The sun was just starting to think about peeking over the horizon when Zeke left the main house and headed for the tack room in the headquarters stable of his family’s ranch, the Triple-E. It was a familiar sight to the young man, whose full first name was actually Ezekiel, with a middle name of Edward and a last name of Erickson. For it was a morning routine he had observed for the past seven years.
Skinny, his buckskin American quarter horse with a black mane and tail, started blowing raspberries at Zeke before he started down the steps of the back porch, and as Zeke drew nearer to the corral, the louder they became. This was also part of the morning routine.
Skinny also had to crow hop three or four times before he would settle down enough for Zeke to put his headstall in place. One would be hard-pressed to tell which one was having the most fun.
Just to be clear, Skinny was not skinny. Oh, he had certainly started out that way. For Skinny was a rather scrawny-looking foal at the time of his birth, but he grew up quite nicely to be a full fifteen hands high at the withers and weighing in at around 850 pounds.
Skinny was born on the ranch, and Zeke even helped with the delivery eight and a half years before. It seemed to have been love at first sight for both of them. For Zeke would make a special effort to go see Skinny as much as he could, and Skinny would always kick up his heels and start running around with wild abandon whenever he saw Zeke approaching.
When it came time to start his training, Skinny would prove to be fairly hard to work with unless Zeke was there watching his progress. Since Zeke had proven to be an excellent rider, the trainer allowed him to be the first to put a saddle on Skinny and ride him around the pen. When Skinny acted like this was about as natural a thing as there is, it was concluded that Skinny would indeed be Zeke’s horse.
Speaking of natural things, Skinny did not require much training when it came to roping and cutting cattle. For he seemed to just know by instinct that he needed to keep the rope tight after Zeke had thrown a loop around the neck or hind legs of a calf. Skinny also knew to stay in front of the cattle Zeke was wanting to cut from the herd to keep them from rejoining the mix.
Oh, and there is more to their story that needs to be told. For aside from being the best all-around ranch horse everyone Zeke knew had ever heard of, Skinny was always willing to go far above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that Zeke made it back to the house safe and sound.
The last time that became obvious happened a little over a week before. For a Hereford bull was taking great exception to Zeke and his crew removing him from a breeding pasture before he was ready to leave and had doubled back on them as he approached the open gate. Skinny spun out of the way just before the well over thousand-pound belligerent bovine could bowl over Zeke and him.
The rest of Zeke’s crew, Heckle and Jeckle, also had some say in the matter, of course. For as soon as Skinny had ducked the bull’s initial charge, Heckle and Jeckle started drawing the bull’s attention away from Zeke and Skinny by nipping at the bull, which was something that his beloved Border Collies were very good at, along with everything else that could be expected of top cattle dogs.
Yes, they made quite a team, and with Zeke now sitting tall in his Tooter Cannon saddle, they made their way down to a back pasture, which was much larger than forty acres. In fact, it was actually around 440 acres, and sitting next to it was 200 acres of alfalfa, which made up the rest of this section of his family’s ranch.
With it being around 192,000 acres, the Triple-E was a huge even by Texas standards, and in comparison to other homesteads in the northwestern corner of Arkansas, its size was downright unfathomable. For just one section of land, which is 640 acres if you are keeping score at home, was considered to be quite a spread around there.
The Erickson’s holdings had shrunk considerably since the original land grant, though. For it had started out at close to 576,000 acres that went into what would become the states of Oklahoma to the west, Kansas to the northwest and Missouri to the north.
Much of the original land grant was flat out stolen by the United States government after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. For it did not recognize what Charles the Fifth had granted in 1550 as being a legitimate deed, but the Erickson family was able to secure title to 192,000 acres in northwestern Arkansas.
What is now the Oklahoma state border served as the western boundary of the ranch for the most part, and the eastern boundary ran between a mile and two miles east of where U.S. 71 was built, with a few significant bulges here and there. What is now the Missouri state border also served as the northern boundary of the Triple-E, and the southern boundary ran straight across around ten miles north of where Fort Smith, Arkansas now is.
After Arkansas seceded from the Union in 1861, the Triple-E was almost lost again. For the Erickson family was well known for harboring runaway slaves and even going as far as to purchase their freedom when they could, and the Confederate governor of Arkansas feared that they would align themselves with the Yankees.
