Saddlebag Dispatches—Autumn, 2016

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contents autumn 2016

columns hold tight, cowboy by Dusty Richards ................... beyond the trailhead by Chet Dixon ..................... you don’t see that everyday by Darrel Sparkman ...... heroes & outlaws by Velda Brotherton .................... shortgrass country by John J. Dwyer .................... prairie song by Linda Broday ............................... let’s talk westerns by Terr y Alexander .................. best of the west by Rod Miller ..............................

6 8 12 16 136 146 150 156

common cause by Gordon Bonnet ......................... lotsa bull by C ly Boehs ....................................... valuable treasures by Sraci Troilo ....................... partnership by Velda Brotherton ......................... killing hilda kempker by Richard Prosch .............. abilene stage by Darrel Sparkman .........................

21 39 57 91 113 125

features ain’t shootin’ the breeze by George “Clay” Mitchell .. dia de los muertos by John T. Big gs ....................... bender, part I by Michael & D.A . Frizell .................... breaking trail by Linda Broday ........................... digging for gold by Jodi Thomas ........................... winner ’s circle by Patricia Rustin Christen ..............

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photo by Patricia Rustin-Christen

short fiction

Submission Guidelines Galway Press is Oghma Creative Media’s western imprint, and Saddlebag Dispatches is our quarterly magazine. We are looking for short stories, serial novels, poetry, and non-fiction articles about the west. These will have themes of open country, unforgiving nature, struggles to survive and settle the land, freedom from authority, cooperation with fellow adventurers, and other experiences that human beings encounter in the frontier. Traditional westerns are set left of the Mississippi River and between the end of the American Civil War and the turn of the twentieth century. But the western is not limited to that time. The essence, though, is openness and struggle. These are happening now as much as they were in the years gone by. Query letter: In the first paragraph, give the title of the work, and specify whether it is fiction, poetry, or non-fiction. If the latter, give the subject. The second paragraph should be a biography under two hundred words. Manuscript formatting: All documents must be in Times New Roman, twelve-point font, double spaced, with one inch margins all around. Do not include extra space between paragraphs. Do not write in all caps, and avoid excessive use of italics, bold, and exclamation marks. Files must be in .docx format. Submit the entire and complete fiction or poetry manuscript. We will consider proposals for non-fiction articles. Other attachments: Please also submit a picture of yourself and any pictures related to your manuscript. Manuscripts will be edited for grammar and spelling. Submit to Put Saddlebag in the subject line.

Wow, it’s Fall already. The hardwood trees around my house should set off a riot of color this year we’ve had so much rain this summer. Football season’s here, and it’ll be pumpkincarving season before you know it. Before anything else, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to sit down with us and give Saddlebag Dispatches a look. It’s been a long road bringing this project to where it’s at, and we’re grateful for you and your interest. Thanks also for sticking around while we’ve had things under construction. It’s easy to put something together when it’s meant just for the computer screen. When you plan to put it in print, though, that’s a different story. We’ve done some real work on the look and feel of this publication over the last several issues, and it’s just about where we want it to be, so please excuse our mess and keep those suggestions coming. It’s been a busy time since last we talked. I spoke last time about a new photographer we’re working with, Patricia Rustin Christen of Porch Pig Productions, LLC. Well, now we’re not just working with her, she’s joined our team as Chief Photographer. And let me tell you, Patty’s a real cowgirl who shoots all kinds of western events, from national amatuer chuckwagon racing to Indian relay racing, mule events, and everything in between. You saw her photography in our Summer issue, and she has lots more for us in this one. Patty, Art Director Casey Cowan, columnist Darrel Sparkman, and I had a ball at Dan and Peggy Eoff’s Ranch at the National Chuckwagon Races over Labor Day Weekend, and if we shook your hand, thanks so much for dropping by and talking. What a weekend for western-thinking folks. My mission when they made me editor of this outfit was to keep it all under a cowboy hat. To help do that, we’ve enlisted the aid of New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Linda Broday. She’ll introduce you the top of the list of award winning best sellers in Western Romance in general and my good friend Jodi Thomas in particular. Jodi and I have taught many classes together and talked to many wannabees and writers at conferences, retreats, and events. Here is a lady that has won

many book awards and has lots of fans, including me. Our being friends goes back years when we met and traded ideas the first time perhaps at Oklahoma Writers Conference but I have eaten her chicken fried steak at her house many times and she is a mean cook, let me tell you. Jodi’s westerns are as western as can be and you might get a taste for her books—they’re as good as her steaks. Good people keep joining our staff and we are growing fast as we attract more great people. Award-winning newspaper writer George “Clay” Mitchell joined us last issue as our Features Editor. Venessa Cerasale has signed on to become our Administrative Assistant. Writer Michael Frizell and his artist brother, D.A. Frizell, have given us the privilege of serializing their tough-asnails new graphic novel, Bender, over the next seven issues. They’ll also be writing a nonfiction companion piece for our Winter edition explaining just who the Benders—the serial-killing family their story is based upon—were and how they operated. My novel A Bride for Gil was a finalist this year for the Western Fictioneer’s Peacemaker Award for Best Western Novel. Now it’s been named a finalist for the Will Rogers Medallion in the Best Western Romance category. We’ll find out if we’re a winner the last weekend in October in Fort Worth. When I wrote the story, I had no idea it would strike such a chord with people. Speaking of striking chords, my second novel in The Brandiron Series has some news, too. As I mentioned several months ago, The Mustanger and the Lady had been optioned to be turned into a full-length motion picture. Some people doubted if it would ever be made, but they turned the cameras on just last week over somewhere in Oklahoma. You’ll be able to see the results in about a year. I feel like a kid in a candy store. Also, watch out this fall for the fourth installment in The Brandiron, The Cherokee Strip, coming at you September 23. The tenth book in my bestselling Byrnes Family Ranch Series, Valley of Bones, will follow hard on its heels in mid-October. Thanks for your support and sign up for a subscription to our magazine. Until we meet again may the Good Lord bless and keep you.

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he Texas Badge by Dusty Richards is a fast paced and gritty story that pulls you in right from the very first page. Saddler County Sheriff Dell Hoffman is awakened in the middle of the night to murder, robbery and his jail emptied out. The murders are the worst he’s ever seen and he wants these killers brought to justice or dead. Clues and red herrings come with more twists and turns than a bucking bronc. When he’s discouraged, his fiancée, Guinn, keeps him grounded and on the trail. Dell finally works it all

out, and in the process, learns what love and friendship are all about—and finds respect in unexpected places. While Dusty has never shied from his subject matter, what sets The Texas Badge apart from most of his previous work is a grittiness that you can feel from the very first page. This story is both raw and dark. The Ranch Boss dug deep to mine this particular gem. If you’re looking for action, suspense, and a heaping helping of Western flavor, look no more. The Texas Badge is a must read. Dusty delivers once again. —SD

This story is both raw and dark. The Ranch Boss dug deep to mine this particular gem.



t was Friday afternoon at the little country school in Mincy, Missouri, and I was having a difficult time concentrating on my school work. All I could think about was that my mother would soon be at the school to pick me up, along with my three brothers and my sister for a trip down along the Arkansas line. We were going to my grandfather’s house for the weekend. We would go over the Mincy mountains— probably better called hills—and travel on a wagon road that connected southern Missouri to the central part of northern Arkansas. My grandfather and his family had moved from the Oklahoma Territory at the dawn of the 1900’s to build a life in the Ozarks backcountry. My mother was going home, but for the children it was an adventure. While the school teacher was hurriedly finishing up teaching assignments for the day, my mind and attention were elsewhere. I was busy listening for the first sound of hoofbeats on the rocky ground outside. My mother would be coming on or before the school day ended because our destination was miles away and we needed to leave while there was still enough light. She was not only coming to get us, she was bringing food and water to feed us as we walked through the hills. She knew we needed strength for a very long walk, and that we were always hungry. This horsewoman knew how important it was to travel across the wilderness in daylight. We had often heard stories about panthers, wolves, snakes and countless other dangers in the wilderness. Dark nights were thought to be the most dangerous time. However, my brothers and I were not afraid. Mom would keep us safe. After all, we had the best guide in the Mincy valley to lead us. The poem, Horsewoman, recalls a memory that never dies, though it is now decades old. It reflects a part of how families lived in the late 1930’s and 40’s. Many areas of rural southwest Missouri and northern Arkansas during that period still had a lifestyle similar to an earlier time, like that recorded in the journals of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft. Schoolcraft went

into the wilderness at Potosi, Missouri in 1818 to explore the Missouri/Arkansas Ozarks. Many of the pioneers who came through the Ozarks, forging westward, faced similar challenges. They opened a way for settlers like my mother— the horsewoman—to clear and till the land, build homes and raise families. She was part of a growing rural community that believed they could make a good, interesting, productive and free life for their families and others. —Chet Dixon is a businessman, philanthropist, and published author of multiple works, including the recently-published collection of poetry that shares its name with this column. He resides near Branson, Missouri, but his heart lives in the western wilderness.

saddlebag dispatches The Horsewoman The horsewoman Skillfully guided the grey mare south Through eerie dense forests, Across swift streams, Hoping to beat the sunset And starless dark. Not until evening shadows Brought lowland chills And fears of rumored creatures Did playful voices become still. On the road Small children rode safely Behind the grey mare’s saddle. Others walked playfully Listening and singing To the rhythm Of uneven hoofbeats On dirt and stone. The old, narrow road, Now a hunter’s trail, Lost in a forest Is slowly disappearing And almost home again. Whispers in the mind Rekindle its spirit and grace Where men, women and eager children Walked to far away places. Only faint signs remain Etched in solid earth. As each track and rut print Slowly passes by, Stories of wagons, horses and families Pass with no voice. Memories and history lie, Vulnerable and entombed, Waiting for someone to Capture their essence. Now the horsewoman, The children, The mare, The signs Have gone away or fading. These memories of youth Remain with me like ghosts, They sometimes haunt me, And will die with me forever Unless I be the teacher.



lright you lily-livered polecat—draw! Were there fast gun artists in the old west? Sugar Guns? Quick as the blink of an eye? Hollywood would have us think so. I’m visualizing two steely-eyed antagonists facing off in the street, hands hovering over their shootin’ irons and honoring the code of the west—waiting for the other to make the first move. Both have killed men. Neither have a drop of sweat on their palms. Confident. Deadly. Then, Val Kilmer totally blows out all your nerve endings and turns your legs to jelly with his little smirk and famous, “Say when.” Or, Clint Eastwood saying, “You going to pull them pistols, or whistle Dixie?” Along about this point someone realizes their challenge issued wasn’t just a real good idea. Reading original accounts and journals from “Ye Olde West”, the stylized standoff in the middle of the street rarely happened—and why should it? Now, all you old west gun experts don’t start railing on me. I get the NRA gun of the day news feed too. There was a plethora of firearms for just about every use. These are the one’s I’m choosing to talk about. Run of the mill, readily available shootin’ irons. The cap and ball pistols, and later conversions to brass cartridges, were heavy and cumbersome. A case in point is my .44 Mag. It’s close in size and weight to older cap and ball pistols and weighs in at three pounds and change. Until the shorter barreled pistols came on the market, the longer pistols like the Dragoon Colt and Remington were just plain hard to get out of your holster, pants, or coat pocket. If you thought it was going to be needed, like as not it was already in your hand.

Folks carried pistols in a variety of ways, because for most it was a tool, for varmints and such—or an occasional runaway horse. If you’re dumped from the saddle and your boot is caught in the stirrup, you better hope you can get to your pistol. But when it comes to arguments between men it’s like the old adage says, “don’t strap it on unless you’re willing to use it—don’t use it unless you’re prepared to kill.” And, that could happen by accident. Think of trying to shoot the gun out of the hand of your opponent, happens all the time in the movies, right? Well, a little harder trigger pull might move the barrel of your gun over a fraction and you’ve just punched his ticket. Or, you might start fanning the hammer and hit him, his uncle Jake, three bystanders standing by the saloon, and the team mascot in the butt. Is that six? Of course, you might miss them all. However, even with the inception of Sam Colt’s finest—all men are not created equal. There were plenty of lawmen and outlaws whose eyehand coordination was a sight to see, unless it was the last thing you saw. But, did it really happen like Marshal Dillon on Gunsmoke? Rarely. Some accounts tell of troublemakers showing up saying they’re going to kill the marshal. Typically called a loudmouth— we’ve all seen them. Then the lawman steps out with his gun already drawn and shoots the poor misguided soul with no warning. Unfair? Depends on your point of view. I can just see it now. A gambler or gunman steps out in the street with his Peacemaker .45 or sheriff’s version—they’re short barreled and you can get them out fast. The other gunman is standing about fifty yards away with a long barreled Dragoon, or Remington—maybe that Buntline Special. Much more accurate. As a case in point:

Were there fast gun artists in the old west? Sugar Guns? Quick as the blink of an eye?

saddlebag dispatches 13 GUNFIGHTERS OF THE OLD WEST by Norman B. Wiltsey From the 1967 Gun Digest In his celebrated duel with Dave Tutt in Springfield, Mo., in 1865, Wild Bill displayed the cool nerve and accurate marksmanship his legion of admirers claim was always his. The shootout even went off according to fictionalized protocol, to a degree. After an argument each warned the other that the next time they met there’d be powder burned. Hickok killed Tutt at an estimated range of 75 yards the next day; Bill on one side of the town square, Dave on the other. Tutt, tensed and nervous, drew first and got off 4 shots – all misses—before Bill, steadying his 1860 Army Colt with both hands, fired one shot that drilled Tutt dead center.

That would have been a Dragoon Colt with a long barrel. Or, maybe out steps Chuck Connors with his rifle. Well, that’s not fair! For more information on Hickock and Tutt you should mosey over to Tom Rizzo’s blog page at http://tomrizzo. com/duel-to-death or, his Facebook page at https:// thomas.rizzo.writes. Good stuff either place. From the marshal’s point of view, his job was to keep the peace and rid the town and territory of riff raff... not engage in some kind of contest about who has faster hands. There were a lot of cranky lawmen and it wasn’t smart to say anything bad about them that might catch their attention. Many bad guys and law officers alike were shot in the back just for that reason. But, it goes farther than that. Anyone that goes into harm’s way will tell you—if they need someone to watch their back, they don’t care if that person CAN shoot, how many trick shots

While the normal person was thinking, the gunman was already doing. He didn’t need to be fast.


saddlebag dispatches they can make, or how proficient they are with a firearm. Give me someone who WILL shoot. I think that was the difference between the normal cowboy and the badman. That line in their mind was already crossed by one of the men. While the normal person was thinking, the gunman was already doing. He didn’t need to be fast. This question is explored in my western Hallowed Ground. Is it murder to kill a man that you know isn’t as fast or good as you, even if they are trying to kill you. A not-so-famous frontier character was Frank ‘Pistol Pete’ Eaton. He reportedly killed eleven men by the time he was sixteen. At seventeen he was a U.S. Deputy Marshal working for Judge Parker out of Ft. Smith, Arkansas. Just to the west of Ft. Smith the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad (Farther north I think this was the KATY) was the start of no-man’s land, or Indian Territory—later to be Oklahoma. Posters tacked on trees stated any law officer would be killed that came that way.

Is it murder to kill a man that you know isn’t as fast or good as you, even if they are trying to kill you?

saddlebag dispatches 15 This outlaw territory was patrolled by Eaton, and the likes of Heck Brunner, Bud Ledbetter, Grant Johnson, Bill Tilghman and sometimes Pat Garrett. These men served warrants into the territory frequently. Quoting from the U. S. Marshals service: On April 15, 1872, eight deputy marshals were shot and killed in what came to be known as the Going Snake Massacre, which occurred in Tahlequah, Indian Territory. In 1872 it was reported over a hundred marshals died serving warrants in the territory. Some reports put it at two hundred. Now, I’m betting these marshals that survived didn’t walk up to the bad guys and challenge them to a shootout on a dusty street. I’m thinking the badman was cut out of the herd, one way or another. Logic tells me the lawman would have the ‘drop’ on them and give them a choice to surrender or die. Many times I’m betting there was no choice given at all, since all they had to do to take the outlaw off Judge Parker’s list is provide some identification, in some cases even ears, as proof. I heard it said by a Marine General, “Anyone engaging the enemy in a fair fight is showing a serious lack of preparation.” I’m thinking that would be a good rule for ‘way back then’, and today. Think James Garner in Support Your Local Sheriff. Now there was a man prepared. I can still see him blowing up Madam Orr’s house.

Oh, by the way, Pistol Pete died at the ripe old age of 97. Does ‘ripe old age’ mean old folks start to smell? I need to do a sniff test. So, back to the fast draw. Just Google “Cowboy Fast Draw” and you’ll find tons of information. There are several clubs and associations for quick gun artists today. Everything is about weight, no trigger guards, aluminum alloy barrels, and types of holsters. Body angle and least amount of movement play a big part. Methods of firing go from fanning the hammer of the revolver to thumbing and ‘slap cocking’. Looking over the listed times, the fastest seems to come in at about a third of a second to a quarter of a second. So there you are. That’s fast. Real fast. Sugar guns. In the blink of an eye. Especially if the other guy is wondering if the loop is still on his hammer. Could those fast draws have been duplicated in the old west? Maybe. Maybe it depends on how scared they were. —Darrel Sparkman resides in Missouri with his wife. He served four years in the Navy, including seven months in Viet Nam as a Combat Search & Rescue helicopter crewman. His column, You Don’t See That Everyday, is regular part of Saddlebag Dispatches, and explores all sorts of Wild West weaponry and topics related to its manufacture and usage.


o doubt, one of the most colorful outlaws to ride the wild trails of Northwest Arkansas and the Indian Territory to the west was Ned Christie. But he wasn’t always an outlaw. He was a Cherokee patriot, an influential member of the bicameral Cherokee National Council against the removal of Cherokees to the Indian Nations. Christie worked hard to prevent the United States from gobbling up the last of the Cherokees’ land. The day Christie became an outlaw began innocently enough for all concerned. U.S. Marshal Dan Maples bid his worried wife goodbye and set off with four men to capture Bill Pigeon, who was wanted for murder but was said to be a strong medicine man and not at all dangerous. For this reason Dan’s teenage son Sam would be allowed to accompany his father. Ned Christie rose early that morning, his mind on the council meeting to be held in the capital city of the Cherokee Nation, Tahlequah, Talikwa to the Cherokee. People would attend from all over the Nation to air complaints and listen to what the council had decided about some important issues regarding the plans the United States had for the nation. A meeting of the bicameral Cherokee National Council was comparative to a session of the United States Congress, just not as large. Something Ned Christie despised about the fate his people had met was the lumping together of the Cherokee Nation, the Creek Nation, the Chickasaw Nation, the Choctaw Nation, and the Seminole Nation, and calling them Indian Territory. But the threat on this day was that the United States planned to take over the Indian Territory and make it a state, the same as Arkansas or Texas. Arriving a day early in Tahlequah, Ned joined a friend to have a few drinks under the shade of a tree outside town. Meanwhile, Dan Maples arrived in town and began asking about Bill Pigeon. He then went to the same place Ned had procured his whiskey to get himself a drink. Ned soon fell asleep under a tree from imbibing too much of the rotgut. His friend staggered off toward town.

Some time later, as Marshal Dan Maples rode across a creek, a man stepped from the trees, pointed a gun, and shot him twice, killing him dead. It didn’t take long to blame Ned Christie, who had been lying alone in those same woods sleeping off too many drinks. According to many history experts, Ned Christie was framed by a group of Cherokees who wanted to join the United States and thought Christie was a rabble rouser. They decided things would go much better for their cause if they saw him blamed for killing U.S. Marshal Dan Maples. When news of the killing reached Fort Smith, Judge Isaac Parker sent out five men to capture that murdering Ned Christie and bring him back dead or alive. As it turned out this was a feat not easily accomplished. For five years deputy marshals pursued Christie. Time after time they’d think him cornered, and while shooting up his hideout, the man would escape. Famous lawman Heck Thomas once got a shot off that wounded Christie in the face, and sent two bullets into Arch Christie’s chest. With the help of his wife Gatey, Ned and their son escaped the law once again. During that battle Ned Christie killed his first man, and that weighed on him terribly. With the help of friends, the family hid out in a cave where the two wounded men were doctored by Old Wolf. It was then that Christie vowed to never speak a word of white man’s tongue again. After two years of unsuccessfully pursuing Ned Christie, well known Northwest Arkansas entrepreneur and head deputy marshal Jacob Yoes was asked by Judge Parker to choose a replacement for Heck Thomas and send him out once more to hunt for the murdering Cherokee outlaw Ned Christie. Meanwhile, Christie wasn’t lying around idle. His home had been burned to the ground by pursuing lawmen and he and his friends began to rebuild, this time adding double walls of logs all the way around. In the end, what they built was a fort, and it was christened Ned Christie’s Fort. Old Wolf burned his medicines to put up a protective circle and the

saddlebag dispatches 17 family moved in. Near the front door were Ned Christie’s guns, cleaned, oiled, and loaded. On that same day, Dave Rusk, the marshal chosen to go after Christie, and his seven deputies gathered. All were well mounted and heavily armed. They also took with them a wagon loaded with ammunition, food, and other stores. Rusk attacked the Christie fort with all he had and a long battle ensued. In the end, Rusk limped away with the survivors, yelling into the air filled with acrid black powder smoke, “I’ll be back, damn you, I’ll be back.” And sure enough, at the end of four years of freedom for Ned Christie, Judge Parker sent Rusk back once more to bring that thieving dirty Cherokee Outlaw in, dead or alive. But once again, the marshals failed when the dynamite they tried to use on the fort lost its fuses and refused to explode. The posse had no more stomach for continuing the long gun battle with Christie and deserted. So the dream Rusk had of doing something the famous Heck Thomas couldn’t do, and thus becoming famous, died. A Cannon and Several Pounds of Dynamite At the end of his rope, head marshal Jacob Yoes called in marshal Paden Tolbert, explaining that Judge Parker absolutely, positively insisted that Ned Christie be dealt with. Tolbert said he was the man for the job. He spent several weeks recruiting the best men to accompany him. One would be

Rusk because he knew where Christie’s fort was located. Then Tolbert sent a special order to Coffeyville, Kansas for a small field cannon with a four-foot barrel. He wanted it mounted on a heavy wooden carriage that would stand up under the trip into the wilderness of Indian Territory. He would blast that Cherokee outlaw to hell if he had to, but he would bring him back to justice in Judge Parker’s court. He and his men waited in West Fork, Arkansas for the delivery of the weapon plus the wooden crates that held forty bullet-shaped projectiles and enough ammunition and dynamite to destroy Fort Smith itself. The posse, numbering twenty-three, lit out from the small Arkansas town on the West Fork of the White River, and after a cumbersome trip dragging the cannon, crossed the border into the Cherokee Nation. One of the members of the posse was Sam Maples, the son of the slain marshal Dan Maples. He had a special reason for riding the trail in pursuit of the man he believed killed his father. He wanted to put a bullet in the killer. On that cold November night, the sky crisp and clear, Ned Christie sat outside his cabin alone. For the past twenty-six hours, his people had performed the stomp dance counterclockwise around the sacred fire that was said to have been kept perpetually burning since it was carried west over the Trail of Tears in 1839. Ned’s wife and son were a part of the festivities. Soon after Ned went in the house, the dogs began to whine and scratch at the door. He must have sensed something was


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wrong, for he rose silently, went into his shop, and began to cut locks from his hair. Once shorn, he walked into the woods and buried the bundle of hair in a deep hole. Back in the house he took out his best suit and a white shirt and laid them out carefully. With his hair cropped short, he looked different, older perhaps. Or maybe it was the knowledge that this time he would not escape the white man’s ire that darkened his handsome features. Outside, Paden Tolbert and his posse had surrounded the Christie fort. Tolbert was a good and honorable person, and did not want to kill the man he’d been sent to capture. He wanted to take him back alive. Despite the marshal’s pleading, Christie refused to surrender. With a heavy heart, Tolbert ordered the forty-pound cannon brought to bear. His shouts of “Fire!” roared into the still night, and one after another the projectiles were fired into the fortified walls of the cabin. One stuck in a log, then fell out, and one after another the bullets bounced off the thick walls of the fort. It was almost daylight before Paden Tolbert ordered his men to empty one of the wagons. Taking out all the dynamite, he tied the sticks into a huge bundle, lay it in the wagon, lit the fuse, and set the wagon loose on the incline to roll into the fort. Gatey and Arch and a few close friends who had remained with Christie in the cabin escaped out the back way. Ned Christie survived the explosion and raced from the ruined fort, a Colt in each hand. As he ran into a hail of gunfire, Wes Bowman, who had hidden behind Christie’s shop, stepped out and shot him in the back of the head. Sam Maples put several more shots into the body, as he’d sworn to do to avenge his father’s death. To Paden Tolbert’s dismay, the Cherokee

outlaw he’d wanted to take back alive lay dead at his feet. He ordered the men to remove the back door of the fort from its hinges. They strapped the body to it, and placed it in one of the wagons for the ride home. The slain Cherokee “outlaw” was put on display in Fayetteville, Arkansas before the long trip down to Fort Smith to report to Judge Isaac Parker that the man so long pursued by his crack team of U.S. Marshals had been captured. Dead. This is probably one of the single longest pursuits by marshals of one man in the annals of Judge Parker’s court. And the irony is that in all probability they were after a man who had done nothing but to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. In 1993, a sweep of theft rings by the Washington County Sheriff’s Department recovered a single-action Colt revolver claimed to have belonged to Ned Christie. It had been stolen from a collector in the Lincoln area. The photo below shows the posse that killed Christie, including Paden Tolbert, proudly photographed in Fayetteville standing around the body of the renowned Cherokee outlaw before taking their prize to Fort Smith. The only one identified in this photo other than Christie is the man on the far right, who was identified by family members as being that of U.S. Marshal Enos Plesence Mills. —Velda Brotherton is an award-winning nonfiction author, novelist, and regular contributor to Saddlebag Dispatches. She lives in Winslow, Arkansas, where she writes everyday and talks at length with her cat.


aptain Nicholas Harrington, Company B of the 5th U.S. Cavalry Regiment, stretched out his long legs, moving around to find a spot that didn’t have a sharp rock to poke into his back. No easy feat in this country on the Powder River, where everything was made of rock, where the land’s bones protruded through its skin. At least since Dull Knife and the other Cheyenne leaders had given up the fight two years earlier, the dust was beginning to settle and the territory descending into calm. How long it would remain that way was never certain. But for now, Harrington reveled in a chance to do what he’d joined the Cavalry for—ride, see new places, work with a company of men he trusted and who trusted him. He didn’t mind a fight, but was not one to seek one out if there was peace and order. He wasn’t lazy, exactly. Just smart enough not to stir up trouble for the hell of it. He closed his eyes, cupped his hands behind his head. Sleep closed in on him, tired muscles loosening, breathing slowing down. But then he heard a muffled conversation that brought him back, reluctantly, to wakefulness. “…better tell Captain Harrington,” a young voice said. That’d be Perkins, whose turn it was on guard duty. “I never seen nothin’ like it.” This was an unfamiliar voice, rough, hard-edged. “I seen lots. I was there after Rosebud. I seen dead people before. Nothin’ like this. Children, mostly. Can’t abide by them Indians makin’ targets of children.” “How do you know it was Indians?” The voice darkened. “Who else’d do somethin’ like this?”

