drink your horse!
(An Arizona Cowhand)
A Sequel of Western Stories
George H. Lafferty
I figured I was about seventy miles out of Tombstone, pretty much Northwest,
as best I could make it out. I had ridden out of Tombstone after I had
to kill a man over a poker hand. He accused me of dealing off the bottom
and just had to shoot it out. I can do some things real fast, others I
am so slow I don't even bother to try.
When it comes to clearing leather with a Colt Peacemaker, I'm panther
quick. When it comes to dealing cards, especially off the bottom, I am
slow as molasses in a blizzard. Take my word for it, I wasn't cheating,
I just got lucky with the way the cards fell and dealt myself a really
good hand. Three pretty little ladies and a pair of fours, for a natural
The eighteen dollars and change I swept up off the table before I left
the saloon, swung up in the saddle on old Dusty and headed out the north
end of town, didn't hardly seem worth dying for to me. I hate having to
take a life but I would hate losing mine even worse.
While I'm no gun slick and don't even want to get a reputation as a
fast draw started, a man had better learn to use a gun and learn well.
That is if he wants to keep on herding cows and trying to stay alive while
he wrangles up a gold eagle or two. I had a good teacher, my pa was a sheriff
back in Missouri and he had more than his share of trouble, especially
during the war. Between the Kansas Redlegs and Bloody Bill Anderson's boys
in southern Missouri, he had his hands full from time to time.
Then there were quite a few boys trying the same line of work as the
James and the Youngers or the Daltons, for that matter. Maybe they never
made a big name for themselves but they could sure kill you just as dead.
When a man wears a gun on his hip and the closest law is what he has
the nerve to make stand, gunfights happen all too often. I learned from
my pa, never cross the law and always be ready to draw if you can't find
a quick way to get out of it.
Pa had a real strict way about him and a real quick backhand when he
thought I was getting a little big for my britches. About the time I thought
I was full growed and too big to whup, I was six two and two hundred, he
taught me different in a hurry.
He told me he would miss me, and write when I could. Said I was welcome
to come home to visit every couple of years if I took a notion.
I took this to mean it was time for me to get out on my own and recent
bruises and welts taught me not to argue. I was seventeen then, about five
years ago now I guess, and I haven't grown much since then. I drifted west
like most everyone else, picking up a little work where I could and not
putting down much in the way of roots. I figured there was plenty of time
for that and I wanted to see some country. If I didn't keep moving, I might
never get to see what could be on the other side of those far mountains.
I camped out the first night after only about ten or twelve miles. I
didn't expect to see much in the way of pursuit or anything and I wasn't
mistaken. Fights, even gunfights, were not what you would call a rare occasion
in Tombstone, Arizona. Why, I had heard in the saloon that there had been
a bad one that week already. Some Mexican had gotten drunk and caused trouble
in one of the saloons, then when the law showed up, he killed a deputy
and wounded another. The wounded deputy had gotten off a shot, which had
caught the Mexican in the groin. The bullet had shattered the bone sending
splinters all through his guts. They said it took that Mexican four days
I rode all day the next day before making camp, but I really didn't
cover that much ground. I was in no big hurry, just sort of drifting now
that I had worn out my welcome in Tombstone.
Some big wig, name of Gadsden, a railroad tycoon I think, had managed
to engineer a land purchase from Mexico, for the government. This had added
a strip of land across the bottom of New Mexico and Arizona, making a new
border with Mexico. I had decided to see what all the fuss was about, so
I was sort of drifting west through part of this country toward a little
town called Gila, Arizona.
All I had seen so far was cactus, sand and snakes. I should have been
so lucky as to keep it that way. The first I knew of any danger was a shot
ricocheting off a nearby rock. Looking back, I saw three or maybe four
Apache bucks coming on hard. If that one buck hadn't had an itchy trigger
finger, they may have had me before I could even react. As it was I reached
for my saddle gun, a Winchester lever action rifle, while putting the spurs
to old Dusty and the chase was on.
Central southern Arizona is a hot dry place to be, and there isn't a
lot of people around to help a fella out when he gets in a bind. The redskins
had dealt with the white man enough to decide they wanted no part of what
we were selling, and these boys seemed plumb upset to find me moseying
across what they thought of as their stomping grounds.
While the terrain looks flat, there are many gullies, washes, arroyos
and low spots. If a body tries hard enough, he can make trying to shoot
him from the back of a galloping horse nearly impossible. This was exactly
my intention as old Dusty did his level best to leave a smoking hole in
the air and become part of the horizon.
Dusty was good and fresh, not having been ridden hard. He had been curried
and fed fresh oats in Tombstone, so he was ready to let out all the stops
for a really good run.
I thought I had it made, when I saw three more warriors come over a
little rise off to my right front. Veering left, I started looking for
a place to hole up, where I might have a chance of standing them off. All
of a sudden, things weren't looking too rosy for old Kid Irish, namely
I don't remember just when I picked up the Kid, cause of my blonde hair
and light blue eyes and being pretty young at the time, I guess, but the
Irish part isn't all because of my heritage, my name is Rusty Irish. Actually,
I am part Irish, part English and part
Cheyenne Indian, having a grandpa who spent a few winters with a squaw
while doing a little trapping up north. The son, my pa, he brought back
with him was called a half-breed. Me, I took more after my ma, though.
She was a blue eyed blonde.
Most folks I've talked to don't seem to dwell much on their Old World
though, you mostly hear them claim to be Missourians or Kansans or Hoosiers
or something like that.
