About The BookThe promise of a new life and a chance to start over…
Hannah Anderson had the life she always wanted, married to the man of her dreams. When her husband’s brother gets in trouble with the law, the town turns against them, shattering her perfect life. Now they are left with only one choice–to head west to the Arizona Territory in the hopes of creating a new life. Will the journey be worth the cost?
Will Colter, after burying his father, is forced to leave the ranch he has called home for nearly thirty years. The journey is dangerous, challenging him and his men. Will he find the new life he was hoping for?
Or, is there a new dream quietly unfolding before their eyes?
Get Up To SpeedChapters 1 & 2 follow the lives of Drew and Hannah Anderson, a young doctor and his wife. After Drew’s brother robs a bank, the town blames Drew, leaving him no choice but to consider moving.
This excerpt (Chapters 3 & 4) are the start of another story thread about Will Colter, a handsome rancher from Texas. Like the Andersons, he finds his world turning upside down. Later in the book the two story threads merge in an unexpected way.
August 28, 1863
The day started like any other on the ranch, early and full of work. After feeding and watering the horses, Will began rubbing down Jackson, his tawny brown stallion and best friend. There was something calming about the routine action.
Routine. That was just what William Colter longed for this day of all days. But today would be anything but routine, because today he would bury his father. Will’s breath caught as the thought passed through his mind. Moisture gathered in the corners of his eyes. He blinked several times rapidly, willing the tears to stay at bay. “Ranchers don’t cry son,” he recalled his father saying when his mother passed a few years ago. “At least not in front of the cowboys. You must be in control and run the ranch with strength.”
Sage advice from the man he admired so.
Clearing his throat, Will hastily saddled Jackson. His six foot frame easily mounted the majestic animal. This morning he dressed in typical rancher garb—sturdy jeans, his trusty leather cowboy boots, and a blue button down cotton shirt stretching across his broad chest. His light tan hat covered his dark hair. Most days, he wore a handkerchief over his nose to keep from choking on the dust kicked up from the cattle, but he forgot it this morning, his attention scattered.
As he neared the far pasture, he spotted the ever faithful Benjamin Shepherd. Ben was a kindly cowboy, sitting astride his black mare, Sheila. Why Ben named his horse Sheila was still a topic of debate among the hands. Some think that Ben was once sweet on a Mississippi gal named Sheila. Others suspected the mare was named after his dear ol’ ma.
Regardless of the reason behind the horse’s name, it seemed contradictory to the rough appearance of the man. Almost twenty-five years ago Edward Colter, Will’s father, hired Ben as the foreman of the Star C Ranch. The two men formed a trusted friendship over the years. When the Colter brothers, Reuben and then Will, were old enough to ride and rope, Ben taught them the skills. When Will was younger, he used to think Ben a giant at almost six feet tall. His broad shoulders nearly spanned the door frame of the bunkhouse. His legs were as thick as a tree—at least to a child they appeared so.
“Didn’t expect to see you out here this morning, boss,” rumbled Ben’s deep voice, pulling Will’s attention back to the present. “Shouldn’t you be gittin’ ready to head in to town to bury your pa?”
Will always felt like he should respond to Ben with a “yes sir” or “no sir” like he did with his father. Countless times the elder Colter reminded him that was not necessary as the rancher’s son, and definitely not at his twenty-nine years of age. Still, Will respected Ben greatly, and found the old habit hard to break. Uncertain how to reply, Will merely grunted.
“The boys and me got things under control out here, so you can tend to the family,” Ben reassured, as he turned his horse back towards the long-horned steers grazing contentedly in the warm sun.
Being dismissed, Will turned Jackson back toward the ranch. What had he been thinking to ride out there? He should have known Ben would frown upon his presence rounding up the cattle today. Giving Jackson a kick with his boots, he urged the animal into a trot. Maybe he came out here because he needed the time to think. He did his best thinking in the wide open spaces sitting in his style saddle. And his mind was going far faster than Jackson was covering ground this morning.
Watching his father die was not something Will cared to remember. But the memory pressed forward, obscuring the flat pasture in front of him. Two days ago, Edward Colter was the perfect picture of health for a man in his late fifties. Trim and well-muscled. Used to long hours in the saddle and the difficult labor of working the ranch. Though since mother passed, father spent more time at the ranch house and less time in the pastures.
Tears stung Will’s eyes as the unwanted images from his father’s last morning alive danced across his vision. Father insisted on accompanying Will out to see the herd. As the summer started to fade, the time drew near to send the cattle to market. His father told him he wanted to see with his own eyes the fine work his youngest son had done growing the herd.
At first, everything appeared normal with the herd as they grazed on the sweet Texas grass. Then the fearful sound started—a low rumbling giving way to a crescendo of thundering hooves. The cattle frantically stampeded towards them. Will kicked Jackson forcefully, moving him northward out of the way. His father chose the opposite, more fateful direction, not clearing the onslaught of crazed animals in time. When Will turned, expecting to see his father right behind him, his stomach sank to the ground. He only caught a brief glimpse of his father before the herd swallowed him and his horse.
