Matt Parker, sheriff of Rawlings, Kansas was opening a cell to let out a drunken cowboy who made the mistake
the night before of throwing a punch at the once-prizefighter and now deputy, Brew Winston. The cowboy's eye
swollen and his walk still unsteady from the liquor, he stumbled toward the jailhouse door to be nearly knocked
over by the frantic rush of a local rancher.
"Sheriff," the man said, "That bastard Lou Carey stole one of my horses."
"Calm down, Vince, and tell me what happened," Sheriff Parker said.
"I saw him, even took a shot at him before he ran off. He stole one of my best animals."
Just then, Deputy Winston walked in and glared menacingly at the frightened cowboy clamoring to get through the
blocked doorway. The sheriff repeated the story of the theft while Vince nodded.
"Ain't that the third complaint against Lou Carey stealing horses?" Winston asked.
"Yes," Parker answered, "but this is the first time anyone seen him stealing. We need to ride out to his place."
Asking Vince to describe the horse, the sheriff and his deputy headed out to the Carey property which was about
two miles from town.
The Carey spread consisted of a rundown barn, a house with a sagging porch and horses circling in an unevenly
constructed corral. The stretch of land leading to the place was open with few trees and some high brush to the
side of the dirt road. Near the corral, Deputy Winston pointed toward a quarter horse with a tan body, dark
lower legs and black mane and tail in the corral and said, "That looks like the one Vince described."
Their talk was interrupted by the sound of a shot and a bullet striking in the dirt to their left. Both men jumped
down from their horses. Sheriff Parker ran to a woodpile and Winston charged toward an overturned buckboard nearby.
Both were armed with rifles that they removed from their saddle scabbard. A second bullet came from a side window
of the house and both lawmen fired in that direction. Shots were exchanged and a bullet cut a piece of wood from
the buckboard and dug into Winston's arm. The sheriff could see his deputy and, noticing the blood flowing from his
arm, assumed Winston had been hit by a bullet. Out of the corner of his eye, Parker saw a figure coming out of the
barn carrying a long thin object which Parker immediately considered was a rifle. The person lifted the object as
if pointing in the sheriff's direction. Parker quickly fired and the person fell to the ground. A shriek came from
the barn and a woman ran toward the prone form. Sheriff Parker walked slowly toward the woman who was leaning over
the body, weeping furiously. As protection against any more gunfire, Winston kept his rifle aimed in the direction
of the house. When Parker got to the woman and the still body, he saw she was blood-soaked from hugging the bleeding
figure. He then saw the blank face of a teenage boy in the woman's hold and the pitchfork on the ground. The loud
laments continued and the sheriff's attention was so focused he didn't hear the sound of a horse galloping away.
Shortly, Deputy Winston came alongside the sheriff. He had wrapped his bandana around the wound and while the center
of the cloth was wet with blood, the injury seemed minor. Both lawmen looked down at the slain youth and his mournful
mother cradling her dead son. When Sheriff Parker came over to the boy, the woman stood and backed away, staring with
her face contorted in grief and hate. Parker felt the boy's pulse in case there was remaining life in the still body,
but he looked upward when he heard an anguished shout and saw Winston lunge at the woman to knocked the pitchfork
from her hand before she speared the sheriff. She squirmed to be free of the deputy's grasp until she dropped to the
ground weeping uncontrollably.
In the following days, Sheriff Parker slept little and was distracted during the day. His wife and son sensed his
distress but nothing they could do would bring him out of the funk. Deputy Winston repeatedly reminded the sheriff
that it wasn't his fault but was also unsuccessful. Parker found it difficult to look at his fourteen-year-old son
who was, he estimated, about the same age as the boy he shot. At the burial service the boy's mother cursed the
sheriff and warned that her husband would come back to revenge the killing of their son.
One morning a week later, the sheriff and the deputy met in front of the jail and, as was often their custom, walked
in opposite directions to patrol the town. Not long after they separated, Parker saw two young men scuffling in the
middle of the street; they were rolling in the dirt attempting to gain a hold that would pin the other. Parker
shouted to stop and ran toward the combatants to break them up. As he neared the young men, he heard a shot fired
from behind him. When no bullet struck near where he was, Parker spun around and saw that Winston had his gun
pointed toward a space in shadows between two buildings.
Parker called out, "Brew, what happened."
Instead of shouting a response, the deputy jogged toward the sheriff and stopping close, said, "Let's grab these two."
