THE GREATEST WESTERN WRITERS OF THE 21ST CENTURY
In this thrilling epic of the American West, bestselling authors William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone capture the human side of the frontier experience in all its glory, grit, and grandeur—through the eyes of one remarkable teenage boy...
Leaving their Pennsylvania home to forge a new life in the untamed Oregon Territory of 1845, the Colter family is ambushed by a kill crazy gang of cutthroats on the Oregon Trail. Fifteen-year-old Tim Colter manages to escape and hide—only to return and find his parents butchered, his sisters Nancy and Margaret missing, and one last killer waiting for his return.
Forced to fight for his life, the young Colter embarks on a perilous journey across a lawless frontier, hoping to save his sisters and salvage the dream they lived for. But first, Tim has to figure out how to survive. Luckily, he finds a new friend in Jed Reno, a grizzled one-eyed trapper who’s lived in the Rockies since the 1820s—and who was attacked by the same gang that ambushed Tim’s family. Together, the mountain man and the greenhorn set out after the marauders, blazing a trail of vengeance that leads them to one of the deadliest men in the territory. With danger at every turn, and death just a heartbeat away, Colter has no choice but to grow up fast—one bullet at a time...
About the Author
William W. Johnstone is the USA Today and New York Times bestselling author of over 300 books, including PREACHER, THE LAST MOUNTAIN MAN, LUKE JENSEN BOUNTY HUNTER, FLINTLOCK, SAVAGE TEXAS, MATT JENSEN, THE LAST MOUNTAIN MAN; THE FAMILY JENSEN, SIDEWINDERS, and SHAWN O’BRIEN TOWN TAMER. His thrillers include Phoenix Rising, Home Invasion, The Blood of Patriots, The Bleeding Edge, and Suicide Mission. Visit his website at www.williamjohnstone.net or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Being the all around assistant, typist, researcher, and fact checker to one of the most popular western authors of all time, J.A. Johnstone learned from the master, Uncle William W. Johnstone.
He began tutoring J.A. at an early age. After-school hours were often spent retyping manuscripts or researching his massive American Western History library as well as the more modern wars and conflicts. J.A. worked hard—and learned.
“Every day with Bill was an adventure story in itself. Bill taught me all he could about the art of storytelling. ‘Keep the historical facts accurate,’ he would say. ‘Remember the readers, and as your grandfather once told me, I am telling you now: be the best J.A. Johnstone you can be.’”
Read an Excerpt
By William W. Johnstone, J. A. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 J. A. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
"Run, Tim! Run!"
Tim Colter was buttoning his trousers after answering nature's call when he heard his mother's scream. He didn't even have time to slip the suspenders back over his shoulders. He peeked above the bush and felt all the color and all the blood drain from his face.
He had heard the stories. By Jacks, he had even imagined something like this happening, and had dreamed of being the hero. Saving the day. Having the newspapers back home in Danville write about him. Making Mr. Scott think a little bit more about him. Most important, feeling those ruby red lips of Patricia, Mr. Scott's daughter, kissing him after he had saved her life.
"Run!" his mother shouted again. "Ru —" The tomahawk slammed into her head, and she fell without a word onto the grass beside the Scott family dog, which looked like a porcupine or a pincushion from all the arrows sticking out of the poor mutt's body.
"Get that boy!"
Tim's eyes swung away from his mother. Another Indian was mounted on a big black horse with a perfect white star on its head. The man wore buckskins and long black hair that hung in braids. He pointed a smoking musket in Tim's direction.
Tim remembered hearing the gunshot a few moments ago and thinking how glorious it would have been if Indians had attacked the Scotts and Colters' camp, how he could run to the rescue and use his slingshot to drive off the Sioux or the Cheyenne or the Blackfeet or whatever they were.
Tim Colter they would say, and they'd compare him to David when he'd tackled Goliath.
He had sighed, figuring the shot had come from that Pennsylvania rifle of Mr. Scott's, who had been admiring a turkey he had seen off in the nearby woods.
From behind the bush, Tim saw Mr. Scott with his own rifle across his outstretched legs, leaning against the rear wheel of the Conestoga wagon ... the one being repaired. Blood covered Mr. Scott's face, and his head tilted at an ugly, unnatural angle.
The Indian who had brained Tim's mother let out a curse, dropped the tomahawk, and pawed for a pistol stuck in a thick black belt.
