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Runnin Iron

©J. Elliott 12/13/19

The story is fiction – mostly – the tool and what it’s use was, is very real.

In the late 1800’s early 1900’s, New Mexico and Arizona were preparing to enter Statehood.

Tumultuous times; gunfights in almost every town; and remote cantinas. Hangings for all manner of offenses.


Hole diggers, preachers and coffin makers were busy 24 seven. Business was ‘booming’ it could easily be said.


And those dead folks were only the ones known about. There were more.

Many, many more.

They arrived in these wild towns – and some managed to leave alive. Try for their own fortunes however they could, only to meet the same isolated defeat of death; many were left for vulture fodder; few were buried.


It was the reality of that erra. Survive and prosper – or – don’t and die. Few, if any, cared; few, if anyone, tried to find out fates of the ‘missing’ souls.

This tale begins in early fall of 1872.


Buffalo Soldiers and Random Circumstance


This may seem strange to a lot of folks reading this – but I am runnin iron. Not a name – but a thing – a tool of the early West.

I will highlight parts of this story as it goes along – other parts will be told and demonstrated by those who handled me.

I came into being in a small town along what’s now the New Mexico – Texas border. Forged in fire, sparks, intense heat and heavy hammer blows.

Quenched in cold water – then processed again and again – until you see me as I am.


A length of hardened iron with a very special curl on one end.

A cattleman ordered me from the Smithy. Took the Smith a few hours to fashion my worth. The cattleman paid for me and tied me across outside the pommel of his saddle – mounted – and headed north – into New Mexico territory.



A small herd of cattle were being moved toward a rail head in Magdalena, then to Datil and south west to Fort Tularosa. An arduous trip since there was much fighting still, between pockets of local Indians and would-be settlers.

The herd of about 100 was accompanied by a modest contingent of cavalry and unmounted Buffalo Soldiers. Although hours ahead of the cattleman – he was determined to catch up.

He had cowboy pay – after all – and was the drive boss.


As a piece of newly forged and fully purposed steel – I could sense anxiety and excitement in this rancher… His horse felt it too.

Hours later, dust could be seen from the tail end of the drive, ever headed northward.


The dust spread far and soon began settling on rider, horse and me. We kept moving forward at a good pace.


A rider was pounding up from behind – I felt the vibration through horse n saddle I was strapped to.

More sharper vibrations.

Horse slowed, then stopped.

Cattleman’s weight shifted – felt him grab me – then release – then gone…


Horse shied as the rider came up and grabbed the reins of cattleman’s horse.

There was a lengthy pause.

Then all kept moving toward the cattle drive dust again…

Must be camping – I could feel the heat from the fire – then was untied from the saddle and taken to the fire; placed in the hottest part of the coals; held and turned.




I could feel my purpose.

Was taken out and pushed into a log, created smoke and more fire and pulled free. It was my first demonstration as runnin iron.


I was not found wanting.


Chad now had two good horses, extra rifle, gunbelt and gun. Also what seemed to be an excellent runnin iron.

Looked like it could alter the best and worst of brands; heated fast and held that heat too.

He thought very briefly about the dead cattleman. Chad had never killed before, much less shoot a man in the back for no real reason; all that money he found in the saddle bag too. Who had the cattleman been?

Then put his mind to thinking about the ride ahead.

Dawn coming – coffee done he saddled both horses – tied the iron in front of the pommel of the horse he chose to ride this day; the dead man’s mount.

They started off toward the drive.

As he moved down the trail, Chad looked up toward the brightening horizon, he could see lightning in the distance – gauged it might reach his area about high noon. Plenty of time to get to the meeting spot.

McCaully, Raoul and he were joining up at the track which led up into the mountains and ran above but adjacent to the drive trail. They would do their planning a few miles into that ride, at their first camp.

True – he hadn’t known them that long, barely the few days they spent just inside Texas – chasing women – and catching em too!

But they seemed real interested when on the night of their departure North, he outlined his plan to peel a few beef off the drive they all knew about.

Had to get his horse re-shod next day, so he stayed behind – McCaully and Raoul went ahead.

In the morning he was at the Smithy’s.

Horse was shod and as he’s leaving, he noticed a cattleman ride up, dismount and began asking Smithy about doing a piece of iron work. How much, how long?

Curiosity got better of Chad – he stuck around til the cattleman rode into town.

Then he watched the Smithy work for a bit.

Half hour into it Chad figured it out.

