• Karen Baney

The Reluctant Cattleman (Colter Sons Book 1) - Chapter 1 & 2



Chapter 1


My name is Sam Colter. Samuel when Mama is about to take me to task, which is hardly ever.

I am the second to oldest of the Colter sons and I am the misfit. None of my brothers are like me. James, the oldest, wants to conquer the world with some new scheme or enterprise that he has yet to discover. He’s two weeks shy of being an entire year older than me. James should be the one to take over the ranch, but he’s far too ambitious to be tied down. I know it’s just a matter of time before Papa realizes that me, the steady, predictable, and dependable one, will be the son that runs the place one day.

Boone is the third son, the wildest of us all. His barometer for risk is completely broken. Old Grandpa Ben, he wasn’t really our grandpa but that’s what we called him, used to say that Boone was just too stupid to know he was in trouble, or he was some darned fool.

Then there’s Deacon, the fourth son. I am sure by the time he came along, Mama wondered if she had done something wrong to get saddled with four boys under the age of six. Deacon was the most resourceful of us all. He could make a fort out of two sticks, some hay, and a rope.

Then there was the baby, Preston. He was a little like me in that he was quiet but only on the outside. Inside of that kid there was some storm a raging. Someday it was gonna come out and shoot if I didn’t want to be there when it did.

That brings to my story. Like I said, I’m the misfit. The quiet one. Cautious. Dependable. Anxious as all get out on the inside. Smart. Leastwise that’s what Mama always says. I looked more like a cross between my papa, with my dark hair and my mama with my bright blue eyes.

If you ask anyone in the family who Mama’s favorite was, hands down they would all say it was me. None of us knew the reason why she favored me until the year I turned twenty-one.

That was the year where one single letter from a journalist named E. M. Thatcher changed my life forever.


Chapter 2


Colter Ranch, Arizona Territory

May 4, 1887


Sam

I returned from Prescott after a trip to pick up the mail and the ledgers from the butcher shop that my cousin, Eddie Colter ran with his wife, Annabel. Eddie was roughly eight years older than me, so he was twenty-eight then.

Eddie worked with Daniel Raulings, who we all called Snake, for several years at the ranch to learn butchering. He also learned how to smoke bacon, brisket, and more. By the time Eddie turned twenty, he was ready to take over the Colter Meat Company and the butcher shop in town. Snake still butchered and smoked some of the meat out at the ranch, but Eddie ran that business with Annabel’s help.

I managed the finances of the meat company, the ranch, and Uncle Adam Larson’s stables, which was a horse breeding and training business.

When I arrived back home, I set the mail and the meat company’s bills and books on the table. It was early enough in the day that two of my brothers were still in school. James was off somewhere in northern Arizona with his railroad job and Boone was apprenticing with a surveyor.

“How are Eddie and Annabel?” Mama asked as she poured me a glass of lemonade.

“Fine. Looks like they’ll have a new addition to their family soon.”

“Oh, I should make them a blanket.”

I thanked her for the lemonade and sat down at the table, sorting through the mail. A letter with a postmark from Chino Valley caught my eye. It was from E. M. Thatcher.

I started to open it when the door flew open.

“Clear the table!” Warren Cahill shouted.

I jumped to my feet and grabbed the stack of mail and books. Mama swiped up my lemonade just before Warren and two of the cowboys brought Papa in and set him on the table.

“What happened?” Mama asked as Papa groaned in pain.

A trail of blood dotted the floor. My eyes searched for the source of the blood. It was Papa’s leg. I felt a little woozy, so I moved into the parlor and dropped my things on the desk. It was where I should have put them in the first place. Sometimes I preferred working at the table because there was more room to spread out. Plus, Mama often sat and chatted with me for a bit.

“He got gouged in the leg by that ornery bull,” Warren said.

“I’m sorry, Hannah,” Papa said between groans.

Mama walked over to the pantry and pulled out her medical bag. She always had tonics, medicines, and bandages on hand. She took a pair of scissors and cut the leg of Papa’s pants from the bottom to a few inches above the wound so she could get a better look.

“It’s not too deep, but it is going to require stitches. Do you want me to do it or have the boys ride into town for the doctor?”

I already knew what Papa would say before he said it. Mama was always stitching up and caring for anyone on the ranch with any injury or such. The ranch was about an hour outside of town, so most of the time she patched up whatever needed patching long before the doctor arrived.

“You do it,” Papa said.

She poured him some whiskey and he tossed it back. Then he laid down on the table and let Mama get to work. She always kept a warm pot of water on, so she quickly sterilized a needle.

After that I couldn’t watch without fear of passing out. The last thing I needed was to pass out right before my brothers got home from school. I’d never live it down.

My stomach churned, so I walked over to the open window and breathed in the fresh late spring air.

“There,” Mama said. “Just let me wrap it up and then you can get off my table so I can scrub it down before supper.”

I glanced over my shoulder and saw the bandaged wound. Since the cowboys left, I helped Papa down from the table and over to the couch. He laid down.

“Just prop that leg up,” Mama said as she handed him some willow bark tea.

He didn’t have much choice as his legs were a good foot longer than the couch.

I asked Mama if she needed help, but she shooed me out of the way. I found my lemonade and went over to the desk.

“Will, you’re gonna need to stay off that leg until it starts healing. At least a few days.”

Papa frowned. He wasn’t one to sit idle. His face looked pale, and he closed his eyes after he finished the tea.

I returned to the mail and remembered the letter from E. M. Thatcher. I opened it and scanned the letter.

“Mama,” I said as I heard her scrubbing the table and then the floor. “Let me read you this letter.”

