How the West Was Won

Among the beautiful scenery of the Rio Grande Valley, one cowboy has a close encounter with fellow travelers.

  • Sunset light on the Chisos Mountains, Big Bend National Park.
    Photo by AKM Images/Willard Clay
  • Sunset light on the Sierra del Carmen in Mexico and the Rio Grande River, viewed from Hot Springs, Big Bend National Park.
    Photo by AKM Images/Willard Clay
  • Cozy up with a copy of "How the West Was Won" for a great winter read.
    Photo courtesy Bantam Books

The sun was not an hour high when Linus Rawlings came upon the trail of the Ute war party. The high walls of the narrowing valley of the Rio Grande barred all escape, and Linus knew he was in trouble.

A man of infinite patience, he was patient now, sitting his line — backed buckskin in the dappling shadow of the aspens. Behind him trailed three packhorses carrying his winter’s catch of furs, while before him the mountain slope lay bright with the first shy green of spring.

Nothing moved along that slope, nor in the valley below, only the trembling leaves of the aspen. Linus, never one to accept the appearance of things in Indian country, remained where he was.

Against the background of the aspens he was invisible as long as he remained still, for his clothing, the horses, and their packs were all of a neutral color, blending well with their surroundings. Methodically, his eyes searched the slope, sweeping from side to side, taking in every clump of brush or aspen, every outcropping of rock, each color change in the grass.

It had been a long time since Linus Rawlings had skylined himself on the top of a ridge, or slept beside a campfire. He had known men who did both things … they were dead now. It was no accident that he always stopped with a background against which his shape could offer no outline.

When in Indian country you never took a risk, whether you suspected an enemy to be near or not. You learned also to make a fire that was small, on which to prepare your meal, and after eating to shift your camp a few miles and sleep in darkness, without a fire.

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