The Two Gun Man
Buck Johnson was American born, but with a black
beard and a dignity of manner that had earned him the title of
Señor. He had drifted into southeastern Arizona in the
days of Cochise and Victorio and Geronimo. He had persisted, and
so in time had come to control the water--and hence the
grazing--of nearly all the Soda Springs Valley. His troubles were
many, and his difficulties great. There were the ordinary
problems of lean and dry years. There were also the extraordinary
problems of devastating Apaches; rivals for early and ill-defined
range rights-and cattle-rustlers.
Señor Buck Johnson was a man of capacity,
courage, directness of method, and perseverance. Especially the
latter. Therefore he had survived to see the Apaches subdued, the
range rights adjusted, his cattle increased to thousands, grazing
the area of a principality. Now, all the energy and fire of his
frontiersman's nature he had turned to wiping out the third
uncertainty of an uncertain business. He found it a task of some
For Señor Buck Johnson lived just north of
that terra incognita filled with the mystery of a double chance
of death from man or the flaming desert known as the Mexican
border. There, by natural gravitation, gathered all the desperate
characters of three States and two republics. He who rode into it
took good care that no one should ride behind him, lived warily,
slept light, and breathed deep when once he had again sighted the
familiar peaks of Cochise's Stronghold. No one professed
knowledge of those who dwelt therein. They moved, mysterious as
the desert illusions that compassed them about. As you rode, the
ranges of mountains visibly changed form, the monstrous, snaky,
sea-like growths of the cactus clutched at your stirrup, mock
lakes sparkled and dissolved in the middle distance, the sun beat
hot and merciless, the powdered dry alkali beat hotly and
mercilessly back-and strange, grim men, swarthy, bearded, heavily
armed, with red-rimmed unshifting eyes, rode silently out of the
mists of illusion to look on you steadily, and then to ride
silently back into the desert haze. They might be only the
herders of the gaunt cattle, or again they might belong to the
Lost Legion that peopled the country. All you could know was that
of the men who entered in, but few returned.
Directly north of this unknown land you
encountered parallel fences running across the country. They
enclosed nothing, but offered a check to the cattle drifting
toward the clutch of the renegades, and an obstacle to swift,
Of cattle-rustling there are various forms. The
boldest consists quite simply of running off a bunch of stock,
hustling it over the Mexican line, and there selling it to some
of the big Sonora ranch owners. Generally this sort means war.
Also are there subtler means, grading in skill from the
rebranding through a wet blanket, through the crafty refashioning
of a brand to the various methods of separating the cow from her
unbranded calf. In the course of his task Señor Buck
Johnson would have to do with them all, but at present he existed
in a state of warfare, fighting an enemy who stole as the Indians
used to steal.
Already he had fought two pitched battles, and had
won them both. His cattle increased, and he became rich.
Nevertheless he knew that constantly his resources were being
drained. Time and again he and his new Texas foreman, Jed Parker,
had followed the trail of a stampeded bunch of twenty or thirty,
followed them on down through the Soda Springs Valley to the cut
drift fences, there to abandon them. For, as yet, an armed force
would be needed to penetrate the borderland. Once he and his men
had experienced the glory of a night pursuit. Then, at the drift
fences, he had fought one of his battles. But it was impossible
adequately to patrol all parts of a range bigger than some
Buck Johnson did his best, but it was like
stopping with sands the innumerable little leaks of a dam. Did
his riders watch toward the Chiricahuas, then a score of beef
steers disappeared from Grant's Pass forty miles away. Pursuit
here meant leaving cattle unguarded there. It was useless, and
the Señor soon perceived that sooner or later he must
strike in offence.
For this purpose he began slowly to strengthen the
forces of his riders. Men were coming in from Texas. They were
good men, addicted to the grass-rope, the double cinch, and the
ox-bow stirrup. Señor Johnson wanted men who could shoot,
and he got them.
"Jed," said Señor Johnson to his foreman,
"the next son of a gun that rustles any of our cows is sure
loading himself full of trouble. We'll hit his trail and will
stay with it, and we'll reach his cattle-rustling conscience with
So it came about that a little army crossed the
drift fences and entered the border country. Two days later it
came out, and mighty pleased to be able to do so. The rope had
not been used.
