Saturday, January 28, 2017


This past year, I was honored to be asked to participate in two more of the “Wolf Creek” collections that are the brainchild of Dr. Troy Smith, a wonderful author and good friend. Troy’s vision, when he created the fictional post-Civil War Kansas town of Wolf Creek, was that it would be populated by a very diverse community. That, in itself, will cause its own brand of problems as the people of Kansas were sorely divided during the Civil War—and that conflict left its mark long after the War ended.


With over two dozen western authors making up the fabled “Ford Fargo”, author of the Wolf Creek anthologies and shared universe books, I have found myself in some very fine company to work alongside in these creations. The beauty of this project is that each author has the freedom to incorporate their character(s) into a loose framework that Troy lays out, and every shared story gets off to a great start, has no “sagging middle”, and comes to a very climactic ending—yet, it does so with the efforts of (usually) 6 authors per book.

Imagine the thrill of being a part of such a collective effort—and seeing how flawlessly the eventual project comes out!

In 2016, I participated in two anthologies. These are somewhat different from the “shared universe” books in which there is one story, divided into chapters. The anthologies are separate short stories, but they do propel the same story along to the completion, in many ways, a lot like the chapter books do.

I had a story in a book that was published in May, Wolf Creek: Book 14—WAR STORIES. This was a fun one, because there is a creepy barber, John Hix, who lives in Wolf Creek. He claims to have had nothing at all to do with the Civil War, yet he’s always wanting others to talk about what THEY did during the War…and he has his own reasons. And let’s just say, there have been some “unexplained disappearances”… This was a bittersweet book, as the incomparable western author, Frank Roderus, was a contributor—and this was one of his last publications before he passed away.

In my story, UNCLE JOHN, my character, Derrick McCain, discovers quite by accident that he has a daughter, six-year-old Viviana, that he didn’t know he had—and her mother is dying. But just as Vivi’s mother passes, Derrick is in for another surprise—one that troubles him to his soul: it becomes apparent that somehow, John Hix, the barber, is well-acquainted with little Vivi and her mother—and this is one man that Derrick doesn’t want anywhere near his family!

The second book I contributed to this past year was called Wolf Creek: Book 18—HUNTER’S MOON. My story was THREE GOOD MEN, and this time, the town of Wolf Creek will soon be under siege by a band of raiding Kiowas who will show no mercy. They’ll reach the McCain family farm first, and though Derrick wants nothing more than to stay behind with the three men who’ve come to warn him and make their stand in his farmhouse, he knows he has to see his family to safety above all else. With the help of Sheriff Sam Gardner, a crusty lawman, Derrick and his wife, Leah, begin the trip to Wolf Creek in the dead of night under a hunter’s moon. But it isn’t long before Derrick realizes they are going to have to abandon the wagon and take their chances in the darkness of the forest to have any kind of hope of making it safely to Wolf Creek.

Some of the Kiowas follow, and while Sam and Leah make their way through the night with Vivi and her baby twin brothers, Derrick battles the Kiowas to save his family. When daylight comes, will the McCains and Sam be alive to continue the journey to warn the citizens of Wolf Creek of the impending attack? And what will become of the THREE GOOD MEN who have stayed behind to hold off the Kiowas and give Derrick, his family, and the town of Wolf Creek a fighting chance under a HUNTER’S MOON?

Both of my stories have been entered in the WESTERN FICTIONEERS PEACEMAKER COMPETITION. I’ve been a finalist in that contest three times before, so I’m sure hoping for a win this year in the short fiction category with one of these stories.

Y’all keep your fingers crossed for me!

Here’s an excerpt from THREE GOOD MEN. Leah, the children, and Sam are making their way through the forest, and Leah is understandably worried about what’s going to happen. Here, she talks things over with Sam–and wonders where in the heck her husband is–or if he’s even still alive…

They walked in silence for a few more moments. Leah’s mind raced. Where is Derrick? He said he’d be right behind us. By her guess, it had been at least twenty minutes since they’d parted—maybe longer. Leah hurried to catch up with Sam, leaving Vivi out of earshot. “Sam, can you tell me—what was going on with you and John Hix? Were you–”

“Hix is a killer. I figured him out, followed him to your place. Charlie and Roman had ridden up just before I got there. You know the rest.” He shook his head and shifted Liam in his arm. “I hated having to go off and leave him there with Charley and Roman. But…there was no other choice.”

