Authors: Leland Frederick Cooley
Published by M. Evans
An imprint of Rowman & Littlefield
4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham, Maryland 20706
10 Thornbury Road, Plymouth PL6 7PP, United Kingdom
Distributed by National Book Network
Copyright Â© 1992 by Leland Frederick Cooley
First paperback edition 2014
All rights reserved
. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote passages in a review.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Information Available
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The hardback edition of this book was previously cataloged by the Library of Congress as follows:
Cooley, Leland Frederick.
Judgment at Red Creek / Leland Frederick Cooley.
Â Â Â p. cm.â(An Evans novel of the West)
I. Title. II. Series.
ISBN: 978-0-87131-671-4 (cloth : alk. paper)
ISBN: 978-1-59077-339-0 (electronic)
ISBN: 978-1-59077-338-3 (pbk. : alk. paper)
The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information SciencesâPermanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992.
Printed in the United States of America
For my wife, Regina who put a burr under my saddle to get this story told.
Special gratitude is expressed to Michael Pattison, journalist and New Mexico historian, for his maps and descriptions of the old Plaza in Las Vegas circa 1870...
... to dear friends, Michael and Susan Robbins, for their loving support and for surrounding us with Napa Valley's incomparable beauty while I completed the final editing on this work in the guest house at their historic Spring Mountain Winery estate, Miravalle, also known to millions around the world as television's Falcon Crest.
Crouched atop the stone faced earth dam spanning Red Creek, three men, more sensed than seen beneath the black shroud of the moonless night, worked with nervous caution as they placed a heavy charge of black powder in the spillway. Other than the soft chafing of their clothing and the creaking of their heavy leather gun belts, nothing was heard but the familiar medley of night sounds in Red Creek Canyon.
The leader, a heavily built man in his mid-forties, kept a watchful eye on the two gunslinging saddle tramps he had hired in the hotel bar in the pueblo of Las Vegas.
“Donât make no noise now,” he cautioned in a gruff whisper as he studied the barely visible shapes of the log and adobe dwellings placed at random along the far bank of the stream.
Reassured when he saw no sign of light in any of the windows, he fastened a long length of fuse to the five pound can of explosive and ordered the men to go ahead of him. Following them, he paid out the fuse carefully until he reached the steep trail leading up to the rim of the broad canyon.
When they had dropped for shelter behind some large sandstone boulders he said, “You keep your fool heads down 'cause I'm gonna light off the powder now. When she blows, them squattin' waterhogs is gonna come a-hellin' out with their lanterns to see what happened. I'm not pay in' ya to miss. Drop everything that moves. When I holler, âStop shootin,' hightail it up the trail to the horses. I'll be right behind ya. Head fur Tres Dedos like we planned.”
When the men found their shelter, he lit a phosphorus match, held it to the fuse until it began to splutter, then scrambled after them.
Braced for the shock, the wait seemed endless. Then, just as the leader began to worry that the fuse had failed, a blinding flash and a head splitting explosion shattered the deep silence. For an instant the afterimage of an angry red fireball lingered in their tightly shut eyes. Air compressed between the canyon's walls surged against them and sent bits of earth and small rocks showering down on them.
Below them, out on the dam, splintered timbers, chunks of compacted earth, and fragmented stone erupted from the structure, seemed to hang suspended for a moment, then rained into the dark torrent that had begun to boil through the breach.
The rolling thunder of the explosion was still echoing in the upper reaches of the canyon when doors burst open. Men and women, most of them in their night clothing, poured out onto the creekside path. Immediately matches flared as lanterns were lit. Holding them high the Red Creek settlers ran toward the dam.
From their cover the three men watched as more people appeared and more lanterns were lit. The slowest to appear were the women and the small children. The leader counted twenty lights as the stunned settlers began to congregate on the dam top. Each light made a perfect target.
“Alright,” he barked, “start shootin' and don't let none of 'em git back to the houses fur their rifles!”
The crash of the first volley was answered by open-throated screams of disbelief. A man fell and his lantern tumbled down the stone face of the dam in a cascade of smokey flame. In seconds the dam top became a bedlam as the three men pumped a slanting rain of rifle fire into the panicked settlers.
Men who tried to get to their houses were picked off at their own doorsteps as they ran for their weapons. They fell in the flames of their shattered lanterns. Not an answering shot was directed toward the concealed killers.
A commanding male voice reached them above the screams.
“Put out your lights! Get off the dam! Get back to your houses, quick! Put out your lights! Put out your lights!”
Several lanterns arced into the water. Others were extinguished where they were. Piercing screams of the wounded could be heard above the din of fast-firing rifles. As the last of the lanterns were abandoned or put out, total darkness concealed the carnage. Only the frantic appeals of those struck, and the shouts of others trying to reach them, could be heard above the rush of water and the muted rumble of tumbling cobblestones being dislodged from the stream bed by the rampaging torrent.
