It was the 19th of January in 1867; the day after the Nevada Territory extended its border eastward. The stagecoach bounced unmercifully across the roadless land on its run between the two year old silver town of Eureka and Carson City. Everyone was jostled about inside the coach, but the only one that seemed undisturbed by it was the old man in the front left corner bench. Other than the bumps the trip so far was uneventful, as hold-ups were rare, and usually involved petty theft since armed guards were an effective deterrent.
Driving the stage was Old George who had been driving teams of horses for about twenty-eight years and with him was Lonesome Robert the security man. The passengers were mostly women, consisting of Mrs. Nancy Berl the widowed school teacher heading for San Francisco, young Miss Georgina Bissel the pretty singer headed to Carson City to work in the Crazy Eights, and Joan Graves and Marion Johnson who were runaways on their way north to New Archangel in Russian America as mail order brides for men working there.
The other two passengers were men. The younger man was a preacher going to help raise a church in Virginia City before moving on to California, where he hoped to start his own church. And the old man was going to Carson City to live out the rest of his days at his son’s ranch in Eagle Valley.
The way the stage was taking was along the Humboldt River which flows from east to west across the territory, and they were currently passing through Carlin Canyon on the southern bank of the river in an area where the canyon walls were not as steep as they would be ahead.
Unknown to them was that the outlaws calling themselves the Salt Lake Renegades were on the run, and heading for Mexico, robbing and killing along the way. They also didn’t know that the sixteen man band of outlaws were sitting above them on the canyon wall. Lonesome Robert never saw who fired the shot that took out his left shoulder. George got the horses up to a full gallop, trying to get them out of there.
The Salt Lake boys came riding down the slope like Valkyries descending upon a long forgotten field of battle. Robert couldn’t fire his rifle with just one arm, but fired behind them with his pistol. The preacher and the old man joined in with pistols, firing from the stage windows. As there was no road, and the stage was jumping more than it did before, accuracy was about out of the question, but a lucky shot from the preacher did strike the horse of one bandit, causing it to fall forward and pitch the rider onto the ground in the path of the other fifteen horses.
This did cause a bit of a problem for the bandits, and the stage gained some distance from the men behind them, moving just out of rifle range. They rounded a curve behind some rocks in a steeper part of the canyon.
“Driver, stop and let me out!” shouted the old man. George wasn’t wanting to stop for anything.
The old man repeated himself several times unheeded, but then George did have to stop, as one of his team of horses had been struck by a bullet earlier, and suddenly collapsed. The old man got out pistol in hand, and his rifle in the other. Checking behind them the old man holstered his pistol and reached up for an old carpet bag that belonged to him. He removed several boxes of pistol and rifle bullets, and jammed them in his pockets while George unhitched the dead horse.
“You’re down a horse, so I’m lightening your load. I’ll hold them off while you get away. See to it my bag here gets to my boy in Carson.” said the old man, peering at Robert with one good right eye and a near blind left eye that matched the scar that ran across it.
“Are you plum loco? Get your ass back on and….”George started, until that eye looked right through him and the scar started getting redder.
“No time to learn you manners about talking like that with women folk present. You can move faster without me while I have an honest to goodness come to Jesus meeting with these sinners.” the old man said.
“Well, if you’re going to have a come to Jesus meeting, as you say, you’ll be in need of a preacher, and I just so happen to be free at this moment.” the preacher said.
“Now listen here reverend…” the old man began to protest.
“They can move faster if two of us stay. The driver has to drive and his partner is wounded, and the ladies can’t stay, so it’s you and me. Besides if you die first, I can give you a good Christian burial.” the preacher said.
“Alright, get out of here! The good reverend and I got a sermon to give on the wages of sin.” the old man shouted. “Up there your holiness.” he said, pointing halfway up the canyon wall in cut overhang with boulders before it.
The stage took off, and they climbed as fast as possible to their chosen position. They got settled in just as the bandits rounded the boulders in the wake of the stage. The preacher fired his pistol while the old man fired his rifle. The preacher hit a man in the chest and the old man got one in the right eye, before the bandits returned fire.
