Cletus Rawlins

It was a small figure slowly leading a horse …


He hadn’t shaved in a month because he saw no need. Nobody ever visited except the occasional cowhand looking for a meal, so what the hell did it matter? When it got too itchy, he stropped his razor, heated some water, and laboriously scraped it off. He smiled ruefully at the thought. Julie would have made him shave every day, but that was a long time ago, and Julie was now only a distant memory.

Cletus Rawlins sat on his front porch in a rough chair he made himself, idly watching the valley floor far below in the mid-afternoon. His cabin was twenty miles from the nearest town, and he liked it that way. Once every six months, he saddled up and took two pack horses to the crossing to put in supplies. Otherwise, he cherished his isolated loneliness, and the remoteness of the two hundred deeded acres of timber he called home.

He often saw deer and elk because he never hunted within ten miles of the cabin. He liked watching the wildlife, and even saw a black bear now and then. He fed a covey of quail just down the slope, and squirrels fearlessly came right up on the porch looking for a handout. They were never disappointed.

Finally, he rose and caught up his Winchester. His headache was finally receding, and the queasiness that went with it. Glancing around one last time, he was about to go feed the livestock when something caught his eye. It was a small figure slowly leading a horse along the valley trail below, and even at this distance, he could see that the horse was lame. Sighing, he went to the corral and saddled his horse. Then he roped a second horse, and headed down the hill.

The forest floor was heavy in pine needles, so he rode almost silently and was nearly on top of the stranger leading the limping horse before he was seen. The startled cry made Cletus Rawlins’ jaw drop, because the figure leading the horse was a young woman. He drew up and tipped his hat.

“Beggin’ your pardon, ma’am. Didn’t mean to sneak up on you like that, but horses don’t make much commotion on them soft pine needles. I seen you from my cabin up yonder, and that your horse was lamed up, so I come to help.”

The young woman nodded. She looked to be about twenty.

“I should not have cried out like that, but I was lost in my own thoughts when I should have been paying attention. You could just as easily have been a bear or a mountain lion.”

“Bear maybe, but not likely a lion. I’ve lived up there nigh on to ten years, and I’ve yet to see a catamount.”

He spat over his shoulder and indicated the spare horse.

“Brought you a mount. We’d best take the saddle off your mare, put it on my gelding, and head up to the cabin. You hungry Miss…?”

“It’s Miss Hungerford, and yes, I could eat.” She looked down at her feet.

“I’m afraid I left the ranch in anger, and did not prepare properly. Then Molly lamed herself, and I was in a real pickle until you came along. I thank you for coming to my aid, Mister…I’m afraid I don’t know your name either.”

She smiled, and he realized for the first time that she was a beautiful young woman.

“Yes ma’am. Name’s Rawlins. Cletus Rawlins.”

“Then I’m thanking you, Mister Cletus Rawlins.” She walked back to Molly and started removing her saddle. Cletus nodded in appreciation. She was a western woman, no doubt about that. He dismounted and went to help.

The cabin was a surprise to her. The old man was unshaven and a little unkempt, but the cabin was neat and clean, as was the small barn and corral. He had already apologized for his appearance, mumbling something about seeing no need until now. She found herself liking him more and more, as he talked. He was obviously lonely, and felt the need to talk now that he had a listener, but she found his stories to be fascinating, so listening was easy. Finally, the talk got around to her.

“My father is not an easy man, Mister Rawlins. Oh, I love him I suppose, but I’m not sure that I like him very much. My mother died bearing me, so maybe he’s bitter about that and blames me. I don’t know. All I know is that he treats me more like a maid than a daughter. In fact, as soon as I was old enough to clean house and cook, he fired old Mary, the woman he hired to raise me and keep house. She was the only mother I ever had, and he just fired her one day. I never saw her again.”

Cletus handed her a plate of beef and beans, along with a loaf of fresh baked bread. She was surprised at how good it tasted. The old man could cook.

He sat down across from her and absentmindedly rubbed his beard as he listened to her talk about her life on the Hungerford ranch. He’d heard talk himself about the Rafter H and the hard man who owned it, but it was none of his concern…until now.

She finished talking, and they sat silently, sipping their coffee. Finally, Cletus Rawlins cleared his throat.

“I always figured that the best way to work a problem is to face it head on. I’m thinking that we ought to ride to the Rafter H in a few days, and have a talk with Hungerford…”

“Bob. His name is Bob Hungerford.“

“Yes ma’am…have a talk with Bob Hungerford, and see what comes of it. Then you can decide what you want to do.

