Saddlebag Dispatches—Autumn/Winter 2018

Page 1

contents autumn/winter 2018


biscuits & tenderfoot for breakfast by Michael Frizell...


beyond the trailhead by Chet Dixon .....................

6 8 86 168 186 190

heroes & outlaws by Velda Brotherton .................... out of the chute by Dennis Doty ........................... shortgrass countr y by John J. Dwyer .................... let’s talk westerns by Terr y Alexander .................. best of the west by R od Miller ................. ............

short fiction dried petals by K ari Holloway .............................. the wedding dress by Dennis Doty .......................... outhouses and 'taters by Marlon S. Hayes ................ escape from mesilla by Doug Hocking .................... short pants by Michael McLean ............................. the actress by Sharon Frame Gay .............................

15 27 57 103 137 157

poetry 12 clay holds on by Michael Lee .............................. 24 nowhere rodeo by R od Miller ............................ 146 prairie center by John Nesbitt .............................. 164 cowboys have rules by L aurie Duncan ...................

features the second wounded knee by John T. Big gs ........ ...... bender, part VI by Michael & D.A . Frizell .................. the man who invented rodeo by R od Miller ........... the gunfight that created a legend by Mike Koch ..... who was prairie rose henderson? by Tom Correa .....

42 62 88 124 148

Submission Guidelines We are now taking submissions for our Spring/Summer, 2019 issue due out in mid-June, 2019. DEADLINE IS FEBRUARY 1, 2019 Galway and Tiree Press are Oghma Creative Media’s western and historical imprints, and Saddlebag Dispatches is our semi-annual flagship publication. We are looking for short stories, serial novels, poetry, and non-fiction articles about the west. These will have themes of open country, unforgiving nature, struggles to survive and settle the land, freedom from authority, cooperation with fellow adventurers, and other experiences that human beings encounter on the frontier. Traditional westerns are set west of the Mississippi River and between the end of the American Civil War and the turn of the twentieth century. But the western is not limited to that time. The essence, though, is openness and struggle. These are happening now as much as they were in the years gone by. QUERY LETTER: 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 Submit the entire and complete fiction or poetry manuscript. We will consider proposals for non-fiction articles. OTHER ATTACHMENTS: Please also submit a picture of yourself and any pic-

tures 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, with your name in the subject line.


ohn Branch, in an article which appeared in The New York Times titled “The Ride of Their Lives” wrote, “But rodeo careers can end without warning, as quick as the next try at an eight-second ride.” At this point in my life, my experience with riding any creature with hooves has been limited to guided trail rides and my stint as an actor in The Shepherd of the Hills outdoor drama in Branson, Missouri. Those horses are well-trained, tame as house cats, and know the routes better than the riders. I started working at “the farm” as we called The Shepherd of the Hills Homestead and Outdoor Theatre when I was twenty years old. I was cast in the role of the city slicker, Ollie Stewart, the comedic villain hell-bent on taking the beautiful Sammy Lane from her idyllic home in the Ozarks to Chicago. Each actor in the company was cast in three different roles. When I wasn’t playing the simpering Ollie, I either danced in the square dance scene at the end of act one or “rode Baldknobber.” If you’re not familiar with the Baldknobbers, they were a vigilante group that arose in the Ozarks at the end of the Civil War. Originally formed as a militia designed to keep carpetbaggers—and the government—from interfering with the good folks living in the area, their intentions are soon corrupted from within the organization. Harold Bell Wright’s novel, from which the outdoor drama is derived, depicted the group’s dark side. Riding Baldknobber meant I wore the black mask and horns typical of the group,

rode in with my fellow thugs while whooping and hollering, and threw a torch onto Old Matt’s cabin, setting it ablaze. The burning of the cabin was a sensational spectacle. Audiences usually gasped as the heat from the whooshing flames washed over them. The actors who played the lead Baldknobbers were brawny, their shoulders twice as wide as mine. Many were former rodeo guys now past their prime. I weighed about a buck thirty, and my intense asthma prevented me from gracing any gymnasium. Their beards were thick and long and stuck out from under their masks. I could hardly grow facial hair. Luther, the lead rider, handed me a mask and said, “Ever rode before?” I was nervous. I held the torch so tight my hand ached. “Well, a pony ride once at the county fair. I think.” “Uh huh. Look, the horse knows where to go. Don’t fight him. When I give the signal, he’ll run. Fast. He’ll spin by the cabin, so just throw the torch at it. Then give him a bit of a goose, and he’ll follow me.” He held his eyes on mine for a long moment, searching for something. “You know what? Just hold on.” I patted the nose of my black horse and he snorted. I stepped back. “What’s his name?” Without missing a beat, Luther said, “Him? Widowmaker.” He chuckled as he spat tobacco. Some of it lingered in his beard. He didn’t even try to wipe it off. I guess he was saving it for later. “Mount up.” I watched my fellow Baldknobbers swing into their

saddlebag dispatches

saddles. Their moves were well-oiled, making it look as easy as walking across the street. After two or three tries, which earned me several muffled snickers, I was up. The saddle was hard, the horse hot and powerful. I could feel him breathing and his muscles ripple as he shrugged off a horsefly. I grabbed the reins with both hands (I was told later my grip was called “plow reigning”). Luther shook his head. “Ease off, Michael.”

Laughter. The crowd was laughing. I learned later that a five-year-old kid stood up in his chair, and pointed at us. “Look! Bunnies!” That eight-second ride ended my career as a Baldknobber. I didn’t break a bone. No rodeo clown risked his life to protect me from an angry bull. A five-yearold laughed at me while I was dressed like a demonic Bugs Bunny.


As Luther rode past me to assume the head of the pack, I glanced about. We looked tough. Scary. Black masks. Guns. Blazing torches. I sat up a little higher and made my best attempt at capturing the smoldering look I saw in the eyes of the other actors. Luther lifted his hand in the air. The horses tensed. “Hyah!” The horses pounded the sawdust-covered ground of the outdoor stage, breaking into a dead run as soon as they crossed into the beams of the stage lights. I was elated. The wind whipped at my mask and Widowmaker’s mane. Instead of the typical, “Ooh! Aah!” we heard from the crowd, we heard something inexplicable.

When Casey Cowan told me he wanted this issue of Saddlebag Dispatches to have a rodeo theme, I was astride Widowmaker again and wondering if I could make this ride count. Dear reader, if you point and laugh, know that my eight seconds as editor-in-chief are up. If you smile, laugh, and enjoy the work contained herein as much as Dennis and I have, then perhaps I’ll try that ride again someday.

Hyah! Michael Frizell Editor-in-Chief



he western United States is blessed with beautiful mountain ranges, parks and wilderness areas. These American treasures serve many purposes, but one so human is the natural medicine they offer for the human psyche. They can lift the human spirit like a great symphony. When you experience fatigue, boredom, loneliness or some other human trouble, they offer unique health restoring medications. In James A. McKenna’s book, Black Range Tales, he tells that the Apaches believed the hot springs in the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico were good for rheumatism and other ailments including pneumonia and fevers. It is hardly a secret that physical and psychological healings can be found in theses wild places. How do I know? I am a witness of their free gifts. I keep going back. Recently, when I visited the Gila, I had two goals for going there. First, I needed to attend a conference of the Continental Divide Coalition held in Silver City. However, the most important reason was to get my self-prescribed medication for “wilderness desire,” as I call it. It’s that yearning for the sights, sounds and pristine feelings found in the mountains and sprawling wildernesses of the western states. The Gila, like other wild places, offers healing free for the taking. I had to go capture it. Late one evening in the Mark Twain National Forest in Southwest Missouri, I had gone into the forest to think and write. While I was there, my spirit was suddenly lifted and nourished by the approaching night

and the change of guard and the magic it displays. The following poem was written as I observed the change. It helps explain what is meant by its title. The Healing Woods I raised my eyes and cocked my ear And suddenly began to hear The coming of night and change of guard As west lights fell and silhouettes marred Robins were scurrying to cedar roosts Owls began with evening hoots But I, I sat watching as Snow Geese flew north Their airstream mission bursting forth Everything seemed busy in a singular way Changing with change creeping its way I waited as night became dark and deep Before leaving the hallowed placeTo let it live and sleep If by chance you go to a wilderness place searching for its healing ways, remember to let it speak through your senses. Listen closely to the songs it shares, the smells floating around you as meandering cool breezes play with tree leaves and grassy fields. Be aware of both strange and familiar smells. Capture its beauty and independence, its blossoms and thorns, its gifts and challenges, its freedom and demanding rules. As the poem says, you will probably be going back to the healing woods.

saddlebag dispatches

GOING BACK TO THE HEALING WOODS Into the healing woods I ran Where crowds were far away, Where sunshine, snow and rain Cleanse with nature’s play. Where senses feel the touch Of forest smells and taste, Inside the healing woods Where spirits quietly wait. Along the fields by crystal streams Where quail and meadowlarks sing, I feel so loved and blessed Sharing the healing songs they bring. Later I walked to an open field Listening for the meadowlarks. I knew they would bring peace Where life had become lost and dark. Their songs rang out melodious and clear Telling me I was free. I stood listening, transformed, Accepting the healing medicine meant for me.

—Chet Dixon is a businessman, philanthropist, and published author of multiple works, including the poetry collections Beyond the Trailhead, Affections Not Sleeping, and Skipping Rocks on Water. He resides near Branson, Missouri, but his heart lives in the western wilderness.



saddlebag dispatches


Considering the facts of John Raper’s case, even his arrest would surprise a lot of people. Nevertheless, he had a jury trial and was found guilty of killing John Rogers, a Cherokee. Raper lived and worked on his farm in Arkansas not far from the Indian Territory line. One afternoon, his young son went to visit a friendly Cherokee family in the Indian Nation. That night he was attacked by several Indians and IN 1859, KILLING AN INDIAN IN THE WILD TERRITORY

n 1859, killing an Indian in the wild territory of Western Arkansas was generally believed to be justified. It was unusual for someone who committed this deed to be charged. People thought it best to acquit or worse, not even bring such a killer to trial. Think of the old saying, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”


saddlebag dispatches


brutally murdered. It would be the next morning before Raper heard of the killing. He was also told that John Rogers was the one who murdered his son. Raper hurried to the spot and found the terribly mutilated remains of the boy. While kneeling beside the body, deep in grief, the Cherokee John Rogers rode by whooping, howling and hollering. He then reined in his horse, dismounted and headed for a nearby house. Upon spotting this man who he believed had slain his beloved son, Raper raised his rifle and shot him dead. A quick jury trial held at the Van Buren courthouse December 1, 1859, resulted in a conviction of Raper. Eight days later, the judge sentenced him to hang and set a date of April 27, 1860, for his execution. People were incensed. A large number of leading citizens in Van Buren, including the judge who had held the trial, signed a petition. It was forwarded to President James Buchanan along with information telling exactly what had happened that led up to Raper killing John Rogers. The president commuted Raper’s sentence to life imprisonment at Little Rock. The following year, Raper and all other prisoners held in Little

Rock were released by the Confederate soldiers. It is thought that he entered the southern army and was killed in battle. Plenty of men were hanged on the scaffold at Van Buren. Judge Isaac Parker, the man who would gain a reputation as the “hanging” judge wouldn’t arrive in Fort Smith until 1875. The term Hell on the Border was originally coined by outlaws of the Southwest. The jail quarters at Fort Smith were horrendous. As many as 200 prisoners at a time were kept in two inadequate basement rooms beneath the old stone barracks which was used for the court. Young, old, sick and well, hardened criminals and first offenders, all were crammed into these rooms together. In 1886 money was appropriated to build a three-story brick structure. The building was completed in 1889, adjoining to the court building immediately to the south. —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.



saddlebag dispatches


HAVE RULES The horse is all. But, Hay Boy obeys cowboy Uncle Doc who looks right, sets three fingers, neck reins. Doc, a long-ago bronc rider, knows white straw hats are for dress, wears a cap for feeding, pitching dung. He has lived cattle, vets the day-olds bought at auction, cautioned me not to get too attached to a cow—it’s not a pet. No one can lean against a tractor like a ranch hand; his antique tractor isn’t sexy, stalls if not coaxed. Doc throttles just so and swears, Damn John Deere, drags the tine harrow to smooth the dirt for the team, a header and a heeler. The steer breaks out of the chute, the ropers ride unified, two feet from the steer until Hay Boy stops the forward rush, sits back, turns the steer. The wanna-be’s circle Doc, look for his cowboy to rub off. I study Doc. Creaky knees, metal hips, missing a thumb. I make a portrait. Before long, I will blink, and he will be gone.

for Roland “Doc” Coplen (1928-2015) Photo Courtesy of Brian Campbell Photography

SA D D LEBAG poetry


ello, Leroy. What made ya come all this way?” Rebecca leaned against the post, watching her favorite Jenkins rein his horse in at her fence. “Came to get my brother. You know how that goes.” He shrugged as he dismounted. “Any idea if the livery got room for one more?” He patted his bay’s neck before gathering the reins. “Got plenty of room in mine.” She nodded to the lean-to on the other side of her dried flower garden. “You're more than welcome to it.” Leroy tugged at his collar. “I couldn’t intrude—” “Nonsense.” Rebecca shook her handkerchief at him. “If you ain’t in any hurry, why don’t you join me for a cuppa coffee. Just brewed.” Leroy glanced toward Doc’s and back at Rebecca. “Talked me into it.” He smiled, as he removed his hat. Walking between the dried flowers, he caught a burst of green. “Growing pumpkins while your flowers dry, huh?” He nodded toward the orange squash. “Yep. I’ve already got twice as much stored for soaps than last year. Let’s see if the stagecoach can keep up.” She chuckled with a twinkle in her eyes.