Runnin iron.

Had to be.

He left and rode some miles out of town, found a nice shady arroyo a distance off the main trail and got comfortable.

Much later that day, after a stage, then, a small group of cavalry went by – Chad barely noted a few of the cav riders were Buffalo Soldiers.

Finally, the solo cattleman – with the iron lashed across and in front of the saddle pommel.

Chad waited another hour to make sure no one was behind the rider, then took up the pace and got within a half mile of him.

He knew a spot and no one was around.


Runnin iron here, and gotta say this isn’t turning out well – for the cattleman for sure.

Deeds like this never lead to much good – usually, to much bad and more bad. But since I’m just a piece of fresh iron – what do I know…

Something in the air though, a kind of buzz feeling.


Chad was happy with his progress and prize. Now just to see where his two potential partners might fit in – if they showed.

Maybe another hour or so to the meeting point. Storm was still coming but not as fast. “I’ll keep watch – might help with the plan” he thinks.

As Chad gets within a half mile of the trail meeting spot, he happens to notice three sets of hoof prints moving at a trot, heading in the same direction.

He guessed them to at a few hours old.

“Three?” he thinks… “Why three?” He stiffens a bit and begins to watch and listen side and back trail areas – keenly – sharply.

A few rain spatters hit him and around him. Like a warning.

Then – couldn’t be more n five miles out, a lightning strike – then big thunder. He stops, dismounts, unties his rain gear – puts it on, mounts up, continuing toward the meeting spot.

Three sets of hoof prints still ahead.

Close to noon, maybe after, Chad is now within sight of the trail split. More lightning and thunder closing in.

Hair on back of his neck is prickling cuz no one is in sight – “maybe they went a bit further up…” he thinks.

All three sets still heading in same direction, then two split off to the right and disappear into the underbrush just below the track.

Then he sees the third rider tracks do same, but to left side of track and upslope.

Chad’s becoming more alert and uneasy the further he goes… It’s raining steadily now, but not yet the downpour it’s promising.

Lightning, thunder – closer – both horses are restless with it.

About a mile up the track, it happens.

Lone rider on left crashes out of the brush startling both of Chad’s horses – he struggles to control them – the mount he’s on rears high and almost falls over backwards.

As this mini rodeo is going on – the other two – McCaully & Raoul come out of the brush from Chad’s right and to the rear.

Chad instinctively draws his gun as he gets his horse under control and fires a round at the rider in front of him, nicks the rider’s leg & grazes the horse’s back leg, causing it to go wild. Another mini rodeo ensues.

Chad’s not clear of any of it yet. The two supposed partners are still blocking the rear area and they have guns drawn – aimed at him – from look of it…

Before he can turn his horse to square off with them – they both fire.

The third rider howls… Slumps over and his horse bolts up the trail – 100 feet or so; the rider slides to left, foot caught in stirrup, falls, is dragged and kicked by his mount until his boot comes free and the likely dead rider is no longer a problem for the horse.

Or the remaining men.

Now the horse really takes off…

Dead men tell no tales.

Chad is finally facing McCaully and Raoul – but they still have their guns drawn and now really are aiming at him. He still has his own peace maker out, but not aimed.

Raining harder now and though early afternoon it’s darker with the storm almost overhead within the thickly forested area.

‘CRACK’ flash of blinding light – hits the ground just a few hundred feet away – very loud thunder…

Chad’s mount screams and rears, pawing the air and jumps forward toward Raoul who still has his gun trained on Chad.

Rauol’s horse lunges to right banging into McCaully’s mount which loses traction and balance, begins to slide down the mountain slope, simultaneously Chad’s horse still pawing air but coming down, clips Rauol’s rein hand as he decends.

Raoul yelps dropping reins & trying to grab what is likely a broken wrist with his right hand still holding his revolver.

Chad takes instant advantage and puts a bullet into Rauol’s forehead. The cowboy falls in slow motion, stirrups free this time – into the mud of the track.

McCaully screaming as he can’t get his horse to stop the sliding downslope toward the cattle drive trail.

If he saved McCaully, how in hell could he trust him? Chad sees his chance at some beef slipping thru his fingers.


He dismounts again, sloggs over to his horse and unties his riata, loops an end around his saddle horn sloshes over to the trail side – looks the situation over and yells at McCaully “untie your gear n drop it there! Get off that horse n let him go! He’ll never get back up here – I’ll pull you and ur gear back up – get a move on fool, storm is getting worse!!!”