Harrington scowled, pulled himself to a sitting position, and maneuvered his way out of the tent. The night was cool, with only a hint of the frost and snow that would descend like a shroud over the whole countryside in only a few weeks. “What’s this about, Perkins?” he said, trying to keep the irritation out of his voice. Perkins turned toward him, eyes wide. “This feller here, he rode into camp. It was shortly after you retired, sir, and at first I didn’t want to wake you.” He swallowed. “But what he told me, you’d better hear it, sir.” The stranger looked as rough as his voice sounded. His skin was craggy and furrowed, eyes dark and heavy with suspicion. He looked Harrington up and down. “You the captain?” “I am.” “Mite young, wouldn’t you say?” Harrington forced a smile. “Who are you, and what did you come here to say?” The man cleared his throat, the corners of his mouth turning downward. He didn’t like being talked to that way, that was clear enough. “Name’s Anson. I’m tryin’ to cross through before winter sets in, reach Boise or maybe beyond.” “On your own?” He shrugged, threw his shoulders back a little. “I had friends with me for part of it. I make it to Fort McKinney I’ll meet up with others. But for now I’m alone. That’s no crime, is it?” “No, none. But what did I hear about children killed?”


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Anson scratched the side of his cheek. “There’s a ranch, maybe ten miles north o’ here. I knowed one of the ranch hands, thought as maybe he could go with me at least as far as McKinney.” “I know the place.” “So I went by there. Maybe noon, little before, I saw it in the distance. I knowed right off something was wrong. There weren’t no horses, and I didn’t see nobody moving. Not a soul. But I thought, maybe they’re all inside for some reason. I didn’t have any reason to suspect nothing, ’cause everything outside looked all right. But my horse, he knew. He was acting all skittish, like he’d seen a snake. But I finally got him to go, even though he was shakin’ and sweatin’.” “And you went inside.” Anson’s scowl deepened. Clearly he also didn’t like to be rushed. “So I tied up my horse to the post, shouted out who I was. These times, you don’t want to sneak up on no one. You never know how they’ll take it, you know? So I hollered once or twice, then opened the door.” He shook his head. “Captain, I ain’t never seen nothin’ that bad. Inside was all these children and young folk. Oldest couldn’t’a been more than twenty, if that. And they was all dead. Throats cut, mostly, looked to me like.” “How many?” “Maybe dozen and a half, two dozen. I didn’t count. I figgered it was Cheyenne as did it. Thought some of ’em could

still be around. I didn’t want to be next, so I got out. When I saw your camp, I thought I better tell you so you could do something.” Harrington stroked his neatly-cropped beard. “That’s right. We’ll make our way over there tomorrow morning.” “You headin’ back to McKinney after that?” “That’s likely, yes.” “Mind if I ride along?” Some of his bluster and gruffness was gone. The man was scared. Harrington could nearly smell it. “That’d be fine.” He smiled. “As long as you can keep up. My men move quickly.”

The next morning, after a meager breakfast of fried salt pork and skillet bread, Harrington gave the command to move. At the head of his column of thirty men, he rode at a brisk pace southward, following the Powder and making his way around impassable gullies and rock outcroppings. He knew this land well. None better that doesn’t have Cheyenne blood. He grinned when he saw Anson urging his horse on, struggling to keep up. Then he sobered. Children. That’s not like the Cheyenne, slaughtering children. Whatever else you can say about them, that’s usually beneath them. After an hour’s ride, the ranch house appeared in the


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distance, with its rough-hewn corrals. All empty. He, too, was struck by the strange stillness. He frowned, shading his eyes with his hand. The place looked completely undamaged—but abandoned. “I ain’t goin’ no further,” came Anson’s voice from behind him. “I ain’t no coward, but I looked at that once and it was plenty.” “Wait here, then. The rest of you, follow me.” They rode on in silence, up a hill and down into the little valley where the house stood. “You should not go there.” A voice spoke from beside him, close enough to spook both him and his horse. He reined his mount back and looked to the side. A Cheyenne man, of perhaps fifty years, sat motionless on a rock beside the trail. He was dressed in simple buckskin, and had his long hair tied back. How they had not seen him, he couldn’t imagine. Maybe the strangeness of the abandoned ranch had made him unwary. Harrington rounded on the man, who looked up at him, face showing no sign of concern at being surrounded by mounted and armed cavalrymen. “Who are you?” “I’m Black Ear.” His English was smooth, and nearly unaccented. “The whites call me Jim. Who are you?” The man’s bluntness made Harrington smile despite the graveness of the situation. “Nicholas Harrington, Fifth Cavalry.”

Jim gave a gesture at the ranch house. “Okay, Nicholas Harrington, Fifth Cavalry. I tell you again—you should not go there.” Harrington’s smile faded. “Why not?” “You have been in battle, yes?” “Yes.” “This is worse. You go in there, you will come out with different eyes.” Something about the flat, unemotional tone in which the man spoke sent a chill down his backbone. “If the ranch has been attacked, it is my responsibility to see what there is to see.” Jim shrugged, and held one hand up. The meaning of the gesture was obvious. Go ahead—but don’t blame me afterward. He frowned at the man, then turned his horse’s head toward the ranch and gave a sweep of his hand for his men to follow. It was only a few hundred feet farther that his horse shied and a tremor ran through its flanks. He recalled Anson’s comment about his horse’s odd behavior. Harrington, though, was an excellent horseman, and with coaxing and a firm hand on the rein, he was able to keep the animal moving forward. Several of his men, however, weren’t so fortunate, and he heard cursing mixed with frightened neighs and stamping of feet. “Wait here until I call,” he shouted back to them. Many looked relieved at not having to cajole their mounts farther along.

saddlebag dispatches 25 He dismounted from his trembling horse, tied the distraught stallion up to the rail in front of the house, walked up the cracked wooden steps. His boots clunked hollowly on the front porch. He pushed open the door, which swung inward with a creak. In the shadows was a jumble of bodies. The nearest was face downward, but a deep cut ringed his neck, so deep it had almost cut his head off. He knelt down. It was a boy of perhaps twelve, clad in a ragged shirt and trousers, his face peaceful and his eyes closed in death. He went from one to the other. Some were girls, but about three-quarters of them were boys. The eldest might have been twenty, just as Anson had said. All were similarly mutilated. “Merciful Jesus,” he said under his breath. He returned outside. His men looked at him expectantly. The Indian had followed them on foot, and watched him with an unreadable expression. “It’s as the man said,” Harrington told his soldiers. “All children. And all dead.” He swallowed. “There’s nothing more to see here unless we want to give them proper burial.” “That,” said Jim, “is a bad idea.” Harrington rounded on him. “Why?” “You saw what was inside.” “Yes.” “So you know why I am telling you this.” “No. I don’t. Explain it.” But Jim said nothing more. Harrington gave the man an angry frown. “Are you the one who did this?” Jim burst into laughter. “I? Alone? You have done foolish things today, but this saying of yours, it is the most foolish yet.” The Captain fought down his own anger. “It would take a day or more to bury them all. We should return to Fort McKinney. They will send men to see to proper burial.” Jim’s lips tightened, and he shook his head. “As for you,” Harrington said, his voice tight, “you’re coming with us. We have an extra horse you can ride. The colonel will have it out of you. You’ll regret not telling me directly.”

Harrington expected trouble from his new additions— Anson made no secret about his distrust of Indians, and Jim’s silence made all of them instantly suspicious of his motives. But they made the two-day ride back to Fort McKinney without incident. Anson immediately left them in search of the man he claimed he knew. He seemed just as happy to be in the relative safety of the fort and to leave the regiment to deal with this peculiar business. Jim, on the other hand, docilely followed as Harrington brought him in to see Fort McKinney’s commanding officer, Colonel Abner Rowley. Harrington didn’t think much of Rowley, having served under him for almost two years. Rowley was a petulant and petty man who, rumor had it, was also far too fond of strong drink. He gave Harrington a smile that was more like a sneer, but even that turned to a scowl when he saw Jim following him in.

“What is this?” he said. “I’m here to make a report, sir,” Harrington replied, stiffening his spine as much to remind him to be on his best behavior as out of respect for the man. “There’s been an attack on a ranch. Down the Powder, two days’ ride south of here.” “Cheyenne?” The colonel looked at Jim, his eyebrows question marks. “Uncertain, sir. The victims were mostly children and young men. I saw no one over twenty. Most appeared to be teenagers.” “What’s he here for?” He pointed a thick finger at Jim, who stood behind Harrington, face still as stone. “He was there. Near the ranch. He warned me not to go inside, but of course I did so. When he refused to tell me more about what he knew, I told him that he would have to come along with me.” He looked at Jim with a slight frown. “He made no trouble, sir.” “You. Cheyenne. Come over here.” Jim stepped forward. “What’s your name? And your English name, none of that barking and yammering you call a language.” If Jim was insulted by the colonel’s disdain, he didn’t show it. “I’m Jim Black Ear.” “Who killed those children?” “I do not know for certain, but I believe it was my people who live in the valley.” Harrington turned on him, suddenly furious. “You told me that you had nothing to do with it!” Jim shrugged. “I myself had no part in it. But the killing of those ones, I do not doubt that it was my brothers who did this.” “Why didn’t you tell me this?” “You didn’t ask. You asked me if I had killed them. I had not, so I said no.” Harrington gave a snort of exasperation. Colonel Rowley glowered at Jim. “You know that by your telling me this, you are bringing down revenge on your own people. Will they look at a traitor so kindly?” Jim’s eyes narrowed, and for the first time anger showed in his face. “You would kill my people for this?” “Dammit, man,” Harrington snapped, “children. Your people killed children.” “And has it not occurred to you to wonder why all you found there were children?” Harrington opened his mouth, then closed it again. Honestly, it hadn’t occurred to him. The horror of finding young people so savagely slaughtered had chased any other thought of the situation out of his mind. “Probably because you devils made slaves of the rest,” Rowley thundered. “Children are weak and would slow you down, so you killed them.” Jim gave him a grim laugh. “You truly believe that? Why would we want white people with us on our land, joining us on our hunts, even in slavery? What we want is for the whites to be gone, but little hope of that. If you think we took the men and women of that ranch to serve us, you are a bigger fool even than you look.”


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Rowley’s face purpled, and he started to respond, but Harrington raised one hand. “Wait,” he said, adding “sir” belatedly. He turned to Jim. “You speak as if you know why. Since you will not answer anything but a direct question, let me ask you directly—why did your people kill only the children of the ranchers? And what has become of the adults?” Jim looked him in the eye for a moment. Harrington felt he was being sized up and found wanting, but he waited for the man to answer. “As for what has become of the adults, I cannot answer that because I do not know myself. They are gone. That is all I can say. Gone. You will never see them again.” “And their children? Why were their children killed?” “Those were not their children.” Whatever he had been expecting Jim to say, it was not that. He stared at the man, unsure even how to respond. “That is rubbish,” Colonel Rowley snarled. “Whose children are they?” Jim gestured at Harrington, then looked up at the Colonel. “I thought he knew. I thought he saw. You whites, you are more blind than I realized.” He held his hands palm upward. “He must come back. Back to the house where the children lie. Then he will see.” “Foolishness!” “More foolish not to see the truth.”

Harrington’s voice rose in anger and frustration. “Why the hell can’t you just answer the question?” “Because you will not believe the answer.”

It took a lot of convincing for Rowley to agree to let Harrington return to the site of the slaughter. At first, the colonel wanted the entire regiment to accompany him, but Harrington convinced him in short order that this would be a waste of resources, time, and effort. Then he lost his temper completely, and threatened to have Jim hanged for murder without trial. Harrington spent nearly an hour talking him down from that. In the end, he approved Harrington’s journeying back to the ranch, accompanied by Jim and two of his best marksmen and riders. “And I am giving you a direct order. If that Indian tries to escape, or causes any trouble, you are to shoot him on the spot.” As he readied his horse, he wondered at the turn of events. Why would Jim come all this way, and offer to go all the way back, if he was intending to try to escape? Whatever the man is up to, it’s not escape. But I’m damned if I can see what he’s trying to accomplish. And the Indian gave him no trouble of any kind, riding along silently behind them, helping them set up camp—although he

saddlebag dispatches 27 himself preferred to sleep on a blanket in the open—and strike camp the following morning. Harrington watched him, mind awash with curiosity. Jim seemed to be waiting for something, but what that might be he could not tell. It was at midmorning of the second that they spied the ranch house in the distance. It still had the same unearthly calm, and the horses still became skittish and hard to handle as they approached. Once again, Harrington coaxed his stallion up to the abandoned building. Jim, with less apparent effort, did the same with his mount. “Come,” Jim said after the horses were tied, trembling, to the rail. He pushed the door open, held it for Harrington, and they entered the shadowed ranch. “Do you truly notice nothing odd?” Jim said, his voice betraying incredulity. Harrington frowned, and after a moment he realized what was wrong. “There’s… there’s no smell.” “Ah.” Jim gave a slight nod. “Strange that bodies that have lain here for a week are not beginning to stink. And there are no flies.” “Is that….” He shook his head, trying to clear the confusion. “Is that what you wanted to show me? Is that why we’ve come all the way back here?” “No. When you came in here the first time, I thought you had looked at them. Truly looked, not merely given a glance and

assumed you understood. I should have known. You whites do that. Like your red-faced colonel. He takes one look, and that is all he needs to see and comprehend everything and know what to do. Such arrogance.” He knelt down by the nearest body, the young boy that Harrington had examined when he was there before, and motioned for Harrington to join him. “Now look.” Jim pulled the head by the hair. It swiveled on its nearly severed neck until it faced them. Harrington’s gorge rose, and he had to struggle not to vomit. Then Jim reached down and pulled open one eyelid. The eye behind it was a glossy, solid black, like a polished piece of obsidian. No whites, no iris, a black orb that was not in the least human. Harrington gave a wordless shout of alarm, and rocked back on his heels. The single black eye continued to stare at him, its darkness like a well with no bottom. “What…” he choked out. “What is it?” “Now,” Jim said, and let the head drop back to the floor with a thunk, “now you ask the right question.” “So what is the answer?” “We know little of these ones. What their names are, where they come from. My people have been fighting them for as far back as memory goes. Sometimes they are not seen for years, and then a group of them will arrive without warning. When they appear, men and women go missing. The horses know when they

saddlebag dispatches 29 are near. You saw your stallion’s fear. We think it is their smell, and the horses sense it better than we do. But whoever they are, they are enemies. To your people and mine. To all men, perhaps.” Cold sweat broke out on his back. “So… your people kill them.” “When they can, yes. And for a while, we are left alone. But they always come back.” “That’s why you said the ranchers would never be seen again.” “Once taken, none return.” He nodded, then stood. “I’ve seen enough.” His voice sounded thin in his own ears. Jim followed him onto the porch. The two marksmen sat on their horses nearby, guns at the ready, but Harrington waved them off. “You will rejoin your people?” Jim’s lips curled into a faint trace of a smile. “The three of you have guns. It would be more sensible for me to ask you that.” “Of… of course.” He looked back toward the half-open door. “I’ll have to figure out what to tell Colonel Rowley.” “He is the type who would believe anything. As long as it did not ask him to change what he already believes.” The clench in his belly relaxed, and he allowed himself a little laugh. “That’s remarkable. You figured him out correctly, after talking with him for less than an hour.” Jim raised his hand, and turned to leave. “Thank you,” Harrington said. “Having a common enemy goes a long way toward making a friend.” Jim gave him a long, steady, appraising look, and didn’t respond. Then he turned, descended the stairs, and walked away. Harrington watched him stride into the rocky scrubland without once looking backwards, and within minutes, he was lost to view.


gordon bonnet


ordon Bonnet has been writing fiction for decades. Encouraged when his story Crazy Bird Bends His Beak won critical acclaim in Mrs. Moore’s 1st grade class at Central Elementary School in St. Albans, West Virginia, he embarked on a love affair with the written word. His interest in the paranormal goes back almost that far. Introduced to speculative, fantasy, and science fiction by such giants in the tradition as Madeleine L’Engle, Isaac Asimov, C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien, he was captivated by those writers’ abilities to take the reader to a fictional world and make it seem tangible, to breathe life and passion and personality into characters who were (sometimes) not even human. He made journeys into darker realms upon meeting the works of Edgar Allen Poe and H. P. Lovecraft during his teenage years, and those authors still influence his imagination and his writing to this day. This fascination with the paranormal, however, has always been tempered by Gordon’s scientific training. This has led to a strange duality—his work as a skeptic on the popular blog Skeptophilia, while simultaneously writing speculative novels and short stories. His novels to date include Kill Switch, Lock & Key, Sephirot, and the forthcoming Gears. He explains this, with a smile: “Well, I do know it’s fiction, after all.” He blogs daily, and is never without a piece of fiction in progress.

Kim Redo completes the second part of the Cowboy Mounted Shooting pattern. There are over 60 different patterns (or configurations) participants may face at a competition. Riders are required to hit 10 targets in a span of 15 to 35 seconds.

think you’ve got what it takes to mount up and take a shot?


saddlebag dispatches

Cindy Kassler of Alma pulls the hammer back and gets ready for the next target during a practice session at Dry Creek Ranch on June 19, 2016. Kassler wears a more traditional Western garb for competition.


here’s an artistry to matching people with horses. It’s not just about selling a horse for someone to ride, it’s about a communication between horse and rider. This is what Bob and Kim Redo do for their clients. “We try to get pictures of everyone we sell a horse to,” Kim says, looking around their home. “Sometimes we do. Other times people just recognized our brand and send us pictures.” The brand is the name of their place: Dry Creek Ranch, nestled in the Boston Mountains north of Alma, Arkansas. Dry Creek Ranch is a long way from where Bob began as a horse trainer in Long Island, New York. Kim was born in Connecticut. Their lives have taken them all over the country, where each always stayed around horses. Through the years Bob has trained quarter horses, racing horses, and even polo horses before he made his way to rodeo horses. “Bob is like our guru. He’s had so much experience,” Kim says. “He’s like a walking

encyclopedia. When it comes to horse training, don’t hesitate to ask questions. Most folks who train horses are either really smart or smart enough to know where to find the answer.” Kim practices all the time and welcomes anyone with the desire to try out the sport. “But safety has to come first,” she says. “What we really stress is finding a perfectly-suited mount for each rider. Sometimes there is that connection and we can tell if it’s going to be a good match.” The Redos also do instruction all over the country on training horses in classroom-type settings as well as videos. The couple still gets out to compete and try to go to one new place every year. This year: Chattanooga, Tenn. Kim says there have been many benefits in competing from winning saddles, pistols, or just an entry fee to the next level of competition.

There’s an artistry to matching people with horses. It’s not just about selling a horse for someone to ride, it’s about a communication between horse and rider.

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Bob Redo (pictured, right) with a client. Bob and Kim Redo have trained horses and will match up a person with the right horse. The Redos have trained and matched horses with owners all over the United States.

Kim just wanted to be around horses when she was growing up. Bob made his way to California before he turned eighteen and even worked for a time as a stuntman. “It was one of the most exciting times of my life,” Bob says. “Every day was different. One day you could be thrown from a car, the next you could be riding a horse.”

Moving to Arkansas The couple was looking for some place that wasn’t as dry as Nevada. They had come to Arkansas to visit with a partner of Bob’s in Tontitown. The couple took the time to visit other parts of the state before returning home. They had stopped at Artist Point, a scenic spot north of Mountainburg and not far from where they will eventually settle. “We always meet nice people wherever we go, but the folks in Arkansas were really nice,” says Kim. “We were talking to the owner about what we do with horses and that we were looking for a new place to settle. He said, ‘We’ll be mighty proud to have you here.’” That was almost enough for Bob and Kim. “The people here have been really nice,” she says. “There’s a lot of horse activity and it was nice to see vegetation on a daily basis.”

Training Horses The duo was training horses and competing in barrel racing when Bob saw a mounted cowboy shooting demo on television. They attended a meeting about the sport, but nothing really happened. Almost a year later the opportunity to try it out came around and Bob and Kim have been part of it ever since. “He convinced me to try it. I just wanted to team rope,” says Kim. “Thinking back on it… I had never handled a pistol. Now, I’ve used guns on snakes and such, but it wasn’t for me.” Kim has done every kind of horseback riding, but when she began cowboy mounted shooting, she went back to the basics. Kim told the person instructing her to treat her like a beginner, and she’s been riding the patterns ever since. “There’s so many different things to train horses for. It’s much more difficult to train horses for cowboy mounted shooting,” Kim says. Bob competed, but time catches up with everyone. He demonstrated how it’s difficult to get the acrossthe-chest shots and keeping his hand steady is a task. “They’re thinking about adding a super senior class for the old guys,” Kim says, kidding her husband. “But we do have a guy who’s eighty-four years old competing.”


saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches 35 Aside from helping with the horse training, Bob does custom leatherwork including the holsters used by the riders.

Growing Family The sport has two associations, the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association and the Mounted Shooters of America. It has even picked up a corporate sponsor: Wrangler. “What I like is that it has no judges and no partners,” says Kim. “It all rests upon how well you do. Just you and the horse.” Kids even participate, to help the sport continue to grow. Kim said some wil be tough to beat when these “fearless” kids get older. “We have to out-think the kids and use strategy,” she says. “We have to know the horses’ strengths and the competitors, and how they will shoot. “This may be the best-organized group I have ever been a part of, ” Kim says. “And that all filters down to the local clubs.” She adds that the biggest requirement for cowboy mounted shooting is focus. A rider has to focus on what he or she is doing and the focus helps with forming a connection with the horse. “We have folks from all walks of life participating, doctors, lawyers, even engineers. They all play at the

Cindy Kassler runs the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Pattern. Her revolver is loaded only with black powder, not bullets. The heat and concussion from the powder is enough to pop the balloons lining the range at 20 feet.

same level,” she says. “The doctor who performed Bob’s bypass surgery… we met him through cowboy mounted shooting. “We’re a tight-knit family,” Kim says of the other participants. She related a story of how they were transporting some saddles to an event in Texas when their car broke down just inside the Texas border. They made a phone call explaining their predicament. Little did they know what wheels were put into motion. Someone arrived with a truck for them to drive and got their car to a body shop. They even brought their car back to them in Arkansas. Instead of accepting a payment, they wanted a horse from the Redos. “I tried to explain to them that it could take six to nine months before we had a horse for them to meet,” Kim says. “They said that was okay. That’s just the way it is.” —George “Clay” Mitchell is an award-winning reporter and photographer. When he’s not on the trail writing for Saddlebag Dispatches, he works for the Crawford County Press-Argus Courier in Van Buren, Arkansas, where he has served as Sports Editor for many years.


saddlebag dispatches

cowboy mounted shooting requires skill in both horsemanship and shooting.


owboy Mounted Shooting places a rider and horse in a timed event to hit ten targets. The rider has two single-action .45 caliber revolvers loaded with five shots each. (The single-action revolvers must have the hammer cocked each time before shooting.) Only fixed sight single-action revolvers of .45 Colt caliber, designed prior to 1898, or reproductions or replicas are allowed to be used. The guns are loaded simply with black powder cartridges. The heat and shot (which is only good for about fifteen to twenty feet) is enough to break the target balloons for the competition. This makes the event suitable for an indoor arena without endangering spectators with a stray shot. All this is done while guiding a horse at full speed. Which is why the communication part of the horse and rider is very important. The targets are arranged in patterns. There are over sixty such patterns used for competition and riders won’t know what specific pattern is used until the day of the event. There are penalties (added time) for missing targets, running the wrong pattern, dropping a gun, etc. However, no more than sixty seconds is added to a person’s time. With each pattern lasting

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it’s also one of the fastest-growing equestrian sports in the united states. between fifteen to thirty-five seconds… the penalties can be rather costly. The competition is based upon the number of “quality” wins a rider has. Such as, a rider with at least three wins against three competitors of the same rank. The number of wins needed and competition faced increases as well. The sport even has an apprentice level for beginners to get used to the competition at an event. This is a family event. Kids can compete. However, the younger ones just run the patterns. Some competitions may allow some older kids to shoot cap pistols at the targets. Old kids, once they run the pattern, can dismount and shoot at targets on the ground if they’re standing with an adult (usually a parent or guardian). Riders are expected to dress in western attire, for the competition once required that all competitors had to be dressed in period clothing from the Old West. However, the rules became more relaxed when Wrangler became a corporate sponsor. Now, both men and women can wear jeans, but the pants must be covered with chaps. “When we went to our first competition, everyone was dressed in some outfit,” said Kim. “It was so fantastic. It was like being on a movie set.”


eon walks to the barbed wire fence and sticks his tongue out at the bull. He laughs and kicks the dirt with his boot. “See! He don’t do nothing. Tommy Don’s a liar,” he says. “He’s such a liar,” I say, “why won’t you run across the field with me?” “I don’t want to, that’s why.” “Well, I’m gonna go over the fence and run around him to prove he’s a liar. He says he ran past him when he never did.” “He took his tail,” Leon says, his mouth twisting into a snarl. “He says,” I mumble and spit. “Look at him! Look at him!” he yells suddenly. I look up to see the bull backing up, lowering his head. Then the beast stops and stares at us again, his nose ring dripping cud and snot. “God, he’s mean,” Leon says and backs off the wire. “Bullshit,” I say, climbing over the wavery line, tearing the back of my sleeve as I drop to the ground. I’m wearing Leon’s hand-me-down shirt and overalls, both threadbare and faded past color in the elbows and knees. Most likely, Aunt Josie won’t care about the rip, and even if she does, I don’t. I’m a cowboy now, in my own rodeo. The bull makes a low moan, and I back to the fence, waiting. I ease my foot up the lower wire, my heel sliding over a barb and settling on a place I hope will be my getaway if I need it. “You better come outta there, Girl. You could get killed,” Leon says. I hate it when he calls me Girl. We come to fists over it sometimes, but my whole family calls me this one time or another, so I let it go for now. I wish to God I’d never heard

Mom tell the story about how she knew, just knew in her gut, I was gonna be a girl when I was born and how everybody walked around for a week afterward, saying, “Guess what? It’s a Girl!” My nickname’s “Shypoke,” by my uncle, that everybody’s shortened to “Shike.” Leon calls me this unless he’s feeling like a boy and wants to show it. “Shut up, Leon. You got no right to be telling me anything. You climb over the fence, then you can tell me what ta do.” The bull stands puffing air through his nose. “He’s fast. Tommy Don said. You proved yourself. Why don’t we go home?” His voice is near a whine. The bull’s weight shifts toward his front legs. “He’s getting ready to run, Shike. He is. I think you oughta come outta there. Come on. I wanna go home.” “Shut up, Leon,” I say. “You scared, you go on home. I’m telling ya, I’m doing this.” I jump down off the wire, still staying close, but I move back and forth in front of the bull like I have a cape. He stands still, making no noise. “Fat ass,” I yell and begin to run. He’s fat and dumb, I’m thinking, and I can fly past him before he gets turned around. I don’t see him move, only the thick brown smell of the heat off his hide as I make a wide arch around him. I am flying, the grass like razors against my bare feet, and then I hear Leon screaming, see him running along the barbed fence, his arms jerking crazily toward the far corner of the field. I run toward him, looking back just enough to hear the hooves pounding and catch a glimpse of the massive head down, gaining speed toward me.

saddlebag dispatches 41 “No, there. The gate,” Leon screams. “The gate, the gate.” His arms are running with me in a steady stream to an opening just big enough for me to get through. In a desperate lunge, I throw myself to the left as the bull runs past the gate and fence on the right, and I am through the opening before he has time to move back around toward me. “Jesus H. Christ and all his disciples! You almost got it, Shike, I’m here to tell ya,” he pants. I’m laughing, a rumble in me, flowing through my shaking legs and hands. “I did it, didn’t I? Fuck you, Tommy Don. Fuck your eyes,” I yell at my freedom.

cly Boehs



ly Boehs (pronounced Klī Bāz) was born and raised in Oklahoma. She received her MFA in Design and MA in Art from The University of Oklahoma in the ‘70s. After graduation, she moved east and ended up teaching art on Long Island and in upstate New York, where she has lived in the Finger Lakes area for over thirty years. She has been a member of Zee’s writing circles in Ithaca, New York, and various regional writing and art groups including The Georges and The 3pm Club and was a playwright, stage and costume designer and participating member of the original theater group, 3rd Floor Productions, in Ithaca, New York, for nine years. She has exhibited her art and has created art ritual-performance in Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and New York. She has read her stories publically, including on television and radio. Cly believes that we can be saved by deep conversations, books, and art, while our imagination and wonderment are what really keep us alive. This philosophy is readily apparent in her literary work. Her first novel, Back Then, will be published in 2017 by Foyle Press, an imprint of Oghma Creative Media. In the meantime, she’s already hard at work on her next novel.


