Thunder on the Chisholm Trail (Preview)

Chapter One

Thunder Jack didn’t know which was louder: the hooves pounding on the ground above him, or the sound of his heart pounding in his chest. He’d had a lot of close calls in his past, but this had been one of the closest. 

The bullet that had grazed his shoulder had been meant for his heart, and the only reason the shooter missed was because Thunder Jack’s horse had tripped, throwing Jack to the ground and out of the bullet’s path. 

His horse wasn’t going to make it, and in the rush of the moment, he had no time but to jump onto the back of another riderless horse. It hurt leaving Bandit behind like that, but that was the life he lived. 

“There goes another, over there!” one of the bounty hunters shouted. 

Jack heard two other men shout their responses, but he didn’t look back. 

It was rare to see bounty hunters working together like this. Normally, they would be so worried about who was going to get what from the bounty, they’d choose to work alone. But Thunder Jack and the gang he’d been riding with had been ambushed by seven bounty hunters, all without any reason to let Jack or the others go alive. 

With the drive to survive pumping through his veins, Thunder Jack urged his new mount onward, pushing the animal to continue galloping away from the shootout and to the safety of the plains. 

Thunder Jack had the layout of the land memorized better than most anyone he’d ever met, and he knew where to go to hide. 

Still, it wouldn’t take those men long to follow. Those who remained of the gang of outlaws he’d been riding with were either fleeing like he was, or they were taking their last stand with pride. Jack didn’t wish to die that day, and he didn’t want to die living more of the life he’d grown tired of living. 

He rode away from the gunfire and onto the rolling prairie, diving off his horse and crawling as far into the underbrush growing around what appeared to be the beginning of a dugout. He’d either try to track down the animal again later or set off on foot once he’d evaded his pursuers. 

There were a lot of such structures in the area, and this one looked as though whoever was working on it had changed their mind. 

The finding wasn’t unusual in 1856 Dakota, whether it was the result of someone who had changed their mind about the location, or they’d chosen to move on for an entirely different reason. Regardless, Jack was grateful to have the space to himself for the moment. 

The bounty hunters chasing him passed right over the top of where he lay without any idea he was hiding under their very feet. 

After they’d passed, Jack remained where he was for a few more moments. He wanted to make sure there was plenty of distance for those men to keep going before he headed back out into the open. 

If he had any supplies with him, he might have chosen to just stay there until after dark. But losing his horse meant he’d lost supplies, and he wouldn’t last long out on his own if he didn’t have anything but his gun and knife on him. 

After what felt like an hour, he crawled out from the dugout. 

The late afternoon sun shone down, hot and dry in the still air. There were clouds in the distance, telling him a storm was brewing. Leaving this shelter might be a foolish thing to do after all. 

But he had no horse, no canteen, none of the jerky or fruit leather he’d had on him at the time of the attack. All he had with him was his knife and the pistol in the holster of his belt. 

Jack started backtracking, heading toward where he and the rest of the gang had been attacked. It wasn’t too far from where he’d hidden. The bounty hunters had come down on him and the other men fast and hard, making it difficult for them to get away. 

From the looks of things, most of their thirteen-man group had been killed. Four men were missing, whom Thunder Jack assumed had fled. One was injured from the attack but standing on his feet, looking down at his fallen horse. 

Jack called out to him, raising his hands to show he meant no harm as he approached. 

“Oh, it’s just you, Thunder,” the man said. Jack recognized him as Shaggy, the gang’s cook. 

“What’re you just standing here for?” Jack asked. “Those bounty hunters are coming back. You’ve got to get out of here.” 

“You came back,” he said. 

“I’m checking my horse,” Thunder Jack replied. 

“Dead,” Shaggy told him. “They all are. The ones that lived were taken when y’all fled.” 

“I would have taken you with me, but there wasn’t time,” Jack said, seeing the wound in Shaggy’s leg. “Come on, we can get out of here now.” 

“I ain’t running,” Shaggy said. “I ain’t going to get far with this leg, and I can tell you right now, the way it hurts, I’m going to do myself a favor to get it cared for.” 

Jack nodded. What the cook said was true. They could run, but Shaggy would most likely be facing infection if he did, and that would get bad, fast. If he stayed, those bounty hunters would return and take him into custody, but at least he’d get a doctor. 

“You’d best get going,” Shaggy told him. “It was nice to meet you, brief though it was.” 

