(Rover Homepage)


Last episode (first series) taken from The Rover issue: 1312 August 19th 1950.


In 1860, the Rocky Ridge Division of the Pony Express is bossed by

J. A. SLADE, the deadliest gunman in the West.

WAL LOADER, a rider on the same division, has carried on a bitter

feud with Slade for many years.

The rivals swear a truce until the telegraph reaches the coast and

the Pony Express is disbanded.

When his relief rider fails to turn up at Crag Hill. Wal Loader does

a double run through blizzards over the mountains to Ruby


There he meets SHERIFF LAWKINS and two deputies from

Black Swamp. Slade had killed the sheriff’s brother in a gunfight,

and the law officers are now journeying by coach to Rifle

Falls to arrest Slade for murder.

Although he has already done a double run, Loader takes to

the saddle again in an attempt to reach Rifle Falls before the

coach and warn Slade of the danger.



One hundred and fifty miles Wal Loader had ridden that day, and he still had another fifty miles to go. Ahead lay the mountains with their deep drifts of snow. Loader had fought his way through them that morning, and knew what he was up against. Yet he set his face doggedly to the east and urged the gallant pony on faster than ever.

Loader came to the next relay depot, where surprised stablemen marvelled to see him back so soon. In the ordinary course of affairs, he should not have made the return trip for another twenty-four hours. Two more relays and the Express rider ought to be in Rifle Falls, but now the mountains loomed before him, white-capped, obscured by driving snow. It had taken all his strength and courage to get him through that morning, when he had been comparatively fresh. To fight the snow now would demand every ounce of his will-power and endurance. The worst going was not on that side of the mountain, but on the other side, which was exposed to the wind. Up to the top Wal Loader fought his way, sometimes blinded by the snow, his face freezing in the bitter air. Twice the pony slipped, and once Loader had to dismount to help the animal to an upright position again. The surface of the snow had frozen, and was as slippery as glass. It was a miracle that the poor beast kept its balance at all. But it struggled on, and gradually fought its way to the top. The wind came howling down from the north, and Wal Loader shivered as it bit through his thin, light clothing. The worst was now ahead. Down through the white, swirling wilderness went the pony, slipping, slithering, ploughing through drifts and heaps of banked snow. Then, without the slightest warning, the pony’s feet shot from under it. For once its instinct had deserted it, and the luckless beast had gone over the edge of a sheer precipice. Wal Loader just had time to throw himself backwards out of the saddle. He hit the snow only a few inches from the brink, and dug his fingers into the icy surface to check himself from following the pony. He glimpsed it bouncing and slithering down the dizzy slope, and then it vanished from view. Wearily the Express rider drew himself to his feet. He was sore and cramped, stiff with riding, and inexpressibly weary. But one thing was in his mind – the mail-pouches. He had to find that pony, get the pouches, and carry them on to Dry Creek. He peered over the edge of the precipice. It was impossible to see a way down. He would have to go round and find an easier descent. He stumbled on, bent double, knee-deep in snow. Down to the right, and right again. He did not want to lose his bearings in that white wilderness. What spurred him on to desperate efforts was the knowledge that the coach would be steadily catching up with him. At last Loader reached what he considered to be the bottom of the slope, and started looking for the luckless pony.


