"Welcome to the McCain Ranch"
The Wyoming Story
They say that a man has hills and valleys in his life, and I reckon that’s true. But when Mark and I found ourselves deep in the valley, there were times that we wondered if we would ever be able to climb out. I think this time was hard and challenging for us, but brought closer together and taught us a lot about ourselves!
That was a dark day when I finally discovered we had ourselves a big problem with the cattle. I worked hectically at saving them, sending Mark into town to get the town’s vet, Doc. Todd. Mark hurried as fast as he could. He didn’t even have time to saddle the horse – Just jumped on him bareback and raced into town. Mark was so busy hurrying to the vet’s office, in fact, that he didn’t realize just how quiet the town was.
When Mark tried the door, he found it locked. He pushed hard on it, hoping it would open but it didn’t. Micah walked out of his office and Mark asked him were Doc Todd was. Micah told Mark he’d been up with the vet half the night. He was a Joe Rodney’s place. Mark announced I needed him. “It’s our cattle. Pa thinks they’ve got hoof and mouth. Half of them are dead already.”
Mark’s news saddened Micah. “Lucas too,” he mumbled. Mark asked him what he meant by that. “Every herd in the range has been hit, Mark. This time of the year, it can spread all over the place. Nobody noticed it until a day or so ago.” Micah assured Mark that he’d have the doc out as soon as he could get there.
Mark was upset. He knew what those cattle meant to us. If we lost them, it would be devastating for us both. “But Pa needs him now!” Mark pleaded with Micah.
“Mark, Joe Rodney’s got 100 head the doctor’s treating, and Pete Merrit’s got nearly as many. And then there’s the rest. Tell your father he’ll just have to wait his turn.” Micah was just as upset about the situation as everyone else. There was nothing he could do.
Mark watched Micah walk away. He started for his horse when Milly hurried down the boardwalk to talk to Mark. “Mark, if Lucas needs anything, lard or grease buckets, I’ve got plenty in the store.”
“Thank you, Milly.” Mark turned to leave.
Milly stopped him. She cared so much for us and wanted to do something to help us. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
The little hope Mark had left had suddenly dwindled into nothing. He realized now that there was no hope for our cattle. “No. No, I guess there’s nothing anybody can do.” Mark turned, jumped on his horse, and rode back to the ranch to give me the bad news.
They were all gone. Things were already tense around our house. It was late and we were both tired as I splashed some cold water on my face. Suddenly, Mark hollered desperately for me from the barn. I hurried to him at the sound of fear in his voice. “What is it son?” I asked.
“It’s the calves. They’re dead. Both of them.”
I walked up behind him and put my hands on my sensitive son’s shoulders. In a quiet, sorrowful voice I said, “Hat to expect that, son. Newborn calves.”
“There must have been something we could of done – at least stayed with them.”
I wished I could make this easier for him, but there was nothing I could do. “The rest of the cattle needed us more.”
"What's the use?" Mark asked with a sorrowful tone in his voice.. "They’re all dead anyhow.” He turned to me and looked into my eyes. “Or at least pretty soon they will be." He slowly walked away from me. His shoulders were slumped and his feet were dragging. I’d give anything to take the hopelessness from his eyes. “Mark,” I called.
But Mark started running toward the house. He didn’t want to hear anything I had to say. “Mark!” I called again. He disappeared into the house. I turned back and looked in the barn at the dead calves. I couldn’t stand to see them anymore. I slowly closed the door. I hated the tension between us.
As I looked out over the ranch one morning, things were so quiet – death was everywhere. There were no more cattle to care for – they were all gone. Everything was just so eerie. As I walked out onto the porch and looked around, a bleak, discouraging feeling came over me. I was angry at the valley we were living in. I was so angry that I banged my fist against the post.
Mark walked out of the barn then. I knew I had to stay strong and positive for him. He was so discouraged, and I hated seeing my boy go through this valley with me. I wished I could lift him out while I walked through it alone, but we were both in there together. We’d have to help each other back up into green pastors.
Somehow, as Mark walked up to me saddened and discouraged, I managed to plant a calm look on my face and speak to him as a father lovingly speaks to his child. “You didn’t eat much breakfast, Mark.” I was worried he would make himself sick.
"I wasn't very hungry," Mark said.
I knew something had to be done to cheer this boy up. I couldn’t have him carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders like this. I decided I should treat him to something special. "Tell you what son. I've got to go into town this afternoon. What say I pick you up after school and we stay in town and have supper at the hotel?"
