: Riders Of The Purple Sage
The rider thundered up and almost threw his foam-flecked horse in
the sudden stop. He was a giant form, and with fearless eyes.
"Judkins, you're all bloody!" cried Jane, in affright. "Oh,
you've been shot!"
"Nothin' much Miss Withersteen. I got a nick in the shoulder. I'm
some wet an' the hoss's been throwin
lather, so all this ain't
"What's up?" queried Venters, sharply.
"Rustlers sloped off with the red herd."
"Where are my riders?" demanded Jane.
"Miss Withersteen, I was alone all night with the herd. At
daylight this mornin' the rustlers rode down. They began to shoot
at me on sight. They chased me hard an' far, burnin' powder all
the time, but I got away."
"Jud, they meant to kill you," declared Venters.
"Now I wonder," returned Judkins. "They wanted me bad. An' it
ain't regular for rustlers to waste time chasin' one rider."
"Thank heaven you got away," said Jane. "But my riders--where are
"I don't know. The night-riders weren't there last night when I
rode down, en' this mornin' I met no day-riders."
"Judkins! Bern, they've been set upon--killed by Oldring's men!"
"I don't think so," replied Venters, decidedly. "Jane, your
riders haven't gone out in the sage."
"Bern, what do you mean?" Jane Withersteen turned deathly pale.
"You remember what I said about the unseen hand?"
"I hope so. But I fear--" Venters finished, with a shake of his
"Bern, you're bitter; but that's only natural. We'll wait to see
what's happened to my riders. Judkins, come to the house with me.
Your wound must be attended to."
"Jane, I'll find out where Oldring drives the herd," vowed
"No, no! Bern, don't risk it now--when the rustlers are in such
"I'm going. Jud, how many cattle in that red herd?"
"Twenty-five hundred head."
"Whew! What on earth can Oldring do with so many cattle? Why, a
hundred head is a big steal. I've got to find out."
"Don't go," implored Jane.
"Bern, you want a hoss thet can run. Miss Withersteen, if it's
not too bold of me to advise, make him take a fast hoss or don't
let him go."
"Yes, yes, Judkins. He must ride a horse that can't be caught.
Which one--Black Star--Night?"
"Jane, I won't take either," said Venters, emphatically. "I
wouldn't risk losing one of your favorites."
"Thet's the hoss," replied Judkins. "Wrangle can outrun Black
Star an' Night. You'd never believe it, Miss Withersteen, but I
know. Wrangle's the biggest en' fastest hoss on the sage."
"Oh no, Wrangle can't beat Black Star. But, Bern, take Wrangle if
you will go. Ask Jerd for anything you need. Oh, be watchful
careful.... God speed you."
She clasped his hand, turned quickly away, and went down a lane
with the rider.
Venters rode to the barn, and, leaping off, shouted for Jerd. The
boy came running. Venters sent him for meat, bread, and dried
fruits, to be packed in saddlebags. His own horse he turned loose
into the nearest corral. Then he went for Wrangle. The giant
sorrel had earned his name for a trait the opposite of
amiability. He came readily out of the barn, but once in the yard
he broke from Venters, and plunged about with ears laid back.
Venters had to rope him, and then he kicked down a section of
fence, stood on his hind legs, crashed down and fought the rope.
Jerd returned to lend a hand.
"Wrangle don't git enough work," said Jerd, as the big saddle
went on. "He's unruly when he's corralled, an' wants to run. Wait
till he smells the sage!"
"Jerd, this horse is an iron-jawed devil. I never straddled him
but once. Run? Say, he's swift as wind!"
When Venters's boot touched the stirrup the sorrel bolted, giving
him the rider's flying mount. The swing of this fiery horse
recalled to Venters days that were not really long past, when he
rode into the sage as the leader of Jane Withersteen's riders.
Wrangle pulled hard on a tight rein. He galloped out of the lane,
down the shady border of the grove, and hauled up at the
watering-trough, where he pranced and champed his bit. Venters
got off and filled his canteen while the horse drank. The dogs,
Ring and Whitie, came trotting up for their drink. Then Venters
remounted and turned Wrangle toward the sage.
A wide, white trail wound away down the slope. One keen, sweeping
glance told Venters that there was neither man nor horse nor
steer within the limit of his vision, unless they were lying down
in the sage. Ring loped in the lead and Whitie loped in the rear.
