By RedZipBoots

With a shiver Hannibal Heyes pulled his thick woollen muffler up to his ears and stared at the sheer wall of ice rising up in front of him.  He frowned.  Seven winters had come and gone since he had first set foot in Devil's Hole and during that time the waterfall in the centre of the outlaw hideout had never once frozen over like this.  He wondered what the odds were of it choosing this particular year to do it.

Over in the corral Kid Curry finished scattering the remainder of a bale of hay on top of the snow for the horses that had bravely ventured out of the barn, and curious as to what Heyes was so enraptured by, sauntered over to stand next to him.   He, too, gazed upwards.

"Whatcha lookin' at?" he asked, each word visible in the frosty air.

Heyes' reply was a succinct, "The waterfall."

When no further explanation followed, Curry pressed, "That much I can see.  Whatcha lookin' at it for?"

"Strange how the top looks so much higher than it did when the water was flowing over it," observed Heyes.

Curry sighed.  His cousin sure could act a little weird sometimes.

"Well, if you're not gonna tell me, I'm going back to the cabin."  Curry turned to go, but Heyes grabbed his arm.

"How long has this been frozen over?" he asked.

Curry shrugged.  "I dunno."

"It can't have happened overnight though, right?"

"It's been pretty darn cold."


"Don't tell me you're worried about us not having enough water 'cause we're kinda surrounded by it."  Kid Curry waved his arms expansively at the snow-covered ground.

"That's not the problem."

Curry's eyes widened.  "There's a problem?"


"Heyes, will ya stop sayin' 'mmmm' and tell me what it is!"

With a quick glance over his shoulder to check nobody else was within earshot, Heyes replied, "It's where I cached our Christmas dinner."  

At the Kid's puzzled expression, he continued, "Remember the trip to Harristown me and Kyle made just before the last snowfall closed the pass?  Well, once all the supplies were loaded and Kyle was busy entertaining himself in the saloon, I snuck back to the general store and bought a box-load of prime steaks.   Mister Jenkins swore it's the best beef he's ever tasted."

"And you thought you'd hide 'em back there?"  Curry inclined his head toward the frozen waterfall.

"Best place.  There's a nook in the rock behind the falls and the water's real cold all the time, so I figured there was less chance they'd go bad.  I didn't get too wet getting back there, but... now I think about it... it wasn't flowing real fast.  I guess that was a sign it was starting to freeze," Heyes concluded gloomily as realization dawned.

"How come you didn't tell me about this?"

Frustrated, Heyes threw his hands in the air.  "It was supposed to be a surprise!" 

"Well, we won't unfreeze it standing here lookin'.  You can figure it out over a hot cup of coffee." 


Christmas Eve of 1882 dawned overcast and bitterly cold. 

With his shoulders hunched and his hands thrust deep into his coat pockets, Hannibal Heyes trudged resolutely through yet another new fall of snow to the bunkhouse. 


The cheery greeting was not reciprocated.  Instead, loud groans found their way out of each bunk where the occupant remained curled up under threadbare army blankets.  Every member of the Devil's Hole Gang was of the firm opinion that while the onset of winter meant a break from robbing trains and banks, it also meant time off from everything else, and the arrival of their leader at this early hour usually indicated there was a plan afoot.

Heyes removed his gloves and clapped his hands, loudly.  "Come on boys!  Get up!  I need you to do something for me."

Several rather unsavoury sounds were the only response.  Heyes wrinkled his nose in distaste.  Reconsidering his approach he tilted his hat and leaned casually against one of the bunks. 

"You all like a good slap-up meal, dontcha?  Well, it just so happens that if you help me, that's what you'll be getting.  Now, I'm not talking about a steer that dropped dead from old age, I'm talkin' real good steak.  The best, in fact."  Heyes' face took on a dreamy look.  "Just picture it.  Cutting into a big, sweet, ju—"

"Go away, Heyes," grumbled Wheat.  "We're tryin' to get some shut-eye."

Vexed by this total lack of enthusiasm the outlaw leader's eyes darkened.  Getting his gang out of bed wasn't going to be easy.  He needed another method of persuasion.  One that never failed.  A method known to every man here as Kid Curry — or to be precise, a six-gun in the hand of Kid Curry.

