Smoke Jensen has tried to make peace with the land-and the past. But trying to outrun a reputation as a fearless gunslinger in the wilds of Colorado can be life's toughest game. Especially when you're playing against fate. This time it's calling Smoke to the restless Wyoming range, to fight the bloodiest private war in American history.
In Johnson County, vigilantes have become the law. Cattle rustlers have turned the great Powder River red with the blood of the innocent. And nothing's going to stop the renegades from going barrel to barrel to pilfer the best grazing land in the Territory. But they've finally met their match in the likes of the kill-or-be-killed legend Smoke Jensen. As the body count rises as high as the Rockies, the trail-hardened pioneer is set to strap on his brand of .44 caliber justice-and teach these outlaws the real meaning of the word hell.
About the Author
Just to give you a brief rundown on who William W. Johnstone is, here are the basic facts. He was born in Southern Missouri, the youngest of four kids. His father was a minister and his mother was a schoolteacher.
He quit school when he was fifteen and joined a carnival after getting kicked out of the FFL (for being underage), but he went back and finished high school in 1957. After that he worked as a deputy sheriff, did a hitch in the army, came back and went into radio broadcasting, where he worked for sixteen years.
Johnstone started writing in 1970, but he didn't get published until late 1979. He has written almost a hundred books including the best-selling Ashes series and the Mountain Man series. He began writing full-time in the early 1980s and hasn't stopped since. His first published book was THE DEVIL'S KISS and his favorite, so far, is THE LAST OF THE DOG TEAM.
Read an Excerpt
Smoke and Pearlie were leaning on a corral fence, watching Cal try to break one of the horses Smoke had bought for the Sugarloaf remuda.
"Ride 'em, Cal boy," Pearlie shouted, grinning from ear to ear. "Don't let that cayuse show you who's boss."
The boy in his late teens was holding on to the hurricane deck for dear life, shouting and waving his hat in the air as if he were at a county fair competition. The bronc was crow-hopping, swallowing his head, and generally giving the young man fits.
Smoke Jensen smiled and tilted his hat back. "I know Cal is pretty good with most horses, but I think this one has his number."
Just then, the horse bent almost double and gave a quick double jump and twisted sideways at the same time. Cal went flying head over heels to land in a pile of horse apples in the middle of the corral.
"He's forked end up, Smoke," Pearlie hollered as he quickly scaled the fence and shooed the still-bucking animal away until Cal could climb shakily to his feet and make his way over to the fence.
"Jimminy Christmas, Smoke, that there broomtail acts like he's got a burr under his saddle," Cal said.
He brushed the seat of his pants with both hands, grimacing as he touched areas bruised by the fall. After a moment, as if the idea had just occurred to him, he narrowed his eyes and glanced over his shoulder at Pearlie. "You didn't do somethin' nasty like that to me, did you, Pearlie?"
Pearlie sauntered over, holding his hands out in front of him. "No, Cal, I didn't put no sticker under your saddle." He gave a short laugh. "I didn't figure I needed to since there weren't no way you was gonna be able to stay in the saddle nohow."
"Whatta you mean, Pearlie?" Cal said, sticking his jaw out. "You think I can't break that hoss? Just gimme another try and we'll see."
Smoke said, "Hold on, Cal. We all know you're a pretty good rider, but breaking horses takes some specialized knowledge. Pearlie, show him how it's done."
Pearlie pulled his hat down tight and walked to the snorting horse, ignoring the way it was pawing the ground and looking walleyed. He bent down and picked up the reins, bringing the horse's head down toward his face. He grabbed its ear, bent it over, and swung into the saddle. As the mount kicked up its heels, Pearlie threw his weight forward, wrapped his arms around its neck, and squeezed and twisted the animal's ear almost double. It immediately quieted down, rolling its eyes back and trying to see what was happening. Pearlie dug his spurs in and made the bronc trot around the corral a time or two.
After a few minutes, he let go of the horse's ear and continued to ride in peace, the horse trotting as if wearing a saddle and rider was the most natural thing in the world.
Pearlie grinned, took his hat off, and swept it in front of him as he took a bow toward Cal while riding the now-docile animal.
"Well I'll be gosh-darned," Cal said, wonderment in his voice.
