Among the Heathens
by Joseph Andrew Hesch
Our camp woke to young Lukie Staple hollering from the other side of the locust grove after he found his pa sitting out by the horse line. It had been Ol' Luke Staple's night to watch the herd, a task each man had done since the night I caught that Cheyenne boy trying to steal my Pa's Kentucky blood stallion.
No one was sure what time Ol' Luke died, but he wasn't watching the horses when he did. Whoever killed him had taken out his eyes first, my Pa said. That made three of our menfolk killed watching the herd over the past two weeks. All of them were the ones what strung up and cut up that Cheyenne boy. All of them found with their heads stove in. All of them missing parts like they took off that boy.
We was twenty days out of Fort Riley, following the Republican River on our way to West Kansas, a place my Pa called Jefferson Territory. Four men and two older boys, my Ma, my sister Clara and few other wives and little children. We come west from Louisville and Elizabethtown in Kentucky. My Pa, Captain Joshua Owens, late of the United States Army, had convinced these folks, what with the army needing horses to "subdue and subjugate the red heathens standing in the way of the white man's fortunes, nay, his destiny," that starting new horse farms closer to the market was the route to independence and to "his destiny."
My Pa was a man educated in soldiering, in leading men and in the law, even the law out there where even God couldn't find you. He was Zeus and his voice was the thunder and, brother, I can attest his right hand was the lightning.
At the fort, I'd seen this dirty Indian boy nosing around our horses and pointed him out to my Pa. He and a Lieutenant Hood grabbed that boy and whupped him good, worse then I seen Mr. Staple whup the last of his slaves he sold off in Fort Sanders to buy his boy Lukie a new saddle and himself a .52 caliber Sharp's rifle. Hell, I'd have traded my little sister for that piece.
"We have to make a statement with these inferiors, Abel, especially the impressionable young ones like this heathen boy, that we will not be taken advantage of, not cowed nor threatened by their avaricious aims nor bloodthirsty and pagan ways. Throughout this trip, we shall use our superior minds and Christian ethos to soar above such lowly beasts"
"Yessir. Superior. Christian. Heathens. Soaring." Pa liked to say the Bible, his time at West Point, in the Mexican War and in Texas after that shaped him as a man and he shaped us Owens children in his own image.
Three nights after we left Fort Riley, it was my turn to watch the herd. I never felt so alone as I did that night in the middle of the plains, even with all those armed people snoring and coughing inside and under the wagons only thirty yards away. The moon was just beginning to wane, so I had a good view of the plains, the horses and a solid shadow that moved behind some brush the horses were browsing on.
I barely breathed as I inched around downwind of him and the stock. Just as he was about to cut the hobbles on a three-year-old chestnut stallion Pa had great hopes for, I let out a holler and came at him with Pa's English shotgun. I was afraid to touch it off lest I hit some of the horses, so I swung it like a club at him. The boy must have still been bunged up from that whupping, because he didn't move so fast. I caught him a good one by the side of his head just as he brought up his knife, which nicked me right sorely on my arm.
We was wrestling for the knife, bleeding all over one another, him howling like some devil from hell and me hollering for Pa, when we was both lifted off our feet and separated by big Luke Staple, Ferguson Tarpley and my Pa.
"We got him, Cap'n. We got this red bastard good this time," Staple said.
"Stand him up, Staple, Tarpley. Let's get a look at this filthy thief," Pa said as he tossed me to the side.
The boy wasn't no older than me, fourteen or fifteen, but he was all painted up and hissing and kicking when my Pa got hold of his chin and punched him in the face. That quieted him considerable. Folks back at Fort Riley thought he was an Osage or Kaw, a "tame injun," but Lieutenant Hood was pretty sure he was really a Cheyenne boy on some thieving quest to prove his manhood.
That boy never said much when the men cinched him up good and brought him over the the campfire. He just whispered some gibberish really calm-like and arrogant. Pretty uppity, I thought, for a near naked, horse-stealing Indian I was sure was about to get his due comeuppance.
My Pa and a couple of the men tied the Cheyenne boy all spread out on a wagon wheel, where Zeb Beacham kept yelling into his face and then Tarpley went and made water on him. Still he didn't say much but the same whispered words over and over again. I watched it all as my Ma looked after my arm.
"Come over here, Abel," Pa ordered. "I wish you to be part of this one's penance, seeing as you were the agent of his deliverance to our righteous justice."
When my Pa brought out the knife the boy cut me with, the Cheyenne looked him in the eye and started singing some sad tune full of "hey-yahs" and "nah-hahs" but never turned away once. Not even when Pa cut off his ear. Just sung louder.
"I recall when I served in Texas, when the Comanche would capture a man stealing their horses, they would make an example of him for the other savages to know who was lord of those God-foresaken prairies," Pa said. "I propose we do the same with this animal."
Then Pa cut off a piece of his other ear and the boy sung louder still.
The sun was just coming up and it lit this scene like some nightmare, the shadows of all the men reaching out and touching that boy and me, as I stood there next to the wagon wheel. They were deciding what they was going to do next.
Zeb was yelling about stringing the boy up, like they'd do in Kentucky, or even in Kansas, where law—right and wrong—got kind of confused once you crossed the Missouri River. Young Lukie Staple brought out a rope and pretty soon they had that boy hauled up and swinging from a cottonwood. Some of the men took what they called souvenirs off his body, feathers, a small sack full of stones and bones, his hair, and old man Staple took out his eyes, saying he'd never find his "hellish hereafter" if he had no eyes.
I stood there as they joshed and slapped my Pa on the back for his example as a military man and leader. He took the boy's knife and stuck a note that said something about smiting the Philistines to the tree with it. I still had the boy's blood on my face and arms when Pa came walking past me saying, "The Lord had been good to us in letting us keep our horses, most salutary."
I ran up to him and said, "Sir, why'd you an' the other men do all those nasty things to that boy? Another truly sound whuppin' would'a been more than enough," I said. But he just kept walking and never gave me a listen.
After that night, only the full-grown men guarded the horses, even though most figured what they left hanging from that tree would scare off any further horse thieves what might be following us.
Three nights later we found Zeb Beacham lying among the horses with his head stove in. At first we thought he'd fallen and been kicked by one of the horses. But when they rolled Beacham over we saw the blood on his mouth and found his tongue tied to a string around his neck where he kept the Cheyenne boy's bag of possibles he took.
"Damned red bastards," Pa said after they gave Beacham a good Christian burial under some cottonwoods by the river. "Mother, do not let the children run free from the wagons from now on. If they must relieve themselves, let there be an adult with them."
That night the whole camp sat a little closer to the fires. Young Lukie Staple skittered up next to me and said, "Do you think it was Injuns what killed ol' Zeb, Abel?"
"I can't rightly say. I think maybe if it was, most of the horses would be gone, along with our hair. Or so The Captain would tell ya," I said. We slept really light that night, like the horses. After a couple more nights, though, camp was back to normal, exhausted and sleepy. Then that scream woke everyone.
"Zeb. Zeb. Oh, my Zeb," Maggie Beacham was screaming like she'd lost her mind, which I guess she did after ol' Zeb was killed. But she was screaming her late husband's name over Ferg Tarpley's body. Apparently she had wandered over to the stream just before dawn to do whatever and found Tarpley lying there by the horses he was supposed to be guarding.
By the time we all got there, Maggie was covered in blood from Ferg's head and face. What with her crazy eyes and all that blood and the lamplight and the orange dawn shining on her face, Maggie looked like some wild animal what had taken old Ferg like he was a rabbit or a squirrel.
Ferg's head was clubbed in and his hair lifted and his mouth was all bloody just like Zeb Beacham's. Only difference this time it wasn't what was missing inside his mouth causing all the blood, but what was in there instead.
When he got home from Texas, my Pa told me stories about the Comanche. One story was about how they'd cut the privates off a scout they'd captured and stuffed them in his mouth as what my Pa called "depraved degradation by Hell's red spawn." He told me they sliced that scout open like a hog, too, removing this and that from his carcass and laying them all around. But the vision of that first part tends to stay with a fella more, even with just the telling.
Lukie Staple lost his previous night's dinner on the spot, splattering it on my boots, and a couple of our fine Louisville ladies fainted dead away in the tramped-down grass just looking at the scene from across the stream. Funny thing about that. These fine Christian ladies barely batted an eye when they watched that Cheyenne boy hanging and kicking with his eyes all bugged out under that cottonwood. The sight of one of our own lying on the bloody ground proved too much to bear, I guess.
I must admit, though, my Pa took this quite personal, what with him the leader of this expedition, his mission.
"This is more than the work of the devil," he said. "This has all the earmarks of the Comanche or Kiowa."
Ol' Luke Staple said to my Pa, "Captain, we're out here in this prairie like castaways in the open seas, surrounded by sharks we cannot see. They're picking us off for breakfast as they wish. I say we head back to Fort Riley and wait for a bigger group to join until we get to the Colorado country."
My Pa just stiffened his back, took on his Greek god from the Plain Above the Hudson look and said, "Gentlemen, we shall keep our present course and tighten our lines each night." And that was that.
As we rode west that day, Lukie Staple rode up to me on his fine black, that new saddle shining like a lady's church shoes. His Pa's old rifle he held tight in both hands.
"I don't like this, Abel, not one bit. Sure we're well-mounted and well-armed, but what's follerin' us ain't got nothing to fear from a Sharps, a Hawken or even your pa's shiny sword. You notice what Beacham and Ferg had cut off when we found them?"
"Of course I did, Lukie. I was one of the first one to get to them."
"I don't think it's any Comanch or Kioway follerin' us," Lukie said. He shifted in his fine new saddle, squeaking the leather like he was sweating it good, and looked behind us at the dust cloud the horses were stirring up like he thought it a black storm cloud or some such.
"I think it's that Cheyenne boy."
"That boy is most surely dead, Lukie. And with the parts our menfolk cut off him, I doubt he'd be climbing down off his tree or rising from the dead after three days like the Lord Jesus Christ himself to wreak his vengeance on us."
"Don't be blaspheming, Abel," Lukie said like he expected a lightning bolt from that dust cloud to smite us both to perdition. When we heard that thunderclap gunshot, though, that's when we both thought Lukie might be right.
"Indians," Lukie's father yelled. He was the one touched off the booming Sharps we heard. And sure enough, I saw a handful of braves on painted ponies sitting on a ridge to our southeast. They was looking down at the body of one of their number on the ground next to his skittering mount. They scooped him up and lit off like they was being chased by Sin itself.
My Pa rode up to us and said, "I'll wager they're the fiends that've been stalking us these last nights. Not some ghost, young Luke." I guess Lukie had shared his fear with more than just me.
"You sure, Cap'n?" Lukie said, his eyes all wide and wild like a young colt tied to a snub post for the first time.
