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contents autumn/winter 2017

columns hold tight, cowboy by Dusty Richards ...................... beyond the trailhead by Chet Dixon ..................... 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 ..............................

4 10 12 144 154 160 164

short fiction box canyons by Terr y Sanville ....................... .......... a real lady of the west by Claudia Mundell ............. aka: the davinci kid by Richard Prosch ................... billy by Dennis Doty ........................................... west of fort smith by Tommy Hancock ................

31 47 61 97 123 129

features a greenhorn goes west by Michael F. Frizell .......... .. falling by Jodi T homas ....................................... preserving a legacy by Kelly Henkins ............ ......... bender, part IV by Michael & D.A . Frizell .............. gun-totin' grannies by Elaine Marze ................... the line by George "Clay" Mitchell ........................... the knowing by R od Miller .................................

16 42 52 66 90 108 142

photo by Patricia Rustin-Christen

kindness by Darrel Sparkman ...............................

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.


f you ranch in the mountains of the western states and you have your cow herd up in the clouds all summer—brother it is time to get them off those mountain peaks and down where the hay is stacked. A buddy of mine, Dick Hyson—a real cowboy—used

All Painted Woman photographs courtesy of Priscilla Tran.

to belong to Western Writers of America, and wrote a killer of a cowboy book.

He once told me a story about being accused of leaving a cow up in the mountains after someone turned him in for leaving the ‘ole heifer behind, on the summer grazing ground. Now, he and his sons were willing to bet that no animal of theirs had been left, but the BLM folks were afraid of her being shot and causing her death. The story ran in the local Colorado newspaper, but it soon spread nationwide. Plus, they wanted a live report of Roany, making it back to the winter pasture. A family ranked in the country, as real ranch hands, spearheaded the rescue. They headed out with four snow mobiles, two kayaks-to ease her out on-and a tarp to wrap her up in whenever they fled the mountains. Easy job, they assured the family. With a notion where the cow might be stuck in a drift, they spun the rubber tracks for the high country. It was past mid-day, when they located the uncommitted sister standing in two feet of snow and played ring around the rosebush with her. One brother tried to throw the rope, while the other

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drove the vehicle. The brothers reported they would never do this professionally since their motorized pony was not nimble or sure-footed enough to turn back, when Roany turned back. At 2 am, in the midnight artic weather, with the snow patrol ready to depart in search of the “lost vaca’ catchers, they brought in the bawling cow strapped on top of two kayaks. She cried in a hoarse voice, searching for her long-lost buddies who’d aban-

doned her, rather than walking down the mountain side by side, for home. Back to warmer employment on the ranch. I guess the only ones who have not heard about the western film adaptation of my book The Mustanger and the Lady, are folks living in the outer portion of the Mongolian desert. Since the Musk ox aren’t frequent visitors of the theater, I won’t tell them. All kidding aside, though, this movie is a super-great western epic. You like action? There's gunplay aplenty.



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You like drama? Lots of folks come out with wet eyes. The film's title is Painted Woman, and it's on its way to a theater near you. I recently viewed it for a second time, at the red-carpet premier in Poteau, Oklahoma on my birthday on November 11. Holy Cow. It is not some dusty tumbleweed of a movie, buried down in the heart of a dead land. It's a sure-fire western adventure that will get your heart pumping. My thanks to Executive Producer Amber Lindley, and Director James Cotton—both for a job well done, and for treating an old bow-legged cowpoke like me so nice, on the movie set and later in the theater. Moving beyond film news, you may have seen that I have a couple of other new books out there recently. The first book in my newest western adventure series, The O’Malleys of Texas, launched in late September. I'm told that copies have been flying off the shelves in record numbers, thanks to my many rabid fans. Thanks for that! For those of you who liked the first one, Book Two—Dead Aim—is already available for preorder and will be released January 30.

I've been getting a lot of fan mail recently asking me if the O'Malley books mean that I'm done with good ol' Chet Byrnes. Well, fear not. The fan-favorite Byrnes Family Ranch Series isn't done by any means, and more adventures with Chet are right around the corner. In early October, Galway Press released the sixth book in my Brandiron Series of westerns, The Pride of Texas. It's a tale of two teen boys in South Texas orphaned at the end of the Civil War and left with nothing but their father's hardscrabble cattle ranch and their wits to guide them. Things really get going when their legally-appointed guardian, a sassy cousin from Arkansas named Sophie Grenada, arrives and takes them in hand. Through Indian raids, range wars, and the tough business of building a real, working ranch, they form an unbreakable bond. With Sophie’s help, Andrew and Jackson might just build the empire they’re hoping for. It's a great little coming of age story, and it's been very well-received. If you have the chance, take a look at it.

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I hope you enjoy this latest issue of our magazine. Due to time and cost constraints—you all know the state of this business we're in—we've had to back down from four issues per year to just two, but we're ramping things up to make those two issues something damn extraordinary. That starts with people. This whole crew here at Saddlebag Dispatches is made up of damn special folks, and we've been fortunate to make a few new additions. You'll notice that we've brought on board a new Editor-in-Chief. His name is Michael Frizell, and I first met him at the WWA conference in Kansas City back in June. I thought he looked a little lost, to tell you the truth—something he even wrote about for this issue— but he took me by surprise when I sat down to talk to him. You want to talk about a professional wordsmith, he's the real deal, folks. He's one hell of a writer, and we're glad to have him on our team. Also new to the outfit are Dennis Doty and Jeremy Menefee, both of whom are joining us as Associate Editors. Dennis is a former rodeo cowboy and Marine

NCO who's settled down in Kentucky to write and edit Western books, and he sure can write some tough ones, let me tell you. Jeremy hails from the other end of the country in Yakima, Washington, and is another Marine turned editor. God love 'em. Both of these cowpokes are serious Western writers and editors, though, and a credit to the magazine. They join a team of hard-working men and women dedicated to continuing the legacy of the western genre and culture—Art Director Casey Cowan, Admin Director Venessa Cerasale, Associate Editor Gil Miller, feauture writer George "Clay" Mitchell, Chief Photographer Patricia Rusten Christian, and Marketing Director Cyndy Prasse Miller. You'll notice I also got a title bump to Publisher. No more editing for this cowboy, I got the big boy pants on now. May God bless all of you during this holiday season. —Dusty Richards Publisher, Saddlebag Dispatches



ave you ever watched children skip rocks across smooth reflecting water? They search for just the perfect thin stone that will hit the surface again and again before sinking. They use all their skill to sling it across the water, counting each touch of the surface. Each touch makes a different splash, followed by waves and slower ripples before receding off into infinity. Writing poetry is much like skipping rocks on water. Each poem you release to readers makes a different splash and lives its own life. Some skip only a few times while others seem to skip on and on. I’ve skipped many rocks and have written many poems and keep searching for that perfect skipper. Whether I find it or not, as a poet

I will go on listening to each whisper in my mind, hoping that when it has been transferred to words, it will skip. Trying to skip rocks on water is much like trying to achieve a goal for our lives. Our pursuits sometimes succeed and sometimes fail. Yet we keep trying knowing that many lessons can be learned before we win. What we do is never perfect, especially when we first begin, but as we keep trying we draw closer to our mind’s dream and yearning to succeed. As we skip our way through life our efforts will, in time, skip away as if on air. —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.

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Skipping Rocks When I skipped a rock today I thought it would easily skip away But to my unpleasant surprise It went down in sudden demise Not defeated another rock was thrown And just as quickly it was gone Another and another I threw Just to see what they would do Then I watched one hit the water Delighted it almost made me totter It hit and skipped away As if on air and wanting to stay Then a simple lesson I learned Before another defeat returned Keep doing your gift and never cease It’s something sacred to release Rocks on water is an unlikely pair Yet together produce a gift to share For gifts are to be given away Not to be hoarded to stay And when its purpose is secure Unselfishly given to keep it pure You are skipping your sacred treasure Allowing others to know its pleasure What you skip may be a dream But skip it into the passing stream Even if it seems weak and pale Skip it—It’s your gifted trail



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n 1881 Fayetteville, Arkansas was a small village, and one with a reputation of being as wild as any town further “out west.” Much of Fayetteville had been burned by soldiers on both sides during the Civil War. But the beginnings of this tale go back before the war. Three brothers John, George and James Reed, sons of Richard Reed, all natives of the county, were known to be industrious and respected. John went off to serve in the war and returned a quiet man when sober but a bully when drunk. After defying authorities on more than one occasion, he became known in most circles as a bad man. That reputation would be confirmed when Deputy Sheriff John R. Sorrell arrested a close friend of the Reeds in February of 1879. That friend, John Rutherford failed to pay his bond, and so was on the verge of being jailed when John Reed arrived. Already in his cups, he demanded his friend’s release, yet refused to come up with his bail. The jailer opened the cell door to throw the prisoner in and Reed hit him on the head with a bottle of brandy. Sorrell drew his weapon and shot Reed, after which he was promptly arrested and charged with homicide. At his trial, however, his actions were ruled justifiable and he was set free. John’s brother, George Reed, swore vengeance for the death, but since George wasn’t of the same persuasion as his wilder brother, no one thought much of it.

It was well known, though, that George feared the local marshal, going so far as to beg him not to shoot him if he ever got in trouble. Of course, Marshal Stirman wouldn’t make such a promise, so Reed later drew down on the lawman while mounted. Reed was promptly dragged off his horse and beaten. Nothing more came of this, so everyone forgot about George’s promise to avenge John’s death. But this wouldn’t be the end of this fracas. Some people just don’t forget when they think they’ve been wronged. Marshal Stirman retired in 1881 and was replaced by William Patton, whereupon George told friends he was going to try out the new marshal. Obviously, he didn’t fear Patton like he had Stirman. One day he rode into town and deliberately picked a fight with Patton, drew on him, and was shot and killed by the marshal, who was promptly acquitted of any charges. Now we have two Reed boys shot down by local lawmen, and friends and family were up in arms demanding someone be punished. They became so vocal about it that Patton feared for his life, believing he would be shot down on the street. He did everything he could think of to prevent it, but on a dark Saturday night, about 9 o’clock, July 2, 1881, while Patton and his deputy John Mount were talking on the public square, shots came out of the dark and both were instantly killed. Though no one could ever prove who the assassins were, everyone was certain they were friends of the Reed Family.

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Thomas J. Churchill, Governor of Arkansas at the time, offered an award of $500 for the arrest and conviction of the assassins. No one was ever arrested, even with the almost-unheard of sum offered as a reward. Meanwhile, Mount’s family received an anonymous bundle of money and a note that he wasn’t meant to be killed. The mysterious benefactor was never identified. In looking into John Mount’s service record, he was the true hero of this piece. He served as a private in Co. G, 16th Arkansas Infantry Regiment, Confederate States Army, from the fall of 1861 until the end of that brutal war in April, 1865. He enlisted in the at the age of 17, was captured at Port Hudson, Louisiana on July 9, 1863. After the war, he married a woman named Catherine and eventually joined the Marshal’s Service. When he was killed, Mount left behind not only his wife, but four children as well. In those days a woman left in this situation had few choices, the best of which was to find another man to marry. Often it was a man who had been widowed him-

self and left with small children. Some women would find menial jobs they could do, such as taking in washing and ironing, cleaning houses, and the like. With smaller children and nothing resembling day care, they could not go out and find work, scarce as it was for women. In 1903, after moving closer to her brother for support, Catherine applied for a widow’s pension on the basis of her husband’s service in the army of the Confederate States. Her application was approved. In those days pensions ranged from $10 a month to $40, scarcely any more. It was not only men who were heroes in the old west, but the women who supported them, bore their children and kept a good home. And those like Catherine Mount, who carried on when widowed. —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.


AN APPROPRIATE VENUE Kansas City's Marriott Country Club Plaza played host to the 2017 annual Western Writers of American conference this past June.

Western Writers of America held their annual conference this past June in Kansas City, Missouri. Saddlebag Dispatches was there, and our incoming Editor-in-Chief, Michael L. Frizell, filed this story on his thoughts and impressions as a firsttime attendee.


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COOKING WITH GAS Spur Award Chair Quackgrass Sally was a constant presence during the conference, anywhere and everywhere all at once.

SA D D LEBAG f e at u r e

CAN WE SAY 'FISH OUT OF WATER?' I’m standing next to a three-time Spur Award winner and two New York Times bestselling authors as we watch exuberant fans, wannabe writers, and smiling publishers mill the hallway of the Marriott located in the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City.


alf-a-dozen people wait in line to speak to the Spur Award winner as his wife, her smile genuine, accepts a check for a small stack of paperbacks. The books feature covers adorned with beautiful women and rugged men astride horses or holding hands near a crude wooden fence. There’s always a setting sun that colors the characters with deep orange hues. I’m wearing a suit and tie, so I feel like I’m choking, and my new dress shoes are hot and pinching my pinky toes. One of the bestselling authors, the delightful Linda Broday, writer of historical western romances, whispers into my ear, “Why are we here?” She’s grinning as she pushes her large-framed glasses up the bridge of her nose. “I never really thought of myself as a writer of westerns.” Broday’s comment makes me laugh and I’m not sure why. Although we had just met the night before during dinner at the Cheesecake Factory with Oghma Creative Media’s President, Casey Cowan, I knew a kindred soul when I spoke to her. She’s intelligent and insightful with just a touch of eccentricity. She had to be a writer. Behind me, a

banner my brother, artist David Frizell, created at a local Kinko’s, proudly displays our book, Bender: The Graphic Novel—Volume One in blood red letters. I had forgotten to ask David how to erect the banner, so I was forced to lean it and the rickety tripod against the wall for fear it would fall on someone— probably me. The skull of a desiccated corpse grins at the attendees walking by my display, enticing an elderly gentleman wearing a ten-gallon hat, boots, Wranglers, a plaid western shirt with pearl buttons, and a neatly trimmed beard, to stop and stare. “What’s all this then?” Ten-Gallon Hat is comfortable with his southern drawl, turning “all this” into “awl-iss.” Is he wearing spurs? I clear my throat. “It’s the first graphic novel from Oghma Creative Media about the bloody Bender family of southeast Kansas. They murdered dozens of people travelling west along the Osage Trail and were never caught.” I remind myself that I need to perfect my elevator pitch. “What’s that? A ‘graphic novel’?”


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“Sequential art paired with words designed to give the reader a cinematic experience.” Ten-Gallon Hat rubs the whiskers on his chin with a rugged hand kissed and leathered by the sun. In the distance, I swear I hear the music from a Sergio Leone film. “It’s a comic book?” “Yes.” I try not to sigh. Comic books are considered as something less than literary in many circles, including the university where I serve as an administrator and sometimes professor. A colleague (I use the term SERIOUS STUDY Members of the 2017 WWA Players reading of "Stagecoach" bone up on their lines prior ahead of the performance. They got only a single rehearsal before going live.

loosely) from the English Department once stopped me and said, “Oh, I’ve been meaning to congratulate you on your little comic books.” I’d published about a dozen with TidalWave Comics at that point in my career. The books featured true stories of famous actors, politicians, and musicians, and had afforded me a cult following online while building a professional vitae. “Rather pedestrian, though. Aren’t they?” She stared at me a moment before turning back to whatever she was reading, dismissing me. I was so shocked I just walked away. “Well, why didn’t you just say comic book?” He grins and proffers a ten dollar bill, my only sale of the morning. “My grandkids like comic books.” I don’t have time to tell him that the book, at best, is rated

PG-13 and is lousy with villains and saturated with blood before he’s greeted by a similarly dressed group of men who whisk him into a meeting room. That left Broday, the other New York Times bestseller,

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the effervescent Jodi Thomas, the Spur Award winner, Dusty Richards, his wife, and I alone in the hallway. “Surreal, isn’t it?” Broday pats me on the shoulder. “You’ll get used to it.” I wasn’t sure.

When Casey Cowan suggested I join him and Vanessa McDaniel Cerasale, Oghma’s powerhouse duo, in Kansas City for the Western Writers of America (WWA) 2017 Convention, I was skeptical. I never considered myself a western writer. My wife, Julia, loves a good western (even her cell phone ring is the familiar “woo-hooo-woo-ooo” from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly), so I’ve watched them with her on lazy Saturday afternoons. My penchant for science fiction and horror, my work as an editor for an educational journal, and my Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Nonfiction didn’t lend itself to the genre. As a writer for TidalWave Comics, I only dabbled with western themes once, creating a 132 page script for a science fiction/time travelling James Dean

DRESSED TO THE NINES (From left) Chris Enss, Monty McCord, and Ann McCord walked away with top honors at the costume contest during the Homestead Foundation Auction.

battling shape-shifting lizard people in the Old West (it’s better than it sounds—I told you I need to perfect my elevator pitches). “Bender is a western, Michael.” We’re sitting in a restaurant in Bentonville, home to Oghma Creative Media and its myriad imprints. Before I could protest, Cowan continued, his large hand on my shoulder. “You’ve got the themes, the setting, the characters, even a gunfight.” He’s right, of course, but David and I always thought of the book as


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COMING SOON Michael F. Blake shows Kirk and Sheila Ellis a digital rendition to the cover of his new book, The Cowboy President: The American West and the Making of Theodore Roosevelt.

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aforementioned Spur Awards, viewable by those who being rooted in old-school horror. I had just asked held a ticket. In addition, breakout sessions discussing Cowan, “Why place Bender with a publisher known the nuances of marketing and promotion and talks by for producing award-winning western fiction?” But agents and editors joined colorfully named concurrent that’s a story for another time. sessions like “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your The WWA Convention occupied a long hallway of Story;” “Cats in the Old West;” “The Negro Leagues the Marriott. Breakout sessions led by western writers Baseball;” “The Birds, the Beasts, the Land: Western and publishers kept enthusiasts busy during the day. Nature Writing, Past and Present;” and “Creating A quick glance at the conference website (found at http://westernwriters. org/convention2016/—the URL may say 2016, but the header reads “Convention 2017,” so you’ll have to trust me on this), tells me that it’s the “64rd (sic) Annual WWA Convention” and that conventions are held annually “somewhere on the American Frontier.” I was intrigued. Kansas City was a mere two-hour drive (the way my wife drives, anyway) from our home in Springfield, Missouri, and I was anxious to see the publisher’s side of the writing business. “You can share a table with Dusty Richards. He’s winning another Spur Award this year. We can have dinner. Talk writing. It’ll be fun.” LIVING LEGEND Famed First Blood author David Morrell helps Oghma Creative Famous last words, right? Media President Casey Cowan with a shameless plug of Saddlebag Cowan’s enthusiasm is Dispatches during the 2016 conference in Cheyenne, Wyoming. infectious, though, and the main reason I chose to publish my graphic novel with him in the first place. I just couldn’t say no. Comics/Graphic Novels.” It was this last one that The convention program offered tantalizing caught my eye. Although labelled as a panel, one insights into what my days would hold. Like most name stood out. conventions, there were meetings for members, David Morrell. workshops for particular interest areas, a keynote David Morrell? speaker, and outings into the community. The THE David Morrell? event would end with an awards banquet, the


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He wasn’t wrong. The book was engaging, the narrative terse and tight, wasting no words while painting a vivid picture and character sketch of a man pushed to his limits who chose to push back. Morrell also wrote a few stories for Marvel comics featuring SpiderMan (Spider-Man: Frost), Captain America (Captain America: The Chosen, which explored military themes and patriotism), and Wolverine. His writing style is a good fit for graphic fiction. I was anxious to meet him. Morrell is magnetic, the three dozen lesser writers —including me—in the conference room hung on his every word. Behind him was a large screen where another panelist, Kellen Cutsforth, ran a PowerPoint presentation FAST FRIENDS displaying the raw script New York Times bestseller Linda Broday shares a moment with Morrell wrote for Savage Oghma Creative Media Business Manager Venessa Cerasale Wolverine issue number after the conference's annual Spur Award banquet. 23. I was delighted to see that his script-writing style resembled mine. After discussing the details of crafting a script for a comic book, Morrell showed us the final, printed pages with the art, word balloons, and sound effects. from PTSD who is pushed too far by an overzealous, He spoke for the full hour and was gracious enough to small-town policeman. The novel was turned into a linger at the front of the room, fielding questions and movie which spawned several sequels and cemented the shaking hands. As I stood in line to speak with him, I action-hero status of Sylvester Stallone. I was never a fan found myself growing anxious. I was experiencing a true of the films; I was a fan of that book. My father, also a “fanboy” moment, and I feared I’d gush when I finally Vietnam veteran who’s PTSD remained undiagnosed— stood face-to-face with him. only because he refused to seek help for it—tossed a wellWe shook hands. I played it cool. “I liked what you worn copy of Morrell’s book at me when I was in junior had to say, David—can I call you David?” high school. “Want to read a good writer? Read this guy.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with Morrell’s work, he’s the “father of Rambo.” His novel, First Blood, chronicles the tale of a homeless Vietnam vet suffering

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THIRD TIME'S THE CHARM Legendary author Dusty Richards accepts the 2017 Spur Award for Best Western Traditional Novel for The Mustanger and the Lady from current WWA President Kirk Ellis. It's the third such award Dusty has won during his writing career.


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TOP OF THE HEAP Old friends Dusty Richards and Jodi Thomas celebrate Dusty's Spur win as the awards banquet wraps up Saturday night.