Both of the young men had stopped fighting and looked toward the lawmen in a stance that reflected thoughts of running
away. Winston's pointed gun discouraged that alternative. Grabbing both by the collar, he lifted them and asked what
was going on.
Nervously, one answered, his voice in a high pitch, "A man paid me and my brother to fight in the street. He said
we didn't have to hurt each other, just to make a fuss in the middle of the road."
Parker, still confused, asked Winston, "What's this all about and what were you shooting at?"
"When I heard you yell I turned and saw a rifle sticking out from the edge of the building. I didn't see who it was,
only the barrel pointed at you. I didn't have time to aim so I just fired to spook the man out to get you. I bet he
was the one who put these two up to it."
When both in Winston's grip shrugged, the deputy let them go. Parker watched them scamper away and said, "We should
have asked them what the man who gave them money looked like."
"No need," Winston said, "we know it was Lou Carey. He's not only a horse thief, he's a coward trying to ambush you."
"There's not much we can do until he shows himself," Sheriff Parker said.
"I'm going to ride out to his place in case he came back home. I can talk to his widow and see what she knows, but
I doubt she'll tell me much," the deputy said.
In the morning, Deputy Brew Winston rode out to the Carey place. As he neared the house, he watched carefully for any
sign of the hiding thief. When he neared, Missus Carey came out and her glare conveyed her anger at his arrival. His
attempt at being pleasant was met with a cold stare.
"I'm sorry to bother you, Missus Carey, but I was hoping to find your husband before more harm comes."
"More harm," she said facetiously, "My son is dead and my husband is missing and wanted by the law; how much
more harm can there be?"
"I'm sorry about your boy, as is the sheriff, but we need to bring your husband in before he does something
that can get him killed or at least makes him a wanted man for the rest of his life."
"You won't find him, not before he gets revenge. Your sheriff had better watch out. An eye for an eye."
Deputy Winston reported to his boss that he wasn't counting on Missus Carey to help and was certain that
her husband wouldn't rest until he harmed the sheriff somehow.
"He can go after me all he wants, as long as I'm the target," the sheriff answered.
At day's end, Sheriff Parker returned to his place a mile from town. A modest property with a square barn
Parker had built himself for horses and for storage, a hand-hewn log, two-room house where he lived with
his wife, Laura and son, Cliff. A rough corral of overlapping wood formed in a rectangle enclosed two restless horses.
Inside the home, the sheriff's wife was preparing dinner—a stew of meal and vegetables that filled the large
central room with an appetite-whetting aroma. They spoke about the routine things they did during the day until
Parker's wife made a comment that caused him to sit straight.
"When I looked out the window, I saw someone ride up near the barn, stare at the house, turn, and leave as if looking
for something. Whoever it was didn't stay long and was mostly hidden by the barn."
Sheriff Parker asked his wife to describe the person but she answered that she hadn't seen whoever it was
clearly or long enough to offer much. Before going to bed, the sheriff put a rifle in a corner of the room
and reminded his wife and son that the gun was accessible.
When the sheriff met with his deputy, he conveyed his suspicions. "Carey was likely at my place. Probably
looking for me. We've got to find him before he harms my family if they get in the way."
Winston sat silently, staring at the far wall as if something was showing on the wood.
"Did you hear me, Brew?"
"Yes," the deputy responded slowly. "Missus Carey said her husband would get revenge"
"That's right; he wants to kill me for what I did."
"What if revenge is to make you suffer as he did?"
The sheriff wrinkled his brow as a reflection of confusion. "What are you trying to say?"
"You shot his boy and one way to seek revenge is to—"
"You think he's after my son, Cliff, to get back at me?"
"Maybe he wanted to gun you down at first; that's why he shot at you in town. That didn't work. But
now he's figured there's another way—your boy."
Sheriff Parker thought about the deputy's logic. While he was pondering, Brew spoke up, "Look, that's just
my thinking, but maybe you need to stay at your place until he shows there. If he comes to town looking for
you, I'll get him."
"If you're wrong, I'll be bringing him to my place to get me and put my wife and son at risk. He tried
to get me in town, I bet he'll try again here."
"I hope I'm wrong, but if you're wrong and he targets your son while you're in town . . ." There was no need to finish the sentence.
"You can get some men to help you if there's trouble in town; you know who they are," Parker said.
The night was moonless and Parker was staring out the window at the stars' formation when his wife asked from behind him, "Where's Cliff?"
