Chapter 1

July 1867-- Hays, Kansas

Logan Grealy leaped quickly into the saddle of his waiting horse. His father, a dreadful look on his face, was stuffing the saddlebags full of food and other supplies. As Logan waited for his father to complete this task, a single tear rolled down his cheek. His father happened to glance up for a moment and saw this, but chose to ignore it. Instead, he continued calmly under the bright moonlight.

"Now," said his father. "Logan, you just ride as fast as you possibly can. Don't look back any. If that man dies, they're gonna hang ya. So, keep yourself safe and I'll find a way to contact you later. Understand?"

Logan fought back his uncertainty. "Yes, Pa. Where should I go?"

"Just ride as far west as you can. There's plenty of opportunities for men with pasts." He paused. "Just make sure you do your best to keep yourself outta trouble. But don't back down, either."

With that, he reached into the waistband of his torn jeans and handed Logan his pistol, an 1851 Colt Navy revolver. "Take my gun."

"Pa," pleaded Logan. "I can't take your gun."

His father dismissed this with a quick wave of the hand. "It's a good gun. Make sure you oil it every night before you go to sleep. There's a cleaning kit in your saddlebags."

Reluctantly, Logan tucked the pistol in his waistband and his own in his saddlebags to be used as a spare. "Thanks, Pa."

"Now, ya best get outta here. Boy, ride as fast and far away from here as you can," said his father, stepping away from the horse.

Logan glanced a final time at his father. His emotions were barely controlled beneath the surface. With a sharp jab from his foot into the horse's side, Logan galloped off and headed west. He did not look back.

Staring straight ahead, he slowed the horse to a trot as he remembered the events of the afternoon. His father had knocked softly at the door to Logan's bedroom just two hours earlier.

"Come in," he said.

His father opened the door. "Son, I need you to ride into town. We're low on flour and I forgot to buy some when I was there earlier. You still have three hours till it gets dark, so hurry up."

Logan placed the dime novel he was reading upon his bureau and put his boots on. It had been nearly a week since Logan himself had been to town, and he was anxious to see the girl who worked at the counter of the general store. Her name was Emily and Logan had tried on several occasions to start a conversation with her. Each time, though, he found that he could only mutter a few words before dashing outside. This time, he swore, he was gonna talk to her. Maybe even compliment her or something. After all, to Logan she was by far the most beautiful girl in town. And seventeen just like him. All other suitors be damned! Logan planned to marry this girl, whether or not she knew his name.

Opening the door, he heard his father approach from behind. "You got any money, son?"

Embarrassed at his haste, Logan dropped his eyes to the floor and shook his head. "No, Pa."

Knowingly, his father smiled. "Well," he said as he reached into his pocket. "Here's a dollar. Buy some flour and take the rest and buy that girl some flowers or somethin'. I told Mrs. Bailey that you'd be over next time to buy a few daisies for Emily."

"How did you know about Emily?" Logan asked suspiciously.

His father laughed. "Son, a man knows these things. I was the same clumsy fool when I met your Mama. I sure miss that woman." He stopped, remembering. "Just tell Emily what you think about her. Don't be shy, son. Ya don't want some two bit cowpoke marryin' her, do ya?"

Logan pocketed the money. "No. Okay, I'll try." He started to walk out the door before stopping abruptly. "Thanks, Pa."

"Have fun, Logan," was all he said.

Thirty minutes later, Logan rode his horse down the middle of Main Street. Nearing twilight, most of the men were either at home or heading for the saloons. Logan arrived in front of the general store a few minutes later and tied the reins of his horse to a wooden railing.

Before he entered the store, he paused to glance at himself in the mirror. He was just under six foot and had a slim but wiry frame. His youthful face was just beginning to show signs of whiskers and his hazel eyes twinkled in the fading sunlight. He stood for a moment practicing his best smile, the one his Ma had said would make any woman swoon over him. Gosh, he sure missed his Ma. A riding accident had claimed her life three years before, yet he still thought about her every day. Logan knew his father did the same, yet they rarely discussed her any longer.

Finished, he turned back towards the door and was about to enter when a large bearded man blocked the doorway. Logan stopped and looked at the man, a good six inches taller and probably twice his weight. Logan knew the man's name to be Dell Grant, a brusque man prone to acts of violence when drinking.

"Pardon me, Mr. Grant," said Logan, as he tried to fit between Grant's bulky frame and the doorjamb.

Grant put a restraining hand on Logan's shoulder. "Where do you think you're going?" he asked, the sour smell of whiskey heavy on his breath.

"I've got to go buy my Pa some flour. Now, can I go in?" asked Logan steadily.

"Can I go in? Can I go in?" mocked Grant. "No, you can't. As a matter of fact, why don't you just gimme the money so's I can buy me another drink?"

Logan tried to calm himself and spoke slowly. "No, you can't. Now, please let me by. I don't want no trouble."

"Boy, you ain't seen trouble." Grant's meaty hand caught Logan on his right cheek, sending him sprawling into the dust-covered street.