“Do you think—” Leah bit her lip. “I shouldn’t even mention my house at all, with the danger of the Kiowas killing three men. But…I love my home. I love what it means—a family…where my children lay their heads to sleep every night, in safety. Where my husband and I drink coffee in the mornings…and plan our dreams for the future. And where I finally have a place of my own, where I belong. To lose it—”

“Leah, they may not come—”

“Oh, they’ll come. Charley and Roman wouldn’t have stopped at our place if they’d thought there’d be any chance the Kiowas would’ve gone straight on to Wolf Creek. I have a feeling…I know my home will be destroyed.”

“If that happens,” Sam said carefully, “Wolf Creek will help you rebuild. I know that’s small consolation, but—”

She shook her head. “Forgive me. I shouldn’t even be thinking about my things when men’s lives are at stake.” She smiled at him as he glanced at her.

“It’s natural. Thinking about everything you stand to lose,” he replied.

“My family is all that matters. We will rebuild if we have to, of course. The most important thing is that we keep everyone…safe.” Her voice broke.

“You’re worried about Derrick,” Sam stated flatly. “He’s an excellent tracker, as you well know. Could be he decided to go after them; buy us some time. Don’t be thinking the worst, Leah.”

She nodded, and kept putting one foot in front of the other, trying to calm her thoughts. Don’t be thinking the worst. But how can I keep from it?

“Mama, Uncle John said he paid for some candy for me at the store,” Vivi reminded her.

Leah forced herself to smile back at the little girl. “I heard. That was nice of him.”

“He’s going away.”

“Yes.” If John Hix was killed by the Kiowas, or if he went away forever, it would be a relief. Leah had never liked Hix, and she knew Derrick felt the same. They tolerated Hix for Vivi’s sake. And to be fair, Hix doted on their daughter. It was strange to think that the odd little barber knew Vivi better than she or Derrick…or, at least, had known her longer.

“Will he ever come back, Mama?”

“I don’t know, Vivi. But at least he was able to say goodbye.”

Vivi nodded, but she looked downcast.

Leah’s heart clutched. Vivi had suffered so much loss—leaving her home, losing her mother, and now, John Hix. Leah refused to consider the further impending loss that weighed so heavy on her soul right now. Where is Derrick? The thought nagged. Thank goodness Vivi was too young to understand what was happening, truly, at the moment.

They could be in the process of losing everything. Everything, including their very lives.


My character, Derrick McCain, is an odd hero because he is “just a man”—not a lawman or an outlaw or anything glamorous. He is a farmer who did some things in the Civil War he isn’t proud of. He’s half Cherokee and half white, and though he didn’t set out to be a “family man”, throughout the Wolf Creek series, he’s found himself in that situation under very different circumstances.

I’m wondering what kind of heroes you all like to see? A lawman set on seeing right done? An outlaw who’s seen the error of his ways and turned his life around? A cowboy fighting for justice on the range? Or someone like Derrick, who just winds up through fate’s hand becoming a hero—though he never thinks of himself that way…

Leave me a comment! I always want to know what other people think, and I’m giving away a print copy of a past WOLF CREEK book that I’ve been a part of to A LUCKY COMMENTER!

Thursday, January 26, 2017


When I began watercolor lessons, the first scene I painted was of a windmill at sunset. Not original nor very good, but I love both windmills and sunsets. Although they’re difficult to find now, I love the old wooden frame style best. I also love the song the windmill sings during a breezy day or evening. With the windows open, the sound is a lullaby at bedtime. Don’t get me wrong, I love modern conveniences, but they’re a trade-off. We lose something with each part of our past that disappears.

Windmill with wooden tower

Over 80,000 working windmills are estimated to be working now in Texas. You can’t drive on any road without seeing them in the distance. They are of particular service to ranchers in the arid regions. Land that once was almost useless to ranchers became valuable once windmills were erected. The windmill has come to be one of the symbols of ranching and cowboys. Once I started researching them, I was surprised the type I have come to love was not as old as I’d suspected.

