It is the eve of the Civil War, but the ranchers of the Rio Grande Valley are already fightingamongst themselves and with the fierce Apaches. Martin Baron finds himself in battle against his own neighbor, Matteo Aguilar, and must fight daily to keep his family safe.
Martin's proud and heart-sick son Anson, must leave leave all he knows and loves to head off an attack by an Apache chief against the ranch's settlers. But without his son at home to help protect the ranch, everything the Baron's have worked so hard to create is in danger of being destroyed.
The Baron Range is a story as rich as Texas itself, as the men and women struggle against all odds for wealth, power, and peace of mind in savage and uncertain world.
About the Author
Jory Sherman is the Spur Award-winning author of Song of the Cheyenne and Medicine Horn, in addition to the Baron's saga. He is a real cowboy who rode the rodeo circuit. He lives on a lake in East Texas.
Read an Excerpt
ANSON BARON HEARD the ominous swish of a horn behind him and the tiny hair bristles on the back of his neck stiffened into needles that made his skin tingle as if pierced by miniature icicles. Then, he heard the angry rake of cloven hooves gouging the earth.
Anson turned just in time to see the huge longhorn steer lower his boss and leap forward in a lusty charge, snorting steam from mushroomed nostrils, hooves pounding the ground to a muffled thunder. Anson saw the spread of the six-foot horns, knew he would be smashed to a blood-soaked pulp if he didn't suddenly sprout wings and fly out of danger. He felt as if his feet were made of lead and his boots mired in quicksand.
The young man started to run to the side, but he knew he was moving too slow to escape the powerful swipe of the steer's left horn. His stomach swirled with a thousand fluttering wings as if five hundred moths had emerged from their dusty cocoons. Time seemed to freeze and unfreeze as if every bone in his body had turned rigid with fear.
A gelid lump rose in Anson's throat and stuck there as he realized that he could not escape that terrible horn, that it would smash his chest flat and crush his ribs and lungs into a pulpy mash.
Anson, as he scrambled to the side to try and avoid the swinging horn, heard a loud shout and the steer swung its head to the right, skidded to a stop. Anson let out his breath and the burning in his lungs sweetened with the fresh air he inhaled.
"Hoo, hoo," shouted the unknown man in a strange loud voice and the steer charged toward the sound.
Anson edged along the corral fence to put distance between him and the crazed longhorn steer and looked off to his left. There, atop a claybank mare, sat the man who had shouted, causing the steer to check its killing charge.
"Better climb that fence, Anson," the man said, "afore this here steer changes his mind."
"What the hell," Anson said, as he turned and grabbed a split rail above his head. "That you, Peebo?"
"Naw, Anson, it's Honest Abe Lincoln."
Anson climbed the fence and straddled the top rail. He looked down into the arena and saw his lariat strung out like a dead snake in the center. The steer had caught him by surprise. He had been trying to rope it and snub it to a post to find out what was making it mean as a copperhead with a bellyache.
"I'm goin' to shoot that mean sonofabitch," Anson said.
Peebo laughed. "Why?"
"'Cause he tried to kill me."
"Warn't his fault. That steer was more scared than you was."
"He sure as hell didn't act scared."
Peebo dismounted and stepped up to the corral fence and looked at the steer as Anson marveled at his bravery. He was no more than a few inches from those long, sweeping horns.
"You better watch out," Anson said.
"Did you look at his eyes?" Peebo asked. He was a towheaded young man on the burly side, all muscle, tough sinew, face burned umber by the sun and wind, a pudgy set of lips, curious blue eyes, hands cracked by exposure, scabbed like a pair of sea creatures.
"No, I didn't look at his eyes," Anson said. "He come at me for no reason. All I saw was horn and meanness."
"Well, that steer's blind as a bat," Peebo said.
"Ain't you never seen the 'pink eye' before?"
"No, I reckon I ain't," Anson said.
"Well, by the gods, that there steer's plumb got it, Anson. What in hell you doin' way out here, anyways?"
"What are you doing way out here, Peebo?"
"I come lookin' for your pa. 'Member, he offered me a job did I ever want one?"
"Yeah, I remember. You lookin' for work?"
"Ranch I was workin' on up on the Brazos done went under. Comanch'."
