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.