Buffalo Wagons

Buffalo Wagons

3.7 4
by Elmer Kelton

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For Gage Jameson, the summer of 1873 has been a poor hunt. A year ago he felled sixty-two buffalo in one stand, but now the great Arkansas River herd is gone, like the Republican herd before it.

In Dodge City, old hide hunters speak is awe of a last great heard to the south--but no hunter who values his scalp dares ride south of the Cimarron and into Comanche


For Gage Jameson, the summer of 1873 has been a poor hunt. A year ago he felled sixty-two buffalo in one stand, but now the great Arkansas River herd is gone, like the Republican herd before it.

In Dodge City, old hide hunters speak is awe of a last great heard to the south--but no hunter who values his scalp dares ride south of the Cimarron and into Comanche territory. None but Gage Jameson....

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
...should find eager readers...
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Set in present-day London and Provence, this suspense novel by the popular author of The Neighbors is part juicy family melodrama, part stirring suspense story. On the eve of her 80th birthday, reclusive Annesley family matriarch Odile writes to each member of the Annesley clan from her sprawling farmhouse in Provence, communicating details of her will. In response, Odile's five granddaughters plan to travel in convoy to the French homestead for a surprise visit to their estranged grandmother. The trip is deferred until the midpoint of the novel, as the granddaughters are reacquainted with each other. Clemency, the eldest, is comfortably married with four children and lives outside London; Elodie is a single and raunchy dress designer living in Paris. Madeleine, residing alone in London, is a Norwegian "ice queen"; Isabelle, at the other end of the spectrum, is a plumpish student at Oxford. Finally, Cherie is a single mother, poor and resentful of the Annesley entitlement, from which she feels excluded. This motley crew arrives in Provence to find the farmhouse quite desolate and the garden disturbed by a freshly dug grave. The terror heightens as two more Annesleys are murdered and the group uncovers bloody secrets buried in the family's past. Though the novel's denouement fails to convince, its plotting is otherwise solid, its characters rounded and its pacing sprightly. As with Smith's previous romantic suspense novels, it should find eager readers. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In her fourth novel, Smith (The Neighbors) combines the foible-filled lives of nine cousins with the spookiness of an old mansion in Provence to produce a mystery unlike the traditional whodunit. Avoiding clues and detectives, Smith piles the corpses of murdered relations onto a raging bonfire of family passions, stoked by a long-ignored scandal. The 80th birthday of the family matriarch provokes a house party where gory death continues to stalk the revelers. A crescendo of an ending worthily concludes the tale. Smith knows her Provence and writes convincingly of London and Oxford as well. As long as readers first memorize the thoughtfully provided family tree, this is a corker of a story for mystery fans, particularly those who enjoy psychological thrillers of the Ruth Rendell school. A solid buy for leisure reading and public libraries.--Barbara Conaty, Library of Congress Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Though years have passed since the tragedy and Odile Annesley, now eighty, remains in exile in Provence, refusing to have anything to do with family members. However, the octogenarian sends her will to her family. This, in turn, prompts a response from Odile's five adult grandchildren, who want reconciliation before grandmere dies. The quintet agrees to visit grandmere together without asking or warning the former Annesley matriarch. However, before journeying to Provence, the five sisters first become reacquainted with one another. After a brief period, they arrive at the forlorn remote farm house that grandmere has made home for about four decades since she fled her beloved spouse and children. However, reconciliation proves deadly as history repeats itself and someone wants to eliminate the Annesley heirs. Family Reunion is an exciting suspense thriller that takes off in the second half of the novel. Much of the first half of the story line is dedicated to introducing the five siblings. This proves a bit slow, leaving the audience to wonder if the book is a character study. However, the device ultimately pays dividends when the group reaches Provence where the action begins (second half of the novel). With a little patience, readers, especially fans of Carol Smith (see The Neighbors), will enjoy this novel, but must give it a chance as character development takes up a sizable portion of the plot.

