Cowboy - Chapter 5
Craig took the most direct route possible between Cairo, Illinois and
Sullivan, Missouri, stopping only to allow the horses plenty of rest, and to hunt a bit to supplement his traveling provisions.
There were a couple of trades for fresh foods made on the way, but as more time passed, the more worried Craig became.
horses seemed as eager as Craig to get to Sullivan. Perhaps they sensed they were getting near home and a long rest. Craig
let them set the pace, actually holding them back a bit at times when the going was good.
Craig, his hair down to
his waist and a full beard, dressed in the Drover’s coat and well worn Rogue River hat, had to have the guard at the
lower gate radio for someone to come identify him before the guard would let him past.
Something was definitely up.
There hadn’t been this kind of security since just after the war. He was pacing, Clyde ground tied nearby, with the
pack horses on their leads, grazing, when two horses came galloping down the drive.
Both slid to a stop and Quentin
and Sally hopped down from their respective horses and hurriedly got the gate open. Sally was in Craig’s arms before
he realized it and Quentin was pumping his right hand in a powerful handshake, saying, “I am so glad you are back.”
The guard, looking a bit embarrassed, handed Clyde’s reigns to Craig as Quentin and Sally moved back to their
horses. “Sorry,” the guard muttered.
“Don’t be. Security is important. Keep up the good work.”
Quentin and Sally waited for Craig to come up to them and they rode up the drive side by side, silently. They passed
the inner gate without stopping and Craig headed for the storage barn to unload the pack horses into his storage room.
with only minimal conversation Quentin and Sally helped Craig unload the horses. “I’ll take them over to the barn
and make sure they are taken care of,” Question said, taking Clyde’s reigns.
Craig started to protest
that he could do it himself, but Sally had taken his hand and was leading him out of the storage barn. Craig turned toward
the fifth-wheel trailer he’d used since the family had moved into it.
“No,” Sally said. “This
way.” Sally led the way to a single wide park model trailer at the end of a line of similar units. “This one is
Craig’s eyes cut to Sally. “I got it a year back when we started a housing improvement project.
I moved your stuff from the fifth-wheel. One of the unmarried women has your old trailer.”
Suddenly Sally was in his arms again, her head on his shoulder, sobbing great wracking sobs, crying her
heart out. “I’m missed you so much,” she managed to say after a few minutes of Craig just holding her.
stepped back and looked at Craig’s eyes with an intense stare. “I hope… you haven’t changed your mind
about us… You’ve been gone so long… I’ve wondered…”
Craig took the engagement
ring ring box from the inside pocket of the Drover’s coat, and as snow began to fall, opened it and handed it to Sally.
“No,” he said softly. “I haven’t changed my mind.”
“Oh, Craig! It’s beautiful!”
Her hands shaking, Sally handed the box back to Craig and took the ring out of the box. She slid it onto her ring finger and
was suddenly in Craig’s arms again, this time tears of joy. She kissed him several times, but was finally interrupted
by Quentin, who came up and stood for a few moments, before making his presence known.
“I know this is important,
but I really need to speak to Craig, Sally.”
“I know,” Sally replied, stepping back. She bent down
and picked up the two sets of saddle bags and the pommel bags Craig had dropped when she’d launched herself at him.
She turned to Quentin and held out her hand to show him the ring. “And you said I should have been married long ago.”
There was a big grin on her face. She turned and went up the steps to the trailer.
Quentin was more than a bit red
when Craig’s eyes finally left Sally, since she had gone inside.
“Craig… About that… It wasn’t
personal… It’s just…”
“Don’t worry about it, Quentin. I know you were just looking
out for Sally’s interests. There was a very good chance I wouldn’t make it back. There are some places out there…”
his voice trailed away.
“We have it pretty good here, don’t we?” Quentin asked as they walked into
the community building.
“Compared to some, very much so. But there are other groups like this that are making
a go of it. Trying to get back to… Not normal. That’s not the word. But to some semblance of society that allows
communication, social interaction, and trade between the remote groups.”
“I think, from the few conversations
we’ve had over the last few years, is that you are doing a great deal to bring that society into being.”
chuckled. “Just trying to make my way in the world, and make a profit at the same time.”
certainly done that!” Quentin laughed in turn. “Not only have you done yourself proud, I’m sure, but you’ve
made this area a trade hub… Or it would be… If…”
“I take that ‘If’ is what
has you so worried.”
