Standard Fanfic Disclaimer that wouldn't last ten seconds in a court of law. These aren't my characters. Based on characters and situations from Go, Go, Gophers and Magnificent Seven . I've borrowed them for, um, er, typing practice. Yeah, that's it, typing practice. I will return them to their original copyright holders relatively unharmed (or at least suitably bandaged). This story was originally published in the fanzine Let's Ride #17, published by Neon Rainbow Press.
Out West in Gopher Gulch
Go, Go Gophers/Magnificent Seven
by Susan M. M.
Author's Note: Go, Go, Gophers was a cartoon in the '60s, not politically correct by 21st century standards. The Indians were gophers, the colonel was a coyote, and the sergeant was a bear. All other characters were human. (Think of Underdog, where none of the people ever seemed to notice that Underdog and Sweet Polly Purebred were dogs.) For the purposes of this story, please imagine Chris as a wolf, Vin as a cougar, Buck as a billy goat, Josiah as a bear, Ezra as a fox, JD as a Boston Terrier, and Nathan as a raven. Or else imagine the colonel, the sergeant, and the two Gopher Indians as humans; it works either way. Running Board spoke stereotypical broken English worse than Tonto's. Ruffled Feather understood English perfectly, but spoke only Gopher as a matter of principle.
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"I was once told by a poultry farmer," Ezra Standish raised his voice to be heard above the rain and wind, "that turkeys would stand out in the rain and look up to see what was falling down upon them from the heavens."
"That so?" J. D. Dunne asked, more to be polite than because he was honestly interested.
"The turkeys, so he told me, would stand there in the yard, looking up at the rain, and drown." Ezra sighed melodramatically. "Mr. Larabee, I have no desire to emulate a turkey."
Chris Larabee, as usual, said nothing.
"We're all cold and wet, old son," Buck Wilmington said. "Complaining about it ain't gonna make it no warmer or dryer."
"Neither will suffering in stoic silence," Ezra bit back.
Vin Tanner chuckled softly.
Chris glanced back, peeking at the tracker. One eyebrow rose. Although the ex-bounty hunter was illiterate, he generally seemed the most amused by Ezra's sesquipedalian vocabulary ... and he seldom asked for translations anymore.
"Should be close to shelter," Josiah Sanchez said in a conciliatory tone. "Army has a fort not too far from here."
"Wet as we are, might do better taking shelter from the navy instead of the army," Nathan Jackson joked.
"As much as it pains my Confederate soul to admit, to escape this downpour I would be grateful even to Union troops," Ezra allowed, his southern accent stronger than usual.
"War's over, Ez," Chris reminded him. He was the leader of the seven critters who guarded Four Corners, a cattle town in the Arizona territory. Seven more unlikely souls never formed a team. Only in the wild west would seven such disparate critters even meet, let alone become friends. Chris Larabee, a gunslinger. Ezra Standish, a cardsharp and confidence trickster. Vin Tanner, ex-bounty hunter, ex-tracker, ex-buffalo hunter. JD Dunne, a city pup who'd read too many dime novels. Buck Wilmington, a wrangler who'd yet to meet a filly he didn't like. Nathan Jackson, ex-slave and self-taught healer. Josiah Sanchez, a missionary's son who believed in God but not in religion. They had just followed some bandits from Four Corners to Rattlesnake Springs. After burying the ones they'd shot and turning the rest over to the local marshal for a fair trial before their hanging, Chris and his critters were on their way home. Of course, they'd be making much better time if the skies weren't doing their darnnedest to drown them.
They reached the top of a small rise. Vin pointed down. "Yonder's the fort." He rode down the hill. The others followed as quickly as they dared, given the condition of the terrain.
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"Hello the fort," Chris called out.
"Who goes there?"
Chris nodded at JD.
"The sheriff of Four Corners and posse," JD announced.
"What do you want?"
"To get out of the rain, what do you think, you blamed fool," Chris retorted.
"This Sgt. Homa's fort?" Josiah asked.
"Well, tell him if you don't let us in, he ain't gonna get the five dollars I owe him," Josiah warned.
"Best let 'em in, Wilson, or the sergeant'll take that five dollars out of your pay," another voice called out.
"Sure would 'preciate it if you hurried, boys. I'm wetter than a duck's belly," Buck complained.
