Crazy Loon

Crazy Loon

A Story by Ian Jordan

A young cowboy listens to a campfire yarn


“I bet you boys never seen any wolves since you been here,” said the old timer called Travis. We hadn’t, but we didn’t want to look too green, so neither of us said anything. “Aw hell,” he continued, “you boys ain’t even heard any, have y’all?”


“We’ve seen and heard coyotes by the score,” countered Saul. He was my little brother in age and stature but if he thought he was being challenged he would bite hard and hang on.


“I ain’t hackin’ on you son,” Travis leaned back on his worn saddle, sighing. “Truth be told, there ain’t no wolves around these parts no more.”


“None at all?” I asked, leaning forward from my own new saddle.


“Hunted out years ago. Back before the range was all corralled up with barbed wire.”


Intrigued, I asked “Were they bad? The wolves I mean.”


Travis laughed “I guess they were bad enough, particularly if you were a cow and they were hungry. There were always stories of them hunting people down, but I never saw it.”


He stared into the fire for a moment before he spoke again, “reckon, if I did hear a wolf in these parts nowadays, I’d be a mite more worried.”


Saul was dozing in his blankets, but the old man had me interested, “Why’s that Travis?”


The old cowboy didn’t answer immediately. Instead he pulled a well used pipe and tobacco pouch from his waistcoat pocket. With practiced movements he thumbed a couple of pinches of tobacco into the finely carved ivory bowl of the pipe before looking at me again.


“Crazy Loon,” was all he said.


“Huh?” I gawped “Who is a crazy loon?”


Travis kept me in suspense though, with deft fingers he plucked a piece of burning kindling from the edge of the fire and touched the tip to the weed in his pipe. He gave a couple of deep puffs to get it smoking, and then flicked the twig into the flames.


“He was a cowboy,” Travis said through the rising smoke. “Name of Bob Pierce. He pushed cattle for a few outfits hereabouts, never lasted long in one place though.”




“Rode everywhere hell for leather, stirring up dust and scattering man and beast like a durn whirlwind. Was hell on horses. No rancher was ever willing to keep providing mounts for a hand who ran ‘em into the ground like that.”


He glanced into the dark where we could hear the horses of the remuda snuffling the night air and grazing the prairie grass.


“So what does this man Pierce have to do with wolves Travis?” I asked.


I’ll tell you Nate, it’s something of a long story though.

“That’s okay,” I answered, “it’s too dark to write now anyway.”


He smiled,“well, one day he was paired up on boundary lookout with an old timer called “Colonel” Sully.” Travis chuckled, “Now the colonel was a pretty mild mannered old boy, he liked a good chat and a leisurely ride.”


“This day though, there was no chattin’ to be had. Bob Pierce was up to his usual tricks, ridin’ hell for leather and laughing like a lunatic. Mild as the old boy was, he had his pride. He put his head down and kept the spurs into his old skewbald horse.”


Travis sucked on his pipe for a few moments. I waited.


“There ain’t many horses can keep up a full gallop for long and the colonel’s mount was soon huffin’ and puffin’ and blowin’ like a steam engine with a hole in the boiler.”


The shuffling of horses hooves attracted his attention once more. When they quieted, he looked back at me over the fire before continuing.


“When his horse started to panting, the colonel took his eyes off the ground in front of him. That was a damn stupid mistake for an old hand like him. No sooner than he’d looked down, his horse set its hoof down in a damn prairie dog hole.”


I winced when he said that. I might be green, but it didn’t take a top hand to know just what it meant when a horse stumbled in a hole that way, “What happened next?” I asked, not sure that I wanted to hear.


Travis saw the look on my face and nodded solemnly, “Well, the colonel was lucky Nate. He fell clear when the horse flipped over. He landed in the dust, rolled and bounced a few times, got nothing hurt but his pride though.  Bob Pierce pulled his horse up and wheeled it back around to where the old man was getting to his feet.”


“The colonel was livid, his face was all red like an overripe tomato, and bits of scrabbly prairie grass were sticking out of his grey whiskers. ‘ You son of a b***h, Bob Pierce’ ” Travis was stabbing his index finger at the air as he spoke the old colonel’s angry words. He was enjoying the story.


