THE CATTLE THIEVES

 

By Heidi

rnoord@hccnet.nl

 

 

At a certain day a boy arrived at the High Chaparral. Though nobody had seen him coming. Buck Cannon and Manolito Montoya saw the young visitor and wondered why he had to be at the ranch. They walked up to him.

Buck asked, “Hi boy. What can we do for you?”

“Are you the owner of this ranch?”, was the question of the boy.

“No, not exactly. You must haven then my brother John. With whom do we have the pleasure?”, Buck asked at his turn.

“Chris McKay”, said the visitor.

“I am Buck Cannon and that is Manolito Montoya. Just come along Chris”, said Buck.

Chris dismounted and walked along with the rancher. Chris McKay was a fourteen year old boy looking for work at a ranch. He had dark brown eyes and carried the revolver at the left side. Buck went ahead of him into the living house to John’s office.

Buck knocked at the door and heard his brother saying, “Enter.”

He opened the door and they went inside.

“John, This is Chris McKay. He wanted to see you.”

“Leave us alone for a moment Buck”, said John.

Buck left the office.

John addressed himself to Chris and asked, “Sit down. What can I do for you?”

Chris sat down and asked then, “Do you have work for me here at the ranch?”

“Is there a reason why I should give you work?”, asked the rancher.

“Well, I am a hard worker. I can get on with horses and revolvers. Besides that, I am used to drive cattle”, Chris answered with a determined voice

“You have convinced me but at the moment I have hands enough. Do you live in the area?”, asked John.

“I am drifting. But as I have nothing to do here anymore I am going again. Bye Mr Cannon”, said Chris.

He got up and left the office and also the ranch house. He mounted on his horse and rode away in a quick tempo. Buck and Manolito looked after him with amazing.

Manolito said, “I don’t think that John has hired him.”

“There are enough hands so why should John hire another one? Besides that, he is younger than Blue Boy”, was the comment of Buck.

 

Chris began to ride slower when he had left the ranch far behind him. He urgently needed money for food because he hadn’t eaten for days. His stomach began harder to ask for food. At his desperation he decided to catch a cow and to butcher it. His experience as cattle driver came now very handy. He searched for the herd of the Cannons and looked dat it from his shelter. The longer Chris looked the more hungrier he became.

 

After Chris had seen the herd he rode ahead to his Uncle who waited for him.

 “Well, where is the herd?”, his Uncle Lance Baker asked directly.

He looked at his nephew with distrust.

“Or was there no herd? I am waiting two weeks for you. I reckon you are dislearning”, said Lance.

The boy looked at him strident and said, “I don’t feel like doing your dirty work anymore. It is a worthless herd, that of the ranch of the Cannons.”

“I will be the judge of that. By the way, you start to get more talks recently. Just remember that I took you in after your parents were murdered by that rancher in Montana. If I like I can turn you in with the local sheriff or Marshall”, said Lance.

“You won’t do that because then I play you that trick”, Chris reacted fierce.

Lance had nothing to say anymore to this. But his face spoke volumes. Lance knew that Chris was challenged to him.

“Alright. Stay here then tonight. What we are gonna do will be tomorrow’s worry”, said the cattle boss annex cattle thief. 

“If you want we can butcher a cow tonight. There is a cow there with enough meat for both”, Chris answered at that moment.

Lance looked up and started to smile.

“Do it”, was his comment.

“I knew you would gonna say that!”, said Chris said grinning.

He grabbed his horse and mounted on. The moment later the boy rode away. Satisfied Lance looked at him. He thought, ‘The boy will never find out who really killed his parents. and that must stay that way too.’

 

Chris knew that he had to watch out when he approached Tucson. Big John Cannon of The High Chaparral was well known in town and had respect too. The cattle driver found him near the de Waterhole Saloon.

“Still in town Chris?”, John asked calm.

“Is there any objection to?”, asked Chris asked attacking.

He didn’t trust the rancher at all.

“No, not at all. Can I offer you a drink? Here at the saloon?”, asked John.

First Chris hesitated but agreed a second later anyway. He came off his horse and walked inside with the rancher. Though the boy was with distrust. They went to sit at a table and John hinted the bartender.