Kirkus Reviews
Every family has secrets, but the Annesley clan probably has more than most. Why did matriarch Odile suddenly up and leave her eight kids and her beloved husband Cornelius and remain mostly incommunicado in the south of France for 40 years? Why did madcap Agnes, the ultimate party gal, suddenly enter a cloister and remain silent for the same period? Why has the body of Odile's favorite child, Roland, supposedly drowned at 18, never surfaced? Why does second-cousin Dominic Carlisle keep popping up in the lives and sexual fantasies of Odile's direct descendants Clemency, Isabelle, Madeleine, Cherie, and Elodie? Could these secrets have something to do with the brutal slashing deaths of aged Aunt Effie and Aunt Martha on the isle of Jersey and the beating to death of Pandora on a golf club in Spain? For that matter, could the Annesley family scourge be the notorious Provence Predator who's been tormenting France for decades? To celebrate her 80th birthday, Odile writes the family to tell them the terms of her will. Clemency quickly arranges a surprise reunion, but when the relatives arrive at the creepy old house in the French vineyards, they find Odile's body back by the barn. Isabelle is soon murdered, then Harry. Candles flicker, a storm is brewing, children scream, and a cross-wearing wraith appears just in time to prevent Clemency's death and tie together some, but by no means all, of the loose ends. Smith, overly fond of large casts and menacing buildings (The Neighbors, 1999, etc.), would do better to focus on compact plotting.

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"Elmer Kelton is an authentic American voice."—John Jakes

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Buffalo Wagons

By Kelton, Elmer

Forge Books

Copyright © 1997 Kelton, Elmer
All right reserved.