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“Yes, please.” “I write comic books, too.” Why did I say that? “How did I do? Was what I said accurate? I got into writing them because my agent set it up. I had no idea what I was doing.” Writing for one of the “Big Two,” Marvel and DC Comics, is by invitation only, an exclusive club reserved for those considered at the top of their field. Their website states: Marvel does not accept or consider any ideas, creative suggestions, artwork, designs, game proposals, scripts, manuscripts, or similar material unless


we have specifically requested it from you… We constantly read and review indie, self-published, creator-owned, and web-comics… If you are an aspiring comic book artist or writer, we suggest you publish or publicly post your material, continue to create, and if you have the right stuff... we’ll find you. Most comic book publishers proclaim the same, and with good reason. Companies can’t trust their intellectual property to someone without the credentials, talent, and gravitas to continue writing marketable stories. Comic books have become big

RELAXED ATMOSPHERE Dusty Richards, and Casey Cowan talk with New York Times bestselling author and Longmire creator Craig Johnson during the 2016 Conference in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

business despite slipping sales as movies based on them dominate pop culture and the box office. Many modern comic book publishers got their start publishing western-themed comics, so it made sense to invite writers like Morrell to a conference like this. After a pleasant chat, I returned to the table I shared with Dusty Richards. His wife was talking with a gentleman holding a copy of The Mustanger and the Lady, the bestselling novel recently optioned as a feature film and profiled in Saddlebag Dispatches. I stood for a moment, still basking in the afterglow of meeting a childhood idol and discovering that he was authentic and friendly. I reached into the box containing copies of Bender: Volume One and selected the nicest copy I could


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find; one devoid of nicks, dents, or signs of wear. I checked to ensure that it was one of the signed versions— it was. David and I had scrawled on our names on the last page after choosing a pen that wouldn’t bleed through the page. That took some trial and error, so it was nice that Oghma sent me six comps. Richards was watching

me. “Do you like Wolverine? Oh—wait.” He produced a business card bearing his signature from his breast pocket and insisted I take it, too. “On the back, there’s a picture of me and Sly.” We spoke for another ten minutes as I told him how I first encountered his work. I left the room elated. The

MUSICAL INTERLUDE There were more than a few musical numbers spread throughout the convention, making for a wonderful atmosphere of creativity, comraderie, and nostalgia.

me with some interest, but with the knowing look of a veteran who had seen everything at conventions like this one. “What’cha up to, young man?” “I think I’m going to give David Morrell a copy of Bender. I just don’t want to come off like a whack job.” Dusty laughed as he signed a copy of Mustanger for a smiling woman. “I wouldn’t worry about that. Nothing ventured; nothing gained, right?” I walked straight up to Morrell who was saying goodbye to another fan, a smiling woman wearing a long jean skirt, western boots, and black hat. “I want you to have a copy of my book. I hope you enjoy it.” He smiled. “I’m honored! But—what can I give you?” “Nothing. You already gave me more than you know.” “Nonsense. Here.” Morrell signed his display copy of Savage Wolverine with a ballpoint pen and handed it to

next day, Morrell told me on Facebook that he enjoyed talking with me. Encounters like this are why writer’s conventions exist and why you should be attending them. The Western Writers of America’s 2017 Convention provided both seasoned and amateur authors the venue to talk about writing, learn more about our fickle craft, and to mingle in a relaxed atmosphere. Though the crowd was small compared to gatherings hosted by Harlequin or the big New York publishers, it was the intimate atmosphere that afforded me the ability to personally engage with other attendees. I found my fellow scribes to be enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and interested in preserving the tradition of writing in a genre that celebrates the wildness of new frontiers and the characters that provide the stories their color. I’ve attended dozens of higher education conferences in my

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eighteen years as a teacher and administrator at a public university. Most tend to be dry, offering little in the way of enhancing the way I work. WWA’s convention was a bonding experience, forging solidarity among us proud enough to call ourselves western writers. That’s how I see Bender now. It’s a western graphic


Thomas also shared with me that she was inspired to start writing a book she’d been planning for years. I know how she feels. On the long car ride home, I just started talking as Julia patiently listened. I hammered out the characters and setting of a novel I’d like to write —a western novel. When I got to my office a few days later,

LONGMIRE FOR AMERICA Longmire creator Craig Johnson takes time out of the 2016 WWA conference to pose with some young fans in attendance.

novel that dabbles with horror themes. Is western horror a thing? I imagine it is. Jodi Thomas, the prolific author honored for her Ransom Canyon series among others, echoed Broday’s words to me over dinner. “I’m not anymore a western writer than a romance writer—but I’ve been called both.” After discussing the conventions of western writing, Thomas, who is as eloquent as she is gracious, invited me to present at the West Texas Writers’ Academy held at West Texas Texas A & M University in Canyon next June. “I wasn’t sure why I showed up this weekend, Michael. I think maybe that one dinner with you, your wife, and Casey was the reason I was meant to be in Kansas City.” We parted with the promise that I’d provide a course outline to her in the coming weeks. Conventions are about networking, too.

I started a story bible, sketching out characters and beats. It'll be my first attempt at finishing a novel (writers have many novels we start but never finish, but I already know where I hope my characters will take me by book three). When I see you next year at WWA’s 2018 Convention in Billings, Montana, ask me how the book is going. You should be able to recognize me. I’ll be the guy making David Morrell feel uncomfortable. —Michael L. Frizell is a prolific writer, the editor of The Learning Assistance Review for the National College Learning Center Association, and the Director of Student Learning Services at Missouri State University, and the incoming Editor-in-Chief of Saddlebag Dispatches. He and his wife, Julia, a high school English teacher, live in Springfield, Missouri.


hen I saw those buzzards, I reined old Red into the shade of a live oak growing along the trail. The sun was high overhead and beat on us like a hammer. I was following a horse-track with a broken shoe on its right hind leg. It left a distinctive mark in the dusty trail that a two year old could follow. That horse left the same track in front of Arnold’s Mercantile, a small supply store near Fort Smith, Arkansas. A customer recognized Johnny Fontaine when he robbed the store, so I had a name and good idea of a destination. If this was a hardcase outlaw, he was not good at it. My thought was to catch up with him after he made camp for the night. Assuming he was on that horse and would be making camp. I was taking a chance on two assumptions and the fact was not lost on me. He had to know someone was following. No telling which way he would go. If I could catch him asleep, there would be no trouble. About a half mile ahead the trail veered to the left, going around a clump of trees. I could see a few huge boulders peeking through the underbrush. It was a good place to camp, or stage an ambush.

Taking my time, I looked at the country around me. I once had a partner who would do this and he was a good tracker. He took a lot of pride in figuring out what his quarry was doing. His downfall was a smoking habit. When he stopped to think about the trail ahead, he would always light up one of those little thin cigars. He said it helped him think. The smell of smoke carries quite a ways. I told him stories about soldiers standing guard at night, away from the camp. If they lit up a smoke, it could lead an Indian or anyone else right to him. Some died from that mistake. He would laugh and tell me Indians did not fight at night and I would try to explain agnostic to him. There’s always a few in any bunch of people. When he didn’t show up for supper, I trailed him the next day. All I found was his body full of holes, and a surprised look on his face. I’m glad I never picked up the habit. My horse was my best sentinel. Old Red never forgave humanity for the cutting that made him a gelding. We had been together a couple of years and he never missed an opportunity to stomp or bite. The


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hostler I use in Fort Smith will not feed him. But he is a good trail horse. He can eat less and go without water like one of those camels I hear about. Since he hates men in general, no one can get close without him taking notice. I took a long pull from my canteen and watched those buzzards. They were getting lower, but looked skittish. Why they were reluctant to land was the question. Sitting in the shade wouldn’t give me an answer. It was time to earn my money. Being a deputy marshal was not the best job in the world—it wasn’t even a good job. It was something I seemed suited for. I walked Red away from the trail. My hope was to come into that nest of rocks from the back. I watched for any sign left by folks I didn’t want to meet—sudden like. Sweat trickled down my spine and pooled between my backside and the saddle. It was hot, too hot for early May. If the weather was any sign, it was going to be a dry summer. I took my time navigating around the rocks and boulders that littered this

side of the trail. I had noticed the other side was flat prairie, so this offered the most cover. We walked into the shade of those trees and Red had his ears on point, looking straight ahead. No breeze stirred and the dust we raised hung in the air like a hot fog. My eyes felt gritty and soon I would be crying mud. I stepped off Red, shucking my rifle out of its sheath. Dropping the reins, I jerked on them so he would know to stay ground hitched. When he turned to bite me, I slapped his nose. It was an old ritual. There was a smell in the air that spoke of something dead—no surprise with the buzzards circling. I stepped careful around a boulder and saw the reason. A man lay with his back to the rock. I could see his left leg was swollen twice its normal size. His ripped pant leg showed an open wound high on his thigh. The smell of rotted flesh made me gag. His right hand rested on a canteen and his left clutched a dusty pistol. His voice was hoarse and strained. “You might as well come on out. I won’t shoot you.”

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I was glad to hear it, but I stepped on that gun to make sure. He didn’t flinch or move while I retrieved his pistol. I walked around to face him and wished I hadn’t. He was about the most used-up man I’d ever seen this side of the grave. He looked to be on the north side of forty years and his grey pallor hid under a few days growth of beard. I leaned my rifle against the rock and squatted by his feet so he could see me better. Flies were starting to get at his wound and I took my hat and fanned at them. “Mister, can I get you anything… water or food? I don’t have any whiskey or I’d give you the whole damned bottle.” The man gave a short laugh and then gasped from the pain. “Thanks for the thought. I’ve been trying to die. Can’t seem to do it. I don’t know if water would help or hinder.” I looked at the old Dance & Brothers pistol he’d clutched in his hand. They didn’t make many, but most Texans swore by them. After I looked at the percussion caps, I wasn’t sure it would fire—not that I wanted to test that theory.

“Is that what the gun was for?” It seemed all he could do to answer. “I ain’t got the guts to do it… at least, not yet. I’m afraid if I wait too long, I won’t be able to pull back the hammer. That shooter has a stiff action.” I looked around the camp, if such it was. It looked like he fell off his horse and then tried to make do, dragging himself around. It’s a wonder he had his canteen. “What’s your name, mister?” The man groaned as he shifted position. “I’m Ralph Compton. Got a ranch a few miles south of here.” I shuffled forward and shook his hand, having to lift it from the ground to do it. “Gordon Frey. I wish we’d met under better circumstances.” “You a marshal? I see some kind of badge under your vest.” “Deputy U.S. Marshal. Out of Fort Smith.” Compton chuckled and then coughed, a wet, grating hack. “Hell, I thought they’d killed off most of you deputies by now.” I couldn’t argue that point. The Going Snake Mas-



saddlebag dispatches

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sacre took eight deputies all at once. Indian Territory was a tough place. “They’re sure working on it. I’m hoping to break the string.” “I’d appreciate it if you can do something for me. You being a marshal and all.” “If I can.” “Find my family. Tell them I tried to get home… couldn’t make it.” He took a ragged breath. “I’m thinking yesterday was my wife’s birthday. I reckon she’s worried.” The exchange wore him out and he drifted off to sleep. I found it hard to believe he was still alive. The infection was bad enough, but coyotes, big cats or the buzzards would be equally dangerous. If you’re helpless, buzzards aren’t too fussy about dead or alive. The thought of an ugly bird pecking me to death made me shudder. Now I knew why they were skittish—not being able to decide how helpless their victim was. When I looked for his horse, I found it tangled by its reins in the brush. The mare had chewed off most of the tender leaves and twigs around her. It looked about ready to drop from hunger and thirst. There was a spring nearby so I took the saddle and bedroll off and led the horse to water. She didn’t lick me like a dog, but did seem grateful. I pulled her away before she could swell up and founder. There was a hobble in Ralph’s saddlebag so I staked his horse out on a piece of grass. It gave the mare enough room to graze and get to water. Passing through the camp I saw the man was still asleep, so I went and fetched Red. He and the other horse exchanged snorts as I led him to the spring. I’ve no idea what they were hashing out. Since I put them on the same patch of grass, I figured they could discuss it at length. I’d checked the shoes on Ralph’s horse so I knew he wasn’t the one I was chasing, the timing wouldn’t be right anyway. Now I had a hard decision to make. Johnny Fontaine was heading south, and wasn’t too far ahead. From where I stood, I could see part of that crooked trail as it meandered away. I didn’t see any dust, but by now he’d be a half day ahead. Now Ralph wanted me to hunt up his kinfolk. Looked to me as if Fontaine was free as a bird. I made a small fire and set my coffee pot in the

coals. The water from the spring looked good but I’d boil it anyway. People still died from cholera and I didn’t want to be one of them. The wounded man muttered and tossed about. I didn’t think he’d last long—maybe just the night. Gazing back at the trail, I flinched when he spoke. “You can go, Marshal. I know you got things to do besides being a nursemaid. Just leave my pistol. Maybe I can manage it.” I think his kindness made up my mind. “Any business I have can wait. Can you stand some coffee?” Ralph nodded and settled back against the ground. “I guess it won’t hurt none.” I smiled at that. “You in a hurry to die?” He gave me a funny look. “Yes, I am. I’ve had about all this I can take.” I gave him a tin cup of coffee and he could hardly hold it in his weak hands. After he finished and handed me the cup, I had to ask. “How’d you get shot? Somebody would have to be in a tree to give you that wound. I noticed blood on your saddle skirt and a gouge in the seat. Did you get ambushed?” He shook his head in disgust. “Damned fool thing. I got a bad habit. When I’m sitting in the saddle, or even in a chair someplace, I got this habit of playing with the hammer of my pistol. It’s usually sitting on an empty chamber so it don’t matter. I thought it would loosen up the action.” I raised my eyebrows at that. “I didn’t say it was a good habit. Anyway, I was fiddling with that pistol when the damned horse jumped. The gun went off and I shot myself. I think my leg is broke at the hip. If you look close, the bullet came out of my knee.” He’d set his holster for a right-handed cross draw. Most riders carried them that way. I could picture it happening. He looked at me with the saddest eyes I’d ever seen. “There wouldn’t be much chance for me if there was a sawbones standing right there.” I looked at that festering wound and thought if I touched it the leg would split right down the middle. I may have seen worse wounds in the war, but couldn’t remember any.



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“It looks like you’re right. I’ve never seen anything like this. How long have you been here?” “Three days, maybe longer… I can’t remember. It all seems to run together.” He wiped his sweaty forehead with the back of his hand. “I’m feeling cold. Can you fetch my blanket?” I looked around and found another blanket with his saddle. It wasn’t clean, but I didn’t think it would make much difference. His voice was faint. “How’d you happen to stop here?” “I’m following a man. When I saw buzzards wheeling overhead, I thought I’d better check it out.” I looked at him and shook my head. “I ain’t sure it was a good thing.” “Aw hell, marshal. At least I’m not alone. And having someone to talk with helps. Although I’ll admit that’s the worst coffee I ever had.” We had a good laugh at that. This was one tough man. If he weren’t… he’d be dead. I’m not sure toughness was an advantage here. “So, tell me. This man you’re chasing. He kill someone?” I figured it wouldn’t hurt anything to keep him occupied. “He robbed a store. Shot at some people—not sure if he hit any. It doesn’t matter. The judge hands me a warrant and says bring him in. I do the best I can.” His breathing turned ragged and forced. “This miscreant have a name?” “Johnny Fontaine.” The wounded man gasped for breath and shivered, but seemed determined to keep talking. I don’t know how he did it. “Heard of him. I think he lives around here… maybe to the north.” The click of a horseshoe on stone brought me around with gun in hand. I cursed at myself for not keeping better watch. I could hear a horse coming, but its sound was softer than the rasping breaths behind me. A woman rode into the small clearing on a big Appaloosa that had to be eighteen hands high. I wondered if she used a mounting block to get on the damned thing. That horse looked like it should be wearing armor like the chargers of old, complete with a knight on top.

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I heard a rustling sound. Turning, I saw Red and the other horse moving to the far side of the patch of grass. They had their tails tucked between their legs. I didn’t blame them. The woman was pretty in a weathered, range-girl look. Laugh lines crinkled at her bright blue eyes and she’d stuffed her dark hair under a wide hat. I was getting set to introduce myself when she stepped off her horse and walked right by me. Ralph was asleep again, so after a quick look at him she blew by me again and went to the saddlebags on her horse. I stood with my pistol in one hand and a bunch of questions in the other. She looked at my pistol a moment and then held out her hand. “If you’d put that gun away we could shake hands. I’m Betty Compton.” I’m not stupid—well, most of the time. So I followed orders. “Gordon Frey, ma’am. You have the same last name as the wounded man. Are you his wife?” She gave me an appraising glance. “Sister. How bad is he?”

“How’d you happen to come out here?” “I wish I could tell you. Let’s say I... felt a call and leave it at that.” I pondered that a moment and then addressed her question. There was no easy way to do it. I walked over and lifted the blanket from his leg. The smell curdled my stomach. She gasped once and then her shoulders slumped. Standing by him, she looked to be praying. After a moment, she motioned for me to put the blanket back. “We need to take him home. He has a wife and couple of kids. They’ll want to see him.” How should I break it to her? Just looking at him should tell the story. “Ma’am, I’m afraid his next move will be to the burying. He can’t last much longer. I don’t think a doctor could save him. It would cause more pain to move him and he wouldn’t make it anyway. It’s too late for him.” I kept a wet cloth laying on his chest. To put it anywhere else would have gotten it dirty. She grabbed it and



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began wiping the sweat from his brow. When she bent over, a large silver chain fell out of her blouse. It held a big, heavy cross and looked to be inlaid with jewels. “Oh, you’re that kind of sister? Like, a nun?” She shook her head, still watching Ralph. “Used to be. Not anymore.” That stumped me. “How do you get to be a usedto-be nun?” This time those blue eyes centered right on me. I felt like Red when that appaloosa arrived and backed up a step. “I had to leave the convent. Certain aspects of Sisterhood didn’t appeal to me. Besides, my family needs me.” She grinned at me—more like a quick grimace. “Even angels fall from grace once in a while.” We watched Ralph as he stirred under the blanket and groaned in pain. “Well, in my line of work I’ve never been close to angels or grace. It doesn’t seem likely I’ll see either when I die.”

She gave me a look like I was a kindergartner playing with crayons. A slow one, at that. “It doesn’t work that way. Even though you have done a kindness taking care of Ralph—and that’s a good thing. You can’t barter for grace by doing good deeds. And you never know when an angel is near.” I was glad Ralph started moaning and thrashing because I felt more tongue-tied by the minute. This woman was easy to talk to, but disconcerting at the same time. My mind felt like a definition of confusion I’d once heard. Wanting to jump on my horse and ride away in all directions seemed a good idea. “He’s in a lot of pain, and that fever’s about to burn him up. When I come up on him, he had his gun in his hand wanting to kill himself. I think he waited too long and was so weak he couldn’t hold the gun.” When she looked at me, there were tears in her eyes. “I brought a medical kit. There’s laudanum in it. We can ease the pain if we can get him to drink it.”

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Well, that wasn’t a normal thing to have in your saddlebag. Most folks carry whiskey—for medicinal purposes, of course. “Are you a doctor? A nurse?” “They trained me in the convent. I don’t have any kind of paper that says so, but I’m a fair country nurse and midwife. We cared for a lot of people.” Her smile was fleeting, and then sadness returned. “Maybe that’s why I fell from grace. I saw a lot more anatomy than most of the women living there.” I could see how that could happen, especially for a curious young girl. “Well, I learned a long time ago nobody’s perfect. How about we put some of that painkiller in his coffee and see if it will help him through this.” She went to her saddlebags and pulled out a small, blue bottle. With a spoon, she put a dose in the coffee pot. I put my hand on her arm. “You know what he needs. He’ll never recover. All he has to look forward to is a lot of pain before he dies.” She wouldn’t look at me. “Are you suggesting…?” I caught her gaze for a moment. “I’m suggesting you don’t skimp on how much you put in there.” “That’s murder. I wasn’t brought up that way.” “In this case, a kindness… in his condition.” “You don’t believe in miracles?” When I looked up to answer, Johnny Fontaine was standing there with his pistol staring me in the face. “I do,” he said. “I believe in miracles. This is a fine setup. I captured a marshal that’s been dogging my trail. And it looks like there’s some hot coffee in that pot. I see a fine-looking woman for pleasant conversation. Looks like a miracle to me.” I cursed myself for a fool. Snuck up on twice in one day. If I lived through this, I was going to hang up

my hat and retire. But living isn’t a sure thing—never is. I watched him and that pistol. If it wavered one bit, I was going to take my chance. Betty seemed to read the situation and stepped between Fontaine and me. “You’re a fine-looking man. Have some coffee. There’s no hurry here.” She poured him a cup and stepped back. We watched as he sipped the drink. “That’s the worst coffee I ever tasted.” “Why’d you come back, Fontaine? I figured you’d be gone to Texas by now.” He grimaced but finished the coffee. “I’ve heard of you. What I heard is you never give up. I couldn’t picture a life of looking over my shoulder.” “Should have thought of that before you robbed that store.” “You’re right, I shouldn’t have robbed it, and I do regret it. I got a hardscrabble place a few miles from here. All I have are some scrawny longhorns, and a corn patch the raccoons are lining up to harvest. My wife and three kids are hungry and I couldn’t stand it. We thought to farm, but I just ain’t any good at it. We can butcher one of those longhorns, but we don’t have so much as an extra chili pepper hanging from the porch. There’s no fixings to do with. We were out of salt and sugar.” Betty spoke up. “Just how much money did you steal, Mr. Fontaine?” He looked insulted. “Why, no money at all. I got the salt and flour, beans, sugar and some air-tights of peaches for the little ones. Their gums are starting to bleed.” She looked at me with big, soft eyes—guessing what I was going to try. “I’d say that’s not worth a killing, wouldn’t you marshal?”



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We stood watching, her fingering that cross and me resting my hand on my pistol. He started to waver. It took him two tries to holster his gun and I was afraid he would drop it. “What…? I… I think… I—” He collapsed in slow motion where he stood. With a sigh, he toppled over on his side. I couldn’t tell if he was asleep or dead. “How much did you put in that pot?” “I figured the coffee would dilute it, so it was extra strong. I hope it doesn’t kill him.” I grabbed Fontaine by his collar and dragged him over by a rock. When I fetched his horse, I checked the pack tied to it and found he’d told the truth. There was nothing in it but food. “You were right, Betty. We’d have fought this out, maybe killed each other. And all for something most people would give him if he’d told about his problem.” She nodded, smiled. “A little kindness never hurts.” Something made us turn and look at Ralph. Whether it was a small sound or lack of sound, we

never knew. Ralph Compton was dead and I thought of a word Betty used. He’d done us a kindness. Because, God help us, we were both thinking of taking his life—just to ease his pain. I stood holding my hat while Betty knelt praying by her brother. A few minutes later she held her hand out to me and I helped her stand. She wiped away tears and smiled. “He’s at peace, and so am I. We need to take him home.” “Do you think that’s wise? If we bury him here, his folks will always have a memory of him in the good times. He looks bad. I wouldn’t want them to carry how he looks now as a last memory.” “No, he needs to go home. For closure, if nothing else. We’ll keep him wrapped and all they need to see is his face.” I was surprised we were still holding hands and shrugged. It wasn’t my decision to make. “As you wish.” “You’ll come with me? To help? It would be a kindness.” Her hand held mine as I looked around the clear-

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ing. One dead and another was sleeping. A de-frocked nun and broken down marshal. We all found something we didn’t expect. “I’ll see you to your home. I can’t promise much past that.” Her hand felt natural in mine. “I’ve never been much, Betty. Never married, something of a fiddle-foot. All I do well is track down men and bring them in. I’ve done some bad things in that process.” “Everything changes, including people.” She gave me a crooked smile. “Even fallen angels.” Nodding, I gave her hand a squeeze. “I reckon so.” We packed everything and rolled Ralph in his groundsheet. He was a heavy man but we got him tied across his saddle. Red and the giant appaloosa were in some kind of conversation when I broke them up and Red tried to stomp my foot. Deep down I think he likes me. I glanced at Fontaine to see if he was breathing. “How long will he sleep?” “I don’t know. I guess it depends on how sensitive he is to the laudanum. If you’re used to the medicine, it takes a lot to put you down.” She gestured at him. “For a first-timer, it drops them like a rock. Don’t forget to wash out that coffee pot.” “Wash it out? Hell, I threw it away.” “I’d take it as a kindness if you’d let me make coffee from now on.” Well, now. I couldn’t argue with that. We got ready to leave and I pinned a note on Fontaine’s vest. Take the food to your family. We left some more. All we had. If you need something, come to the Compton place. Don’t go stealing again. I’ll send a letter to Fort Smith and tell them you died on the trail. Change your family name to something else, so I’m not called a liar. Fix that shoe on your horse. I’d take it as a kindness.


