"One of the things I most enjoy in writing fiction, particularly historical fiction, the creation of characters who become like actual people to me," writes beloved author Gerald Lund in the preface of his new book, "Only the Brave". "...I have come to learn that the characters should--perhaps even must--take on lives of their own if they are to be worth caring about."
While "Only the Brave" is a continuation of the story from "The Undaunted", Lund felt a new set of fictional characters were required to really bring the story to life and introduced the Westlands and Zimmers. "It would have seemed contrived and forced to put [certain] elements into the Drapers' and the McKennas' lives. So I bid them farewell and started anew. My only hope is that you will quickly fall in love with our two new families as they carry the story forward." Families who illustrate the lives of those early San Juan pioneers who were called upon to be buffers, shock absorbers, and lightning rods, softening blows, striving for peace, and building Zion in southern Utah. Enjoy the first chapter below, or get the book deseretbook.com.
September, 1881—Hall’s Crossing and Ferry
San Juan County, Utah Territory
As he sat looking down at the river below and the ferry on the far side, Joseph A. Lyman, known to everyone as Jody, saw the cloud of dust a short distance downstream and knew instantly what it was. The dust mostly hid the men, but there was no question whose horses those were. Once again Lyman’s party had caught up with the men they were after, and once again they were too late.
When the call came for families to go to the San Juan, Jody and Nellie Roper Lyman, his bride of just nine months, decided to go. Their leaders had specifically asked for young couples to add their strength to the company. They were sobered by the challenges but excited to be part of something larger than themselves.
Jody removed his hat and wiped away the sweat from his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt. Now he wasn’t so sure this had been a good idea. He glanced at his two companions. Lemuel H. Redd Jr.’s family had run cattle out west of Cedar City. Now he ran cattle in the land of the San Juan. Like Jody, Hyrum Perkins, who had been a coal miner in Wales, was now a farmer. Jody pulled a face and corrected himself. Normally they were farmers. At the moment, they were a posse.
About a week ago, two cowboys had come into Bluff. Like so many of the cowmen in the area, they had a look about them that caused women to step back into their houses and hiss at their children to come quickly. The larger and older of the two men was named Bob Paxman. The younger called himself Dickson. First name or last? It didn’t seem to matter. They claimed to be looking to purchase horses from the Mormons, but their questions about where the herds were kept and how many horses there were raised suspicions. Two days later, a rider came racing into town from Butler Wash, a deep and wide gully that served as pasture for their horses. Ten horses were missing. The tracks led west toward Escalante, the next established settlement, which was 125 miles away.
This was a serious blow. Horses were the settlement’s lifeblood. The loss of even one animal was a serious matter. Jens Nielson, the bishop of Bluff, had called Lyman, Redd, and Perkins in and charged them to go after the two outlaws and get their horses back.
Now in his sixties, this patriarch of the group was much beloved and much honored, so there was no question about answering his call.
Two hours later, their saddlebags were packed and their bedrolls tucked in behind them.
Lem Redd ran his cattle in this wild, red rock country, so Lyman and Perkins deferred to his judgment and experience.
“If we hurry, we can catch them before dark,” Hy ob-served.
Lem shook his head. “That’s the last thing we want to do. They know we’re back here, and they’ll lay an ambush in the canyon for us if we push them too hard. We’ll sit awhile with the Hall brothers. Give them a couple of hours head start. Maybe have some grub.”
Jody replaced his hat and grinned. “I could live with that.”
When the three men from Bluff told Charles Hall and his brother, who ran the ferry together, that they had just helped across two horse thieves and about ten head of stolen horses, they were furious. But there was nothing to be done for it, so the three riders sat for a spell in the deep shade of the gorge and rested themselves and their mounts.
It was about four o’clock and the three Bluff riders were probably three miles up the canyon from the ferry when Jody, who was in the lead, pulled up. He half turned and waved the other two forward. As they joined him, he inclined his head to the left. Here another road forked off from the main one. It wasn’t as wide or well-traveled as what they were on, but it was wide enough to take a small herd of horses. “This must be that new shortcut Charles told us about,” he said. He looked at Lem. “Which way do you want to go?”
Redd dismounted and walked slowly forward, examining the ground. There was plenty of evidence of horse and wagon traffic in the main canyon, but with so much sand, it was hard to say which of the tracks were the most recent.
Lem finally looked up and pointed up the main canyon. “I’m pretty sure they went this way. If Hall’s right and we hurry, we can maybe get ahead of them and lay a little ambush of our own.”
