New Mexico Territory 1892
Lucius McKraden was exhausted and ready to be home after a five-day ride to Sante Fe. The deadline to get a claim to his land was two days earlier, so this trip was necessary. His Sorrel stallion, Ramses was weary but trudged along. The path was steep and dangerous, but the shortest route to Sante Fe.
Lucius was out of food and supplies. Heavy clouds were gathering and this trail was brutal if the mountain decided to storm. A mile from the final summit, a gust of wind ripped down the mountain stinging Lucius's face with dirt.
"Where the hell did that come from?...' Ramses, let's get outta here!" He kicked his horse into a lope.
Raindrops turned into sheets of wet vengeance. The storm had caught them. Thunder exploded and lightning shredded the sky. Ramses slipped but kept his powerful stride. Fighting through a mile of wet hell, Ramses slammed to a halt at the summit.
Lucius looked up from his dripping hat and wiped the mud off his face. Down below was home.
Priscilla was waiting outside when Lucius arrived.
"Lucius?... you okay?"
"I'm fine... Take these saddlebags... Lemme tend to Ramses."
Inside, Lucius hugged Priscilla, then kissed his two sleeping children.
Priscilla opened the saddlebags and pulled out Lucius's bedroll, coffee, cartridges, flask, and a leather book.
"Lucius! Is this it?
"Yep... The deed to our land."
Priscilla untied the twine and began reading.
"IN CONCORDANCE WITH THE HOMESTEAD ACT OF 1862"
decreed on this 22nd Day of 1892, that Parcel 227, Section 97B, near the township of Tularosa, Territory of New Mexico be deeded for ownership. Furthermore, the person in possession of this legal document sole possession of the above parcel of 9,860 acres.
Priscilla retied the book. With a trembling voice, she looked up, "Lucius, we better hide this book."
"I know... They told me possession of the book was possession of the land... I'm going to bed."
A hours later, Priscilla awoke to the sound of horses.
"Lucius... Lucius!" she whispered.
Lucius's eyes opened, and he pulled his revolver.
A loud voice shouted. "Hey there!"
The voice had an accent Lucius knew.
"Give me that book and I won't kill you!"
"Get the kids, and get down the cellar," Lucius ordered. Priscilla grabbed the book, woke the children, then disappeared down the cellar. Lori being eight, whimpered. Jacob being thirteen put his arms around her.
Lucius saw the silhouettes of three riders all holding rifles.
"Bring me that book, or we're coming in!"
Lucius yelled back. "I'm not giving you my book and that's final!"
A rifle shot exploded above Lucius's head. He rolled towards the front door and slammed the lock. Grabbing his rifle, Lucius crawled to the back wall and looked out a peephole. He saw one of the men sneaking to the back door. Lucius stuck his gun barrel in the hole and fired. The man's head snapped back, he stumbled, then fell motionless. Another round smashed into the mantel shattering rocks and wood. Lucius crawled back to the window and emptied his pistol through the broken glass. Bullets screamed all around him shredding blankets and shattering dishes. Lucius covered his head and waited.
The firing ceased. Lucius figured they were reloading, so he made his way to the door. Through a hole, he spotted them hunkering down behind a stack of timbers. This was his chance to get his family out. Opening the cellar door, he ordered Priscilla to take the kids out the back and ride for Alamogordo. Lucius hugged his children, then kissed his wife.
"Now y'all hurry, I'll fend them off, then catch up."
Jacob saddled two horses, Ramses and Sammy. Priscilla jumped on Sammy then lifted Lori up to her lap. Jacob hopped on Ramses and the three rode away in silence.
Lucius looked towards the timbers but didn't see the men. The front door slammed open, breaking the lock. A man jumped in with a gun in each hand firing . Lucius lunged back and fired three quick shots, hitting him twice in the chest and once in the head. The intruder spun over on his side, then lay still. Lucius leaped towards the door to slam it shut. The door bounced back, and a shot banged. Lucius's left shoulder exploded, spinning him a full revolution to the floor. Lucius pulled himself up and leaned against the wall. The figure of a large man darkened the doorway and Lucius pulled the trigger, but it clicked empty. The big man looked down at Lucius.
"Where's the book?"
"Okay! You bastard!" Lucius yelled. "It's down in the cellar!... Over there," nodding his head towards the cellar.
The big man grimaced and walked to the cellar door. Squatting down he looked at Lucius and said, "I have more black books... I take from people like you... They make me rich..." he chuckled.
"You're a rotten murdering thief!" Lucius yelled.
The man looked into the open cellar.
Lucius turned his head and spotted his rifle under some broken rocks. Without hesitation, and ignoring the pain in his shoulder, Lucius jerked the rifle up, leveled it at the man's head, and squeezed the trigger. Thunder boomed from the rifle. Fire and smoke shot from the barrel. The big man's knees buckled as he staggered back grabbing his neck. He coughed, looked at Lucius with disbelief, then fell dead. Lucius dropped his rifle, put his hand on his bleeding shoulder, then fell unconscious.
North of Alamogordo, Priscilla, Lori, and Jacob eased their two horses down the base of the mountain. The sun was peeking over the lower foothills and casting a red and yellow ribbon across the horizon. Jacob was riding behind his mother and sister when he spoke up and asked,
"Mamma, shouldn't Pa have caught up to us by now?"