Swiping at the tears now freely falling down his dust coated face, Will prayed that God would let the horrific memory fade. No one should watch his father die in such a painful manner.
By the time the herd cleared and Will made it to his father’s side, Edward squeezed a few words of praise for his son past his battered lips.
“You have made me prouder than any man has a right to be,” his weak voice etched the sentiment into Will’s soul before taking his last breath.
It was awful—slinging his father’s bloodied and beaten body over Jackson’s back, taking him to his home for the last time. Will snorted at the injustice of such an experienced rancher dying in an unexpected stampede. None of it made any sense. Edward Colter should have lived his life to old age, bouncing his grandchildren on his knee. But none of that would come to pass.
Will wished he could dwell on what should have been. Instead, his own future had become a jumbled mess in the wake of this loss. What would he do now that his father was gone? Would Reuben let him stay at the ranch? Doubtful. Did he want to stay, being reminded of his father’s last hours each time he rode out for the day?
What he wanted might not make a difference. Depending on the terms of his father’s will, the best possible situation Will could find himself in would be half owner of the Star C Ranch, though that was unlikely. Reuben, five years his senior, as the first-born son, would likely inherit the ranch. Given the option of staying under Reuben’s arrogant leadership, or striking out on his own, Will preferred the latter.
Other than appearance, the two Colter brothers shared little in common. Where Will learned everything he could about ranching, Reuben wanted little to do with the labor of working the ranch. He would rather sit in the ranch house plotting and scheming how he could get richer quicker—by any means necessary. Will lived with a deep faith like his parents. Reuben scoffed at religion, unless he could find a way to manipulate it for his own benefit. Will developed a keen business mind as well as the ability to work the stock. He was an expert with his rifle and his rope. While Reuben learned these skills as a young man, he wanted nothing to do with the dirt and dust of the outdoors.
As Will neared the house, he slowed Jackson’s pace to a lope. He looked up to see Julia retreating indoors. At sixteen years of age, the youngest of the Colter clan was just over thirteen years younger than Will. While there had been other children between Will and Julia, they died as toddlers or were stillborn. His mother had not expected to have any more children, but was thrilled at Julia’s birth.
Growing a bit too quickly into a woman, Julia favored their father more than the brothers did. She shared his bright blue eyes and sandy brown hair. The curls were a trait from their mother. Like their father, she was shorter than Will and Reuben, coming only to Will’s chest. Her petite waist and curvy features were starting to be noticed by the young cowboys, sparking Will’s protective instincts. She shared Edward Colter’s zest for life—everything was an adventure. She idolized Will and he spoiled her, teaching her to shoot, ride, and rope as good as any of the hands. In recent years, their father insisted she spend less time following Will around and more time in domestic pursuits. She resisted at first, but eventually settled into her new role.
He dismounted and tied Jackson to the hitching post. Absently kicking the dust from his boots, Will walked through the front doorway, making his way to his room to change into his Sunday best. By the time he joined the family, Julia was already situated in the wagon. She held Reuben’s toddlers in her lap. Reuben helped his wife, Mary, up to the front seat of the wagon. Scowling at Will, he climbed up next to his wife without a word. Reuben slapped the reins and the wagon lurched into motion, groaning in protest.
Will mounted Jackson and followed along wordlessly. He learned a long time ago that the fewer words passing between him and Reuben, the more peaceful the day would be. Glancing over at Julia as he rode alongside, they locked gazes. Her eyes were swollen and red-rimmed from crying. She attempted a smile, but it was strained. He could only wonder what changes would be in store for both of them, now that the family patriarch was gone.
Wagons and horses lined the streets near the small white church on the edge of town. Many ranchers and townsfolk already crowded into the graveyard next to the church. Edward Colter was well respected, so Will expected the large number of mourners. Will found a spot to tie his mount, then hurried to help his sister from the parked wagon. The family took their place at the front of the grave site where the pastor waited. Will stood next to Julia across from Reuben, Mary, and the two squirming children.
The service was short, but respectful. The pastor read from Psalms 23, while Will recited it quietly to himself. The Lord really was his comfort and he knew his father was dwelling in the house of the Lord even this minute—no matter how he longed to have his father still at his side. Julia reached over for his hand, but he put his arm around her instead as she tried to wipe the tears from her face. One of the ladies from church sang “Amazing Grace.” When she finished, Will took Julia by the hand and led her back to the wagon through the crowd.
Back at the ranch house, the women from the community prepared a meal for the family. Although Will longed for peace and quiet, he appreciated the gesture. Many of the area ranchers and townsfolk came for the meal as well. Each person offered their condolences and shared stories of his father. It was good to hear how much his father meant to these people.
Reuben seemed relatively unaffected by the events of the day. As Will watched from a corner, his older brother worked the room to his own advantage. Of course, Reuben would never do anything to lessen the perfect perception others held of him. He slyly used the mourners’ sympathies to garner support for his latest scheme—whatever it may be.
