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When Texas Ranger private Andy Pickard is assigned to help patrol the Texas-Mexico border country he rides directly into a deadly feud. At odds are two land and cattle barons - Jericho Jackson, whose great spread lies just north of the Rio Grande, and Guadalupe Chavez, whose domain lies south of the river.
The men are alike in only one respect: their hatred for each other, a hate born at the time of the Alamo and the U.S.-Mexican War, when Mexican lands were confiscated by ruthless Americans. The old rivals have turned to preying on each others' cattle with resulting bloodshed on both sides of the river.
Between the two camps, Big Jim McCawley's ranch seems almost symbolic of the opportunity for the people of the two nations to live together. McCawley is married to Guadalupe Chavez's sister, Juana -a fact that does not ingratiate him to either the Chavez or Jackson faction.
To Andy Pickard, who as a child was taken captive by Comanches, old prejudices are familiar territory, but the Jackson-Chavez war is flaring out of control by the time he reaches the Ranger camp on the border in the company of fellow Ranger Farley Brackett. The two Rangers find themselves caught up in the feud, risking arrest for crossing the river into Mexico, and risking death for not heeding the warning sign at the edge of Jericho Jackson's domain: This is Jericho's Road. Take the Other.
Inevitably, the cauldron boils over and the forces of Jericho Jackson and "Lupe" Chavez meet in bloody combat. In the midst of this battle on Mexican soil are Andy Pickard -- longing to court and marry Bethel Brackett and live a peaceful life as an ex-Ranger -- and Brackett himself, falling in love with Teresa, Big Jim McCawley's half-Mexican daughter.
Jericho's Road, sixth book in Kelton's acclaimed Texas Ranger series, typifies "The right blend of action, drama, romance, humor and suspense" that Publishers Weekly said has made Kelton "a master of both plot and character development."
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Elmer Kelton is a native Texan, author of forty novels. He has earned countless honors including a record seven Spur Awards from Western Writers of America, Inc., an organization that has voted Kelton the greatest Western Writer of all time. He lives in San Angelo, Texas.
After several years as a Texas Ranger, Andy Pickard concluded that the average criminal he dealt with was about as intelligent as a jackrabbit. That said, even a dullard could pull a trigger and hurt somebody. A case in point was the reluctant prisoner trudging along ten paces ahead of Andy, dragging his feet and wailing about the insensitivity of law enforcement.
"It ain't fair," the handcuffed man whined. "You're a young man, barely growed, but you're ridin' my horse and makin' me walk."
Andy said, "You shot mine."
"I didn't mean to."
"I know. You were shootin' at me."
The prisoner stumbled over his own feet and almost fell. "How much further we got to go?"
"A ways yet. It'll give you time to consider changin' your occupation."
Deuce Scoggins had earned a reputation as a second-rate horse thief who could not tell a mare from a gelding and knew no better than to peddle them in the first town he came to after he stole them. His trail had led Andy across several counties along the Colorado River, but a string of angry victims had made the path easy to follow. Confronted, Deuce had fired one shot in panic, killing Andy's horse, then had thrown up his hands and begged for mercy. Andy had made him strip the saddle, bridle, and blanket from the dead animal and transfer them to his own.
"Where'd you get this horse?" Andy asked him.
"Won him in a poker game."
Andy doubted that. Deuce was not smart enough to win a poker game. He had stolen this horse like he had stolen just about everything else he had. Deuce's sweat-streaked shirt was much too large, loosely draped over thin shoulders, the grime-edged cuffs almost covering his dirty hands. He had probably lifted it from somebody's clothesline.
Andy asked, "Did you ever think about gettin' a job and makin' an honest livin'?"
"Work? I tried once. Ain't much I can do good enough that anybody'll pay me for it."
"You're not very good at this, either."
Andy wondered if he was being fair, comparing Deuce's intelligence with that of a jackrabbit. He might not be giving the rabbit enough credit.
