Charles Darwin’s survey aboard the HMS Beagle forever changed natural history, causing a flurry of wild speculation and exploration in the wake of every major find. Yellowstone Kelly, fresh off his misadventures in Kelly Blue, is cooling his heels in a Wyoming saloon when he encounters a specimen hunter. Pignuts, the saloon owner, had bartered whiskey for a strange, three-toed horse skeleton and now displays the fossil proudly in his bar. A cold-eyed stranger comes in, buys the bones for a handful of gold, and introduces himself as paleontologist Jonathan Cope. Cope recruits Kelly to be his guide through the Wyoming wilds. The professor and his beautiful assistant, Alys, hope to find what the Sioux call Thunder Horses—enormous fossilized bones weathered out of the hills. This trip, like many other Kelly expeditions, won’t be an easy one. Trailing the trio on their journey is Blue Fox, a Dartmouth-educated Cheyenne madman who notoriously loathes professors of all stripes. Along the way, Kelly crosses paths with some of the most illustrious figures of the era as he helps his group navigate the many predicaments of the Old West.
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About the Author
Following time at the University of Michigan and the University of Montana, he published his first novel, Yellowstone Kelly, in 1987. After two more novels featuring the real-life western hero, Bowen published Coyote Wind (1994), which introduced Gabriel Du Pré, a mixed-race lawman living in fictional Toussaint, Montana. He has written fifteen novels in the series, in which Du Pré gets tangled up in everything from cold-blooded murder to the hunt for rare fossils. Bowen continues to live and write in Livingston, Montana.
Peter Bowen (b. 1945) is an author best known for mystery novels set in the modern American West. When he was ten, Bowen’s family moved to Bozeman, Montana, where a paper route introduced him to the grizzled old cowboys who frequented a bar called The Oaks. Listening to their stories, some of which stretched back to the 1870s, Bowen found inspiration for his later fiction. Following time at the University of Michigan and the University of Montana, Bowen published his first novel, Yellowstone Kelly, in 1987. After two more novels featuring the real-life Western hero, Bowen published Coyote Wind (1994), which introduced Gabriel Du Pré, a mixed-race lawman living in fictional Toussaint, Montana. Bowen has written fourteen novels in the series, in which Du Pré gets tangled up in everything from cold-blooded murder to the hunt for rare fossils. Bowen continues to live and write in Livingston, Montana.
Read an Excerpt
We was all drunk that day.
After years of graft, corruption, chicanery, double-dealing, theft, death, and all them other exercises in basic American character the two mobs of thieves had finally met in Utah, and the railroad stretched from coast to coast.
"I'm so happy I don't know whether to puke or go blind," says 3-Card Thurman. He had gotten fairly rich from the fool laborers on the Union Pacific, whose callused fingers couldn't feel his shaved decks of cards, 3-Card could gamble honest if he had to, and he only had to if some smart feller had an assistant stick a gun in his ear.
We was back a ways from the big party, around the spot where the two tracks met, what with all the nobs and speculators and politicians and journalists clubbed up close to where the Golden Spike was to be drove home. Me and 3-Card was on top of a water tower, and we could see good right down to the spot where Durant and Crocker was going to symbolically nail the nation together.
It was quite a ceremony.
After some speechifying, Durant staggered over to the tie that binds and a flunky handed him a sledge. He was grass-grabbin' drunk, and he swung the sledge up, damn near busting the jaw of some scribbler, and he dropped the head wobbly-like and it hit the tie and bounced off and got a politician in the knee.
"This ain't as bad as it could be," I says to 3-Card. "A couple of 'em might die."
A couple of Durant's toadies lifted him off the ground he'd folded up on and one of 'em held thesledgeup high and the other wrapped Durant's fingers around the handle.
Durant hit the dirt and fell over, nose down on the rail.
He didn't move, and the flunks lifted him up and a feller in rough honest workingman's clothes drove the spike home. Durant's head was lolling.
Then Charley Crocker of the Central Pacific lumbered forward to take his swings at the spike the sledgeman had set. Charley was so damn fat he couldn't see the spike over his belly, and time he bent over far enough to tell where it was, he'd missed it again.
He did manage to get a lawyer's foot, though, with his last swing.
"How the hell can you tell it's a lawyer?" says 3-Card.
"He was tryin' to pick Crocker's pocket," I says. "What else could he be?"
The lawyer's foot was poorly for it. He was writhing on the ground and screaming.
Finally, Charley Crocker wore hisself out swinging, and he dropped the sledge and gasped and put a hand to his chest. I was hoping for him dropping dead, but after a few heaves he seemed fine, damn it, and he stood with Durant, while Durant's flunks held him up, and photographers set off a lot of flash powder and everybody hurrahed, everybody near 'em, anyway. A lot of us on the outside had a different opinion.
"More riffraff," says Blue Fox, a Cheyenne acquaintance who'd gone through Dartmouth College and didn't think much of it. I sorta suspected he was the Indian who come up to one of General Grenville Dodge's sentries three years before and asked in a plummy English accent for directions; it seemed his hunting party had got lost. The poor soldier got all helpful and ended up dead and scalped and all Dodge's horses were stolen.
When I asked Blue Fox about that he got all horrified-looking and said he was desolate that I could think such a thing of him. Well, it was goddamned easy. The horse thieves had been Cheyennes and I purely couldn't think of one of them had English good enough to pull that off, but ...
