I left Doug in Postal Junction to mend his pastor the best that he could. Neither one of us knew much about medicine but as far as fixing people up, well, let’s just say, we had more then our share of body mending. I know for sure that Doug can do a better job then a drunken old veterinarian. Anyway, I had to leave; we had important business in town that wouldn't wait.
Franco was waiting for me in front of the hotel with a tall stranger. I assumed he was the man I was supposed to meet, so I put on a smile, stuck out my hand and said;
“Hello there, my name is Big Daddy Cash.”
He shook my hand but he didn’t introduce himself, nor did he change his sour expression. He scowled and said;
“Your late Mr. Cash, we were about to leave.”
“It couldn’t be helped…”
Franco jumped right in and said;
“This is Johnny Diamond the man I was telling you about, he’s from the Hey Rube organization.”
“Just so you know Mr. Diamond, I’m not the sort of man that apologizes and I don’t make excuses, I’m late and that’s all there is to it, now can we step inside and get this damn meeting started.”
He looked at me with a startled expression, took a step back and broke out laughing, a deep bellow of a laugh that you could hear all the way across town.
“You amuse me Big Daddy Cash, I like a man that won’t take crap and says it like it is. Let’s do this thing over.” This time with a big smile he stuck out his hand and said; “Good afternoon, my name is Johnny Diamond and don’t call me mister.”
This time we all laughed and stepped inside.
Johnny was a big man, six foot nine and had a face that looked a little bit like Frankenstein, no tellen how many times his nose had been broken. He had a scowl that would stop a clock and a smile that would start a steam engine. No doubt about it, he was the kind of man that left lasting impressions. There was something about him I liked so maybe we could be friends.
Our meeting lasted from four fifteen until way past midnight. We discussed everything there was to know about Poncho Gonzales. Johnny assured me that no matter what happened Hey Rube would never give up until they had Poncho and destroyed his Villa. His exact words were;
“I’ll tell you right now Cash, and you can mark my words that son of a bitchen Poncho killed 20 of our carnival people and I swear to God he’s gonna pay and pay dearly. I’m personally gonna cut his balls off.”
Thunder was still tied up to the hitching post in front of the hotel. Things got so heated up in the meeting that I forgot to feed him. “Come on big boy, let’s get you some food and water, I’m sorry I forgot all about you, I promise it won’t happen again.” After taking care of my four legged friend, I saddled him up again and we headed back to Postal Junction.
I had a bad feeling about leaving Doug all alone to take care of a bad situation. After all I didn’t know who nailed the pastor to the cross. Maybe they were still around and might try to finish what they started. I couldn’t help but think that Doug was in a lot of trouble. Maybe it’s just my imagination but I gotta know.
It took Thunder and I exactly twenty minutes to make the trip to Postal Junction. The candles were still burning in the church windows so I suppose that means the pastor is still alive. Somewhere I read that if the candles are burning life lingers on, or maybe I heard it in a song, anyway I think it’s a good sign. Doug heard us riding in so he met us at the hitching post;
“I didn’t expect you back until tomorrow Cash, is anything wrong?”
“Nope, I just felt guilty about leaving you in such turmoil and couldn’t sleep until I knew you were ok.”
“The pastor is going to survive but it will be a long time before he’ll be able to walk or use his hands. He’s young though, and has a strong will, so he’ll do fine."
“Any idea on who or why?”
“Yup, the people say it was Poncho’s men. Evidently they wanted the town’s women and the pastor stood up against them. He drove the first ones off with a shot gun but they came back with an army.”
“What happened to the women?”
“They took all the young ones.”
“Christ Doug, That bastard got to be stopped.”
“You haven’t said anything about the meeting, are we gonna have the help of Hey Rube.”
“The meeting went well; it looks like we’ll have plenty help.”
I suggested that we get a few hours shut eye before giving it another thought. Neither one of us has had enough sleep to function with a full deck. Doug agreed, so we got our bedrolls and found an out of the way place on the floor.
Damn, I just remembered why I came to Postal Junction; it was to pick up a couple letters from general delivery. So much has been happening that I completely forgot about the strange message that was delivered to my room. A young boy came to my room and said that a man paid him $50 to deliver a message to me personally. He said he was supposed to make sure I knew that it was vitally important. What surprises me is that nobody pays $50 to have somebody informed that they have mail waiting in general delivery, it just isn’t done. All though I’ll have to admit it’s a good way to get someone’s attention, yet I was more then curious at the time and circumstances cut it completely from my mind. Oh well a couple of days isn’t going to change anything, I’m sure the letters will still be there when I get there in the morning.