In all, the Express rider must have wasted an hour before he saw a pair of hooves sticking out of the snow. The pony had landed on its back, and had sunk deep down. Now came more hard, backbreaking work as Loader grabbed and tore at the snow with his hands, to reach the mail-pouches. First one and then the other he retrieved, heaving them out with a sigh of relief. He shouldered the heavy pouches, each weighing nearly thirty pounds, and staggered forward. Dry Creek was six miles away, and he had to travel on foot. There was only one good thing about that terrible journey—it was mostly downhill. He struggled on as best he could, sometimes falling, sometimes lying in the snow for minutes at a time. Only his will-power drove him on. Things were easier once he reached the lower slopes, and Loader paused to thaw out his hands, which had become numb and dead through clutching the straps of the pouches. Then on once more to Dry Creek, hidden midst the trees. How he covered that last mile Loader never knew. Nobody saw or heard him coming. They were not expecting him. He staggered into the little depot unseen, and let out a hoarse cry before someone came from the bunkhouse and stared in amazement at the ghost of a man bowed down by the mail pouches. Wal Loader! Holy smoke what—” “Lost pony in the snow—dead!” gasped Loader. “Get the new one ready soon as possible. I’ll get—some—coffee.” He dropped the mail-pouches at the stableman’s feet, and almost fell into the bunkhouse. A boy of about fourteen years, sitting by the stove and wearing the garb of a Pony Express rider, sprang to his feet with a cry of surprise. He was Will Cody, the Pony Express rider who had been missing that morning, and whose run Wal Loader had taken over. The youngest of all the Pony Express riders, he was one of the keenest, showing even then the remarkable courage and toughness which was later to earn him world-wide fame as Buffalo Bill Cody. “Loader!” gasped the youngster. “You’re just about all-in. Get down beside the stove an’ thaw out.” Wal Loader swayed unsteadily on his feet. “Not me,” he croaked. “I’ve got—to get—on—in two minutes. The other pony’s – almost ready.” Will Cody was buckling his belt. “You’re not goin’ any further,” he snapped. “It’s my job. You took on my run this morning. Now I’ll take over. I’m fresh as paint. You sleep the clock round, Wal.” The young Express rider had reached the door when Loader, with surprising strength, grabbed him by the arm and hauled him back.” “No, this is my job,” gasped Loader. “Nobody takes over from me. I’ve—got—to get—to—Rifle Falls. I’ve got to get there—myself. Understand.” The keen-eyed boy did not understand, but he realised that there was something behind Loader’s determination. Without a word he poured out a cupful of steaming coffee from the pot which stood on the stove, and held it for the older man. “Would you like me to come with you?” he asked. “No, I’m all right,” replied Loader between mouthfuls. “It was only the snow that nearly got me. It’s all plain sailing now.” Straightening his back, he walked back to the stable. He made three attempts to climb on to the waiting pony’s back, then he was forced to accept the aid of one of the men to get there. Once in position, however, he touched heels to its flanks and flashed away, followed by the disapproving eyes of Will Cody and the others.


It was good to be on a fresh beast and no longer troubled by snow. Wal Loader actually shed some of his weariness as he sped along. Point 16 was his next destination. He was getting near the end of his run now. He clattered into the depot in fine style.

There was nobody at hand. From inside the shacks came loud voices telling him to make for cover. Everything was barricaded heavily, and he knew what that meant. Indians were in the vicinity. Wal Loader stood there in the open and bellowing until someone came out to tend to his wants. With one eye on the distant wood, the stableman got a pony. “You can’t get through,” he snapped. “The Piutes are on the warpath again. It’s young braves. They’ve broken loose from the tribe, and are on the trail back there. It’s madness to try an’ get through.” “I always was mad!” replied Wal Loader, and scrambled into the saddle once more. Away he went, and this time there was a glad light in his weary eyes, for he knew he was on the last lap. But he did not forget the redskins. He knew just where they would be. He avoided these danger spots by taking cunning short-cuts. Then at last, as weariness began to overtake him again, he saw Rifle Falls, with smoke curling from the chimneys of the cabins. He saw something else as well—that the new telegraph line had been broken down in one place. That explained why there had been no communication between any of the places he had passed. The clatter of his pony’s hooves was heard. Men came running to meet him. They lifted him from the saddle and set him on his feet. Jim Rockley, a veteran rider, was waiting to take over the mails, but Wal Loader had no time to speak to him. He turned towards the road boss’s office just as the door opened and J.A. Slade came out. The famous Western gunman’s arm was tucked in a sling; his face was contorted with rage. “Hey, you!” he bawled. “Why are you so late? The mails on this division have got to run to schedule. Understand? What do you mean by bein’ more than two hours behind time, an’—Loader!” He had just recognised the staggering grey-faced newcomer. “What are you doin’ here? Why are you back?” To Slade’s surprise, Wal Loader clutched his arm and pushed him into the bunkhouse. “Slade, I came for only one reason—to warn you,” gasped the Express rider. “Grab your things an’ light out for the north. Chuck up your job an’ beat it! The sheriff of Black Swamp an’ two deputies are on the coach that’s due to arrive any time now. They mean to get you.” “The sheriff of Black Swamp?” It was clear that Slade had forgotten what had happened in that place. There were so many notches on his gun that he had forgotten whose deaths they represented. “You shot his brother ten months ago, so he’s on his way here to get you, Slade,” croaked Loader. “I rode a hundred miles to warn you, not because I wanted to save your miserable, dirty hide, but because—because—” Wal Loader swayed and would have fallen if Slade had not seized him and supported him to a bunk. There he fell headlong. Nature had triumphed at last. Wal Loader had collapsed. He had not even strength to explain why he had gone to such trouble to come to the aid of the man he hated. Slade looked at his rival queerly. The hard, cruel face of the notorious killer had softened. He bent low, saw that Loader was already asleep or unconscious and muttered—“You little rat—durn little rat!” But it was not a term of contempt that Slade was using. It was almost as though he was praising the silent figure on the bunk. He tucked the blankets around Loader, and straightened up, just as one of his men came running in. “Slade, there’s shootin’ down the trail,” he gasped. “There’s a lot o’ shootin’ goin’ on, an’ we can hear the howlin’ of redskins. I reckon the coach has run into them hot-headed Piutes we heard about.” In an instant, J. A. Slade had become the grim road boss once again. Without a word he grabbed a packet of cartridges for his two revolvers, clapped his hat on his head, and strode towards the stable. “Get me a pony!” he snapped. The stableman looked at him in astonishment. “But you—you can’t go out there,” the man stuttered. “You don’t know how many of ‘em there are.” Slade grinned cruelly. “I’m goin’,” he snarled. “There’s someone on that coach who specially wants to see me. I’ve never disappointed a man o’ that kind in my life. Look after Loader. He’s about all-in. So Long!” There was a finality about Slade’s tone which the stableman had never heard before. They looked after him in amazement as he rode hard down the trail in the direction of the gunfire.


