The Holts… Chapter 20

Chapter 20, West Fork

Click here for Chapter 19…

    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.

The Holts… Chapter 19

Chapter 19, Deputies

Click here for Chapter 18…

    As Carlton exited the boarding house Kelvin had the horses waiting. Donni and Luke were sitting on the porch smoking. Carlton came down to the horses, grabbed the reins to his and motioned the rest to follow him.  They led the horses over to U.S. Marshall Thurston’s office. Carlton turned to the other three, “You wait out here for now. I’ll go in and talk to the Marshall.” He turned and entered the office without waiting for acknowledgement.

    Kelvin turned to Donni, “I’ll go in and talk to the Marshall,” he mimicked Carlton’s voice. Donni laughed and started rolling a cigarette. Luke watched him closely.


    U.S. Marshall Matthew Thurston just stared at Carlton as he entered.  He did not greet him nor did he ask why he was there.  He sat waiting on Carlton to speak.  “Marshall I have come to be sworn in as a Deputy.  Ranger Thornton asked us, myself and family, to be deputized so that we can assist them to shut down the pending range war.”

    “Yeah, Thornton and the others came by here really early this morning. Rousted me up.  Didn’t look like they had slept a wink. I get that I am supposed to deputize you four and tell you to meet them out at the West fork of the river. You know where that is?” Carlton nodded, “I just want to say that I’m not real happy about this arrangement, but with what they said happened last night I get it. I want you to know that I did as I said I would.  I did some checking on you boys and you’ve got honest-to-God clean records with most of the territories around here. Nothing bad with any, but there were some questions from a couple.  That still doesn’t mean that you’re lawmen. At best, your gunfighters that have just happened to land on the right side of the law most of the time.  At worst you just haven’t gotten caught yet, with all due respect.”

    Carlton appearing to finally lose his temper. “The only difference between us and you, Marshall, is that your butt’s flatter from sitting in that chair… with all due respect, Marshall,” he finished caustically.

    Thurston stood, his face livid, “Why you fancy-pants, back-shootin’ bounty-killer! I oughta…,” Carlton smiled slowly. He’d gotten what he wanted, gotten the truth out of Thurston.  At least the truth of what he thought of them. He has also learned that someone out in the territories had relaid some questions about them to the Marshall. He needed to figure out who it was before they left town.  It could mean trouble for them depending on what territory they headed too next. Thurston seeing the smirk on Carlton’s face stopped talking and stared at him for a heart beat before he sat back down and cleared his throat. “Get your brothers in here.”

    Carlton stepped out and called his family closer.  Lowering his voice he told them, “Listen closely and do exactly what I tell you.  You screw around in there and the Marshall might not deputize us.  We need this to be of a help to the Rangers.  They are counting on us and they also know that even though we are deputized we will still be ablt to get the bounties for any of the men we bring in.  This will get us paid and keep us on the right side of the law.  Keep us from being hunted men.  Got it?”  All three nodded, “Good, go in stand still, hold up your right hand when asked and say ‘I do.’ when asked. That is all you have to do.”  All three nodded and gain and then followed Carlton back into the office.

    Thurston did not need any formalities nor wait for any.  “Raise you right hands,” Thurston said brusquely after they had all stepped in, “Repeat, I swear by the laws of the United States and the territory of Arizona,” Thurston paused long enough to let the Holts repeat his word.  “That I will uphold the laws of the United States and said territory. I will do my utmost to honor the badge that I wear…,” the oath droned on and the Holts dutifully repeated it at every pause…

    “By the authority invested in me as U.S. Marshall to this territory… I pronounce you U.S. Deputy Marshalls to the territory of Arizona until such time as this conflict is resolved and only as long as you are still involved in support of this current conflict,” Thurston finished and looked them over with ill disguised regret. He had added that last bit in.  He didn’t want the guys running off thinking they were some kind of territorial deputy, able to rove about the land.  He dug through his desk and handed them badges. They pinned them on and stood uncertainly for a second.

    Carlton smiled and tipped his hat, “Thank you, Marshall.”  Thurston sneered, making a face as if he had just smelled something awful, and returned to his desk without saying anything else.

    “Amen,” Luke said fervently and put his hat back on.  He had removed his hat when he entered the office.  The only one of the four that had done so. The other three Holts stared at him for a second.

    “You’re a strange one, Luke,” Kelvin said and shook his head as they all hurriedly exited the office.

    Kelvin looked at Donni and Carlton with awe, “So, we’re U.S. Deputy Marshalls now?”

    Donni grinned, “It just means that we can kill men without worrying about getting arrested.”

    Carlton frowned, “Yes, Kelvin we are U.S. Deputy Marshalls, and ease up on that kind of talk, Donni. Kelvin shouldn’t be hearing or even thinking that kind of gab. Show a little respect for the badge.  There is a lot of responsibility that goes with this badge.”

    Donni looked disgusted, “Shit!  Then why did we do this?”

    Carlton mounted up and addressed Kelvin and Luke, ignoring Donni’ remark, “You two watch yourselves. That badge gives us all some tiny bit of coverage from the other lawmen here, but it also makes you a good target for those opposed to us. Donni and me have been involved in this kind of trouble before… you gotta watch your back. There’ll be a lot of people aiming at it. That badge gives you a lot a authority to make decisions fast so use it right. We aren’t gunmen or bounty-hunters now, we’re lawmen.  Doesn’t mean we can just kill men because we want to,” he finished shooting a look at Donni.

    Donni glanced back at him with a grin, but Carlton motioned him to be quiet. A badge was a heady thing to be wearing. It made some men a little crazy. It was better that Kelvin and Luke took it seriously, less trouble that way. He knew that Donni wouldn’t pay any attention to the fact that he was wearing it but he could handle Donni. It was the other two that he was worried about. The Holts, now legally lawmen of the U.S. Government, rode out of town toward the West Fork of the river.

The Holts… Chapter 18

Chapter 18, Breakfast

Click here for Chapter 17…

    Luke was the first one out of his room, and it was early. He pounded on Carlton’s door until the elder Holt answered. “I missed you boys, last night. What’s up?” he asked cheerfully, “I feel like a grizzly that someone poked in the ribs until he woke up.” .

    Carlton looked sick for the first time that morning.  It had been a long day yesterday and today didn’t bode to be any shorter, especially if Luke kept up the perky attitude, “Luke, spare me your ‘Western Lingo’. Go wake up Donni and Kelvin and get everyone down for breakfast. We have things to do today.”

    Luke inexpertly rolling a smoke replied, “Sure thing, pard. I’ll mosey on down and round’em up Cousin.” Carlton slammed the door. Luke sauntered down the hallway and knocked on Donni and Kelvin’s door, “Hey wake up. Time to douse the campfire and hit the trail.” After a couple of minutes the door cracked open slowly and Kelvin stood there glowering at him, he had just gotten out of bed, none of them besides Luke had more than 5 hours of sleep.

    “Shut up, Luke! We’re up.  Donni has been up for a while.  Not that he would stand up and answer the door,” Kelvin replied as he directed his words towards the part of the room invisible behind the barely opened door. “You, Luke, sound like a damn dime novel or a Texan! Real Westerners don’t talk like that.” Kelvin admonished as he stumbled back into the room and sat on his bed.

    Luke assumed a hurt expression, “They do too. I’ve heard them talkin’ Cousin Kelvin!”

    Kelvin grinned, “You’ve heard Texans, Luke. They aren’t real Westerners. If you don’t want people hating you on sight, stop talkin’ like that. If you wasn’t kin I’d hate you… and Donni would shoot you in the head.” Kelvin finished waving towards the other side of the room.  Luke pushed open the door further and there sat Donni at a small side table cleaning his revolver, dressed and not looking any worse for the wear from the previous day’s activities.

