white wolf - part 13

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Jewel’s race was later in the program so the couple were able to enjoy the accolades for a while before they concentrated on the business of trying to win another big race. Jewel’s betting odds were slashed to 5 to 1 suddenly and John was glad to have got in early. When the big appaloosa paraded in the ring just before his race, the odds tumbled a bit more and he started at 3 to 1. Jewel looked a picture as he trotted around the ring with John leading him. Ben climbed aboard and the big stallion played up to the audience, prancing and snorting then arching his long graceful neck. There were some other fine looking horses in the race but none appeared quite so magnificent with his dappled white spotted rump contrasting to the jet black body.

Jewel jumped reasonably well and settled a few lengths back and two out from the fence. Ben let the big horse cruise along for the first half of the race then eased him a bit wider to avoid the now struggling early leaders. About 400 yards from home he positioned the stallion in the centre of the track then at the 200 yard mark again nudged Jewel in the ribs. The appaloosa responded immediately and charged up to the leaders, grabbing them in a few bounds and then sprinting clear of the field. Just before the finishing post, Ben eased the stallion down to win comfortably by two lengths. The crowd roared their approval as many locals backed Jewel once they saw how good he looked parading before the race. John and his wife found themselves in the middle of a crowd of well-wishers and it was hard to get past everyone so they could thank their jockey and give the horse and pat.

The champagne flowed freely for the rest of the day and by the end of it both John and Morning Light were quite tipsy. They couldn’t stop smiling and it was one of the best days either of them had ever experienced. John collected his winnings and all his pockets were bulging with money by the time he collected the horses and tied them to the back of their buggy for the ride back to the Guest House stables. Once the horses were seen to, rubbed down and fed, John and his wife joined Dave, Hans and a few others at the newest Hotel in town to carry on with the celebrations. All of their friends also backed the two horses and so everyone was in high spirits, having made money and had a great time. Morning Light and John graced the dance floor made a spectacular sight swirling around, both laughing and obviously so much in love. When they finally left the dance floor, a photographer got the couple to pose for a shot while he stuck his head under the black cloth and took the picture. It was a day to remember and one John couldn’t wait to tell his Cheyenne friends about.

Chapter 16

The White Wolf Ranch was an outstanding success story during the next few years. John and Morning Light worked hard on their property and quickly established a reputation throughout the Territory, as breeders of top quality horses and beef cattle. John had further success with his two race horses and he entered them in any big races he could find in Montana and Wyoming. The racing industry was still in its early stages and non thoroughbred horses were still permitted to compete in most of the race meetings. John put a lot of noses out of joint because his two unfashionably bred horses were winning against the so called blue bloods.

When he returned to his ranch in the autumn his horses remained unbeaten and so he retired them both to stud duties. He’d seen enough of the snobbish ‘gentlemen’ from the racing fraternity and having rubbed their noses in it, John decided to direct all of his energies into the ranch and his young family. Both stallions proved to be very popular at stud with breeders of race horses and work horses. In the first year of their stud duties the two stallions served a combined total of 40 visiting mares. John received a very good fee for each mare to visit his stallions. By now John had increased the numbers of his own mares to 14 so there was plenty of work for his boys to do. John worked out a simple breeding strategy and it involved mating the best mares by Jewel to Baldy. This gave the offspring the best qualities of both foundation stallions and produced a medium sized horse with great speed up to a mile, plenty of stamina and genuine toughness. The resulting breed were a really good all-rounder, being accomplished saddle horses, excellent stock horses and fast enough to compete in sprint races. John managed to keep the appaloosa colouring by regularly bringing in mares from his father’s herd or from his old friends the Nez Perce.

With the cattle, John was able to continually improve the bloodlines by purchasing purebred Herefords, many of them imported from England. He concentrated on breeding from only the best individuals and soon established a fine line of cattle equal to any in the country. His bulls were much sought after by many ranchers and commanded high prices at auction. John was able to increase the herd to over 500 animals and the market for beef was rapidly expanding, especially as the number of buffalo being shot each year began to decline. Within 18 months of moving into their new home, John employed two full time workers and another two part timers who came in when things got very busy. They were all experienced cattlemen and horsemen who John personally selected. His selection criteria included talking to their former employers and interviewing each applicant but the final measuring stick was a meeting with Snowy. If the wolf allowed the man to come close to him without growling or snarling, then that person had a job. If Snowy showed any mistrust of an applicant then that person did not get a job. It proved to be a very reliable way to screen the men and over the years it was proven time and time again.

Hans was called in to build a cabin for the workers and John asked him to make a large open lounge room and kitchen with 4 separate bedrooms attached. It was sited away from the main house and closer to the barn. While he was there, Hans also constructed a large stone walled stable complex, purpose built to house horses and their equipment. John and Morning Light enjoyed having the old German stay with them and he adored the children, often showing young Tom how to build with stone. Hans was still keen to talk about the Cheyenne warriors he’d met and always inquired as to when they might return. The war spear given to him by Standing Bear held pride of place in his own home.

Around this time there was much unrest among many of the Indian tribes throughout the region. White settlers were continuing to encroach upon the tribes and trouble was brewing. Crow and Blackfeet war parties were believed to be roaming the district on the lookout for unwary travellers or settlers. Already there were growing reports of wagon trains being attacked and isolated farms overrun. However these incidents had all occurred further to the west and south-west so the residents of Helena were not overly concerned. All this suddenly changed late in the autumn of 1873 and the events were to reverberate right through the Territory.

John was in Helena on business just for the day, he’d left his family at home along with the three workmen. He met with Dave and the two partners discussed business matters then John collected a supply order from several of the stores in town and he set off for home, riding Jewel and towing a pack horse. As usual Snowy was with him and the wolf seemed strangely tense and wary. John grabbed his brand new Winchester 1873 model and tested the feel of it as he sighted on a distant tree. This latest development in rifles was a little longer than his older Winchester, just over 49 inches and it fired a more potent .44-40 centre-fire cartridge. Several miles from home, John saw black smoke rising above his Valley and this worried him. He spurred the big stallion into a canter and the feeling of unease increased the closer they got to home. The pack horse slowed them down and John was reluctant to untie it but eventually he did, knowing it would probably follow the trail all the way back by itself. He urged Jewel into a fast gallop and the horse responded, stretching out and racing the final mile or so to the valley entrance. The thick smoke was definitely coming from near the house and John’s unease escalated to panic when he turned the final bend and saw his home burning.

He raced the horse right up to the barn and leapt from the saddle grabbing his rifle and calling out at the top of his voice. As he ran past the barn, John almost tripped over one of the men lying dead on the ground with two arrows protruding from his chest. Fearing the worst he sprinted across to the house, all the time yelling for Morning Light. The only sound was the crackling flames which tore through the roof of his home. John burst through the front door, searching frantically for his family. He found them all under the rear veranda and screamed in terror and pain as he saw their slain bodies. He pulled and dragged them away from the burning house but it was quite obvious they were all dead. His wife’s clothing was ripped from her upper body and she’d been brutally stabbed to death. His babies had also suffered shocking injuries and John felt so much pain he thought he himself would die. His dreadful screams echoed across the valley and he just lay alongside his family too stunned and shocked to move. He didn’t know how long he lay there but the sun was setting when he finally stirred and walked around the house and out-buildings. John discovered the other two bodies of his workmen, near their cottage. Both men had their throats cut so savagely their

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