"I am," Pa said. That didn't seem to put Lukie at ease, though. He still was looking over his shoulder the rest of that day and all the next. In fact, he seemed to get the look of someone who's seen a restless haint every time my Pa came around. I guess once the "skeer" gets into some folks, it ain't so easy as trail dust to wash off. Especially with blood.
With those men dead, my Pa said older boys like me and Lukie had to grow up and assume responsibility for guarding the herd again.
"You young men need the experience of facing darkness and savages of all colors, red, brown and even white, once we get to the Colorado country," he said. And so I guess we grew up right there and then. But my Pa didn't have a lot of choices.
Then we found Ol' Luke Staple dead and he didn't have any.
Couple evenings later, Pa stood watch on the herd early and it was Lukie's turn to spell him overnight. Around midnight, I woke up to hear some faint moaning, or maybe singing, blowing on the breeze from over near the herd. That's when I noticed Pa's blankets still rolled up over by his saddle. The chills come over me and I grabbed the English shotgun and lit off, quiet as I could, to see if he was all right.
Even though the winds had calmed, I got them same chills again once I pushed aside some scrub bushes by the river bank and saw my Pa hauling on one end of a rope tossed over the crotch of a smallish tree. He looked for all the world like he did when he'd pull up a supply of food to keep it from bears like when we would go hunting back home. Except, instead of food, the other end of the rope was in a noose around his own neck.
And there at his feet lay Young Lukie Staple, and he was most surely dead.
"Pa," I said as I ran from the bushes. "What in Jesus' name are you doin'?"
My Pa let go of the rope and whirled around on me with his big Colt's revolving pistol, his eyes as lit-up as Mrs. Beacham's that morning we found Zeb. Only there wasn't no fire or dawn glow to make them look that way. Just the moon and whatever hell he kept burning inside him. What burned him on the outside was where the rope wrapped around his neck. He sported a bleeding welt on his forehead, too, from what looked like the eight-sided barrel of a Sharp's rifle.
"Sweet Jesus, Abel, what are you doing here?" Pa said, still pointing that .44 caliber cannon right at my head. I was glad he at least recognized me. But he never took that big Dragoon off me.
"Now they're all mine," Pa said, swinging the Colt over the horse herd like some king waving a scepter over his kingdom. "Don't you see boy? It's the Owens destiny to become the prime horse supplier for gold-hungry, foolhardy civilians and the Army that will be needed to protect them from the heathens and themselves. These horses, and those that will foal come spring, will be the Owens' gold. Equine gold, Abel."
"Pa, did you kill all those men and Lukie?" I said, my face burning in fear and embarrassment. "'Cause if you did, somebody's bound to find out. The law's gonna be coming for you and there won't be no Owens ee-koo-wine gold. Just another rope. I'll say it now, Pa, I'm mighty scared at the way you're talking and what's gonna happen to all of us because of this."
"Law? What law, Abel? There is no law out here. I hold the only law here in my hand. Did anyone but the women even remotely quail at the hanging of that Indian boy? No. In fact, I'm sure the Army would barely blink at the thought of some dirty Cheyenne dying at the end of a rope out in the middle of nowhere. One less chigger for them to worry about, what with the abolitionists stirring up all that bloody trouble back there."
"But what about Zeb and Luke and Tarpley and Lukie and . . . ?"
"Even the tallest fine houses require digging in the dirt first, Abel. I chose to make sure this digging was done right for my house. Now, come help me move young Staple."
My mind swam with thoughts of Indians and dead men and home and those mountains to the west and seeing my Pa stringing himself up with a hangman's rope just for some horses. I'd always listened to my Pa. I always regarded him a great and brave man, and I wasn't alone. In his uniform, he shone about as royal a Christian man I'd ever seen. But now, babbling like that in his trail-dirty buckskins, he could pass for any other heathen out here, red or white.
And listening to him was like listening to that Cheyenne boy's jibber-jabber. It made no sense to me anymore.
As I staggered over, I spied Lukie's father's new Sharp's, the one my Pa must've clubbed himself with pure crazy to get that cut on his head. I put down Pa's English shotgun, picked up the heavy Sharp's, felt its heft in my hands, the cold steel barrel, its once-shiny walnut stock now nicked up and covered in dust.
"Abel, come here, boy," Pa said, the Dragoon still in his hand, as he leaned over Lukie. How was I to know what he would do to me now? To Ma and Clara? To any of us. I thought heard a hammer click and I knew what to do right then.
I walked up close to where Pa was gathering his rope and I swung that Sharp's stock hard at his head and dropped him like a hog for Christmas dinner. Then I swung it again and heard a crack and saw the lights go out in his crazy eyes. I dropped it next to him.
I turned and fetched the shotgun, and on my way back to Pa, I touched off one barrel into Lukie. The story would be an easy one to have the women and kids believe. I'd come upon Lukie just as he was stretching Pa's neck and took him down with the shotgun. Poor boy just have gone crazy after the men hanged the Indian and it was him snuck up and killed them all like a blood-thirsty heathen. Even his own pa.
Before the camp came running through the brush, though, I had one more thing to do.
I pulled out that Indian boy's knife I'd been hiding in my boot, the one Pa had stuck in the hanging tree, and I cut off the Captain's ear. I tossed it over by Lukie's body. Pa wouldn't need it where he was going.
He never listened to anyone with it anyway.
Joseph Hesch is a writer and poet from Albany, New York. He work appears or is forthcoming in over a dozen venues, including Cossack Review, Boston Literary Magazine, Pine Hills Review, the anthologies Petrichor Rising and For the Love of Christmas. His poetry collections, "Penumbra: The Space Between" and "One Hundred Beats a Minute" are available on Amazon.com. You can visit him at his blog A Thing for Words (www.athingforwordsjahesch.wordpress.com.) He can be found on Twitter at @JAHesch and his Facebook page is Joseph Hesch, Poet and Writer.
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by Von Kambro
It was hot. The music was loud, the guys were louder, and the girls kept'em that way. The gunshots were drowned out from all the hootin' and hollerin' going on. Another wild night in the life a cowboy. It's not all drinking and dancing though. We get into some fights, and yes, it's usually over a pretty girl that winks from both sides of her face. It seems that the girls out here like get the guys goin'and flirt with two of them at the same time.
Bein' a cowboy ain't easy.
Being committed to just one girl is even harder.
You take what you can get where you can and don't look back, or think twice about it. Now I'm not sayin' all cowboys are cheatin' liars. No Sir. Most of us are, but some of us aint'. I like the company of one girl, and don't partake in pursuing two at the same time.
If I love one, I keep one.
That's my first rule. And if I leave her, I come back to her. That's my second rule, but I'm not sayin' all the girls are the same that way either. I know a lot of them are like tumbleweeds. They roll around until they bump into something and then leave after they're tossed back into the street.
I was watching this one gal. She was real quiet. Didn't talk or hardly say a word to anybody. She was part Indian or somethin' because she had real nice cheek bones, long dark silky hair and deep brown eyes. She looked kinda' innocent, almost to innocent to be in saloon with a bunch of yahoos that were so snockered up they didn't even know their own names. She seemed new to this kinda' thing. That's what I'm sayin by her being innocent. Like she never been in a saloon before, maybe never been out of her house. Her clothes were torn and dirty, but she was so pretty it didn't matter.
One after another the drunk cowpokes kept comin' after her. She'd stand there like a rock. They'd try pulling her away, but she stood there. Like her feet were nailed to the floor. Drunk cowboys always think they got more muscle when they're drunk, but they couldn't get her to move.
I waited for them to leave her alone, and when the moment was right I walked up to her and introduced myself. She didn't look at me or say a single word. I waited a few seconds and gave her some kind words about how pretty she was. She wasn't responsive even after that, and most women will give you a yay or nay of some kind when you give'em a compliment, but not this one. No sir.
She was different.
Cold. Like desert ice.
I didn't know what to do, so I left her. I went outside and looked up at the stars. I always wondered how all them stars got up there. They're so far away, but yet they still keep glowing enough for me too see'em down here.
I looked back at the saloon and could see someone walk out. It was that girl. That silent, cold girl.
She was walkin' toward me, but still had that stare. She was lookin' at me, but goin' right through me. As she walked I noticed she a limp. Something was wrong with her foot. I felt bad for her. Maybe she was lookin' for a doctor in there, but even he was drunk and acted more like a crazy desert dog than a doctor.
She kept on walking right past me, but I followed her. I stayed a few paces behind because I knew from hunting mountain lions that when they're injured they can still turn on you and claw you to death. Now I'm not sayin' she was gonna do that, but I know the tricks of the street as well and I wasn't o sure yet if she was just actin' or leading me into a jump.
I've been jumped before. I know that girls will lead a man out to an alley and then her guy will jump out and take some unsuspecting cowboy's coins and then knock him on the head with his own whiskey bottle!
This gal kept walkin' for quite awhile. She finally stopped on the edge of town and then stood there and looked up at the stars. It was pretty dark out and it looked like even more stars were up there. I walked up to her while unlatching my pistol.
A soon as I was within an arms distance I told her that the stars were pretty, but not as pretty as she was. She turned and looked at me and let loose with some laughter.
For the first time in my life I didn't know what to think, or what to do.
What she was laughing at, I don't know. I scanned the area for any dark figures that might be comin' my way. If this was gonna' be a jump, it sure as hell was strange place to do one.
Once her laughter faded way, I asked her what she was laughing at. She got all serious again and stared off into the desert and was lookin' at a coyote that had its sniffer on the ground.
I told her we shouldn't be out here because this is Coyote time. It won't be long and he'll go sit on top of a hill and call out to his friends and then we'll be tryin' to out run 20 legs and 16 fangs, and with the dead foot she's got, she ain't gonna make it too far.
She started laughin' again.
Ain't never seen a woman like this before.
Well, she stopped laughin' and then actually spoke a few words. She said her name was Tamaya and that her foot wasn't broken. Now what's goin' on with this woman? I didn't ask her no questions and she laughs at serious stuff. She was cold and didn't even say a word awhile back, and now she's tellin' me her name and what's not wrong with her foot.
She pointed to something way out in the desert and said she lives out there. She just wanted to come into town and see what happens on a Saturday night. I told her what happens on a Saturday night ain't any different than any other day of the week. They're pretty much the same.
Well, we had a nice little conversation and I asked why she was so quiet and what was wrong with her foot.
Well, she told me there wasn't anything wrong with it.
Nothin' at all.
It was just an act to get some attention and see who'd follow her out here. I told her nobody followed her, but she pointed at me, and I reminded her that I was already outside.
It's more like she followed me.
She shook her head back and forth, but didn't say why I was wrong for pointin' that out.
