William Roberts sits on a stack of tarp-covered crates watching the gray-black clouds roll across Matagorda Bay as they tumble and convulse crashing into one another. If it would just stop storming, Billy gazes at the clouds, we could get our ship docked and complete this detail.
He feels a sense of pride in the uniform he wears. It’s a dark blue waist length cavalry jacket with a single row of brass buttons and light blue trousers with a gold stripe down the outside of both trouser legs. His pants are tucked into tall, stovepipe black boots. White belts crisscross his chest; one holds a cartridge pouch and the other a small haversack. A slouch hat with gold tassels keeps the sun from his face. Midway on both sleeves of the jacket, two gold chevrons pointing down identify him as a corporal. Near him, his fellow soldier, Samuel Adams is dressed identically.
Close by a block and tackle hoists a cargo net of large barrels out of the hold of a ship and swings its yardarm over the wharf to unload. Its line snaps and the cargo careens to the dock. Barrels holding crockery shatter and scatter shards of wood and porcelain flying in every direction.
“Damn near hit me,” shouts Sam rising from behind a large crate. “Billy, you all right?”
From behind the tarp-covered pile comes a reply, “Don’t look like I’m hurt.”
The Corporals stand as the crowd of people rises from many hiding places and stumbles through the debris of the crushed barrels.
Sun beats down on the dock where people gather watching sailing and steam-powered vessels cruise the bay. They join the shoving, jostling, pushing, and shouting people who fill the open spaces between stacks of crates, barrels, boxes, and tarpaulin-covered piles.
Mercantile goods, hides, foodstuff, furniture, plows, and items from all over the world accumulate on the docks.
“Damn it’s hot, Billy,” says Sam as he removes his hat and mops his sweating brow with his kerchief. “You know a guy could get killed around here.”
“Yep,” mutters Corporal Roberts. “These people are thick as fleas on this wharf, not to mention all the cargo. It’s only May, Sam. What’d you think it’s goin’ to feel like when summer gets here?”
“Ovens of hell gonna open for sure then,” replies Sam. “It felt like that last year.”
Sam watches stevedores tie the lines thrown to them from the ships. They lash them to the wharf and move wagons, dollies, and handcarts around preparing to receive their cargos. The extended dock is a madhouse of activity. Nets of crates swing overhead, carts and wagons rumble along the dock carrying merchandise, random tarpaulin-covered piles obstruct strollers, handcarts navigate the dock, and crowds continue to hinder and frustrate the stevedores. White, black, and brown workers churn about, stripped to the waist, sweating profusely, and spewing profanity in multiple languages as they wrestle with unloading one ship after another.
“Bein’ in the Army ain’t no bed of roses,” says Sam. “But, I don’t think I’d trade with these fellers workin’ here.”
“Yep. Can’t beat being in the army,” mutters Billy with a sarcastic snort. “You see the U.S.S. Supply in the line up along the dock? That’s the boat we have to find.”
“We’ve waited two weeks for that ship; it’s bound to be here,” says Sam. “’Course the storms didn’t help its timely arrival.”
“Well, here’s hopin’ today ends our wait in Indianola.”
It all stinks: the people, the ship, the quarters, the food, the animals…especially those camels. Everything is wet. Constantly wet. Katrina holds her hand to her face trying to block the odors. She is eighteen and halfway around the world from her home in Mainz, Germany, aboard a ship carrying her family to the new and distant land called Texas.
Why would Papa want to move us from our comfortable home to come to this ‘end of the world’ place? For years, he’s read letters from those who moved earlier with the Adelsverein Society. The letters share glowing tales of the land, animals, and rivers. Nothing can be that grand. Katrina walks along the ship’s passageway. Finally, Papa sells everything in Germany and books us passage on a ship to New Orleans in some place called Louisiana. He says a town named New Braunfels in Texas will be our home. We are all forced to leave what we know for this savage frontier.
Katrina slowly climbs the narrow companionway ladder, gripping tightly onto the handrail as the ship lurches from one rolling wave into another.
How cruel, how thoughtless, how just like Papa to do this to us. It’s all Ernst Gruene’s fault. His letters convinced Papa to move to Texas and grow cotton. What does Papa know about cotton? Nothing; absolutely, nothing. Gruene farms acres and needs strong backs, and Papa’s willing to join him. Oh, I’m beyond help.
