The Sheriff's Dilemma
by Tom Sheehan
Through her small kitchen window, the barn taking up a heavy portion of her view, Grace Yardarm saw her son, Adam, 16 and her only born, ride off toward town, already figuring he'd end up seeing Martha Collins after completing his errands. Grace's sudden smile seemed to warm the kitchen, a batch of memories leaping for her favor. Then, with a casual side glance when she caught sight of a strange man peeking around the corner of the barn, a whole suspicious scene beginning to formulate at the back of her head, fear cleansing her mind of ordinary thoughts, she turned to reach for the rifle her husband, the local sheriff of Connor's Rock, both newly infamous, always left in her easy reach. Before she could reach up over the fireplace in the corner of the room, the kitchen door opened inward with a timid creak, and the handle in the hand of another strange man, clad like a saddle tramp at total loss.
"Don't do anythin' stupid, lady," the intruder said hoarsely, "or you won't ever see that boy again." His face agreed with the tone of his voice, a guttural and throaty sound full of foul breath and the promise of curses galore. "We been watchin' the pair of ya for a couple of hours an' gettin' damned good an' tired of it. So, like I said, don't go anywhere near spoilin' your day. Lots of sunlight is left for perchin'."
The once comfortable kitchen was cold in a hurry, and swelling with invasion, threat, and unusual ugliness. One ear of the second stranger lacked a chunk of lobe, as if it had been torn off by bullet or sliced by knife, and the imbalance matched the slewed, corrupt curve of his mouth, which only gained ugliness. The clothes he wore would stink out the barn, let alone her kitchen, but such thoughts quickly disappeared and she prayed that Adam had not forgotten anything that'd bring him back to the ranch house. He'd spend the start of his visit with his father, Ben Yardarm, the best man she had ever known, and who told her, when approached by town council to be sheriff, "I'll take the job, Grace. so long as you stay out of my duties and keep to the boy and the kitchen."
As usual, it was more than a promise; more like an oath heavier than the swearing-in. She had counted on him since the beginning, almost 20 years earlier, on their departure from Chicago and the yen for space working on both of them. Like a dog or a favored burro he had worked all those years, slow, steady, performing every task to the ultimate. "Some men," she remembered her mother saying once, "grow to the brim and some leave it in the saucer."
"Do like I say, lady," the ugly one said. "You're comin' with us 'cause your husband, that cow's ass, has our pard in jail an' we aim to candle up a swap, burn two ends our way." She knew immediately he had tried to load his voice with added vile, but there was little need for it, being despicable from the start. She said nothing in retort, hoping Adam was in town, safely away from the ranch, safely by his father's side. Her eyes, though, carried a different message, which made the ugly one add another element to the drama. "Best consider yourself lucky, lady. We could have grabbed the boy, easy as takin' a heifer from his momma way he moped around the barn this mornin'. He mad at somethin'?" He tried to add laughter to the moment but it proved a hollow moment to Grace Yardarm, visualizing what either her husband might attempt or even what her son might try in his own stead, neither one realizing how much they were alike.
Adam Yardarm, at that precise moment, spurred his horse again, not making any ride into town a "tot's trot" as his father was fond of saying. "Business calls for all a man's attention, Adam. Remember that when you think about resting your head on a soft spot."
Of course, Adam was thinking again, as he often did, about what his father had said, knowing a lesson was hanging somewhere in its place. Lessons were to be learned every way you turned, especially for a boy his age, believing he was in love with his angel of the barn, knew horses and mules down to their shoes, how to bring up the rear in a cattle drive or ride fence or stand guard in darkened silence. Once, before he was 15, he had even been a member of a posse. Promise showed a place in him that home life nurtured.
There had been lessons for him since he could remember, at every age, with every pertinent action in his young life, as though the classroom was glued to his backside or stuck tight to his pants. And the teacher, with the whole west as a classroom, also performed his sheriff's job in a commanding manner; the latest escapade resulting in the arrest and coming trial of a killer, Banjo Cookman, with both guns drawn, shots fired in both directions, his father grabbing the back end of a runaway horse and wagon to change his position, enabling him to send several rounds into Chalmer's barn onto a pitchfork that fell and pierced Cookman's shoulder as though it had been thrust into him.
In a hurry the bandit had cried aloud and rolled his way to captivity, trying to shake loose the penetrating tines, his pistol not helping the task. Much of the town, on a Saturday noon, from points of safety, had observed most of the affair, afterwards hailing Ben Yardarm as "the best man we ever had for the job." There had been a small celebration after the arrest, but one customer was dead outside the bank from a wild bullet and nobody else hurt but Cookman in the whole affair. Not one dollar had been taken from the bank, two obvious confederates reported later as sneaking out of town, seen by a late comer who had spotted them in a hurry outside town.
All the recent events working in his mind, including a chunk of pride about his father, young Adam spurred the horse one more time as he saw the peak of the Chalmer's barn come into view at the edge of Connor's Rock, two dozen good-sized buildings lining the dusty main road, three partially framed new buildings saying that Connor's Rock was "on its way" though not a soul walked the middle of the main street, the sun hot, the dust rising like smoke when a horse trod along.
The Collins' General Store shone at the center of Connor's Rock, like a bracelet on a pretty arm, Adam thought, and keenly remembered having the same thought on his most previous visit, like comparing Martha to an emerald, though he had yet to see an emerald in his life. His father's office and jail were directly across the street from the store, two horses were tied at the rail in front of the jail. Laird Collins, his daughter running the store for the time being, was most likely chatting with his father at the noon hour, a regular calling when business allowed at either end of their vocations. Adam visualized them standing at attention at a wedding someday.
The young man spent a somewhat inattentive half hour with his father and Laird Collins, both men noting Adam's nervous and fidgety nature working on him. They were dwelling on that point, enjoying the idea of promise, what the future would bring to all concerned, when a rider, in full flight came pounding into town calling out, "Sheriff! Sheriff! They took your wife! They took Grace from the ranch. They got her someplace. They took her!"
He was waving a piece of paper over his head."I found it tied on a tree coming from the Felton Spread!"
Connor's Rock came alive!
Sheriff Yardarm, Laird Collins and Adam Yardarm stood in front of the jail reading the note, the cowboy having handed the note to the sheriff and shaking his head as though the end of the world was upon them.
"What's it say, Pa?" Adam said, his hand resting momentarily on the Colt in his holster, pushing himself into the midst of discussion, his face gone stern and out of character, suddenly looking a year or two older, maybe 10 years older. Neither his father nor Laird Collins missed the simple reaction of hand on gun, each man having visions of desperation or death within the community, the boy also signaling changes were coming due, and in a hurry.
The sheriff, scanning the note in bold and irregular script, said, "They want their pal Cookman freed, or else." His tone changed on the spot, at the next words he spoke to his son. "They have your mother hid out someplace and will only let her go when Cookman is given a horse and rides it out of town. If anyone gets too close looking for her, they'll kill her. Says we'll never find her, though, and maybe never again if anything goes wrong." He looked at Adam and said, "They had an idea of taking you, Adam, but decided on your mother in case you and I don't get along." He shook his head at that statement.
"That's their second or third mistake, Pa. Trying to rob the bank. Taking Mom instead of me. Getting you and me and the whole town all riled up. Payday's coming for them, but they don't know it yet."
The sheriff and his son were in close conversation in the jail when Laird Collins' wife and their lovely daughter Martha rushed into the jail office, busting for information. Martha Collins said, "What's happened to your mother, Adam? All that yelling I heard." Tears had begun their build-up in her eyes. "Is she really kidnapped?" Adam took her hand in his hand, the one so recently on his six gun.
The sheriff seemed to ignore her, almost talking to himself: "Nothing, 'cept thinking what we can do, how to do anything. What the hell will I do without Grace if anything happens." But he didn't stay long in that mood, adding, "We have to put all our heads together on this, thinking about where they could hide where they think nobody can find them. Can't be far off. Someplace Cookman must know. I'll start on him."
The sheriff stood abruptly and said, "I can't sit around doing nothing. First I'm going in there to see if Cookman will give anything away," and he pointed to the interior of the jail. "I doubt it, 'cause he's one tough nut. I already found that out. Then I'm going out to the ranch and try to track them as far as I can. I have no idea of where they're hiding her. I can't picture a single place they'd pick in a dozen or so miles. Three people, three horses, looks kind of tough to squirrel away anyplace I know of.
He did not notice Martha Collins hang her head, eyes out of sight, just after she cast a glance at young Adam. It was, in essence, tell-tale to Adam, and also to her parents, who said nothing, remembering a few discussions about Martha's long picnics of a sort with Adam. His wife had understood their secrets before Collins did.
It had come back in stark memory, that discussion: "Probably some nice place along the river," she had announced at the time, "or the stream joining it, out of sight generally, but known spots. Heck, we did some of our own courting there on good days, special days." Her eyes were raised in a kind of approval, acceptance and a grasp at refreshed love, the lingering smile escaped the sheriff, though the air was filling with secrets of a sort.
A keen observer could note that hands joined with other hands, looking for solace or sharing, but not including the sheriff.
Meanwhile, upriver a half dozen miles, in a deep and narrow divide under an overhanging and dangerous looking cliff, Cookman's two pals and the sheriff's wife sat at the opening of a deep cave with a narrow entrance. Grace Yardarm, trussed in rope, sat leaning against the rocky wall and continued to study her captors, one she might refer to as Number One Ugly and the other as So-So Ugly. Neither man was spoiled by water, not a bit, and she wondered how and where she'd sleep this night, and what that sleep would reveal about the two men.
"Don't you worry none, lady. We ain't about to borrow you from your husband, if you know what I mean. My momma gave me no leave on stuff like that, not from day one. I done good on that account and account of her, and because of her, we ain't got your boy here 'stead of you."
"Where will I sleep tonight?" said the woman. "In a cave that might be full of snakes or other creatures. That'd make for a comfortable sleep, won't it?" Her irony was almost visible to the pair of men.
"Hell, lady, we already kilt half a dozen of 'em and the goat man who was here two weeks ago, when we started our bank watchin', said he killed 'em all an' ate 'em. Ate all of 'em. Ain't that a cleanin' out?" He slapped his partner on the back like a celebration was remembered. "Sure did a good job, that old buck stinkin' to the high heavens from the first day. Sleeps with 'em goats like they was his kids." Grace noted that he laughed at his own words again, the way pleasure comes to some people.
"Day I found this place, hearin' the goats, I smelled the kilt snakes an' I swear that smell must still be here, though I might be some used to it now. Not many folks gonna find this place. You can yell all you want in there, lady. No one'll hear ya, but maybe another snake you yell loud enough." It twisted on her as if a second rope had been added to her bonds.
