Killer Cat at the Ranch by Diana l. Pierce…..alias…..Dee Grainger…..No copyright infringement intended…

The open range of Wyoming wasn't only open for grazing cattle and horses, but the wildlife was abundant there as well. Sharing ground with the coyote, wolf, bear and cougar could sometimes be a rancher's nightmare. Clay Grainger is about to find out first handed what a beast can do to a herd of prime beef.

A screech echoed loudly across the Shiloh ranch land and everyone from people to domesticated animals heard the cry. Clay Grainger sprang from his bed and looked out the window, "That sounded close." The horses in the corral are disturbed and stirring up a fuss. Holly who is now by his side pulls back the curtain, "Lights are lit in the bunkhouse. I'm sure the boys are all up now." Clay pulls his pants on and goes downstairs. He lights a lamp in his study and retrieves a shotgun from the cabinet. He loads the shotgun and exits the house. He walks down the steps out front and notices the Virginian by the corral, "Do you see anything? Bet it's that cat they've been talking about in town." His foreman says, "Didn't see nothing, but he's close and they know it." He watches the horses stumping and pushing against the fence rail. "Sir, I hope this corral will hold 'em." Clay says, "May as well tell the boys to get dressed. Better check the herd at first light." The Virginian agrees, "Reckon it'll be light in a couple hours." The foreman returns to the bunkhouse and puts the coffee pot over.

Later out on the range the herd is scattered. The cowhands are busy trying to put the main herd back together again. Trampas rode up near his foreman who is looking over a downed cow. "How many does that make? Found two on the south section. Anyone else come back with casualty numbers?" The Virginian shoots the cow to put her out of her misery, "With yours and this one it makes about twenty. Doesn't make sense it hasn't eaten on any of them. We better find that cougar for he makes another kill." He gets back on his horse and joins his top hand to try and track the over grown feline. The two ride north looking for clues along the way. They stop at a waterfall gushing down from a rocky peak. They fill their canteens and water their horses. Looking over their shoulder with each step they take, they have an eerie feeling that something is watching them. Back in the saddle, they move on getting closer to higher elevation. Trampas motions to his foreman, "Looks like snow's still deep in spots up here. Think he came up here? Haven't seen tracks in awhile now." The Virginian shakes his head, "I think we passed him somewhere between here and the falls. We better back track." The two head back down the mountain.

In the mean time several cowhands have returned to the ranch. Clay asks, "How bad is it?" His young, cowhand Jim explains, "At least twenty, sir, Trampas and the bossman are tracking the cat north. We got the herd mostly back together. Should we go up there to help find the cat?" Clay scratches his head, "Probably better stay here. Be dark before you ever got up there. Better get rested it could be another night like we just had." Jim agrees, "Yeah, has been a long day. Reckon a nap wouldn't hurt." The men go to the bunkhouse. The cowhands no more than get relaxed for a nap when a knock on the door interrupts, "Jim, Belle never came back. I've been calling and calling. Uncle Clay said to have a couple of you see if you can find her." Elizabeth calls through the door concerned about their only milk cow. The cowhands begin their search and listen for the bell the animal has dangling from her neck.

Now Trampas and the Virginian have just returned to the waterfalls. What tracks they found give no sign of the direction the cougar may have taken. They decide to head back toward the ranch as this could be where the feline had returned to. As they get closer to the ranch, they notice Jim tossing a rope around the neck of the milk cow and leading her home. Trampas rides up near the Jersey cow, "What's Belle doing this far out, Jim? Suppose she saw the cougar?" The Virginian is now close to them; "Stop, a minute, Jim. Looks like something got a hold of her." They see three parallel scratches on the cow's rear quarter a good foot long. The three are now standing beside Belle examining her wound. Jim shakes his head, "I can't believe she got away from the thing." The cow is moving her head with the bell clinging to the motion. The Virginian gets back on his horse. "We better get her to the barn." The three return to the ranch with Belle.

Later at the barn, Elizabeth is milking the cow. "Poor girl, I can't blame you not giving much milk tonight." She heads out of the barn with her bucket. Her Uncle Clay is coming down the steps in front of the house as she heads toward him, "Uncle Clay, go look at the scratches on Belle. The Virginian said the cat almost had her and she barely gave any milk tonight." He looks in the bucket, "Scared still, I assume. Sure she'll give down more in the morning." He heads to the barn to take a look at the cow.