Quentin nodded, all humor gone. “The troubles we’d been having stopped for
the most part not long after you left that second time.” Craig didn’t bother to tell Quentin why that was.
for the past year, as some of your deals have brought more trade to the area, we’re hearing about some pretty bloody
raids taking place on I-70 north of us, and even have had some incidents out here. Mostly probing raids, I think. One or two
people, taking out a sentry and then sniping for a few minutes before disappearing. No concerted attacks. I think they are
just checking out our responses to attacks.”
“I see,” Craig said. “Any guess as to the source?”
“I think it is some survivors from around Fort Leonard Wood that have migrated to Columbia. We know the base
was hit, and between that and the heavy fallout from KC, there weren’t many survivors. We’ve had salvage parties
that for southwest on I-44 and there were no signs of habitation at the remains of the base or around it.
didn’t get hit, and was cleaned up after the fallout, from what some people have said. The general consensus is that
the survivors from Fort Leonard Wood took over the city. And Craig, there are some rumors that heavy weapons are being used.”
“They’re using heavy weapons? Tanks and the sort, or…”
Quentin cut him off. “No
tanks or APC’s that we’ve heard about, maybe some Hummers, but machine guns and lots of grenades. And maybe mortars.
They are destroying as much as they take. Killing when it isn’t necessary.”
“That is a problem,”
Craig said. “That I-70 corridor is important to opening up the Mid-west again. Any idea how many there are?”
heard anything from twenty or thirty to a couple of hundred. From what they’ve been doing, I’d say it was more
than the lesser number, but much less than the higher.”
“The buffalo we were expecting have been delayed.
So, too, the fruit coming down and salt, sugar, beef, and fuel going north to Michigan. Everyone is afraid to get anywhere
close to the nearby section of I-70.”
Craig, already planning what to take with him, said, “I’ll
look into it.”
Quentin’s eyes were wide. “Just like that? You’ll look into it? Shouldn’t
we be setting up better defenses and such?”
“Yes, we should,” Craig replied calmly. “But I
prefer to take the battle to the attackers’ territory than have that battle here. Looks like you’ve strengthened
security. Keep it up. But we need hard intelligence. My first priority will be to find out exactly what we’re up against.”
“How will you do that?”
Craig smiled slightly. “I have my ways. I’ll leave tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow? Leave? But…”
“It needs to be sooner than later, Quentin,” Craig said,
cutting the older man off.
Quentin shook his head. “I suppose you know best how to use your talents. I was counting
on you to help us defend the Retreat.”
Craig was fairly certain that Quentin hadn’t meant it quite the
way it sounded to him. The words stung more than a little. The implication was that he was leaving the Retreat undefended
while he went out on his own, for his own reasons.
“I’ll be here when I’m needed,” Craig replied
softly. “Now. I need to talk to Sally and then get things ready for an early departure tomorrow.”
felt bad about what he’d said, having seen Craig’s reaction to it. But he couldn’t bring himself to withdraw
or soften the words in some manner. Craig was needed here.
After a very long talk, and much crying on Sally’s
part, Craig explained what he was going to do and why. Leaving her at the trailer, Craig went back to the storage room to
sort through the still unpacked panniers. He rearranged several things, putting together a load for two packhorses and Clyde
and Mule Ears, after making a trip to the Retreat armory to get a few things.
Sally slept in Craig’s arms that
night, with the shared promise that there would be more once the situation was settled and he was back to stay, and after
they were married. The next morning, for the third time Sally watched Craig leave the Retreat, wondering if she would ever
see him again.
Craig didn’t waste any time. This wasn’t a trading mission. It was a surveillance mission,
and if the opportunity presented itself, a search and destroy mission. Craig kept Clyde’s nose, and then Mule Ears’
nose headed toward the Missouri college town of Columbia.
When he got close, Craig set up a set of campsites in a
section of the Mark Twain National Forest that was southeast of the city of Columbia. He left the horses where they could
graze and get water, inside a large rope paddock in the woods. The rope wouldn’t stop the horses from leaving, if they
were spooked or attacked, but baring that, they were well trained for the situation.
