Saddlebag Dispatches—Spring, 2017

Page 1

contents spring 2017

columns beyond the trailhead by Chet Dixon ..................... you don’t see that everyday by Darrel Sparkman ...... heroes & outlaws by Velda Brotherton .................... indian territor y by John T. Big gs .................... shortgrass country by John J. Dwyer .................... let’s talk westerns by Terr y Alexander .................. best of the west by Rod Miller ..............................

16 18 80 154 164 172 176

short fiction preacher joe & salty neil by Terr y Alexander ........... lost and found by R od Miller .............................. coble bray by Darrel Sparkman ............................. white buffalo woman by Dennis Doty ...................

23 41 71 125 143

features painted woman by Priscilla Tran and Dusty Richards ... the journey by Kelly Henkins ............................... big sky: mountain paradise by Jim Morgan ......... i blame george lucas by Michael Frizell ............... bender, part III by Michael & D.A . Frizell .............. from sunrise to sunset by Kelly Henkins ............... a life in pieces by Velda Brotherton ..................... audie murphy by Michael Koch ...........................

6 32 54 82 92 116 134 148

photo by Patricia Rustin-Christen

moondog night by Linda Broday ...........................

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.


saddlebag dispatches


istorted heat waves rose from the desert floor. A mirage of silver water shimmered under the midday sun while hot gusts of wind and dust devils danced across the basin. The intensity of the forge-like blasts forced Vince Wagner to squint at the distant sawedged mountains to the west. In the web of his left hand, he caught his high-crowned hat by the curled brim and removed it. He wiped the perspiration from his forehead on his shirtsleeve. His attention remained centered on the actions of the half-broke roman-nosed dun under him. Despite their long, hot ride through the cholla and rocks, the green-broke gelding still tensed every once in a while, as if ready to buck. The horse’s unpredictability rode foremost in his mind. He reset the weathered gray hat back to shade his eyes. Halted on a rise, a moving object on the little-used road to the Murphy Mine caught his attention. He stood up in the stirrups and stretched his over six-foot frame while he tried to determine the identity of the stranger. Whoever the subject was, they were wearing something bright green. The color puzzled him. Though he squinted hard

against the glare, he couldn’t totally identify the distant object. One part looked like a limping horse, but his inability to figure out more than that bothered him. He tried to neck rein the half-broke horse around, and finally, filled with impatience, he plow-reined him, anxious to find out more about the intruder. “Easy, stupid!” he cautioned the gelding. “We’ll ride down there and see who that is.” Talking to his horse was a habit he’d acquired since moving to the Hondo Mountains to chase mustangs and run a few cows under his own brand. There were times the sound of his own voice was his only company. But the part he liked best was none of the horses ever talked back. The mustang swelled beneath him. He tensed, ready for the horse’s next trick. Instead the dun settled into a long-strided lope. When he drew closer, the person in the bright green clothing stopped and looked back at him across the greasewood and tall cactus. Then as if seized with panic, the individual in question mounted the crippled horse and began whipping it from side to side with the reins to get it to go. What was wrong with them? Confused, he frowned as he drew closer.

saddlebag dispatches

The rider proved to be a girl in a green silk dress. He could see her shapely, bare legs as she sat astride her unwilling mount. He loped his dun up behind her. She twisted around to view him and stark terror was written on her face. She turned back, her long dark brown hair in rolled curls that bounced on her bare shoulders. Lashing with her reins, she punished the lame horse into a crippled trot. “Hold up!” he shouted, standing in the stirrups as he drew alongside her. “No way, mister!” An expression of determination on her face, she resumed booting the spent mount. “Whoa.” He scowled at her reaction to his orders. He grabbed her bridle and stopped her. “Let go of my horse or I’ll—” Her face contorted into a mask of anger. “Where do you get the gall to stop me? Let go of my horse this minute!” “Ease off. I’m not going to hurt you.” He frowned at the streaked rouge-and-trail-dust-smudged image. Half of her milk-white breasts were exposed, and it was a marvel the low-cut dress was even up that high. But the sun-


scorched raw skin on her shoulders and arms drew a sympathetic cringe from him. His gaze met the palest blue eyes he could ever recall. But there was no denying her origin from her appearance and her clothing. She was some sort of a dance hall girl. A pang of disappointment soured his discovery. “Let go of that!” she demanded. “Get away from me.” “Why? It’s six miles up these ruts to Murphy’s Mine. Besides he ain’t there. There ain’t a bit of water up there either, and you look to me like you need some shade.” Dance hall gal or not, he couldn’t let her die out there or go on punishing the poor horse. “Why don’t you mind your own damn business!” She began slapping at his arm where he held her bridle reins. Her even white teeth bared, her mouth was set in a determined slant. “I’m trying to help.” He leaned back from her wild blows. How could one person try his patience so much? “Let go! I don’t need your damn help!” She flailed him on his shoulder and arm harder with her reins. “Well, that horse damn sure needs my help,” he said, his impatience growing by the second at her irrational behavior. “He isn’t yours, he’s mine. Get away from me!” “Listen—” Filled with rage at her belligerence, he pushed the dun into her horse’s side and grabbed her by the waist. His efforts pulled her screaming and kicking out of the saddle. This squalling, kicking female reminded him of a captured wild mustang. He quickly discovered that he needed to be on the ground to ever gain control of her. To dismount would be taking a chance his half-broke horse might run off and leave him afoot. But there was no way to suppress the cursing, struggling hellcat he’d captured without stepping down. With the hard ribs of her corset in his encircling arm, he dismounted as she screeched vehemently and thrashed in his hold. Her fist connected with his left eye. In a galaxy of stars from the blow, he never lost his grip on her or the reins. The time had come for him to put an end to the nonsense she was dealing him. In disgust, he dropped the reins and spun her over his knee. Too late, she tried to stop what he planned and squalled for help. With his flat hand, he applied hard, palm-stinging whacks to her bottom. “Don’t hurt me. Please don’t,” she cried, trying to reach back to protect herself. “I’ll be good. Anything—I promise. Oh! That hurts.” She tried to twist away to avoid any further punishment. “Then settle down.” He stood her up on her feet. The front of her dress had sunk dangerously low. She wiggled it up, and gave him a hard look. “So who are you?” “Most folks call me Vince.” He tested his tender eye with a fingertip.


saddlebag dispatches

With narrow slits for eyes to critically appraise him up and down she asked. “Do you work for Allison?” “Allison who?” He shook his head in wonderment at her. He didn’t know any Allison in that country. “Never mind,” she said in a sharp tone. “What are you planning to do with me?”

“First take that horse away from you. He needs some care. Poor thing has been rode to death. His right hind hoof either has rock in his frog or he’s bruised it. That ain’t no way to treat a horse.” He frowned at her ignorance of animals. “What about me?” she asked. Seated on the ground, she pulled on her high heeled, button-up shoes that she’d lost in their ruckus. For them to fall off, Vince decided, she must have had them unbuttoned.

“To be right honest, I’m worried more about the horse,” he said, attempting to retain his anger toward her. Carefully, he captured the reins to his own dun, grateful he hadn’t run off. Maybe some of his ground tie training had stuck with the animal. “Are you crazy? You can’t just leave me here!” Her hands perched on her hips in defiance. “That’s horse stealing. You can’t do this to me.” “I didn’t ask you to come here,” he said with a slow nod. “Seems to me like you got here all right by yourself. I guess you can go back too.” “Aw, come on now, Buster. It’s miles back to that dried up store.” She shook her head in disbelief. “You can’t just leave me out here alone. Buster, you come back here.” “My name’s Vince,” he said, stepping into the saddle. “Lady, I’ll take this horse to my place, let him heal up, and as soon as he’s well you can have him back.” “When’s that?” Her voice cracked. He shrugged. “Oh, in a couple of weeks.” “Aw, come on,” she pleaded, looking around. “This will be murder to leave me out here on foot." “Well if you can find your way, my outfit is about six miles over this hill at the foot of Hondo Mountain. Come by and see about his recovery.” He used his spur to nudge the dun on up the hill. “Don’t leave me here.” Wobbling along on her high heels after him and protesting every step of the way. “Mister you hear me? Don’t leave me here to die.” “Have a nice walk,” he said over his shoulder as his dun cat-hopped up the steep grade with him leading the bay. “Aw, this is crazy. I can’t walk six miles,” she argued with herself, busy looking for a new place to put her next step. On top of the hill and far enough from the edge she could not see him he dismounted and hitched the horse to a mesquite bush. A little walking might settle her down. Amused, he listened to her lamenting words as she struggled up the grade. He lifted the pony’s hoof to check it. “You can’t do this to me Buster, I’m afraid of snakes. Wait for me please. Oh hell these damn shoes.” He flipped out the rock wedged in the bay’s frog and let him put it down to test it. The he ran his hand down the horse’s hind leg. The animal would heal in a couple of weeks.

saddlebag dispatches 11 Seated cross-legged on the ground, he waited until she managed to reach the flat. Hands on her knees and bent over, she gulped for air. “Oh, please don’t leave me.” “My name’s Vince, it ain’t Buster.” Out of breath, she blinked her eyes as if this was no big thing. “I’m sorry, Vince. But where do you get off stealing my horse?” “I’m treating him.” “Is he well? Can I have him now?” He shook his head. “Nope. He’s still sore footed from that rock. He ain’t going nowhere for a while.” “Now listen—” “No, you listen,” he said. “You settle down or I’ll whip your butt till you do cry. What’s your name?” “My name’s Julie.” She gasped for breath, her face pale from exertion of the hill climb. “Well, Julie what do you want to do now? “You’re serious.” Straightening, she looked taken aback. “I am. Now if you’ll behave, we’ll try to ride this crazy dun double back to my place. I’m warning you, he’s only about that far from bucking us off.” He held his thumb and forefinger an inch apart to show her. Rising to his feet, he brushed off the seat of his pants and went after the horses. “Oh, fine,” she said, hopelessly struggling in her heels and wrestling her dress up for the last twenty steps. “Now I’m going to get bucked off in these big rocks.” “Not if we’re careful.” Vince mounted the dun and extended his arm down for her. She hoisted up her dress, and with his arm for assistance, swung up behind him on the saddle. Jerking on the bit, he checked the impatient dun twice to make him behave. All the time he wondered if the horse would tolerate two riders. When everything was settled, he rode in close to her horse to catch the reins. “Is he going to buck?” she asked apprehensively. “Not if we’re lucky.” “Good.” She put her arms around his middle with the familiarity that they belonged there. “Where are we going?” “My place.’“ “Just so I don’t have to walk in these shoes.” She sounded real weary. “Are you lost?” he asked, standing up in the stirrups to lean forward and adjust the bridle chinstrap. “Oh, I was just out riding.” She sounded evasive.

“Looks more like you’re running away from something to me.” He touched his sore eye. Damn, grown men had hit him with less force than she had. “I don’t figure it’s any of your damn business!” she said. “Besides I’ll pay you.” “For what?” He glanced down at her bare white knee

behind his own. The full skirt of the bright green dress was bunched up high to accommodate her being astride. “Haven’t you ever seen a woman’s leg before?” she asked sarcastically. “A time or two.” His face heated up. “How much will l owe you when my horse is well?” “I don’t know yet. He’ll be a couple of weeks mending.” “What do you do up here, anyway?” She sounded brav-


saddlebag dispatches

er. Having released him, she hung onto the leathers holding his bedroll and slicker on behind the saddle. “I mustang.” Vince watched the distant mountainside. A slight movement in the chaparral was obvious to him. “What’re you looking at?” she asked. “Didn’t you see him? Big cat up on that mountain.” “Are there many of them around here?” she asked in a subdued voice. “Quite a few,” he offered and glanced down at her bare knee before looking ahead again.

“Who’s that?” she asked, squirming a little behind him. “Tom Watson. Owns the Bar T. I break a few head for him.” “Guess I’ve never heard of him.” The horse slid down the last few feet into the dry wash streambed. She lost her balance and fell sideways. In desperation she grabbed him to save falling off. “Get your feet out of his flank!” he shouted as the dun ducked his head. His warning was too damn late. The green horse broke in two, with her holding on to him for dear life. The next

“That’s just great! Mountain lions and a woman beater. I must really be in a fine place. Don’t stop. I promise I’ll try to be nice.” She gave a loud sigh of exasperation. “Why did I ever leave Goldfield?” He half turned struck with disbelief. “You rode here from Goldfield?” “No, a year ago I worked there.” “I figured you come from Pinion or Potter’s Crossing.” “Sure,” she mumbled evasively. “Which one?” The dun descended the steep trail into the dry wash. “Never mind.” She locked her arms around him again to keep her balance. “Last Chance Saloon?” he asked off the top of his head. “Sure,” she said. “I’ll take you back there at the end of the week. I’ve got this horse and three others I’m breaking for a rancher.”

moment they were seated on a sand bar in the dry streambed. “What did I tell you?” he demanded, watching the dun high kicking and bucking away. When she didn’t answer, he glanced over at her struggling with the low cut dress and wincing at the pain when the stiff material gouged her sunburned skin. “I damn sure didn’t do it on purpose,” she said. “What do we do now?” “Walk.” He slapped at his bat wing chaps in disgust. “Unless we can catch him.” “That horse doesn’t like you,” she said, pushing herself up with determination. At the final point she shoved his shoulder. “Let me go catch him, and then we can ride on to your place.” He rose to his feet, shaking his head. “One snort of that gawdawful perfume of yours, and he’ll run to the next territory.” “So you don’t like my perfume, huh? We’ll see what I

saddlebag dispatches 13


saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches 15 can do about capturing that horse of yours.” She took off her high-heeled shoes in disgust and set out barefooted down the sandy wash. A full hundred feet behind her, he listened to her coax the horse. “Whoa, you dumb ass. I’m damn tired of this walking. You just stand there and I’ll come get you.” A confident smile on his lips, he stopped and folded his arms over his chest, watching her almost reach the trailing reins. She’d never catch him. Not many folks could do a damn thing with that stupid horse. He’d spent more time than he liked to admit fooling with him. The dun gave a great snort. Probably smelled her perfume. Amazed, he watched her snatch the leather reins and secure them before the dun spooked back like a booger was after him. She half ran in a large circle, clutching the reins and being dragged by the green-broke horse. In a flash he rushed to her aid. “You didn’t do half bad.” He scowled at the dun for all his traitorous actions, including stopping for her. “Convincing men is my business.” She laughed aloud with her head thrown back. “I reckon so,” he said, not overly impressed with her brag. “I’ll make you a deal. I’ll just call you Cowboy, and you can call me whatever,” she said, sounding very sure of herself. “Fine, Lady,” he said, a little embarrassed by her brassy ways. “Most men call me honey or baby or darling.” She acted disappointed at his selection of names. Standing on one foot then the other in the hot sand, she impatiently waited for him to remount the horse. “Lady sounds good enough for me.” He reached down to hoist her up. With an effortless lift, he placed her on the seat behind him. “I know. I know,” she said. “Keep my heels out of his flank.” She squeezed him so hard he could feel the shape of her breasts against his back. The notion of that made him anxious. “Do you bring girls home all the time?” she asked, her tone flippant. “No ma’am, I enjoy the quiet out here.” “Oh.” She wiggled against the back of the saddle. “A woman hater.” “No ma’am. I just like my peace and quiet.” “You ever been with a woman?” she asked.

He never answered her smart mouth. At that point he put spurs to the dun and sent up him cat-hopping up the trail. Frantically, she clung to him like death. This time if the dun bucked, he damn sure wasn’t going off. The sooner he got the horse healed and her gone, the sooner he expected to return to the solitude he enjoyed.

—With 158 novels to his credit, two time Spur and Wrangler Awardwinning author Dusty Richards was already one of the greatest Western writers in the history of the genre, but when The Mustanger and the Lady was picked up for adaptation to the silver screen—a first for one of Dusty's books—he joined the ranks of the true Western legends like John Ford, John Wayne, and Louis L'Amour. Look for Painted Woman coming soon in 2017, and pick up your copy of The Mustanger and the Lady wherever books are sold.


ur life histories are interwoven with personal love stories. Many of these stories become known by others, but most remain obscure or secret. Some create pleasure when remembered. Others are remembered as sad times that you wish could be erased from your history and mind. However, somehow sad ones live on and on. We try to forget, but they follow us. They often remind us how vulnerable we are to the power love stories have upon our lives. The poem, Echoes in the the Mind, describes part of a love story and demonstrates how tragically one-sided they can become. One side may be overjoyed when echoes are rekindled. They may bask in delight and wish for a return to what the mind refuses to let die. The other, having become vulnerable to predators, may have forgotten the sound of special music, soft whispers and the magic of exciting touches that create an eagerness to return to a love story’s origin. Just like this poem, a love story is never completely told. Therefore, it’s okay for readers of this poem to fill in the words and actions yet to be told as they imagine them to be.

When I began writing poetry in the 1950’s, I shared what I was doing with no one. Even my closest family members were unaware that I wanted to become a writer. In high school and college, my writing had great personal importance. Like a good friend, it was there when tough times came around. It gave me healthy expression and balance. Now, in 2017, I want to share what I write with a larger audience. My newest collection of poetry, Affections Not Sleeping is the second collection to be published of several in a series. It describes fond memories that inspire and stir the soul deeply because affections are addictive, like food for the soul. The poems of this book— like Echoes in the Mind— shed light upon the depth of affections which have long lives and serve to identify us. They nudge us to think deeply about the lives we live in relationship to others. —Chet Dixon is a businessman, philanthropist, and published author of multiple works, including the poetry collections Beyond the Trailhead and Affections Not Sleeping. He resides near Branson, Missouri, but his heart lives in the western wilderness.

saddlebag dispatches 17 Echoes in the Mind Will you laugh again When you return to our rendezvous, Where we played without fear Along sandy flowing streams, Quiet secret forests, Open sunny fields, Below sycamores and willows Where shimmering campfires Cast ghostly shadows And evenings slipped away unnoticed? Will you laugh or cry When we remember Choosing weak and strong drinks As we listened to chirping frogs, In eerie streams and bogs By dark sleepy waters? Will you laugh or cry when we talk In soft voices and eager whispers? Or will you claim forgetfulness And discard past tastes of heaven Like bad morning coffee? Will you laugh or cry when memories are Enkindled and music, unwritten, From hidden places, Replay our songs and dances? Will memories remain frozen in time Never to breathe again? Will you remember memories made? After a while will you wish for more? Will my tears reveal a conclusion That the greatest affections often wither, Giving way for time predators to steal Pieces of heaven quietly resting Among echoes living in the mind?


tories of westward expansion are often fraught with dried apples, or bear-sign (doughnuts) come to mind. A inaccuracies. Media and writers go with the exciting good cabbage stew? Yuck! I’d have to be real hungry. parts. “If it bleeds, it leads.” Or, “don’t waste time If the settler, or ranch owner, wanted to plant a garden with boring life, just write the important stuff.” So, we for culinary variety, where did they get their seed? How get war and conflict, did they know when cattle drives, gunfights, to plant various crops? bank robberies and the How do they care for like. Tension. Conflict. them? Many of these There was plenty of settlers just pulled foot that going on. But, and left their settled there was another area homes in the east for the of adventure seldom siren call of the west. mentioned. They weren’t always What about the farmers by nature or settler and his wife training. They were braving the wilds for a like people today that promise of owning their say, “if the world goes own land—beholden to pot, I’ll just grow to no one—and whose my own food.” Uh, existence was on occasion no you won’t. Other protected by the exciting than kicking the dirt souls we write about with their feet, how do and see in movies. they get started? All I want to focus on good questions to avoid HOW DID THOSE BEANS GET IN HERE? gardening. What? I sore toes. A good many Culinary gardening may seem like a boring topic to explore, but it know. BORING! I in the great westward was a key mode of survival on the frontier—one many starved to can visualize editors expansion died before death for failing to master. throwing paper in the they ever had the chance air, gathering them to learn. together and then setting it all on fire. Or me, if they One of the main staples of the American Indian was could catch me. the three sisters. And for good reason. Beans, maize (corn), But, you know? People eat. Trail drovers often survived and citronelles (squash, pumpkins). Some tribes grew these on beef and beans. I’ve read they’d ride miles out of their to supplement the meat they harvested. Especially since way for a little variety. Vegetables, air-tight (canned) peaches, they’d last up to six months in storage. Add in nuts, berries

saddlebag dispatches 19 and occasional fruit and their diet was well suited for their life style. Some were mixed together to make Stanica, Pemmican, or their own version of Trail Mix. The problem? They worked at it yearround and it took a huge area to supply their needs. Many moved to keep up with migrating herds of animals. In some cases, the Osage would plant their crops, tend them for a while and then leave to go on a buffalo hunt.1 I should note that I’m focused west of the Mississippi. The fate of the Osage veggie crop was left to Mother Nature. I can imagine the beasties of the forest just loved that. They still do. When I walk away from my garden, I can see their beady little eyes staring at me from the fence row. And the trees. And peeking around the garage. And in the sky as their shadow crosses the land. Ahem. As a side note—necessity is always the mother of invention. By 1829 some 3500 eastern Cherokee had already moved willingly to Arkansas from their lands east of the Mississippi. Add that number to the several thousand Osage and Delaware, you can see how that would deplete the supply of ready game. The Cherokee brought their farming skills with them. In a census done that year, they had 22,000 black cattle, 1300 slaves, 2000 spinning wheels, 700 looms, 31 grist mills, 10 sawmills, 8 cotton gins, 18 schools and one newspaper.2 They were getting it done. A funny thing. This same type census collected in 1811 also reported 20,000 hogs. In 1829 none were reported. Clerical error? Dunno. Now we know where all those Arkansas razorbacks came from. So, while some Native Americans often needed all that space to survive, what gave the interloping settlers a small advantage? Though playing catch-up with the Cherokee, what gave them a subtle advantage over the other tribes? Although most of this would happen west of the Cherokee lands, some should have stopped to take lessons. Their advantage was the ability to survive on a comparatively small plot of land. Sometimes before they started a dwelling, like a log home, soddy, tent, or converting their wagon—they broke ground for a garden and brought out their precious seed.

CASH CROP The potato was first domesticated in the region of modern-day southern Peru between 8000 and 5000 BC. Following the Spanish conquest of South America, the potato was to Europe in the second half of the 16th century. It was subsequently conveyed by European mariners to territories and ports throughout the world.

HUSBANDRY AND RURAL AFFAIRS Printed in 1801, this book served as a comprehensive guide to raising, keeping, and even butchering livestock for farmers and ranchers.


saddlebag dispatches

What helped them with that? What else? Technology. Tending the garden, along with the homestead, was a Yes, even back then. full-time job. Once that ground was tilled, either by hoe Usually, at least one of the family could read. Women or what nowadays we’d call a chisel plow, seeds were sown, often had a better sprouted, nurtured, education than the cultivated and fertilized. men. Either way, the When they harvested information was there the crop, the plants were for them if they could composted for working take advantage of it. back into the soil as There were versions fertilizer and humus, of frontier Cliff Notes along with any manure and How-To’s every to be found. Many plants step of the way. were double or triple Depending on when cropped, like beans their journey started, or shorter maturing they may have had a cabbage, lettuce, or copy of Husbandry and carrots and radishes. Rural Affairs, printed in And the ever-ready 1801, by J. B. Bordley.3 staple—potatoes. Sitting next to the Bible, When you see scenes there might have been in movies of the men a copy of The Cottage driving cattle over the Economy printed in 1833 ‘nesters’ gardens, don’t 4 by William Cobbett. Or, think nuisance and a little later The Kitchen intimidation—thing Gardeners, printed in 1847. starvation. The information was far Settlers often had reaching and accurate. a few cows or oxen, You could find maybe a horse or two. information ranging Extra animals could be from keeping the garden butchered in the winter if and small fields clean needed for survival, but of weeds and pests, to they’d rather supplement advice for the young wife with wild meat or fowl if to not hang her crockery possible. Hunger always close to the door lest it trumps everything and fall and shatter when changes plans. her husband slammed it. As with the Native Garden seed was Americans, survival for a vital and protected the settler was a fullcommodity and hoarded time job. They did it by by the settler. Growing managing a small parcel it to harvest and saving of land with intensive A BARN BURNER OF A READ seed for the next year labor. Of course, if was vital. They had to they were successful— William Cobbett’s Cottage Economy appeared in 1833, the bring everything needed they grew. Successful same year as novelist’s Charles Dickens’s first published work of for survival with them. operations tend to begat fiction, “A Dinner at Poplar Walk.” There were no guarantees neighbors, and those grew of trading or buying if into communities. If looked they happened upon a town. You can imagine the despair at closely, it’s a business model used by ‘off-the-grid’ folks if they lost the contents of their wagon in a river, or other today. Grow what you eat. catastrophe. Seeds, plants and tools were their life. Fifty years ago my wife’s family operated a greenhouse

saddlebag dispatches 21 and garden center. Most everything we sold, from produce to flowers—we grew. I can tell you, when you are looking at several acres of garden with nothing to keep you company but a sharp hoe and the baking sun, it’s not fun. Everyone had a garden back then and we sold several thousand pounds of seed a season. Like all things, that changed. We still sell seed, but only a couple of hundred pounds. Competition? Nope. There aren’t many gardens left, or the desire to grow. Is that a good thing? We can just go to the store and buy what we need? I hope so. If not, those old books are going to be hard to find. In 1840 approximately 89% of the American people lived in rural areas of the country. These country folks had the skills and knowledge necessary to supply and/or make most of their food and clothes, tools and shelter, furniture and amusements. They raised crops for food and fodder, cared for livestock, used tools we never knew existed to do things we never knew needed doing. And sometimes, they wrote down their thoughts and knowledge and published them for others. Those numbers have flipped. Since 1840 people have been leaving the farms and heading for the cities.

According to the last census, there are about 81% of us living in urban areas. The skills and knowledge it took to be self-sufficient are gone. We have become more and more dependent on modern cities, just in time deliveries, and super stores. Our great grandparents did a wider variety of things before breakfast than we do all day long. Next time we’ll see how the settlers and their native American peers spent their day. —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 topics, from firear ms to beans. His latest novel, Hallowed Ground, was released in February. Credit: and D.B. Beau 1: 2: 3: 4:

Ingrenthron, Elmo, Indians of The Ozark Plateau; Ingrenthron, Indians of the Ozark Plateau; Bordley, J.B. Husbandry and Rural Affairs, 1801; Cobbet, William, The Cottage Economy, 1833.


he frigid night air settled around Bonner Raine’s shoulders, promising a miserable night. He tugged the collar of his coat up against his neck and moved closer to the fire. Shivering, he glanced up at the winter sky and the large halo around the moon. Over to the left of the bright orb was a moon dog just as sure as he was freezing his rear off. “Snow’s coming. Bet it’ll be here before morning,” he told his hound. Jezzie yawned and curled up next to him. She was part cow dog and part wolf. A mixture just like him. They suited each other—pieces of different things put together to make a whole. He leaned back against his saddle and drew his hat down low over his eyes. He prayed he could get a little sleep before he had to ride. He was Lord almighty weary of this life of hunting bad men. Folks shot him looks of disdain when he rode into towns, leading a horse with some desperate outlaw slung bellydown over it. They said he was no more than a killer—all because he collected rewards for ridding the world of evil. Not all of the wanted men chose to die. He always gave them a choice. Never once in the time he’d been at this had he shot anyone in the back. He first offered them a chance to give themselves up then let the cards play out how they were dealt. For the most part, men on the run were short in the brain department. The majority tried to outshoot him rather than go to jail peaceable. But one day, his luck would end. He knew it as sure as he was sitting there.

The fire crackled and popped and somewhere off in the distance a lonely coyote howled. He pulled his bedroll over him. Way he saw it, he was no different from a lawman who administered justice for free. They both accomplished the same thing and getting paid for it provided Bonner with a living. But he was tired of dodging bullets and outrunning the devil. Not much of a life for a man with dreams. He had his eye on a little farm in the Texas Hill Country where one day he could settle down with a good woman and raise a crop of kids. That is if he could find a woman who could put up with the demons that shared his saddle. Just one more outlaw and he’d have enough money. The capture of Jack Sneed could buy that farm. Thoughts of having that piece of land meandered through his mind as he let his hand drift over Jezzie’s black and white fur. She never judged. Just then he caught the whinny of a horse beyond the firelight and raised, listening. Jezzie growled and stood. He flung the bedroll aside and lurched to his feet, drawing his Colt. Keeping low, he crept to the edge of darkness and took cover in the brush. Jezzie raced into the black night, raising holy hell. Quiet voices reached him as though nothing more than a sigh of the wind. But he trusted his instincts. Someone was out there. He waited and watched. Over the last six years he’d seen


saddlebag dispatches

every trick known and some that weren’t. Jezzie had become oddly silent. What had happened to the hound? A horse shuffled its feet. More whispers. “Show yourself,” he growled. At last, came a child’s voice. “Don’t shoot, mister.” “Come on in. Slow and easy.” He stayed hidden in case Jack Sneed had stooped to using a kid to lure him into the open. Nothing that outlaw did would surprise Bonner. Not one damn thing. A rustle of brush preceded the visitor. When the mule stepped into the circle of light with Jezzie plodding alongside, he stared in shock. The riders were kids—two of them—the oldest no more than nine or ten years old. •

Colt still in his hand, Bonner rose and scanned the darkness. He waited for Jack Sneed to race toward him with gun blazing— or at the very least the parents of these children. “Tell anybody with you to come out, kid.” Now in the light, he noticed the oldest was a boy. Behind him, gripping the boy’s waist, was a little girl with long blonde hair. She gave a loud sniffle.