Dazed, Logan sat up slowly, the taste of blood heavy in his mouth. Grant remained on the walkway of the store, a sinister smile crossing his face.

"I've heard your Pa used to do some bare knuckle boxin'. Let's see what he taught you," said Grant as he hopped off the walkway, landing next to Logan.

Just as Logan regained his footing, another hand slapped him across the back of his head, followed by a loud ringing noise. Logan tried to back away before he could be struck again, but it was too late. A vicious forearm caught him at the bridge of his nose, causing blood to cascade over his mouth and drip off of his chin. This blow sent Logan backpedaling until he landed roughly on his back. A harsh laugh from Grant reverberated through Logan's ears.

"You just a little girl. Can't you even fight? " Grant asked as he approached yet again.

Furious at Grant's unanticipated attacks, Logan glared at his attacker with pure hatred.

"You shouldn't have hit me," hissed Logan.

Surprised at Logan's tone, Grant stopped shortly. "What did you say?"

"I said, you shouldn't have attacked me," reiterated Logan, now on his feet. His hand poised directly above his waistband, containing a rusted Dragoon. Blood dripped freely from his nose and mouth as he stood tensely.

"Don't make that mistake, Boy. You best take that hand away from that pistol befores I have to shoot ya," said Grant.

Logan remained unmoving. Tense as his body was, he found an innate calmness taking over. Everything seemed to go in slow motion as he anticipated Grant's next move.

A crowd had begun to gather around the two men. Grant looked around at the onlookers before turning his attention back to Logan.

"I'm giving you one more chance to gimme that money. If not, well, then I'm just gonna have to shoot ya."

"You can try," whispered Logan.

Grant began to hunch his shoulders as if questioning the problem, before his hand sped toward his own holster. Logan, on the other hand, had expected such a move and whipped his own pistol towards the large man. At the same time, he moved his body so that only his right side was facing Grant. Both barrels spit flames at almost exactly the same time.

Suddenly, Grant dropped to his knees and looked down at his chest, as a small hole materialized above the left pocket of his leather shirt. His own bullet had merely kicked up dirt onto Logan's worn boots. Smoke still seeping from his barrel, Logan kept the sights on his opponent's chest. With his left hand, Grant gingerly touched the hole in his chest before returning his confused gaze to Logan.

"You shot me," he said simply.

Logan continued the stare resolvedly at the fallen man. Hushed tones escaped the crowd as they glanced back and forth between the two men.

"Who's the kid?" asked one.

"I think that's Jack Grealy's kid. Logan, I think," replied another.

Grant's right hand slowly lost its grip on his pistol until it clattered to the ground. Losing his balance, he fell onto his right side and began to breathe loudly, a wheezing voice escaping his mouth.

Satisfied, Logan tucked the large pistol back into his waistband. His eyes finally left the prone figure of Grant and turned to the crowd. For the most part, they were all unfamiliar. That is, except for Mr. Felling, a friend of his father's, who approached and put a reassuring hand on Logan's shoulder. In a state of shock, Logan could not seem to form any words and just stared.

Felling turned Logan's body so that it was facing his horse. "Logan, you best ride home as quick as you can. Tell your Pa what happened. He'll know what to do. Good luck."

Sluggishly, he mounted his horse and steered in the general direction of his father's farm. Amazingly, few thoughts roamed through his head on the way home. The only worry that he had was that his father would perhaps become upset.

Stepping inside the doorway, Logan spied his father sitting alone at the kitchen table. Occupied, he took a minute to look in the direction of his son. Logan stood quietly, his hands in his pockets and a forlorn look on his young face.

"Where's the flour?" his father asked, indicating his empty hands.

"Pa," he said softly. "I had to kill Dell Grant. He—,"

"What was that you said, Logan?" asked his father incredulously.

"I was mindin' my own business and walkin' into the store. He wouldn't let me in and started hittin' me." He paused. "So, when he was getting' ready to hit me again, I called him out."

"Called him out?" he asked unbelievably. "He coulda killed you."

"Well, he didn't. He drew on me so I killed him. It was self defense."

"Maybe, but you still gotta get outta here. Go get your horse ready. I'll pack your saddlebags."

This surprised Logan. "What? It was self defense and—"

"Son," interrupted his father. "Dell Grant just happened to a cousin of Alex Burns. When he finds out you killed Dell, he's gonna arrest you hang you. Now, do as I said. Go get that horse of yours ready to go."

Alex Burns was the son of the most prominent rancher of Hays, Kansas. His mean streak was known by most, as well as feared. On multiple occasions, he was known to deal out violence for no apparent reason. Any outlaws who happened to be friends of his or his father's were allowed to roam the town freely and do as they pleased. Up to this point, nobody had the courage to stop him or his gunmen/friends.

In the barn, Logan placed his saddle on his horse, a solidly built and reliable buckskin that he named Shamus. A strong horse, the product of wild mustangs, Shamus was purchased by Logan's father from a cattleman passing through. He presented Shamus to Logan for his fourteenth birthday. Immediately, horse and rider formed a strong bond.

