There's an Angel Here

by Beth

Notes: I had to take some liberties when it came to writing up the past for the character Chris Larabee. Please bear with me, I do follow the little canon the producers gave us from the show with such characters as Top Hat Bob Spikes, Buck, Ella Gains, Sara and Adam. I also discovered some inconsistencies in the show and made the decision that Chris’ family had only been dead about 2 ½ years before the pilot episode because in the episode Obsession (the second to last episode) Chris was found in Purgatory, by Buck and JD, getting drunk because it had been three years since his family had been taken from him.

Special Thanks: To Elisia, Antoinette, Katherine, and Julie for keeping me on my toes.

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Chris looked down at his hand and remembered everyone he’d killed, the horses he’d broke, and the lives he’d touched. Dust blew around his horses legs and the big black stomped his feet in reaction. Chris rested his arms across the saddle horn and looked again at the small town in the distance. He could hear gunshots being fired and the distant yells of men. It was another nameless town that had been built by Eastern city folk who didn’t have a clue about the rough west. Laws out here didn’t mean anything…until you got caught.

So much had happened since the deaths of his wife and son. He had changed so much. He was sure his father wouldn’t recognize him and his mother, well, she’d want to know why he was in so much pain. A smile came to Chris’ lips when he remembered the first shirt Sarah had made him. It had been light blue with a white collar. The smile quickly vanished as he remembered the precious garment had burned with his wife and son. Now, all he wore was black.

Chris focused his attention on the town in front of him. He needed a drink. He kicked his horse’s sides, and spitting out his cheroot, he rode toward the place where heroes were killed…or born. He hoped to catch up with an old friend, maybe share a drink or two, and then move on. He didn’t realize destiny had other plans…

Chapter 1

Indiana 1851

Dirt swirled around the front steps of the old wooden porch. The windows on either side of the door were opened allowing the summer’s early air to enter the simple yet inviting log home. An older man, not yet forty years in age, but due to his ailing health and many long years of working in the sun, looking much older than his actual years suggested, sat watching his fourteen year old son through the dust streaked windows and blowing drapes.

Tears came to his eyes but never fell as he watched his son. Adam coughed again and wiped his mouth clean of the blood that was slowly drowning him. He was afraid to admit he was dying, but the crimsoned-stained handkerchief told a different story. His wife and two daughters had perished from scarlet fever not long ago. When Rachel had died, a very large part of Adam died with her. Since when did a man who’d lived on the land all his life grow dependent on a woman who’s blonde hair glistened in the sunlight and with eyes so blue they melted his heart? God, how he missed her. Chris was fair like his mother, Adam compared, hair so blonde it looked white when the sun hit it, but even at fourteen it was obvious he would have his father’s muscular frame and height. Slowly he rubbed his eyes and looked again at his son and realized for the first time he’d become a man. There weren’t any warning signs; it was if, in the passing of one night, he had become a man with all a man’s responsibilities.

Adam coughed again and leaned back in his rocker. He knew in his heart that Chris wouldn’t stay. Farming wasn’t in his blood. His mother had followed her heart and left the big city, Chris would follow his and leave Indiana. He wasn’t meant to live his life raising wheat and barley. No, it was someplace else, in his blood ran the need to raise and train horses, to succeed and build his own family. Adam was disappointed, of course he would be, but at the same time he couldn’t be prouder of the young man that was his son.


Chris cinched up the girth and let the stirrup fall back into place. Tip, his piebald gelding, waited patiently, cocking his left hind hoof and resting his hindquarters while his master retrieved his bridle. The cattle in the nearby corral butted heads while scrounging for the last morsel of food. Tip flicked his ears forward when Chris stepped back into view and then with practiced ease, he slipped the bridle over the gelding’s nose. In one swift move the young man was up and the pair took off for their morning ride.


Chris pulled Tip to a stop and dismounted in front of the small cemetery. Inside, three graves rested undisturbed beneath a large oak tree. White crosses, now aged by weather, bore the names of the family he’d lost. Rachel Larabee, died 1848, wife, mother and friend, Opal Larabee, age 9, and finally baby Anne. They had all died from the scarlet fever. Chris cleared the markers of the dried weeds and dusted off the tops of the three white crosses. It would bother his father to know he was here, not because of the time it took from his day, but because of the memories that would flood his mind while he was there.

Death wasn’t unfamiliar to a young Christopher Larabee. It was a part of life and something a farmer’s child learned early on. However, losing his mother and sisters was different than losing a family pet or a friend. He hadn’t expected the feelings of sorrow, anger, or abandonment to invade his world. Of course he didn’t allow these feelings to show, there wasn’t any time. His father was ill, the farm needed tended, and the cattle needed to be sold. So he buried his feelings and did what he had to. He took on the responsibilities of the land and his home. At thirteen he had quit school and started farming.

Chris remounted Tip and headed off to look the land over once again. He couldn’t remember a hotter summer or one so dry. This year’s harvest was suffering…if they didn’t get a heavy rain, and soon, they would lose their entire yearly crop. 

The closest neighbor they had was a wealthy landowner by the name of Rupert Maloney. He and Adam Larabee had become good friends over the years and Chris had always been a welcomed guest in Maloney’s home. When Rachel had died Adam had shut himself off from his friends and became a recluse. Rupert had tried repeatedly to get Adam back into the social circles of the living but to no avail. Chris however, found himself at the Maloney home enjoying their council and abundant stock of horseflesh. It was his only means of escape.

Chris pulled his mount to a stop and looked over the dying field of wheat. Off in the distance he could see the large Maloney Ranch. Cattle and horses filled the pastures and ranch hands worked casually about their jobs. He leaned forward and rested his arms on the saddle horn. The sky was clear and there was no sign of a welcoming storm was in the distance. Chris turned Tip back towards the dying crops to finish his work.        


A dull light shown through the windows of the simple log home. Darkness had long since fallen as Chris prepared the animals for the night. He slapped his leg with his hat and dust plumed around him. A night owl cooed in the distance, accompanying a coyote’s cry. The light of the moon lit up the ground and glistened off the backs of the cattle in the round corral. The house was darker than usual and Chris paused before heading up the steps. He didn’t want to tell his father, the man who had worked until his fingers bled, that the land was dying. The harvest was dying and he didn’t know what to do about it. Even with the miracle of a heavy rainstorm, it probably wouldn’t be enough.

Chris stepped up onto the porch and slowly opened the door. The hinges squeaked and he chastised himself for not having repaired them sooner. He didn’t want to wake his father if he was already asleep. A plate of biscuits sat on the table next to the lantern that was barely burning. He smiled, his father always made biscuits for dinner. It was the only thing he could make that was edible. Chris threw his hat on the hook next to the door and tried to sneak across the floor without causing the boards to creak and moan.

“Pa,” Chris said softly, noticing the limp hand resting on the edge of the rocker. It wasn’t unusual for the old man to fall asleep looking out the window. Slowly he stepped up to the rocker and placed his hand on his father’s shoulder. “Pa,” he said again, slightly surprised that he didn’t get a response. He knelt down to face him and his heart sank.

Chris carefully grabbed the cold frail fingers and held them while his father stared out the window. His eyes were open but lifeless and the young Chris Larabee realized he was now truly alone. Tears streamed down his face unashamedly while he looked at the man he’d grown to admire most in his life. Now he was dead. Now he was with Rachel and the children. Perhaps now, he was happy. Chris rested on his knees and gently kissed his father’s cold forehead. “Goodbye,” he whispered sadly.

He stood up and looked around the meagerly furnished cabin and wiped the tears he’d shed from his cheeks. Placing his father’s hand back into the position he’d found it in he then headed for the door. He had a coffin to build…and a hero to bury. 

Chapter 2

The Maloney home was anything but small. It looked out of place among the gentle rolling hills and flat pastures. For the most part the land it rested on was peaceful. The local Indian population had been forcefully removed ten years prior into the Kansas territory. A few bands still remained but those were composed of women and children and those of mixed blood.

1853 was quickly coming to an end and the past two years seemed like a blur to Chris. He had taken everything in stride and had managed to get a job as a horse handler for Rupert Maloney. It was a job the young man quickly adapted to and became very good at. It wasn’t long before Chris was the lead horseman for ‘Maloney Farms’. Men who had been breaking and training horses for years were amazed at the young man’s gift and determination with the beasts. 

