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The Last Cowboy Part 11

Short story By: Chuck Smith
Westerns


A old cowboy meets and makes friends with a young man in the mountains of Montana


Submitted:Sep 23, 2009    Reads: 178    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   


"We'll take a little different way down before we reach the deer carcass and it will be a little steeper but it's like I always say It's better to be safe than sorry". JR on the way down until they reached the valley floor was almost just to the side of Walt but he did not seem to mind as he wanted JR to be aware of the danger that a full grown 9 foot grizzly bear could bring on them both.
Then reaching the cabin they put the tote sacks in the new ice box but not having anything else right then to put in just shut the door and took there horse's and mule and fed them and turned them out in the lot. Later they set out on the porch as the sun set over the mountains and Walt smoking his pipe and JR setting on the steps says; "Walt, what happened after New Orleans?"
"JR, aren't you ever going to get tired of hearing the tale of an old cowboy?" "Not till it's finished, Walt, if you will tell it all". "Oh, me". "Well, let's see, after about three years Tom wanted to go back to Arkansas and his home but I couldn't see doing that so we parted and then I found out about a freight wagon train that was heading for Texas and signed on as a driver of one of the freight wagons". "So from New Orleans across to Lake Charles we went and then into southeast Texas and it took three months to make just that part of the trip". "Then across to Houston, Texas and there I parted company with the freight wagons and took first a job as a bar tender in Smiling Jack's saloon and did not know the first thing about being a bar tender but most of the cowboys just wanted rye or whiskey shots so it wasn't hard to learn how to be a bar tender". "It was a rowdy place with fights almost every night and several gunfights and the owner Jack Spencer started making me wear a pistol and that be my downfall as right after that on a Saturday night and it loud and boisterous Saturday night for no apparent reason except maybe I was to sharp tongue back then I was called out to a gunfight in the streets". "That be in 1869 and me being only 19, I for one couldn't see doing any gun fighting but he wouldn't let go so I went out in the street and never having a gunfight didn't know quite what to do but he drew first and that bullet I could hear as it went by my ear and I finally got my pistol out and fired and damn if I didn't hit him in the chest".
"The people standing around when he went down and two then picked me up on there shoulders and started carrying me down the street with all the others following". "Well, I didn't really know what was going on until later when I was told that the man I shot was supposedly a gun fighter from Dallas, Texas and had been bragging all over the town about how good and fast he was". "But suppose it kind of set me off from others and I never had anymore problems working at Smiling Jack's from then on as the word got around, I suppose?" "Gee, Walt, you a soldier and then a gunfighter". "Now, JR, It sure as Hell ain't nothing to be proud of, oh sure the soldier part was necessary but gunning down someone in a one on one gunfight is pure hell or at least it was for me". "What happened after that?" "Let me see, I stayed at the saloon for almost a year then got restless and bought a good saddle horse and headed north toward Dallas". "The good part about that trip was I learned how to set a horse and care for one also". "Did not like Dallas but heard about a cattle drive that was leaving soon and got hired on as a drover for the drive up to Kansas City and really enjoyed that job and being I guess a cowboy for a spell". JR lying on the porch with his chin in his hands just listening but then Walt; "Now JR, that's enough for now, don't know when I have talked as much before you came here".
Each morning after breakfast, JR was always asking; "What do we do today?" Walt; "Can't do something every day as sometimes I just like to set here on the porch or tend to my little garden". "Go down to the lot and curry your horse and check there water if you have to have something always to do". But first JR went and checked the ice box and came back and said; "Walt, there's water on the floor but the box is really cool" "Hmm, might need to make a hole at the back to let the melted ice out then". "We might as well move the beef into there as well". While doing this JR noticed the small garden just to the right of the smoke house and said; "What are you growing?" "Oh, just some corn, cabbage, lettuce and beans, just something I do every spring when the ground gets warm enough and it changes the meals some when they are ready to pick". "Can I help?" "Yep, you can go get a bucket and pour some water down between the rows if you just have to be doing something". That night after supper and after they cleared the table, Walt remembers something and says; "Wait here, I'll be right back". Going into his room and he begins moving things and looking under the bed and where he kept his clothes and finally spotted what he had came for and picks it up and goes back out into the kitchen and says; "JR, you ever play checkers?" "Checker's, what's that?" So would become a nightly ritual and sometimes in the afternoon for JR learned how and the two would set over game after game and play checkers. One evening as they were playing and Walt could tell that JR was not playing as well as usual and seemed restless said; "How bout we go deer hunting for a few days, JR?" "That would be great, Walt, and sorry bout the games tonight but I also miss your stories of your life and you haven't talked about them since we started playing checkers". "Hell, I just figured you were tired of always hearing old stories from an old cowboy". "Nope, loved them all". "Well let's quit playing for tonight and I'll go set and smoke my pipe and we'll get an early start tomorrow and do a little deer hunting and camp out for a few days, how's that sound?" "Thanks, Walt". Walt gets up and goes out onto the porch and loads and lights up his pipe and sets down and reflects and JR stayed inside the cabin. "Now, Walt, you know you are enjoying JR's being here and also know that maybe in some ways you have helped him out and he will be stronger for it, so don't stop doing the things you started in helping him learn and become a man". Getting up out of the chair and tapping out his pipe he goes back inside and into his room and figures JR had too as he was not in the kitchen and mumbles to himself; "Ok,ok, I'll do better but how the hell did I ever become a baby sitter?".