Wrangle settled gradually into an easy swinging canter, and
Venters's thoughts, now that the rush and flurry of the start
were past, and the long miles stretched before him, reverted to a
calm reckoning of late singular coincidences.
There was the night ride of Tull's, which, viewed in the light of
subsequent events, had a look of his covert machinations; Oldring
and his Masked Rider and his rustlers riding muffled horses; the
report that Tull had ridden out that morning with his man Jerry
on the trail to Glaze, the strange disappearance of Jane
Withersteen's riders, the unusually determined attempt to kill
the one Gentile still in her employ, an intention frustrated, no
doubt, only by Judkin's magnificent riding of her racer, and
lastly the driving of the red herd. These events, to Venters's
color of mind, had a dark relationship. Remembering Jane's
accusation of bitterness, he tried hard to put aside his rancor
in judging Tull. But it was bitter knowledge that made him see
the truth. He had felt the shadow of an unseen hand; he had
watched till he saw its dim outline, and then he had traced it to
a man's hate, to the rivalry of a Mormon Elder, to the power of a
Bishop, to the long, far-reaching arm of a terrible creed. That
unseen hand had made its first move against Jane Withersteen. Her
riders had been called in, leaving her without help to drive
seven thousand head of cattle. But to Venters it seemed
extraordinary that the power which had called in these riders had
left so many cattle to be driven by rustlers and harried by
wolves. For hand in glove with that power was an insatiate greed;
they were one and the same.
"What can Oldring do with twenty-five hundred head of cattle?"
muttered Venters. "Is he a Mormon? Did he meet Tull last night?
It looks like a black plot to me. But Tull and his churchmen
wouldn't ruin Jane Withersteen unless the Church was to profit by
that ruin. Where does Oldring come in? I'm going to find out
about these things."
Wrangle did the twenty-five miles in three hours and walked
little of the way. When he had gotten warmed up he had been
allowed to choose his own gait. The afternoon had well advanced
when Venters struck the trail of the red herd and found where it
had grazed the night before. Then Venters rested the horse and
used his eyes. Near at hand were a cow and a calf and several
yearlings, and farther out in the sage some straggling steers. He
caught a glimpse of coyotes skulking near the cattle. The slow
sweeping gaze of the rider failed to find other living things
within the field of sight. The sage about him was breast-high to
his horse, oversweet with its warm, fragrant breath, gray where
it waved to the light, darker where the wind left it still, and
beyond the wonderful haze-purple lent by distance. Far across
that wide waste began the slow lift of uplands through which
Deception Pass cut its tortuous many-canyoned way.
Venters raised the bridle of his horse and followed the broad
cattle trail. The crushed sage resembled the path of a monster
snake. In a few miles of travel he passed several cows and calves
that had escaped the drive. Then he stood on the last high bench
of the slope with the floor of the valley beneath. The opening of
the canyon showed in a break of the sage, and the cattle trail
paralleled it as far as he could see. That trail led to an
undiscovered point where Oldring drove cattle into the pass, and
many a rider who had followed it had never returned. Venters
satisfied himself that the rustlers had not deviated from their
usual course, and then he turned at right angles off the cattle
trail and made for the head of the pass.
The sun lost its heat and wore down to the western horizon, where
it changed from white to gold and rested like a huge ball about
to roll on its golden shadows down the slope. Venters watched the
lengthening of the rays and bars, and marveled at his own
league-long shadow. The sun sank. There was instant shading of
brightness about him, and he saw a kind of cold purple bloom
creep ahead of him to cross the canyon, to mount the opposite
slope and chase and darken and bury the last golden flare of
Venters rode into a trail that he always took to get down into
the canyon. He dismounted and found no tracks but his own made
days previous. Nevertheless he sent the dog Ring ahead and
waited. In a little while Ring returned. Whereupon Venters led
his horse on to the break in the ground.
The opening into Deception Pass was one of the remarkable natural
phenomena in a country remarkable for vast slopes of sage,
uplands insulated by gigantic red walls, and deep canyons of
mysterious source and outlet. Here the valley floor was level,
and here opened a narrow chasm, a ragged vent in yellow walls of
stone. The trail down the five hundred feet of sheer depth always
tested Venters's nerve. It was bad going for even a burro. But
Wrangle, as Venters led him, snorted defiance or disgust rather
than fear, and, like a hobbled horse on the jump, lifted his
ponderous iron-shod fore hoofs and crashed down over the first
rough step. Venters warmed to greater admiration of the sorrel;
and, giving him a loose bridle, he stepped down foot by foot.
