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.