Chris had buried himself in training the well-bred horses. It was his way of avoiding the pain of his father’s death. It had hit him harder than he was willing to admit. He missed his father’s bad coffee, and even worse cooking, but most of all he missed his laugh. It was a deep laugh that came from the soul and echoed throughout every room. The more he thought about his father the more he thought about his mother. The way she would sing gospel hymns while she washed the dishes or hung clothes on the clothing line. With a single look she could change the tension in a room. He missed the way his sisters would giggle and play or watch him as he worked. He missed them all.

If someone were to ask him to pick out his family in a group of people, Chris didn’t know if he could do it. Their faces were fading. Now all that he had were memories and those too were fading. He held close to his heart the gold watch that his father had owned and a simple brooch that his mother had cherished. That was all he had to hold onto and in many ways he hoped they would be enough. He remembered the little things but their faces were fading. And for Chris, that was the most devastating.


The large two-year-old black bay quarter horse loped by as Chris took the young colt through his paces. Buckshot, as many of the ranch hands had come to call the animal due to his sharp temperament, had come to respect his blonde handler. Chris seemed to be the only person on the ranch who could handle the beast and Maloney himself was impressed.

With a simple click of his tongue Chris signaled for the big horse to stop and he did so without hesitation. The big colt trotted forward and nudged his handler’s shoulder with his soft velvety nose. A loud chuckle grabbed both Chris and Buckshot’s attention and they looked toward the corral gate. With his fingers laced together and his arms resting over the top railing Mr. Maloney stood with an amused look on his face. Chris snapped the lead back on the halter and walked with the horse toward the gate.

“Dorty’s got a bet going with Smitty that you’re going to get tossed the first time you try and mount that bit of horseflesh,” Rupert said with a smile. He watched as Chris nodded his head in understanding and a mischievous grin appeared on his face.

“Hell,” the young blonde chuckled, “Dorty ain’t got sense enough to pour piss out of a boot.”

“Well, son, I ain’t gonna argue that point with you.” Rupert smiled and watched as the colt stood patiently beside his handler. Occasionally he would nip at the lead rope and flick his ears but other than that he was completely content. “How soon before you throw a saddle up on ‘im?”

“‘Bout an hour,” Chris answered with a smile.

“You break that horse without getting killed…you can consider ‘im yours.” Maloney didn’t hesitate with his statement. He meant it. “Figure he’ll make you a good stud for when you’re ready to start your own farm.” He slapped the top rail with the palm of his hand and turned back toward his house.

“Sir,” Chris called after the retreating form, “I can’t.” He shook his head, holding the cotton lead rope in his hand.

“You’d better,” Maloney replied. “Ain’t goin’ to be anyone else around here that can handle that beast.”

Chris chuckled and gave his newly acquired horse a pat on the neck. He was confident in his abilities of breaking horses. Buckshot shook his head in response. Chris led the horse to the center of the corral and tied him securely to the post. Most friendships start slow and no two individuals knew that better than the young blonde handler and the large black bay two-year-old. And like most friendships they had their share of ‘complications’. This was one of those times.

The old saddle rested on the fence and the horse eyed it cautiously as Chris pulled it from the top rail. Neither man nor beast noticed the spectators that had come out of the bunkhouse. They were there to watch the show. Buckshot stood his ground as the blanket came up over his withers. He didn’t mind the ground-work, sure it took some time to get used to the fact that this blonde skinny ‘kid’ was making him run around in circles. However, he was having difficulties with these foreign objects that the kid wanted to put on his back. The blanket smelled of stale sweat and the saddle smelt similar to the dead carcass of a dried out cow. He wasn’t real sure that he wanted either item on his back.

As soon as the saddle was cinched up Buckshot blew. He pulled forcefully on the post in the center of the corral and pushed his new master out of his way. He blew hard and snorted and finally calmed down once he realized the item on his back wasn’t going to be removed.

Chris spoke in a low even tone as he approached his horse. The animal shook with fear and eyed him suspiciously. A white lather had started to build up on each side of the horse’s jaw next to the leather halter. “Ho,” Chris said again and again. He reached up and quietly patted the horse’s strong neck and almost immediately Buckshot calmed down.

The bay nudged his handler in the arm not understanding what was happening. He took comfort in the steady voice that echoed in his ears and the hands that continued to stroke his muscular frame. He didn’t even mind as the cinch was tightened. When he was released from the post he took off like a bullet and kicked his hooves into the air.

Whistles and laughter could be heard from around the arena fence. All of the ranch hands had gathered to watch the rodeo. Chris stood patiently in the center of the corral watching as his horse ran and bucked in circles trying to rid himself of the saddle on his back.

“Hey Larabee!” Dorty called, “you want in?” He motioned to the hat he held in his hand that was filled with change.

“What are my odds?” Chris grinned wickedly. He needed a new saddle and winning this bet it would go a long way in getting him one.

“Five to one that you’re goin’ to get pitched,” Dorty responded with a grin.

“You’re on,” Chris challenged. He pulled a dollar and 73 cents out of his pocket and handed it to Dorty.

Smitty, the ranch’s blacksmith, smiled and tipped his head in Chris’ direction. Obviously, he was one of the few that believed in the young man’s ability with the horse. There couldn’t have been two men alive that were more different. Jonathan ‘Smitty’ O’Donald, was about as Irish as they came. His red hair, ivory skin, and freckles let everyone he came into contact with know of his origin. He stood well over six feet tall and the muscles in his arms made his shirt strain at the seams. He was missing his left eyebrow from a fire he was in as a boy but he didn’t let it bother him. According to him, if God wanted his eyebrow that bad, he could have it. Then there was William Denny or as everyone had come to call him, ‘Dorty’. The man wasn’t any bigger than a minute but he made up for it with his attitude. He had long black hair he kept in a ponytail. His clothing hung off him like that of a scarecrow’s. Everyone was convinced the only reason his pants stayed up was because of the gun belt that was strapped up tight against his hips. Dorty was always the first to give advice and the last to take it but he was a good man to have in a bind.

Smitty had taken Chris under his wing from the moment he stepped onto the property. He’d known the boy’s father and saw fit to watch out for him after Adam had passed. He taught the boy how to shoe his own horse, and Tip had been the perfect project. He’d also taught him how to handle a wild horse. Chris knew a lot about farming and he knew a lot about horses, but he didn’t know enough. That was simply because he’d never had the opportunity to learn. Now he did and Smitty intended to show him.

Dorty had taken it upon himself to show Chris the laws of the land. He started to teach the young man how to shoot a pistol. A pistol wasn’t something Adam had taught his son how to use. A rifle? Yes. Hunting had to be done, protecting the family had to be done, but killing a man intentionally didn’t. Adam didn’t want his son to know the horrors of killing someone and that’s all pistols were used for. Being a young man, Chris didn’t understand that and he wouldn’t for years to come. So when Dorty offered to show him how to handle a pistol, he jumped at the chance. Like Dorty, Chris decided that he liked the feel of the gun belt cinched up tight, rather than hanging loose on his hip. He felt like he had more control, so that’s how he wore it. Every payday he’d buy a new box of ammunition and practice. The money he’d made after he’d sold the farm went right into savings. He made a promise to his family that he wouldn’t spend a dime of it until he found a place where he could raise his own family. He wanted to buy a small piece of land and raise some good horses. He wanted to raise his children the way he’d been raised.

Buckshot slid to a stop and breathed heavily. His nostrils flared and he stared at the men across the fence. The comforting sound of a soft voice caught his attention and he took a step forward. Chris rubbed the horse’s muzzle and spoke gently to him. Sweat glistened off his coat and the white lather seemed more abundant.

Chris attached the soft cotton lead back onto the halter and threw it over Buckshot’s neck. Chris tightened up the girth and walked the bay for a few steps to calm him down. He didn’t want to use a bridle and a bit. The bit was too harsh an instrument for a young colt, so he only relied on the halter and lead. He could hear the others heckle him, daring him to get up and on the horse. Others were asking him if he wanted a pine box or a gunnysack to be buried in. Chris ignored them.