All she told me was that when she was in the saloon she wanted to be as quiet as a mouse because she knew that once she started talkin' she'd probably start drinkin' and then no man would want her.
I told her there were a lot of cowboys in there that wanted her real bad, but she kept bein' so cold they couldn't deal with it and let her be.
I was tired of talkin' about what was and flat out asked her if she wanted some company tonight.
She whispered yes, and then tugged at her clothes. I told her they were not too good and if she wanted some new ones I could get her some.
She said no twice as she began to undress.
I covered my eyes and peeked from between my fingers and was pleased at what I saw, but I felt a little guilty for bein' here with her. I asked if she'd put her dress back on and she did.
You see fella's, sometimes you gotta test the boundaries to Know where you're limits are.
She didn't like that I asked her to get re-dressed, but I've got a girl and I ain't gonna do nothin' that ain't right with her.
I got slapped in the face and she even shot some spit at me, and I told her maybe I deserved that.
She strutted off into the night and I could hear her cussin' as she went. I coulda' roped her back in and made love to her under the stars, but I let her go.
Yep. She was real pretty.
Prettier than the stars she walkin' under.
Von Kambro is a screenwriter that also writes short stories and have just completed a collection of Western Short Stories titled: New American Western.
His Website: Author Website: New American Western - Information
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by Cal Campbell
Frank Hall had been working as a cowboy at the Tate Ranch near Belle Fourche, South Dakota, for nearly a year after leaving his parents' home near Newcastle, Wyoming.
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The Hall family had difficulty in maintaining the ranch as their land was poor. After two summers of drought they barely had enough grass to feed their very small herd of long-horn cattle that they had bought in Cheyenne, Wyoming, from a group of cowboys driving a herd from Texas.
Today, many would say the family had a "cash flow" problem. With only eight cattle in their small herd, there really was no work for the Halls' two boys. This is the reason that the older boy, Frank, had departed his parents' home for a new life in South Dakota.
Still, with three mouths to feed put the family further and further in debt to the only store in Newcastle. In fact, the owner of the general store had told the Hall family that he could no longer carry their markers, and they needed to settle their back debts in a month. If not settled, Mr. Larsen, the store owner, could no longer give them grocery staples and run a "tab."
It was early in May that Don Hall told his youngest son James that he would need to join his brother Frank in South Dakota. If Mr. Tate could not hire another cowhand then James would need to seek other employment-perhaps in Rapid City.
The Hall family had only one rifle to keep the coyotes at bay when the new calves were born in the spring. Therefore, James started his adventure of walking into South Dakota without a horse, rifle
or pistol. James did not have warm clothes to start the long journey, but his mother, Mary Ann, gave him a thread-bare blanket,
biscuits and a little coffee and sent him on his way.
With his well-worn boats James headed east. James knew that since his father needed the one saddle horse for the ranch walking into the Black Hills of South Dakota, was his only choice.
James did carry a knife and a sling-shot. He hoped that he could shoot a rabbit and supply himself with some meat on his intended long walk.
It was nearing dusk when James sighted a campfire about a half mile ahead. The smell of boiling coffee and fresh meat meant that the campers had food that they might share.
To James delight the two men, A. J. Allen and Louis Curry, invited James to share their meal of biscuits, beans and a rabbit they were cooking. The evening was cool, so all three of the men enjoyed the hot coffee boiling on the pine stick fire.
With a full stomach for the first time in days, James settled down for what he thought would be a peaceful sleep.
The two strangers James had met on the trail had hobbled several horses so they would not wander away in the night.
Perhaps after not eating for a day, James awoke about midnight to urgently disappear into the pine forest to relieve himself. Both Allen and Curry had warned the young lad not to stuff himself with so many biscuits, beans and rabbit or else risk the "trots."
It was during James absence that a posse of men, led by the local sheriff of Rapid City, woke the men and immediately arrested them for stealing horses from the Salisbury-Gilmer Stage Company. The stage company was located in Crook City, not far from Rapid City.
James hid behind a large bolder, not far from the camp, and witnessed the arrest. As he did not want to risk being the third captive, he was very silent, trembling with fear.
The posse tied the hands of Curry and Allen and after mounting them on their horses, two of the men on the posse led their horses away from the campsite. It was indeed unfortunate that one of the men on the posse doubled back and found young James in his hiding place behind the bolder. James was then bound and led away on a horse.
The posse took the three men and their horses into Rapid City and locked them in a barn. Immediately, James Hall began to beg the sheriff to release him since he did not know that the horses were stolen and had only arrived at the campsite that evening.
As soon as the three men arrived in Rapid City, the owners of the Stage Company identified the horses as belonging to them. In fact, the owners of the Stage Company were so happy to have their horses returned that they paid for drinks to the waiting crowd of citizens who had witnessed the posse and men coming into town.
In early evening, Judge Robert Burleigh conducted a hearing and later returned the evidence over to the grand jury to make a decision as to the three men's guilt or innocence.
Perhaps due to the group of cowboys having free liquor supplied by the owners of the Stage Company, a group of vigilantes, all with masks, broke into the barn where the three men were being held captive and forced them up a near-by hill.
All the way up the hill, the citizens of Rapid City could hear the young Hall boy crying and begging for his life. However, the vigilantes were too drunk to listen to the pitiful screams and proceeded with a hanging.
By law, the three men were to have been given the standard hanging for horse thieves. This meant that the three would be placed on horses with their hands tied behind them. Then the horses would be slapped on their hindquarters, and after taking off, the men would be left dangling from their ropes with broken necks.
However, when Judge Burleigh made it to the top of the hill the next morning, he assumed the role of coroner and conducted his inquest. He found that the knots had been so poorly formed that the three men had died of asphyxiation-not broken necks as horse thieves were supposed to have died. To be strangled was a slow and very painful death.
All three of the men were taller than the average man in the 1880's, so it was not surprising that all three men had their feet touching the ground. This probably accounted for the strangling and not the broken necks.
In the wild west of the mid-1800's justice was, at times, too quickly carried out-this was one example where a few citizens of Rapid City felt real remorse.
To this day if you want to insult a resident of Rapid City, you can call him or her a "strangler."
One evening the cowboys in the bunkhouse of the Tate ranch
* * *
persuaded Frank to join the group and ride into Rapid City to have a few drinks and see what other mischief they could find.
Although Frank was at first hesitant, he agreed to join the group. When Frank gained employment at the Tate spread he purposely did not tell his employers his last name and neither his new employer nor his fellow cowboys asked. In those days, the pay was given in cash. Therefore, last names were not necessary.
While in a Rapid City bar, a local asked the cowboys from the Tate ranch if they would like to hear the story of the hanging of the horse thieves. After he told the story the local cowboy wanted them to ride up the nearby hill as they had posted a sign that would warn any potential outlaws to think twice about stealing anything from a Rapid City resident.
Learning that the third horse thief was his younger brother James it took the wind from his gut. He told his fellow wranglers that he was not feeling well and would proceed alone back to the bunk house at the Tate ranch.
With tears in his eyes he rode alone back to the ranch. In the next few weeks Frank could not sleep and the other cowboys in the bunkhouse heard sobs in the night.
For about a month following his night in Rapid City, all Frank could think about was his brother swinging from the pine tree overlooking Rapid City. The other wranglers on the ranch noticed that Frank was often lost in thought and appeared "on edge" and moody. Often, he would lose his temper over the most mundane of events.
Frank had made a close friend of Tex Riley, a drifter like himself, from Texas. Tex had worked for Mr. Tate for several years and was an expert with his Colt .45. He could shoot the burning wick from a candle thirty yards away.
Saving most of his earnings, Frank had enough money to buy a used Colt .45 from one of the cowboys on the Tate ranch.
Frank had revenge on his mind ever since he learned that it was Mr. Gilmer of the Stage Company that was responsible for the hanging of his brother.
If Gilmer had not supplied all of the rot-gut liquor to the cowboys and drifters in the bar the night that the posse brought the horse thieves to Rapid City then the mob would not have had the nerve to break his brother and the other two from the barn and proceed with the illegal hanging. Indeed, Frank had in mind a duel with that son-of-a-bitch Gilmer.
With his newly purchased Colt .45, he begged Tex to teach him to shoot and to quick draw from his oiled holster. Tex did not question why Frank wanted to quick draw and to shoot with accuracy. The only targets on the Tate ranch were rattlesnakes and coyotes.
The coyotes were "taken out" with a rifle and the rattlesnakes were "usually" far enough away that a wrangler could just ignore the snake or use his pistol if threatened. Certainly, a "quick draw" was totally not necessary.
No, the only reason to "quick draw" with accuracy was to participate in a gun duel with another man. The attitude that Frank had begun demonstrating started to worry Tex and a few other wranglers. Even Mr. Tate had noticed a change in Frank. As for his practice with the Colt .45, Mr. Tate knew he had better find out what Frank had in mind.
Finally, after persuading Frank to have a few shots of whiskey in the bunkhouse after supper one evening, Frank broke down and told the story of how his brother James had been hung in Rapid City by a groups of drunken vigilantes.
An old Mexican that cooked for the wranglers in the bunkhouse by the name of Luis Garcia "spilled the beans" on Frank. Mr. Tate became interested in the story as he too had trouble with Lou Gilmer of the Salisbury-Gilmer Stage Company.
What had happened prior to Frank arriving at the Tate ranch was that Mrs. Tate and her daughter Virginia had their buggy stopped on the road to Rapid City by Lou Gilmer and a few of his friends.
Lou stopped the Tate buggy and proceeded to pull the two ladies to the ground and attempted to rape Mrs. Tate. Lou Gilmer's friends restrained Virginia by whipping her and tearing her clothes.
However, before the group could seriously hurt Virginia or Mrs. Tate, a group of cowboys from the Tate ranch rode to the rescue. After a lengthy gun battle, the Gilmer gang outraced the cowboys back to town. The only casualty to Virginia was a long ugly scar on her very beautiful face. This was caused by Lou Gilmer's whip.
None of the Gilmer gang or the cowboys were killed in the gun fight. However, one of the Tate's wranglers had to wear a sling on his arm caused by a bullet to his upper shoulder. This prevented the cowboy from working for nearly a month. Of course, Mr. Tate
continued to pay the cowboy and would not deduct any pay for his idle time while in recovery.
Immediately, Mr. Tate had ridden into town to report the incident. However, since Lou Gilmer had control of the town, the sheriff dismissed the charges and told Tate to leave town and forget what he "believed" to have happened on the trail.
Now Frank had an ally in the pent-up rage against the Salisbury-Gilmer Stage Company and in particular Lou Gilmer.
It was a bit unusual that Mr. Tate would invite one of his wranglers to dinner in his fine home with his wife and beautiful daughter Virginia. However, Mr. Tate had developed a plan to extract revenge on Lou Gilmer.
