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Brace Andrews had stood strong against Indians, grizzlies, polecats, wolves, desperadoes, blizzards, and flash floods to protect his claim on Righteous Mountain over the last ten years. It was his mountain. He'd named it, carved a niche out of its thickly forested, rocky skin, and built his cabin--first of sod, dragged up the mountain piece by piece from the prairie below, then of good, strong hardwood--on it. He'd soaked the damned earth with his sweat and blood; paid a pound of flesh for every square inch of his land.
He'd be fucked sideways till Sunday if'n anybody was going to horn in on his claim, no matter who waved government papers in his face, particularly not this pantywaist greenhorn from New York City in his natty coat and spectacles.
Brace had come across the man two, three days ago, pacing off a large section of land at the foot of the eastern side of the mountain. When Brace had asked him what in the blue hell he thought he was doing, the man had gone on and on about his dang piece of paper, saying he had a claim to the land. Brace had shooed him away from the spot twice already, pointing the long barrel of his shotgun, Bessie, at him.
Now the man was back, having found his way up to Brace's cabin, probably following the smoke from Brace's hearth, and Brace was damned tempted to let Bessie do all the talking this time.
He didn't, though, because Brace's ma brought him up right, damn her. He let the stranger prattle on for the better part of a half hour, but now his patience was finally worn as thin as the sheet of vellum the stranger shook at him.
"Listen here, Mister. I told you afore, and I'll tell you one last time--Idon't give a damn what they told you back there in Washington. They don't own this mountain ... I do. There's a whole mess of mountains attached to this one, and a whole country full of prairie. Best if you go and find a different spot and leave this one be, or we're going to have ourselves a serious problem," Brace growled, leveling Bessie at him. He smirked when the man took a step back.
"Mr. Andrews, please, be reasonable! I have a patent from the government of these United States of America which, under the Homestead Act of 1862, gives me the right to one hundred sixty acres of this land, and I intend to claim it!"
Brace sniffed, turned his head, and spat a stream of yellow tobacco juice on the ground, missing the stranger's boots by only a couple of inches. His aim was off. "Not on my mountain, you ain't."
"I'm not trying to prove a homestead on your mountain! My land just happens to butt up against it."
"Oh, and what do you think is gonna happen when I come down off my mountain to hunt buffalo on the prairie? Think I'm gonna worry about skirting around your corn, or wheat fields, or whatever the hell you're fixin' to plant down there? No, sir, that land is part of my mountain, and I aim to keep it that way."
"But I have a patent!" the man said again, shaking a long piece of thin paper in Brace's face as if Brace might've missed it the first hundred times. "I came all the way out here from New York, sold everything I owned to finance the trip. Blistered my ass riding across hundreds of miles of rough prairie with a wagon train, and rode alone the rest of the way here, following the map the government gave me, on a goddamn mule!
"What do you think happens when I finally get here? First, I find out part of the land they granted me is a foothill under a fucking mountain, not the good, fertile, flat farmland they promised me, and now you're telling me you own it all. Well, sir, I won't stand for it. I won't. I'm going to claim this land, and that's that!"
Brace almost chuckled at the way the man's cheeks flared red, his blue eyes snapping fire behind his wire-rim spectacles. Poor sodbuster looked like he was about to have one of them apoplectic fits. "What did you say your name was?"
"Quinn. Gaylord Quinn."
"Well, Quinn, seems to me what we got here is a difference of opinion. I say the land is mine, and you say different. You got a piece of paper to prove your claim, and I got ol' Bessie, here," he said, patting the stock of his shotgun. "Who do you think has the best argument?"
"Surely you wouldn't shoot a man in cold blood!"
Brace leveled a glare at him, "If'n a man pushes me, I push back. Hard."