“Pierce, well he just sat up there in his saddle laughing. ‘Maybe its time for you to get off the range and prop up the bar somewhere if you can’t keep up old timer,’ he cackled as the old boy went over to check his mount.”


Travis looked at me for a moment, a sad look passing over his face. “You know, most all cowboys are damned hard on horses, but the old boys get to have their favourites. I know he wouldn’t admit it, but I bet the old fellow would have had a great big lump in his throat when he saw the busted bones sticking out of the skewbald pony’s foreleg.”


For a second I fancied that I could see a tear in the corner of Travis’s eye. He pretended not to notice as he continued “He pulled his gauntlet off and stroked that pony’s face, then quickly stood and drew his peacemaker. He shot the skewbald pony between the ears, then swung around to face the mounted man.”


Travis’s held his hand like Saul and me playing pistols as boys, “Pierce was cackling like a lunatic, paying no heed to the angry old man with the gun. ‘You damned crazy loon!’ the colonel was shouting at the top of his lungs. ‘When you die Bob Pierce, I hope you can never rest. I want you to have to ride forever, howling and cursing like the crazy loon you are.’ He spat on the ground at the very hooves of Pierce’s mount when he was finished cursing.”

“He didn’t shoot him?” I asked, incredulous.


“Naw,” answered Travis, “most cowboys knew right from wrong even when they were angry son; it weren’t like those damn dime novels.”


I blushed, embarrassed by my own naivety.


“The colonel, he gave Pierce the snake eye though, and his hand was twitching on the butt of his hog leg, but he didn’t shoot him like I bet he wanted to. Crazy old Pierce just kept on laughing like a crazy man. He wheeled his horse around and put the spurs to him. He was just dust by the time the colonel settled down enough to holster his colt and begin wrestling his saddle from the dead beast.”


He rose slowly to his feet and shuffled a few paces, returning with an armload of roughly chopped wood. He dropped it next to his bedroll and plopped heavily down against his saddle. Grabbing a piece, he poked at the fire a few seconds before tossing it into the flames, sending a plume of bright sparks up into the dark.


“So what happened to Bob Pierce Travis?” I asked, even though I had more than an inkling myself.


“Well, it wasn’t long before word got around and most everyone started calling him Crazy Loon. No cattleman would give a man with his reputation a job anymore. Wasn’t long before he really did go crazy. Cowboys in camp would hear him riding up howling like a damn wolf. He scared ‘em, so they would stand him some grub and maybe a drink, then send him on his way.” Travis shook his head.


“What a sad way to end up,” I mused, as Travis pulled his blankets across his legs and shuffled to get more comfortable.


“Yeah,” he agreed, “but it got even worse for old crazy Bob Pierce. He got so crazy; he wouldn’t even go near the camps and chow lines. The cowboys would sometimes hear him howling out on the plains as he rode and they were glad he didn’t come close.”


Travis looked at me, suddenly stern. “You know cowboys are a fearless lot Nate, but they are surely a superstitious bunch of men. The idea of a madman like Crazy Loon coming to their camp made them uneasy, but all people thought it was good luck to feed and clothe a hermit like him.”


“They did?” I asked, thinking of the bums I had ignored in Chicago before coming west. “How did they do that if he wouldn’t come to camp?”


“Oh, it wasn’t so hard for them. If they heard he was around, they would have their cook leave a sack of grub, or some of their old clothes out for him, some boys even left their broken down old nags out for him to ride.”


“Did you ever see him? I asked, leaning forward in my blankets.


He scratched at his whiskers for a moment, “Naw, I reckon I heard him howling around a few times when I was a young cowboy like you and your brother, but I never did set eyes on him myself, well not while he was alive anyhow.”


“Huh,” I was a little confused, “you saw him dead?”


“Well old Crazy Loon, he went on like that for a couple of years, ridin’ and howlin’ and getting fed by strangers until one day in August of ’80. A couple of boys from the Triple Bar T, they were taking a sack of vittles out for him when they saw a bony old wring tail nag, tearing across the plain, raisin up a storm of dust.”


