He came off the frontier: a buffalo hunter, a gambler, a loner. In Abilene he won a saloon at cards, and earned the fear of a lawless town. From then on, Jake Kincaid would not be stopped. He began a rampage of ambition and deal-making that forever changed a land called Kansas and the Indian Territories. But along the way the deeds and misdeeds of Jake Kincaid affected more than the frontier they shaped the lives of his two sons. One who became a lawman. One who became an outlaw. Both destined to come face-to-face behind blazing guns...
From Wild Bill Hickok to the Dolan outlaw gang to Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders, Matt Braun's The Kincaids tells the classic saga of America at its most adventurous through the eyes of three generations who made laws, broke laws, and became legends in their time.
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|Publisher:||St. Martin's Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 6.90(h) x 1.40(d)|
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By Matt Braun
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1976 Matthew Braun
All rights reserved.
THERE IS A point of no return in each man's life. An instant, seldom detected at the time, which will alter all his days on earth. Yet pragmatic men mock such things. Nothing sacred intrudes. Nor does the superstition of lesser men haunt their resolve. They halt before a river, beckoned onward by the moment, heedless of what lies beyond. It is merely a ribbon of water, symbolic of nothing, to be negotiated and then forgotten.
Jacob Kincaid was such a man. Astride a buckskin gelding, squinting against the sun, he stared out across the Smoky Hill. The river was appraised at a glance and quickly shunted aside, an obstacle of small consequence. Rolling grasslands, sweeping gently onto the limitless plains, were similarly dismissed. After three years stalking the great shaggy herds west of Fort Hays, one stretch of prairie looked much like another. A buffalo man, wherever he roamed, saw only the creatures he killed. Earth and sky and water were simply there. Constant, unchanging, with a deadly sameness that came to be taken for granted.
Yet he had ridden a hundred miles to see this spot for himself. Where the river made a slow dogleg south beneath limestone bluffs, and a lonesome stand of timber stood defiant on the far shore. Where a man named McCoy had built a town called Abilene.
It was this crude collection of buildings, surrounded by milling herds of cattle, which held Jake Kincaid's attention. Beyond Fort Hays, in a land of solitude and solitary men, there was much talk of this place. The plains grapevine pegged it as the first of its kind. One of a kind. A cowtown. Something on the order of the boomtown mining camps, except that the lodestone was not gold or silver but cattle. Texas longhorns driven north to a windswept Kansas railhead where fortunes were made and lost overnight.
Kincaid understood the lure of such talk. Perhaps better than most men. For it was this very thing that had brought him west, across the swift-flowing Missouri to the distant buffalo grounds. A siren's call. That ancient temptress wielding her goad of high stakes and fast play in a land where the faintheart's puny rules hadn't yet taken hold. Where a man could reach out and grab — claim whatever he was big enough to hold — unencumbered by strictures other than those he might impose upon himself.
But understanding this, there was a greater essential Jake Kincaid failed to grasp. As he kneed the buckskin down the bluffs and into the water, time and circumstance frivolously embraced. That he was here, fording the Smoky Hill on a blistering summer day in 1871, seemed neither uncommon nor extraordinary. No less a nomad than the buffalo he hunted, it seemed quite natural, this urge to look on the place called Abilene. A delicate balance of instinct and curiosity had brought him this far, and like a wolf prowling new ground, he saw no reason to question the impulse. He simply followed his nose.
Afterward though, from the vantage point of hindsight, he would at last comprehend. The Smoky Hill had, after all, proved symbolic. A spectral passage of time — the point of no return — come and gone as his horse splashed through the stream. Unwittingly he had crossed over to the other side, and never again would his life be the same.
