I'm a dead man. Should of seen 'er comin.
Three weeks ago, I thought my luck finally turned. Got a solid seam of silver running along a fracture. Loaded my mule, Bessie, with a hundred pounds of high grade ore. And it still ain't nowheres near played out.
Bessie give one a her twitches as means she smells somethin she don't like. I glance around and spot er right off. They's four fellahs about two miles back while I'm a good day an-a-half out of Bisbee and ain't no law betwixt here an there. Line a fir trees bout three miles in front o me is my goal. If'n I can git there enough afore them, I might be able to fight em off. Otherwise I'm a dead man. I reckon I should wait a bit if they ain't catchin' up on me. It's nerve wrackin' fer sure, but I keep Bess to a solid amble, the only pace she likes to go. I can feel my breath gettin' short, an it ain't on account of us bein' a mile up in the Mule Mountains neither. No sir, I feel their breath on my neck, just waitin' to git a shot in 'gainst me.
I try to keep calm, but I cain't resist lookin back ever few steps and it's a good thing. I ain't gone more'n twenty feet when I see them going to a canter. I snap the reins and Bessie breaks into a trot, jouncin' my privates agin' the saddle, but that's a sight better nor a bullet in the spine. they're twice a quick nor her, so we won't make it lessen they ain't got the wind fer the run. The ground is fair to middlin even, with long grass brushin agin Bessie's belly, but I worry about rocks and gopher holes.
A ol' express rider tol' me oncet upon a time that you throw your hoss off balance when you keep to lookin' back, so I try and just tuck my wonderin' into my hat and ignore the fellahs behind me. Don't know for certain sure how good it works, but I keep a praying I ain't about to get a bullet in my noggin. Everthin' is bouncin' on Bessie, me, the stirrup what my left foot slip out of, my canteen, and the bundle strapped behint her saddle. She's rolling along like one a Jackson's foot cavalry. I hear her start to blow heavy, over the sound of her hooves hitting the ground, whats kind o' soft with spring rains just a few days past.
I surely would not want to run her on a dry patch, that is God's own truth. About then, a bullet whizzes past, the pop a it firin' followin' like Hooker's brigade after a army. It misses me, but nicks Bessie's ear. Now she ain't powerful agreeable to that, so she decides her mama must have been a race hoss as she starts galloping like I ain't never seen a mule go afore. I keep my eyes on the ground, on account of I got my hands wrapped around the saddle horn like some greenhorn easterner, despite never havin' been east a Texas. Nope, I am not ridin' with what anybody could call grace, just hanging on fer dear life, hopin' ol' Bessie don't step on no gopher hole, nor break a hoof on some lump a rock, nor nothin' else what might go wrong.
The ground is a flashing beneath us, the waves o' grass making a wake like a offen a paddle-boat on a river. Bessie's ribs are heavin' like bellows when the smith works up a good rhythm, her hooves are beatin' a drummer's rat-a-tat charge, and I got my legs wrapped tight, just trying to keep a bit a balance. That loose stirrup is smacking my leg, fit to leave a bruise like a log fell on me, and behind me I hear more shots, but they ain't coming so close. My hat flies back and the cord is a pullin' under my chin, but it's a sight better'n it flyin' off and me never seein' it agin' and that is fer sure.
My nerves git the best a me and I look over my shoulder to try an see how far away them fellahs are. And is that ever a mistake. Bessie don't like me doin' er balance like that and she bucks me plumb off. I fly head over heels through the air and land flat on my back. Hurts like I was kicked by a mule and I don't reckon I can see straight enough to know whether it were clubs or spades iff'n I was a holding a ace right up a front a me. Soon's I can, I sit up and there's those fellahs no more'n three hundred yards out. I look around and see a body as is riding up from the tree line toward me, they got me boxed, and the felahs no more'n a hndred from me. The long drink o' water rolls outta they saddle and lands kneelin' with a rifle in their hand. Ain't no Henry nor Winchester neither, but a long rifle. Bessie's slowing down, like as not wondering where I gone after she bucked me off.
I reckon they got me, so I try to find my voice. Least they can do is treat Bessie right and not sell her for a knackers. Afore I can do that, the gun barks, a roll of thunder puts me in mind of a buffalo rifle. But the bullet don't come nowhere's near me. I wonder what's up, but that shooter is loading another round, breaking that trapdoor open and slapping a big fifty in, then snappin' her shut. Another cannon loud boom and agin' ain't no bullet near me. They's a rattle of shots from the fellahs closin' on me, but it do sound a mite light. I look back and they got only two in their saddle, the other horses ain't got nobody on 'em. They's closing right up on top o' me when that thunder rolls another time and the third falls down. I see the round go in his chest and out his back, sprayin' blood on his horse's flank. Whoever that tall rider is, they be a murderous good shot.
Last fellah turns tail, but he don't get more'n ten steps afore that cannon booms again and he goes down. I'm all aquiverin' thinkin' this grim reaper is headin' over to finish me off. I look and they're right near, rifle slung acrost they shoulders and, lord have mercy, it's a woman. "Mister, are you gonna make it or do I gotta git you to a doc?"
"I suppose that depends on you." She's a fine filly, like a school marm, only leaner and burned down by the sun until she could almost pass as a Mexican or a breed.
"I was lookin' to take a couple boys back Texas way."
"You a bounty killer?"
"Nah. I just don't like 'em. these ain't the ones I want." She puts a hand down to help me stand. "Savin' you is what my brother would want. He's the one rides with the rangers."
And that is the Good Lord's own truth about how I lived past the worst chase acrost a valley I never want to go through agin.