Death of Brace Martin: The Texas Bounty Hunters

“We sleep so we wake before the heat comes and then we find that outlaw you want to catch,” Shoots plenty said as he stirred up the coals in the fire causing sparks to fly into the dark. Soon flames rose, like wild tongues around the oak logs and licked at the cool night sky.
“Why don’t you shoot that one-eyed mule. A mule is not like a horse. A horse will work with you but a mule just waits until he can kill you. We could eat him and then you can get a horse.”
“I like that mule. He’s smarter than any horse I ever had,” Esben replied.
“You never had an Indian horse. They are smarter than the Wasichus horse.”
“Why are they smarter?”
“Because the Indian is smarter than the Wasichus.”
“Yeah, so who is living on the reservations?”
“Ugh.”
The next day the blazing sun was rapidly emerging in the east and the temperature was rising when Shoots Plenty said, “We should go so we can travel far before the sun is three fists in the sky.”
They ate pemmican and corn while they rode West toward the Chihuahuan Desert
It wasn’t long before the heat was becoming unbearable as the sun beat down mercilessly on the two riders.
“She thinks I am a Lakota Chief,” Shoots Plenty said.
“Who thinks you are a Lakota Chief?”
“That Carmen lady.”
“I wonder how she got that idea.”
“Maybe I am chiefly.”
“Or maybe you lied to her.”
“She said her heart laughs with joy when she is in my presence.”
“Really?”
“That is what she said.”
“I don’t see it.”
“I was in love once, Wasichus. Yes, that is the truth. It was Chief Black Kettle’s daughter, Gray Grass. I said to him, “I love your daughter, will you give her to me, that the small roots of her heart may entangle with mine so that the strongest wind that blows shall never separate them.”
“Yeah, so what happened?”
“He said no. It made me sad. I cried. But you know, Wasichus, the soul would have no rainbow if the eyes had no tears.”
“That’s too bad.”
“No, it is a good thing. Later Gray Grass had many little ones. She got fat. Now my heart laughs with joy because I am not with her.”
“What is with you Lakota and your laughing hearts?”
“We were a happy people until your people put us on a reservation. The Great Father promised that we should never be removed we have moved five times. I think you should put the Indians on wheels so that you can move them as you wish.”
They rode slowly for some time while the hot sun burned down on them before Shoots Plenty spoke again, “That meal was damn good. I am gonna think about living with Carmen if it is like this.”
“Can’t you just be quiet? I thought the Lakota liked silence.This is a bad day. The worst day. We have gone 35 miles in this blazing heat through cacti and blistering sands and all you do is talk. Our animals, they have gone without water the entire day,” Esben said, “and the water in our canteens is so hot we cannot drink it and all you do is babble nonsense about some Mexican woman.”
They made their way into the mountains, climbing all the while, going backward on themselves as they followed the sinuous path higher. In places, sections of the hillside had fallen away, leaving a gash of red earth and loose rock which slid dangerously as soon as their mounts hooves were set upon it.
Upon reaching the ridge top they were exhausted and came to a halt and rested. They had met no one, nor seen any evidence of habitation at any time since they had left that morning but they both felt the presence of something or someone.
“There is a cave up ahead with some water. We will rest there, Wasichus.”
“That looks out of place, stay alert,” Esben replied.
“If the Creator put it here, it is in the right place.”
Ahead of them, they saw layers of shale protruding from the summit of a small hill.
The heat in the canyon was intense. At the scent of water, Shoots Plenty’s horse and Esben’s one-eyed mule quickened their pace. Anything that moved had gone for cover and that was what Esben and Shoots Plenty had in mind when they hobbled and watered their mounts and approached the cave. The animals stood with their heads down with their ears laid back to show their unhappiness being near the mouth of the cave.
Shoots Plenty took his lance and poked inside to make certain no rattling-tails were lurking. They entered the cave.
The cave opened out, the sides spreading wide, the ceiling rising high as a church. Light filtered through unseen apertures, the slender fluted shafts falling from above. The sun filtered through the leaves of the nearby overhanging trees.
Then an explosion blew them in the air and everything turned black, leaving nothing but night.
Out of the darkness and into the edge of light Esben thought he saw something come rushing by him, tall and darker than night itself. A blackness inside a blackness. It’s footsteps echoed like thunder and its breath was foul like rotting flesh, eyes as hard as glass.
It disappeared deeper into the shadows of the cave.
The scent came to him, like stagnant water at the edge of a stock pond, with shat, urine, moss, algae, dead fish and fermented vegetation.
Esben opened his eyes. Where was he? How long had he been lying here. His head hurt like hell. What was that he just saw? What happened?
The last thing he remembered was the explosion. Someone must have booby trapped the entrance to that cave and he had a notion it was Brace.
He was unable to see due to the darkness surrounding him. He reached for his holster. His Colt .45 was still secure. He brought his Winchester rifle in with him. Where was it? He groped the damp ground surrounding him until his fingers found the rifle. He chambered a round.
