The Homesteader’s Revenge (Preview)


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Chapter One

The sun hung high overhead. It seemed to Caleb there were no shadows at all, and worse, the heat felt a great deal like sitting too close to the fire at the end of the night. Transporting cattle from ranches to marketplaces brought him through all types of weather, and every cattle drive was long, risky, and filled with uncertainties. 

One of those uncertainties was stampedes, large numbers of panicked steers running uncontrollably. It was, to a cowboy, what a fire was to a man in the city or what a storm to a sailor a sea. When a stampede occurred, cowboys had to be quick on their feet and in their saddles to ensure both the herd and the men remained safe. 

And the steers were about to stampede.

Caleb couldn’t explain how he knew this any more than a farmer could explain how a red sky at dawn meant rain, but he knew it anyway. He sensed it. It came as a feeling rather than a reasoned conclusion, and when Caleb sensed such things, he was rarely wrong.

“They’re going to bolt,” he said.

Charley, the lanky youth on his second cattle drive, looked at him with his typical cocky expression of distrust. New cowboys endured a great deal of teasing, and when the men were cutting up, they got the burden of being the brunt of the jokes. Charley clearly thought that Caleb was joking. “If you say so, Cal.” 

“I’m not foolin’,” Caleb said.

The boy chuckled. “All right then.”

“I’m not, blast it. I’m not foolin at all,” Caleb said. Of course, he kept his voice low to avoid adding to the unease of the cattle, and that meant the boy was even less likely to believe him. He said, “Come with me, boy!” and spurred his horse forward. 

As soon as a cowboy identified an imminent stampede, the only chance to stop it was to turn the lead steer, nearly always the one causing the panic. By turning the lead steer, a cowboy could influence the rest of the herd to do the same and avoid the stampede altogether. It really wasn’t a one-man job, though. The problem at the moment was shouting for his compatriots was likely to push that panic right up to the boiling point, which would get the cattle running before he could find the lead. When he got to the front, he’d start hollering, waving his hat, and whistling to catch the steers’ attention. If that didn’t work, he’d have to try to rope it, to keep the lead steer from running farther.

The key was to redirect the herd’s movements, and the way to accomplish that was to redirect the leading steer. 

But it didn’t work all the time.

Under ordinary circumstances, he’d be shouting and screaming, but if this was a normal time, the herd would already be stampeding. The cowboys would flank the herd, riding alongside the steers while whooping and hollering to deter and redirect the panicked cattle. Flanking was especially important when a stampede was already underway since it was hard to get the cattle to stop running. By using flanking techniques, cowboys could slow down and redirect the herd’s movements until they were brought under control.

But by then, who knew how much damage would already be done? A steer in the middle of a stampede might break a leg. During any drive, there were two animals. There were steers, and there was a herd. A man could control individual steers, and a team could control a herd. During a stampede, the steers lost all ability to think individually, and the herd instincts took over, so the stampeding steers formed one out-of-control beast recklessly plunging forward regardless of the hurt it caused.

Caleb’s Quarter Horse weighed, he imagined, about twelve-hundred pounds. A single steer weighed about eight hundred. Almost three thousand head of cattle would make up the stampeding beast, and there was no way to guess how much destruction the beast would leave in its wake.

“What are you doing, Cal?” Vulture Cragg called from the other side of the herd.

“Stampede!” he called back. It was too late to worry about the noise. The herd had already reached the point where the outcome was inevitable.

Vulture’s eyes widened, and Caleb saw him spur his horse and begin shouting to his companions on the other side. He couldn’t hear any of Vulture’s words, though. The herd had already started to run, and the noise—a low rumble—was rapidly increasing to a roar.

He glanced behind to see Charley, his face ashen, following closely. He motioned for Charley to slow, and ride alongside the herd. He would try to get the cattle turned while Charley and the others kept the herd together. Another danger of a stampede was the potential for the herd to splinter into smaller groups and scatter. That was less dangerous to life and limb than the massive single beast of a stampede, but economically, it could be devastating. They might never round up the entire herd if it scattered, and if they did, it would take days before they would be ready to drive the cattle again.

He reached the front of the herd to find the lead steer already running almost full speed. The steer’s eyes were wide and rolling crazily, and its head was bobbing and swinging from side to side as it instinctively responded to whatever threat it thought it had seen.

