Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"Lash Stevens of the Arizona Territories"

"Lash Stevens of the Arizona Territories"
Part One of Four
by: Fuller Bumpers

Free Web Pulp

One of the fastest guns of western Arizona was a blazing .44 on a .45 frame in the hand of ‘Lash’ Stevens. This gun, a legend in Stevens' hand, had been handed over several times from dead man to dead man, until Lash pried it from the eternal grip of the ‘Boot Heel Kid’ out of Beaumont, Texas.
Lash, a gunman who rode both sides of the law at times,  added more than 18 notices to the handle of this well traveled hogleg before he'd leave it to his own offspring. The fact that he'd pass anything on to a son, much less eventually give him his name, revealed something few knew about Lash.  Under a carefully crafted, leather-like exterior created to strike terror into rustlers, cattle thieves, drunks, and all around badmen, the sort of men that mostly populated Arizona in the early days of its statehood, there lay the spirit of a man, a spirit peppered with kindness and warmth.
About fifteen years before Arizona became a state, Lash took work with the Mexicali Land & Cattle Co., to put a stop to stealing on their largest spread– ‘Spurs in Heaven’.  Although not the best ramrod in the territory, Lash could hold his own if needed. In almost any situation. 
He was a familiar sight along the border lands and hung his hat in the city of Nogales when he bathed. His neighbors could always mark when Lash was about by sighting the Winchester across the pommel of his saddle, his respected .44 on his hip, and the way the dust seemed to circle behind the tail of his horse, Moonshine.

Although known for many rumors, hints, and myths, the tale woven over faro tables and on whores' beds that most people knew about Lash took place under a cloudless sky. Not a breath of air stirred. The black walnut trees for which the city of Nogales was named stood leafless, bare and seemingly dead like the land around them. There was no green grass, and most every creek in the area had run dry. For many months not a drop of rain had fallen and nearly every beef on the hoof was a walking skeleton.
          Lash Stevens and Tino Wales rode along silently that day, because every word meant another piece of cotton in their mouths.  Every now and then a mumble could be heard from either man bemoaning just how damnably hot it was. The flanks of their cow ponies, cut from strong Chickasaw-Spanish stock, were flecked with long, white streaks where sweat had dried.
Both men had been sent on a hunt for lost livestock and had found them all dead near Asher Rock. Some animal had torn them to pieces, probably trying to quench its thirst with their salty blood.  The search for the ten cows had been a long one, and neither man had anticipated the proper amount of water necessary to find them.  They were both bone dry and had been for some time when they found the sun scorched bodies. Lash made sure to check all the torn udders just in case some of their milk remained, but he would have stood a better chance wringing out their hooves over his cup for drink.       
About six miles from Asher Rock was a creek known locally as Pescados del Diablo. Both men knew it had the largest pool of water in their general vicinity and if they were going to make it home they were going to need to make it there soon.
The ride to Pescados del Diablo was long and silent.  Neither man thought they would get there in time, but when the ponies started down the trail into a fairly deep crack that led to Pescados del Diablo, both riders, neither very much of Church or the kind, began to pray harder than ever before for a gift from God.
          At the bank of the cut, where the riders could see the creek bed, the horses stopped in their tracks; or was it that both riders had unconsciously pulled their reins. The men froze at what their dry, parched eyes saw in the dry creek bed.  A borken down covered wagon leaned against a rock once covered by water. The right hind wheel had crumpled, and two hitched horses were still at the wagon tongue—too weak to pull.  And not a drop of water wet the cracked ground of the creek bed.  
          There was no sign of life around the wagon except the gaunt, fat-tongued horses, but the riders slowly jogged up with their hands on their guns in case of ambush. Tino dismounted and almost fell down from the fatigue the sun had set to seed in his body. After a spell, he caught his senses and walked up to the wagon.

           Inside was a little girl about three years old, fast asleep. From tear stains on her cheeks, it was obvious she had cried herself to sleep.
          Tino motioned for Lash to come take a looksee. Under the curious gaze of both cowpokes, the child awoke. For what seemed like an hour, the little girl watched the cowboys, until finally the word ‘drink’ trembled out of her half-dead mouth.
          There was no water in the wagon or anywhere around it. Both men had hoped against all that Pescados del Diablo was still at a trickle but those hopes were dashed against the same rock the wagon teetered on. After five minutes of kicking over stones in the heart of the deepest portion of del Diablo’s pool, the men knew the creek was cashed. If Lash hadn’t been the kind of man he was, he would have pulled out the .44 and shot all three of them.
          “Heart Ranch,” mumbled Tino, and he was right. It was the only source of water in the area, but the men would have to travel ten hard miles to get there. Lash thought about the trip and knew that only Providence would keep the little girl alive before they arrived.  If they arrived.
          Lash took up the little girl, and Tino filled a cup with as much piss as he could muster. The two men chugged their half as they unhitched the two horses from the wagon. Then they saddled their horses and started out of the creek.  Both cowboys rode a fairly large circle trying to see if they could locate the child’s parents or someone who'd been in the wagon.  All they found was more heat and thirst.
          After talking it over, it was decided one man would take the girl to the ‘Heart’ and the other would circle awhile trying to find someone or a trail of a walking person. Lash pulled out with the little girl as Tino swung his pony on a wide arc, then he began to criss-cross through the dirt looking for tracks.  Unsuccessful and his horse tiring and thirsty, Tino rode back and left a note giving directions to the ranch where the men were headed with the little girl, and then, giving one hopeless look back at the wagon and the remains of the creek, followed the disturbed earth that made up Lash's trail. 

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