The buffalo were gone.
Gage Jameson turned in his saddle atop a hill where the grass cured and curled an autumn brown. Squinting his blue eyes in the glare of the prairie sun, he frowned at the company hide train lumbering along far behind him, the six-yoke ox teams hardly straining at the double wagons.
Three months out, supplies about gone, and not enough hides to build a Sioux lodge.
Grimness touched Jameson's bearded, sun-darkened face as he stepped down from the big bay hunting horse and felt the drying grass crunch beneath his heavy boots. He was a man in his mid-thirties whose gray-touched hair and long growth of wiry black beard made him look far older. His wide-brimmed, grease-stained hat was pulled low to shade his eyes.
Last year, down in that valley yonder, his Sharps Big Fifty rifle had felled sixty-two buffalo in one stand, so many that the Miles and Posey skinners had had to return the second day to finish taking the hides.
Now, with the first autumn weeks of 1873 slipping by, it had been ten days since he had sighted that last shaggy old bull. He had lifted his rifle for the kill, then had lowered it and ridden away, leaving the aged beast to graze alone on the short buffalo grass where once they had grazed in numbers so large that no man could count them.
What was one hide? One hide, when long stinking ricks of them piled up at Dodge City, awaiting shipment on the Santa Fe.No man could guess at the number. But this Jameson knew: the great Arkansas River herd was gone, like the Republican herd before it. Next spring the melting snows would bare carcasses by the hundreds of thousands scattered all over these Kansas plains.
A graveyard, it would be. A vast graveyard of gleaming white bones.
A blur of movement on another hill caused Jameson to jerk around, his hide-tough hand tightening instinctively on the sixteen-pound Sharps he carried.
He eased then, recognizing the sorrel horse Nathan Messick rode. Messick was his chief skinner and hide handler, and now and again he helped Jameson search out the buffalo. Rail-thin and gangling, Messick stood like a telegraph pole in his stirrups, waving his hat in long grand sweeps.
He's found buffalo, Jameson thought, a stir of excitement in him. There had been a time when it took a big herd to excite him. Of late, it was a great satisfaction to find fifteen or twenty head. He remounted and crossed the open, brushless valley in a long trot, the brown grass rustling underfoot. In places it reached to the bay horse's knees.
Climbing the hill, he found Messick still sitting there gravely waiting for him, his narrow shoulders slumped. An emptiness settled in Jameson as he read Messick's solemn eyes. "I thought you'd found buffalo."
Messick grunted. "Not exactly. I just wanted you to come look."
Messick reined his horse around and moved off the slope, his long shanks raised a little to heel the sorrel's ribs. Jameson trailed him, content in his weariness to move at a casual pace. Still young enough as years went, he no longer possessed the drive he used to have. Youth was slipping away from him, he knew. The frontier took it out of a man. The frontier and the war.
"There it is," Messick said somberly.
Scattered over several hundred yards of ground lay the bloated carcasses of some twenty skinned buffalo, now so rank that Jameson's horse snorted and shied away. Someone had shot them from running horses like a bunch of sport-crazy excursionists, instead of picking them off slow and easy from a quiet stand the way any sensible hide hunter would do.
"Tenderfeet," Jameson said harshly. "Even ruined half the hides, getting them off."
It had always bothered him, the awesome waste that attended the work of even the best hide hunters. Now he was galled at this senseless destruction which came at a time when the buffalo were getting to be so precious few.
"Hunters like that," Messick said slowly, "there ought to be a law against them. Spoil it for them that does know how."
Jameson shook his head. "Blame the money panic. They're hungry back East--no jobs, no food. And the railroad letting its construction crews go. They're swarming out here like flies. Anybody who can get his hands on a gun and a horse wants to hunt buffalo."
He saw something move, out by the most distant carcasses. His eyes cut questioningly to Messick's, and Messick said, "Buffalo cow. They shot her but let her get away."
"Why didn't you put her out of her misery?"
"I'll help you find them, and I'll skin them afterwards. But I ain't shootin' no buffalo."
Jameson rode to her. The gaunt cow moved painfully, dragging a shattered hind leg. Her bag was swollen and fevered with spoiled milk. One of those big bloated calves must have been hers. She was slowly dying on her feet, waiting for the gray wolves to come and drag her down.
Jameson stepped from the saddle and lifted the Big Fifty. Its octagonal barrel was thick and heavy and hard to hold true, but at this range it couldn't miss. The deep roar rolled back to him in the chill air. He ejected the hot cartridge case, let it lie on the ground a moment to cool, then shoved it back into his coat pocket to reload later. His nose pinched at the sharp smell of gunpowder.
"Tenderfeet," he said again, angrily.
He well remembered the awe which had held him spellbound years ago, when he had sighted his first herd of buffalo. He had been only a kid then, before the war. The buffalo had been one rippling blanket of black and brown, moving slowly across the land before him, the front of the herd lost in the dust of the northern horizon, the end of it still far out of sight to the south. The rumble of their tread, the rattle of dewclaws, had gone on and on for more than a day.
And he remembered how old Shad Blankenship had snorted at him in '68, when Jameson had asked how long it might take to kill out the buffalo.
"By Judas Priest, young'un, there'll always be buffalo. Ten thousand hunters and the U.S. Cavalry couldn't get more than the natural increase, one year to the next. Kill all the buffalo? Boy, you're talkin' out of your head."
Now here it was--one old bull, one crippled cow, for ten days' ride. And these bloated, wasted carcasses.
Suddenly Jameson was weary of it, weary of the endless, hopeless hunt, weary of stench and sweat and caked dirt and disappointment, weary of scratching at the lice it seemed a man could never get rid of while he hunted the buffalo.
He drew the straight-edged ripping knife from his belt and knelt beside the cow, starting to slit the hide up the belly while fat ticks crawled for cover in the thick dirty hair.
"We'll salvage this one, at least," he said, his voice brittle. "Then we're going. I've had me a bellyful."
