September, 2015

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Issue #72

Looking for free, tantalizing Tales of the Old West?
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Read this month's Tales and vote for your favorite.
They'll appear in upcoming print volumes of The Best of Frontier Tales Anthologies!

by Timothy Herrick
Some men wouldn't give a plugged nickel for the sake of love. Others might give their souls for it. It was plain that Moonshoe loved Dolly and that he'd kill to keep her for himself. But would that be enough?

* * *

Mitchell at Brown's Park
by Dick Derham
Mitchell figured it was time to hitch up with a gang that was out for free gold—free for the taking, that is. All they had to do was ambush an Army pay wagon. Slick and easy, right?

* * *

by Dave Harcourt
With enlistments up, Lieutenant "Pick" Pickert and his three Indian scouts were ready to leave the Army. They thought selling horses to the government would be a good way to make some quick cash. All they had to do was take the horses . . . from the Apache.

* * *

Fool's Gold
by William S. Hubbartt
When Jerrod Conners was released from Yuma prison early after nine hard years, he wasted no time heading back to Katy, his girlfriend. He found her worn and penniless, just like him. But he had a plan to change all that.

* * *

They Were Intrepid, Part 2 of 2
by John Kallenbach
The notorious gunfighter Amidon had killed the Sheriff's younger brother eight long years ago. Now Amidon was back in town looking for the Sheriff. Who would pay for the death of the boy?

* * *

Want all of this month's Western stories at once? Click here –

All the Tales

by Timothy Herrick

Twenty some odd years ago, after the U.S. Army decimated the Sioux and Blackfoot into manageable populations, gold was discovered in Pleasant Gulch. Not a lot, but a healthy enough strain to start a real town. My father came here chasing that dust, then stayed on after his claim went dry. Got married and raised me and we found ways other than panhandling to make a living.

Two hundred miles away was Sweet Creek. That was the boom town, lots more gold that never ran out, and lots of whores and gambling joints and saloons and gunslingers. Four banks that kept getting robbed. Not here in Pleasant Gulch. Nope, before the gold panned out, the Heffron brothers made sure civilization outlasted our gold rush. The Heffron brothers made a hundred times more money than my dad or any of the other panhandlers. Their mine paid off for a good five years or so. Their cousin, Old Man Chip—well he's old now—studied law out east, and he came out west to help his now-wealthy family. Chip made sure started this here town by setting up a bank, making loans to the ranchers and sodbusters and soon there was a town hall, sheriff's office, a row of dry goods stores, hotel and saloon and a church that doubled as a school. Log cabins dotted the valley.

Sheriff Bob liked to pull a cork, but was mostly sober when working. If someone was a problem, he locked them up and if they were unwilling to be apprehended, he shot them dead. Well, the latter only happened three or four times before it stopped happening. Word got around. The peace was kept. The bank had its own security guards and between them and Sheriff Bob, law and order was the rule not the exception . . . well, order at least.

Little trouble of any kind to speak of here, until the night Moonshoe ripped Dave McCoy's face off his head.

As the years passed, the town grew slowly. At least it didn't fade away like so many after their gold dried up. Most of the other Heffrons eventually moved to California or back to Boston, except Chip and Jeff Heffron, who owned the Lucky Lady, the town's only place where men could relax: gamble, drink whiskey and get the relief only a woman can provide.

Jeff was a son of one of the original Heffron brothers. He wasn't too friendly with his relative, Old Man Chip, who was more interested in building churches and schools and putting in cobblestone streets than profiting from vice. He was the first mayor of the town and had been for years, well before Moonshoe made Pleasant Gulch famous.

See, Moonshoe had taken it in his half-Cherokee, half-Mexican—and all crazy—brain that he loved Dolly. She had a pleasant personality and was a very pretty woman. Her bright blonde hair was long and wavy, and even in a bustle dress, you could see that her body could make a preacher burn his bible. Who could blame him for how he felt about her?

Moonshoe had to be near seven feet tall. I ain't never seen a bigger man. Legs and arms as thick as tree trunks, not an ounce of fat. His body was as solid as chiseled granite, with skin the color of a shiny penny and eyes as black as coal. Spent time in some prison farm down in Texas, where they say he strangled his cell mate. Quiet as a mute monk most of the time, but when he got mad, somebody either died or got hurt so bad they wished they had. He worked for the Smith Family, who owned a ranch and oat and barley fields. He worked hard, did the work of three men they say.

