Day the Mules Went Crazy
by Jim Foreman
THE REVENGE OF OLD THREE TOES
Old Three Toes, as he came to be known, was a wily old coyote which lived on the Venable ranch where he was the nemesis and a thorn in the side of Jake Venable almost from the day he was born. Actually, he wasn't pure coyote but about half coyote and half dog. The dog half must have been some sort of a big black thing because while Old Three Toes had the guile and disposition of a coyote, he was nearly coal black except for his belly and at least twice the size of a normal coyote. During his long and notorious life, he was poisoned, shot, trapped and once hunted down and caught by a pack of trained coyote hunting dogs. Yet, each time he was always able to escape to continue the lifestyle of a rogue coyote.
Jake's first sighting of Three Toes was shortly after the mother coyote brought her pack of pups out of the den for their first look at the outside world. Jake immediately noticed that one of the pups was much larger and darker than the rest. Jake recognized that he was a half-breed coyote, one of the most despised critters in a cattleman's life. Half-breed coyotes have a reputation of being especially destructive to cattle. Jake pulled his 30-30 out of the saddle boot, took careful aim and squeezed off a shot at the black pup. The bullet kicked up a puff of dirt between his legs and taught him to never let a human get close again.
Jake set a couple traps near the place where had last seen them and baited it with a dead rabbit. When he came by the next morning, he found that he had caught the black coyote but all that he had to show for it was one toe. It had obviously been Three Toe's lucky day because he was lifting his foot just as the trap snapped shut, catching him only by a toe on his back foot. He immediately chewed himself free and escaped. From that day forward, he became known as Three Toes because of the distinctive print he left with his right hind foot.
Three Toes must have learned a lot from that first encounter with ranchers and their traps because no matter how hard they tried, no one was never able to catch him in one of those steel monsters again. In fact, it would appear that he liked to play tricks with them. He would leave tracks around the traps without stepping in one, then dig them up, turn them over and leave them on the top of the ground as if to taunt the ranchers.
Jake tried to poison Three Toes by putting strychnine in hot dogs and scattering them along trails which he liked to follow. Three Toes swallowed one of the baited wieners but immediately got sick and threw it up before it could do him any real damage. After that, he would pass up anything which smelled the slightest bit suspicious and all that Jake ever killed with his poison after that was dogs and hawks.
Being the biggest and strongest coyote in the area, Three Toes soon had quite a pack of coyotes following him around. They could easily attack and kill calves and would even take on full grown cows if they found a lame one. It got to the point where Three Toes and his following were really putting a dent in Jake's herd. Not only were they killing his cattle, but they often came right up to his house to take chickens, pigs and even his cat. Every time that Jake found signs where something had been killed, he would also find those familiar tracks with a toe missing.
Jake always carried a Lever Action 30-30 Winchester in his saddle boot and one day he came upon Three Toes and his pack eating a calf that they had killed. Jake popped off a quick shot which took down one of the coyotes, levered another shell into the chamber and wounded another. Then he realized that while he was killing coyotes, old Three Toes was getting away. He took careful aim at the black leader and squeezed off a shot. Just as Three Toes was about to go over a hill and out so sight, he turned to take one last look and the bullet took off most of his tail. With nothing to show for his shooting ability except half a tail, he hung it from the rear view mirror of his pickup to remind him just how much he hated that old black coyote.
There was a fellow in Stinnett who had what he called coyote dogs. Actually, all that he had was a couple medium size mongrels and a big old yellow dog that would fight most anything. His usual way of hunting coyotes was to drive around with his dogs in a box in the back of his pickup until he spotted a coyote and then turn the dogs loose. The two little ones would chase the coyote until it got tired of running and turned to fight. Then the little dogs would stay just out of his reach until the big dog arrived to finish him off. Jake hired the man and his dogs to hunt down old Three Toes.
Everything went as planned. They spotted old Three Toes, turned the dogs loose and they took off after him. When the two little ones finally ran him to ground, they found that he wasn't nearly as easy to hold at bay as most coyotes. He turned on the two little dogs, killed one instantly and laid the other open so badly that he died before the night was over. He and the big yellow dog were about an even match and a pitched battle went on for several minutes. Things were turning in favor of the yellow dog when he made the mistake of clamping down on an ear, putting himself in just the right position for Three Toes to get hold of his throat. Even though the yellow dog was giving the ear a good chewing, he was rapidly running out of air.
Jake and the dog's owner arrived in the nick of time because the big yellow dog was fading fast. Seeing the men arrive, Three Toes released his grip on the yellow dog's throat to escape. In his death throws, the yellow dog hung onto the ear and as Three Toes bolted away, he left most of his right ear in the yellow dog's mouth.
