Nick stolter, p.1
Nick Stolter, p.1
The Nick Stolter Story
Lee Anne Wonnacott
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Copyright 2015 by Lee Anne Wonnacott
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This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.
Adult Reading Material
This tale began as a one short story as told to me as a child.
I hope you enjoy the story as much as I enjoyed writing it.
The moon created odd shadows in the divots around the covered yard. The old cottonwood groaned under the weight of the heavy snow. Stolter pointed up at a shooting star streaking through the inky night twinkled with thousands of diamonds.
“I’ve still got fifty dollars left of my dad’s money. I was hoping to use part of that when the girls got married and started their own families.” Marianna pulled the heavy blanket around herself as she leaned up against Nick in the darkness.
Stolter gave a quick kiss to her temple. “Marianna, the ride’ll only be a week, ten days at the most I’ll be gone. I’ll bring home five hundred and that will see us through the rest of the year. You save your dad’s money,” said Nick. His arm pulled his wife closer to him savoring her warmth.
In the distance, wood cracked, and with a whoosh of falling limbs snow disturbed the stillness. The chilled March air lay like a nearly frozen blanket over the land.
He felt Marianna arch her back and twist her body in his arms. “We can hold out til June, Nick. You’ll deliver those head to Santa Fe and we’ll be back on our feet again.” Nick could feel her dark eyes on him. Married seventeen years and she still looked at him as if the answer was written on his face. Stolter turned his eyes towards the barn and saw the faint yellowish glow from the lantern. A couple hundred miles and a few cold nights on the ground was the answer to his worries.
“Ginger has saved my life twice, honey. I owe him to ride with him this time. All I have to do is ride along and make sure nobody runs off with the herd. We’ve done this sort of work before and we had been good at running horses,” Stolter said. “Plus, the work means a good payday for our family.”
Nick Stolter and Ginger Whelihan had made the Springfield to Dodge stagecoach run so many times they had become a named fixture on the route. Along the way, were graves of the men who had thought they were quicker, smarter and more cunning than Stolter and Whelihan. Stolter knew that the lean, powerful man sat smoking in the darkness of the barn loft, watching them talk on the house porch.
“Kelly is working well with those two fillies. That young black colt has been very watchful when she works in the corral, so he might be next. Honey, she’s good with them. She has the instinct. We have to encourage that.” Stolter spoke into Marianna’s ear. His oldest daughter had a natural feel for training the feisty young horses.
This man had grown up around high-spirited cutting horses. His family had prized breeding lines, the body type and the temperament. His father had given him five Quarter horse mares, and from those Stolter had bred two national champions.
At the Denver rodeo after winning the cutting horse competition. Stolter met the young Miss Marianna Richardson and her stern father, Glen who had come looking for agile horses. A trickle of nervous sweat slid down his spine as Stolter discussed his vision for the future. He remembered the flashing grin the young beauty had for his discreet wink. Stolter had made a good impression.
She shook her head. “I don’t understand how riding a herd of horses is worth five hundred dollars. By the way he talked, there is something else along with the horses here.” Stolter heard the doubt in her words.
“Honey, those horses are in a bad place. North of Phoenix up in the mountains in a secluded valley. The fall feed was plentiful, but now they’ll be clawing through the snow to find food and there won’t be any. I’d be almost sure that wolves have started preying on the older and weaker horses, too. I’m used to the snow and mountains and so is Ginger. We can do this. We have to do this,” Stolter said.
For seventeen years, the married couple had been through rough times and good times and had always come out better and stronger than before. Personal tragedies and death, celebrations and the birth of their children and success as a reputable breeder had helped make the couple durable and resilient. But now, several sales had fallen through, and two of the best mares died from unknown causes leaving the family scrambling for cash.
Marianna’s breath was visible in the dark, cold air. “Lola wouldn’t even shake his hand. I’ve never seen her back away from someone like that, even if he was a stranger to her. I don’t know what makes her do that,” she said. Whelihan was a tall, wide shouldered man with an easy way of moving. Somebody she always associated with trouble. He was sure of himself without the bold swagger.
“She’ll be alright. That little girl sees and feels things that you and I don’t understand, honey. Last week, she helped find a den of foxes up on the ridge below that granite outcropping. I would have ridden right on past the hole but she said they were there.” Stolter shook his head with a laugh. The lantern light was gone from the barn window.
“I don’t like moving horses in the snow, but if this herd stays where they are at, the horses will die. I love the animals too much to ever let that happen, honey. There’s a chance I could bring home new breeding stock, too. And adding to the herd is important. Once we get them into Phoenix we can sort through them and sell off the ones we don’t need.”
The first half of March had brought mild wind and rain storms. The family had been cooped up inside the house because of the weather and they had been bumping in to each other and had frayed nerves. Now, the night air felt frigid and foreboding.
Earlier in the day, Ginger Whelihan, had ridden into the yard and asked if Stolter would go out on a one last job to help out an old friend. Whelihan hoped to cash in on an unpaid debt and get out from under another.