Mr. Tate thought that with a fine dinner of the very best steak and wine he could persuade Frank to "take out" the slick Mr. Gilmer. Also, as an upstanding citizen with much to lose if he were implicated in the plot, he wanted Frank to take all of the risks and thus distancing himself from the assassination attempt on Mr. Gilmer.
The plan was "hatched" that evening. With all the practice on shooting that Frank had received from Tex, the young Hall boy thought he could even the score all by himself.
However, thinking over the proposition, Tate thought that he needed more of an edge than a fair gunfight. What if Lou Gilmer shot Frank or even wounded him. This might implicate Tate's involvement.
This is where the old Mexican, Luis Garcia, came into the picture. Being older Luis was no longer expected to ride the range with the other cowboys. Instead, he was now the cook in the bunkhouse. He performed other duties, such as helping plant a vegetable garden and haul water to the house.
Mr. Tate brought Garcia to the big house, and together they shared a drink on the spacious sprawling porch. (Mr. Tate would never let a Mexican in his home.) Mr. Tate knew that Luis Garcia could not be much use in bushwhacking Lou Gilmer.
Nevertheless, Luis Garcia had begged Mr. Tate to bring his brother Jose from Mexico to work on his ranch. The reason that Mr. Tate had not sent for Jose before was that after many inquiries he found that Jose had been in and out of jail and was somewhat of an unsavory character.
It was also rumored that Jose had run with a gang of outlaws terrifying settlers on the Texas border. This time Mr. Tate was all too happy for Garcia to contact his brother and bring him to the ranch. This plan on how to settle the score with Lou Gilmer was now taking shape.
It was a slow process in the mid-1800's to first contact Jose, and then for the Garcia brother to travel to western South Dakota. In the meantime, Frank polished his gun handling abilities and was gaining both quickness and accuracy with his Colt .45 pistol.
When Jose Garcia finally arrived at the Tate ranch, the other cowboys stayed their distance as Jose was as mean a character as they had ever seen in that part of the country.
Jose had long greasy hair and a long scar that started below his left eye and ran down to just above his unshaven jaw. As Jose had a habit of chewing cigars, his teeth were stained a dirty yellow.
Also,, the wranglers on the ranch immediately knew he was a "gunfighter" as he strapped his two pistols low on his belt and had the two holsters died down with rawhide cord.
The plan was now developing and both Mr. Tate and Frank wanted the deed completed with due haste. Anyway, the Tates did not want Jose on their ranch any longer than necessary.
Mr. Tate had watched young Frank practice drawing and shooting and thought that he should not risk the death of this young man when he had hired a true professional to take care of the shooting.
Therefore, Mr. Tate persuaded Frank to practice with a sawed off shotgun that Jose had brought with him from Mexico.
A meeting was held in the Tate barn with Jose, Tate, Jose's brother Luis and Frank in attendance. Mr. Tate made all men swear to secrecy about the plan of killing Gilmer. The reason was that although Tate wanted very much to get rid of Gilmer, he did not want to be implicated. With Luis Garcia serving as the interpreter, Jose was given his instructions on just how to draw Gilmer into a gunfight without being arrested.
The plan was to wait until there was a moonless night and then have Jose start an argument in a Rapid City saloon with Lou Gilmer, hoping the two would step into the street for a duel.
In Jose's broken English he asked, "How will I know this hombre Gilmore?"
As Jose had never seen Lou Gilmer, it was Luis Garcia who had to describe Gilmore. He stated, "That son-of-a-bitch Gilmer has white wavy hair worn down to his shoulders and has a handle-bar mustache."
In case Jose was not able to 'bring down' Gilmer, then Frank would be waiting in the shadows with his sawed-off shotgun ready to finish the job.
The very ugly Jose strode into the saloon on main street where there were rumors that this is where Lou Gilmer had his almost nightly poker games. Gilmer liked to challenge the other citizens in a high stakes poker game.
Jose motioned to the others that he would like to join in the game. Perhaps Jose understood English better than Frank and Mr. Tate had believed because he understood what the other players at the table were saying. Gilmer was known to have a bad temper and perhaps Jose could entice him into a gunfight.
The dealer by the name of Johnnie broke the seal of a fresh deck of cards and after shuffling the cards passed he deck to his right for a cut. He then dealt the cards clockwise to his left.
The game would be five card draw with no limit on the bets. Jose thought to himself, It was a good thing that hombre Tate gave me a good bankroll to stay in this lively game.
Picking up the cards Jose found himself with a pair of jacks. He thought, I had better make my money last until I get a chance to deal the cards. So he threw in the cards without making a bet.
It should be known that Jose was no stranger to poker as he would often venture over to El Paso, Texas, for a game. Across the table Gilmer played a shrewd and careful game.
Suddenly, Jose found himself holding three nines. He considered them, decided to stay and on the draw picked up a pair of jacks. With this hand he won a small pot. Jose also won the next two hands.
Mr. Gilmer smirked at Jose and stated, "For a Mexican that has not played that much poker you seem to be a lucky hombre." Jose thought to himself, Just you wait until I get the deal and you will see real luck.
Jose drew nothing on the following hand and threw in, but on the next he won a fair-sized pot. Jose found himself feeling a little bit regretful as he knew that with his plan the game would never be completed and all the money he could have won would be lost.
When it was Jose's turn to deal, he shuffled and easily built up a bottom stock from selected discards. He passed the cards to his right for a cut in a smoothly done movement and proceeded to deal swiftly. He built his own hand from the bottom of the deck until he held the three cards he wanted.
All of the players at the table threw in their hands, except for Gilmore.
Seeing Jose dealing off the bottom of the deck, Gilmer grabbed Jose's wrist and at the same time pulled his Colt .45. A quick thinking bartender pulled his shotgun from under the bar counter and halted Gilmer from firing.
The bartender told both Jose and Gilmer to step outside to settle their differences. Once outside both men agreed to take ten paces, turn and fire. However, Jose took only nine paces turned and shot the gun from Gilmer's hand. Jose's second shoot struck Gilmer between the eyes.
The Sheriff collected several witnesses and they all told the same story that Gilmer had called Jose out and indeed this was a fair fight.
It was now the duty of the Sheriff to tell Jose to get out of town and never to return. After a short ride to the Tate ranch to collect his $ 2,000 bounty, Jose headed, with due haste, back to Mexico.
Indeed, the revenge that Frank had sought was complete and he nor Mr. Tate were implicated. Frank also rode out of town without anyone seeing him.
Cal Campbell's love of writing blossomed when he was given the honor of writing a column for both his high school
and college newspapers. Today you can read his column in the Journal Gazette-Times published in Mattoon, Illinois.
Cal published professional articles while employed at Eastern Illinois University. Following retirement he has
published two children's books, a biography of his father - an ATF agent, and a historical novel based on the hardships
of pioneers living in Western South Dakota.
Occasionally, you will see Cal's articles published in magazines that are distributed nationally.
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by Steven Crowden
"Sheriff, Sheriff", came the cry from the street outside of his office. Jep had grabbed his gun belt and was opening the door before little Bobby Jo stepped onto the wooden porch.
"What is it Bobby Jo?", the sheriff asked calmly. He had been the sheriff for nearly two years in the sleepy town of Richmond and knew that mostly nothing was quite as urgent as people made out. But his military training kept him alert and he wanted to do his best for the place he had grown up in. Having just returned from a visit to a local rancher, who had reported horse rustling taking place, he hadn't had time to put his bags down, or even have a cup of strong coffee.
The replied spurred him into action. "The banks being robbed sheriff, Mr. Barnett is dead and the robbers are getting away."
Jep started moving towards the bank. "How many are there Bobby Jo?"
"Three sheriff, handy with their guns too. They are shooting everything in sight."
Jep began to run leaving the young man well behind. He began to hear gunfire and the screaming, people were running everyway. His gun was cocked and in hand as he saw three masked men leave the front door of the bank guns blazing and bags of cash in their hands.
Mrs. Levy, mother of two, ran out from the back of the bank and was gunned down with a bullet through the head. She wouldn't be taken Sunday school this weekend. Jep fired his first shot but it fell short. He kept running, hard as he could. The three masked men saw him, one of them, the tallest, shouted something to the others. They mounted their horses and headed out of town in the opposite direction to the Sheriff. Jep loosed off one more shot in their direction before they were out of sight. He missed and was left wishing that they hadn't built the damn bank so far from his office.
As he got to the bank it was clear there would be more dead than just Janet Levy. He entered the bank fearing the worst. He was unfortunately right. Four dead, three staff and one customer. The staff were all behind the counter with neatly placed holes through the middle of the forehead, they were obviously killed unnecessarily. The female customer was face down at the back of bank near the safe. It was likely she had been used as a hostage by the gang to entice the bank manager to give up the towns money. But, where was Mr. Barnett, the bank manager, Bobby Jo had said he was dead. Jep moved towards the safe deeper into the bank. As he reached the large room where the safe was housed he looked in and there he was. Dead, very dead. It was obvious that he had put up one hell of a fight by the state of his face and his left arm had been broken. The robbers had probably decided to use the customer as a last resort. Mr. Barnett was a proud man and he had not given up his banks money until he had thought his stubbornness would affect another life. It was all to no avail. He was dead, three of his staff were gone and Miss Timpson. All died needlessly. The robbers were indeed ruthless. Jep's mind wondered back to the war, he hadn't seen these scenes of callous unnecessary slaughter since then, he was in a daze.
In the back of his mind Jep knew that the reason he had been able to get so close, before they had escaped, was that Mr. Barnett had held out as long as he possibly could. And he had paid the ultimate price. He had got close and had been able to get a good look at the horses. Two greys and a large roan. Easy to spot when he began his hunt. As soon as the horses had galloped away the townsfolk had cautiously begun to come out of their safe hiding places and move toward the bank. As the Sheriff came back out from the death scene inside the bank, numb all over, people barged passed him to see for themselves. Jep walked slowly to the middle of the street and stood motionless in shock. He was awakened by a tugging on his chaps.
"Sheriff! Sheriff! What you gonna do Sheriff?" It was Bobby Jo, he had walked to catch up with the Sheriff, one reason because he had run out of breath during the run to the bank and the second was just to be certain that men had gone. But, he was brave again once he saw Jep.
He tugged again, "What are you going do, Sheriff?"
Jep jolted back to reality. His mind clearing as his experience took over.
People were beginning to gather around him, muttering to themselves.
"I am going after them." He growled, making sure all heard him. "I am going after them.!" He repeated.
"With no posse Sheriff, why that's plain madness." Came a voice from the crowd.
