By Charles Ramos Jr.
That was the same position Annie and I was in when suddenly a man’s voice rang out, taking us by surprise and nearly scaring us out of our wits as we hadn't even heard anyone riding up into the dooryard. “Travis McQuaid!” The voice cried in alarm. “What in Sam Hell happened here!?!” By that time both the barn and the farmhouse were completely engulfed by soaring flames. A huge black cloud of smoke hung overhead. I didn’t recognize the voice at first and so I thought perhaps one of the Lazy H riders had come back and found us. But when I looked up there was Jeremiah Kennedy dismounting from atop his old Jenny mule, Dora. Annie saw him just then and cried out “Miah!” before she ran to him and leapt into his outstretched arms. She threw her arms around his neck and buried her tear streaked little face in the front of his dirty old work shirt and began to cry like she might never stop again. Jeremiah wrapped his arms around her and he patted her head softly while his eyes took in the gruesome scene that lay spread out before him.
“Who did this Travis?” he asked me as he walked over to where I was still holding on to Mama’s body. “It was Rand Haney and his outfit from The Lazy H, Miah” I managed to croak between wracking sobs. “Yeah, I guessed as much.” He replied. “But then where in the Hell did them there Comanche arrows come from?” he wanted to know as he looked down at all the bloody arrows that were lying where I had thrown them. “They came from Haney.” I told Miah, and then I went on to relate to him all that we had seen while Annie clung to his neck, her right thumb planted securely in her mouth. “Son of a bitch.” Was all that Jeremiah said when I finally finished telling him the whole story. He only stood there in silent thought for a moment before he said. “We gotta get you young’uns out of here before one of them Lazy H varmints, or someone else happens along and sees you.”
“What does it matter anymore Miah?” I asked him. “Mama and Papa are dead, what more can they do to us now?” “If they was to come back and see y’all here, or if they was to somehow find out that you’re not on your way to Montana like your Mama told them you was , then they’re gonna try to kill you all too”. “They might as well kill us Miah” , I told him. “They killed everything else we had and we got nowhere to go”,
“Horse shit!” Jeremiah said spitting a stream of tobacco juice into the dirt at his feet. “Ya still got each other, doncha?
“yeah sure, but…”
“But, my eye Travis. You’re the man of your family now and your little sister here needs you to step up and be that man for her sake as well as your own. You still got a responsibility to Annie just the same as you did before all this, but now ever more so. It may just be that you are all she’s got in the world, and this world can be a cruel one.”
“But where are we going to go Micah?” I asked hopelessly.
“Well for now you’re staying with me until we can find somewhere that’s safe from the Haneys for you to live. I’ll stay and take care of your folks Travis, but I think y’all better take Dora there and lite on out of here back to the house before somebody else gets curious about all that smoke and comes an catches ya here”. “I got a pot of stew on the wood stove so you can go and fix a couple bowls for you and your sister, I’ll be along directly” Jeremiah said
Then he addressed Annie, “Is that alright sweetheart? You wanna’ come and stay with me and Dora for a spell?”
Annie’s face was still buried in Miah’s shirt as she nodded yes. So he took her over and tried to put her up on Dora’s back, but Annie wouldn’t let go of him. Miah held her tight for minute then whispered something softly in her ear and she nodded again then let him put her back in the saddle. “Come on now Travis” he said to me as he came over and took me gently by the arm and offered to help me up. I resisted him though and gave mama one long last hug and kiss on her cooling cheek.
As I walked away I could feel the last spark of my old life flicker and die, I dared not look back again. I mounted Dora behind Annie when the roof of the barn collapsed in a great gout of flames and the rear wall fell in on top of it sending a great column of glowing embers into the air.
“Y’all head off the long way across country, stay off the road and don’t let nobody see y’all, ya hear?” Miah told me as he handed me Dora’s reins. I nodded my head as I took them and then turned the mules head away from the dooryard towards Jeremiahs place and put my hulls to her flanks. I held tightly to Annie as the roaring of the terrible conflagration behind us slowly faded away until the sound and the sights were gone. Neither of us looked back until we were at Jeremiah’s door two miles away. The ugly gray smoke that had once been our whole lives hung heavy over their blackened ruins drifting slowly to the northeast on the warm Texas breeze. With one last long sigh of loss and heartache I led Annie in the house and closed the door shutting it all out.