Shamus stood waiting patiently as Logan stacked the gear onto his back. Finished, Logan led the horse to the back door of the house and waited for his father.

Four hours and twenty-five miles later, Logan spotted a rock formation resting upon a small grassy hill and rode towards it. Dismounting, he instinctively scanned his surroundings. The only light available was offered by the moonlight, so it was unlikely that he was being pursued. Gathering a few of the rocks, he started a fire from a few leftover twigs from former occupants of the site.

He removed his canteen from the saddle horn and took a few gulps before pouring a few handfuls for his horse. Shamus drank the water thirstily, the sounds of swallowing loud in the clear night.

"We have to save the rest for tomorrow," he said as he replaced the canteen. "I don't think we better stop for at least one more day."

The horse snorted in reply. Logan smiled as he removed the heavy saddle from the horse's back. Dropping it to the ground, he rummaged in his saddlebags for a wooden stake. Removing it, he stamped it into the ground with his boot and wrapped the reins around it. Unconcerned, Shamus dropped his head and munched on the ample grass surrounding them.

Sitting beside the fire, Logan emptied the contents of the saddlebags. His Dragoon fell out, as well as a supply of jerky, biscuits, extra ammunition, and a leather pouch. Curious, he removed the thread from the opening of the pouch and dumped the contents into the grass. Nearly two hundred dollars in gold pieces scattered by his feet. Deposited alongside was a scrap of paper with a few words scrawled across it. He brought it closer to the fire and read it.

Dear Logan,

I'm sorry if I seemed angry. I just didn't want something like this to happen to you. But, what's done is done. There's about 200 dollars in the pouch, so use it wisely. And remember, don't come back here. I'll find a way to meet you at a later time.



Logan gathered up the gold pieces and placed them back into the pouch. The note, he placed in his shirt pocket. He unrolled the saddle blanket and lay onto it, staring at the moon. His nerves frayed, he skipped eating and instead fell asleep under the stars.

Chapter 2

Pine Hills, Kansas

Two days later, the tired horse and rider stopped at the hitching post of a hotel, the worn sign reading Maddox's Place. A few curious onlookers stopped on the street to stare at the horse and its bedraggled rider. Grealy ignored the stares as he carried his saddlebags into the dimly lit lobby. Stopping to adjust his eyes, he noticed that he was alone. A door behind the counter opened as a bespectacled man with a bald head entered and gazed towards Logan with a sour look.

"I need a room and the name of the nearest livery," said Grealy.

"Well, it'll be a dollar a day plus a free dinner for the room," said the man. "The hotel has its own livery out back which'll cost you another dollar."

Grealy reached into his pocket and removed a single dollar. He handed it to the man as he signed the ledger. Unwilling to invent a name, he instead put his own name as the occupant. The bald man rang a bell and a teenage boy appeared at his side.

"Go take care of this man's horse. Give it a good rubdown before you feed him," ordered the clerk.

"Yes sir," replied the boy as he ran outside.

The clerk looked at Grealy questioningly. "Anything else?"

"Yes. Do you happen to have a room where I can take a hot bath?"

At this, the clerk took on a look of irritation. "I'll have the tub ready for you in an hour or so."

"Much obliged," said Grealy, taking the room key.

Grealy entered the room and headed straight for the bed, where he fell face first. The saddlebags lay in a bundle by the doorway, but he didn't care. His back was sore and his body was covered in dust. He would have paid the clerk ten dollars just so that he could take a bath. Fighting to keep awake, he breathed heavily into the moldy bed sheets and kicked his boots off.

The day previously, he had done his best to cover his tracks in case of pursuers. His father had introduced him to an old Sioux man when he was thirteen. For a few dollars, the old man had taken Grealy on a month long excursion where he showed him how to hunt and track wild game. Not only that, he also taught him how to cover his trail in case something was to happen that required him to leave quickly. Grealy soaked up the knowledge that was taught to him and was sad when he had to return home. He never saw the old man again. His father explained that his teacher was an ex warrior who honed his skills through more than sixty years of experience. And four years later, these lessons remained fresh in his memory as he used different methods of confusing the trackers. If and when they finally picked up his tracks again, Grealy would be at least another day ahead.

A solid knock on his door awakened Grealy.

"Your bath is ready, sir," came an unknown voice.

Grealy opened the door and walked to the end of the hallway, where the bathtub was kept. He removed the remainder of his dusty apparel and stepped into the steaming water. Just beside the tub, on the wooden floor, lay a small bar of soap. Grabbing it, he used it clean his entire body, including his hair.

Arriving downstairs an hour later, Grealy started for the restaurant attached to the clapboard hotel. It was full of patrons when he entered and he had a hard time finding a table. One was open near the back and he headed for it. Just as he was about to take a seat, an older black man appeared beside him. Both men stared at each other for a moment, waiting for the other to perhaps invite.

