Kid Ramble

 

Old West Stories

The Hunt for Kid Ramble

Brand new Old West Stories are sometimes hard to find.  One has just been released today (14 March 2011) and this blog is the very first place anyone will hear about it.

The story is over 170 pages of a galloping good read in a classic western style.

If you would like to find out more, scroll down the page and you will find two free chapters provided.  This will allow you the chance to check out the story and see if you like it before buying.

Follow the link embedded in the cover picture above to view a Youtube advertisement for the book.

Old West Stories - Wild Horse Rescue Center

WILD HORSE RESCUE CENTER

Old West Stories and The Hunt for Kid Ramble support the work of the Wild Horse Rescue Center.  We hate it when wild horses are harmed or lose their homes.  You do too, don’t you.

Well of course you do, we all do.  To support the work of Diane Delano and her team at the Wild Horse Rescue Center, $1 from the sale of every copy of The Hunt for Kid Ramble, will be donated to the center.  If you check out the book shops you will probably find the same as I did.  A new book like this will cost somewehre between $12 and $20 on the stands or if you go for a second hand one, they are still selling for between $7 and $12.  This new one is selling for only $5 as an eBook and from that, $1 will go toward the work of the Wild Horse Rescue Center.

If you would like to learn more about the Wild Horse Rescue Center or may care to make a donation to support their work, just click on the link embedded in their logo.

If you read the book, come back to this blog and let old west stories know what you thought of it.  In the mean time, here is the two free chapters you were promised.

Happy Reading

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The Hunt for Kid Ramble

 

Chapter 1                                Kid Ramble

Chapter 2                                John Quaid

Chapter 3                                The Ramble Plan

Chapter 4                                The Real Plan

Chapter 5                                The Quaid Plan

Chapter 6                                The White Plan

Chapter 7                                On the Run

Chapter 8                                The Chase Begins

Chapter 9                                Converging

Chapter 10                              Becoming the Hunted

Chapter 11                              Sunset Flight

Chapter 12                              On Their Trail Again

Chapter 13                              Torture Backfired

Chapter 14                              Surprise

Chapter 15                              White Solemn Promise

Chapter 16                              The Encounter

Chapter 17                              Arrangements and Plans

Chapter 18                              A Reputation Made

Chapter 19                              Death Filled Confrontation

Chapter 20                              A Pact Renewed

The Hunt for Kid Ramble

10 – Becoming the Hunted

 

As the late afternoon sun began its slow drop toward the horizon, in the distance a thin wisp of smoke slowly rose to the heavens.  The constant flow of the smoke betrayed the fact that it came from a chimney and not an open campfire.  This could mean a homesteader; but in these parts that was unlikely.  It could be a beaver trapper or other kind of hunter but it wasn’t quite the right season for that.  It could also mean a bunch of hellions had found themselves a cabin that wasn’t occupied or at least, was easy to make that way.  White knew that the Ramble gang would not hesitate to kill anyone that stood in their way.

As he got nearer he started making plans.  He sent White Bull and Barney Smith on ahead to scout out the situation.  Smith wasn’t an Indian tracker by any means but he had been an outlaw and knew this type of men well; they were, after all, his type.  Together they worked their way around the side of the valley, avoiding the obvious entry and scouting wide in amongst the thick woodland growth.  As the sun was settling they reached a place where they had a good view of the valley below and Smith pulled out the field glasses White had given him just before he left.

He watched for a while and saw several men, young men, wandering around a cabin that was a fairly large and solidly built affair.  It was probably a standard single room style settler’s cabin but these men were not settlers.  From this distance it was hard to tell even with the field glasses but they looked every bit the outlaw gang.   He made out five different men quite distinctly.  They wore two to three weeks growth on their faces, every one of them.  This was a clue, it probably meant they had started a journey together fresh and clean.  White’s troop had started that way and now each of them had a similar facial growth as did Smith himself.

As the light faded he sent White Bull down to get a closer look.  Not long after dark he returned and confirmed what they had both thought on their first glance down toward the shack.  This was almost certainly the gang they were looking for.  White Bull had never seen any of the men but he saw one standing on the porch of the building, giving orders and direct affairs.  He was tall and lean, wore a colt on either hip and fingered the one on his right every time he gave an order.  This had to be the killer who had led the bank robbery.  Although nobody in the bank that day had lived to tell the tale, they had been seen leaving town and Ramble was leading the pack.  Two townsfolk who had heard the shooting came out to look and gave a good description of the bunch, especially the one leading them out.

The two men made their way cautiously back to camp and reported in to White and the rest of the crew.  After listening to their story White let the troop know that tonight was the right night to get some good rest for tomorrow was when the real work would begin.  He stayed up late though making White Bull and Smith go through every detail of what they had seen.  They drew a map in the dirt and marked in all the dips and hills, anything that made good cover.  White thought it almost seemed too good to be true; what Smith was describing gave them great advantage over anyone sitting in the cabin so long as they could slip into place without being seen.