Silent laughter drew deep crow’s feet at the corner of his eyes. He paused on the porch trying to squash the memory, but it was no use. Six years ago, Rebecca herself was one of those transplants heading west with family, dreaming of striking it rich. “You’re laughing at me. I can’t help it, at ten I was all legs. You’d be like that too after being jostled about inside a carriage from sunup to sundown.” She tried to feign irritation, but her cheeks turned rosy and her laugher bubbled until hiccups took over in its stead. “Even then, I knew you were something special.” He sat at the table. Rebecca smiled. She didn’t even ask before pouring a little cream into his cup and handing him the spoon. “So, what did Jeb do this time?” She fixed her cup and returned the coffee pot to the stove. He took a deep breath, savoring the scent of sweet grass drying overhead and the honey resting on the shelves. “Same old Jeb. Missed the step coming out of the saloon and caught the hitching post and porch railing.” She raised her brow before shaking her hair. “Lucky


saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches

it wasn’t last week when they were replacing the boards.” She grimaced remembering the exposed nails and crowbars that one of the workers had fallen on. “That boy’s an accident waiting to happen.” Leroy mumbled under his breath, as he took a sip. Rebecca heard him, all the same. “Jeb ain’t a boy, and you got to stop treating him like one.” She admired his dedication to his brothers, but she wished he would realize there was more than just crops and brothers to life. Leroy tapped the spoon on the table, lost in a jumble of thoughts. Of course, he knew Jeb wasn’t a kid. But it was safer dealing with the known than navigating the unknown. “Besides,” Rebecca continued, “rumor has it, he’s courting Pritchard’s daughter and already has his blessing. What you going to do then? Live with him and Amber?” The spoon clattered to the table top. “No. I don’t know. No,” his words tumbled forth. He paused and sighed. “No. I didn’t know he’d already asked ol’ man Pritchard. But you’re right, I have held onto the apron strings a little much.” Rebecca drank her coffee. The last sunflower bowed in the breeze, and a tendril of sorrow caressed her heart. “I know you don’t want to hear it, but it’s time you started settling down.” “I know. It never seemed like the right time to ask you.” Leroy leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. “Your pa died and then your ma. My parents died. You started selling those fancy soaps, and I was barely keeping the farm together. It just never seemed like the right time.” Her hair cascaded like a waterfall when she titled her head. “Me?” she squeaked. Leroy took her hand in his. His thumb swirled absentminded circles along her skin. “Yes, you. I’ve loved you far longer than I should have, just didn’t know how to tell you. You think you’d be interested in being a rancher’s wife? My wife?” She cupped his cheek with her free hand, feeling his stubble. “Do you even have to ask?”




ari Holloway is a Leesburg, Ga. native, and was a notorious bookworm and penner of tales growing up. Though she tried hiding her writing, it didn't surprise anyone when she published her first book. Between twisting tales of southern romance filled with iconic components of sexy cowboys (Laughing P series) and first loves (Strings Attached), exploring the unexplained in her paranormal series (The Devil's Playground series), finding her way to the battlefields of the Civil War, to grand moments etched in history, and to love's first kiss under the weeping willow, there is something for just about everyone to enjoy. She's currently working on Orb Collector—book 5 in her Devil's Playground series—and another sweet romance called Tracks in the Sand. When she isn't slinging tales and helping fellow writers, she enjoys playing games like Fluxx with family and friends and baking southern favorites— that is, if her kids don't commandeer her time and play Pokemon or journey to the land of make-believe with My Little Pony reimagined through the eyes of kids. To find out more about and all she has to offer, check out her website



THE PASSING OF A WESTERN LEGEND Legendary Hollywood actor Burt Reynolds passed away in his home in Florida September 6. While perhaps best known for his iconic role as Bandit in the blockbuster 1977 box-office hit Smokey and the Bandit, Reynolds started out his acting career in classic Westerns. Terry Alexander


urton Leon Reynolds was born on February left the series after a conflict with McGavin and Noah 11th, 1936 and passed away at his home in Beery Jr. was brought in as his replacement. Grey Holden (McGavin) won the hundred-foot paddle-wheeler Florida on September, 6th, 2018. He was born in Lansing, Michigan to Burton Milo and Hariette Enterprise in a poker game, took command of the ship, and delivering cargo and passengers along the MissisFernette. His father was a World War Two veteran and sippi, Missouri and Ohio rivers. The show took place served in Europe. After the war, the family relocated to Riviera Beach Florida, where his father became the during the 1830’s to 1840’s, prior to the civil war and included an impressive list of co-stars. It was rumored police chief. Burt attended Florida State University that McGavin and Reynolds bickered about who was on an athletic scholarship and played halfback until the true star of the show, screen time and lines. injuries forced him to stop playing the game. His other western series work was in Gunsmoke. For Burt became interested in acting and pursued fifty episodes, he played the half-Comanche blacksmith theater, eventually, his career choice landed him in Hollywood. His career stretched over many years and during that period he "I DON'T CARE WHETHER HE CAN ACT OR NOT," SAID TALENT starred in several western AGENT AND STUDIO EXECUTIVE LEW WASSERMAN SAID movies and tv shows. In AFTER SEEING THE RESPONSE THE SECRETARIES IN HIS 1959 he played Ben Frazer OFFICE HAD WHEN THEY SAW REYNOLDS. "ANYONE WHO in twenty-one episodes of HAS THIS EFFECT ON WOMEN DESERVES A BREAK." the series Riverboat, oppoVicki L. Miller/ site Darren McGavin. He


saddlebag dispatches

Quint Asper. He made his first appearance in the series in 1962 and left in 1965. Quint was a transitional character that helped ease the audience into accepting the loss of Chester Goode (Dennis Weaver) and win acceptance for Festus Haggen (Ken Curtis). All three characters appeared in the 63/64 season, the trio appeared together in the episode Prairie Wolfer in 1964. He guest-starred in several western series. In 1959 he appeared in one episode of Pony Express. He played Adam in The Good Samaritan. He played Tad Stuart in The Stranger, an episode of Johnny Ringo in 1960. In 1961, he appeared as Bench Taylor in the Zane Gray Theatre episode Man From Everywhere. He appeared in the Chuck Connors western series Branded in 1965. He played an Indian named Red Hand in the episode Now Join the Human Race. In 1966, Burt starred in the spaghetti western Navajo Joe for Sergio Carbucci. A story circulated that Burt wanted to back out of the project, when he arrived at the location and Carbucci drove him several miles away and kicked him out of the vehicle and made him walk until he relented and agreed to film the picture. He made two westerns in 1969. 100 Rifles, directed STORY HAS IT THAT IN 1966, BURT WANTED TO BACK OUT OF THE FILM NAVAJO JOE. WHEN HE ARRIVED ON SET, THOUGH, DIRECTOR SERGIO CARBUCCI DROVE HIM OUT INTO THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, KICKED HIM OUT OF THE CAR, AND MADE HIM WALK UNTIL HE AGREED TO DO THE PICTURE.

saddlebag dispatches

by Tom Gries. It starred Jim Brown, Raquel Welch, and Fernando Lamas. The movie was based on the 1966 novel The Californio by Richard Macleod. Burt’s character, Yaqui Joe, robbed a bank in Phoenix, Arizona and disappeared into Mexico, along the way he bought a hundred rifles for the Yaqui Indians. The citizens of Arizona hired Lyedecker (Brown) to capture Joe and recover the money. A Mexican General jailed the pair in Mexico, but they escaped with the help of Sarita (Welch) and her followers. The General pursued the small group of rebels and massacred an entire village to draw the group out for the final gun-battle. Arnold Laven directed the film Sam Whiskey, a western comedy with Angie Dickinson, Clint Walker, and Ossie Davis. Laura Breckenridge (Dickinson) learned that her late husband robbed the Denver mint. She found Sam Whiskey (Reynolds) and seduced him into helping her recover the gold and get it back to the mint before the fake substitution is discovered. Whiskey recruited O. W. Bandy (Walker) and Jed Hooker (Davis) to help him. His last big screen western was The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing in 1973, based on the novel by Marilyn Durham. The movie starred Sarah Miles, Lee J. Cobb, Jack Warden, George Hamilton, Jay Silverheels and James Hampton. Burt and his gang robbed a bank and kidnapped the wife of the rich banker (Miles). Her husband sets out to find her and kill the men who kidnapped her. In 1996, Burt appeared in The Cherokee Kid, a made for TV movie. It starred Sinbad, James Coburn, A. Martinez, and Ernie Hudson. Burt’s character was Otter Bob, the mountain man. Cyrus Bloomington (Coburn) an evil



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches

land-grabber and his gang of cut-throats killed Isaiah Turner’s parents. Turner vows to get revenge, along with the path to adulthood mountain man Otter Bob helped him survive. In 2002, he played Hunt Lawson, a gunman for hire in the Hallmark movie Johnson County War. The movie starred Tom Berenger, Luke Perry, Rachel Ward, and Blu Mankuma. The retelling of the range war in northern Wyoming as seen through the eyes of the three Hammett brothers, based on the 1957 novel by Frederick Manford. Burt’s final performance in a western came in 2003 when he played convicted bank robber John ‘Chill’ McKay in another Hallmark movie, Hard Ground. The movie starred Bruce Dern, Amy Jo Johnson, Seth Peterson, and Martin Kove. Outlaw Billy Bucklin (David Figlioli) escaped while being transported to Yuma Prison. Sheriff Hutch Hutchinson (Dern) convinced the Governor to release his brother-in-law John McKay (Reynolds) to help him track down the outlaw before he gathered enough men to control the southern part of Arizona. He won several awards and was nominated for many more during his career. He was nominated for an Oscar for his role in Boogie Nights in 1997. He won a Golden Globe and a Satellite for his performance in the movie. He also won a Golden Globe and an Emmy for his performance in the television show Evening Shade in 1990. He won multiple People’s Choice Awards for Favorite Movie Actor, and Favorite Performer, 1979 and 80, 82, 83 and 84. His final Peoples Choice award came in 1991. Burt Reynolds had a long and successful career and had accepted a role in an upcoming movie from Quentin Tarantino. —Terry Alexander is a western, science fiction and horror writer with a vast number of publishing credits to his name. He's also a connoisseur of all things related to the Hollywood Western. He and his wife, Phyllis, live on a small farm near Porum, Oklahoma.



saddlebag dispatches He slid his hand in to tighten the knot, stretching his palm through the lightning harnessed loop, flexing his fingers so they would bite into the rawhide and made a fist, Sweat dripped from under the band of the drooping tan hat, stinging his eyes. He took a deep breath, teeth clenched and legs locked. He nodded ever so slightly, staring down at hide and leather, tightened his elbows and lowered his head. “Here we go!” the gatemen ordered, riding the gate as the explosion launched into the air. Clay’s head snapped up, whiplashing his spine from front to back. but, Clay held on. El Diablo threw himself into the air, muscles quivering over his shoulders and neck, eyes wild with fright and anger at the thing on his back. He turned to the right in the air as if he were going around a corner, his rear-end corkscrewing to the left. His massive head came up, ripping the air for the rider with his horns. The man thing lay low out of reach. and, Clay held on. Clay slipped his seat, but his legs gripped like steel pincers cementing him to the monster’s ribs. His hand numbed and locked as El Diablo planted his feet and kicked off with his back legs, rocking Clay forward, crashing his face into massive shoulders, blooding his nose. but, Clay held on. El D rose in the air twisting, to shake this thing from his back. Dust rolled from his shoulders, snot and drool flew from his nose, blood shot eyes narrowed in hate, fighting to shake off the man thing and stomp it into the ground, another leap, another lunge. Too late. Time! Clay held on. The cowboy leaped for the gate, looking back as El Diablo hooked the empty air with his horn, bellowing his hate and defeat as the thing escaped. Sides heaving, El D shook the froth from his face, lowered his head and pawed the ground, challenging the dusty cowboy to try again. Blue eyes and black hair stepped from the fence, smacked his chaps with his hat, walked into the ring grinning in triumph as he bowed in tribute to ol’ Diablo. “To his majesty.” Clay announced, sweeping his hat across the arena’s dust, in honor of the old warrior. A gate groaned and squealed in protest as it opened. El Diablo snorted, tossing his head in disdain eyeing the thing on two legs. He bellowed again, pawed the ground, shook his head and turned and trotted off to supper. It would have to wait for the next time. Clay unrolled his starched blue jeans and shook them out. Showered and shampooed, he was ready for the night and the cowgirl who waited. A silver buckled belt slid around his waist and he pulled on shiny black cherry boots, buttoned down his favorite turquoise cowboy shirt and put on his new black hat. Clay had held on and he was ready to dance.

SA D D LEBAG poetry


ackson sat in the rocker on the front porch of his sun-bleached single-wide trailer and reread the letter. He brushed a sleeve across his eyes and took a long pull on his Lone Star bottle. “What is it?” asked Harley. “Aw, damned wind. Got a bit o' sand in my eye is all.” “How long we been partners, Jay Bee?” “I dunno. We started riding and traveling together back around 'eighty-three, or maybe 'eighty-four, I guess. Why?” “I reckon I've knowed you long enough to tell when something’s got you riled. What's in the letter?” “It's nothing, Harley. Just someone wanting a donation is all.” “The hell, you say,” he snatched the letter from Jackson's hand. “Give it back, Harley.” “You gonna tell me about it?” “No. I ain't.” “Then you ain't getting it back, neither. What's the big deal about some old send-us-the-money letter anyway?” He glanced at the envelope. “Hey, this ain't no sales letter. This is from Crissy.”

“Give it, Harley.” “I'd never have took it, if you told me who it’s from.” He handed the letter back. “She hittin’ you up for more child support?” “No.” “Well, what then? Dammit, Jackson. Something's got you all twisted up. When you gonna face-up to it? You’re still in love with her. Always have been.” “That rodeo was last year. I blew it and let myself get throwed. That’s not what this is about.” “Then, what?” “Julie's getting married.” “Your little Julie? She can't be old enough. If you need to kill some sumbitch, I'll alibi you.” “She's nineteen, Harley.” “My God. When did that happen?” “February. Her birthday's in February.” “So, you gonna go?” “I don't know. They didn't exactly invite me.” “Then, why the letter?” “Crissy wants to know if I can help with the dress.” “Aw, hell, Jackson. Crissy knows you ain't got a pot to piss in. Why's she laying it on you?”


saddlebag dispatches

“Because, dumbass, the parents of the bride are supposed to pay for the dress and the reception. Crissy says the restaurant where she works will help her with catering and she can afford the cake. She's been saving her tips, but the dress is twelve hundred bucks and Julie has her heart set on it.” “Damn, Jay Bee. What are you going to do?” “I don't know. I surely don't know.” He finished off his Lone Star and dropped it in the bucket behind the cooler next to his chair, then leaned over and fished around in the ice for another. He pulled two out and silently passed one to Harley. “Did she tell you anything at all about the guy she's marrying?” “Said he's a nice kid. He just got a bachelor’s degree from Baylor. That’s how they met, and Julie's been seeing him for almost a year.” “College kid, huh? That's something.” “Yeah. It’s something.” The two men sat in companionable silence drink-

ing their beers, watching fireflies and half-heartedly slapping at the occasional mosquito. The sun slid behind the pecan trees as Harley dropped his empty in the bucket and stood up. “I reckon I'd best git on home. Mary will have supper waiting on me.” “Take it easy. Deputy Johnson got a new ticket book the other day and he's just itching to fill it.” “Humph. That kid ain't never seen the day he could catch me on any of these ol' back roads.” “Uh huh. Call me if you need to make bail.” “Right. See you around.” “Uh-huh.” — The next morning, Jackson called in to work and told them he couldn't make it. He took a shoe box from the top shelf of his closet and hobbled out to his pick-up truck. Mornings were always difficult. All the

saddlebag dispatches

old injuries made even the thought of movement almost unbearable. After pumping the gas pedal a couple of times—the fuel pump was just about shot—he cranked it over until it finally sputtered to life in a cloud of blue smoke. He backed it up on the remains of a lawn and turned down the muddy, once-graveled driveway, bounced over a half-dozen ruts and turned onto the county road. Ten minutes later, he pulled into a parking in front of Lone Star Pawn and Gun. Jackson laid the shoebox on the counter and waited. “What have you got there?” asked the manager. He opened the box, removed an old sock and carefully slid something out and laid it on the counter. It was a large, heavy, silver belt buckle. The engraving on it said San Antonio Stock Show Rodeo—Champion 1987. It sported a raised carving of a bull rider in gold. “Nice. What else you got?” Jackson removed six more socks and buckles from assorted rodeos around the country. All were engraved, and all for bull-riding. “You wanting to pawn 'em or sell 'em?” “Sell 'em.” “I'll give you a hundred and fifty.” “Mister, don't insult me. Look at 'em again. Look at this one right here.” He picked up one of the buckles and offered it to the man. “That there is from Cheyenne, the granddaddy of 'em all. You'll probably never see another one in this lifetime.” “Uh-huh,” the pawn broker inspected the buckles like he was interested, but only killing time to make his next offer more attractive. “Alright two fifty, but that's the best I can do.” Jackson stared hard for a minute, then reached down and unbuckled his belt. He laid it out on the counter. “How about now?” The belt was embossed with a fancy western pattern. Burned into the back, was his name, J.B Stark. A gold buckle adorned the end of it. The buckle read Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association, J.B. Stark, World Champion—1985. “Three fifty,” said the man, a little too eagerly, as he examined the buckle. “Four.” “I'll meet you halfway.” Jackson nodded and offered his hand.

