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The new Confederacy, facing into the Union cannon, had too much on its hands to send troops to the Texas frontier to hold back the Indians. Instead, it authorized the State of Texas to raise its own troops.
Many kinds of men drifted into the Texas Mounted Rifles. Some thought it might be safer than fighting in far off Virginia. Many were merely young men a-thirst for adventure. Some were settlers who saw this as the best way to protect their families and homes against the murderous thrusts of the Comanche. And some were men who still loved the Union, who had lived too long under that gallant flag to turn their guns against it now. Such a man was Scout Sam Houston Cloud...
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Elmer Kelton (1926-2009) was the award-winning author of more than forty novels, including The Time It Never Rained, Other Men’s Horses, Texas Standoff and Hard Trail to Follow. He grew up on a ranch near Crane, Texas, and earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas. His first novel, Hot Iron, was published in 1956. Among his awards have been seven Spurs from Western Writers of America and four Western Heritage awards from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. His novel The Good Old Boys was made into a television film starring Tommy Lee Jones. In addition to his novels, Kelton worked as an agricultural journalist for 42 years, and served in the infantry in World War II. He died in 2009.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
OneCLOUD ALMOST RODE UPON THE INDIANS' GRAZING horse herd before he realized it.The summer sun had been bearing down upon him for hours now, sapping his energy, stealing from him the vigilance that he normally never lost while riding across these fringes of Comanche country. In this unrelenting heat it was easy to drowse in the saddle, to let one's mind roam the thousand miles and more to the smoky battlefields of Virginia.There, even now, angry cannons thundered and men died in the blast of shellfire.But here, in these rolling hills that marked the western edge of the Texas cross timbers, it was still and quiet ... so very quiet.He saw the horses and yanked hard on the hair reins, pulling his sorrel back into the green cover of post-oak brush. Suddenly wide awake, he whipped his rifle out ofits beaded deerskin scabbard. He stepped down quickly to the summer-dried grass and held his hand on the sorrel's nose to keep it from nickering. Cloud's heart hammered, his breath came short.Gradually he eased and got his lost breath back. Those Indians must have been as heat-sleepy as he was. They hadn't seen him.That was just a shade too close to heaven! he thought.He was a medium-tall man, crowding thirty. He was broad of shoulder, strong of back. Three days' growth of beard was beginning to blacken a face already browned by sun and wind. His large hands were leather-tough, for they had known the plow. Yet his legs showed a trace of a bow, too, because he had ridden a horse ever since he had been old enough to lace his fingers into a mane and hang on. He wore a sweat-streaked cotton shirt, buttoned at the loose-fitting collar to keep the sun from baking his breastbone. He carried a Colt revolver high on his right hip and a seven-pound bowie knife on his left, encased in a scabbard made from the hide of a buffalo's tail, the bushy black switch still hanging as a tassel.Through the screen of brush, Cloud studied the loose-held horse herd and the Indians who slacked in the shade of scattered trees around it. Comanches, mostly squaws. He could see only one man, on the near edge of the herd. The warrior slouched on a bay horse that showed the marks of a collar and a white man's brand on the hip. He hadn't spotted Cloud because he was giving his attention to a slender young squaw who sat as close to him as her black-maned dun would get. The warrior was laughing and talking with the woman while he rolled a fresh-made arrow shaft between his teeth, taking the sap out of it.These were horses a stray band of Comanche raiders had been picking up in the Texas settlements, Cloud reasoned. Now the wily thieves were working their way northto the safety of those trackless stretches of open grass on the Staked Plains, where they would lose themselves like a whirlwind that suddenly lifts and disappears into air, in a solitude so vast that white men drew back in dread.Counting in fives with tiny moves of his big hand, Cloud estimated that there were eighty or ninety horses. Many a farmer and cowman had been left afoot to walk and curse. More than likely, a few had lost their scalps as well as their horses. To the Comanche warrior stealing down from his stronghold on the high plains, warfare was a game to be played and enjoyed--an end in itself. To steal a Tejano's horses brought material wealth and a considerable measure of honor. To count coup on the hated Tejano and bring back his scalp greatly increased the honor and raised the warrior's status in the eyes of the tribe.Cloud could still see only the one buck, and he wondered where the rest were. He counted six women, young squaws who remained physically able to make the long forays with their men, to do the menial chores and hold the horses and glory in the fighting manhood of their warriors. That there were six women didn't mean there were only six men, however. Many of the bucks never brought women on these trips. They didn't have to, for a Comanche warrior fortunate enough to have a woman with him thought little of lending her to a needful friend.The other men must be off somewhere trying to gather up more