Wes Crowley and Otis “Mac” McFadden are lifelong friends. Wes is a year younger and has always looked up to Mac, so when Mac joins the Texas Rangers in the 1870s in the Texas Panhandle, Wes goes along as usual. But placing unequivocal trust in anyone is seldom a good idea. Honor and cowardice, greed and hatred, anger and love intertwine in this fast-paced tale of one man discovering what’s true in life. Come along as Wes battles Comanches, tracks enemies and friends, waxes philosophical, falls in love and ultimately finds himself in a place where one era hasn’t quite ended and the next hasn’t quite begun.
Search Tags: historical western, Texas Ranger, Comanche, banditos, Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma, Indian Territory
Below is an excerpt from the beginning of Leaving Amarillo.
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an excerpt from the beginning of Leaving Amarillo
Wes Crowley leaned forward and poked at an ember that had popped out of the campfire a moment earlier. “Been a long trail this time, boys.” His attention fixed on the ember, he worked the tip of the stick under the edge nearest him, then flipped it backward into the fire. A few sparks released. “Sure lookin’ forward to gettin’ back.” He looked up, a tired, easy grin on his face. “What about you, Mac?”
The man across the fire was his closest friend. He and Mac had come on the Texas Rangers together several years earlier when they fancied themselves adventurers and were young enough to feel bullet proof. Mac sipped his coffee. “Sounds right to me.” He took another sip. “This stuff’s nasty… dissolve the stiff hairs off a porcupine.”
Wes looked at him. “First cup was good enough that you wanted another.”
Mac swirled the remaining grounds-rich coffee in the cup. “Let’s just say it got worse with age.” He paused. “Been thinkin’ about it, Wes… I’m thinkin’ this might be the last one.”
Wes grinned. “Well hell, Mac, don’t let my coffee run you off.”
Mac fixed his gaze on Wes for a moment, then looked at the fire. “Like I said, been thinkin’ about it awhile… ain’t gettin’ any easier, that’s for sure.”
A boy to Mac’s left swirled his cup as he had seen Mac do. His blonde hair was scraggly, reaching just above his shoulders. He stared at the fire and muttered, “Man that’s the god’s honest truth.”
Will Granger, sitting to the boy’s left, laughed lightly as he leaned over and jostled him with his shoulder. “Shit, Billy, you ain’t seen enough yet to know what’s easy and what ain’t. You definitely ain’t seen that what-ain’t part… well, ‘cept for that last part today. Guess that was bad, but at least we weren’t gettin’ shot at.” He shook his head, took a long sip of his coffee and flung the rest at the fire. It hissed, and the smell of burning mesquite filled the air for a moment. “Still, that last part was bad, but the rest was just ridin’ an’ campin’, followin’ Four Crows an’ his bunch around. For the rest of us—”
“Now the fact of the matter is,” Wes said, “we don’t know it’s ol’ Four Crows for sure. Might be some other crazy-assed Indian.”
Mac said, “It’s Four Crows, Wes, and you do know it. Everything we’ve seen says it’s him.” He gestured, making his right hand flutter in the air. “An’ he always seems to fly away just when we get close. Startin’ to make a believer outta me.”
Granger leaned toward Billy and spoke quietly. “What I was gonna say, today was bad enough, but for the rest of us today was just piled up on top of all the ones before.”
Mac looked at the boy. “Granger’s right enough, but everything depends on what you want. You want a life in the saddle, this is better’n punchin’ cows an’ that’s a solid fact.” He paused, then glanced across at Wes and grinned. “‘Course you do get shot at now and then, whether it’s Four Crows or whoever else.”
Wes nodded, still playing with the fire. “There is that.” He laughed quietly as he looked at the boy. “Then again, you get to shoot back, an’ ain’t that what life’s all about? Havin’ a good time?”
Mac took a final sip, then flung the remaining grounds into the fire. Hanging on his back by a strap that crossed beneath his chin, his dirty, off-white hat jostled with the motion. The brim was so wide that the hat resembled a sombrero. He’d bought it in a small village in Mexico years earlier. “It’d be nice to be young and bullet proof again.” As he was getting to his feet, he reached back to feel for the brim of his hat. He pulled it up onto his head, then pinched the front of the crown and worked it back and forward, seating it. “Think it’s my turn on watch. See you boys in the mornin’.”