“Ain’t nobody with us,” said the boy. “Just me and my sister. We’re cold. Hungry.” Bonner slid his Colt into the holster. “What are you doing out here all by yourself ?” He helped the kids to the ground and moved them by the fire. The boy could barely walk for the heavy pistol stuck in the waist of his pants. Thank goodness both wore thick coats. The boy shot him a wary glance and held his hands to the flame. “Lookin’ for somebody, mister.” “Call me Bonner. Bonner Raine. Are you lost?” “Nope.” “Got a name, kid?” He was trying to make sense of this. If he was dreaming, he wished he’d wake up. Surely they were a figment of his imagination. He’d been dog tired down to his bones before, but never where he saw people who weren’t there. “Jonathan Timothy Andrew Cutler.” “I’m Addie,” the girl said shyly. Jezzie whimpered and licked her hand. “Well, Jonathan Timothy Andrew Cutler and Addie, if I knew who you were looking for I could help you find them.” He glanced at the mule and found bedrolls tied to the animal and a burlap sack filled with something hanging from the saddle horn. The kids had prepared for a trip, not just a spur of the moment ride.

saddlebag dispatches 25 “Aimin’ to find Jack Sneed. He killed our papa. Took Mama.” Jonathan glanced up. The blue flames of the fire shone on his grim young features. Anger glistened in his dark eyes and hardened his voice. “I’m gonna get her back. An’ I’m gonna kill Jack Sneed.” As soon as Bonner got over the shock, he whistled through his teeth. “That’s a mighty tall order, Jonathan.” He didn’t doubt the commitment though. This kid sure as shooting had his mind set on going up against the most ruthless outlaw in Texas—and he wouldn’t stand a chance. “We gonna git our mama,” little Addie said. She looked to be about six. She reached for her brother’s hand and clenched it. Tiptoeing to reach his ear, she whispered loudly, “I’m hungry, Jonathan.” Bonner kicked himself for not asking if they’d eaten. He glanced at the still warm skillet that held a rabbit stew he’d thrown together. “You’re welcome to my stew. I made plenty.” “We ain’t askin’ for charity,” Jonathan said firmly. But the boy cast a sideways glance at the pan. Addie was downright staring. “Listen, you’d be doing me a favor. Me and my dog have eaten all we can hold and I’ll have to throw it out.” When he saw hesitation in their eyes, he grabbed a tin

plate and filled it, then got two spoons. “I just have one plate, so you’ll have to share.” They sat on his bedroll and dug in. Both seemed to be starving. Jezzie laid down beside Addie. It seemed the girls were going to stick together in this. “When did your papa die and Jack Sneed take your mama?” He poured himself a cup of coffee. “This morning,” Jonathan muttered around his chewing. “About sunrise. Me an’ Addie hid in the hayloft so he couldn’t see us.” “How do you know it was Jack Sneed?” “On account of what he said right before he shot our papa between the eyes. ‘Tell the devil Jack Sneed sent you.’ He jerked Mama onto a horse and they lit out with her screaming.” Bonner narrowed his eyes over the rim of the cup. That sounded like the low-down outlaw. “Did you ever see him before today?” “Nope.” The boy wiped his mouth on a bandana that he took from around his neck, then wiped Addie’s face. Jezzie’s eyes found Bonner’s and she whimpered as though pleading for him to help these children. The dog didn’t need to ask. He’d already decided and not because he needed Jack Sneed’s carcass for the reward. He’d do it to give the children back their mother and right the wrong.


saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches 27 “That man is a mighty mean hombre. Think you can get justice and rescue your mama by yourself ?” “Yep.” Jonathan set down the plate they’d cleaned and went to the mule. Bonner followed. “Need help?” “Nope.” The kid dragged a rock over to stand on and untied two bedrolls—and a yarn-headed doll. Stalking back, he handed the doll to Addie, then spread out their bedrolls. Bonner watched in amazement. The boy was sure self-sufficient and determined not to ask for help. While he admired that, he wanted to shake the boy. He and his sister had no business being out here chasing Jack Sneed in the dead of winter with a snowstorm likely bearing down. The kid might shoot his fool self with that pistol weighing down his pants. “How did you track the outlaw anyway, son?” “My papa was a Texas Ranger and he taught me. Taught me a lot of stuff.” “How to shoot?” “Yep.” “There’s a lot of difference in aiming at things that can’t shoot back. Have you ever killed a man, Jonathan?” “Nope. But I will.” Jonathan took little Addie to the bushes. When he stalked back, he laid down next to his sister and covered them.

Bonner reckoned the boy had chewed all the fat he was going to for now. He’d wait until the kid went to sleep, then he’d take that gun before it accidentally went off. But just as he finished the thought, Jonathan pulled the pistol out and hid it somewhere in the folds of the bedroll. Bonner silently cussed a blue streak. It was almost as if the pint-sized lawman had read his mind. He sat there thinking a long time after the boy snored. Anger rose so thick it almost choked him. He and Sneed were going to have a long conversation—as soon as he got these kids’ mother from the outlaw’s clutches. Jezzie rose from a spot beside Addie and laid down next to him. The dog glanced up and whimpered. “I know, girl. We’ve got to fix this.” He tossed another piece of wood onto the fire and watched it spark and sizzle. While he made plans for daylight, he heard sobs. He got to his feet to see what he could do to comfort, although he was pretty rusty in that department. Addie lay next to her sleeping brother, crying her heart out. Bonner lifted her into his arms and patted her back. “There, tell me what’s wrong, sweet girl.” “I want my mama. She always gives me a goodnight kiss. I can’t go to sleep without a kiss.” “Honey, I’m sorry she’s not here to do that, but I promise


saddlebag dispatches that we’re going to find her tomorrow.” Worry niggled in his head as a thought froze him. What if Sneed killed her? What then? It would be typical for the outlaw. What would he do with these kids? He sat down and held her in his lap until she fell asleep sucking her thumb. Tenderness rose from deep inside from a place he didn’t even know existed. His eyes narrowed. Jack Sneed was a dead man. With a long sigh, he tucked Addie back into the bedroll and put her doll in her arms, covering the children with a warm blanket. He dropped back onto his bedroll. A glance at the sky revealed the clouds that had formed overhead, blocking the moon. Before his eyes closed, he thought he felt flakes of snow. •

Snow covered everything when Bonner woke just a little before daybreak. Light from the fire showed only the sleeping little girl. He jerked to his feet. That little rascal. Had Jonathan already left? Jezzie rose from her place next to Addie and stretched. The fool dog was supposed to alert him. Hell! He moved to the horses, praying the mule would still be there. He caught Jonathan about to mount up. “Going somewhere?” The kid turned. “To find Mama.” “And leave your little sister behind? I thought your father would’ve taught you better.” He heard doubt creek into Jonathan’s voice for the first time and knew the kid wrestled with that. “Figure she’s safe enough. She ain’t got any business where there’s killing.” “You mean when you put a bullet into Jack Sneed.” “Yep.” “I can’t let you leave by yourself, son. Climb down and eat something. We’ll all go together.” he offered a hand. “Family sticks together.” With a curt nod, Jonathan walked back to the campfire. While Bonner fixed a bite of breakfast, the boy got Addie up and took her to the bushes. They ate the quick meal in silence. Bonner’s thoughts were on Jack Sneed and he figured the kid’s were on killing the man. They mounted up and set a blistering pace. Little Addie rode in front of Bonner where he held her secure and in front of her was Jezzie. They were moving too fast for the dog to walk. Snow covered the trail but he needed no sign to lead him to Sneed’s hideout. Outlaws were creatures of habit. They went to places they knew best and felt safe—only the man would find no place in Texas safe from him. This was a day of reckoning and the price would be steep.

saddlebag dispatches 29 Each step their mounts took, he prayed they’d find Mrs. Cutler alive. He couldn’t bear to consider the alternative or what would happen to these children. He found the boy staring straight ahead, jaw clenched. The kid was going to make a heck of a lawman—if he lived long enough. It was Bonner’s job to make sure he did. About five hundred yards from Jack Sneed’s shack, they dismounted. They’d leave the animals and he and the boy would go on foot. He crouched down and brushed the hair from the little girl’s eyes. “Honey, listen good. You have to stay here with Jezzie. She’ll take care of you. Whatever happens, you’re not to move from here. Understand? All our lives depend on that.” “But I want to come.” Jonathan knelt to wipe her nose. “Dang it, Addie. I told you it’s too dangerous. You’ll get mama killed. You cry too much and—” He glanced around. Finally, picking up her doll he thrust it into his sister’s hands. “Take care of Bessie. She needs you. But do not follow me.” The boy glanced at Bonner as though seeming to say that he’d go this alone. Tough. He was going whether the kid wanted him there or not. With guns in hand, he and Jonathan crept through the snow-covered brush. Their breath fogged in the cold

air. He stared at the shack where smoke rose from the chimney. He needed to see inside. He turned to the kid and kept his voice low. “I’m going to take a look. You stay here and don’t fire that pistol. You do and your mother is dead.” If she wasn’t already, but he kept that to himself. “No, I should go. I’m smaller and can hug the ground.” The kid had a point. He pinched the bridge of his nose. “All right. I’ll provide cover in case you need it. Don’t go off half-cocked on me. Just look and get right back so we can figure out a plan.” Jonathan glared. “If Sneed has a gun on my mama, I’m shooting.” Before he could reason with Jonathan, the boy sprinted to a tree. Running from one trunk to the next, Jonathan reached a window of the hideout and peered inside. Bonner would give a year’s reward money to know what the boy saw. Keeping low, the kid moved to a second window and raised for a look. Evidently, satisfied, he ran back. “Mama’s tied up on a bed an’ Sneed’s eatin’ at a table. I’ll bet he didn’t feed her nothing.” “Draw out the room and where she is.” He prayed she’d be strong enough to walk under her own power. Once the shooting started, he might not have time to do more than untie her.

saddlebag dispatches 31 He studied the layout Jonathan drew in the snow. “Okay, here’s the plan. When you’re in place at a window, I’ll burst through the front door at a run and catch Sneed by surprise. Don’t fire toward your mother. And don’t shoot me.” Lord, what a dumb plan. Maybe the outlaw would be so confused he wouldn’t have time to go for his gun. Bonner only had the kid’s word that he knew how to shoot. A wild bullet could kill him and Mrs. Cutler. But he didn’t have it in him to tie up the kid. The boy burned with a need for justice. He deserved a chance to get it. Bonner would feel the same if he walked in Jonathan’s shoes. Once the boy was back at the window and Bonner had positioned himself, he took a deep breath. Gripping his Navy Colt, he ran for the door and burst through the rotted wood. A woman’s scream rent the air. Jack Sneed jumped to his feet, drawing. Bonner fired, striking the outlaw’s shoulder, spinning him around. Another bullet broke through the window and hit the outlaw square between the eyes. Sneed fell like rock. Bonner slid his gun into the holster and went to the children’s mother. “Bless you, mister. He meant to kill me. I’ve got to get home to my children.” Her voice was shaky. He wiped blood from her face, noticing the bruises. “The kids are here. Your son’s shot is the one that killed Jack Sneed.” Just then Jonathan ran inside and hugged his mother. As Bonner turned to go get Addie, the little girl met him at the door. “Mama! Mama!” she screamed, rushing past him. Jonathan moved to Bonner, those solemn dark eyes revealing the pain of shooting his first man. The boy stuck out his hand. Bonner shook it. “Your father would be proud of you, kid. Everything he taught you paid off and you got your mama back just like you said you would. I’m proud of you too. Not many men could’ve tracked Sneed and then shot him dead between the eyes.” “Thanks, Mister Raine.” “I’ll help you get Sneed into town but the reward money belongs to you. It’ll help ease your burden for a bit.” So much for staying put. Jezzie nuzzled his hand. The dog hadn’t minded either. Bonner shook his head, then turned to watch the happy reunion. Everything had turned out. His farm slipped from reach—for now. There were plenty more outlaws to bring in. They were like roaches— stomp one and another rose to take his place. One day, if the cards played out right, he’d have his dream. Just a matter of time.




inda Broday is the runaway New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of eight full-length western romance novels and seven short stories. Watching TV westerns during her youth fed her long love of cowboys and the old West and they still do. She resides in the Texas Panhandle on land the American Indian and Comancheros once roamed with ghosts lurking around every corner. Linda loves research and looking for little known tidbits to add realism to her stories, and she often makes a nuisance of herself at museums and libraries. Moon Dog Night is her second short stoty to appear in Saddlebag Dispatches. Her newest series—The Men of Legend— launched this year with To Love A Texas Ranger, and continues with Heart of a Texas Cowboy this Summer. You can find all of Linda's books wherever books are sold.

Visit Linda at:


saddlebag dispatches

Journey the

The Story of an 1880s Wells Fargo Stagecoach

Kelly Henkins

SA D D LEBAG f e at u r e

“Clear the street, the stagecoach is coming! Clear the street!� Within seconds of the cry, the rattle of harnesses and the sound of stampeding hooves can be heard in the distance, growing louder as the coach enters the small town of Tucson. Women lift the hem of their skirts clear of the dust as they step onto the boardwalk while young boys wait until the last second, dodging out of the way of the thundering team pulling the stagecoach. In 2001 this stagecoach will be known as The Journey. But her story began almost 140 years earlier. Stagecoaches were first put into operation in 1857 by the Postmaster General to provide mail service. John M. Butterfield and William G. Fargo won the contract bid due in part to their strategy to use a southern route from St. Louis to San Francisco, allowing less disruption in service due to weather. They were paid the sum of $600,000 to provide service twice a week in each direction. Each 2,800-mile trip was to be completed in twenty-five days or less. They ordered the finest coaches for sustainability through the difficult terrain and conditions the coaches had to travel. Many, including The Journey, were built by the Abbot-Downing Company in Concord, New Hampshire. Their coaches withstood rough roads, sharp curves, and mountain trails. Service began immediately and continued for almost a quarter of a century. The Butterfield-Overland Express employed over eight-hundred people in various positions from


saddlebag dispatches

drivers and messengers (the armed co-driver) to relay station hosts using a combined 1800 mules and horses and 120 coaches. Two hundred relay stations were positioned along the routes, enabling the drivers and teams to be utilized for their best service. Aside from the mail, which was stored in the boot of the carriage, stagecoaches could carry up to nine passengers inside, six additional outside, and a shotgun messenger to protect the green Wells-Fargo strongbox beneath the driver’s seat. The cost of

transportation, networking with other settlements in the territory. Nogales, Phoenix, and Prescott were among them. Destinations within a seventy-five-mile radius of Tucson, for example, were provided several times a week, sometimes being completed in one day. Home stations were placed approximately fifty miles apart. Passengers could enjoy a brief rest, purchase a meal, and stretch a bit. Fresh teams were hitched to the coach, a new driver took over

a ticket for a long commute ran two hundred dollars per passenger and included one bag weighing no more than twenty-five pounds. Additional bags and meals cost extra. More localized transport cost approximately ten cents per mile. As the Civil War came to an end in 1865 and use of the Transcontinental Railroad picked up steam, stagecoach travel was used primarily for locations off the rail system. Even with the decline in coach travel new ones, such as The Journey, were still being built. In 1880, this particular coach found a home along the Butterfield-Overland Mail route across Arizona with twenty-seven stops. Tucson remained a hub for the increasing stagecoach

This particular stagecoach was retired in 1905, returning to Concord, New Hampshire where she was lovingly packed away and stored until her purchase in 1945 by the owners of Adventure Town Frontier Park in Alexandrian Bay, New York

the reins, and the journey continued. The driver held the safety of the passengers in his hands. Stagecoach robberies were prominent, particularly after 1877. Due to the rise in mining activity in southern Arizona, Wells Fargo reopened its Tucson office and leased space on the coaches to carry treasure boxes. While this was a good

saddlebag dispatches 35 source of revenue for the lines, the added valuables opened them up as targets for bandits along the trails. “Encyclopedia of Stage Robbery in Arizona” claims 129 stagecoach robberies in the state from 1875-1903. This particular stagecoach was retired in 1905, returning to Concord, New Hampshire where she was lovingly packed away and stored until her purchase in 1945 by the owners of Adventure Town Frontier Park in Alexandrian Bay, New York to en-

stagecoach farther down the trail. In 1970, the coach was again retired from service and sold to one of the park’s blacksmiths. While on a scouting trip in 1990 with a friend in the movie industry, a grown-up Rick Hamby spotted what he thought was an old wagon tongue buried in the weeds behind a barn in Clarkridge, Arkansas. Further discovery unearthed the precious coach of his youth. The original door bearing the Silver Dollar City name as well as an inventory control tag

tertain their guests. They also purchased a coach once owned by the Vanderbilt family and a Henry Ford steam train. The park closed on Labor Day 1961, but The Journey had been sold the previous year. The Herschend Family purchased her in 1960, along with the other coach and steam train for their 1880’s theme park in Branson, Missouri—Silver Dollar City. The Journey was one of the first rides in the theme park as well as a fixture in their annual cowboy/western-themed events. At the age of five, a young cowpoke by the name of Rick Hamby was one of those young passengers. The initial meeting would change his life, and that of the infamous

documenting its origin catapulted Rick to buying the coach. Over the next eleven months, using as much of the original wood and metal as possible, he spent approximately 400 hours lovingly restoring the coach down to the last painstaking detail at his home in West Plains, Missouri. Officially named, The Journey returned to service as a mail coach on March 21, 2001. “Cowboy” Rick had an idea to deliver mail from school children in West Plains across the country to an elementary school in Animas, New Mexico. He and a few cowboys made the trip in sixty-three days, marking the end of The Journey’s first historic adventure in over 120 years on May 26th in Tombstone, Arizona. They


saddlebag dispatches

Officially named, The Journey returned to service as a mail coach on March 21, 2001. “Cowboy” Rick had an idea to deliver mail from school children in West Plains across the country to an elementary school in Animas, New Mexico. —Photos courtesy of Silver Dollar City

saddlebag dispatches 37


saddlebag dispatches Interior shot of the restored stagecoach The Journey, including an authentic period US Mail bag.

saddlebag dispatches 39 made stops along the way, making friends and creating memories for those they met. Over the next fifteen years, The Journey would make several trips, creating a web of thousands of pen pals and touching the hearts of children in multiple states while bringing history to life and a message of the cowboy way to schools across the country. The Journey has completed eight long-distance runs, including The Last Stage to Matador in May 2016. The area they traveled and its dangers was not unlike what the original drivers of the Butterfield-Overland route may have encountered—a 21st century equivalent of the Wild West. In the summer of 2016, Rick donated The Journey stagecoach back to the Herschend Family at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri, where young and young-at-heart can experience a piece of history. While being an integral part of the National Crafts & Cowboy Festival at the theme park, The Journey still makes personal appearances with Cowboy Rick and his wife, Arkansas Bev, across the country. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the coach many times and with each visit I find something I hadn’t noticed before and am in awe of the history she has logged over the course of her life…

and continues to this day. To see this magnificent stagecoach for yourself, check out Cowboy Rick’s Facebook page for a tour stop near you. You can also visit The Journey at its Silver Dollar City home where she is the focal point of The National Crafts & Cowboy Festival. This year’s event takes place September 13 – October 28, 2017. The festival is a step back in time where you can visit with craftsmen and authentic cowboys, experience the Wild West Show with trick riders, ropers, and a world-champion Native American Hoop dancer. Enjoy Western music, a barn dance, and authentic cowboy food at a chuck wagon cookout and throughout the park. Wherever you meet up with this iconic piece of history, you are sure to come away with an appreciation for the Old West and how far we have come both in terms of postal service and travel. You may even hear the cry, “Clear the streets. The stagecoach is comin’!” —Kelly Henkins is a full-time writer and artist. She is the trusted online voice of Texas music and spends most of her daytime networking with singers and songwriters all over the country. She lives in the rural Ozarks. You can follow her at or contact her at


it out da way, Preacher. We don’t want to hurt ya none, but we gonna hang Pete Garrett.” A large rawboned man shook a rope at the minister. The crowd gathered in close behind him and voiced their agreement. “This is not God’s way. Sheriff Oliver arrested Pete and brought him back to stand trial for the crimes he’s accused of.” The sandy haired man placed his back against the door to the sheriff’s office and held one hand outstretched, beseeching the mob to spare the man’s life. “We know he killed Beecher Holmes and Martha. Ain’t no one found their youngans yet. I imagine he killed them too.” An older woman, missing several teeth with a skunk stripe down the center of her stiff black hair approached the preacher. “Sally, I know Martha was a friend of yours, and you thought a lot of those kids, but this isn’t the way. Sheriff Oliver wanted that man to have a fair trial and I’m going to see he gets one.” He stamped his foot on the unfinished board porch. “Clem Oliver is laid up at Doc Maples place. The doc is taking Garrett’s slug out of him right now. That killer don’t have a fair trial coming to him.” The big man came closer, waving the rope in front of the preachers face. “I ain’t wanting to hurt you Joe, but you need to git out of the way and let us do this.” “I’m doing this as much for you as for him.” The Preacher brushed an unruly lock of hair from his forehead. “If you commit this unholy crime, are any of you better

than Pete Garrett? Will any of you be able to help in his murder and walk away unchanged? Leave now, let the man go to trial. Let justice work.” “That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re tryin’ to let justice work. We’re gonna take him down by the crick and let him pay fer his crimes. We’ll put him on a horse and let him swing.” Spittle flew from the big man’s mouth. “I ain’t ever whopped a preacher before.” A lanky cowboy, with huge hands elbowed the older woman out of the way and grabbed the minister by the shirt. “Think I’ll drag this one over there to the alley and give him the whooping he deserves.” Two pistol shots erupted behind them. A welldressed man, wearing a fancy vest and jacket jumped to the boardwalk and pressed the barrel of a strange pistol against the cowboy’s temple. “Now, we’re gonna all calm down. There ain’t no call for more violence. Don’t you agree, Hollis?” “Shore nuff.” The thin man’s jaw quivered. “Whatever you say, Salty.” The newcomer grabbed the cowboy by the collar and pulled him backward, as he made his way to the Sheriff’s office door. “Now, I hope these people like you, Hollis, cause if anyone of them tries anything, well, sad to say you’ll be the first one that hits the ground.” “Leave him be,” Hollis stammered. “Don’t nobody do nothin’. Y'all hear me?"


saddlebag dispatches

“You ain’t nowhere near as stupid as you look.” He glanced over to the preacher. “You okay, Joe?” “I am, but what are you doing, Neil?” “My granddaddy’s old Duckfoot pistol is in my coat. It’s charged and ready, bring it to bear on this mob. If any of them tries anything just pull the trigger. It’ll discharge all three barrels at once.” “I remember old Clayton’s hideout gun well. We used to target shoot with it when we were youngsters.” He rummaged through the pockets and pulled the odd looking pistol free and cocked the hammer. The odd cap and ball pistol had a central frame with a central barrel with two additional barrels running at angles to the main shaft. “Sure thank you for showing up like this.” “You think I’d let them whop you like a yeller dowg?” He nodded toward the door. “Get that open.” “Salty, what kind of pistol is that?” The big man took a step forward. “I ain’t ever seen a weapon like that before.” “Thirty-eight slide action, Harmonica Pistol. I picked it up during the war.” He jammed the barrel roughly into Hollis’ temple. “Now stand still, fore I get scared and squeeze this trigger.” “Floyd, get back now. The crazy fool will kill me.” The color drained from Hollis’ face, leaving it ghostly white.

“If I try hard enough, I figure I can kill you and still get Floyd and a few more fore they get me.” Neil grinned. “You wouldn’t shoot a woman.” Sally shoved her way past Floyd. “You ain’t that kind of man, Salty.” The preacher shoved her back. Caught off guard she fell back into Floyd and both fell sprawling to the boardwalk. “Get inside, fast.” Neil shoved Hollis into the confusion. The thin man crashed into Floyd and Sally. The trio rolled from the sidewalk to the dirt street. Preacher Joe and Salty disappeared inside the sheriff’s office and slammed the door behind them, sliding the crude beam through the wooden slots locking the door tight. A large fist pounded on the rough wood, rattling the windows. “You ain’t gonna get by with this. We want Pete Garrett and by God, we’re gonna hang the killer.” Floyd’s deep voice blared. “You two can’t stay in there forever, and someone will be waiting outside here when you come out.” “What’s going on out there?” A panicked voice shouted. “Who’s there?” “Be quiet, Garrett.” Neil growled. “Just sit back there and keep quiet.” “Salty, is that you? You got to protect me. You gots to. There’s folks back here throwing rocks through the window,

saddlebag dispatches 43 if one of them could get a clear shot with a pistol I expect they’d kill me daid.” “He’s right. We’re gonna have to get him in here with us.” Joe walked to the peg behind the sheriff’s desk and yanked the key free. “See if you can find some handcuffs or something in the desk. I’d feel a lot better if he couldn’t move his hands.” Holding the Harmonica pistol in his right hand, Neil rummaged through the desk drawer. “There’s a set way down at the bottom.” He pulled out a rusty set of manacles and dropped them on top of the desk. “I ain’t seen a set like that since we were kids. Old Hank Bottoms carried a set like that. It doesn’t have a key, you tighten this bolt down with this thing.” He pulled an odd T shaped wrench from the drawer. “Will that thing still work?” Joe paused by the archway leading to the two cells. “Guess we’ll see. Found a little oil. We’ll have to put some on the bolt to get it to turn.” Neil followed the preacher to the double cells. “Preacher, I sure didn’t figure you’d be trying to save me. Considering that we ain’t on the same side.” “I’m not doing this to help you. I don’t want those people out there to break one of God’s commandments.” Joe stared at the accused killer. The man’s garments patched

at the elbows and knees, his hair long and oily, pulled back into a ponytail. Garrett rubbed a hand over his acme scarred face. “Don’t care why yore here. I’m proud to see you.” “One thing you need to understand, Garrett. I think you’re guilty, and it wouldn’t bother me one bit if the townsfolk hung you down by the crick.” He glanced over to the preacher. “But, I’ll play this Joe’s way.” “You’ve got a hard edge on you, Salty.” Garrett scratched his head. “Hard for me to figure you two knowing each other. You don’t run in the same circles.” “The Lord moves in mysterious ways,” Joe said. “His wonders to reveal.” “Don’t waste yore time on me. Me and old Scratch been walking arm in arm fer a long time.” “Get over here and back up to the cell door.” Neil pointed the pistol at Garrett’s face. “The preacher is gonna put these bracelets on you. Don’t try nothing or I’ll put a hole in you.” “What in the world are you packing? I ain’t ever seen a rig like that.” Garrett shook his head. “Thirty-eight slide action pistol.” “Wowee, I’ve heard of them things, but I ain’t ever seen one till now. How many bullets that slide hold?”

saddlebag dispatches 45 “Ten, and I’ve got eight left. So don’t try my patience.” He aimed the pistol at Garrett’s forehead. “Now turn around slow and stick one hand through the bars.” “Alright, Salty, alright.” Garrett moved to the bars and shoved his right hand through. “Fit these around his wrist, Joe. Then tighten the bolt down with this thing. You might have to oil the threads a little.” “Sure ain’t done anything like this in a long while.” Joe squatted behind Garrett and slipped the cuff on his wrist. He got the bolt lined up and tightened the manacle. “Awful stiff.” He lifted the oil can and let some drip on the threads. “Remember those prisoners we took to Andersonville?” “Sure didn’t like that assignment.” Neil shook his head. “I wouldn’t want my worst enemy to end up at Andersonville. I wouldn’t even send Garrett there.” “You two wuz in the war together?” “There it goes.” Joe tightened the bolt through the manacle. “Give me your other hand.” “Damn, Preacher. You got that awful tight.” Garrett flexed his fingers several times. “Put your other hand through the bars.” Neil said. “Alright, give me a second.” Garrett wiggled his hand through the bars. “Shore didn’t know that you two served in the war together. I volunteered for the First Arkansas Infantry. Damn near got killed twice. So I took a walk and didn’t come back.” “Joe and I served in the eleventh Alabama Infantry.” The preacher worked at the bolt. He wiped a coat of sweat from his forehead. “I can see why the sheriff doesn’t use these cuffs. They’re stiff and hard to line up right. There, I think I got it.” He tightened the manacle bolt. “Wuz you the regimental chaplain?” Garrett jangled the length of chain. “No, I was a Corporal in Third Squad.” His hand pressed Garrett’s back. “Move away from the door.” Garrett took two steps forward. “You wuz a fightin’ man. Kinda hard to believe.” He shrugged his shoulders. “No offense meant, Preacher.” “None taken.” He jammed the key in the door lock. The large lock clanked open. “Now get out here and sit down.” “Whatever you say.” Garrett crossed the room and chose the chair across from the window. “The town’s folk are really milling around outside. Reckon they’re really peeved at you two.” “You really should keep your mouth shut, Pete.” Neil shook his head. “You know, I could’ve made a killing tonight selling whiskey to them folks outside.” Joe nodded. “I’m glad you’re in here with me, Salty.” He used the familiar nickname. “Those folks out there are mad right now. They lost friends, and the sheriff is hurt, and all they can think on is revenge.” He glanced at Garrett. “You brought the town together, but it’s for the wrong reason.” “What if I told you I didn’t do it? What if I said it was Nick Spence?” Garrett smiled.

