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Running with Mustangs
The wind blew lazily through the pine trees, dust swirling about their trunks. The mustangs’ manes and tails floated with the breeze matching the boughs of the trees. At the top of a small slope stood a stallion next to a lonely hollowed out tree, proud and tall watching over his harem. He was a silhouette against the darkening twilight; a fading star in a sky of evolution. The horses were in a crowded meadow in the midst of a dense forest. Mares shuffled around, gently nosing their colts, then continuing to graze. A girl, small and silent crept noiselessly through the horses, the stallion raised his head eyes flashing and nostrils flared upon the human scent then quickly settled down as he recognized her.
Climbing the hill she sighed. It wasn’t always like this she thought. The town used to love the mustangs. The cowhands used to take a few days off in the spring and run the wild horses through the town, penning what they could and then running them across the river to the unused flatland. She had even gotten to join in one year, of course without permission and had gotten punished for it. Girls were not supposed to work cows, they stayed home with the children and helped their mothers with the house chores. Not this girl though. She wanted to be with the men, watching over cows, breaking colts and running the mustangs in the spring.
The stallion turned to her, pushing her roughly with his great head. She patted his shoulder fondly, he was so distinguished. His finely dished head was sculpted delicately; every curve and dimple had been thought out long and carefully by his maker. He nipped her pocket looking for the apples that she stole from the ranchers while they were out to lunch or at Church on Sunday. Clementine grabbed the apple and he took the whole thing in his mouth, seeming as though he savored the taste he shook his head vigorously while he chewed.
“I knew ya’d like one t’night”, Clementine giggled as her fingers were covered in sticky horse drool and apple pieces as the stallion lipped for more. She sighed and petted his dark face. His ears flitted back and forth, catching all her words and taking in their meaning. “I’ve got t’ go int’ town termorrow. I ‘ave t’ get things so that I kin stay an’ help ya. Yer gonna ‘ave t’ stay here an’ take care o’ the herd withou’ me, there hasn’ been much goin’ on in town since we lef’ fer the moun’ains but it’s only a matter o’ time before they decide they need this place too. Even my family’s property wasn’t safe…” Clementine trailed off, looking at the three hundred or more horses that milled throughout the clearing. A coyote howled its sad song in the distance and was answered by five more echoing calls. Clementine sat down, resting her back against the dead trees trunk, gathering her blankets about her she snuggled into her makeshift bed. Slowly drifting into sleep she watched her stallion make his way down to his herd.
It was cold, her nose was frozen and she shivered with the morning frost. The stallion loomed above her, his great head was above hers dozing off. She stretched slowly taking her warm wrappings off her she shook all over briskly getting up. Being disturbed the stallion pushed her roughly as if to say why’d you get up I had it all under control. She smiled as she looked at his messy frock of hair that made up his forelock and mane; it was so thick it would make three horses have full manes and then some.
“I’m leavin’ soon t’ get some supplies and see my folk. I’ll take Bo, you’ll have ter make do withou’ me terday. I probab’y won’ be back till late ternight or early in the mornin’.” Clementine sighed as he nipped at her empty pockets and then shook his head like a naughty colt.
She folded her blankets and put them in the hollowed out tree. She wished they could stay in this meadow forever, it was so nice. There was a cheerful trickling creek not far from the meadow where rabbits and deer meandered throughout the hazy afternoons. It seemed as if everything was perfect when they were here, nothing bothered them and men didn’t come this far into the mountains unless they were trapping, outlaws or Indians. Clementine snatched up her bridle and put the gun she’d stolen in its holster that was hidden under her skirt, today she was going to get some new cloths. She whistled loudly and a little bay mustang came barreling to her, skidding to a stop where she had been standing only seconds before. She gave him an apple that had been stashed in the hollowed out tree and bridled her pony. One step and a tiny jump and she was astride her mount, she gathered her reins and headed out of the meadow.
As she neared the small town of Harrison she felt a shiver go up her spine. The Snow Ranch was on the outskirts and that was where she aimed to go first. As she drew up on Bo’s head she noticed the sound of her two brothers. They were arguing over who got the new colt. Clementine urged Bo into a rocking canter, eager to see her family. They clattered into the ranches yard in a cloud of dust and a frenzy of hooves as Bo slid to a stop. Gus and Ned had stopped talking when they heard the hoof beats and were at his head grabbing his bridle as Clementine slid off his rump laughing at their services.