Tim heard the screams of his sisters and Patricia Scott. He heard the shouts of men, Indians and probably his father. The grunts of the oxen and Papa's prized Percheron stallion, the one he had figured would be the envy of every settler in the Oregon Territory when they finally reached The Dalles and moved on to Oregon City.
He heard something else, too, and felt a bee buzz past his left ear.
The Indian had fired his pistol at him. Tim realized he had come just a few inches from death. Only then did he truly understand what was happening.
Only then did he turn and run.
The suspenders slapped against his woolen trousers as he scrambled down the hill. Behind him came whoops as the Indians chased him. He had a head start of maybe thirty yards on the savages, he figured, and he was going down a steep slope, picking up speed, feeling the wind in his face.
He felt terrified.
If he tripped, lost his balance, fell, he knew he was dead.
Another bullet sang over his head and exploded in the rotting trunk of a massive tree that had fallen over ages ago. Tim leaped over the log, and felt the brambles and saplings sting his arms, his face, and those cumbersome suspenders as he reached the patch of woods. Mr. Scott had said there might be a river or a stream beyond those woods. Certainly there had to be running water. Mr. Scott had said that he could hear it.
Running water? Tim had thought it must have been the wind rustling through the trees.
He ducked underneath the last branch, leaped over a boulder or something — he couldn't tell exactly what it was — and came out of the woods. Mr. Scott had been right. It was a river or creek.
Behind him came the curses of men, and he knew he had not much time to live. Unless he could find a hiding place.
Blinking, he spotted the mound of sticks in the middle of the running water, saw the pond that had pooled behind it, and then he remembered hearing all those stories about beavers and beaver dams. Quickly stepping into the water, he felt the iciness numb him, and suck breath out of his lungs. It was summer, late summer in fact, and he had never expected the water to be so cold. He moved quickly into deeper water, closer toward the beaver dam. Behind him, the noise of footsteps and curses came closer, and he drew in as much air as his lungs could hold, and disappeared underneath the water.
It won't work, he told himself. He was no swimmer. And surely the Indians would realize he was hiding in the dam ... if he could even reach the dam. In the freezing water, he groped and found his way in the darkness. The beavers might even attack him with their sharp teeth. That would be his luck. Instead of being the hero who had saved his mother and his sisters and Patricia Scott from that dreadful fate worse than death, he would be killed by rabid animals.
In death, he would be the butt of jokes. He imagined someone saying, "Did you hear the one about that boy from Pennsylvania who got killed by beavers?" they would say at Fort Vancouver. "Happened around South Pass in the summer of forty-five. Fool kid. They found his bones amongst the aspen and pines."
He came up into the darkness, though he could see cracks of sunlight.
In the corner, a beaver glared at him. No, two beavers. But they kept their distance. They just stared. And stank.
The place had a musky odor that almost took Tim's breath away. Or maybe it was the cold.
Stop tapping those tails! Tim mouthed the words. He feared the Indians would hear the warning the beavers kept sounding. Then he realized that the sound did not come from the two animals. His teeth kept chattering.
Something splashed in the stream or the pond or the lake or the river. Tim ground his teeth so tight that his jaw ached, but he no longer heard that noisy clicking from his mouth. One of the Indians yelled something, and another answered. He could not understand the words. More Indians had joined the pursuers. A few ran down the creek. They shouted at one another in a mix of languages. He recognized a few curse words spoken in English.
"Mon Dieu!" one of the savages said in French.
"Forget him," said another, more of a grunt but spoken in English. "He's a kid. He'll be dead in two days out here."
An eternity later, Tim heard only the rippling of water. The Indians had left him. The beavers still stared.
He had dropped his slingshot. He unfastened the suspenders and brought them up to study them. Can they be used as a weapon? He shook his head and submerged them in the water, releasing his hold, hoping they might sink.
Worthless, these suspenders, he told himself. Like me.
His top teeth clattered against his bottom teeth, and he brought his arms out of the water and desperately tried to squeeze warmth into his body. He shook. He prayed. He thought he might cry, but no tears came.
What he wanted to do was to swim back out of the beaver dam, and reach the shore. Darkness would fall soon. The Indians were gone. He started to move, just to reach the shore, to feel the fading sun warm his body before nightfall came. A twig popped and he stopped. It could have come from a deer, or a moose, or maybe his own imagination, but he moved back toward the edge of the dam.