So, the governor sent troops to occupy the Triple-E, and they were repelled with a great amount of enthusiasm. The story was that the first shot was fired by Edward Enoch Erickson, who was Zeke’s great-great-grandfather, after one of the Confederate soldiers called him a blue-belly, and just before he pulled the trigger, Edward had yelled back that anyone who could not tell the difference between a blue Union uniform and a red union suit was too stupid to remove him from his land—let alone win a war.
For the record, the Triple-E was declared neutral, but this did not mean that the Ericksons remained uninvolved in the war. For the ranch served as a sanctuary of sorts for soldiers on both sides, and by the end of the hostilities, well over a thousand men had been nursed back to health after being wounded in one or more of the dozens of skirmishes that had taken place in the area, with more than half of them arriving at the Triple-E still wearing what was left of their blue uniforms.
Before the war was officially over, one more attempt was made by Confederate forces to fully secure the resources of the Triple-E for their cause, but this one ended without a shot being fired. For when the colonel in charge of the unit saw that well over half of the men aiming rifles back at his position were recovering Confederate soldiers, he tipped his hat and gave the order for his men to withdraw.
Now, it was said by some that having five cannons also trained on the Confederate colonel’s position certainly did not hurt, but Edward had frowned on such talk. For he believed that a man’s honor should never be questioned unless he gave a good reason to, and since the Confederate colonel had shown the good sense to recognize that the conquest of the Triple-E was not a battle that should be fought, the matter should be left at that. If you are curious about the canons, they were procured by the Ericksons after being left behind as the Confederates beat a hasty retreat from a stinging defeat up the road a bit near Pea Ridge.
Well, at least that was the official version. For every time Zeke’s great-grandfather, Earnest Elisha Erickson, would tell the story, he would give Zeke a big wink after the part about the cannons came up.
Earnest was the source of most of the history of the ranch for Zeke, and the way he said it worked back then was that all of the Confederate soldiers were free to go whenever they were healed up enough to leave. So were the Union soldiers, but most of them decided that it would be to their advantage to stay put until the war was at least officially over. For they were still deep in enemy territory—regardless of who claimed to be in control at a given time, and guarding against horse and cattle thieves was certainly better than getting hung for being a Yankee spy.
None of that seemed to matter to the carpetbaggers, who had been appointed by the federal government to oversee the reintroduction of the state of Arkansas into the Union after the war was officially over. For they saw it as their sworn duty to make the Confederate states pay as much as possible for all it had cost to put them back in their place, with the possibility of them reaping some very tidy rewards for their own efforts notwithstanding, of course. Therefore, places like the Triple-E looked ripe for their picking—regardless of what part they may have played in the war.
As it so happened, it was the Ericksons who were able to reap a little of what they had sown. For the confiscation of the Triple-E for the purpose of collecting war reparations was halted by the efforts of four congressmen and three senators in Washington, DC, who were also the very grateful fathers of Union soldiers who had been brought to the ranch and nursed back to good health after being left for dead on a battlefield by their respective units.
The battle waged in the halls of Congress was not an easy one to win. For with the Triple-E being one of the largest producers of cattle and horses in the country at the time, along with rapidly growing timber, hay and grain business interests, it represented enough spoils to line many a northern pocket. Thankfully, there were enough men with a true sense of honor serving in positions of power at the time to secure the victory.
Over the years, the Triple-E came to also include several dairy, pork and poultry operations, which were located where nothing but trees had stood before without the Ericksons being guilty of raping the land. For they recognized the need for proper land management, and they were careful to not cut too much to begin with and allow most of the harvested woodland areas to revert back to its natural state before any more cutting was done.
Oh, and if it is not obvious by now, it had become a matter of tradition to give each male in the Erickson line two other names that started with an E, with one of them being from the Bible. This had been evidently started by Earl Eleazar Erickson, who was the recipient of the original land grant, and the object of some mystery. For no record of just how he came to receive such a huge gift from the Holy Roman Emperor at the time seemed to have ever existed.
Adding all the more to the mystery was that it was as if Earl Eleazar Erickson himself had not existed before he received that land grant. For no record of just who he was or from where he had come from was found, and much digging for clues had been undertaken over the years.
All of that and a lot more was going through Zeke’s mind as he inspected the fence around the alfalfa field. He sighed deeply at the sight of the hay being almost ready for the first cutting of the season. For he loved being behind the steering wheel of a tractor almost as much as spending time in the saddle with Skinny, and the smell of a freshly-mown alfalfa field was rivaled only by honeysuckle and mountain heather as being the sweetest smells there were to him.