Deuce grumbled, "Even an Indian would treat a man better than this."
"You don't know Indians." Andy did. Through several of his boyhood years he had lived among the Comanches. "Be glad you don't know them. They'd make it a mighty short acquaintance."
The afternoon was almost done when they rounded a bend in the wagon road and saw the crossroads town ahead. Its largest buildings were a courthouse, a new jail, and a church.
Deuce brightened, seeing that his long walk was almost over. He said, "I heard their old jailhouse got burned down. It wasn't no nice place. I was in it once."
"Too bad you didn't go in the church instead."
"Can't you take these handcuffs off before we hit town? It's embarrassin' to let people see me this way."
"A little embarrassment might be good for you. There was a time when they would've necked you to a tree limb. As it is, they'll likely just send you to the penitentiary."
"I already been there. It ought to be against the law to put a man in a hellhole like that."
Sheriff Tom Blessing stood in the doorway of the redbrick jail. Recognizing Andy, he grinned broadly and raised his big right hand in greeting. He looked more like a farmer than a lawman, for indeed he was a farmer first. Despite his years he still had the muscled body of a blacksmith. "Bringin' me a guest, Andy?"
Andy grinned back at him. "I hated for your new jailhouse to stand empty. The taxpayers have put a big investment in it."
Andy dreaded the handshake because Tom could bend a horseshoe double, and he could break the bones in a man's hand. He had been sheriff here so long that many people in town could not remember anyone else serving in that office. He showed no sign that he was ready to yield any ground to his age. He said, "Come on in here, Deuce. I've got a nice cell with your name on it, all swept out and waitin' for you."
Deuce sounded like a lost soul crying in the wilderness. "I'm hungry and I'm thirsty, and this Ranger has wore my feet down plumb to the bone."
Tom offered no comfort. "Write a letter to the governor." He led Deuce past barred iron doors and pointed him to a cell. When Deuce was inside, Tom slammed the door hard. That reverberating impact always reminded Andy of a gallows trapdoor dropping. There was something coldly final about it.
Tom told Deuce, "I'll bring you a bucket of water directly. There's a slop jar under the cot. Make yourself at home." He winked at Andy.
Deuce was wanted in several counties, but Andy had brought him here because this was the nearest jail, and the sun was almost down. He did not care to risk camping with the prisoner on the trail. Here he could get a good night's sleep without worrying that Deuce might try to escape. Tom would keep the horse thief in custody until the several counties that wanted him sorted out their priorities.
Tom asked, "Did he give you any trouble?"
"Not after he shot my horse. He went to blubberin'. Thought I was fixin' to kill him. I let him keep on thinkin' so till I got the cuffs on him."
"Some Rangers would've shot him for killin' their horse. Whose is that you're ridin'?"
"No tellin'. Somebody's probably lookin' for him."
"I'll check my notices." Tom fingered through a stack of papers on his desk. "I got a message for you somewhere. Yeah, here it is." He handed a paper to Andy. "Your captain sent a wire to all the sheriffs around here, not knowin' just where you'd turn up. Wants you to report in to him."
Andy felt uneasy, wondering what the captain might want. Maybe the state's finances had turned tight again and the Ranger force was being trimmed. It had happened often before. His several years of service were no guarantee that he would escape the next cut.
He asked, "Reckon the telegraph office is still open?"
"I expect so. The operator's not anxious to go home of an evenin'. His wife's been burnin' the beans lately on account of him bein' a sorry poker player."
Andy mentally composed a brief message on his way down the street. In the telegraph office he wrote it out on paper, reporting the capture of Scoggins. He read it over and penciled out every word it could spare. The state disliked paying for long messages, so Ranger reports tended to be spare on detail. He remembered one Farley Brackett had sent: Five fugitives met, three arrested, two buried.
He told the telegraph operator, "If I get a reply, I'll be stayin' the night at the jail."