"I don't know Jacob, I'm doing what your father told me to do," Priscilla replied as she adjusted Lori in her lap who was now sound asleep.
"Well, I'm going back to check on Pa!... You take Lori and go on to Alamogordo, and we'll come get you tomorrow."
Not waiting for a response from his mother, Jacob whirled Ramses around, kicked him into a run, and raced back up the mountain.
"Jacob!...... Jacob!" Priscilla screamed in vain, but Jacob was not turning around.
Priscilla pondered for a moment about turning back, but she had a sleeping child riding in her lap, Sammy was limping, and going back meant going back up the mountain. She knew she wouldn't make it, so she continued on.
On a dead run, Jacob arrived at the house. Leaping off his horse, he saw the bullet-ridden cabin. Shattered glass and cartridges littered the front porch.
"Oh my God!... Pa!" He cried out.
Jacob pulled his rifle from under his saddle and stepped inside the house. One man lay dead right inside the door and another over by the cellar. Looking to his left, he saw his father lying on the floor leaning against the wall. Dropping his gun, he rushed over to him and lifted his head.
"Pa... Speak to me... Pa!"
Weak and deprived of blood, Lucius opened his eyes and looked at his son.
"Jacob... Jacob son... It's gonna be alright," speaking in a feeble voice.
Jacob tried to say something but his father shook his head and said, "Listen to me."
"I'm listening Pa....what is it?"
"You're my son...you're strong and proud... You're like thunder, Your mother... Your mother is strong and steady like thunder... Your little sister...well, right now is a small rumble..." He tried to laugh. "Make this ranch whatever you, your mother, and your sister want... Run it like thunder son... Stay strong and always remember, Thunder Never Cries." Before Jacob could respond or ask a question, Lucius turned his head and died. Jacob dropped his face and covered his father's head, stepped outside, and fell to his knees.
Jacob arrived in Alamogordo that evening and broke the news to his mother and sister. Three days later, the local settlers and people from town, provided a funeral. They buried Lucius in a Pine-shaded meadow half a mile from their house. The Territorial Marshals disposed of the bodies of the three gunmen and helped Priscilla and Jacob clean up and repair the damaged cabin. Priscilla told Jacob and Lori they were going to continue on, stay strong, and continue to build their ranch. That's what Lucius would want.
Three months passed when two men dressed in fine attire and top-hats pulled up to the house in a horse-drawn wagon. Priscilla stepped outside from the front door and Jacob rode up with Ramses, holding Lori in his lap.
"Mrs. McKraden?" One of the gentlemen asked. "Are you Mrs. Priscilla McKraden?... The wife of Lucius McKraden?"
"Yeah... That's right, I'm Mrs. McKraden... And I'm Lucius's widow... who's asking?"
"Well forgive me, ma'am, I'm John Kramer with the Sante Fe Railroad Commission, and according to our records, you hold claim to Parcel 227 of Section 97B, I believe."
"I think that's right Mister lemme see," Priscilla turned and went into the house.
She returned with the black leather book in her hand and handed it to the gentleman.
"This is our claim Mr. Kramer, and my husband died to protect it."
Mr. Kramer untied the twine and opened the book. He turned each page , reading every word out loud. The other man in the wagon had another black book and was writing down everything Mr. Kramer was reading. When he finished, the other man nodded his head. He handed the black book back to Priscilla and took his hat off.
"Mrs. Priscilla McKraden, on behalf of the Sante Fe Railroad Commission, I am pleased to inform you that you will receive twenty-thousand dollars if you will allow a small piece of your land to be used for the Sante Fe Railroad."
Priscilla's eyes brightened as she looked over at Jacob and Lori, still sitting on Ramses.
Jacob then asked, "And what small piece of our land are you talking about Mr. Kramer?"
Mr. Kramer pointed as he replied, "The furthest southern piece down son, it's flat, and would be the easiest place for us to construct a railroad through these mountains. Besides that, it crosses your land."
Jacob looked at his mom with excitement beaming from his face and said, "Yes Mamma, do it! That land is nothing but sand and rock and good for nothing. Pa didn't even like it. Hell, I've never seen anything down there."
Priscilla reached out and shook Mr. Kramer's hand.
"We have an agreement, Mr. Kramer, We will allow your railroad to cross our land."
The other man handed Mr. Kramer the black book he had been writing in. He opened it and told Priscilla to sign it and that it would be a done deal. She signed the book and Mr. Kramer smiled.
" well, we are all set." Mr. Kramer concluded, "You'll receive your money as soon as I get this processed in Sante Fe." Mr. Kramer stepped back onto the wagon, nodded, and the wagon pulled away.
Priscilla, Jacob, and Lori all hugged each other. Priscilla then told her two children, "Hey let's go down to the meadow and tell Dad what happened."
The three walked together holding each other's hands. The air was fresh and warm with a hint of sweet jasmine and evergreen. A mild breeze whispered from the west. The three of them stood in silence looking down at Lucius's grave. Jacob thought of his dad and how happy and proud he would be if he was here. Tears then began to swell in Jacob's eyes, and he sobbed.
Lori looked up at her brother and said, "Hey Jacob, didn't you tell me Dad said, Thunder Never Cries?"