Slim Sherman peered blearily at his reflection in the small mirror over the wash- stand. His eyes still stung from the previous night’s cigar smoke. His head pounded from the rounds of shots of which he had all too eagerly partaken. The final insult was the cheery demeanor of his partner who was splashing away happily at the wash pan next to him. Said partner, showing uncharacteristic good sense had left the saloon early in the evening claiming a compelling need to check on the attractive young widow Fowler who he felt might be lonely and in need of comfort. While he, normally the more conservative of the two, had allowed himself to be suckered into a poker game with a shiftless looking bunch of drifters, none of whom he had ever seen before or was likely to see again.
“So how’dja do last night?” Jess asked as he rinsed away the last remaining streaks of shaving cream.
“I think I won,” Slim replied. “Just not sure if I came out ahead.”
Jess shot him a quizzical look “And just waddaya mean by that?”
“I mean my winnings aren’t exactly in my pocket.”
“Well where are they?”
“Not they – ‘she’, and she’s in the barn – eatin’.”
Jess stared at his friend incredulously and then burst out laughing. “This I gotta see!” Buttoning his shirt over his lean muscular chest, he bolted for the door with Slim hot on his heels.
Slim snared him by the arm before he had barely cleared the porch and spun him around. “Jess I don’t want to hear one single smart comment outta you!” he snarled, his headache now reaching biblical proportions.
The corners of Jess’ mouth twitched as he tried desperately and with minimal success to keep a straight face. “Slim, if you brought home a dozen of whatever it is you’ve got stashed in that barn, you still wouldn’t be half way to ketchin up with me. Now set me loose and let’s go check out these here winnings of yours.”
Slim’s winnings had her head buried deep in a fragrant mound of fresh hay. She sighed with pleasure and lifted her head slightly as the two men approached her stall. Enormous doe like eyes peered out from under a long thick black forelock. Her forehead was broad and tapered down to a fine delicate muzzle. Tiny black tipped ears pricked forward with curiosity. She had met the taller man the night before and had liked him immediately. As the smaller man reached out his hand to her she nuzzled it tentatively at first and sensing nothing but kindness in him, rubbed her head gently against his arm.
“Well I’ll be dad gummed!” Jess exclaimed as he scratched the little mare behind her ear. “Why she can’t be more’n 14 hands .”
“She’s dead lame to boot,” Slim said quietly.
“Well that’s not surprisin’,” said Jess. He had climbed in the box stall with her and was carefully running his hands over her forelegs. “Her left front tendon is so blown up n’hot, it’s a wonder it ain’t bowed. And her feet, why it’s been a lotta miles since they’ve seen a rasp much less shoes.”
Jess’ expression turned grim as he examined her further. “Slim, she’s so damned thin I can see bones on her I didn’t even know a horse had.” Her dark coat was shaggy and dull, her thick black mane and tail were filthy and matted. “If I ever got my hands on whoever did this to her – well it sure wouldn’t be pretty.”
“I’d be right behind you pard,” Slim agreed.
“Do you know if she has a name?” Jess asked.
Slim pulled a piece of paper from his vest pocket – “Says here on the bill of sale her name is Fly. Odd name for a horse don’tcha think?”
“They probably named her that ‘cause she’s not much bigger’n one,” Jess chuckled.
Slim laughed ruefully, his mood serious. “What do you think, Jess? Can you fix her up?”
“I reckon,” Jess replied. “She ain’t too old - it’ll mostly just be a matter of time and good care and that’s something we got a pretty good supply of. Did that feller you won her off of tell you anything else about her?”
“He called her a ‘morgan horse’ – you ever hear of one of those?”
Jess thought a moment. “Seems during the war I heard of some men riding them – never did hear anyone say anything bad about ‘em. I think they come from somewheres back east. Well one good thing – she’s so little she probably don’t eat much.”
“Yeah, well we used to say that about you,” Slim laughed and then flinched as Jess jabbed him in the arm.
Mose guided the afternoon stage down the drive and drew to a ragged stop near the barn at the Sherman ranch. It was evident to anyone who cared to look, that the grizzled driver was in a particularly nasty mood. “Someone put a burr in your britches?” Slim inquired as Mose climbed down from the box.
“Nah,” Mose replied. “It just those damn young bucks from town racin’ their trottin’ horses on the cemetery road. Near to run me right in the ditch an that’s the second time this week!”
“I thought Mort was going to clamp down on that,” Jess said as he began to unhitch the sweating team.
“I reckon Mort’s got bigger fish to fry,” interjected Slim.
“Well just the same, I sure am glad you boys are old enough to have gotten that foolishness out of your systems,” Mose said his mood improving. “Still the gals seem to set a lot of store by who wins those races. Why I saw the widder Fowler out there just the other day cheerin’ them on.”
At that, Jess stiffened. Slim wrapped a comforting arm around his shoulders and said, “ Now don’t you pay that any mind, there’s plenty of the good widow to go around.”