"I'll fetch it over soon as it comes."
Andy stayed to watch him tap out the message. He still marveled at the progress he had seen in just the few years he had been a member of the Rangers. It seemed unreal that he could write a few lines here and know they would be received miles away in an instant. The telegraph had done much to tighten up law enforcement across Texas. Word of a fugitive could race past him and alert officers to intercept him down the road.
Andy could not imagine how it might ever get much better than that.
Back at the jail he found Tom standing in front of the woodstove. The sheriff said, "I'm heatin' some leftover beans and corn bread for the prisoner, but I expect you'll want somethin' better. I'll go with you down to the eatin' joint soon as I get Deuce taken care of."
Tom had a farm a few miles out of town, but he often spent the night in the jail rather than make the ride twice, once out and then back in the morning.
Andy said, "If it wasn't already so late I'd ride out and pay a visit to Rusty Shannon. Maybe I'll do it tomorrow."
Tom smiled at the mention of the red-haired former Ranger. "I used to worry a right smart about Rusty. He pined away for a long time after Josie Monahan died. He's fared some better since he made up his mind to marry her sister Alice. She's been like a tonic to him."
"He deserves a run of good luck for a change. He had enough bad to do for a lifetime." Rusty had been like a brother to the orphaned Andy, teaching, counseling, providing a benchmark when Andy seemed about to lose his way. "If it wasn't for Rusty I don't know where I'd be now. In jail, like as not. Or dead."
Tom had a benevolent smile his prisoners seldom saw. "You never were that bad of a kid. All you needed was guidance."
Andy had been taken by Comanche raiders when he was a small boy. They raised him until he fell back into Texan hands at about the time his voice started to change. His reintroduction to the white man's world had exposed him to many pitfalls. Even now, in his midtwenties, he sometimes found himself facing situations where the choice was difficult to make. He had always leaned heavily on Rusty's advice. When Rusty was not around, he tried to visualize what Rusty would do.
He said, "Too bad Deuce Scoggins didn't have somebody like Rusty to point the way for him when he was young."
Tom shrugged. "Might not've made any difference. There's some people that nobody can help. They've got no skill and no trade. They're too shiftless for honest work, and every time they come to a fork in the road they turn the wrong direction. I've seen a lot like Deuce, driftin' to God knows where. I've got to watch myself so I don't get to thinkin' the whole world is that way." Tom's eyes narrowed. "You've been a Ranger for a good while now. You ever find yourself gettin' cynical?"
Andy had to think a minute before he remembered what cynical meant. "I still find there's more good folks than bad ones. If I try, I can even feel a little sorry for Deuce."
"Don't tell him so. It might encourage him to get worse."
The telegraph operator found Andy sitting with Tom at a table in the restaurant, hungrily emptying a bowl of thick beef stew. He waved a sheet of paper. "Got a reply to your message. Thought you'd want to see it right away."
Andy read it slowly, his finger tracing the lines. Rusty had been more successful in teaching him about farming and being a Ranger than about reading and writing.
"Any answer?" the operator asked.
"Just say, 'Will comply.'"
That ought to be short enough to satisfy the money counters, he thought.
The operator picked up a biscuit from the table and took a big bite of it as he went out the door. Tom asked, "New orders?"
Andy nodded. "Captain says our company is bein' cut again. Says headquarters in Austin wants to reassign me to the Mexican border."
Tom frowned. "If you've ever thought about resignin', this might be the time. A man can get killed down there."
"A man can get killed anywhere. Deuce might've shot me if he hadn't hit my horse instead."
"But it's like a holy war along the Rio Grande. Been that way since the battle of the Alamo and doesn't show any sign it's fixin' to change. You're automatically somebody's enemy on sight. It just depends on how light or dark your face is."
"Sounds like the Indian wars."
"The Indian wars are over with. This one's not. Do you speak any Mexican?"
Andy swallowed a mouthful of stew. "Just a few cusswords I've picked up."
