Hard Life


cowgirl spankedHer father was dead. That was the way it went sometimes. There was still the herd to get to Abilene and if they could cross the mountains before the snow then they might just save the ranch.

Jane Campbell-Lane thought herself as a hard woman for a hard country. Her black unkempt hair was hauled back to a practical bun giving her a masculine appearance head on. Or at least it would have done if her features hadn’t been unmistakably feminine. Even her heavy dark brow complimented this despite the mean dark-eyed look she gave the world from under them.

Her attire too was mannish. She had opted for denim pants rather than a riding skirt, but here too the harsh cotton clung to her ample curves in a way that city folk might have considered obscene.

“Go easy girl, no one will blame you if you fail,” her grandmother had soothed as Jane had been preparing the herd to go.

Jane had swung the jet black horse round in a tight animated circle to glare at her elder. “No one will blame me until you have nothing for the table old woman,” she spat.

Her grandmother’s eyes tightened. In her day she had stood with the men to fight off Indians. In her day she might too have taken the same view as Jane, but it galled her that those days had past. Still it was no way for a girl to speak to her elders. Jane had lost her Pa but Catherine Campbell-Lane had lost her only son.

“Maybe so,” Catherine said wistfully, “But despite what you say I would rather see you home and broke than not at all.”

“Then you’re the only one,” Jane hissed, “I am going make it or die trying.”

Then with a kick of the horse she raced it across the short mean grass to berate half a dozen cowhands still chewing the fat.

“You’re spending my daylight shitheads,” she yelled, “Get them doggies moving.”

Her Pa had often spoken to the men like that, but coming from her it sounded meaner.

“Yes’um Miss Campbell,” the Ramrod acknowledged with a tip of his hat. But as soon as Jane had hauled her tail to berate someone else the man spat on the ground before glaring after her.

Catherine caught the gesture and shrugged. Jim Canyon was an old friend and he was one of her husband’s first hires. But there was nothing to say. Jane was the boss now.


They were twelve days out of Albuquerque when they saw smoke.

“Grass fire I reckon,” Jim said thoughtfully.

“Reckon so,” Tom Mention agreed.

Next to Jim he was the top hand. Dark tall and lean he didn’t say much. He had been a cowhand since he had been 12 and 25 years on there wasn’t much he didn’t know about cows, horses or the open range.

“We had better swing the herd north some,” Tom suggested, his voice no more than a harsh whisper.

“That would be my thought,” Jim agreed, “But somehow I don’t think Miss Big Britches will go for it.”

“Well it’s that or risk the herd,” Tom shrugged. He frowned though. He didn’t like Jim disrespecting the boss, not that she wasn’t a right royal pain. But it had to be said that she was as good as most men he had ridden with and with her Pa dead she was up against it. She had hard choices to make and she had been making them.

“It’s her herd,” Jim sighed, but his gaze never left the ever smokier horizon.

Just then the big black horse that had been riding them since Utah thundered up with all the menace of a storm.

“What are you skanks gawping at, get back to work, your burning my daylight,” she bellowed.

“Just watching that there prairie fire ma’am,” Jim answered, his eyes still rooted on the ominous sky.

“It’s a ways off yet,” she snarled, “So don’t go afearing,” she added with a sneer.

“No call to say that ma’am,” Jim replied, “I am only saying…”

“Get them moving man, south-east, that way,” she barked, pointing slightly to the right of the pall of smoke.

“But ma’am,” Jim shot back, “The wind is…”

“If you move quick enough we won’t be here by the time the wind has anything to say,” she cut him off.

“Well that’s true enough,” Tom agreed as Jane sped off, “All we got to do is fly.”

Jim frowned and gave him a hard stare, but it didn’t take long for it to crack multiplying the smile lines on his face.

Tom laughed and slapped his thighs. Then both men shook their heads and set to work.


“You bastards, you god dammed bastards,” Jane raged, “If you had only done as I said…”

The men were silent now, mere shadows of grey in the haze of dust and smoke. Grime clung to their hollow faces so that bleary eyes peered out hauntingly through masks of dust and sweat.

An hour before the fire had finally hit the herd. Most of the steers were upwind by then and another 30 minutes and they might have got clear altogether, but now they were spooked and some had gone south while others had fled who knew where to escape.

“We nearly made it ma’am,” Jim said when he could draw a breath.

“Nearly, you old fool, nearly buys nothing. We may have lost half the herd all because…” she lit into him.

“Begging your pardon ma’am,” Tom cut her off. “Jim did mighty fine, we all did. You took a risk, some might say a foolish risk, but that was your call. I admire you for it. It nearly paid off too. But you’ve no call to speak to Jim like that.”

