She was the prettiest girl in town, and she was sitting here talking to me. The saloon was a warm and friendly place where people came to meet and get a chance to socialize. It was hard being on a lonely ranch for days or weeks on end without anyone to talk to, and the saloon provided a break from that tedium. Just to sit in the warm room, a fire going in the stove in the center of the room, the sound of voices from other ranchers , and the voices of the few women in the territory made it seem so welcome. And one has to take a little time from the hard work of a ranch from time to time, it helps keep things in perspective.
The town was Sedalia, Colorado. It sits in the foothills of the Rockies about 25 miles south of the booming metropolis of Denver. It was a rancher’s town, providing a place where the locals could go to get supplies, trade goods, and meet and talk with others. The town was about 150 paces from end to end, with a two story saloon, general store, corral and horse barn with a black smith shop.
As saloons go, it wasn’t much to look at. It was just big enough for a half dozen scarred wooden tables with chairs. To the left was a long bar, with a mirror behind. Under the mirror, and behind the bar, were two long open shelves with bottles running the length of the bar. The bottles were filled with a variety of liquids, but most were bottles of whiskey. The ceiling was low with exposed logs, as were the walls. The floor was made of split logs and was sprinkled with sawdust. At the back of the saloon was the stairway that led upstairs to the rooms where you could sleep for the night, or spend some time with one of the ladies. But not the lady sitting with me.
Ruth was a companion, someone who would brighten your day with her presence. She reminded you of your younger years of home and family, when things were less intense and you would sit down after dinner and spend time with your family. These were things you missed when you had the responsibility of a ranch you were trying to grow. Ruth would smile and share her time with you while you ate the best meal in town, usually buffalo or elk stew cooked by the saloon owner, Madge. You could smell the stew cooking, simmering in a huge pot under a fire in the backyard of the saloon, for miles around. Even though the ranch was a good twenty miles away, there were nights when Kade was sure he could smell that stew.
My name is Kade Kastle. I stand 6’3″ in my bare feet, weighting 210 pounds soaking wet. With a friendly smile that shows off dimples, thick, dark hair and intelligent eyes some ladies have said I am quite handsome. But that doesn’t get you much when it comes to building a ranch. But at the same time it doesn’t hurt when you want to talk to a pretty girl.
And there she sat across from me. Long blonde hair, framing her face. Blue and green eyes that sparkled when she looked at me. Full red lips and white teeth. Her gingham dress was unable to hide the full figured woman underneath, with just a hint of cleavage to indicate the fullness of her breasts. She loved to talk and laugh, occasionally reaching over to touch me on the arm, or squeeze my leg. Just a touch left me tingling. Ruth was a pleasure to look at, and combined with her laughter and smile made the evening seem just perfect. And she had a woman’s way of making you feel special.
The feeling of serenity was interrupted by the banging of the front door followed by a blast of cold November air, then footsteps, and a loud voice demanding “Where’s my girl!” Ruth looked at me with fear in her eyes. “Kade, its Matt Dunn. You need to get out of here.” “Why would I want to leave the prettiest girl in town?” I said with a grin. “Besides, it’s cold out there and I was looking forward to a warm seat by the fire tonight.” “But Matt thinks he owns me,” she said. “What do you think?” I asked. “I think I like your company much better, but he won’t allow that!”
Matt Dunn was a big man, about the same age with both of us in our late twenties, but he out weighted me by a good 50 pounds, and stood a couple of inches taller. Not that it made him stronger than me, since the days spent building my cabin, horse barn, and corrals had built up my strength to a point where it would be hard to get any stronger. But he also was used to getting his way since daddy owned the biggest spread in the territory. I had only seen him a few times in the 2 years since I had moved in and started my homestead, but he always made an entry and everyone when knew he was around. He had an air of arrogance, and I suspected meanness. It wasn’t anything obvious, but if the way he handled his horse was any indication of how he treated people, then I didn’t blame Ruth for not wanting his company.
