By the time I turned 20, I had worked myself up to the position of second man to the foreman. I had
also fallen in love with Stogie's daughter, Etta Black, the most beautiful woman in the world. I
courted her some—taking her to what few dances there were, but Stogie didn't want his daughter to
marry just yet, and said we'd have to wait until she turned 18. Most people thought he was unreasonable
about that, since most young ladies married at 15 or 16, but I didn't want to go against his wishes,
so we set the wedding date for 1882.
Meantime, Stogie took me to town and introduced me to the sporting ladies. I liked that a lot, and,
as Stogie explained, good women only submit when they want to have a baby, so a man ought to take
his baser desires to the sporting women who liked to do that sort of thing. I visited them every
Saturday night, but limited myself, since I wanted to save as much money as I could to provide for
Etta. The rest of the time in town, I chased after Bosco and kept him out of trouble. We had a
good time, though, and fought beside one another in many a good brawl. A young man has to have a
way to work off all that energy.
About six months before the wedding date, a mining explosion killed Pa and shut down the mine.
Jed needed a job, and Stogie agreed to hire him on, mostly as a favor to me. That was the stupidest
thing I ever did, but it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. The other stupid thing I
did was to let him talk to Etta. I trusted them both--her, with my heart, him, with my life. A
month before our wedding date, Jed and Etta got married.
I can't tell you what that did to me. I was a grown man, but I was so tied in knots, I didn't know
whether to bawl like a baby or go kill someone who needed killing. But family sticks together, so I
vowed to be civil no matter what it cost me. I didn't stick around much, though, and saddled up to
ride the range with the hands, planning to return in the fall. Bosco went with me.
They didn't need us out there and, after a few months, Bosco and I returned to the ranch. Etta was
large with child, more like six months along than the two months she'd been married. So, Jed had
been poking her while Etta and I had acted engaged. I was plenty riled, I can tell you that.
Before I'd left, I had been working with an outlaw mustang I named Sinner. Stogie wanted me to let
him go, but I took a liking to that horse, and wanted him. When I got back, Sinner wasn't in any
better humor. I got on him and he bucked so hard, he turned me wrong-side-out by the time I hit
Jed showed up to have a talk with me, but between my broken heart and my contest with Sinner, I was
in no mood to make nice with the brother who'd stolen my woman out from under my nose. I told him
if he could break Sinner, I might consider forgiving him, knowing that Sinner couldn't be broke.
Jed agreed, climbed on, and was thrown.
He laid there on the ground, not moving. I caught the horse and tied him up, then went to see about
my brother. I thought he was dead. Some hands helped me get him into the house. I felt terrible,
knowing that Jed was a miner, not a cowboy. I'd made him a challenge that I knew damned well he
couldn't meet—but I knew he'd try, because he had never wanted to hurt me. No one knew more than I
did how irresistible Etta was, and I couldn't hardly fault him for loving her.
Jed came to the next day. The doctor said his knee was smashed, and that if it didn't putrify and
kill him, it would be stiff and he'd be a gimp the rest of his life. Now it was up to me to support
my laid-up brother and his family—the family that should have been mine.
I'd heard about the mines in Silver City, Idaho, and that they needed beef to feed the booming town.
I also heard there was some good ranch land and year-around creeks. I decided to check it out, and
found a good place up on Sinker Creek.
Stogie wasn't all that happy with Etta, the way she done me wrong and all, so he agreed to give me
a hundred head of bred heifers and loan me some men to drive them up to Sinker Creek. I'd already
saved up enough money for operating capital to last the winter.
I moved Ma and my sister, Jed and Etta to my new ranch. Bosco decided to move up with us, too. Once
settled, I hired a couple of hands from Silver City who'd had their fill if mining. We lived in
tents until I could get a couple of cabins and a bunkhouse built. There was plenty of juniper, but
the limbs were short and crooked, so the building went slow. We managed to get the job done before
the snow set in, although I could only afford one cook stove.