Going north, staying west of
the city, Craig cut I-70 and turned west. Sure enough, there was a roadblock, manned by several men. Craig pulled up well
short of the roadblock and studied it through binoculars. It didn’t look good. He turned Clyde and headed back the way
Circling the east and south sides of the city, Craig found a place to leave Clyde and headed into
Columbia on foot. It wasn’t much of a problem getting into the city. Only the major roads had any indication of roadblocks
and he didn’t see any signs of armed patrols in the city.
There were people about here and there. Craig had
a few trade items in the leather haversack on his back and he did a bit of unnecessary trading, fishing for information. After
three days doing the same thing, Craig was pretty sure he knew what was going on.
The city itself, as a total group
of people, wasn’t involved with the group controlling the access to the city and to I-70 in particular. The gang was
tolerated simply because there was no one that seemed willing to do anything about it. As long as the group left the citizens
alone, they left the group alone. It was an old story, Craig knew, having happened probably hundreds of thousands of times
in thousands of cities the world over, since humans became human.
Still, Craig didn’t like it. People should
stand up for themselves. And he knew, that if he did do something about it, there would be people waiting for the chance to
help. Craig smiled and left the city at the end of his third trip in, with a plan.
Much as he’d done before
in another situation, Craig began to do to the gang in Columbia what they had been doing to the Retreat, and undoubtedly other
potential targets. He had the Barrett M82A1 with him and put it and the Raufoss ammunition to good use. The other M82A1 shooter
at the Retreat had filled Craig in on its capabilities.
Over the course of a month he hounded the roadblocks, more
than once able to ignite vehicle fires with the Raufoss ammunition impacting a vehicle with fuel in it. When the group began
roving patrols out away from the city, Craig began sniping at them. After the loss of seven men that way the patrols stopped
and the roadblocks were fortified and manned with more people.
Craig sneaked back into Columbia to see if he could find
out what his activities might have stirred up. He had been wearing just nondescript clothing the other times when he went
into the city, eschewing his warm Drover’s coat for a ragged parka, and carrying only his concealed weapons.
trip was different. Craig had found a fairly safe way in and out of the city. He went in in full cowboy regalia on Clyde,
and made sure he was seen and heard by enough people that word of what he was doing would get back to the members of the gang,
now made up of as many non-military as ex-military.
He spread the message that he was out to eliminate the gang, and
any innocents should take care to stay out of the way of his attacks. With a piece of chalk brought for the possibility, Craig
left a radio frequency with a time and a date scrawled on walls here and there.
Not wanting to waste any of the 25mm
grenades for the Hawk MM-1 he didn’t use it until he was ready to leave for the winter. It was too much of a risk to
be moving about in the winter, primarily because he might be tracked in the snow, besides the normal hazards of the PAW winters.
With the horses packed and with him, Craig made a circle of Columbia, traveling fast, stopping only to lay in a barrage
of the 25mm grenades into each of the roadblocks. “Let them stew on that during the winter,” Craig told Clyde
as he headed back southwest toward the Retreat, going well out of his way to leave several false trails.
got back to the Retreat, he filled Quentin in on what he’d accomplished. Quentin wasn’t particularly impressed.
“What about the Retreat? What if they attack?”
“I’m almost counting on it, Quentin,”
Craig finally told him.
Quentin was outraged until Craig got him calmed down and explained what he had in mind.
the winters as severe as they are, and the lack of reports of attacks away from Columbia during the winter, I think we are
safe from attack for the duration of this winter. Next spring, when it is almost a sure thing that the group will head out
to raid and get what they can, I plan to have a force trained to intercept them and wipe out the majority of them at once.
Before they can attack us or anyone else.”
Quentin didn’t much like the idea, but he put it to the advisory
panel of the Retreat and they approved it. Craig began additional training for the security force, with his plan in mind.
But there was additional training to add people to the security force to stay behind and defend the Retreat if the gang got
past Craig. Quentin was pleased that they were at least doing that, and wasn’t quite as brusque with Craig.
and Sally had a Christmas Day wedding, attended by most of the members of the Retreat. Craig splurged a bit because he could
afford it and put on a feed much more like the Thanksgiving feasts that they had after a good harvest. Sally moved into the
trailer with Craig, having taken up residence with her brother after Craig came back in early winter and started using the
Keeping a radio watch on the frequency he’d posted, Craig got a few inquiries over the winter. Several
were offers to aid in any attack, others were pleas to leave the situation alone. Things were getting tough in the city. The
gang had cracked down on the citizens and began extracting a ‘tax’ on food, it mainly being a collection of a
portion of whatever food people had.