“Thanks,” Jack said as he held out his hand to the other man. “It was good to meet you, too, and best of luck.” 

“I’ll hold them off as long as I can,” Shaggy told him as Jack pulled some things from his saddle. “But no promises how much head start you’ll get.” 

“Not sure what’s worse,” Jack told him, “the hunters or that storm that’s coming. Looks like it’s going to be wild.” 

“All the more reason for you to get out of here now,” Shaggy said, and Jack nodded. 

He’d finished grabbing the few things he could get out of his saddle. He wasn’t able to reach some of the items that were under his fallen horse, but he’d gotten enough. He gave Bandit a pat on the shoulder, telling his old friend goodbye. 

With the life he’d lived, Jack had gotten used to losing his horses. It was easy enough to steal another, but that didn’t take away the sting every time one did fall. He’d figured his horse had hurt itself when it lost its footing, but it looked as though a stray bullet had finished the job. 

He felt the familiar pang of guilt as he left the body of his horse lying there. It was one of the many hardships he faced living the life of an outlaw, and it only added to the nagging feeling in the back of his mind that he was about finished with this lifestyle. 

“You sure you want to stay put?” he asked Shaggy as he prepared to leave. 

The other man had limped over to another fallen horse, and he’d evidently found a drink in the saddle as he leaned against the dead animal with a flask in hand. He was in the middle of taking a swig when Jack had spoken to him, and he nodded. 

“There ain’t nothing for me out there in this condition,” he said. “Best I just face the music now.” 

Thunder Jack nodded. “Best of luck to you.” 

“And you,” Shaggy told him, to which Thunder Jack thanked him before leaving. 

The entire interaction had been quick. Jack knew how to check a fallen horse and grab his things quickly, as he had been on the run from the law for half his thirty-four years. 

He’d fallen in with this latest gang after finding himself completely alone in the world three weeks before. And, as happened too many times with outlaws, when things got hard, every man was only for himself. 

Thunder Jack’s gang had been comprised of other men like himself. No one had really felt the need to be the designated leader, though Jack was the one who made most of the decisions for the group as a whole. 

They’d been attacked without warning by another outlaw gang. Cormac Caldwell’s gang, to be specific. 

Thunder Jack didn’t know much about the other outlaw, but the things he’d heard about Caldwell, along with his personal experience with the man destroying Thunder’s gang, left him with a bad taste in his mouth. There was no reason for what Caldwell had done, and Thunder Jack had lost everyone he’d ever considered family that night. 

Lost and alone, he had ridden off, hoping to get out of the Texas territory entirely. That had brought him to the Dakotas, where he’d found another outlaw gang that had taken him in. They’d been a little skeptical at first having him around, but he’d managed to convince them. 

“They call me Thunder Jack,” he’d explained, “because I’m fast as lightning on the draw, and all you hear is the thunder of my gun.” 

Though the men had laughed and some had even bullied him for the name, he’d soon shown them that he meant what he’d said, and there was a reason why so many called him Thunder Jack. He’d found his place in the new gang, and he’d hoped it would be somewhere he could stay. 

Somewhere he could belong. 

But the events of that afternoon had robbed him of this new gang, as well. 

His heart hurt as he gave Shaggy one final wave, then turned to find the horse he’d ridden away from the attack. 

It wouldn’t be long before the bounty hunters returned, and he didn’t want to be around when that happened. While Jack felt torn about continuing his life as an outlaw, he wouldn’t surrender to the hunters who were after him. 

He could change his ways and not go back. After all, he’d never murdered anyone. He was a thief and a robber, but if he could get away with a heist without drawing his weapon, he would. 

But these days, he felt things changing. There was a lot of risk in the life he lived with little payoff. There was a lot of loss, too. 

As he walked the hills in search of the horse he’d lost, his mind went back to his own horse that had died that afternoon. Bandit was a good animal. Jack had taken a real liking to that horse, and he’d felt a bond with Bandit he’d not felt with any other. And thanks to the life he lived, Bandit was now dead. 

Thunder Jack didn’t cry. And he wouldn’t. He wasn’t a man who allowed his emotions to show themselves even when he was hurting. He’d go find that other horse, and he’d take to the trail once more. 

It wasn’t likely the bounty hunters would waste too much time chasing after him with what they’d left behind. He wasn’t too worried about them coming across him while he was out hunting for the other horse. 

He found it drinking from a creek that ran at the floor of a gentle, sloping valley. The Black Hills were full of those, so he counted himself lucky for being able to find the horse again before it got too late into the evening. 