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's the published author of five novels in the western a genre—Spirit Trail, Osage Dawn, Hallowed Ground, and After the Fall—as well as a collection of Western short stories titled The Reckoning, in which Kindness is featured. 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 selfemployed, where he finally has that job that wakes you up every day with a smile. Catch up with Darrel and all his writing at



saddlebag dispatches

SA D D LEBAG highlight

WHY DO WE FALL? Having penned forty-six novels during her thirty years in the publishing industry, New York Times bestselling author Jodi Thomas knows a thing or two about human nature. In a Saddlebag Dispatches exclusive, she shares some hard-won knowledge about how success is not built upon success—but upon failure.


his September I will have been in the writing game for thirty years with forty-six novels and thirteen short story collections. From my third book, most have been national bestsellers and over half were on the New York Times bestseller list. I have five RITAs, the highest award in women’s fiction from RWA as well as many other awards. In interviews, I’m often asked what one thing I would tell a beginning writer if I got the chance. Study your markets? Read everything? Learn your craft? Write? All came up as possibilities, but one lesson kept whispering in the back of my mind. Maybe it’s not the most important tool a writer needs, but it can be vital to your success. Learn to Fall! There will be times, thousands of them if you stay in the game as I have, when this business doesn’t go your way. You have to stop holding on to the safety strap and learn to jump out into the unknown. The first time I remember taking a tumble was before I sold. I was frantically writing, sending

off to every contest, agent, and editor I could find. One day, I opened the mailbox to discover three rejections. I felt like I’d faced a firing squad and all twelve bullets hit true. I walked back to the house, sat down and started crying. My four-year-old son, Matt, came up to me, leaned on the arm of the chair and asked what was wrong. Through tears I told him about my total failure. He smiled and said simply, “Mom, like you say when I play t-ball: sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes you get rained-out.” I stopped crying and realized it wasn’t me. I was a good writer doing the best I could. I just kept getting rained-out by editors who didn’t read the slush pile and agents who already had full client lists. From that day on I developed a plan for falling. Whenever I stumbled and fell flat on my face, I let go of the corpse I was dragging around trying to sell. Then I celebrated what I’d learned from the work and moved on with my career.


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I have to be honest. There for a while quite a few bodies of old manuscripts lay around the house just in case they got a second life, but it never happened. I had to learn that the next thing I wrote would be stronger than the last. I was growing, getting better, getting stronger. My plan for falling: BURYING THE CORPSE I know writers who wrote a book back in the ‘90s and are determined not to go on to another until they sell their first one. They keep painting a new face on the body and shoving it into a new casket. Beginning writers probably don’t want to hear that you may write your first book, or even your second or third, for practice. We need to believe that first book will make millions or we’d never go through the work of learning to write. But sometimes you have to kiss the well-traveled manuscript good-bye and bury it under the bed. CELEBRATING I hope all beginning writers party at each success: a contest win or even an honorable mention. A letter asking for more or a book deal. All are worth a party. But, maybe more important is the party you have when you let go of one dream and open up to another. So win or lose you finish the race. You’re a success simply because you wrote a book. You’ve won when you mail it off to an agent or editor or self-publish. MOVING ON If what you’re doing isn’t getting you where you want to go, maybe you are on the wrong road. Take the tools and knowledge you have learned and start carving out a different work of art. Take a lane you’ve never tried. Who knows, it might be the fast lane. You just might be surprised to find a place where you and your work belong. You might grow and love writing more. So, try changing genres. Move from adult fiction to young adult. Jump from historical to contemporary. Don’t try to write what everyone else is writing. Twist it a little. Change times. Change audience. Change direction.

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When I turned loose and thought of myself sky diving and not falling, my world began to change. I wrote deeper. I discovered a new love of writing. Phil Price, an accomplished playwright, once said, “I’ve often wondered why sky divers yell for joy and people who fall off cliffs scream. After all, they’re both seeing the same view. It’s only the last foot that changes.” So, I decided, whether I’m falling or sky diving through life, I might as well decide to enjoy the view. This year my editor at HQN suggested I step into a more mainstream story and I jumped. I read her e-mail on Friday and by Monday I had an idea I was excited about. It will be out in the spring of ’18 and I thinking my fans will follow me into this shift as they have for the past 30 years. And if they don’t? Then I’ll stand up, dust myself off and get back in the game. Because I’m a writer, that’s what I do, I write.

Mark Twain once said that compared to writing, horseracing is a much more stable occupation. Maybe he was right, but the gamble is worth the try. When we’re all done and sitting around the home which would you rather say, ‘I played as hard and fast as I could,’ or ‘I never ran into the game because I was afraid of falling.’ The winners are not the ones who grab the prize. The winners are the ones who play the game, rainy days and all. —Jodi Thomas is the bestselling author of forty-six novels and thirteen short story collections. She has won five Romance Writers of America's prestiguous RITA awards during her career, alongside numerous other honors and accolades. She and her husband live in Amarillo, Texas, where since 2003, she has served as writer-in-residence at West Texas A&M University. She is a regular contributor to and patron of Saddlebag Dispatches.



eroy was riding out front when McGregor’s men topped the mesa and opened fire. Their first volley killed his roan pony. He was flung down canyon, bouncing off red boulders, and came to rest on a gravel bar next to the churning river. “We got Leroy,” one of them yelled. “Come on, let’s finish the brother,” another shouted. “Don’ shoot the girl.” “Ta hell with her. Kill ’em both.” Marty whirled, faced the oncoming posse, and emptied his revolver. Grabbing the reins of Felina’s horse, he spurred them downward toward a grove of cottonwoods. An angry swarm of bullets buzzed around him. As they neared the trees, his sorrel gelding screamed and fell away. He rolled downslope and took cover behind a thick trunk. Felina slipped from her saddle and joined him. Bark chips flew as rifle fire tore at them. But they managed to crawl back into the blue-purple shadows. Five riders silhouetted on the low mesa stared down canyon, their long coats blowing in the evening wind. “Don’ make us come down there ta gets yew,” one of them hollered, then laughed.

They were too far to reach with his pistol and Marty’s rifle was in its sheath, trapped beneath his dying horse. A knife-edged pain took his breath away. He gingerly explored his belly and came away with a bloody hand. The front of his shirt dripped scarlet. With Felina’s help, they crawled farther into the trees. “You hurt bad?” Her dark eyes flashed. “Nah, just grazed ma ribs,” he lied. McGregor’s men made no move to follow them and set up camp on the canyon’s rim. As night came on, the couple inched their way to the river and knelt at Leroy’s motionless body. By dawn the coyotes will have ya, Marty thought and stared up at the posse’s campsite. That’s when they’ll come for us. I’ll be laid out just like you… a damn long way from Vicksburg. Felina untied Marty’s neckerchief and dipping it in the ice-cold water, pressed it against his ribs. He moaned and lay back in her arms, his head pressed against her soft bosom. Across the river, a full moon cast blue light down the near-vertical walls. Ah Leroy… we lived through Shiloh… just ta get kilt… in these New Mexico badlands. “Oh Marty boy, y’all sleep tight,” echoed down from the rim. “We’ll come gets you in the mornin.’”


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With a trembling hand Marty raised his revolver and pointed into the darkness. But he thought better of it. One flash from his Colt and they’d know where he was. He wasn’t about to be cut down so easily… and Felina still had a chance. She rose, pulled him up and they stumbled back into the trees. At the base of a huge cottonwood, he stretched out, breathed in the cold high-desert air and shuddered. “I’m sorry, Felina. I’m afraid I gots us both kilt.” She pressed a finger to his lips, murmured something in Spanish, then disappeared. Yes, run for it, my love… down river… up canyon…anywhere… don’ let ’em catch yew with me. He gingerly unbuttoned his shirt and exposed the ragged hole in his stomach. The night air felt good against his burning skin. But he couldn’t feel his legs. Marty gazed at the stars twinkling between the branches and dreamed about Felina… and about McGregor’s son, Buddy. •

Felina with the flashing eyes. Felina with the raven hair. Felina smiling into night, as if I’m never there. Marty stared across Rosa’s Cantina at the Mexican beauty. She tended table with her quick smile and womanly grace. But on occasion he’d catch her casting a sly glance at him, as if she could read his heart, feel his passion. “Why y’all moonin’ over that whore?” Leroy complained. “Every man this side of the Pecos lain with her.” “Shut yer big bazoo. She’s ace-high ta me.” Leroy shook his head and stared into his shot of Red Eye. On Saturday nights the brothers rode in from McGregor’s spread, after a week chasing strays across West Texas. They’d stake out the corner table and drink whisky til the lanterns dimmed and Felina shooed everybody out. She’d disappear to her cozy casa with some cowboy. That night, it looked like it might be Buddy. “Come here, darlin’,” Buddy crooned. “Give me a little kiss.”

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Felina wiped down the tables, the dull-eyed regulars watching her every move. Buddy slipped an arm around her waist. “Easy, hombre. I’m tired.” “Then we’d better find a bed, pronto.” Buddy carried a heavy gut and massive arms. But atop his big body sat a well-groomed head with good teeth. It was Buddy’s schoolboy face that Marty detested the most. The way he’d smirk and make fun of the other ranch hands, hiding behind his father’s name. “No, not tonight,” Felina answered. “El tiempo is muy—” “But I’ve been a waitin’…” “No. Quizas mañana.” “I can’t wait till tomorrow.” Felina spun away from him and backed against the bar. Buddy slammed a fist on the counter and lunged for her. She danced away. Smashing a whisky bottle, Felina held it up, lips trembling, as if daring him to attack. “Hey, Buddy, leave her be,” Marty called. He stood facing the two, a hand resting on the butt of a pistol stuffed under his belt. “Hobble yer lip, ya little weasel.” Leroy reached up and tugged at his brother’s arm. “Easy there, Marty. We’d better vamoose.” “Yer the weasel. Pickin’ a fight with a woman.” Buddy let out a low belly laugh. “She ain’t no woman, she’s a–” Marty’s revolver roared twice, then once more, the last shot drilling a neat hole between Buddy’s smirking blue eyes. He tottered, open-mouthed, then crumpled to the floor. The air stank like wet ashes in a campfire. Outside, El Paso’s dogs gave a few exploratory howls, then quieted. Jolted from their stupor, the cantina’s patrons fled.

“Ya done it now, boy. You stupid—” Leroy began. Felina glared at him. “They be after us muy pronto. We must run.” “They won hurt you, Felina,” Marty said. “Loco. They kill me just like you, maybe even worse.” The brothers waited while she cleaned out the cash drawer and collected her horse. They pushed north into the badlands, riding hard through the night and the following day. But a cloud of dust dogged them the whole way… and toward sunset it had closed in. The light of a comet shone on Marty’s face, destroying his dream. He raised a hand to shield his eyes. River sounds thundered in his head. “Felina, where are you?” But the river gave no answer. •

Moving carefully through the night, Felina bent to tear strips of cloth from the hem of her skirt. She dipped them into the water and wrung them out with strong fingers. The moon sank below the canyon rim and the blackness thickened. She felt her way back through the trees to where Marty lay and pressed a hand to his chest, searching for the rise and fall of life. But like the night, this man was still. She bowed her head. Another crazy gringo to bury, she thought. But… but he was like Ernesto…in the beginning…when we first crossed over. Felina rocked back on her heels and remembered the night she and her first lover braved the Rio Grande’s waters and took refuge in a barn outside El Paso. At fourteen Felina had reached full womanhood and was awfully pretty. But Ernesto still wore the smile of a boy, his high cheeks smooth and unblemished.


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He was killed when the first scoundrel laid siege to Felina’s feminine virtues. She went to work for Rosa Vargas in her cantina for the price of room and board. But the wages of sin were better. Diez Años and I am still the town’s whore. She leaned forward and stroked Marty’s smooth cheek. Where do men like these live… that I might join them and regain my life? She stared at the cold canyon walls and felt their weight press against her heart. This room under the stars es muy grande… but like all others, it holds the same fate. The night passed slowly. On the mesa, the posse’s campfire flared, then died. Near dawn, Felina tugged Marty’s body onto the gravel bar and laid him out next to his brother. The coyotes had been merciful. She studied the canyon rim, pulling fingers through tangled black hair, waiting. The sun was well up before she heard the clip-clop of horses and the posse slowly descended the trail. They came at her five abreast, riding slow, saddles squeaking in the morning air. She backed into the river until she was knee-deep. The water tore at her limbs. Pushing his hat back, the big one in the lead grinned. “Buenos Dias, Felina. Looks like y’all ran outta customers.” He motioned to the dead men. “I’m used to lying with the dead. Weren’t you with me last week?” The grin on his face froze. “Y’all don’ have ta get nasty.” The rest of them snickered. Felina glared at the men till their smiles faded. “So what da ya think, boys? Should we kill her now, or have a little fun first?” Felina stepped backward. The leader reached for his holster. She raised both pistols hidden in the folds of her skirt and opened fire. A round caught the big one in the face and he toppled from his pony. A man to his left went down. But the posse’s return volley tore into her chest. I’m coming Ernesto. I will see you soon. Her body fell back into the surging river. It spun like a leaf caught in a whirlpool and disappeared downstream, to be carried over the falls and southward to El Paso and her Mexican homeland beyond.


terry sanville


erry Sanville lives in San Luis Obispo, California with his artist/poet wife (his in-house editor) and two plump cats (his in-house critics). He writes full time, producing short stories, essays, poems, and novels. Since 2005, his short stories have been accepted by more than 260 literary and commercial journals, magazines, and anthologies including The Potomac Review, The Bitter Oleander, Shenandoah, and The Saturday Evening Post. He was nominated twice for Pushcart Prizes for his stories “The Sweeper” and “The Garage.” Terry is a retired urban planner and an accomplished jazz and blues guitarist—who once played with a symphony orchestra backing up jazz legend George Shearing. Box Canyons is Terry's first submission to Saddlebag Dispatches.


CONFIDENT "This monument was erected by E. W. Marland in appreciation of the heroic character of the woman who braved the dangers and endured the hardships incident to the daily life of the pioneer and homesteader in this country� (Inscription on the plaque on the first step of the statue base)


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PRESERVING A LEGACY, INSPIRING FUTURE GENERATIONS “We have reached that period in civilization where we are fair enough to accord to woman the honor of the pre-eminent part she has taken in shaping the destinies of mankind.” —Secretary of War Patrick Hurley Kelly Henkins


edicated on September 16th, 1958 The Pioneer Woman Museum is a solid reminder of Hurley’s statement, one he made as part of the dedication of the Confident statue in 1930. From the first settlers in 1889 to the first female governor in 2010, women have been a strong component in shaping Oklahoma history. Built on 5.5 acres, part of the 2,000 acres known as Pioneer Woman State Park in Ponca City, Oklahoma, the museum pays homage to women who have left their mark not only on their great state, but across the nation. While the museum would come later, The Pioneer Woman statue was the cornerstone. The bronze statue, Confident, stands 17 feet tall and weighs 12,000 pounds. The pyramidal stepped base of granite blocks brings the total height to 40 feet. The mother and child face the southwest, symbolizing the pioneer’s stepping in a new direction of promise for a better life. Dedicated on April 22, 1930, Confident was the

brain-child of oil mogul, E. W. Marland. Inspired by his pioneering grandmother and mother, Marland wanted something that could be seen for miles. At the time, sculptor Jo Davidson was working on three other monuments under Marland’s direction, he was asked to produce a monumental task of a 35-foot statue. Davidson declined. Not to be deterred from his quest, Marland sent out a call to sculptors around the country, offering $10,000 to each who would produce a 3-foot statue depicting the spirit of the pioneer woman. After some declines to his offer, Marland was left with twelve artisans willing to take up the project. When the statues were finished, they were unveiled at Reinhardt Galleries in New York on February 26, 1927 before beginning their tour of cities such as Boston, Pittsburg, Chicago, Kansas City, Ft. Worth and Ponca City where the American people voted on their favorite. The winner, designed by Baker Bryant and his assistant Donald De Lue was of


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"There are few men of the West of my generation who did not know the pioneer woman in his own mother, and who does not rejoice to know that her part in building that great civilization is to have such beautiful recognition." —President Herbert Hoover

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HOMAGE Built on 5.5 acres, part of the 2,000 acres known as Pioneer Woman State Park in Ponca City Oklahoma, the museum pays homage to women who have left their mark not only on their great state, but across the nation.

a woman and child hand in hand stepping confidently into their new life. The Bible she carries represents her faith. The statue faces to the southwest, symbolizing that the majority of the settlers had come from the northeast. Confident was dedicated on April 22, 1930, the 41st anniversary of the 1889 land run which opened the Oklahoma Territory to settlers. Proclaimed a state holiday, the celebration included a parade as well as a 19-gun salute. President Herbert Hoover broadcast from the White House via WJZ radio. Native Oklahoman and Secretary of War Patrick J. Hurley, due to illness, gave a speech from his home. Other speakers included E. W. Marland and Baker Bryant as well as Governor William J. Holloway and humorist Will Rogers, who closed the ceremonies. Confident greets visitors as they pull off US – 77 to the museum. Once inside, items pioneer families would have used on their new homesteads line the walkway inside the bright, spacious foyer. Pictorials

hang on the walls above, showing some of the items as they would have been used. The foyer opens into a spacious room with an information counter and two separate gift shop areas. They offer tourist items as well as work from local artisans of fine art and jewelry. There are hand-crafted items depicting the statue, which has become the face of the museum. Books by Oklahoma authors fill the shelves and framed Pergamano Parchment art grace the wall. Across the room, there are items for children or the child in all of us. Everything from plastic or plush animals to classic games like Cats in the Cradle, jacks or Rattlesnake Eggs. The admission fee grants visitors access to the three main areas of the museum including special exhibits, and an interactive timeline. Stepping into the first exhibit, The Pioneer Women Walk of Fame, is breathtaking. Banners depicting portraits and information about prominent women of every race, creed and nationality who have left their own pioneering


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stamp in various ways. While not all of the women were born in Oklahoma, family and circumstances brought them to the territory they would come to love and connect them with causes that would secure their place in history. As the Native American State, many tribes are represented in the exhibit. Wilma Pearl Mankiller became the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation, transforming the relations between the Cherokee Nation and the federal government. Her accomplishments included a Head Start program and drug abuse prevention. A collector of American Indian artifacts, legends and tales, Roberta Lawson preserved her heritage by writing books and songs and presenting programs to women’s clubs around the nation. Lucia Loomis Ferguson used her column in the Cherokee Republican newspaper to stand her ground for women’s place in society and their right to vote while her husband Walter, wrote his column against women’s suffrage. At a time when women had not yet won the right to vote, Kate Barnard was voted the Commissioner of Charities and Corrections during the Constitutional Convention in 1906. Her position enabled her to lobby for compulsory education, regulating child labor and establishing a juvenile justice system. The most recent addition is Oklahoma’s first female governor, Mary Copeland Fallin. While the banners catch your attention the moment you walk into the hall, the displays around the perimeter of the room will take you back in time. The Pioneer Woman’s Kitchen showcases how primitive the tools were while providing the ability to produce wholesome healthy meals. A Cultured Life and Living the Good Life highlight those homes where the women spent more time serving in women’s clubs, groups that contributed to their community. Out of the Kitchen into the Fire represents those who either by choice or necessity found themselves in the workplace. A telephone operator’s console as well as a postal office and millinery store front are a small example of positions women held. The Women in Broadcasting exhibit shows how far they have come, due in part to those who paved

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OUTSIDE THE COMFORT ZONE Out of the Kitchen into the Fire represents those who either by choice or necessity found themmselves in the workplace. A telephone operator’s console as well as a postal office and millinery store front are a small example of positions women held.


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GIFT SHOP The Pioneer Woman Museum Gift Shop offers a variety of gifts and trinkets to commemorate your visit, including vintage household items, postcards, knickknacks, and various books on Oklahoma history... including THE OKLAHOMANS BY JOHN. J. DWYER.

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the way. Some, like Clara Luper and Elva Ferguson are featured in both exhibits for their roles in journalism. Jane Jayroe may have started out as 1967 Miss America but she had views people connected with and became a news anchor. Other women such as Bella Shaw and Vivian Vahlberg and Pam Olson took their talents to the world stages of CNN and Washington, DC. Pam went from being the first female anchor on KWTV to covering both President Ronald Regan and George W. Bush elections as well as the Gulf War, the fall of the Berlin Wall and interviewing foreign dignitaries. Each of these women proved where you come from isn’t as important as where you want to go. What would Oklahoma be without a tribute to the Women of the West? Framed posters of various periods throughout the history of women in rodeo grace either side of the back hall. Not only top notch trick riders and shooters as well as ropers and bronc busters but women like Tad Lucas had a business acumen to rival any man. May Lillie and Molly Miller managed large ranch spreads when they were not in an arena. Tad Lucas won nearly every rodeo prize available to women through the 1940s before her gender was excluded from the rodeo circuit for fear of injury. She went on to found what is now known as the Professional Women’s Rodeo Association and was instrumental in expanding the parameters for women’s involvement in rodeo. She is also the only woman to be installed into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame, the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. Throughout history, the key in the success of all these women have been in their quest for knowledge. Many earned university degrees and went on to share what they learned to make their communities and state stronger. Others poured a lot of sweat equity and experience into their craft becoming pioneers, blazing their own path. —Kelly Henkins is a full-time writer and artist. She is the

trusted on-line 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


PIONEER WOMAN MUSEUM 701 Monument Rd, Ponca City, OK Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Admission Fees: Adults Seniors (age 62+) Students (6–18) Children (5 and under) Family (up to 6 people) Veterans & Active Military Group Rate (10+) OHS Members

$7 $5 $4 Free $18 Free (with ID) $5/person Free

Nearby Attractions: E.W. Marland Estate Marland’s Grand Home Conoco Museum Standing Bear Museum & Statue Bryant Baker Gallery & Artists Studio City Hall – Centennial Plaza POW-MIA Memorial Park Historic Downtown Ponca City & Murals Kaw Lake Recreation Area

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.


idafternoon sun warmed the men’s faces, but Stubbs and Jack of the Double D stayed cool sipping mugs of frothy beer while leaning back on a bench outside the batwing doors of the Lucky Seven Saloon. Jack’s legs stretched across the wooden plank porch, but Stubbs leaned forward looking up and down Main Street. “Town feels quiet today. Nary a soul seems to be moving, and there ain’t a single dove a flutterin’ anywhere.” His gaze reached clear down to the schoolhouse on the rise at the end of the dusty street. “Come on, Stubby, you know the boss sent us into town on a Thursday. Too bad he wanted the mail fetched today from the stage right when it arrived. I knew no gals would be waltzing around on a Thursday cause it’s Miz Cleaver’s day came to town.” “How did Cleaver get that done anyway? How did he arrange for his wife to never be on the street when his Red Light Lady might be buying underwear at the general store or candy from Pearson’s?” “Guess if you got enough money… or give enough money… you can get your way. Look yonder.” Down at the corner stood a woman dressed in an

imposing sateen skirt and straw hat, middle-aged but with impeccable taste in her dress and hair, speaking to the parson’s wife. Each woman carried baskets laden with parcels on the crook of their arm. Mrs. Cleaver’s girl, Katie, followed her with loaded shopping bags. “That’s a fine-looking woman herself.” Stubbs stared towards the corner. “Not sure why Cleaver is sniffing around Madame Molly’s when that’s at home waiting for him.” “Just been that way for a long while. He pays for the keep of only one gal there… and she is his only, too. Delilah never sees any other gents and don’t even think of treating her with an iota of disrespect if you see her out… or you’re a dead man just like Billy Conner.” “What happened to him?” Jack pointed down the street with his now empty mug. “There’s the stage. We gotta get that mail and head back to the ranch. Want to make it before dark.” •

In her upstairs room at the Silky Slipper, Delilah parted the lace curtains and watched her lover’s wife


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move from store to store. She stopped occasionally to visit with first one woman and then another. Men tipped their Stetsons to her. The banker helped her step down the board stairs between buildings. Everyone respected her, but it was Delilah that her man came to sleep with on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights. He never came on Saturdays as he retired early in order to escort his wife to church services the next morning. He almost never came on Thursday nights as that was the night he saved for an amusing supper with his wife, an effort to maintain the front of a happily married man listening to his wife’s shopping stories from her day in town. •

Delilah rubbed her bare arm jutting out from the gauzy gown while she looked at Mrs. Cleaver’s blue gabardine pinned at the neck with a cameo. There was no need for Delilah to dress up on Thursdays… no sashaying about town or visitors at night. Did Ben stroke his wife’s face like he did hers? He was a kind man, paid well, and was in no hurry since Ben Cleaver always got his way in all things anyhow. The weekly visits were a comforting routine and safer than the unknown customers the other girls faced, that she’d faced herself before the security of Ben. Yet, she also felt what she thought was love for this man who was tender and thoughtful with her like no man she had ever known. A knock brought her back away from the window. “Yes?” Molly, the house madame, opened the door. “The girls are restless being cooped up, this being another Thursday. They'll have to work tonight, anyway, but they hate staying off the streets. How about coming down and playing some dominoes? I’m putting up the cash for some fun. I could use you with a cheery face.”