Stepping onto the open deck, the steady wind whips Katrina’s hair about, undoing any hope she had of holding it secure. Looking up, she sees the sails billowing and straining against the masts as ropes creak and groan under the stress. To her left, she sees low clinging clouds rapidly approaching the ship, dumping rain as they sweep along above the waters.
More rain. It’s been days of rain since leaving New Orleans. I overheard the Captain tell Papa it’s keeping us from our destination. What was the name? Oh, yes. Indianola. The soldier in the blue uniform, a Major, yes, a Major, keeps telling Papa this is where he is taking his stinking camels.
From the vantage point of the quarterdeck, a pockmarked, weasel-faced man lingers beside the ship’s rail, watching Katrina walk the main deck. Stringy, greasy hair protrudes from under his stocking cap, and his cotton knee-length pants, blue plaid shirt, and leather vest are filthy with rope tar and grime. His gaze sweeps over her long brunette hair flowing in the wind, her small mouth, and deep blue eyes. He’s watched her move about the ship ever since leaving New Orleans. His lecherous stare consumes her curvaceous body barely concealed by the grey ankle length high collared dress that clings to her in the sea spray and wind.
Oui, this is a girl for Pierre LeMains to take; he absentmindedly licks his lips. Those fools in the Quarter only thought they catch LeMains. Sacre bleu, those buffoons could not lay a trap worth springing. This ship was ready to sail, and I was ready to leave behind those I killed. An affair of honor, ha, an affair, oui. What an affair with Angelica. But her stupid husband and brother, they were no match for my blade.
A sharp blow to the side of his head yanks Pierre back to reality as he instinctively grabs the handle of the butcher knife at his belt. His ear aches from the cuffing. He spins around to face the Chief Mate whose hand is clutching his boning knife’s handle.
“Get off the quarterdeck, you Frenchie rat,” the Mate says. “Get below or into the rigging. You’ve got no business on this deck.”
Rubbing his ear, Pierre slowly removes his hand from his knife. “Oui, mon capitaine, I am moving.”
“Hold. Get aloft. The Captain wants us to haul in the sheets. There’s more gale brewin’.”
Pierre deftly swings himself up and onto the rope ladder rigging. He begins climbing to the yardarms holding the aft sails.
“Do not sleep too soundly, mon capitaine; hammocks have ways of becoming shrouds,” he mutters as he climbs. His new vantage allows him to continue his salacious gaze of Katrina until she turns and leaves the deck.
Excerpt from RED RIVER STATION
SAMPLE from HUMPS & HOOVES
Wm A.Burgdorf...a story teller...a writer!
In the clear, crisp, cold morning air, the short Mexican boy races in pursuit. He knows it’s an important race, an escape for freedom. His rapid breathing creates puffs of frost. The white cotton pullover and baggy pantalones flap about his spindly body.
The runaway goat zigs and zags in its dash along the steep path, dodging cactus and rocky outcroppings. His breakaway run moves down the arroyo away from the village.
The boy’s shouts and threats are choked back as he slides to a stop at the end of the draw. Before him stands a motionless rider astride a tall buckskin. The fifteen-hands high horse’s skin quivers in a spot a insect bites, but the horse remains still.
The rider sits with one boot in the stirrup and his other leg wrapped around the saddle horn. The well-worn boots dangle on the same side. The boy watches the rider’s head turn toward him. From under the dust covered, wide brimmed, tall crowned hat, two piercing smoky gray eyes probe the short Mexican boy’s own wide-open ebony eyes.
“Perdón, Señor. I did not know you are here.”
“’pears you’re havin’ goat trouble.”
“Si, si, mi cabrillo, kid, es muy importante to mi familia.”
The rider shifts his chaps covered leg from around the saddle horn placing it back into its stirrup. He unties his lariat, takes the rope, dollies one end around the saddle horn, shakes it out, and begins twirling a slow rolling loop over his head. The boy watches in amazement as the loop grows in size. Suddenly, the rider rises, stands in his stirrups, and with a deft flick of his left hand, sails the rope and loop through the air. Lazily it drifts and undulates as if alive. It settles around the head of the runaway goat and pulls tight. The rope snaps taut.
The goat lifts from its feet and is dumped onto its back bleating as if shot. The animal thrashes around struggling to regain a standing position.