She wondered what her husband and son were doing at that very moment, and a plethora of ideas, situations, possible preparations for search already underway, Connor's Rock jumping with activity. Her eyes closed down on several of the possibilities, the images almost real scenery and real people. Of course, her husband was beside himself with nerves and worry, but under his own command and tenor. The side arms he carried, one each hip, gleamed with an oily reflection, the sun shining off the steel, her freedom caught in the mere shine. She did not worry about his way or his place in this matter; he was adept, experienced, solid in his thinking. However, that surety, that near visible combination of man and duty, was bothersome when she brought her son into the picture.
There was no way that Adam could reach yet the attributes and qualities, the sure abilities, that her husband possessed. He'd most likely jump first and look later, haste coming on him before deep thought ... not the way his father went at things out of the ordinary, the supposedly uneventful day suddenly gone on edge.
The talk going on between her captors, often as crude as imaginable, went generally unheard by her with an ease of a woman in her kitchen, at her world of creation. It was between a pie and a loaf of bread, heat in the kitchen bringing a thin sweat to drop droplets at her breasts, that she unearthed a new worry: seeing Adam running full steam at her and the ugly two men who hovered over her in their casual and awful conversation she assumed was their attempt at violating her. Adam was too young, too quick; she supposed for the instance that he was much like his father at the same age. Coming to her senses, up through some aspect of imagination, she saw them as twins at odd times, at odd hours, but so alike.
What was Adam doing at this moment?
An odd thought, a stray outside the lines of her normal moment, she remembered Adam's long afternoons away from the ranch, all his jobs done in a sudden thoroughness and dedication... and his departure to see Martha Collins in a late afternoon of sweet amour. She tried to picture them at ease, at riding among the prairie flowers, riding along the stream watching fish jump or the sun reflect on sudden splashes. In a flash she knew they did not spend their time in gawking at wonders ... but must have moved to their own wonders, just as she and her husband had in their early days.
Where did they go? That blaze of light hit her, made her sit up. Of course, she thought, there were few places out of the way as where she was at the moment. The flash came again: of those back at Connor's Rock, it was Adam and Martha who must know where she was hidden from all . . . in this trysting place, this out of the way hideout, this paradise among the rocks, this prison.
Fear gripped her. She saw frail Adam, her only born, on his way here at this very moment. Frail Adam once, but no more, her son, Martha's lover, bent on rescuing the woman who had brought him into this world. With the thought came the warning that she'd have to deter her captors when her son came upon them. She had to think her way to distracting them, knocking them off their aim, keeping them off guard, keeping their attention locked on her, on her helplessness, her womanly hungers, her acute desperation all rolled into one scene as despicable as she could imagine.
Big Ugly said, "You sure got damned quiet of a sudden, lady. Whatcha thinkin' of, waitin' for us to go to sleep, one of us to fall off the log?" He snapped his fingers clumsily."Know what could happen just like that?" He licked his lips. "You shore do, I'm willin' to bet, 'gardless of what my Momma said." He shook his head and added, You are one prime lady, I got to say." He stood up in his manful pride, braced his chest, reached for a power he did not possess.
Grace Yardarm, now more in charge of her fate than she had been since the first moment, brought up the first smile of the escapade, for there, at the farthest end of the break in the cliff face, in a movement of black like a mouse in a night corner, she saw movement. movement so still yet so moving that it cried for belief. Her soul and her deep mind told her it was her son, that it was her Adam; Adam first in the order of things, her first born, first here at the place of her captivity. She had depended upon him and her husband and now he depended on her here in this piece of a lost world, of unknown measurement, of deepest secrecy, where nobody else knew where they were but the oddest lot ... Cookman the prisoner and young Martha Collins who one day she was sure would be her daughter-in-law and would bring children to visit one day in the future; that singular joy almost smothered her still in ropes.
She dared, for her son, she dared.
"You probably think I'm too old for any of this, had my fair share of too much boring loving these long years. You probably think I'm too old and tired of the good stuff, the stuff that makes us hum and sing music when we're alone. I'm not one of them ."
She shrugged one shoulder at him as if it was a key shaped for new freedoms.
His smile caught at the phlegm in her throat, as though a fist had made entrance. It made her cough loudly.
The two men looked at her steadily, not believing what they thought they had heard. Each one stretched in place, puffing themselves, exhibiting more of vanity than prowess.
Big Ugly said, "Now, we're talkin'. Lets loosen up them ropes. Free up your whole self." His language had changed, his demeanor had changed, vanity riding him like an applied medicine, a dose of goodness and a dose of hope.
He was standing tall, a hand reaching down to grasp her loosened hand, when the shot from a rifle took him off his feet, his pistol falling free from his holster, Grace Yardarm grasping it in quick succession and aiming it at the second captor. ""Move and you're dead," she said, a sudden harshness and meanness mustered in her voice for the first time in her life, and which cowed the man down to his boots. He dropped the pistol from his holster in a thoroughly lethargic manner.
Captivity was undone for her. Her son hugged her. She hugged her son back with the same heartiness, with the same love.
Adam said, as if he was a seer, "Don't tell Pa how I knew about this place," the understanding in both of them.
"Don't worry, Adam, he probably knows already. We've been here before."
Sheehan has published 22 books and has work in Ocean Magazine, Rosebud, Linnet's Wings, Serving House Journal,
Copperfield Review, KYSO Flash, La Joie Magazine, Vermont Literary Review, Literary Orphans, Indiana Voices
Journal, Frontier Tales, Western Online Magazine, Provo Canyon Review, 3 AM Magazine, Vine Leaves Journal,
Nazar Look, Eastlit, Rope & Wire Magazine, The Literary Yard, KYSO Journal, Green Silk Journal, Fiction on
the Web, The Path, Faith-Hope and Fiction, The Cenacle, etc. He has 30 Pushcart nominations, and five Best
of the Net nominations (and one winner) and short story awards from Nazar Look for 2012-2015.
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Run with the Outlaws
by Robert Gilbert
Some time ago I was a young newspaper reporter and my writing appeared in various publications as far east as New York and Boston. The highlight of those cowboy stories that fascinated readers centered on two fabled U.S. Marshals I'd interviewed many times, including today.
* * *
Inside the Sadler Hill Saloon, the centermost building in Mustang Creek, the aged badge-wearing Warren Brothers from Cheyenne River enjoyed my company, shared over copious cups of coffee. He hadn't changed much over the years, maybe added some deeper lines across his bronzed face, some gray in the temples and toughened his hands with more calluses. The once-new red suspenders against his work shirt were now hues of dark rust on a powerful well-muscled body. His mustache curled around his lips, covering most of his smile, giving a manly strength to his face. A worn Stetson remained on the table in front of us, having seen better days, yet it was his and he was proud to wear it.
Sadler Hill was an older saloon, boasting a long teak bar with a sizeable framed mirror on the back side. Beyond the bar were the gambling parlor and a pool table. Joe Mays was the pool shark in this cowboy town. He would bet your bottom two bits against him and when the eight ball would drop in his final shot, you didn't stand a chance. Behind the saloon in the tents was where the whores did their business. Drifters came in and left, not much to speak about. Come evening the miners showed up and things would begin to get rowdy. Bob Gain, the bartender, would ask for assistance from Warren and the place would suddenly turn peaceful. Handling a shotgun worked wonders in a boisterous crowd and Warren could handle it well with a serious influence.
Warren didn't admit it but I knew he took a liking to the stories I wrote. Said they made him feel good. He wanted people to know what it was really like out here, away from the city slickers who didn't have a damn clue to this part of the country except for my words in print.
He took another swallow of coffee and set the cup on the table. His eyes stayed fixed on the other side of the room watching his lawman friend Garriet Bask, previously from Horseshoe Fire, presently leaning on the bar.
Both were respected lawmen who had worked together, best known for chasing the well-remembered varmint Logan Eddy from the high plains of Colorado. Running with Eddy was Alton Vassey, a tough roughrider throughout New Mexico Territory, still wearing gray threads from the Civil War. It was a lengthy chase ending near Church Rock Station. Eddy and Vassey had specific ideas on how to take the proceeds from the Western & Pacific train. Their carefully thought-out plans ended in a hail of bullets and sudden death ended the pair's lawlessness.
Warren rolled a smoke, slowly exhaled and a silvery cloud lifted above his face. He reached for his coffee cup and observed the action in front of him.
Another rugged-looking man was facing the bar mirror, suffered a bump and ignored the apology. He was tall, big and powerful, with a firm face and muscles clenched along his jaw. His hair fell long and stringy beneath a shabby hat. His fingers slowly moved away from the bar to touch a holstered gun. His mouth suddenly created a sour grin.
"Pardon me," Garriet Bask said. His voice came out clean, as he heeled a Colt .44. A hidden marshal's badge hung pinned behind a worn vest.
"Was enjoin' a peaceful whiskey," the man said. "You stupid fucker spilled my drink."
"Sorry, Mister." Garriet had a tight-lipped smile.
"Sonova-bitch! Why don't you watch when you lean inta somebody?"
"I said I'm sorry." Garriet's voice lifted in volume.
"Shit! You think I accept what you're sayin'?" The stranger gave him a cold-eyed smile.
"There's a temptation to touch that gun of yours." A deep frown painted Garriet's face.
Suddenly the stranger leaned down and spit on the floor. A glob of warm mucus began to ooze on Garriet's boot leather.
Their voices grew louder. A peaceful afternoon had turned into a serious situation. Even Joe Mays, ready for his next pool shot, lifted his cue to watch from a corner location.
Others followed and moved to each side of the saloon. Everyone inside the building turned cautious and quiet.
"I ain't ashamed to kill ya, Mister," the stranger said, now exhibiting a facial expression of stone.
"I'm a U.S. Marshal." His fingers moved aside the timeworn vest to expose his silver badge.
"Makes no difference. Badge or no badge, you ain't lookin' to where you put your damn arm."
"I said I'm sorry."
"Why don't you buy me my next drink? Call it even. Sound reasonable?"
"And if I don't?" Garriet was teasing. His mouth curved into an easy smile.
"I like to make bad things happen," the stranger mumbled. "Maybe next time we'll see how tough you really are."
Garriet ordered two drinks. Called it even.
Both men stood apart and slowly enjoyed their whiskey, ignoring their reflections in the mirror.
"Garriet!" Warren said. His voice was loud. "Come sit down and talk with this reporter. Leave the cowboy alone. He ain't done nothin' but enjoy his drink on a hot day."
There was no more conversation between Garriet and the muscular stranger. Warren was watchful, ready to butt-in even though it wasn't any of his business.
Garriet moseyed over to our table, hard fingers securing his whiskey-filled glass. He continued standing and disregarded the out-of-tune piano playing across the room. He threw a glance at Warren, then over at me.
"So who's your stranger friend?" I grinned at Garriet and looked over at the big man. "Seems he had a problem with his drink. Never can tell who you might come up against in here."
"Sonova-bitch don't know who he's dealin' with," Garriet said, the huskiness in his voice lingering. "And he ain't my damn friend."