Will, disgusted by his brother’s display, moved to the background where he could observe without engaging. Looking around the room, he watched Julia in deep conversation with her best friend, Caroline. He hoped the time Julia spent with Caroline would lift her spirits. She had been inconsolable since he brought their father’s lifeless form home.
Another wave of sadness washed over him. Seeing that no one would miss him, Will ducked out the front door. He needed some time alone. Taking Jackson by the reins, he led him into the stable, removed the gear and began brushing him down.
Will would miss his father—he already did. His wise counsel kept Will from many a foolish decision over the years. He hoped to run his own ranch as well as his father. He led by example, full of integrity. His men respected him. His children—at least Will and Julia—loved and adored him. The townsfolk and neighboring ranchers thought highly of him. Will prayed he would be much like his father.
As he breathed in the scent of hay intermingled with horseflesh, his thoughts turned to his sister again. This was going to be toughest on Julia. She needed a father’s love, especially since their mother was gone. Who will protect her? Who will find her an honorable husband in a few years? Would Will be able to take her with him, wherever he went, to protect her?
Not having any of the answers to his many questions, Will dejectedly returned to the ranch house and to the waiting throng of mourners. One thing was certain, the coming days would bring change.
* * * * *
Monday morning dawned early. Three days passed since they buried their father, and today was the day they would hear Edward James Colter’s will. Although none of the children knew the specifics of their father’s last wishes, Will was certain each of them would be well cared for. As he donned his usual jeans and work shirt, he glanced out the window. Reuben already waited out front with the wagon and his horse. He must be eager to leave.
Julia sat sullenly next to Reuben, looking down at her folded hands in her lap. Will quickly mounted the saddled horse tied to the post and led the way to town at a gentle pace. The short distance to town passed quickly. Reuben pulled the wagon to a stop in front of the attorney’s office. After helping Julia down, he led the way into the building, leaving Will trailing behind.
Reuben took the seat directly across from Mr. Gainsly, Attorney At Law. Julia sat to his right. Will leaned against the wall furthest from Reuben, crossing his arms over his chest. He rested his right leg over his left, settling the toe of his right boot on the floor.
“Shall we begin,” stated Mr. Gainsly. In his gravelly monotonous voice he read the will. “To my first born son, Reuben James Colter, I give full ownership of the Star C Ranch land and house. The herd and stock are to be equally distributed between Reuben and my second son, William Edward Colter—”
“What!” Reuben shouted, pounding his fist down on Mr. Gainsly’s desk, causing Julia to jump at the abrupt motion. “Why should Will get half of everything?”
Will stood upright, uncrossing his arms. Facing Reuben, he said in a low voice through gritted teeth, “I have as much right to half of the ranch as you do. If anyone should be complaining about the terms, I should—since I am to get none of the land or the house.”
Reuben stood, puffing out his chest. The act made him look ridiculous in his fancy brown suit and bowler hat. Anger creased his face and his tone became harsh, “I am the first born son—”
Will moved closer. “A fact of which you remind me of constantly. Still, that has nothing to do with father’s last wishes.”
Reuben took a step closer towards Will, the two separated only by Julia still seated in the chair. Mr. Gainsly looked horrified by the confrontation between the two brothers and Julia began sobbing.
She reached up and touched Will on the arm. In a soft voice she said, “Please, stop.”
Will looked from Mr. Gainsly’s discomfort, to Reuben’s fierce anger, to Julia’s pleading. Returning his fisted hand to his side, he took a step back, closer to the wall. Nodding towards Mr. Gainsly, Will said in a flat tone, “Please, continue.”
Mr. Gainsly looked from Will to Julia to Reuben. “Very well, then. Mr. Colter,” he said referring to Reuben, “please take a seat. I understand that our loved one’s last wishes can be a bit of a shock—sometimes they make choices we may not agree with. I assure you, your father was very clear, wishing to be as fair as possible for all three of you.”
As Reuben returned to his seat, Mr. Gainsly continued reading, “Other than a sum set aside for Julia Catherine Colter, my daughter, the remaining financial holdings are to be equally divided between Reuben and William,” he paused, looking to Reuben. Reuben growled, but remained seated. “If Julia has not yet reached her majority, Reuben will be her guardian and the trustee of her stipend.”
Reuben’s face went from anger to delight in a few short seconds, prompting Will’s distrust. Why did that news please Reuben? He barely seemed to notice her, though they lived under the same roof. Was it controlling her money? Or was there something more?
Finally, Gainsly’s irritating voice halted. The room remained silent for a few short seconds before Reuben made his wishes known.
“Please see to the details of dividing the money,” Reuben commanded with his usual air of superiority. “If there is nothing further, let us be on our way.”
Standing, Reuben, in an uncharacteristic display, waited for Julia to control herself. Looking at Will over her seated form, Reuben gave him a bone-chilling glare. If Will had any doubt about his brother’s feelings towards him, that look clearly communicated his loathing. When Julia finally rose, Reuben led her to the wagon without waiting for Will. As Will walked out of the attorney’s office, Reuben already set the wagon in motion towards home.