Lem got back on his horse. “Let’s go slowly and as quietly as we can,” he said grimly. “We can’t assume they didn’t see this, so we could be walking straight into an ambush.”
At the moment, the two thieves, Paxman and Dick-son, were both thinking one thing. Twice in the last two days they had seen three riders trailing them in the far distance. They had to either shake them or get rid of them before they reached Escalante. Otherwise, this whole deal might fall apart. Paxman suddenly spoke. “I’m tired of it,” he exclaimed.
“Tired of what?” his partner asked.
He stood up in his saddle and looked ahead, and then pointed. “See that spot under them cottonwood trees? Let’s stop the horses there. Won’t take that much to loop a rope around them and secure them for a while.”
“What fer?” Dickson asked.
Paxman growled in disgust. He had already determined that the minute they sold the horses, he was dropping the kid. He swore. “Dickson, you are dumber than a rock stuck in six inches of mud. Ain’t you tired of having them three dogging our tails? I say, let’s end it. Now.”
Dickson, for once, was in full agreement. As they tied up the horses and started back down the canyon, had they looked up the road about forty or fifty rods, they would have seen where the shortcut road rejoined the main route. But they weren’t looking that way.
It took Lyman, Perkins, and Redd only about twenty minutes to traverse the shortcut. As they approached the junction with the main road, they slowed to a cautious pace. All three had their pistols out. Suddenly Lem pulled up, holding up a hand to stop the others. He put a finger to his lips and slid out of his saddle. The other two then heard what Lem had heard—the soft whinny of a horse. Then another. Using hand signals to communicate, the three dismounted and crept forward. When they saw the horses tied in the trees, they suspected a trap. They crouched down, searching the willows and bushes for any sign of their two enemies. Hyrum Perkins, moving like a cat, circled around and came up from behind the horses. After a minute, he gave a low whistle. “They’re not here. Their own horses are tied up behind me and there are boot tracks headed back down the wash. I’m guessing they’ve gone to set up an ambush.”
“That’s gotta be it,” Jody agreed. He didn’t add that if they hadn’t decided to take the shortcut they might be dead by now. “So?”
Lem grinned. “Well, we got our horses back. I’d love to take these two back to face the law, but I don’t relish that idea much. I say we take the horses and make a run for home. Take their mounts, too, so they can’t follow us. Leave these two rattlesnakes for the buzzards.”
They moved the horses slowly until they were about fifty rods from where the side canyon rejoined the main one. Lem, still in the lead, held up his hand, turning in the saddle. “It’s most likely they’ve set up their ambush site above the turnoff, since we didn’t see them. But we can’t be sure. So, Jody, Hy, I’ll take the lead. You drive ’em hard. And stay low in the saddle. Don’t give those two bushwhackers a chance for a clean shot.”
“You say when,” Hyrum called.
“I say now.” And he spurred his horse forward. Shouting and waving their lariats, Hyrum and Jody drove their horses up behind the herd. Snorting and whinnying, the ten horses leaped forward into a hard run.
In the desert, where about the only things that make any noise are the wind, the jackrabbits, and the lizards, the sound of more than fifty iron-shod hooves clattering on gravel was right up there alongside summer thunderstorms for getting someone’s attention.
In the rocks, Paxman and Dickson were both half asleep. They had been there for nearly an hour, and the afternoon heat was still stifling. Paxman leaped to his feet, instantly alert.
Dickson snapped up, eyes wild. “What? What’s that?”
Paxman cocked his head to one side. Then he started to curse even as he grabbed his rifle. “Horses! A lot of them! And coming fast.” He spun around to look up the canyon. But immediately he realized that the noise was coming from downstream, not from behind them. He whirled back in time to see a man on horseback bust out from the undergrowth about two hundred yards down the wash. He turned down the canyon, and the herd wheeled and followed him.
Paxman jerked his rifle up and almost snapped off a shot, but by then, the narrow canyon was filled with horses and clouds of dust. He swore again when he saw two horses with empty saddles flash by. “They got our mounts!” he shouted over his shoulder.
Dickson’s eyes were wide and confused. Moments later, two more men appeared with the herd, half obscured in the clouds of dust. They were riding hard and bent low over their saddles. Paxman fired a shot, knowing there was not a chance of hitting them. Moments later they were gone, disappearing around the next bend.
“Let’s go,” Paxman yelled, levering a new shell into the chamber of his rifle. He leaped down and started after the horses.