"You gonna stand there?" Warren said. "Or put your butt in that chair?"
Garriet was tall and clean with massive features. His observant eyes turned in my direction. He asked, "So whatta ya wanna know about us that you ain't printed in those newspapers? Or some of them pulp fiction books?" He set his glass of whiskey near the edge of our table. His features were rugged and firm, showing an inherent strength in his face. His hands were big and square, matching his broad shoulders. Beneath his collared shirt and shabby vest, his arms were muscular. His face had a three-day growth of gray whiskers.
Warren continued to suck on his cigarette, between sips of coffee.
"I'm guessin' you wanna know more about Logan Eddy and Alton Vassey?" Garriet asked, with his eyes now turned in my direction. "We went chasin' after them two bastards and their band of outlaws, ending up near Church Rock Station. They had some stupid idea of robbin' the outgoing Western and Pacific train carryin' government currency."
I knew most of this story and thought maybe something today might come out that he hadn't mentioned before.
"It took us nearly three months of chasin'," Warren said. He leaned back in his chair and lifted its front two legs off the wood floor. He continued nursing his coffee and suddenly enjoyed the view of a well-dressed woman entering and walking across the span of the saloon. We had heard the stage arrive across from the saloon. In her hand was a sizable carpetbag and she sat down facing in our direction.
"Scenery looks better than usual," Garriet said. He finally sat down so his angle of sight was directly on her. The room went silent.
Bob Gain quickly moved from around the bar and stood in front of the lady. Her noticeable English accent broke the hushed surroundings. "I'd like tea, please."
"Sorry, ma'am," Bob said, "we only serve coffee. And whiskey and beer. The cafe connected to the hotel across the road might have your tea."
Everyone in the saloon continued to stare at this attractive woman.
"Thank you," she replied, without changing her focus. "I'll try your coffee."
"You're new here?" Mention of that came from the Bob, loud enough for everyone to hear. "Anything else you would like, ma'am? Sorry, I didn't catch your name."
"Mrs. Edwards. Most people call me Agatha. I would appreciate my coffee now."
Bob returned to the bar and a murmur of voices began to fill the room.
Warren made his presence known. "Not too many attractive women come to visit the Sadler Hill Saloon unless they're whores dressed up fancy like you."
Agatha sat quietly for a moment and glared at Warren. She crossed her legs, her breasts moved in and out; the woman was obviously embarrassed by the statement. "You look to be a lawman and your comments are most inappropriate. If I were closer to you, I'd slap your face."
Garriet snickered, enjoying a last sip of whiskey, waiting for Warren's response.
"I was hoping this town would have decent and respectable people," Agatha continued. "I had planned to stay awhile, but in light of what you're thinking about me, I'll find a better place to enjoy myself without being insulted."
"Warren Brothers, you best apologize to this fine woman. We sure don't want a beautiful lady leavin' our town so soon." Garriet's voice was deep and contrite.
"Sorry, Mrs. Edwards. Didn't mean no harm."
Her coffee was served and Agatha continued to keep her attention on Warren. "You must be the U.S. Marshal everyone talks about. And I assume the other rough-looking gentleman across from you is Garriet Bask."
Both men nodded.
"I sure do hope ever'body's talkin' nice about me," Warren said, rocking slowly on the back two legs of his chair.
"Depends." Her voice hardened.
"I'm puzzled by your answer, Mrs. Edwards. You seem to know a lot about me and Garriet. What brings you to Mustang Creek?"
"From what I've heard, you run this territory extremely well," Agatha's eyes glanced back and forth between each marshal.
"Can't complain," Warren said. "And I'd include Garriet Bask in that control."
"I'm from Chicago," she said. "I represent a book company in London."
"Yes. Have either one of you ever heard of England? It's many miles away."
"What do they know about American cowboys over there? And U.S. marshals?"
"That's why I'm here to talk with both of you." She was spacing her words evenly.
Warren pointed at me while talking to the lady. "Why don't you just talk with this newspaper reporter right here and save yourself some time?" Warren signaled with a hand gesture to the bartender for more coffee.
Bob understood, nodding his head.
Agatha caught my eye as I awaited her questions.
"Young man," she said in my direction. "I've read enough to know that I needed to be here to get the story. I don't want to rely on what other people have said or written." I detected a thawing in her tone.
The bartender refilled the coffee cups before Agatha, Warren, and me. Garriet sipped another glass of whiskey.
"So where do we begin, Mrs. Edwards?"
Agatha started to smile. She moved from her table to ours, opened the carpetbag and lifted out blank paper and a pencil.
"How long you intendin' to stay here in Mustang Creek, Mrs. Edwards?" Warren asked. "There's a fine hotel 'cross the street if you're meanin' to be here for a while. The cafe inside the hotel serves the best food in these parts, unless you like our company here in the Sadler Hill where we spend most of our time. This storytellin' might take a while of talking to ya." Warren removed his Stetson from the table, did a quick inspection for dust, scratched his head, and returned his hat to the table.
"As long as it takes," she said, "for you and Garriet to tell me your story." Her eyes never strayed from Warren's.
"You wanna know about Logan Eddy and Alton Vassey?" Warren rubbed callused fingers across his wide, gray mustache. "Garriet, you fill in any details that I might miss."
I sat back and listened, their telling what I knew. The story began with extended refills of coffee. We finally moved to the Wilson Café inside the hotel for dinner. An hour after that both marshals were getting tired, wanting to continue tomorrow.
A beautiful sunset had painted the Cedar Crest Range with purple peaks as the sun began to set between the two tallest spires. The sky was streaks of sunflower yellow, dusky rose and deep shades of lavender. Sunset was stunning as always, dusk cooled the day and businesses closed early. The saloon would come alive in another hour and Warren would be called to duty.
Spending the sunset together, Warren and Agatha softened in their emotions for each other. Their plans included a slow walk beyond the edge of town to a quiet spot off the main road surrounded by tall trees that provided ample shade. Agatha was nice enough to provide a small evening picnic for them to enjoy. Sandwiches, iced tea and fresh-baked home-made cookies for dessert. She wanted him to sit back and enjoy.
"Real nice picnic," Warren said. "It's been a long time."
"I can tell."
"What made you want to do this today?"
"You're a rough lawman. But you also have a softer side."
"Your newspaper work must be hectic. Maybe this was the travel experience you needed."
"The experience is in meeting you. That's all I needed."
"What do you mean?"
"Words can only describe this setting. I needed to be here for what I wanted."
"To meet me and Garriet?"
"Both of you, but mainly you."
"Mrs. Edwards, is there a Mr. Edwards someplace?"
"I'm a widow, Warren. He died years ago of medical complications."
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Edwards."
"Thank you, but call me Agatha."
They enjoyed the sandwiches and tea mixed with continuing conversation.
Shortly thereafter they ended the picnic and strolled back to town.
"Are you originally from the high plains?" she asked.
"Holcomb, Kansas. Flatland, but several miles out begins the rolling plains into Colorado."
"Is that where you started as a marshal?"
"Yes. Garriet was my deputy. We did a damn good job of cleaning up that town. Took out a bunch of varmints causin' trouble that needed to be addressed. We did a fantastic job at it."
She continued to listen as they made their way inside the hotel to say goodnight. I was also in the lobby and we agreed to meet again tomorrow morning.
With only a few kerosene lamps aglow, long shadows painted the streets of Mustang Creek.
The four of us enjoyed a leisurely late-morning breakfast in the Wilson Cafe. Warren and Garriet continued telling stories with Agatha busily writing on her pad of paper.
"Word spread that we was real good at our business," Garriet said. "Separate towns wanted us." He turned to face Kate Wilson, the owner's wife, requesting more coffee.
"Received a telegram from Cheyenne River," Warren said. "Mentioned it to Garriet and gave it some thought. We rode over and the town mayor was only interested in me."
"Strange as it was," Garriet said, "not long after that I got word from Horseshoe Fire. The town board members expressed interest in keeping the town safe. People weren't to carry firearms within the city limits. Had a handful of problems there at first, but over time ever'thing calmed down to make the place a peaceful town."
Suddenly gunshots rang out, coming from the bank. Horses were nervous on both sides of that building, watched by one of the culprits. More gunfire erupted, screams sounded from other merchants and Mustang Creek was in immediate peril.
Virgil Marcus, one of the tellers from the bank, was gasping, out of breath, as he ran into the cafe and pointed at the marshals.
"Bank's bein' robbed!" he yelled. "Help! Get over there. Quick!"
Warren and Garriet immediately rose from their seats, adjusted their hats and dashed out the front door. Into the street they ran, accompanied by Virgil a few feet behind. Agatha and I raced alongside them and were ordered, in so many heated words, to stay back because of the danger of stray bullets.
Into the road, running past several merchant buildings, Garriet decided to take charge at the other end of town in case there was to be a getaway. He came forward, watching Warren from the other side of the bank.
Emerging from the bank with heavy filled bags were two bank robbers known throughout the territory, Billy Star and Pilgram Ferris. They did their best to tie the heavy money packs to each saddle horn. But haste made waste, especially when one of the bags dropped. At the same time they were beginning to fight off each marshal from different directions.
Billy came out from behind the bunched horses, saw Warren first and fired. Warren had time to duck behind a horse trough in front of Allen Kane's Mercantile. Billy immediately dropped from sight and then ran toward the open door of the bank. He was on the second step and turned to face Warren, and fired. The bullet zinged near the marshal's head but still gave time for Warren to rise up and fire into Billy's hip. He immediately fell to the wood entrance of the bank. He was only injured and continued to fight.
Pilgram was in the street, had his horse loaded with money, but the gunfire began to spook the horse. It was impossible for Pilgram to ease the horse and mount up.
Garriet was witness to this where he stood behind an extended pillar in front of the Lincoln County Land Office. He had a good angle in seeing Pilgram try to mount his bay. With not much luck, Pilgram was an easy target. Garriet inched his way out from the pillar and was spotted by Pilgram, whose first round chipped the wood off the nearby pillar. Garriet took his chances to secure another position and fired two shots at Pilgram. One shot penetrated the bandit's thigh and the other lodged in his shoulder. Pilgram had fallen and did his best to take cover behind a nearby wagon. Garriet saw this coming and fired two more times, first hitting Pilgram in the leg and once in the chest. Pilgram twitched momentarily, tried to lift his gun, but its weight was too much for a dying man. He fired no more, bathed in his own blood.
Billy had the chance to give up but wasn't going to be a coward. He was severely injured and tried to point his gun at Warren, who fired once more into Billy's gut. He fell backwards, his eyes closed, and he entered death.
Agatha and I had a lot to write about over the next several days. She changed plans and extended her stay at the hotel. She wanted to write about a true Western episode and had become a perfect witness. Warren and Agatha became special friends, pleased with all the added details to the train robbery story as well as the tale of this one that had unfolded in front of her.
