Riata Sampson is no ordinary 18 year old girl. She is heavily armed and riding to rescue her Father and she will be forced to make life and death decisions in an instant and what makes her so unusual is that she’s not scared at all, she is focused, determined, deliberate. Riata Sampson is a Dangerous Girl!
A Dangerous Girl
The white Dodge flatbed pickup truck with horse trailer in tow pull off the shoulder of the forest service road, Riata Sampson has driven all night to get here and now sitting in her truck she contemplates her next move. Just eighteen, but this is no ordinary eighteen-year-old girl and what is more, the situation she is faced with does not scare her. She feels calm even invigorated as if she were made for this day even predestined to be right here right now.
The sheriff and Riata’s father Reese Sampson had been taken hostage by the men that had robbed the payroll from the Oxbow Mine and Reese was being forced to guide the men across the mountains to their getaway.
When this news reached Riata she did what her grandfather Grey Sampson would have done, she quietly slipped away loaded up her Henry rifle and her Vaquero pistol, put her horse in the trailer and headed for the last known location of her father. She purposely avoided talking with her brother Clay about the situation. Clay was a year and a half older than Riata and very capable in his own right, but Riata knew deep down inside that Clay had not inherited the killer gene from their grandfather like she had.
Clay was a sweet boy that wouldn’t harm a mouse and Riata didn’t want him involved in her plans to save their father because she feared he would not make it out alive and she knew she could, just like she knew she didn’t really care either way, she just wants her father back safe and sound and will do whatever necessary to make that happen and maybe get some old school justice while she’s at it!
Riata was never one to conform to another’s expectations, she was raised to be independent and strong because this was the Sampson way. She is the fifth generation of pioneers of Norwegian descent that settled in the Gunnison river valley, fabled to be of Viking blood. Whether true or not Riata looks the part, tall, athletic with a long blond mane she wears in a single braid that hangs to her waist and eyes the color of Jade. Although constantly pursued by boys in high school she had no time for them.
Her passion was her life as a rancher’s daughter, riding horses every minute she could and learning the finer points of coaxing the land to yield its bounty every summer to support the family’s livestock business. While other girls her age were going to cheer practice, playing volleyball, softball, or running track, she spent her summers driving a tractor and competing in cowboy mounted shooting events and has a shelf full of medals and trophies that speak to her proficiency with a weapon and her ability to ride, a skill that was about to be put to the test in a very real way. She sits quietly now. The sun will make its appearance soon and at first light she will start her pursuit.
# # #
Armed and Dangerous
Riata is jolted from her sleep; the eastern sky is glowing fire red with the coming sun. She grabs her black Stetson and puts it on exiting the truck. Unloading her black mare, she ties her to the trailer and saddles her, next she straps her rifle scabbard to her saddle followed by her holster which hangs over the saddle horn and ties to the swell with saddle strings. She grabs her Henry rifle, loads it and slides it into the scabbard, then her pistol, loading it and sliding it into the holster on the front of her saddle.
She checks her phone one last time before mounting, there are half a dozen texts from Clay asking Riata where she is at and telling her to call him. Based on the time stamp she figures she’s at least ten hours ahead of Clay, even if he would decide to try and catch up with her by the time he did she knows whatever is going to happen will have happened. She puts her phone on silent and shoves it in her pocket.
Taking the reins Riata swings up into the saddle, flips the collar up on her Carhart jacket and grabs the brim of her hat and pulls it down tight. Rubbing her mare on her neck, “We need to find my father girl, he needs our help.”
Based on what she heard from the deputy her best guess is that the men are trying to go cross country along the Sunlight Trail heading east across the West Elk Mountains and ending up at the Sunlight Ski Resort outside of Glenwood Springs. It must seem like the perfect plan to them, it’s late summer and hunters are already in the mountains so they disguised themselves as a hunting party with a guide and are trying to blend in as they head to their getaway location.
Riata knows she must catch up with them before they reach Sunlight Peak and drop off the mountain into town, because once they can see the end of their trail they’ll no longer need her father or the sheriff and she doubts they will leave witnesses alive.
Urging her mare along, she asks her for an extended trot and they begin to gobble up the trail in front of them, she knows her mare is one of the best in the country and she also knows that the two of them together will close the gap quickly on a bunch of men that likely have never sat a horse until now.