Before the introduction of windmills to Texas and the West, inhabitable land was confined to areas where a constant water supply was available. There was no way for vast areas to be settled without a life-giving supply of water. The coming of the windmill made it possible to pump water from beneath the ground, and soon whole new areas were opened up to settlers. The first windmills were of the European style, built by Dutch and German immigrants for grinding meal and powering light industry. What settlers needed most, however, was a windmill that pumped water.

European-style windmill
for grinding grain

Because of its bulk and need for constant attention, the European windmill was impractical for this purpose. The solution to this problem came in 1854, when Daniel Halladay (Halady or Halliday) built the first American windmill in Ellington, Connecticut. He added to his mill a vane, or "tail," as it was called by cowhands, that functioned to direct the wheel into the wind. The wheel was a circle of wood slats radiating from a horizontal shaft and set at angles to the wind, designed so that centrifugal force would slow it in high winds; thus, the machine was self-regulating and operated unattended. Its simple direct-stroke energy converter consisted of only a shaft and a small fly wheel to which the sucker rod was pinned. This compact mechanism was mounted on a four-legged wood tower that could be constructed over a well in one day.

Railroad companies immediately recognized windmills as an inexpensive means of providing water for steam engines and for attracting settlers to semi-arid regions through which they planned to lay track. By 1873 the windmill had become an important supplier of water for railways, small towns where there were no public water systems, and small farms. Many of the very early mills were crude, inefficient, homemade contraptions. One of the popular makeshift mills was a wagon wheel with slats nailed around it to catch the wind, mounted on half an axle. The axle was fastened securely to a post erected beside the well. A sucker rod was pinned to the edge of the hub. It was stationary and worked only when the wind blew in the right direction. The windmills used later on the big ranches were the more dependable factory-made windmills.

Windmill, Pawnee National Grasslands, OK

Windmills moved to the ranches with the use of barbed wire in the late 1870s. At first the water holes, springs, creeks, and rivers were fenced, so that the back lands had no access to water. In the midst of the fence cutting and fighting, some ranchers began drilling wells and experimenting with windmills. Most of these experiments were unsuccessful, however, due to lack of knowledge concerning the proper size of the windmill in relation to the depth and diameter of the well. One of the earliest successful experiments was made eight miles north of Eldorado, in Schleicher County, Texas by Christopher C. Doty, a nomadic sheepman. Doty moved his flock into that area and found abundant water in shallow wells. By 1882, however, a drought had dried his wells; he ordered a drilling rig from Fort Scott, Arkansas, bored a fifty-two-foot well, and erected a Star windmill, which successfully supplied water for his 4,000 head of stock.

Watering stock with windmills spread rapidly. Eastern land speculators began buying, fencing, and running stock on the land until it became ripe for colonization. Among the first of these speculators to indirectly bring windmills to North Texas was the Magnolia Cattle and Land Company, organized by Maj. Willa V. Johnson, In 1884 the company bought two-thirds of the state-owned land in Borden County, land which had natural water resources and had long been unofficially claimed for grazing by Christopher Columbus Slaughter. Once Johnson fenced the land, Slaughter was forced into the use of windmills to supply water for his cattle. By 1886 the Matador Land and Cattle Company (where years later my husband’s uncle worked) began using windmills to water stock.

The largest of the Eastern land speculators, the Capitol Syndicate, began using windmills on its XIT in 1887. One of their windmills was believed to be the world's tallest; it was made of wood and was a total height of 132 feet. A Texas historical marker at Littlefield marks the site of a replica of the world's tallest windmill built on the XIT Ranch. The original windmill blew over in 1926. By 1900 the XIT had 335 windmills in operation.

Not until the King Ranch began extensive use of the windmill in 1890 did that the practice began to spread rapidly over that area. By 1900 windmills were a common sight in the Texas and the West. Inhabitable land was no longer limited to regions with a natural water supply. The windmill made the most remote areas habitable.

