Diamond Dale Cavanagh sat in the saloon in Independence, Missouri playing five card stud like he did most nights. Only tonight he was having trouble concentrating. There was a guy from the current wagon train who claimed there was a new gunslinger in the territory.
Joe was telling his tale and garnering free drinks with every repeat. “I tells ya the Preacher reaches out and beats him to his own gun and pistol whips him on the head. Kid Cody falls to the ground, out before he even realized he’d been outdrawn with his own six shooter. Then the Preacher walks over to the desk clerk breaks open the shooter and drops all the cartridges in his hand, then gives him the gun. He tells him you should send someone to get the sheriff so this cowboy can sleep it off. Then he turns like an eastern gentleman and offers the school marm his hand and escorts her to dinner purty as ya please.”
Dale tried to ignore the drifter but the tales just kept coming about how this Preacher took out three more men that night in a fair fight. He faced down the Kid’s brother, Black Bart, the next day. Later in the week he took on the rest of the Missouri River gang, killing all but two of them.
Dale folded his hand and walked over to the story teller. “Now I think yer just spinning tales fella. Ain’t no one that fast or good.”
Joe looked at the gambler with the diamond buttons on his shirt. “Lookie here mister I’m a tellin’ ya straight The Preacher’s quick as a greased pig and faster than lightnin’ on the plain. Why iffen an owlhoot meets The Preacher he’s a gonna met God either on his knee’s in prayer or face ta face.”
Dale looked the drifter in the eye and saw he believed every single word he was saying. Just about then the Western Union agent came in a shaking his head. “Well boy’s who’s buyin’ me a round? I just delivered the most interesting piece of news to the Marshal not five minutes ago. Seems like Kid Cody done went and got himself killed.”
“What you talkin’ bout Rusty?”
“According to the sheriff in Franklin some feller named the Preacher just out drew him and shot him dead.”
Dale downed his drink and motioned to the rest of his boys they were leavin’. If there was new talent in Franklin and the Missouri River Gang was gone then it was time for the Cavanagh Gang to increase it’s territory a bit east. Besides Dale needed to see this Preacher fella for himself and maybe add to his own reputation. “Mount up boy’s its time to head out to Franklin. I think we need to see this Preacher for ourselves and test his resolve.”
Twelve men climbed in the saddle and turned east. In a cloud of dust and the sound of thundering hooves the Cavanagh Gang set out for Franklin and a chance to see Diamond Dale brace the Preacher.
The wagon train was in sight of Boone Lick. Nathan Ryder halted the train to rest, water the teams and allow the wagoneers a chance to grab a bit of lunch and stretch the kinks out of the drivers. Nathan and Abner walked a bit away from the group to talk about the rest of the day.
“Abner, I don’t want to drive them too hard today. Where is the best camping point for us to stop tonight without pushing too hard? Besides you, Tim, Levi and me, most of these people are used to the easier livin’ in the east.”
Abner Gunderson took off his hat and scratched at the stitches on the side of his head. “I reckon yer right Nathan. Let’s see.” He pulled a map out of his breeches pocket and looked at it for a minute. “I figure we ought to be able to make it ta Arrow Rock round five tonight. That’d be the best place to make camp tonight. It’s got a stream that runs down off the rock and a wide space we can circle the wagons.”
Nathan nodded. “Sounds good. Let’s put some jerky in our stomachs and then round ‘em all up. Once we get there I want us to all eat together tonight and make some decisions. Also, I want to make sure the Richmonds and their servants understand what is expected on this trip.”
“I was a might surprised when ya let that tinhorn and his four wagons join the line. Are ya sure that was wise? That woman’s gonna right drive us crazy I’m a thinkin’.”
Laughing, Nathan nodded. “Yer probably right Ole Timer but I’ll tell ya like I told Grace this morning. If worse comes to worse I can always administer another lesson in life in the west or let you or Levi administer it.”
“That sounds right fun. I wouldn’t mind seeing that dandy try them there Queensbury rules on ole Black Bart fer sure.”
“Levi, Abner call him Levi.”
“Opps, I plum fergot.”
The two men went and got a bite to eat. After they were both satisfied Nathan looked at his wagon drivers and yelled, “Wagons Ready?”
From up and down the line came the answer, “ALL SET.”
Nathan and every other driver mounted up. Nathan, grabbing the reins in firm hands bellowed, “Wagon’s HO!!” Snapping the reigns set Tiny and Mouse to pulling the Ryder wagon westward once more. Never knowing trouble in the form of Diamond Dale Cavanagh and his Cavanagh Gang was heading toward Franklin with bloodlust for The Preacher, David Nathaniel Ryder the Third in their hearts. Trouble was going to find them soon enough and it would dog them this whole trail.
Levi Cody walked along with one hand on the harness of his lead ox. He was leading the team from the ground allowing his wife Maryann to get used to the feel of the reins in her hands. He kept sneaking a glance back at her thanking God repeatedly for the second chance to be a husband and father. No sooner had the prayer winged heavenward than he felt the small hand of his son slip into his.
Young Levi was trying so hard to be a man like his dad. The dad he hadn’t even known until a week ago. Levi let go of the harness and reached down and snagged the five year old boy and swung him up on the back of the ox. “Well son, why don’t you ride Ole Blue here a while so we can talk and rest yer legs a might?”
“All right Daddy, what ya want to talk about?”
“Tell me about your life in Philadelphia. Did you have many friends there?”
“Not a lot really. I spent most of my time with Mama listening to her talk about you and how we were gonna find you someday. But I did have one friend. His name was Joel Jensen. His Daddy said you used to work fer him as a policeman. Is that true?”
“Yes, I did until your uncle tricked me into thinking I was gonna be hung as a killer. Then I didn’t listen to your mama or Captain Jensen or God and I ran off to hide. What lesson do you think that should teach us, Little Levi?”
“I don’t know Papa, what lesson should it teach us?”
Reaching up and tussling his son’s auburn hair Levi smiled. “Always listen to yer mama cause she is one smart lady.”
Little Levi smiled back at his papa and nodded his agreement.
The two Cody men went on in silence for a while. One grateful to finally meet and get to spend time with his pa like other boys he’d known. The older lost in his thoughts of the new life he was gonna carve out of the New Mexico Territory for himself, his wife and his son.
Nathan kept stealing glances over at his wife sitting beside him in the seat of the wagon. It seemed almost like a dream he had; this beautiful woman beside him and she was his wife.
Lord, how things have changed in the short time I’ve been out west. You’ve blessed me with friends, more money than any one man has a right to and the most beautiful wife I could have ever imagined. Thank You for all You’ve given me. Lord help me be the type of Godly husband who always loves his wife like You command just as Your Son did the church.
He reached out his right arm and put it around his wife drawing her as close as he could. Grace looked up at him with her emerald green eyes and Nathan felt his heart skip a beat. I wonder if I will ever get used to how beautiful she is?
Grace smiled and laid her head on his shoulder content at what God had provided for her in a husband. She felt her husband squeeze her even closer and whisper, “I love you Grace Ryder. You definitely are flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone.”
Grace sighed and exaggerating her Georgian accent answered, “Why I do declare Mister Ryder, you sure know how to flatter a girl. Why if you keep this up I may just need my salts to keep from swooning.”
Nathan chuckled and put his arm down and concentrated on keeping Tiny and Mouse reined in. No sense letting those two big beautiful Swedish plow horses set a pace the mules and oxen couldn’t match. The miles melted beneath their hooves as they drew nearer to their first night on the trail, heading for their new lives in Redemption.