There was no sign of what might have prompted the stampede. There might not even be anything that Caleb would recognize as a threat. Cattle out to pasture were typically mellow and docile animals, but cattle on a drive were constantly under light to moderate stress. Any little thing could tip that all the way into extreme panic: stepping on a thorn, seeing a squirrel dart across its line of sight, even excessive heat or nuisance from flies. Anything could tip the cattle over the edge and lead to a stampede.

Whatever the reason, the lead steer bellowed the call to run and began to run. Caleb hollered and waved his hat, hollering and darting toward the steer to try to distract him and turn him, but it was too late. The cattle were running, and the best they could hope for was to keep them all together until they exhausted themselves.

Caleb spurred his horse, Hunter, forward a few dozen yards past the front of the herd. He looked back to see how the other cowboys were holding up their ends. To the right, Vulture was doing an excellent job keeping the team organized, and the cattle were tight and under control.

To the left, it was a different story. Lester McCready was the wrangler in charge of the left flank, but where Vulture had quickly gotten his situation under control, Lester was rapidly losing it. Cattle were splitting off by twos and threes, not enough yet to make a noticeable difference, but soon the herd would separate. Lester barked orders left and right to the cowboys, but he couldn’t keep up with all of the cracks forming.

He cast panicked eyes at Caleb as things began to fall apart. 

Caleb looked back at the lead steer, who was now completely overcome with panic, bellowing and sprinting forward with no regard for the obstacles in its way. He looked ahead of himself, where a rolling hill dotted with brush provided no encouragement. Uneven terrain was deadly to stampeding cattle. If a few of the cattle in the front fell, it would cause a cascading effect that could result in hundreds of head lost.

He checked the left flank where the edge of the herd was rippling and fraying, cattle pushing past the other cowboys, who struggled futilely to keep them in line.

Caleb looked ahead to the approaching hill. If he was to save the herd, he had to move fast.

He spurred Hunter and rode down the left side of the herd, whooping and hollering as he did. The cattle veered back toward the center, surprised by the sudden arrival of Caleb and Hunter.

“Pull left!” he shouted to the cowboys. “Away from the herd!”

He repeated this command as he rode down the left side, and the cowboys veered off and regrouped a dozen yards from the edge of the herd.

“As one!” Caleb called. “Now!”

They all started whooping and hollering at Caleb’s command. Presenting a united front to the herd, they slowly managed to tighten the group and redirect the stragglers so the herd was heading in one direction.

Now it was time to make sure they were headed in the right direction.

“Lester! Keep them together!” he called. “Charley, Orville, with me!”

He rode back to the front of the herd with the two hands. When he reached the front, he called for Barrett and Levi from Vulture’s group. He pulled the four hands together and said, “We’re going to drive them to the right! Keep with me!”

He signaled his intentions to Vulture and Lester, then began to push the cattle by concentrating three of the four hands with him and crowding the steer on the left side so the animal instinctively pulled to the right.

It was slow going. Too slow. They wouldn’t get the herd turned in time to avoid the hill.

He spurred Hunter closer to the steer and motioned for the others to be more aggressive. Gradually, the herd turned out of the way. They might just make it.

He heard a cry and turned to see Charley’s horse trip. The animal stumbled and fell, throwing Charley, who fortunately managed to get his feet free of the stirrups before he fell. He landed heavily, though, and didn’t get up.

Caleb cursed and shouted for the others to continue turning the herd. He rode back to Charley, and the boy slowly got to a sitting position. His horse continued to scream but was unable to regain its feet. From where he stood, Caleb could see the animal’s hind leg was broken. It was lost.

Then Caleb looked up, and a chill ran through him. Near the rear of the herd, thirty head or so split off from the herd and barreled straight toward them.

They had only a few seconds.

Caleb dismounted and helped Charley to his feet.

“What happened?” the younger man slurred.

Blood trickled from a head wound. Caleb didn’t know how bad the injury was, but he would have to worry about that later.

“You fell,” he said. “We’re going to get you out of here. I need you to mount Hunter.”

Charley turned drunkenly to the waiting horse and struggled to get his foot in the stirrup. Caleb glanced behind him at the approaching cattle. They didn’t have time.

Gathering his strength, he planted his hands underneath Charley’s hips and heaved him up onto the saddle. Charley swayed dangerously for a second but grabbed the pommel and steadied himself.

Caleb leaped onto Hunter’s back. The horse neighed in protest, but Hunter was an experienced animal and knew he needed to deal with the extra weight. After a brief sidestep, the animal responded to Caleb’s directions and jumped in between the oncoming cattle and the fallen horse.

