Upon a Crazy Horse
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by Frank Allan Rogers
Description: When Jack Brannigan whacked a stump with his knee, lost his breakfast down the horse's front leg and bruised his manhood on the saddle horn, all on the first morning of the ride, he knew the venture would play hell with his sense of humor. Without thinking twice, maybe not even once, he had ignored the elements of endurance warning in the brochure and flew to New Mexico for a week-long, 135-mile horseback ride. On twenty-two horses and a mule named Molly, the riders would chase the ghost of Billy the Kid over the mountains and across the desert from Lincoln to Fort Sumner. Choking dust, scorching sun, freezing rain, and a blistered butt prove the brochure to be true. But elements become the least of Jack's concerns when tragedy strikes. The riders discover Bonita, a courageous and beautiful young woman, kidnapped and held as a slave on Paradise Mountain, and Jack Brannigan faces the biggest challenge of his life.
eBook Publisher: Solstice Publishing, 2009 2009
eBookwise Release Date: July 2009
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [590 KB]
Reading time: 185-259 min.
"Listen up," the trail boss shouted. "I want all the riders here in front of me." The riders worked their horses into a semicircle facing the trail boss. A huge chestnut mustache dominated the man's face, hung down around the corners of his mouth, and it was the first thing you saw when you looked at him.
"Alright, now count off." He pointed to the first rider on his right. The riders counted around, and when the last one said, "Twenty-two," the trail boss pointed to himself and yelled, "Twenty-three." Then he studied each horse and rider to make sure they were all 'trail ready.'
Sometimes the trail boss nodded. Sometimes he just grinned, and sometimes he rolled his eyes and shook his head. Whatever it meant, Jack Brannigan was a headshake.
When he finished his inspection, the trail boss took off his hat, held it over his heart and stared at the riders until they followed suit. Jack guessed the man's age at middle fifties, but he looked younger with his hat on. Mother Nature, or perhaps Father Time, had robbed him of his hair. Jack figured they had something in common. They'd both been victims of the same crime.
The trail boss bowed his head and said a short prayer for the safety of the riders. Then he replaced his hat and held up two fingers.
"Ladies and gentlemen. Before we ride, you need to remember these two things. Number one. My name's Roy, but they call me the trail boss because I'm the boss. So do as I say and follow me. You can't follow anybody if you're in front of them." He scanned the group and waited. He dropped one finger and raised the other one higher.
"Number two. Stay on the top side of your horse." He lowered his hand, leaned forward and added, "Although not necessarily in that order." He showed a half grin before his face turned serious.
"Any questions?" He waited and stared. There were no questions. He sat up and nudged his horse.
"Let's ride," he ordered. They were off.
From the time he was a kid, Jack Brannigan had romantic notions about cowboy life, and a lifelong dream of riding in the wide-open spaces, swapping lies around a campfire, sleeping under the stars and getting up at the crack of dawn to drink strong coffee made over a wood fire near the chuck wagon.
Now, here he was--in his jeans, boots, and cowboy hat, and even a silk bandana--a wild rag, as they call it around places like Lincoln. What more could a real man ask for?
Lincoln, New Mexico sleeps at the base of the Capitan Mountains a few miles northwest of where the Rio Bonito tangles with the Hondo River. The locals say that in a contest for the title of one-horse town, Lincoln would gallop away with the trophy. Except in the month of April.
Billy the Kid, one of the most famous outlaws in U.S. history, escaped from a jail cell at the Lincoln County courthouse in April 1881, shot a lawman, stole a horse and rode the treacherous mountain trails from Lincoln to Fort Sumner. With his after-death conversion from bad man to folk legend, Billy became the main tourist attraction for both towns, and riding Billy's last trail became a part of Lincoln's annual event. Jack Brannigan had no special interest in Billy the Kid. He just came to ride a horse.
"There are 'elements of endurance' on this ride," the brochure had said. But Jack signed up without thinking twice, maybe not even once. After all, he'd survived the two-day Grand Canyon mule trip a few years before. And even though it took him three days to learn to walk again, Jack figured going up and down the canyon walls on a mule would qualify him for this week-long, 135-mile horseback ride over the mountains and through the desert. He had booked his flight from Atlanta months in advance, and arrived a day early to check out the town.
Steel shoes made loud clops as the horses crossed a paved road, the only road in Lincoln, into a grassy field. Tourists had come to see the start of the annual event, and Jack wanted to stay behind for a minute or so to show off for the cameras. But his horse decided otherwise and took off in a fast trot to catch the others while Jack's butt hammered a heavy tune on the saddle.
Cars, roads, buildings and power lines disappeared. The open field turned into sagebrush, junipers, cacti, and clumps of tall weeds as the horses picked their footing over a landscape scattered with fist-size rocks. Riders laughed and joked about horses, saddles and tough trails. A few were local residents. Others came from California, Arizona, or Texas, and most had brought their own horses. Jack had rented a big red gelding named LB from the trail boss who owned a nearby ranch.
LB maneuvered past the others and trotted to get ahead. Jack jerked the reins to keep him from passing the trail boss, but that only made LB lag behind. Then he would trot again to catch up. Jack wanted him to walk faster and just keep pace with the other horses. But when Jack told him that, it didn't seem to matter.