"That's right. Wiped old man Bate clean out, pert near."
"You was raisin' horses, wasn't you?"
"Still am. I had me a string over t'nother place what wasn't hit. I brung me some steeds."
Peebo laughed. "Horses, son, a passel of 'em. I got 'em over in a draw just this side of the Nueces. Heard all the ruckus here and come over."
"You didn't happen to run across a Mexican out in the brush, did you?" Anson asked.
"That damned Jorge was supposed to be helpin' me and I ain't seen him since breakfast."
"You bunked out somewheres?" Peebo asked.
"We got a line shack up on a creek that runs into the Nueces."
"Didn't see that, neither. Where's your pa?"
"He's at the main ranch or maybe in town."
"Okay. I want to talk to him about comin' to work for the Box B."
"Well, now, Peebo, you want a job, you got one."
"You runnin' the spread now?"
"Don't that beat all, though?"
"What do you mean?"
"Why, you're barely dry behind the ears and already the head honcho."
"Pa, he goes away a lot. Somebody's got to run things around here. 'Sides, I had a bunch of Mexican hands run off this mornin'. There's just me and another hand to finish up the branding."
"What happened? They get the pink eye?"
"No, they said there was some big white bull raisin' a ruckus and it gored one of their horses."
"Sounds like a shuck."
"No. That horse was bad gored, for sure, guts all over. Had to shoot it."
"Then your boys run off."
"They said it was a white devil. I couldn't talk 'em out of it."
"I'd like to see this white bull," Peebo said.
"Say, you working here or not?"
"I guess. Whatcha want me to do, Anson?"
"Tell me what to do with this steer. Shoot him, run him off, drown him?"
"You can doctor him if you got a mind to and give him medicine."
"What medicine?" Anson asked.
"Hell, I don't know. Creosote, maybe."
"You mean boil a creosote bush and pour the juice in its eye?"
"Yeah. Or you can just let that steer loose and let him run. It'll wear off, finally."
"Open that gate," Anson said.
Peebo slipped the thin manila rope off a post and swung the gate wide. The steer turned at the creaking sound and stared blindly at the opening.
"Kick him in the ass," Peebo said.
"You kick him in the ass."
"Hoo haw," Peebo called and the steer charged at him with rheumy pink eyes that did not blink. The animal ran out into the open and stopped, then started staggering around, lost, but free.
"A pitiful sight, ain't it?" Peebo said.
"Nobody told me about the pink eye," Anson replied.
"Anybody tell you there's talk about the South seceding from the Union?"
"What's what?" Peebo asked.
"Oh, that means breaking off from the North, becoming a separate country."
"That don't make no sense," Anson said.
"Well, maybe not, but it's got to do with folks holding slaves. North says it's wrong, and the South says it's right."
"Well, I don't hold with slavery."
"No, well, maybe it's all talk, but there's a lot of people talkin' about war and secession. Some towns is gettin' up militias to fight Yankees if they come down and try and take the slaves away."
"Well, we don't hold slaves," Anson said.
"You may be gettin' some visitors right soon who'll ask you and your pa to take sides," Peebo said.
"Likely we'll take no sides."
"Yep, likely," Peebo said, a pixie look in his crackling blue eyes. "Well, what's the work today?"
"First, we put up your horses, then we wrassle the brush for more strays."
"What were you aimin' to do with that blind steer?" Peebo asked.
"Put a brand on him."
"Where's the fire? The irons?"
"I ain't got that far yet. He was the first one of the mornin' and I wanted to snub him up first. He was ornery and it was heck gettin' him out of the brush."
"You're lucky he didn't gore you into next week," Peebo said.
"I wonder how he caught the pink eye."
Peebo shrugged. "They get it from flies or skeeters, hell, I don't know."
Anson grinned. He was glad to have company. He had sent but one of the hands back to the main ranch. He figured there couldn't be more than a half-dozen cattle in the brush left to brand. After letting the other hands go, he and Jorge Camacho had ridden out to this section of the Box B the day before and he had seen little of Jorge since. Jorge was a sullen worker, but always full of fun when the sun went down. He'd bring out his guitar and sing sad Mexican songs, son huastecos he called them, and he'd drink aguardiente he made from peaches or persimmons or something and would laugh so hard he'd cry. But, during the day, his face clouded up dark as a thunderhead and he scowled without cracking a smile all day.