"Okay."  Heyes strolled nonchalantly back across the room.  "If that's the way you want it."

Flinging open the door he stood facing the resulting rush of cold air. 

"Kid!  You'd best get over here!" he yelled, smiling smugly to himself as he pictured the flurry of activity which was about to take place.  This smile quickly faded when, upon turning back to the room, all he saw were Kyle Murtry's blue eyes blinking at him over the top of his blankets before disappearing beneath them again.  Nobody else moved an inch.

Muttering under his breath something about having to work with a pack of lazy, good-for-nothing, low-life owl-hoots, Heyes left the bunkhouse door wide open and stomped back to the leader's cabin.

"Wouldn't get outta bed for ya, huh?"  Curry's eyes twinkled with amusement. 


"You want me to go over there and—?"

"Don't waste your time, Kid.  It'll take more than you waving that shootin' iron of yours around to get that bunch outta bed today," grumbled Heyes.  "No, it looks like it'll just be the two of us for this job, and that means using plan B."

It didn't take long for Heyes to select two sticks of dynamite from the iron box in the shed on the far side of the hideout and, using an old piece of string, carefully bound them together before attaching a blasting cap as well as a length of fuse.  Meanwhile, Curry went to fetch a ladder from the barn. 

"You figure two sticks will be enough?" he asked as he joined Heyes at the waterfall.

"Sure.   We only want to blow a hole in it, Kid, not bring the whole thing down."

"Well, I hope you're gonna use a real long fuse, 'cause I wanna be as far away as possible when that blows.  Ice looks a lot like glass to me and I don't plan on being cut to pieces when it starts flyin' everywhere."

"How about the far side of our cabin?" Heyes suggested as they propped the ladder up against the frozen wall of water.  "Now, I want to hook the string over one of those pointy bits way up there, so be sure and hold this real still.  And keep that fuse out of the snow, will ya?" he ordered.  "Don't want it getting wet." 

Although grateful he wasn't the one who was going to be climbing a wobbly wooden ladder while clutching a fistful of dynamite, Curry still acknowledged his partner's officious tone with a flinty stare, a mock salute, and a stiff, "Yes, sir!"

Tentatively, Heyes placed his booted foot on the second rung — the bottom one already being buried in the deep snow.  The ladder slipped a little on the pebbles of the frozen stream as he began to climb, but Curry's strong hands steadied it, holding it firmly in place until Heyes had located a big enough spike jutting out from the wall of ice on which to hang the explosives.

Returning to the ground he stood back and cast a professional eye over his handiwork.  "That oughta do it," he announced, confidently.  "You ready?"

Curry nodded and quickly dumped the ladder to one side as Heyes produced a box of matches from his coat pocket, struck one and applied the small flame to the dangling fuse.  For a few seconds the expert safe-cracker watched the powder-laden cotton fibres crackle and spark, and once he was satisfied it was going to stay alight he turned and ran toward their cabin.  The Kid followed close on his heels.

With fingers pushed tightly in their ears they peered around the side of the cabin to watch the line of the lit fuse as it crept closer and closer to the dynamite.  "She's gonna blow!" announced Heyes, and a heartbeat later there was a loud explosion.  Chunks of ice flew in all directions. 

Before the smoke had cleared Heyes and Curry emerged from their place of refuge, but their immediate attention was drawn not to the waterfall, but rather to the sudden rush of bodies from the bunkhouse.

"They're awake now," Curry observed, dryly. 

"Sure are," grinned Heyes.  "Dynamite.  That's worth remembering."

Clad only in long johns or union suits in various states of disrepair and cleanliness, the Devil's Hole Gang stood and stared around the clearing in alarm.

"What the hell was that?"

"Sounded like an explosion to me, Wheat," said Kyle, stating the obvious.

Already annoyed by their second rude awakening of the morning Wheat Carlson narrowed his eyes toward his small partner in crime and said through gritted teeth, "I know what it was, Kyle.  I ain't stupid.  What I meant was, what—?"

