by J D Webb
Cowhand is wounded and loses his life savings when ambushed. He vows revenge.
The cabin was cramped, but livable. With the firewood already cut he would be assured of warmth during the time he stayed here. There was the cot and a chair fashioned of cut pine branches notched together and held by rawhide straps. The back and seat were deerskin stretched across and laced to the frame with more rawhide. It was very comfortable and obviously built for a man of considerable proportions. He wondered where that person was and when he might come back.
Ben found a pot to use to get water from the stream. At the water’s edge he dressed his shoulder and fashioned a new bandage. Moving the shoulder was still too painful. If circumstances were different he would have taken more time to enjoy the stillness and beauty of this place. But right now he needed to recover from his ordeal.
That stillness was broken by someone coming through the woods talking and by what sounded like a bunch of pans banging together. Ben realized he had left his gun in the cabin. There was not time to get to the cabin so he crouched down behind some bushes. A giant of a man limped down the path cradling a rifle in huge arms. He was leading a mule loaded down with furs and at least ten pots and pans clanging together with each step, and behind two horses ambled along. One of those horses was Compadre. The man headed for the cabin.
Ben let him pass and yelled out, “Hold it right there and don’t move. Put your gun on the ground and kneel down.”
The man stopped and started to turn around.
“I said, don’t move or I might have to put a bullet in you.”
Slowly the man put his rifle down. Ben moved behind him and grabbed the rifle.
“Well, what ya goin’ ta do ta me?” The man’s voice was surprisingly very soft.
“Where did you get that horse?” Ben asked.
“I hope ya believe me. I jest found him wanderin’ ‘round. I looked fer his owner. Found him up in the rocks with a big hole in his chest. Looked like a knife wound.” Tilting his head toward the horse he remarked. “I figured he wouldn’t be needin’ him anymore so I brought him home.”
“That’s my horse.”
“Say, can I git off my knees? I’m too old to be very steady jest kneelin’ down. ‘Sides, it hurts like hell.”
Ben saw he was having trouble trying to stay upright.
“Very slowly and don’t make any sudden moves. Where is your partner?” Ben was still sheltered by some trees so that someone else could not get a good shot at him.
“Ain’t got no partner. Jest me, my horse, and my mule, Grubstake. I was talkin’ ta him there on the path. Hey, ya don’t even have a gun on ya. What would ya have done if I’d jumped ya?”
“Well, I’d probably got killed. Is that your cabin back there?”
“Yep. Looks like you got a bad shoulder there. It’s bleedin’. If ya come on up ta the cabin I’ll git ya some injun medicine that’ll stop it.”
Ben took in the man’s face and decided he was not going to give him any trouble. It was grizzled and gnarled and yet somehow kind. There was a certain twinkle in those old but sharp eyes. His nose had been the recipient of some hard blows. It had at least three extra bumps that Ben could see. And on one cheek, a nasty scar where the flesh had at one time been opened to the bone. Yet with all that, it was not a hideous face. There was an aura of good that escaped all the obvious punishment that had been heaped upon it. Ben could not guess how old the man was.
“Name’s Wesley Martin but ever’ one around here calls me Pots.” He motioned to the mule. “Ya can probly figure out why. Been out here prospectin fer six or seven years now. Ain’t hit nothin’ big yet, but I think I’m gettin’ close.” He winked and his nose moved more than his eye.
When he stood, Pots was at least six foot five and heavy, but not fat. Dressed in a combination of furs and leather there was no mistaking a mountain man. A hatchet hung on his belt and as well as a large knife.
“Come on. I ain’t gonna hurt ya. Ya stay out here, you’re gonna bleed ta death and I’ll have ta bury ya.” With that Pots took off toward the cabin. Ben had no choice but to follow.
When they got inside Pots went to a small shelf and pulled down something wrapped in a cloth.
“Take off yer shirt and I’ll put some of this on it. It smells powerful bad but it works. Got it from a Blackfoot medicine man.”
Ben sat cautiously while the mountain man very gently applied the smelly ointment to his shoulder, and it seemed to immediately stem the flow of blood. After fashioning a bandage the man sat on the cot and looked at Ben.
“So! What happened ta ya?”
“I got dry gulched by some not so friendly cusses. Took all my supplies and money and lit out. I was able to get one of them, but the other fellow shot me.”
“Looks like he got ya twice.”
Ben touched his head and winced as the pain returned. “He did. Guess I’m too hardheaded for just a little bullet. I really am grateful for your help. As soon as I can get settled down somewhere and can earn some money I’ll pay you for the use of your cabin.”
“Don’t think nothin’ of it. I’m glad ta be able ta talk ta somebody besides that cantankerous old mule. You’re welcome ta stay, at least till ya git that shoulder better. You’re goin’ ta need a place ta lay low fer awhile. Did ya recognize them fellas that waylaid ya?”
“Never saw them before. I’ll know the one that got away though. He had a silver belt buckle with a snake carved on it.”
“I reckon I never saw that feller before.”
The two men spent the rest of the day learning about each other. Pots had been a mountain man for most of his life. Ben guessed him to be about 40 or so. Pots walked with a telltale limp and he told Ben how it happened.
"'Bout eight years before I surprised a very mad grizzly an' my leg got purty mangled. See?" The scarring he exposed just about made Ben ill. "The leg laid me up for some time and so I took up prospecting to get by while I couldn’t do no trappin'. The nickname Pots was given me by the locals after I found a peddler on the trail that had been killed and robbed. Some of the dead man’s supplies in a wagon included a bunch of pots that I strung across Grubstake. The jangling of the pots helped forewarn any nasty grizzlies to move on.
Pots told Ben, the closest town was Mountain View about four miles due south. Ben decided that he would go there to find work as soon as his shoulder allowed. And to see if anyone knew of a man with the snake belt buckle. He wouldn’t rest until he retrieved his life savings or at least make that man pay for what he did. Ben made a pledge that he would not make a move until he was fully recovered and able to face the man on his terms.
Ben Turner had confidence that when he was fully healthy he could handle himself in any fight. Wade Turner’s lessons included hand-to-hand fighting as well as the use of various weapons. Brawls and street fighting usually settled arguments. Gunfights rarely were face to face fast-draw contests. The seven gun battles Wade had survived involved some famous fast guns, though, giving him a reputation that had grown to almost legend status. Wade retired and settled down as a rancher and enjoyed teaching his nephew how to defend himself. Ben’s only family was Wade and a long-lost cousin. He was a good student and became an excellent shot. He remembered Wade telling him: “It don’t mean a lick to be fast. You got to get your shot off accurate. More than likely you will only get that one.” It was a tribute to Wade’s ability that he was able to retire after spending seventeen years as sheriff of Diablo, Colorado.