"You going to look for Jorge?" Peebo asked as the two men rode together toward the Nueces.
"Naw, he'll show up, I reckon. He knows where the corral is. He and I built it last spring."
"I heard about the Apaches," Peebo said.
"We beat 'em good."
"They run off?"
"Likely they'll be back."
"We don't expect them," Anson said, but his forehead creased in worry lines. He was just a shade over nineteen, but he had taken on responsibility for keeping the ranch up and taking care of his mother while his father had abandoned them for a time. Now Martin Baron was back, but he spent most of his time in Baronsville makingdeals or talking deals and seldom did any real work on the ranch.
Anson had grown tall, but he was lean from hard work and forking a saddle. His dark unruly hair was full of dust now and one curl hung over his forehead. His hazel eyes bore the look of an older man because he had seen much in his young years and he had killed a white man and some Apaches.
Peebo's horses were hobbled and strung out along a small creek. They were all grazing. One or two lifted their heads as the two men rode up. Their coats glistened sleek in the sun and one of them gave a friendly whicker.
"I count sixteen horses," Anson said.
"And not an ugly one in the bunch."
"Prime stock, then."
"Sound as a sackful of dollars."
"Let's get 'em unhobbled and over to the line shack. There's a stock tank there with water in it and grain aplenty."
Peebo grinned. The two quickly unhobbled the horses and Peebo strung them all on a lead rope. He followed Anson through brush to a trail that led to a mesquite fence with a gate. Anson dismounted and swung open the gate. They rode another half mile and made a turn onto a small creek. There in a clearing stood a small, crude shack and a large corral that appeared sturdy despite its primitive construction.
"That your shack?" Peebo asked.
"It's where we bunk."
"Hell, it ain't nothin' but a damned jacal."
Anson laughed. He opened the gate to the corral and Peebo led the horses in, removed the lead rope from their halters. He and Anson took the halters off. Peebo checked the water tank, which was almost full and, together, they walked to a small shed that was closed up against the weather. Inside, there were sacks of cracked corn, one opened. Anson took a wooden bucket off a peg stuck into the wall and filled it with grain. Anotherbucket was on the floor and Peebo picked it up and filled it.
When they had finished graining the horses, Peebo went to the shack and opened the door. It had a dirt floor, three bunks, a small iron stove. Utensils stood on a small sideboard nailed against the wall and hung from wooden pegs. A small cupboard revealed staples, sugar, flour, coffee, jerky, chili peppers, salt, pepper and a clay jar of molasses. On a board laid on the floor were sacks of potatoes, onions, sugar beets and beans.
There was a small rickety table and three barrel chairs covered in cowhide. There were bedrolls on two of the bunks.
"Looks just right for three hands," Peebo said.
"Lay your bedroll on that bunk yonder," Anson told him. "We got three more shacks like this one scattered hereabouts. We use 'em all during the gather. I figured we had pretty much worked out this section, so I sent the other hands on back to the main ranch."
"How long do you expect to be out here?"
"Another day or two, maybe."
"A month from now, I reckon. Whenever we finish branding on this section. I got one section to go, closer to home."
"How far's home?" Peebo asked.
Anson laughed. "A good day's ride."
Peebo let out a long whistle. "How much land you got, Anson?"
"I don't rightly know. Maybe near a million acres."
Peebo whistled again. The two men stepped out of the shack and into the sun. Peebo went to his horse and untied his bedroll from behind the cantle. He was walking back toward the shack when both men heard a loud scream and then silence.
"What in hell was that?" Peebo asked, stopping dead in his tracks.
"It sounded like a man in pain," Anson said. He hadbeen just about to step up into his saddle. Both men listened for a long time, and then they both heard another scream, louder this time and from a man unmistakably in pain.
Peebo tossed his bedroll on the ground and ran to his horse as Anson pulled himself into the saddle. He pointed in the direction of the screaming and was already putting spurs to his horse.
Then, they both heard the sound of galloping hoofbeats followed by a cavernous silence as if a deep moss-black tomb, filled with unspeakably defiled ancient corpses, had suddenly been opened after thousands of undisturbed centuries.
Copyright © 2000 by Jory Sherman
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