Prologue; Patrick O'Brian and his twin brothers Timothy and Calan were running the cattle ranch left to them by their father, Peter O'Brian. Patrick was the oldest at 27 years and his brothers had just turned 21. It wasn't a huge spread, as western ranches went, but it held the only all year spring for miles around. They were running approximately 2,200 head of cattle and had their own fields for hay. Like their father, the O'Brian boys were hard working and frugal, their mother had died giving birth to the twins and now it was just the three brothers. They had a couple of hired hands that had been with them so long, they were accounted family, as was Maria, who kept house for them and saw to it that they all were fed and properly cleaned and dressed. She was the only Mother the twins had ever known and all three of the boys loved her as their Mother. Times were not good, inflation was tearing the country apart and, whatever the national government did, it only made matters worse. The state government down in Phoenix had just about closed up shop and Patrick had met with County Sheriff Joe Montoya a few days earlier and was told that half the deputies had walked off the job because they had not been paid in two months. Patrick had armed their cowboys and he and his brothers now wore pistols and had a rifle in the saddle scabbard. Patrick was sure worse times were on their way.
Chapter 1 – THE COLLAPSE
Pat was waiting on the wide front porch for the delivery truck to show up, he had ordered supplies the last time he had gone to the county seat and they had agreed to deliver that day, but only after he had paid in advance. Prices of everything had skyrocketed and he was sure Papa was spinning in his grave! Tim and Cal were out cutting hay and their cook/housekeeper,
Maria had just brought him a fresh cup of coffee when he spotted a column of dust coming over the rise. He grabbed his binoculars and determined it was Granger Supply and Feed bringing their supplies he had ordered.
Standard Oil had delivered a load of diesel fuel the day before that filled their tank, there was 18,000 gallons of stabilized diesel fuel in the underground tank. What the driver had told him caused him to worry about the supply delivery. The driver of the fuel truck told him that Sheriff Montoya had said he was planning on turning in his badge after the few remaining deputies had quit.
The truck parked in the front and the supply crew began hauling their supplies into the house. There was a huge walk-in freezer in the basement and a sheet metal lined store room for the dry goods. They had lined it a couple of years earlier when they discovered pack rats were helping themselves.
Pat went and checked the freezer to make sure it was down to temperature, They had utility power and a diesel generator as a backup should the power go down. Pat had gone to high school with Jerry Dillon, the owner of the supply company. He spotted Jerry driving the truck, so he went over to talk with him. Jerry told him that it was just him and his sons now, he had laid off all his other employees as he could no longer pay them.
He pointed to the two young men unloading the supplies, "My boys, Tommy and David are all what I got now. You know that Carrie passed a few months ago and now it's just them and me. I worry about them, times ain't good."
Pat offered his friend a cup of coffee and they sat on the porch for a while, Jerry started to say something several times and finally, he just blurted it out, "Pat, I be scared that things is goin' to hell in a hand basket and somethin' will happen to my boys. Pat, if'n it comes, will you take Tommy and David and putem' to work out here?"
Pat hugged the man who had been his best friend for as long as he could remember and replied, "You know I will and you had better be with them!" All the upset man could reply was, "Bless ya' Patrick O'Brian, Bless ya"
As soon as the supplies had been unloaded Jerry departed with his truck and two sons. Pat sat on the porch, wondering and worrying about what the future might hold. Maria rang the bell for lunch and everyone came in after washing up in the wash house.
Pat told them all what Jerry had said and he told their hands, "Guys, times might get kinda tough, but, as long as we kin feed ya', y'all got jobs here."
Joe Currey, the Line Boss said, "Boss, we got nowhere to go but here, we's all stayin"
The hands all nodded their agreement and then everyone started talking about the jobs they were working for that day. When the meal was completed, Pat asked his brothers to hang back a bit, he needed to talk with them.
