PRODUCTIVE REVENGE

Placido Sandoval slammed the pick mattock into the rocks at his feet in a blind fury. “This Prussian, this not truly Americano, how dare he speak to me in such a way? As if I were dirt, less than nothing?” he fumed. “Mi familia has lived in this country for generations. I am of the conquistadors, the flower of España, while he is of the peasants in his country. I heard him bragging of it, how he has raised himself above his ascendientes.” He smashed the wide edge of his mattock against the largest of the rocks. A chip flew off, ricocheting into the face of the man working beside him.

“¡A redo vaya!” the other laborer said. “The devil! Be careful!”

Placido Sandoval swung the pick again, just as sharply, and his companion stopped his own work to turn away. “It does no good to be angry,” he said over his shoulder.

Placido glared at him. “It is good for my soul,” he growled. He slammed the pick against the nearest rock. Three large pieces broke free and tumbled farther down the stone-filled gully. “I will not be beaten by such as he. I will not be cowed.”

“You there!” Edward Bergmann, the mining supervisor, called from the bank above them. “You Mexicans!”

The two men paused and looked up. The Prussian’s finger pointed accusingly at Sandoval, his fierce black eyes indignant. “Did I not tell you to go slowly, to be more methodical in your approach? I’ll fine you again if you don’t stop flailing around!”

“I’ll flail you!” Placido muttered as he and his companion returned to their work. But his mattock chopped more sullenly now, reflecting the pattern Bergmann had set for it. Suddenly, gold glinted from the ground. Placido glanced up at the bank. Bergmann had disappeared. Placido bent swiftly and pocketed the chip of rock and ore.

Placido’s companion chuckled as he continued to swing his own tool. “That’s a more productive approach,” he said approvingly. He glanced toward the bank. “Though more dangerous if you are caught.”

Placido Sandoval grunted an unwilling acknowledgement as he continued on with his work, chopping at stones.

Copyright 2017 Loretta Miles Tollefson

HUNTING

They badly needed the meat. Stanley had borrowed a rifle and used store credit for the ammo, but they’d had to pay cash for the license fees, and Carolyn wasn’t happy.

He studied the landscape. Not an elk in sight. He sat down on a nearby log and pondered his situation. This move had been a mistake. There was no work and they were getting deeper in debt. He’d been a fool. You couldn’t eat a Ponderosa forest or a clear mountain stream.

But the forested hillsides were green, the air scented with pine, the sun warm on his shoulders. Stanley took a deep breath and just sat, soaking it in. “It’s going to have to last me a long time,” he thought ruefully.

There was a slight rustle in the clearing below, then a six-point bull elk stepped into the open. Slowly, carefully, Stanley raised the rifle and sighted.

Copyright © 2015 Loretta Miles Tollefson

FOR SAFETY’S SAKE

As Suzanna rounded the cabin from the garden, she saw Gerald in the yard loading his pistol. Both of the children stood beside him, watching intently.

“What are you doing?” Suzanna asked.

“We’re learning to shoot!” Andrew said gleefully.

Suzanna frowned. “We?” she asked. She looked at Gerald. “Andrew’s one thing, but Alma doesn’t need–”

“But I’m the oldest,” Alma said.

“She’s unfeminine enough,” Suzanna said to Gerald. “Always out fishing when she should be inside with her needlework.”

A smile flitted across his face. “Out here, everyone should know how to shoot,” he said mildly. “For safety’s sake.”

“More reason to move someplace civilized.” She turned and stalked toward the house.

“Can I load it, Papa?” Alma asked.

“Me, too!” Andrew said.

Gerald crouched down to show them again how it was done.

from Moreno Valley Sketches II

 

 

 

THE TRAPPER, 2 of 2

Sure enough, there was a beaver in the trap the next morning. But it had lunged for shore, not deeper water, so it was still alive, one hind leg clenched by the trap. It bared its orange incisors and hissed aggressively as the trapper studied it from the bank.

“You were supposed t’drown, damn you,” the man said. He pulled his tomahawk from his belt. The beaver lunged at him. The trapper pulled back sharply and slipped on the muddy bank. One buckskin-covered leg went into the water. The beaver lunged again, growling. The trapper brought the tomahawk’s blunt end down hard on the back of the beaver’s head and it jerked and fell lifeless into the water.