But his hurt and depression was so deep that I couldn’t penetrate it. "You always said Pa, when we didn't have anything comin' in we had to conserve. We have enough food here.”
I thought he would be tired of flap jacks and corn meal by now. He reassured me he wasn't, but I knew better. "Pa, I was just thinking. Maybe I could quit school, get some sort of a job.” When he mentioned quitting school, I must admit I got upset, but then I realized why he wanted to do it. It wasn’t for selfish reasons – it was because he wanted to help me earn money. I was proud of him. I was so proud, in fact, that it broke my heart to tell him no. He wanted to help Milly or maybe work in the livery stable. “It would sort of help start us off again.”
"Son, I don't think anybody needs any extra help right now. Besides, your schoolings more important." I said it as gently as I could.
But Mark didn’t agree with me and told me as much. “I don’t see why,” he stated. “Half the kids are gone already. What with families moving out, pretty soon there won’t be any school.”
I tried to explain Mark why I was so stern on his continuing school. I patted his books. "They'll always be books Mark. You learn from books. Learn enough so that maybe someday you or somebody can find a way to prevent what's happened out here. No, you need your learnin' Mark."
Mark was so worried. Nothing I said or did could change his depression. He felt so loss…so afraid that we would loose everything we had worked so hard for. "What are we gonna do now Pa? Are we gonna be dirt farmers? Just sodbusters?"
I didn’t know, but I did know I had to give my boy hope. “We’re ranchers, son. This is cattle country – good cattle country! We’ll try again.” I had to get Mark off to school. “You’ll gonna be late, Mark.”
He said nothing else. He knew there was nothing else to be said.
I did ride into town later that day. The town was so quiet – almost like a ghost town. There was no one on the streets. Buildings were all boarded up. You could hear the echo of Razor’s hoof beats as we slowly walked down the street. Things weren’t much better between Milly and I. We were back to formal hellos. I tried to smile at her, but things were tough everywhere. There wasn’t much time for sweet talk and flirting. I handed her a list of a few things I’d need. She sadly took it from me. "More cornmeal?"
As I stood in front of her, I looked around the town. Almost all the businesses were boarded up. “Not a very pretty sight, is it?” I asked.
“No,” Milly agreed. “But you can’t blame them. With all their cattle gone, there’s very little money left, Lucas.”
I was concerned about her. "How are you doing?"
She let out a big sigh. "Oh, I think I'll be able to hang on until things get better,"
"That could be a long time Milly,” I pointed out.
“And talk like that isn’t going to help any,” she scolded me sternly. I could always count on my girl to set me straight!
Here I was trying to keep Mark on a positive note when I wasn’t myself. I knew Milly was right.
Micah was standing out in front of his office. "Oh Lucas! Can I see you a minute?"
I walked over to see what he wanted. Micah gave me some news that I didn’t like. It was my God-given duty as his best friend to set him straight. “North Fork’s your home, Micah. You can’t just up and go!” I argued.
“What good’s a lawman in an empty town?” Micah answered? Looks like everyone was feeling pretty low and depressed! I reminded Micah that not everyone was leaving. Things were going to get better. New people would be moving in here, and I was sure others would be back when they recovered.
“Pays good money, Lucas, and that’s a might scare item in North Fork right now,” Micah explained.
“Look Micah, you’ve been a lawman all your life. Somebody’s bound to recognize you up there!” Micah told me it’s a job. “It’s a job, Lucas,” I repeated sarcastically. “But what-“ I started.
Micah wouldn’t let me finish. He had a job, he know, and he really didn’t think much of the idea of moving on. But it was good money – and that was a mighty scarce thing. Wyoming was a long way though. I didn’t much care for the idea of Micah going that far away.
“Yeah, all the way up to the Wind River Mountains. Cheyenne have broken out of the reservations They’ve been stealing cattle and foraging and generally terrorizing the cattlemen up there. They’ve been doing it with guns and supplies. And signs of the Indian agents in the area. Now the government wants somebody to go up there and find out how it’s being done.” I listened and knew it was a problem. “Yeah, and the money’s good,” Micah stated. “Enough to start up a new herd, a small one. I could set a man up in business.”
I slowly turned my head and narrowed my eyes at my conniving best friend as I realized what he was up to. He had been setting me up all along! "Why you old reprobate! You never figured on going yourself all, did you?" I asked.