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Child with her face painted to resemble a skull. Festival of our Lord of the Conquest.

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“What’s it all about?” I asked her. “You know, the dancing and the shrines and the skull masks and everything.”


hen my wife and I were visiting San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, a few years ago, we literally stumbled on a festival taking place in the central square. People dressed in indigenous costumes crowded into the street. There were drums, and dancing, and skeletal masks that had a definite supernatural flavor. There were Mexican cowboys with whips and tribal dancers wielding machetes in time to drums. There were shrines that looked like they would be at home in Haiti Voodoo ceremonies. People wore devil costumes that made them look like they’d jumped off a bottle of Louisana Red Devil Hot Sauce. There were plenty of skulls too, artistic renderings of human skulls everywhere we turned. I stepped into a nearby tourist center and looked for some official information. The only thing I found was a poster for the Festival of Our Lord of the Conquest. The date was right, but the brief printed explanation was in Spanish and my facility with the language wasn’t up to the task. We watched the ceremony go on for hours and then went back to our bed and breakfast in a total sate of confusion. The maid was there. She spoke a bit of English, and combined with my Spanish, I thought I might piece together the theme of this Festival we’d witnessed.

“What’s it all about?” I asked her. “You know, the dancing and the shrines and the skull masks and everything.” She looked at me like that was perhaps the strangest question any North American had ever asked her. “It’s about Jesus.” She shrugged. “Don’t you have Catholics in Los Estados Unidos?” “I thought we did,” I said, “But I’m beginning to wonder.”

A Blending of Cultures

The Spanish didn’t come to the Western World to escape religious or political persecution. They meant to colonize, but they didn’t envision a massive Caucasian population building cities, establishing businesses, creating a western hemisphere version of Europe. The Spanish came to take whatever wealth they found in the new world with as much efficiency as possible. They created a plantation economy, a feudal hacienda system that treated the Indian population like chattel. They set their sights on changing the indigenous’ pagan ways by forcing them to convert to Catholicism. That plan hadn’t exactly gone well during the Crusades but the indigenous Mexicans were primitive. They didn’t have metals, or gunpowder, or even horses. There was no way they could stand up to the European invaders.


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The Aztec collected skulls and even whole skeletons, and stored them in much the same way, Europeans did in their crypts.

A masked Catrina holds a bouquet of marigolds among a group of mummers.

saddlebag dispatches 47 The problem was, there were so many Indians in Mexico, and there would never be all that many Spanish. That challenge of numbers led to a blending of religions and cultures different from anything anywhere else in the world. The Hispanic and the Central American Indigenous cultures overlapped in ways that accentuated the weirdness of both. It all started with Cortez and Montezuma II. Luckily for the Spanish Conquistador, Aztec mythology had prepared the population for his arrival. Early on, in the fifth (and current) world, Quetzalcoatl made the human race by sprinkling his blood on the bones of the previous tenants. After a series of adventures with his new creations (which involved human sacrifice and cannibalism) he sailed away on a raft and promised to return someday. Quetzalcoatl was one of many gods the Aztecs had borrowed from various other Central American tribes, and as a result, he was depicted in different ways in their art and legends. Sometimes he was a feathered serpent, and sometimes he was a light skinned man. Cortez was a close enough match for Montezuma. There were other similarities between the two cultures as well. Human sacrifice, which was pretty similar to the Crucifixion. Cannibalism was not so different from communion. The Aztec collected skulls and even whole skeletons, and stored them in much the same way, Europeans did in their crypts. Both the Aztec and the Spanish were ruthless military conquerors. Stealing Quetzalcoatl’s identity was an opportunity Cortez could not ignore. Once the Spanish had overthrown the Aztec rulers, everything else was a matter of whittling away the pagan aspects of the indigenous culture until good old European practices were all that was left. Based on what I saw in the Festival of Our Lord of the Conquest, they never made it all the way.

Day of the Dead—Strangest Festival of All

One thing all indigenous American cultures have in common is reverence for the family. Whether family relationships begin naturally at birth, or artificially as a result of marriage, once they start they never stop; even death is a temporary interruption. Keeping on good terms with ancestors in the spirit world is not only a polite thing to do, it brings good luck, health and prosperity to the living. Likewise, there are consequences for thoughtless family members who don’t honor dead relatives. Crops fail, droughts set in, sickness strikes. When Day of the Dead festival time rolls around, every member of the family is expected to participate. The Aztecs are long gone, but they devoted the entire month of August to paying respects to their ancestors. They paraded skulls and even whole skeletons through the streets for good luck. When it wasn’t convenient to use real bones, artisans created them with drawings and sculptures. Most tribes of Central Mexico never had the luxury of devoting an entire month to honoring the dead, but they all had similar ceremonies and customs that usually centered around harvest time (approximately October 31— November 2), halfway between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice. Over time, this Day of the Dead celebration has become the most important festival in all of Mexico. It is the only indigenous American Festival that is celebrated as a national holiday. It draws tourists from all over the world. Every tribal region has its own variety of the Day of the Dead, but currently the most popular is the Zapotec version practiced in the state of Oaxaca. Because of the pagan appearance of this annual festival, the Spanish originally tried to suppress it. But Day of the Dead was so deeply ingrained in the indigenous culture that proved to be impossible.


saddlebag dispatches The day is not a Christian holiday. In fact the churches close during the festival, but the current celebration dates overlap with All Saints Day, and many Catholic symbols have been incorporated. A North American Christian will feel right at home in the celebration.

What Happens When We Die?

Catrina in Oaxacan store window.

According to traditional Zapotec mythology not much changes. While you are alive, you live in the village where you were born interacting with your family. When you die, your spirit travels to a village in the south (no one is too sure how far south) and carries on as usual. The main difference is the surplus of food in the village of the dead. No one goes hungry. Everyone is happy. Wait a while and everyone you know will show up. Meanwhile, every year (except for the very first one following your death) you are invited home for an annual party where all your favorite things will be served for dinner. In the pre-Hispanic era, the Zapotec buried family members at home. Many of them were buried under the floor, the way wealthy Europeans were buried in medieval cathedrals. Eventually, the house reached its burial capacity and the dead were taken to a nearby cemetery. In the old days the family would dig their relatives up when the Day of the Dead came around, and actually give the skeletons, or at least the skulls, a seat at the table. Because skulls all look pretty much alike, they would put identifying marks on the foreheads so they could get everybody back to the right grave. The newly dead weren’t invited. For the first year, the spirits had to pay their dues by staying in the village in the south and take care of things. It’s easy to imagine other reasons why a month old corpse might not be welcome at a party. Things aren’t done that way anymore. The dead are buried in public cemeteries. They aren’t dug up, but the families still want to respect the spirits, so they found another way to attract them to their feast. Preparations start early, but on October 31, the family starts building an altar-like structure called an ofrenda. Sometimes this is a table with an arch behind it. Sometimes it is a multilevel structure in the shape of a pyramid. The family loads the ofrenda with things that will be sure to attract the souls of specific relatives and make them feel welcome. Chocolate is always on the ofrenda. Chocolate came from Mexico originally and is considered to be

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Bread of the dead. Faces added to give each loaf of bread a spirit.

sacred. Every family has its own hot chocolate recipe. These days the blends are made to order in chocolate factories. They will always contain cinnamon, almond flavoring, vanilla, and sugar. The Zapotec didn’t add sugar to their chocolate drinks until the Hispanic era. Corn, beans, and other vegetables are always offered to the dead. These things are not only food; they are symbols of the earth (one of the four elements— earth, air, water, fire). It is a long thirsty walk from the village of the dead, so there will be a glass of water. If the dead ancestor liked beer or tequila or mescal, there will be bottles of that. The bakers make special loaves of bread (pan de muerto) flavored with anise or orange peals. The loaves might be shaped like animals, or decorated with crossed bones or skeletal imagery. It frequently has a face to give it a spiritual connection. There is a candle for each spirit expected to show up, and copal incense burning in three legged burners. The ofrenda is decorated with paper banners cut in skeletal shapes that flutter in the wind. Photographs and personal items are usually placed where everyone can see them, as well as personal messages that will be burned later so that the living can share secrets with the dead. Flowers are always placed on the ofrenda. The spirits are especially attracted to the pungent scent of orange marigolds. Often the petals will be removed and a path will be laid from the door to the alter to make it easier for the souls to find. Other popular flowers are red cockscomb and white baby’s breath.

Sugar skulls are always placed on the ofrenda. Sugar sculpture became popular after the arrival of the Spanish. White sugar is mixed with egg whites and pressed in clay molds into skeletal shapes. Sugar skulls are exchanged by friends and lovers too, symbolizing relationships that extend beyond the grave. They are made well in advance of Day of the Dead, so they are not eaten by the living. The ofrenda will usually contain a plate of salt (to purify the air), a bit of raw sugar and some folk art skeletons. Skeletal bride and grooms are popular, as are skeletons engaging in every conceivable hobby and occupation. The most popular skeletal figure is Catrina, a female skeleton dressed in an elaborate hat and dress. Catrina was conceived by political cartoonist and printmaker, José Guadalupe Posada to poke fun at the aristocratic ruling class. Catrina is always featured where Day of the Dead folk art is found. Families leave their doors open during the festival. Anyone who wants to come in and visit with the dead is welcome. Old friends, strangers, even a tourist or two. Visitors are expected to bring a gift for the spirits. Everyone is fed. This can amount to quite an expense for the families. The children’s spirits come on November 1 (El Día de los Angelitos), followed by the adults on November 2. When evening comes, the party is moved to the cemetery for an all night November second vigil. The spirits are an understanding group. If the


saddlebag dispatches Tribal dancers (skull on back of head dress) Festival of our Lord of the Conquest.

Inset: Mexican cowboy with a whip. Tribal member with a machete.

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In recent years, contemporary horror figures have become popular in comparsas, especially in the city of Etla.


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The most popular skeletal figure is Catrina, a female skeleton dressed in an elaborate hat and dress. Catrina is always featured where Day of the Dead folk art is found.

A little Catrina poses for a photograph.

saddlebag dispatches 53 family has to work at night, they don’t mind hanging out at the cemetery during the day. If November 2 doesn’t work, they will settle for the first, or even October 31. The important thing is the gathering of the family at graves.

The Cemetery Vigil

Day of the Dead is sort of a combination of Halloween and Memorial Day. The families will see that the graves are in pristine condition for the festival so the dead souls won’t be embarrassed. They will bring chairs, food and drink. Some of them will dress in Day of the Dead costumes. Some will hire bands. Shops and stands of every conceivable description will line the roads to the cemeteries. Busses will bring tourists from miles around, and guides will walk them between the gravestones and along the paths. Cameras flash constantly. Artisans create sand paintings and sand sculptures in protected areas around the cemeteries. The art will last only one night, symbolizing the ephemeral nature of life. At larger cemeteries amusements are available, merry-gorounds, Ferris wheels, bouncy houses, games. Some of the families sit quietly at the graves and remember when the dead lived among them. Others tell humorous anecdotes and sing songs. No one is sad. The indigenous Mexicans would rather laugh at death than fear it.


Mummers dress in costumes and parade


saddlebag dispatches through the streets. Bands mingle with them. Artisans gather on the street and sell their wares. Children dressed as monsters entertain visitors and panhandle. This goes on throughout the Day of the Dead festival, but the biggest and best comparsas always take place following the cemetery vigil. In theory, this is to remind spirits who have stuck around too long that it is time to go. There is a Carnival atmosphere in the streets. Costumed adults and children mingle with Monos de Calenda (giant puppets with people inside them). Competitions spring up, some impromptu and some official, but all of them fierce. Catrina is always well represented, but in recent years Star Wars figures have made appearances along with aliens, vampires, zombies and mummies. By the morning of November 3, everyone is back to normal. The spirits of the dead are back in their village in the south. The families take the ofrendas down and store what they might need next year. Everyone is satisfied and already looking forward to the next year when the celebration will be bigger and better. —John T. Biggs is a critically-acclaimed writer with over sixty published short stories and four novels. When not travelling the globe with his wife, he makes his home in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

The posse that brought him down pose proudly with the corpse of Ned Christie, (middle, mounted to door).


brisk breeze chilled Anita even in the late afternoon sun. No matter how large she grew with child, no matter how much she sweated over their meager lamb stew inside their tiny mountain cabin, when she stepped outside to look for signs of her husband returning from work, she needed a shawl around her shoulders. Often wore it over her head to keep her ears warm. “Mio amato piccolo bambino.” The frayed tails of her wrap didn’t quite reach around her middle any longer, and she rubbed her belly. “You’re nice and toasty in there, aren’t you, little one?” Anita smiled when the flutter of feet stirred in her womb. She knew the babe didn’t understand her, but he knew her voice and often responded to her. And she treasured their little “conversations” as he was the only company she had all day. He. A little boy, hopefully with his father’s kind brown eyes and quick laugh. Ottavio thought they would be having a baby girl. Said as far back as he could remember, his family had only had boys, so a girl was due. But she knew it would be a boy. Felt it inside her as sure as she felt the pressure on her bladder, and knew she had to relieve herself—again. After taking care of necessities, she returned to her front porch. If it could be called a porch. More like a tiny landing in front of her door. She sighed. Then, squinting into the sunlight, she stared toward the horizon and noted the silhouette ambling toward the cabin. Ottavio made it through another day grading land and laying track.

A soft, slow breath escaped her lips, and tension she didn’t realize she felt eased from her shoulders. It would take her husband a while to walk up the rocky knoll, so she went inside to set the table and take the stew off the fire. Plates and spoons and napkins were simple enough, but carrying the heavy pot to the table exerted her in her condition. She’d just thunked the stew on the table when her husband walked in. “Nita! You shouldn’t be lifting that. Think of the baby! You should wait for me to help you.” “Who do you think lifted it onto the fire?” She patted his cheek and kissed him. His face was cold from washing up in the creek, but at least the grime of the day had been scrubbed away. “Mmm, Tav. I missed you.” Then she grabbed his tattered collar and pulled him closer for a deeper kiss. “I missed you, too. I brought you something from town.” He shook a bag. She grinned, peeked inside, then tried desperately to keep the disappointment from showing on her face. Making sure to keep a positive tone, she turned toward the kitchen. “Sugar beets. Thank you, caro. I’m certain I can find a few new ways to make them.” He wrapped his arms around her, and she looked down at his callused hands caressing her belly and the babe within. Guilt washed over her. There he was, loving them so much and trying so hard, and she begrudged him bringing home the same food over and over again. Couldn’t she just be grateful for a roof over their heads and food in their bellies? What difference did it make how small the roof was or how tired


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she was of the same food? She fought back tears of frustration and shame. His lips pressed against her collarbone, and she leaned back against him. Home. He was her home, regardless of the creature comforts she missed from Italy. Tav and the baby— nothing else mattered. “I’m sorry, Nita. It’s just that the sugar beets cost so much less than anything else. And if we’re going to go home soon, we need to save as much as we can.” She interlaced her fingers with his and held his hand over a persistent foot or fist of the baby’s. “To go home, I’m willing to do without for a little longer. I just never thought we’d have children here. I always thought we’d be home before we were expecting, let alone before this little guy was born.” “This little girl,” he said, “might be born here. But we’ll take her home—soon—with such a fortune to our names, we’ll be able to buy an olive grove twice the size as the one your father owns. She’ll live like a princess.” “He’ll live like a prince.” “Well, I guess we’ll see soon enough.” “Come. Let’s eat. Your dinner is getting cold.” Ottavio held Anita’s chair for her, and once she was settled, he took his place at the head of their meager table. He offered a blessing for their meal, and they began to eat. She ladled stew into his bowl and then offered him a piece of bread. He took it with a smirk. “Che?” “What?” he said. “I didn’t say anything.” “It’s the look on your face.” “But I didn’t say anything.” He dunked it in his stew and gnawed the corner off. She sighed. “I don’t know what it is about this place. I can’t get any of my doughs to rise.” When he was done chewing, he sipped his water. “I keep telling you, it has something to do with the mountains. The women in town have it figured out. You need to talk to them, get some of their recipes.” “Really?” She rubbed her belly and stared at him across the table. “Because I walk into town so often these days.” “Well, I understand you not going now.” “Why don’t you ask them?” “What? You want me to ask a woman for a bread recipe?” “You were more than willing to help me earlier.” A saccharine smile spread across her face. He put his bread and spoon down and grinned back at her. “Well, if you want me to talk to other women—” “Ottavio!” She threw a chunk of bread at him. He laughed and dunked it in his stew before scooping it up with his spoon. “If you’re done trying to get rid of me, I have another surprise for you.” “Oh?” More sugar beets? Delightful. “Yes. And you’ll like it more than the first one.” God love the man. He knew her so well. “Let me have it.”

He reached into his pocket. “Hold out your hand and close your eyes.” She did as she was told, and Ottavio placed something cold and hard into her palm. “Go on, open them.” A quick peek with one eye, then a wide-eyed stare with both. Gold—a chunk bigger than she’d ever seen in person— sat right in the center of her hand. “I told you we’d be going home soon. As soon as the baby comes and then the doctor says you’re both safe to travel. I’m sure we have more than enough now.” “Tavi.” Tears welled in her eyes, and her breath came in shallow gasps. “Where did you get this?” “Found it when we were grading today.” “But it belongs to the landowners, not us.” “Everyone pockets little flecks they find. I was just lucky enough to find more than a fleck.” She shook her head. “It’s stealing. It’s wrong.” “The wages they pay us while making a fortune off our broken backs is what’s wrong. I won’t be the first to pocket something I dug out of the ground with my bare hands, and I surely won’t be the last.” “Did you take it to town to get weighed? What’s it worth?” He shook his head. “If I do that here, they’ll surely know where I got it and take it. Probably throw me in jail. No, we have to play this smart. Go to a different town. Stake a claim. Find this a month later. Then quietly slip away.” “By the time we do all that, we’ll have burned through our savings again.” “No, no. Don’t worry. I’ll get something nearby. Something I can pretend to handle while you’re recovering with the baby. We’ll just take the gold to the next town. We’ll own the land claim, but not weigh the gold here. It’ll all be fine. I promise.” He knelt in front of her and pressed his lips to her belly. “I’m taking you both home, Nita.” She searched his face, cupped his cheek. He worked so hard and earned so little. Without this boon, they’d never get home. And she so wanted to return. Back to the cyprus trees and the grapevines, the citrus orchards and the olive groves, the stone and the marble. Life was just so foreign to her in the Rocky Mountains. Their tiny wooden shack overlooked acres and acres of firs, pines, spruces, and quaking aspens interspersed among giant boulders and smaller rocks. She didn’t know where the ubiquitous sugar beets were grown, but she didn’t see any fields or farms or groves—just the one road down the craggy hillside surrounded by towering evergreens. So foreign. So imposing. So lonely. “I’m sure you know what’s—oh!” “What?” She shook her head, rubbed her belly. “I’m sure it’s nothing. Just a twinge. Are you finished eating?” “Anita?” “I’m fine. Go put this away.” She tucked the nugget into his palm and lumbered to her feet. “And I’ll put dinner away.” The sun had almost completely set, and the trees seemed even taller in the gloaming, standing sentinel against the

saddlebag dispatches 59 alien nocturnal sounds of the Colorado wild. She waddled to the creek and held her back while she filled a bucket for cleanup. Junior had gone from gentle pokes and prods to wild, nearly violent acrobatics. Every few minutes a searing pain bloomed low in her womb and washed through her abdomen, circled around to her back until it fused to her spine and crippled her where she stood. The road to town never looked longer, winding into the darkness toward a town she couldn’t see. Her little bambino had decided to make his appearance now, and it was no telling how far away a doctor was, how long it would take a midwife to arrive. How dangerous it would be for Ottavio to leave to even find someone to help. She dropped her pail, another contraction racking her entire torso. Fluid gushed from her body, and she clutched her belly. She took a few deep breaths, remembering her mother helping her aunt deliver her cousins by telling her to breathe. At the time, she found it foolish. Who would forget to breathe? But the pain stole her breath, and she had to concentrate on deep inhales and slow exhales until the discomfort eased. “Nita!” Ottavio rushed outside, put his arm around her, and started guiding her back in. “No.” She shook her head. “I can make it. Grab the pail. We need to boil water.” He looked back and forth between her and the bucket.

“Go, Tav.” She lumbered toward the door, one hand on her back. “I’ll get you settled, then the water. Then I’ll go get the doctor.” Another contraction seized her, and she stopped mid-stride toward the bedroom. Thank God Tav was there, because she would have fallen for the pain. She clutched him, gritted her teeth, and wove on her feet, trying to breathe through it. He supported her until the worst of it subsided. “Can you walk?” She nodded and shuffled to the bedroom. “Get the water boiling. I have linens set aside, ready to go.” “Okay. But then I’ll go get Doc Wyatt.” He hurried out of the room. Nita managed to strip out of her wet clothing and slip into a roomy dressing gown. She put several layers of blankets on the bed before she lowered herself into it and leaned back against the pillows. Then she called out to him. “Sorry, caro. No time. You’re going to have to help me yourself.” “Me?” His voice raised an octave. “Get. The. Water. Boiling.” She didn’t mean to growl at him through clenched teeth, but another contraction was on her. And she was on her own. She looked toward the chest where she’d set out three treasured items—her family Bible, her marriage certificate,

saddlebag dispatches 61 and an antique mirror. Mama had said to focus on special things to try to take her mind off the pain, and she’d set them out a month ago in anticipation of the big day. The Bible had a battered brown leather cover, but she had it open to the family tree page. It was filled in with five generations of her family, and it made her feel close to them even over such a great distance. Her gaze wandered to her marriage certificate. Ottavio Giovanni Notaro and Anita Carlotta Bonomo were joined in holy matrimony by me, Father Feliciano Ma— Another gut-ripping pain, and she closed her eyes against the onslaught. Clenched her fists, her teeth, her entire body. Beads of sweat broke out on her forehead, dripped down her temples into her hair. One deep breath, three quick pants. One deep breath, three quick pants. The worst of the pain subsided, and she turned her attention to the mirror on the chest. A beautiful antique hand mirror, with roses etched onto the back. Tav’s mother gave it to her as a wedding gift, said it was passed down from mother-in-law to daughter-in-law. Claimed it dated back to Catherine d’Medici, of all things. She didn’t know if it was really a Medici antique but did know the first time she looked into it she had the worst daydream. Almost a vision, it seemed so real. She’d nearly dropped the precious gift. Her motherin-law patted her hand, shook her head, and walked away. Nita had put those images out of her mind, just treasuring the looking glass as one of her only ties to home. But now, when she needed the calming influence of her “special objects” the most, all she could think about was that vision. The blood, the death, the abject grief, the breathtaking loneliness. Another contraction hit, far worse than the others. No longer able to stay quiet, she cried out. Ottavio came running. “Anita.” He put a cool cloth on her head and held her hand, knelt helplessly beside her until the pain receded. “What can I do?” She lay back, spent, sore. “I’m sorry. You’re going to have to look and see—well, see what you see.” “Ah, Nita.” He stroked his mustache and looked around the room like someone would show up and volunteer to take his place. “Tav. Now. Another contraction is coming.” “Already?” He knelt at her feet. “What am I looking for?” “The head!” The pain was unbearable, ripped through her from her most private of areas straight up her abdomen. She screamed, glared at the chest holding her treasured objects, glowered at her husband’s bent head. What in God’s name was happening to her? Surely something was wrong. Births weren’t supposed to— “I see it,” he whispered. “What?” she managed through clenched teeth. “You’re doing it!” He looked up at her, eyes wide. “The head. It’s almost out. You’ve got to push!” Dear God, more? He wanted more from her? It wasn’t

enough that she was split in two, set on fire, completely destroyed? More? And then another contraction seized her. “Now, Nita! Now! Push!” Tears streamed down her cheeks. She tried to rise above the pain but it swallowed her, consumed her, and before she drowned in the last suffocating wave of it, there was an overwhelming pressure and a rush of something warm and wet. “Nita, I—” His eyes still wide, his face had drained of color. He held up their tiny, silent bundle. “Grab him by the heel. Hold him upside down and smack his bottom.” “What?” “To get him to breathe. Do it!” Ottavio held his newborn upside down and did what his wife said. An ear-piercing wail split the room, and a huge grin split his face. Her baby. She had done it. They’d done it. “Okay, Tav. Give him to me, now.” “Oh!” In a gentle but awkward fashion, he righted the newborn and lay him in Anita’s arms. “Blankets.” She gestured for the linens she’d set aside, and when he handed them to her, she wrapped the baby as best she could. “He’s kind of… sloppy.” “We’ll clean him in a bit. Just let me hold him and look at him.” She gently wiped him off with the corner of the blanket. His little face had reddened from crying, but he’d begun to settle and was nestling against her breast, trying to find a comfortable spot. She readjusted him, and he quieted, seeming content to listen to her heart for the first time from the outside. “What about this?” Ottavio, still in doctor-mode, gestured to the umbilical cord. “We’ll have to tie it off and cut it.” His complexion turned even more ashen. She didn’t want to deal with explaining the afterbirth process, but it had to be done. After all the necessities had been dealt with, Ottavio finally looked at his boy. “He’s beautiful.” “He looks like his father.” “No. He’s perfect. He’s like you.” Anita smiled. She wished that moment could last forever. “I couldn’t have done it without you.” Ottavio kissed her forehead, then the baby’s. “And you got the boy you wanted. He needs a name.” “I was thinking—” The door burst open, and four men stood there, Stetsons low on their heads, bandanas around their faces. Guns drawn and pointed at the helpless family. Ottavio jumped up and blocked Anita and the baby from the aim of the weapons. “You have something we want,” the man at the front of the gang said. “We don’t have anything,” Tav said. “We can’t even afford a horse. Or a house in town.” “We don’t care about what you have out here. We care about what you brought out here. Today. What you found in the mine. I saw you myself.”