"You mind if I sit here with ya while we eat?" asked the man.

"No. In fact, I'd welcome the company," replied Grealy, studying the man.

As both men sat down, Grealy asked, "What's your name?"

"Elliot Noble. And you?" he said, offering his hand.

Grealy took it and they shook. "Logan Grealy. From Hays, Kansas."

"Hays, huh? I was just passin' through there a few days ago. Sold a mustang I caught. Nice town," replied Noble.

Elliot Noble was a dark skinned man of medium height. In his early fifties, his hair had already started receding and his weathered face showed a few wrinkles. He walked with a pronounced limp and with a slight slouch. Wisdom was evident from the twinkle in his eyes. Grealy could tell right away that this was not a feeble man, but stronger than he appeared.

A raven-haired waitress approached the two men with menus. "Welcome to Maddox's Place," she said. "You want the special?"

"Probably would if I knew what it was," answered Noble good-naturedly.

Apparently she was not in the mood for jokes, as her face remained impassive. Grealy found this humorous and shared a knowing look with Noble.

"Uh huh. Well, the special of the day is a large bowl of slumgullion. A large bowl will cost ya two bits," she said flatly.

"Slumgullion? What's that?" asked Grealy naively.

Noble laughed at this, a high pitched wheezing sound. "Boy, you must not travel too much. It's a stew with meat, potatoes, and onions. Not too bad, either."

"Oh," replied Grealy, slightly embarrassed. "I'll take a bowl, please."

"Me too," countered Noble.

The waitress snatched up the menus and drifted away. Noble made sure she was out of hearing.

"One of these days, Logan, I'm gonna make that woman smile. You'll see."

"Why? You know her or somethin'?"

"Not exactly. Heard some folks call her Nina. One of these days, I'm gonna make her smile though. You can bet on it," said Noble, glancing at her attending another table.

Right away, Grealy knew that he would come to like Noble. He had met few men such as him; most seemed too preoccupied with something else. Noble turned his attention back to Grealy.

"So, where ya headed?" he asked.

Grealy debated on whether or not to tell him about what had happened in Kansas. But men did not bother each other with their problems, as he well knew.

"Not sure yet. Think I'm gonna ride into Colorado Territory. See what I can find there."

"Colorado Territory? You better watch out for the Sioux and Cheyenne. They're in a foul mood lately. Keep wide of any you see."

Grealy had heard of recent troubles with different tribes, but wasn't sure that they would be so close. Now he became a little agitated, having never ridden such a distance on his own. Noble seemed to sense Grealy's nervousness.

"Hold on. Do you even know the trails to ride to avoid running into someone you don't wanna meet?" he asked. "You want me to ride along? Maybe show you a few tricks?"

"I don't need no nursemaid, Elliot. I can do fine on my own," retorted Grealy heatedly.

Noble raised his hands in defense and spoke calmly. "I didn't say ya did. I'm just offering to ride with ya. Maybe we can find some work. I heard that the O Bar O ranch just over the border is hiring. Done any cowpunchin'?"

Immediately, Grealy was sorry for his outburst against the friendly man. "Look, I'm sorry. It's just that this is my first time traveling so far west. But, you already knew that."

"Yeah, I suppose. Mind if I ask you a question?"

"Go ahead," said Grealy.

"How old are ya?"


"Seventeen?" Noble smiled. "I remember being seventeen. Been, I don't know, thirty or more years. Met my wife when I was seventeen."

"You're married?" asked Grealy.

"Was. My wife died of smallpox in '61. I was off fighting with the north in the war. I regret that every single day."

Noble's face suddenly took on a look of sorrow. Grealy decided to leave him be for a time. The two men didn't talk again until the waitress, Nina, brought their food. Although not the most appealing meal to the eyes, it was nonetheless attractive to the sense of smell. Rapaciously, Grealy and Noble devoured the heaping piles of food on their plates.

When they were both done, Noble commented, "Um um um. That was some of the best slumgullion I've ever eaten. I'd order some more if my belly could hold it."

"Ugh," Grealy said, leaning back. "I don't think I can eat again for at least a month."

Nina reappeared a few minutes later and cleared their plates from the table. Noble once again tried to make small talk, but she seemed not to hear him. Both men left moments later and stood on the boardwalk.

"You chew, Logan?" asked Noble, removing tobacco from a leather pouch.

His mind churning over the dangers of the trail, Grealy answered offhandedly. "No. I smoke sometimes, but chewin' ain't for me."

"Suit yourself."

Hunching his shoulders against the chilly wind, Logan studied the twinkling stars. Now and then, a rider or two passed by on the muddy street, but otherwise his eyes remained fixed upward. He missed his father already. Jack Grealy was the stuff real men are made of. Hard and unyielding, he also had a softer side that he rarely revealed, not even to his own son. Yet Logan knew that his father could do just about anything. And would, given the chance. Minute by minute, or so it seemed, Logan could feel himself becoming more confident. Although he was a little concerned with Indians and outlaws, he also had a fighting man's spirit. Any fear that remained inside him would soon vanish through experience.

