November, 2010

 
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Issue #14



All The Tales
The Hog Lot Shooting
by Ellen Gray Massey


Ocie Tulley frowned as she handed the neatly typed and bound manuscript back to the young man who was eagerly awaiting her opinion. "Lies," she said. Behind her steel-rimmed glasses her eyebrows contracted, forming two deep lines in her forehead. "Mostly lies."

Affronted by her unexpected condemnation, he watched as with steady hands, she tied her sunbonnet straps under her chin, the shadows from its stiff brim making her wrinkled face even blacker. Spurning the young man's help, she pulled herself from the chair with her homemade crutch and limped out to the porch of her clapboard cabin. She wiped the perspiration on her face with a flowered handkerchief from her apron pocket and supporting herself with her crutch, stared across the dirt road at her hog lot.

"But..." Grayson's body stiffened at her blatant dismissal of his scholastic research. The presumption of this former school teacher! And after all his efforts to find her, overcome her suspicions of him, and persuade her to read his thesis. When he pointed to her brother's name in his paper, she had stopped shaking her head. Then she opened the screen door to let him into her living room when he explained that he wanted to see the actual rooms in her house where the dead men where carried after the shooting.

Controlling his resentment, he pointed across the dirt road where she was looking and demanded she agree. "But wasn't over there where young Mort Killion fell over dead?"

"That's where he tumbled off his horse--right over the fence into my hog lot," Ocie said.

"And over there..." his lips tightened into a smug line as he pointed to their right down and across the road about fifty yards to a big white oak tree in the woods pasture, ". . . over east there, isn't that where Pinkerton detective, Oliver Larimore, was mortally wounded by Mort's brother?"

"That's where the last bullet hit him." Ocie nodded her head.

"Then how can you say my account of the gun battle is lies?"

"'Cause them two fellers getting shot is about all you got right." Ocie eased her thin body into a homemade rocker on the porch, smoothing out her apron over her long print dress. Sighing, she rocked with a rhythmic squeak-rumble as the runners of her chair rolled back and forth across the cracks in the unpainted, rough oak floor of the porch.

"That was a long time ago," Grayson said, his frown deepening. He thumbed through the pages of his manuscript. "Perhaps you've forgotten."

"A long time, yes," Ocie agreed. "Forty-eight years last March. But I remember." Her eyes did not look at her indignant visitor, but continued to stare across the road.

Grayson sat on the steps, one foot swinging among the golden marigolds as if they and not the woman were opposing him. He looked alternately at his pages, at Ocie, and at the two fatal spots across the road, his eyes squinting in vexed concentration. A Model A breezed down the road followed by a cloud of dust which settled on the hood and canvas top of Grayson's new 1921 Buick touring car. Ocie's hogs grunted and nuzzled one another as they wallowed in the cool mud in the corner of the lot--the very spot where many years ago young Mort Killion finally lost consciousness and fell off his horse after earlier being hit with a bullet from the gun of Pinkerton detective Oliver Larimore.

"And . . ." Grayson insisted, "wasn't Mort Killion's body carried to your house, this one right here?"

Her eyebrows lowered as she nodded and pointed to her bedroom window overlooking the porch. "And laid on my bed, hog manure and all."

Grayson's self-assurance was returning, "Well . . ."

"And Wally's body," Ocie mumbled so softly Grayson could barely hear her. Tears welled up in her black eyes. One tear coursed its way down a wrinkled path to her chin. She wiped it away with her handkerchief. "His body was here, too, laid out on the porch." She tapped the spot beside her with her crutch.

"Yes. Yes, of course, your brother Wally."

"You don't hardly mention him in that story 'cept to say he was a guide for the Pinkertons. Varmints like the Killion brothers and a famous detective from Chicago--that's all you write about." Her mouth tightened as her eyes never left his. "What about my brother? He was killed, too. All you said about him was, 'The Pinkerton's Negro guide was killed in the gunfire.'"

Grayson looked away, his haughty manner softening. "Perhaps I should have talked with you before writing this."

Ocie nodded again in time with her rocking. "If you are the historian you claim to be, you sure enough should have. Didn't you wonder why Wally was guiding the detectives? Or why they were all here at his own place? Written history ought to answer such important questions. Ought to have the facts straight."

Grayson threw his shoulders back and raised his head, once again angry that she dared to criticize him—to censure him, a noted authority on guerrilla activities on the Missouri-Kansas border before, during, and after the Civil War. In a voice louder than necessary, as if lecturing to his freshman university class, he blurted, "I have read every word that has ever been written about the gun battle. I read the reports from Pinkerton National Detective Agency, and . . ." he paused to give emphasis to this fact, ". . . and I interviewed Guy Killion himself up there in the penitentiary before he got paroled." He paused to let the magnitude of this sink in.

Ocie grunted as if to say, "So what?"

"Guy Killion was the only surviving witness to the shooting in which his younger brother Mort and the Pinkerton detective Oliver Larimore were killed," Grayson continued. "And he described it to me in great detail."

Though Ocie looked straight at Grayson, her negative expression did not change. "Lies," she said.

Irritated with her attitude, Grayson opened his manuscript. "He drew a map—see here it is. I was impressed with him. He didn't seem a cold-blooded killer. His manner was reserved, but courteous. He told exactly where everyone was and what happened."

She grunted again.

"Hell, woman!" He'd had about enough of her disrespect. Looking from the map to the hog lot and big oak tree across the road, he explained as if to a child, "The map is accurate. Guy had already been caught, tried, convicted, and had about served out his time. Even seemed sorry. Why would he lie, especially since what he said about the event corroborated all the written testimonies?"

"Event?" she snorted at his choice of word.

Ocie pressed her lips tightly together. Her hands clutched the worn arms of the chair as she increased the tempo of her rocking. The gentle squeak-rumble became an ominous crackling, almost like gunshots as the wooden runners slammed across the cracks.