"I'm going alone." He raised his voice, so there was no doubt. "I will do this alone, this is my responsibility and I will put this right." He was becoming angry, he needed to control himself in front of the townsfolk. He began to move off, down the street back to his office. He would gather his things together be on his way within the hour.
As he strode off he heard a lone voice.
"Good luck Sheriff."
"Thanks Bobby Jo," Jep muttered under his breath. He increased his pace.
As he had predicted within the hour he was ready. Guns, bullets, supplies, all strapped to his horse. The whole town was now aware of the bank robbery and a great many of them were gathered around the jail to see the Sheriff on his way.
"They went south Sheriff."
"Go get um Sheriff."
"You can do it Sheriff"
"How long will you be Sheriff?"
Voices were all around giving Jep advice and support.
"I will be as long as it takes, I will not return until I have caught whoever did this crime." Jep said in all seriousness. Although not a long time since the robbery had been completed. His friends and neighbors killed for no reason, Jep had had time to set his mind to the task in hand. He continued to pack his horse, check the saddle and bridle as he decided he would go north. Despite the direction that the gang had left town, Jep knew that north was the direction to head. South lay a high range of mountains which no-one would attempt to cross at this time of the year. The rough weather would hit in a week or three and they would never make it through in time. He figured the only reason they left town the way they did was to avoid meeting him, nothing more.
He mounted his horse, the chatter around him intensified. He cut over it.
"Listen everyone, listen." He made himself heard.
"Listen, I am heading north and will be gone for a while. Deputy Mitchell will be in charge and you all know him. He is a good man."
Nods of agreement spread around the gathered townsfolk. They would be quite safe with him in charge. Deputy Mitchell nodded and acknowledged the group.
Jep mounted his tan colored horse and tugged on the reins to head out of town. He dug his spurs into the horse's flank with force and was straight into a canter as he left the still chattering crowd behind and set out on what he knew would be a hard task. To find, capture and maybe bring back the three men that had robbed the bank in the town he was meant to watch. Dead or alive, he didn't care.
The Sheriff set a fast pace.
His horse full of running, Jep didn't need to worry about the grey running out of steam. Heading north Jep made good progress to start with. He knew the area well and heading in the direction he thought the robbers had gone he felt good.
At the end of the first day, as the sun began to set over in the west, he knew he would have to make camp. The ground was not as good as he had hoped and if his horse slipped a foot into a hidden hole that would be the end of any attempt to catch the gang and he would then have no other choice but to get back to Richmond on foot. Something he did not fancy attempting. He also didn't want to get ambushed with no horse. He knew it was better if the gang didn't know he was following and this meant he needed to make progress cautiously. He didn't know who these people were and as he approached small hills of rocks, he was wary of who might have made a camp out of sight, just waiting for some lone lawman to come by. He rode hard were he could, but caution reigned when it was needed.
Making a small fire Jep put on some of the strong black coffee he had brought with him. Eating some jerky he had taken from the stock room in the jail. Normally given to the prisoners in the 2 jail cells they had, not that they had much cause to use them, hopefully Jep could change that on this occasion.
Jep had his fill of the coffee and jerky. He lay down on his blanket and rested his heads on his saddle. As the stars came out, and he began to relax, his mind drifted back to his school days in Richmond. Jep and his brother Lucas had spent many hours skipping school to go out into the areas around town to find rattle snakes and rodents. When the captured them, they could put them into enclosed areas and watched how the snakes used their tongue to locate the rodent. And with awe they watched the snakes strike. With so much speed, the pair never got used to it. Finally, watch as the prey slowly disappeared down the snake's throat never to appear again.
He had been close to his brother, so close that when they were 10, they had taken a dime they found on one of their excursions away from school, must have been lost by some horse thief they thought. And using their dads hacksaw had painstakingly cut it in two. In each half they put a small hole, threaded it with string and hung it around their necks to show their solidarity to one another. They hadn't told anyone, not even their mother who they loved dearly. Jep absent mindedly played with the coin still around his neck as he thought of those carefree days. He jolted back to reality. Took a large swig of his now cold coffee, throwing the remainder on the ground. He had lost touch with his brother during the war. Although they had joined on the same day, they had been posted to different regiments of the army. Neither had liked it, but knew it wouldn't be forever.
But, after a number of years, it appeared that they could be wrong. Almost immediately after going off to their respective units they had lost touch. They sent each other a few letters, but it was nearly impossible to know where he was and vice versa. Either because the army themselves didn't know, or because it was a secret. After a few months he gave up writing and hoped that one day they would be back together. It never happened.
On returning from the war, Jep had been told of his father's death and that his mother was barely holding onto the small holding. The homer where both he and his brother had grown up. It was mortgaged. She kept a few sheep and chickens, worked when she could, but this wasn't enough to keep up with the payments. Jep had come back just in time. His army experience landed him the deputy job at the sheriff's office and this meant he could pay off the arrears for his mum. And ensure she was comfortable until the day that she eventually died peacefully in her sleep.
He had since gone onto be promoted to sheriff and sold his mums house as it was too far out of town for him to maintain. He spent most of his time working, so took to sleeping in the back room of the office, or in a cell if he fancied it.
But, that was all in the past, he pulled himself together. No use reminiscing. There was a job to be done and at first light he would be ready to keep going after those scoundrels that has disrupted his relatively peaceful life. He pulled his blanket up to his neck, made sure his gun was in his lap and fell into a fitful sleep, dreaming of rattle snakes and rodents.
He had not slept well again and as the sun rose over the horizon to the east Jep was already continuing his northward journey. Thirteen days had elapsed since he had set out from his home town of Richmond setting a punishing pace in pursuit of three gunmen who had robbed the local bank. His bank.
When the bank had been robbed nearly two weeks previously Jep had been out of town investigating a report of horse rustling and had only just returned to his office when Bobby Jo came calling. He had since calculated that this was possibly part of a ruse, something to get him away from the scene of the crime, he would normally have completed a walk around his town at that time of the day, as he had been doing for over a year now. They must have been watching him, worked out his routine and a way to disrupt that routine for their benefit. It was just luck that he had come back to his office when he did. His investigations into the rustling didn't come too much and he made quick time getting back to town. As Sheriff of the small town of Richmond, the town he had grown up in, he felt angry that he had not been there when the robbery had taken place. He felt angry and sad that William Barnet had died due to his heroic attempt to stop the robbery from succeeding. Initially Jep had been angry with himself, but as the long days and nights had passed, his anger had transferred onto the gang that had taken over $5000, killed his friend and in his eyes made him look stupid in front of the townsfolk he was paid to protect.
On the day of the robbery once he had returned to town, it didn't take Jep long to find out what had happened at the bank, the direction the gang had headed out of town and pull together the rations he would need for the pursuit. Within an hour he had been on his way. There was some talk of a posse going with him, but no one tried too hard to persuade the Sheriff as anyone who knew Jep knew that once his mind was made up it wouldn't be changed.
Leaving Deputy Mitchell in charge Jep set off and headed in the opposite direction the gang were seen leaving Richmond at high speed shooting in the air to keep people off the streets as they made their escape. He set a hard pace on his horse, knowing that his horse could handle it, they had been through a lot together. Day turned into night, night into day as the miles rolled by.
By the 5th day Jep knew that he was catching them. Very easily he had been able to latch onto their tracks and from that point it had only been a matter of time until he knew he would gain distance on his quarry. Initially they themselves had set a fierce pace and he was dropping behind. But, as the days dripped by both the fire embers and the horse droppings had been getting warmer and fresher, the conclusion being that the pace of the gang was slowing. He was also able to ascertain that one of the horses had lost a shoe which was not helping them keep a healthy pace.
By day thirteen Jep calculated that he was around 2 hours behind as he reviewed the findings of the latest camp. One of his nuances that had held him back was how he had been approaching any areas that he felt the gang may be hiding. Always cautious in these circumstances Jep held back sometimes for half a day until he was sure that no one was positioned in the rocks or bushes waiting to attack him. So far to his delight but also frustration he had come across 7 potential areas of ambush, each dealt with in the same fastidious way. Each held no danger, but equally although this had delayed him he calculated he was still alive to keep pursuing the people that had made a lasting impact on his community.
After reviewing the clues, he set off in the same northerly direction. One such area of caution was on the horizon and he knew he would be upon this area in a few hours.
Noon came sooner than expected and as was his tried and tested method Jep approached the rocks slowly, keeping to any cover he could find. There wasn't much available between him and the rocks, but about half a mile out he stopped. Taking out the spyglass which had been with him since the early days of the war when he had removed it from the possession of unwilling soldier. During the war it was either them or him, he felt the same now. Someone was going to lose, and he would do his best for it not to be him.
He scanned the area ahead from bottom left moving the spyglass across slowly eventually moving up to the top right. Nothing. As he pulled the glass away from his eye, a glint of metal caught his eye. How had he missed that? He studied the area, yes definite movement. He placed the glass against his eye and spent time finding the exact spot on the hill.
This was it. The end of the road. He made out movement from 3 figures, no sign of their horses, perhaps they were over the other side of the rocks, he wouldn't be able to get around the hill without being spotted. What to do? Had they decided to wait and see if anyone was following, or did they know? So many questions, none of which he would be able to answer, and as he spent more time watching them the questions became irrelevant to the situation.
Jep focused his mind. Thinking through his options he decided on the one he always did. Although very, some might say overly, cautious in his approach, when it came down to the actual head to head, he always went straight in. Hobbling his horse where it stood, he took his weapons, bullets and water with him as he made his way, running low to the ground, heading to the rocks.
It was hot in the noon sun and as he ran low to the ground he was sweating profusely. Stopping every hundred yards or so, to confirm his bearings and to make sure he hadn't been seen. Finally, Jep knelt down behind the last bush before he would be seen for sure in the open. Checking his guns were loaded and taking the final drops of water from his canteen he was ready. He stood up, stepped out to the side of the bush and announced himself.
"Hey, you in the rocks." He yelled. "This is Sheriff Jep Johnson from the town of Richmond, come out with your hands up and you will be taken back to stand a fair trial for bank robbery and cold blooded murder." There was silence for a few seconds, before a stream of bullets began to rain down on his position. Luckily he was 10 feet out of range, so after the initial shock, he stood still to show he had no fear. The noise stopped when the guns had been emptied.
"Just turn around and go back to where you came from Sheriff, you don't want of piece of us."
"Too late for that boys, 2 weeks is a long time to ride after someone for me to just turn tail and run after a few bullets come my way." He was cool, calm and knew he would never turn tail and head back to tell the townsfolk, who paid his wages, a story that ended with him coming back empty handed after a few near misses. "Just come down slowly from the rocks, lay your guns on the floor and we can take it from there."
There was silence for a good long minute until the same voice came back at him.