There wasn’t enough time to steer the herd. Caleb would have to try something desperate and hope for a miracle.

He drew his handgun and fired into the air just before the cattle hit them.

God must have been smiling on him today. The cattle skidded to a halt and, with a chorus of panicked bellows, turned to their right, and rushed toward the rest of the herd.

Caleb cheered and rushed after them. The fallen horse would have to be put down later, but they needed to get the herd stopped before they could think about that.

Charley swayed dangerously on the saddle, and Caleb steadied him with one arm and replaced his revolver in its holster with the other hand. When he reached the front, he restarted the laborious process of getting the herd stopped.

It took another several minutes, but finally, the herd tired itself out and slowed. Caleb kept riding until he was sure there was no risk of another stampede, then he rode to the back of the herd where Joshua Pyle, a former Army medic and their camp doctor, rode safely away from the chaos.

Caleb dismounted and helped Charley down. The younger man was stumbling and slurring his speech, and Joshua quickly looked him over.

“Well, he’s got a bad knock on his head for sure,” he said, “but the skull doesn’t seem broken. He needs to rest, and when we get to town, he needs to see a doctor, but he’s all right for now. No more work for him, of course.”

Caleb thanked Joshua and left Charley with him to go deal with Charley’s horse. The poor animal was screaming in pain when Caleb found it. It cast a beseeching look up at him when he arrived, and he felt a touch of pain when he saw the animal.

“Sorry about this,” he said, drawing his revolver.

He fired one shot, and the animal stilled.

He rode back to camp to find the others cheering him.

“Good Lord, Cal,” Vulture said with a grin, clapping him on the back. “That was a close one! If we ain’t had you in the front, we’d be done for, for sure.”

“Saved my bacon,” Lester added. “I’ll make sure the missus sends you a pie to say thank you.”

Caleb smiled. He enjoyed the admiration, but more than anything right now, he wanted the drive to be over so he could go home to Anna and enjoy some peace and quiet.

Only a few more weeks, he told himself. Just a little while, and then I can see her again.

Chapter Two

The town of Clifton appeared almost like a work of art painted by two different artists who possessed entirely different sensibilities, two diverging opinions about aesthetics and, for that matter, about architecture. The streets lacked stones of any sort, neither paving nor cobbles. Instead, the ground, packed firmly from the impact of years of horseshoes, boots, wagon wheels, and bare feet, sent up tiny spirals of dust under the hooves of the horses carrying riders lazily down the main thoroughfare and hurriedly past the saloon, already raucous with boisterous shouts and calls although the morning sun remained low in the sky.

The contradiction in the appearance of the town relied mainly on the conflict from one building to the next. The assayer’s office stood next to Barton’s Sundries. The assayer’s office was, perhaps, the most important office in the town, the assayer responsible for analyzing minerals and ores to determine their composition and value. This was important for those involved in the mining industry as it allowed them to accurately estimate the worth of their findings and negotiate fair prices with buyers. The assayers were often also responsible for conducting tests on coins to ensure their purity and authenticity, but this town, founded on mining, rarely used that aspect of the assayer’s craft. For this town, the job of an assayer focused on copper.


The town’s history was forged by copper. Though discoveries of gold in the north and west had sent crowds scrambling to find their fortunes, it was copper that built the development of the West. Copper was used for many things, including telegraph and telephone wires, plumbing, and ammunition. The demand for copper increased with the growth of the country, and mines—and the towns that grew rapidly around them—began to dot the vast swath of territory that made up over two-thirds of the nation that proudly declared itself the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Copper mining brought jobs and money to this town as it did to many others, but here it did so in a more manageable, gradual way. The town grew, but not as the soon-to-be ghost towns that sprouted overnight and filled up with prospectors, merchants, prostitutes, and outlaws so that a patch of dirt became a cosmopolitan anomaly that disappeared back into the earth when the gold or silver ran dry. This town relied heavily on the success of its copper mines, but success came gradually, and so, too, did the growth of the town.

The assayer’s office, so essential for what would become a series of buildings, lots, and marketplaces, stood like a relic of the past. Its weathered pine boards needed a fresh coat of paint, and the raised wooden porch already showed warping and splintering so that holding onto the railing when ascending the three stairs that would take a person to the front door risked an injury to the hand. The paint that remained appeared thin and melancholy, and the faded lettering that announced the business done here seemed equally sad. It was stark, and that starkness made an impact on the eyes that might have been described as beautiful in a wistful sort of way. And so, the assayer’s office, the office that meant so much to this town, seemed on the verge of collapse, a memory of what the building must have once been.