    “He’s right, Luke.” Donni agreed as he held up the pistol to examine its cleaning, pointing it towards Luke in the doorway.

    “Carlton wants us to meet him downstairs for breakfast,” Luke replied.  Dropping the familial salutation in his response as he looked down the barrel of the pistol towards Donni.  He closed the door and headed downstairs to wait on the brothers.


    The three, Luke, Kelvin and Donni, continued the conversation once they were settled in downstairs eating breakfast and waiting for Carlton to join them.  No one knew for sure what Carlton had planned for them that day.

    “So did that little filly take a shine to you Cousin Donni?” Luke, having recovered a little composure, asked through a mouthful of eggs.

    Donni frowned, “If I was courtin’ a horse, Luke, then I could say I made out fine. She was a woman, Luke! An honest to God woman! and I did just fine, thank you very much… not that it’s any of your business.” Luke grinned and took a large drink of coffee.

    Kelvin leaned back in his chair, “Why do you chase women, Donni? There’s no money in it, and damn little excitement. Seems like a waste of time to me.”

    Donni just grinned at him, “Someday, little brother, you’re going to meet a woman that’ll ride you into the next state. Then you’ll forget about cards for a while and be a real man.”

    Kelvin set his fork down, “I don’t appreciate you talkin’ about me that way, Donni. And just what do you mean, a `real man’? I beat Chandler all over the ranch and I can sure as hell whip you!”

    Donni grinned, enjoying his little brother’s anger, “Settle down, Kelvin. I’m just sayin’ that a good woman is worth a lot more than deck of cards.”

    Kelvin looked mollified, “That’ll be the day! Shows what you know. I’ll take a good hand and a table full of suckers over a good woman any day.”

    Luke watched the two with amazement, egg dripping from his mouth. “Lord almighty,” he said, wiping his mouth, “You two are crazy.”

    Kelvin sullenly ate his breakfast while Donni grinned at him.  Luckily Luke had cut them off before Donni could reply to Kelvin’s last statement.  It would have been sure to raise the stakes to physical actions that typically occurred when the brothers were quipping at each other.

    Carlton appeared on the stairs, “You boys, finish your breakfast. We got things to do.  Someone needs to go get the horses.”  Carlton planned on getting the three of them moving and getting things ready while he had a quick breakfast.  Then it was first off to the Marshall’s office to be deputized, but first he settled into his seat at the table.

    Luke smiled at him, “A good cowpoke never hits the trail without a hardy breakfast, Cousin Carlton. Sit down and shovel some of these eggs in while I get the cook to rustle you up a plate and some coffee.”

    Carlton stared at Luke’s back like he was a moron as he headed toward the kitchen door.  Someone was going to shoot him for being a Texan someday, he was sure of it.  When it happened the rest of them would either have to shoot back or join in.

    Donni grinned at Kelvin, “Hand me some more of that rustled up coffee, little brother.”

    Kelvin started laughing, spitting eggs onto his plate, “Here,” he choked handing the pot to Donni, “I’ll get the horses.” He stood sniggering loudly as Luke returned to to the table.

    “They’re in the stable, Kelvin,” Donni called.

    Kelvin quite laughing and glowered at Donni, “I know that.”

    “Make sure that there aren’t any burrs under the saddles,” Donni said grinning big.

    Kelvin started laughing again and left. Luke frowned, suspecting that he was the butt of a joke, but not quite sure.

    Carlton watched them, shaking his head slowly and without comment until Kelvin left. “If you all are finished with this morning’s comedy, maybe we can get on to business now?”

    Donni gave him an innocent look, “Sure thing, Carlton. Sure you don’t want some of this rustled up coffee?” Carlton sat down and held out his cup. Donni filled it.

    Luke smiled at him while he drank it. “Kind of hits the spot doesn’t it? Makes you feel as happy as a prairie dog in June.”

    Carlton just stared at him, dumbfounded. He turned to Donni, “You watch yourself with your guns, Donni. We don’t need any more trouble then we’ve already got. Think before you shoot.” Luke opened his mouth to say something and Donni just looked at him. He closed his mouth thinking about earlier upstairs.

    Donni still looking at Luke stood and hitched his gunbelt up. “Let’s go help Kelvin while Carlton finishes his breakfast in peace.” Donni wanted to get away from Carlton before he could tell him some more things to do and think about.  Things he would most likely ignore or forget when it came time.  They headed out to the stables leaving Carlton at the table just as Mrs. Bisby sat a plate of food down in front of him.

The Holts… Chapter 17

Chapter 17, Donni’ Fault

Click here for Chapter 16…

    The group of horsemen rode into town a little past one o’clock in the morning.   “Where did you leave Kelvin and Luke?” Carlton asked Donni, who had subsided into a sullen silence after leaving the Gatlin place. There had been little talk from anyone on the ride.  The lawmen knew the real work was just starting in this area.  This was going to be a real range war and not just unconfirmed rumors.

    “The saloon… Kelvin was playin’ cards and Luke was with him guzzlin’ whiskey.” Carlton experienced a moment of panic, it would be better if they had just gone to be boarding house and stayed there like he hoped. He spurred his horse faster.  The rest followed.

    When he saw the saloon still intact, open, and no bodies lying around outside he slowed his horse. The Holts dismounted and tethered their horses.  Mathers grunted toward Jed and nodded toward the stable then turned to head that way leading the three ranger’s horses.  Carlton called out, “Send the boy out to get our horses, thanks.”  Mathers waved over his shoulder acknowledging the request.  Carlton and Donni removed their saddle bags and rifles before turning to the saloon.  Carlton strode into the bar and finally relaxed when he saw Kelvin sitting peacefully at a table with five other men.  From the looks of it he hadn’t moved all night.

    Kelvin looked up and broke into a grin when he saw his brothers. “Hey… where have you two been?”  Carlton and Donni dumped their load on an empty table next to the game.  Donni slumped into a chair and tossed his hat on the table.  “You got hay in you hair, Donni?  Are those powder burns on your face… ugh?,” he quickly glanced at his pocket watch, “Damn! One o’clock all ready? I thought you were just in the other room, Donni.”

    Carlton looked around at the one-roomed saloon, “What room would that be Kelvin? Where’s Luke?”

    Kelvin sat down his cards, “I guess I’m out, gents. Thanks for teaching me how to play.”  The other five weren’t amused. A rather large pile of cash was sitting in front of Kelvin. He picked up the cash and appeared to stow it in his coat, “I’ll be see’n you boys tomorrow? Maybe we’ll play again.”

    “I don’t think so,” the Doctor said sourly, “You’ve got almost two hundred dollars from me alone tonight.”

    Kelvin looked surprised, “Well, I guess I do. Just lucky, I guess.” He handed the money to Carlton, “There’s three hundred and seventeen dollars,” he whispered, “A good night at the table.  Oh and I paid my one hundred fifty fine with the sheriff.”

    Carlton’s eyes widened momentarily, “Fine?” he whispered quizzically, but Kelvin had moved away towards Donni. Carlton stashed the money away and headed toward the bar. Jed and Jim had beaten him to the bar already and ordered a round of beers while he was checking on Kelvin.  They were already finishing their first glass.


    Kelvin walked over to Donni at the empty table and joined him. “What happened?” he asked quietly.

    Donni shrugged, “We got into a gunfight. Nothing serious. Only one old guy on our side, Phoebe’ grandfather I think, got wounded, barely.”  Kelvin could tell Donni had no concern over the wounded man.  “We killed a few of the attackers and chased the rest off when the rangers showed up.  I think that we’re going after some other ranch now.  I don’t know for sure, you would have to ask Carlton.  Kelvin, he made me leave the Gatlin’s alone out at their ranch, without me there to protect them.”  Ah, the real reason he was down.

    Kelvin looked sick, “Another problem you got us into?”

    Donni looked confused, “What the hell you talkin’ about?”