"Indians are stupid," Mr. Scott had said. "Some of them are probably smarter than Jenkins."
Jenkins had been the guide who had been hired back in Independence, Missouri, to lead the Scotts, the Colters, and other families to the Oregon Territory. Tim had liked the man he thought of as Just Jenkins.
"Ain't got no first name," the grizzled old man in buckskins had kept saying. "It's just Jenkins."
Tim wished Just Jenkins and the other twelve families were with him.
He listened. He heard nothing but the rippling of the water, and maybe the wind, and the two beavers moving around near him.
It would be so easy to slip out of the dam, wade back to shore, and lie down. Wake up. Wake up from the awful nightmare.
Yet he did not move. He listened, and although he heard nothing, no Indian grunts, no flintlock being cocked, no curses, no horses, no shouts or screams, he decided he would have to spend the long, frigid night in the dam.
He wasn't sure he could do it. Wasn't sure the beavers would let him. He thought for certain that he had already lost all feeling in his legs. He could touch bottom, though, at least as long as he could remain standing. As long as the Indian that had remained behind. Tim was certain someone was out there, someone human. No. Not human. He remembered seeing his mother dropped by a tomahawk to her head. He remembered seeing poor Mr. Scott propped up against the Conestoga's wheel.
The screams of his sisters and beautiful Patricia Scott still rang in his ears.
Human beings did not do those kinds of things to other human beings.
Some animal was out there, probably at the edge of the woods, waiting for Tim to show himself. And be killed. Murdered.
Keep your head clear, he kept telling himself. Don't fall asleep. Don't move around. You can do this. You can wait. You have to live.
Sometimes, though, he wondered why he should live.
His mother's words echoed inside his head. "Run, Tim! Run!" He had obeyed his mother. That's what sons were supposed to do. He had run. He had hidden. So he was still alive.
He wanted to throw up, but, somehow, kept the bile down. He listened. He shivered. And silently he cried. The tears had finally broken free, and he could taste their saltiness as they ran over his lips.
Darkness came quickly, and the night would be lonely. He wanted to move around, just to make sure the blood still flowed and had not frozen in his legs and waist, but he knew better. Someone was out there, waiting. Waiting to kill him.
A man he had never met, never seen, never heard of.
Maybe, he thought, death would be welcome. It had to be better than standing up in a smelly beaver dam in freezing water on a bitterly cold night. It certainly didn't feel like the summer nights he had enjoyed back in Danville, Pennsylvania.
Yet his mother had told him to run. She wanted him to live. He had to live. He would not be killed in some beaver dam and become a person men and women and kids all along the Oregon Trail laughed about.
He wanted to sing just to stay warm. He knew better, though. Knew that an Indian waited out in the woods with a weapon — pistol, spear, or bow and arrow.
He mouthed the words to "Home Sweet Home" and tried to remember how Patricia Scott had sounded when she had sung it time after time, night after night, all the way from Danville, Pennsylvania, to Independence, Missouri. To Fort Kearny to Chimney Rock to Scotts Bluff. To Fort Laramie and Independence Rock and all the way to South Pass. He tried to remember her voice, to recall the words to that sweet song that had often made him homesick for the iron works and the furnaces, and the forests and lush greenness of the summers in Pennsylvania.
All he could hear, though, were Patricia's screams.
He had run. He was no hero. Tim Colter was nothing but a miserable little coward.CHAPTER 2
For nigh on two weeks, he had been drunk. But Jed Reno wasn't that drunk.
Lowering the brown jug and using his massive right hand to wipe off the whiskey — he was drunk enough to call that hooch whiskey — running into his beard, Reno stared hard at Malachi Murchison, who had only been drunk for a day or two. "What did you say?" Reno leaned forward.
"Start a war. That's what I say." Murchison stopped to burp. "Well, it's what he says."
He ... Reno had to think. They had been talking about Louis Jackatars. Reno had never cared a fig for the man. Come to think on it, he never even liked Malachi Murchison, even after that old reprobate had bought the jug of rotgut they had practically finished.
"With the Blackfeet?" Reno snorted. "Ain't enough of 'em left to make much of a war."
