There is nothing quite so beautiful as the cold, clean air of the wind coming of the mountains. In comparison to the horse dung filled streets of Beunos Aires the days spent traveling with Hector and the two gauchos were blissful. Each man rode a horse, Paco and Jorge each led a packhorse as well.
The mornings were crisp, the trail life refreshing after so much time at sea. Francis fell back into old habits. The plan was simple, cut cross country into the foothills and let Paco and Jorge ask around for the bandits while Hector, Francis, and George stayed out of site.
It took more than a week of wandering, asking around, before they got their first lead on the bandit base. Three days of tracking outward from their brought Francis and Hector to a hill overlooking a narrow canyon leading west into mountains.
“I say we cut South and see if we can’t find another way in.” Francis opined, “If I were a bad man, I’d have two or three men watching that canyon at all times.”
“Much like Leonides at Thermopylae.” Hector agreed.
“Except these bandidos aren’t the Persian Army, and we path lays between two cliffs, and we are much higher up in altitude than sea level.” Francis answered back. “Heck, we go any higher we’ll have to worry about grazing for the horses.
“Very true, which is why I do not expect to find an easy way in from either the South or North, at least not that would let horses and riders through.” Hector spoke honestly. “Maybe a few goat trails a man might follow, but nothing more.”
“A couple years back I worked with an injun scout, Navaho I think, that could damn near walk up a cliff face.” Francis said, “Sure wish he were here now.”
“Lets go talk to George.” Francis offered. “That limey bastard has probably planned more fights than both of us put together.”
Hector and Francis consulted with George back in the thick scrub where they’d made camp the night before. Diagrams were drawn in the dirt then smoothed over, only to be redrawn slightly different.
“Gentleman I see no way about it but to split forces.” George concluded. “One must be the hammer, and one the anvil. If we had more men it would be easier, but I say two men are needed to burn them out, and three are needed to secure the mouth of the canyon.”
Hector and Francis nodded in agreement. The question on everyone’s mind now is, who strikes, and who holds.
“Well, I signed us on to this George.” Francis said quietly, “I’ll be one of the men to go in. If we can’t find a trail around I’ll see if we can sneak through after dark.”
“Mr. McGowan, please.” Hector interjected, “You and Mr. Smythe are the best we have with rifles, and it would be best if the two of you covered the canyon.”
“That’s true enough” George responded, “But there will be no need for men on the outside if the men on the inside fail in their mission.”
Paco walked back into the camp area, and spoke quietly with Hector in Spanish.
“I’ve explained the plan to Paco, and he volunteers to go inside to burn them out. Jorge will of course volunteer the moment he hears of the plan as well.”
“All right, can he get in?” Francis asked.
“I believe so, Paco and Jorge were shepherds for several years, I’m quite sure they will be able to follow a simple goat trail.” Hector answered. Jorge smiled, his teeth white against his sun browned face.
“Well it don’t make no sense to split up the English speakers or the Spanish speakers.” Francis said. “I know a little Spanish, but not good enough to talk fast when bullets start flying.”
“Well then that settles it.” Hector answered. “Paco and Jorge will enter and burn them out while the three of us take left, right, and center along the canyon exit. I’ll take the right positions since it is closest and I can order the bandits to surrender. When they don’t, the two of you can put those Spencers to good use.”
“I don’t like it, but I can’t disagree with the logic.” George answered.
“I don’t like it either, but I’ll go along with it.” Francis put in. “Guess we’d better get some shut eye while we can. It’s gonna be a long day tomorrow.”
The two gauchos left shortly after midnight by Francis’ recollection, one carrying an kerosene bottle in a saddlebag thrown over his shoulder. Francis, George, and Hector took up positions under the moonlight. Francis laid out the Sharps and Spencer side by side. The Spencer could fire faster, but the Sharps could reload faster, and Francis’ position in the center was the most likely avenue of escape. The moon set, and the sun began to paint the eastern sky with a brilliant pink.
The first two men out of the canyon were Paco and Jorge, and Francis watched Hector call them in to his position. Less than a minute after the first bandit on horse came out of the canyon mouth.
Hector shouted something in Spanish. Whatever surrender message Hector said didn’t seem to stick as the man gave his horse the spurs and tried to run right past Hector towards Francis’ position.
The big Sharps boomed, the man fell off his horse. Three, five, seven men all rushed out of the canyon, ignoring Hector’s command to surrender and George started opening up with his Spencer. Men fell. Francis worked the action on the Sharps and picked off men one shot at a time, but three men in a tight cluster bore down on his position. Dropping the Sharps Francis picked up his Spencer and worked the lever and hammer as fast as he could, aiming for the horses now to stop the bandit’s escape. The horses went down, one crushed a bandit’s leg, but the other two leapt free on instinct.
Francis’ Spencer went dry, and he pulled the knock off Model 3 from his right holster and cocked the hammer, taking careful aim at the nearest bandit he calmly pulled the trigger, and watched as the 44 Russian slug impacted the bandit in the gut. Pulling the hammer back again Francis looked for the other man, but was rewarded with a “zing” and a burning sensation in his left arm.
The third bad guy was using a dead horse as cover and working the action on a lever rifle of his own. Francis ducked behind a the rock and calmly reloaded the Sharps. Working his way to the side he quickly raised his head, lined the sites on the center of the dead horse, and calmly pulled the trigger. The 500 grain lead slug slowed down some through the horse flesh, but the bullet only came out the other side bigger. The bandit died.
Francis, temporarily deafened by the gunfire, began reloading the Spencer.
The aftermath, fifteen dead bandits, three captured. The nick on Francis’ left arm festered and he came down with a fever that required several days bed rest. The three captured bandits were hung, and George took payment in gold from Senor Perez.
Paco and Jorge sold several old cap and ball revolvers used by the bandits to a gun merchant, but kept two Winchester model of 1873 lever action rifles for themselves.