“Well, I didn’t loose any sleep over it,” Micah stated. “Plus, like you said, I’d no doubt be recognized. But a man who’d never been up there, who wasn’t a known lawman.” Micah made the money sound really tempting!
“Well, I couldn’t take Mark on a thing like that, Micah.” Just the thought of leaving him out of my sight was rough. I would be gone for a long time. Neither Mark nor I would want that! Then when Micah said I couldn’t even tell him where I was going, I knew it was out of the question! That wasn’t the sort of relationship Mark and I had.
But as I was walking away, Micah’s words stopped me dead in my tracks. "Lucas, you never liked being called a sodbuster did ya'?"
"I still don't,” I stated as I turned and stared at him.
"Better get use to it, that's what your gonna be," said Micah.
I walked back over to him and got right in his face. "What do you mean Micah?" I asked.
"A cattleman without cattle is just a plain sodbuster," said Micah. "Now if I was you I'd give this job a little thought. You change your mind, let me know. I'll set it up." He was right. He knew what was best for me. I was thinking from the heart – I didn’t want to leave Mark behind. But Micah new that sometimes we had to do things that were tough. I had to do this for Mark. But how would I ever get Mark to understand and accept that?
I told him, but he didn’t take it very well. That night, Mark was ready for bed and I was sitting on the porch smoking my cigar. Mark could tell I was deep in thought. He stood in the doorway and stared at me. “Are you still thinking on leaving?” His arms were crossed – a sure sign that this wasn’t going to be an easy conversation. I told Mark I was thinking on it. He wanted me to tell him about it. I had never lied to my son before. This was really hard! But this was one time that I had to lie for his sake. “Well son, there’s nothing to tell. I just thought I’d look somewhere else.”
My decision was already difficult. I didn’t want to leave my boy behind. His asking to come with me only made things that much harder. I had to stay firm with him. "Mark, I don't know what I'd be getting into son. I…Besides, who's gonna look after the ranch? That'll be your job."
The tension between us was only growing. Mark continued arguing with me. "How can I look after the ranch if I'm staying in town with Miss Milly?"
I was so spent. I couldn’t explain it, so I simply stated, "You know what I mean son."
"No Pa, I don't know what you mean!" He was angry with me. This wasn’t like us, and it was killing me to go against everything I had. I turned, shocked, and watched him run to the bedroom. Then I heard the door slam shut. I closed my eyes in frustration. This was so hard, and I couldn’t reach my own son! I felt like I was loosing him. I had to go – to make things right between us.
Things were no better when I got ready to leave. Mark just stood silently outside Milly’s store as I finished getting my horse ready. He simply stared at me. I knew he was angry with me, and I tried to push it back. Micah suggested I’d latch onto something real quick and be able to come back. I hoped so, because I couldn’t stand leaving my son behind – especially with so much pent up negative emotions toward me and everything that had happened.
The moment to say goodbye came. I couldn’t turn from my horse, but kept on working. The words were hard to say and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to say them. If I looked at my son, I knew I’d melt. “You take care, Mark.” I tried to act casual about it, but my voice broke. There were tears in it.
“Mark will be fine, Lucas.” I couldn’t avoid it any longer. I suddenly looked up and looked at my son. I knew if I didn’t leave right now, I’d never leave.
I went to untie my horse. “Pa?” Mark suddenly said.
We looked at each other for only a moment. I knew I should. It wasn’t a good idea for either of us, but I couldn’t leave my boy with tension between us. I held out my arms and he fell into them and began crying. Oh, this was so hard! How could I leave this boy behind? How could I-
"Pa, please take me with you…please," cried Mark.
I couldn’t stand this! It was tearing my heart up into a million pieces. This was absolutely the hardest thing I ever had to do! I looked to Milly and Micah who stood staring at the sad situation. They both knew how hard this was. I suddenly put a hand under Mark’s chin and lifted his face so he had to look into my eyes. My voice was broken, but I had to say it. "Son, I…can't."
It took absolutely every ounce of strength I had in my being to push him away, turn around, mount my horse and ride off. I couldn’t give him another look. I couldn’t say another word to him. I just had to ride away as quickly as possible, but I knew that I was leaving my heart behind and it was crushed into a million pieces!
Mark just stared after me. His heart was laying there along beside mine. He was so hurt – and I was the cause of it. He didn’t understand why this was happening. "What if he doesn't come back?" Mark suddenly mumbled.
Milly couldn’t stand to hear those words. "Mark, that's foolish talk," she answered.