The reason for the defeat was quite simple. The
thief had run his cattle through the lava beds where the trail at
once became difficult to follow. This delayed the pursuing party;
they ran out of water, and, as there was among them not one man
well enough acquainted with the country to know where to find
more, they had to return.
"No use, Buck," said Jed. "We'd any of us come in
on a gun play, but we can't buck the desert. We'll have to get
someone who knows the country."
"That's all right--but where?" queried Johnson.
"There's Pereza," suggested Parker. "It's the only
town down near that country."
"Might get someone there," agreed the
Next day he rode away in search of a guide. The
third evening he was back again, much discouraged.
"The country's no good," he explained. "The
regular inhabitants 're a set of Mexican bums and old soaks. The
cowmen's all from north and don't know nothing more than we do. I
found lots who claimed to know that country, but when I told 'em
what I wanted they shied like a colt. I couldn't hire 'em, for no
money, to go down in that country. They ain't got the nerve. I
took two days to her, too, and rode out to a ranch where they
said a man lived who knew all about it down there. Nary riffle.
Man looked all right, but his tail went down like the rest when I
told him what we wanted. Seemed plumb scairt to death. Says he
lives too close to the gang. Says they'd wipe him out sure if he
done it. Seemed plumb scairt." Buck Johnson grinned. "I told him
so and he got hosstyle right off. Didn't seem no ways scairt of
me. I don't know what's the matter with that outfit down there.
They're plumb terrorised."
That night a bunch of steers was stolen from the,
very corrals of the home ranch. The home ranch was far north,
near Fort Sherman itself, and so had always been considered
immune from attack. Consequently these steers were very fine
For the first time Buck Johnson lost his head and
his dignity. He ordered the horses.
"I'm going to follow that ---- ---- into Sonora,"
he shouted to Jed Parker. "This thing's got to stop!"
"You can't make her, Buck," objected the foreman.
"You'll get held up by the desert, and, if that don't finish you,
they'll tangle you up in all those little mountains down there,
and ambush you, and massacre you. You know it damn well."
"I don't give a ----," exploded Señor
Johnson, "if they do. No man can slap my face and not get a run
Jed Parker communed with himself.
"Señor," said he, at last, "it's no good;
you can't do You got to have a guide. You wait three days and
I'll get you one."
"You can't do it," insisted the Señor. "I
tried every man in the district."
"Will you wait three days?" repeated the foreman.
Johnson pulled loose his latigo. His first anger
"All right," he agreed, "and you can say for me
that I'll pay five thousand dollars in gold and give all the men
and horses he needs to the man who has the nerve to get back that
bunch of cattle, and bring in the man who rustled them. I'll sure
make this a test case."
So Jed Parker set out to discover his man with
THE MAN WITH NERVE
At about ten o'clock of the Fourth of July a rider
topped the summit of the last swell of land, and loped his animal
down into the single street of Pereza. The buildings on either
side were flat-roofed and coated with plaster. Over the sidewalks
extended wooden awnings, beneath which opened very wide doors
into the coolness of saloons. Each of these places ran a bar, and
also games of roulette, faro, craps, and stud poker. Even this
early in the morning every game was patronized.
The day was already hot with the dry, breathless,
but exhilarating, heat of the desert. A throng of men idling at
the edge of the sidewalks, jostling up and down their center, or
eddying into the places of amusement, acknowledged the power of
summer by loosening their collars, carrying their coats on their
arms. They were as yet busily engaged in recognizing
acquaintances. Later, they would drink freely and gamble, and
perhaps fight. Toward all but those whom they recognized they
preserved an attitude of potential suspicion, for here were
gathered the "bad men" of the border countries. A certain
jealousy or touchy egotism lest the other man be considered
quicker on the trigger, bolder, more aggressive than himself,
kept each strung to tension. An occasional shot attracted little
notice. Men in the cow-countries shoot as casually as we strike
matches, and some subtle instinct told them that the reports were
As the rider entered the one street, however, a
more definite cause of excitement drew the loose population
toward the center of the road. Immediately their mass blotted out
what had interested them. Curiosity attracted the saunterers;
then in turn the frequenters of the bars and gambling games. In a
very few moments the barkeepers, gamblers, and look-out men, held
aloof only by the necessities of their calling, alone of all the
population of Pereza were not included in the newly-formed ring.