“You’re a liar. Sheriff Oliver found one of Beecher’s rifles on your horse.” Salty waved the pistol barrel in the air like a pointing stick. “I’ve heard about those scratches on your back and I heard that Martha had skin under her fingernails.” “Didn’t say I wasn’t there.” Garrett nodded. “I was with the woman. Gotta admit she really went crazy on me with her fingernails, but it wasn’t rape and I didn’t kill her husband. Nick Spence shot him.” “Shut up,” Joe shouted. “I don’t want to hear anymore. Nick Spence is one of the finest men in Brimstone. I’d trust that man with everything I own, even my life.” “Then he fooled you, Preacher. Nick is good at fooling people.” Garrett nodded. “He’s been doing it for years. He’s cheated everyone in this burg and they think the world of him. Me I’m more honest and direct in what I want. Nick wuz sneaking out to see Martha three, four times a week. She kept wanting to ditch old Beecher and run off, but he wuzn’t having none of that. He didn’t want a permanent woman.” “Did you tell the sheriff this story?” Neil stepped forward and jammed the barrel of the Harmonica pistol against Pete’s forehead. “No, didn’t think it would do me any good. He and Nick are good friends. He wouldn’t have believed me.” “So you put a bullet in the sheriff and tried to get away,” Neil snarled. “I should blow your head off right now or toss your sorry carcass out that door and let the mob have you.” A look of wide eyed terror stretched Garrett’s face. Joe laid a hand on Neil’s shoulder. “You can’t do that, it’s not right. Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord.” “Th—” Garrett swallowed, hummed. “Thanks, Preacher.” “You should be quiet, Pete. What you have done is an abomination in God’s eyes. You should fall on your knees and pray for forgiveness.” “You know a jury is gonna find him guilty and sentence him to hang.” Neil crossed the room to the sheriff’s chair and sat down, the pistol gripped tightly in his right hand. “I’m gonna be right at the front of the pack, watching when they spring the trap on this one.” He rummaged in his coat pocket and produced a small metal flask. He unscrewed the lid and took a long pull. “Wish I’d brought more whiskey.” “Can I have a little whiskey? Just a taste?” Pete nodded. “Right now you’re lucky I’m letting you breathe.” Neil replaced the cap and returned the flask to his pocket. “No need to waste good whiskey on you.” “I’m glad you put the alcohol away. We don’t need whiskey tonight. We have to keep our wits about us.” Joe pulled a small bible from his threadbare coat and flipped open the book. “If a jury finds him guilty of his crimes, he will have faced justice.” “I told ya’ll I didn’t kill Martha and Beecher. Nick Spence done the deed.” “We’ll see what the judge thinks when he gets here.” Neil glanced at the door. “Somebody just stepped on the porch.”

“Preacher, Salty. We’ve come to talk.” “We can hear you just fine, Floyd,” Neil answered. “Open the door. We need to talk face to face.” Sally kicked at the heavy door. “We ain’t gonna try nothin’.” “Got our word on it,” Hollis chimed in. Neil glanced across the office at Joe and shrugged. “Guess we’ll see.” He rose and crossed the room, flinging the door open wide. The thirty-eight gripped tightly in his fist, as he confronted the trio before him. “Get over here, Preacher. You need to hear this.” Floyd licked his lips. “Just a second, Floyd.” Joe joined his friend at the door. “Now, I reckon you two think yore doing the right thing by protecting that murderin’ varmint in there…” “Clem Oliver died a little while ago. Bled out from the slugs that bastard put in him.” A wild light gleamed in Sally’s eyes. She took a step toward Joe, her hands extended like claws. Hollis grabbed her dress and pulled her back. “When is the district judge coming?” “I don’t know, and it don’t matter.” Hollis looked from one man to the other. “I like you Salty, and I don’t want to cross you. You have good whiskey and run an honest game at the Blue Lady.” “I’ve always tried to run an honest saloon.” Neil nodded. “We don’t want to kill you two to get that vermin.” Sally turned her head and spit into the street. “That sorry excuse fer a man is gonna swing fore daybreak, and if we have to kill the two of you to get to him.” She paused and wiped her nose. “Then we’ll kill you.” Floyd pulled Sally behind and stepped forward. “We ain’t wanting to fight with either one of you. Salty is a good man and has an honest joint, and it may be bad luck to kill a preacher. I don’t know fer sure.” He locked eyes with the two men. “You’ve got that fancy gun there, Salty, but I don’t think you can get all of us, cause we’ll be doing some shooting ourselves. You got till five o’clock in the morning. Just kick him out the door and we’ll take care of the rest.” “Floyd, I didn’t kill them two. Me and Martha had a spin out in the hay barn, but I didn’t kill them. I was trying to get away when I shot Clem, sure didn’t mean to do him permanent damage.” Garrett struggled to his feet, the manacle chain jangled, as he walked to the open door. “I don’t believe you, Pete. You’ve been lusting after Martha fer awhile now. Guess you saw a chance and forced yourself on her after you shot Beecher.” Floyd shook his head. “You need to come on out here and get this done.” “I didn’t rape that woman and I didn’t kill anyone.” “You bastard!” Sally leapt forward clawing at his face. “You forced yourself on her then you killed her.” Her fingernails sank into the flesh beneath his ear. “Then you murdered the Sheriff.” Blood welled under her fingers. “Git away from me, you crazy woman.” Garrett jumped back. “Martha was spreading her legs fer more

saddlebag dispatches 47 men than Beecher. Beecher couldn’t get outta the house anymore all he did was sit in that chair in the living room or lay in the bed. Martha was entertainin’ in that special room in the barn. The one that had the bed and mattress in it.” Blood streamed down his face and dripped from his quivering jaw. Joe ran to push Garrett away from the door. Floyd wrapped an arm around Sally’s waist and lifted her away. “You’re a dirty liar. That’s what you are, Pete Garrett. You’re a dirty Liar. I’m gonna dance a jig on your grave tomorrow.” She struggled against Floyd’s grip. “Martha was a decent woman.” “Martha did what she had to, to survive.” Pete nodded. “She wasn’t a bad woman. She just done what she had to.” “Don’t you talk about her like that.” Sally screamed, straining to break free of Floyd’s grip. “You’ve killed the poor woman ain’t that enough? Do you have to smear her memory?” “Floyd, you know what I’m talking about.” Garrett’s eyes fastened on the big man. “You know what wuz going on out there.” “Floyd Meacham.” Sally twisted her head around to look at his face. “What’s this vermin talking about?” “Hollis, take her out of here,” Floyd whispered. “Get over by the water trough.” “What’s going on?” The smaller man demanded. “That’s what I want to know. Did you have relations Martha?” Sally stomped her feet on the boardwalk. “Do what I said and get her out of here,” Floyd grumbled. “C’mon, Sally. Let’s go over here.” Hollis pulled her away. “We’re gonna talk later. I ain’t letting this go.” Sally’s lips thinned into a firm straight line. Floyd stood silently, as Hollis pulled her out of earshot. His eyes went from Salty to Preacher Joe. “Most men around these parts knew that Martha could be had fer a price.” “I’ve heard stories.” Neil nodded. “I don’t believe it.” The preacher shook his head. “I don’t believe it.” “Preacher, you wouldn’t have any need fer a bought woman. Martha done what she did to keep a roof over her and Beecher’s head.” Floyd licked his lips. “She didn’t deserve what you did to her, Pete.” “I didn’t do it. I was there and we done some business, true

enough, but I didn’t shoot her.” He looked the big man in the eyes. “Nick wuz there, he shot Beecher then Martha.” “Yore a damned liar. Nick wuzn’t anywhere near their farm that day. He was with me all day and most of the evening down by the river.” Scarlet climbed up the big man’s face. “You’d lie and throw the blame at another man, just to save your no good hide.” He turned to stare at Preacher Joe. “You heard him, give him to us.” “I can’t do it. I’m convinced he’s guilty, but I won’t do it. I don’t want the stain of murder to be a blot on your soul.” Joe met the man’s gaze. “If he’s found guilty at his trial and he’s hanged legal and proper, no one will be carrying any guilt for his murder. God managed to get me home after the war. I remember walking for miles and miles and never seeing a horse or a cow. Never hearing a pig or a chicken and eating worms to keep my belly full.” “Think a minute, Joe. We know he killed Beecher and Martha. Maybe we should just give him to them. A jury is gonna vote to hang him anyway.” Neil glanced at his friend. “When I became a Christian, Neil. I made God a promise, I’d follow his commandments to the best of my ability, and I would devote myself to living a Christian life every day.” His eyes locked with Neil’s. “I can’t be keep my promise and walk out of here and let a lynching happen. If you feel that strongly about it, you can go ahead and leave.” “Ain’t no way I’m pulling out unless you go.” Neil turned to Floyd. “Tell your people to wait until the judge gets here. They can surely wait a couple days.” “They’ve waited long enough already. Pete’s a saddle bum. No one is going to miss him or say a good word when they put him in the ground.” Floyd hooked his thumbs in his waistband. “We’re gonna take him, and we’ll do whatever’s necessary to get him. It ain’t personal.” “We’ll be ready.” Joe nodded. “Still think you should wait for the judge.” “Past time fer that.” Floyd backed away from the porch. “I’ll see to it that you both get a good funeral.” Neil watched him back away into the darkness. “You remember Silas, the colored cook that traveled with the outfit?” “Course I remember him, why?” “I always wondered why he stayed with the outfit. Never could figure why a slave stayed with a confederate outfit.”


saddlebag dispatches

“I don’t know why, Neil. Silas is the only one that could have answered that question.” Neil pulled the flask from his pocket and loosened the top, taking a big swig. “It didn’t make a lot of sense, him staying with our outfit. This doesn’t make any sense either.” “I told you that you could leave.” “I stood by your side all through the war, doubt I’ll run out on you now.” “Wonder how long we have?” Joe stared through the windows to the dark street. A few torches broke through the night at scattered intervals. “Couple of hours, if I’ve got it figgered right. It’ll take Floyd that long to sweet talk Sally out of her mad and into bed. When they’re finished, they’ll charge over and kill us all.” “You seem to have put a right smart amount of thought into this.” Joe glanced at the prisoner. “Doesn’t take much figgering when it’s my neck that’s gonna get stretched.” He looked to the back door. “They’re gonna hit us from both sides at once. Believe me, the boys at the front are gonna be praying that yore gonna shoot high.” Neil pursed his lips and nodded. “Figuring it the same way myself. I’m not wanting to kill any of those folks. Hell, I know most of them. Maybe I could nick a couple, might get the others to back off.”

“When’s the last time you shot a man, Neil?” Joe walked across the floor to the gun rack nailed to the wall. It held two shotguns and one rifle. His hands circled a double barreled twelve guage. “I shot a tinhorn gambler that we caught cheating last year. We were gonna take his winnings and run him out of town, but he pulled his iron. So I killed him.” “I remember, I preached at his funeral. I remember it bothered you for a few days. I don’t know if either of us can start blasting at people we know.” “Let me tell you something. As the person they want to hang, I’ll blast everyone that comes through the door.” Garrett nodded. “Where are the kids?” Neil asked. “They may not hang you if they knew what you did to the kids.” Garrett shook his head. “That’s my ace in the hole. After they kill you two, I’m gonna yell and scream about them kids. I’m gonna say that they’re still alive, and I’ve got them hid out. The only way them brats can survive is if I turn them loose” He smiled. “I figger they’ll beat on me awhile, but they won’t kill me. If I can keep them guessing long enough, I might find a way to escape.” Neil scratched his chin. “You’re hoping we get killed quick, so you can put this plan into action. Tell you what,

before I go down I’m gonna put a slug right between your eyes.” He nodded. “Count on it.” The sharp report of a bullet shattered the night. The chunk of lead shattered the reservoir on the coal oil lamp. Flames licked at the oil soaked walls. “Your time table was off.” Joe leapt to his feet and ran to the door. “Get the fire out, Neil. I’ll try to hold them back.” “You can’t hold them by yourself.” Neil grabbed the water bucket and doused the wall. The stubborn flames continued to burn. Running to the cell he stripped the blanket from the bed and ran back as the mob crashed through the back door. He glanced at the Harmonica pistol on the sheriff’s desk, as the group overwhelmed him with fists and feet. Joe glanced at the crowd pushing through the cell area into the office, carrying Neil in their midst. The heavy thump of booted feet slammed on the boardwalk. The door shook under the weight of the men pushing against it from the far side. Joe’a feet slid beneath him as a fist slammed into the back of his head. He dropped to his knees. Through the haze he glimpsed Hollis aim a kick at his head. At the last second, he twisted to the side, slipping the majority of the force. His head swam from the glancing strike, as he collapsed to the floor. “Get him out of here.” Floyd shouted. “Don’t do it, you’re committing murder,” Joe mumbled. “You’re guilty of murder, just the same as Garrett. “Better listen to the preacher.” Pete shouted. “Kill me now and you….” A gun butt to the head silenced Garrett’s outburst. “This ain’t murder. This is justice.” Rough hands tugged the killer toward the door. Joe raised his head, his blurry vision focused on Neil as the big man slammed his head with a pistol grip. Salty melted to the floor, holding his split head. Blood flowed between the gambler’s fingers, dripping to his shirt. “Don’t do this. It’s not Christian.” Joe croaked, he crawled along the floor plucking at pant legs. “Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord.” “Shut up, Joe.” A hand fisted in his hair and pulled him to his feet. “We warned you, gave you every chance.” A calloused hand slapped him hard across the face. Joe blinked back the pain, willing his eyes to focus on the man, holding him upright. “We talked and we talked to you.” Floyd struck him hard across the face again. “You wouldn’t listen. I warned you this was going to get messy, but you wouldn’t leave. You kept quoting scriptures. We don’t want to hear scriptures. We just want to hear Garrett choking at the end of a rope.” Blood flowed from Joe’s lips and nose. “Jesus mixed with the whores and the downtrodden. He never put himself above anyone. Turn from this evil act and ask for forgiveness. He will wipe your sins away. He turned a murderer into an apostle.”


saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches 51 “That’s enough, Preacher.” Floyd balled his hand into a fist and lashed out. “That’s more than enough.” The fist slammed Joe’s belly. He bent over double, clutching his middle. A hard knee slammed his jaw. Joe dropped to the floor, unaware of the boot that smashed against his head. He woke later, blood had clotted on his nose and mouth. He pushed himself up to a sitting position, painfully aware of the injuries he received. He peered through his one good eye, the other had swollen closed. He saw Neil sprawled on the floor near the sheriff’s desk and crawled across the floor to his friend. Neil’s face was swollen and bruised. The jaw looked like it was broken for sure. He shook his shoulder, but received no response. Joe grabbed the edge of the desk and painfully pulled himself upright. I’ve got to find them. He staggered to the door and stumbled into the street. The soft glow of several lanterns showed him the path of the mob. His unsteady legs trembled, threatening at any time to collapse under his weight as he made his way after the glow. “Where are the kids?” Floyd demanded, followed by the heavy thump of a fist striking soft flesh. “Kill me and you’ll never find out. I sold those two brats to some old sodbusters, and I’m the only one can show you where they are,” Garrett shouted, as the crowd stuck him on the back of a horse and looped a rope over his head. He was right about the beating. Joe stumbled into the circle of light cast by the lanterns and grabbed the horse’s reins. “Stop this. Stop this. Garrett is lying. He killed those children. Let him live to stand trial. He’ll tell where the bodies are hidden, and we can bury the kids proper.” “Preacher,” Hollis stepped forward, rubbing the knuckles of his right hand. “You just don’t learn your lessons very well.” Joe reached into his coat pocket and pulled out the Duckfoot pistol that belonged to Neil’s grandfather, and pointed it square at Hollis. The short man slid to a halt, his eyes big as silver dollars. He licked his lips anxiously. “You won’t use that thing. It’s old, might blow up in yore hand.” “Neil’s taken good care of this. It belonged to his granddaddy.” Joe nodded. “Now, get him off that horse.” “We ain’t gonna do that, Preacher.” Floyd’s voice

sounded. “You kill Hollis there if you want. Then we’ll gun you down before we hang Garrett.” “Do what the Preacher says,” Garrett stammered. “Let me go to trial and I’ll tell you where the children are.” “Yore a lying dog, Garrett.” Sally cackled. “I’m gonna put a bullet in this sky jockey, then I’m gonna swat that horse on the rump and watch you dance a jig at the end of that rope.” Joe cut his eyes to Garrett and back to Hollis. “Are you ready to die? Get that rope off.” Hollis swallowed. “Do something. Don’t let him kill me.” “He’s bluffing.” Sally jumped up and down by Floyd’s side, dust flying from her boots. “That’s easy for her to say. She’s not in front of the gun.” Joe pointed at the rope. “Get it off.” “Don’t let him buffalo you, Hollis. A preacher ain’t likely to shoot,” a voice shouted from the far side of the mob. “What do you think, Hollis? I saw you beat my friend. You kicked me in the face. Do you think I’ll shoot? Joe grinned, showing his split lip and bloody teeth. “I owe you a little pain and this thing carries three mini balls. One of ‘ems bound to get you.” “Come on, Preacher. Get out of the way, fore I put a .45 in you.” Floyd cocked the hammer on his pistol. “We’re gonna hang this piece of trash after he tells us where the children’s bodies are.” “Only way I’m telling is if we wait fer the judge,” Garrett stammered. “You hang me now you’ll never find them.” “I’m gonna shoot you in one second, Hollis. If you don’t get that rope off.” Joe aimed the center barrel at the smaller man’s chest. Hollis licked his lips. He wiped sweat from his brow. “Don’t give in, Hollis. If he does anything, I’ll kill him,” Sally shouted. “I’m gonna kill you Joe,” Floyd said. “Do it, Floyd. Do it right now. I’m ready. You shoot me and Hollis is still gonna die.” “I ain’t ready to meet my maker.” Hollis dropped to his knees. Tears filled his eyes. “Don’t kill me Preacher, show mercy. Ain’t that what yore sermons are about, Mercy?” Joe nodded. ‘You’re right. I can’t shoot you, not and be a true Christian.” He lowered the hammer and stuck the duckfoot pistol back in his pocket. “I’m not going to move, Floyd. You’re gonna have to kill me.”


saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches 53 Hollis crawled away. Joe glanced up into Garrett’s eyes. “I did my best.” The killer nodded. The seconds stretched to a full minute. Joe closed his eyes, expecting a bullet to find his back at any moment. “Get him and get out of here, Joe.” Floyd let the hammer down on the pistol. “We’ll be there the day he hangs legal. Make sure he tells you about those children. We need to take proper care of them.” “You can’t let him go. I won’t have it. That murderin’ scum killed my best friend.” Sally spun to face Floyd, the light from the torches played along her hard set jaw. “I’ll kill him myself, if I have ta.” “I want to know where them kids are.” Joe released a pent up breath and nodded. “He’ll tell us everything. I’ll make sure he does.” His hand grabbed the rope and removed it from Garrett’s neck. He grabbed the killer’s shoulder, and yanked him forward. “You’re a good man, Floyd. Hope you can come to church this Sunday. Bring Hollis and Sally with you.” “I ain’t going anywhere with this sorry excuse fer a man.” Sally shook her head. “I ain’t ever gonna share yore bed agin.” “I ain’t fit to be in no church.” Floyd shook his head. “Jesus broke bread with prostitutes, thieves, and sinners of every stripe. He healed lepers. I reckon you’ll be more than welcome.” He walked slowly toward the jail. The mob parted around him.


Terry alexander


erry Alexander and his wife Phyllis live on a small farm near Porum, Oklahoma. They have three children, 13 grandchildren and one great granddaughter. Terry is a member of The Oklahoma Writers Federation, Ozark Creative Writers, Tahlequah Writers, Storytellers of America (Ozarks Original Chapter, Western Writers of America and the Western Fictioneers. If you see him at a conference, though, don’t let him convince you to take part in one of his trivia games—he’ll stump you every time. Preacher Joe and Salty Neil is Terry’s second short story to appear in Saddlebag Dispatches. He has also been published in various anthologies from Airship 27, Pro Se Press, Pulp Modern, Big Pulp and several others, and has won multiple awards for his work. He also writes a quarterly column entitled “Let’s Talk Westerns” where he shares his voluminous knowledge of classic Western pop culture, entertainment, and esoteric trivia nobody else could possibly know. . . and it’s likely he made up. Rumor also has it that Terry is hard at work on a new novel, if he can ever finish all of his other writing projects. Look for it sometime in 2018 or 2019.

SA D D LEBAG t r av e l

saddlebag dispatches 57


he view of the Rockies from thirty thousand feet was spectacular, even through a layer of scattered clouds a few thousand feet below.

We had departed Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport earlier that morning for Denver, Colorado. After a short layover we boarded our connecting flight to Bozeman, Montana. The spectacular view during this flight mesmerized me with miles and miles of beautiful snow-capped mountains. We arrived early in the afternoon of June 6. We had a condo reservation for two weeks in Big Sky starting June 7, so we had a full day to enjoy the Bozeman area. At nearly forty-five hundred feet altitude, Gallatin Field, the airport serving the Bozeman area, sits in a lush green valley virtually surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Just twenty-one miles west of the airfield sits the little town of Three Forks and the headwaters of the Missouri River. First explored by Lewis and Clark on July 27, 1805, the source of the Missouri is actually three smaller rivers, the Jefferson, the Madison and the Gallatin. Since the three rivers at that point were roughly the same width, neither could rightly be established as the continuation of the Missouri, so Lewis named them after the then President (Thomas Jefferson), his Secretary of State (James Madison) and his Secretary of the Treasury (Albert Gallatin). Having checked into a motel, we set out to sample the delights of Bozeman. It seems that virtually every town in Montana has at least one micro-brewery, and Bozeman is no exception. We discovered the Bozeman Brewing Company, first opened in 2001, and really enjoyed their flagship product, Bozone Select Amber Ale. It was here that we learned about a Montana law that seems a bit strange to me. In a regular tavern there is no legal limit to the number of drinks you can have, but in a brew pub, you are limited to three drinks. There must be a valid reason,


saddlebag dispatches

but it seems unfair to the local entrepreneurs. Later after sampling some of the downtown area, we decided to have dinner at the Montana Ale Works, one of the most popular restaurant/brew pubs in Bozeman. Both the food and the atmosphere were first rate, as was the in-house brew. Before we left home on this vacation, I contacted a musician friend of mine who lives in Bozeman. He sent me a list of his upcoming performances, and he just happens to be playing a gig tonight in Livingston, a town about twenty-five miles east. We drove over and caught the first couple of sets. He is a terrific guitar player and we enjoyed his performance. He has a web site ( where he gives guitar lessons

it was more an availability issue than a price issue, as there are no supermarkets in Big Sky. The small country stores are convenient and surprisingly well stocked, but they obviously can’t compete with the big supermarkets in Bozeman. Later, after arriving at the condo in time for our 5:00 PM check in, we decided to relax and enjoy the view from the balcony. Actually, there are two balconies, one overlooking Lake Levinsky on the east side and the other with a spectacular view of Lone Peak on the west side. The next morning we attended a welcome conference at 10:00 AM at the condominium office, where we were given a wealth of helpful information about the local Big

Lone Peak Mountain is the and records demonstration videos of Sky area, as well as suggestions on centerpiece of the famous high end acoustic guitars. He does that what to see and do in Yellowstone. for The Music Villa, a music shop in After the conference we drove down Big Sky, the nation’s largest downtown Bozeman specializing in to the town of West Yellowstone, a skiing resort. Martin, Taylor and Gibson guitars. distance of about 50 miles. Our first When packing for this trip it never occurred to me to stop there was the ranger office at the west entrance to the include winter clothing. After all, it is June… isn’t it… and park, to purchase our park passes. Since we are both seniors, everyone knows that the weather is June warm and pleasant, we were each able to purchase a “Senior Pass,” which is right? Wrong! While the daylight hours meet that criteria, a lifetime pass to any of the National Parks and Federal at night it gets down to the low 30’s, so our first stop the Recreational Lands in the U. S. for only $10.00. What a following morning was to purchase a few articles of clothing bargain! By then it was mid afternoon so we decided that more appropriate for springtime conditions in the Rockies. it was too late to actually enter the park, so we enjoyed the Then we did some grocery shopping to stock our Big Sky attractions available in West Yellowstone, which included condo for a two week stay. We anticipated that grocery the IMAX movie “Yellowstone,” the museum in the old prices would be much higher in the resort area than here train depot and the Grizzly Discovery Center. Of course a in Bozeman. As it turned out, prices were a bit higher, but little souvenir shopping is practically mandatory.

saddlebag dispatches 59


saddlebag dispatches

The main roads within the Park are laid out in a figure eight pattern known as the Grand Loop, with an Upper Loop and a Lower Loop. There are five entrances to the Park with entrance roads that connect to the two loops. The South Entrance (from Jackson Hole, WY) connects to the Lower Loop at West Thumb via a 22 mile entrance road. The East Entrance (from Cody, WY) connects to the Lower Loop at Fishing Bridge via a 27 mile entrance road. The Northeast Entrance (from Cooke City, MT) connects to the Upper Loop at Tower-Roosevelt via a 29 mile entrance road. The North Entrance (from Gardiner, MT) connects to the Upper Loop at Mammoth Hot Springs via a 5 mile entrance road. The West Entrance (from West Yellowstone, MT) connects to the Lower Loop at Madison via a 14 mile entrance road. We would primarily be using the West Entrance since it is the closest entrance to our Big Sky condo. For our first excursion into the park, we chose to do the Upper Loop, a total distance of 126 miles from the West Entrance, around the loop and back to the entrance. The maximum speed limit anywhere in the park is 35 mph, and on the Grand Loop it is usually less. Wildlife always has the right of way within the park. When a herd of Bison decides to cross the road, you don’t want to try and rush them. A bull Bison is 2000 pounds of short temper, and he is not in a hurry to go anywhere. He owns the road, literally! We entered the Upper Loop at Norris and chose to transit the loop in a counter-clockwise direction. The scenery, as it is throughout the park, is spectacular. There are pull-off parking areas all around the loop so you can stop and take advantage of the many photo opportunities. There is wildlife practically everywhere you look. Moose, Elk and Bison are the most common, but we also encountered Grizzly, Black Bear, Pronghorn and Mule Deer. I suspect that all the bears in the park are fitted with a tracking device, because every time we encountered a bear, there was a park ranger there trying to coax the bear back into the wilderness and directing traffic. This is for the safety and protection of both the bear and the visitors. The Park Headquarters is at Mammoth Hot Springs. There is a Visitor Center and a large hotel complex there as well. The hotel grounds are a popular hangout for the Elk, and they congregate there in the calving season and give birth to their young. I guess they know they are safe from predators there. The Albright Visitor Center occupies one of the seven stone buildings that once were part of the Fort Yellowstone complex. In 1886 the U. S. Army was given the task

saddlebag dispatches 61

Yellowstone’s Midway Geiser Basin is home to one of the park’s most dramatic attractions, the famed Grand Prismatic Spring.


saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches 63

Although there are many interesting thermal features around the Upper Loop, including Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces and Norris Geyser Basin, I was most enchanted by the vast proliferation of wildlife and the grandeur of the surrounding mountains and lush green valleys. I have seen countless photographs and videos of Yellowstone in winter, with everything so white and pristine, but I can only imagine what it must be like to experience it firsthand.


saddlebag dispatches

of protecting the park from vandals and poachers. The U. S. the resort, the head Chef and the head Bartender were Army Corps of Engineers actually constructed the system finalizing their food and beverage menus. They asked us if of roads within the park to facilitate the accomplishment we would be willing to sample some of their menu items of their assigned mission. The National Park Service was and provide customer feedback. Needless to say, we had a created in 1916 as an agency of the Department of the very enjoyable afternoon. Interior and took over that responsibility in 1918. The last The plan for the next day was to drive the scenic Beartooth of the troops departed Yellowstone that fall. highway, which stretches some 70 miles from Cooke City just The next day (June 10) we decided to do some exploring outside the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone to Red Lodge, in and around the Big Sky area. We drove down to the Town Montana. To get to Cooke City, we drove down to West Center and took the hiking trail out to Ousel Falls on the Yellowstone, Montana, entered the Park and drove around South Fork of the Gallatin River, pretty spectacular this time part of the Grand Loop to Tower-Roosevelt and out the of year because the river is swollen with snow melt runoff Northeast Entrance Road, a distance of around 170 miles, from Lone Mountain. The hike along a well maintained most of which was at park speed limits of 35 MPH or less, trail is just under a mile each way but well worth the effort. with several wildlife traffic jams (known in Yellowstone as bear Next stop was Meadow Village Center where we jams or bison jams) thrown in for good measure. When we discovered the Lone Peak Brewery. We sampled a few of finally arrived at Cooke City, we were greeted with hail, sleet their dozen or so products then proceeded to relax and enjoy and snow. We decided that since we were at about 3500 feet a couple of the ones we below the altitude we would liked best. Then we drove encounter at Beartooth pass, The Park Headquarters is at Mammoth back up the mountain to maybe today wasn’t a good Hot Springs. There is a Visitor Center and a Moonlight Basin, a new day to make this drive, so we large hotel complex there as well. The hotel resort hotel complex at did an about face and drove grounds are a popular hangout for the Elk, the base of the ski area. back into the park through the and they congregate there in the calving As it was opening day for beautiful Lamar Valley, and season and give birth to their young.

saddlebag dispatches 65

out the North Entrance and beautiful scenery in the park We were rendered speechless by the sheer Gardiner, Montana. From to West Thumb and along numbers of geysers and steam vents that there it was 52 miles north to the Shore of Yellowstone were scattered throughout the landscape Livingston, 25 miles west to Lake to Fishing Bridge, of the Midway Geyser Basin. Bozeman and 50 miles south then north along the back down to Big Sky. That’s Yellowstone River toward a total of about 350 miles and didn’t accomplish our goal. Canyon Village. We arrived at the Grand Canyon of the Tomorrow is another day! Yellowstone, which in my opinion is the most beautiful After spending another relaxing day just lounging around place in Yellowstone. We drove out South Rim Drive to the condo, we headed back to Yellowstone to take in the Lower Artist Point where we parked and took the trail down to the Loop. Entering the Park once again via the West Entrance we canyon rim. There we had a spectacular view back up the followed the Entrance Road to Madison, where we turned canyon to Lower Falls, where the water plunges 308 feet. right onto the Lower Loop. Except for about 14 miles, this The canyon walls are primarily of yellow stone (hence the entire loop lies within the boundary of the volcano caldera, name) but are actually a veritable kaleidoscope of colors. I so most of the Park’s most impressive thermal features are could spend days just sitting there and marveling at God’s found along this loop. We visited the Lower Geyser Basin handiwork. From there it was back across the middle of the where many of Yellowstone’s mud pots are located, including Grand Loop to Norris, then down to Madison and back to Fountain Paint Pot, one of the more famous attractions. the condo. Way too much beautiful scenery for one day, so I Next stop was the Upper Geyser Basin and Old Faithful. guess I’ll have to go back when I can spend more time. We arrived in the parking area just after an eruption, so we The next morning (June 14) we were greeted by snow had roughly 90 minutes to kill waiting for the next one. Not in Big Sky. It had started sometime after midnight and was a problem because the spectacular Old Faithful Inn is just a still coming down in huge flakes. It seems as though winter couple of hundred yards from the geyser, and I can’t think of is reluctant to release its grip in the Rockies. Since it was a better way to spend a little time. my birthday and we had dinner reservations at Moonlight We continued around the loop past some of the most Basin, we again decided to relax and enjoy the warmth of


saddlebag dispatches

Cascading 308 feet from the 590,000 year old Canyon Rhyolite lava flow, Lower Yellowstone Falls is the largest volume waterfall in the Rocky Mountains of the United States.