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Anita clutched her new son to her chest and rocked him. She’d seen this. Seen it all before. This was how the vision from the mirror began. The one that ended with blood and loss and heartache. She hadn’t realized it was a portent of things to come, but even if she had, there would have been no way to prevent this. Not with her going into labor on the same night her husband stole that gold nugget. Powerless. She’d been unable to prevent this night, and now she was incapable of ending it without tragedy. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I just go up whatever mountain they tell me and grade the land for the track. I don’t mine.” The leader gestured with his gun, and his gang fanned out until Tav couldn’t shield her and the baby from all of them. “Might just be railroad land now, but all this land was once mined. And you found something today that I want. So I’m gonna to count to five. If you don’t give me what I want by then, the first bullet goes in that new baby of yours.” Anita’s blood iced in her veins, and she tucked the baby behind her on the bed. “Oh, pretty thing. Don’t make me have to look for that little bundle. Because I’ll be happy to go explorin’ to find what I’m looking for.” “That’s my wife!” “Five.”

“I don’t have anything.” “Four.” “You’re making a big mistake.” “Three.” “Tav!” She couldn’t stand it. Couldn’t watch that horrible vision come true. “Two.” The man took a step toward the bed. “I’ll give you whatever you want!” Anita said. “Just, please, put the guns down.” “Anita, no,” Tav said. “Oh, darlin’. You don’t get how this works. We got the guns, we call the shots. And we’re down to… one.” Anita threw her body over the baby, prayed she could protect her son without smothering him. Shots fired, Tav cried out, and several thuds sounded. Then an eerie silence descended over the room. She slowly lifted her body off her son, checked his breathing. His eyes were open, and he looked all around the room. But he didn’t cry. Didn’t even seem to notice the commotion. Dear God, please don’t let the shots have deafened him. Tav groaned, and Anita jumped off the bed and dropped to the floor. His leg was saturated with blood and his head lolled to one side, his eyes closed. She looked for the gang. All had fallen, different-colored daggers in their backs. Five

saddlebag dispatches 63 other men had entered and were surveying the scene. But she only had eyes for Ottavio. The blood. So much blood. She grabbed one of the linens she’d set aside for the birth and pressed it against his leg. He moaned and his eyelids fluttered open. “Nita—” “Ssh. Don’t talk.” Tears streamed down her face. It was just as she’d foreseen it. She was losing the love of her life, right there in front of her. And she couldn’t stop it. “You need to save your strength.” “The baby—” “He’s fine, Tav. He’s safe and he’s perfect.” “Take him… home.” His eyes closed. “Oh, Tavo.” She lay her head on his chest and sobbed. “I love you. Don’t leave me here like this.” “Love… you… both.” His whisper so faint, she almost missed it. And he never breathed again. She cried on her beloved husband for what seemed like hours. Only stopped when a hand on her shoulder startled her. “Mrs. Notaro.” Anita jumped up and grabbed her son to her chest. “Who are you? What do you want?” That gang was even worse than the last. Five men—four big and burly, the leader more wiry but with the shrewdest eyes—took up most of the room. While she had been crying,

they’d moved the dead gangsters into a pile near the stove and stood by the windows and door. All her exits, blocked. “My name is Angelo Simoni, but there will be time for introductions later. We are in a hurry, and I am afraid there is little time to explain. Has your husband or his family ever mentioned they are descendants of the Medici line?” She glanced over at the hand mirror and then down at her husband. Finally she looked back at Angelo and spoke through hiccups and choked back sobs. “Rumors. Legend. Silly stories to make an unimportant family feel better about their heritage. The Medici died out centuries ago.” “Alas, Mrs. Notaro, they did not. Although it is best if the world continues to believe they do. I work for a secret organization founded to watch over the Medici line. This Protectorate selects five men to wield these daggers—created by Michelangelo himself—and safeguard them. But that is immaterial now.” “Protectorate?” “Yes. Warriors who guard the family. We arrived too late to save your husband, but we must still protect your child.” “You want to take my child?” She turned away from Angelo, shielding her son from him. “No, you misunderstand me. We do not wish to take him. We only wish to serve him. We are sworn to keep him safe.”


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“Well, that didn’t work out so well for Ottavio, did it?” Angelo sighed. “Mrs. Notaro, these men may only be the first of many to come for you. I must insist, for the child’s safety, that we remove you from these premises.” “And where is it you expect me to go?” “We will see you safely back to Italy. I trust you have family you can return to. Or will you be setting up your own residence with the fortune your husband has provided?” So that’s what this was all about. They were after Tav’s money. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. We have no money. I can’t afford passage back to Italy. I can’t even afford to stay in this little place without my husband.” “My good lady, we do not have time for this. Take the money or do not. It is of no consequence to us. But you may find it useful back at home. Either way, it is time to go. Pack a bag for yourself, and let us be off. We will see to your transportation needs should you wish to continue with this ruse.” He opened a leather pouch and produced several coins. His posse did the same. They clearly didn’t need her money. That didn’t mean they wouldn’t still want it, though. “Now, Mrs. Notaro. We must go.” It didn’t seem she had a choice. They could easily overpower her. And even if they left, what would she do on the mountainside alone? She put a few items of clothing, the baby blanket she’d made, the Bible, marriage certificate, and mirror in a bag. After careful consideration, she scooted her husband over—her tears

landing on his impassive face—and retrieved the treasure box from under a loose floorboard. A furtive glance at the men showed their disinterest in the box. None even flinched. She tucked the small fortune into her bag with the rest of her things. “With your permission, we will carry that for you.” Angelo gestured to one of the men, and he took the bag outside. Anita worried more for her personal items than the money, but she did fear—for a moment—that they were robbing her and she’d helped them do it. Instead, she watched them stow the bag in a stagecoach. She hadn’t even heard the horses or carriage approach. Must have been too busy crying. Ottavio. She turned back toward the house. “What about Tav? We need to bury him.” One of the men knelt beside him, whispered over him. “I am sorry,” Angelo said. “There is no time.” “But—” “Cristofano is giving him last rites. That is the best we can do. Then he will go with the others.” “Go?” Angelo gestured as Cristofano exited the house. “Are you certain you have everything you want?” “Yes, but go? Go where? Where are you taking Tav?” Two of the other men went inside, came back out, and nodded to Angelo. Soon the odor of smoke carried to her on the wind. The windows glowed with the blaze inside her tiny home.

saddlebag dispatches 65 They were burning the remains. “Ottavio!” She ran toward the house, but one of the men grabbed her and held her back. “Tav,” she sobbed, her voice soft, muffled into the swaddling blanket wrapped around her boy. “Let us help you into the stage,” Angelo said. “We have a long journey ahead of us, and you have been through much tonight.” Cristofano helped her into the stagecoach, and she settled with the baby against her breast. He still hadn’t made a sound or responded to the cacophony around him. She would need to feed him soon, and instead of it being a joyous moment shared with her husband, it would be a private moment invaded by strangers. Angelo and two of the others joined them, making their quarters rather cramped. No, she would definitely not have any privacy to deal with her son’s needs. Shame heated her cheeks, and she needed to avert her gaze away from all the men she traveled with. She looked back at the blaze lighting the dark night, illuminating the looming evergreens and imposing rocks around it. For years, her heart’s desire had been to leave that tiny shack and return home, but never would she have wanted to do it that way. “The baby,” Angelo said. “What is his name?” Anita sighed and turned back to face him. “I had been thinking Fortunato, after my grandfather.” “Ah. Fortunate. Blessed. Very nice.” “After today? I don’t think I can call him that. Maybe Severino.” “Stern? That is setting him up for a sad life.” “I suppose I just don’t see much good fortune in our future.” “I see.” They rode in silence for a while, the descent down the mountain path bumpy. The baby started to squirm. “What about Saverio?” Angelo asked. “Saverio? New home?” “He is going to one, after all.” She looked down at her son’s face, unable to make out the tiny features in the dark. The fire from her home, despite the size, was too far behind them to illuminate him. But she didn’t have to see his features to know what she wanted for him. He might not be Fortunato. But she didn’t want him to be Severino. “Saverio it is.” The baby let out a wail, and she chuckled. “I think he likes it,” Angelo said. “I think he’s hungry.” Angelo banged on the stage, and the driver stopped. “Please, Mrs. Notaro. Feed your young. We will walk beside the carriage and give you your privacy.” The men hopped out and the stagecoach began a much slower pace. She made certain to close all the curtains, then she adjusted her clothing. Little Saverio latched on without a problem. Anita allowed silent tears to fall while, alone, she fed her darling boy. She was going home.


staci troilo


taci Troilo grew up knowing family is paramount. She spent time with extended family daily, not just on holidays or weekends. Because of those close-knit familial bonds, every day was full of love and laughter, food and fun. Life has taken her a thousand miles away from that extended family, but those ties remain. And so do the traditions, which she now shares with her husband, son, and daughter… even her two dogs. And through her fiction, she shares the importance of relationships with you. Mystery or suspense, romance or mainstream—in her stories, family is paramount. Staci is the author of six published novels to date, inlcuding Murder, Ink: Mystery Heir, Love Set in Stone, Type and Cross and Out and About of her mainstream fiction Cathedral Lake Series, and Bleeding Heart and Mind Control of her Medici Protectorate paranormal romance series, of which this story—Valuable Treasure— is a distant prequel to. Her short stories can also be found in multiple collections and anthologies, including Unshod, Christmas Wishes, Crimson Dirt, Macabre Sanctuary, and Bigfoot Confidential. You can find out more about Staci and her work at


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quatted on her haunches, Isabella swirled water and gravel in the battered pan. Nothing gleamed, glistened, or winked. “Damnation,” she muttered, stood, and spread fingers over her aching back. Just too danged old to be out here squatted like some hillbilly, getting her butt wet. And for what? Nothing. The river chattered over its rocky bed, paying her no mind at all. If she didn’t get a strike soon, she’d likely starve and no one would even miss her. She emptied the pan with a shake, tossed it on the ground beside her pack, and stomped off into the woods. Finding a likely spot surrounded by shrubs, she unfastened the galouses of her overalls. Just as she started to shove them down, there came a crashing through the woods that had to be a danged bear. And her with her rifle and the Colt back at camp. Even as she slipped the straps over her shoulders and turned to run, a voice shouted something she couldn’t make out. A man. Men being like they was around women, this could be worse than any bear. She crammed her sloppy hat down on the wad of hair stuck up under it and said in as low a voice as she could manage, “Couldn’t hear ye.” “I said having any luck?” Gangly birch and full willow trees cast deep shadows so she could barely make out his face. A black beard, teeth showing between smiling lips, long dark hair sticking out from under a

hat that looked worse than hers, old pants long in the crotch, and a dirty shirt stuffed into their waistband. Not much to tell him apart from all the men swarming the creek to pan for gold. A typical gold seeker. Starting with rotten luck and it getting worse with every pan he worked. Except for gender, a lot like her, if she’d admit it. Well, she wasn’t about to make friends with this one. Two losers hooking up didn’t make a winner. Now he needed to allow her some privacy, but it didn’t look likely. “You been over to Alder Gulch?” he hollered. “Hear they’re hitting pay dirt there. Figger with my luck time I get over there, it’ll all be panned out.” Didn’t want no danged conversation with this one, or any other. Still he was looking funny at her and she had to say something. Something that would require no reply, or make him want to talk some more or worst of all, reveal her sex. “Guess I’ll head out that way then.” She started off through the brush like she’d had enough of this lip flapping. Which she had. You’d think coming west to Montana would give a feller space to be alone, but there was always someone butting in. “Oh, yeah?” He was right on her like a wolf running a rabbit. “Well, maybe I’ll tag along. Ain’t no sense anyone going it alone in such dangerous times. Men killing men over a chunk of gold.” First you have to get that chunk of gold, fool. Now what? Did she just outright tell him she’d rather go alone? If he came


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along, sooner or later he’d guess she was a woman, and she’d had enough of living in this country as a female. Only two things a man expected from a woman, and the second one was doing his danged laundry. She wasn’t up for either. Maybe she ought to shoot him and be done with it. Instead she kept walking, hoping he’d get the message, but he loped to catch up, long legs bringing him to her side right quick. “You got you a mule or something?” He kept pace with her, though she trotted as fast as she could considering the underbrush tugging at her pant legs. Maybe if she ignored him, he’d disappear. But he didn’t, just kept right on yakking and walking. “A stout little Jenny could carry all our gear, and if I struck it rich, I’d give you a share for the use of the animal.” He paused when together they burst from the thicket onto the river bank, then added, “Mine died.” When she fetched the burro she’d come across in Virginia City and began to pack her things, he raced to grab up an old blanket already folded and tied around his scant belongings. “Names Rand Tolbert.” He smiled in a goofy way that annoyed her. But he did have nice teeth. Something unexpected in these parts. “Sorry,” she muttered. “No room. Too heavy.” Short sentences were easier to keep gruff sounding. With a grunt, she tied her bundles securely on Clem’s back. “Gotta go.” She drew a sigh of relief when he didn’t follow her toward

the trail that wound through the woods to the south. That was it. She was well rid of him. She began to hum to the little burro, who would follow her anywhere if she sang to her. Especially her favorite song, “Clementine.” A good tune for an afternoon walk. Too soon. The thought she’d be shut of him came too soon, for he chased after her yelling, “Hey, hey.” And he didn’t stop the infernal hollering till he’d caught up with her. “You going the wrong way for Alder Gulch. Better let me go along and guide you. I know this country like the back of my own hand.” Maybe she’d have to kill him, after all. Serve him right, too. Being so nosy. A real buttinsky. Inside the overalls, over top of her pantaloons, a leather belt held her holstered Navy Colt. Loaded. Along the banks of the river, men were lined shoulder to shoulder panning for the elusive gold. But a gunshot would most surely grab their attention. “Well, are you coming or what?” He waited patiently behind her. “If I keep going this way, you gonna follow me?” She was so exasperated she forgot to work on the quality of her “man voice.” He stared at her, yanked off his dirty hat, and hit his thigh a couple of times with it, sending out a fog of dust. “Why danged if you ain’t a woman. What you doing out here by yourself, being a woman and all?” In the silence that followed a gust of wind caught his long hair, whispered across her face. She reached inside the

saddlebag dispatches 93 overalls, slipped the Colt out in one swift motion. “And you’d better not have anything in mind, or I’ll let those men bury you right here.” She made a couple of gestures with the gun, then trained it on him. His hands popped into the air, the hat went flying, and he danced backward a couple of steps. “Whoa, Nellie. I ain’t fixing to hurt you. Just being friendly. See why that might bother you, but I gotta say, ain’t no one gonna look twice the way you’re got up.” Little did he know, but she kept her lips tight. No sense in showing him what she really was. A killer. “You stay here now. Leave me be” She slid the gun back into its holster. If she threw a rock at this one he’d be gone. “This just means one thing, far as I can see.” “What might that be?” “Why, you need you a man to come along and keep off the lechers.” “I what? I just offered to shoot you ’cause I thought you were a lecherous old coot.” “You can go to jail for shooting a man. Now if I was to rough him up a bit on your part and send him on his way, there’d be ought to pay.” “You know something? You’re crazy as a danged loon. Now go on and leave me be. I don’t need a protector. I don’t need a man. All I need is to be left alone.” He leaned down, fetched his hat by its floppy brim, and backed off. “I’m gone. Gone.” And he was. She made sure of that by watching him plumb out of sight, then went on up the hill leading Clem. She had no intention of going to Alder Gulch. That was too close to Virginia City and all her old troubles. He was right about one thing. She could go to jail for killing a man. She could also break out of jail, but probably not twice in a row. That night she dry-camped to make sure if he was trailing her, there’d be no smoke. She fed Clem, then hobbled her in a patch of sweet, green grass. The burro was such a pet she didn’t wander, but some wild critter could startle her into running. She rubbed the soft furry nose, whispered a few words of endearment, and opened up the pack. Jerky and hardtack wasn’t her idea of a full meal after trudging all afternoon, especially without coffee, but it’d have to do. After a while she stretched out on her blanket and lay back on double-folded hands to gaze at the stars strewn like lit paths across the heavens. No matter where she looked she saw his face, and there he was, right in the middle of the Milky Way. In her memory, he came at her, fist raised to hit her again. One hand slipped the Colt from under her pillow, aimed it, and pulled the trigger. The ball split his nasty grin, stem to stern. And then she sat there waiting for someone to call the law, for the sheriff to come and haul her off to jail. Over the past few months she’d lost count of how many times she killed the man who once told her she was his love, his life, his reason for being, for God’s sake. And still every time, she shed tears. Dear God, weren’t women fools?

The sun wasn’t up good when Clem squealed her funny call, almost as if she’d been trained to awaken a person like some crazy rooster. Isabella crawled out from under her blanket and there sat the man called Rand, a small fire spitting sap into licking flames. In the crisp morning air hung the aroma of coffee, fresh ground and fixing. And damn his hide he had the audacity to smile at her as if they were long lost buddies. Sure had kind eyes to go with those durned purty teeth. “What the thunder you think you’re doing?” She huffed and pulled the blanket over her chest. An involuntary gesture, since her breasts were bound and invisible beneath the white long johns. Men always looked there first when they met a woman, so it was a natural protective gesture. “Made coffee. Figgered you’d want some, seeing as how you suffered through a dry camp last night.” “Not exactly what I mean by the question. Why are you trailing after me like an un-weaned pup.” That brought a different sort of grin to his face, and she immediately regretted the reference. Dang how she hated the thought of killing again, not being natural born to it, but forced once by a brutal man. This one trod a dangerous path, and somehow she had to get shut of him. He poured a tin cup full of black, strong coffee and held it up to her, watching her like a rat on cheese. Despite everything, she couldn’t resist the offer and took the cup by its handle, placed it on a rock near the fire, and settled herself. Even as she enjoyed the bitter brew, she had to face the mistake she’d made. Yet, the one thing worse than unwanted company was having no coffee to start the day. He chattered on about the dangers of hunting gold, the worse dangers of finding it. While she finished her coffee, he tied his pack on Clem, then began to pack her stuff into the blanket, laying aside the rifle after studying it with some interest. “Take your hands off my belongings.” She leaped to her feet, tossed the dregs toward the fire, and headed for him. “And get your pack off Clem. You think sharing a cup of coffee gives you the right to just settle in with me? If you ain’t the dangdest man I ever met.” Hands out, palms down, he turned from the burro. “Sorry. Damned if I ain’t. You are some touchy female. I ain’t gonna hurt you.” “Didn’t say you were. I just don’t like company.” He sucked air between his teeth, then untied his pack from Clem’s back and headed toward the creek. “Put out the fire before you leave.” “Well, hell!” she shouted. “I know that. See, that’s what I don’t like. Someone assuming ’cause I’m female I’m ignorant.” He whirled to face her. “The last thing in this world you are is ignorant. You ain’t gonna shoot me in the back are you?” A chuckle burst out before she could stop it. “’Course not, you danged fool.” He stood there, pack hanging from one hand, watching her with a baleful look, and she sighed. “Oh, all right. You can come with me. But one wrong move and you’re gone. You understand?”

saddlebag dispatches 95 Packed up, she moved off leading Clem. Rand trudged along behind. Yakking. “I’ll just bring up the rear, keep an eye out,” he called. “How come you to change your mind?” She mulled that over for a good long while, and he waited for her answer. “Not sure. Ask me in a week, or a month. If this partnership lasts that long.” He remained quiet most of the next day. And the next. Late one night he stirred at the fire with a stick, sending bright sparks into the crisp night air. Spoke in a voice soft with grief. “My wife Annie passed near a year ago. The cholera took her.” He could say no more. She lay her hand on his arm for a moment, then pulled away, fearful of what a man could do to a woman. Across the fire, his sorrowful eyes reflected the flames. “I surely do miss her, you know?” Tears hot on her cheeks, she turned away, unable to allow his grief to touch her heart. As summer wore on into fall, he continued to follow along, never raising his voice or a fist to her. At last she related her tale of a man driven to brutality and a woman driven to kill, and how the law hunted her like a wild animal. Held her breath for fear of his reaction. What would he think of a woman who could kill? Why should she care anyway? Maybe now he’d be on his way. The idea sickened her heart. Dark eyes shimmering, he watched her for a long while. “Well, I reckon it might be time we moved on west then. How about California, or maybe Oregon? That is if you still are of a mind to continue this partnership.” She nodded, and without speaking shook out her blanket, spread it on the ground near the fire, and lay down, turning her back to him. “We’d best get some sleep, then. It’s a long trek.”


velda brotherton


elda Brotherton writes from her home perched on the side of a mountain against the Ozark National Forest. Branded as Sexy, Dark and Gritty, her work embraces the lives of gutsy women and heroes who are strong enough to deserve them. After a stint writing for a New York publisher, she has settled comfortably in with small publishers to produce novels in several genres. Velda’s latest works include three romantic mysteries from her dark and steamy Twist of Poe Series—The Purloined Skull, The Tell-Tale Stone, and The Pit and the Penance—the mainstream love story Beyond the Moon, the erotic horror novel A Savage Grace, and The Victiorians, a Western Historical Romance series including the novels Wilda’s Outlaw and Rowena’s Hellion. She is a founding member of the Northwest Arkansas Writers’ Workshop and Storytellers of America, Ozark Original Chapter, as well as a member of Ozark Creative Writers, Women Writing the West, Western Writers of America, and the Oklahoma Writers’ Federation, Inc.

photos courtesy of Jodi Thomas


ome people are born knowing exactly what they want to do in life. Even as a child, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jodi Thomas knew she loved telling stories. A fifth-generation Texan, she comes from a long line of ranchers and farmers. Her grandmother was born in a covered wagon and, along with the family, passed down a deep love of the land. Stories were spun around the campfire and in homes, how these early Texas settlers came with a dream, looking for

opportunity and a place to lay down strong roots in the fertile soil. Her ancestors greatly contributed not only to Jodi’s imagination, but her love for the American West. Inspired by those spoken stories, Jodi built a lucrative career in fiction that has really taken her places. Her reputation as a top-notch novelist is enviable. Her large fan base swarms her at writing conferences. They pick up one of her books and know they’re in for a journey with characters that leap off the page and into their heart.


saddlebag dispatches

As with most creative people, her road to success

“I never thought when I wrote that first book that I’d be working on book 45 right now. That doesn’t even include the 13 novellas.”

wasn’t without struggle. Like all of us, she’s had trials to overcome along the way and some things didn’t come easy. Countless rejection and setbacks just seemed to fuel her determination to prove herself as a writer. With a hunger pushing her, she excelled beyond her wildest dreams. Jodi has a Masters degree in Family Studies that provides additional insight into what makes people tick. In 2002 she was offered the job as Writer in Residence at West Texas A&M University and, after all these years, she still loves it. She says she enjoys helping young writers develop their full potential and perhaps making them think of things in a different way. Over the last twenty-five years or more, she’s given many new writers their start by teaching and lecturing across the country, inspiring others, including me. After hearing her speak the first time in the early 1990s, I said to myself, “I want to be a writer like her one day.” I’m still trying. Each time I even start to make progress, she raises the bar and I can’t wait to see what’s next. One thing that astounds me is her generosity, both with her time and invaluable help with stories. When I once asked why she

saddlebag dispatches 99

felt driven to give so much of herself, Jodi explained,

SD: Why did you choose western romance?

“I simply feel an obligation to give back because of the many people who guided and encouraged me.”

JT: I grew up in a home where my father read

I really doubt I’d be where I am today without this

Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour and my mother

special woman. When I was at rock bottom following the

enjoyed Barbara Cartland. I felt destined to write

death of my husband, she came to me with an offer—to

western romance.

be with her, DeWanna Pace, and Phyliss Miranda in a

When I was reading a book a day and learning how to

western historical anthology that became GIVE ME A

write, I noticed the shelves were packed with romance

TEXAN. Man, I jumped at the opportunity even though

books so I thought I’d try to write one. My only goal

she believed in me far more than I did in myself. That

was to write a book that I’d love to read myself.

decision turned out to be the smartest move I ever made.

I’ve always loved reading authentic Historical

That first anthology turned into six with one making

Romance and you, Linda Broday, are one of my

New York Times and USA Today. All of the exposure

favorite writers.

led to new contracts for full-length novels. Jodi got me back into the game after a long gap in publishing and I’ll

SD: You keep producing award-winning novels year

be forever grateful. But I’m only one. The list of writers

after year. I love going to your office at the West Texas

she’s helped would stretch for miles. Her gentle hands

A&M and seeing one whole wall filled with your book

have touched, inspired, and guided generations.

covers. How many books have you published to date?

I hope I’ve sparked your curiosity to learn more about Jodi Thomas, so…let’s pick her brain a while. I know she has secrets to share.

JT: I never thought when I wrote that first book— BENEATH THE TEXAS SKY—that I’d be working on book 45 right now. That does not include the 13

100 saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches 101 novellas. Sometimes fans walk up to me and say,

I’ve wasted five years of my life. I sat down on the

“Remember that book you wrote about a girl who fell

base of a statue of a bowl of fruit. (Have no idea why

in love with a Texan? What was the name of it?”

it was in cemetery) While I was crying, reevaluating

I just laugh.

my dreams and goals, I looked down at the words on

I’m working on my sixth series. When I climb into

the base.

a world I like to stay there for a while and get to know the land and the people. In my Ransom Canyon series,







I’ve ‘walked the land’ once again getting the feel of

I went home, took the biggest magic marker

ranching again. Natalie and Chris Bright opened their

I could find and wrote those words on the wall

wonderful Stanford Ranch in the West Texas Panhandle

above my computer. I decided THAT day that I

for my research and I can’t thank them enough.

was a writer and would write until I died whether I ever sold or not. Three months later I sold my

SD: You’ve broken down so many barriers in your

first book. And my second. Then my third (just 63

writing life. Was there ever a time when you got depressed

pages written went up for bids.) In 15 months, I’d

and feared your career was over?

sold 5 books. Two years later I won my first of five RITAs (Romance Writers of America’s

JT: When I’d been writing almost five years, sending things off, studying, polishing, but having no luck, I heard about a contest in Amarillo. Eight categories. I entered all eight. I even wrote a poem. It was a local contest and I was sure, after five years that I’d win several awards. So, I bought a ticket to the awards luncheon and was so excited. One by one they called the runnerups and the winners. And they didn’t call my name. One category only had 8 entries. They announced a first, second and third place followed by three honorable mentions and didn’t call my name. I walked out and drove home. On the way I stopped at the cemetery to cry. (It’s a great place to cry in public—no one notices.) I was thinking, this is it. I quit. I have no talent if I can’t even win an honorable mention in a local contest.

