The Land Made Him Hard
The Byrnes family came to Texas and carved out a place on the land. Three generations who paid in blood and treasure. Children carried off by Comanche. A brother lost to war. Lives shattered. Chet Byrnes was trying to hold the ranch together through one more winter for one more cattle drive when he hanged three horse thieves this side of the Red River--and a blood feud erupted. . .
The Future Made Him Fight
A family wants revenge--no matter how just the hangings were. From attacks on the Byrnes clan to the killing of livestock, the feud leads to one vicious murder--and then another. But amidst the violence and pain, a man who has seen his youth slip by is about to get one last chance at life and love. . .If only Chet can end the war he started. . .If only he can survive this land and the killers who want him dead--at any price. . .
"Nobody spins a better western tale. If you want to read how real cowboys lived and worked, then you must read a Dusty Richards novel." --Mike Kearby
"Dusty Richards writes a fast-moving story with the flavor of the real West." --Elmer Kelton
Author of over 85 novels, Dusty Richards is the only author to win two Spur awards in one year (2007), one for his novel The Horse Creek Incident and another for his short story "Comanche Moon". He is a member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and the International Professional Rodeo Association, and serves on the local PRCA rodeo board. Dusty is also an inductee in the Arkansas Writers Hall of Fame. He currently resides in northwest Arkansas.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The acrid smoke from the blazing live oak fire swirled around his batwing chaps when Chet picked up the branding iron. He headed across the pen for the bawling calf stretched out on the ground by Chet's cousins, Reg and J.D. Bending over, Chet stuck the hot iron to the calf's side, and it let out an ear-shattering bawl. Chet left a smoking — C on its hide. It was a good enough job of marking the animal. The letters stamped on the dogie had the color of dark saddle leather. Chet nodded for the two boys in their teens to turn the critter loose.
"You made a swell earmark on that one's ear," Chet said to them, then went back to the fire and set the iron's face back in the red-hot coals,
Chet's thirty-year-old brother, Dale Allen, came dragging in another protesting calf to the fire with his reata around the dogie's hind legs. The entire Byrnes clan busied themselves working cattle. Catching the late calves they'd missed in the spring, cutting the bulls, ear-notching, and branding 'em. There'd be plenty of fried mountain oysters for supper. The old man, Rock, and Dale Allen's oldest boy, Heck, held the herd on the flat. Good cool mid-October day to work them — and maybe the last screwworm flies had gone south for the winter. Not taking any chances, they painted all the surgical cuts with pine tar.
Chet made a note with a pencil in his logbook about the newest steer in the herd. "Steer — black, white spot on his neck right side — Summer 1872 crop." He kept the records on all the cattle in the herd. Shame someone else had had the "bar-B" brand in the Texas Brand Registry when his dad had sent off for it over thirty years earlier. C stood for Cooney, his grandfather's name on his mother's side. Grandpa Abe Cooney and Chet's father, Rock Byrnes, had brought their families out of Madison County, Arkansas, and settled in the Texas hill country on Yellow Hammer Creek twenty years before the war.
In those early years, the fierce Comanche made raids on them in the fall under every full moon. The Byrnes men farmed and worked cattle with loaded rifles and powder horns slung over their shoulders while they held plow handles or reins. Every night they slept lightly with their cap-and-ball pistols under their pillows. Womenfolks kept shotguns ready beside the front door, and the shutters on the windows at the rock house still bore the bullet holes and arrowheads embedded in them. Over the course of years in the long-running Comanche-Byrnes war, three of the Byrnes siblings were carried off by those red savages and never found or heard of again. Two boys and a girl. Keeping a life-long grudge, Chet's father, Rock, never saw an Indian, man or woman, he didn't stop and spit in their direction.
Chet checked the sun time and hollered at Dale Allen as he brought another calf up to the fire. "Better break for dinner after that one."
His brother nodded to him as the boys took control of the calf, and coiled up his rope. "About a dozen left to work in this bunch."
"Leave them in this trap. We'll get them out after dinner," Chet said as he fetched the book and pencil out of his shirt pocket.