“Sure, Molly.” She grabbed a wrapper and followed Madame down the S-shaped stairs, slippered feet treading down expensive carpet silencing their steps. The next Monday, Ben escorted Delilah to the hotel where they sat down at a reserved table covered in white lace resting under Blue Willow plates. Ben walked her in the double oak doors of the hotel dining room, head held high and hand guiding her elbow as if she were not a Scarlet Lady at all. He spoke to men as they passed the tables of townsfolk, but their wives remained silent, never looking at Delilah. She might as well have been a spur, or worse a cow patty, on a boot heel. She was used to the silence. How did the good wives of the town refrain from sharing their knowledge about Delilah and Ben with Ivy Cleaver? Or did they? After an agreeable steak meal and a cheesy potato casserole made by the hotel chef—his specialty— Ben and Delilah took a stroll before heading back to the Silky Slipper. Once back in her room, Ben made love to her with devotion, slow and full of precision. Afterwards, she rested in the crook of his arm, the lace curtains swaying soft as a silent whisper in the night breeze. She was safe and loved, but she asked for more. “Can you stay the night, just this once?” Ben stiffened. “You know the answer to that. I never want to ride in home in the daylight. It may be a silly ruse to you, but I won’t needlessly hurt Ivy.” What about hurting her? But she knew the rules, had known from the beginning. Still she wondered what it would feel like to be his wife for one night. “Besides, I have to leave early in the morning to visit the Double D. Benson is selling out and wants to insure his men keep their jobs along with settling other details. Cleaver Ranch is growing, my dear.”

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With that said, his body relaxed and he buried his face in her shoulder. He wasn’t leaving just yet. Late the next afternoon, Delilah headed down to the first floor for tea in the parlor. There was a clatter of china cups as the other girls poured and stirred. Molly stood whispering at the front door. Her voice carried to the staircase. “I’ll handle it.” When she turned, her bleached face showed pale, the shade of a full moon on a summer night. “Molly, what is it?” “Ben won’t be coming to tomorrow night.” She choked. “He had a heart attack over at the Double D today.” “How bad is it? He will get better, right?” “I’m sorry, Delilah. He was a good man.” The house madame clutched one of her best girls and pulled her close to her own full bosom. Ben Cleaver’s funeral was held in the small white clapboard church that sat near the school before he was buried in the Lone Grove cemetery. Delilah could not show her face, not even in the back of the church. However, she might be able to linger unnoticed behind the lilacs and cottonwoods at the cemetery when family and friends arrived. Lined up as a type of honor guard, wranglers in clean denim and fresh bandanas sat on their horses a few yards away from the grave. Their high-crowned hats dangled from the saddle horns, bare heads a sign of respect for the boss and rancher. Stubbs rose in his stirrups, boots pushing downward for lift, and squinted into the cottonwoods. “Ain’t that a woman standing over there? Look near the shrubs. Is that…?” “Yep,” Jack said. “I saw her slip up before the pall bearers had the coffin outta the wagon. It’s Delilah, with enough common sense to stay out of sight.”

Delilah watched as the large group of people who respected Ben Cleaver followed his wife dressed in widow’s weeds up the slight rise where an open grave waited to swallow the man’s remains. The ranch foreman’s hand cupped Ivy Cleaver’s elbow although she seemed to have no falter in her step. Unexpectedly he spoke to another man, pointed to the small grove of shrubs, and the man walked towards Delilah. About the time he got halfway across the existing graves, everyone turned in her direction. Delilah froze, knowing they all would find her appearance here disgusting, an open slap to Ivy Cleaver. But while the others were looking, Mrs. Cleaver took long paces in her direction. She halted the man sent to run her off while the whole community stared. Delilah heard the soft swish of the widow’s black satin skirt getting close to her. Then Ivy Cleaver stood right before her and reached for her clenched and shaking hand, knuckles white as new snow. The older woman took hold of her hands, rubbed the tension from her fingers, then put an arm around her shoulders pulling her close and leading her to the grave site. “You loved him too, didn’t you, Delilah?” Tears rolled down Delilah’s face as those gathered around the grave gasped. “Reverend, you may begin,” said the widow. She never took her arms from around Delilah’s shoulders, and the crowed never muttered a single syllable. Over at the line of mounted horses, not one wrangler murmured a word until Stubbs broke the silence loud enough for everyone to hear. “Now that’s one real lady.”



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IN MEMORIAM Claudia Mundell Publishing is a quirky business where nothing happens fast and patience is the name of the game. One cannot rush creativity, much to the publisher’s chagrin. Conversely, one cannot rush publication. Magazines are produced on their own schedule, despite the plaintive pleas from creatives anxious to share their endeavors with hungry readers. After accepting Claudia Mundell’s short story, “A Real Lady of the West,” a piece that enthralled us, we reached out to her using her email address. When we heard nothing, we tried again. And again. After a month or two with no response, we conducted a little research. A quick Google search provided the unfortunate answer. Claudia Mundell, a resident of Carthage, Missouri, passed away on Saturday, September 2, 2017. We learned that she was a retired teacher of twenty-four years and that she was hoping to write something that would raise public awareness of the ravages of ovarian cancer, an ailment she was battling herself. She’d won several honors for her writing, was a member of the Ozark Writers’ League and the Joplin, Missouri Writers’ Guild. She was also nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize for Poetry. In regards to the Pushcart Prize, she told The Carthage Press on September 28, 2016, “Just to be nominated is thrilling,” and that what she enjoyed the most about writing was “Creation. And capturing a moment that the reader can partake in. I like to move people to tears or laughter. Although I do a better job at tears, I think.”

We think she did a good job with both. She loved what she called the “playfulness” of writing in the western genre, but she was also adept at flash fiction, fiction, and of course, poetry. Her work has been published by many literary journals, including Rosebud, Yellow River Review, Mid River Review, Oklahoma Review, TEA Magazine, Good Old Days, Romantic Homes, Country Collectibles, and others. Those journals saw what we saw. Claudia had a passion for writing, loved words, and enjoyed sharing those words with others. We’re thrilled to share her story with you in this issue of Saddlebag Dispatches. Claudia did not measure writing success through financial gain. “You have to do it because you love it,” she told the interviewer from The Carthage Press. As her cancer progressed, writing became difficult for her. On the last post of her personal blog, http://, she wrote: “In days to come I probably won’t be able to write much, but I have decided to post a few poems along. If I repeat, forgive me. Leaving my writing is one (of) the most painful goodbyes. I can toss out certain things, give away my treasures, etc. but I can’t stand the thoughts of my words and images being destroyed. Friends, you must keep them for me! Thanks!” Thank you, Claudia, for trusting your words with us. We’ll keep them safe. —Michael L. Frizell Editor-in-Chief


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MERRILY WARD Merrily Ward of Madison County in Arkansas says she got her concealed carry permit because, “This world is scary with crime and violence.  It’s better to have a gun for protection than not to have one in case something happens.”

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The harsh reality is that senior citizens are often thought of as easy prey for criminals, especially "little old ladies." But bad guys better beware because some grandmas are more than willing and capable of using weapons to protect themsevles. Elaine Marze


un control can be a volatile subject, but that is not the topic of this story. The harsh reality is that senior citizens are often thought of as easy prey for criminals, especially “little old ladies.” But bad guys better beware because some grandmas are more than willing and capable of using weapons to protect themselves. Real estate agent Brenda Tindall learned how to shoot a gun when she was ten years old. She and her brother used to shoot snakes swimming in a nearby bayou. When she was fifteen, Brenda’s daddy gave her a .22 rifle (Remington 66), and guns have remained a part of her life ever since. The dangers of her profession became clear when a fellow realtor was murdered by a man posing as a home buyer. As a result, Brenda and a group of fellow realtors took self-defense courses and got permits to carry concealed weapons. She is a senior citizen now and still wears big rings and high heels to give her an edge if she has to fight off an attacker.

“And, I carry a Thirty-Eight Special (no safety), and I would not blink an eye about using it to protect myself if I were threatened,” says Tindal. “Just because you are a Grammy doesn’t mean you stop fighting for what you believe is right.” Joyce Watson’s husband, Jim, was a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard and died from cancer, but early in their marriage he bought her a .38 Special and insisted she learn how to handle, shoot, and clean it because as a Nashville cop he was away much of the time, leaving her and their children alone. She keeps it in her nightstand drawer, and occasionally carries it in her purse depending on when and where she is going. Joyce has a concealed carry permit. “My children are grown and gone. I sleep better knowing I can protect myself,” she says. “Sheriff Harold Terry taught me how to shoot and safely use a firearm,” says Cora Sue Blair of Shreveport, Louisiana. “I own a rifle and three pistols. One pistol I carry in my car in a leather-padded gun case. One, a

saddlebag dispatches 93 Saturday Night Special, stays in a drawer of the nightstand beside my bed. My favorite—a Cobra Colt—I keep either under my pillow or beneath a cover in a chair beside my bed.” Blair’s home has been burglarized in the past, and she has had property stolen from her storage buildings. Before retirement, she was in the advertising business and often traveled at night. One night a car stayed on her bumper for miles, trying to force her off the road several times. She had to keep accelerating until finally she held her pistol up where the other driver could see it. The car dropped back—way back. This was just one of the situations where Cora Sue believes a firearm has protected her life. Sylvia Norton took gun lessons from the Sheriff’s Department because of a rash of robberies in her neighborhood. Her military veteran husband bought her a .38 Smith & Wesson. Sylvia says she does not enjoy shooting it, but should the situation arise where she needed to, she knows how. Shelia Rogers is hearing impaired and worked as a secretary in a church that had been burglarized more than once. She took a gun safety class to get a carry permit. “The class was great. My gun was the biggest!” she says. With her big .45 she about blew the heart out of her paper target so she says the deputies let her try out a shotgun on the head of the target. She took the shredded remains home for a souvenir. Donna Rambo, a grandmother of three, travels back and forth between her home in Arkansas and job in Louisiana, so she feels more comfortable traveling with a firearm. She is the wife of a retired military man, daughter of a World War


Real estate agent Brenda Tindall learned how to shoot a gun when she was ten years old. She and her brother used to shoot snakes swimming in a nearby bayou.


Shelia Rogers is hearing impaired and worked as a secretary in a church that was burglarized more than once. She took a gun safety class to get a carry permit.


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DONNA RAMBO Donna Rambo, a grandmother of three, travels back and forth between her home in Arkansas and job in Louisiana, so she feels more comfortable traveling with a firearm.

II veteran, and two of her sons have distinguished themselves in military careers. “I have always been an avid supporter and believer in ‘the right of the people to keep and bear arms’,” said Rambo. “I believe everyone should learn to use a firearm, whether it be a handgun, rifle, or shotgun. Not only should you learn for your own protection, but for the protection of your loved ones as well.” Merrily Ward of Madison County in Arkansas says she got her concealed carry permit because, “This world is scary with crime and violence. It’s better to have a gun for protection than not to have one in case something happens.” When Merrily is not gardening at their country home she is usually puttering around with plants somewhere in her role as one of the leading Master Gardeners of her area. She also attends exercise class at the local senior center. State laws vary regarding carrying firearms. The requirement for a concealed carry permit includes a one-day course unless a person meets specific requirements such as prior military or law enforcement experience and can provide documentation as to such. Unfortunately, police cannot magically appear at all the right moments. There are areas of this country where violent crimes are common, and gun-toting grannies believe that survival may depend on having the means to protect themselves and their families. There is general acknowledgement among law enforcement that more women are carrying weapons these days. It is legal and within their rights for lawabiding people—those not prohibited from carrying guns because of felony convictions, etc.—though there are proper ways to do so. Interested citizens should contact their local sheriff’s office for information on personal safety and firearms courses. But in the meantime, don’t take for granted that white hair and a few wrinkles make a woman an easy target for abuse! —Elaine Marze is a newspaper and magazine journalist who has also authored three non-fiction books, Hello Darling and Widowhood: I Didn’t Ask for This, inspirational humor written about the traditionally nonhumorous subjects of cancer and widowhood.


he new Opera House in Randolph City, Wyoming didn’t hold as many patrons as some of the theater buildings cropping up on the plains during this industrious spring of 1898, but on its opening night it was far and away the busiest place Riley Boone and I had ever visited together. That intimidating fact, plus Riley’s natural interest in science and engineering might have been why he ignored the people and the play and focused instead on the building’s interior and the glowing apparatus he called a Drummond Lamp. From the corner of my eye, I watched as he took in the tiered balcony extending above and behind our third row chairs. Then his gaze whirled around to the curtained box seats hanging over the hard wood stage. Then he was back to the lamp. “Brilliance made possible by an oxyetheric torch, if I’m not mistaken,” said Riley. “If you notice the peculiar juxtaposition of the horizontal liquid ether tank with the more traditional oxygen hose, you'll see something really unique. And more than a tad bit dangerous. In fact, it was this very style of lamp that was behind the great debacle in Paris earlier this year. I'm sure you read about it?"

This being the climax of My Schenectady Gal’s first act, the portly theater patron on my right wasn't especially happy with Riley’s nattering on and let me know with a high-browed glare. As the town marshal’s daughter, I wasn’t exactly a society queen, and with my carrot top and freckles, I certainly didn’t pretend to be one. Still, I wore my best dress, and nobody was going to question Lacey Dale’s manners again. I poked my elbow into Riley’s heavy black top coat. “Lacey, if you please,” he said, pushing up his round spectacles. “I’m surprised at you. I mean, I can understand your wanting to postpone more conversation, but to resort to such rude behavior as—” I elbowed him again, but motioned with my eyes toward Portly. "Ah. Well, this is awkward, indeed," said Riley. Then, leaning directly across my lap, he did his best impersonation of a normal person, "I'm sorry," he said, an apology that earned him another scornful look. Naturally, after three months stepping out with Riley, I was fairly used to scornful looks. My awkward, watchmaker boyfriend simply didn’t understand people at all, and it was something I was doing my best to


saddlebag dispatches

change. The main problem was Riley didn’t regularly set foot outside his workshop, a building occupied 20 years before by none other than Thomas Alva Edison when he passed through Wyoming on (of all things) an expedition to view the 1878 solar eclipse. Not only had I taken it upon myself to see that Riley got out more, I hoped to introduce him to real culture. Noticing how long his wild, blond curls were getting, I decided I’d have to introduce him to a sharp pair of scissors quite soon as well. Still and all, his dress was fine for the occasion, if not exactly colorful, with a white cotton shirt and black leather shoes, braces, and trousers. “Just hush up and watch the play,” I told Riley, but I could see he was again entranced with the lamp. “I’m afraid I’m just not much for these affairs of the heart,” he whispered. "I'd much rather get down there and inspect that lamp. Doesn't it bother you, Lacey? It certainly bothers me.” I nudged him a third time and he clammed up.

Smoke from nearby cigars swirled within the brilliant beams of light aimed center stage at John Rudolph, amateur actor, professional carpenter. He had stringy brown hair and a ragged mustache that looked like it was trimmed every few weeks with a dull pocket knife. His suit coat and pants were equally rumpled, and that wasn’t part of his stage persona. Actually, for Mr. Rudolph, rumpled was a compliment. By way of contrast, the stage set was a tidy affair: a wood folding chair, a table with a glass of water, and a red upholstered daybed. Behind it all was a tall canvas with an apartment interior painted on it. The whole town was packed into the new venue tonight, or at least anybody who was anybody was here. From where we sat in the third row, I saw the mayor, several local merchants, Doc Hamilton and his daughter, Ilsa, and my own father, John Dale, the town marshal. As usual, Dad hadn’t bothered to remove his tall Stetson hat, and he wore his usual jeans, work shirt and fringed leather vest. We sat on fine wood folding

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chairs like the one on the stage, the first half-dozen rows padded with thick cushions, embroidered and put into place by the ladies of the First Congregational Church. The piano man at stage left started a song that signaled a change of scenes, and I turned back to the stage. Standing tall, Rudolph lifted the water glass to his lips, swallowed, set the glass down, and promptly dropped to the stage floor with a thud. It took the audience a minute or two to realize the tumble had nothing to do with Rudolph’s acting ability and so, at first, and with the music continuing, they offered enthusiastic applause. Under the expert direction of the Grim Reaper, Oscar Rudolph nearly got a standing ovation. “Lacey,” said Riley, “Did... you just notice something odd?” “Other than Mr. Rudolph’s hitting the floor?” “Yes, that’s absolutely what I mean,” said Riley. “The lamp—“ “Oh, forget about the lamp,” I said. “He’s dead,” whispered Mr. Portly, then more loudly, “By Jupiter, I believe Rudolph is dead!” “Yes, indeed,” said Riley. “It’s what I’m afraid of. I just happened to notice that—“ A lady in front of us screamed. “Honestly, I didn’t notice anything,” I said. Another cry launched a short symphony of copycat bleats and moans, and then the audience was on the move. Women shuffled in orbit around their chairs, reaching out to one another with whispered chatter. A few men leapt into the aisle like they meant business, then shoved their hands into their pockets when they realized there was no business to be had. Nobody approached the stage, and the rumpled Rudolph stayed stretched out flat with his still open eyes staring out at the crowd. Riley lifted his head to peer above the people in front of us. “If I could just get another clear look,” he said. “Pardon me, ma’am,” he said, swiveling around the chair before him and stepping up to the seat. Before he could step past the swooning girl, I grabbed his coat tail and yanked him back. “Get down from there.”

“Here’s the marshal now,” said someone behind me. Sure enough, Dad was in the center aisle, making his way to the front of the room. When he reached the short series of steps leading to the stage, he stopped, turned, and started waving his arms. “Quiet down now everybody. Quiet down.” Slowly but surely he gained the attention of the crowd. “Doc Hamilton is here,” he said, as the doc made his way through the audience, hurrying toward the steps and stage right. While Doc examined the body, Dad scratched at his thick salt and pepper mustache and said, “Mr. Rudolph appears to have suffered some sort of, uh—ailment?” He looked over his shoulder to see the doctor shaking his head. Riley’s attention was fixed on the stage. “I absolutely need to speak with the doctor,” he said. "Urgently, I'm afraid. Why, this is horrible." He pushed against me, but I held him back. "I must see the doctor," he said. “Oh, Riley, you’re not ill?” He cocked his head with that puzzled look he reserved for old women and children. And young girls. And teenage boys. And most small animals. “Of course, I’m not ill. Why would you think I was ill?” “For the time being, I’m going to ask everybody to stay where you are while we get this sorted out,” said Dad, cupping his hands around his mouth so he could be heard over the noise from the crowd. The crowd booed and groaned, and the marshal held up his hands. “I know. I know. But I’m going to have to ask you to be patient for a few minutes.” Riley put his hand on my arm. “Wait here,” he said, and squeezed past me. “I will not.” Excusing myself, I pushed past Mr. Portly and followed Riley into the aisle. Once there, we started toward the front, but not before I noticed Doc Hamilton’s daughter, Ilsa, in her place in the row across from us. While everyone else was working to get a better view, or chattering with their neighbors, Ilsa remained seated and aloof, dressed in her finest, stroking the black hair at her shoulder as if the long bundle were a cat. Among smells of bay rum cologne and lye soap, I moved through the crowd, the noise of conversation



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loud in my ears as I joined Riley and Dad at the foot of the stage. “Marshal Dale. Excuse me, sir? I’d like to have a word with the doctor, if I might.” said Riley. “Oh, good! Here’s the watchmaker. Only a matter of time ‘til you showed up.” Dad gave me a dirty look. “Lacey tell your friend to mind his own business.” Since taking up residence in town, Riley had inserted himself into more than one of Dad’s criminal investigations. “He doesn’t mean any harm,” I said. In fact, Riley had solved more than one case with his knowledge of science and modern invention. “Indeed I don’t. And when I speak with the doctor, I think you'll find that I'm a great deal of help.” “Why?” said Dad. “There's no doubt in my mind the doctor will find the contents of that water glass most interesting,” Riley said, ignoring the steps and climbing easily to the stage, sidestepping the Drummond lamp to approach the table and water glass. I followed quickly behind. During the theater’s construction Riley had explained to me how the limelights worked—more or less—how a ball of quicklime was suspended in front of a blowtorch inside a mirrored canister. White hot, the lime produced dazzling light that was directed at the stage. This particular lamp was a conglomeration of parts mounted on a wheeled iron framework. There was a horizontal cylindrical tank attached to the light canister with rubber hoses. Presumably, gas in the tank fed the burning torch. Standing in the spotlight, Riley crouched down to peer into the glass of water, and that’s when I noticed it gave off an eerie blue glow. Is that what Riley had noticed? Did he suspect Rudolph had been poisoned? I reached for the glass, but Riley stopped me with a warning. “Don’t drink it.” Riley picked up the glass and walked closer to the light, tipping it back and forth in the intense white beam. As he moved, the glow intensified. “I think I have something here,” he said. “What in thunder’s going on? Put that water away and get down from there,” said Dad.