He would let the troop rest in late tomorrow and make a mid morning start.  This would see them in place around lunch time and they would make an assault on the gang from concealed positions as safe as any could be once the shooting got started.  Only one thing worried him and he quizzed White Bull several times.  Only five men he said were at that cabin but the descriptions said there eight or nine and White Bull had said the tracks indicated seven or eight horsemen.  Were the others inside or somewhere else?  That could throw a spanner in the works but they were probably inside, his men had not stayed around too long and could not have looked inside the shack without being seen.

As the sun rose that fateful morning, half the men were up and moving, too nervous and excited to stay asleep.  A couple had barely slept at all for no matter how experienced you were, how well trained or how tough, knowing you were going into a situation that could see you dead before it was over caused nerves in any man except the occasional man that was insane and felt nothing.  As hard as some of his men were, White didn’t have such a man in his team.  Although mad men were sometimes the best fighters around when things got really tough; they could not be trusted because they felt no loyalty either.  They would as soon shoot each other as the enemy and rejoice to the same thrill.

A couple slept longer and he let them.  The more rested each man was today, the better.  He knew he had the advantage right now, of surprise, of numbers and of position.  But darkness was the great leveller in these situations so he would be doing everything he could to have it wrapped up before then.  There were two usual outcomes in this type of situation.  One was that the whole show was over in a couple of minutes and the outlaws were either dead or captured.  If you got it right, they were completely surprised, out of position and had absolutely no chance to fight back.

The other result was not so good.  It was when the outlaws knew you were coming, got a break early on or worst of all, set a trap for you.  In this scenario, a gun fight and stand off could last for hours and sometimes days, often without being able to take the outlaws out.

As the last of the sleepers woke up he sent White Bull back to scout for sniper positions and meet him while the troop was still well out of site.  This time he sent the man alone, nobody had his skills and ability to stay hidden.

Breakfast was eaten with great gusto today because the men knew there may not be any chance for lunch or maybe even supper today.  Smith briefed the rest of the crew on what he had seen and they crowded around the hastily drawn dirt map from the night before.  Smith filled the men in with a few more details and White issued his orders.

Each man was given a position they would take up and instructions to stay in pairs as much as possible.  He wanted to know if a man went down and the only way to do that was if you had a partner with you when it happened.  He stressed the need for quiet and for care when reaching position.  It did not matter how long it took, just that you weren’t seen as you took up your place.  If everyone achieved that this thing could be over quick and sharp.  If there were only five men left in the gang, he would simply wait until they were all outside together.  The signal would be the sound of his own rifle opening up with the first shot.

Sixteen men opening up on five, especially if the five were all in the open, it would be a bloodbath, short and simple.  Even if one got to the shack, alone he would be not be problem of any great note.  Even if there were actually seven in all, after an initial assault a couple left stuck inside would not last long.   All five though, or seven, inside the shack, they could last for hours or even days if they knew what they were doing.  He would make sure that did not happen because he knew that one man in there knew what he was doing, the leader knew and would do anything, absolutely anything.

Soon they were mounted up and this time moved in single file with a long gap between each man, almost letting the one in front get out of sight.  This would give them a better chance if something went wrong and it was them that were surprised and not the gang.  Spread out that far the gang would only get one or two of them, no more.  As they neared a steep cliff just before the valley that held their quarry, White Bull appeared from behind a tree and startled White.  He didn’t show it and calmly asked White Bull if everything looked right.

He quickly reported that there were still only five men at the cabin and no movement seen anywhere in the area.  He had picked several good vantage points for the troopers and a spot where White could view everything that went down when the action started.  He also indicated that just round the corner was a spot with a tall over hanging cliff on two sides and a heavily wooded creek on another that would be ideal to talk to the men before getting in place.

White led the way and one by one the men came in and took a seat on a log, a rock or what ever else was handy.  He reiterated the pair’s strategy and told them the signal would be two rapid shots from his rifle, followed by a gap and two more.  With a bit of luck this would be accompanied by two of that gang going down and out of action.  No-one was to shoot before that unless the gang saw them and opened up first.  If this happened, each man had orders to start shooting and not stop until they all went down.   The last thing he said was that each pair would take direction from White Bull about where to set up, he didn’t want anybody out of place, he wanted to know exactly where they were.

They mounted up and moved out two at a time and took up their positions.  At that exact moment though, as sometimes happened, Jim Barnett and Randy Nairn topped a rise about one mile South and saw the column of soldiers moving out. They ducked for cover and tied their horses well out of sight.  They watched for a while and from their current vantage point, had a perfect view of what was going down.  Although they could not see into the valley where Ramble and the others were shacked up, what they saw next made it absolutely clear, these men were surrounding the cabin and would attack; these men were a hunting party and the gang were the hunted.