"Good. I've got to fix my girth anyway," Dale Allen said, and headed for the shade of some spreading live oaks.
"Go ahead. We'll work the rest of them this afternoon," Chet said over his shoulder.
"Red heifer — scar on right leg — summer 1872 crop," he wrote in the tally. The two boys flanked the calf and Reg, seventeen, the older of the pair, notched her left ear on the underside. His fifteen-year-old brother painted it. Then they stretched the bawling critter between them for the branding.
"We're ready for you," Reg said.
Chet went for an iron and walked back to apply it. He glanced up to see someone coming. The firebrand was stamped on the calf's right side and the bitter smoke from the singed hair filled Chet's nose. He looked again at the rider driving in hard.
"It's Susie," Reg said, standing beside him. "Wonder what in the hell's wrong now."
"Rustlers!" she said, out of breath, and skidded the lathered bay to a sliding stop on his hind legs.
Chet ran over to his twenty-year-old sister. "Rustling what?"
"They took all the horses in the north pasture and headed out with them."
"In broad daylight?" Chet asked her in disbelief. What fools would do that?
"Yes, two hours ago. I had to wait for May to get back to watch the children. You know Mother can't do that."
He gave her a grave nod. His mother, Theresa, hadn't been right in her mind since the Comanch' took little Cagle. Then when those reds got the twins, Phillip and Josephine, she'd lost it all.
"Who was it?" he asked.
"I don't know for sure, but I think one of them was a Reynolds — I recognized his paint horse."
"What in the hell's going on?" Dale Allen asked, coming over on his stout roping horse from where he had been working on his saddle over at the side.
"Rustlers took our cavy out of the north pasture a couple of hours ago," Chet said. "You boys put out that fire. Reg, you go get Pa and Heck up here. Branding's over for today."
"Is May back?" Dale Allen asked about his wife as he sat on his fretting horse that circled around under him.
Susie nodded. "I had to wait for her to get back to watch Ma and the kids."
"They've got a big head start," Chet said. "But they can't race that many horses."
"They can sure scatter them from hell to breakfast." Dale Allen shook his head in disgust.
"Aw, they must be nuts," Chet said, the consuming anger firing his veins. "They sure as hell know we'll run them down."
"We won't standing here."
Chet heard his impatient brother's comment and tried to ignore it. When he could see Reg and two others riding up from the cowherd, he went for his mount. "Paw's coming with Heck. You tell them what's happened."
Damn, what next? About the time the Comanche had been run off that part of Texas, white rustlers had taken their place. There were close to sixty broke horses in that pasture, and Chet intended to use them on their cattle drive in the spring. No small investment, and one he could ill afford to lose — he had every intention of sending Dale Allen as the ramrod on this year's push north. Chet had been up there several times, and possessed no big urge to sit on a horse that long again. Besides, it was his brother's turn. Chet needed to gather up another herd for the following year — something he was better at than anyone else in the family. Most of it involved dealing with Messikins on the border. Any more the cattle available for them to drive north besides their own had to be bought up from deep in Mexico — those were the last remaining ones aside from them from the small outfits' assignments.
He tightened the cinch on his blue roan and threw a leg over, reining him back to the others. Even in the distance he could see how red Pa's face was over the news of the theft. The old man hated rustlers — red or white.
Waving his finger at all of them, the old man shouted, "I want them sons a bitches hung by the neck till they're dead."
"We'll catch 'em, Pa. We're headed for the house to get some grub, bedrolls, and rifles. They won't get away."
"Well, by Gawd, they've got a good head start —"
"Easy, you'll have your ticker all upset," Chet said, concerned about the old man's anger flaring up his heart again.
Pa spit to the side and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. "If I was ten years younger, I'd go after them by myself."
Chet nodded. From his boyhood, he recalled how the old man and a posse went to look for the abducted Cagle. When they returned empty-handed, Pa was never the same. But it was his last desperate trip five years later, looking for the twins as he pursued the Comanche, that hurt his heart so deeply. He hadn't been heard from for three months. Nothing to eat, nothing to drink for days. He'd returned broken down and demented from his relentless pursuit and coming up empty-handed. For months on end afterward, he never said a word, simply sat on the front porch in a rocker and stared off at nothing.