"We are coming down Sheriff, don't shoot." Three men rose at the same time from behind different rocks and made their way slowly but surely down the hill and stood 200 yards away in a line facing the Sheriff.
"Now take off your belts, let em drop and walk towards me nice and easy."
Again the same voice spoke, he was obviously the leader and stood in the middle of the trio. "I don't think so Sheriff, we don't intend to go quietly." They began to walk toward Jep, their intention obvious. Jep knew he was fast, but fast enough for three? He would soon find out.
Poised and ready as the gang came closer, Jep knew he had to throw them off guard. "Now you know that killing a lawman will bring the might of law enforcement bearing down on you. Do you really want that?"
"Well, they have got to find you first and then they have to find us. They will lose interest when they figure we have gone south of the border."
The gang finally came within 20 yards and stopped in a line. Hands poised just above the handles of the tools of their trade. The leader had been walking with his head bent forward, not giving Jep his full gaze. He kept his head down as all four stood wondering when it would all kick off.
The leader raised his head slowly to look Jep straight in the eyes. "Hey Jep, how you been?"
Jep, was stunned. "Lucas? Lucas is that you?" Jep didn't know what to think, he hadn't seen his brother since the war, but it was definitely him.
"It's me Jep, guess the war took us on different paths. Either side of the straight and narrow, by the looks of it."
"But why the bank in Richmond, you knew I would come after you?"
Lucas, shrugged his shoulders, "We intended to pass straight through Richmond, just to visit where we had grown up, fill up with supplies and head out. But, it was just sitting there, very poor security. And with the Sheriff out of town, we thought we would be away before you came back." He smirked.
"You organized that? I knew there was something wrong about me going out to the ranch, that was why I came back as quick as I did, I knew something was wrong."
"And that was where it went wrong. But, we didn't expect you to follow us for so long, we were just going to sit here for a day and see if you had given up."
"Well I hadn't."
"Yes, and here we are." He said in a slow menacing slur, he adjusted his position in the sand.
Jep, was still slightly stunned by the appearance of his brother right in front of him. But, his senses caught movement from the gun to the left. Firing to the left and right of his brother, only his two shots were heard as his brothers' accomplices flew backwards into the dirt with no ability to move again. The sound of the shots disappeared into air.
Jep and his brother locked eyes. Time stood still.
Lucas, drew his weapon first and 2 simultaneous shots could be heard. Both men hitting the dirt. Minutes went by. Jep finally came around with a start, a sharp intake of breath, the pain in his chest was unholy. He had been shot before, but this pain was different. Rolling over to make an unsteady mess of getting to his feet, Jep automatically placed his hand on his chest to where the worst of the pain was. He looked at his hand. No blood. He felt again and his fingers landed on his half dime piece, the one he had shared with his brother all those years ago. It was bent, but it had saved his life.
The irony was not lost on Jep as he made his stumbling way over to Lucas. He called out his name. But, it was obvious that all three criminals would not be moving again. Lucas had a clean hole in the middle of his head. Jep dropped to his knees beside the body.
Why? Why had his brother done it? Jep took a deep breath despite the pain in his chest. He knew he would never know the answer. But what he did know was that it was over. The gang that had robbed his bank and killed his people would not be doing this anywhere else. After some time, a search for the horses revealed 3 saddle bags full of the stolen money. He would be able to return it to Richmond.
It was late in the day by the time Jep had brought all the horses together, tied the 3 dead gunman to their horses. Jep lit a fire and put on coffee, he didn't feel like eating. Some strong coffee and a good night's sleep would see him right. His thoughts were still with his brother as he drifted off into a fitful night's sleep.
As the sun poked its head over the mountain range to the east, Jep awoke. The night's sleep had not been the best for Jep but he was renewed in his mind about what he was put on this earth to do. Sheriff Jep Johnson tied the last of the saddle bags onto his horse, mounted up, and led the 3 dead killers back to Richmond to carry on the work he was employed to do.
Steven Crowden resides in the UK. Married with three children his full time job is as Process Improvement Consultant. After many years of reading the westerns held at his local library Steven decide to have a go at writing a short story himself. This is his first attempt. He hopes you like it.
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Bat Masterson and Pud Galvin
(The Gunslinger and the Baseball Player)
by Steven G. Farrell
San Francisco's Parker House was the best place in the Bay area to go to if you wanted a quality casino outfitted with a swanky barroom. Monte, faro, poker, blackjack, roulette wheels, pretty dancehall girls and honest dealers all rolled into one beautiful paradise to lose your hard-earned bankroll in. The Parker House was also the place where all of the big smokes and celebrities went to be seen and to see other big smokes and celebrities. So it wasn't at all strange for William Barclay Masterson, the famous gambler and notorious lawman, to rub elbows at the long bar imported from England with James Galvin, star baseball pitcher formerly of the Buffalo Bisons and now a reluctant member of the San Francisco Athletics. The two were formally introduced to one another by Muldoon, the gang leader of the notorious "Hoodlums." Galvin was being escorted around the Barbary Coast by James J. Corbett, the heavyweight boxer, who was pestering John L. Sullivan for a title fight; and Bat was visiting from Dodge City with his fellow deputy marshal Wyatt Earp. Everybody in town knew of Muldoon, the bad man, especially the police force and his arch-enemies the "Hounds."
"A bottle of whiskey, waiter!" Muldoon shouted at a passing waiter as the small group of five men found an empty and clean table a fair piece away from the clutter at the bar.
"Make it Irish whiskey," suggested Galvin.
"And bring us a deck of cards," put in Corbett.
"Make it an unopened deck of cards," added Bat.
"So here we all sit: the baseball player, the boxer, the gunslingers and myself," said Muldoon, pouring out neat shots.
"The gangster," Corbett said with a smile.
"Smile when you say that, mister," said Muldoon, only half in jest."
"I'm smiling, Muldoon," Corbett said quickly.
"I can't believe the future heavyweight boxing champion is afraid of any man," Wyatt Earp said with a frown.
"I never underestimate a fellow Irishman," said Corbett, losing his smile.
"So let's toast the Irish," said Bat, adding, "I'm 100% Irish myself."
"To the Irish!" saluted Jimmy Galvin, wanting to avoid any trouble.
"I'll drink to that even though I'm not Irish myself," cracked Wyatt, clinking glasses with the other.
Muldoon unraveled the playing cards and started to shuffle. Somebody suggested that deuces should be wild in a game of five card poker. A ten dollar ante was considered a decent admission fee to a game inside of the classy Parker House. Everyone at the table still had a clear head and the game progressed smoothly. Wyatt Earp seemed to be the most skillful of the five or he was at least the luckiest, winning the most hands. Muldoon called out for a new deck to see if it would entice "Lady Chance" to grace him.
"So you throw a baseball for a living?" Wyatt asked Pud.
"They pay me $2,000 a year to throw strikes from the mound in Buffalo," answered the baseball player. "The San Francisco Athletics offered me $2.500 for the upcoming 1878 season. Pitching is my trade."
"And they call you 'Pud,'" asked Muldoon, starting to turn nasty again.
"It's short for 'Pudding," admitted Galvin with a pleasant chuckle. "The claim is that my fastball turns the batter's bat into pudding."
As the midnight hour approached Bat and Muldoon were just about cleaned out while Corbett and Pud were breaking even. Wyatt was accumulating the biggest stack of chips. He was also the most sober at the table.
"You must have aces up your sleeve," Muldoon accused Wyatt with a drunken slur.
Everybody stiffened as Bat took a turn as the dealer. Wyatt Earp wasn't heeled inside of the casino as it was against the house rules. It was strictly forbidden to enter the premises wearing a gun and a holster. However, it was a sure bet that most of the well-dressed gentlemen inside of the Parker were carrying concealed weapons. Derringers were extremely fashionable that year in the west.
"Steady partner," Wyatt softly mumbled.
"Maybe you can get away with cheating in Kansas but here in California you'll get huddled for your tricks," warned Muldoon, getting to his feet and kicking over his chair.
Drunk or not the hood was as powerful as a bull and he was spoiling for a fight, especially with a real hombre with notches on his firearm. The bully boy also knew that his top lieutenant, Billy Mulligan, was getting dangerously liquored up at the bar. Billy was always packing and ready to blaze away at the cross town Hounds.
"Leave the visitors alone," demanded Corbett, grabbing Muldoon's right arm.
Without a word of warning Muldoon delivered a left hook to Corbett's head. The place went quiet as the America's contender shook off the cheap shot. Momentarily the man known by the newspapers as "Gentleman Jim" stood up and delivered three quick punches that floored the chieftain of the Hoodlums. The crowd cheered for Corbett as he took a bow to acknowledge them. Billy Mulligan, who was no friend of the boxer, pulled out a Buntline that he had tucked away inside of his great overcoat.
"You can't get away with that, dude!" shouted Billy.
Bullets broke the fresh bottle of whiskey on table and scattered chips to the four corners of the den. Bat Masterson's
cat-like reflexes saved Corbett from a slug in the skull. Wyatt Earp had something tucked away up his sleeves but it
wasn't an Ace: he produced a tiny derringer and took aim. A close range blast entered Billy's forehead and dropped him
to the ground. Suddenly lights inside of the Parker House were extinguished and men began to rush to the exit. Corbett
kicked out a stained-glass window and dragged Wyatt after him. Galvin calmly finished his shot of red eye among the
ruckus. Bat calmly put his derby hat on top of his head.
"Shall we take our leave, Mr. Galvin?"
"I'm ready to leave, Mr. Masterson."
Arm in arm the two wandered the crowded streets as a battalion of police officer arrived upon the scene. The timing was perfect as reinforcements of Hoodlums from the nearby wharves arrived for a rescue mission. Billy clubs crashed down on heads as rocks were hurled at blue uniforms in retaliation. Fisticuffs broke out as cops and thugs went at it in a donnybrook.
"Gordon Wisenbaker's restaurant is further down the avenue," said Pud.
"The Germans are more peaceful over their beer than our Celtic kin are over the poteen," said Bat.
The two revelers ordered two schooners of foaming Pilsner lager as they toed the bar rail inside happy-go-lucky Teutonic beer garden. A Munich-inspired band played cheerful tunes as people hopped onto the dance floor to waltz. The Germanic establishment was bright with lights.
"Do you like San Francisco?" asked Bat, making conversation.
"It's my kind of town but I want to go back to Buffalo," Pud Galvin said between gulps. "My wife and child are back East and my former club offered me a $3,000 salary. It's costing me money being here.""
"So what's the holdup?"
"The Athletics won't let me out of my contract and the owner McKnight hired Muldoon to keep an eye on me so I won't skip town. Corbett informed me that the Athletics even hired Pinkerton detectives to keep tabs on. I'm boxed in."