There was a boom toward the west, and a big cloud of smoke with timbers flying everywhere and I even saw a couple bodies flopping through the air. Some Irish lads had set off fireworks by way of celebration.
"Shit," says 3-Card, "there's that goddamned Luke Gooding. I will see you boys around," and he slid down the timbers and rode off casual-like. Luke was a Federal Marshal, and if he wished to speak with 3-Card, it was a sure bet 3-Card would really not like to speak to him.
Luke was sort of not looking but looking and finally he seen me and he began to mosey over toward the water tower me and Blue Fox was on.
"As concerned citizens," says Blue Fox, "perhaps we should have made a citizen's arrest."
"You ain't a citizen," I says to Blue Fox. "And besides, Luke is a good man and maybe he'll just shoot you by way of the public good."
I couldn't help liking that Cheyenne son of a bitch. And I sure as hell couldn't blame him for killing every soldier and track layer he could manage. This damn railroad meant the end of his people, and he knew it.
Luke was gettin' closer, slipping through the crowd, never looking up. He went round the back of the water tower, to cut off escape, and I heard him cuss a little and then he clambered up.
"I'd like to swear out a complaint," says Blue Fox.
"I'll goddamn bet you would," says Luke. "Likely arrest and hang everybody here."
"What a wonderful idea," says Blue Fox.
"Kelly," says Luke, keeping an eye on Blue Fox, "I know damn well you been with 3-Card. Now where is he?"
Luke was a good man, but not a real patient one, and if I hemmed and hawed, he'd throw me off the tower, see it improved my memory.
"Left when he seen you," I says.
"3-Card cut a whore over to Rosie's couple days ago," says Luke, "for no more than laughin' at his pecker."
"CUT A WHORE!" me and Blue Fox beliers together.
This was one of them things just ain't allowed out here. Whores is just as good as anybody else out here, and that is that.
"That bastard," I says.
Blue Fox had stood up on the timber.
"Rosie's is a good place," he says.
Was, too. You come in, you take your bath and put on clean clothes, you go to the big parlor, pick your girl out, and go on upstairs. You behave. You don't, Rosie's bouncer, a four-hundred-pound Kraut named Wolf, beats hell out of you and then throws you out the third-floor window. A couple of drunk drummers pulled guns on him once, shot him five times. He smashed their heads together so damn hard Rosie had to put new wallpaper in the room, since the old wallpaper was covered in spatters of brains.
"Cut her and left her tied," says Luke, "and sneaked off."
"Didn't know Luke had them habits," says Blue Fox. This from a feller once slowly skinned a couple soldiers, for three days, while sixteen of us was bottled up in a blind canyon, just to make sure we didn't sleep so good.
Us whites was just as bad, and you don't hear the stories because we won, whatever that is.
"Well," says Federal Marshal Luke Gooding, "I expect I'll just have to go after him."
"Stuff and nonsense," says Blue Fox. "Kelly and me are headed that way. 3-Card's a good cheat, but he ain't what you'd call a plainsman."
Christ on a stickhorse, here I was being volunteered to ride with one of the worst cutthroats I ever knew, and I knew plenty, after goddamned 3-Card. Still, cutting a whore was about as bad a thing as you could do out here.
"When you catch him," says Luke, "arrest him and bring him to the nearest stop on the railroad."
"Guaranteed," says Blue Fox.
"I mean it," says Luke.
"Of course you do," says Blue Fox.
"This all right with you, Kelly?" says Luke.
"No," I says, "but it'll have to do." I had business on toward Cheyenne, and Blue Fox would be a handy companion. He wouldn't kill me because he was smart enough to know I might be of use to him some day.
"I got to go west a little," says Luke. "Them damn Loper brothers robbed a train a hundred miles west. Thing ain't even been built all the way through, and they're at it." And he slid down to the ground and went off to kill the Loper brothers. Thing about Luke was he hated paperwork, and it was a rare time when whoever he was after survived. I'd seen a report of his.
"Whun i fend hem he's shotted," it read.
Blue Fox and me was sober, maybe the only ones in the ten thousand or so celebrants all clustered around the Golden Spike. We got some grub on our way east and settled into a lope along the old trail. 3-Card would stay on it till he got over the mountains, at least.
We come on his tracks soon enough, and long before sundown we caught up to him. He was maybe a half mile ahead, bouncing along in the saddle like his ass was india rubber.
Blue Fox was riding along beside me easy as you please, and then I looked south for a momentsomething had movedand he tore the reins out of my hand and slipped the headstall off my horse just like that and spurred his horse and left me. Mine slowed down and looked at me, not knowing what to do.
I watched. Blue Fox held close down on his horse's neck, and he come up behind 3-Card, and I saw his war club, a stone in a rawhide quirt, whirl up and come down. 3-Card threw his arms up and fell back, his skull smashed.
Blue Fox had tossed my headstall onto a greasewood bush. I got down and put it on my horse. Time I was back up Blue Fox was gone.
I rode past 3-Card, facedown, blood leaking from his head. His horse was rearing, scared bad, but the gelding calmed when I grabbed the reins. I got down and made a hackamore out of my rope and slipped off 3-Card's saddle and left it by him and went on.
I needed a spare mount, and there wasn't a thing I could do for 3-Card.