That year, Chet turned eighteen and began running the ranch, and had ever since. His brother, Dale Allen, younger by a year, would always stand back and let him do it all, too. Then Dale Allen would complain if it wasn't just right. The thing Chet regretted the most was that he'd never had time to be a boy — to ride off and see some new country, raise some hell, stake out a place of his own, his own brand, his own house, and even find a woman of his own like his brother had.
"Susie, you take Reg's fresh horse and he can ride that hot one back. Go home and get some food ready for us to take along and we'll be coming."
"How much?" she asked, stepping down and exchanging reins with the lanky boy.
"Oh, enough for a couple of weeks."
"I'll get the bedrolls out." She looked at him with the question of how many as she slipped into the saddle and pushed down her dress to cover her exposed knees.
"Three. Reg and J.D. are going along."
"But they're boys." Dale Allen frowned in disapproval.
"I need you here to run things." Chet knew he sounded sharp, but sometimes his brother needed the truth spelled out. "Pa can't go and your oldest boy's too young. We'll find them and deal out the justice that's needed."
"What'll Aunt Louise say about you taking them two after rustlers?"
"Maw'll say good riddance." Freckle-faced Reg grinned big at him.
"Like hell — you better think about this, Chet Byrnes," Dale Allen shouted after him.
Chet was already trotting his horse and a hundred feet ahead of the rest. He had thought it over and that was his answer. Dale Allen didn't like it, he could go stick his head in a pail of water. Chet ran the ranch. He jabbed spurs to the blue roan. Already out of sight, Susie was heading for the ranch house.
There was lots to do.CHAPTER 2
The two-story limestone house that Rock Byrnes first erected had grown into a fortress over the years. The huge wooden front gates had not been closed in a decade. A twelve-foot-high wall encircled the headquarters and inside the compound, the once-small two-story structure had festered into several connected residences, a bunkhouse, multiple corrals, pens, barns, a blacksmith shop, and a grain storage building. Two windmills filled the tank towers that provided water pressure to the faucets in the kitchen, the bathhouse, and the livestock tanks.
When Chet came in sight of the main house, Dale Allen's wife, May, stepped out on the porch wringing her hands in a tea towel. The short woman had lost most of her shine since the pudgy girl had married his brother a few years earlier as his second wife. Childbirth and having to oversee things with Susie had been a big chore for a town girl and banker's daughter who'd lived a sheltered life up until her marriage.
"What're you going to do?" May asked.
Everyone asked him that all the time. "Take two of the boys and go get them back."
"Reg and J.D. We'll need to be ready to leave in twenty minutes. When they ride in, you wave them in to eat lunch." He gave a head toss. They were a quarter mile behind him. "I'll get a packhorse and then be back."
"Why not get the sheriff?"
"They'll be in Kansas, May, before I could even tell him."
"Guess you're right. I'll get the boys fed and the food ready for the trip. Good thing we've got plenty of jerky."
"Thanks." He turned Blue toward the corrals and at the horse pen, dismounted to hitch him. He took a lariat off a post and shook it loose while walking to the gate. In the lot, the dozen horses threw up their heads from eating hay off the ground, and he picked out a stout black he knew would lead good. The bunch broke hard around the pen, and he raced on foot to head them off. Overhanded, he tossed the rope, and it settled over the black's head. Chet sunk his boot heels in the dirt and put on the brakes when the noose jerked tight.
Snorting and acting the part of a walleyed fool, Black shied from Chet like he was ready to plunge off as Chet came up the rope hand over hand. "Whoa, stupid."
He fashioned a halter and led the horse out. Dale Allen's six- and eight-year-old sons by his first wife Nancy, who had died in birthing the youngest, a girl, Rachel, sat on the top rail, watching it all. They rushed over to walk beside him to the barn.
"He's pretty spooky, ain't he, Uncle Chet?" Ray asked, acting grown- up and making his younger brother Ty stay up with him so the horse didn't step on him.