Nairn was all for riding hell for leather back to the cabin and alerting Ramble.  Barnett held him explaining the chance of them getting there was slim if they just barged through these guys now.  He knew that valley pretty well now, he had been wandering in and out of it for more than a week and thought there was a good chance he could get a vantage point overlooking most of the soldiers and pick a few of them off one at a time when the shooting starting.  If he was lucky they wouldn’t even realise he was there in the heat of battle and with so many bullets flying, nobody would notice a few more.

He told Nairn he would get his chance to do the hero run soon.  When he had a good idea about the soldier’s positions he would take up his spot with his rifle and all the ammo they had between them and Nairn would do the run into the Shack.  On his own and with the soldiers split up and still moving into place, he would have a better chance of getting through.  Most of the way would provide him some cover from trees and boulders, right up until the last little way into the clearing where the shack stood.  He was to hold his horse back a little to keep it fresh with some energy for that last little run then push him hard up to the shack.  He would report to Ramble and tell him to stay put in the shack, the soldiers would have to get closer to take them out unless they were outside.  When they moved to try, he would pick them off from higher up and he had plenty of ammo to keep going for hours.  “Tell Ramble,” he said, “Every time the troops open up, return fire for a while but save your bullets.  Each time they open up they will lose one or two men from me shootin.  If the soldiers start to move in fast or I lose my advantage, I’ll fire three quick slugs into the front porch from your carbine, that will be the signal”.  Nairn mounted up and got ready.

Nairn was edgy and only held back a while longer because Barnett made him.  He wanted to act before the soldiers started shooting at the others.  He didn’t care one bit about Ramble but he had become quite close with some of the other men.  He felt they wouldn’t let him down and he didn’t want to do it to them.  As he saw where the soldiers ended up or picked where he thought the others would go, he made sure he knew those positions.  Barnett told him to wait fifteen minutes before making the run.  He was to let him get up to the spot he had chosen and maybe he could help him out on the run in once the soldiers started firing.

He waited but not long enough.  Nairn took off and he urged his horse to full speed, not holding back at all.  “Damn fool”, thought Barnett and he doubled his effort to get into place before any shooting started.  The noise Nairn was making was huge.

Everyone on the western side of the valley heard the noise Nairn was making as he galloped through the scrub.  He may as well have let out an Indian war whoop, he was doing everything else.  The troopers searched out the noise and gained a glimpse here and there as he headed in toward the shack.  Those that heard him and saw the movement made to get into position and bring him down if he was one of the gang members.

He raced into a short clearing and suddenly it was all to obvious he was one of the gang.  He wasn’t wearing a blue uniform so he wasn’t one of White’s crew.  David Cameron and Spit Walker were closest but had a difficult view to shoot from.  They moved to the top of a large boulder and together, took aim and fired.  The bullets whined over Nairn’s head and crashed into the trees behind him.  Their position was no good now but might get better as he moved further down the valley.

Further across the valley Dusty Cameron and Ron Bradfield also heard the commotion and had been moving to the top of a boulder themselves.  They spread out and stood firm, took up firing positions and let loose.  Their first volley was no more effective than their comrades and the bullets thudded into the ground.  This spurred Nairn on and he pushed his horse even harder.  It was then that he finally did something he had been told.  Barnett had told him that when the shooting started, he should look up towards his own position and if he glimpsed any of the soldiers, take a few shots at them with his hand gun just to put them off their aim.  Don’t worry about aiming he was told, he had no chance of success really, it was just for the show.  He did that and let three shots go in their direction.

On his other side Smith and Dirk Ballinger had a good view of it all from their position.  They sat astride their horses and pushed them up a gentle slope.  They then pulled their own rifles and joined in the attempts to bring him down.  They were further away but had a good sight of him as he came out of a heavily wooded section.  They saw him firing wildly at the other troopers and then they fired.  They saw the rider jerk in the saddle as a bullet hit home.  They saw him slide sideways and then recover before they fired again just as he regained his seat.  This time they saw him lurch sideways and fall heavily as he hit the ground on the other side of his horse.

What they didn’t see was what was happening at the same time to their comrades across the valley.  Cameron saw the first shot hit home as Nairn had jerked in the saddle and fought to stay on.  He moved to line up another shot himself as the rider pulled himself upright.  This was the last thing Cameron ever saw as a slug from Barnett’s carbine hit him and took half his head off and threw his limp body to the ground below the rock.

As Nairn bit dirt after a second bullet struck him, Barnett lined up Bradfield and blew a hole in his chest that was just as devastating to him as the head shot had been a moment ago.  Barnett was thrilled and chanced a quick look to Nairn and saw the horse, riderless and standing in the gap where Nairn had fallen.  No time to worry about him now.  Barnett slid back to be completely out of sight.  He didn’t think he had been seen and the troopers would not know what had happened to them for some time to come.  White had been watching and saw Bradfield fall.  He couldn’t believe it but it looked like that rider had taken him out as he fired blindly during that wild ride.

