Sometime later—I wasn’t sure how long—I heard the sound of a vehicle coming up the road. I immediately sat up in my sleeping bag alert. We were camped down below the road, so I hoped that whomever it was would drive past without seeing us. My hopes were not realized, however. The headlights made their way toward us, bouncing and jogging with the ruts in the road, until their shadows revealed a pickup truck approaching. Instead of driving past, the truck slowed then turned toward us. They had seen Gizmo.
The pickup stopped, and the doors opened. I could see four of them as they got out, two from inside the truck and two who climbed out of the bed. They were talking loudly as they headed toward Gizmo, and they were clearly drunk.
“It’s a god damn horse!” one shouted. “What the hell’s it doin’ out here?”
“That’s a ranch horse,” another answered. “That there’s a ranch horse.”
“Ain’t no ranch horses out here,” replied the first man. “He’s tied up. Why the hell’s a horse tied up out here?”
I was getting tense. I was glad I had kept my pants and shirt on, though my boots were on the ground next to me. I reached inside my bedroll and pulled out the Colt. They were drunk, and they looked like trouble, but they had not seen me yet.
One of them said, “Hey, let’s ride the sumbitch.”
“Shit, you can’t ride that horse, James,” another said. “You ain’t no cowboy.”
“Hell, I can damned sure ride it if I want to,” the one named James responded. “C’mon, help me get on the sumbitch.”
Gizmo shied as the men advanced toward him. I pulled back the hammer of the Colt with an audible click, and they stopped, and suddenly grew quiet at the sound.
“Don’t get any closer to that horse,” I said calmly.
“What the …? Who’s there?” one of them demanded.
“You fellas just turn around now and go and get back in your truck and get on out of here,” I said. “I don’t want any trouble. Just leave the horse alone.”
“And what the hell do you think you’re gonna do about it?” James challenged.
“It ain’t what I’m gonna do about it,” I answered, in a quiet voice. “It’s what this Colt here is gonna do about it. You want to find out, you just keep right on. Otherwise, pack it on outta here. Like I said, I don’t want any trouble.”
“Fuck all, James …. he does have a gun! Fuck this, I’m gettin’ outta here,” one of them shouted.
Being the leader, James stood his ground. The other two added their own remarks about getting the hell out of there, but James didn’t budge. He was the bull elk in this herd, used to being in charge. But he was stumped at having his authority challenged. He and his friends could barely see me, but my eyes were well accustomed to the dark, so I could see them clearly. I wouldn’t have shot them, but they were drunk, and I could fire over their heads to scare them if push came to shove. Through it all, Gizmo eyed them warily. As it was, James finally gave in.
“C’mon, let’s go,” he ordered, as if it were his idea. “But you ain’t heard the last of this, asshole.” They stumbled back to the truck, piled in, and drove off.
As soon as their headlights disappeared over the hill, I pulled my boots on and went to Gizmo. I moved him far away from where he had been, afraid they might have a gun in their truck and would come back and shoot him. I gathered the gear, saddled him quickly, and led him away from the camp.