Along about that time the government came out with a new gadget called a cyanide gun to help control the coyote population. It was supposed to be fool-proof. You attached the device to a fence post or to a stake driven in the ground, baited it with a piece of meat and removed a pin to activate it. They always put a large sign above the gun warning of its danger. When a coyote tried to get the meat, it would fire a cyanide pellet right into its mouth, killing it almost instantly. It would kill a coyote so quick that he usually got no more than a few yards from where the gun was placed.
Jake obtained several of those lethal traps from the local Department of Agriculture Agent and set them in various places on his ranch. Sure enough, a couple days later, he found four dead coyotes but none of them were his old enemy, Three Toes. The black half-breed had found one of them but being wary of anything which even hinted of man, he had approached it very carefully. After sniffing around it for several minutes and finding no steel traps, he decided that instead of simply grabbing the bait and pulling, he would nibble it from the side. It fired, but instead of sending the deadly pellet into his mouth, it missed but the explosion hit him directly in the face, blowing one eye out and half blinding him in the other. Now, blind in one eye and nearly so in the other, poor old Three Toes was far from the coyote that he once was. He was now reduced to eating watermelons, scrounging through trash cans and raiding chicken houses like a common dog.
Jake forgot all about old Three Toes the day that a letter arrived from the Chevrolet Dealer in Borger telling him that the new pickup that he had been waiting for ever since the war ended had finally come in. Jake drove to Borger in the rattling old pickup that had barely made it through the war by being worked on at least twice a week. On the way there, one of the connecting rods began to knock even louder than usual and Jake feared that it wouldn't make it up the hill on the south side of the river. It gasped its last breath as he pulled into the dealer's driveway.
There it was. A brand new 1946 Chevrolet Half Ton Pickup, forest green in color and tires that actually had tread on them. Jake stepped gingerly on the starter and the engine purred to life. He breathed in the new pickup smell and ran his hands over the genuine imitation leather seat. It was the first new vehicle that Jake had ever owned and only by building bridges for the county ever since the war started had he accumulated enough money to buy it. The deal was made, the check was written, the new pickup filled with gasoline and Jake headed back to Stinnett with a song in his heart. Actually, the song wasn't in his heart but on the radio which he had to buy for five hundred dollars in order to get them to sell him the pickup. The government controlled the selling price on new pickups but not on radios. He drove all the way home at exactly 35 miles an hour because he wanted to break the engine in right.
When Jake arrived at home, his wife rushed from the house to admire the new pickup. She ran her hand over the simulated wood grain dash and Jake showed her how the radio worked. As Jake carefully wiping away some bugs that had splatted themselves on the windshield during the drive home, their admiration of the new pickup was interrupted by a commotion coming from the chicken house. They rushed to see what was the matter. There he was, old Three Toes, backed into a corner of the chicken house with a fat hen in his teeth. He was really a pitiful looking thing, scars from countless battles, blind in one eye, an ear missing and only a stub for a tail. He glared hatred at them from his one good eye. Jake closed the hen house door; he had finally captured old Three Toes. It was a red letter day, a new pickup and now he had captured his old enemy.
Jake got his 30-30 and as he took aim at Three Toe's head through the crack in the door, he was suddenly stricken with a better idea. Considering how much misery and money this old coyote had cost him, he wanted to extract more revenge than what simply pulling the trigger and watching him die would provide. He lowered the gun and went into the barn where he had most of a case of dynamite that he used to blast out rocks when he was building bridges for the county. He was going to send Old Three Toes to his maker in style. He got two sticks of the dynamite, a blasting cap and a couple feet of fuse.
Jake tossed a loop of rope over Three Toe's head, dragged him from the hen house and soon had him safely stuffed into a gunny sack. Then he loaded him into the back of the pickup and drove to the middle of his ranch.
Jake Venable was always the sort of person who got a rather perverse pleasure out of seeing things die, but this was going to be his crowning achievement in revenge. He used some electrical tape to firmly attach the two sticks of dynamite to Three Toe's back, then he crimped the blasting cap onto the fuse with his teeth and carefully inserted it into the dynamite. With everything ready, he dragged poor old Three Toes about a hundred yards from the pickup and lit the fuse. Two feet of fuse would give him close to one full minute to anticipate the end of his old enemy. He shook the rope off the coyote's neck and gave him a kick in the butt to send him on his way.
Old Three Toes leaped to his feet and took off as fast as he could run, except being able to see from only one eye, he was running in a big circle, kicking up a cloud of dust as he raced across the dry prairie. Poor old Three Toes had two thoughts on his mind, escape from his tormentor and find a place to hide so he could chew this infernal thing off his back. Suddenly, his one good eye spotted something big and green ahead, and it seemed to have just enough space under it for him to hide. Jake stood there dumbfounded as old Three Toes raced toward his new pickup and crawled under it. Suddenly, there was a loud explosion which filled the air with a cloud of dust, black hair and flying pickup parts.