So now I had to make a decision. Did I want to face a confrontation with someone who no doubt would turn it into a fight, or worse yet, a shooting match? The last time I was in town there had been a little shooting match going on at the edge of town, with Dunn and several others showing their shooting skills with their handguns. Everybody carried one, it was part of your outfit just like your boots. Except that you put your boots on second, and your gun last. But in a land filled with wild animals, some of them some very aggressive and hungry, you always went armed. Just walking from the cabin to the corral you could end up hearing the hissing sound of a mountain cat who was stalking one of the horses. Or you might come around a bend in the trail and upon a bear who had just killed some game, and that was enough to end up in them charging at you. So everyone went armed. But it was a whole different thing to pull a gun on a person. Kade had never done that, and had no idea of what would happen. But any way it came out, someone would get hurt. And although he was enjoying the company of Ruth, getting hurt just didn’t come into the scheme of things.
So, pushing back his chair, Kade stood up. “Thanks for the company, Ruth” he said. “I think I will head back to the ranch.” Tossing a silver dollar on the table to pay for the drinks and food, he headed for the door. But Matt wasn’t going to let it go that easy, and apparently wanted to let everyone in the place know who he was, and to throw a loop on Ruth. Moving quickly he stepped in front of Kade, placing his hands on the butts of the two 44’s he wore. “You, whatever your name is, next time you come to town find someone else to talk with. That’s my girl and I don’t share!”
It was hard to contain the feeling of resentment that welled up in my chest. It isn’t necessary to bully people, I have found that most people will respect you if you respect them, that people reflect the attitude you project. But I didn’t think this was the time or place to teach this bully a lesson in manners. I had heard that discretion is the better part of valor, so I decided to be the bigger man and, taking a step to the left, walked around him. But I couldn’t resist turning with one hand on the door to return a look at Dunn that would let him see that it wasn’t fear that was making me leave. We locked eyes for a moment, and I gave him a slight smile. “Some other time,” I said.
Leaving the saloon, I could hear conversations inside had resumed and laughter from one of the girls. But now I was outside, and the cold night air was a wake-up call. As I swung aboard my horse I started to regret my decision. It was cold, the trail was dark, and it would take about half of the night to get to my cabin in the dark, as opposed to two to three hours in the light of day. I could have been sitting at a table enjoying a drink and companionship until I felt like curling up in a bed for the night. Instead, I was going to end up rolling up in a cold blanket under a tree somewhere for the night. Why did I do that? Just because I wanted to avoid some fight? Would it have really gone that far, or would Matt Dunn have backed down? No, I don’t think he would have, not in front of the town people. Bullies live through the fear they can exert on people, getting their kicks out of making people do what they would not want to do normally, and enjoying that power they feel they have over them. But I was headed down the road toward home, and the thought of going back to a possible fight didn’t have any appeal. Besides, I had spent many a night on the trail with nothing more than my horse and bed roll more times than I could remember. I would put a couple on miles in on the trail toward home and make a cold camp for the night.
The following morning I awoke to the beginning of light and the sound of a quail calling. The air was cold and crisp, with just the hint of warmth from the sun that was coming up. A light haze lay over the land as I gazed back down into the valley and the town of Sedalia. It would burn off quickly as the sun came up, as the sky was cloudless and blue as can be. The temperature would slowly warm up to a nice comfortable long sleeved shirt day before lunch time.
I loved this country. It was everything I had been looking for. Sedalia was a small cow town nestled in the rolling foothills, or the hog backs like the locals called them. The great Rocky Mountains loomed to the west, in the direction I was headed toward home. The rolling land hid lakes and ravines that couldn’t be seen unless you got on top of a ridge, and it seemed there were always surprises, even when you had been that way before. A different time of day, with the light emphasizing the terrain differently, and it was a whole new wonderland, The terrain was a slow but steady climb to higher elevation, with a mixture of tall pine, blue spruce, scrub oak, and even some oak and poplar trees, although these were usually a sign that there was water near since the leafing trees liked more water. The ground would vary from sandy areas to thick, green grass that was knee high.
And there was game everywhere, if you knew where to look. Everything from buffalo, deer, elk, antelope, bear, lion, to pheasant and other game hens. Or if you preferred to drop a line in one of the streams, the fish would go for anything that floated on the water, or a worm or grub on the hook. There was never a need for anyone to go hungry in a land like this, as food was everywhere. And there were herbs, vegetables, berries, and almost any other thing you might need if you just knew where to look.