“Three seventy-five and you can keep the belt. I can't sell it,” said the man. They shook hands. “Come on over here and I'll get the paperwork and your cash.” — Jackson pulled his battered pickup into the parking lot in front of the Tex-Star Bank of Converse. “I'd like to close my account,” he said, shoving his passbook to the teller. “Just a moment, Mr. Stark.” The teller took the passbook and walked back to the manager's desk. After a brief conversation, the manager came back with her. “Good morning, Jackson. I understand that you're closing your account with us.” “That's right.” “Jackson, you've been with this bank for over thirty years. Is there something wrong?” “Nope. I just need the money.” “Alright, but we hate to lose you and would love to be of service in the future.” He nodded to the teller, shook hands with Jackson and went back to his desk. The teller opened the passbook and typed some information into her computer. “Mr. Stark, with interest accrued through today, your balance is $132.17. How would you like it?” “Cash.” “I meant, would you like any large bills?” “Just cash will do. Make it easy on yourself.” Jackson took the money, added it to the cash from the pawn shop, put a rubber band around the whole thing, and shoved it in his jeans. He drove north on Route 1604 and took the Kitty Hawk Road exit. A few minutes later, he sat down at the counter of the Lunch and Lounge Cafe. “Hey, Jackson. Don't usually see you on a weekday,” said the waitress with a smile. “Took the day off, Darlene. Couldn't wait to see your smiling face.” “Uh-huh. Piling it high today, are you? You want the usual?” “Thanks.” Jackson pulled a newspaper out of his back pocket. Rodeo Sports News. He shook his head thinking how



saddlebag dispatches

silly he had been to keep his subscription and membership going all these years. It was his way of denying that he was getting old. He spread it on the counter, opened it to the rodeo schedules and ran his finger slowly down the column. He stopped at the first July entry. July 2, Mesquite Champion Rodeo, Mesquite, TX. Bull-riding $2,500 added. Fee $250. Open. Limited entry first 72 entries. The phone number followed. He tapped his finger on it, took a ballpoint from his pocket and circled it. Darlene watched him as she poured his coffee. “You got a telephone here, Darlene?” “Naw. We haven't had a pay phone in twenty years. Hang on a minute.” She walked down to the register, bent over and dug around underneath the counter. She came back and laid a cell phone on the counter. “Here, use mine.” “It’s long distance.” “Don't worry, hon. I've got unlimited minutes.” “Alright. Thanks.” He looked at the entry he'd circled and carefully punched in the number. There was a short conversation, then he laid the phone on the counter and dug into his breakfast. “See ya Saturday, Darlene. Thanks for the phone,” he said, placing some cash on the counter next to the phone to pay for his breakfast.. — Harley called the Auto-Zone. Jackson would be tore up about that dress until he came up with a plan. “Hey, Butch. It's Harley. Is Jackson available?” “Nope. He called in sick. I'm having to have Charlie deliver parts and it’s got me busier than a one-armed paper hanger.” “Alright. I won't keep you then. Thanks, Butch.” — Jackson sat in his rocker drinking a beer when Harley pulled up. Harley got out of his car swinging a six pack of long necks which he dropped in the cooler then pulled out a cold one.

“I called the Auto-Zone looking for you today. They said you'd called in. You feeling okay? “I had some errands to run.” “Alright. You're probably gonna catch hell tomorrow. Butch didn't sound a bit happy about having to let Charlie deliver parts.” “He'll get over it.” “Uh-huh. That the latest copy?” Harley asked pointing to the folded Rodeo Sports News on the bench next to Jackson's chair. “Yeah.” “Well, you gonna let me look at it.” “Nothing interesting in it.” “Let me look anyway.” Jackson handed it over and Harley thumbed through it slowly as they drank their beers. “What the hell? What did you do?” “I don't know what you're talking about.” “The hell you don't. That circle right there with the line through it. You know damned well what that is. That's how we used to mark the rodeos we were riding in. One line through the circle for you and one for me when the entry fees are paid. Now, give.” “Alright. I thought I might take a little ride up to Mesquite in July.” “Didn't you forget something?” “Not that I can think of.” “Dammit, Jay Bee. Did you forget that you're fifty-two years old? Did you forget that you haven't been on a bull in twenty-five years?” “Is that right?” “Aw, hell. This is about that dress, ain't it?” “So, what if it is?” “Jay Bee, you're gonna get yourself killed. This ain't no piddling jackpot rodeo. Them boys are bucking professional stock.” “You'd rather help me rob a bank, Harley?” Harley looked him up and down. His eyes stopped at the simple buckle on his belt. “What happened to your belt buckle? Aw, hell. You're really gonna do it, aren't you?” “Entry fees are in the mail. So, you gonna help me or not?” There was total silence except for the cicadas for nearly half a minute.


saddlebag dispatches

“What do you need, dammit?” “Day after tomorrow, I thought I'd go over to Billie Ray's. You want to come along.” “Why, shore. Hell, I ain't never seen a bull kill a man before.” — Saturday morning found them pulling up to the bucking chutes at Billie Ray's ranch. He had a string of average and a scattering of above-average bucking bulls and horses that he ran around to a few local Chamber of Commerce rodeos. Jackson and Harley knew him from their days on the circuit. Billy Ray had been a slightly-better-than-most rider, but more careful with his winnings than others. He greeted them as they got out of the truck. “I got your phone message. Figured it was some kind of a joke.” “No joke. I need to ride some practice bulls.” “My insurance agent would have my ass if I let you anywhere near a bull.” “Who’s gonna tell him? Besides, I'll sign a waiver.” “You're serious?” “As a heart attack.” “That's a likely outcome. Alright, it’s your funeral.” Twenty minutes later there were four bulls in the bucking chutes and Harley went to helping Jackson set his bull rope on the first one. “When you get through there, Harley, get ready to pull the flank strap,” said Billy Ray picking up a stop watch and a megaphone. Jackson straddled the chute and set his butt down on the little Angus bull. He sensed right away that the bull was too calm, but he continued anyway. He warmed the rosin on his bull rope by running it back and forth through his gloved hand. He slid his hand into the hand hold and, with Harley's help, pulled the rope tight. He took a loop around the back of his glove and gripped the tail of the rope in his fist beating on his fingers to get the tightest grip possible. Ready, he scooted up onto the rope and nodded for the gate. The gate popped open and the bull flung himself into the arena butt first and set a left-hand spin bucking half-heartedly. The bullhorn buzzer went

saddlebag dispatches

off at eight seconds and Jackson let go of the rope. He landed, dropping to one knee then watched as the bull continued to buck and jump across the arena. He shook his head as he picked up his bull rope and walked back over to the chutes. “I'm wasting my time, Billy Ray, if that's the best you've got. You used to have better stock than that.” “Alright, alright. I was just making sure you were serious. I don't want to see a friend get hurt.” “So now you know. This next one any better?” “They're all better.” Three-quarters of an hour later, the score was tied at bulls two, Jackson two. “Can I have four more?” “Yeah, just don't wear 'em out for me, okay?” “I'll try not to. Uh, Billy?” “Yeah?” “I appreciate you doing this for me.” “Hell, Jackson, I figure you're going to Mesquite one way or another. This way, at least, you have a chance of surviving.”

“Yeah, its real nice having all my friends tell me what a great has been I am.” Four more bulls and the score now stood, bulls five, Jackson three. “Can we set something up for next Saturday?”. “Yeah, I guess. I won't be here. I'm taking a string to the Chute Out in Gustine, but I'll have Brady and his kid run you through. How many you want?” “I reckon eight is about my limit.” “Just remember, its six miles to the nearest hospital and we don't have a bullfighter.” “You're a real comfort, Billy Ray. Thanks, brother.” “You can thank me with a six-pack after Mesquite.” “You got it.” Jackson showed up for work at the auto parts house on Monday with his right shoulder wrapped in an ace bandage and a Lorocet sloshing around in the coffee in his gut. He made it through the day somehow and drove home to find Harley waiting for him with a six-pack chilling in the cooler. “What are you doing here?” he asked.



saddlebag dispatches

“Just checking to make sure you ain't dead.” “Not yet.” “Tough day?” “You could say that.” “It ain't over,” said Harley. “What do you mean?” “I mean, you need to put your running shoes on while I look at that shoulder.” “You have got to be kidding me.” “Nope. Either you get in shape for this thing, or I'll rope and tie you and you flat won't go.” “Aw hell, alright.” He went inside the trailer and came back in a few minutes with a pair of tennis shoes that looked like his dog slept on them. They were covered in dust and dog hair. He started to pull his boots off and winced in pain. Harley grabbed him by the boot heel and pulled them off then watched as he laced his sneakers. “Where am I supposed to run at?”

“Half mile to the county road. I clocked it on the way in. I’ll be here when you get back.” Jackson looked at him in disbelief, then turned around and started jogging. When he got back, Harley sat on the porch with a beer in one hand and a stop watch in the other. “Seven minutes, fifty-two seconds. Getting old, ol' son.” “Give me a break, Harley. That's good time for a man my age with a broke wing.” “Maybe, but you need to shave at least two minutes before Mesquite.” “Are you kidding me?” “You asked for my help. Now, are you going to keep jawing at me or sit your butt down and drink a beer?” For the next month, Jackson trained as hard as he ever had. He ran every evening, worked out with his bench weights, did sit-ups and jumping jacks. He even installed a pull-up bar between two pillars of his porch. He ate better and cut back to one or two beers of an evening. When June rolled around,

saddlebag dispatches

he started going out to Billy Ray's two nights a week after work as well as Saturdays. He could get in a couple of rides before dark then come home and run two miles before supper. Most days he rolled into bed right after he ate feeling like he'd been mugged with a baseball bat. On the days when he felt a little better, he'd pop in a PBR video and watch the pros ride. He obsessed with his upcoming ride. On the twenty-third, Harley pulled up in the drive just as Jackson was finishing his run. He watched as Harley climbed out of the car with a six-pack and a paper bag. “Hey, Harley. Give me a minute to shower the stink off. There's some cold ones in the cooler.” He emerged ten minutes later snapping a clean short sleeved western shirt with the tails out over his clean jeans. He snagged an icy beer out of the cooler and sat down twisting the cap off. “What's in the sack?” Harley reached into the bag and pulled out a Po'boy. He passed it to Jackson and pulled out another for himself. “Man. Now that's what I call a friend. You must want something.” “I called Billy Ray, today.” “Yeah?” “I told him you were done out there.” “You did what? I've only got one more weekend before Mesquite.” “You're as ready as you're gonna be. Cut back the runs to a mile a day and nothing after next Thursday. I want you nice and rested when you get to Mesquite.” “But—” “No buts. You're ready or you ain't.” Jackson took a long pull on his beer then unwrapped his sandwich while he thought about it. “Ya think?” he asked. “I think.” “Alright then. Let's not let these sandwiches go to waste, and Harley...?” “What?” “Thanks, man.” “Like Billy told you, you can thank me after Mesquite. If you're still alive, that is.”

— Sunday evening in Dallas, a telephone rang. “Hello?” "Hi. Crissy?” “This is Christine. No one's called me Crissy in years. Who is this?” “Uh, its Harley, Crissy.” “Oh, my God! What happened? Is he alright?” “You happened.” “I—what the hell are you talking about? Are you drunk, Harley?” “Listen to me, Crissy. You wrote him a letter. The one about a wedding dress for Julie.” “Yeah. He doesn't have the money, does he?” “No, he don't but he's got an idea how to get it.” “Uh-oh, what kind of harebrained scheme has he cooked up this time? He going over to Tunica and make the casino pay for it?” “Knock it off, Crissy. I'm not kidding around.” “Alright, Harley. What's going on?” “He's gonna ride, Crissy.” “Right. He's more'n fifty years old. Quit pulling my damn leg.” “I ain't pulling your leg. He's entered in the bullriding next Sunday in Mesquite. He sold his buckles for entry fees.” There was a long and profound silence on her end of the phone. “Crissy?” “You're not kidding me, are you, Harley?” “Not a bit.” “But why? He's been retired for years.” “That's what I'm trying to tell you. He wants to buy his daughter a dress.” “But he'll be killed. How could you let him do this?” “You know him. There weren't no stopping him. I'm helping him train. He's been riding out at Billy Rays for almost two months now. He's eating good, running, lifting weights. He wants this, Crissy.” “Ah, the damned fool.” “Probably, but I thought you ought to know.” “Yeah. Thanks, Harley. You're a good friend.” “You gonna be there, Crissy?” “You're damned right I'll be there.”



saddlebag dispatches

“Go to the rodeo office when you get there. They'll have tickets for you and Julie.” “Thanks. I owe you one.” “Uh, one more thing, Crissy?” “What?” “Don't tell him I told you.” “Don't...Now how in the hell am I supposed to talk him out of this if I can't even let him know that I know?” “You're not. His mind is made up. Seeing you before he rides would only distract him. Give him a break. Let him do this his way.” There was another long silence on the phone. “You sure?” “I'm sure.” “Alright. I'll see you Sunday.” She hung up the phone and shuddered as the sobs came in waves. She realized now that she hadn't written the letter because of the dress. It was only a convenient excuse. She wanted to see him again. With that realization, the sobs grew louder. Damn you, Harley Taylor. You told me this day would come. There were only two men in her life in all the years since Jackson. Neither measured up. After a beating by the last one, she packed up Julie and her things, and moved to Dallas where she lost herself in a new job, new friends and being a single Mom. Dear God, Please, don't take him. Don't take him now. — Saturday morning Jackson threw his war bag behind the seat of his truck and climbed in. He heard a car horn sounding. It seemed to be getting closer. He looked around to see Harley's Bronco bouncing down the drive. “You didn't think you were going without me, did you?” Harley leaned out the open window. “Naw. I'm just going over to the Lunch and Lounge for breakfast.” “Throw your war-bag in here, pardner. We can stop on the way.” “Alright. You sure you want to take your Ford?” “I'd prefer it. I don't think that ol' rattle-trap of yours would make it.”