"That's an old-timer's trick, Cal," Smoke said. "The old trail hands used to tell the tenderfeet they were whispering in the horse's ear when they did that, but they were really just putting all their weight on the animal's neck and using the ear to cause it enough pain to make it forget all about bucking."
He shrugged, and inclined his head toward Pearlie. "It doesn't always work that well, but you had already tired the animal out enough that he was about ready to quit bucking anyway. Course, Pearlie's going to try and take all the credit for it — you just watch."
Pearlie trotted his mount over to the two men and said, "See, Cal boy, it's easy when you're an old hand at breakin' hosses like I am."
"That's bull an' you know it, Pearlie. I already had that crazy animal plumb tuckered out so's he couldn't hardly walk, much less buck you off."
"Okay, boys, that's enough jawing," Smoke said. "Let's get the rest of this sorry bunch of animals broken so we can get some lunch."
Pearlie, an acknowledged chowhound, grinned and said, "Yes, sir!" at the mention of food. He walked his bronc over to the gate and put it in with the ones already broken. He and Cal managed to saddle another of the wild horses, and he walked back over to stand next to Smoke as Cal once again tried his hand.
As the young man leaned forward on the horse's neck and twisted its ear, Pearlie said, "Smoke, I can't hardly believe the changes in Cal since Miss Sally brought him back to the ranch a few years ago."
Smoke's eyes crinkled as he smiled at the recollection. "Neither can I, Pearlie...."
Calvin Woods, going on eighteen years old now, was just fourteen when Smoke and Sally took him in as a hired hand. It was during the spring branding, and Sally was on her way back from Big Rock to the Sugarloaf. The buckboard was piled high with supplies; branding hundreds of calves made for hungry punchers.
As Sally slowed the team to make a bend in the trail, a rail-thin young man stepped from the bushes at the side of the road with a pistol in his hand.
"Hold it right there, miss."
Applying the brake with her right foot, Sally slipped her hand under a pile of gingham cloth on the seat. She grasped the handle of her short-barreled Colt .44 and eared back the hammer, letting the sound of the horses' hooves and the squealing of the brake pad on the wheel mask the sound. "What can I do for you, young man?" she asked, her voice firm and without fear. She knew she could draw and drill the young highwayman before he could raise his pistol to fire.
"Well, uh, you can throw some of those beans and a cut of that fatback over here, and maybe a portion of that Arbuckle's coffee too."
Sally's eyebrows raised. "Don't you want my money?"
The boy frowned and shook his head. "Why, no, ma'am. I ain't no thief. I'm just hungry."
"And if I don't give you my food, are you going to shoot me with that big Navy Colt?" He hesitated a moment, then grinned ruefully. "No, ma'am, I guess not." He twirled the pistol around his finger and slipped it into his belt, turned, and began to walk down the road toward Big Rock.
Sally watched the youngster amble off, noting his tattered shirt, dirty pants with holes in the knees and torn pockets, and boots that looked as if they had been salvaged from a garbage dump. "Young man," she called, "come back here, please."
He turned, a smirk on his face, spreading his hands. "Look, lady, you don't have to worry. I don't even have any bullets." With a lightning-fast move, he drew the gun from his pants, aimed away from Sally, and pulled the trigger. There was a click but no explosion as the hammer fell on an empty cylinder.
Sally smiled. "Oh, I'm not worried." In a movement every bit as fast as his, she whipped her .44 out and fired, clipping a pine cone from a branch, causing it to fall and bounce off his head.
The boy's knees buckled and he ducked, saying, "Jimminy Christmas!"
Mimicking him, Sally twirled her Colt and stuck it in the waistband of her britches. "What's your name, boy?"
The boy blushed and looked down at his feet. "Calvin, ma'am, Calvin Woods."
She leaned forward, elbows on knees, and stared into the boy's eyes. "Calvin, no one has to go hungry in this country, not if they're willing to work."
He looked up at her through narrowed eyes, as if he found life a little different than she'd described it.
"If you're willing to put in an honest day's work, I'll see that you get an honest day's pay, and all the food you can eat."