"Can't have gone far," the sheriff answered without taking his eyes from the sky. Suddenly, his wife's question
penetrated. "Must be in the barn," he said rushing out the front. Once outside he called his son's name
repeatedly, each time with increased volume and trepidation until he heard his boy's shout to come into the
barn. In the far corner of the barn, the sheriff's horse was limping, a strip of red-stained cloth covering
a slit in the animal's leg.
"I tried to stop the bleeding, Pa. He's been cut with a knife. Wasn't an accident."
Realizing that he hadn't come out of the house armed, he rushed his son toward the front door of his home.
A shot struck the ground near Cliff, and Parker pushed his son through the front door. He put on his gun
belt and headed back to the barn after gathering cotton strips to use for bandages for the horse's wound
"What's going on, Pa?" Cliff called after his father. The sheriff didn't answer but said sharply, "Stay here."
Walking hurriedly to the barn he looked around. The land was flat with few places to provide hiding. Stopping
for a second, he listened for unfamiliar sounds. He thought he heard a horse neighing in the distance.
Nearing the barn, Parker called out, "You coward; you shoot at a boy from the dark and cut my horse. If you're
a man, you'll come out in the open and face me. I'm the one you want, not the boy or my horse. You cut the
animal to keep me here but I'm not going anywhere until I get you."
Another shot sounded but there was no indication that the bullet was anywhere near. When another followed,
Parker turned toward the house, his glance drawn by movement at the window. He saw a chunk of wood fly off
near the window and, frightened for his family, he dashed toward the house.
In town, Deputy Winston had returned from a short ride and since it was late in the day, he decided to head
toward the saloon for a beer before going to the jailhouse. As he sipped the lager, a clerk from the general
store who handled the Western Union wires came in and stood beside the deputy.
"Brewster," he said, calling the deputy by his full name, "I stopped by the jail to tell the sheriff there
was a telegram but there was no one there."
"Do you still have it?" Winston asked. "The sheriff is out of town, may be for a few days."
"No, I dropped it back off at the store. I recall most of what it said; it was from the sheriff of a nearby
town who said something like: arrested man named Carey; started fight. Drunk, bragged he tried to kill you."
Winston slammed his glass on the bar and jogged toward the door. "Got to tell the sheriff," he shouted
as he hurried.
At the Parker spread, the sheriff scanned the darkened area while in front of the house, but still couldn't
find the shooter. When no additional shots came, he started to walk away from the building. The door opened
behind and his son stepped out and uttered a single word, "Pa," before two shots followed in succession and
struck near the door. Parker rushed back toward the front of the house and looking inside saw his son was
fine. He slammed the door shut. When another bullet passed close, he saw the muzzle flash and fired quickly
in the direction. A return bullet indicated he'd been unsuccessful in striking the shooter.
A water barrel stood to the far left of the house front; the sheriff ran to it for cover, and was nearly behind
the wood slats when the slug struck his thigh. Parker went down before reaching protection. In the tumble, his
gun got away from him. Momentarily stunned, he shook his head to regain focus and started toward the weapon a
short distance away. He crawled a few feet and stretched toward the gun, but before he could reach it, a bullet
hit the ground nearby. He sensed the shot was fired from a downward angle. Looking up, he saw Carey's wife
staring down at him, her rifle pointed toward him.
"Missus Carey, don't do this! Your son's death was an accident. This is murder."
"I didn't want to kill you, my husband did, and when he failed in town he took off," she answered with a maniacal
calmness. "I wanted to shoot your son so you'd have a dead boy like I do."
"If you shoot me, every lawman in the state will be looking for you and you'll be hung. Does it really avenge your
son if you're in the ground next to him?"
"Yes," she answered simply and raised the gun to eye level. Before she could squeeze the trigger, a bullet struck her
in the forehead and she flew backwards as if shoved.
The sheriff crawled toward the woman but it was clear she was dead. At that moment, Brew Winston charged in on horseback.
Parker looked at him then to his holster and realized his deputy hadn't fired at Missus Carey. When he glanced at the
deputy's face he noticed Brew's stare toward the front of the house. Parker turned to his house and saw his son, frozen
near the door, with a rifle still pointed.
In the following days, the sheriff—his injury not serious—learned that Lou Carey was sentenced to prison
after the man he fought in the other town had been badly hurt. Missus Carey was buried next to her son. While the
sheriff's concern about the threat of revenge was gone, he and his wife were worried about his son; Cliff was very
quiet after he killed the woman. The sheriff assured his son that what he did was necessary, and that Missus Carey
could have gone after him and his mother next, but the boy still seemed haunted. A few months later, Sheriff Parker
handed in his badge and took his family west, far away from the memories of that day, to start fresh.