“Where ‘ave ya been?” and “We thought you’d gone up in the flume.” they exclaimed all at once.
“Relax bubs, ya don’t gotta be a coupl’a boot-lickers! Gim’me my hoss and I’ll tell ya what I been up to.” Clementine said as the three siblings walked Bo to the barn so they could grain and water him.
“You ‘bout drove ma an’ pa raving distracted with all the towns talk. Towns’ folk been saying yer got yerself a’ scamp and made tracks with ‘im. Ma ‘n’ Pa reckon ya seen ‘em snuffy bangtails gettin’ kilt along the Iron Hoss an’ took to amputatin’ yer timber.” Ned chuckled.
“Tha’s not so far off’a wha’ happened. Tha’ outlaw hoss, ya know the gritty grey stallion that heads the must’ngs, well ‘is herd was out grazin’ wit’ ‘em buffalo and tha’ old Iron Hoss come by an’ the people’re all shootin’ both the herds an’ they don’ know wha’ta do. They all jus’ start runnin’ ina circle not knowin’ wha’ta do an’ tha’ outlaw hoss starts t’ run both’a the herds outta the valley an’ around tha’ big hill so’s they kin all get off safe. Well ‘e ge’s the hoss’s an’ buffalos’ turn’d roun’ and then he ge’s a lead plumb in ‘is sho’lder which sends ‘im fallin’ on t’ ‘is head an’ ‘e’s all abroad an’ then ‘e jus’ don’ get up.” She cleared her throat for the next part of the story. “Well I waits for tha’ ol’ Iron Hoss to clear out an’ I give Bo the ol’ gut hooks an’ we go full out to reach ‘im in time. When we got up’t ‘im he was breathin’ ‘eavy an’ was down in the mouth so I jump off’a Bo an’ grab my coil an’ my spar’ halter so’s I kin tie ‘im up an’ get a lead on ‘im.
Well ‘e was pre’y bad off in the sho’lder from the lead plumb an’ I had’ta get it out b’fore infection got t’ settin’ in. I got it out an’ untied ‘im but I kno’s ‘e wasn’ gonna be kept from ‘is herd. We slept ther’ tha’ night an’ in the mornin’ ‘e was ringy but biddable, like ‘e knew Bo an’ had sized me up or somethin’. Well ther’ wasn’ anythin’ else t’do but help ‘im back to ‘is harem, so Bo an’ I, well, we set out on’a slow journey. Them hoss’s hightailed it for ‘em mount’ans an’ them buffalo jus’ stayed aroun’ all beef-headed like. Tha’s wha’ I’ve been gone’ doin’ an I allot upon makin’ ‘em mustangs welcome ‘roun’ here again. An’ I ain’t gonna throw up the sponge on this one.” Clementine finished.
“Yer gonna be talkin’ a donkey’s hind leg off in this here town. No one wants ‘em hoss’s ‘roun’ here with all the cattle ranchers comin’ in t’ town. ‘Em hoss’s bein’ called varmint in these parts anymore,” sighed Gus as he hooked a bucket of fresh water on its hook in Bo’s stall.
“Well I think somethin’ needs t’ be done ‘bout ‘em hoss’s too,” stated Ned, “over a bakers dozen are our saddle hoss’s and we need ‘em t’ work our ranch. Without ‘em hoss’s we been hurtin’ for chink since there’s nary a spare hoss t’ sell nor an extra mount for us t’ use an’ we end up fightin’ t’ get the new colts pa brings home. An’ there ain’t been a lot’a hoss’s comin’ in seein’ as we ain’t got no chink.”
“Well the townsfolk mayn’t knowed it yet but ‘em hoss’s ‘r’ needed by all o’ us. Not jus’ this family but e’ry one in the area.” Clementine stubbornly persisted, “When I come back nex’ time I’ll come back t’ this town forkin’ that outlaw hoss. Then wha’s this town gonna ‘ave t’ say ‘bout them bangtails. Any of ‘em kin be tamed, yer jus’ gotta be a bronc buster.”