Late afternoon shadows splayed across the timbered bottomland as Kincaid brought the gelding up the far bank and rode into Abilene. Ahead lay the Kansas & Pacific tracks, roughly bordering the river, and beyond that Texas street, the town's main thoroughfare. Somehow, taken at first glance, it was less than he had expected. Not at all the grand city conjured up in his mind at Fort Hays. A huddle of some fifty ramshackle buildings constituted the entire town. With the exception of what appeared to be a hotel, the business establishments had high false fronts and an unmistakable look of impermanence, as if they had been slapped together with spit and poster glue. Yet the street was crowded with people, more than he'd seen assembled in one spot for better than three years. Unaccountably, his sagging spirits took a sudden turn for the better.
It wasn't a metropolis risen from the plains. That much was clear. But it was there, ugly and squalid and bursting with some galvanic energy all its own. And in that moment of assessment Jake Kincaid was struck by one of those queer hunches on which a gambling man gladly stakes his life. Grungy as it was, the town had the smell of money. A feel of shifting fortune. Which unraveled interesting speculation for a man whose luck was running strong.
Aside from money, there was also an enervating smell of cow dung. The prairie encircling Abilene was a vast bawling sea of longhorns awaiting shipment to eastern slaughterhouses, and a barnyard scent assailed the nostrils. Yet, oddly enough, it was an odor he found not unpleasant. One he might easily come to relish. It had about it the pungency of gold on the hoof, and in that there was much to recommend it.
Somewhat satisfied with his estimate of things, confident that Abilene would shortly disprove the alchemy of silk purse and sow's ear, he reined the gelding across Texas Street and dismounted in front of a livery stable. Curiously, though the sun was fast disappearing in the west, he had a gut-certain impression that things had never looked brighter.
An overhead lamp cast a soft, fuzzy glow across the poker table. The spill of light, not unlike diffused cider, flecked through Kincaid's sandy hair, gave his weathered features the burntmahogany look of old saddle leather. Three years on the plains had turned him bark-dark as a Kiowa, and the curing effects of the sun had aged him beyond his time. Though he was scarcely twenty-four, his appearance and manner were those of a man ten years older. That he had killed several thousand buffalo, along with a small clutch of hostiles, lent him an air of gravity well suited to his brushy mustache and somber expression.
Just at the moment, though, the men gathered around the table were less concerned with his appearance than with his uncanny skill at cards. Whatever his age, he played poker with the boldness and craft of a Mexican bandit, and most of their money was now heaped in a golden mound at his elbow. They were disgusted with themselves, in the way of all hard losers, and thoroughly astounded by the unchecked winning streak of this greasy, foulsmelling plainsman who had wandered into their midst.
Kincaid was no less baffled himself. Perhaps his best bluff of the evening was in the deadpan performance of someone who knew precisely what he was doing and how to go about it. Quite the contrary, it was fortune who called the turn. He played the cards dealt him, inwardly thunderstruck by his phenomenal luck, and pretended to a skill which was more guile than expertise. He won steadily, slowly busting the other players, and by midnight the outcome was a foregone conclusion.
Already, a local merchant, along with an eastern cattle buyer and a whiskey drummer, had quit the game. When Kincaid sandbagged the next pot, checking on three queens and raising the bet, the Texas cattleman seated beside him slammed out of his chair and stalked from the saloon. That left only one player, Quincy Blackburn, a nattily attired fat man given to blubbery chuckles and glib chatter. By no mere coincidence, he also owned the Lady Gay, the saloon in which they were seated. Like most of his breed, Blackburn operated the dive strictly as a front. He was an accomplished gambler, having plied his trade on the riverboats for several years, and men who thrived on high-stakes poker beat a constant path to the Lady Gay.
Now, gambler and buffalo hunter stared at one another through a haze of stale smoke and dim light. Unspoken, yet shared, was a faint amusement at this ironic twist, for never had two men been more dissimilar. One, squat and larded with the good life, impeccable in manner and dress. The other, whipcord lean, whiskery stubble marking his jawline, decked out in rancid buckskins that smelled of sweat and tallow and uncured hides. That it was now a two-man game, they never doubted for an instant. Blackburn had a fat man's passion for money, and Kincaid was soaring high on a lethal mixture of euphoria and popskull whiskey. It somehow made sense that they would join hands and butt heads in a final test having less to do with poker than with an atavistic risk of character.