Stolter sat down on the sofa with his arm around Marianna and said, “There may be downed trees in the way. We might have to cut them out. The risk is that we’ll get all the way up there and the horses will be gone. When Ginger was there the last time, he counted over one hundred horses. I know I can bring home twenty by myself. That’s two hundred dollars right there even if we simply sold them as saddle horses.”
Colton sat up on the counter and watched his father and Ginger Whelihan talk at the table.
“So my dad used to ride with you, Mr. Whelihan? Did you shoot up outlaws that tried to rob the stagecoaches?”
“Yes, we used to ride security on a stagecoach line from Missouri to Kansas. Twice a month.” Whelihan nodded to the boy. Short black-brown hair trimmed close, clean shaven except for a thick mustache and ever watchful green eyes with gold flecks. His smile was quick and easy.
Kelly said, “Would you tell us about one of those times? We’d like to hear about what pa used to do before he met my ma.” The girl grinned to Marianna who fidgeted with the corner of her shirt.
Whelihan looked at Stolter who threw his hands up in the air with a grin. The friendship between the men was evident as they exchanged a look. Whelihan shifted in the chair and started the story. “We had a run out of Jefferson City headed for Dodge. The vehicle was a heavy stage with nine passengers and a strong box and valises and bags piled up on top. When we rolled out of town, I saw at the general store two big freight wagons loaded with lumber and boxes. That was pretty common to see goods headed west. One of the clerks was helping to tie down a big canvas sheet over one of the wagons. I remember thinking to myself that I would be smart to get one of those because you can sleep underneath at night and be sheltered from the rain. They come in pretty handy.”
Stolter said, “Yeah, there were two big Percherons hitched up to each wagon. I was thinking that if that was a heavy wagon, you’d want to hitch on four draft horses. But maybe they weren’t going very far.” He shrugged.
“Well, the stage got as far as Bolton’s Grove and the back left wheel hit something and broke out most of the spokes and cracked almost in half. Bolton’s was another mile farther and I offered one of the older women passengers to ride on back of me and she accepted. Her granddaughter was traveling with her going home from the women’s college in Philadelphia. Nick offered to have her ride behind him and at the urging of her grandmother, the girl accepted.”
“Bolton’s Grove is a wide spot in the road more than anything. It’s a ranch that built up a stage stop with a big kitchen with hot food. During the winter months they always have chili or stew and the Missus there is a good cook.
“Big soft biscuits with beef gravy.” Stolter laughed as he held up his hands to demonstrate. The children laughed.
“Nick can tell you all about the food every mile from here to Dodge.” Whelihan pointed at Stolter.
“Well, they have good food, but nothing to repair a stage coach wheel.” Stolter grinned.
Whelihan let his arm rest on the table. “The Overland stage on route from Iowa to St Louis rolled in about three hours after we did. I had a laugh the way some people who travel a lot see other people they’ve ridden with on a stage.”
“Reg Bolton never put in a telegraph. Said he wasn’t going to let some little tappity tappity govern his business. He never like being pushed like that,” Stolter took his arm from around Marianna and leaned forward tonto his knees. His eyes caught those of the children and he nodded.
“Will Farnum was the driver on the coach and he wrote down what we needed and said he’d send back a rim on the next stage coming through to Bolton’s. That was three days out. Several of the men passengers decided to head east instead of west and loaded onto the Overland. They left later that afternoon when that stage rolled out. Some people just can’t sit still.” Stolter winked at Lola, who loved to travel.
“After dinner, Nick and I bedded down in the grass out alongside the house. I’m sound asleep when I’m jolted awake by stomping hooves and I lay back down thinking that another stage has rolled in. They come in from all directions. But I lay there and think that this is the middle of the night and even though the moon is out you still can’t see where you are going.” Whelihan rubbed his hands together.
Stolter grinned again. “You know how I am. I’m lying there telling myself that I’m not gonna get up unless someone specifically calls my name. I’m gonna lay right there in my warm blanket and with my toasty toes and I’m not going to move unless there is a loud commotion over my name. And that’s when I heard them.”
Kelly’s eyes were wide when she asked, “What did you hear?”
“You heard women’s voices? And that is what got you up?” asked Kelly.
“That’s how we met Amanda Brady and Georgia Chaney.” Stolter nodded and grinned.
“They had been neighbor girls growing up, went to the same church, both went off to separate colleges in Philadelphia and New York. Personally, I think their mothers were trying to marry them off to sons of wealthy easterners.” Whelihan winked at Kelly who laughed.
“They each raised up draft horses and knew they would come home to help run father’s draft business. They had gotten into the habit of stopping to rest the horses at Bolton’s before they started the climb up to Angel’s Camp. That trail there is a dirt track more than a road and switchbacks going up nine miles to the camp. It’s an old gold mine area and the people who live up there have more money than brains, if you know what I mean.” Whelihan raised his eyebrows.
“It was these girls bringing in their freight wagons that got my attention. If a woman needs help, I’m gentleman enough to get up and go help her. I was raised that way. So I pull on my boots and walked out to see if they needed any help and you know, Whelihan was already there chatting with them. He’s like that.” Stolter kicked the leg of Whelihan’s chair and he shrugged.