Annie and I spent two weeks there at Jeremiahs cabin venturing outside rarely and during that entire time not a single word was spoken amongst us about that day. In Annie’s case she spoke very few words at all and ate but little food, she stayed in the bed Jeremiah fixed up for her and cried a lot.
There was a huge uproar over the faked Comanche massacre at our ranch at first, then it became embarrassingly obvious to all but those who preferred to remain ignorant of the truth. That the Comanche Indians had nothing what’s so ever to do with it. Then it became just as obvious what had actually occurred there and at whose bidding it had occurred. Jeremiah told me later that very few of those who came to the realization had any fervor for punishing the powerful Haney outfit that they had shown for the idea of exterminating the ragtag remnants of the local Comanche tribes that hadn’t been exterminated already, and for lesser reasons than that.
While many folks had been concerned with what had happened to Annie and myself, Jeremiah had explained that someone undoubtedly one of the Lazy H outfit had spread the word around the local gossip that we had been sent to stay with our Grandfather somewhere in Montana. So the word got around quickly and by the end of that second week the Sam Mc Quaid family was all but forgotten in the minds of our neighbors and friends.
On the first of July under the dark of the new moon Jeremiah got Annie and I up at midnight and bundled us into his waiting wagon and drove us back to our ranch. As we passed by the ghostly remains of our cabin and barn all I could see were the charred boards and logs that hadn’t burned to ashes and the posts to the corrals. The smell of burned wood though diminished still hung heavy in the air like a pan of death over a graveyard. Our eyes stayed locked on the scene until the slow moving wagon had passed by. Miah stopped it up on top of a low rise that overlooked the site of our former home.
There we could see two wooden crosses stood silent sentinel over two freshly dug mounds. On their white washed faces gleaming dull white under the star light we could see that Miah had painted Mama and Papa’s Christian names and the date they had died on to them. Miah helped Annie down from the wagon and I climbed down behind her. Then Miah took off his old hat and began to speak reciting passages from the good book from memory. Annies little chest was hitching softly as she cried quietly and a tear or two had escaped from my own eye as Jeremiah wound up the funeral by leading us in singing, Shall we gather at the river and mama’s favorite hymn Amazing Grace.
After the last notes faded away on the night wind Miah herded us back over to the wagon and we returned to his cabin without seeing another soul on the road.
The next morning over breakfast Jeremiah finally brought up the matter of what to do with Annie and myself, as we clearly could not continue to stay with him for too much longer. Lest somebody should discover our presence there and tell the Lazy H outfit, which would have a predictable circumstance for all of us, Jeremiah included. I told Miah that the only relatives Ma or Pa ever spoken of had been killed by the chokra or the war beaten states.
“Cept for one that mama spoke of right before they killed her, I guess we don’t anyone left in the way of family Miah.” I told him. “Who is it? Where do they live?” he asked. “Mama told Rand Haney that we’d gone up north to Montana to stay with our grandfather for the summer.” I replied. “Did she say what this grandfathers name was by any chance?” “No sir, but mamas family was the side that was from up around those parts not papas. Does that help any?”
“yep it surely does son” Miah assured me. “It gives us a place to start lookin”
“Tell you what let’s do then, I’ll send a telegraphy message up to a friend of mine in Helena and have him hire us one a’ them private eyes like ya read about in the penny dreadful and will have him see if he cant track down yer grandfather. What do you say to that?”. “I say it sounds like a plan Miah” I said eagerly, excited at the prospect of getting as far away from eastern Texas soon as possible. I tried to get Annie in the conversation but she sat over by the hearth playing with a rag doll Miah had made for her and said nothing at all.
The next day Miah went to town and fired off a telegram to his friend in Helena and then we settled down to wait for a reply. Three weeks later that reply finally came in a letter from the Private Detective Jeremiahs friend had hired for us. Jeremiah read it to us that evening at supper, it said simply “Grandfather contacted, stop. Keep Subjects secure till escort arrives, stop. “
“What does it mean Miah?” I asked him between bites of rabbit stew.
“It seems to mean that you grandfather is sending yall an escort to take you on up to Montana” Miah replied scratching his stubble chin.
“How long will it take him to get here?”
“I don’t rightly know Travis, I suppose it all depends on how he gets here. Be it by train or if he rides his cayuse all the way down from Montana or if he does both. I reckon we’ll just have to wait an see.”
Our escort would arrive on the train in Houston 16 days later on the 8th of August. We were expecting a Cowboy or perhaps a Pinkerton detective in a fine linen shirt, maybe even a woman. But the last thing we expected was an Indian which was why Jeremiah had almost missed him at the station.