Impatiently, the seven peacekeepers listened to the sound of wood scraping against metal as the bar was lifted and tossed aside. The gate opened slowly, just wide enough for one horse and rider to enter at a time. A few minutes later, they were shuffled over to the colonel's office, still dripping wet.
Ezra frowned as he read aloud the sign over the door. "Col. Kit Coyote." The normally loquacious gambler fell silent. He unobtrusively drifted to the back of the group.
Two soldiers waited for them in the office: a big bear of a sergeant and a short, rotund colonel.
"I say, I say! What's going on here?" Col. Coyote demanded.
The trooper escorting them saluted. "Strangers, sir. Claimed they knew the sergeant."
Sgt. Okey Homa looked up. "Josiah Sanchez! Well, as I live and breathe!"
Josiah stuck out a wet paw and shook hands. "Good to see you again, Okey."
"Sergeant, who are these people?" Col. Coyote demanded.
"The sheriff of Four Corners and his posse, sir," the trooper reported.
"This here's an old friend of mine, Colonel. Josiah Sanchez," the sergeant introduced him at the same time as the trooper spoke.
Col. Coyote stepped up to Chris. Although he did not wear a badge, the tall blond oozed authority. "Well, a pleasure to meet you , sir. How may we be of assistance to the local lawmen?"
"Chris Larabee," he introduced himself. "But I ain't the sheriff. He is." He jerked a thumb at JD.
"JD Dunne." He stepped forward from the stove. "Glad of your hospitality, Colonel. All we need is a dry place to spend the night, and a chance to rest our horses."
The colonel's eyes widened at the thought of this young pup as the sheriff of Four Corners. "You're the sheriff?"
"That's right. Just took care of the Caracol Gang, and now we're heading home," JD replied.
Josiah whispered into the sergeant's ear: "Nobody else wanted the job."
Sgt. Okey Homa chuckled quietly.
Col. Coyote glanced at Ezra. "Don't I know you, sir?"
"I don't think so, sir." His southern accent was erased from his speech. He sounded like a midwesterner. "I'm sure I'd remember meeting a distinguished gentleman like you."
The colonel puffed up like a peacock, taking the flattery as his due. His colleagues threw suspicious glances at Ezra, but the colonel didn't notice.
"Iffen the colonel was of a mind to be hospitable, we got some empty bunks in Barracks 2," the sergeant suggested.
"Be grateful for a dry corner," Buck admitted. "It's gone past coming down in buckets out there. I think the clouds are dumping the water out by wheelbarrows."
"The rain will be ending soon. The culprits responsible are locked up in the guardhouse," Col. Coyote announced, "and will not be released until the rain stops."
"You got rain clouds locked up in your guardhouse?" Chris asked disbelievingly.
"Not rain clouds. Rain dancers," the colonel corrected. "Indian rain dancers."
Josiah had spent two years studying native spirituality with a Cherokee shaman in his youth. He had spent many hours discussing beliefs and superstitions with both the Apache Ko-je and the Seminole Tastanagi. "Um, a rain dance don't make it rain. It's just our Red brothers' way of attracting the spirits' attention so they can ask for rain."
"You underestimate the aborigine, Mr. Sanchez. The savage is not intelligent, but he is cunning. And uncanny, yes, uncanny." Col. Coyote quoted, "More things in Heaven and Earth than in Horace's philosophy, what?"
Ezra started to open his mouth, then shut it again. Chris bit back a grin. He could tell that Ezra, who loved showing off his book-learning, was just itching to correct the colonel's misquotation. But for some reason he was trying to avoid attention, and he didn't dare speak up.
"With the colonel's permission, I'll take these fellers over to the barracks and get 'em settled," the sergeant prompted.
"What? Oh, yes, yes," the colonel gave his permission. "Carry on."
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As the others followed the sergeant to the barracks, Vin slipped away in the shadows and went over to the guardhouse. He eased the door open slowly. It was a small building, just an outer office, barely large enough for a desk, and two cells. A guard leaned over the desk, snoring quietly. One cell was empty. The other held two Indians, the shortest Indians Vin had seen in quite a while.
Vin touched his hat. "Evening."
The two looked up. Both wore long leather tunics and beaded necklaces. One wore a chief's headdress. The other wore a leather headband with a single bent feather.
"Who you?" asked the chief.
"Ugga wug uh," the other said.
Vin laughed. "A scarecrow that fell off a boat into the river and then swum three miles? Well, I reckon so. It's coming down mighty hard out there. Name's Vin Tanner."
