Wild West Version
Thomas Calabrese– Nathan Cameron was an adventurous soul and as soon as he turned 16 years of age, he told his ma and pa, “I need to be moving on, there’s a big country out there and I aim to see it.”
Dan Cameron knew it wouldn’t have done any good to try and talk his eldest son out of leaving so he didn’t even try, “You can always come back if things don’t work out.”
“Appreciate that,” Nathan said.
Over the next fourteen years, Nathan did a variety of jobs to get by; trail-hand, freighter, stagecoach guard and prospector. Whenever he was in one place long enough, he’d send a letter back home to let the family know he was alright. He was in Dallas working at the Southfork Ranch when he received a telegram that his mother and father caught a virus and both died quickly. His younger brother, Dawson who had been married for five years and had three children, two girls and a boy, took over the operation of the family farm.
Three years later, Nathan was in Escondido and found himself in a high stakes poker game. A landowner put up a parcel of land against Nathan’s two thousand bet and laid his cards down. He had a full house, three aces and two kings. Nathan showed his hand, a straight flush, jack high. After viewing the property, Nathan telegraphed his younger brother and told him about his good luck and invited him to come to California and help him run the ranch.
Dawson was hesitant to uproot his family and move across the country. Three months later, a vicious tornado ripped through Smithville, Missouri. The Cameron farm was destroyed and the family barely escaped death by huddling together in a storm cellar until the danger passed. Stella Cameron’s Aunt Liz, who lived in town and operated the general store, was killed by the twister. In her will, she left her entire savings of 12,000 dollars to her only relatives.
Dawson and Stella discussed their options. Dawson said, “We can rebuild and stay right here…or.”
“Or we could take the money and go to California,” Stella said with a mischievous smile.
The Cameron family packed up their belongings in the spring of 1881 and started their journey from Smithville, Missouri to California. Their final destination was the San Luis Rey Valley. The wagon train that they joined had a smooth trip, good weather with no attacks from Indians or outlaws along the dangerous Old Santa Fe Trail. This was so unusual that Wagonmaster Bill Hanlon commented to the Cameron family when they arrived in San Diego, “I wish all my trips went this smoothly. You must be my good luck charms. The San Luis Rey Valley is about 40 miles due north. When you reach Oceanside, head east about five miles, take care.”
When Dawson Cameron saw the lush rolling hills located between Oceanside and Vista, California along the San Luis Rey River for the first time, he was awe-struck. He excitedly turned to his wife, “I told you this was the right thing to do.”
“If I remember right, you weren’t too sure about us coming here, “Stella said.
“I reckon I had a few fleeting moments of doubt, but they passed real quick-like.”
Over the next few years, the Cameron brothers expanded their 100 acre parcel to seven hundred acres. They had crops and cattle and were well-respected in the Valley. Dawson built a house on the mesa with a view that stretched for miles. Nathan had been seeing Thelma Lou Woodward, a local schoolmistress and they planned to be married the following year, then travel to Mexico for their honeymoon. The site for his new home was an acre away from his brother’s place in the middle of a citrus grove, where the scents of lemon and orange drifted gently on the Southern California breezes. Nathan planned on starting construction in three weeks. In the meantime, he was getting the material stockpiled for the structure and lining up workers for the project. Thelma Lou and Stella were working together on how to decorate the interior.
A shipment of nails was coming in from Los Angeles so Nathan asked his 15-year old nephew, Ridge, “Do you mind taking the wagon to the train depot to pick up some materials?”
“Glad to,” Ridge replied, “I’ll tell Pa then hitch up the team. What time does the train come in?”
“It’s scheduled for 2:30.”
“I should be able to load up and be back before nightfall then,” Ridge said.
“If the train is late or you get delayed in Oceanside, stay overnight. I don’t want you on the trail in the dark,” Nathan said sternly, “Stay at the Longshore Hotel and tell Gary Bargeman to put it on my bill.”
“If I can’t be on the trail by 4:30, then I’ll leave the next morning at daybreak,” Ridge promised.
The train from Los Angeles was a half hour late and Ridge had to wait for some other supplies to be unloaded first. By the time his wagon was loaded, it was far too late to start back for home. When he checked into the hotel, Ridge noticed a young man sitting in the lobby, reading a newspaper. The stranger tipped his hat.
Ridge was about two miles from home when he heard hoofbeats behind him and instinctively reached for the pistol under the seat. The stranger from the hotel rode up on the biggest black horse that Ridge had ever seen. The stranger commented, “We meet again, mind if I ride along?”
Ridge commented, “I’m not far from home. What kind of horse is that?”
The stranger answered, “A special breed, he’s as smart as he is big. My name is Brush Rattler, what’s yours?”
Ridge replied, “Ridge Cameron.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Brush said.
“Where you headed?”
“I’ll know when I get there,” Brush answered.
“I don’t know what that means.”
“I’m looking for some men.”
“You a bounty hunter?” Ridge asked.
“Sort of…but I get paid in a different way.”
“When the turnoff to the Cameron spread came up, “This is where I leave you,” Ridge said.
Brush looked down at the ground and saw numerous horse tracks and commented, “Mind if I ride in with you…get some water for my horse?”