Grayson patted the rust-colored cover of his manuscript defensively. "Yes, this is a carefully researched and documented thesis. Because of its thoroughness, I've been asked to present a reading at the Western Historical Society Annual Meeting next month in Kansas City."

The noise of the rocker stopped—the only sound an occasional squeal from a pig across the road.

Grayson looked up from his manuscript at Ocie. The pinkish palm of her right hand pushed back into the recess of her bonnet a strand of kinky white hair. In the shadow of the bonnet brim, her eyes were soot black and flared in disagreement.

Aghast, Grayson suddenly understood her resentment and guessed what she wasn't telling him. "Guy Killion wasn't the only surviving witness to the shooting?"

Ocie's hands relaxed and her eyes softened as she resumed her gentle rocking motion.

"You saw it all!" Excitement replaced Grayson's irritation.

Ocie's eyes rolled at his stupidity.

"Why didn't you say so?" Grayson asked. The researcher in him was eager to learn what she knew. "In all the reports and coverage, the only mention ever made of you was that the wounded detective died here in your house."

Ocie wiped her face again with her handkerchief, but said nothing.

Suspecting her reluctance to speak through fear of retaliation from the other Killion brothers, Grayson said gently, "Didn't you know, Mrs. Tulley, that Guy Killion is dead now?"

Ocie released a barely audible sigh. She shifted in her chair to face him better.

"Yes, he died last month. Guy was the last of the four Killion brothers," Grayson said. "There is no longer any danger from any of them."

Ocie's rocking slowed to an occasional squeak as she studied Grayson's face. Her lips relaxed their thin, tight line, showing their red fullness.

Holding up his manuscript, he said, "Okay, since you say what I've written is lies, then tell me what did happen."

For the first time since his arrival, Ocie smiled, her white false teeth gleaming in her black face, giving her a youthful, pixie-like appearance. With another glance at the hog lot where Mort Killion fell dead, she braked the rocking movement of her chair with her good foot, leaned forward, and looked Grayson in the face. One historian to another, she began her story.

"The last gun battle of the war was right here in March of eighteen and seventy-four. Here in western Missouri the Civil War didn't end in sixty-five like it did everywhere else. The Killions and Jesse and Frank James, and some other Bushwhacker trash like them liked the shooting, killing, stealing, and raping so much that they just kept on. Kept killing northern sympathizers and helping themselves to anything they wanted--even robbing banks and trains. And what local law there was couldn't, or wouldn't, do much about it.

"My brother and I were born slaves. After the war we saved enough for the down-payment on this forty acres here. Some of our relatives had farms near us—lots of coloreds in the neighborhood. We farmed, mostly raising and butchering hogs like I still do, but to get cash to meet our yearly mortgage payments, Wally worked some at the docks on the Osage at River Bend when there was enough water that steamboats could travel that far upstream. Other times he took what jobs he could find in town—like guiding cattle buyers.

"Before I started teaching school, I worked some at the hotel. Coloreds didn't make as much as the whites, but the community of us former slaves here in this neighborhood then, we helped one another. Whites and coloreds together, we got along.

"The Killion brothers were often in this vicinity 'cause they had lots of sympathy among the white folks here. Some of the colored, too. The Killions were sort of heroes because they were part of the gang that burned out Lawrence, Kansas, in sixty-three after the Kansas Jayhawkers burned down River Bend two years earlier.

"Well anyways, the Killions would hole up around here in between jobs in this rough hilly country. Along the bends in the river there were lots of good hiding places and good bluff lookouts. People hid them. The sheriff and other lawmen could never catch them."

Ocie's eyes narrowed and her lips tightened. The pitch of her voice raised as she talked.

"But they didn't get sympathy from you?" Grayson asked.

She shook her head vigorously. "They thought they did. They'd stop here—we're right on the road, you know—and make me fix them a meal. They'd carry away with them anything they wanted. Wally had to rub down their horses and feed them. They never paid anything. Just thought it was due them—treated us like slaves again, ordered us around, and threatened to shoot us if we ever told the sheriff about them. Would have, too. We did what they wanted. We had to put up with all kinds of people in order to survive."

"It was a terrible time," Grayson agreed.

"The four brothers would ride in pairs. Never all together. If something happened to one pair, the other retaliated." Pinpoints of hate came into Ocie's eyes.

"Did they ever . . ." Grayson hesitated, wondering how to ask about the worst of all crimes against women.

"Yes," Ocie said. "That stinking, red-headed Mort Killion . . ." She clenched her gnarly fists as if strangling the outlaw. "Mort Killion came by time after time. The others would stand by and laugh, make vulgar jokes. Called me pig and lots of other words I won't say. To them I was no better than those hogs across the road. Only afterwards I could cook for them."

"So what did you do?"

The sympathy in Grayson's eyes encouraged her. "Wally and me, we figured out a plan to trap them."

"Tell me," Grayson said, leaning forward to catch every word.

"As long as the Killions just preyed on ordinary folks not much was done to catch them. But when they started to robbing banks and trains, then not only the local sheriff, but hot-shot detectives hired by the railroad came looking for them.

"One day in March of seventy-four, two city fellers checked into the hotel while I was working. They said they were cattle buyers and asked around if anyone had cattle to sell. Now Wally and me thought they were too well armed to be cattle buyers. They didn't carry the regular Smith and Wesson rifles or Colt pistols like most of the local men did. Wally said that they had an English-made gun called the Trantor, a .43 caliber with a 5 7/8 inch barrel. I know guns. I remembered.

"Now the guns aroused suspicions that these fellers might be lawmen, especially since there had been another railroad robbery north of River Bend a few weeks before. Talk was that the Killions did it. The sheriff had been around earlier asking everyone about them. But he quit looking after a few days.

"The cattle buyers hung around the bars and on the square listening to the gossip, we thought, hoping to get some information about the Killions. So we figured this was our chance. When the cattle buyers, one was Oliver Larimore—I forget the other—when they asked for a guide to show them where they could find some cattle to buy, Wally took the job. They planned on leaving the next morning.