“I heard someone say once it takes— Talent, Luck, Perseverance. If you have the third, you only need one of the other two.”

highest award for writing excellence and equivalent to Western Writers of America’s Spur Award) for best book of the year. SD: You’ve won so many RITAs and other awards over the years. What was it like the first time you took one home and for what book? JT: It was like a dream. I was honored to be nominated and went to the conference just so I could wear the ‘finalist’ ribbon. I’d gotten up to go to the restroom when my category came up. I was walking in the banquet hall in the back when I saw the cover of THE TENDER TEXAN flash up on the huge screens. Since I figured no one knew who I was, I thought they were just yelling about the cover. It was a real high to win. I carried the statue home on the plane in my hands. I couldn’t turn loose of it.

102 saddlebag dispatches SD: What three qualities do you think it takes for a writer to succeed in this business? JT: I heard someone say once it takes— Talent, Luck, and Perseverance. If you have the third, you only need one of the other two. SD: Most writers have favorite quotes that inspire them. Do you have any? JT: It’s a simple one but gets me going many days when I want to BE a writer instead of writing—A WRITER WRITES. I know so many people who want to be a writer or they’ve been trying but not succeeding. I always say. “How many hours did you put in this week—not doing research, or drinking coffee, talking writing, or reading— just writing? I’ve never met a person who said ‘Over twenty’ who wasn’t making a living writing the next time I saw him. If he’s putting in 30 or 40 you’ve probably seen his name on the bestseller lists. SD: How are you passing along your love of stories to your grandchildren? JT: I have a fun game I play with them. I have 4 grandchildren under 7. When they come to visit, they all grab their favorite pillow in my study and sit around in a circle. Then I pull out my mother’s old button box. It’s still got a little fabric on some buttons when she cut them off a shirt or dress that was worn out. I let each child pick a button and I tell them a family story about someone who wore that button. The wagon train west, the day it snowed so much that cattle died by the hundreds, fighting grass fires, barn raisings, the Galveston flood. My youngest loves pirate stories. As far as I

saddlebag dispatches 103 know we had no pirates in the family tree, but I toss

JT: I love to walk the land. I think sometimes

in the early pirates who sailed in the Gulf of Mexico

that I can hear stories whispering in the wind when

just for him.

I walk across a pasture. And now and then when I’m

With all the games and videos we keep just for them, they always want to play the button game. They love stories and make believe as much as I do. This game comes with a warning. My little pirate swallowed his button one day.

listening to a windmill or trying not to smell the cows, a character walks by and my story begins. The land shapes people not only in real life, but in my characters as well. We’re complex puzzles with the pieces of our lives interwoven in the time and place where we live. I don’t call the people in my

SD: Jodi, you love and collect so many traditional items from the American West. Your house is lovely

books Characters. I think of them as real people with pasts and dreams and secrets they don’t share.

and those family treasures add to the beauty. I’ve seen SD: Which book

your old trunk and your grandmother’s music box, but don’t you also have a room of old quilts? JT:



great grandmothers and







quilt my

grandmother made me




dresses. When I was

I used to think I wanted to hit big with my first book, but then I would have spent my life chasing my success. It’s a lot more fun to climb the ladder one step at a time and enjoy the view

a kid, I’d curl up in

surprised you most? JT: books

Some touch


heart. I lose sleep worrying my











me laugh. Once



working on a book deep into the night. I

it and say, “That was your dress, Gram. There’s one

woke my husband up laughing. He came into my little

of Mommy’s and this one was my favorite dress.”

study off the bedroom and said, “What is so funny?”

In my family, most quilts were used, not considered art so they wore out, but over the years

I said, “Grayson (one of my characters) just told me a joke I hadn’t heard.”

they kept us all warm. To this day I think there is

He shook his head and went back to bed. The next

nothing prettier than a quilt waving on a clothes line

morning, he told me never to tell anyone what I’d said.

behind a house in the country. If anyone ever spots

But, I think the writers reading this will understand.

one these days, send me a picture.

Sometimes story people come alive.

I don’t quilt, but my mother said once that I quilt with words. SD: Don’t you have a ritual you do before you start writing a book?

SD: What advice would you give new writers? JT: Study your art—lots of great books on writing. I keep a dozen by my desk and when I’m

104 saddlebag dispatches

stuck I usually pick up one and read a chapter.

wanted to hit big with my first book, but then I would

Except for the SNAKES IN TEXAS book I keep both

have spent my life chasing my success. It’s a lot more

for reference and to kill wasps who find their way to

fun to climb the ladder one step at a time and enjoy the

my office on the second floor of the library at West

view from each stage. Maybe that’s why it’s so easy for

Texas A&M University.

me to talk to writers at any level; I’ve been there.

Write from the heart. Write what you’d love to read. Write what you’re proud to put your name on. And, writers who are not writing are usually the

SD: Which book would you like to write over if you could and why?

first to criticize. Beware of reading bad reviews. It can kill your creativity and rarely helps your writing.

JT: I have far too many stories dancing in my head to ever think about writing one over. Even after over 60

SD: What advice do you have for the published writers who have gotten discouraged?

stories, writing doesn’t get any easier. But you figure it out. Like they say, all you have to do is sit down in the chair, open a vein and bleed.

JT: I believe every writer has at least one great

I wouldn’t mind going back to HARMONY. By

book within. In many ways the joy comes when that

the time I finished that series, I felt like I lived in

book arrives later rather than earlier. I used to think I

the town and dearly loved the people.

saddlebag dispatches 105

SD: Can you see your writing life changing or maybe evolving would be the better word?

Tuition and housing in the dorms is very affordable and you can come and totally immerse yourself in writing— eating, breathing and sleeping it—for one full week.

JT: I still have the same plan I worked out at the cemetery. Write. Write hard. Write well. SD: Jodi, I know writing occupies most of your heart and soul, but tell us about other interests.

For more information about it visit: academics/eod-writing-academy.aspx SD: What led you to establish such a great thing for other writers?

JT: I’ve always had a passion for teaching. I taught

JT: When I first started in this business, I became

high school Family Living for fifteen years. Another

very frustrated at not finding the answers and help for

passion that goes hand in hand with teaching is a writing

things I desperately needed to learn. I knew if I felt

academy at West Texas A&M University every June for

that way, others did also. I had to figure things out

one week. Six accomplished writers teach classes about

myself by trial and error, but writers today have better

all aspects of writing. It’s the best thing I ever did. The

options. The writing academy is a very good resource.

academy has become known all over the world and we now have international writers making the journey.

SD: You’ve written so many great series and have a

106 saddlebag dispatches new one called RANSOM CANYON. It’s set in the real

small community where two roads cross and a canyon

historical place of Ransom Canyon a few miles outside

runs long and deep through the county. This time, I

of Lubbock. I’m very interested in how that came about.

wanted the anchors to the stories not to be the places in town, but the ranches surrounding Ransom Canyon.

JT: In the summer of 2014, I sat down with my new

Big question? Would my readers follow me into

editor Susan Swinwood. We were in New York for a

a modern contemporary story with today’s people

convention and I was nervous. Too many people, too

and problems and joys set in a very western setting?

many walls. “Tell me about this series you want to

I’m finishing up book 6 now and book one, RANSOM

write called Ransom Canyon?” she asked.

CANYON, is up for a RITA—the highest award in

And I began to talk. Not a pitch or a planned talk,

women’s fiction (again similar to your Spur Award.)

just about my story and my people. She later told me

But, win or lose, my gamble has paid off. Readers have

that she saw the excitement in my eyes, as my words

ridden right in with me to the modern day western

took her back to Texas. HQN had just bought the series,

story with sales making me a national bestselling

not on an outline or seeing chapters, but on what they

author published in 23 languages worldwide.

heard. I’d just come off of a great 9 book ride with

Why did I gamble after 28 years of writing? Some

Putnam on a series called HARMONY about a small

might say the excitement of something new, or the

town in West Texas. I loved the idea of writing stories

challenge, but I think Susan saw the truth in my eyes

about a group of people whose lives intertwine.

when we talked face to face. I love this part of the

This time, I wanted to center my people around a

country. I love this land and the strong, stubborn, crazy

saddlebag dispatches 107 people. I grew up climbing over the rocks at Palo Duro

People ask Jodi all the time when she’s going to

Canyon and racing the wind over the flat land. I’m from

retire. She just laughs at such a ridiculous notion.

people who watch the clouds and call the last meal of

When they lay her to rest, she’ll still have stories

the day supper. And sometime in your life it’s time to go

circling in her head and a book half-finished. Jodi

back home and write what you love. So, have a seat, pull

never runs out of story ideas. She compares it to an

off your boots, pick up a book, and step into RANSOM

endless river with a constant flow. The more you use,

CANYON. You might just enjoy staying a while.

the more that come.

Jodi has a prequel and 4 books out in this new

You can connect with Jodi online at:

Ransom Canyon series: WINTER’S CAMP, RANSOM


Facebook: JodiThomasAuthor

and SUNRISE CROSSING. There are at least two more

Twitter: jodithomas

on the way so be on the lookout for them. Set against a landscape as deadly as it is beautiful,

And don’t miss her latest trailer, “Walking the Land,” now available on YouTube

the lives of these people intersect in a way that none ever imagined. And like their ancestors who settled the

—Linda Broday is a New York Times and USA

land long before them—nothing about Ransom Canyon

Today bestselling author of western historical romance.

has changed—they must survive together or die alone…

She is a regular contributor to Saddlebag Dispatches,

the decision is theirs.

and makes her home in the Texas Panhandle.


ot all that long ago, Western authors were thought to be a dying breed. The glory days of legends like Zane Gray and Louis L’Amour were long past and the genre was viewed as an anachronism destined for the literary ash heap. But then something happened. New writers picked up the torch, future celebrities like Elmore Leonard, Jory Sherman, and William Johnstone. Struggling for fresh ideas, Hollywood brought swaggering heroes in Stetsons back to the silver screen with popular movie remakes—3:10 to Yuma, True Grit, and the forthcoming Magnificent Seven—and contemporary Western stories on television—Justified and Longmire. Like the most storied heroes of its own history, the Western just wouldn’t die. It lives on in our collective conscious, telling stories of life, love, survival, and fortitude against long odds—light or dark, classic or contemporary, thrilling or romantic. But when the great Western legends of today eventually join the legends of yesteryear, just who will pick up their proverbial Resistol hats and carry on? It’s a question much on the mind of current bestsellers like Jodi Thomas and Dusty Richards. Through many years of classes, conferences, and critiques, they have dedicated themselves to finding the Western writers of tomorrow. Saddlebag Dispatches is a product of that search. Therefore, from this issue forward, we will make it our mission to find the best and brightest up-and-coming Western authors from around the world and bring you, our readers, samples of their work and tell you where you can find more. Prospecting, if you will. We hope you’ll join us in our effort by letting us know what you think of these fresh new voices, either by e-mail at feedback@, or on our Facebook page. In the meantime, please enjoy the following excerpts from Tiffany Podz and Ford Kirkland.

110 saddlebag dispatches

Excerpt from

texas on my mind A Contemporary Western Romance by Tiffany Podz

A runaway comes home to try and save the family ranch from the land-hungry family buying up her hometown. She faces the ghosts cluttering her past and allies herself with the last person she would ever want to help: Her ex-lover.


he silence on the drive home smothered Eliza. Unspoken defeat choked her, and it was difficult for her to answer Ben when he made small talk with her. Finally Ben trailed into silence, tuning the radio past the bible thumpers shouting about sinners, past the upbeat Tejano music, to a country station. Eliza sat in the middle next to Ben, in deference to Renee’s insistence that she felt nauseous and didn’t want to have to reach over anyone to puke. Renee’s head leaned against the door, the window halfway down and blowing fresh air into her face. She was paler than when they had started, and Eliza knew she needed to get her home and into bed. They all needed to rest before the exodus. The pickup motored out of Desert Rim, the buildings dropped away and they were far from civilization. Eliza breathed a sigh of relief, surprising herself. She had craved trips to town, despite the looks she got from people who recognized her. It felt so much more like Chicago than the open expanse that the ranch sat on. Now the opposite was true. She couldn’t breathe properly until she was away from the order of streets and the nosy stares of women clutching paper shopping bags as they strolled the town square. Ben turned onto the dirt road leading out to the Twisted M. “Roll up her window. I think she’s asleep now and won’t mind.” Eliza peeked at her sister, and saw her head leaned against the top of the seat. She obeyed, reaching awkwardly across Renee to crank the window shut. Leaning back, she shut her eyes. She was still tired, even more so now, knowing how

much work there was to do. There would be the final terms of payment on the note to discuss with Frank. He would probably take everything they had left to cover the note. They would have to move on and start anew. Eliza glanced covertly at Ben, wondering what he was thinking. He tapped his thumb against the steering wheel in time to the song on the radio. She would miss him. Her heart clenched at the thought of leaving. It felt like there was so much more to lose this time. Ben, her father, Renee, Lane, Mr. and Mrs. Anthony, Beau. She gazed out the dusty windshield trying to get a hold on herself. As if sensing her inner turmoil, Ben slid an arm across her shoulders and pulled her closer to him. She laid her head on his shoulder, still smelling his clean essence through the laundry soap of borrowed clothes. He placed a gentle kiss on the edge of her forehead and the worries of the past hour melted away. As long as they were together, everything would work out somehow. The gentle rocking of the truck and the warmth of being next to Ben lulled her into a half sleep. —Tiffany Podz survived growing up on the outskirts of Amarillo, Texas with five brothers and sisters. She creates characters based on the salt of the earth people she’s worked with for more than twenty years in retail. Tiffany knows that a well placed question is often the opening to your next plot. Everyone has a story, and is often ready to tell anyone willing to listen. She can be contacted at or on the blog she shares with other West Texas writers:

saddlebag dispatches 111

Excerpt from

The indestructable toro twins A Young Adult Western by Ford Kirkland

Ana and Hugo Toro are twins who must rely on their unique powers and love for each other to stay alive in a mysterious, and still unexplored American west. Hugo’s thirst for adventure and Ana’s search for answers lead them into dark sections of the map where myth and reality mix in the mist. They must each battle shadowy creatures and their own demons to find a home in this bizarre new world.


he reins are impossibly light in my hands. I see the cracked brown leather wrapped flat against my palms, but I don’t feel anything on my skin. I wonder for a moment if I’m dreaming again, but my other senses are too on fire for my mind to be asleep. My cheeks burn in the rushing wind. My ears fill with the moans and whispers of the surrounding black world. The cool air stings my squinting eyes and forces out tears that race back into my hairline. Mabel’s lungs fill and empty with the crisp night air. Her massive back expands under me in a steady and powerful run. I think she knows this is our escape. I think she’s loving it. I know I am. Lu pulls up beside me on her horse. Wilma is a black stallion the same color as the night sky. If the moon doesn’t hit her just right, Wilma dissolves into the night sky, and Lu looks like she’s flying. Lu is smiling so big that her teeth gleam in the moonlight. She has her scarf wrapped around her neck. It trails behind her in a long train of rippling silk. She sees me staring at her and gives me a wink. “Let’s fly, girl,” she says before racing ahead to take the lead. I look over my shoulder to make sure we’re not being followed. The last of the campfires are still burning. The flicker of the flames makes the camp look like it’s dancing. There are shadows of men moving through the wagons, but none look like they are headed out our way. Bartholomew’s Wolves all went after my brother, so there’s not really anyone who could come after us; at least not tonight. A weight lifts off my shoulders. All the ugliness from

the crowds. All the horrid smells and empty faces. It’s all disappearing with every stomp of Mabel’s hoof in the hard dirt. I know I should be worried about Hugo, and I am. I know I should be worried about the man with the letter, and I am. But right now, right in this instant, I’m so happy I could explode. My whole body is raw and new. Lu and I are racing away from all that terrible grime behind us, and nothing could be better. That must mean that running is the right thing to do. A person doesn’t get a burst of happiness like this for doing something wrong. We ride for the next few hours in silence. The excitement of our escape wears off, and the chill of the night air finds me. I pull my jacket tight against my ribs, and imagine how nice it would be cuddling up to a warm fire. And as if God plucked that thought from my brain and tossed it down to earth, a pinprick of orange light pops into view on the horizon. —Ford Kirkland considers himself lucky (and cursed) to be descended from a long line of writers, playwrights and fabulous liars. He first discovered his love for western history in the tiny museums and libraries of rural West Texas. If it looks abandoned or hasn’t seen a visitor for months, that’s the place for him. Ford has found that you can uncover the most amazing stories and characters in the dusty corners of back rooms that don’t show up on any tourist map. When not writing or trying to match wits with his two evil genius daughters, he works in marketing and education. He can be reached at The Indestructible Toro Twins is his second novel, and is in the process of being polished for publication.


arney Bogart, dressed like a cowboy with long sleeves, vest, and chaparrals, and riding an old roan, didn’t think of himself as a bad feller—which is probably where he and Stank Carmichael differed. Stank, riding at Barney’s side on a gray gelding and dressed like a citified dandy—complete with brown English bowler— saw the two of them as rough and tumble outlaws. “Real owlhoots on the dark ways prod,” he’d sometimes say. “Jail broke desperadoes.” The two hadn’t so much broke jail as simply walked out of a Colorado cell during the guard’s drunken lunch hour. Be that as it may, they were now headed for Stank’s home town of Emoryville on the green flint hills of Kansas. It was Sunday, and mischief was in the air. “I want it to look like an accident, dammit,” Stank said, throwing back a slug from the brown bottle of corn mash he’d taken off a passing medicine wagon the day before. “You’re putting quite a hurt on that bottle. Why not share a drink?” Barney said. Stank belched, loud and proud, and shoved the cork back into the long neck. “It’s not the bottle I’m fixin’ to hurt. It’s Hilda Kempker.” Sometimes Barney and Stank were the best of friends, sometimes all they could manage was to grunt back and forth. Since Stank had started nursing his obsession with Hilda Kempker, Barney wasn’t sure he knew his saddle pard at all. “You think about her way too much,” Barney said. “Promised myself I’d take care of her—”

“More than twelve years ago, I know,” Barney said, finishing the sentence. He’d heard it often enough during their journey across Kansas. “Roundup season’s starting soon. Maybe we ought to look for a job.” A ragged black buzzard swooped low over Stank’s bowler toward the line of buildings that began to emerge on the horizon. “Hilda Kempker’s the only job on my mind, buddy. She’s right up there in Emoryville. Probably still sitting in that same stinkin’ oak chair in the church basement.” Hilda had been Stank’s Sunday school teacher. Among other things. “Wasn’t she married to your old man for a while?” Barney asked. “Nah,” Stank lied. “You’re thinking of somebody else.” But Barney knew he wasn’t. “We need two things to do this right,” Stank said. “I don’t think there’s much right about knocking off your Sunday school teacher.” Barney’s horse nickered again, as if in agreement. “Besides, you and me are wanted men.” Stank ignored the commentary of man and beast alike, continuing to stitch together the threadbare tapestry of his plan. “See there’s this Indian story, from the Poncas I think, about how they make poison arrows. You got any idea how Poncas make poison arrows?” Barney thought Stank was getting his tribes confused, but the breeze across the hills continued to smell sweet like blooming alfalfa, and the sun was bright but not overly hot. He felt like he had plenty of time to listen.

114 saddlebag dispatches “I ain’t never seen a poison arrow. And I hope I never do. Especially not sticking out of me.” Stank took another drink and explained himself. “Here’s how they do it. How we’re gonna do it too. First you get yourself a rattlesnake.” “Seems easy enough.” “Then you procure yourself a good piece of liver. You make the snake bite the liver a bunch of times.” “Over and over,” Barney said. “Over and over, that’s right. You saturate the liver with poison. Then you dry it.” “Takes a while to dry.” “Then you grind it into a powder and coat the tips of your arrows with the poison.” “And that really works?” Stank nodded. “Foolproof.” “So you’re planning to shoot ol’ Hilda with an arrow? Don’t seem like anybody’d see that as much of an accident. Didn’t you want it to look like an accident?” “I was just explaining the organ of my idea.” “You mean the origin of your idea.” “We’re gonna feed her rattlesnake poison in her tea.” The more he spoke, the more animated he got. For a minute, Barney was afraid Stank would fall off and be trampled by his gelding. “See, instead of liver, you get a big ol’ sack of tea.” “And you have the rattlesnake whale into it,” Barney said. “Right.” “And then you give it Hilda. Maybe sort of as a remembrance gift. Like maybe you play act like you’re happy to see her.” “Right.” “And then,” Barney said, getting into the spirit of things, “she goes home, pours some tea into her cup, adds a little water, takes a sip, and bam!” He slapped his hands together. “She falls over dead. Just like that.” Stank agreed. “Just like that.” “Won’t work.” Stank reined his horse into a tight circle. “What’cha mean it won’t work?” “It won’t work, that’s all. A body don’t die if you drink rattlesnake venom. Especially if it’s all diluted down by hot water and tea and such.” “I don’t believe it.” “It’s true,” Barney said, making things up on the fly. “I talked to a doctor once who said so. He said your guts just digest the stuff and it passes on through.” Stank shook his head, looking off into the distance. But Barney knew Stank believed him. Emoryville was a solid string of buildings on either side of the trail, interspersed with clumps of young trees. On the far edge of town, the spire of the Methodist church soared into a hard blue sky. If Barney didn’t say something soon, Stank was liable to mope right up to the steps of the church and gun down the old bag in cold blood. And then where would they be?

In the soup, that’s where. He didn’t actually mind killing Hilda Kempker. He didn’t care one way or the other. He just didn’t want to be around when it happened. Barney searched his mind for something to suggest. Finally, he said, “Here’s an idea for you. You ever heard of Scheele’s Green?” Stank kept his gaze on the trail and just barely shook his head. “Well it’s a kind of stuff they use to make wallpaper and other green things. Only it ain’t healthy like all this green around us. In fact, it’s got so much arsenic in it that—let’s say you licked some wallpaper—it’d kill you instantly.” Barney closed his eyes and crossed his hands over his chest for effect. His partner cranked his head around, obviously taken with the idea. “You ain’t kidding?” “I ain’t kidding. I heard some egghead say they think it might’ve been what killed Napoleon.” And that part was true. He wasn’t making it up. Stank leaned back in the saddle, tipping his bowler cap forward. “Say, this might have possibilities.” “Like what are you thinkin’?” “Find some wallpaper, soak it in the tea?” “Maybe,” Barney said, nodding. “Maybe. How about we just scrape some of that green off into a powder and put it in a pepper shaker?” Stank stroked his chin. “I like it. I like it. Except....” “Except what?” “Except as long as I knew her, Hilda Kempker didn’t take pepper. Or salt. Or spices of any kind on her food.” “We sneak in and slip it into her dinner,” Barney suggested. “She cooks everything herself. She doesn’t eat at restaurants.” Stank’s voice was dropping along with his enthusiasm. “And on top of that, where we gonna find this green wallpaper? I mean, how would we know we had this steel green stuff in the first place?” Now it was Barney’s turn to mope. “I s’pect you’re right,” he said. Emoryville enjoyed a peaceful Sunday afternoon as the pair rode onto the main street. They passed a couple squatty gray frame houses, one without much foundation that sunk a little to the left. An impressive two-story brick building held down the first block with a cornerstone reading 1890. On the next corner ahead, the Methodist church. With nobody on the street, Barney and Stank took the time to lollygag. Barney shook his head at the big building. “Mighty high airs, puttin’ up a brick monstrosity like that. Looks like your little home town done grown past it’s raising.” “They always was a snooty bunch,” Stank said. “Why do you think I left?” Across the street and down a yellow pine boardwalk, another new building waited, this one with a false front and a string of shining tin signs. A row of barrels rested in the shadow of a bluestriped canvas awning, its corners gently moving in the breeze. “Looks like the town’s growing left and right.”

saddlebag dispatches 115 A smiling boy on a bicycle rounded the corner by the Methodist church. Barney nodded in response to his friendly wave. “We still ain’t figured what to do with Hilda,” Barney said. “Might be best to forget that part of our visit?” “Forget? No, sir. I’ll never forget. She’s a mean woman, I tell you. You ask anybody. Everybody knows her. And everybody hates her. Why, it’d be nothing less than divine justice if that there church steeple tipped over and skewered her right through the heart.” From under his hat, Barney glanced up at the narrow spire, blinding white in the afternoon sun. Looked solid enough for now…. “There’s a window there in the lower part,” Stank said. “Rather than the steeple itself, what if something fell out of that window and landed on her?” Barney closed one eye and followed Stank’s outstretched finger. “Something like what?” “Cannon ball?” Stank said. “You got one handy?” “All right,” Stank said, hands on his hips. “What if one of the bells tumbled out?” He snapped his fingers. “Look at that siding up there. Why, if one of them boards came loose and got caught in the wind….” “I don’t know.” Barney pictured the accident in his mind.

“We were trying to be too clever. This way it’s cut and dried.” “Gettin’ Hilda into position, that’s gonna be the hard part.” “Naw. Here, lemme show you.” The church was a long rectangular frame structure with expertly trimmed glass on either side, stretching from the street back toward an open hayfield. The front doors faced the street with the steeple directly overhead. Stank climbed down from the roan and walked to a spot in front of the doors, directly underneath the high steeple, its long shadow pointing like a finger to the northeast. “What if we met her coming out of church, and stopped her right here?” Barney crawled off his roan and kept his eye on the steeple, walking backwards into the street. He looked at Stank. Then the steeple. Then Stank. “Back about two feet,” Barney said. Stank stepped back. “Here?” “More or less. Maybe put a mark on the ground.” Stank nodded, fished for the knife he kept in his pocket. Then there was the creak of metal hinges and a voice from the door of the church. “Help you boys?” Barney raised his eyebrows, then extended a hand to the old gent that lurched down the wood steps toward them.

116 saddlebag dispatches “Howdy do,” he said. “We’re just, uh... admiring your church here.” “It’s a beaut. Didn’t catch your names?” “I’m John Smith,” Barney said, using the names they’d used at the Colorado jail. “This here is my brother Joe. Who am I talking to?” “I’m Sam Norris.” He stroked the uneven patch of whiskers on his chin, paying special attention to Stank. “Joe Smith, eh? You got a mighty familiar look about you.” “Never been here before,” Stank said, toeing the dirt. “But that don’t mean we ain’t heard about Emoryville,” Barney said. “In fact, we heard you got a right fine Methodist congregation here. Folks talk about it all along the cow trails.” “Is that so?” Sam said. “It is indeed. In fact” —Barney shot Stank a wink— “we heard tell you got an especially good Sunday School.” Sam scratched his head and peered at Barney through half closed eyes. “Ain’t had much Sunday school for a while.” “Oh? How come?” said Barney. “Sad tale to tell you,” said Sam. “It breaks my heart to say it.” For the first time since Sam appeared, Stank raised his head and walked straight up to the man. He looked a little too eager to hear the story. Or scared. With worry in his voice, he said, “What happened?”