In the mean time, Ramble and his men heard the firing and had headed inside the shack, taking up positions near the door and windows so they could return fire.  From their position they could not see anything but fired to where they thought the shots had come from.  Right now they had no idea what was happening but it could not be good.

Nairn lay still a moment before he realised he was alive.  He had a slug in his right leg and it hurt like hell but he could still move the leg.  He didn’t know it but the other bullet had hit a bag he had been carrying across his shoulder and the impact had thrown him off the horse.  He checked his leg carefully and saw the blood running freely.  If he stayed here he was a dead man and he knew his strength would go quickly with the blood flowing like it was.  He pulled a bandana from his pocket and tied it around his leg to stem the flow.  He sat up a little to do this and for the moment, nobody seemed to be watching him; they probably thought he was dead after they saw he had come out of the saddle and concentrating now on the shack.

Nairn mustered every ounce of strength he had and although his leg was screaming at him in the foulest language he had ever heard, he knew that if he stopped where he was he would die for certain.  He ran for his horse and leaped over its rump and into the saddle.  He spurred the animal into action and was at full speed again before anyone noticed him moving and before he realised that he was in agony from the run.  This time it was White himself that took aim and let fly; but he was too far away and had no hope of pulling down a man travelling at full gallop.

Bullets screamed in at Nairn from every direction and he felt the sting of a slug scrapping across his shoulder but not going in.  Shot after shot rang out but he was nearly at the cabin.  He just hoped they recognised him and didn’t shoot him themselves.  He pulled the horse sharply round a small stand of trees and spurred the animal on for the last few yards before the shack.  A last volley of shots rang out and he felt another slug hit him under the arm and once more he tasted dirt.  The wind was blown right out of him and he groaned in pain.  He couldn’t move and he waited for the next bullet that was sure to come now.

A new wave of shots rang out from close by.  He didn’t know it but his salvation was at hand.  Ramble dashed out of the shack, firing wildly in every direction with his twin colts.  Sterns and McEvoy were either side of him, firing and covering him.  Ramble grabbed Nairn and dragged him back to the shack with every man in his gang laying down the heaviest fire they could manage to cover their retreating comrades.  In other circumstances this would have been suicide except that the soldiers had been taken completely by surprise and weren’t ready to react.  Nairn’s hero run was completely confounding to them and reckless.

Ramble got to the door and dragged him in, both safe inside the thick wooden walls.  McEvoy turned and dived in and Sterns back peddled rapidly as well.  Just as he got to the door he hesitated a moment and fired the last of his bullets from a six gun in either hand.  He jerked back against the door frame and stood rigid for a moment with the frame holding him there.  As he stood motionless and already dead, three more bullets tore into him and he slumped to the ground.  Farley shoved him out and closed the door as another volley of shots arrived a second late to take him out too.

The moment the door closed the sound of gunfire stopped.  There were no targets now for the soldiers or the gang.

White got White Bull to go and tell his men to lay down some occasional fire to keep that gang from thinking about doing a runner until he got organised.  They did that and it was during one of those barrages that Barnett acted again.

Mike Turner and Dirk Ballinger were lying on rocks toward the valley with a great view of the side window and the rear.  They were there primarily to stop any planned escape out the back way.  They hadn’t fired a shot yet and did not know they were being lined up as targets themselves.  Barnett had perfect cover right now and was not going to give it up easily.  When the men started firing from the other side of the shack, Ballinger could not resist and starting firing himself.  He got up on one knee and started firing from that position.  Without warning one of Barnett’s Carbine slugs buried itself in his side and burst out the other side of his chest, taking the life out of him as it went.

Turner saw him fall and scurried for cover.  The cover he scurried for though was in the wrong direction and he left himself still wide open to Barnett.  The next slug hit him in the boot and spurred him to further action.  As he moved two more shots rang out and he worked out where they were coming from.  He scurried around the other side of the rock and a rifle that had lined him up from the window of the cabin fired and the bullet scored his arm just before ricocheting of the rock.  He stumbled back and fell, losing his rifle as he went down.  He tried to take better cover but the bullets were still flying.  Another big calibre bullet struck harmlessly nearby but very close.  He moved to grab his gun and the next bullet hit a rock just short of him but ricocheted into his left knee.  The slug had become shrapnel after hitting the rock and now he did not have a knee but he was still alive and reached for the rifle again.

This time the bullet hit his rifle and tore the firing mechanism apart.  He had no choice now and dragged himself to cover at the side of the rock hoping he could find a way out of this.

Barnett took cover himself and grinned, three dead and another out of action.  Ramble was going to be pleased with this and he had more to give yet.

White didn’t know everything that had gone down but he knew he had lost at least one man.  He knew that his crew had become the hunted ones now and didn’t like it.

