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Bearpaw: An Old West Tale - 9. Chapter 9 Pardner

Life be full of bucks... some you sit, and some unseat you....




The ride home from Bearpaw had a few bucks in it what had Jubal fretting some, and they weren’t from his new mare. He’d met back up with Lucas as he came out of a shop advertising glass and mirrors. The man was carrying a shallow crate all by his lonesome, and Jubal was quick to take one side. It was surely heavy, holding three windows—two larger ones for the front of the cabin, and one smaller one for beside the hearth. “Someone in there should have offered you some help with this. This be too much for one man,” Jubal said as he scowled at the storefront.

“Willoughby did offer, but he’s stooped over terrible—got one of them bad backs—so don’t be getting riled,” Lucas said with a grunt. “Glad for your help but could have done it myself.”

“Expect you could, but now there be no need to test your back.”

Lucas snorted. “I be in better shape than old man Willoughby.”

“Ain’t reached your years yet, so I’ll have to take your word on that,” Jubal said, giving a snort of his own.

“Well, ain’t you full of it today.”

“Yep, still in my youth I reckon,” Jubal said with a smirk.

Lucas laughed outright. “Yep, suppose you are. Just need to build inch-thick frames for these and nail them in. Should fit well enough with some shims. Be nice to have proper windows.”

“There be a right way and a wrong way to do that for a log building,” Jubal said after he heard the plan for shimming, something which be fine for a stick-built house. They walked in step toward Dinah and the wagon, being cautious in their movement. Jubal noticed they had some folks’ attention, but did his best to ignore it. He’d already been stared at plenty during his walk around town.

“And I reckon you know the right way?” Lucas asked with a teasing smirk.

“Ah, yep, you might say I do.”

“Not surprised you’d know the difference, and I’m glad for it. Ordered the two small ones for under the peaks the size you said. Willoughby and his brother-in-law do good work… take a couple of days for them loft ones. Windows be dear, but worth the expense for what they give a house. Didn’t want to spend for the bigger panes, but the smaller ones in these be just fine with me.”

“Big panes break easier for sure, so you made the right choice. Seen a flying bird bust one out once. Expect you’ll be happy you got them upper windows. You get the chisel we spoke of?”

“Already in the wagon, and it has a fine edge to it. Picked that up first, and Henry—he be the blacksmith—said it weren’t likely to ever chip if I only used it on wood. What do you think of the town now you’ve seen it proper?”

“Well… don’t seem big at first, but there is surely a lot to look at. Got stores in back of buildings, like the doctor’s office, a seamstress, and that place what makes and sells candles and has cloth on big rolls. Gunsmith behind the apothecary. Can buy a big meal at the hotel for a half-dollar too.”

“Yep. They have a special every afternoon, but it’s too dear for me. I don’t waste my money. So, you’re seeing Bearpaw has plenty to offer?”

They reached the wagon and set the crate down careful. “Don’t see anything missing a’tall. No loud saloon, but that be a good thing to my mind. Is this going to be safe?”

“Got two saddle blankets to put under it. Willoughby put spacers between each, and he says the small panes will be fine unless I go hell-bent for leather, which I ain’t planning on doing.”

The thick blankets surely made a difference once they had the crate settled on them, and Jubal was satisfied. “We ready?”

“Suppose we are.”

Jubal nodded and cinched his saddle back up tight before mounting. As he rode past the sheriff’s office, he saw Reid staring at them from just inside the open doorway. It was a quick glimpse he had, but the man didn’t appear happy. For that matter, neither did Lucas all of a sudden. “Where did the name Bearpaw come from?”

The man sighed, and at first seemed reluctant to answer, taking his time about it. He finally did, though. “Makoninj.”

“What did you just say? Sounds Indian to me.”

“It is. I said Makoninj. That be their name for Bearpaw… not sure what tribe it’s from. Was told by a man who had a squaw for a wife that Indians been coming to the river—or the lake—long before settlers showed up. Sacred waters they be according to him.” Lucas asked Dinah to slow over a slight rut, and that took his attention for a few seconds.

“So… story was, when the world was formed, a giant bear used its paw to scoop out the wide part, and gave the water a special power when he was done. Supposed to provide healing if you swim across it—so they say—and tribes traveled here all the time for that reason. This man’s wife was Ojibwe, a tribe from far north of here, and she done swore by it, believing it brought her sister back from near death.

