Updated: Nov 11
I could tell you my name, but growing up at my house, I thought it was almost a curse word. If Mama said my name, Boone, with her hands raised in the air and let them fall to her side, I knew I pressed her to the point of frustration that day. If Mama said “Boone” with a low growl like a snarling dog going after a jackrabbit for its supper, the next words outta her mouth were something like: wait until my father gets home. It was an odd thing to say. We lived on a ranch, and he was always within earshot of a rifle. If Mama said my name and wrung her hands at the same time as her eyebrows scrunched together, she just witnessed me do something highly risky that probably caused her heart to lodge up in her throat. Like the time I jumped outta the hay loft hanging onto a rope that wasn’t properly secured to anything. I should have busted up something. I had more lives than a cat. Heaven forbid if Papa said my name. That usually meant I crossed a line that he didn’t like. When that happened, I looked into his steely brown eyes, and I knew I had two choices: shut my mouth or get ready to fight. I probably could have bested him; I was not interested in finding out. Deep down, I knew my mama loved me. Sam was her favorite. Always has been and always will be, especially after he picked the most perfect woman in the world. Sometimes, I wondered if I was jealous of my irreproachable brother and the bond he had with Mama. It was probably why I did the craziest things to get her attention. I was the middle Colter son. The devilish handsome redhead that was the spitting image of Mama but in male form. It irritated her I knew I was that good looking. She wished I showed some humility. Once, I overheard her telling Aunt Julia that I was like Esau in the Bible. I came out all hairy and a half-grown man. To be sure, I started shaving before my older two brothers and muscles just appeared one day when I was sixteen. People thought I was older than James or Sam when they looked at my physique. If they witnessed one of my stunts, then they thought I must be the baby of the family because of my recklessness. Anyway, Mama still wanted me to settle down and show some humility. She hoped I found a woman that could tame me. I was not the type to be bridled by a living soul. I was just not wired that way. Never have been. Never will be. Or at least that’s what I thought until the year that I met Jack Bennett. That year changed my life in ways that no one, not even Mama, with all her wisdom, could have ever predicted.
I could tell you my name, but growing up at my house, I thought it was almost a curse word.
Colter Ranch, Arizona Territory October 5, 1890
Boone I woke before sunrise on Sunday morning and saddled Outlaw, my black stallion. He and I understood each other. We were both wild and fearless. Mama called us heedless. She didn’t understand the insatiable drive to press myself to the limit. Once I saddled Outlaw, I mounted him. As soon as dawn colored the sky blue gray, I kicked him into a full gallop toward the mountain that stood guard over the ranch. Before the sun crested over the horizon, we arrived at my favorite rocky climb. I tied Outlaw to a post I brought out there years before. Then I stood in front of the rock face and studied it even though I climbed up it more times than I could remember. I chose the most difficult option to stretch and challenge my muscles. “You run on home if I fall, you hear me?” I asked Outlaw. He snorted. He would be no help at all. Then I found my first handhold, followed by my foothold. I pulled my large, muscled frame up to the next hold. My muscles burned as I repeated the process over and over until I reached the top of the rock. Once there, I slung my arm up on the flat surface and pulled my body weight up. Then I turned and sat with my feet dangling over the edge. Blood pumped through my body, and I breathed hard. My mind focused on and observed details of my surroundings. My soul enjoyed feeling so alive as I watched the sun splay streaks of orange and pink across the sky. Nothing obstructed my view as I stood on the top of the rock and spread my arms wide. Miles of earth lay before me in every direction. Then I whooped so loud that it echoed across the expanse before I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Most folks worship God by standing in a stuffy church singing songs from memory and barely let the words infiltrate their soul. I worshiped God by appreciating the vastness of His creation or watching the sun rise on a cool October morning. I worshiped Him by pushing my body to the limit as lifeblood flowed through my veins. I sat down on the edge of the rock face and climbed down slowly. After several minutes, my feet rested on solid ground. I waited for my breathing to normalize, then I mounted Outlaw, and he galloped back to the ranch. Judging by the position of the sun in the sky, I arrived on time for breakfast, so I looped Outlaw’s reins over the porch rail. Then I swung the door of the house open. “It is a fine morning, family!” I declared loudly, startling Mama as she cooked breakfast. “Boone.” She frowned. “Go wash up.” One day I would wash up before she told me to. Then she would not understand how to greet me. I grabbed a bucket and went outside to the pump and filled it. The cold water stung my skin as I splashed it on my face. I used my shirt to dry it before I refilled the bucket and carried it into the house. Being a thoughtful son, I filled the water reservoir on the stove so it would heat before Mama washed the dishes. Occasionally, I surprised Mama with such niceties. I received a mumbled “thanks” for my efforts. If I was born two years earlier and named Sam, she would have appreciated it more. I shrugged off the thought, refusing to let it dampen the energy I gained from my early morning climb. “Preston, I didn’t hear you come in last night,” Mama said as she set breakfast on the table. Preston, my youngest brother, groaned. “Me and the boys arrived home around midnight.” I snorted. He woke me up at two in the morning with his stumbling. But if he felt comfortable lying to Mama, who was I to say otherwise? “Sorry we’re late,” Ellie Mae, my sister-in-law, said as she entered the house with baby Brody in her arms. My older brother, Sam, carried his other son, Sterling, as he followed behind her. Ellie Mae set Brody in the highchair between her and Sam, who sat at the foot of the table. The almost two-year-old Sterling squirmed, and Violet took him from Sam. “Sterling wouldn’t settle last night, and Brody woke so many times,” Ellie Mae said. “One of those times I heard the ruckus from you, Preston, and the cowboys. Two in the morning is a bit late, don’t you think?”