"I don't know, I just have a feeling..." Mark started. But he couldn’t think anymore. He was numb and very upset. He ran off to have himself a good cry.
I traveled all the way to Wyoming. I traveled all day and camped at night.
Mark slept on a cot in the store room. Milly took care of him as if he were her own son. She came in to check on him that first night. He didn’t want her to know how worried he was so he pretended to sleep. She kissed her hand and laid it on his cheek. Then she went to bed. Mark opened his eyes after she left. He couldn’t sleep.
It sure didn’t take long to be recognized in La Mesa! Finny, the town drunk, saw me ride in and hurried into the Marshall’s office. The marshal was busy with paperwork, but Finney barged in. He had something to tell him. Before he could say anything, the Marshal told him the answer was no. Finney assured him he didn’t want a drink – he’d had enough the night before. “Yeah, that’s the truth,” the Marshal answered.
“Now Marshal,” Finney started. “Every time I’ve been drunk since I can remember, you been letting me sleep it off in here to keep me out of trouble. Now, and I always said I’d do something for you in return, didn’t I?” Finney grabbed the posters off the Marshal’s desk. He picked up one of the wanted posters and handed it to the Marshal. It had gotten up his curiosity. The poster was a Wanted poster on me. It said I was wanted over in Oklahoma Territory. “Now, he’s a mean one, he is! I knowed him the minute I seen that trick rifle sticking out of his saddle.”
They hurried to the window in time to see me walk into the saloon. The Marshal grabbed his hat and headed over to the saloon.
I ordered a bottle of Whisky and poured me a shot. Then I put a cigar in my mouth and started looking for a match. A saloon girl named Aggie was suddenly at my side. She lit my cigar. I thanked her. She flashed me a pretty smile. "That'll cost you a drink.”
“My pleasure,” I stated. “Bartender,” I called. “Another glass for the lady.” I poured her a drink. “Now uh…where were we?”
“No where, yet,” she answered coyly. I drank to that.
Suddenly, the Marshal barged in. Angrily, he shot our an order. "Put that drink down McCain, pick up that rifle and get out of town.”
I turned and leaned against the bar.. "How come you know me?" I asked in a tough guy voice.
"There's a poster in my office. Lucas McCain, 'The Rifleman'. Wanted in Oklahoma."
I gave him a hard look. "It's a long way from Oklahoma Marshal. You're wasting your time, I'm not wanted here." We stared at each other. "You just made a mistake." I gave him an evil grin.
I turned my back to him and went back to my drink.
"Turn around!" Shouted Marshal Burk. I finished my drink and quickly turned around holding my rifle on him.
"Now what where you saying?" I asked. He had stared to go for his gun. His hand stood frozen on it. "Go on Marshal, try it," I dared him. "Go on." He slowly moved his hand away from the gun. “No, huh? Well, just in case you’re figuring on changing your mind, toss me that gun.” I held out my hand for it.
After I had the gun with me, I looked up at a stag’s head on the wall. I decided to show everyone just how good I was. I quickly shot all the points off the antler and twirled my rifle for good measure. Everyone stared at me.
"Now, you've got a office haven't you Marshal?” I asked as I carried his gun back over to him. “Why don't you just go on down there and tear up that poster? As matter of fact I may stop by a little later and help you." I then put his gun back in his holster. He left. I went over to finish my drink. I looked at Aggie. “I’ll be back,” I smiled at her.
I started to leave, but a man suddenly called to me. "Mr. McCain, got a minute? I'd like to talk to ya'." He introduced himself as Forbes McKee. He ran the Indian trading post. He introduced me to his assistant, Ross.
I slowly blew out the smoke from my cigar. “I’m not overly fond of government men,” I stated.
“Well, I don’t blame you,” he stated. “A man with your reputation. Course I’m not a Marshal. Just an Indian agent.”
“Congratulations,” I stated. Then I started to get up and leave.
But he stopped me. “A man with your ability might grow to like La Mesa.” He looked at Ross. “I mean take Ross, he was a lot like you. Moving around, on the go all the time. Wasted talent, Mr. McCain. Till he came to La Mesa, settled down. Settled down. He’s a happy man now and went to work for me. Makes good money.” I listened, keeping the same mean look on my face.
I then spoke. "You're trying to tell me there's money in runnin' a trading post? Who are you trying to kid?" I asked.
"I pay well and I don't care about a man's background," said McKee. "I just thought you might be looking for a job!"