Oftentimes the stones and shale started by Wrangle buried Venters
to his knees; again he was hard put to it to dodge a rolling
boulder, there were times when he could not see Wrangle for dust,
and once he and the horse rode a sliding shelf of yellow,
weathered cliff. It was a trail on which there could be no stops,
and, therefore, if perilous, it was at least one that did not
take long in the descent.
Venters breathed lighter when that was over, and felt a sudden
assurance in the success of his enterprise. For at first it had
been a reckless determination to achieve something at any cost,
and now it resolved itself into an adventure worthy of all his
reason and cunning, and keenness of eye and ear.
Pinyon pines clustered in little clumps along the level floor of
the pass. Twilight had gathered under the walls. Venters rode
into the trail and up the canyon. Gradually the trees and caves
and objects low down turned black, and this blackness moved up
the walls till night enfolded the pass, while day still lingered
above. The sky darkened; and stars began to show, at first pale
and then bright. Sharp notches of the rim-wall, biting like teeth
into the blue, were landmarks by which Venters knew where his
camping site lay. He had to feel his way through a thicket of
slender oaks to a spring where he watered Wrangle and drank
himself. Here he unsaddled and turned Wrangle loose, having no
fear that the horse would leave the thick, cool grass adjacent to
the spring. Next he satisfied his own hunger, fed Ring and Whitie
and, with them curled beside him, composed himself to await
There had been a time when night in the high altitude of these
Utah uplands had been satisfying to Venters. But that was before
the oppression of enemies had made the change in his mind. As a
rider guarding the herd he had never thought of the night's
wildness and loneliness; as an outcast, now when the full silence
set in, and the deep darkness, and trains of radiant stars shone
cold and calm, he lay with an ache in his heart. For a year he
had lived as a black fox, driven from his kind. He longed for the
sound of a voice, the touch of a hand. In the daytime there was
riding from place to place, and the gun practice to which
something drove him, and other tasks that at least necessitated
action, at night, before he won sleep, there was strife in his
soul. He yearned to leave the endless sage slopes, the wilderness
of canyons, and it was in the lonely night that this yearning
grew unbearable. It was then that he reached forth to feel Ring
or Whitie, immeasurably grateful for the love and companionship
of two dogs.
On this night the same old loneliness beset Venters, the old
habit of sad thought and burning unquiet had its way. But from it
evolved a conviction that his useless life had undergone a subtle
change. He had sensed it first when Wrangle swung him up to the
high saddle, he knew it now when he lay in the gateway of
Deception Pass. He had no thrill of adventure, rather a gloomy
perception of great hazard, perhaps death. He meant to find
Oldring's retreat. The rustlers had fast horses, but none that
could catch Wrangle. Venters knew no rustler could creep upon him
at night when Ring and Whitie guarded his hiding-place. For the
rest, he had eyes and ears, and a long rifle and an unerring aim,
which he meant to use. Strangely his foreshadowing of change did
not hold a thought of the killing of Tull. It related only to
what was to happen to him in Deception Pass; and he could no more
lift the veil of that mystery than tell where the trails led to
in that unexplored canyon. Moreover, he did not care. And at
length, tired out by stress of thought, he fell asleep.
When his eyes unclosed, day had come again, and he saw the rim of
the opposite wall tipped with the gold of sunrise. A few moments
sufficed for the morning's simple camp duties. Near at hand he
found Wrangle, and to his surprise the horse came to him. Wrangle
was one of the horses that left his viciousness in the home
corral. What he wanted was to be free of mules and burros and
steers, to roll in dust-patches, and then to run down the wide,
open, windy sage-plains, and at night browse and sleep in the
cool wet grass of a springhole. Jerd knew the sorrel when he said
of him, "Wait till he smells the sage!"
Venters saddled and led him out of the oak thicket, and, leaping
astride, rode up the canyon, with Ring and Whitie trotting
behind. An old grass-grown trail followed the course of a shallow
wash where flowed a thin stream of water. The canyon was a
hundred rods wide, its yellow walls were perpendicular; it had
abundant sage and a scant growth of oak and pinon. For five miles
it held to a comparatively straight bearing, and then began a
heightening of rugged walls and a deepening of the floor. Beyond
this point of sudden change in the character of the canyon
Venters had never explored, and here was the real door to the
intricacies of Deception Pass.
