With sincere thanks to DJ for the beta work and my husband
for the editorial work
Disclaimer: The characters are based on the TV series
Laramie created by John Champion. I do not own the rights to these characters.
This work is only for fun and no profit has been made.
Night fell as the great cat woke her nearly
grown cub - it was time to hunt. Soon, perhaps after one or two more hunts, would
come the time for parting. The beautiful pair in their tawny lethality silently
descended from their mountain home slipping toward the waiting prey in the broad
grassland valley below.
It was one of those beautiful Wyoming
mornings, in May, where the sun shines upon a prairie green with new grass. A day
Slim fully appreciated as winter had been long and hard; it was good to feel
the sun again. Slim smiled at Jess’ reaction to the weather. While Slim felt
that this was the perfect day for just shirt sleeves, Jess was still wearing a coat.
Even after four years of Wyoming weather the Texan still hadn’t quite adjusted.
“At least today Jess only wore his denim jacket instead of
his big sheepskin, so perhaps he is getting used to the climate,” thought Slim.
Turning back to the task at hand, Slim pulled
out his tally book, and began making the west range cattle count. He enjoyed
watching the calves frolicking behind their mothers. Scanning across the
prairie Slim spotted something out of place. It was a mound of grass and leaves
that looked like something was buried under it. Curious, Slim rode to the area.
As he neared, his mount, Alamo
started to get a case of nerves. Slim shared Alamo’s uneasiness as he dismounted
to read sign. The leaves and grass covered the entrails of an animal, likely a
calf. Slim’s mouth hardened into a grim line as he examined the area for tracks
and other signs. Slim knew only of two animals that gut their kills: man and
mountain lion. Presently the clues came together - mountain lion not a rustler.
Slim found where the calf had been standing, where it was killed, where it had
been dragged into a stand of Cottonwoods, and then buried.
“Four calves lost and we’re not half past May. This is
getting expensive,” Slim thought as he widened the search pattern hoping to
learn the direction of the cat’s departure. Examining the feeding area he
noticed two different sized prints.
“Wonderful, it’s a female and her nearly grown cub. This is
just what I need, two cougars with a taste for beef.”
Slim continued his tracking, locating where the pair had
left the carcass and departed the area.
Slim considered his elimination options.
Most local ranchers favored carcass poisoning. When the predator returned to
feed again, they got more than they bargained for, and the rancher had one less
problem. Not Slim, because poison killed more than just the culprit. Any animal
feeding on the carcass would be killed: coyotes, wolves, foxes, vultures, and
“Shoot even my first dog died after getting a hold of a
poisoned carcass”, thought Slim. “No. No matter how easy the method, that
option isn’t for me. I’ll try tracking for a bit and see what I come up with.
If I have to I’ll hire Perkins and his dogs.”
Slim followed the tracks of the
two cats as they headed down to the creek. There, in the mud, Slim found a single
perfect paw print. Now perfect tracks are fairly rare and the detail on this
one was extraordinary. The track was of the larger cat’s left front paw and
clearly showed the distinctive three lobed pad’s base. It was the scar mark
running across the pad’s base which caused the hair on the back of Slim’s neck
to rise and his stomach to chill.
“She’s back, I’m tracking The Ghost.” Slim was scanning the
area for danger.
Everyone knew tales of The Ghost, a
big cougar that had been eluding hunters since ‘66. That year the cattlemen’s
association declared war on the mountain lions and hired a professional hunter.
The man was very good at what he did. But he disappeared. The remains of his
body were found by two men deer hunting. The hunter had become the hunted and
the cougar, though wounded, came out on top. Ranchers thought that the cougar
must have crawled off to die as the stock killings stopped. They were proved
wrong when the next year the killings began again with an occasional scarred cougar
track appearing around the site of a kill.
Locals began calling the animal The Ghost
because she would come, kill stock, and then vanish. Ranchers had baited the
cat’s cached meat to no avail. Trackers had stalked The Ghost without success. More
than once Perkins had tracked The Ghost with his dogs but the cat had given the
dogs the slip each time. The cat showed up in ’67, ‘68 and then in early ’70
but hadn’t been back since.