“Our beloved teacher, Hilda Kempker passed tragically.” “Hilda? Gone? How?” Stank’s voice cracked a little. “Happened right here on the lawn in the shadow of the steeple. Just a few feet from where we’re standing,” Sam said. “Shadow of the steeple? Then what?” Sam nodded, obviously enjoying the anticipation on Stank’s face. “Church picnic.” “Hard to imagine anything bad happening at a picnic,” Barney said. “Just an accident,” Sam said with a shrug. Or rather, a series of them. “How’s that?” “Well old Hilda stood up and took a drink from her cup. She must’ve swallowed her tea the wrong way—” “Tea?” “Green tea,” Sam said. “G-green?” “Yup. Anyway, she sorta staggered back, and as luck would have it, one of the siding boards up there on the steeple picked just that minute to fall.” “And it hit her on the head?” “Yes it did, but that ain’t what killed her.” “Oh my goodness.” “After that board hits her, Hilda take a few more steps and falls down beside the steps back there.”

saddlebag dispatches 117 “And a rattlesnake bites her,” Barney said. “Well, no,” Sam said. “But that’s not a bad guess.” “An... an arrow maybe?” Stank said. “Did somebody shoot her with an arrow?” “Arrow?” Sam said with a chuckle. “You boys are full of the devil. Where would an arrow come from? In case you ain’t heard, this ain’t the wild west anymore.” “So what killed her?” Sam pointed at his throat. “Piece of raw liver.” “Raw liver?” “A favorite indulgence of some of the old folks around here. Caught right here in her windpipe when that board hit.” Sam shook his head. “I tell you, when He puts his mind to it, the good Lord has some creative ways to dispatch a body.” “He... He sure does,” Stank said. Barney took off his hat. The three stood there for a minute, only the sound of Stank’s stuffed-up nose breaking the silence. Finally, Barney said, “I guess we ought to be riding on.” Stank nodded, shook Sam’s hand in farewell, and followed his partner to the horses. Side by side they rode out of Emoryville, Stank blowing his nose and dabbing at his leaky eyes. “Sorta makes you think, doesn’t it?” Stank said. “It does at that,” Barney said. It made him think that with old Hilda gone they might finally talk about something else. “I mean, it’s an awful coincidence, ain’t it, Barney?” Barney chewed on it a while, then spit it out. “That damned galoot was stretching things. I bet he made half of it up as he was standing there.” Stank shook his head, reined his gelding to a full stop. As the dust settled around them, Barney could see tears still streaming down Stank’s face. “I don’t think so. I think it was all true. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence.” “The hell you say.” Stank’s shoulders drooped with defeat. “Don’t you see, Barney? After all them lessons I ignored, after all these years of struggle, that darned Hilda Kempker’s reached out from the grave to convert me.” “Now, Stank, don’t you think maybe you’re—” Stank held his head high. “I’m sorry. That’s the way I see it, Barney.” He turned his face back toward town. “I’ve seen the light.” Barney wasn’t sure what to say, so he stayed quiet as Stank gently steered his horse back toward the direction they’d come from. “I think I’m going back. To stay.” “To stay? What about roundup season? What about finding a job? Doggone it, Stank! What’re you gonna do?” Stank looked over his shoulder and for the first time that Barney could remember, Stank’s cheeks were creased with a genuine smile. “I hear they got an opening for a Sunday School teacher,” he said.


richard Prosch


fter growing up on a Nebraska farm, Richard Prosch has worked as a professional writer and artist while living in Wyoming, South Carolina, and Missouri. In the early 2000s, he won two South Carolina Press Awards and founded Lohman Hills Creative, LLC, with his wife, Gina. Richard has written and published a multitude of short fiction, including three ongoing series of stories— Holt County, John Coburn, and Jo Harper. His western crime fiction captures the fleeting history and lonely frontier stories of his youth, where characters aren’t always what they seem and the wind-burnt landscape is filled with swift, deadly danger. In 2016, Richard won the Spur Award for short fiction presented by Western Writers of America for his short story, “The Scalper.” Richard and Gina live with their son, Wyatt, in Missouri. Find out more about Richard and his work at www.


CIRCLE photos by patricia rustin Christen and porch pig productions, LLC

saddlebag dispatches 119


201 6 national champions


saddlebag dispatches 121

201 6 national champions


saddlebag dispatches 123


201 6 national champions


Acclaimed author Richard Prosch won the Western Writers of America Spur Award in 2016 for his short fiction. This volume of stories from old Wyoming and Nebraska brings the best of his westerns together under one cover for the first time. A wrecked wagon spells trouble for a Niobrara river man; the leader of a roadhouse band needs a tough man for a dangerous job; a gambler bets on the outcome of a western showdown; a pulp fiction character haunts a woman’s memory of her husband. Old gunnies, laconic lawmen, John Coburn, Whit Branham, and a host of villains bring the action, humor and irony Prosch is well known for. Old favorites and brand new tales firmly establish Prosch as an exciting new voice in Western fiction.


he stagecoach tried to outrun the dusty whirlwind it generated as it careened along the road, two days from Abilene. Grizzled and wrinkled from age and years of throwing his tough old face into the wind, Frank Drummond shifted his cud of chewing tobacco—stretching his left cheek to impossible proportions as he eyed the figure standing in the road ahead. He started to spit an amber stream over his left shoulder, then abruptly changed his mind and aimed it into the soiled can at his feet. If he spit over the side it would blow back into the passengers and that about got him shot once. Drummond turned to yell a warning at his shotgun guard, but Miguel was already alert to the figure waiting for them. The guard held his rifle casually, but the business end accurately tracked the stranger as the stage ground to a stop. The stage settled into the dust, creaking and moaning as the passengers shifted around inside. The eight-horse team stomped restlessly, shaking their harness as the flies caught up with them on the hot day. Both men riding on top of the stage watched warily as the man lowered his head, waiting for the wind to carry away the dust cloud. Slim-hipped and wide of shoulder, the stranger held his forty-pound Texas saddle on one shoulder while his right hand held a new Henry repeating rifle. The man’s typical cowhand dress was a little better in quality than most. The boots looked hand-tooled and solid black. A black gun belt held a Navy Colt in a tied-down holster and the grips were worn smooth with use. The old stage driver knew the signs and knew the look. The Kansas plains of 1870 were awash with castoff and battle

scarred veterans of war—cattle wars and arguments over water and land rights just as deadly. Ranchers were building barbed wire kingdoms, jealously trying to hold huge amounts of rangeland, and men were dying in the process. Hired warriors were common occurrences along the Chisholm Trail and the word gunman, a term idolized by the newspapers and dime novels produced back East, was on everyone’s lips. The dust swirled on past and the man’s grey eyes came up from under the brim of his hat. Drummond saw his face at the same time his eyes caught the glint of the star pinned on his shirt. He had to adjust his first impression—not by much, but enough to bring a smile to his face. “Jesus, Gawd. Matthew Bodine. Thought you were over in the Nation.”

Matt smiled. He knew these folks. Some drivers, leery of holdups, would shoot first and sort it out later. “Been a while, Frank.” He dumped his saddle on the ground and grinned at the two men on the box. “I could use a ride.” “What happened to your horse? Injuns?” Drummond stood and turkey-necked all around. “Gopher hole. Half a day south of here.” “Nice day for a walk.” The accented voice of Miguel Franco was soft and musical. Matt glanced at the Mexican, noting the familiar way the man handled his weapon. “Not really.” He tossed his saddle

126 saddlebag dispatches into the boot at the back of the stage and walked around to one of the side doors. Stopping on the shady side, where he could see into the stage, he paused to look at the passengers. One by one, he met their eyes and made assessments—and opinions that would last until proven wrong. Drummond came up from behind. “We’ll squeeze you in somewhere, Marshal.” “I can ride on top if there’s no room. I wouldn’t want to crowd anyone.” “Nonsense,” one of the women inside replied, “we’ll make room.” Matt glanced into the stage and his gaze lingered on the woman. He thought he knew the voice, and her face confirmed it. “We better get goin’ folks.” The old stage driver climbed back onto the coach. “There’s a rest stop about an hour ahead. Be some shade and water. Then we’ll push on to Baxter’s Crossing.” As Matt leaned back in the seat and pulled his hat down over his eyes, the old bull-whacker popped his twelve-foot blacksnake whip over the eight horses pulling the coach. Frank Drummond was a tough old man, and had experience at many things, at least to hear him tell it. But so far Matt didn’t see any indication that he was a stage driver. Not unless bouncing his passengers to death was a prerequisite. The rocking motion of the careening coach made sleep impossible and every surface, including passengers, was covered in a fine white dust.

Still, it was better than walking. He just hoped his back would last until the night stop at Baxter Crossing. “Mister Bodine?” He focused on the woman across from him. “Ma’am.” “You’re a peace officer?” Matt took his left hand and lifted the lapel of his vest. The silver star pinned to his shirt was engraved U. S. Marshal. It also revealed the butt of a second pistol, set for a cross-draw and never far from his hand. A man sitting across from him leaned over to shake his hand. “I’ll introduce you around, Marshal. You’ve been talking to Mrs. Prescott.” He pointed to a man next to him. “This is G. W. Rourke—going to Abilene to buy cattle. My name’s Quinn. I sell dry-goods to mercantile stores.” He held Quinn’s gaze a moment, debating whether to challenge the obvious slur to the woman who hadn’t been mentioned. She was sitting beside him and Quinn hadn’t even looked at her. Probably couldn’t see her around his long Puritan nose. Sighing, he decided not to push it. He didn’t need to be told about Annie Holt. When he recognized her, a flood of memories came back to him. A small smile came to his lips as he glanced at her. A few more miles were showing since the last time he’d seen her, but she was still a beautiful woman. Somehow, she looked unaffected by the blistering heat and dust.

saddlebag dispatches 127 He turned toward her. “How are you, Annie?” She looked at him, startled for a moment, gratefulness seeping into her soft brown eyes. “Tolerable,” she said dryly. “Just tolerable.” “Who’s the Mex riding shotgun up top?” “Couldn’t be better,” Quinn replied, not giving Annie a chance to answer. “It’s Miguel Franco. No one will buy trouble with him riding guard.” He still looked at Annie, ignoring for the moment the man’s reply. She smiled softly and shrugged her shoulders, turning back to look out the other window. Finally, “Heard of him.” “What brings you here, Marshal? Are you going to Abilene?” Mrs. Prescott seemed intent on grilling him. He glanced at her, then at the ring on her hand. Her blonde hair was piled high in curls and ringlets, her dress buttoned tightly at the collar. Young and pretty, too young to be a widow and old enough to know better, she didn’t hide the sudden interest in him. A little close between the eyes. He had a horse like that once. “Warrant. Man I want to see is supposed to be in Abilene.” “You’re from the Indian Territory, Marshal?” Mrs. Prescott asked. “It’s not often one of the Judge’s men gets over this far into Kansas.” His gaze pinned the woman to her seat, annoyed at her questions. “You make a study of marshals, ma’am?”

Before Mrs. Prescott could reply, Annie interrupted. “Who’s your warrant for?” “Texas Red Wyrick.” “Jesus.” Annie’s voice was subdued. Her gaze lingered on his face a moment and he watched her expression go from speculation to curiosity, and finally settle on sadness. With a slight shake of her head, she returned to looking at the scenery outside. Complete silence permeated the coach. All had heard of Texas Red. Up with the trail herds from Texas—and all the bad ones seemed to be “up from Texas”—he was known as one of the fastest gunfighters around. Some called him a Sugar Gun, sweet and fast—saying he was faster than Earp or Hickok. In Annie’s part of town, they called him a pig. He was as unscrupulous and profane as he was dirty. He took whatever he wanted and challenged anyone to defy him. Finally, Rourke cleared his throat. “I hear he’s been cuttin’ quite a swath around Abilene. Heard he’s killed four men in the last month. I even heard he faced down Wild Bill himself.” Rourke was taking in the marshal with new and skeptical eyes. “Are you going to team up with the town sheriff to try and get him—maybe get together a posse?” “Who is the sheriff?” “It’s Tom Smith.” Annie didn’t turn from the window. “Bear River Tom?”

128 saddlebag dispatches “Sounds like you know him,” Quinn said. He wondered if Quinn would ever shut up as he answered tersely. “Nope. Just know of him. From what I’ve heard he won’t last. I figure on talking to him but I won’t be asking for volunteers.” He pinned Rourke with a steady look. “Mister, I wouldn’t be spreadin’ around that story about Texas Red. James never backed up for anybody and isn’t likely to.” “Who?” Quinn’s voice was puzzled. “James Butler Hickock. Wild Bill. From what I hear about Abilene, he may even be your next marshal. If he hears that story, he’s sure going to be wondering where it came from.” “It’s just talk. No harm to it.” Rourke tried to shrug it off. “Your funeral.” “Whoa up there!” The voice of the stage driver penetrated the conversation in the coach. Looking out the open side of the coach, he could see a grove of trees ahead. “We’ll rest the horses for a half hour, folks.” Drummond yelled at them from on top of the coach. “Better get out and stretch.”

The stage driver was busy watering the horses from a couple of buckets he filled from the creek, losing half the water as he sloshed and cursed his way back to the stage. He carefully watched how much he let each horse drink. Quinn’s nasal voice could be heard addressing Rourke. “All them women should be run out of the country....” Drummond walked around the horses and interrupted. The old stage driver had covered a lot of ground in his time and not all of it easy, so he liked to avoid trouble whenever he could. Walking up close to the men Drummond stared at Quinn until the man’s voice faded away. “Mr. Quinn, is this your first trip out West?” Drummond’s voice was patient. “Why, yes it is.” “Then, let me try and keep you from being killed.” He glanced at the cattle buyer. “I’m surprised at you too, Rourke. You’re a western man, and you know we don’t speak slighting of our womenfolk out here. We show them respect.” Quinn laughed loudly. “Respect? For a—” “For a what?” Matt came up on the other side of the men. “For a what, mister? Are you about to call someone a name?” Quinn stuttered rapidly. “Well, just what everyone knows? I mean, that Holt woman works in a saloon, don’t she?” Matt reached out casually and slammed Quinn up against the coach. He watched it run through his eyes and his expression. Knowing the man was a coward, he just waited for what he knew would happen. Quinn knew this was the West—knew he should fight back and defend himself, but looking into Matt Bodine’s eyes something inside Quinn seemed to fold up and set down. “Let me tell you what everyone knows about Annie Holt, Mr. Quinn. Her no account family dumped her out here on the prairie when she was just a little girl. She survived that, and made it on her own since then. Maybe not the way most

folks would, but then most folks would have died. She did it all by herself, with no help from anyone. “A couple of years back,” he continued in a low voice, “cholera broke out on the Missouri-Kansas border, at a town called Mindenmines. Miners were dying like flies. People left that place in droves. But two or three didn’t, Mr. Quinn. One of them that stayed was Annie Holt. She stayed and nursed about fifty of those miners back to health. She fed them and took care of them, changed their clothes and bedding, and risked her life for them. Now those miners think a lot of that girl, and their friends do too, so you’d best not talk down on her. You just never know who’s going to be listening. She’s good people, and don’t you ever forget it.” Matt stood staring at the man for a few more seconds. “Is that clear?”

A few minutes later, Matt was standing down by the creek when he heard a light step behind him. Annie stopped beside him and stood looking out over the water. “I heard what you said, back there. I’m not sure you’re entirely right, but thanks anyway.” He shrugged and smiled at her. “It’s all true, Annie. Folks are grateful. I’m grateful, and I think you’ll find that most people who count are on your side.” She looked over to where Mrs. Prescott was talking to the cattle buyer. “Not everyone is.” He turned and looked. Smiling, he said, “What do you know? She’s giving up on me already.” He turned his steady gaze on Annie. “I said the folks that count, not people like her. Why go back to Abilene, Annie? You’ve surely got some money set by. Even if you don’t, I know many a man who’ll give you a stake with no strings attached. Why don’t you just walk away? Find some cowpoke and make him happy the rest of your life.” “You think I could?” Annie’s voice was skeptical. “Just that easy? I’ve thought about it, but I’m always afraid to try. Anyway, who’d want a retired dance-hall floozy?” He was about to answer when Miguel called from the top of the coach. “Marshal, we got company.” Matt turned to see who was coming and a cold knot formed in his stomach. Easterners were always asking how to tell the difference between a wild Indian and a tame one. At that time back East, there were people who hadn’t seen anything wild, much less an Indian. They did their jobs during the day, then at night went to music concerts, strolled along the boardwalks, and tipped their hats to the constable on the corner. Wild Indians? Some people would say there was no difference. Those people never saw the Kiowa, or Sioux, or Cheyenne in his own domain. The old timers would say you feel the difference in your gut. It’s the same feeling you get when you’re pushing through thick brush and come face to face with a mountain cougar or prairie rattler. Matt had that feeling now—that cold knot in his belly, knowing that what he would say and do in the next few minutes could mean life or death for all of them.

saddlebag dispatches 129 Sitting on their horses about fifty yards out into the prairie were three Kiowa. Straddling their ponies like the princes of the plains that they were, they sat loose-jointed and relaxed—and painted for war. Their faces were streaked with red and yellow, and the horses were painted with circles and dots. They decorated the horse’s manes with bits of bone, feathers, and medicine bags. Two of the Indians had rifles, and the one in front carried a lance adorned with fresh scalps and eagle feathers. These men were neither downtrodden nor apt to beg. This was their land, and they would control every inch of it or die trying. As the rest of the passengers converged on the stage, Matt told them, “No shooting, unless they start it, but I want every gun we have in plain sight. Even the women should have a gun. We’re in a bad spot here.” He looked curiously at the trio of Indians. Since they hadn’t laid an ambush and simply killed them all, they wanted something. All he had to do was find out what and keep their hair in the process. As the three Indians rode closer, he stepped out to meet them. They drew up in front of him and he got his first good look at the leader. The knot in his stomach got bigger. He didn’t know if it was good luck, or bad, that he knew him. Wild Pony hadn’t agreed to any treaties and refused to be carted off to a reservation. A few years ago, he’d left a trail of bodies and burned ranches from Texas to the Missouri River.

In the fleeting moments before he spoke, Matt remembered the first time he’d met with Wild Pony. It was in the panhandle country of Texas, and he was forted up in a buffalo wallow with four other cowhands. They’d been busting strays out of the thickets when they were jumped by a band of Kiowa. The cowhands were young, and so were the bucks. The first volley of gunfire had netted nothing for either side. Had the young Kiowa been with older warriors, it would have been a lot different. The wranglers made it to the natural fortress of a buffalo wallow, all carrying brand new Henry repeaters and saddlebags full of ammunition. The Kiowa were stubborn. To return home without scalps would be a disgrace but so were the cowhands. The battle lasted all day, with a last ditch charge by the Kiowa with the sun at their backs. After the dust and gun smoke settled, two men were left standing. Wild Pony came walking out of the dusty sunset carrying a slain warrior over his shoulder. Matt rose up from the buffalo wallow, half dazed from a bullet graze along his scalp. Both men were startled to see each other, and simply stared—too tired to do anything else. Wild Pony finally broke the silence. “It is a battle to be remembered. Many brave men died today. It is enough.” Later, they’d each helped bury the dead. The Kiowa on raised platforms, facing the rising sun, the cowboys as deep in the ground as the hard-packed earth would allow.

saddlebag dispatches 131 Matt went to sleep from exhaustion. When he woke the next morning, the Kiowa was gone. His weapons were next to his ground sheet. Wild Pony could easily have taken the weapons and killed him while he slept, but he hadn’t. Afterward, they’d crossed paths a few times, but never fought again.

Matt raised his left hand, palm out. His right rested on his pistol, a fact not missed by the trio of Indians. “Wild Pony is a long way from his lodge. It is good that you come to this shade and water as friends. You are welcome here.” The Kiowa looked mildly surprised as Matt addressed them in their own language. The Kiowa chief looked stonily at him a moment, then replied in English. “The Kiowa will hunt where he wishes. If my lodge is here, then this is my home.” A small glint of humor came to the warrior’s eye. “The Mar-shal is also far from his home. What does he do on Kiowa land?” Matt pointed west. “In the town where cattle are sold is a man I must see. He is wanted by the law and must be punished.” “White man’s law?” Wild Pony’s voice was scornful. He shrugged his shoulders. “Wild Pony is painted for war. I see in the distance his men are ready to take up the knife.” At this statement, the passengers whirled to look at the hills

behind them. “Why is Wild Pony ready to break the treaty his brothers have agreed to?” The Kiowa spoke angrily. “The Cherokee and the Kansa are old women who hide their faces when we come. They sit on their blankets and wait for the White Father to feed them and give them clothes. Our young warriors want to join forces with the Dog Soldiers of the Cheyenne. Together they hope to keep the whites from our land.” “Then why does the Kiowa wish to speak with me?” “When I saw you were here, I stayed the hands of my warriors. They have not seen the numbers of the white man, as I have. They think if they kill the whites that are on our land, no more will come. They are foolish, but they are young and will be mighty in battle before they die.” The Kiowa spat onto the ground. “Soldiers came to our village while we were on a hunt. They burned our homes and took some of our women away. We found the women later. Dead. The soldiers who did this ran away to hide in their fort. The Kiowa is patient. We will wait until they come out. Then we will kill them.” Matt’s anger seethed, and he inwardly cursed the army. Of all the idiot things to do. After a moment, he spoke to the Indian. “Wild Pony knows me. We have fought against each other in battle. You know my word is true. I have never lied to you.”

132 saddlebag dispatches “Wild Pony knows this.” “Then hear me. What Wild Pony believes in his heart is true. The whites will keep coming. They hunger for land so they can grow their crops and raise cattle and horses. These are the ones who will defeat the Kiowa. For every one you kill, two will take his place. “The soldiers have done a bad thing. But, if you kill the soldiers it will only make more trouble for you and your people. Your act of revenge would be your death song. It is possible this bad thing was done to make you angry—to make you do something foolish so the government can take away your lands again and send the soldiers against you. Hear me, Wild Pony. Take your warriors and go home. Move your village farther away toward the setting sun, so you will be hard to find. I will take care of the soldiers.” “White man’s law will not punish them.” “I cannot speak for all places, or all people. But here, I am the white man’s law. There are no courts here. You have spoken to me. It is enough. If you give me time, I will punish them.” Wild Pony turned and pointed toward his men. “Many of my braves want to take your hair. They are angry and seek revenge. I am their chief and have stopped them, for now. I will bring your words to them.” The Kiowa spoke directly to Matt again. “You know I am only the war chief. They do not have to listen to me. Some among them may come against you and test your strength.”

“It is the way among warriors. It is their right to come and taste our bullets and blades.” Matt spoke without taking his eyes away from the chief. “Miguel? I have heard you are very good with that rifle. How far away would you say that herd of pronghorns is from here? Six, seven hundred yards?” Miguel, too, had noticed the curious antelope. “Nearer nine hundred.” “How about you drop one?” Matt drawled as his eyes held those of Wild Pony. Miguel slowly lifted his rifle, not wanting the Kiowa to mistake his intention. The crack of the rifle startled the horses, and the two Indians with the Kiowa chief quickly turned to see. The herd of pronghorn ran, leaving one kicking on the ground. Wild Pony’s eyes never wavered. “Take the meat to your lodges and feed your women and children,” Matt told him. “Tell your warriors the deaths of their people will be avenged. When I have done this, I will come to your village to share the pipe and talk with the medicine drums.” The Kiowa chief sat his horse for a long minute, his thoughts traced by fleeting expressions on his face. Finally, nodding his head at Matt, Wild Pony whirled his horse and rode away.

saddlebag dispatches 133 The passengers were loaded and the coach was again bouncing down the road toward the night stop at Baxter’s Crossing. Matt had stayed on top of the coach, keeping a watchful eye toward the hills. G. W. Rourke broke the silence inside the coach. “That marshal is quite a talker. You seem to know him, Miss Holt. Can he fight as well as he talks?” Annie looked across at the cattle buyer. “Don’t ever try him, Mr. Rourke. I’ve been around a lot of places, and seen a lot of good men. Some who claimed to be gunmen, although the good ones don’t strut it around. I’ve never seen anyone like Matt Bodine.” “You sound as if you admire the man.” Mrs. Prescott’s voice carried scornfully across the coach. “He’s nothing more than a hired killer himself.” “Mrs. Prescott, you’re new to the West. You’ll learn that things are different out here. Generally, men and women can be just as good or bad as they want to be. The good people try to build something for the future, and the bad ones? Well, there’s nothing to stand in their way, except men like Matt. You always hear about Wild Bill, or the Earp brothers, Goodnight and Masterson. But, for every one of the famous gunfighters you hear about there are more that you never hear of—men who don’t seek a reputation and just do their jobs. Matt wasn’t given the marshal’s job because of his knowledge of the law,

Mrs. Prescott. He was given the job because he’s fast and tough. If you’re looking to find a constable on every street corner, like it is back East, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.” “The civilized way would be to talk these matters out, Miss Holt. Surely, even the savages can be reasoned with.” “Of course they can.” Annie tried to keep the contempt from her voice. “But only from a position of strength. You may have noticed the marshal kept his hand on his gun all the time he was talking to the Kiowa. That was his message to them, like having Miguel shoot the antelope. The Kiowa are the greatest hunters on these plains, Mrs. Prescott. Do you think we had to supply them with meat? The marshal wanted them to know how far away we could start killing them, before they got in range with their weapons.” “If he’s so good with a gun, I’m surprised he bothered to talk his way out of this at all.” Annie Holt looked at her, astonished. “Mrs. Presscott, only a fool starts trouble with Indians.”

An oppressive late afternoon heat permeated even the darkest shade when the coach pulled into Baxter’s Crossing. Dust hung in small clouds around the buildings and corrals— shot through with golden streaks from the low hanging sun,

134 saddlebag dispatches with no breeze to take the dust away. A young boy ran out of the barn and immediately unhooked the horses, leading them first to water, then to the corral for a rubdown. Matt waited until everyone left the coach. Stepping down into the dusty lot, he took off his hat and slapped at his pants to try to rid his clothes of the dust. He thought the passengers had all gone inside, until he heard a quiet chuckle behind him. “Won’t do you much good,” Annie said. “You’re just making more dust.” He grinned at her. “I’d just jump in the creek, but all this dust would turn to mud and I’d sink like a stone.” “More likely you’d just dry up all the water.” He leaned against the stage, knowing she hadn’t come to him for idle chatter. She skirted around something that was bothering her until it finally came out. “I know Texas Red. We were together some before I left Abilene. I wanted you to know that so there are no misunderstandings.” “You’re his girl?” She flinched and then shook her head. “He might think so.” He sighed, watching her. “That doesn’t answer the question.” “No. I’m not his girl. Never was, really.” Her chin came up and she looked at him steadily. “But, we were together. I stayed too long with him.” Her face turned sad as she reflected inward a moment. “He uses people, Matt. He hurts them, and then he laughs at them. And after he’s through, he discards them.” “I’ve heard that.” Matt’s was puzzled. “So what’s the message? Why are you telling me this?” She shuddered and crossed her arms under her breasts. “He knows you’re coming—not you in particular, but someone. I don’t know how, but he does. He’s waiting for you and he won’t be alone. He’ll have help.” Matt felt tired to the bone. “Yeah, seems like they always do.” Reaching out, she touched his arm. “Then don’t go. Just let him be, Matt. Let him stew in his own juices. Someday he’ll come to the Territory. You can get him then.” “Trying to protect him?” Anger bubbled up, and he didn’t really understand why—or maybe he did. Annie turned away from him and then turned back, tears welling in her eyes. “I’ve seen him fight. He’s all spring steel and leather. I’ve never seen anything so fast. It’s like he keeps all his energy bottled up inside, then it just busts loose and explodes.” “I’ll keep that in mind.” “Then keep this in mind, Matt Bodine. How long have you been doing this? How many bullets have you taken? More than the three that I know of ? I know you’re a good gambler. Think of the odds. When’s it going to happen? How long before the day comes that you will be a shade too slow, or you slip on a rock just as you draw, or some other stupid thing? You’ve been at this too long. The odds are getting bad.” She stood looking at him, shaking her head. “And you think I should start a new life?” He just stared at her. Finally, “I don’t know, Annie. Maybe I just don’t worry about it. Besides, if I go down, do you know how much difference it will make? Like pulling your finger out of the water and trying to see the hole you left.”

