The story begins late in the afternoon, on a trail, a few miles away from the town of Burke’s Crossing. The Characters smell the dust and hear the pounding hooves of dozens of approaching horses. A short time later, a posse of over fifty men led by Marshall Leonard Hopkins and Sheriff Tom Buckhalter ride into view. The posse is out searching for the infamous McLaughlin Gang, a band of outlaws who have terrorized this region for some time.
After ascertaining that the characters are law-abiding citizens (or at least not the gang the posse is seeking), Marshall Hopkins tells them that the posse is searching for the McLaughlin Gang and demands to know if the characters have seen them. Wanted posters are handed out so the characters can take a better look The characters may have seen the posters before but they have not seen the men.
The characters state that they have not seen the gang in question, Hopkins asks them if they are sure. He then ominously informs them that anyone aiding a member of the McLaughlin Gang will be treated as criminals themselves. The characters take no offense at this thinly veiled insult but Hopkins imperiously waves off any protests by stating that he is simply citing the law, and that if the characters have a problem with the law they should take it up with their local congressman. Sheriff Buckhalter and the other men seem slightly embarrassed by Hopkinss attitude but none of them challenge his authority.
After questioning the characters, Hopkins leads his men back off in search of the McLaughlin Gang. When the characters offer to join the posse, Hopkins states that he has more than enough guns to bring the gang to justice. The characters continue on to Burke’s Crossing.
Burke’s Crossing is a typical western prairie town. It is located near a shallow stretch of the Annabelle River that is easily crossed on horseback. The town was once a stopover on the way to a larger mining town. When the mine ran out, through-traffic dwindled to a halt, shops and businesses closed up, and people moved away. Burke’s Crossing has been in decline ever since. The soil in the area is relatively fertile, however, and several large farms and ranches dot the surrounding countryside.
The town itself houses the usual collection of shops and small businesses—a jail, smithy, general store, barber shop, livery, and combination hotel/saloon. Main Street runs through the center of town and continues on through the river.
Several blocks of dilapidated, abandoned buildings line either side of the street. Under normal circumstances, these extra buildings make the town appear under-populated. Right now, Burke’s Crossing seems positively barren. Most of the able-bodied men from in and around the area have joined the posse, leaving only the women, children, and a few older tradesmen behind. The residents greet the characters with more than a little nervousness and fear. Children stop and gawk before being hurried along by anxious mothers.
The Sup and Sleep
The seeks lodging at The Sup and Sleep. This is a combination hotel and saloon, with horse stables around the back. The saloon serves drinks and food. Rooms cost $1.00 per night with dinner and stabling included in the price. The saloon is currently empty except for an old man named Winslow Richardson (the owner and bartender), the venerable Deputy Carl Bedfellow, and a wandering gambler named Frederick Crispin.
The Sup and Sleeps stables are located behind the saloon. Unbeknownst to our heroes, Billy McLaughlin and his gang are hiding in the stalls inside. They have taken Winslow’s adopted daughter, Missy, and two stable boys named Wesley and George hostage, and plan to use them to help steal or bargain for horses and equipment.
When the characters ride up to the stables, the barn door opens and Wesley comes running out to tend their horses and take their gear to their rooms. The characters do not notice that one side of the boy’s face is red, as if he has just been struck. If asked, the boy grows nervous and says he was kicked by a horse.
If the characters do not pursue the matter further, or if they do not notice the mark on the boys face at all, Wesley leads their horses into the stables without any fuss. The characters can return to the saloon.
LEFT IN THE DUST
Things go as planned, the McLaughlins escape Burke’s Crossing with Missy as a hostage, leaving the characters poorly armed and equipped.
If any of the McLaughlins escaped, the characters may wish to give chase. Finding anyone to help is impossible. Most of the able-bodied men have gone with Marshall Hopkins and those few remaining are not inclined to violence. If asked, the gambler, Frederick Crispin, scoffs at the idea of joining any hunt, stating that he can make twice the offered reward money in one night of playing cards, without half the potential danger.
Finding horses in town is also a problem. The owner of the livery has loaned his stock to those members of the posse who did not own horses. He does have plenty of mules and donkeys left however. Crispin’s horse is currently at the blacksmith’s shop where it has just been shoed. If asked, Crispin agrees to rent the horse for $15 plus compensation for any damages.
Finding weapons in town is also difficult as the Sheriff and the local gunsmith have loaned their spares to members of the posse. Winslow Richardson has a sawed-off double-barrel shotgun under the bar along with a box of twenty shells.
Deputy Bedfellow offers to loan the characters his flintlock rifle and flintlock pistol, a powder horn, and a bag of shot. If asked, the gambler, Frederick Crispin agrees to rent his derringer for $5. The derringer has only two shots and Crispin has no spares.
By the time the characters get moving, the McLaughlin gang have a bit of a head start. Worse, storm clouds can be seen on the horizon and the night promises to be a wet one. The characters have no problem tracking the gang into the rocky hills. As night closes in, the trail eventually leads them to an ancient Arapaho burial ground.
THE BURIAL GROUND
The Arapaho burial ground lies atop a small rise and is surrounded on all sides by rocky hills. The graves are marked by stone cairns and trappings of wood, feather, bone, and bead, although the Arapaho are long gone from this region.
Twinkling stars and a full moon, glimpsed through the slow-moving clouds, provide just enough light to see. Thunder rumbles in the sky, occasional flashes of lightning and a steady drizzle of rain combine with the closeness of the surrounding wall of rocks to make the burial ground an eerie place.
When the characters arrive at the site, they find Jacob and Horace digging up graves by torchlight, and 2 other bandits hiding in the shadows, to see if they can find anything of value, while Samuel Two-Eyes sits meditating atop a nearby hill, asking the spirits for forgiveness for disturbing their peace. The rest of the gang are holed up inside a small, hillside cave.
These 4 go down almost before the fight gets started. By timing their shots with the lightning, no in the cave hears anything. Samuel sneaks off rather than fight these two single handed.
This cave was once considered sacred by the Arapaho Indians and its walls are adorned with primitive tribal paintings. The McLaughlins have started a fire inside and screened the cave entrance with a blanket or animal hide to keep in the warmth.
The characters smell smoke and see the flickering light from the first fight spot. Any stolen horses are tied up outside the cave. Billy McLaughlin and several more men are inside the cave, taking inventory of their supplies and counting the cash and jewelry taken from a stash the gang had previously hidden in one of the Indian graves. He also has a crude map that leads to several more such caches scattered throughout the region. Nose Parker is in the cave with him. Nose is terrified of being here but Billy has told him to quit whining unless he wants to get shot. If Missy is with the gang, she is here as well, tied and gagged in a corner.
The final confrontation between the characters and the McLaughlins could end up being a furious firefight. Samuel attacks the group from behind once they launch their ambush, at in the end the group wins the day. They collect the money, jewels, girl, and a map showing several more treasure locations in the area. The next morning they return to town.
RETURN TO BURKE’S CROSSING
When they get back, they find that the posse, sheriff and Marshall have returned. The Marshall is gob-smacked that the two have defeated the whole gang and pays them the reward money. Tom the bartender also tells them that anytime they need a place to stay, his bar will find a spot for them. He also gives them a reward for saving his daughter.
They decide to rest up and heal here before pushing on to Shadey Gulch.