After the hands left to go back to work, Pat sat down with his brothers, "Bro's, its gonna get bad. There is no more law enforcement in this county, we live a long ways off the highway, our road is impassable to most cars, even light trucks, but we are going have to watch out for ourselves. I don't know when its gonna come down or for how long, but we are going to have to be self sufficient. Ya' all know that Papa left us pretty well off, what ya' don't know is, there is a vault under this house and it is full of gold and silver coins. I don't know for sure how many nor what they are worth, but it is a lot! Push come to shove, we can hold out and buy what we absolutely need with the coins, I don't think paper money is going to be any good much longer. It is up to us to keep this ranch going, all the guys are depending on us to see them through. Jerry Dillon and his two boys will likely be joining us, so don't be surprised when they show up. Tim and Cal, I want ya' both to go into town right now and buy as much ammunition as you can, rifles and shotguns too." He pulled out a small suitcase, "Here is $50,000 in paper money, spend it all if you have too, but get the guns and ammo back here before it gets dark."
Tim and Cal were a bit frightened at what Pat had told them and they left immediately in Cal's new Ford F-350 headed for town.
There were few people in town, Cal stopped at the truck stop and topped off his fuel tank and the auxiliary tank with diesel fuel before going over to the sporting goods store. The fuel had cost him $2,200 in paper money!
Again, there was almost nobody around in the store, Gil Bates, a friend of theirs from high school, was tending his dad's Sporting Goods store. He was a bit surprised that Tim and Cal were buying so many guns and ammo, they stacked up ten 12 ga. shotguns and twenty cases of boxes of shot shells. After they loaded them in the truck, they came back in and about cleaned out the shelves of .30-06 ammunition and twenty rifles. They also bought flares, and all the bows and arrows in the store.
After they paid Gil in cash, they still had $15,000 in the suitcase. Gil's face was kind of white and he asked what was going on, so they passed him the same information that Pat had given them.
Tim took Gil aside, "Gil, ya' got any blastin' sticks?"
Gil looked around and then whispered to him, "Yeah, we gots two cases down in the bunker under the store."
Tim replied, "Gettem, and take all the money left in the suitcase."
After they had loaded up the dynamite, Gil said, "Guys, iffin' it comes down like you are sayin' kin me and Papa hideout at your place?"
Tim looked at Cal and then they both told him that if it went to hell, yeah, he and his Dad would be welcome out at Willow Springs Ranch.
Tim got on the radio in the truck and told Pat what they had done, Pat told them that it was OK, and to get their fannies back to the ranch before dark!
Cal closed the cover on the bed of his truck and locked it down before they drove from behind the sporting goods store where they had loaded up all their purchases. Both young men were uncomfortable, things just didn't seem right in town, so they dug out a couple of shotguns each and some ammunition and put them in the cab of the truck with them. While Cal was driving out of town, Tim loaded all the shotguns and put boxes of shells where they could readily reach them.
They drove down the two lane highway, back towards the entrance road to the ranch. The passed a car just stopped on the roadway and Tim said, "Wasn't that car sitting there a couple of hours ago when we were headed into town?"
Cal replied, "Yeah, I think so, maybe we oughtta see if someone is in trouble."
Out on the desert, folks never passed by someone who might be having car trouble, people could die in the hot sun with little or no water.
It was the height of summer, so the sun was plenty hot. Cal turned the truck around and they went back to the car.
They could see two little blond heads sticking up above the seats.
They both hopped out of the truck, Cal grabbed a shotgun while Tim went to see who was in the car. When Tim opened the back door of the car, two young teen boys tumbled out, both showed signed of heat exhaustion and they were trembling with fear. They looked to be identical twins and about 14 years old. Cal brought the water jug to them and they drank thirstily.
After they had cooled off a bit, Cal asked them, "Why are you boys out here alone?"
One boy replied, Our daddy went for help, the car stopped last night and we haven't seen him since."
Tim got on the radio and called the Sheriff's Office, Joe Montoya answered, "When Tim asked him about a man and a stalled car out on Highway 14, the sheriff replied, "Guys, it is just me here now, all my deputies have quit and as soon as I hang up this phone, I'm gone too. I had a report that a man came into the Jeff's Bar last night asking for help and he got himself beat by the Rodney Boys. The County Hospital reported to me this morning that the man died. His ID said his name was Foster Marcus."
