Winter lay upon the land, and following in the wake of cooler temperatures appeared the scourge of southeastern Arizona-rustlers. For a time Cochise County seemed free of them, after Old Man Clanton and his bunch were removed from the picture and Ike and his followers run off or killed. But they were back and of a new breed, not fussy in their thievery and not confined to rustling. They robbed and plundered stagecoaches and even the odd bank, if the occasion allowed.
Henry felt little cause to believe he and the men with him on a roundup were in much danger. McKey Ranch was a large concern, a small city unto it self. It would take gall and an obscene lust for money for any but the most organized band to attempt a raid.
Henry, Levi Cook, Jakob Sterling and Texas Jack Vermillion were rounding up a herd of mares to be brought in to the corrals. Many were close to foaling and Henry figured it best they be close in case of predators or worsening weather conditions.
The horses had wandered far out on the range and it took the better part of the day to gather them up, but eventually the job was finished and the men were on their way back to the ranch.
Texas Jack came along partly due to boredom at home. With Creek on a tear around the small ranch, Jack was left with little to do. And, he had an ulterior motive, an interest in a couple of Holliday blooded mares to add substance to his own growing herd. A delicate beauty of a bay, and a black, were Jack's choices. He had a feeling Henry would give him a good price.
The men moved the herd back from the foothills of the Huachucas toward the ranch, enjoying the brisk weather and the task at hand. Henry allowed his mind to wander in a bit of daydreaming. The first shot caught him totally off guard.
Men swooped down from every direction, a dozen at least, firing as they rode, taking out Cook and Sterling. Neither had so much as a moment to draw their rifles before being cut down.
Henry, close to the front of the herd, cut his horse hard and spurred the animal into a run. He pulled his Marlin and levered a round into the chamber.