Gus let out a long sigh and shook his head sayin, “Yer gonna get yerself in a fix, townsfolk don’ like ‘em bangtails, an’ they ‘specially ain’t gonna like a lil’ g’hal comin’ ‘roun’ tryin’ t’ save them hoss’s. Clem, yer gotta understan’ tha’ we’re on’y tryin’ t’ split fair ‘bout what yer getting’ in-ter.”
They went into the ranch house. The three dogs milled about their feet, excitedly sniffing Clementine’s dirty cloths. Her mother, Clara, was standing at the wash bin doing laundry, she looked up and a large smile crept across her face. Her moon shaped face so different from her children could light up a room when she smiled. She had a sweet personality and cared for all the animals in the world. She’d been raised by the Indians after they found her lost in the woods starving, she learned their ways and knew more about healing than the doctor in town. Her slender figure was gracefully shaped and she could have married any man she wanted which was why she had married Duke. She swiftly crossed the room to Clementine, snatching her up in a tight hug.
“I thought ya’d been takin’ by a curly wolf or a’ owl hoot! We were so worried!” Clara exclaimed. “You’ve got so much to tell I reckon. Yer gonna raise sand when the other ranchers find you’ve come back. And yer comin’ lookin’ like a barber’s cat, we’ll ‘ave t’ get a tightener in ya an’ some fresh cloths. Nary mention a bathe in the river. Now ya go on. Clean up while I getta nice hot meal ready fer ya.” Clare set about to getting the stove lit and sent Ned out to the meat house.
Clementine left the house after grabbing a fresh outfit out of her room and went to the river to start washing up. She jumped off of the rounded boulder with a loud whooping holler, sank to the bottom of the flowing current, her skirts billowed and weighed her down as she sprang up to the surface. Shrugging off her garments Clementine let her hair flow out behind her, she scrubbed at her face and tried to comb through her tangled hair. After being with the mustangs she’d been pretty clean she chuckled to herself, her cloths may be tattered and she may have a rats nest where other girls had curls but she washed in the trickling creek and wore her under garments most of the time. A loud whinny sounded, Clementine wheeled around sinking low in the water. Edward and Mia, the Richard twins, sat on their Mustang pony with their older brother George right behind them on his Quarter Horse. The three could hardly be told apart except by George’s size and Mia and Edward having different lengths of hair, their noses were small, and cheek bones high. Straw blonde hair poked out from under their hats in every direction and they had the bluest eyes found in the town.
“Well ya sure got me treed this time!” Clementine exclaimed.
“George was out tryin’ t’ find another maverick an’ ‘e saw yer hoss kickin’ up tha’ trail of dust, jus’ figured we’d head on o’re here an’ see what yer aimin’ t’ do.” Mia said, a faint longing in her voice.
“Well since y’all foun’ me, and seein’ as I’m in the middle o’ takin’ my dip,” Clementine said forcefully, swirling the water around her body, the current swirled her hair straight behind her, “did yer three wanna join since it’s sucha nobbish day out, could ‘ave a fun time.” She daintily took her hand out of the water and wiggled a beckoning finger at the three siblings.
“How do yer ma ‘n’ pa teach yer t’ act ‘round modest folk? Yer makin’ us all-overish with yer crude gestures an’ such,” George told Clementine with his deep rumbling voice.
“Awe Georgey, ‘twa’n’t tryin’ t’ rub yer coat the wrong way. Jus’ tryin’ t’ be friendly an’ have some fun. Ya been uncorkin’ a bronc lately? Heard yer pa was ‘avin’ troubles with some bangtails.”
George dismounted and started to unrig his horse. Mia and Edward got off and Mia trailed the reins behind her, her Mustang followed obediently as he was led to a large oak tree to be tied. Mia and Edward set to taking off their boots and sat on a couple of rocks so they could dip their feet in. Clementine watched George carefully as he unrigged his horse and started to strip; quickly she dipped under the water and jumped up blowing water out of her mouth as she shook her hair back. George swung back onto his little gelding and in his bareness spurred the horse into the water a few feet away from Clementine. When his horse came to a stop in the river he was up to his withers in the swirling current. The next thing George knew Clementine was aboard and he was off the other side.