"I reckon I'm goin' to bed. You gonna be ready come sunup?" asked Noble, spitting a stream of tobacco.

"Yep. I'll meet ya out back at the livery. See ya in the mornin'," replied Grealy, still lost in thought.

"Night, Logan."

"Goodnight, Elliot."

As Grealy made his way down the back stairs in the predawn darkness, he spotted Noble, sitting atop of his horse. The sun still had a few minutes before it lit the horizon. Yet, Noble looked as if he had been ready to ride for an hour or more.

"Good mornin'," said Noble, a little too cheery for Grealy, who was still exhausted from a twisting and turning kind of night.

"Uh huh. When do you think we'll stop again? I'm gonna need to pick up some supplies," yawned Grealy.

"I reckon the next town is about a days ride or so." He indicated Grealy's hatless head. "What you really need is a hat of some kind. Keep the sun and rain outta your eyes."

"I reckon you're right. I'll get one later," answered Grealy simply.

In the dim light offered by a kerosene lantern, Grealy saddled his horse and reattached the saddlebags. Well rested and fed, the buckskin tugged at the reins in Grealy's hand. He had never seen a horse so eager to travel with a burden on its back.

"Okay, okay. We'll leave just as soon as I tie everything down." The horse stamped impatiently. "Damn you, Shamus. Stop movin' so much. You step on my foot, there's gonna be trouble."

"A problem in there?" came Noble's voice outside.

"No. This horse just gets ornery sometimes, is all," answered Grealy.

Satisfied that his belongings would stay atop the horse, Grealy put a foot in the stirrup and hopped into the saddle.

"Let's get a move on," he said to the horse, jabbing a heel into its side.

Both men rode out of town with the sun making its way over the horizon. All around them, the grass of the plains took on a reddish tint. A few birds flew lazily in the sky, but otherwise the two men were alone. Riding side by side, they urged the horses to a slow trot.

A few miles outside of town, they encountered a tiny herd of buffalo, munching on the dewy grass. So as not to disturb them, Noble steered his horse on a parallel route to the buffalo. Grealy paused for a moment in questioning, but soon followed.

"Why you riding away from them? I don't think they'd matter if we were any closer," said Grealy.

"I imagine you're right. But, with the way the hunters are killin' them off, pretty soon there won't be any herds. I'd just as soon let the animals rest in peace. Even if it's just for one day," responded Noble.

"I guess."

Every so often, Noble would stop his horse and scan the horizon with his binoculars. Thankfully, the only sign on life was a few scattered buffalo and antelope. It remained this way until the fourth day, as they were saddling up from a midday break at a spring.

A thundering of hooves in the distance disturbed the tranquility of the warm afternoon. Noble brought the glasses to his eyes and looked eastward, where he saw a group of five men riding quickly towards them. Alarmed, Grealy approached his side and snatched the glasses from his hand.

"Damn," he muttered. "I can't believe they rode all this way."

Surprised by this confession, Noble's eyes fell away from the riders and focused on Grealy. "What was that you said?"

Grealy lowered the glasses and looked Noble straight in the eyes. He had neglected to inform his riding partner thus far, as he didn't want to explain the circumstances surrounding his fleeing west. Now, as quick as he possibly could, Grealy told Noble everything leading up to the events of Grant's shooting. His eyes darting from Grealy to the riders and back again, he listened intently. When Grealy was finished, he thought for a moment before removing his rifle from the scabbard.

"I believe you, Logan. We don't know each other too well, but I'd say that you are a straight enough shooter for me. Now, make sure your rifle is loaded. Looks like we're gonna have to fend these buzzards off."

Before Grealy could reply, Noble dropped himself into the grass behind a protruding anthill. Without a rifle of his own, Grealy dropped down beside the older man and aimed his pistol at the approaching men.

Noble was adjusting the sights on his rifle, A Spencer. "Stay calm, kid. Let's see how close they get. Try not to say anything foolish. Five to two, that's just not the best of odds."

The riders, their saddles creaking, stopped their lathered horses just within range of Grealy's pistol. They looked at little unsure at the two seemingly alone horses. From this distance, they could not pick out Grealy and Noble. Grealy's stomach muscles tightened when he noticed that the lead rider was Alex Burns, Dell Grant's cousin. Burns had a reputation as a man handy with a gun, one quick to anger at the slightest provocation. In a one on one shooting match, Grealy was pretty sure that he would be come out as the winner. But today Burns wasn't alone.

"Logan Grealy, I know you're here somewhere. Come out right now so's we can talk," yelled Burns, drawing his pistol.

Just as Grealy was going to speak, he felt the reassuring hand of Noble on his shoulder. Rising up to one knee, Noble let himself be seen by the gunmen. All eyes fixed on him as he spoke.

"I don't think ya'll are gonna ride outta here with that boy," he said calmly.