On the ride back to the Star C with the dust of the wagon in the distance, Will considered his options. With half of the financial holdings and half the herd, he could make a nice start somewhere else. He knew there was no chance Reuben would let him stay. The animosity between the two brothers was too great. Will was the conscious Reuben never wanted. Perhaps there was a nearby rancher looking to sell out. That would allow him to stay in Texas and keep watch over Julia.
His thoughts went back to Julia’s new guardian. Why had father left her to Reuben’s care? Will shook his head, knowing the answer. Father never saw the darkest side of Reuben, so he would naturally leave Julia to his eldest son’s care, especially since he left the land and house to him. While he left Will with financial holdings and a herd, he did not leave him a home, limiting his ability to provide for Julia. Though he understood it, he disapproved.
Instead of stopping at the ranch house, Will continued out to the pasture to work. The more he thought about his situation his aggravation rose. In one short day, Will went from being the rancher’s second son, to owning half of everything—except the land and house. A part of him understood why father did not leave him a home, yet a part of him resented it. Perhaps if he and Reuben acted more like brothers and less like enemies, father would have left them both the Star C. But, his wise father knew a partnership between his two sons would never succeed. This knowledge failed to take away the sting. He spent his life putting his heart and soul into this ranch and now he would have to leave.
He rallied from his thoughts, hearing the sound of an approaching rider. Ben must have spotted him, because he rode toward Will while he was still a hundred yards out from where the herd was grazing.
“Whoa there!” Ben said as he reined Sheila up next to Will. “How was the meeting in town?”
Will spent the next hour explaining the highlights of his father’s estate and his own reaction to the news. When he finished, he confided in Ben. “Leaving is the only option, but where?”
“Startin’ over is going to take some doing,” Ben commiserated. “Remember in the spring when yer pa was talking about the Arizona Territory and those reports he heard of good grazin’ land throughout the place? Maybe we could drive the cattle out there and set up a ranch.”
Did Ben want to go with him? “We?” Will asked. “You don’t have to come with me, Ben. You know Reuben won’t be happy.”
Ben’s sour expression told Will what he thought of that. His features softened as he continued, “You’ll be needing someone to watch yer back and I figured since I’ve been doing it for this many years, what’s a few more.”
“Well, I would be glad to have you along.” Truthfully, Will could not imagine making a move without his old friend. “Your idea of going to the Arizona Territory has merit, if you think your old bones can hold out for that long,” Will teased.
“Humph.” Ben grumbled, heartily patting Will on the back. “I can still out ride you young ‘un. Speaking of riding, think it’s about time to get to work.”
Will fell in behind Ben as he led the way out to where a few strays ambled further from the herd. Positioning his horse outside the strays, he gently guided them back to their place in the herd. The heaviness of the week’s events wore on his mind and he lost track of time as he diligently watched the longhorns.
As the sun lowered in the sky, Will suddenly realized he came dangerously close to being late for supper. He pointed Jackson toward the stables covering the distance quickly. After caring for the stallion, he washed up outside, then made his way to the table. The ire written on Mary’s face told him she considered him late. Mumbling a quick apology to his sister-in-law, he took his seat.
As Reuben assumed their father’s seat at the head of the table, Will felt anew the loss. Things were definitely changing at the Star C, no longer under the watchful stewardship of his father.
Julia and Will bowed their heads, expecting Reuben to say grace. Hearing the clank of dishes being passed, Will looked up at Reuben, confused. Julia’s head also snapped up, a questioning look on her face.
“What are you gawking at?” Reuben snapped. “You know I don’t hold for any of that religious nonsense. If you feel it is necessary to offer up empty platitudes to your so called God, then, by all means, pray away.” He waved his hands in the air in a disdainful manner. “It won’t stop us from starting supper.”
Sitting in his father’s seat was expected. Dismissing God was not. Will’s blood began to boil. Reuben really had some gall.
Julia closed her eyes and must have offered up a silent prayer, since she did not reach for any food immediately. Will was too angry to pray right this minute. Hopefully, God would understand. He grabbed the potatoes and dished some onto his plate with more force than was necessary. Taking a deep breath, he tried to cool his temper. He knew Reuben was purposely being spiteful, trying to get a reaction from him.
“When will you be leaving, Will?” Reuben said snidely.
The words hit Will as hard as if Reuben slapped him across the face. And so the jockeying begins, he thought wryly.
Mary’s jaw dropped. Obviously, Reuben said nothing to her about the possibility of Will’s departure. Julia dropped her fork and shot a look Will’s direction of both surprise and pleading. For once, even the two children were silent. All motion stopped and every eye focused intently on him.
Will clenched his jaw and stated evenly, “What makes you think I’m leaving?” He hated when Reuben tried to manipulate him.
