As Civil War bloodies the nation’s ground, Texas Rangers Harp and Long John O’Malley patrol a vast, unguarded range, picking off the brutal Comanche while protecting the families of soldiers off fighting at the front.
Bullet by bullet the O’Malleys distinguish themselves as two of the bravest gunfighters to ever wear the Ranger’s star. At war’s end, the Rangers are disbanded, but Harp and Long John are not through fighting yet. They sign on with a cattle drive that will take them across the most treacherous and deadly stretch of the American frontier: the long trail from Texas to Sedalia. Beset by ruthless enemies inside and outside the camp, Harp and Long John aim dead straight for the future—where a great ranching fortune awaits back in a Texas they will change forever.
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Harper rode a red roan horse his father said was a Comanche buffalo-hunting pony. The powerful former stallion they'd neutered to save fighting with, as a stud was a tough enough horse. Harp, as his brother Long called him, felt comfortable he had the steed to carry him to Sedalia, Missouri. Both boys were wearing new shirts their mother made from pillow ticking material. She said it was the best material to last for the drive.
The memory of the tears on his mother's beautiful face still stabbed at Harp, but both he and Long were going north for good or bad. He reset the .30-caliber Colt in the holster on his hip. His father said the revolver was a plenty big enough hand gun, plus he could put five of the five bullets in a bouncing tin can with it, and with a larger gun he would need lots more practice to be that accurate with it. The lever-action Spencer rifle under his right leg was another weapon he knew all about. Stirrup to stirrup he rode beside his brother Long, headed for Captain Greg's ranch. They were going to be grown-ups soon and people would have to accept them as men.
"Long, what do you think Missouri will be like?"
"Mother said they've got more rain and the trees were bigger than Texas. I want to see them."
"What about those big rivers we have to cross?"
His older brother shrugged as if they'd be nothing. "We can swim. Lots of Texas boys sure can't do that."
"You reckon those cows can swim?"
Long shook his head. "There ain't a cow in the whole lot of them. They're all steers."
"Ah, you know what I meant."
"Yeah, I bet them steers naturally know how to swim."
Harp agreed and vowed he'd never say cows again. Among real cowhands he might sound dumb. Last thing that he wanted to happen was for anyone to think he was a dumb farm boy. They rode on to Greg's Bar 87 Ranch that day.
The place was abuzz with activity. They dismounted at the headquarters office. A man with a quirley in his mouth came out onto the large step. "You boys are the O'Malley brothers?" "Yeah, where do you want us?" Long asked.
"The herd is two miles west. Report to Matt Simons. You've got bedrolls and war bags?"
"That's what they told us to bring," Harp said, patting them tied on behind his cantle.
"Good. Some boys coming ain't got nothin'. You guys been around cattle, Simon needs both of you to hold them steers in a herd."
With everything said, the two O'Malleys turned their horses and rode west.
Harp heard the cattle bawling long before they rode out of the cedars into the meadow. Most were grazing and bawling between bites of grass. Their incisive loud calls hurt his ears, but like it or not he knew he'd hear them clear to Missouri. Several mounted herders on hard steering horses were trying to keep them contained in the large meadow. They found a rider about their age and asked him where the boss was.
He waved them north and took off after another wild steer headed for the brush. The horse the boy rode didn't look up to the job noted Harp. In disgust he shook his head and his brother agreed by making a disapproving face after the rider.
They found Simons. An older man with gray sideburns who greeted them and told them to unload their bedrolls and things in the second canvas-covered wagon. He had watched them ride in. "I am damn sure glad some real cowboys got here. When you get your things put up, I am going to split you two up. Harp, go right?"
"Go help them, boys. I'll send some replacements later. Long, you ride north. Those boys up there are not cattle-wise at all. They ask, you tell them I said both of you are in charge and you tell them what they must do to keep them cattle together."
"Are there some better horses for them to ride?" Harp asked him, pained about the mounts they had seen so far.
Simons shook his head. "Not many of them."
"If Mr. Greg's going to herd these cattle very far, he better find some." Harp shook his head in concern and parted with his brother.
Harp spent the rest of the day keeping the herd quitters in the large meadow. His buffalo horse could work circles around the mounts the rest of them rode. By late afternoon they finally had them settled down some. The steers were mostly lying down and chewing their cuds when Simons brought some fresh hands on more horses not ever used before for herding. Harp noted that about the mounts the moment they rode up.
"How did it go, Harp?" Simons asked him.
"None of them got away since I got up here, but if I didn't have Comanche here, I couldn't have held them."
"Simons, ain't there any trained horses like his?" a boy named Carl asked him.
"What you're riding is what we've got."
Carl dropped his head. "Man, you'll have a real mess coming when we hit the trail."
"Harp, you get some supper and a fresh horse. I'm putting you in charge of the night guard."
"Sir? How many men do I have to do that?"
"Oh, five or six. Why?"
"Will they all come in for supper?" Harp asked him, concerned how he'd meet them and figure it all out.
"Who will watch the herd?" Simons asked.
Harp pushed his lathered horse in closer. "Some need to sleep. How will I set up that order?"
