The deadliest gunman that ever lived and the deadliest war that ever raged on the Western ranges. . . . Billy the Kid and the famous Lincoln county cattle war.
Billy the Kid
FROM the purple Sacramento peaks, six miles from Pinon Creek, a thin dark line of smoke climbed the blue September sky. A bomb-like burst shot upward, spinning. Another burst, dark and round like a printed period. A column again, thin as the first. A third explosive puff. Dash, dot, dot, dash, dot. Somewhere behind that rocky western wall a naked Indian, blanketing a smoky fire, was writing a message against the sky. It ended, leaving nothing but the gray-blue haze above the peaks. Two white-topped wagons, their wheels still wet from the ford on Pinon Creek, crawled slowly up a shallow wash and halted on the mesa rim. A young man on a dusty roan straightened slowly and flung his arms wide. “There it is,” he said simply. “Short-grass—water—markets within easy reach! Why, there ain’t no finer grazin’ land on earth! John Chisum drove ten thousand head of longhorns all the way from Concho County, Texas, to settle north of e here, and Chisum’s smart! . . . Look, Kathie! Yonder’s home!”
A girl stood up in the front of the leading wagon and hung her head back, breathing deeply of the thin dry air edged with the tang of sage and pinon pine. “Oh, Bob, it’s beautiful!” Her voice, vibrant and clear, held the music of silver bells. And she, too, was beautiful. Standing so, her slender figure finely moulded against the homespun dress, she might have posed as the figurehead on some roving Viking ship. Her hair, pulled loosely back into a heavy braid, was like a tight bronze helmet on her head. “Hit’s Injun country, too, boy,” the old man on the wagon seat said sharply. The horseman shrugged. ”Nonsense! This is 1877, Uncle Joe; not ’49. It’s Indian country, certainly, but they’re Reservation Indians—markets for our beef— not scalp-hunters!” The old man spat accurately at a cactus pad beside the wagon wheel. ”Seems I’ve heard rumors that them Reservation In-juns’ll lift a scalp, too, when it comes handy. Injuns is Injuns and ’Paches is hell, my son.”
”You two!” the girl laughed softly. ”Why must you always quarrel?” A tall stoop-shouldered man shambled past them from the second wagon and spoke to the horseman, his voice thin and whining. “They’s a couple o’ riders cornin’ up from fur to the south. I put the glass on ’em. Couple o’ outlaws, maybe. Durn such a country!” The old man on the wagon seat grunted disgustedly and turned to the horses. “Giddap!” The man on horseback shouted: ”Swing north along the creek, Uncle. We’ll keep close to water and camp wherever night catches us.” The old man nodded, still scowling. The girl patted his arm caressingly. ”You don’t approve of us, do you, Uncle Joe? My brother is too great an optimist and Jess Wilder is too much the opposite!” A thin wailing cry came faintly from the second wagon. “And the Wilder babies cry, poor things! This country is cruel as well as beautiful, isn’t it? I wonder if it’s worth the suffering it costs?”
The old man spat again, reflectively. “I reckon ’tis,” he said. “It gets the weak-lin’s, o’ course. Out here a man makes a mistake or gets careless once, and likely he’ll never get a chance to mend his ways.” The girl smiled, “I suppose I’m a nuisance with my questions—questions—questions! Don’t you ever get tired of them?” The old man grinned a little ruefully. “Take a feller as old as me, Kathie, he’d ruther talk than eat.” She settled herself in the corner of the seat. “I love it!” she said. “Tell me more about Billy the Kid! Jess Wilder spoke of outlaws a while ago and that reminded me. Billy the Kid! That’s all I heard in El Paso. Billy killed a man in Agua Prieta, or in Tucson, or somewhere else; Billy this and Billy that! Even the little Mexican girl who played the guitar for us that night—her eyes shone like stars when she talked of him. ‘Beelee the Keed? But yes, Señorita, I have seen heem! He ees so brave—so generous—so handsome—so good!’ She would have talked for hours, I think; like some peasant maid in old England relating the virtues of Robin Hood!”
We continue right here in a moment …