I looked him up and down. "I might be."
He invited me to have a drink with them. I told him that I might later. I then left. "If he comes around, what makes you think you can trust him?" Asked Ross.
"I don't," said McKee.
While I was leaving, Finney started bugging Aggie. He told her she was going to end up a nothing if she kept getting friendly with people like McKee. Aggie liked me because I called her a lady and she liked being called a lady!
Meanwhile, back in North Fork Micah came into the General Store to see how things were going. People were coming in an out of the General Store. "Hello Milly, good to see business picking up again," said Micah.
"Good morning Micah. Yes, now that the worse of the epidemic is over people are starting to buy again.” Milly was already sounding happier.
. "Yeah, three more families moved back this week," Micah announce. Micah looked around. "Where's Mark?"
The smile on Milly’s face faded at the sound of Mark’s name. "He was gone before I got up this morning.”
"You figure he's gone out to the ranch again?" Micah asked. Milly nodded. "Yeah, well, Lucas oughta be back any day now.”
"You know where he is don't
you?" Milly stared at him as she asked the question. Micah just silently looked at her. "Where Micah?" Milly really needed to know. But Micah stayed silent. "If you won't tell me, at least tell Mark. It would mean so much to him."
"I can't Milly. Lucas will tell you all about it when he comes back. He'll tell the boy too." Micah patted her shoulder. “Well, I gotta get going on my rounds.”
I waited until it was dark and everyone was in bed. The town was quiet as I looked around for any sign of life. I snuck over to the Marshal’s office and went to the back door. The Marshall opened it and let me in. Then he locked it so we could talk without anyone know about it.
The Marshal sat down behind his desk and pulled Micah’s letter from his drawer. "Well, Micah Torrance gives you quite a high recommendation," he commented.
The Marshal was certainly glad to see me – I’d gotten here none too soon. There were two wagon loads of guns coming that are consigned to Forbes McKee. “He’s supposed to trade them to the Cheyenne who are confined to the reservation to be used on it.” He expected “it” to be just like all the other times – those guns would never get there. He suspected somebody would steal them and make it look like the Indians had done it. He thinks it’s McKee. “The way I figure it, he collects three times. First from the government for buying those guns, which he steals before they get here. Secondly, when he sells the guns to the Cheyenne. And third…all those cattle.”
He wasn't sure what day this week the guns would be coming in, but he said McKee would know. "That show we put on did what it was supposed to do," I said. "McKee offered me a job."
“Well, keep your eye on him,” he warned. “If he suspects anything, well let’s say he’s the kind of man that…uh…don’t ask you to turn around before he pulls the trigger.”
Suddenly, the door began to rattle. Someone was hollering for the Marshal. It startled me and I looked worriedly at the Marshal. He told me it was Finney. I quickly left through the back door.
The Marshal let Finney inside, who immediately asked about being left out. Marshal told him he was busy. He was drunk and wanted the Marshal to put him up for the night. He wanted a drink, but the Marshal refused to give him a drink. He led Finney to a cot then left for the night.
Finny couldn't get to sleep so he went out to get the bottle of whiskey out of the Marshal's drawer. It was locked. Finny forced it open and poured himself a drink. He decided to snoop through the drawer. As he pulled some papers out, he found the letter Micah had sent to Marshal Burks about my working undercover for the Federal Marshal's office. He read it. That meant trouble! But we’ll have to wait on that for now!
I was relaxing in my hotel room. Now that things were quiet and I was alone, I didn’t have much to keep me from thinking of my boy. A million thoughts went through my head. I had a million questions, but they would have to wait until I got back. I picked up my wallet and opened it. I pulled out his picture like I did every night since I said goodbye. I looked at it as I wondered what he was doing now. I couldn’t wait to hold him in my arms!
One day, Mark went out to the ranch. He was so very lonesome to me. Things were so mixed up for him right now. He was distraught and bewildered by all this. He walked over to the plaque that we had put up beside the house when we built it. He read out loud in a broken voice. "This house rebuilt by Lucas McCain and his son Mark — Aug. 1881 ― God bless out home" He began crying. “Oh Pa. Pa, where are ya'?” He sat down on the porch and buried his head in his hands as he wept for me.
If I had been there, I would have held my boy while he cried.
Wyoming Story - piddlin stuff.....
Bloopers - The Wyoming Story
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's
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The Wyoming Story - part 2
Face of Yesterday
around The McCain Ranch