No easy targets were visible now. “Lace the place with lead!” the leader shouted. “Shoot at the noise!”
The firing resumed immediately, and new terrified voices were added to the din as random shots found unseen bodies. Moans and the appeals of wounded settlers thrashing in the water were lost as they were washed downstream.
Asa Adams, a disillusioned Confederate captain with Sibley's defeated forces at Glorietta Pass in March of 1862, had been the first on the dam. His had been the first shouted orders to douse the lanterns and get inside. His twenty-sixyear-old son, Clayt, still pulling on his shirt as he left his mother and sisters behind, did not hear his father's shocked gasp as he was struck.
Unmindful of his own safety, Clayt ran out along the dam. A rifle slug struck the dirt at his feet. Seconds later he stumbled over Mark Mason. Mason also had served with his father at Glorietta Pass and Apache Canyon. He was on his knees with his face in the dirt. Clayt grasped him under the arms and dragged him off the dam. The thud of impacting lead punctuated the rising chorus of agonized voices as bullets continued to find bodies. Twice, Clayt heard the terrified screams of unseen children.
On the dam again, he found his father's closest friend and fellow Confederate officer, Henry Deyer, carrying his teenage son, Ned.
“Your father's been hit,” the older man gasped, “and your sister, Fern. Get to them, for God's sake! I'll help the othersâsoon as I can.”
A few steps on beyond, a lantern had fallen and was still burning. Clayt hesitated, then ran toward it. An instant before he reached to douse it, a bullet smashed into it, spraying him with lamp oil and bits of glass from the shattered chimney. Just beyond he saw a dark shape. Scrambling on his hands and knees, he found Jakob Gruen trying to shield the body of his wife, Hilde, with his own.
“Get her off the dam, Jakob!” The German pewtersmith, who had left New York's Oneida Colony to join with his father and Henry Deyer, reached out and touched his arm. The man's hand was sticky-warm with fresh blood.
“Sheâs gone, Clayt,” he sobbed. “She's gone ”
“Are you all right, Jakob?”
“I'm alright. Oh, my God... I'm alright... but Hilde's...”
“Stay down!” Clayt ordered. “Stay down and keep quiet! Those murdering bastards, whoever they are, will shoot at anything, seen or unseen. I'll get back as soon as I can.”
The words were hardly spoken when two more slugs ploughed into the spot where the lantern had been. Wheeling, Clayt ran back to the far end of the dam. There he found Henry Deyer and his eldest son, Oss, bending over Ned. Kneeling close, he saw the wound. A rifle slug had struck Henry's younger son in the lower left belly.
Clayt turned when he heard his younger sister, Nelda's relieved cry.
“Oh, Clayt! Thank God I found you! Fern's been killed and Father's terribly hurt. Oh God, Clayt.. .come... now...” she pleaded, tugging at his shirt front. “Now!”
A few yards away, just off the dam, he found his mother. She was mute with shock. Dropping beside her, he bent over his father. He was still alive. Next to him lay Fern.
“My God, Clayt,” Mary Adams gasped in a horrified whisper, “look at your sister....”
He dropped to his knees, turned her body toward him and bent close. The sight of the wound left him speechless for an instant, then he let out a cry of wordless rage. The bullet had torn away half of her forehead.
In their cover above the dam, in total darkness now, the man who had hired the killers, and who had done much of the killing himself, snapped an order as he saw his men set aside their empty rifles and draw their Colts.
“Save it!” he barked. “We've done good. Let's light out'a here now.”
Urging them up the trail ahead of him, he followed the pair to the stand of scrub piÃ±ons on the canyon rim. The horses were tethered there. “Mount up,” he ordered. “I want us to git back down to the spread before sunup.”
“How d'ya know they ain't gonna folia' us?” the younger one of the pair asked.
“Don't you worry none, buster. They ain't gonna be doin' nuthin' down there 'cept diggin' holes fer their dead and fixin' to pack up and git. That's what this here's all about.”
He watched them mount then swung into his own saddle.
“Git goin' now. I'll be right behind of ya.. .in case ” When they had moved along a few steps he called out, “Wait a second, boys!” As he moved up close behind them he added, “You done such good work, I got a real surprise fer ya.”
The two men reined up and turned their horses to face him. In the darkness they didn't see the Colt. An instant later they were both dead, shot through the heart.
An ugly smile contorted the man's face as he pulled the bodies from the saddles and dragged them in the piÃ±on thicket. There he stripped their pockets of the gold coins he had paid them at the bar in Las Vegas, took their guns and belts, their rifles, a throwing knife, and a short-bladed Bowie. When the search revealed nothing more of value he returned to their horses, loosened the reins and prepared to lead them away.