"It's my round," announced Bat, investigating his vest pockets for money. He then checked his pants pockets for any loose change. "I'm busted, partner"
"It's on me."
"I hope you're not hurling tomorrow."
"I'm playing in the outfield tomorrow and I'm pitching the day after," explained Galvin.
"You're holding the dead man's hand, Jimmy," decreed Bat.
"Buffalo even wired me an advance of $500, so I'm flush. My Bison teammates open up their season in Chicago in a few days. They'll need my throwing arm in order to beat Cap Anson and his white stockings."
Bat's ear perked up when he heard the mentioning of a thick bankroll. He was on his uppers and on the scout for some cash.
"For half of your jack I'll get you out of here in one piece," bartered Bat.
"$250, you mean?"
"Meet me here tomorrow after the game. Bring your packed bag with you. Load some grub, too. Beef jerky and biscuits make for light carrying. I'll get you to Chicago in time to beat Cap Anson and his gang."
The ball yard was jammed packed with 4,000 fans for the season opener between the San Francisco Athletics and the Oakland Exiles. Pud Galvin, a seasoned drinker, shook-off his lingering hangover during batting practice. He cleanly fielded four fly balls hit to him in the outfield and he had cracked two long singles in four at bats. The game was tied at four all in the bottom of the ninth inning when Galvin lead-off.
"End this game now so we can all go home for supper!' hollered a well-dressed dude in a derby from behind home plate. Pud could see Bat's smiling face from among the laughing fans. The gunslinger tipped his hat in Jimmy's direction.
"I aim to please the fanatics," announced Pud.
Two balls and one strike later Jim Galvin got a hold of a pitch he fancied with the meaty part of his club. The speeding Spalding baseball was greeted by a mighty crack of the bat that knocked it over the left field fence. The audience stood up and yelled themselves hoarse as the former National Leaguer circled the bases for a game-winning home run. The spectators in the bleacher benches fought over the prized baseball.
"James Galvin is worth the money I paid him to jump to our club," McKnight bragged to a group of sportswriters as Galvin swept into the dugout with a tip of his cap.
"Now you need to keep him here in San Francisco," responded a smart aleck.
"With Muldoon in the hospital, Mulligan in the morgue and the Hoodlums all in jail from last night riot, I had to hire the "Hounds."
"They're almost as thuggish as the Hoodlums," somebody else commented.
The Hounds were as tough of gangsters as the Hoodlums but they weren't very clever. Bat knew they were trailing him and
Pud as they boarded the eastward bound train. After the final "all aboard" was called the two runaways leapt from the train.
They had to race across the tracks to jump on board a southbound train for Daly City. They made a third transfer and were
now heading for Carson City. Galvin was ready to doze when Bat jostled him awake.
"We get off at the first stop."
"I am no whiz at geography but I know we're a long ways off from the border."
"I hope you don't mind a long walk into the setting sun, Jimmy," said Bat. "We have a long haul to Lake Michigan before you can rejoin your team."
The two set their course westward towards Virginia City as Bat Masterson explained that the owner probably had hired
Pinkerton agents to intercept them in Carson City. It was best to throw them off their scent by cutting through the
sandy dunes on foot. There were objections made when it was made known that there was almost eighty miles of barren
wasteland in front of them. The baseball player was still protesting when a wagon drifted by and Bat hitched a ride
for the two of them. It was a family coming home from a visit with kin folk. Pud felt nervous as the farmer's daughter
eyed him with bad intent and the farmer's wife openly flirted with Bat. The four wheels and two horses carved off seven
or eight miles of the journey before the two escapees were once again walking beneath a full Easter moon.
"You almost got us tarred and feathered, mate," quipped Jimmy.
A troop of horse soldiers on a scouting mission kicked dust in the two men's faces as they raced on by.
"Beware of Indian raiding parties," a sergeant shouted at them.
"They'll scalp you and steal your fancy war bonnet!" shouted a lowly private to the merriment of his comrades.
Renegades were the least of their troubled as they stumbled into a mining camp of rough Russians miners. The unwashed laborers were digging into their plate of beans when the intruders made their way to the camp fire and requested to purchase some horses.
"Spies!" went up the call.
"The Yankees are here to jump our claims!"
"String them up!"
"Show them some of your green," prodded Bat, lowering his right hand to the pearl handle of his weapon. The distraught miners noticed his firearm and fell back to regroup. Shovels and axes began to appear.
"We need horses," said Pud, holding up his dough.
"We have business in Reno," put in Bat.
"I thought we were going to . . . "
"We're going to Reno," insisted Bat.
One of the Russians pulled a knife from his boot and was ready to let it fly when Bat sprayed the dirt in front of him: it was a display of speedy and accurate marksmanship.
"It'll be your heart next time, mister," said Bat.
"We need two horses," said Pud, peeling off some notes.
The miners offered two nags with two worn-out saddles for ten dollars apiece. It was highway robbery but they at least had mounts for the trek to their destination, Bat was very secretive about his navigation. The two travelers took off in a rapid gallop to put some space between them and the gold diggers. Perhaps Pud's wad of bills had given them notions of following.
It was getting close to noon when Bat Masterson, a skilled frontiersman and a child of the plains, decided that it was a time for a rest.
The gunslinger fell right to sleep as the city slicker tossed and turned. Jimmy finally gave up and reached into his pack and pulled a baseball out. Feeling the stitches in the ball somehow gave him a sense of security.
Dusk wasn't too far off when Bat stood up and started to get their horses ready as Pud stashed his baseball away. The professional athlete was buttoning up his luggage when a rattlesnake slithered by. The snake felt that the man with the bag was blocking the way to its nest. The ugly varmint decided to launch at the green tinhorn with its dangerous fangs and deadly poison. A shot rang out and the creature was split into two pieces.
"I divided it evenly," said Bat with a smile. "That's our supper."
"It beats the tough jerky I have in my bag," Galvin said with false gusto, putting on act for his friend.
As it transpired, Bat Masterson was also a very skilled prairie cook: the grilled rattlesnake steak strips weren't half bad. Some cold water from Bat's canteen helped to wash it all down.
"It tastes like chicken," proclaimed Pud.
Darkness had fallen over the desolate country as the two found a well-maintained road used by the Wells Fargo stage coach line that took them all the way into Virginia City. The two unloaded their horses for a loss of profits at a stable. The two wayfarers sought the train depot where they purchased one-way tickets to Denver. In Denver they had to switch lines to Dodge City, Kansas. Then there was another long and jarring stage coach haul to St. Louis, Missouri. Finally, they made the final lap northward to Chicago by box car where the White Stockings were going to host the Buffalo Bisons in the season opener at Lakefront Park.
The resilient Bat Masterson had stuck with Pud Galvin more than half-way across the North American continent: California to Illinois. He had refused to sign off in Dodge City, his current residence, and he wouldn't accept one dollar of his $250 fee until he deposited the baseball player at the entrance gate for the players.
"Here's your money, Bat," said Pud, pulling out his wallet and emptying it out. "I like you well enough but I have no use for cactus juice and sidewinders."
Bat peeled off a ten dollar bill and stuffed it into Galvin's coat pocket.
"Never let it be said that Bat Masterson ever left a fellow Irishman high and dry."
Jimmy thought that he had seen the last of the westerner, so he was delighted to see his old road companion sitting in the front row on the first base side for the contest. Jim Galvin, depleted and thin after his long pilgrimage from the westernmost part of the country, wasn't slated to pitch in the first game, but as it turned out he was called on to pinch hit in the top of the ninth with the score in a deadlock.
"Easy out!" roared Cap Anson, the White Stockings first baseman and manager. "Jim Galvin is any easy out!"
"Cap Anson is a loudmouth," retorted Jim as he limbered with two bats.
Scornful hoots filled his ears.
"Knock the cover off of the ball so we can all go home to our supper!"
Pud Galvin recognized the voice of Bat Masterson.
"You wasted your time bringing your bat up here, Jimmy, me lad," taunted catcher Bill Harbridge.
"Let's play ball!" warned the umpire.
Jimmy Galvin took a ball and then fouled off a pitch. He was one of the few professional baseball pitchers who actually enjoyed taking healthy swings at pitches. He took two more balls before taking a called second strike. He wasn't overly impressed with the servings of Terry Larkin, starter for Chicago.
"This Mick has a big stomach but not a big bat!" shouted out Cap Anson from his position in the infield.
Pud called time and stepped out of the batter's box. He picked up some dirt and rubbed it into his sweaty hands. He hated Anson because he was a known hater of the sons of Erin.
"Toe the mark," ordered the grumpy umpire.
On the next toss the pinch hitter found the impact he desired so much. The ball floated deep into centerfield and just out of the outfield's outstretched hand. The crowd was dead quiet as Galvin circled the bases with a homer. When he crossed the plate, he noticed that Masterson was no longer in his box seat. The two friends never meet again. Jim died a penniless pauper in 1902. Bat Masterson, who was a sportswriter with the New York Morning Telegraph, wrote a piece about Pud in his 'Masterson's Views on Timely Topics" column. It was Bat who called attention to the fact the Galvin was the winningest pitcher of all time with 365 wins (some sources credit him with 402). It took Cy Young several years into the new century to beat Jimmy's record. Bat died of a heart attack in 1921. He was found slumped over his typewriter.
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One shot one kill
—the slowest gun in the west.
by Jeb Stuart
Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, Wild Bill Hickok, John Wesley Hardin, men whose names are synonymous with speed and skill at using a six gun, yet this story is about a man known as the slowest, but deadliest gun in the west.
* * *
Named after the 5th President, James Madison DeSpain was born in 1845 in Tutwiler Mississippi to share croppers. At an early age he displayed an uncanny ability with a gun, and soon was keeping not only his family in meat, but making money by selling it to neighbors, which was good for him because it got him out of the farm chores. Jim also knew at an early age farming wasn't for him.
When Jefferson Davis called for 75,000 men to defend the Confederacy, Jim was 15 and volunteered. Because of his age and size he was designated a drummer boy, but Jim wanted none of that and appealed to General Jubal Early who assigned him to the infantry, where his ability with the rifle earned him the job of Company Sniper. His spotter, Dusty Stroud would tell how Jim would take forever to pull the trigger, but he when he did, he'd never miss.
Stroud loved telling the story of how Jim had made, what was then an an impossible shot and killed Union General John Reynolds at 400 yards away. Stroud told the story of how Jim had taken aim at the mounted General then 'Took forever" to squeeze off a shot, despite Stroud's urging him to hurry. Stroud told the men how he had laid beside Jim urging him to hurry with cracks like 'Jim if you don't shoot soon the war will be over", but despite his urging, Jim took his time, and finally 'Blew that Yank clean out of the saddle".