Carefully and slowly, the young blonde stuck his foot in the stirrup. Holding tightly onto the cotton lead, he slipped up into the saddle. Buckshot stood still for just a moment and it was long enough for Chris to get situated. The horse arched his neck and bowed his back, indicating his intentions to his rider. With the grace of a true bronco Buckshot flew through the air trying every tactic he knew of to dismount his rider. The ranch hands standing along the fence line jumped back when the horse got close enough to cause them bodily harm.

As moments passed by, hollers of encouragement echoed around the arena. Now, nobody cared about winning or losing the bet. They wanted to see the kid succeed.

Buckshot continued to maneuver around the arena then slowed to a trot. His sides heaved from exhaustion and his coat was covered in sweat. He tossed his head and took comfort in the feeling of a hand rubbing the crest of his neck. He stopped suddenly, shaking only slightly, but awaiting for his next command. He’d done all he could to rid himself of the rider on his back but like most things in his life he had to comply with what was asked of him. He felt his halter being pulled to the left and he followed without thought, then again he was being pulled to the right. The soft voice of his rider brought comfort to his ears and he did as he was asked.

Chris smiled when he felt the horse beneath him give in to his command. He continued to ride the horse in circles at a very slow walk. The animal was exhausted and Chris didn’t want to push him any further.

“Chris Larabee!” Dorty called, “you got balls of steel you have.” He laughed when the kid on the horse looked up and smiled.

“Seems you owe me some money,” Chris responded back.

“That I do boy…that I do.”


The town of Jackson could barely be called a town at all, but it was the closest place where supplies could be purchased for surrounding farms and ranches. There were only three standing wood buildings. The rest of the town were makeshift tents and lean-two’s. The Jackson Mercantile stood next to the bank and across the short street was the saloon. There was no doubt that the town was growing and many would complain about the questionable reputations that were growing up around it. Saloon girls, dressed in lace corsets and black stockings, hung from the balcony of the Black Palomino Saloon calling for new customers. Respectable women didn’t dare walk down the same side of the streets as those…harlots…as they were called. That didn’t, however, detour the men. Even the local minister was known to frequent the saloon. What he did there remained a mystery, but he had been known to come in for a spell and spend some of his ‘offering’ money.

Dorty, Smitty, Chris, and four others from the Maloney Ranch dismounted and tied their mounts to the hitching rails out in front of the saloon. They had brought Chris into town to celebrate. After three days of working with Buckshot the horse was turning out to be an ideal mount for the young man. He’d even ridden him into town. The others let Chris tie the animal to a hitching post all his own simply because they were afraid of the beast. Buckshot had a tendency to either like you or hate you and if he hated you…look out.

Dorty’s intention was to get Chris drunk and then get him laid…or vice versa. Even Smitty agreed. Chris was sixteen, he was a man, and he needed to know the feeling of a soft woman and a killer hangover. So the hired hands all agreed to take the kid to town and show him more than just the necessities of life. Now he needed to learn some of the more luxurious things.

Smitty entered through the batwing doors of the Saloon and smiled, breathing in the heavy air. Cheap perfume, smoke, sweat, and whiskey filled the air. The smell was almost overwhelming. Even Chris had to stand back a moment to allow his senses to get accustomed to the odors. Dorty brushed passed him with the only intention of grabbing a bottle of whiskey and his favorite girl, Dolly Mae, a fiery-haired red head with a temper to match.

The four other hands grabbed a table in the back and started on their poker game while Smitty pushed Chris toward the table where Dorty was now sitting.

Dolly Mae slipped onto Dorty’s lap and immediately downed the shot of whiskey the man had just poured. If it wasn’t for the fact that she was just as short and just as thin as the man she was straddling, everyone would have thought that Dorty wouldn’t be able to handle some of the bigger gals walking around the saloon. Woman of all shapes, sizes, and hair colors strutted through the maze of tables and down the stairs with one thing on their mind: making some money.

Smitty pulled a chair out for his young companion and ordered him to have a seat. Chris looked around at the activity in awe. Smitty placed a shot glass of whiskey in front of the young man and slapped him on the shoulder. He loved the eyes of youth but one day, like everyone else in the saloon, these images wouldn’t be a surprise anymore.

A woman with long dark auburn hair that fell gracefully around her shoulders stepped up to the table and gently clasped Chris’ jaw, forcing him to look at her. Melinda’s face was heavily painted but her dark green eyes captured the attention of the young man in her grasp. “You’re new,” she said with a smile.

“Melinda,” Smitty acknowledged. He watched in amusement, as Chris looked up at the woman unable to utter a word.

“Buy me a drink,” she winked at the young man sitting before her.

Chris reached for the bottle of whisky never taking his eyes off the woman. He continually missed the bottle until a very amused Smitty placed it in his hand. Melinda grabbed the bottle around the neck and took a long pull, then she grinned seeing the young man’s shocked expression.

“You’ll have to forgive the boy.” Dorty smiled, as he blew a strand of Dolly Mae’s hair out of his face.

“Looks like a man to me,” she replied, releasing his chin she grabbed a handful of Chris’ shirt. She pulled him to his feet and started him toward the stairs. She knew what he was there for and she intended to teach him well.

“Think he’ll be all right?” Smitty asked, taking another drink.

“No,” Dorty replied with a loud belly laugh.

Chapter 3

Buckshot, chewed impatiently on his bit. Chris sat in the saddle overlooking the herd of cattle. Dorty and two other hands were roping the last few calves that needed to be branded. The smell of burnt flesh and hair filled the air. The fire in the center of the corral continued to burn as Chris was ordered to separate another steer. The cattle moved almost as one as the big horse moved through the herd of Black Angus.

Chris told Rupert that he was leaving the ranch after the branding was complete to pursue another path in his life. Rupert was sorry to see the young man go but he understood his desire. Smitty and Dorty too were going to miss having the kid around. They understood his need to leave and find, in essence, his niche in life. In the span of three years the young Larabee had come along way. He could handle himself in a fight, shoot the eye out of a penny, and work a horse like no other. Chris, in turn, had given them all a new outlook on life through the eyes of a young man. He didn’t want to go but he knew that if he didn’t he might never leave.

The last steer to be branded was quickly separated from the herd and Dorty with help from the others quickly had the animal roped and branded. As soon as they finished Chris opened the gate and ushered the group into the adjoining pasture. Water was dumped on the fire and the branding irons were laid in the dirt to cool. All the men, thinking as one unit, threw their hats off and with yells of relief they ran toward the narrow stream that rested a few hundred feet away from the corral. Chris watched them with an amused look on his face.

“You should join ‘em,” Smitty said, walking out of the lean-to shed where he worked. The leather apron was scarred with burn marks. His shirt was soaked in sweat but, as always, Smitty had a smile on his face.

Chris raised his eyebrows and grinned. He dismounted and walked toward the big man. “I’ve got to head out.” It was a statement, not a question and the man standing in front of him knew it.

Smitty nodded his head and stuck out his hand. “It has been a real pleasure workin’ with you Mr. Larabee,” he said, noticing Chris’ smile, “and I hate to see you go.”

“Take care of ol’ Tip for me…if I find a place I’ll come back and get ‘im.”

“You know I will,” Smitty responded, he new Chris wouldn’t be back. Tip was getting pretty old and the horse was enjoying his retirement being used only on occasion for Rupert’s two small children. Chris had trained his new horse well and the animal was loyal to him. Granted they still had their ‘disagreements’ but for the most part the horse and rider couldn’t have been more compatible.

Chris had packed up his bunk after he’d awakened, getting ready for his ride out. He wanted to make it as far as Jackson before stopping for the night…he had a friend to say goodbye to.

Buckshot tugged on the bridle while reaching for a strand of grass. Chris gave the horse his head for a moment and then looked toward Rupert who was making his way toward him. The ranch hands were slowly coming out of the river, dripping wet. Smitty laughed when Dorty made his way to the small group.

“Chris,” Rupert said, holding his hand out for the young man to shake. “You ever need a place to stay, don’t even think about asking…you’re always welcome here.” He handed Chris a small envelope filled with his last pay.