"I pretended to be sick so I wouldn't have to go to work at the hotel. The timing was right, for we knew that two of the Killion brothers, Mort and Guy, were staying the night with the O'Connors, some folks catty-cornered across the section from us. We didn't know whether they would stay there for noon dinner the next day or come to our place as they often did. But we knew they would stop by sometime during the day. I stayed home so when they came, I could keep them here until Wally maneuvered the detectives to capture them.

"The road leading to the farm where they could buy the cattle went right by the O'Connor place. To check out the house, Detective Larimore went to the door pretending to get directions and to ask if they had any cattle to sell, while Wally and the other feller waited out in the road on their horses. Larimore chatted pleasantly a few minutes, learning that O'Connor had no cattle but a woman down the road did. O'Connor gave him directions to her house—the same woman that Wally was taking them to.

"While there, Larimore looked around for any trace of the Killions. O'Connor was nervous and seemed to want him to leave quickly. Though Larimore's trained eye didn't see any evidence that the brothers were there, he believed from O'Connor's manner that they were close.

"Meanwhile the other detective glanced around outside the best he could without causing suspicions. He noticed that there were more horse tracks in the dirt than one family would make, but he decided that if the tracks belonged to the outlaws, they had already left because many of them headed north."

Grayson interrupted. "How do you know all these details? Those men were all killed, and you were here at the time."

Ocie gave her pixie-like grin. "Yes, I was here, right on this porch almost where you are now, listening and watching for the horses."

"Then you couldn't know what they saw at the O'Connors. You're making all this up."

Shaking her head, Ocie held up her hand for him to be patient.

"Well, the Killions were at the O'Connor place all along, even though the detective fellers didn't know it. The outlaws heard the horsemen coming down the road and climbed to the attic where they could see the room below as well as outside. They knew how to keep out of sight. They had already hidden their horses back in the timber behind the house.

"I can't believe that those detectives didn't suspect anything. I'm sure Wally did. Then they did another dumb thing. O'Connor told later that the Killions watched them leave. But instead of going straight north on the main road to the woman with the cattle, Larimore led them northwest on an old trail that cut across to our house.

"Wally tried to get him back on the main road. Now even though Wally knew the men were not cattle buyers, the men didn't know that he knew this, so Wally could only object, and then go along with them. Wally didn't tell them of our plan—wouldn't have paid any attention to him anyways for white folks think we are stupid. He intended to tell them when he saw that the Killions were in our house.

"Our plan was simple. When the brothers arrived, I would feed them as always in the kitchen where you can't see the road. While they were eating, I'd get their guns, or at least maneuver them so that their guns were not handy. Then Wally and the detectives could surround the place and capture them.

"But, for this to work, Wally needed to keep the detectives away long enough to give the Killions time to get here. Going down the road a piece to ask about the cattle would do that. Then while the detectives would haggle with the woman over the sale, Wally could watch and listen for the Killions to leave O'Connor's house and ride to our place. Wally probably saw something at O'Connor's that told him the Killions were still there. But Larimore's cutting across and getting to our house first ruined our plan, so Wally could only go along with them, playing dumb.

"Meanwhile back at O'Connor's, Mort Killion was convinced that the heavily armed strangers were detectives when they didn't follow O'Connor's directions to the cattle. Rather than let the them go on their way, he convinced his more cautious brother to chase after them.

"I'll get rid of the son-of-bitches," he bragged to O'Connor. "Think they can fool me!"

"Here at home, I was about to decide that we missed them, when instead from the east road where I was watching for riders, I heard horses coming on the old trail across the field from behind.

"This trail didn't follow the straight section line north and then turn west as the road did, but cut across the northeast corner of the section through the fields and over a woody patch to join the road by our orchard. I heard the slowly moving horses before I saw them emerge from the timber.

"At first I thought they were the Killions, who sometimes took that trail. I was excited, but trembly all over, thinking that our trap was working. Then my heart gave a skip when I recognized Wally's roan pull ahead of the other two to the road in front of our house where he knew I'd be watching. He stopped by the hog shed. We signaled each other that we hadn't seen the Killions. He also waved me back into the house. We both knew this was trouble.

"I watched the two Pinkerton men cautiously ride up, guns out and ready, ready for the outlaws. Larimore on a bay mare was in the rear. Seeing everything was quiet, they joined Wally who waved them on. The first detective reached the hog lot just as we heard horsemen galloping up the trail.

"I grabbed the rifle from under my bed and crouched in the front room under this window that overlooks the porch and out across the road to the hog lot.

"Mort Killion, his face as red as his hair stringing from under his hat, was carrying a double-barreled shotgun. Guy, more cautious with his head turning in all directions, had one pistol drawn and another in plain sight in his gun belt. Hearing the hoofbeats, the first Pinkerton man spurred his horse west down the road and disappeared around the bend. No one around here ever heard of him since that day.

"Pointing his gun alternately at Wally and Larimore and backed up by Guy's gun, Mort Killion yelled out as he rode up to them, 'Drop yer guns, damnit.'

"Wally let go of his like it was burning hot. Larimore swore, but dropped his, also.

"Wally cried out, 'Mort, it's me, Wally. These here fellers are only cattle buyers from the city. They jest this morning hired me to guide 'em.'

"Guy was behind his brother. Alert, his eyes now watching Wally and Larimore, Guy dismounted slowly, dropping his reins to the ground. His gelding stood quiet in the middle of the road. Without taking his eyes off of Larimore and Wally, he pocketed Wally's pistol and then picked up Larimore's fancy English gun.

"'You're in bad company, boy,' Guy said to Wally. 'This here feller looks like a detective to me.' He studied Larimore's gun, pushing up the brim of his hat to see it better. 'This ain't no cattle buyer's gun.'

"'Aw, Guy, a man's got to carry a good gun. You know with all the killin' and robbin' 'round here you've got to have good guns to protect yourself,' Wally said.

