John Lee Johnson and the Gunslingers


John Lee Johnson has a way of getting things done—but now he needs to get things done on his own 50,000-acre ranch in Texas. Two gangs of rustlers have been slowly draining the cattle from his herd, and that could spell the end of his livelihood.

He begins the journey from Ohio back to Texas outfitted with military holsters around his waist holding Navy Colts and two more stuck in his belt. He knows how to use them and use them well. Before he can complete the trip, however, the...

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John Lee Johnson and the Gunslingers

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John Lee Johnson has a way of getting things done—but now he needs to get things done on his own 50,000-acre ranch in Texas. Two gangs of rustlers have been slowly draining the cattle from his herd, and that could spell the end of his livelihood.

He begins the journey from Ohio back to Texas outfitted with military holsters around his waist holding Navy Colts and two more stuck in his belt. He knows how to use them and use them well. Before he can complete the trip, however, the Union government asks him to arrest two outlaws hiding in the badlands of the nation.

But Johnson faces more challenges. Marilla Urmacher, widow of an outland brigand called Indian Melvin, concocts a scheme to destroy Johnson. She plans to lead the big Texan and his federal deputies into an abandoned town, where she has two gangs ready to take them all down. Even worse, Marilla has also hired two of the best gunslingers in the Southwest and set them waiting at his ranch, ready and eager to send the big man to the Promised Land.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781458211293
  • Publisher: Abbott Press
  • Publication date: 8/30/2013
  • Pages: 306
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.81 (d)

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John Lee Johnson and the Gunslingers

By Conn Hamlett

Abbott Press

Copyright © 2013 Conn Hamlett
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4582-1130-9


RUSSELL JOHNSON STOOD six four and weighed about 215 pounds. He remembered very well when he was the same height but weighed only 150 pounds. He had traveled all the way from Texas to search for his cousin who was serving with General Buford in Tennessee.

The Purvis brothers had illegally taken over their ranch and had killed their fathers. Russell thought back on how upset and afraid he was, and the terrible ordeals he endured on the trip. But he had found John, and his stalwart cousin had come back with him and settled matters with the Purvis brothers in blazing gunfire. John had his way of getting things done. He was an unrelenting force as the Purvis brothers found out. Today Russell was in great need of his cousin again. He had never felt as dependent on John as he did now.

While awaiting word from his celebrated cousin who was on his journey back from Ironton, Ohio, Russell was in a terrible fix. For the last month the rustling had become epidemic, and he felt beleaguered by forces he could not control. He had sent a telegram to Levi Brown, a government official with whom John was working, but had not received a response.

The Mexican rustler Johnny Rios and his gang of rustlers were raiding him hard on one side of the ranch. Rios was from South Texas but had moved his operation to North Texas because he could steal cattle and sell them quickly into New Mexico territory. He was rustling all the ranches, but Russell was easy pickings because had more cattle and fewer men to protect them.

When Rios lost men in skirmishes, he replenished them very quickly with border trash who came out of the woodwork to work for him and the easy money. The ranchers found it harder to find available and capable men. With each day that passed, the rustlers were growing stronger and the ranchers were becoming weaker in this war of attrition.

On the western side of the ranch Bushrod Elkins, who had his ass branded by Seth Johnson and Harley Rawlins, was also rustling cattle. Bushrod had an undying hatred of the Johnsons.

This burning animosity had caused him to take up rustling in hopes of breaking the Johnsons, and he concentrated his rustling exclusively against Russell's brand. Every damn cow he stole was a strike against the family he hoped to drive into the ground.

Bushrod Elkins had far fewer men than Rios and his gang was better suited for bank and coach robberies, but nevertheless they had adapted to purloining cattle and had gotten very skilled at it. His take of cattle was always smaller than Rios but he was consistent and it was enough for the present to keep his men from becoming discontented.

Russell and his overtaxed ranch hands were trying to simultaneously cover the far end of the western and eastern parts of his large ranch. They were frustrated and unsuccessful. Fifty thousand acres covered a lot of territory and he could never concentrate successfully on just one range with the two gangs slowly draining him.