Had an artist painted the building, he would have painted it in muted colors on a muted background with a muted frame for display under muted light.

Barton’s Sundries had nothing to do with fostering the growth of the town, but instead represented evidence of that growth. It offered luxuries unavailable at the general mercantile. It offered dolls for children and sweethearts finer than those at the store and too fine to consider unless there was plenty of food for the table and plenty of confidence there would be more food for many tomorrows to come. It held in stock what the general store would have to special order. Knives more beautiful than functional, special teacups reserved for company, and baubles appropriate only for Sunday dress (but too ostentatious to wear in church) filled the shelves. For the people of the town, such purchases were extravagances, unnecessary occasional indulgences often regretted as soon as the excitement of the purchase faded. This store, an enterprise far less important than the assayer’s office, stood next to the most important business in town and, by contrast, stood like a treasure next to a discarded heap.

The little specialty shop was constructed of rust-red brick and seemed almost like a building from a children’s storybook primer. Each brick seemed carefully placed to fit perfectly with its peers. The mortar itself seemed troweled on by an ancient master dedicated to geometric perfection. While the assayer’s office seemed intent on functionality, intent on displaying to the world that what happened inside was all that mattered, the building for the sundries shop seemed just as unnecessarily luxurious as the wares within.

And such was the town. Rustic wood in various stages of faded disrepair stood next to eruptions of carefully constructed red and white brick so that the town seemed a combination of yesterday and tomorrow, a contradiction of sorts that might have left an observer confused if he took too long to stare all around him. Plain and fair stood side by side, blended in a confusing way.

The people making their way from one place to another in this town, however, didn’t appear confused at all. They moved with purpose and the purpose seemed to be to move as nondescriptly and quickly as possible, to move and to remain unnoticed as they moved.

Apart from the men on horseback, a number of men wearing dirty clothes with equally dirty faces walked with the elements of their trade, pickaxes over their shoulders or hammers in hand. They were the miners, paid either by the yard or by each half-ton of ore they pulled from the earth. Among them were the surface men who sharpened drills and felled timber and received a daily wage for their efforts. When the day ended, some of the men would make their way to a bathhouse, one of the wooden structures, while others would head back through town on their way to the cottages and cabins where they would be greeted by their wives or children or both.

The miners, like the cowboys, gave the saloon a wide berth. A few glanced nervously toward the noise, and a few glanced in that direction disdainfully. None stopped, and most hurried along rather than linger within sight of the watering hole. The Arizona Territory was a rugged and sparsely populated region home to a mix of Native American tribes, Mexican settlers, and Anglo-American pioneers who’d left the safety of their cities in the East for the opportunities the West afforded and the excitement and adventure of an untamed land. The penny pamphlets and dime novels of the East were filled with descriptions of saloons just like this one, but the townspeople avoided the place. Whether they came to this town for excitement and adventure or not, there was no excitement in the air at the moment. Instead, there was only unease, a sense of wrongness that belied the spirit of those willing to wrest a living from the earth of this harsh land.

This town, certainly, wasn’t the only town reliant on mining. Mining was a significant industry in the Arizona Territory, with many towns and settlements springing up around newly discovered mineral deposits. Copper, of course, but also silver and gold were all mined in the territory, and the booming industry brought both wealth and conflict. The agricultural industry was also growing, with farmers irrigating the arid land to grow crops such as cotton, citrus fruits, and grains. And, of course, came the speculators who bought land without knowledge and found themselves with worthless dirt. Fortunes were made and lost, but far more were lost than made.

Arizona had law only in the loosest sense of the term. The territory was still largely unorganized, with frequent clashes between various factions intent to keep what precious value the land had for themselves. Outlaws and bandits were a common sight, and the gold and silver boomtowns epitomized the lawlessness of the era with very little in the way of order.

Despite these challenges, the Arizona Territory was undergoing rapid growth and development because of towns like this one, towns that grew steadily with industrial mining capability, copper towns, and not the ghost towns of the gold and silver booms. And yet, despite this growth, the air was pregnant with trepidation, and the faces of those who made their way through the streets were covered by concern. It seemed the town itself tensed like a skittish horse about to buck or bolt at the slightest provocation. Whatever artists had collaborated to paint a town that blended old and new in a jarring contradiction had colored the inhabitants in apprehensive shades.