Taken aback by Noble's brazenness, Burns thought for a moment before responding. "This ain't none of your affair. We don't like your kind 'round here no how. So, I suggest you get ridin' and let us have Grealy."

"Naw, I don't think I'm riding anywhere. The way I see it, we got us a little bit of cover. You, well, you got no place to hide. If I were you, I'd turn around right now, and get a movin'," said Noble, ducking back down.

His face beet red, Burn's glared at the spot where Noble rested a second before. He could hear the nervous steps of the horses around him and glanced at his companions. Each and every man looked a little unsure because of the big talk by the black man. They also realized that he was right, they could all be shot out of their saddles within seconds if the man was good enough. And there would be nothing they could do about it, short of hightailing it out of there. Yet, he, Alex Burns, wasn't about to back down from an old black man and a young punk kid. He was going to give them one more chance before shooting them.

"I'm giving you one last warning," he said confidently. "Either give up the kid or die right beside him."

For a moment there was no reply. Then: "If you think you can kill us both, then why don't ya just ride on over here?"

Furious at the seeming lack of fear by the man, Burns withdrew his pistol and charged their position, firing as he got closer. The bullets from his gun smacked into the anthill and the dirt beside it. He let out a yell as he charged to the rear of the protruding mound, confident that his aim would ring true. To his surprise, Noble was laying on his back, with the dangerous rifle pointed directly at his chest. For a split second, everything seemed to go in slow motion for Burns. That is, until the heavy barrel spouted flame and a bullet passed through his left lung, the impact sending him toppling off the rear of the horse. He hit the ground with a dull thud, mere inches from where Noble lay.

"They've killed Burns! Let's get 'em, boys!" yelled a red haired rider, his rifle aimed in the direction of Grealy and Noble.

These were the last words uttered by the red haired man, for at that moment, Grealy jumped to a spread legged position and fired two rounds into his chest. The remaining riders realized immediately that there had to be a better place than this. So, as if in formation, they whipped the reins of their horses to face eastward, and took off at a steady gallop.

Nobody was more surprised than Grealy, expecting a long gun battle that never came. A few beads of sweat dropped from his forehead as he bent to examine the still body of Burns. Shallow breaths escaped the bloodstained lips of Burns as he lay unmoving on the soft grass. The horse he was riding stood a few feet away, barely having moved since it had lost its rider. Quite sure that Burns was no longer considered a threat, Grealy walked to where the man he shot lay, flat on his face.

Carefully, Grealy turned the man over and found him to be quite dead, two small holes above his right shirt collar. Grealy had seen this man a few times, mostly lounging in front of the town saloon and knew him to be an acquaintance of both Burns and Grant.

Turning around, he noticed that Noble was on his knees beside the half dead man with his ear close to Burns' mouth. A few bubbles of blood exited the dying man's mouth before his body started twitching in its final death throes.

"Well," commented Noble, standing up. "I don't think they'll be chasin' you any time soon."

Without answering, Grealy returned his gaze to the grass beside the man he had killed. An almost new looking rifle lay where it had fallen from the man's hands. Bending over to pick it up, Grealy scraped away residue from the dirt and grass.

"Nice rifle," said Noble, now standing near. "Looks like an 1866 Winchester. Think they call it a 'Yellow Boy'. Why don't you see if there's any spare ammo in this man's saddlebags?"

Unfastening the saddlebags, Grealy found the extra cartridges, as well as a few food items and fifty dollars in gold eagles. Taking the useful items, he transferred them to his saddlebags, now quite full with supplies.

His thoughts turned back to the short gun battle. As far as he knew, he had so far had to shoot two men in order to guarantee his survival. And at least one of them was dead. This troubled him a little, for even though both men attempted to cause him harm and he reacted only in self defense, he still knew that somewhere they both had families or friends that would miss them. But this was a hard land, a dangerous land where the law of survival was the gun. If a man chose to battle another man, he had better be ready to pay the price at the risk of serious injury or death. Grealy's thoughts were interrupted by the deep baritone voice of Noble.

"Logan, we'd best get going. Those gunshots may attract a group of Kiowa bucks. We don't want to have to fight them, too."

"Okay," said Logan, mounting his horse.

With a final glance at the bodies of the dead men, Grealy followed Noble through the seemingly endless fields of grass. Sweeping with the wind, in certain areas the grass was as tall as a man's head. Here and there, they saw clumps of buffalo chips piled in flattened out areas of the grassland. Noble stopped at one location and removed a canvas sack from his blanket roll. Bending over, he picked up some of the larger buffalo chips and placed them in the sack to be used at a later time as fuel for their campfire.

Otherwise, the men traveled the remainder of the day without pause. Noble preferred it this way, explaining that they needed to be as far away as possible from the dead men.

Still, Grealy felt a twinge of guilt at leaving the bodies where they lay, on the open plains. Coyotes and other scavengers would have their way with the dead men, and as far as Grealy was concerned, no man deserved that.