Finally it was time for Agatha to leave, and she was standing in front of the stage office. "If there's anything we've missed," Warren commented, joined there by Garriet, keeping his eyes on Agatha, "we've got a telegraph office here in Mustang Creek."
"My sincere thanks to both of you for all the detailed information. And also to you," glancing in my direction. "This will make a fantastic story." Agatha smiled, lifting her carpetbag filled with pages of notes, ready to board the stage heading to Denver City.
She had the entire story of the most celebrated lawmen throughout the West who spent time with her over the span of a few days . . . the tough and hardened Warren Brothers and Garriet Bask.
Robert Gilbert, author of Westerns, romance and children's stories, lives near Chicago. Hooked on Westerns
began when Gilbert lived in Hollywood, California as a entertainment writer. He spent numerous occasions on
the Western back lot of Warner Bros. movie studio, His action packed Western heroes come to life on his
computer and have been enjoyed worldwide."Too Much of a Kid" was published in the December 2014 issue of
Frontier Tales; "Pointed Gun" in the March 2016 issue; and "Chase for Uber Mix" in the April 2016 issue.
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Back to Home
by George Steven Jones
Arizona - 1869
It was another hot that day in the Mule Mountains, made cool by a sudden wind that seemed to come from another dimension—a memorable wind, lingering and laden with trouble. The Arizona landscape seemed calm, peaceful even beneath the blurred orange and grey skies. But just over the mountain a fierce storm threatened to overtake the quiet of the afternoon.
Hut Robbins, a tall older man of Irish descent, sat on the porch of a miner's shack wiping sweat from the inside of his hat. Taking note of the sudden wind he said out loud, "A bad storm's brewin'!" Staring out at the horizon he shook his head and added, "But we need the rain I reckon!"
It had been a hard day in the mine with Hut scratching around since daybreak, coming out with nothing more to show for his troubles than an ounce of silver. Taking a small, leather pouch from his pocket he bounced it up and down in his hand, shook his head and said, "Tain't much of a livin' but it beats stealin'!"
Just then his Indian woman, Walking Bird, came out of the shack carrying a glass of water. She sat the water on the porch rail as Hut spoke up, "Woman . . . these are some hard times!"
Walking Bird nodded and stared off at the tree line noting, "Your old cow runt off last night! No buttermilk today Robbins . . . just water."
Hut nodded, leaned forward and spit a wad of tobacco juice off the edge of the porch. Leaning back in the chair he replied, "Huh!" then went back to wiping down his hat.
Moments later something caught Walking Bird's eye, a flash of light flickering just beyond the treeline. Pointing in the direction of the flash, Walking Bird yelled, "Robbins . . . look!"
Hut glanced up and bolted from the chair, running into the shack for his shotgun. The glass of water on the porch rail began to vibrate, working its way closer to the edge of the rail as Walking Bird watched with a startled gaze. The glass seemed to float off the rail and fall with a crash to the ground; the dust soaking up the water like a dry sponge.
Suddenly the ground beneath her shook, rumbling like an earth quake gathering strength. The rumble soon became audible, growing louder and louder by the second before exploding into a spray of dirt and rock that blocked out the sun. It was a thunderous racket. The kind of racket that causes old women to faint and children to run off scared. A few trees swayed back and forth before falling to the ground with a thud.
The explosion had sealed off the mineshaft and Hut knew it. He ran from the shack with a purpose hoping to catch the culprits who set off the explosion . . . maybe even kill one or two for doing such. But halfway across the yard there was another rumble, this one different but a rumble just the same.
It was the rumble of horses on the run, lots of horses, shaking the ground until a line of ruffians—white men, black men, Mexicans, and Indians appeared from behind a plume of dust drifting up into a cloudless blue sky. The riders paused for a moment before spurring their mounts on, circling the miners shack like an Indian war party.
"Claim jumpers!" Hut yelled, "Run woman!!"
It seemed to Hut as if he was watching it happen from outside of his own body. He saw himself leveling the shotgun, drawing a bead on the first man available. But just when he was about to pull the trigger, a voice from behind him pulled him back into the moment, "I wouldn't do that old man!"
Hut froze in his tracks and turned to face Juba Dalton, one of the rankest men in all the Mule Mountains . . . mean as they come and as low down as they get. Standing motionless like a devilish statue, aggravated Crows began to caw; spurring on something evil, something sinister. There stood Juba smiling a impish smile, holding a pistol to Walking Birds head.
The cawing grew louder and louder then quieted as Juba announced, "Don't cause to me blow Indian brains all over this place! You know I ain't ashamed to do it! Now throw down that gun and I'll let her loose!"
Hut bit his lower lip and sized up the situation. He knew he was out gunned and sure to be killed if he gave up his gun. But, he ignored his gut instinct, bent over and lowered the shotgun to the ground. Just as he was having second thoughts, Juba cast an evil grin in his direction, pressed the pistol to Walking Bird's head and pulled the trigger.
The crows caw grew louder as Juba's hand recoiled and sprang backward from the force of the blast, the shot echoing Walking Birds death as surely as the Crows seemed to celebrated it.
Walking Bird went limp as the back of her head was sent flying in a spray of blood and brain matter. Her body shook slightly and Juba held on to her for a moment then turned her loose and allowed her to fall to the ground.
Hut was stunned, frozen with panic as he stood there, his heart pounding, beating so hard he could feel it in his throat. Rage, anger, and fear all mixed together and it seemed as if he was watching the events from outside his body again. He could taste the fear, feel the evil, and hear the crows in the distance. But there was nothing he could do and with fury in his voice he yelled, "I trusted you . . . you lyin' bastard!" In a wild Irish rage he took off running flat out toward Juba.
Straightaway, Juba turned his gun on Hut and waited until he was close enough to suit him. Then, with a menacing grin he pulled the trigger, shooting Hut in the left eye stating, "That's what you get fer trustin' me you Irish scum!"
Hut's body fell lifeless to the ground, stirring up dust as it toppled alongside of Walking Bird's. Juba quickly rummaged through Hut's overall pockets and pulled out the small pouch of silver. Shoving the pouch into his own pocket he kicked at the two dead bodies, cussing and yelling to his army of rogues, "Burn this place to the ground!"
In the desert thirty miles to the southwest, Sheriff Kane Kyker and a posse of three men were tracking Dalton. Like saddled warriors they rode, knowing Juba would be a hard track for he knew every deer path in these parts.
He was a stumpy fellow, a half breed Mexican and Indian with matted hair and dark menacing eyes. The kind of man who wouldn't think twice about stealing a horse or shooting a man in broad daylight. Shifty and calculating, every thought Juba ever had was to line his pockets at some helpless soul's misery. A proud man who took his time in telling big stories, mentioning how folks was certain to remember him as a first rate outlaw and killer. A notorious braggart, bad man, horse thief, murderer, rapist, stage robber and whisky stealer, if Juba ever had a friend it was the gangly fellow who seemed to always follow Juba around, watching his back from a distance. Juba trusted and counted on him, a Flat Head Indian called Dull Rock, who had bushwhacked and killed many a men on Juba's behalf. But even so, this worthless scallywag did not trust Juba either and kept his distance, watching the carnage Juba and his gang inflicted on folks from the safety of a tree line or a bluff then picking over what was left.
Kane was set on capturing Juba and vowed to hold him accountable for the crimes he had committed . . . see him hang for them too. He knew that by hanging Juba he was cutting off the head of the snake and sending a clear message to all of Juba's men; justice was coming and Kane was the courier.
He was a tall man with shoulder length hair, a chiseled face and emotionless eyes resting beneath a 10 X Beaver hat. Big shouldered and on the square in all his doings, Kane was not a talker but a doer. An honest man from Georgia, who came to Arizona in search of a better life, a man running from demons of his own, Civil War demons he did not care to fight with any more.
Confident and fearless he had seen plenty of killing in his day. Shootouts gave him no pause and he found Dead Mule, to be a town he could settle down in. A rough mining town, Dead Mule was the kind of town that if you got there, you meant to get there, for it ain't on the way to anywhere.
Settling in fairly quickly Kane took the job as Sheriff and in a matter of months, had run off or killed all the tuffs, restoring law and order to a town known for its lawless ways.
The stud horse he rode never broke stride as it went, keeping the pace Kane had set. His posse of three kept pace too. They had spent many a day in pursuit of Dalton but for various reasons, Juba had managed to give them the slip with every encounter. As of yet, neither Juba nor any of his men had been captured or even detained. But Kane planned to track him to hell and back if needs be. He was fed up with Juba Dalton, his murderous ways and his blatant disregard for the law.
They picked up Juba's trail earlier that afternoon, after the killing of Hut Robbins up at the mining camp. Now, they were closing in on him, camped in a small drew near a creek called, Dead Mule Creek.
Dead Mule Creek really isn't a creek at all. More like a small stream with a fairly long name. It got its name from an old prospector who watched his only mule fall dead while drinking from the stream. Supposing the stream was poison he called it Dead Mule. But it was more likely the old mule was too heavy laden with mining gear, and too wore out from walking and just fell over dead . . . called it quits right there while getting a drink from the stream. Regardless, the stream would forever be known as, Dead Mule Creek.
The time was right to make their move on Juba and the posse planned on taking advantage of it. Dismounting their horses, they waited in the bushes for Juba to unhitch his horse from a wagon load of whiskey he had stolen. They moved quietly into position and at Kane's signal, stepped from the bushes, guns in hand, with Kane shouting, "Howdy there Dalton! Where you goin' with all that whiskey?"
Raising up in surprise Juba answered, "Looks like no where now!"
Juba stepped away from the wagon as Kane noted, "Make another move—I'll shoot out your knees! You've dodged us long enough but all that's over! Don't know about these boys . . . but I'm tired of foolin' with you! Pitch that side arm over yonder and get out here where I can see you . . . case you do something stupid!"
"I ain't gonna do somethin' stupid!" Juba yelled back, "Ain't done nothin' stupid in a while now! Sure ain't done nothin' fit fer trackin' a man er fer throwin' down on him neither!"
"That ain't what this feller right here says!" Kane replied pointing to one posse member, "He claims that wagon and them cases of whiskey was stoled from the Spurrin' Ace Saloon. Says you took 'em with him lookin' right at you . . . in broad daylight to boot!"
"I never done it!" Juba protested, "I bought that wagon load of whiskey from some ole cowboys over in Benson! That feller's a liar! Ain't broke no laws I know of! Ain't never even been near the Spurrin' Ace!"
Pointing toward Juba's wagon Kane said, "I'm more persuaded by them whiskey boxes yonder that you have! Ain't gonna mention what you done to them folks we buried up in the hills yonder! Whiskey stealin' will do just fine I reckon!"
