“Paine has published several of the finest Westerns of the past decade, stories that even non-Western readers can enjoy…Nobody alive writes better Westerns.” —Kirkus Reviews, praise for the author
Sheriff Doyle Bannion tries to keep the peace in Perdition Wells, Texas, when a shooting claims the life of an innocent bystander.
When a shooting takes place at the Union Eagle Saloon, Dale McAfee, foreman of John Rockland’s mighty Texas Star Ranch, kills a range rider working for Clell Durham, a free-graze cowman. It’s a fair fight, but it’s marked by a tragic accident: the bullet that killed Durham’s rider went through his body and also killed an aged swamper. Several eyewitnesses tell Sheriff Doyle Bannion that the old man had ignored warning calls and continued sweeping, so Bannion rules the involuntary shooting death by misadventure. But the King brothers see things differently—and they’re bent on avenging their father’s death.
It was dusk when Todd Duncan sighted the man and his camp at a small oasis on the edge of the desert. Duncan, on his way to New Mexico to find work, knew better than to barge into a stranger’s camp. After riding in and dismounting, he decided to make coffee before waking the stranger. When he called to the man, there was no response, so he walked over to find the man dead from a gunshot wound. It is then that he finds himself surrounded by Sheriff Matt Berryhill and his posse, their guns drawn. They identify the dead man as Jerry Swindin, who had been shot during an attempt to rob the express office. Assuming that Duncan is Swindin’s partner, young Parton, who had shot and killed the express agent, the sheriff wastes no time arresting him, despite the fact the he claims his name is Todd Duncan and has letters to prove it. The only way to convince them that he’s innocent is to track down the real killer.
The trouble began for Sheriff Claude Rainey when the Hightower Ranch cowboys discovered a mummified man and his horse in a desert canyon near Springville, Arizona—both shot in the head. Ordinarily that should have been the end of it. Few men riding the outlaw trail up out of Mexico make it through that godforsaken country. What troubled Rainey and the townsmen, however, was what Hightower foreman Al Trail had brought into town and given to the sheriff.
Near the body, the cowboys had dug up a box that contained five bloodstained packets of hundred-dollar bills, amounting to $10,000. This only deepened the mystery. After all, who kills a man and leaves behind $10,000? The only clue to the identity of the dead man is the shriveled-up brand on the horse, which he sketches and sends to the registrar. The money is stowed in the only steel safe in Apache County while the sheriff and the townsmen wait to see who will ride in to Springville to claim it. It is Sheriff Rainey’s hope that the town can keep the money and build a proper schoolhouse.
Then two men arrive within weeks of each other. The first, Fernando Bríon, informs Rainey that US Marshal Jonas Gantt and his horse have been found shot in the head on his land across the border in Mexico. He gives him Gantt’s personal effects. The circumstances are similar to those of the dead man and his horse found in the canyon. The second man is Deputy US Marshal Arch Clayton, who informs Rainey that the dead man was his partner back in Raton, New Mexico. Both men arouse Rainey’s suspicion and add to the mounting questions about the identity of the bushwhacking killer—foremost, whether he will show up in Springville, and what it is he’s really after.
It was spring on the Llano Estacado, the Staked Plains of Texas, the time for the cattle drives to push north to the rail heads in Kansas. The “Lost Cause” of the South was still fresh in the mind of Southerners, including fifty-five-year-old Ben Albright, a pioneer of the Texas cattle drives, who was well familiar with the trail and its dangers—he had successfully made five cattle drives from Texas to Kansas, but this spring will be his most difficult.
With the death of Ewell Lansing, Northerners have taken over his trading post and ferry and refused provisions or passage to Texas cattle drives. When Albright finds a way around this, tensions reach the breaking point, and a Northerner and his horse are found dead. Will the Texans be able to prove their innocence before the Northerners catch up to them?
Two tales of action, adventure, and the Wild West from a founding master of the genre, Lauran Paine.