horses, Cloud reasoned. They must feel sure of themselves, leaving only one man with these squaws to watch the ones they already had. Either they had whipped back their pursuit or they considered it too far behind to worry about.High time to h'ist my tail and get out of here, he thought. Only, which way had I ought to run? Wrongguess and I'll butt heads with Lord knows how many Comanches.He was no stranger to Indian warfare. He'd had his scraps, and a deep scar on one shoulder to show for it. But he saw no sense in riding headlong into a one-sided battle where overwhelming weight of numbers was sure to grind him down.There was a time to fight and a time to ride away. Without question, this was a time to ride.He heard the heavy roar of a rifle from somewhere over the next hill, and he jerked involuntarily. The blast was followed by the staccato rattle of smaller guns. The horses lifted their heads, their ears pricking up in the direction of the gunfire. The buck and the squaws turned too, listening. The buck shook his head confidently to the young woman beside him. Telling her, Cloud judged, that it wouldn't take long.Cloud eased back afoot until he could no longer see the horses, and until he hoped the Indians could not see him. At least now he knew where the rest of the band was. Good chance to get away.But he was held by the sound of battle. Somebody across yonder was putting up a good fight.The trouble with being a reasonable man was that reason all the time wanted to argue with a man's emotions. Reason told Cloud to mount up and spur out of there while he could. But emotion made him wonder and worry about whoever the Comanches had bottled up. How much chance did those people have?Cloud skirted through the post oak, circled the horse herd and made his way up the off side of a hill, the rifle across his lap. Staying within brush cover, he climbed until he could look out across a clearing at the farmhouse below. It was pretty much the usual Texas frontier farmer's log cabin. Actually, it was almost two cabins, its two roomsbuilt under one roof but separated by a narrow, open "dog run." Each room was buttressed by a heavy rock chimney. Man with a family, Cloud figured. And most of them shooting.Defending fire racketed from three places--from each section of the cabin and from a heavy post-oak corral. The settler must have had a little warning, time enough to get his horses into the corral and shut the gate. To get them, the Indians were first going to have to kill him. Even then, they would be under close fire from the cabin. Heavy smoke rose from the man's position in the corral and drifted slowly away in the hot breeze.They sometimes said of Texas gunpowder that if the bullet didn't kill the enemy, the smoke would choke him to death.He's in a good spot long's his powder holds out, Cloud thought. But there's four or five horses in that corral, and them Comanches can almost taste 'em.He tried to rough-count the attacking Indians, but it was hard to spot them all. Some had found good cover in the tall grass. Others lay behind downed trees that the settler hadn't yet put into his fences. Ten or twelve, Cloud judged. A few were firing rifles. Most used bows. He could see the straight, quick flight of arrows, although at the distance he could not hear them strike the cabin or the timber that made up the corral.He saw an Indian sprint toward the house, then jerk in midstride, pitching headlong to the ground. That angered the others.They're determined now, he thought. They'll Stay till they've got the job done.He might be able to hit one or two of them from here with the long reach of his rifle, but he wasn't likely to change the situation much. They would dispatch a few warriors to take care of him while the rest went on afterthe people in the cabin. No use in a man selling out that cheap.He thought then of the horse herd.There was this about Comanches: they liked to fight, but they didn't care for suicide. If they saw they couldn't win, they usually pulled back. Cowardice was one thing, good judgment was another. Badly as they wanted those few horses in the corral, they probably would leave in a hurry if they thought they were in danger of losing the others they'd already taken, he reasoned. His one rifle wouldn't do a lot of good here, but it could cut a big swath out at that horse herd."Just hang on down there, folks," he muttered, backing away carefully. "The dance ain't over yet."In the saddle again, he circled back the way he had come. Using the brush to hide him, he made his way to the place from which he had first seen the horse herd. He stepped to the ground, taking his stake rope loose from the saddlehorn and working to the end of it, tying it about his waist with a slipknot. The other end was looped around the horse's nose beneath the bridle.Dropping to one knee, he steadied the rifle against the trunk of a post oak tree and drew a careful bead on the lone buck. He started to squeeze the trigger but hesitated, hating to. The thought of back-shooting sent a cold chill through him. But he knew the Indians didn't fight by rules.His sorrel chose that moment to stamp flies. The buck turned, bringing up a big old rifle. Cloud felt the man's eyes touch him, and he fired.The little squaw screamed as the man pitched forward on the horse's neck and slid to the ground. The horses nearest the shot shied into the rest of the band, creating a shock ripple like a stone dropped in water. Cloud drew his six-gun and fired once from where he was, then moveda little, staying in the brush. He aimed over the heads of the squaws on the far side and fired again. Now the horses were on the move