"Where to, Gage?"
"Back to Dodge City. The Arkansas herd is finished."
* * *
Dodge City, said the sign at the new frame depot. But everybody here just called it Dodge, for it was hard to use the word "city" and not smile doing it.
Dodge wasn't much to look at, a raw-looking, raw-smelling town of lumber shacks and dugouts and soddies and dirty tents, and a row of one-story frame business houses fronting each side of the shiny new railroad tracks. On down the way yonder extended sod corrals and a long row of hide stacks that you could smell almost as far as you could see, when the weather was a little warm and the wind from the wrong direction.
Something else was growing now: great piles of white buffalo bones, waiting to be shipped East for fertilizer and bone china and Lord knew what else.
Last year the railroad construction gangs had found Dodge already a bustling little village, huddled up on the north bank of the Arkansas River, halfway between Missouri and Santa Fe. It had started out as a whisky camp for the soldiers at Fort Dodge, five miles to the east. Then the buffalo hunters had located there, and for a while they called it Buffalo City. By the time the railroad came, there were by actual count one general store, three dance halls and six saloons.
But to a buffalo hunter coming in after three months out on the prairie, the town was as pretty as a new bride. Didn't matter whether the lumber was painted or not, long as the ladies were. Nobody complained if dirt trickled down from sod roofs and got matted in a man's hair or fell into his collar and went gritty there. At least there were roofs.
Who was going to be bothered if the bar was nothing more than a raw buffalo hide stretched across a framework of poles? Who would holler if the whisky was maybe pure alcohol with a little coffee coloring, or even that tobacco- and pepper-treated contraband stuff that some of the guttier ones slipped off and traded to the Indians? It tasted as good as French wine if you'd been out on the buffalo range for months. And by the time you started getting critical, you ought to be dragging it back to the prairie anyhow.
Two miles out, Jameson's crew came upon an old man in tattered clothes and dry-split leather shoes pitching buffalo bones into a wire-patched wagon that threatened to fall down and die right there. A layer of white dust clung to him from these chalky bones that still had a peculiar stench of death even after the months of bleaching in the sun.
This, the bone picking, was the last grim harvest.
Some of the wagon crew hadn't smiled, hadn't spoken a civil word in three weeks, for they were being paid by the hide, and the hides were mighty few. Now, as Dodge finally showed up ahead of them, a yell burst from dry throats. A fair sight she was.
Jameson grinned, though it came near to cracking his wind-dried lips. He wasn't a hard-drinking man, but like the others he found pleasure in the thought of bellying up to one of those flint-hide bars. The change, if nothing else.
Nathan Messick rode up beside him and pointed. Worry was in his eyes. It always was.
"Ever see so many outfits camped? Scattered to kingdom come, all over the edge of town and up and down the river."
"Poor hunting, Nathan. Out of supplies, sick of hunting and not finding anything. Maybe getting a little worried about the Indians."
"They could be out picking bones. There's a million of them."
Jameson shrugged. "Pride, I reckon. I wouldn't want to do it. Would you?"
"Nope, I reckon not."
Rough-looking men lounged in scattered camps, hunkering over fires for lack of anything better to occupy their time. They had gathered here in town, waiting, not knowing what they were waiting for, not knowing what else to do. As the Miles and Posey wagons drew close, the men would walk out and gaze curiously at the hides Jameson was bringing in.
Ahead of him Gage saw a familiar figure standing in a camp, and he smiled broadly. The old man's back was turned to him, but he would recognize Shad Blankenship if he found his hide in a tanyard.
Shad was an old-time mountain man. He had drifted up the Missouri and dodged Sioux and Blackfeet way back in the days of the beaver trade. And although white men often skinned him, no Indian had ever laid a hand on Shad's thick growth of rust-red hair.
"Nathan," Jameson said, "take them on to the Miles and Posey yards. I'll be along directly, after I chew the fat with Shad a little."
Shirt sleeves rolled up halfway to the elbow and sweat soaking his old hickory shirt, the old hunter had put a wagon jack under the axle of one of his three hide wagons and was taking the wheel off to tar the hub. At the call of his name he turned quickly, his blackened hand raised in greeting, his red-bearded old face broken with a grin.
"Hya-a-a there, young'un." As far as Shad was concerned, Gage Jameson was a young'un and always would be. Shad had picked him up as a half-starved runaway kid back there twenty years ago, nursemaided him along, wiped his nose for him, and made a frontiersman out of him.
Shad's big shaggy black dog came trotting out, growling deep in its throat, Blackfoot-mean, until it caught Jameson's scent. The growl stopped. It wagged its tail in recognition.
Jameson stepped down out of the saddle and patted the dog's head. "Hi there, Ripper. You catching enough rabbits to keep that old musk hog fed?"
Blankenship walked out, grinning. "I don't need no dog to feed me, young'un. I'm still a better hunter than you'll ever be, and don't you forget it."
He shoved his big hand forward, then drew it back quickly.
"Forgot about that tar. Wouldn't want to muss up a hide skinner's clean hands." There was a shade of irony in the way he said that. He wiped the hands on his trousers, already so black that a little extra wouldn't be noticed.
"Them your wagons going yonder?" he asked, then nodded his own answer. His grin was gone. Jameson could see that Shad hadn't done much grinning lately, either.
"You done as well as any of them, I reckon. A heap sight better than I done."
Looking closer now, Jameson could see worry clouded deep in the pale blue eyes. It was the same discouragement he'd seen in all the faces that had come out to watch his wagons pass.
Shad Blankenship motioned apologetically to the wagon he was working on. "Them wheels don't really need any tar. It's oozing out all over. But hell, what else is there for a man to do? He'd go crazy sittin' here waitin' for the buffalo to come back."
Jameson frowned. "You really think they'll come back, Shad?"
The old man shrugged gloomily and turned back to the wagon. He started to lift the wheel into place again. Jameson got hold of it with him and fitted it onto the hub. Shad faced him then, and his eyes held a hopelessness.
