TABLE OF CONTENTS
THE LAST HORSEMAN: ROBERT FULLER by Neala Ames .............................
JUSTICE FOR DUFF O’CASEY by Jacob Bayne ................................... SHE RODE FOR THE MARSHALS by Velda Brotheron ....................... SKY STONE by John T. Biggs ................................................................... THE LAST RIDER: PART FOUR by J.B. Hogan ..................................... MARY, MARY, QUITE CONTRARY by Kathleen Morris ........................ THE RUNNING DAY by Richard Prosch ................................................. COPPERHEAD by Sharon Frame Gay .................................................... BEND THE BLADES OF GRASS by Phil Mills, Jr. .................................. AS GOOD A MAN by Neala Ames ..........................................................
AGE TOO QUICKLY COMES by Phil Mills, Jr. .................................................. BLACK HILLS WHITE STONES by R.G. Yoho ................................................... DEEP TRACKS by Marleen Bussma ..................................................................... .
FEATURES THE MUSTANG AWARDS FOR FLASH FICTION ................................................. AN ICON LOST: OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND by Terry Alexander ............................ LIVING IN THE SHADOW OF THE SUPERSTITIONS by Barbara Clouse ....... DEADLY PURSUIT: THE STAKED PLAINS HORROR by Michael McLean ........
BEHIND THE CHUTES by Dennis Doty ................................................. SIX-GUN JUSTICE by Paul Bishop ........................................................ TRIBAL PASSAGES by Regina McLemore ............................................... HEROES & OUTLAWS by Velda Brotherton .......................................... LET’S TALK WESTERNS by Terry Alexander ...................................... INDIAN TERRITORY by John T. Biggs ....................................................
37 49 67 76 105 113 123 141 159
16 90 164
18 40 134 148
4 6 10 166 170 174
SUBMISSION GUIDELINES We are now taking submissions for our Winter 2021 issue. This issue is due out in late December, 2021. DEADLINE IS AUGUST 1, 2021
Saddlebag Dispatches is seeking original, previously-unpublished short stories, serial novels, poetry, and non-fiction articles about the West.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 on the frontier. Traditional westerns are set west of the Mississippi River between the end of the American Civil War and the turn of the twentieth century. The western is not limited to that time, however. The essence is openness and struggle. These things are happening now as much as they were in the years gone by. QUERY LETTER: Put this in the e-mail message: In the first paragraph, give the title of the work, and specify whether it is fiction, poetry, or nonfiction. If the latter, give the subject. The second paragraph should be a biography between one hundred and 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 .doc, or docx format. Fiction manuscripts should be in standard manuscript format. For instructions and examples see https://www.shunn. net/format/story.html. Submit the entire and complete fiction or poetry manuscript. We will consider proposals for non-fiction articles. OTHER ATTACHMENTS: Please also submit any pictures related to your manuscript. All photos must be high-resolution (at least 300 dpi) and include a photo caption and credit, if necessary. Manuscripts will be edited for grammar and spelling. Submit to email@example.com, with your name in the subject line.
ELCOME TO THE SUMMER issue of Saddlebag Dispatches. We’re excited to announce that the Western Fictioneers’ Peacemaker Award for Best Short Fiction of 2020 was awarded to Rod Miller for his story, “Black Joe,” which appeared in our Summer, 2020 issue. Congratulations, Rod! Congratulations, too, to John T. Biggs, whose story, “The Last Photograph,” was a finalist for Best Short Fiction and appeared in the same issue. Saddlebag Dispatches is honored to have such fine writers appear in our pages.
As usual, we’ve been busy putting together another great issue for our readers. This time around, we have stories by two former winners of the Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award, several Peacemaker and Spur finalists, and many more great stories.
In addition, we’re announcing the winners of the Inaugural Saddlebag Dispatches Mustang Award for Western Flash Fiction. This is the only contest for western writing which uses blind judging, and we think the results speak for themselves. So without further ado, let me congratulate our winner, Andrew Salmon, for his story “High Stakes.” In addition to Andrew’s winning entry, all eight stories which were short-listed by the judges are included in this issue.
Speaking of great contests, Saddlebag Dispatches also sponsors the Dusty Richards Memorial Oxbow Award at the Ozark Creative Writers Conference which takes place in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, every October. This contest is for western short stories up to 3,000 words. The winner will receive a
5 $200 prize. Second and third places will receive $100 and $50 respectively. Entries are open only to writers who have registered for the OCW conference. The winning story will appear in our Winter issue. A couple more announcements are in order. First and foremost, Saddlebag Dispatches will no longer be accepting reprints from other magazines or publishers. We recognize that there are a lot of fine western stories out there which deserve to be republished and reach a wider audience, but we consistently receive enough submissions of original stories to more than fill our pages, and they too deserve to be seen. Secondly, we’d like to see more stories by and about people of color. Native Americans, Blacks and Hispanics, even Asians and Pacific Islanders were a large part of the tapestry we know as the west, and we feel that their stories are often overlooked or not told at all. If the many talented writers who are reading this have stories along these lines, we’d love to consider them. Saddlebag Dispatches is proud to support all western writers without regard to who they are, where they’re from, or where their work appears, and we staunchly support all organizations which do the same. Last but not least, we would like to mark the tragic passing of a treasured friend. Ms. Ramona Wade, late of Cheyenne, Wyoming, was one of Saddlebag Dispatches’ earliest and most loyal readers, to say nothing of one of the nicest people you could ever meet. She would pore through our pages with each new issue, always seeking a new Western book or author to follow or historical subject to research. Sadly, we received word that Ramona passed away recently after a short but valiant fight with brain cancer. We offer our deepest condolences to her family and friends, and dedicate this issue to her memory. So pull up a log, pour yourself a cup of joe from the camp pot, and enjoy our new issue. Feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org when you’re finished. I’d love to hear what you think of it. —DENNIS DOTY Publisher
THIS ISSUE IS DEDICATED TO RAMONA WADE, ONE OF OUR EARLIEST AND MOST LOYAL READERS, MS. WADE PASSED AWAY NOT LONG AGO AFTER A BATTLE WITH BRAIN CANCER. SHE WILL BE MISSED.
ri, but Allen found himself overtaken by wanderlust. N A RECENT EPISODE of the Six-Gun Justice Podcast, I talked briefly about Western Leaving the university after less than a year, he set out wordslinger Will Henry and his short story to follow his compulsion and explore the west—becoming a self-described “vagrant.” collection I, Tom Horn, which I was reading and enTravelling wherever the road took him, Allen joying. The anthology was my first exposure to Will supported himself with a variety of odd jobs. He was Henry’s work, but I was so impressed by his storytella shop clerk on an Indian reservation, a gold miner, ing, I began to learn more about him and to trackdown several of his full-length novels. I have now read over a half dozen of his Westerns, as well two other collections of his short stories, and I remain stunningly impressed. Will Henry and Clay Fisher are both pseudonyms used by Henry Wilson “Heck” Allen on the more than fifty Westerns he wrote between 1952 and 1978. In general, the moniker Clay Fisher was used to identify Allen’s shorter, pulpier Westerns. His books as Will Henry are more substantial—fundamentally and structurally deeper from both an historical and psychological perspective. However, I will circle back to this concept later in the column. Born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1912, Allen never knew a time when he didn’t want to be a writer. At age twelve, he started sending short stories to Liberty and Collier’s—two of the top magazine markets of the day—which showed both his youthful idealism and his lofty aspirations. His father encouraged HENRY WILSON “HECK” ALLEN—AKA WILL HENRY AND CLAY FISHER— Allen to major in journalism AUTHORED OVER FIFTY WESTERN NOVELS DURING HIS CAREER, at the University of MissouINCLUDING THE CLASSIC NO SURVIVORS.
a stable hand, a sugar mill crushing operator, an industrial shop swamper, as well as uncountable other menial positions. Like many writers before him, Allen would later channel all these experiences into his novels in one form or another. Allen’s wanderings eventually landed him in the sunny climes of Southern California where he continued to scrounge for work. He worked as a loader for a moving van company; put in a stint pickforking manure and hot walking polo ponies; filled in as a pump jockey at a service station; and of all things, a veterinary hospital assistant. Still pursuing the idea of being a writer, he was able to secure a position as a columnist for the Sunset Reporter—a newspaper published in Santa Monica. He also turned his experiences as a licensed dog show judge into articles for Dog World and Shepherd Dog Review—how and why he became a licensed dog show judge is a mystery lost to time. Always looking for writing opportunities, in 1935, he found a position as a freelance gag writer for Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising’s Barney Bear cartoon series. Two years later, at age 25, he joined his older brother, Robert, as a junior story writer in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s short subject department before moving to MGM’s newly formed cartoon unit. His contract called for a salary of $250 a week with which to support his new wife, Amy Geneva Watson— whom he married in 1937 and with whom he would later have a son and a daughter. When possible, he also continued his travels throughout the West. As Allen’s star rose at MGM, he began a long collaboration with iconic animation director Tex Avery. Allen had already worked with Walter Lantz— producer of the Woody Woodpecker and Chilly Willy cartoons—as well as other MGM cartoon directors. However, in Avery, Allen found a kindred spirit. The two men had a natural affinity and found the same things funny. Avery, who was known for his bawdy, surrealistic style of humor, called Allen “the best gag man I ever worked with.” As a result, Avery trusted Allen completely and encouraged him to let loose the full range of his comedic cartoon talent. Allen and Avery collaborated on such characters
as Screwball “Screwy” Squirrel, the ultra-sexy Red The Wolf, George and Junior, and Droopy Dog—including Northwest Hounded Police from 1946 (which is listed as #28 in The 50 Greatest Cartoons of all Time). In addition, Allen and Avery created many one-off cartoons, including King-Size Canary, The Cat That Hated People, The First Bad Man, Happy-Go-Nutty, The Shooting of Dan McGoo, Swing Shift Cinderella, Uncle Tom’s Cabana, Bad Luck Blackie, and Cellbound. However, when asked about his work with Tex Avery, Allen modestly downplayed his involvement, claiming Avery most often simply used him as a sounding board for ideas. After a decade with MGM, Allen felt he needed a complete break from cartoons. Being an avid student of Western and Indian lore, he decided to try his hand at writing Westerns, even though he had read very little in the genre. To avoid any trouble with the studio—who he felt might object to his moonlighting— Allen chose to use the pseudonym Will Henry for his first novel, No Survivors, which was published in 1952.
There were a few Western writers, such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, who had occasionally cast Native Americans in a sympathetic light. However, from his earliest writings, Allen made intelligent and humanistic Indians an integral part of his stories. Told from the Native American vantage point, No Survivors is a romanticized historical reconstruction of Custer’s final moments and the fateful stand at the Battle of Little Bighorn. It is told in the first person by the fictional John Clayton, who is posited as an ex-Confederate officer who once saved Custer’s life. Using Clayton’s journals, the action follows his post Civil War career on the western frontier. As a civilian scout for the U. S. Army, he desperately tries to head off the Fetterman Massacre but gets captured by Crazy Horse and integrated into the Oglala Sioux tribe. For nine years, Clanton lives like an Indian, the adopted son of Crazy Horse and the husband of a medicine woman. As a Sioux warrior, he finds himself riding with the renegades against white invaders, but by the 1876 confrontation at Little Big Horn, he is forced to make a decision about who he truly is. A rivetingly authentic story with strong historical content and an emotionally wrenching conclusion, No Survivors remains one of the best first novels I’ve ever read. While he continued working on cartoons intermittently as a freelancer, the success of No Survivors allowed Allen to walk away from his position with MGM. From that point on, he supported his family by writing novels and short stories from his home in Encino, an enclave in the San Fernando Valley suburb of Los Angeles. The pseudonym Clay Fisher was created when Random House rejected Allen’s second novel, Red Blizzard—a grim tale of a half-breed ostracized by both Indians and Whites alike, although both cultures are more than willing to take advantage of his inherent skills. Fisher’s treatment of racism in the story was well ahead of his time and possibly the reason for its rejection by Random House. When Red Blizzard found a home with Simon & Schuster in 1951, Allen chose to publish it using the Clay Fisher pseudonym. From that point on, Allen began a practice of writing under both names—making a distinction in his own mind between stories he
saw as historically-based (as by Will Henry) and those he felt were dominated by action (as by Clay Fisher). In reality, this determination was made by the caprice of the publishing houses. If Random House, Allen’s publisher of first choice, accepted a book, it was published under the Will Henry name. If Random House rejected a book, it went to another publisher under the pseudonym Clay Fisher. Aside from his praiseworthy treatment of Native American characters in his fiction, Allen’s novels— with few exceptions—have two other consistent characteristics. The first is his penchant for creating fictional heroes to insert into the context of his historical backgrounds. In some ways, giving readers this type of everyman character allows them to experience historical settings and events through the character as opposed to resorting to info dumps to put events in context. However, in doing this, he often made literary choices more consistent with the hero’s character than the actual facts of an event. In his defense, Allen did maintain his works were fiction built upon history, not fiction paraded as history. Second, his heroines are almost always of exceptional beauty—more pedestal dweller than realistic portrayal—without much depth of character. This is not particularly obvious, as it only becomes notable with exposure to a wide number of Allen’s books—and even then, it’s remarkable simply because of the depth of his hero and Native American characters. Despite these small drawbacks, Allen’s writing is remarkably vivid and accessible. I’ve found when I turn the last page of a Will Henry or Clay Fisher title, the story has left an indelible impression upon me. More than simple entertainments, his books make me think and adjust my perspective on events. And there are certainly millions of Will Henry fans who agree with me. Not taking into account the hardcover sales of 46 of his 53 books, Bantam alone has sold over fifteen million paperback copies of his books. —PAUL BISHOP is a novelist, screenwriter, and western genre enthusiast, as well as the co-host of the Six-Gun Justice Podcast, which is available on all major streaming platforms or on the podcast website: www.sixgunjustice.
HE NEW YORK TIMES called Cherokee Ezekial Proctor a “bad Indian” on November 7, 1897. This was twenty-five years after his involvement in what various newspapers described as “Proctor’s War,” “The Courthouse Riot,” or “The Goingsnake Massacre” and ten years before his death. Many of his fellow Cherokee would have disagreed with that description. They would
have praised him for his performance as a Cherokee sheriff. Others who had run afoul of Proctor, either as a private citizen or in his capacity as a lawman, would have called him worse. All of them, however, would have agreed with this statement. Ezekial “Zeke” Proctor was tough as nails and not a man to be approached carelessly. One Ft. Smith paper said of Proctor, “It is not known how many men fell before his rifle, but no two Cherokee were such terrors to their own race and were so thoroughly feared as Tom Starr and Zeke Proctor….” Born to a white father and Cherokee mother in 1831 Georgia, Zeke’s young life was marred by the tragedy of the Trail of Tears. Phillip W. Steele, the author of The Last Cherokee Warriors, referenced Zeke’s granddaughter Elizabeth Walden’s memories of her grandfather. She said that Zeke often spoke about the hardships of the journey to Oklahoma. Zeke’s family was packed onto flatboats and made the journey by water. Many of the party they traveled with died and were buried beside the riverbanks. Arriving in Indian Territory at age seven, he grewup in the Goingsnake District near what later became Westville, Oklahoma. Being on the border of Indian Territory and just a few miles from Arkansas, the area was known to attract law breakers and desperados. Ze-
A RARE PHOTO OF EZEKIAL PROCTOR A TOUGH-AS-NAILS CHEROKEE LAWMAN, WITHOUT HIS HAT,
11 ke’s early skill with weapons was a natural consequence of being brought up in such an environment. According to Elizabeth Walden, her grandfather, Zeke Proctor, spent a lot of his life “on the scout.” Zeke was quite young when his father sent him to check on two of his brothers who were visiting in the home of the Jaybird family. Zeke arrived in the middle of a hot argument, which rapidly escalated into a gunfight. The end result was the death of two of the Jaybird brothers by Zeke’s hand. This was the first of several times that Zeke went “on the scout.” Proctor’s son Ezekiel Proctor was interviewed by Oklahoma field workers for the Indian Pioneer Papers oral history project in 1938. He said his father moved to Texas in the 1840s where he became an outlaw. Proctor stole fine horses to bring to Indian Territory by rafts on the Red River. SERVING THE UNION ARMY DURING THE CIVIL WAR, PROCTOR He speculated that Zeke murdered WAS A MEMBER OF A SPECIAL GROUP OF CHEROKEE WHO about 25 persons in his lifetime. ATTACKED FELLOW TRIBESMEN SERVING UNDER CONFEDZeke served as a scout and sharpERATE CHEROKEE COMMANDER STAND WATIE. THEY WORE shooter for the Union, but he also CROSSED PINS TO IDENTIFY THEMSELVES AS UNION SOLDIERS. fought as a “Pin” Indian during the Civil War. This meant that Proctor saloons, usually at Cincinnati, Arkansas, he became was part of a special group of Cherokee soldiers who wore crossed pins to identify them- loud, boisterous, and quarrelsome. On several occaselves and officially fought for the Union. Unofficially, sions, he shot up Cincinnati with his pair of pearl-hanthey attacked any soldiers who served under the Con- dled .45s. Later, when he sobered up, he would somefederate Cherokee Commander Stand Watie. They times return to the shops he had damaged and offer to considered Watie and his men to be enemies of Chief pay for repairs. Then 1872 came, and Ezekiel said his father enJohn Ross. Their violence sometimes extended to civilians, who they believed supported the Confederacy. countered his “first trouble” at Beck’s Mill. They often pillaged and stole from the area families. In — some cases, they killed innocent civilians in the belief they opposed Chief John Ross and supported Stand THE GOINGSNAKE MASSACRE Watie. Of course, the same could be said for Watie’s Confederates who treated the Pins and their supportDR. VIRGIL BERRY WROTE about what happened ers in like manner. After the war ended, Zeke returned to Goingsnake in 1872 in “Zeke Proctor—Uncle Sam’s Treaty with District in Indian Territory and, seemingly, gave up One Man,” in a 1954 issue of The Chronicles of Oklahis old ways. He also served as the Sheriff of Go- homa. After interviewing Zeke Proctor’s family, Berry described him as being typical of the old stoic warrior ingsnake District for a time. But Zeke was no saint. Although his family de- type. He stood tall and straight as an arrow with long, scribed him as an intelligent, jovial Indian, who loved black hair draping over his shoulders. Zeke generally children, he turned into “Mr. Hyde” when he started avoided white people and usually only ventured from drinking. Whenever he got drunk in one of the local home to purchase needed goods. In February of 1872,
12 went upstairs to his living quarters over the mill to get a gun. When he came downstairs to confront Proctor, Polly got between the two men on the stairs. Proctor accidentally shot and killed her. Some accounts also say that Proctor shot and wounded Kesterson, but other accounts say he simply left. Whichever account is accurate, they all agree that Zeke Proctor killed Polly Beck Kesterson. Proctor soon agreed to surrender to the Cherokee authorities and be tried in the Cherokee court in the Goingsnake district where he lived. Meanwhile, Kesterson and the Beck family members were clamoring for justice, and they said they couldn’t get it in Cherokee courts. They went to Fort Smith and persuaded U.S. Commissioner J.O. Churchill to issue a writ for Proctor’s arrest. The writ could have been illegal because in Indian Territory Indians could only be tried in federal courts if one of the parties involved was white. Both Proctor and Polly Beck were considered to be Cherokee. However, if it is true that THE SECOND HILDEBRAND MILL, BUILT IN 1907 ON THE Proctor wounded Kesterson, a white SITE OF THE ORIGINAL STRUCTURE WHERE MS. POLLY man, that act would have given ChurBECK WAS SHOT BY ZEKE PROCTOR IN FEBRUARY 1872. chill legal grounds to issue the writ. Regardless, Marshals J.O. Owens and J.S. Peavy were sent to bring Proctor he traveled to Hildebrand’s Mill, which was about in. Some of the men who volunteered for the posse twenty miles south of Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Proctor went there to speak to the owner of the were relatives or friends of the Beck family. Ezekiel Proctor also identified Marshal Riley mill, a white man named Jim Kesterson, who was Woods and Special Agent Eugene Bracken as bemarried to Polly Beck. Proctor was angry because he had heard that Kesterson was making threats against ing part of the posse, along with Paul Jones and Jim Ward. He said that four of Polly’s relatives rode with him for allegedly stealing his cattle. Proctor may have had another motive for visiting the mill. Stories claim them: White Sut, Black Sut, Sam, and Bill Beck. The posse rode to the Whitmire School in Gothat Kesterson had recently been involved with Procingsnake District where Proctor was being tried. tor’s sister and had left her and their children, alone and hungry. Zeke was angry with Kesterson for how Proctor was surrounded by Cherokee lawmen and his friends as well as some relatives and friends of the Beck he had treated his sister. Whatever his motives were, family. Seated at the trial were Zeke, his brother, JohnZeke walked up to the mill armed with a shotgun and two pistols. When Kesterson and Polly came outside son Proctor, Judge Blackhawk Sixkiller, Mose Alto meet him, Proctor shot at Kesterson. Polly got be- berty, Proctor’s attorney, Joe Starr, the Court Clerk, tween them and was instantly killed. Proctor rode off. Johnson Spade, the District Attorney, some guards, Other accounts of the incident say that Kesterson and several spectators. Standing outside the building
13 were more guards and many bystanders who couldn’t find a place to sit in the building. Steele said that an armed party of Beck family members and friends were waiting outside and immediately joined the approaching posse. The marshals quickly lost control of their command. In the midst of the trial, someone called out a warning. At that moment, the doors to the building opened, and the posse burst into the room. One of the Becks, likely White Sut, immediately aimed his shotgun at Zeke, but Zeke’s brother Johnson grabbed the barrel just as it fired. He took the full charge in his chest. The second bullet hit Zeke in the knee. Alberty was struck by stray buckshot as he sat near the judge’s desk. Bedlam ensued with shots being fired by all parties, and several people were wounded. At some point, Zeke grabbed a gun and joined in the fray. Being outgunned, what remained of the posse rode off. The entire gunfight was over in about fifteen minutes. Wounded people lay all over inside and outside the schoolhouse. E.H. Whitmire, another interviewee, who lived close to the school house, said his mother told him and his brothers to gather up the wounded and dead. They put the living and the dead in wagons and brought them to their house. Their home became a temporary hospital until relatives could come and collect the wounded. He said they laid nine corpses on their front porch. Whitmire, whose brother was a spectator at the trial, stated that from the Beck side, Sam Beck, Black Sut Beck, Riley Woods, Bill Hicks, George Selvage, and Jim Ward were all killed outright. Marshal Owens and Bill Beck were mortally wounded and died later. Marshal Owens reportedly said before he died that as soon as his posse dismounted, “the boys” made a rush for the door, and he tried to stop them but could do nothing with them. On the Proctor side, Johnson Proctor and Mose Alberty were killed. Andy Palone, Ellis Foreman, and Proctor himself were all wounded but recovered. Ezekiel Proctor’s account differs by saying that Andy Palone was killed from the Proctor side, and Joe Chewey was wounded. He stated that on the Beck side, White Sut, Paul Jones, and George McLaughlin were also wounded but survived. Regardless of the statistical differences, the blood-
bath in Goingsnake District made history. At least eight members of the Marshals Service died in a single day, and some have called it the largest single day of marshal loss of life in the agency’s history. In the April 21, 1872, Arkansas Daily Gazette, appeared a letter from Marshal J.S. Peavey, sent from Barren Fork, Cherokee Nation, to the United States Marshals’ Office. In the letter, Peavey stated, “We have had a terrible fight—lost seven of our side killed, dead…. Owens is wounded…. For God’s sake, send help and send quickly…. We are looking to be attacked every moment….” Zeke Proctor was taken to Cherokee Arch Scraper’s house and guarded until the next day. The interrupted trial proceeded, and Proctor was acquitted. The verdict didn’t end Zeke’s trouble. The marshals were still after him, and he went on the scout again. Zeke believed that if he were captured and taken to be tried in Ft. Smith, he would surely hang as an example of the federal court’s authority over the Indian nations. On April 18, 1872, Deputy United States Marshal C.F. Robinson made a formal request of the Cherokee Chief Lewis Downing. He demanded the surrender of the Cherokee who were involved in the attack made on Deputy United States Marshals, J.G. Owens and Peavey, and their posse members. He named Ezekiel Proctor, Jesse Shill, Soldier Sixkiller, One Sixkiller, Thomas Walkingstick, John Creek, John Proctor, Isaac Vann, Ellis Foreman, Joe Chaney, and the jury that was impaneled to try Ezekiel Proctor. Chief Downing considered the case against Proctor to be closed since he had been tried by a Cherokee court and acquitted. Not only did he refuse to comply with Robinson’s demand, he sent out a letter to the Cherokee delegation in Washington, consisting of William Potter Ross, William Penn Adair, and C.N. Vann. He asked for their help to restore the Cherokee Nation’s treaty rights of self-government. Meanwhile, the United States Marshal Logan H. Roots of the Fort Smith Federal Court and the United States District Attorney, James. H. Huck-
THE GRAVE OF EZEKIAL PROCTOR, PRESENT DAY
leberry, were appealing to the Attorney General in Washington for support and help. One letter even suggested that federal troops be sent in to capture Proctor and his followers. On May 10, 1872, the Daily Arkansas Gazette said that Marshal Joe Peavy and his posse came upon Zeke Proctor and his party of supporters on Bird Creek in the Cherokee Nation, and another gunfight ensued. When it was over, five of the marshal’s party were killed, and eight were wounded. Six outlaws lay dead on the ground, but “Zeke Proctor, with his usual good luck, escaped.” Part of Proctor’s “luck” came from his fellow Cherokee. Several of them appeared to travel with him, and his many relatives and friends warned him if marshals or other lawmen were in the area. All of the lobbying, appeals, letters, and acts of violence attracted President Grant’s attention. According to Steele, he ordered a grand jury hearing of the case on June 10, 1873. On August 14, 1873, Zeke and the others named in the marshals’ charges were summoned to a hearing. Each of them was granted total amnesty for their crimes. However, evidently the affair wasn’t over. On October 29, 1873, John B. Jones, U.S. Agent for the Cherokee, wrote a letter on their behalf. He said that they “were the victims rather than the criminals in this terrible affair.” Even though the Cherokee condemned “the attack on the court and the killing and wounding which followed,” they would not pursue the matter. Then Jones dropped a bombshell. He quoted from a recent letter he had received from the U.S. District Attorney. “I was directed by the Attorney General of the United States, to dismiss the case of U.S. vs Zeke Proctor & others for murder at Goingsnake District, but was further directed that if the authorities of the Cherokee Nation should attempt to prosecute any of the Marshal’s party, to re-indict Proctor and his party.” Jones then said, “While I am perfectly willing to have the Marshal’s party go free, if it thought best by the authorities at Washington, I wish it distinctly understood that I consider them guilty of a most flagrant crime vs peaceable, unoffending, and unarmed citizens.” Neither did Proctor’s story end in 1873. In Vinita, Oklahoma’s Weekly Chieftain, on August 17, 1899, an
article appeared about Zeke. It pointed out that after his trial, he represented Goingsnake District in the Cherokee Senate for two years and was sheriff of his district at a later date. As an old man, he spoke out about the encroachment of the United States on Cherokee sovereignty. Proctor boldly asked permission from Cherokee Chief Joel Mayes to come to Vinita and “wipe out the Dawes Commission” as he had wiped out the Becks long ago. Elizabeth Walden remembered Zeke as a doting grandpa who brought his grandchildren apples or candy from town and took them on walks by the river. There he told them stories while he sat and whittled. Walden said that among Zeke’s last words was the admonition to “Take care of my boys, give them shelter, and feed them.” Later, she understood that he was speaking about the three Wickliff brothers, who were wanted for moonshining and killing a U.S. marshal. The night of Zeke’s death they were hiding in his smokehouse and came into the house to pay their respects before they left to go back “on the scout.” Elizabeth Walden once said, “My grandfather was not an outlaw but someone who was brave enough to take a stand against a government that sought to take away the freedom of the Cherokee to govern their own nation. I am glad to say that Ezekiel Proctor was my grandpa.” In his obituary in the March 7, 1907, Stilwell Standard, Zeke Proctor was described as one of the most noted Cherokee of modern times. He was also called the “hero of the Goingsnake Courthouse tragedy.” He had filled many positions of honor and trust under the Cherokee government, including councilor, sheriff, and senator. The article concluded by alluding to the poem, “Thanatopsis,” saying, he died “in the forest of his beautiful home on the Illinois River, not like the Gladiator, but wrapt the drapery of his couch about him and laid (sic) down to pleasant dreams.” —REGINA MCLEMORE is a retired educator of Cherokee heritage. Her great, great grandmother, Susie Christie Clay, survived the Trail of Tears in 1839. Her novel, Cherokee Clay, was a finalist for the 2020 Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award for Best First Western Novel.
Winds bid me come with chill-laden whispers, Catlike in the quiet calling, softly speaking. While my tired eyes bear frazzled witness To life’s tormented and painful passing. Comes a profound rejoicing, joyous celebration That in this passing, life’s black hour enlightened; Song birds sing in hushed, disbelieving harmonies Of a timeless turning, a seasonal passage coming. Winter’s bitterness, frozen contains me not, Turning back the aged wrinkles, the frigid hour. Come to me spring-like beginnings, reborn To sooth and refresh my troubled soul. Stir the grass from idyllic slumber, awaken To fill my green valleys with bountiful memories. Blow away the icy chill of death-like gloom. Dry the frozen tears of sorrow, opportunities lost. Return to me vast prairie grasses, waving While Meadowlarks rise on windswept currents. Ride with the great spirits, gone long before me On wild horses, bison, and antelope running free. Dry the painful lonely tears of sorrow, burning; Carry away the shattered moments of youth. Blow away my dampened spirit, a realization As age and unfulfilled dreams overtake me. Gather up the reins of my tired horses. Let me ride windswept plains just once more. Feel the wind against my now weathered face As age all too quickly wins life’s blemished race. Lift me up from life’s tired winter doldrums. Bring me peace in this final, eventual hour. Let me race boldly across valley floors For only death can tame the spirit within me.
T DUSK DANIEL HOBBLED his horse and removed five pairs of handcuffs from the saddlebag. By the time he started toward his prey, night had wrested daylight into bed and tucked in the land. Daniel stalked forward while he crouched through the prairie grass. Ahead were the shadowy outlines of the Hardy Gang he had been tracking since Kansas. The five-man crew guffawed. “Ooh-wee,” exclaimed John, the one Daniel suspected was the leader. “It’s payday, boys.” Another man leaned toward John. “Lemme count the money.” “I don’t think so,” said John, his gun gleaming in the fire’s dancing flames. They stared at one another while the others had quieted. The wood popped and crackled, and coyotes howling carried on their conversation during the two men’s stand-off. Someone cleared their throat, which Daniel assumed was John. “We wait till we get to Ma’s.” His suspicions were right. John was the leader. After months of studying the wanted posters and their robberies, Daniel refused to let them elude him again.
As the gang continued their discussion, Daniel gazed at the sky. The nighttime dots couldn’t be seen, making the night as complete as his skin. Daniel traced a folded letter’s ridges in his pocket. A whisper clung to his lips. Betsy would have enjoyed doting on their niece, her namesake. It had been three years since she and their babe became a part of the dots that adorn the evening sky. A slight lump bulged against Daniel’s throat. In those three years, he never returned to their home on Tommy’s ranch despite his best friend’s encouragement for a visit. Truth be told, it pained him knowing life continued without his wife. “I gotta take a piss,” said John. He rose and stumbled near where Daniel hid. Daniel froze, taking shallow breaths. The fire was too far away to expose his position on this dark night. He closed his eyes. A decade later, and he still found men wearing their Confederate coats. John displayed its full view when he had turned around. Memories of Massa Reeves and his plantation made Daniel shiver on this warm night. His back burned.
Though his whipping scars were healed, the hatred from Massa Reeves could still be felt. John hummed “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again,” bursting in song. The rest of the men joined him. Again, within the fire’s light, John gestured a finale at the end of the old Civil War tune. He bumbled to the ground with a laugh. “Charlie, hand me that whiskey.” Daniel shook his head. Mama had always said, “nuffin good came out of drinking spirits.” For him, the spirits made his job easier in arresting outlaws when they were passed out. His boss, Marshal Samuel Bass, would agree. Raucous laughter came from the Hardy Gang. It reminded Daniel of the cattle drives with Tommy. An ache started in his heart. Perhaps, after he captured the Hardy Gang and brought them in to stand trial, a return to Texas would do him good. Brother-in-law and niece stuck on Daniel’s tongue. Daniel smiled. Tommy finally achieved his dream of marrying Hattie and creating a family. Their marriage wouldn’t be without challenges, and Daniel prayed the same fate didn’t befall his sister as it did his wife. Someone tossed another log on the fire. Lit embers flittered through the darkness like fireflies. John’s voice carried as he assigned shifts for guard duty. One would fall asleep while on duty. Daniel had yet to meet someone who stayed awake during their shift, especially when inebriated. He flattened himself against the ground and surveyed the gang, waiting for his chance. The night crept by into endless hours as the fire transformed into glowing embers. Snoring rumbled through the air. Unbeknownst to John, his night watch had left them vulnerable. Through the clouds’ clearing, a crescent moon provided Daniel enough light to ambush the sleeping guard. He slipped on the handcuffs without waking the man. Daniel stripped the guns from the guard’s holster and paused when he mumbled. When he quit, Daniel tiptoed toward the others. One by one, Daniel handcuffed them and secured their guns, except for John. The leader stirred. “Charlie?” he grumbled. Daniel halted in front of the fire pit, not responding.
If he was lucky, John would fall back asleep or mistake him for Charlie. John half rose from his sleeping position. “Is that you, Charlie?” Daniel stood unwavering. A hand clasped the butt of his pistol, and he eased the hammer back. “No,” he gave a low reply. “Deputy Reeves.” John scrambled for his gun. “Don’t, or yer dead.” “And my men?” “I reckon they ain’t no use ta ya in handcuffs and no guns.” John snatched up his gun. Flashes ignited in the dark, and gunfire ricocheted across the land. A man grunted but not Daniel, who remained standing. The acrid gunpowder lingered. His captives hollered in surprise as each bolted upright and rattled the chains that bound their hands. Daniel whirled around to the nearest one and leveled his revolver. “Lessen youse want to be next, I’da suggest you cooperate.” Over the horizon, a sliver of dawn peered through the dark sky. Daniel knew without looking the nighttime dots twinkled, fading as daybreak forced its arrival. His heart slowed. Betsy had saved him once again from the perils of law enforcement. “On yer feet,” Daniel ordered. “Time ta ride back to Ellsworth.” An invisible but familiar force wrapped around his body like a warm embrace. Betsy’s faint whisper flittered in Daniel’s ear. “And return to Texas.” —KYLEIGH MCCLOUD is a North Dakota native living in Minnesota with her husband and fourteen-yearold cat. Although Kyleigh enjoys reading a variety of genres, her favorite is historical romance. She has always felt drawn to the 1800s time period. The Little House on the Prairie series introduced her to this era when she was in fifth grade. Ever since, Kyleigh has admired the people’s tenacity to survive back then. She and her husband love traveling the Midwest to visit historical sites. Aside from writing westerns, Kyleigh writes modern women’s fiction. Her holiday novella, Her Mother’s Last Christmas Gift, debuted in November 2020. You can follow her on Facebook to learn more about her upcoming works.
HE MUSTANG GALLOPED AROUND the corral in a fury. She snaked her neck and rushed at the cowboys on the fence. Brewster called me over and pointed at the fiery black and white pinto. “This here’s the devil mare that’s been stealin’ our horses, Jess.” His eyes narrowed. “I saw a horse like this years ago in Mexico. Looked just like her. Could’ve been her mother. Ran a herd without a stallion. There’s always a lead mare, but it’s rare not to have a stallion. Maybe he died. It makes no sense. This one here took over our pastures with her mustangs. Pushed our stock around. Lured several mares to join her. It ain’t natural. Damned mare fought with three of our best horses. I had to put one down.” I was a fresh face at the ranch, green as springtime and humming with excitement. The horse was a legend around here. The cowboys said she was cursed and elusive as hell. We’d cornered the herd in a box canyon after chasing them for hours. Brewster culled out our stock and kept two wild yearlings. He freed the rest of the horses. They huddled on the far ridge, cryin’ out for their leader.
It was gettin’ dark. Brewster and the men rode back home for the night. They left me alone to guard the corral until morning. “Stay here, Jess,” Brewster had ordered. “Build a fire and hunker down. Some stragglers might come in off the hills for her at dawn. If they wear our brand, capture them. Then put a bullet in that damned mare. This has to stop.” My hands shook thinkin’ about it. I never killed nothin’ in my life. When the mare looked at me, it gave me the willies. It was as though she could read my mind. The horse was a beauty. There was pride in the way she pranced around the enclosure, tail set high and neck arched. She pressed against the fence and whinnied across the valley. I chewed on it all for a while, then settled in under a tree. All night long that devil mare kept me awake, screaming like a banshee and pacing. Her herd answered from the ridge. I have to tell you, it made my hair stand on end. It was like a bunch of witches plotting together to make mischief. At dawn, two branded horses wandered close
enough for me to rope ’em. The devil mare paced back and forth watchin’ with wary eyes. I walked up to the railing with the rifle, and she stopped her racket. Then she trotted to the far side of the corral and lowered her head as if she knew she was gonna die. It was pitiful. My heart pounded. I raised my rifle, then lowered it. Tried again. To this day, I’ll never understand what I did next. I swear that horse put some kind of spell on me. It was like I was dreamin’. I mounted my gelding, Finn, and we entered the corral. The mare crow hopped and kicked, rushed at us, then dashed away. I reached for my lasso and swung. Caught her on the first try. Beginner’s luck. She bucked and snorted. As though in a trance, I opened the gate and rode out. The mare skidded to a halt. We reached the end of the rope, but she just crouched in the pen, breathin’ heavy and tossing her head. Then, like a lightning strike, she bolted out of the corral and raced past us. The rope ran out like a live wire. The jolt nearly tore the horn off the saddle, and it tipped me forward. It was all I could do to hang on. She stopped, spun around, and charged, baring her teeth. She hit Finn in the shoulder, and we almost went down. Then she whirled and kicked. It caught me on the leg. Fire spread all the way to my belly. Finn stumbled over the rope. He fell on one knee but sprang back up. Then that outlaw horse took off. I tapped Finn with my spurs, and we followed at a breakneck pace. She thundered straight up into the hills, nimble as a goat. I held onto the horn with both hands prayin’ the rope wouldn’t unravel. We ran for miles. Finn was lathered, but the mare hardly broke a sweat. She jumped over rocks and sage like a jackrabbit. When the mare reached the top of the ridge, she stopped so fast Finn galloped past her. She let out a whinny. There was an answer down in a gully. She took off again, dragging us along. In the gulch behind some scrub was a pinto foal about six months old. Her leg was caught between
two rocks, the skin worn plumb off and bleeding. She had to belong to the devil mare. It was a mystery who the sire was. I dismounted and inched my way over to the filly. The mare snorted and stomped. I worried she might kill me, but she let me near her baby. I gently pulled the rocks away. The filly limped over to her mother, and they touched muzzles. You can call me a liar, but I am here to say that mare let me walk right up to her and take the lasso off her neck. She shook all over like gettin’ rid of a fly, then trotted away smooth as Sunday morning with her foal. The devil mare gave me one last glance. Then they climbed over a slope and disappeared from Colorado for good. I lost my job that day, but it was worth it. — SOME FOLKS SAID THAT mare was bewitched. A ghost horse. I believe it. Decades later, I swear we met again one night in Montana. We looked straight at each other in the moonlight. She nickered and tossed her head, then loped across the ridge, sparks flyin’ from her hooves. —SHARON FRAME GAY is an award-winning author who grew up a child of the highway, playing by the side of the road. She has been internationally published in anthologies and literary magazines, including Chicken Soup For The Soul, Typehouse, Fiction on the Web, Lowestoft Chronicle, Thrice Fiction, Crannog, Saddlebag Dispatches, Owl Hollow Press, 5-Star Publishing, and others. Her work has won awards at Women on Writing, Rope and Wire Magazine, Pen 2 Paper, and The Writing District. She has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize, as well as nominations for the Peacemaker Award, Washington Science Fiction Association Award, and, Best of Fiction on the Web, and Best of the Net. A collection of her short stories, “Song of the Highway,” is available on Amazon. and you can follow all of her work on Facebook—Sharon Frame GayWriter—and on Twitter @sharonframegay.