Whelihan looked at the ceiling with a grin and said, “I’ll admit I’ve hitched a ride on their wagons from time to time when the need has arisen.” Marianna chuckled.
Stolter held up his hands. “Well, the wagons are rolled back and chock blocks are put against the wheels. The horses are unhitched and sent out to graze and rest for the night. There’s nothing more for me to do so I crawl back into my blankets and I’m out.” He put folded hands up alongside his head and closed his eyes in pretend sleep.
“Next morning it feels like I’ve got ants crawling on my face and I open my eyes to see one hell of a big horse sniffing my head and his whiskers are tickling me. It is a scary sight to have two thousand pounds of horse standing directly over the top of you. It’s just after sun up and I sat up to rub my eyes and that damn horse nickered at me like I was late for something.” The children burst out laughing. Marianna clapped her hands.
“When I walked into the kitchen for coffee, Amanda and Georgia are chattering away with Mrs. Bolton and Whelihan and everyone is laughing. As usual, I’m the late one to the party.”
“Turns out that Amanda and Georgia have a run to make up the hill. They know the folks up there fairly well. Amanda had told ‘Henry’, that’s one of the draft horses, to go wake me up. Well, he did. They all thought that was very funny. They didn’t know it almost stopped my heart.” Stolter put a hand over his heart for emphasis.
“Amanda thinks one of the folks living up on top of the mountain has a wheel that most likely will fit the stage. Will Farnum decided that he would help the girls get their wagons up the hill and take a look at that wheel. A wheel today is better than a wheel three days from now.”
“Now to watch these four big draft horses back themselves two by two up to that wagon was like watching those tall skinny ladies dance up on their toes to that fancy violin music. Amanda called out commands to her team of mares, Gemma and Goldie. Those horses trotted over to the wagons and sidled up to each other and then stepped back into the harness position.” Whelihan walked his fingers on the table to show the kids.
Stolter held up a hand. “Did I tell you that the girls have never used use bits and bridles? These horses are trained with halters only. Can you imagine trying to control a big horse like that without a bit and a bridle? Never mind.” Stolter waved a hand.
Whelihan said, “Earlier, I had helped lift down the big cross tie brace that the wagons use for a team of four. The girls normally do it all by themselves, but I was here and you know, I wanted to help out. Instead of taking an hour it only took about twenty minutes. These are heavy wagons so it takes all four horses to haul one at a time up the hill.”
“Since Amanda is now busy buckling all the straps to her mares, Georgia called out commands to her two geldings. Now, it’s plain to me that those mares aren’t too happy about having the geldings, Henry and Matthew, in front of them on the brace. There’s a lot of nickering and whinnying going on and several times Amanda and Georgia grab those faces and have words.” Whelihan laughed.
“It’s two miles up the track before the hill climb start and Will, Ginger and myself were walking along behind the first wagon and the girls are driving their teams along. Some of the switchbacks are short and sometimes the team has to be backed up so extras eyes are important.”
Stolter looked at Colton as he gestured walking horses with his hands. “Here is the interesting part. When Amanda and Georgia made the first run up the mountain, they discovered that a smaller freight wagon had made the trip with one horse and a light load. It was fairly easy but the wagon had to make multiple trips and it was rough on the horse. Amanda and Georgia wanted to carry more weight with a bigger wagon and with two horses. Road wasn’t big enough, wide enough and in places it was too steep.”
“Georgia’s father worked for the U.S. Army Corp Engineers when he was in uniform and she brought him out to see this hill climb. He fashioned a set of plows that angled the blades to the side to carve the inside edge of the road as the horses pulled it up the hill. For a month and making two trips each day, those girls, horses and plows widened that road so it would accommodate those bigger freight wagons. Also, the people who lived up on top had a much nicer road for their buggies and wagons.” Colton’s eyes were wide with excitement.
“So did you get the wheel?” Colton asked.
“Oh yes. The wheel was exactly what we needed. Farnum and Reg got it onto the stage once we got back down the hill.” Stolter nodded.
Marianna grinned and asked, “So these were the things you did in between rodeos. Did you ever see Amanda and Georgia again?”
Whelihan ran a hand back through his hair and scratched his head. “Oh yeah. We’ve seen then as far west as Denver and as far south as New Orleans. A lot of pianos come out of New Orleans because they come in on the freight barges from England. When you talk heavy freight those girls are usually the ones to handle it. They are still out there hauling everything you can think of.”
An hour later Stolter had carried a quilt and a lantern out to the barn where Whelihan had bedded down for the night.
Kelly struggled awake and sat up on the side of the bed. There was a faint light at the bottom of the stairs which meant her parents were awake still. There were voices coming from the back porch. She stood in the shadows of the kitchen doorway and listened to her father talk about taking a riding job with the stranger, Ginger Whelihan, out in the barn. Her father had been gone before in the past off on stock buying trips and to deliver horses. But it was her mother’s tone that worried Kelly.
Nick Stolter by Lee Anne Wonnacott / History & Fiction / Western / Thrillers & Crime have rating 3.5 out of 5 / Based on35 votes