Ousel Falls, near Big Sky, is named for the American dippers, small black birds that nest in the cracks and crevices that line the waterfall’s stone face.

saddlebag dispatches 67

Firehole Falls is fast-flowing waterfall in southwestern Yellowstone, downstream from the popular Firehole Canyon swimming area.


saddlebag dispatches

The legendary Beartooth Highway is a high mountain road with lots of hairpin turns and switchbacks. As it turns southeast into Wyoming it passes numerous lakes still frozen from the recent winter, then it climbs up and crosses Beartooth Pass at 10,947 ft. altitude before crossing back into Montana.

the condo. By noon the snow had stopped and the sun had started to melt the accumulated snow. By the time we had to drive up to the Basin for our dinner reservation, it was all gone, like it hadn’t snowed at all. One of our goals before starting this trip was to drive the Beartooth Highway, and since our earlier effort was weathered out, we decided that since the day started out clear and sunny with no rain or snow in the forecast, today was the day. This time we drove north out of Big Sky to Bozeman, east on I-90 to Livingston, then south on US-89 to Gardiner where we entered Yellowstone at the North Entrance. From the North Entrance it’s just 5 miles to Mammoth Hot Springs where we turned east across the northern segment of the Grand Loop to Tower-Roosevelt, a distance of 18 miles. Taking the Northeast Entrance Road (US-212) we again crossed the beautiful Lamar Valley, the wintering ground for thousands of Elk and hundreds of Bison. The valley was chock full of wildlife, mostly Elk and Bison and its not unusual to spot Pronghorns, wolves and Grizzlies in the area. Leaving the Lamar River the road follows Soda Butte Creek for a few miles and then climbs up into the Absaroka Mountain Range until it exits the Park just to the west of Cooke City, MT. and the western end of the Beartooth Highway. For the next 69 miles, prepare to be amazed. The Beartooth is a high mountain road with lots of hairpin turns and switchbacks. As it turns southeast into Wyoming it passes numerous lakes still frozen from the recent winter, then it climbs up and crosses Beartooth Pass at 10,947

saddlebag dispatches 69

ft. altitude before crossing back into Montana. The road is only open from late May to late October and was still flanked by 8 to 10 foot snowbanks in places. After crossing the pass the hairpin turns and switchbacks continue as you descend into Red Lodge, MT., and the eastern end of the Beartooth Highway. There are numerous places along the length of the highway where you can pull off for photo opportunities, access the many hiking trails, or simply enjoy the alpine scenery. I lost a good pair of glasses at one of those pull offs, probably up near the pass, where I had bounced around trying to get some good pictures of the Marmots and Ground Squirrels. If you happen to see a Marmot wearing glasses up near the pass, they’re mine! The posted speed limit on the Beartooth was 75 mph…a speed no sane person would attempt with the steep, twisting, switch-back roads. Anyway, after leaving the Beartooth, we took US-78 north out of Red Lodge to I-90, then west to Bozeman and back south to Big Sky. We took advantage of the opportunity to stop in Bozeman for gas as it was about $.10 a gallon cheaper than in Big Sky. Total distance driven for the day was just under 500 miles of which about 150 was at 35 mph or less. All in all, it was a pretty long day but well worth it. All of the winter clothing we had purchased, not to mention the many books, videos, souvenirs and the camera tripod (my Birthday present from my sweetheart) would never fit into our existing baggage, so we had a decision to make. We could buy another suitcase and pay the airline’s

exorbitant fee for a second checked bag or we could rely on the U. S. Postal Service. We chose the latter and even at $42.00 it was still far less expensive than the alternative. We had originally planned to see Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park, but since it would require at least 2 more very long day trips, and there was freezing rain and snow in the forecast, we decided to save them for another vacation. Stay tuned for more about those trips. Our return flight was scheduled to depart Bozeman at about 1:15 PM so we had plenty of time to check out of our condo and drive the 50 miles to the airport, even allowing for the construction delays. We had been told shortly after our arrival that there were only 2 seasons in the Rocky Mountains: winter season and construction season. Our flight took us to San Francisco where we had a 4 hour delay before our connecting flight to Atlanta. It actually turned into about 6 hours because the connecting aircraft was delayed arriving in San Francisco. We finally arrived in Atlanta sometime after midnight. —Jim Morgan is originally from New Orleans, LA, where he retired from the Department of the Navy. Jim served as the lead Government engineer for the design and integration of the Shipboard Wide Area Network (SWAN) on the LPD 17 class of amphibious transport ships. He also retired from the U. S. Army in 1980 as a Chief Warrant Officer (CW3), and is a Vietnam Veteran, having flown with A Troop, 3/17th Air Cavalry, 1st Aviation Brigade.

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.


alf of my right thumb is somewheres in a patch of shadscale at the mouth of a scrub-oak draw on the west face of the Swasey Mountains. I reckon maybe some magpie or maybe a kit fox has ate it by now—a morsel so small likely wouldn’t interest a buzzard or a coyote. I ain’t afraid to say it hurt like hell when I pinched off that thumb when takin’ my dallies. It was a heifer calf, weighed maybe 500 pounds, on t’other end of my rope. I was a-huntin’ strays we’d missed in the fall gather—which ain’t hard to do in that country—off the government lease the old man’s family has run cows on since before there was government leases. I been takin’ wraps for more years than I care to admit to and not once in all that time had I had such a misfortune. But my horse ducked off to dodge a rock just as I was takin’ the turn and kind of upset the balance of the whole deal. Be that as it may, there ain’t many dally ropers of my age that’s still got a full set of fingers, so I reckon I was overdue. Anyways, right after that sudden shock of pain, it sort of quit hurtin’ but that stub of a thumb was bleedin’ like a stuck hog. Not havin’ no other ideas, I broke loose the drawstring from my Bull Durham sack and with the fingers of my left hand—which ain’t none too agile—and what teeth I got left, I somehow managed to twist it around there and fashion a tangled knot and tie it off tight enough to where the blood was only seepin’ out ’stead of squirtin’.

A passin’ thought said rollin’ a smoke would prove a real adventure from then on. That heifer in the meantime had skedaddled back up that draw I’d choused her out of. So I climbed into the saddle and went after her. Hell, she was draggin’ a reata I had only just barely got stretched and tallowed and I’m damned if I was gonna ride away and leave a brand new gutline behind. And, anyways, that critter’d likely get it all snarled up in the oak brush and not be able to get to water and maybe die ’fore anybody’d find her. Besides, I don’t reckon you could put a price on half a cowpuncher’s thumb, but the old man could sure as hell name the cost of a lost heifer calf. I had not got far uphill ’fore I could hear that calf thrashin’ around. Just as I figured, she’d ducked in and out the oak brush on those cow trails and strung that rawhide twine through branches and limbs and forks and trunks till it was so bound up it wouldn’t drag no more. I rode up to where she was and managed to reel her in a ways and get enough slack to tie off to the saddle horn. I dismounted and told that horse in no uncertain terms to keep the rope taut no matter what, then waded into that tangled scrub oak to find the end of that skin string that bit my thumb off and work my way back up the length of it to get it all unsnagged. Which I did. It didn’t take but a few rods of draggin’ that heifer downhill till she realized hangin’ back and bawlin’ wouldn’t


saddlebag dispatches

do her no good. We bottomed out and I reined that horse to where I’d parked the truck and trailer by a little corral there. The morning wasn’t but half over but I figured I’d load up and haul for the ranch anyway on account of half my thumb bein’ missin’ and all. Workin’ the door latches on the trailer was a whole new experience, but I managed to open it up and jump the horse in, back up to the gate and load the heifer out of the pen. I was easin’ the truck along the two faint tracks that served as a road when I noticed a rooster tail of dust out on the flat where the county road was. Now, you gotta understand there ain’t a whole lot of traffic out that way—a few ranchers and cowboys from time to time, rock hounds once in a while, and, now and then, one of them university folks doin’ one thing or another with them cosmic ray outfits they got scattered all around. I kept creepin’ along, watchin’ that outfit comin’ along that road toward where I’d be meetin’ up with it after a mile or so. I seen it was a pickup. No ranch outfit, though—one of them jacked-up trucks with big tires and spotlights like town kids drive. The road left the flat and climbed into the foothills and I’d lose sight of the truck now and then, but the dust trail pointed to right where it was.

’Fore it got to where I would meet the road it came a-tearin’ around the side of a little ridge and skidded to a stop stirrin’ up more dust. It stopped right where there was a big steel culvert where rain and runoff—what little there was of it—could run on down a dry wash. That pickup made about a six-point turn to get back around the way it come. By then, curiosity got the best of me and I stopped to watch. The driver, he jumped down out of the cab, dropped the tailgate, and dragged somethin’ heavy out of the back. I knowed it was heavy on account of he had to tug and pull on it to get it out of there, and when it hit the ground it kicked up dust. It looked like a rolled-up tent or some such, but I couldn’t tell more than that. That kid—I knowed he was a kid on account of his ball hat bein’ turned around backwards on his head as if he was fixin’ to milk a cow or play catcher in a baseball game—hefted and yanked on that bundle and rolled it off the edge and down into the gully. He dusted off his hands, climbed back into the truck, revved up the engine and spun out of there flingin’ dust and gravel like the devil was on his tail and about to bite him on the butt. My throbbin’ thumb—what was left of it, that is—had slipped my mind altogether, what with every workin’ part of my brain wonderin’ what the hell was goin’ on down there.

saddlebag dispatches 73 But it come back to me in a flash when I reached up to put the truck in gear and whacked it on the shifter. Hurt so bad I damn near puked. That started the stub into bleeding again, too, so I decided I better take a minute and see to it. But the knots in the string was too tangled to tighten so I rummaged around in the mess in the truck for somethin’ that might help and come up with a bottle of iodine we used for doctorin’ cows and a ripped-up shirt that didn’t look too dirty. So I set in to tearin’ strips from that old shirt with my teeth and left hand. Then I stepped out of the truck so as not to spill iodine in there—like a new stain would show— and poured a dollop on the wound and wrapped my hand up good with them cloth strips. There wasn’t no way to tie that bandage on that I could think of, but I found a bundle of feedstore receipts held together with a rubber band and used that elastic and it worked pretty good. I held that hand up high as I eased the truck along and it felt a little better. A few minutes later I got to the place where I’d seen that truck stop and I did too. Whether he meant to or not, that kid had found a pretty good place to dump that bundle. I stood there on the edge of the road lookin’ down into that dry wash where he’d dumped it and couldn’t see anything for a minute or two. Then, down there under some greasewood and rabbit brush I spied what looked like canvas, but bein’ as it was near the same dun color as the dirt it didn’t hardly show. It took some hikin’ to get to a place where I could slide down into that wash and I waded through the brush in the bottom till I got back up to where I’d seen that canvas. I soon seen what it was—a canvas dam from an irrigation ditch. It was water stained and splotched with dried mud. The bundle was tied off near each end with some of them orange plastic hay strings that was faded and frazzled enough to show they’d been layin’ out—maybe hangin’ from a fence post—for a while. With curiosity gettin’ the best of me, I fetched out my pocket knife and managed to unfold the blade with my teeth and sliced through them wraps of twine. I had a suspicion what might be in there, but it was still a shock to peel back that canvas and see a human bein’. Other than a gray, pasty-colored face, the kid looked peaceful enough, like he was only asleep ’stead of deader’n hell. Along about then I wondered if maybe gettin’ one of them cell phones was a good idea. But I soon thought better of it and found me a place to scramble back out of that ravine and walked back up to the truck. There was no sign of dust from that pickup truck out on the flat anymore, but you can bet I made plenty of my own. I crossed the blacktop highway and kept on the county road to the ranch gate, and laid on the horn as I rolled into the yard and skidded to a stop. The old man’s wife came out the kitchen door wipin’ her hands with the tail of her apron. I could see her eyes go

wide when she saw that bloody bandage on my hand, which wasn’t hard to see, what with me holdin’ it up in the air like I was wavin’ hello. “Where’s Raymond?”—him bein’ the old man—I said as I walked over to the porch. “Land sakes, Vic, what have you done?” “Nothin’ much—just a little wreck. Is Raymond around?” “He’s putterin’ around out in the barn somewhere, or maybe cleanin’ out the water trough in the south pasture. I suppose he’ll be along to see what all the racket’s about.” “Can I use the phone, Lila?” “Sure. Come on in,” she said and swung open the screen door and stood aside to let me pass. I dialed 911 and after some doin’ got hooked up to the County Sheriff office. I told a deputy there what I’d found and what I seen. It took some explainin’ on how to get out there—some of them deputies know that country pretty good, but this wasn’t one of them. He asked could I lead someone out there, but I told him I had best see a doctor and that started up another bunch of questions. “You sure your injury isn’t related to the body you found?” he said. “Hell no, it ain’t. Listen, I gotta go.” “Wait just a minute. Give me those directions again. I want to make sure I’ve got them right.” “Look, Deputy, if you ain’t found the place by the time the doc’s done with me I’ll take you on out there. That kid sure ain’t goin’ nowheres, but I am. I’ll stop by your place while I’m in town.” The screen door slammed just before I hung up the phone. I turned to see Raymond there on the rug workin’ his feet out of a pair of rubber boots. “What the hell, Vic,” he said. “I only see one calf in that trailer. That all you found? And what’re you doin’ back here at this hour?” He said all that without never once lookin’ up. When he did look at me after gettin’ out of them boots he didn’t notice my hand as it was hangin’ down by my side like normal. “Raymond, I need to go into town. Right away.” “The hell you say!” I raised up my hand and his eyes got wide like Lila’s had. I guess the sight of blood is a surprise to most folks. “Can you help me unhitch the trailer and see to that heifer calf ? I’d best be goin’ soon as I put up the horse.” “C’mon,” he said. “I’ll drive you.” Unsaddling a horse with a hand and a half proved quite the task and by the time I got it done and turned the horse into the corral the old man was waitin’, revvin’ the truck engine like it would hurry me along. “You lose much blood there?” He nodded toward the hand I had propped on my knee and leanin’ against the truck door.

saddlebag dispatches 75 “Not enough to matter, I don’t think.” He asked me and I told him about the wreck. Then I told him about seein’ that other pickup truck and about the dead kid that got dumped down the wash. By that time I was gettin’ a mite edgy so I asked if he’d roll me a smoke. “Hell, Vic, you know I don’t use tobacco. Never have. I seen you do it a thousand times, but I still wouldn’t know how to make one of them roll-your-owns you smoke.” “Pull on in here, then,” I said, as we come up on a crossroads gas station. The young girl runnin’ the counter got me a pack of factory-made cigarettes and tapped her multi-colored fingernails on the counter while I fished in my hind pocket for my wallet with the fingers on my hurt hand. She kept up the drummin’ when I laid the wallet down and fumbled around with my left hand pullin’ out enough bills to pay for the overpriced smokes. The old man was grinnin’ when I climbed back in the truck, havin’ watched the whole circus through the window. He laughed out loud drivin’ along as I fussed with the cellophane wrapper to get the pack opened, then tried to light a match holdin’ the book in between the fingers of my hurt hand and strikin’ it with my left. I admit I looked about as handy as cub bear wearin’ mittens, but I finally got lit up. “Them damn cigarettes look like more trouble than they’re worth,” the old man said. “I reckon so.” “’Sides that, they’ll kill you." “Prob’ly.” He smiled and shook his head but said no more. Nor did I. We made it to the little hospital in town and Raymond dropped me off in the driveway where the ambulances bring sick folks and I moseyed on in. There wasn’t a soul in the place but me and a girl at a desk punchin’ on the front of one of them phone things with both her thumbs. I took off my hat and looked around for a minute then went and stood next to the desk. Without sayin’ nothin’ or even lookin’ at me the woman opened up a drawer and slapped down a pen and a clipboard with some sort of form on it. I stood there a minute lookin’ at the papers and finally sat down. She poked at it a few more times then set the phone down. “You need to fill out this form,” she said. I looked at her for a minute then held up my right hand. She was the fourth one to see that mess, and the third to go all wide-eyed at the sight. “Well,” she said with big long sigh like she was facin’ a job that couldn’t be done, “it looks like I will have to do it for you.” It took quite a while for her to ask all manner of questions that had nothin’ to do with catchin’ a thumb in your dallies and by the time we was finished I was feelin’ that stump throb all the way up to my eyeballs. She picked up a

phone—a regular phone, not that little flat box that sat on the desk and buzzed from time to time—and in a couple of minutes a doctor come out through a pair of swingin’ doors. Leastways I expected he was a doctor on account of he had one of those stethoscope things slung around his neck. But the fact is, he weren’t no more than a kid and looked and talked like he come from India or Pakistan or some other place over there. He led me back to a room and sat me on one of them bed affairs and made a lot of “tsk-tsk” and “hmmm” and “my, my” noises as he undone my bandaging handiwork. He left and came back in a minute with a nurse and she went wide-eyed on seein’ my hand. She stuck me with a shot needle and after that I don’t remember much about what went on till I found myself walkin’ out the door with the old man guidin’ me by the elbow. My hurt hand was hangin’ in a sling and was all wrapped up so’s it looked like I was wearin’ a white boxin’ glove. I wasn’t feelin’ no pain, and Raymond had ahold of a little white sack he said had some pills in it that would keep it that way. “County Sheriff came lookin’ for you,” he said when we got to the truck. “Told him I’d bring you by.” Lawman said they’d found the kid’s body all right. Asked about what I’d seen, about the truck and the driver and all. I told him what I knew about it, which wasn’t much. It was pretty clear to me, even in my addled state of mind on account of the drugs the doc had give me, that the sheriff thought maybe I knew more than I was sayin’ or maybe was even in on it, whatever it was. He asked again and again about my hand, as if that had anything to do with what happened to that boy. The old man heard enough of it and swore at the sheriff some, told him I’d stuck my thumb in my dallies, that I wasn’t the first cowboy what done it, and damn sure wouldn’t be the last. The sheriff was kind of taken aback at Raymond’s impertinence and my ignorance and sat for a while just looking at us. It was kind of like what some of those cops on the television say—folks’ll get uncomfortable with the quiet and end up confessing. That wouldn’t work with us, on account of we didn’t have nothin’ to confess about. I did decide sittin’ there with no one sayin’ nothin’ was a waste of time so I said, “Do you know what killed that kid?” “Not yet. We’ve got a doctor—a specialist—on the way to look at him. There were no visible signs of trauma. He hadn’t been beat or shot or stabbed or anything like that. My guess is a drug overdose.” “Drugs?” Raymond said. “I didn’t know kids around here was into drugs like in the cities.” “Oh, they’re around all right. There’s a bunch of town kids mess around with it some. They’ll get to partying, drinking and such, and someone will start passing around drugs of one kind or another.” “Well I’ll be damned,” the old man said.


saddlebag dispatches

“It’s mostly marijuana, sometimes ecstasy. Usually not the real hard stuff—but we do run across some meth and heroin, now and then.” With that, he stacked up the papers spread in front of him on the desk and tapped the edges to get them all tidy and tucked them into a folder. “I guess that’s all, gentlemen.” He looked at me. “You’re free to go, Victor. Leave a phone number where we can reach you with Pearl out at the desk in case something comes up and we need to talk to you.” I told him, “I ain’t got a phone of my own. And there ain’t one in the bunkhouse. Just call out to Raymond’s place and I’ll get the word sooner or later.” “You don’t have a cell phone?” “No sir.” His office chair squeaked when he leaned back in it and he give me a funny look. “No shit? I thought everybody had cell phones by now.” I stood up and put on my hat. “I guess most folks do. But there ain’t nobody needin’ to get ahold of me in a hurry. Leastways no one I want to talk to.” I looked at Raymond and give him a wink of my eye. “That,” I told the sheriff, “and the cows don’t seem to care if I got one or not.” When we got in the truck I pulled out my storebought cigarettes and shook one out of the pack.

“Here,” the old man said, and handed me one of them cheap little lighters you see for sale everywhere. “Got that for you while you was with that doctor. ’Fraid you might die of a nicotine fit trying to light them gofer matches with one hand.” “Why, thank you kindly, Raymond,” I said. It took me four or five tries to master that gadget, but you got to remember I ain’t all that handy with my left hand. We call it the bunkhouse, but what it is really was an old ten by forty-two foot trailer house that the old man hauled onto his place years ago and has been rustin’ away out by the barn ever since. Raymond dumped me out there and said, “C’mon up to the house in about an hour and Lila’ll feed you. You ain’t in no shape to be cookin’.” “Oh, I’ll be all right,” I said. “Like hell. All them drugs that doctor’s got you on, I’m afraid you’ll burn down the bunkhouse. See you at the house,” he said, as he turned the truck around. Next day, I stayed pretty close to home doing what I could do with that mitt on my hand. I mucked out the bunkhouse some, tidied up the saddle shed, and spent the afternoon organizing things in the shop. Damn near went crazy. A man can stand that sort of work on a stormy winter

saddlebag dispatches 77 day, but when the sun’s shinin’ in the fall he wants to be out horseback. So that evening I tossed aside the sling and unwound about forty yards off that bandage and put the pain pills in the medicine cabinet behind the mirror on the bathroom wall. Lila wasn’t too thrilled when I moseyed up to the house and told Raymond and her I was goin’ back out to the lease in the mornin’ and finish huntin’ cows. The old man didn’t say much—he knew somebody had to do it, and he would rather it was me than him. It was still a chore hitchin’ the trailer and saddlin’ the horse and whatnot, but with the fingers of my hurt hand pokin’ out of the bandage I managed to get it done. I didn’t have no trouble and managed to collect one old dry cow, a yearling heifer, and two steer calves. By the time I got them corralled and loaded I was wonderin’ if leavin’ them pain pills home was a good idea. The sun was down as I eased the truck and trailer down the two-track to the county road. ’Bout the time I got there I seen lights down the road a ways and when the outfit came around a bend in the road I’m damned if it weren’t that same jacked-up truck from the other day. I hadn’t turned on my headlights yet, and what with the noisy pipes on that fancy pickup truck they probably hadn’t heard me up there either.

I stopped to watch for a minute and seen that truck was goin’ slow and shinin’ a bright spotlight around in them washes and gullies along the road. Puttin’ the truck back in gear, I drove on down and turned onto the county road. I topped a little rise there just before the road dropped down to where that big culvert was and that truck was stopped with the spotlight shinin’ into the ravine. Even from where I was I could see some of that yellow tape strung on the brush down in the bottom where that kid’s body had been. I pulled the knob to turn on the headlights and that spotlight swung up and around and near blinded me when it hit the truck. The tires on both the truck and trailer skidded in the dirt and gravel when I stomped on the brakes even though I couldn’t a been goin’ more’n ten miles an hour. That light went off after a few seconds and I went on down the hill. The road ain’t hardly wide enough for two outfits to pass unless they slow right down and take it easy, and that pickup was pulled over to the wrong side of the road—so the driver could see down into the wash, I suppose. Creepin’ along like that, I could read the license plate and I wrote it in the dust on the dashboard. I eased up beside the pickup and stopped. Besides the driver—wearin’ his hat ass-backwards—there was

a kid in the passenger seat. Big guy, looked like maybe a high school football player, wearin’ a too-tight t-shirt that showed off his bulgy muscles. They was both starin’ at me, tryin’ to look mean but lookin’ kind of sheepish at the same time. “Howdy, boys,” I said out the far window. The passenger looked at the driver then looked back at me and they both nodded. “Whatcha doin’ way out here?” They looked at each other again, looked back at me, and the driver said, “Spotlighting deer. Not shooting or anything, y’know—just just seeing where they are for when the hunt comes.” I nodded in reply. Someone else said somethin’ and they turned to look in the back seat and I seen there was a girl sittin’ back there. Bein’s she was outside the glow of the dashboard lights I hadn’t noticed her before. She looked to be about the age of them boys, but I couldn’t get a real good look at her. “Be careful.” I let the truck start to roll, but pressed the brake and stopped. The boys looked startled, but relaxed when I said, “You got water, and somethin’ to eat?” They nodded. “Good. The way these roads is, you might get stuck out here and end up spendin’ the night. It’s best to be prepared.” The kid in the passenger seat held up his phone with the front of it all lit up. “That’s okay,” he said. “We can call if we need help.” “Them things work way the hell out here?” “Not always. But, y’know, if you get to, like, a high place you can get service.” I nodded and drove away. It was long past dark when I got back to the ranch. The old man must’ve heard me comin’—even though that time I wasn’t honkin’ the horn like the other day—and he was waitin’ to help me with the stock. “Lila, she was worried. Ever’thing go all right?” “Like a charm. I don’t think there’s any more cows out there. If there are, they’re hid up pretty good.” We put the cattle in a holding pen for the night and the old man threw them some hay while I unsaddled the horse. He climbed in the truck and backed the trailer to where we kept it and I unhooked it while he stood in the glow of the taillights watching. “Say, Raymond.” I cranked down the tongue jack. “Suppose I could come on up to the house and use the telephone?” “Sure. Lila’s figurin’ on you comin’ for supper anyway. She’s got a plate stayin’ warm in the oven for you.” I stood up and with both hands in the small of my back stretched out the kinks. “Oh, there ain’t no need for that. Not that I’d turn down Lila’s cookin’.” “Who you need to call? Not that it’s any of my business.”

“Oh, that’s all right. I just want to call that sheriff. That pickup truck was out there again.” The old man asked and I told all about it and he agreed the law would be mighty glad to have that license plate number. Save them all manner of rootin’ around in the dark tryin’ to come up with a suspect. After dialin’ up the County Sheriff’s office and askin’ whoever was answerin’ the phone to have him call me, I sat down to Lila’s dinner. About the time I was done eatin’ the phone rang and she answered it and handed it off to me. I told the sheriff what happened and he started in with the questions. “No sir, I don’t know what they was doin’ out there. Said they was spotlightin’ deer…. “Well, they was sure as hell nosin’ around where that body was dumped, but it didn’t look like they was too sure right where it was. When I come up on ’em that spotlight was a-shinin’ right there where you people strung that yellow tape…. “If I was to guess, I’d say they didn’t know the kid’s body had been found…. “Can’t say I’m a hundred percent sure, but it looked like the same truck, and the driver’s bass-ackwards hat was the same color…. “Sure, I could identify him if I was to see him again. Same with the other kid…. “No. Couldn’t see her very good—like I said, I didn’t even know the girl was there at first…. “Yeah, I got the license plate number. Here you go….” A man don’t realize how much he uses his thumbs till he needs one and ain’t got one. I figured that little stub I had left would be of some use, but not until I got rid of all them damn bandages. Anyways, it was three days later when I was tinkerin’ around tryin’ to patch together a busted bridle rein when the sheriff drove up. I ambled out into the yard where he parked his county truck and he pushed a button somewhere and the window came whirrin’ down. “We got him, Victor.” I nodded. “Hell of it is, he ain’t a bad boy. Plays football at the high school. Mother’s a good woman. Daddy works at the bank—runs the place, all but.” I nodded again. “Turns out that boy you found drowned.” “Drowned? The hell you say!” “God’s honest truth. Doc says there ain’t no doubt.” I mulled that over for a minute, thinkin’ how unlikely it was to find a drowned kid way the hell out in the desert, miles from so much as a mud puddle. “What happened?” He tipped back his hat, turned off the engine, and squirmed his way into a more comfortable place in his seat before answerin’. “You know the old Anderson place, down by the reservoir?”

saddlebag dispatches 79 I nodded. “Kids use the place for drinkin’ and partyin’ and stuff. Been abandoned for years, and nobody lives anywhere nearby so they think no one knows what they get up to out there. We know, but we mostly leave them alone. “Seems this boy we caught heard from some friends his little sister was out at the Anderson place with another kid from the football team. Says he figured they were at a party and went out to get her and take her home. Didn’t want her getting into trouble. “Turned out there wasn’t a party—just the girl and that boy, and he was having his way with her and she didn’t want no part of it. So, the brother dragged the boy off her and tossed him off the bank into the reservoir. Then he jumped in after him and held him under until he stopped bubbling.” He stopped for a minute to let that sink in. Then, “He dragged the boy out of the water and into a patch of willows on the bank and took his sister home. Sometime in the night he decided someone would find the body so went back out there in the morning. Wrapped him in the canvas from an old irrigation dam he found laying out there and trussed it up with baling twine. You know the rest.” But I didn’t know the rest. Not by a damn sight. I asked, and he said the kid panicked again and decided to drive out and bury that boy and talked a friend into helping him. That’s when they saw me out there. No good reason for the sister to go along, but she did. They didn’t know the body had already been found and were surprised by the crime scene tape. He said it would be up to the county attorney to decide what to charge the kid with, and whether he’d be tried as an adult or a juvenile. And what’d happen to the sister and the other boy, if anything. The sheriff started the truck then reached across hisself and stuck his hand out the window to shake mine. He was careful not to squeeze too hard. Then he put the truck in gear and before drivin’ off, said, “Appreciate your help, Victor. Someone from the office will be in touch.” That’s ’bout the end of it. Oh, there’ll prob’ly be a court trial of some kind and the sheriff says I’ll likely have to testify. I’m tellin’ you this story now so’s you can put it all down and it won’t be forgot. Me, I don’t suppose I’ll ever forget the day I lost half of my right thumb and found a dead kid out there on the west slope of the Swasey Mountains.

rod miller


od Miller is three-time winner of the Western Writers of America Spur Award—for poetry, short fiction, and a novel. He has twice won

the Westerners International Poetry Award and won the Academy of Western Artists Buck Ramsey Award for Best Poetry Book. Author of five novels, four nonfiction books, and three books of poetry, Miller has also written numerous anthologized poems and short stories, scores of book reviews, and many magazine articles. His latest books are a novel, Rawhide Robinson Rides the Tabby Trail: The True Tale of a Wild West CATastrophe, a collection of short fiction, The Death of Delgado and Other Stories, and a history book, The Lost Frontier: Momentous Moments in the Old West You May Have Missed. Rod is a member of Western Writers of America and received the 2014 Branding Iron Award for his service to the organization. Visit him online at:



ndian Territory—1878. Weary starvation, and poverty, some Cheyenne walked away from Oklahoma Territory and started for their home in Montana. They were led by Dull Knife and Little Wolf. Dull Knife’s brother had always teased him about the sharpness of his hunting knife, and before long the nickname, Dull Knife, was how this brave Northern Cheyenne came to be remembered. Morning Star (Wo*he hip) was his true Cheyenne name. Though he was a member of the Dog Soldiers, a Cheyenne warrior society, Morning Star was honored and trusted more for his wisdom in counsel than for his abilities as a fighter. He was born in the 1820s and died in Montana Territory in 1883. That was five years after he was involved in the bloody breakout from Fort Robinson that came on the heels of the Northern Cheyenne’s long odyssey from Indian Territory (Oklahoma) back to their homeland. Though not as well remembered as The Trail of Tears—known as The Trail

of epidemics, 300 Northern

Where They Cried by the Cherokee—this bloody escape saw most of the Northern Cheyenne murdered before they could reach their destination. All they wanted was to go home. During research for my novel Stoneheart’s Woman, I learned much of the history of the beautiful people of the Northern Cheyenne, especially that of Morning Star and Little Wolf, who led the people from Oklahoma (Indian Territory) back to their homeland. It was a ghastly trip—men, women, and children on foot while soldiers pursued relentlessly and picked off whoever strayed from the larger group. Keep in mind that in November, 1876, about 200 of these people had survived an attack led by Ranald S. Mackenzie leading 1300 soldiers and several hundred Pawnee and Bannock Indian auxiliaries. One of CHEYENNE LEADERS Dull Knife’s sons, Young Bird, was said to be the first Dull Knife (left) and Little Wolf (right) rose to prominence as the leaders of the bloody Cheyenne breakout from Fort person killed when he tried Robinson to their homeland in 1878. to warn the sleeping village.

saddlebag dispatches 81 In September, 1878 about 300 Northern Cheyenne, led by Little Wolf and Morning Star, left Indian Territory when illness struck there. They were trying to avoid soldiers and make it home. Once in Nebraska, they split into two groups. Some of them, led by Little Wolf, made it to Montana—an amazing 1,500-mile journey from Indian Territory. Others, nearly 150 women and children, were led by Dull Knife to what he thought was still the Red Cloud Agency and Camp Robinson. He hoped to get help from his friend Sioux Chief Red Cloud. Unbeknownst to Dull Knife, the government had moved the Red Cloud Agency farther north into Dakota Territory. Instead of finding protection with the Sioux, Dull Knife’s band found soldiers. In late October, Dull Knife and friends were taken as prisoners to the newly renamed Fort Robinson. Initially they were treated well. They had shelter in the barracks and enough food to eat. But then disturbing orders came from Washington. The prisoners were to be returned to Indian Territory. It didn’t matter that one of the coldest, snowiest winters on record had slammed down on the Sand Hills. Move ’em now, the orders read.

