The dust storm started with a gentle breeze and swirl. Seconds later dust darkened the sky. Emmett Swiggert rode down the bank of a dry streambed, pulled the saddle from his horse, and turned her tail to the wind. He took off his duster and covered her head, then crawled as best he could beneath the duster to clutch tightly to both the mare and the coat. A prairie dust storm, with no shelter, was dangerous for horse and rider.
The wind howled over their huddled bodies, while sand and tumble weeds beat relentlessly at them. Finally, there was a break in the winds.
“Lucy. We gotta find some shelter for tonight, this is just the beginning and there’s a chill in the air.” He brushed Lucy’s back with his blanket roll, trying to get the dirt and sand out of her buff colored hide. “Maybe we can make it to Cimarron Creek. There’s a fella building a store there. We’ll be okay, if’n the Lord will send us that way.”
Emmett generally relied on instinct for his sense of direction and rode following the sun. But the cloudy skies forced him to rely on old memories. He re-saddled Lucy and walked up the low sides of the bed. When he finally remounted he looked for signs of the old trail. Finally, he spotted a cut in the prairie clay.
Dust had settled across the old wagon trail but Emmett could make out occasional indentions. “Somebody pulling a load. Hope they found cover before that wind.”
An hour later the wind began to pick up again, but Emmett and Lucy were well into the slate foothills. “Weather’s changn’. All this wind’s pushing something toward us.” They followed a streambed for a mile or so until they came upon a wagon and a team. Two head of cattle lay on the ground at the rear of the wagon. Emmett paused and examined the scene.
Lucy was uncomfortable standing in one place and began a circular dance and indicated her displeasure with a whiney. “Hey, girl, we’re just look’n, we can ride on by if it don’t look friendly.”
Suddenly, a blond child ran around the corner of the wagon; a young woman followed the child. Emmett could hear the laughter and their voices.
“Merci, you better get back here. Don’t you go runn’n off around here, there’s Indians, snakes, and bandits.”
The young woman stopped sensing something different in the air. “Merci. Right now. Get back here.”
Lucy shook her head and tugged at the reins. “Whoa girl,” Emmett whispered.
“Clarence,” the young woman called out. I thought I heard a horse a minute ago.” The two young women disappeared around the corner of the wagon out of Emmett’s sight.
Wisps of dust were making small circles in the clearing. “Anybody there?” A male voice rang above the wind.
“I wonder what these folks are doing out here,” he whispered to Lucy, “well, at least he didn’t say he had a gun.” Lucy nodded.
“If you hear a hammer lock-back we’ll high tail it. Okay?” Lucy began to walk toward the wagon. “Ho there,” Emmett called out. He tried to sound friendly. As soon as Lucy stepped out of the draw a blast of wind rocked Emmett and he shifted in the saddle. “There’s gonna be a storm for sure.”
Just as Emmett expected, a young man stepped around the wagon. In his hands was an old squirrel rifle.
“Hold there,” the young man called to Emmett. “Whatcha want?”
Emmett stopped Lucy in the path. “Like I said, bad storm comin’ and you look like you need help.” Emmett dismounted and led Lucy toward the wagon. Emmett wore a pistol strapped to his thigh but it was snapped in the holster. “Why you out here?”
“Headed for Liberal.” The young man stammered. “Supposed to be takin’ them cows to sell.”
“The wagon too no doubt.” Emmett looked at the kids; he guessed he was looking at everything they owned. “There’s more dust comin’ probably snow too, untie the cows, then pull them horses and wagon into this draw. Otherwise you won’t have horses to sell either.”
The little girl poked her head around the corner. “Is this the angel ma said God would send to save us?”
Emmett smiled and shook his head. “Sorry, kid, I ain’t no angel, but the Lord does seem to have sent me here to help y’all escape the storm.”
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