Jim returned after the war, but needing more of a life than he could find in Mississippi, he headed West to find his fortune and settled in a town named Octagon, so named because of how it was laid out, and found work as a Bar Tender, and supplemented his income by playing poker, a game he'd learned in the army.
Every town has its bully and trouble maker, and a man named Dan Green was Octagons. A giant of a man, stronger than an ox, and he always wore two guns with a Bowie knife attached to the belt and was always ready to fight, especially when he was drinking, and he wasn't particular how his target wanted it, fists, pistols or knives. Jim and Dan for the most part got along well and Jim was able to head off Green's trouble making many times until the night he did the unthinkable and cut Green off.
'You've had enough" Jim said. 'Go home and sleep it off".
'You little sawed off son-of-a-bitch! Fill my glass or fill your hand"!
'I'm not heeled" Jim answered calmly.
Pulling the gun he carried on his left out of its holster Green laid it on the bar and said 'Now you are, use it"! He stepped back, pulled his other pistol cocking the hammer as he did brought it up and fired, missing in his haste and hitting the wall behind Jim, well over his head. He cocked the pistol again as Jim picked up his and cocked it, and he fired again, this one going past Jim and breaking bottles on the shelf behind him. He cocked and fired again, splintering the bar in front of Jim and was cocking the pistol again when Jim, pistol aimed in his outstretched arm fired, hitting him right between the eyes, causing him to lurch back, then fall to ground with a loud thud. His body convulsed a few times, and then he was still and all was quiet.
One of the patrons slowly walked over, looked down at him and announced, 'He's gone! Deader than a door nail".
Right then Sheriff Dan McCray, followed by his young Deputy Johnny Brown came running in. Both had their guns drawn, but the older experienced Sheriff looked around, realized it was over and holstered his gun as he said 'Someone tell me what happened" and was immediately mobbed by the patrons all talking fast and wanting to tell of the most amazing gun fight they had ever seen. The sheriff finally broke through the crowd and came over to the bar to talk to Jim.
'From all that I learned two things. One it was self defense, and two you have more nerve than any man in this town".
'One shot, one kill its the only way" said Jim. 'Want a drink"?
'Sure" said McCray and Jim poured them both a stiff one. 'One thing I got to know" said the Sheriff. 'Green fired 3 shots you fired only one. You're kind of slow aren't you"?
'its not how many shots you get off, its how accurate you are. Green was fast, but he's dead. Give me accuracy over speed anytime" said Jim.
'You've got a point there" McCray conceded.
Fearing retribution from Green's family and friends the owner of the bar decided to sell the place to Jim and move on. Jim changed the name of the place to the Lady Gee, and soon had a reputation for serving the thickest steaks and running fair poker games. His love personal life also took a turn for the better when he and Lucy James fell in love. She and her brother Lynn helped Jim run the place and soon Jim was doing a booming business, a fact not lost on his two competitors, Reno Smith and Tiny Beamer.
Smith owned the Bar Ace. Smith was what would be called today a psychopath. This is proven by the fact that during the war, the man power starved South had discharged him he was a savage, enjoying killing way to much. Though he had an army of thugs who worked for him, he had no problem doing his own dirty work to, as he put it, 'Just to stay in practice". Beamer and Smith had not cared about the previous owner, as he had barely broke even but Jim was siphoning off their business, and he they had had dinner to discuss the 'DeSpain problem" and Beamer had laughed loudly at Smith's joke about 'Killing the competition".
Jim, Lucy and Lynn were walking down the side walk next morning when from behind he heard Smith yell 'DESPAIN! I WANT TO TALK TO YOU"!
Jim turned around and calmly said 'OK. Come on down to the Lady Gee, let's have a drink and talk".
'NO! We talk RIGHT HERE! I am Sick of you cheating the hard working men in this town with your crooked games and watered down whiskey".
'Now Reno you know that's not true".
'You're a liar, and you now have a choice. Get your ass out of town or get down in the street and face me". Jim knew he had no choice now. Claiming he watered down his whiskey and ran crooked games was bad enough, but calling him a liar in front of the town was something he could not let Smith get away with. He stepped off the sidewalk and into the street, while Lucy, her heart pounding said to her brother 'HELP HIM"! But she and Lynn both knew there was nothing he could do, Jim was on his own.
Jim pulled his coat back displaying his pearl handled pistol, and Smith did the same, then Smith, faster than lighting pulled his forty-five and began firing. Four shots whistled past Jim and then, Jim, standing with his arm outstretched aiming, fired once and Smith dropped his gun, threw his hands up and fell back hitting the ground and laying still. Once again Sheriff McCray and Deputy came up, and McCray looked at Jim, and said 'I saw. Justified, but damn it I don't know how you can stand there aiming while he's shooting at you".
'I told you, its not how many shots you get off, its how many are accurate" said Jim, taking Lucy in his arms.
Tiny Beamer had watched from the window of his office and now was angry. Smith and him had not been friends, but they had a healthy respect for one another as neither had wanted a war, now Smith was gone and it was all up to him to stop DeSpain.
He called one of his men, Rob Moran, a young would be gunny looking for a reputation into his office. He wrote a note and put $500.00 in an envelope along with the note and said to Moran: 'John Wesley Hardin is over in Hayes City. Take this to him, and wait for his answer".
'Why do you want him"?
'Because I want rid of DeSpain that's why, and I know he can do it".
'So can I, why not let me"?
' You saw what DeSpain did with Smith, you really think you can take him"?
'Hell I KNOW I can, DeSpain got lucky that's all. Besides, Wild Bill Hickok is Marshal over in Hayes, you don't want him in your business. Let me have DeSpain".
Beamer looked the tall, young Texan up and down. Wearing his two guns low, he looked like a gun fighter, and he figured what the hell. 'OK. There's five-hundred dollars in the envelope, its yours, and you get five-hundred more when the job's done".
Moran opened the envelope, counted the money and said 'Get the other five ready. I'll be back in an hour". He walked out and headed for the Lady Gee.
It was a slow night. The piano player was thinking about asking to be let go for the evening and Lucy and Jim were at a table talking about going to bed early when Moran walked in. Jim knew this was trouble, and told Lucy to go up and he'd be up in a minute. Lucy left and Jim watched as Moran ordered a drink, and then spit it out.
'DAMN! THIS STUFF TATSTES LIKE COW PISS! YOU WATERED IT DOWN DIDN'T YOU"? He was looking at Lynn, though he knew Jim was the owner, hoping Jim would speak up, which he did.
'Hold on there Cowboy. You've been on the trail to long and have forgotten what good whiskey tastes like" said Jim calmly. Moran looked at Jim, and a smirk appeared on his face.
'Who the hell are you"?
'Name's DeSpain, I'm the owner".
'Oh so YOU'RE the one who told him water down the whiskey huh"?
'Mr. that whiskey is not watered down and you know it" replied Jim, still very calm.
'So you're calling me a liar"?
'Yes I am".
'Mr. do you know who I am"?
'No, and I don't really care, now get out".
'I'm Bob Moran. I'm the one who gunned down Bill Sims last week, he called me a liar to".
'Sims, Sims....Oh yes I heard about that. I was told he was dead drunk and some young punk gunned him down. You're that young punk huh"?
Now Moran was angry. 'It was a fair fight! He drew first"!
'Oh I believe that OK. Being drunk gave you that edge you needed huh punk".
Now Moran was really angry. The smirk has disappeared and the look of anger had taken over.
'Mr. you've called me a liar and a punk, stand up"!
'I said STAND UP! I'm going to kill you"!
'Watch it punk, I'm not drunk like Sims was".
'STAND UP DESPAIN"!
'OK, You'll get to hell as fast sitting down as you will standing" and with that Moran pulled both pistols and fired simultaneously, both hitting the wall behind Jim. He fired again this time hitting the center of the table where Jim was sitting. His face turned to panic when he saw Jim aiming and raised both pistols and hastily tried to aim, but before he could fire again Jim did, hitting him right between the eyes. He dropped his pistols and fell back, as if pulled from behind and hit the floor. Upon hearing the shooting Lucy had stood at the top of the stairs and watched, then ran to Jim, clearly shaken.
'Jim this place is cursed, sell it let's leave here".
'Its over, relax Sweet heart".
'Over? It will NEVER be over as long as Beamer is..." She stopped, realizing what she was saying may entice Jim to go after him.
Lynn brought a bottle and two glasses to the table and poured himself and Jim a drink, but before either could down it, Lucy grabbed both and drank one after the other. 'Hey Baby, take it easy with that stuff" said Jim.
'Take it easy? How can I? At this rate I'll be a widow before I'm married! Jim, if something happened to you, what would I do then"?
'Don't worry. I've made my will out, you get the bar and the money" said Jim smiling.
'I didn't mean that and YOU know it" Lucy said, slapping his arm playfully.
As usual, to late, Sheriff McCray and his young Deputy came in, guns drawn, and realizing quickly what had happened.
'OK, McCray said to his Deputy. Talk to witnesses and get some men to carry him out", he then walked over to talk to Jim.
'Have a drink"? Asked Jim.
'Sure, and while we drink tell me what happened".
'It was self defense" said Lucy defensively.
'Oh I have no doubt about that Mam, but how about letting Jim tell me OK".
'Go ahead Jim, tell him, Lynn and I saw the whole thing"!
Jim smiled and said 'You were upstairs how could you see anything"?
Lucy, now very defensive said 'I was not! I was standing right by Lynn tell him Lynn".
Lynn looked at the Sheriff and Jim and Jim said 'Baby, let me handle this OK"? At this time the young Deputy came up and handed the Sheriff the opened envelope with the note and money and said: 'Sheriff you're not going to believe this but"....
The Sheriff interrupted him: 'I know, Moran fired several times and missed DeSpain here fired once right"?
'Exactly! Damn I knew Moran, he was fast! I saw him shooting bottles last week. Nobody could have drawn faster"!
'I'm sure. How about you going with them boys taking him to Docs and tell Doc I'll be over shortly".
'Sure Sheriff, anything you say" and away he went.
As Jim poured another round of drinks he asked the Sheriff, 'Are you going to tell him or do I"?
'Tell him what"?
'Its not how fast you are, but accurate".
'Yeah, I know I do have to talk to him. Should have done it a long time ago" said the Sheriff as he read the note in the envelope. 'Well looks like this gives me what I need to either try Beamer or run him out of town. Proves he was willing to pay for someone to kill you, which do you want me to do"?
'Give him twenty-four hours to get out. Tell him if he's still here then I'm coming for him" said Jim.
History tells us that Jim and Lucy remained in Octagon, had seven Children and ran a thriving business. So why haven't you ever heard of Jim DeSpain?
Countless books, movies and TV shows have been westerns, all containing a 'Fastest Gun in the West" character...who would think anything called the slowest gun in the west would sell?
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