About the Author
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
Ten Years Later:
Nearly 2500 cows stood quietly in the predawn darkness, gathered during the spring roundup. The cows gathered represented but a tiny percentage of the over 100,000 head that occupied the rangeland of the 825,000-acre Santa Gertrudis Ranch. When 7500 more head were gathered, Richard King, the owner of the ranch, would start the long, long trail drive up to Dodge City, Kansas, where the cattle would be put on trains for markets in the East.
From the small breakfast fire the cook had kindled, glowing orange sparks rode a column of hot air to join the stars in the predawn darkness. One of the cowboys at the camp reached for a coffeepot, but jerked his hand back quickly when he touched the handle.
Ted Abbot laughed. "Hot, is it, Carter?"
"Not all that hot," Roy Carter replied.
Carter took his hat off and, using it as protection, picked up the coffeepot a second time.
"Anybody else want any?" he asked after he poured himself a cup.
"Gracias, Carter, I'll take a cup," Ramon Gonzales said. Though he was a Mexican in the midst of a bunch of Texans, Ramon was the top hand, appointed to the position by Richard King, the owner of the ranch, and readily acknowledged as such by the other cowboys.
"And I too shall imbibe of your fair brew," one of the cowboys said, holding out his cup.
"Harbin, you are as full of shit as a Christmas goose," Carter said, chuckling.
"Say us a poem, Harbin," one of the other cowboys said.
Harbin stood up and folded his right hand across his heart while he held his left out before him, striking an exaggerated orator's pose.
"She walks in beauty, like the night Of cloudless climes and starry skies; And all that's best of dark and bright Meet in her aspect and her eyes."
"Hey, speaking of night, who's ridin' nighthawk?" Emil Barrett asked.
"Noble, Tanner, and Gillis," Ramon said.
"It's about time they come in, isn't it?"
"Hell, they're prob'ly on the other side of the herd, sound asleep," Carter suggested, and again, the cowboys laughed.
"Ramon, you've made cattle drives before," Abbot said. "How long does it take?"
"Two months," Ramon answered.
"Two months? That's not so bad," Harbin replied.
Carter chuckled. "Not so bad for you. You're going back East to go to school, so you won't be making the drive."
"I've never made a drive," Abbot said. "What's it like?"
"It's like nothin' you've ever done," Carter said. "You'll be working seventeen-hour days, seven days a week, on very little grub, with no tents, no tarps, and damn few slickers. The horses will get tired and their backs will get so sore that they'll fight you when you ride them. And the worst thing is no sleep. Five hours when the weather is nice, maybe an hour when it isn't. But that don't matter 'cause you'll have to do another fifteen miles the next day whether you got 'ny sleep the night before or not. Sometimes you'll find yourself rubbing tobacco juice in your eyes, just to keep awake."
"Oh, damn, that hurts just to think about it," Abbot said. He pretended to rub tobacco juice into his eyes, then squinting, squatted down and flailed about. The others laughed at his antics.
On the other side of the herd, nearly sixty men rode through the dark of a copse of scrub oak trees. Shadows within shadows, they moved quietly to the edge of the trees, then fanned out into one long flanking line.
The leader of the group was wearing a Union officer's jacket of the style worn some fifteen years earlier during the Civil War. The shoulder epaulets had major's bars on a yellow field, indicating cavalry.
Jack Brandt, who was no longer in the Army but still insisted upon being called Major, stood in his stirrups to stretch out just a bit, then settled back into the saddle.
"Look at all them cows," one of the men near him said. "What do you say, Major, that we cut out a hundred head or so, then run 'em across the border and sell 'em down in Mexico?"
"No," Brandt said.
"But to just ride down there and kill 'em seems like such a waste."
Brandt glared at the man. "Preston, you knew what you were signing up for when you enlisted."
Although Brandt was no longer in the Army, he ran his outfit as if it were an Army unit. Because of that, suggesting that the man had "enlisted" came natural to him.
"You heard the major's plans," Sarge said. Like Brandt, the man, whose real name was Stone, but who preferred to be called Sarge, was wearing a blue Army tunic. On his sleeves were the stripes of the rank he'd once held. "All we have to do is fix it so's nobody will work for him and he'll go broke, plain and simple. Then we'll have our revenge."
"Yeah, well, revenge is good," Preston said. "But it don't buy you no whiskey or women."
"Think about it, Preston. In a few weeks, he's going to be drivin' ten thousand head or so all the way to Kansas," one of the other men said. "If he don't have nobody to work them cows, they'll be as easy to gather up as apples that's fallen from a tree. You are talking about stealing a hundred head. Hell, we'll be able to take ten thousand head with no problem."
"Yeah," Preston said. "Yeah, I guess I can see that."
Brandt, who had not joined the conversation, pulled his sword.
"It's not dawn yet so, like as not, the night riders are still out there. We'll take them first."
Of the three nighthawks, Noble, who was nineteen, was the oldest. At sixteen, Tanner was the youngest, and he came in for a lot of teasing from the other two.