The Cheyenne refused to go.The commander at Fort Robinson, Captain Henry Wessells, then issued inhumane orders. Until they agreed to return south men, women, and children would be held captives in the barracks without heat, food and water, or facilities. Starving and unarmed, these people chose their way. They would rather be killed trying to go home than return to the hated Indian Territory. The breakout in January, of 1879 resulted in Wessells ordering the mindless slaughter of men, women, and children. Some men killed their families rather than let them be captured and returned to Indian Territory. They fought with handmade knives and clubs. All they wanted was to go home to the land of the Yellowstone. And despite the hardships of battle and weather, nearly half of them made it. Their descendants live today on a reservation in Montana. —Velda Brotherton is an award-winning nonfiction author, novelist, and a regular contributor to Saddlebag Dispatches. She lives on a mountainside in Winslow, Arkansas, where she writes everyday and talks at length with her cat. Her latest work, the Western Historical Romance novel Montana Fire, was just released

A COMPANION PIECE TO THE SADDLEBAG GRAPHIC SERIAL BENDER IN THE EARLY DAYS of the development of the modern comic book, companies such as Marvel Comics, now owned by Disney, DC Comics, whose parent company is Warner Brothers, Charlton Comics, now defunct, and others adapted literature and movies into the form. Recognizing the importance of the fan base developing around comic books, an unknown filmmaker approached Marvel Comics in 1975 to adapt his screenplay into a comic book. He hoped to develop a following for the story, but his proposal was considered so outlandish that his relationship afterwards with 20th Century Fox, the

eventual distributor of the film, was tenuous at best and contentious at its worst. Marvel agreed to publish the first three issues in the months leading up to the film. Almost every creator involved predicted that this marketing effort would fail. Despite misgivings, Roy Thomas, the writer tasked with adapting the chaotic script, and Howard Chaykin, the artist assigned to extrapolate dynamic scenes from black and white pre-production stills and sketches, struggled to meet the deadline. The filmmaker was George Lucas, and his movie was Star Wars. Of course, in 1977, when I started collecting comic


saddlebag dispatches

books, I didn’t know any of this. My father, sick of the rampant kets), Art Spiegelman (Maus. Maus II), and Brian K. Vaughn development and rising crime in central New Jersey, uproot(Pride of Baghdad). Within those pages, creators wrote about ed our family and moved us to Cherryvale, a small town in their lives or the lives of real people and depicted true events. southeast Kansas. Sensing my frustration at being removed Spiegelman’s Maus, the only graphic novel ever to win the Pufrom the excitement of the city as I closed myself off to this litzer Prize, depicts the struggle of German Jews during the rise foreign land, my father became dismayed. I couldn’t help it. of Hitler, depicting the Jews as mice, the Nazis as cats, and the Cows walked freeNazi sympathizers as ly in fields instead pigs. Thompson, Peof a zoo, the only kar, and Satrapi, none place I’d ever seen of them famous prior, a cow prior. Towns wrote about their childwere dotted along hoods, their dead-end railroad lines, not jobs, their first loves, around malls, and their daily activities, the the highway between mundane events that towns was flat and somehow coalesced boring and spanned into the stories of their miles of farmland inlives. Vaughn used the stead of the familiar medium to talk about skyscrapers, cement, the bombing of Iraq and glass. To spark during the second Gulf my imagination, my War. Bombs fell on the father bought a comBaghdad Zoo, releasing ic book for me and the animals to fend for hoped I’d pull out of themselves in a warmy funk. torn city. These authors In four colors, tap into the human I saw the fruits of condition, using a priLucas’ vision. The marily visual medium hero, Luke Skywalker, to elicit intellectual and was a teenager who emotional responses in dreamed of fighting ways film and literature evil, rescuing princannot. cesses, and leaving While my father his rural homestead, used comic books to pulled by the allure of dispel my depression, the unknown. When my fourth grade teachLuke whined about er, Fern Wood, made David used this simple piece to convince Michael that the project was how far his planet me look at small town a artistically possible... and compelling. was from the bright Kansas in a different center of the uniway. Wood, a round verse, I understood him. But time has taught me that Obi Wan and jovial woman with a pile of dark curly hair slowing turning was wiser when he said, “Luke, you’re going to find that many of silver, instilled in me a sense of wonder about Cherryvale. She the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” could see that I was restless and not fitting in well (my accent As I matured, I found myself engrossed by comic books that separated me while my blunt east coast directness alienated me featured real people. Though the escapism offered by stories set in from the Midwestern-born children), and recognizing my love the Star Wars, Marvel, or DC universes still hold appeal for me, I of science fiction and horror stories (I used to carry Godzilla was drawn to the work of Harvey Pekar (The Quitter, American comics, then published by Marvel, and Monster Hunters, pubSplendor), Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis), Craig Thompson (Blanlished by long-defunct Charlton, in my backpack). After a scuffle

saddlebag dispatches 85 with a classmate who teased me about my accent, she told me about a book she was thinking of writing. The book, eventually printed in 1992 with a second print in 1993 and published by BookCrafters of Chelsea, Michigan, is The Benders: Keepers of the Devil’s Inn. She told me that the Benders were a family of German immigrants who became deadly serial killers in the early 1870’s and that they once lived only a few blocks from where we were sitting.

muslin tarp used a room divider, would use one of the hammers to smash the skull of their victims and rob their guests. The Bender house was rare as it was constructed with a cellar. Thus, after the deed was done, the victims were dumped into the cellar until nightfall. Then they would drag the bodies into a small orchard behind their bar n to be buried. When reports of disappearances mounted, an investigation compelled the Bender clan to flee. SMALL TOWN Their abandoned HORROR property contained The Cherryvale between eight and Museum, a small, twelve bodies (reports two or threeare conflicting), and r o o m b u i l d i n g, several body parts contains what little that couldn’t be memorabilia is left matched to intact from their killing corpses. The Benders spree and life in disappeared without Southeast Kansas, a trace, with some and it fascinated reports saying they me. David and I were slain by a posse, would visit often, others state they were daring each other killed and buried by to touch the handle one of the vigilante or, if we were feeling g roups active in particularly brave, the the area during head of one of the Re c o n s t r u c t i o n , three heavy hammers while others claim the Benders used to they escaped to smash the heads of wreak havoc in other guests to their inn. communities. Guests travelling the The horror, and Osage Trail in order the mysteries they Michael’s idea for the first promo was this haunting image. He to settle the west after left behind, were fuel recalled seeing grasshoppers stuck to barbed wire fences when the Civil War would stop for the stories David the brothers first moved to Kansas. at the Bender Inn and be and I would dream of greeted by Kate Bender, when envisioning the the beautiful, buxom twenty-four year old woman who served lonely homes dotting the Kansas prairies. As we approached as both waitress and conversation partner. She would sit with puberty, the Hammer Films and their remake of such horror the single men who stopped along the way, discussing their staples as Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman in the prospects of finding suitable land to farm or raise a family late 1970’s and early 1980’s, coupled with the luridness of while she probed them for information. Are you travelling films like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th, alone? Does anyone know where you are? When satisfied, filmed in the tradition of the French grand guignol theatre either Kate’s brother, John, or their father, hiding behind a or in the spirit of the “penny dreadfuls,” fired our fertile


saddlebag dispatches

imaginations. The Bender story we envisioned was darker and more sinister than mere robbery and murder, taking on supernatural undertones. Wood, ever the teacher, encouraged our fanciful notions and suggested that, someday, we write the movie version or a dime store novel.

THE SEDUCTION OF COMIC BOOKS In 1949, the Canadian government enacted a law that purposefully curtailed the creation and distribution of comic books that contained stories about crime, including, but not limited to superhero comics such as the newly-popular Action Comics Starring Superman, Batman, comic strips like Dick

comic books on the young, noting that criminal activity was displayed in four-color splendor and made easily accessible to children. After publishing several articles starting in the early 1940’s, Wertham compiled his work into Seduction of the Innocent in 1954. In this book, Wertham contends that the root of juvenile delinquency can, in part, be attributed to the rise in popularity of comic books. So heinous were comic books that Wertham wrote, “I have never come across any adult nor adolescent who had outgrown comic-book reading who would ever dream of keeping any of these “books” for any sentimental or other reason” (Wertham 89). Controversy has always followed comic books.

Our first look at Pa Bender Tracy, and others. The law, still on the books today, reads, under the heading “Corrupting Morals,” in part: (1) Every one commits an offense who...(b) makes, prints, publishes, distributes, sells or has in his possession for the purposes of publication, distribution or circulation a crime comic. (7) In this section, “crime comic” means a magazine, periodical or book that exclusively or substantially comprises matter depicting pictorially (a) the commission or crimes, real or fictitious; or (b) events connected with the commission or crimes, real or fictitious, whether occurring before or after the commission of the crime. (Coville) This law was in response to the work of Dr. Fredric Wertham, a noted psychologist who studied the effect of

Debuting in the 1930’s, public school teachers and educators objected to their form and format, seeing them as “a bad influence on students’ reading abilities and literary tastes… (and) represented a threat to their authority – for the first time, children could select their own leisure reading material” (Nyberg), a notion that seems prevalent today, despite their commercial success due to translation to other mediums such as television or film. The public backlash, and Wertham’s ideas regarding the cultural and psychological impact on children, gave rise to the Comics Code Authority. The Code, formed in the wake of Seduction of the Innocent in 1954, was an

saddlebag dispatches 87 effort by the Comic Magazine Association of America to stem the “moral panic that culminated in Senate Subcommittee Hearings into comic books and juvenile delinquency” ( In order for a comic book to be sold in the United States, the stamp of approval from the Comics Code Authority had to appear on the cover, its contents marked as safe for children. The comic book companies would self-regulate, and this code, though modified again in the 1960’s after Marvel Comics addressed the rising problem of heroin addiction in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man, quietly disappeared in 2011 as social mores adapted to cultural reality. Wertham’s ideas regarding social psycholog y,

troops against the Nazi scourge, hung up his star-spangled shield and tights, donning a nondescript costume and mask and started calling himself the Nomad. The Justice League, made up of DC Comics’ greatest heroes (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and others) disbanded, choosing to focus on smaller crimes rather than global threats. Stan Lee, famed creator and face of Marvel Comics, created characters driven by personal demons and flaws. Among his most enduring creations are the X-Men, a group of super-humans not created by the horrors of the atomic age as most comic book heroes and villains were (Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider, allowing him to “do whatever a spider can,” while Captain America was injected with the “Super Soldier Serum,” an experimental drug containing radiation that granted him enhanced strength

Kate Bender witnesses the first kill in the Bender home in the second chapter, “Trapdoors.”

coupled with the social and political upheavals following World War II, were the perfect storm. Mainstream America clung to quaint, outdated values as the fight for equal and civil rights took root, along with the free-love movement, political unrest caused by American involvement in Vietnam, Watergate, and other upheavals and social movements. Comic books, ever on the forefront, shifted focus, and characters like Captain America, once a freedom fighter who led American

and speed and the physique to match), but by mutation. They were born with the gifts of flight, teleportation, energy projection from their eyes or fingertips, their mutation marking them as “different.” In the 1960’s, they fought for acceptance and equality with so-called “normal” humans, an allegory of the civil rights movement. Today, they fight for social justice in a reflection of the gay rights movement. As mentioned above, social change pushed comic books into the mainstream, their popularity cemented by box office receipts for films such as The Avengers or The Dark Knight. Heath Ledger even won a

saddlebag dispatches 89 posthumous Oscar for his portrayal of psychotic madman, the Joker, arguably Batman’s greatest foe. Often regarded as merely entertaining diversions at best and despite recent cinematic successes, comic books have a tenuous relationship with academia. Part art, part screen or stage play, part pop-culture, and part literature, comic books are difficult to classify in the classroom. Prolific comic book writer Dennis O’Neil, known for scripting DC Comics’ Batman and Detective Comics Starring Batman, defines comic books as, not a collection of words and images printed on the same page (like illustrated books). To be a comic book, those words and images must work together as part of speech work together in a normal English sentence. Think of comics as a language comprised of two separate and vastly different element used in tandem to convey information. (O’Neil 12). He also notes that writing a comic book script is “like writing poetry” since the writer must adapt “thoughts to a fairly rigid form and use it so fluently that readers are unaware of its artificiality” (12). This rigid form makes classification of comic book scripts problematic and their use in the classroom almost impossible. To be used effectively, faculty who teach the graphic novel/comic book must use the complete, illustrated work.

SHIFTING FOCUS When I entered the Master of Fine Arts Program at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, it was not my intent to write graphic novels. As O’Neil points out, comic book “manuscripts resemble movie and television scripts… (though) almost every writer (of comic books) uses a different format” (17). My love for comics, fueled by a father’s gift to his depressed son, is still there, prompting me to visit my local comic book dealer every Wednesday, the day new comics arrive. Instead, I planned to pursue the self-reflective and often reflexive medium of creative nonfiction by turning my writer’s eye inward and translate the human condition by reflecting the milestones in my life through prosaic prose. In a fluke, Darren Davis, the publisher and creative force behind Tidal Wave Comics, discovered my writing through the Facebook post of a friend linking him to one of my published pieces and reached out to me, wondering if I’d be interested in creating comic books. Though Tidal Wave publishes superhero comics written by Davis (The Legend of Isis, The 10th Muse) and science fiction properties with the cooperation of famous writers (William F. Nolan of Logan’s Run and William Shatner of TekWar), the company primarily publishes biography comics with titles like Political Power, Female Force, Fame, and Fifteen Minutes. Their creators tell the life stories of music and movie stars, politicians, successful businessmen and women, and literary figures, topics that would allow me to stretch creative muscles.

Writing comics for Tidal Wave requires me to think like a journalist, create a short story, and write in the style of a screen or stage play while attending to the visual aspects necessary to tell the story. To create a comic book script, each panel must be described in detail for the artist to interpret, necessitating clear, concise writing with little ambiguity while allowing room for the artist to include his or her own particular style and creativity into each panel. The script must be sparse enough to not clutter the rendered pages with word balloons, concise enough to adhere to researched facts, contain a character-driven story complete unto itself, and be palatable to the everyday reader. This style of writing is challenging. I’ve written dozens of comic books for Tidal Wave and adapted twelve into prose audiobook companions for the more popular titles. I’ve had the opportunity to work with the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation on the Tribute: Christopher Reeve comic, my first published comic book work, a team creating comics for Elizabeth Warren’s campaign, Larry Harris, the radio personality and author of And Party Every Day: The Inside Story of Casablanca Records to adapt his 310 page book into a 22 page comic, and exchange phone calls with Joseph R. Gannascoli, an actor famous for his work in The Sopranos and accomplished chef, on a superhero comic starring a thinly disguised version of him. Sadly, the final two projects never made it to print – such is the life of a freelancer. The work is simultaneously fun and daunting. To write a comic book, one must first think in pictures. The average comic book is 22 printed pages long. On average, each page contains five panels, meaning the writer must describe about 110 individual pictures to the artist. There is no “industry standard format” for comic book scripts. When describing the panels, it’s acceptable to address the artist directly in order to make a point without regard to adhering to a storytelling mode because the marriage between the visual and the dialogue spoken by the characters tells the story. The eventual readers of the comic book won’t see the descriptions. Still, it’s essential that the writer be able to distill the essence of a scene and characters into a few strong images. The writer must think like the production designer and the director of a film, setting up each shot effectively in order to tell the story. The story in a comic book, if described correctly, could almost relay the story to the reader without the reader actually reading any printed words. Readers will see scripted dialogue between characters, captions, and legends. A legend is the title of the book or perhaps the “closed captions” style for a television program. Captions, captured in “caption boxes,” are often used to designate time and place or serve as a “voiceover” narrative for the book. Dialogue appears in word balloons, bubbles with tails pointing


saddlebag dispatches

to the character who is speaking. Word balloons have distinct shapes to indicate the intensity or type of speech. Rounded balloons are used for speech spoken at a normal rate, jagged edges appear when the character is shouting, dotted or dashed lines for when a character is whispering, while square balloons indicate mechanical or electronically delivered speech (sound from a radio or television, for instance). Comic books employ the liberal use of onomatopoeia to create sound effects. Though comic books don’t routinely contain glossaries to aid the reader in understanding the conventions, it’s easy to tell the type of speech by the expressions of the characters. To write effectively in this medium, the author is essentially writing two separate pieces, one meant to be read by the artist and one meant to be read by the reader. No wonder educators find graphic novels difficult to classify. My development as a writer has been enhanced by my comic book work. Creative writing’s greatest mandate, “show, don’t tell,” is the single driving force of the comic book. Hamstrung by this mandate, the character’s dialogue must be expressive enough to signal mood and character without the tags writers use to indicate such, relying instead on pictures. Comic book scripting has taught me the value of “start late, get out early” to drive plots, engage the reader, and tell intriguing tales. My narrative writing

style has been strengthened by the necessity to economize my words. By choosing to write the script for a graphic novel for my final work towards fulfillment of this Master of Fine Arts degree, I am utilizing all the skills that are the hallmarks of a writer of creative nonfiction in ways that stretch and challenge me. bender, the final project for my MFA, was ambitious, forcing discipline and careful thought.

EMBRACING THE DARKNESS To craft the story, I used Fern Wood’s book to guide my research, hundreds of newspaper clippings and articles to create a timeline, and the graphic novel The Saga of the Bloody Benders, a pseudo-comic written by Rick Geary as part of his “Treasury of Victorian Murder” series that’s more prose than script and relies heavily on Fern Wood’s research. Her book, a thin 109 pages trimmed to the size of pamphlet, and Geary’s, is rife with inaccuracies and convoluted theories. Still, they only had the often wrong newspaper reports of the 1870’s to rely upon when telling their tales. Thus, the story of the Bender family is perfect fodder for creative nonfiction. I could fill in the gaps, craft motivations, merge known fact with researched suppositions, recreate the mood of post-Civil

saddlebag dispatches 91 War America and the thrill of the migration west, and write I first decided to tell the story in six, twenty-two page dialogue reminiscent of the time. In doing so, I could recreate comic books, but the discovery of the carnage at the homesome of the horror and wonder my younger self felt when I stead after their departure was too interesting to compress, first encountered their story. taking up the entirety of book six and necessitating a book I immediately settled on Kate being the focus. But since seven. My first instinct was to tell the most horrific story I beautiful Kate was an unhinged murderer, I felt like the story told my brother almost thirty years ago to scare him one needed an everyman and Halloween. That story, which narrator that could serve appears in the appendix to as the reader’s window into my thesis, was discarded the world of the story while when it became evident reflecting the horror created that the characters I had by the Bender’s actions and developed would not have the clash of idealisms when acted the way they do in it came to frontier justice. I this ending. Further, my found an obscure passage original ending called for that pointed to Charles Inthe graphic deaths of the galls, the father of author Bender family. As Peter Laura Ingalls Wilder, as Nichols, author of The Rocks being involved in a posse. and my mentor for the Though who the posse was work pointed out during hunting was never revealed, one of our frequent email the action disturbed him so exchanges, the Benders much that he, and other are scarier because they posse members, refused to escaped punishment. I speak of it. A similar story enjoyed the notion that is told in Bender lore. The their descendants might Ingalls family lived in the still haunt the country, so Cherryvale area just prior I played with the legends to the time of the Bender that sprang up in their murders. Charles Ingalls beabsence, including as many came my everyman, adding as I could as our narrator a bit of commercial appeal grapples with the notions to the lurid tale while proof good and evil, man and viding readers with someone God, fairness and justice. Michael Frizell after completing the first script. they think they already know. The result is a book I feel The real-life people of Cherryvale and Labette County in proud to have written, and one that I hope Fern Wood the 1870’s became my cast. would have enjoyed. This comic book doesn’t break new ground as true crime Bender is the culmination of my love for the medium, comics have enjoyed a healthy life in the medium. Writer Alan the childhood stories two brothers concocted to make our Moore and artist Eddie Campbell’s exhaustive From Hell describes sleepy little cow town a bit more exciting, and my desire in intricate detail the case of Jack the Ripper. Moore traces all to tell the stories of real people. of the theories and historical clues to point the finger at the queen’s personal physician as the famous serial killer. Brian —Michael Frizell is a prolific writer, the editor of The Learning Michael Bendis and Marc Andreyko’s graphic novel, Torso: A Assistance Review for the National College Learning True Crime Graphic Novel, tells the story of a serial killer active in Center Association, and the Director of Student Learning Services Cleveland, Ohio between 1934 and 1938. The “Torso Killer,” at Missouri State University. He and his wife, Julia, a high school so named because of his penchant for leaving only the torso English teacher, live in Springfield, Missouri. Volume One of his of his victims, thus defying identification due to the lack of graphic novel, Bender, is now available wherever books are sold. He fingerprints or dental impressions, was tracked by Eliot Ness. can be reached at

saddlebag dispatches 93


saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches 95


saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches 97


saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches 99

100 saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches 101

102 saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches 103

104 saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches 105

106 saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches 107

108 saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches 109

110 saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches 111

112 saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches 113

114 saddlebag dispatches

“Everyone has something to give... if you just close your mouth and listen.�















A L L E N ,

J R .

SA D D LEBAG entertainment

118 saddlebag dispatches

REX ELVIE “CHICO” ALLEN, JR. was born in Chicago Illinois in 1947 to the legendary cowboy screen star, Rex Allen, and wife Bonnie Linder. Like his father, Rex would grow up to be a man of great talent and substance. The Statler Brothers called him “…a consummate actor, singer, songwriter and entertainer. THE BEST IN THE BUSINESS.”


hile in the second grade, I went on a class field trip to the Living History Museum in Denver, Colorado. To this day, I can remember being most fascinated by the dioramas of the Frontier, Cowboys and Gold Rush. The scenes of the Old West spoke to something deep within me. When I heard the Rex Allen, Jr recording of “Can You Hear Those Pioneers” in 1976, I was taken back to that moment when I pressed my nose against the glass as if trying to enter their world. I was intrigued by his mixing of traditional country with pop elements, including string sections and background vocals. I fell for his countrypoliton style—a sub-genre of country music in the late 1960’s–1970’s. His blend of the western music his dad, Rex Allen, sang, with the more urban tunes that flowed from his pen set Rex apart from everyone else. He was unique without forgetting his roots. While he listened to Hank Williams, Hoyt Axton, and Sons of the Pioneers they, along with Lennon and McCartney, were his biggest influences when it came to song writing. Marty Robbins described him as a “heavy metal cowboy singer.” I first met Rex Allen, Jr in 1987. He was hosting the True Value Country Showdown competition at the Heart of Illinois Fair in Peoria, acting as master of ceremonies through nine acts during the talent show. Rex knew a little

bit about what each contestant was experiencing. Although he had been performing since a young boy, in his high school years he and his folk group The Townsmen came in second during a talent show. They won a guitar, which they gave to their high school mentor, Father John Gill. That was the first of many awards he would receive throughout his career, but his course was set in motion much earlier. Rex Elvie “Chico” Allen, Jr was born in Chicago Illinois in 1947 to the legendary cowboy screen star, Rex Allen, and wife Bonnie Linder. Like his father, Rex would grow up to be a man of great talent and substance. The Statler Brothers called him “…a consummate actor, singer, songwriter and entertainer. The best in the business.” I think the praise was well-deserved. He began traveling with his dad when he was seven and by age nine he had his own show. Entertaining was in his blood. By the age of thirteen, he was doing live theater— something he continued into his Army days. As a boy, he would often sneak over to the Troubadour in L.A. to hear Hoyt Axton. While he learned by listening to others and practical experience, Rex knew the value of education. After graduation, he took acting classes at Paramount Studio. His time in the Army offered its own form of education. “After seeing my Dad work a crowd, I honed my skills in the service.”

saddlebag dispatches 119


120 saddlebag dispatches The Army was his Vaudeville, where he did over 100 live shows, eight major theater productions, and sang for the troops. In the late sixties, after his stint in the Army, Rex took his countrypoliton sound to Nashville. “The Great Mail Robbery” was his first charting recording in 1973. “Goodbye” would be his first Top 20 that same year. He placed a total of thirty-two times on the country charts from 1973-1987, including two duets with country legend Margo Smith. “Can You Hear Those Pioneers” was his first westernstyle recording, taking the number seventeen spot on the charts, thanks in part to a disc jockey with a good ear. Rex actually recorded the song twice. When Warner Brothers wouldn’t release the album, he took a different route. With the help of his brother, Curtis, they took a master track back to LA. There, they added his dad and The Sons of the Pioneers to the recording. Still Warner wouldn’t budge. With one song to perform at the Country DJ Convention (now known as the Country Radio Seminar or CSR), he told his band, “We’re doing ‘Pioneers.’” The performance received a standing ovation. One man in particular was impressed with the song. Mike Oatman owned fifteen country radio stations from Canada to The Gulf of Mexico. He told Warner Brothers that day that if they didn’t release “Pioneers,” he would never play another Warner Record on any of his stations. And as they say, the rest is history. Whenever we talked, or he spoke about his dad during performances, I always felt the love he had for his dad. If ever there was a boy who idolized his father, he would be Rex. One of the most important lessons he learned from his dad was to treat everyone the same. He has tried to pass that lesson onto his own sons. “Everyone has something to give, if you just close your mouth and listen.” He is as down to earth and personable as any celebrity I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. The tribute to his dad and other silver screen cowboy heroes Rex grew up around is probably the most poignant song you’ll ever hear, marking a time when life was simpler. “The Last of the Silver Screen Cowboys” was released in 1982 on his Singing Cowboy LP. The song charted at number forty-three and included narration from his dad as well as Roy Rogers. He also released “Ride Cowboy Ride” that year, which went on to become the most recorded song in Western music history. About the same time, Rex co-hosted a country and western television series with Jim Stafford, Nashville on

saddlebag dispatches 121 the Road. They hosted fifty-two shows from 1982-1984. Check out Chico Elvie on YouTube for a segment with the two of them doing a fun rendition of the Oak Ridge Boys classic, “Elvira.” In 1992, he got a call from Harold and Don Reed of The Statler Brothers. They were looking for someone to host the “Yesteryear” portion of their television show. The Statler Brothers Show quickly rose to a #1 rating. Rex hosted the segment for two years before The Nashville Network (TNN) spun “Yesteryear” into its own show with Rex at the helm. The show had its own two-year run in the #2 slot. In 1996, he returned to The Statler Brothers Show for two more seasons. The last episode he did was the highest rated show in TNN history. Some people can entertain and others simply perform. A true artist will fine-tune his craft, constantly re-invent himself to keep up with the ever-evolving entertainment industry. Rex Allen, Jr. is an artist and even a magician of sorts. While enjoying one of his Branson shows in 1993, he was on stage with his band putting on one heck of a show… then the next minute Rex would be down in the audience yet you never saw the move. The first time I saw him perform that bit of mysticism, I was in an aisle seat about six rows back from the stage when I heard his voice close to me and felt his hand on my shoulder. How he went from being on the stage to coming up behind me in what seemed a matter of seconds still has me in awe to this day. When a performer can do something that has you so captivated you still remember the moment over twentyfive years later, you know you’ve been entertained. A lot of people have a bucket list of some sort. Rex is no exception. Doing a Vegas show was a lifelong dream. He knows how to make dreams into a reality. In 1997, he wrote, directed, and performed in Gone Country. He recorded the only album with his dad in 1999 before Rex, Sr.’s death later that year at the age of 78. In the Winter, 2016 issue I talked about the many narration credits Rex Allen, Sr. had throughout his career. When the producers for Me, Myself and Irene called the Western Music Association attempting to contact Rex’s dad to narrate the movie, the folks at WMA suggested his son instead. Rex, Jr. auditioned for the job on Tuesday and on Wednesday he was on a plane to Boston. He traveled all over the US redoing parts of the narration as the producers incorporated constant changes before the movie was finally finished. Over the years, he has done voice-overs as well as commercials for companies such as Sears, Kraft, Tony Lama, Mahindra Tractors, and Discover Card. Like father, like son.

