Hopalong Cassidy's Rustler Round-Up; Or, Bar-20

      by Rex Beach / Western

Hopalong Cassidys Rustler Round-Up; Or, Bar-20
Produced by Andrew Heath

HOPALONG CASSIDY'S RUSTLER ROUND-UP

or

BAR-20

By Clarence Edward Mulford

1906

CHAPTER I. Buckskin

The town lay sprawled over half a square mile of alkali plain, its mainStreet depressing in its width, for those who were responsible for itsinception had worked with a generosity born of the knowledge that theyhad at their immediate and unchallenged disposal the broad lands ofTexas and New Mexico on which to assemble a grand total of twentybuildings, four of which were of wood. As this material was scarce, andhad to be brought from where the waters of the Gulf lapped against theflat coast, the last-mentioned buildings were a matter of local pride,as indicating the progressiveness of their owners.

These creations of hammer and saw were of one story, crude andunpainted; their cheap weather sheathing, warped and shrunken by thepitiless sun, curled back on itself and allowed unrestricted entrance toalkali dust and air. The other shacks were of adobe, and reposed in thatmagnificent squalor dear to their owners, Indians and Mexicans.

It was an incident of the Cattle Trail, that most unique and stupendousof all modern migrations, and its founders must have been inspired witha malicious desire to perpetrate a crime against geography, or else theyreveled in a perverse cussedness, for within a mile on every side laybroad prairies, and two miles to the east flowed the indolent waters ofthe Rio Pecos itself. The distance separating the town from the riverwas excusable, for at certain seasons of the year the placid streamswelled mightily and swept down in a broad expanse of turbulent, yellowflood.

Buckskin was a town of one hundred inhabitants, located in the valley ofthe Rio Pecos fifty miles south of the Texas-New Mexico line. Thecensus claimed two hundred, but it was a well-known fact that it wasexaggerated. One instance of this is shown by the name of Tom Flynn.Those who once knew Tom Flynn, alias Johnny Redmond, alias Bill Sweeney,alias Chuck Mullen, by all four names, could find them in the censuslist. Furthermore, he had been shot and killed in the March of theyear preceding the census, and now occupied a grave in the young butflourishing cemetery. Perry's Bend, twenty miles up the river, wascognizant of this and other facts, and, laughing in open derision atthe padded list, claimed to be the better town in all ways, includingmarksmanship.

One year before this tale opens, Buck Peters, an example for the morerecent Billy the Kid, had paid Perry's Bend a short but busy visit. Hehad ridden in at the north end of Main Street and out at the south. Ashe came in he was fired at by a group of ugly cowboys from a ranch knownas the C 80. He was hit twice, but he unlimbered his artillery, andbefore his horse had carried him, half dead, out on the prairie, he hadkilled one of the group. Several citizens had joined the cowboysand added their bullets against Buck. The deceased had been the bestbartender in the country, and the rage of the suffering citizens canwell be imagined. They swore vengeance on Buck, his ranch, and hisstamping ground.

The difference between Buck and Billy the Kid is that the former nevershot a man who was not trying to shoot him, or who had not been warnedby some action against Buck that would call for it. He minded his ownbusiness, never picked a quarrel, and was quiet and pacific up toa certain point. After that had been passed he became like a ragingcyclone in a tenement house, and storm-cellars were much in demand.

”Fanning” is the name of a certain style of gun play not unknown amongthe bad men of the West. While Buck was not a bad man, he had to rubelbows with them frequently, and he believed that the sauce for thegoose was the sauce for the gander. So be bad removed the trigger of hisrevolver and worked the hammer with the thumb of the ”gun hand” or theheel of the unencumbered hand. The speed thus acquired was greater thanthat of the more modern double-action weapon. Six shots in a few secondswas his average speed when that number was required, and when it isthoroughly understood that at least some of them found their intendedbullets it is not difficult to realize that fanning was an operation ofdanger when Buck was doing it.

He was a good rider, as all cowboys are, and was not afraid of anythingthat lived. At one time he and his chums, Red Connors and HopalongCassidy, had successfully routed a band of fifteen Apaches who wantedtheir scalps. Of these, twelve never hunted scalps again, nor anythingelse on this earth, and the other three returned to their tribe withthe report that three evil Spirits had chased them with ”wheel guns”(cannons).