Wheat didn't get to finish what he was going to say because at that very moment there was a strange hissing sound, and before anyone could attempt to locate the source, the snow on the bunkhouse roof slid off knocking all six men face first into the knee-deep covering on the ground.  Initially shocked and winded there was a moment of complete silence before the inevitable eruption of yells and colourful curses.  Struggling to their freezing, sock-clad feet the gang members glared angrily at their two leaders who, rather unhelpfully, were leaning against one another and laughing like a couple of hyenas.

"Explosion musta... musta... loosened the snow," Heyes spluttered as he wiped tears of laughter from his eyes.

"If-f you d-done t-that on p-purpose, H-Heyes, I s-swear I'm g-gonna g-go g-get my g-gun and—"  Wheat tried his very best to appear threatening, but dressed only in his underwear with snow piled on his head and shoulders and his lips turning a little blue, he was not at all convincing. 

As usual Heyes was ready with a snappy retort, however, before he could open his mouth to deliver it there was another loud hiss.  This time it came from the roof of the leader's cabin.  Without bothering to look up both Heyes and Curry scrambled to get clear, but the deep snow hindered their efforts and the second mini-avalanche hit, knocking off their hats and forcing great clumps of snow down the back of their coat collars.  The pair staggered forward, then began to jump about frantically pulling at several layers of clothing in an attempt to rid themselves of the icy intrusion.  When this proved unsuccessful they instead applied themselves to digging for their buried hats until eventually becoming aware of the sound of raucous laughter echoing around the clearing.

The gunman's jaw tightened.  "I don't recall them thinkin' it was so doggone funny a minute ago," he griped, vigorously slapping his rescued hat against his leg.

"Apparently it is — when it happens to us."  Heyes casually slung an arm across his partner's shoulders.  "Just look at 'em, Kid.  I can't remember the last time I saw those boys laugh so hard.  Can you?"

His mood lightened by this observation Kid Curry relented.  "Guess we musta looked kinda funny dancin' about like that."

Smiling at the same thought, Heyes made his way over to see what remained of the frozen waterfall.  The dynamite had done a thorough job leaving only a few large icicles at the sides plus a long jagged edge along the top.  Watching carefully to make sure no sharp shards of ice were about to drop and impale themselves in his head, or more importantly his hat, he stepped gingerly over the pile of fallen ice and sidled up to the nook in the rock face.  Picking up the box of meat he sniffed at it cautiously.

"Smell fine to me," Heyes announced.  He poked at the covering of straw.  "I think they could be a little frozen though." 

"Same as us," Curry deadpanned.

Heyes approached the bunkhouse cook.  "What do you think Lobo?" 

Curious as to the contents of the box Lobo's numb fingers rifled through the straw.  His eyes widened.

"These sure are big, Heyes!  How many you got here?"

"Eight, of course.  Enough for everyone.  We're gonna have us a feast!"


The following afternoon, while large fluffy snowflakes floated down from a prematurely darkening sky, the Devil's Hole Gang sat around the bunkhouse table, warm and dry, drinking good corn whiskey and playing poker; their bulging bellies straining against already loosened belts, testament to the Christmas Day feast their leader had promised.

Heyes pursed his lips thoughtfully before adding another half-dollar to the pot.  "Call."

Grinning through a mouthful of brown tobacco juice, Kyle Murtry declared, "I think I got ya beat, Heyes."  He proudly placed his cards face-up on the table.

Having earned himself a reputation for being a terrible poker player Kyle's declaration drew a mixture of eye rolls, groans and sniggers from the others, until to everyone's astonishment, their leader tossed in his cards.  Now, while it wasn't in Heyes' nature to throw away a sure thing (he was holding a ten-high straight) Kyle's cards, together with what happened to them all yesterday, made him feel he had no choice but to let him have it.

"Gotta hand it to ya, Kyle," he said, ruefully shaking his head.  "Only you could win a pot on Christmas Day with a pair of snowmen!"

Author's note:  The term "snowmen" is sometimes used in Texas Hold 'Em when referring to pocket eights (88), likening them to two snowballs placed one on top of the other.  Although it is a modern expression, it was too much of a temptation not to use it in this story!