Juba turned and gave a long stare at the whiskey boxes. Realizing he was caught red-handed by lawmen, he began a confession, "I guess there ain't no use in denying it! I took that wagon and the whiskey. What say I give you a case 'er two and we ferget about all this!"
"What say I shoot you in the leg fer tryin' to bribe your way out of this?" Kane replied.
"Hell Sheriff—ain't no need fer gettin' tetchy! I didn't know drinkin' whiskey was against the law!"
"Drinkin' it ain't! Stealin' it sure is though!" Kane noted, "Now we've caught you and we've got a witness who saw you steal it so I'm arrestin' you fer whiskey stealin'! Ain't gonna worry 'bout all them other wanted posters for who knows what all. Whiskey stealin' will do enough to hang you I reckon! Easy to prove too!"
"Whiskey stealin'! You're gonna hang a man as mean as me fer whiskey stealin'!"
"You damn right! Got you pretty well covered too! Reckon I can arrest and hang you for about anything I want!"
"Hang me? Yer gonna hang me?!!! I doubt you got the nerve to hang me!" Juba shouted, "There's eight men out yonder in them bushes waiting fer my signal to start shootin'! Hangin' me could get you kilt!"
"Talkin' guff ain't gonna do you no good!" Kane fired back, "Them men of yours scattered nearly ten miles back! I now it and you know it. Ain't gonna benefit you none to talk guff but if ye want to . . . go on! Call 'em out!"
"Huh!" Juba threatened, "They're sure to double back and track you all down . . . kill you like dogs fer hangin' me!"
"Ain't afraid of your bunch Dalton so save your breath! Got orders to arrest and hang you right where I find you and I aim to see to it! Ain't got time ner resources to fool with jailin' you till a Judge comes around so . . . I'm just gonna hang you right here and be done with it!"
"You're gonna stretch my neck fer stealin' whiskey?"
"That's right! It's a hangin' offense and you know it!"
"No I don't know it neither! If I'd a knowed it I wouldn't a stoled it!"
"That ain't stopped you from stealin' anything else that ain't nailed down! Hell . . . there's enough wanted posters on you to hang you twice a day fer a week! Why's it matter which one gets the job done?"
"I'll just tell you why Sheriff! Stealin' whiskey's a chicken shit way fer hangin' a man as mean as me! It ain't fittin'!" Juba complained.
"It'll do I reckon!" said Kane.
Just then the gangly Indian Dull Rock, sprang from the shadows of a bluff, waving a shotgun. But quick as lightening, Kane turned and fired his Colt. The bullet was deadly accurate, striking Dull Rock between the eyes and killing him instantly; the shot echoing through the hollows like an army in retreat.
Juba was in awe of Kane's speed and accuracy and the way he handled the unexpected with a calm that frightened him. Tryin' to maintain his tough guy image, Juba noted, "You just kilt my best friend Sheriff! I ain't likely to ferget that!"
"I doubt he was your friend!" replied Kane, "If he was . . . he wudden't much of a friend—waitin' this long to try and help ye!"
Juba sensed his attempt to rattle Kane was not working, and picked up the argument where he had left off, "I'd prefer another charge fer hangin Sheriff . . . somethin' more befittin' a man like me . . . a man who's liable to kill you 'fore this day's over!" Kane said nothing as Juba continued, "I doubt you'd care about that though! You're a tuff ole bird!" Hesitating for a moment Dalton persisted, "If you caught me massacrin' an army of Nuns you'd probably hang me and put "whiskey stealer" on my grave marker instead of "Nun killer", as a put down!" He paused again adding, "I don't want to be remembered as a man who got hung fer whiskey stealin'!"
"The only folks likely to remember you are the folks you've beaten to death or stole from. They already know you're lower'n a snakes belly in a wagon rut . . . a stealer of whiskey and anything else you can get yer hands on. Now shut up and move over this way!"
Juba continued to complain as he walked, "Well jest the same . . . it's embarrassin'! Sooner not be remembered that a way! You orrta pick out a good crime and give me a fair trial over it! Bring a real Judge to hear my case like a decent human being oughta do!"
"I ain't no decent human being!" said Kane, pausing before adding, "But I'll see you get a fair trial . . . fair as I'm able to give you seeing as how you've done already confessed to whiskey stealin'!"
"Go ta hell!" Juba snapped.
"Your trial's gonna be held right here in a few minutes! Then we'll see about givin' you a proper hangin'!"
"There ain't a tree in twenty miles fit fer hangin' a man from!" Juba protested, "How you gonna hang me? Hell why don't you just shoot me and be done with it! Be a damn sight easier on us all!"
"If I had my way we'd do that Dalton. But as a lawman, I gotta kill ye like the law says to kill you! Now you've done and confessed to whiskey stealin' and that'll do fer hangin' you."
"Confessed?!!! I was talkin' outta my head . . . dumb from eatin' tainted meat I reckon!"
"Be that as it may it's clear to me you're a whiskey thief. You're totin' around a wagon load of whiskey and this feller right here saw you steal it!" Kane paused for a moment, "Sides, that dead miner and his woman are lookin' down from the hereafter to see if justice is served.
I won't disappoint them. It's time to put an end to your bullshit!"
Dalton nodded toward the man that identified him saying, "You sumbitch! This ain't over yet! I'm gonna kill you and skin you!"
The man cocked his gun, pointed it at Dalton and replied, "Try it!"
Ten minutes later a trial was held right there in Juba's camp with Kane acting as the judge and his three deputies the jury. After considering the evidence and, given the fact that Juba had confessed to whiskey stealing, the deputies found him guilty.
Kane fined Juba the money he was carrying, $50.00, to pay for the trouble of burying Hut Robbins and his woman, then sentenced Juba to death by hanging. The fact there were no trees around to hang Juba from was duly noted, and plans were made to find a substitute for a tree.
Being the way Kane was, he intended to do his job the way that best served his needs. He would make do with whatever was available and hang Juba right where they had caught him; right there in his camp.
Two of the deputies tied Juba's hands, then tied him to the back of the wagon where one of the men kept him covered. Juba noted, "Better put some ropes on me fellers! I might get away!" Then he stood by watching in disbelief as Kane began to prepare the wagon for a hanging.
Unhitching the mare horse from the wagon, Kane tied a rope to the wagon tongue, raised it straight up, propped and wedged it using the singletree and a few big rocks to make it sturdy. The mare was led to a spot just under the wagon tongue and two deputies lifted Juba onto the mare. The rope was slipped around Juba's neck and the execution proceedings commenced.
"You're gonna hang me from a wagon tongue—ain't you?!!!" Juba snapped.
Kane nodded saying, "I am! It suits you! Now . . . you got any last words?"
"Well . . . since you're gonna hang me fer stealin' it I'd like a sip of that whiskey yonder!"
Kane picked up the bottle and raised it to Juba's lips and he drank it down, saving the last drop for spitting at the deputy holding the mare.
In an angry tone Dalton yelled, "Whisky stealin'! Well kiss my ass! You're all cowards . . . every last one of you sons a bitches! I'm a better man than all of you put together!" He paused and added, "I'll be in hell in a few minutes drunker'n a dog I reckon! You fellers will soon be too . . . my boys will see to that!" Pausing again he added, "It don't matter no-how! Go on Sheriff . . . get this lynchin' party over with!"
Kane did not hesitated for a moment. He gave the bay mare a hard lick on its hind quarters, the horse bolted, and Juba Dalton was officially hung from an upright wagon tongue right there in his own camp.
After making sure Juba was dead, the lawmen took his body down and buried it in a shallow grave. Covering the grave with heavy rocks to keep animals from carrying off his bones, Kane made a note of the location of the grave in a small note pad. Then, pulling a loose board from the stolen wagon he made a grave marker. Using his knife he carefully carved these words into the wood, "Juba Dalton—A whiskey stealin' bastard."
Those were the only words to mark the grave of a man who thought his reputation was bigger than life and sure to be remembered forever. His reputation did in fact live for a while but with no mention of him being a bad man. He was immortalized simply as, 'a whiskey stealin' bastard' . . . Kane made sure of that.
As he placed the marker over Juba's grave he noted, "This ain't to shame you none Dalton. It's the plain truth." Without another word being said the posse put out the campfire and rode off toward Dead Mule, with a wagon load of stolen whiskey.
Back in Dead Mule, there was no celebration over the capture of Juba, no crowds asking questions, and no "big to do" about his hanging. In fact, no one even mentioned Juba Dalton. It was as if he never existed . . . a fitting end for such a scoundrel.
In Kane's mind, Juba Dalton was just another outlaw brought to justice. He never bragged about Juba's capture or about his hanging. He wasn't made that way. He was not a particularly religious man or a high-minded man either. He simply viewed the hanging of Juba Dalton as a Sheriff doing his job and that was the end of it. He may have thought Juba's trial lacked some legal correctness or that it was a bit one sided, but if he did . . . he never let on.
George Steve Jones is an accomplished Country Music songwriter and the published author of the Western short
story, "Desert Rose." A lover of the Old West, he is better known for the songs he writes under the name,
Steve G. Jones, than he is for his pen name. His many Western shorts are just as worthy as his music.
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Back to Home
by B S Dunn
Part 2 of 2
"There you go, all done."
* * *
Peggy stood back and admired her work.
Pearson sat on a kitchen chair in the home of his nurse. With no shirt on, even with the small wood stove burning, he was beginning to feel the cold.
It was a small room, but in all it looked functional.
"You can stop staring at me now, I'm finished. Put your shirt back on."
Pearson turned red with embarrassment as he realised he had indeed been staring at Peggy.
"I'm sorry," he apologised. "I didn't know I was doin' it."
Peggy smiled warmly. "I don't mind. It's not often that a man like you happens by and looks at me like you have been. It's quite flattering."
Pearson turned even redder but said nothing while he put his bloody shirt back on.
"I wish you'd let me clean your shirt for you," Peggy said dismayed at the sight of it.
"It's fine, really. I've another in my saddlebags," he reassured her.
Peggy had cleaned his wound, put some salve on it and then bandaged it tight to help stop the bleeding.
"Well, I guess I'll be goin'. Thanks for the doctorin'."
Peggy put a hand on his shoulder and said, "Wait here a minute." And then she disappeared.
A few minutes later she returned with blankets and a pillow.
"What's all this?" Pearson asked hesitantly.
She dumped it all in Pearson's arms and said, "We have a spare room out the back. You'll be sleeping there."
Pearson opened his mouth to protest but Peggy cut him off.
"It's fine. It was ma's idea. She couldn't see a problem with it, you being a sheriff and all. So breakfast is at seven. Don't be late."
Peggy turned and left the room, leaving Pearson sitting there stunned.
The following morning sheriff James was in the office of Edward Fox, and the latter was not happy.
* * *
"That bastard was lucky last night," Fox fumed. "I've never known Shorty to miss."
"That's just it," said James, "he did and now he's dead because of it."