So now, since his visit to Perry's Bend, the rivalry of the two townshad turned to hatred and an alert and eager readiness to increase theinhabitants of each other's graveyard. A state of war existed, which fora time resulted in nothing worse than acrimonious suggestions. But thetime came when the score was settled to the satisfaction of one side, atleast.

Four ranches were also concerned in the trouble. Buckskin was surroundedby two, the Bar 20 and the Three Triangle. Perry's Bend was thecommon point for the C 80 and the Double Arrow. Each of the two ranchcontingents accepted the feud as a matter of course, and as a matterof course took sides with their respective towns. As no better class offighters ever lived, the trouble assumed Homeric proportions and insureda danger zone well worth watching.

Bar-20's northern line was C 80's southern one, and Skinny Thompson tookhis turn at outriding one morning after the season's round-up. He was tofollow the boundary and turn back stray cattle. When he had covered thegreater part of his journey he saw Shorty Jones riding toward him on acourse parallel to his own and about long revolver range away. Shortyand he had ”crossed trails” the year before and the best of feelings didnot exist between them.

Shorty stopped and stared at Skinny, who did likewise at Shorty. Shortyturned his mount around and applied the spurs, thereby causing hisindignant horse to raise both heels at Skinny. The latter took it allin gravely and, as Shorty faced him again, placed his left thumb to hisnose, wiggling his fingers suggestively. Shorty took no apparent noticeof this but began to shout:

”Yu wants to keep yore busted-down cows on yore own side. They was allover us day afore yisterday. I'm goin' to salt any more what comes over,and don't yu fergit it, neither.”

Thompson wigwagged with his fingers again and shouted in reply: ”Yu c'nsalt all yu wants to, but if I ketch yu adoin' it yu won't have to workno more. An' I kin say right here thet they's more C 80 cows over herethan they's Bar-20's over there.”

Shorty reached for his revolver and yelled, ”Yore a liar!”

Among the cowboys in particular and the Westerners in general at thattime, the three suicidal terms, unless one was an expert in drawingquick and shooting straight with one movement, were the words ”liar,””coward,” and ”thief.” Any man who was called one of these in earnest,and he was the judge, was expected to shoot if he could and save hislife, for the words were seldom used without a gun coming with them. Themovement of Shorty's hand toward his belt before the appellation reachedhim was enough for Skinny, who let go at long range--and missed.

The two reports were as one. Both urged their horses nearer and firedagain. This time Skinny's sombrero gave a sharp jerk and a hole appearedin the crown. The third shot of Skinny's sent the horse of the other toits knees and then over on its side. Shorty very promptly crawled behindit and, as he did so, Skinny began a wide circle, firing at intervals asShorty's smoke cleared away.

Shorty had the best position for defense, as he was in a shallow coule,but he knew that he could not leave it until his opponent had eithergrown tired of the affair or had used up his ammunition. Skinny knew it,too. Skinny also knew that he could get back to the ranch house and layin a supply of food and ammunition and return before Shorty could coverthe twelve miles he had to go on foot.

Finally Thompson began to head for home. He had carried the matter asfar as he could without it being murder. Too much time had elapsed now,and, besides, it was before breakfast and he was hungry. He would goaway and settle the score at some time when they would be on equalterms.

He rode along the line for a mile and chanced to look back. Two C 80punchers were riding after him, and as they saw him turn and discoverthem they fired at him and yelled. He rode on for some distance andcautiously drew his rifle out of its long holster at his right leg.Suddenly he turned around in the saddle and fired twice. One of hispursuers fell forward on the neck of his horse, and his comrade turnedto help him. Thompson wig-wagged again and rode on, reaching the ranchas the others were finishing their breakfast.

At the table Red Connors remarked that the tardy one had a hole in hissombrero, and asked its owner how and where he had received it.

”Had a argument with C 80 out'n th' line.”

”Go 'way! Ventilate enny?”

”One.”

”Good boy, sonny! Hey, Hopalong, Skinny perforated C 80 this mawnin'!”

Hopalong Cassidy was struggling with a mouthful of beef. He turned hiseyes toward Red without ceasing, and grinning as well as he could underthe circumstances managed to grunt out ”Gu--,” which was as near to”Good” as the beef would allow.