Mike, the bartender, came and asked, “What will it be?”

“Do me a beer”, said Chris.

“You are under age”, said Mike.

“So what?”, Chris asked amazed.

“I don’t pour in alcohol to minors”, was his answer.

Chris got up and said, “I don’t come here anymore. You mustn’t look up strangely if you don’t have a saloon anymore.”

The cattle driver left the saloon at once. John went after him and grabbed the boy tight.

“You did it this on purpose, didn’t you? It wouldn’t surprise me”, the rancher said strict.

Chris looked at him and reacted, “I haven’t done to you anything, have I? Leave me alone then.”

He pulled loose and mounted on his horse. Then he rode away. Now John knew for sure that Chris was everything except good meaning for his area. The rancher went heading home. He had to count on the fact that he hadn’t got ridden of Chris McKay yet. It was a good thing that his younger brother Buck wasn’t there because then it would have been trouble. Most of the time Buck said unquestioned his opinion. This usually clashes with those of others whereby they got involved into a firm discussion. 

 

The following morning the hands discovered right away that a cow was butchered but they didn’t find a track of the culprit(s). John sent Buck en Manolito out to look for Chris. They found him just outside of Tucson.

“Chris, John wants to see you”, said Buck.

“Now suddenly he can? Tell him that I cannot”, answered Chris.

He looked at both men and didn’t trust them.

“Don’t be so difficult and come along”, said Buck.

“Alriight then. If I can make you happy with it”, Chris said moody.

They mounted on their horses and rode to the High Chaparral.

 

In the office John asked the boy, “Last night a cow of our herd was butchered. Do you know more about it?”

“Because I am just a cattle driver I get suspect? Perhaps the Apaches have done it”, said Chris said rebelling.

“The Apaches would never do something like that and neither would my hands. My son

Blue saw you looking at the herd yesterday so all proof is here. You can choose: or you work here to pay for the damage or I have you arrested”, John said calm.

Chris looked at the rancher and said, “I am innocent. How dare you to accuse someone which he hasn’t done. I will never set another foot in this office or at the yard.”

Furiously and heavy insulted he left the office.

 

When Chris was away John decided to go to Tucson to see how the land lied. As first he brought a visit to Sheriff Watkins.

“What is known to you about a cattle driver named Chris McKay who hangs around here since some time?”, John asked calm.

“He is fourteen, very rough and harsh but a good working hand. He has a hate for rich ranchers like you because both his parents are killed by a rancher. Has McKay done something?”, the sheriff asked at his turn.

“Yesterday he came asking if I had work for him but I hadn’t had it. Last night a cow disappeared from our herd and I think that Chris had done it. He denies it but all proof is there that he is the culprit”, answered John.

“That really looks like something for McKay. Do you want me that I pick him up for cattle rustling?”, asked the sheriff.

The rancher nodded. Watkins wrote out an arrest warrant for Chris McKay.

 

Soon Chris was found and arrested. He went along with the sheriff but he wasn’t pleased with it. The boy didn’t know what hinging above his head. At the sheriff’s office he saw a seriously looking John Cannon waiting for him.

John asked, “Chris, why did you butcher that cow?”

“I was hungry and had no money to buy food. It has been days since I had worked a decent meal inside my stomach ”, the young cattle driver confessed. He looked hungry and dusty.

 “You come along with me. We will find a solution for your problems”, said John.

He noticed that Chris wasn’t as bas as he pretended to be. The rancher decided to give him a chance to start again.

 

John let Chris guard the herd as punishment for butchering the cow. The cattle driver found that very unreasonable but knew also that the owner of the High Chaparral wasn’t always even easy. Especially when it concerned the ranch or his family. Chris didn’t finch back to say his opinion when he didn’t agree with something. This often led to fighting which the cattle driver didn’t mind. The present authority did.

At a certain moment Blue came look at the herd. Chris looked up and rode towards him.

“Do you come to check on me?”, he asked fierce.

“Take it easy Chris. Pa asked me if I wanted to see if you were still here and if the herd was still complete”, Blue said calm.

“I am still here and the herd is also complete. But if you keep on nagging I leave without telling”, the cattle driver reacted.

He looked at Blue with a look of distrust.