Travis tossed another piece of wood on to the fire and watched the sparks spitting skyward. “When they pulled the puffing sweating beast up they found poor old Crazy Loon. He was draggin’ along behind the slab bellied old nag, his ratty old boot caught in the stirrup, his left leg all bent and broken like a green twig”


Travis traced the shape of the broken leg with his hand in the air. “Most of the skin was torn off his bones by that rough prairie grass and those boys knew he was a goner right there. But they took him and carried him so gentle you’d think they were nuns at the infirmary up in Yankton. They set him down on the ground, and sat with him while he ranted and screamed and moaned.”


He saw the look on my face “Oh, yeah Nate, if you ever come off your mount boy, make damn sure you get your boot free of the stirrup. If you don’t you’re a goner, better to get a bruised butt than to get dragged to rags, I seen it happen.”


I nodded, no doubt looking as pale as I was suddenly feeling. Happy he had made an impression, Travis continued. “The whole time, Crazy Loon was babbling and cursing. ‘The Devil!’ he cried “The Devil is here. He has been chasing me all my life and now he has caught me!’”


Saul stirred a little when Travis raised his voice, but did not wake. The old cowboy chuckled a little at that and went on. “It didn’t take Crazy Loon long to shuffle of his mortal coil, he just stared at those cowboys with his buggy eyes and whispered ‘don’t let him chase you boys’ and that was it, Crazy Loon was dead.”


“That sure would have unsettled me Nate” he said, flat out, as if ashamed, “but those were some hard men, some were even veterans of the War between the states, they held their cool til the very end. A bunch of boys from the Triple Bar T buried him on a rise near there. The range boss said a few words over him and that was the end of Crazy Loon.”


“Wow Travis, that’s sure some story” I said, “were you one of the cowboys who buried him?”


“Naw,” he answered, “I was just a young hand then, I heard about it from some of the boys who did though.”


“But you said you saw him, but not when he was alive.” I was confused. “Wait, you don’t mean...”


“Yup I did, saw him as plain as you sittin’ right there.”


“You’re joshing me Travis, I know you are.” I prodded.


“Not long after they buried old Crazy Loon, stories started getting around. Now bad things, accidents and such, always happen out here. But this was different. Sometimes now boys were saying that they heard a howlin’ sound on the wind right before it happened, some even reckoned they saw him thrashing his poor old swayback nag like he was getting chased by the devil himself.”


He must have seen the look on my face, because he added, “There was a few times it happened round these parts. The first time was in ’80 just after they buried him, Jim Schofield, the top hand at the Triple Bar T rode into the line camp one night all shook up. 


The boys were all worried for him, knowing what a steady man he usually was, and they pressed him on it. He told ‘em that he saw Crazy Loon out near the spot they buried him. Those boys all laughed at him and told him he was the crazy loon. Next night, his horse threw him and his neck got broke. Dead as a doornail.”


He could see that I thought he was spinning me a yarn. “In ’86, just before the big freeze blew in from Canada and killed most all the beef, a fellow named, Roy Kelly, told his pals he heard Crazy Loon howlin’ at the moon one night. A few days later he was in a bunch of cowboys from the WX outfit and the Circle A crew arguing over a clean skinned calf. No brand and both groups wanted him. 


They fell to fightin’ Nate, and eight of them were killed by the time the smoke cleared. Some of the boys who survived it swore it was Roy Kelly started the ball by emptying his six gun at the other gang’s boss. Roy wasn’t one of them though, he got a bullet in the gut and died a few days later.”


We were both quiet for a moment, pondering Travis’s story. “I thought you said you saw him Travis. You look fine to me, certainly not broken necked or gut shot.” I said.


“He sure ain’t got a broken jaw, the way he’s flappin’ it” grunted a voice in the dark. 


“Cookie, you damned old assassin, close your eyes open your ears, you might even learn something,” answered Travis, tossing a convenient glove at the disembodied voice.


“Get to sleep and stop terrorising the boy,” retorted the invisible cook.


Travis grinned, “That old cuss’s biscuits have killed more men than Wild Bill ever did.” His smile died away as quickly as it had appeared, “naw I aint got a broke neck, or a bullet in my gizzards, but I saw Crazy Loon alright, plain as the nose on your face boy.”