11 – Sunset Flight

After a little while went by with no shooting, Barnett climbed carefully back into position.  He didn’t know their names but he was looking for Smith and David Cameron that were directly below him.  He had seen them riding toward the cliff below him but had lost sight of them during the last round of shooting.  He had expected them to come in just below him but they weren’t there now.  He was sure nobody had picked him yet but he could be wrong.  He edged forward a little further and began to consider getting out of here in case they were swinging round behind him.

He then spied some movement through the bushes down below him.  He edged forward further and saw them moving around directly below him.  They had actually moved further back from the shack but it had given them better elevation and now they were directly opposite the side window.  They took up positions lying on a rocky ledge, side by side, and positioned their rifles in conveniently positioned grooves in the rocks.  They had decided that this would be a good spot and they would keep these guys thinking when the bullets started raining in through the window.  Smith started a count down from three with his fingers.  Three, Two, One and they started firing.  A steady rhythm started and they squeezed off a shot every few seconds, keeping the gang away from that window.

Barnett edged forward and took careful aim with his own rifle.  The men below were less than 20 yards below and in clear view.  He was in an awkward position and the rifle was a little shaky.  He knew he needed to act soon in case these guys lucked out and shot one of his pards.  He decided that he would just cut loose with a hail of lead and make sure that some of the bullets hit their mark.  He edged forward a little more and fired, 21 times. He was using an 1873 Winchester lever action repeater with the long barrel.  It held 21 and he used them all.  Then he tossed the weapon behind him and pulled his Colt before he paused to look properly.  When he did, he was elated, the score was six now, five dead and one more down but they still didn’t even know he was there.

White Bull had crept back to where Sergeant White was.  He had seen the rifle firing when Barnett cut loose and this just confirmed what he already suspected; somebody was firing at the troopers from up there.  He pointed the position out to White who knew one of his men was dead but had no idea there were five more of them already out of action.  White Bull knew there was more than one for certain and would not be surprised at the end of the day when the true extent of what went down became apparent.

White told White Bull to collect Rondel and Clarke, head over that way and pick up Smith and Ballinger as he went through and take that sniper out.  White Bull nodded but was not entirely confident that all those men were still alive.  He grabbed Rondel and Clarke as instructed and headed up the gulley.  They followed the half hidden trails and Rondel circled the sniper to the left, Clarke to the right.  Too bad for them both they weren’t as proficient at stalking as White Bull because Barnett had spotted them coming and was watching intently.  He had not spotted the Indian, who was now just below him and had confirmed his own prediction when he found Smith and Ballinger.  Their injuries told him exactly what happened and where the shot had come from.  He started to move slowly up a narrow track at the side of the over hang where Barnett had been.  Barnett moved back when he saw the others coming and had taken up a spot 50 yards further back that gave him a wider view and some protection from the rear.

He left his trail clear for any one to see.  Rondel saw it and smiled.  He sneaked along the side of the path planning to arrive unnoticed.  He hadn’t noticed the obviousness of the trail or the situation he was walking into until the first bullet tore into his chest and threw him to the ground.  Luckily it had hit him wide and not touched anything crucial but as he squirmed in agony he did not know this.  He screamed in pain and Clarke reacted.  He had seen the flame from the rifle and jumped from cover and fired several times, fully expecting to hear the agony from his victim as he lay dieing.  He heard no such thing; he did hear the bullet aimed at his heart and for a moment, only a moment, felt foolish at rushing in like that.

Rondel has stopped squirming and sat up.  He took a bead on Barnett as he was emerging from the trees, ecstatic with his rising death toll convinced now that he was invincible today.  Rondel fired and Barnett felt the wind from the passing bullet that passed less that an inch from his head.  Barnett reacted with lightning speed and fired two shots into Rondel’s chest.  The man sat there for a moment, stunned but seemingly unharmed.  Barnett fired again and this time a bullet to the head settled any doubt as Rondel bit the dust.

Barnett was not the only one that could move like lightning.  From behind, another moved like lightning, silent lightning.  White Bull was behind him and lunged forward.  In swift and precise action, he planted his knife squarely between Barnett’s shoulder blades and then before the man had time to scream, withdrew and brought it across his throat to end his devastating sting as a sniper.  He would never shoot from hiding again.

As the afternoon passed by things quietened down.  White Bull made his way back to Sergeant White and reported in.  He had done the rounds and found the bodies of the dead mean.  He listed them off for White.  They were Smith, David Cameron, Ballinger, Bradfield, Dusty Cameron, Rondel and Clarke.   That man up on the slope had exacted quite a toll and without the Indian tracker, he may have kept going.

White Bull had found Mike Turner as well and patched him up.  He reported to White that the man might live but was in a bad way.  He would never walk again though, his knee was completely ruined and he would probably lose that leg, sooner or later.  He had left him set up in the shade, hopefully well out of the firing now but just in case, set up with a rifle and a Colt.  They would collect him later.