I smiled. It was a callous thought, but I took pleasure when Preston’s lies were exposed. “You smell like a brewery,” Grady Thatcher said. He was Ellie Mae’s younger brother. Preston frowned and took his seat without confirming or denying the accusations. No meal at our house went smoothly or quietly. Besides Sam, the second oldest of us Colter boys, there was me, then Deacon, and Preston. Since his parents passed on, Grady lived with us. By then, he was like another brother. He was a few years younger than Preston, but older than our baby sister, Violet, and he was best friends with Deacon. The family had only one girl, Violet, whom we called Vi. She was twelve, a solid ten years younger than me. She was Papa’s favorite and Mama’s second favorite, after Sam, of course. “You’ll never catch a young woman smelling like that,” Vi said. “Ain’t looking for a woman,” Preston said. He wasn’t the only one. So far, only Sam married. James might be a bachelor for life. Me, I had no plans to marry. My job as a surveyor kept me away from home for weeks or months on end. I figured Deacon or Grady would be the next to wed. Preston appeared a long way from wrapping up his rebellious years. Mama sighed and bowed her head as she waited for Papa to say the blessing. It was the only minute of silence at any meal. As soon as Papa finished, the chaos resumed. Brody cried, so Ellie Mae excused herself to feed the six-week-old. Sterling failed to adjust to the lost attention, so he squawked at Sam in toddler language. I did not understand him. Somehow, Sam deciphered it and held up a piece of toast. My life perplexed me. Sometimes I loved the noise and contributed to it more often than not. Yet, days like that day, it bothered me. I returned the previous evening from a two-month job with my employer, Mike Fremont, down in the Bradshaw Mountains, surveying for a mine. A Colter meal was completely opposite of the peace I experienced storytelling around the campfire at night and working in God’s creation during the day. “James is coming for supper,” Mama announced. She looked at me. “Said he wants to talk to you about something important.”
I completely forgot that James would be at Sunday supper. It wasn’t until he entered the house for the meal that I remembered. As soon as Papa blessed the midafternoon meal, James jumped in with his sales pitch. He always schemed some new opportunity. “Boone, I need your help surveying Hell Canyon.” I frowned. “The Central Arizona Railway already has a line north of here. Isn’t Hell Canyon out of the way?” “It’s not for CAR. I’m working on a new project with Frank Murphy.” He glanced at Ellie Mae. Despite being the mother of two young children, she still wrote articles for the Prescott Gazette. “Mike has said nothing about it,” I said as bit into Mama’s delicious melt-in-your-mouth roast. She was the finest cook in the county. “Your boss won’t touch it. Says there’s a conflict of interest with the work you are already doing.” The work we did for the mine wasn’t a conflict. If he meant a conflict with the railway, it would be for James, too. “I’d like you to start up your own surveying company. I’ll front you the capital if Papa and Sam won’t.” “Is this for another railway?” Papa asked as he scowled at James. Sam sat up straighter. “Yes. Ellie Mae, you can’t print a word of this.” She nodded. “Aren’t you still a vice president at the Central Arizona Railway?” Sam asked. “For now. This is for a different project.” “Sounds a little unethical,” Papa said as he held James’s gaze. James frowned. “It is just a matter of time before Bullock runs CAR into the ground. Prescott will need a new railway.” Sam snorted. “I suppose you and Murphy want to provide it. Tell me, is it going to run through our grazing land?” James dodged the question. “Boone, will you do it?” I considered his words. I agreed with Papa that James’s actions sounded a little unethical. However, if he had the capital to help me set up my business and he wanted to be my first customer, I jumped at the chance. “I’ll do it. What’s your timeline?” James said he needed the survey report by the end of the year. “I can’t believe you,” Sam said as he glared at me. “You know, it’s just a matter of time before James runs a railroad through our land.” “Whoa! I’m just conducting a survey of Hell Canyon and other northern parts of the prospective line. I don’t want it to go through Colter land.” That was not exactly true. Sam and Papa were pretty adamant about no lines through their land. I was a little more noncommittal. After the meal, Sam and his brood returned to his house across the yard. James and I strategized in the parlor. He suggested I write to the Surveyor General of the Arizona Territory and his counterpart in California to request their recommendations for an assistant surveyor and crew. So, I spent the afternoon writing the letters and drafting an advertisement to place in newspapers in Tucson, Sacramento, and San Francisco. The next day, I located the office space, which James fronted the cost. Then I paid for supplies out of my savings. I agreed to one last job for Mike Fremont that finished before I would interview candidates the first week of November. That also bought me time for my new Gurley Single Vernier Transit to arrive. It was the same model I used surveying with Mike. I looked forward to running my business and building something great.
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