The trail unfolds before her more rapidly with each passing moment, her mare senses her urgency and is all too eager to answer the call, they move as one slipping in and out of the trees and across crystal streams breaking over rocks, a black streak constantly disappearing over the ridge, around the bend, into and through the dark timber like a wisp of smoke.
An Unusual Girl
Inexplicably to Riata she begins to take inventory of her life, thoughts and feelings flood her mind accompanied with mental images. At first, she resists, shaking her head as if to try and cast them to the ground and ride away, but finally relents and lets them. She sees her father’s face, he is smiling at her and she can almost hear his voice as he’s telling her, “I love you baby.”, next her mother Kate standing out in front of the ranch house as Riata and Clay and their father drive out the lane on their way for the first time to go with Reese to help him move cattle up on the Uncompahgre Plateau, she sees her mother’s worried expression as she forces a smile and waves goodbye.
She remembers the exhilaration of her first mounted shooting competition at fourteen, the feel beneath her as her mare drops down into a full gallop down the center of the arena, the thrill of hitting the first target and then quickly chambering another round and twisting her body the other direction and hitting the second target and then the third and the fourth winning as the youngest competitor in her age class.
She thinks of the countless boys hitting on her in school, how they were always respectful of her, more so than the other girls as if both enamored with her and at the same time a little bit intimidated, after all she had a reputation as an ass kicking cowgirl although she never had to actually kick anybody’s ass, it was more of a reputation born of the legendary stories surrounding her grandfather Grey and their family as a whole.
She lets out a small laugh thinking to herself in an undertone, “Shit I haven’t ever kissed a boy!”, and then she’s hurled back to a memory from just last fall, she feels her face warm with blush as she recounts her first kiss. It was a late fall evening and her and her friend Sarah had spent the afternoon riding on the ranch, after making their way home and putting the horses up they were hanging out in the barn talking about boys and school and Sarah asked Riata if she had ever kissed anyone.
Riata laughed and assured her that no she had not, and Riata had no sooner got the words out of her mouth and turned towards Sarah when Sarah closed the gap between them and reached up and kissed Riata. At first Riata withdrew and Sarah protested, “Come on Riata just consider this practice for the real thing.” Riata stunned and frozen in place feels Sarah’s lips on hers again. But his time she does not pull back but instead leans in and kisses Sarah back.
She remembers how warm and wet her mouth tasted and how thrilled she was to experience the sensation of touching another in that way. This would become the first of many rides that fall and the first of many kisses they would share, and Riata felt no shame or guilt over their kisses, only wonder.
The trail finally comes back into view as Riata regains her focus on the task at hand. They come over a rise and drop down into a creek bottom with muddy banks on both sides and for the first time since entering the trail head she sees what she has been looking for, tracks. It looks like six horses and the tracks look fresh. She is closing in!
# # #
Stopping at the edge of the dark timber Riata realizes she is about to enter a long stretch of high-country meadow. It is a large expanse of open mountain grass filled with wildflowers. It gently rises to the top of the ridge before opening up further into a large, flat grassy bench. She knows she will have to be careful here because she will be exposed and if she does not see the men first the element of surprise will be lost. As she surveys the scene, she checks her weapons again to make sure she is ready for a fight if it comes to that. Confident her guns are loaded and ready she starts her way into the meadow and up the gentle slope. She comes across a well-worn cattle trail in the tall grass and on it she sees tracks again, still six horses.
Now as she gets closer to the crest of the rise, she hears the faint sound of men’s voices on the breeze. She is about fifty yards from topping out on the flat and she stops her horse to listen closely. Suddenly ahead of her at the crest and off to her left about twenty-five yards off the trail a person stands up from the tall grass, she cannot believe her eyes, it is her brother Clay! He must of have left shortly after her, not waiting for her to text back or call because he knew what Riata would do, and he knew he had to either stop her from getting herself killed or help her somehow.
Clay is standing and waving a rifle in the air, motioning her to stay back with his other hand. Like a loud thunder clap out of a clear blue sky she hears what she knows is a rifle shot, her brother’s face goes blank as he crumbles to the ground, shot in the back, Clay is dead before he hits the ground!