“Wait,” Dickson shouted, turning to look up the canyon. “What about our horses?”
“They’ve got our horses, you stupid idiot. They’ve got our bedrolls. They’ve got our food. And if they get across the river before we catch them, we’re buzzard bait.”
Lem Redd turned the herd upstream toward the ferry as they came out of the canyon, but then he pulled his horse aside and stopped. When Hyrum and Jody came up, he was shouting before they even reached him. “I saw them,” he cried. “They’re coming. Hy, you go and help the Halls get the horses across the river as fast as possible. Jody and I will wait for these guys here. Slow them down a little.”
With a wave, Hyrum spurred forward. Lem swung down and led his horse into the willows. Jody was right behind him. Grabbing their rifles, they separated so they had a view of the canyon from two different angles. “We’ll not be killing ’em if we can help it,” Lem called softly. “Just slow them down long enough for us to get across.”
Jody waved back. For all his anger and frustration at these outlaws, he was of the same mind as Lem. They had come here to make peace. If word got out they had killed two cowboys, every cowboy within fifty miles would be coming for revenge.
“Here they come,” Jody hissed about ten minutes later.
Lem saw them immediately. The bigger one—Paxman—was in the lead, scuttling from bush to bush, headed for a large cottonwood tree. Lem jerked up his rifle, steadied the barrel against the trunk of a cottonwood, and waited for the man to make his move. Paxman was only about forty yards away now, an easy shot for a marksman like Lem Redd. But as his finger tightened on the trigger, he moved the barrel slightly to the right. Paxman appeared and dove behind the tree. BLAM! Even in the deep shadow, he saw the sudden white blossom appear in the bark of the cottonwood tree. The younger man yelled and jumped behind a large rock.
BLAM! BLAM! Jody fired off two shots in quick succession at Dickson. There was a sharp ricochet as the bullets whined away.
BLAM! The answering shot was probably from Pax-man, but he was shooting blindly. Then Lem saw movement again, only this time the two outlaws were scrambling backward deeper into underbrush. Lem put another round in the dirt a few feet ahead of them to let them know that they were clearly visible. Scuttling like crabs on a beach, they tumbled backward and disappeared.
Glancing upriver to where the Halls and Hyrum were loading the horses on the ferry, Lem called softly, “They need another five minutes. As soon as they’re loaded, we’ll make a run for it.”
But even as he spoke the sound of hooves could be heard. Both men jerked around. To their surprise and dismay, four of the horses were trotting toward them, evidently spooked by the rifle fire.
“Change of plans,” Lem called. “You get those four head to the ferry. I’ll stand guard until you’re ready.”
Jody was off and running before he finished. The horses were skittish, but Jody got them turned around. As they came up to the ferry, Hy shook his head. “Sorry,” he murmured. “They got away from us when you started shooting.”
“No room for them,” Charles Hall cried. “We’re already loaded.”
“Tie them to the back,” the other Hall cried. “They’ll have to swim across.”
Jody had already turned away. He shouted, waving his arms back and forth. “We’re ready, Lem! Let’s go! Let’s go!”
Redd pumped a shot into the underbrush as a final warning and then came on a hard run, leading his horse. “No sign of them. Let’s get out of here.”
As Lem tied his mount on the back of the ferry, Charles and his brother untied the flat-bottom boat, and the five men pushed it away from the bank and then jumped aboard.
For a moment it looked like they wouldn’t even get off the shoreline. The five horses tied at the back were snorting in fear and dug in their hooves. Seeing that, Lem grabbed the ropes and yanked on them hard. The moment the horses surrendered and leaped into the water, the ferry moved forward and they were launched.
“Jody,” Lem called. “You watch the canyon. I’ll watch the cliffs. If they show their heads, do whatever it takes to pin ’em down.”
No one spoke then. Charles Hall was leaning hard on the rudder, trying to keep the nose of the boat angled toward the opposite side. His brother was on one of the long oars; Hy was on the other. Lem Redd and Jody Lyman paced back and forth, watching for any sign of movement on the shore or cliffs.
“Those last horses are holding us back,” Charles called. Then he shrugged, sorry he had said it. “But nothing to be done for it.”
BLAM! BLAM! The two rifle shots came nearly as one. Hyrum yelled and fell back as a bullet ploughed into the wooden seat he was on, missing his leg by inches.
BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! The barrel of Lem’s rifle was smoking. “They’re on the cliff!” he cried.