After catching the horse, he climbed into the saddle and picked a direction that led away from where the attack had happened. The evening was alive with the sounds of crickets and calling birds, and he couldn’t hear any sign of human presence at all. 

He pushed all thoughts of the afternoon out of his head as he started off. Jack wasn’t going anywhere in particular. He was just going away from that spot. Hopefully putting distance between himself and there would help with the emotions swirling inside him. 

God knew it couldn’t hurt. 


Chapter Two

“Easy girl, easy,” Jack said as he gently patted the side of his horse’s neck. “That’s a good girl. What am I going to call you?” 

To distract himself from the memories threatening to haunt him, Thunder Jack had taken to trying to find a name for his new horse. He’d considered going with Bandit for a third time, but he didn’t know this horse, and he wasn’t sure she would live up to the greatness of his previous mount. 

With the lifestyle he lived, his horse would become his greatest friend. Most often, his horse was the one he was with the longest, though that might not be long in some cases. He wanted to give her a name, but not just any name, either. 

On the same note, he didn’t necessarily want to keep with a name that advertised the kind of life he lived, either. He was getting tired of the consequences he faced, and perhaps a new horse would be a good chance to start fresh. 

“Hmmmm,” he hummed aloud. “Guess I could call you Gypsy. Do you like that?” 

He had no idea what the animal’s name was. He hadn’t been with the gang long enough to know the names of the horses along with the men. Hell, he hadn’t even learned the names of all the men, either. And now, most of them were dead. 

Shaking his head, Jack rode into the night. He wasn’t moving quickly, but he maintained a steady pace—enough to keep him moving away from where those bounty hunters had been, should they choose to spend the night in the area. There was a chance they would do so in the event others might come back to the scene, just as he himself had. 

Jack knew how to be smart about it. He’d doubled back immediately, getting out of there entirely before there was much of a chance they would be back. If anyone else was planning on doing the same, they had to move quickly or they would get caught. 

Or they would have to keep pressing on without their supplies—a choice that could well be a death sentence out in the wilderness.

Jack made camp for a few hours, but only enough to get a little sleep before he was back in the saddle and on his way once more. He knew how to saddle quickly to be on his way, and he figured Gypsy might like to be out of her saddle for a little while at least. They had been up early that morning, and he would be up early again. 

He had no plan but to keep moving for a while as he decided what to do next. He had to come up with a plan. God knew riding around aimlessly on the plains was a great way for him to either be hunted down and killed by Natives or other outlaws—or it was just a matter of time before the bounty hunters found him, too. 

There was no shortage of anyone who would want to pick off a straggler such as himself, so he had to come up with some sense of purpose. 

And soon. 

As the sky was starting to turn gray, Thunder Jack pulled himself up off the ground, packed up camp, and got back on the move. 

He wasn’t following a trail per se, but rather picking his way through the forest in hopes of finding something that would provide him with shelter and the ability to get himself together again before setting out. He felt shaken after the attack, and his arm was still hurting from where the bullet had grazed him. 

The wound was superficial, however, so it would heal quickly. It was merely a matter of resetting himself as best he could while he got his thoughts and a plan together. 

He crested another hill, and this time, he pulled on the reins. When Gypsy protested with a grunt, he put his hand on her neck once more to calm her. 

“Sorry, girl,” he said. “That surprised me, but I’m sure you can tell.” 

He chuckled to himself. He’d surprised his horse with the way he’d reacted because he’d surprised himself with what he saw. 

There was a homestead down in the clearing below him, but what had surprised him about it was the fact the place was completely ravaged. The barn had been burned to the point it was merely a charred structure, a skeleton of what it had been, he was sure. 

Jack wasn’t able to see much from where he was perched on his horse standing on the hill, but since there didn’t appear to be any life, he decided to take a closer look. Perhaps there would be something of use down there, even if it was something small. 

As Thunder Jack drew nearer, however, he could see the likelihood of finding anything useful down there was dwindling. It looked as though the place had been completely gutted. 

There was the burnt remnants of a house, too, from what he could tell. The place had been completely burned to the ground with rubble scattered everywhere. There weren’t any animals to be seen, though he did see the skeletons of what appeared to be a horse as well as a cow in the barn. 

There wasn’t any sign of anything valuable, and Jack wondered what had happened. It had looked like an attack at first, but without any sign of life, perhaps there had been an accident of sorts, and whoever lived here had left in a hurry. 

