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Five thousand pounds of proverbial
dynamite on sixteen iron-shod hooves raised a stream of
gritty Wyoming dust, leaving the eyes of Captain Ross
Jackson smarting. The reins of the running
mustang-drafters slapped against the ground. With ears
pinned back and foam flying from their coats, the four
stampeding drafters plunged ahead in trained unison.
From his perch on top of the stage,
Captain Jackson of the US Twenty-Fourth Cavalry division
saw the sprawled forms of a guard and driver on the
road. The bodies were fast becoming distant specks. The
frightened horses sped onward. Nowhere in sight were the
murdering bandits who had caused Jacksonís current
Jackson sheathed his colt and gritted his
teeth. Only on his day off could this happen. Next time,
he was riding his own horse to town.
From inside the stage women screamed. The
soldier swallowed life and faced death. Eyeing the reins
bouncing between the hooves of the racing team his
six-three frame gathered itself with the lithe action of
a cat about to spring on the back of a mouse. Using one
of his nine lives, Jackson leaped ungracefully aboard
the back of the off rear horse.
The big mustang faltered under his
weight. Swearing a solid stream of curses the handsome
young Captain gathered its reins, steadying it. When the
animal failed to slow Jackson became disgusted. There
was nothing for it. Growling, he used another of his
proverbial nine lives to step onto the wooden tongue
between the racing team.
The tongue bounced. Jackson worked hard
to keep his footing. Finding a haphazard rhythm he made
for the lead horses. Though his two-hundred-forty pound
frame could topple a yearling calf, it did nothing to
stop the frightened animals. It was not until he
physically grabbed the bits of the leaders the animals
paid heed. The slowing leaders were pushed ahead by the
rear set of animals. For a wild second Jackson thought
the whole shebang would topple. The team halted in a
cloud of dust; swallowing Jackson. Inside the coach the
women stopped screaming.
The three young women were Brigadier
General Pollickís nieces. In a heroic fanfare they swept
Jackson into their Uncle's office. Of course, the
excited girls exaggerated the scene. Being the hero,
Jackson saw no harm in their enthusiasm. The number of
bandits went from six to twenty. The number he shot went
from one to a dozen.
The women were beautiful. Because of
them, Jackson had vetoed the idea of riding his own
horse in exchange for their admiring company. It also,
so happened, a prominent silver mine had stashed its
payroll on board. If Jackson had known this, he would
have waited for the state to finish the railroad and
taken the train!
Within forty-eight hours Jackson wore the
stripes of an official Major; although he could not
reason as to why the government wanted him at all.
During his five years at Fort Standing
Still, Jackson had proven himself the fort prankster.
There was not many a day he failed to liven. A
mysterious cannon firing, shoe laces tied to table legs,
laundry with parts sewn shut or an occasional burr under
a saddle was a sampling of what the fort endured at
Jackson's mischievous hands. Now, he sat in the
Brigadier Generalís office awaiting orders. It was
rumored he was to be given command of a distant outpost.
At last he might see some action! It was an excitement
he kept contained. In Pollickís presence he allowed
himself to appear dull-witted. The trick seemed to boost
The room, which contained the Brigadier
Generalís office, was lavish for a Wyoming outpost. It
was decked in the finest money could procure. From the
elegant cherry Queen Anneís furniture to the dewdrop
glass sconces and stained-glass lamps, it was a real
sight. Displayed on the walls were pictures of prominent
men of the time.
Pollick was an avid horse fan. It was
said he gained most of his fortune from three Indian
ponies he had bred then raced the colts. Pictures of
these three, their get, and many other race horses
abounded. Trophies littered the mantle.
Above a large black safe, hung the
Brigadier Generalís most admired possession; a stunning
life-sized portrait of a beautiful woman sitting
sideways. Her auburn tresses flowed in ringlets over her
shoulder. A long, crushed-blue-velvet dress flowed down
her slender waist. A splash of lace at the bottom of the
dress revealed a hint of ankle flowing into a tiny black
shoe. The lips of this lovely goddess were painted red.
Her fiery blue eyes showed such spirit it was as though
she was alive, staring out a window. This stunning woman
had once been the wife of the fat, round-faced Brigadier
General. How she had died, ten years ago, no one knew.
Taking his eyes from the picture to the pompous form of
Pollick, Jackson shook his head. There were things not
even he understood.
On the other side of the room was a
generous liquor stash any good soldier could appreciate.
Opening the doors of a tall cherry cabinet the round,
pompous general proceeded to remove a bottle of vintage
wine and two goblets. Strutting over a plush oriental
rug with heavy steps he set the crystal on the polished
surface of his extravagantly large desk. A shaft of
light filtered through the long rose colored drapes of
the picture window and caught in the blood color of the
wine as it gurgled from the bottle's mouth.
Pollick stepped close to the seated
Jackson. He smiled; rolling the fat of his cheeks and
letting loose the robust chin. ďMy boy,Ē he slapped his
stubby, uncalloused palm against Jacksonís back, ďI want
you to know what an honor it was to pin those stripes on
you. It almost makes me forget last night.Ē
Jackson met the generalís eye in mock
innocence. He sat feeling out the mood of Pollick, which
ran deceivingly deep. Many things about the balding old
man were deceiving behind those innocent rolls of fat.
It was something he felt in his gut. Hiding his
scrutiny, he yawned, stretching his six-three frame.
Pollick chuckled with a tilt of his bare
head. He was almost bald, save a ring of gray from ear
to ear. "Just something I've been saving from the good
ole days." Giving a heavy sigh, Pollick replaced the
cork, "You know, itís a shame, Jackson, there should be
more men like you. We could use more young people with
your eagerness and stamina in this glorious U.S.
Cavalry. Do you really know what brought you flying up
those great steps to where you stand now?"
Before Jackson could answer, Pollick
blurted, "Loyalty, Boy, loyalty!" The overweight man
chuckled; his stubby fingers digging into the oxford
arms of his chair. It creaked under the stress. Reaching
forward Pollick removed a manila envelope from a drawer
and started his speech with zeal. "Two hundred miles
south of here, as a crow flies, is a beautiful fort
waiting for a new Major. Now, I realize your
inexperience in handling an entire fort may make it
rough on you, but, I am confident you will get the swing
of it. If you can keep the men in line I donít see why
you wonít make Colonel by this time next year. Ah-h when
I was a young man of your age..."
Pollick began unwinding some important
tale Jackson vaguely remembered. It was yet another
long, monotone session of the manís bragging. Jackson
fell asleep behind his open eyes, allowing his mind to
wander in review of the excitement of last night.