Zeke was not expected to do any work on the day of his departure, but it was a big part of his nature to want to do all he could to help when he saw something needing to be fixed. So, when he came across where some large limbs had broken off of an old black oak and were now lying across the top steel cable of the fence, Zeke dismounted to take a closer look.
Most of the fences on the Triple-E utilized steel cable instead of barbwire. For barbwire can be quite harmful to horses, and steel cable holds up a lot better against such things as broken tree limbs.
Zeke still could not stand to see the broken limbs lying across the fence, and he was sorely tempted to go get a chainsaw to cut them into firewood. However, a look in Skinny’s eye reminded him that it would probably be quite a while before they could go out on another ride together. So, he was content to just drag the broken limbs off of the fence and pile them in the adjacent pasture.
Zeke took his companions on the long way back, which required crossing several small streams and a couple of full-fledged creeks. None of them minded a bit.
Zeke did not really have a favorite part of the ranch, with him loving the whole of it equally. The main house was located in the northern third, which was not nearly as mountainous as the southern two-thirds, but there were still plenty of ups and downs to the northern third to give a horse and rider a good work out.
By the time Zeke and his companions made it back to the main house, Zeke was in a rather melancholy mood. For the time to board a flight from Tulsa, Oklahoma to London. England was rapidly approaching.
Skinny obviously shared in Zeke’s somber mood, as did Heckle and Jeckle. For instead of acting like they were unwilling to call it a day as usual, all three of them just silently watched him shuffle back to the main house, which added all the more to the funk he was feeling.
Nonetheless, Zeke believed that it was his destiny to be of as much true help to as many people as possible, and he certainly had good reasons to believe that he could fulfill it brilliantly. For being invited to complete advanced doctorate programs at both Oxford University and the London School of Economics and Political Science after graduating from the University of Arkansas with a 4.0 grade point average and doctorate degrees in architecture, agri-business and civil engineering at the very early age of eighteen left little doubt that his future was indeed meant to be intensely bright.
No, Zeke’s beliefs had not come from any sort of religious indoctrination. In fact, he was not sure if there was any sort of higher power involved with anything, but he willing to consider the possibility when faced with empirical evidence.
The first indication of just how special Zeke was when he pointed out to his father a shortcut on the map that could save at least an hour of traveling time down to a cattle auction on a place outside of Russellville, Arkansas. For Zeke was not quite three years old at the time.
The shortcut was not the only help Zeke gave his father on that trip. For when his father went to bid on a lot of young Santa Gertrudis bulls, Zeke cautioned him against it on account of how temperamental Santa Gertrudis can be. When his father asked him how he knew, Zeke answered that the last time they had visited the University of Arkansas extension office together, he had read a couple of articles suggesting that the breed was not for those who did not relish the possibility of a rodeo breaking out almost every time they needed to be worked.
From then on, his parents started paying much closer attention to their apparent prodigy, and Zeke never failed to amaze them with a knowledge and understanding of a number of things well beyond their own. When it came time for him to begin kindergarten a little over a year and a half after the trip to Russellville, Zeke was reading at an advanced collegiate level, and his writing skills were not far behind.
It was when his parents went to actually enroll Zeke in a local public school that some indication was given of just how problematic being so special could be. For the elementary school principal was listening from an adjacent room to his office when Zeke told his mother that what was hanging on the wall was the head of a javelina in an answer to her asking if was a small razorback, and the principal burst into his office with accusations of them trying to humiliate him by attempting to pass off an obviously highly-educated midget as a four and a half year-old after also hearing Zeke tell his mother that what was written on the plaque under the javelina head was: Seize The Day! Fortune Favors The Bold!
No, it was not time to schedule a commitment hearing yet, but the principal was headed there in a hurry. For a long-running feud with a prominent member of the local school board had him feeling plumb paranoid, and it was well beyond his faltering grasp on reality that someone so young would know the difference between a javelina and a feral hog—let alone be able to correctly translate, Carpe Diem! Audaces Fortuna Iuvat!
Just in case you are confused, Arkansas schools allowed four year-olds to start kindergarten back then, just as long as the child turned five before the start of the second semester of the current school year. This applied to five year-olds starting first grade, as well.
Not that it mattered anymore to Zeke’s parents. For after discovering that he had apparently learned how to read Latin all by himself, they went to have him take an I.Q. test, and when word leaked that his I.Q. was at least 200, which was based on 200 being the highest possible score, with him completing the test well before the allotted time, none of the schools, public or private, in the area wanted to have a student who was much more intelligent than all of his would-be teachers put together.