Jed got better, but his leg healed up stiff as a board. He could ride, but his leg stuck out. Walking
pained him, and so he did work like pitching hay and such. Etta had a baby girl in September. They
named her Abigail, one of the names I'd discussed with Etta when we were courting. I could hardly look
at that baby without feeling like Jed had stuck a knife in my heart. That beautiful baby girl should
have been mine. But she wasn't.
That winter, we were snowbound. We couldn't even get out to check the herd, and just hoped enough of
them survived so we could get established the next spring. During those winter days, I did my best
to put aside my feelings. None of us ever said a word. Baby Abbie won my heart. Hell, she was the
only innocent one in the bunch. I dandled her in my knee just like she was my own—which she should
Jed and Etta were in love, and by spring I knew that I'd lost out completely without even knowing I'd
kept a little spark of hope all that time. Jed had healed up as well as could be expected, and
insisted he do his fair share of the work. I could see that some things still pained him, but he
worked as hard as any able man and never complained. I didn't coddle him, because a man has to have
his dignity and I'd already taken enough from him.
It was April before the snow melted enough so I could get to Silver City to buy supplies and take my
pleasure on the sporting women. This time I didn't limit myself, poking all I wanted to. Afterwards,
I extricated Bosco from a bar fight he managed to start and we went home. I felt good for the first
time in a year, and thanked each and every one of those ladies for giving me what I needed. But as
soon as I got back to the ranch and saw Etta, those same poison feelings came back, and I was mad at
myself for being such a weak man.
All of us worked our fingers to the bone making that ranch work. Most of the cows lived through the
winter, and we had seventy or so newborn calves. In June, we rounded them all up for branding and
castrating. Jed worked harder than the rest of us, and I saw that he could run this ranch on his own.
Right then and there, I decided to leave him with a good working spread, and I'd take off for Willamette
the next year and start my own life—away from Etta. I'd stick with sporting women and stay away from all
the Ettas who would break me up all over again. I knew I was a hell of a lot better off without a woman
who could break me in two any time she pleased.
After the spring round-up, I went to the bank and got a loan to buy some more beeves. I needed more
cows and a couple of bulls. Come fall, I'd sell off the steers that had been born in the spring to
give me the money to pay off the loan and leave us enough to winter on. The banker charged me high
interest, but I needed the money, so I took it. A month later, I bought two blooded bulls and fifty
head of cows.
The future of the ranch looked bright and we all worked our butts off to make sure we took every
advantage. I told Jed about my plan to start a ranch in Oregon, and he agreed it would be the best
thing, although I was surprised to see that he seemed reluctant to see me go. He wanted to give me
half the herd. I didn't want to take them, but he insisted that I should. I told him we'd worry
about that next year, and we didn't discuss it any further.
In August, Sinker Creek started to dry up. The locals had told me it was a year-around creek, so we
decided to ride upstream to see why we weren't getting any water. We found out—some miners were
sluicing for gold and destroying the creek. I told them to get off my land, but they said I didn't
own it and that they'd staked claim. It was true that they had the mineral rights, but I had the
Then I found out that the bank that loaned me money was also financing the mining outfit. I went to
the banker and told him that the miners would put me out of business if they ruined the creek that fed
my place. I asked him why the hell he financed an operation that would put another one he'd financed
at risk. He said he didn't care about my problems, and that he'd continue to stake them once a month.
The creek had nearly dried up altogether by the end of August and my herd was getting might thirsty.
Jed and I tried to come up with a way to get the miners to go somewhere else, but couldn't think of
a single reasonable way. One day, we were joking, and one of us said that if the bank was robbed, the
miners wouldn't get their stake and would probably leave. I guess Bosco must have heard us, because
the next damned thing I know, he's trying to hold up the bank. I stopped him, but not before the woman
working there had shot me in the leg.
And that's how I ended up in Oreana, Idaho, lying on a doctor's table with a hole in my leg, looking
at a beautiful woman.