"Poised like an animal ready to pounce at any second, Mort glared through the sights of his gun at Larimore. Larimore knew his danger, but sat very still watching Mort closely. The gun battle began while Guy was momentarily distracted talking with Wally. Mort squeezed the trigger just a fraction of a second before Larimore shot Mort with a number two Smith and Wesson he pulled from his gray coat.

"Both men were wounded. Mort's shot stuck Larimore in the right shoulder. Larimore's bullet went through Mort's shoulder near his collar bone. The red blood that spread over his coat was brighter than his hair that almost covered the wound.

"Larimore's bay mare reared at the shot. Guy's horse that was only ground-tied ran off, bucking and neighing in fright.

"Guy swirled around, crouched, and shot at Larimore. His bullet went high.

"With his left hand, Larimore neck-reined his excited mare up the road east and quickly cut off north into the woods for protection. Standing in the stirrups and turning back to fire again, he didn't see the low-hanging limb which caught him across his side just under his shoulder wound. As his horse galloped on, he fell to the ground, his gun flying a good twelve feet away and clattering on some rocks. Larimore didn't move--just a gray bump in the leaves and mosses under the white oak tree.

"Though bleeding, Mort spurred his horse after Larimore. Weaving from side to side, his long hair falling into his face, he held on to the saddle horn with one hand to keep his seat. Cursing and yelling, he pulled up short when he reached the fallen detective. Seeing that he didn't move, Mort fired two careless shots into Larimore's sprawled body. Then he reined his horse back toward Guy who was still standing in the road with his gun pointed at Wally.

"Wally was crying, 'I don't know nothin' about detectives, Guy. I was jest . . .'

"This was when Mort stopped at the hog lot fence. He steadied himself in the saddle. He leveled his gun and shot once, turned swiftly around in his saddle and shot again. There was a third shot almost at the same time as Mort's second shot. Like a sack of corn that had been dangling from the saddle horn, Mort Killion dropped dead from the saddle, toppling over the rail fence into our hog lot."

Ocie paused, her chin resting on her chest. Her bonnet completely hid her face.

Grayson said nothing for a few seconds. When Ocie lifted her head, her face was wet. This time she let the tears drop unwiped from her chin.

"And your brother?" Grayson asked gently. "It was him that Mort shot just before he fell?"

With one brief nod, she tapped the fingers of her right hand on chair arm as she continued.

"I'm sorry, but it's been a while since I thought of poor Wally there in the road. Give me just a minute, please." Ocie closed her eyes and took a breath to steady herself.

Ocie gathered herself and looked up at Grayson. "There's more, but I have to back up a bit. Remember, Guy was on the ground picking up the guns and talking to Wally when the shooting began. Guy's first shot at Larimore missed him, but, being the cool-headed one, he kept his gun sighted on Larimore's back as the detective fled. Guy couldn't fire again for fear of hitting his brother.

"During this, Wally was still sitting there in the road on his roan. Too late to run like the other detective did. He couldn't outrun Guy's bullet, and besides, Wally wasn't their enemy. The detective was. If he sat still, Wally wasn't worried about Guy. But Mort? A different matter. Both Wally and I kept our eyes on him, hoping he would fall from his wound.

"Mort was wild and swearing savagely when he returned from chasing and putting those two extra shots into Larimore's body. Mort paused at the hog lot fence. He steadied himself in the saddle and deliberately pointed his big navy pistol at Wally. He murdered him—shot him through the neck. Wally dropped to the ground almost at Guy's feet.

"Immediately, almost with the same motion, noticing a slight movement from Larimore like he was after his gun, Mort fired one last time in Larimore's direction. Just as he made that wild shot, a bullet knocked him off his horse.

"There were three bodies on the ground now—Wally in the road, Mort in the hog lot, and Larimore under the oak tree. Only Guy was left.

"When Wally fell, Guy booted him over to make sure he was dead. Kicked my brother just like he was a thieving coyote! Guy swore something I couldn't hear and then ran to the lot where Mort fell. Pushing the hogs out of his way, he waded into the mire of the pen, and knelt to see that his brother was truly dead. He removed Mort's watch and pistols and rummaged through his pockets for other personal belongings. Seething with rage and looking all about, he then glared at our house, straight to the window where I was crouched."

Ocie's voice broke so that she had to stop talking.

Grayson stared at her in amazement. "You were the one that killed Mort Killion, not Oliver Larimore!"

Ocie nodded. "Larimore's pistol shot at the beginning of the shooting wounded Mort, but my bullet finished him. It was what knocked him over the fence into the hog pen."

"Did Guy see you?"

"No."

"Hear the shot?"

"It was at almost the same time Mort fired at Larimore. Hard to distinguish."

"But you don't know for sure he didn't hear it?" Grayson asked.

"No."

"And you've lived all these years afraid that Guy would someday . . ." Grayson didn't finish. He dropped his manuscript in admiration.

Ocie resumed her quiet rocking. Her whole body seemed to be agreeing as it rocked forward and backward.

"You could have shot Guy also. Why didn't you?"

"He didn't shoot my brother. Could have, but didn't. Mort was the mean one."

"In my interview with Guy in prison, he didn't tell it like this. He said Larimore shot first. He bragged about how Mort, though mortally wounded with Larimore's bullet, did all that riding and shooting until he finally keeled over. That was the way he said it happened."

"Larimore's bullet only hit his shoulder. Mine went through his heart."

"But why did Guy look toward the house if he didn't see you?"

Ocie shrugged her shoulders. "'Course he wouldn't tell the story the way it really happened. Couldn't let anyone know that a colored person killed the notorious Mort Killion—and a woman at that. More fitting end to be killed by a Pinkerton man in a gun battle."

Grayson's respect increased. "And here you've outlived them all."

"Probably."

"What do you mean, probably?" Just when he thought he had the complete story, Ocie kept giving new hints. "Except you, everyone involved in that gun battle is dead now that Guy has died."

"Maybe not." Ocie's stubborn stance indicated there was more to her story.

