The American West—bright with hope and possibility, ravaged by war and greed, and forged by the men and myths that defined the frontier. Men like renowned gunfighter Falcon MacCallister who risked his life to defend it . . .
The Ballad Of Billy The Kid
In Pecos Valley, New Mexico, a cattle war has erupted, pitting rancher against rancher across a once-peaceful land. It has thrust MacCallister into the dead center of one of the most violent battles on record—and barrel to barrel with the greatest challenge he has ever faced. His name is William Bonney. His victims called him Billy the Kid. MacCallister calls him a bad risk. But in the deadly gamble of the Lincoln Country War, placing your bet on an outlaw like the Kid is the only game in town.
MacCallister’s Law: never turn your back on a man . . . unless he's already dead.
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Song of Eagles
By William W. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 1999 William W. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
Bonito, Arizona, 1877
Henry McCarty, known locally as Kid Antrim, looked over his cards and smiled. Though his stated age was seventeen, the gesture, along with his wispy, brown hair, short stature, and baby soft skin made him look no more than fourteen.
"You gonna fold them worthless cards or bet, Windy?" the Kid asked.
Frank P. "Windy" Cahill narrowed his eyes and glared at the Kid. "I think you're bluffin', runt." He watched carefully to see what effect his words would have on the younger man.
The Kid grinned, showing bucked upper teeth. It was a trait which would become his trademark in later years. Even though he was furious inside at the insult, he hid his killing rage behind a cheerful, smiling facade. Many men were going to die with that smile being the last thing they saw on this earth.
"I can see why you're such a good blacksmith, Windy," the Kid said. He inclined his head at Cahill's more than ample paunch, which hung over his belt. "You're damn near as big as the horses you shoe, and twice as fat."
The Kid leaned forward and pointed his finger at the pile of money in the middle of the table. "Now, you can call me names all night, but that don't matter none a'tall. What matters is, are you gonna call my bet or fold?"
"Call." Cahill snarled and threw a twenty dollar double eagle gold coin onto the stack of money. He grinned through blackened, grimy teeth and spread his cards on the table. "Two pair, aces over queens. Read 'em and weep, Kid."
"That's a mighty good hand, Windy."
As the man laughed and leaned forward to rake in the pot, Kid Antrim added softly, "But not good enough to win. I got three deuces."
Cahill leaned back, scowling as the Kid raked in his winnings. "Deuces are a lot like me, Windy," he said. "They ain't exactly big cards, but they sure do get the job done, 'specially when you got plenty of 'em."
Miles Leslie Wood, proprietor of the local hotel where the Kid usually ate his meals, sat across the table in a chair next to Cahill. He frowned and stubbed his cigar out with an impatient gesture. "Cut the crap, Kid, and deal."
The Kid riffled the cards a few times and began to deal them out. As he got to Wood, he hesitated. "The way you been losing tonight, Miles, I would'a thought you'd want me to deal slower 'stead of faster. That way you might be able to stay in the game a mite longer."
"Damn, but you got a smart mouth on you, Kid," Cahill growled from across the table. "Maybe somebody ought'a shut it for you."
The Kid never looked up from his dealing. His lips curled in a smile that didn't reach his cold, blue eyes. "You are welcome to try any time, Windy. But you got to promise me you won't fall on me, 'cause with as much lard as you're carrying it might be fatal."
With a yell, the blacksmith jumped up from his chair and lunged across the table at the Kid. His weight of two hundred and fifty pounds caused the table to collapse, scattering money and cards and drinks all over the floor.
Kid Antrim scrambled back just in time to avoid being crushed by the table. Mabel Adkins, proprietor of the Adkins Dance Hall where the poker game was being held, came from her usual place at the end of the bar and stood with her hands on her hips. "Kid, you better get the hell out of here 'fore Windy gets to his feet. He's liable to kill ya."