Being the outgoing and friendly person that Kade is he had made friends with some of the local Indian people of the Arapahoe tribe. They were by and large a friendly people, curious about the tools and blankets Kade had, and were more than willing to trade for their knowledge of the things they had learned about how to live off the country around them. It was a great trade, and Kade learned how to make some of the potions the medicine man used to treat things like rashes or muscle aches, and he traded warm blankets they loved for decoration and to use in their lodges. And in turn they taught him how to survive and live off the land.
As the game trail climbed steadily up the hog back, headed toward the cabin and his ranch, he felt excitement. He always felt that way when he was there. It was his own valley, nestled in the foothills west of Sedalia. A few miles west of the ranch there were the towering, snowcapped peaks that made a majestic backdrop to the valley. The valley was several hundred feet deeper than the foothills surrounding it, covered in knee-high grass, with a mixture of quakes’ (Aspen trees), pinion pine (also called lodge pole pines because they were straight and uniform trees for making cabins or other structures) and maple and oak trees that grew along the stream that meandered through the valley.
Hunting was as simple as sitting out front of the cabin in the twilight and picking the animal that would add to the food stores. The Arapahoe had taught Kade how to use every part of the animal so that much more than just food was provided. Everything had a use, you just had to know how. When you didn’t have much, and learned to use everything you had, your life was simple but full. And you couldn’t help but be in awe of the beautiful country around you. Now if you just had someone to share that beauty with! Would someone like Ruth find his valley as beautiful as he did? Maybe he would bring that subject up to her the next time they got to talk.
As Kade rode around a large boulder in the trail, his horse started and took a quick step to the left. Sensing motion to his right, Kade pivoted in the saddle. A shadow lunged from the tree, directly at him. Before he realized what was happening, his gun was in his hand and the report of a shot rocked his ears. The shadow knocked him from his horse. The next thing he knew he was laying underneath a heavy weight, staring into the eyes of a cougar! But the big cat wasn’t moving, and there was a bullet hole in the center of its forehead. Without even thinking he had drawn and fired his gun, killing the mountain lion while it was lunging at him, still in the air.
People are born with a variety of talents or skills that just come to them naturally. Kade’s was his eye to hand coordination. He didn’t think anything of catching something that had been knocked off the table before it hit the ground, scooping it out of the air was just something natural. He hadn’t really thought about it, but this also apparently applied to his using a gun. Without thinking he had drawn, cocked, pointed, and fired his gun with an uncanny accuracy, a fact which had saved his life from the bold mountain lion.
After getting his wind back from the fall, Kade caught up his horse which was spooked by the smell of the cougar, and tied him to a tree. Kade then skinned and dressed the lion, cutting the meat into pieces he would later smoke over a fire for the winter ahead. Nothing was wasted and the meat would be a pleasant break from the usual elk and deer.
Back in the saddle, with the meat wrapped in the skin and tied behind his saddle, Kade has some time to think about what had happened. How had he shot so quickly, and with such accuracy? This was not something he had practiced, it had just happened. He knew that other people had occasionally remarked on his quickness, but it was not something he did consciously. What if he did? Was this something that he should practice that could change his future? Was there some way to turn this to an advantage, maybe even a way to supplement his meager income?
But what was the good of being a gunfighter for instance? Although the dime novels made the life sound like something that people would talk about, it didn’t sound like fun. You would never get a good night’s sleep, always worried there was someone gunning for you. And how could you kill another human being? It didn’t sound like a way to make a living, searching out people to kill because you were paid to do so. Besides, he loved it here on his ranch, and was looking forward to being here for a long time to come.
But maybe it could come in handy, in fact, it just had. It wouldn’t do any harm to cultivate a natural ability. When he got back to the ranch he would set aside a little time each day to hone his skills. Maybe he could even enter some of those shooting matches where the locals wager a little money, and supplement his income with some winnings. Now that would be great!
For the next several weeks Kade continued to improve the conditions on the ranch, making some furniture for the cabin, adding a new section to the corral, and building a dam on the creek to store some water where it was closer to the cabin. He even devised a water system that carried some water from the stream through hollowed out logs to a basin inside the cabin, providing a constant flow of fresh water. Now that was a feature that would sure be useful!