The bandits scattered, some riding back around the rocks, and some dismounted and sought cover, while the rest fired wildly from horseback. The old man shot another through the throat, while the preacher caught another bandit in the stomach. A Mexican member of the group caught a rifle round through his sombrero, and the remainder of those on horseback headed back they way they had come, leaving three behind cover.
“So what do you think they’ll do now?” the preacher asked.
“Them three will keep us pinned down here while their friends find a way around us or above us on the top of the wall. What’s your name padre?” the old man asked.
“Hezekiah Samuels.” the young man answered.
“Booger Haze, pleased to meet you.” the old man replied.
“So Mr. Haze, how do we keep them from getting around us?” Hezekiah asked.
“Call me Booger, and I’m glad you asked. We ain’t fixin’ to be here when they do it. You see, the Sun is getting ready to set in a few hours, but these rocks being our horizon, we ain’t got to wait that long. It’ll be dark in a few minutes. When that happens we get them shooting up here, and we go down there, over to that really big boulder, up that crevice to the top, where we have a better position.” Booger said.
“I’m not sure I can climb that crevice.” Hezekiah said.
“Son, I’m one hunert and eleven years old, and I can climb that. A young man like you should have no trouble.” Booger said.
“One hundred and eleven? You don’t look a day older than Methuselah.” Hezekiah said.
“Ain’t you the funny one? You think I ain’t read the good book, and know about Noah’s pappy? Son, I done lots more than you could dream of. Now I have to kill that rascal right there, or he’ll see what we’re doing.” Booger said, putting a bullet through the top of the man’s head.
The Sun did pass beyond the tops of the rocks making it very shady in the spaces between. Booger and Hezekiah fired wildly at the other two men, which started them firing back. They got down low and made their way back down to the pass, and across to the boulder. Booger sent Hezekiah up the crevice ahead of him so he could keep him moving. The climb took about fifteen minutes, during which time the two bad guys figured out that they had stopped firing.
Once on top Booger surveyed the land around them, then came to the middle with Hezekiah, and sat down.
“Well, the stage is about three miles downriver, some of the bandits are trying to come around the boulder through the river, which looks deep enough if we have to jump, and the only spots we have to watch are the ridge because that’s the same height as us, and the crevice if they figure out we’re up here. Other than that, we can hole up here until they leave.” Booger said.
“So your plan worked. Where did you learn tactics like that?” Hezekiah asked.
“Long story preacher, you go first and tell me how a man of the cloth gets so good at shooting?” Booger said.
“I shot a man in the back, who was trying rape my sister back in Baltimore, Maryland. I used to watch her dance on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay in the summers. I was just a kid, still in my books when it happened. He ran off, but I’m sure the bullet killed him. So I went on the run from the law, no better than these men here trying to kill us.” Hezekiah started.
“Let me interrupt you for a minute, son. You are a Hell of a lot better than this scum. You did what you did to protect your sister, someone you love and care about. That ain’t a sin nor a crime. God ain’t gonna hold that against you, and if the law done hunted you for it, they didn’t know all what happened.” Booger said.
“Perhaps you’re right. After that I was on the run, headed down south where I got involved with the Underground Railroad, but got in trouble there too, not making any friends among the slavers. Made my way to New Orleans where I worked in a hospital, tending to whatever wounded came in. The war ended and I took a job on a riverboat that got me to St. Louis, travelled west with a guy named Ethan until he headed for Montana and I went to Texas to help build churches. Met a senorita named Carmen that I liked until I found out she was married, and continued on. And here I am.” Hezekiah said.
They sat in silence for a few minutes, until Hezekiah decided to break the silence.
“So, how about you Booger? Hezekiah asked.
“I seen mostly war Hezekiah. When I was twenty I was in the War for Independence, then the Indian War, what they call the Quasi War, the Barbary War, the thing in Florida, Tecumseh’s War, the War of 1812, the Seminole War, the Arikara War, fought pirates in the Aegean, the Sumatran Expedition, back to fighting the Seminoles, the Mexican American War, and the Apache wars until the War Between the States, and now I’m retired.” Booger listed his history.