Evident with the cowboys, the apprehension kept them from sauntering and slowing. Instead, they mounted their horses quickly, rode quickly and purposefully, and avoided any delays. The miners, whether weighed down by ore, tools, or machinery, moved with a  similar purpose. The shopkeepers kept their doors closed and hurried shoppers in and out as quickly as they could. The town moved with singleness of purpose, and that purpose was to accomplish the business at hand as quickly as possible, to disappear from the unexplainable volatility of the streets back to the safety of home and hearth.

Only one building in town remained free of the overwrought timidity and shaken despair. From inside the Golden Bars Saloon, the sounds of raucous celebration echoed out onto the streets. Nearly nowhere in town could escape the sound, but those who passed near enough to see the saloon averted their eyes. It was here, in the place filled with the sounds of celebration, that the fear gripping the town originated. It was here, in the Golden Bars Saloon, that the men with guns and the willingness to use them spent their time, days and nights. They gambled. They drank. They made use of the saloon girls regardless of the girls’ thoughts on the matter.

The West was no stranger to fear. Fear could have a significant impact on residents of a new town. It could create a feeling of unease, distrust, and suspicion among community members. Fear could cause people to be less willing to reach out to others, leading to social isolation. Fear made men and women more cautious and wary and more likely to shut doors instead of opening them. Fear turned healthy towns into unhealthy towns and when the fear finally drove away the industry, the people moved on, and the once thriving towns died.

The men in the saloon didn’t care. They’d move on, too. They’d move on and find a new town and then a new one, and then a new one after that. They’d move from one town to the next until they finally reached one where the fear didn’t keep the residents in check but instead brought rebellion and violence the outlaws couldn’t keep in check. They would, as so many others had before them, live their lives with Colts and Remingtons in hand, until one day, the smell of gun smoke and the sound of bullets exploding from barrels would announce not another town of victims kept in line with terror but instead the end of the victimizers.

They accepted that end with the hardened indifference of men who knew no law but the law of the gun. Force any of these men to admit the truth, and not one of them would deny that their time would come to a violent end.

But that end was not now, and the town that would end these outlaws was not the little town of Clifton, not the town built on copper in the Arizona Territory. Not this town. This town was full of sheep, and sheep could not fight wolves.

A woman wearing a cotton dress held tightly to her daughter’s hand and hurried her past the saloon, walking on the far side of the street and praying with all her might that none of the men inside would notice her or take an interest. Her attempt at silence, though, failed her because gunshots rang out, and she heard the sound of a woman screaming. She screamed as well and, scooping her daughter up into her arms, ran blindly down the street, turning right into the first alley she reached, running without paying attention to where she went. She didn’t run to anything. She just ran away, clutching her child to her breast as she did.

Back on Main Street, flames rose into the sky, and the air filled with the crackling and splintering of burning wood. The woman ran into her home and slammed the door shut behind her, breathing heavily and still clutching her daughter to her. The sounds of the fire continued until beams and shafts gave way and collapsed. The crackling, softened now, continued for some time until the flames gave way to ash, and only the smoldering remains of the office of the Clifton sheriff filled the ground, a smoking heap where the hope of law, order, and safety once stood.

“The Homesteader’s Revenge” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Caleb Reynolds, a young homesteader, is longing for a serene life alongside his beloved wife, Anna. A sense of dread takes over him as he returns from a cattle drive only to find his wife vanished and his peaceful town controlled by a ruthless outlaw gang. To top his misery, the town’s sheriff, and his loyal friend, Tom Ames, is missing and feared dead. Suddenly, Caleb is thrown into the whirlwind of violence he has spent a lifetime evading…

Everyone is depending on him…

Anna Reynolds once saw their tranquil town as a paradise where she and Caleb could start a family. But with the menacing arrival of the Dalton gang, her dream-life crumbles to dust. Now she’s captive, her life hanging in the balance, and she’s forced into a grim deal with the cruel Ezra Dalton for their home. When news of Caleb’s defiant stand reaches her, she clings to a newfound hope, yet fear gnaws at her heart…

His wive’s rescue is up to him…

Caleb and Anna, in a desperate struggle against staggering odds, fight tooth and nail to keep themselves and the home they hold dear safe. Will they prevail against an enemy more cunning and relentless than any they’ve encountered before? Embark on this harrowing journey with them and their brave comrades, as they confront danger head-on to get rid of the outlaw menace.

“The Homesteader’s Revenge” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

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Grab my new series, "Legends of the Lawless Frontier", and get 2 FREE novels as a gift! Have a look here!

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