So many things are running through my mind, I’m probably not going to get much sleep. I heard a rumor that Doug’s ranch had been ran sacked by Poncho’s men, the thoughts of the tragedies that happen to the carnival people and the pastor, the shoot out in Ragtown, the realization that more then one person was trying to kill me, these things have got my emotions so screwed up that sleep doesn’t come easy. I just hope that my weariness doesn’t effect my draw nor my aim cause I know for sure that I’ll have to be better then ever. Shit, why do all these things happen to me?
It seems like I just barely closed my eyes and was having a dream, no it’s true, bells are ringing. I looked over at Doug but his bedroll was empty. Startled by the sound of bells tolling I sat up and rubbed my eyes in wonder. I hurried and put my boots on and rushed in to see how the pastor was doing, he also was missing.
My first thought was not good; had the bandits come back and taken the pastor and Doug, and why were the bells ringing?
Stepping out into the corridor I could hear music coming from the chapel, a quire was singing Amazing Grace. I was missing something and had to find what was going on.
Walking through the chapel doors I saw the lost duo standing at the pulpit. I couldn’t believe my eyes, the pastor was about to lead his congregation in prayer. The last time I saw him he was half dead and that was only a few hours ago. I shook my head, I was totally amazed. Was I witnessing some sort of a miracle?
The man I keep referring to as the pastor has a name and out of due respect I should use it, his name is Reverent Hill.
Here’s what happened, as Doug tells it; Reverent Hill crawled out of his chambers very early this morning, he was in terrible pain but he said that didn’t matter. He continued; “Doug, I’ve got an obligation to take care of my congregation, I need to give them hope and restore their faith and I need your help. The bells need to be tolled to bring my people to the chapel and I need help to stand before them and lead them in prayer. I solemnly plead with you to help me in this endeavor, God will surely bless you.”
Reverent Hill was in so much pain that each movement he made was pure agony but he kept saying God will help me through you. I rung the bells to summon the people and then I carried the Reverent up to the pulpit. He insisted on standing, he said it was a courtesy to God and the way to show his strength to his people. He led the people in prayer for almost an hour and then he collapsed into unconsciousness. I have done all I can for him, now the people he calls his people will take care of him until he heals.
“Doug, if you are ready to leave let’s get going, I’ve got to stop at the post office on the way out of town then we will head for your ranch.”
“Yah, I’ll go say goodbye to the Reverent and meet you out in the barn.”
“Take your time Doug, I’ll go pick up the mail and come back and get you,”
I hadn’t said anything to Doug concerning what I heard about his ranch being ran sacked, I figured he had enough to be worried about with out adding more.
I picked up my letters and decided not to read them until later; at the moment I wasn’t ready for anymore bad news.
Doug’s ranch is small it covers about twenty five acres he has fifteen Herford’s and about forty shorthorns and longhorns mixed. He likes race horses and owns two champions and has about ten good quarter horses. He has some chickens a couple dogs and a goat and a young couple that manage it and make it their home, their names are Paul and Cindy Smith.
Doug usually spends the winters on his ranch, during the summers he has numerous odd jobs and hardly ever visit’s the place but Paul and Cindy do a real good job and don’t need much supervising. Doug looks upon the place as a future investment right now it just barely pays for itself.
As we approached the ranch we could see we were approaching trouble. Ponchos bandits were there raising hell as usual. The barn was on fire and the horses were running wild.
“I count five there may be more in the house, what do you want to do Doug?”
“They haven’t seen us yet, I think if we gallop straight in we can surprise them.”
“It’s your call, let’s do it!”
“Okay, let’s do this as fast as we can, when we hit the yard you veer to the left and I’ll veer to the right and we’ll have them caught in the middle, make every shot count, we won’t have a second chance.”
The bandits had already hit the ranch and felt the surge of victory so they were drinking and having a party. You could read the dumb bastards like a book. Before they knew what hit them they were all dead, all accept for two,
There were seven horses tied to the hitching post and we’d just killed five bandits.
Doug beat me into the house but I was right on his heals, he swung open the bedroom door and there were the other two raping Cindy, Paul lay dead on the floor decapitated. Doug grabbed the one on Cindy pulled him over and shot his balls off. I wasn’t that creative I just shot the other one between the eyes.
Evidently Cindy had been raped by all seven of the bastards, brutally raped and beaten. We tried to calm her down but when she saw Paul headless on the floor she grabbed a gun stuck it in her mouth and pulled the trigger. It happened so fast that there was nothing either one of us good do.
We buried Paul and Cindy, teamed the Mexicans horses up to a wagon filled with their bodies and run them off into the desert. It was Doug’s idea he said they’d make a good meal for the vultures.