Kid Antrim stooped to pick up his pile of money. "He ain't gonna kill nobody. He's just full of hot air. That's why they call him Windy." He nodded at Adkins. "Night, Mabel. I'll see you next Saturday, and maybe escort you around the dance floor a time or two."
Adkins smiled, for the Kid had a way with the ladies. "Okay, Kid, now you get on outta here while you can still walk."
The Kid sauntered out the door of the dance hall, whistling a tune the other teamsters at Camp Grant had taught him, something about a darling Clementine.
He had just reached the middle of the dirt road that served as main street in Bonito when he heard Miles Wood call out from behind him, "Kid, look out!"
The Kid turned just in time to be barreled over by two hundred and fifty pounds of furious blacksmith. Cahill grabbed him in a bear hug and threw him to the ground, shouting incoherently with spittle spraying from his lips, "Gonna kill you ... you little pimp!"
The Kid reared his head back and head-butted Cahill in the nose, breaking it and spreading it all over the huge man's face. "I ain't no pimp, you sonofabitch!"
They rolled a couple of times in the dusty street until coming to rest with Cahill on top. With blood streaming from his ruined nose, he wrapped his large hands around the Kid's throat and began to squeeze.
Within seconds the Kid's vision began to blur, and dark spots swam before his eyes. He knew the man was going to kill him. There was no doubt in his mind. He flailed futilely at Cahill's face, but his strength was failing and his blows had no effect.
As he thrust at the big man's gut, trying to push him away, his right hand fell on Cahill's Colt pistol. The Kid jerked the gun free and stuck it in Cahill's belly and pulled the trigger, blowing Cahill backward amid the roar of the pistol — to land sprawled, spread-eagled on his back, grasping his stomach and screaming in agony.
The Kid rolled to his knees, gasping for air, and vomited in the dirt next to where the blood-spattered pistol lay. As he heaved, he vowed never again to be caught without a pistol on his hip.
After he emptied his stomach, the Kid stood and walked toward the Aravaipa Creek that marked the boundary between Camp Grant and Bonito, to wash the blood off his hands and face.
* * *
When Cahill died the next morning, Miles Wood, local justice of the peace as well as hotel proprietor, conducted a coroner's inquest into the killing. A. M. "Gus" Gildea, a civilian scout at Camp Grant and a friend of Kid Antrim, was called as a witness to the fight.
The rail-thin cowboy turned his weather-beaten face to the jury of townspeople from the witness box. He leaned over the railing and looked for a spittoon, and when he found there was none shifted his chaw from one cheek to the other and swallowed it with a grimace. "There ain't no doubt in the matter. The boy plumb didn't have no choice. He had to use his equalizer," he said to the jury.
Wood asked from behind the judge's desk, "But isn't it true, Mr. Gildea, that the Kid didn't warn Mr. Cahill, that he just pulled the pistol and shot him without giving him a chance?"
Gildea, who had been one of the participants in the poker game, narrowed his eyes at Wood. "That's not the way it happened and you know it, Miles. You was just sore cause the Kid took all your money ..."
Wood banged his gavel, shouting, "Objection. Not relevant testimony! Did the Kid warn Cahill before shootin' him down in cold blood or not? Just answer the question."
"No, you damn fool. The Kid couldn't say nothin' 'cause Cahill had him by the throat ..."
The gavel banged again, cutting Gildea's testimony off mid-sentence. Wood turned to the jury. "Gentlemen of the jury, you have heard how a routine bar fight ended with the death of an honest citizen of our town. How do you find?"
The six men sitting in two rows at the side of the room leaned their heads together for a moment, speaking in low tones. Finally they all nodded and one stood up. "We find that the killing was criminal and unjustifiable, and that Henry Antrim, alias the Kid, is guilty thereof."
* * *
The next morning, while the Kid was eating breakfast in his hotel, Wood walked up to his table and arrested him.
"I've got to take you in, Kid. The jury found you guilty of murder."
The Kid looked up from his eggs and bacon, took a final drink of his coffee, and said, "I never figured you for such a sore loser, Miles."
