Chapter 20, West Fork
The Holts met up with the Rangers near the West Fork of the river. It was still early morning and the sun was beginning to beat down hard from a cloudless sky. The West Fork was a pretty spot on the river, a stiff breeze causing little ripples on the water’s surface. The wind funneled through here by the steeper rise of hills to the east towards town. The river had cut through creating a nice spot to overlook the area. The river widened out at the West Fork and allowed for a ford of the river. It was a natural spot for any on the spreads out this way to travel through. The rangers had gotten here early to watch for any activity. It had paid off for them too.
Jed Thornton informed the Holts that Perkins’ band of hired guns were supposed to ride through the ford at the river and head on towards the Gatlin place sometime late this morning. Seems they were not done with the Gatlins even after getting chased off last night. The Rangers now intended to stop them here.
Getting out here early and staking out the ford had paid off in the form of a farm hand of the Perkins’ spread. He had come through the ford early, just past dawn, heading to town to get supplies. The Rangers had stopped and interrogated him. Perkins had sent him to town to get “plenty” of food for the men and tell Doc to head out to the ranch. They made sure he continued on to town before letting him go.
It seems that a couple of the new hires had come back last night wounded. Carlton and Donni nodded and smiled slightly from the conformation that they had hit a couple more of last night’s raiders. From continued questioning of the farm hand they found out that the rest of the new hires were going to go out and get revenge on the Gatlins and should be coming through this area in the next couple of hours. The best guess they could get out of him was that there would be about a dozen of them. The Rangers had looked over the area figuring out how to stop the group on the chance that the Holts would arrived in time. Otherwise they had planned on going to the Gatlin’s place and fortifying the ranch. Similar to what had happened the night before and hope that the Gatlins had gotten a few more of their farm hands there. Still they figured it was going to be tough with just three experienced gun hands. Luckily the Holts had arrived, so the plan was to stop them here. It was best to keep this type of action contained to lawmen when possible.
Donni interjected, “I think we should still go on to the Gatlin’s ranch and help them out.”
“Donni quiet,” Carlton stopped him and nodded back toward the rangers to continue laying out their plan.
Jed continued. “This is the natural side of the river to defend. With the hills behind us we will have the high ground for support and tactical advantage. We will make them come to us across the ford, leaving them in the open with no cover.” It was a good place to defend and Carlton wondered what Thornton had done in the war. It was obvious he was familiar with commanding men. “Donni and Carlton you take positions up on the hill. It will give you a nice overlook of the entire area. If it comes to shooting it will give us an element of surprise and allow you to do the most damage with your long-guns. I expect it to cause a lot of confusion and probably break their ranks. If I had my first wish I am hoping that when they see they are dealing with lawmen they will turn around and head back. From all we have learned I don’t expect that to happen.” Jed and the other two rangers would wait on this side of the river with Kelvin and Luke backing them up. So now it was a waiting game as the sun climbed higher.
Donni and Carlton loaded up their Henry rifles and carefully sighted in their Sharps from the top of the hill. Donni adjusted the windage sight and braced his buffalo rifle between some boulders. “Hell,” he muttered to Carlton, “This is gonna be like shooting fish in a barrel. There’s no where for them to hide down there. Even you could handle this alone. You sure I shouldn’t go on to the Gatlin place and make sure they are ok?”
Carlton scowled at him, “Just cause you’re wearing a badge little brother doesn’t mean that you can go killing people.” Carlton knew Donni meant to shoot to kill, “We play this Jed’s way and try to talk them out of it. Don’t shoot to kill either. Just wound them if you’ve got the chance. And NO, you shouldn’t go on to the Gatlin place”
Donni glanced at him and shrugged, “Sure thing. Course with this breeze there’s always a chance I’ll miss. I’ll have to aim for the belly.” Giving up on trying to go see Phoebe, for now.
Carlton rolled and lit up a cigarette, watching the smoke stream straight up into the sky for a second before replying, “In a pig’s eye. I know how you shoot. Don’t go `accidentally’ hitting men in the chest. Aim for legs and arms.” Donni snorted and set his rifle down.
“What the hell are you so all-fired picky about? You gone preacher on me?”
Carlton laughed, “You’re wearing a badge, Donni. This isn’t like hunting for bounties. Use your head, brother.”
Donni grinned and took off his badge. “Now can I shoot the way I want to?”
Carlton laid back against a boulder and inhaled deeply on his cigarette, “It isn’t that easy. You know that, just do what I tell you.” He pulled his hat down to cover his eyes and relaxed. It was now a waiting game.
Donni pinned his badge back on and settled down to watch the river. He had worn a badge before, he knew what he was supposed to do. He just didn’t want any of the guys he could take out now to come back and shoot him in the back someday, just because he didn’t do it now. “I wonder where Dan and the others are. We sure could use them right now.”
“Agreed,” said Carlton.
An hour or so later a group of fourteen horsemen appeared over the rise on the far side of the river. They cantered down toward the ford. Donni sighted the lead one carefully and nudged Carlton with his boot. “Here they come.” Carlton rolled over and picked up his Sharps.
Jed Thornton and the other rangers walked out to stand by the river’s edge. Donni adjusted his sight until he had the man’s face squarely sighted in. He squinted harder. The man looked awfully familiar. He broke into a grin as the horsemen halted at the far side of the ford. “That’s Dan over there,” he whispered to Carlton.
Carlton sat up and stared hard. It was Dan Greene and just off to one side of him were Joe Stokes, Pierre LaForte and behind them Sam “Bear” Weaver. “What the hell are they doing with that bunch?” Carlton wondered aloud.