“Of course you are leaving, William,” Reuben sneered. “I’m simply giving you the opportunity to inform this family of when you will be ready to leave.” He paused, changing to a more benevolent tone. “If you’d like, I can choose the timing, although I don’t think you would be pleased with my choice.”
The metal of Will’s fork dug into his skin as his hold tightened in proportion to his rising temper. We only just went to the reading of the will this morning and he’s already trying to force me out. He should have been prepared for this, but he hadn’t expected Reuben to play this card so soon. “I haven’t made any definite plans yet.”
“You have two weeks,” Reuben replied, as he gingerly popped a bite of meat into his mouth. The smug, confident look on his face served only to further Will’s irritation.
“What!” Will shouted as his face grew heated. He dropped his fork and stood so rapidly that he knocked his chair over, his temper getting the best of him.
“Sit down Will and stop acting like you are surprised. Surely you are aware that I do not hold any sentimental feelings for you.” His dark glare punctuated the statement. “I want you off my property in two weeks.”
The dismissive tone was more than Will could take. He lunged toward Reuben. “What gives you the right to dictate orders to me?”
Reuben pushed back his chair and stood nose to nose with Will. “I am sole owner of Star C Ranch and I do not wish to have you here any longer.” Will felt the heat of his brother’s breath on his face. Reuben continued with a more chivalrous tone, “It is out of concern for Julia that I am allowing you to stay that long. Make no mistake, William, you are no longer welcome on my property.” With the last words he inched closer to Will, never breaking eye contact.
It took all of Will’s strength not to sling his fist at his brother. Perhaps it was Julia’s gasp at Reuben’s statement that reminded Will it would do no good to put up a fight. Or maybe it was the steely, sinister look in his brother’s eyes that held him back. Regardless, his appetite vanished and his temper flared. Will stepped back, turned on his heal, and stormed out the front door.
Well after dusk, Will returned to the house. He stalked straight to his room, relieved Reuben seemed to be otherwise occupied. The ride did little to help Will solve his problem. Two weeks was not much time to plan a move if he knew where he was going, much less if he had no idea where to go. Pacing the length of the room in the small space between the bed and the dresser, his boots clomped loudly against the wooden floor. His mind continued to mull over his circumstance, but he came up with no solutions. Perhaps a trip to town tomorrow would be wise. At least he could see if there was news of anyone looking to sell out.
A soft knock on the door brought his feet to a halt.
“Will?” Julia whispered.
“Come in,” he answered as he opened the door.
“I found these while going through father’s bedroom,” Julia said, handing Will a stack of letters. “The first several look like information about the Arizona Territory. I think they are personal letters, but perhaps you could review them? I also found several of mother’s letters. If you don’t mind, I would like to keep those.”
Will heard the unuttered request to keep this bit of information from Reuben. Reuben would only try to use these letters to his advantage, finding some way to manipulate him or Julia. It was best to keep both sets of letters from him, unless some information directly pertained to the Star C.
He took the bundle and slid it under his pillow, nodding in agreement to her request before returning his attention to his sister.
Julia bowed her head, her long curls hiding her face from his view. She stared at the worn wood floor making no move to leave, or to speak. Knowing his sister’s moods well, he asked, “Would you like to take a walk?”
Nodding, she turned and led the way outside and away from eavesdropping ears.
The dark night sky shimmered with sparkling stars as Will and Julia walked towards the corral. The cowboys’ laughter from the nearby bunkhouse floated across the air. The horses in the stable next to the corral snorted, settling down for the night. As Will leaned forward against the corral, he breathed deeply, smelling the fresh night air spiced with a light fragrance of hay. He placed one foot on the lowest rung before propping his arms against the top rung. Julia stood next to him, leaning her arms on the top rung in a similar fashion. They stood this way for several minutes before either spoke.
“I don’t want you to leave,” Julia lamented. “I will miss you terribly.”
A few more seconds of silence passed before she asked, “Where will you go? Do you have to leave so soon? Can’t you talk to Reuben and ask for more time?”
Will sighed in frustration, knowing her last question was completely unrealistic. If he pressed Reuben, he was likely to get even less time rather than more.
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Taking a minute to gather his thoughts, Will recalled the conversation with Ben this morning, and then remembered the stack of letters Julia handed him. While he had no opportunity to read those letters, Will was struck by the coincidence. Both were about the Arizona Territory. Lord, is this from you? Is this the answer I have been searching for? For the first time since his father passed, Will felt a hint of peace. Perhaps the Arizona Territory would become his new home.
“Well, I will probably head out west,” he said, finally answering Julia. “Rumor is that there are good ranch lands in the new Arizona Territory. It’s something father was looking into last spring.”
Several silent seconds ticked by before Julia sniffled.
Turning to face his sister, Will said, “Julia, you know I can’t stay here at the Star C. I’m not sure I would even be able to stay in the area. I’ll have to find someplace where I can support myself. Ranching is what I know, so I will go where I can do that.”
“But I don’t want to stay here with Reuben. He is so cold and calculating.”
