“Dusty Richards writes . . . with the flavor of the real West.”—Elmer Kelton
The Byrnes family saga continues in this epic novel by Western Heritage, Western Writers of America, and Spur Award winning Dusty Richards, starting with a trailblazing moment in our nation’s history—and ending in bloodsoaked vengeance . . .
A landmark feat of innovation is about to change the American West forever. With electric cables stretching from the Colorado River to Gallup, New Mexico, a new telegraph system will connect the settlers of the Arizona Territory to rest of the country—a dream come true for rancher Chet Byrnes and his family. But laying four hundred miles of steel wire can be a deadly task. Chet has to face off with hired henchmen who would kill to sabotage the project. Chet’s nephew JD has his hands full with cutthroat rustlers on the Mexican border. And a pair of outlaws from Chet’s past have come seeking revenge for the hangings of the Reynolds clan—revenge that can only be paid with Byrnes family blood . . .
About the Author
Author of over 85 novels, Dusty Richards is the only author to win two Spur awards in one year (2007), one for his novel The Horse Creek Incident and another for his short story “Comanche Moon.” He is a member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and the International Professional Rodeo Association, and serves on the local PRCA rodeo board. Dusty is also an inductee in the Arkansas Writers Hall of Fame. He currently resides in northwest Arkansas. He was the winner of the 2010 Will Rogers Medallion Award for Western Fiction for his novel Texas Blood Feud and honored by the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2009.
Read an Excerpt
Valley of Bones
By Dusty Richards
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Dusty Richards
All rights reserved.
Having risen early, the group rode out for the Hackberry Ranch.
Lucy McElroy came out on her porch holding her baby boy in in her arms. A small pretty blond daughter, barely walking, was hidden in the lower part of her dress.
"Well, boss, and you guys, welcome to Hackberry Ranch. You know that it belongs to some great guy named Chester Byrnes who lives in Prescott Valley."
Chet laughed at her greeting. "Lucy, anyone been around asking that blond-headed daughter of yours for a date?"
"No sir. I'd shoot them." Then she laughed. "Chet, I dread those days."
"Don't. They will come. You know everyone with me but Fred Taylor, our horse wrangler. Liz sends her love and well wishes. She and Lisa have several ranch children they are teaching English to, so they can enroll in the Cherry School."
"Wow, she is busy. Come on into the house. My sister Hannah is making coffee and doughnuts right now."
Fred and a ranch youth took the horses.
"Fred, when you get them put up, come to the house," Chet told him.
"I'm coming, Chet. Thanks, ma'am," he said to Lucy.
* * *
Starting for the house, Lucy continued with her information. "Shawn is out with his right-hand man Spud. They calved lots of first calf heifers this spring and hardly lost any calves or momma cows. Those two are a real tough pair of working cowboys."
"Spud's wife Shirley doing all right?"
"Yes. They have a good spring and a windmill setup that waters the land. The men made her an irrigation system. Once a week most of the crew go up there and hoe the weeds to help her. She has almost two acres of garden. It will mean lots more canning, but we will help her. She is really proud, and we and all the men and ranch families will be eating real well this winter.
"How are things going for you?" she asked Chet as he scooped up her daughter, carrying her inside.
"Not many problems."
"You said Liz is all right. How is Susie?"
"Fine. We were there a short while ago, before Sarge started for Gallup with the monthly herd."
"I thought maybe she'd be having another baby since Irwin is walking."
Chet laughed. "She is getting behind you. Her and Liz, huh?"
"I have no news. Liz and her first husband had no children. I know it bothers her, but I guess it is all up to God. Hi, Hannah," he said to Lucy's sister, the shorter, dark-eyed youngest one, busy, making doughnuts in hot grease on the range.
"We figured you'd be coming after Lucy read me that last letter."
"Oh we're just making sure everyone is getting along and doesn't need anything. You aren't engaged?"
"No. Who'd have me? The boys around here aren't much to choose from."
"I bet several would."
"Oh, no." She busied herself with making the doughnuts.
They all sat down at the table.
"I saw the invoice on my desk. Did you get that new mower?"
"Yes, and our blacksmith Deacon repaired the others for this season. Shawn has most of those homesteads with mowable acres fenced for haying. He planted twenty acres of alfalfa close by. Hampt, via May's letters, sent him directions. It is up and doing great."
"Victor has a new place at Camp Verde, he's planting this spring. He's another Hampt student."
"You really have spread out. How are Bonny and JD getting along?"
"Great. They will have grapes and citrus this fall."
"I knew Miguel took Cole's job. Where is Spencer?"
"Back finishing up the new home place headquarters at Oracle. He's the one that rolled out the telegraph wire across the territory in such record time."
"I knew that. Liz wrote me that the railroad has renamed Center Point as Flagstaff?"
"Guess they have precedence over me."
They were laughing as Hannah delivered the doughnuts and poured coffee to all the cowboys. The ooh's and aah's about her treat made her smile.