Wes tossed the stick in the fire. “Wait up, Mac. I know better than to think I’ll sleep tonight. I’ll ride out there with you.” He looked around. “You other boys get some rest. We’ll push pretty hard come sunup. Should be back in Amarillo by late afternoon. Then I’m gonna get a bath and a new suit of clothes an’ go visit my best friend.”
Granger grinned, chewing on a twig he was holding in his right hand. “Well, that bath’ll be welcome, that’s for sure. Could you maybe stay downwind ‘til then, Wes?”
Wes grinned and started away. “Wouldn’t want to deny you boys the essence that is Western Zebulon Crowley.”
Granger raised his voice just a bit. “You’re just generous that way, ain’t you?” He grinned. “So who’s the friend, Wes?”
The other man kept walking. “Don’t know. Haven’t met her yet.”
All the men laughed.
Silence settled over the camp, punctuated only by the occasional popping of a mesquite knot or the hissing of sap in the fire. Soon the sounds of Wes saddling his horse and riding out filtered in to the others.
Grinning at one side of his mouth, Granger shook his head, tossed the twig in the fire. “Ain’t nobody else like ol’ Wes.” He looked at Billy. “Imagine your momma namin’ you for a direction.”
The boy and Robert Corazol laughed quietly. Robert said, “Not to mention Zebulon. Where’d that come from?”
Granger stretched. “Aw that ain’t his middle name. Last time he come out with all three names he said ‘Western Zedediah Crowley,’ an’ the time before that it was somethin’ else. I remember about a year ago he was feelin’ godly and called himself Western Zeus Crowley.” He laughed lightly. “Hell, he prob’ly don’t know what the Z stand for… if there’s even a Z really there. Might not have a middle name a’tall an’ he just made it up.” He looked at the others and his grin disappeared. “But one thing about ol’ Wes, he always gives us fair warning. He said we’ll push hard tomorrow. You can take that to mean prob’ly no stops here to Amarillo. Better take his advice and get some rest.”
Robert Corazol nodded. “When you’re right, you’re right. ‘Night boys.”
Soon all of them were unrolling thin Mexican blankets, each man settling so his head was on his saddle. Each one pulled his hat down over his eyes and settled in for the night, except Billy Dramon. He lay on his back, eyes wide, looking at the stars. Quietly he said, “Will?”
“Four Crows… Mac said he always manages to fly away.”
“Yep. Seems like it anyway.”
“There ain’t really no magic like that, is there?”
Granger rolled on his left side and leaned up on his elbow. “Well, I don’t know. They say he got his name because four crows were wingin’ their way north, kind’a in a formation, like on purpose, over his momma’s teepee when he was born. You know four is a sacred number to the Indians, right? Has to do with four directions, four elements, four seasons… all that sort’a stuff.”
The boy shifted, leaned up on his right elbow and nodded.
“Well, them as been’s close enough—an’ Wes is one of ‘em—say ol’ Four Crows also has a birthmark under the outside corner of his right eye, up high on his cheekbone. It’s made up of four kind of dots, almost like a scar, in a sort of diamond shape like the four crows he’s named after. Some Comanches call him Hayarokwetu, the Comanche word for the sacred number, four. So they’re kind’a like sayin’ he’s sacred. So there y’go.”
Billy shrugged. “What’s that do for him?”
“Well it don’t do nothin’ for him really, but it makes him a little crazy. Makes him feel like he can’t be shot or killed or even hurt because the sacred number is part of his name and he bears that mark. See?”
“I guess…. So if he thinks he can’t be killed, then why’s he always take off?”
“Well, that’s the mystery, ain’t it? Anyhow, ain’t no Indian magic gonna stop ol’ Sam Colt. Wes’ll get a clean shot at him someday and prove that sure enough.” He rolled over. “Best get some sleep now. Gonna be a solid ride tomorrow.”
Mac had heard Wes call for him to wait, but as was his habit he’d ridden on ahead.
Away from the fire the night was black. Wes trusted his horse’s instincts and eyesight more than his own, and they were in no great rush. The horse would plod along after the scent left by Mac’s horse until he found them.
The late-night talk that would ensue had become a ritual for Wes and Mac, especially on the last night of a long trail. This particular trail hadn’t been particularly long in distance, or even so much in time, but emotionally it had been a drain.
