Railroad War

    I heard the bullet hiss through the air a split second before the crack of the rifle shot.  Cursing under my breath, I dove to the ground behind a stack of railroad ties.  As two more bullets hit with a 'thwack' on the other side of the short wall created by the square cut wooden timbers, I cursed them again at the top of my lungs, "I didn't sign up for this! I'm an educated man for Christ's sake!"  Just then I noticed James, the little black water boy had also run over for cover and was crouched beside me.  "Pardon my mouth son."  "Why they shooting at us Mr. Ray?"  he asked, wide eyed.  Again at the top of my lungs, more for the shooters to hear than James, "Because their mothers didn't raise them right, and they've got no respect for free enterprise!"  This brought a few more bullets smacking into the other side of the stack of wood.  I could see that James hadn't understood, and was getting more frightened.  "You see that break in the tops of the mountains over there, son?" I asked him, pointing to the northwest. "Yes sir" he said, stretching his neck, but keeping his head low.  "They call that Royal Gorge.  There's only room for one rail line through there, and we're getting closer to it.  Now those fellows up there in the trees on that hillside, they work for Mr. W.J. Palmer, and his Denver & Rio Grande Railroad.  Mr. Palmer paid them to keep us from laying our Santa Fe Railroad tracks through that pass before he could get to it."  James turned that over in his head a couple of times.  "Well can't we hire somebody to shoot back?" he muttered quizzically.  The thought of this thing escalating into all out war troubled me immensely. 
    I had signed on as civil engineer for this branch of the AT&SF running west from La Junta, through Pueblo, and eventually up into Denver.  Being part of the survey team meant that we were out well ahead of the work crews, and had to fend for ourselves when problems like this cropped up.  Ordinarily, I wouldn't risk my neck by sticking around when bullets start flying, but I was being paid well for this gig, and I knew what I was getting into when I signed up.  They had struck gold up around Leadville, and the whole area was booming.  There's something about gold that just brings out the worst in people.  I called out to Tom Horton, our foreman, hoping he was within earshot.  "Can you do anything about this Mr. Horton?"  We had taken to the habit of calling each other by our last names recently, because it was so comical the way little James did it.  Tom chuckled before shouting back from not too far away.  "Bill and G.W. are off that direction hunting.  When they hear the shots, they should ride over and run those guys out of there.  I don't think there are more than a couple of them, just sit tight."  Before long, the shots stopped coming.  They weren't aiming to kill us, they hadn't even shot at our horses.  They were just taking pot shots.  Trying to slow down our work.  Probably they were just some local hands sent over to make a little mischief.  One day soon though, I was afraid the real killers would be called in.

The End

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