Copyright © Patricia Potter. All rights reserved.
His chance to escape the gunfighter’s life came almost ten years after his family’s death. He was caught in an ambush in Montana, where he had gone searching for peace only to wind up enveloped in a range war.
He was working as a horse wrangler for a big rancher when fighting broke out. An imported gunfighter, hired by his boss’s competition, recognized him and jumped to all the wrong conclusions, assuming Tom Garrett was also a hired gun.
The ambush occurred as he was taking horses to an army post. The impact of a rifle bullet hitting his shoulder knocked him from his horse, and when he fell, he hit his head and lost consciousness. He woke well after dark, alone; his mount was gone, as were the horses the army had purchased. His gun was gone, too, and so were his boots. He reached inside his shirt and felt a small measure of relief upon discovering that his money, a modest sum saved over the years, was still there.
His shoulder hurt like all the furies in hell, but he managed to get to his feet and start walking. Dawn came, then noon. He couldn’t go on. It felt like iron had been welded to his feet, and taking even another step seemed an impossible effort. Blood trickled from his shoulder, and he knew he’d lost too much of it. He sank to the ground, his head bowed, his eyes unable to focus.
He remained there, unaware of time passing, fading in and out of consciousness, until the indignant braying of a mule brought him partly out of his stupor. He felt a weathered hand on his face and warm water running down his throat.
The prospector who found him took him to his cabin alongside a stream and, over the course of the next several weeks, nursed him back to health. The old man did him an even greater service , though, inexplicably and for no apparent reason. With a combination of bafflement and wonder, Tom listened to his benefactor relate – with considerable glee – how he’d gone into town and told everyone he had found a dead man on the plain. Buried him, he had, but not before he’d realized the dead man fit the description of that gunfighter, Tom Garrett.
Tom Garrett died that day. And, in that prospector’s little shack, Jared Walker was born. With deep gratitude, he gave half his money to the old prospector, then headed south where no one knew him. Where he could start a new life.
Eventually, he wandered into New Hope, a tiny town in southwest Texas. The name alone attracted him. He approached the small bank – the only bank in town – and found William Dale, the owner. Dale answered his questions and asked some of his own. Seemingly satisfied with the answers, Dale gave him a long, searching look, then told him of a property, a neglected ranch available for the cost of taxes. The owner was dead, and no one had the money or cowhands to take it on.
Money, Dale explained, was tight in New Hope, which was well off the route of the great cattle drives. Its one saloon was small, and friendly poker games were the main gaming. The hotel was nothing more than a boarding house, the blacksmith was idle more often than not, and the bank was barely surviving. There was little to attract strangers.
That suited Jared just fine. He paid the taxes on the property, bought a few head of cattle, and moved into the neglected ranch house. For months, he worked from sunrise often until well after the moon had risen. The leaking cabin was cleaned and expanded, the fences repaired. The constant work started to heal him. When neighbors realized he was in New Hope to stay, they held a barn raising for him, and every family within fifty miles attended.
Astounded by the effort everyone made on his behalf, Jared looked for a way to repay his new neighbors. The chance came when he heard three women talking at the general store about how hard it was for the town to hire a school teacher when there was no schoolhouse. After all, they said, no teacher worth his salt would want to come live in a town that couldn’t be bothered to build a school. That night, he visited Bill Dale and several other men, getting them to agree to the construction. His father had been a fine carpenter, and Jared had learned many of the skills. He organized a school raising and he was the first there with hammer and saw.
Jared basked in the respect of his neighbors and in working his own small ranch. He reveled in the hard work. He actually slept through a night without being awakened by the nightmares that had plagued him for years : haunting images of dead men’s faces.
In addition to rebuilding his own ranch, he worked for other ranchers in return for heifers, increasing his herd little by little until he felt legitimate enough to join the Cattlemen’s Association. It wasn’t much, the association, but it gave him a sense of belonging he had not felt since a boy.
His dreams had finally come true. All the dreams he’d once thought lost forever. Suddenly, for the first time in years, he had hope. And as time passed, that hope grew. It grew to overshadow the nagging feeling that all was going too well and that it couldn’t last. The feeling that, someday, he would have to pay for his bloody past . . .