Laughing Clementine said teasingly in a proper voice, “well, you cowhands an’ hoss breakers know how t’ ride ‘em when their dry an’ goin’ fast though out the country side but when it comes t’ water, oh when it comes t’ water, yer jus’ not able t’ hold on t’ nothin’. An’ yer all ov’r the place flailin’ in the water like a cat tryin’ t’ swim.”
Mia and Edward had rolled off their rocks in laughter and were still rolling about in the long green grass, as George was regaining his composure and Clementine trotted his horse away from his grasp to tease a bit more.
“I oughta ge’ you in trouble with yer ma an’ pa Clem, but seein’ as I’d get a lambastin’ for it an’ ya’d get off easy b’cause yer were here firs’ I’ll be like a thoroughbred an’ not say nothin’,” George retaliated in his embarrassment.
Mia and Edward had stop roaring with laughter and Mia went on to say, “ Awe come now George, we all know how yer feelin’s ‘bout Clem are. She’s all ya talk ‘bout an’ yer so sweet on ‘er. Why don’t ya pop the question alrea’y? She ain’t gonna be this perdy ferever. Yer jus’ so lily livered it’s sad.”
“Oh George, Ev’ryon’ says we’d make a sweet match but ya’ll know how diff’rent we are. Yer all t’ pieces ‘bout gettin’ ‘em bangtails outta the area an’ I’m soft down on ‘em. They’ll save me when I save them,” Clementine said in a gentle voice, so soft that only George, who was standing at his geldings head, could hear. George nodded his head slowly in agreement and looked at Clementine with large sad eyes and whispered, “I’d save all ‘em dang scrub bangtails for yer if I could. Yer jus’ so set on havin’ ‘em saved ya don’ see wha’s in fron’a ya. If yer were t’ look at all’a stuff ‘roun’ ya, ya’d see wha’ yer missin’ an’ wha’ yer needin’, yer fixin’ t’ be barkin’ at a knot in this town. Folk ‘roun’ here don’ want ‘em hoss’s no more. They wan’ ‘em gone, ‘em hoss’s cause more probl’ms than anythin’.”
“Well,” Clementine said obnoxiously, “ I don’ expect t’ get a lot’a help doin’ this, an’ I don’ expect a lot’a folk to agree with me, but wha’s right is right, an’ ‘em hoss’s help e’ery one ‘roun’ here. ‘em hoss’s pack the lil’ kids aroun’ e’erywhere an’ yer not gonna fin’ another hoss as hardy as ‘em mus’angs. Yer kin pay all yer earnin’s for a hoss tha’s well bred an’ has less stamina than an ol’ range rat.”
And with that being said Clementine slid off of George’s gelding and got out of the river. No one said a word. Everyone could see the pain in George’s eyes as he stood speechless as his gelding splashed water all over him. Clementine put her under garments on and grabbed the rest of her stuff. Heading back through the lush grass, she never looked back, just strode onward, ready to start her mission. Now she knew for sure, the mustangs were going to be a tough topic in the town. Everyone was against them and so they were against her. She straightened her back, squared her shoulders and got ready for what was ahead.
After eating with her family she took her father, Duke, aside to talk in private. She had to get down to the reason why she was in town and get it settled so she could go back. “Now Pa, I know yer worried ‘bout me, an’ ma is too. I kin see that. You was always sayin’ how us kids gotta find somethin’ ter stan’ for an’ believe in. Now I know our families’ chink come in from ‘em bangtails an’ the few cattle we sell off each year, an’ the hoss’s bein’ gone’s taken a pretty toll on the family. I done saved ‘em bangtails an’ I’m gonna put a stop to ‘em bein’ harmed like ‘em Indians’ buffalo. They’ve been a joy to this ol’ town since b’fore we started runnin’ ‘em through an’ ‘ave helped us e’ery day since we got ‘ere. Our own saddle hoss’s are in tha’ herd an’ I ain’t been brought up t’ lay down an’ let ‘em get slaugh’ered like cattle.”