    Kelvin snorted disgustedly, “You chased some dumb skirt again and now we’re caught up in trouble.  You just had to go killing guys again.  I knew it! Dammit, Donni, I was just gettin’ these boys interested in some real card playin’… and you go and mess it all up with your dumb women! You know I hate gunfights!”  Kelvin stood quickly scattering the chair he was in noisily backward and turned toward Carlton at the bar.  The rest of the bar had been steadily clearing out after Kelvin had left the poker game.  There were only a few other patrons and the group at the bar to take notice of the noise.


   Leaving Donni behind he stormed up to the bar and ordered a whiskey.  Donni followed along behind and ordered a beer. The bartender served the drinks then informed the group that it was closing time.

    Carlton eyed his two brothers, he could see that Kelvin was upset, “What’s wrong, Kelvin?”  Kelvin only grunted and then downed the whiskey and then turned away to look out at the rest of the saloon.  The piano player was cleaning up the tables and flipping the chairs up.  Kelvin never understood why bars did that at night.  They just had to put them all back down in the morning when they opened.

    Donni grinned at his little brother’s back, “Apparently I started the range war, Carlton.  An it’s interferin’ with our little brother’s card playin’.”

    Jed Thornton laughed, “Well, did you?”

    Donni looked offended, “Sure as hell didn’t! I just shot some dumb ugly cowhand and they’re all blamin’ me.”

    Kelvin snipped, “Well you did shoot him and got me thrown in jail.”

    Carlton drained his beer, this was getting no where, “Stop it you two.  Go back to the boarding house and get some sleep. We’re payin’ a visit to the Marshall in the morning.  Where’s Luke?”

    Kelvin looked at Carlton and shrugged, then he and Donni left the saloon arguing.

    Jed eyed Carlton, “How do you ride with those two?”

    Carlton smiled, “Well, pa taught me a lot of things while I was growin’ up. One of them is that family is family. They may both be a little dumb, but they’re my brothers. We take care of each other.  Always!”  Carlton pulled out twenty dollars of Kelvin’s winnings and tossed it on the bar.

    Jed nodded sagely and finished his beer. “See you in the morning, Holt.”

    “In the morning,” he replied.  As he was leaving Carlton caught the eye of the bartender across the room sweeping around the tables and stacked chairs.  “Keep the change,” he called.

The Holts… Chapter 16

Chapter 16… Aftermath

Click here for Chapter 15…

    Donni helped Phoebe down the ladder with her little brother scrambling down after them. The four walked out into the barnyard and found the three rangers looking over the scattered bodies.  Jed had found and lit another lantern.  Movement could be seen through the windows of the house now that the shooting had stopped and a couple lanterns lit.


    Jim Wainwright pushed at one of the bodies with his boot toe. “I recognize this one. Name of Carol Honeycutt from the Wyoming Territory. Wanted for rustlin’ and murder. Not much of a loss.”

    Carlton spoke up quickly, “I think I plugged him and we know Donni got at least a couple more.”

    Jed grinned, “Don’t worry, you boys will get the rewards if there are any, since we can’t collect them.”  Carlton looked relieved.  Light from the house spilled out into the area as the door opened.  A group of three men, one with a minor wound on his upper arm, and two women came out and approached, carrying guns and lanterns.

    A middle-aged man stepped forward, obviously Phoebe and Robert’s father, “I guess we need to be thankin’ you men. I’m James Gatlin.” He held out his hand towards the Rangers and Carlton. “This is my father,” indicating an older gentleman with the wound, “my oldest son and his wife and my wife. Looks like you already met my two younger kids.”

    Jed Thornton stepped forward and shook hands with him, “Jed Thornton, Mr. Gatlin. This here’s Don Mathers and Jim Wainwright. We’re Arizona Rangers down from Tucson.  Were there any killed in the house?”  James shoot his head no.

    Carlton also stepped forward and shook hands, “I’m Carlton Holt and this here’s Donni, my younger brother.”

    Mr. Gatlin smiled at them. “I’ve already met Donni, Mr. Holt.  We had just finished dinner when all this broke out.  I’m very pleased to met you however. We seemed to be having a mess of trouble before you showed up.”

    Robert grinned, “We showed’em though didn’t we paw! We whipped’um good!”

    A look of concern and frustration appeared on James’ face.  He hated that the world was intruding on his family and was afraid that he couldn’t stop it.  His children were deeply involved now, “Robert men died here.  They died probably for no good reason other than money as’ far as they were concerned.  If but for a twist of fate, you kids and Donni in the barn, and then the rangers showing up, hadn’t happened we all could have been dead instead.”  The excitement faded quickly from Robert’s face.

    Jed Thornton interjected quickly before any plans other than his own could be voiced, “We’re here to take care of this mess. We’d appreciate it if you folks would just stay around your place here, hole up, be safe, and let us handle it.”  This seemed to ease the concern in James Gatlin.

    James Gatlin identified some of the dead men as having been recent hires by Josh Perkins. “Josh Perkins and Col. Hill has hired a lot of ‘cowhands’ that had drifted through lately. Strange that most of them seemed to be better at handling their guns than cattle. Perkins served under Hill during the war and they are as close to one and the same when it comes to interacting with the other ranchers in the area. They want to control the whole area.  Many of the smaller spreads have already folded or sold and moved on.  I hear that a few sold at gun point, but nothing was proven.”

    “Col. Ben Hill?” Carlton asked.

    “Yeah that’s him,” James replied.

    Carlton gave Donni a sideways look and shook his head slowly. This was not the time to discuss their earlier encounter with the foreman of the Hill Ranch down in Tombstone. It looked like they had come down on the right side of this fight after all. The foreman of Hill’s ranch was a sadistic prick and it hadn’t taken them long to get away from him. Didn’t help that Donni embarrassed him in front of the men he had with him.

    Donni not really catching Carlton’s meaning pushed his hat back, “Maybe I should stay here and watch out for the Gatlins. The Perkins’ men might come back.”

    Carlton favored him with a black look,”I think that you’ve done enough for one night Donni. You’re coming with us.  Besides we have given them a pretty big black eye here and there was more than one wounded that left out of here.  They won’t be back tonight.”

    Donni looked like he was going to argue for a moment, “But Carlton…,”

    Carlton sighed, “Dammit, Donni… Sorry ladies,” he added with a momentary look of contrition, “I’m sure that Phoebe and the others will be plenty safe with their family. We need to go with the Rangers and figure out how to take care of the ones responsible for this.  There is a bigger picture and we have to prepare for it.”

    James Gatlin added, “Yeah, we will bring in a few of the hands that are out watching the herd.  No good keeping the cattle alive if we are all dead.”

    Donni looked disgusted, but smiled when Phoebe leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, “You go on, Donni. We’ll be safe. Thank you for wanting to stay, you’re a gentleman.”  James looked on with a scowl that was not missed by Carlton or Jed.

    Carlton looked sick and met Jed Thornton’s eyes across the group. Thornton was grinning. “Just like the old days, eh Carlton?” the ranger said with a soft laugh. Carlton sighed and walked back towards his horse. Phoebe hung onto to Donni’s hand for a moment longer while he said goodbye to her family and headed into the barn.

    The rangers said their goodbyes and trailed along behind Carlton. They all mounted up, waited for Donni to retrieve his horse and gear from the barn, and then rode off into the night.


    Just outside of town Jed Thornton reined in beside Carlton, “If you’re going to be ridin’ with us, you need to be deputized. Sheriff Morgan will have a heyday if you don’t have a legal right to be out here lookin’ for trouble. We’ll see Thurston first thing in the morning and get your bunch legal. You want Luke and Kelvin in on this?”

    Carlton lit up a cigarette, “Sounds like a good idea to me. The more guns the better. This Perkins fellow must’uv hired most of the driftin’ guns in this area and maybe recruited some from outside too.  They are geared up for a full out war.”

