Hard-luck miners, a rickety old railroad track, and tumbleweed were the only things that passed through
Jefferson, Nevada, just a desolate speck on the map nestled between disconcerting mountains and a barren
wasteland of desert. People came and went, and seldom stayed for long.
During that hard winter of '80 the Lorton Gang, without remorse or sympathy, descended upon the remote
town for no reason except getting out of the cold. It started with bar fights and target practice with the
empty whiskey bottles in the barroom and it wasn't too long before the body count began climbing in earnest.
People ran in fear, but really there was no place to go.
The person responsible for the murderous onslaught was a notorious outlaw, Pete Cowles, a small stocky man
with a jack-o-lantern grin and trousers with a sag that no gunbelt could make right. Ole "Saggy Pete" shot
a friend for calling him that, but the name stuck like the burrs in a dog's neck.
Billy King, a tall circumspect man just in from Wichita, found himself newly elected as sheriff in a desperate
attempt by town elders to stop further bloodshed. When confronted with the situation presented to him by the
scared townsfolk, the sheriff nodded like a priest, all slow and calm-like; he thought about it a minute and
then proposed a simple plan. "The way to fight a snake is go after the head. Cut the head off and ain't nuthin'
else can bother you no more." Townsfolk marveled, smiled, and breathed a sigh of relief at the simplicity of
eliminating ole Pete Cowles, himself. Then the rest of the Lorton Gang would shrivel and blow away, ashes to
ashes, dust to dust.
One particular cold night not too long after, Sheriff King hid in a secluded closet in a brothel that smelled
of perfume, stale beer, and cheap whiskey. Saggy Pete was through his second bottle, riding his second lady,
when the sheriff caught the skinny-hipped outlaw with his pants down and his gunbelt around his ankles.
Apprehending Saggy Pete without a shot fired was cause for celebration and considerable relief. However, those
feelings didn't last long. Word spread through town—the Lorton Gang was coming soon. Wasn't the snake
supposed to wither away, they asked, fresh with new fear.
The sheriff considered his position of the only lawman in the town untenable, one gun against many. The question
loomed what to do with the outlaw while his gang would soon gather. But, he could not let the townspeople
believe that he did not have a plan. He had to get Saggy Pete on the train and out of there as soon as possible.
It was really the only way.
Sheriff King walked slowly across the dusty wooden floor of the jail, stroking the stubble under his chin, and
leaned against the doorway of the only cell, "I suppose it's time." Saggy Pete sat on the bench and stared
defiantly at the lawman with dark, unflinching eyes.
"Sheriff, you know I ain't gittin' on that train."
The sheriff regarded the outlaw for a moment and spat a wad of chaw without taking his gaze off him, "That right?"
"My boys will spring me before we reach the train platform. They're gonna be waiting for us," he added with a
toothy and confident smile.
"I know they are," the hard-eyed sheriff agreed, grabbing an earlobe and working it between his fingers. "I've
got a plan and, truth be told, I never thought your gang to be very bright neither."
The sheriff and prisoner walked in silence with winds off the barren prairie and dust trailing them. Handcuffed
in front with a threadbare blanket draped over his chapped and calloused hands, the prisoner shuffled clumsily.
He wore shackles with his duster hung over his shoulders, collar pulled high, and hat slumped low across his brow.
In the distance, the 2:10 train chugged slowly towards the depot, belching black smoke under a low gray sky.
The sheriff stopped and tilted his head back like a dog testing for a scent when the anticipated gang of horsemen
appeared like the apocalypse, with their coats and dusters pulled back exposing their heavy revolvers, rifles, and vengeful intentions.
The gang leader, with slicked black hair and a round face, stole a glance at the train in the distance measuring his
limited time. "Come on, sheriff, we ain't letting you hand him over to the marshal. Give him up," a smile widened into a grin, "nice and easy now."
The sheriff's mistrustful face narrowed while the forlorn prisoner stood cold and silent, his head drooping lower.
Observing the menacing gang and calculating his poor odds, the sheriff reluctantly raised his hands slowly and gently,
with his palms facing out, pulling the tension out of the air. With an embarrassed smile, the sheriff spat a wad of
chaw on the ground. "I guess I'm outnumbered."
The ringleader, beguiled at the sheriff's unexpected cooperation, exhaled a long breath and gently leaned forward
in his saddle in agreement and confident satisfaction. The gang observed in silence as the leader raised an eyebrow,
his unease growing logarithmically by the millisecond, and looked at the prisoner. The captive slowly lifted his head
and the threadbare blanket exploded violently, with two colt revolvers bucking and blazing, dealing death like a blackjack dealer.
The closest of the gang stared confused and blank with a lead slug through his forehead outlined with a ring of
black powder. Another outlaw was thrown from his horse with two bullets ripping into his abdomen before he hit the
ground in a meaty thump. The sheriff moved swiftly for his revolver, breaking leather, and firing a succession of quick shots.
The leader saw the flash soon enough to flinch but not quick enough to avoid the .45 caliber lead ball that pierced his gut.
His hands laced over his belly as he fell backwards.
The other horsemen took a brutal fusillade of black powder and lead. Another horseman, stitched with lead, slid
backwards with his six-shooter barking in retaliation into an empty sky.
Through the smoke and confusion, the other horsemen dispersed in a starburst of panic and false bravado.
Still sitting and brooding in his cell, Saggy Pete jumped off the bench, wide-eyed, grasping the wrought iron bars, hearing the gunfire down the street.
The gang had come for the wrong man.