The Holts… Chapter 16
Chapter 16… Aftermath
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.