Slim was determined to find the man killer, but
after trying both upstream and downstream it became clear that he had joined
the long list of hunters that The Ghost had eluded. He gave up and headed
toward home. As dusk fell, the temperature dropped rapidly and clouds rolled in
from the north.
After Daisy and Mike had gone to bed Slim told Jess
about The Ghost.
“Last time we knew for certain that The Ghost was in the
area was the spring before you showed up. With all that happened with the
Carlin gang and everything that’s gone on since, I guess I never thought to
tell you about her. But for sure and for certain she is back and just as
dangerous. She sure gave me the slip at the creek.”
“You’re no slouch at track’n but that cat’s never run up
against the likes of me. Want me to see what I can come up with come morn’n?”
Jess stretched back in his rocker and put his feet up on the hearth.
“I’m not so sure that either of us should be going after
that cat alone. Not to mention the problem with going after her and a nearly fully
grown cub. I’m thinking that we should both give it a shot. We’ll have to wait
until the day after tomorrow to leave. Mr. Frasier’s replacement is due in
tomorrow to look at the account books. Then I could get Craig to come and look
after the stages.”
“Those cats could be long gone by then. Why are you a’ worry’n
‘bout my hide anyway, I seem to have kept it intact for all these years.”
“Don’t you mean mostly intact.” Slim grinned at his partner.
Jess had taken more than his fair share of injuries over the years in which he
had known him.
Jess cocked an eyebrow in Slim’s direction. “Guess I walked
into that one. Still I’d like to start hunting in the morning. You could catch
up with me on the trail. You seem to have a knack for following me and catching
Slim smiled knowingly, “I suppose I do. You’ve sure given me
enough practice. Alright, you win. You go in the morning and I’ll be along.”
Slim rose from the couch on which
he had been sitting and looked out the window. “Well, Jess you just caught a
break for tomorrow’s tracking, it’s starting to snow.”
Slim and Jess
were up early; while Slim went to saddle the horses Jess met Daisy in the
kitchen. He was pleasantly surprised to find the coffee ready and that she had
already packed some supplies for him.
“I packed enough ground
coffee for at least a week. Land’s sake I think you go through more coffee than
beans when you’re away.” Daisy playfully remarked to the man she considered her
“Thanks Daisy. Man’s got to
have his priorities and you shor’ know mine.”
“Jess, why don’t you grab
one of those medicinal purpose bottles from off of the top shelf?”
Jess almost gagged on the
coffee he was drinking. Daisy never suggested taking alcohol unless he or Slim
were heading after someone who was injured. “Huh?” was his inelegant reply.
“Call me a silly old woman
but I’ve got a bad feeling about this trip. You will be careful won’t you dear?”
Daisy looked up into his face.
“Daisy you are never silly.
I will be careful and pack some whiskey although I sur’ don’t plan on using
none.” Jess and Slim were both sticklers about not drinking when hunting, a
fact which Daisy was well aware of.
“Have a good trip dear and
“Got every intention of
doing just that,” Jess replied taking his heavy coat from the hook. Picking up
his rifle he turned to as he got his hat and headed for the door, “Don’t you go
frett’n none, I’ll be back soon.”
snow storm had been light – less than an inch. In the west pasture Slim was
again amazed at his partner’s ability to read sign. While Slim could tell where
a large animal had approached the carcass the tracks were so snow obscured that
he couldn’t tell if they were cat or wolf. Yet Jess was able to read an entire
story in the ground.
“Well Slim, I’ve found where
those two came in last night during the snow. Dag-gum you sure are right about
this cat being a clever one. This is where she catches a whiff of you and sure
as shoot’n she drives her young-un off and won’t let it feed. Small wonder
nobody has had any luck with poison. This cat won’t feed if she smells man.
They both take off in this direction. With luck I may catch up to them afore
Jess stood up from where he
had being kneeling and began leading Traveler after the two cats.
“I’ll try and find you
tomorrow, just be careful,” Slim said while turning Alamo back toward the
“Plan on it, but as far as
I’m concerned I figure the one bracing a man-eater is you - danged miserable
business dealing with accountants.”
Slim laughed, “You’re
probable right at that. See you in a day or so.”
“Bring some of Daisy’s fresh
biscuits when you come.” Jess grinned as he called to his friend.