Riata skins her rifle from the scabbard, loops the reins over left forearm and kisses to her mare. In an instant, as if fired out of a cannon the mare hits top speed as Riata shoulders her rifle. In what seems like just three leaps they top out over the crest of the hill, instinctively Riata knows she only needs to identify two people, the sheriff and her father, the rest are just targets to her. The men are taken by surprise and stunned at the speed with which Riata overtakes their position. As they scramble for cover and attempt to shoot her, she spots her father and the sheriff beside another man all sitting on horses. She mentally puts them in one box and now focuses on the men left, all this happening within seconds.
Riding directly at the man nearest her she puts her front sight at center mass and squeezes the trigger, he falls as she rides past him and at the same time is chambering another round. She quickly shoulders the rifle again and turns her body looking left, she hears the whizzing sound of a bullet flying past her left ear as she lowers her front sight and finding the man’s chest, she squeezes off another round. Instantly she chambers a third round and looking off to her right she sees a third man now dismounted and preparing to shoot over his horses back, as soon as she sees the muzzle blast from his gun the horse bolts, kicking the man as it leaves and sending him toppling to the ground. She rides directly at him and before he can gather himself and get to his feet she fires again and watches as his body goes limp.
Now stopping her mare for the first time since the shooting began, she wheels around in place to face the fourth and final man. As she swaps ends and the men come into view, her rifle already shouldered again and ready to fire she sees the fourth man has dropped the lead rope to her father’s horse and has made his escape over a small tree covered rise on the edge of the meadow. The sheriff has managed to get off the horse he was riding, but at the same time her father’s horse has bolted in the opposite direction and he appears to be zip-tied to the saddle, his wrists to the saddle horn and his feet to the stirrups, there is no way he can control or dismount his horse and it is running at break neck speed down-hill.
Not Safe Yet
Riata is forced to let the fourth man go in order to try and save her father, she has heard the horror stories growing up about runaway horses and the riders found dead with broken necks or backs after being run under a low hanging tree limb at a high rate of speed, she has to stop her father’s horse before it reaches the end of the meadow and enters the dark timber or he will be killed and with him tied to the saddle the horse won’t fare any better.
In an instant her rifle is secured in the scabbard and she’s off like a shot in pursuit, she squeezes her mares sides and kisses to her while putting her rein hand forward giving the mare her head and encouraging her to run all out. The black mare quickly closes the gap as both horses tear past Clay’s lifeless body. The trail is narrow and she is on the tail of the runaway, with only forty yards or so before they reach the edge of the dark timber she makes her move forcing her mare out to the left side of her father’s horse and into the tall grass, kissing again and squeezing hard she asks for all her mare has, to not only now run at top speed through the tall grass but to speed up even more to over take the other horse.
The black mare answers her request, she feels her get lower and catch another gear as clods of grass and dirt are thrown wildly behind her as she inches closer beside the runaway. Now within arm’s reach of the horses head she reaches out and grabs the side of the halter the runaway is wearing and pulls with all her strength bringing the two horses together, her mare pushes into the other horse breaking its stride and suddenly it yields and she brings them both to a stop.
Riata quickly dismounts maintaining a tight hold on the cheek piece of the runaways halter and using the halter to bend the horses neck she pulls out her knife and cuts the zip ties free from around her father’s wrists, handing him the knife he cuts his feet loose from the stirrups and dismounts grabbing Riata they embrace and finally she knows it’s over. Her body melts in her father’s arms and she begins to sob as Reese holds her tightly, “Daddy, Clay!”
Reese consoles her, “I know baby girl, I know.”
Reese and Riata end their embrace, without a word Riata takes a lead rope from her saddle bag and fashions a makeshift loop rein for her father’s horse securing it to each side of the halter, they both mount up and head back up the slope to Clay.
Reaching Clay, Riata jumps off her horse and as she runs to him throws her hat down, she rolls him over as she kneels beside him, gently closes his eyes and falls on him, embracing him as she screams, “No, no, no!”
Reese comes near and kneels beside them, his eyes red and tears streaming down his face. He places one hand on Riata’s back as he brushes Clay’s hair back from his face resting his hand on his forehead.
Riata shakes her father’s hand off her shoulder and gets to her feet and heads towards her horse, “I’m going to kill that the son-of-a-bitch!”
Reese realizes Riata’s intention and he runs to catch up before she gets to her horse, he grabs her and turns her around and puts his arms around her tightly, “Not today baby girl, we have to let him go for now.” As Reese holds her close, he is worried about Riata, she just killed three men and wants to kill another, will she ever be the same or has his baby become a dangerous girl?