The stranger pushed his horse resolutely to the
outer edge of the crowd where, from his point of vantage, he
could easily overlook their heads. He was a quiet-appearing young
fellow, rather neatly dressed in the border costume, rode a
"center fire," or single-cinch, saddle, and wore no chaps. He was
what is known as a "two-gun man": that is to say, he wore a heavy
Colt's revolver on either hip. The fact that the lower ends of
his holsters were tied down, in order to facilitate the easy
withdrawal of the revolvers, seemed to indicate that he expected
to use them. He had furthermore a quiet grey eye, with the glint
of steel that bore out the inference of the tied holsters.
The newcomer dropped his reins on his pony's neck,
eased himself to an attitude of attention, and looked down
gravely on what was taking place.
He saw over the heads of the bystanders a tall,
muscular, wild-eyed man, hatless, his hair rumpled into staring
confusion, his right sleeve rolled to his shoulder, a
wicked-looking nine-inch knife in his hand, and a red bandana
handkerchief hanging by one corner from his teeth.
"What's biting the locoed stranger?" the young man
inquired of his neighbor.
The other frowned at him darkly.
"Dare's anyone to take the other end of that
handkerchief in his teeth, and fight it out without letting go."
"Nice joyful proposition," commented the young
He settled himself to closer attention. The
wild-eyed man was talking rapidly. What he said cannot be printed
here. Mainly was it derogatory of the southern countries. Shortly
it became boastful of the northern and then of the man who
uttered it. He swaggered up and down, becoming always the more
insolent as his challenge remained untaken.
"Why don't you take him up?" inquired the young
man, after a moment.
"Not me!" negatived the other vigorously. "I'll go
yore little old gunfight to a finish, but I don't want any cold
steel in mine. Ugh! it gives me the shivers. It's a reglar
Mexican trick! With a gun it's down and out, but this knife work
is too slow and searchin'."
The newcomer said nothing, but fixed his eye again
on the raging man with the knife.
"Don't you reckon he's bluffing?" he inquired.
"Not any!" denied the other with emphasis. "He's
jest drunk enough to be crazy mad."
The newcomer shrugged his shoulders and cast his
glance searchingly over the fringe of the crowd. It rested on a
"Hi, Tony! come here," he called.
The Mexican approached, flashing his white teeth.
"Here," said the stranger, "lend me your knife a
The Mexican, anticipating sport of his own
peculiar kind, obeyed with alacrity.
"You fellows make me tired," observed the
stranger, dismounting. "He's got the whole townful of you bluffed
to a standstill. Damn if I don't try his little game."
He hung his coat on his saddle, shouldered his way
through the press, which parted for him readily, and picked up
the other corner of the handkerchief.
"Now, you mangy son of a gun," said he.
Jed Parker straightened his back, rolled up the
bandana handkerchief, and thrust it into his pocket, hit flat
with his hand the touselled mass of his hair, and thrust the long
hunting knife into its sheath.
"You're the man I want," said he.
Instantly the two-gun man had jerked loose his
weapons and was covering the foreman.
"Am I!" he snarled.
"Not jest that way," explained Parker. "My gun is
on my hoss, and you can have this old toad-sticker if you want
it. I been looking for you and took this way of finding you. Now,
let's go talk."
The stranger looked him in the eye for nearly a
half minute without lowering his revolvers.
"I go you," said he briefly, at last.
But the crowd, missing the purport, and in fact
the very occurrence of this colloquy, did not understand. It
thought the bluff bad been called, and naturally, finding
harmless what had intimidated it, gave way to an exasperated
impulse to get even.
"You --- --- --- bluffer!" shouted a voice, "don't
you think you can run any such ranikaboo here!"
Jed Parker turned humorously to his companion.
"Do we get that talk!" he inquired gently.
For answer the two-gun man turned and walked
steadily in the direction of the man who had shouted. The
latter's hand strayed uncertainly toward his own weapon, but the
movement paused when the stranger's clear, steel eye rested on
"This gentleman," pointed out the two-gun man
softly, "is an old friend of mine. Don't you get to calling of
His eye swept the bystanders calmly.
"Come on, Jack," said he, addressing Parker.
On the outskirts he encountered the Mexican from
whom he had borrowed the knife.