“What is it, son?” said Doc Hamilton, standing beside the corpse, casually dusting his hands. Riley began to reply, but was interrupted by a voice from stage left. “Coming through,” said a thin-whiskered stagehand named Gil Wilkens. Dressed in butternut pants, cotton shirt and tan braces, he quickly stomped past Riley to clutch the handles of the Drummond light and swing it around. “Watch out, now,” said Wilkens, leaning back to pull the heavy cart with its tank and hoses and blazing canister. I watched him wheel the big cart away from Riley into place three feet to the right of Doc Hamilton. The canvas flat was awash in illumination and a hundred shadows popped up all around them. “There you go, Doc. Thought that might help you see better?” Wilkens fiddled with one of the nozzles that fed the torch. The light wasn’t shining on the crime scene at all. “Why, yes, I suppose,” said the puzzled Hamilton. “Thank you, Mr. Wilkens.” Again Wilkens seemed to be adjusting something. Then he stepped back and, with an odd expression on his face, a mixture of triumph and anticipation, tipped his hat. “Look out!” said Riley, and I pushed Dad down to the base of the stage. Riley came down beside us as a vermillion ball of fire blossomed across the stage like some immense garden flower. The charred air immediately filled with the stink of hot ether, and for one crazy second a thought raced through my mind. The opening night’s performance had brought down the house! On stage, the thunderous force of the Drummond lamp’s explosion sent metal shards flying into the ceiling, across the stage, and into the audience. As the crowd surged for the door with a variety of cries and caterwauls, I said a silent prayer that nobody would be trampled. “Good night, nurse!” said Dad. For a handful of moments, crouched down at the foot of the stage, with nothing but chaos around us,

saddlebag dispatches

Riley kept his hand on my shoulder. When I looked at him, his smile was sincere and it would’ve brought tears to my eyes had I not immediately been distracted by a crack in the lens of his glasses. “Riley you’ve ruined your spectacles,” I said. “Hmm?” He pulled his head backwards and looked down his nose. “So I have.” Then: “How’s the marshal?” “Are you all right, Dad?” I said. “Well enough.” He patted himself as he stood. “And you?” I assured him that Riley and I were no worse for wear, and he called to some men nearby. “Make sure nothing’s caught fire.” “Anybody hurt up there?” said one of the men. “We’re okay.” The same couldn’t be said for Doc Hamilton. The poor fellow had taken the brunt of the blast and lay on top of Rudolph’s corpse, an equally lifeless heap. Bodies were literally beginning to stack up. “Nelson! Gunderson!” Dad shouted at two of his

deputies. “See how badly folks are hurt.” Miraculously, as we would discover during the next few days, none of the theater patrons were seriously injured. With an odd assortment of small cuts and light bruises from the contained blast, it seemed they did more harm to each other trying to escape the auditorium. “Get that bunch under control,” said Dad, marching away. “Another deliberate attempt I think,” said Riley. I brushed at Riley’s dark coat. “You think Wilkens tampered with the light?” “I do,” said Riley. "There can be little doubt. Once he realized what I'd ascertained about the water, he deliberately moved the light. Did you notice? He pretended to be helping the doctor, but the light didn't shine on the crime scene at all." “But you’re okay? You’re not hurt?” I pulled a stray bit of rubbish from his hair. “Why no, Lacey. Are you?” “No, I…” Gently, I pushed the cracked spectacles up his nose.



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches

“I just don’t know how I would…. If you were hurt, I mean…” I let my words trail off when I realized Riley wasn’t listening. I followed his eyes, turned to see Ilsa Hamilton, the doctor’s daughter rushing toward us. I reached out, but she brushed past, sobbing, a look of twisted anguish on her face. Despite her long dress, she took the short set of steps in two strides and stood on the ruined stage amidst a scattering of charred brass and twisted iron. “To lose her father in such a gruesome manner.” But Ilsa didn’t so much as glance at Hamilton’s remains. Instead, she ran to and fro around the radius of the blast, under the box seats, behind curtains and back to the front of the stage. “It doesn’t appear to be her father she’s worried about,” said Riley. Ilsa spun from side to side, bouncing impatiently, pulling at her long, black hair. “Can we help you, Miss?” said Riley. He climbed to the stage, but stopped as Ilsa frantically looked to the

left, to the right. “Where’s Gil?” she said through her tears. “Where’s Gil?” “Gil is Mr. Wilkens’ first name,” I reminded Riley. “Where is he?” she cried, and stepped back again. Now she was directly under one of the curtained box seats, it’s railing and banners dark with soot from the explosion. “Where’s Gil?” Riley held both hands forward in a reassuring manner. “Mr. Wilkens isn’t here,” he said. I realized he was right. Rudolph and the doc were still where they fell. If he’d been caught in the blast, Wilkens should have been there too. But he wasn’t. “There's Wilkens now,” said Riley from the stage. Across the auditorium, weaving his way in and out among the last of the crowd, I saw him. Butternut pants, cotton shirt and braces. The marshal was only two steps away. “Dad! Stop that man. Butternut pants!” Just as I saw Dad reach for Wilkens, Ilsa issued a demand.



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“No you don’t,” she said. On stage, Riley was a statue. Ilsa had a small twobarrel Remington Derringer pointed at his chest. “Back away,” she told him. “Please, Miss,” said Riley. “If you’d take a moment to observe the situation, I’m sure you would see that it’s quite precarious. In fact, I would advise you to take at least three or four steps forward. Well, six might be best.” “I don’t think so,” said Ilsa. “It’s not for my sake you understand,” Riley explained. “I’m merely trying to be of some service. Frankly, I don't think you're paying attention to what's going on around you.” I told you my boyfriend doesn’t understand people. Especially wild eyed lunatics. “You did it together, didn’t you?” I said to Ilsa. “You and Wilkens killed Rudolph. Then your father.” She smiled casually. “What do you know about it, Cowgirl?” she said. “Please,” said Riley. “I really must insist we discuss this elsewhere.” “Insist?” said Ilsa. “The cowgirl’s boyfriend insists. What are you, some kind of gunslinger? I don’t see any pistols on you, mister.” I climbed to the stage. “He’s a scientist,” I said. “And Riley,” I said, “I do really think we should discuss it now. Riley.” I directed a question to him. “Was Mr. Rudolph poisoned?” “Well, yes, Lacey, I believe so, but we need—“ “Shush,” I said. “How do you know it?” “Esculin,” he said. “I noticed it almost immediately after Rudolph collapsed.” “Noticed what?”

“You’ll recall I saw something odd. You see, just like esculin in solution, the water in the glass was giving off a faint blue florescence under the intense light of the Drummond lamp. The effect was described by Dr. Eugene Lommel in the February 1876 issue of the Popular Science monthly. It’s my hypothesis the water was tainted with the intent of harming Mr. Rudolph.” “Nope, not a gunslinger,” said Ilsa. “Or maybe the intent was to harm Dr. Hamilton,” I said. “To set up an incident that would bring him to the stage where he could be killed in an accident. With the entire town as witness, nobody would ever question it.” “Naturally, Ilsa would have easy access to her father’s store of chemicals,” said Riley “But why would a beautiful young woman want to kill her father.” Beautiful?! “Thank you for that,” said Ilsa. “Riley, you’re not much for affairs of the heart,” I said. “Or for paying attention to what’s going on in town. Rumors have been flying about Ilsa and Gil Wilkens for weeks. About how Ilsa’s father disapproved of their relationship.” Ilsa jabbed the pistol toward me. “You talk too much.” “Drop the gun.” Dad’s voice came from the main floor. Beside him, was Wilkens, his head hanging low, his wrists clamped together in irons. “I won’t,” said Ilsa, closing one eye as if to aim. “You’ll have to take me—“ As if on cue, Riley Boone covered the distance between himself and Ilsa in one, enormous leap, slamming the girl to the hard wood floor beyond, sending the small pistol flying even as a heavy oak

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railing from the box seat above crashed into the spot where she’d stood only seconds before. “I tried to warn you,” said Riley as he climbed to his feet. “Perhaps now we can finish discussing the situation over here.” •

richard prosch

Outside, later that night, a fat bank of moonlit clouds rode the far horizon west away from Randolph City. Holding tight to Riley’s arm, I stepped lightly down the dusty road toward the modest frame house Dad and I shared. “He may not have shown it, but the marshal was proud of you tonight,” I said. “He’s a fine lawman,” said Riley. “And you’re a fine scientist,” I said. “It was Mr. Edison who left so much behind in my workshop. All those journals and equipment. Halffinished experiments. There’s a lot to study.” “A pity about Ilsa Hamilton. Wilkens, too.” I made a clucking sound with my tongue. “Love leads people do odd things.” For once, Riley was quiet. “The foolish chances a person takes,” I said. “The opportunities one passes by.” I watched a pair of cowboys lead their horses down the street. “The serious contemplation of love can drive you mad. And the silly bits make you laugh.” “Silly bits?” “When Ilsa called you a gunslinger.” “You called me a scientist.” “My DaVinci Kid,” I said. “What?” “It just sort of popped into my mind.” “I’m primarily a clockmaker.“ “As such, perhaps you can think up a way to stop time.” Then I kissed him right there in the middle of the dusty street, and it felt as if time did indeed stop. If only for that instant.



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


110 saddlebag dispatches

A WRITING MACHINE Busy and prolific are two adjectives that would normally at odds with one another, yet John J. Dwyer somehow pulls it off.


eaching history at Southern Nazarene, it was important for John J. Dwyer to be close to the historical record and to include nonfiction sources in order to gain trust and also stay abreast upon recent discoveries. When penning fiction, especially historical fiction, John found it was a way to help the reader learn about a time and setting and the events which occurred. “It’s important to include accurate history, so the power of the story is not lessened,” John said. “There’s really no need to make things up which impacted the people in the story. Obviously, with fiction, it’s not going to be 100 percent true… the thoughts and motives of the fictional characters. I really approach fiction to be as accurate as possible and try to write as lively a story as I can.” His recent nonfiction release first volume of The Oklahomans: The Story of Oklahoma and Its People, which covers the history of the state up until statehood is a testament to that approach as he wants the reader to get caught up in the narrative as opposed to being bored by facts and figures.

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work under the hood of a car with no one to really HISTORY John began working for a newspaper when he was teach them. Writing is like that for me.” When he was in high school he chose journalism. still in high school. However, as far back as he could remember, he was writing. He had a strong interest This led him to an opportunity to work at a newspaper in history, storytelling and learning about interesting starting in sports. It included a full-time summer job. “I am of the belief God creates within us the DNA people. In the fourth grade, he even crafted his own sports page. John wrote the stories “ T H R O U G H M Y H A N D S , I WA N T T H E R E A D E R TO M E E T and put in the names of his classmates. V I B R A N T C H A R A C T E R S A N D L E A R N T H E H I S TO RY. . . T H E He also penned R O M A N C E . W R I T I N G B OT H F I C T I O N A N D N O N F I C T I O N , T H E westerns, World K E Y I S R E S E A R C H . H E AV Y A N D O B S E S S I V E R ES E A R C H . . . " War 2 dramas, and even some gangster stories. “It just came somewhat natural for me,” said John. for the gifts and talents to benefit others,” said John. “I had a pretty good clue early on what I wanted to do.” “There are some guys who are born with a knack to

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A CONSTANT COMPANION John's grandson, Luke, is a huge inspiration and influence in his life. So much so, John even dedicated his last novel to the young man.

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A VITAL INFLUENCE John credits much of his success to the influence of his family, including his wife, Grace (shown with John at top and bottom), his daughter, Katie (shown at far left center), and his grandson, Luke (shown at far right center and opposite).

While John didn’t do what was expected of him by his Creator, he believed there was no wasted time in his life. “In Romans, it says, ‘we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,’” John said. “That’s not to say all things are good, but things are worked to good. I got through school and college and did not have a responsible life. I made some mistakes in my career and my relationships. Looking back I didn’t always make the best decisions." Which is not to say every decision was bad. After attending college at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma, John went on to meet his wife, Grace, and together they had and raised a daughter, Katie. Today, along with the addition of their grandson, Luke, the Dwyer's form a close-knit family unit... and one that has had a huge influence on John's life, career, and writing. “My family, my faith—all of it has led me to strive harder in my business career, as an author and a publisher. It has helped me understand the business instead of just the humanities. To have a number of years of working with Oghma has helped me be sensitive to the hopes and desires of others and see things through their lives, and not just an author’s eyes.


saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches


AN UNSHAKABLE BOND John celebrates his recent Will Rogers Medallion win with the most important people in his life—his grandson, Luke, his daughter, Katie, and his wife, Grace.


saddlebag dispatches

A RENAISSANCE MAN John's natural charisma and his voluminous knowledge of history makes him a popular guest on radio and television throughot his home state of Oklahoma.

“And I’m certainly glad I became a Christian. It has only Native American Confederate general of that helped me find my real priorities and it has turned on a time period. Watie had lived through a turbulent span of American history, including the Trail of Tears. creative spigot—a creative flow of ideas which had been “The publisher felt he didn’t have a big enough absent and led me to my first novel.” Stonewall was a historical novel about Thomas national name, but it will be one of the things I’m working on, a prequel for Shortgrass which will overlap Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson. John describes the novel as being about a “very fascinating character, who was with Watie in a supporting role,” John said. colorful and eccentric. “It has sold well in the last 20 years and it doesn’t hurt SHORTGRASS John’s novel about Lance Roark is already available that he was alive through a remarkable part of American history, the Mexican War, the military “ A N D I ’ M C E R TA I N LY G L A D I B E C A M E A C H R I S T I A N . I T academy,” John said. HAS HELPED ME FIND MY REAL PRIORITIES AND IT HAS The book led to a sequel about Robert T U R N E D O N A C R E AT I V E F LOW O F I D E A S W H I C H H A D E. Lee. John got to B E E N A B S E N T A N D L E D M E TO M Y F I R S T N OV E L . ” use a lot of the same characters from the previous book. and encompasses John’s love for storytelling and “It was a big book and with the advent of Kindle, it seemed to have a bit of a Renaissance with a recent history. He is working on the prequel, currently titled Sooner. It will tell the story of Lance Roark’s greatspike in sales.” Years ago, John was visiting with Dr. Bob grandfather, one of the pioneers of Oklahoma. “I was interested in doing archetypal stories in Blackburn, the executive director of the Oklahoma Oklahoma and Texas… the struggles and challenges Historical Society, about penning the third book of Civil War generals. This time about Stand Watie, the of the West, the Civil War in Indian Territory… the

saddlebag dispatches 117 conflicts between tribes, the Plains Indian Wars… after that the Land Run and building of Oklahoma into a modern state,” said John. “It just doesn’t tell the story of Oklahoma, but America. “Through my hands, I want the reader to meet vibrant characters and learn the history… the romance. Writing both fiction and nonfiction, the key is research. Heavy and obsessive research on both fiction and nonfiction… learning the culture, the dress and how they talked. Where there were competing theories, I try to have an informed opinion and what they are likely to do.” Shortgrass is about a Mennonite (Lance Roark) overcoming challenges and obstacles in what John describes in the “amazing historical context” of the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression in Oklahoma and leading into World War II. Lance is a great athlete and part of the first big OU (University of Oklahoma) football team. “The state had some really great fliers like Pearl Carter Scott, I modeled one character after her. Charles Lindbergh also spent a great deal of time in Oklahoma,” said John. “I don’t know why… I guess there’s plenty of wind and open spaces. I wanted to have this clean-cut Mennonite boy and have him deal with worldly challenges.” Shortgrass covers up to the attack on Pearl Harbor and the first year in Europe. It’s sequel Mustang will be the European air war. THE RIGHT PROTAGONIST Saving Private Ryan from Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks spawned the successful HBO miniseries Band of Brothers and its sequel, The Pacific. There was a third miniseries slated, Masters of the Air. However, the project never materialized. The Pacific never received the same reception as Band of Brothers and the expense of filming an air war over Europe may have scuttled the project. “I’m hoping what we’re doing is going to be exciting,” said John. “Never has a dramatic story been written about this thrilling event: two of the most proficient militaries in history over the skies of Europe… in the climatic sequence of the war, and our guy Lance will be in the thick of it.”

Mennonite farm boy Lance Roark’s faith is as big as the challenges he faces on his family’s drought-ravaged Dust Bowl spread on the old Chisholm Trail. He can also run over, around, and away from people on the football field and is a natural-born aviator. These abilities lead him to college gridiron glory and bring him into contact with famed aviators Charles Lindbergh and Wiley Post, entertainment icons Will Rogers and Bing Crosby, best-selling young author John F. Kennedy, and President Franklin Roosevelt. As war clouds gather across the seas, Lance finds romance first with teenaged Chickasaw cowgirl and stunt flying sensation Sadie Stanton, then with beautiful oil heiress Mary Katherine Murchison, whose mesmerizing voice carries her to the heights of Big Band Era stardom. Nearly all of this crashes against his pious, peaceable ways. And it leads him into the dangerous world of America First, the Lindbergh-led organization that opposes the popular Roosevelt’s covert drive toward American involvement in World War II, now ablaze in both Europe and the Pacific. When the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, Lance, with his lifelong commitment never to raise his hand against another human being, faces his ultimate decision—whether to accept command of a B-17 Flying Fortress in which he would face, and inflict, mass slaughter in Nazi-occupied Europe amidst history’s most fearsome war. (350 pages, Tiree Press, 2017) Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-63373-203-2 ($24.99) Paperback ISBN: 978-1-63373-204-9 ($14.99) Ebook ISBN: 978-1-6373-205-6 ($3.99)


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A FEW GOOD COLLABORATORS No man—nor book—is an island, and John has had more than a few helping hands with his novels and history books. Among them, artist Neal Taylor (shown at top right), videographer and digital wizard Grant Hobbs (center right), and publisher and cover designer Casey W. Cowan (bottom right).

John was reading Masters of the Air and noticed it had no central character, the likely protagonist. The series would have been shot episodically with bombers, the fighters, and the commanders. John’s original idea for Mustang was facing the same issues. “My agent was a big help. My tendency is to go big,” John said. “My synopsis for Mustang became two books and focused on a central character. Gil (Gilbert Miller) has been a huge help for me… helping me climb vertically to a deep point of view for Lance, which is what we have done. Not only is he a Mennonite, but a modern-day cowboy. Being as that is, he’s almost a Forrest Gump… telling many different stories over 12 years between the two books. We don’t want to make it unbelievable… he just gets into situations and has interesting adventures that can happen almost anywhere—and do. From writing historical fiction to nonfiction storytelling, there may be a need to create composite characters as well as research.

saddlebag dispatches

A FUTURE CO-AUTHOR? John and Luke sign copies of Shortgrass together at a recent Barnes and Noble signing.



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“For me, the bigger question is: When do I quit writing?” John said. “When I’m researching, I’ll start sketching outlines. It’s different each time. I may use index cards, storyboard… an excel spreadsheet. Usually, I’ll have a little bit of writing done before I start to research and I tend to do both at the same time. “However, you have to know when to take the book to press. You can only do so much and at some point, the ‘baby’ has to be born. I’ve written enough now to know when a fictional story is finished. Non-fiction is an infinite universe… there’s always one more fact… one more colorful picture… a compelling character. Once The Oklahomans came out there were several months in which I was getting new information and wishing I could have included in the book. “With fiction, it’s a bit easier. Sometimes I will have the ending written and it’s just a matter of going back and tweaking it. Starting fiction is easy… stopping is the challenge.”

A FAVORITE SON John is a constant presence in his hometown of Norman, Oklahoma, and takes part in many local church and charity functions.

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A MAN OF THE PEOPLE John takes a moment during his Shortgrass launch party in May to stand with a family who uses his history books to help homeschool their children.

Shortgrass was the story John wanted to tell, but he had to decide whether he had enough to go about it as a non-fiction work or as fiction. What it came down to was: Who is the protagonist? “It was a judgment call on my part,” John said. “Can that person serve as a means to the end? Just think it through and be objective… do you have to take many dramatic liberties? What I lean on is: When in doubt, go fictional character. It has less potential complications. With Shortgrass… it’s largely based upon historical figures, so I felt I had to be careful. You got freedom with writing historical fiction, as long as you can back it up. Have the protagonist fictional, but supported by real characters. If it’s about an event, you can use real names of people, create fictional characters in historically recognizable roles. When we have more distance from the event, a representative is needed to be our witness, but he or she has to be just as authentic as the other characters."

ADVICE FOR WRITERS If John has one piece of advice for his fellow writers, it's to find writing groups and other people to give you feedback—positive and negative. “A local writing group will help by giving you input,” said John. “It easier when you’re off by yourself, but if you want others to read your work… a writer’s group is a good place to start. The Oghma team is really good at that. You have to have an open ear and be humble, but it can make you a better person and a better writer. It may not be fun. No one is perfect, even the smallest nugget from a person can help.” —George “Clay” Mitchell is an award-winning reporter and photographer. When he’s not on the trail writing for Saddlebag Dispatches, he works for the Crawford County Press-Argus Courier in Van Buren, Arkansas, where he has served as Sports Editor for many years. He is also now working on his first novel, a noir mystery set in 1930's Hot Springs, Arkansas.


illy looked at himself in the mirror in his room. His boots were polished. Bending, he shoved a stray edge of his blue jeans into the top of his right boot and stood up. He frowned at the bronze Peterbilt belt buckle with the picture of a truck on it. That’s gonna be a gold bull-rider one day, he thought. He studied the red plaid cowboy shirt he wore. The snaps were faux mother-of-pearl just like real cowboys sometimes wore. It was a birthday gift from his older brother, Tom. Billy opened a large cardboard box and took out his hat. It was a silver belly Gus style and made him look several inches taller with the high creased crown. Mom and Dad had given it to him last Christmas, and it was his prize possession. He put it on and pulled it down in the front to shade his eyes. Satisfied, he went to his dresser for the final touch. In the back of a drawer, behind his underwear was the old Copenhagen can with his collection of wheat-ear pennies and one buffalo nickel. He shoved it into his right rear pocket. “I can always tell Mom that I’m taking it to show Uncle Jimmy my coins. She doesn’t have to know

that I want a ring on my jeans like a real cowboy,” he thought. Satisfied with his appearance, he nodded and turned to the door as his mother’s voice rang out in the hallway. “Billy, what on earth is taking you so long?” “Nothing, Mom. I’m ready.” “Those aren’t the clothes I laid out for you to wear.” She marched into his room with a disapproving frown. “Please, Mom. Uncle Jimmy’s a real cowboy and I want him to know that I am too.” “Well, alright. At least they’re clean,” she said. “Why do you insist on wearing your jeans tucked into your boots? Come on, then. Your father’s already in the truck and your aunt Patsy’s going to have dinner on the table by the time we get there.” Billy scampered past her and ran for the truck before she could change her mind. “How are we doing for time?” His mother climbed into the truck beside him. “We’ve still got forty-five minutes and it’s only a thirty-minute drive to their place in Huntsville.” Billy’s dad put the truck in gear, made a U-turn across the lawn and pulled out onto the road.


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“So, you want to be a rodeo bum like me, huh?” Jimmy smiled at Billy, slightly amused at all his cowboy finery. “Uh-huh.” Billy was disappointed to see his uncle wasn’t really dressed like a proper cowboy. He wore blue jeans, but had on a Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirt, black Adidas sneakers and a Mossy Oak baseball cap. Billy’s eyes took in the belt buckle. It was silver and embossed with a bull rider. The scrollwork above and below was engraved. N.I.R.A. Southern Region 2016 Champion Bull riding Jimmy followed Billy’s gaze. “Do you want to see it?” “Could I?” Jimmy unbuckled his belt and released the snaps which held the buckle. He handed it to Billy. Billy took the buckle in both of his little hands with a look of total awe on his face. He ran his thumb over the scrollwork feeling the engraving. “You won this?”

“Sure did. It came down to me, Bobby West from A&M, and a cowboy from LSU. Bobby scored an eighty-two, I got a good bull and marked eighty-four and the cowboy from LSU bucked-off.” “Here.” Billy held the buckle out. “You better take this back. I don’t want to drop it or nuthin’.” “You wouldn’t drop it.” Jimmy laughed as he took his buckle and put it back on his belt. “So, Jimmy, what do I gotta do to be a bull rider?” “Well, the first thing you have to do, is to grow some. How old are you, anyway?” “I’m five. I’ll be six in May.” “You really wanna be a bull rider?” “More than anything.” “Then you better start training.” “How?” “Do you have any bottled water at home?” “Sure. We drink it all the time.” “Alright. You need to build-up strength in your arms. Here’s what you do....”