Sixteen was now seven and the gang had the numbers on their side.  White sent White Bull out to bring the Rogers and Gallagher as well as Masterson and Bradford.  Tell Walker to stay round back and cover any run for the horses and don’t tell him what happened to Mike Turner; we don’t want him going off and getting himself killed as well.

There were at least six people in that Shack now and they were well protected in there.  With the Sun slowly dropping lower, the sunset was approaching and this gang needed to be drawn out soon or they would hold all the advantage once darkness arrived.  White sent White Bull off one more time, back to their horses and he came back with a bow and arrow.  He put together the makings for flaming arrows; White had determined to burn that shack and make them come out.

Inside Ramble was making plans of his own.  Farley had been watching the hill from the side window when he could.  He had seen the men moving up there heading towards Barnett’s position.  There had been shooting up there and now it had gone quiet, no shooting and no movement.  Farley thought they must have got Barnett and he had relayed that to Ramble and the gang.

Nairn told them Barnett was trying to clear a safe path west for them to reach the hills.  They had no idea how successful he had been but Ramble decided to give it a go any way.  They would head out and grab the horses before making a run for the hills.  If Barnett had done a good job they would have a chance.  Nairn could not run though, his leg was out of action for the moment.

McEvoy had patched him up and even got the bullet out of his leg and another from his ribs.    He wasn’t a doctor though and the work was rough, mighty rough.  Nairn was in a bad way from the two shots and he had suffered two pretty heavy falls as well.  There was no way he was going to get to his horse without copping another slug and truth be known, he probably couldn’t get to the horses alive.  They would have to leave him behind and that would mean capture or death.  Then Ramble had an idea.  There was a large box at one end of the room, with a lift off lid designed to hold fire wood.  It was nearly empty and big enough for a man; given the hot weather it was unlikely anyone would be opening the box today.

They set up some padding and laid Nairn in it.  The box was not well made and had plenty of gaps, none big enough to see through well enough to know what was in there but plenty big enough for air to get through.  Ramble explained his only chance was to lie still until the soldiers left and he would come back for him in a day or two.  Nairn never believed for a minute he would come back but he knew he had no choice.  He lay in the box and made himself as comfortable as he could and made sure he had two loaded guns on his chest.  If they found him he would go out fighting.

Ramble got his men together and explained the plan.  Everyone was to head for the horses, one and head straight past the over hang where Barnett had been holed up.  If he was alive he would put down covering fire, if he wasn’t at least he had made it so there were less men to shoot at them in that direction.  Ramble gave them their instructions.

They were to race out the door two at a time, one going left and one going right; heading around back to the horses.  Keep a break between each pair leaving the door, don’t give them a group to shoot at.  Don’t ride together, don’t even give them a pair to shoot at.  Go just on sunset to make it harder for them to shoot well but still enough light for us to see and meet up the other side of the hill.

As they started to discuss the plan they heard a thud on the front wall.  It wasn’t a shot, it was something less definitive and then, another; more of at dull thud than a heavy impact.  Nick crept to the front window and peered out, he saw the third flaming arrow arching through the air and heard the thump as it hit the roof.  “They’re going to burn us out, they have flaming arrows, they’re going to burn us out”.  Ramble thought only for a moment and yelled out, “We go now, they will expect us to wait until it is well alight, we go now.  Somerton, McEvoy, you first, go, go, go.”

Somerton hit the door first and tuned left, McEvoy was close behind and went right.  They sprinted to the end of the shack and darted down the sides.  Their sudden action took the soldiers by surprise and not a single shot rang out to greet them.  They had almost reached the shed with the horses before Spit Walker let loose from behind the shack.  They reached the shed safely and grabbed for their horses.  They had been left saddled for just such an emergency and with all the shooting today the horses were on edge and ready to run.  As they clambered aboard Farley and Nick hit the doors of the shack and sprinted for their lives.  This time there was a chorus of gunshots as they sprinted each way down the front of the shack.  Farley felt the pull on his shirt collar as a bullet tore a hole in his shirt but they both made the side of the shack that gave them temporary safety before turning at the back to head for the horses.  As they arrived McEvoy and Somerton were spurring the horses into action, heading out of the shed and aiming for the hill.

As they made their own sprint for the horses Ramble left the building on the same desperate run.  Matt Sterns followed not far behind him and was the last man out.  Again the bullets rained down but although the soldiers were close, nothing hit home and he too hit the safety of the building side.  He heard the horse hoofs pounding as Nick and Farley headed out of the shed.  As he turned the back corner heading for the shed he saw Farley’s horse falter and crash to the ground.  A low bullet had brought the animal down and Farley hit the ground hard.  Ramble didn’t look again; he leaned forward and ran as hard as he could.  Nick wheeled his horse and circled round behind Farley who had now gained his feet and was running.  Nick leaned down the grab his hand so they could ride two up.  Just as their hands touched, a shot from Walker’s rifle spun Nick out of the saddle, dead before he hit the ground.  The horse pulled up and Farley grabbed it and mounted smoothly, spurring the beast on and heading for the hills.