“Plan to, ‘cause the only
thing yours are good for is throwing.” Slim touched his spurs to Alamo and
ducked as Jess scooped up a handful of snow and threw it at him.
Jess shook his head at his
retreating friend’s back and then vaulted into Traveler’s saddle. “Time to go
to work boy,” Jess reined Traveler in the direction of the departed cougars’
went well as Jess easily followed their trail. The pair headed toward the Medicine
Bow Mountains at a fairly easy pace.
“Good, at this rate I should
have them in my sights by this evening,” he thought.
Jess’ luck held
until early afternoon as he followed the pair up a narrow valley. The sun had
been melting the scant snow fall and the tracks were becoming harder to locate.
All of a sudden the semi-clear trail seemed to disappear.
“Dang, cats don’t up ‘n
vanish,” thought Jess.
Looking up the slope he noticed
that there were a lot of downed trees, their logs chris-crossing the mountain
side. The sun had cleared most of the wood of the snow.
“I wonder if those two tried
walking on the logs. It would sure be easier going if heading up slope was
their intention.” Jess thought as he got off Traveler and began picking his way
along side of the downed trees. He was rewarded with the discovery of the occasional
imprint or the mark of freshly chipped bark. Working the trail was extremely
slow going and when he finally figured out exactly where the two animals had
topped the rise and in which direction they had headed it was late in the day.
The down slope tracking was easier going and Jess could tell that he was again
gaining ground on his elusive quarry.
As the day
wore on, the trail Jess followed led him higher into the mountains. He was
following the pair in a pine forest when they played another trick on their
pursuer. At a large tree in which the pair had rested, Jess could not find
where the pair had descended. Looking into the tree he saw a place where a
large diameter limb crossed into another tree.
“Son of a gun, bet y’all
took to the danged trees. Stay up there long enough and no wonder dogs can’t
track you,” he thought.
Jess was forced to resort to
making some educated guesses as to where the cats were traveling to in the
trees. He would occasionally spy a broken branch or see a fresh scratch in the
bark which gave him some hope that he was still on the pair’s trail. Twice he
was forced to climb a tree to discover which way the pair had gone. In between
cussing his boots (which weren’t suited to climbing trees) Jess marveled at the
cougars’ abilities to jump huge distances from standing starts.
and Jess made camp. He made his dinner and enjoyed a couple cups of coffee
before turning in. He was thinking about his quarry, and the fact that the
older cougar was a known man killer, as he banked the fire before turning in.
Figuring that the low
burning fire would deter most animals from approaching and relying on both
Traveler and his well honed scenes to alert him to any danger Jess fell asleep.
As he dreamt
of tracking cougars that then were tracking him, the gentle brush of fur
against his neck brought him to instant (if not complete) awareness. Jess knew
exactly which cougar was twitching her tail across his neck and made his play
for the gun he had placed under the saddle he was using as a pillow. Flinging
one arm up to ward off The Ghost, he pulled the gun and brought it to bear on
his attacker…sighting on the two beady eyes gleaming in the moonlight.
He relaxed his hand from
pulling the trigger as his mind came to full awareness. The eyes of the mouse
like varmint where huge in relationship to its body and it looked like it would
fall over except that it was balanced on its back feet by its long furry tail. The
critter wobbled after being tossed half way across the campsite, but the kangaroo
rat recovered quickly and bounced away from his violently unwelcoming bed
looked over at his master and gently nickered at him sounding, just like he was
gently laughing at the ex-gunman for drawing down on a rodent. Jess’s own laughter
joined that of his horse as he sheepishly eased the hammer back down on his
“I’m danged glad Slim isn’t
here to see this or I’d never live it down,” thought Jess.
Shaking his head to clear it
of all the endless possibilities Slim was missing out on. He settled back into
It was the
second night of hunger for The Ghost and her cub. The pair found a mountain
stream and filled their aching bellies with water. They then moved off and
circled back hoping to surprise whatever came to drink. Their patience was
rewarded when a large raccoon showed up. The Ghost let her cub attack and was
pleased with its success. The raccoon wasn’t large enough to feed both great
cats so The Ghost continued her hunt: first upstream and then up the
mountainside. She was rewarded with an unlucky possum just before dawn. She then
settled herself in a high rocky outcrop for a nap. Her cub would catch up. The experience
of tracking her would be good training for it.