Fox sat in his big leather chair and remained silent, deep in thought. He looked up at James.
"Sheriff, you're looking a little pale," he observed. "I suggest a short trip out of town is in order. Before the first snow sets in."
James was slow to realise that what he was being told was not an option.
"I feel fine Mr Fox. Never felt better."
Fox sighed heavily at the lawman's inability to comprehend what he was hearing. "Do I have to spell it out for you? Pearson is fast becoming a problem and I can only see one way of getting rid of him. And that is by going at him hard. I don't think you want to be around for that."
It finally dawned on James what Fox was alluding to. "Oh."
"So, have you seen him this morning or not?" Fox asked the sheriff.
James shook his head, "Nope. I ain't seen hide nor hair of him since last night."
Fox frowned. "I wonder where he is."
Pearson had risen before dawn that chilled morning and foregone breakfast to get an early start up to Deep Creek. His side was stiff and a little sore but he knew that would be fine.
* * *
Orville was up and about, curious as to what Pearson was doing about so early.
"You're up early this mornin'," he observed.
"How's the wound?"
Pearson turned away from tightening the cinch on his saddle and stared hard at the hostler, "If I told you where I was goin' would you run down and tell Fox?"
"Hell no," Orville said indignantly.
"Well then, I'm goin' out to—"
The hostler held up a gnarled hand. "Hold it there. I ain't so sure I want to know."
"Orville, what happened to your leg?" Pearson asked.
The hostler was taken aback at the question but after a brief silence he answered the question.
"Took a Reb minnie ball at Gettysburg," he explained. "It smashed my leg. Field surgeon wanted to take it off but a friend of mine wouldn't let him."
Pearson digested the information then asked, "How come a feller like you puts up with Fox? Surely you're not scared of him? Not after goin' through what you have."
Orville opened his mouth to vent a stern rebuke but no words spilled out. Instead his mouth snapped shut like a steel trap.
Pearson mounted his horse and rode off into the cold, mist-filled morning, leaving the hostler contemplating what he'd said.
The cabin stood deep in the trees on a patch of dirt just big enough for the log constructed building. From its stone chimney drifted a thin column of white smoke. Out back was a small, rough-built corral with two horses standing hip-shot at the rail. Growing from its centre was a large pine.
* * *
As Pearson sat watching the cabin, the light mist which hung between the trees started to lift. His horse was tied to a low branch further back along the trail and he'd approached the cabin through the dense timber.
The Tawny Creek sheriff drew his Colt and bent low. He crept forward, stopping frequently to listen intently.
It wasn't until he reached the cabin and positioned himself under a window that he heard the voices inside.
"Man I hate sittin' around here doin' nothin'. Why doesn't your old man let me at that son of a bitch and have done with it."
"Just be patient Abilene. He knows what he's doin'. Maybe another day at most and he'll be dead and we can head on back to town."
Abilene mumbled something incoherent which Pearson couldn't make out. Well at least they were there. Now he had to get them out.
He thought of the corral, and an idea dawned on him.
"God damn it. The horses are loose," Abilene's voice cursed loudly.
* * *
The cabin door flew open and out tumbled the two wanted young men.
"Hold it right there," Pearson snapped as he eared back the hammer on his Colt. "You two are under arrest."
Abilene swore and went for his gun. A foolish move for his pistol never even cleared leather before the hammer on Pearson's six-gun fell.
The Colt roared loudly in the still morning air and the slug took Abilene high in the left of his chest. He cried out as he reeled back and crashed to the damp earth. His gun still in its holster unfired, and a growing patch of red on his coat.
Pearson shifted his aim to cover Jonathan Fox who stood transfixed in shock, looking down at the lifeless body of his friend.
He looked up at the Tawny Creek sheriff, his face a mask of rage. "You low down bastard."
Pearson's .45 held rock steady in his fist. "Maybe, but if you don't want to end up like your friend there, unbuckle your gun-belt with your left hand and let it drop."
Pearson watched as Fox did as he was ordered and there was a dull thud when the gun-belt hit the earth.
"Right," he said, "it's time to catch them horses. Now move."
"My Pa will kill you for this," Jonathan Fox snarled.
"Just shut up and move," Pearson snapped. "You're goin' to hang for what you and Abilene did, and I for one won't be sheddin' any tears."
When Pearson rode into town leading the two horses with the younger Fox and the stiffening Abilene on them, people stopped to stare in disbelief. To them, all the sheriff of Tawny Creek had succeeded in doing was to sign his own death warrant.
* * *
Word spread like wildfire through the town and as the horses were being tied at the hitch rail outside the jail, the news reached Edward Fox.
Shortly after that, Fox sent word for all the hardcases in his employ to assemble across the street in the Crosscut saloon.
Inside the jail, Pearson locked Jonathan Fox in an empty cell in the back room and returned to the front office where he found Orville waiting for him.
To his surprise, he was cradling a cut-off twelve gauge shotgun.
"What are you doin' here?" he asked the hostler.
"I come to help."
"Where's the sheriff?"
"He rode out this mornin'," Orville told him. "Didn't say where he was goin', just that he had somethin' to do."
Pearson nodded. "Convenient."
There was a moment of silence before the hostler spoke again. "Heard you brought in young Jon. Figured you might need some help."
"You do realise there is a good chance you'll get yourself killed, don't you?" Pearson pointed out.
The hostler reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a battered old campaign hat and put it on.
"Why in hell did you bring him back here anyways?" Orville asked. "Why not just keep ridin' down out of the mountains?"
"You know Fox. How far do you think I'd get down the mountain before him and his henchmen caught up?"
"Yeah, I see your point."
Pearson walked over to the gun rack and broke the chain that looped through the trigger guards of the weapons. He took down a couple of Winchesters, a sawed-off shotgun and a Henry rifle. He left an older army model Spencer and a '74 Sharps in the rack.
He placed the guns on the sheriff's desk, found some ammunition and loaded them.
Pearson picked up one of the Winchesters and a spare box of cartridges. He gave them to Orville and said, "You'll be needin' them."
"Pearson!" The voice called from out on the street.
"Looks like it's about to start," observed Orville.
"Yeah, find yourself some cover beside the window on the left."
"It's Fox," said Orville when he looked out.
Pearson scooped up his own rifle and hurried across to the window on the right. He opened it and called back, "What do you want Fox?"
Edward Fox stood in the middle of the main street holding a rifle and flanked by two gunmen.
"You know what I want Pearson," he bellowed. "Let my boy go."
"Can't do that."
"The way I see it Pearson you have two choices. Let my boy go or we'll kill you and that crippled old buzzard in there with you. I have another ten men in the saloon just waiting to shoot you dead. The choice is yours. I don't care either way. I'll give you five minutes to decide."
"You know he's goin' to kill us whether we let his son go or not?" said Orville.
Pearson turned to the hostler and nodded. "We need to get that desk on its side and put both it and the cabinet under the windows for some protection. These walls are paper thin and won't stop much."
They'd just finished the task when, "Pearson!"
The Tawny Creek sheriff looked out into the street but it was empty.
"Can you hear me Pearson?" The voice it seemed, was coming from inside the saloon.
"I hear you."
"Are you comin' out with my boy or do we start shootin'?"
"I think you know the answer to that," Pearson called out. "Just remember we have your son in here. I'd hate for him to get shot by a stray slug."
"Well, maybe you can be persuaded by some other means."
A brief commotion across the street followed as Peggy was shoved roughly through the bat-wings in front of a gunman.
"What do you say now? Send Jon out or my man shoots the girl." Fox shouted.
Pearson gave Orville a look of helplessness. "Will he do it?"
The hostler nodded. "I do believe he would."
Pearson shook his head. "I'm sorry Orville."
"I understand," he said trying to ease Pearson's guilt. "Maybe we can take a few with us."
"Come on Pearson, I'm tired of waiting."
"Get him out Orville."
When the young man came out of the back room he had a smug look on his face. "I told you what would happen. Now once I'm free my old man will kill the pair of you and I'll be—"
Pearson stepped forward and drove his rifle butt brutally into Jonathan Fox's middle, driving the air from him.
"You'll be hidin behind your father like the yeller dog you are," Pearson grated through clenched teeth. "Now get your worthless carcass outside before I shoot you where you stand."
Pearson and Orville went across to the windows as Jonathan Fox walked outside. The street was empty in both directions but there were men with rifles on the roof tops.
"Hold it right there kid," Pearson said in a menacing voice. "Hey Fox, here's your rotten offspring. You start the girl and we'll start your son."
There came the murmur of voices from the other side of the street and Peggy slowly began the walk toward the jail.
"Okay Fox," Pearson warned. "Move off real slow. Any wrong move and I'll shoot you. Pure and simple."
Both moved slowly across the street which to the Tawny Creek sheriff seemed to have widened dramatically. As Jonathan Fox walked past Peggy he hissed in a harsh tone, "You're dead."
She gave no indication that she'd heard and chose to keep her gaze straight ahead and her pace steady. Once she was at the open door, Peggy dived through and Pearson slammed it shut behind her.
Instantly the shooting began. Bullets punched holes through the thin walls and embedded themselves into the opposite ones. The glass windows shattered and razor sharp shards scythed across the room.
"Stay down!" Pearson yelled at Peggy. "Crawl into the back room where the cells are and stay there."
She did as she was told and Pearson commenced firing on the saloon. His first target was an upstairs window. He fired three fast shots and saw his target disappear. Dead or wounded he wasn't sure.
Orville had already emptied one rifle and was now letting loose with the Henry.
"Don't waste too much ammunition Orville!" The Tawny Creek sheriff yelled his warning. "It ain't like we got a whole lot."
"Who said I was wastin' it. I already got me two fellers who won't be seein' another day."
Pearson fired at a rifle barrel that protruded from a shattered saloon window. His bullet gouged splinters from the window's timber frame and sprayed the rifle owners face with the slivers. His target reeled back, clawing at his face and exposed himself. Pearson's rifle bucked against his shoulder again and this time the slug took the man in the chest, and knocked him back out of sight.
After another flurry of shots, the rifle fire ebbed and then stopped.
"What do you figure they're up to?" A puzzled Orville asked.
"Who knows. How many do you figure we've hit?"
"I've done for two," Orville assured him. "I'd put down a third as possible."
"I think I've taken care of two," Pearson said.
"How many you figure he's got over there?"
"I don't know," Pearson shrugged. Then he called out to Peggy. "Peggy are you okay?"
"Do you know how many guns Fox has over there?"
"About a dozen I think," came the distant reply.
"Is that with the guns he has on the roof tops, Peggy?"
"I don't know about them."
"Did you see 'em Orville?" Pearson asked the hostler.
"Only the tops of their heads," he explained. "But I figure there could be another eight or nine guns up there."
"Way too many for us to handle," the Tawny Creek sheriff allowed.