Windmill on the Ranching Heritage Center
at Texas Tech University, Lubbock

The use of windmills brought about two of the most colorful characters of the West, the driller and the windmiller, and altered the lifestyle of another, the range rider. The driller was usually a loner and seldom seen by anyone except the range rider and windmiller. He followed the fence crews and guessed at where he might find water, then bored wells with his horse-powered drilling rig. When the driller was successful the windmiller followed and set up a mill. Owners of the larger ranches usually employed several windmillers to make continuous rounds, checking and repairing windmills. The windmillers lived in covered wagons and only saw headquarters once or twice a month. The early mills had to be greased twice a week, and this was the range rider's job. He kept a can (or beer bottle) containing grease tied to his saddle. When he rode up to a mill that was squeaking, he would climb it, hold the wheel with a pole until he could mount the platform, and then let the wheel turn while he poured grease over it.

The range rider was always in danger of attacks from swarms of wasps, which hung their clustered cells beneath the windmill's platform; there was the added danger of falling from the tower when such attacks occurred. The windmill industry's shift in 1888 to the backgeared, all-steel mill caused heated debates in Texas livestock and farming circles. Most ranchers and farmers welcomed the new steel windmill because its galvanized wheel and tower held up better in harsh weather; also, its gear system was better able to take advantage of the wind, thus enabling the windmill to run more hours per day. The backgeared mill could also pump deeper and larger-diameter wells. Those who favored the old wood mill argued that the steel mill was more likely to break because of its high speed, that it was not as easily repaired as the wood mill, and that when parts had to be ordered the steel mill might be inoperative for days. Though sales of wood mills continued, they declined steadily, so that by 1912 few were being sold.

The last major development in the windmill came in 1915. A housing that needed to be filled with oil only once a year was built around the mill's gears. This relieved the range rider of his biweekly greasing chores and somewhat diminished the windmiller's job. Because of the dependability of this improved windmill, worries over water shortages were eased for the rancher, farmer, and rural dweller. This mill was the prime supplier of water in rural Texas until 1930, when electric and gasoline pumps began to be widely used.

Home with water furnished
by a windmill
Though Texas became the largest user of windmills in the United States, there were never more than three active manufacturers of windmills in Texas at one time. Windmills remain an important supplier of water for Texas cattlemen. The King Ranch in the late 1960s kept 262 mills running continuously and 100 complete spares in stock. Stocking spare mills is a common practice among ranchers who depend on the windmill to supply water for cattle in remote pastures. One important ranch worker is the man who rides—or drives—from windmill to windmill lubricating the gears and making repairs.

Because the windmill has been confined for the most part to remote areas, it has become a symbol of a lonely and primitive life, fitting for the pioneer Texans it first served and the cowboys about whom we love to read.

Caroline Clemmons is an award-winning and bestselling author of contemporary and historical western romance. Find her at Sign up for her newsletter here and receive a free western historical novella, HAPPY IS THE BRIDE. Her latest releases are RACHEL and MURDOCH'S BRIDE. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Oh, the things we learn while researching....

This weekend as I started researching for a new book, I came across an amazing article that I just have to share.

To begin with, the story I’m researching for will be set in western Kansas, close to the Colorado border. I enjoy writing stories set in that area because I lived there for ten years while growing up. I loved when family and friends would come to visit us because it meant a trip to Dodge City to visit Boot Hill, Meade to see the Dalton Gang Hideout, or one of the many others historical sites. Many more wonderful memories were created years later, when my husband and I would take our children to Kansas on vacations and visit all those historical sites again.

The western Kansas area was a somewhat barren land, trees were sparse, but water and grazing land was plentiful, which made that part of the state ideal for live-stock. The coming of the railroads allowed for easy shipment to markets. Kansas flourished during the years cattle were driven north to the rail heads. Towns were formed around the cattle market and thrived. So did ranches, which will be the setting of the book I'm researching.

While looking for information about Kansas prior to the cattle drive days, I came across information about an Army post in the area I want to use for my story and an amazing tale. In September of 1874 a man and his wife, along with their seven children were traveling near the Kansas/Colorado border when they were attacked by a band of Cheyenne. The only survivors were the the four youngest children, all girls, and they were taken captive. Soldiers at the nearby fort heard about the massacre and began searching for the girls. Due to the harsh winter that settled upon the area that year, the two youngest girls, ages 5 and 7, were left on the plains of the Texas Panhandle by the Cheyenne. It was estimated they spent over six weeks, surviving on their own, before the two girls were found by soldiers. The other two girls were eventually found as well. They had been split up and were traveling with different bands. Due to the soldiers’ efforts and negotiations, the other two girls were released by the Cheyenne in February of 1875 and all four sisters were reunited shortly thereafter.