"He's full of boogers," Chet said.
"I got boogers, too," Ty said.
Chet frowned at him, and the younger one put his finger up his nose and then showed him the results.
"You sure do." Chet jerked hard on the lead to settle Black down, then tied him high in a ring on the wall and went into the tack room for the packsaddle and pads.
"What's that smell in here?" Ty asked, sniffing the rich odors.
"Saddle soap and neat's-foot oil." Chet stepped around them with his arms full of a cross-buck saddle and pads. He put blankets on and talked the whole time to settle Black down. Then he looked around for the boys. "Stay there, fellas, he's still kinda wild."
"May says we're wild."
"Hush up, Ty. Uncle Chet don't need to know all that."
Chet paused and frowned at them. "Maybe I do. What's she been telling you boys?"
Ty gave his older brother a two-handed shove. "She did, too."
"Aw, she was just in one of them crying moods. She never meant it, she told us later."
"Did so. Said she wished the Co-manches would get us — we was so wild."
Ray shook his head in disgust over his younger brother's disclosure. "May's got them two babies and that's lots. Paw said we got to be nicer to her."
"I'm glad you're trying to be nice to her," Chet said, untying the lead rope.
"Yeah, we don't want her to get like Grandma," Ray said.
"Yes," Chet said, a little heartsick at the words coming from an eight- year-old. "Let's go to the house."
"Can we ride him?"
"Boys, I'd love that but he's still pretty high. Might throw you."
"We understand. Maybe you can find us a pony we can ride."
"You wasn't supposed to ask him for that." Ty put his hands to his mouth over his older brother's transgression.
"We won't tell on him and I'll look for a good one." Chet hitched the black at the rack with the other horses in front of the yard gate. "We better get washed up. Looks like they're eating without us."
"Okay. Uncle Chet," Ty said, and they hurried for the washbasins on the porch.
He waited for them to wash up. Susie appeared in the doorway and set an armload of bedrolls on the stone floor. She clapped her hands together. "May's about got the foodstuff in the panniers."
"Thanks, hate to leave the place in so few hands —"
"We'll make it. I hope you can get the horses back."
He nodded. They had to.
After the meal, Chet first made a quick check of all they were taking along. Coffee, jerky, beans, salt pork, lard, flour, saleratus, sugar, raisins, and dried apples. A small Dutch oven, coffeepot, and skillet, plus big spoons, spatula, tin cups, plates, silverware, and a few towels. Matches, some candles — three extra shirts. And plenty of hemp rope. He and Reg carried the panniers out and hung them on the packsaddle. Dale Allen threw on the bedrolls, and then he put the canvas tarp over it all.
Susie brought out the three .44/40 Winchesters and two boxes of shells. J.D. put the rifles in the saddle scabbards on each horse and the cartridges in Chet's saddlebags.
"Tell Louise when she gets back from Mason, the boys've gone with me and we'll be back in a couple of days," Chet said to Susie. "Keep watch. No telling what'll happen next."
"Don't let them filthy savages get you boys," Theresa screeched from the doorway, and clawed the air like a cat with her arthritis-deformed hands. "They all should have been drowned as pups. My Gawd, I'd've held each one of them under the water myself."
"Now Mother, get hold of yourself." Susie guided her back inside. "They ain't going after Comanches, just rustlers."
"They took Cagle — they took my twins —"
Rock sat in the cane rocker and nodded his head. "If I was ten years younger —"
In the saddle, Chet looked down at Dale Allen. "Hold her together. We'll be back shortly."
"Watch out for them boys."
"I will — you go fishing with yours."
"Why?" Dale Allen blinked at him in astonishment.
"They need some fathering — since Nancy died you ain't been much of one, I'm afraid."
Dale Allen nodded in surrender. "They remind me too much of her, I guess. But I will."
"See you all," Chet said, and the three of them, leading the packhorse, rode out of the compound for the north pasture in a long trot.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Texas Blood Feud"
Copyright © 2009 Dusty Richards.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.