The coach had run straight into the ambush which Wal Loader had avoided. Thirty redskin braves, hidden from sight, had gloatingly watched it arrive, and had then let loose their arrows and charged.

The guard of the coach had been killed in the first volley. One of the other passengers had also been wounded, and four of the horses had dropped with arrows in their bodies. The coach swerved, hit a boulder, and almost overturned. The jolt threw Sheriff Lawkins and his deputies to the ground, and with them the driver and a passenger who had been riding on top of the coach. A third passenger had been inside. He tried to leap out, and was promptly tomahawked by the yelling Piutes. Then the Indians swarmed in to finish off the other white men. The driver lashed out with his whip, and Lawkins rallied his men behind a suitable boulder. As the Indians charged in to seize their victims, a volley rang out and four of the red men dropped. The driver was now able to get to cover as well. Behind the rocks, those five men determined to sell their lives as dearly as possible. Three more rushes the Indians made, and each time had casualties. Then they decided to adopt other tactics, and formed a cordon on all sides, taking cover themselves. It was an old trick they adopted, firing their arrows straight up into the air so that they would drop behind the boulders. With two dozen of them doing this, there were bound to be casualties among the defenders, and a few minutes later a groan from one of the deputies from Black Swamp told that he had been hit. White-faced, the defenders watched the deadly arrows dropping around them. There was no protection at all from this form of attack. More arrows, and another of the besieged men was wounded. The odds were getting greater. The sheriff’s lips tightened as he looked at his ammunition. Whatever happened, he must keep one shot for himself, rather than fall into the hands of these red fiends. The siege had lasted about twenty minutes when the white men were surprised to hear revolver shots from the right. Someone had ridden up behind the Indians and was emptying shots into them in rapid fashion. Judging by their yells, the Piutes were suffering casualties. Sheriff Lawkins tried to peer over the boulder. “There’s only one man. He must be mad to interfere,” he grunted. Crack-crack-crack! More shots, more angry yells from the redskins, and several of them could be seen wriggling towards the marksman. “Look out!” howled Sheriff Lawkins in warning. They’re comin’ your way.! Suddenly the little band of white men saw the man who was drawing attention to himself. He was on a pony, and was riding by grip of his knees alone, one hand being in a sling, the other brandishing a smoking gun. This he worked almost as fast as a machine-gun as he charged straight at the redskins. The first revolver emptied, he tucked it into his belt and snatched out another, just as the Piutes made their rush. He fired with miraculous speed. Not a shot missed. Piute after Piute went down. Five of them were dropped almost under his horse’s feet before one of the Indians cracked the poor beast’s skull with a tomahawk. It doubled at the knees and crashed forward, but the rider jumped clear, landed on his feet, darted behind a tree, and threw off the sling. The watching men behind the boulders saw his face whiten with pain, as he used his injured arm to help him reload. Only once did the redskins try to interfere, and the gunman had retained a shot in the second gun for just such an emergency. Ten seconds later both guns were reloaded again, and the man behind the tree deliberately charged into the thick of the redskins. By this time they were all around him, seventeen or eighteen of them. None of them now worried about the sheriff and his men. “Get that coach on to Rifle Falls!” roared the unknown rescuer as he coolly and scientifically dropped man after man. A tomahawk had gashed the side of his head. An arrow was in his left knee, but he still remained on his feet, leaning against a tree, drawing all attention to himself. The driver crept to the two remaining horses, cut them free of their dead comrades, and climbed to the box. He shouted for the others to join him. The deputies lifted the wounded passenger inside. One of them got beside him, but the second deputy hesitated. The sheriff of Black Swamp had not yet followed them. He was going towards the man who had saved them. An arrow had pinned the tight-lipped gunman to a tree. He was obviously doomed, but he was still shooting as calmly as ever. The odds had now dropped to ten Indians.