Craig was sure that the gang was listening to the radio chatter. He was a bit
ambivalent about the possibility that the gang would triangulate his signal and locate where he was. In a way it was good,
for the expected attack would be on the Retreat, which was probably better equipped to handle it than anyone else in the area.
But was it right for him to allow the Retreat to become a target because of him? It worried Craig more than a little.
had a couple of different versions of the activity in Columbia as spring grew near. The timing of Craig’s planned ambush
would be tricky. The gang could easily leave before Craig and his group were in the area, ready to set the ambush when they
found out which direction the gang would be going.
With supplies for a month, Craig headed toward Columbia with his
team of trained ambushers. They traveled by horse back, for the ease of traveling cross country if need be. And fuel was still
scarce enough to avoid losing as much as they would if they took vehicles and lost them.
Craig set up a camp in the
National Forest again and went into Columbia to find out what he could. Things were tense. He wore nondescript clothes much
as he had initially. Even so, things were tense and very few people would talk to him, many turning and leaving as soon as
they saw a stranger to them.
What Craig did find out was that he was none too early in arriving. Everything pointed
to the gang heading out very soon. Within days. But Craig wasn’t able to pin down the exact day. He put watchers on
each of the major access points into and out of the city. Each had a radio and would report anything they saw.
had a gut feeling and set up an ambush on US Highway 63 South out of the city. If they didn’t come this way, Craig would
have to push his men for some hard riding to get ahead of the group, no matter which way they went.
instincts were right on. Less than a week after the ambush was set, and before Craig’s group could become too lax to
execute a proper ambush, the gang came out of town as a long convoy of mixed vehicles. The bigger trucks were all riding light
on their tires, an indication they were empty and meant to hold the spoils of the attacks the gang was planning.
leader of the gang was no dummy. He sent scouts out, in every direction, to find any ambushes. But Craig had read extensively
during the winter and taught what he had learned about ambushes to his team. The scouts were allowed to go through without
Radio reports came in that the scouts that had gone all directions but on 63 south had returned and
were on their way to catching up with the convoy. The man he’d sent after the scouts that had gone through the ambush
site reported that they had stopped and were waiting.
Craig gave the word to get ready. He’d kept it simple.
It was a classic L-set ambush, around a blind bend in the road. Craig had handed out all the full-auto weapons he and the
Retreat had, except for his Calico. The M14E2 and BAR were placed where they could do the most damage, as had both Barretts.
All the full auto Thompson SMG’s were on the firing line. Even the AA-12 was in the foot of the L, as a stopper. Craig
kept the Hawk MM-1.
Then it was simply a waiting game. The vehicles were moving slowly. There were no horses. It took
a bit of time for the lead elements to get to the L-end of the ambush. Craig drew a bead with the MM-1 and dumped a 25mm HE
grenade into the lead vehicle. His men began to fire. He hit the truck again with another grenade, as it was still rolling
slowly. It exploded, the full fuel tanks going off, and thoroughly blocked the road.
Craig then used the remaining
sixteen grenades to devastate more of the vehicles in his range that were trying to get out of the kill zone of the ambush.
The MM-1 grenades weren’t the only thing stopping vehicles. Craig had made up almost a hundred black powder bombs. They
were used by the best throwers on the team to get the vehicles that Craig couldn’t.
The gang didn’t give
up easily. They fought back. But Craig’s team had the high ground and the ambush was perfectly laid. Though it was over
in seconds for many, others thought it took forever for the shooting to stop. It finally did, and the Retreat team slowly,
carefully, began to take stock.
Not everyone had come through unscathed. Two men were dead and four wounded in various
degrees. The team’s medical personnel were at work on them. Craig, the MM-1 left behind and his old M1A again in his
hands, approached the carnage that was the remains of the convoy.
Some of the explosions, which were much larger than
the 25mm grenades could produce on their own, told Craig that there had been some heavier munitions carried by the convoy.
