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Spurs- Four Stories by Walker A. Tompkins

Spurs by Walker A. Tompkins

Spurs – four Western stories by Walker A. Tompkins.

Book Details

Book Details

Spurs – Four Western stories by Walker A. Tompkins.

In the Middle Ages, a knight who had won his spurs had attained knighthood by performing an act of bravery:

When a valet became an esquire, or an esquire was knighted, he was fitted with new spurs during a special ceremony hence the expression “earned his spurs.” In the rare case of disgrace, a knights spurs were chopped off in a public ceremony with the cook’s cleaver. Source: RoyalSpurs.com

Renegade’s Girl (1955) – Deputy Mel Holister wanted to learn how Betty fit into the outlaw scheme though he knew it meant certain death to find out. A three chapter novelette.

Powdersmoke Prophecy (1947) – After his gambler brother disappeared in frontier darkness, Del Rand rode up from Texas to find him. But when the only clue Del found was a gypsy mystery, the Texan learned that it would take powdersmoke magic to bring his brother to light.

Hoodoo Stage to Pioche (1950) – Mel Coventry accepted dangerous risks as being part of his job. But he drew the line when the danger included the girl he loved

Spurs for a Trail Boss (1954) – Trailherder Spence was too young to know the hazard he faced. But he learned fast when he met Riolette. A four chapter novelette.

Walker A. Tompkins was born on July 10, 1909 in Prosser, Yakima County, Washington. Tompkins grew up on a wheat farm outside Walla Walla before moving with his family to Turlock, California in 1920. He sold his first western novel to Street and Smith of New York, at the age of 21, just before beginning college at Washington State.

Spurs contains 13 illustrations.

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Excerpt: Spurs for a Trail Boss

I

SPENCE finished checking his wrangler’s cavvy corral and then headed for the chuck wagon. Trouble faced him when he told the crew they could not have a spree in Jumpoff’s saloons tonight— trouble he might not be able to handle.

He could see the men silhouetted around Frijole Joe’s cookfire. They were tense and sullen tonight, lacking their usual hoorawing and tomfoolery.

Brad Spence had sensed the rebellion brewing in his crew ever since the herd had left the Pitchfork below Cotulla a month ago, Abilene-bound. Tonight found them at the south bank of the Red River; tomorrow would see them out of Texas— providing Spence had any crew left tomorrow.

This was only his second drive up the Chisholm Trail, his first as Colonel Crain’s herd boss. At twenty he was young for such a job, but a hitch in the Confederate cavalry, enlisting at sixteen, had brought an early maturity to Spence.

At least there would be no trouble with the cattle tonight, likely. The bedground was bordered on three sides by a U-bend of the river, making nighthawk duty easy. Only the softest of winds whispered through the roundabout chaparral. There would be no moon to play tricks with shadows and spook some ringy old bull into starting a stampede. He didn’t have to worry about the cattle.

It’s my crew, Spence thought bitterly. They’ve got a bellyful taking orders from a boss as young as I am. It’s Kaywood’s fault.

Yes, tonight was the showdown for Spence. The crew could see the lights of Jumpoff clustered along the north bank of the Red, painting waggly yellow tracks on the black gliding water.

Over there were saloons and brothels and gambling dens, waiting to make them forget the hard work of the three weeks on the trail, coming up from Colopel Crain’s home range below the Nueces.

Across the river, Jumpoff offered whisky and the warmth of women’s lips, the music of the roulette ball, the clatter of poker chips—all meant to get men’s minds off the grim reaches of the Nations which they must soon cross on their way to Abilene and the railroad.

Most of the crew, like Spence himself, knew something of the hazards involved in hazing two thousand-odd head of brasada longhorns across the strip. Renegade bands roamed that lawless land, hunting for Texas outfits to ambush. This was ’68 and the Indian menace could not be overlooked. From a trail boss’s point of view there were other problems ahead: locating grass and water, so that Pitchfork beef would not be gaunted down to hide and tallow by the time they hit the railhead in Kansas.

Leaving the remuda corral, Spence headed toward the camp. The herd had reached bedground too late in the afternoon to attempt a river crossing. Ordinarily, about now, Pitchfork’s riders would be lifting their bedrolls from the hoodlum wagon and thinking about hitting the hay, bone-tired from the long day in saddle.

But not tonight. Not with the Indian Nations looming on the north horizon. Not with Jumpoff’s fleshpots tempting them across a hundred yards of river ford.

