Manual The First Fast Draw

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A key alongside a keyhole--never seen it before. He was also the latest to arrive in this part of the country--only four years ago. Hardin was the best of them at reading sign, and from the first he had been disturbed that the rider had not put his horse to the run. He held him to a steady, distance-eating gait, but showed no inclination to make a sudden dash to get away.

Studying those tracks, and reading what they indicated, Hardin had an uneasy feeling that they had brought themselves a packet of trouble. The sun was hot upon their shoulders. The land was parched and baked. Dancing heat waves promised water that was not there, and the distant blue of mountains a coolness they would not provide. The trail lay straight before them. Only at clumps of rock or thorny brush did it swerve. Like a thrown lance, it seemed to thrust at the distant heart of the hills.

The six men of the posse rode warily, their thoughts uneasy about what lay in the mind of the man they pursued. You can know a man if you follow his trail, if you follow long enough. By his tracks on the land the ways of a man are made plain--his kindness or his cruelty, his ignorance or his cunning, his strength or his weakness. Many a man who could read not a word of print could read character, story, and plot from a pattern of tracks, and from the building of fires.

In the hours of riding since leaving the town of Freedom, these men had learned much, but they had much still to learn.


In the vast hollow of silence the words hung empty and alone. Hardin turned his head in the manner of a man who rides much in the wind, and let the words drift back. As he spoke he shifted the rifle from one hand to the other to dry his sweaty palms upon his shirt front. He was buyin' grub in the Bon Ton an' took offense at something Johnny said. Johnny was wearin' a gun, an' the Key-Lock man wasn't, so Johnny told him to go fill his hand or he'd hunt him down anyway.

The First Quick-Draw Shootout

Third shot busted a bottle of whiskey. They offered no reply, nor any acknowledgment that he had spoken. Neill's eyes wandered over the white and copper land, cut here and there by deep arroyos or ridged by the raw backs of ancient lava flows. He held no liking for the lynching of any man, and he knew nothing of the one for whom they hunted, beyond what had been told him. The men he rode with were his friends and neighbors, the men with whom he shared work and their few pleasures. Like himself, they had come to this wild land bringing the potential of home, and homes demanded order and consideration for the rights of others, a recognition of the necessities of regulations and law.

Their womenfolk came with them or followed after, bringing their own desires, among them the need for church and school, for human association. The town of Freedom had only such law as its citizens chose to provide. If lawlessness was wary of Freedom, it was due to the fact that, as in most western towns, the butcher, the baker, and the banker were veterans of the War Between the States and the Indian wars.

Every citizen had grown to manhood handling guns, and all were prepared to use such weapons when need be. The idea of some gunman or band of outlaws "treeing" a western town was known, but here it had never happened. The James-Younger band tried it at Northfield and they were run out of town, shot to doll rags and leaving their dead behind; the Daltons tried it at Coffeyville, and the one man who survived had sixteen buckshot in him.

There were a few other attempts, no more successful--often to the regret of the townspeople, for such attempts came under the head of entertainment in towns where there was not much of any other kind.

The First Fast Draw

The gunman stayed to his side of town, like the gambler and the lady of light company, and was tolerated as long as he offered no trouble to the established citizenry. Freedom was scarcely old enough to have the need to draw such a line, and as yet there was no law except such as was administered by themselves. However, they had all known Johnny, and Johnny had been shot in the back. Sam was tendin' bar, but he was down at the other end and it happened too fast.

But this Key-Lock man couldn't have given Johnny a chance. Johnny was too good with a gun. He was damned good, and prided himself on the fact. Neill felt a twinge of uneasiness, and then a faint sense of guilt that he should for an instant doubt anything that was said of Johnny; but he couldn't help recalling that Johnny was a little less than friendly to strangers. The dust grew thicker, and Neill pulled his bandana up over his mouth and nose as the others had. His eyes sought the shimmering blue of those distant lakes.

Enticing and lovely, they lay across the trail ahead and in the bottoms off to the right. They were mirage, but many a man had been led to his death by their ever-retreating shorelines. Maybe there was water in those heat waves if a man only knew how to extract it. The thought drew his hand to his canteen, where the slosh of water was inviting, but he knew that by this time the water was warm and brackish, and too little of it remained. Moreover, none of the older men had yet shown any inclination to drink. Maybe thirty-five. No hand to talk about his business, but over to the store where he did his buying folks said he shaped up like a mighty hard piece of merchandise.

He was hard as a whipstock, with bits of sharp steel for eyes. He had built his outfit carefully, driving in a few head when he first came, and tending them like a dairy herd through the first season. He was a good man and a good neighbor, but there was no give in him. He was stubborn in his opinions and a driver, pushing hard on himself and all about him. He had been the first to reach Neill's place that time when a prairie fire threatened. Kimmel had been a close second, racing his wagon as if it was a buckboard, and it was filled with sacking already wet, and with shovels.