HE SNORTING OF KANE’S horse faded into silence while Molly was still crawling forward to get a better look. Not good. She wanted Kane where she could see him. She had finally traced down the infamous killer to this tiny ghost town on the edge of the Mexican border, and she was determined to have him this time. Her hat thumped against her back as she dug her gloves into the dirt and shinnied along under the house. She peered out into the street. She figured Kane was here to meet one of the many robbers he coordinated with along the border. If all went well today, Kane would never reach that meeting. There was a soft sound somewhere to her right. Someone was under the house with her. She twisted her head to one side but couldn’t see past a bricked support beam. She fumbled for her shotgun. She wanted Kane hung but, if she had to, she’d shoot him dead. “Molly?” a familiar voice hissed. “Vaquero?” Molly whispered, disbelieving. The scruffy, grinning face that appeared confirmed her worst suspicions.
It was that ding-dang, jackleg bounty hunter! This sidewinder had been sabotaging Molly’s attempts to catch Kane for weeks. Course, she had pushed Vaquero into a ravine, but she had a right to spoil his efforts. Kane belonged to her. “Well, well. Hello again, niña.” Molly bridled. She wasn’t a child. She was fifteen. She was old enough to sass this skunk good and proper. “Get out of here, or I’ll blast you out!” she snarled. Vaquero wriggled closer. “First one to grab Kane gets to claim him.” “He’s mine.” Molly gritted her teeth and finally blurted out the truth. “He killed my grandpa.” Vaquero’s eyes softened. “Now, why didn’t you tell me that when we first met? So, it’s revenge you seek?” “Revenge be hanged,” Molly snapped. “I want justice.” But more than that, she didn’t want some other girl to lose her grandpa. Kane brought misery everywhere he went. It had to stop. Something that might have been niceness crossed Vaquero’s face. “I’ll help you, and we split the reward. Agreed?” Molly grimaced. “Just stay out of my way!”
She crawled out from under the building and leapt to her feet, shooting like all get-out down the street. Kane whirled, hitting the ground hard and returning fire, forcing Molly to take cover in an alley. “Is that you, girl?” Kane shouted furiously. “It’s me!” Molly yelled. Kane cursed. “I’m getting mighty tired of you following me around! This is the end of the line for you.” “We’ll see about that!” She bent down to reload. Then a gun cracked right behind her. She whirled around in time to see a cowboy fall on his face a few feet away from her, his gun falling from his limp hand. Molly gaped at the corpse. In her anxiety to catch Kane, she had forgotten he was meeting friends of his here. Stupid. Vaquero was standing at the end of the alley, his gun smoking. “A word of advice, niña. Always look over your shoulder.” Molly reloaded her shotgun with shaking hands. “I told you already, I don’t need your help!” Vaquero rolled his eyes. “Oh, yes you do. Look, I’ll take care of Kane’s friends. You take care of Kane. Deal?” Molly hesitated then looked at the dead man again. “Deal.” They both dove into the street. Molly crawled for the opposite building as gunfire exploded behind her. But she didn’t look behind her. She knew Vaquero was watching her back. It felt good. While Vaquero kept the other men busy, Molly took cover and peered down the street. Kane was dashing toward a hitching post and his waiting horse. He didn’t know Vaquero was there. He thought Molly was pinned down by his friends. It was the advantage that Molly had needed. Molly slid the butt of her shotgun up and snugged it against her shoulder. Her grandpa used to say that she could hit the eye out of a rabbit. She brought her gun up and sighted down the barrel. Her finger tightened on the trigger. The slug struck the rope that held the sign for the saloon. The falling sign struck Kane square on the head, and he dropped to the ground, unmoving. Molly slumped forward. She had done it. She had finally caught her grandpa’s killer. With some help.
“Vaquero?” she called. She jumped as he appeared beside her. “The others were taken care of. Worried about me?” Molly snorted. “Just wanted to be sure none of them slipped past you before I went over to Kane.” They hurried toward the body and stood looking down at the unconscious killer. “Cover him,” Molly said, untying the rope fastened to her belt. “You’re quite bossy, aren’t you?” “Please,” Molly said between gritted teeth. Vaquero gave a little bow and complied. “It seems it took two to capture Kane.” Molly finished tying Kane up. “All that matters is that it’s over.” “No, it’s not,” Vaquero retorted. “You’ve still got fifty miles of open territory to cover before you can turn Kane over to a marshal—territory that’s full of Kane’s friends.” He spun his gun, casual-like. “You’ll probably need some help. And you’re not such a bad shot. Perhaps we could work together.” Molly had to admit, the last five minutes of actually working with Vaquero instead of against him had been a heap easier. “I suppose,” she said at last. Secretly, she felt a lot braver knowing Vaquero would be with her, though she’d sooner be shot than admit it. Afraid that her relief showed on her face, she added grumpily, “I’ve been riding solo for a while, Vaquero. Don’t reckon on sharing a saddle with me for long.” Vaquero smirked. “The feeling’s mutual, child.” But when they shook hands, they were smiling. However long this trail might be, at least Molly wasn’t on it alone anymore. —ALLISON TEBO is a writer committed to creating magical stories full of larger-than-life characters, a dash of grit, and plenty of laughs. She is the author of the Tales of Ambia, a series of romantic comedy retellings of fairy tales. Allison graduated with merit from London Art College after studying cartooning and children’s illustration and, when not creating new worlds with words or paint, she enjoys reading, baking, and making lists. You can find out more about Allison on her website www.allisonteboauthor.com or follow her on Facebook.
ORMER ARMY MEDICAL CORPS Officer Joe Hurd stood strategically behind the bar facing Siler City Sheriff Chuck Hutchison. The saloon was less than an hour away from opening under its new name. “I don’t like it,” Hutchison began. “It’s a bad idea. Why change things now? Besides, I like the name Yellow Rose.” He looked down. “It was my wife’s favorite flower.” “I know that. But I want to do something that’ll stand out, a place people notice and travel to from all parts just to have a drink—not to mention spend some time and money in Siler City. You can’t be opposed to that.” Hutchison waved a slim hand. “Ha! I think it will have the opposite effect. People will stay away. No one will want to come here… they’ll… they’ll be afraid to come to Siler City for God’s sake, and I wouldn’t blame ’em for a minute. I can’t imagine anyone being in favor of this fool idea.” He paused. Then. “The Just Us Saloon! What kinda name is that? And, bringing in old lawmen and old outlaws to run the place? We’ll be crawling with thieves, murderers, bandits…
and God knows what else. Good, law-abiding folk will be afraid to step into our town,” Hutchison decried. “Of all the—” “You forgot to mention the lawmen.” “Whatever.” The jagged scar across his forehead reddened. Hurd hadn’t moved. “Look, the only outlaws I invited finished their time and paid their debts. Why shouldn’t I give them a chance? Heck, we might even wind up with a few lawmen who were responsible for arresting some of their coworkers!” Hurd laughed, long and loud. “We’ll be the laughingstock of the whole darn state.” “Relax, Chuck. It’ll be the safest place west of the Mississippi.” “How do you figure?” “Remember, I’m hiring a former lawman for every ex-outlaw. And the so-called bad guys are, by the way, not bad any longer.” Hurd paused. “Then again, I know lawmen who are a lot worse than some outlaws.” “Huh? Well, it’s still a bad idea.” Moments from opening time, a gentleman entered the saloon. Only his eyes were exposed. His
face was covered with a bandana. He stared at Sheriff Hutchison. “Welcome!” Hurd said. He finally moved a step away from his spot behind the bar to acknowledge the newcomer. “Looks like your first outlaw’s arrived, Hurd.” The man’s gaze shifted to the spot Hurd vacated. “That’s one good looking knife. I’m sure there’s a story behind it,” the man said. The knife to which the stranger referred was fastened to the wall. It hung horizontally on two nails. It was nothing more than a crude, handmade blade. A woolen cloth wrapped around one end formed a handle. During his conversation with Hutchison, Hurd had stood in front of the knife, blocking its view. “There’s a story… quite a story—” Hurd was cut short by Hutchison. The sheriff’s face turned paler than a Texas Olive Blossom. “What in hell goes on here? That looks like the knife that cut up my face.” His hand touched his forehead. “Where’d you get that?” Without waiting for an answer, Hutchison said, “If I didn’t know he was already dead, I’d say this man is—” “Art Copeland,” the stranger said, removing the bandana. “Art Copeland. Alive and well. The man you falsely accused of—” Hutchison drew his gun. “Shut up!” He shifted the gun between Copeland and Hurd. “Both of you, drop your weapons.” Hurd grinned. “Neither one of us is armed, Chuck. I forgot to tell you, no guns allowed in the Just Us Saloon.” “What’s the meaning of all this? This man,”—he pointed the gun toward Copeland—“murdered my Stella and then tried to escape from jail!” Copeland stood motionless. Hurd spoke. “That isn’t true, Chuck, is it? Your wife was ill. She had fainting spells. The doc confirmed that. Art here happened to find her that night passed out. He was bringing her to the doc’s office when you saw the two of them. You made some horrible accusations against Copeland, but more important, against your own wife.” “You’re crazy. He killed her. And I killed him when he tried to escape punishment.”
“You killed her in a jealous rage, Chuck. Copeland saw you do it. And, as for you killing Copeland, well, I guess you just mistakenly left him for dead. Same as you mistakenly said my first outlaw invite had arrived. He’s no outlaw. Never was.” Hutchison reacted as if he didn’t hear the saloon owner. “You’re gonna take his word for it, Hurd? Against mine? He broke out of jail. I tried to stop him and got this for my trouble.” Again, he touched the scar. “You didn’t expect me to sit in jail and be convicted on your lies, did you? I carry my own scars, on my back, where you shot me.” “I found him still breathing. Patched him up myself. But, not before Copeland here asked to see Father Tracy. I figured it was for his last rites. As soon as Tracy heard the name Stella, I knew something was wrong. Father Tracy asked for forgiveness for himself and then violated an oath he took. He told me about the unspeakable things you had done to Stella. She had confessed it all to him.” “I heard enough!” Hutchison aimed the gun at Copeland’s chest. “At least it won’t be my back this time.” Hurd grabbed the knife off the wall and in one motion, hurled it at Hutchison. The Siler City Sheriff’s gun blast went astray as he dropped to the floor. “Welcome to the Just Us Saloon, Chuck.” Hurd stood over the injured man. “Just Us… Justice.” —BRUCE HARRIS writes mystery, crime, and western stories. His western short stories have appeared online at Frontier Tales, and anthologized in Grizzly Creek Runs Red, The Last Comanche, Bourbon & a Good Cigar, Time to Myself, Coyote Junction, Hangmen & Bullets, and The Shot Rang Out, among others. He lives in New Jersey, but that is only a temporary situation.
ERRIES, PLUMP AND RIPE, hung thick on autumn colored foliage amidst scattered rock boulders. Her small fingers were stained with their sweet purple juice as were her lips and tongue from eating them as she gathered the fruit into a woven basket her grandmother had made. This was the time of berry gathering for their people. While men hunted elk and deer, girls of various ages accompanied older women to learn the ancient ways. Earlier, coolness of the morning whispered portents of the oncoming season of snow and cold. A gust of warm afternoon wind rustled the drying leaves causing her to pause and look around. On the hillside below, she could see other women working their way up the slope. She was out in front of them all. Suddenly a smell came to her—a feral animal scent, unfamiliar but heavy and overpowering. Frozen in place she looked around, not in fear, but in curiosity. With a whuff… whuff sound, a huge cinnamon colored bear rose on its hind feet from out of a jumble of boulders in front of her. Backing up, she felt her foot wedge between rocks as she tumbled
over backward. The pain in her left knee and leg was terrible. The women on the slope below were shouting as the lumbering creature approached and looked down at her. Their eyes met, and the bear held her stare, not moving. The last thing she remembered was the creature’s hot breath and its eyes probing hers as she returned its gaze and examined the bear’s soul. The face of her grandfather swam into view. His face, aged with wisdom, looked down on her much as the bear had. He was leader of their people and soothed her with gentle words. “You are special little one. The women say the bear touched you with its paw. Bears are medicine spirits that have magical and healing powers. I believe it passed those qualities to you. From this time forward you shall be known as Redbear. I believe you will become a great healer of our people.” Winter passed, and with each new moon Redbear gained strength, but her knee and leg remained crippled. Young men who had made gestures of interest shunned her. Even her mother, father, and other family members became distant. Not understanding, she
believed their behavior was due to a pronounced limp and physical limitations. One hot summer day, the healing woman known as Whitefox, who had attended her injuries, sat and counseled her. Whitefox had lived through forty-six winters, and her understanding of life was great. She explained that it was natural for a young woman to want a normal life, but people believed Redbear had been granted a magical gift and distanced themselves out of reverence. She was desirable to young men, but they considered her untouchable. One young warrior, Walks With Elk, was different. He wanted to be with Redbear but also respected the powers she might possess. Walks With Elk taught her the ways of animals and people. He also spoke of the world changing. More white men were coming, and soon the ways of their people would be altered forever. The following year as summer slipped into autumn, her grandfather passed, and Walks With Elk became leader of their people. While he always shared his thoughts and wisdom with her, he took another as a mate. For a time, Redbear felt pain as if her heart would break, but then she began to discover her destiny. For three more years, the old woman taught her the way of creatures large and small, healing plants, and appropriate blessings to be offered to the gods. Whitefox died in the clutch of a winter blizzard, and suddenly, Redbear found herself looked to as the healer and spiritual leader of her people. Seasons melted one into another, year after year, and the predictions of Walks With Elk came to pass. As the people adapted to the changing world, their needs for her ever-increasing wisdom grew. Her knowledge of nature and healing ways were in high demand. White people moved closer with families and herds of animals called cattle. Walks With Elk became a great chief and made peace with their neighbors, and Redbear soon found that they also sought her medicinal abilities. The ache of solitude she felt as a young woman was replaced by a bond with nature and understanding of the magical powers the great bear had bestowed upon her. A new world was dawning, and she felt satisfaction to be part of it and to share her knowledge with others as she grew older.
The passing of thirty-three winters left her feeling frail. Age had overcome her, but she knew that was the true nature of all things. Once gleaming black hair was now grey, and each day, her knee and leg ached as if a knife were constantly thrust in them. The morning dawned bitterly cold, and she clutched the thick fox fur robe tightly to her body. Step by painful step she worked her way up the boulder-strewn hillside she remembered so vividly. Finally, she stopped and sat, resting against a large, smooth rock. The bear ambled toward her with a slowness that spoke of its years. The hairs of its muzzle and eyebrows had frosted white with the passing of time. It snuffled the air and approached her cautiously. Redbear felt the rock at her back and held out her hand. The bear stopped and sat, then stretched out beside her. Once more their eyes locked and each stared into the soul of the other. She rested her hand on the bear’s head and closed her eyes. Both remained silent and still as flakes of snow began to fall from an ashen sky. —MICHAEL MCLEAN has packed on horseback in Montana’s high-country wilderness, mined gold and silver thousands of feet below the earth’s surface, fly-fished Yellowstone Park’s blue-ribbon waters, and explored the deserts of the West. Through personal and professional experiences, he has collected a wealth of information to develop story settings, plots and characters. His work has been published in Saddlebag Dispatches, New Mexico Magazine, Rope and Wire and The Penmen Review. His story, “Backroads” was the winner of the 2012 Tony Hillerman Mystery Short Story Contest. He works in New Mexico’s oil and potash-rich Permian Basin and lives in Carlsbad, New Mexico, with his wife, Sandie.
HE BARREL OF BILL Hunnigan’s forty-five looked me straight in the eye. The man was big and angry, and looming over me, he looked like a god-damned giant, but that little black hole held all my attention. “I want to know,” Hunnigan demanded. “If you tell me, Mick, maybe I won’t kill you.” He wasn’t fooling or lying. That was one thing about Hunnigan—he might shoot you in the back if he thought it was for his own good, but he never told a joke or an untruth. He stood by his word, and he handled his own trouble, too. Hunnigan had a gang of four tough hombres, any of whom would have been glad to kill me on his say so, but Bill saddled his own broncs when it was personal. And the twenty-thousand dollars lying loose on the bed in my hotel room was a very personal problem for Hunnigan because before it came to me, he stole it first. “I work alone since I left the gang, Bill. You know that,” I told him. “’S’why I left in the first place, since we couldn’t get along.” “Bull hockey,” Hunnigan spat. “I don’t buy it.” The forty-five inched closer. Both it and Hun-
nigan looked even bigger now. I began to sweat something fierce. “You left… what was it, ’81? Yeah,” Hunnigan decided. “When we had that big storm. That was three years ago. Ain’t seen you since. So someone had to tell you about the money. I wanna know who. Who’s the long tongue, Mick?” Getting out of this was going to be rough. I thought I was slick, ducking in and out of Hunnigan’s place lickety-split while he and his boys were attending the few cows they ran to keep up their half-respectable front. Someone must have seen me and recognized me, though, cuz Hunnigan kicked in the door of my room not an hour later. If I hadn’t dallied or if he’d been fifteen minutes slower in getting here, I’d have been in the wind. It seemed so perfect when I planned it. They’d never know who took the money, and who was there to cry thief to when they’d stolen it in the first place, somewhere up in the Territory? I thought my days of living in dingy rooms and eating lousy food were finally at an end. Now, it looked like everything was just about over.
My only chance was to keep talking. Maybe if I did, Bill would let his guard down a little and give me some sort of opening. Killing me would solve one problem, but he still wanted to know who tipped me. Until he knew that, he would never feel safe again. “There was nobody, Bill,” I told him. “I just heard some talk about that bank job and decided to have myself a look-see. That’s all.” “I’ll ask you just once more, for old times’ sake. That’s it. Once more and then I shoot and figure out the rest on my own. Who told you about my money?” I was sweating like a pig in August. My heart thumped in my chest, and my eyes darted to the gunbelt hanging from a knob on the bedframe. It was no good, though. Even if Hunnigan didn’t have his gun out, even if it wasn’t already six inches from my face, even if my gun wasn’t four feet away, I could never beat him. He was one of the quickest men with a gun I ever met, and with his Colt already in hand, I had no chance in hell. I licked dry lips and forced my eyes up to meet Hunnigan’s. “Bill, there was nobody—” “That’s your last lie.” Hunnigan’s thumb cocked back the forty-five’s hammer. “Now you get it, and I’ll sort this all out myself.” He meant it, and he’d have killed me in the next moment if a choked-off kind of sob hadn’t escaped from the wardrobe in the corner of the room. Hunnigan was primed to shoot already, and he just twisted his hips, flicked his wrist, and fired twice at the wardrobe. There was a sharp outcry of surprise and pain, and then the door slowly swung open, and a body pitched out onto the floor. I dove at Hunnigan. It was my only bet, and I had to take it. I sprang up, grabbed him about the waist, and dragged him to the floor, smashing my fist into his face with all I had. He struggled and tried to bring his gun-hand up to strike back, but I slammed my elbow down onto his wrist and then my fist into his face again. There was a crack as something let go, and he went limp. I climbed to my feet, shaking and sweating and working to convince myself that I could still get clear of this. I could hear a commotion from elsewhere in the hotel. I had to move fast.
Swiftly, I took up my gunbelt, strapped it on, found my saddlebags beneath the bed and stuffed the greenbacks inside. I left the room, headed down the hall toward the back staircase. Hunnigan pulled the trigger, so let him talk his way out of it or swing for it. It made no difference to me. In a few hours I’d be safely away from this town and somewhere else entirely in a few days or weeks. California or maybe Mexico. Twenty-thousand dollars buys a lot of living no matter where you are. Calmly as I could, I walked to the livery, saddled up, paid the hostler what I owed, and hit the trail. Nobody gave me a second glance, and I thanked my lucky stars for the break I got. Bill Hunnigan prided himself on his gun-quickness, but this was one time I’m sure he wished he was just a mite slower, otherwise it might have been me lying dead on the floor back there instead of his wife, Laura-Ann. —BRANDON BARROWS is the author of the novels Burn Me Out, This Rough Old World, Nervosa, and over fifty published stories, selected of which are collected in the books The Altar in the Hills and The Castle-Town Tragedy. He is an active member of Private Eye Writers of America and International Thriller Writers. Find out more about Brandon and his writing on Twitter @brandonbarrows, or on his website, www. brandonbarrowscomics.com.
HODES FOUND THE RANCH at Blue Nose Creek, where the cottonwood trees were turning yellow, and the grass had gone pale and dry. At a bend in the stream, three white canvas tents shimmered beneath a blue sky. Up the slope a hundred yards, the ranch yard sat silent as smoke threaded from a stovepipe in the bunkhouse roof. Rhodes nudged his horse that way. The bunkhouse door opened, and a man in a drab hat and work clothes stepped outside. “What do you want?” Rhodes dismounted. “I’d like to talk to the person in charge.” “That’s me. I’m the foreman.” “Pleased to meet you. My name’s Bob Rhodes. I was wondering if I could put up for a day or two. My horse could use a rest. I’d be glad to work for my keep.” The foreman’s eyes traveled over Rhodes and his horse. “I suppose so. We’ve got other company that takes supper with us. Group of surveyors. They’re camped down there.” “I saw the tents.” “The cook could use the help. I’ll tell him. You can put your horse in the corral.”
— AFTER SUPPER, WITH THE dishes cleaned and put away, Rhodes looked for a seat. Two ranch hands were playing cribbage at the middle of the long table. At the end close to the sheet-iron stove, three of the surveyors and their camp tender were playing a game of pinochle. The fourth surveyor, whose name Rhodes had caught as Chambers, sat apart facing the stove. The man was above average height and sat straight in his chair. He had brown hair, beginning to grey at the temples, and a trimmed mustache. He wore wire-rimmed spectacles as he read a newspaper and smoked a straight-stem pipe. His corduroy trousers were tucked into his long brown boots, and his dust-colored canvas field coat was closed above the waist with rounded leather buttons. Rhodes said, “You fellas must get to see a lot of good country.” One of the pinochle players said, “Some of it.” “Where-all have you been?” “Various places in Colorado before we came here.” Chambers gave a sideways glance. “Why do you care?”
“Oh, I travel around, work here and there. I like to learn about the country.” When no one spoke, he turned to the pinochle player and said, “How long have you fellas been workin’ together?” “A while.” “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t pester you. I know you’re more interested in the queen of spades and the jack of diamonds right now.” No one answered. Chambers set down his paper, produced a steel-handled penknife, and opened it. He scraped the bowl of his pipe with the short blade. Rhodes said, “I’m on my way to Montana. I’ve got a job waiting for me that should carry me through the winter.” The camp tender said, “Gets cold up there.” Rhodes smiled. “That’s the good of it. I’ll be cuttin’ wood.” He cast a casual glance at Chambers as the surveyor kept his blue-grey eyes on the blade. The man had strong-looking hands. Rhodes gave a quick review of the places where saloon girls had turned up dead—Colorado Springs, Longmont, Fort Morgan. The name and the description matched, and the surveyor with the trimmed mustache and firm facial muscles did nothing to make Rhodes think otherwise. — RHODES STOOD OUTSIDE THE faint glow of light that came through the wall of the tent. He heard the voices of the surveyors and their tender, but because of the placement of the lantern, he could not see their shadows. They were making small talk, and passing around a bottle. Rhodes listened for Chambers, expecting to hear the man make a comment about the chap who asked too many questions in the bunkhouse, but he could not pick out the man’s voice. Rhodes shifted his attention to his surroundings. A faint gurgle came from the creek. He thought he heard the sound of a night bird leaving a branch, but as he looked up and around in the light of the half-moon, he saw nothing. He felt for his pistol in the cross-draw holster beneath his jacket, and he moved his left foot to be sure of the knife he carried in his boot. He frowned. He did not know if he had heard the flap of a wing or some other—
A jolt of fear ran through him to his heels as a cord tightened on his throat and pulled him back. His hat tumbled away. He squirmed and dropped, breaking the man’s hold, but Chambers closed in on him, got his arms around him, and slammed him to the ground. He landed on his back. He smelled a trace of whiskey as Chambers sat on his chest, knees athwart, and settled the strong hands on his throat. This is the way he does it. Rhodes thrashed, felt for his pistol, and could not find it. Desperate, as light flashed behind his eyelids, he bucked and heaved. Chambers tipped to one side, and Rhodes twisted his shoulder enough to reach the knife in its scabbard in his boot. He brought the knife up flat along his leg, between them, until he bucked again and was able to move the blade upward. He held the handle tight, and as Chambers lunged to force his weight down, Rhodes drove the blade home. The hands relaxed on his throat as a long, guttering breath spent itself, and Chambers slumped. Rhodes’s hand was wet and sticky, dark in the moonlight, as he pushed the dying man away. He rolled over onto his knees and lifted his head. The other men had come out of the tent and stood near in the moonlight. “What’s going on?” “What happened here?” “Why did you do that?” Rhodes stood up. “I’m an investigator. I’ll tell you the story... as soon as I can catch my breath.” —JOHN D. NESBITT lives in the plains country of Wyoming, where he teaches English and Spanish at Eastern Wyoming College. He writes western, contemporary, mystery, and retro/noir fiction as well as nonfiction and poetry. John has won many awards for his work, including three awards from the Wyoming State Historical Society (for fiction), five Will Rogers Medallions, one Western Fictioneers Peacemaker, four Western Writers of America Spur awards, and two Spur Finalist awards. His recent books include Great Lonesome, a novel, and Dangerous Trails, a collection of short stories. Find out more about John and his writing at www.johndnesbitt.com.
HE BULLET TOOK JIM Brent in the shoulder, chipping his clavicle on the way through. Searing pain lanced through him, and he reeled back off his horse to plunge into powdery snow. Brent landed on the broken shoulder, and the impact stole his breath. William McCammon was a demon with a six-gun to make that shot. Brent had suffered the Easterner’s ire since McCammon first rode into Morrow set on claim jumping. The horse hadn’t run, frozen in place on the mountainside. Thrusting up his good hand, Brent snatched the long-barreled Winchester from the saddle as a second shot struck the horn, and the horse lit off down the slope into a stand of birch fifty yards behind Brent. The blood dripping from the wool sleeve of his black coat had him wondering if his horse might have an eternal wait for him in the trees. Brent fumbled with the rifle. He couldn’t shoot straight with one hand, but he got one off just to give McCammon something to think about. As the sound echoed with a deep rumble around the cliffs bordering the snow-covered slope, McCammon threw him-
self down, scraping his left forearm on a hidden rock. He was a right-hand shot. He wouldn’t need the left. To finish Brent, he had to get closer, which was why he’d left his horse to continue on foot. Brent lay flat out, the rifle across his chest. Teeth clenched against the throbbing agony in his shoulder, he plunged the wound into the snow to slow the bleeding. He welcomed the damp chill against the back of his head. Gulping air, he set his mind against the pain and considered his options. Brent couldn’t hear McCammon, but knew he was coming. The trees down range were too far away to be of any use. The sun flashed blinding brightness off the snow. If he tried for the trees, his dark coat would provide a perfect target against the clear blue sky before he reached the rocks bordering the slope. Shock weighted his eyelids, and they settled down over his eyes with the finality of the grave. The cold devoured him inch by inch. He had to move. If only the unexpected warm spell had held rather than the typical biting cold of January. Talking with Janet about the old Conway spread just outside town,
planning a future now that his claim had shown real color before winter—McCammon had been in Baltimore, and Brent had breathed easy during that unusual taste of a spring ripe with possibilities before the heavy snows returned. It was a future he’d clawed at his whole life, and he wasn’t going to lose it now. There had to be a way! He glanced around at the almost uniform covering of snow undulating over jutting rocks he knew intimately. He was facing upslope, and the contours of the white blanket in front of him were as blank as his future presently, and this same white covering would be Brent’s shroud until the spring thaw. His thoughts froze. McCammon couldn’t know. Baltimore. The warm spell. He’d only rode in last night…. Gritting his teeth, Brent dug in his heels and, with his good arm, swung his body around. His boots churned the bloody snow and, face down, the rifle pushed ahead of him, he slithered up the slope. Broken bones grating, he burrowed toward his one last hope. He knew he’d reached the spot when the top of his head pushed into the bulging snow drift in front of him. He crawled behind it. A herculean effort got him atop the mound, and he inched forward gingerly. He could not risk disturbing the snow. He rose as much as he dared, the snow so deep only the tops of his thighs showed. With one hand he fired the rifle. “Let’s finish this!” he roared. The shot revealed Brent’s position. McCanmmon brayed laughter. The fool had gotten himself stuck in a drift. Easy pickings. McCammon stood, tall and rangy. The smooth downward slope was all that lay between him and Brent. He saw the man, bleeding, swaying, Brent could barely keep his feet. He paid special attention to that long rifle barrel swinging wildly. McCammon closed the gap, stepping boldly across the expanse. “Going to make sure of you!” he called. “Come on, then!” McCammon could appreciate Brent’s guts. This would not stay his shot, however. “Janet’ll never know what happened! I’ll comfort her, mind.” Brent loosely swung the rifle in one hand but did not fire.
He was a hundred feet away, a bit more than halfway across the slope. McCammon raised his pistol, contemplating a shot. Although enraged by McCammon’s comments, Brent kept focused. “Damn you to hell, McCammon!” Brent fired the rifle. Braced against his thigh, he re-cocked it. Fired again. Repeating this method he fired twice more. The shots scattered futilely, and McCammon’s derisive laugh was lost in the deafening thunderclaps rolling up and down the slope. Brent threw the empty rifle aside. McCammon took a step forward. The smile on his face instantly faded. The primeval rumbling grew louder. The snow beneath his boots started to slide, tugging at his balance. That fool Brent, he’s killed us both was McCammon’s last thought as the snow slide swept him off his feet and cascaded down the slope. As the avalanche roared down, the flat rock Brent knelt on was revealed. He had been careful not to disturb the surface, resting upon his knees concealed by the deep snow he appeared to be standing from afar. It had fooled McCammon. The warm spell had turned snow to ice, and heavy snow since—ripe to slide. His shots had set it off. Ears ringing, Brent used the rifle as a crutch and struggled to stand. The lights of town were showing through the trees, warm with promise. He whistled for his horse. —ANDREW SALMON has won several awards for his Sherlock Holmes stories and has been nominated for the Ellis, Pulp Ark, Pulp Factory, and New Pulp Awards. He lives and writes in Vancouver, BC. His novels include: Fight Card Sherlock Holmes: Work Capitol, Blood to the Bone and A Congression of Pallbearers, The Dark Land, The Light Of Men, and Ghost Squad: Rise of the Black Legion (with Ron Fortier) and his first children’s book, Wandering Webber. The first novel in the Eby Stokes series featuring the female pugilist turned Special Branch agent, is out now and he’s working on the second book now. To learn more about his work check out: www. amazon.com/Andrew-Salmon/e/B002NS5KR0
UFF CAREFULLY TILTED THE bottle and sloshed whiskey about two fingers deep into the dingy glass clamped in his trembling right hand. He didn’t bother to recork the bottle—there was no need. He’d be tilting it again soon enough. Somehow Enoch Cain had found him, and he had sent word by way of the telegraph that he was on his way to set things right. Duff knew enough about Enoch Cain to know that “right” meant whatever Enoch Cain meant “right” to be. The telegram had come through last week, and Duff, not a frequent sight about town, had only come in today and therefore had only seen the telegram today. Now he wished he had just stayed home. He lifted the glass in his quivering hand, gulped hard and loud, and the whiskey burned down his tight throat to warm his churning belly. Because of Duff O’Casey, Enoch had been in prison for the past fifteen years. Even though the telegram arrived only seven days ago, Duff had never forgotten the man, had never forgotten the promise of revenge in words and in the glare of the man’s cold steel eyes,
and every day for fifteen years he had never forgotten that this day would come. Fifteen years had made Duff an old man, all gray hair, wrinkled skin, and knotty fingers. But Enoch Cain was young back then, a tall, stocky cuss of seventeen, and would be in the prime of his life now and would be sorely ticked at having lost those unrecoverable youthful years. Duff finished another drink with another loud gulp, but this time he pushed the bottle away and shoved his chair back from the table. Getting drunk wouldn’t solve his problem. He shouldered through the batwings and into the dusty street. Finding another town to call home wouldn’t do either, only delay the dance. If Enoch could find him here in this ratty little town, he’d find him wherever he went. Duff headed for the livery where his sorrel gelding was stabled. He needed to get away from the racket of the town, back to his ranch and tiny cabin where he could think. —
LIGHT AND SHADOWS FROM a low sun played on the hilly country between town and Duff’s ranch as he followed the rutted wagon trail home. The day was fading, and his head began to clear a bit in the clean air of the countryside. In this clearness of thought he figured to have three actions from which to choose—run, hide or fight, and fight was out of the question. Duff knew he’d be no match for a man of Enoch Cain’s caliber. The barn door was open when he got back to the ranch. He’d left it open, always did when he was out with his horse. He ducked his head and rode the sorrel inside. After unsaddling and unbridling his mount, Duff forked hay into the stall and— “It’s been a long time, Duff.” —the sound of the deep, cold voice almost stopped his heart. Slowly, with every ounce of mettle he could muster, Duff turned to face the owner of that voice. Though Duff had not seen the man in fifteen years and could only see him in silhouette now, he could see enough. Enoch Cain stood surefooted in the open doorway of the barn. Cain stepped forward a couple of steps, brushing the right hem of his dark frock coat away from his hip as he did so. Duff instinctively retreated an equal distance, his gaze fixed on the outline of the revolver holstered next to Cain’s dangling hand. “Got nothin’ to say to your old partner, Duff?” Duff wanted to speak—to offer some explanation, plead, beg, to say something in his defense, but he could barely breathe. Cain spread his feet, squaring himself in the pale light framed by the open door of the barn. “Surprised you’re still around. Figured you for a running man.” Duff was scared, knew he was probably about to die, but Cain didn’t know he’d just seen the telegram today. Duff realized Cain thought he was waiting for him to show, maybe even daring to confront him. Though it wasn’t true, the thought gave Duff a flash of boldness, and he regained a measure of composure, enough to finally speak. “Guess I hoped you ’as only trying to put a scare in me, and to be truthful, you did.” As he spoke, words came more easily. “Hoped you’d be reasonable
enough to figure killing me wouldn’t be worth going back to prison.” “So you think I’m going to forget the years you took from me?” Cain took another step forward, but this time Duff didn’t back up. “I’m an old man, Cain. Grayer than I should be, cause of you.” Without realizing he was doing so, Duff took a step forward. “You think you the only one what’s been in prison?” He started to take another step but stopped when he saw Cain’s hand slide toward the revolver on his side. Until that moment he had forgotten about the pitchfork, still in his hands. Duff lifted his head. Maybe if it came down to it, he could take Cain with him. “You said nobody’d get hurt. Said there wouldn’t even be any shootin’. Well, I shot a man—had to or he’d have shot you in the back, Cain!” He spat on the dirt floor of the barn and then kicked at the spot where it landed. “That’s what you’re worth, Cain, spit! The man I killed was just some townie come in to put away a few dollars.” Cain moved his hand until it came to rest on the butt of his revolver. “Ain’t what you said at my trial. You said you was shooting at me... said he stepped in front of you. Even the girl backed you up.” “People believe what they hear. She was standing close, and it just come to me, so I said it. Weren’t no use in the both of us going to prison.” Duff let the pitchfork fall from his hands. “Ended up there, anyway. Ain’t a day passes that I don’t think about what I done. Only I don’t get out like you did, Cain, not till I die, anyway. You want to unlock the door, then shoot.”
ACOB BAYNE writes fiction, nonfiction and
poetry from his home in beautiful upstate South Carolina. Though he moved around a lot as a
child, the one constant in his life was a love for Old West stories, movies and television. He also loves a good horror yarn, too, and sometimes enjoys putting the cowboy in a dark situation or setting. Some of Jacob’s works include an appearance in a 2006 anthology, edited and assembled by Ron Shiflet called Hell’s Hangmen: Horror in the Old West,
with his story, “The Value of a Bullet.” In December
ENOCH CAIN UNTIED THE gray gelding from the fence post behind the barn where he’d hidden waiting for Duff to return from town. He stroked the horse’s neck, stepped into the stirrup, then swung up into the saddle. “Know what, horse? Duff was right. People believe what they hear—some do, anyway.” He lifted the revolver, a Colt Army .45, from its holster and replaced the spent shell. “And some don’t.”
of 2008 he was a runner up in Furtive Labors Publishing’s Apocalypse Flash Fiction contest with his story,”Hurry.” And in 2010, Jacob’s story, “Pandora: Population XIII,” appeared in an anthology edited by Jessica Weiss called Pandora’s Nightmare, Horror Unleashed. His other exploits encompass an appearance in Seasons in the Night Magazine with his story, “The Window,” and in Scifaikuest Magazine, with a poem written in the haiku practice.
OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND. LEADING LADY. ICON. LEGEND.