In “The Crescent Scar,” one man trying his best to stay on the straight and narrow is Sadler Carrel. Once upon a time he was a notorious outlaw known as the Gila River Kid, but he left his violent past behind to work a cattle ranch, always careful to keep the crescent-shaped scar, the only known identifying mark from his former life, carefully covered.
But when the railroad comes to town, putting up fences that keep his cattle from the water and grazing land, the only one that can protect everything that Sadler Carrel built is the Gila River Kid.
In “The Man without a Gun,” Jack Swift didn’t choose not to carry a gun; it chose him. After he served his sentence for horse thieving, he was told it’s illegal for a former convict to wear a gun. So he went unarmed into the Arizona territory, where he found a small cattle town, settled down, and became a respected local businessman.
But when Jack’s young, lame friend steals a horse to run from a cruel uncle, Jack goes after him unarmed, because he knows full well that the uncle does carry a gun and won’t hesitate to use it.
The massacre at Fort Mims is what spurred young Davy Crockett to leave his family and become a volunteer scout in the military campaign between American militias and the Creek Indians. It was while serving in this capacity that Crockett earned his reputation as a first-rate scout, which added to his already established reputation as a crack shot. Like many volunteers serving in militias, Crockett also had to concern himself with protecting his wife, his children, and his land from roaming Indian war parties and gangs of frontier renegades who used the distraction of wars to attack and pillage those left behind. It was in these skirmishes that Davy Crockett distinguished himself. It was a chaotic and dangerous time on the frontier, and Davy Crockett and his family seemed to have a ringside seat in the midst of the action.
The Wyoming territory is vast, rich with grasslands, and largely lawless. So when a conflict arises over whose herd gets to graze in those grasslands, then it’s more likely to be settled with a shootout than a lawyer.
The cattlemen believed their cows ought to have free grazing. It had been a long winter and the herd was hungry. But that means the sheep ranchers would have to move on, at gunpoint if necessary.
But the way the sheep ranchers see things, they were there first, and the cowboys ought to be the ones looking for greener pastures. After the sheep ranchers refused to leave, night riders ambushed them, killing a sheep rancher and a shepherd as proof that the edict to leave was serious.
But without the law to intervene in the conflict, there was only one way the showdown in Wyoming could be brought to an end: guns.
Five days ago, the blowing up of the express office safe in Burnt Timbers, Montana, had gone off without a hitch for the four members of the Buck Streeter gang, netting them $28,000. Since then they have taken refuge in an abandoned shack on a plateau above the town of Brigham in northern Wyoming. With its bank and express office across the street from each other and lacking any telegraph for communication, Brigham seems like the perfect place to stage their next robbery before laying low for a while.
Streeter is worried about their newest but oldest gang member, Frank Reno, who suffers from consumption and whose coughing throughout the night makes sleep difficult for them all; they need their rest in this tough, cold high country. Still, the gang is confident, and they take their time visiting and studying the lay of the land in Brigham. What they haven’t taken into consideration is the snowstorm heading into northern Wyoming and, even more significantly, the determination of US Marshal John Galloway.
Although eighteen years as a lawman has worn down the aging Galloway, he has no fear of death, and he is committed to stopping the gang’s spree of robbing and terrorizing small towns across the West, which has taken him from Texas to the Pacific Northwest to Montana. With orders coming from the Denver office, Galloway, who has learned everything he can about the four, has followed his instincts from Burnt Timbers to northern Wyoming. Galloway is convinced that Brigham will be the gang’s next target, but as the icy storm sets in, the question becomes when they will strike.
Kit Butler and Lige Turner are weathered trackers—trappers who once lived among the Dakota people as brothers, learning their language, their land, and their way of life. Now, with the fur trade dwindling, they find themselves guides for a wagon train—a group of emigrants leaving behind the comforts of the world they know for the Wild West. The problem is, they have to pass through hostile Dakota Indian territory to reach their destination.
The members of the wagon train, fresh faces in a wild land, are certain that all this talk about Indians is just stories—a way to keep a control over them. After all, they haven’t seen any sign of Indians … But Kit and Lige know what to look for, and they know they’re being watched.
