by Peregrine Acland
Telling of a cow-puncher’s stratagem, pitted against sheriff and deputies, and the outcome
From The Canadian Magazine, Toronto. Vol. XXVIII, No. 6, April, 1907. Page 599-601.
Squatting on the ground in the cook-tent, eating their supper, were a dozen cow-punchers. By the stove stood the cook, at that moment addressing one of the men, differing little in appearance from the others, but seemingly a centre of interest. In reply to the cook’s inquiry he said:
“No, I won’t git. I killed the man in a square fight, and so far the sheriff’s never bothered anybody fur doin’ that. He had his hand on his gun first, too, and if I hadn’t been purty quick, I’d hev been the cartridge pouch, ‘stead of him. Besides, if they were so blame anxious to git me, they could have done it last night. I was in the ‘Mexican’ for an hour more before I rode back here.”
“Wal, I’d advise yuh to be scarce fur a bit, Larry,” said the foreman. “Them excuses ‘ud go all right enough most times, but this man was the sheriff’s cousin, and though us boys is mighty grateful to yuh for ridding the country of the cuss, that chuck-headed fool ‘ll jest be glad to jump on anybody who’s been shootin’ spots off his family record.”
“Wal, I’m goin’ to stay right here, and if they want me they kin take me, or lestways they kin try, fur if they do come, I’ve no objection to makin’ tracks,” said Larry. “And don’t you worry none about me, ‘cos I’m not going’ to do any fretting.”
“All right, Larry,” said the foreman, “but I think you’re plumb foolish. Remember your turn on herd with Steve’s in the last shift. I’m going out for my turn now.”
Larry and Steve were riding easily around the herd. It was quiet and they were having little trouble. Most of the cattle were lying down, and the remainder were grazing sleepily. Overhead the stars were shining brightly, and the riders shivered occasionally from the cold. For an hour they rode thus, but as least there was a faint white suggestion of dawn in the otherwise black sky, for as day approached the light of the stars waned until only a few of the largest were visible.
The men counter-circled round the herd again and again. They were growling hungry now. However, the others would soon be at breakfast, and then they would be relieved.
Larry had just left Steve after one of their encounters, when the latter perceived three men riding towards him out of the encircling gloom. In a moment the foremost had reached him, and seizing him by the arm, while his companions covered the bewildered cow-boy with their guns, said:
“I arrest you, William Larraby, on the charge of having killed John Malburn –”
“Wait a bit, Joe,” said Steve. “You’ve got the wrong man this time.”
“To h–l with it all!” exclaimed the sheriff. “Sorry I made the mistake, Steve; couldn’t make you out in the dark. Guess we’ll jest hev to trot round to the other side of the herd of Larraby.”
The moment they had left him, Steve rose in his stirrups and waved and whistled to Larry. Barely had the latter perceived the signalling arm in the semi-twilight, before he found himself surrounded by the sheriff and his deputies.
With a curse he drove the spurs into his horse and dashed into one of the men, hurling him and his horse violently to the ground. The others pulled their guns, but slashed them viciously, again and again, letting his heavy quirt descend full upon their unprotected faces and momentarily blinding them. Taking advantage of the opportunity he had made, he started his horse at a dead lope.
If he could get to his shack, six miles off, he could make some kind of fight. As it was, he had no gun on him and his horse was tired.
Behind him he could hear the thud of galloping hoofs, and now shots rang in the air. They were trying to get him by any means now, and he thought he had little chance of reaching his shack.
They were shooting at him as he sped, their shots flying wildly at first, but more and more surely as they recovered from his desperate onslaught. After a while they shot less regularly. He supposed that they had few cartridges left in their belts and wished to be so close as to be fairly sure of hitting. When they did shoot now, he realised that their bullets came uncomfortably close. He had, indeed, a slight wound in his arm and there was a ragged hole in his hat where a bullet had found its way.
Only half a mile more now, and he would reach the shack. But they were gradually gaining on him, and their shooting was becoming more accurate.
Before him he beheld the mountains changing colour beneath the rays of the rising sun, which clothed their gloomy sides in purple, gold, green, blue, so that they discarded their appearance of age, and assumed one of everlasting and all-powerful youth. To soon, however, this had vanished and they were once more hoary-headed, green-robed seers, as suggestive of the darkness of death as they had previously been of the joys of life.
Larry beheld it all, and it made him think. He felt there was little chance of his escaping, but determined to try. If he surrendered or was captured he would be hanged. If he was not shot now, he would probably be killed or captured in his shack.
For a moment he thought of the past, and it returned vividly to his imagination, his father’s farm in Main, their long journey in an emigrant train to the far west, his hard-worked boyhood as the son of a pioneer, the years he had spent ‘punching’ cows, with the long morning rides over the prairie, the hard work by day and night, and the freedom and excitement attendant upon the life. And “last but not least,” he thought of the girl whom he had hoped to marry, and of the rascal whom he had thrashed and killed for slandering her name. But his thoughts soon turned to the endeavour to outwit his pursuers.
Finally he thought he had found a way, dangerous indeed, but offering some hope of escape. He pulled in his horse a trifle, still keeping at a fast lope, however. He was but a quarter of a mile from the shack now, but his pursuers hoped to overtake him as they perceived the abatement in his speed.
“His cayuse ‘ll soon give out,” said the sheriff, “but anyway, we’ll sure be close enough to pot him in a couple of minutes.”
His words seemed true, for rapidly the pursuers drew in upon the rash strategist, and their bullets began to find accommodation in his body, for already he had a slight leg wound, and a somewhat more serious one in the side.
Rising in his stirrups, he turned and flung his heavy hat full in the face of the foremost of the oncoming ponies. The beast shied so violently as to unseat its rider, good horseman though he was, and crashed into the other animals.
Without waiting to watch the effects of his manoeuvre, Larry once more dug his spurs into his horse and set forth at full speed for the shack, at the door of which he dismounted while they were still two hundred yards away, so much had he gained by his trick.
He stepped into the shack, but was out again almost immediately with a loaded rifle, which he kept pointed at the oncoming party. The moment they saw it they realised their helplessness and reined in. With a slight ironical smile on his bronzed face, Larry hailed the sheriff:
“If you gents don’t object, I’d be glad to hev yuh drop yer guns right there, and git off your horses, and then I’ll be delighted to receive yuh in my humble house.”
Having disburdened themselves of a large store of oaths, the men complied with the demand, and shambled shame-facedly to the bare frame building where Larry awaited them.
Larry asked the sheriff to hand over the warrant.
Having received and destroyed the papers he spoke again to his quondam pursuers:
“You two deputies had better tie the sheriff. Tie him tight now. I kin see whether you’re tying a good knot or a bad one.”
When they had finished trussing their leader, Larry spoke to the younger deputy.
“You, kid, jest put a few hitches on yer partner. Then bring me the handcuffs which the sheriff has in his pocket, I guess. . . . . Jest click ’em on yourself. It’s handy he uses the self-locking kind.”
Larry dressed his wounds, and then, after a large but monotonous breakfast of pork and beans, eaten under the noses of his prisoners, he rose to depart.
“Good-bye, boys,” he said. “I’ll manage to have some one come for you this evening. Remember me to all. So-long!”
He passed through the doorway, swung lightly into his saddle, and then rode away at a brisk trot, with his rifle across his saddle-bow.
Larraby’s Lope can be read in its original context here. Acland was a month shy of sixteen when this was published.