"Here, Tony," said he with a slight laugh, "here's
a peso. You'll find your knife back there where I had to
He entered a saloon, nodded to the proprietor, and
led the way through it to a box-like room containing a board
table and two chairs.
"Make good," he commanded briefly.
"I'm looking for a man with nerve," explained
Parker, with equal succinctness. "You're the man."
"Do you know the country south of here?"
The stranger's eyes narrowed.
"Proceed," said he.
"I'm foreman of the Lazy Y of Soda Springs Valley
range," explained Parker. "I'm looking for a man with sand enough
and sabe of the country enough to lead a posse after
cattle rustlers into the border country."
"I live in this country," admitted the stranger.
"So do plenty of others, but their eyes stick out
like two raw oysters when you mention the border country. Will
you tackle it?"
"What's the proposition?"
"Come and see the old man. He'll put it to you."
They mounted their horses and rode the rest of the
day. The desert compassed them about, marvellously changing shape
and colour, and every character, with all the noiselessness of
phantasmagoria. At evening the desert stars shone steady and
unwinking, like the flames of candles. By moonrise they came to
the home ranch.
The buildings and corrals lay dark and silent
against the moonlight that made of the plain a sea of mist. The
two men unsaddled their horses and turned them loose in the wire-
fenced "pasture," the necessary noises of their movements
sounding sharp and clear against the velvet hush of the night.
After a moment they walked stiffly past the sheds and cook
shanty, past the men's bunk houses, and the tall windmill
silhouetted against the sky, to the main building of the home
ranch under its great cottonwoods There a light still burned, for
this was the third day, and Buck Johnson awaited his foreman.
Jed Parker pushed in without ceremony.
"Here's your man, Buck," said he.
The stranger had stepped inside and carefully
closed the door behind him. The lamplight threw into relief the
bold, free lines of his face, the details of his costume powdered
thick with alkali, the shiny butts of the two guns in their open
holsters tied at the bottom. Equally it defined the resolute
countenance of Buck Johnson turned up in inquiry. The two men
examined each other--and liked each other at once.
"How are you," greeted the cattleman.
"Good-evening," responded the stranger.
"Sit down," invited Buck Johnson.
The stranger perched gingerly on the edge of a
chair, with an appearance less of embarrassment than of habitual
"You'll take the job?" inquired the Señor.
"I haven't heard what it is," replied the
"Said you'd explain."
"Very well," said Buck Johnson. He paused a
moment, collecting his thoughts. "There's too much
cattle-rustling here. I'm going to stop it. I've got good men
here ready to take the job, but no one who knows the country
south. Three days ago I had a bunch of cattle stolen right here
from the home-ranch corrals, and by one man, at that. It wasn't
much of a bunch--about twenty head--but I'm going to make it
starter right here, and now. I'm going to get that bunch back,
and the man who stole them, if I have to go to hell to do it. And
I'm going to do the same with every case of rustling that comes
up from now on. I don't care if it's only one cow, I'm going to
get it back--every trip. Now, I want to know if you'll lead a
posse down into the south country and bring out that last bunch,
and the man who rustled them?"
"I don't know----" hesitated the stranger.
"I offer you five thousand dollars in gold if
you'll bring back those cows and the man who stole 'em," repeated
Buck Johnson. "And I'll give you all the horses and men you think
"I'll do it," replied the two-gun man promptly.
"Good!" cried Buck Johnson, "and you better start
"I shall start to-night--right, now."
"Better yet. How many men do you want, and grub
for how long?"
"I'll play her a lone hand."
"Alone!" exclaimed Johnson, his confidence visibly
cooling. "Alone I Do you think you can make her?"
"I'll be back with those cattle in not more than
"And the man," supplemented the Señor.
"And the man. What's more, I want that money here
when I come in. I don't aim to stay in this country over night."
A grin overspread Buck Johnson's countenance. He
"Climate not healthy for you?" he hazarded. "I
guess you'd be safe enough all right with us. But suit yourself.
The money will be here."
"That's agreed?" insisted the two-gun man.
"I want a fresh horse--I'll leave mine--he's a
good one. I want a little grub."
"All right. Parker'll fit you out."
The stranger rose.
"I'll see you in about ten days."
"Good luck," Señor Buck Johnson wished him.