The Kid offered no resistance as Wood escorted him across Aravaipa Creek to the post guardhouse at Camp Grant, where he was incarcerated.
Two nights later, during a dance and dinner at Captain G. C. Smith's quarters, two or three shots were heard. Captain Smith ordered the officer of the day, Lieutenant Benny Cheever of the Sixth Cavalry, out to investigate.
He returned five minutes later and snapped off a smart salute. "Sir, the shots you heard were fired by the sentry at the guardhouse at a man who escaped."
"Who was it, soldier?" the irritated captain asked, embarrassed at this news being uttered in front of his guests.
"I believe it was Kid Antrim, sir."
"How could this happen, Cheever?"
The lieutenant called the captain aside, "The sentry thinks one of the soldiers on the base aided the prisoner, sir."
The captain nodded, "Well, look into it, but keep it quiet. I don't want anyone else to know he had help, especially from a soldier under my command, understand?"
* * *
Kid Antrim had seized the fastest horse he could find — "Cashaw," a racing pony belonging to John Murphey. About a week later, the pony was returned by a traveler who told Murphey that the Kid asked him to return the animal to its rightful owner.
The Kid made his way from Silver City to Mesilla, New Mexico, then joined up with a young man his age named Tom O'Keefe. They rode together through the Organ Mountains and across the Tularosa Basin, then tried to cross the northern portion of the Guadalupe Mountains.
On the second day of their trip through the mountains, they were climbing an old Indian trail when O'Keefe suddenly reined in. "Hey, Kid, look down there." He pointed down the side of the mountain to a glimmering pool of water at the bottom of the canyon below them. "I don't know 'bout you, Kid, but I'm might near outta water."
The Kid shook his canteen, finding it bone dry. "Yeah, me, too. I'll climb down there and get us filled up whilst you stay here with the horses."
He took both canteens and climbed down the rocky, steep, cliff wall to the water. He was about to return when sounds of gunfire reached him. "Goddamn," he muttered, remembering stories he and O'Keefe had been told about travelers in this region being attacked by roving bands of renegade Apaches.
Taking cover behind rocks and brush, the Kid made his way back up to where he had left O'Keefe and the horses. There was no sign of O'Keefe, horses, bedrolls, or rations.
Keeping himself hidden until nightfall, the Kid resumed his journey on foot. It took him two days of hard walking through the mountains and down Rocky Arroyo until he came upon a barren ranch, with a wind and sun-bleached cabin and barn. A hand-lettered sign at the front gate read Jones.
Heiskell Jones, his wife, Barbara, and their ten children lived there. Barbara, known locally as Ma'am Jones, heard the Kid outside and found him staggering up to their cabin. She grabbed him just before he fell, and half carried him into the kitchen. She removed his boots, finding he wore no socks and his feet were raw and swollen.
"How long's it been since you ate, boy?"
"It's been more'n three days, ma'am."
Mrs. Jones heated some milk on the wood-burning stove and took it over to where the boy sat hunched under a blanket with his feet in hot water.
"I don't like milk," he said.
"Drink it. Later you may have some food, but not now. It's bad for you to eat before you've rested a little."
There was no reply.
"Do you want me to hold your nose and pour it down you?"
He took the cup. When he tasted the milk he made a wry face, but he drank.
"Now I'm going to put you to bed. You're worn out, and need sleep."
"I can sleep right here."
"You can sleep better in a bed."
The next day the Kid introduced himself as Billy Bonney. This was the first time he'd used this alias. He wanted to protect the Jones family from any reprisals for harboring a known fugitive. He told the Jones's eldest son, John, about his experiences with the Apaches while he and John were shooting target practice out behind the barn.
"How well do you shoot with your left hand?" John asked.
"Not so good," the Kid replied. "Sometimes I hit, but if I was in a jackpot I'd use my right."