"I just love my peace and quite and serenity not having to get up every morning and plan something to do for that day, damn".
Chapter V111
The next morning after breakfast they load up the supplies they will take and Walt cuts off a couple of steaks just in case they did not get a deer and the two go down and saddle up and Walt says; "We'll try the eastern side and go up to just before the snow line and there is a place that I have used several times and we'll make that our camp". JR; "just how do you hunt deer?" "Well, deer are nocturnal some but also use certain trails at different times and we'll find them and mostly you just wait after you find a good spot and let them come to you, but I'll go over that after we get set up and find you a good place to hunt from, how's that?" "Can't wait, Walt". Reaching there camp site and setting up to be able to stay a few days if necessary Walt tells JR, "The deer up here are pretty big and much bigger than what I remember in Arkansas and the male deer should all still have there antlers which the doe do not have". The best shot will be just behind the shoulder as it will hit several vital organs of the deer like lungs or heart and the other good spot is in the neck but it just depends on what kind of shot you have when you spot one in range". Both up the next morning and after a cold biscuit and bacon sandwich and coffee, Walt takes JR to a good spot and sets him up overlooking a draw that should have deer coming down through the draw. He then moves further up and also sets up and the waiting game begins. Walt stays on his stand till around noon and then walks back to camp and; "Rather let JR be the one to get a deer but maybe tomorrow I'll see if I can drive one his way if'n he don't score this afternoon". "I'll just fix us a good supper and drink coffee and smoke my pipe until he comes in". JR stayed out until almost dark before coming in and excitedly told Walt; "I saw two late this afternoon but one was two far away I figured and the other came running down the draw and was gone before I could get a shot". Walt; "Deer are funny creatures as sometimes they seem smarter than the one hunting them and other times they will just walk up and stand in front of the hunter, just never can know which way they will jump". "Got our grub already to eat and don't know about you but I'm hungry". "Me too, Walt". After eating and putting more wood on the fire they set down and JR; "Walt?" "Yea". "What did you do after the cattle drive to Kansas City?" Walt was silent for a spell and then; "Well guess I did one of the many stupid things I've done as they were recruiting for the US Calvary and I joined up for a four year stint". "For just after the civil war there was wagon train after wagon train of settlers moving west and had riled up many of the Indian Tribes and the Calvary was being sent to protect the settlers as well as trying to help the Tribes". "My unit The 3rd Calvary Regiment was stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas and the new recruits were trained there to join with the regular troopers". "Bout half way through the training though the 3rd received orders to move west into Wyoming to a new fort called Fort Bankston and guess you could say we received the rest of our training during that move by the Regiment". "Now I loved everything about being around the horses and riding and caring for them but the rest of that time was not a happy time for this old cowboy". JR; "When did you live with the Cheyenne?" "Now, JR, I'm getting to that part just hold your horses". "At first it wasn't too bad but then as more people flowed into the Indians tribal grounds the trouble begins and from escorting wagon trains it became war with the Cheyenne, Crow, and Sioux Indians". "During this time treaties were signed and broken by both sides and it kept getting worse until it was just all out war". "War parties would hit wagon trains and kill and we would go after them and have skirmishes or battles with the different tribes. The Indians were excellent horsemen and could ride and fight well but our superior fire power and numbers begin to wear them down and then came the climax with the Battle of The Little Big Horn and the death of Colonel Custer and men of the 7th Calvary". "The combined Indian tribes disbanded after that and only small bands were left and it had been decided by the government that all tribes would be placed on reservations and not allowed to roam free as before". "Now I had made friends with a couple of Cheyenne braves that were around the fort and scouted some for the 3rd and my enlistment was up and one brave, Big Tongue, asked me if I wanted to visit his band still living along the Belle Fourche River and I said yes". "Now that's how I met Chief Big Feather and his band of Northern Cheyenne and lived with them until he decided to go to Montana with his band and live there and I left them then". "This was in, I believe 78 and out of the Calvary and not living with them I decided to find a real job and settle down and I was now also 28 years old". "I rode up to Gillette, Wyoming and after a spell found a job with a small cattle ranch to the west of Gillette and guess you could say started my lasting career as a cowboy". "Enough for now as we need to get up early if we are going to get that deer tomorrow". "Ok, Walt".