The next morning Buck Johnson took a trip down
into the "pasture" of five hundred wire-fenced acres,
"He means business," he confided to Jed Parker, on
his return. "That cavallo of his is a heap sight better than the
Shorty horse we let him take. Jed, you found your man with nerve,
all right. How did you do it?"
The two settled down to wait, if not with
confidence, at least with interest. Sometimes, remembering the
desperate character of the outlaws, their fierce distrust of any
intruder, the wildness of the country, Buck Johnson and his
foreman inclined to the belief that the stranger had undertaken a
task beyond the powers of any one man. Again, remembering the
stranger's cool grey eye, the poise of his demeanor, the
quickness of his movements, and the two guns with tied holsters
to permit of easy withdrawal, they were almost persuaded that he
"He's one of those long-chance fellows," surmised
Jed. "He likes excitement. I see that by the way he takes up with
my knife play. He'd rather leave his hide on the fence than stay
in the corral."
"Well, he's all right," replied Señor Buck
Johnson, "and if he ever gets back, which same I'm some doubtful
of, his dinero 'll be here for him."
In pursuance of this he rode in to Willets, where
shortly the overland train brought him from Tucson the five
thousand dollars in double eagles.
In the meantime the regular life of the ranch went
on. Each morning Sang, the Chinese cook, rang the great bell,
summoning the men. They ate, and then caught up the saddle horses
for the day, turning those not wanted from the corral into the
pasture. Shortly they jingled away in different directions, two
by two, on the slow Spanish trot of the cowpuncher. All day long
thus they would ride, without food or water for man or beast,
looking the range, identifying the stock, branding the young
calves, examining generally into the state of affairs, gazing
always with grave eyes on the magnificent, flaming, changing,
beautiful, dreadful desert of the Arizona plains. At evening when
the colored atmosphere, catching the last glow, threw across the
Chiricahuas its veil of mystery, they jingled in again, two by
two, untired, unhasting, the glory of the desert in their
deep-set, steady eyes.
And all the day long, while they were absent, the
cattle, too, made their pilgrimage, straggling in singly, in
pairs, in bunches, in long files, leisurely, ruminantly, without
haste. There, at the long troughs filled by the windmill or the
blindfolded pump mule, they drank, then filed away again into the
mists of the desert. And Señor Buck Johnson, or his
foreman, Parker, examined them for their condition, noting the
increase, remarking the strays from another range. Later,
perhaps, they, too, rode abroad. The same thing happened at nine
other ranches from five to ten miles apart, where dwelt other
fierce, silent men all under the authority of Buck Johnson.
And when night fell, and the topaz and violet and
saffron and amethyst and mauve and lilac had faded suddenly from
the Chiricahuas, like a veil that has been rent, and the ramparts
had become slate-gray and then black--the soft-breathed night
wandered here and there over the desert, and the land fell under
an enchantment even stranger than the day's.
So the days went by, wonderful, fashioning the
ways and the characters of men. Seven passed. Buck Johnson and
his foreman began to look for the stranger, Eight, they began to
speculate. Nine, they doubted. On the tenth they gave him up--and
They knew him first by the soft lowing of cattle.
Jed Parker, dazzled by the lamp, peered out from the door, and
made him out dimly turning the animals into the corral. A moment
later his pony's hoofs impacted softly on the baked earth, he
dropped from the saddle and entered the room.
"I'm late," said he briefly, glancing at the
clock, which indicated ten; "but I'm here."
His manner was quick and sharp, almost breathless,
as though he had been running.
"Your cattle are in the corral: all of them. Have
you the money?"
"I have the money here," replied Buck Johnson,
laying his hand against a drawer, "and it's ready for you when
you've earned it. I don't care so much for the cattle. What I
wanted is the man who stole them. Did you bring him?"
"Yes, I brought him," said the stranger. "Let's
see that money."
Buck Johnson threw open the drawer, and drew from
it the heavy canvas sack.
"It's here. Now bring in your prisoner."
The two-gun man seemed suddenly to loom large in
the doorway. The muzzles of his revolvers covered the two before
him. His speech came short and sharp.
"I told you I'd bring back the cows and the one
who rustled them," he snapped. "I've never lied to a man yet.
Your stock is in the corral. I'll trouble you for that five
thousand. I'm the man who stole your cattle!"