He peered at her from under bushy brows.

“I’ll back whatever you decide, young lady.”

There was a sudden steely resolve in the last part of what he said, and she realized that this old man was not someone who allowed others to push folks around. She watched him as he moved around cleaning up after supper, and there was no wasted motion. There was no fat on him at all, and his shoulders were broad and strong. His hands were large, and when he pulled the saddle off Molly, she saw that he did it with one hand and easily. She decided that she would go back and confront her father.

Cletus thought Molly would be healed well enough to make the trip, but while the mare was improved, she still wasn’t fit to travel, so they rode out on two of his horses. After three hours of steady riding, Cletus asked how far it was to the Rafter H.

“We’ve been on it for the last two miles. Father owns ten thousand acres outright and controls all the land for miles around. I don’t actually know just how large it is. I don’t think anyone knows.”

She pointed to a hazy grove of cottonwoods in the distance.

“That’s the main house and barns. There are two more houses for use during roundups, but I’ve never seen them. Father won’t allow it.”

It was noon before they rode into the cool shade of the cottonwoods and stopped in front of the big house. Several curious ranch hands ambled close enough to hear, and several more were coming from the barns and bunkhouse. Then the front door to the main house slammed, and an angry looking man walked quickly up to their horses.

“You climb down off that damned horse and get to the house, Audrey. I’ll deal with you in a minute. Where’s Molly?”

“She’s lame. This kind gentleman has her in his corral, and I’m riding his horse.”

He glared at Cletus and shook his finger at him .

“If that mare ain’t back here in a week, I’ll have you hunted down and whipped for a horse thief.”

He turned around and started to walk back to the house.

“Hello, Jimmy. It’s been a long time.”

The man known as Bob Hungerford stopped in mid stride. He turned slowly around, and Audrey was astonished to see how ashen his face had become. He was staring at the old man, who was now standing on the ground with a short, double barreled shotgun in his hand and pointed in his general direction. Then the old man spoke again.

“Folks, this here feller is Jimmy Flanders, woman murderer and thief.”

He smiled, but it was not pleasant to see.

“You don’t recognize me for the beard and all the years, Jimmy, but I’m Cletus, and I ain’t dead.”

The man known as Bob Hungerford felt his knees buckle, and he had to grab the hitch rail to keep from falling. His mouth was open in shock and his eyes were wild with fear.

Cletus waved the ranch hands in closer.

“I’ll want all of you to witness this. Jimmy Flanders here was once my partner up on the Yuba River, where we were washing for gold, but he was so contrary that I finally just signed my part of the claim over and went on my own. He was some put out by that because I done most of the work. After a spell, I filed another claim on an old high bench and discovered a large crack in the bedrock that was just filthy with gold. By the time I got it cleaned out, the shack where my wife Julie and I lived had thousands in gold hid here and there.”

He paused and spat over his shoulder, never taking his eyes off Jimmy Flanders.

“That last night after I finished cleaning out the crack, I woke up and saw Jimmy here standing over me with a gun to my head. That’s the last thing I knew for almost a year.”

With his left hand he lifted the shock of gray hair from his forehead, exposing a deep, dimpled scar, and the blackness of a permanently tattooed powder burn. Audrey gasped, and the ranch hands looked at each other. Cletus nodded at Jimmy Flanders.

“That’s right , Jimmy. You shot me point blank, sure enough, but I did not die. The doctor said it can happen, but it was the first one he’d ever seen. Seems the brain is funny like that. Your bullet’s still in there somewhere because the doctor was afraid to take it out. Oh, I get bad headaches now and then, but I get by.”

He glanced at the others.

“But my wife Julie wasn’t so lucky. He shot her in the head too, and just like that she was gone. Like I said, your boss here is a woman killer.”

That brought an audible gasp. Just bothering a woman in the west usually ended in a hanging. If she was killed, it was almost certain.

Cletus Rawlins waved his hand around in a wide sweeping motion.

“All of this here was bought with my money, and so I’m taking it all back. One of you boys get a horse saddled for Jimmy here, and bring it by. He’s leaving, and he ain’t never coming back. If he does, I’ll kill him on sight.”

Realization was setting in on Jimmy Flanders. All his scheming and killing would be for nothing if he just rode away. The ranch and all the power that went with it would be gone forever, and that he simply could not abide. He felt the weight of the pistol he kept under his shirt, and he began to plan his next move. He looked at Cletus and shrugged.