TWO RIDERS were splashing across the mud bars to gain the south bank as Spence drew within earshot of the crew tossing their mess gear into Frijole Joe’s wreck pan. They were from Jumpoff, obviously; and Spence stiffened. Touts from some gambling dive, most likely, who had spotted Pitchfork’s campfire and had forded the Red to drum up business from the Texas drovers.

The riders reached the area of firelight ahead of Spence, and the young herd boss was jolted to see that one of them was a woman whose shoulder-long hair, yellow as burnished brass, caught the cookfire’s gleam in a way to speed up a cowhand’s pulses. Only one kind of girl could come over from Jumpoff.

“Lining up trade,” Spence muttered angrily. “That’s the trouble I had a hunch was coming. They don’t even wait for Texans to cross the river— they come after ’em.” He heard the mounted man’s voice across the night, addressing a question at large to his crew:

“Who’s the ramrod here? What outfit?” Frijole Joe, the rawboned old cook who had been in Colonel Crain’s employ since the ‘fifties, answered the rider:

“Pitchfork, up from Cotulla. Herd boss is Brad Spence. That’s him comin’ now.” The gravelly voice of Grote Kaywood reached Spence’s ears: “A slick-ear kid holdin’ down a man’s job, mister. You’ll stand ace-high with Spence if you brung him a lollypop to lick.”

A round of laughter greeted Kaywood’s sally. The humor stung Spence; he knew the deep-rooted animosity behind Kaywood’s joshing remark. Kaywood had been a cavalry major under Stuart during the war; Spence had come back to Texas in ’65 with a mere sergeant’s chevrons on his gray sleeve. Before that, Grote Kaywood had been Crain’s foreman on Pitchfork. By every right of seniority and experience, Kaywood should be trail boss this year. Spence was the first to admit that. But the Colonel had assigned him the job, naming Kaywood as segundo.

The two visitors from across the river reined their horses around as a drover pointed out Spence, walking into range of the firelight. Spence, seeing the woman at closer range, had to revise his first estimate of her. She was no trail-town jezebel; her youth was too freshly wholesome, her beauty too untarnished for that.

The man with her was a mustached oldster wearing a brushpopper jumper, boss-type stetson and apron chaps. He didn’t appear to be a gambler or bartender, as had been Spence’s first guess. A rancher, maybe, on his way south after finishing his own drive.

“You’re the boss of this drive, they tell me,” the man greeted Spence. “I’m Fred Irons. Stock inspector working out of Kansas. This is my daughter Judy.”

“Spence automatically lifted his hat, his face showing his relief. Kansas had set up a quarantine against longhorn herds infected with Texas fever this summer. In that respect Pitchfork had nothing to worry about. So far, cattle from the Nueces thickets were not infected with any virulent disease.

“I’m Brad Spence,” the young Texan replied. “Light and put your name in the pot. Reckon the cook can rustle up another steak.”

Irons shook his head. “Thanks, but Judy and I have had supper. We’re putting up at what passes for a hotel over in Jumpoff. Saw your herd move into bedground this afternoon. Thought I’d mosey across the river to drop a word of advice before your crew hits Jumpoff for the usual spree.”

There it was. The Spark that would touch off the explosion of trouble Spence had been dreading all day.

SPENCE hesitated, knowing he could not explain his reasons for restricting the men to camp tonight. Last summer, right here at Jumpoff, Grote Kaywood had let his crew visit the town. The next morning half his men were still drunk and the others— including Kaywood— were not even back in camp.

The herd had lost four days, getting across the Red. Spence had the colonel’s orders not to let that happen this year. Kaywood’s spree had cost Pitchfork dearly, last season; as a result of the Jumpoff spree they had reached railhead after the beef market had broken.

Sucking in a deep breath, Spence said in a voice calculated to include his men, “If you’re worrying about my outfit painting the town red tonight, sir, you needn’t. I’m holding them in camp so we can start the herd across directly after daylight tomorrow.”

His words brought an instant reaction of anger to the men packed around the campfire. Kaywood’s throaty voice lifted in a jeer of contempt: “You hear that, amigos? Our last chance to cut the dust of Texas out of our craws with a dram of forty-rod, and the boy wonder who’s bossin’ us says we got to stick around camp and tend to our knittin’.”

“That’s what Spence thinks,” tittered another voice.

Color stained Spence’s cheeks, seeing a troubled frown touch Judy Irons’s face. She saw the whole picture of Spence’s predicament. A herd boss who couldn’t handle his men didn’t belong on the Chisholm Trail.

Excerpt From: Walker A. Tompkins. “Spurs.”

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