Murder Spree on the Wagon Train (Preview)

Chapter One

Wade Keen, with his hands on his hips, watched as two more wagons rolled toward the others. He smiled. Every wagon seemed to be on time today, which is exactly what he wanted. The wagons would be leaving at first light on Tuesday morning. That didn’t leave the missing wagons much time, since today was Monday. He hoped the journey would go smoothly. He though the 1873 journey from the year before was the smoothest he had ever led. He hoped the same would be true of the 1874 journey.

Keen, a tall, solid man who was six-feet tall, like to travel, as a wagon master should. Although he made the trip to California a half dozen times, he still enjoyed the job. He got a tingle of excitement in his stomach when another wagon train was heading out. He enjoyed the beginning day of the trip. He would ride to the front of the train, raise his hand and shout, “Wagons Ho!”

The wagon train was three miles outside St. Louis in a place named Pine Bluff. Thankfully, Keen had not had any breakdowns this year before the trip. That had happened in the past. A wheel had busted and an axle broke, and several easterners had problems with the reins of the four horses pulling the wagon. That was easy to do if you had never been around horses, or wagons, and some Easterners had not. He and his second-in-command, John Barlow, often had to give the newcomers a few tips on how to correctly apply the reins.

But he admired the people he led to California. It took courage to pull up stakes and hope for a new life three thousand miles away.

There were more wagons this trip than ever before. He had two dozen wagons, although not all were headed for the golden state of California. A number, including the five wagons belonging to the Blue Sky Church of the Redeemer, were turning left when the train arrived in Colorado. Two dozen members of the church were already in Colorado and were building the church. There were five more wagons of the congregation headed to join them. Three were already in the encampment but two others were on the way. Keen hoped they would join the train soon. He couldn’t wait for strugglers.

The camp was bustling with all the men and woman double checking everything and rushing to and fro. Keen looked around for his scout Ben Sheffield, who had been with him on every trip to California. Sheffield was a fine scout. Keen had nothing had any trouble with him and he was also an excellent scout. On his advice, the train had made a few unexpected turns to avoid trouble and circled around other potential trouble spots. He looked west and saw a rider in the distance and thought it looked a bit like Sheffield. He nodded. He didn’t want anything to happen to his scout. He nodded when Barlow walked up to him.

“Everything appears to be fine, sir. No major problems. Had to show a couple of folks how to fix the harnesses and advise a few others on how to treat horses but besides that, everything is fine,” Barlow said.

“Good, good, I would like to get off without any problems. So far, so good,” Keen said.

“I’m going to keep an eye on the Fletchers. The husband looks like he’s eighteen and the wife looks like she’s sixteen. For both of them, their real age is five years older, but they have a four-year-old boy and a young girl who is two. And they are greenhorns. I don’t know what John Fletcher did, but it had nothing to do with horses or wagons. Sara seems more comfortable around horses than her husband. She gives tender care to the children and tender care to the horses. But I’m not sure how he will be as a driver. I’m going to stick close by for a couple of days until they get used to the trail,” Barlow said.

“Good. Thanks, John. We always seem to get at least one family like that when we head west.”

Barlow shook his head. “I’ve been doing this for a while but it’s still amazing that a couple would put everything they own in a wagon and head two thousand miles. They must have great hopes.”

“They do,” Keen said. “Those wagons are not propelled by horses. They are propelled by hopes. Hopes of a better life. And I hope all those folks see their dreams come true.”

“So do I.”

Barlow pointed to two wagons that were about a hundred yards from where they were standing.

“How are the church people?” he asked.

Kenn smiled. “You know I have never heard of the Blue Sky Church of the Redeemer but it must be a real good denomination for every one of them, men and women, seem to be one of the sweetest people on the face of the earth. They have other church members building a church in Colorado City, Colorado. They told me it should be finished by the time they get there. The reverend asked if he could conduct Sunday services and I told him yes, but he had to do it quickly. I know the Holy Book says don’t work on Sunday but there are some times when we need to roll, even on the Sabbath. I told him I would give him until about eleven. Said people can sleep late or go hear his sermon but he had to start early because we had to pull out about eleven.”