Calvin stood a little straighter, shoulders back and head held high. "Ma'am, I've got to be straight with you. I ain't no experienced cowhand. I come from a hardscrabble farm and we only had us one milk cow and a couple of goats and chickens, and lots of dirt that weren't worth nothing for growin' things. My ma and pa and me never had nothin', but we never begged and we never stooped to takin' handouts."
Sally thought, I like this boy. Proud, and not willing to take charity if he can help it. "Calvin, if you're willing to work, and don't mind getting your hands dirty and your muscles sore, I've got some hands that'll have you punching beeves like you were born to it in no time at all."
A smile lit up his face, making him seem even younger than his years. "Even if I don't have no saddle, nor a horse to put it on?"
She laughed out loud. "Yes. We've got plenty of ponies and saddles." She glanced down at his raggedy boots. "We can probably even round up some boots and spurs that'll fit you."
He walked over and jumped in the back of the buckboard. "Ma'am, I don't know who you are, but you just hired you the hardest-workin' hand you've ever seen."
Back at the Sugarloaf, she sent him in to Cookie and told him to eat his fill. When Smoke and the other punchers rode into the cabin yard at the end of the day, she introduced Calvin around. As Cal was shaking hands with the men, Smoke looked over at her and winked. He knew she could never resist a stray dog or cat, and her heart was as large as the Big Lonesome itself.
Smoke walked up to Cal and cleared his throat. "Son, I hear you drew down on my wife."
Cal gulped, "Yessir, Mr. Jensen. I did." He squared his shoulders and looked Smoke in the eye, not flinching though he was obviously frightened of the tall man with the incredibly wide shoulders standing before him.
Smoke smiled and clapped the boy on the back. "Just wanted you to know you stared death in the eye, boy. Not many galoots are still walking upright who ever pulled a gun on Sally. She's a better shot than any man I've ever seen except me, and sometimes I wonder about me."
The boy laughed with relief as Smoke turned and called out, "Pearlie, get your lazy butt over here."
A tall, lanky cowboy ambled over to Smoke and Cal, munching on a biscuit stuffed with roast beef. His face was lined with wrinkles and tanned a dark brown from hours under the sun, but his eyes were sky-blue and twinkled with good-natured humor.
"Yessir, boss," he mumbled around a mouthful of food.
Smoke put his hand on Pearlie's shoulder. "Cal, this here chowhound is Pearlie. He eats more'n any two hands, and he's never been known to do a lick of work he could get out of, but he knows beeves and horses as well as any puncher I have. I want you to follow him around and let him teach you what you need to know."
Cal nodded. "Yes, sir, Mr. Smoke."
"Now let me see that iron you have in your pants."
Cal pulled the ancient Navy Colt and handed it to Smoke. When Smoke opened the loading gate, the rusted cylinder fell to the ground, causing Pearlie and Smoke to laugh and Cal's face to flame red. "This is the piece you pulled on Sally?"
The boy nodded, looking at the ground.
Pearlie shook his head. "Cal, you're one lucky pup. Hell, if'n you'd tried to fire that thing it'd of blown your hand clean off."
Smoke inclined his head toward the bunkhouse. "Pearlie, take Cal over to the tack house and get him fixed up with what he needs, including a gun belt and a Colt that won't fall apart the first time he pulls it. You might also help pick him out a shavetail to ride. I'll expect him to start earning his keep tomorrow."
"Yes, sir, Smoke." Pearlie put his arm around Cal's shoulders and led him off toward the bunkhouse. "Now the first thing you gotta learn, Cal, is how to get on Cookie's good side. A puncher rides on his belly, and it 'pears to me that you need some fattenin' up 'fore you can begin to punch cows."
As Smoke grinned at his memory of the day Cal arrived, his thoughts turned to his foreman, Pearlie, standing next to him.
Pearlie had come to work for Smoke in as roundabout a way as Cal had. He was hiring his gun out to Tilden Franklin in Fontana when Franklin went crazy and tried to take over Sugarloaf, Smoke and Sally's spread. After Franklin's men raped and killed a young girl in the fracas, Pearlie sided with Smoke and the aging gunfighters he had called in to help put an end to Franklin's reign of terror. Pearlie was now honorary foreman of Smoke's ranch, though he was only a shade over twenty-four years old himself — boys grew to be men early in the mountains of Colorado.