“If someone was ill, they’d bring ‘em to the river and a medicine man would swim with them from one side to the other. Don’t know if it be a good thing to put sick ones in cold water, but some folks around here do believe such to be true, and they’ll soak themselves if’n they’re feeling poorly. Them first settlers used Makoninj for the name like the natives did, but it be too hard to pronounce for some. Don’t seem hard to me a’tall. Anyways, they used the English word when the town was formed. Makes a good story, I reckon.”

“It surely does. You one of those what believe them waters have healing powers?”

Lucas, who’d been staring at the road while he spoke, looked over his way. “I believe this land can heal what ails you, and there’s plenty of times a soak in the crick has soothed me plenty, but I don’t know that makes it special from any other place a man calls home.” He looked back to the road, and went quiet. He stayed that way, and Jubal could tell he had something bothering him, so he let his mare move ahead and let the man be. His new horse had a slow jog he could sit the day long, and he concentrated on learning more about her.

Halfway home, though, Jubal’s curiosity got the better of him. He kept picturing the look on Reid’s face, so he held his mare up and reined her close to the wagon again. “You be all right, Lucas?”

“I’d say so. Why you asking?”

“You don’t usually frown so much… and you been frowning since we rode out of town.”

“I have? Well… reckon I’m thinking more than my small brain can handle,” he said with a smile what didn’t seem a good one to Jubal.

“Want to say what about?”

“No need for talking your ear off.”

“Don’t mind at all. Did something happen with Reid?”

“No… not anything bad. He drives me plumb loco sometimes, though.”

“That don’t seem a good thing.”

“Don’t mean it to sound that way. I know him well… I reckon well enough, and he ain’t a bad fellow, he’s really not, but he has a hard time being told no… or that I don’t see things his way.”

“And you told him no?”

“I did. I have. More than once, truth be told, and he knows why, but thinks he can change my mind. He can’t.”

“If you don’t mind me asking, what does he want you to do?”

Lucas sighed. “It’s not he wants me to do anything… well… not like he did. He’s just not leaving things be I want him to.” Now he groaned, and Jubal heard his frustration.

“You don’t need to tell me nothing more, Lucas. Ain’t my business and I shouldn’t have pestered you when you’re feeling bothered about something.”

Lucas met his gaze for a few blinks before looking away again. “Appreciate that, and all I can say is Reid is my friend, but he needs to be respecting I know what’s best for me and that I can make up my own damn mind… and I have.”

“Is… would this be about me staying at your farm?”

“It ain’t about any one thing… ah… so no, it ain’t nothing to do with that. Why would you think such?”

“I saw him watching us as we were leaving and he looked bothered about something, and there’s a feeling I got earlier, like he wanted me to buy my own land and leave you be.”

“Heard him say that to you, and it weren’t his place. Don’t know why he was pushing you to go see the land agent the way he did, but it ain’t a thing to be concerned about.”

“Suppose not, and I ain’t. Don’t know the man, but that was a mite confusing. Reckon he was right about me putting my money in the bank, though.”

Lucas didn’t answer, but he was frowning again as he turned Dinah cautiously onto his road. Could be he was concentrating on not jarring the windows.

The conversation settled, but his ponderings were a different story, and he couldn’t shake the feeling Reid Barnes was jealous of this friendship he and Lucas were forming. Did he sense how Jubal was made? Others had in the past, so did it happen he warned Lucas about him? Was he one who couldn’t abide men what craved to be with other men?

More importantly, had Lucas cottoned on to what Vincent had… what others had figured out about him with little more than a look? Had he been careless in how he acted around him? Had Reid noticed? The fear what always be near began to grow and take over his thinking.

“I’m going to lope the rest of the way.” Lucas’s gaze sought him out, and there was concern in it. Nervous about saying something he shouldn’t, he clucked to his mount and began to move slowly ahead of the wagon so as not to spook Dinah, who had so far gone at a pace to keep the windows in the back from getting shook.

“Hold up a spell, Jubal.”

Jubal, wondering what was coming, reined his mare in so she was back at the wagon’s side, and then met Lucas’s gaze.

“Can see you’re worked up about something. Did I say something what sat wrong, cause—”

“No,” he said too quick, interrupting the man. “Shouldn’t have pried like I done, but my heads full up… not from anything you did, though. It’s more I got to figure out what trail I’m going to take.”