“That was a good compromise. And they still have two more wagons to come.”

Keen nodded. “New converts. But they better get here soon. We pull out tomorrow at dawn.”

“Well, there’s Ben,” he said as a rider came into camp. He was a tall, muscled man black hair but had a ready smile. He looked like he was enjoying life, or at the very least enjoying the horse ride. He dismounted and kept the wide smile.

“Good news, Wade. Everything looks fine. Haven’t see anything that would cause us any problems. The trail looks good. Have some rain clouds in the distance but not heavy storm clouds. Might give us some refreshing rain as we move through Nebraska.”

Keen nodded. “That’s good. I have a hunch many of those people don’t realize how hot it will be when we get on the trail.”

“And I haven’t heard any stories or even rumors about Indians so they shouldn’t be any trouble at all when we head out.”

“Good, that’s the way I like it,” Keen said. “I don’t like surprises. Surprises are usually bad. I like dull, routine weeks.”

“Then I hope you have one, Wade.”

The wagon master nodded his head. “That’s the way I like it.”  He turned and saw a rider coming into camp. He walked over to meet the man.

“Hello, are you the wagon master?” the man asked. He was a man with curly black hair and looked fairly young, but something in his face made Keen think the man was experienced in whatever he did.

“Yes. Name’s Wade Keen. What can I do for you?”

“Mr. Keen. I’m headed for California. I’ve got family out there and invited me out. So, I thought I would take them up on their offer. But I was told I probably shouldn’t travel solo, not two thousand miles. So, I was wondering if I might tag along with you. I’ll pay whatever fare you charged. And it would do me a big favor.”

Keen had seen many men battle-hard men during the Civil War where he fought for the north. He sensed this man was good with his gun, so he was a bit suspicious of them.

“What’s your name?”

“Cole Dalton. Unrelated to the famous or infamous Dalton clan. They are not part of my family tree.”

Keen smiled. “And what will you be doing out in California?”

“Security for a gambling casino. My uncle and my brother went in business together and they ran a nice place out in Sacramento. But neither are too good with a gun. I’ve been a deputy for a while but was not making much money. They offered me almost triple the money to come out and help. They wanted to hire family. They figured they can trust relatives.”

“Well, it’s always good to have family on the payroll. I guess you’ll be all right. We have two other men traveling solo. They just wanted to see California. Thought there might be good business opportunities out there. One man is Barry Hendrick, and the other is Dick Moody. Both are young. You’ll find them less than a half mile from here if you would like some company. Otherwise just string along with us.”

“And I do have enough money for the fee.”

Keen laughed. “Well, I’m glad to hear that. I wasn’t going to carry you along for free. But if you have the fare, just find a place for your horse. We leave tomorrow around dawn.”

“Thank you, sir. And if you need someone to help you scout, I know the Kansas and Nebraska areas. Never made it to California but I’ve made it that far. I could probably scout other territories if needed.”

“Thank you, Mr. Dalton. I’ll remember that. If we do need any help, I will look you up. Oh, just curious about something. You don’t have to answer this question. Are you running away from something, Mr. Dalton or are you running to something? We get both kinds.”

Dalton smiled. “Maybe a little of both, Mr. Keen. There are a few things I’d like to forget and a few things I’d like to achieve.”  He handed an envelope full of cash to the wagon master. “I think that’s the fee for single riders.”

Keen opened the envelope and quickly counted the money. He picked out a twenty-dollar bill and handed it back to Dalton. “Whoever told you the fee for single riders made a mistake. You paid too much.”

Dalton took the twenty. “I see you’re an honest man, Mr. Keen. That’s good to know.”

“It’s easier to be honest than crooked. I’m paraphrasing Mark Twain when I say, as I often do, an honest man doesn’t have to remember all his lies, so he has it easier than a crooked man.”

Dalton tipped his hat and rode toward the wagons. “I suppose that’s true, Mr. Keen. Thank you again for letting me come along.”