Two days following the incident, Noble saw an antelope in the distance and brought it down with a well-aimed shot to the throat. They cooked the meat over a fire fueled by the buffalo chips and rolled their blankets out to take a midday nap, without the slightest hint of trouble to come.

Chapter 3

Western Kansas

Opening his eyes, Grealy yawned and stared for a moment at the dying fire. Noble, still asleep, lay sprawled in the grass, more than halfway off of his blanket. From the position of the sun, Grealy determined that he had been asleep for no more than a half an hour.

Sitting up, he observed the horses munching the grass lazily, their tails swatting at the hordes of flies attacking their flanks. The sky was a filled with a few thunderheads, but the sun refused to hide behind them. Thirsty, he approached his horse and reached for the canteen hanging off of the saddle horn.

A swift movement a few hundred yards ahead stopped the canteen halfway to his lips. What the hell? He thought. What was that? Another flash of brown appeared just a few yards to the left of the first figure then disappeared just as quickly.

"Elliott," he whispered. When the sleeping man didn't move, he whispered much louder. "Elliott!"

Groggily, Noble sat up with a confused look on his face. As soon as he saw Grealy's eyes, however, he scrambled out of the blanket and walked to his horse.

Removing his rifle, he looked at Grealy again. "What is it? What did you see?"

"Looked like two brown bodies. Think they're trying to come from both sides of us," responded Grealy, his own rifle in his hands.

"Damn," muttered Noble. "Hoped we wouldn't have to make a stand in a place like this. There ain't anywhere to hide."

For the first time, Grealy realized this with a sense of growing dread. After all, it was his idea to take a nap, having eaten too much of the delicious meat. They should have found a higher area, one in which they could observe the area around them. But it was too late for that.

Noble was bust contemplating their next move, so Grealy strained his eyes to make out any more figures. Occasionally, he saw a few flashes of brown, coming ever closer to their position.

"Get on your horse as fast as you can," ordered Noble. "Ride as fats as you can west. Meanwhile, I'll see if I can pick one or two of 'em off."

"I can't leave you here by yourself," said Grealy urgently.

"It'll be okay. I'll be right behind you. Now, get on that horse and go."

Following a final glance at his friend, Grealy hopped onto the buckskin and whipped the reins around. A quick jab from the spurs was all the horse needed to sprint away from the stalkers. Grealy placed his chest as close to the horse's back as he could in case fire should come from the rear.

Alarmed at the sudden beats of retreating hoof beats, the warriors arose from their positions in the grass and aimed their rifles at the fleeing man. Before they could fire, Noble's Sharps rifle bucked in his hands and a .52 caliber bullet struck the nearest Kiowa in the upper chest. The dying man fell to his knees and stared unbelievably at his assailant before falling in a lump.

To Noble's surprise, the Kiowa warriors were closer than he had expected, no more than twenty yards away. Angered at the death of their friend, the Kiowa held their rifles at their waists and fired as they ran towards him. Bullets whizzing by his head, Noble climbed into the saddle of his dun colored mustang and turned to follow Grealy.

Just as his horse began to run, Noble felt something strike him hard in his left side, nearly knocking him from the horse. Ignoring the sudden rush of pain, he lowered himself to the saddle as Grealy had done and rode without looking back. A few more slugs tore at the ground around him, but soon he was out of range of the deadly rifles.

Grealy stopped on a ridge a half mile away and watched Noble's horse gallop towards him. Something was wrong with the way that Noble was riding, a little too low in the saddle. As his horse approached, he saw the blood gathering in a pool on Noble's back. Stricken, Noble had his jaws clinched tightly, trying to ignore the pain that was wracking his body.

It seemed as if the blood would not stop flowing from the wound, and Grealy became worried. Already, the entire left side of Noble's gray shirt was rust colored. Yet, Grealy knew that they could not stop yet, just in case the Kiowa had horses nearby.

So, grabbing the reins from the half conscious man, Grealy led the dun behind him and kept both horses at a fast trot. Up and down hills they went, with Noble slipping in and out of consciousness. Grealy scanned the countryside, looking for any place that might be useful for concealment of the two men and their horses.

Ten miles from their previous camp, Grealy found a rocky abutment on the other side of a hill. A freshwater stream trickled over some rocks and seemed to start from a nearby spring. The only signs of life were a few elk and buffalo tracks more than a week old. If any human visitors had been here recently, their tracks were well hidden, as Grealy could not find any.

Noble was now unconscious and his body was ready to fall from the saddle. Just as it did, Grealy caught the heavier man and laid him gently upon the grass. A low murmur escaped the wounded man's lips as Grealy removed some linen bandages and a quart of whiskey from Noble's saddlebags.

Carefully, he turned Noble onto his side and began cutting away the soaked shirt with a pocketknife. His hands shook a little, probably due to the adrenaline that had pumped through his system as he fled the Indians. He removed the shirt and peered closely at the bullet wound. It had started to clot, but it looked as if the bullet was still lodged somewhere inside since there was no exit wound.