And he continued to work on his gun handling skills. He found he had to add a pig string to the bottom of the holster to keep the gun firmly in place, but this wasn’t practical when you were working. Too often the handgun was in the way of working, and you had to move it out of the way to free the movement of your hands. But for a fast draw, it was necessary.
The hardest part was aiming, especially if you had to use a fast draw, which meant it almost had to be instinctive. But that was part of his natural ability, even though it became obvious that by practicing, his accuracy at a distance was greatly enhanced. He started out shooting at twigs on the pine trees, at about 20 paces. Initially he could hit what he aimed at about one time out of four, but that increased to the point where he usually hit where he aimed. He gradually moved the distance to 50 paces and built his accuracy at that distance. Fortunately, the single action 44 Colt he favored was a very accurate and reliable gun. All he had to do was point it in the right direction and the large caliber gun would do the rest.
But shooting at twigs was too easy! He needed more of a challenge. Now how about shooting something that was moving? Now that would be some real shooting! In some of the Wild West shows that traveled the country he had heard that the gunfighters would shoot silver dollars that were thrown up into the air.
Well, he didn’t have any extra silver dollars to practice on, but there were pine cones lying about that would work. This presented a whole new practice session in which he would toss a pine cone into the air and draw and fire before the cone hit the ground. At first most of them hit the ground, but as he became more focused and experienced with the motion he got to the point where few hit the ground. Then he added another element, throwing the pine cone over his shoulder, then spinning around and shooting it while still in the air. His results improved dramatically with practice.
The prior practice made this new learning experience short, within a week he was able to consistently throw over his shoulder, turn and fire, and the pine cone would jump in the air. Now if he just had one of those new double action revolvers! His Colt was a dependable gun, but each time you fired the single action you had to pull the trigger back with your thumb before you could fire the next cartridge. With one of those new double actions all you had to do was pull the trigger and the gun would rotate and fire the next shell. But the cost was just too much. But it was something to wish for, maybe if he sold some of his herd next spring he could use some of the money…
It had been a couple of months since Kade had been to Sedalia. He was running out of salt and flour, so it was time to head to town and replenish supplies. And maybe he would stop by the saloon and see Ruth. It would be nice to share some time with her again.
It had been a couple of months since he had been to town, and once again he was in need of some supplies. The ride to town was uneventful. Like any long time spent in the saddle on the way to some destination, there were several hours to think about things. On this ride into town Kade was thinking about his future. Sure, he had his ranch, but life should have more to it than just work and he was a people person. There should be someone to share things with, and eventually some kids that would carry on and be part of the future. His small herd of cattle had grown from just six to over 50 head, and the string of horses from two to eleven. All were fine stock, well fed on the grass and hay in the valley, and would bring top dollar if he sold a few. Living off the land was hard work, but possible, but at the same time money was needed for the things you couldn’t make. Like curtains for the windows, oil lamps, buggies and other things that a man would desire, and some things that women seemed to favor that made more of a home. And what if there were also a woman? What types of things would a woman want? Would any woman want to live in the mountains like he did? Would someone as fine as Ruth be willing to make a life with him on the ranch in the manner of the Spartan life he lived?
Riding into town he was drawn to a crowd that had gathered around the saloon. In the center of the crowd was Matt Dunn loudly boasting about how everyone else could forget it because he was the only one that could win. Win what? As Kade strode up to the saloon he could see the large poster that had been nailed to the log walls proclaiming a shooting match was being sponsored by Colt Firearms with a new double action Colt being the prize. And there was a peddler who was demonstrating the new double action Colt, hoping to take orders from some of the wealthier ranchers. The peddler was passing the new gun around to people in the crowd, and finally Kade got a chance to hold it. The feeling was natural in his hand, the gun light and well balanced. Pointing it was like pointing a finger, it just seemed to go exactly where you wanted it to. It sure would be great to own one of these! Maybe, if he could win the shooting match! It was going to be held the day after tomorrow, after the peddler had a chance to go to Denver and back.
Kade could hardly contain his excitement! That was a real gun, something that would last a life time. And the thought of being able to fire multiple rounds in a short period of time could make a difference when confronted with danger, and you never knew when that could happen.