As Farley was mounting up Ramble raced past with a flurry of lead all round him coming from the wildly firing Walker; but nothing hit home.  Matt Sterns was slower but riding low, up against the flank of his stallion, he was shield from most of the firing and eluded every bullet sent his way.  As they came into view again for the soldier at the front more lead sought them out but with the speed they had gained they were a difficult target in that wildly stressful moment in the dimming light.  The dappled patterns of light from the setting sun were spectacular but neither the fleeing outlaws nor the Army men had time to properly appreciate it.

Masterson wasn’t shooting at the riders near the house, he was aiming for the first pair that although further away, they were running straight from him and he figured they presented a better target.  He fired over and over and saw one of the horses fall and a rider spill.  He thought he had hit one but he had aimed low.  Somerton’s horse was hit in the rump and although the shot would not be fatal to an animal that big, the shock made him falter and fall.  Somerton hit the ground hard as he went head first into the dirt.  Stars swam and bright lights flashed momentarily and then; darkness, utter darkness enveloped him as his consciousness faded.

Ramble and Sterns raced past and quickly faded into the distance.  Several of Masterson’s shots came close but none hit home.  Soon the surviving outlaws were racing through the woods and had reached safety, for now.

As the sun set they raced over the hill and looked for a spot to ease up and regroup.  Meanwhile, White told his men there was no value trying to chase them now, darkness had nearly arrived.  They went over to the shack and dowsed the flames.  The wood was tough and the fire had not taken well.  It would have taken a long time to catch light properly and the flames were easily extinguished.  White grouped his men near the shack and sent Masterson and Walker in to check out the cabin.  They didn’t know if the whole gang had left, they didn’t exactly know how many of them there were to start with.

Masterson carefully prised the door open and glanced in.  The door opened inward so he could only see left; he crouched down, gun in hand and peered around the corner to look left, the direction he could see. Bradford stood a few feet behind him and watched for movement.  Neither of them saw anything and Masterson crept forward slowly and checked to the right around the end of the door.  Meanwhile Sergeant White covered as much of the room as he could through the front window.  The operation continued carefully until they were satisfied the room was empty.  One by one the men entered and checked out the bare room.  There was nothing there but a box on a table right in the centre of the room and mess all over the floor.

Bradford checked out the box and let out a holler.  “Whiskey”, he screamed and threw the bottle to his comrades as they came in the door.  “Not yet”, yelled White, “You’ll get your chance later but right now, there’s still work to be done”.  He set about handing out tasks.  He sent White Bull to check on Turner and bring him back if he was still alive.  He sent Rogers with him; he used to be an Army medic and might be able to do something for him.  Walker and Masterson were sent to check on the rider they saw come down during the escape and Nickman was sent to check out the shed, any horses left and the man he said he had brought down.  As Nickman headed out he called, “Hang on; Gallagher go with him.  Be careful at that shed, someone might be there, you never know”.  Everyone went to their tasks.

Rogers grabbed two bottles of Whiskey and White intervened.  “For Turner Sarge, he might need it.  And we might need to operate, he sounds pretty bad”.  White nodded gravely and Rogers whipped up a third one and headed out.

The man out back was dead, clean shot.  There was nobody in the shed but three good horses out there, saddled and ready.  When they found Turner he was a mess and screaming in pain.  The bleeding had stopped, mostly, but half his leg was missing at the knee and there was no hope of saving it.  It was almost off actually and Rogers handed him a bottle of Whiskey, saying “No choice Mike, its gotta go or you are dead”.  Turner nodded and took the bottle and began gulping it down.  In his dehydrated condition he gagged hard and could hardly breath but took another gulp as soon as he could.  This was going to be a hard night but if he lived through it, he would probably be alright.

Nickman and Gallagher found the fallen man.  He looked dead but when they got close they saw he was breathing.  He had no gunshot wound but great lumps of hair missing and plenty of blood had come out of him that way.  They prodded him and then kicked him.  Alive but unconscious, he was unceremoniously draped over a horse and taken back to the cabin.  He was dumped in the corner and hog tied ‘til he came to.  Then they got to drinking, they had no idea how long Rogers and White Bull would be. 

12 – On Their Trail Again.

 

At first light White was ready to head out and chase down the remaining survivors of the gang.  He left Walker and Gallagher to guard the prisoner.  He left strict instructions he was not to be harmed; he was needed to help find the money and if this day was unsuccessful, they needed to know who these survivors were.  At the moment, they were just a gang, no names, not even a clue.  That was one of the benefits of shooting everyone that saw you, nobody left to identify you.

He told Walker twice, then a third time, “Do not harm this man.  This gang may have killed your brother and we want them all, we need him”.  He told them to keep watch outside and if the gang came back, stay inside.  There were only four of them that got away; not enough to storm this shack and make it work.