Up early the next morning and eager to go to his stand JR only took a couple of biscuits before leaving there camp. Walt smiled and took another sip of coffee and thought; "I'll let him get set up and slip down from this side and maybe can spook a couple out of that little tree stand up from the draw". But before Walt decided to try to spook any deer he heard the crack of a Winchester and then silence, but then a loud Whoopee several times and decided that JR had gotten a deer and spect I better go check on him. Reaching the stand and JR was down below looking at the deer he had shot and Walt climbing down and reaching him could see it was a really nice buck and sported a big rack of eight points. JR; "I got him, Walt I got him". "You sure did and a really nice one too". But then would come another lesson for JR as the buck was too large to carry up to there camp and would have to be dressed there and quartered and then carried up to the top. Walt had brought several tote sacks and an axe and skinning knife with him and he proceeded to show JR the fine art of skinning out a deer and preserving the meat as he went on with the cleaning. But with quick clean strokes of the knife Walt had the deer quartered and placed in the sacks for them to carry back. The last act was to remove that nice set of antlers the deer carried and give to JR. Still it took them both two trips up and down into the draw to get all the meat back to there camp and even though cool on the mountain both were soaked in sweat by the time they finished. Resting for a short spell and Walt; "Let's break camp and get this meat into the smoker and I'll make some good jerky and we'll have deer steaks tonight". They started packing up there bedding and Walt gave the two horses and the mule some oats while they were doing that and then saddling up the two started back down the mountain toward the cabin. Reaching the cabin and putting the deer meat in the cooler found that there was still plenty of the ice left in the cooler to cool down the deer. JR takes the horses and mule to the barn and unsaddles and gives them more oats and then turns them out into the lot. Walt in the meantime was firing up the smoker to hang the meat in and they carried it from the cooler and shut the door as the smoke begins to billow up from the smoker. He had cut the back strap out of the deer and left in the cooler to fix for there supper later that day. Then for the next hour and one half, and after nailing his prize antlers over the door of the cabin, JR, excitedly described to Walt several times how he had shot his first deer and Walt just smiling let him tell it over and over and puffing on his pipe.
Chapter 1X
The rest of the short summer period would pass quickly but the learning new cowboy and the ole cowboy spent time fishing, gathering the vegetables to eat and taking several more trips down the valley and passed the time along with playing checkers and Walt finally finished telling JR his life story with all the cattle ranches he worked for until coming to work for the Butter-bar ranch in 1900. Then one morning when they woke up there was fresh snow on the ground and Walt says; "Won't be long now until they bring the herd up for the winter". JR; "I'll hate that, Walt, as I have enjoyed all this time up here". "Oh hell, JR, you can always come back anytime". "Yea, but I figure my dad will want me working at the ranch from now on". "Why don't you let someone else stay up here and come back down to the ranch?" "Sorry, JR, couldn't do that as I love living up here and if J.R. lets me will always stay up here in the valley".
Then two days later around noon time Walt and JR could hear the cattle coming up toward the cabin and went and saddled up and waited for them. Grady was not leading the wranglers and Walt only recognized one of the cowboys, Jim Taylor, and said; "Jim, where is Grady?" Jim; "Damn, Walt, he turned his truck over and broke his leg bout a month ago and is not getting around to good yet". "But he had us bring up your supplies as he figured you and JR had probably eaten all you had". "Humph, never should have gotten off his horse like I told him". "Well come on lets get these cows moving down into the valley a ways, just don't understand being a cowboy down on the flatland anymore". JR stayed at the cabin and packed up his bedroll but was waiting for them to come back and said; "Walt, why don't you come back with us and we can leave someone else here to watch over the cattle". "Thanks JR, but this old cowboy is going to ride it out here, enjoyed our time together, but you tell ole Grady I told you so". JR; "Never will forget this summer with you Walt". "Oh hell, get along now, you can always come back for a visit". "I'll sure do that, Walt, goodbye". "So long, JR". Walt watched them ride off and then turned his horse toward the barn and unsaddled and put it out in the lot and walked slowly back to the cabin and just set down in his chair on the porch and thought; "Well old timer, didn't expect it to turn out like it did but guess it kept this old heart young for another year with JR here". Then taking out his pipe and loading it struck a match and watched the sun setting over the mountain. Later he went in and ate what he and JR had left and then put the checkers that were still on the table in a much used box and walked into his room to lie down for the night but first holding the checker board and