Having picked up the supplies he needed from the dry goods store, Kade had one more mission before leaving town and heading back to the ranch. He had decided to talk to Ruth, even for just a moment of two. He had some ideas he wanted to ask her about.
Walking into the saloon he spotted Ruth in the kitchen. Walking through the doorway, she saw his broad shouldered figure and gave him a welcoming smile. “Kade, it has been too long!” she exclaimed. She came up to him, threw her arms around his neck, and gave him a warm hug, stepping back and looking up into his eyes. She had such a beautiful smile, it warmed him right up. Reaching up and taking both her hands in his he walked her out the back door into the open space behind the saloon. “Ruth, I have to ask you something very important. My ranch needs a woman’s touch, as do I. Would you consider being my wife and living with me on my ranch? I know this is rather sudden, but I am looking at the future and know that it would be more fulfilling if you would share it with me!”
Ruth looked at Kade with surprise. “I have always felt something special for you, and felt that you had the same feelings, but this is rather sudden! I am not saying no, but I would like time to think about it. I don’t make commitments like that without some serious thought. Are you willing to wait for me to think about this?”
“You bet, Ruth. I have given some serious thought myself, and I realize that I have very strong feelings for you, the kind that make me want to spend the rest of my life with you and to raise a family. I have to go back out to the ranch, but I will be back the day after tomorrow. I am going to win that shooting contest! Can we talk more about it then?” “I would like that!” Ruth said with a smile.
On the way back to the ranch Kade thought about what he could do if he won the shooting match. For one thing he knew that wagering was very common in contests in the west, it was one of the few wagers one could make other than play poker, and you didn’t get to do much of that when you were living on a ranch. Besides, poker was based on chance, and he preferred to bet on things he had more knowledge of, like himself. He hadn’t been in any shooting matches, so he was an unknown, and there was Matt Dunn who had money, or at least his dad did, and he had a very high opinion of himself, so it might be possible to win some serious money at the shoot-out. That way he wouldn’t even have to thin out his herd, and could buy some nice things for the cabin to make it more welcome. If he could win as much as $20 it would give him more than enough money to get through the winter in style, and have money left over for some things Ruth would like!
The ride back to the ranch went quickly, as time does when you are deep in thought. There was much to do before going back to town. He had to get the stock ready, clean and oil his gun, a few last practice shots, and file off the burr on the trigger that had built up from use over the years. He wanted everything ready to go before he left for town.
The night before the contest went so slowly! He was up and on the trail before dawn, and the ride into town was the longest he ever remembered. As he approached the town he could see that a crowd had already gathered behind the general store, where there was a long open field that ended in a tall embankment. It was a perfect backdrop for shooting. And standing in the middle of the crowd, being loud as usual, was Matt Dunn. As Kade approached he was shooting cans that were placed on a fence, using one of the new Colts. His father must have ordered one and the peddler had brought it with him from Denver. Dunn fired off 6 quick shots, just squeezing the trigger, and five of them knocked a can off the fence. That was pretty good shooting considering it was a new gun, and rapid firing using the new double action capability. But Kade remembered the way the new Colt had felt and suspected it was probably one of the most accurate guns ever made. What he could do with one of those!
“Everybody gather ’round,” said the peddler. “This is a shooting contest and the winner of the match will receive a new, double action Colt revolver! The rules are simple, it costs two bits to enter the contest, and the revolver is valued at $43. It is sudden death, until only one shooter is left. Those who wish to compete need to step over to the table and pay their entry fee.”
Kade and five other gentlemen moved over to the table and paid their two bits (about 25 cents), and signed their name on the sign-in sheet. They were then lined up in single file and one of the towns’ people set tin cans on the top fence post. “Each person will shoot twice, and must hit both targets in order to advance,” said the peddler. “I would like to make an additional wager” said Matt Dunn. I will bet $10 that no one can better me!” No one said a thing, after having seen him showing off before the competition began. When no one stepped forward, he added “OK then, how about if I offer two to one odds? I will put my $20 against your 10 that I can beat any man here!” At that point Kade stepped forward. “I’ll take that bet,” he said. “Who will hold the money?” How about Ruth?” Dunn replied. Walking over to Ruth, Kade handed her his $10 gold piece and squeezed her hand, “for luck,” he said.