“It is from E. M. Thatcher. He says he’s a journalist with the Prescott Gazette. He is writing a series of interviews with the earliest pioneers in the area. He just published his first article on Grandma Betty and her son, Paul, about his boardinghouse.”

Grandma Betty wasn’t really our grandma. She was like a mother to Mama, so we treated her like our grandma before she passed.

“Oh?”

“He included a copy of the article if you’d like to read it.”

“Maybe after supper.”

“Anyway, he says that he heard from Paul that you were part of the same wagon train and that you might have an interesting story to tell. He wants to know if he can come out to the ranch for a few weeks this summer to interview you and Papa.”

Mama finished cleaning everything and joined me in the parlor.

“Will, did you hear any of that?” she asked.

“Yup.”

“What do you think?”

“I suppose that’d be fine. He can have James’s room. If James comes back, then he can double up with Sam.”

I frowned. I wasn’t sure if Papa meant E. M. Thatcher or James would be my roommate. Either way, I was already sharing a room with Boone. I definitely did not want a second roommate. I was a man after all and had responsibilities, unlike my three younger brothers. Besides, I hoped to take over James’s room.

“Did he say when he would be here?” Mama asked.

I scanned the letter again. “No. I think he is waiting for an invitation from us before setting some dates.”

“Can you write back to him that we would be happy to have him come for a visit at his earliest convenience,” Mama said.

I pulled out a fresh sheet of paper and scrawled a quick reply. “You want me to sign for you, Papa?” I usually did because an accident before I was born left Papa unable to read. It was why I took an active role in the businesses.

“Go ahead. You can mail it when you go to the stockyards tomorrow.”

“Me?”

My chest tightened. I hated the stockyards. Dozens of smelly cattle kicked up dust. They looked mean. Hopefully Papa would not expect me to know how to pick out the stock he wished to purchase. I spent most of my life avoiding the creatures.

I know. It sounds dumb. I grew up on a ranch and I hated cattle and knew as little about cattle as Papa would let me get away with. I was a book smart man. I could figure numbers and manage a budget better than anyone else on the ranch. But cattle? No thank you.

“I need you to go with Warren and George. You’ll be my representative since I can’t go.”

“Can’t you send Boone?”

“He has his job and James is still gone. So, it falls to you.”

I bowed my head and let my shoulders slump forward. I really hated the stockyards.

At least I was a decent rider and wouldn’t embarrass myself riding into town with Warren Cahill and George Larson, the other two co-owners of the ranch. George was about twenty years older than Papa, while Warren was relatively close to Papa’s age. The three men had been partners for as long as I could remember. If there was ever a disagreement, though I doubt there was, Papa got the deciding vote as he had the largest stake in the ranch. He stayed out of the horse business. That was Uncle Adam’s alone.

I sighed and returned to sorting through the mail and paying the bills. It was much more interesting than dwelling on the trip to the stockyards.

The next morning, I donned my only pair of denim pants and a cotton button-down shirt. Most of my clothes were nice suits which I preferred over the getup I had to wear to the stockyards.

Papa did not join us for breakfast that morning. I was sure he wasn’t feeling too well from his encounter with that bull. I ate quickly and headed out to the barn to saddle my horse.

When I arrived at the barn, Aunt Julia finished saddling up her horse. She tied her long brown curly hair with a ribbon. She wore her cowgirl hat and split skirt. I figured she was gonna help us bring back whatever cattle we purchased.

After I saddled my pinto gelding, Bailey, I joined Aunt Julia, Warren, and Georgie.

“Where’s George?” I asked.

“He wasn’t feeling too good, so he asked me to take care of things,” Georgie said. Georgie was George’s oldest son and my aunt Julia’s brother-in-law. Looked like we had plenty of representation from the Larson clan.

Two of the cowboys joined us as well. I was grateful for it. Hopefully I wouldn’t have to do much of anything besides pay for the stock.

An hour later the six of us arrived at the stockyards north of Prescott. I excused myself to go mail the letter to E. M. Thatcher before I returned to the stockyards. When I got back, Warren looked over the heifers and bulls. Their plan was to buy a new bull to replace the ornery sucker that gouged Papa’s leg yesterday.

“You look like a real cattleman,” Aunt Julia teased me as she propped a leg on the rail of the corral and pulled my cowboy hat a little lower on my head.

I pushed my hat back up to where I liked it. “I did grow up on a ranch.”

“Yeah, most days it doesn’t seem like it. You think you could run the place if anything were to happen to Will?”

My stomach tightened and my throat constricted. “Nothing is gonna happen to Papa.”

“Not now. But someday he’s gonna want to stop working so hard.

Warren and Georgie waved me over. Aunt Julia followed beside me.

“I think this bull is the best choice,” Warren said.

Aunt Julia entered the pen to look the creature over. I stayed outside of it. She always had been fearless.

“I think he’s sound,” she said when she stepped out of the pen.

When they asked my opinion, my tongue tied up in knots. I think I managed an intelligent answer since none of them looked at me like I was crazy. The three of them selected five heifers in all.

I paid the stockyard owner and joined them on my horse. Then we drove the cattle the back way to the ranch. When I say we, I really mean everyone but me. I kept Bailey near enough to the back of the cattle but did not contribute much in the way of help.

I never did like the back way to the ranch. Something about coming at the ranch from the northwest never felt right. It was more than that. I got downright anxious, sweaty palms, sweaty neck, shallow breaths. It just unsettled me in a way that made no rational sense.

When we drove the cattle down into the valley, I parted ways with everyone else. Julia, Warren, and Georgie drove the bull into the pen by the barn while the cowboys took the heifers out with the rest of the herd. I took Bailey into the barn and brushed him down, glad to be home.

As soon as I was done, I changed back into my normal clothes and set about my normal job.





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