“Wait a minute. Mr. Dalton, are you any good at hunting? Once in a while we need some men to shoot us some food for dinner and the next day’s lunch. John Barlow, my second-in-command, usually takes care of the hunting but at times he gets busy with other duties. If you are able to give us some help in that area, I would appreciate it.”

Dalton smiled. “It’s the least I can do for an honest man. I’m a good shot and I’ve hunted. So, whenever you need some deer or elk or moose, just let me know. I’ll go out and bring back dinner. But you have to cook it yourself.”

“Thank you, I’ll remember that,” Keen said.

Keen looked around. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the list of people and their wagons who would be making the trip. The train had three other individuals who join the train for the trip. All were single men and Keen didn’t mind allowing single individuals to ride with the train. At times there had been trouble on the way, Indian and outlaw trouble, so he didn’t mind at all having three additional guns traveling with the wagons.

He checked the list and looked at the wagons. It appeared all the passengers were here except for the two wagons from the Blue Sky church. He hoped they would be in camp soon. It was late afternoon, and he wanted all the wagons in camp by the evening.

He turned round and saw two wagons headed for the train. He nodded and breathed a sigh of relief. They headed for the other three wagons of the religious groups. Keen thought he would head over to welcome them.

“Are you sure we’re taking off tomorrow. A lot of folks don’t seem ready!” Turk Dowell yelled at him as he passed Dowell’s wagon.

Keen frowned. Turk Dowell, an overweight man with fat jowls, had been in camp only one day and had basically alienated the entire train. He was loud and usually angry and didn’t want anyone to bother him. He had little to worry about because no one on the train wanted to be near him. And he was always upset with something. His wife was also a bit overweight but Keen thought the biggest problem in her life was her loud, usually bellowing husband.

“They will be ready, or we’ll leave them behind, Mr. Dowell,” Keen said.

“How about them religious folks. They just got here. They ought to have been on time. You shouldn’t cut them any slack just because they are Bible thumpers.”

“I assure you they will be treated the same as anyone else. I’m going over there now to make sure they know our leaving time. But thank you for your concern,” Keen said.

He shook his head as he walked to the two incoming wagons. He supposed there was always one in every crowd that caused trouble, so he figured there would be one wagon in every wagon train where there was a troublemaker. And he hoped there was only one.

The first new wagon had a man and woman sitting in front. They smiled as he walked over. He reached and offered is hand. Both shook it.

“I’m Wade Keen. I’m the wagon master here. Glad to have you on the train.”

“Thank you, sir. My name is Dirk Logan, and this is my wife, Mary. We’re headed for California.”

“Then you have come to the right location. We’re heading out tomorrow.”

Perhaps, Keen thought, the exchange with Dowell had soured him about newcomers. He had an immediate distrust of Logan, but he didn’t know why. He couldn’t pin anything down. The man was dressed and appeared to be enthusiastic about the trip. Logan was a rather handsome man, with the only physical flaw being his eyes seemed to be too close together, which seemed to give him an odd look when first seen. After a second and third glance. Keen assume strangers would get used to his appearance. Mary was a slender brunette who seemed less enthusiastic but did smile.

“Glad we made it. We want to try out luck out West. We are going to build a little ranch and have a place of our own.”

“I hope everything goes well for you two.”

Logan jerked his thumb back toward the wagon. “We also are carrying my brother, Allan Logan. He’s the lazy one, that’s why he’s sleeping in the back. He decided to have one last night of drinking before we left. He said there wouldn’t be any whiskey between here and California.”

Keen laughed. “Usually, there isn’t but occasionally we do stop near a town to stock up on supplies.”

“That will be good news for Allan.” He turned back and shouted into the wagon. “Al, come out and meet the wagon master.”

A skinny man poked his head out and gave a half wave at Keen. “Good to meet you, Mr. Keen. Since I’ve never traveled to California before, I sincerely hope you have.”

Keen smiled and almost laughed. “Yes, I’ve been there many times so rest easy. I know the way.”