The look on his face made my own grin disappear. “Summer of ’91, you would have been still just a sprat. I was ridin’ for this here outfit. The day had been hotter than a whorehouse on nickel night, and it was one of those nights where it just don’t cool down at all. I was on the night watch, about a half mile from the herd. I guess I must have dozed right there in the saddle off cos the next thing I know, I hear horse’s hooves thumping on the ground. 


He raised his head up as though he was being roused. "I shot up straight and reined my horse around, thinking it was the night boss, Barnes Oxley and he was a man I didn’t care to aggravate. Just as I turned to face him, I heard it. That damned howl. Like a wolf, but like nothing you will ever want to hear son.”


I must have been gaping a little, he nodded. “Oh yeah, I knew who it was before I even seen him. I wish it had been Barnes Oxley catching me dozin’ off, most he would have done was tell me to collect my wages the next day. When I opened my eyes all the way he was settin’ right there, not a dozen yards away from me.”


Travis’s eyes were wide as he spoke, as though he was seeing it right at that moment. “Crazy Loon was sitting on a bony slab sided old nag, staring right at me, not sayin’ a durn word. He didn’t have to. Just the sight of him, skin hangin’ loose from his face and eyes that glinted in the moonlight like a dead wolf.


It felt like hours sittin' there staring into those dead eyes. I nearly jumped out of the saddle when he let loose with a mighty howl, pulled that bag of bone around and bolted off into the dark.”


I was staring at him, open mouthed, “then what happened?”


“Next thing I know, it was nearly sun up and Barnes Oxley came to pull me in for breakfast. I didn’t even get to say a word. He saw my face and said ‘holy s**t, you seen him didn’t you?’ Those boys coddled me for a few days. They knew it could have been any one of them who just got a death sentence.”


“But you look alright Travis. You beat the curse didn’t you?” I asked hopefully.


He was quiet for a moment, “it took me months to learn how to walk like a man again, and more again to learn how to balance on a horse again, but I guess I came out ahead most of them other fellows, I still got one good leg.”


He pulled up his trouser leg just far enough for me to see the metal bracing fixed to the dented and scratched wood.


He let his trouser leg down while I was still staring, and pulled his blankets up around his neck, “night Nate, we got a ways to go tomorrow and them horses get ornery if they don’t get their beauty sleep.”


He rolled over onto his side and in a few minutes he was snoring. I laid back against my own saddle and gazed up at the stars until the soft lullaby of the horse herd sang me to sleep.


That night and every night since, my dreams have been full of the smell of tobacco smoke, campfires reflected in steel bracings over dull wood and the howling of wolves on the wind.












© 2009 Ian Jordan

Author's Note

Ian Jordan
In this piece, I tried a dialogue heavy piece, I think it works pretty well, feed back is appreciated

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I am new, but a good story never grows old. I agree with T.A. Duncan, you have captured the jargon of the west for sure (corralled up with barbed wire), and when words turn into pictures in the mind you have done a pro job.

Posted 8 Years Ago

After the last one I read I expected something a bit more.... macabre..I guess.
Instead I got a well written story of cowboys and campfires.
And, more importantly, some poor cursed b*****d, living in consequence of his erroneous ways.
Your dialogue assumed foreknowledge of the craft.

Posted 9 Years Ago

Brother, I swear you're an old soul. You lived back in those days...thats the only way to explain how you can so vividly paint this scene with words. I forgot that I was reading, felt more like I was "watching" it unfold before me. I really enjoyed the back ground that was effortlessly dropped in, that really created the feel of actually being there. ("In '86, just before the big freeze blew in from Canada and killed most all the beef,)...priceless. I found myself thinking back as though I might really recall the event. The ending left me wanting....I fully expected the last line to be.....and somewhere off in the distant darkness, I heard a lonsome errie howl....or something to the effect, however I liked that you didnt add that...being to see through. You captured and kept my attention all the way. You my friend are extremly talented and gifted.

Your Friend T. A. Duncan

Posted 10 Years Ago

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3 Reviews
Added on July 2, 2009
Last Updated on July 30, 2009


Ian Jordan
Ian Jordan

Shepparton, Australia

I am a security officer and I live in Shepparton, Victoria, Australia with my partner Samantha. We share our home with a monstrous kid, two cool dogs named Grizzly and Talbot and one very nasty cat wh.. more..