box put it away for to be used another time. But things have a way of returning to old routines and soon Walt was doing the things he had always done before JR had stayed for the summer. Some days riding out to check on the cows and herding some that had drifted off from the main herd back as he figured it was safer in numbers from any predators than being off alone. When the wind howled and the snow fell he would stay in the cabin and wait for it to let up and then go check on the herd. So the winter would pass and then came the spring and Walt gathered up the herd to await the wranglers to come up and take the cows back down the mountain. When they arrived two days later it was with Grady and JR along with eight others that made the journey to the valley. Walt; "Howdy, Grady, JR, good to see you both". "How's that leg, Grady?" "Now Walt don't start in as I can get around almost as good as before". "Hmph, almost". "JR, you have grown some over the winter and good to see you ride all the way up here". JR; "Would like to stay a week or so with you if you don't mind and maybe do some fishing". "No, no, that would be great". So would start a ritual with JR coming up each winter and spring for the next two years and both Walt and JR enjoyed there time together. Each time JR would try to talk Walt in moving back to the ranch but Walt persisted in staying right where he was. But there time together was changing and the next spring when they came up for the herd and Grady nor JR was with them and Jim Taylor rode up beside the cabin and Walt mounted and waiting said; "Where's Grady and JR?" Jim; "Walt, Grady can't ride for very long anymore as that leg did not heal the way it should have and he just can't set a horse for very long". "JR's aunt died that raised him and he went back to Chicago for her funeral and burial about three weeks ago and he has not returned." "Walt; "I'll be damned, what else can go wrong?" Jim; "Fraid I have more bad news, Walt, as Mr. Butter is gravely ill and has asked that you come and visit him and Grady sent a wire to JR that his father was very sick but he has not returned". "Jim, what the hell are you talking about?" "Last week Grady and Mr. Butter were in the barn helping a mare fold and Mr. Butter just fell to the floor and since then he has been paralyzed on his left side and has been in bed". "Paralyzed you say?" "Yep, can barely talk and the doctor they had that came in said he might improve or might not". "But Grady told me that he had specifically asked for you to come down to the ranch and talk with him and that by God is all I know, Walt". "Well, you' all get the herd moving and let me gather up some things and I'll catch up with you but have no idea why J.R. would want for me to come down to visit if he is as bad as you say". "Just don't know, Walt?"
Chapter X
The ride down for them was uneventful and as Walt rode in and stopped at the stable he was met by Grady. "Glad you took the time to come down, Walt?" "What's this about?" "Don't really know except J.R. keeps asking for you". "Ok, how's the leg?" "Been giving me fits but seems to be getting better just hard to set a horse now". Walt; "You heard from JR?" "Nope not a word". "Come on you can bunk with me and then when you're ready I'll take you in to see J R.". "Hey Jim would you mind taking care of Walt's horse?" "Not at all, Grady". Walt retrieves his blanket roll and saddle bags and follows Grady to a small house just beyond the stable area. Inside he shows Walt where to put his stuff and sets down and waits for Walt to finish. Walt pulls out a chair and sets down and; "Jim said that J.R. just fell out in the barn, that true?" "Yep as we were helping that mare fold and he just kind of backed up and fell over backwards and I tried to help him stand up but then knew there was something bad wrong with J.R. as he tried to talk but it just came out in a slurring mumble". "Hollered for a couple of hands and they came running and we carried him to the main house and put him to bed". Sent a rider into town to fetch the doctor and he arrived about two hours later and examined J.R. and then outside the room he told me it was a stroke and he might pull out of it or he might not". "Hell, Grady, J.R. is only in his fifties and was as strong as a horse, what do you suppose caused it?" "Can't really say except cattle prices have been down for a spell and maybe it be the money thing as he told me he was worried about several things having to do with keeping the ranch going as it had been". "Sure hate JR not being here". Walt; "When your ready let's go see J.R. and find out why he wants to see me". Both walked to the main house but the Indian maid told them that J.R. was sleeping and for them to come back later or she would send for them when he woke up. The two friends leave and walk down to the corral and leaning against the railing watch two cowboys breaking a horse inside the corral. Walt; "Guess with J.R. laid up it will fall on JR shoulders now to run the ranch". "Yea, but JR has grown and come a long ways since that time with you up in the valley". "How did it really go for you two, Walt?" "Well, after a short spell it were quite enjoyable having him there, I know one thing he made me tell my whole life story during that summer and even some things I try to forget". The maid then walked up and said; "He's awake now and is asking if Walt is here". "C'mon Grady lets go see him".