“Shoots Plenty? Shoots Plenty, where are you?”
He hadn’t intended to get the old Indian tied up in this mess. It just happened. Shoots Plenty insisted on riding with him on the way to Artesia. He should have told him no but it was too late now. Shoots Plenty couldn’t see beyond the end of his arm, so he wouldn’t be much good to him anyway.
“I am here, Wasichus.”
“Are you okay?”
“I think so. My head does not feel so good.”
Esben struck a match and saw the form of Shoots Plenty sitting up with his back pressed against the far cave wall.
“I thought you Indians could root out traps. What happened? Are you sure you are an Indian?
“I am an Indian and something like this would never happen to me. I used to have power. Now I have been civilized and old age is creeping up on me.”
“More like old bad habits. Come on, follow me. Something or someone ran past us into this cave.”
“Maybe we should leave. It could be an evil spirit.”
“It’s evil alright, follow me.”
Slowly, Esben rose to his feet, putting his hand against the wall, he ventured deeper into the cave with Shoots Plenty holding onto Esben’s gun belt.
Esben’s back hurt from landing on the cave floor and his forehead was sporting a welt the size of an egg.
They felt someone run past them.
“Stop!” Shoots Plenty yelled.
They heard a shot and then saw a flash from the barrel of a gun before they heard the ricochet of a bullet near their head.
Shoots Plenty dropped to the floor of the cave.
Esben leveled his Winchester in the direction of the fleeing person and fired.
A cry of pain was heard. The shot found its mark.
Esben ratcheted another round into the chamber of his Winchester and started toward the cave entrance in pursuit of the suspect that had just about killed him and Shoots Plenty.
When they reached the opening of the cave they looked around. There was blood on the ground heading toward the stand of Cottonwood trees.
“I do not see nothing, Esben,” Shoots Plenty said.
“He’s gone. Let’s mount up and head to town. I think I know where we can find him.”
Esben found his one-eyed mule, grazing near the opening of the cave next to Shoots Plenty’s horse. They were glad they had the foresight to hobble their mounts before they entered the cave.
They mounted up and headed for the town of Artesia. Someone set them up and they knew who. He would pay.
The stock dogs were barking up a storm as they rode into town. They dismounted at the corral. There were tracks in the dirt and they didn’t want to disturb the ground around the hitch rack. Walking carefully, they surveyed the sandy loam in front of the hitching post. The boot prints in the dust were large, and the left one had a hole in it.
“Most of these hoof prints have been here for a while and are not from freshly shod horses. But this one is,” said Shoots Plenty. A Bay gelding was tied at the end of the hitching post and it was wet with sweat.
“That is his horse,” Shoots Plenty uttered, nodding in the direction of the big Bay horse. “The foot prints are going toward the dance hall. There are splotches of blood on the ground over there and more foot prints between the wagon track.”
They examined the tracks as they went along. After awhile Shoots Plenty said, “This is the way he came back. Someone was bleeding badly. See drippings of blood? See where the grass is flattened down over there?” he said, pointing in the direction of green grass running along the side of the bank building. “Here is where he laid down and it was a time before he could get to his feet. A tough man. Who is this man, Brace?”
“The son of a bitch is a cheating killer. He can take on three men in a fight and win. He is so cold he’s known as the Iceman in parts of this territory. He has no feelings at all, to my knowledge. But this is the end of the trail for him. Come on, follow me.”
As they got to the end of the building, Esben stopped and looked around into the back alley. There were some barrels and wooden crates and discarded trash and he spotted a man stagger around some wooden barrels. It was Brace.
Brace was a large man, bow-legged and barrel chested, with a mass of fiery red hair growing straight out from the top of his shirt and the sides of his hat. His face was broad and sunburnt above a great tangle of beard
Brace continued to stagger into the alley. He went in gun up and out.
“Come outta there or someone is gonna get hurt,” Esben yelled.
“It’s gonna be you, Bounty Hunter,” Brace said cocking back the hammer of his gun.
Esben’s hand went down to his sidearm and he was clearing leather before young Brace could blink. Esben’s .45 caliber round pierced his neck and he dropped to the ground, bleeding out next to the wooden crates and barrels that littered the alley.
Esben took aim and fired again.
Brace let out a scream. He was still alive. He stuck his head out and that was when Esben’s next round went between his eyes. He dropped back behind the barrel. He was dead before he hit the ground.
They ran up to the barrels with their guns at the ready.
Looking down at the prone body, Shoots Plenty asked, “Is that Mr. Brace?”
“What’s left of him. The son of a bitch finally got what he deserved. Let’s go get the Doc and have him haul him outta here.”
“Why does the white man get his medicine man for someone who is dead?”
“Just to confirm he’s dead.”
“I can confirm he is dead. Will we get our money now?”
“As soon as we have his picture taken I’ll send it back to Captain Smith and he will wire us the money. You best not let Carmen know you came into so much money or she may make you buy her a tipi.”
“I will not tell her. Let us go and get that medicine man.”

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