    Donni galloped up beside the two, “I think that I should watch out for the Gatlins…,”

    “Shut up, Donni, I swear that you do more thinkin’ with your… oh, never mind,” Carlton said with a grin. Jed Thornton’s laugh rang across the grasslands.

    “Listen Jed, all joking aside about Donni and his love life, we may have another problem. Right before we left Tombstone and headed up this way we ran into a guy named Buck Trent. He said he was a ranch foreman for a Col. Hill.  We didn’t get into a lot of details about working for him before it went sour.  We were thinking about it pretty hard though.  Shoot we didn’t even know he was in this area. Fate I guess.  He had a young gunslinger, Clayton Forest, with him too. They were down trying to recruit regulators to come work for them and were having some pretty good success, but we were quick to see that Trent was a sadistic prick to a young cowhand looking for legitimate work.  It didn’t sit well with Donni or a couple of others we had with us.  Thinking back now I wish I had just let Donni kill him, but he hadn’t really done anything to us and just pistol whipped the boy. Besides if I had we would have had to deal with Clayton too and the timing wasn’t right.  Too much risk.” Carlton relayed.

    “Something tells me there is more to the story,” Jed queried.

    “For another time maybe…”, Carlton replied as they reached the outskirts of town.

The Holts… Chapter 15

Chapter 15, Gatlin Ranch

Click here for Chapter 14…

    Donni rolled over on the hay in the haymow and grinned at Robert Gatlin. It was hard to see him in the dim evening light and through the thick gunsmoke in the barn, “How you doing, Bob?”

    The younger Gatlin grinned and kept reloading a Winchester, he was Phoebe’s younger brother and about 14 years old, “Doing just fine, Mr. Holt!”  He had fired pretty blindly, fine by Donni as long as they had ammo and it kept the assailants heads down.  Luckily the Gatlin’s had started making a habit of keeping a rifle and ammunition in the barn.  Also lucky, Donni had stabled his horse along with his rifles in here when he arrived.  It made for a good excuse to go to the barn and check on his horse after dinner.  Of course Phoebe came along to help him.  The three of them were now in the barn’s loft .  Looking down over the open area between the barn and the house.  There was a corral to one side and a number of other smaller outbuildings scattered around.  When the shooting had started the three grabbed the guns and headed up into the loft.  Donni wasn’t sure how many men were out there attacking, but it was bad.  He was thinking  more than they could handle.  It would have been over quickly if they hadn’t been in the barn.  Luckily they had caught them off guard by being here.

    Donni nodded and sighted down the barrel of his Henry. He fired off two quick shots and squinted into the darkness, “Damn. I don’t think I hit anything.”  The raiders had arrived just after the sun had set.  Probably to help mask their approach.  It had given them enough light to act, and Donni was sure they expected the attack to be over quickly.

    Bob looked out of the hayloft, “There’s another body out there. Don’t look like it is moving neither.”

    Donni shrugged, “I could be wrong. It’s hard to tell with all this smoke.”

    “Here, Donni,” Phoebe handed him his reloaded carbine. Donni smiled at her as he placed the gun in easy reach. She sure was pretty with hay in her hair and those dirt smudges on her cheeks. It was a good thing that her little brother hadn’t come out to the barn any earlier. Yes sir, Phoebe Gatlin was quite a woman. If things really went bad at least Donni would go out with a smile on his face.  Phoebe leaned against Donni’s leg and clung to him, “I think those are Josh Perkins’ men. Some of them looked familiar, at least what I could see.  They rode through here a couple of weeks ago and did a lot of blustering at Dad.”

    Robert spit. “Those rustlers been after my paw’s water rights for a year now. They’d as soon shoot you in the back as look at ya!” Donni glanced at the boy. He was young, he’d learn in time. A man was just as dead if you shot him in the back.  Dead was dead.

    Robert looked scared, “Do you think paw and the others are all right?”

    Phoebe nodded, “I heard shooting from the house awhile ago. They’ll be okay.”

    Donni tensed as several shots rang out. How many damn men were out there?  Too many he reckoned. They would charge soon, probably trying to figure out where everyone one was that was shooting at them, and maybe how many.  He remembered Mr. Gatlin had said most of their hands were out taking care of the cattle. They had had some rustling problems and most were protecting the herd.   He was sure they were expecting easy pickings at the homestead. He cocked the Henry and waited, patiently sighting down the barrel.  The Winchester, Phoebe had reloaded, laid beside him in the loft within easy reach.  He absently reached down and pulled out one of his .45’s. He handed to Robert, “You ever used a handgun, Bob?” Robert eyed it and shook his head. Donni grinned at him, “You’ll learn quick enough.”


    The four horsemen topped the rise in the faded evening light and looked down on the homestead in the valley before them. Carlton reined in as he listened to the sounds of gunfire. It was more obvious from the flash of gunfire before them that shooting was coming from both the barn and house below and aimed at what he assumed to be several assailants scattered around some outbuildings and corrals. All he could make out were some darker shapes and shadows in those areas.  Further on Carlton could make out a line of small scrub brush and trees that wandered along the other side of the farmstead, indicating a stream.  There was a deeper boom and a grimace crossed his face as he recognized the familiar sound of a Henry .44/.40. Most men wouldn’t recognize the sound.  The Henry rifle wasn’t a common long-gun to many so Carlton reasoned that there was only two other people that would likely be using that rifle in this region. He could guess who it was most likely to be. He was not happy with the thought of going into a gun fight with either of them if they didn’t know it was him. This could get tricky. He gave Jed Thornton a sour look, “Donni, probably. That damn brother of mine got out of jail somehow. Who’s place is that up ahead.”

    Jed grinned, “I seem to recall that that’s the Gatlin place.” He and Wainwright both broke out laughing at the anguished face of Carlton and the groan that had escaped his lips.  The rangers words has confirmed his fears.  Mathers had a wry smile that showed he saw the humor in the situation but mostly portrayed his desire to get into the fight happening in front of them.  That was one scared dark quiet man.

    “Hellfire! Of course it is.  Donni doesn’t have the brains that God gave a pissant. He went down there and tried to get that Phoebe to warm up to him and got caught in a gunfight. Time to end this.  Let’s ride.” The four spurred their horses down into the valley.

    Carlton rode rapidly for the outbuildings. The Gatlin spread was a big place with lots of places to hide.  He could see a few bodies scattered out front of the house, between the house and the barn.  Looks like they had been caught in a crossfire.  Stupid dead men who didn’t check their backside before heading into a fight.  He could see flashes of gunfire from closer up towards the house and barn.  Matheres came around the edge of the outbuilding they were near, “This building is clear, others probably too.  I think most are looking to rush the house that way.”  He indicated a dark shadowy area on the other side of the open area and closer to the house, around another outbuildingm, near the corral.

    Two shadowy figures detached themselves from the fence row in that area and raced towards the barn. Carlton drew his Colt and slid out of the saddle, then crouched by a water trough. Jed Thornton and the other two joined him, their cocked pistols ready. The Henry roared again and one of the figures spun and fell, unmoving. The other disappeared beside the barn.

    Jed laughed, “That sure as hell’s got to be Donni. He must have cat eyes to see in this light.”  Carlton sure hoped that it was and hoped that he would be able to tell friend from foe when the time came.  Carlton sighted carefully towards the corner of the barn where the second assailant had disappeared, bracing his revolver on the trough. The figure reappeared and he fired twice. It vanished back behind the barn.  That sure announced their presence.

    “I think you got him, ” Don Mathers said.  Then he and the other rangers started unloading at a group of men up closer to the house.  The rangers and Carlton had chosen a position that would give them a fairly clear view of the grounds and a little cover.  Not that Don Mathers was one to use much cover.  He stood stoically by the trough firing his revolvers at the men while the rest used what cover was available.