FAREWELL TO A HOLLYWOOD ICON Olivia de Havilland, perhaps the last grand lady of old Hollywood, passed away in 2020 at the age of 104.
he was born July 1, 1916, in Tokyo, Japan, and passed away July 25, 2020 in Paris, France. She was 104 years old. Her name was Olivia de Havilland, and she was one of Hollywood’s most famous and enduring legends. During her sixty-plus year career she made a handful of westerns. She played Serena Ferris in the 1938 movie Gold Is Where You Find It, a film about the hydraulic mining in California and the effect on farming in the Sacramento Valley. The movie also starred George Brent and Claude Rains. In 1939, she appeared in Dodge City as Abbie Irving opposite Errol Flynn as Wade Hatton. A Texas cattle agent witnessed the lawlessness of Dodge City and campaigned for the sheriff to bring order to the town. The movie also starred Ann Sheridan, Bruce Cabot, and Alan Hale. She also appeared in the classic Gone with the Wind that year in a co-starring role as Melanie Hamilton, a manipulative woman and a rogue en-
gaged in a troubled romance before, during, and after the Civil War. The movie was nominated for twelve Academy Awards and won eight. It won Best Actress for Vivian Leigh, Best Supporting Actress for Hattie McDaniel, and Best Director for Victor Fleming. Clark Gable and Olivia were nominated but didn’t win. The movie co-starred George Reeves and Leslie Howard. She appeared with Errol Flynn twice in 1940, the first was Santa Fe Trail. In 1854, Jeb Stuart and George Custer, along with other West Point graduates, were stationed in Kansas to keep the peace and protect the railroad workers. Olivia played Kit Carson Holliday. Errol Flynn played Jeb Stuart, and Ronald Reagan played George Custer. The movie also co-starred Raymond Massey, Alan Hale, and Van Heflin. They Died with Their Boots On, a movie on the life and career of George Armstrong Custer from his early days at West Point, his participation in the Civil War,
and his command of the Seventh Calvary. Totally inaccurate in a historical sense but a good movie. Errol Flynn played George Custer, and Olivia played Elizabeth Bacon Custer. The movie co-starred Arthur Kennedy and Anthony Quinn as Crazy Horse. She returned to westerns after a long absence with The Proud Rebel in 1958. She played Linnett Moore. A confederate veteran living in the northern states struggles with his son’s shock-induced muteness and his own hate of Yankees. The movie starred Alan Ladd and co-starred Dean Jagger, Harry Dean Stanton, and John Carradine. During her film career, Olivia was nominated for five Academy Awards, two of which she won. She was originally nominated in 1939 for Best Supporting Actress for the role of Melanie Hamilton in Gone with the Wind. She won for the 1946 movie To Each His Own. and was nominated again for The Snake Pit in 1948. In 1949, she won again for The Heiress, for which she was also awarded a Golden Globe. After a long absence, she won another Golden Globe in 1986 for Best Supporting Actress in a miniseries or special for her performance as Dowager Empress Maria in the 1986 NBC miniseries, Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna. Olivia turned to television late in her career. In 1965, she appeared as Ms. Hadley in an episode of The Big Valley in an uncredited role. In the episode, “Winner Take All,” Heath fell in love with the daughter of a Spanish nobleman who came to Stockton to reclaim land that he claimed to have land grants for. The land was occupied by a group of farmers. The father disapproved of Heath due to his parentage. This epi-
PRODUCTION STILL OF OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND AND ERROL FLYNN FROM THE 1940 WESTERN FILM SANTA FE TRAIL.
sode starred Barbara Stanwyck, Lee Majors, and Katherine Ross. She appeared in several broadcast miniseries during her career. In 1979, Olivia appeared as Mrs. Warner in Roots: The Next Generation on ABC. This series told the story of the family of Kunta Kinte from the end of the Civil War to Alex Hailey’s discovery of his family’s roots in Africa. Marlon Brando won an Emmy for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of George Lincoln Rockwell. It also won an Emmy for Outstanding Limited Series, starring Dorian Harewood, Stan Shaw, Ruby Dee, Paul Koslo, George Stanford Brown, Richard Thomas, and Henry Fonda. In 1986, she played Mrs. Neal in the miniseries
North and South: Book Two. This limited series told the continuing story of the Hazards and the Mains, a story of two friends and their families who were on opposite sides during the civil war and beyond. Several well-known actors appeared in the series—Jimmy Stewart, David Carradine, Leslie-Anne Down, Kristie Alley, Linda Evans, Morgan Fairchild, Hal Holbrook. Genie Francis, and of course we can’t forget James Read and Patrick Swayze. Her final movie appearance was in 1988 on CBS. She played Aunt Bessie Merryman in The Woman He Loved, the story of divorcee Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII who abdicated the throne for the woman he loved. Some of Olivia’s most popular films were the ones she made with Errol Flynn. They shared the
screen eight times. The first pairing was in 1935 in the high seas adventure Captain Blood. She played Arabella Bishop to his Captain Blood. After being wrongly convicted of being a traitor, an English doctor was exiled to the Caribbean and became a pirate. The movie was nominated for five Oscars with no wins. Lionel Atwill and Basil Rathbone were co-stars. In 1936, they made The Charge of the Light Brigade. Flynn played Major Geoffrey Vickers, and Olivia played Elsa Campbell in the film, the story of the famous poem and the men who made the charge against Russian artillery. Errol does not get the girl in this picture and dies at the end. The movie co-starred David Niven and was nominated for two Oscars with one win for Best Assistant Director for Jack Sullivan. Errol Flynn and Director Michael Curtiz clashed continuously in this picture over the treatment of the horses in the picture. One hundred and twenty-five horses were trip-wired
OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND PICTURED HERE IN THE MID-1960S, AS HER CAREER TRANSITIONED FROM FILM TO TELEVISION.
during the climactic charge, and twenty-five were killed outright or had to be put down with several injured or crippled by the use of the trip wires. One stuntman died in the charge. He fell on a sword and was impaled. Many said the root cause of the animosity was the fact that Flynn was currently married to Curtiz’s ex-wife. Flynn and de Havilland appeared together in 1938 in The Adventures of Robin Hood, an enjoyable film about Robin of Loxley. One thing to note the next time you watch this picture, after Robin and his men
captured Sir John and Maid Marian in the woods, pay attention to the horse she’s riding. That’s Trigger, Roy Rogers’s famous mount. Roy had purchased a horse named Golden Cloud in 1938. He renamed the horse Trigger, and the rest is history. Four’s a Crowd also came out in 1938. Olivia played Lorrie Dillingwell, and Flynn played Bob Lansford in this light-hearted comedy romp, wherein two couples each desire the partner of the other. The movie costarred Rosalind Russell. They also made two films together in 1939. The
47 western Dodge City and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. She played Lady Penelope Gray in the story of the love/hate relationship between Queen Elizabeth I—played by Bette Davis—and Robert Essex played by Errol Flynn. The movie co-starred Vincent Price, Alan Hale, Nanette Fabray, and Leo G. Carroll. The movie was also nominated for five academy awards with no wins. In 1940 they made a pair of westerns together, Santa Fe Trail and They Died with Their Boots On. Olivia later stated she believed that Errol knew that was the final time they would be in a movie together. Errol Flynn died October 14, 1959. She outlived her most famous co-star by sixty years. Errol and Olivia were both in the movie Thank Your Lucky Stars in 1943 but didn’t share any scenes together and weren’t ever filming on the same day. Wartime producers were putting a special show together and had several stars appearing in song and dance numbers. The movie starred Humphrey Bogart, Eddie Cantor, and Bette Davis. During the filming of the movie The Swarm, in 1978, Michael Caine and Olivia began talking about Errol Flynn between scenes. Caine stated that Olivia had told him that in the 1940s, Flynn accepted a bet of one hundred dollars that he couldn’t make love to her. Eventually Olivia showed Caine the place in the Hollywood Hills where Flynn won the bet. In 1941, Olivia and her sister Joan Fontaine were both nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress. Joan won the award for her role in the film Suspicion. This caused a rift between the two that never truly ended. Olivia moved to France in the 1950s and only came to America for movie roles or special occasions. Her passing marked the end of Old Hollywood. —TERRY ALEXANDER and his wife, Phyllis, live on a small farm near Porum, Oklahoma. They have three children, thirteen grandchildren, and four great grandchildren. Terry is a member of The Oklahoma Writers Federation, Ozark Creative Writers, Tahlequah Writers, Western Writers of America, and the Western Fictioneers. If you see him at a conference, though, don’t let him convince you to take part in one of his trivia games—he’ll stump you every time.
DA TOOK FOUR OR five steps beyond the sign hanging outside the courthouse in Fort Smith, dragged her feet to a halt, and turned on the heel of her muddy boot to read it. SIGNING UP US DEPUTY MARSHALS SEE CLERK INSIDE Could it really be? Excitement swelled in her chest. She put her nose on the glass. Only a table and a few chairs sat in the lobby where men meandered around, some of them seated with pencil to paper. No women, but she would change that. The century would turn in a few years. Women ought to be prepared to turn with it. At least this woman planned to be ready. In her head she carried a list of things she didn’t plan to do in the next century. Laundry, cooking, mopping floors, looking after someone’s children, and, oh yes, teaching, which had gotten to be a popular way for women to escape household duties. She moved through a clutch of young men studying written efforts. Some shuffled away from her like she had a disease, others tried not to notice her pres-
ence. Treating her as invisible. She ignored them and stepped up to the table. One gentleman of an older persuasion sat there as if he had some notion what was going on. He spotted her and smiled. Hmm. A nice face. We’ll see how long that lasts. No women applying for the clerical job. Odd. “Looking for someone, dear?” He had a pleasant voice to go with the face. She grinned and ran a gloved finger over a stack of applications, information penciled in. “Do you have a blank one? These all seem to be completed.” For a moment her question brought a silent look, then the earlier smile widened. “If you have someone who wants to apply, he’ll have to come in himself. We like to interview briefly on first meeting.” “Ah, no. You misunderstood. It’s for me if you’d be so kind.” She spread her hands. “And here I am.” For a long moment he looked like someone had told an off-color joke in public. He took a second or two to collect himself. “But… but you’re a woman. I mean—”
“I think that’s obvious. How’d you guess? Are women not allowed to apply or serve?” He smirked. She hated men who smirked but gave him a break. It didn’t hurt his face. “I reckon.” He leaned forward to check her up and down. “Looks as if the britches fit you.” The smart aleck remark grew into a friendly laugh. She forgave him once more. “If you’d care to send any one of these men outside with me, I’ll be glad to show you how well I qualify. With or without britches, I can outshoot, outride, or outfight about any of them. Except maybe that fellow over there who looks like he weighs over two hundred pounds, in which case all he’d have to do is sit on me which leaves out the fighting.” The man stood and cleared his throat. “I would like to see your qualifications, but as you see, we have quite a crowd, and by the time I reach your application, the day will be gone. I’m afraid it’s not women first in this case. Perhaps you could return tomorrow after you’ve thought this over.” He held out a printed sheet. “These are the duties we expect our deputies to carry out. Things have changed a bit since the early days when we took most anyone who could mount a horse and shoot a pistol. Even then never seen a woman. This is a job for tough skinned men. You need to be real sure.” She peered past his hand at the list of duties, then snatched it. He appeared to be considering what she had to offer. “I’ll be back tomorrow prepared to show you my abilities. I don’t see any of those you appear to be interested in listed here.” He patted her hand. The man next to him chortled down in his throat. She jerked back the paper to keep him from grabbing it… or her. “You do that, dearie.” Again that smirk. This time he almost got his ears boxed for calling her dearie. But she left further reaction till the following day. Men could be such yokels. She lived with her sister Cora and Cora’s husband Daniel. They had recently homesteaded on a small piece of land in Oklahoma. Time she arrived home, got Beckie’s saddle and tack hung up, brushed her down and turned her into the pasture, it was
late. Her sister hollered from the front porch where she was cleaning up after pasting sheets of newspaper on the inside of the cabin. She carried a bucket and brush. “Well, how’d it go? Were the Marshals eager to hire women today?” “You can just keep on funning me. It may take me a while but I’m going to get on with them if it kills me and them both. After what I saw today I think I can go at it from another angle. They have the messiest office. Applications are scattered all over the place. No order at all.” Cora studied her a minute. “Don’t worry, I’m sure once they get to know you, they can’t help but love you. So you’d settle for cleaning up after them?” Daniel came in the back door, kissed his wife, and hung an arm around Ada’s shoulders. “Show ’em that trick you do where you leap onto your horse while it’s running circles in the barnyard, then shoot a hat off one of ’em’s head. That’d do it.” Daniel flicked water at her from the wash basin. “I’m sure they need someone who can do that.” “Laugh all you want to. Both of you. I’m going to get hired by them before the week’s out, you wait and see.” Cora tightened her lips and shook her head. “You two get washed up. Supper’s been cooking all afternoon. It’ll be ready.” At the table Cora passed Daniel a bowl of steaming beans and filled another. “I knew it was a mistake stopping to see that Annie Oakley gal when we went through St. Louis on the way here. If you didn’t have any ideas before, you sure latched onto them, then.” Ada crumbled corn bread into her bowl. “I didn’t have any trouble with that one trick, now did I?” “Well, it was a hand clapping finish when you slid off onto the ground on your behind.” Daniel grinned at her. “Yeah, well that dismount does need a little work.” Even Cora joined the laughter. Ever since Daniel married Cora he’d taken to teasing Ada, and she enjoyed it as much as he did. Ma and Pa died of cholera when Ada was ten, and her sister had raised her. Last year Daniel had stepped right into the family. Ada was grateful, but she was twenty, grown now and ready to begin her own life. Despite the teasing, she
wouldn’t put up with them bossing her around. Not for one minute. Before sunrise the next morning, attired again in a pair of Pa’s britches and one of his shirts, Ada rode Beckie to downtown Fort Smith, tied up in front of the famous courthouse and gallows where Judge Isaac Parker had held reign over the Western U.S. Marshal Service District since 1875. The 74,000 square miles, once policed by those men had recently been divided into smaller districts, but the deputy marshals still held sway over the law there as did Judge Isaac Parker. If she didn’t get the job, her heart would break. The table had been moved in front of the courthouse to accommodate a larger crowd. The man with the familiar face from the day before glanced up and held out his hand. “Welcome, madam. I trust you are ready to outshoot, outride, and outfight our deputies. Well, I have good news for you. It seems that won’t be necessary.
The office in Norman over in Oklahoma needs a clerical deputy, and it’s been decided a woman would be fine... without any wrestling or shooting matches.” She threw out her arms to display her well-chosen outfit. “Do I look like a clerical clerk?” Without a reply, she drew the six-gun strapped to her waist, took aim through the open door, and shattered the glass covering of a street light across the way. Her antics caused quite a ruckus, including the excited appearance of a deputy sheriff who informed her she’d get a bill for that. “We just had those lights installed a while back. You’re blamed lucky I don’t throw you in jail.” “Get the marshals to pay for it. They bet I couldn’t do it.” Laughter mixed with whooping and hollering echoed from the men in the courthouse. Several of those filling out applications crowded around Ada. A tall, dark haired man elegantly dressed approached. “That’ll do, young lady. You want to work
for U.S. Marshals, stop this destroying our fair city. And we’re Deputy Marshals, missy. Only one Marshal here and yonder is Marshal Crump inside there taking care of business.” He nodded toward the courthouse. One of the younger applicants snickered. “Put her in jail.” Another behind her. “Yeah, someone tell her she’s a female, not fit for marshaling.” She took a step in his direction. “Why don’t you tell me to my face?” The man held out a hand. “Now fellows, let’s not be hasty. I’m Deputy Marshal Heck Thomas, ma’am.” He tilted his hat. “You might ride on over to Norman. It’s true they’re looking for a clerk to keep things straightened out in the new office there. Never said it had to be a man nor is it necessary you can shoot out streetlights. And the position is recognized as a U.S. Deputy Marshal.” Unable to hold her tongue any longer, she squared her shoulders and stared up into his silent visage. “They hire me, you can bet I’ll be taking care of cleaning up more than an office.” She held out a hand. “Ada Curnutt. Soon to be, uh, Deputy Marshal. Just cause I wear dresses don’t mean I can’t ride and keep up with the rest of you.” “Looks to me like you don’t always wear dresses. We have no vacancies here for a woman, but you take this job in Norman and in no telling how short a time you’ll be advanced. Just show them you can do the job. I can see how well you shoot. As a clerk you’ll work for Marshal William Grimes if he decides to hire you.” He looked her in the eye and repeated. “And you will be a deputy. A Deputy U.S. Marshal. From there, who knows where you’ll go.” His crooked grin showed he didn’t believe it at all. She twisted her neck to gaze up at him. He might
be pulling her leg. That’s what men liked to do. Tease her because of her love of riding and shooting. She studied him closely to see if that’s what he was doing. His brown eyes sparkled. “Norman? That’s a goodly ride off.” A laugh from the small crowd. He scratched his chin and stared toward the west. “Just keep right on riding that way. Ah, shoot, maybe a couple three days or more. Depending how fast that horse of yours is. Just south of Oklahoma City. There’s a cattle trail all the way west. Signs once in a while to tell you where you’re at.” She frowned, having no idea how far Oklahoma City was, but she’d find it. Just wait till she got home and told Cora and Daniel. At the farm she swung to the ground outside the barn and left Beckie standing to find her family and shout her good news. “And I’m leaving first light tomorrow.” “They hired you?” Cora stopped short of collecting an egg from the hen’s nest. “Uh, well, almost. All I have to do is show up over there in Norman.” “Almost? And you’re going all that way by yourself for an almost? Through the territory?” Cora’s face took on a frown. “Daniel, tell her. Tell her she can’t go. It’s plum foolish.” He smacked one of the cows on the butt, shoved her into a stall. “Tell her, Cora? Huh? When was the last time I told her anything she listened to? Well?” He peered toward Ada. She opened her mouth to answer, but her sister stepped in. “She’ll get toted off by one of those outlaws you hear about. The ones they have all these marshals around to chase down.” “Well, Cora, your sister is going to be one of them, so I reckon she’ll have to learn how to take care of herself.”
Cora shooed a chicken off her nest and plucked up an egg. “The both of you, I don’t know what I’m going to do with you.” “Cora, you’re crying. Aw, don’t do that.” She put her arms around her sister. “Honey, ’member the night you come home and told Ma and Pa you were marrying Daniel and Ma cried and Pa got mad and hurried out the back door? And how you got so upset? ’Member that?” She pointed toward Daniel. “Look how good that turned out.” Cora buried her face in Ada’s shoulder. Sniffing she nodded. “I guess, yes, but this is different.” “How? You’ll get over this, too.” “’Cause you’re going out there in Indian Territory to… to… oh, shoot.” “And so, here we are, the three of us.” They stood in the barn laughing and hugging each other for the longest time. Later inside Ada helped Cora put supper on the table. Neither spoke. Excitement kept her tossing and unable to sleep all night. Before the sun rose she was readying her saddlebags and supplies for the ride. Cora joined her in the kitchen, packing some biscuits left over from supper and slicing side meat from the smoke house out back. Arbuckle coffee, a pot, eating utensils, water canteen, and a bedroll were added to the bag Beckie would carry. Cora took her sister’s arm. “Why don’t you hire someone to ride with you? I’m sure a young man would be glad to do so. Or better yet, go by train. Beckie could travel comfortably in a stock car.” “Sounds good but the expense. I don’t know if I could afford it.” Daniel and Cora were just managing since settling on the land and buying a few animals to start the farm. She wasn’t about to ask for money. “Besides, the way I love to ride, it’ll be fun seeing more of the country.” Ada tapped her hand. “Now, Cora, come on. Don’t make me feel bad about leaving you.” “I know, I know.” Though she, Daniel, and Cora had come down from Ohio, this would be her first trip alone and across parts of Indian Territory not yet wholly tamed. There would be places to buy things along the way, but buying things took money, so it was good to carry
as much in the way of supplies as she could. What scared her more than making the trip was it was the first time she’d ever applied for work. She could do the job, but how in the world was she going to convince her family that this would be her life? Or beyond that, convince the marshals? — WITH HER HEAD ON her saddle, Ada gazed into a night sky, so splashed with stars there was little dark. In her brief life back east she had not much experience with living or working in the outdoors. Plus this outdoors appeared a way bigger outdoors than in Ohio. Someone said it was because the air was so dry everything, the moon and the stars, all looked closer. But this wide, exciting, if slightly dangerous life, held a wonder she could hardly believe. She would go out at night to check on one of the horses kicking up a fuss, and Daniel would have to come looking for her only to find her entranced with the sight of the stars or the night fragrance or a clean breath of air. Sometimes she’d dance in circles reaching for the sky. This was the home she’d yearned for. She tried to explain to her family that she was born to live here. The prairies and mountains, the trees and flowers and animals called to her. And therefore, riding for the U.S. marshals promised a perfect job. Yet everyone claimed a woman’s job was at home. They didn’t seem to understand. But when Daniel bought horses for the farm he asked her to pick out the ones that would be best because she had such an eye for their breeding. On her second night out on the way to Norman she lounged on a boulder above her camp in the center of a wide treeless expanse. Alone and on her own, she could scarcely hold back her desire to leap about and shout with pure joy. Sleep crept up on her, but she fought it to watch a late rising moon dodge the stars. It was like being a very small fish in a huge bowl. Staying up half the night caused her to sleep late. It wasn’t till the sun’s rays crawled across her face that she awoke to find a man opposite her camp, legs spread, a hungry grin on his bearded face. A move-
ment fast as a snake and her hand lay over her gun tucked under the blanket. She’d shoot him if she had to, and it looked like she would have to. “Move away.” Her voice sounded weak, like she might be scared. “Not yet, not just yet.” He reached for his belt buckle and her heart leapt. How had she let this critter sneak up on her? No time. No time. Do something before he makes a move. As if lying back to surrender, she slipped the Colt out and pointed it at him. “What you gonna do with that, little lady?” In a flash he jumped and dropped one knee on her wrist so hard she cried out and gripped the gun till the cylinder cut into her flesh. How had he moved so fast? She would not let go of her only weapon. Not if he broke her arm. Sprawled over her stiffly struggling body he mashed his elbow against her throat. His nasty breath, wet when spat through jagged teeth, washed over
her face. She gagged. Maybe she could puke on him. Her stomach roiled. He sprawled one leg across her. She kicked his behind with one foot. The weight of his body stretched heavy along hers and pinned her down. Her frantic struggle to move ceased. Panic trapped her breath. All that stood between them was wadded clothing. But he paid more attention to his need than her battle. The arm at her throat slipped away. Hands gripped his britches. He grew hard against her. He would wait no longer. The yanking movement freed her arm. She had to do something. Now. Stop thinking. Do. Get loose before he has his way. A rock nudged at her wrist, and she twisted to get a hold on it. By then he really wanted his britches undone. With her wiggling around he must’ve thought she was as anxious as him. He dug under her belt with one clawed hand. She swung the rock hard and wellaimed, hit him in the temple. It made a terrible squashing noise. He cried out, collapsed as if dead. Not con-
vinced, she shoved him off. Rolled away and came up on her knees, gun pointed at his still body. For good measure she scrambled to her feet and kicked him in the ribs. Relished the cracking sound under the sharp toe of her boot. She backed off quick in case he was tougher and faster than she thought. He babbled something she couldn’t understand. “Where’s your horse? You didn’t walk all the way here from wherever you’re from.” Another moaning reply. She was mighty tempted to truss him up and take him in to Norman. But why make a fool of sorts of herself? There were rules she didn’t know, and she wasn’t about to play arrest like she was a deputy or something. “Guess I’ll just tie you up good and leave you here, then. It gets mighty hot come afternoon, what with no water and broken ribs to boot. If I find your horse, I’ll consider him mine for the trouble. Oh, and I’m on my way to Norman. I’ll send a deputy marshal out to get you if you’re still alive.” She shoved on him two or three times, but he appeared out cold. With one eye watching she packed up her things and went to saddle Beckie. Like an injured animal, her prey moaned, scooted, scrambled to his feet, and lit out, darting across the prairie in a stumbling run. She shot at him two or three times, but he was fast on his feet and disappeared in a deep crevice. Her shots cut dust gobbets from the earth around him. Dang. It might be a good idea to practice some more shooting at running targets. By the time she was packed up, dressed ready to leave without campfire or breakfast, the distant echo of a horse galloping away sounded. So her attacker was gone. Hope she’d taught him a lesson. Further, hope she hadn’t made a mistake letting him go. What if the folks in Norman found out about it and decided she wasn’t worth much if she couldn’t hold on to a single outlaw long enough to put him in jail? Worrying about it, she almost mounted up and headed out after the sound of his fleeing horse. But she’d never catch him. Had she failed a test already? All the way to Norman she wallowed the problem around in her brain, which of course didn’t do her a bit of good. What she finally decided was to forget all about it and go on from there.
She camped outside Norman to save paying for a hotel room. It was early enough in the day to clean up a bit, put on the dress she brought, and get on into town. Maybe find the courthouse and learn where she needed to apply for the job. If she failed in her effort she could be partway back home, tail between her legs, by dark. Not about to give up, she fought the idea that she could always get a job in Fort Smith in the new school. The town had prospered immensely since Parker’s Court had opened there and the deputy marshals cleaned up. Dismissing that thought, she rode down the main street of Norman. The town was a bit larger than Fort Smith, and she got a feel for it by riding the length of the main street, then back again. The delay was no doubt to get up the courage to apply for the job. At a huge stone building sporting a sign for Oklahoma District Courthouse she dismounted awkwardly in the dress, tied her horse to the hitching rail, and walked right in, just like she knew where she was.
Upper floors lined with windows let in brilliant rays of sunlight. Several men stood or sat at desks arranged along one side. Behind a waist-high counter a woman wearing a pinstripe dress with a black ribbon tie at her throat glanced up and smiled. A welcome expression. Looked like it was a good thing she’d worn a dress today. The clacking of her boots across the marble floor made way too much noise. She was about to embarrass herself. The woman gestured in her direction. “What could we help you with today?” “I’ve come to apply for a job… the job as a deputy U.S. marshal… well, a clerk. A circuit clerk.” By the time she made it to the woman the words were all out, echoing from the massive walls. She leaned on the counter, feeling like she’d run a mile. Breathing like it, too. The woman smiled wider. “Really? Where did you hear about the opening?”
“Marshal… no, Deputy Marshal Heck Thomas. He was in the courthouse in Fort Smith where I applied for a job as deputy marshal. He told me about it.” “You actually applied for a deputies job? Really? What made you think you could… I mean only men fill that post, at least so far.” “I would like the job as deputy, but this opening here would maybe give me a chance to qualify for that in the future. That is if I could apply for it. I mean, you’re working here.” This time, full-blown laughter. “I am indeed because my husband is Marshal Grimes, and when he needs help I give it. This is the job that is open, for there are several reasons I cannot fill it anymore.” She moved to one side and lifted the counter. “Please do come on in. Where did you come from. Fort Smith? That’s a long way off. Ride the train?” “Oh, no, I rode my Beckie, she loves long rides. She’s a strawberry roan. I wouldn’t dare go on a trip without her.” Ada stepped behind the counter and took the chair the woman offered. “Etta Grimes. You rode alone across the Territory, nights and everything?” “Ada Curnutt. Oh, yes. I enjoy riding, especially over wide country vistas. My family homesteaded in Oklahoma Territory about eight months ago. I fell in love with the prairie and the idea of chasing outlaws and dragging them in to Judge Parker.” Etta chuckled. “It does take a little more than the love of the territory, but if you have the spirit and spunk I’d say give it a try. However, this job, being a Deputy U.S. Marshal, would mean mostly paperwork and keeping track of those outlaws you would like to chase. All sorts of records are kept, and it would be up
to you as Circuit Clerk to handle that. Not much riding on the prairie.” She paused, studied Ada. “All the way that far? And stayed overnight out in the open? My, you are a brave one.” “Oh, I really enjoyed it. Brave, I don’t know about that yet. But I would be a deputy U.S. Marshal. Right?” “Oh, indeed yes, but Marshal Grimes would want to make sure you wouldn’t take off one day chasing some outlaw and leave him suddenly without a circuit clerk.” “I wouldn’t do that, but if he all of a sudden needed a deputy who could ride and shoot, why then here I’d be ready made. I could show him how I ride and shoot if that’s necessary.” Etta moved to another desk, thumbed out some papers, and brought them to Ada. “Just sit down here and fill these out. When you’re finished, or if you have any questions, I’ll just be in that office over there that says Marshal Grimes on the door. Have someone fetch me.” Ada’s heart thumped so hard she could hardly breathe. While she filled out the forms, a conversation went on behind that door that was occasionally raised to where she could make out words. No way would she eavesdrop, but still when the argument concerning her arrival quieted down she finished the final page and leaned back in her chair. She wasn’t going to get the job. The man behind that door was against it. But she had presented herself as well as she could seeing as how she was nervous as a squirrel stealing nuts from an owl. The door opened, and Mrs. Grimes came out followed by a large man with a healthy head of white hair. He wore a leather vest, neat pants, and white shirt with a five-pointed silver star on the pocket.
Marshal Grimes. Her heart stumbled. With an effort to hide her disappointment, Ada rose to her feet. Before everything could come together and him tell her she could not be a deputy marshal, the front door swung open letting in a healthy March wind and a tall young man she’d seen before. Maybe there was hope after all. This was U.S. Deputy Marshal Heck Thomas dressed in denim pants, a red shirt, and a well-worn Stetson, which he removed and headed toward Marshal Grimes. She recognized him from Fort Smith. This was great. He’d cheered for her. “Have you met this gal yet? That one yonder? I hope you’ve told her you’d give her a try. She shot out a streetlight over in Fort Smith without aiming. Right through an open door of the courthouse.” Etta moved out of the way in time to keep from colliding with Marshal Grimes and the deputy striding across the floor. “Ay God, Heck Thomas. As I live and breathe. Who’d you haul in this time? One of the Buck gang?” The two pounded on each other a few times. “Seriously, I stopped by for one reason and that was to tell you about that very woman standing right yonder. Met her a couple days ago in Fort Smith and thought of you and this clerk opening. Girl wants to be a deputy, but you know how that’d go. Still, Circuit Clerk would make her a deputy and give her a chance. I’m all for giving little women a chance, you know that.” Ada bit her lip. Little women, indeed. Oh well, she needed the bolstering. If the man hadn’t been giving her a compliment, she’d have thrown the paper weight on the desk at him. Later, maybe, she’d get back at him, after she got the job and all. “Come on over here, ma’am. Have you filled out that application?” Thomas waved toward her. “Yes, sir.” Papers in hand Ada scuttled toward the deputy. She must be red as a beet, hot as her face felt. He turned toward Grimes. “See there, she can read and write. And shoot and ride too.” Marshal Grimes gave Thomas a long look, like he might tell him to butt out. Etta saved the moment. “Why don’t we go in
your office, dear, where you can speak to Miss Curnutt in private?” She wanted to shout, swallowed hard instead, and followed Etta and Marshal Grimes. Before he shut the door, he turned. “Good to see you, Heck. Drop by anytime.” Once in the silence of his office, Marshal Grimes took the application from Ada. “Thank you, Miss….” He glanced at the paper. “…Miss Curnutt.” “Yes, sir. You’re welcome.” “Well, sit. Sit.” Etta stood beside a china pot. “Should I pour you some coffee?” “Good thought, dear. You obviously think this might be a good idea.” “Well, I’ve done the work for a while.” Her smile was sweet. “We are both women, so yes, why not?” He peered at his wife. “But dear, did it ever occur to you to race out of here in pursuit of some outlaws, shooting at them?” Ada looked down at the floor. Oh, no. Again everything went silent while Marshal Grimes read and sipped at his coffee. Etta patted Ada’s shoulder. Finally he nodded. “Okay, ma’am. No reason not to try this out, long as you understand I tell you what to do, and you do it. None of that… well, that earlier stuff.” Joy nearly burst from her in the form of a yelp. “Sir. Yes, sir. You’re the boss.” Etta laughed. “A good way to put it dear—you’ll do well.” “I take it you live with your family.” He sat behind the desk. Opened a drawer and placed her papers inside a file there. “You’ll need time to find a place here and get your things carried over. So, say, by next Monday morning I find you behind that desk out there. Etta will show you which one and acquaint you with the office. Perhaps she can take you around town, help you find a place to live. How does that suit you?” A true wonder she didn’t faint dead away on his office floor. But she didn’t. —
IN THE FOLLOWING FOUR years Ada settled into her job. Deputies dropped in to tell stories about their adventures. An occasional visit to the courthouse and she learned how that part of the justice system worked. Since the Western District had been split into smaller sections, trials in Oklahoma were not always held under Judge Parker. She enjoyed the atmosphere a lot, but there remained the yearning that one day she would ride the plains as an active Deputy U.S. Marshal. Deputies came and went, and she listened to their tales of close calls. The sad news of a deputy being shot or beat to death or thrown off a bluff often arrived. Over one hundred deputies were killed riding for the five-pointed star during her years in Norman. Yet she still yearned to earn the badge they pinned on her when she became a clerk. It was like she was play-acting a part by wearing it. Though those who knew her in Norman addressed her as deputy, she wouldn’t truly be a U.S. Deputy Marshal in her own mind till she carried an outlaw into the District and dumped him at Marshal Grimes’s feet. March brought an early windy spring to the Oklahoma prairies. Ada bought a small house on the edge of town the previous year after renting an upstairs room in the hotel for three years. Each morning she dressed in neat black britches, a man’s dress shirt, and a ribbon tie. It wouldn’t do to be called out and have to ride to fetch an outlaw in a dress. That morning, four years after she was hired, she found the office locked and empty. Not real unusual, but her heart always hammered when it happened. To think she might have been left in charge, with orders for her to arrest some owl-hoot. In the mail under the slot of the door was the familiar yellow paper of a telegram. With shaking fingers she opened the sheet. Read: Deputy Curnutt, Called out of town, Urgent you get a deputy to ride to OKC and bring in these outlaws. Warrants and posters were attached for two men, Reagan and Dolezal wanted for forgery. I will be gone till tomorrow. Signed, Marshal Grimes Heart slamming around in her chest she checked the small room where sometimes a few deputies gathered for coffee. It was empty. No one was waiting around anywhere. How far did she have to go to find a wandering deputy? They were supposed to check
in even if they left again, but the check-in sheet was blank. It wasn’t her responsibility to round up deputies. Showing up was up to them. She hurried into the cloak room, gathered her bag prepared over three years ago for just such an emergency, opened the drawer of her desk, and grabbed a travel voucher for the train. Buckling on her six shooter, she flew out the door, turned to lock it. Halted. Better leave a note. She went back in, scribbled a quick note for her desk and left again. Outside the door she stopped once more, looked up and down the street for a sign of any deputy. This was something she had waited on for four years, and everyone knew it. She couldn’t have anyone accusing her of jumping the gun. The morning northbound train sat at the station, bell ringing, whistle hooting. Okay, had she done everything necessary, everything right? For a moment she teetered on the edge of the boardwalk. Go? Stay? Okay, woman, this is it. Taking long strides she hiked up the street, crossed the tracks, and found the first open door of a passenger car. A conductor helped her up a step and inside. “Good morning, Miss, uh, Deputy Curnutt. Going on a trip today?” Caught unawares, she studied him. Arnold Sizemore. She saw him around at the café often. “Not exactly. I’m going to pick up a couple of prisoners in Oklahoma City.” She could not believe she’d spurted the words. But she had and she grinned at him. “Well, you be careful, will you? We’re proud of all you deputies around here. When will you come back? I’ll watch for you.” “I should return on the evening train. I don’t expect any trouble from these two. They aren’t killers. Marshal Grimes is out of town and may not be back till tomorrow so I’m doing this job. Didn’t find a deputy about today.” He tipped his hat and showed her to an empty seat, punched her voucher and smiled. You all are mighty busy here in Oklahoma, aren’t you?” “Yes, we sure are.” Ada sat back and stared out the window. What a day. She’d have to write to Cora and Daniel and tell them about her experience. They would never believe it. After all this time she had at last been assigned to
the field. Well, not exactly assigned, but it was fate that brought this about. At long last. Heavens. What if Marshal Grimes had a cat fit over her going out alone? What if he fired her? Passengers moved between the seats, each finding a place to sit. On the entire trip she couldn’t hold her knees together, they kept jerking with anticipation. She had to calm down or something would go wrong. Before they could get off a deputy would probably jump aboard the train and insist he take the assignment or something like that. But it didn’t happen. A whistle, a hiss of steam, and they crept forward. At last they were underway. Serving warrants and delivering a lawbreaker paid $6. But that wasn’t the reason she wanted the job. She craved the excitement. Not only that, she hungered to prove women could do this job. Sitting still all the way to Oklahoma City was impossible. On the edge of the seat. Scooting back. Eyes and nose close to the grimy window. Ankles crossed and uncrossed. Checking pas-
sengers who appeared to all be staring at her or deliberately looking away. Maybe they guessed this was the most exciting day of her entire life. What seemed hours later the train pulled into Oklahoma City, and she sat stiffly for a moment, allowing other passengers to make their way out of the seats, down the aisle, and off. It took forever. She practiced her approach to locate the men on the warrants. Out on the street she checked her location, hailed a cab as the best bet to find who she was looking for. The men would be in a saloon—it was too late to be eating breakfast. Climbing into the cab she showed the driver her badge. “A favorite saloon hangout for men on the run. Take me to each one in turn.” He cackled with delight and took up the reins. Clicked his tongue, and they were off. The drive followed a wide street filled with buggies, chugging automobiles, wagons, and horse riders. Finally it cleared out some, and on either side of the narrowing street, saloons appeared.
She pointed. “That one, right there. Let me out and wait for me.” “You ought to be careful in there, little lady.” She nodded and stepped down. “I’m not a little lady, thank you. I’m a Deputy U.S. Marshal. You just wait here, please.” He touched the bill of his cap. “Yes, ma’am. If I hear an uproar, should I fetch a cop on the beat or hunt you down a Marshal?” Without replying Ada peered over the swinging doors into the smoky dim-lit saloon. Overhearing plenty of the deputies discussing favorite haunts of thieves in cities and in the territory she would start with this sleazy place and chances are, sooner or later, she’d find the two she was hunting. Just inside the door four men played cards with noisy joy. She stepped through the swinging doors and leaned over the nearest one’s shoulder. “Know where the sheriff is today?” He glanced at her, a little startled. In her outfit,
hair under her hat, it was hard to tell if she were a man or woman. “Ain’t in his office?” “Nope. Sent me here. Got a warrant for these two.” She shuffled out the warrants and posters. The guy shrugged. “Ain’t seen ’em. Nor Sheriff Harrelson. This time of day, he’s walking and talking.” She backed out. The fourth saloon she hit pay dirt when she showed her badge to the man at the door. He pointed into the gloom. “Them two. Been cutting up Ned all day. Wish’t you’d get ’em out of town.” She tapped a couple more men on the shoulders. “Hey, fellows. You go back there and tell them two there’s a Deputy Marshal out here needs to talk to them.” One of them peered close. “You a woman, you ain’t no Marshal.” “I’m both, you go tell them there’s a lady outside wants to talk to them. Say I said to high tail it out here. Now. I’m prepared to deputize as many of you men out here as it takes to get my prisoners out of here and to the train station. Now go.”