Chad ties off the ‘spare’ cattleman’s horse & Rauol’s mount – then positions his horse to ready for the pulling job.

McCaully’s only about 35′ downslope but in this downpour it quickly became a nasty flowing mudbank.

Chad yells for him to tie his gear to the line – all of it ; including his gunbelt n rifle… It’s coming up first.

That done – the rope is tossed down again & and McCaully is hauled up.

The two men stand there glaring at each other for a few seconds.

Chad’s gun is loosely trained on McCaully and he waves it toward the pile of gear saying “lash your stuff on Rauol’s horse – I got ur rifle and gun, Rauol’s weapons, on mine.”

“You can ride the dead cattleman’s mount” and a slight smile appears, as he says this.

McCaully starts to say something – Chad indicates he oughtta get moving and no talking.

By now the wind has also come up, making it more miserable.

Chad removes the gun, belt, rifle of cowboy three, ties them on his mount.

From where they lay, the two dead cowboys are pulled over to the downhill side of the trail, one by one and pushed over the edge; each roll down several feet, get entangled in the under growth – and stop.

Who’s gonna notice or care…?

No one.

The last body out of sight over the edge – both mount again and continue west, through wind whipped rain, lightning and thunder.

The track has turned into a shallow fast moving stream bed with McCaully in lead.

It’s past mid afternoon.

Chad’s thinking about shelter, food n fire.


The cavalry men have fallen in with the tail end of the herd. All were prepared for a long drive to the Magdalena where a few head would be cut out for local settlers. The balance would be driven to Datil, then southward toward Fort Tularosa.

There the cattle would augment for a poor game year and lack of local ranching and be part of provision out of the newly formed Fort Tularosa – for both Reservation Natives & settlers.

Fort Tularosa was manned by the Buffalo Soldier contingent.

The Captain of the group rode ahead to one of the cattlemen near the herd head – to let the boss know they were there as planned.

Concern etched deeply in the cowboys rain wet face, sez to the Captain – “You didn’t meet up with him? Jameson’s not with you?”

Captain Armstrong stared at the cowboy and shook his head slowly “no – we haven’t seen him. You’re Ryker – aren’t you?”

Cowboy nods affirmative.

Armstrong says “OK – tell your men you’ll be going back with a couple more men, me and two of my men, to see if we can find him”

“Let’s get moving!”

Runnin iron feels a hand on him, testing his size – feels being untied from the pommel and moved very slowly away from the saddle.


Chad was keeping an eye on McCaully but the raging storm cut some of the vision, along with the rain poncho. Aside of the man’s back – Chad couldn’t see what was happening in front.


Runnin iron here. Well, am free of my tethering again but not to be put in a fire to test my mettle.

I know am just a chunk of iron but something is changing as to my purpose. Least ways – kinda feels that way.

A piece of rope or hide was tied off around my end away from my business loop. Am now hanging from saddle horn in front of this rider’s offside leg.

What’s this hombre up to?


Chad moved up to within 15′ or so and yells above the storm – “McCaully! About a mile up on ur left there’s an old cabin! We’ll put up there for the night! Hear that?”.

McCaully turns his head to left a bit, nods once, raises a gloved hand n keeps going.

They arrived in just under an hour.

Small attached lean-to would shelter the horses; old stove inside would help dry everything to damp at least.

Chad eyed McCaully and told him to strip Rauol’s horse then the cattleman’s – bring it all inside as he was doin it.

As he watched, he loosened the cinch of his mount & remove his rifle, McCaully’s, Rauol’s, cattleman’s – their gunbelts and guns.

Five rifles, 5 guns, belts and ammo – all told. It was quite an arsenal; Chad eyes it all thoughtfully.

The storm was intensifying. Strikes were hitting every few minutes now. Close.


Runnin iron agin.

Now am hanging against wood, in the rain I guess. Learnin all sorts of new stuff.

Both those cowboys are inside – “cabin”? One of em called it?

Recall I said I felt a kind of buzz in the air?

It’s back, but heavier somehow.


All the soaked gear was spread along and hanging from the walls. Firearms in the far corner and Chad had positioned himself a couple of feet in front.

That left McCaully nearest the only door.

There had been firewood in the cabin and more was brought in from the lean-to. Chad’s horse was the only one left saddled but he brought in what food he had along with his bunk roll.

Stove was going. Heat was good.

