The Box Canyon
A Serial in Eight Parts
It was late afternoon when the gunman came back down the arroyo. He stopped when he saw where the runoff from the side canyon entered the arroyo. After a moment he disappeared into the mesquite and brush. Sam soon saw him enter the side canyon and ride slowly, looking for tracks. Sam followed along on the canyon edge, losing sight off and on.
Sam saw the gunman stop and tie his horse when the brush fence came in view. He moved cautiously forward until the cabin and the horses grazing in the box canyon were visible. Returning to his horse, he removed a small spyglass and returned to study the horses. Looking for brands, Sam reasoned. Returning to his horse, he spent a long time studying the mountain side opposite the box canyon before riding back down the side canyon. When he got to the arroyo, he rode north and disappeared.
As dark settled in Sam returned to the cabin and made another batch of corn dodgers and roasted more venison. While they cooled he prepared for the next day. He filled both his and Chester’s canteens and retrieved his bedroll. When the corn dodgers were cool, he put them in a sack along with the extra venison steaks he had roasted.
He stuffed his pockets with 50-70 shells, hoisted the sack and bedroll on his shoulder. Carrying the Remington rifle and the water he climbed up to the spot that he had previously scouted out and made himself as comfortable as possible. Sam spend the night in fitful catnaps.
* * *
Sam watched as the hills turned from blue to golden as the sun rose.
It was almost an hour before he saw movement across the canyon. The gunman came across the side of the canyon and took up a position across from the cabin. He rested the long barrelled Sharps on a boulder and watched the cabin. From the way he had come, Sam guessed that the gunman’s horse was at the mouth of the side canyon.
From behind a juniper tree Sam watched, the long Remington Rolling Block leaning against one of the limbs. Eventually he sighed, raised the butt of the rifle to his shoulder, and drew a bead on the gunman. He held his aim low because of the angle, took a breath and let it out. He did not fire.
It had been years since the war and even then he had not shot at an individual. This was different than aiming cannons at the Union boats and barges at Sabine Pass. Time and again Sam took aim and then hesitated. A hour dragged by.
“Him or me,” Sam muttered and took aim one last time. The big Remington roared and shards flew from the rock inches from the gunman’s head, which immediately disappeared behind the boulder. As the echo died away, Sam cocked rifle, rolled back the block and reloaded. The silence that remained after the echo was overwhelming, and everything seemed to stand still for Sam. Then a hand reached up and the Sharps disappeared behind the boulder.
For long minutes nothing moved across the canyon. Then a rock rolled from between a mesquite and a boulder farther up the canyon wall and Sam sent a big .50 slug where the rock had come from. Leaving the rifle, he quickly moved along toward the canyon mouth, keeping out of sight as much as possible. When he reached the arroyo he descended to the mesquite bosque and within minutes as able to locate the gunman’s horse.
After seeing that the gunman had used the javelina trail to climb the canyon wall, Sam found a good comfortable hiding place by a large mesquite. With a good view of the horse and trail, he settled in to wait, Colt in hand. Time dragged as he forced himself to be patient. The gunman would come to his horse sooner or later. The horse stood quietly, having grown used to Sam’s presence, occasionally shaking his head at flies.
As the sun rose higher and higher, the basque grew warm. Sam could hear the doves in the trees calling to one another and a coyote came sniffing after the horse until he saw Sam and quickly disappeared. As it grew warmer, Sam wished he had not left his canteen back at the juniper tree.
Long hours passed. As the temperature rose, he soon had to fight off drowsiness and force himself to stay alert. In the quiet the small birds flitted in the trees and a brown bird with a russet chest flew erratically, chasing bugs. A woodpecker with a red head worked on a nearby mesquite.
The sun was high overhead before Sam heard footsteps…
To be continued