She watched him walk away, knowing a deep frustration and sudden longing. She didn’t want him to die. Most people knew she worked in saloons. He didn’t look down his nose at her, like some other people. But, she wasn’t one of the girls made available to everyone for a price—and most didn’t know that. She gambled with the men, cajoled them, and made them buy drinks from the house—sometimes at double the price. But, in her way, she had her pride too. Her jaw tightened with resolution. He was too good a man to die at the hands of Texas Red Wyrick.

The noonday sun was boiling, and the world had turned one click into the afternoon. Matt was forking a chair in front of the L. Sammis Mercantile, hoping to stay on for the ride in the only shade offered on the main street of Abilene. Leaning back on his cane-bottomed mount, he surveyed the bustling street of the busiest cattle town in the West. Just this morning, he’d heard someone say the Kansas Pacific railroad had packed over a hundred twenty-thousand head of cattle out of here in one year. That was a lot of beef. His eyes were on constant alert as he absentmindedly rubbed the back of his neck. He’d sprung for a shave and haircut, and paid his buck and two bits, but now his neck itched. That barber should have sharpened his razor a little more. When he arrived in town he’d cleaned his guns, then got a good night’s sleep. Early this morning he checked in with Bear River Tom, and showed him his warrant for Texas Red Wyrick. “No business of mine,” the town sheriff commented. “You want him, you can have him.” It was well past noon when Texas Red came out of a saloon up the street, stepped precisely to the center of the dusty street, did a left-flank, and stalked toward him. Texas Red was a tall man, well set up and wide through the shoulders, his petulant face partly hidden in the shadow of the high-peaked Texas hat pulled low on his forehead. Walking slowly toward Matt, his Spanish spurs punctuating each step, he was a man who knew everyone was watching, and liked it—preened for it. Every step he took was a practiced move to look good to the crowd. Matt shook his head, sighing to himself. It looked like Texas Red had been reading too many dime novels about gunfights. Have it your way. Levering himself out of the chair, he slipped the thong off his Colt and stepped out in the street. He wasn’t worried about Texas Red. At least, not yet. Texas Red would do his talking first and shooting later. His gaze searched the crowd, shifting to the windows in the buildings lining the street. He didn’t like it. There were too many people, all wanting to see who got killed—eager to see the blood. Mixed in the crowd would be Texas Red’s hole card... or cards. How many men would he have? “It doesn’t have to be this way.” His voice carried easily along the street. “You can come peaceable, and we’ll go see the judge.” “The Hanging Judge?” Red Wyrick laughed. “Not likely.

saddlebag dispatches 135 Won’t be any lawman taking me in, least of all you. You never saw the day. Man, I’ve watched the best of them! Hardin, Hickok—hell, I’m faster than any of them. And, if you were any good, I’d have heard of you.” The man looked at him scornfully. “I just ain’t never heard of you, lawman.” “Then I guess it’s time.” “You called it.” Red’s hand streaked for his gun, the same malicious smile on his face that he wore all the time. In the still noon air—in the quiet of a hundred indrawn breaths, a sibilant whisper of gun metal clearing hard leather, and Matt’s Colt fired one time. Before the echo of the shot started down the street, he whirled at sudden movement to his left. An unkempt, bearded man had his pistol half out of its holster... and stared into the bore of Matt’s Colt. Slowly, the man took out the pistol, dropped it to the boardwalk, and raised his hands. As Matt slowly relaxed, he was startled to hear a shot behind him. Whirling in desperation, he saw a man stagger from the crowd. Taking two steps, the man stretched full length into the dust. Behind him, Annie calmly put a small revolver back into her purse. Their eyes met for a moment across the open space of the street, and then she turned and walked away. Frank Drummond stood in the door of the saloon, sipping his beer. Miguel disgustedly dug into his pocket for a silver dollar and handed it to Drummond. The stage-driver laughed. “Miguel, I love to take your money.” Miguel laughed ruefully. “Between you, and staking that girl to a couple of horses, I don’t have any money left. Say, didn’t I see her talking to you, too?” Drummond cursed softly, and then grinned. “That gal hit me up for a loan, too. Guess she was bettin’ on the same man as me.” The street was suddenly full of people, all trying to crowd around the marshal and shake his hand. Matt shouldered them off and walked toward Texas Red. The man Annie shot lay in a tangled heap—half on the boardwalk. It was obvious he’d never bother anyone else. Red Wyrick was lying on his face, the ground around his mouth painted red. He didn’t have to look, knowing where he placed the bullet. Giving Texas Red’s body only a cursory glance and continuing down the street toward the stable, he saw two horses being led out. As he came up to her, Annie shrugged and smiled. “I thought you’d need a horse to go with your saddle.” “I count two horses.” “You said a girl could start over. Two could try that, Matt.” Her soft brown eyes were brimful of unshed tears. He didn’t hesitate. “Why, Annie, I think you’re right.” “What about Wild Pony?” “I made a promise. I’d not go back on that.” “No, you wouldn’t. And, I wouldn’t expect you to.” He gently raised her chin with his hand, and then kissed her for a long time. When they finally broke apart, Mrs. Prescott was standing there watching them. “Well, I never!” she said, as she flounced away. Matt tipped his hat at her. “No, ma’am. Likely not.”


darrel sparkman


arrel Sparkman resides in Southwest Missouri with his wife. Their three children and eleven grandchildren live nearby. His hobbies include gardening, golfing, and writing. He is the published author of five novels in the western and science fiction genres—Spirit Trail, Osage Dawn, Hallowed Ground, After the Fall, and The Shepherd—and multiple short stories. He is a regular contributor and to Saddlebag Dispatches, where he writes both fiction and a quarterly column on Western and frontier weaponry and their varied uses. Darrel’s latest work, a collection of Western short stories titled The Reckoning, will be available in e-book format this October from Galway Press. In the past, Darrel served four years in the United States Navy, including seven months in Viet Nam as a Combat Search & Rescue helicopter crewman. He also served nineteen years as a volunteer Emergency Medical Technician, worked as a professional photographer, computer repair tech, and was owner and operator of a greenhouse and flower shop. He is currently retired and self-employed, where he finally has that job that wakes you up every day with a smile. Catch up with Darrel and his work at www.


ne of the great martyrs of Western history is hardly better known than the anonymous leaves that fall from the pecan and persimmon trees in the lovely Green Country of northeastern Oklahoma that he helped secure for his beloved Cherokees. Elias Boudinot— originally known as Gallagina in Cherokee and Buck Watie in English—lived for his family, his tribe, and his Savior, and ultimately he died for them. Yet where his name is still known, controversy and passions boil. Descriptives like “tainted,” “traitor,” and “bought” are spoken. Still, his

legacy, co-crafted by his first wife Harriet Ruggles Gold, the great love of his life, illustrates how in the long view of history, one person, though imperfect and fraught with conflict, nonetheless did and can shape the destiny of a society for the better in a comprehensive fashion affecting every part of an individual’s and a people’s life. Born in northwestern Georgia to converted Christian Cherokee parents, Gallagina (his Cherokee name) attended the nearby Spring Place Moravian Mission School as Buck Watie. Fame would one day mark his younger brother

Elias Boudinot, brilliant Cherokee whose controversial but courageous actions cast a lasting legacy in Cherokee and American history.

Harriet Gold Boudinot, beautiful daughter of Puritan luminaries in New England.

saddlebag dispatches 137 Stand as well. A brilliant, handsome, and determined young man, Buck engendered sufficient confidence in his character and potential that the well-known American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) invited him to apply to their prestigious Cornwall (Connecticut) Foreign Mission School. The twenty-five members of his class hailed from various Native tribes, Hawaii, Tahiti, China, and a few were white Americans. The school aimed to develop its students into doctors, lawyers, missionaries, and interpreters, in order to promote Christianity and civilization, particularly among previously non-Christian cultures. Buck’s similarly-gifted Cherokee cousin John Ridge later joined him at the Cornwall school. Through Ridge, Buck met the most important person of his life—beautiful white Puritan Harriet, whose father Samuel doctored Ridge through a serious illness. Interracial Romantic Scandal Both Ridge and Buck—light-skinned Indians possessing some white blood—developed friendships with white women of esteemed New England Christian families. The marriage to which Ridge’s led shook Cornwall society, demonstrating that embedded racism pervaded the past of the whole of America, not merely sections or regions. Buck, meanwhile—assuming the name of Elias Boudinot in honor of the Revolutionary War chieftain, American Bible Society President, and first President of the Continental Congress who mentored and helped support him—joined the First Congregational Church of Cornwall. This led to visits at the

Gold home. For two years, he and Harriet corresponded after he graduated from Cornwall and took courses at Andover Theological Seminary (now Yale University), taught, then returned to Georgia to minister to his tribe. Then she asked her parents’ permission to marry him. They knew of Harriet’s long desire to serve God as a missionary and they knew and respected the staunchlyPuritan Boudinot. The new revelation, however, stupefied them, especially after her devout father—unaware of Harriet’s feelings for Boudinot—assured critics of interracial romances at Cornwall that such was not a phenomenon beyond the Ridge-Northrop relationship. The Golds refused their permission and sent Boudinot a hard letter of rejection. Acute despair soon struck Harriet, followed by an illness so debilitating that family members described her as “hovering between life and death.” In a development of great historical portent for the future West, her wise father began to question whether he and his wife might be “fighting against God” in the matter. After much prayer and contemplation, he wrote Boudinot another letter. This time, he said that if the Cherokee retained his desire for Harriet’s hand in one year, the Golds would grant their blessing. Sent weeks later, the second missive Providentially reached Boudinot before the first. The drama was only beginning. After Harriet recovered from her sickness, Boudinot fulfilled his obligation, and news of the pending interracial matrimony leaked out, rage swept through the region, including many of the churched. Pastors of churches large and small, including the famed Lyman

Max Standley’s epic but heartrending The Trail of Tears, from his “Trail of Tears” series. (

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saddlebag dispatches 139

The exiled tribes start over after the Trail of Tears in Max Standley’s Arrival in Indian Territory. ( Beecher and other leaders of the Cornwall Foreign Mission School, declared not only their opposition to the marriage, but their disgust. In addition, they published “banns,” or public notice of the marriage with a view toward citizens voicing opposition they might have, in this case due to the sociallyunacceptable practice of interracial marriage. The persecution of Harriet and Boudinot grew more acute as it enfolded members of her own family. Some of them accused her of feigning serious illness to maneuver her father’s sympathy and support for marriage. Fellow members of her church choir wore black armbands to signify her “death,” then expelled her from the group. Cornwall townspeople rioted against the marriage, dragging her body through the streets in effigy. Her beloved brother Stephen spearheaded its burning in the middle of town as she looked on in horror from a nearby hiding spot, and he threatened to kill Boudinot upon sight. “My heart truly sang with anguish at the dreadful scene,” Harriet wrote. Boudinot also received written death threats. Christian but Not White She had her hometown supporters, but the violence-prone vitriol of her condemners cowed them into silence. “Many times in her Testament she had read the words written for those in distress,” wrote Boudinot’s biographer Ralph Gabriel, referring to Jesus’s words in Matthew 5:11-12: “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” “Pen cannot describe, nor language express the numerous and trying scenes through which I have passed,” she told her friends Flora and Herman Vale, “but…I have had that support

through them all which the world could not give. Never before did I so much realize the work of religion and faith, and so much pity those who in time of trouble were without this inestimable treasure. “I have seen the time when I could close my eyes upon every earthly object, and look up to God as my only supporter, my only hope, when I could say with emotion I never felt before to my Heavenly Father, ‘Other refuge have I none, so I, helpless, hang on Three.’” The sad reality emerged that here, as in other societies, Christian and not, the gospel beckoned all comers, but white women were available only to white men. Race pride butted up against the meek and lowly Jesus, wrote historian Gabriel. Not only did friendships die, so did the Cornwall Foreign Mission School, blamed by Christians and non-Christians alike as the unintended incubator of interracial romance, and by some of the latter as victim of “the missionary spirit.” Came the day in 1826, though, that Elias Boudinot rode into Cornwall to claim his bride. His enemies had apparently melted away, because none showed to confront him. Boudinot and Harriet, bound together in love like never before, wed in a nearby town and left for the Southern mountains and the Cherokee country. “We have vowed,” declared Harriet, “and our vows are heard in heaven; color is nothing to me; his soul is as white as mine; he is a Christian, and ever since I embraced religion I have been praying that God would open a door for me to be a missionary, and this is the way.” Cherokee Country Again Around the time of Boudinot’s courtship with Harriet, the keen creative mind that no doubt helped woo her had accomplished the landmark feat of translating, editing, and possibly authoring—though that is disputed—the first

140 saddlebag dispatches book(let) by a Native author. Poor Sarah: Or Religion Exmplified in the Life and Death of An Indian Woman depicted the earthly sojourn of a Native wife suffering at the hand of an abusive husband, but remaining faithful to him and eventually becoming a devout follower of Christ. Whatever the specifics, his role in Poor Sarah, released in both English and Cherokee, proved a watershed feat that earned Boudinot the sobriquet of the “Father of Native American Literature.” In Georgia, meanwhile, the Boudinots impacted Elias’s people immediately. Partnering with his white Presbyterian pastor friend Samuel Worcester, he launched another first— publishing a Native newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix. Though the origin of the name is not certain, Boudinot’s statement that “The Indian must rise like the Phoenix, after having wallowed for ages in ignorant barbarity” provided a strong clue. Indeed, many whites did not believe an Indian capable of editing a newspaper. Not only did Boudinot provide the editorial and philosophical vision for the Phoenix, he mentored Worcester on Sequoyah’s Cherokee syllabary as the white minister employed it to better reach the tribe through not only the Phoenix, but his Cherokee language Bible translation, dictionary, and grammar book. From start to finish, Boudinot’s twin aims remained the glorification of His God and the conversion of his tribe to that

God and their enjoyment of and blessing in Him. He spoke through the Phoenix on a galaxy of issues and he did so with the passionate yet prescient voice so discomfiting to the mass of men not concerned about the issues to which a prophet would speak. And he did so in a voice at once optimistic of his people’s abilities and future, and jealous for the forces, inside and out, threatening them. If, as his opponents later accused, his desires leaned toward personal power and gain, and cozying up to the white man, he proceeded in the wrong direction on the pages of the Phoenix, challenging wealthy Cherokees and influential whites alike: “There appears to be a want of public spirit in some of our leading and wealthy (Cherokee) citizens. Though they possess the means of doing much good, by encouraging education, and the general improvement of the Nation, they seem to stand aloof. This is our failing as a people, and we are sorry to say that some of the offices of our government have been and are filled by persons of this description. From such leaders, who pay more regard to the acquisition of wealth than the good and interest of our country, we have little reason to expect, any solid and permanent advantage.”

saddlebag dispatches 141 Despite his innate brilliance and eloquence, and his elite education, Boudinot did not seek the divisive path of tribal politics. As white encroachment and violence against the Natives escalated with the discovery of gold, however, he could not ignore the civil and social issues impacting the tribe. That dragged him into the bitter realm of tribal politics, both amongst the Cherokees themselves and white America. Even then, his comprehensive Puritan worldview focused him on somewhat different emphases than most of even his Christian tribesmen.

opinion, that the love of whisky is a necessary trait of the Indian’s character…Among us, it has been a wide spreading evil. It has cost us lives, and a train of troubles. It has been an enemy to our national prosperity, industry, and intellectual improvement…we see this enemy of all good stalking forth in triumph, carrying desolation and misery into families and neighborhoods. The murders committed in this Nation, with very few exceptions, are occasioned by intoxication…And what but whiskey produces all our accidents, all our strifes, fightings and stabbings?”

“Curse of Mankind” One of the great obstacles Boudinot recognized to his people converting to Christ and then glorifying God was alcoholic beverages. Even as opponents—notably many whites—wishing the Cherokees’ immediate removal west claimed the tribes’ condition had improved, Boudinot thundered that for the sweep of the tribe—particularly poverty-stricken full bloods unlike himself—it had not, with alcoholic spirits a leading culprit:

Boudinot reckoned the consumption of alcohol as nothing less than a grim reaper already in the process of destroying the Cherokees. Equal parts idealist and realist, he drew a lamentable connection between even the Christianity he yearned to deliver his people from both their physical and spiritual problems, and intemperance:

“Intemperance is the curse of mankind. It spreads desolation in societies and families. It is the parent of strife, the cause of diseases, and almost every species of misery…It has been our shame in the eyes of other people, and has planted the common

“Is it not…to be regretted, that professors of religion should engage in this trade of death? How is such conduct to be reconciled with Christian principles, and with the doctrine of universal benevolence? Some of those who

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Front page of an issue of the Cherokee Phoenix, founded in 1828 by Elias Boudinot. the first American Indian newspaper, printed in alternating columns of Cherokee and English. send whiskey here…are professors of religion. How can they pray, ‘thy kingdom come,’ and desire the universal spread of the Gospel in heathen countries, particularly among their neighbors, the Indians, when they are sending death and destruction in our ranks?...What availeth our feeble exertions to enlighten our more ignorant brethren, when we are feeding them with coals of fire, and strewing their path with deadly poison?” He called out “the Christian” and “the patriot” to stand and defend their fellow Cherokees against intemperance as they would any other mortal enemy. In this case, he declared, the enemy brought “deaths by violence, deaths by diseases and deaths by accidents, sickness and famine, profanity and indecencies, and a host of other evils, are its trophies and triumphs.” Tribal Strife Boudinot had long held congenial relations with Cherokee Principal Chief John Ross and shared with him a desire to keep secure the tribe and its southeastern homelands from white interlopers. Boudinot’s latter view changed in 1832, however, partly due to President Jackson’s unequivocal faceto-face declaration to Major Ridge, Boudinot’s uncle, that the Cherokees must go west. Even more crucial was Boudinot’s recognition that if his people did not leave for their own new country, the alcohol, theft, and physical violence of some white Americans would destroy them. Thus hatched a long and ruinous dispute between Boudinot, the Ridges, and others in what became known as the Treaty Party, and Ross and the majority Ross Party. For years, the Treaty Party (largely comprised of the educated element of both mixed- and full-bloods) urged Ross to lead the Cherokees west, even as U.S. government pressure escalated for them to do so, and white violence and intimidation against them mounted. Time and again, Ross stated his intentions to craft equitable agreements with the government that would, variously, keep the tribe in their homeland, or move it west with enormous financial compensation. The breach grew when Ross refused to allow Boudinot

even to include pro-removal views in the Phoenix he himself had built. This led to Boudinot’s heart wrenching resignation in late 1832 from the paper, which floundered following his departure and shut down in early 1834. As the United States forced events toward a removal treaty, public proclamations flowed forth from Ross and other tribal leaders suggesting Boudinot and other Treaty Party leaders harbored selfish, even pecuniary motivations for their position. “A man who will forsake his country…in time of adversity…is no more than a traitor and should be viewed—and shunned as such,” was only one of numerous withering public statements Ross made regarding Boudinot and other Treaty Party adherents. Boudinot seethed at the accusations, especially as he recognized the government’s deadly serious intentions, coupled with Ross’s strategy of delay and his apparent intention to outlast the government until he could build sufficient Congressional and public support to keep the Cherokees in their homes. In 1835, the Jackson Administration, pressured by Georgians and others, determined once and for all to craft a “treaty” that would remove the Cherokees west to Indian Territory. When asked what financial amount would suffice, Ross pledged that if the U.S. Senate would approve $5,000,000, he would agree. They did, and he waffled. When Jackson Administration officials came south to persuade the tribe as a whole to treat on leaving, Ross maneuvered his people into ignoring the emissaries. When the officials attempted to treat directly with Ross, he cordially refused, citing their supposedly insufficient credentials. Rather than explaining the nuances of the tribe’s various options to them and explaining the disaster looming if they stayed, he asked his people straight-out whether they wished to stay or not. He took their resounding “No!” as his mandate to continue ignoring the government’s warnings and marginalizing Boudinot and the Treaty Party. Jackson’s officials warned Ross against further trips to Washington to negotiate, but he ignored them. When Boudinot and John Ridge urged him to remain in Georgia and treat with the officials since still more federal authorities had told him not to return to Washington, he adamantly disagreed and went anyway, to the apoplectic frustration of Boudinot and his colleagues, who saw the danger to their tribe mounting daily.

saddlebag dispatches 143 Signing Away Lands Realizing a brutal Federal invasion of the Cherokee country was now certain if the Cherokees did not vacate their lands for the West, on December 21, 1835, Boudinot, John Ridge, and his father Major Ridge made the fateful decision to join government officials in signing the Treaty of New Echota at the namesake Cherokee capital in northern Georgia. It committed the tribe to removal, in return for millions of dollars and other considerations, not to mention a vast tract of land in the Kansas and Indian Territories. It mirrored the agreement that Ross, likely in keeping with his deceptive pattern of delay, had indicated willingness to sign the previous winter—with the key distinction that it was not signed by duly elected representatives of the tribe. Thus, in a clear demonstration of “Let us obey God rather than man,” Boudinot and the other signers consciously placed their lives at stake for the continued survival of their people, since Cherokee law prescribed the death penalty for signing away tribal land without official tribal sanction. “Oh, what is a man who will not dare to die for his people?” Boudinot declared at New Echota. “Who is there here who will not die if this great Nation may be saved?” Ross and the majority reacted in stunned fury. The Principal Chief himself returned yet again to Washington. The Federal government had reached the end of its patience with him. Instead

of meeting, Secretary of War Lewis Cass presented Ross with a note from the U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs: “The delegation of the Cherokee nation of which some of you were members and which visited this city last winter, was emphatically assured during the last session of Congress, and that assurance was officially repeated and in the course of the following autumn, that no delegation would be received here to make a treaty; and in defiance of that notification you have come and presented yourself for that purpose. How could you, under such circumstances, imagine that you would be received by the department as the duly constituted representatives of the Cherokee people? It is not easy to account for that strange error of opinion.” Ross ignored the message and remained in Washington, trying to reverse the inevitable. He loved his people, but his tactics—brave as they were stubborn—placed not only himself in jeopardy, but all the thousands of his fellow Cherokees, as would soon be seen. Finally, he returned home, dejected and beaten. As Boudinot and his Treaty Party colleagues prepared to depart west later in 1836, they urged Ross and the tribal majority to come with them. Bitter denunciations were their response.

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E. C. Boudinot, son of Elias and Harriet Boudinot. He served as an officer in the Confederate army, represented the Cherokee tribe in the Confederate Congress, led the “Boomer” movement that opened present-day Oklahoma to American settlement, founded the town of Vinita, Oklahoma, and rose to prominence as an attorney and civic leader in Arkansas.

Stand Watie, younger brother of Elias Boudinot. Renowned for his daring feats as a guerilla warrior across Indian Territory, Arkansas, Missouri, and Kansas in the Civil War, he became the only Native American general of the conflict and the last Confederate general to surrender.

Tribal Strife Personal affairs continued for Boudinot through all these momentous events, in particular his enduring romance with Harriet. “I now look back to that day with pleasure and with gratitude,” she wistfully wrote her sister Flora concerning her marriage to Elias. “Yes, I am thankful. I remember the trials I had to encounter, the thorny path I had to tread, the bitter cup I had to drink. But a consciousness of doing right, a kind and affectionate, devoted husband together with many other blessings have made amends for all.” Puritan Harriet’s Christian faith and her trust in a truly sovereign God ruling well in the affairs of humankind and herself alike had grown during her years in Georgia. “The Cherokees respecteda and loved this white woman who had cast her lot with them,” wrote biographer Gabriel. “Her fame ran beyond the limits of New Echota.” “Even the people of Georgia,” Boudinot later wrote, “not infrequently carried away by overwrought passions and prejudices against our race, such as personally knew her, or had heard of her from report, have testified to her worth and unsullied character. Some who best knew her have said they never knew such a woman.” No longer possessing her youth and having borne six children in less than nine years, however, and faced with the devastating fury turned against her husband and other signers of the Treaty of New Echota, Harriet gave birth to a stillborn seventh child and herself fell victim to a tortuous and mortal illness. “She suffered extreme bodily pain throughout her whole sickness and it had considerable effect upon her mind,” Boudinot recalled the overwhelming events that now occurred.

“She complained of darkness in the fore part of it, but towards the latter, she said her darkness was removed, that there was a clear sky between her and her Redeemer. The morning before she died, after the most distressing night she had had, she called us to her bed. Upon my inquiring how she did, she replied that she was in great distress, meaning bodily distress. ‘I hope,’ she said, ‘this is the last night I shall spend in this world. Then how sweet will be the Conqueror’s song.’ “‘Are your doubts removed?’ ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Are you happy, notwithstanding all your bodily pain and affliction?’ ‘I am happy.’” Boudinot had restrained his responses to a stream of criticism, insults, and slander directed toward him and his Treaty Party allies from Ross and his minions whilst Harriet lived and grew ill. Once she died, he authored an eloquent and powerful letter to Ross, excerpted on page xx. It demonstrated both his comprehensive Christian worldview and the logic and rhetorical skill of his classical education. Boudinot laid out in overpowering fashion the true issues confronting his people, the failure of tribal leadership to effectively address them, and the reasons for the change in his views on removal. Indian Territory Thus it was that Elias Boudinot journeyed west to a new country and a new life with over 1,000 other Cherokees, as well as his six surviving children and, soon, a new wife, ABCFM missionary Delight Sargent. Ross and the bulk of the tribe remained in the southeast, ignoring the government’s orders to leave and the tide of history. They did so until, in 1838, the Federal Army invaded the Cherokee country in a terrifying pogrom. Far from personally profiting from any of his Treaty

saddlebag dispatches 145 dealings, as he was accused of then and since, poverty so beset Boudinot, even with his immense talents, education, experience, and family and tribal connections, that he had to borrow funds from Samuel Worcester just to build a modest home in Indian Territory. Nonetheless, he established himself in the new country and even labored to help the suffering, dejected 1838 emigrants, many of whom had cursed, threatened, and hated him. On June 22, 1839, three of them called upon him at Worcester’s home, where Boudinot and his family lodged while he built his still-unfinished home. The callers asked for medicine, which Boudinot had authority to dispense for the tribe. He left with them to obtain it. Not far away, apparently lacking the moral courage to confront him to his face, even as an armed group attacking one unarmed man, they stabbed him in the back with a knife, then bashed his skull to a pulp with a tomahawk. Delight heard his cries and ran to his aid, as did Worcester, in time to see the three attackers flee and join more armed men in nearby woods, all of them riding away. Mortally wounded, Boudinot died within moments, unable to voice any coherent thoughts. “They have cut off my right arm!” Worcester exclaimed in horror. Other Ross Party supporters simultaneously and brutally murdered Major Ridge and John Ridge. Boudinot’s younger brother Stand Watie thwarted similar plans for himself by escaping on Worcester’s horse. Watie would recompense the murderers in the days to follow, and again during the War Between the States as he rose to fame as the only Native American general of the war and the last Confederate general to surrender. Ross Party supporters orchestrated these bloody deeds, and some of their names were soon known. Though no evidence exists that John Ross even knew of the murder plot, his son Allen played a key role. Some historians believe control of the millions of dollars due the Cherokees from the federal government precipitated the assassinations. How? Ross insisted on immediate control of the now-much enlarged western tribe’s government, which would give him authority over the money. The Old Settler chiefs who had headed the thousands-strong tribal membership long resident in Arkansas and Indian Territory resisted this move, and the Treaty Party leadership supported their claim to leadership of the tribe until the next election. Following the Boudinot and Ridge assassinations, the Old Settler chiefs ceded control of the government, and the money, to Ross. Some Old Settler chiefs fled the nation, fearing that a similar fate awaited them. Great and Good Some of the few modern historians familiar with Boudinot have criticized him as a well-intentioned fool trying to convert an unwilling majority of Cherokee to a culture, religion, and way of life they did not want. They suggest that he got what was coming to him for breaking Cherokee law, especially in view of his supposed responsibility for thousands of agonizing deaths on the Trail of Tears that might not have happened had he and the Treaty Party consolidated their energies with John Ross and his majority.