"I guess ride by and tell them who stays and who goes to supper."
Harp had no idea how many men were even working on containing the herd. He told two to stay in that group and four to go eat supper and report to him when he got to camp. On the north side he found Long on his sweaty horse still busy working his section of the herd.
"How many guys are working here?"
"Why?" Long set his using horse down beside Harp.
"I am in charge of the night riders."
Long looked at him in disbelief. "How did you get that job?"
"Brother, I don't know that I want it, but I have it. Hell, Simons just handed me the job. Now you choose two to stay and tell them I will send replacements in a little while. The rest need to go get supper. They must report to me in camp. Meanwhile I'll start a list."
Long narrowed his dark eyes at his brother. "Good thing. He'd handed that job to me, I'd have shoved it up his ass."
"Long, that ain't no way to work for a man. I can see there is going to be lots more to this trip than I thought about as being our problems."
Warily, Long shook his head. "All the damn cheap horses in Texas and the boys have the scraps."
"You're right, brother, but now I need to make a list and figure this herd guard business out."
They had boiled beans for supper in camp. No bread, no dessert. Harp took an instant dislike to the grubby-whiskered guy named Chester doing the cooking. He had the list of the hands named on a tablet.
Randy Hamilton Chadron Turner Chaw Michaels Darvon Studdy Red Culver Carl Kimes Eldon Morehouse Kevin Doones Norm Savoy Doug Pharr Long O'Malley Harp O'Malley
Simons had gone somewhere, the camp cook told him, seated on a log and smoking another quirley. Harp was busting to ask him what was coming for breakfast after the sorry showing that he served that evening, but he kept the matter to himself. He did take the alarm clock, wound it, and set it for three hours to get his next shift out on time. Simons must have gone to town. No sight of him. Harp felt a little like he'd been abandoned. In an effort to make sure he had help, he'd saved the last shift for himself, Long, and Chaw, the only other real cowboy in his book.
The herd didn't run off, and dawn saw them back in camp for some watery oatmeal — nothing else. When he assigned the crew to go ride herd, they all were disgruntled about the food. No Simons at noon, either. More plain brown beans for lunch.
"Harp, we're going to have to move them steers. They've eaten or shit on all the grass up there," Chaw told him, hunkered down on some run-over boot heels, making frowns at each spoonful of beans he shoveled into his mouth.
"I know it's bad food. I'll try and do something about it."
"I'd like to go north but I ain't going on this crap." Chaw rapped the metal plate with his spoon.
"Stay tight; I'm saddling up and going to where they hired us and ask some questions. If things aren't fixed, Long and I won't be staying, either."
Chaw nodded. "I'm with you two."
Harp saddled Comanche and rode back to Greg's outfit. No one was around and so he dismounted at the yard gate. A nice-looking woman in a blue dress came to the door. "May I help you?"
"Yes, ma'am, is Mr. Greg here?"
"No, he's gone to town on business. What's wrong?"
"You expect him back pretty soon?"
"Not very soon. Is something wrong?"
"Ma'am, I hate to worry you, but I was put in charge of the cattle drive, and the cook they hired is lazy and — ah, well — as sorry an excuse for one as I've ever seen. I haven't seen the boss in twenty-four hours, and the boys are beginning to get upset. I guess cowboys are worth about two bits today, but he might miss them when they all leave. And besides we've run out of grass for the steers and need to move them."
"What is your name?"
"Harp O'Malley, ma'am."
"I've met your mother — Easter?"
"Well, she should be proud of you. You could explain all that and not cuss once."
He smiled, amused. "I know better than that, ma'am."
She straightened her shoulders. "Harp, I'm sending Emory, the minute he gets back, over to the herd. You will have results when he gets there."
"I didn't come to upset you."
"You didn't. But Emory will be displeased when he hears all that is happening."
Harp tipped his weather-worn felt hat and remounted his horse. On the trip back he short-loped him. Long cut him off short of camp. "You do any good?"
"Emory Greg is coming. Why?"
"Your boss come back drunk as a skunk. Asked where you were. I told him tending steers."
"Where's he now?"
"Snoring in his bedroll."
"I spoke to Greg's wife. He was in town on business. I mentioned the cook, the feed, and the men to her. The man who sent us up here was nowhere around."
Long made a scowl. "What did she say?"
"She said Greg'd be here when he got back."
"You reckon he will?"
Harp nodded, looking over the camp for Simons.
"He's over in the shade." Long pointed him out.
"Let him sleep." He dismounted and undid his saddle.
Scratching his belly, the cook came over. "The boss wondered where the hell you were, boy?"
"I don't work for you. Mind your own damn business."
"When he's not here I'm in charge." Chester rapped his chest with his fist, and in Harp's opinion that was a challenge. Without a word Harp stepped in and knocked the cook on his ass in a onetwo punch. Chester never saw his fists coming until they struck him. Spilled on his ass, Harp pointed at him. "Load your gear and get the hell out of here."
"You can't fire me."
But then there were six cowboys with sticks in their hands backing up Harp. Chaw stepped in. "You heard Harp. We've had enough of your bad cooking. Load your ass up or we're lynching you, mister."