"How's that possible?"

"The shooting brought the neighbors running right quick. I stashed my rifle back under my bed, and sneaking out the back, I swung around to the front when the others got there, just like I'd been working in the garden and just heard the shots. Guy was stomping around in a violent temper, giving orders to carry Mort's body into my house. He ordered the O'Connor boy to stand guard over him. 'I'll come back and shoot you if anyone harms his body,' he said.

"Guy would have too, even though the O'Connors were friends. Didn't his brother just kill Wally who was his friend? Guy wanted to make sure no one would molest the body, like cut off his head or string him up.

"Then before the sheriff could get there, Guy rode Mort's horse south to Arkansas to join his two other brothers.

"The neighbors that came were concerned with caring for Larimore, for he wasn't dead, though he had Mort's three bullets in him. The men carried him onto Wally's bed.

"And Wally? No one paid any attention to him, for they were either scared of Guy, working on Larimore, or were busy running to River Bend after the sheriff and doctor. Poor Wally was of no consequence. 'Cept to me.

"I grabbed an old quilt, spread it in the dirt beside him there in the road, and rolled him over on to it. Then I wrapped it around him and dragged him to the porch. By lifting his head and shoulders and then his legs, I managed to get him out of the sun up on the porch.

"Just when I had him stretched out and was putting pebbles on his eyes to keep them closed, Guy Killion stomped out of the house after seeing to Mort's body. His angry eyes held mine for several seconds like he was trying to decide what to do. Without saying a word, he jumped off the porch, climbed on his horse, and galloped off. I never saw him again. Or either of his two surviving brothers."

"You still haven't explained. You and Guy were the only survivors of the battle. Now, since Guy's death, you are the only one left. For sure Guy didn't tell you what happened at the O'Connors, so how did you know?"

"Oliver Larimore told me."

"But he was in a coma until he died the next day. The sheriff and the doctor both testified to that."

"More lies," Ocie said.

Grayson knew he had to let Ocie tell her story in her own way. "Then . . ."

"It didn't take the sheriff and his deputies long to make the two miles from town. They were here not fifteen minutes after Guy left. The sheriff left one man to guard Larimore while the rest followed Guy's trail. Never caught up with him, though.

"The doctor arrived soon after. Even though I was trying to prepare Wally's body for burial, the doctor grabbed me to help with Larimore. The doctor dug out three bullets, just like your account says, but they weren't where you said. One was in his right shoulder, one in his thigh, and the other hit his hand—not all in his chest as you wrote in those papers.

"Now that Oliver Larimore was no dummy. He pretended to be dead or in a coma so the Killions would leave him alone. But he wasn't dead, though he was bad off. The doctor fixed him up that evening, telling me what to do and promising to come back in the morning.

"By this time there was a crowd of people out here—not just the neighbors, but people from town and miles away. Ignoring me like I didn't exist, they helped themselves to any food they could find in my kitchen. They raided the cellar and smoke house, and even milked the cow for her milk. You'd have thought my house was main street in front of the court house the way everybody tramped through it, viewing Mort Killion's body and everyone telling everyone else what happened. 'Course none of them knew.

"Old Mr. O'Connor was the loudest. He told his story over and over to each newcomer how the Killion brothers forced him to put them up the night before, and about the cattle-buying strangers stopping. He boasted that he knew right away that they were Pinkerton detectives. He'd look through the door at Larimore's unconscious body lying in Wally's bed and brag, 'Yup, soon as I seen this here feller I knowed he was a detective. 'Course, I didn't tell the Killions that.'

"Stories got magnified as they were told. Instead of the eight shots actually fired, the talk made at least twenty. How with a bullet from a Pinkerton Trantor in his heart, Mort Killion did all that riding and straight shooting. He became a sort of hero right there.

"I didn't think I could stand it. Here was my own murdered brother lying out on the porch almost at their feet, but they paid no more mind to him than if he'd been one of our hogs that got shot with a stray bullet.

"As the doctor stepped out on the porch after finishing with Larimore, he shook his head and told the crowd milling around, 'Pretty bad shape. Don't think he'll last the night.'Then he ordered me, 'Go tend to him.'

"When I laid my hand on his forehead to check his fever, Larimore whispered to me, 'I'm all right for now. Go see about your brother.' Then he closed his eyes again as he lost consciousness.

"That was the first human act I'd seen all afternoon. Here he was on his deathbed, and ever since the first shot from Mort Killion's gun plowed into him at the beginning of the gun battle, the only words Larimore spoke were concern for me.

"My relatives and me, we buried Wally that evening. We buried him quick 'cause we feared with so many white strangers around that the crowd might turn ugly.

"Even during the night my house and yard was full of men. Several men took turns guarding Mort's body. Thought it an honor. Think of the tales they would tell the rest of their lives about the famous Bushwhacker. The deputy propped himself in a chair right outside Wally's bedroom where Larimore lay, for he feared one of the Killion brothers might come back to finish what they started.

"I stayed beside Larimore the whole night. It was the safest place to be with the deputy guarding the room. Also, I didn't trust anyone else to see to Larimore. I did what the doctor told me and some other things that I knew to do. My mother was a healer and I knew lots of cures. So I tended him.

"He roused several times during the night. Careful not to let anyone else see that he was awake, he smiled his thanks and mumbled a few words. I couldn't make out all he said. 'My fault about your brother.' 'Shouldn't have . . .' 'You saved my life.'

"At first I thought he was saying that my nursing him saved his life, but when he added, 'Good shot,' and 'Have finished me if you hadn't . . .' that I knew my nursing him wasn't what he meant at all.

"The medicine the doctor gave him dulled his pain so that he could sleep for short periods. In between he'd ramble, worried about my danger from the Killions and how his wife would manage if he died. He worried about the baby they were expecting. He'd grab my hand, confusing me with his wife.

"Toward morning his fever broke. His eyes were clear, his mind rational. We talked freely as everyone else in the house was asleep.