    The men they were firing at realized very quickly that they were caught in another crossfire with some new players. They quickly melted away into the night. A few minutes later several horses could be heard galloping away.  Carlton figured they must have approached from the other side of the house.  Down near the stream, probably gave them a little better cover than coming down the road as they had.

    Carlton stood and cautiously moved towards the barn, keeping behind some cover before yelling, “Donni… is that you?”  not trusting his brother’s eyes as much as the rangers.

    Donni lowered the Henry and frowned. What the hell was Carlton doing out here? “Sure is, big brother,” he yelled back.  Damn it was good to hear his voice.  Carlton had arrived just in time. Sounded like he had the rangers with him based on the amount of gunfire he had heard.

    He watched Carlton cross the barnyard and enter the barn. Soon a lantern burst into life below and light shinned up.  Donni stood and walked over the edge of the haymow. Carlton looked up at him. Donni grinned down at him. Robert Gatlin and Phoebe appeared behind him, looking scared.

    Carlton couldn’t help it, he broke into a smile when he saw that Donni unharmed, “Donni, you dumb son-of-a-gun, I thought I told Luke to tell you to stay in town.”

    Donni shrugged, “He must of forgot to tell me. It’s a good thing I came out here though. The Gatlin’s got ambushed by some of their competition.” Phoebe moved up against Donni and he unconsciously put an arm around her. Carlton took in the hay in her hair and the small dirt smudges on her cheeks, that only enhanced her pretty face, and immediately figured out what had happened.  The attack probably saved Donni from being in trouble with the Gatlins.

    He frowned, “What were you doing in the barn, Donni?” he asked, already knowing the answer.

    Donni blinked and considered his answers. “Uh… Phoebe and me were taking a walk and she… she wanted to show me her father’s horses. When the shooting started we kind of got trapped here,” he finished lamely.

    Carlton stared at Phoebe. She blushed furiously. “We were checking on Donni’s horse too,” Phoebe interjected.  “He said it was walking a little tender and wanted to check on it.”  Donni nodded with a big grin on his face.

    Carlton just shook his head, “Well, come on down. Let’s go see if everyone else is all right.”

The Holts… Chapter 14

Chapter 14, Poker

Click here for Chapter 13…

    The two made their way down the street, heading for the saloon. They waked in and waited for their eyes to adjust to the dim light of the saloon from the bright afternoon sun. Luke Holt looked up from his card game and motioned them over. He finished his hand and excused himself from the table to talk to the brothers, leaving his money on the table to hold his spot.  Not that there were anyone waiting to get into the game.  Kelvin watched the other players while Luke and Donni were talking.  He watched to make sure if anyone was eying Luke’s stake.  There wasn’t much there so no worries about theft, but it was interesting to watch how the players acted when someone was gone, and how they reacted when the person came back.  All information at a poker table was good.  It helped to develop a tell on a player and Kelvin had a need to make some money before noon the next day.  He needed to get into the game.

    “Cousin Carlton took off with Jed Thornton and the other two rangers. They’re gonna go look over the ranches to the west, talk to some of the cowhands to find out what has been happening.  They said they wanted to get a feel for which ranchers were doing what in the area.  See how many hands have been hired on to different spreads and stuff like that,” Luke relayed, “Carlton said he hoped to be back for supper, but not to count on it. He then gave me specific instructions to give you two if you was to get out of jail.  He said to make sure that you stayed close to the boarding house.  Not to be causing any more problems for him.”

    Donni snorted, “Thanks Luke, we sure will. I think I’m gonna take a little ride out to see Phoebe. Watch Kelvin, okay? Make sure he doesn’t get into trouble.”

    Luke stared at him for a few seconds letting his statement sink in, “Sure thing, cousin,” he said shaking his head.  Donni chuckled as he headed for the door.

    Kelvin, still focused on the game, glanced up while Donni was leaving, “Where are you going?” Donni waved over his shoulder and left. Kelvin looked worried, “Where’s he going, Luke?”

    Luke shrugged, “Cousin Donni said something about going to see that girl. Have a seat, we’ll deal you in,” as he settled back into his seat at the table.

    Kelvin looked at the still swinging barroom doors then looked at the table. Damn it Donni, Carlton is going to be mad, probably at me, and he really had work to do to get his fine paid. There might not be enough money in this town to pay his fine so it was going to be a long session and he really liked it when Donni was watching his back at the table.  Not much he could do about it now.  He sat down in the offered chair and flexed his fingers, “Okay. Deal me in.” Kelvin smiled at the other three players and helped himself to some of Luke’s whiskey while putting $50 on the table. “What game are we playing?”

    “Five card stud,” an older cowhand said as he eyed Kelvin with speculation.

    Kelvin assumed a dumb expression, “What’s that?”

    Luke rolled his eyes and then looked at his cousin before glancing at the cards he had just received, trash. Laying his cards down Luke announced, “Actually I think I’ll get something to eat gents. I’m played out.” Luke got up, collecting the $40 or so dollars in front of him, and left the three other players to Kelvin’s untender mercies.  He knew better that to play Kelvin so moved over to an adjoining table where he could watch the door and the game and waved over the younger barmaid.  Kelvin could hear him ordering some food and asked the barmaid to join him.  Food would be good too but right now he had work to do.  Kelvin just wished Donni had stuck around.  Luke was not going to be much backup if things went bad.  He didn’t figure it would but Carlton always said be prepared.

    Several hours later, mid-evening, Luke left the company of the young barmaid and made his way out of the saloon, saying something about going to the boarding house, getting some dinner, and then sleep. He had been drinking whiskey since before Kelvin and Donni arrived.  He hadn’t slowed down much neither.  Kelvin, roughly a hundred or so dollars to the good, barely noticed him leave.  He had gotten into the swing of the game and there was more money on the table now.  A few players had come and gone, mostly busted. The game had grown to six players, including the vaunted town Doctor, Doc Farnsworth. Who had examined Zeb Barker the day before. Kelvin was looking forward to a long evening of good pickings. The sun set and the crowd in the saloon grew as Kelvin and the good Doctor tried their wiles on each other.  It was a pretty quite gathering.

    A couple hours after sunset the bar had gotten quite busy and a crowd had started watching the poker game.  Players kept coming and going with both Doc and Kelvin’s money piles growing from all the others who had tried their luck. Neither had gotten an upper-hand on each other.  The sheriff showed up for a few minutes and watched Kelvin closely.  A few of the rougher looking “cowhands” left when he arrived.  The sheriff couldn’t see if Kelvin was doing anything illegal and was about to continue making his rounds when Kelvin noticed him. Kelvin called him over and handed him $150 from the table.  A few of the players at the table complained about him taking money from the table, but when they looked at the face of the sheriff they quickly quieted down.  “I hope that pays my fine and makes us even sheriff,” Kelvin said.  That had pretty much wiped out his winnings for the night, and put him at a disadvantage at the table, but Kelvin wouldn’t have the feeling of doom about paying the sheriff’s fines weighing on him.  Besides he had a pretty good read on the other players at the table now, except Doc, so getting ahead again shouldn’t take long.

    “It does, but we are not going to be even until you leave town.” the sheriff replied.

    “Thanks sheriff, sorry to hear that,” Kelvin said with a hint of remorse in his voice. “I will be around to pick up a receipt for payment in full.”

    “Umph,” was all the reply he got as the sheriff turned and walked out of the saloon.  Seeing the sheriff leave with most of the money Kelvin had won a couple more “cowhands” left the saloon.

    Around midnight the crowd started thinning out.  Kelvin had finally figured out Doc’s play and was slowly busting all the players at the table.  He had gotten the best of the Doc and it had begun to rattle the doctor, making him easier to read. Kelvin glanced at his new pocket watch, the deputy’s old watch, and for a moment felt a spasm of worry.  Where were his brothers?  Shouldn’t they be back by now?