When the Indians brutally attack, the stories become a frightening reality. The Dakota warriors tell the emigrants that they must turn around or face their wrath—they will not be allowed to pass through Dakota territory.
The emigrants have come too far to turn back, but they are not trained to fight—the women and children handily outnumbering the men in the group. Kit and Lige are the only ones who know how to survive out in the wild, and it is their duty to protect the wagon train against the Dakota men they still consider brothers.
Ryan Shanley prefers to be called Shan. It’s not much, but it helps put some distance between his life during and after serving in the Union army. And he’ll put even more distance between the two once he arrives in the Wyoming Territory, where he has a land grant for two square miles.
On the stage to Tico, the town nearest his ranch, he meets Sarahlee Gordon. She was only planning to visit Wyoming long enough to sell the cabin she inherited from her uncle. But the attraction between the two becomes obvious on the stage and grows after they arrive.
Between a blossoming relationship and the rugged territory, Shan realizes that he is not nearly as prepared as he believed himself to be, but he remains determined to build the ranch he dreamed of escaping to while serving on the front lines.
Forced to take a precipitous route off the rimrocks and down into an unknown valley to escape certain death by four men pursuing him, Pete Knight, a cowhand seeking a job, sees a town ahead in the distance. If he can just make it to that town, he believes he will be safe. Little does he know that he is heading into Gunsight, Wyoming, where a long-standing feud between the townsmen and the range men has reached the boiling point.
Arthur Hobart owner of the Diamond H has issued a warning that if the people of Gunsight do not stop victimizing his cowpunchers, he’s going to bring in his own law enforcer and burn the town down. And the appearance of Pete means only one thing to the townsfolk: Hobart is about to make good on his threat.
When Pete is jailed, he tries to convince Sheriff Mike Mulaney to get confirmation that he is not who the Gunsighters think he is. But before the matter can be resolved, Pete is lynched in the middle of the night by five men wearing burlap hoods.
When his Pete’s brother Ben, a US deputy marshal, arrives seeking vengeance for his brother’s hanging, he has even more reason to hate the town and what it represents than those on the Diamond H. But when Hobart tries to use Ben’s arrival for his own advantage, Ben must choose between protecting the town and abandoning his trail of vengeance or standing by while Hobart’s threats become reality.
The small town of Ballester owes its prosperity to the confluence of three big ranches—Snowshoe, Mexican Hat, and Rainbow. Its single lawman, Deputy Sheriff Percy Whittaker, known as Perc, didn’t have to deal with much lawbreaking other than the occasional drunk on a Saturday night. Until a drifter named Sam Logan rode into town looking for work.
The first problem came when a rider from the Snowshoe ranch provoked a gunfight with Logan, and lost. He was followed to the grave by another rider from the same ranch looking for revenge. Both killings were deemed self-defense, but it rattled the peaceful community.
But when a preacher comes to town to save souls and starts by knocking out three cowboys, Perc starts to wonder if he’s in over his head—or if Logan and the preacher might be working together.
Samuel Patton lost his wife to lung fever two years ago. Now, suffering from lung fever himself and closer to eternity every day, he is traveling south through the mountains with his small son and daughter, hoping somewhere in this savage land he can find a good home for them before time runs out. When the two kids find an unconscious man, the three tend to his wounds, care for his horse, and load him into their wagon. Samuel finds a cache of money in the saddlebags of the man the children have named Mr. Black, and he is certain they have taken an outlaw under wing. When the man comes round, he tells them his name is Jess and he can guide them through the thoroughfare pass and on to the town of Hereford in Absaroka Valley, a cowman’s paradise in the mighty mountain range, where he was born. Against his better judgment, Samuel agrees. Only a stone’s throw from Hereford, Samuel is too exhausted to push on and so they make one last camp. It is a decision that nearly kills his daughter when a stampede runs through their camp that night. The Pattons find themselves taking refuge in the midst of the valley where ranchers have declared war on encroaching squatters.