Blue said, “I wouldn’t do that if I was you. So you stay here.”

He went back to the ranch but Chris said to him, “I wouldn’t even put money down for that rotten herd of yours. I have driven much better cattle. As you are going to the ranch anyway bring your pa then the message that I have left.”

Chris turned his horse around and left the herd behind. For a moment Blue stayed amazed behind and then he rode back to the ranch.

 

John got furious when he heard from Blue that Chris had gone away.

“He shouldn’t have done that. I thought that I could trust him but I have made a mistake in that very well”, was his answer at the message which Chris had left behind with Blue.

“What are you gonna do John? He can’t get away with it unpunished”, said Buck.

“Certainly not. You and Mano are gonna look for him and bring back. If he should use resistance, just use violence. Hopefully that will teach him something”, John said to his younger brother.

Buck left right away with Manolito but they didn’t feel like it very much.

“That lad only causes only more problems. John never should have taken him in. Of course Chris is a long way out of Arizona”, Buck said grumbling.

“Easy Buck. Don’t you make such a fuss about him. If you act like that to him he will never come with us”, Manolito reacted calm.

Buck knew that also but that didn’t change his opinion about the behaviour of at Chris McKay.

They had no idea of where Chris could be. First they went to Tucson. Arrived there Buck saw the horse of Chris standing near the saloon.

“Mano, there is his horse. Hopefully he is inside”, said the rancher.
Manolito said to him, “Stay in control Buck.”

They rode to the saloon and dismounted. The horses got hitched whereafter the duo went inside. They saw Chris but he didn’t them.

“McKay, come along. Now at once!”, said Buck said with a determined voice.

“Who are you bringing along for that?”, asked Chris asked when he recognized Buck and Manolito.

“You will notice that when you don’t come along voluntarily”, was the reaction of Buck.

The boy got up and walked along outside. Strangely enough Chris behaved himself notable quiet.

 

When John was speaking to him about the fact that he rode away without a good reason the cattle driver said to the rancher, “I am sorry Mr Cannon. It will not happen again.”

“I will accept your apology. You remain here at the ranch so we can keep an eye on you.

Understood Chris McKay?”, John asked seriously.

Chris nodded.

 

Chris behaved himself like an angel at the ranch. He even managed to it so far that John could trust him. This didn’t succeed by Buck, Blue and Manolito. The fact that Chris caused distrust by them helped also that the young cattle driver wasn’t popular by the hands. Hereby Chris got shut out. At an evening he had enough of it. Chris made plans to get away. He didn’t know how yet but he was clever enough to work out a plan. The chance to get away from the High Chaparral came sooner than expected.

 

At a certain day it was time for Chris to get away. He had to go somewhere to collect something for his employer. The boy grabbed this chance with both hands. He couldn’t care less about the ranch anymore. Chris saw chance to escape from the High Chaparral without being seen. He had more than enough of it to be command about by others. That was not his reason for being born. Besides, his freedom was more for him than anything else. His disappearing got noticed in the evening when Buck put his horse Rebel in the corral. There came thinkrinkles in his forehead and he went inside.

“John, have you happen to see Chris? His horse is gone”, said Buck said right away when entering.

“No, not since this morning. Why? You ain’t gonna tell me that he is away again?”, asked John asked with very big indignancy.

His brother nodded shy of yes.

“That lad brings everyone to desperation without that he realises it”, was the reaction of John.

 

Lance Baker was convinced that his nephew had fallen in to the hands of the law. He decided to keep himself calm as long as necessary.

 

Only after a few days Chris appeared at the ranch again and he apologised. John decided to give a new but last chance. This to annoy of his brother. Chris réálly couldn’t get along with anyone at the ranch. He didn’t do any trouble for it to become friends with someone. His presence caused a lot of distrust which was notable for the Cannons.

 

One morning John got to hear from Sam that another cow had disappeared.

“Let McKay come to me and at once now”, the rancher said to the foreman.

That happened.

John said to Chris coming straight to the point, “Have you butchered another cow of my herd last night? Sam came to me and said that another cow had disappeared at the same way.”

“I have butchered that first cow. Yes, I admit that but no second cow. There are more poachers and cattle thieves here in the area.  But no, you have to suspect me right away again. For my concern that whole herd get butchered. You won’t get me down with it”, Chris said furious.