Men laughed and punched each other. Crowded around her making it difficult for her prisoners to fight their way through to her. When they did, they joined in the laughter. Out on the sidewalk one of the forgers held his wrists out. “Little lady, you can cuff me anytime.” They still thought it a joke. Surrounded by a crowd of men, she linked the two together before anyone could stop laughing. The one called Reagan winked at his partner. “Where you taking us now, Deputy?” Good thing they were forgers and not killers. She might have had a battle. As it was, she pinned the U.S. Marshal star to her pocket and pulled her Colt. “Sorry to break up your party, boys.” The silenced men marched down the street to the train station. Inside the depot she held her prisoners up against the telegrapher’s wire cage. “I have to send a telegram.” The man peered at her, eyes bugged behind round glasses. “Yes’m.” “To U.S. Marshal Grimes, Guthrie. I’ve got your forgers. Sign it, Deputy Marshal Ada Curnutt. — OTHERS WHO SERVED. MARSHAL CANADA H. THOMPSON served from 1897 to 1902 as U.S. Marshal of Oklahoma Territory, and he had two female deputy marshals. They most often worked in the office, but they also did field work including serving writs and warrants and making arrests. These women were S.M. Burche and Mamie Fossett. Another of these brave women, who was appointed as a U.S. Deputy Marshal out of the federal court at Paris, Texas, in 1891, was F.M. Miller. At the time she was commissioned, she was the only female deputy known to work in Indian Territory. History makes several mentions of her serving as a guard at the federal jail in Guthrie, Oklahoma, under fellow U.S. Deputy Marshall Ben Campbell. She was also known to have accompanied Campbell on all his trips.
ELDA BROTHERTON writes from her home perched on the side of a mountain against the Ozark National Forest. Branded as Sexy, Dark and Gritty, her work embraces the lives of gutsy women and heroes who are strong enough to deserve them. After a stint writing for a New York publisher in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, she has since settled comfortably in with small publishers to produce novels in several genres. While known for her successful series work—the Twist of Poe romantic mysteries, as well as her signature Western Historical Romances—her publishing resume includes numerous standalone novels, including Once There Were Sad Songs, Wolf Song, Stoneheart’s Woman, Remembrance, and her magnum opus, Beyond the Moon. Following the tragic passing of her longtime writing partner, legendary Western author Dusty Richards, in early 2018, she took up her pen to finish several of his outstanding works, including the standalone novel Blue Roan Colt and the exciting new Texas Badge Mystery Series, including The Texas Badge and the forthcoming sequels Texas Lightning, Texas Fury, and Texas Wildling.
“Sky Stone” was Previously published in 2011 in Frontier Tales.
IRD SINGER DIDN’T LIKE anything about peyote—the bitter taste, the way it made the moon twist across the night sky, and especially the nausea. He tried not to think about those things while he chewed dried cactus buttons. Waiting was the hardest part of a vision quest. A holy man needed patience. “Help me.” His prayer was weak, but so was his magic. Rain Callers could make demands of the spirits, but a shaman like Bird Singer had to beg for visions like a camp dog at the cooking fire. “Please help me.” Coyotes sang to him from across the desert. Whether that was a good sign or bad remained to be seen. He released a pinch of corn pollen into the air and grasped the amulet bag he wore around his neck. Most of his helping spirits didn’t fly at night, but he called on them anyway. Lives hung in the balance. A coyote bit a woman three days ago. Would a killing spirit fill her mouth with foam? Would sickness spread through the pueblo? He needed answers. The wind nudged Bird Singer along a path through stray boulders and jojoba plants, just as she’d done
on the day his spirit helper chose him—the proudest day of his life, when he brought the red backed hawk down from the sky with a single pebble from his sling. Bird Singer moved where the wind pushed him until he came to a solitary set of Hopi sandal prints. What fool would travel alone at night? His eyes followed the gentle curve of the trail until he found the answer. I am the fool. Tricked into a circle. Peyote’s laughter filled the air, like music from an abalone shell wind chime. Then the melody stopped, replaced by harsh Apache words and more coyote songs. Were the marauders and the tricksters laying traps? With spirits, nothing was certain. “Help me.” A yellow light flashed in the western sky, and five red streaks reached toward the world. A dust cloud rose where the nearest bright finger touched the desert. Now Bird Singer knew where Peyote intended him to go, but he was in no hurry. —
THE APACHE LAY FACE down between a smoldering fire and a blanket. The man showed no signs he was breathing, but Bird Singer was cautious. He held his breath until he couldn’t hold it any longer. He held it three more times. No one could go so long without breathing. Bird Singer moved on all fours, like a big cat stalking a rabbit. He knew little about Apaches, but he knew this—the raiders seldom traveled alone, and they never ventured far from camp after sunset. There was only one explanation for this solitary warrior. The dead man was a holy man, like Bird Singer. He’d been seeking supernatural wisdom when the spirits struck him down. The items on the dead man’s blanket confirmed Bird Singer’s suspicion—a falcon’s wing, a copper bell, and two perfectly round rocks with mineral patterns that made them resemble human eyes. The contents of the holy man’s medicine bundle were laid out to attract helping spirits. The fist-size hole in his back was evidence the magic didn’t work. Bird Singer rolled the holy man over so his eyes were open to the sky. He removed an eagle feather from his amulet bag and brushed it across his own lips, then across the dead man’s. “The sacred Hopi lands don’t welcome you,” he said. “Carry this message to your brothers.” Death’s touch had made a hole straight through the Apache and left a depression in the sand filled to the top with blood. Like a ceremonial cup, an offering to the living desert. Did it hold anything else? A power object Bird Singer could add to his amulet bag? The Hopi shaman plunged his arm into the warm dark liquid, staining his tunic sleeve to the elbow. His hand closed on the spirit gift. He lifted it from the pool of blood and rolled in his hand, a lump of shining metal with a surface like a glistening collection of bubbles. Heavier than stone and warm to the touch. Peyote whispered, “Spider Woman’s gift.” Bird Singer closed his eyes and chanted a prayer for guidance. When he opened them, he saw the silhouettes of three large dogs at the top of a nearby hill. After a dozen heartbeats, an Apache warrior joined the dogs—then another and another. One of the warriors shouted a command, and the animals charged.
Did Spider Woman mean for a Hopi holy man to stop three war dogs? There had to be a way. The gods didn’t bestow gifts on a man one moment and kill him in the next. The dead man’s medicine bundle. The two eye stones on the Apache holy man’s blanket were the perfect size for Bird Singer’s sling. He loaded one stone at a time and sent them flying. Two solid cracks, like a cottonwood limb breaking under the weight of ice. Two of the three charging animals fell to the ground with fissures in their skulls large enough to free their souls. The third dog skidded to a stop. He might have run away, but the warriors on the hilltop urged him on. No more eye stones on the blanket. The falcon’s wing and copper bell were useless. The sky stone. Would Spider Woman strike him dead for using it? The dog would surely kill him if he didn’t. “Forgive me!” He loaded the sky stone into his sling and sent it flying. Bird Singer followed the path of the power object in the moonlight. The silver talisman pierced the throat of the charging animal in a gush of blood. The Apache warriors moved cautiously down the hill. They’d watched him dispatch three battle-hardened dogs with a weapon favored by children. As the men approached, Bird Singer drew a deep breath and made his owl call. He knew the night birds carried souls to the land of the dead. He hoped Apaches knew that too. Three more calls in quick succession, then he clutched his amulet bag and waited for the magic. Four perfect calls brought the Apaches to a stop, but they didn’t break and run until a great horned owl flew out of the darkness and perched on the dead man’s chest. Bird Singer ran as well, and while he ran, he sang a song of thanks to Spider Woman. — “WHERE IS THIS POWER object?” Six elders ruled Bird Singer’s pueblo. Each one asked him the same question. This time the interrogator was old lady Larkspur, matriarch of the Ant Clan.
“Why didn’t Spider Woman give her gift to a rain maker?” Bird Singer tried to plead his case without sounding argumentative. “The spirits toss. The shaman catches.” Old lady Larkspur wasn’t convinced. Bird Singer used a power object to kill a dog, not the stuff of legends. “What of the coyote?” Five elders already asked that question, but that didn’t stop the matriarch from asking it again. “And the woman who was bitten?” In the end, they believed enough to send scouts looking for Apache raiders. They posted sentries and planned ceremonies. As old lady Larkspur put it, “The spirits favor those who take precautions.” — SEVERAL DAYS PASSED WITH no signs of the raiders. There were rumors of Ute warriors attacking a Tewa pueblo twelve days walk to the north. Perhaps Bird Singer had seen stragglers from that battle. “Or perhaps,” one of the elders suggested, “Peyote played a trick on the shaman.” Even Bird Singer began to have his doubts. He’d gone into the desert seeking a coyote vision. Perhaps the trickster filled his mind with nonsense. The shaman purified his body in a sweat lodge, denied himself food and water, and prayed for guidance from the creatures of the air. He sat cross-legged in the plaza focusing his mind on the pristine spirit of the red backed hawk when a vulture fluttered from the sky and landed at his side. Bird Singer opened his eyes and watched the vulture pace around him. “Welcome, Bird Who Cleans The World. What news have you brought me?” The vulture made four circles around the shaman, each one larger than the last. People gathered in the plaza to watch the vulture do what vultures never did. “The bird has been poisoned!” suggested an old man. It was possible. Alkali salts covered low-lying regions of the desert. Rivulets of water ran through them and collected in poison pools. Perhaps an animal drank from one of these pools, died, and was eaten by this vulture.
“Look!” a young girl shouted, “The bird’s footprints make a power spiral.” The vulture’s path formed the familiar twisted pattern the Hopi used to decorate their pots, the same pattern in which corn and beans were planted. No one doubted this vulture was a spirit messenger. The carrion eater stopped pacing, hopped over to Bird Singer, and regurgitated the contents of its stomach directly in front of him. It made a slow, graceful turn, tested its wings, and ran to the south, the direction of good news. The Bird Who Cleans The World launched itself into the air and rode the wind over the horizon. Something silver glittered among clumps of dog fur, deteriorated muscle, and strands of intestine. The shaman reached into the partially digested remains and retrieved the sky stone. He held it up so that everyone around him could see. Now they would have to believe him.
let bag. At least the people believed in Bird Singer’s Apaches, even if the scouts found nothing. “The spirits took me to the enemy once before,” Bird Singer told the elders. “Perhaps they’ll do it again.” But the War Chief did not want the shaman’s company on the search for enemy warriors. “A man might be in the spirits’ favor one moment and broken out in boils the next. My men won’t walk beside a wizard.” The shaman didn’t like the sound of that. It was a small step from wizardry to witchcraft. When things went wrong, people went looking for a witch. If the rain failed to come, if the corn didn’t grow, if a sickness swept the pueblo, a witch could find himself buried in a shallow grave with a large stone pinning his soul under the earth. When he heard people refer to the Apaches as “the shaman’s spirit enemies,” he knew it was time to act. —
— DISCUSSIONS OF THE SPIRIT visitation buzzed in every household. People spoke in whispers whenever the holy man approached. The story of the vulture and the sky stone took on the features of a legend. The problem was no one knew how the story would end. No one had seen anything like the sky stone. Its glittering surface exceeded the brightest gloss a skilled artisan could produce on the richest nugget of native copper. Some of the older villagers had seen polished discs of gold carried by traders from the distant south, but even those treasures hadn’t sparkled like Spider Woman’s gift. “There is nothing to fear,” the shaman promised, but old lady Larkspur told him to keep the talisman out of sight. “It has killed an Apache holy man and a war dog,” she said. “Then traveled in the belly of a carrion eater.” No one could imagine what kind of power the sky stone held. “It killed an enemy of the Peaceful People,” he told the old woman. “It fell from the heavens. It was lost and then returned by a creature of the sky.” The Shaman placed the sky stone into his amu-
THE NIGHT SKY WAS familiar but not friendly. The quarter moon provided barely adequate light, and shooting stars flew across the heavens at a rate of one or two in every hundred heartbeats. Bird Singer comforted himself with mental chants to keep the forces of the world in balance. His life would find its center again once the Apaches were discovered. Coyotes would regain their fear of people. Bird Singer could resume his place as a lesser shaman whose principal function was persuading eagles to give up their feathers. A cloud of bats fluttered across the moon. The tiny creatures consorted with spirits of the sky after the sun had set, but in the daylight hours they hid in caves. Bats concealed themselves almost as well as Apache raiders. Could that be a message? Caves that were good for hiding bats might hide Apaches too. Perhaps the night fliers would help a holy man who could speak with owls. Bird Singer removed the sky stone from his amulet bag and held it in his hand. He rolled the sky stone through his fingers, appreciated its complex cobbled surface in the moonlight, offered a prayer of gratitude, then tossed it high into the air.
A large bat dove and caught it. Chief of the bat tribe. When bats are fooled into snatching tossed stones, they drop them quickly, but the Bat Chief didn’t do this. He carried the sky stone high above his tribe. The talisman glittered in the moonlight like a star, and when the bat released the power object, it fell so slowly that Bird Singer caught it easily in his extended hand. “Thank you brother.” The dark flyers made a slow turn in front of the crescent moon. They fluttered across the night sky in a swirling motion easy to follow from the ground. The shaman fell behind, but moonlight glittered on the creatures’ wings like sparks carried on a gentle breeze. By the time he lost sight of his spirit guides, the holy man heard the voices of Apache warriors. He crouched, still holding the sky stone. The raiders had chosen their cave wisely. Its mouth opened onto an empty part of the sacred land. Cracks in the rock carried smoke from their fire through a thousand tiny chimneys where it wouldn’t be seen even in the full light of day. Twenty warriors sat around a smoldering fire, boasting, laughing, and pulling chunks of meat from a charred leg of venison. Hopi archers could make short work of this lot. Bird Singer held the talisman in his open hand and offered a prayer of thanks. The sky stone was a dazzling gift. It concentrated the intensity of ambient light while holding the distorted images of the stars and moon on its cobbled surface. Bird Singer watched the entire night sky roll around his palm. The reflected light pulsed and flashed in cadence with his prayer. The effect pulled at his mind the way trickling water draws a restless spirit into sleep. For a handful of heartbeats he forgot about Apaches. Then the light dimmed. It had been weeks since the Rain Callers had been about their business, and the sky was completely clear. It was not a cloud that obscured the illumination of the stars and moon. The shaman rolled the stone a little more, and a face reflected from its surface, an Apache face. Without breaking the rhythm of his prayer, Bird Singer found a rock almost too large to hold in his free hand. He stood, turned, and threw the stone in a single movement without stopping to aim.
Masau, the god of life and death, was the shaman’s ally that night. His rock struck a large Apache warrior squarely in the forehead. The man went down without a sound. Only one! Bird Singer heard the Apache’s soul escape with his final breath. He felt the warrior’s chest. No heartbeat. The shaman looked back into the cave. Two dogs stood in the entrance, taking in his scent. They bared their teeth, put back their ears. It wouldn’t take the warriors long to notice. There were plenty of stones on this mountainside. Bird Singer found two suitable for his sling. In less than ten beats of a frightened heart, the dogs fell dead at the mouth of the cave. Before the animals stopped twitching, the shaman mimicked the sound of the great horned owl—four calls, quickly followed by another four. The effect on the raiders was immediate. Bird Singer recognized a few words—witch, de-
mon, evil spirit. He made four more owl calls, tucked Spider Woman’s gift into his amulet bag, then broke into an easy run. Only after his breath grew ragged did he risk a look behind him. One lone warrior walked toward him from the direction of the cave. One more than he anticipated. Bird Singer picked up his pace as much as the uneven terrain and the darkness would allow. He expected the warrior to give up the chase and return to the safety of his cave, but the man’s silhouette remained a constant feature on the mountain landscape. The warrior plodded across the desert carrying neither bow nor lance. He meant to tear the life away from the Hopi shaman with his bare hands. Or worse, he’d capture Bird Singer, take him to his band’s main encampment, and give him to their women. The sun peeked over the edge of the world as Bird Singer reached his valley. Only half a morning’s run to his pueblo if the Apache didn’t kill him.
When Bird Singer looked back over his shoulder one last time, the warrior broke into a full sprint, closing the distance between them with every pace. The shaman clasped his amulet bag and prayed as he ran. Only the spirits could save him. The holy man’s heart raced like a sparrow hawk’s. His muscles burned and tightened enough to double him over. His chest ached. The rush of blood through his ears sounded like the ghosts of his ancestors calling him to the afterlife. When Bird Singer could run no farther, he stopped and turned to face his death. The Apache warrior slowed his pace, no longer in a hurry to finish things. The shaman would either escape or die this day. He would not be taken alive. He opened his amulet bag and removed the sky stone. The talisman had saved him twice before. Perhaps it would save him again. “Power is with me!” Bird Singer looked to the
heavens and chanted, holding the sky stone in the open palm of his left hand. “My need is great.” His adversary stood twenty paces away. He’d drawn an obsidian stiletto and assumed a fighting stance, but his eyes were not turned toward the shaman. A large male coyote moved from the shadow of a boulder and fixed his attention on the Apache. Foam dripped from the animal’s muzzle. It staggered as it moved toward the warrior. If this was the same animal that attacked the woman from Bird Singer’s pueblo, evil days lay ahead of her. The bite of such a creature would turn a human into a monster. No one deserved such a death. Not even an Apache marauder. The warrior stepped backward, matching the coyote pace for pace. He knew the demon would own his body, even if he killed the animal it possessed. He held his stiletto ready and prepared to meet his doom. The coyote stumbled as he tried to leap—once,
twice, three times. Bird Singer drew his sling. He loaded the weapon with the sky stone, and by the time the animal sprang, his missile was in the air. The silver talisman flashed in the morning sun like a lightening bolt as it struck the coyote’s head. The animal fell at the warrior’s feet. It trembled for a moment and then lay still. The Apache kneeled beside the coyote. He reached out to touch the animal that had almost taken his life, but his hand changed course before his fingers brushed against the creature’s fur. Instead, he grasped the glittering object that lay beside the dead predator. The warrior stood holding Bird Singer’s talisman in his outstretched hand. There was no malice in his eyes as he approached the shaman. The Apache spoke a single word when he placed the sky stone into Bird Singer’s hand. He said the word again as he walked away. The holy man returned Spider Woman’s gift to his amulet bag. He understood almost nothing of the Apache language. But he understood this—his people would have no trouble with these raiders.
JOHN T. BIGGS
OHN T. BIGGS describes himself as a regional writer whose region is somewhere west of the Twilight Zone. His work blends speculative fiction with a literary style and frequently includes Native American mysticism. Sixty of John’s short stories have been published in magazines and anthologies that vary from literary to young adult speculative fiction and everything in between. Some of these stories have won regional and national awards including Grand Prize in the Writers Digest 80th annual competition, third prize in the Lorian Hemingway short story contest, Storyteller Magazine’s People’s Choice Award, and two OWFI Crème de la Crème Awards. John has published four novels: Owl Dreams, Popsicle Styx (Oklahoma Book Award Finalist) Cherokee Ice (Oklahoma Book Award Finalist & OWFI Best Published Fiction Book of 2015), and Shiners (OWFI Best Published Fiction book of 2017), as well as a thematic short story collection, Sacred Alarm Clock, which includes the OWFI Crème de la Crème winning story, “Twenty Percent Off,” and a series of post-apocalyptic novellas, Clementine: A Song for the End of the World.
N HIS WAY FROM Indian Territory to Sedalia, Mose skirted most of the little communities in southwest Missouri, including Carthage near where he had grown up what seemed like centuries before. He had just been a kid then, living with his mother and father on a subsistence farm several miles northeast of Carthage. It was on that farm that he had come of age. He had seen his father leave with the Confederate Army never to return, then watched his mother try to keep the farm going and, when the Union took the area, become the consort of a Yankee officer. Shortly after the Yankee moved in, Mose ran away from home. He briefly joined a band of raiders loosely affiliated with William Clarke Quantrill before being conscripted into Jo Shelby’s Division in Stirling Price’s last-ditch attempt to secure Missouri for the South. Memories of his service, both official and unofficial, played in his mind as he headed Buster north toward central Missouri. He loved the country there at the edge of the Ozarks, and the small towns and villages seemed to promise a quiet, settled life that he had not known since he was just shy of fourteen. At the sleepy little hamlet of Warrensburg, he turned east and traveled the road that led directly to Sedalia. Just a mile or so beyond Warrensburg, the hair on the back of his neck began to stand up. It was that feeling of being followed or watched that he had learned during his days in the Quantrill band to never ignore. It was sometimes misleading, but you couldn’t take that chance—not if you wanted to stay alive anyway. He spurred Buster off the road and into the trees and brush beyond. Rather than rush the animal loudly through the leaf-strewn, unknown terrain away from the trail, he slowed him to a walking gait, then stopped him altogether.
“Whoa.” He patted the horse gently on the side of the neck to quiet him down. “Good boy.” For several moments he listened intently, quietly, turning Buster just a little to the left so he could hear back down the road better. At first, he thought he made out the sounds of several light hoof steps, but they stopped immediately. He slid his loaded .36 Navy revolver from its holster and placed his right thumb on the hammer. The backup Griswold pistol, fully loaded as well, was still secured behind his belt. Suddenly, the nearby trees and brush came alive like invisible whizzing bees were whipping through the leaves and limbs. They were followed by the explosive report of pistols unseen but nearby. Spurring Buster back into the tree line and then out onto the trail again, he drove the animal hard searching for a defensible position. Up ahead, just around a bend in the road, he found it. A small hill off to the left with several big boulders behind which he could make a stand. He tied Buster loosely to a small tree so the animal could escape if need be and then got behind a boulder that hid him from open view. He slowly edged around the rock, but there was no need for that much caution. The pursuing riders, two of them, were thundering down the trail toward him. He dropped to one knee and fired the .36. The stray shot hit the lead rider’s horse directly in the chest, knocking the animal and its rider onto the dusty road. The man rolled adroitly on the ground and leapt to his feet firing his pistol. The other rider reined in his mount hard and dismounted with a jump. The two of them, firing wildly all the while, ran into the boulder field on the same side of the road. “Damn.” Mose saw the wounded horse struggle vainly to regain its feet. “What a lousy shot.”
Pulling the Griswold from his belt, he held both pistols barrel up and retreated to the off-trail side of the boulder. He had to make it to another boulder a few yards back and farther off the road to retake the high ground from his attackers. Jogging quickly, he made it to the second boulder just as more shots echoed in the quiet air and chips flew off the side of the rock by his shoulder. Buster tore loose from the tree and bolted past, finding his own safe place behind several large rocks well out into the boulder field. “Who are you?” Mose called out after pausing a moment behind his new cover to recheck the pistols and make sure Buster was safely out of harm’s way. “We’re coming to get you, Traven.” “Meador.” He recognized the voice. “And Fuller, too.” The two roughneck cowboys had trailed him from the Rocking H Ranch in northeast Indian Territory to pay him back for ruining their “fun” with the lost Cherokee girl. He wasn’t surprised they had come af-
ter him, but they had come quickly, quicker than he had imagined. “You boys back off of this.” He called out to his pursuers. “You was in the wrong there.” “I’ll show you the wrong.” Fuller yelled back. The wild anger in the cowboy’s voice meant he would likely act rashly, make a mistake. Mose backed away from the boulder until he could see the terrain on either side. Sure enough, he spotted Fuller getting ready to make a bull’s rush at his position. He stepped out from behind the boulder and quickly knelt down on one knee. Fuller came rushing toward him firing wildly. He aimed the Navy .36 and shot Fuller flat in the chest, knocking him backwards and down. With Fuller crying on the ground, Meador popped out from behind another rock and fired a round that dug up the dirt near Mose’s feet. He fired two quick rounds from the Griswold in his left hand. They missed the mark but still chased Meador back behind cover.
In the meantime, Fuller had risen to a sitting position and was aiming his pistol again. Mose raised the Navy and fired. The bullet ripped into Fuller’s right shoulder, knocking him backwards and sending his pistol skittering across the coarse soil and into a small stand of bushes. Now concerned just with Meador, he hurried back around the big rock he’d hidden behind and then ran from one small boulder to another trying to get the drop on the remaining assailant. The tactic worked. When he peeked around the side of one of the rocks he’d reached, there was Meador—back to him. “Drop it, Meador.” He walked out into the open. “Or I’ll shoot you where you stand.” Meador spun, pistol half-raised but saw the barrels of both the Griswold and the Navy aimed right at him. He looked like he might make a move, and even twitched a bit, causing Mose to fire the Griswold. The round knocked sandy dirt onto the top of Meador’s cowboy boots. He let his pistol swing loose in his
hand and then, when Mose aimed the Navy right at his head, let it drop in the dirt. “Step back away from that pistol. One move and I’ll send you to Kingdom Come.” “Damn you. You got lucky.” “You keep this up, and you’ll get yourself dead.” “You killed Fuller, you bastard.” “If he’s dead, he brought it on his ownself.” “Now you gonna kill me.” “Take it easy. You’ve done got yourself all wrought up to where you don’t know what you’re doing.” “I know it, but you hadn’t no right to do to us what you did over that Indian girl.” “And your answer to me stopping you from raping that gal who hadn’t done nothing but be an Indian was to come after me and bushwhack me. Boy, you got your ideas all messed up in your mind. You don’t know from right or wrong.” “I know you shouldn’t had done that because of that girl.”
“I tell you what, I ain’t gonna discuss this no more with you. I’m telling you to get Fuller to a doctor if you can and one way or the other to light out of these parts. This is twice now you’ve tried to get me, and it stops here and now.” “What you gonna do?” “I tell you what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna let you go. Save Fuller if you can, but neither one of you boys better ever come after me again. If you do, I’ll kill you both just as dead as a dead snake, and I promise you that on any Bible you got. You understand me?” “I—” “Do you?” “I do.” “Then get out of here and never come near me ever again. It’ll be the forfeit of your life if you do.” Meador backed away. Mose collected the cowpoke’s pistol and kept his own trained squarely on the would-be bushwhacker. Meador rounded up his horse, and Mose followed him to where Fuller lay in the dirt. Meador picked up Fuller, who began to groan, and laid him out across the saddle of his own horse. Mose never lowered his pistols until the two back shooters, Meador leading Fuller and his horse, were completely out of sight. When all seemed safe again, he turned to look for Buster and walked right into the flanks of the horse. “Lord have mercy, Buster, you are one dependable
animal.” Buster bobbed his head and snorted, a sure sign he was ready to get on the trail again. Mose holstered the Navy .36 and stowed the Griswold and Fuller’s pistol among his gear. With a last look back in the direction the cowboys had gone, he climbed onto Buster and with a clicking sound the animal knew well headed him toward the trail and the last few miles to Sedalia. — THE STOCKMAN’S HOTEL AND Boarding House was down a short dirt road about three easy walking blocks from the new Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railroad Station in Sedalia. Stockman’s had once been a fine establishment back when the Texas cattle were being driven regularly to Sedalia, but during the Civil War it had fallen on hard times. Now, it was a little rundown, a little shabby, but not expensive—and that was what he wanted. He figured to hole up at Stockman’s and try to find work in the cattle pens near Katy Station, as locals called the new railroad depot. Rent and board at the hotel was three dollars a week, which he considered steep given his current financial situation, but if he could get a job, it would be all right. After getting Buster settled in at a nearby stable, he stowed his own gear in his second-floor room and went down to the Stockman’s dining room to catch a little supper before it was all gone for the
evening. He had to settle for what the other boarders hadn’t finished, but after being on the trail again, home cooked food tasted mighty good, even if it was practically table scraps. “Where you coming in from, young feller?” A scrawny, scruffy little old man sitting across the table asked as Mose was finishing up his food with a cool glass of buttermilk. “If I ain’t being too forward.” “The Territory, sir.” He set his glass down between drinks of the thick but refreshing liquid. “Cattle puncher?” “Yes, sir.” “I wouldn’t ask your name.” “Now, Abner.” A thick-bodied man down the table to their left interjected. “It ain’t neighborly to pry.” “Shoot,” the old man, Abner, said, “wasn’t nothing but a simple question.” “Moses Traven is my name. I was line-riding just across the Missouri border. Now, I’m hoping for work here in Sedalia.” “John Neal.” The thick man introduced himself. “I’m a drummer. Sell pots and pans and any other thing that a household needs. Your interlocutor there is Mister Abner Barnett, what we like to call here in Missouri a ‘character.’” “I can speak for myself you wind bag.” Abner snapped. Mose suppressed a smile at the old man’s cantankerousness. “Now Ab, don’t get all riled with me. I’m just funning you.” “I’ll fun you.” “Mister Barnett fancies himself something of an outlaw.” Neal grinned. “And adopts a rather truculent attitude toward authority and those who wield it.” “Saw grass.” Ab snorted. “You billowy… round… thing.” Mose and Neal couldn’t help but laugh which caused Ab to rail all the more. “The two of you wouldn’t have lasted five minutes with my bunch. Why I rode with Hezekiah Johnson in the New Mexico Territory in the early ’40s. Scalped a thousand Indians and more. The Mexican government paid us three pesos a scalp. We was rich I tell you. I fought in the Mexican War and against the Kansas Red Legs. With Quantrill I was. Why, we’d shoot a man for less than what’s been said here at this table tonight.”
“I’m sorry, Mister Barnett.” Mose apologized. “I meant no disrespect to you, sir. It ain’t often of late that I’ve said this much. I ain’t very good at it.” “Oh.” Ab softened. “It ain’t you, sonny, it’s these pudgy drummer types that gets my goat. I can see you’re a real cowboy. You’re polite.” “Thank you, sir.” “Well, gentlemen.” Neal rose from his chair. “I think I’d better take my leave before I anger Mister Barnett anymore tonight.” Ab looked away from Neal petulantly. “Good luck with your employment prospects.” “Your employment prospects.” Ab muttered. “Before you leave, sir.” Mose spoke to Neal. “Could you or Mister Barnett here tell me of a company hiring pen riders or some such cowpoking work?” “I believe you’d be well advised to try Mister Phelps down at the new Katy Station.” Neal replied. “He’s got a cattle yard nearby. I suspect he might need hands there. Don’t you agree, Ab?” “For once you said something that makes sense.” “Well, gentlemen, I’ll excuse myself and wish you a good evening.” “Good evening, sir, and thank you.” “Nothing but a bloated, wind bag drummer.” Ab said when Neal left the room. “Was he right about this Mister Phelps down at the Katy Station maybe having work?” “Even a fool can be right sometimes.” “I’ll try there tomorrow, then.” “I’ll show you where it is if you want me to.” “That would be real neighborly of you, Mister Barnett, mighty neighborly indeed.” “Call me Ab. You seem like a decent enough young fellow.” “Thank you, sir, Mister, er, Ab.” He reached across the table to shake hands. “My friends call me Mose.” “Proud to meet you, son.” Ab showed a snaggletoothed smile. “We need some new blood around this place. Need it bad.” The next morning Ab showed Mose the Phelps cattle yard and then headed back to Stockman’s while the cowboy lobbied for a job. Phelps’s greeting was short and to the point. “Got experience with cattle?”
“Yes, sir.” “How much?” “Just finished a line job down in the Territory.” “And?” “And before that I was on a drive coming up from San Antonio.” “What kind of cattle?” “Mexican mostly, some Longhorns.” “Ever work back pen?” “No, sir.” “Well, there ain’t nothing to it. I’ll give you a shot, son. Name’s Traven is it? Moses Traven?” “Yes, sir.” “Law ain’t after you.” “No, sir.” “Pay’s eight dollars a week, Sundays off.” Mose did some quick calculating in his mind. “I can do it.” “Good. Report here seven in the morning. We’ll get you started.” “Thank you, sir, I’ll be here.” — OVER THE NEXT WEEKS, Mose settled into his new job and life at the Stockman’s Hotel. Sedalia seemed like a tranquil place to him considering its reputation when it had been a trail hub some years before. Now it seemed like any small town moving at a slower pace toward a calmer, quieter future. His salary from Phelps was enough to easily cover his room and board and leave a little over. In a short while, he began to add to the little stash he had when he arrived in town from the Territory. At Stockman’s he watched the drummers and travelers come and go and became a surrogate son to Ab’s surrogate father. The old man loved to tell his tales to anyone who would listen and rattled on and on about this or that activity that was questionably legal even in its time. He really did fancy himself an outlaw and made no effort to restrain himself in any company. Mose tried to steer the old man away from such open confessions of an ostensibly criminal past, but Ab took great pride in his exploits, and the stories rolled off
his tongue without filter—especially when he’d had too much whiskey, which was pretty often. One night in early fall, Mose was humoring Ab by watching him sip whiskey in the Old Missouri Trail saloon, a short walk from the Stockman’s, when the old man took off on one of his standard rants. He did his best to quiet Ab down. There were several strangers in the saloon and a couple of them looked suspiciously like lawmen, but the old reprobate would have none of it. “I’m wanted all over. Everywhere.” Ab spoke so loud, no one in the saloon could possibly miss it. “Everywhere. The Territory, Arkansas, for sure over in Kansas. Filthy Redlegs.” “Regular Border Ruffian, were you?” Mose checked the reaction of others in the room. “You remember Bloody Bill, don’t you?” Ab’s voice boomed across the room. “I don’t believe I know any Bloody Bill.” Mose lied, remembering the wild-eyed killer from one of his own runs as a teenager.
“I rode with Bloody Bill. And Quantrill and the James Boys. I was there at Lawrence when we kilt them Jayhawkers by the score.” “Now, Ab.” Mose noticed a fellow stand up at a table across the room. “Damned Yankee Redlegs.” “Take ’er a little easy there, Ab.” “Pinkertons come after me in the Territory. Thought I was in Belle Starr’s gang. I’m a genuine….” “Excuse me, gentlemen.” The lawman-type came up to their table. “Couldn’t help but hear you mention Lawrence.” “What of it?” Ab slammed down a shot of whiskey. “Nothing, just that I’m from Lawrence is all, and we don’t think it’s anything to be bragging about, shooting unarmed men and boys.” “A dead Jayhawker is a good….” “Pardon, my friend, sir.” Mose said to the man. “He tends to get a might excited after a few whiskeys. He don’t mean nothing by his stories.”
“Stories my eye.” “Maybe he should leave the whiskey alone then. What happened at Lawrence was murder. Murder pure and simple. If he was part of it, he should be made to face the law.” “Why you whippersnapper.” Ab barked. “Easy, Ab.” Mose held the old man back, then turned to the Kansan. “You’ll excuse us, sir. We need to get on back to the Stockman’s.” “Just have him watch what he says.” The man watched as Mose pried Ab from his chair and aimed him in the direction of the saloon’s front door. “If the Pinkerton’s really were after him, maybe they’d still want to know where he is.” “Bring ’em on.” Ab called back over his shoulder as Mose hustled him out of the saloon and out into the night air. “Bring ’em on.” “Ab.” Mose guided the old man down the street away from the saloon. “You’ve got to be more careful about who you tell your stories to and where you tell ’em.” “You believe my stories, don’t you?” Mose aimed the old man toward the Stockman. He looked back to see if anybody was following them but saw no one. “Sure, I do, Ab.” He held the frail little man up. “Sure, I do.” — THROUGH THE FALL AND into winter, Mose worked steady at Phelps’s cattle yard. He culled the herd in the pens and loaded the healthiest for shipping to Kansas City, Omaha, St. Louis, Chicago, and other beef-hungry towns around the nation. Mister Phelps was pleased with his work habits and kicked the pay up to $9 a week early in December. His only complaint was that Mose was sometimes too discriminating in his culling habits. “Son.” Phelps had explained more than once. “Unless their ribs is showing plenty, run ’em up into the cars. Don’t get too particular on me. This is a business, and we need to keep our profits up.” He would always nod his agreement, shuffle his feet, and then go right back to picking only the best cattle to put on the trains. In time, Phelps began to
look at it as a kind of game, and he would just laugh and have a less fastidious workman go ahead and drive the lesser cows into the waiting cars. In mid-December, there was a scare with Ab. The old man took the ague and got way down. He was so bad, Mose requested time off to care for the old man. Phelps let his best and favorite pen man do it. “Here, Ab.” Mose sat by the bed offering chicken soup to the old man. “Try some of this. It’ll bring you back to health.” “I’d rather have whiskey.” Ab croaked, his old chest rattling. “I’ll get you some whiskey after you take some of this soup. Now, come on.” He managed to swallow some of the soup and, as promised, got a shot of whiskey. After a couple of days of special treatment, he began to get better. “You’d make a mighty swell doctor, boy.” He told Mose one evening after the young cowboy had brought him food and his nightly shot of whiskey. “You just get yourself well.” “I been thinking, son.” Ab sat up in bed for the first time since he’d been sick. “Next spring, me and you ought to head for the Dakotas.” “The Dakotas? What fer?” “Gold.” “I don’t know nothing about gold.” “It’s all anybody talks about anymore—the drummers, the travelers, even the cowmen. They discovered gold in the Black Hills. Rich veins. People are making fortunes up there.” “Well.” “Won’t you think about it? We could go up there, maybe get rich. That would be good, wouldn’t it?” “I don’t know, Ab, you need to get well first before we start going off gold prospecting in the Dakotas.” “Will you at least think about it?” “Sure. Now you just lay down again and let yourself get well. We’ll consider the Dakotas when the weather breaks. We got a long time before then.” “All right.” He lay back down. “Long as you promise.” “I promise.” “No crossed fingers?” “No crossed fingers.” Mose held up his right hand. “Honest.”