122 saddlebag dispatches

One point in his career that he describes as a “feather in his cowboy hat” was being invited to be the first performer allowed to sing on The Great Wall of China during The Great American Cowboy China Tour of 2011. Only allowed to sing one song, Rex chose one he wrote honoring his home state, “I Love You Arizona.” “I sang what I feel is a song I wrote that will live long after I am gone.” In 2011, The State of Arizona declared the song the Official Song of the Arizona Centennial, which took place in February 2012. “I Love You Arizona” is still classified as the alternate state song. That song would later have him singing with the Phoenix Symphony (2013) as part of An Arizona Tribute performance. Along with the prestigious honor of being the first to sing on The Great Wall of China, he was honored with the Most Promising Male Vocalist by Music City News, Entertainer of the Year by Country Music Magazine, and inducted into the Wester Music Association Hall of Fame in 2007. Throughout his career, he has performed at countless state and local fairs, rodeos, and auxiliary shows as well as at his own theater in Branson MO (1993). Aside from his solo shows, he has been part of Leroy VanDyke’s Country Gold tour along with T.G. Sheppard, T. Graham Brown, David Frizzell, Mandy Barnett, and others. Rex Allen, Jr put Western back into mainstream radio at a time when western had been replaced on the airwaves by the next generation. As he prepares to ride off on his final Sunrise to Sunset tour, I was reminded of the George Jones classic, “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes.” “There’s new Western music in the mainstream today,” Rex explained. “But people just don’t define it that way.

I think half of what Garth Brooks recorded is Modern Western music, like ‘Beaches of Cheyanne.’ Toby Keith’s ‘Should Have Been A Cowboy’ is another.” Rex will turn 70 this year. Looking back, he is surprised he’s lived this long. “We were the generation that wasn’t going to live past 30! I’ll end my singing career where it began.” His final show will take place during Rex Allen Days October 5-8, 2017 in Wilcox, Arizona, the annual celebration tribute to his father. But we will not have heard the last from the singing cowboy. Rex intends to do more narrations and commercials as well as television and movies. He also wants to see this country and the world from the other side of the footlights. He’s gone from a small boy shadowing his father’s every move, to building a legacy for his sons, just as his father before him. Whether this is your first introduction to Rex Allen, Jr or just want to reminisce, you’ll find several places on YouTube carrying videos, including his own Chico Elvie channel. His website,, carries a full biography, tour dates, and a place to add most, if not all, of his recordings to your personal library, with more to come in the future. As the sun sets on this part of Rex Allen, Jr’s career, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to see the legendary singing cowboy in person. Country Blessings! —Kelly Henkins is a full-time writer and artist. She is the trusted online voice of Texas music and spends most of her daytime networking with singers and songwriters all over the country. She lives in the rural Ozarks. You can follow her at or contact her at

saddlebag dispatches 123


rode into Hard Times a troubled man with nothing behind me but pain and suffering. Men had stood before me—murderers who maimed and killed. Sometimes they came in bunches. The job given me is to bring them to justice or leave them where they lay. There is no middle ground. The Friars who gave me their brand of learning called me fraught with luck, but withheld grace. It was a fine line I walked—the line between hunter and hunted seemed blurred at times. Their sins are my own. I’ve been on this earth for twenty-five years. If, like the knights of old who would drive their broadswords into the soil—the hilt making a cross to kneel before, the armor of my soul is dented and tarnished. The town I rode into was a haphazard collection of buildings in eastern Kansas, a few miles west of Joplin, Missouri. A windmill graced the center of the street, blades turning a lazy circle—too dirty to reflect light, its shadow blinking cadence at the trough below. A malevolent sun beat down on my bleached hat and the pommel of my saddle was too hot to touch. Dust rose from the footfalls of my sorrel gelding and followed me like an ominous cloud no amount of speed could possibly hope to outrun. There was a bit of shade next to an eatery called Jenny’s Café, so after a bit of water at the well, I left the horse leaning on the building and stepped up under the awning. I used my hat to dust off my pants and leggings—Apachestyle moccasins that came up to my knees.

The shaded interior was a welcome relief when I sat at a table next to the window. Only a couple of people were in the room sipping coffee from blue-speckled pewter cups. A woman came from the kitchen looking as weathered as the buildings. She tried to be friendly, I’ll give her that. The smile on her face was genuine and her voice so rough it hurt to listen. I wanted to clear my own throat. “Howdy. I’m Jenny. I’d give you a menu, but it wouldn’t do no good. We got beef and beans, maybe some spuds on the side. A little bread to mop it up with. That suit you?” Between dried sweat and an ominous mood, my face felt wooden. I hadn’t smiled in a while, but tried to give her one. “Sounds about perfect, ma’am. Add a tall glass of water and some coffee to that and we’re in business.” Her gaze dropped to the star on my vest. “You’re a marshal?” She glanced to the side as someone dropped their cup, and then turned back to me with a smirk as the room emptied. “Next time put that star in your pocket, so you don’t make the miscreants around here nervous. We’re mighty close to the Nation.” She looked to be a down-to-earth country woman. I liked her and it was good advice. The Bible says the wicked flee when no one pursueth. I’d heard of other marshals killed minding their own business by men who were afraid of discovery. The paradox of that did not escape me. “Next time, I’ll do that very thing.” She went to the kitchen and I stared out the dirty window.

There wasn’t much to see except a few horses tied to the hitch rail in front of a saloon across the street. I watched a rider walk his horse down the street as my mind traveled the backtrails that led me here. I was a youngster and only child when the Apache wiped us out—old enough to remember my name—not old enough to know why they attacked. There’s always a reason. Most of what I remembered about our place was told to me later. We had a little two-by-twice farm when they took us and the fight was over before I knew what was going on. I don’t remember a shot being fired. Years later I could figure what happened to Ma, but by then captivity had hardened my soul. I rode by the old place once, and it was fit for raising scrub brush and rocks… and little else. I remember wondering why people put their lives at risk for something of such low return. It was in my sixth season with the Apache when a cavalry unit attacked our village, led by a scout named Caleb McGill. I saw my chance when they went slashing through the camp and leaped on the back of his horse. He was trying to shoot under his arm at me when I yelled out I was a captive. Giving me a startled look, we took a powder out of there. Once he had my story, told in a mixture of broken English and Apache, he took me in. He said he’d seen an orphanage once and wouldn’t do that to anybody.

In the following years, he taught me everything he could. He left the army and turned into a good sheriff for a few towns. I helped and learned what I could. No matter where we were, he made sure I could read and do my numbers. Like many folks, the Bible was the only book we had. School was one thing he wouldn’t let me slack on. There was a church school run by Franciscan friars for the Indians. He enrolled me and then left for a while. Most of their order was farther southwest and I never knew how this mission was started. They once told me their order was dying out. All I knew was most of the mixed lot of Indians being taught were a lot smarter than me. One day Caleb showed up with a judge in tow and handed me a badge. Because of my background, it wasn’t long before I was sent down into Indian Territory serving warrants. Caleb went his own way and we’d meet up once in a while in Kansas City or Joplin. Last I heard he was in southern Missouri—a place called Big Springs, looking to retire. I was jolted off the memory trail when Jenny set a plate in front of me. I decided a plate that full needed cleaning, so I set to the task. She stood staring at me, wiping her hands on her apron. “You starving?” I glanced up at her, swigging some scalding coffee. “No, ma’am. I ate a couple days ago.”

saddlebag dispatches 127 Clearing her voice, she spoke again. “I’ve seen you before, you know. It’s been three, four years, but I remember.” I gave her a glance but didn’t stop with my mission of cleaning that plate. She kept at it. “I always wondered why they called you the Deacon. I been to church in my younger days. We had preachers and elders. Never heard of a deacon.” “Preachers preach. Elders look after the flock. Deacons are teachers.” I glanced at her. “I claim none of that.” “Then, why?” “Some say I catch evil men and read to them from the Book.” She smiled and it washed away years from her face. “Well they got that wrong. From what I hear, you mostly read over them at the burying.” Her gaze held me a moment. “You don’t look like the killer you’re supposed to be.” I shrugged. “It’s not a mantle I took on purpose. Sometimes a road doesn’t end where you want or the finish of it where you expect.” “I’d say you’re not finished yet. So, did they deserve it— those you’ve read to from the Book?” I shook my head and met her level gaze. “A much wiser man than me said we all deserve it—one time or another. I expect he’s right.” The twinkle in her eyes told me she was about to lay some more country wisdom on me when the sound of three muffled shots interrupted our conversation. They were so evenly spaced I thought someone might be target shooting. My handful of spoon and taters paused on its journey as I listened. “Maybe it’s just a cow pusher drunk on skullbuster.” Her voice was skeptical. A woman screamed from down the street, followed by the sound of hoofbeats fading away. I gave a sad look at my half-finished meal. Sticking a last spoonful of taters in my mouth, I tossed a dollar on the table. When she went digging for change I waved her away. Grabbing my hat, I stepped outside. A man rushing by with a pistol drawn about run me over. Seeing a star on his shirt I figured he was the town marshal. Why he was in such a hurry was a mystery. I figured the shooter was long gone. I paused before I went out the door and looked back. She was younger than I thought and seemed wise beyond her years. Maybe she was like me, putting up a front to guard the one within. The stage office was a few doors away, with the coach and six-horse team tethered in front. I had a stray thought that if they didn’t water those horses soon they’d drop in their traces. By the time I got there, the marshal was coming out the door with a grey-haired woman in tow. She stood on the porch while the marshal gazed down the street. A faint dust cloud still hung in the air.

When he turned and saw me, I watched his gaze settle on my vest. His shoulders slumped when he saw it was a US Marshal’s badge. I could read the relief on his face. “I’m Ed Stone, the town marshal.” I shook his weathered hand with some curiosity. This was his town, his shooting—there were things to do. “Coble Bray. Pleased to meet you.” The man stepped back. “You’re the Deacon.” I nodded, waiting him out. You could read the thoughts bouncing around his brain by his facial expressions as his gaze wavered between the older woman and me. What I didn’t expect was the level of honesty. He shook his head. “That man’s going toward the Nation.” His glance at me wasn’t weak… exactly. “I should go after him. He killed three good men. To tell you the truth, I’m afraid. I know I can’t match that man with my gun and he won’t come if I ask polite.” The marshal dropped his gaze and then met mine with a pleading expression. “I got a wife and kids.” I wondered if this was the worst thing that had ever happened in this tired-looking town as I put my hand on his shoulder and nodded. Nobody much cared if I didn’t show up for supper. He gestured toward the woman. “Missus Peabody saw the whole thing.” He couldn’t get shut of us quick enough. Mumbling something about an undertaker, his run-down boots stomped back the way he’d come. Dressed in blue calico with a bonnet to match, Mrs. Peabody gazed at me with a stern look through little round spectacles. She reminded me of every schoolteacher I’d ever seen. I was surprised when a slow smile graced her face. I knew what she saw—a tall young man in faded clothes with two pistols strapped to his waist, and a bone-handled skinning knife on my left side. I needed a new hat a year ago. “You going to fetch that boy?” I looked at her a moment and then inclined my head. “I reckon.” Then I grinned at her. “You the one that screamed?” She gave a very unladylike snort. “That was the gal inside behind the counter. It was worse than the gunshots— like to busted my eardrums. Then she fainted. I wish she’d fainted first.” “Do you know who did this? A name, maybe?” “Seen him around. I never heard a name, so I just called him Baby Face. Looked harmless.” I thought of that a moment while looking at someone’s leg sticking out the door. It twitched once and then was still. The window was open and powder smoke still drifted out of the room. She picked up on her story. “Craziest thing I ever saw. Crazy as in strange. That boy walked in the door… nobody paid him no mind—and he didn’t say boo to anyone. He just pulled his shooter and killed the agent, stage driver, and guard.

saddlebag dispatches 129 It was like he’d gone to the dry goods store and was pointing out things he wanted. No expression at all. It spooked the hell out of me—pardon my French. They’d already unlocked the strong box, so he flipped the lid open and took a bag of gold.” She looked at me, shaking her head. “Just one bag, like it was an afterthought. Don’t make sense.” “No ma’am. It never does.” I shrugged, wondering how the expression of the killer shocked her more than the shooting. “So, the best we have is I’m looking for a babyfaced man who kills casual-like, and with no name.” I started to leave when she stopped me. “I can help some more.” She walked over to the hitching rail a few feet behind the stage. “This is where he tied up his pony. It was small, kind of a brown and white paint. Not big like that ugly cuss you rode in on.” I hope my horse didn’t hear her. He was cranky enough without hurting his feelings. “You notice a lot, don’t you?” “I’m old. Got nothing else to do.” I walked over and looked at the dusty earth by that empty hitch rail. The horse hadn’t been there long enough to scuff up the dirt much. It looked as if the right front hoof had a broken horseshoe that hadn’t worked loose yet. Well, now.

I went back to wake up my horse. Leading him to the water trough again, I let him drink a moment—just not enough to swell up. Swinging up on the saddle, I was surprised when Jenny brought out a bag and wooden canteen. “You didn’t get to finish so I threw together some chicken. It’s good, cold or hot.” She shaded her eyes with one hand. “You be careful, Deacon.” I thanked her and rode out of town, tipping my hat to Mrs. Peabody standing sentinel on the boardwalk. What kind of life had she led that the killing of men bothered her less than the mystery of expression? Later that afternoon I stepped off my horse under the shadow of a live oak. Trees and brush choked the banks of a meandering stream and from a distance it looked like a green snake that wandered through the rolling countryside of eastern Kansas. Since it flowed south, I figured it would connect with the Neosho River in Indian Territory. I took a slow look around before examining the churned earth. Someone had driven a small herd of cattle across the shallow water earlier and it took a moment to find the right tracks. Squatting with the reins of the horse in my hands, I studied the trail. The print was there. The trail of Baby Face lay on top of the others, and it was fresh. I stepped past that oak leading my horse. Shucking my

130 saddlebag dispatches Winchester from the saddle scabbard, I started a winding path downstream looking for any sign. The water at the crossing was clear and not showing any fresh tracks. The older impressions were smoothed over by the fast-moving water of the riffle. As I followed that creek south, my head was up and looking around. I’d see his trail easy enough if it was there. Being raised by the Apache as a young boy had taught me many things. One was the value of ambush, and this was the country for it. I didn’t like anything about this and the feeling got worse with each step. The uneasiness came from the feeling of being watched. The only sound I heard was my horse clomping behind me and the gurgling of water over rocks. There was a bend in the stream just ahead and I stopped, concealed in the brush. A man squatted in the clearing ahead, holding the reins of his horse. His other hand held a gun but it was pointed down and he was looking the other way. The sandy earth was soft so I got within a few feet before he whirled and saw me. He didn’t bring the pistol up so I didn’t dust him off with my long gun. We stared a moment at each other while his horse walked away a few steps. His pony was a paint and the man surely looked like a baby-faced boy. I figured he was the shooter from Hard Times. Another body lay at his feet. “I’d appreciated it if you’d holster that pistol—real slow.” I didn’t want him to drop it—a dropped pistol can go off and you never know what direction it will shoot. He surprised me when he did as I asked. I had the drop, but he gave in too easy. But a shootout would get him killed. He knew it. I figured he’d bide his time, thinking to catch me unaware. But he seemed listless like he’d given up. That surprised me. When I walked behind him I leaned the Winchester against a log and then grabbed him by the collar, taking his pistol from its holster. “Now back up from that body and kneel down.” He stared at the body as he backed up a few paces. His knees locked for a moment in protest, and then he knelt when I pushed him down. I took a quick look around and saw no one else. I was nervous about this and looked to see if he had help. What this boy did at the stage station was stone cold. When I looked in his eyes all I saw was sadness. “Why did you kill this man?” He finally met my gaze. “Didn’t. That’s my pa. He was waiting for me.” He nodded toward the body. “Did you look at him?” “I will.” Dead men were no mystery to me. Taking some rawhide strings from my saddlebag, I tied his legs above his boots, and then his hands. “Did you kill those men back in town?” A tear cut a dusty trail down his cheek as he shrugged. “I did.”

“Why didn’t you just take the money and go?” “I knew the sheriff wouldn’t chase me. Those three were the only ones that might.” He nodded at the body. “Look at him.” The man was laid out on the ground with his hands folded across his stomach. He may as well have been lying in a coffin. Far as I could see, there wasn’t a mark on him. A pistol was in his holster with the thong over the hammer. If this was the boy’s father, he’d either got sick and died or there was another killer about. I didn’t like that thought much. I nudged the body and it was stiff. “When did you last see him?” “Early this morning.” It took less than half a day for rigor to set in, especially in the heat. It would be gone tomorrow. “Did he know you were going to rob the stage?” “He sent me. We needed money.” He pointed with his chin over his shoulder. “We got a place south of here.” “Any more family?” “No.” I sighed at that. It might be true, but likely not. They wouldn’t be the first to ride away from a homestead and not come back. It was a tough land. The man’s eyes were open and I tried to close them. It didn’t work but I noticed something protruding from his mouth. Curious, I pried his jaw open and took it out. It was something I’d seen a lot. A small cross, like would be worn on a string around your neck. I looked around, studying the trees and low hills. A man of reason would figure he’d been killed shortly after the young man had left. I’d accept that for now. Few people would stick a cross in their mouth if they were dying of natural causes. I took him by the shoulder and rolled him over. No blood or wounds. What killed him? And who? It was what every lawman hates. A mystery. If I was one of those newfangled doctors from back east, maybe I’d know more. I’d seen my share of the dead, some by my own hand. This was different. I started to get a blanket off the boy’s bedroll when something occurred to me. “What kind of horse did he ride?” He was staring at the body and didn’t respond for a moment. “Just like mine. We raised them.” Walking a slow circle, I didn’t see any tracks but those of mine and his. No footprints—someone had to lay the body out like that. No tracks, and it wasn’t a windy day. It was like he fell out of the sky. I’d pulled the shell belt and holster from the dead man to add to the kid’s hanging from my pommel. I had a small shovel in my pack that I mostly used for digging a fire pit. The ground was soft to about three feet down—that was all he was going to get. Not the best place, but I wasn’t going to wait a day for his body to loosen up enough to throw across a horse.

saddlebag dispatches 131 Rolling the body in a blanket, I drug it into the grave. I untied the boy’s feet so he could stand. We stood at each end of the grave. I couldn’t understand how a man sends his son to rob a stage office. I took a worn Bible from my saddlebags, but no verse came to mind to ease his pain. All things considered, he’d join his father soon enough. If the judge didn’t hang him, the people of Hard Times would. “He was your pa. Whatever he was meant to be—what troubles he had… are long gone now. Take comfort in that.” His tear-streaked face turned to me and his gaze met mine. “Can you say some words over him?” I nodded with a sigh and prayed for lost souls like his and mine. My mind was full of that blurred line between him and me. Not knowing how many words were required, I didn’t know if the boy was pleased—nor did I care. We all make choices. He made his. Something splattered my face and the only sound I heard was the boy falling on top of his father. I dove into the nearby brush. My rifle was leaning on an old log. I had a strange thought that if all this flotsam came from high water—it must have been before I was born. What wind there was blew away to the north, and I figured that shot came from a long way off. I wasn’t surprised

I’d not heard the shot with the wind blowing away. Since no more came, I figured whoever made that shot didn’t want me. I stood, and walked to the grave. It was a head shot to the boy and from the angle and direction, the shooter had to be in a low line of hills about a half mile away. I couldn’t make that shot in my wildest dreams. I’d heard of sharpshooters during the late attrition between the states doing it. I have to see something before I can shoot at it. As I watched, a rider appeared on the crest of a hill. We stared at each other across the distance. I couldn’t tell if it was a man or woman. Finally, whoever it was raised a rifle over their head for a moment, then disappeared from the skyline. I could have leaped in the saddle and given chase. I glanced back at the grave. I had two men that needed burying, but most important, a tired horse. I gave a disgusted sigh and the sorrel pricked his ears at me. I’d check for tracks later, but didn’t have much hope of finding anything. I wasn’t too sure if what I’d seen was any more than an apparition. The kid’s head wound was real enough. The burying was over, and I rested on a log eating the chicken Jenny sent along. She was right—it was good cold. If the water in the stream ever rose this high again it would wash the bodies out of that shallow grave. I looked at the sky. Pigs would be flying by then.

132 saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches 133 I packed up and caught the reins of the kid’s horse. Mounted, I sat and looked at the hills. I still had that cross the killer stuck in the older man’s mouth… at least, I assumed the killer did it. A cold-blooded killer was getting away free for the moment. With the same honesty the town marshal gave me, I admitted to myself I was afraid. Riding to the top of the hill where I’d last seen the shooter, I looked back and could see the fresh grave. If this man wanted me dead, I’d never know it. Maybe I should take comfort in that, but it didn’t set well. A fluttering of white caught my eye and I rode down the backside of the hill to find a piece of paper stuck on a small branch. There was a printed note on it. You are too soft. If you don’t harden up, you’ll never catch me. I crushed the paper and started to throw it away—had another think and put it in my shirt pocket. Was this a game? There was a slight indentation of a trail on the dirt surrounding the bush. It didn’t take much to figure out burlap was tied on the hooves of his horse, so that sign would be gone soon. The wind was picking up. I turned back toward Hard Times to report to the town marshal. Two men gone and none by my own hand. That was an oddity I didn’t want to think about. It was getting late, but I could make it back for supper. The shooter? I’d bide my time on this one and keep my eyes open. Whoever made that shot may think this is a game—I do not. We’d balance that scale another day.


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, is 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.

134 saddlebag dispatches

SA D D LEBAG c o v e r s t o ry

136 saddlebag dispatches



estselling author Linda Broday has seen the act of storytelling change lives, including her own. And to her that’s one of the most important reasons for being a writer. She writes not for fame or fortune, but for the effect her books can have on readers.

And the effect writing has had on her life. She pulls no punches talking about her early life. “When I

was born, there were six of us living in a tent in a small town in New Mexico. We were poor going into the Depression and still poor coming out. I knew there wasn’t going to be much in store for me. College was out, and though circumstances improved some for us there was no way to afford it. But I loved telling stories. My very first memory is someone reading to me. I felt the magic in the stories. I just always wanted to write. I graduated from high school as a good student and got a job and helped support the family. Still read everything. Though I grew up without a television, I would go to my aunt and uncle’s to watch westerns. I loved westerns.”

saddlebag dispatches 137

138 saddlebag dispatches Perhaps it’s growing up under such circum-

of her tale, and she talks openly about the di-

stances that helped her find the courage to write,

agnosis that could have put a roadblock in her

for she takes a lot of her stories from those early

career if she’d let it.

years. “Pieces of me are in every book I write.”

“I think people should know that a disease

Even so, it couldn’t have been easy, for she

doesn’t keep you from following your heart and do-

admits she never dreamed she would amount to

ing what you love. Being a writer is important be-

anything. “I was very shy and had trouble being

cause books can help change people’s lives.”

around people. I felt inferior because of our financial circumstances.” Yet this woman, who was diagnosed with

She states this with a great deal of conviction. Perhaps because she knows it to be true. For look how writing has enhanced her own life, made

multiple Sclero-

her into a com-

sis in 1998, is a


New York Times

person from that



little girl born in



a tent.


A friend who


has MS recently

Often, hear




had to stop read-

make an effort

ing because of

to change their




own lives because





they are too old, or not well enough educated,

sent her latest book and urged her friend to read

or half a dozen other excuses. And then we meet

it. The friend has now read fifteen books and

someone like Linda who has not let anything

no longer dwells on her illness. “She told me I

stop her. Going from rags to riches is only part

changed her life. Stories are so powerful.”

saddlebag dispatches 139



140 saddlebag dispatches


saddlebag dispatches 141 Linda credits good friend Jodi Thomas with in-

Knight on The Texas Plains, her first published

spiring her and giving her the impetus to believe

romance, was inspired by a young friend’s person-

in herself. “I met Jodi in early 2000. I just loved her

al story. Her father won her in a poker game. Who

books and we became good friends. Then in 2009

else but a writer with her imagination could turn such a story into a touching tale of redemption and love? Her latest, To Love a Texas Ranger, kicks off The Men of Legend series, with two more scheduled to be released this year.

my husband passed away and I was stuck in the grief. Jodi helped me get past that.” After her first attempt at writing a romance about pirates, which she worked on for about five years, she turned to writing Westerns. “I’d lived

Linda Broday never gave up living her dream no

around working cowboys all my life and combined

matter what life threw at her and says with a chuck-

with my love for TV westerns it came easy for me. I

le that she will still have stories in her head when

knew about those types of men, whereas I was com-

she’s buried.

pletely out of my element with pirates and gypsies and lords. So I wrote what I knew and loved.”

—Velda Brotherton is an award-winning nonfiction

Linda lives in Amarillo and belongs to Romance

author, novelist, and a regular contributor to

Writers of America. She also takes part in a critique

Saddlebag Dispatches. She lives on a mountainside

group and feels it’s important to get feedback from

in Winslow, Arkansas, where she writes everyday

other writers during the process of creating a book.

and talks at length with her cat.

“Newcomer Randall Dale brings a refreshing new voice to the Western genre. His books are rewarding tales of the modern west—simple, fresh, honest, and clean, and a joy for readers of all ages.”

Dusty Richards

Bestselling Western Author


laid awake staring at the single star visible through the smoke-hole in our lodge. My belly ached and rumbled with hunger. Winter came early this year, and the promised beef allotment and blankets came not at all, but Black Kettle gave his word. He made his mark on the white chief ’s paper. They gave him a flag to fly from the top of his lodge so that all would know he made his mark, and the soldiers would not attack us. So, we waited. The People stayed only a day’s pony ride from the white-man fort, as they told us to, growing leaner on empty promises of cattle and blankets that never came. Before we knew it, the hungry times came to us. I thanked the Great Spirit for my father, Tall Bear—a brave warrior and a strong hunter who provided more for our lodge. He did not trust the white man, so he continued to hunt, and my mother, Morning Dancer, dried the meat and made the pemmican as always. The Dog Soldier Society considered my father an important man. The People gave him many gifts, but he always gave away more than he received. It was his way, and they loved him for it. Still, he provided more for us than some lodges. The People feared that some of the very young and the very old would not see the green grass time. Our fears increased when the wolves we sent out to scout told us that the soldiers were preparing to move. I tried to turn my mind to happier thoughts, and away

from this hard time on the Lodgepole River. A dog barked and my father stirred in his robes, throwing a protective arm across my mother. She made a little cooing sound and snuggled closer to him. Their love filled the lodge, and brought a smile to my face. Another dog barked and a bugle answered. Everyone awakened instantly. Father flung the robes away, grunting an order to my mother. Shots rang out as he grabbed his weapons and disappeared, naked, through the entrance flap. My heart pounded in my chest. Screams and shouts echoed through the village along with more shots and the screams of both the warriors and the wounded. Mother grabbed her parfleche and a buffalo robe and hustled me out of the lodge, turning to the river. Gunfire came from all directions. Suddenly, I heard a dull thud. Mother’s hand slipped from mine. I turned to see what was wrong, and she stiffened and fell to her knees. I started to help her up. “Run,” she said. I ran. Chaos reigned among the lodges as women and children fled, and the warriors remained to fight a desperate hopeless fight to buy them time to escape. Men, women, and children fell everywhere as the soldier bullets tore into them. Already, the powder smoke made a thick fog in the village. I caught a glimpse of my father as I ran by. A large wound in his thigh pumped bright blood onto the trampled snow.