I just can’t imagine two young children, ages 5 and 7, surviving six weeks on the winter plains of the Texas Panhandle. They had to have been very intelligent and resourceful little girls.

Other than a possible mention, my story will not contain this tidbit of local history, but both The Moccassin Speaks by Arlene Jauken and Girl Captives of the Cheyenne by Grace Meredith were based upon the tragedy of these girls’ family if you’re interested.

The book that I’m researching for right now will be released by Harlequin in 2018. I’ll have three releases with them this year, the next one being The Cowboy’s Orphan Bride in April. Not so surprising, this book takes place during the cattle drive years and is set in Dodge City.

Reunited with the cowboy!

Long ago, orphans Bridgette Banks and Garth McCain made a promise to stay together. But it's been years since they were parted, and Bridgette's almost given up hope! So when Garth's cattle trail passes her town, she won't let him leave her behind again…

Sparks fly as they're reunited—especially when the cowboy catches Bridgette telling everyone she's his bride! Faced with a past he thought he'd lost forever, Garth realizes this impulsive beauty might be the future he never thought he deserved.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Traveling by Steamboat

By: Peggy Henderson

While doing some research for my current WIP, I came across this article I wrote for an earlier book in that particular series, and thought it would be fun to share here. My characters usually travel by horseback or on foot through the remote mountains of the Rockies, but for my book, Teton Splendor, I needed them to travel part-way via steamboat up the Ohio River. I never thought I'd have to revisit that again, but now that I'm working on another book in the series, I found myself revisiting this method of transportation.

Before the railroads took over as the fastest way to travel west, steamboats were the premier  mode of transportation along the Mississippi River and its tributaries. In the 1820’s and 30’s, steamboats were mainly used to transport furs, lead, and army supplies to forts and encampments along the Mississippi. In the late 1840’s, settlers swarmed into the new Minnesota Territory, and for the first time, entire families could travel together. 

Early settlers, however, usually did not get to travel in luxury. Only the wealthy could afford the luxurious accommodations that were available on the finer steamboats. The average settler had few comforts. The poorer passengers slept on the freight decks, which also housed the boiler, fuel, and cargo. There was little or no protection from the elements for deck passengers, who would sleep on cargo crates or bales. They were allowed to cook their own meals using stoves provided by the captain. However, it was often too crowded to even prepare a simple meal.  Otherwise, they could eat with the crew if they paid the cook. 

Those who could afford the price could travel on the upper deck in private cabins. These passengers ate their meals in the state room, and were entertained in the grand salon. Some of the finer steamboats featured grand salons that ran the entire three hundred foot length of the boat, and were considered floating palaces, with heavy wood furniture, gilded ceilings, and mirrored walls. Dining experiences rivaled the best restaurants in New York at the time. Some boats had bands or musical entertainment, and even theater performances. 


Traveling by steamboat was not without danger, however. Deck passengers were in constant danger of boiler explosions, or being shoved overboard. Boiler explosions were common and often disastrous. Boats were often caught on sandbars or snags, and many times the passengers were asked to get off the boat to lighten the load. Captains didn’t always return for their passengers in those instances. And, of course, the river was teeming with thieves who loved to prey on unsuspecting passengers. 
Overall, steamboat travel was preferred to overland travel for its speed (up to eight miles per hour!) and comparative luxury, until the railroad’s influence in the 1860’s and 70’s.

Peggy L Henderson
Western Historical and Time Travel Romance
“Where Adventure Awaits and Love is Timeless”

Award-Winning and Best-Selling Author of:
Yellowstone Romance Series
Teton Romance Trilogy
Second Chances Time Travel Romance Series
Blemished Brides Western Historical Romance Series
Wilderness Brides Historical Romance Series

Peggy L Henderson is an award-winning, best-selling western historical and time travel romance author of the Yellowstone Romance Series, Second Chances Time Travel Romance Series, Teton Romance Trilogy, and the Blemished Brides and Wilderness Brides Western Historical Romance Series. When she’s not writing about Yellowstone, the Tetons, or the old west, she’s out hiking the trails, spending time with her family and pets, or catching up on much-needed sleep. She is happily married to her high school sweetheart. Along with her husband and two sons, she makes her home in Southern California.