— AB RECOVERED NICELY FROM the case of ague and made it through winter without another health incident. As for Mose, he kept working for Phelps and stowing away any extra money he could with an eye for whatever changes might be forthcoming. He had learned long ago that life was short and full of unexpected events. It was never a good idea to get too comfortable or too settled. Just when you did, something was bound to happen. Sure enough, in early March, it did. A Pinkerton man showed up in Sedalia—asking questions about one Abner Barnett. “Son.” Ab said, one evening shortly after they’d heard the word. “They’ve come to get me. They’re gonna put me in jail or worse.” “Ah, now, Ab, he’s probably just poking around for some other reason.” “No, no, that fat drummer, Neal, told me the Pinkerton asked about me by name.” “Well, it’s probably nothing.” “They’ve come after me. I’m sure of it. It’s my outlaw past. My riding with Quantrill. It’s because of Lawrence. And the Marais des Cygnes. Did I ever tell you about the Marais des Cygnes?” “No, Ab, I don’t believe you did.” “It was me and some of Quantrill’s band, we rode
alongside the Marais des Cygnes River up by Nevada, went all the way over to Kansas. Killed two Jayhawkers what was squatting just at the border. That’s it. That’s why they after me.” “Come on now, Ab, take it easy.” “Listen to me.” Ab took hold of Mose’s shirt. “If anything happens to me….” “Nothing….” “Pay attention to me, son. If anything happens to me, I keep my money under a board I pried loose over there by that there bureau. You take it and go to the Dakotas. Make a fortune for yourself. Get away from this life and this cow punching. “Now, Ab.” “Promise me, boy. If they get me. You take that money and you get. Promise?” “All right.” He humored the old man. “In the meantime, you stay out of the way until I can find out what’s up with the Pinkerton.” “You gonna go after the Pinkerton?” “Not after him. Just find out why he’s here.” “Be careful, son. They’re chiseling snakes them Pinkertons.” “I’ll be careful. Don’t you worry.” The next day at lunch time, he walked back into town and sought out the Pinkerton. He learned his name was Frank Rucker and that he could find him in Colson’s Hardware Store a couple of blocks into town from the Stockman’s Hotel. “You Rucker, the Pinkerton man?” He wasted no time asking a tall, trim man in a dark suit lounging on a nail barrel just inside Colson’s. The place was almost empty except for a farm family picking up supplies at the far end of the store. “What would that be to you?” The man gave him a quick once-over. “I’m just asking.” “And you be?” “Traven. Mose Traven.” “What is it that I can do for you.” The man slowly stood. He was tall, taller than Mose. “Are you Rucker?” “I might be if I knew what exactly it was you wanted.” “If you be Rucker, I have heard you’re in town for a friend of mine.”
“My reasons for being in town are my own.” “Not if they include Abner Barnett. Now, are you Rucker or ain’t you?” “I am Frank Rucker. I’m from the Pinkerton office in Kansas City.” “Well, then, Mister Rucker, I don’t know who would have put you onto Ab Barnett, but I wanted to advise you that he’s just a harmless little old man that maybe talks too much when he’s had a couple of whiskeys.” “So I’ve heard.” “He just tells stories, that’s all. Likes to go on about the old, wild days when he was young. Heck, the things he tells probably never even happened to him. He don’t mean nothing by them.” “You say your friend lies?” “I’m not saying that. I’m just saying he might exaggerate a bit here and there.” “To my way of thinking, that’s a liar.” “Listen, mister, I’m just telling you that Ab Barnett ain’t nobody that Pinkerton needs to be fretting enough about to send someone out here to look up on him.” “Friend, you would be well advised to stay out of law business. Leave that to the professionals.” “Is that what you are, a professional lawman?” Mose’s face reddened. “I thought you was nothing but a Pinkerton.” “I have local authority.” “Be that as it may, Ab ain’t done nothing wrong. He’s just an old man spinning yarns.” “I’ll be the judge of that.” “Sounds like judge and jury all at once. Where did you hear this about Ab anyway, some Redleg Lawrence drummer?” “Let me make this clear to you, cowboy.” Rucker pulled back his coat jacket to reveal a holstered, thick handled .44 revolver. “Keep out of Pinkerton business—if you know what’s good for you.” “That hogleg don’t impress me none, Pinkerton.” He never did like people threatening him, either direct or implied. “Let me make something clear to you. You harm one hair of that old man’s head, and you will answer for it.” “Cowboy, I don’t let the likes of you scare me off my job. If the old man is an outlaw, he’ll answer for
it like anyone else. And you, sir, would be wise to stay out of it.” “I done said my peace, the next move is yours.” “So be it. “So be it. So be it, indeed.” Without another word, he turned and walked away leaving Rucker by the nail barrel where he’d found him. Mister Colson, the hardware proprietor, and the farm family that had been shopping were all gawking at Rucker. “Just a mild misunderstanding, folks.” He smiled thinly at them. “Nothing else to it. Go on about your business. Nothing to it.” — “YOU REALLY TOLD HIM off, eh?” Ab snickered the evening after the Pinkerton confrontation. He was on his third shot of whiskey and feeling his over-the-hill oats. “It was going round the whole town all afternoon. Guess he’ll keep his distance, won’t he?” “I don’t think it’s nothing to be stirring up much.” Mose looked around the Old Missouri Trail saloon to see who might be listening to Ab’s joyful retelling of the confrontation he hadn’t even seen. “I reckon that sidewinder won’t be bothering us no more, will he?” “I couldn’t say.”
“Boy, you really know how to handle yourself, don’t you?” “I don’t know about that, either.” “You were looking out for me. You were trying to protect me.” “Finish up that whiskey. I gotta turn in soon. Got work in the morning.” “Come springtime,”—Ab downed the rest of his drink—“we’ll head on up to the Dakotas. Do some gold mining. Me and you could get rich, boy. Live good then.” “Let’s worry about that when spring comes.” He reached an arm out to help Ab up from his chair. “For the time being, you just lay low and let this Pinkerton thing blow over.” “I ain’t afraid of no Pinkerton.” Ab stretched his scrawny little body up into an almost comically pugnacious stance. “I know you ain’t, but just take it easy and stay away from him. No reason to look for trouble if they ain’t any there to begin with.” “I ain’t afeard of him.” “No, I would’ve never thought you were.” “Not afeard, no sir. Not one bit.”
TO BE CONTINUED....
.B. HOGAN is an award-winning author, poet, and local historian. A veteran of the U. S. Air Force Security Service and Tactical Air Command, he holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from Arizona State University (1979). For many years he worked as a technical writer in Arizona and Colorado. To date, he has published over 270 stories and poems, as well as ten books—Angels in the Ozarks, Bar Harbor, Time and Time Again, Mexican Skies, Tin Hollow, Fallen, The Rubicon, Living Behind Time, Losing Cotton, and Fallen. J. B. has served as chair and a member of the Fayetteville (AR) Historic District Commission. He also has served as president and board member of the Washington County (AR) Historical Society, which in October 2019 honored him with its Distinguished Citizen Award. He spends much of his time researching, writing, and giving tours and lecturing. He also plays upright bass in the family band East of Zion, who play an eclectic mix of bluegrass-tinged Americana music.
Near Sturgis town, there stands a place, A site revered with pride and grace. Rows of stones, they mark the scene. Those men of war are now serene.
Flags dance on high, above them all, For those who answered freedom’s call. Some died with friends, some died alone, All buried here, Black Hills, White Stones.
Claimed by Sioux, by them patrolled, ’Til Custer came in search of gold. True riches there can still be found. The treasure rests beneath the ground.
The caskets draped, red, white, and blue. Those high in rank and privates too, Rest side by side, the way they stood. Their service was a force for good.
The MOH and Silver Stars, The wounded ones with Purple Hearts, Some gave it all; some merely served. No one can pay them all they’ve earned. Fold up our flag, three perfect sides, To represent the ones who died. The rifles blast, the bugle blown, Hear “Taps” played, Black Hills, White Stones.
Black Hills, White Stones, they stand unfazed. In these times, our towns ablaze. Safe on these hills, they seem at rest, Reminders of our nation’s best.
I treat people as my dad taught me. He said, ‘Do unto others as you’d have others do unto you.’ That’s the way I treat everybody. I’m not one of those actors that thinks he’s a big star actor. I don’t even like the word ‘star.’”
SADDLEBAG COVER STORY
LAST HORSEMAN the
an interview with Robert Fuller photos courtesy of Robert Fuller and family
PRODUCTION STILL OF ROBERT FULLER AS CAPTAIN MATT MARTIN FROM THE 1966 FILM INCIDENT AT PHANTOM HILL.
GREW UP LOVING westerns. Western television shows, western movies, western songs, and western merchandise from furniture to curtains to toys filled my childhood. Two of my favorite television shows were Laramie and Wagon Train. When the opportunity came to interview my favorite actor from those two shows, Robert Fuller, I leaped at the chance. I sat down with him in early September of 2020 to talk about his long career in early television and movie westerns. I’d like to thank him for taking the time to share his memories with me. Here’s what he had to say. “Laramie and Wagon Train were two series done at Universal Studios. As far as I’m concerned that was a much more important studio for westerns than Warner Brothers, who did other series like Cheyenne. They had something like 30 westerns, and most of them were done on the back lot or sound stages. Wagon Train and Laramie, at Universal, had a very good budget, good producers, and I think, some very good actors, particularly our guest stars. Those are the main reasons these shows are still so popular. They also had some of the best writers to write the one hour shows. “When I talk to fans or get fan mail, they always talk about how great the character actors were and how good the scripts were, what great sense they made. I saw that from the beginning, and I was very proud to be part of those shows. “Not only that, we had the best crews. On Laramie, I had a cameraman whose name was Ray Rennahan, who invented Technicolor. He was the Technicolor advisor on Gone with The Wind. So, how much better can you get for a young actor starting a TV series?
COWBOY ALL THE TIME I mean, a cameraman like that was unbelievable. Plus, we went on location and filmed all around the country. Of course, on the back lot, we had Laramie street, that’s where our set was. We shot in Kanab, Utah, and Lone Pine and several other places in Utah. So that was kinda nice. “When you look at a show like Gunsmoke or Wanted: Dead or Alive, and you hear people walk, you can hear that they’re walking on a boardwalk down the main street. It’s on a soundstage. I’m sure you’re aware of that, shooting the whole thing on a sound stage.I was fortunate to be in a good series in a good studio. “Now, Laramie ran for four years. That was longer than many shows, but we had the same crew for those four years. That’s a great memory because I knew every crew member. I knew their names. I knew their wives and their children. I worked with them every day. It was a family, and that was so important to Smitty and me, to work with people who knew us better than anything in the world. So, we only had five or six directors. You know, they knew us like a book—and sometimes a bad book! No, they loved us— they really did—and that made it enjoyable. “When Laramie ended, they asked me to go into Wagon Train. I jumped at the chance because one of my favorite actors of all time, John McIntire, was the wagon master then. I knew Terry Wilson and Frank McGrath who played Hawks and Wooster. Because Wagon Train was shooting on the lot at the same time Laramie was, that was an incentive, to go and work with those guys. Those are great memories, very special. “If television created westerns today, I don’t believe that people would watch them. I’d say, in
the last twenty-five years, possibly thirty, anybody who’s tried to make a western for television has failed because number one, there’s no actors that can play a good cowboy. There’s no western horses. There’s no western writers. There’s no western directors
ROBERT DURING HIS TIME ON WAGON TRAIN.
anymore, so it’s impossible to make a good western for television. “As far as western movies are concerned, there have been some good ones. Of course, Clint Eastwood stands out over everybody. The Outlaw Josie Wales and others, they’re fantastic. But then we had two great western actors, Bob Duval and Kevin Costner. They made one of the best western movies in the last five years, Open Range. Did you see it? Well, put it down on
your list to see one of the best westerns ever made. It is a western of all times. There are some western movies today that are good. Still, there’s nobody who can ride a horse anymore. “I had a chance to do a guest spot on the movie Maverick. I loved it. I got to work with thirty of my favorite western friends that I’d done westerns with over a thirty-year period. Guys like Denver Pyle, Waylon Jennings, my buddy Doug McClure… we had a fabulous time. “When you watch that film and see the dynamics among all the actors, you can see we were having fun, and believe me, it was fun. There wasn’t pressure. It was done very well. We had a good time. “You know, I learned… let me see if I can phrase this right… Dick Boone was my acting coach. Richard Boone, you know who he is? Well, when I got out of the Army in 1955, I started studying with Dick Boone. I hadn’t planned on becoming an actor, but my buddy Chuck Courtney got me involved in it, and Dick pointed out several things about actors and taught me two things. One— to act believably under imaginary circumstances as if it was happening to you. So, when you say, did I ever have a role where I played myself, rather than a character, when I get into the wardrobe in the morning before I go on the set, regardless of whatever show I’m doing, I become that character in my mind. As I look in the mirror, in the wardrobe, and know the part I’m playing, when I start to act, I act every scene, in the picture or television show, as if it was happening to me, “to act believably under imaginary circumstances.” “You know, when you ask me if there’s a role I would have liked to play but didn’t, I can’t think of one. I guess, if I could have, I’d have liked to have
played Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind. Anyway, no, my God, I can’t think of one. I’ve been very lucky. I’ve played all the roles that I’ve wanted to play and didn’t play roles that I didn’t want to play. “There is one western film I’d still like to see made, but it’s too late, it could never be done. I would like to have seen a real, well-done western movie about John Wesley Hardin. Nobody has ever done it right. I always wanted… I would have loved to play John Wesley Hardin in a major motion picture, you know, done right with good writers and directors. It never did happen. “Well, Hardin was an interesting character, you know. He was a cowboy, a killer. He was a good guy who had a tough life. I sort of have empathy for him, you could say, even though he was a bad guy in the end. But his story is a fabulous story, and if it’s done right, it could have been fun to do. “God, I would have loved to work with Bob Duval or Kevin Costner. Those two guys are the only two guys left, along with Clint, today, who know how to ride a horse, how to wear the right wardrobe, know the western genre, the scene. They actually have horses on their own, anyway. They can portray a cowboy better than anybody on TV or in western movies today. I know Bob, but unfortunately, I don’t know Kevin. I would have loved to work with the two of them in a movie, particularly a western. But I’m retired. I retired in 2004. I turned down a part in Yellowstone, turned down a major motion picture last week. I’m a rancher. I’m a cowboy. I have horses. I fish. I spent fifty-two years in this business. That’s enough! You couldn’t pour me into Hollywood. “Oh, I’ve had so many opportunities to work with great actors. One who comes to mind quickly is… I had the time of my life working with Yul Brynner
during The Magnificent Seven. Such a great, incredible man to be around. He is the king. “He and I got along so well, you wouldn’t believe it. The two of us are alike in some ways. Some people say he can be difficult, but he certainly wasn’t with
ROBERT AND LARAMIE CO-STAR, JOHN SMITH.
me, and he certainly wasn’t with anybody on Return of the Seven. We had good people. You know, Yul can ride a horse. Yul was exactly my size and my weight at that time, and he likes to ride. Every day, in the morning, before it was shot, he’d have everybody go out and ride a little bit. I respected that because in all the riding scenes people look good in that. “No, Yul was great like that. One of the first things Yul said was “if you need anything while you’re on this
show, don’t go to anybody else. Go to me. I will see that you get it.” And I thought, wow, that’s pretty cool. “My other favorite, oh my God, my idol, Joel McCrea. I grew up idolizing him. Fortunately, I got to work with him in Mustang Country. In fact, my producer, John Champion, from Laramie, wrote the script, and the two of us got Joel out of retirement to do that movie. Patrick Wayne and I got to go up to Canada with them and a couple of the cowboys from the movie and spent some great time with Joel, and that was the thrill of my lifetime. it really was because he was my idol. There’s never been a better cowboy in the picture business than Joel McCrea. “Then Dan Duryea did several Laramies. In fact, he did the very first one. Dan and I became very close friends, and I loved Dan. Marvelous man, and I loved working with him. I’ve been very fortunate working with some really great actors, great people. “But it’s interesting. Dan was in the business for a hundred years! He was not a kid and started out in the thirties and forties doing all the contemporary-type films. Then, all of a sudden, he turned up doing westerns and doing them very well because he was such a good actor. “I’m not from the east! We’ve got to get this straight. I was born in Troy, New York. I left there when I was six years old and moved to Florida. I was raised in Miami and Key West. It’s not the east. It’s the south. I went to Miami Military Academy when I was a kid. I grew up in Key West, fishing and going to high school there. I didn’t move to California until 1950. I claim Florida as much as anything as my home, growing up in my younger years. I had to live in California because my parents moved there, and I went with them. I was sixteen years old. “Fortunately, I got into the motion picture business, and television, so I had to live there. I stayed there and worked there for fifty-two years. When I decided I’d had enough of it, I retired in 2004. We wanted to go someplace where we could have horses and fish and have a ranch, and we did. “In 2004 we bought this ranch outside of Gainesville, Texas, and here we are. She still works—I retired—but Jennifer still works. So, I’m not an easterner!
“When I was ten years old in Miami, I’d go to the Saturday matinee, you know, and watch three westerns a day for ten cents. I grew up just loving westerns, all those great, great westerns in the forties, when I was a young kid. When I got to Hollywood, I was sixteen years old. I hadn’t graduated from high school. I quit high school in ninth grade. So, I had to work. My dad said, “If you’re going to quit school, you’re going to work.” Well, I went to work the next day, and I was never out of work since. “I met Chuck Courtney, who played Dan Reid on The Lone Ranger television series. He rode the white horse, Victor, and played the Lone Ranger’s nephew. Well, he was doing that show, and he and I met and became friends. He was a cowboy. He had horses, quarter horses. I’d only ridden one horse in Florida in my life before I met him. Well, Chuck put me on his horses. I started to ride a little bit, you know, with him. Not much for a while, then, because we were friends,
HOOT AND GAMBLER WERE MY HORSES... I HAD TWO OF THE BEST PICTURE HORSES IN THE BUSINESS.” and he was a cowboy, we’d go to the western movies. Pretty soon I found myself wearing boots and Levis, western shirts and big hats and becoming more of a cowboy than anything. I was hanging out at amateur rodeos and did all that kind of stuff with Chuck. “Then I got drafted. The Korean War was on. I was nineteen at this point. So, I spent seventeen months over there, two years in the Army, came back home, and Chuck and I picked our friendship up immediately. In the meantime, I had gotten into the Screen Actors Guild and done some acting and dancing work. That was just to make some money. “When I got out of the Army I decided that I was going to get a real job, doing something, I didn’t know, with a future, and Chuck said, “No, no, no! There’s a new acting coach in town, Dick Boone, and you’ve got to go to his class.” “So, I did, and Dick liked what I did in class. Chuck had been at it for about a month before that. Westerns were big at that time. There were over 32, maybe 34,
westerns in prime time, in television. This was 1955. Dick knew that Chuck could ride a horse, so he had his class take riding lessons from Chuck. That’s where I learned how to ride. “Every Saturday, Dick Boone and the whole class, fifteen or seventeen of us, would go down to the stables, rent a horse, and Chuck would teach everybody how to ride a horse. He was a tough teacher! If you were flapping your arms, he’d ride beside you with a stick and bat your arm. I tell you, when he came close the next time, you kept your arms still. If you bent over in the saddle, he’d come by and crack you in the back with that stick. Then you’d sit up straight. “Well, it didn’t take long to learn how to ride a horse the right way. So, it was Chuck Courtney who taught me how to ride a horse, without a doubt. And since we’re on him, well, Chuck was one of the fastest draws in town. Chuck taught me how to draw that gun. He was fast, one of the fastest in Hollywood. He taught me how to do it, and I did it. That’s how I learned to draw. So, in a nutshell, that’s how I learned to ride a horse and draw a gun. “Hoot and Gambler were my horses. I owned them. My God, I had two of the best picture horses in the business. In fact, Hoot is a bit of a legend, as far as old wranglers would say because he was one of the best picture horses who knew “camera” better than the actors. “He was a ham! I’m telling you what. I could do anything off those horses. I could shoot off them with my .45 or my Winchester with no problem whatsoever. They would stop for the camera, on their mark, and never move while dialog was going on. That’s opposed to John Smith’s horse, Alamo. Boy, if we had a two-shot together, we’d ride up to the mark, and the camera is on us, all Alamo wanted to do was bite my horse! So, I spent half my time kicking him in the head to stop him from doing
that while we’re trying to do a scene. Of course, you never saw that. Then he would stop. But I’m just giving you a story about two types of horses. “Alamo in the long run, of course, was a good horse. He was John Wayne’s old horse, and Smitty got him from him. But Gambler and Hoot, well, they were both quarter horses, but Gambler was a cutting horse, so if I ever had any scenes on Wagon Train when cattle were around, then boy, he was perfect. He was a great horse. Both of ’em. They made me
ROBERT AND HIS LEGENDARY MOVIE HORSE, “HOOT.” look good, let me just say that. Both of those horses made me look good. “Gambler was sixteen hands, sixteen something, and God, his conformation was fantastic. He had a great attitude.
“Nowadays, I do festivals every year. What I like most about doing them is the fans. The fandom is up to 4,500 people. It blows my mind. I can’t believe it. But anyway, I can’t wait to get on the plane to get there and see them. They’re all so much fun! You know, everybody is so different. There’s always at least 200250 at each festival that I do now. I know them all. I have a personal relationship, in a way, with each and every one of them because they’re individuals. I don’t treat them as a group of fans. I treat them as the people that they are. I just have so much fun! I want to know all about ’em. “I got to see all my old western pals that I worked with throughout the years at these film festivals. Unfortunately, year by year, they keep passing away. I just lost Jim Drury, who was with me all the time. Dan Haggerty… you know, I always looked forward to being with these guys for three or four days, having fun all the time. And the fans have so much fun together. I mean, they go horseback riding, they stay where we are, in groups, and go visit the Grand Canyon. They post some great pictures on the internet. My God, there’s
and I’ve seen actors, young actors, who were good, fun, nice people. As soon as they get a movie or TV series, they turn into the biggest jerks you’ve ever seen in your life because now they’re an actor. Well, that taught me a lot of lessons. They’re not friends of mine anymore, that’s for sure. “My mother got divorced when I was very young, six years old, when we moved to Florida. I went to Miami Military School while she was dancing in the chorus. She met my stepdad, who was in the Navy, and married him when I was ten. I call him my dad, he’s not my stepdad, he’s my real father as far as I’m concerned. He’s one of the greatest guys I’ve ever known and taught me everything I know today as far as being a human being. “God, I love Texas. I’ve lived here sixteen years now. I love the Texas people. I love that I’ve got a concealed handgun license and shoot in my back yard. Texans are tough people and country strong. I like the old farmers and ranchers. They’re just great people, people from the area. I like the fact that they stand up for themselves here. I like Texas. I guess I’m just going to say that. “I just want the readers, I guess they are going to be fans at the same time, too, I just want to thank them for the great support that they’ve given me
“I LOVE TEXAS... I’VE LIVED HERE SIXTEEN YEARS NOW. LOVE THE TEXAS PEOPLE. THEY’RE JUST GREAT...”
groups of them. They’re friends, and they support each other. This is one heck of a fandom. It’s not easy to organize, but we have the time of our life. At every one of these, we have a private session, a Q and A. There’ll be a hundred fifty people in there a couple of hours, and boy, do we have fun. “I treat people as my dad taught me. He said, “Do unto others as you’d have others do unto you.” That’s the way I treat everybody. I’m not one of those actors that thinks he’s a big star actor. I don’t even like the word “star.” I’m just a motion picture and TV personality. Humphrey Bogart is a star. So, I just enjoy people, and I am who I am. My dad brought me up the right way, my stepdad. Jennifer is the same way. We just like people. I’ve never thought of myself as a star. I’ve been in Hollywood for fifty-two years,
ROBERT AND HIS WIFE, JENNIFER, AT HOME ON THEIR RANCH.
throughout my whole career. I’ve been very, very fortunate to have the fans and the fandom that I do today, and I can’t tell you how personally great it makes me feel that I’m well respected as an actor, and more than that, as a person, from all these people and fans, friends of mine. I don’t call them fans. I call them friends. Yes, that’s what I’d like for them to know. “Hands down, Jess Harper in the Laramie series was my favorite role! How could a guy get any luckier than to be able to play that character, written that well, as Jess Harper? It’s unbelievable. I’m one of the luckiest guys in the world, no doubt about that. I have several favorite episodes. Most of my favorites are where I do my own stunts and my fighting. I love Duel at Alta Mesa. I loved working with Fay Spain. I think she did three or four episodes. Fay was a great actress to work with. Oh, I don’t know, Star Trail, getting to work with Lloyd Nolan. I could go on forever. I mean every one of those shows had a great guest star, a great story, and were a lot of fun. The best part of doing it was getting to do it with John Smith. Smitty was the best to play Slim, and he and I got along so great for four years and helped to make that show what it was. “It was the same thing with Wagon Train. I hung out with Terry and Frank. They were pals. They were stunt men. They were cowboys. They were old John Wayne and John Ford people. Their dressing
rooms were right next to mine. All of us had a, might as well tell you this, we had a bank of dressing rooms at Universal Studios, and it was called Whiskey Row. The reason it was called Whiskey Row was because in the first dressing room off the main road was Ward Bond, the second dressing room was Terry Wilson, the third dressing room was Frank McGrath, the next dressing room was John Smith, then came mine, and the last dressing room was Lee Marvin. It was called Whiskey Row. “We had lots of fun after work. “Why did I wear gloves so much? It’s a cowboy thing. There’s barbed wire, riding horses all the time. I get asked that question all the time. Cowboys wear gloves. I wish I could say, “I wore ’em because,” but it’s part of my wardrobe. If you look at my wardrobe, at the red long johns that were ripped and hanging out of my sleeves, I don’t know, it was part of Jess Harper. That’s how I explain it. It didn’t hinder my draw, and in the fight scenes I did it protected my hands a little bit. I hope you know that I did all the horse falls, all the saddle falls and everything. I did every stunt that was required. Hitting the ground like that, wearing gloves saves your hands a little bit. It was part of Jess Harper’s costume. “No one ever coached me on fight scenes. Did you ever see The Range Rider with Jock Mahoney? Remember how Jocko fought? Every punch I ever threw I studied Jock Mahoney. He’s the man that I patterned every fight I ever did after. He was the best fight man, actor, in the business. That’s the way I fought, I learned it from Jocko. “No, I’ve never considered a biography. No! Absolutely not. When you do a biography, you have to tell the truth. I do not want to tell the truth about my life. And all my leading ladies? No. Nope. It’s nobody’s business. Nothing to tell. “My favorite western song? Oh, of course. “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys,” by Willie Nelson. Oh, my God, that’s it. That’s the song of all time. That suits me perfect.”
F THEY CAME BACK tonight, I’d kill them both. I brushed the hair off my face, dirt mingling with the blood from my cut lip, and stood up. The front door to the cabin hung open, but at least they hadn’t burned the place. They hadn’t killed me, either, and that was a mistake they’d come to regret. It had been dusk, and I was cleaning up after dinner, the sun like a big sunny-side up egg, low enough it was sinking into the prairie. Ray went to the barn to check on the horses when I heard the shots, then the laughter, which near froze me on the spot. I peered out the window and saw two men, both still on their horses, and then Ray, on the ground beside the open barn door, unmoving, a crimson flower blooming on his white shirt and spreading beneath him. I grabbed his Colt from the holster where it hung beside the door and crouched beside the stove. “Little Missus, we come by for some dessert,” said the first one, ducking his head as he came through the door, while his friend, a bit shorter, followed close behind. “We was thinking some pie?”
“Jesus, Seth, you kill me,” said the short one. “Pie. Huh.” He fingered his mustache and peered around. It was a small cabin, and it wouldn’t take them long to see me. I shot the big one, but he’d turned at the last minute and the bullet winged him rather than hitting his heart. He screamed like a gutted pig anyway. Before I could get off another shot, the other man hit me in the face, and the Colt clattered to the floor with me right beside it. He moved quicker than I could’ve believed and picked up the Colt, pointing it at my head. “Get your bitch ass outside.” I had little choice, and while Seth banged around inside, smashing things and presumably bandaging up his arm, his friend hit me enough to keep me down before he unbuckled his pants. By that time, I couldn’t move much except my eyes, but that was enough to see Ray’s eyes, only a few feet away, were open too but never going to shut again. I could feel the grit and little pebbles in the grass embedding themselves in my back as the man shoved into me again and again. “Ruben, you ever going to get finished?” The short man grunted and stood up, hauling up
his pants. “Your turn.” He kicked me hard in the side. “A little payback.” “My damn arm’s hurtin’ too bad to worry about that,” Seth said. “Let’s just get those horses and get out of here.” He held up the tin box I’d hidden under the mattress. “What I got here and what’s in there,”—he jerked his head toward the barn—“is worth more’n her.” Bastards. I watched as they stepped over Ray on their way into the barn. The two horses we’d saved so long for were inside, the mare and stallion that we’d bought to start our quarter-horse ranch. We’d brought them back from Dodge City two days ago. All I could figure is they must’ve seen us at the auction there and followed us back here, thinking we’d be easy pickings. I crawled closer to Ray and took his hand, still warm. The men came out of the barn, leading the two horses they’d tied with rope halters and turned toward their own mounts.
“What you want to do with her?” the one called Seth said. The shorter one gave me a glance. “Shoot her, I guess. She wasn’t much of a lay.” He got on his horse. Seth pulled out his pistol, but a snarling blur of black fur barreled into him, jaws locking on his wrist and knocking the gun from his hand. The dogs and their constant companion, the wild colt I’d tamed, had been out on their evening ramble. Susie, always faster than the other two, had arrived first, but we all heard more barking and the thunder of hoofbeats approaching fast. Seth was screaming again, Susie pulling him down, when Ruben shot her. “Goddamnit, Seth,” Ruben yelled, “get on your horse, more’s comin’.” Seth kicked the dog, picked up his gun, and vaulted into the saddle, turning back to fire a final shot at me. The bullet tore through the grass inches
from my head, but I couldn’t move. The last thing I remember was their hoofbeats as they galloped away, towing their bounty. It was full dark when I came to, the quiet broken only by the sound of whimpering, both mine and a dog’s. — DAWN BROKE WITH PALE streams of rose and gold tearing through the curtain of night. Poe whined and scratched softly at the dirt I’d just tamped down over the grave. I patted his head and sat down, dropping the shovel. I’d chosen a spot on the hill behind the cabin, under the only big tree we had. I’d buried Ray and Susie in the same grave. I didn’t think either of them would mind, and he’d appreciate the company, sort of like those Egyptian kings that got put in a tomb with their pets and food for the journey into the afterlife. Some preacher might not like it, but then I didn’t much care for their
interpretations of what God might like anyway, and there was no time for that. “Safe journey, my love.” I picked up the shovel. Poe and the colt, the three of us the only mourners, made our way down the hill. At the cabin, I stripped off my clothes and threw them in the fireplace, watching as the dying embers razed the pain and hurt from the cotton. I scrubbed head to toe, trying to do the same for myself. I put on an old pair of Ray’s pants and one of his shirts, braiding my long hair into a single plait. Pulling on my boots and cinching up the pants with a leather belt to which I added Ray’s Bowie knife, I headed to the barn. Rather than building a bigger house yet, we’d made a magnificent barn, at least by Kansas standards. The idea was to breed the best quarter horses and riding stock in the state, and the two stolen horses were the beginning of that dream. Our four other horses were still inside, nickering softly as I came in. I opened the stall doors and sent them into the pasture, then filled
their water troughs and tossed out enough alfalfa and hay for a few days and left the door open to the corral. The colt I’d ride myself. He was a tricky little devil, but with a sure step and a stamina that the others would never match, and we worked well together. I threw extra feed to the chickens and the two pigs. They’d all get along fine until I got back. That I wouldn’t get back was not a thought I was willing to entertain. In the tack room, I opened the wooden box disguised to look like a bench on the back wall. Ray had thought of the barn like a fort, much more defensible than the cabin. Here we kept the Sharps rifle Ray had used as a buffalo hunter, wrapped in oilcloth, and I knew he’d cleaned it just a week before. The walnut stock gleamed near as bright as the barrel. It wasn’t a practical weapon around the ranch, but like the barn, a last line of defense. Kansas had its share of outlaws, both white and Indian, and showing off a Sharps over the mantel was an invitation to trouble. A box of .50 calibers sat beside it and the .22 pistol I’d carried back in the day when I was a whore in Dodge City, just in case of an overenthusiastic customer. Both weapons triggered memories we’d rather forget and storing them in the barn had helped with that. I’ve never been ashamed of my past because that’s how Ray and I met. I hadn’t been in the game long, and he was just a kid, too, hunting buffalo. Neither of those professions were particularly palatable, but we’d both done what we had to. Both of us hard luck orphans, when we found each other, we found family we’d never had. We threw in together and never looked back. I stuffed the .22 in my boot and the box of bullets into one of the saddlebags, filling the other one with hardtack, biscuits, water, and a flask of whiskey. I whistled for the colt who seemed happy to be saddled, at least for the moment. Poe danced about beside the colt, sure he was going as well, and he was right. Poe and Susie were orphan half-wolf cubs, near death when I found them. Ray had laughed and hugged me, saying, “Mary, you take in any stray you can find, just like you did with me.” Now, at close to 150 pounds, Poe was the gentlest, smartest, and most loyal dog I’ve ever known, just like his poor sister. I didn’t bother to
pack food for him, as there wasn’t a rabbit born Poe couldn’t have for dinner. One look was all I allowed myself, the sun rising behind the little cabin, lighting the worn timbers, and glistening on the dew of the grass. I sought solace in the only way I could, and I was going to find it. — THEY’D GONE SOUTH, BY their tracks, which even I could see, and Poe had no trouble scenting. They were probably headed for Oklahoma, not back to Dodge, thirty miles east and full of people who knew those horses had just been sold to us. They’d had a long head start, and it was likely I wouldn’t find them today, even though I could travel faster. They were sloppy, the tracks ranging to and fro, as though the stolen horses knew they were being taken away from a safe haven and sought to turn homewards. Even though it was only May, by noon the sun was burning through my hat and my hair was soaked with sweat. I stopped and chewed on some jerky underneath some cottonwoods and let the colt have a long drink from the creek. Poe wandered a bit, but when I got back in the saddle, he trotted up, ready to go. I loved that dog, and I’d loved Susie, too, like the children I didn’t have. I couldn’t allow myself to feel anguish over Ray or her, because I needed that hard ball of hatred that had centered in my chest to be my guiding star. Any other emotion would only slow me down or stop me from doing what I had to do. I thought of Hamlet, which Ray and I had just finished reading, Shakespeare being our only book, one I’d bought for a dollar from a peddler in Dodge. We’d had a Bible but found Shakespeare to be a better guide to the human condition and truly the ways of the world and the things that could happen to people. “Revenge should know no bounds” was the line that kept repeating itself in my head and a mantra that I now had set my course upon. Although it wasn’t simple revenge I was after. It was justice I sought. By sunset, still having seen no sign of Seth, Ruben, or my horses, I decided to stop for a while, even though the colt was showing little signs of fatigue and was sure-footed even in the dark. I’d sleep for a time
and perhaps go on in the night, catching them when they least expected it. When I woke, the sun was already up, and both Poe and the colt, hobbled but anxious, were bent over me. I’d been exhausted, by physical exertion and grief, both of which had taken their toll. I comforted them both, splashed water on my face, breakfasted on a hard biscuit and a swig of water, and we started on. So far, I hadn’t seen another human soul, only the hawks and ravens and an occasional coyote. Hopefully that would change soon, but there were only two humans I wanted to see, and I hoped no one else would get in my way, from stray Indians that could kill me to settlers that would slow me down. The day passed without either of those events, and I decided to stop early. I hobbled the colt and didn’t bother to light a fire, falling asleep as soon as my head rested against the saddle I used as a pillow, Poe beside me, warm and snoring softly. This time when I woke, it was full dark, and I saddled the colt and headed
south, hoping to see some signs of a campfire in the darkness of the prairie night. This was my wish, as I didn’t want to come upon them during the day, which would be much to my disadvantage. An hour later, Poe barked softly, and I peered across the rolling hills, the nearly full moon giving me good access farther ahead. A half mile away, near a rising knoll of rock outcroppings, there was the glow of a campfire. We crept closer, slow silent going, the horse, the dog, and I, and stopped on the rock-strewn hill above. The horses were hobbled, four of them, including the two I sought, off to the side, while my two adversaries sat in front of the fire, passing a whiskey bottle back and forth. While conventional niceties dictated a dawn attack, I didn’t see any reason for niceties of any sort and no reason to get any closer. Besides, the firelight illuminated them just as well for my purposes. I took the Sharps from where I’d tied it to my saddle, set it atop a good-sized rock to use as a
mount, and loaded a bullet. Ray had taught me well, hours of practice shooting the rifle just in case I’d ever have need to. He’d finally pronounced me proficient enough, and now I hoped he’d been right. Their voices carried in the still, clear night. “We can sell these beauties for enough to set us up for months, Seth. I told you the minute I saw those two farmers walk away we were in clover, didn’t I?” “Yeah, you were right, as usual,” Seth said. “But you ain’t the one with an arm tore up by some monster dog and a bullet from that bitch, Ruben. I need more than a half share, since I’m the one took the hurt gettin’ it.” Ruben took a drink from the bottle. “Don’t make no difference. Thing is, it was my idea. I just took you along for the ride. You hadn’t shot the guy right off, we coulda killed them both in bed.” I sighted the Sharps on the middle of Seth’s chest, took a deep breath, and pulled the trigger. He went down hard, the shot echoing off the rocks like a thunderclap. My shoulder felt like I’d been kicked by a horse, but I reloaded and stared down at the campfire. Ruben had vanished, like a snake that crawls under a rock, and that was worrisome. Still, I hadn’t expected he’d sit there and be the next target. The easy part was over. They couldn’t have known where the shot came from, but after a few minutes I got uneasy. There was no movement in the camp below, but Ruben
wasn’t going to wait to get picked off. He could be anywhere, and the back of my neck prickled. The urge to sneak down there, finish things, and get my horses was offset by plain sense. I’d have to wait until dawn, and I couldn’t do it exposed up here. I scrabbled backwards along with Poe. Taking the colt’s reins, we made our way farther down to the flat, taking cover in some rocks and brush. Poe would tell me if Ruben was nearby. Lord, I was tired. Killing’s a weary business. I surely was not expecting the shot when it came, buzzing just over my head. I flattened myself onto Poe’s back, his deep growls resonating through both of us, and the colt had wisely skittered away. Pale light filtered through heavy clouds, and I looked around frantically, not raising my head, but I couldn’t see Ruben. “Stay.” I wasn’t going to lose anyone else I loved. I took off my hat, and Poe stared at me but didn’t move. I crawled on my belly behind the biggest of the rocks to get some cover with a better vantage point, the Sharps clutched in my hand. Another bullet cracked off the rock near my head. Where the hell was he? I ducked down, and then I saw him, perched not far from where I’d been last night. It was way too close. “Hey!” I yelled. “I just want my horses. Leave ’em, and we’ll call it a draw.” “Well, well. Little Missus.” He laughed. “Seth always had bad aim. I don’t.”
His next shot sailed over my head. I should’ve killed this one first. He was a little smarter. “What’d you shoot poor old Seth with, anyway, a buffalo gun? Half that boy was gone. I’d like to have that Sharps, Missus. Maybe we can make a trade. ’Cause, by the time you miss me once, before you can reload, I’ll have you and your gun anyway.” “What kind of trade?” “How about I let you leave, and you give me the rifle? The horses don’t figure anymore, girl. You shot my partner, after all. I call it a good deal.” I waited for a minute before I answered, my voice trembly. “All right then, mister. Deal.” I put the Sharps down in front of the rocks and retreated behind them. Poe remained motionless, and I patted him on the head. He came down the hill, a grin on his face, holding Ray’s Colt at his hip. “Come on out, honey, and we can shake on it.” So I did. I shot him in the face with the .22 and watched as his blood leaked into the stony ground and until his heels stopped beating a rhythm to go with it. He wasn’t smart enough. I left them both where they lay. Neither of them warranted my efforts at a burial, decent or otherwise, and I doubted anyone would miss them. Things can happen to people out here. I shooed off their horses and took my two. We were home the next night, all five of us, all safe in our respective beds. I take care of what’s mine.