Chris took the envelope with a smile and tipped his head in appreciation. Dorty stepped up behind him and slapped him on the shoulder.

“Hate to see you go kid.” The man who was known for being overbearing, arrogant, and as having a heart of stone was finding it difficult to say goodbye. He wouldn’t let his emotions take control. Dorty smiled to those around him, and then he quickly headed off toward the bunkhouse. Perhaps a dry set of clothes would help his mood.

Smitty and Rupert watched as Chris tied his bedroll to the back of his saddle and without saying goodbye, he made his farewells. It was an unspoken communication. Everyone at the ranch knew the kid had a good life facing him and they couldn’t blame him for wanting to grab hold of it. He was a young, determined, strong willed, and tough as nails Indiana farm boy. He’d make it.

Rupert slapped Smitty on the back knowing the Irishman had a soft spot for the young man riding off the property. Smitty had never been an overwhelming presence, despite his overwhelming size, but to look at him now… Never one to say what he needed or how he was feeling, he looked back toward the blacksmith shop and slowly went back to work.


Chris really didn’t know where he was going, he just knew he was going. For the first time in his life he was seeing more than what he’d ever experienced. Towns were larger, people were stranger, and jobs were harder to come by. It was hard saying goodbye to his friends and even harder saying goodbye to Melinda. He wasn’t in love with her but he had affection for her. She’d taught him a lot about life, love, and women. But he had to leave.

As he rode up over the hill he could see off in the distance the town of Benton. It would be his last stop before leaving Indiana. He didn’t know if it would be his last time or if he would come back. What did it matter? There was a whole country to explore and learn about, why limit himself to just one state?

Buckshot walked patiently, flicking his ears back and forth, listening to his master’s commands and the noises surrounding them. The ride had been long and tedious and the big horse was looking forward to a good rest. He looked with interest around the newest town. Unlike the others, there seemed to be an event happening that had captured, not only other horses, but peoples’ attention as well.

Chris stopped in front of the livery and dismounted. He grabbed his saddlebags and bedroll and handed his horse’s reins to the stable boy. “Make sure he gets a stall to himself and feed him some extra oats,” he ordered, before heading to the hotel.

“Yes sir,” the short, redheaded boy replied. Buckshot snorted but he was too tired to complain as he followed the boy into the stable.


The desk clerk looked up when the door opened. It wasn’t unusual to see people from all walks of life enter his establishment. And the young man in front of him wasn’t any different.

“Can I get a room?” Chris asked, searching his pockets for some change.

“Well,” the clerk responded, “you’re in luck. Got one room left.” He pushed the register in front of his newest customer. “Put your name or mark here.”

Like so many of the registers he’d already seen, many of the occupants had signed their name and many had simply put a fingerprint. Chris signed his name and looked up in question.

“Thirty-five cents, and you’re in room eleven at the top of the stairs.”

“What’s all the action about?” Chris asked, handing the money over.

“Fair,” was the short simple reply.

Chris nodded his head in understanding and then headed up the stairs to his room.


People of all ages gathered at the fair. Indians dressed in traditional attire stood like trophies to be won in front of the ‘Indiana History’ booth. Tables were filled with pies and canned goods, some with ribbons and others without. A farmer stood with a Hereford calf in his arms yelling, “Guess the weight and win.” Chris smiled and continued on his way. Contests of every kind were being played with prizes and awards ranging from money to food.

Four men stood, two stationed on either side of two tree trunks. The contest involved sawing through the log at the fastest speed. The team who cut through first won six dollars. Bets were being made on the side and money seemed to change hands rather quickly. When the shot went off the crowd started cheering and the contestants franticly began sawing the wood.

Team A seemed to be ahead and the crowd cheered them on, encouraging them to saw faster. But team B was quickly catching up. A loud roar of disappointment echoed throughout the area, as team B finished first. The two hot and sweaty contestants congratulated each other by vigorously shaking hands. Winnings were quickly handed out as disappointed bet makers and cheerful victors made their way to the next contest.

Chris jumped when a wiry old man with short salt and pepper hair slapped him on the shoulder. “Now sonny,” the gruff voice started, “why don’t ya come along with me and play a little contest.” Before Chris could respond, the old man continued. “Ya ever done rail splittin’?…Even if ya ain’t, it’s easy enough for a young strong feller like yourself. Ya see,” he started pushing Chris to the center of a group of people who had gathered to watch the next contest, “there’ll be two of ya, that young man over there,” he pointed to a kid who was just a few years older than Chris, “and yourself.” His competitor’s hair was long and straggly, his eyes were too small, and it looked like he was trying to grow a beard, but was failing. “That there is Bob Spikes, he’s won this contest for the past three years runnin’ and I think you’re just the man to beat ‘im. It costs twenty-five cents to enter the contest and if ya win, ya get five whole dollars, enough to get ya new suit. If ya lose, well, you won’t be takin’ nothin’ home with ya but your will for tryin’.”

Chris thought for a moment and decided to give it a try. Five dollars would last him a long time and he knew how to split rails, he’d done it all his life. Slowly he reached into his pocket and pulled out the money and handed it to the skinny gray haired man.

“Alrighty then!” he man called, grabbing everyone’s attention. “We’ve got ourselves a challenger,” the old man leaned in Chris’ direction, “what’s your name laddie?”

“Chris, Chris Larabee.”

“Challenger Chris Larabee is goin’ up against three year rail splittin’ champ, Bob Spikes.” The crowd went wild when Bob stepped out into the center of the ring, reminding Chris of the matadors in that book on Spain he read last summer.

Chris shook his head at the antics and listened as the rules were announced. The logs weren’t nearly as long as the ones he’d split back home and he grabbed the long-handled axe that was handed to him. He watched as bets were made and silently wished he’d put some money on himself.

“Hey Larabee,” a voice called from the crowd, “you might as well quit now.”

Chris ignored the comments and prepared himself for the contest. He listened carefully for the shot to go off and when it did the crowd roared with cheers. He didn’t pay any attention to anything except splitting his own rail. His breathing and the quick beating of his heart drowned the voices out. When the final crack of the wood echoed in his ears the crowd went silent. Chris looked up at the stunned faces and then he looked at the now ‘former’ rail splitting champ, Bob Spikes. He felt someone grab his hand and raise it high in the air.

“The winner!” the old man exclaimed. Once again, the crowed cheered but they watched the loser carefully.

Chris took his winnings and stuffed them into his pocket and grinned as people slapped him on the back in congratulations.

“That five dollars is mine, boy.” The voice was low and gruff and Chris turned to find an unhappy Bob Spikes staring him down.

“Boy?” Chris asked, a little stunned by the announcement.

“You heard me.”

Chris chuckled; he’d been in scrap fights before. At seventeen he was only five foot ten and still growing, and he was light in build. But after working hard all his life his thin frame was covered in hard muscles. Spikes outweighed him by sixty pounds but he wasn’t in as good a shape. They were matched equally in height and Chris decided he wasn’t going to back down.

“Money’s mine…I won it fair and square,” he replied sternly.

Chris ducked when the first punch was thrown and the fight was on. Chris shoved his shoulder into the midsection of Spikes and both fell to the ground. Women grabbed their children and moved away from the action as men cheered the fighters on. In the center of the commotion the fight started migrating inot the observers’ ranks. Dust clouds blossomed as more bodies were thrown, dropped, and tossed around the grounds like toys in a child’s room.

Bob Spikes kicked out getting Chris in the ribs and the young blonde grabbed his middle while rolling away from the assaulting feet. Spikes kicked out again with a grin on his face but his opponent anticipated his move. Chris swept his leg catching Bob behind his knees causing him to fall.

Bob yelled out in pain just before the local sheriff fired off a shot breaking up the fight.

“Knock it off!” the sheriff yelled. His voice was low and commanding as he rested the butt of his rifle on his hip. The crowd’s attention was immediately focused on the man whose simple demeanor changed the mood of the people standing around. “Davis!” the sheriff yelled, getting his deputy’s attention, “Get Bob there, to Doc. Woodger, looks like he’s got somethin’ in his eye.”

Bob Spikes sat on the ground holding his right eye. Blood seeped through his fingers and he stared at Chris with his good eye. “I’ll get you for this Larabee,” he warned, as the deputy pulled him to his feet.