Will stifled another sigh. She feared Reuben as much as he feared leaving her with him. Feeling helpless to change the situation, Will tried to offer her encouragement. “You know he has always treated you with respect, Julia. It is me that spurs his hatred. With me gone, he will be more bearable.” He prayed.
“I hope so.” She paused, her voice getting softer, “It’s just that, who will I talk to?”
Will half smiled, knowing Julia never wanted for a listening ear. But, he appreciated the sentiment all the same. He loved that his little sister adored him. “There’s Caroline. And Mary can be pleasant at times.”
Again the silence stretched. Will looked up to the flickering stars in the black night sky. Would the stars in Arizona look the same? Would he really be able to make a home there?
Julia’s whispered words cut through his thoughts. “I didn’t think I would lose everyone I care about at the same time.” Her voice broke and the tears came.
Moving to her side, he put his arms around her, resting his chin on the top of her head. Will empathized. It would be difficult leaving his dear little sister behind. It was a loss they would both feel deeply. Losing their father would leave emptiness, but this would intensify the loneliness. He waited silently for many minutes until Julia’s sobbing subsided.
As the laughter from the bunkhouse died down and the lights dimmed, Will became aware of the hour. “It is getting late,” he said, leading Julia back to the house.
After seeing Julia safely to her room, he returned to his own. Lighting the oil lamp on the stand next to his bed, he retrieved the bundle of letters from under his pillow. Lounging on his bed, he pulled the first letter from the stack. It appeared to be from one of the advance military scouts to the region. Will was surprised his father actually received the letter, especially since Texas was no longer part of the Union. There were five or so letters exchanged between his father and the writer who remained anonymous in his returned correspondence.
Eager to confirm his thoughts about the territory, Will read the letters. He learned about several areas of land in the southwestern region that had been Mexican ranch lands prior to the Gadsden Purchase. Several new ranches were already sprouting up. Tucson was a growing city and some of the outlying areas were suitable for farming and ranching. This area had a large Mexican population. Most of the whites were former southerners, so he might be welcomed there, though he did not consider himself a southerner.
The author stated the Hassayampa River in the north central territory would also support ranching. The last letter on the topic indicated a small group of miners discovered gold in the area, which was gaining the attention of the appointed governor of the new territory. This was one of the regions being considered by the governor as a potential location for the capital. A small fort was scheduled to be established by the end of the year. The writer described this region as, “…an area ripe for settlement. The large open grasslands are mostly suitable for cattle ranching. The grass is of a hearty nature, able to endure in a relatively dry climate. Any cattle of a durable nature should thrive here. The rolling hills filled with grass lead way to river valleys and mountains topped with dense forests of pine, cedar, and other strong woods. The discovery of gold will likely cause an increase of prospectors to the area in search of their long deserved fortunes.”
Will’s interest piqued. This Hassayampa River area sounded very promising. In one of the letters, the author outlined a rough route from Santa Fe to the river. He should be able to drive the cattle from here to Santa Fe, then on to the new territory.
Yawning, Will remembered the late hour. After folding up the letters and storing them in a safe place, he turned down the light. Even though his mind was full of ideas and planning, exhaustion won and he fell asleep almost instantly.
* * * * *
After discussing the letters with Ben and spending time praying over the decision, Will gained confidence that the move to Arizona was the right one. He had much to get done in the next few days, as Reuben’s imposed deadline rapidly approached.
This morning was the day he and Reuben agreed to divide the herd, per the instructions dictated in their father’s will. Since they were not due to head to market for a few weeks yet, the herd was at its largest.
As he neared the herd, the lowing of the cattle became welcome background noise. Dust swirled around the longhorns and the cowboys as the animals moved slowly forward. Something seemed different this morning, though Will could not pinpoint what caused him to think that.
“Herd looks a mite unusual,” Ben stated as Will reined in next to him.
Then Will clearly saw the difference. All of the weaker thinner cattle stood on the right and the strongest, fattest longhorns stood on the left. Never in all of his years ranching had he seen such an unnatural formation.
Hearing hoof beats approaching, Will glanced over his shoulder. Reuben, flanked by several of the seedier cowboys in his employ, rode towards the herd. Reuben looked stiff and uncomfortable astride his mare. It had been years since Will had seen his brother on horseback and in the pasture. He was obviously out of practice.
Once he and his men arrived, Reuben tried to assert his wishes on how to best divide the herd. “I think we should ride up the middle of the herd. I’ll take what is on the left and you take what is on the right.”
What was Reuben up to? Did he really think Will was ignorant? Stifling a snort of disgust, Will stated, “Let’s have Ben cut the herd as usual. Then we can count off equal numbers for each of us.”
“I disagree,” Reuben retorted. “My proposal is quite valid.”
Will moved his mount alongside Reuben’s. Leaning in towards his brother, he said in low tones, “I’m not oblivious to your scheme, Reuben. Unless you want to hop off your mare and settle this man to man, I suggest you stop this nonsense.”