When Shawn and Spud returned, Lucy's daughter ran to Shawn talking a hundred miles an hour and then she went and sat on Spud's lap as the two men joined the party at the table. There were more laughs and compliments to the cook on the doughnuts. Lucy explained who married who, in the Byrnes community, to her sister. Hannah had met most of the women on her visits to Prescott Valley for weddings and such, so she was able to assure the married men she was not flirting with them and that she had met their wives.
Shawn and Chet had left the table and gone into the living room to talk business. Shawn assured him he had enough help, including enough boys who needed work, around, to put up the hay when it was ripe.
"I have already put up tons of hay and we will have even more if we have rain. I think we can find enough water at some of these places, but we could use a steam engine to pump water enough for irrigation in the dry years."
"I hear you. I will have Liz search for the pump companies and learn what they know."
"There might be some in California. A guy who worked here, but went back to live with a woman who asked him to return, made me think we needed one for the dry years. He mentioned California. Victor can use the Verde River water but there are no rivers like that on the top up here. The Colorado River is too far down to suck water from."
"We can sure find out. When we started our telegraph company everyone said no one needed it. But we are already doing big business on it. And the use will increase, plus it saves Cole lots of unnecessary trips when he has problems. Four hundred miles is a lot of road to cover east to west. Spencer headed up building that telegraph operation just like Cole did with the stage line, and my partner had no doubts that it would succeed. He knew that I had to have a man, somewhere in our fold, who could build it in record time.
"Jesus insisted I had to have Spencer on that job. I worried some, not that I doubted his ability, but none of us had ever stretched slick wire that far. Well, he took hold and it worked."
"You guys did a helluva job putting it up. We are doing good with the cattle so far. We are still rounding up maverick cattle. I will pass five hundred head of mother cows by this fall. Spud, and some of the other men, are super at rounding them up without it costing too much."
"Are the local people still mad at us for rounding them up?" Chet recalled the complaints they had gotten a year or so back.
"I don't listen. They could have caught them. They're loose and out there. Maverick cattle are free to capture, brand, and own. There are still lots out there that have escaped the hot iron. Lucy's dad told me the ranchers around here were too lazy to even try. He's been up here for years. That's how he got his herd when he first came here. In those days there was no market at all, but the mines down on the Williams River have changed that."
"I have had some requests from them, but they won't pay what the government will pay for them at Gallup. I talked to two different beef suppliers over there. They told me I was too high, so I'll bet they, for the price they want to pay, are cull killers. I know what Sarge sends over on the Navajo contract. He does not ship cutter cows or thin cull cows to them."
Chet said, "If you need more help, if those ranchers come around and bother you again, hire what you need. I want no one hurt, but we won't be pushed around, either. I won't complain at any costs. You are in charge up here."
Shawn nodded and thanked him. "Between you and me, I'm damn lucky to have Lucy. I know some folks think I only wanted this ranch job. But I took her because she is such a special person. You know I've heard you talk about her. She's tied down with two kids right now but she wants so bad to ride with us and round up maverick cattle. And she will. I love her and never could have imagined her accepting me."
"Good. Her daughter accepted you right off."
"I love that, too. They are my kids. They won't know the difference. When they're grown and ask me, I will tell them, and I won't run their father down."
"Shawn, I believe you are a mature enough person to handle it like that."
"Thanks. What's next?"
"I will tell you, but you can't say anything about it. There are coal deposits on the Navajo Reservation. A Navajo lady I met coming here five years ago has been at our setup at Center Point. She wants me to help her people get a contract with the railroad, when it comes, for the Navajo to supply the coal for the trains."
"Can you do that?"
"I hope so."
"It would make jobs for her people, wouldn't it?"
"Yes. But there are greedy people in Washington, D.C., who would try to steal it. I am going to make my best effort to make sure that doesn't happen."
"I am glad you handle all that kind of business. All I want to build is a great cow herd."
Chet laughed. "So, you won't put on a suit and go back there and talk to them?"
"Chet Byrnes, I'd do just about anything you asked of me. You gave me chance to join the Force when I had no experience at law enforcement. But please, Chet, don't ask me to do that."
"I think you'd make a sterling supporter to help me there."
"Chet, I am not a scholar or a professor or a lawyer."
"No. But you have a great sense of how to handle things that few men have. You must have been born with it. I saw it when you went to work on the Force. Later no one else besides you could have convinced Lucy that she needed you. And she did need you. Indeed she did. You handled it in the way that it needed to be handled. Whether you know it or not you have some powerful skills. All I ask is continue to use them wisely."
"I was not aware of having any such skills. Now I know I will do as you say — use them wisely. But I'd rather not have to go back to Washington." He shook his head hard.
"I share that same feeling, but I will have to go." He rose and went to watch the flames of sunset through the clean windowpanes. Anthills turned into mountains sometimes, and he feared that this might be one of those times. In six weeks he would have to be in Washington, D.C., talking to officials about allowing Native American people to run a coal mine operation supplying the railroad with fuel.
These Navajo people with their hogans and colorful woolen blankets would rather be left alone with their own gods in this land. They'd suffered harsh imprisonment and, when released, a long death walk back to get home. Now the iron rails were coming. That steam power must have coal and water to cross their land. Their ground yielded that power.