“Shut up, Bob,” the sheriff snapped. He stood with an authority Chris had never seen before he took a step back when the man with the oversized black hat and silver beard stared him down. “You start this?” he asked, demanding an answer.

“No sir,” Chris responded while shaking his head.

The sheriff nodded his head in acceptance of the answer. “I don’t want to see you in any more scrapes, and if I were you I’d high tail it out of here in the mornin’.” He turned and started toward the town. “Damn kids,” he muttered, moving past the curious onlookers.

Chris bowed his head and sighed thankful that the sheriff saw fit to let him go. The crowd quickly dispersed and went about with their business. Chris would do as the sheriff asked; he’d intended to leave early anyway. Now, however, he was five dollars richer. He smiled, he could have been spending the night in jail rather than a hotel room with a soft bed.

Chapter 4

For the next few years Chris roamed from town to town getting a job when he ran short of cash. He broke horses, ran cattle, and worked on a few drives. In essence, he was a drifter. Never staying longer than he had to. He’d made a few enemies along the way, but like most people he didn’t let it bother him.

The threat of the upcoming war was getting to be more of a realization than just talk. It didn’t matter where he went, what town he was in, or how far north he traveled. The impending conflict with the South was coming…and soon. It was the same argument everywhere he went. The South had to be stopped from seceding from the union at all costs, even the cost of life. The only people who seemed to care about slavery issues were the women folk, and they seemed to be preoccupied with their own issues of temperance. Chris didn’t pay much attention. If war was coming he’d think about what he’d have to do then. But right now he was enjoying his life, learning about the land, learning about the people, and most importantly, learning about himself.


Chris stepped into the Blue Haven Tavern in the small town of Hasting in the Kansas Territory. The town was small and dusty. Most of the inhabitants were farmers, small businessmen, and a few miners. The tavern was small and inactive. The bartender leaned on the polished bar talking to a local resident. Both were enjoying a beer. A woman with long auburn hair sat in a chair next to the window. She smiled when Chris looked at her and immediately she captured his attention.

“What can I get ya?” the bartender asked. His rosy red cheeks, gray hair, and black eyebrows caused Chris to chuckle.


“Names Bobby,” the bartender said, handing Chris the beer he’d poured.

“Chris,” the tall blonde responded.

“Well, Chris,” Bobby leaned over the bar with a smile, “you see that pretty little gal sittin’ in the corner?” He waited until the stranger nodded his head. “That there, is Ella Gaines. Her pa died a couple weeks back and she ain’t smiled till you walked in through those doors…now, you get that gal to laugh and I won’t charge ya nothin’ for your beer.” Before Chris could agree Bobby grabbed another glass and filled it with sarsaparilla and then spiked it with a couple shots of whiskey. “Habit,” he responded with a chuckle.

Chris smiled, but picked up the glass and turned, heading for the young lady’s table.

Ella smiled when the handsome stranger placed the glass of ‘sarsaparilla’ in front of her. “Thank you.” She nodded her head.

“Mind if I sit?” Chris asked.

“It’s a free country,” she responded, pushing the chair across from her with her foot. “I’m Ella Gaines, but I’m sure Bobby told you that already.”

Chris chuckled and seated himself. “He seems to be a talkative sort…I’m Chris Larabee.”

Ella giggled and in the span of just a few minutes, started talking about things she hadn’t talked about in years. She opened up to this man and found an almost magical connection to him. She laughed for the first time in weeks. Losing her father had been a breaking point for her. He’d been the only man in her life who’d protected her, showed her how to survive in the hard conditions of the west, and he’d left her his small business. When he died Ella had shut down. She’d closed the business and spent the first week after his death in bed. When she finally managed to pull herself out of bed and get dressed she went to the saloon and sat in the table her father had frequently used.

The two talked for hours and Bobby finally had to close the tavern around them. He didn’t mind he was happy to see Ella laughing and talking. Her father had been his best friend.

Chris fingered the brim of his hat that rested on the table. He didn’t realize where the time had gone. The young woman sitting across from him had been a breath of fresh air. She laughed with her whole being creating a free spirit around her and Chris was impressed by it. Granted the pain in her eyes was still there due to her father’s passing, but she seemed to be handling it. She acted in a way that made the people around her know she grew up in home that expected well-bred behavior, but she had a wild streak in her that sparked Chris’ imagination. She wasn’t like many women he’d met along the way. Ella was open, and she talked about anything and everything. She drank ‘sarsaparilla’ like it was going out of style, and she wasn’t shy about anything.

Ella stood up and stretched her back. “Do you need a place to sleep for the night?” she asked quietly. Before he could answer she continued, “I got an extra bed if you do.”

“That would be greatly appreciated.” Chris smiled getting to his feet then following Ella Gains out of the Tavern.


Their relationship was fast and furious. They tried to keep it quiet but the whole town was talking about the young handsome man who had brought Ella Gaines out from her period of mourning. To make it look like they were staying within the ‘respectable’ behavior. Chris rented a room in town, but quietly left it just after dark then he would return again before sunrise. If the people in town knew about their improper relationship, they didn’t speak of it.

Ella was wild; when she and Chris were alone, she didn’t care about traditions, proper etiquette, or other people’s opinions…at least when she and Chris were alone. All other times she did. She was still a proper lady after all.

Chris threw his hat on the table when Ella came out of her room dressed in only a simple nightgown. She’d made it herself because she was unwilling to have it ordered. Someone might misunderstand her intentions. Chris smiled as her hair fell down around her shoulders. There was no denying her beauty. Her tall slender form seemed to glow beneath the almost sheer gown.

“I wasn’t sure you were going to make it,” Ella huskily said, walking to the counter in the kitchen. She poured herself and her guest a glass of her homemade whiskey.

“Mrs. Millie was up late doing her books.” Chris smiled taking the shot glass.

Ella pulled the tie string from the back of her neck and let her gown fall to the ground at her feet. “You want to drink whiskey all night or do something more…”

“Confrontational?” Chris finished for her. He tried to give his best stern look but failed when Ella let out a loud laugh. He laughed with her as he grabbed her small delicate waist and carried her into the bedroom.

The room was small but elegant. A dresser filled with ladies perfume and brushes sat up against the far wall. Chris none to gracefully tossed a giggling Ella onto the bed. Then quickly he undressed and joined her under the covers.

“What’s so funny?” he asked, wondering if he should be concerned.

“I bought one of Mr. Daniels horses today,” she replied with a smile.

“Damn,” Chris muttered, sitting up in bed.

Ella stopped laughing and touched his back. “What?”

“I need to go take a look.”

“You’re telling me that you are leaving this bed, with, need I remind you, a very willing partner to go look at a horse.”


Ella sighed and then got a wicked look in her eyes. Suddenly she got out of bed and grabbed her shoes.

“What are you doin’?” Chris asked, as Ella threw him his boots.

“Let’s go,” she demanded, grabbing her parasol and gloves.

“You’re not dressed,” Chris said, watching her in amusement.

“Neither are you.” Ella slipped into her gloves and headed for the door. “Besides, nobody will be around to see anything and…the barn might make for an interesting…change.” She grinned mischievously. 

“Hell, can’t think of a better place to do it than on the back of a horse.” Chris chuckled, not expecting Ella to take him seriously.

“Now, that, I’ve never done.” She grinned. “Bareback Larabee…I like the ring of that,” she said, heading out of the house.

“That’s not exactly the nickname I was looking for.” Chris slipped into his boots and headed off after her. At least it wasn’t something like Deadwood Dick.


For the first time in years Chris felt…at home. Days had turned into weeks, and those weeks had turned into two months. Ella had been content running her father’s store while Chris had taken a job as a broncobuster. Ella had given him permission to break young colts at her farm. It was a small place, but it had a few corrals and that was all he needed to get his job done. The Army was buying up young broke horses as soon as they became available. The war was coming.

Chris slapped his leg with the lariat causing dust and debris to scatter off his pant leg. The young spirited colt jumped in reaction but continued to lope around the arena. The stirrups flopped precariously against the chestnut’s side.

