©2014-Thomas C. Dugas (e m a i l)
The bacon started to sizzle in the pan as the smoke curled towards the ceiling. Dobe bent over the heavy wood table and sliced a few more strips off the side of cured pork belly. Plenty enough for him and Manny for their simple breakfast he thought. He moved the slab of meat off to the side and made a mental note to return it to the smokehouse after breakfast.
Dobe’s eyes were focused on the wall behind the old woodstove as he waited for the meal to finish cooking. A long ride ahead was what he was thinking.
Hoof steps outside the door announced the arrival of Manny with their two saddled horses. Dobe slid the bacon and fried eggs into the scarred blue plates and set them on the table. He returned to the woodstove for the coffee pot and then sat at the table, filling both tin cups to the brim with steaming liquid. Manny walked in and sat across from Dobe. He bowed his head for a few moments, crossed himself and looked Dobe in the eye and said “Gracias Senor Grant.” Dobe returned the look with a slight nod.
With no further words, both men began to eat. In minutes both were finished. Dobe and Manny transferred their dishware to the nearby sink and Dobe said “Manny, let’s go.” Both men turned and walked out the small adobe ranch house silently. Dobe looked at the breaking dawn, still another hour away. Without any further hesitation, Dobe swung up into his saddle and turned the frisky roan towards the trail that led South off the Pea Patch…the shortest route into Mexico. Dobe didn’t bother looking back, he knew the chances of his safe return were fairly low and his mind was set on the serious business that lay ahead.
His mind returned to the previous night as he stood before the old suitcase he had dragged in from the hiding place on the ranch. Inside were a collection of handguns that Dobe thought of as his working pistols. A hard rubber gripped Colt 1873 Peacemaker in 45 Colt was the first pistol he removed from the case. The bluing was still strong along the 5 ½” barrel, but the high points showed honest wear in the 18 years since Dobe had acquired it. He opened the gate, checked the action, gently lowered the hammer and then placed it on a nearby table. Rolled up in the case was an old leather gun belt. The loops were empty, but the belt was clean and the leather well cared for. Dobe placed it next to the Colt on the table. He stopped for a moment and stared into the case and then abruptly removed a cloth wrapped bundle. Opening it revealed another Colt Single Action, also in 45 Colt, but with a slightly shorter barrel. He placed it next to the first Colt. Closing the case he turned to the bench and began cleaning both pistols. After quickly disassembling them, he cleaned each carefully before putting them back together. A quick function check revealed both were in perfect working order. The shorter 4 ¾” Colt felt familiar in his hand. Dobe raised his arm up and sighted along the top of the frame and the front blade neatly covered a dark spot on the wall across the room. The front sight didn’t waver. The hammer fell on an empty chamber.
Finished with his cleaning ritual, Dobe reached up to an overhead shelf and removed two heavy plain boxes. Their end flaps carried the simple scrawl “45 Hand loads.” Dobe opened the first box and began loading the gun belt loops one at a time with the big lead bullets. He picked up the short Colt and gently moved the hammer two clicks back and opened the loading gate. Loading one round, he skipped the next hole and then loaded the next four. He moved the hammer to full cock and then lowered the hammer on the empty chamber. He repeated this ritual with the other Colt. The longer of the two slid into the holster and Dobe dogged the loop of leather over the hammer spur. The other Colt went inside a small leather saddlebag. Dobe paused for a minute and then returned to the small closet that held his other firearms. Reaching inside he quickly found what he was looking for, the Winchester 1894 rifle that his father had purchased in 1902 on a trip to Amarillo. Dobe rarely had a need for the long barreled arm, but this was one of those times that called for it. He quickly checked the rifle over and was satisfied with it. He walked back to the bench and laid the rifle on the rough boards. He reached up to the shelf and removed two boxes marked “.30WCF” and both went into the saddlebag.
Dobes’ mind returned to the present and he shifted in the saddle, getting comfortable for the long ride ahead. Following a few horse lengths behind, Manny watched Dobe as they moved through the scrub brush on the ranch. Off to his left Manny heard a calf bawling for its mother, ready for breakfast. Manny’s eyes returned to the trail that was getting easier to see as the dawn broke.
Dobe had not spoken as to the reason for the sudden trip. Manny was cleaning the hooves of one of the ranch horses the previous evening when he looked up and saw Dobe standing near him by the gate to the corral. As soon as Manny made eye contact Dobe simply said “Manny, tomorrow morning at first light I’m leaving for Mexico. If you’re of a mind to, I’d like you to come along for the first part of the trip.” Manny had not hesitated and said “Si, Dobe, I will come.” Without another word, Dobe turned and walked back to the small adobe ranch house and went inside. Manny didn’t need to be told which horses to prepare. He knew Dobe would want the big gray roan, and he would ride “Loco” his favorite saddle horse. Manny walked over to the saddle rack and started preparing the tack they would need for the trip. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Dobe exit the house and disappear into the sage brush. About 15 minutes later Dobe returned to the house carrying a dusty leather satchel. Manny knew then and there this was no ordinary trip. Dobe only kept one thing in those cases scattered about the ranch. The guns he didn’t want to lose and the ones he trusted the most.
Both men rode in silence for the new few hours, needing few words to communicate as they moved through the range that kept Dobes’ cows fed. Near noon Dobe spotted a windmill and watering tank that marked the spot he’d been riding towards. Soon they rode up under the shelter of a cottonwood tree and tied off the horses. Manny removed the saddles and Dobe quickly started a small fire. Walking over to the stock tank Dobe filled the blackened coffee pot with fresh well water and returned set it on a flat rock near the fire. Manny brought up a small cloth sack that held deer jerky and both men stretched out beneath the shade of the tree. It wasn’t as hot as Dobe thought it would be, a front had passed though the South Texas area the previous night and it brought with it cooler temperatures and small isolated rainstorms. The area they were in had missed the rain, but benefitted from the cooler temperatures.
After their simple meal, both men dozed in the heat of the day while the hobbled horses nibbled the sparse grass.
Dobe woke with a start about an hour later. He didn’t like sleeping during the day, but they needed to cross the border at night and Dobe knew they would be riding most of the night to put plenty of distance behind them. The horses needed to be fresh for the ride ahead, so he wasn’t pushing them hard. Dobe didn’t want to linger near the border, he knew from experience the best way to cross into Mexico was to cross at night, and then move quickly into the interior. Dobe wanted to be twenty miles from the border before dawn. That was his plan.
Dobe stood and stretched out the kinks in his back as Manny did the same. Manny moved off to saddle the horses while Dobe packed their camp gear back into the old saddlebags. Dobe kicked dirt over the fire and strapped on his gun belt. He lifted the Colt out of its holster and gave it a quick check. Everything was fine and he returned the revolver to its normal place and lifted the thong over the hammer.
Soon both men were back in the saddle and moving South again at a steady gait. The landscape was beginning to change slightly and Dobe noted they were less than fifteen miles from the Rio Grande River, the crossing Dobe was aiming for. Dobe wanted to be in a certain spot about four miles from the river before sundown. He knew from experience that they were right on schedule to arrive when he wanted. Dobe lifted his hat and wiped his forehead with his sleeve, and placed the hat back on. He gently tapped the big roan in the flank and the horse picked up the pace just a bit.
Manny saw Dobe urge his horse on and wondered why the old rancher was in a hurry. Plenty enough time to figure it out.
To be continued...