“What trail? You be thinking of riding off?”

Blowing out a long breath, he answered the question the only way he could. “Don’t need to be getting too comfortable.”

“That means you are.” Lucas’s disappointment was clear as his open mouth blasted out air while his eyes squeezed shut for a few seconds. “Need you to know I like having you around,” he said in a soft, low voice. “Happens you were right when you said decent folks can be few and far between, and I know for certain you’re a decent one.”

“You don’t even know me, Lucas.”

“I know enough. I know those rope marks on your neck mean you’ve been through a lot more than a good man should be.”

Jubal’s hand went to his throat, but his kerchief was still in place.

“Saw them that first night when you took your shirt off. Even in the moonlight, couldn’t miss marks such as that.”

“I ain’t been hiding them from you.”

“I didn’t say you were, but it’s clear you feel shame for them the way you’re always pulling on your kerchief. Want you to know it don’t matter none to me why you got them… but it does anger me that someone tried to lynch you.”

“Wasn’t lynched.”


“Happens I was drug behind a horse.”

“You telling me that’s an accident?”

Jubal scoffed. “No. Wish it had been, but it weren’t.”

“Want to talk about it?”

Jubal couldn’t stop the shudder what went through his body. "Don’t reckon I can.”

“Then don’t. Was wondering if you wanted to ride up to look for them wildings?”

“Thought we were putting in the windows?”

“They can wait. We’ve worked damn hard and deserve doing something fun, something we’ll both enjoy, don’t you think?”

“Doing the roof was fun.”

Lucas chuckled as he shook his head. “I reckon it was satisfying, but I’m thinking it’s not what you need.”

“Ah… so you’re thinking me seeing the wildings will make me want to stay put?”

“To be honest, yep, it’s what I’m hoping.” He grinned, but Jubal still saw the sincerity. “I promise you can keep any secrets you might have, and I won’t pry. Ain’t had someone I can trust like I do you. Don’t know why that is outside of you kept me from getting kilt, but it’s a fact I feel in my gut, and I for sure ain’t ready to see you ride away.”

“We don’t need to talk about me riding anywhere just yet. Got to see if I can catch me a wilding colt, don’t I?” Lucas searched his face, and Jubal found he didn’t mind. He was always on guard for his secret being revealed, but that fear he carried eased back a bit. Lucas wasn’t the only one who felt that deep down trust. Maybe the man had an inkling, but as long as he didn’t ask, Jubal could stay safe.

“Yep, you do. Happens we got to get ropes on two of them.” He was smiling now. So was Jubal.


It was unexpected they could get as close as they did to the herd. His mare seemed interested but unconcerned by the group grazing five hundred feet away. He stopped when heads began to rise and peer his way. Lucas, right behind him, reined Strawberry in too. “If we get any closer, they’ll likely move off over that rise,” he said quietly. “They’re familiar with Strawberry, and might have been nose to nose with your new mare while she was in the pen.”

“Yep. We should stay put. You be right about that colt. He’s a beauty. About that age the stallion will soon drive him off… likely by fall they’ll have them a tussle. The spring for sure.”

“The filly is on the other side of that big bay mare with the leggy foal.”

“Seen her right off. She’s a fancy one.”

“Yep. Be proud to have her in my barn. Colt’s taller.”

“By an inch or two it looks like. They’re not acting like any wildings I’ve come across. Don’t seem all that bothered at us being here.”

“Seen them plenty so they’re used to me, but you reckon some of them might have been owned once?”

“Lots of saddle horses end up joining herds when their owner dies. “I’d say that dun mare with the buckskin foal is one of those what knows people. She don’t seem wary a’tall.”

“You got a good eye. She’s come close a couple of times… less than a hundred feet once before she moved off. Could see she be plenty curious.”

“Spotted my share of wildings over the years, and this be a fine herd, finest I’ve come across I reckon. I count fourteen, with more foals coming, and not a one is poor quality, though that paint is thick enough to pull a plow, and I ain’t often keen on eyes that close together. Stallion must be fine with foals like these ones… want to see the one she drops.”

“Stallion is tall enough and got plenty of speed—deep through the hip and the heart—and he’ll be watching from somewhere close. He’s skittish, but not one to run at the first sound. Real pretty head… was a shock to see him to be truthful. Seen some gosh darn ugly mustangs, but he ain’t one of them.”