Nearby in the corral, the little mare known as Fly watched the incoming stage with interest. She bore scant resemblance to the bedraggled creature that had arrived on the Sherman ranch four months earlier. She was perfectly sound, her tidy little hooves carefully shod. Her coat was sleek and shining – a rich dark dappled mahogany color with golden highlights. Her wavy black mane and tail cascaded in silky perfection. She’d filled out too – her gracefully arching neck blended smoothly into a massive sloping shoulder. Her back was short and muscular and her powerful hindquarters broad and glossy. She was the very picture of health and a tribute both to her breed and to the loving care Slim and Jess and lavished upon her. Her beauty, combined with her kind and charming personality, had quickly made her a favorite of all who met her.
Old Mose had been particularly smitten and never failed to bring a special treat for her. As soon as she spied him, she began nickering to him. When he didn’t respond quickly, the nickers grew louder and she began to paw the ground with one elegant little foot.
“I’m commin’ darlin’,” Mose called as he hastened to the corral fence. “Now don’t you fret. Uncle Mose has brought you your favorite molasses candy.” With that she accepted the offering daintily and rewarded Mose by allowing him to scratch her favorite spot just under her heavy mane.
“Fresh team’s all hooked,” Slim called and Mose reluctantly pulled himself away from Fly.
“Ya know Slim, I was talking to this feller the other day. Tellin’ him all about Fly an’ all. Now he told me that these Morgans all go back to one stud that lived in Vermont near a hundred years ago. This little stud, and he was small, plowed fields all week and then won all the trottin’ races on the weekends. He said that even now most all Morgans look just like him.” Mose climbed slowly back up on the box and looked down at Slim and Jess. “Now I’m not sayin’ that what this feller said was true, an’ I’m not sayin’ that it’s not, but ya know what I think? I think if ever there was a horse that could do that, it would be Fly.” And with that he whistled up the team and headed back down the drive.
Slim stood for a long time eyeing his mare speculatively. “You ain’t considerin hooking her to a plow are ya?” Jess asked worriedly.
“Nooo,” Slim responded quietly. “Sides where’d we ever find a collar small enough?”
Several weeks later, as Jess was chopping firewood by the back door, Slim arrived in the buckboard back from town where he’d gone for supplies. Beside him on the seat was a large gunnysack. As Jess began helping Slim unload the wagon, Slim tried to surreptitiously move the gunnysack to the barn. Jess was too quick for him. “Watcha hidin’ in the sack?” Jess inquired.
Sheepishly Slim responded, “It’s just an old harness I traded offa Bug Watson for that old buck saw we never use.”
His curiosity aroused, “What kinda’ harness?” Jess asked.
“Well it’s a kind of light driving harness – one that would fit a smaller than average horse.”
“Ya mean like Fly?”
“Yup, like Fly.”
“Just what would you be planning to hook her up to?” Jess asked.
“Well, Jess, there’s that old road cart up in the barn that my paw used to use for breakin’ colts to drive. I thought I could clean it up and maybe we could cut back the shafts so they’d fit her. And then, well maybe we could sort of see if she liked it and if she did, well you know…,” he trailed off.
“Easy girl,” Jess told Fly as he stood by her head. She was carefully fitted into Bug Watson’s harness and Slim was gingerly rolling the old cart up behind her. Fly gazed calmly over her shoulder and stood quietly as Slim ran the shafts up and finished hooking her. Then Jess led her forward. The old cart rattled behind her but she was unfazed.
Slim slowly climbed in over the back of the seat and picked up the reins as Jess continued to lead her. When they reached the head of the drive without incident, Jess let go and Slim walked her down past the corral. He continued on for a good distance and she was as quiet as she could possibly be. Finally he turned her in a wide circle and headed her back toward the house. Taking a very light hold on her mouth he gave her a little chirp.
What happened next left Jess standing with his mouth hanging open. Fly arched her neck and moved off at a smart trot lifting her knees very nearly to her nose. She could not have been more proud or regal if she were pulling the Queen of England. She swept up past the ranch house and then stopped and stood as still as a statue with her head held high.
“Climb aboard!” Slim called to Jess. “Let’s take her for a little spin and see what she can do.”
Fly headed off up the drive again in her high strutting proud trot but as they turned onto the main road she lengthened her stride and shifted into a long, low effortless road gait. Slim maintained only the lightest contact with her mouth. She balanced herself perfectly between the shafts and happily bowled along towards Laramie.
Dirk Ingraham was driving his tall gray Kentucky bred gelding with the nubile widow Fowler at his side. For the past hour he had been traveling up and down the cemetery road in hopes of scaring up a little race competition. His long legged trotter had routinely beat all the local horses and this never failed to impress his companion. He had just about given it up when, coming over a rise, he spied Fly up ahead. Snapping his whip over the gray’s back, he soon overtook the little mare and pulled his rig up along side of her.
“What’s a matter Sherman? Andy outgrow his pony?” Dirk taunted.
Slim and Jess nodded their heads politely to the widow and studiously ignored him.