Sally, Smoke's pretty, brown-haired wife, appeared next to him, breaking his reverie. "Howdy, boys. I thought you might like to take a little break and have a snack before lunch."
She was carrying a platter of still-steaming bear sign, the sweet doughnuts that cowboys had been known to ride ten miles for.
Pearlie's eyes widened and he let out a whoop. "Hey, Cal, Miss Sally's got some bear sign for us!" As Cal looked over, he let his concentration slip and released the horse's ear. It immediately began to crow-hop and jigger around the corral, finally throwing Cal in a heap in a far corner.
The boy sprang to his feet, slapped the bucking horse out of his way with his hat, and ran to jump over the fence. "Boy howdy, I could sure use some nourishment, Miss Sally."
Sally laughed and handed the platter of doughnuts to Pearlie and a pitcher of lemonade and some glasses to Smoke. She shook her head and started back toward the cabin. "You boys don't work Smoke too hard breaking those broomtails. He's getting on up in years and may not be able to take it."
Smoke called out to her retreating back, "Dear, you notice I'm not the one sweating here. It's these two young bucks who're doing all the work. I'm busy supervising."
She called back, "Good, then that means they can have all the bear sign."
"Like hell," Smoke muttered, as he hurried to grab a handful before they were all gone.
The day was finally over, and Smoke and Sally were sitting at the kitchen table, having a cup of after-dinner coffee. "Sweetheart," Smoke said, "I'm going to make a trip to Wyoming."
Sally put her mug down and stared at Smoke for a moment before asking, "Why?"
"Seven, the Palouse stud Preacher gave me, is getting old, and even though he's bred us some good crosses for our remuda, they aren't Palouses. I want to find some pure Palouse stock mares and maybe another stud or two and carry on Seven's line."
Smoke didn't have to say any more, for Sally to understand this was his way of keeping alive the memory of the man who meant as much to him as his father. Back when Smoke's name was Kirby Jensen, just after the end of the Civil War, he and his father came west from their crabapple farm in Missouri with all they had strapped to one mule. Soon, they met Preacher, an old mountain man, who saved their lives from a band of marauding Indians. During the fighting, young Kirby killed his share of the attackers, and was given the name Smoke by Preacher, both for the thin trail of smoke from his Colt Navy .36 and for the color of his ash-blond hair.
After traveling with the mountain man for a spell, Smoke's father was killed by three men who had stolen some gold from the Confederate Army. Preacher took Smoke in and raised him for the next several years, teaching him all the lore of the strange breed known as mountain men.
Sally asked, "What about Horse?" referring to the Palouse Smoke had been riding since putting Seven in his own pasture on the Sugarloaf to run free and enjoy his old age.
"I'd like to carry on his line, too. I ran across a trapper coming down from the mountains for supplies last week. He said the Nez Percé tribe that used to live there was gone. He didn't know where, but he'd heard there was still a small band of them camped up near Buffalo in northern Wyoming."
Smoke drained the last of his coffee and reached across the table to take Sally's hand.
"The Nez Percé are the ones who developed the Palouse breed, Sally, and they always keep a good supply of breeding mares and studs on hand. I plan to go to Wyoming before the tribe gets killed off, or mixes with another and loses their identity. I'm going to carry on the Palouse line here on the Sugarloaf, starting with Seven and Horse."
"But Smoke, it's the middle of winter. Don't you think this will wait until spring, at least?"
He shook his head. "No, I don't want to be gone during the spring calving and branding. That's too heavy a load to leave on Pearlie and Cal. I'm going to get on the Union Pacific Line train and take it all the way to Casper, a little range town at the foot of the Big Horn Mountains. From there I'll pack by horse up into the mountains north of Buffalo and see if I can find out where the Nez Percé are now."
He sat back and shrugged. "Then it's just a matter of doing some good old-fashioned horse trading."
Sally got the pot off the stove and poured him another cup of coffee. "I don't like the idea of you traveling halfway across the country in the dead of winter by yourself. Why don't you take Cal or Pearlie with you?" "There's too much work here they need to be doing."
Excerpted from "Creed of the Mountain Man"
Copyright © 2006 Kensington Publishing Corporation.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Same as above.
Good read. Several stories in one book!
it was a great book smoke jenson is awesome
Unfortunately we need more from these authors