Right on cue, a call came from the trees to the east. “He’s getting a mite nervous,” Lucas said.

“I’d like to see that colt move, but let’s back off a bit.”

Reining their horses around, the headed back toward the big pen. The herd went back to grazing, and a couple of the foals even laid down. “Got me an idea,” Jubal said barely above a whisper.

“What would that be?”

“They ain’t scared of us, which means they been closer to this here pen than they are now.”

“That’s for certain. I’ve seen them laid down right where we’re standing.”

Jubal grinned at the information. “Well then… instead of roping just the two, what you think of catching the whole damn bunch?”

“All of them?! That lump still be on your head?”

Jubal snickered quiet-like. “I know it sounds loco, but… well… maybe not all, but any we can coax into the pen,” he answered with his excitement building and his face split in a big smile.

“Lord Almighty, you be thinking awful big, Jubal. How could we coax them into the corral? The gate is on the other end for one, and I doubt they could be coaxed that far south.”

“So? We make a new gate at this end, a really wide one, and we leave it open.”

“Ah… so we wouldn’t be using this corral for our horses a’tall?”

“Nope. We leave it empty and we spread some oats out every day without fail.”

“Oats? You really think that could work?”

“If we’re patient… not be in a hurry, then maybe so. You know horses as well as I do, and oats is something they’ll come for, and if we keep the water trough filled, they should end up using it too. This pen be well made and high enough they won’t be tempted to jump it. You were smart to put the fence boards on the inside of the posts so they can’t push them off.”

“Smarter than I look.” Lucas was beginning to show the same excitement Jubal felt.

“That ain’t no hard thing,” he teased. “We let them see us plenty without getting too near, and they’ll get used to coming in for the oats and a right handy drink. Horses that were once owned might feel safe enough to lay down inside a corral, and they must have seen yours in here plenty. You still thinking I’m crazy?”

“Truth be told, I’m thinking you’re smart… smarter than me. I reckon this could work and nothing I’d like better than having a herd of fine horses… or sharing one with you.”

Jubal kept his gaze on the herd, but he heard what Lucas had said, and it changed how he’d been feeling about the day and about where he might or might not belong. Having a herd of wildings to work with—shared with another such as Lucas—was an appealing thing to ponder, and fact was he had nothing else in his life what was drawing him away. Being afeared weren’t a good reason to say no to such a chance.

“Like I said, good mounts are hard to come by around here, and they be dear to buy. What do we do first, pardner?”

Jubal chuckled, feeling relaxed and excited both. “Pardner, eh? You fine with not using this corral for a time?”

“I reckon so. Heck, already got a fair start on the stack. Planned on building another pen to the east of the new house, right behind the other what could replace this one. But… if’n we don’t get to it I can hobble my mares to graze back there.”

“We’ll need lots of hay for wintertime if this works, but that’s a ways off. Doubt grass like what you got will run out even in dry times, but Bean hobbles well too. Don’t know about this mare, but won’t take much to get her used to them. She’s got plenty of sense so far. What you be needing for building another corral?”

“Got that big pile of cedar posts out back of the barn—fat ones like these—but we’d have to get more fence boards milled. We could use cedar rails—got a stand of young cedar down front on the river side—but I’d like all the pens to look the same.”

“Agree with that… should feel pride when you look out the back. So… we replace the boards on this end with a long gate… remove the one post… start putting oats in piles, let them see us as much as we can… and build a new corral while we wait for them to get comfortable?”

“Yep. Beginning to sound like it’ll work to me, and besides, what do we got to lose?”

“A herd of horses,” Jubal answered with a grin.

Lucas laughed, loud enough a few wildings raised their heads, but they didn’t stay up long.

Yep, they weren’t skittish of people… not yet, Jubal thought. “Closing the gate will be the trickiest thing we have to do.”

“And that’s why we need they be used to us, so we can get to the gate without them stampeding out of there.”

“Yep, that’ll be the tricky part for sure.” Jubal watched the spotted colt trot a few feet and saw what he needed to. “He sure be a pretty one.”

“Pretty as pretty can be,” Lucas said.

Jubal glanced over to the mounted man to see his gaze was on him, not the colt, and he be smiling. Made his heart speed up enough he reined his mare around and started walking. He was feeling something he had no business feeling, just cause the man be a friendly sort with a good streak of fun in him.




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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

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