The saloon was bursting at the seams. Every table was filled. The bar was lined from end to end. Women flitted about, being as friendly as they could be.

With a start, Fargo realized that few of the females were white. Most were Flatheads, but a few were from other tribes. He went to skirt a table when suddenly a man in a chair pushed back and stepped directly into his path. They bumped shoulders, hard.

“Watch where you’re going, damn you,” the man complained.

Fargo went on by, saying, “You walked into me, lunkhead.” He was brought up short by a hand on his arm.

“What did you just call me?” The man was compact and muscular and had the shoulders of a bull.

“Want me to spell it?” Fargo tore loose and took another step, only to have his arm grabbed a second time. He turned, just as a fist arced at his face….



by Jon Sharpe

The Trailsman

Beginnings…they bend the tree and they mark the man. Skye Fargo was born when he was eighteen. Terror was his midwife, vengeance his first cry. Killing spawned Skye Fargo, ruthless, cold-blooded murder. Out of the acrid smoke of gunpowder still hanging in the air, he rose, cried out a promise never forgotten.

The Trailsman they began to call him all across the West: searcher, scout, hunter, the man who could see where others only looked, his skills for hire but not his soul, the man who lived each day to the fullest, yet trailed each tomorrow. Skye Fargo, the Trailsman, the seeker who could take the wildness of a land and the wanting of a woman and make them his own.

Flathead Lake, 1861—where the poison of hate destroyed innocent lives.


The rider came down out of the high country and drew rein on the crest of a low hill. Below stretched a long, broad valley. Mission Valley, some called it. Beyond, to the north, gleamed Flathead Lake, the largest body of water between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean.

The rider’s handsome face was burned brown by the relentless sun. He was tall in height and broad of shoulder, and sat his saddle as someone long accustomed to being on horseback. In addition to buckskins, he wore a white hat turned brown with dust, and a red bandanna. On his hip was a well-used Colt. In the scabbard on his saddle nestled a Henry rifle.

The splendid stallion he rode was often referred to as a pinto. A closer look revealed that the markings were different; the dark spots were smaller, and there were more of them. To those who knew horses, his was more properly called an Ovaro or Overo. But pinto would do.

The heat of the summer’s day had brought sweat to the rider and his mount. The man removed his hat, swiped at his perspiring face with a sleeve, then jammed his hat back on and pulled the brim low. He was about to gig the Ovaro down the slope when movement drew his attention to a procession moving out of the hills.

The rider’s eyes, which were the same vivid blue as the lake miles away, narrowed. Four men on horseback were strung out in single file. Trailing them were three shuffling figures in dresses, and unless the rider’s eyes were playing tricks on him, the three women had their arms bound behind their backs and were linked one to the other by rope looped around their necks.

“It is worth a look-see,” the man said to the Ovaro, and tapped his spurs. When he was still a ways off, one of the four men spotted him, and shouted and pointed. The party promptly halted. Two of the men moved their mounts to either side of the women.

The stockiest of the bunch came out and waited with the butt of his rifle on his leg and his finger on the trigger. He wore seedy clothes more common on the riverfront than in the mountains. On his left hip was a bowie. “That will be far enough, mister!” he called out when the tall rider had but ten yards to cover. “What do you want?”

The tall man drew rein and leaned on his saddle horn. “Nothing in particular,” he answered. “You are the first people I have come across in over a week.”

The stocky riverman’s dark eyes raked the other from dusty hat to dusty boots. “Mind if I ask your handle?”

“Skye Fargo.”

“I am called Kutler.” The man paused. “Haven’t I heard of you somewhere? Something about a shooting match you won? Or was it that you scout for the army?”

“Both,” Fargo said. He noticed that the other three men had their hands near their revolvers.

“What are you doing in this neck of the woods? Army work?” Kutler asked with more than a hint of suspicion.

Fargo shook his head. “I have time to myself and wanted to get away by my lonesome for a while,” he lied. He gazed to the north. “The last time I was through this area, the only settlement had a handful of cabins and a lean-to and called itself Polson.”

“Polson is still there, but near a hundred people call it home these days,” Kutler unwittingly confirmed the intelligence passed on to Fargo by the army. “By the end of next year, that number will be a thousand.”

“Did you just say a thousand?” Fargo grinned. “Do you have a flask hid somewhere?”

Kutler chuckled. “I do sound drunk, don’t I? But I am as sober as can be. Not by choice, mind you. The man I work for has his rules. He is the one predicting there will be that many.”

“He is awful optimistic,” Fargo said. It was true more and more people were flocking west each year, but Mission Valley and Flathead Lake were so far north, it would be decades yet before the influx rivaled that of, say, Denver or Cheyenne.

“Big Mike Durn has reason to be. He has it all worked out. If he says there will be a thousand, I believe him.”

Fargo told his second lie. “I have heard of him but I can’t remember where.” The colonel had told him about Durn.

“No doubt you have,” Kutler said. “Big Mike got his start running keelboats on the Mississippi. He became

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