Right about then Dusty plunged into a wash I hadn't even seen coming.
It was sort of deceptive as the ground seemed to be rising, then all of
a sudden you were heading down into a fair sized little wash. It looked
to be about the best I could hope for, so I reined Dusty in and bailed
out of the saddle. Rolling into some scrub brush, I crawled partially up
the little embankment and threw the barrel of my Winchester over the top.
Firing from a steady and especially a prone position is a hell of a
lot better than squeezing off a few quick shots over your shoulder, hoping
to discourage close pursuit.
I drew a good bead on the first buck and snapped him out of the saddle;
swinging to the second and firing again so fast the echo was nearly like
one shot. The second shot wasn't nearly as good as the first but at least
I didn't miss altogether, as I half expected to. I grazed him at least,
as he went over sideways nearly falling off his horse as well.
I was ready by the time he straightened up and I didn't miss the third
shot, neatly putting a hole in his upper chest. Two down and at least four
more to go, I thought.
I quickly scrabbled about ten feet to my left, looking for another decent
firing position. I didn't want to stay in the same place too long as my
targets had abruptly disappeared. They were out there somewhere, of course,
but I couldn't see them. It is things like this which tend to worry a body
to death. I sure didn't want to give these boys a chance to sneak in on
me, they could teach a snake how to be sneaky in the dark. If you have
ever seen a lizard blend in with his surroundings and seem to disappear,
then you have an idea of what an Apache brave can do. Now you see them,
now you don't.
A quick movement to a new firing position was all I dared chance and
then I froze myself. I wouldn't have cared if I had crawled into a pit
of rattlesnakes, I wouldn't have moved a muscle. I somehow knew they were
too close. Any further movement would have given my position away and drawn
their fire right down on me.
Easing my right hand slowly and quietly down to my holster, I drew my
Peacemaker. I can get rounds off a hell of a lot faster in tight quarters
with it, than I can a rifle.
Three of them came right over the edge of the wash in a rush, not five
feet to my left. I capped off three quick shots, nearly fanning the hammer
in my haste to shoot. I threw one shot at each of them and as close as
they were, it would have been harder to miss than to hit them. Two were
fatal shots but the third only winged him, allowing him to get a shot off
I felt the slam of a large hammer in my side, then the burning pain
of a gunshot wound, as I slammed off a fourth shot that hit that buck in
Another heavy slam, this time in my left thigh, let me know where the
fourth and last bastard was. I let him have the remaining two bullets in
my peacemaker, about four inches apart in the middle of his torso.
I lay there, for awhile, about half expecting more of them to appear
and finish me off. When the pain started to ease a little, I pulled off
my bandanna, from around my neck, and tied it around my thigh to slow the
bleeding there as much as possible. That done, I tore off the tail of my
shirt to make a pad to hold against my side. The pain I set off, trying
to pull my shirt tail out, was almost too much to bear but I knew I would
to death if I didn't stop the flow of blood. I managed to get the rest
of my shirt off and wrap it around me, tying it across the pad of shirttail,
before I must have passed out.
It was dark when I woke up and I was feverish, I guess, cause I was
shivering like it was cold out here. While it was probably considerably
cooler than in the daylight with the sun burning down, this is not true
desert and it does not get cold at night. The temperature had to have been
still in the seventies if not the eighties. I managed to crawl to where
Dusty was complacently trying to eat some of the course buck brush. Dusty
wont run off like most horses, I have him trained very well. I never have
to tether him and although I still tie him to hitch rails in town, I really
wouldn't have to, as he would stay put.
This could have been a life saver all by itself now, as I pulled myself
up on the stirrup to reach my canteen. Without water I wouldn't have had
a chance. Hurt like hell, though it did, I took off my impromptu dressing
and washed out the wound on my side. Seeing the actual damage gave me some
hope, though. It looked like the bullet had deflected off one of my ribs,
just tearing a nice nasty gash along my side. I knew the rib was broken,
or at least cracked by the pain of moving at all. At least it hadn't gone
in and ripped up any internal organs. I felt I had a good chance to survive
The bullet in my thigh was a different kettle of fish, I figured if
I didn't get myself to some help to get it out I was in trouble. Though
the bone didn't seem to be broken the bullet was lodged deep and I couldn't
get the bleeding to stop. I could slow it down with the direct pressure
but I couldn't make it stop.
I must have passed out again, cause when I opened my eyes again there
Indian bending over me. I grabbed leather but there was no peacemaker
there to get hold of. Either I had dropped it after the fight or the Indian
had taken it. I had no idea where I had dropped my rifle during the fight.
The Indian just held me still, until I quit struggling, and then in
very broken English tried to tell me he was peaceful, a Navajo Medicine
Man. Well, one Indian nearly killed me so I guess it was only right for
another one to save my life. I must have been delirious for several days.
I remember waking several times to see the old Indian near a very small
fire, or bending over me with water or some sort of soup or thin stew.
When I woke one morning I felt fairly clear headed and looked around
for the Indian. There was no sign of him anywhere. Dusty was tethered nearby
with a pile of prairie grass and small brush near him and the tiny fire
was out. My canteen was within reach and full. There was a clay bowl of
the thin soup near me and my wounds were neatly bandaged, with a poultice
on my thigh.
I never saw the Indian again but thanks to him, I was able to make into
the nearest town where a local sawbones took over where he had left off.
I probably owe my life and at least my leg to that Indian. I will never
forget the way he saved me from those Apache bullets.
( 1998 George H. Lafferty