Jackson Miggs was a loner who wintered under the Ute Peak in his log cabin. He liked people well enough, but didn’t care much for crowds. He even tolerated the cowmen like Hyatt Tolman who used the high meadows around Ute Peak to graze his herd—even when the animals cropped the forage too closely and drove the elk and deer into the higher mountains. Miggs once told Frank McCoy that if he looked out a window and saw a building less than two hundred feet away, he felt like things were closing in on him.
In return for Jack’s friendship, Frank would take Miggs’ pelts out in the fall, sell them at Fort Laramie and Cheyenne, then dig up the money he had buried for Jack, and bring it to him in the spring.
But this time Frank McCoy was accompanied by beautiful Beverly Shafter and a strange herd of Durham cattle driven by Denver Holt and his crew. They moved right into the grazing land that the Tolman herd had been coming to for years. There was no doubt about it—there was going to be trouble in Ute Peak country.
A feud between the biggest and richest cattleman, Richard DeFore, and the local stage line couldn’t have come at a worse time to Winchester, Colorado. The town’s new sheriff, John Klinger, young, inexperienced, and hot-headed, hasn’t been in the job for a month yet, when DeFore, who has never sold or donated the right of way for the pass which is on his land, demands the stage line pay a toll for passage, which the company is refusing to do. Luckily, Sheriff Klinger is backed by Deputy Ethan MacCallister, his father-in-law as well as the former sheriff, when the first confrontation takes place on the pass when DeFore’s men stop the northbound stagecoach.
MacCallister understands the importance of the north-south roadway for the survival of Winchester, and he knows this smoldering feud could easily escalate into an all-out war between the two factions. So he keeps calm and defuses the situation, but when Ray Thorne, a notorious gunfighter, steps out of the stagecoach as a representative for the stage-line’s headquarters in Denver, he knows the stakes have been raised. With tensions running so high on both sides, can he keep the peace while helping his son-in-law learn what it takes to be an effective lawman.
Deadwood, Dakota Territory, was filled with luckless miners and diggers, as well as more than its share of lawlessness, and more often than not, there was nothing Marshal Fred Nolan and his two deputy marshals, Wentworth and Grubb, could do. So when a teen hustler, known as Gitalong because of his crippled leg, was hoorawed by a trio of Texas drovers, the law wasn’t called in. Besides, two strangers had come to Gitalong’s aid, confronting the drovers and forcing them to give Gitalong three silver dollars. While it was the most money the teenager had ever had, he knew it would only bring him trouble. He was right.
The three Texans returned with even more men, and another confrontation with the two strangers takes place that ends in one of the Texans being killed, and Gitalong trying unsuccessfully to give the money back. This time, though, Marshal Fred Nolan and his two deputies see the fight and order the Texans out of town, but not before Grubb recognizes Tevis Blankenship, a trail driver with a tough reputation. Still afraid, Gitalong heeds the advice of others and leaves town on a coach, which ends up crashing and injuring Gitalong badly. Meanwhile, Marshal Nolan’s job just got harder, because he needs to be ready to escort a bullion coach through his area, always a dangerous job.
Walt Hodge had delivered eighty horses to Whipple Barracks for the Army and he wasn’t in a big hurry to get home. He traveled down the Saginaw Mountains and into the upland cow country of Sunflower, Arizona, seeking only a cold glass of beer, food, and a bed for himself, along with feed for his horse. He should have listened and turned around when he asked the hostler what was going on and was told: “Trouble, mister. Bad trouble.” After he had a drink, surrounded by silent cowmen, he discovered why the town of Sunflower was so unusually quiet and empty. He had walked into the middle of an emerging range war over water rights in the middle of a blistering summer. Being mistaken as a one of Jim Bricker’s B-Back-to-Back men, annoyed Walt, but being knocked out by a Bricker rider, who said Walt was a Mike Weedon man, was just more than he could take. Then he met Bricker’s daughter. It doesn’t take long for Hodge to find himself in the middle of things once he is blamed for the killing of a Bricker man. By the time the war was over three men would be dead, the town of Sunflower would find its self-respect, and a jailhouse would be full of demoralized cowmen.