“Or maybe Harper there’s finally found hisself a horse that fits him.”
Slim and Jess firmed their jaws but continued to say nothing.
Dirk continued his taunts while the other men continued to look straight ahead. All the time Fly was easily keeping pace with the larger horse. Dirk discretely kept urging his horse faster but every time he did, Fly nonchalantly kept up. Finally they rounded the bend and came onto the long straight stretch that had been the site of so many hard fought races. Suddenly Dirk snapped his whip and yelled to his horse. The gray leapt forward as though shot from a cannon. Slim never changed his light hold on the reins. Of her own volition, Fly effortlessly lengthened her stride even further. Her entire body appeared to flatten out and gravel flew as her powerful hind legs dug in. She pulled even with the gray and then passed him. Dirk was now on his feet, whipping his poor animal for all he was worth. Fly kept pulling away. Dirk’s gelding finally broke into a confused gallop and continued to fall farther behind.
When at last they came to the turn at the end of the stretch, Slim calmly checked her speed. She smoothly slowed back to her easy road trot and with a saucy shake of her head, continued on as though nothing had happened.
Slim and Jess said nothing at first. After a bit Jess exclaimed, “That little horse can really fly!”
Comprehension dawned slowly over the two men. It was Slim who finally said, “Guess now we know how she really got her name.”
As time went on Fly’s fame spread far and wide. Slim and Jess carefully conditioned the little mare and it wasn’t long before Slim could no longer find a local horse that would go up against her. Around the territory she became known as “The Sherman Mare”, while in town she was simply called “The Pride of Laramie”.
The comely widow Fowler found frequent occasion to drop by the relay station but so focused on the mare were Slim and Jess that her overtures were largely ignored.
In the late summer came news of a race to be held in Cheyenne. All the great racers of the region would be there and the winner’s purse was a large one. After some coaxing, Slim agreed to enter her. The loan of a real racing sulky was secured and the townsfolk engaged themselves in some spirited betting.
A week before the big race, Slim had taken Fly out for exercise in the cool of the August evening. It had been a particularly pleasant work out. Although Slim had found the competitions to be heady, he had to confess that he preferred just driving Fly through the beautiful Wyoming countryside. Ranch life was hard work and he and Jess had little opportunity for recreation. This summer with this fine mare would be one that he would long remember.
As he turned to head for home, he became aware of a figure galloping towards him. As the rider came closer, Slim recognized it as his neighbor, Bill Gannon riding a harnessed horse. “Slim!” Bill called out. “Hold up.”
Slim brought Fly to a stop. “Easy there, Bill. What’s the problem?”
“It’s the baby. Rose and I thought it was just a summer cold but I think it turned into whoopin cough. He’s real sick. We gotta get him to a doc fast. The axel on our buckboard just busted and I don’t know what to do.”
“Lead the way, Bill,” Slim instructed. I’ll take a look at that axel.
One look at the axel convinced Slim that without the aid of a forge, that buckboard wasn’t going anywhere soon. Rose held the gasping child in her arms, her face pale with fear.
“Bill,” Slim finally said. “The only thing I can do is to bring Rose and the baby to town myself. Why don’t you ride on to the ranch and get Jess. He can bring you in to meet us.”
Bill helped Rose into the cart beside Slim and then handed the baby up to her. “Hold on tight,” Slim cautioned. And with that he turned Fly toward Laramie.
Thus began an incident that the good folks of Laramie would talk about in hushed reverent tones for years to come. The little mare streaked through the gathering night her iron shoes setting off sparks as they touched the gravel road. As the miles passed beneath her flying hooves, her gait never once wavered. As exhaustion at last threatened to over-take her, she reached down deep within herself and found new strength. And when she finally made the final turn on to Laramie’s Main Street she pulled her tired head up high and proudly delivered her precious cargo to the doctor’s door.
It was only then, her mission accomplished, that she dropped her head, and with her sides heaving with the effort of her last race, she rested.
Slim walked into the livery stable and found Jess and Doc Tenney silently working over Fly polticing her feet and rubbing her down. He almost didn’t dare ask the question. “Will she be ok?”
“I’m afraid it’s road founder,” the doctor said sadly. “She’ll recover but her racing days are over.”
“I don’t care about the racin’,” Slim replied. “just as long as she’s ok.”
Slim and Jess sat in their chairs in the living room by the fire. The September evening had turned cold and they were enjoying the fire’s warmth after a hard day.
“You reckon Fly would've won that race in Cheyenne?”
“I don’t know, Jess. But I’ll tell you this – she won the race that counted.”
The first rays of the warm April sun shone through the stable window and warmed the fresh straw in Fly’s stall. Through the open barn door, Fly could hear the gentle clatter of breakfast being prepared in the ranch house and the soft murmur of masculine voices. Soon her men would be coming to feed her and to turn her out in her corral so that she could greet the morning stage. She bent her head down and tenderly nuzzled the tiny dark figure curled sleeping by her feet. The colt opened his enormous eyes and nickered softly to his mother. It was going to be a fine day.