"They ain't, Gage, they ain't. They're gone, and we'll never see things again the way they was. Wish sometimes I'd died back yonder while things was the way they used to be. Wish I'd never seen the way the country's been ruined."
Jameson put his hand gently on the hunter's thin shoulder. "Come on into town directly and I'll buy you a drink. We'll talk about old times."
Shad's eyes were bleak and pinched in the corners.
"Ain't the town she used to be, Gage. New bunch has taken over. There's every kind of riffraff in there now, just waitin' to see if you got any money on you. There's some will cut your guts out with a dull knife or strangle you with a leather cord. And if the cutthroats don't get it, them crooked gamblers will."
Jameson thought he knew what the trouble was. No matter how many months old Shad had worked for it, or what he'd had to go through, when he got his big chapped hands on a roll of money he was drawn to the poker tables like a fly to a freshly skinned buffalo. Likely as not they'd taken him the first night he hit town. Lucky he hadn't lost his wagons, to boot.
Shad shook a crooked finger at Jameson. It had been broken in some trading-post brawl long since forgotten.
"You tell them men of yours they better watch out for theirselves. Quick as they get paid off, there'll be a dozen wolves around to pick their bones."
"I'll tell them."
He had long wondered why an old frontiersman like Shad, wily and sure as a fox out on the prairie, should forever be so improvident when he came to town. He had made a couple or three fortunes in his time, and they had all gone the same way. He would never accumulate anything of value and hang onto it if he lived to be a hundred and six.
Shad frowned darkly. "I been thinkin,' Gage. Thinkin' about going East to Missouri and taking up farming."
Jameson blinked in surprise. Shad added quickly, "I growed up on a farm in Tennessee, don't you know that? Had me a right smart reputation. Wasn't no young'un there could plow a straighter furrow or get more work out of a pair of mules. But the place just naturally got a little too small for me and my Paw both. So when I decided I couldn't whup him, I took my old squirrel gun and lit out."
Jameson smiled and shook his head. "You'll never do it, Shad. Maybe there was a time you could've gone back, but you'll never do it now."
"You don't think so?" Old Shad narrowed his eyes and poked his finger at Gage. "I get the chance, young'un, I'll show you. You just wait."
Jameson caught up to his hide wagons just before they reached the Miles and Posey yards. The partners leased from the Santa Fe a long stretch of ground adjacent to the tracks, where the hides could be loaded directly onto the cars with a minimum of extra handling.
The hide stacks Jameson had seen here the last time were greatly diminished, but the smell of them was about as strong as ever. He watched some of the yard crew toss hides onto a press and squeeze them down into a tight bale to be shipped. Down at the lower end a huge rick of buffalo bones was steadily growing. Miles and Posey was branching out.
C. T. Posey stood in front of the unpainted frame office, chewing a dead cigar and frowning thoughtfully at a short load of hides in a sagging old wagon.
Jameson reined up and waited, grinning. That was Posey, all right. He handled them by the tens of thousands, but he could still enjoy haggling with a hunter over fifty or sixty common cowhides.
Trying not to be obvious about it, the man on the wagon was showing Posey the hides with the hair side up. And seeing right through him, Posey was turning them over to the flesh side, one by one, so he could tell how many bullet holes, peg holes and knife slashes were in them.
Posey saw Jameson and nodded a greeting, then went back to his trade. He studied a moment, wrote a figure on a piece of paper, then showed it to the hunter. The man shook his head determinedly. Posey shrugged and started toward the office. The hunter ruefully called him back. Posey nodded and did some figures on the paper. Then he wrote out a check and handed it to the hunter. The hunter, grinning now, climbed on his wagon, flipped the reins and headed for the end of the hide stack where some of the yard crew would unload him.
It was an old stunt of Posey's to beat the price down as far as it would go, then give the seller a few extra dollars on the check to bring it up to some nice round figure. Always left the man smiling, outtraded or not. He'd be back someday with another load.
Posey strode up and shook Jameson's hand, a genuine gladness in what could be the deadest poker face in town when necessary.
"Mighty pleased to see you, Gage."
"You may not be when you look at my wagons."
Posey stood back and surveyed Jameson's incoming hide train, his hands shoved deep in his pockets. He chewed heavily on the unlighted cigar, a nervous twitch pinching one side of his face. He was dressed in tailor-made clothes of good fabric but was undisturbed about the drying mud caked on his shoes and his trouser cuffs. He was a slight, balding Yankee trader, a pleasant man to work for as long as you played it straight. Cheat him and you'd better never come back.
Posey shifted the cigar to the other side of his mouth. "Can't complain, the way some of the others have come in. Stump Johnson hardly had a wagonload."
"How about the hide prices?"
"A little better. Should get better yet. Prospect of a scarcity."
Jameson looked at the men sitting on the wagons, men bearded and dirty, with a trailweariness in their eyes.
"As long as prices are up, could you give the boys a little bonus? They haven't made much this trip."
Posey came about as near smiling as he ever would. "Maybe I can see my way clear." As the wagons pulled up and halted he spoke loudly, "You boys pile off of there and go over to the Dutchman's. Tell him I said give you a good feed. The yard crew can take care of the wagons."
The men jumped down laughing, exulting at the feel of Dodge's half-muddy ground beneath their feet.
"How about you, Gage?" Posey asked.
Jameson shrugged. "Not hungry. I'll go later."
Ever since he had arrived he had noticed a tall, well-dressed man of about his own age standing at the door of the shack, watching him, watching the wagons. Now Posey motioned to the man. "Come here, Ransom. Want you to meet somebody."
The man stepped forward, a smile lifting the ends of his trimmed mustache. "You don't have to tell me. He's Gage Jameson. I've heard plenty already. My name's King, Jameson. Ransom King."