ATHLEEN MORRIS lives and writes in
the desert Southwest. She is an aficionado of Western history and loves spending time
in southeastern Arizona, following in the footsteps of the people she writes about. The Lily of the West is her novel of the life of Kate Haroney, aka Big Nose Kate, winner of the Western Fictioneers’ Best First Western
Novel. Her latest novel, The Wind at Her Back is avail-
LATE SUMMER, THE PRAIRIE grass turned golden, and the sunsets were something special. I sat beside Ray’s grave on the hill behind the cabin, Poe’s head on my lap, watching my horses in the pasture below. The mare was pregnant, and I’d had two stud offers already for my stallion. Word got around. I lay down on the soft grass and put my hand on my stomach. The baby kicked for the first time, and I smiled. Ray had always wanted a boy.
be published by Five Star in 2021. “Mary, Mary Quite
more about Kathleen and her writing, visit her web-
able now and The Transformation of Chastity James will Contrary” is her first short story to appear within the pages of Saddlebag Dispatches. Kathleen firmly believes the key to good historical fiction is diligent research about the places and people she writes about. Kathleen is a member of Western Writers of America and Women Writing the West. She is a graduate of Prescott College and has taught writing and editing at Phoenix College. To find out site at kathleenmorrisauthor.com.
IM MALLORY WAS INSIDE, behind worn steel bars, breathing the dry rasp of cow dust and dehydration. And then he was out. Just like that. The creak of an iron hinge nudged him from sleep, and even as he rolled heavy legs from wooden bunk to stone floor, the prison gate swung away from his cell. Outside, a cow lowed. A horse nickered. Careful, wary, Jim Mallory let his weight settle into his boots, counting out a full minute before making another move. When he stepped out of the jail cell into the abandoned law office, dawn hit him square in the face, and he was careful to avoid the bright open door to the street lest Merle Judd or one of his cronies take note. Mallory looked around the room. Tried to figure it. The night before, he was locked in tight. Now he was out. His eyes slid toward the cranky key ring on Judd’s old beat-up desk then back to the open door where the steady clop of a horse sounded soft and low, and the smell of morning dew and summer crick wa-
ter drifted in to tickle the scruffy back of Mallory’s parched throat. He didn’t trust the lure of that door. Didn’t trust freedom offered up without a fight. A challenge? A set up. Mallory strained his hearing, listening for the heavy tread of his warden’s boots on his way back along the crusty boardwalk. At first, only the rush of Wyoming wind came from the drug out string of ramshackle buildings outside. Then a cow made a loud chuffing sound, and Mallory wondered about the herd. Sweet Smoke was a miner’s ghost camp. How was Judd’s crew managing to keep them fed and watered. Most likely, they weren’t. Mallory thought about his own treatment, how he’d been locked up in the old place for three days. Since Saturday with only a few crusts of bread and stagnant water. Back in Sawdust City, Linda would be wondering where he was. She’d be waiting. The whole damn town would be waiting.
The open door called to him, and he knew it was a trap. He took the dare anyway, striding on through to the boardwalk, eyes blinking against sun and dirt. To his left, a familiar whinny. Spinning on a crooked boot heel, Mallory saw his roan horse first, the flash of Merle Judd’s polished tin star second, the sweep of a duster and the swift lever of Merle’s arm going for his gun—too late. Mallory fell back across the threshold as booming lead sizzled past to smack into the splintered doorjamb, Judd’s voice climbing over the echo of gunfire. “You seen that, boys. You seen our prisoner, Jim Mallory, trying to escape.” Two additional voices sounded from the area of the cow pen. “We seen it, Merle.” “Damn straight, we did.” Judd’s voice was full of smug satisfaction. “Looks like this here is your reckoning day, Jim.” Mallory answered back to the street. “You had no cause to hold me, Merle. We both know that.” “No cause, hell. Them’s Cross Bar T cows you been rustling.” Mallory thought about the Lone Bar brand on the animals he’d purchased fair and square in Ridgeway. Since then, Judd and his men had altered the brands to convict him. The whole thing was a pretty barrel of pickles. “It’s just you and me talking, Merle. You set me up, be man enough to say why.” “That should be obvious enough, Jim. Man gets a thorn in his shoe he removes it.” “Is that how you think of me, Deputy? A thorn?” “You shouldn’t have ought to tried to run, Jim.” Judd’s laugh was oily and loose, just like the rest of him. “It’s running men get shot. Ain’t that right boys?” “That’s right, Merle.” Mallory chewed his lip, tried to still the flutter between his ribs that threatened to turn into an earthquake. Three against one. But Mallory knew the lawman. He knew his habits, and he knew the two brickheads he employed. Mallory had one chance, and he’d only get one shot at it.
He ducked down and out through the door, rolling across the wood into the dusty street. As expected, Judd jerked his trigger, fast and violent three times. Pulling to the right. His next shot landed on an empty cylinder. Mallory lurched to the left and pounded leather across the silt filled corduroy road to leap behind a crooked old privy. Judd always pulled to the right. He always fired in threes. And Judd’s two hired boys were worthless as tits on a boar. Mallory crashed between two thistle beds into the forest. Judd’s snake-like hiss followed him into the brush. “Run fast as you can, Jim. It don’t matter.” The deputy hollered long and laughed hard. “We’ll get’cha. You can make book on that, you damned thief.” Mallory ran from Sweet Smoke like a flame-lit cat. “You hear me, thief? You can’t steal cows and get away with it. You can’t steal from me.” Mallory’s legs churned through the foliage, the dry, prickly spice of pine and cedar filling his nose and throat. The rolling granite and loose shale terrain was treacherous. This high on the bluff above Moccasin River, gravity plotted against him. One misstep and he’d go ass over teakettle. One wrong move and he’d go down 500 feet to break his neck. Judd’s shout was a bird call from above, faint behind the trees. “I’ll see you in Sawdust you son of a—” Loose gravel slid out from under Mallory’s boots, and he controlled the skid with a wide stance, fell anyway, twisted, and took the brunt of the fall on his left hip. Pain, like a sober shot of hot black coffee opened his eyes. If he wasn’t careful out here, he could get killed. Rolling to a stop beside a friendly bear-sized boulder, he rubbed his bruise and took stock of his situation. Gauging time by the position of the sun, he figured he had twelve hours to cross ten miles of wilderness. No spring chicken, he was nearly 40 years old. And three days in the Sweet Smoke jail left him thick headed and heavy, like a wagon wheel hub full of sand.
Mallory climbed to his feet and pushed on, moving through molasses, joints popping, muscles slow to uncoil. He steered toward a clearing where the rock scattered into low slung piles and shallow swales of grass bowed with the wind. “Maaalloory!” Judd’s voice, farther away now, hard to pinpoint. Likely on the old Indian switchback that curved around to the east. Judd was a canny young hickory nut, tough seeming, but soft on the inside. His two friends were the same. They’d take a visible trail anytime rather than cut cross country. Mallory, on the other hand, knew the land well. He wasn’t afraid of it. He surveyed the way ahead, determined to make Sawdust City by dark. Where there was rocks, Mallory would climb. Where there was water, he’d wade. Where there was road, he’d run.
A reckoning day, Judd called it. Running day was more like it. Through a sunbaked oven. Mallory pressed his lips together with determination. That was okay. He’d been running his whole damned life. If only he’d thought to grab his hat from the hook inside Merle Judd’s jail. — MALLORY WAS A HARD man when he was young—good with rope and wire, tough with men, negligent of women. Expert with a gun. Linda Swain pushed all that away, set him down on his ass, and got him civilized. They got hitched and settled in Sawdust where he took a job. A good, easy job. Mostly filing official papers all day. In the evenings, he lit a pipe full of cherry-apple
tobacco and walked the long way home, stopping to talk with folks, taking the time to know them. Tim Huttington and Ralph Barnes, Mrs. Carmichael and Trudy Snow. It was on one of them leisurely walks he first met Merle Judd, and they became fast friends. But after Judd made deputy, things went downhill between ’em. The younger man held Mallory’s owlhoot past against him, but it was that self-same past that would beat him. Jim Mallory knew all the old rustlers’ trails. Three hours into his trek, he took a breather near Broker’s Farm at a clear spring-fed pool under a row of pines. Behind him, a twig snapped, and Mallory was up on his feet fast as a whip, a tough oak walking stick in hand. “Don’t be skeered, none,” said a gray-bearded voice. “Ain’t no call being afraida the likes of me.” From a part in the trees, a grizzled man dressed in fringed deerskin tottered out and across the sun and shade freckled wood lawn. When he raised his eyes,
they were the burnished amber of a lion. “Damned if it ain’t Jim Mallory,” said the old timer. “Lem Broker.” “What the hell are you doing a ways out here?” “I’d ask you the same.” Lem smacked his lips and drew three sparkling grass carp from behind his back. “Been t’the river.” Mallory turned up his nose. “Couldn’t catch nothin’ else, Lem?” “You help me clean ’em, we’ll eat ’em right here.” “I’ve had boot leather better than grass carp.” Mallory’s stomach rumbled in spite of it. Lem closed one eye and thrust out a defiant lip. “You got something better?” Mallory had to admit he didn’t. After they ate, Mallory stood and helped his friend stand. “Wish I could stay a while.” “Yeah, you never said what’s got you in such an awful hurry.” Mallory grinned down into the roughhewn fea-
tures of the white-haired codger. Like Linda, Lem Broker had always seen the good in Jim Mallory, had always tried to nurture it along when all the dark clouds and bile threatened to otherwise overwhelm him. He couldn’t bear to tell Lem the truth about the Sweet Smoke jail. He couldn’t bear to lie. “I’m running.” And before he could explain, a peal of thunder rolled between the mountains and slapped the old man flat to the ground. Stunned, Mallory tipped backwards on his heels, catching himself at the last second as a red stain blossomed at Lem’s beltline. A second shot, and he dropped to the ground, scurrying to the old man’s side. “Talk to me, Lem.” The eyelids fluttered, the breathing came in spasms, but when Lem found his sight and focused, the pupils were clear, each amber iris strong. “I’m nicked,” he said. “I think. Maybe that’s all.”
Mallory’s head was on a swivel, going around and back, checking over each shoulder. A narrow cleft between two trees exposed the spring to the wider expanse of wilderness beyond. Judd was out there. He hadn’t gone by way of the Indian road after all. The deputy was tracking him. “We’re in the fat of it now,” said Mallory. “Who’s shootin’ at us, boy?” Mallory told him, and Lem let out a low whistle. “I heard tell Merle Judd’s the best shot with a carbine this side of Wild Bill himself.” “He’s not as good as he thinks he is.” “I guess you’d know.” Mallory took the comment as a jab and jerked his chin toward the old man. But Lem’s half-crooked grin made him bite his tongue. He caught the old man’s laughing expression and couldn’t help but match it. “Yeah. I guess I would at that.” Sliding an arm under Lem’s shoulder, he changed his tone of voice. “We can’t stay here. Let me help you up.”
“If Judd sees us, he’ll cut us in two.” “I ain’t done running, and neither are you. Not yet.” — THEY SLIPPED DOWN ALONG the side of Wallace Butte and across a long patch of open grassland. Lem’s injury was just what he’d said it was, a nick, but he didn’t move too fast, and Mallory wasn’t too eager to test the open field. The old man urged him on. “We got no other way around. You go on ahead, and I’ll hoof it behind.” “We’ll go together.” The thunder didn’t follow. Maybe the trip around the butte had given Judd the slip. When they crossed Moccasin Creek at a watering hole full of ducking frogs and clouds of gnats, Mallory shared a shoulder with the old man. At Marner Siding, Lem shared his canteen. When they made the old line shack south of Sawdust, they stopped to rest. The sun was low in the late afternoon sky, and Mallory wasn’t shy about gazing back the way they’d come. Lem wagged his head and pulled a bite of tobacco from a mealy twist. “He ain’t there, son.” “What makes you so sure?” “We got this far without him catching up. I think he cut back to the road and plans to meet us in town.” Lem shrugged. “Judd always struck me as the kind of man craved an audience.” Mallory scratched the back of his neck and sat down next to his friend in the shade of the cabin, letting the roughhewn timber scratch his back through his sweat-soaked linsey shirt. For just a few seconds, he relaxed. “You gonna tell me what happened?” “Rather not.” Lem nodded. They were quiet a while before the old man said, “You ain’t on the prod again?” “I left Sawdust on Friday and rode straight to Ridgeway and the Lone Bar ranch to look about some cows. Ten of ’em.” “You and them damn cows.” Mallory raised his eyebrows. “What? A man can’t dream?”
“These cows… you lookin’ to acquire ’em… legal?” Mallory kicked a scuff of dirt in Lem’s direction and cursed. “I paid for ’em. Drove ’em halfway back home by myself. It ain’t the way you’re thinking at all.” “Old ways are the hardest—” “For some people to forget, apparently.” Mallory leaned forward and poked a finger toward Lem’s nose. “I been nothin’ but upright since me and Linda’s wedding.” “Okay, son. I believe you.” Lem launched a stream of brown saliva, settled back in with his chew. “You tell it your way.” “I’m embarrassed is all. Shamed that a half-ass burr-head like Judd could catch me off guard.” “Snuck up on you, did he?” “Ambushed me outside Sweet Smoke.” Mallory rubbed the three-day old knot on the back of his head. “When I woke up, it was Saturday. I was locked inside the old jailhouse at Sweet Smoke, the cows penned up outside.” “Got your horse and guns too, I imagine.” “He’s got my horse in Sweet Smoke. Probably gave my guns to his no-good cronies.” Lem nodded. “So it weren’t nothin’ you done.” “Hell, no—it weren’t nothin’ I done. Don’t act so surprised.” “I told you I believe you.” Mallory’s voice was quiet, reserved. “You know as well as I do what this is about.” Lem chewed a while, then spit. “I guess I do. Today bein’ what it is.” “The running day.” Lem nodded. “’Call it that.” He shrugged. “That Judd ain’t been nothing but trouble since that star got pinned on his chest.” “Sorriest day of my life.” After some thought, he took it back. “Second sorriest.” Now it was Lem’s turn to raise his eyebrows. “What’s the sorriest?” Mallory climbed to his feet and put a hand on his sore hip. “The day I let you talk me into bein’ sheriff.” — FLANKED ON EITHER SIDE by his gunnies, Merle
Judd waited in the evening sun at the edge of town where the big wood sign was painted white and read Sawdust City in blue. From the last high rocks above the carriage road, Mallory watched them. “They mean to cut you down in cold blood,” said Lem, lying flat beside him on top of the warm rocks. “He’ll say you didn’t have a bill of sale for Cross Bar T cows, which you don’t.” “They changed the brands while I was locked up.” “He’ll say the Cross Bar T registered a complaint.” “We’ll get word to the Lone Bar foreman in Ridgeway. He’ll back up my claim.” “Judd’s not fixin’ to let you live that long. It’s today he’s worried about. Today he wants to win. He’s betting on it.” Mallory breathed in deep. The old man was right. It was all about today. Winning the day. The running day. “What time you got?” asked Mallory. Lem took his watch from a pocket. “Twenty of eight.” “Polls closed ten minutes ago.” Judd paced back and forth across the road. He wasn’t a patient man, Mallory knew. Since the day he’d pinned the star on the man, Mallory had watched the deputy, worked to know him. In large part, he’d succeeded. He predicted Judd would
turn back and take the soft road to town, and he had. “Alone on the road, against three of ’em… you haven’t got a chance.” “What’s that you said before, about Judd needing an audience?” “Am I wrong?” “You’re right that all alone I don’t stand a chance.” Mallory looked around at the scrub of brush and dry timber. “What about in front of the entire town?” That was something else again. If Mallory could raise enough of a crowd…. He slid back down behind the bluff into a patch of dry sage. “Help me gather some wood and a whole lot of kindling.” “Kindling? For a fire? You aiming to set up camp?” “I’m aiming to gather an audience.” The two men got to work, the long day catching up with them both. They stumbled through the job, building a high pile to burn, wanting nothing more than to rest. But there wasn’t time. The election would be decided tonight. One way or other, the running day would be over. Mallory struck a match against the wind and shoved it against a twisted chaff of brush. It sputtered and took, and he shoved it between two dry limbs at waist height. The spark grew, and an eager stream of orange flame coursed through the mound, sharing heat, light, and a whirl of smoke. “Not enough,” said Mallory, fighting through a blur of exhaustion to break up another batch of kindling. “We need more. If they’re gonna see it in town, we’ve got to pour it on.” How long they fed the fire, Mallory didn’t know. Ten minutes or ten years. After a while all he knew was the heat and the wind and the choking, awful smoke. The first horse to appear on the scene carried Merle Judd. “What the hell is this?” he said, palm at his gunbelt. But there was no time for conversation. Or gunplay. More horses pulled in and a wagon full of men led by Tim Huttington and Ralph Barnes.
As Mallory stumbled to greet them, Don Snow caught him in mid fall, and Mrs. Carmichael tended to Lem. “You okay, Jim?” said Don, his gold tooth glinting in the fire light. “What’s going on? Where the heck have you been?” “Long story, friend. Long… story.” He glanced over his shoulder to where Merle Judd waited. Impatient. Restless. And then there was Linda, her dress clean and straight, her strong arms around him, her smell of lavender soap and powder. He wanted only to melt into her, to let her carry him to the wagon the way he’d carried Lem across that first open field. He wanted only for the day to be over. But there was one more thing. The reason for it. “The election,” said Mallory. “The ballots….” “We’ve counted the ballots,” said Linda, her smile big and radiant. “You won Jim.” Then her voice got loud for the entire crowd to hear. “You beat Merle Judd by more than a hundred votes.” “Which ain’t bad in a town of a two hundred-odd folks,” said Don. Everybody cheered. “Congratulations, Sheriff,” said Linda, kissing him on the cheek. “You ain’t explained about the fire,” said Don. “About where you’ve been these past three days?” “Time enough for that later… deputy.” “Me? Deputy?” Mallory nodded, the long-awaited victory pouring strength into his limbs. “I’d appreciate it if you’d pull together a posse of men. We’ve got a job to do over at Sweet Smoke.” He stood up straight, grimacing at the pain in his hip, and peered through the smoke to where Merle Judd had been watching from the saddle of his black steed. There was no sign of him now. Him and his boys had vanished. That was okay. Sheriff Mallory knew Judd. Knew what kind of man he was in a crisis. He knew Merle Judd would be running.
ICHARD PROSCH grew up planting corn,
tending cattle, and riding the Nebraska range in a beat-up pickup and a ’74 Camaro. He
worked as a professional writer, artist, and teacher in Wyoming, South Carolina, and Missouri, while amassing enormous collections of paperback fiction, comic books, MEGO action figures, and vintage vinyl. With his wife, Gina, he created “Comics and Emma Davenport,” a strip that ran in the Comics Buyers Guide newspaper and spawned ten issues of Emma’s own comic book. The duo continued their creative endeavors, developing licensing style guides for several cartoon properties and working with Tribune Media Services and the Hallmark Channel. In the 2000s, Richard built a web development studio while winning awards for illustration and writing—including a Spur Award from the Western Writers of America. His work has appeared in novels, numerous anthologies, True West, Roundup, and Saddlebag Dispatches magazines, and online at Boys’ Life.
Previously published in New Reader Magazine, and in Song of the Highway. a short story collection by Sharon Frame Gay, published by Clarendon House.
F IT ISN’T ONE thing, it’s another,” my mother was fond of saying. It seemed to be her answer for everything. She said it when I was sick, if the hens quit laying eggs, or a storm was comin’. There was no way of knowing if we were heading for a train wreck or just a bumpy ride. So, I paid scant attention when she reeled through the door one morning, mumbling about one thing or another, and fell into the chair at the kitchen table. “Go fetch Daddy, Charla, and tell him to drive me into town.” “What’s wrong?” I asked, peering out from behind the book I was reading. It was the good part, and I resented stirring from my chair and going out to the field to holler Daddy in. “Copperhead,” she said, then collapsed. Her arm was swollen, turning black, and there were several distinct holes in it. More than one snake bite. My heart thudded. I didn’t stop to put on my shoes and raced across the fields through the dirt, rocks, and clumps of ma-
nure. I elbowed my way through the cornfield, the stalks taller than a grown man, following the sound of our tractor. Daddy was at the far end of another field. I screamed and motioned with my arms until I thought they’d fall off, but he was driving in the other direction. Pin-wheeling across the planted furrows, I decided yelling was doing nothing but hurting my throat because he couldn’t hear me. Daddy reached the end of the row and turned the tractor around. When he saw me, he sped up, stopped a few feet away, and climbed down. I told him what happened. Daddy left the tractor running in his panic as we cut across the fields together. “Charla, get over to the Beasley’s! Call the fire department. Maybe they can meet us halfway up the road to town! Tell ’em it’s a snakebite!” I split off and sprinted down the gravel road to the Beasley farm, my bare feet cut and bloody. Nobody was home. Their cars were gone, the dogs sleeping under the porch. The doors were never locked, so I flew up the steps and threw myself over the threshold, knocking over a pile of books on a small table as I reached for the phone.
I talked to the fire department, then saw Daddy’s truck as it sped by the window. I burst out the door and chased after my mother and father until they disappeared over a hill. Then I put my hands on my thighs, bent over and retched. — AFTER MAMA DIED THAT day, sorrow roosted in our hearts. It was confusing, because copperheads are usually found down by the creek that divides our property from another farm, twenty acres from our house. “Why was your mother all the way down at the crick? I don’t understand.” Daddy said it over and over as we sifted through our grief and shock. It was a mystery. One we’d probably never figure out, but nothing would ever be the same again. I didn’t feel the same either, tiptoeing to the barn the next morning in knee-high rubber boots to fend off snakes. Using a pitchfork, I poked through the straw before loading the manure into a wheelbarrow and dumping it behind the building. Horrified, frightened, and heartbroken, my emotions swirled like oil in a puddle. The whole town turned out for Mama’s funeral. After the service, we formed a caravan of cars and trucks, raising dust on the dirt road to the cemetery. The preacher led us through the ceremony, then The Lord’s Prayer. My boyfriend, Britt—known as Codger among our friends—was restless as we stood together by the grave, his skin itching from a wool blazer he’d borrowed from an older brother. He shifted from side to side until I wanted to punch him in the arm. — “CHARLA, BABY, I DON’T know what to do.” Codger said later that night. We were in the backseat of his old greasy Chevy, with enough mysterious stains on the seat that it looked like one of those modern art paintings. Codger had his pants unzipped, bare-chested, dusty boots still on his feet. He rose off me and lit a Marlboro, blew the smoke out in a lazy ring. I pulled down my skirt and swung my legs around.
Reaching for his cigarette, I took a drag and kept the smoke in my lungs until it burned. “There’s nothing you can do.” I patted his leg. “I know you’re sorry. Everybody’s sorry. But it won’t bring my mama back. I need you to love on me, just a little bit.” Codger sucked the last remaining tar from the cigarette, then tossed it out the window. He was a big farm boy. The kind of kid who plays tackle on the high school football team, square headed and beefy. He was one of those boys who looked all grown up, even as far back as sixth grade. That’s why we called him Codger. He could pass for twenty-one years old now, which was a bonus when he drove over to the next town to buy booze. We’d guzzle a beer or two, then head for the backseat most Saturday nights. But tonight was different. Codger couldn’t get worked up enough to make love. I guess he kept thinking about that damned snake and what happened, shameful that he was trying to poke the newly departed’s daughter off to the side of an old farming road. My begging for comfort and affection gave him the willies. I can’t say I blamed him. I wasn’t behaving like myself. We crawled back into the front seat, and Codger drove me home in silence. He walked me to the door with a flashlight, both our heads swiveling around, looking for coiled vipers hidin’ in the grass. Daddy was upstairs asleep. A half empty whiskey bottle and a cloudy glass rested on the table, right where Mama collapsed. Our dog, Pal, snuffled at my legs and wagged his tail, looking around for Codger. “He’s gone home, Pal.” I patted his head and climbed the stairs. My room was the same, but everything had changed. I looked out the window toward the barn and saw one of our cats creeping along the building, hunting for mice. But in my mind’s eye, a snake was waitin’ in the weeds. My heart sped up. I tried to relax and sat on the bed paging through a magazine but couldn’t land on the words. It was futile. That snake slithered into our lives and turned them upside down forever. —
THE FOLLOWING SPRING, I looked out at the auditorium on graduation night. My father sat alone in his only suit, no tie, hands in his lap like he was at church. I saw the bald spot on top of his head, a vulnerable patch of skin pushing away at his hair like one of those mysterious crop circles. When they gave me the diploma, I blew him a kiss and saw the tears in his eyes all the way from the stage. Afterward, the graduates piled into cars and drove out to Custer Lake, lugging coolers full of booze and food. We sat on top of the picnic tables and toasted each other. Two of my girlfriends were pregnant, sealing a time-honored tradition of marrying right after graduation. This is what we did in our small town. We grew up, we mated, we reproduced. Codger and I just got lucky, I guess. It wasn’t for lack of doing the deed. I didn’t want to marry him anyway, and I know for sure he wasn’t interested in marrying me. He was off to the University of Nebraska next fall on a football scholarship. Codger attached a Cornhusker flag to the antenna of his car. It fluttered in the breeze when he drove through town, like a knight who won a jousting match. I had no idea what I would do with my life. Daddy needed help on the farm with Mama gone. We didn’t have the money for college. I was pretty much stuck. Grizzled old Mike Taylor, who owned the Elbow Room Tavern on the seedy side of Main Street, hired me to wait on customers, sweep the floors, and wipe tables. I soon learned to hate the smell of booze and smoke. The men who sidled up to the bar had known me all my life, and known my parents too, but they looked me up and down like I was the Tuesday special at Mary’s Diner next door. Sometimes on a Friday night, younger men piled into the Elbow Room and gathered around the jukebox, talkin’ loud and smoking hard. Codger would wander in when he was home from school, but our romance had sputtered and died. He didn’t even try to pick me up. He sat in his college sweatshirt and told adventurous tales to our old high school friends. I’d walk up with a tray of beers and his eyes shifted away, like he was ashamed of me and what I’d become. Once in a while, he brought college friends home, and they looked at me curiously. I wanted to toss the beer in their smart-ass faces, ask them how they thought
they’d make a living in this one-horse town. Because of my attitude, tips were slim. But they would have been anyway with all these lackluster losers. — ONE LATE NIGHT AFTER the bar closed, I walked into our kitchen and found Daddy sittin’ up for me, a cup of coffee steaming on the table. His eyes were bloodshot, and his face was pale. I don’t think he’d slept at all. “Charla, sit down. We have to talk.” He fumbled with a coin he took out of his pocket, looping it back and forth between his fingers. The coin spun across the table and bounced onto the floor. He leaned over, picked it up, and stared out the window into the darkness. I saw his reflection in the glass, lookin’ like a ghost of what he used to be. I pulled out a chair, sat down, and held my breath. Something was coming. It was in the air, like when a tornado is making its way across the open fields. There’s a silence before the crashing wind, and right now it was dead calm in the house. Daddy cleared his throat, took a sip of coffee. “I’m selling the farm. I’m gettin’ too old for all the work, and after losing your mother, I don’t have the heart for this anymore. Figure I’ll ask around, see what we can get for it. There’s a lot of work needs to be done, but the soil’s good, and somebody could rebuild the barn and have a shot at decent farming.” I stared at him, opening and closing my mouth like a trout I’d caught in the creek as a kid. I felt so sorry for that fish that I took out the hook and set it free. Now, the barbs of Daddy’s words lodged in my throat and tightened. The farm was all I’d ever known. It was ours. It was a part of me and Daddy and Mama, God rest her soul. “Daddy, you can’t! You were born and raised here, and so was I. Where would you go? What would you do for God’s sake?” “I’m too old to handle this myself, Charla. I’ve been talkin’ to Cousin Wes in Kansas, and he said I can retire there pretty cheap. It’s time, honey. Losing your mama was the end of all of this for me. We could look for new opportunities in Kansas. It’s time to let this go.” He opened his arms wide, as though embracing
the entire farm. Then they fell to his side in defeat. He heaved himself up from the chair and put the coffee cup in the sink. “We’ll talk again, but right now, I gotta get some shut-eye.” Wandering out to the back porch, I checked for snakes, then sat in Mama’s old rocker. Just sittin’ there made me feel a little better. I ran my hands over the arms of the chair, worn smooth from my mother’s hands. I thought of all the days I sat on the floor next to this rocker, shelling peas or watching her knit a sweater. And all the nights I sat out here on the porch swing with Codger, lettin’ him put his sly hand up my skirt, taking a chance, even though light shone through the kitchen window and we heard my parents as they talked about their day. Now, the porch was cold, the chair made old man noises, squeaking and groaning with every movement. I got up and walked to the top of the steps that led down to the path to the barn. It was quiet, a few night sounds coming through the darkness. I heard an owl in the distance, callin’ for a mate. Pal grumbled in his sleep, legs moving like he was chasing a rabbit. I hardly slept that night, but somewhere in the early hours, I thought of something that might work. — THE NEXT AFTERNOON I walked across the fields to Codger’s farm. He was home for spring break. He was bare-chested, flattened out on a chaise in the backyard, soaking up the sun. His mother’s car was gone. This was a good thing, as I always thought she didn’t like me very much. Codger raised his head and gave me a wave. I walked across the fresh mown grass and patted his coon hound, Huck. “Hey, Charla, how’s it goin’?” Codger rose from the chaise and gave me a hug. He smelled like beer and sweat and other familiar things that would make it easy for me to pick him out in the dark. His arm lingered across my shoulder, and he brought me in for another hug. “Wanna beer”? he asked, reaching into a cooler and plucking out an icy bottle. “No thanks, Codger. I came to talk to you about somethin’.”
“It ain’t Codger no more.” He took a swig. “I’m Britt now that I’m in college.” He climbed back on the chaise. “Come sit,” he offered, patting the end of the chair. I sat down and told him everything that had been going on. — DADDY WAS ALREADY IN the house cooking rice and beans for supper when I walked in. He gave me a little smile, turned the heat down, and put a lid on the pot. Then he sat at the table and lit a cigarette. I leaned against the counter and took a breath. “Daddy, I think I might have an answer for us, at least for a while.” I rolled up my sleeves like I was gettin’ ready to scrub our lives clean. Daddy crossed his arms over his chest and listened while I explained. I’d asked Britt if he knew of anybody at college working on their agriculture degree who might want to apprentice here at the farm for a while, get handson experience. He said he’d check around. That way, Daddy could have someone here to help but not have to pay much. We’d provide free room and board and a few dollars a week. Maybe we could work with a new apprentice every year. My father stubbed out his cigarette and pursed his lips. He got up and stirred the rice, then sat down again. “Is that what you want, Charla? To try something like this first?” I nodded. “It might give us some time until we figure things out. I can help around here, but it’s easier for me to cook the meals and handle the barn than to haul in the heavy crops. It’d be like when we hire extra men at harvest time. Only this guy can stay in the guest bedroom, and we supply him with a roof over his head.” My father cocked his head and looked at me. He nodded. “It just might work. That’s some smart thinkin’, honey.” We spent the next two hours talking about the possibilities. A month later, a young man named John Lasher showed up at our front door. He was tall and lanky with blond hair that I knew would be too long for Daddy’s taste. We shook hands all around and sat in the living room and discussed things. Then I took John on a tour of the house. Daddy said John should be ready in half an
hour, and he’d walk him around the farm before supper. “Here’s your room,” I said, sweeping my hand in an arc, like I was showing him a consolation prize. John threw his suitcase on the bed, looked around the room, then peered out the window at the farm. “Looks great, Charla. Let me wash up, then I’ll go find your dad.” I noticed his eyes were green with tiny flecks of gold in them, like an agate I once saw at the county fair. I led him down the hall to the bathroom, then ducked under his arm and stepped aside. It felt a little awkward to have this man filling up our hallway. I hoped he’d be nice. It was strange at first, having John here. He worked hard with Daddy every day, and when they’d come in for supper, they’d talk on and on about farming well into the night. Sometimes I’d hear them arguing, their voices rising all the way up the stairs and down the hall to my room. On those nights, I wondered if this was a good idea, if things might work or not.
As time went by, it was easier in some ways. John was always polite. Never made a pass. Which, to be honest, annoyed the hell out of me. I upped my game by wearing makeup and making sure I looked nice every day. John seemed oblivious to my charms, and I was thinkin’ maybe he was right to leave me alone, but it was agitating. I bristled when he was around, slammed his food on the table, and stalked into the other room with my plate. He looked mystified. It was gratifying. One morning, John volunteered to wash our windows with Daddy. They pulled out the ladder and John climbed up and down with a bucket of soapy water. I brought more old towels outside. John reached down for them and bumped me, knocking the towels out of my arms. “Sorry,” he muttered. “Watch what you’re doing!” I hollered, then flounced back into the house. Before the screen door even closed, John was behind me.
“What the hell’s wrong with you?” Those agate eyes were stormy, and he clenched his jaw. “Nothing,” I muttered. “Nothing at all.” I jutted my chin out and crossed my arms. “Maybe this isn’t working out.” John shot the first volley. I shrugged, looked straight ahead like a dog when he’s caught thievin’ in the pantry, and tapped my foot. He stomped out the door, and I ran upstairs, flung myself on the bed and cried. I wasn’t even sure why. It just seemed like the thing to do. — LATER THAT NIGHT, JOHN walked into the Elbow Room, ordered a beer, and sat down at a table in the corner. I brought it over, and he looked up at me like he was looking for the answer to life itself. “Thanks, Charla. Hey listen, I’m sorry about our spat earlier. I didn’t mean what I said.” John leaned back in his chair, spread his palms on the table. I looked down at the part in his hair, his scalp burned from working in the sun all day. “It’s okay,” I muttered and walked away before he could say anything else. I got some satisfaction that he sought me out and apologized. My spirits lifted. Two strangers were at the bar, guzzlin’ beer and making obnoxious noises toward the locals. One of them wore a greasy shirt with sweat stains under the arms. The other one had his hair all slicked back with oil, dirty jeans frayed at the cuff. As I walked by, they whispered and laughed. I ignored them and picked up a tray with drinks for another table. As I passed their way again, one reached out and patted my butt. The whole tray went flying, glass shards everywhere. My face burned with humiliation and anger. I bent over to pick up the mess, and they snickered. “Bend over a little more there, honey, we’re likin’ the view!” John stood so fast his chair toppled over. He walked straight up to the men, fists clenched. “Leave this woman alone, or I might have to hand your asses to you.” The Elbow Room got quiet. Mike stopped polishing a glass and set it down on the counter. The two strangers got off their stools and faced John. He held
his ground. There was a scraping sound, chairs sliding out from tables as half the men in the bar got up and stood behind John. One cracked his knuckles. Mike said in a low voice, “You best leave here right now, gentlemen. Consider those beers my treat and never come back.” The men huffed out, swearing, and tossed a lit cigarette on the floor. John put it out with his boot, then kneeled to help me clean up the broken glass. “Are you okay?” he asked. My hands were shaking. He turned to Mike. “Charla’s leaving now for the evening.” It wasn’t a question but a statement. Mike nodded, and I took off my apron and laid it on a bar stool. Out in the parking lot, all was quiet. The men were gone. John walked me to my car, checked inside, and told me to lock the doors. I drove home with John following behind me. “Don’t tell Daddy,” I said when we pulled into our driveway and parked our cars. “This happens all the time. I could lose my job.” “And that would be a bad thing?” His eyes glittered in the light through the kitchen window. I was welling up with tears again, so I mumbled a thank you, then pounded up the stairs into my bedroom. When I closed the curtains, he was still standing in the driveway, staring into space. Things were awkward the next day. I think we both wondered if this would continue to work. Being near him in the kitchen set off some sort of electrical feeling. I’m surprised Daddy’s remaining hair didn’t stand on end just by witnessing it. That morning, John and Daddy dug a new post hole out on the road for the mailbox. I wandered out behind the barn to the chicken coop. The chickens weren’t laying as many eggs as they used to, which was puzzling. I scattered feed in their yard and tucked a few eggs in my basket, then turned to go. An old red biddy squeezed past me as I opened the gate and flapped into the blackberry bushes behind the coop. I heard her clucking and fussing. Damn, I thought. Now I had to chase that stupid chicken around and mess with those blackberry thorns. If I didn’t, a fox would grab her for sure. I parted the bushes, and saw something shiny on
the ground. It was Mama’s metal pail for gatherin’ eggs, still with the straw inside it. Broken shells were scattered everywhere. I froze. My mother hadn’t been down at the creek the day she died. She had been right here near the chicken coop. The copperhead was in these blackberry bushes somewhere! It was poachin’ eggs, and it killed my mother. Blood swished in my ears as I flushed with fear and fury. I backed away, ran up to the house and pulled Daddy’s pistol out of the kitchen drawer. Checked for bullets. Then walked back, shaking with rage. Heart pounding, I pushed apart the lower branches, pistol aimed in front of me. I saw nothing at first. Then I saw the hen. She was dying, legs quivering and eyes glazed. Off to my right was a tangled, writhing mass of golden skin. A nest of copperheads. Mama never had a chance. One raised its head, tongue darting out as it tested the air. Its eyes were as dead as that chicken when they locked into mine. I stepped back. It unwound from the others and slid across the ground toward me. Shaking, I pulled the trigger and missed. The jolt from the pistol knocked me on my back. The snake came at me fast and struck. Its fangs punctured my wrist. I aimed the gun again and blew its head clean off. Then I pumped all the bullets into the nest, scattering the snakes.