Blackburn's bright little eyes settled at last on the golden mound across from him. Idly, he gestured with a pudgy hand, the mechanical smile of a pitchman touching his mouth.
"How much would you say you've won? Just offhand."
Kincaid shrugged, unable to suppress a grin. "Eight thousand. Mebbe nine."
"Anymore in your kick? Or is that it?"
"Depends. What'd you have in mind?"
"Something — sweeter." Blackburn smiled. "That is, if you're still feeling lucky."
"Try me and see."
"A sporting man! I like that." The gambler paused, darting a glance at the nearby tables, then lowered his voice. "Just between us, your run pretty well tapped the bank. Now, if you could sweeten what's on the table — say, another thousand — I'm willing to cover it with a half-interest in the Lady Gay. All things being equal, I'd say it's a fair bet."
Kincaid's face betrayed nothing. He studied the fat man a moment, certain now that he had been gaffed in some shifty dodge as yet unrevealed. Then his gaze shifted and roved over the saloon in a deliberate, unhurried inspection. It was the first dive he'd hit after leaving the livery stable, and by no means a palace. But it drew a good crowd, kept two bartenders and a covey of girls busy, and had all the appearances of a steady money-maker. While he'd never entertained the notion of becoming a saloonkeeper, there were lots worse ways to make a living. Hunting buffalo and fighting Indians, just for openers. Whatever had brought him to Abilene, this winning streak was a sign. Unmistakably a sign that he was on the scent of bigger game, and maybe right here was the place to start. The Lady Gay.
As for the money in front of him — what the hell? Easy come, easy go. If he lost there was always the buffalo and another season on the killing grounds. But somehow he didn't believe it would happen. Luck had grabbed hold of his shirttail, and a man had to play out his string.
Get a hunch, bet a bunch.
Leaning forward, he pulled a money belt from underneath his shirt and dumped it on the table. Then, with a peculiar glint in his eye, he looked across at the gambler. "Let's play whole hog or nothin'. There's better'n ten thousand in that belt." He scooped up a handful of double eagles from the pile on the table and let them slowly trickle through his fingers. "This and the belt against the Lady Gay."
Blackburn's tongue flicked out, wetting his lips, like a bullfrog catching flies. The gaff had sunk deeper than he suspected, and he could scarcely contain himself. Frowning, never one to rush a sucker, he gave it a moment's judicious thought. At last, jowls flushed, he heaved a sigh and nodded.
"Agreed. Winner take all." Quite casually, he collected the cards and began shuffling, his stubby fingers moving with the effortless grace of tiny birds. "Stud all right with you?"
Kincaid's thorny paw stretched out, took the deck from his hand, and placed it in the center of the table. Then he nailed the gambler with an icy scowl and very carefully gave the cards a whorehouse cut.
"You oughtn't to use strippers in a friendly game. Course, I'm of a forgivin' nature, so I'll overlook it. Unless you've got some objection, we'll just cut for high card. And like you said — winner take all."
Blackburn blinked, started to speak, then thought better of it. Silently, he watched as Kincaid cut the deck and turned up the king of diamonds. Shifting forward, his hand covered the balance of the pack while his fingers began an imperceptible caress of the cards.
Then he stopped. The metallic whirr of a pistol hammer suddenly stayed his hand and he found himself staring down the bore of a Colt Dragoon. Wooden-faced, without a trace of emotion, Kincaid rapped him across the knuckles with the tip of the barrel.
"Fat man, you draw an ace and I'll tack it to your headstone."
The gambler swallowed hard, eyes riveted on the pistol, and slowly turned over the nine of spades. Kincaid eased back, lowering the hammer on the Colt, and laid it on the table. Several moments passed, then the cold look faded and his lips curled back in a wolfish grin.
"Drinks are on the house. Right after we get it in writin'."