The two go into J.R. room and stand at the foot of the bed and wait. J.R. is setting up against two pillows with a blanket across his legs. His left arm is lying across his stomach but the right arm is motioning to Walt to come closer. Walt can see the drawn side of his face and when he spoke it was hard to understand what he was saying. But it apparently was for Walt to set on the edge of the bed so J.R. could talk to him better. Grady realizing that he was not needed backed out of the room and left them alone. J.R.; "Thaks for cum to see me cuz I have sumthing to say". "It is my pleasure, J.R and is there anything I can do for you?" "Nupe, jest hate JR not heer now for I dun't thik I be heer muck longr". "But whut I wan to say to u Wal t, u be the on e tht made JR in a man and tuk time wit him to do thut". "Mad e mistak when I snt JR to my sis, guss to bezy to riase him my slf, now knuw I wuz wrung and hat e thut". Walt started to speak but JR; "lut me fnish, Wal t, as sturt u gave him an huw hi tuk off frum thut is why he can run runch whn I go". "Yu be gud frnd and top han and jus had to tel u, can't tlk mure go slep now". "Ok J.R. we'll talk more later". Walt leaves the room to find Grady. He's finds Grady setting on the top rail of the corral watching two cowboys breaking another horse and climbs up and sets next to Grady. "He don't look good, Grady?" "Yea, I know". "Whatca, you going do?" "Guess I'll wait awhile for JR but first I'm going into Stacy and buy some new clothes". Grady; "That's ten miles one way, Walt". "C'mon, I'll take you in my truck". "Grady, how you lost your mind, ain't getting in a truck with you". "Now Walt it will take you a long time by your horse, c'mon, let's go". "Ok, Grady, but just this one time". About half way to Stacy; "Grady, my horse don't bounce around like this here truck your so proud of, knew I shoulda rode my horse". "Ha-ha, you just never will give up will you, Walt?" Stopping in the town and Walt buys new jeans, shirts and other items he needed and then said; "Ok, Grady, let's go". Grady; "Walt, what say we stop first at the saloon and have a couple of whiskeys, been a long time since I had anything to drink". "Ok, Grady, but just a couple". Several drinks later the two stagger out to the truck to drive back to the Butter-bar ranch. It started raining just as they drove out of town and about half way back there was a gentle curve in the road but Grady just kept going straight and the truck nose dived into a ditch filled with water and they were stuck there. Walt; "Damn you, Grady, now look what you've done, knew I should have ridden my horse". Grady; "Remember, Walt, you bought the last round but the walk will do you good". Grady reaches behind the seat and pulls out two rain slickers and hands one to Walt. "Well let's start walking". The two friends would argue all during the walk about new fangled contraptions on ranches over tried and reliable horse's but they finally reached the ranch just at dusk. As they walked in and Grady; "Now what's all them cowboys doing around the main house?" Walking over to the porch and; "What's going on here?" Jim; "Mr. Butter passed away about two hours ago and guess we're just showing our respect, Grady". "Preciate that, Jim, let's go in Walt". The maid met them at the bedroom door and; "He died during his nap as I had just checked on him and had gone to refill the water bottle and when I got back he was gone". Both go in and look at J.R. and then go out to the living room and Grady; "Damn it all to hell and JR's not here either". Walt; "What's done is done now just need to make arrangements for J.R."
The funeral was held three days later and many folks came to the service held at the ranch as J.R. was will liked and respected in the surrounding countryside. Mr. J.R. Butter was buried in the family cemetery on the ranch. Grady sent another wire to JR and could only hope that it would reach him this time although it was too late for the funeral. Walt stayed at the ranch for another week to see if JR came back but then told Grady; "I've got things I need to be doing and I'm going up to the valley, when JR gets home and you' all need me send someone up and I'll come back". The trip up to the valley was long for Walt and he kept thinking about how young and strong J.R. had been and then to just go like that and I'm 75 and healthy so guess I need to enjoy all the time I have left as you just never know. Reaching the cabin and falling into his daily routine and first cutting the firewood he would need that winter Walt while expecting someone to come up to the cabin no one did so he thought; "Hope JR is back now but guess they can do without this ole cowboy anyway". One morning as starting across the valley to get ice from the ice shelf and maybe kill a deer he spotted the large grizzly bear moving in the other direction from the way he was going and some distance away. "Guess he won't bother me". "That bear has to be getting old same as me but never had no problem yet with him, so just leave alone". Walt stayed up on the mountain for two days and got his ice and also got a young deer and having it quartered up and loaded went back down and to the cabin. The next morning he rode down to the holding lot and found one section had been knocked down and figured the bear had crossed there and did not like the obstruction in his way. Going back and getting what he needed he started rebuilding the torn down section. "Now don't get ornery with me now, Bear, don't need anymore work from what you don't like". The rest of the summer months passed and one morning it snowed and Walt setting on the porch knew the cattle would be up in the next few days. And the day after the cattle did come up and with them was JR with wranglers and two strangers that set up a tent away from the cabin. Walt; "Sorry bout your dad, JR". "Thanks, Walt, just wished I had been there but never got any of the wires that Grady sent and my aunt had a lot of business I was taking care of just something that happened that way". "Lots of changes down on the ranch since I took over, Walt, but I'll stay up here a couple of days and tell you about them". "Ok, JR".
Chapter X1
The two would renew there friendship and even played checkers several times. Walt noticed that the two strangers did a lot riding and sometimes would be gone all day but he never said anything to JR as he figured if he wants me to know what they are doing he will tell me. But somehow he knew that what ever they were doing was some how going to affect the way he was living now.