He left the office directly. John stayed behind stunned.

Outside Blue said to Chris, “I want to talk to you for a second.”

“You too? Your pa has already falsely accused me and now you are gonna start too. You Cannons are all the same”, reacted the cattle driver.

“What do you mean?”, asked Blue asked not understanding what Chris meant.

“You do know that. Shall we fight about it? Much chance that you know it then”, Chris challenging him.

The cattle driver looked at the rancher’s son with a destroying look. Pretty soon they were fighting at the yard. John and Buck separated them with much difficulty.

“Pa, he has started”, Blue defended himself.

“I know that. Just come along inside”, his father said calm.

By entering Victoria was shocked to see the face of Blue as it was a bit battered.

Victoria, take care of him”, said John.

“Alright John”, she just said.

Meanwhile Buck said to Chris, “You shouldn’t have done that!”

“That lad started. But seeing as you being his Uncle you rather believe him than me”, said Chris said furiously.

He tried to pull himself loose. Buck had him very tight. Hereby Chris made the awful mistake to start fighting with Buck. This made him even more unloved than he already was. Suddenly a revolver went off and it was deadly quiet at the yard. Chris laid injured at the ground. He was hit in his left leg. First he looked at his wound and then at Buck.

John came to them and said, “Mano, you go and get Doc and the sheriff. Just say that we have found the notorious cattle thief.”

Chris looked up amazed and said, “I have heard already that there is no reasoning with ranchers but now I know it for sure. Especially in this part of Arizona.”

“You have only yourself to blame amigo”, Manolito tried to convince him that it wasn’t so.

But the cattle driver bit at him, “Just go back to Mexico, Mexicano!”

Manolito left the ranch at once. He didn’t like Chris either. Chris tried to sit but that didn’t go well. The hands went back to work again.

Buck said to his brother, “I hope the sheriff locks him up and throws away the key.”

“I hope so too. But maybe the judge thinks about it differently. If he tries to show his face here one more time I have him shot”, John said determined.

The two brothers went inside.

 

Chris laid alone in the warm sun and stumbled to the corral. He got up and mounted on his horse. He rode away in hurry-scurry. Via a short cut he reached Tucson earlier than Manolito. Chris dismounted and almost dropped into the office of the sheriff.

“McKay, what has happened?”, the sheriff asked when he saw the wound.

“Buck Cannon shot me while I hadn’t done anything”, said Chris.

A second later he collapsed unconcious. The sheriff went to get Doc who came along at once.

Doc examined the wound and said, “I will have to operate him. Help me to bring him to my practise.”

That happened and soon Chris got operated. Quickly Doc removed he bullet, stitched and wrapped up the wound. The cattle driver was dazed for a long time. He wasn’t aware of what the future would bring him.

 

The sheriff questioned Buck about the shooting.

The rancher said, “I didn’t shoot that boy at all. I did fight but didn’t fire my weapon.”

“Chris says otherwise”, said the sheriff.

“Who do you believe, me or such a cattle driver who butchers a herd and then denies it too?”, asked Buck.

“Buck, I am impartial. Make sure that it stays that way”, said the lawman.

Buck knew that also but it didn’t change his opinion about Chris.

“Sheriff, why should I shoot him if I can knock him dead with all the ease of the world?”, the rancher asked suddenly.

“Good question. You know that better than me”, the sheriff said before he left.

Buck had no single answer to it.

 

About a week passed by. It remained quiet at and around the ranch. Of Chris was nothing heard anymore. Buck was told by John to keep himself quiet. This was by nature for him very difficult. The sphere at the High Chaparral had clearly improved since Chris was away. Though they were alert because there were poachers and cattle rustlers everywhere.

 

Four days after his operation Chris left Tucson. His leg did hurt but he couldn’t care less. He knew very well that nobody liked him. His past played a big role in that too. The young cattle driver looked for the shelter of his Uncle Lance Baker. He didn’t know though that Lance had gone away to let him pick up the pieces.