“All war? How did you find time to have a son?” Hezekiah asked.
“That don’t take that long preacher. You ought to try it.” Booger laughed, showing his missing upper teeth. “The missus, my Tiffany raised him until the last war, when she was killed. I finally got the rebel scum what killed her though.”
“How did that happen?” asked Hezekiah, curious to hear more.
“I had to wait until 1865, when Captain James William Boyd, who was forty three, a Confederate States of America military officer who was in command of the men that killed her, was released as a prisoner of war in February of that year. He failed to show up for a rendezvous with his son to go to Mexico at the end of the war. Boyd’s disappearance later became the center of a conspiracy theory that he was killed in the place of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln, but that ain’t true. I caught up to him, and threw him to the bottom of a dry well outside Kansas City. I stayed at the house there while he wasted away and died.” Booger said.
“But it wasn’t actually him that killed your wife.” Hezekiah commented.
“The men that did it died during the war, so the only one left to blame was the officer that should have stopped his men.” Booger told him. “Time to check on our guests, and see if they’re staying for dinner.”
There was no one on the top of the cliff, and it was dark in the space between the boulders and the cliff, but not so bad that Booger couldn’t see down below. The bandits had figured out that something was up since they stopped firing, and were working up the nerve to check where Booger and Hezekiah had been.
The two they had left behind the rocks were still there, and three were working their way up the cliff side through the rocks. Hezekiah crawled over to him after checking the side facing the way they had all come.
“There are two watching the horses, but there are sixteen horses down there.” Hezekiah said.
“And we killed seven by my count, meaning there are two unaccounted for. Check down the crevice while I watch the top of the cliff.” Booger said.
Hezekiah checked and came back. “No one.” he told Booger.
“Now we both watch that cliff top.” Booger said.
They didn’t have a long wait before the two missing bandits showed their heads above the top as they walked towards the edge. Booger motioned Hezekiah to hold his fire. Eventually the bandits looking down and not seeing them, looked across to the top of boulder and spotted them. Before the eagle-eyed bandit could say anything, a bullet from Booger’s rifle exploded the back of his skull on its way out. Hezekiah shot the other one straight through the heart.
At first the bandits weren’t sure who shot and where the shots had come from due to the echoes caused by the boulder pass. One of the bandits fell down the cliff, and when he landed they could he had been shot from in front of him. They looked around until one of them figured out that the shots came from the top of the boulder. The bandits started towards the crevice.
“What do we do now, jump?” Hezekiah asked.
“Do you want to jump into a river in a mountainous area in January? That water will be very cold and as we’re swimming out of it, they’ll be shooting down.” Booger replied.
“But you said…” Hezekiah started.
“That’s as a last resort. We still got a chance here if we quit gabbing and fight. You shoot down the crevice and I’ll cover you.” Booger said.
Hezekiah crawled back over and shot blindly down the crevice at first, not wanting to stick his head where it could be shot. The ricochet bounced down the crack until it found its way into the collar bone of one of the bandits. The bandit fell cracking his head on the way down until he broke his neck at the bottom.
Another man that he had knocked down only scraped himself a bit, and fired at the top of the crack. Hezekiah pushed himself further back, dislodging a rock, which bounced a few times before crushing the skull of the bandit. Other bandits began firing up at the top, but Booger stayed to the side of where they were firing and fired down on them, striking one in the femoral artery, who bled out after he fell.
The next man Booger took out got his bullet straight down through his skull. The last one took off running, but got in the back of his head for his troubles. Booger motioned Hezekiah down the crevice, and walked to the other end. He gave a bullet to each of the men guarding the horses. Hezekiah got to the horse before they could run off, and waited for Booger to come down.
“You want to be saying anything over the bodies of these rats preacher?” Booger asked.
“I know that I should, but I can’t say it would do any good. That I forgive them should be enough, and God will give them what they are due, regardless of what I say on their behalf.” Hezekiah said.
“Fair enough, mount up and let’s see if we can catch that stage.” Booger said.
They took only two of the outlaw’s horses, and headed out clearing the boulders in minutes, and riding off straight into the sunset.
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