If the tribe had this new business, in time they could be more self-sufficient and provide better for their people who had so few skills they could use in a white man's world.
How would he ever start to convince those people in Washington of all that? God help him.
And he hoped Liz was all right back at home.CHAPTER 2
The trip from Arizona Territory to Washington, D.C., proved to be a complicated one. Liz, Spencer Horne, and Chet took a stage to Tucson and then to Lordsburg, where the railroad tracks ended. Chet had no doubts about his choice of men. Spencer could cover his back, and he understood the Navajo people since so many worked for him on his telegraph line building. He'd rather have Spencer than any lawyer outside of his Tucson lawyer, Russell Craft, who was too busy in Tucson court to leave the territory.
Spencer's wife Lucinda and her two children were moved to the Prescott Ranch and two ranch girls were hired to help her. She cried at the parting but told him to go help Chet and thanked Chet for selecting him. The onetime widow of a Diablo Ranch hand killed during roundup made his man Spencer a good wife. Liz promised him Lisa would educate Lucinda while her man was gone. Spencer had sung Lucinda's praises in helping him get the wire up in record time.
The three took the train from southwestern New Mexico to Fort Worth. With passenger trains restrained to 20 mph because of the danger of wrecking, the trip proved lengthy. They rested a day and a night in a Fort Worth hotel and then climbed the passenger car steps to continue the clacking, rocking way of trains to finally descend at the busy central train depot in Washington, D.C.
A man from the U.S. Marshals office met them at the impressive depot building.
"Nice to have you here sir. My name is Harry Nelson. I am your guide here. Chief Marshal Kenneth Samuels send his best regards and said to tell you he appreciates all your work to bring down crime in the territory."
"Things are slowing out there, I think," Chet assured him.
They went to the hotel and their rooms proved to be as hot as the rest of D.C. Hot and humid as hell. Chet felt the humidity made it worse than any desert oven heat. There was some ice tea and water served to them in the fancy restaurant where the cost for a meal would have fed a family for two weeks or longer in Arizona.
They attended meetings in high-ceilinged rooms with important members of Congress, along with the law agency representing the Navajo tribe, Jacobs, Sorrels, and Rhodes. Congress members were anxious to get out of the D.C. heat, and wanted all put off until the fall session. Chet saw no chance of them allowing the Navajos to handle the coal business. Spencer learned that the Tucson Ring also had a man, or more, spreading rumors to any official who would listen that the Navajo would only buy guns and bullets if they had the money from the mine business. They pushed on how well white business members would handle the coal business and better serve the railroad than a band of Indians who would mess around and cause delays that could hurt many of the businesses using the railroad.
The main man who was heading the others in the dissidence was a man by the name of Archie Thrasher. Spencer pointed him out in the hotel lobby, and Chet cornered him.
"You Archie Thrasher?"
The big man turned to study him as if Chet was less than dirt. "Well, you must be Marshal Byrnes. How are your blanket-assed Indians doing?"
"The Navajos are not blanket-assed Indians. They would do a lot better if you and your crooked schemers stayed out of messing with them."
"It is obvious to anyone with a lick of sense that those uneducated Indians could not work any mining operation nor deliver coal to the tracks on time for the trains. It would then make big problems for shippers, especially those with food products that would spoil while waiting for the coal to be delivered."
The man behind the bushy graying mustache needed a fist in his face, but Chet held his temper. "I suppose the people who have controlled all the crooked business in southern Arizona think they can do it better and plan to steal the coal from the Navajo."
"You need to prove that statement."
"No. More congressmen need to read the nonrefundable beef contract that your outfit has with the reservations and you'd be out of business."
"Listen, your shoddy outfit is not going to continue delivering beef right to the Navajos."
"I beg your pardon." Chet was opening and closing his fists at his side.
"Thrasher, I recommend you apologize to Chet," Spencer said. "Everyone knows the bony cattle your operation delivers. The beef we deliver is always in good condition."
"Well, you won't be doing it much longer. I can inform you of that. We intend to win the next bid on the Navajo beef account."
"Thrasher, your reputation at that will not sway anyone to accept your bid. You have tried it before and failed miserably."
"You wait and see. Your days as a supplier of their beef will be over shortly."
Thrasher gave them a snort and stalked out of the lobby.
"I may just shoot that bastard," Chet said. "When we get home I want him and all his kind put in that prison they are planning for Yuma."
"I have seen you angry before, but I believe that man made you real mad."
"Spencer, he did. For years, Old Man Clanton's sorry beef supplying has grated on me as crooked business that goes on unchecked. But I think we had better cover our butts and look into what they are planning to do to get the contract from us."
"You are to meet the Navajo lawyers and the chief tomorrow?"
Chet nodded. He still felt his heart beating hard in his chest as he tried to calm down. Before he was through he hoped and planned to uncover enough corruption being done by the Tucson Ring to shut them down forever.
Liz knew he was still upset when they met upstairs in the hotel room. "What went wrong?"
"Spencer and I just got off meeting a man, Thrasher, who told us he would have the Navajo beef contract shortly."
Excerpted from Valley of Bones by Dusty Richards. Copyright © 2017 Dusty Richards. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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