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.
* * *
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 â€˜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.