It took a bit of digging and kicking around some still burning debris, for Craig to find the remains of at least two 60mm
mortars, and several M-16/M203 combination carbine/40mm grenade launchers. He found the remains of an M-249 SAW. There could
have been more, but it was enough to know that the rumors had been right.
His men were beginning to round up those
of the gang that weren’t dead. There weren’t many, and all of them were wounded. Three of those gathered died
of their wounds as Craig walked up to the prisoners.
“What are you going to do with us?” said the bravest
of the men. The others simply knelt with their heads down, expecting the worst.
“Give you to the town, after
we take care of the rest of the group that stayed behind,” Craig said. “If you cooperate and give me useful information
to round up the rest with minimum bloodshed, I’ll put in a good word for you.”
The man spit on Craig’s
boots. But the other five couldn’t start talking fast enough. Craig listened, took notes, and then let the medical people
tend to the gang members as he rounded up the team that was to go into Columbia for the mop up. One of the men was too injured
to go, and Craig picked a man to replace him from the many that stepped forward when Craig asked for volunteers.
picked up the MM-1 and reloaded it, dropping the empty cases into a bag he had for that purpose. They would be reloaded. With
the others strung out behind him, Craig guided Clyde north.
The MM-1 25mm grenades and Barrett .50 BMG Raufoss rounds
took care of the men manning the nearest roadblock from a distance. Craig’s team went all around the city, traveling
quickly, taking out each of the roadblocks. The last two were abandoned and Craig decided not to use his ordinance up.
soon as they rode into the city, people began to tell them who in the gang was left and were they were likely to be. Craig
didn’t need the information from the prisoners. Residents of the city had captured a few and Craig left them guarded
by one man and led the way to the building where the majority of the rest of the gang was holed up.
While the 25mm
grenades weren’t the most powerful weapon in the world, they were enough to drive most of the gang members out of the
smoking, dust filled building after Craig had put a few of the grenades into it. Most of the gang. There were still some hold
outs. Again Craig decided to hold onto as much of the MM-1 ammunition as he could for possible future needs.
the Barrett gunners ready to shoot anything that wasn’t wearing a Rogue River hat, Craig went into the building alone,
the Calico in hand. There were several shots, from a variety of weapons, over several minutes, but the men had been instructed
to wait for Craig to come out or for twenty minutes before they brought the building down with black powder bombs. None but
the men on the wrong end of the Calico heard Craig’s return fire from the suppressed Calico.
Only eleven minutes
had passed, by one team member’s watch, when Craig stepped out of the building, sooty and dusty, but alive and uninjured.
He was replacing the Calico’s magazine with one from the pocket of the Drover’s coat.
good to go,” Craig said, walking up to a small group of people that looked important. At least, to Craig, they looked
self important. It didn’t matter. They would do. “It’s up to you to take care of the trash. In the future
either take care of problems like this on your own, or call us to take care of it before it gets out of hand the way this
“What’s you name, Cowboy?” asked one of the group.
matter,” he replied. “I’ve got a wife and a home to go to, so good-bye.” Craig rode away, stopping
only long enough to see that the prisoners were transferred to the city officials, including the ones that still lived from
the ambush site that had been brought into the city.
It was growing dark when the team rode into the camp in the Mark
Twain National Forest. They rested up two days, nursing what wounds they had, and then went back to the retreat, the victory
bittersweet, due to the loss of the two men. Such things were the reason Craig preferred to work alone.
when the team rode into the compound of the Retreat. There were two families standing together, weeping, off to one side,
waiting for their dead. The rest of the compound was in victory mode, with much whooping and hollering. Craig didn’t
feel like doing much of either.
A quiet Sally took him into her arms for an embrace and then helped unload the horses,
put away his gear, and tend to his horses. She sat quietly and listened while Craig told the tale of what had happened to
Quentin and his advisors, quickly and concisely. He ended with, “I think we are out of the woods for a while, as it
pertains to raids and attacks. We will still need to keep a well armed and well trained security force, but I think the future
is a good one.”
Craig and Sally left the meeting room in the community building hand in hand, through a crowd
outside that were whispering quietly to one another about a rumor. A rumor about a Cowboy that had been riding around the
middle of America, getting people started on a new path. Some wondered, if maybe, just maybe, it might be their own Cowboy.
Jerry D Young