“Are you threatening me?”
Narrowing his eyes, Will kept his focus on his shifty brother while directing his words to Ben. “Let’s get started.”
Before Reuben could object, Ben issued instructions to the cowboys, following Will’s guidance.
The process took a significant portion of the day. At first Reuben blustered complaints with each good steer directed to Will’s herd, but after seeing the impossibility of the situation, he acquiesced. Several of the cowboys commented on how evenly matched the two herds were. Will was very pleased with both the quality and quantity of longhorns. In addition to half the herd, totaling three thousand head, Will took half of the breeding stock and horses.
Relieved that one major task was completed, Will turned his attention to the next hurdle—cowboys to drive the herd west.
Once word spread of his departure, several of the younger cowboys expressed an interest moving west. Including Ben, he had four men to drive the cattle. That number would barely cover point at the front of the herd and flank riders in the middle of the herd for one shift. He needed at least six more men just to cover two shifts for all the positions. In addition, he would need to get a chuck wagon, a cook, more horses, and a wrangler to care for the horses. All of this posed a difficult challenge in the short timeframe left, especially considering many ranchers would be going to market soon. He would also need a good number of supplies.
Although nearing supper time, Will rode into town. He arrived shortly before the general store closed, so he hurriedly posted hiring notices. He also made arrangements for some of the needed supplies. Darting out the door, he headed to the livery to purchase the chuck wagon. He would return to pick it up tomorrow.
Before leaving town, he heard a ruckus down the street and went to check it out. Several cowboys and ranchers that frequented the saloon stood outside discussing some topic heatedly in the street. Staying on the edge of the crowd, Will caught enough of the conversation to learn that the Union blockaded the main cattle trail to New Orleans. They were cut off from supplying the Confederate Army with much needed beef. The crowd grew agitated, throwing down curses on their former northern countrymen. Seeing tempers spiraling out of control Will made his way back to the ranch.
While he did not relish the impact this bad news would have on his fellow ranchers, it could benefit Will. He would be leaving at an opportune time, headed toward other markets. This may make hiring less difficult, now that many area cowboys would fear for their jobs.
* * * * *
“Boss,” Ben greeted as Will stepped on to the ranch house porch the next morning. “We have some trouble.”
With the deadline just over a week away, trouble was not something Will had time to deal with. He raised his hand to the back of his neck, trying to rub some of the growing tension away. Resisting the urge to grit his teeth, he asked, “What now?”
“Seems some of the cattle are missing,” Ben replied.
He groaned, dropping his hand back to his side. “How many?”
“At least a hundred head.”
Will sighed. How could he keep from losing cattle to Reuben—for he was sure that is where the missing cattle would be found—and keep up with all he had to do to prepare for the move?
“See if you can discreetly get them back,” Will stated. “Then find some way to mark them so we don’t have this issue for the next week and a half. Try to keep Reuben out of it, if possible.”
Ben asked, “You thinking we should rebrand ‘em?”
“No. We don’t have time for that.” Will failed to keep the frustration from his voice. “Talk it over with Pace and see if you can’t come up with something temporary.”
Ben nodded. Mounting Sheila, he pointed her towards the herd at a trot.
Will stood still for a moment, wishing again for more time. How could he pull everything together in such a short time? The impossibility of the task nipped at his confidence.
Pulling himself from hopelessness, he headed to the stable and geared up Jackson. He had to stay focused on the long list of things needing accomplished and not give in to worry and fear. Leading his horse from the stable, he met up with Pedro, one of his men, for the ride to town. Each hoof beat brought him one step closer to crossing a few of those items from his list.
Once at the livery, Will helped Pedro harness the oxen he purchased to the supply wagon. Then they rigged the chuck wagon behind it. Bringing up the rear was Pedro’s horse tethered to the chuck wagon. Pedro drove the double wagon to the store, then helped Will load the supplies he bought the day before.
Heaving crate after crate into the wagons was a tiresome job with only the two of them. Unfortunately, Will could spare no more than one man from watching his herd—and he could not really spare the one. He desperately needed more than the five hands—otherwise this move would not happen. He still had roughly ten days, which seemed to be ticking by swiftly.
Having managed the cattle drives for the past eight years, Will knew how to plan for the drive. However, this was more than a routine drive to market. This was a permanent move to a relatively unpopulated territory, bringing with it a myriad of unknowns. He knew supplies would be hard to come by once they arrived, so he had to account for that.
He never traveled on the western trails, so water availability might be a problem. While he could carry enough for the men in the wagons, he would never have enough room for water for the stock. The letters to his father mentioned several watering areas between Santa Fe and his final destination. But, he had no information about what the conditions would be like between here and Santa Fe. What if there was no water? The season had been unusually dry. Could the Canadian River be dry in some areas further west? How far did the Canadian flow? This whole situation was madness.
Grunting under the weight of the last crate, Will dropped it into the supply wagon. He just needed to keep moving forward. Please, God, help me get this all done.