Tim said, "Hold on for a minute while I ask one of the boys."
He turned and asked one of the twins, "Is your last name Marcus?" Both boys nodded their heads, "Yes".
Tim went back to the radio, "I think we got ourselves a problem here, Sheriff, the boys are Marcus'."
Joe replied, "Son, there is nothing I can do, ya best take the boys home with ya, they sure would not be safe around here, especially if the Rodneys are involved."
Tim signed off and went back to the two boys, "Sheriff says we need to take ya both with us out to Willow Springs Ranch."
The twins were Kevin and Teddy Marcus, Kevin was very quiet and asked Tim, "Papa is dead, ain't he?"
Tim held the youngster and replied, "I won't never lie to ya', yes, Sheriff Montoya thinks that yore Papa got beat up in town and he died at the hospital."
Both boys cried as the brothers held them, then, as their tears slacked off, Tim said, "Guys, I think we best had head for the ranch before it gets dark, things ain't good around here an' we don't need no more trouble."
They got the young boys into the back seat of the truck and they headed down the highway. They turned off on the ranch road and Tim stopped the truck while Cal jumped out and closed the gate. He slipped the lock through the hasp, it sure wouldn't stop anyone determined to break in, but it might slow them down a bit.
It was over an hour's drive beyond the gate to get to the ranch, the two youngsters sat very quiet, until Teddy asked, "You guys are twins like us, aren't ya?" Tim grinned and replied, "Yeah, 'cept we are 21 years old and got bright red hair, just like our older brother, Pat."
Teddy answered, "Well, yeah ours is blond, an' we is 15, eeer almost 15 years old."
The two were trying manfully not to cry, the loss of their Papa and the enormity of being alone finally got to them.
Tim crawled over the seat while Cal continued driving, and sat between the two boys. He hugged them and told them they were gonna be safe out at the ranch and the three O'Brian Bros would take care of them. Cal picked up the radio mic while he was driving and called the ranch. When Pat answered, he told him about the boys and that they were on the ranch road headed for home.
Pat sent back, "Goose it Bro, Maria has the TV on an' it ain't good, we gots trouble, bad ones!"
Cal pressed harder on the accelerator and sped up as fast as he dared on the rough road. A couple of times the truck "fishtailed" in the loose sand, but he never slowed down.
As they drove into the yard, Pat and Maria came running out of the house. Maria went into mother mode as soon as she saw the two boys. She collected them and ran them into the bathroom for a hot shower while she dug out some old clothes of Tim and Cal that they had outgrown.
Pat took Tim and Cal in the den and they all watched the TV, a State of Emergency had been called and The National Guard was activated and was under the command of the US Army. There were riots in the big cities and much of the Eastern States were under Martial Law. The Federal Government had ordered all banks closed and the reporter was telling of large areas of the country that had lost electric power and that no information was coming out of those areas.
Just before the station ceased broadcasting, they showed scenes of riots in Atlanta, Memphis and Richmond, then the station went off the air. He was able to get a sound only station out of Phoenix that said Arizona was now under martial law and to stand by for further announcement, before the station went dead.
The two boys came out of the bathroom, wrapped in clean towels and Pat motioned to them to come into the den,
"Guys, I am Pat O'Brian, I guess I kinda run this ranch with my two brother's help. There ain't no place for ya' to go and we think your Papa didn't make it. Ya can stay here with us, or we can try to get ya into town tomorrow, maybe. It's yer choice."
As upset as they were, both Kevin and Ted knew their chances of surviving were better with these brothers and their ranch than trying to go into town and be on their own.
Things rocked along for several days, then the utility power went off and did not come back on. There was five barrels of kerosene out in the maintenance shop, so they filled the old wick lamps with kerosene for use in the house and the hand's bunk house.
Pat tried raising someone on the radio, but all they got was static or very faint voices who apparently did not hear them.
The two younger boys appeared to be adapting to their situation fairly well and they were willing workers in helping around the ranch.
Taylor Brogen, the Ranch Maintenance Mechanic wrestled the old wood cook stove that had been in the ranch house years ago from its place in the garden growing petunias, back into the kitchen for Maria.