Annie and I were playing on the floor by the fireplace when he walked in the door. He was easily the tallest Indian either of us had ever seen. If the truth were told he was the tallest man we had ever seen, period. When he walked inside the cabin he had to duck down low to clear the lintel. When he stood up he towered over Jeremiah, head and shoulders and Jeremiah wasn’t exactly what you’d call short. He was wearing rundown at the heels cowboy boots, dusty faded Levis, a heavy white cotton shirt with long sleeves over which he wore a black vest that was adorned with beautiful beadwork and porcupine quills. Around his neck he wore a bone choker studded with large pieces of turquoise and on his head he wore a big black reservation hat that had two eagle feathers stuck in its black band.
I half expected him to say “how” but Indians of course don’t say that and the big man didn’t speak that halting reservation English. His diction was nearly perfect and his voice boomed out of his big barrel sized chest like rolling thunder coming down from a high mountain top. “Hello Travis” the giant mumbled as he took off his hat.
“Kids this here injun is Mr. Jim Redfern, the man your grandfather sent down from Montana to take yall back to live with him” Jeremiah announced.
“Hello” I said shyly
“And this little sprout here must be Annie” Jim Redfern said with a huge toothsome smile full of gleaming white teeth.
Ever since we had witnessed the murders of Mama and Papa Annie hadn’t spoken more than a handful of words and she had shown but very few signs of life, but when Jim Redfern held out his massive arms to her the change that came over my little sister was immediate and profound. Annie gave a little girlish squeal of happiness, a sound I thought I’d never hear from my little sister after that fateful day at our farm. She launched herself into Jim Redferns embrace and he hoisted her up in the air as though she weighed no more than a loaf of bread. With both of them laughing he spun Annie around the tiny living room that compromised the majority of Miah’s little bachelor shack.
The two of them, probably the world’s most absurdly incongruous pair would remain fast friends until Jim died of smallpox during the epidemic of 1898. Annie refused to leave Jims side while he ate some beans and hot corn bread, but still had spoken not a word. As he ate he told us that he’d already bought our train tickets for Bozeman, Montana, but we were going to have to go on outta the country side in hiding in the back of Jeremiahs old wagon to make absolutely sure that nobody who might come along at the wrong place or time, see us and tell the Haneys. Even though a grow’d up man like me aint a scared of dying per say , I’m certainly not stupid enough to jump into an early grave at the first opportunity that presents itself. You can say what you want about Mama but she didn’t raise no fools. At least not none named Travis, no sir.
We got to bed with the sun that night but Annie and I stayed awake far into the night listening to Jeremiah and Jim talking about the olden days when cattle graze and beaver pelts were plentiful. But they were no longer, as the graze was being mismanaged by greedy cowboys like the Lazy H outfit and the beavers were all but extinct thanks to the greed and the trappers alike.
We pulled up at the train depot in a small town called Arlen, not far from Austen just before sunset the following day. Jim bought three tickets for us in a sleeper car that takes us as far as Bozeman where there were horses waiting to take us on out to our grandfather’s place. We said our good-byes to Jeremiah and boarded the train, an hour later we waved from the windows as the train began to pull out from the station. The big iron locomotive soon had the train up to speed and the sights of eastern Texas flew by in brief flashes that appeared and then were gone again in the blink of an eye. We made a long stop at the big depot in Austin before we were on our way to Dallas and from there we continued on to New Mexico.
I tried my best to get Jim to talk about grandfather whom we had never met, but the big Indian was reluctant to speak about him except for the occasional comment to the effect that our grandfather was a well- respected man in Montana . Jim Redfern was even more closed mouthed about himself. On the upside he knew a great deal about the areas that we traveled through and he would sit beside the window with Annie perched upon his knee and entertain us with the most amazing stories while the miles rolled beneath the steel wheels on which we glided suddenly north. It seemed as if we’d only been riding a train for a short time when the conductor came through the Pullman car announcing Bozeman, Montana as our last stop and we got ready to disembark. When the train stopped beside the platform I expected to see our Grandfather standing there waiting for us but there were only two elderly ladies sitting on a roughhewn bench knitting in the shade of the stations awning.