The Mexican boy rushes to the downed goat, quickly ties a lead rope around its neck, undoes the lariat, and tosses it aside. The rider pulls the lariat back to him, recoiling it, and attaches it to his saddle.
“Gracias, Señor.” The boy firmly grips the lead rope while the goat tugs to get away.
“Da nada, little friend.”
“Comprender, I appreciate your catching mi cabrillo. How can I help you?”
The rider leans forward, his leather vest gaps open revealing a holstered Colt Peacemaker buckled around his waist. His red plaid shirt is dusty from miles covered on horseback. The steely eyes bore into the boy’s face.
“You seen any other Gringos around here?”
Chadborne Westerman stretches his thirty-five year old body to unkink stiff muscles as he rides away from the Mexican boy’s village.
I’ve been straddlin’ this saddle for a spell. Uvalde is a ways behind me, and Fredericksburg should be along directly.
Removing his hat, he runs his hand through his long brown hair.
The herd is only a few miles ahead of me now.
Weaving his way through the dense growth of prickly pear, dwarf oak, catclaw,
and Mesquite hedgerows, he once again finds the wide trail left by the cattle.
Mister Armistead put me on this path when he found his son hanging from the oak tree on his ranch. The boy was roundin’ up cattle to throw in on the drive north. His Pa hires me to find out who killed him. Then I find the two more along the way. One tied up by his hands and danglin’ from a Cottonwood tree horsewhipped to death, and the other lyin’ beside the trail with his neck slashed.
Riding up to the top of a draw, Chad spots the village of Fredericksburg. A gathering of wood framed buildings along a main street is surrounded by multistoried homes scattered in every direction.
Tonight’s a good meal and soft bed. The herd has to cross the Pedernales so I can catch up tomorrow. Who’s killin’ these boys and why? Most of these cowboys are only fifteen to twenty-one, and the average trail boss ain’t no more than twenty-five to thirty. Didn’t figure bein’ a range detective would lead to trailin’ death like this.
From within the Mesquite hedgerow black, hooded, vacant eyes carefully search the gathering cattle. Trail herds from ranches in the Hill County collect together to form a drive to the Red River and up the Chisholm Trail to Abilene, Kansas. The serpent-like eyes roam over the riders as if devouring each one its gaze rests upon.
Chad slowly rides up to the livery in Fredericksburg and dismounts.
“Hello, anybody here?”
From inside the barn he hears, “Hold your horses, I’m comin’.” With a limp, the skinny stable hand shuffles his way to the livery doorway. “All right, all right. Whatcha want?”
“Friend, I need a good rubdown for my horse along with a bucket of oats. Can you manage that?”
“If I can’t, I imagine I better look for some other kind of work. You here for a spell?”
“Nope. Ridin’ out tomorrow morning. Say, you see almost everyone who comes into town don’t you?”
“I reckon I see a right smart many of them. Why?”
“You see any stranger lately? Anyone who seems on the run or anxious to get in and out of town?”
“You mean anyone besides yourself?” asks the stable hand.
With a smirk, Chad replies, “Yeah, besides me.”
“I knowd most everybody here abouts, but yesterday a feller did stop by. He watered his horse and I got him stabled. It’s that gray over in the end stall.”
Chad looks down the line of eight stalls, half of them occupied, and spots the gray.
“You mind if I take a look at the horse?”
“Suit yourself, mister. Its owner didn’t tell me to keep him a secret.”
“Obliged. Say, how’d you mess up your leg?”
“Old story, friend. Throw’d while breakin’ broncs, landed wrong, and busted my leg. Never healed right, but I manage.”
“That you do. Yep, that you do. I’ll just take a look at that horse.” Chad moves to the stall and checks the gray over. He pats the horse’s withers, rubs its muzzle, and looks for obvious marks of having been ridden hard. Nothing out of the ordinary is apparent. He walks back to the barn doorway and the stable hand.
“See what you wanted?” asks the liveryman.
“More like didn’t see anything out of the ordinary,” answers Chad. “You know where the Jasper went how owns the horse?”
“Where’s anybody go who’s been saddle bound for a while? He went over to the Frisco saloon. It’s down the street. Look over yonder, you can see it.”
Chad looks up the street and spots the saloon.
“Thanks. I’ll head that way myself. Treat my horse nice, okay?”
“Always do. Don’t intend to change now,” says the stable hand as he leads Chad’s horse into the livery.
Chad walks along the boardwalks to the Frisco saloon.