Lanky Smith now chimed in as he repeatedly stuck his knife into areluctant boiled potato, ”How'd yu do it, Skinny?”

”Bet he sneaked up on him,” joshed Buck Peters; ”did yu ask his pardin,Skinny?”

”Ask nuthin',” remarked Red, ”he jest nachurly walks up to C 80 an' sez,'Kin I have the pleasure of ventilatin' yu?' an' C So he sez, 'If yu doit easy like,' sez he. Didn't he, Thompson?”

”They'll be some ventilatin' under th' table if yu fellows don't lemmealone; I'm hungry,” complained Skinny.

”Say, Hopalong, I bets yu I kin clean up C 80 all by my lonesome,”announced Buck, winking at Red.

”Yah! Yu onct tried to clean up the Bend, Buckie, an' if Pete an' Billyhadn't afound yu when they come by Eagle Pass that night yu wouldn't behere eatin' beef by th' pound,” glancing at the hard-working Hopalong.”It was plum lucky fer yu that they was acourtin' that time, wasn't it,Hopalong?” suddenly asked Red. Hopalong nearly strangled in his effortsto speak. He gave it up and nodded his head.

”Why can't yu git it straight, Connors? I wasn't doin' no courtin', itwas Pete. I runned into him on th' other side o' th' pass. I'd look fineacourtin', wouldn't I?” asked the downtrodden Williams.

Pete Wilson skillfully flipped a potato into that worthy's coffee,spilling the beverage of the questionable name over a large expanse ofblue flannel shirt. ”Yu's all right, yu are. Why, when I meets yu, yuwas lost in th' arms of yore ladylove. All I could see was yore feet. Goan' git tangled up with a two hundred and forty pound half-breed squawan' then try to lay it onter me! When I proposed drownin' yoretroubles over at Cowan's, yu went an' got mad over what yu called th'insinooation. An' yu shore didn't look any too blamed fine, neither.”

”All th' same,” volunteered Thompson, who had taken the edge from hisappetite, ”we better go over an' pay C 80 a call. I don't like whatShorty said about saltin' our cattle. He'll shore do it, unless I campson th' line, which same I hain't hankerin' after.”

”Oh, he wouldn't stop th' cows that way, Skinny; he was only afoolin',”exclaimed Connors meekly.

”Foolin' yore gran'mother! That there bunch'll do anything if we wasn'tlookin',” hotly replied Skinny.

”That's shore nuff gospel, Thomp. They's sore fer mor'n one thing. Theygot aplenty when Buck went on th' warpath, an they's hankerin' to gitsquare,” remarked Johnny Nelson, stealing the pie, a rare treat, of hisneighbor when that unfortunate individual was not looking. He hadit halfway to his mouth when its former owner, Jimmy Price, a boy ofeighteen, turned his head and saw it going.

”Hi-yi! Yu clay-bank coyote, drap thet pie! Did yu ever see such ason-of-a-gun fer pie?” he plaintively asked Red Connors, as he grabbeda mighty handful of apples and crust. ”Pie'll kill yu some day, yubob-tailed jack! I had an uncle that died onct. He et too much pie an'he went an' turned green, an so'll yu if yu don't let it alone.”

”Yu ought'r seed th' pie Johnny had down in Eagle Flat,” murmured LankySmith reminiscently. ”She had feet that'd stop a stampede. Johnnywas shore loco about her. Swore she was the finest blossom thatever growed.” Here he choked and tears of laughter coursed down hisweather-beaten face as he pictured her. ”She was a dainty Mexican, aboutfifteen han's high an' about sixteen han's around. Johnny used to chalkoff when he hugged her, usen't yu, Johnny? One night when he had gotpurty well around on th' second lap he run inter a feller jest startin'out on his fust. They hain't caught that Mexican yet.”

Nelson was pelted with everything in sight. He slowly wiped off thepie crust and bread and potatoes. ”Anybody'd think I was a busted grubwagon,” he grumbled. When he had fished the last piece of beef out ofhis ear he went out and offered to stand treat. As the round-up wasover, they slid into their saddles and raced for Cowan's saloon atBuckskin.


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