Noble's breathing had become shallow and beads of sweat dripped from his brow. Grealy turned him onto his stomach so that he could begin the primitive surgery of removing the dangerous lead.

Luckily, his father had taught him how to remove a bullet from a wounded man. Two years previously, a drifter had ridden to their small spread; a bullet wound much like this one in his shoulder. His father had carried the man to the house and laid him onto a buffalo rug located in the den. Grealy was asked to bring a bottle of whiskey and a sharp knife, which he brought to his father. Grealy had watched, fascinated, as his father dug into the wound a taken out the warped piece of lead. The man's wound had healed quite well, and he had ridden off less than a week later with much thanks.

Now, it was Grealy's turn to save the life of a man and he was a little nervous. The sight of blood did not bother him as much as the fact that he could possibly be responsible for accidentally killing a man with the knife.

Dislodging the cork from the bottle, he poured the volatile liquid onto Noble's back. Brown liquid mixed with the blood and dripped onto the parched grass. After emptying almost half of the bottle into the wound, he replaced the cork and went to work with the knife. As the sharp point of the knife slightly widened the hole, fresh blood spilled forth onto Grealy's hands. Steadying his hands, he gingerly pushed the blade even deeper until it struck something solid. He withdrew the blade a little and worked it under the location of the bullet.

When this did not work, he dropped the knife and placed his index finger into the ever widening hole until it touched the bullet. Bending his finger in a hook-like manner, he scooped the lead out and threw it into the stream.

More blood flowed from the wound as Grealy placed a bandage on it and applied pressure. Reaching behind him, he found the roll of wrapping and twisted Noble's body so that the wrapping could go all the way around his abdomen. Three layer later, the supply of wrapping ended and Grealy tied it off. It seemed to be snug enough and Grealy sat back and wiped the sweat from his face and neck. The only thing he could do now was wait.

On the third day following their arrival at the lonely creek, Noble finally opened his eyes. Grealy sat reading a book that his father had thoughtfully packed into his saddlebags, and therefore did not hear Noble at first.

"Logan," whispered Noble from a parched throat.

Grealy dropped the book into the grass and scrambled to Noble's side. He glanced at the forehead of the injured man and noted that the sweat from the fever had begun to dissipate.

"How ya feelin', Elliott?"

Instead of answering, Noble nodded his head in the general direction of his canteen. Grealy emptied the warm contents and replaced it with the cool, fresh water of the stream. His face grimaced in pain, Noble raised himself to his elbows and slowly let the water trickle down the back of his throat. A few coughs made him pause once or twice, but otherwise he continued drinking until the canteen was empty.

"How long have I been out?" he asked, laying back down.

"Three day, more or less. You had a bad fever and I put a lotta whiskey down your throat. Looks like it's goin' away."

"Thanks for savin' my life. If it wasn't for you, I'd be deader than a can of corned beef by now," said Noble honestly.

"Hey, you don't owe me. You saved my skin back there with those boys from Hays. I reckon we're just even now."

They said no more as Noble drifted back to sleep. Grealy resumed his reading and kept his pistol close by and occasionally listened for any other sounds of danger. Thankfully, they didn't come.

Carson, Colorado August 1867

Tired and aching, the two men rode into the town of Carson in the mid- afternoon. Still a relatively new town, Carson only boasted of one saloon, a general store, and a few log homes. Unaccustomed to frequent visitors, the townspeople stopped what they were doing and gazed curiously at the new arrivals.

The men stopped their horses directly in front of the store and tied their horses to the railings before walking up the steps. Stopping at the doorway, they brushed clouds of dust from their clothing and stared back at the onlookers.

Entering the store, they found it to be well lit from kerosene lamps resting on the countertops. An older man with a handlebar mustache stood behind the counter, his face betraying the boredom he was trying to hide.

"What can I do for ya, gents?" he asked monotonously.

Grealy removed fifty dollars in gold eagles and set them upon the counter. "I'm here to buy some gear."

Immediately, the man's face lit up and he began to speak quickly. "Oh, well, I'm sure we got some things here that'll strike your fancy. You look like you're needin' a hat. We got a nice selection on the wall to your left." He watched as Grealy walked to the hats and continued. "We don't get many visitors around here. Nice to see somebody with some money."

Contrary to what the clerk said, the wall only held a collection of eight hats. Only one of them appealed to Grealy, a gray felt hat with a three- inch crown and a four inch brim. He removed it from the wall and placed it atop of his head.

"Nice choice," said the clerk. "A fellow by the name of Stetson is making those hats a few miles west of here. Says they're good for keepin' the sun outta your eyes and the rain outta your hair. Kind of expensive, though."

"How much?" asked Grealy, looking at his reflection in a mirror.

"Well, it usually goes for ten, but you look like a nice man. How's about eight?"

Grealy smiled. "Sold."

"Good. What else would you like?" asked the clerk, making a sweeping gesture of the store.

"I'm gonna need a pair of ridin' boots, a few shirts, a pair of pants or two, and a coat."