He reined Wrangle to a walk, halted now and then to listen, and
then proceeded cautiously with shifting and alert gaze. The
canyon assumed proportions that dwarfed those of its first ten
miles. Venters rode on and on, not losing in the interest of his
wide surroundings any of his caution or keen search for tracks or
sight of living thing. If there ever had been a trail here, he
could not find it. He rode through sage and clumps of pinon trees
and grassy plots where long-petaled purple lilies bloomed. He
rode through a dark constriction of the pass no wider than the
lane in the grove at Cottonwoods. And he came out into a great
amphitheater into which jutted huge towering corners of a
confluences of intersecting canyons.
Venters sat his horse, and, with a rider's eye, studied this wild
cross-cut of huge stone gullies. Then he went on, guided by the
course of running water. If it had not been for the main stream
of water flowing north he would never have been able to tell
which of those many openings was a continuation of the pass. In
crossing this amphitheater he went by the mouths of five canyons,
fording little streams that flowed into the larger one. Gaining
the outlet which he took to be the pass, he rode on again under
over hanging walls. One side was dark in shade, the other light
in sun. This narrow passageway turned and twisted and opened into
a valley that amazed Venters.
Here again was a sweep of purple sage, richer than upon the
higher levels. The valley was miles long, several wide, and
inclosed by unscalable walls. But it was the background of this
valley that so forcibly struck him. Across the sage-flat rose a
strange up-flinging of yellow rocks. He could not tell which were
close and which were distant. Scrawled mounds of stone, like
mountain waves, seemed to roll up to steep bare slopes and
In this plain of sage Venters flushed birds and rabbits, and when
he had proceeded about a mile he caught sight of the bobbing
white tails of a herd of running antelope. He rode along the edge
of the stream which wound toward the western end of the slowly
looming mounds of stone. The high slope retreated out of sight
behind the nearer protection. To Venters the valley appeared to
have been filled in by a mountain of melted stone that had
hardened in strange shapes of rounded outline. He followed the
stream till he lost it in a deep cut. Therefore Venters quit the
dark slit which baffled further search in that direction, and
rode out along the curved edge of stone where it met the sage. It
was not long before he came to a low place, and here Wrangle
readily climbed up.
All about him was ridgy roll of wind-smoothed, rain-washed rock.
Not a tuft of grass or a bunch of sage colored the dull
rust-yellow. He saw where, to the right, this uneven flow of
stone ended in a blunt wall. Leftward, from the hollow that lay
at his feet, mounted a gradual slow-swelling slope to a great
height topped by leaning, cracked, and ruined crags. Not for some
time did he grasp the wonder of that acclivity. It was no less
than a mountain-side, glistening in the sun like polished
granite, with cedar-trees springing as if by magic out of the
denuded surface. Winds had swept it clear of weathered shale, and
rains had washed it free of dust. Far up the curved slope its
beautiful lines broke to meet the vertical rim-wall, to lose its
grace in a different order and color of rock, a stained yellow
cliff of cracks and caves and seamed crags. And straight before
Venters was a scene less striking but more significant to his
keen survey. For beyond a mile of the bare, hummocky rock began
the valley of sage, and the mouths of canyons, one of which
surely was another gateway into the pass.
He got off his horse, and, giving the bridle to Ring to hold, he
commenced a search for the cleft where the stream ran. He was not
successful and concluded the water dropped into an underground
passage. Then he returned to where he had left Wrangle, and led
him down off the stone to the sage. It was a short ride to the
opening canyons. There was no reason for a choice of which one to
enter. The one he rode into was a clear, sharp shaft in yellow
stone a thousand feet deep, with wonderful wind-worn caves low
down and high above buttressed and turreted ramparts. Farther on
Venters came into a region where deep indentations marked the
line of canyon walls. These were huge, cove-like blind pockets
extending back to a sharp corner with a dense growth of
underbrush and trees.
Venters penetrated into one of these offshoots, and, as he had
hoped, he found abundant grass. He had to bend the oak saplings
to get his horse through. Deciding to make this a hiding-place if
he could find water, he worked back to the limit of the shelving
walls. In a little cluster of silver spruces he found a spring.
This inclosed nook seemed an ideal place to leave his horse and
to camp at night, and from which to make stealthy trips on foot.