Slim got up
early to take care of the morning chores before Craig arrived. He wanted to
leave as soon as possible despite Jess’ assurance that he would have already
gotten the lions. “The Ghost is dangerous,” Slim thought as he worried about
Jess from his disturbed night’s sleep. A quick breakfast of bacon and three
cups of coffee and he was back to tracking the two elusive mountain lions. The
morning was brisk as he buttoned up his sheepskin jacket against the cold. As
he followed the trail higher into the mountain range, the countryside became a mixture
of sage, meadow, trees and rocky outcrops. Smiling grimly to himself he knew that
he was closing on the pair. Later that morning Jess found the remains of the
cub’s raccoon dinner.
Jess thought, “Consarn it,
just one cat eating here and it’s the smaller of the two. The Ghost must be
about to cut her cub loose since she’s letting it make its’ own kills. Pa
always said Cougars weren’t team hunters. Tar-nation, it would just be my luck
for those two to permanently split up now.”
followed the young cougar up the creek, Traveler got more and more skittish. He
knew that they were getting closer. Jess figured that Traveler could smell the
cat as the wind was blowing downstream.
“So much the better, the cat
won’t know I’m coming,” thought Jess as he dismounted.
tying Traveler to a bush Jess began stalking his quarry on foot. Up ahead he heard
the sound of clattering deer hooves and the snarling attack of a cougar.
“Guess you got yourself a
last meal,” thought Jess and he moved up a talus slope so that he could get a
good view of the creek. Moving very carefully and quietly his stealth was
rewarded as he soon spotted the lone cat below him feeding on her fresh kill.
daughter’s snarl brought The Ghost out of her nap. Stretching her back she
started to descend to the creek bottom but froze in her tracks as the wind
painted a picture of what was going on below her. The blood scent told The Ghost
that her child had made short work of the deer. But there was another scent
between The Ghost and her daughter. Her lips curled back in a silent snarl as
she recognized the hated stench of man. Sticking to the high rock ledge, she
closed in on the hated smell desperately shortening the distance between
herself and her cub. Peering over a rock lip she spotted the man below her.
The Ghost, the man raised his rifle and pointed it at the oblivious cub. She hastily
lined herself up so that she would strike the man at the base of his neck,
striking there would be a sure and fast kill. As she sprang she made no warning
snarls; her pounce would be silent and deadly.
stepped on to a fairly large and flat rock so that he could get a steady clean
shot at the killer cat below him. As he sighted down the barrel of the Winchester
and squeezed off his round several things happened. First, the rock on which
Jess stood gave way beneath his feet causing his shot to go high. But while the
slipping rock ruined Jess’ shot, it also saved his life as The Ghost struck his
shoulder and not his neck. The Ghost’s weight bowled Jess to the ground and the
two hunters rolled and slid down the slope.
managed to keep a hold of his rifle even when he slammed into a rock. The
sudden stop knocked The Ghost off his back and threw the cat in front of him.
Jess’ lightning quick reflexes allowed him to bring the rifle to bear and fire
a round even as The Ghost recovered and sprang back at him. The bullet struck
her heart and the force of it knocked her backwards away from Jess.
It was a
pure adrenaline rush which got Jess to his feet as he frantically searched for
a glimpse of the other cougar. Jess hadn’t seen where his shot had gone or if
he had hit the animal at all. However, he knew that he was bleeding from where he
had been raked and passing out from blood loss in the presence of a cougar, was
not on his list of things to do that day. He moved quickly down slope hoping to
see the animal.
slopes are tricky to cross on the best of days and this was turning out to not
be one of Jess’ better days. His boots hit a stack of loose rock which promptly
knocked his feet out from under him. “Not again,” was the last coherent thought
Jess had, as he smacked his head on a rock.
pain brought Jess back to himself along with the knowledge that something big and
heavy had a hold of him. The cougar had come back! He bucked the cat off of him
and clawed for his sidearm. In a snap he pulled the six-gun and forced open his
blood sealed eyes. He sighted on the second killer ….
The words hit his ears just
as the blurry image of a man sprawled in front of him came to his sight. Jess jerked
up the six-gun.