Everybody just referred to him as Booger and he, out of habit would always say, "Brogen, NOT Booger!" Booger was a wonderful "makeshift" mechanic, if he couldn't make it run, it was considered terminal!
He reconnected the old hot water tank on the back of the wood stove so that Maria could have hot water in the kitchen.
The old windmill was still standing and Booger made new leather foot valves for the pumping head and repacked the pull shaft. He got the twins, Tim and Cal to help him lower it down the well, after two days of struggling and the two young twins learning some new words, he tripped the jackstaff catch and a few minutes later, water was sloshing into the high tank.
They could have run the well pump off the generator, but it was a waste of diesel fuel to run the generator just for the well pump.
The first real news they got was when Jerry Dillon showed up with his two boys, Scott and David. While Jerry was filling in Pat on the conditions in town, Scott and David were telling everyone else that half the town was burned down and somebody had shot one of the Rodney boys, Paul. The Doc told him he would never walk again and his brother, Derrik went bonkers and started shooting up the town. Sheriff Montoya got Derrik cornered in the feed store and it caught fire, all they found of Derrik was some charred bones.
Nobody had much sympathy, the whole family were outcasts and always causing trouble.
According to Jerry, there wasn't much left of the town, the fire had taken the County Court House and the Administration Building, so all the County records, the Tax Office and all the court records were gone.
Things were running fairly smooth until the middle of August, Cal and one of the hands, Tol Beevie, were riding the fence line, making sure none of the fence was down. They were all the way over to the west side of the ranch, not too far from the county road that went up to the old Tucker Copper mine.
Pat was in the office when Cal called in, "Bro, we got us some visitors over towards the old Tucker Mine."
Pat responded, "What kind of visitors, Cal?"
Cal sent back, "Kids, Bro, a bunch of them. They's livin' in the old mine office!"
Pat replied, getting upset, "How many kids, Cal. That damned old place is dangerous as hell!"
Cal reported, "I got six kids here, four boys and two girls, all look to be young teens."
Pat replied. "Holdem' there, Cal. I'll get Booger to help me hitch up the wagon, I can come cross country faster than driving the truck around the long way!"
Booger helped Pat hitch up the team to the wagon and offered to come with him and help with the children. They went flying down the fence line towards the Tucker mine.
When they got to the mine, both men were dismayed at what they saw, six children dressed in rags, looking like sorry packrats.
The presence of two more adults made the children uneasy, Pat sat on the floor of the old mine office and asked them to sit with him, "I am Pat O'Brian and these are my younger brothers, Tim and Cal. Together, we own the ranch right next door. This guy right here is Booger and he helps us.
Taylor Brogan said immediately, "BROGEN, not BOOGER!"
That broke the ice a bit and the children giggled. The boys were all related from two families and the girls were former neighbors.
Their parents never returned from going to work and the next thing they knew, a bunch of drug addicts moved into their houses. They all decided to get out of there before they got hurt and they had been on the move for the last two weeks.
The boys, Paul, John, Albert and Corey were all Davis' and the girls were sisters, Anita and Beth Donaldson.
Pat told them, "This old mine is just too dangerous for you guys to stay here. We can take you into town or you can come to the Ranch with us, its your choice."
The children talked among themselves, the oldest one, Corey Davis said, "Sir, we think we had ought to go with you, there ain't nothin' for us in town."
They got them all settled in the wagon and they all returned to Willow Springs Ranch at a much more sedate pace.
When they got back to the Ranch, Maria shook her head, "Where was she gonna put all these kids?"
Pat was thinking the same thing. He motioned Booger to follow him and they went around back to check out the old bunk house. They decided it would be fine for the boys, but the girls would have to stay in the main house, there were plenty of bedrooms upstairs in the third floor.
Maria's main concern was clothes, especially for the girls. She nabbed her little Grandson, Jose, and sent him over her house to fetch her sister, Corina.
Maria went back into her kitchen and dumped a bunch more vegetables into the stew she was fixing for lunch along with two more pans of biscuits in the oven.