Wes, Mac, two other Rangers and a kid who was considering joining had set out from Amarillo two weeks earlier on the trail of a small Comanche raiding party who’d been hitting homesteads along the Canadian River. The Rangers seemed always to arrive a few hours too late.
But nine days into the chase, a sudden storm had blown up. As everyone was settling down in a small grove of overgrown pecan trees for the evening to wait it out, Wes had motioned to Mac and walked out of camp toward a large outcropping of rocks.
Mac joined him at the outcropping. “What’s goin’ on?”
Wes pulled a crumpled map of the panhandle from his pocket and spread it on a flat rock, smoothing it with his hands. Then he pointed. “See this, Mac? This little X here is about where they hit that dirt farm earlier today. Right there.”
Mac took a moment to orient himself on the map, then nodded. “Okay.”
Wes gestured with his index finger across the map. “These other Xs are where they hit earlier. Now let’s go back to this one. Watch the pattern.” He put his finger just below the first X, then slowly traced a path to the next one, then the next and the next. Eight Xs later, he looked up. “See it?”
Mac whistled quietly. “I’ll be damn. Looks like they’re movin’ in a circle.” He looked at Wes. “They know we’re here, not that we’ve made a secret of it.”
Wes nodded. He moved his finger along the map. “This little slip of a creek bed’s just down the river a bit. I’m thinkin’ if we follow it kitty-wampus down along there, we’ll intercept ‘em, or come damn close.”
Mac studied the map for a long moment, his gaze moving from X to X, and he caught Wes’ logic. “I see what you mean.” He tapped the map north of where Wes’ had indicated he thought they could catch the Comanches. “Any farms up in this area?”
Wes shook his head. “I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty sure that’s still part of that big Wiljohn Ranch. Might be a line shack or two up there, maybe doublin’ as huntin’ cabins. Can’t be sure squatters haven’t settled, but ol’ man Johnson or that ramrod of his would run ‘em out pretty quick. But it hasn’t been opened up to homesteads or anything like that.”
Mac looked at Wes. “Well, I’ve known you long enough to know you feel pretty good about our chances or you wouldn’t’ve brought it up. First light?”
Wes looked around. “Storm ain’t gonna last long, but it looks nasty. Might as well get some rest before we plunge off after ‘em.” He grinned. “Oughta be a good fight.” Then the grin faded and he nodded. “First light.”
But the sun hadn’t quite begun teasing the eastern horizon when Wes and Mac roused the others. Within minutes the men had downed a cup of coffee, filled their canteens, and rolled up their blanket rolls. Quietly they moved in the pre-dawn, saddling their horses. The youngest, Billy, untied the rope they’d used to picket the remuda. He rolled it up and stashed it in one of his saddle bags. Then he’d led his horse by the reins over to Wes. “Mr. Crowley?”
Wes turned around. “Yeah.”
“We’re gonna catch up with ‘em today?”
Wes nodded. “I ‘spect so.” He put his left foot in a stirrup and hoisted himself into the saddle. “Saddle up.” He looked at the boy for a moment. His voice quiet, he said, “You worried?”
“No sir.” He paused. “Well, yessir.” He leaned closer to Wes’ horse and quieted his voice. “It’s… it’s just that I’ve never… you know…. I mean, I’m a good shot, but—”
Wes responded just as quietly. “It’s gonna be all right, Billy. You just do what you feel needs doin’ at the time. It’s fine.” He nodded again. “Gonna be fine.”
When everyone was ready, they moved down to the river, walking their horses. A half-hour later they came to a natural ford Wes and Mac had used several times. The water was churning from the recent storm, but it didn’t reach the horses’ bellies. On the other side they turned west again and rode for another half-hour to reach the tributary Wes had seen on the map. They turned onto a game trail and followed it, alternately riding hard and walking. Soon the damp, musty aroma of rotting mesquite beans and the sweet smell of wet creosote gave way to the usual concoction of dust and heat.
Just over six hours later, smoke appeared in the calm sky ahead of them. Wes pointed and they spurred their mounts. The house and two outbuildings were still on fire. Bodies were strewn about the yard. There was no sign of the raiding party.
Wes muttered, “Damnit” and spurred his horse to a full gallop and rode into the yard with Mac close behind him. Wes slipped off his horse and ran toward the small corral where a man and a woman had been trussed up on the fence. As he drew nearer, he stopped and turned away sharply, focusing on the ground. “Sons of bitches,” he muttered, and headed for his horse.