The thick grass hid his trail; the dense growth of oaks in the
opening would serve as a barrier to keep Wrangle in, if, indeed,
the luxuriant browse would not suffice for that. So Venters,
leaving Whitie with the horse, called Ring to his side, and,
rifle in hand, worked his way out to the open. A careful
photographing in mind of the formation of the bold outlines of
rimrock assured him he would be able to return to his retreat
even in the dark.
Bunches of scattered sage covered the center of the canyon, and
among these Venters threaded his way with the step of an Indian.
At intervals he put his hand on the dog and stopped to listen.
There was a drowsy hum of insects, but no other sound disturbed
the warm midday stillness. Venters saw ahead a turn, more abrupt
than any yet. Warily he rounded this corner, once again to halt
The canyon opened fan-shaped into a great oval of green and gray
growths. It was the hub of an oblong wheel, and from it, at
regular distances, like spokes, ran the outgoing canyons. Here a
dull red color predominated over the fading yellow. The corners
of wall bluntly rose, scarred and scrawled, to taper into towers
and serrated peaks and pinnacled domes.
Venters pushed on more heedfully than ever. Toward the center of
this circle the sage-brush grew smaller and farther apart He was
about to sheer off to the right, where thickets and jumbles of
fallen rock would afford him cover, when he ran right upon a
broad cattle trail. Like a road it was, more than a trail, and
the cattle tracks were fresh. What surprised him more, they were
wet! He pondered over this feature. It had not rained. The only
solution to this puzzle was that the cattle had been driven
through water, and water deep enough to wet their legs.
Suddenly Ring growled low. Venters rose cautiously and looked
over the sage. A band of straggling horsemen were riding across
the oval. He sank down, startled and trembling. "Rustlers!" he
muttered. Hurriedly he glanced about for a place to hide. Near at
hand there was nothing but sage-brush. He dared not risk crossing
the open patches to reach the rocks. Again he peeped over the
sage. The rustlers--four--five--seven--eight in all, were
approaching, but not directly in line with him. That was relief
for a cold deadness which seemed to be creeping inward along his
veins. He crouched down with bated breath and held the bristling
He heard the click of iron-shod hoofs on stone, the coarse
laughter of men, and then voices gradually dying away. Long
moments passed. Then he rose. The rustlers were riding into a
canyon. Their horses were tired, and they had several pack
animals; evidently they had traveled far. Venters doubted that
they were the rustlers who had driven the red herd. Olding's band
had split. Venters watched these horsemen disappear under a bold
The rustlers had come from the northwest side of the oval.
Venters kept a steady gaze in that direction, hoping, if there
were more, to see from what canyon they rode. A quarter of an
hour went by. Reward for his vigilance came when he descried
three more mounted men, far over to the north. But out of what
canyon they had ridden it was too late to tell. He watched the
three ride across the oval and round the jutting red corner where
the others had gone.
"Up that canyon!" exclaimed Venters. "Oldring's den! I've found
A knotty point for Venters was the fact that the cattle tracks
all pointed west. The broad trail came from the direction of the
canyon into which the rustlers had ridden, and undoubtedly the
cattle had been driven out of it across the oval. There were no
tracks pointing the other way. It had been in his mind that
Oldring had driven the red herd toward the rendezvous, and not
from it. Where did that broad trail come down into the pass, and
where did it lead? Venters knew he wasted time in pondering the
question, but it held a fascination not easily dispelled. For
many years Oldring's mysterious entrance and exit to Deception
Pass had been all-absorbing topics to sage-riders.
All at once the dog put an end to Venters's pondering. Ring
sniffed the air, turned slowly in his tracks with a whine, and
then growled. Venters wheeled. Two horsemen were within a hundred
yards, coming straight at him. One, lagging behind the other, was
Oldring's Masked Rider.
Venters cunningly sank, slowly trying to merge into sage-brush.
But, guarded as his action was, the first horse detected it. He
stopped short, snorted, and shot up his ears. The rustler bent
forward, as if keenly peering ahead. Then, with a swift sweep, he
jerked a gun from its sheath and fired.
The bullet zipped through the sage-brush. Flying bits of wood
struck Venters, and the hot, stinging pain seemed to lift him in
one leap. Like a flash the blue barrel of his rifle gleamed level
and he shot once--twice.
The foremost rustler dropped his weapon and toppled from his
saddle, to fall with his foot catching in a stirrup. The horse
snorted wildly and plunged away, dragging the rustler through the
The Masked Rider huddled over his pommel slowly swaying to one
side, and then, with a faint, strange cry, slipped out of the