The Starshine Kid: Arroyo Grande
Part 10 of 20
Chris, Cullen, Calvin James, Calvin Paul, Carl, Clifford and Clay, the Connors boys; names that graced this expansive rural community like meadow muffins grace a town street on a Sunday morning after a Saturday day-long town cattle auction.
Continuing on with his quest, Marshal King followed the sign left by five horses along the pathway traversing the rural landscape before him. It wasn’t hard to follow these five individuals, even though they tried to cover some of their tracks by dragging a large tumbleweed or small tree behind the last of their group’s horses, leaving sign of its own in the process.
The Connors attempted to walk their horses backwards across a grassy area in the attempt to fool anyone who may be trailing them, but the Starshine Kid was far too good a trail sign reader to be fooled by anyone, especially brothers that knew little of the art of sign reading themselves.
A horse tramps grass in the opposite direction of human folks… the way it’s a travelin’ from, Starshine reflected, I guess these brothers really aren’t that smart after all. Why didn’t these fellas….
A ghost town lay nestled beneath the mountain range that lay ahead of Starshine’s path. Once a prosperous silver mining camp, this empty skeleton of a city now boasted nothing but trail dust and aging buildings of greying wood. Folks called the area and its town Ghost Mountain because of old miners’ tales of seeing the spirits of dead Indians and Civil War soldiers in the area; tales most likely conjured up to scare away the superstitious from staking mining claims in hopeful dreams of finding buried fortunes, fortunes that once flowed like silver rivers during the recent past’s more prosperous days.
The distinguishable tracks of the Connors’ horses led straight toward Ghost Mountain. Adam rode easterly to enter the area from an angle, keeping a watchful eye on the horizon surrounding him.
The marshal remembered a man named ‘Oroville Clayton’ who used to tend the saloon in this deserted mining village. The saloon gave a final call for drinks at midnight and always closed its doors one half-hour later. The goal: to ensure that miners would get an early start in the mines the following morning. An early start meant an early return to town, if prosperity struck, and an early return to town meant money would be spent.
Bison Bill Langford, Adam reflected, played the faro table at the saloon here. I wonder if he ever made his fortune with that, or with his silver mining endeavors.
The marshal had encountered Bison Bill during his pursuit of an outlaw a number of years prior. Bison Bill was a colorful man with a habit of always setting things straight with his pistols, and as a man who possessed a true heart of gold. If a soul needed something, Bill Langford would make sure they got it.
Eyes full of mercy and forgiveness, what a man!
A rooster crowed in the distance while a lone hound played hide and seek with a ground squirrel. A gentle zephyr blew swirls of dirt high into the dry air in the distance.
As the marshal approached the rear of the saloon he studied the area carefully and surmised, Must be someone is still livin’ here, now who could that—”
A shot rang out and the marshal soon realized the obvious answer to his question… the Connors. A lone bullet grazed his duster.
The Starshine Kid grabbed his rifle, dismounted and sent his horse off with a slap. Finding a watering trough, he lay still… waiting.
“Who you be, stranger?” an old timer’s voice called out from the second story of the saloon. “I know you be behind that water trough and I be a shootin’ that way any minute if I be getting’ no answer from ya.”
Marshal King identified himself to the man, though it took a few times of yelling loudly to get his identity across for the man to understand. Adam could easily have shot the stranger, but that would take half the adventure out of his life if he shot everyone who dared send a bullet in his direction from time to time.
“You just lay right there for a moment,” the man ordered, “I be comin’ down. Now, don’t you be movin’ none, ya hear?”
Once the elderly gent made his way outside of an old saloon building, he stood partly blocked by a support beam to the right side of the patronless establishment’s rear entry.
“I’m lookin’ for the Connors boys. I’m a US Marshal.”
The man spit a splash of tobacco from his withered-with-age mouth and replied, “Yeah, I know them boys. They be a bunch of trouble makin’ sort, but they don’t bother me none.”
The marshal inquired humbly of the man if he could stand without being shot, to which the man replied, “I ain’t got no reason to shoot nobody today I guess. Go ahead and get yourself up.”
Standing, Marshal King dusted off his clothes and informed the old man of the recent activities of the Connors brothers.
The scraggly bearded man responded to the information, “Well, let’s have us a hangin’!”
“First I need to apprehend the Connors and take them before a judge… that is if they surrender peaceful like.”
“And if no peace be found?” the old man inquired.
“Well, I suppose nature will just have to take its course.”
“Nature be a powerful thing sometimes Marshal… a powerful thing. C’mon in for a drink and we can be a talkin’”
Before the Starshine Kid could respond, the man had scampered back into the saloon. Starshine followed the man inside cautiously, surveying everything for the possibility of ambush.
“They ain’t here, Marshal, so c’mon in and relax a moment. Those Connors be a mile outta town at the old Cooper ranch. They took it over when the Coopers left after the silver ran plum out. What’s your poison?”
“Oh, I’m not a drinkin’ man, but a sarsaparilla would do me fine, if ya got the makings for it.”
“No, not no more, sorry. But I do have me this other stuff,” the man pulled out a familiar looking bottle, a bottle of natural plant juices often traded to saloon owners by local Indian tribes.
“That’ll be fine, just fine,” King replied as the man filled a shot glass and passed it to him. “What’s your name, if ya don’t mind me askin’?”
The man studied the marshal for a moment before replying. Maybe he had an outlaw past or another reason for waiting to reply, but that did not concern the Starshine Kid one bit.
“Folks used to call me 'Losin’ Langford' on account of me always losin’ at gamblin’ pursuits, but you can call me Joe.”
“Langford…” Starshine pondered the name for a moment, knowing that this could not be a simple coincidence. “You ain’t related to Bison Bill Langford by chance are you?”
“Yep, born and raised related. He was my brother.”
“He passed on ‘bout a year ago. We both stayed here when the town up and failed. He got mighty sick a winter ago. I buried him up at the old Ghost Cemetery, a real nice spot I picked for him.”
“Sorry to hear about your brother, I met him long ago. He left a lasting impression on me, much as you will, I imagine.”
Joe looked proud as the marshal spoke; the kind of pride that grows on a man who dares to tame and control the wild terrain of the new lands of the west. He held his shot glass with the trembling fingers of age, raised it, then hailed a toast to his brother, “To Bison Bill, never a finer man has ever walked upon this earth!”
“To Bison Bill!” Adam raised his glass.
“So, you got your horse trained to scamper away to hide in the shadows, I see,” Joe commented.
“You have a keen wit, Joe. I—”
The sound of horses in the distance interrupted their conversation faster than a deadly fatal bullet interrupts its receiver’s life.
Joe peered out through a front window toward the south edge of town, “The Connors.”
* Stay Tuned *
Part 11: Predator and Prey
The Starshine Kid: Arroyo Grande
By Royce A Ratterman
© All Rights Reserved
Cover Art & Illustrations by Erlend Evensen
The characters, locales, enterprises, entities, and events herein are entirely fictional and intended for educational and entertainment purposes. Content portrayals do not reflect any actual events, locales, entities, or any individuals living or deceased.
Dedicated to all of those who lost their lives establishing peace, safety, and harmony in the days of the Old West