The three smiled. Keen was surprised that, for brothers, the Logans didn’t resemble each other at all. Dirk was a larger man, with a large nose and lips. He had brown hair and dark brown eyes. Allan was slender, possible fifty pounds smaller than his brother. He had small features and small, dark eyes. They were eyes, Keen thought, that wore devoid of kindness and gentleness. His brother sounded gregarious and out-going. To Keen, Allan Logan looked like a man who liked being alone. But he brushed his thoughts aside.

“Just wanted to greet you all and say I hope it’s a smooth trip. If I can do anything for you, just ask.”

“Thank you, Mr. Keen,” Mary said. “That is so nice of you. I’m a little anxious making the trip. I’ve never been more than fifty miles from my home. Now I’m heady two thousand miles.”

“I trust you will be happy there, Mrs. Logan. Many people have traveled on this wagon train, and most are making a happy, successful life in California.”

“That’s good to hear,” she said.

“I’m sure you will be one of the couples who are very pleased they decided to make California their new home.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Well, you all better relax a bit and get a good night’s sleep. We hope to get started around dawn. My second-in-command, Mr. Barlow will be around tomorrow morning checking to see if everything is fine, and he will help if there’s a problem with anything.”

“Thank you again, Mr. Keen,” Mary said. “I feel better already, knowing that you will be our wagon master.”

Keen smiled. “Thank you, again, ma’am.”

Chapter Two

He walked to the next new wagon and said hello. The two men in the seat said their names were Will Peterson and Andrew Nixon. They said they had formed a partnership was going to build a horse ranch In Colorado.  Peterson was average looking, a short and stocky man but one with a big smile.

“Don’t worry about us, Mr. Keen. We’ve never been on a wagon train but we’re not greenhorns. We always lived near here, but we’ve traveled a bit and we can handle a wagon,” Peterson said.

“And handle guns if needed. We heard we might see some Indians during the trip,” Nixon added.

“Don’t listen to most of those rumors, Mr. Nixon. Most of them are just that, rumors. There are a few wagon trains that have been attacked but those are few and far between. We don’t expect any Indian trouble.”

“That’s fine with us,” Peterson said. “We don’t want any trouble and are just looking for a smooth ride and no surprises.”

Keen nodded. “Me and my men are going to do our best to see that you get your wish, Mr. Peterson. We are going to make this trip as routine and, frankly, as boring as possible.”

“That sounds good.”

“You are a part of the Blue Sky Mountain congregation.”

“Yes. I wandered in sin for a long time, but I found the light. The Rev. Elijah is a wonderful man and told me about the Lord. I still have to struggle with sin at times but most of the times now I have the victory. But when I don’t I know I can repent, and the Lord forgives me.”

“Amen.”

“We’re going to go see our fellow believers, or brothers and sisters in the faith out in Colorado. Everybody needs a home, and everybody needs a church home too,” Peterson said. “You know I’ve seen ministers before but the one on this trip, the Rev. Elijah Anderson is the best I have ever seen. A true man of faith. You sense it in him when you talk to him.”

“It’s always good to have a good minister,” Keen said. “We’ve had a few men of the cloth take this wagon train to California. I think they have all done well. Maybe California just agreed with them. Well, if you need anything, just ask me or one of my men.”

“We will. Thank you, Mr. Keen.”

The three wagons of the religious group were parked just a short distance away. Keen realized should say hello again to the Rev. Elijah Anderson that Mr. Peterson spoke so highly about. He had met the reverend only briefly, but he was impressed with him.

He walked over as several members of the group was starting a campfire. The sky had changed from a light gray to a dark gray and soon the temperature would drop. He looked around, then saw a tall man walking toward him. The reverend was a tall and sturdy man. Keen might have mistaken him for a security guard in a saloon except the minister had his collar on and a silver cross around his neck. Keen extended his hand.

“Reverend just wanted to come over and say hello to you. We’re glad we are traveling with you.”

As expected, the Rev. Elijah had a strong grip. It almost made Keen wince.