Chester took the hint, loaded his stuff in a tow sack — cussing under his breath — and left. Harp told three of the boys to wash the cooking utensils, rinse, and dry them while he mixed flour and baking powder. Long greased a Dutch oven for him. Carl had a sharp hunting knife he washed and then sliced bacon. Norm ground some beans for coffee. Another hand put on the water to boil, and they all acted like they were relieved at last to have that nasty cook gone.
"There's some dry apples and bugs in the supplies, will that make something sweet?"
Harp had Norm looking for supplies. Harp answered him, "Yeah, we can make something. Long, grease another Dutch oven for us to bake it in."
The baking powder, he hoped, would work in his dough. Some of his mother's own sour dough starter would be better, but they didn't have much choice in this case. The beans were almost boiled. Carl's bacon was frying. Using some of the grease, Harp was frying some chopped onions in a big skillet.
Long was tending the biscuits in the Dutch oven and the second one with Norm's slurry of dry apples, raisins, flour, sugar, water, and baking powder. Things were going all right in Harp's opinion. They took a break for some good coffee, and everyone stood around looking smug. He had his list of hands to replace the herders after they ate. Maybe the captain would get there shortly.
The biscuits worked, but in his case he decided his mother's were lots better. The fried onions and crisp bacon made the beans tolerable, and Norm's dessert wasn't café fine but they bragged on it. The herders coming in reported the herd was becoming more upset without much to eat. Those boys could hardly believe they'd run off the cook and had some real food. They were soon bragging on the grub when Captain Greg arrived.
He stepped off his horse and motioned to Harp. "What's going on up here?"
"We planned to wait for you, but we run off the cook and cooked ourselves supper."
"Anna said you told her he wasn't very good. Where is Simons?"
"Sleeping it off over there."
"Looks like you've handled it, Harp. What else?" "We need to move the steers to better grass, and most of these horses are junk."
Greg chuckled. "Where should we go with the cattle?"
"North I guess. They're out of feed here," Harp said.
"We better ride up there and find a place in the morning."
Harp nodded. "We can do that. You have a lead steer?" "No. Do we need one?"
Harp took off his hat. "Captain Greg, I wouldn't move that many cattle a mile without one."
"Emory is my name. I am certain I can find one. Can we move them to grass without one?"
"We can do about anything needed, but we will sure need a lead steer to go all the way to Missouri."
"I will find one. Now about the horses? These were all that I could find."
"They lied to you. My dad could find you some. These ones the boys are using are a sorry bunch."
"I know where your dad lives. He's got a lead steer, too, I bet."
"He does but he might not sell him."
"Can you and these boys move this bunch for me tomorrow?"
"What about Simons?"
"I'm going to fire him. You're the man in charge, Harp."
"So it's okay that we run off that dirty old man that only cooked beans and made watery oatmeal?"
"You done right. I don't blame you, and I am sure I can find a cook somewhere. You will have to handle it until then."
"We can do that. And there's some open country we can graze north of here. I just hope we can move them up there."
"On Liar's Creek?"
"I know you can handle the men, the cooking, and move those steers north."
Harp had another point he needed to make. "Fine. One more thing. The food wagon's okay, but that one other sorry wagon you bought won't even make it to Fort Worth."
"I'll find a wagon to replace it."
"Good. We can handle the rest." Harp folded his arms while Greg walked over and nudged the sleeping Simons with his boot. "Simons! Get your ass up. You're fired."
"Huh?" Blinking and sitting up, he still looked drunk to Harp.
"You're fired," Greg said.
"Why you —"
"Don't say anything. I may kill you. If it hadn't been for these boys here I might have lost my herd."
On his feet, Simons wasn't even steady, but by then Greg was on his horse. Mounted, he said, "Get the hell out of my camp."
Simons went off grumbling and cursing all of them. Harp ignored him, talked to the men about the night shifts and moving the cattle. His plans included for Long to ride up early to look over the way north to the open country where he wanted to move the herd to starting in mid- morning. Things were set and they were all laughing over their success at shaping up the outfit while they finished off Norm's dessert.
Harp shook his head, thinking about all the things he had to do if this job continued. Going to be a helluva drive to ever get this shirttail outfit to Missouri.
Sun rose. Long and Carl Kimes rode out, eating some leftover biscuits, to find some grass north of the site. Harp headed up the crew, making flapjacks and homemade syrup with coffee for the men. The five cowboys who rode out to replace the night guard and keep the cattle in the herd were promised breakfast relief before they had to begin the move. Things were getting done.
Two hours later Long and Carl were back. The first riders sent out were back to eat breakfast and were warned they'd not have lunch due to the day's work ahead. In a quick huddle Harp made the two scouts his point riders and sent them back to get the move started. Two guys in camp were going to wash the dishes, load the wagons, and move to the new location. Harp put a slender boy, Holy Wars, who'd showed lots of horse sense, in charge of the horse herd. He had the draft animals harnessed and would help them get to the new site. Holy Wars would bring along his remuda, too.
Excerpted from "The O'Malleys of Texas"
Copyright © 2017 Dusty Richards.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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