Prince had made his prophecy about the coming trouble lightly. He could not guess that the most terrible feud in the history of the West was to spring out of the quarrel between Snaith and Webb, a border war so grim and deadly that within three years more than a hundred lusty men were to fall in battle and from assassination. It would have amazed him to know that the bullet which laid low the renegade in Shoot-a-Buck Canon had set the spark to the evil passions which resulted in what came to be called the Washington County War. Least of all could he tell that the girl-faced boy riding beside him was to become the best-known character of all the desperate ones engaged in the trouble.
Half a dozen cowboys cantered up the main street of Los Portales in a cloud of dust. One of them, older than the rest, let out the wild yell he had known in the days when he rode with Quantrell’s guerrillas on the infamous raids of that bandit. A second flung into the blue sky three rapid revolver shots. Plainly they were advertising the fact that they had come to paint the town red and did not care who knew it.
The riders pulled up abruptly in front of Tolleson’s Gaming Palace & Saloon, swung from their horses, and trailed with jingling spurs into that oasis of refreshment. Each of them carried in his hand a rope. The other end of the rawhide was tied to the horn of a saddle.
A heavy-set, bow-legged man led the procession to the bar. He straddled forward with a swagger. The bartender was busy dusting his stock. Before the man had a chance to turn, the butt of a revolver hammered the counter.
“Get busy here! Set ’em up, Mike. And jump!” snarled the heavy man.
The barkeeper took one look at him and filed no demurrer. “Bad man” was writ on every line of the sullen, dissipated face of the bully. It was a safe bet that he was used to having his own way, or failing that was ready to fight at the drop of the hat.
Swiftly the drinks were prepared.
Every glass was tilted and emptied.
It was high noon by the sun and Tolleson’s was practically deserted. No devotees sat round the faro, roulette, and keno tables. The dealers were asleep in bed after their labors. So too were the dance girls. The poker rooms upstairs held only the stale odor of tobacco and whiskey. Except for a sleepy negro roustabout attendant and two young fellows at a table well back from the bar, the cowboys had the big hall all to themselves.
The bay was near the front of the barnlike room and to the right. To the left, along the wall, were small tables. Farther back were those used for gaming. In the rear one corner of the floor held a rostrum with seats for musicians. The center of the hall was kept clear for dancing. Three steps led to a door halfway back on the left-hand side of the building. They communicated with an outer stairway by means of which one could reach the poker rooms.