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Posse is Coming!

Nowadays, a ‘posse’ usually signifies a group of friends or the followers of a celebrity or group such as a rock band. Of course, the word had a very different meaning in the Old West. Any western movie fan has seen a posse ride after outlaws, probably in many different movies.
Posse that killed outlaw Ned Christie posing with his body; Nov. 1892; public domain

But have you ever wondered where the word ‘posse’ came from and what it means? I looked it up online and learned the word’s first known use was in 1645 as a shortening of the medieval Latin legal term posse comitatus, meaning ‘power or authority of the county.’
Battle of Naseby, English Civil War; 17th century UK painting, artist unknown; public domain

In 17th century England, at the start of the English Civil War, all sides employed written edicts to persuade citizens to assemble. Two documents commonly used by those siding with Parliament were the "Militia Ordinance" and the older "Commissions of Array.” On the Royalist side in Cornwall, Parliament supporters were indicted by a grand jury as disturbers of the peace, and the posse comitatus was called out to expel them from the county.

In 1887 Britain, section 8 of the Sheriffs Act formalized the powers of sheriffs to enforce posse comitatus. Anyone who refused to answer the sheriff’s call for help in arresting a felon could be fined and imprisoned for a year. If unable to pay the fine, the person would be imprisoned for two years. Those English didn’t put up with slackers!

The British provisions for posse comitatus were repealed by the Criminal Law Act of 1967, but a  sheriff can still take ‘the power of the county’ if he needs to arrest resisters.
1922 posse captured murderers Manuel Martinaz & Placidio Silvas (back row center)
 after largest manhunt in history of the Southwest; public domain

In the US, while posses helped enforce law and order during frontier days, they could pose a threat, illustrated by the Lattimer Massacre of 1897. Nineteen unarmed striking coal miners at the Lattimer mine near Hazleton, Pennsylvania were shot and killed by a Luzerne County sheriff's posse. Many more were wounded. Such incidents ended the use of posses to contain civil unrest.

What made me investigate the origins and use of posses? Well, it so happens I am part of a posse of authors who have a collection of western historical romance short stories titled The Posse coming out in March. We’re planning a Facebook cover release party with giveaways on February 15. For updates, please like and follow the page:

Fragment of The Posse cover

Here is an excerpt from my story, The Schoolmarm’s Hero.

What’s happening: It’s autumn 1880 in Colorado; Schoolmarm Matilda Schoenbrun has been kidnapped by a pair of outlaws. Marshal Trace Balfour leads a posse to rescue her.

Three days passed without sighting the outlaws. Their trail led into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, climbing over stony ridges, winding through creeks, and following low, rugged canyons. The rougher the route grew, the longer it took Trace to find their tracks. The process slowed the posse, causing his men to grow restless. They’d brought enough grub to last a week or more, but they hadn’t really expected the hunt for the fugitives to last that long. Worse yet, the excitement of the chase had worn off.

Ben Lambert fought for the Yanks in the Civil War. Strong as an ox, Saul Davis could flatten a man with his fist alone. Charlie Putnam wasn’t a big man, but he learned how to fight in his silver mining days. The other two men, Jim Curtis and Joe Wilkes were veterans of the frontier army. All five knew how to handle a gun and defend themselves, but not so their wives and children back in town. This was still a wild country. Trace knew the men wanted to get back home soon to protect their families and property.

The posse members’ discontent boiled over when he lost the outlaws’ trail. He’d followed their tracks down into a steep-sided, dry arroyo that split into a tangle of smaller outlets, barely wide enough in some places for a single man and horse to negotiate. After picking his way through three of these winding defiles without finding a sign of the fugitives’ trail, he backtracked to where the arroyo split. The grumble of muttered curses from the men grew loud.

“Marshal Balfour, this is pointless,” Ben Lambert said. “You’ll never find their trail in this maze. It’s time to face facts and turn back."