"You'll have every chance to use them, and probably pick up a bunch more."
The captain had not given Andy a deadline for showing up in Austin. Because the horse he had taken from Deuce was undoubtedly stolen, he left it in Tom's custody and bought one at the livery barn. Rangers were obliged to furnish their own horses, but the state was supposed to pay for one killed in the line of duty. Andy trusted that he would be reimbursed. If not, he would still eat, though it might be a while before he could afford a new hat or a pair of boots.
Tom approved of the black horse. He rubbed his big hand down the back and the shoulder and finally patted the animal's neck. "Got long, strong legs. He'll serve you well in a chase."
"I hope I'm the one that does the chasin'."
"If not, you'll sure be glad for those good legs."
When Andy prepared to leave town the next morning, Tom said, "Sorry I couldn't provide you a featherbed."
The jail cot had been hard as a cement floor.
Andy smiled. "At least the price was right."
Tom said, "I'll ride with you as far as Shanty's farm. Then I'll be cuttin' off and goin' home."
"I'm glad for the company."
"If they send you by San Antonio, be sure to go and visit the Alamo. It'll help you understand the trouble you'll run into when you get to the Rio Grande."
Riding down the street, Andy saw two women pull a buggy up near a general store.
Tom said, "That's Bethel Brackett and her mother."
"I know." Andy hesitated, wondering if he should ride over and greet them. He realized they had seen him, so he had no choice. "Give me a minute, Tom."
Tom smiled. "Take all the time you want. If it was me and I was thirty years younger, I'd take the whole mornin'."
Dismounting, Andy extended his hands to help the older woman down. She said, "We had no idea you were in town, Andy."
"Passin' through on duty. You're lookin' fine, Mrs. Brackett."
He turned toward the younger woman, who had been driving the horses. Bethel seemed reluctant at first to accept his help. "Andy Pickard, I ought not to speak to you."
"What did I do?"
"It's what you don't do. You don't ever come to see a girl. You could be dead and I wouldn't know about it for six months."
He thought her pretty, even if at this moment she was being petulant. He said, "If I ever die, I'll write you a letter and let you know."
"You could've let me know you were here."
"Didn't get in till late yesterday. Can't stay. I've got orders to report to Austin."
She frowned. "Even my brother Farley breaks down and sends us a few lines every six months or so. I'd write to you if I knew where you'd be."
"Half the time I don't know that myself." Andy could not tell whether she was angry or just a bit hurt.
She turned at the door. "If you run into my brother somewhere, tell him Mother and I are all right." She went inside, leaving him embarrassed and not knowing what to do about it.
Tom had watched quietly. He drew in beside Andy and said, "That little girl thinks a lot of you."
"Hard to tell it, the way she acts."
"A woman likes to have some attention paid to her, and you ain't done it. She'd follow you in a minute if you was to just ask her."
"Follow me to what? A tent camp in the brush with a Ranger company? She was raised better than that."
"You won't be a Ranger forever. Sooner or later you'll get a bellyful of cold camps and short rations. You'll start lookin' for a place to light."
"I don't know as I could ever be a farmer like Rusty. Followin' a mule down a corn row is too slow a life for me."
"Lots of Rangers go in for sheriffin' when they get tired of the service. They can uphold the law and still sleep in a decent bed most nights. If you was to decide to give it a try I'd hire you as a deputy."
"Much obliged, Tom, but so far I'm satisfied with what I'm doin'."
A former slave, Shanty York had inherited a small farm when his owner died. At first he had trouble keeping it because some neighbors objected to a black man's being a landowner. Several of them burned his cabin one night. Rusty and Tom and other friends rebuilt it and none too gently elevated Shanty's antagonists to a higher level of tolerance.
The old man looked frail. Nevertheless, he was working in his garden when Andy and Tom rode up. He seemed always to be busy so long as there was daylight to work by. Shanty took off an unraveli...
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