J.R. he noticed had filled out and now was a man and seemed to have accepted the responsibilities of running a large cattle ranch. There last night in the cabin playing checkers and JR gave Walt the troubles he was carrying. "Walt, Dad was in financial troubles and maybe that was what caused his stroke, just don't know, but when I returned and took over I begin to find out all the problems he had been facing". "It would stagger a mule but I decided to find out all of the problems and correct them if I could". "Don't even now know if everything will be as before because one of the things I had to do was sell off most of the herd to pay some of the bills he had run up in mechanizing the ranch". "He would have handled it differently than what I have done but the things you taught me those many years ago have always stuck with me and like you said; "what has to be done has to be done". "These men that have come up to the valley with me are surveyors for a group of men that think the valley would make what they call a resort for folks to come and ski and enjoy the mountains". "They are willing to put up a sizable amount of money to do so and have offered me an amount that would pay off all my debts and be able to run the ranch and once again to be profitable". What Dad left in mechanizing the farm will allow us to bale enough hay for the remaining cattle we still have left for the winter months and guess what I'm trying to say is this will be the last time we will bring up the cattle to this valley again". "Now I want you to know that you will always have a place with me and a house to stay in down on the ranch but for now that's the way it's going to have to play out and I know you don't like to hear this but it's the only way for the Butter-bar to stay in business as a ranch". Walt; "JR, I have worked for the Butter-bar for over 25 years now and knew that living up here was mostly just your father letting an ole cowboy live out his days as just a plain ole cowboy". "I always knew this would not last forever and then again I'm 75 years old and not going anywhere except working for the Butter-bar but this old heart thinks you for allowing me this final year up in this valley that I've grown to love". JR; "Walt, you made me what I've become and taught me things that my dad should have but never took the time and there is no way I can repay that". "Yea, that was a good summer, weren't it?' "Never will forget it, Walt". "Is there anything you need before we leave in the morning?" "Nope, and your cattle will be here in the spring for you to take back down just like always". JR gets up and comes around and as Walt stands up grabs him in a big bear hug and says; "Love you, Walt". "Me too, JR, and now I think I'll go out on the porch and smoke my pipe, see you in the morning".
The next morning after a hearty breakfast for all the men, Walt watched them ride off and it was spitting snow but he just set down in that old rocker chair and lit up his pipe and thought; "Well, old timer you had better enjoy your last year up here and get ready for the spring of your life". "Have enjoyed the ride up here in my valley but like everything else time a changing". "Thinking back guess it were a good thing in telling my life story to JR and it also helped me relive some of the good times and some of the bad". So Walt was determined to make the best of his last year in the valley and laughingly thought; "Knowed I told JR you can't do something every day but guess I was wrong cause I'm going to try and do as much as I can, and that's a fact". So every morning or sometimes at night over supper Walt would plan the next day's activity and prepare what he would need to do that day. Then for the next few days Walt rode around through the valley and even stopped twice at the Indian burial ground and then one morning spied a young yearling deer and dropped it with his Winchester and dressing it out would spend the next two days smoking the deer and having deer steaks two nights also. Then making deer jerky out of the rest and saying; "Think that's the best I've ever made", would always take a sack full to eat on as he checked on the cows and drove any of the strays back to the main herd. Then deciding he would go fishing fixed up the things he would take and rode down the next morning to the pond and set up his camp. Now what has not been mentioned is that Walt over the years had hooked but never caught a large trout several times but it would always throw the fly before he could pull it out. Now determined to once again and try to catch the wily old trout expected to spend several days at the pond and a couple of other parts of the stream where he had hooked the trout before. The first day nothing but he caught enough for his supper and lying against his saddle planned how he would fish for just the big trout the next day. The weather was nice and although cold at night the sun warmed up the valley during the day and just made it plain nice for Walt. "Just don't seem he is in the pond right now, think I'll try the pools up stream and see if I can get him to rise to this special fly I've made". Early the next morning Walt walks up to the first pool and makes many casts but although catching a couple of small trout and turning them loose did not find the big one there. Then on to the next pool and remembering that here he had hooked him once begins to cast out at the end of the pool and working his way up to the beginning. Then just at the beginning and maybe the deepest part and seeing a bare branch sticking up and figuring a log was just below the surface but it was a long ways across that part he waded out into the stream and begins trying to reach just beside the branch sticking out. Flicking out the fly and then loosening more line and again letting it fly out toward the branch until it settled just to the left but nothing and again he tried the same spot and still nothing but on the next cast and letting it land lightly to the right and all hell broke loose and the big one struck the fly and the fight was on. Walt now almost waist deep in the frigid water kept playing the trout and reeling in as much as he could and having to wade first to his right and then back and the trout broke water several times and it was an all out war between the fisherman and the fish. But slowly the trout tired and Walt begins to reel it in and taking the net he had fashioned from a tote sack was able to get it underneath and scoop the trout up and then across the land came; "Whoopee, whoopee". Walt backs out of the pool and lifts the trout out of the net and said; "Mr. Trout you have to go at least 4 pounds and you has been a great adversary but I finally have you in my net". Then gently pulling out the fly he turned the beautiful rainbow loose and while it hesitated for just a moment, maybe in respect or just plain mad at being caught disappeared back into the pool. Then; "Oh hell, I'm freezing, guess better go get out of these clothes, Whoopee". Then another two leisurely days fishing and also checking on the cows during the day he found a young bull lying dead with a broken neck and also had not been eaten at all and finally going back to the cabin was wondering; "Now that old bear has eaten what he killed so why would it not eat that bull?" "Guess I'd better be checking the herd more from now on".