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About a week after they came back from Huntsville, Billy’s mom walked into his room and caught him doing curls with a bottle of water. Billy finally admitted that Jimmy had told him it was a good way to build up strength in his riding arm. He waited for his mom to take the water away from him, but she didn’t. She just turned and went back to the kitchen. Billy heard her on the telephone asking Jimmy what was going on. When she got off the phone, she called for him to come to the living room and bring his bottle with him. “You don’t have to hide in your room to do that,” she said. “I put the cartoon channel on. You can do your curls while you watch TV and I make supper.” Billy was shocked. He thought she would be mad at him. •

Billy sat in the living room after supper doing his curls with a small dumbbell his father brought home one day. He had worked with the water bottle every day, going from five curls when he first started to fifty before the burn in his arm got too bad. He had to start over with the dumbbell. It was a whole two pounds. “How many can you do, now?” His father watched him doing the curls. “Twenty yesterday. I’m trying for twenty-five today.” “Don’t overdo, son. If it gets to burning, stop. I don’t want you hurting yourself.” “Yes, sir.” “I was thinking about taking a drive down to Houston tomorrow. You want to come along?” “Sure. What do you have to go to Houston for, dad?” “You’ll see.”

Billy’s dad pulled the truck off the road following the signs to NRG Stadium. They parked in the crowded parking lot and joined the crowd walking toward the gate. When they got inside, Billy’s dad turned left to an area marked Kid’s Land. “What are we doing here, Dad?” Billy saw a petting zoo area and wanted to go pet the animals. “Just stay with me, son.” He walked past a medium-sized arena with some bleachers set up next to it and went over to a small trailer parked beside the arena. “Can I help you, sir?” The woman in the trailer was older than Billy’s dad and sounded friendly. “Yes, ma’am. I’ve got Billy Sykes here with me.” The woman consulted some papers she had in front of her. “Yes, sir, Mister Sykes. I have him right here.” She picked up a sheet of paper from the desk and jotted a note on the roster she had checked. “Here’s his number and a couple of safety pins for you.” She handed them to Billy’s dad. “Turn around, son,” he said. Billy did as he was told and felt his dad pinning the paper number to the back of his shirt. When he turned back around, he looked at his dad with questions burning in his eyes. “You still wanna be a cowboy?” “Yes, sir.” “Alright, then.” His dad laid a hand on his shoulder and walked him past the trailer. There was a sign along the fence with an arrow pointing the way they were going. Contestants, but Billy couldn’t read that well. They walked into an open-ended barn. Billy saw a group of people at the far end. He noticed that a lot

of them were kids around his age, some older. The barn had a strange soapy-chemical smell to it. Looking at the pens on either side of the barn, he realized that it came from the sheep that were penned there. As they drew close to the other end of the barn and the people, Billy saw a man sitting at a desk with a sign in front of him. Mutton Bustin’ Check-In. They walked up to the desk. “Billy Sykes. Number One-oh-eight,” said his dad. The man checked the paperwork in front of him and made a notation. “You’ll be the fourth rider out,” he said. “Son, do you know the rules?” “No, sir.” “We’ll pick you up and put you on the sheep. You can use both hands to hang on. The idea is to ride ‘em for six seconds. Do you think you can do that?” “Yes, sir.” “Alright then. We’ll be getting started shortly.” They stood around for fifteen minutes or so before the P.A. system crackled announcing the first rider, a kid named Gilberto Mendoza. The man from the desk and another assistant hoisted a kid up on the back of a sheep that was penned on the right. Several cowboys in working clothes stood in the breezeway to make sure the sheep went the right direction. Billy was so excited he could hardly see. Suddenly, the man holding the sheep let go, and Gilberto went bouncing out into the arena. He was hanging off the side of the sheep and fell off just outside the barn. The next little cowboy leaned into the turn and made it half-way down the arena before he fell off. “Those sheep sure can turn fast,” he said to his dad. “Yes, son, and they have sharp hooves. If you fall off, get up and run as fast as you can.” “Yes, sir.” “Okay. We’re up. Here ya go.” A cowboy was holding a sheep just outside of the pen. Two other cowboys picked Billy up and set him down on the sheep. Billy didn’t see anything to hang onto so he dug his fingers into the soft wool and gripped for all he was worth. He held his left arm up, bent at the elbow like he’d seen bull riders do.

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“You can use both hands, ya know,” said one of the cowboys standing nearby. “I know, sir.” “Alright. Get ready.” Billy nodded his head and they let go of the sheep. Billy leaned into the turn and stayed on. The sheep ran out into the arena then made a sudden right turn. It caught Billy by surprise and he nearly flew off to the left. He pulled with his right arm as hard as he could and hooked his right knee to stay on. He was nearly parallel to the ground with the sheep running full-speed when he heard a loud buzzer. He let go and crashed to the ground on his left shoulder. Sliding a couple of feet, he got a mouthful of dirt. Billy remembered what his dad had told him and leapt up spitting dirt out while running for the fence as fast as his short little legs could carry him. His dad was running across the arena to meet him. “You did it, Billy. You stayed on him.” “I did?” “You sure did, son. Good ride.” Billy grinned all the way back home holding the blue ribbon. He couldn’t wait to show his cousin Jimmy.

dennis doty

D a

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 the neighbor kids to get off his lawn. Billy is Dennis's second story to appear in Saddlebag Dispatches, for which he has since become an Associate Editor. He's hard at work on a novel of his own, and also blogs on a regular basis on a multitude of subjects—not the least of which is quality in writing and editing. Learn more about Dennis and his writing at, or on his author page on Facebook.



saddlebag dispatches


he six gun's dragon-like mouth belched fire, its lead tooth slicing through his gut like whore's silk. He screamed his entire life into the knotted, manure tasting burlap sack filling his mouth. The blast broiled the fair skin of his belly and blood bubbled up and boiled over, spilling out of this new wound. He danced and thrashed, his hands chafing against the hemp rope that bound him to the scaffolding. His legs kicked up puffs of dust as he weaved back and forth, suspended just high enough that only his knees and the tips of his boots found ground. He opened his eyes to the myriad darkness that had plagued them since someone had slipped something over his face three hours before. Black swirled in front of him, black filled with agony, confusion, anger, but most of all betrayal. Noises around him provided accompaniment to the dervish of emotions and agonies he was swept in. The dry drone of crickets somewhere behind him. The sound of his own blood splashing against the ground like thick slop thrown to wasteful pigs. And voices, not the voices of angels calling him to his mother’s side like the hymns always told about, but voices of men,

evil men he’d once called friends, partners. And one that he had trusted enough to ride into the closest thing to Hell this world had. The voice of a man he would have died for. In the most heinous of ways, Sam Hane was doing exactly that. “Remove his hood,” came the resonant authoritative thunder that had decided life and decreed death in the District of Western Arkansas and the Indian Territory for the last eighteen years. “Samuel should at least glimpse the last moments. He should know of the contribution he makes.” A flock of fingers tangled themselves up in whatever was over Sam Hane’s head, probably just another cowboy’s burlap, and yanked it off. It was still night, he could tell that through his squinted, reddened eyes. Flurries of motion haunted the corners of his vision, blurry figures that he knew to be Borton and Maker. Borton moved in and out of Sam’s range of vision, the fencepost of a man carrying some sort of flame, holding it sideways. A candle. A candle with red wax dripping from it as it burned, dripping as Sam’s blood spilled from his stomach. Borton walked around him, dollops of wax in his


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trail, forming a crude circle around him. Maker stood almost out of view, only his pudgy hands a constant. Slinging, throwing something toward Sam, at him, covering him. A dust, a gray cloud of powder. Not fine, like lady’s face powder, but coarse and sharp, slivers of something amongst the grains. More fire flickered around him, the incessant sizzle of the gas lamp he knew to be out in front of and to the right of the gallows adding itself to the cacophony. All of that was hazy, blurry, even though Sam knew it all to be true. The man in front of him, however, the gaunt, dignified figure before him, masked everything else from Sam Hane’s view, from his mind. Judge Isaac Parker, his salt and pepper hair wet with perspiration and blood, the greasy mix caught in his trimmed mustache, fully commanded the final few seconds of Sam Hane’s attention and life. “I abhor waste, Samuel,” Parker intoned, unfolding his arms from across his chest. One hand held the hogleg that had delivered the bullet into Sam’s gut, the other the Judge’s trademark wooden gavel, scarred

from dealing death to many a worthy badman. “In time, resources, and words as well. But it is important, I believe, that you know you have not failed.” Parker loomed in front of Sam, his arms outstretched, each hand holding an instrument of judgment, Fort Smith’s very own fully realized spirit of vengeance. “You came to me, Samuel,” Parker orated, “two years hence and stated eloquently your desire to wear my star.” Parker’s lipless mouth turned up into a maniacal grin. “To be one of my marshals, one of my agents in my thankless war on violators and outlaws. And I gave you that right, Samuel, due to your fortitude, your determination, and blind dedication to doing what was right. A dedication,” Parker said wistfully, “that mirrored my own when I first arrived in Fort Smith. One that led us both, you and I, here.” “I was convinced,” Parker continued, “that the law and my own aggressiveness in pursuing it would be sufficient to be the judge of this District, Samuel. Until I actually arrived here and purveyed that I had not been sent to a backwater Arkansas settlement, but

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I had been placed as guard and keeper at the figurative mouth of Hades. You know the depraved souls that haunt the territory, Samuel. You’ve fought them and dragged many of them back to me in the last two years. Men who have committed such travesties that simple hanging was a pleasure they did not deserve. I learned, woefully too late,” Sam swore he saw tears brimming in the Judge’s eyes as his insane prattering stampeded on, “that these men were of such true debauchery and evil that the only recourse I had to truly battle them, to stop their infectious spread, was to align myself with the forces they served. To recruit men not unlike them to defeat them. And to take certain measures,” shadows filled his drawn cheeks, dancing like gray imps along his face, “to insure justice prevailed. Even at the cost of lives and souls.” Sam Hane shut his eyes and thrust his head down, the only way he could show that he had no interest in what the man he’d once respected more than any man of the cloth ever was saying. Parker continued, smatterings of speech and sight tying enough of what

Sam’s pain-addled mind had pieced together. Maker moaning about someone finding Sam’s body and blood come sunup. Baker explaining in frustrated snippets that no one had found the other sixteen, that nothing would be left but clean ground beneath the gallows. Parker telling them both to ‘quell your fears and make right the task at hand.’ Maker throwing even more powder, reaching into an odd colored leathery sack held in his left hand. Borton lighting another candle, this time walking so the wax dripped in a different shape, up to a point, then back down and over and repeating. And words from all three men in the midst of their conversation, words in a language Sam Hane had never heard in his life, not from Indian, Negro, or white man, but words that frightened him. Tapping some deep, primal horror that welled up within Sam, forcing his mind to want to flee, to somehow retreat. But it could not run very far, only back to where this nightmare had started. Earlier in the evening, Borton and Maker had cajoled Sam to go out with them, to hit the dram houses



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up at the far end of Garrison Street. They and others had plied at him since the first day he’d put on the badge for Parker, but the Judge had been right. Sam Hane’s only drive was to serve the law and Judge Parker and to see justice done. This had been a desire storming in his heart and spirit his entire life, since his first memories of the Masonic Home for Orphans in Batesville. No family ever existed for Sam Hane, no semblance of a childhood. Only the urge to see wrong made right. He’d resisted the juvenile pleadings and teasings of other marshals for the last two years, but for some reason tonight, saw little harm and even felt compelled to at least trail along behind Borton and Maker on their jaunt through town. They hadn’t crossed a batwing door of a saloon, though, before Hane knew he’d made a mistake. In an alley between Moore’s Dry Goods and the Hewitt Hotel, Baker spotted a woman. Sam knew her. Molly Ferguson, daughter of one of the handful of doctors in town. Molly saw the three men as well and, blushing, said she was expecting someone, but would be on her way. What came next sounded the beginning of the end of Sam Hane. Borton grabbed Molly about the neck from behind, his snakelike arm tightening taut like dried leather, and forced her back into the alley. Maker followed, his fat hands making fast work of the girl’s coat, ripping into her bodice like a child at Christmas. Hane, overcome

with shock but for a second, drew his six-gun and shouted, demanding to know what was going on, telling them to leave her alone. Deep in the alley, Maker laughed, hawing like a donkey, and Molly only gurgled, her breath escaping in gasps from the alley. Hane ordered once more, threatening to shoot. Borton’s whiny scrape of a voice rose from the alley in response. A response that chilled Sam Hane’s bones. “Come on, Sam,” Borton invited, sadistic glee hanging on every word. “Take a taste with us. We’re the law, after all. The good people owe us something now and then. No one’ll know, boy. They never do.” Only one word made its way out of Sam Hane’s throat. “No.” “Then,” came a voice from behind him, one that Sam had heard sentence a murderer to hang mere hours ago, “you were correct, Borton. He is just the man to pay our yearly price for peace and prosperity.” And Sam Hane’s world ended, only to be savagely reborn with a gunshot to his stomach minutes ago. “You are a good man, Samuel,” Parker’s words intruded on Sam’s recollections, “and only good men, pure of heart and clean of vice, can help me bring justice to the badlands. Other men serve purposes, like Borton and Maker, but they are the Master’s hands, not his succor. I could not do my job, my destined duty without becoming what I despised. So,” Parker sounded almost regretful, yet justified, “I did that, not simply by employing men who would murder, rape, and steal in the name of my law. I sought out the true source of the corruption and decadence of not only what lies beyond Fort Smith to the west, but the very wellspring of wantonness and wickedness that has plagued humanity forever. I sought it, Samuel, I found it, and I gave myself to it. I sacrificed myself and the men who would carry out my will so that this town, this country would become the glowing bastion, the beacon it should be!” The cold steel of a gun barrel caressed the underside of Sam’s chin, forcing him to look up. Parker was there, his eyes vacant of any light. He whispered only so Sam could hear. “But even with such self-sacrifice,” Parker said in a sing song voice, a demented child reciting a lunatic’s nursery rhyme, “one must give life. Paying the piper. Giving good

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to the bad to make it all better. Simply put, one good soul, Samuel, one man of right mind and spirit every year. Not without sin, of course, as we are all born damned, but one who strives for the perfection only one ever attained. It is a pity, though,” Parker added, sincere sorrow in his voice, “that men like you are only good as fodder for the Great Beast I serve.” The barrel of the gun teased Sam’s parched skin, trying to tickle, but only taunting. “So, here you are, Samuel. Offered at the very gallows where law is made final. A lamb on the altar, as it were. And through you,” Parker stood up straight once more, again his arms in the air, “because of this offering, the godlessness that permeates throughout the land west of here shall never cross beyond Fort Smith and shall soon be smitten from the Earth.” “So, you see, Samuel,” Judge Isaac Parker said in an almost fatherly tone, “you truly have achieved what you have tried to do all of your years. You have surrendered everything, my boy, to see the law upheld and justice done. Be proud of that,” Parker insisted, swinging the

gun around, the lips of its barrel kissing Sam Hane’s forehead, “because it’s all you will have in the eternity of woe, anguish, and suffering you are about to enter.” Sam Hane felt the searing cold heat of the bullet shatter his skull and enter his brain before he ever heard the crack of the shot. And then nothing. Nothing but indescribable, blinding light. •

Splinters dug into his knees, pricks of sensation riding hard and loose up and down his body. His eyes opened slowly like thirsty cactus flower blossoms, desperate to live, but afraid of what might await them. His arms were no longer suspended above him, his wrists no longer tied to the gallows’ scaffolding. His head bowed, fingers of his right hand traveled across his stomach while his left ran its digits through his desert blonde hair. He pulled them both away, looking at them, expecting blood on his skin, gore between his fingers. Yet they were

saddlebag dispatches

dry and clean, spotless of any dirt or stain. His eyes saw beyond his hands. No dirt beneath him. Only wood. Weathered planks of wood nailed together as a platform. The last place the convicted stood before earning their just rewards in Fort Smith. Sam Hane stood on the gallows of Judge Isaac Parker. Damndest thing,” leaked a nasally squeal from the impenetrable darkness around Hane. He looked up, then around. Main Street was not off to his right nor was that single flickering gas lamp. No one, not Parker or his two cronies, not people returning home from the theater or staggering to the cat houses outside of town, no one was around him. Except for the owner of the disturbing voice, grinding like the rusted hinges of a coffin. “Howdy, lawboy,” the shrill tone rattled accusingly, “I been hopin’ to see you here. Reckoned one as lily white as you would get crawfished by the Lucifer’s own Judge soon enough.” Hane stood up, half supported by anger, the rest by fear. Instinctively, his hands brushed his hips, hoping to slide against pistol butts. They touched nothing. “I’m dead,” Hane stammered, his mind still fevered with the images and sensations of bullets and treachery. “My body oughtta be lying down below. Not up here.” The disembodied voice cackled like cascading chain links. “Down below,” it chortled, “that’s what ol’ Isaac is all about. He’s cast you off, Hane. Tossed you over to make sure that he keeps his iron hand on the Territory. Your body ain’t nowhere, all gone, eat up by little tongues of fire and stone.” “Hell.” Hane said, giving name to where he was, not swearing. That would do him no good if this phantom spoke true. “Hell is a gallows?” “Be fittin’, wouldn’t it?” The voice moved closer, a squat, but bulbous form waddling from the cavernous pitch in front of Hane. “Played hell with me, for sure and certain.” The form was a man, barely over five feet tall. The tattered tan shirt and raggedy brown pants barely contained his corpulent form. “But no, this ain’t the last stop on the ride.” Thinning black hair sat atop a roll of bulging skin that passed for his forehead, a stained straw pork pie hat hiding nothing, barely hanging on for the ride.

“This is the road in the wrong direction, I’d reckon.” Fat rippled from top to bottom as the ruddy faced man rocked back and forth, his legs like squat beer kegs. His skin was pasty white, pock marked with knife scars and acne. Except for where his neck should have been. There the skin was torn, as if it were fabric ripped apart. The muscles and tendons of his neck pulsated, dangling from the wound. “And me, I’m one of the stumbling’ blocks in your path, lawboy.” “John Thornton,” Hane whispered, his blue eyes unable to turn from the horrific spectacle of Thornton’s neck. Veins thumped and clustered around the man’s neck’s muscles, hints of wet white bone showing through. Hane had been there when that happened last year, the day in 1892 when Thornton was hung. The filthy little murderer who’d killed his own daughter after she’d had good sense to escape years of molestation at his hands went to the gallows in August. The hangman wrestled for what seemed like hours in the incessant Arkansas sun to get the noose over Thornton’s fat head. Even then, the ill-fitting rope couldn’t handle its load once the trap let loose. Thornton dropped like a stone and the rope held, but the corpulent killer’s weight could not resist gravity. The body wrenched and spasmed with such force that the folds of skin comprising Thornton’s neck split wide open, blood and bile spewing forth, his internal workings for all to see. Just as Sam Hane saw them now. “You’re standing,” Hane queried, his hands clenched in claws at his side out of habit, ‘between me and the Devil and you think I have a problem with that, John?” Thornton’s puffy lips curled up. “Me and others, Hane. But you can’t sit on your haunches and wait forever out, boy. You’d make a run at me soon enough. But,” Thornton thrusted forward, speed he’d never had in life pushing him headlong at Hane, “I ain‘t ever been one known for patience!” Hane sallied to the left as Thornton charged him. Reaching madly for a rail that wasn’t there, Hane balanced dangerously on the edge of the gallows platform, Thornton in front of him and endless emptiness behind him. Choosing the grotesque over the unknown, Hane got his feet about him and jumped at Thornton. Ducking low to avoid the deathblow



saddlebag dispatches

from the sadist’s ham like hands, Hane dropped punch after punch into Thornton’s flabby figure. The two men grappled one another, Hane hitting his opponent over and over again and Thornton giggling like a tickled schoolboy at every strike. “A noose couldn’t take me apart, lawboy,” Thornton shrilled. “You’re a nugget or shy off if you think you can.” Yelling in frustration, Hane relaxed his right fist and grasped wildly. His fingers dug into Thornton’s gaping neck wound, wrapping like steel pliers around soft tissue and wiry tendons. Thornton stopped dancing around and yelped like a scalded dog at the first touch of Hane’s hand. Hane sensed an unnerving tension take hold of Thornton and took advantage of it, yanking a handful of sinew and muscle out as if pulling a breached calf from its fighting mother. Thornton screamed and spun away from Hane across the gallows floor like a demented toy top. His fat inflated hands slapped at the hole in his neck as gibberish tumbled out of his mouth. He teetered on his barrel like legs, unable to steady himself. Hane watched blankly as John Thornton wavered at the edge of the platform across from him, one hand out, begging for Hane to take it, to pull him back. Hane wore an impassive stare until Thornton’s own bulk did him in once more, carrying him head over heel into whatever was beyond the gallows. Hane held his position, his eyes wary, waiting for Thornton’s obese paw to rise back up, to try to climb back at him. After that didn’t happen, Hane turned his back on where he’d awoken and moved forward. Thornton had been right. Waiting in the limbo between living and dying would rob Hane of all his faculties. Ahead was the only way he could go, farther along the platform. Toward the others Thornton mentioned, the others that would get in his way. Sam lost count of how many steps he’d taken, maybe four or four thousand, before he heard the turkey gobble. Back home out behind his little two room farmhouse east of Fort Smith, he’d have ignored it, counted it as another one of a thousand normal noises. But now in some vast purgatorial vacuum, any hint of someone or something else filled him with fight and hints of panic.