“Hey. Watch what you say about my truck. She's sensitive.” Jackson patted the hood affectionately. “Yeah, sensitive. I'll bet.” “Gimme just a minute. I've got an overnight bag packed inside. Here, take my war bag.” He came back in less than a minute and tossed his bag onto the back seat. “So, did you make reservations anywhere?” “No. I sorta figured to sleep in my truck. We still can, you know.” “I got us a room at the Ramada.” “Thanks, Harley. I'll pay you back.” “Don't worry about it. Been too long since we took a road trip together.” “Not so long that I forgot how you snore.” “Alright, look. We'll stop for gas and breakfast then head on up. It’s about four hours so we'll get there early afternoon. We can grab a bite to eat and go check out the arena before we check into our room. Sound good?” “Sounds fine to me. You always were better at the planning. I like to fly by the seat of my pants.” “There'll be plenty of flying tomorrow. You just make sure that the seat of your pants stays stuck to that bull. Leave the flying to the other guys.” After breakfast, they headed north toward Dallas. They found a decent diner for lunch. An hour later, they arrived at the Mesquite Championship Rodeo and Resistol Arena. “Changed a bit since we were here last,” said Harley following the signs to the contestant parking. “Looks like. Hell, the whole danged arena used to be over there somewhere.” Jackson gestured off in the distance across a parking lot. “That there's the contestant entrance,” said Harley nodding his head. “Anything else you want to see today?” “Naw. I'm good.” They drove back to the Ramada Inn and spent the remainder of the day playing cards and watching bad television. The next morning, they headed back out to the rodeo grounds to try for a decent parking spot. It seemed to be filling up fast. Jackson could feel the old nervousness coming back and he went right into his routine to shake it.

saddlebag dispatches

He closed his eyes and pictured the ride he was going to make. In his mind's eye, he countered every move the bull made, sitting up with his chest pushed out and his head down, he made it look easy. Harley found a parking and slid the Bronco into it. “You ready?” “I reckon.” “Let's go check in with the rodeo secretary and see what you drawed.” “Drew. It’s what I drew. I been telling you that for thirty years and you still get it wrong.” “Tomato, tomahto. Who cares? You coming?” “Yeah.” It took a bit of talking, pleading and rodeo name-dropping, but they got a “behind the chutes” pass for Harley as well so that he could help pull Jackson's rope and keep an eye on his nerves. They found out that Jackson had drawn a bull called Misty Maple Desperado. It was a good sign. Misty Maple only bought naming rights to the very top tier of bucking

bulls. Jackson would have his hands full, but this was a bull he could win on. He would be the sixth bull-rider out of the chutes. Harley pinned Jackson's contestant number to the back of his shirt. They made their way through a milling crowd of cowboys and stock handlers and climbed up behind the bucking chutes. There were numbers painted above each of the eight chutes, and they moved down to the one with the six above it. Jackson dropped his gear and dug out his bull-rope. He flipped it over a rail and tied it off with a slip knot so that the tail hung loose, then sat down against the back wall and pulled his hat down over his eyes, sucking in the comforting potpourri of hay, manure, sweat, fear and freshly-graded dirt. Harley mingled with the crowd, visiting with the cowboys to see what he could learn about the bull Jackson was riding. Cowboys are always willing to help each other, and it didn't take long to find a couple of boys who had drawn the bull before. They told him what they knew and what they thought



saddlebag dispatches

they'd done right or wrong when they tried him. Jackson and Harley watched the bareback and saddle bronc events and killed time during the roping events and barrel racing discussing the information gleaned from the other riders. They learned about the bracket type format adopted by the new Elite Rodeo Athletes Association. Jackson wasn't a member, and wouldn't be eligible for points towards the championship, but he would qualify for any prize money in the go-round. There was over two thousand dollars going to first place. During the barrel racing, Harley made sure that Jackson was getting ready. He watched him putting new rosin on his bull rope and warming it up with his gloved hand. The chute boss came by and reminded them of the new thirty-second clock rule designed to keep the rodeo moving. If a cowboy took too much time in the chute before nodding for the gate, the chute boss would start the clock and thirty-seconds later the cowboy would be disqualified. When the barrel racing started. The contractor ran the bulls into the chutes. Jackson ran his eyes over the big brindle Brahma-cross bull. He had horns like a roping steer, but they’d been sawed off at about ten inches. His muscles rippled like a posing body-builder as he shook off the flies. The bull watched Jackson out of the corner of his eye like he was sizing him up, too. He pawed the dirt in the chute like he was pleased with his assessment. Harley helped Jackson set his bull-rope as the announcer proceeded to get the bull-riding started, introducing the first bull and rider. They watched as the rider bucked off at five point two seconds and the bullfighters went to work. They seemed to know what they were doing and helped the cowboy up and away from the bull quickly. Jackson nodded his approval then climbed up and straddled the chute while he continued to warm the rosin on his rope. “Just ride him one jump at a time, Jay Bee.” “I know. I'm as ready as I'll ever be.” When the fourth chute popped open, he sat down on the bull, and with Harley pulling the rope, he took a wrap on his hand and pounded the glove closed

tight. He started working his foot down between the bull and the chute gate. The bull leaned against the gate making it difficult and one of the rodeo employees stuck a four by four fiberglass bar in between the bull and the gate and began to lever the bull away so that Jackson could get his foot down. The announcer's voice came over the P.A. system again. “Folks, we've got a real treat in store for you today. Coming out of chute number six is Jay Bee Stark, World Champion Bull-rider from 1985. You heard me right. 1985. This truly is a sport for all ages. Jay Bee's fifty-two years old and he's been away for more than twenty-five years. If that sounds crazy... well… it is. He's drawn a bull some of you may have heard of, Misty Maple Desperado. This bull is no stranger to the National Finals himself and this should be a great match-up for these two champions. Let's give them both a big Mesquite Championship Rodeo welcome.” The fans erupted in a roar and Jackson scooted up on his rope and nodded for the gate. Desperado exploded out of the chute and planted his hooves ten feet out in the arena kicking for the sky. That jump would have slid most riders back off their rope giving the bull all the advantage, but Jay Bee dug his spurs in and pulled hard on his bull rope. Jackson's field of vision blurred and narrowed to a small spot directly in front of him and behind the bull's head. The sounds of the arena faded completely and all he heard was the grunting and farting of the animal beneath him. Desperado kicked high then lunged hard for the middle of the arena trying to tip him off balance. Jackson sat tall and straight with his chest forward, head down and free arm swinging shoulder high to counter the centrifugal forces. He threw his hooks forward for a new grip. The bull set a left-hand spin keeping his nose near the ground and slinging snot as he flung his hind end around in a tight circle. Jackson used his free arm for balance, spurring with his outside leg, and stayed with him. After two complete spins, Desperado lunged hard again changing his rhythm in another wild attempt to unseat the rider.

saddlebag dispatches



saddlebag dispatches

Jackson was ready for him and flung his chest out further and pulled hard on his spurs and rope. Desperado bucked hard again and flung his head back trying to smash Jackson's face with his head. It was the move that had disfigured Tuff Hedemann on Bodacious at the PBR World Finals in '95. He missed by millimeters and Jackson could smell the sweat in the hair on Desperado's neck. Changing direction, Desperado went into a righthand spin trying to tip the rider down into the well. Jay Bee’s butt started to slide that way before his outside spur caught and he pulled himself back to the middle. It was close, but he kept his seat to the buzzer. When the buzzer went off, he yanked the tail of his rope as he opened his hand and took a dive off the left side of the bull. He scrambled to his feet and turned toward the chutes when a horn slammed into his left arm. It felt like a bullet went through him and he dropped to the ground with the wind knocked out of him. He lay there willing himself to move and seeing the bullfighters dash in jumping over him to draw the bull away. He caught a breath and his vision began to clear some. Harley was there, helping him to his feet and turning him toward the arena gate. The sports medicine team swarmed around them, but Harley held on and insisted they walk out the gate. “Not yet, Harley.” Harley knew what was coming and let go except for the back of Jackson's belt.

Jackson turned painfully around and with his gloved right hand removed his hat and waved to the crowd as the electronic scoreboards flashed a rerun of his ride and a score of eighty-eight and a half points. The crowd came to their feet giving him a thunderous ovation. Jackson waved his old brown Stetson as he slowly turned away and let Harley and the medical team help him from the arena. Two women stood outside the gate blocking his path. They looked familiar as he squinted through the pain. “Jay Bee, you damned fool. You could have been killed. What in the hell did you think you were doing?” He recognized her now. “Crissy? What are you doing here?” “We came to see an old fool break his damned neck.” He looked at the other woman. “Julie? Is that you?” She nodded. “Excuse us, ladies, but we have to get him back to the sports medicine room and check him out. You can talk there.” They walked him back to the aid station and told him to sit down in a folding chair. “Wait just a minute, Jay Bee. Let me have your wallet,” Harley said. He fished Jackson's wallet out of his jeans and walked off with it. Jackson's shirt was torn when the horn hit his arm. They cut it away. “Waste of an expensive new shirt,” he said trying to sound aggrieved. His whole bicep was already pur-

saddlebag dispatches

ple and black and beginning to swell. “Guess I'm lucky they trimmed those horns. Would have made a pretty good-sized hole,” he said as Crissy and Julie walked up. “You didn't answer my question. What in the Sam Hill were you thinking?” “I haven't been around probably as much as I should have. Julie deserves to have her dress.” The doctor examined the arm, “I need you to move over here to the table and lie down, Mr. Stark.” Jackson did as he was told. “Alright, this may hurt a little.” He pulled hard and twisted on Jackson's arm, snapping the bone back into place. “Now just hold still while I put a cast on it.” “You gonna be at the wedding?” asked Crissy. “I don't know. I haven't been invited.” Julie ran to him and flung her arms around his neck with tears streaming down her face. “It’s not customary to send an invitation to the man who'll walk me down the aisle, Daddy.” The doctor was just finishing up with the last piece of plaster gauze when Harley returned shaking his head and looking glum. “I guess my score didn't hold, huh?” asked Jackson. His old friend's face lit up. “It held alright. First place in the go-round.” He fished a check out of his hip pocket. “Two thousand, one hundred and seventeen dollars and seventy-five cents. Oh, and one more thing.” He fished around in the pocket again and pulled out a gold buckle. It was engraved. Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association, J.B. Stark, World Champion—1985. “Where'd you get that?” “Right where you left it. Consider it an early Christmas present.” Their eyes met, and something passed between the two old friends. Jackson nodded. Crissy slipped an arm around Jackson and planted a kiss on his lips that turned his face red and made the hairs on his head tingle. Head swimming, Jackson looked at Julie and smiled. “You still want that dress?”


dennis doty


ennis Doty, a Southern California native, has been writing fiction since 2004. His stories spring from a vivid imagination, but many have a basis in his many life experiences, including growing up in a small town, the decade he served in the Marine Corps, and stories from two years riding on the old Southwest RCA rodeo circuit. Dennis presently lives in Appalachia, with his wife and their two dogs, where he divides his time between writing, swapping lies with the other old timers, and yelling at kids to get off his lawn. After submitting his first short story, "White Buffalo Woman" to appear in the Spring, 2017 issue of Saddlebag Dispatches, Dennis so impressed Publisher Dusty Richards that The Ranch Boss invited him to join the magazine staff on a permanent basis. He now serves as Managing Editor, and as Deputy Publishing Director of Galway Press's parent company, Oghma Creative Media. Dennis blogs on a regular basis on a multitude of subjects, not the least of which is quality in editing. You can learn more about Dennis and his writing at



saddlebag dispatches

SA D D LEBAG f e at u r e

THE SECOND WOUNDED KNEE Unrest among the Native American community in the 1960s and '70s triggered a series of protests, including the armed occupation of Wounded Knee. John T. Biggs


was discovered in the sacred Black Hills. Red Cloud THE FIRST WOUNDED KNEE he Great Sioux reservation had been shrinking objected but did not fight the literal theft of his tribe’s ever since it was established by the Treaty of sacred land. He worked with the white soldiers who Fort Laramie in 1868. Red Cloud negotiated came into Lakota territory in large numbers and left Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull to fight the battles of that document. The Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho agreed to stop fighting and the U.S. Government the Great Sioux War of 1876-77. When the war ended and the Native Americans promised to withdraw all troops and dismantle all had lost once again, the Lakota broke into factions, forts on lands set aside for the Indians. The Sioux were promised sovereignty within the reservation for “as some were bent on opposing white incursions on reservation land but most saw resistance as futile. Crazy long as the grass shall grow and the water run.” Any Horse, Sitting Bull and Spotted Tail among others were time those words were incorporated in a treaty, the murdered by, or with the participation of other Sioux Indians were doomed. Crazy Horse and his followers understood that who chose to cast their lots with the winning side and Red Cloud was tricked. They speculated that his try their best to survive. Congress increased pressure on reservation Indians spirit had been stolen and captured in a box when he was photographed on a trip to Washington D.C. by passing the Dawes act in 1887. This law was meant to meet with the Great White Father (President Ulysses JOHN TRUDELL, A SIOUX ACTIVIST, LOOKS OUT ACROSS SAN S. Grant). Treaty violations FRANCISCO BAY FROM A TEEPEE ON ALCATRAZ ISLAND started almost immediately, but DURING THE AMERICAN INDIAN OCCUPATION IN 1969. drastically increased when gold


saddlebag dispatches

to eliminate reservations and assign land in 160 acre parcels to Native American families who had signed up on the rolls. Surplus (unassigned) land would become government property, available for leasing to white ranchers and mining companies, or put up for homesteading by white settlers. This act looked like it would mean the end of tribal land in the United States and was resisted in the courts and by factional groups within the tribes. Native Americans did what they always had done when they faced the overwhelming power of the United States government. They turned their problems over to a higher power. The Ghost Dance began on a Pima reservation in Nevada and spread all the way to the Pine Ridge Sioux Reservation in less than two years. If the ceremony were done correctly, Wakan Tanka (the Great Mystery) would bring back the buffalo and eliminate the white man from the New World. A purely

