The day’s drive had been a heavy one, the herd was well grazed and watered in the late afternoon, the night was fine; and so the 1,200 or 1,500 cattle in the herd were lying down quietly, giving no trouble to the night herders. Kit, therefore, was jogging slowly round the herd, softly jingling his spurs and humming some rude love song of the sultry sort cowboys never tire of repeating. The stillness of the night got him to thinking. With naught to interrupt it, Kit’s curiosity ran farther a field than usual.
Recently down at Lordsburg, with the outfit shipping a train-load of beeves, he had seen the Overland Express empty its load of passengers for supper, a crowd of well-dressed men and women, the latter brilliant with the bright colors cowboys love and with glittering gems. Tonight he got to thinking about them.
Wherever did they all come from? How ever did they get so much money? Surely they must come from ‘Frisco. No lesser place could possibly turn out such magnificence. Then Kit let his fancy wander off into crude cowboy visions of what ‘Frisco might be like, for he had never seen a city.
“What a buster of a town ‘Frisco must be!” Kit soliloquized. “Must have more’n a hundred saloons an’ more slick gals than the X brand has heifers. What a lot o’ fun a feller could have out thar! Only I reckon them gals wouldn’t look at him more’n about onct unless he was well fixed for dough. Reckon they don’t drink nothin’ but wine out thar, nor eat nothin’ but oysters. An’ wine an’ oysters costs money, oodles o’ money! That’s the worst of it! S’pose it’d take more’n a month’s pay to git a feller out thar on the kiars, an’ then about three months’ pay to git to stay a week. Reckon that’s jes’ a little too rich for Kit’s blood. But, jiminy! Wouldn’t I like to have a good, big, fat bank roll an’ go thar!”
Here was a crisis suddenly come in Kit’s life, although he did not then realize it. It is entirely improbable he had ever before felt the want of money. His monthly pay of 35 dollars enabled him to sport a pearl-handled six-shooter and silver-mounted bridle bit and spurs, kept him well clothed, and gave him an occasional spree in town. What more could any reasonable cowboy ask?
But tonight the very elements and all nature were against him. Even a light dash of rain to rouse the sleeping herd, or a hungry cow straying out into the darkness, would have been sufficient to divert and probably save him; but nothing happened. The night continued fine. The herd slept on. And, Kit was thus left an easy prey, since covetousness had come to aid curiosity in compassing his ruin.
“A bank roll! A big, fat, full-grown, long-horned, four-year-old roll! That’s what a feller wants to do ‘Frisco right. Nothin’ less. But whar’s it comin’ from, an’ when? S’pose I brands a few mavericks an’ gits a start on my own? No use, Kit; that’s too slow! Time you got a proper roll you’d be so old the skeeters wouldn’t even bite you, to say nothin’ of a gal a-kissin’ of you. ‘Pears like you ain’t liable to git thar very quick, Kit, ‘less you rustles mighty peart somewhar. Talkin’ of rustlin’, what’s the matter with that anyway?”
A cold glitter came in Kit’s light blue eyes. The muscles of his lean, square jaws worked nervously. His right hand dropped caressingly on the handle of his pistol.
“That’s the proper caper, Kit. Why didn’t you think of it before? Rustle, damn you, an’, ef you’re any good, mebbe so you can git to ‘Frisco afore frost comes, or anywhere else you likes. Rustle! By jiminy, I’ve got it; I’ll jes’ stand up that thar Overland Express. Them fellers what rides on it’s got more’n they’ve got any sort o’ use for. ‘Course they’ll kick, an’ thar’ll be a whole passle o’ marshals an’ sheriffs out after you, but what o’ that ? Reckon Old Blue’ll carry you out o’ range. He’s the longest winded chunk o’ horse meat in these parts. Then you’ll have to stay out strictly on the scout fer a few weeks, till they gits tired o’ huntin’ of you, so you can slip out o’ this yere neck o’ woods ‘thout leavin’ a trail.
“An’ Lord! but won’t it be fun! ‘Bout as much fun, I reckon, as doin’ ‘Frisco. Won’t them tenderfeet beller when they hears the guns a-crackin’ an’ the boys a-yellin’! Le’ see; wonder who I’d better take along?”
Scruples? Kit had none. Bred and raised a merry freebooter on the unbranded spoils of the cattle range, it was no long step from stealing a maverick to holding up a train.
With a man of perhaps any other class, a plan to engage in a new business enterprise of so much greater magnitude than any of those he had been accustomed to would have been made the subject of long consideration. Not so with Kit. Cowboy life compels a man to think quickly, and often to act quicker than he finds it convenient to think. The hand skilled to catch the one possible instant when the wide, circling loop of the lariat may be successfully thrown, and the eye and finger trained to accurate snap-shooting, do not well go with a mind likely to be long in reaching a resolution or slow to execute one.
So, Kit at once began to cast about for two or three of the right sort of boys to join him. Three were quickly chosen out of his own and a neighboring outfit. They were Mitch Lee and Frank Taggart, two cowboys of his own type and temper, and George Washington Cleveland, a black man, known as a desperate fellow and game for anything. It needed no great argument to secure the cooperation of these men. A mere tip of the lark and the loot to be had was enough. The boys saw their respective bosses. They “allowed they’d lay off for a few days and go to town.” So they were paid off, slung their Winchesters on their saddles, mounted their favorite horses, and rode away. They met in Silver City, coming in separately. There they purchased a few provisions. Then they separated and rode out of town, to rendezvous at a certain point on the Mimbres River.
The point of attack chosen was the little station of Gage (tended by a lone operator), on the Southern Pacific Railway west of Deming, a point then reached by the west-bound express at twilight. The evening of the second day after leaving the Gila, Kit and his three compadres rode into Gage. One or two significant passes with a six-shooter hypnotized the station agent into a docile tool. A dim red light glimmered away off in the east. As the minutes passed, it grew and brightened fast. Then a faint, confused murmur came singing over the rails to the ears of the waiting bandits. The light brightened and grew until it looked like a great dull red sun, and then the thunder of the train was heard.