“Slim?” Pain caused his back
muscles to spasm and Jess pitched forward and straight into the arms of his
“Yea, I swear you’ve never
come to fighting so dang hard before. You near busted my jaw.” Slim sounded
both annoyed and concerned.
His hands gently
turned his injured partner over so that Jess could face him. Slim slid one of
his legs under Jess’ back so that the wounded shoulder wouldn’t touch the
“What were you thinking
“Sorry Slim, I cum to with
my back on fire and I was sure you were that blamed cat trying to eat me.”
“Well, I’m sure glad
somebody drilled it through that hard head of yours to check your target before
touching off that hog leg.”
“Yeah, me too,” Jess softly replied.
“How bad is it back there?”
“Well, I got about half those
cuts cleaned out with the whiskey Daisy sent with you. Good thing she insisted
I haul a second with me,” Slim smiled and pointed out the remains of the
shattered bottle. He was serious as he continued, “You got some major
scratches. Your coat took the worst of it, saved you from a real mauling. The
bleeding was stopped by the time I found you.”
Then Slim’s eyes took on a
familiar twinkle, “But I’m afraid that coat of yours is a goner.”
Slim rolled Jess back to his
stomach so he could get another bottle off Alamo. As he did Jess noticed that
it was very late in the day.
When Slim returned he handed
Jess a piece of leather. “Here bite down on this, ‘cause this won’t be no
As Jess put the strap into
his mouth, he said to Slim, “Let’er rip”. The whiskey hit his back and he lost
track of time for a bit.
finished doctoring Jess he went down to the creek. While he found the dead deer
of the other cat, there were only a few tracks and a little bit of blood
leading away from the area. Slim judged by the spacing of the tracks and the
limited amount of blood that the cat hadn’t been hit very badly.
“I’ll get Perkins and his
dogs up here. Right now it’s more important to get Jess home.”
day when Slim got Jess home some of the claw marks had taken on an angry look.
The resulting fever caused Jess to mutter in his sleep about cats turning into
rats which he never would explain to Slim.
pleased that Jess recovered quickly as Jess was a poor patient.
took his dogs into the mountains but returned empty handed. The stock killings
stopped and the two ranchers figured that the cougar had cleared out.
following fall as Daisy was in the barn gathering one more egg for a cake she was
making she overheard Jess teaching Mike how to shoot.
“Always check your target
Tiger, no matter what, before you squeeze the trigger.” Jess’ rich voice came
through the barn wall. “Doesn’t matter how fast I bring my gun up I always do.”
“That’s why you didn’t shoot
Slim up on the mountain?”
“Check’n my target saved
more than Slim that trip.” Jess’ voice grew softer, “Promise not to tell Slim.”
“Cross my heart Jess, I’ll
never tell,” Mike solemnly swore.
closer to the wall. While she had once told the boys that her moccasins were
comfortable she had neglected to mention that they also allowed her to move
silently as a cat when she wished. She snuck closer to the back wall of the
barn and eavesdropped with glee as Jess told Mike about his encounter with the
Kangaroo Rat. When Jess’ tale was done she crept back to the house.
Thinking to herself, “Oh
Jess, Mike may never tell Slim about cats that turn into rats. But the next
time you’re hurt and give me grief about wanting to get up to soon - I’ve got
the perfect story to blackmail you right back into that bed.”
had come and gone when the great cat with the bullet notched ear returned to
the mountains where she had been born. As she showed her first cub how to track
and stalk a beautiful buck, she caught the scent which her mother had warned
her about years before.
“Beware my child of this
scent, for it is man. When you smell it, it is the time to hide, and to walk softly.”
The mother and cub silently
moved away from the dark haired man, riding the bay horse. As they moved away the
great cat continued, “Remember and pass this to your children: we are the
silent ones, and the ones of the shadows. This is how we survive.”
Jess was unaware of the
proximity of the pair and continued to hunt for stray cattle along the stream.
Traveler, however, began to act extremely nervous and Jess scanned the hill
side, trees and rocky ledges. Of whatever was causing his horse distress, he saw
Authors Note: The scene with
the Kangaroo Rat is based on truth. It happened to my father when he was out
deer hunting. It just proves that reality can be funnier than fiction.