Learn more about Destination Santa Fe: Book Four of The Clint Mason Series
Copyright William F. Martin. All Rights Reserved.
The shootout in Carson City reminded Clint how fragile life could be. A split second of difference and he could be laying dead back in that saloon instead of those two gunmen. He had prided himself in the use of brains over brawn, but unpredictable things could destroy the best of plans.
One item in his new plan was the separation from that Appaloosa horse and the name of John Hayes. They had served their purpose. His California name of Charles Martinez was buried in Bay Town, California, and the gunman that had supposedly killed him had moved on to Carson City, Nevada. It was time to let that trail die somewhere east of Carson City. Clint’s main regret was having to part with that big Appaloosa stallion. His long-term goal of developing the best line of horses in the West could have been helped with that stallion.
He had traveled an easterly path for over three days when he came upon a herd of wild horses, the perfect place to set the Appaloosa loose. A few years in the future it would be interesting to return and see if that stallion had produced any offspring in this wild herd.
The last item of the John Hayes deception was the gun belt with J. H. burned on the inside band. Clint had left his own gun belt and pistol on the body of John Hayes back in Bay Town when running from the law and the Starr Company hired killers had begun. The distinctive gun handle was easy enough to change. In fact, Clint had purchased a set of walnut gun grips while in Carson City. It was time to make the switch. The burned initials on the gun belt were too deep. The belt would have to be dispensed with in some safe way.
The extra guns and belts that he carried in the saddle bags on all three of his horses would serve him well. He regretted having left his best gun and holster with the body of the hired killer. But, at the time, he was making sure that everyone bought into the faked death of Charles Martinez.
The travel across Nevada was slow and tedious. Even with the three excellent horses to trade off a lot, it was taking him a lot longer than expected. His water supply was running low and cover from the heat was very limited. The cactus plants were providing him enough water, but not enough for the three horses. His spyglass with its powerful lens could scan the vegetation for the right color of green. He was trying to decide on which two horses to leave behind when the color he was searching for came into view. The small green clump of trees and bushes were at least a quarter mile away down in a protected draw. It was so low that it was pure luck that Clint spotted the plant markers of a seep.
It took two hours to dig a hole deep enough in the rocky dry stream bank to get some water to pool. Clint set up camp because it would take several hours, maybe a day, to get enough water for all his canteens and the horses. That night he rechecked his direction by the stars, then laid back to rest up. There was no hurry in his wanderings. This close call on water shortage had been a little foolish on his part. It could have cost the lives of his horses even though he had full faith in his own ability to survive. Nature was teaching him a little patience and wisdom. If he didn’t learn from these hints, then he would die out here in the near desert landscape.
Clint stayed on at his watering hole another night. He had built himself a small brush sun shield from the day time sun and his blankets were more than adequate for the chilly night air. This peace and quiet of open space refreshed his inner being.
It was late the next afternoon when Clint spotted at least five Indians moving along slowly following the same dry arroyo that he was camped in. After watching them for over an hour, Clint was convinced they were looking for water. He moved into the open on a ledge where they could see him. Holding up a sheepskin water bag, he waved them into his camp. They were very cautious and sent only one brave in to make contract. These Indians looked like Utes from down southeast. They could be fierce fighters, but Clint knew he was well armed against the weapons they were carrying. The first meeting was straightforward. Clint had water, and they needed it.
The lone Indian filled his water bag, and then retreated. Then, one by one, they all came to the water pool, filled their sheep skin and retreated. The last one in, Clint offered a side of the deer that he had roasted the day before. It was taken, with bows, as the skinny young brave retreated. Less than an hour passed before another older Indian came forward out of the brush and handed Clint a beautiful blanket, then retreated without a word. With his spyglass, he followed the small bank of warriors as they headed southeast almost a mile away. The band numbered eight, so the wise warrior had never showed his full strength during the exchange for water. The Indian was probably unaware of the technology that allowed Clint to watch them from a distance of a mile.