“I ain’t armed, so I’ll need to fetch me a gun out of the house. A man can’t just ride off like that without a gun, what with renegade Indians still about.”

Cletus watched, saying nothing.

Jimmy Flanders turned as if to go to the house, and his hand disappeared under his shirt. But he had only just started to wheel and face Cletus Rawlins when the first blast from the shotgun hit him. Even then, he still managed to raise his pistol a little, but the second blast ended his worries forever.

For a long moment, they all stood in shock at the sudden violence. Then Cletus Rawlings addressed the crew.

“He forgot that I knew about that hideout gun.”

He looked around slowly at each man.

“There’s been a change in management and ownership. Y’all are all welcome to stay and work for me, if that suits you, or you can draw your pay and move on. What’ll it be?”

One red-headed cowboy pulled at his lip thoughtfully for a moment and then made up his mind. “I’ll stay.’ That was followed by a chorus of others also wanting to stay on. They instinctively liked their new boss and had never been partial to the old one.

“Fair enough. Four of you hitch up a wagon then, and haul this body far away from here and bury it deep. I don’t want him buried on this ranch.”

He turned to Audrey, who was still pale with shock.

“I’m sorry you had to see that, but he gave me no choice.”

She nodded her head slowly, staring at the body.

“My father lies dead. I suppose the grief will come later, but at the moment, I feel nothing at all.”

Cletus Rawlins stepped in front of her and gently lifted her chin until she was looking into his eyes. For the first time, she realized that they were a deep Irish green, like her own

“Jimmy Flanders shot me, killed my wife, and stole my money, but even that was not the worst of it.”

The tough old man’s eyes filled with tears.

“He also stole my baby daughter. Her name was Audrey, and until today, I always figured he just took her off somewhere and killed her out of spite. Neither him nor her was ever seen again, and it was two long years before I was even fit to look for her.”

He put his big arms around her and held her gently.

“Jimmy Flanders was not your father, Audrey. I’m your father.”

Latest posts by Will Starr (see all)

Will Starr

Will Starr is one of the finest short story authors to be found. He has a huge following and his works are well-loved because they carry down to earth themes with emotive stories that will touch your heart. They also carry a spiritual quality that readers can identify with. Will writes with passion to produce high quality stories and sometimes ventures into poetry. Most of his stories are based in the Old West, with an occasional contemporary drama. Will writes from his heart and soul to give readers the best.

23 thoughts on “Cletus Rawlins

  • October 7, 2016 at 4:55 PM

    Well not much can bring tears Will, but this did! Great story that like all your others take me back to the great westerns of my childhood. With a house full of brothers I had to hide my emotions and be a tough cowgirl but now it is great to just let the emotions through!
    You really have to be my favorite storyteller! I know before I read I will love it.

  • October 7, 2016 at 7:08 PM

    Thank you so much for your always kind and insightful comments, Jackie! I was unaware that you grew up with rowdy brothers during the heyday of the westerns.

  • October 7, 2016 at 7:42 PM

    Oh my gosh I love this story, Will. I read it before, but it has been a long time and enjoyed it just as much. Fantastic story and well-written. My Dad was a cowboy in his early years in Montana, so I heard a lot of stories about the old west from him. Your story brings back memories of some wild tales. Great work, my friend.

  • October 7, 2016 at 10:25 PM

    Thank you Phyllis! As a little boy and a fan of Roy Rogers, I once remarked to my dad that I wished he had been a cowboy. He said that as a boy and young man, he rode horses and herded cattle every day because he grew up on a dairy farm.

    I remember being in awe of that!

    • October 8, 2016 at 1:34 AM

      You know, Will … there has been a love affair in America with cowboys, horses and tales of the old west. Many great actors like Roy Rogers, Will Rogers, John Wayne were iconic American heroes. I find it very sad that the era of those movies ended. There was a time when every little boy wanted to be a cowboy and wanted a horse. Even girls loved to be like Annie Oakley or Calamity Jane. I was the middle middle child of seven (one older sister, one younger sister – two older brothers, two younger brothers) so I had the option of being a girly-girl like my sisters, or a cowboy like my brothers. Being a competitive tomboy I chose to be a cowboy and usually outdid my brothers in games. LOL I would even make up the games, I guess that was my early days of creative writing, inspired by my Dad’s stories of the wild west. Good grief I am talkative tonight. Cowboys on horses? I have always fallen hard for them, even when I grew up. That picture of you in the black hat is what first prompted me to follow you. I never regretted that.