When she beat the old iron triangle for lunch, Booger helped her slip the extra panels in the table so everyone could sit down and eat at the same time.
While they were all at the table, Pat told them that Jerry Dillon and his two boys would be moving out to the ranch the next day. They were going to bring everything that was left in their supply warehouse and that they were going to live with them until the "emergency" was over. They would live in Grandma Tillie's old house over by the spring.
The next day, Jerry showed up with the company truck loaded down to the springs and he was followed by two F-350 pickups loaded as high as the cabs with boxes and crates of preserved foods.
The two boys, Scott and David each driving one of the pickups. Neither boy was quite old enough to be driving, but with Joe Montoya and all his deputies off the job, there was no law enforcement in the county anyway.
David's truck also had things from Bate's Sporting Goods, Jerry said that Don Bates and his two sons, Gil and Robbie would be coming out as soon as they loaded the stuff they had stored in the basement of their house.
They had hardly gotten the supply trucks emptied and put away when they saw two large pickup trucks headed up the Ranch Road going hell bent for election!
The trucks skidded to a stop in the yard and young Gil Bates jumped out screaming, "Help us, Papa has been shot!"
They carried the injured man into the house and Maria probed the wound, not finding any bullet.
She said, "Mr. Don, I think the bullet passed right on through. I'm gonna sew up yer shoulder and sprinkle some sulfa power on it to keep the infection down."
Fortunately, Don passed out as she was suturing the wound and didn't wake up until after she had completed the task.
They unloaded the trucks of more ammunition, three kegs of nitro blasting powder, another four boxes of half and quarter stick dynamite and enough ammunition to start a revolution.
They also had packed more rifles and shotguns, Gil told them that they had pretty much cleared out the store.
The population at Willow Springs Ranch was rapidly expanding, Pat sat down with his brothers and they talked about opening up the second bunkhouse and the other two house that older family members had lived in at one time.
Before he let them go, Pat said to Cal and Tim, "It sounds like things are heating up around here, we better start thinking about security and guard duty pretty soon."
Chapter 2 – GROWING PAINS
Pat was sitting the ranch office thinking about what had taken place in the last four weeks, they had opened the third bunkhouse that had stood empty since he had been a small child. There were two small cottages on the property, over on the other side of the spring. Those were all that was left of empty space and he had an awful feeling they would be occupied before Christmas.
While none of the bunk houses were crowded full, it wouldn't take very many more people to make them that way. There were still a couple of bedrooms in the main house still empty, those two cottages were about all that was left.
They had little word about what was going on in town or any other place outside their ranch, but he guessed none of it was good.
He was startled when his radio went off, it was his brother, Cal, "Pat, me and Tommy are out at the line shack on the east range. We can see someone camping down in the canyon below Pete's Point. Can't tell for sure, but it looks like a bunch of boys."
Pat replied, "Ya' better check it out, we haven't had any rain in quite a spell, all it would take is a careless spark and we got ourselves a helluva range fire!"
Cal sent back, "OK, we'll check it and let ya' know what's what, OUT."
Out on the east side, Cal and Tommy Dillon eased their horses down the steep side of the canyon and headed for where they had seen the campfire smoke.
They came up on a small, neat camp with six teenaged boys sitting around the fire cooking their meal.
The oldest boy stood up and greeted them asking, "Is it ok we camp here, we don't mean to make no trouble."
Cal got down from his horse and walked over to the boys, "Hi, I'm Cal O'Brian, me and my brothers own this ranch. Where are y'all from?"
The boy replied, "IiiI, eeer, ah we are from Phoenix, sir." Cal put his arm over the shoulder of the teen and said, "Watcha running from?"
The boy looked to the ground and said, "Sir, theys a buncha trouble in Phoenix an wes ran before the gangs took us into their slave camps n' work us 'tils we drop."
Cal replied, "Hold on for a moment, let me talk to my older bro." He got back on the radio and talked with Pat.
After he finished speaking with Pat, he looked at the teens, "Guys, why don't y'all pick up your camp and lets go up to the top of the canyon and spent the night in the line shack. There is canned water and food up there and my brother will come up with the wagon first thing in the morning. Ya' ain't in no trouble."