Lakota feature was added to the Pine Ridge version of the ceremony. Participants wore special shirts which would protect them from U.S. soldiers’ bullets. On December 29, 1890, U.S. cavalry troops gathered around Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge reservation where Chief Big Foot had led a large group of Sioux to surrender and reconcile themselves to life on the reservation, at least until the Ghost Dance did its work. When soldiers and Native Americans faced off, the results were often disastrous whether the parties intended them to be or not. A shot was fired. Perhaps by the Indians, perhaps by the military. That shot didn’t hurt anyone, but in response, the army opened fire. Eighty-four Lakota men, forty-four women, and eighteen children died on the field. A SECOND WOUNDED KNEE It couldn’t happen again. That’s what most Americans

saddlebag dispatches


thought on February 28, 1973. The government was more thoughtful. Indians were more peaceful. There was no ghost dance and no planned extinction of the buffalo, no forced movement of Native Americans across the country. But there it was. AIM founders Russel Means and Dennis Banks organized a caravan of several hundred people. They drove and marched into Wounded Knee and took over the community as a symbolic gesture of protest. They issued a public statement demanding a government hearing on treaty rights, an investigation of the BIA and of Tribal Council president Richard “Dick” Wilson. The list of demands was endorsed by the eight leading chiefs and medicine men of the Oglala Band. It wasn’t a ghost dance, but government agencies saw it as a threat. There were plenty of grievances on the reservation but this burst of activism was triggered by the murder of a young Lakota man, Wesley Bad Heart Bull, by a

white man who had stabbed him to death. The assailant was being charged with involuntary manslaughter and had been released without bail. Some of the demonstrators brought weapons—the Sioux were warriors after all—but they didn’t bring supplies. They were expecting the occupation to last a few days at the most, but much to their surprise, the next morning Wounded Knee was surrounded by U.S. marshals, FBI agents, BIA police, and a private militia controlled by Tribal Council President Richard Wilson. There was no turning back once things had escalated that far. THE OCCUPATION OF ALCATRAZ A lot of things were going on in the 60s and 70s in America that had ramped the government’s level of concern. The 1968 Democratic Convention was still fresh in the minds of government law enforcement



saddlebag dispatches


agencies and political activists as well. In 1969, Black Panther leaders Mark Clark and Fred Hampton were killed in a late-night raid by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office in conjunction with the FBI and Chicago Police Department, and the news media were calling it murder. In 1970 National Guard troops had been deployed to Kent State to put down a campus demonstration and had fired on students. Anti-Vietnam war resistance responded by becoming more militant. The Weather Underground had set off bombs in the U.S. Capitol building in 1971 and the Pentagon in 1972. Native American activists were in the news, too. A new group of urban Indians had been created by a federal program with the dubious name of Indian Termination and Relocation. Congress began this policy in the mid 1940s with the idea of eliminating reservations—the same intent as the Dawes Act in 1887—and assimilating Native Americans into mainstream culture by literally lifting them from the rural environment of tribal lands and dumping them into cities where they had no idea how to survive. This program didn’t get up and running until the 1950’s, coincidentally, about the time uranium was discovered not far south of the black hills city of Custer. It didn’t take newly urbanized young Indians long to recognize the success other minorities were having with

well-organized demonstrations. One of their earliest and most widely covered Native American actions was the “Indians of All Tribes” occupation of Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary after the government abandoned it. Native Americans from all over the country participated in this occupation which lasted from November 1969 to November 1971. Grace Thorpe, daughter of Olympic Athlete Jim Thorpe was there, along with reservation Indians and more volatile Native American activists who had been bumping up against U.S. law enforcement since they were displaced by government agencies. Indians of All Tribes based their claim loosely on an ambiguous clause in the 1868 Treaty of Laramie, which gave Native Americans first claim on abandoned government land. The occupiers captured the imagination and the sympathy of the white U.S. public with the following proclamation: We, the Native Americans, reclaim the land known as Alcatraz Island in the name of American Indians by right of discovery . . . We feel that this so-called Alcatraz Island is more than suitable for an Indian Reservation, as determined by the white man’s own standards. By this we mean that this place resembles most Indian reservations in that:

saddlebag dispatches




saddlebag dispatches


1. It is isolated from modern facilities, and without means of transportation. 2. It has no fresh running water. 3. It has inadequate sanitation facilities. 4. There are no oil or mineral rights. 5. There is no industry, and so unemployment is very great. 6. There are no health care facilities. 7. The soil is rocky and unproductive; and the land does not support game. 8. There are no educational facilities. 9. The population has always exceeded the land base. 10. The population has always been held prisoners and kept dependent on others. The Alcatraz occupation began to fail after Yvonne Oakes (13-year old step daughter of one of the principal organizers, Richard Oakes) fell to her death in a tragic accident. Richard Oakes left the island shortly after that, saying he simply did not have the heart for the occupation any longer. AIM activists stepped forward and tried to speed up negotiations with the Nixon Administration’s National Council on Indian Opportunity, but by then the reputation of the occupation was seriously tainted by the participation of the San Francisco drug culture. The remnants of the occupiers were forcibly removed after a fire destroyed several buildings on the island. Like most things about the Alcatraz occupation, its origins are disputed. THE AMERICAN INDIAN MOVEMENT Many of those who occupied Alcatraz were American Indian Movement members or became AIM members later on. Clyde Howard Bellecourt and Dennis Banks started the organization in Minneapolis with the help of Eddie Benton Banai, George Mitchell, Russel Means

saddlebag dispatches


and others. They first called themselves Concerned Indian Americans, but changed the name as soon as they recognized the CIA acronym. Banks and Bellecourt had become friends in the government boarding school they were forced to attend as young boys. That friendship was cemented in the Indian ghettos of St. Paul and Minneapolis and later as inmates in Minnesota’s Stillwater Penitentiary. Prison was literally a finishing school for Indian activists in the 60s and 70s, especially in Minnesota where Indians make up 1% of the state’s population but 8% of the inmate population. AIM’s core organizers learned their leadership skills while incarcerated. This tainted the organization in the eyes of law enforcement and to some extent the general public. AIM adopted the upside-down American flag as its initial formal symbol, another turn-off for law enforcement and white Americans as well as many Native Americans who had fought under that flag in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. Some members have continued to wear and display the upside down U.S. flag, but AIM now has a less provocative logo for public consumption.


The organization openly brandished arms, not unlike the Black Panther Party, and set its sights on return of Native Lands and political sovereignty. They started turning up in every Indian protest around the country that varied from simple marches to restore Native American fishing rights in the northwest, to the occupation of Alcatraz, the subsequent occupation of a decommissioned Army installation at Fort Lawton in Seattle, to a cross country Trail of Broken Treaties Caravan that occupied the Department of Interiors Headquarters building in Washington D.C. after the Nixon administration refused to discuss their twentypoint position paper.


saddlebag dispatches


Needless to say, the Federal agencies had AIM organizers in their sights. The FBI went so far as to circulate a list of key agitators to local law enforcement agencies in the cities and states where they lived. THE SIEGE Ever since Richard “Dick” Wilson was elected president of the Oglala Lakota Sioux of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, things had been deteriorating. Traditional Sioux had long considered tribal councils to be BIA collaborators. It’s easy to see why. The 160 acre plots allotted to families by the Dawes Act were woefully inadequate even in 1887, but almost a hundred years and four generations later most families could not come close to producing even a subsistence living from the land. The BIA with the assistance of the Tribal Council periodically assessed land usage and, when they decided the property could be put to better use, leased those family plots to bigger ranchers. They kept the rental fees low so there were plenty of interested parties. They’d pass most of the income on to the families and hope the big ranchers’ gratitude could be turned into political capital later on . By the time the 1970s rolled around, 90% of reservation land

was under control of white people, or people with very small quantities of Indian blood. The Tribal Councils had not so much moved the traditionals off of Indian land as pulled it out from under them. Richard Wilson continued this policy. In addition, he facilitated mineral leases for the rich uranium and coal deposits on reservation lands. The traditionals were convinced he was on their payroll. The usual response of the Sioux to losing their land to white interests was to ignore it as best they could and go on with their lives, ever more dependent on government subsidy. The subsidy, too, was under the control of the BIA, and with the cooperation of Richard Wilson, was distributed to his supporters much more generously than to his detractors. Some tribal members had friends with AIM connections. These city Indians weren’t really trusted by the locals at first, but the organization sent councilors and attorneys to help them with legal problems as they came up. They assisted them in getting serious investigations into the deaths of Indians at the hands of influential whites—the latest of which was the murder of Wesley Bad Heart Bull. Russel Means and Dennis Banks encouraged the

saddlebag dispatches

traditional tribal members to circulate petitions calling for the removal of Richard Wilson, one of which had more signatures than the number of voters who put the president into office. Wilson responded to this by ignoring attempts to remove him and by organizing a private militia which he called the Guardians of Our Oglala Nation—better known as the GOONs. He armed this private army, convinced local law enforcement, BIA, local white vigilantes, and the FBI to pitch in with them and even provide them with weapons and paramilitary training. The GOONs’ primary aim was to suppress activism and keep AIM off of the reservation. Wilson banned all AIM activities on Pine Ridge including a food coop organizer Russel Means started in the traditional village of Porcupine. This didn’t come as much of a surprise. Even before he ran for election, he said, “If Russel Means sets foot on this reservation, I, Dick Wilson will personally cut his braids off.” He went so far as to have Russel Means and Dennis Banks arrested for trying to tell Pine Ridge residents


about the Trail of Broken Treaties demonstration in Washington D.C. After the locals led by AIM activists took over Wounded Knee, Dick Wilson, his GOONs, and a local white vigilante group seemed determined to solve the AIM problem once and for all. The FBI, the U.S. Justice Dept., and the BIA gave him their support. Anything to get rid of the Indian activists. Richard Wilson was able to persuade the U.S. marshal’s service to place sixty-five marshals on Pine Ridge. Prior to his agenda to eliminate AIM there had been two. The FBI brought in additional agents and approved Wilson’s GOONs and a group of white vigilantes to act in tandem with federal law enforcement. The government employed helicopters and armored personnel carriers, the sort of things used in Vietnam. Some white trading post owners stayed in Wounded Knee after it was occupied to watch over their property. They were advised to leave by the Indians, and could have gone any time, but they stayed and the federal agents classified them as hostages.



saddlebag dispatches


saddlebag dispatches

On the evening of March 8, heavy fire broke out. Like during the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre, each side claimed the other fired first. FBI Special Agent in Charge Joseph Trembach requested that 2,000 U.S. troops of the 82nd Airborne with special training in putting down civilian disturbances be sent to seize the town, after which the feds would come in and make arrests. Had the army complied, chances are good the siege at Wounded Knee would have become another massacre. Fortunately Lt. Colonel Volney Warner, then Chief of Staff of the 82nd, recommended SAC Trembach’s request be refused. He also recommended the FBI standing order of shoot to kill be changed to shoot to wound in light of the fact that the Indians weren’t attempting to harm anyone. Warner stayed as an observer. This has been credited as preventing the all-out attack Trembach had in mind. Dick Wilson released a statement declaring his plans to march in with his private army after the FBI and BIA had left and kill “the outside Indians, whites,


blacks and Mexicans”. His GOONs were permitted to establish road blocks, cut phone lines, and expel and prevent news media from coming into the area. They started a fire fight with the support of the FBI who gave them immunity from arrest. Some U.S. marshals were injured, apparently from GOON fire -according to the marshals—but five Indians at Wounded Knee were charged for the incidents. According to court records submitted by the FBI, government agents along with the GOONs fired over 250,000 rounds during the siege. No one counted the number of shots fired by the Indians. Two AIM members were killed in the firefights. Buddy Lamont was hit with M-16 fire and bled to death. Frank Clearwater was killed by heavy machine gun fire. Twelve other individuals were intercepted by the Dick Wilson’s Goons while back packing supplies into Wounded Knee. They disappeared and were never seen again. The government investigated by looking for a mass grave on the reservation. When none was found, the investigation was terminated.



saddlebag dispatches


THE AFTERMATH On May 5th, the occupiers agreed to lay down their arms in return for a meeting with government representatives to discuss their original grievances plus long standing and continuing violations of the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie that created the reservation. By then, the Watergate investigation was in full force and the press turned its attention toward Washington D.C. and hardly noticed while the U.S. government did what it always does when negotiating with the Indians. Representatives of the Justice Department cited an 1871 law forbidding the U.S. from negotiating with any Indian tribe as a sovereign nation. No treaty would be discussed. The BIA was also not investigated. Nor was the FBI, which had no right to come on reservation lands except to investigate federal crimes, certainly not to put down a demonstration.

Nearly twelve hundred arrests were made. Five leaders of the traditionalist movement were indicted by the FBI and one hundred eighty-five members of the occupying group were subsequently indicted by federal grand juries. None of Dick Wilson’s GOONs were arrested or indicted for anything. AIM organizers Russel Means and Dennis Banks were brought up on numerous complaints. The judge dismissed the charges of burglary, arson, illegal weapons (Molotov cocktails), and theft, on the day the government rested its case. Subsequently he dismissed two counts of interfering with or obstructing federal law enforcement officers during a civil disorder, declaring the prosecution could not show the presence of federal agents was lawful. The case went to the jury on the charges of larceny, conspiracy, and two separate assaults. A not guilty verdict had been signed on Sept. 17

saddlebag dispatches

on the conspiracy count when a juror became ill. Prosecution elected not to risk jury verdicts on the remaining charges and the judge dismissed the charges. After the trial, seven of the jurors and several alternatives campaigned to have all other pending cases canceled. The FBI fought this successfully. They prosecuted many of the cases and did get a small number of minor convictions. In one eight-day period in early March, 1975 Judge Warren Urbom dismissed thirty-two cases before trial. In the remaining AIM leadership cases, charges were reduced but guilty verdicts were achieved. No one was sentenced to jail for the charges, though two defendants served a small amount of jail time for not showing up for the sentencing hearing. As for Buddy Lamont, Frank Clearwater, and the twelve missing activists who must be presumed dead

by now, no one will ever be asked to answer for their deaths. May they rest in peace. —John T. Biggs's writing is so full of Oklahoma that once you read it, you'll never get the red dirt stains washed out of your mind. The tribes play a significant role. No authentic discussion of the state is possible without them. Traditional Native American legends are reworked and set in the modern era, the way oral historians always intended. One of John’s stories, "Boy Witch" took grand prize in the 80th annual Writer's Digest Competition in 2011. Sixty of his short stories have been published in one form or another, along with six novels, including Owl Dreams, Popsycle Styx, Cherokee Ice, Sliders, Sacred Alarm Clock, and Clementine: A Song for the End of the World. He lives in Oklahoma City with his wife, and travels extensively throughout the world.