He stood an inch or two taller than Jameson. He wore black trousers and a white shirt with a string tie. His flat-brimmed hat with its rounded crown was as clean as a man could expect to find in a place like Dodge. Jameson wouldn't exactly call him a dandy, like Hickok or Cody, but he was well above the average cut. More than that, he looked like he might be man enough to wear the clothes and get away with it.
"Glad to know you, King. Seems to me I've heard the name around. Hide hunter, aren't you?"
King smiled. "That's right. Been hoping for a good while that we'd cross trails somewhere."
He turned then to Posey. "I can see you're going to be busy a while, C. T., so I'll work on up the street and come back later. You sure you're not ready to meet my price on those hides?"
"Not yet," Posey answered with good humor. "You're just trying to make a killing on one deal so you can retire."
"Now, C. T.," King responded with a laugh, "that's not fair. You know I'm a man of simple tastes and a small ambition. All I want is to get rich."
He started to move away, a spark of laughter still dancing in his eyes. "See you later, C. T., and you'd just as well make up your mind to pay me my price. You're going to do it sooner or later anyway, so why not now?"
He reached for Jameson's hand again. "Glad to've met you, Jameson. Perhaps we can get better acquainted over a bottle of good whisky, if you come down to Wash's saloon."
"Maybe later," Jameson said. As King walked away, Jameson looked to Posey with a question in his eyes. Posey answered it.
"Good hunter, that King. He's had luck right along, even with the buffalo playing out. And when it comes to selling, he's as independent as a hog on ice. I'll spar around with him a little, but in the end I'll have to give him what he's asking. I know it, and so does he."
Jameson tested the name on his tongue. "Ransom King. Sounds like something out of a book."
Posey shrugged. "May be where he got it. Lots of people around here aren't using the names their mothers gave them." He turned and walked into his little frame office, Jameson following him. "That King," Posey said, shaking his head. "They lost the pattern after they made him."
He dug into a desk and brought out a record book. Blowing the dust off it, he asked, "Want to watch the yard crew count off the hides?"
"Won't be necessary." Jameson pulled a tally book out of his pocket. "Got the figures here for every wagon."
Posey picked it up and riffled the pages. "And they'll be correct, too, right down to the last kip." Humor was in his eyes.
While Posey pulled open a door at the bottom of his heavy rolltop desk and brought out a bottle and two glasses, Jameson looked around the office. It was strictly a working man's setup, not meant for entertaining royalty. Papers were piled high and seemingly without care on top of the desk and the heavy iron safe in the corner. But Jameson would bet his Big Fifty, reloading outfit and all, that Posey knew where to find anything he needed. Not a single picture on the bare wall, but there was a solitary little calendar, notes scribbled in careful hand around many of the dates. Three Indian-tanned buffalo robes lay rolled up along one wall.
There was a faint aroma of tobacco and whisky, but it was overpowered by the strong smell of heavy grease and buffalo hides.
Once Jameson had asked Posey if the stink ever bothered him.
"Sometimes," came the bland comment, "when the prices start dropping."
Posey poured two shot glasses full. Jameson took his down in one long, appreciative swallow, his face squinching up at the burn of the whisky. It was good bourbon. Posey had it shipped to him all the way from Kentucky.
He eased out a long breath and nodded in approval. "First one I've had in months."
"Didn't you take some along for medicinal purposes?"
"We turned that wagon over the third week out. Broke every bottle but one. We did have to save that one for medicinal purposes."
He turned serious. "How does it look, C. T.?"
Posey shook his head. "Not good, Gage, not good. She's cutting mighty thin. You saw how many hunters are camped around town here. They've scoured the whole Arkansas. By spring there won't be enough hides left to sweat a pair of mules. Indians are restless, too. Cheyennes killed one of Stump Johnson's men.
"Trouble is, there's nowhere to go from here. The army's turning hunters back from the northern territory because of the Medicine Lodge treaty. And south--well, you know what's to the south."
Jameson squeezed the whisky glass. "The Cimarron. And below that, the Canadian. And buffalo, C. T....there's bound to be a world of buffalo down there."
"And a world of Comanches."
Jameson looked directly into Posey's eyes. "Comanches or not, I want to go."
Posey straightened, taken aback. "Knowing you, I shouldn't be surprised. But I can't afford to send any Miles and Posey wagons down there. Not till I know we've got a better than even chance of bringing the men back alive and the wagons full of hides. Right now, I don't think we have that chance."
Jameson stood up and looked out the open door toward the hide wagons with their light load. "We haven't got much choice, have we? It's go south or pick bones. And C. T., I'm no bone picker."
Posey shrugged. "You're right, Gage. We both know it. But the question is, when? The time's not right, not yet."
"And when will the time be right? When somebody goes down there and proves it can be done. What's going to happen when somebody comes back from Texas with a string of wagons piled high with hides? I'll tell you. It won't matter if the whole outfit has arrows sticking out of it like the quills on a porcupine--men'll run all over each other trying to get down there. Price of wagons and teams will shoot up. You'll be offering two dollars a day-maybe three--trying to get skinners and teamsters.
"I want to be that first man."
Posey only stared at him. "I'd like to do it, Gage. I'd like to let you go. But Jason Miles is half of this partnership, and he'd hit the ceiling. Me, I'm the flighty type. I'll shoot the works on a scheme that looks halfway good. Jason is so hidebound he wouldn't invest a nickel if he couldn't see a dime lying in front of him. So we balance each other off. I keep Jason prodded along, and he keeps my feet on the ground. Right now, no amount of persuasion would move Jason Miles."
Jameson's eyes grew keen. He pointed his chin toward the big safe in the corner. "That money the company's been holding for me--got it at hand? Got it where I could get it if I wanted it right quick?"
Posey's face tightened in worry. "Yes, but what's going on in that Indian mind of yours?"
"Just this, C. T.: if Miles and Posey doesn't want to send me, I'll go on my own. There's buffalo down there in Texas. I'm going to get them!"
Copyright 1956, 1984 by Elmer Kelton