In addition to that problem, the cattle had to be moved regularly for grass and water. His understaffed cowhands had found it impossible to stop the elusive rustlers while attending to the necessary chores to make the ranch successful. He faced a very realistic possibility that he could lose the ranch before John could return.

He and his burly ramrod, Harley Rawlins, were in the front yard discussing the situation. Both stood grim-faced while deciding what tack they would use the ensuing week, when they caught sight of a stranger riding down the ranch road.

He was a singular individual. He had hard dark eyes that were shadowed by a wide and sloped, dusted-black hat brim. His black mustache curved over his lips and formed into a stark spade beard that covered his strong chin. He was as tall as Russell but a lot larger in body size.

He wore a black coat crusted in alkali and trail dust and a singular Colt .44 on his hip. It was encased in a simple black holster, which looked slick leather used and another Colt was stuck in his belt.

He rode his tired blazed-face sorrel into the yard and up to Russell and Harley. He nodded solemnly, took off his hat and dusted it off. He took his time in putting it back on and then looked down at both men watching him.

"I'm looking for work."

Russell nodded thoughtfully. He gave a quick look at Harley and then up at the stranger, "My name's Russell and this is Harley. I'm sort of running the place until my cousin gets back."

The stranger, who was practiced at choosing his words rather than quiet by nature, took his time in answering, "My name is SJ Moloch. Now, I ain't much use with cattle but I'll do my best. But if you got a rustling problem, I can take care of it."

Russell nodded thoughtfully and looked the stranger over more fully. He thought it was nervy of the stranger to open up with such straightforward confidence. He studied SJ through narrowed eyes and then looked over at Harley to catch his expression.

Harley squinted his eyes and looked up at SJ, "How did you know we had rustler problems?"

SJ shrugged and answered, "Everyone's got rustler problems. The war is shutting down and everyone and his brother knows there's going to be a cattle boom." He sighed and ran his large hand tiredly over his face, "It just stands to reason."

Russell's eyebrows moved up and he rocked on his heels, "SJ, I frankly don't know you from Adam. For all we know," he paused and looked over at Harley wanting support, "you could be a rustler."

SJ let a smile move across his face, "Well, if I am, I ain't doing so damned well."

Harley looked up at the flinty looking man and back at Russell. He nodded his head at SJ and said, "Give us a moment."

He pulled Russell aside and out of ear range of the stranger and said, "What the hell? Let's give him a chance. I'll take him with me and my group and if he's a damned rustler or connected with either Rio or Bushrod Elkins, I'll guarantee you that I'll pick up on it."

Russell looked down at his boots and back up at Harley, "Just watch him. He don't look like a cowhand to me."

Harley widened his eyes and said, "Well, out of your own mouth you said it. He probably ain't a rustler then."

Russell exhaled and nodded, "Okay, you handle it, Harley, just be careful. He's one mean looking son of a bitch."

The next day at sunrise, SJ was in line to get his chow when one of the boys named Sandy, a tall lanky cowhand, tapped him on the shoulder.

SJ turned around and looked at him. Sandy, who featured himself as tough, looked into those soulless eyes and then blanched. He swallowed and nodded, "Just wanted to say howdy and welcome you to the ranch."

SJ nodded and wordlessly turned around. Sandy exhaled and gave a look of relief that he had not offended the hard-faced stranger. Sandy never went to college or even high school, but it did not take a genius to realize that horsing around with SJ could send you six feet under real fast.

The other cowhands who were privy to Sandy's usual hazing of newcomers chuckled among themselves. It was obvious to every single rider that SJ was not a man to mess with.

The next two days were uneventful in that the rustling had slackened and the moving of the cattle was equally as dull.

SJ proved to be a good cowhand although he never professed to be. He could handle a rope and he never complained or said anything harsh to anyone. He kept to himself and even ate by himself. He was cordial enough but always distant.