Ella came out of the farmhouse with a shawl wrapped tightly around her shoulders. Her skirts billowed around her legs as she got closer to the corral. Chris looked up and smiled. The colt slowed to a walk as his handler headed toward the fence.

“Dinner’s about done,” Ella said, seductively kissing Chris on his lips.

“Let me finish up this colt and I’ll be right in.” Chris smiled and headed back towards the chestnut.

Ella stepped up on the bottom rail and rested her arms on the top of the corral fence. She watched as Chris, with his expert hands, handled the young horse.

Chris pulled the cotton lead rope up over the horse’s neck and prepared to get on. The colt shook his head and breathed heavily. Chris mounted up, and as expected, the animal blew, kicking his hooves into the air and sticking his head between his front knees, he bucked with all his might. After only a few minutes the colt settled down but when a bird flew up from one of the nearby trees the horse spooked and jumped sideways. The animal’s right front and right rear legs went through the wood slats of the corral. Chris jumped off to try and avoid getting tangled in the fence but the spirited chestnut jumped again, causing his rider to fall to the right. Chris, the horse, and the fence went down and everything went black.


Pain sprang up from every part of Chris’ body. Even his hair hurt. He opened his eyes when he felt himself move and noticed Ella sitting beside him. The room was dark, except for a lamp that was set at a low glow. The window was open, allowing the cool night air to enter. Ella wiped his forehead with a soft damp cloth and she smiled when Chris’ eyes finally focused on her.

“What happened?” he asked. His voice surprised even himself and Ella carefully lifted his head and allowed him to drink some water.

“You don’t remember?”

Chris thought a moment before shaking his head. He remembered eating hot cakes for breakfast at Mrs. Millie’s in town but that was about all.

“You’ve been unconscious for nineteen hours,” she smiled when he threw her a look of disbelief. “You came off that chestnut colt…I called on Doctor Perkins because you were such a mess. The doctor said you cracked a couple ribs and sprained your right knee. You also had a concussion, but he said that with a few days rest, you’ll be back to tryin’ to break your neck.”

“How’s the colt?” Chris asked, wanting to know.

“I had to have Mr. Daniels put him down…the colt broke his leg.”

“Damn,” he muttered, before looking back to Ella. “I shouldn’t stay here.”

“It won’t be your first time,” Ella responded, with a mischievous grin.

“People know I’m here…what’ll they say?” Chris threw the blanket back and started to get up but was stopped by Ella’s soft hand on his bare chest.

“Nobody’s going to say anything,” she confirmed. “They know you’re hurt, and besides,” she grinned, “you’ll need someone to nurse you for a while.” She wrung the washrag out in the basin again and turned her attention back to Chris. “Besides, people believe what they want to believe.”

“Exactly,” Chris chastised.

Ella grinned, then moved in beside Chris on the bed and rested her head on his shoulder. “Let them talk.”

Chris grinned and closed his eyes as Ella nestled in beside him. This was scandalous and he knew it. His mother would be ashamed of him, and his father…well, his father would show his disappointment in other ways.  But they weren’t here anymore. He was living his life on his own terms…and enjoying it. Chris took a deep breath and dozed off.

“I love you,” Ella said quietly, thinking her partner and lover had fallen asleep.

Chris looked up at the ceiling unsure of what to say or do. He didn’t love her, not the way he should. He knew that. Granted, he wanted a family and a woman to come home to at night and children to tuck into bed. Ella didn’t want children; she wanted to live free, and on her own terms. However, Chris knew that if he let it be known that his greatest desire was a family she would birth him all the children she could. She was that way. And he had to wonder why.


Sixteen newly broke horses were tied together at their necks waiting patiently for their handler to finish saddling his mount. Buckshot stood patiently as his cinch was tightened. Chris patted him gently on the neck before replacing the stirrup to its original spot. He winced when he moved the wrong way, as his still-healing ribs protested to the quick movement.

“When will you be back?” Ella asked, handing him a knapsack filled with food. She watched as he quickly stuck it into his saddlebag and then turned to face her.

“I don’t know that I will,” Chris responded truthfully. He tried not to break under Ella’s questioning stare. “I’m enlisting. With the war coming, I thought it would be best.”

She brushed her skirt with her hand and nodded her head in understanding. She knew that if she were to say something she would cry and she didn’t want to cry in front of this man.

“You’ll be all right,” he encouraged.

Ella smiled. “I won’t forget you,” she said sadly.

Chris gently took her arm and kissed her cheek. “I hope you find what you’re looking for.”

She stepped back and stuck her hands into the pockets of her skirt. She fingered the simple broach that she had taken from her first love. She was convinced he would be her last. Ella watched him mount up on his horse, he tipped his hat to her then with sixteen horses in tow, he rode off the property.

Chapter 5

Lieutenant Jon Harper, of the Union Army, handed Chris the money for the horses he’d just sold. “You joinin’ up?” he asked.

“Are you asking?” Chris responded, raising his eyebrows.

“Hell no,” the lieutenant gasped. “This war ain’t goin’ to last more ‘an a few hours. We’ll chase those Reb soldiers back and show ‘em how the Union can’t be separated…don’t know who they think they are wantin’ to be their own country or somethin’.”

“Don’t you think you’re underestimating ‘em?” Chris asked, stuffing his money into his billfold.

“What? You think we are?” The lieutenant chuckled. “Hell, they’ll probably get them slaves of theirs out to fight for ‘em. And we all know darkies can’t fight.”

Chris didn’t say anything but he decided that he wasn’t going to enlist in the Army here. There was too much of a chance that he might end up serving under the person standing in front of him. He’d learned a long time ago never to underestimate an opponent. Even the smallest horse could kill a man if given the opportunity.


Chris walked into the union army camp that was stationed twenty miles east of Victory, Indiana. He never thought in a million years that he’d return to his home state, only to leave again to fight in the war. Union blue was all he could see. Men from all walks of life were here, ranging in ages from adolescents to elderly. They were all here for one reason: to maintain the integrity of the United States by keeping the country together.

“You enlisting?” a man wearing a full dress uniform asked.

“Yes, sir.” Chris held Buckshot’s reins tightly in his hand.

“You got any skills?” he asked, looking Chris and his horse over.

“I’ve lived on the land most of my life, so I can do just about anything. Plus I’ve got a good reputation breaking horses.”

The man smiled and stuck his hand out for the young man to shake. “I’m Colonel Webber of the 8th Regiment Indiana Calvary also known as the 39th Regiment of Volunteers…looks like you came to the right place.”

Chris shook the colonel’s hand. “I’m Chris Larabee.”

“You can sign your papers and get your uniform from Sergeant Warren. We’re heading for North Virginia in two days, so make sure you’re ready to ride.” Colonel Webber pointed to a tent where several men, some in uniforms, others in plain clothes, stood outside waiting to get in. He then gave Chris a reassuring smile then went on about his business.

Chris walked toward the tent and immediately noticed how calm everyone seemed to be. Young men joked with each other, while others sat around their sleep tents preparing evening meals.

“You enlistin’?” a young man asked. He couldn’t have been a day over seventeen. His slick black hair was cut short up and around his ears and his eyes were young and bright with a gold tint. He wasn’t very tall, much shorter than Chris’ six foot one inch frame.

“Yeah,” Chris sighed, “I’m enlisting.”

“Me too,” the youth replied excitedly. “My folks told me to join up.” John Davis, as he later introduced himself, continued to talk. And talk was all he did.

Chris, much to his dismay, ended up getting paired with the younger man for their sleep tent. John stuck to his new ‘buddy’ like bees did to honey. He was like a kid on a new adventure. He talked about everything from his life on the farm to the excitement he felt about the war.

The excitement was everywhere. Union soldiers were convinced that the war was going to end soon. As far as they were concerned, South was of little concern. They would be wiped out in a matter of hours. Just because they had been the victors at Ft. Sumter, didn’t mean a thing. The South was weak, had fewer soldiers, and less money. The North intended to take advantage of that.


Chris fingered the cavalry saber with a look of awe and disbelief. It was an elegant weapon, long, and slightly curved at one end. At twenty-four, inexperienced in battle, and unfamiliar with such a weapon, he already knew it was impractical. His issued Remington Army Revolver rested at his side, next to his familiar Sharps Carbine rifle. Resting in his saddlebags was ammunition and his personal effects. His uniform was blue, bluer than he’d ever imagined. It was standard dress for all enlisted cavalrymen.

