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The Chisholm Trail Bride

By Kathleen Y'Barbo

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Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6 KJV

Chapter 1

March 1880
On the Chisholm Trail

The stars at night were big and bright. Eliza Gentry sighed. Was there any more beautiful sight? There couldn’t possibly be.

A wisp of cloud drifted lazily over a hazy fingernail of a moon while cattle lowed in the distance. Eliza lay back on the pile of quilts she’d made into the most comfortable bed in the entire encampment and stared up at those beautiful Texas stars.

Tonight they were the canopy beneath which she would sleep, and tomorrow the blazing sun would take its place. The cowboys would rise before dawn to complain about the coffee and each other, but never would they complain about riding all those miles under the big blue sky.

Much as they grumbled about other things, the men who drove cattle from the Gentry Ranch up toward the Red River lived the whole year for the spring drives. Chief among them was her father.

The fact that Mama had allowed her to go along with Papa and her brothers this year was a miracle in itself. She’d threatened to bundle Eliza off to New Orleans for the annual visit with the Gentry and LeBlanc cousins.

“The girl needs finishing,” she’d heard her mother say. “She needs the companionship of fine young ladies and the company of young gentlemen.”

Papa’s chair legs had scraped the kitchen floor at that statement, causing Eliza to gather closer into the shadows behind the kitchen door lest Papa come strolling past and find her.

“She’s got time for that,” he’d said gently.

“My mother would disagree. At twelve I already knew my place as a young lady. I had been taught how to carry myself in society and was already planning my trousseau. Meanwhile, our daughter is doing nothing of the sort.” Mama’s voice rose. “Do you know I caught her on the roof of the spring house again? When I asked her what on earth she was doing, she told me she’d only just determined that it might be possible to land in the saddle of her horse from that angle if she were to wait until the wind blew just right. Can you feature it?”

Papa’s chuckle drifted toward her. “Sounds like the work of her brothers, Pauline. Boys tease, especially their sisters.”

“I don’t find it funny at all,” her mother said. “And no, this time the culprit was that Creed boy. I know you like the elder Wyatt Creed, and I can find no fault with W.C. other than perhaps his background, but the younger Creed is trouble. You mark my words.”

Eliza’s lips twisted into a smile as she recalled the conversation and the dare that precipitated it. Mama spoke the truth when she told Papa that Wyatt Creed was involved, but what she did not know was that Eliza had never planned to try landing in that saddle.

As with every other conversation she had with Wyatt, if he thought she would do it, he’d have to do it, too. And better. Or faster.

Or whatever else it took to best her.

Sometimes he did and sometimes he didn’t. This time they would never know whether Wyatt might have landed that jump into the saddle thanks to Mama’s interruption of what would have been a perfectly good idea.

And of course that traitor Wyatt saw Mama heading for them and cut out for home before she spied him. That left Eliza on the roof with no good explanation other than the truth.

The reverend said the truth would set her free. This time the truth almost sent her into exile.

Only Papa and his insistence on taking her along with the purpose of talking sense into her kept her off the steamer that was currently heading east. For that she was eternally grateful.

Mama’s sister, Eugenie, had just given birth to a baby girl she’d named Justine. All Mama had done from the time the letter arrived until she’d left on the stage was to sew up dainty baby girl clothes for her new niece, all the while rattling on about how in no time it would be her turn to marry and have babies of her own.

As much as she loved Mama, she did not value her opinion on this subject. From what she could tell, growing up and marrying meant giving up riding alongside Papa on the trail and sleeping under the stars.

A life without that was no life at all. And babies? They cried and made messes and were a general source of disruption. She had Wyatt for that.

Eliza shifted positions and kicked off her quilt.It was a warm night for late March but the breeze was nice, so Papa had pulled back the canvas that covered the wagon to allow all three of them to slumber there while he took up his turn keeping watch.

Ezekiel Gentry, who at nearly sixteen was the eldest of the Gentry children, had curled up in the corner and taken to snoring as soon as Papa rode away. Not that she blamed him.

This year he had joined the menfolk and taken on full duties as a ranch hand. This meant that he’d be chasing strays and keeping watch just like the rest of the men.

Poor Zeke had bragged about all of this in the weeks leading up to their departure. Now three days had passed on the trail and her big brother could barely keep upright on his horse most days for the exhaustion.

Beside her on his own pile of quilts was Clayborne “Trey” Gentry, III, the middle brother with the fancy sounding name who’d nearly caught up to Zeke in height and surpassed him in strength and general bullheadedness. Namesake of both Papa and Grandpa Clay, Trey was an old soul who rarely complained and, for that matter, hardly commented unless there was something worthwhile to say.

Oh, but he did love to tease, and Eliza was his favorite target. Now that Wyatt Creed’s father, W.C., had come to work for the Gentrys and both father and son took up places on the drive, Wyatt and Trey had become fast friends and partners in the crime of irritating Eliza to distraction.

“Close those eyes, girlie.”

Eliza tilted her head to see Papa standing near the wagon. “I’m not tired. Besides, the stars are so beautiful,” she told him. “How can I sleep when God has given me something so entertaining to study?”

His low chuckle made her smile. “There’ll be plenty of time to study the stars someday. Tonight is not that time. Besides I don’t want to have to send you home because you cannot keep awake.”

Trey shifted positions beside her but did not awaken. “I’ll try,” she whispered. “I truly will.”

“Why am I suspicious of your sincerity?”

Eliza giggled. “The same reason I am suspicious of yours. You wouldn’t send me home.”

He lifted his dark brows but even in the moonlight she could see the beginnings of a grin. “Wouldn’t I?”
“Why am I suspicious of your sincerity?” she said with her own grin firmly in place.

Papa was the youngest child and only son of Claiborne Gentry, Sr. and his bride Ellis Dumont. Born into a family of sisters whose hair was as red as the curls Eliza tried to hide under her bonnet, her father was dark and handsome and had to be the smartest man alive.

All her life Papa had told stories of her grandmother, the quiet woman who’d done brave and amazing things in her life, and of Grandpa Clay who’d descended from pirates and fought bravely for the independence that Eliza took for granted.

Eliza’s response to these stories of battles fought, lost loves found, and treasures buried but not forgotten was always to question whether Papa told the truth. So this question, often bandied about between them, was one that held humor as well as meaning.

Tonight it appeared her father carried a bit of both in his meaning. “Eliza Jane,” he said slowly. “Do not try me. Your mama will have my head if I bring you back in worse shape than I took you, and you know it.”

She did. It was likely that Mama was already looking for an excuse to say no to her accompanying Papa and the boys on the spring trail ride next year.

“I have not yet seen a shooting star,” she protested. “Once I do, I promise I will sleep.”

“That is a wish, not a need,” Papa said as he leaned down from his horse to tuck the quilt back over her legs. “Sleep is needed tonight else you will be wanting the stars tomorrow.”

Eliza closed her eyes then but opened them again once the sound of Papa’s horse faded away. Overhead stars twinkled. She counted the points of light that made up the Big Dipper, Orion, and...


She glanced over at her brothers who were still sleeping soundly and then returned to her study of the heavens above. The Lord had made each star, of that she recalled and believed from the Bible, but how many were there? Perhaps one day she would be the one to give that answer.


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