“Yeah, we might as well go home,” Charlie Putnam said. “It’s too late, anyhow. The schoolmarm is likely dead or wishing she was by now.”

Fury flared inside Trace. Charging his horse at Putnam, he caused the man’s mount to dance sideways. Charlie’s eyes widened in fear just before Trace landed a hard right on his jaw. The storekeeper cried out and nearly tumbled from his saddle.

“I won’t abide talk like that,” Trace growled.

He backed his horse to face the group, drawing a deep breath to calm down. “Whoever wants to turn around can leave now, but I’m going on. I’ll find Mattie or die trying.” He realized he’d revealed his feelings for her but didn’t care. The other men needed to know where he stood.

He surveyed the group, gazing into each man’s eyes. No one challenged his statement and none made a move to turn back. Putnam hung his head, rubbing his jaw. “I’m right sorry, Marshal. I oughtn’t to have said what I did. It was cold of me.”

Trace acknowledged his apology with a nod. Ordering them to wait where they sat, he set his hat and rode into another of the narrow offshoots of the arroyo. Lucky for Mattie, this one proved to be the right one. He spotted the outlaws’ tracks ascending a rock ledge from the depression. Backtracking once again, he was pleased to see every man sat where he’d left them.

“I picked up their trail,” he announced. “Let’s go.” Getting no argument, he led them out of the troublesome web of false trails onto a dry, rolling plateau, where the wind blew bunch grass nearly flat, threatening to whip off their hats.

The trail they followed angled northwest. He pondered if Mattie’s kidnappers had a destination in mind, or were they wandering where the wind took them.

Late that afternoon, dark clouds billowed in the west, with distant flares of lightning. As a stripling, Trace had punched cattle down along the Rio Grande, where he grew up. He carried vivid memories of another rider who got hit by lightning. It had killed both man and horse. He didn’t want to witness such a thing again.

“We need to find shelter fast,” he said, to which the others readily agreed. Rain pelted them by the time they found an abandoned sod house in the side of a low hill. A pole corral stood nearby which offered no protection for their horses, but at least, they would be there when the storm passed. The men hurried to unsaddle the animals before closing them in the coral. Trace and his men crowded into the dank, pitch-black soddy.

Saul Davis struck a match. It briefly illuminated a small patch of dirt walls and floor. A plank shelf hung crooked on the wall. A broken slat bunk without a mattress stood beneath the shelf. “Hell of a place to call home,” Saul commented in his deep, barrel-chested voice. He blew out his match as the flame neared his fingers and lit another.

“I lived in a hole in the ground like this one when a kid in Kansas,” Charlie Putnam said. “My Dad had set his mind to growing wheat and corn there. He promised to build us a fine big house one day.”

“Did he succeed?” Trace asked.

“Naw, the border troubles started and pretty soon he went off to fight for the Union. He never came back.” Changing the subject, Charlie said, “You know, there might be a lantern in here somewhere.” He lit his own match, poking around in the dark corners. Sure enough, he recovered a dented lantern. Although low on kerosene, it provided steady light until the storm blew away two hours later.

By then, night was upon them. Although Trace begrudged the time lost to the storm, he knew they must wait for daylight. Standing at the corral where the horses stood drowsing after being drenched, he leaned his arms on the top rail, staring into the starlit night, thinking of Mattie. Had her captors sought shelter or had they ridden into the teeth of the storm with her? The thought made him sick with rage and frustration.

Footsteps squished through the mud behind him. Turning, he made out Saul Davis’s bulky form approaching. The big man halted and leaned on the corral next to him.

“Nice night. The rain cooled things off a might,” he observed.

“A might.”

After a moment’s silence, Saul said, “Reckon you’re worryin’ about our pretty schoolmarm, eh?”

“Yeah.” Trace shifted his stance, uncomfortable with putting it into words.

“You think you can find a scrap of those buzzards’ trail after all the rain?”

“I don’t know.” Saul had put his finger on Trace’s worst worry. If the rain washed away the outlaws’ trail, he’d have no choice but to send his men home. As for himself, he would search every acre of Colorado and beyond if necessary, until he found Mattie.

Find all of my books on Amazon: