Autumn of the Gun

Autumn of the Gun by RALPH COMPTON Read Free Book Online

Book: Autumn of the Gun by RALPH COMPTON Read Free Book Online
Authors: RALPH COMPTON
March.”
    â€œAnd it’s already causing trouble?”
    â€œIn spades,” said Captain Selman. “The act provides for the sale of a hundred and sixty acres of land at twenty-five cents an acre to anyone willing to irrigate a portion of the land within three years, and at the end of that time, to pay an additional dollar an acre to secure ownership.”
    â€œThat sounds reasonable enough,” Nathan said, “but I reckon it ain’t workin’ out that way.”
    â€œNo,” said Selman. “While the bill was passed supposedly to help pioneers, it is doing exactly the opposite. Apparently, it was lobbied through Congress by a few wealthy cattlemen as a means of acquiring enormous tracts of land for next to nothing. As the small ranchers have pointed out, a man with money can gobble up thousands of acres. He needs hire just four men and get their signatures on the proper papers, and he has control of a full section. Six hundred and forty acres.”
    â€œAnd that’s what’s happening in Wyoming,” said Nathan.
    â€œIn the Powder River Basin,” Selman replied. “Some of them have picked up blanket Indians, had them sign the necessary papers, and claimed land in their names. Have you ever known an Indian to even get close to anything resembling work?”
    Nathan laughed. “Such as irrigation?”
    â€œYou get the idea, then,” said Selman. “With Congress on the outs with President Hayes, there’ll be no soldiers deployed, but there’ll be trouble in Wyoming for somebody. The Powder River may run red.”
    On that somber note, Nathan and Vivian left Selman’s office. Sergeant Willard then led them to a cabin that had been assigned to them for the night.
    â€œSupper’s at five,” Sergeant Willard said. “I’ll see you then.”
    â€œYou get along well with the military,” said Vivian when Willard had gone.
    â€œThey’ve been more than decent to me,” Nathan said, “and on the frontier a man needs all the friends he can get. Besides, they’ve had the telegraph and I’ve often needed it. I never know when I’ll have need of it again. Remember how it got word to us when Harley had been shot?”
    â€œI’ll never forget that,” said Vivian. “Where are we going when we leave here?”
    â€œFirst to Fort Worth and then to New Orleans,” Nathan said. “I like to leave word with Captain Ferguson where I can be reached. Then we’ll go on to New Orleans. When I’m tired of drifting, of shooting and being shot at, I spend a few weeks—or months—with my friends Barnabas and Bess McQueen. They have a horse ranch, and Eulie’s buried next to the horse barn.”
    â€œThey’ll always remember you being there ... with her,” said Vivian. “Do you think I’ll be welcome?”
    â€œOf course you will,” Nathan said. “That’s where I told Harley he could reach us if he needs to.”
    â€œIt sounds nice,” said Vivian. “What will we do there?”
    Nathan laughed. “As little as possible. We’ll eat, sleep, and maybe attend a horse race or two. Barnabas trains horses and races them.”
    Nathan and Vivian spent a pleasant hour over supper in the enlisted men’s mess hall and then went to the sutler’s store, seeking a weapon for Vivian.
    â€œWe don’t get much call for the .31-caliber Colt,” they were told, “so we don’t sell ’em new. But we got a secondhand piece. Belonged to a gambler that couldn’t back up his bluff with his gun.”
    â€œWe’ll take it,” said Nathan, “along with two hundred rounds of ammunition, a pistol belt, and a holster.”
    â€œIt’s still early,” Vivian said. “What are we going to do now?”
    â€œWe’re going back to the cabin,” said Nathan, “and for the next several hours,

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