“Don’t move!” I heard John yell. He came running up behind me, took the pistol from my hand, then lifted me under my arms and tossed me over his shoulder. “Harold! Harold!” he shouted as he raced toward the car. “It’s Charla! Copperheads!” Daddy sprinted across the driveway. John placed me in the back seat, then got behind the wheel and gunned the engine. My father threw himself into the seat next to me, put my head on his lap. “Christ, John, hurry! No time! No time!” We spit gravel as John wheeled onto the county road and fishtailed. Then the car righted itself, and we sped away like the Devil was after us. I stared out the window at the sky. The clouds raced by, telephone poles etched across the blue like a picket fence, and I thought of my mother and those copperheads “Mama,” I whimpered. “Hold on, hold on,” Daddy sobbed. I felt a strangeness wash over me, like a blanket being drawn over my soul, soft and out of focus. — I DIDN’T OPEN MY eyes at first but heard noises. Voices, telephones ringing, footfalls. I didn’t want to wake up. My body felt heavy. Slowly my mind cleared, and I looked around. Daddy and John were sittin’ in chairs next to the hospital bed. I had an IV in one arm, and my other arm wore a huge bandage with just my fingers poking out. A wave of panic washed over me as I remembered what happened. I struggled to sit up, but my father pushed me back down gently, reached for my hand and brought it to his cheek. “The doctors say you’ll be fine. They’re keeping you here overnight as a precaution, honey. Lucky for us it was one snake bite, not multiple. You killed three of those bastards. I think one or two got away.” Daddy looked like an old man. The two-day stubble on his cheeks was gray, and his hands were still dirty from digging that post hole. His eyes were red from crying. John slumped in the other chair, his arms straight
down at his side as though he’d collapsed in it. They both look so worried. He and Daddy looked out of place in the hospital, but their faces were like home to me. I thought about the past couple of days, the copperheads, and the farm. It seemed like we rubbed against the things that, in the end, weren’t important at all. The things that are important can walk right out of your life. Talking was an effort, but I looked at their faces and whispered, “Stay.” “Charla, honey, we can’t right now. We need to get back to the farm this afternoon.” Daddy said. “We have to feed the animals, then John and I will burn down the blackberry bushes near the chicken coop. But we’ll be back later, after supper.” I shook my head. That wasn’t what I meant. I looked straight at John. “Stay.” He understood, reached over and brushed the hair off my forehead and smiled. “Yes” he said, “I’d like that.” I nodded, feeling warm all over, and it wasn’t from the snake bite. “We gotta go.” Daddy pushed himself out of the chair, clasped John’s shoulder, then bent down to kiss me. “We’ll be back as soon as we do our chores, I promise.” As they walked out the door, Daddy said to John, “Son, we need to pick up some feed on the way out of town, then check the crops. A big thunderstorm’s on its way, blowin’ in from the north.” John muttered as they walked away, “Well, if it isn’t one thing, it’s another.” The sound of his footsteps down the hall was a song I wanted to hear again and again. I looked outside the window at the clouds gathering in billowing fists, the sun beating them back, refusing to give in. It was as though my Mama was up there saying things will be fine. We just have to wait for the storm to pass.
SHARON FRAME GAY
HARON FRAME GAY lives in Washington State with her little dog, Henry Goodheart. She grew up a child of the highway, playing by the side of the road, and spent a lot of those years in Montana, Arizona, Nevada, North Dakota, and Oregon. Interested in everything Western, and in horses in particular, she bought her first horse when she was twelve. Although she is a multi-genre author, she has a special fondness for writing Westerns. Her Westerns can be found on Fiction On The Web, Rope And Wire, Frontier Tales, Typehouse Magazine, and will soon be appearing with Five Star Publishing in an upcoming Western anthology. She is also published in many anthologies and literary magazines, including Chicken Soup For The Soul, Crannog Magazine, Lowestoft Chronicle, Thrice Fiction, Literally Stories, Literary Orphans, Adelaide, Scarlet Leaf Review, Indiana Voice Journal, and others. She has won awards at The Writing District, Owl Hollow Press, Women on Writing, and has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. You can find more of her work on Amazon, or as "Sharon Frame Gay-Writer" on Facebook, and Twitter @sharonframegay.
LIVING IN THE SHADOW OF THE SUPERSTITIONS Echoes from the ancient mountains hold stories of the Lost Dutchman Goldmine, Apache ghosts, and treacherous trails. LARRY NEWTON CLARK & BARBARA CLARK CLOUSE
TANDING ON THE FLAT desert floor of the Valley of the Sun in the center of Arizona, you can identify where you are by the border of mountains in the far distance. In the small agricultural community of Coolidge, the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument still stands as a testament of how tribal lands existed in the past. From that focal point, you can find your bearings since the sun rises in the east. To the west, a shorter series of hills and mountains called Signal Peak looms over the cotton fields and broken adobe walls of the old structure known as the ruins. If you face south, you can see the saddleback outline of the Picacho Peak, an area designated as a State Park and scene of a Civil War battlefield. On a clear day, you can look due north and see the purple toned outline of a long mountain range. When you live half-way between Phoenix and Tucson, you know that northern formation is the Superstition Mountains, located east of Phoenix and bordering Apache Junction, Arizona. The Superstition
Wilderness Area has lured our family for generations, to dream of its treasure, to hike its trails, to seek the challenge of climbing the unknown paths, maybe to catch a glimpse of the Lost Dutchman’s Goldmine or the ghosts written about in myths of the past. Our family has walked across the desert surrounding the rocky slopes, climbed upward into the canyons, following the legends of the treasure, and returned with their own tales of adventure. — PART I DURING THE 1950s, OUR father and some of our uncles made a daring decision to go search for the gold in the Superstition Mountains. With grandparents living in the farming community of Coolidge, Arizona, we were there one summer on vacation when the men decided to make the trip. Newton E. Clark (our father) from Muskogee, Oklahoma, was a
treasure hunter at heart. He convinced Reuben Lawson and brothers Winson and Emmitt Underwood to make the approximate hour drive with him. Many years later, we found the photos that proved they had succeeded in climbing through the treacherous terrain. After discovery of the 1950s photos, Larry Newton Clark, musician/singer/songwriter, selected one of the old black and whites for the cover of one of his latest albums: Superstition Mountain Music - Legends II by Greywolf. — PART II SINGER/SONGWRITER/COMPOSER LARRY Newton Clark was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma. He discovered his musical heritage came from
his father, Newton E. Clark, who could pick up any stringed instrument and play it with ease. Larry taught himself how to play the guitar at age fifteen and has been in pursuit of success since his high school days. Mr. Clark lives in the desert community of Apache Junction, which is at the northeastern edge of what natives call the Valley of the Sun in Arizona. Due east of Phoenix and Scottsdale, the city is a haven for senior citizens who flock to the mild temperatures during the winter months while their homes in the north and east are covered in ice and snow. The area is also known for the southwest desert setting, museums about gold mining camps, dude ranches, and cowboy wild west tales. The largest tourist influence in the area is the presence of the Superstition Mountain Range and its legends of the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. Looming on the north east side of the city limits, the Superstitions rise majestically from the desert floor. The scene of many western
movies, this mountain range is currently designated the Superstition Wilderness Area by the USDA Forest Service. With legends and tales of the hidden gold, Apache raids to protect the cache of buried treasure, ghosts of the miners wandering through the maze of the Peralta Canyon, visitors flock to the adventurous trails to hike the Superstitions, hoping to catch a glimpse of the gold. At age 71, Larry is a recent survivor of the coronavirus COVID-19. Although Larry still suffers from the lingering side effects of this contagion, he perseveres in his musical career. Playing with his band, Greywolf, Larry continues his support of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and at local military or veteran related events. Larry takes note of his 50+ years in the music business and his rocky road to a loyal fan base. He recently discovered that his albums are being played on the radio in Australia and New Zealand, and listeners from around the world are eager to hear his songs. “I’ve been asked many times why I live in the Arizona desert near the Superstition Mountains. That’s
an easy question to answer. Two events in my life drew me here, to live and work in these beautiful surroundings. “When I was very young, we lived in Oklahoma and came to Arizona to see my grandparents, aunts, and uncles. They lived in a small town, about 30 miles southwest of the Superstitions. On one trip, in the mid 1950s, my dad, Newton E. Clark, and a few of our uncles, drove up to the Superstition Mountains to look for the Lost Dutchman goldmine. They spent the day and took several photos, and oh, yes, never found the gold but had some great stories. “I have always remembered those photos, and they somehow affected me deeply. The wild west always comes to mind when I see them—my dad, standing proudly with his rifle and the Superstition Mountains in the background.” “The second event from my childhood took place ten years later. My dad came out to Arizona and gave
me my first rifle, and we all drove out to the Superstitions for the day. We climbed a very long way up the west face, on Siphon Draw Trail, and all the little kids made it all that way. We stopped and took a photo of the valley far below. We could see all the way across the valley to South Mountain. My dad and I got stuck with some Cholla cactus, a very painful experience, but it’s a part of living in the desert. “My Dad went back to his home in Oklahoma, and I stayed in Arizona with my mom, stepfather, and my three sisters. I’ve lived in Arizona since the early 1960s. I became a musician in high school, moved to Phoenix after high school, and helped form a band. I’ve played music my entire life—writing songs, recording, touring, and playing concerts and clubs all over America. “The Phoenix area was always my home base, and I raised my family there. I began playing in Apache Junction and Mesa, Arizona, in the 1990s, and loved the area near the Superstitions. I seemed to be drawn there. So, in 2000, I moved to Apache Junction and began researching the Superstitions for song ideas. I met many old
timers and asked quite a few questions. I read lots of books on the Superstitions. “I already knew how to play the American Indian flute, and that helped me get the stories across. Being a guitarist my entire life made it easy to compose songs of the southwest. I’ve released several CDs based on the Superstition Mountains. Every song on them was written, recorded, and produced by myself, with the help of my band, Greywolf.” “A few years ago. I tried to find the exact spot, on Siphon Draw Trail, where my father’s picture was taken in the 1950s. I got very close with a photo of me in the same spot on the trail. I have come full circle from when I was inspired by my dad in the 1950s.’’” “My dad loved the Superstition Mountains,
and I do, too. I wrote a song on my first Legends of The Superstitions CD – ‘All in A Young Cowboy’s Dream’ - about his dream to find the Dutchman’s Gold. All the songs on the CD are about the Superstitions.’’” —BARBAR A CLOUSE is retired from the Department of Justice in 2009 after 20 years spent working in the Office of United States Attorney. She is a children’s book author and has published an inspirational novel for the middle grade reader, Eyes of the King (2005), a colorful Native American tale titled The Healing Lodge (2011), and a storybook about a rescue dog, Penny Finds a Home (2015). Clouse lives on a farm south of Muskogee with her husband Jerry, where she enjoys gardening, growing gourds for art projects, genealogy, and entertaining their grandchildren.
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ACH BLADE OF GRASS twisted then leaned in unison like some natural chorus line. A hot wind—the natural breath of some unseen evil—pushed an eclectic mix of prairie grasses down only to have them rise again. Each blade returning to stand full upright as if only to defy nature’s incessant pushing. And through wide eyes, a little blondehaired girl named Molly Marie Anderson watched. Stems of buffalo and tall gamagrass reached skyward, defiant across a vast stretch of small rolling hills deep in Western Kansas. The stems swayed, bent and fought to remain standing against a wind that never seemed to rest. The little girl watched the grasses falling over, then back in a timeless ritual like the waves of some great ocean. As far as she could see, the scene never changed. There were no trees, no singular structure either natural or manmade to block her view. Huge white puffy clouds floated overhead often reaching high into the deep blue sky. Now and then they blocked the sun creating irregular shade patterns across the prairie floor. The land was alive, an idyllic mix of beauty and mystery.
Six-year-old Molly watched the family dog chase a rabbit that had ventured too near the family home, and she smiled. Life was good. The dog she called Spots was a mixed breed of assorted colors and parentage. His efforts were in vain, but the girl was mesmerized by his efforts. The Anderson family lived in a sod home built into the side of a hill—one of the few in the area. Sod blocks carved from the prairie floor were stacked like bricks on top of each other to form the walls. Only two small windows and the front door were made of wood. Grass born of the sod grew wildly over the roof like a man’s unruly hair. Only where a chimney emerged from the roof was any attempt ever made to keep the grass cleared. Thus nature was making every effort to reclaim the sod, perpetuating the never-ending struggle between man and nature. The house blended into the surrounding landscape. A narrow stream fed by a spring of unknown origin was their only water source. So it was here deep in Comanche country surrounded by an endless prairie and wide open skies the Anderson family had homesteaded two years earlier
and literally taken root. Odds of their success were against them, and they knew as much. Molly was the youngest child, and she had come as a pleasant surprise to a couple who had given up hope of ever having a daughter. Three teenage boys were of great help on this prairie homestead, but for Molly’s doting mother, this blue-eyed little girl was special. She barely noticed the sudden appearance of her sixteen-year-old brother riding bareback on the family’s aged buckskin mare. But Molly was startled when he shouted, “Comanche! Downstream and headed this way.” Her mother was suddenly there roughly picking her up like a sack of flour. And in spite of her protests, the woman carried her up on the ridge overlooking the house. There she found a stand of buffalo grass and laid Molly down. “Stay here! Keep your head down and don’t move until I come get you! You understand me, child? Don’t raise your head and don’t make a sound.”
With that last set of instructions, her mother was gone. Molly lay trembling in the grass wishing Spots would come lay with her in this grassy shelter. But she dared not call out for him. Within minutes she could hear her father barking out orders to her brothers and mother. She knew they were taking cover in the sod house, well-armed and ready. Molly didn’t understand why she was not with them. What she didn’t know was arrangements had been made with a nearby family that should something terrible happen to her parents, the neighbors would know where to find the little girl. A hunting party of between ten and fifteen Comanche had been following the narrow stream looking for game and had stumbled on the Anderson soddy. They rode in from the west with the morning sun reflecting off their bronzed, leathery faces. Molly’s father stepped from the sod home and confronted the unwelcome strangers. Comanche trouble, while always a possibility, had not been an
issue since the Andersons moved into the area. The nearest neighbor was more than three miles away. Angry voices carried up the ridge and found their way into Molly’s sensitive ears. She could hear her father shouting but couldn’t understand the responses. Not that it mattered. A solitary gunshot exploded from below, and an otherwise quiet morning was followed by screams of anger and pain. An idyllic prairie morning gave way to death and dying. Molly trembled and clutched a small cloth doll to her chest. She dared not look... dared not lift her head to watch. “Stay here! Keep your head down and don’t move until I come get you!” The words of her mother echoed loudly in her head. She fought down the urge to look... to gaze on the carnage so close at hand. Often they had practiced for this hour, this moment. So many times her mother had led her to this very spot and told her to lay still. Her mother had explained to move would mean being seen and sure death... so she lie among the blades of grass and waited. Her mother would come get her eventually. Molly felt the wind against her face as she watched the blades of grass refusing to give way to that same wind. Yes, they would bend often nearly flat only to stand again. They refused to die. So she lay still often realizing she was holding her breath. Must not forget to breathe, she told herself. Then she realized there was no sound... no movement from below the ridge... not even the whimper of a field mouse. Did she dare roll over in the direction of the sod house lest she be found... and tortured? Molly shuddered at the thought of foreign hands touching her.
She chilled at the knowledge death was so close at hand. A fresh blast of wind disguised as a simple breeze swept over her then over the ridge and down toward the rolling prairie beyond. Then she heard a shout but was content to let it ride over her and out of earshot. She now watched individual blades of grass each in its own singular struggle for survival. Again, she whimpered but quickly admonished her own frailty. “Be quiet. Be strong,” she told herself startled briefly by the sound of her own voice. The little girl found herself whispering to the wind to be quiet—even the chatter of birds singing and chattering worried her. A hawk circled overhead watching the Comanche attack below. A meadowlark rose to find less noisy surroundings. “Momma?” Molly felt a tear escape from her left eye and find its way down her dirty cheek... then another followed. She cried. Holding tightly to the well-worn doll she prayed a prayer of innocence and youth. She tried to find some degree of solace within this momentous hour. Insects along with leggy grasshoppers and such... then a bumblebee floated nearby. Now, her left ankle itched, but she dared not move. Her mother had told her “don’t move.” Her mind raced to a better more innocent time. Chickens feeding on insects such as those near the house. Some old hen bound for Sunday dinner finding a timid insect to delight and enjoy. Baby chicks chasing grasshoppers made her smile. More shots... more screams. The Comanche were in control.
Molly smelled smoke—the earthy kind born of burning grass on top of the sod home. She had smelled that scent before. Prairie fires had never made it this far south, but she remembered the smell of the smoke and the bright orange glow as the fires burned along the horizon at night... always seeming so close. There was a growing stench on the winds now. The breezes had turned and were now blowing up the ridge and over her hiding place. Smoke flowed over her, creating its own cloud of choking terror. She found it increasingly difficult to breathe. “Stay down. Stay in the grass!” This warning rushed over her again and again. Her brain drifted toward some measure of unexplained madness. There was another smell now... a sweet distasteful odor of unknown origin. The smell was on her quickly as it penetrated her nose. Her nostrils were on fire with this unknown scent.
Molly heard one last scream for mercy as the fire and smoke engaged her home. There was a sizzle of burning flesh as the fire consumed her family. Death was unmerciful and all consuming. She tried to peek between the tufts and blades of grass, her eyes trying to focus through the gray smoke which was being fed by the remains of her family now perished. Her throat filled with vomit as she choked down the knowledge her family was somewhere inside the burning inferno below. The Comanche shouted and waved their weapons in a victory celebration. Molly, despite her age, felt a rising anger—hatred beyond all measure—well up within her heart. Short and thick. Her hand instinctively moved to cover her nose and mouth. Molly fought down the urge to stand and rush to her family. “Stay here until I come get you! Do you hear me? Stay here. No matter the circumstance.” Must think of happy things such as butterflies and kittens, she told herself.
Still a fear rose within her. A lonely, depressing fear full of terror that all but consumed her. She pressed closer to the prairie floor as if trying to hold onto something, anything familiar and free of this terrifying moment. Fear gave way to tears. Then she felt a calm rise over her. Her mind pushed aside the moment leaving to later the crackling sounds brought on by burning wood and grasses. Her legs and arms ached, stiff from lying so long in one place... one position. Her back itched and the urge to scratch was overwhelming. Molly tried turning to see the sky, perhaps the horizon, but the distance was too great and the smoke too thick. The grasses swayed in the smoke-filled air, bending away from the burning home only to rise again as the wind died down. For even in the face of pending death, the instinct to maintain the status quo to find some sense of normal is instinctive. Molly lay still, for her mother had told her to do so.
The screams had long since died as had their source. Molly knew little of such morbid things, so she waited. Even now with smoke all but consuming her, she refused to look, instead curling up in a fetal position squeezing tightly to the one constant she understood. Her mother had always come to get her before and would again. Why hasn’t momma come to get me? I’m tired and this isn’t fun anymore. There was no answer. Not even the meadowlark spoke now. There was only a rush to escape the flames below. Fire from the burning house was being spread by the wind to nearby grasses and was now climbing the hill toward Molly. By the time it reached the ridge top where Molly lay hidden, it would be a full-blown prairie fire. The Comanche had crossed the stream and sat on their horses and watched. Like a tender young rabbit or young prairie chickens afraid to move, Molly lay
in the spring grasses and waited... unsuspecting, innocent. Like a new fawn hidden she lay still. A bird rose angry near Molly, and she felt fear if only for a moment in the excited bird’s cry. A rabbit rushed past her, and she could see terror in its eyes. She felt warmth, a rising heat from below the ridge. And she beat down the urge to look. “Be quiet!” she whispered to herself, although the crackling sound of burning grass was near, and the smoke was heavy on the wind. Grasshoppers and other creatures looked to escape, and a field mouse raced by so close as to be touched. The heat from the burning grass rushed toward her. “Momma... come get me! Momma! Momma, please! I’m hot, momma!” Bend down the blades of grass here on the Kansas prairie. Feel the gentle breezes touching the innocent and the bold. Know that death eventually comes to the just and the unjust. Bend down the blades of grass for even here the winds of death shall blow as nature reclaims her blemished soul.
PHIL MILLS, JR.
HIL MILLS, JR. is the award-winning author of Where a Good Wind Blows and Where the Wildflowers Dance, both Western novels of historical fiction set in southeast Wyoming. He’s also written three highlyacclaimed children’s books Bandit the Cow Dog, Mud Between My Toes and Scooter: The Cow Dog. Mills is a longtime member of the Western Writers of America (WWA) and currently serves as WWA Vice President. He was a WWA Spur Award Finalist winner in 2010 for Best Western Audiobook for Where a Good Wind Blows. Mills is a member of the Montana Historical Society and is a lifetime member of the Custer Battlefield Historical & Museum (CBHMA). He is also a member of the Oregon-California Trails Association (OCTA). Mills is also a graduate of the Chad Nicholson Rodeo Announcer School in Fort Worth, Texas. His experiences include being a small town newspaper editor, farm magazine editor and work with two major advertising/public relations agencies. He lives in Texas and is currently writing the third book in his “Good Wind” Western Series, entitled Where Cold the Waters Run.
“MODERN COMANCHE,” AN 1891 WOOD ENGRAVING OF A LONE COMANCHE BRAVE BY FAMED WESTERN ARTIST FREDERIC REMINGTON (PUBLIC DOMAIN).
DEADLY PURSUIT How a blood feud between marauding Comanche and a group of buffalo hunters led to one of the darkest chapters in the history of the famed Buffalo Soldiers of the U.S. Cavalry MICHAEL MCLEAN
EATH STRETCHED IN EVERY direction in this flat, forsaken portion of the region known as the Llano Estacado or Staked Plains. The vast area of approximately 32,000 square miles takes in a good part of west Texas and far eastern New Mexico. In a letter to the King of Spain in October 1541, Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, leading more than 1,000 soldiers and Indian aides in search of the fabled golden riches of Quivira, described the expanse he had been exploring as vast plains, “…with no more landmarks than if we had been swallowed up by the sea... there was not a stone, nor bit of rising ground, nor a tree, nor a shrub, nor anything to go by.” The prelude to what would become known as the “Nolan Expedition” or “The Staked Plains Horror,” as the Galveston Daily News was to call it, was part of the “Buffalo Hunter’s War.” The history of this “war” began in December of 1876 when a group of approximately 170 Comanche warriors, women, and children headed for the Llano Estacado from their Indian Territory reservation.
Warriors from this band of Comanche under the leadership of their war chief, Black Horse, attacked a group of buffalo hunters in February 1877. That action resulted in the death of one of the hunters, Marshall Sewall, wounding of several more, and the theft of their stock. During the following months, this band of warriors continued to conduct raids on the hunters and steal stock. In retaliation, an armed force of buffalo hunters attacked Black Horse’s camp on March 18, 1877. During the battle of Yellow House Draw, near present day Lubbock, Texas, Black Horse fled. He was later reported to have been killed at the battle of Lake Quemado, near the present town of Morton, west of Silver Lake, on May 4, by Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry under the command of Captain Philip L. Lee. However, the Comanche killed was Red Young Man, a fearless and reportedly reckless warrior—not Black Horse. Two different groups, or expeditions, undertook pursuit of the marauding Comanche. The first, a cadre of twenty-eight buffalo hunters, was made
up of a combination of Civil War veterans from both sides, former trappers, and an assortment of other men of mixed heritage. Diverse in background, they all shared one thing—they were fighters. This group was under the leadership of James Harvey, a Civil War 4th Cavalry veteran and experienced buffalo hunter. All were searching for buffalo herds, but the Comanche interference had become a serious problem. A key figure in this lot was to be an ex-Comanchero and Mexican American, Jose Piedad Tafoya. The Comancheros were essentially traders from New Mexico, Texas, and other Southwestern areas that bridged the gap between the Comanche people and their desire for trade goods such as tobacco, tools, cloth, and flour. In return, the Comancheros received items such as hides and livestock. Tafoya struggled with English, but he was a skilled guide who knew the Staked Plains better than most others. It was for that reason that James Harvey made him the lead scout for the buffalo hunter’s expedition. The second group was a United States Cavalry unit under the command of Captain Nicholas M. Nolan with Lieutenant Charles Cooper serving as his second in command. An Irish native, Nolan enlisted in the Army in1852 and soon found that working with horses suited him well. Earning an officer’s rank during the Civil War he remained after its end, volunteering to serve with the Tenth Cavalry Regiment and commanding its A Troop. It was reported that A Troop consisted of sixty African American “Buffalo Soldiers,”—so named by their Comanche and Cheyenne enemies. Many in his group were raw recruits without experience in desert country. Under orders to find and punish the Comanche marauders, Captain Nolan left Fort Concho on July 10 headed toward Bull Creek some 140 miles distant on the southeastern edge of the hot, arid Llano Estacado. At Bull Creek, Nolan established a supply base a short distance from a camp created by the buffalo hunters. It was here, on July 17, about seven miles east of Muchaque, or Mushaway Peak, that the two groups in pursuit met.
DRAMATIS PERSONAE: THE MAJOR PLAYERS INVOLVED IN THE “STAKED PLAINS HORROR” OF 1877. AT TOP LEFT, COMANCHE WAR CHIEF BLACK HORSE AND HIS WIFE. AT BOTTOM LEFT. CAPTAIN NICHOLAS M. NOLAN, USA, COMMANDING OFFICER, A TROOP, 10TH U.S. CAVALRY REGIMENT.
Although there was a lack of trust displayed by the buffalo hunters, Nolan showed them his orders, and the two groups agreed to mutually pursue the Comanche. Nolan split up his troopers on July 19. Wagons were sent back to Fort Concho to gather more supplies and return to the Bull Creek supply base while Nolan and Cooper pushed on west toward Cedar Lake with forty troopers. That evening the two groups made a dry camp and prepared to start up the rugged caprock that would lead them onto the Llano Estacado proper which rises from about 3,000 feet in elevation in the southeast to 5,000 feet in the northwest. Their goal of reaching Cedar Lake entailed a brutal climb of about 700 feet in elevation, up onto the Yarner, from the Bull Creek base camp. The following two days were spent making that trek. Finally, on July 21, the combined group reached a playa in the Double Lakes area that the hunters knew of. The playa was a non-draining, closed basin that could be either dry or contain remnants of rainwater that would remain ponded until it evaporated. Fortunately for the travelers, they found water that remained from a June cloudburst and proceeded to use it to refresh themselves and their stock. Enter Quanah Parker. A war leader of the Comanche Nation’s Antelope, or Quahadi, people, Parker was the son of Quahadi Comanche Chief Peta Nacona and an Anglo-American woman, Cynthia Ann Parker. She had been kidnapped as a child and adopted into the Comanche culture. After battling repeatedly with Colonel Ranald S. “Bad Hand” Mackenzie in the Red River Wars, Parker peacefully surrendered and led the Quahadi Comanche to the reservation at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Parker would, in the future, be a notable spokesman for the Comanche people. To recognize his actions, the federal government would appoint him principal chief of the Comanche Nation. However, late on the hot afternoon of July 21, 1877, Quanah Parker and a small group of Comanche
AT TOP RIGHT, COLONEL RANALD S. “BAD HAND” MACKENZIE, USA, COMMANDING OFFICER OF THE 4TH U.S. CAVALRY REGIMENT. AT BOTTOM RIGHT, FAMED COMANCHE WAR LEADER QUANAH PARKER. BOTH MEN HAD PARTS TO PLAY IN THE NOLAN EXPEDITION AND ITS AFTERMATH.
men and women rode into the camp occupied by A Troop and the buffalo hunters. He was equipped with Army horses, supplies, and rifles—and his own agenda. Armed with a forty-day pass that permitted him and his companions to leave the reservation, Parker made his intentions clear by relating it to Jose Tafoya who translated for Nolan, although Parker spoke English well. Nolan was forced to accept their objective as the pass was dated July 12 and signed not only by the Fort Sill Indian Agent J. M. Hayworth but more importantly, the 4th Cavalry’s Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie. Parker was to be permitted—without harassment—to track, find, and lead the wayward band of Comanche back to the reservation. Quanah Parker and his group departed the camp at Double Lakes and headed southwest toward Cedar Lake in search of the wayward Comanche. After enjoying the refreshing water of the playa and considering the situation, Nolan headed his troops out on a night trek over the remaining distance to Cedar Lake, which they reached on the morning of July 22. Nolan had been to the location in 1875 at which time there was some moisture. On this trip, however, water was very scarce and was obtained only through the all-day task of digging holes in sand and collecting small amounts at a time. Jose Tafoya and two others left Cedar Lake early in the morning of July 23, to scout for Comanche in the direction Parker had gone. Later in the morning, Quanah Parker returned to the Cedar Lake camp, stayed for a few hours, and departed once again, this time to the west.
On the morning of the 24th, Tafoya’s group returned and reported finding the trail of a few Indians headed back toward Double Lakes. Nolan headed his troops back toward Double Lakes arriving mid-day on July 25. Conditions had not changed, and the men spent much time digging holes in the damp sand and gathering water a cupful at a time. At this point, several of the buffalo hunters decided to ride west toward Rich Lake in hopes of finding the Comanche. Others of the hunter group chose to return to the base camp on Bull Creek. To complicate the matter, on this day Captain Nolan demoted First Sergeant William Umbles, due in part to the sergeant’s attitude, in particular with regard to the lack of water for the soldiers. Nolan was displeased that the sergeant had not done his job to see that the troops had always refilled canteens when possible. This incident lost immediate focus when two of the hunters returned from Rich Lake late in the morning of July 26 to report that many Comanche warriors had been sighted near the lake. The Double Lakes camp was struck, and soldiers made ready to pursue the Indian group. However, several hours passed before getting underway with the temperature over 100 degrees. During the process, and perhaps because of the difficulty to get water, Nolan for some reason did not ensure that all his troopers had filled their canteens. Thus, began The Staked Plains Horror. July 26, Afternoon and Evening. Following the late start, Nolan, his troops, and a few buffalo hunters and their leader, James Harvey, headed west toward Rich Lake. Upon reaching the lake, they found Jose Tafoya and some other hunters who then related there were only eight Comanche—not a large band. They also found the lake dry. The head scout, Tafoya, suggested that there might be water on to the northwest. Captain Nolan decided to start in that direction, but it became too dark to travel, and a dry camp was established. July 27. Nolan and his troops as well as the remaining buffalo hunters moved out. Their route paralleled Sulphur Draw through sandy ground that
THE CROSSED SABERS INSIGNIA OF THE 10TH U.S. CAVALRY REGIMENT, THE ORIGINAL BUFFALO SOLDIERS.
“BUFFALO SOLDIER,” FREDERIC REMINGTON’S CLASSIC 1888 DEPICTION OF A BLACK TROOPER FROM THE 10TH U.S. CAVALRY REGIMENT (PUBLIC DOMAIN).
“THE ADVANCE,” 1888. ANOTHER OF ARTIST FREDERIC REMINGTON’S WORKS DEPICTING THE 10TH U.S. CAVALRY REGIMENT (PUBLIC DOMAIN).
slowed progress considerably. By mid-morning, the Comanche found the column. Apparently, the Indians decided to use the terrain, increasing temperature, and absence of water against the group. The Comanche split up going in different directions. Some of Nolan’s troops and the hunters followed, chasing false leads and spending time in vain. Jose Tafoya, his partner, Johnny Cook, other hunters, and a few soldiers kept moving forward looking for a place where the various Indian paths might come together. Eventually they found it, and word was relayed to Nolan who started the main group moving again. Tafoya and Cook kept tracking out in front of the others, so Nolan sent a trooper to
tell them to wait. When Nolan and the main column finally caught up to the trackers, Tafoya suggested there could be water at Lost Lake, near the present town of Dora, New Mexico, but that was likely where the Comanche were. Nolan knew that neither his men, nor the hunters, were up for a battle with the Comanche. James Harvey then suggested sending a small group of hunters and troopers for water that he believed could be found in the Blue Sand Hills some six or seven miles distant. Captain Nolan disallowed the action and determined to keep moving. Following the scout, Tafoya, Nolan’s command marched two miles to the west at which point the guide turned northeast with the hunters following trailed in turn
by the buffalo soldiers toward Silver Lake. As the day wore on, both Army and civilian horses started to give out. Men were starting to drop from their mounts and troopers in better shape helped them to move forward as they were able. As darkness fell, the group had travelled some fifty miles and was spread out over some two miles. Nolan called a halt to allow men and horses to rest and those lagging behind to catch up. It was at this point a small group of troopers led by former First Sergeant William Umbles separated from Nolan’s command. The day had been gruesome, hot, and frustrating—with no water to be found. July 28. A confusion of gunshots occurred after
midnight. Visibility was near zero and from whom the gunfire originated was not determined. Some felt it was the Comanche who everyone knew were in the vicinity. Others thought it might be Jose Tafoya and his water detail who had disappeared earlier to go out in front of the column—it was not. At the break of dawn, the group, now somewhat refreshed and rested by a cool night breeze, resumed the march toward Silver Lake. After about fifteen miles, however, Nolan changed his mind and their direction. His decision was to turn and head back to the known camp at Double Lakes rather than continue toward Silver Lake, even though Double Lakes was nearly three times as far.
It was at this juncture that the soldiers of A Troop and the buffalo hunters parted ways. The hunters continued toward Silver Lake but with a lack of continuity. Due to limitations of their horses and their physical condition, the hunter group became spread out over the route. Fortunately, water was found at Silver Lake. Various hunters and a few soldiers, including William Umbles, reportedly attempted to get water back to A Troop— unaware that Nolan had changed direction. The day grew much worse for the soldiers following Captain Nolan and Lieutenant Cooper. Men who preferred to keep going on toward Silver Lake began to complain, and the conditions of the day before intensified. The heat was almost unbearable, and again men fell from their horses and others faltered. Troopers began to drink their own urine and then that of their horses. Brown sugar was made available to attempt to make the foul liquid more palatable, however, like drinking ocean water, the salt content only worsened the situation. Many men became sick and unable to swallow. By the time the sun dropped below the western horizon, urine was no longer available as the men were almost completely dehydrated. Nolan halted their advance. Troopers were wandering off, and his command was falling apart. At this time, an exhausted horse was killed for its blood. The action helped the men survive, but because the horse was itself dehydrated, it resulted in the same complications as with ingesting ocean water. July 29. Before dawn, soldiers and hunters alike remained scattered over hundreds of square miles. The hunter groups were generally in much better condition having been persistent in their movement to the northeast and finding water. Sergeant Umbles, having made it to Silver Lake as well, left a note for others to follow and headed eastward toward Casas Amarillas with his small group of troops. That evening he had a disagreement with James Harvey over use of the Army horses. As a result, Umbles and his group of eleven troops separated from Harvey and his hunters. In the end, those who arrived at Silver Lake and saw the note left by Sergeant Umbles would head east to Casas Amarillas—and not in search of Nolan’s “lost” command. James Harvey and his remaining group of hunters
traveled on to the present site of Lubbock, Texas, where they, as well as Jose Tafoya, recovered much of their stolen stock and learned that the Comanche renegades were returning to their reservation with Quanah Parker. The buffalo hunters would later state that this had been the last Comanche raid in Texas. In the hours before dawn, Captain Nolan moved his command out with hope of using the cool night air to their advantage in their trek to Double Lakes. Going was slow, and both men and animals struggled to move forward, but move they did, to get a head start on the hellish day they knew was coming. And come it did. The remaining group of troopers halted mid-morning, then continued their descent into the nightmare. The terrible conditions experienced the day before deteriorated even more. More horses were killed for their blood and organs which provided meager moisture. Food and equipment were abandoned Another halt was called mid-afternoon. Some horses were abandoned, and a few mules wandered off. Men were unaccounted for, and the command now numbered eighteen. At this time Nolan and Cooper decided to change course again. It was also recounted that Acting First Sergeant Jim Thompson would take six troopers and the strongest of the remaining horses and push on to Double Lakes. As night fell, the remaining men struggled on. All supplies had been abandoned save for weapons. July 30. In the early morning darkness, the small band came across what appeared to be a wagon trail. From his experience in 1875, Lieutenant Cooper believed that the ruts led to Double Lakes. Morale was immediately greatly improved. Nolan and Cooper rode on ahead to Double Lakes as the straggling troopers plodded forward to the life-saving waters about sunup. Men from Sergeant Jim Thompson’s group that arrived hours earlier and were now refreshed went back along the route searching for men and animals with canteens of the precious fluid. For the remnants of the 10th Cavalry’s A Troop, the horror that had unfolded on the Yarner was over. In the meantime, Sergeant Umbles returned to Fort Concho and reported that Nolan and his command were dead, lost, or dying. The erroneous report was communicated to other forts in the area along with
requests to help provide defense for Fort Concho. A relief column under the leadership of Lieutenant Robert Smithers started out toward the Bull Creek camp to take up the search. He found Nolan, Cooper, and their remaining command and immediately sent couriers back to the fort with the good news which was telegraphed around the country that Nolan’s lost command was “back from the dead.” The entire group returned to Fort Concho on August 14. At the close of the “Staked Plains Horror,” four soldiers of Troop A, 10th U.S. Cavalry were dead. The deceased soldiers were Trooper John H. Bonds, 24, a day laborer from Virginia who enlisted in the Army in Washington, D.C. in early 1877; Trooper John T. Gordon, 28, who joined the Army in Baltimore, Maryland, in December 1876; Trooper John Isaacs, 25, a waiter from Baltimore who joined the Army in January 1877; and Trooper Isaac Derwin, 25, a laborer from South Carolina who joined the Army in Tennessee in November 1876. Upon Nolan’s return to Fort Concho, former First Sergeant William Umbles and his three companions were arrested. Following much testimony, some of which was contradictory, Umbles and the three other men were charged with desertion and court martialed. All were found guilty and sentenced to prison time at Fort Leavenworth Military Prison in Kansas. In addition to the human loss of life, the toll on animals was high. Nolan’s command had departed the Double Lakes camp with forty-four horses and eight mules. Eighty-six hours later A Troop returned with
four horses and two mules. Although other horses survived, in particular those with Sergeant Umbles’ group, the horses that endured were determined to be unfit for further use. Although the story of Captain Nolan’s expedition has been told many times and various perspectives presented, in his superbly documented work The Buffalo Soldier Tragedy of 1877, Professor Emeritus of History Paul H. Carlson charts in detail the interactions leading up to the Staked Plains Horror, the five days of “The Thirsting Time” itself, and the aftermath of the tragedy. In examination of this event, it can be concluded that the chain of events which unfolded on the Llano Estacado represented not only a clash of cultures but of conflicting purpose. Testimonies and viewpoints differ but one thing is consistent throughout—the persistence of the human spirit to survive when pitted against abject adversity. —MICHAEL MCLEAN has packed on horseback in Montana’s high-country wilderness, mined gold and silver thousands of feet below the earth’s surface, fly-fished Yellowstone Park’s blue-ribbon waters, and explored the deserts of the West. Through personal and professional experiences, he has collected a wealth of information to develop story settings, plots and characters. His work has been published in Saddlebag Dispatches, New Mexico Magazine, Rope and Wire and The Penmen Review. His story, “Backroads” was the winner of the 2012 Tony Hillerman Mystery Short Story Contest. He works in New Mexico’s oil and potash-rich Permian Basin and lives in Carlsbad, New Mexico, with his wife, Sandie.