A more accurate accounting is the odyssey of a man who possessed the comprehensive Christian worldview of the true Puritan, and belief in its power to lift not just the Cherokee but all peoples out of their respective morasses and set them high before the nations as cities on a hill. Elias Boudinot (whose son E. C. became a Cherokee leader, pioneer of American settlement in Oklahoma, and successful Arkansas attorney), endures as a lonely and prophetic voice in the wilderness for a people facing destruction, calling them not to abandon the healthy and uplifting facets of their heritage, but to pursue paths of life that would not only bless them, but perhaps even save them from extinction or at least despair and humiliation. Finally, rather than Boudinot, Watie, and the Ridges undercutting the hopes of their tribe to retain an ancient homeland, leading to the deaths of thousands, abundant evidence suggests the United States would have slaughtered the Cherokees en masse rather than allow them to stay in the southeast. Had John Ross instead abided by his own demands of Congress and perceived the determination of both the American government and its people to acquire Cherokee land and gold, he could have initiated a far safer, more peaceful, and U.S.-supported emigration west, similar to or associated with Boudinot’s in 1837. Indeed, Ross’s dogged defiance of forces far more powerful than his own may have inspired the Cherokees, for awhile, and engendered the respect of many Americans. But it led to tragedy on a monumental scale for his tribe, including the death of his own wife on the Trail of Tears and the murders of Boudinot and other men who had risked their lives to prevent it. Regarding the executions of Boudinot and the Ridges, Samuel Worcester wrote: “Undoubtedly the part which they took in relation to the treaty has been the cause of these inhuman assassinations. I would that my beloved friend Mr. Boudinot, had had no part in that transaction; yet I have no doubt of the sincerity of his own conviction that he was doing right, and hazarding his life for the good of his people. He was a great and good man—a man who, in an uncommon degree, exhibited the spirit of the Gospel. To me he was a dear friend, a most intimate companion, and a most valued helper. He fell by violence, but he rests in peace, and will rise, we confidently trust, rise to a glorious immortality.” —John J. Dwyer is an author, longtime Adjunct Professor of

History and Ethics at Southern Nazarene University, and a regular contributor to Saddlebag Dispatches. He is former History Chair at a classical college preparatory school, newspaper publisher, and radio host. He lives with Grace his wife of 28 years, their daughter Katie, and their grandson Luke.


ometimes history collides with the present and when it does, I stand in awe of the men and women who followed nothing but a dream to settle this raw frontier. Dreams carry such power and can change not only a nation, but its people. Even as a little girl history has always fascinated me. I love learning about this great country of ours, especially Texas with its rich, colorful past. I published a book in 2005 called Redemption and I set the story in East Texas on Caddo Lake and Big Cypress Bayou. (Sourcebooks Publishing is going to reissue that early 2017.) In writing that book, I ran across a very interesting tidbit—Trammel’s Trace—and used it in my story. When Texas was in the hands of Mexico and then later when we won independence and became a republic, there was only one entrance from the north. That was by coming down Trammel’s Trace. Native Americans created and used the footpath for hundreds of years before the white man began to arrive, drawn to the vast land. This road is located in far East Texas where the land is very rugged and swampy with cypress trees standing like silent sentinels. The road was named for Arkansas trader, gambler, and horse smuggler Nicholas Trammell. He used it for his smuggling operations beginning around 1813. Trammell was a bit of a scoundrel by all accounts. He was accused of murder, plunder, and thievery but never caught.

After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the path became known as Robber’s Road and you can guess why. It was a haven for outlaws and murderers. Danger lay along the heavily wooded route, through the swamps and narrow passages. But men braved the danger in search of a piece of land and a better life. The trace ran 180 miles north from Nacogdoches, Texas to Fulton, Arkansas. Davy Crockett, Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin, James Bowie, and countless other historical figures used the route. It also became very crucial to the Texas War for Independence and later during the Spanish-American War. Also, when Stephen F. Austin began the colonization of Texas, the settlers arrived by this road. Eventually, they widened it to accommodate wagons, but I still don’t see how they got through at some places. Interestingly enough, Trammel’s Trace was printed on maps of the 19th century and provided an important immigration route into Texas for waves of settlers from Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Kentucky. I recently learned that the trace connected with the Southwest Trail in Arkansas. The trace ended at Nacogdoches, Texas—where it connected with El Camino Real (or Old San Antonio Road.) There were old trails all over Texas but none were as vital as Trammel’s Trace. Now, a group of people in East Texas are dedicated to preserving this piece of history. Gary Pinkerton has written

When Texas was in the hands of Mexico and then later when it won independence and became a republic, there was only one entrance from the north. That was Trammel’s Trace.

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148 saddlebag dispatches a book about this historic trail. I contacted him about giving a quote and he had this to say, “If anyone had ancestors come to Texas from Tennessee, Kentucky, or Missouri before 1830 or so, there’s a pretty good chance they came down Trammel’s Trace.” Seems the haunting fascination with Trammel’s Trace isn’t mine alone. Gary’s family still owns East Texas land that contains a section of the trace and that’s how he became captivated with the history. He explained, “I’ve stood on our part of the road and imagined the people who passed through there. Many travelers may have taken a rest stop on our land.” His book, Trammel’s Trace: The First Road to Texas From the North, is published by Texas A&M University and releases in November, but you can preorder now. Gary also has a wonderful website that is full of pictures and interesting stories about Trammel’s Trace. Here’s the link: http://www. I give him full credit for all the pictures here. He’s taken some wonderful shots that clearly show the rugged, dangerous, and at times impassable trail. I walked portions of this road during the writing of Redemption and felt as though I trod in the footsteps of so many brave people who came to settle this wild land. Without them I wouldn’t be here. I stood and imagined frontiersmen like Sam Houston and Davy Crockett walking the trace with their rifles loaded and ready for a fight. But then, I pictured the ordinary settlers who struck out, not knowing what lay ahead or around the next bend. They didn’t have any idea what would happen but had faith they could handle whatever was thrown in their path. They really had a lot of courage. Can you imagine how long it took to travel 180 miles on foot or horseback? Also, going through this wild tangle of brush and trees would be slow and tedious. As with historic places, there is a legend here. It was on the Sabine River at Hendrick’s Lake in early 1800s that the pirate Jean Lafitte’s men, afraid that they were about to be overtaken by soldiers in pursuit, pushed wagons full of silver ingots into the water. They’d taken the bounty from a Spanish galleon, just one of many ships the pirates raided and sunk. Treasure seekers began arriving in 1884, trying to recover the loot. And today they still continue to come, lured by the thought of riches. What remains of Trammel’s Trace is haunted by the ghosts of those early travelers and a million stories that whisper in the wind and rustle in the tall trees. History is so real you can almost reach out and touch the faces of men and women who used this important road. You can pre-order Gary Pinkerton’s book here: https:// —Linda Broday is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of western historical romance.

She is a regular contributor to

Saddlebag Dispatches, and makes her home in the Texas Panhandle.


uring the fifties and sixties westerns ruled the small screen. That changed in the late sixties and today there aren’t many westerns on TV. Let’s get a good look at the forgotten jewels. The shows that got one season or less to find an audience and failed to follow through on the promise they held. The Adventures of Briscoe County Jr. was a different type of western that blended science fiction, steampunk and the traditional western. It ran for 27 episodes, during the 93/94 television season. It starred Bruce Campbell, Julius Carry, and Christian Clemenson. It did boast some interesting co-stars like John Astin, and Billy Drago. The Americans ran for 13 episodes in 1961 and starred Darryl Hickman and Richard Davalos. Based on the 1953 novel by James Warner Bellah, it told the story of two brothers fighting on opposite sides during the civil war. Ironically this was a midseason replacement for cancelled western series Riverboat. Barbary Coast starred Star Trek’s once and future Captain Kirk, William Shatner, alongside Dennis Cole and Doug McClure after The Virginian ended. This western ran for 13 episodes in 75/76. In terms of storyline, it was very similar to the Wild, Wild West. Shatner portrayed a secret service agent while McClure played his assistant. Bearcats starred Rod Taylor and Dennis Cole. This 1971 western ran for 13 episodes. It competed against the Flip Wilson show on NBC and Alias Smith and Jones on ABC. This was the last time that two westerns were slotted against each other on network television. Bearcats was placed in 1914 and Taylor and Cole drove around the southwest in a Stutz Bearcat taking security jobs, as they could find them. It did feature two airplanes, piloted by Henry Darrow from The High Chaparral, an experimental tank and several different styles of machine guns. Bret Maverick, a show that should have been given a second season, but was cancelled by NBC. This 1981/82 show ran for 18 episodes and starred James Garner, Ed

Bruce, Raymond Bieri and Darleen Carr. Maverick had won several thousand dollars in a poker game in Sweetwater. After the money is stolen and recovered, he won the local saloon and bought a ranch to raise bulls. The show had a very good theme song and did feature the return of Bart Maverick in the final episode. Had the show been renewed, he would have been a series regular. The Chisholms lasted 13 episodes in the 79/80 season and starred Robert Preston, Rosemary Harris, Ben Murphy, and Mitchell Ryan. A CBS show that told of the trials and struggles of a family traveling from Wyoming to California. In an effort to gain ratings, the main character, Robert Preston was killed, midway through the season. The Cowboys—12 episodes in 1974—based on the John Wayne movie continued the story after the boys returned from the cattle drive. Mr Nightlinger, played by Moses Gunn takes over the ranch as foreman and works for Mrs. Anderson. Robert Carradine and A. Martinez reprised their movie roll and Diana Douglas played Annie Anderson. The show started out as an hour long drama, but was cut to thirty minutes and finally cancelled. Custer, a 1967 show with 17 episodes it starred Wayne Maunder as the title character and Slim Pickens as California Joe Milner. The show took great liberties with history. Custer reported to Fort Hays, Kansas in 1868 after the civil war as a bachelor. In the show he was not yet married to Elizabeth Clift Bacon. It was slotted against The Virginian on NBC and Lost in Space on CBS. The show boasted a great lineup of guest stars during its short run. Low ratings and the protests of several Native American Tribes doomed the show. One of my favorite shows of the early sixties was The Dakotas, It premiered in1963. Twenty episodes were produced but only nineteen were shown. It starred Larry Ward, Jack Elam, Chad Everett and Mike Green. The show is considered to be a spinoff of Cheyenne, but at the time The Cheyenne show was showing episodes of Bronco Lane, due to a contract dispute between

saddlebag dispatches 151 Clint Walker and Warner Brothers Studios. The show ran into a firestorm of protest after a questionable scene in the episode Sanctuary at Crystal Springs shown on May 6th, 1963 in which the lawmen killed two outlaws in a church after the outlaws had killed a minister. A Nice Girl from Goliath aired on May 13, but the show was quickly cancelled amid all the protest. Destry ran for 13 episodes in 1964 and starred John Gavin. It inherited the old time slot occupied by 77 Sunset Strip. Gavin played Harrison Destry, the son of Tom. He was recently released from prison, serving time for a crime he didn’t commit. He traveled the west searching for the men that framed him. Gavin is the fifth actor to play Destry. Tom Mix, James Stewart, Audie Murphy and Joel McCrea played the character before him. Dirty Sally is another one of my favorites. A spinoff from Gunsmoke, it ran for 13 episodes in 1974 and starred Jeanette Nolan and Dack Rambo. Sally Fergus a cantankerous, tobacco chewing, rough talking, hard drinking woman traveling to California to work in the gold fields. Along the way she encountered an injured gun fighter. After she nursed him back to health, he accompanied her on her journey. The thirty minute comedy/drama was up against Sanford and Son and couldn’t find an audience. Jeanette Nolan was nominated for a best actress Emmy after the final show aired. Dundee and The Culhane, John Mills and Sean Garrison starred in this 1967 western about the adventures of two traveling frontier lawyers. Mills played Dundee and Garrison had the role of the character nicknamed The Culhane. It ran for 13 episodes. An old rumor floating around about the series was that CBS had so little faith in the show, they ordered its replacement, a Jonathan Winters variety show the month it debuted. Dusty’s Trail was one of the worst westerns to ever be aired on TV. It starred Bob Denver and Forrest Tucker. Gilligan’s Island as a western, with Tucker playing the Skipper/ Wagonmaster with Bob Denver as Dusty/Gilligan. It aired 26 episodes in the 73/74 TV season. Frontier Doctor ran for 39 episodes in syndication, during the 58/59 season. It starred Rex Allen as Doctor Bill Baxter. The stories took place in the fictional town of Rising Springs, Arizona. It boasted an impressive list of guest stars, and the doctor encountered a wide range of famous western characters from Butch Cassidy to Belle Starr.

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Before Overboard, Animal House, or Escape From New York, Kurt Russell and Tim Matheson starred as Morgan and Quenton Bodine in The Quest.

Gunslinger, a CBS show ran for 12 episodes in 1961 and starred Tony Young as Cord a gunfighter working undercover for the local army garrison commander. Hondo starred Ralph Taeger as Hondo and Noah Beery Jr. as Buffalo Baker ran for 17 episodes in 1967. Based on the 1953 movie of the same name that starred John Wayne, the show dealt with Hondo working to keep the peace between the Apache’s and the white settlers. It was up against Gomer Pyle, USMC and Star Trek and was quickly cancelled. Klondike ran for 17 episodes in the 60/61 TV season and starred Ralph Taeger, James Coburn, and Lori Lansing. It dealt with the Alaskan gold rush and the town of Skagway in particular. It couldn’t compete with the Danny Thomas Show. The Legend of Jesse James ran for 34 episodes in the 65/66 TV season. It starred Christopher Jones in the title role. Allen Case played Frank and Ann Doran as Zerelda James Samuel. Robert J. Wilke, and John Milford rounded out the cast. It had stiff competition from The Lucy Show and Dr. Kildare. The Loner ran for 26 episodes on CBS in the 65/66 season. Rod Serling, creator of the Twilight Zone, created the series which starred Lloyd Bridges as William Colton. A former union cavalry captain that traveled west, after the civil war, in search of a new life. Serling wanted to produce a realistic western and even though CBS asked him to add more action, he insisted on realism and doomed the show. A Man called Shenandoah. Robert Horton walked away from the set of Wagon Train in 1962, vowing he would never do another TV western, but he returned to the genre in 1965. An injured man discovered naked on a trail by two men, thinking he was a wanted man they hauled him into town to collect any bounty money being offered. The man wasn’t a wanted outlaw, but couldn’t remember his name. A local doctor gave him the name Shenandoah, meaning slient land. All 34 half hour episodes were shown. It survived the season as a bubble show, but in the end it was cancelled, never to return. The Monroes starred Michael Anderson and Barbara Hershey, before she became Barbara Seagull. It ran for 26 episodes in 1966. They portrayed Clay and Kathy Monroe the oldest of five siblings, who were forced to become the head of the family after the death of their mother and father. The series had a strong lead in from Batman, but failed to maintain an audience. Many viewers switched over to watch the final hour of The Virginian or to Lost in Space. Anderson and Hershey both won American Heritage Awards for their work in the series. One show that I remember had a wolverine that was rampaging around the countryside, breaking into food supplies and killing livestock. This animal is shot several times and managed to keep going. At the end of the show Hershey kills the animal with an ax to the head. Nichols starred James Garner and ran for 24 episodes in the 71/72 season. It costarred Margot Kidder, before her days as Lois Lane, and Stuart Margolin. In the show, the title character returned to his home town of Nichols, Arizona and became the sheriff. It updated the western and had an early motorcycle and automobiles, or horseless carriages. When it became apparent that NBC was going to cancel the show, the main

saddlebag dispatches 153 character was killed in a shootout, and his brother arrived in town for revenge. The brother looked exactly like Nichols except for a mustache. The brother brought the murderer to justice and played in the final two episodes. It’s interesting that Garner pulled this same trick in a Maverick episode, The Day they Hanged Bret Maverick. The Oregon Trail, 1977, starred Rod Taylor, Andrew Stevens, Darleen Carr, and Charles Napier. 14 episodes were produced. However NBC only broadcast 6 before cancelling the show. It had a strong lead in with The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, but it went against the CBS Wednesday night Movie and ABC’s Charlie Angels. The Outcasts ran for 26 episodes in the 68/69 TV season. It starred Don Murray and Otis Young. ABC plugged the show this way, ‘one black, one white, an ex-confederate officer, and a former union soldier, a former slave and a former slave owner. Together they join together to hunt the most wanted men in the west, they are The Outcasts.’ The show was unique in one respect, the partners didn’t like each other and only tolerated each other to stay alive and make money. Hugo Montenegro provided the music and was nominated for a primetime Emmy. The show did win an American Cinema Editors award in 1969. It had a terrible timeslot on Monday nights against Mayberry RFD and the number 1 show on Television, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In. The Quest starred Kurt Russell and Tim Matheson as

two brothers, Morgan and Quenton Bodine. Separated at an early age, Russell was held captive by the Cheyenne for eight years and given the name Two Persons. After he rescued by a group of soldiers he and Matheson are reunited. Two Persons discovered they have a younger sister also taken by the Cheyenne. They travel about the west looking for the sister who was traded to another tribe when she was very young. Only eleven shows were broadcast. Four have never been shown. It aired opposite Charle’s Angels and never had a chance to find an audience. It did win an Emmy for best writing for the episode Hatcher’s Drive. Rango starred Tim Conway as the title character and Norman Alden as his commanding officer in the Texas Rangers. It was a terrible show but managed a 17 episode run in 1967. This show ranked 47th on the TV guides top fifty worst shows of all time. The Rounders was a comedy western I liked. It aired in the 66/67 season and had a 17 episode run. It was based on the movie with the same title that starred Henry Fonda and Glenn Ford. The show featured Ron Hayes and Patrick Wayne, with Chill Wills returning as Jim Ed Love. It followed the show Combat, in its last season and was the lead-in for The Pruitts of South Hampton, a Phyllis Diller comedy. It was against The Red Skelton Show on CBS—a ratings powerhouse during this time— and An Occasional Wife on NBC.

154 saddlebag dispatches Sara had a 12 episode run in 1976 and starred Brenda Vaccaro as Sara Yarnel and co-starred Jerry Hardin. She plays a school teacher that left civilization in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and moved to the western frontier and settled in Independence, Colorado. As the only teacher in a one room school house she had to fight the ignorance and prejudice in town. One of her first actions was to demand new readers and a new outhouse for the school. This puts her at odds with the local residents and school board who believed this to be an unnecessary luxury. Vacarro was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama for her performance. Shane starred David Carradine, before Kung Fu, and ran for 17 episodes. The show also featured Jill Ireland, who later married Charles Bronson. The show was loosely based on the book by Jack Schaefer and the 1953 film starring Alan Ladd. In this version, Marian Starrett was widowed and raising her young son Joey with the help of her father in law, Tom Starrett. Shane goes to work for her as a cowhand to help her keep her land from a corrupt rancher. The series aired on Saturday night opposite The Jackie Gleason Show on CBS and Flipper on NBC. Tate ran for 13 episodes as a summer replacement for The Perry Como Show in 1960 and starred David McLean who gained fame as the Marlboro Man. Tate was a bounty hunter who lost the use of his left arm in the Battle of Vicksburg during the Civil War. His arm was covered by a black leather glove and supported by a sling. He was the first handicapped lead character in Television history, and set the stage for Longstreet and Ironside, but failed to find an audience and never returned after this tryout. The Westerner starred Brian Keith and ran for 13 episodes in 1960. It was produced by Sam Peckinpah. Keith played Dave Blassingame, a wanderer that traveled the west with his dog. Brown. Brown was played by a dog named Spike that was trained by Frank Weatherwax and was best known for playing Old Yeller. The show ran against The Flintstones and Route 66 and couldn’t gather an audience. Brian Keith appeared as Dave Blassingame in a cameo in the 1991 TV movie, The Gambler Returns, The Luck of the Draw. The episode Line Camp was the basis for the 1968 Charlton Heston movie Will Penny. Whispering Smith starred Audie Murphy and ran for 26 episodes in 1961. It aired against the popular Danny Thomas Show and Surfside 6. Based in part on the novel by Frank H. Spearman and the 1948 movie, which starred Alan Ladd, problems plagued this show. The first episodes were filmed in 1959, but after filming seven episodes, actor Guy Mitchell broke his shoulder in a horse fall and production halted. Then Murphy had to leave to film a movie from early August to the end of September. Upon his return filming resumed, but had to stop again when actor Sam Buffington—who played Chief John Richards and Murphy’s superior on the show— committed suicide. It finally aired in September, 1961. The United States Senate Subcommittee for Juvenile Delinquency claimed the show was excessively violent. When Murphy defended the show, he was summoned to Washington for a

viewing of one of the episodes. After the viewing, the senator from Colorado condemned the show. Young Dan’l Boone brought the beloved character back to the small screen in 1977. Eight episodes were produced but only four were shown. It starred Rick Moses in the title role and Devon Ericson as Rebecca Bryan. An unmarried Boone traveled and explored the early frontier in the company of Peter Dawes, a twelve year old English boy, Hawk a runaway slave and Tsiskwa a Cherokee Indian. Meanwhile Rebecca Bryan waited at home, hoping that eventually she and Daniel would marry. Young Maverick from 1979, 8 episodes were produced only 6 shown. The series starred Charles Frank as Ben Maverick, the son of Beau Maverick, played by Roger Moore in the original series. Susan Blanchard, Franks’ real life wife played his girlfriend Nell. The show followed the success of the TV movie, The New Maverick, which also starred James Garner and Jack Kelly as the Maverick Brothers. Garner appeared briefly in the first episode, Clancy, making him the only person to appear in every Maverick series, and the only person to play the same character on the three major networks. The Young Pioneers ran for 3 episodes on ABC in 1978. It starred Linda Purl, Roger Kern, Mare Winningham, Robert Donner and Robert Hays. It was based on a 1976 TV movie of the same name and told the story of Molly and David Beaton, two teenage newlyweds in the Dakota Territory in the early 1870’s. It garnered very few viewers and was mercifully cancelled. TV shows are cancelled for a multitude of reasons, bad time slots, scheduled against popular competition and sometimes the show is just bad and should have never been produced. —Terry Alexander is a western, science fiction and horror writer with many publishing credits to his name. He and his wife, Phyllis, live on a small farm near Porum, Oklahoma


he American West is a paradise for photographers. Sweeping deserts. Towering mountains. Wide skies. Lush meadows. Lofty trees and huddled brush. Raging rivers and meandering streams. A palette of hues and shades that puts the color wheel to shame. And, of course, there are the people who populate the place and engage in all manner of photogenic activities the camera won’t see elsewhere. As a result, there are many, many awe-inspiring images of the West captured by many, many skilled, creative photographers. Among them all, one name particularly stands out for me: James Fain. Fain made his fame in the arena as a rodeo action photographer in an ongoing career that spans more than five decades. He has clicked the shutter at rodeos small and large— including the biggest of them all, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association National Finals Rodeo, where he was official photographer for fifteen years. He has inhaled a ton of dust in arenas across the West and photographed cowboys at every level of the sport. His rodeo photography earned Fain induction into the Utah Cowboy Hall of Fame. But while he is best known for his rodeo photos, Fain’s talent doesn’t begin or end there. He earned both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in photography from Utah State University, and his Master’s Project involved scenic black and white photography of the West. Like most photographers nowadays, Fain captures images digitally and deals in pixels. But he learned the art in the days when science was a big part of the equation, spending hours

and days in the darkroom dealing with silver halide crystals, emulsions, chemistry, negatives, and prints. The rich scenic images he created to earn his degree were captured on film with large-format cameras using available light. But they involved what Fain calls “tricks”—shooting on infrared film through a red filter, exposing for shadows at the scene and under-developing the film in the darkroom, under-exposing and over-developing, manipulating shutter speeds, and other techniques. That it all worked is evident in the photos Fain has created—images as timeless and beautiful as the scenes that inspired them. Working cowboys, and the beauty of the gritty, grimy work they do on ranches also inspires Fain. He has documented horses, cattle, and cowboys on all kinds of terrain and in all kinds of weather. It is worth noting that Fain does not pose or arrange his subjects. As he puts it, “I photograph the working cowboy very much like I do rodeo action. I photograph situations as they happen. I don’t attempt to direct or set up a scene, but rather anticipate movement of men and animals, react to and record the image as it happens.” That his approach works is evident in the ranch photos Fain has created—images in which you can smell sweat and sage and pine, taste dust, and feel the bite of the wind. From rodeos to ranches to the great outdoors, James Fain has captured more of the West than most photographers could even imagine. And that places this photographer firmly among the Best in the West.

“I don’t attempt to direct or set up a scene, but rather anticipate movement of men and animals, react to and record the image as it happens.”

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Arches National Park, Utah Š 2016 by James Fain.

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Grand Tetons, Wyoming Š 2016 by James Fain.

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Strawberry Days Rodeo, Pleasant Grove, Utah, 1992 © 2016 by James Fain.

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© 2016 by James Fain

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Haydens Peak, Uinta Mountains, Utah © 2016 by James Fain.

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Pendleton Roundup, 1971 © 2016 by James Fain.

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Pony Express Days Rodeo, Eagle Mountain, Utah, 2013 © 2016 by James Fain.

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Tiyo Point, Grand Canyon North Rim, Arizona © 2016 by James Fain.

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Yellowstone National Park Š 2016 by James Fain.

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—Rod Miller is three-time winner of the Western Writers of America Spur Award, twice the recipient of the Westerners International Award for Poetry, and his books have won awards from Western Fictioneers and the Academy of Western Artists. Find him online at ŠJames Fain, all rights reserved. Used by permission.