From a little further up Pepper Creek Road the scenario would not have seemed much. Looking down at the road from the big rock above the road four turns up from Highway 140 you would have seen a beat up blue pickup stopping on a dirt road; the somewhat odd sight of a cowboy jumping up and down and waving his arms beside the pick-up for less than two minutes. Then, the truck slowly leaving the cowboy and driving up the road with more dust trailing behind as it picked up speed.
But what happened, was that Richard Long had been driving up Pepper Creek Road ten minutes after Andy Pearce had found one of his father’s registered Hereford cows, belly-up dead and heart shot in the middle of their lower pasture. Andy Pearce had seen Long’s truck coming and stepped over the leaning barbed wire fence, then leapt out into the road in front of Long’s pickup. Over time Richard Long had several confrontations with Andy’s family through the years they’d all lived along Pepper Creek, which was virtually all of everyone’s lives, their fathers and grandfathers lives–and each of these fully armed stressful encounters were regarding hunting rights.
Richard Long felt he had the right to hunt any where the deer and elk were, where his father and his father’s father had shown him where to hunt, and those places he’d found on his own. The game and nature did not acknowledge straight lines of fences, nor the common law definition of property lines, nor the legal penalty for trespass. This was how man had hunted this area for all but the most very recent, and thinly sliced segment of the great pie of time.
Andy’s family felt their property rights were sacred even though they’d over logged and overgrazed the 5000 acre ranch for fifty years. Andy’s grandfather had bought six different family farms, razed the homes and consolidated his holdings during the depression. The steelhead and Coho salmon no longer ran up Pepper Creek that Andy’s grandfather had dammed to irrigate their hay fields almost fifty years ago. It was also a fact that their family took a little more than their share of venison every year from the herds that migrated through their ranch in the late autumn.
They had tried to throw Richard off the steep and remote corners of their land which bordered federal land a half dozen times. Each time Richard would say something rotten about large parcels of land being locked up by private ownership and Richard would often as not call Andy’s father a son-of-a-bitch or something worse, and then he’d keep walking through their land. The younger Pearce a few years back, when he was in his early adolescence, had witnessed one of these incidents and secretly was ashamed at his father’s wise decision just to, just let it go with words. When Andy’s mother tried to throw Richard off their land Long had just kept walking.
There were five other large corporate ranches in the area; the Pearce’s Rocking C was the only family run operation left. All of the corporate ranches had the same problem with Long and had their company cowboys out looking for Richard every hunting season. Despite this, no one had ever successfully thrown Richard Long off of anywhere.
Richard Long, no one ever called him Dick, was six-foot eight and weighed 240 pounds and cut timber for a living. In 1974, Richard had written Mohammed Ali a letter, shortly after the heavy weight champion had beaten George Foreman to regain his title in Zaire. The letter allowed as to how Richard knew he would never get the chance, but none the less, Long wrote the boxer, how he was positive he could kick his ass.
“Respectfully Yours, Richard Long,” the letter had ended.
Richard did not kill the Pearce’s prize Hereford cow that was in the middle of the pasture with its feet sticking up in the air. The heinous deed had been done by the resident of a trailer park from twenty miles away, who had murdered the animal the night before, during a beer-drinking-spotlighting-Friday-night-killing spree the second week of deer season.
The initial dialog with Long, where the younger Pearce had alleged, to his face, that it was Richard Long who shot the beast, had been almost unintelligible. The words somewhat slurred, came from underneath Pearce’s $200 cowboy hat that sat atop his beet red face with the Copenhagen chewing tobacco uncontrollably flying out of the young man’s mouth between the syllables of the words from which he was trying to assert his family’s property rights and his genuine grief for the cow.
Richard had initially started to feel sorry for the young man who had just lost his cow. Perhaps he somehow sensed underneath the bravado, he had in reality been attached to the large animal as if it were a monstrous pet and its dead hulk was quite visible just off to their right. When the accusation had finally gotten around to sinking in, around the yelling and jumping, Richard Long hadn’t even gotten mad.
But when Pearce had turned around and ran to his pick up, fished around behind the seat and then ran back toward Long with a pistol in his hand–Richard’s stare became wrought iron and expressionless. Andy was out of breath by the time he’d stood again in front of the drivers’ door and held the .357 magnum out at arms length and pointed at Richard’s face.
“Long damn you!” Pearce shouted. “you son-of-a-bitch, you think you can get away with anything you want to because you’re such a big son-of-a-bitch! Now YOU ain’t going to anymore!”
Long continued his stare into the young man’s bulging eyes–then pulled the loaded, bolt action .300 Winchester Magnum rifle, sitting beside him on the pick-up seat, by the barrel and made it appear out the window–almost instantaneously, pointed at Andy’s chest.
“If that’s the way you want ‘er,” Richard said, having already calmly clicked the safety off with his right thumb, as the young man continued to tremble.
Andy’s shaking was initially not from fear, but from his own rage. Now they had become the same thing. Pearce made a series of whistling noises through his clenched teeth with saliva coming out with little specks of black with the tobacco chew, and he then let the hand gun down to his side. Immediately, as he did so Long clicked the rifle back on safe and pulled the weapon back through the window. The boy would not look at Long, but stared at the ground to the left of his own feet.
“Sorry ’bout your cow,” Richard Long said.
He looked at the young man for the last time, then made the blue pick-up clunk into second gear. The pickup started it’s wheels rolling up the winding dirt road past Pearce’s ranch and on up Pepper Creek toward higher elevation. There the deer were beginning to move and there was the crisp smell of fall in the air—mingled with that morning’s essence of oak, sugar pine and Douglas fir wafting through the open windows of the pick-up with a rawness of road dust on the not yet good and wet gravel road.
The deer and elk were gaining the last layer of fat with the good browse of black oak acorns, Idaho fescue, cyanothus, elk sedge, manzanita and willow before the coming snow would cover everything in frozen whiteness three weeks from that moment. Mercy was riding somewhere over the shoulders of the driver and the man left standing back down the road. Goodness surrounded them both.