The shooters squared off in front of the targets. The first man up had an old Army Colt, and took careful aim with each shot. The first hit a can, but the second was to the left. “You’re out,” said the peddler. The next shooter up had a Remington, the old heavy style, but he shot both of the cans. The third shooter missed on the first shot. Shooter number four had the same model Colt that Kade owned, a Frontier Model, well used but an accurate gun. He knocked down both targets. Kade was next and hit both of his with ease, which left Dunn to shoot. “I’ll show you how it’s done!” said Dunn, and with a flourish he did a fast draw, cocking and firing his new Colt and sending both cans flying.
Round two was considerably more difficult. The targets were moved back 30 paces, and there were four of them. The first three shooters each missed a can, which left Kade and Matt. In no hurry, and because this was important, Kade shot four in a row. With typical bravado, Dunn drew and shot all four. Turning to Kade, he said “Want to double that bet?” This was a major bet, and that money was about all that Kade had been able to put aside. But he had an idea that Dunn was careless, and could be beaten. “All right, Dunn, put your money up,” said Kade.
The two men stepped up to the line, and Kade turned to Dunn and said “Let’s make this more interesting. I say we have someone throw the can in the air behind us, and we have to turn, draw and fire, hitting the can, before it hits the ground.” “Suits me!” said Dunn, “you first.”
Kade was confident in his ability, and had practiced this shot on the ranch. He stepped up to the line, turned away from the range, and waited. Sensing movement behind him, he twirled, drew and fired. The can shot off at an angle, obviously hit. “Ooohhhh” said the crowd. Dunn lined up and proceeded to hit his target as well. “Let’s finish this,” he said. “I think having to shoot a smaller target, like a silver dollar thrown in the air, will separate the man from the boy!” “Fine, and it is your turn to go first, and you can supply the silver dollars,” said Kade.
Stepping up to the shooting line, Dunn told the peddler “When I say throw, I want you to toss a silver dollar as high as you can, and get ready to give me that new Colt.” Placing his hand on the butt of the gun sitting in his holster, Dunn flexed his shooting fingers. “Throw!” he called. The silver dollar flew up into the sky, arching over and coming back down. Drawing his gun, Dunn fired. The silver dollar jumped in the air and fell to the ground. Walking over and picking it up, the peddler held it up in the air and exclaimed “a hit!” Kade stepped up to the line, his heart beating. But he knew he was as ready as he would ever be. “Throw!” he said. The dollar flew into the air and he drew and fired. The coin didn’t jump! But he knew he had hit it, he could feel his aim and knew it had scored a hit. “You missed!” exclaimed Dunn. “I win!” he blustered. “I didn’t miss” said Kade. “And I am willing to bet double our wager that I didn’t miss, and if I am wrong you win it all.” “Now that is a bet I am ready to take” said Dunn. “…double or nothing and the Colt, right Kade?” “That’s the bet,” said Kade.
“Peddler, please check that silver dollar I just shot at, again,” asked Kade. Walking over, the peddler picked up the silver dollar he had thrown. Looking at it, he looked first at one side, then turning it over looked at the other. A look of amazement came over his face, he held up the coin and exclaimed, “It is shot plumb center, which is why the dollar didn’t move when he hit it! Kade wins!!”
Dunn had a look of amazement on his face. “Let me see that,” he said as he walked toward the peddler. Taking the dollar in his hand, he looked at it with a look of amazement. “That was some shooting,” he said. “I guess you won fair and square. Remind me never to get in a real shooting match with you, one of us would end up dead!”
“On behalf of the Colt Firearms Company, allow me to give you this new Colt revolver, “said the peddler. “its people like you who are settling this wonderful country, and Colt wants to be there with you,” he said as he handed Kade the revolver. “Thank you very much,” Kade said with a huge grin. “Maybe I will just have to do a little traveling when I get a chance and show this gun off in some of the other shows around the territory.”
Placing the new Colt in his holster, Kade walked over to Ruth who held the winnings. “Now that I have a new stake, maybe we could finish that talk we started” he said to her. “I couldn’t wait until you came back to town” Ruth said with a smile.