. An' I'll make sure nobody
it," Colt said as they stepped outside and swung the
shut, fastening it closed. A few minutes later, they
Arbuckle's sitting at the new dining room table Sissy
on Colt buying them for Christmas.
Colt handed the letter to Sissy to read,
trusting his reading skills yet, as Sissy was still
having to coach
him when he read anything of importance. Pulling the
letter out of
the envelope, Sissy was surprised to find there were
of paper involved. The outer sheet was blank except
for a simple,
handwritten note regarding the name of a ranch. The
name written on
the outside of the paper was "Lazy L Cross Ranch (Also
Scaffold)," under that was "L Bar C Ranch (Also called
right below that it was "Latimer & Collins Cattle
Continuing to unfold the correspondence,
the next two
sheets were the main body of the letter, which read:
March 19, 1886
If you are reading this, my
Maxson, has reached you with this letter. If
he made it alive, so
much the better. Tell him I said, 'Job well
done, Charley.' He will
add any details I've missed in this
correspondence, and hopefully
convince you to come to our aid.
However, if he didn't arrive alive
and you are still
reading this, then Charley did his job. Please
arrange to have him
returned home as quickly as possible, once
your lawmen are no
longer in need of his body. Please feel free
to keep his tack, as
well as anything other than his personal
effects. I'm confident
Charley bought a good horse there, though not
certain what he
purchased, but he had a good eye for
horseflesh. You are welcome to
keep the horse as well.
Now, to explain our plight. My
Marshall, Levi Spokes, Ralston J. Fairburn,
and Cooper Collins, and
I are under a virtual siege by rustlers, and
can no longer stand
the depredation of our mutual and combined
herds. And we are not
alone. Every rancher in the region is dealing
with this problem.
These thieves have now resorted to trying to
kill anyone who tries
to stop them.
As a member in good standing in
the Wyoming Stock
Growers Association, I have sought their help.
But alas, this last
winter was very harsh, a weather trend that
looks to continue. That
fact combined with the current economic
depression and overstocking
of cattle across all the ranges in the
territory, as well as
permanent changes to the western cattle
industry, has drastically
reduced the Association's membership, as well
The law here in Johnson County is
including the number of detectives and brand
inspectors hired by
the Association, as those detectives and
inspectors must cover most
of the entire Territory. They, too, are under
Detective Joe Wilson was killed last month,
and one of our
partners, Cooper Collins, and Brand Inspectors
Ben Burton and
Claude Taylor have also been shot, minor
We are desperate, so much so that
we are reaching out
to you for your assistance in eliminating this
problem. We have
access to funding, as well as some financial
assistance from the
Association, thus we are willing to meet and
discuss your fees with
the full intent of hiring you to put a stop to
this thievery. We
fully expect to pay you in the neighborhood of
Mr. Raines, you come very highly
Keever and others), and we desperately need
your assistance, as
previously stated. If Charley didn't make it,
it had to be because
he was killed to prevent this letter from
reaching you. Killed by
the very villains we are up against.
In a sealed pocket on the inside
of Charley's left
saddlebag pouch, you will find a Wells Fargo
bank draft made out to
you in the amount of five thousand dollars,
sent as a deposit on
your services. If I receive it back, I'll
understand. If, however,
it is deposited I will be notified, and begin
looking for you to
arrive at the Lazy L Cross Ranch. Please make
your decision at your
earliest convenience. Our very lives and
livelihoods are at stake,
along with those of the hands we employ.
Major James R. Latimer
PS If you will make your way to
Territory, follow Clear Creek to where it
joins with Piney Creek
and you'll see our L Bar Ranch up the Piney."
"Daggone, Colt, you get those kinds of
"Naw, Eric. They usually come a callin',
but I reckon
a feller like this'd rather send a rider an' stay
close ta his
cattle an' men. Sounds ta me like he sent his best
man. Too bad the
man didn' survive the ride."
"You going to go get that bank draft?"
"Nope, not tanight. Reckon it'll still be
mornin'. Well, I hear a buggy comin', sa I reckon Doc
comin' in. Bes' we get a couple o' lanterns lit up for
him, sa's he
can see what he's a doin."
Grabbing the first lantern, lighting it
it to the sheriff, Colt pulled the second lantern from
lit it and followed Eric out to where they body was
Dr. Wheelwright had already lit one of his own, and
down to look at the rider before the two men could get
"Evenin' Doc. Sorry ta get ya out sa
"Yeah, well you always seem to call me out
best hours, don't you? You, too, Eric Swenson. And
to make too much of a habit of it."
"Sorry, Doc. I can't really help it when
of get killed. I do all I can to keep it from
happening, but they
are still just as dead when I get there."
"Oh, I know. I'm just tired and hungry is
at it since four this morning with Mrs. Broughton.
kids for them now. And it hasn't let up all day.
Didn't even get
time for lunch, let alone supper."
"Well, Doc, Sissy'll take care o' that
onct ya get done lookin' this poor feller here over."
"Why, thank you, Colt. She's a fine cook,
looking forward to it now. Still serving that
"Yup, we sure are."
"Well, then, I guess I'll do my best to
make this my
last stop for the night, other than my bed."
"Doc, any idea what killed him, other than
shot?" Eric asked softly.
Ten minutes later, the three men were
Colt's dining room sipping coffee, Doc waiting to be
Wheelwright took a deep breath, and began. "Gentlemen,
obvious that this man, you said his name was Charles
Well, it's pretty obvious what killed him.
simply bled to death. That bleeding was caused by four
wounds, two front and two back, and three bullet
holes, one in his
back and the other two in his stomach. From what I can
bullet wounds are nearly a week old, and they alone
might not have
contributed to killing him if he had received
treatment, other than
what he gave himself from the looks of it. The knife
sometime earlier today. There is no way he could have
them, and I'll be dogged if I know how he lived to get
"I reckon he was determined ta get ta me,
sounds o' the letter he brung along. Tough man, no
doubt 'bout it.
An' they want his body sent to 'em in Wyomin'. Not
sure where other
than the Lazy L Cross Ranch up in Wyomin', ain' had
time ta fin' it
on a map, but I reckon we'd bes' figure it out an' get
Say, Eric, did ya check the loads in his Colt, 'r the
"No, I didn't. Why don't we do that while
Doc here eats?"
As if on cue, Sissy brought in a large
piece of roast
beef, fresh biscuits and raw honey, and garden fresh
"Will that hold you until I can get a fresh apple pie
out of the
"Oh, yes, ma'am. I may not be able to move
finish this, but I'll make room for some of that pie
of yours. You
boys go on and do what you're going to do with our
dead man while I
eat. I'll need help getting him wrapped and loaded
into my buggy
when I finish here, so don't sneak off anywhere."
Back outside, Eric lifted the Colt
Frontier out of
Charley's holster, and snapped it open to find the
chambers had all
been fired and reloaded at least once. In his shirt
the makings, along with a spare tobacco sack,
britches pockets held a pocket watch, a jackknife,
matches inside a brass shotgun shell case, and two
thirty-two dollars in gold and silver coin. Colt
Bowie out of its sheath and looked it over. It was
covered in dried
blood, and had a small nick in the blade.