Lance at his turn didn’t know that his nephew had become injured. Both hadn’t seen or spoken each other in weeks. Chris started to wonder himself why he actually was still hanging around in Arizona. Through his simple mind went, ‘Everybody just lets me down. Whole Arizona can go to hell for my concern. I am leaving with the herd of the Cannons.’ He turned his horse and rode back to the herd of John Cannon. But suddenly he stood eye in eye with Lance.

“Chris, where have you been for goodness sake?”, asked the cattle boss.

“At the High Chaparral like you wanted. That Buck Cannon cannot be trusted. He shot me down. So what do we do now?”, asked Chris.

“We don’t anything anymore because from now I handle alone. I have enough of sharing the profits with you”, said Lance.

Chris looked up strange but said nothing. He rode away chased by Uncle.

“Where are you going?”, Lance asked worried.

“I am gonna betray you by the sheriff”, the boy answered calm.

“That was what you thought McKay! You will never open your big mouth again”, said Lance.

He grabbed his rifle. Chris had no time to react because before he knew what was going on Lance had hit him with a few blue bones. Satisfied the cattle boss left his heavily wounded nephew near the water behind.

 

All of a sudden rode Lance Baker into Tucson. Clearly he was looking for someone or something. He stopped his horse. He stopped his horse in front of the sheriff’s office and dismounted. After he had hitched his horse he went into the office.

“Morning sir. What can I do for you?”, was the question of the sheriff when he saw the cattle boss standing.

“I am Lance Baker, cattle boss. I am looking for one of my drivers Chris McKay. He has been disappeared trackless for three weeks. You haven’t seen him either?”, asked the cattle boss.

“Sit down Mr Baker. Chris has been here but nobody has seen him for a week. He is accused because at the High Chaparral he provocated a fight and butchered a pair of cows of the herd of the owner”, told the sheriff.

“I trust Chris blindly and he would never something like that. He is my nephew. You can tell me where I can find that ranch High Chaparral?”, asked Lance asked shocked.

The sheriff explained how the cattle boss had to come there. Lance left at once. He wanted to know more about it.

 

It was not so difficult for Lance to find the ranch of the Cannons. His years of experience as cattle thief made sure that he had found the High Chaparral in no time. He rode upon the yard to the living house. Buck saw him coming. He directly didn’t trust him. But he didn’t let anything show and held himself aloof.

Lance stopped in front of the ranch house and asked Blue, “Can you bring me to the owner of this ranch?”

Blue nodded. Lance dismounted and followed Blue inside.

“Pa, there is someone for you”, Blue called by entering.

John got up and walked to the cattle boss,.

“I am John Cannon”, said John.

“Lance Baker. Can I see you in private for a moment? It is about my driver Chris McKay”, Lance said cool.

They went to the office of John.

Blue went outside and said to Buck and Manolito, “That guy comes for McKay.”

“Blue Boy, McKay will never be allowed to come here. He will be shot down by your father”, Buck reacted excited and fierce like he usually was.

 

When Lance told John about the motives of Chris the rancher understood the behaviour of the boy.

“I haven’t seen him since last week. First he fought with my son, then with my brother. One of the hands shot Chris in the leg. Since then he hasn’t been seen here anymore”, said John.

“Chris is often somewhat unrugged busy but when you see him working he is not to be heard”, Lance answered.

John looked first a bit critical at the cattle boss and said then, “I think we must talk first with Chris. I let my brother and brother-in-law looking for him.”

The rancher went outside and saw the couple hanging around the corral.

“Buck, Mano, you are gonna look for Chris. His boss is here”, said John said at determined tone to them.

“What? Again? John, you ain’t gonna tell me that he is welcome here?”, Buck asked indignant.

“Buck, just go and do what I told you to do. And that is an order”, John said strict.

He knew how his younger brother was. A bit grumbling Buck got his horse and followed Manolito who had almost left the yard already. It had been a week since they had seen Chris. In about seven days he could be very far away despite his wound at his leg.

“He has to be in the area of Tucson. Let’s look there for a change”, Manolito suggested.

They did that.

 

Doc told when Manolito asked about Chris, “He has been here to let the bullet take out. But after four days he left again. I don’t know where he had gone to.”

“Muchias gracias doc”, Manolito said friendly.