John had changed into his uniform and now stood admiring himself. His pants were too big and his saber almost touched the ground as it hung precariously from his belt. “How do I look?”  He asked, with a grin that reached his ears.

“Like a kid wearing his pa’s clothes.” Chris responded without humor in his voice.

“Hell, doubt very much the war ‘ill last long enough for me to grow into ‘em.” John smiled, then looked around at the campfires that burned throughout the grounds. Men sat around the blazes drinking coffee and talking about their futures. “I heard tell that we’re headin’ for Virginia to end this little skirmish. Sure hope I get to kill someone ‘fore it’s over.” He pulled his newly issued pistol out of his holster and eyed it longingly.

Chris just shook his head. He hadn’t killed anyone and truthfully he didn’t have a desire to. His father had taught him that killing wasn’t something to be desired. And Chris had always respected what his father had to say. But this was different. The war had arrived and he felt the need to rightfully defend his country. The South’s desire to secede was wrong and it had to be stopped.


The trek to Virginia was slow and hot. The regiment had heard about the Battle at Hoke’s Run and the North was finally beginning to realize the South may have more grit than they’d originally given them credit for. Colonel Webber had met up with General Porter’s men just south of Sudley Springs and together, they formed into two divisions that would support General Burnside at Manassas.

The North’s anticipation was to finish this war at Manassas. They would send the Confederacy back with their tails stuck between their legs. Then they could all go home to their families. The men’s attitudes ranged from apprehension to excitement. The closer they got to their destination the more determined they grew.

It was strange how the different regiments stayed together, despite the availability they had to commune with others. Infantrymen stayed with infantrymen, artillerymen stayed with artillerymen, and the cavalry stayed within the cavalry ranks. They all tried to hide their fears of dying but they were still there. Who would survive, who would go home, and who would die? There wasn’t any question as to who would win.

The troops didn’t know how difficult the road was that lay ahead. The generals knew, but due to pressure from Washington they had to continue. And continue they would.


Early on July 21st the Battle of Bull Run started. Chris was appalled, as men were cut down, while civilians looked on. Soldiers continued to fire, cannons roared, horses screamed, and men young and old cried for their mothers. The war was here…and it would not end today.

When General McDowell ordered the retreat it was official that the North had lost the battle. Casualties had not been high and it was estimated that less than 3,000 men perished for the Union. What cost them most was the amount of supplies, weapons, and equipment that was left behind.

Chris looked on, as John continued to cry. Only after a few moments into the battle the youth had started crying and he had yet to stop. He’d froze, not firing a shot, only looking in horror as the air was quickly filled with smoke from the gunfire. John hadn’t been the only soldier to freeze out of fear. All the men were inexperienced and naïve, hardly any of them had training, and those who did didn’t have enough. For the first time, they were all getting a taste of what was yet to come. Because the South had been declared the victor at Bull Run, they’d collected their dead and wounded first then the North was able to collect their own. Medical staff from each regiment collected and counted the bodies while regiment leaders met and waited for orders.   

John wiped his nose and face leaving streaks of dirt across his cheeks. His chin continued to quiver as he tried to keep more tears from falling. He was ashamed of his behavior and he was afraid because of his cowardice. He hadn’t fire a single shot. It was obvious to him that many others felt the same. He wasn’t the only one with red eyes and a slump in his shoulders. He found Chris tending his horse and noticed right away the defensive stance and determination.

“I…ah…” John paused, “heard that Colonel Webber took a bullet ‘n the leg…they don’t know if he’s gonna make it.”

Chris nodded his head in understanding but continued to remain quiet. He knew the kid needed to hear some encouraging words only he didn’t have any to share. John wasn’t the only person who needed some good news or a word of support. Just because the Indiana farm boy didn’t allow his emotions to surface didn’t mean he didn’t have any. He was as crushed as the rest of the men.

“What’s gonna happen to us if’n he dies?” John asked, biting his bottom lip.

“Don’t rightly know,” Chris responded humbly.

“Did you think it was goin’ to be like that?”

“No,” was the simple yet complicated reply.

“Me neither.” Josh looked around the grounds as men sat at their small fires.


Colonel Webber not only lost his leg, but his life as well. Fever had set in after the amputation and little could be done for him. It was a great loss for the men of the 8th but life had to go on. The men did what was asked of them, they prepared for the next battle, took their orders without question, and they faced their fears as best they could.

Several men from the 39th and 8th Indiana Regiments were transferred to the service of General Ambrose Burnside. Chris was included in that transfer. He was ready and willing to go. The war was in full force and he intended to do his part.

John was sad to see his new friend go but he quickly found himself in the company of others more his age. Chris didn’t mind. The kid was too eager for his liking, though his heart was in the right place; the seventeen year old was just that…seventeen. Granted, the tall muscular blonde was only seven years older than John but it was still enough to put a difference between them.  

Chapter 6

Due to the lack of qualified military officers men of all ages were quickly accepting the challenge of leading divisions of soldiers. Men, some as young as twenty-five, were getting commissioned as colonels and generals. The ‘Boy Generals’, as they were called, were not only common in the north but the south as well. Able-bodied men were desperately needed. Even Chris found himself with sergeant’s stripes despite never having gone to military school or serving in battle prior to Bull Run but because of his leadership ability he was quickly commissioned.


Chris loved working with the horses and Buckshot was turning out to be a great charger, however, the young blonde was asking himself if the North had the right to be doing what they were doing. Everyone around him was convinced that the South had to be put in its place, and Chris understood the importance of keeping the country together, but that alone wasn’t enough to soothe the voice in his head. The war had started long before the 12th of April. The South had decided to secede because of their political views. They wanted state rights as opposed to the North’s view of a central government. Of course it wasn’t as simple as that there were other issues involved but nothing was more important to President Lincoln than sustaining the United States as a whole.

When the Union army inadvertently discovered Robert E. Lee’s campaign plans, it opened a door that the North was in desperate need of. As a result George McClellan intended to strike in the areas of Lee’s army that were scattered too thinly. He was determined to end the war in the East with the newfound information.

Chris waited on his horse while orders were given. Buckshot chomped at his bit but stood perfectly still waiting for his cue. A fog, enriched with smoke, engulfed the landscape making it difficult to see. The roar of cannons could be heard over the blasts of gunfire. When his order came, Chris and several members of his regiment were moved to aid Brigadier General John Gibbon at the front line.

The fighting had been fierce and Gibbon’s men had been hard hit. Burnside hadn’t been the only general to send him support and still they were hard pressed. Chris could hear soldiers in the field crying for their mothers and screaming in pain. He could just barely make out forms of bodies lying on the ground before him. It was a sight that was becoming all too familiar.

When Robert E. Lee retreated, the Northern soldiers took advantage. They had managed to take South Mountain but it had cost them dearly. When the fog of gunfire had lifted soldiers in blue and gray lay dead in the battered fields. Medical staff searched desperately for signs of life while other soldiers carried away their dead.

Chris pulled Buckshot to a halt and watched, as a lone rider wearing a similar blue uniform rode toward him. It was hard to ignore the bloodshed around him, so he focused on the mountain they’d fought so hard to take. As the lone rider drew closer, Chris identified him from his insignia as one of General Joseph Hooker’s men. The soldier was only a few years younger than himself if he had to guess. He rode a tall, lean chestnut that had a single white sock on its left rear leg.

“Howdy,” the young man said with a hint of enthusiasm, despite the carnage around him. His dark brown hair poked out from under his kepi. He was tall, that much was obvious, despite being mounted. “Name’s Buck Wilmington.” He smiled when brown eyes met blue, then continued, “Can ya tell me where I can report to…” he looked at the piece of paper he held in his hand, “Lieutenant Simpson?”

Buckshot nipped at the chestnut, then stopped when his handler pulled at his reins.

“You get transferred?” Chris asked.

Buck grinned mischievously. “Well,” he scratched his chin and looked out toward the trees in the distance. “I didn’t get along real well with my CO…he didn’t know how to treat a lady proper.”