“You’re welcome to it.”
As they got closer to the house, Ridge heard screaming and slapped the reins against the horses to increase their speed. Brush grabbed the leather straps, “Easy young fella’, we don’t want to rush into something.”
Eight armed men had their guns drawn on the entire Cameron clan. Nooses were looped around Nathan and Dawson’s neck and they were on their toes as the ropes hung over the branch and two men kept the line taut. Stella and the young girls were being groped by the other men.
Brush cautioned Ridge, “Let me take the lead,” and casually rode into the midst of the fray. One of the armed men stopped and marveled at the size of the horse, “That’s a mighty fine horse, you wouldn’t want to sell him, would you?”
“Nope,” Brush answered.
The man became agitated, moved closer and threatened, “I could take him from you.”
“You could,” Brush answered and turned the horse away, then tapped him on the neck. The horse kicked the man in the chest with such force that he flew backward ten feet and was dead when he hit the ground. Brush pulled out his pistol, shot the ropes that held Nathan and Dawson and they fell to the ground. When one of the men reached for his pistol, Brush shot him in the forehead, “You wouldn’t be the Jimmy Dolen gang, would you?”
“If you’re looking for trouble, mister, then you got all you can handle now,” Jimmy Dolen growled.
Brush smiled, “Hoofbeats and pistolshots are my business, trouble is my pleasure.”
Jimmy Dolen reached for his gun and Brush drew two pistols and shot him and the other five men down in the blink of an eye. Ridge stared in disbelief at what just happened. Brush stepped down from his horse and went through the pockets of the dead men and pulled out all their cash and valuables and handed them to Nathan, “These are yours now.”
“You’re robbing the dead,” Dawson said.
“That’s exactly what I’m doing. Their horses, rigs, guns and money are yours. There are also bounties on these men. I’ll take the bodies into town and I’ll have the sheriff send you the money.”
“What kind of bounty hunter are you?” Nathan inquired.
“Who said I was a bounty hunter?” Brush answered.
Stella walked over with tears of gratitude in her eyes, “I don’t who you are, mister and I don’t really care, but I do know that you saved our lives and we’re eternally grateful. Would you do us the pleasure of joining us for supper?”
“It would be my honor, ma’am,” Brush said.
Ridge walked over to Brush and commented, “You’re mighty good with those smokewagons.”
Brush put his arm around the young boy’s shoulder, “I wouldn’t have been able to do it if I didn’t know that you were backing me up.”
After a dinner of fried chicken, potatoes and freshly baked apple pie, Ridge turned to Brush, “Can I talk to you outside?”
As they walked, Brush inquired, “What’s on your mind?”
“How did you become…um…um what you are?”
“A killer,” Brush said.
“I didn’t mean that,” Ridge apologized.
“It’s alright, I’m not offended. I know exactly what I am. I’m a killer of bad men. I’m prepared to answer to God for every man I have put on boot hill and for every shot I’ve taken. Some men came after my family and a man named Yancy Derringer came out of nowhere to save them. I asked him the same thing that you just asked me and the rest is history.”
Come the next morning, Ridge was saddled up. His father and mother saw the determination in his eyes and knew that their young son was now a man. Stella gave Ridge a long motherly hug, “If this isn’t for you, then you come back home,” then turned to Brush, “You’ll make sure that he gets back safely if he doesn’t like it.”
“You got my word Ma’am. Anytime he wants to leave, I’ll bring him back personally.”
Ridge gave his sisters, Jenna and Becky hugs, “It ain’t like you’re not going to see me ever again.”
Nathan extended his hand, “Do what you got to do and may the wind always be at your back and the sun shine gently on your face.”
Dawson embraced his son, “I’ve always been proud of you and going off to help people only proves what a good person you are.”
Cattle barons, mining moguls and titans of industry knew that for the west to be tamed, it would take a special type of man to help do it, so they bought and operated the Hoofbeats and Pistolshots ranches throughout the west. It was called the H&P brand. There was one in each of the following states; California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. These were working ranches, but also much more than that. These were the sanctuaries where a special breed of horse was raised and a unique group of men trained to protect America and its citizens.
When Ridge Cameron arrived in the Santa Ynez Valley, he began an arduous routine of learning how to track and fight with his hands, knives and guns. There was a master gunsmith to tailor weapons to his preferences and a doctor to care for his medical needs. Ridge was assigned to raise a young Palomino Colt and when he and the horse were fully trained, Brush told him, “It’s time to earn your pay.”
“I’m ready,” Ridge replied.
“You’ll know if you’re ready, the first time you’re looking down the barrel of a gun or staring into the eyes of a cold blooded killer who wants to send you to hell and your head tells you to run, but your heart won’t let you.”
Over the years, Ridge Cameron distinguished himself as a member of the elite H&P brand. Although these trained and dedicated gunmen operated on the outer regions of the law, their value could not be underestimated. A lot of innocent men, women and children survived some very tumultuous times in our country because of their presence. Although history doesn’t have much to say about these mysterious men who went into harm’s way on a daily basis, some researchers of that era strongly believe that Hoofbeats and Pistolshots was the Wild West version of today’s elite special operatives.