he sporting girls flutter about, charming fellas out of drinks, before convincing them to go upstairs with ‘em for a taste of heaven. The cowboys, buffalo hunters, muleskinners, and teamsters were easy pickings for the ladies, because those boys been out on the range, or bouncing over trails in the company of men. I guess something soft might have seemed like a slice of paradise. The ladies usually ignored me, which was just the way I liked it. I tended to sit in the corner of the saloons, sipping whiskey, keeping my head down, while not missing anything going on around me. I didn't watch the ladies as much as I did the gamblers. The real gamblers would sit at a table all night, playing poker or faro, their winnings stacking up in front of them. The other men who sat down at the tables to gamble weren't gamblers, just cowboys or greenhorns trying to make the time pass a bit quicker. They usually got up from the tables after an hour or so, pockets much lighter than when they first sat down. The gamblers though, they're a whole ‘nother breed. They sipped whiskey, gauged the competition, and played until there was no one left, which was rare,

because here in Dodge City, there was always someone willing to sit down and play. If no one does, the last remaining gambler gathers his winnings and heads to another saloon. I usually wait a few minutes before slinking out after him. Nobody but the bartender ever notices my absence. I'm a shadow—a greasy-haired, putrid smelling fellow, dressed in a dirty serape, and a hat with a broken brim. My face is covered with a scraggly beard, and I try not to look anyone in the eye. There's a method to what I do, and so far, it's been working. Beneath my dirty serape I carry a shiny Colt and a sharp Bowie knife. Oh, and a potato. I always carry a potato when I'm on the prowl. Twice a year I journey from my homestead in Missouri, leaving my wife Elmira in charge of the farm and our three boys. Cash money isn't easy to come by, so I sally forth looking to add to our nest egg. Elmira knew my mission, and supported me in all my endeavors. I got lucky meeting her in a sporting house in St. Louis fifteen years ago. She was looking for a new life, as was I. It's worked out well, and I figured I would be seeing her in the next couple of days.


saddlebag dispatches

This fellow I've been shadowing has been winning a lot, the last two nights. He sported a shiny clutch pistol, a watch on a chain, and I knew he wore a money belt. This particular saloon was filled with the usual characters, and my pigeon was raking it in, winning hand after hand. There had to be at least two thousand bucks in front of him, and there was at least twice that in his money belt. I sipped my whiskey, waiting for a sign. At last, I watched him begin to gather his money. I slid off my barstool, walking out the door with my head down. Once outside, I scurried around the back, sliding my potato onto the Colt as I got myself into position. With my free hand, I eased my knife out of the sheath, reminding myself to be calm, the next few moments would go by fast, and I'd be on my way back to Elmira. Inhale, exhale, be patient, I cautioned myself, and don't jump too soon. One indisputable fact was that no one could hold their bladders forever. At some point, relief became mandatory. At the saloons, there were fancy chamber pots, but only in the upstairs rooms where the sporting ladies performed. If a man were in the saloon drinking, carousing, or gambling, his only recourse was to step around back to the outhouse, my current location. Of course, the smell was terrible, but I'd been in the war, so this was a fleeting smell, something I

could wash off. The smells from the war would never disappear. Blood and the smells of death couldn't be rinsed off with soap and water. Young bodies piled on top of each other, rotting beneath an unforgiving sun. I'd seen and done things in the war which would make these next few moments seem like child's play. I heard my pigeon's footsteps coming towards the outhouse, and I leaned back, willing to let him live, but prepared to kill if necessary. In a world where innocent soldiers gave up their lives for ideals, this gambler's continued existence didn't matter to me. I hoped he wanted to live. He pulled the door open, and I watched his pudgy hands fumble with the buttons on his breeches. He hurried as if he'd stayed at the table a minute too long and his bladder were about to explode. I wasn't prepared for him to do an about face, and sit himself down, sighing as he did so. The click of the Colt in his face might have made his job flow a bit better. “Hands up,” I whispered. “Or this could get bloody.” His arms went up, and I whacked him with the Colt as hard as I could. His body slumped sideways, and my potato was knocked loose with the force of the blow. I put the Colt in my holster, then used my knife to cut the money belt off his waist, and retrieved the cash from the breeches gathered at his ankles. It

saddlebag dispatches


saddlebag dispatches

would have been much easier had he been standing. I took his watch as well, and he groaned, forcing me to whack him again. Time was now my enemy, and I left the outhouse, my pigeon a little bloody, but still alive. I hurried through the darkness behind the saloons, running towards my escape. I had paid to put my horse at the livery stable, telling them to leave Malaria tied outside. Money in advance quelled any questions, and sure enough, Malaria was right outside of the stable, tied, but rested and ready to ride. I untied her, mounting up, and letting her walk. I slapped the reins, encouraging her to canter. I stuffed the money belt into my saddlebag, knowing I'd get rid of it whenever I stopped. Hours passed before I stopped. Malaria cantered until we left town under the cover of darkness. Once clear of town, I dug my heels into her flanks, and she began to gallop. I'd let her gallop for awhile, then walk, then canter, then gallop again. I'd repeat the process to give her time to regain her breath, so that I could keep riding, putting distance between myself, Dodge City, and anyone else who might be following. As Malaria and I made our way home towards Elmira, I pulled a raw potato out of my saddlebag, gnawing it to keep hunger at bay. Back home, I farmed potatoes, and I knew all the uses for them. Potatoes can be baked, fried, eaten raw, used in poultices, made into a soup, mashed, or made into pancakes. I always carried potatoes with me, because they always come in handy. If the barrel of a gun is put through a potato, it muffled the sound of the shot. Instead of a loud bang which draws attention, there is only be a small pop—a sound no one in a bustling town like Dodge City would notice. Riding Malaria, I thought of how good it would feel to lie in the bathtub, letting Elmira give me a bath, a haircut and shave, and afterwards, a slice of heaven. If the money in my saddlebags were as much as I thought, maybe my nights in outhouses, waiting for gamblers, were over. As much as I scoffed at fools who gamble with their money and lives, I would be no better if I kept showing up in Dodge City looking for pigeons. I thought it best that I stick to ‘taters from now on.




arlon S. Hayes is a writer, blogger, author, and poet from Chicago, Illinois. He has written six books, been featured in five anthologies, and written for two magazines. His current project is a prequel to his novel, Eleven Fifty Nine, which is to be released by Oghma Creative Media in 2020. He can be followed at Marlon's Writings on Facebook,, and on Amazon. For 2018, his goal was to submit his writings to one hundred publishers. He achieved his goal with seven days to spare. In addition to his journey and evolution as a writer, Marlon is a grillmaster and chef with daydreams of opening a restaurant. He also has a severe case of ‘Wanderlust' and is at his happiest when he's on a trip to someplace new. He's on a quest to visit all fifty states, and his tally is currently at forty-seven, needing Montana, North Dakota, and Alaska. The allure of foreign climates have been beckoning, causing him to download translation apps to his phone, study currency exchange rates, and plan visits to six foreign countries in the next year. He follows the mantra that ‘Life is a banquet’ and he plans on constantly eating.


saddlebag dispatches



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches



saddlebag dispatches


he spirit of the West has always been epitomized by total self-reliance, an indomitable will and remarkable courage. You’ll find plenty of all these in this, our first themed issue. I can think of no place else in our society where these traits are more regularly or matter-of-factly displayed than in rodeo. Whether a cowboy is sitting on a 1,200 pound bronc or straddling an 1,800 pound bull, diving off a galloping horse to wrestle a six or seven hundred pound steer or risking the loss of a finger or two when he takes his dally in the timed events, it’s sure to get your adrenaline pumping. But sometimes the greatest acts of courage are found in unusual places. This column is about two such incidents. One I witnessed in person and another I’ve only seen on film. Back in the spring of 1976, I was a Marine sergeant preparing to compete in the Camp Pendleton military rodeo. It was the second and final weekend of practice before the big show. I’d bucked off my bareback draw and was killing time waiting for my friends who were bullriders. When the barrel-racing was over, the announcer introduced the clowns. We called them clowns back then, but they were the same caliber bullfighters you see today. This day, there was a third clown. He was a skinny eighteen-year-old local kid from Oceanside who wanted to learn to be a rodeo clown. This would have been unusual enough, but the kid was black.

This was unheard of back then, although western fans and historians know that more than twenty percent of the cowboys who drove the herds up from Texas a hundred years earlier were black men. There were the predictable remarks both in the stands and behind the chutes but nothing to his face that I heard. But the stock contractor was Bob Cook of RSC, Inc. He was the owner of Oscar, the World Champion Bucking Bull, and his word was law in the arena or around his stock. If he said the kid could be there, then he was going to be there. Period. The bullriding got underway and the kid pretty much stayed close but out of the way of the other two clowns. Since everyone was focused on the bulls and riders, he just sort of faded into the background. About six or seven rides into the bullriding, a big old white Brahma-cross bull named Pinky was the next out. I don’t remember the cowboy’s name. Pinky, though, was unusual in three ways. He had a very tall hump, he was known to be a mean bull who would go after a cowboy he’d bucked off, and his horns curved straight up and forward instead of curling out from his head. The gate opened and Pinky bucked across the arena before he finally set a spin. When he did, the cowboy missed his timing and bucked off into the well with his hand rolled over and hung up in the rope. The two professional clowns tried but couldn’t get an opening right away to get the cowboy loose and he was getting jerked about pretty good. Sud-

saddlebag dispatches

denly, there was a flash of movement in front of Pinky. The kid took two running steps and jumped straight up in the air. He twisted sideways in midair and landed with his right hip right between Pinky’s eyes and his waist between those horns without three inches to spare. He grabbed the tail of the rope and jerked just as Pinky tossed him ten feet in the air summersaulting over the back of the bull. The cowboy was loose and the other clowns took over doing their jobs like the pros they were. The kid got up, dusted himself off and went back to work like nothing had happened, but there wasn’t a cowboy, clown, or pick-up rider there that day who didn’t

“If you draw that bull again, Daddy, you turn him out.” Tuff made the promise knowing that the odds of drawing Bodacious again were very slim. The seventh round came, and the unlikely draw came with it. Tuff climbed up the chute and set his rope on Bodacious. God only knows what was running through his mind or the inner battle being fought. There was a gold buckle on the line and Tuff was no quitter. He put his hand in the rope, scooted his boots along the rails to get up over it and nodded for the gate. As the gate opened, Tuff stood up. He’d turned out. He stood on the back rail of the chute and doffed his hat to Bodacious.

make a point of shaking his hand or slapping him on the back. The second incident, the one I only saw on film, happened in the seventh round of the National Finals Rodeo in1995. Less than two months earlier, in the final round of the PBR World Finals, a bucking bull named Bodacious jerked Richard Neale "Tuff" Hedeman hard forward, then throwing his head back, broke every major bone in Tuff’s face. It took several hours of surgery and a lot of steel plates and screws to put him back together. At the National Finals, Tuff’s face was still noticeably bruised and swollen. His young son demanded that he promise,

The crowd went wild. I don’t know what I would have done in Tuff’s place. I can imagine the courage and sheer will it took to keep his promise. But he'd given his word, and when a cowboy gives his word, you can take it to the bank. I hope you enjoy reading this special rodeo issue of Saddlebag Dispatches as much as we’ve enjoyed putting it together for you. Until Next Time, Dennis Doty Managing Editor


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



saddlebag dispatches


icture yourself sitting in the bleachers at a rodeo on a summer evening. Dust motes swirl and float in light beams illuminating the arena. The grand entry and flag ceremonies are over and horses paw and snort in the bucking chutes as cowboys stretch latigos to tighten cinches. A rider wedges a gloved hand into the handhold of his bareback rigging, nods, and the chute gate swings open in response. The bronc between his legs leaps into the arena, lunging and jumping and kicking. The cowboy’s spur lick reaches from the break of the horse’s shoulders up the neck to the rigging, gapping wide as he reaches again for a spur hold above the bronc’s shoulders. With every lick, colorful leather chaps snap and flap, accentuating the action and adding to the excitement. What you’ve just imagined is typical of rodeo as we know it today. And much of that picture you’ve painted in your mind comes courtesy of a man named Earl Bascom. Earl Bascom? you say. Earl Bascom. The name is familiar to many rodeo insiders. It’s a name that likely appears in more halls of fame dedicated to the sport, on more “who’s who”type lists related to rodeo, and with more honorary memberships and lifetime achievement awards than any other cowboy. Those honors include, but are not limited to, the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum Rodeo Hall of Fame, ProRodeo Hall of Fame, Canadian Rodeo Hall of Fame, Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, Utah Cowboy Hall of Fame, Utah Sports Hall of Fame, Alberta (Canada) Sports Hall of Fame, Raymond (Canada) Sports Hall of Fame, Mississippi Rodeo Hall of Fame, and on and on, adding up to some two dozen in all. The honors come for a variety of reasons. Earl Bascom was a winning competitor over 23 seasons in bareback bronc riding, saddle bronc riding, bull


saddlebag dispatches



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches

riding, and steer wrestling as well as old-time events including steer decorating and steer riding. A rodeo clown and bullfighter. A rodeo producer and provider of rodeo livestock. But given all that and more, Bascom is recognized as, perhaps, the most inventive cowboy in the history of rodeo. Those electric lights illuminating arenas that make night rodeos possible? Earl and his brother Weldon came up with that idea for a Mississippi rodeo in 1935. The side-delivery chute gate that opens at the hind end of broncs and bulls, forcing them to turn out of the chute rather than lunge straight ahead? Earl and his brothers Raymond and Melvin figured that out while building rodeo arenas across Alberta, Canada, from 1916 to 1919. Bronc and bull riders have been saved a lot of agony from banged-up knees ever since. The chaps that snap and flap from the legs of bronc and bull riders? Earl designed the basic pattern for those. He altered range-riding chaps, which fastened around the leg from top to near the bottom, with a higher cut buckled only at the thigh, allowing the “batwing” to fly free below the knee. In 1926, legendary bronc rider Pete Knight adopted the style, and they carried his name among cowboys for years. In 1928, Bascom pulled the steel springs out from under the seat of a buckboard and turned them into an exercise gadget for cowboys to strengthen and build the muscles required in the arena, decades in advance of the physical fitness and training regimens common among today’s rodeo cowboys. Bull riding is arguably rodeo’s most popular event. Although a form of bull riding, or jaripeo, was common in charreadas, rodeo-like events in Mexico, for hundreds of years, in large part we owe the modern American


version to Earl Bascom and his brother Weldon. While in Mississippi in the 1930s, they introduced floppy-eared, high-humped, big-horned, loose-skinned Brahma bulls to the rodeo arena, popularizing and



saddlebag dispatches

lending excitement to what was primarily an exhibition event prior to that. The Bascom brothers earned the title of “Fathers of Brahma Bull Riding” for their efforts. But topping the list of useful inventions, at least so far as rodeo competitors are concerned, are two pieces of what are now standard equipment for bronc riders: the bareback rigging and the hornless bronc saddle. Lacking any practical application on ranch or range, bareback riding originated solely as a sporting contest; a new way to test the ability of a rider to stick to a bucking horse without benefit of saddle or rein. Prior to the advent of Bascom’s bareback rigging, riders tried horses with a simple mane hold, perhaps with a loose rope held around the bronc’s girth held there only by the strength of the cowboy’s grip; Some rode clutching, with both hands, leather loops on a strap cinched around the horse. Then, in 1924, Bascom devised the prototype for the modern bareback rigging. Earl’s original version was made from reinforced rubber belting used on farm implements. He cut a rectangular section of a size to fit over a horse’s withers—say, two feet by six or eight inches—with a narrow appendage on the center front, folded back and fastened to the base to create a handhold similar to what might be found on a suitcase. “D” rings


fastened to either end held latigo straps and a cinch for securing the rigging to the horse. As Bascom improved his invention, he traded rubber for thick leather and rawhide, creating more strength and stability. Although modified and improved over the decades, the bareback rigging used by bareback riders today is the recognizable offspring of Bascom’s original invention. Also still in use today—required by the rules as standard equipment, in fact—is the hornless bronc saddle introduced by Earl Bascom at the Cardston Stampede in Alberta, Canada, in 1924. Saddle horns then and now have caused serious injury and even death among cowboys on ranch and range. Useful, even necessary, for roping, the horn of a saddle becomes dangerous when a

saddlebag dispatches



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches

horse bucks or falls or rears over. Realizing there’s no need for a horn in competitive bronc riding, Bascom removed it as he made other alterations in the design of a stock saddle, resulting in the modern rodeo bronc saddle. About the only thing lost since Earl invented it is the name bronc riders initially gave it—the “muley,” borrowed from cowboy lingo for hornless cattle.