Every Saturday night, he would be at the Lucky Lady, upstairs with Dolly. I don't know how the Saturday routine came about, when exactly Dolly became exclusive property of Moonshoe that night each week. I seem to recall a man named Chester once insisting he was there first and Chester getting his arm broke in two or three places. Chester didn't stay around too long after that, but a lot of people pass through Pleasant Gulch.

The womenfolk in town, the wives and mothers, they started complaining to Old Man Chip about the women Jeff employed at the Lucky Lady to service the men, even though there were never more than four or five, and except for the occasional case of the clap, they were pretty nice gals. It was getting harder and harder to get good whores. Territories become states and most states had already passed anti-whore laws, pandering they called it. The oldest profession known in the world was becoming outlawed in the land of the free.

Preacher Cameron, he came to town with his wife and daughter and he was popular with most of the townsfolk. Old Man Chip gave him a parcel of land where he built a house. People wanted a permanent preacher for the church, and Old Man Chip even got a school house built so the house of worship would be used exclusively for preaching, praying, and singing. Cameron was a rabble rouser when it came to the whore issue. One Sunday, after services and the fried chicken luncheon, the whole dang congregation—more than half the town—marched down to Sheriff Bob and tried to get him to close the Lucky Lady. The sheriff said no, because there was no law against what them gals did in the privacy of the saloon. The Mayor was forced to agree with the Sheriff, but he promised to get the town council to pass an ordinance.

Besides Dolly, there was Nelly, a black girl; them two were the only regular gals, the rest came and went, like the wind. Word was Jeff kept Nelly as his wife; no one else had been with her in years—she served drinks and ran the business side of the whores. Girls kept leaving, there was not much business here, unlike Sweet Creek. Most of the girls were either heading to Sweet Creek for more money or had enough of that town and came to the Lucky Lady for traveling money to get them to California, or back where ever home was. Married men were outnumbering single dudes in Pleasant Glitch anyway. When you have a wife you can't afford whores like single gold miners or farm hands can.

Moonshoe wasn't married of course, but he thought of nothing else but Dolly. He worked like a team of pack horses all week, then every Saturday night, her love was his alone. The sound of their passion echoed way into the mountains. Funny how shrieks of pleasure can sound like pain. She only made noises audible outside the confines of her room with Moonshoe. She had other customers on other nights, but no man was fool enough to be with her on Saturday.

Except Dave McCoy, he was fool enough. He worked as a hand on the same spread as Moonshoe. Why he wanted to risk the rage of a man the size of a Redwood tree is beyond me. What a damn fool.

Dave thought he could get one over on the Indian/Mex, sneak in a Saturday poke before Moonshoe could ride out from the Smith spread. When Moonshoe came into the Lucky Lady, Dave was buckling his gun belt as the door to Dolly's room closed behind him. Moonshoe halted in his tracks. Everyone and everything—the piano, the chatter, the poker table and faro wheel—froze in time. The Lucky Lady suddenly became as quiet as dawn on Easter Morning.

Moonshoe was up the staircase in two strides. Dave was not a small or weak man, but after Moonshoe grabbed his arm, he flailed like a helpless child. Moonshoe dragged him outside to the muddy street, threw him to the ground, crouched over his body and started punching with both hands. Each blow contained the concentrated force of Moonshoe's immense strength. His fists made a meaty thud as they repeatedly smacked Dave's body and Dave made a piercing groan after each thud. Moonshoe growled like a beast, his mouth pointed at the dark sky. Then the thuds and groans resumed.

Sheriff Bob had been drinking at the Lucky Lady, followed Moonshoe outside. But he wasn't drunk or stupid enough to try and stop Moonshoe.

Everyone from the Lucky lady rushed out the doors, gathering in the street to spectate. They were cheering and guzzling whiskey and enjoying the beating. Moonshoe paused, one fist in the air. He turned his head and saw the crowd watching him. He was genuinely shocked that people other than he and Dave actually existed in the world. At that moment, Dave rolled away and got to his feet and turned around and fumbled his gun from its holster. McCoy was a jackass. If he tried running away, he might have had half a chance.