“I gotta eat, too,” the trapper muttered as he hauled trap and animal out of the water. He held it up. “A big one,” he said admiringly. “A thick winter pelt, too.”

from Moreno Valley Sketches

HARVEST

Alison straightened and put her gloved fists on her hips, pushing her shoulders back. Ten two-hundred foot rows of potato plants stretched before her. She twisted her torso, looking behind her and stretching her muscles at the same time. She had dug up the potatoes from about half a row. Full bushel baskets marked her progress. The yield was good this year, but her back was tired already.

She looked up. There were no clouds at the moment, except for a small gathering over Cimarron Canyon. An east wind was starting up, which meant rain at some point this afternoon or evening. She turned in a slow circle, looking up at the peaks surrounding her high Rocky Mountain valley. Snow dusted the tops of Baldy Mountain to the northeast and Wheeler Peak to the west. She went back to her digging. She didn’t have much time.

from Moreno Valley Sketches II

LONGER THAN USUAL

Mary Tolby frowned at the potatoes she was peeling, then out the kitchen window at the dusty Cimarron sky. It seemed as if a grit-filled wind had blown every day of the eighteen months since she and Franklin had arrived here to begin his Methodist Episcopal mission work. Mary sighed, washed her hands, and lifted the towel sheltering her rising bread dough. It was taking longer than usual to double its size. But then, Franklin was taking longer than usual to return from his Sunday services at Elizabethtown. He was usually back before Tuesday noon, following his meeting with the church board and various other discussions on Monday.

Mary frowned and looked out the window again. There was so much dust in the air, she could hardly see the sun. Franklin was undoubtedly talking with someone in Etown or Ute Park about the Maxwell Land Grant and its wholesale eviction of the small farmers who’d been here before the present corporation had purchased the grant.

She shook her head and turned back to her work. She very much doubted that her husband was speaking with anyone about the state of their soul. Not many people in Colfax County seemed to care about God or religion. Land and water were all that mattered. That and gold. How she longed sometimes for Indiana!

* * *

Two days before, the man had hovered outside Etown’s tiny Protestant church just long enough to confirm that Franklin Tolby was preaching there. He couldn’t stay longer: the air sucked out of his lungs at the thought of Tolby’s teachings, so contrary to Holy Church. But it was long enough to confirm that the heretic minister would be traveling down-canyon this Tuesday morning, as he always did after a Sunday in Elizabethtown.

The man waited now, rifle tucked to his chest, in the shadow of the big ponderosa at the mouth of Clear Creek. How pleasant it would be to stop the minister’s preaching. The men who’d paid him to silence Tolby had other reasons for desiring his death, reasons of power and money and land. The waiting man cared nothing for those things, although the gold they’d given him would be useful enough. He could  leave the grant now, take his family someplace where americanos had not yet stolen the land from those who farmed it, those whose fathers had tilled it before them.

He turned his head, listening. Someone was coming: A man singing a raucous heretical hymn. Tolby, most certainly. The minister would stop at Clear Creek as usual, to water his horse and drink from the hollowed-out wooden trough placed there for the refreshment of travelers. His back would be to the big ponderosa. But there was no dishonor in shooting a heretic in the back: a man who would steal one’s very soul if he could, destroy the very fabric of one’s Catholic life.

The rider in his clay-brown coat dismounted and the gunman eased into position. He held his breath as his finger touched the trigger, squeezing so gently and slowly that Tolby dropped to the ground before the shooter registered the sound of the bullet’s discharge, saw the neat hole it made in the brown coat.

Copyright © 2016, 2017 Loretta Miles Tollefson

 

 

 

MOUNTAIN VALLEY COWPUNCHING

Harry nudged the cow pony with his heels and she trotted out to edge the spotted cow and its calf back into the bunch moving downhill toward the creek. While the pony did her work, Harry turned his attention to the trees topping the rise on his left. He’d been through them once already, but he had a suspicion he’d missed something. Then he saw it. A massive black bull rose slowly from a hollow in the ground, gazed at the herd below, then turned and headed into the trees.

Harry sighed. “Collect ’em all,” Gallagher had said. “Even the bastards.”

The cow and calf were now meandering alongside the rest of the herd, which continued its downward trek.

Harry turned his pony’s head toward the rise. The bull was nowhere to be seen. Harry shook his head. Damndest thing, herding cows up here. Too many trees entirely. When he got his month’s pay, he was headin’ to Cimarron, maybe beyond. Out on the plains, where people knew how to ranch. No more mountain valley cowpunching for him.

from Moreno Valley Sketches II