Ranches in Brimstone

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Brimstone’s a mining town, ultimately, or at least it is nowadays. Cattle and horses are good money, of course, got a group of folk rich enough to buy out Lone Star Rails for example, but it’s the ghost rock (and to a lesser extent the copper) that’s really making the town boom instead of remaining the one horse burg it was when founded a few years back.

Not all of the local cowpokes are necessarily happy about that, what with between them “bein’ here first,” the tendency for prospectors to go around surveying on what turns out to be private property, and land speculators buying up sections of the county where their herds regularly roamed. Drunken contests of bravado and bar brawls between miners and ranch hands happen frequently enough for them to be a known issue Brimstone’s town marshal and deputies have to deal with, but thankfully it rarely tends to escalate to anything beyond that. Well, at least so far, anyhow…

Still, even with the ongoing influx of new arrivals and everything that comes with that, it’s pretty damn clear that the local ranches aren’t going anywhere soon. In fact, at the moment most of the ranches seem to be on a bit of an upswing, with healthy, growing herds and the price per head having recently gone up in Denver. Several are actually looking for new hands to help handle the increased workload that comes with a good previous year, though a whole lot of folk coming into Brimstone are much more interested in prospecting the devil’s gold or making a buck off the people doing so than the long, hard work for comparatively little pay that herding beeves offers. In fact, another part of the problem is that a good number of hands have decided to try their luck in the hills instead of signing on for another year. That’s admittedly a bit of an issue, since there are rumors that between new territorial commerce laws coming out of Santa Fe and the constant shipping in and out of supplies and raw ore taking up most of the car space, the cost of shipping livestock by the newly laid rail will be too much for all but the absolute biggest outfits in the area to afford. That means bodies aren’t just needed to ride the range, but to drive the beef up to Denver via the Goodnight-Loving trail the old-fashioned way.

However, a lot of fellas (mostly the remaining cowpokes themselves) will tell you that the number of miners who actually strike it rich and manage to keep their money to boot isn’t exactly all that high, and that, if you’re good at it, finding work in a saddle is much more consistent than crossing your fingers and praying your vein isn’t tapped out each day. The fact that a number of ex-miners, both former hands whose little investment didn’t pay off and frequently less skilled newcomers who didn’t find El Dorado in those hills, make up a decent chunk of the recent (re)hires the local cattlemen have managed to recruit does tend to lend a bit of credence to their argument. So the general consensus is there’s not an outright manpower crisis at the very least, even if a competent horseman’s likely to have no problem getting (usually) honest, if somewhat low paying, work for a good while.

The Brimstone Cattle Association might have another problem besides being partial victims of their own success though, and this one has less of an easy explanation. It’s far from uncommon to lose a stray cow to wildlife every now and then, there are literally thousands in the area and a cowboy can’t be everywhere, but multiple outfits have found one of theirs mutilated and half-drained of blood over the past few months. That alone would be odd enough, but not a single rider has been able to find any tracks leading to or away from the bodies. A few cowpokes have pointed fingers at whatever rival ranch they’re least fond of, but they’re really just angry mutterings at the moment. Nobody with a working brain in their heads wants another Lincoln County, and if it is a person they’re damn good at covering their trail. Thankfully, so far the incidents have been highly infrequent and only a single, isolated animal each time, but it’s still enough to make ranch employees nervous, and those with the bad luck to be on night duty tend to hold their gun tight and ride together with another whenever they can.