“Well, It’s a big undertakin’ an’ I hope yer ready fer it ‘cause yer not gonna get a welcomin’ crowd a folk. Nary a person who don’ want ‘em hoss’s aroun’ anymore. Cattle ranchers an’ the town jus’ see ‘em bangtails as a nuisance an’ yer gonna have yer han’s full if yer set on startin’ this. I’m all for yer startin’ this. Them hoss’s ‘ave a right ter be aroun’, helped us make this ol’ town an’ the folk in it who and how they is terday.”
Duke’s advice gave Clementine hope. There had to be others who wanted the mustangs back, they just didn’t have the courage to stand up for them. They just needed a leader to give them the push to stand up for the courageous and hardy little horses that would turn any purebred horse into a wheezing bag of bones with only a week into a hard ride. Clementine started to have Ned gather the supplies that she needed to take back with her so she could start trying to save the wild horses.
It was late in the afternoon; a dog lay panting in the heat on the porch of the sheriff’s office. The building was slightly tilted, as if someone had tried to bust his buddy out of jail by tying a horse up to the window bars. Everything looked rough and harsh about the building, the way the stairs led up to the porch and the angle of the door that was slightly cracked open. The railing that wrapped about the little porch was upright and seemed almost strict. Clementine shivered as a small breeze blew against her. She gathered Bo’s reins and slid off, taking him to the worn tying rail in front of the porch. The dog looked up from his nap then lazily closed his eyes again. She glanced back at Bo, reassured that this was what she had to do for his family Clementine opened the door and walked into the small office.
Sheriff Roscoe was sitting with his feet perched on top of his desk. His large hat was pulled down low over his face as he dozed off in the heat. Beads of sweat rolled down his fat face and he stunk like he hadn’t bathed in months. He woke with a start at the sound of Clementine knocking on his cluttered wooden desk. Roscoe stiffly straightened up and eyed Clementine suspiciously as if she were a dog that bit. He grunted as he shifted around in his seat some more and Clementine began to inform him of the mustangs, their sufferings and their right to have safety in the valley as well as the mountains. At the end of her thought out argument Clementine added that most of the townsfolk wouldn’t have made it here as long as they have without their own mustangs.
Roscoe scratched his patchy beard in thought and went on to say, “Well, yer points are all good an’ such but the folk ‘roun’ here don’ want ‘em hoss’s ‘roun’ ‘cause’a their cattle need somethin’ ter eat an’ ‘em hoss’s eat all the good pas’ure. I’m sure yer able ter und’a’stan’ this. Yer pa has cattle an’ he needs his pas’ures ter feed ‘em an’ not the hoss’s.”
“I told yer tha’ my folks use ‘em hoss’s ter make money too. We ‘ave branded saddle hoss’s in tha’ herd an’ most of ‘em got shot when tha’ Iron Hoss went by since they didn’ ‘ave the sense t’ run when the firs’ shots were fired. My bub’s curry out the kinks in’em an’ then get good chink when pa takes ‘em back east durin’ the spring.” Clementine protested coolly.
“I’ll see wha’ I kin do but don’ get yer hopes raised. Yer goin’ above yer bend.”
“I appreciate yer hearin’ me an’ e’ery thing an’ I hope this goes like I plan. An’ don’ worry this isn’t the las’ yer gonna be seein’ o’ me but I be’er run on home. My folk’ll be worryin’ by now.” Clementine curtsied with a tight smile and ran out the door.
It was almost dark by the time she reached the sixth draw. She couldn’t just go straight to the horses because couldn’t stand the thought of someone finding her mustangs. Her path would be dark tonight even though it was a clear sky with a full moon, trees loomed along the game trail that Clementine cantered her horse along. Bo was eager to get back to his herd, he moved silently through the little underbrush and debris that had taken up residency in his path. Clementine’s supplies made a soft thump thump, thump thump as Bo lengthened his stride when they neared the two mile mark to the meadow. A creek cut through the trail and a herd of deer turned their heads and watched the horse and girl as they splashed through it. An owl flew over head and hooted its lonely sounding call as it disappeared into the night just as silently as it appeared. A wolf howled his testament to the moon and Clementine dropped Bo’s reins, he jumped out of his quick canter into a rushing gallop.