Harley did not mind SJ's solitary ways. He had gotten to like his work ethic and the way he handled himself. He never spouted off around the campfire and he would answer when spoken to but never initiated a conversation.

Harley placed him and Sandy and two other new men on guard duty around the south end of the herd. That was the direction that Johnny Rios has used in his last two wholesale attempts.

Russell put SJ and Sandy on night watch, and that night they had been riding watch for more than three hours. The moon was in the quarter phase and the whole area was drenched in silvery black. The mesquite trees laid soft but crooked moonlit shadows on the yellow sand. The sound of insects filled the air as the cattle milled and occasionally bawled.

Sandy was humming a song and the other two younger men were fighting slumber with their heads nodding. The cattle were moving slowly and the night sounds were even soothing. It seemed like another night of more of the same.

SJ, however, was not slumbering or humming. He had thought he heard the sound of horses. He turned his horse sideways and pulled out his .44.

A dozen riders broke from the shadows. Their wide sombreros were silhouetted in the wan moonlight. He could see their pistols held in their hands and he could hear the sound of their horses pounding on the sand. Their quick appearance startled the other riders.

SJ calmly sighted his weapon and began firing. He fired five shots, jetting a hot orange flash from his weapon and each time a Mexican whirled from his saddle either wounded or dead. He quickly holstered his empty weapon and pulled up another .44 and it began barking, sending more yellow-orange flames bleaching the night air. He was sending Mexicans down to the ground faster than Sandy could count.

The remaining rustlers shot back hurriedly but harmlessly. They quickly realized they had walked into a hornet's nest and whirled their horses around. They looked back in fear as they saw the large looming shadowy figure level out his Colt.

Sandy and the other two crew members fired at the fleeing backs of the fleeting shadows but they missed.

Sandy looked over in the moonlight at the grim SJ Moloch. His eyes widened in shock and in admiration. He thanked the saints for giving him the brains to leave this man alone and not prod him as he was inclined to do.

SJ never looked flustered nor did he make a fuss about dropping eight outlaws. He calmly reloaded his weapons and holstered them. The cattle had milled agitatedly but soon settled. Sandy was further surprised when SJ began singing to the cattle in a voice that sounded trained and experienced.

Sandy and his two comrades quickly dismounted and dragged the Mexican rustlers out of the mesquite shadows and lined them up on the sand. They eventually found them all and lit matches to examine the faces and search for identification. Seeing none they recognized, they robbed the bodies of silver and gold coins. Two, who were still barely alive, were left unattended but they were likewise robbed of any money they possessed. They buried the dead hurriedly and left the wounded to their own damned fate. Their calloused attitude reflected the same terms the rustlers had used when they had brutally left wounded ranch hands to God and nature in past skirmishes.

SJ did not partake nor did he act interested in any of the loot found on the bodies. He merely kept to himself and kept singing in that strong voice of his.

The next day, the whole ranch had heard of SJ's exploits. At the chow line, the cowhands looked at him out of the corner of their eyes with respect and even a measure of fear. SJ, as usual kept to himself and did not respond to the huddled men around him talking about his decimating Johnny Rio's gang.

Miles away that same morning Johnny Rios, the Mexican rustler, was in a small cantina. He had just uncorked a green bottle covered in wicker and was pouring the tinkling wine into a clay mug when he heard horses ride up to the cantina.

His eyes moved up when he did not hear the sound of many horses and it alarmed him. His dark eyes moved under his oily eyebrows on his moon face. His pupils moved to the batwings. He saw four of his men enter with sheepish looks.

He ran a hand across his greasy features and slid the bottle aside with the side of his hand. He spoke in rapid Spanish to them and asked where the others were and where were the cattle.

Pedro Molinas, his second in command, spread his hands out palms up and gave a lugubrious look, "They are dead, Juan."

Johnny Rios beguiling his thick girth, jumped from the table and shouted, "Dead?"