An oil lamp sat on a table – still had oil in it so while he eyed McCaully bringing in gear, he lit the lamp with a piece from the stove. Light was beginning to fade and he was grateful for decent light throughout this coming miserable night.

Both men shed their ponchos and draped them over the saddles to dry.

Looked like Chad won’t be putting his gun down. He was hungry. They both were and neither were speaking though relaxing a bit as they dried and warmed.

The storm outside was becoming worse with heavier rain, wind, closer lightning and thunder: at least they and the horses were sheltered.

Finally Chad says “Guess I’ll do the cooking for both of us – you got anything put it on the table along with ur cup – ya got one, I’ll put some coffee to goin.”

McCaully was watching him. Nods and turns toward his and Rauol’s saddles to get a cup and jerky; walks to the table and places them nearest Chad, then re-stations himself near the saddles again.

Chad nods as he puts a small pot filled with water on the stove, pours rough ground coffee in. He also has a small slab of beef he got from a market the previous day, throws that on the stove; it begins sizzling immediately.

As soon as the Coffee had been boiling and was ready, he poured the two cups.

Putting one on the floor he used a piece if firewood to push it over toward McCaully, who reached for it eagerly and began sipping the hot liquid.

Chad flipped the beef on the stove as he drank his own brew.

Only noise was the raging storm outside and sizzling beef inside.

Coffee was good.

The piece of beef was ready now too. Chad figured they could each have a third and a third for tomorrow sometime – if they were still travelling together. The jerky could go last.

The meat was cut and a piece tossed to McCaully who caught it and gave Chad a bit of nod by way of thanks. Something hot in a stomach can change a man, sometimes for better.

Both ate and drank in silence. Tension was leaving the cabin bit by bit it seemed.

The storm outside was at full fury… Wind, rain, lightning and thunder surrounded them.

The tin roof rattled furiously, as they ate and drank their meager meal – but it held…

Then of a sudden everything seemed to quiet down – rain still pounded but lightning and thunder moved West .

More wood stoked the waning stove fire…

The two cowboys were very aware of their positions in the situation, but neither knew what to do about it.

One of the horses gave a high nicker – like a greeting.

Both Chad and McCaully looked at each other – tenseley…


Runnin iron here again. This tale has far more twists than the simple loop hammered into my workin end.

This I’m learnin… There are horesemen coming up toward this cabin very slowly … I can feel the vibration of hooves.


Another more loud nicker from same horse it seemed.


Just as the rain was starting at the tail end of the drive – the few cavalry were making their way alongside – heading in the same direction, toward their fort.

One if the head drovers fell in line & asked if they had seen sign of their boss..he had laid up a bit in the border town to have some iron work done & shoulda been back a few hours ago.


All in the cav complement said no.

The cattle crew were very worried and pressed the cavalry unit to go back and see if he was on his way.

Two of the cav unit agreed along with three of the cattle drive unit.

Most of this drive was slated to their fort after all.

They headed back down to the main trail and back toward the NM Texas border town.

Light was fading but full storm seemed to be passing them by more than hitting with full force.

Soon’s they reached the main trail they went at a brisk trot back toward the town; all the while keeping an eye out for anything unusual.

Seemed they were moving more into the tail end of the storm but kept their concentration to the task of finding any sign of Jameson.

About an hour into the back track, there it was.

Drag marks off to side of trail – still obvious. They had found their boss.


The cowboys were upset he was dead – Jameson shot in the back. They’d been riders for him for many years, worked his ranch in Magdalena. They knew him as an honest man; a good man.

They had brought an extra mount in case Jameson was afoot due to injury to his horse.

Now they would have to lash his body to this spare and take him back to the drive. Ryker selected one of the cowboys and gave him instructions what to do when he got caught up with the herd.

The remaining 2 drovers n cavalry decided to head up the trail adjacent the drive trail.. they could see no other reason not to.

The four began buckin the same conditions the others had gone thru. They could also see the signs left of a fight of sorts not far up the muddy, running trail.

All four were working their way along the downslope side of the trail…Looking…Watching… Listening…

First cowboy was spotted downslope… Soon, the one second was.

None of this group knew of the cabin ahead of them so they were proceeding with caution…

All of their instincts told them they were on the right path to the cattleman’s murderer and likely the two off track dead men.

They had been moving along slowly – when they heard it.

A distant greeting from another horse.

[To be continued of course ©J Elliott]