During the Civil War, many families left the South, going west to escape the devastation of the War. The two families, Heron and McElroy were but a couple of these. Mrs. Heron and the widow McElroy were cousins whose Kentucky farms had been burned by the Yankees. Mrs. Heron had a brother in law in Texas. So, taking her two children, her sister's orphaned girl and her drunkard husband with her, she invited her cousin and her boy to come along. They set out in the middle of April and hit thunderheads nearing Kansas which held them back a week. Finally, the sun came out and they headed into Kansas.
The sun was beating down overhead when they stopped by a shallow stream and let the old mule and widow McElroy's nag have a drink. The two older boys, Paul Heron, a slim, dark haired thirteen year-old and Jude McElroy, a lanky, fair complexioned fifteen year-old went out gathering sticks for firewood down in the brush by the stream. They had gathered quite a bundle and were almost to the scrubby embankment behind which the wagon was when they heard the galloping of horses and then a burst of shooting and wild yells and whoops. By the time they got to the ridge, the horses hoofbeats has receded and all was silent.
Peering over the ridge, Jude's eyes widened. The wagon was burning and things were strewn about haphazardly. Clutching his rifle, he and Blake strode out to the deserted campsite. Blake's quick eye caught sight of a hand sticking out from under the wagon. It was the body of his father. His mother was dead, shot through the heart with his father's old Winchester in her lifeless hands but she had taken two of the outlaws with her. The mule was gone but the nag had been shot in the head and now lay half in, half out of the stream. Jude's gaze swept the wreckage but there was no sign of his mother, Blake's youger sister or Blake's orphan cousin.
Blake wiped the hot tears from his face but there was no stopping them and they splashed on his mother's pale, fairy-like hair as he rocked back and forth, cradling her head in his lap. Jude stood dry-eyed and stunned, the rifle falling from his listless fingers.