The gobble filled his ears and the silence around him again, a slow, steady warbling. “Not likely you’re a tom,” Hane offered aloud. “More so you’re another ill spent life that dangled below my feet some time ago.” Another gobble, this one punctuated with a shotgun blast, sent Hane tumbling forward to avoid being hit. As he ended up knelt on one knee, stories other marshals had told him around campfires while out in the territory came to mind. One in particular, of one of the earliest criminals hung by Parker’s whims and fancies. Of a man who killed his own friend, ambushed him in the woods. Of the way he killed him, his body nearly cut in half by a shotgun. And of how he got him into the woods in the first place. By gobbling like a turkey. “Orpheus McGee.” Sam Hane leaned forward, one hand on the ground, as he said the name, expecting someone to shuffle into view as if summoned. The infernal stillness about him exploded into a shower of lead pellets as a shotgun fired again, this time at Hane’s back, three barking shots in a row. Hane flattened himself against the wood beneath him, rolling to the left as the last two shots passed overhead. Again, Sam Hane floundered on the narrow walkway the gallows floor provided, his body prone at the left side of the precipice. Out of the nothingness across the platform, he watched something coalesce. Shiny silver, two nostril-like pits, cloud gray smoke curling from both of them. The double barreled shotgun looked like none Hane had ever seen, slender, sleeker, and almost giving off its own light. The wielder of the gun appeared less unique as he loped slowly toward Hane. He was thin, emaciated, a long dead sapling in an ill wind. Scraggly dirt brown hair matted on his forehead and hung to his shoulders. Sprigs of hair dotted his narrow rodent’s face like dobs of mud. Mismatched clothes hung on his frame like sheets on, borrowed from some other dead outlaw so McGee could be hung in them. His eyes gleamed like bloodstained pebbles, darting all around as if he expected an army to swoop down on him. “Figures,” Sam Hane taunted, careful to keep the gun in view. “Man who hides to kill once, hides to kill again.” McGee opened his mouth, his lips working to make words, but all that came out was a gobble.

saddlebag dispatches

Rivulets of skin hanging beneath his chin quivered as the unnerving strange sound roiled out of his throat. Hane pulled his legs forward, but made no attempt to stand. He again teased, “It’s no doubt why you hung, Orpheus. You’re a dram off to go around making bird noises even after you’ve shown yourself. Talk, man.” McGee stopped. His entire body shook, the gun’s deadly glare still steady on Hane. Suddenly, McGee looked up and bellowed, or at least tried to. Instead it was the unearthly trill of a bird never meant to sing. It rose in anger, then collapsed back in on itself in almost laughable sorrow. McGee raised the gleaming shotgun above his head, firing twice, throwing his arms wide. A rain of pellets pelted the platform around both men, death in drops of lead. As the last shot’s shout echoed, Sam Hane swung his legs out toward McGee, lashing out like a whip. The withered skeleton of a man whimpered like an injured bird, his feet flying out from under him. The gun flew one way out of his hands as Orpheus McGee fell the other onto his back. Hane followed his legs around, turning and sitting up quickly, launching himself for the weapon. As it hit the floor, Hane clambered after it. McGee made a play as well, crawling for the gun, bony fingers clawing for it. The gun skittered across the wood, yet another thing going as if pulled toward the darkness. Hane scooped it up, spun, and aimed it down at the floor behind him. Right in the center of Orpheus McGee’s chest. “You’re beat,” Hane rasped between clenched teeth. “Give me the shells and pass on away, Orpheus.” Abject terror fled from McGee’s face at Hane’s words. Instead his rat like mouth smiled, bits and pieces of that insipid turkey gobble of his slipping out. Chuckling. McGee was laughing at Hane with two barrels of a shotgun weighing on his chest. From somewhere far inside, Sam Hane tasted rage like he’d only tasted once before. It spread in him like a disease, a contagion running rampant in every vein, every cell, every beat of his heart. Roaring, he pulled the gun’s trigger, no longer caring that it would click on an empty chamber. Chaos erupted from the gun, shot riddling Orpheus McGee’s chest. The skinny scrap of man tremored, gurgling and gobbling. Surprised, Hane now sensed it.



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches

The weight of the gun. Loaded. Both barrels. Always, forever loaded. “No need to talk, Orpheus,” Hane spat, his finger tightening again. “You’ve said enough.” He fired again. The shot peppered Orpheus McGee’s body, convulsing into death. As the second dead corpse trembled, it broke up into pieces, falling away into dust, white powder with slivers of bone and man mixed in. As it swirled away in spirals, dispersed as if by a wind that Hane could not feel, he recognized the grainy remnants of McGee’s body. And a shudder bolted through his body. “Much obliged, friend. ‘Least I won’t have to hear that damn bird squawking ‘round here for a while.” Sam Hane did not hesitate. He whirled around, the shotgun following with him, already vomiting hell and ruin as it moved. Pellets strafed the gallows floor where the owner of the gravelly compliment should have stood. Nothing there but darkness and wood. “Good sense,” the throaty whisper added. “Make nice and all, try to keep you at ease. But you played it right. Gonna break you into tiny pieces and sew your soul to my hat.” A boulder-like fist slammed into the back of Sam Hane’s head, sending him sprawling to the ground. As consciousness burst into millions of blazing stars in his brain, Hane clung to the shotgun, pulling it tight against him as if he wanted to consume it. “On your back, friend. And slow.” Hane followed orders and flipped over, the gun still pressed against his body. The man standing over him with a smoldering smoke wagon in his unfisted hand was an Indian. Not a large man, but not a trifle either, standing just shy of six feet tall. A black vest and blue shirt covered his broad chest, denim pants decorated with splotches of blood on his legs. His face was dark, mostly because of the shadow cast by the brim of the hat he wore. A hat Sam Hane remembered. One he had seen on display in Judge Parker’s office. A typical man’s hat, black with a wide brim made irregular by years of wear and tear. The crown captured Hane’s interest, though. Or rather, four mismatched buttons sewed into the crown. Four buttons marking four murders. “Tualisto.” The Creek brave nodded. “You’re a sharp blade,

friend. Most that come by here too concerned with soiling themselves to speak. You know quite a lot about the Judge’s business, though.” “Not from being taught,” Hane replied. “Just from looking and listening.” Tualisto nodded. “All a man needs.” He took a breath, even though Hane reckoned breathing was something none of these cursed things actually did, and sighed heavily. “Be mite interesting to keep you on, friend, to have someone to talk to. But,” Tualisto countered himself, his face contorting into the mask of a maniac, “I’d get around to hatin’ you enough to skin you later. Always happens that way.” He brought the six shooter around to face Hane. The stock of the shotgun struck Tualisto’s hand hard, slapping his pistol from his grip. Wrestling with the gun and to stand simultaneously, Hane had time only to grab the silver barrel with both hands as Tualisto attacked. The Indian swung hard, his fists like cannonballs, hammering Hane in a full on bombardment. The marshal feinted to the right, twisting around, hoping to shield himself, but Tualisto kept coming. An approaching storm of hatred and bloodlust, fists like murderous lightning. Sam Hane swung the shotgun savagely, now more of a shiny club than a firearm. Tualisto’s ferocious barrage gave him time for little else. The gun slapped the Indian in the left side, then up side his head, the hat atop it never wavering once. Tualisto grunted and fell back into a crouch, his hands up. He sprang at Hane again with all the grace of a stalking cat, a mountain lion determined to remain the hunter, not become the hunted. Sam Hane swung the gun again, batting Tualisto back as if he were a boy’s ball. The Creek groaned as he struck the hard wood of the gallows floor. Before he could even lift his shoulder from the platform, Hane now cast a shadow over Tualisto, the shotgun held high over his head. “Yeah,” Tualisto said, pleased, “Could spend a while talkin’ and playin’ with one like you, friend.” “Yeah, “Hane repeated, nodding, “but like you said, you’d get around to hating me before long.” The stock of the gun slammed mercilessly against Tualisto’s head. In one motion, Sam Hane



saddlebag dispatches

swung the gun, raised it back up, flipped it around, and cradled it properly, its barrels pointed squarely at Tualisto. Or where the talkative Creek had been. Nothing lay beneath Sam Hane now, nothing except four buttons, thread haunting their holes, as if they’d been ripped from a hat. “All right!” Sam Hane shouted, his tolerance exhausted, his patience expired. “I’ve played your fool’s game! I’ve cleared the path of bad men who didn’t deserve the life they first had, much less this one! Now,” he raised the shotgun, ready for whatever might materialize in front of him, “show yourself! Cards on the table!” “Sorry about that. Straightforward isn’t always my strong suit.” Sam Hane had no words or thoughts to express what he heard. It was a voice, but one that came from within his own head and from the gallows floor and from every iota of darkness around him. Nothing he thought or said would capture the ferocity, the beauty, the singularity of the tone or the awesome power behind it. For the first time in his life, Sam Hane was truly stricken with awe and fear like he’d never experienced before. Hane turned, but then realized he hadn’t. The already off-kilter reality around him eddied and churned about him, the sheet of black shrouding everything slowly giving away to a shade of gray. In front of Hane was a man. A man seated on a high back wooden chair. He wore black and white and his face was hidden from view. Nothing covered it, no veil or brim shadowed it, yet Sam Hane could not see it. Any more than he could describe what the man looked like beyond hues of ebony and ivory. “This is it?” Hane asked, truly curious. “I fight three executed men and then pass on into damnation I don’t deserve?” “Oh,” the man in the chair said, “you definitely do not deserve what is coming, Samuel Hane. Parker is a fool whose machinations I simply decided to use for my own ends. And damnation might be just the word for it if it were anyone else. But, no,” he shifted in his seat, his face still hidden, “for you it’s more of a granting. Giving you something you’ve always wanted in a way you never imagined.”

“I want nothing from you. Isaac Parker sought righteousness and justice through Hell. I won’t do the same.” “Who said anything about Hell?” Sam Hane gasped, his throat suddenly constricting, something squeezing, strangling him. He dropped the shotgun, his hands tearing at his neck. He felt the coarseness of hemp rope at his throat. A noose. A hangman’s noose. “Do not worry, Samuel,” the man in the chair said soothingly as Hane was lifted up by the noose, now digging deep into his skin, curls of smoke rising around the loop. “Many who followed me have suffered trials and tribulations. You’re no different. And this will give you something in common with those around you.” Sam Hane would have screamed tears if he could have managed a breath. •

“How in the name—” Sam Hane smiled as words Isaac Parker hadn’t invoked in years caught in his throat. The Judge had been reviewing documents at his desk when Hane entered without warning. No one knew to warn Parker for no one had noticed the slender, rather handsome man pass through the courthouse and broach the stairs to the Judge’s chambers. Hane stood before Parker, a black long coat hiding what he wore beneath as well as the two holster outfit that adorned his waist, a shining, almost glowing silver pistol in each. A black hat with a slouched brim occluded most of Hane’s face, except for two piercing blue eyes that unnerved Isaac Parker to no end. “I’m here with a message,” Hane said. “You wanted the means by which to see the law upheld. You have it now. No more sacrifices of good men. No more incantations and late night manipulations. I will be your marshal, the man who goes into the badlands beyond what any man can comprehend and come back with those who commit trespasses against all laws.” “I— I—” Parker stammered. “You come from the Master?” “You have no idea,” Hane commented coldly. “I’ve

saddlebag dispatches

already started the work I’ve been given.” He flung two badges at Parker. “The murderers of Molly Ferguson have been captured and dealt with.” He gestured out the window toward the Judge’s gallows. Two bodies swung from the end of ropes. Borton and Maker. “And,” Parker said, a vestige of indignant selfimportance still alive, “if I refuse?” “Won’t matter,” Hane said. “His work will go on long after you’re boiled in brimstone, Judge.” “Here,” Parker offered, picking up one of the badges Hane had just tossed at him. “You’ll need this.” “No,” Hane argued. As he did, a small blotch of silver appeared on the right side of his coat, on his chest. It flowed smoothly on the black cloth, shifting and changing, forming finally into a star. A glimmering marshal’s star. “I’ve got one.” “What about men?” Parker said, eager to please whatever arcane powers were at work. “I’ll put every man I’ve got at your command.” “No need,” Hane waved again at the glass pane to Parker’s right. The Judge gasped audibly. The men on horseback outside his window had not been there seconds before. There were three of them, each one Parker recognized to his own horror. A disgustingly fat man, the muscles and tendons of his neck exposed through a yawning wound. A shriveled husk in a saddle, flaps of skin jiggling like a turkey’s comb beneath his chin. And an Indian, a Creek Parker knew, sitting high in the saddle, a hat with six buttons sewed on its crown. Parker’s eyes darted to the hat’s near twin, nailed to the office wall to his left. Hane continued, “I’ve got all the posse I’ll need. You’ve already seen to that, Judge.” Hane turned, his coat tails making a noise like dying breath as he moved, and started to leave. Isaac Parker jumped to his feet, finally overcome with confusion. “I— I don’t understand any of this, Hane!” Sam Hane hesitated at the door. He turned to face Parker. As he opened his lips to speak, Parker stared at Hane’s neck. A scar encircled it, resembling the rope of a hangman’s noose. “Like the Book says, Judge,” Hane’s scar burned brightly with each word like hot embers of a new fire, “He does work in mysterious ways.”


tommy hancock


teeped in pulp magazines, old radio shows, and all things of that era’s pop culture, Tommy Hancock lives in Arkansas with his wonderful wife and three children and obviously not enough to do. He is Partner in and Editor- in-Chief for Pro Se Productions, is an organizer of the New Pulp Movement, and has worked as an editor for various companies, including Moonstone, Dark Oak Press, and Oghma Creative Media. He is also an awardwinning writer for various companies, including Airship 27, Mechanoid Press, Pulpwork Press, Dark Oak, and Moonstone. Tommy works as Project Coordinator for Moonstone. He is also the man behind GUMSHOE RESEARCH CONSULTANTS, a company providing research services to writers of all types. West of Fort Smith is Tommy's first submission to Saddlebag Dispatches, and the opening of a new series of Weird West novels titled Hell's Own Posse. Look for the first book in 2019 from Galway Press.



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches

SA D D LEBAG special There ain’t a square inch of these thousands of acres I don’t know as well as the feel of the seat of my saddle. I have ridden every rocky ravine and brushy gulch where a mama cow might shade up a baby; away from roundup and hot iron when lupine blooms and scents the air with a hint of sweetness. My horses’ hoofprints thread every square inch of greasewood-stippled alkali flats and oakbrush-fleeced canyons where big-shouldered bulls seek sun or shade while burred switches swish flies and slings of slobber slather hide from rump to rib, tails turned to kiln winds seasoning the air with savory sage. Nary a square inch of me is dry as lightning rips reeling clouds, releasing grass-greening torrents that lift dust and make mud. Raindrops become runnels become rivulets racing to alluvial fans; ruffled skirts hemming mountain ranges. A flash, a clap, a thunderbolt rolls with ozone odor that animates the air. Cloven hooves cut every square inch around the tank, braided trails that unravel as cows and calves line out after watering, hunting tonight’s bedground. Doves mourn the fading sun, cedar branches cast off nighthawks to sweep insect swarms from silver skies as fired cast iron smells of sourdough and supper. Bedroll over every square inch of my saddle-tired frame, sleep comes soon and deep. Campfire crackles and snaps unheard, soon dying to embers to await the stir that rekindles the euphoria of life all over again. A resplendent sun sneaks a peek over eastern peaks then joins the morning, warming the fresh scent of day from the dew.



had lots of Native Americans patients back when I practiced dentistry. They came from all over the state of Oklahoma, referred from the Indian Health Service for specialty care. I always made it a point to check their demographics, see what tribe they belonged to, and to ask them about their culture and history whenever they were willing to talk. Most of the time, they were. Imagine my surprise when one of them told me, “I’m a Fort Sill Apache.”

I thought he was having a joke with me. But when I chuckled, he gave me a look that told me my laughter was inappropriate. “Kind of a new tribe,” he said without a smile. I was pretty sure that was impossible. The tribes had been around forever—hadn’t they? When Europeans first arrived on the North American Continent, indigenous tribes already lived from one coast to the other. I had made the common Euro-American mistake of assuming indigenous history

THE SIEGE OF VERACRUZ General Winfield Scott kept his soldiers in the field fed and armed by capturing the Mexican port city of Veracruz prior to marching on to Mexico City and the fortress of Chapultapec.

saddlebag dispatches

was static; that Native American technology, religion, and geo-politics never changed. “You might say,” my patient told me, “our tribe started with the Mexican-American war.” If I had asked some more questions, perhaps I would have gone away a little wiser, but everything he said up to that point left me more confused. Years later, I saw a documentary about a famous Native American sculptor named Allan Houser. It turned out he was a Fort Sill Apache, too. The tribe was real, after all. It was new, just like my patient told me—the newest tribe in the United States, and it started—sort of—as a result of the Mexican American war. The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hildago The Mexicans didn’t make many demands when they signed the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848. They couldn’t. On March 29, 1847, U.S. General Winfield Scott had taken Veracruz, Mexico’s most important eastern port city. He established a supply line that kept his 12,000 man army fed and armed as they marched toward Mexico City. He defeated Santa Anna’s military and occupied the capitol by mid-October. Guerrilla militias kept up attacks on Scott’s supply lines, but his troops vanquished them within three months and forced the Mexicans to sign a treaty on Feb. 2, 1848. If they hadn’t surrendered, President Polk was prepared to take the entire country and turn it into an expansion of the southern pro-slavery territory of the United States. There was substantial support for that position at the time. The Mexicans gave up the northern third of their territory and they lost their president, Santa Anna, but they made one demand the North American government agreed to honor. Roving bands of Chiricahua Apaches had been raiding Mexican settlements for years. The U.S. agreed to keep the troublesome Indians on their side of the newly established border. Suppressing a disorganized collection of nomadic Indian bands must have sounded easy. The U.S. army had just defeated the second largest military force in the western hemisphere in only two years. But the Apach-

WINFIELD SCOTT Known to his men as "Old Fuss n' Feathers, General Winfield Scott captured Mexico City in 1846 with a 12,000 man army.

es, especially the Chiricahua were unlike any military the U.S. Army had ever encountered. The Apache War The United States government struggled to confine the Apaches for almost 38 years after the Mexican-American war, and weren’t successful until the cavalry tracked down and imprisoned one very special Chiricahua leader, Geronimo. The old war chief had been a problem for the military from the beginning of the Apache war until his final surrender at Skeleton Canyon, Arizona. He didn’t recognize the authority of the army to tell him where he was allowed to go. The Army threw Geronimo into the guardhouse for leaving the first reservation they



saddlebag dispatches

put him on at Apache Pass. They relocated him at San Carlos reservation after that, but he bolted when he heard rumors he was to be arrested again, and perhaps assassinated. This wasn’t paranoia on Geronimo’s part. He was well aware of the murder of Mangas Coloradas by U.S. soldiers after the old chief was arrested in 1863. He may have also heard about the assassination of Crazy Horse while in military custody at Ft. Robinson, Nebraska.

and his followers were promised they wouldn’t be arrested and they would be quickly reunited with their families. According to Geronimo, General Miles made this treaty over a stone and swore their agreement would last until that stone turned to dust. Like most treaties couched in mystical, grandiose terms this one didn’t go the way the Apaches hoped it would. That couldn’t have come as much of a surprise.

AN IMPOSING SIGHT As part of the treaty of Guadalupe-Hildago that ended the Mexican War, the United States government agreed to keep the Apaches from crossing the border into Mexico.

Geronimo headed for the southern U.S. border where he hoped the army wouldn’t follow. He never expected the Mexican government to call on the North Americans to enforce the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hildago. United States cavalry crossed the border and pursued the Chiricahua renegades until they were forced to surrender, not once but twice. When Geronimo surrendered for the last time to General Nelson Miles at Skeleton Canyon in 1886, he

The Prison Train The army made up its mind to end its problems with the Chiricahua warriors once and for all. They rounded up 400 members of four particularly troublesome bands and transported them to Fort Pickens (Pensacola, Florida) and Fort Marion (St. Augustine, Florida). They arrested members of the Chinde band (Red Paint People), the Chikonen band (Ridge of the Moun-

saddlebag dispatches

tainside People), the Nednai (Enemy People), and the Bedonkohe band (Standing in Front of the Enemy People). They took entire families into custody, even pregnant women and newborn babies. The vast majority of the imprisoned Apaches had never ridden with Geronimo. Some had acted as scouts and helped the army track him down. Two warriors who were arrested during the army’s aggressive round up of Apache families were long time

their prison car and on the fourth day of their journey, somewhere east of St. Louis they jumped to freedom. The runaways were never spotted by the authorities. They stole some miners’ rifles and ammunition for defense and to hunt for food, and traveled mostly by night. When they reached the Apache homeland, nearly 1,200 miles from where they escaped, the two men parted company. Since Gray Lizard was not an Apache he was able

friends, Massai and Gray Lizard. In their youth, these men had hidden caches of arms and ammunition in the desert so Geronimo’s band would have access to weapons when they were on the run. Neither had worked actively with the renegades and both had broken off contact with Geronimo after his famous escape from the San Carlos reservation. Gray Lizard wasn’t even an Apache. He was a Tonkawa from back east who had settled with the Chiricahua and befriended Massai. When the army loaded the families onto the prison train that would eventually take them to Florida, Massai and Gray Lizard decided to escape. For Massai that meant leaving his wife and child behind. The two men loosened the bars on the windows of

to fade into obscurity, but Massai was a different story. He stayed on the run, raiding along what is today the New Mexico-Arizona border, periodically taking refuge in Mexico. His name appeared in San Carlos Agency reports from 1887 to 1890. He kidnapped and married a Mescalero Apache girl (Zanagoliche) and started a family with her at Mescal Mountains. Massai and Zanagoliche had six children together. Like most warriors whose deaths were never documented, there is a great deal of speculation about how Massai met his end. There is some evidence he was killed by a posse while taking his wife and children back to their home with the Mescelero Apaches in New Mexico. But since no body was ever produced,



saddlebag dispatches

MASSAI Massai (standing on the left of the photograph) escaped with his friend Gray Lizard from the prison train carrying him to Florida. He is shown here with two other renegade Apaches, The Apache Kid (center) and Rowdy (right). He was never recaptured.

the rumors grew that he had joined a band of renegade Chiricahua in old Mexico. A movie, Apache, based on Massai’s life was made in in 1954. Naturally, he was portrayed by a white man, Burt Lancaster. Generational Prisoners of War The almost four hundred Chiricahua who did not jump from the Apache prison train had a less romantic fate. The military separated families, during most of their Florida imprisonment. They segregated women and children from the adult men, and didn’t allow many of them to reunite, until they were about to be transferred to Mt. Vernon Barracks in Vermont, Alabama, almost two years later. The Apaches didn’t do well in the wet, humid climate of the southeastern United States. They went hungry much of the time. One of the first actions of the army was to take some of the men and older boys to an island where they were left with fishing tackle and ex-

pected to catch and cook fish for themselves. The Chiricahua were people of the desert and the mountains. They would not eat bugs, scaly things, slimy things, or things which lived in water. Nor would they eat anything which they believed ate those restricted foods. The population declined during the first eight years of imprisonment (especially at Fort Marion, St. Augustine, Florida) due to disease and suicide. This was not the first time the U.S. government had forced indigenous people to live in a confined area, but it was the first and last generational imprisonment. Babies were born to Apache women who were pregnant at the time of their incarceration in Florida, and more came later on as families were reunited in Mount Vernon Barracks. The babies were not charged with crimes or given trials, but then neither were any of the 400 original prisoners of war. Congress finally decided what they were going to do with the Apache inmates in 1894. They passed a special provision to relocate them in Indian Territory. This wasn’t a creative solution to the problem. The U.S.

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government had been dumping tribes in the future state of Oklahoma since the 1830s. The Chiricahua would be the last. The Dawes Act—eliminating reservations and assigning individual ownership of land to tribal members—had already been in effect for seven years by the time the Chiricahua were shipped to Fort Sill. Oklahoma would eventually be the only state (1907) where the act would be completely put into effect. Congress ignored the hypocrisy of outlawing tribal land while simultaneously creating a Military Reservation for the Apache. When the army loaded the Chiricahua off of their prison train at Fort Sill they told them, “This will be your home forever.” They told them allotments of land would be given to them, which they could farm, and pass down to their children. Perhaps they could even sell that land, although the details of that hadn’t been worked out. No one can guess why the government insisted on making the same grandiose proclamations to every Indian tribe, and sometimes to the same Indian tribe over and over. This promise didn’t last longer than the ones that came before.

MOUNT VERNON BARRACKS Log cabin homes of the Apache Indians kept at Mount Vernon Barracks in the 1890s.

PRISONERS OF WAR Apache Family being held at Mount Vernon Barracks in the 1890s.