Mac rode past him, said, “Wes?” and glanced at the man, whose left eye was hanging on his cheek. He’d also been scalped.
Wes said, “I’m gonna try to cut a trail. Be back directly.”
Mac quickly dismounted and headed for the man but as he drew near, the stench overpowered him. The man also had been eviscerated. The contents of his abdomen were bulging against the inside of his shirt, which was soaked with blood.
Mac slipped his bandana from his throat up over his nose and backed away, but forced himself to look at the woman just in case she was alive. She wasn’t. Her nose had been sliced away. Both cheeks were slashed open so her teeth were showing, and her throat was cut. She had been scalped as well.
Still holding the bandana in place, Mac turned away and shook his head, bent over and retched. Then he held up one hand, initially to keep the others back, then gestured toward the inert forms of the boys and the girl, all of whom were lying nearer the house.
Granger and Robert, with Billy in tow, rode past Mac toward the children.
Mac straightened and stomped toward his horse, anger surging through him, threatening to explode.
Then behind him, the man groaned, loud.
Mac spun around as his Colt leapt into his hand.
The man’s right eye was open and he was looking at Mac, his brow furrowed, pleading.
Mac walked back toward the man, raising his Colt, took careful aim, and put a bullet between the man’s eyes. As he slumped, Mac turned away again.
Granger and Robert had inspected the two boys and the girl. All had been shot and their scalps taken. Otherwise they had not been mutilated.
Billy had tried to help at first, thinking they might find one alive. Then he got a close-up of the older boy’s scalp showing through. He stood up, clapped a hand over his mouth and raced around the nearest corner of the smoldering house, retching.
Mac rode up. “I’m gonna go find Wes. You boys wait here. Maybe check the house, get something to eat after you’ve taken care of the dead.”
When Billy came back, he was carrying three shovels and a pick-axe. “Found these in a shed around back.”
Robert looked up.
Granger nodded at Billy. “You all right?”
Billy shrugged. “Prob’ly need to get ‘em buried I guess.” He dropped the shovels, carried the pick-axe to a small grove of trees about twenty yards away, and started digging.
The two older men went into the house, found blankets and brought them outside. They wrapped the smaller boy in one, then the girl in another, then the older boy in another.
Granger glanced toward the corral. “Guess we better cut them down.”
Robert nodded and handed Granger a thin quilt. “When you get close enough, put this over her. I’ll go inside and cut her loose.”
Billy had put the pick down and begun shoveling dirt out of one grave.
As Robert neared the man, he draped the quilt over him, then bent and moved through the rails to cut the woman’s bindings. When she slumped, Granger caught her and laid her down in the quilt. Then they did the same for her husband.
While the others were burying the dead, Mac rode out to find Wes. He finally came across him a half-hour out, walking his horse, leaning over in the saddle, looking carefully at the rocky soil.
Wes glanced back and nodded, then went back to studying the ground.
Mac said, “Anything at all?”
Wes spat and shook his head. “Nothing. It’s like they’re made of air.” He looked away for a moment, then looked at Mac again. “I heard a shot.”
Mac nodded. “Man wasn’t dead. He—” He turned away, then back. “They cut his goddamn guts out, Wes—that was the stink—an’ he still wasn’t dead.”
Wes nodded. A moment later, he said, “Well…” and he looked away for a moment. Then he turned to Mac again. “The boys are doin’ what has to be done?”
“Yeah.” Mac looked around, down toward the creek bed, west to the horizon. “No sign at all?”
Leather creaked as Mac shifted in the saddle. The air was completely still, the only sound a distant crow. “What about your map?”
“I thought about that. There ain’t no more places south or west of here, no places east. They went north. They’re in the badlands along the border with the territory.” He looked down and shook his head, then looked at Mac again. “No damn way we’re gonna find ‘em.”
Mac looked at him for a long moment, and finally turned his horse back toward the house. “It’ll be good to get this one over with.” He spurred his horse into a gentle lope.
Wes had soon caught up with him on his way back to that unfortunate farm. They’d reunited with the others, then informed them the chase was over, at least for this time. Four Crows had escaped yet again, and the Rangers would return to Amarillo.
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