144 saddlebag dispatches Impervious to the snow and cold, he flung his challenge to those who attacked us. “Cowards. Women. I am Tall Bear. Will you fight me?” He dropped his empty rifle and drew his bow. I never saw him again. I ran faster than I ever ran before, dodging between lodges, and jumping over fallen bodies, tangled robes, and dying ponies. The screams of the wounded women, children, and ponies broke my heart and continued to ring in my ears. The guns continued to boom. A soldier slashed at me with his long knife. I dodged and kept running. Suddenly, my leg collapsed. I looked down and saw a long bloody cut on my hip. Painfully, I got up and ran limping toward the river. I saw Blue Horse fall, shot in the back while he wrestled with a soldier. He had only a knife to fight the soldiers’ guns. They hacked at his fallen body with their long-knives. One of them picked up his severed arm and danced around waving it like a warclub. Prairie Dog Woman and her child fell, run down by a mounted soldier who swung his long-knife at them again and again and danced his horse across their bodies. Black Kettle’s flag waved in the morning breeze. I shut my eyes and ran barefoot on the frozen ground. The ice tore at

my cold, tingling feet. The wound throbbed and dripped blood down my leg, but the need to escape was my only priority. I reached the timber along the river, but turned away from the crossing. Some instinct told me it was a death trap. The trampled snow of others fleeing before me made my flight a little easier. I followed the flattened snow along the river. The bearberries tore at my legs, but I pushed on. I tasted the coppery smell of blood in the air. My hip felt like fire, but I gritted my teeth and ignored it. As I leapt over a fallen tree, a strange woman grabbed me and pulled me down. She threw a white buffalo robe over us, and held me to her breast. She smelled of sweetgrass and buffalo grease, and my fears vanished as she hugged me close. “Be very still and quiet.” “Who are you?” I whispered. “Why are we not running?” Before she could answer, a volley of shots rang out very near us in the direction I ran. “Be very still,” she breathed again. I nodded and allowed my body to settle against the fallen tree. The rough, icy bark scratched my back and bare legs. My chest heaved as I tried to catch my breath. Hers hardly moved as she held me close.

saddlebag dispatches 145 I heard heavy footsteps close by. Soldiers! They did not know how to walk like people. They tramped loudly through the brush and snow making enough noise to scare all the game within many bowshots. Their shouts and laughter mingled with shots, followed by more laughter. The celebration continued for a long time while the cries and moans of The People faded. I listened as the soldiers shot the pony herd. The ponies neighed and screamed in terror. The soldiers laughed and continued to shoot. I was glad I could not understand what they said while they slaughtered the survivors. The screams of wounded ponies rang in my ears for many nights. Even under the thick robe, I could smell the greasy smoke of our burning lodges. I reached over the woman’s shoulder and pulled back a corner of the white robe when I heard a bugle in the village. The coppery smell of blood and the stench of smoke and offal stung my nose. The sun was nearly midday. The shouting grew far away now and more subdued. The bugle sounded again. “We must go, now.” The woman cut a piece off her own skirt to bind my thigh. Her gentle soothing touch almost made the pain go away. She rose, throwing the robe across

her shoulders and draping it around me along with her arm. Slowly, we moved toward the river. The snow showed the trampling of many boots and hooves. We came to an open space in the brush. Bodies littered the clearing. All bore the wounds of bullets and knives, and many showed mutilations. Children’s bodies lay scattered and freezing in the snow, while blood froze on their little scalped heads. A woman lay on her back with her dress pushed up to her waist and cut open down the front. I saw a bloody hollow where her breast should be. Her unseeing eyes stared at the overcast sky. I felt sick, but had no time to care for them. Hatred poured from my heart and sent its flaming fingers through my entire being. I would make the soldiers pay for this. I stood tall, and shook the woman’s arm off my shoulders. The time for being a child was passed. I took her hand and led her across the clearing to a ford of the river. We saw many more bodies and blood trails. The waters of the Lodgepole were icy, and I nearly cried out in shock, but I held tightly to the woman’s hand, and we forded the river. My teeth chattered, and my empty belly rumbled as we trudged along. My chest constricted with the thought that

I might not find The People, but I was determined. We plodded our way along the hillsides and down the ravines, moving generally west. I felt certain that any survivors would go this way, and I hoped to find them somewhere ahead of us. The woman stopped, and I turned to see why. “I must go now.” She placed the white buffalo robe around my shoulders. “Tell The People that I am with them still.” Her white doeskin dress and bronze arms began to shimmer and glow. She smiled at me before she turned. Walking away, her image continued to shimmer and fade, then she vanished. Thoughts tumbled and bounced in my mind. People don’t disappear. I felt fear again, and I missed the comfort I felt when she held me under the robe. Only a spirit or a powerful ghost could do what she did. But she was no ghost. Her presence warmed and comforted me. I was alone. I took a staggering step to follow her, then slumped to my knees at the overwhelming loss of my people. I forced the tangle of thoughts from my mind, and concentrated on the need to find The People. The trail would be hard, but I could do it. I found a branch for a staff to lean on, forced myself to my feet, and moved on, but I only walked a few more steps before I saw a small movement in the trees ahead. I hurried as fast as my injury allowed to the spot. When I approached, a familiar figure stepped out. It was my aunt, Matches Woman. Tears ran down her cheeks, and her face twisted with grief. She gave a soft cry of joy when she saw me. I looked around, and saw three hands-count of women and some children. “Is this all that remains of us?” I asked softly. “No, White Fool and the other warriors went back to protect us from the soldiers. It is good you have a warm robe. Many have nothing at all.” I told her of the woman who hid me under the white robe, and how we made our way back to The People. I told her how the woman vanished. “White Buffalo Woman,” she said. “You are blessed. You will do a great thing for The People one day.” She was right. When the warriors returned without my father, they said nothing, but led the way north through the snow. Hunger followed us like a camp dog. We found little game and nothing to keep us going except our anger and fear. Of that, we found plenty. I ate handfuls of snow to keep my empty belly quiet. We found another camp of The People. These people did not make their mark on the white man’s paper, and the soldiers hunted them. They made no permanent camp. They shared what little they had with us, and welcomed us into their lodges. My aunt boiled some sinew and sewed my wound shut. She chewed some woundwort and spat it onto the wound, then wrapped it tight.

saddlebag dispatches 147 We moved every few days, trying to make it hard for the soldiers to find us. Winter lasted a long time, and many more fell to the hunger and cold. I somehow survived with only a slight limp. When I grew old enough, I joined the Dog Soldier Society, and pledged to kill our enemies wherever I found them. No longer did we move south in the summers and hunt buffalo. We kept to the mountains where we found less game, but more safety for The People. Eight summers after the attack on Black Kettle’s village, we met some of our Lakota cousins, and they invited us to stay with them in their great summer village on the Greasy Grass. It was the biggest gathering of The People and their friends I had ever seen. The village spread for more than twenty long bow-shots along the river. I was there, among my friends for two moons. One morning, I lay in the lodge of the Dog Soldier Society. Dawn broke the darkness to the east, and I stared out the smoke-hole at a bright star. I heard the bugles again, and felt fear. I did not fear the soldiers. I feared that I would not get there in time. I sprinted from the lodge and vaulted onto my pony. We rode hard to the sounds of fighting. The screams of the dying ponies in our Lodgepole village rang again in my head and my old wound throbbed. I kicked my pony harder, and put an arrow in my bow. The valley filled quickly with warriors and gun smoke. I saw Yellow Hair standing on a small hill with a few soldiers around him. A wound in his belly leaked blood on his shirt. I screamed at him. “You will die by my hand. Do you hear me? You are mine to kill.” I turned my pony his way. He aimed his short gun at my friend, Black Bear, and fired. I put my arrow through his heart. He fell and moved no more. I refused to take his scalp. The hair of a childkiller held no power. I looked around, but found no more soldiers to fight. There was a small circle of dead soldiers on the hill and more bodies down below. Our women knew what happened to us at The Lodgepole. They took their revenge that day. They stripped the soldiers naked, and hacked at the bodies with knives and hatchets. No one tried to stop them. As I rode back to the village through the hundreds of celebrating warriors, I glimpsed a lone figure of a woman on a hill above the village. Her face and arms seemed to glow in the morning sun—she smiled at me, then vanished.


dennis doty


ennis Doty, a Southern California native, has been writing fiction since 2004. His stories spring from a vivid imagination, but many have a basis in his many life experiences, including growing up in a small town, the decade he served in the Marine Corps, and stories from two years riding on the old Southwest RCA rodeo circuit. Dennis presently lives in Appalachia, with his wife and their two dogs, where he divides his time between writing, swapping lies with the other old timers and yelling at kids to get off his lawn. White Buffalo Woman is his first story to appear in Saddlebag Dispatches. Dennis blogs on a regular basis on a multitude of subjects, not the least of which is quality in editing. You can learn more about Dennis and his writing at: or


udie Murphy is best remembered for his heroic feats which made him the most decorated American combat solder of WWII, rather than a western movie star. However, throughout his acting career, from 1948 to 1969, Murphy made more than forty feature films and a television series, starring in mostly westerns, for which he was proud of doing. Audie Leon Murphy was born the seventh of twelve children of a poor family of sharecroppers in Hunt County, Texas, on June 20, 1925. His father, Emmett Murphy, abandoned the family, and his mother, Josie Killian, died in 1941, when Audie was just a teenager. As a child, Audie was a loner, who had mood swings and an explosive temper. His family moved around a lot, living in Farmersville, Greenville, and Celeste, Texas where he attended elementary school. Murphy dropped out of

school in the fifth grade and began working for a dollar a day picking cotton to help support the family. After his mom died, Audie worked at a radio repair shop and a general store in Greenville. When World War II began in 1941, Audie quickly tried to enlist, but the Army, Navy and Marine Corps all rejected him for being underweight and underage, as he was only sixteen. After his sister provided an affidavit, which falsified his birth date by a year, the U. S. Army accepted him on June 30, 1942. The rest of his military career is now a part of our history, as he won our nation’s highest honor; the Medal of Honor. To add to his list of honors Audie also was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars, the Legion of Merit and three Purple Hearts, to name a few of his achievements. In all, he became our country’s most decorated soldier of World War II.


150 saddlebag dispatches When the war ended in 1945, Audie discharged as a First Lieutenant. He went on to serve in the Texas Army National Guard from 1950 to 1966 and U. S. Army Reserves from 1966 to 1969. Audie’s attention to Hollywood came by way of actor James Cagney, who was impressed with his heroism after reading about his poor upbringing and career as a soldier in a Life magazine article. Murphy was never cast in a movie and soon personal disagreements ended their association in 1947. Murphy worked briefly with an acting coach and soon moved into Terry Hunt’s Athletic Club in Hollywood until 1948. Audie finally landed a couple of bit parts; first in Beyond Glory, staring Alan Ladd and Donna Reed and in Texas, Brooklyn and Heaven, for which he received $500. However, in 1949, the film Bad Boy, gave him his first leading role. Audie never looked back. Universal Studios signed Audie to a seven-year studio contract at $2,500 a week. His initial film for them was The Kid from Texas, in 1950, playing the role of Billy the Kid. This was Audie’s first western role. He did his own horse riding due to his double getting injured. Subsequently, Audie did most of his stunt work, even in dangerous situations, which he felt he’d already experienced during his service for his country. In his next flick, another western, called Sierra, Audie almost died. Shoot in Kanab, Utah, Audie and co-star Wanda Hendrix, now his wife, were caught in a flash flood which came

through a narrow draw known as “Kanab Creek.” Audie, so the story goes, leaped on his horse, grabbed his wife and rode up the canyon-side to safety. Two lesser known actors were also cast in this film that eventually became well-known actors; Tony Curtis and James Arness. Next came Kansas Raiders, where Audie portrayed Missouri born outlaw Jesse James. While researching his role, he was amazed just how similar he was to the notorious bandit in “height and weight and even wore a size nine shoe and seven hat.” Kansas Raiders was a personal favorite of mine, which I saw in the 1960s, probably as an Audie Murphy western double feature. It’s was released in Technicolor and features many other great actors like; Brian Donlevy, Scott Brady, James Best, Richard Long, Richard Arlen and Tony Curtis. This feature had it all; Quantrill Raiders, Jesse and Frank James and even the Daltons, historically inaccurate, but entertaining. I n A u d i e ’s next movie, The Red Badge of Courage, directed by John Huston and adopted from Stephen Crane’s novel, he received rave reviews for his performance as (Henry Fleming) the shy youth who tried to hide his fears during the Civil War. By 1951, Murphy starred in another saddle buster playing a real-life outlaw, Bill Doolin. His eighth movie was named: The Cimarron Kid. It had it all, the Doolin gang, Cimarron Rose and Bob Dalton. Up and coming actors James Best (known for his portrayal of Roscoe P. Coltrane in The Dukes of Hazzard television series from 1979-85) and

saddlebag dispatches 151 Tony Curtis were co-stars, each having more extensive screen time with dialogue. Audie’s fifth western rounded out 1951. The following year he made two more, both received mild responses by audiences but critics gave Audie favorable reviews in both pictures. He followed up with three more westerns in 1953. In Drums Across the River, Hugh O’Brian co-starred and would be more recognizable later when he starred in the western TV series “Wyatt Earp.” Also featured were Jay Silverheels (“Tonto” on the Lone Ranger Series) and Howard McNear, who became known to millions as “Floyd the Barber” on The Andy Griffith Show. In 1954, Audie starred in a remake of Destry, costarring Lori Nelson (Horror movie Scream Queen of the 1950s) and old-time character actor Thomas Mitchell. This was Murphy’s first “comedy,” while remaining in his familiar action packed-western genre. He followed up with one of his best and most well-known cinematic pictures. To Hell and Back, although not a western, is always recognized when referring to Audie’s movie career. This powerful portray of Murphy’s life from age 12 to 20, when he became the most decorated soldier for our country in World War II, is one of his best films. Released in 1955, audiences packed theatres to revisit Audie’s remarkable humble beginnings as well as his exploits as an infantry solder in battlefields in Europe. It was a unique film in that the hero is played by the real-life person. Audie also served as chief technical advisor. His original autobiography with the same title was written in 1949. The next year Audie played a totally different role, as a boxer. Although an obscured film and now virtually forgotten, Audie showed his diversity to play roles he wasn’t familiar in. He trained with professional boxers to learn the skills of the sport. Audie was soon playing in another cowboy role. In Walk the Proud Land, Murphy’s salary rose dramatically from $10,000 for

152 saddlebag dispatches his first western in 1949 to $50,000. This film had a budget of over a million dollars. Audie portrayed a Native American agent for the Apache Nation in 1874, who ended up capturing

Geronimo. He even became friends to the Earp brothers. He rounded out 1956 with one more western. At the height of his motion picture career, Audie made a transition from hero to villain. In Night Passage, he co-stars with veteran screen heavyweight James Stewart, playing Stewart’s villainous brother. Murphy explain the change, “I hate to use a cliché, but variety is the spice of life. I’ve been in a rut too much sweetness and light. In Night Passage, I’m a bad boy and I love it.” This film was hailed as one of Murphy’s best roles, I agree. It was advertised as the first film to employ a striking new wide-screen color process, Technirama. This process made for a clearer, sharper and more natural color that had ever been seen previously. Next came The Quiet American, a nonwestern, which exploited Audie smoking his first cigarette. Filmed in Saigon, it was released in 1958. During production, the cast had to endure temperatures over 100 degrees and stayed in a hotel that didn’t include air-conditioning.

Rounding out the end of the 1950s, our hero completed four more western attire flicks and one nonwestern film. In The Gun Runners, Murphy and other actors did their own fight scenes. Audie seemed out of place in the role of a charter boat captain that gets involved with characters who smuggle guns into Cuba. During this time Audie made appearances in celebrity television shows and even starred in a series Whispering Smith, which premier on NBC on May 8, 1961. A total of 26 episodes were filmed, but only 20 were aired before the series was cancelled. Audie played the lead character ‘Whispering Smith,’ a detective on the Denver Police Department during the 1870s. The decade of the 1960s started out with a bang for Audie. He co-starred with actors Burt Lancaster and Audrey Hepburn in John Huston’s The Unforgiven, released in 1960. Audie always stated that Huston was his favorite movie director. He said of Huston, “I look upon John as one of my few, close, personal friends. With that extraordinary vitality that is only his, he charges me with ambition to give an imaginative, first-rate histrionic performance….” More productions in which Audie wore cowboy boots followed until he made another war picture, which he seemed very comfortable in doing. However, these were becoming less and less. Audie stated that he wished to make at least one western a year in 1962. In several of his leading roles he was required to do romantic scenes. He described himself an “abject coward.” He was basically shy and was uncomfortable in having to do this. He sometimes got the shakes in love scenes, which only required him to kiss his female co-star. This seems mild in today’s standards considering what most actors have to do in front of the camera. True to his word Murphy completed just one western in 1962. But with three parts coming up in 1963, two were again of the western genre. By the following year Audie was beginning

saddlebag dispatches 153 to show his age, and the once leading man, who seem to play roles of much younger men, couldn’t pull it off anymore. The end of the sixties saw a slow decline in the production of western films. Audie continued to pump out movies, three in 1964, one in 1965, and two the following year, all requiring him to adorn western apparel. His last western, 40 Guns to Apache Pass, received positive reviews for his role as an Army Captain, who at the end saves the day in spite of being serious wounded. In 1969, Audie starred in an American made film, which was only released for screening in Europe. Ironically it was called, A Time for Dying. Here he portrays an aging Jesse James who describes his experiences as a gunfighter. Not only was this Audie’s last movie but the only one he solely produced. In all, his films earned him close to 3 million dollars during his 23 years as an actor. In his later years, Murphy bred quarter horses in California and on his ranch in Pima County, Arizona. His horses raced at the Del Mar Racetrack as he invested large sums of money in the hobby. He soon developed a gambling habit that left his finances in a poor state. He especially liked to play poker, and in his role as a prodigious gambler, he won and lost fortunes. In 1968, he exclaimed that he had lost $260,000 in a bad oversea oil deal with the IRS over unpaid taxes. Nonetheless, he refused to do commercials for alcohol and cigarettes, feeling it would have a bad influence on the youth of the day. On May 28, 1 9 7 1 , M u r p hy along with a pilot and four other passengers, were killed in a plane crash, at Brush Mountain, near Catawba, Virginia. Low visibility due to fog and rain seemed to be the cause for the catastrophe. Audie was laid to rest at Arlington Na-

tional Cemetery with full military honors. Today his grave is the second most visited gravesite, after that of President John F. Kennedy. After his death, Audie’s second wife, Pamela Archer Murphy, whom he had two sons with, became a clerk for the Veterans Administration Hospital in Los Angles, where she remained employed for thirty-five years. In 1975, a court awarded her and her two children $2.5 million in damages because of the plane accident that took Audie’s life at the age of forty-five. Audie Murphy will always be remembered for his heroism during World War II. But to me and many other little buckaroos of the 1950s and 1960s, he will always be that western star who gave countless kids and adults many memorable moments in darken theaters’ all over the country. Long live his memory! — Michael Koch has penned two nonfictional books. He’s a member of The Tulsa NightWriters, Ozark Writers League, Ozark Creative Writers, and the Oklahoma Writers’ Federation, Inc. His short stories have been published in Echoes of the Ozarks, Mysteries of the Ozarks, Frontier Tales, Wicked East Press, and the Southeast Missouri State University Press. Mike has also written several short stories for anthologies in Full Moon Books and Static Movement. His latest short story was published in a Tulsa NightWriters anthology called A River of Stories. He lives in Coweta, Oklahoma.


aratroopers shout, “Geronimo” when they jump out of airplanes. The Apache warrior’s image is on posters and T-shirts. His face was portrayed on a 29¢ postage stamp. A WWII Liberty ship was named after him. Three towns are named for him in Oklahoma, Arizona, and Texas. He’s been portrayed in novels and western movies. SEAL Team Six unofficially called their mission to kill Osama Bin Laden “Code Name Geronimo.” Everyone has heard of the old Apache warrior, but I never thought about who he really was was until I met someone who claimed she knew him. “I suppose Geronimo did some bad things,” she said, “but he seemed like a pretty nice man when I met him.” The lady was a patient of mine back when I first started practicing dentistry. I didn’t know what to think at first. Patients tended to get talkative about the time I was ready to get down to business. I was pretty good at cutting that sort of thing short, but this was one of those times I was going to listen. It was in the mid-nineteen-eighties. I couldn’t tell you exactly what year. I can’t remember much about the patient either, only that she was nervous, talkative, and in her mideighties, just like the century. I’ve forgotten her name, but I remember exactly how she began her story. The old warrior had died a long time ago. I didn’t know exactly when, but this lady looked like she might be old enough to remember him from when she was a little girl. “He rode across our property almost every day,” she said. Her parents had a farm next door to Fort Sill, where Geronimo was a prisoner of war from 1894 until he died in 1909. The soldiers kept close watch when they first brought him there, but after he got to be an old man they pretty much let him come and go as he pleased.

“Long as he was back on the base before nightfall,” she said. That’s why he took a shortcut across her parents’ property. Most days he would ride straight through but if he had time, he’d stop and talk to her. Geronimo told her stories about the old days when the Apaches were the most feared Indians in the United States. Sometimes he gave her presents, arrowheads, a photograph of him with his name scrawled across it. Once he pulled a button off of his shirt and pressed it in the palm of her hand. “Did you know,” she asked me, “Geronimo wasn’t the name he started out with?” He told her his original name. She forgot how to say it long ago, but she remembered what it meant. “The One Who Yawns.” She thought that was a funny name for an Apache warrior. But then Geronimo had never sounded much like an Indian name either. I made up my mind to find out more about the old Apache who spent the last 23 years of his life as a prisoner of war. It took me almost three decades to get around to it. How He Told His Story Indians had no written language when Geronimo was in his prime. They kept their past alive by telling stories around campfires. Their history just naturally got more interesting over time. Enemies became more evil. Heroes grew stronger. Spirits showed up in battles. They chose sides and joined the action. Supernatural characters appeared in so many stories

GERONIMO Although Geronimo is often referred to as a chief, he had no hereditary claim to the title. He was often photographed in war bonnets of various styles.

saddlebag dispatches 155

156 saddlebag dispatches

APACHE ARMY SCOUTS Apache scouts worked closely with the U.S. Army during the Indian Wars, but they were also declared to be prisoners of war. they added a feeling of continuity. This oral history style was so deeply ingrained in warriors of Geronimo’s era that he started with the Apache creation story when he dictated his autobiography. “In the beginning the world was covered with darkness.” Stephen Melvin Barrett, the man who recorded the old chief ’s words, probably thought his project was going to take a very long time. Geronimo gave the army a lot of trouble over the years. He raided settlements, attacked U.S. and Mexican soldiers, and made a career of disappearing in the desert with the North American army in pursuit. When he finally surrendered the last time to General Nelson Miles at Skeleton Canyon, he was not only wanted by the army but by civilian authorities in Arizona for murder and cattle rustling. It’s not hard to understand why he wasn’t popular among the soldiers at Fort Sill. When S.M. Barrett asked permission to write Geronimo’s story the officer in charge refused. Lt. George Purington said “ . . . the old Apache deserved to be hanged rather than spoiled by so much attention from civilians.” No one wanted to go over Purington’s head, and it looked like Barrett would either have to go rogue or miss the opportunity of a lifetime. Eventually he wrote a letter to the one person in the chain of command who wasn’t afraid of offending a lieutenant at Ft. Sill, President Teddy Roosevelt. The old Apache warrior already had a relationship of sorts with the president. He had ridden along with several other famous Indian Chiefs in Roosevelt’s inauguration parade. He

even met with the president one on one and asked him to free the Chiricahua Apaches from the military reservation where they’d been held since the end of the Indian wars. President Roosevelt didn’t grant that request, but he did let S.M. Barrett write the old warrior’s autobiography. The End of Happiness Geronimo is often referred to as a chief, but he had no hereditary claim to the title. His father, Taklishim (The Grey One), had been in the line of succession among the Nedni band of Chiricahua but brushed that possibility aside when he married a Bedonkohe maiden and went to live with her people. Goyakla (The One Who Yawns) was the name Geronimo’s parents gave him. He was the fourth son in a family of four sons and four daughters. Every Native American tribe placed mystical significance in the number of seasons and principal directions. The Chiricahua suspected fate might have something special in store for this boy. It didn’t take long for that to happen. Taklishim took sick and died when Goyakla was still a teenager, but the young man stepped up and became the head of his mother’s home and her protector. By the time he was seventeen, he’d become a full-fledged member of the council of warriors, a man of proven bravery in his tribe. That same year, he fell in love with the beautiful Alope, a Nedni-Chiricahua girl. He moved with his mother to live with her band and paid her father a substantial number of ponies for the right to marry her. Alope would be the first of nine women he would marry during his lifetime (some monogamous and some polygamous unions). The couple was blessed with three children right away, and Goyakla was happier at that time than he would ever be again in his life. Unfortunately, that happiness was short lived. In the spring of 1851, the band went on a trading mission to the town of Janos in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. They

saddlebag dispatches 157 made a camp in the mountains outside of town and left their women and children with a few warriors for protection while the men went into town. While the Apache warriors were striking bargains for metal implements and currency, a company of Sonoran soldiers raided the camp. They confiscated everything of value and slaughtered the badly outnumbered warriors as well as many women and children. Alope, and Goyakla’s three small children were among the dead. The young widower’s grief fueled a life long hatred for all Mexicans. After the Janos massacre, he conducted raid after raid on Mexican settlements that had nothing to do with the murder of his family. Most of Goyakla’s forays into Mexico were disastrous losses for the Apache, but he could always find a few warriors willing to fight. He often led as few as three men on foot to attack small settlements with bows and arrows. “I have killed many Mexicans,” he told S.M. Barrett. “I do not know how many, for frequently I did not count them. Some of them were not worth counting.” His reputation grew, and eventually, he was able to recruit enough followers to mount an attack on Mexican troops protecting Janos. In this battle he repeatedly ignored a hail of bullets and attacked his enemies with a knife. It was during this battle that he earned the name that would stick with him for the rest of his life. Mexican soldiers called him Geronimo, or at least something that sounded like Geronimo. It could have been a mispronunciation of Goyakla, or they could have been calling on St. Jeronimo (St. Jerome, the patron saint of soldiers) for help. After this battle, the Apache gave Geronimo the title of war chief. If a single band of Apache went on the warpath, their hereditary chief would lead them. If two or more bands fought together, they would follow a war chief. White Man’s Treachery There were few white settlers and soldiers in Apache territory when Geronimo was young and because the Americans had just defeated the Apache’s historical enemy, the Mexicans, the tribe believed their relationship was good. The Apache were a collection of independent bands with no central organization. Treaties with one group did not commit any other band. The U.S. government never recognized this fact. Likewise, the tribe had no understanding of central government. They didn’t understand that raids on one settlement would affect their relationship with any other. In 1861 an unidentified Apache band raided the ranch

158 saddlebag dispatches into a tent, surrounded them with soldiers, and threatened to hold him and his family captive until the rancher’s property and adopted son were returned. Cochise cut through the tent and escaped but his family and five warriors were taken hostage. Over the next few days Cochise captured two Butterfield Overland Mail Company employees. He attacked a wagon train, killed eight teamsters and captured another three. Bascom responded by hanging Cochise’s brother and his warrior captives. After that, the Apache united to drive white settlers out of their territory. They weren’t able to accomplish their goal, but the white population substantially decreased for several years, especially while federal troops were reassigned to AGED WARRIORS fight in the civil war. The Bascom Affair wasn’t the Geronimo and four warrior friends, prisoners of war at Fort Sill beginning in 1894. They were first held in Ft. Pickens, Florida and in Mt. Vernon Barracks, Alabama. last bit of treachery the American From left—Geronimo, Nanne, Ozone, Chihuahua, and Loco. army used against the Apache. In his autobiography, Geronimo APACHE CHIEFTANS called the murder of Mangas Coloradas (Red Sleeves), “Perhaps Three hereditary chieftains held at Ft. Sill, Naiche (son of Cochise), Asa (son of the greatest wrong ever done to Whoa), and Charley (son of Victorio). the Indians . . .” Mangas was chief of the Bedonkohe, and a good friend of Geronimo. In 1863 he agreed to meet with General Joseph Rodman West at Ft. McLane in SW New Mexico Territory under a flag of truce. When Mangas arrived at Ft. McLane, soldiers immediately arrested him. They bound him, threw him into the guardhouse, and tortured him with hot bayonets. General West gave this execution order to the old chief ’s sentries: “Men, that old murderer has got away from every soldier command and An inexperienced Lieutenant (George Bascom) thought has left a trail of blood for 500 miles on the old stage line. Cochise must be guilty, and chose to use deception to settle the I want him dead tomorrow morning. Do you understand? matter. He invited the chief, his wife, his sons, his brother, and a I want him dead.” few other warriors to meet with him at camp Bowie. The chief According to the official report, Mangas Coloradas was shot denied responsibility for the raid and agreed to the meeting to while trying to escape. The soldiers were fascinated by the size of show that he was innocent. The Lieutenant escorted the Cochise of Arizona settler, John Ward, and made off with his livestock and his adopted son. Ward blamed Cochise and his Chiracahua band, probably because they were the most famous Apaches in the region. He demanded the army take action.

saddlebag dispatches 159 the old Apache. He was six feet, six inches tall. They cut off his head, boiled and stripped the meat from his skull and sent it for evaluation by a phrenologist in New York. When Mangas Coloradas didn’t return, his tribe held a council and elected Geronimo Tribal Chief. They didn’t know the details of the old man’s murder and mutilation until later, but the war with the Apache went on for another twenty-five years. Three Surrenders The Apache knew nothing about the U.S. Civil War, but they were doomed as soon as it ended. The military had plenty of trained, battle-hardened soldiers and quickly turned its attention to the Indian wars. Even before the Civil War ended, U.S. and Mexican troops kept Geronimo’s band on the run. He was skilled at dodging back and forth across the border, raiding settlements in both countries. He took refuge when he could with other Apache bands who had already made treaties with the American Government, but his peaceful periods became shorter with each passing year. The tribe admired the rogue war chief, but his followers were always on the run and usually on the ragged edge of starvation. Geronimo began to see the advantage of making peace with the U.S. government, especially after the army sent the one armed civil war general, Oliver Otis Howard to the southwest. General Howard quickly became respected among the tribes as a man who could be trusted. Geronimo traveled to Ft. Bowie to see for himself. “We never had a friend among the United States officers as General Howard,” he told his biographer. “If there is any pure, honest white man in the United States Army, that man is General Howard.” After a short discussion and an exchange of promises,

the war chief agreed to go to the reservation at Apache Pass. This was his first of three times he would surrender to the U.S. Army. According to Geronimo he never had a clear understanding of the terms.

There were a number of Apache bands living in Apache Pass. Some of them were orderly, and some of them were not. There was a lot of drinking, a number of fights, and even a few murders on the reservation. Geronimo held out no hope for the bands to live together in peace. “Therefore we separated, each leader taking his own band.