When the Kid was sufficiently recovered John lent him a horse, and he was again on his way, headed toward John Chisum's South Spring River Ranch in Lincoln County, New Mexico, where he'd been told he might hire on as a range cowboy. At the time no one in the Jones family could have guessed Billy Bonney would become a central figure in the Territory's deadliest range war.CHAPTER 2
Falcon MacCallister reined his horse Diablo to a halt a few hundred yards from the Chisum South Spring River Ranch house. It was an impressive edifice, the size of a small fort and made of native stone from the area, with very little wood showing.
Probably necessary, Falcon thought, considering Chisum pried this land right from the hands of the Mescalero Apaches. He pulled a cheroot from his coat pocket, struck a lucifer on his pant leg, and lighted it. Crossing his leg over his saddle horn, he mentally reviewed what his father had told him about Chisum....
* * *
In 1868, John S. Chisum established himself at Bosque Grande, in the eastern portion of Lincoln County, New Mexico. As many Texans did at the time, he brought a herd of cattle with him from Texas. Never one short on courage, Chisum claimed two hundred miles up and down the Pecos Valley, calling it his "by right of discovery." The land had not yet been opened to settlers, and so Chisum "squatted" on it and made good his claim by his own means — usually by hiring men expert in the use of Colonel Colt's weapons.
La Placita del Rio Bonito was soon Americanized, called Lincoln, and was designated the county seat. Chisum himself — however many armed men might ride for him — never carried a gun, often remarking that "a six-shooter will get you into more trouble than it will get you out of." Before long he was considered the most powerful man in Lincoln County.
Before his death last year, Jamie Ian MacCallister had told Falcon if he was ever in this area to look Chisum up. They were old friends who "had rode the river together" when they were younger.
Falcon pitched his cigar in the dirt and spurred Diablo toward the ranch house. As he rode he kept his hands out in plain sight, for he knew he made a dangerous first impression on strangers and didn't want Chisum's men to take alarm. He stood well over six feet in height, had wheat-colored blond hair and cold, pale-blue eyes. His shoulders were so wide and his muscles so developed that his typical attire — black suits with crisp, ironed, white shirts and black silk kerchiefs around his neck — all had to be specially tailored to fit his massive frame. On his hips, tied down low, were a matched pair of Colt Peacemaker .45s, and behind his belt buckle was a two-shot derringer. A .44-40 caliber Winchester rifle was slung in a saddle boot within easy reach.
As he approached the ranch house, Falcon noted several cowboys in the area. The men all seemed to be heavily armed, with most carrying rifles or shotguns in addition to pistols on their hips. They wore their pistols tied down low, more like gunslicks instead of punchers. Chisum looks like he's ready to go to war, Falcon thought. Kinda strange, since most of the Indians around this part of the country have been run off years ago.
A tall, lanky man with mean-looking eyes stepped off the porch, shucked a shell into the chamber of his Henry, and called to Falcon, "Howdy, mister. What can I do for you?"
Falcon kept his hands on his reins and pulled his mount to a stop. "I'm Falcon MacCallister. I'm here to see John Chisum."
"Yeah? And what might your business be with Mr. Chisum?"
Falcon removed his Stetson and sleeved sweat off his forehead. "No business. I just came to give him my regards. He and my father used to ride together."
"Your father's name?"
"Jamie Ian MacCallister."
"Wait right here and I'll see if Mr. Chisum wants to talk to you."
"Is it all right if I water my horse? We been on the trail for some time, and he's a mite thirsty."
The man nodded and pointed to a horse trough next to the porch before disappearing into the house.
Falcon dismounted and walked his horse to the trough. While Diablo drank his fill, Falcon dipped his hands in the water and washed some of the trail dust off his face and hair.
The door opened and one of the broadest men he had ever seen stepped out on the porch. He smiled and held out his hand. "Howdy, Falcon. I'm John Chisum, and I'm pleased to meet you."
Excerpted from Song of Eagles by William W. Johnstone. Copyright © 1999 William W. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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