The Last Drive
Dillon’s head felt heavy as he sat atop Hammer, his trusty quarter horse. The past month on the range left both he and Hammer tired, and hungry, but it was over now, time to rest. He thought about the path that he had chosen the path of a cowboy.
The smell of nature hung heavy in the air as the gentle breeze meandered through the herd of over ten thousand head of cattle. The smell didn’t bother Dillon though. He was raised in South Texas where his father owned a fifty thousand head ranch. Dillon smiled as he thought of how his father would say, “Smells like money,” when the south Texas wind carried the scent of the herd through the windows of their Southern Pine log home. His mother would always try to cook something special in hopes to mask the drift on those special days.
Dillon’s brother, Josh had gone off to college, but that big city life wasn’t for Dillon. He wanted to ride the trail, driving cattle to Kansas City like his father did when he was young. As his father grew older and more comfortable financially, he traded the hard life in the saddle for the comforts of home, enjoying the life he had worked so hard to build for himself and his family. For Dillon’s dad, sleeping on the ground under the stars had lost its appeal, replaced by feather pillows and all the creature comforts the world had to provide in 1860.
Dillon’s horse shifted his weight, startling Dillon back to reality. He could hear men around him talking and laughing, but all he wanted to do was rest. He raised his head to look over the valley below, admiring the winding river that snaked through the south Texas soil. He smiled as he saw the cattle being pushed across the waist deep water, thinking about the hard lesson he learned at such a young age. Always drink upstream of the herd. Yep, life as a cowboy was full of painful lessons that you only had to learn once.
A feeling of accomplishment fell over Dillon as he thought about the events of the past three months. It was his first time as Ram Rod on a drive from his family’s ranch, to the stockyards. It was a successful drive, earning the family almost two dollars a head. After he paid the men and finished all the financial business, he set out on the trail, just he and Hammer, out under the Texas sky. He made his way back quickly, anxious to tell his father about the drive, but only his brother was found, sitting quietly in the den.
Dillon remembered the feeling of hate that overwhelmed him as his brother recanted what he had been told by the ranch hands. His father had been confronted by Bart Jameson, a ruthless man that had eyes for the Double B. He wanted to buy the ranch for pennies on the dollar. It was still a tidy sum, enough money for him and his wife to live out their lives in comfort, but hardly what it was worth. When Dillon’s father turned him down and told him to get off his land, Bart shot him, then shot Dillon’s mother. The only thing left for Bart to do was kill Dillon and his brother. The ranch could be bought for a song if there were no family members left to block his land grab.
After securing the house, Dillon and his brother set out on a vengeful path, killing Bart’s ranch hands that were involved in the death of their parents. There were five men with Bart that day, and the boys had killed all of them. The only one left on their bloody list was Bart himself. But Bart was smart. He knew that the hunter had become the hunted. He was the one that had to watch every step. He used his considerable power and money to shield himself, moving from town to town, brothel to brothel, all the while surrounded by gun hands, until one fateful Sunday morning when Bart set a trap. He knew the boys were nipping at his heels, so he sent his gun hands out in two directions, telling them to circle around to the south and come in behind Dillon and Josh. He paid other five men to ride south, toward the boys with him. About the time that the boys were ready to spring, the hired guns began to fire. Josh was hit in the side, but not bad, but Dillon was hit in the gut, a death sentence for sure. Josh jumped on his horse and rode, glancing back at his brother on the ground.
The men drug Dillon to a tall tree and set him on his horse. They threw a noose over a limb and slipped it over Dillon’s head. Bart figured that Josh wouldn’t know that Dillon was almost dead anyway, and try to come to his little brother’s rescue. Bart thought that everything happened so fast that Josh would have no idea that Dillon was at death’s door.
Hammer moved forward one last time, stretching the rope tighter around Dillon’s neck. He kicked Hammer lightly on his forward shoulders, signaling his shiny quarter horse to step backward slowly. Hammer responded with two short steps back, giving slack to the makeshift hangman’s noose around his neck.
Dillon took one last look at the river below and then looked at the rocky hillside that banked the slow moving current. He smiled and raised his hands above his head, taking the pressure off of his wound and allowing the blood to spill on the saddle. He nodded his head as if someone had asked him a question, and then lowered his hands again. A puff of smoke popped from a rocky jettison that overlooked the river from the opposite bank, followed by a loud thump. The impact of the bullet from the Whitworth rifle hit Bart squarely in the chest, picking him up off his feet and propelling him back almost fifteen feet before hitting the rocky soil. Dillon’s father was one of the few Whitworth sharpshooters that fought for the Confederate army. The boys learned how to use the rifle at a young age, taking out predators that might attack their cattle from up to one thousand yards away. The boys brought the rifle with them in case they couldn’t get close enough to Bart to look him in the eye when they put him down.
Dillon knew Josh would take the high ground and use their father’s rifle. He just had to let his brother see his wound through the scope of the rifle, and let him know that he would be joining their parents anytime. He turned to see Bart on his back, almost cut in two by his brother’s judicious shot. The hired guns were nowhere to be found, probably taking to the sagebrush since their paycheck lay lifeless on the hot Texas ground.
Dillon turned back to the front, and spurred Hammer, sending him out from underneath at a gallop.
Josh watched it all unfold through the scope of his rifle as tears streamed down his cheeks. He put the rifle away and muttered softly as he climbed back on his horse.
“I’ll kill the other five after I bury my brother.”