It took us the rest of the day to rebuild the corrals and gather up all the horses.
“Doug, I’m going back to Ragtown and see if I can get Jim to come out here and watch the place until you can get somebody permanent.”
“Thanks Cash, while you’re gone I’ll see if I can clean up this mess.”
“Doug I want you to know, even though I don’t pretend to know how you feel, that I’m sorry.”
“There’s no need to say anything, I know!
The Ragtown barber shop has a backroom where you can shave and shower since I haven't had a bath in over a week and have the stench of warmed over death, I figured it's time to get a fresh smell. I thought I may as well do it up right so I visited the local store and bought a whole new outfit including a new Stetson, the icon of the western cowboy, and then I visited the barber shop for a whole new make over.
A hot beef sandwich sounded like it would hit the spot so I stopped at the hotel café. Tamara winked at me and said; “Hi handsome.” Now I was ready to take on any problem no matter what.
I picked up Jim and we headed back to Doug’s ranch.
Doug was sitting on the front porch with his face cupped in his hands; he looked like a lost soul. I said; “Come on man, I know you’re hurting but you can handle anything that’s thrown in your path. Look Doug, I brought you a new Stetson.”
“Hell Cash, do you think a new hat will solve my dilemma.”
“No, but it won’t hurt.”
He smiled and said; “Thanks”
“Jim said he’d take care of your ranch as long as he’s needed so we can get on with our search, a busy mind is what you need.”
“All right, I’ve done all I can do here anyway and I need to change my way of thinking. I’m ready to get started anytime you are.”
“I reckoned we might get started up above Hells Canyon. The terrain is mighty rugged and there are a lot of hidden canyons, a good place for a hideout.”
“Wouldn’t it be something if we found Poncho Villa that close, but it makes sense?”
“My dad use to take me hunting up in those there hills and I can remember we got lost more the once.”
“Hells Canyon it is; let’s get hoofen.”
“I picked up some roast beef, some biscuits and a jar of brown gravy we can stop and have lunch in Devils Hole. As you know, that’s where I do my best thinking.”
“We’ll see ya Jim; we should be back before the end of the month. If you need anything charge it to my bill at the hotel.”
“Don’t worry about anything and you guys take care?”
“Doug it seems like we are always headed nowhere looking for something. Sing us a sad song to get us in the proper frame of mind.”
“Okay, here’s one you know; “I’ve heard some sad, sad love songs and they always make me cry but the saddest words I ever heard were when you said goodbye.”
“Great, I love listening to you sing. It keeps my mind clear of the trivial bull shit.”
We arrived at Devils Hole early that afternoon and as usual it was a beautiful sight to behold. Not that I’m surprised, but I even got Doug hooked on this place.
A little planning now is gonna save us a lot of work down the road. Probing the canyons of Hell with a well orchestrated plan of attack could save us days of endless searching. What we needed to find was a canyon with easy access and yet hidden from the naked eye. There were literally thousands of canyons in Hell but we could eliminate ninety percent just by using a little common sense. In other words we are looking for something we can’t see that’s easy to get too, hell that seems simple enough.
From Devils Hole to the entrance of Hells Canyon is a thirty minute ride if we go through Hell. However, I want to avoid Hell so we’re gonna take the long way around. I haven’t been in Hell for twenty six years and as far as I’m concerned I can wait twenty six more. Hell is my Achilles Heal.
“Doug, as far as I know there are sixteen canyons in a twenty mile radius from where we’re standing, most of them are obvious, we’re looking for one that isn’t. I suggest that you pass up the obvious and look behind trees, large boulders and knolls. Look down in the washes and check out crevices and mesas and plateaus. I know it doesn’t make sense but I believe that’s why the US government hasn’t found the villa, so look for what you can’t see and pass up what you can. Ride in as far as you can before dark, check the north side and I’ll do the same on the south. We’ll camp here after dark.
We didn’t bring any supplies, there’s plenty of food in these hills so I figured we could live off the land. We can feed on wild turkey, sage hens, rabbits, quail and even snakes. Rattle snake meat is a delicacy. Doug and I both are right at home in the mountains. We know what to look for, we know how to catch it and we won’t shoot it if we can’t eat it.
Five days into the hunt and we still haven’t found anything, Each day we go back in as far as we can and we camp where we started the search. This could go on forever there has to be a better way.
On the morning of the sixth day after breakfasting on quail eggs and pan fried lizard inners. I suggested to Doug that we try a new approach;
“Doug, we seem to be headed down the road of no return. We could keep on what we are doing and never find anything. I think it’s time to try something new.”
“What have you got in mind Cash?”
“Well umm, I was thinking.”