The next morning standing out on the porch and drinking a last cup of coffee Walt could see dark ominous clouds gathering over the tops of the Western Mountains. "Now that be snow in them clouds guess better put the mule and horses in the lot in the barn". Doing that but by mid-morning it started snowing and by noon it was just a blizzard coming down. The blizzard lasted for two days and on the third just a light snow continued to fall. Walt stayed in the cabin and only walked down to the barn to feed and water the animals during the blizzard. The third day he decided to venture out and check on the cows and measuring the snow that had already fell measured it at two feet. "Now don't start a hard winter for my last year up here", was his thinking. Saddling and riding out found most of the herd grouped together against the snow and seemed to be doing ok, but riding on a little further found another cow that had been slashed across the neck and flanks dead and again none of it was eaten. "Can't figure what has riled that old grizzly bear up to just wantonly come down here and kill and not eat any of his kill". "But I'll give him a chance but if anymore are killed guess me and that bear are going to have a meeting pretty soon". The cold nights and warm days became a thing of the past as two days later another storm rolled across the valley and dumped another foot of snow. Walt started carrying in the snow in a bucket and setting it on top of the stove to bathe in and to have water to carry out to the barn for the animals. He brought in his rocking chair and set most of the day by the stove drinking coffee and smoking his pipe and waiting for it to quit snowing and be able to get out. Then cabin fever set in and not use to being cooped up as for all the years he had lived up here Walt could not remember it every snowing as much as it already had this year. Bundling up and making the trip out to the barn and saddling his horse set his mind to fight through the drifts and deep snow to check on the cows. Walt found the snow to be flaky and not hard packed and the horse could move through it pretty easy. Making the other side of the valley and not finding the cows where he had last seen them put him up next to the tree line and not to far riding found most of the cows in amongst the trees and eating the grass around spots as the snow was not as deep there and they could dig it out. "Well they seem to weathering the snow pretty good and hopefully it will turn off warmer once again soon". Riding on further down the tree line and then finding what he hoped had not happened as two more cows were down close to each other and showed the marks of the bear and only one had been partly eaten on one hindquarter. "Well, Mr. Bear, you have now sealed your fate as I will kill you". Making his way back to where they had crossed the valley and using the trail they had made through the snow Walt reached the cabin and put the horse up and went inside. Stoking up the fire in the stove and setting down lit his pipe and figured what all he would need to take with him in hunting the bear. He took out a small note book and pencil and begins to make a list of all he figured he would need to stay out for a time if that's what it would take. Then looking over the list begins to gather everything up and places it on the table. Then setting back down started writing a note to leave on the table after he went after the bear. "Don't do any harm to leave a note just in case". The note just stated; "bear killing cows, went out to kill it, be back soon".