We walked down to the stables to pick up the horses that were waiting for us but Jim opted to hire a wagon to take us to our new home because the long trip had been especially hard on Annie so a long horseback ride would have been even harder on her health. Jim bought some quilts and pillows and made a pallet on the back of the wagon for her. Once Annie was settled in her cozy little nest Jim gave the reins a flick and away we went headed back to the southeast through some of the most beautiful country I had ever seen before in my life. Not counting the majestic Rocky Mountains of course. Now we were as Jim told us in the Bighorn Mountain Range which during the summer was occupied largely by bear, elk, buffalo and his own people the Ogalala Sioux. The wagon ride took us a day and a half but we finally topped the rise of a low saddle back ridge and there spread out over the beautiful valley below was our Grandfathers ranch the Bar None whose brand was a bar with a zero above it like so, O. Jim stopped the wagon there and we all started down into the valley including Annie who stood up in the box beside us to look too. The sight was breathtaking to put it mildly.
The big house stood high upon another ridge on the eastern side of the valley but further below where it commanded an unimpeded view in all four directions. Where hundreds of fat Hereford cows grazed contentedly on rich green grass and a lazy stream meandered its way through from the northwest to the southwest end of the valley where it spilled into thickly forested lands that Jim Redfern told us were teaming with game for hunting just as the stream was loaded with trout for fishing.
“You and I can go fishing anytime we want to Annie” he told my little sister who clutched her beloved ragdoll to her tiny breast, stuck her thumb in her mouth and slowly shook her head no.
“What? Don’t you want to go fishing with me little one?” he asked her not realizing that was now terrified of fishing thanks to Rand Haney and his Lazy H bunch. Annie shook her head again as I leaned over and whispered in his ear “we were off fishing when Ma and Pa were killed.” Jim Redfern said nothing more ever again about fishing in Annies presence or hearing but she did show a tiny glimmer of interest when Jim said “We’ll just have to teach you two how to be mountain men to hunt and trap game for the table. We all have to work for our keep here on the Bar None and I seriously doubt that your Grandfather will allow you youngsters to sit around the house doing nothing all day.”
As he flicked the reins and we made our descent into Grandfather’s valley I said told Jim Redfern that we were already accustomed to the hard work of ranching life. “Yes but up here so far north you are going to discover that the life of a rancher is much more demanding than it is anywhere else. The winters here can be brutal and long. In fact we will get our first snow fall by September 13th this year.” “But that’s only a few weeks away now!” I ejaculated. “That’s right so we have to get the ranch ready for it before the deepest snows come in.”
It took us the better part of the next hour to reach the big house and as we pulled up into the dooryard scattering chickens in our path, we could see that the big covered porch which I half expected to see sheltering our grandfather or at least some sort of welcoming committee was completely deserted with the exception of a few old rocking chairs and two old blood hounds that might by their looks have once been the companions of George Washington. The two old hounds barely even glanced up at us as Jim Redfern pulled up on the reins and brought the team pulling our wagons to a halt directly in front of the wooden steps leading up in to the porch. One of the old hounds raised up his big reddish brown head and gave out a long loud cry that was more of a mouthful whirl than a bark, then back to sleep. Right then as we were getting ready to climb down from the wagon the front door opened and of the darkened interior step a short Chinese man. He wore his long hair in a tightly braided ponytail and a spotlessly clean white apron over what looked like a brocaded black silk pajamas topped with a little black silk cap that had a colorful embroidered dragon chasing its tail around the brim. He was speaking Mandarin as he hurried down the steps and up the wagon where he bowed low and started gibbering in Mandarin again as he began talking our language down from the wagon.
Jim Redfern said something to the man in his own tongue then the little Chinaman switched fluently from Mandarin to English that was precise except for a pronounced Chinese accent which I won’t try to relate here in this narrative.
“Welcome, Welcome to the Bar None Master Travis, Misses Annie Welcome! You had long trip, you come into the house now and I make you a big brunch, yes?” The man said as he placed our small bags up on the porch. He came back and reached up to take Annie down from the wagon, but she would only let Jim Redfern take her in his arms. “This man here children is our house man, his name is Dihn Ah Ling, but everyone calls him dingaling for short.” At the mention of his hated nickname which he would never be able to slough off for the rest of his life, Dihn Au Ling went back to speaking in mandarin but now at a more forcefully rapid place that made it abundantly clear just how he felt about the dingaling nickname which was of course what made it that much harder to get away from. “Watch your language in front the children Ding and get upstairs and Vtell Mister Henry that the children are here.” Jim Redfern told him as he was the foreman of the Bar None, second in command beneath our Grandfather Henry James Baker our Mothers father.