    “You in?” Doc asked anxiously.

    Kelvin sighed, “Yeah, I’m in.” After all, nothing too bad could be happening to Donni or Carlton, right? He didn’t expect that Donni would be back until morning but shouldn’t Carlton be back by now?  Besides he had found out that the bartender would be shutting down the saloon soon.

The Holts… Chapter 13

Chapter 13, Free Men

Click here for Chapter 12…

    Later that afternoon Kelvin awakened as he heard the sound of keys turning in the cell door.  Setting up on the edge of the bunk he looked bleary eyed at Sheriff Morgan.  Who gave him a dirty look as he swung the door wide. “Don’t just sit in there gawking… you’re free. So Git outta there and get out of my jail.  I would love for you and your no-go family to get the hell out of my town completely.”

    Not knowing what to say or even think, Kelvin scrambled to his feet and shook Donni from his slumber, “Come on Donni. We’re gett’in out!  The sheriff is letting us go.”

    Donni looked at him confused and asked, “Why’s he do’n that?”  The sheriff just looked on with disgust at the Holt brothers as they rousted themselves up.

    “Hell if I know,  Just shut up and let’s get the hell out.” Kelvin replied as Donni staggered to his feet and pulled on his hat.  Kelvin thought, Donni just keep quiet until we are out of here.

    The brothers followed the sheriff out of the cell block and into his office. Morgan sat down and scribbled rapidly on a stack of papers. “I got some affidavits from townspeople, looks like your story will hold water, Holt. But I’ll give you a warning here and now. Cause anymore trouble and I’ll lock you up for good. Understand?  Now sign these release forms, get your stuff, and get out.”

    Kelvin and Donni hastily put their marks on the forms and gathered their possessions off of the sheriff’s desk.  Donni nodded to the sheriff and mumbled “Understood.” as he buckled on his gunbelt.  After tying down each holster he drew each of the guns and inspected them as anyone would review the tools of their trade.  The actions were not lost on the sheriff.  The weight of the pistols were off ever so slightly, the pistols were empty.  Donni noticed a small pile of bullets on the desk.  He thought for a moment about loading them but then caught the eye of the sheriff watching him.  Maybe wait until he was out of his office first.  He swept the bullets into his hand and pocketed them.

    Kelvin reached for his derringer first, slipping it up his sleeve, and then strapped on his gun belt.  He smiled broadly at the sheriff. “I told you we wasn’t caus’in any trouble sheriff. You can count on us to mind our business.”  Damn it, just shut-up and get out, went through Kelvin’s mind.

    Morgan’s lip curled slightly and he pointedly ignored the two, pouring himself a generous cup of coffee. He thought, “Not causing any trouble, minding their own business, ha, they have done nothing but cause trouble and be his business since getting to town.”  Then said aloud, “You are not off that easy little brother.  You were trying to break out a prisoner in my jail.  MY Jail! If you weren’t honest with the derringer and drunk at the time I would be keeping you locked up.  I would probably put you on a work detail to help in some town projects to earn your keep over the next 6 months or send you to the territory prison.  Instead I am going to let you out, but still hit you where I think it will hurt you the most.  I want you gone from my town, but that does not look like it is going to happen for a couple days at least.  So I am going to fine you.  I expect you to bring by $150.00 for your “fines” by noon tomorrow.  If you don’t then I will be locking you back up.  Understand?”  Kelvin nodded slightly as the blood drained from his face.

    “As for you big brother,” he continued, “Your case will be reviewed by the circuit judge.  He will decide if my ruling is right or not and if he decides that you should go to trial I will be issuing an arrest warrant for you.  Got it?”  Donni nodded.

    Sliding his left pistol back into his holster and closing his mouth Donni said, “Good day, sheriff,” as he quickly exited the office. Kelvin quickly followed on his heels.


    Kelvin grinned at Donni as he shut the door behind himself, “Hey, that was kinda fun! I can say I been in jail now.”

    Donni took a few steps down the boardwalk before stopping and turning to look at Kelvin and grinned, “Don’t let Carlton hear you saying that. He’ll skin you alive.”

    Kelvin looked thoughtful, “You think so?”

    Donni laughed,”I know so. He hates that kind of talk. Says it’s bad luck. Just act like you’re real sorry all this happened, he falls for it every time.”

    Kelvin considered this, “If he falls for it every time why does he ask me to keep an eye on you?”

    Donni shrugged, “You gotta a point there… maybe if we act like we was glad it happened, he won’t know what to do.”

    Kelvin pulled off his hat and scratched his head,”I don’t think so. He was pretty mad at us… let’s just not say anything about it.  If he does then we do the sorry thing.”

    Donni agreed and then started loading his pistols. He handed Kelvin 4 bullets for his revolver and the two derringer’s caliber bullets.  He kept 2 of Kelvin’s to replace the ones he had shot into Zeb.  Kelvin looked at the bullets a bit perplexed for a moment and then realized his guns were empty.  “Wow, that could have been embarrassing, thanks for letting me know,” and started loading his guns.

   “Anytime your guns are out of your hands or each morning you need to check them Kelvin. You have to take care of your tools if you want to stay alive out here.  Don’t go anywhere without accounting for them.”  Donni replied.  Kelvin stored the information away.  When it came to guns Donni was the expert.

    “Donni, do you think the sheriff is really going to arrest me if I don’t pay him the $150?  He seemed pretty mad.”

    “Yeah, I think he will little brother.  You had the money on you didn’t ya?  Why didn’t ya pay him?”

    “That is my table stakes, not real money for spending.  I must have that to play poker with.  I will talk to Carlton to see about paying it.”

    Donni was now looking at Kelvin perplexed.  “Ok little brother, what ever you say.  Carlton will make you pay it, you know.  Just be sure to get him the money before tomorrow noon.  I would hate to see you shoveling shit out the streets for 6 months in this little town.”  The thought caused Kelvin to shiver and turn pale.

    Kelvin changed the subject, “What do you think the sheriff meant when he said we wouldn’t be leaving town anytime soon?”

    “I don’t know.  I suspect it has to do with Carlton and the rangers.  We had probably better go find Carlton and Luke.  I could also use a beer.” Donni turned and headed toward the saloon as he asked.  “Got your guns loaded?”

    “All but two bullets.  I am missing two, did the sheriff keep them?”

    “Nope, I took two of yours.”  Kelvin looked at him quizzically as they walked toward the saloon?  Donni always had extra bullets loaded in his gun belt and a couple pouches of bullets too.  Why did he keep two of his?  Why weren’t there enough bullets…  oh yeah.

The Holts… Chapter 12

Chapter 12…  Jail

Click here for Chapter 11…

    They hurried down the street towards the sheriff’s office. Nothing appeared to be amiss this early. That was good. Out front of the office were three horses tied to the hitching post. When they arrived Carlton held Luke back and paused to get a quick look at the horses.  Luke saw that Carlton had a slight smile on his face as he opened the door and walked in.

    Sheriff Morgan was seated at his desk talking with three men. They all had travel-worn clothing on, even though they looked fresh and well rested this early, and of course well-worn holsters.  Men familiar with the use of their weapons and not shy in that use, Lawmen.  Morgan stood and the three turned to face Carlton and Luke. Each one was wearing a small tarnished star with the legend, Arizona Rangers, engraved on it.

    Luke looked at them with awe, “Hey, Cousin Carlton, those are Arizona Rangers!”

    Carlton grimaced at him, “Shut up, Luke.”

    One of the men, a handsome blond with a large handlebar mustache, broke into a grin, “Well Carlton Holt! You good for nothin’ horse thief! How long’s it been… since the Oklahoma territory? Back in ’67 wasn’t it?”