Like an agile grizzly bear, Moonshoe leapt at Dave, who fired once. The bullet nicked Moonshoe's shoulder, tearing his jacket and shirt, but just breaking the skin. This minor flesh wound only made Moonshoe angrier. The giant clutched Dave's face, jamming his thumb into Dave's whimpering mouth while his index and forefinger pushed into his eyes. The fingers dug deeper and deeper into the sockets, until his palm crushed his nose and was flat against Dave's face. I never heard a man scream so loud. Moonshoe's thick arm made a single, forceful yank. A squishy crack echoed in the night. Moonshoe's grip separated Dave's jowls, nose and upper jaw from the rest of his skull. Horrified awe paralyzed the crowd into silence.

Moonshoe flung the meaty, bloody visage away. Dave emitted a gurgled wail as he toppled to the dirt. He was dead soon enough, well, quiet at least. His body kept twitching a while.

Moonshoe went to Dolly, who was motionless. She must have loved him in some way, but mainly she was stoic. Few have the courage to accept their fate like she did that night. Besides, nobody was going to risk their lives to protect a whore. Moonshoe slung Dolly over his shoulder then got on his horse. He no longer wanted to think about anything else other than his lethal yet eternal love for Dolly. He had proven that love to be all encompassing and he eliminated any doubt about his commitment to that love.

Nobody ever saw Moonshoe or Dolly alive again. He must have went back to the Smith spread, cause his things were gone, but nobody could verify who took them. He didn't have much, the Smith's paid their help slave wages. He barely made in a week what Dolly charged for one night of bliss.

Five months later, some trappers discovered their bodies in a cave in the mountains. They had died during the winter, which was a bad one. They got snowed in, those mountains were impassable until early summer. Moonshoe may have been part Indian, but he was incapable of living in the wilderness. He was born on the reservation. The survival skills he needed he was never taught.

Dolly's hair was as white as a lambs wool, her body frostbitten and emaciated. Moonshoe only had one arm attached to his body. The other he had cut off so he and Dolly would not starve. That's what them trappers surmised when they found the two lovers and a partially eaten limb.

That Sunday morning after Moonshoe killed Dave by making him faceless, the preacher didn't even bother with a sermon or a service or even the fried chicken. Old Man Chip and Preacher Cameron and the entire congregation sang Amazing Graze, holding jugs of kerosene and torches aflame as they formed a circle around the Lucky Lady. The men had buckets of water to contain the blaze. No other buildings in town were damaged. They were removing the tumor of sin they said, so the rest of Pleasant Gulch could live as a healthy Christian town.

Jeff and his negress immediately left town. Nelly had seen this sort of thing growing up in Alabama. She knew white people with torches never came to any good, especially for black folk or the few white people who loved them. Old Man Chip convinced the town council to adopt an anti-prostitution law. He fired Sheriff Bob and hired a Sheriff who swilled coffee instead of rotgut and was eager to enforce the new ordinance, all in the name of furthering progress.

But no matter how much civilization you get, even Pleasant Gulch men need pleasure, and when they do, they come up to the hills, where I live in the house my father built. I make the best moonshine in the territory, sell it to anybody, white, black, Indian. I have some pigs with enough mud for them to wallow in to their heart's content. I have a few women too, rent them a cabin and they take in men visitors and do whatever they want, as long I get paid an honest percentage.

There's talk of more law and more elections and more politicians with the statehood coming next year. People are all excited about a flour mill and a rail road stop being built. Old Man Chip wants to change our town name from Pleasant Gulch to something from the Bible, like Jordan or Silas. The story of Moonshoe spread and people come here to see the place where a man had his face torn off, but townsfolk just want to forget Moonshoe and Dolly and the whole tragedy. That's why changing the name of the town is gaining popularity. People ignore history they don't like.

The new sheriff and deputy accept an affordable bribe and for now, I'm left alone to conduct my business. Business is good, but I ain't no fool. The better my business gets, the more they'll eventually try to stop it. More people are coming to town, and more preachers are on their way too. People love their religion, they love feeling they know what is right for everybody else,

Moonshoe's only religion was his love for Dolly. He cared about something bigger than life. Well, maybe not bigger, but not here, not something real or earthly or solid like money or land or gold. He only cared about Dolly, and not about her, really, only his love for her. The tangible means nothing to men like Moonshoe.

That's how I differ, from him and the people in Pleasant Gulch. I only care about what I have now and what I can touch, taste or see.

The End

Timothy Herrick is a journalist, writer and poet. For a selection of his fiction, poems, prose-poems and other writings, visit; Dislocations, his Jersey City-centric blog, can be found at

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