BORN TO IT. Earl Bascom’s affinity for and inventiveness in the tools and trappings of the rodeo arena seem surprising—until you factor in his heritage. Descended from tough and tenacious Mormon pioneer stock with infusions from Pyrenees Basques, Narragansett Indians, and Old West lawmen, Bascom was born June 19, 1906, in a log cabin on the family’s 101 Ranch in eastern Utah’s Uintah Basin. Horseback at an early age, he and his brothers herded cattle and horses on the ranch established by his grandfather. His first bronc ride came at the tender age of three, when a bee stung the horse he was aboard and it went to bucking. The toddler rode out the storm until plucked from the saddle by an older brother. When he was but six years old, cancer took Earl’s mother. Fleeing the memories—and the dry and overgrazed Uintah Basin—the Bascoms relocated to the Canadian prairies, taking up residence on the Knight Ranch near the new town of Raymond, Alberta. Earl’s father served as ranch foreman, responsible for hundreds of horses, thousands of cattle, and a sizeable herd of sheep. There, Earl Bascom grew up on ranch work and rodeo, entering his first professional rodeo at age 12 at the already legendary Raymond Stampede—Canada’s first rodeo, established in 1902. Interspersed with ranch work and other endeavors, Bascom competed professionally—with a good deal of success—for some 23 years, following the rodeo circuit across the United States and Canada with his brothers.



saddlebag dispatches

During the mid-1930s, Earl and his brother Weldon, along with a handful of other Mormon cowboys from the West, introduced rodeo to Mississippi in order to raise money to build a chapel. The event’s success spawned other rodeos in the Southeast, and that first Mississippi rodeo, staged in Columbia in 1935, still holds repeat performances every year. Topping the list, perhaps, of all the trophies and buckles Earl Bascom earned in the rodeo arena is one he received in 1995 at age 89. But there’s a story in that. The story begins in 1930 at a rodeo on the 3-Bar Ranch near White Bear, Saskatchewan. Bascom placed second in two events—bareback riding and steer riding—and the winnings earned him the title of AllAround Cowboy and a trophy belt buckle. But by the time the rodeo ended and all the winnings were tallied, Earl was long gone, going down the road to compete in another rodeo. With no address and no way to track down the winner, the buckle went on the shelf. And there it stayed, collecting dust until 1995 when the owner of the ranch—grandson of the man who produced the rodeo back in 1930—came across the buckle. With considerable time and effort, he located Earl, then living on his ranch in California, and presented the cowboy his long-overdue trophy buckle. As the old saying goes, better late than never— even when “late” means 65 years. MORE THAN RODEO. While his rodeo-related accomplishments are enough and then some to celebrate the life of Earl Bascom, there’s a lot more to the man. He was a saddle pal of movie star Roy Rogers, appearing in a film with the legendary cowboy actor and in other Hollywood productions. Over the years, Bascom found time to study and practice painting and sculpture. He earned a Fine Arts degree from Brigham Young University and guided art students as a teacher in a couple of southern California high schools. And, like another well-known Western artist found on a branch of the Bascom family tree— Charles M. Russell—Earl revealed an understanding of cowboy life through his art equaled by few others. His works of art are found in several museums as well as private collections.

saddlebag dispatches




saddlebag dispatches


saddlebag dispatches


The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Art Association declared Earl Bascom the first professional rodeo cowboy to become an artist and sculptor. He has been named the most famous cowboy artist Canada has produced. And his acclaim stretches across the sea, as the first cowboy ever named a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts of London, England—an organization first founded in the eighteenth century. Earl Bascom’s rodeo story is too big to fit in a single magazine. And the story grows wider and deeper when you include his father, John, brothers Weldon, Raymond, and Melvin, and his trick-riding sister-in-law, Texas Rose. But those are stories for another time.

The man who invented much of rodeo as we know it today nodded for the gate for the last time in 1995 at age 89 at his Victorville, California, ranch. But so long as cowboys gather to contest their skills at riding and roping, Earl Bascom will live on, his spirit mingling with the dust motes floating in the beams of the lights that illuminate rodeo arenas everywhere. —Spur Award-winning writer Rod Miller is the author of Goodnight Goes Riding and Other Poems, Things a Cowboy Sees and Other Poems, as well as several works of fiction and history about the West. His latest novel is Father unto Many Sons. Find him online at www.



he fringe of his buckskin shirt flapped in the light April breeze. “This way. The stage went this way, mules on the run, out of control.” Long strides of his knee-high moccasins carried him along a trail obvious to him if not to his comrades. He led his riding mule. “Hey, wait! Shouldn’t we bury them?” Two bodies pierced by arrows lay on the ground many yards apart. “Sure, kid, but it can wait. They’ve been lying here a week, and they’ll keep. They’re swollen. It’s gonna be nasty.” This pronouncement came from a big, broad-shouldered, soft-spoken man. The kid gulped. He was slight but strong having been in the west for a time. He gulped again, holding something back in his throat. He tried to mat down his hair without success. It stuck out from his head, and he settled for jamming his hat down over it. “I guess. If you say so, Matt.” A tall, lithe man looked up from a body at the frontiersman’s receding back. “M, I think Jack’s right,” he said to the kid. “We can bury them later.” He seemed to be the leader. Matt and the kid, M, followed him. Behind them came a dark man, a bit

taller than average, and well dressed. His eyes shifted from side to side as he watched. “Sure, Free,” said the kid, gulping again. They hurried after the frontiersman, Jack, walking rapidly away from the big stone building that had been the Stein’s Peak Station in the shadow of pyramidal Stein’s Peak. The trail followed the course the Overland Road, along the banks of an arroyo that cut deep along the mountain’s flank. They found the celerity wagon, a kind of coach with three seats on a flat foundation with canvas top and sides. It was over on its side in the deep wash. There was one naked, mutilated body inside. Matt whistled. “They didn’t like him much. I’ll bet Sam accounted for a few of them before they got him.” The kid turned green but said nothing. Jack nodded toward the peak where buzzards surrounded a clump of trees. They headed uphill, but carrion birds and coyotes unwilling to surrender their prey repulsed them. The dark man trailing fired a shot, and the scavengers departed in haste revealing two bodies hung by their ankles in the tree. Charcoal and ash showed where the Apaches had lighted small


saddlebag dispatches

fires under their heads. The bodies lacked hair and had little skin left on what had been faces. Jack scowled. “Avaline, yer gonna alert the ‘Paches.” “That makes five,” said Matt. “Can’t tell who they are, but we’ve accounted for everybody except J.J. Giddings. This must be him.” The kid hurried away and was soon heard retching. The tall, dark man looked at the bodies. “Does this mean we’re out of work?” Free looked at Avaline a moment. “Reckon not. His brother will still want the Jackass Mail to run from San Antonio to San Diego for the Confederacy.” Jack spat. Matt nodded. “Got that right. I didn’t sign on with Butterfield to work for no Confederacy.” “Maybe the rebellion will die out,” said Free. “Then we’re keeping the road open for the Union.” The kid, gone dry, returned. “I don’t ever want to end up like that,” said Emmitt Mills. “You got that right,” replied Thomas. Except for Avaline, who looked sidelong at the hanging bodies, all nodded and agreed. “Time to get to work.”

April became May. The news from the east was not encouraging. There were rumors of a Confederate Army coming to conquer New Mexico. The mail ran sporadically. Drivers never knew if they’d find a station occupied and fresh mules waiting or empty the hostlers having decided to depart with the stock and go into business for themselves. There were more rumors of Apache attacks than there were signs of Indians. The mail was unmolested, but drivers, conductors, and station keepers were well behind in their pay. In a dry spring, Mesilla slowly returned to the dust from which it was built. In the Santa Guadalupe Cantina, Avaline dealt Monte to a hard-featured man of medium height. His clothes were dusty but well made, frontier clothes, suitable for the trail. Knife and pistol were stuck in his belt. He had admirers. His eyes were unsteady as he knocked back another cup of cactus whiskey and laid a bet. Avaline dealt the next card. “I see you’ve lost again, my friend.” “It’s okay, Cap’n Mastin. Yuse the cap’n o’ the

saddlebag dispatches 105 Arizona Guards. You can take this tinhorn,” cried one of the admirers. Mastin looked hard at the gambler. “You talk like a Yankee. You a Yankee, tinhorn?” Another of Mastin’s followers spoke up. “He’s a Butterfield man, come from up north. I knows him.” Unnoticed by those surrounding Avaline, a man entered and ordered a drink. His clothes were dusty and worn, his broad-brimmed hat pulled low shading his eyes. He was large and powerful and wore his Colt .44 holstered and slung for a fast draw. Had anyone been watching, they might have seen him slip the loop from the hammer of his weapon as he watched the growing excitement around Avaline. “Kill the Yankee sumbitch.” Mastin straightened and squared on the man with the cards. “What’s a matter with you, Yankee gambler? You don’t believe in our rights? We won’t put up with that.” “There’s another Yankee sumbitch!” howled another of Mastin’s Arizona Guards, pointing out the newcomer. Mastin turned from the gambler. “You lookin’ fer trouble, too?” “Me? Not a bit.” Mastin growled. “Coward? You sound like more Yankee, trouble-making scum.” The man in the hat stood his ground. “I don’t take kindly to being called a coward or scum.” Mastin’s men offered their own insults to the hated Yankees. The gambler tried to calm them. “Listen here, we don’t want no trouble.” Mastin jerked out his pistol. The hammer clicked into place as he drew it back and leveled it on Avaline. “Goodbye, Yankee. I’ll see you crap your pants or die.” A bullet crashed across the room creasing Mastin’s thigh. He groaned, dropped his weapon, and fell to the floor. The man in the hat stood, the smoking pistol in hand. “Come on, gambler. Time to leave.” They backed out the door as calls came from within. “You’ll pay for this!” “We’ll get up a reward.” “You can’t shoot the cap’n and expect to live.” In the street, Avaline spoke. “Name’s Tom Avaline. Thanks for your help.”

“Name’s Jack Portall. Friends call me Port. Is there another cantina in this dust bowl where a man can drink in peace?” Avaline nodded leading the way. “They’ll come for you, ya know. They’ll have reward posters up by tomorrow.” “Don’t much care.” “I wouldn’t worry though.” The gambler smiled for the first time. Port thought that crooked smile a bit crooked and evil, but what the hell? “Joke’s on them. They ain’t got a sheriff or marshal. There’s no law to bring you in.” Port laughed. In the next few months of growing Confederate excitement, they were seldom seen apart, one watching the other’s back. The wanted posters appeared the next day as Avaline predicted. Confederate sympathizers offered $200 for Port dead or alive. No one seemed to have the courage to make an attempt to collect. The dust blew May away, and June heat arrived with sweat and grit. Hides toughened as grit chafed and sweat salted tender spots until nothing soft was left. Thunderclouds built on the horizon promising violent storms that never came. Avaline approached Freeman Thomas near the Overland Mail Station, now the offices of the San Antonio and San Diego Mail. “Free, you got work for me and my friend, Port?” the gambler asked the Jackass Mail conductor. “Maybe.” Free shrugged. “Can’t hardly keep the line open. Giddings don’t send half what we need, and station keepers steal half of that and abandon their stations. Don’t know from one day to the next which stations are manned.” Matt Champion joined them. “Do you really care? Do you really want to keep the road open for the Confederacy?” A passing stranger spat at their feet. “Watch what you say about the Confederacy, damn Yankees.” Port turned and lowered a hand to his holster. The man scurried away. “It’s getting worse,” said Free. From down the street came sounds of a fight. They ran to see what was happening. In an alley between buildings, three men had M on the ground

and were stomping the kid who lay curled trying to protect himself. Matt rushed in taking one unawares by collar and belt, tossing him ten feet into the dust. Port kicked a boot out from under another and sent him tumbling. Avaline’s revolver clicked. The third man ran, and collecting themselves from the ground, the other two followed. The Fourth of July arrived with a celestial fireworks display. Black clouds rose high, bristled and glowed with lightning. The rains struck with violence, soaking the world, melting adobe walls, and driving men from the streets. At the old Butterfield Station, Jackass Mail employees huddled in the dark watching the roof leak. Big Matt commented. “Colonel Baylor’s in Franklin with a Confederate mounted regiment.” Avaline whispered, “Rumors. Confederates make it sound big. Just a battalion.” The kid got excited. “Still, it’s a lot! And they’re really close!” Jack entered, his buckskins wet and dripping. A German sat with them. “Ja. But President Lincoln, he keep der Union together, for sure. We gots nodding to worry about. Is good country, America. Nothing bad gonna happen, Gott in Himmel.” Matt shifted in his chair. “Free, what happens to us when the Confederates come?” Free cocked his head. “We’ll be okay. We work for the Jackass Confederate Mail.” “You sure?” asked Avaline frowning. “Don’t seem like there’s been a mail wagon in a while.” “Yeah,” said the kid. “You sure you want to work for Confederates, enemies of the Union? We’ve got to fight ‘em!” Port looked at M with narrowed eyes. “Kid, you talk more’n that German muleskinner.” “Ja, ja, we got to fight Sesech for sure. Gott mit uns.” Free glanced around the group. “Major Lynde has got the road blocked. There’s no Confederate mail going anywhere. And Colonel Baylor’s regiment won’t get past Fort Fillmore.” A rock crashed loudly into the door. Outside in the rain, someone yelled. “Damn Yankees!” “Right, Free.” The gambler grinned. “All we got to worry about is the neighbors.”

saddlebag dispatches

M jumped to his feet and ran to the door. Matt blocked his way. “Relax, kid.” On July 19, a stage came in from the west. The driver was heated. “How soon can you get me some stock and get me going? I’ve got mail for San Antonio. What a trip! Never knew if there’d be anyone or any water from one station to the next! Station keepers deserting right and left. Rumors of Apaches. But we made it, and we’ll make San Antonio.” Matt shook his head. “‘Fraid not. Nothing’s going south from here. Major Lynde has got the road blocked. He’s afraid of spies. Colonel Baylor’s on the march. You’re stuck here.” That night the friends met for dinner. They found traveling singly an invitation to a beating by Southern sympathizers. From the next table, they overheard conversation. “Damn Yankees. Ought to be hung.” “Baylor gets here, maybe they will.” There was a laugh. Port spoke quietly. “California’s soundin’ better all the time.”