Rather than trust his luck and the benefits of his generosity with the water and meat, it was time to keep moving east. He had three of the best horses these Indians would ever see. That temptation may overcome their appreciation for the water and food. The horses were fully rested and ready to move. The next two or three days of hard country would take some of that energy out of them and Clint.
It was the third day before Clint started seeing the signs of white men and Navajo sheep herders. Late that day, he intersected an east-west wagon trail. A windmill in the distance marked a settlement or trading post. The well traveled road was probably the wagon trail from Durango to Carson City. Some of the road markings looked like the wheel marks of the Wells Fargo coaches.
A small trading and outpost station with about 10 buildings and several large corrals came into sight. It was a Wells Fargo overnight station offering rooms and warm meals. The trading post was well supplied, so Clint stocked up on a few essentials. The bed that night was better than the hard ground, but not by much. The Mexican cook did put out an excellent meal.
The Wells Fargo driver came over to the large table where Clint and about six other men were enjoying their breakfast. The stage guard had hurt his ankle on the trip into the layover station. He needed to stay off it for a few days. The driver was asking for a stand-in guard until they reached the main station two days east. Wells Fargo would provide meals and two nights’ lodging, plus $10. None of the other men were interested and Clint had three horses to trail. The driver said that was not a problem. Clint could trail the horses behind the stage and ride shotgun or he could ride guard on his own horse. The stage line required that each stage have at least one guard. The agreement was reached and Clint’s two extra horses were tied behind the stage. The driver agreed that Clint could alternate between his horse and the hard stage seat as he pleased.
The next two days were dusty, but easy on his horses. He rode first one horse then the other, and took a turn on the stage seat. When the two young men in the coach asked to ride the horses just to be out of the dusty stage coach, Clint offered them hour-long rides every so often. Besides making their trip more bearable, the extra riders also looked like more guards. That offered Clint some reassurance as he remembered the band of Utes he had encountered two days west of the layover station.
Clint was aware that the U.S. Army had pushed the Utes out of their historical hunting grounds that had covered the area now occupied by Durango and Silverton, plus the mining areas. There had been some brutal skirmishes among the ranchers, miners, settlers, and the Indians. The firepower of the Army won in the long run, but there were heavy losses on all sides. To Clint’s relief, they did not encounter the Indians and the trip was completed in good time. The main Wells Fargo Station where the driver would change and Clint’s guard duties would end was a good two days’ ride west of Durango. After the free night’s rest at the Wells Fargo hotel and café, he collected his $10, then headed on to Durango.
The main east-west trail led through a town called Cortez Crossing. It was a typical frontier town, maybe a little rougher than most, being on the edge of Ute territory and one day’s ride west of the gold and silver mines near Durango. The hotel and casino were well decorated, with fairly good entertainment, plus good food and poker. Clint decided to stay a few days to keep his ears open about events in Durango.
The second day at Cortez Crossing, Clint spotted the type of character he dreaded the most. A small, wiry man that moved as gracefully as a cat, with well maintained guns. He was as smooth as silk and played poker like a professional. It was more his manner that put Clint on edge. His eyes were cold green and sharp as a dagger. Clint avoided his table, but could see that a lot of men respected or feared this small man. A name was never learned, but Clint did find out that two of the big rough types he was hanging around with were from ranches south of Durango. It was only a day later that Clint’s worst fears about this wiry little man came true. A dispute developed over a card game and the small man challenged the much bigger player to settle their problem outside. The challenge was open and loud. The reluctance of the big man to accept it was overcome by the sure embarrassment of walking away. The street shootout was no contest. The big man had hardly gotten his hand on the pistol grips when two shots dead center knocked him flat. Clint knew his own draw was fast, but the speed and accuracy of this little man could probably match or best it even under the most favorable conditions. His first impressions were proven right; this was a person to avoid. Clint prided himself in his observational skills, but several times this wiry little creep would slip out of his view, then slip back in again without a sound. Clint had that uncomfortable feeling that he was being sized up. Knowing that his pride could get him killed, Clint decided it was time to move on.