160 saddlebag dispatches Some of them went to San Carlos and some to Old Mexico, but I took my tribe back to Hot Springs (in New Mexico Territory) and joined Victorio’s band (warm springs band).” It did not occur to Geronimo that he was not permitted to leave Apache Pass. “I do not think that I ever belonged to those soldiers at Apache Pass, or that I should have asked them where I might go.” The army arrested him and put him in the guardhouse for four months and then transferred him and his band to the San Carlos Reservation (Arizona Territory). The Apache war chief stayed there for two years, until rumors started circulating that

AN AMERICAN ICON Geronimo (left) and his interpreter for the purposes of his autobiography, Asa Dekluge (right), hereditary chief of the Nedni Apache. the military was planning to imprison the tribe’s leaders. When Geronimo was summoned to hold a council with military officers, he remembered what happened to Cochise and Mangas Colloradas and decided to leave the reservation instead. This time he had 250 followers. They conducted raids on white settlements, fought multiple battles with U.S. troops and escaped into Old Mexico. The Mexican government wanted no part of the rogue Apache band. They put their differences with the North Americans aside and allowed U.S. military to cross the border to pursue Geronimo. The band had no place they could hide in Sonora and

Chihuahua. They couldn’t regroup and replenish their store of weapons and ponies by raiding Mexican settlements. They ran dangerously low on food and water. Finally, Geronimo met with General George R. Crook (called Grey Wolf by the Apache) under a flag of truce and agreed to return to San Carlos. This was the second time he surrendered to the U.S. Army, and this time there was no misunderstanding about the conditions. The night before they were to leave, a soldier sold Geronimo some whiskey. Rumors had spread among the Indians and even among the U.S. soldiers that the war chief would be

executed after they crossed the U.S. border. If General Crook planned to murder his Apache captives, he could have done it within the first few minutes of their meeting, but Geronimo decided not to take a chance. He and twenty-five Apache followers broke away from their escort and disappeared into the Mexican countryside. His escape disgraced the General and cost him his command. Crook died a short time later. “I think General Crook’s death was sent by the Almighty as a punishment,” Geronimo told his biographer, “for all the many evil deeds he committed.” While he remained on the run, Geronimo’s tiny band terrorized settlements in Old Mexico. “ . . . we attacked every Mexican found, even if for no other reason than to kill. We believed they had asked the United States troops to come down to Mexico to fight us.” Whether they were invited by the Mexicans or not, U.S.

saddlebag dispatches 161 troops, now under the command of General Nelson Miles stayed on the Apaches’ trail. They attacked Geronimo’s band at every opportunity until he finally made a treaty with the Mexicans that would allow his band to pass peacefully to the Arizona border and surrender to the North Americans. Geronimo met with Nelson Miles on September 4, 1886 at Skeleton Canyon and surrendered for the third and final time. “So General Miles told me how we could be brothers to each other,” the old war chief dictated to his biographer. General Miles promised Geronimo land and livestock and a lifetime free from persecution. Furthermore he

promised the war chief freedom. “While I live you will not be arrested.” They placed a large stone on a blanket and made their treaty on it. They swore their promises to each other would last until the stone turned to dust. The next day, Geronimo was taken into custody as a prisoner of war and escorted to Ft. Bowie where he would be put on a train and transported to Ft. Sam Houston, Texas. One of his daughters in law (unnamed in his autobiography) gave birth to a grandchild during the night. That baby too was treated as a prisoner of war. The Chiricahua who were eventually transferred to Ft. Sill would be held as generational prisoners of war until 1914, for 27 years. Geronimo would never be free again. Prisoner of War The army rushed the rogue Apaches out of Arizona as quickly as possible to prevent civil authorities from arresting them for murder and robbery.

“When I had given up to the government they put me on the Southern Pacific Railroad and took me to San Antonio, Texas, and held me to be tried by their laws.” Geronimo never expected justice from the army. He made little effort to defend himself, although he did complain to authorities often about violations of his treaty with Nelson Miles. Since nothing was written at the time and translations went through three languages (English to Spanish to Apache) in both directions it is impossible to say what the parties agreed to. According to General Miles, the surrender was unconditional with the exception that the Apache captives wouldn’t be killed.

CURIOSITIES Geronimo (center) and other Apaches at the 1904 St. Louis Worlds Fair. The exposition featured a look at many cultures around the world. Geronimo remained at the exposition for six months.

After Ft. Sam Houston, “ . . . they took me from there to Ft. Pickens (Pensacola), Florida. Here they put me to sawing up large logs.” His family was sent to Ft. Marion (St. Augustine), Florida and he did not see them again until spring of 1888, almost two years after the Skeleton Canyon treaty. The Chiricahua were moved from Ft. Pickens to Mt. Vernon Barracks in Vermont, Alabama where they were held until they were shipped to Ft. Sill (Lawton) in Oklahoma Territory in 1894. Newspaper and fictional accounts of the Apache wars

162 saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches 163 had made Geronimo famous by the time he was sent to Ft. Sill. Tourists met him at train stations. He would let them touch him for a price. Sometimes he’d sell them a hat he took off of his head, or a button he cut off of his shirt (as my patient described). He would buy and sew on additional buttons along the way so he would have more to sell. He never really understood his celebrity, but he made every effort to profit from it. Fort Sill No one really expected a warrior society of Chiricahua to settle easily into a peaceful life on a military Indian reservation, especially after they’d been imprisoned in Florida and Alabama for almost eight years. The Chiricahua were people of the southern plains and high desert. They did not fair well in the humidity of the gulf states. “We were not healthy in this place,” Geronimo told his biographer, “for the climate disagreed with us. So many of our people died that I consented to let one of my wives go to the Mescalero Agency in New Mexico to live.” Depression and violence were rampant during the pre-Fort Sill imprisonments. “During this time one of my warriors, Fun, killed himself and his wife. Another shot his wife and then shot himself. He fell dead but the woman recovered and is still living.” There were problems on the Fort Sill reservation but the lives of Geronimo’s band improved tremendously. He described what he considered a typical petty officious act by a military bureaucrat. “One day an Indian, while drunk, stabbed Mr. Wratton [superintendent of Indians on the base] with a little knife. The officer in charge took the part of Mr. Wratton and the Indian was sent to prison.” Geronimo was one of the many Fort Sill Apaches who raised livestock and crops for food and for sale. There were no disagreements with the military about food production, but sales were more complicated. “In the matter of selling our stock and grain there has been much misunderstanding,” Geronimo complained. The Apache weren’t allowed to sell their stock directly. It was sold for them by the military.

“Part of the money is given to the Indians,” Geronimo told S.M. Barrett. “and part of it is placed in what the officers call the ‘Apache Fund.’” The old war chief complained but the “Apache Fund” continued regardless of who was in charge. Capitalism was one European concept the Apache grasped immediately. The old chief talked about a trading trip to Mexico where his tribe was given money for the first time. They had no idea what it was and thought they might have been cheated until they went on another trading venture in Navajo territory and found out just how valuable currency could be. After that they couldn’t get enough of it. Geronimo became quite the entrepreneur. He made a number of trips off-base with guards accompanying him to be sure he didn’t escape and wasn’t harmed, and earned quite a lot of money selling bows and arrows and photographs. He attended many fairs and exhibitions, including the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. By this time the old chief was in his mid-seventies. He had converted to Christianity (The Dutch Reformed Church) and was making an effort to understand the white culture, but he never lost his hatred for the Mexicans. Near the end of his life, Geronimo was free to leave the military reservation on horseback— just as my elderly patient described—as long as he was back by nightfall. On a cold day in February, 1909, he was thrown from his horse on the way home. He lay in the cold all night before a friend found him the next morning. He died of pneumonia on February 17. His last words, according to his nephew were: “I should have never surrendered. I should have fought until I was the last man alive.” —John T. Biggs is a critically-acclaimed writer with five novels and over sixty published short stories to his credit. When not traveling the globe with his wife, he makes his home in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.


he epic Red River War confrontation proved to be the perhaps as many as twenty battles during the Red River single most important campaign in the United States campaign. Well mounted, well armed, well supplied, and winning the American West. Following a prelude of well taught from their many past fights with the Plains years, even decades, it took place over many months from Indians, the army rumbled in on them from all sides, the summer of 1874 through April of 1875, across tens fighting as they came, careful to leave no path of escape. of thousands of square miles in five states and territories The bluecoats ground down their foe, killing or taking the including present-day Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Natives’ horses, capturing the tribes’ women and children, and New Mexico, and with and hauling them to the thousands of combatants. reservations. “The notion that the trouble with Plains Indians was When it concluded, no The pursuing force entirely due to white men was spectacularly wrongheaded. doubt remained as to included the Fort Sill, The people who cherished it, many of whom were in the U.S. which civilization ruled by Indian Territory-based its might of armed power 10th Cavalry and the Congress, the (corrupt) Office of Indian Affairs, and other the Southern Plains and Texas-based 9th Cavalry positions of power, had no historical understanding of the most of the Southwest. African-American Comanche tribe, no idea that the tribe’s very existence was William Tecumseh troopers known as Sherman, Philip “Buffalo Soldiers.” Lipan based on war and had been for a long time. No one who knew Sheridan, and campaign Apaches apparently anything about the century-long horror of Comanche attacks commander Nelson A. coined this sobriquet in northern Mexico or about their systematic demolition of Miles—all renowned when they compared for their triumphal Civil the appearance of the the Apaches or the Utes or the Tonkawas could possibly have War exploits—and the enemy black troopers’ believed that the tribe was either peaceable or blameless.” War Department crafted curly, dust-coated beards a masterful strategy to and hair to the coats of —S. C. Gwynne, Empire of the Summer Moon clean out the Quahadi Great Plains buffalo. Comanches, Southern Cheyennes, and any other Natives who The newly reconstituted Texas Rangers thundered remained armed and in the field. Five columns of infantry, back into action as well. They ranged between army cavalry, and artillery, totaling three thousand men, converged columns, fighting Indians, preventing their escape, and on western Indian Territory (in present-day Oklahoma) providing reconnaissance. and the Texas Panhandle. They rode out from forts in four different states and territories: Fort Dodge, Kansas; Camp MacKenzie and Palo Duro Supply and Fort Sill, Indian Territory; Fort Concho, Texas; The climactic shootout took place in late September of 1874 and Fort Bascom, New Mexico. in Palo Duro Canyon, near present-day Amarillo in the Texas The army and the Natives fought at least fourteen and Panhandle. There, U.S. soldiers and their Texan and Tonkawa

saddlebag dispatches 165 scouts cornered the largest remaining vanguard of defiant Comanches, Southern Cheyennes, and Kiowas, who had stockpiled massive food and supplies to bivouac for the winter. Colonel Ranald S. MacKenzie, a renowned, six-timeswounded Federal cavalry chieftain in the War Between the States and battle-hardened Southern Plains campaigner, commanded this key American column, which had pursued many of the Indians from the south. “Three Fingers Jack” MacKenzie did not arrive at Palo Duro unprepared or by chance. For years, he had intrepidly studied, pursued, and engaged the Comanches where no other American commander had—across the vast and terrifying expanses of the Llano Estacado high plains of northwest Texas, the deepest sanctuary of Comancheria. He had learned their tactics, their routes and cycles of travel, their preferred redoubts, even their watering holes. He had winnowed down their manpower during a host of skirmishes and battles, including his stunning 1872 ambush of them at the Battle of the North Fork (of Red River) near present-day Lefors, Texas. That audacious feat included the capture of one and possible two of Quanah Parker’s wives and the virtual destruction of the Comanches’ Kotsoteka band. One statistical comparison illustrates the impact that MacKenzie and his horse soldiers made in opening the American southwest to secure white settlement. The number of Comanches they killed in the Battle of the North Fork alone would have been equal, on a proportionate basis between the American and the tiny Comanche population, to the United States losing onethird of all its citizens who died in the four years of the War Between the States in one battle. To draw upon the words of Comanche chronicler S. C. Gwynne, MacKenzie had largely brought about the tribe’s reckoning at Palo Duro “by daring to go where white men had not gone, by using his Indian scouts well, and then by attacking in force the moment he had intelligence of the camp. He had attacked with fury.” Gwynne also cited the restraint, especially for such a brutal war, of MacKenzie and his disciplined troopers in their humane treatment of enemy women, children, and elderly men. Final Showdown MacKenzie’s organization and savvy paid historic dividends during the climactic 1874-75 campaign when his cavalrymen caught a Mexican Comanchero headed to

RANALD SLIDELL MACKENZIE America’s greatest Indian fighter, Mackenzie fought in the Red River War, routing a combined Indian force at the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon.

166 saddlebag dispatches

THE BATTLE OF PALO DURO Palo Duro, the second largest canyon in America, near Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle. Here, in September of 1874, Colonel Ranald McKenzie and U. S. cavalry under his command routed a much larger Native force in the climactic battle of the Red River War.

meet, probably on gun running business, with the Indians that MacKenzie was pursuing. MacKenzie forced the outlaw to reveal the location of the Native resistance—the Palo Duro, second largest canyon in North America. MacKenzie not only arrived at the Indian redoubt undetected after a grueling twelve-hour night ride in which he eluded Comanche scouts, he got nearly all of his six hundredstrong force, leading their horses down a single narrow buffalo trail, to the canyon floor before Comanche chief Red Warbonnet spotted them. The chief sounded the alarm, but it was too late, and an army sharpshooter killed him. MacKenzie and his troopers stormed through the miles-long camp of teepees in an electrifying charge that routed their foe, after the Indian warriors made a determined stand to shield the escape of their women and children.

After a several miles-long running fight, the Natives scrambled up the canyon walls, then spread out and surrounded the troopers from above. Eight hundred to a thousand feet high on the canyon rim, they unleashed a barrage of rifle fire down on the bluecoats. “How will we ever get out of here?” one rattled trooper cried out. “I brought you in,” MacKenzie curtly replied as bullets whistled past. “I will take you out.” He then led his men straight for the Indians in an awe-inspiring rush back up the canyon walls and drove them into open country, now on foot. The soldiers destroyed fourteen hundred Indian ponies, took scores of non-combatants back to Native reservations in Indian Territory, and set about, with the other American columns that included the 10th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers, to track down the scattered warrior survivors. “The black

saddlebag dispatches 167

smoke marked the end of Quanah’s (Parker) hopes, as the retreating Indians saw it rise from far out on the prairie,” wrote historian T. R. Fehrenbach. Relentlessly pursued by MacKenzie, Quanah led the last of them, his dauntless Quahadis, into Fort Sill the next June to surrender. MacKenzie’s Further Exploits Sheridan ordered dozens of tribal leaders shackled in irons and transported by rail to prison in faraway Florida. There they remained for three years, at which time Army Captain Richard Henry Pratt invited some of them north to the Indian school at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Unexpected blessings flowered through this marathon of suffering and tragedy. Pratt’s humane, biblically sourced ethos led many

of the former war captains to forgive their white enemies, embrace the whites’ (and blacks’) Christian faith, and return to Indian Territory to influence their people toward the same path. Some of the exiles even shouldered leadership roles in the church as pastors and missionaries to their own people, including the Cheyenne warrior Making Medicine, who became an esteemed Episcopal priest known as David Pendleton Oakerhater. Not surprisingly, Sheridan appointed MacKenzie commander of Fort Sill (adjacent to the city of Lawton in present-day southwest Oklahoma), following the Red River War. There, the Comanches, Kiowas, and Apaches he had long fought all gained respect for his tough but fair ways as they attempted to adjust to their new, more sedentary life on their present-day southwest Oklahoma reservations.

168 saddlebag dispatches

IN SAFE HANDS Pre-1960s American histories often emphasized Native atrocities against white Americans, such as in Charles Shreyvogel’s In Safe Hands, while post-1960s works often reversed the emphasis. In reality, both sides killed thousands of the others’ non-combatants in a tragic, desperate centuries-long war for the continent across which the United States of America now stretches. Courtesy Thomas Gilcrease Museum of Art.

saddlebag dispatches 169

saddlebag dispatches 171

SERGEANT STANCE AND HIS BUFFALO SOLDIERS Former slave and sharecropper, U.S. Army sergeant, buffalo soldier, and Medal of Honor winner Emmanuel Stance leads his men into battle in Don Stivers’ thrilling work The Redoubtable Sergeant ( Stance and the 9th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers played important roles in the Red River War. It was MacKenzie who wisely sent peaceful Comanche emissaries to Quanah to persuade the warrior chief and his remaining Quahadis to lay down their arms and come in. After they did, Quanah himself credited MacKenzie with respecting and befriending him, providing him opportunities to rise as a leader in both the Native and white societies, and even teaching him American manners and social graces. After the stunning 1876 massacre of George Armstrong Custer and his U.S. Seventh Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana, Sheridan sent MacKenzie and his now-elite Fourth Cavalry north to deal with the powerful and unconquered coalition of Northern Cheyennes and Lakota Sioux who had vanquished Custer and threatened American settlement across the Northern Plains. Within months, MacKenzie did what no other United States commander could. He defeated Chief Dull Knife and the Northern Cheyennes, forced Crazy Horse and the Lakota to surrender, and ended the Great Sioux War. “You are the one I was afraid of when you came here last summer,” Dull Knife told MacKenzie after he surrendered.

MacKenzie thus led the U. S. Army to victory over its most intrepid Indian opponents in the American West, on both the Northern and Southern Great Plains. The capricious nature of historiography is well illustrated by the fact that America’s most famous Indian fighter, Custer, perished in the most breathtaking defeat the United States ever suffered in the Old West, while MacKenzie, the courageous man who, in the saddle, led the defeat of the most powerful Plains Tribes north and south, died already forgotten by the nation whose westward expansion and growth he as much as any one person made possible. —John J. Dwyer is an author, longtime Adjunct Professor of History and Ethics at Southern Nazarene University, and a regular contributor to Saddlebag Dispatches. In the past, he has worked as a History Chair at a classical college preparatory school, a newspaper publisher, and a radio host. He lives with Grace his wife of 28 years, their daughter Katie, and their grandson Luke. His latest history book, The Oklahomans: The Story of Oklahoma and Its People launched in December, and his forthcoming novel of World War II, Shortgrass, will debut in May.


ristotelis “Telly” Savalas achieved notoriety for his portrayal of Lieutenant Theo Kojak in The MarcusNelson Murders in 1973 and the subsequent series Kojak that followed. The show aired on CBS from 1973 to 1978 with six TV movies telecast from 1985 to 1990. During his career Telly made a handful of westerns. His first western was The Scalphunters in 1968. The movie starred Burt Lancaster, Ossie Davis, and co-starred Savalas and

WHO LOVES YOU, BABY? While best known for his role as Kojack, famed actor Telly Savalas was no stranger to Western genre films.

Shelley Winters. Joe Bass (Lancaster), a trapper who was on his way home with a cargo of furs was stopped by a band of Kiowa Indians. They took his furs from him and left Joseph Lee (Davis) as a slave in return. Bass and Lee agreed to trail the Kiowa and recover the furs; in exchange Bass will help Lee get to Mexico where Slavery is outlawed. As they are spying on the Kiowa camp, Jim Howie (Savalas) and his band of scalphunters attacked and killed all the Indians, taking the scalps of the dead. Bass and Lee then followed Howie’s group, with the intent of stealing them back. The killers captured Lee, upon finding out that Howie and his group were going to Mexico to sell the scalps, Lee convinced them to take him along and sell him to a slave trader on the Texas border. Lee worked for Jim Howie’s woman Kate (Winters) during the trip. He constantly t a l k e d t o K a t e, encouraging her to take him to Mexico and free him. Unknown to Howie and his band of killers, one Indian survived the massacre. He and several Kiowa braves attacked the scalphunters and killed them all, again taking

saddlebag dispatches 173 Joe Bass’s furs. He and Lee again came to an agreement to recover the furs. At the end of the movie they were riding double on the trail of the Kiowa’s. Ossie Davis was nominated for a Golden Globe for his role in the film. MacKenna’s Gold was made in 1969 and starred Gregory Peck, Omar Sharif, Ted Cassidy, Camilla Sparv, and Julie Newmar. It also featured several well-known actors in cameo appearances as the people of Hadleyburg, such as Edward G. Robinson, Anthony Quale, Eli Wallach, Lee J. Cobb, Burgess Meredith, and Raymond Massey. An old Indian named Blue Dog attacked MacKenna (Peck). Blue Dog was killed in the exchange of gunfire and while going through his property, MacKenna found a map drawn on an animal hide. He studied the map for a few seconds and tossed it on the fire and burned it. Bandit John Colorado (Sharif) had followed Blue Dog for weeks, hoping to get his hands on the map. When the bandit discovered that MacKenna burned the map, he forced him at gunpoint to take him to the Lost Adam’s Mine. MacKenna didn’t believe in the lost mine, thinking it to be a fairytale. Colorado kidnapped a girl from Hadleyburg (Sparv) and threatened to kill her unless MacKenna agreed to take him to the mine. On the journey they were joined by a horde of the townspeople from Hadleyburg that had heard rumors about the mine and wanted a share of the gold. Unknown to everyone, Sgt. Tibbs (Savalas) and his Cavalry troopers were waiting in ambush. They opened fire, killing several townspeople. MacKenna grabbed the reins of the horse, the kidnapped girl was riding and attempted to escape. They are followed by Colorado and his two accomplishes. They catch MacKenna and force him to take them to the lost mine. Sgt. Tibbs and a small detail of troopers followed along behind and at the end of each day Tibbs sent a man back to inform his Lieutenant where they were going. On the final day, Tibbs murdered the last trooper and rode in to Colorado’s camp to join the bandit and claim his share of the gold. Once the mine had been located, Colorado and his group filled all the saddle bags with gold nuggets. The gang became greedy and each one tried to kill the other. The only person seemingly immune to the greed is MacKenna. Colorado tried to kill him and the girl, which led to an epic fight between the two men. MacKenna jumped on a saddled horse and together he and the girl manage to escape from the canyon. The saddlebags on the horse he caught were filled with gold nuggets. The Land Raiders was also made in 1969 and was the first western to give top billing to Telly. It co-starred George Maharis and was made in Spain and Hungry. Vince Cardens (Savalas) hated the Indians near his home. He had a gang of men working for him and they killed them indiscriminately to the disappointment of his brother Paul (Maharis) and his wife. The Indians attacked a wagon train that Paul was traveling with, searching for his brother Vince; everyone was

SIGNATURE STYLE Telly Savalas was nominated for an academy award for best supporting actor in 1962 for Birdman of Alcatraz. This was one of five films that he was in with his friend Burt Lancaster. massacred, save Paul. He survived and vowed to fight the Indians and his brother Vince. A Town Called Hell, released in 1971 was originally titled A Town Called Bastard, but the name was changed for the American audience. It starred Stella Stevens, Robert Shaw, and Martin Landau. Alivia (Stevens), a vengeful widow returned to the small town where her husband was killed to find the man responsible for his death. A priest (Shaw) and a sadistic Mexican bandit, named Don Carlos (Savalas) controlled the town. Violence erupted when a brutal army Colonel (Landau) arrived, searching for an elusive rebel leader. 1972 was a busy year for Telly. He starred in three westerns in twelve months. The first was Sonny and Jed, which again gave him top billing as Sheriff Franciscus. The film co-starred Tomas Milan as Jed and Susan George as Sonny. Franciscus had been trailing Jed for several weeks. He nearly caught the bandit only to have Sonny help him escape. However nothing would stop Franascius in his dogged pursuit. The second film was Pancho Villa, with Telly in the title

saddlebag dispatches 175

SOUND THE CHARGE Telly Savalas starred as Vince Cardens in the 1969 Western The Land Raiders, co-starring George Maharis.

MEXICAN STRONGMAN Telly starred in three Westerns in 1972, though only one in the title role. That was Pancho Villa, with Clint Walker and Anne Francis. role. This movie was unique in that it had two former TV actors in co-starring roles. Clint Walker played Villa’s American Lieutenant Scotty and Chuck Connors played Colonel Wilcox. Anne Francis played Flo, a harlot with a soft spot for Villa. An arms dealer double crossed Pancho Villa and prompted the revolutionary to raid a US Weapons Depot in Columbus, New Mexico. It was reported that

Savalas and Walker didn’t get along during the filming of this movie. Telly’s final western performance was in A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die, also known as Massacre at Fort Holman. It starred James Coburn as Colonel Pembroke and co-starred Bud Spenser as Eli Sampson. Colonel Pembroke (Coburn) schemed to recapture Fort Holman, which he had earlier surrendered to Major Ward (Savalas) of the confederate army. Ward had captured Pembroke’s son and threatened to kill him unless Pembroke surrendered the fort. After Pembroke turned the fort over to the confederates, Ward killed his son and threw his body from the fort walls. Pembroke recruited a squad of deserters, murderers and thieves scheduled to hang to get the fort back and kill Major Ward. Telly Savalas was nominated for an academy award for best supporting actor in 1962 for Birdman of Alcatraz. This was one of five films that he was in with his friend Burt Lancaster. Telly first shaved his head in 1965 for the movie The Greatest Story Ever Told where he played Pontius Pilate. He won an Emmy award for Best Actor in a Television series in 1974 and two Golden Globes for Best Actor in a Television series in 1975 and 1976 for his portrayal of Theo Kojak in the show Kojak. Telly was born on January 21th, 1922 and passed away on January 22nd, 1994, a day after his 72nd birthday. He died from complications from bladder and prostate cancer and was interred at Forest LawnHollywood Hills Cemetery in The George Washington section. —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


odeo. It’s the homegrown, ranch-raised, bornand-bred sport of the American West. The very word conjures up images of cowboys and cattle, broncs and bulls, and wild and wooly action. When it comes to sport, it’s the essence of the West.

Folks who follow rodeo, and even some who don’t, recognize the names of cowboys whose fame surpasses the sport: Jim Shoulders. Larry Mahan. Ty Murray. Lewis Feild. Casey Tibbs. Jackson Sundown. Dean Oliver. Bill Linderman. Don Gay. Fred Whitfield. Billy Etbaur. Toots Mansfield. Trevor Brazile. There’s another name destined to become legendary in rodeo. Already well entrenched among aficionados, it’s a name attached to unprecedented accomplishments, with

more to come. It’s a name you’ll find in the thin telephone book that covers the small town of Milford, Utah. It’s the name of not one rodeo cowboy, but more bronc riders than you can count on the fingers of one hand. The name? Wright.

WAITING GAME Ryder Wright contemplates a coming bronc ride as he waits his turn in the hot seat. As in world champion saddle bronc riders Cody Wright, Jesse Wright, and Spencer Wright—and a bunch of other brothers and sons that dominate the event in pro rodeo.

saddlebag dispatches 177

COWBOY UP Rusty (foreground) and Ryder Wright behind the bucking chutes preparing for the saddle bronc riding.

178 saddlebag dispatches Cody is the oldest of the Wright brothers. He’s competed at the National Finals Rodeo 14 times and has been World Champion twice, in 2008 and 2010. Brother Spencer was World Champion Saddle Bronc rider in 2014, and Rookie of the Year

in 2012. Brother Jesse has been to the NFR five times, was Saddle Bronc Ro o k i e o f t h e Year in 2009, and World Champion in 2012. His twin brother, Jake, has made the NFR four times and was the National High School Rodeo Association ch a m p i o n s a d d l e b r o n c r i d e r. Brother Alex is also a commanding presence on the

rodeo circuit, as was brother Calvin until sidelined by injuries. Six talented bronc riders from one family is quite an accomplishment. But the Wrights aren’t finished yet. The next generation, Cody’s sons Rusty

ADVICE FROM DAD Top: Two-time World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider Cody Wright (center) offers advice to sons Ryder (right) and Rusty (left). Inset: Rusty sets his saddle as Cody gives last-minute encouragement.

a n d Ryd e r, h ave hit the rodeo trail and the youngsters are already raking in accolades and honors. I talked with and photographed the boys and their father at the Utah State High School Rodeo Association finals in 2013 w h e re b o t h w e re competing (Rusty was national high school saddle bronc riding champ in 2012 and 2013,

saddlebag dispatches 179 Ryder in 2015). The photos and comments in this article come from that visit. The boys got serious about saddle bronc riding at an early age; Rusty in eighth grade and Ryder in sixth. Cody started them out in a bronc saddle cinched to a spur board to learn the mechanics of the spur stroke, then a bucking machine, then on a tame saddle horse, led around the arena to give them the feel of the buck rein and bronc saddle aboard live horseflesh. The time came to straddle a bucking chute and cinch a saddle onto a bronc. Even with all the preparation,

business. Both were named Rookie of the Year by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, Rusty in 2014 and Ryder in 2016. Rusty has finished the season among the top 15 money winners and qualified for the NFR twice. Ryder made his first NFR appearance in 2016 and awed crowds and competitors alike by winning five of the ten go-rounds. So, the next generation of saddle bronc riders named Wright are already writing—riding—their names into rodeo record books, following in the family footsteps. “I’ve heard people say they need to fill the

CHAMPIONS Champion father-and-son saddle bronc riders Cody (right) and Rusty Wright.

it’s a rough ride. “I got on forty-five or fifty broncs before I could hear or see anything,” Rusty says. “It was all black. Later, I could hear dad and grandpa and see what I was doing or wasn’t doing, and fix it.” At some point, it all comes together. For Rusty, it happened at a semi-pro rodeo aboard a horse called Rockin’ Robin. “He stalled coming out of the gate then jumped out hard, darted left, and bucked straight down the arena. It felt right. I did it right. When you feel what a good ride feels like, it’s awesome.” Ryder’s introduction and progress were similar. The boys are long since past the student stage, and able to hold their own with the best in the

shoes,” Cody says. “But I want them to be better than me. I tell them, ‘Don’t compare yourself. Don’t stifle yourself thinking you can only be as good as me.’” He says of his sons, “They have all the talent in the world and the sky’s the limit—it depends on how hard they want to push themselves.” It’s obvious they’re pushing themselves. And that’s what makes the Wright name Best in the West (and the world) when it comes to saddle bronc riding. —Three-time Spur Award-winning author Rod Miller writes fiction, history, and poetry. Find him online at and

Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.