Last year when Hardin was laid up with a broken leg, Kimmel fed Hardin's stock and his own, too, all through a hard winter, and he had a long ride every day to do it. Chesney and Johnny had been saddle partners on the old Squaw Mountain roundups, and when Chesney drove his small herd into this part of the country, Johnny had come along to see him through, then located a place of his own and stayed on. Johnny Webb had been a daredevil and a hellion, but he was well liked for all of that.

He laughed a lot, played practical jokes, and was ready to break a horse for anybody just for the hell of it. He was fast with a gun, and no man was likely to beat him in a fair, stand-up shooting. He was eighteen then, a tall, raw-boned young man who in his time was to be known as one of the most feared of Texas pistol fighters, but that time was yet to come, and I'd only heard his name first up in the Nation, and I could not remember what had been said of him.

Hunkered down beside the fire, I stirred the coals and got out my cup. Each of them dug a blackened cup from among his gear and we shared the coffee in my beat-up old pot. Long ago Pa taught me to share what I had with guests if it was the last I had, although few had done the same for me. The Reconstruction people are in, confiscating property and raising hob generally with anyone who fought for the South. If they've not taken your place already, they'll be after it. They have the Army here, and more of it coming, and they've friends from about here to tell them the choice land.

If you have what they want, they'll take it. And if you don't accept their rule with a tight mouth, you'll have trouble. Could a man not be left alone? There had been small chance in the old days for me to be anything but a bad one, although the Good Lord knows I'd wasted little time waiting for the invitation. When they came to me with trouble in those years, I was out there to meet them halfway. A boy can be that way, but I was a man grown now, with a man's hard judgment, and some long miles behind me of riding with a gun for companion, through bitter, lonely days and more miles than I rightly could remember.

There was deep within me a love of the land, of a rich soil and what a man could grow, and over all those dry miles in the West I'd thought of the greens and beauties of this corner of Texas. I was back wanting no troubles left over from a war I'd never fought, nor had sympathy for, on either side. Longley brought fuel to the fire and went off into the dark to strip the gear from the two horses and bring it under the shelter. Under the branches of the huge cypress where I'd picketed my mule there was room enough for a dozen horses, and mighty little rain came through the thick tangle of Spanish moss, leaves and branches.

The horses would be dry enough. The coffee smelled good, and the sound of rain was friendly now.

Sitting there smelling the coffee I got to thinking how strange it was that Bob Lee, of all folks, should be a friend of mine. Not that we'd ever been close, only from the first he'd seemed to understand me. Maybe it was because we'd both had our fighting troubles. Only he had education. His folks had wealth, and many friends. Time to time I'd heard talk of him during the War-he'd become a colonel, and a good officer.

Now that he was home I could see it would not be easy for him with his fine pride, and even less easy for me. Folks would not have forgotten Cullen Baker.

They would remember, and that was handicap enough without trouble shaping up with Reconstruction soldiers and carpetbaggers. The ones from Texas could be the worst, poor whites and such; now they had their chance to strut and talk up, they'd use it. All the way home I'd seen them coming like locusts into a cornfield, the poor kind of men quick to jump on the band wagon once they'd heard the music and knew which way the parade was going.

See a Problem?

In every community there are those quick to take advantage, just as there are those who have no loyalty except to their property and their skin's safety. Sitting there, huddled over our small fire, we yarned the hours away, with Bob Lee telling about the war and the State of Texas, and what had happened and what he figured was going to happen.

None of it shaped up as likely for a man named Cullen Baker, who'd be caught fair in the middle. I'd no family awaiting me. Ma died long ago when I was a youngster, and Pa died while I was gone west. Nobody cared whether I came or went, but here I owned property, and here I aimed to stay, to raise me a crop, and to try to make something of myself.

This time I'd try to make it different than when we first came down from Tennessee. Maybe I could have avoided the first trouble, but I was a youngster then, and too proud. A really tough man never has to prove anything to anybody, he knows what he can do and he doesn't care even a mite whether anybody else knows or not. With a youngster it's otherwise.

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He figures he's got to show everybody how tough he is or nobody will believe it, so he winds up in plenty of grief. See All Customer Reviews. Shop Books. Read an excerpt of this book! Add to Wishlist. USD 5. Sign in to Purchase Instantly. About the Author. Date of Birth: March 22, Date of Death: June 10, Place of Birth: Jamestown, North Dakota. Education: Self-educated. Show More. Average Review. Write a Review.

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The First Fast Draw: A Novel

It is the compelling story of U. Air Force Major Joe Mack, a man born Tap Duvarney lost his innocence in the War Between the States and then put his Tap Duvarney lost his innocence in the War Between the States and then put his skills to the test as a soldier in the frontier army. Now he has settled on the Texas coast, working a ranch as the partner Matagorda - The First Fast Draw.