Murchison leaned over to fetch the jug. He drank a snootful and laughed. "Blackfeet. Sioux. Crow. Shoshone. Jackatars don't rightly care one way or tuther. But it'd give us somethin' to do. Since nobody wants to buy no more beaver no more." He leaned forward and whispered into Reno's face. "Remember 'em times, Jed?"
His breath stank. Clapping his hands, Murchison leaned back, laughing, and rocking on his heels. "'Em was the glorious days of our youth, pard. When we'd trap those 'hairy bank notes' for all 'em dandies of the boulevard back east. Trap 'em, we would, all spring and fall, find some squaw to keep us warm in the winter and in the spring." Murchison lifted the jug, took another slug, and pitched the container back to Reno. "And in the summer, you remember, Jed? You recollect when the engages would show up on the Green. What a time we'd all have! Ain't that right, Jed? Surely, you ain't forgotten all 'em glorious days."
Reno managed to swallow some of the awful whiskey they served at Bridger's Trading Post to men like him and Malachi Murchison. The settlers who came flocking in on their way west, well, they'd get something more tolerable to drink.
"Remember?" Malachi Murchison reached for the jug, and Reno was happy to oblige the fellow.
"Hasn't been that long ago." Reno spoke the words softly. "I ain't getting so old I can't recollect four years back."
Four years. That had been the last time the caravans had come from the settlements, the last glorious Rendezvous on the Siskeedee-Agie — the Green River, north along the Black's Fork of the Green.
Jed Reno had been at that last Rendezvous. Trappers — the free trappers and those working for the companies — got together, traded their beaver plews for whatever they would need for the coming year. Things like gunpowder and lead; coffee, kettles, and tobacco; flannels and awls and steel. Oh, the traders made off like bandits, but Jed Reno and the trappers he knew and respected — even those he didn't know or didn't respect — never minded one bit. The merchants had to return to civilization, while Reno and the trappers got to stay in the glorious Rocky Mountains, got to live the way they wanted to live.
Jed Reno had been at the first Rendezvous back in 1825 on Henry's Fork of the Green. He had hit every last one of them since, including the last, back when Bridger and Andrew Drips and Henry Fraeb had brought in the traders and even some missionaries. Father Pierre Jean DeSmet had performed a Catholic Mass.
Civilization had reached the wilds.
"Five years, Jed," Murchison said.
"Five years like he —" Reno stopped and shook his head in disgust. Malachi Murchison was right. It had been five years. Reno spit.
Back East, beaver hats had fallen out of fashion. Silk was what those dandies wanted atop their heads now, or something from South America called a Nutria, which was cheaper than beaver, or so folks said.
Whiskey kept befuddling him. Reno shook his head, not liking that feeling. Time was when he could've been drunk for a month and not felt like he did.
"What do you say, Jed?" Malachi Murchison asked.
Reno blew his nose. "Jackatars tell you that?"
A shrug was how Murchison answered. "You know Louis. You know how that half-breed Métis is."
Sure, Jed Reno knew. He also knew how Malachi Murchison was, and would trust neither as far as he could throw them, which back in the day would have covered a considerable distance.
Reno was forty-nine years old, older than Jim Bridger. His beard, once black as coal, had streaks of silver in it, as did his hair. His face that wasn't covered with hair was clouded with scars, and one of his earlobes was missing, thanks to a Green River knife in the hands of a Snake Indian whom he had put under a few moments after getting his ear bloodied and mangled.
Like Bridger, Reno had joined General William Ashley back in '22 on that Upper Missouri Expedition, and he hadn't returned to home in Missouri or even closer than Fort Laramie in twenty years. More than twenty, he realized.
He had joined up with Bridger when they had bought out the General and founded the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, and then Jed Reno had decided that belonging to a company made him feel too civilized, so he had let Bridger buy out his interest, and he'd become a free trapper, that independent sort who came and went as he pleased, and sold and fought as he pleased.
His eye remained as blue as the mountain skies on a clear summer day. The one eye he had left, his right one. A black patch covered the hole in his head, a reminder of the eye he had lost early in his free-spirited days as a mountain man, when the Blackfeet Indians didn't cotton to being neighborly to anyone, especially a black-bearded young buck with blue eyes and the disposition of a Missouri mule.
Excerpted from Colter's Journey by William W. Johnstone, J. A. Johnstone. Copyright © 2016 J. A. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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