    Carlton slapped him on the arm and smiled, “Sure was. Now that was quite a mess wasn’t it?” Carlton’s plans for the day were changing rapidly. It was always good to have old friends in town and this Arizona Ranger, Jed Thornton, was certainly that.  Friends to both he and Donni.  A man who got things done when they needed to be done.  A man who could be trusted to do the right thing, no matter the situation, and as a territory ranger one that could be lawman, jailer, judge, and executioner if necessary.

    The ranger turned to the sheriff and other rangers grinning, “Me and Carlton did some riding together back in the O K Territory. Those were the bad ol’ days.” The other two rangers looked interested, they knew what “riding together” meant. He turned back to Carlton, “That crazy brother of yours still riding with you?… hell, he was a wild one! One of the best damn shots I ever saw.”

    The sheriff looked uncomfortable. Carlton grinned, “Yeah, Donni is still with me. He’s residing in Sheriff Morgan’s jail right now though.”

    Jed Thornton grinned, “That sounds like Donni. What’d he do… kiss the mayor’s daughter?”

    Carlton shook his head, “Not this time… there was a gunfight.”

    Thornton smirked, “There was a girl involved though, right?”

    Carlton nodded, “It was a fair fight. There were plenty of witnesses.”

    Thornton shook his head, “Lemme guess… one in the chest and one in the head.” Morgan’s eyes got wide for a second. Thornton slapped his fellow rangers on the arms, “If you ever come across dead men with holes in their chests and heads… that’s Donni Holt’s work. Man’s a damn fine shot, but if he is going to shoot a man he want to make sure they never come looking to even up the score.  Can’t say as I blame him.  I should have learned that lesson myself a time or two.”  Thornton’s hand unconsciously wandered down to his hip and rubbed a spot that bothered him after long rides.

    He introduced his two friends, “Carlton… this here’s Don Mathers and this is Jim Wainwright. We’ve been riding this part of Arizona for the last year or so.” Carlton shook their hands, hard men, lawmen, then introduced Luke.

    Jed Thornton shook his hand, “Well, another Holt. How many of ya are there, Carlton?”

    “Well, I’m looking for Kelvin. He’s another brother riding with us, younger than Donni. Sheriff?”

    The men in the office turned and focused on Sheriff Morgan who cleared his throat, “He’s in the cell with Donni. Tried to break him out last night.”

    Carlton shook his head and gave Jed Thornton a pained look, “I figured something like that. Thank you for keeping them safe sheriff.”

    Jed laughed, “Are you sure he was tryin’, sheriff?”

    Morgan looked angry and a flash of the derringer laying on his desk added to the indignity, “You gents might find this amusin’ but I don’t find it very funny at all. Killing a man, jail breaking, are not things we put up with here.”

    Carlton spoke up, “Sheriff, my brothers aren’t criminals. I’m sure that there’s a very good reason… at least in their minds… for what happened.  They don’t always think all their actions through, but they are not criminals.”

    “Sheriff Morgan, I can speak for Carlton and Donni. I’ve ridden with’em before. They’re good men. As for Donni shoot’n someone… he’s never shot anyone in an unfair fight… at least as far as we could prove,” he winked at Carlton.

    Jed’s casual attitude about Donni shooting men was not lost on anyone in the room and Morgan’s face hardened.  It just confirmed to the sheriff that these men were killers with little respect for life, even if they stood on the side of the law.  Perhaps they were men that were needed in these days and times, but times were changing with the coming of the law.  Even if they were part of the law, “We’ll let the judge decide that. We have more pressing matters to attend to anyways.  As I was saying before they arrived, I’m glad that you boys are here. This range war’s shapin’ up to be bad. I’ve got several large spreads squarin’ off against each other over water rights. The Marshall went out yesterday riding the spreads, to try and get a feel for them.  I don’t expect him back for a day at least.  With you Rangers in town I hope it will calm things down and we don’t need hired guns, roaming the streets, killing citizens, even if they say they are here to help us.  We don’t need any of them in town to tell the truth,” he finished, giving Carlton and Luke a hard look.

    Carlton looked angry for the first time, “We’re not hired guns, sheriff. We pick our jobs carefully and try very hard to stay on the right side.  Even if that means we have to switch sides should we be in the wrong.  Our loyalties are not to the pay.”

    Jed placing his hand on Carlton’s arm said softly to the sheriff, “I think you’re being a little harsh, sheriff. These boys have been deputized before… hell, that trouble I was tellin’ you about in the Oklahoma territory involved some outlaws. Carlton and Donni was made legal deputies by U.S. Marshall Jack Higgins until we got it settled. They’ve worn stars before.  If Carlton says it was a fair fight, I am sure it was.”

    Morgan slammed his hand down on his desk, “I don’t give a good damn what they’ve been or where they did it. They’re just troublemakers in my town! You rangers are here to help… so you do your job and let me do mine.”

    Jed gave Carlton a sympathetic look and shrugged. Carlton asked, “Can I speak to Kelvin and Donni now?” Morgan looked as if he was about to refuse until he caught the look in the rangers’ eyes. He nodded, walked over opening the door to the back, and proceeded them to the cell. Carlton followed with Luke trailing along behind. Donni and Kelvin were still sleeping on the bunk.

    Morgan rattled the cell door until they sleepily rolled over and looked up. “Someone’s here to see you boys.”

    Kelvin jumped up and staggered to the door,” Carlton… am I glad to see you! The sheriff thinks that I was breakin’ Donni out last night!  You got to tell him I wasn’t and get me outta here.”

    Donni lifted his hat, “Mornin’ Carlton, Luke… sheriff,” he finished with a touch of disdain in his voice.  Damn it Donni keep quiet was all Carlton could think.

    Carlton looked at Kelvin and slowly smiled, “Were you breakin’ Donni out?”

    Kelvin looked hurt, “No! He was just going to go visit that girl and I was going to stay here… you know, take his place… until he came back.  He promised he would come back, so I didn’t think it would hurt.”

    Carlton frowned at Donni, “That’s right, you didn’t think. You know better Donni. You got your little brother stuck in a jail cell.”

    Kelvin glared at Donni, “That’s what I told him.”

    Jed Thornton stepped into the back room and looked in. Kelvin’s eyes widened a little when he saw the star on his chest, “Donni Holt… just like old times.  Me on the outside and you starin’ through bars.”

    Donni rolled off his bed and sat up, “Jed Thornton! What the hell are you doing here?” Jed stuck his hand through the bars and Donni shook it. They laughed as they looked each other over. “You come to get me out?” Donni asked hopefully.

    Jed laughed at him,”Nope. I come to hang ya!”

    Donni grinned, “I’ll bet. Just some little gunfight and they get all bent out of shape… hell, he drew first and everything. ‘Sides, a man that ugly shouldn’t be talkin’ to normal folk.”

    Jed shook his head, “Same old Donni. I don’t think you’re going to die an old man. It’s good to see ya.” Jed tapped the sheriff on the shoulder, nodded towards the office, and then walked that way, the sheriff followed.

    Carlton lowered his voice, “You guys gotta settle down. You’re making this tough on me. Now you just stay in there and behave yourselves and I’ll have you out as soon as I can.”

    Donni nodded and looked contrite, “Sorry, Carlton… but he would’ve shot me. Honest.”

    Carlton smiled at him, “I am sure he would have Donni, and I’m sure that you didn’t do anything to provoke it.”

    Donni grinned, “Not too much.”

    Carlton looked at Kelvin, “I thought I taught you better than to listen to Donni’s crazy ideas, little brother. A little time in jail will make you think twice before you listen to him again.”

    Kelvin grinned and looked at Donni, “Probably not,” all was going to be well.  Carlton was going to get them out of jail.

    Carlton walked away and towards the office, mumbling something that neither of them could hear.

    Luke stepped up to the bars, “Hi Cousins.  You two enjoying yourselves. I think I’ll mosey on over to the saloon and have a couple shots of whiskey later this afternoon.” Donni just grinned and laid back down. Kelvin glowered at Luke.