“I saw you coming from the top of the saddleback so the table is all set for supper and Mister Henry will be down to eat in a few minutes. I’ve had their rooms ready for them since the day you left for Texas to pick them up.” Ding assured Jim Redfern.
“Good” was all Jim Refern said as he reached out his hands to Annie who flung herself into his arms.
Ding took us up to our rooms and the first stop was in Annies which as it turned out was rightacross the hall from mine. The room was not what you might call ostentatiously appointed but it looked comfortable with a small bed, a side table and a desk but for Annie there was a dressing table with a small mirror which she fell in love with at the first sight. My own room was much the same only without the dressing table and the ornate desk at which I now pen the accounting of this story was a lot more useful than Annies, which was nearly a simple secretary desk where as this one is a roll top that was imported from Chicago, Illinois according to Ding. On top of my dresser there set of large porcelain pictures and a bowl for bathing, and after our long trip I was eyeing it hungrily as I was dying for a bath even if it was only a quick birdbath in a bowl. Ding saw the look and assured me that there was hot water ready for Annie and I to wash up in and that he would be right back with some as he took his leave of us for a moment to go get it.
After the hot water was delivered Annie and I were left to our own devices for a while with instructions to come down to supper just as soon as we’re finished washing up. I was almost finished with my own ablutions when I heard a faint rapping at my door that I knew could only have come from my little sister so I hollered at her to come in as I was decent by then. Annie peeked her head in to make sure I was alone so I told her, “It’s alright small fry it’s just me now, everyone’s downstairs”. Annie came in then and after closing the door quietly she ran over and jumped into the middle of my new be and sat there looking at me while I finished washing my upper body in the basin. “Did you already have yer self a bath?” I asked her, and Annie nodded yes before plugging her thumb into her mouth. She said nothing else but I could almost feel what she was thinking about so after a few more moments I took the lead again. “Grampa Henry has a really nice place here, huh squirt?” I said, Annie only with nodded her eyes still locked on me. “You’re wondering what Grampa Henry is like, aren’t cha?” I ventured next. “uh huh” Annie muttered around her thumb still in her mouth.
“Yeah I know, me too” I admitted “me too”. “But how bad could he really be, I mean just look at how sweet he raised your Mama. Am I right?” I added hopefully I was right. Annie thought on this theory for a moment before she nodded again slowly. “Well there you go squirt. He’s just gotta be a kindly old man. He did take us in, didn’t he?” Again Annie had to only agree, that time she had to smile a little. “He must really like kids. Plus we are his only grandchildren since Mama did tell us that she was an only child, right?” another nod and a hopeful smile.
We were quite shocked then to say the least when after we’d already been seated at the table our benefactor Grampa Henry came tromping downstairs to join us for the noonday meal and all but collapsed into the chair reserved for him at the head of the table. He was unkempt to say the least. His graying hair looked as though it hadn’t known a comb in at least a month and his face was grizzled with a salt and pepper beard that had obviously not known congress with a razor for at least a week, if not more. He was dressed, if you could actually call it that in an old flattened miners hat, old hard tooled leather boots that looked to have seen better days from their rundown heels to the holes in their souls, and worn out old pair of red wool long handled underwear with a trap door that was half way open. The fact that he was rip snortin’ drunk could not have been more obvious had he been wearing a sign that said so.
“I take it you two are Travis and Annie aren’t ya?” He said after eyeing us warily for several moments. “Yes sir” I replied, Annie only nodded her head and sucked her thumb more furiously, her eyes wide as saucers.
“huh” Grampa Henry grunted as Ding put a piping hot plate of beefsteak and beans in front of him.
“Sure don’t look like much from where I’m sittin” he added. “You oughta see the view from here boss” Ding said as handed out the rest of the plates to Annie, Jim Redfern, and myself. “Where the rest of the boys at Jim?” Grampa Henry asked his foreman around a mouthful of beef and beans. “They’re over on the north end bringing up some strays, they should be in in time for dinner.” Jim Redfern replied. And so then went the rest of the conversation between the Grampa Henry and Jim Redfern until finally Grampas plate was empty and his coffee cup of moonshine, which he made himself in a still out behind the barn, was full. That was how Annie and I found out The Bar None had other hands that worked the livestock. Their names were Red Brines, so called Red because of his flaming red hair, Pete Toller, and Woody who only went by Woody and nothing else.
Categories: EDUCATION OF A GUNFIGHTER