“You must be Wade Keen, the wagon master.”

“Yes, I am and if there is anything you need, let me know.”

“I certainly will. We do appreciate you letting us come. I know this will be a larger wagon train than most due to us.”

Keen smiled. “That’s fine. I’m going to let you all take the last positions in the train. That way you call can stick together.”

The reverend nodded.

“Rev, I mean no disrespect, but may I ask you what you did before you went into the ministry?”

The Reverend looked amused. “Do I look like a former criminal to you, Mr. Keen?”

“No, sir, but I…”

“Well, you are correct. I was an outlaw before I surrendered to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and all my sins were washed away. Now I am dedicated to the Lord and to his people. I thank him for his mercies in keeping me alive until I could accept His message of love and forgiveness. I’m appreciative of that fact every day. I’ve seen sin, Mr. Keen, and I’ve seen and experienced the love of God. The second is far better.”

“I’m sure it is, reverend. Glad to have you on the train.”

“Thank you, Mr. Keen. It’s good to be here.”

Keen walked to the wagon he shared with Fred Nestor, the cook on the train. The smell from the cooking pot wafted through the air and smelled like beef stew. Keen thought it would be a while before the train got any vegetables for a while. Nestor enjoyed adding peas and carrots and the green salad stuff he could find to his stews. Keen admitted he was a very good cook, but no cook had a lot of choices after a month on the trail. Most meals were basically meat and potatoes.

But tonight, the stew smelled good, and Keen was hungry. When he got back to the wagon, it was almost dark, and several wagons had campfires burning outside. He looked up. The stars were beginning to appear, blue spots in the black sky. There was no moon tonight, but the stars gave off more light than usual. Nestor had a coffee pot on the campfire took so he poured some into his coffee cup. There was a slight chill in the wind tonight.

“Well, what do you think, Wade. Does it look like we have a good group?” Nestor said.

Keen was glad he and Nestor, after so many trips to California and back, had become friends as well as co-workers. He knew he was the boss and the authority for the train’s safety rested with him, but he could have employees and friends today. When the time came for him to be boss, he did it.

“How’s the stew going, Fred?”

“Pretty good, Wade. We’ll have a good meal before we had for California. How does this crowd look?”

Keen nodded. “They look all right. Except that loudmouth Dowell. Hopefully, driving the wagon will keep him busy and he won’t have any time to get into any trouble.”

Nestor stirred the pot. “Well, I do like that Rev. Elijah. He was walking around and said hello and I was impressed with him. Man looks you straight in the eye and talks straight. You know he’s not as the Indians say, talking with a forked tongue. If I had him for a minister, I might actually go to church.”

“I like him too,” Keen said. “I got the feeling he was a straight shooter, although he doesn’t pack a gun.”

“Although with him, Wade, I got the impression that he could actually shoot straight, if needed.”

“I had a hunch about that myself. I’m betting he has handled guns, but he just doesn’t use them in his current profession.”

“Going to catch his sermon. With a minister traveling with us, we should drop by, just as a matter of courtesy,” Nestor suggested.

“Yes. We’ll have to see about that.”  Keen went to his wagon and found the small storage space. Above it was a glass. He opened the small door and brought out the whiskey bottle. He didn’t drink before five and he could tell the five o’clock deadline without a clock. He guessed it was about five thirty, maybe even closer to six.

He poured the liquor into the glass and took a sip. What he had told Nestor was true. The passengers looked about typical. He saw nothing unusual. He remembered the one trip he took where there were two warring families and warring was the proper term. Two families, both with two brothers and a sister who hated one another. Some type of disagreement about a property line. They came very near drawing down on one another during the trip to California.

It took some effort, but every member of both families made it alive to the Golden State and there Keen breathed a sigh of great relief. He shook his head. That was the worst of the trips west. He smiled again and remember when a notorious gunfighter had signed up with the train. He traveled as an individual. There were whispers and gossip about his presence and some travelers did not want him around, but the man never bothered anyone, much less shot anyone. Two or three of the families became friends with him and often invited him for dinner so the man would not have to eat alone. There were frightened whispers before that trek began but the man gave him no trouble at all. Now he had a minister and a number of the man’s parishioners on the train, and he certainly didn’t expect any trouble from them. And, he thought, he might attend a service with the Rev. Elijah Anderson preaching.