"'You're still in lots of danger,' I told him as I removed the bloody bandage from his thigh wound.

"He nodded that he knew that. 'But not from the wounds?'

"I shook my head. We both knew where the danger was. 'Everyone thinks that you killed Mort Killion.'

"He nodded again. 'Good. That's how it should be.'

"'As soon as the other Killions hear that you shot their brother, they will join Guy to hunt you down no matter where you go. They operate as far as Chicago.'"

"'I know.'"

"We needed a plan. Though my plan to trap the Killions cost me my brother, I knew that Larimore's survival, and mine, depended on our coming up with some scheme. This time we had to work together to out-wit them. Too late I realized that Wally and I could have shared our plan with Larimore. He'd have listened.

"'The doctor told everyone that you won't last the night,' I said. 'But you're not that bad.'

"As I put on the fresh dressing and wrapped his thigh with strips torn from my sheets, he caught my hand, held it a moment, and gave it a squeeze of gratitude. He studied my face like he wanted to memorize it.

"I mulled over the problem of the Killions for a few minutes, planning how to keep Larimore safe. 'You've been in a coma ever since you were brought in here and . . .'

"'Most of the time I've been faking that,' he interrupted.

"'That's what I figured.'

"Right then I knew the idea I'd been hatching might work. I glanced around to make sure nobody was awake and whispered, 'Now let's fake your death.'

"Larimore grinned. 'Can we carry it off?'

"'If you're up to it, we can put you in a coffin and cart you out of here to the railroad and ship you back to Chicago.'

"'I'm ready.'

"'I'll put a crowbar under you, and when the train gets underway, you can pry off the lid, get out, and hammer the lid back on.'

"'And my wife . . .' He smiled as he thought of her. 'She could have a funeral for me in Chicago and bury the empty coffin?'

"'Exactly. The Killions will never bother you.'

"We discussed the idea, carefully working out all the details so that no one would ever suspect he didn't die from the gunshot wounds like the doctor predicted."

Grayson's astonishment increased as Ocie talked. "And your plan worked?"

"Yes." The squeak-rumble of Ocie's rocker started again.

"Did he get safely back to Chicago?"

"Yes." Ocie's body was relaxed, her face beautiful in its new peace.

"How do you know?"

"I got a card. Want to see it?"

Grayson jumped up in his excitement. His manuscript spilled unnoticed down the porch steps and landed among the marigolds. "You bet!" This was documented proof of Ocie's story.

Ocie grasped her crutch to stand up. Grayson stepped over to help her. "I can do it, young man," she scolded him, and then laid her hand gently on his arm, patting him in apology for her rudeness. "Sorry, young feller, I guess I'm too independent, but I've been alone for a long time."

Letting the screen door slam behind her, she disappeared into her house. Before Grayson thought it possible, she was back again, pushing her bonnet off her head so that it dangled from its straps down her back. He could clearly see her elfish grin as she handed him a faded and worn penny postcard.

Handling it reverently, he read Ocie's name and address and noted the postmark and date, "Chicago, Illinois, May 12, 1874." He turned the card over and read aloud the unsigned note.

"Our baby boy's name is Wally."

The End



Incident at Eagle's Bluff
by Gerry Wright


Things were hotting up for Kit, not only because noon had just passed and the temperature was somewhere in the region of 105, but hot lead was flying from all directions. Something like panic had begun to descend upon the troop as it was being surrounded by well armed savages.

“Damn the renegade Indian Agents,” Kit cursed out loud as he checked the ammunition in his pouch. “Selling them guns”. The pouch was less than half full and he would soon need more shells if this fight was to continue much longer. Looking left and right he saw that, like him, other men from his troop were making as much use as they could of the sparse cover on the hillside. Those lying behind rocks were the lucky ones but most of those who had little time to find cover were lying face down in the dust, either dead or dying, but knowing the reputation of the local Indians they could be the lucky ones. Some of the younger troopers were using their shells at far too great a rate and would run out very shortly.

Pete, Kit’s nearest buddy on the slope, called, “I gotta get some more shells”, and made a move towards a dead colleague, but on leaving the cover of the rock behind which he was sheltering, was immediately cut down in a hail of bullets. He let out a short cry as they struck him, but he was dead by the time his body hit the ground. Firing continued across the hillside and there were cries from both Indians and soldiers as they died.

Had it been like this for Custer and his men? Kit thought, remembering very clearly the reports of that event.

“Damn stupid orders of damn stupid officers,” he muttered as he gritted his teeth, tasting the bitter dust and biting on the sand that had invaded his dry mouth and throat. His canteen was lying somewhere behind him farther up the slope, dropped as he had made his dash for cover. Were the horses at the rear safe? Were the men tending them still alive? They had been pretty well camouflaged when they left them the other side of the ridge and climbed up to take up position on the top. According to reliable sources, they would have the advantage over the Indians, but then, there they were, already waiting for the troop. They were lower down the hill, it was true, and had to fire uphill but it was they who had the element of surprise, not the cavalry. How had they known? It had to be that damned Indian scout Red Eagle. The stupid General trusted him, although Kit never had. It seemed obvious to Kit that he must have been feeding the Sioux the information somehow.

For a moment, everything fell silent. The gun smoke began to drift away in the hot breeze. Is it over? Kit thought. What happens now? A massacre just like the Little Big Horn? He quickly dismissed the thought.

Keeping his head as low as he could, he got to his knees, bent over double and ran as fast as he knew how, to a group of inert bodies where he felt sure there must be more ammunition as the poor devils had been among the first to die.

“I’m not giving up my goddam scalp to any murdering redskins without a fight”, he said aloud, through clenched teeth, as he ran.

