Book One



                                                    1870 - Somewhere In West Texas



           The Comanches threw him over his own horse like fresh game, tied his hands beneath its

belly and lit out across Texas, howling and yipping like wild dogs. There was no time for grieving.

He was not hurt much physically, was too damned furious to be afraid and did not really give
a tinker’s damn for staying alive. All he wanted from the life that remained in him was vengeance.

He was only eleven years old, but they were eleven hard years lived on the Texas frontier and he

was rawhide tough, raised among people accustomed to working dawn to dark for what they had

and fighting to keep it. In two or three years he would be considered a man in his world. Maybe he

was just a scrubby little kid to these Indians, but the hatred blazing in his Celtic soul coupled with a

total lack of regard for his own safety was a lethal combination.
          The Indians drove their ponies mercilessly, and when their own mounts were jaded, switched

to the stronger, larger, slower horses stolen from the ranch. Cory may have been unhurt when they

threw him over his horse, but by late afternoon he was covered with painful bruises. His raw, bloody

wrists and ankles were tormenting him. But he never whimpered once.

          They paused about an hour before daylight to water the horses, though ignoring his needs, and

then resumed their flight across the prairie with less haste, their confidence apparently growing as

they approached some pre-arranged rendezvous point. By mid-day the boy was desperately thirsty

and his tongue was beginning to swell against the top of his mouth making it hard to breathe, but the

blood from his chaffed wrists had worked as a lubricant, allowing him to slide his hands from the


          His so-called plan, founded on reckless rage, was simple. There was a pistol hidden down in

his saddlebags covered by his slicker. In their bloodthirsty haste, the Indians had not thought to check

there. Cory used this gun for snakes and small game. It was only 22 caliber, but it would kill an

Indian at close range all right. He always kept it fully loaded when he wasn't carrying it in a holster.

There were four of them and he had six bullets. Eventually, he snuck the gun out of the saddlebag,

tucked it beneath him, and waited for the right opportunity.

          As fate would have it, they soon stopped to eat and the very buck that had slaughtered his

father came over to remove him from his horse, Banjo. Cory let him get close enough to smell the 

Indian’s hot, stinking breath before he looked into his bottomless, black eyes. With what he would

always remember as a blinding silent flash, he put a neat blue hole in the Indian’s forehead. The

buck’s hair exploded upwards as the bullet exited the back of his skull, slamming him backward and

to the ground as if he had been poleaxed. Banjo bolted forward directly at the other Indians who

were bunched together and dismounting, knocking one of them to the ground. Still lying across the

horses back, Cory reached down and shot this one squarely in the mouth, killing him instantly where

he lay between the horses prancing hooves. Banjo started spinning and kicking out at a third Indian

who was attempting to get at Cory with a knife as the rest of the horses reared and twisted, stirring up

a cloud of dust and screaming like hysterical women. Cory fell from the saddle to the ground with a

grunt and quickly rose to his knees just in time to put two quick shots in the chest of the attacker

whose shadow loomed over him, then rolled to one side to avoid his stumbling, fatally wounded


          Out of the corner of his eye he saw the fourth of his captors scramble from the bushes,

rise up, and draw a bead on him with a rifle. The boy scurried behind some rocks as a bullet

dusted the ground a few inches from his arm.

           As if time had been temporarily suspended, dreamlike, as though he were

watching the whole thing from a distance, without aiming he raised the pistol and shot

the man squarely through the heart. He would debate with himself for the rest of his life

whether it was the luckiest or best shot he ever made. But one thing was certain; his true

character rose to the surface in that few moments of nitemarish struggle. Something deep

within him leaped into action as if from some past existence. Underfire, in the thick of

battle, beyond preconceptions, he was cool and deadly and damn near fearless.

          Stunned, the last Indian staggered backward and gazed incredulously at the hole in his chest,

lowered the gun and dropped it at his feet. He sunk to his knees and tried to chant his death song as

foamy blood gurgled from his mouth, then he fell face forward, raising a little haze of tawny dust.

The agonized, murmured prayers of one of the dying Indians, chalky gunsmoke and dust drifted on

the stony stillness that followed.

          Sniffling and blubbering now, the frightened young boy crawled over to one of the dead

Indians, wrenched the knife from his stiff hand. He stood over the dying man, shook his fists at

heaven and shrieked his own primordial victory cry. Then he  thrust the knife in his belt, grabbed the

only rifle the Apaches had, swung atop Banjo, dug in his heels and kicked up a wake of choking hot

dust across the sun bleached prairie.

         Riding steadily but not too hard, for his horse was just about played out, he made it ten or twelve

miles before discovering a shallow creek where they drank long of the warm, muddy water. Never

again would he take a drink of water for granted.

          The horse was too spent to go farther without rest, so he led her into the center of a stifling,

heat parched copse of mesquite, receiving a nasty scratch across his face in the process. When the

horse objected, he cooed to her and swatted at the blowflies, then swiped at his own sweaty face

with his sleeve, smearing tears and blood from the scratch across his forehead.

          He checked the rifle with trembling hands. Finding it empty, he cursed and tossed it aside like

so much rubbish and then retrieved it to use as a club. A scan of the sky revealed a dozen buzzards

circling the spot where he had killed the Indians. He knew that anyone within fifty miles would read

that clearly. Sooner or later the carnage would be discovered and there would be hell to pay.