away from Cloud. In panic, the squaws began pulling back. Waving their hands excitedly, they screamed at one another and hurried northward. Cloud fired a third time with the pistol.He knew they thought they had been found by a group of angry Tejanos. He sent another shot plowing into the ground near them, to keep them running.The horses were running now too, in a southerly direction. Cloud stopped to reload the rifle and put fresh charges in the pistol. That done, he coiled the stake rope and stepped onto the sorrel, the rifle slung over the saddlehorn, the pistol in his hand. He spurred in after the horses, firing occasionally, hollering, keeping them on the run.Ahead lay the heavy post oak timber. Get these horses scattered in there and it would take hours for the Comanches to round them up.A few of the horses split off to one side. Cloud elected to let them go, lest he allow the others to slow up and fall back into the hands of the Indians. He pulled up a moment to listen. The gunfire over the hill had stopped. Hearing the noise up here, the warriors probably had pulled back from the house and would be on their way here as fast as they could move. Cloud spurred up, yelling and firing the pistol, pushing his horses into a dead run that the Comanches couldn't stop.He made it. Looking back as he rode into the brush, he saw that the few horses he had lost were slowing down. But the bulk of the horse herd broke into the heavy timber just moments before the Indians bobbed up over the hill. Under cover, Cloud stepped down again with the heavy rifle in his right hand, the stake rope in his left. Again he looped the free end of the rope around his hips. Hedropped his reins and trotted to the end of the rope.Held close by the reins, a horse might shy at the roar of a rifle and jerk away, leaving its owner afoot. But when the shooter stood off at the end of the stake rope, a horse with any training usually took it with comparative calm. Should the horse begin to run and drag him, Cloud could yank the slipknot and free himself. But that was unlikely, for he had taught the sorrel to stand with the nose hitch.Dropping to one knee and leveling the rifle barrel over a limb, Cloud aimed at the Indian in the lead. He saw the dust puff in front of the man's horse. The Indian jerked the rein so hard that the horse stumbled and almost went down.Cloud moved twenty or thirty paces and took a long shot with the pistol. He didn't expect to hit anything at the range, but he could raise dust. The Indians hauled up and milled uncertainly. They plainly thought there were several Texans in the brush. He fired again with the pistol and took advantage of the moment to pour a small measure of gunpowder out of his powder horn into his palm. He followed this with a poured-lead bullet and a thin buckskin scrap for a bullet patch. He rammed it down tight, hardly taking his eyes off the Indians.For a moment it seemed they were going to come on down his way. He leveled the rifle again, drew a careful bead and squeezed. A horse went down, thrashing.That was enough. One of the Comanches reached down and pulled the unseated Indian up behind him. Then the whole pack put the heels to their mounts and began to run. They picked up the few horses Cloud had lost, but they were giving up the others.Cloud loaded the rifle again before he moved, and put fresh charges in the pistol. It looked clear now, but a man never could tell. That was likely to be a mighty mad bunch of Comanches. Losing a battle at that house yonder,losing their stolen horses. Now they would have to sneak back into camp like a bunch of squaws.Cloud coiled the stake rope as he moved toward his horse. He tucked the coils under his belt, where he could yank them out into use if there came a sudden need for the rope again. He eased into the saddle, still watching warily the dip in the hills where he had seen the Comanches disappear. The only thing a man could know for sure about Comanches was that they were likely to do what he didn't expect. Since he didn't expect them to come back, it was a good idea to watch.Staying in the brush as long as he could, he angled across toward the cabin he had seen. Good chance the Indians--some of them, anyway--were hanging back to see how many Texans were in that timber. An Indian might not be able to read, but he could blamed well count.Two hundred yards from the cabin the timber had all been cut away. Besides giving the settler material for his house and fences, this also afforded him a clear view of anyone approaching. It cut down the chance of surprise. But the farmer had left some of the tree trunks where they had fallen, and these had given the Indians some protection from rifle fire. Cloud would bet it wouldn't take the man long to drag these up into a pile.Moving into the clearing, he could feel the rifles trained on him, even though he couldn't see them. Two dogs set up an awful racket. "Hello the house!" Cloud called, keeping his hands up in clear sight and making no quick moves. Nobody answered him at first, but he saw a slight movement at a glassless window. Then a man stepped out from inside the corral.Cloud's sorrel snorted and shied away from a dead Indian the others had been in too big a hurry to pick up. Cloud stopped twenty paces from the corral. The two menstared at each other. Cloud finally opened the conversation with, "Howdy."The black-bearded man who stood there was in his late forties--fifty, maybe, for streaks of gray glistened in the sun. He...
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Book Description Forge Books, 1998. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX0812551214