“Don’t rattle your cage Cash, when you think it can be dangerous.”
“Hog wash! Here’s what I think we aught to try, at least for a few days. Listen and tell me what you think. You know Poncho raids the villages and towns at night and the bulk of his men return to the Villa before sunlight. Why don’t we work at night and rest during day. I was thinking if we walk our horses through the canyons at night looking for signs of Ponchos men, instead of looking for an entrance to their hide out during daylight hours, we might have more success. If we spotted one or more of the bandits we could follow them right to the Villa. Once we find the Villa we can return to Ragtown and form a vigilante with Johnny Diamond and the Hey Rube gang and raid the Villa with a small army. You know Johnny has got his men out looking but their not mountain men so I’m sure their success hasn’t been any better then ours. Anyway, what if we rest today and start this new plan of action tonight?
“I’m all for it Cash, it sounds a lot better then what we have been doing.”
Optimizing our efforts and riding together rather then splitting up seemed like the most sensible approach to this new plan. Fortitude alone was not enough we had to use our intellect but more importantly our common sense. Doug was optimistic but He was always optimistic I was the one with uncertainty. I was usually positive but Poncho was to smart to allow or even tolerate his men to make such an irresponsible mistake of being followed to Poncho Villa. Even though all else had failed I was the cynic even if this plan was of my doing.
It’s a wonder I'm not obese as much as I enjoyed food. I love to cook and I can make almost anything succulent, I was always surprising Doug with this ability. I have an amazing assortment of condiments always available in my saddle bag, the cooking kind not the table top kind; of course I always carried salt and pepper. Since we were going to work at night and relax during the day this was a perfect chance for me to prepare epicurean delights. Nothing satisfied me more then to watch people enjoy what I cooked. I have a terrific meal planed for today’s lunch all prepared with the wonders of nature.
After lunch I decided to lay back and reminisce about the good times. I just got comfortable when I heard the hoof beat of horses in the distance. Doug and I hid behind a clump of bushes but it wasn’t necessary it was Johnny Diamond and his Hey Rube followers.
“Hi Johnny what brings you up into the mountains?
“We got word that Poncho Villa was up in these mountains.”
“Doug and I have been searching for the past six days but so far nothing.”
“Well now we can expand the search I got fifteen men with me.”
I explained how we’d been searching and what our new strategies were. Johnny was impressed and thought the new plan was an exceptional idea. In the meantime he’d send his men up ahead to explore the terrain. He said they knew what to look for; he liked my idea of not wasting time with the obvious and explained it in detail to his men. When they were gone he sat down by the fire and whispered;
“What’s that wonderful aroma I smell?”
“We just finished lunch, but I always cook plenty, so we have leftovers to snack on. If you are hungry, I’ll fix you a plate.”
“I’m hungry and I gladly accept your offer.”
He downed his plate like he hadn’t eaten in a week and then he exclaimed;
“That was damn good, what was it?”
“Nothing special, just roast skunk.”
When Johnny’s men returned they reported finding hoof prints that led to a plateau.
Johnny conferred with his men for several minutes, what he learned seem to please him immensely. He came over to me and said;
“What I have found out from my men is pretty significant and it could be our first real break. At first my men found no indication that this particular trail had recently been used accept it looked suspiciously like it had been swept by a tree or bushes and the wind hadn’t had a chance to remove the evidence, so my men followed the trail for a few hundred yards and came upon the prints of multiple horses. Instead of proceeding they returned to relay to us what they had found.”
“Johnny, this is the best information that I’ve heard yet, especially since the wind blows down through the mouth of these canyons fiercely and would have removed any indication of travel within a few hours. It looks like we have found the trail to Poncho Villa now it’s extremely crucial that we proceed with caution. There are eighteen of us against an army of hundreds so our strategy has to carried out to perfection. I suggest that you, Doug and I put our heads together and come up with a plan that won’t fail.”
“Johnny, get your men over here where they can hear our plan. This is an impossible mission but it will work if every single one of us perfectly complies with instructions. First of all Johnny, Doug and I have worked this out right down to the last detail, in order for the plan to work each step must be carried out to perfection. If one step fails more then likely the whole plan will fail. We are up against ten to twenty times our number so we can’t afford to lose even one man; we won’t if you all do your job. First I want the fastest draws and most accurate shooters on my team, we’ll be the invaders, that leaves twelve that will be the snipers and ambushers, you twelve will be placed at strategic positions along the side of the trail. The inner most position will fell a tree across the trail trapping a large number of Ponchos men. This all will be explained to you in detail as we set this up. The rest of you will be positioned a hundred yards apart on each side of the trail. Your objective is to kill all the bandits in the first group. I don’t want anybody wounded, I want everybody dead and God help the first one of you that gets killed, the death of all the others will be on your hands. All three of us will work with you until this is all set up and then you’ll all wait. Wait for the invaders to make the timing right. The longer we have to perfect this plan the more effective it will be. Let’s function as a team and get rid of Poncho Gonzales forever.