E BOYS CALLED HIM “Ol’ Tom.” Whenever one of us saw him ride into town towing his rangy mule behind him, his pack of dogs swirling around the animal’s hooves, the word would go out to all the boys in my age range. We’d gather together and follow a safe distance behind him, mocking his well-worn clothing and scuffed boots. “Ol’ Tom, Ol’ Tom,” we’d chant together low under our breath, chortling softly, nudging each other with our sharp elbows. He was old. We boys guessed he was probably a hundred, but my dad declared he was in his eighties. His trimmed beard began with the silvery mustache beneath his long, straight nose and ended above his collar button. I had a standing bet with Homer Billings that I could snatch a hair from that beard, but I was never able to collect it. We all knew that if our mothers caught us taunting the old man, we would have stinging backsides. Therefore, we were very cautious. Sometimes we’d pretend we were following Peter’s dog or chasing a stray cat and dash as close as we dared to the old
miner. Truthfully, we were trying to irritate him, to make him curse at us or take a swipe at us. But he never did. He just glared at us from Arizona-sky eyes set beneath frost-streaked eyebrows and turned away to his own business. It was spring of 1914 when I realized I hadn’t seen Tom Jeffords for months. My mother overheard me asking our postmaster about it one afternoon, and she told my father what we’d been talking about. I know she did because after supper my father beckoned me to the discipline-spot beside his favorite armchair. “Sullivan,” my father began, “your mother tells me you’re curious about the whereabouts of Tom Jeffords. Is that so?” A lawyer by trade, Dad didn’t prod or shout or threaten. He just waited for me to hang myself. Inside our front parlor with the last rays of the March sun streaking our carpet, he sat patiently watching me try to avoid his noose. I had to give in. “Yessir. All us guys were wondering where he is. We haven’t seen him since November.” My father’s stony grey eyes scanned my face. “Well, that’s because he’s dead,” he replied.
Quickly I arranged my features into what I hoped my father would think was sorrow. It was actually disappointment. Who were we going to torment now, I wondered? “Son, sit down. Here,” he demanded, pushing the ottoman into my knees. “I want you to know about the dusty old man that you boys tried to make miserable.” The embarrassed flush that crept from my tonsils to my hair roots shut off my ability to speak in my defense. In the deadly quiet, I was forced to acknowledge that there really was no defense. I had done what my father declared. I was guilty. I didn’t feel badly about the taunting, though. I felt badly that I’d been caught doing what I knew was wrong. “Old Tom, Tom Jeffords, helped to make your life here possible,” Dad began. His eyes softened in the fading light. “Your grandfather knew him right after the Bascom Affair turned this part of the territory into a slaughterhouse. Now Arizona is a state. I’m glad it happened before he died.” I had never heard my father’s voice so tender. Dad continued. “Sully, I didn’t stop you from harassing that man because I knew that Tom could handle himself. Tom always handled himself. I’ve never known anyone else who was as self-sufficient as that man was. I was hoping you would see the error of your ways and stop bothering him.” I shifted on the hassock and tried to deflect my father’s attention away from my bad behavior. “Tell me about him. He was a miner, right?” My dad smiled broadly. “Oh, son! He was so much more. He grew up on Lake Erie. He learned to sail when he was your age, and when he was not far beyond his teens, he captained one of the boats that traveled the lake. He knew how to command respect, and he got it. Do you think you could do that?” “Charlie and Anthony follow me,” I said lamely. My father gave me a dismissive wave of his hand. “Enough said, then. Now, while Captain Jeffords was still in his twenties, he left his home and family to travel to Colorado during the first gold rush there. He was part of the crew that built the road from Leavenworth, Kansas, to Denver. That’s hard work. Do you think you could do work that hard?” I cringed. I had never done any hard work in my life.
I knew it, and I knew that my father knew it. He was toying with me. I was becoming impatient to get the punishment over and done with so I could go outside before it got completely dark. I had heard the pea gravel hit the front window. That was Charlie’s signal for me to get free and go make mischief somewhere. But my father wasn’t finished. I didn’t dare ask to be released. I sat as still as I could, plastered an expression on my face that I hoped mimicked interest, and waited. “Well, Sullivan? Do you think you’d want to work building a road hundreds of miles long?” he prodded. “No,” I said gruffly. My father didn’t acknowledge my disrespectful attitude. He continued. “Tom left Denver for New Mexico, then came on farther into the Arizona territory, all the while searching for gold. When the Civil War began, he served as courier to the Union. At the request of Colonel Canby, he rode over five hundred miles across Apache country to Fort Yuma. He returned with the California Column and remained in Union service until the war ended. Some of the old settlers here hated him for that. Most of the people who settled in the Tucson area were Confederate sympathizers.” “Were we?” I asked. Somehow, against my will, I was being drawn into the story. Charlie threw another handful of gravel against the window. I ignored it. “Your grandfather fought at Picacho Peak,” Dad disclosed quietly. “Which side?” I begged. “Does it matter now?” Dad answered. I knew from his expression that he didn’t want any more questions about that time. So, I pressed my lips together. Another handful of gravel hit the window. My father pushed himself to his feet and walked to the door. “Scat!” he barked at my friend. I saw Charlie’s shadow skitter across the window and disappear. Reseating himself, my father furthered his tale. “Now, shortly before this, Apaches under Cochise had been wrongly accused of stealing. Cochise himself tried to ease the tensions, but he was taken hostage. This enraged his people, of course. One thing led to another, and all-out war broke out across southern Arizona, southern New Mexico, and northern Mexico.” “Was Tom Jeffords involved?” I asked.
“Yes, as a civilian scout for the army. In 1867, partly due to his Civil War service, Jeffords was made superintendent of a mail line from Tucson to Socorro. Apaches killed many settlers along the route, and Jeffords was worried the mail wouldn’t get through. To protect his job as mail superintendent he went to see Cochise. I don’t know the particulars, only rumors, but the mail carriers rode safely after that.” “What were the rumors?” I asked, tantalized. “I ignore rumors,” my father said scornfully. “So should you. It’s not honorable for a man to encourage them.” Clearing his throat, he continued the tale where he had left off. “At the same time, since the Civil War was over, the government turned its attention to the Apache War here. General Howard was sent to negotiate a peace with Cochise. Howard had heard about Tom Jeffords’s exploits and knew him to be a courageous man. Howard asked Tom to guide him to Cochise’s camp and be an interpreter. Tom didn’t want to go, but he finally decided that Howard could be trusted. You see, by this time Tom considered Cochise to be his friend, and apparently Cochise thought the same.” “Wow!” I breathed. I had heard of Cochise. Everyone living in southeastern Arizona had heard of Cochise. His name had sparked fear throughout Arizona and New Mexico for more than a dozen years. Though it was now forty years later, people still spoke his name in hushed, awe-filled tones. I was impressed. I glanced at my father. It suddenly dawned on me that he had been using Mr. Jeffords’s first name. I wanted to know why. “Dad? Why do you call Mr. Jeffords Tom?” I probed. “I’ll tell you at the end of my tale if you still want to know,” he said mysteriously, then continued. “Now, Howard and Cochise did make peace. But there were conditions. One of those conditions was that Tom be the agent on the newly created reservation. Tom didn’t want to do that. He didn’t want to hassle with government bureaucrats. He didn’t want to argue with disgruntled settlers or try and keep bootleggers from selling Apaches rot-gut whiskey. However, Cochise would not agree to the treaty without Tom as agent. Cochise was a brave and wily leader.
“Tom was the agent until Cochise died. Then Tom felt that he had done his duty for his friend. He was tired of the constant prying and prodding of military inspectors and emissaries from citizens’ committees interfering with his policies. Incensed citizens had written scathing letters to politicians calling Tom an Indian lover because he treated the Apaches fairly and humanely. He was removed in 1875. He left the agency a bitter man. “Tom went to Tombstone and bought interests in mines in the area. But he didn’t stay long in that town. He craved solitude. He thrived on aloneness. It wasn’t unusual for people to spy him in their travels through the desert around Tucson. He loved the wild land he had known during his scouting days, and perhaps he relished living in the memories. I don’t know. He did come back to civilization years later. Maybe some of his worst demons had been conquered by then. “He was the head of a water company that tried to bring artesian water here to Tucson in the 1880s. That failed. So once again he took refuge in the wild places. He built a little house in the Tortolita Mountains north of here near Owl Head Butte and prospected enough gold to live on. He died there, alone, in February.” My father stopped talking and sat quietly in his chair. I remained on the hassock at his feet, thinking, imagining. “Dad, do you know where his house is?”
“Why?” “I want to see it,” I replied. “Why?” Dad looked at me, suspicion clouding his gaze. “I… I just want to see where he lived,” I stammered. “I don’t believe you,” Dad declared. “I will show you where he’s buried if you like.” “Yes, please.” Dad scanned my face for several seconds. “Sullivan, if I show you his grave, do you promise me, on your honor, to leave it undisturbed? I want your word that you won’t gather your friends and haunt the cemetery or desecrate his grave.” I gasped. For the first time in my life I saw myself as my father saw me—a rowdy boy who spent hours every day causing trouble for others. I had tipped outhouses, drawn raunchy cartoons on the schoolyard fence, and even tied firecrackers to the tail of our minister’s horse. I had unpinned laundry to fall in the dust, opened the valve in the railroad water tank to flood the depot, and switched the signs of one of the town doctors with that of the undertaker. I wondered if my father knew about all my antics. If he did, surely he’d have punished me. I decided that he didn’t know about most of them, and I wasn’t going to tell him about them now. “Dad? Please don’t tell Ma.”
“Tell her what?” Dad probed. But I knew that he knew my meaning. “You know. About what I’ve done.” “Are you going to stop doing such things if I don’t tell her?” Dad asked, the twinkle in his eyes telling me that he did indeed know of my rowdy behavior. “Yes.” I hung my head in embarrassment. “Good.” My father got to his feet. “Come on.” We walked together out our front door. The early spring moon was already over the edge of the mountains. By its light I saw we were heading to the Evergreen Cemetery. Soon I was standing beside the freshly turned earth of Tom Jeffords’s grave. The wooden tombstone starkly declared his name, birth date, and death date. Nothing more was etched there. Below me laid the body of a humble pioneer. His choices were often at odds with the world. Still, in the end, he lived the life he chose for himself. “Dad? How did you know Mr. Jeffords?” My father sighed and gazed upward at the moon. “He came to see me last fall to make his will. I think he knew his time was coming to an end. It was a simple document. He didn’t leave much in the way of property. Most of what he left is intangible but still precious.” “What did he leave?” I asked. “A good example. He lived quietly, doing no harm, supporting what he considered to be right. He was a man of courage and independence. Sullivan, people often focus their entire lives on frivolities like wealth and status. Tom focused on truth and honor.” Standing silently beside Tom Jeffords’s grave, I reviewed my own life. I had walked this rugged desert land for almost thirteen years. I had done nothing to improve my life or the life of anyone else. Waves of shame swept over me. Once more I gazed down at the resting place of the Arizona pioneer. Maybe, with time, I could grow into as good a man as he had been.
EALA AMES is a retired teacher who has loved to write since she was five years old. While on a family vacation she saw the Washita Massacre site in Oklahoma, and it affected her deeply. Growing up in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, Ms. Ames enjoyed all the television westerns, and the American West captured her mind. She loves writing stories about the American experience. Now a resident of Arizona, she is surrounded by the history she loves so well. She lives in the central highlands with her husband and her three dogs. Ms. Ames maintains a Facebook page where she keeps her followers updated on the short stories that find a home. She has recently placed stories with Soteira Press, Ariel Chart, Scarlet Leaf, and Wild Violet. Work on more short stories as well as a full-length novel occupies much of her time. She welcomes all new readers to join her established base. “As Good a Man” is her third short story to be featured in Saddlebag Dispatches.
The pickup bounces like a rabbit over rutted ground. Al hangs onto the steering wheel while ten-plies dig and pound blue grama grass that stipples golden hues across the hills. The engine hums a diesel purr. The two-track winds and spills its way to cattle grazing at a lazy, laid back pace. Al surveys through a bug-smeared windshield, sizing up his place. He peers out from beneath a battered brim that shares his view and punches on the horn to redirect a stray or two. The Johnsons and the Larsons left years back when out of luck. Al’s cows graze Johnson’s pasture. He’s long gone. The name has stuck. Al gets out of the truck to open up a stubborn gate. He damns a gopher hole then steps aside to stand and wait and watch a scene that’s played out many times here on his spread. This rerun soothes Al’s inner soul, confirms the life he’s led. There’s honesty in what he does and how he makes his way. This life has aged him like the horse corral that’s warped and gray. It takes a desp’rate kind of stubborn to hang on this long. This ranching with low cattle prices takes a man that’s strong. Will Al’s life leave deep tracks that hold a ranching legacy, or will he be a pasture name with little else to see?
INGALLS, KANSAS SEPTEMBER, 1893
HIS TIME AROUND I’M doing something a little different. Perhaps it can be called “Questioning the Validity of History.” Today we’re investigating Rose of Cimarron. Was she a real, flesh-and-blood woman? Or was she a fictional character invented to humor the press of the day? In this examination into the story of Rose Dunn, a player—or not— in what has become known as “The Ingalls, Kansas Battle,” I will question if she existed, and if she did, how was she involved between the remnants of the Wild Bunch and a huge posse of U.S. Marshals and Lighthorsemen from the Cherokee Nation? Ever wonder where and how historians obtain their information? Often there’s nothing left of an event but stories here and there that disagree with each other. How do we pick the winner, the correct version? Good question. This is what we’re trying to figure out. We’ll see who agrees with
what and who has a ripsnorting fit that I’m doing nothing but making it up. That could be true, too, since my favorite form of nonfiction is creative... which means I’m allowed to create the dialog and internalization, sometimes the clothing, abode, and weather. I’m supposed to get the names, dates, places, and appearances in those places all correct. And then there are all those tales “based on fact or the truth.” Oh, how they wander. This story is one that has been argued about for over a century now—if anyone cared a hoot about it in the first place. Others just read and enjoy without trying to guess the truth. For what in history can be sworn to as the absolute truth? Not a whole lot. For everyone sees and reports even their own experiences in a wide range of exaggeration. Even some written records contain misspellings, incorrect dates, and names that are only marked with an X.
1893, the six Marshals—Tilghman, Hixon, James Masterson, Lafe Shadley, Dick Speed, and A.H. Houston—led a posse to Ingalls for the purpose of capturing the Doolin gang who obviously didn’t keep their plans a big secret. They were caught separated in the two banks already making a mess of things. Again. Aware of the gang’s plans, the lawmen entered the town in farm wagons so as not to raise suspicion. They located in different places and sent a messenger to Doolin asking that he surrender. He refused. The battle of Ingalls was on, the marshals and posse and outlaws fighting through the streets in the blood, the mud, and the beer. The story goes that Rose was in Mrs. Pierce’s Hotel when she heard the battle break out. She raced to the room of her lover, grabbed up his Winchester, ran into the adjacent room of Arkansas Tom Jones—which was more holes than walls by this time due to a veritable hail of bullets. Searching all around, Rose ripped THE ONLY KNOWN PHOTOGRAPH OF THE YOUNG WOMAN KNOWN a bedsheet off the rumpled TO HISTORY AS ROSE DUNN A.K.A OF CIMARRON. ACCORDING bed, tore it into strips, tied TO SOME SOURCES, SHE LIVED UNTIL 1955. them together, and lowered Bitter Creek’s rifle and ammunition belt out the window, then fashioned her own escape and lowered herself out as well. Historians Oklahoma, for their next try at becoming famous note there were no stairs, and the upstairs rooms outlaws and attempted the same thing over again. It could only be accessed via a ladder. was September of 1893 when those left of the gang took The plucky Rose did the one thing that made it to the streets of Ingalls against a huge posse of several possible for the outlaws to escape. Once on the ground, U.S. Marshals, Cherokee Lighthorsemen, and various she carried Bitter Creek’s Winchester to him through a other posse members. Well, back to Oklahombres and storm of bullets. Only a brave woman in love could have the claim that The Rose of Cimarron appeared in the survived the wild race amidst the dead, the dying, the tale under the name of Rose Dunn. She shows up as alive, and the shooting of outlaws and lawmen. Bitter the fourteen year-old sweetheart of George “Bitter Creek was badly wounded when she reached him, but Creek”Newcomb. According to Oklahombres Journal, she put the rifle in his bloody arms, and he started firing. the book and the movie filmed in 1915 about Ingalls and The Ingalls fight lasted more than an hour, and the Rose of Cimarron were written at the same time. at the end dead men lay stacked in the street and In this version, on the first day of September In writing the story of the Ingalls, Kansas, gunbattle, Richard S. Graves, author of the book Oklahoma Outlaws that accompanied showings of the 1915 photodrama Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaws, places a young woman by the name of Rose Dunn as present. As an avid Western historian, you’ll recall that the Dalton-Doolin Gang, perhaps better known as The Wild Bunch, suffered great losses earlier in Coffeyville, Kansas, where this clever gang decided to pull off something new and rob two banks at one time. The survivors of that stupid experiment chose Ingalls,
in hiding. Marshals Houston and Speed were killed during that hour. Marshal Shadley met death later. According to this version of the story, those outlaws though wounded—Bill Doolin, Bill Dalton, Bitter Creek, Tulsa Jack, Dynamite Dick, and Little Bill— hid out in a cave, and Rose carried them medicines and bandages. Coincidentally, Bitter Creek was killed in July 1895, by the Dunn brothers for the price on his head. Just for the money or Rose’s kin taking revenge? Another of those history mysteries. No further mention was made of Rose in connection with her so-called lover. This shorter version might suit you better, though. A beautiful young lady, known as the Rose of Cimarron, was in love with Bitter Creek Newcomb. On September 1, 1893, she was visiting with Mrs. Pierce, who operated the hotel at Ingalls, when a posse of law officers opened fire on the Doolin gang. She saw her sweetheart fall from the saddle when Deputy Marshal Dick Speed shot him. Seeing her wounded, unarmed lover lying helpless in the street in the blood, the mud, and the beer, she acted without hesitation or fear. She ran to an upstairs room to obtain Bitter Creek’s Winchester—remember the ladder? Then realizing that the doors of the hotel were covered by the lawmen, tied sheets together and let herself, with the rifle, out the window to the ground. As she expected, the deputies held their fire while she raced across the street to aid and protect her fallen lover. Without fear, she turned her back on the paused gun battle to help Bitter Creek into the saddle, and he escaped. Rose had saved her paramour from sure death and nursed him back to health. How she reached him or if she stole a horse during the gunfight pause and rode after him, we’ll never know. Or we could create the ending, as goes creative nonfiction, since nothing can be proven anyway. In this version, the Rose of Cimarron’s identity remained anonymous, as the deputies would not reveal her name out of admiration for her bravery. While making the movie, Graves, the author of Oklahoma Outlaws, stated in 1915, that Rose was a respected Christian woman, beloved as a wife and mother. As the script was enlarged to include these scenes, the cast was being gathered. Several cowboys
from the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West Show acted in the movie. Marshal Tilghman took the role of the leading Deputy Marshal with Nix, Madsen, and Bud Ledbetter performing their true parts. Roy Daugherty (Arkansas Tom) had obtained a parole in 1910 with the help of relatives and friends (including Nix and Tilghman). Daugherty played his own role, the main scene being his marksmanship and surrender at the Ingalls hotel. That tells us that he did not ride away from the battle but was captured in his hotel room. Another of the versions I found did show him being left behind by his gang members when they split. Since the Jennings and O’Malley brothers were not invited to participate, Arkansas Tom was the only one of the old outlaws in the movie. They started shooting the film in January 1915, going to several of the actual locations to duplicate the original action. The production progressed without any major problems, and in late March, they returned to Tilghman’s ranch near Chandler to record the final scenes. On March 27, 1915, as they neared the completion of the movie, they received word that Henry Starr had just been captured at Stroud (15 miles from Chandler). Henry Starr and his gang were making their getaway, after robbing two banks at Stroud, when Henry had been shot and captured. You’d think the Starrs would’ve seen how this didn’t work too well for the Wild Bunch, but it doesn’t take much intelligence to rob banks. The Eagle Film Company immediately decided to use the Starr’s double bank robbery as the conclusion of their motion picture. Most claim that the Rose of Cimarron was created for the movie version of this fight and that she never existed at all. Did she or didn’t she? Does it really matter? Historians say yes but can’t prove her identity. Romantics say no—it’s the story that counts. As to the bank robbery by Henry Starr at Stroud— said to appear in the movie—well, there’s a story for another day. —VELDA BROTHERTON is an award-winning nonfiction author, novelist, and a founding partner of Saddlebag Dispatches. She lives on a mountainside in Winslow, Arkansas, where she writes everyday and talks at length with her cat.
ELEVISION WESTERNS NEARLY DIED by the 70s and have never dominated the small screen like they did in the 50s and 60s. The three existing networks were filled with westerns during this period. Since then, westerns have struggled to stay on the small screen—most have only lasted a season or two. An occasional TV movie came along once in a blue moon to appease the appetite of western fans. In 1975 a television show was created based on the movie Blazing Saddles. It was called Black Bart, and it was a show no one was meant to see.
Before we jump into the series, we need more information on the movie Blazing Saddles. It came to life in the mind of Andrew Bergman. It originally was titled Tex-X and was to star James Earl Jones as Bart with Alan Arkin to direct. That version fell through, and later Mel Brooks got involved with the project. Mel Brooks brought Richard Pryor, Norman Steinberg, and Alan Uger into the fold, with five writers working on the script. Originally Richard Pryor was to be cast as Black Bart, but Warner Brothers studio was nervous about Pryor’s reputation for drug use and declared he was uninsurable. Another version was that before filming could begin, Pryor called Mel Brooks and told him he was in Cleveland and didn’t know how he got there. Either way, Cleavon Little got the role of Black Bart. Next came the casting of The Waco Kid. Gene Wilder wanted the role, but Brooks wanted an older actor to play the kid. John Wayne was offered the part and read the script. He told Brooks that
LOUIS GOSSETT, JR. AS THE TITULAR BLACK BART, JOINED IN THE BACKGROUND BY NOBLE WILLINGHAM AS MAYOR FERN MALAGA, MILLIE SLAVIN AS BELLE BUZZER AND STEVE LANDESBERG AS REB JORDAN.
the part was too “blue” for his fans, but he would be the first in line to see the completed picture. Dan Dailey was considered but turned the role down due to his ill health. Johnny Carson was offered the role, but he too turned it down for unknown reasons. Gig Young was given the role, but he collapsed on the first day of filming due to Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome. Brooks called Wilder, and he was given the part of The Waco Kid. Slim Pickens, Alex Karras, David Huddleston, Dom DeLuise, Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, and John Hillerman rounded out the cast. Gene Wilder was originally offered the role of Hedley Lamarr but turned it down, and the role went to Korman. Currently the only main cast members still alive are Mel Brooks and Burton Gilliam. During the filming the working title was Black Bart, although Mel Brooks didn’t like the title and thought people would confuse it as a movie about the old west outlaw or the 1948 movie which starred Dan Duryea and Yvonne DeCarlo. The Purple Sage was also considered. Brooks said the name came to him one morning during his shower. And Blazing Saddles became the official title. An interesting note, Brooks advertised for a Frankie Lainetype to sing the title song. A few days later Laine contacted him and offered his services. He sang the title song thinking it was a serious western. The world premiere was on February 7, 1974, and the movie proved to be a hit. It was nominated for three academy awards, one for Best Supporting Actress for Madeline Kahn. It won a Writers Guild award for Best Comedy Movie. Brooks feared Warner Brothers would want to make a sequel or a film series, without his involvement, based on the movie when he mentioned his concern to his attorney. A clause was put into the contract that a sequel would only be
attempted after the movie had been developed into a television show. Due to the vulgar nature of the film, Brooks knew a television show was unlikely. A television movie was filmed and shown on CBS in April of 1975. The movie starred Louis Gossett Jr. as Black Bart. Steve Landesberg played a charac-
ter similar to The Waco Kid, a former confederate soldier named Reb Jordan. Millie Slavin played Belle Buzzer, based on the character played by Madeline Kahn. Mayor Hedley Lamarr was no longer the Mayor. Noble Willingham was now Mayor Fern Malaga. Rueben Moreno and Brooke Adams also appeared in
PRODUCTION STILL OF BLACK BART (LOUIS GOSSETT, JR.) AND RUEBEN MORENO AS MOON WOLF FROM THE FIRST SEASON OF THE SHOW.
the film. It was directed by Robert Butler and written by Andrew Bergman, Frank Shaw, and Michael Elias. Several noteworthy actresses were considered for the Belle Buzzer character—Sally Kellerman, Tammy Grimes, and Amanda Blake. Bert Remsen, Lou Frizzell, and Sorrell Booke were considered for the role of the Mayor. The movie was terrible, and the plans for a TV show supposedly went on the shelf. In 1977 studio executives approached Mel Brooks with the idea of making a sequel to Blazing Saddles. He reminded them of the clause in the contract. They informed him that a series had been in production since ’75. When he said that he hadn’t seen a show on television, they took him to the studio and showed him three episodes. Brooks said later, “The contract said they just had to make it. They didn’t have to show the damned thing.” The Warner Brothers executives made the show just to hang onto the rights to Blazing Saddles and the hope to make a sequel. A season for the Black Bart program was six episodes. While the studio had writers working on a movie script, they continued to churn out episodes of Black Bart.
Four seasons of the show were filmed. At six episodes per season, that’s 24 episodes of this stinker languishing in a vault somewhere just waiting for the day they will be released on a DVD collection. The original 30-minute pilot was included in the 30th anniversary DVD release of the movie. By 1979, Warner Brothers Studio executives had determined that American tastes had changed, and the window to make a Blazing Saddles sequel had closed. Louis Gossett said, “They cancelled the show, if a show that was never meant to be seen by anyone can be cancelled.” Steve Landesberg commented, “It was a sick joke.” —TERRY ALEXANDER and his wife, Phyllis, live on a small farm near Porum, Oklahoma. They have three children, thirteen grandchildren, and four great grandchildren. Terry is a member of The Oklahoma Writers Federation, Ozark Creative Writers, Tahlequah Writers, Western Writers of America, and the Western Fictioneers. If you see him at a conference, though, don’t let him convince you to take part in one of his trivia games— he’ll stump you every time.
ENERAL THOMAS JESUP ENDED the Second Seminole War with a promise: Black members of the tribe who emigrated to Indian Territory would remain free. With that understanding he recruited the two most respected Seminole warriors, John Horse and Wildcat, to help him end the conflict. The tribe would not have laid down their arms without Jesup’s promise. Seminole had been sheltering runaway slaves since they broke from the Muskogee Creek in the late eighteenth century. By the time the war ended on August 14, 1842, blacks were integrated into every level of society. John Horse, himself, was the son of a native Seminole father and a black mother. As soon as John and Wildcat arrived in Indian Territory, they understood the agreement they’d negotiated was doomed to fail. The U.S. government meant to locate the tribe on Creek land, subject to rules and regulations of the Creek tribal council. The U.S. Army had used Creek mercenaries in the Second Seminole War and promised them payment in black Seminole slaves. That bill was still outstanding. How long would blacks remain free surrounded by a pro-slavery tribe with a legal claim on them?
Rather than settle in a hostile jurisdiction, John Horse and Wildcat camped on Cherokee land near Fort Gibson. This was a delaying tactic at best, but it gave John time to meet with his old friend, Principal Chief Micanopy. He persuaded the chief to send a delegation to Washington to plead the Seminole’s case for tribal autonomy. Micanopy agreed, despite Creek disapproval, and appointed Wildcat to lead the group. The old chief eventually changed his mind and declared the delegation to be renegades. But by that time, Wildcat and John Horse were on their way to Washington.
JOHN HORSE, A BLACK SEMINOLE WARRIOR AND BROTHER-INLAW TO PRINCIPAL CHIEF MICANOPY
WILDCAT, A LEGENDARY WARRIOR AND CHARISMATIC LEADER OF THE SEMINOLES DURING THE WAR.
General Thomas Jesup, determined to honor his word, threw his support behind the delegation. He reminded the Secretary of War that black Seminole had been promised freedom as a condition of surrender. Jesup had brought the longest and most expensive of the Indian wars to an end and had considerable influence with President John Tyler. With his help, Wildcat and John returned to Indian Territory with a new treaty.
A disgruntled native Seminole ambushed John Horse as he traveled to his family settlement on the Deep Fork River. The assassin stepped onto the trail and fired a shot that would have been fatal if John’s horse hadn’t reared at exactly the right moment. The bullet passed through the horse, grazed John, and left him pinned beneath the dying animal. The attacker drew a knife and would have finished what he started if a nearby group of Seminole women hadn’t intervened. They surrounded the would-be assassin and kept him busy long enough for John to work his way out from under the horse and escape. A council of Seminole chiefs met on August 31, 1844, and disavowed the assassination attempt.
— THE SEMINOLE WERE UNDERSTANDABLY skeptical of another government promise, especially one made by a president who had grown up on a Virginia plantation surrounded and served by family slaves. For months after the delegation returned there was no progress toward autonomy and no indication from Washington that things might change. Frustrated tribal members blamed John Horse for negotiating the original treaty that brought them to Indian Territory and for continued government inaction. The Creek took every opportunity to call attention to John’s apparent failures and did their best to drive a wedge between native and black GENERAL THOMAS JESUP SUCCESSFULLY BROUGHT AN END TO Seminole. Before long resentment THE SECOND SEMINOLE WAR AFTER CAPTURING THE SEMINOLE grew to the point of violence. LEADERS OSCEOLA AND MICANOPY.
They pledged to reimburse John $30 for the dead horse; three years later he was still trying to collect. John’s reputation was redeemed to some degree when the delegation’s treaty was enacted on January 4, 1845. It allotted the Seminole land in the Little River area and granted them local autonomy even though they were still answerable to the Creek council. — LATE IN 1845, NEWLY-appointed Subagent Marcellus Duval made it clear he would look favorably on ownership claims made on black Seminole. On the strength of his pro-slavery declaration, kidnappers descended on a black village on the Deep Fork and Canadian Rivers and attempted to take some of the children captive. The blacks took up arms and turned the slavers away, but it was clear there would be more kidnapping attempts in the future. A mixed-blood Seminole filed a claim on John’s older sister, Juana, and two of her children, Linus and Sarah. While Juana sought legal protection, he kidnapped the two children and JOHN TYLER SERVED AS TENTH PRESIDENT OF THE sold them to a Creek slaver. The post UNITED STATES FROM 1841—1845. commandant at Fort Gibson and General Thomas Jesup in Washington sided with Juana, but even though she had won her legal battle, Linus and Sarah were never John appealed once more to General Jesup. “The returned. other day three of our people were stolen and more than By late 1847, kidnapping had become such a a month has passed and have not been recovered. One frequent occurrence, John Horse petitioned the of the principals in this theft has been placed before the government to send his black Seminoleanywhere law, and from some cause or other she has been let go. they could be free. He went so far as to suggest they Some say there is no law against stealing Negroes.” be transported to Africa. Unfortunately, the political On June 28, 1848, U.S. Attorney General John Y. climate in the U.S. was not favorable for Indians in Mason wrote an opinion literally turning John Horse’s 1847, and it was worse for blacks. There was no will worst fears into settled law. “Negroes [black Seminole] to move black Seminoleto a safer location or to offer should be restored to the condition in which they them meaningful protection. were prior to the intervention of General Jesup.” The
tenuous legal freedom blacks had enjoyed in Indian Territory was ended. They were surrounded by tribal slavers and subject to Subagent Duval’s oversight. By this time, John Horse had been legally declared free by the Seminole council, so the ruling did not affect him, but his family was still subject to slavers’ claims. He offered through Fort Gibson’s commander, General Arbuckle, to purchase his family members and succeeded in buying freedom for Juana and her remaining son. On January 2, 1849, purported owners of black Seminole slaves gathered at Fort Gibson to enforce their claims. The blacks in question gathered at the fort as well, led by John Horse. The blacks were permitted to stay at the fort until the spring at which time they would settle within the Seminole subagency under the control of their owners and Subagent Marcellus Duval. When the time came to move, John Horse led
the blacks away from Fort Gibson as ordered, but as soon as it was clear they wouldn’t be accompanied by armed troops, he turned the group southwest and settled them near Wewoka Creek, thirty miles outside Duval’s jurisdiction. They built houses, planted crops, and established a self-governed town. The blacks were technically on Creek land, but the community was well armed and willing to defend itself. Early in June 1849, the town was put to the test when a Cherokee rode into Wewoka with two Seminole and accused a black man, Walking Joe, of stealing a pony. The three-man posse found the pony in the town herd, but when they tried to take Walking Joe into custody, John Horse arrived with a group of heavily armed blacks and sent the Cherokee on his way with his property. Subagent Marcellus Duval called on General Arbuckle to disarm the Wewoka black outlaws. The general declined, using sickness among his troops as an excuse. The town was safe from military intervention at least for the near future, but it was a matter of time until Indian Territory would come under the military control of a less sympathetic commander. General Arbuckle advised John Horse to emigrate to Mexico where slavery had been abolished in 1829. He said, “South of the border, a Negro can be as big as anybody.” John took the general at his word, but he didn’t intend to go alone. — CHIEF BILLY BOWLEGS HADN’T emigrated from Florida when the Second Seminole War ended. He and his renegade Seminole band hid out in the Everglades and supported themselves by raiding plantations. Bowlegs was little more than a minor irritation at first, but his reputation grew over the years, and his band had become a major sanctuary for runaway slaves. The government feared his growing popularity would eventually lead to a third Seminole war.
CHIEF BILLY BOWLEGS WAS A LEADER OF THE SEMINOLEIN FLORIDA DURING THE SECOND AND THIRD SEMINOLE WARS. ONE OF THE LAST SEMINOLE LEADERS TO RESIST, HE EVENTUALLY MOVED TO INDIAN TERRITORY.
The Bureau of Indian affairs chose Marcellus Duval to sell Chief Bowlegs on the advantages of peacefully emigrating to Indian Territory. The subagent understood how difficult this would be and tried to enlist Wildcat and John Horse to accompany him on his peacekeeping mission. Their refusal probably came as no surprise. Duval had no Seminole allies to stand with him, so he chose high ranking Fort Gibson military men instead. This decision left the fort with a skeleton crew of administrators and provided the perfect time for John Horse and Wildcat to recruit fifty native and black Seminole volunteers and set out for Mexico. — AS THE SEMINOLE MADE their way to the Rio Grande they were joined by disaffected Kickapoo, unhappy with their treatment by the Bureau of Indian affairs. The additional emigrants depleted the group’s food stores but made them far less tempting to attack. The band supplemented rations by riding en masse into white settlements and demanding supplies. The roaming band of blacks and Indians was intimidating
enough to convince locals it was worth a few bushels of corn and a head or two of cattle to avoid a fight. The group set up camp on the Llano River where they would wait until a deal was struck with the Mexicans. It was a solid plan, until Wildcat went on a drinking spree in a bar in nearby Fredericksburg. He brought John Horse with him along with his black assistant, John Wood, and his son’s black nurse, Kitty Johnson. Wildcat’s funds ran out after he was roaring drunk but still not finished drinking. The bartender offered to solve his financial shortfall by purchasing John Wood and Kitty. John Horse knew his old friend might go for the arrangement. Once before on their journey across Texas, Wildcat sold a black Seminole woman for a barrel of whiskey. He redeemed himself by stealing her back the next day, but for John the risk of two black Seminole being enslaved wasn’t worth taking. He spirited John Wood and Kitty Johnson out of the bar and back to their camp while Wildcat was in the middle of negotiations. Terrified the bartender might have influence with the Texas Rangers or the military, the group quickly loaded up most of their possessions and rode for the
Rio Grande. When Wildcat sobered up, he joined them without recriminations. As they approached the border, the group encountered a company of soldiers under the command of Major John T. Sprague. They knew the major from their Florida days, and he welcomed them with enough food to satisfy their appetites and enough whiskey to get John Horse and Wildcat drunk. During the festivities, Major Sprague sent a rider to summon a company of soldiers large enough to subdue the Indians and return the blacks to Indian Territory. Fortunately for the band, the soldiers were traveling with a Mexican captive who overheard them joking about the planned treachery. The Mexican warned the Seminole and gave them the chance to pack up their belongings and escape while the troops slept off the effects of their party. When they arrived at the Rio Grande, the river was too high to ford and the warriors spent the night ferrying their families across on crude rafts made from logs. The last of them made it to the Mexican side when they saw the soldiers on the opposite bank waving red handkerchiefs and calling on them to come back. The warriors responded “Yes, we’ll come back all right, but we’ll come back to fight!” They could have put up quite a fight if they had been well armed. Between the blacks, the native Seminole, and the Kickapoo, their numbers had grown to three hundred strong. On July 24, 1850, Wildcat requested arms, tools, mules, and other livestock from Colonel Juan Manuel Maldanado, subinspector general of military colonies. He also asked permission to return to Indian Territory with documentation of their agreement. He planned to recruit more black and native Seminole and escort them to a new, better life south of the border. — MARCELLUS DUVAL WAS SURE there would be more escape attempts and was determined to do whatever was necessary to stop them. The military at Fort Gibson despised the subagent’s tactics and wouldn’t cooperate with him, so he turned to the Creek tribal council. With Duval’s consent, Creek slavers, along with some Cherokee and white men, attempted to capture
blacks who were living among the Seminole and sell them before they had a chance to escape. With few exceptions, the native Seminole had never considered their black tribesmen to be chattel. Even under the influence of the pro-slavery white government and the Creek tribal council, they would not allow the blacks to be kidnapped. The native Seminole painted themselves for war and swore to fight. The confrontation would have deteriorated into a bloody war between the tribes if the military hadn’t intervened and forced the Creek and their allies to stand down. While Duval was distracted by his confrontations with General Arbuckle, Wildcat rode into subagency territory and recruited at least a hundred blacks willing to ride with him to the Mexican border. Wildcat’s exploits had become legend across Indian Territory and Texas, and Kickapoo rushed to join his group as they had done on his last trip to the Rio Grande. Marcellus Duval posted a reward in newspapers for the capture and return of Wildcat and runaway black Seminole but had no takers. At the subagent’s request, Texas Indian Agent Judge Rollins offered his Comanche charges fifty dollars for every black returned. It was all to no avail. No one was interested in pursuing hundreds of armed but peaceful emigrants who would soon be Mexico’s problem. Duval and his Creek allies confined almost two hundred blacks to the Seminole subagency to prevent them from following Wildcat’s route to freedom. But completely stopping the exodus was impossible. Black Seminole were joined by antislavery and mixed-race native people as well as runaway slaves who crossed into Indian Territory from Arkansas. The emigrants fought with slavers, dodged the U.S. military and Comanche bounty hunters, and made their way across the Mexican border to join John Horse and Wildcat. They continued the exodus until the Civil War made it unnecessary. —JOHN T. BIGGS is the author of six novels and hundreds of short stories and the winner of the Reader’s Digest Grand Prize. His writing is so full of Oklahoma that once you read it, you’ll never get the red dirt stains washed out of your mind. John lives in Oklahoma City with his wife, and they travel extensively throughout the world with their family.