His gun spitting fire, the sheriff rushed forward. “Come with us, man!” he roared. “Let me help you! What in the name of wonder did you want to come here like this for?” The severe losses they had sustained, and the arrival of the sheriff, caused the Indians to fall back.

They were awe-stricken and horrified by the way in which the tight-lipped man against the tree had cut down their numbers. Sheriff Lawkins attempted to draw out the arrow which pinned his unknown rescuer to the tree. “Leave that alone!” roared the gunman. “Think I want to die on the ground? Leave that alone!” A wild look came into his eyes. “Let me see, It’s Sheriff Lawkins, isn’t it?” he asked. “I hear you were lookin’ for me. Seems you’ve travelled a long way to find me, eh?” “What do you mean?” gasped the sheriff, backing away. “I mean that I’m J. A. Slade,” was the reply. “I shot your brother at Black Swamp.” “But—but——” Sheriff Lawkins glanced wildly to right and left. The Indians were watching tensely. The men on the coach were shouting for him to join them. “But if you know who I was—why did you come here?” “To save the coach!” roared J. A. Slade, and blood appeared on his lips. “I happen to be the road boss o’ this here division. Indians have got to be taught to leave my coaches alone. Now Mister Sheriff, what about you an’ me shootin’ it out?” Lawkins hesitated. How could he shoot a man who had just made such a splendid sacrifice? “I guess I—I don’t——” he commenced. “Bah, you’re yellow!” snarled Slade. “When I say I’m goin’ to shoot a man, I shoot him. I came here to meet you. Get busy! I’m goin’ to shoot. Better take aim, Lawkins.” The sheriff licked his lips, saw that Slade meant it, and then jerked up his gun. Crack-crack! Two shots rang out as one. But J. A. Slade got in first. No Man in the West had ever managed to beat him to it with guns. The sheriff dropped with a bullet in his heart, and the loud, cruel laugh of J. A. Slade shocked even the Indians. “Come on, you Piutes!” he roared. “Come an’ do what no white man ever managed to do. Come an’ get me!” The Indians had crept forward, scarcely knowing what they were going to do. No sooner were they out from cover than Slade opened fire with both guns, and five more of them dropped before the rest fled. But during the last mad burst of action, Slade’s life-blood had been draining away. His guns drooped, dropped from his hands, and he died as he had wished—on his feet, with his victims scattered around him, still able to boast that no man had ever beaten him to the draw. Those on the coach gazed in silence for some moments before the coachman whipped up the two remaining horses, and lurched on towards Rifle Falls and safety. The next day Wal Loader came out and took down the body, took it back to Rifle Falls, and gave it a decent burial. Some men said there were tears in the Express rider’s eyes as he stood for a moment above the last resting place of his enemy, but no one dared say that to his face. That raid of the Piutes was their last. The counsel of the older and wiser men in the tribe prevailed, and gave assurance that there would be no further attacks. The telegraph line was repaired, and was soon in full operation. This automatically caused the disbanding of the Pony Express. The gallant riders who had defied death and the elements for nearly eighteen months were scattered far and wide throughout the West. Wal Loader disappeared from the district near the Overland Trail. Rumours came later that he was horse-ranching up in Oregon, and there were a good many men who wondered if he ever thought about those days when he had lived only for the chance of shooting the deadliest gunmen the West had ever known. If Loader did think about those days, they wondered whether he felt sorry he had not been the one to kill Slade—or glad?


First series PONY EXPRESS 30 weeks The Rover issues: 1283 – 1312 (1950)

Second series THE PONY EXPRESS RUNS AGAIN 12 weeks The Rover issues: 1325 – 1336 (1950 - 1951)

Third series THE LAST DAYS OF A GUNMAN 12 weeks The Rover issues: 1337 – 1348 (1951)

Fourth series THE FIRST FIGHTS OF J.A. SLADE 12 weeks The Rover issues: 1365 – 1376 (1951)

Fifth series THE START OF MY DESPERATE DAYS by J.A. Slade 10 weeks The Rover issues: 1392 – 1401 (1952)

Sixth series SLADE OF THE PONY EXPRESS 14 weeks The Rover issues: 1497 – 1510 (1954)

Seventh series SLADE RIDES ALONE 12 weeks The Rover issues: 1597 – 1608 (1956)


© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2006