Pedro, fearing Johnny's wrath, let the question linger in the air. He finally built up enough courage and he answered, "Si, they are dead."

Johnny stood there and his features melted into this reality. He asked, "Was the man shooting tall and with large shoulders?" He spread his hands wide to make his point.

"I could not see this hombre, only the barrel of his weapon."

Johnny sank back in his chair and shook his head, "It could not be John Johnson. He is too far away." He let a smile move across the whisker stubble of his face, "We will see who this hombre is." He slammed his fist on the table and gulped his wine. He sleeved the excess off and added, "And we will kill him."

* * *

The Johnson ranch hands took Sunday off except for a skeleton crew and SJ rode into Baileysboro. He ate a small meal and later sat in a tilted chair on the broad boardwalk in front of the hotel.

Sheriff Nelson, the old but rawhide-tough constable of the town, was in the jailhouse. As SJ was walking by his window, he caught a glimpse of the dark and somber figure. Then he noticed how SJ appeared to be napping but something about him reminded him of a panther. He had druthers whether the man was really sleeping. He just looked dangerous.

The sheriff kept walking but stopped and returned to the window for a longer look. He knew he had seen that face before but he could not place it. He fingered his chin in thought and then made his way to his desk. He looked through some reward posters and had no luck. He leaned back in his chair and studied on the man. He finally shrugged and gave up, and started oiling his weapons.

The Sunday stage pulled in and stopped at the hotel. The stage line rented a small part of the lobby for business. The clerk, a runty man named Dexter, came out and stood by the stage door and opened it.

The street dust was still billowing and Dexter fanned the air with his small station hat. He opened the door and a feisty boy about eleven years old jumped from the stage and whirled around in nervous energy in the street.

His mother, a plump lady holding a carpetbag, stepped down and called to the rambunctious youngster to stop kicking up dust. The boy named Chester jumped up on the boardwalk and continued whirling around inadvertently stumbling into the outstretched legs of SJ Moloch.

SJ moved his legs some and then readjusted his hat over his forehead. Chester pushed his face closer to SJ's and said, "Why don't you watch your feet, you ass."

SJ reached out quickly, grabbed Chester's cheap shirt and pulled him closer. He opened his mouth and bit Chester's nose hard.

Chester screamed in agony and his feet danced while SJ bit down on his pudgy nose. SJ released him with a shove and Chester stood and cried holding his bloody nose.

His mother stood with an open mouth watching all of this. Then she tossed her carpetbag aside, walked stridently up onto the boardwalk, kicked at SJ's legs and shouted, "I dare you, you savage."

SJ reached up, grabbed the front of her blouse, pulled her down and bit her nose. He really showered down with his teeth and she screamed in anguish and jumped back holding her nose.

Dexter, seeing what was transpiring jumped up on the boardwalk and walked up to SJ shaking his bony finger, "See here, Mister, we don't allow that sort of thing."

SJ sent his arm up, grabbed Dexter, pulled him close and bit him on the nose. He cut down hard on Dexter's banana nose and Dexter shouted and his feet also danced.

SJ finally released him and shoved him back.

All three people entered the hotel with bloody noses. They never said another word to SJ Moloch. Instead they morosely looked at each other and dabbed at their noses.

The sheriff heard shouting but the breadth of the coach occluded his view as he peered out the window. Hearing the shouting and crying stop, he made his way back to his desk, pulled his hat brim over his eyes and took a siesta.

Sandy and his chubby buddy Moe were watching the whole episode from the large porch in front of the saloon. Sandy looked at Moe and Moe looked back. They both shook their heads and entered the saloon to tell the others about what had transpired.

Down the street, the Baptist church was singing and the words to 'Amazing Grace' swept down the way. SJ took his hat off and listening to the words, began to sing the bass part of the chorus. His strong voice carried over to the sheriff 's office.

Excerpted from John Lee Johnson and the Gunslingers by Conn Hamlett. Copyright © 2013 Conn Hamlett. Excerpted by permission of Abbott Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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