Tanner had dismounted and was relieving himself.
"Damn, listen to that boy pee, will you?" Noble said. "He sounds like a cow pissin' on a flat rock off 'n a fifty-foot cliff."
Gillis laughed. "Hell, when peein's the onliest thing you use your pecker for, you bound to be able to pee hard. Wait till he has him a woman. She'll take some of that steam out of him 'n he wont be able to pee so hard."
"How do you know I ain't never had me no woman?" Tanner asked as he buttoned his pants.
"'Cause iff'n you'd'a had yourself a woman, you wouldn't be able to shut up about it. That's all we'd be hearin'," Gillis said.
From the darkness, a calf started bawling.
"Damn, some little feller's wandered off from his mama," Noble said. "Guess I better go get' im back."
"It's time to go in now, ain't it?" Tanner asked. "I know they got breakfast ready and I'm hungry."
"You was born hungry," Noble said. "We'll go in soon as I get back." He clucked at his horse and rode toward the sound of the bawling calf, disappearing into the darkness.
"I ain't, you know," Tanner said.
"You ain't what?" Gillis asked.
"Had me no woman."
Gillis chuckled. "Hell, there's got to be a first time for everything. Just wait until —"
Gillis's comment was interrupted by a loud, bloodcurdling scream.
"What? What the hell was that?" Tanner asked.
"I don't know. It sounded like Noble. Noble? Noble, you all right?" Gillis shouted.
"Gillis, I'm scared," Tanner said.
Gillis pulled his pistol and when he did, Tanner pulled his as well.
"Noble? Noble, are you out there?"
"Wait a minute," Tanner said suddenly. "Are you two trying to run a shuck on me?" He chuckled. "That's what you're doin', isn't it? Trying to scare me?"
"Tanner, I swear to God, I don't know what this is about," Gillis said.
They heard the sound of a horse coming at a trot. Then the horse appeared from the darkness.
"That's Noble's horse, but where is he?" Gillis asked. Clucking at his own horse, he rode toward it, then suddenly stopped. "Oh, my God!" he shouted, turning away. "Oh, my God!"
"What is it?" Tanner asked. Then he saw what Gillis had seen. There, mounted on the saddle horn, was the disembodied head of Ned Noble.
"Harbin, I think you, Jenkins, and Kelly should ride out to relieve Noble and the others," Ramon said back at the cow camp. "They should've been in by now."
"Your wish is my command," Harbin replied. Nodding at the other two men Ramon had selected, he said. "Come, my noble fellows, we few, we happy few, we band of brothers."
"Harbin, where do you come up with all that shit?"
"That's from Shakespeare's Henry the Fifth," Harbin said as the three started toward the remuda. They had just cut out their mounts when a very large group of men burst out of the trees, firing.
Harbin went down with the opening fusillade.
"What the hell!" Barrett shouted.
The men swept through, firing as they galloped through the camp. One of them had a rope, and as he passed the chuck wagon, he threw a rope around a high stake, then pulled the wagon over. The cowboys were totally surprised by the attack, and many of them weren't even wearing guns. The few who were armed began firing back.
The attackers made two more passes through the camp, then rode out into the herd, shooting at the cattle as they rode by. The cattle began dropping.
"My God, they're killing the cattle!" Carter shouted.
"Who the hell are these people?" Barrett asked. "Where did they come from?"
"I don't know, but there sure as hell are a lot of them. Ramon, we need to get mounted! We need to get after them!" Carter said. "Ramon?"
Looking over at Ramon, Carter saw the top hand leaning back against the overturned wagon. Ramon's right arm was hanging down by his side, his pistol dangling from a crooked finger. His left hand was covering a wound on his right shoulder, and blood was spilling through his fingers.
By now, the sound of gunfire was receding as the attackers had passed through the herd and rode off on the far side of the valley. The cattle, spooked by all the shooting, were milling around, but had not stampeded.
"I think they are gone," Barrett said.
"Emil," Ramon said to Barrett, his tight voice evidence of the pain of his wound. "Ride back to the big house, tell Mr. King what just happened."
"All right," Barrett replied. He nodded toward the wound. "But you better get yourself into town and get that bullet hole looked at."
"I'll see that he does," Carter said to Barrett. "You better get started."
Richard King had never done anything on a small scale. When he was eleven years old, he became dissatisfied with his apprenticeship in New York and stowed away on a schooner. Discovered, he had to work for his passage. After a few years learning the shipping trade from the bottom up, including becoming a captain, King took a partner and formed his own shipping company. By the late 1840's, his company was shipping supplies for General Zachary Taylor along the Rio Grande.
Enamored with Texas, Captain King settled there, started ranching, and by 1860 he and his new bride, Henrietta, had grown their various enterprises into an 860,000-acre ranch along the banks of the Santa Gertrudis River in Texas.
