Pathways of Thorns - Chapt 2
Marshal Henry had been born into a farm family in Georgia, and was named Donald after his Mother's grandfather. The Henry family was dirt poor, with six boys and four girls. Just putting food on the table on a daily basis was often a difficult task. Young Donald became a very good shot out of necessity. His family could not afford to have many bullets, so when he went to hunt for game, his father gave him one bullet. If he missed his one shot, it meant the family would have to do without meat for a meal or two. As a result, he learned to be an excellent tracker, and a dead shot, both skills that would serve him well in later years.
When he turned fourteen, a passing peddler told him that there were many jobs for young men out west,including driving cattle on trail drives, working in mines, or laying track for the railroads. Donald had long since realized there was no future for him on the farm. A couple of his brothers were now old enough to take over his responsibilities, and his departure would mean one less mouth to feed. One morning, he gathered what little he had,wrapped it up in an old shirt tied to a stick, said his goodbyes, and started walking west. His family needed the rifle to provide food, so he left it behind. Donald knew that even tho it would be a little more difficult, he could feed himself without it. The stick he used to carry his few belongings would serve as a fishing pole, and he was skilled at using snares to catch small game such as rabbits and squirrels. As Donald turned and took one last look at his home and family, he told himself that he would return one day to visit, but the years had passed, and he not been back.
Heading west, Donald crossed Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and finally into Texas. Much of it was done on foot. On occasion he would get lucky and catch a ride on a passing wagon or on a pack train. As the people who were kind enough to give him a ride engaged him in conversation, he began to learn things that were totally new to this young farm boy from Georgia.
Three days after he crossed into Texas, the sun was about to go down when Donald walked up to the campfire of two men.
Much to his surprise, he found himself staring into the barrels of two Winchester rifles.
“Boy, you ain't very old, and you don't figure to get much older if'n you don't learn a thing or two pretty quickly.” The speaker, a tall dark haired fellow, introduced himself as Jim Starks. “Out here, you never ride or walk up to a campfire without yelling out first and getting permission. There are a lot of men that would have shot you on the spot for doing what you just did.” He introduced the other fellow as his top hand, Ethan Sands. Starks said they were on their way to his ranch, where they were about to start a trail drive north to Abilene, Kansas.
When Donald told him his background and asked if he needed any help on the cattle drive, Starks shook his head, and said, “I'm sorry but I don't think we can use you. A young fellow who has grown up handling cattle is one thing. A fellow your age, fresh off the farm, just has too much too learn. Like as not, you would get yourself crippled or killed along the way. Still, sit yourself down and have supper with us. It's a western custom that you never turn a man away from your campfire without offering food.”
Ethan Sands stepped forward and said, “Hold on Boss. This kid has walked all the way from Georgia. That says something about how much sand he has. I was just twelve when my folks were killed, and I had to make it on my own. A few folks gave me a break in those early years and I've never forgotten that. This might be my chance to pay back some of what I owe. I'll watch out for him, and if he doesn't work out, you can take his wages out of mine.”
The next morning Ethan mounted Donald on one of the horses they had bought in town. As he mounted his own horse, Ethan said, “As long as you work for this outfit, that horse will belong to you. When you move on, if you want to keep that horse, Mr. Starks will sell him to you at a fair price. Another thing needs attending, and I suppose this is the time. When we leave here, take my advice and leave your first name in the remains of our campfire. As of this moment, your first name is Rio. Being young, you will catch your share of hazing from the trail crew. Having a western name will reduce it to a minimum. Anybody asks where you got the name, just ignore them. It's bad manners in western country to ask a man about his background unless he wants to talk about it. What a man did or did not do in his past doesn't mean much out here. It's what he does now, how he stands up to work and responsibility that counts.”
For the next two days, as they rode toward the ranch, Ethan took every opportunity to explain to Rio what would be expected from him, and the best ways to handle cattle on the drive. Three weeks after arriving at the ranch, the trail drive began. Just before they started down the trail, Ethan walked over to Rio carrying a pistol and gun belt. “Here, put this on. Chances are you will have need of it before we get to Abilene. This pistol is old, but it's in good shape and accurate. Do you know how to shoot?”
As Rio strapped the holster around his waist, he answered, “Yes I do. I did most of the hunting for my family back in Georgia, altho I've never fired a pistol before.”
“O.K.”, Ethan replied. “First chance we have to ride out away from the herd, I'll give you a chance to fire a few shots and get you used to using a pistol. Shouldn't take you long to get used to it.”
Every night Ethan would stop and talk to Rio, sharing all that he knew about cattle, and western life in general. By the time they reached Abilene, young Rio Henry was no longer considered a boy. He was now a seasoned and proficient cowboy, who had earned the respect of everyone in the crew for standing up to the hardest and dirtiest jobs without complaint.
To be continued..
Last edited by barnburner; 07-25-2011 at 08:34 PM.