After dodging trees and whipped by the wind Bo slid to a stop in front of a wary stallion. Clementine slid off and went to him, speaking softly. He snorted and shook his delicate head. Clementine took Bo’s bridle and the bags she used to pack her supplies off him and laid them on the ground so he could rest with the herd. Grabbing an apple Clementine held it out to the outlaw stallion. He took it gingerly, shaking his head vigorously as he chewed. Clementine laughed at the sight. He was a giant colt, greatness shone in every curving muscle and his posture was so sure, so noble that in his playfulness he looked comical. Clementine took a deep breath, grabbed his mane and swung onto his back. He stood, turned his head around to look at her and took off into the forest the way that she had come.
They cantered along smoothly and took another game trail that led up a hill. The top of the hill loomed above all the rest, there was thick brush that reached up to the stallions belly and a few trees that hid them from sight. Sounds of men and hoof beats reached Clementine and the stallion’s ears. Angrily the stallion pawed the ground. Clementine found the source, a group of men carrying torches and riding horses were following her trail with a couple of hounds leading them. They moved slowly and were far away, about four miles out, but they would be upon the herd soon. Clementine pushed the stallions’ neck in the direction of the herd and he sped off in a quick canter down the slope and back to the herd. When they reached the horses Clementine jumped off, quickly gathering her things she ran up to the watch point and gather the rest of the stuff out of the hollowed out tree whistling for Bo at the same time.
After bridling Bo she threw her saddle and belongings on him and then followed suit. She watched the mustangs be led by their lead mare out of the meadow and into the night, the stallion biting the heels of the horses not moving fast enough. Colts and mares scrambled to their feet in haste as the herd quickly evacuated. Clementine wheeled Bo around and set out in the opposite direction. The stallion turned, rearing and pawing the air he let out a blasting whistle at the girl and her little mustang, and then he too turned and ran out of the valley. Bo and Clementine galloped down the trail leading to their new found advantage point. The men were still two or three miles out, there had to be a way to prevent them from getting to the meadow. Bo took off running back to the meadow, Clementine didn’t fight him. He had to have a plan, he always did. He came to an abrupt stop at the end of the game trail and walked a little ways into the brush where they’d be totally hidden from anyone on the trail.
The dogs were close. Clementine leaned forward in her saddle; she cocked an arrow into her bow. The two dogs were in front of her, one fell with a thump the other stopped and whined. The men with torches came closer, she felled the second dog, the leading horse snorted and started at the scent of the two dogs that lay in the middle of the trail. The shouts of men sounded as horses snorted and kicked out at each other. Clementine turned Bo around and let him run noisily through the brush in a loop around the men causing rabbits to dart through the mounted horses legs and creating a mess. Deer came crashing through the brush making the forest come to life with the sound of leaves crackling, branches snapping and the breathing of animals. By the time they left all the commotion behind they were leaving the meadow and were rushing to their herd. A few saddled horses that had heard Bo’s hoof beats caught up and nervously tossed their heads in the joy of freedom.
It was dawn by the time Clementine, Bo and the saddle horses found the mustangs. They moved around the small pond with light feet. Foals and yearlings played in the water and the stallion stood on a knoll with the sun rising behind him. She had helped the mustangs find safety again; she couldn’t go back to town just to put them in danger. This was her herd; it was her family, this was where she belonged now. The saddle horses excitedly neared the herd and squeals were heard the whole morning as well as the thud of hooves on horse flesh. Clementine unsaddled the horses after going around the large rocks that rose out of one side of the pool of water. She put the horses’ saddles and bridles in a dry cave, separating the stuff she could use into a pile. Her saddle was a getting a little small and wouldn’t be able to pack all the stuff she had collected so she chose a new saddle.
The sound of stamping feet came from behind her. She smiled and stood up. The stallion pushed her with his nose before she could turn around. Having to take a step forward and since there was nowhere to put her feet she tripped over a saddle and fell with her feet and hands on the ground. She twisted around, sat down and laughed so hard at the expression on the stallions’ face that she cried. She gathered herself up and petted the stallions face, brushing his forelock out of his eyes she looked at his delicate head and his lean body. He was magnificent, not another horse was like him. He was hers and she was his.