As Pedro pointed the loaded wagons back towards the ranch, Will mounted Jackson and directed him towards the Larson’s ranch. Horses were the next obstacle and hopefully George Larson would be able to supply what he needed. Larson Ranch maintained a well-deserved reputation for breeding the highest quality horses in north Texas—perhaps even the entire state.
Reining in Jackson by the stables, Will was greeted by his sister’s friend Caroline, the oldest of the Larson girls.
“Will, what brings you our way?” the young blonde asked, setting a full basket of eggs on the ground near her feet.
“I came to speak with George about purchasing some horses,” Will replied. “Is he around?”
Caroline nodded towards the stables, “He’s is in the back.” She paused, before asking, “How is Julia?”
“As well as can be expected. You should come for dinner after church on Sunday. I know she would welcome your company,” Will suggested.
Caroline smiled with excitement. “Please tell her I plan to do just that. Wait here while I fetch Papa.”
Seconds later, George Larson emerged from the stables trailed by his daughter. Caroline stooped down to pick up the basket of eggs. Waving at Will, she turned towards the house.
George Larson held out his hand in greeting. “Caroline said you are looking for more horses. I say that surprised me, given the number the Star C purchased just a few months ago. How many are you looking for?”
Will shook the offered hand then explained his situation and the planned move to the Arizona Territory. He finished by saying, “Since Reuben inherited the ranch, he has been throwing around his authority. I have just over ten days left before he wants me off the land.”
George’s expression grew grim. Having been close friends with Edward Colter for many years, he was no doubt troubled by Will’s news.
Will continued, “I need an additional twenty horses for the drive.” At least that is how many he would need if he could hire all of the necessary men. The pressure of the clock pushed heavier on his mind, ramping up his anxiety.
“I’m sorry, Will, but I don’t have that many. Best I can do is five. The others we have in training right now have been paid for by other ranchers.”
Will’s shoulders slumped at the news. Five was a quarter of what he needed. “Is there any chance we could work out something with the other ranchers? If they don’t need the horses right away, would they be willing to wait?”
George thought for a moment. “Well, I might be able to get you one or two more if Wilson agrees to wait. But, I can’t promise anything. You know how much our horses are in demand, especially this time of year.”
“Could you let me know by Sunday?”
“Sure. I’ll talk with Wilson tomorrow. Then we’ll let you know in church.”
Will thanked George for his compromise before taking his leave. Five to seven horses was not what he hoped for. He would have to settle for lesser quality animals from the livery for the remaining number, if he could even secure that many. And those horses would not be accustomed to the cattle, which could pose a risk for his men—not that he had enough men yet.
Pulling Jackson to a stop outside the corral, Will frowned. Bates, the man he hired yesterday was just now saddling his horse. He should have been out with the herd hours ago.
“Bates!” Je called the cowboy to him. “Why aren’t you out with the herd?”
The young man looked down, not meeting Will’s gaze. “I was. But… Um… Mr. Reuben called me up to the house.”
“For what?” Will growled, suspecting he would not like the cowboy’s answer.
“Mr. Reuben offered me more money if I hired on with him for the drive to market,” Bates replied before nudging his horse towards Reuben’s herd, not giving Will a chance to argue.
Clenching his fist tightly, Will envisioned punching his brother in the face. Reuben’s treachery knew no limits. Stealing his cattle. Hiring men out from under him with the promise of more money. Kicking him out with only two weeks’ notice. What next? Would he set fire to Will’s new wagon and supplies? Would he make him sleep in the barn for the next ten days? Why did he insist on making this more difficult than it already was?
Tying Jackson to the hitching post, Will stormed into the ranch house and directly into Reuben’s office. He had to put a stop to this. Now.
Reuben jumped as Will flung the door open so hard it slammed against the wall.
Not attempting to hide his irritation, Will demanded, “We need to talk.”
“Certainly, brother. Have a seat.”
Will stood, arms crossed, behind the chair. “What are you trying to prove, Reuben?”
Eyes wide with feigned innocence, Reuben replied, “I have no idea what you are talking about, William. Perhaps you would care to explain?”
“I am talking about the cattle. I am talking about hiring men that I have already contracted. I am talking about your divisive tactics to sabotage me!” Will glared at his brother, resisting the urge to connect his fist with his brother’s jaw.
“William, what a wild imagination you have,” Reuben said as he propped his elbows on his large walnut desk, tenting his fingers. “You and I have already divided the herd. If you are having a difficult time managing your half, that is not my concern. As far as hiring your men away, I have some vacancies left from the men you have hired away from me. It is not my problem if you refuse to offer a fair wage.”
Will’s nostrils flared as he took in a deep breath. Of course Reuben twisted this all around on him. He expected nothing less. Seeing no peaceful resolution to their conflict, Will turned on his heel.
Pausing in the doorway, he muttered, “If you stopped interfering, I would be out of your way sooner.”
His brother’s laughter echoed down the hall behind him. “Ten days, William, that’s all you have left!”
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