"Me Running Board," the chief pointed to himself, then to his friend, "him Ruffled Feather. You speak-um Gopher?"
Vin nodded. "Spent some time with Chief Carries-a-Grudge's tribe, when I weren't much more'n a boy."
"Carries-a-Grudge? Him cousin's husband!" Running Board thought a minute. "Him told me about white boy stay with his tribe. Eyes-Like-a-Hawk. That you?"
Vin nodded. "That's what Chief Carries-a-Grudge used to call me. What y'all doing here? That colonel said y'all brought the rain and he was keepin' ya locked up 'til ya made it stop."
"Ugga wug huh ugh," Rumpled Feather explained.
Vin grinned. "Yer tents were leakin', so ya fooled the colonel into lockin' ya up in a nice, dry guardhouse? Iffen that don't beat all."
"Colonel, him easy to fool," Running Board said.
"What ya gonna do when the rain stops? Gen'rally does, sooner or later," Vin pointed out.
"Colonel say him send us to reservation with other Gophers," Running Board said. "But we no go to reservation."
"Ugga bugga," Rumpled Feather explained.
"Gonna escape? Need any help?"
Both Indians shook their heads.
"No, thanks," Running Board said.
"Unga bluh," Rumpled Feather added.
"Done it afore, uh? Ya'll need to tell me the tale sometime." Vin touched a finger to his hat. "Wugga ah."
"Good night" and "Wugga ah" the two echoed as Vin left the guardhouse. He walked, silent as a shadow, to the barracks.
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"Okay, Ez, what was going on with you and the colonel?" Buck asked.
"Mother nearly married him, years ago," Ezra admitted softly.
Josiah frowned. He hated to be reminded that Maude Standish was anything other than a rose of Sharon and a lily of the valley. The others chuckled.
Chris looked up as Vin slipped into the barracks. Once the tracker had rejoined the others, Chris asked him, "Where you been?"
"Visitin' the Injuns in the guardhouse." He plopped down on one of the cots.
"Okey said that they was the last of their tribe in these parts, that all the rest had been moved to the reservation," Josiah said.
Vin shook his head. "These 'uns ain't plannin' to go to no reservation."
"Two Indians against the whole of this fort? They ain't gonna have a choice," JD pointed out.
"What can two Indians do?" Nathan asked. A former slave, he knew all about being at the mercy of others, when survival meant swallowing your self-respect and doing as your 'betters' ordered.
"Ya might be surprised." Vin smiled, his blue eyes twinkling. "Them two got themselves thrown into the guardhouse on purpose."
"Why'd they do a fool thing like that?" Chris demanded.
"Guardhouse is warm and dry, and their tents was leakin' in the rain. Amongst the Gophers, the womenfolk make and mend the tents. All their womenfolk are on the reservation. No womenfolk, no one who knows how to mend the tents," Vin explained.
"If Buck were an Injun, he'd volunteer for the reservation rather than do without females," JD teased. Buck walked over, grabbed JD's hat off his head, and whacked him with it.
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"Reckon we ought to go over to the colonel's office, and thank him for his hospitality," JD said.
"After that breakfast, he should be apologizing to us, not expecting thanks," Ezra complained.
"It weren't that bad," Vin protested.
Breakfast was hot, and breakfast was free. That was the best that could be said for it. The eggs were runny, the biscuits toothbreakingly hard, the bacon burnt, and the coffee better suited for cleaning saddles and harnesses than for human consumption. Nevertheless, Vin and JD had eaten two helpings.
"I'd at least like to say goodbye to Okey." Josiah discreetly changed the subject. Once Ezra started complaining about inferior cuisine and accommodations, he could go on for hours.
They walked over to the colonel's office. Just as they knocked on his door, Sgt. Okey Homa came running up behind them.
"Colonel, the Gopher Indians have escaped!" the sergeant reported, not even bothering to salute.
"What?" the colonel roared.
"Yes, sir, they escaped sometime last night, or early this morning. They took half the supplies for the mess hall, and every single horse in the north stable," the sergeant continued.
"They took our horses?" Chris growled.
The sergeant shook his head. "Your horses are in the south stable. They're fine."
"Call out the troops! I want every man-jack of them searching for those Gophers."
"Begging the colonel's pardon, but I can't do that, sir. A sizeable number of the men reported for sick call this morning."
"Funny, they seemed fine at breakfast," JD said.