Chapter X11
Spring came early that year and JR with 8 wranglers came up to drive the cattle back down the mountain but JR on riding up to the cabin was puzzled and going inside found the note but no Walt around anywhere. "Hmm, must still be out getting in the strays guess I'll find him out in the valley". "Wonder what he did with that bear hide or did he just leave it after he killed it?" But another puzzle was the big door to the barn was knocked of its hinges and was empty. "Not like, Walt, but maybe he just figured he was leaving here and did not fix the door". Then giving instructions to his wranglers they ride out into the valley and begin to gather up the cows but still no sign of Walt. One of the wranglers (Tom) rode up to JR and said; "Think you better look at this, JR". JR rides back with Tom and stops beside a carcass of a horse complete with a saddle. "That's Walt's horse". "Something is bad wrong here but we are going to find out, you and Taylor come with me and the rest can keep gathering up the herd". "Yes sir, I'll go get Taylor". JR waiting for them to come back and thinking; "Where can we start?", but then remembering seeing the grizzly up the side of the mountain with Walt and the trail up was very close to where he was now. It took JR a little while to find the trail but then the three starts up the side of the mountain. JR didn't know why he thought Walt had been up there but it was the only thing he knew to do right then. Walt's rifle was not in the scabbard of his saddle making JR think he had gone up the trail on foot after what ever occurred with the horse. The three did no talking so it was just the sounds of the horse's hoofs and rocks that skittered down the trail from the horses. The soon ran into snow that had not receded back up the mountain from all that had fallen during that hard winter. Just before reaching the flat area, JR takes out his rifle and motions for the other two to do likewise. Then reaching the place and JR could see there was several inches of snow still on the ground but noticed a larger mound just in the center of the little clearing. Dismounting and holding on to his reins he walked over and when close enough could make out that it was the Grizzly lying on its back and in the chest area was Walt's skinning knife plunged down to the hilt. Taylor on dismounting and walking towards the bear had kicked something under the snow and reaching down pulled out Walt's rifle and the stock was broken in two and hanging by a strap. JR; "Well, we know he killed the bear but where is Walt?" "Let's comb this area to make sure he is not here". But it was JR that spotted Walt propped up against a tree covered in snow and walking up knelt down and brushed the snow off of the lifeless body. He could see a large gash down the left side of Walt's head and neck extending down the arm and another one across the chest and down one leg. The cold had preserved Walt as well as the Grizzly but the fact remained they had killed each other. "Walt, why didn't you just let the bear alone as you once told me, Why?" Then JR noticed there was a small note book clasped in Walt's left hand and prying the fingers apart had the book and opened it. Then started reading what Walt had written.
"Well JR, if you are reading this, guess you found me. It were a good fight and neither of us gave ground but guess it killed both of us. I was riding close to the tree line and my horse shied so I knew the bear was close by and then he charged out of the trees and my horse reared up but I slid off and pulled my rifle with me and fired three times but he took the horse down with one swing and I thought he was going to charge me but instead turned and ran back into the trees. Knew I had hit him but it didn't seem to even slow him down but I got me another box of shells and started after him. When I got up here he was setting down and licking the wounds I had hit him with the rifle, but then seeing me in the clearing, he rose up and charged. I was able to get off three more shots before he reached me and then could only swing my rifle as he got to me. Took a vicious swipe on my side and leg but ducked under and he swirled but then rose up on his hind legs and came again. I pulled my knife out and he well just have to say bear hugged me and slashed across my head but I plunged the knife in deep and he fell backward with me pushing deeper and deeper. I landed on top and was twisting the knife but also knew I was hurt bad but I watched him die first and then I crawled over here and remembered the note book and decided to write down what happened if anyone ever came to read it. That's about how it happened and don't expect anyone to worry or grieve about the outcome as although I knew I would not come down from here I am happy with the way it turned out. JR, if you are the one reading this then I think you will know what to do with me. Sorry about the cows we lost but again I thank you for my last year up here being what I am, just a cowboy. Signed, Walt Banning"
JR read the note several times and could only think; "Walt, I didn't care about the cows enough for you to try this but then knowing you I guess it was the only way and yes I know what to do now". JR with help from Tom and Taylor gingerly lay Walt across the back of JR's horse and strap him down and JR mounts and the slow ride down the mountain to the cabin. They meet the other cowboy's who were waiting with the herd and JR; "Just take the cows on down to the ranch and we will be down later". At the cabin JR explains to Tom and Taylor what he needed and while they went to do that, JR cleaned up Walt's face and all the injured areas and waited for them to return. He went down to the barn and found a heavy tarp and everything else he would need and brought the items back to the porch of the cabin. When Tom and Taylor returned with the things JR had sent them for they helped wrap Walt up in the heavy tarp and fastened it with rope and then putting Walt up on JR's horse again the three rode out and headed for where Walt had indicated in his note. Reaching there and they dismount and JR explains what is needed and the three set about there task until it was finished and then they lifted Walt up on the poles in the Cheyenne burial ground. JR; "Well, Walt, here you are again and guess you won't escape the poles this time but I know this is where you wanted to be". "You have been a great friend and I'll miss you but also promise that no one will come in here and disturb you in your final resting place".
Then three days later, JR returned to the valley and this time Grady made the hard journey for him to be there also. They go to the burial ground and see that nothing had disturbed Walt and then ride back to the entrance and having brought dynamite they place it in the narrow canyon walls at the entrance and lighting the fuses there was a big explosion and the walls of the canyon came crashing down to forever seal the Cheyenne burial ground and Walt. JR and Grady then mount up and both turning in the saddles take one last look at the entrance and then start the ride back down the valley and mountain to the ranch. The next year Grady would retire and move into Stacy to live out his days there. JR sold the mountain valley and it became the Twin Mountain Ski Resort and the money he received allowed him to continue the ranch and it became profitable and JR would meet and marry (Susanne) and they would have three children, two boys and one girl. In 1928, Grady passed away and JR had his funeral and burial at the family cemetery at the ranch.
The End












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