Not long after sunrise, Jake Kincaid took a leisurely stroll through Abilene. He was an early riser, a habit common to those accustomed to a bed of buffalo robes on hard ground. Despite the late night, devoted for the most part to settling his affairs with Blackburn, he saw no reason to waste the morning. At this hour, with the sporting crowd hardly more than asleep, he pretty much had the town to himself. The streets were virtually deserted (even the dogs seemed to be night owls in Abilene) and that fitted nicely with his own plans.
Having adopted Abilene as his new stamping grounds, he felt obliged to inspect the place. Nose around a bit, get acquainted, find out exactly what a cowtown was. Not that he expected it to be all that different from other towns, but it never hurt to scout unfamiliar ground. Get the lay of the land, a feel for the pulse of things. As the town's newest saloonkeeper, sort of an overnight magi-presto businessman, it wouldn't hurt to sniff out the big augurs. Take their measure. Let them know that he'd come to stay — and play — not for chalkies but for all the marbles.
This was the thing that had come clear overnight. Kincaid sensed some irresistible force booting him in the butt. Nudging him first in the direction of Abilene, then toward the Lady Gay, and finally into a showdown that had sealed the pact. Nor was it mere coincidence. Whatever the force, it had brought him here for a reason. In three years he hadn't once attempted to sink roots. Since coming west from Kentucky, turning his back on a worn-out farm and a graveyard overcrowded with family, he had roamed without purpose or direction. And now, finally, he had come to roost. Call it instinct or fate or whatever name suited, he felt it in his bones. The twists and turns were finished, his wanderlust sated at last. Today was a whole new deal, a fresh shuffle, and Abilene was where it started.
Except that he was shod in clunky mule-eared boots, he might have leaped sky high and clicked his heels. The world was green and bright, the sun golden warm, and a gentle westerly breeze brought with it the sweet ambrosia of cowdung. A day to crow and stretch and drink deeply from the horn. Hallelujah Day.
But if his vision soared, drunk with the glory of himself, there was nothing erratic about Kincaid's eyesight. Abilene in a bright morning sun was, if anything, more unsightly than it had been the evening before. Undistracted by glimmering lights, crowds, and whooping trailhands, he saw a cowtown at last for what it was. Texas Street stretched north from the railroad tracks for two blocks. Cedar Street crossed east and west, intersecting Texas, for a distance of another two blocks. And that was it. A well-chucked rock would have hit the town limits in any direction.
Perhaps of greater consequence was the glaring disparity among business establishments. Kincaid prowled the streets in dismay, his rosy vision of the future become instead a gushing nosebleed. By rough count, Abilene had thirty-two commercial enterprises, discounting the jail and a slapdash affair proclaiming itself a church. There was a bank, two hotels, a couple of stores, and perhaps a half-dozen other legitimate businesses. The remainder, practically shoulder to shoulder along both sides of all four blocks, were some mongrel combination of saloon, gambling den, or whorehouse. And all of them, the economic cornerstone of fabled Abilene, were direct competitors with his own watering hole. All of a sudden, the Lady Gay didn't look so gay anymore. She had assumed the heft, not to mention the peculiar odor, of a pig in the poke.
After breakfast in the local greasy spoon, Kincaid came away with a case of heartburn that wasn't altogether traceable to the food. Still, gloomy as things looked, it could have been worse. He might have won a cathouse, and according to the counterman in the café, several new brothels were even then being constructed at the east end of Cedar. Some of them with as many as forty rooms! Already this monument to horny Texans had been dubbed with a fitting sobriquet — The Devil's Half-Acre.
Excerpted from The Kincaids by Matt Braun. Copyright © 1976 Matthew Braun. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
BOOK ONE - KANSAS,
BOOK TWO - OKLAHOMA TERRITORY,
BOOK THREE - OKLAHOMA,
St. Martin's Paperbacks by Matt Braun,
BROTHER AGAINST BROTHER,