RE-EDUCATION Apaches seated in a circle outside their cabins at Mount Vernon Barracks in the 1890s.



saddlebag dispatches

According to the Dawes Act, the head of an Indian family would be assigned 160 acres. An orphan or single adult over 18 years of age would receive 80 acres, and persons under 18 years of age would receive 40 acres. When all that acreage was assigned, there was always substantial “surplus land� left over, which could be purchased from the government by white farmers and ranchers for

The Fort Sill Apaches The Chiricahua at Fort Sill were prisoners of war and had no political power in 1894. No full-blood Native American of any tribe had citizenship rights at that time, except for women who were married to U.S. citizens (only since 1888). Citizenship rights dribbled in to the indigenous population in the early 20th century. Indian veter-

RE-EDUCATION This building, called the Indian Schoolhouse, was built to educate the Apache children at Mount Vernon Barracks.

next to nothing. This is the land, which had been promised to the tribes for as long as the grass grew and the water flowed. The U.S. government intended to use surplus Kiowa and Comanche land to provide the Chiricahua prisoners of war with Dawes allotments near Fort Sill. There was an immediate protest by white homesteaders who had their eyes on that property for some time.

ans of WWI were offered citizenship in 1919, and the Indian Citizenship Act was passed 1924 offering citizenship to members of all tribes. This was a long way off for residents of a Military Indian Reservation in the 1890s. White politicians pressured the Chiricahua to leave Fort Sill. They would be released from prisoner of war status if they agreed to move to the Mescalero Apache Reservation in New Mexico. The Mescale-

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ro were agreeable to this—not that they had any real choice—because it strengthened their position to keep their reservation lands safe from white incursion. About two thirds of the Chiricahua agreed to go to the reservation in 1913, but they had to abandon their hope of a land allotment. Eighty-one individuals refused to leave and demanded the allotments promised them. It took another year (1914) for this to be realized

che counties in Oklahoma. The tribe has since acquired small parcels of land in Oklahoma and also in their original home territory within New Mexico and Arizona. Their struggle with the U.S. government did not end in 1914. They weren’t formally recognized as a tribe by the Department of the Interior until 1976. In 2011 the Secretary of the Interior declared the New Mexico land acquired by the Fort Sill Apaches to be a reservation. In spite of this, the tribe had to sue

RE-EDUCATION When the Apache POWs were taken off of the train at Fort Sill, they were told, “This will be your home forever.”

and their prisoner of war status to be removed. Many of those 81 individuals had been children when Geronimo surrendered 28 years earlier. Many had been born while their parents were held in Florida, Alabama, or Indian Territory. These 81 Chiricahua were the first of the Fort Sill Apaches, a tribe inadvertently created by the United States Government. The original Fort Sill Apaches were given scattered allotments of farmland mostly in Caddo and Coman-

to achieve recognition as a New Mexico tribe. They won the suit in 2013. The Fort Sill Apache tribe currently has about 700 members with 300 still living in Oklahoma. —John T. Biggs is a critically-acclaimed writer with four 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.



mination to proceed with the ethnic cleansing of the erhaps never did a man’s name better embody Cherokees from the southeastern United States. For the essence of his character. Ever a reluctant instance, when uninvited white gold-seekers flooded hero, Stand Watie (1806-1871), the legendary Cherokee land in north Georgia in the early 1830s, the “Red Fox,” stood up for his Cherokees against the U. United States Supreme Court ordered the state to proS. government as it sought to steal their ancient birthtect the mostly-Christian tribe right and against his own tribal and let them live in peace on majority as they clung to their their own land. President Jackhomeland in the face of possible son famously responded with extermination. He also stood up words to the effect of, “The for his family and friends amidst Chief Justice (John Marshall) a bitter intra-tribal civil war, has made his ruling. Now let and against the invading U.S. him enforce it.” government again in the War So Stand Watie, divining Between the States, where he the imminent slaughter of his rose to become the only Indian people if they did not leave, general on the Confederate side. and seeking to craft the best Moreover, he stood up for his possible arrangement for them, exhausted and devastated tribe helped negotiate the 1835 New in his efforts to lead a post-war Echota Treaty between the economic recovery. United States and the Cherokee Born in 1806 near Rome, Nation to which he belonged. Georgia, and educated at a He and a couple thousand othChristian church mission er Cherokees left soon after for school in Tennessee, Watie Indian Territory. The majoriproved himself a leader even as STAND WAITIE ty of Cherokees, however, led a young man. A frequent correby Principal Chief (similar to a spondent in the 1830s with PresPresident) John Ross, who was 7/8 Scot and 1/8 Cheroident Andrew Jackson (not to be confused with Thomas kee, opposed the New Echota Treaty and the relocation. J. "Stonewall" Jackson), he recognized that man's deter-

saddlebag dispatches 155 They remained in their homeland until the U.S. army forcibly uprooted them a couple of years later. Broken promises by President Jackson and other Federal officials turned this phase of the Cherokees’ westward relocation, in 1838-39, into the tribe’s tragic Trail of Tears. The Cherokees called it, literally, “The Place Where We Cried.” A significant percentage of them, mostly women and children, died in the vast open wilderness amidst a howling winter and sometimes brutal Federal soldiers, en route to their new homeland.

Worcester. Years later, Watie and Ross and their two factions made peace, though their variant philosophies would flare again during the War Between the States. Confederate Indians A successful planter and journalist, Watie early supported the seceding South, which assured the Cherokees that the Confederate government would not only protect their rights to their lands and independence, but also invite each of the five Indian

GUERILLA RAID The Federal supply ship J. R. Williams goes up in flames after Stand Watie and his mounted Confederate Indian guerillas ambushed, plundered, and fired it in Durant artist Neal Taylor’s Capture of Union Riverboat J. R. Williams. (

Once there, many of Ross's followers harbored bitter resentment against Watie and other leaders of what came to be known as the Treaty Party. Within six months of the larger Cherokee party arriving in Indian Territory, every Treaty Party leader except Watie was murdered. He escaped only by a comrade's warning, his own wits and courage, and the borrowed horse of white Presbyterian missionary friend Samuel

republics of Indian Territory to send representatives to its Congress. The South also abolished the U.S.-enforced monopolies held by white merchants over native trade. These had proven, in the words of one Oklahoma historian, “a pernicious thing for the Indian” and “destructive of all competition and often placed the Indian at the mercy of white men wholly lacking in scruples.”


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picion of mercantilist industrialization, slave ownership, and a mystical sense of place that superseded mere geography and political organization. Furthermore, most of the goods the Nations sold to others went to Southern markets and ports, making the South the Indians’ chief trading partner. Finally, Indian Territory was geographically—and increasingly religiously—part of the South, especially when viewed in the context of its Confederate neighbors, including Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, and Southern Missouri. Watie and many fellow Cherokees, including William Penn Adair, John Drew, and Clem Rogers (father of famous American humorist and motion picture icon Will Rogers), as well as other Natives such as Choctaw Tandy Walker, Seminole John Jumper, and Creeks Pleasant Porter and G. W. Grayson, soon gained renown for their battle exploits—renown largely ignored in most contemporary American histories of the Civil War. The hard-riding Clem Rogers, for instance, was one of Watie's chief cavalry scouts. COLONEL WILLIAM PENN ADAIR

Guerilla and General After fighting commenced in the (Indian) “Nations,” Watie organized and commanded the Cherokee Mounted Rifles. These rough-hewn Oklahoma horse soldiers earned a fearsome reputation, far out of proportion to their numbers, for their accomplishments at such battles as Wilson's Creek in Missouri (1861) and Pea Ridge/Elkhorn Tavern in Arkansas (1862). At the latter, a subordinate recounted Watie's mounted Native troopers, though outnumbered, charging into the face of blazing Federal cannon, capturing them, then turning them on their fleeing Federal enemy:

Ancestor of modern-day Oklahoma House Speaker Larry Adair, and colonel in Stand Watie’s Cherokee Mounted Rifles.

The Confederates also conferred to Indian Territory Natives a sweeping slate of enhanced civil rights in the courts, including those related to their personal property, especially in relation to whites. In fact, the South boldly established district courts in both northern Indian Territory (the Cherokee country) and southern (Choctaw). The tribes had long and loudly protested the United States government’s refusal to place any courts in Indian Territory, the closest heretofore being across the Arkansas line in Fort Smith. Plus, tribes like the Cherokees, Choctaws, and Chickasaws had adopted the agrarian culture of the South, including largely autonomous communities, sus-

I don’t know how we did it but Watie gave the order, which he always led, and his men could follow

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him into the very jaws of death. The Indian Rebel Yell was given and we fought like tigers three to one. It must have been that mysterious power of Stand Watie that led us on to make the capture against such odds. Later, Watie's legend grew as a guerilla fighter while commanding Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, and Osage troops. For years, he kept the Federals’ much more numerous regular army forces off balance in Indian Territory and the surrounding states. He and his men stole so many of their horses at Fort Gibson, that they were forced to convert from cavalry to infantry there. The Union’s biggest victory in the region, the 1863 Battle of Honey Springs, occurred in the absence of Watie and his men, after Confederate leadership had foolishly sent them elsewhere as a diversion. One of his most famous exploits was the capture in a shootout on the Arkansas River of a Federal steamship and its cargo, which would be valued around $75 million in modern currency. Another was his leading Confederate forces to victory in the Second E.E. DALE Battle of Cabin Creek, in Indian TerriEdward Everett Dale, greatest of all Oklahoma historians, who reverently tory, where he captured an enormous dedicated his famous book Cherokee Cavaliers, to Stand Watie. Federal wagon train, the booty of which clothed his entire regiment and fed them Confederacy, and after Ross was captured by the Fedand their civilian dependents for more than a month. erals. Watie's own wife and children had to refugee Ulimately, Watie and his horse soldiers were from present-day northeastern Oklahoma down the the primary reason the outnumbered, outgunned, and Texas Road into north Texas in the cold of winter and half-starved Confederates actually won a strategic viclive out the war amongst the elements. tory in the Indian Territory campaign by preventing Year after year, Federal armies from all over the the Union from using the area as the staging ground west hunted Watie. They never caught him. Brigadier for a backdoor invasion of Texas. General and Cherokee Chief Stand Watie fought to Tragically, though, the war forced Watie to fight the bitter end. He was the last Confederate general to not only Federal troops, who also included Natives, surrender, undaunted and unvanquished, on June 23, but some of his own people as well. The majori1865, nearly three months after the surrender of the ty of the John Ross faction transferred their allelegendary Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox giance to the North when events turned against the Courthouse, Virginia.


158 saddlebag dispatches land legally deeded to the Natives a generation beSacrifice and Remembrance fore by the U.S. government, were taken from them Watie returned to financial ruin and a home as punishment for their supburned to the ground by port of the Confederacy and Federals during the war. He given to other tribes; as other spent his final years farming, vast tracts were confiscated pursuing innovative entrefrom them and given to the preneurial projects with his mercantilist railroads racbrilliant nephew, Oklahoing westward; and as Conma Boomer visionary Elias gress began to levy taxes on C. Boudinot, and trying Indian Territory business to restore his once-beauenterprises, while gradualtiful Grand River bottomly eradicating the Nations’ land, which was devastated legally-sanctioned political by the war. Aging into his independence. mid-sixties, Watie exhaust“You cant imagine how ed his war-punished body by lonely I am up here at our committing every talent and old place without any of my meager resource remaining dear children being with to him to the quality educame,” Watie wrote another tion of his children. Realizdaughter, Jacqueline, only ing this, one of his daughweeks before his death in ters, Watica, who had barely 1871. “I would be so happy to have you here, but learned to read and write during a childhood savyou must go to school.” aged by years of total war in Indian Territory, wrote Like another fabled him from the private THE CHEROKEE MOUNTED RIFLE Confederate general, school to which he had Robert E. Lee of Virsacrificed to send her: ginia, it was said that “I feel proud to think Chief Stand Watie that I have a papa that died at least partly of a take the last dollars he broken heart. Yet Mrs. has to send me chool A. K. Hardcastle wrote (sic).” to Watie's widow, the Tragedy continued lovely Sarah Bell Wato mark Watie's life as tie of Tennessee: his beloved son Saladin—captain, decoratI read with saded war hero, postwar ness of the death of Southern Cherokee your much esteemed delegate to Congress, husband. My tenderand only twenty-one est sympathy is yours. years of age—became I trust you have consothe final of his three lation from a Higher boys to precede him in Power than earthdeath. He also watched ly friends for the loss as colossal tracts of

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LAST TO SURRENDER Confederate Cherokee Stand Watie, the only Native to attain the rank of general on either side in the War Between the States, was also the final Confederate general of the war to surrender, on June 23, 1865, in Doaksville, Choctaw country, Indian Territory, nearly three months after Robert E. Lee did so at Appomattox Courthouse. Courtesy, Oklahoma State Senate Historical Preservation Fund, Inc. and Dennis Parker.

of one so dear to you. His labors on earth have not been in vain, he has done much lasting good for his country and country-men, that will never be forgotten but handed down to the future generations in the book of history for them to follow in his foot-steps and to aspire to leave their foot prints on the sands of time as well as he. Indeed, he was not always forgotten. Edward Everett Dale, the great twentieth-century University of Oklahoma historian, for whom that school's Dale Hall and Dale Tower were named, remains long after his own passing, the dean of all Sooner State historians. A Texas and Oklahoma cowboy in his early years, Dale earned masters and doctoral degrees from Harvard and wrote many memorable books, among them Cherokee Cavaliers. It chronicled forty years of nine-

teenth-century Cherokee history, including the Trail of Tears, and remains in print nearly eighty years after its writing. He filled the grand work with over two hundred letters written by Cherokee men and women of the time, great and small alike. But he wrote his inscription to one: “To the memory of General Stand Watie—Patriot, Soldier, and Statesman—this volume is reverently dedicated.” And this modest article. —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.


ost people's knowledge of Fred MacMurray comes from his Disney films in the sixties and twelve years of playing Steven Douglas on My Three Sons. Many people don’t know the body of work that he created in western cinema. He starred in over ten westerns during his career and appeared with some very well known co-stars. In 1936 he made The Texas Rangers with Jack Oakie, Lloyd Nolan and Gabby Hayes. He and Oakie are two out of luck Texas Rangers who must track down and arrest an old friend turned outlaw. Rangers of Fortune followed in 1940, he and Albert Dekker and Gilbert Roland are three friends battling a ruthless land baron determined to drive all the small ranchers and settlers away from a fertile valley and claim the land for himself. MacMurray made Smoky in 1946 with Anne Baxter, Bruce Cabot and Burl Ives. He portrayed an ex-convict who captured a wild horse

and returned it to the rightful owner (Anne Baxter) and secured a job working on her ranch. In 1953 he made the western Moonlighter with Barbara Stanwyck, the fourth of five films the pair made together and the only western. MacMurray played a cattle rustler (Moonlighter), who convinced his brother, who worked in the local bank, to help him rob it after the bank president fired the younger brother. He costarred with Dorothy Malone and Walter Brennan in At Gunpoint in 1955. He portrayed Jack Wright a mild mannered store keeper. When he and rancher George Henderson foiled a bank robbery attempt and killed one of the thieves, the brother of the dead bandit came to town for revenge. After the murder of George Henderson, the townspeople avoided the family and refused to shop at the general store. The Far Horizons was also released in 1955. It costarred Charlton Heston as William Clark and Donna

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waiting on the death sentence (Vaughn) guarded by Reed as Sacagawea. This film dealt with the Louisiana current Town Marshall Ben Culter (MacMurray). The Purchase and the Lewis and Clark expedition. It also townspeople begin to have doubts about Campbell’s paired MacMurray with actor William Demarest, who guilt and Culter's daughter even tried to smuggle a played Sgt. Gass in the film, he would go on to co-star pistol inside the jail. Campbell escaped and burned part in My Three Sons as Uncle Charley. In 2011 this film of the town to the ground and assaulted the Marshall’s was rated in the top ten of historically inaccurate/misdaughter before Culter managed to kill him. leading films by Time Magazine. Gun for a Coward released in 1957, had MacMurray as rancher Will Keough. It co-starred Janice Rule, Jeffery Hunter, Chill Wills and Dean Stockwell. Will Keough was one of three brothers, two of whom were in love with the same woman. Another 1957 release was the film Quantez. MacMurray played Gentry, leader of a gang of outlaws. After the gang pulled a bank robbery they were riding for the border with a posse hot on their heels. They managed to lose the pursers in rough country and found themselves in the border town of Quantez. The town had been abandoned by the inhabitants. Gentry discovered that Apache Indians have surrounded the town. Soon distrust among the gang led to a shootout with the bandits and the Indians. In the end, Gentry sacrificed himself so that two of the gang members could escape. MacMurray played Judge James Edward Scott in Day of the Badman, released in 1958. It co-starred Joan Weldon, John Ericson, Marie BEFORE MY THREE SONS Windsor and Edgar Buchannon. Judge Scott had to contend with the Many people don’t know the body of work Fred MacMurray created in western cinema, starring in over ten westerns with some very well known costars. vicious relatives of a murderer he’s going to sentence to hang as well as Face of a Fugitive was also released in 1959, Jim his unfaithful fiancé. Larsen (MacMurry) a convicted bank robber on his Good Day for a Hanging, released in 1959, co-starred way to prison. His younger brother Danny helped Robert Vaughn, before The Magnificent Seven and The him escape from a deputy, but in an exchange of gunMan from UNCLE, Denver Pyle and James Drury, before fire the deputy and Danny were both killed. Larsen he became The Virginian. Eddie Campbell a murderer


saddlebag dispatches 163 slipped his brother’s body into a mail sack and tossed the body into a river the train was crossing over. He donned a business suit from the baggage car and sits next to a small girl in the passenger car. He left the train at the next stop when the deputy’s body was discovered, the local sheriff searched all the train passengers and informed them that he is expecting a picture of the bank robber on the next stage. Larsen finds himself siding with the sheriff against a land baron determined to claim as much land as possible and ordered his men to fence off open range. The movie features a young James Coburn. MacMurray’s final western movie was The Oregon Trail. the last of a trio he made in 1959. It co-starred John Carradine, William Bishop, Gloria Talbott, and Nina Shipman. Neal Harris (MacMurray) a reporter for the New York Herald joined a wagon train bound for the Oregon territory. He was chasing a story that President Polk was sending soldiers disguised as settlers into the territory to strengthen America’s claim to the land. Closing out with a few Fred MacMurray facts, he was the highest paid actor in 1943. Comic legend CC Beck used MacMurray as the initial model for Fawcett

Comics Captain Marvel. He was nominated for a golden globe in 1961 for The Absent Minded Professor. He played Steven Douglas on My Three Sons for twelve years from 1960 to 1965 on ABC and from 1966 to 1972 on CBS for a total of 380 episodes. His final film was the disaster movie, The Swarm, in

1978. He died of pneumonia in Santa Monica, California in 1991 at the age of eighty three, and was interred in Holy Cross Cemetery. He was a great actor, he was an everyman actor, he could play any role and make it believable, Hollywood could use more actors like Fred MacMurray. —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, and he's currently hard at work on a new novel.


Unlike other poets, the best cowboy poets show an intimate understanding of cowboy work and ways. Not all the best cowboy poets have spent time cowboying, but many—most—have. Including Buck Ramsey. Buck Ramsey, born in 1938, wrote that he “rode among the princes of the earth full of health and hell and thinking that punching cows was the one big show in the world.” He wrote of a 1962 wreck, “A horse tougher than me ended all that, and I have since been a stove-up cowpuncher trying to figure out how to write about the cowboy life.” Confined to a wheelchair, he spent a lot of time thinking, singing, and writing about cowboy life until his death in 1998. His music—primarily rePortrait of Buck Ramsey courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller. cordings of the old, traditional cowboy songs—and his writing earned him a National Heritage Fellowship from the Some—the best of them—also make you think. National Endowment for the Arts, a National Heritage Like all good poets everywhere, the finest cowboy Artist Award, the Academy of Western Artists Lifetime poets know that poetry is not a spectator sport—the art Achievement Award, and three “Wrangler” Awards from requires involving the reader or listener: challenging asthe National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. sumptions, testing points of view, stimulating thought. here’s nothing quite like a line of poetry to stir the soul. There are poems about cowboys and cattle and horses and the West that can make you laugh and cry and feel every emotion in between.

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Among his many noteworthy works, Buck Ramsey is, perhaps, most remembered for “Anthem.” To my mind, it’s the best cowboy poem ever written, and likely to remain so. “Anthem” is the Prologue to an epic poem titled “And As I Rode Out on the Morning” when originally published in 1993, and retitled and re-published as “Grass,” in both instances by Texas Tech University Press. It’s an unusual work of poetry, unlike any other in the cowboy tradition. Ramsey wrote, “This poem comes from far up a tributary on the mainstream.” Following the growth and maturity of a young cowboy, the poem addresses the shift in cattle ranching from its origins to an enterprise controlled by distant investors with allegiance only to profit and no love for the life or the land: For time came we were punching cattle For men who knew not spur nor saddle, Who came with locusts in their purse To scatter loose upon the earth. The savage had not found this prairie Till some who hired us came this way To make the grasses pay and pay For some raw greed no wise or wary Regard for grass could satisfy. The old ones wept, and so did I. Of “Anthem” and the longer poem of which it is part, Hal Cannon, folklorist and founder of the Western Folklife Center and National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, wrote, “Ramsey has written an American classic by knowing the difference between loyalty to the land and loyalty to the dollar.” Even the poem’s structure departs from the norm,

echoing Russian poet Pushkin’s novel in verse, Eugene Onegin, in what Ramsey called its “stanza scheme.” Among my favorite lines from “Anthem” are these, which remind us that actions outweigh words: Some cowboys even shunned the ways Of cowboys in the trail herd days… Forgot that we are what we do And not the stuff we lay claim to. Buck Ramsey recited “Anthem” on several occasions at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and elsewhere, and he reads it and the entire saga on a CD that accompanies the book Grass. Other reciters present the poem as well, but only the best of them can do it justice. Three of the best—Joel Nelson, Andy Hedges, and Jerry “Brooksie” Brooks—interpreted “Anthem” for an ambitious video project, “Between Grass and Sky,” in which compelling video accompanies intercut recitations of the poem. Spend a few minutes watching this engaging presentation on YouTube at: Singer, Songwriter, and former Texas Poet Laureate Red Steagall was a friend of Buck Ramsey and admirer of his work. Of Ramsey’s writing in general and “And As I Rode Out on the Morning” in particular, Steagall wrote, “Even though he looks at the world through his own window, it is a window through which everyone can appreciate the world according to Buck.” Take a look through Buck Ramsey’s window with “Anthem.” You’ll see the Best of the West in cowboy poetry. —Spur Award-winning poet Rod Miller also writes fiction and history about the American West. Goodnight Goes Riding and Other Poems is his latest collection of poetry.


Profile for Oghma Creative Media

Saddlebag Dispatches-Autumn/Winter 2017  

The Autumn/Winter 2017 issue features our exclusive interview with award-winning author John J. Dwyer, as well a photo tour of the Pioneer W...

Saddlebag Dispatches-Autumn/Winter 2017  

The Autumn/Winter 2017 issue features our exclusive interview with award-winning author John J. Dwyer, as well a photo tour of the Pioneer W...

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