Later Clay enters the bunkhouse to talk to his cowhands. "You fellas got any ideas where that cat went?" The Virginian shakes his head, "Not sure, sir. But I think it's still hanging around close by. We better take turns staying up with a shotgun loaded tonight."

Trampas and the elder hired hand, Burt took first watch. They decide to sit out in the barn to not only be closer to the corral, but to avoid waking the others trying to sleep. Trampas is propped up on a bag of grain leaning against the wall. Burt is standing near the doorway. They have one lantern with the wick turned down very low as not to spook the intruder if it should come close. Trampas wipes his forehead and begins to yawn, "Burt, don't let me doze off. Sure been a long day." Burt peeks outside, "I won't. I'm wide awake. Couldn't sleep knowing that cat is out there." The first hour is quiet, other than an occasional whinny from one the horses in corral. Trampas oddly enough still has his eyes open at least most of the time. Burt tips a bucket upside down and has a seat watching Belle who steps back in forth in an uneasy fashion. He whispers, "Belle sure is a lucky cow. She must have been scared to death." Trampas yawns, "Yeah, probably sour her milk." Burt shakes his head with a serious expression, "Ain't, never heard of that."

About two o'clock in the morning, the Virginian and Jim enter the barn to relieve the two on watch. Jim shakes Trampas who seemed to be snoring with his head against the wall. "Some watch you are. Hope you've had good dreams." Trampas jumps to his feet wiping his eyes looking at the Virginian, "Yoo, bossman, Burt said he'd wake me if I dozed off." Burt said, "Yes, sir. I told him that." Just then they hear a load ruckus going on in the corral. They investigate. Burt being a bit nervous stays close to the barn door. The horses are restless prancing from one end to other of the corral and neighing loudly. Then they see it, a shadow cast across the barn wall. The silhouette was huge and the sight of the cat's blown up image made the cowhands hair, stand up on the back of their necks. They knew it was close. Trampas shouts, "There it is." He points to the other side of the corral. He cocks his shotgun and runs around the enclosure. He takes aim. Before, Trampas can get a shot. The cat is gone into the darkness. The Virginian says, "Close call. It'll be back, we'll wait." Trampas was annoyed not to get a good shot, "Wish I could have seen where he went."

The next day Clay Grainger meets with some of his neighbors in his living room. They all agree this cougar is not like most. It kills just to kill. It seldom consumes much of its hunt. It must be stopped before it ruins all of them. Clays says, "It's been right here, two nights in a row." The Virginian tells his boss, "There has to be something bringing it back here, if we could only figure out what. It's almost like it's teasing us." They set out to find the cat with more hunters to increase success.

Over a week has gone by with no sign of the cougar or anymore disturbance. All in his persuade had given up on seeing him again. And then one day as the Graingers were returning home from Medicine Bow the cat came jumping right at them. The team went wild running out of control. Clay yells, "Woo! Woo!" They won't slow down. The cowhands watching the chaos from a distant all run to help. The Virginian catches up to the team and jumps off his horse and onto one of them trying to stop them. Still this does not slow them much. The carriage the Graingers are in is taking a beating, rocking back and forth. Trampas comes upon the team from the other side and climbs onto the other team horse. Between the two they bring them to a stop. They hear a gun shot from behind them. Then Jim come riding up fast to where they are. "We got the cat. Jumped right at ole Hank and I shot it. Dang never had thought it'd been out in broad daylight." The Virginian is trying to calm the team horses by petting them. He smiles at Jim. "Reckon you'll have a story to tell in town. I'd say we're ready for a night out." Trampas grins, "I'm ready that's for sure. Maybe we won't have to be looking over our shoulder there and back." Clay laughs, "Maybe we'll all rest easier now." He hugs his wife and smiles at his niece. Elizabeth gathers her bundles together from the bouncy ride. "Glad it's not going to be spooking anymore horses. I don't like these wild rides." The Virginian says, "We'll lead you on home. They still are a bit shaky. I think we better let this team rest a spell." They all agree.

The next morning old Burt is fixing himself some coffee. He pours some milk into his cup. The milk curdles. His jaw drops. "Trampas, your right it did sour her milk. Look it there." Trampas and the Virginian both look in the cup of coffee with gobs of sour milk floating in it. The Virginian laughs, "Burt, if you got it from that pitcher that was setting near the stove, it was already sour. The cook was planning to use it in his biscuits." Trampas laughs, "Can't believe he took me serious." The Virginian grins, "Remember Burt hasn't known you as long as the rest of us have."