Kit’s breaking cover was the signal for the enemy to resume the firing and with a vengeance, the silence ending as abruptly as it had started. The air came alive again with hot flying metal. Now I do believe in miracles, Kit thought as he ran towards the new supply of shells. He could hear the fizz of the bullets as they tore close by him and the whine they made as they ricocheted off the rocks he was dashing past, but he was unharmed. Many others slammed into the dusty ground around his feet, one hitting the heel of his boot, almost causing him to lose balance in his mad dash. Just before he dived for cover near where the group of dead cavalrymen lay, a bullet tore through his hat. Now that’s too close, he thought as he threw himself into the small shallow hollow among the bodies and becoming covered in the dust and sand. He found a canteen of water and splashed his face to clear the dust from his eyes and then took a long drink to moisten his mouth and throat. “The damn stupid General will pay for all this,” he cursed to the dead men. “And I’ll tell him to his stupid face, he’s the cause of it all”. He did not know that the General was already lying on his back, farther down the slope, with sightless eyes staring into the cloudless sky a bullet through his forehead. His second-in-command lay beside him, several bullets deep in his chest.

Kit did not know whether it was fear, anger or hate for the Indians that suddenly gave him an immense urge to kill, but at that moment, he knew for sure it was going to take more than one bullet to kill him. A feeling of invincibility filled him and he was determined to take as many of the enemy with him as he could. As a boy, he had read stories of the old heroes who stood alone and fought against all the odds, and won. It had been only in stories, but now he was going to make it a reality.

Firing and the sound of bullets passing harmlessly overhead or ricocheting off rocks filled the air, drowning out the buzz of the flies that had already invaded the corpses around. Searching the pouches of the dead men, he found enough shells to fill one pouch of pistol ammunition and two of carbine shells. He took an extra pistol from one body and a rifle from another, making sure that both, like his own weapons, were fully loaded. Looking around, he selected the nearest large rock that could provide good cover and made a dash for it. Once again, he became a moving target but ran on, ignoring the flying missiles, feeling sure now that nothing could possibly harm him. A feeling of euphoria engulfed him as he reached the cover the rock.

“They can’t hurt me”, he cried out loud, laughing crazily as he placed a carbine at each end of the rock so that by changing his position quickly, he could select different targets when necessary. The nearest attackers hesitated briefly as if unnerved by this man who seemed indestructible, but it was only for a moment or two. Around Kit more men were falling and the acrid smell and taste of the gunpowder filled his nose and mouth. “I’ll kill that Indian Agent with my bare hands”, he promised aloud. “Then I’ll disembowel the son-of-a-bitch and feed his guts to the buzzards”.

As he looked across the hillside, he could see that the troop was losing more men by the minute and it was becoming clear in Kit’s mind that there could be only one result, but there was no way those murdering savages would take him alive.

Very slowly, they were coming ever closer; close enough for everyone still alive, to see clearly the war paint on their faces and bodies.

Kit’s senses became extremely acute as the battle progressed, his reactions to every moment of each event were instantaneous and crystal clear and he was killing, killing, killing with ease and even with an increased pleasure.

For a fraction of a second, between shots, he paused, thinking that he heard the impossible. No, it can’t be, he thought. The only sound it could be was the angels coming for him but then, yes, he heard it again. Somewhere in the distance, a bugle was sounding the Charge. At that point Kit was absolutely certain he was crazy and hearing things, but then from round the side of the ridge appeared a troop of cavalry at full gallop.

The newly arrived men quickly dismounted and spread out at the bottom of the hill and began to advance upwards towards the rear of the enemy, firing as they came. The Indians now had two choices; turn and fight a fresh troop of cavalry with their depleted war party or continue up hill against Kit’s much weakened force. Choosing the second, they came on upwards, still firing and still dying and killing. As they came closer to the soldiers on the top of the hill, their appearance and desperate war cries were frightening, but Kit had long passed the point of fear. A sense of utter rage possessed him. Soon they were so close, that there was no time to reload their weapons, neither for the soldiers nor the Indians and so the fighting became vicious personal hand to hand battles.

The Indians appeared to be attempting to avoid Kit’s position, if they could, as they made a run for it through the cavalry’s lines. He, for his part, stood out in the open gripping his carbine by the hot barrel and using it as a club. Several braves had their skulls crushed by the time the butt was a mass of splintered wood and still he was screaming incoherently for them to come to him and die. Later he recalled that these braves were said to harbour a fear of crazy men, believing that they possessed some magical or mystical power. On they rushed, past him to escape over the ridge, a look of fear showing in their eyes as they glanced at him whilst fleeing.

Kit had lost all sense of sanity by the time the newly-arrived cavalry unit joined the remnants of the decimated force and he continued to yell at them as though they were still the enemy. At last, he became aware of a grey horse standing close by and a man sitting astride it.

“It’s all over, soldier”, the rider said quietly, “It’s all over”.

“What the hell kept you?” screamed Kit angrily, his eyes blazing, yet without really seeing. Two soldiers stepped forward quickly and grabbed him by his arms.

“You don’t talk to a General like that”, snarled the older one who wore three stripes.

“It’s alright, sergeant,” said the General. “I guess he’s earned the right”, and then added, as he looked in amazement at the number of dead Indians littered around Kit. “For now”.

The silence of the moment reached into Kit’s brain and he became aware that the fighting was over. His body relaxed. The two soldiers released his arms and he felt the madness drain from him. He looked at the Officer, saluted tiredly and sheepishly apologised.

“I’m sorry, sir”, he stammered, “It was in the heat of the moment”.

“You did well, soldier”. The General said, still gazing around him, “Very well indeed”. Then he called out an order, “Someone get these men horses and look lively”.

Kit looked around in a daze. Twelve dust covered, blood stained soldiers, hardly able to stand through exhaustion, were the only survivors from the troop at Eagle’s Bluff.

The End



Stagecoach Mary
by Bud Hanks


The ex-slave, six-three, two ninety-five, and if anyone wanted to stay alive they didn't give no lip to the gal with a six-gun strapped to each broad hip: Black Mary Fields. Fists of steel, toting a Hunter Arms eight-gauge shotgun and a Henry .30-30, she'd migrated from the Dunn plantation in Tennessee—where she'd been a slave and still worked after emancipation—to an Ohio Catholic order. The plantation Master's daughter, Dolly, now Sister Amadeus, had written her father and requested Mary to do manual labor and delivery work for the order, if Mary agreed. Mary agreed.