A new volley of gun fire erupted from the saloon and eight men led by Jonathan Fox exploded through the bat-wings. They fired rifles and six-guns as they started to cross the street to lay down a deadly fusillade of fire.
When the attackers reached the centre of the main street more gunfire erupted from the roof tops. The volume of fire coming into the jail didn't increase. If anything, it dwindled.
Pearson poked his head up to take a quick look. Outside, the attackers were in disarray. Six of the eight were down; the other two were firing at the roof tops. Jonathan Fox lay motionless in the street, most likely killed in the first volley.
It wasn't long before the remaining gunmen joined the others.
An eerie silence fell across the town. Pearson and Orville looked up at the rooftops and saw to their surprise that the gunmen were townsfolk of Woodsville.
"It looks as though the good citizens have taken their town back," smiled Pearson.
"It sure do," agreed the smiling hostler.
Peggy joined them and they walked outside and stood on the boardwalk surveying the bloody scene before them.
"That would've been us if they hadn't bought in to the fight," Pearson allowed.
"Look out!" Peggy's cry of alarm drew their attention to Edward Fox who'd stormed out of the Crosscut saloon, six-gun in hand. He started firing erratically.
"I'll kill you, you son of a bitch!"
A bullet smacked into the wall behind Pearson while another fanned his cheek. He didn't move. He didn't have to as Orville swung up the Henry rifle and fired, levered and fired again.
The two slugs ripped into Fox who stopped in his tracks, mouth agape. He staggered another step and tried to bring his gun into line with the hostler. The weight of it in the hand of the dying man was too much.
He took one more step and fell forward, dead. The town of Woodsville truly was free.
Pearson stood beside his horse ready to leave.
"Thanks for your help Orville," he said and he thrust out his hand.
The hostler took it in a firm grip. A confident grip. "No. Thank you. If it weren't for you I'd still be showin' yeller. You take care of yourself."
Orville walked off and only Peggy stood before him.
"Well I'd best be off."
"I suppose so," Peggy said quietly.
There was a brief silence and Pearson said, "If I was to come back up here after the snow thaws do you think your Ma would cook me one of her meals?"
Peggy smiled warmly. "I'm sure she would."
She leant forward and kissed him lightly on the cheek.
"Goodbye," she whispered in his ear.
When she drew back their eyes held for a short time which Pearson broke as he turned and climbed into the saddle.
He looked down at her and touched the brim of his hat.
"Ma'am," he said with a smile. Then he turned his horse and rode out of town.
B. S. Dunn loves to write western fiction. He has written six books to date, five are available on Amazon and the
other is to be published in print by Crowood publishers in April. Three of his ebooks are the beginning of an
action packed series featuring an ageing gunfighter named Laramie Davis. His travels thus far have pitted him
against murderous outlaws in the Montana Rockies, gunrunners in the West Texas desert and the latest adventure
sees him over the border, fighting for his life in Canada.
Apart from writing westerns, he loves to watch them and he thinks the western movies of the 50's and 60's are the best ever made.
He lives in a small country town in Australia with his wife and son.
B S Dunn Amazon page
B S Dunn Facebook Page
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by Kenneth Newton
Fort Sumner, New Mexico Territory, July 14, 1881
* * *
Pat Garrett was startled out of his reverie and looked up as he reached for his gun. When he saw that he was already looking down the barrel of the Kid's double-action revolver, he gave up on the gun idea.
The two men were physical opposites. Garrett was very tall and lean, with dark hair and a large moustache, while the Kid was a good head shorter and fair-haired, with peach fuzz on his upper lip.
"You can go ahead and get that pistol, Pat, but get it with your left hand and slide it across the table butt first." Garrett did as he was told as the Kid pulled back a chair and sat down on the other side of the small round table. There were two doors in Hargrave's saloon. Garrett nervously eyed both doors as the Kid picked up the Colt. "If you're looking for Poe and McKinney, they aren't going to be of much use."
Garrett tensed and gripped the arms of his chair. "Damn you, Billy!"
"Oh, relax, Pat. They're fine. They'll remain fine, and more to the point, you and I will be fine, if you're willing to listen to reason." The Kid called over his shoulder, "Paco, can we get another glass over here? I need to help Pat with this bottle."
The barman brought the glass, left immediately, and the Kid said, "I never knew you to drink so early. Did you have a bad night or something?" He grinned. It was a toothy grin, with slightly protruding front teeth, but his teeth weren't crooked, and because he was so young, they were still mostly white. "But since you are drinking your breakfast, pour us a couple, Pat. My hands are full. I've got my Colt .41 Thunderer in one hand, and in the other, the famous . . . " (he paused and looked at the markings on the barrel of Garrett's revolver) " . . . the famous Colt's Frontier Six-Shooter .44 that was used to kill William Bonney."
Garrett poured the drinks. "You're not all that funny. How long are you gonna play with me before you kill me?"
"Well," said the Kid, "in fairness, you tried to kill me last night in Pete's bedroom, didn't you? You even thought for a while you'd got it done, and the way I hear it, you were kind of whooping it up until somebody lit a candle and spoiled the party." He slowly laid down both revolvers and pushed them to the middle of the table. Garrett's gun was on its left side, with the handle toward the lawman. The Kid pulled back his hands, put the left in his lap, and picked up a glass of whiskey with the right. "Even considering all that," he said, "I don't want to kill you, Pat, now or ever."
Garrett stared at the guns on the table for a moment, then looked up into the Kid's eyes. "You know, with that glass in your gun hand, I believe I can beat you."
The Kid grinned again. "Well, probably. But if you do, you won't make it out of this saloon alive, so why would you want to do that?"
"You really think these Mexicans are going to kill the county sheriff and two deputies over you?"
"Oh, I know damn well they will. I can't figure out what made you think you could kill me last night and just sashay out of Fort Sumner in the first place. These are my folks, Pat."
Garrett shook his head. "Since you bring it up, I never understood what these pepper bellies see in you."
"Well, there you go," said the Kid. "To start off, I don't call them names. I treat them like people. I learned their language, and it means something to them that a white man will take the time. I'm decent with them, and they give it back. As for the senoritas, well, they can't help themselves, can they, Pat?''
Garrett almost smiled in spite of himself. "I wouldn't know. You're not my type."
"Well," said the Kid, "that's good to know. Now, will you drink with me?" He held his glass head high, at arm's length across the table.
"I'd kinda like to know what I'm drinking to."
"If you would pick up your goddamn glass, I'm about to tell you."
Garrett picked up the glass as the Kid cleared his throat. "To Pat Garrett, fearless Lincoln County Sheriff, who faced down and shot dead the notorious man-killer and scourge of the southwest territories, Billy Bonney, alias the Kid, alias Kid Antrim, alias Henry McCarty; and also to the unknown peace-loving stranger who will soon take up residence somewhere in Texas, or California, or Missouri, or Jalisco—any place but god-forsaken Lincoln County, New Mexico Territory."
The Kid bumped glasses and downed his whiskey as Garrett sat motionless. "What the hell does all that mean?"
"What it means, Pat, is if you want to be a hero, and you want to collect the reward that's on my sorry head, and you want Billy the Kid gone for good, and you want to be re-elected sheriff, drink your goddamn whiskey!" He poured himself another drink and clicked glasses again. Garrett hesitated, but this time, he drank.
The sheriff put down his glass, poured another round, and shook his head. "Everybody in Fort Sumner knows the man in Pete Maxwell's cool cellar isn't you."
"That they do. It's Tom Smith, or so he said. It sorta has an alias ring to it, if you ask me, but what do I know about made up names? Anyway, he was around my age. He showed up on foot two or three months ago, no shoes, wearing rags and starving, looking for something to eat. He wouldn't say where he was from, or how he wound up in such a distressed state. Pete fed him and hired him to do whatever nasty work nobody else wanted to do, for room and board. Now it was just his bad luck that last night he walked by Pete's door on his way to the kitchen to find something to eat. I guess he heard voices, and thought maybe somebody was annoying Pete. As it turned out, somebody was, namely one Sheriff Pat Garrett, and poor old Tom got killed for looking in on Pete."
"It was his voice. He sounded like you when he said "quien es. "
"Well, I never said more than "buenos dias" to him, or him to me, so I'll have to take your word for that, not that it gave you any damn right to start slinging lead around the room. But the point is he's nobody. No one on God's earth will miss him, or come looking for him. If you put poor old Tom in the ground today, and I tell my friends in this town to say it was me, that's the way they'll tell it. You can handle Poe and McKinney any way you see fit."
Garrett nodded. "Pete Maxwell's not your friend."
The Kid laughed out loud. "No, he tried to keep Paulita away from me, and now that I've got her in foal, I'm sure he likes me even less, if possible. But Pete's not as stupid as he looks. He'll tell it the same way, because he knows I'll shoot him if he doesn't."
"I can see where it could work," Garrett said. "But I don't like the part where you walk away from a sack full or murders. J.W. Bell was as good-hearted a man as I ever knew, just to mention one."
"I feel bad about Bell. I didn't want that to happen. But I'll tell you what. If Brady and Olinger were standing here right now, I'd shoot both of those bastards again. Besides, you've got no room to talk." The Kid poured two more drinks.
Garrett picked up his glass. "No room to talk? How so?"
"Tom O'Folliard and Charlie Bowdre for starters. Not to mention the fellow in the cellar."
"You forget I'm a duly authorized lawman."
"So was Brady, and he was in the House's pocket, so, naturally, he looked the other way when they gunned down John Tunstall, as good-hearted a man as I ever knew. The son-of-a-bitch might as well have pulled the trigger himself." The Kid pointed at Garrett's chest. "That badge isn't a license to do murder and you've done plenty of it, so don't get high and mighty with me." He swallowed his whiskey and set the glass down hard. "Do we have a deal, or not?"
Around noon Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid met again at the same table in Hargrave's saloon. The summation of the coroner's jury's report was written in Spanish, but the Kid translated as he read it out loud. "We of the jury unanimously find that William Bonney was killed by a shot in the left breast, in the region of the heart, fired from a pistol in the hand of Patrick F. Garrett, and our verdict is that the act of the said Garrett was justifiable homicide, and we are unanimous in the opinion that the gratitude of the whole community is due to the said Garrett for his act and that he deserves to be rewarded. " (Signed) Milnor Rudulph, President, Antonio Sabedra, Pedro Anto Lucero, Jose Silba, Sabal Gutierrez, Lorenzo Jaramillo.
* * *
"All of which information I bring to your notice. " Alejandro Segura, Justice of the Peace.
"Well," said the Kid as he returned the sheet of paper to Garrett, "if you're not embarrassed to file it, it should do the trick."
"It will put everything behind us. That's what we both want," Garrett said. He folded the paper and placed it in his shirt pocket. "The burial is at three, if you want to see yourself into the ground."
The Kid laughed. "You know, Pat, I think I'll pass. But I appreciate the fact that I have the option to skip my own funeral."