The Holts, Chapter 11

Chapter 11, Breakfast

Click here for Chapter 10…

    Carlton stretched and yawned in the boarding house bed. He rolled over and looked at the sunlight streaming through the window. The sun was fully up, but it was just so. He could hear a few others moving around in the boarding house, getting ready for the day. Breakfast would soon be served.  He could barely make out the smells of its preparation along with ever-present aroma of coffee.  The quiet clanking of cooking going on in the kitchen was comforting.  It was nice to sleep in a real bed again and not be directing everyone on every little detail of the day.

    Breakfast and the concerns of the day could wait for a bit. Donni was locked up and safe. Kelvin had been playing cards, so he should have kept his head about him, and Luke, well he might have gotten into some trouble but doubtful. It would be nice to have a the early morning getting ready for the day ritual before he had to go check on his messages and see about getting Donni out of jail.

    He reviewed his activities after leaving the bar the night before.  There were a few shop owners and others that had gotten to the scene of the gunfight first.  Carlton had gone and talked to them and gotten to hear the rumors about the shooting.  That let him plant some of his own rumors and correct their stories to a more favorable outcome for Donni.  Luckily there wasn’t much to worry about from what he heard.  He also ran across three townsfolk who had witnessed the shootout, abet from a distance.  Their accounts matched up fairly well with Donni and Phoebe’s and he helped to correct any minor discrepancies.  He got them all to promise to go to the sheriff and give their statements.  He would need to touch base with them again this morning, verify their stories again, and make sure they were still going to go to the sheriff.  Besides that it should be an easy day, exploring the area, and figuring out what was really going on here.

    He got up and splashed some water out of the basin onto his face. He pulled out his straight razor and carefully shaved off the few days of growth he had acquired. He trimmed his mustache as best he could, maybe he could take a little time to see the barber in town before heading to the jail. Of course he would have to drag Luke and Kelvin along and make them all get cleaned up. Donni would complain about it when he saw them. He smiled at the thought. It would be good for him to see them enjoying the freedoms outside of the jail. Anything to get him to think before acting.

    As he dressed he realized how much he enjoyed the feeling of clean clothes… Mrs. Bisby was an exceptional concierge. He thought fondly of the times that he’d spent in New Orleans; a real city, with real amenities. A place with gentlemen that knew what it meant to enjoy the finer things in life could live. To be able to take the time out of a day and enjoy a morning ritual without having to scramble about, either leaving a dirt speck of a town or closing up a camp. He strapped on his gun-belt and tied off the holster, then picked up his revolver from the nightstand and slid it into the holster. After tieing his string-tie, he pulled on his best frock coat and carefully adjusted the lapels. He picked up his hat and smoothed the brim as he reviewed himself in the mirror.

    Yep, he did enjoy staying in a town. Maybe it was time to think about getting off the road. It would take some time to get things settled with the rest of the men they had picked up along the way. Then again most of them were not long-term with any group. They were all good men, four others besides his family, that had their loyalties right and could be counted on in a scrap. That was for sure and proven and why it would be hard to part ways with them. He should consider each one and what their future would hold. They were all diverse and had their own strengths.  Some might be good to keep around.

    There was Dan Greene, 29. At first you would just see a cowpoke, average height & build, plain face with brown hair. He might actually be slower of whit than Donni, but like Donni he didn’t miss what he shot at. Hell with a rifle he had proven a better shot than Donni. He wouldn’t talk about where he learned to shoot like that. So close out of the war most men wouldn’t talk about where they learned things. He wasn’t very fast with a pistol though, actually damn slow, even though he would hit what he shot at. He was good with cards too. He had been taking Kelvin, to Kelvin’s chagrin, more than 50% of the time when they sat down at a table. That was how they had met him in Las Vegas, NM, at the card table cleaning out Kelvin. Dan was a guy that would be good to keep around in the long run. If he would stay.

    Then there was Sam “Bear” Weaver, around 40. A short barrel chested man who you would not want to get into a physical match with. He had a long wild black beard but kept his hair short. If anyone looked to be wild and uncivilized it would be Bear. He looked like he just came off a mountain, mostly wearing skins. That was where they had first run into him too, up in Colorado, a true Mountain Man. He had gone up into the back country and been there for years. Probably spent some time living with the Indians. He was a gentile giant when it came to women, kids, and animals. Every time they passed a new mountain range he would pause and stare at it for the longest time. He was going to just be gone someday. So nothing to worry about there.  It was good to know him, he was always welcome, but he was not of the temperament to stick around long-term.

    Finally Joe Stokes and Pierre LaForte, they had been with them the least amount of time. They had joined up with them right before traveling down to Tombstone. Joe, 33, blond hair and a little pudgy, was a displaced farmer out of Georgia, who had fought on the wrong side of the war. Carlton expected he would find himself a farm again someday and settle back down. A good hand to have when things needed to get done, but not cut out to live the life of riding around the country side. Pierre, 36, black hair and a bit thin, of body and hair, was a trapper out of the Northeast. How he ended up with Joe was a bit unclear. Either way about it they had both proven very steady and helpful in tracking down those bank robbers. Carlton was sure that Pierre would go back up north once Joe settled.  There was a debt between them that went unsaid.  Maybe someday they would tell their tale.

    It was a bit concerning to Carlton, that the four had not gotten into town yet.  When they split up outside of Tombstone it was decided they would camp for a day and then make their way here to meet up with the Holts. None of them were men that wouldn’t come and say goodbye.  They should have arrived at least by yesterday. With all the stuff going on with Donni he hadn’t had much time to think about it. He would need to go out riding the country side to see if he ran into them. Maybe find them some real work with the supposed range war that was about to start in this area. Visiting the spreads around and getting information on them would be good.  Picking the right side was important. He just hoped that Donni hadn’t already picked a side for them.

    Then there was Luke. He was not long for the west. This was a nice diversion for him and he was learning a lot of things that would provide for him once he went back east, but he was not one that was going to last out here. At least not in the small broken down prospecting/cow-towns they had hit for a while. He might be able to survive in a place like Kansas City or San Francisco, but not out here for long.

    The smell of breakfast; bacon, biscuits and coffee finally broke Carlton out of his thoughts and his stomach sent him downstairs to partake. He had heard some of the other boarding house patrons making their way down also. Luke and Kelvin should be waiting for him by now.


    Luke was sitting there, already on what looked to be his second plate of eggs and bacon. Mrs. Bisby smiled at Carlton as she started to prepare him a plate, “Good morning, Mr. Holt. And how was your sleep?”

    “Very good, thank you,” he smiled and sat down. Luke nodded to him and kept horsing down his food. Carlton poured a cup of coffee and looked Luke over. He’d obviously been drinking. “Where’s Kelvin?” Carlton asked, a nagging suspicion beginning to form at the back of his mind.

    Luke looked at him, “I don’t know.”

    Carlton sighed and set his coffee down as the plate from Mrs. Bisby arrived, “Where did he end up last night?”

    Luke shrugged and forked another mouthful of eggs up. “He said something about going over to see Donni.”

    Carlton blinked slowly, not good, “And did he come back?”  He asked with a bit of shock to his voice.

    Luke glanced at him, “I don’t know, I guess not. He wasn’t in his room this morning.”

    Definitely not good.  Carlton closed his eyes and took a deep breath, keep calm. “Get your coat,” Carlton said as he stood up.

    Luke protested, “I haven’t finished breakfast yet!”

    Carlton said shortly, “I haven’t started,” as he reviewed the plate in front of him.  “Let’s go now!” Luke got up and pulled on his coat, settling his hat on his head.  Carlton quickly made a sandwich of what food he could with a biscuit from a plate in the center of the table.  Nodding to Mrs. Bisby they rushed out of the dining room.