Chris returned the private’s grin with a smile of his own and motioned for the newcomer to follow him. “I’m Chris Larabee, looks like you’ll be in my regiment.”

“Well, Chris, it’s good to meet ya.” Buck stuck his hand out and grinned when Larabee shook it forcefully. “You got family waitin’ for ya back home?”

“Nope,” Chris responded sadly.

“Left me a pretty little gal in a town called Rickettsville. Told her I was joinin’ up and to wait on me cuz I’d be right back.” Buck shook his head at the memory.

“Think she’s still waitin’?” Chris asked with a smile.

“Well,” Buck grinned, “if anyone could make a woman wait that long it’d be me.”

Chris choked back a laugh. “You always this confident when it comes to the fairer sex.”

“Who needs confidence when you’re as good lookin’ as I am.”

“I guess that would explain it,” Chris responded with a laugh.


Buck Wilmington turned out to be a breath of fresh air not only for Chris, but the rest of Lieutenant Simpson’s men as well. He told stories of his ‘lady friends’ like most men talked about heroes of old. He could remember a woman’s name, the curve of her hip, or the smell of her hair like a child could remember their favorite toy. He could tell the same story twice, and he did quite often, only listeners couldn’t tell the difference.

There was an instant bond where Larabee and Wilmington were concerned. There couldn’t have been two more different people in the world, but they found an unbreakable friendship in each other. Buck was calm and collected when Chris was hot headed and aggravated. And it was vice versa.

The two men rode together, drank together, and told each other stories that nobody else would care about. Chris learned about Buck’s mother and her determination to raise her son, despite the odds against her. Buck learned about Chris’ own family, the way they had died, and the way they had lived.


It had been only three days after the Battle at South Mountain and the men were on their way to Sharpsburg. General Burnside was ordered by McClellan to attack Robert E. Lee’s right flank on the seventeenth of September 1862. And so he did. Within the first hour of the Battle at Antietam over 13,000 men fell from wounds or death. It was a bloody day indeed, as the brown colored earth slowly turned to a crimson hue and bodies lay upon the ground like shattered rocks.

Buck and Chris fought side by side as the cavalry, infantry, and artillerymen tried to get across what was now being called ‘Burnside’s Bridge’. Men, horses, and wildlife were cut down like alfalfa ready for harvest. There was no mercy for anyone. They were pushing Confederate General James Longstreet back toward the city of Sharpsburg with success, until Confederate General A.P. Hill appeared late in the day, hitting Burnside and his men hard at his left flank.

Chris yelped in pain when the bullet struck him low in the thigh of his left leg. He slid off Buckshot and landed hard on the rough terrain. Buckshot stood by his downed rider looking wildly about. Chris groaned while trying to apply pressure to his leg watching as blood seeped through his fingers. The pain was unbearable. Never had he felt such anguish. 

Buck yelled when he saw Buckshot standing loyally above his master. “Chris!” he yelled again. He then flew off his own horse and rushed toward his friend.

Chris groaned louder as Buck wrapped a strip of cloth around the bleeding wound. “Damn that hurts,” he muttered under his breath.

“Hell, Stud, you’ll be back to servicin’ your mares in no time,” Buck said, with a grin.

“Is that all you think about?”

When the whistle of a cannon roared, Buck threw his body over Chris’ and waited for the impending explosion. Debris ranging from dirt particles to bits of human flesh rained down on the two friends. Their horses had run in the opposite direction and both Chris and Buck hoped they’d made it to safety before any harm could come to them.

Soldiers in blue looked wildly about, trying to decide their best plan of action. They ignored the wounded and dead that lay at their feet. Blue and gray uniforms decorated the once green landscape. Smoke from the gunfire filled the air, making it difficult to see.

“Can you walk?” Buck asked, sliding off of his friend.

“Just pull me up,” Chris demanded, through clenched teeth.

Buck hauled the tall blonde to his feet, carefully positioning Chris’ shoulder over his own. Looking at the carnage around him Buck started back toward base camp to get his friend some medical attention.

Chris leaned heavily against Wilmington as he body shook due to the abuse. He’d managed to pull his jacket off, as sweat now coated his body. His leg was on fire, but he kept his jaw clenched tightly against the pain and the urge to cry out. The leg had stopped bleeding but it had left a red trail down to his boot.

Buck kept his head down trying to ignore the cries of distress from not only union soldiers but Reb’s as well. He decided to cut across Snavely Ford, a small piece of land that lay just south west of Burnside’s Bridge. It would get them back to their rank without taking them through the last bit of carnage that the battle had left. It was something both men were ready and willing to avoid.

The ground was harsh with steep inclines, rolling terrain, and rocky outcroppings but it was easier to traverse than the fields of bodies. Buck hadn’t been the only soldier who had the same idea of bypassing the bridge.

It was an image that would be imprinted on the minds of both Chris and Buck for the rest of their lives. An image that summed up the war as a whole. A young confederate soldier…a boy really, who didn’t look a day over fourteen. He sat on the ground next to a black soldier who was wearing a gray uniform that was now covered in blood. The black confederate soldier was gut shot, a death sentence for sure. He grasped the hand of the youth tightly as pain racked through his battered body.

Crisp green eyes looked up but made no move to go for his weapon as he tried to comfort his dying friend. Evidence of tears shed streaked his dirt-covered cheeks that were still too tender to grow a mustache or beard. 

“Let ‘im go Buck,” Chris said, pulling his eyes from the sight. For the first time they were seeing the enemy as they saw themselves. They were people protecting their homes and way of life. It was a sight both men would have been happy to never have laid eyes on.  

Buck increased his hold on Chris as they made their way across the field. Wilmington jumped when he heard the sound of a gunshot. He turned and saw the youth gently rocking over the dead body of his friend. A mercy killing, if it could be called that, and Buck wondered if he’d be strong enough to do that for a friend…he didn’t think he would be.


Chris screamed when the doctor stuck his scalpel into the leg of his patient. Medical supplies were in great need and anesthesia was saved for those who needed it most. Doctors relied on what they’d come to call ‘surgical shock’ as a natural anesthetic. The problem with that lay with surgical shock was that less than seventy percent survived.

Whiskey was poured over the wound and then quickly wrapped in clean cotton bindings. Chris didn’t wait to be moved, despite feeling light headed and weak. He stood up on shaky legs and hobbled out of the hospital tent. Thankfully, Buck was there to catch him before he fell to the ground in a heap.

The tent flaps were covered in blood and a pile of amputated limbs rested less than fifty feet from soldiers, many of whom were trying to recover, while others lay slowly dying, and some mourned the loss of friends and family.

“Mind if I tell ya somethin’?” Buck asked with a smile, helping the wounded man up.

“Depends.” Chris pulled himself back up onto unsteady feet.

“You’re the first man that’s ever fallen into my arms…” Buck laughed. “And I pray to God you’re the last.”

Chris laughed to the point of almost losing his footing. “What’s the matter? I’m not pretty enough for ya?”

“You’re lacking the uh…more feminine features that I find important…” Buck made a motion to his chest with both hands and raised his eyebrows.

“Feminine features indeed,” Chris said with a chuckle.


Chris had been one of the lucky few that survived his wound. Thanks to Buck’s quick thinking and actions on the field, the young Larabee was spared from gangrene, infection, and the fever that usually followed such injuries. He was back on his feet within days and riding by the end of the week. Thankfully both Buckshot and Pitch had made it back to the regiment and like the devoted animals they were they waited for their handlers.

The Battle of Antietam turned out to be one of the bloodiest of the war. Over 22,000 men were killed, missing, or wounded. More than half were of Union soldiers. With an army of over 75,000 men the Northern Army still could not defeat the confederates 38,000.

As a result of this battle President Abraham Lincoln passed the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. The war was in full force. No longer was the North fighting to keep the Union together: it was fighting against the Confederacy’s way of life.

Chris threw the paper he’d been reading down. The Union was wrong. He now understood why some men from the North fought for the Confederacy. What the Union Army saw as a Civil War, a war protecting the country’s integrity, the South saw as a Revolution. The only way the North was going to win this war was through time, because time was something the South didn’t have.