Excerpted from Buffalo Wagons by Kelton, Elmer Copyright © 1997 by Kelton, Elmer. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Elmer Kelton (1926-2009) was the award-winning author of more than forty novels, including The Time It Never Rained, Other Men's Horses, Texas Standoff and Hard Trail to Follow. He grew up on a ranch near Crane, Texas, and earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas. His first novel, Hot Iron, was published in 1956. Among his awards have been seven Spurs from Western Writers of America and four Western Heritage awards from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. His novel The Good Old Boys was made into a television film starring Tommy Lee Jones. In addition to his novels, Kelton worked as an agricultural journalist for 42 years, and served in the infantry in World War II. He died in 2009.

Elmer Kelton (1926-2009) was award-winning author of more than forty novels, including The Time It Never Rained, Other Men’s Horses, Texas Standoff and Hard Trail to Follow. He grew up on a ranch near Crane, Texas, and earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas. His first novel, Hot Iron, was published in 1956. Among his awards have been seven Spurs from Western Writers of America and four Western Heritage awards from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. His novel The Good Old Boys was made into a television film starring Tommy Lee Jones. In addition to his novels, Kelton worked as an agricultural journalist for 42 years. He served in the infantry in World War II. He died in 2009.

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Buffalo Wagons 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Any fool can google firearms info this fool did not
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Im leaving i didnt know u were like this.... i thought u were different
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Go back to pack -Clarice