He walked back to Buck and mounted on his horse. Leaving Tucson the Mexican told what Doc had said to him. Because they knew that their search was useless they decided to ride around a bit. Suddenly they saw the brown horse of Chris grazing. The two looked at each other and rode towards it. Buck did peer in the far distance but saw Chris nowhere. Manolito too found no single sign of the young cattle driver. The couple took the horse along and went looking for Chris.

Shortly they found him wounded lying near the water

Both dismounted and went to him.

The rancher said, “Chris, can you hear us? Can you stand? We were looking for you because your boss is at our ranch.”

“My Uncle Lance Baker shot me down and put me here”, Chris said slowly.

With their support the cattle driver got up and he stumbled to his horse. But yet before he sat on his horse Chris succumbed due to his wounds.

Buck said, “Great. Now we are involved with a murder. John will really like this and his boss too.”

“Take it easy Buck. I am gonna get the sheriff halen. You stay here”, Manolito said calm.

Before Buck was able to let out a protest the Mexican had disappeared out of sight. The rancher gave softly grumbling comments about the business and they way it went. Clearly he didn’t feel right about it. That had started on the day that Chris had come for the first time at the ranch asking for work.

 

Manolito rode in a fast train speed back to Tucson to tell Sheriff Watkins about the death of Chris McKay. In the meantime Lance also had been looking for his nephew. Quite soon he found Buck near the mortal remains of the young cattle driver.

Lance dismounted, saw Chris lying and asked the rancher, “You have killed him, haven’t you? Your brother told me how you thought about him. Tell me, are you the killer?”

“I didn’t kill him at all. He was still alive when we ound him. He wanted to mount on but he succumbed at his wounds. Someone had shot him and put him near the water.

Mano is going to get the sheriff. You don’t believe me, do you?”, Buck asked at his turn.

For the security he didn’t tell that Chris told that Lance had injured him.

 

The cattle boss shook of no and said, “You have not gotten rid of me yet. Remember that Cannon!”

Lance mounted on his horse and rode in the direction of Tucson. This announcement was not good news Buck. He didn’t feel at ease already by the presence of Chris McKay. Not even now he was dead.

 

After a while Manolito arrived with the sheriff. The lawman dismounted and saw the mortal remains of the young cattle driver.

“I really didn’t kill him, sheriff. He was still alive when we found him”, was the direct reaction of Buck.

“Manolito has told me already everything so I believe you. I still need your statement”, said de sheriff.

He picked up the body of Chris and put it on this horse. Then he and Buck mounted on.

 

Some time later they rode into Tucson and they went straight to the sheriff’s office. Manolito left the body of Chris behind at the undertaker. The sheriff asked Buck to tell everything what had happened. He did that.

 

While Buck gave his testimony around the death of Chris McKay Lance rode into town. He was determined to suffer Buck Cannon for the death of his nephew.

 He and Chris were as corrupt as wolves in sheepclothes. Suddenly he saw the rancher standing outside near his horse. The cattle boss rode towards him.

 “Cannon, I have something to say to you”, said Lance.

“What then?”, asked Buck asked with distrust.

“I used to send Chris always ahead to look for work at a ranch. Most of the time that got refused so that Chris went to steal the de herd. We drove it then ahead as our herd. After selling the profit got shared between him and me. This went good for a few years until we came this way. Chris refused so I had to shoot him”, Lance said calm.

“You don’t think that you can get away with this, do you?”, asked Buck.

“I do because you won’t be able to tell it to someone else”, Lance laughed.

“Wanna bet of yes?”, asked Buck.

He squeezed his eyes finely and looked at the cattle boss.

“Wanna bet of not?”, Lance asked at his turn.

He wanted to draw his revolver but the rancher was a fraction faster and he shot Lance dead. The cattle boss fell off his horse and remained movingless on the ground. At the noise Manolito and the sheriff came near to them.

“He wanted to shoot me dead. He also murdered Chris McKay”, Buck confessed to the sheriff.

“Lance and Chris got wanted in more states for cattle theft. I see it as self defense”, the sheriff replied.

Both Buck and Manolito were glad that this case was over.

 

Very relieved because this case was also solved well the couple mounted on their horses and they rode in the direction of The High Chaparral.

 

 

 

THE END

 

 

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