Or perhaps the people who’d lived here at one point had burned the place to the ground themselves. It wasn’t unheard of, after all. While most people who abandoned their homes like that would leave it in case someone were to need it, plenty would destroy the things they had built when they left. 

He didn’t understand why, save for the idea they were leaving it fresh for someone new to come in. But then, why waste all the time and energy to put the place together to begin with? 

He got off his horse and tied her to part of the fence that still stood between the barn and the house. The fact there had been animals in the barn when it burned down made him certain this had been an attack rather than someone abandoning their home. No one in their right mind would do that to any creature. There had to be more to this story than people moving on with their lives. 

The fact there wasn’t anything visible of any value also suggested it was likely this place was the scene of a crime. Whoever had done this to the house and the barn had clearly taken anything they could with them. 

But what had become of the people who lived here?

Jack walked through the doorway, noting the charred door was most of the way broken from its hinges. He left it, wandering through the main part of the house. The sky was bright blue overhead, the storm from the night before having swung south to miss him entirely. 

It wasn’t until he was inside that he suddenly froze. 

There, on the ground, was the body of a man. 

It was also mostly burned, but Jack could see that the man had been shot in the back. His heart caught in his throat when he saw it, and he removed his hat, showing some respect. 

That explains what happened to the man who owned the place, he thought, his mouth a grim line. He put his hat back on and glanced around the place, feeling the urge to leave. He didn’t want to leave the body lying there, but he didn’t have the means to bury it, either. 

He could stop out in the barn to see if there was a shovel or anything he could use to dig, and Jack decided to look around a little more in the house before going about that. He couldn’t help but notice that the man was running into the house and not toward the door. 

That was obvious from the way the body was positioned in the room, and that told him that there had to be reason for this man to want to reach inside the house rather than getting out of it. The way he had fallen told Thunder Jack that he had been shot to death before the fire was set. 

Otherwise, the man would likely have been trying to leave the house, and he wouldn’t have been shot in the back, either. His back was to the door. So whoever shot him must have come through there. 

As Jack walked around the front of the corpse, the floor sounded hollow. 

That man was trying to get into the house because he was trying to get underground, Jack realized. There’s a cellar in this house.

He kicked away the soot and fallen wood from the ceiling, and there, beneath his feet, was the doorway he had expected. It was charred on top, but it hadn’t been burned through, and had he not stopped to look, he might have missed it entirely. 

Jack braced himself as he yanked on the latch. It wouldn’t budge at first, but after a few moments of struggling, he managed to work it free. He lifted it open entirely, letting it fall backward with a crash. Soot flew into the air with the impact, and Jack found himself struggling with a coughing fit. 

The sound of the crashing door was loud in the quiet morning, but that wasn’t what had caught his attention. All the years he’d been riding the plains had given him a strong sense of hearing, and Jack was confident he’d heard stirring that didn’t come from him or outside the house. 

It was then that he froze once more. 

Even with the loud banging of the wooden door on the rubble behind it, Thunder Jack heard the sound of someone crying in the cellar below. It was hushed, as though whoever was down there didn’t want him to hear them. His heart started racing and his hands grew sweaty just the same. He had no idea what was down there, and he had just opened the door. 

But he knew one thing for sure: He wasn’t alone in the house. 

“Thunder on the Chisholm Trail” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

When Thunder Jack discovers a ravaged farm and a family struggling to survive, a newfound purpose awakens, marking the end of his outlaw days. As he is seeking redemption against the backdrop of a lawless frontier, he collides with Eliza, the resilient daughter of the town’s blacksmith. Together, they will challenge the man who is tearing Eliza’s hometown apart.

Can the unlikely alliance of Thunder Jack and Eliza ignite a flame of hope and rebellion?

Cormac Caldwell’s name is feared among the townsfolk. Witnessing his tyranny, Thunder Jack finds that his redemption might be lying in freeing the community from him. Determined to escape his criminal past, Thunder Jack and Eliza unite to defy Caldwell and restore hope to the town.

Will their combined strength break the chains of oppression and spark a transformation for the town’s fate?

Amidst the chaos, Thunder Jack and Eliza’s alliance sparks an unspoken connection beyond their shared fight for justice. In a perilous world, the lingering question remains; Will their collaboration be fleeting or the key to everyone’s salvation?

“Thunder on the Chisholm Trail” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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