He took another sip of the drink. The only problem he saw was he did not want to listen Dowell bellow every day on the trip. The man had a mouth on him and a foghorn for a voice. The others seem to be the typical passengers looking for new and better life.

He thought for a moment about the two brothers who did not look like relatives. But then he had known relatives before who didn’t look like one another. But he wondered about their background. They did not look like farmers or store owners to him. He took another drink. He wondered what their background was. Then he realized that the Rev. Elijah’s background was being an outlaw, and he certainly wasn’t now. The man was honest as the day was long. The reverend didn’t go into detail of his past life but Keen could guess. But the minister did admit he had traded bullets with law enforcement. Except for bad aim he might be in a prison now. He had known other men who had questionable, even bloody, backgrounds who turned their lives around. It was possible those two brothers had a spotty background, but the reverend had turned them to righteousness. It was certainly possible. The apostle Paul was a man who approved killing Christians before he was converted. And he became one of the greatest apostles of all and wrote two-thirds of the New Testament. And at least none of them was a gunfighter. Or bounty hunter. He did have a bounty hunter on the train once and passengers kept looking at one another questioning which man the bounty hunter was after.

Actually, he wasn’t after anyone. He had just joined the wagon train to make the trip to California.

He swallowed all the whiskey in the glass and thought he would take one last look around the train to make sure everything was fine. He climbed down from the wagon and waved at a few passengers who were walking among the campfires. As he passed, one man doused the flames with water.

“Turning in for the night, Sam?” he said.

“Yep, figure it will be a full day tomorrow,” said Sam Bellows. Keen had met Bellows just that afternoon. He and his wife were going to California to help her brother build up a ranch. Nancy Bellow had mentioned Sam and her brother had always been friends, almost like brothers, and her brother now wanted some help with his ranch. Sam was happy to oblige. Both he and Nancy were getting tired of the east.

He watched as a few others dug a shovel in the dirt and tossed the sand on the fires. Everyone seemed to be turning in. They could all do with a good night’s sleep, he thought, since they would have a full day when they started from California. It’s not easy driving four horses on a wagon. Most of the drivers would be learning on the way. But by the time they got to the western border of Nebraska, they would be close to expert drivers. Experience, as the saying went, was a hard teacher, but a fool learned no other way. Keen knew the people on his train were not fools but would be instructed by the horses on the first one or two weeks on the trail.

He waved to the Johnson brothers, John and Stuart, as they walked toward the forest with bedrolls in their hands.


“Murder Spree on the Wagon Train” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Wade Keen has taken five wagon trains west to California and is preparing for another journey. The only slightly unusual thing this time is that there are five wagons of religious travelers belonging to the Church of a Redeemer, but Keen doesn’t expect any trouble. Until one of the passengers is knifed to death the night before the wagons leave Missouri. He knows he will need to investigate the crime even though no passenger has any obvious motive.

As the train heads for California, the danger increases exponentially…

When a second man is killed with no apparent motive, Keen knows everything about the journey has changed now. The train is traveling with a murderer on board. He has to find out who the killer is and why he picked his victims… or more lives will be at stake, perhaps including his own.

Will he be able to solve this horrible mystery?

Seeing the bodies piling up, he himself becomes the target of the assassin as he gets closer to finding the bloodthirsty perpetrator. However, the killer is hiding an even more sinister secret… Can he bring this monster to justice or will he join the list of murdered innocents?

“Murder Spree on the Wagon Train” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!

3 thoughts on “Murder Spree on the Wagon Train (Preview)”

  1. Looking forward to reading this book. I love wagon trail books and know this will be a good one. Is the reverend truly a man of God, or still an outlaw? What trouble will Dalton cause? Time will tell.

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