Johnny; “Cash, What if we are wrong and don’t find Poncho Villa on the other side of that trail?”
Cash; “I’ve got a gut instinct that we’re right but if we are not we’ll still be better off then we are now. We can look back on these actions as a matter of training and be better prepared the next time.”
Doug; “It’s like the old cliché, nothing ventured nothing gained, I think we should start getting organized right now.”
The six invaders were selected and our plan was in motion. Johnny would set up and lead the snipers and ambushers, he’d also be the one to fell the tree, and Doug and I would be the instructors of the invaders.
I wanted to get my group as close to the Villa as possible and in the process kill anyone on watch. We had to sneak in like a panther stalking its prey. Doug and I would take care of the guards around the hacienda while the other four got in place to rage the bandits and lead them on a wild goose chase. The whole plan was so simple it was scary. One of my men would scare their horses causing unfamiliar noises another one would cause a ruckus in front of the bunk house while the other two would cover their backs. Then all four of them would create havoc in the courtyard until the bandits were dressed and ready to avenge. If everything worked out as planned the bandits would chase them down the canyon and end up getting slaughtered, in the meantime the hacienda would virtually be unprotected.
Our plan was coming together like the pieces of a cross word puzzle. Working over the top of the canyon we were able to find the guards posted on watch and silently eliminate them. We reached the courtyards surrounding the hacienda without detection. From that point on everything went exactly like planned.
I looked at Doug, winked and said; “Ah ha, nothing ventured nothing gained.” Now it was our turn to put an end to this fiasco once and for all. I personally intended to kill Poncho in a man to man shootout.
The young women who had been taken from Postal Junction had all been stripped of their clothes and nailed to stakes along side the hacienda. There were fourteen in all, six managed to survive the horrendous torture and brutal rapes. We cut them down and put the dead bodies in a wagon to be sent home for a proper burial. The living women were made as comfortable as possible and put in a covered wagon and sent back to Ragtown to be treated.
We searched the whole Villa for Poncho but he was nowhere to be found. It’s possible that he was with his men when they chased my invaders down the trail leading to oblivion and final death. All I know is that I was sent word that the whole gang had been killed.
Doug and I set fire to all the buildings in the Villa including the hacienda and watch them burn to the ground.
Poncho no longer has a hideout, his army is dead and retribution has been had. If he‘s still alive it won't be long before he’s found and shot down. He has too many enemies to survive.
“Doug, I’m weary, it’s been a long hard day, what do you say we head for Ragtown, have a fine meal and relax for awhile."
“Ha, Ha, Cash you’re something else, that’s one invitation I won’t turn down.”
“Doug, I’m going over to the barber shop where I can take a nice hot bath, put my new duds on and trot over to the hotel café where I can enjoy somebody else’s cooking for a change. How about joining me?”
“I’ll skip the bath but the rest sounds good”
“Skip the bath!! Hell you smell like a dead fish. This is one invite I don’t want you to skip. Ha-ha.”
Tamara greeted us with that lovely smile; “You guys are a sight for sore eyes, come right in, set yourselves down and let me tell you about our special.” I said in a voice just above a whisper; “To enjoy your beauty and listen to the magic sound of your harmonic voice is special enough for me.” She laughed and said; “You’re such a big flirt.” Doug said; “He’s not flirting, he’s consumed by your very existence.”
“Okay, that’s enough, what’s on the menu Tam?”
“Roast pork, mash potatoes and brown gravy and fresh corn on the cob.”
Johnny and Franco walked in and sat down at the table next to ours. Johnny said;
"Howdy strangers, good to see ya. I've got something I want to show you Cash but it can wait until after supper. I'll meet you in the hotel lobby after we've had our meal."
The pork roast was so tender it melted in my mouth. When we finished we retired to the hotel lobby and Doug handed me a big cigar. He said; Here Cash; have a smoke on Poncho, it's imported, I picked up a whole box in Poncho’s hacienda."
Johnny walked through the door carrying a small hardwood box. I said; "What is this, cigar day?" He handed me the box and said; "Take a look."
Engraved in gold on the lid was Poncho's Epitaph "Look inside", inside the cover these words were inscribed. Here lay the remains of Poncho Gonzales the Mexican Bandit. "You did it."
The real fun begins when you read about my adventures in Montana, found near the bottom of the menu.