“Is that a fact?” Jane said with a storm-edged quiet. “You admire me do you? Foolish, but admirable, is that what you’ll put on my tombstone?” The last words exploded from her mouth.

Tom was unmoved and merely mopped his brow as if something was itching at him. “We can still probably save most of the herd, who knows, it may not be as bad as we feared, ma’am.”

“You useless lazy shit, you only had to…” Jane was incandescent. “This is Pa’s herd, my Pa, he spent his life… we might save half of it? Is that what you said? Well that’s alright then… I bet Pa is…” she continued to rage.

“Ma’am, you got no call talking to Jim like that and you ain’t got no right talking to me like that,” Tom said quietly.

“No right is it, why you…?” Jane was a dog with a bone and now she had an enemy she could see. Now she had someone she could blame.

“Ma’am, I suggest you simmer down,” Tom warned.

Jane dropped from her horse to square up to the man. Even though she came in at the height of his chest she did not pause. Then hands on hips she sucked in air for another tirade.

“You bastard, you bastard, you…” the storm broke and small fists pounded on the man’s chest why she spat the worst venom she knew.

“Ma’am, your Pa ain’t here, so I guess what’s needful falls to me,” Tom sighed.

Just to the left of them was a hillock, a grass lump not a yard high poking out of the ground. With a firm grip on Jane’s arm Tom steered the woman firmly towards it and then sat down. Jane had sprawled helplessly across his lap before she even knew what was happening.

“How did her Pa do this, it’s important?” Tom asked Jim.

“He used his belt,” Jim replied, his voice slow and sad. “The pants were taken down I reckon, but I never looked in on the barn to see for sure.”

“Nooo-nooo nooo,” Jane wailed and began to struggle. It was a futile gesture in the face of the man’s grip.

The belt made a zip-flapping sound as it cleared Tom’s pants loops. A similar action repeated at Jane’s waist.

“You wouldn’t dare,” Jane growled, her face contorted with rage.

Several men turned away as her pants slid over the smooth white domes of her bottom as it was bared. Although Jim watched until the faded blue denim was bunched all the way down to her boots. It took him that long to decide if he was going to allow this.

“Tom,” Jane gasped and slammed her small fists into the ground in a vain attempt to gain some escape leverage.

Tom pinned her hands into the small of her back with one hand and deftly doubled his belt with the other. The first thwack was like a rifle shot and Jane growled through her clamped jaw. But a dozen more quickly followed until she bucked and danced under the onslaught.

“You bastard, you… bast…” she wailed, her bottom now grazed scarlet and raw from the leather.

“I don’t talk like that in front of a lady and I won’t hear it from one either,” Tom said sternly as he continued to lay on the belt.

“Tom please,” she wailed, “Tom… Mr Mention…”

Tom’s prairie-hardened arm powered down relentlessly adding dark red fire to Jane’s already blazing bottom until her wailing gave in to full throated bawling and she broke down into convincing sobs.

Finally Tom dropped the belt and scooped the sobbing girl into his arms and held. “There you go, there,” he soothed as he gently rocked the crying woman.

It took a while but as Jane came back to herself she sobbed, “Pa would have put me in the corner about now.”

“I don’t reckon there is a corner for a hundred miles,” Tom chuckled.

Jane nodded as she used her one free hand to wipe her nose. “I’m sorry Tom,” and then with a fresh sob she heaved a breath and added, “I’m sorry Mr Canyon.”

“Don’t take on so ma’am,” Jim coughed, his back still firmly turned away. “We have a herd to save.”

“You reckon we can… save it I mean?” Jane sniffed as she got her feet and pulled up her pants.

“I reckon we can.” Jim agreed.

“Then we will push on to Abilene as soon as we have rested up,” she told him shyly, adding “and I can sit horse.”

Jim and Tim laughed, although the other men had already moved away to attend to their horses.

“Thank you Tom,” Jane whispered as she found her walking had for the moment picked up a slight limp.

“You’re welcome ma’am,” he said tipping his hat.

“Oh Tom…” she suddenly sounded anxious, “Don’t tell grandma will you?”

The grin and the shaking head seemed to contradict themselves.

“You b… beast,” she said, but when he winked she smiled.

2 Responses to “Hard Life”

  1. 1 richard

    Hard times in a hard land require hard men and women but we are all softened by deserved hard punishment by our elders that is given in love Another excellent effort on your part about a time that i hold dear short though it was it continues to shape and imspire the american ledgend of the cowboy and cowgirl to this day

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