The other boys said, "Let's do it Terry, its gonna be cold again tonight and we are almost out of food."
The boys all agreed and they picked up their camp before they scrambled up the wall of the canyon and found a good sized line shack in the shelter of a huge rock.
Cal herded them all into the shack and Tim started a fire in the sheet metal stove. As the shack warmed up, Cal put a big pot on the stove and started tossing the contents of cans into it, along with a couple cans of water.
The smells that started to come from the pot soon had the boys drooling, the boy named Terry asked, "Ya ain't gonna charge us anything fer the food, is ya'?"
Cal sat at the small table and motioned the boys over to him while Tommy continued to stir the stew in the pot.
As soon as he had their attention, Cal said, "Guys, we know things is getting' bad, but theys ain't so bad we gonna take advantage of anyone, we's not that kind o'folks. If you guys need a place to stay, we's ain't gonna turn ya out. Heck, y'all might like it with us an' ya wanta work here. Has ya' got some names?"
Terry replied, "Yes sir, I am Terry Collins and this is my younger brother Bobby. The two redheads over there are Allen and Gary Bonner, next is Ralph Conway and George Little. We were all in a Scout Troop together and we figured we had best get out of town while the getting was still possible."
Cal said, "Ok, lets eat some of that Cowboy Slumgullion that Tommy is stirrin' up and then we can all bed down here in the line shack. There be blankets in those covered barrels over in the corner and there is an out house over under those trees over there."
The boys had not eaten a full meal since they had escaped from Phoenix, the entire pot disappeared in a flash.
During the night, Cal heard several of the boys crying, he didn't say anything, but he was going to make darned sure his brother, Pat, allowed those boys to stay with them, especially after he was confided that the twins, Allen and Gary had been sexually abused by the gang members.
The trip back to the ranch house was slow, the six boys were on foot.
As they came down from the ridge, they spotted Pat and Booger bringing the wagon and team up the hill. The boys climbed into the bed of the wagon gratefully, they were tired and footsore.
They got back to the ranch house and Maria marched them through the showers with bars of soap and clean, fluffy towels. While they were showering, she gathered up their dirty clothes and laid out some clean ones she had put away for just such an occasion. They were not new, but they were clean and had no holes in them.
Terry came to speak with Pat, "Sir, you don't know who we are and you invite us into your home and feed us, care for us and offer us a place to stay. Why?"
Pat thought for a while and then said, "Terry, let me tell you a little story about our Great Grandpa. He was orphaned in Boston during a time when even having an Irish name was a crime. The authorities gathered up all the orphans and unattached children and put them on trains headed out west. A lot of those children were never claimed, but Great Grandpa Gordon O'Brian was claimed by a couple who had no children and they raised him up, right here on this ranch. They didn't know him, all they knew was that he needed a home and someone to love and nurture him. He worked hard and that couple gave him their love up to the day they died. He would have never survived back in Boston, but out here he was given the love and support that he needed to become the man he became. He and they are buried up on that hill, you can go up there and look at their stones if you wish. He taught our Grandpa about the goodness in people and Grandpa taught the rest of us. I can still remember Grandpa O'Brian, by the time my brothers came along, he had died. Our Daddy was taken in the War in Iraq, but I had our Grandpa's stories all in my mind and I passed them on to my Brothers. Just as John and Edith Mason took in our Great Grandpa, we honor that tradition as best we can by taking in you boys and others who need our help. You don't get anything out of this world unless you put something in it, when it comes my time, I plan on being able to stand tall before my God and tell him I did all I could to help others. It is as simple as that, we got no motive nor plan to do anything other than give you guys a helping hand."
Terry hugged Pat and thoroughly wetted his shirt with his tears.
When he calmed down, he asked, "Mr. Pat, sir, would you accept me as a hand on your ranch? I never has done such work before, but I promise you I will work the best I know how.
Pat smiled and replied, "Son, no man can ask more than that, yes, consider yourself a cowhand on the Willow Springs Ranch."
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