Ever the businessman, King invested in building railroads, icehouses, packinghouses, and harbor improvements in Corpus Christi, Texas, which was just forty miles from his ranch.
Now, the ranch owner was planning the logistics of a cattle drive to Dodge City, Kansas. He had considered shipping them to Kansas by rail, but the circuitous railroad route it would require to make all the connections would take two weeks, and it would cost him approximately four dollars per head, or forty thousand dollars. Driving the herd to Dodge would take eight weeks, but it would only cost him about three thousand dollars total.
King was sitting at his desk, working out the logistics of the drive, when Emil Barrett came in to see him. Standing in front of the big oak desk, holding his hat in his hands and nervously rolling it by the rim, he made his report to his boss. Barrett's jeans and shirt were covered with dirt and dust and he smelled of sweat and cows, but Captain Richard King took no notice of that. He did wonder why the young cowboy was here, instead of out on the range, helping with the roundup.
"What are you doing here, Barrett?"
"Cap'n, we got trouble," Barrett said, addressing him as Captain, as did all the cowboys.
"What sort of trouble?"
Barrett told of the predawn attack.
"How about you, Barrett, are you all right?" he asked.
"Yes, sir, I'm fine. I would'a still been out there with the others iff'n Ramon hadn't'a sent me back to bring you the news."
"Ramon was right, and you did well. Go to the kitchen, get yourself some coffee and whatever you want to eat."
"Thank you, sir," Barrett said.
After Barrett left, King stood up from behind the enormous oak desk in his study. He was an imposing figure of a man. Almost six feet tall, he had broad shoulders and heavily muscled forearms that made the paunch he was developing in his later years seem smaller. His hair was streaked with gray and was beginning to thin out a bit on top, but his mustache was thick and black and still full.
He walked over to a clothes tree in the corner where there hung a right-handed holster rig. Taking it down, he buckled it around his waist with the familiar motion of someone who had worn a gun before. He pulled the Colt Peacemaker from the holster and spun the cylinder to make certain that every chamber was loaded. Satisfied, he put the gun back into its sheath, then took a large Stetson hat from the rack, placed it on his head, and adjusted the brim before walking out of his study and into a slightly smaller office next door.
Robert Justus Kleberg looked up from his desk and frowned when he saw the old man wearing his sidearm. "Going hunting, Boss?" he asked. Kleberg was young, in his mid-thirties, and rail-thin, without an ounce of fat on his six-foot-one-inch frame. His face was pleasant without being classically handsome, and his hair, the color of caramel candy, was slightly rumpled in front as if he'd been out in a strong wind.
"Get your pistol and follow me, Bob. Seems that we have a problem," the old man ordered gruffly.
Kleberg looked slightly startled. King had hired him a couple of years earlier to handle the legal tasks for his Santa Gertrudis Ranch, and as such his duties didn't normally entail wearing a pistol. Not that it mattered much. Kleberg had grown up in the nearby town of Corpus Christi, which was a haven at the time for Mexican bandidos and Civil War deserters, so he'd been proficient with a six-gun from the time he was old enough to carry one.
Kleberg took his holster and pistol rig off a peg in the wall and blew the dust off before he buckled it around his hips. He started to put his suit coat on, but decided against it since it looked as if he and the old man were going for a ride. No need to get the coat dusty and dirty.
As they walked through the enormous rooms of the ranch house, Alice King, Richard's daughter, stepped out of the kitchen with a pan dulce pastry in one hand and a cup of steaming coffee in the other.
When her eyes met Kleberg's, her cheeks flushed crimson and she stopped in her tracks. Her eyes traveled down, and she noticed both her father and the man she'd fallen in love with were wearing pistols.
"Where are you two going?" she asked, glancing down at her hands. "I was just bringing Bob a pan dulce and a cup of coffee."
In spite of his sour mood, King grinned. He loved his daughter with every fiber of his being, and to make matters even better, he approved of her choice of Bob Kleberg as the man in her life. He knew Kleberg to be smart, ambitious, fearless, and he also knew that Kleberg loved his daughter as much as he did, which was just icing on the cake.
Kleberg stepped quickly to her side and took the sweet roll from her hand. "Thank you, Alice," he said. "Your father is going to show me something and I'll eat it on the way."
"But Bob," she asked, a worried look on her face, "why are you wearing a gun?"
King moved up next to her and put a hand on her shoulder. "There's been some rustlers seen out on the range, dear. We're just being cautious. Nothing for you to worry about." He leaned down and pecked her on the cheek. "We'll be back before you have time to miss us."
"Before I have time to miss you?" Her eyes cut to Kleberg and her lips turned up in an impish smile. "That won't take very long, Papa."
Now it was Kleberg's turn to blush.
King laughed and put a hand behind Kleberg's back and shoved him toward the door. "Come on, Bobby, we're burnin' daylight."
Excerpted from "Destiny of the Mountain Man"
Copyright © 2005 William W. Johnstone.
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
The usual wonderful job by Johnstone