Three months after Mary arrived in Ohio in 1885, the order sent Sister Amadeus to Cascade, Montana to start a mission for Native American girls; she found the buildings in total disrepair. Knowing Mary's ability to work with her hands and personal drive to achieve, Sister Amadeus sent a request for Mary to be dispatched to Cascade, but it wasn't granted by the order until Sister came down with pneumonia three months later.

Mary worked long hours, seven days a week, remodeling the structures and caring for Sister Amadeus until recovered. Eight years later she became foreman for the mission. Men in town constantly complained that she made nine dollars a month to their seven dollars; and it 'just weren't right.' After ten years, the job and pay difference finally reached the breaking point: A Chinaman in town refused to do laundry without getting equal pay to Mary's. The next day a white man, who worked for her, screamed that he wasn't taking anymore orders from no colored, much less a woman. He punched her; she stumbled and started to fall. He grabbed for his pistol, but two slugs hit him in the chest. Her quick draw got the shots off before she hit the ground.

The Bishop was mortified that the shootout happened on church property and fired Mary.

Sister Amadeus couldn't stand to see Mary leave under those circumstances.

"Mary, I wish there was someone I could talk to, but the bishop has directed me to have you terminated. If I don't, he'll remove me from the order. I can't let that happen. I believe this is what God has directed me to do."

"I know, Sister. I remember you as a youngun. You always had the good heart. When you taught me to read and write, add and subtract, back on the plantation, I wasn't sure it'd ever make a difference in my life. But the learnin' has, and you have. No one has ever been more help than when you asked me to come here to be with you; that's why I worked so hard. To please you."

"You more than pleased me, Mary; you pleased God. Your book learning and pleasing God are your gifts forever."

"Don't know much 'bout God's help; ain't ever met him. But I do know the learnin' helped me."

Sister sat back in her chair and looked at the ceiling as Mary got up to leave. Sister motioned Mary to sit back down. "Come to think of it, I do know someone who's in need of a dependable driver. Have you ever heard of the U.S. Postal Service?"

"Sure. They had letters in Ohio and Tennessee. Can't find many out here."

"That's the whole point, Mary. They need someone dependable, can read, work a team, and get the job done. I believe that's you. I'll talk to the person tomorrow."

"Thank you, Sister. I'll see you tomorrow. Think I'll celebrate tonight."

"Celebrate with God in mind, Mary."

"I will, Sister. And I'll see if he can hold his liquor while I'm at it."

Two days later, Mary and two bushy-jawed miners competed for the mail driver's job. The competition was comprised of reading the job application, signing your name, hitching six horses to a stagecoach and driving the team down the street. The overall test would be timed. Only one miner could read, and Mary beat both men with the hitchin' and the gettin'.

The following day, she made one more run for Sister Amadeus. The run was to Helena for special provisions. On the way back, a pack of wolves attacked and skittered the horses, causing the rig to tip over. Mary stood guard all night fighting off and shooting at wolves. Come morning the wagon was righted, horses hitched, and supplies reloaded then she continued on to Cascade.

"What happened to the molasses barrel?" Sister Amadeus asked, watching the offloading of supplies and seeing the sticky barrel.

Mary, who still hadn't been to bed, said, "I had a problem with wolves and the wagon tipped over. Must have cracked on that rock it hit."

"You know the thirty dollars was all the provision money we had for two months. I'm afraid I'll have to dock your pay for the molasses."

"I understand, Sister. I can't thank you enough for the mail job, so's I don't mind the money. I got enough for my black cigars and some good whiskey. I'll tell ya. Don't never take no more horses for supplies when the wolves are runnin'. I'll be takin' my mule on the tough mail runs. Horses are too damn skittish."

"Make me proud, Mary," Sister said, and gave her a hug.

"Gonna make both of us proud, Sister," she said. A smile big enough to swallow all of Cascade spread from ear to ear.

Eighteen ninety-five was to be a most historical year for Mary. Her appointment by the U.S. Postal Service was for the second female and first colored to ever work for them. Making her first mail run with the stage, she drove and her Henry and 8-gauge rode shotgun.

About ten miles out, four braves whooped it up and stopped her horses.

"Hau," Mary said. "Chippewa, Cree, Sioux, Crow?" Mary spoke in each tongue.

"Who or what are you?" a brave asked.

"I'm a black spirit of your ancestors, and if you bother me or my cargo, I'll haunt you and your people forever."

"My uncle is Sitting Bull. He's not afraid of your spirits."

"You tell Chief Sitting Bull what I said. Now get the hell outta my way 'fore you piss me off."

Mary's quick draw had a six-shooter out, cocked and aimed at the talking braves chest. Eight eyes widened; they spun their ponies and raced away, whooping like they'd counted coup. However, from that day forward, no Indians tried to stop a coach or mail run driven by Mary.

Winter's high drifts didn't deter Mary. She hauled the mail by freight wagon pulled by her mule. Sometimes the snow would be too deep for the mule, and she would leave the rig and walk the rest of the way. One of her tales of historic measure was when she stopped the rig in a tall drift, walked the remaining ten miles to deliver and pickup mail and walked back to her stalled rig, then went back to Cascade.

Ten years of unfailing service—never missed a day or delivery—and her seventieth birthday approaching, Stagecoach Mary—her new name for always bringing the stage in on time—told the Postal Service she was tired.

Everyone, including miners from near and far, came to say thanks to Mary at her retirement celebration. Inside the saloon, Mary was being toasted with a shot of whiskey, when someone hollered something about a man in her life.

Mary picked up her shot glass, walked out the front door, downed the shot and pointed at her mule. "That's the only male I ever trusted in my life. That there is Moses; he led me through the wilderness."

The End