Soon enough he was heading out with the rest of his crew, White Bull riding ahead to scout the way.  With Rogers, Masterson, Rickman and Patten there were six of them now but mostly these men had worked out well.  They had stood up to the tests dealt to them and the Sergeant was confident in all of them except Patten.  He was unsure of him still, he seemed to conveniently disappear when the shooting started but in the heat of battle, it was hard to keep track of every man.

Out past the bluff that had allowed Barnett to cause them so much trouble.  As they rode past his body had already been ravaged by the wildlife and would soon be gone.  White would be gone for several days and if the chase did not go well, maybe a fortnight or more.  He hoped that Walker would stay in control.  He was a good man but his brother might die and Gallagher would follow his lead, wherever that took them.

White Bull picked up the trail soon enough but the gang had a strong head start.  The country was varied here and tracking was quite problematic.  Travelling through wooded country was easy.  The tall trees and heavy foliage created a thick coverage on the ground that was soft and left clear horse hoof impressions.  A child could follow the trail there.

The land was crossed with small rivers and creeks everywhere you went.  If a rider entered the water and followed the creek, only the best of trackers could follow that trail and tell which way the rider had travelled.  White Bull was one of those trackers but even for him, this was not easy and it took time to read the signs.  When you knew the direction of travel, all you needed to do was follow the water’s course until the rider climbed out of that water.  The rider had to, they couldn’t stay there forever and the sign of a horse coming out onto the soft bank was hard to hide.  If you chose the wrong direction, it could be hours before you had back tracked and found the exit point.

In other places the ground became rocky and hard.  Here it was very difficult.   White Bull picked up the marks of metal horse shoes on the rocky ground, the disturbance of dust layers on the hard surfaces and the unmistakable horse waste dropped as they travelled.  It was slow going though, looking for such subtle hints of their trail.

On two occasions he lost the trail completely over this hard ground.  White sent riders in every direction, looking for the clearer sign that would be obvious when the gang returned to areas with soft ground.  None of this was too hard but again, it slowed them down.  Both times this happened it took an hour or more for someone to pick up the trail and then it took up to two or more to get everyone back together.  Half a day had passed by the time they were back on the job.

On the third day of this tedious and dangerous task, the twists and turns the gang were taking had become frustrating.  There seemed no pattern to their rambling route and in several places, they had almost double backed on their own trail and travelled very close to the earlier trail.  White and White Bull sat discussing this and trying to fathom their erratic behaviour.  It had taken most of the afternoon to follow their trail to a point where they were less than 50 yards away from the trail they followed at midday.  The trails were within sight of each other but never crossed.

White Bull suggested there were two possibilities with what was going on.  Either way, they weren’t running hard they way you would expect them to.  This was controlled and planned, even if the plan was not immediately obvious.

The first possibility White Bull put up was that they were leading them into a trap.  Somewhere, soon, they would find themselves in a spot where ambush was easy and they would find themselves at a distinct disadvantage.   The trail had already gone through at least two places where this had seemed to be exactly what was happening but there was no sign of the gang and they had passed through safely.

White Bull had no way of knowing that he was right and that at this very moment, the gang had chosen the right place for that trap.  Ramble had scoped out several possibilities along the way but discounted each of them until now.  He had told the gang too, that he wanted to put the soldiers off by making them wait.

White Bull told the Sergeant, the second possibility was that the gang was actually heading back to the shack.  This made no sense except if the money from the bank job was there.  If it was, they would not leave it behind.

White pulled his men up and told them to make camp and get a meal going.  He needed time to think and decide on his next move.  If they were heading back to the shack, Walker and the others were at risk and the gang could get the prisoner back and strengthen their position.  If they were setting a trap, that wasn’t good either.  These men were exhausted and none to keen for another run in with a group that had already taken such a heavy toll on their numbers.

After the meal, White ordered the men to mount up and be ready to head out.  They were going back to the shack by the fastest route they could.  Everyone sighed with relief and were very glad to take a break from this man hunt.

As they rode out, White could not have known that this decision may have been the one that saved his life, for the moment at least.  If he had continued to follow the trail, sometime tomorrow they would have found themselves in the very trap they had talked about.  He could not have known either, just how close the gang were.  Less than three miles away on the other side of the hill they were traversing, the gang had set themselves up for the kill.

Part of Ramble’s plan with the wild erratic trail he had left was to be able to see the soldiers following their trail and have a long warning time before they caught up.  White Bull was right when he said they weren’t running hard, Ramble had slowed up deliberately so as to control where and when the coming confrontation would happen.

Ramble had set look outs to give him plenty of warning that the soldiers were coming.  One of them was lucky to see the men riding over the ridge, heading back to the shack.  Lucky, because White had strayed from the trail that Ramble had set out for him.  The man reported to Ramble who made an insane decision but one typical of him.

If the soldiers were going back to the shack, so was he.  He would trail them now and make it so they would never come after him again.

OK, you got me.  You are right.

That was three chapters, not two.

But what did you think?

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