However, several offers from elite prep schools around the world were received, but neither Zeke or his parents gave them any serious consideration. For Zeke did not want to spread his wings and fly away so soon, and his parents were more than happy to have him stick around the nest for at least a little while longer. So, the homeschooling of Zeke would continue under the excellent tutelage of Grandpa Jeremiah.
Grandpa Jeremiah considered himself to be a true Scot, and noo one dared challenge him on it. For he was born and raised in Edinburgh, and with his ancestral home being in the Highlands, Grandpa Jeremiah embodied the best and worst that the stereotypical Scottish personality had to offer.
Jeremiah MacLister had been a highly esteemed professor of European history and archaeology at the University of Edinburgh and was one of the first to recognize the warning signs being clearly displayed by Adolph Hitler and his National Socialist political party in Germany. He was largely ignored by the British government, but when hostilities broke out, Professor MacLister volunteered for military service and was commissioned a Captain in an intelligence unit.
Captain MacLister barely escaped being captured by the Germans when Warsaw, Poland was overrun, and it took him over a month to make it to relative safety in neutral Switzerland. This is where he remained until the fall of France to gather information and pass it along to British Intelligence via coded short-wave radio transmissions.
In 1941, Captain MacLister was promoted to the rank of major and joined the newly-formed Special Air Service (SAS). Being fluent in both French and German with a flawless accent, he was a perfect operative to secretly parachute into occupied France and establish resistance cells.
Major MacLister’s reports on German troop movements were invaluable to the planning of a little exercise by the name of Operation Overlord, which was the landing of Allied troops on the Normandy coast of France, and he helped to rescue several American paratroopers when they jumped into the wrong areas during the first few hours of what came to be known as D-Day. One of those rescued Americans was Captain Eli Erickson.
Captain Erickson was able to return the favor by helping to rescue Major MacLister when he found himself trapped behind German lines during the ill-fated Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands a few months later. After that, Major MacLister and Captain Erickson decided that they were all even and should go their separate ways without any expectation of coming to the other’s rescue again.
Major MacLister and Captain Erickson had a good laugh at coming to such a decision. For it was not as if they were free to go as they pleased while in uniform, amd it came to pass that their paths were destined to cross again under much different circumstances.
Captain Erickson was severely wounded during the initial push of German forces trying to break out of the stranglehold Allied forces had them in. This came to be known as the Battle of the Bulge.
After his condition was stabilized at an aid station near the front, Captain Erickson was flown to a hospital north of Edinburgh. It was in that Scottish hospital several months later that Captain Erickson met up with Major MacLister again, who was at the hospital to check on his youngest daughter, who just happened to be one of Captain Erickson’s attending nurses.
Oh, but there was more going on between Ruth MacLister and Captain Erickson than just normal medical interaction. For they were well on their way to falling in love with one another by the time Major MacLister came by, and he had some rather strong mixed feelings on the subject.
No, it was not that Major MacLister had anything against the dashing, young American paratrooper, but he still had serious misgivings about welcoming him into the family. For Eli Erickson was most definitely not what was considered to be a true Scot, and he wanted to keep the MacLister bloodline as pure as possible.
Yeah, after seeing how much havoc such an attitude could wreak, Major MacLister kept his thoughts on the subject to himself. Besides, after thousands of years of intermingling, the old history professor knew better than most that the possibility of pure bloodlines was most likely the figment of a feverish mind at best.
Eli and Ruth were married in a chapel mostly constructed from the ruins of an old castle on the northeastern coast of Scotland. Legend had it that the castle was destroyed during one of first Viking invasions of the British Isles, and Jeremiah liked the irony of one of their possible descendants staging his own Scottish invasion of sorts.
Ruth was very anxious to begin her new life on the Triple-E, and with her mother, Sophia, also wanting to go, Jeremiah felt outgunned. He reserved the right to move back to Scotland when being around too many Americans became too much for him to bear, but after seeing all that the area had to offer, he never gave a thought to exercising the option. Jeremiah and Sophia’s oldest daughter, Naomi, and her husband, Graham, visited the Triple-E from time to time, but they missed the hustle and bustle of Glasgow too much to consider adopting the relative quiet of ranch life for themselves.
Life was about as close to perfect as the Ericksons and MacListers could imagine, but there was still a missing piece to the puzzle. Jeremiah delighted in chiding Eli over him failing to convince his wife to take him seriously, and just after their tenth wedding anniversary, Ruth finally did.