      • October 8, 2016 at 10:14 AM

        The West is not entirely dead, Phyllis. Tombstone, Open Range, and the remake of The Magnificent Seven are all major hits. So was Lonesome Dove.

        Even if the west is no longer a popular genre, I’ll keep cranking them out just because they were such a major part of my early life and of the early life of the America we call home.

        • October 8, 2016 at 12:49 PM

          Yes, you are right, Will. I love Lonesome Dove and Magnificent Seven. I have not seen the others and will have to. Also, here in Nevada we have so many ghost towns to visit and it is like stepping back into the Old West. We had Hugh O’Brian take part in our County Fair about 10 years ago and it was a thrill to see him, dressed as he did in the TV series. Yes, the West is still alive. And I am very happy you continue to write about it.

          • October 8, 2016 at 1:32 PM

            I guess I missed this comment first time around, Phyllis!

            Before I began trying my hand at writing, I was a construction foreman for the JCPenney Department Store chain and was assigned to stores west of the Mississippi. My job included remodels, updates, and new stores. I was responsible for taking a shell and turning it into a finished store. It was a big responsibility and I loved it!

            One of those new stores was in Houston Texas where I took over the opening from another foreman who had a new assignment. It was a Grand Opening combined with a new merchandise roll-out, complete with a big celebrity to draw people in. It was Hugh O’Brian and I met him, which was a quite a thrill because I was a big Wyatt Earp fan when he starred in that series.

            He just passed away last month at 91.

  • October 8, 2016 at 1:27 AM

    Loved Roy Rogers too as a kid, but I was far from being a cowboy in NSW Australia. A great story, beautifully told and emotively written. You are indeed a great storyteller my friend. great work.

    • October 8, 2016 at 10:21 AM

      The Australian Outback with its stations and aboriginal peoples and the America West with its ranches and aboriginal peoples (Indians) are quite similar IMHO, Tony. One of my favorite ‘western’ movies is Quigley Down Under, even if it did make the American cowboy a little unbelievable and the Australians a little too evil.

      Thanks for the kind words!

  • October 8, 2016 at 2:48 AM

    Will, I loved this story when I read it awhile back on HubPages..and still love it. Cletus is a great character and should have a whole series of books written with him as the main character.

    • October 8, 2016 at 10:25 AM

      Read my comments to Tony, John, since you’re both Australians! My cousin was a Qantas captain for many years and he loved Australia. I’m surprised that he retired here.

      Another similarity between our countries is the gold. I’d love to come down and pan a few flakes.

  • October 8, 2016 at 7:00 AM

    I belive the may have been the first of many WillStarr stories I have read. WillStarr is not only a personal friend but one of the best short-story writers I have ever followed. His knowlege of the Old West is amazing and make the stories come to life. I am proud to have met him in person.

    • October 8, 2016 at 10:37 AM

      Thank you, Mike!

      For those who don’t know Mike, he’s a superb writer and a multi-talented business man who is also a licensed amateur radio operator.

  • October 8, 2016 at 10:06 AM

    Hello Will , Awesome story , It made me think about a older movie ,” The man from snowy river” and then ” Return to snowy river ” This is a Great story my friend ! Watch the movies when you can .

    • October 8, 2016 at 11:14 AM

      Thank you, Ed! I just read your story of the old soldier who fought as a boy in WWII in the horrendous Battle of the Bulge. It is superb, my friend, so I recommended it on Facebook and I’ll be back to read more Ed Fisher work!

  • October 8, 2016 at 1:33 PM

    Loved the imagery and the build up to this great story, and as always, was thrilled with the twist at the end. You are a fantastic story teller. I keep hearing that woman from the movie, The Songcatcher, singing out Cleeeeetus! Cletus! Wonderful to find you here.

  • October 8, 2016 at 10:03 PM

    Will, you write so well. This is a wonderful story. I’m a big fan of Louie L’Amour and you have a similar, yet still unique brand of writing in this genre. Do you have any books you’ve published? I’d love to read them if you do.

  • October 9, 2016 at 9:50 AM

    Thank you, Lori!

    I have two volumes of short stories and poems on Smashwords and their associated publishers in e-book form, but not for long. I know several people who have purchased them but I never got credit so I’m going to close my account.

    I may self-publish later. We’ll see.


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