"Doubtless it was because of the breakfast they took sick," Ezra muttered.
The sergeant whispered to Josiah, "None of them felt sick until they realized they'd have to chase after the Gophers."
"We can help you, Colonel," JD volunteered. "We're champion thief-catchers, we are."
Vin frowned. "The army don't need our help none. They's can manage fine on their own, and we need to be getting back to Four Corners."
"Heck, with you tracking, Vin, won't take long to find them. Besides, we do owe you for the bed and breakfast."
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Twenty minutes later, Col. Kit Coyote, Sgt. Okey Homa, and the seven defenders of Four Corners were riding after the Gophers.
"See where the tracks separate," Vin pointed. "They released some of the horses here to force any search party to split up. Some go after the stolen horses, some go after the Injuns."
"Given time, the horses will probably head for the fort, to their own stalls and their oats," the sergeant predicted. "Better that we stick together and follow the Gophers."
"Looks like those tracks are the horses they released," Vin lied, "and those are the Injuns."
JD pointed. "Those are their tracks. The hoofprints are deeper; the horses were carrying more weight, with the Indians and the stolen supplies.
Buck took a look for himself. "I do believe you're right, boy."
"I'm not a schoolboy anymore," JD told Vin. "You don't need to keep testing me to see if I'm paying attention to what you teach me."
Vin said nothing. There was nothing to say.
They followed the tracks a good three miles. Despite Vin's best efforts, JD stayed on the correct trail. Once Chris saw what Vin was doing, he tried to help, too, but they'd trained JD too well.
They'd gone another half mile before Vin reined in his horse and stopped. He pointed to the ground. "Ya see them two sticks there?"
"D'ye think we're blind, sir? Of course we see them," the colonel blustered. "What of it? This is no time to be gathering firewood."
"Take a good look at 'em," Vin insisted.
"Look sort of like a letter Y," the sergeant observed.
Vin wasn't quite sure what a Y was. He suggested, "Try a snake's tongue."
"Yeah, looks kind of like a snake's tongue," Nathan agreed.
"Fork-tongued is how Injuns say liar," Vin said. "Laying those sticks like that is a signal that it's a false trail."
Ezra's left eye rose. "Really."
"They must've split up, and one laid a false trail. Didn't want t'other to be fooled by it, so he left that marker."
"Is there no end to the chicanery of these devious savages?" Col. Coyote complained.
Chris pointed to the left. "Doesn't it look like someone tried to brush away tracks there?"
"Bully!" the colonel exclaimed. He spurred his horse and rode off in the direction Chris had indicated.
"Hold up a minute," the sergeant started to say, but the colonel was already on his way. He looked down at the allegedly brushed-out trail. "Can't say as I can make out anything."
Ezra's green eyes twinkled mischievously. "Of course not, if it's been wiped away. Shall we follow your colonel?"
"Guess we better." The sergeant urged his mount forward, adding under his breath, "Heaven knows he ain't safe to leave on his own."
They rode on for over an hour.
Vin glanced pointedly at Chris. Chris nodded.
"Think we lost the trail," Chris announced.
Josiah looked at the tracker and the gunman. He thought a second. He looked over at Nathan, then nodded. "Ain't seen hide nor hair of 'em for a while.
Nathan shook his head. "Me, neither."
"Sorry we can't help ya," Vin lied, "but we really need to be getting back to Four Corners."
Chris turned and faced JD. "He's right. While we're out here, the town's undefended."
JD looked solemn for a moment, then nodded. "You got a point there."
"Sorry, Colonel, but we need to be heading home." Chris asked, "You want us to escort you back to the fort, or you plan to keep looking on your own for a while?"
Col. Kit Coyote harrumphed. "I suppose we might as well return to the fort. It doesn't look like we're going to catch the scurvy rascals."
As they headed back to the fort, the sergeant sidled his horse up next to Josiah's. His gaze fell on Vin. He whispered, "Reckon your friend didn't really want to find them Gophers, did he?"
Josiah just winked. "Reckon he didn't."
Chief Running Board - gopher
Ruffled Feather - gopher
Colonel Kit Coyote - coyote
Sgt. Okey Homa - bear (Another website spells this Oakie Homa)
Chris Larabee - wolf
Vin Tanner - cougar
Josiah Sanchez - bear
JD Dunne - Boston Terrier
Ezra Standish - fox
Nathan Jackson - raven
Buck Wilmington - billy goat