They scooted back their chairs and stood almost at the same time. "I don't expect I'll be so lucky." Garrett held out his hand.
The Kid recoiled slightly. "Let's not get stupid, Pat."
"Not as friends." He still held his hand out to the Kid. "To seal the deal."
Billy the Kid took Pat Garrett's hand and pumped it twice. "The deal is sealed. Forever."
It was around sundown when the Kid helped Paulita Maxwell onto the seat of the buckboard. He tousled the mane of the horse as he walked to the other side, then he climbed into the driver's seat beside Paulita. His saddle horse was tied to the back of the wagon, and his saddle, with his Winchester carbine in the scabbard, was close at hand behind the seat. Also in the bed were their belongings, which were few.
They spoke in a mixture of English and Spanish, a comfortable routine they had settled into early in their acquaintanceship. "Did you talk to Pedro?" the Kid asked.
He waited until he knew she wasn't going to volunteer any information, then went on. "Well, what did he say?"
"He said I am loco en la cabeza if I go with you. He said he would take care of me and the bebe. He said my child will want for nothing here, but with you, it will have nothing. You can see what he let me take. It all fits in this tiny wagon, with room left over."
"Well, how about I shoot the son-of-a-bitch, and we just take what we want?"
"You would not kill mi hermano." She turned her face toward his and he saw the tears.
"No, of course I wouldn't." He brushed a tear from her cheek. "Don't," he said. "Don't . . . do that." He leaned against the back of the seat and looked up into the gathering dusk.
"I am so sad, my heart breaks, Guillermo. I don't know what to do."
"Lo se," said the Kid. "I know what you should do."
"The Deal" is a fictional story, but the following is true.
The original copy of the report of the coroner's jury was never filed. Pat Garrett said he lost it, but he
did eventually collect the reward for killing the Kid.
Immediately after July 14, stories began surfacing of people who knew the Kid and swore they saw him alive and well when he was supposed to be dead. Rumors that he survived that night persist to this day, but most historians believe Pat Garrett killed Billy the Kid early on the morning of July 14, 1881, in Pete Maxwell's bedroom.
Paulita Maxwell and her brother Pedro, aka Pete, were two of the children of explorer, rancher, and entrepreneur Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell, who, at the time of his death in 1875, was one of the wealthiest men in New Mexico Territory.
In 1882, Paulita married Jose Jaramillo and enjoyed a long and comfortable life. She readily admitted that she knew the Kid quite well, had been very fond of him, and was deeply saddened by his death, but she always denied that they were ever sweethearts. According to Paulita, not long after the Kid's death a Ft. Sumner girl gave birth to a boy who bore a striking resemblance to the Kid, but the child only lived to the age of eight.
Pat Garrett didn't run for Lincoln County Sheriff in 1882. He moved to Texas where over the years he was a cattle rancher, bar owner, customs agent, and Sheriff of Dona Ana County. In 1908, in the wake of a dispute over a grazing lease on property owned by Garrett, he was shot and killed alongside the road near Las Cruces, New Mexico. A known enemy of Garrett, Jesse Wayne Brazel, admitted the deed, and claimed self-defense. He was subsequently acquitted. Historians have since identified several likely suspects, but who killed Pat Garrett, and why, is not known.
Garrett's book, "The Authentic Life of Billy, the Kid," once thought of as an authoritative source, is today deemed to contain too many embellishments to be considered reliable.
Kenneth Newton is a frequent contributor to Frontier Tales, and has placed stories in Volumes I, II, and
III of The Best of Frontier Tales. Most recently, his story, "The Cap and Ball Outfit," was voted best of
the month for November 2015. His post-Civil War novel, Passing Through Kansas, is available from Amazon.
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Jus Sanguinis, Part 2 of 3
by Matthew Caldwell
"This is really good, ma'am," the man said, scraping the last bit of stew from his bowl and licking the spoon. "It really helped warm me back up."
"Well, we know it's a long ride," she said. "Especially at night and in the snow."
The man couldn't ignore the subtext. "Well, you're right." He dabbed his mouth with a napkin. "About as far as from here to St. Louis."
Joe stopped. "Look, I don't want any trouble." May wouldn't take her eyes off their guest.
"I'm not bringing any," the man said.
"So what are you bringing?"
The man sopped up the rest of the stew juice with a small piece of bread. "An opportunity."
Joe saw May out of the corner of his eye as she stiffened. Such a loaded word. Opportunity had been something that had definitely not been lacking in their lives. Opportunity had both driven them from their old home and brought them to their new one.
"Money?" Joe said it before he even realized he'd wanted to.
"Yes," the man said. "Fifty dollars and it's honest work." He said it like he knew of dishonest work.
"What is it?" May asked. The baby stirred.
"A posse," he said.
Joe and May exchanged a knowing look.
"Look, Joe, I'm going to be honest with you. I know very little about you, and what I do I've cobbled together from the bits that've been presented to me."
Joe narrowed his eyes. The baby began to cry.
"Excuse me," she said, and walked to the far corner of the room. Outside, the wind-driven snow beat on the walls of their house.
Richter leaned in to kill the noise. "I think you're running from something, Joe. A man doesn't pack up a wife and a
baby and leave to settle here in the west just before winter starts without a reason to go. And those Stephenson pistols,
you either stole them or earned them by using them. My guess is that you used to work crime back east. St. Louis or Chicago
was my best supposition. And because of that, I think you know how to use these things . . . " He reached to the bag at his feet, pulled out the pistols still wrapped in the same cloth, and placed them on the table.
Joe looked away, toward his wife. "I don't want them back."
"I know that," the sheriff said. "That's why I'm not giving them to you. I bought them myself. But I want to loan them to you, to use tomorrow."
"Why do you need me?" Joe asked.
The sheriff carefully arranged the cloth over the guns as he spoke, to keep them out of sight during their conversation. "I've made a lot of enemies in this town. And they've all gone over to the side of the man I'm going to serve a warrant to. Don't think they'll look upon my visit too kindly. They seem to think they can do whatever they want."
"Bevington," Joe said. He'd heard the name the few times he was in town. Bevington was a big name out here, snatching up Homestead land 160 acres at a time and building a cattle empire. There were murmurings about how he came across his stock, but Joe chose to stay away from the conflict.
Now, of course, the conflict had come to meet him. It always did.
"Yep. I have to arrest the son, Uriah. The dad's gone to Texas for the winter."
"What did he do?"
"Killed an Indian," Richter said.
"And that's against the law?"
May cuddled the baby on their bed at the far end, facing away from the table. She wasn't listening but she could hear.
Sheriff Richter finally stood up and grabbed his coat and hat from the chair. "I'm leaving my office at ten tomorrow morning. I'd appreciate the help, if you'd give it."
He nodded to May in the bed and lowered his voice. "Please tell your wife thanks for the stew."
After he'd finished he re-equipped himself for the weather and quickly ducked out the door. Joe left the guns bundled on the table and got ready for bed.
"How is Charlie?" Joe asked, sliding his suspenders up onto his shoulders. His wife had just begun to stir. The baby slept between them last night, in the warm pocket they created.
* * *
"Better," she said. "Getting better." She paused. "Are you going to town?"
Joe looked down, looked away, anywhere but right at her. "I need to go take care of the hogs." He went outside. The cloth still lay where the sheriff placed it.
The snow had nearly stopped, finally, tapering off to a dearth of tiny ice crystals that rode the wind but never seemed to reach the ground. Joe looked to the roof, noting the foot of heavy fluff, and went round to the far side of the attached barn to climb up to remove it before it caved in the top of the house. By the time he finished and came inside May held the baby at the table. The boy was nursing, greedily.
"It's nine o'clock," she said.
Joe kept his coat on and walked over to the fire. He poured a few drinks of coffee into his tin cup and drank it down.
"I need to go mend fence," he said. He left. The cloth stayed on the table.
Joe came back in at supper, where May had fried up some bacon and made a thin gravy with the grease to serve with two biscuits. He kissed her on top of the head before he sat down at the table.
"I thought you would go," she said, placing a plate in front of him.
"I promised you I wouldn't get involved anymore."
"Did you?" she asked.
He sensed her apprehension. "Moving out here was my promise," he said.
May looked to the bassinet. She did that when she didn't know what to say. He took her hand.
"Being a good man, being a bad one. Neither one is easy."
She cried, and Joe didn't know why. Maybe she cried because the past he'd lived might never leave them alone.
Maybe she cried because a good man may be lying dead in the snow somewhere over the mountain, and her husband could have done something about it.
"I'm finished with my chores," he said. "It looks like another storm's coming, so tomorrow I'm going to town again, to take the guns back to the store. I'll get more medicine and food while I'm there."
He ate the rest of his supper in silence. When he finished he read out of a book but spent quite a bit of time staring into the fire.
It was another heavy snow, there in town, that tamped down all the noise like cotton in the ears, but also there was a buzz to the place, an electricity, and Joe felt it as they stepped into the opening of main street. There weren't many people outside-perhaps they'd already hunkered down for the storm-but a small group had congregated near the far end, past the doctor but not the general store, at the jail.
Joe pulled his hat down lower over his eyes, partly to shield himself from the chilly wind, but mainly to hide himself in case someone sought to find out about him. Indeed he only ever talked to four people in the town since they moved in. The doctor and the owner of the general store, from the day before, the stableman at the livery, to buy a new bridle for Bojo, and the sheriff.
He approached the sheriff's office, where three men came out from under the awning and climbed on their horses. As one of them swung his leg over, his coat opened to reveal a tin star. He glanced at Joe with a cold look before snapping the reins and following the other two off down the street. Joe stopped in front of the general store, threw his reins around the hitching post, and brought his saddlebag inside.
"What's happening?" Joe asked.
The owner watched out the window as the distraction from the sheriff's office died down. "Bill Richter is dead."
Joe made no reaction. He'd had a lot of practice back east, in hearing of the death of someone. Whether expected or surprising, he could keep it down. "How so?"
The shop owner again looked out the window, checking the street both ways. He was anxious. "Found him at the bottom of a ravine on his way to serve Uriah Bevington for killing that Indian boy."
Joe felt the bag hang heavy from his shoulder.
The shopowner finally turned to him. "Did you need something?"
"Yeah," Joe replied, and he put the bag on the counter.
End Part 2 of 3
Matthew Caldwell is a published author who lives in the midwest. His first book, The Zamler's Last Stand, was
self-published and is available on Amazon. His second book, The Lost Tribe, was published by Kindle Scout Press
in 2015, and is also available on Amazon. It was named as one of Shelf-Unbound Magazine's Top 100 Notable Indie
Books of 2015. Readers can connect with the author through his Facebook page
his Twitter account (@MattLCaldwell), or his Amazon Author
Page at www.amazon.com/Matthew-Caldwell/e/B00J4WPFS2.
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