         The animal within him was hungry and growled its warnings. Fortunately, he found some rock

hard biscuits, jerked venison and part of a sandwich down in the saddlebags. When he saw the

sandwich, he leaned against Banjo’s flank and sobbed. Ravenous as he was, he hesitated to eat the

sandwich because it was something his mother had touched, one of the last things she had done

for him. He never realized how much he loved her until that moment.

           But eat it he did. He swiped stubbornly at the tears, but it was his burning hatred

that dried them up. He wished he were dead and then he was was deeply mournful and

he knew it would catch up with him eventually, then suddenly he was acutely aware of the

fact that he was alive and felt determined to stay that way. That is what his folks would

want him to do. He knew that in his soul, beyond the train wreck of thought and emotion.
          When he again looked out at the seemingly infinite expanse before him, it was as if

he had never seen the prairie before. Where it had always struck him as endlessly drab

and bleak, it was now myriad colors glowing in the sunlight. He swallowed a leftover sob

and mumbled thickly, “ No sense goin’ back. Why go back to that hardscrabble, burned-

out place at all? " It had been the death of his Pa, just like his Ma always said it would be,

and he could not bear the thought of seeing his father, and maybe his mother after the

Indians and buzzards had done with them.
         Following a rush of agonized emotions, his panic again flared up to the realization

that he was sure to be found. They had some fresh horses and he had not had time to

hide his trail. They would be on him like flies, and him with one measly bullet and a

burned out horse. If he could only think straight. He couldn’t shake the sight of his

mother running screaming from the burning house with her dress afire, his father’s head

cracking open like a ripe watermelon from a tomahawk stroke.

           It was impossible to disentangle his thoughts from the sorrow and fear. His  

animal instinct was to run. He figured that maybe if he could make it until nightfall, he

could lose them somehow. This was no time for turning back. It was a time for full speed

ahead. And by God, scared or not, he intended to give them a running fight.

         After frantically pushing southeast for another ten or so miles, he stumbled on a

ravine jumbled with big, round, sandstone boulders that appeared to have popped out of

the ground like mushrooms. Hiding there in the slightly cooler shadows concentrating on

the bleak, harsh landscape, he ran a blood-encrusted finger down the sleek, silver-blue

pistol barrel, admiring its beauty and craftsmanship. Could he kill himself? He had been

indoctrinated at church to believe it a sin to take one's own life. Could he do that? Kill

himself? Well, his Pa had been a practical man. He encouraged his family to save the last

bullet for themselves, choosing a proud death over slavery. The way Cory McGraw saw it

at that moment, it did not it matter who you kill if the motive is self-defense. But that’s all

talk. This was real. It was die or be tortured to death. His whole body shuddered with the

effort of such contemplations. Suddenly, he was so sick with fear he threw up the little

food he had eaten.

         He did some serious praying at this point and regretted not having paid more

attention, taking to heart what his mother and father had said about God and Jesus. Not

that he had not believed them, you understand, he had just always left such things to

adults to ponder and handle. He had more or less always let other people do his praying

for him. Now he was in dire need and had no one to turn to but a God that was a total

stranger. Dripping with sweat, wrists stinging something fierce, facing his own bloody

death by his own hand, he clumsily repeated the 23rd Psalm and the Lord’s Prayer mixed

up with various desperate pleas for help.

         When he saw the cloud of dust off in the distance, his heart checked and the

warrior within him returned to cool his feverish fear. If his Ma was with them he

intended to surrender, if possible. That way, he might have a remote chance of helping

her escape. Otherwise, the terrified eleven-year-old intended to kill himself, something

that somehow ran against his grain and he was not absolutely certain he could do.

          One thing he knew for sure, though. Several riders were headed right for him hell

bent for leather, kicking up a small dust storm. Banjo nickered a warning and stood at

attention, her ears pointed forward. Senses fine-tuned to the approach of his own death

and the little life left in the breach, dusty tear tracks mixed with blood streaking his sun

burnt face, he slid the warm, dusty barrel of the gun in his mouth with shaking hands

and watched through a tremulous haze of sun-bleached silt the dark distorted shapes of

the approaching riders.

          When they were about six hundred yards away, he noticed something odd about

the way they sat their mounts. At first he assumed the Indians were riding his Pa’s horses

and were not used to the saddles, but he soon realized the difference all right. They were

not Indians at all. It was a group of seven Texans who were slowing as they approached.

          He removed the gun from his mouth, let it drop to his lap and slide from his grasp,

buried his face in his hands and sobbed with relief. When they were a hundred yards off,

he wiped his tears thoroughly on his sleeve, stood slowly and waved his arms over his

head. They hollered back that they were riding in. Head spinning like a top, the boy sunk

to his knees and babbled his gratitude to a God he had never before even seriously


          His initial relief was fleeting, however. He might have just gotten his ass out of the

frying pan into the fire. Cory had been born and raised in Texas fighting Indians and had

survived the War Between the States. He knew there were lots of white hardcases in this

neck of the woods who would kill you just as quick (or slow) and dead as any red man

would. The sight of those proud, rock hard men bristling with weapons, eyes confident and

alert, fresh bloody scalps hanging from their saddles, riding boldly into his little mushroom

fortress scared him almost as much as the Comanches. When a giant of a man with long,

flowing, coal black hair and beard to match dismounted and approached him, the boy

held his little gun out threateningly and backed up against the rocks.

          Head spinning, the boy stood there for a moment squinting like he was peering

through fire and then sunk way down into his shadow and folded up in a homespun heap.