“How would you get there?” Free asked. “Is the road even open?” Matt nodded. “Stage came in, Free. From the west.” Freeman Thomas looked directly at him. “Are you suggesting we steal the stage?” “Why not?” said Port. “Most of us are owed wages.” Jack looked thoughtful. “We’d need some things. Guns, grain, water.” Free responded. “There’s a Sharps for each of us at the station and probably two Colt’s revolvers, too. And there’s grain and containers for water, as well as canteens.” Emmett spoke for the first time. “I can round up some food.” Free nodded. “That’s good, kid. There’s plenty of ammunition at the station, too. Maybe 2,000 rounds.” Avaline smiled. “Now there’s a bet I like, Sharps rifles and plenty of ammo.” Wrapped in buckskin, Jack folded his arms and frowned. “We need cover, or these Rebs will shoot us.” Free’s eyes brightened. “We’ll leave at midday during the next storm.”



saddlebag dispatches

Jack raised a fist in triumph. “They’ll be plenty of water in the sinks and holes. We won’t have to worry about the stock.” Port smiled. “And if we get shot at, what the hell!” Avaline grinned crookedly. “What do you care? Wanted posters are still up on you.” July 21st dawned clear and blue, but by late morning thunderheads were crowding the sky. By noon, they’d built up taller and blacker than basalt cliffs, and then with a crash they fell with rain as thick as standing corn turning the streets to rivers. Wind roared and drove the rain before it slantwise. A wanted poster blew by. “That was one of yours, Port,” yelled the gambler, Avaline. “I think they’ve raised the reward.” Port set two more Sharps rifles into the bed of the celerity wagon and pushed them under a seat. The wagon was a stagecoach with a canvas top and sides. Driver and conductor sat on the same level as the passengers while the first seat faced backwards so that the riders had their backs to them with a sheet of canvas in between. There were two more seats barely 42 inches wide so that with nine passengers aboard, they sat hip to hip, legs interlocked, and those on the outside edge rode with a foot in the air. With only five passengers and two operators, it was going to be more comfortable, but not much. The road was “improved” just enough for the stage to pass over it, but its body was supported on leather straps in the

place of springs. Riders would feel every bump and rock personally. M emerged into the rain with a sack of grain over his shoulder while Matt and Joseph, the German, struggled to harness four half-wild mules. Free looked at the load and then climbed into his seat next to the driver while Joseph joined him. “Mount up. Let’s get out of here before the storm breaks!” They headed out. As they passed the cantina, Free heard voices. “What was that? Sounded like a coach.” A head emerged, and the shouting began in earnest. “They’re stealing a stage!” “Damn Yankees!” Someone in the knot of men emerging from the cantina drew a revolver and fired a shot. M leaned out, crooking one arm around the pole supporting the canvas roof of the stage. In the other, he held a Sharps. From 100 yards away in a moving wagon, the kid fired a shot striking the cantina sign. It fell. He reloaded and fired again. The knot of men disappeared back into the building, each vying to be first through the door. “Gotta love the Sharps,” howled the kid. “Breechloading, lower the breech and throw in the next cartridge. It’s faster and easier to load than any rifle and accurate just as far. Accurate twice as far as a musket or fusil. This is firepower. They’d better run.” “Sit down, kid,” said Matt smiling. “You’re getting more talkative than Joseph.” Up front, Joseph was talking to his mules. At Picacho, the station keeper was suspicious. Free waved the empty mailbag at him. “Mail’s gotta get through.” “Ja. Gott in Himmel, mail’s gotta get tru! ‘Paches out der gonna kill somebody sure.” The hostler changed the mules for fresh ones. There was no one at Rough and Ready or at Good Sight. They watered and rested the mules a while and pressed on more slowly, arriving at the abandoned Cooke’s Spring Station well after midnight. “We rest here,” said Free. “Feed the mules a bait of grain and water ‘em.” The man in buckskin shook his head. “Free, we oughta push on and get through the canyon in the dark. ‘Paches don’t fight at night. We can rest at

saddlebag dispatches

Mimbres Crossing. There’s bound to be someone

there. In the dark, Free.�



saddlebag dispatches

Free spoke firmly. “It’s a long hard pull to the pass and miles to Mimbres Crossing. The mules are half dead as it is. They need rest.” The frontiersman stalked off into the dark and made his bed away from the others. He didn’t want to be near a campfire or anything that might become a target, especially in the predawn light when ‘Paches were bound to be active. Morning came, and Free was still resting the mules, letting them munch grass. With the sun directly overhead, he’d finally rested them enough. “All right. Hitch ‘em up and let’s get loaded.” Jack mumbled, “The ‘Paches know we’re here.” They set out with Free and Joseph up front, Free with Sharps across his lap and Joseph chattering about something and talking to his mules. Matt and Jack faced forward from the rear seat, loaded Sharps between their knees and pistols tucked in belts. The gambler and his friend, Port, sat in the front facing the kid who sat on the middle seat. All had their weapons ready. They moved rapidly across the flat, bounding through a small ditch, and then made the hard, right turn into the narrow mouth of the canyon. “Mein Gott, de mules ears touch de valls for sure.” Then shots rang out and arrows flew. Two arrows found Joseph’s leg and stomach. Bold and strong, the big man whipped up the mules, and they lurched forward at high speed. “The only way out is through!”

The five men in the back returned fire, reloaded, and fired again. Free saved his shot in case anyone tried to block their passage. They emerged from the narrows, their wagon looking like a porcupine, flying at full tilt up the grade and bouncing wildly over the rocks as they passed through the broad valley. Off to the right, a pony herd stood tended by two young warriors. The kid leaned out and shot one. The other dived for cover as the ponies scattered. Free looked back. “Take ‘em a while to gather those up.” They clattered through the valley on the rising trail. Far behind, angry Apaches tried to catch their ponies. Port laughed. The others, even the kid, knew they’d only gained a little time. Precious little. Free held the German upright and tried to come up with a plan that gave them some hope. Jack stood and hung out the side, the fringe of his coat flapping. He looked ahead and didn’t like what he saw. “Get ready. We’re coming to a tight spot on a steep grade.” There had been no need. The others had been here before and, knowing the trail, were already loading and checking their weapons. The coach bounced and careened from rock to stone. Matt yelled. “Careful, we don’t want to break a wheel or an axle.” “Ja, ja, Gott in Himmel. Dem ‘Paches gonna take some scalps!” The German didn’t slow. The pace of his conversation with the mules increased. Free called back, “Joseph can’t continue. When we clear the pass, we’ll be out of sight of the ‘Paches . We stop, unload everything, get well off the road, and hide. Then we’ll whip the mules and send ‘em runnin’ downhill. With luck, they’ll run all the way to the bottom, and with luck, the ‘Paches will follow them. We can make our way on foot back to Cooke’s Spring Station.” “Why there?” asked Port. “Because there’s water and stone walls. We can defend it longer than they’ll want to stick around.” They passed over the saddle and began their descent. Free helped the German rein in the tired, frightened mules. “Quick, everything out. We’ll need it.”

saddlebag dispatches



saddlebag dispatches

The kid looked over the ground. “Free, it’s wide open. There’s no place to hide!” “Throw some stones together. They’ll have to do.” They had to work with what was already there. Small boulders became a base for a circle ten feet across, big enough for four of them. Two other circles were soon large enough for two men each. "No!" The kid shook his head angrily. “This will never work!” Jack answered him. “It’s good ground. We don’t much need the stones. We’ve got range on the ‘Paches by 100 yards at least, and we can fire three times as fast. Looks like they could climb to the top of the pass and up the hill and fire down on us. But we got range on ‘em. Soon as they stick their heads over. They’re within range of our guns and still have a hundred yards to go before they can reach us. They’ll try to come up the hill from below us to that clump of trees.” Free looked around. They’d done all they could.

He heard the thud of unshod hooves pounding up the pass and whipped the mules to action. They ran, and he ran for cover. The mules kept going at breakneck speed following the road down into Starvation Valley between the Cooke’s Peak Range and the Pony Hills. The mules performed just as Free had hoped, and the Apaches, with whoops and yells, charged after the Celerity wagon’s dust trail trying to catch up. Free was relieved. In a few moments, he and his friends could grab their gear and start back to the Cooke’s Spring Station and safety. Half a mile below the pass, two Apaches stopped their mounts. One was a tall, well-made man with a bit of gray in his hair. “Cochise,” whispered Jack, but there was no need. The others had recognized him. Beside him, sitting comfortably on his horse’s back was the largest Indian Free had ever seen, a head taller than Cochise. “And that’s his father-inlaw, Mangas Coloradas.”

saddlebag dispatches

“They call him Red Sleeves because he bathes his arms in his enemies’ blood,” said the kid. “Hush,” answered Matt. “No such thing. He likes vests and red shirts.” M saw that Matt was right. The two Indians seemed nervous. Cochise kept looking this way and that, as if expecting something bad to happen. Avaline looked at him with understanding. “It’s that feeling you get when someone has a gun pointed at your back.” The gambler squinted down his sights centering the bead on Cochise’s back. Port gripped Avaline’s sight and shook his head. Now, Mangus Coloradas began to fidget looking as nervous as Cochise. The latter turned all the way around and looked up the hill. Shading his eyes from the afternoon sun, he scanned the hillside slowly. He moved on far to one side of where Free and his party lay. Free breathed relief. The larger Indian was now looking right at their position. Free could feel the tension in the others. No one moved. Satisfied, the two Apache turned and began to ride downhill around a bend in the trail that took them out of sight. “That’s a relief,” said the kid starting to rise. Jack looked at him. “Hold up a minute.” From around the bend below came two shots. Free shouted, “Check your caps! Get ready!” The frontiersman scanned the ground to their front. “Wait ‘til I fire. Wait until they’re within a hundred yards. We’ll give them a surprise.” The German groaned as he rolled into position. Free glanced at him. “Better let me tend to those wounds.” He pushed the arrow in the German’s leg all the way through until the arrowhead protruded on the far side. A bit of cut glass, probably cut from a bottle, was tied into a small shaft of hardwood. This had been inserted into a longer shaft of bamboo. Free pulled the hardwood part out one side and the feathered shaft out the other. The wound bled but not much. “Good,” Free said. Joseph groaned. “Now I’ll wrap it to slow the bleeding.” Free considered the second wound. He sniffed it. It didn’t stink of bowel. “Joseph, if I push this through, I might cut your gut. It needs a doctor. I’ll break the bamboo shaft so it gets knocked around less.” Joseph

nodded. Free started cutting the shaft and Joseph passed out. The wound wasn’t bleeding much. The Apaches had stopped 300 yards away examining the situation. Cochise signaled and a group of ten rode to within fifty yards and then charged laterally across the front, encouraging the white men to shoot at them. None did. It was a good trick to play on a tenderfoot.They’d waste shots on hard to hit moving targets, and the Indians would close in while they were reloading. Mangus Coloradas was disappointed. He encouraged the whole group, fifty or more, to charge at once coming across the front at an angle and then veer to come straight in. “Hold your fire! We’ll give them a double surprise. Volley and reload! Now, fire!” The Apaches were scarcely 50 yards away when the volley hit them as they turned to come straight in. The men didn’t manage a volley with the next round. At 30 yards, the first Sharps fired, and by the time the Indians were within twenty yards, the last of six Sharps had spoken. Now pistols came out and the Apaches backed off having lost horses and men. A few wounded began the long crawl back to their lines. “Get your rifles!” Free shouted. “Keep firing. It’s time to let them know our range and speed.” The Apaches continued to lose riders out to 100 yards. They paused. Three fell to well-placed shots. The Indians continued their withdrawal. When they passed 200 yards, Jack yelled, “Cease firing. Don’t waste ammo.” The afternoon sun was hot. The German lay in it, still unconscious, groaning. The kid, aware they owned the ground and that he was well beyond the range of Apache weapons, went down to a small copse of mesquites. He cut a few branches. Then he stopped and looked down the hill. Running to Free he said, “There’s Apaches crawling up the hill toward those trees!” He waved the cut branches in Free’s face. “What are those for?” He pulled his face away. “Oh, for the German. To cover him from the sun.” “Injuns comin’,” called Jack. The others were busy gathering stones to building up their shelters. Free, Jack, and Joseph



saddlebag dispatches

occupied the large circle, about ten feet in diameter. Off to the west, toward the trail, Avaline and Port had a small circle about twenty yards distant. To the south, closest to the mesquites, Matt and M, the kid, had a still smaller circle. Apaches in the copse of mesquite, three small trees in a clump, kept the defenders pinned to the earth for the rest of the afternoon. “Free,” said Jack, “we’ve got to drive them off. Cochise has got the rest of his men working around behind Frying Pan Mountain to come up on the ridge behind us. We can beat them off the ridge okay, but not with others firing at our backs from the trees. I’ve got an idea. . . Give me covering fire!” Jack ran to the circle of rocks where Matt and the kid had taken cover. “What you gonna do?” asked Matt. “Give me cover.” Jack ran, dropped, crawled, and ran again until he was 100 yards beyond Matt and M. He had flanked the trees and could see behind them. The Apaches turned to fire at him, but he was, as he had planned, beyond their range. He sighted carefully on the brave nearest him and fired. The Apache on his belly, lurched, groaned, and was still. Jack reloaded and sighted on a second. The bullet struck the prone man in the top of the head. He neither groaned nor moved. Jack reloaded. The third Apache did not wait for further invitation. He ran back down the hill beyond Jack’s range. Dark clouds gathered, piling high, and with crash of thunder and flash of lightning, the rain fell. Heavenly armies charged, fired on each other, and retreated. Below them six men watched and waited. Jack gathered stones for a new breastwork that flanked the trees. The others shivered as they soaked to the skin and waited, sure the Apache would come over the ridge next. Far off, beyond Starvation Gulch, over at Mimbres Station, the sun set sparking a display of bloodied heavens. “It’s beautiful,” mumbled the German. He then fell back into delirium talking incessantly in German. “Is he praying?” yelled Avaline. “He’d better be praying. Let him play with beads and pray.” In the dark, the German’s mumbled prayers continued.

saddlebag dispatches

In the gloom, Jack walked back over to Free. “We should leave. They don’t like to fight at night. ‘Fraid of spirits that stalk the dark.” Freeman Thomas was troubled. “We can’t leave Joseph, and he can’t walk.” “He’s dying, and the way to Mimbres Station is open. We could be there by morning.” Free shook his head, a gesture Jack felt more than saw in the dark. He nodded and smiled grimly. “Free, they’ll rush us over the ridge in the gray light before dawn.” “I’ll be ready. Tell the others.” Jack disappeared silently into the murky evening, stopping when he heard whispered voices. “Port, we could slip out of here and away and be at Mimbres Station by dawn.” There was silence for a moment, and then Port replied. “Why not Cooke’s Spring?” The other voice responded. “There’s no one there, and two of us can’t defend the station alone. Besides, the Apaches have all moved to that side.” “What about the others, Avaline? Do we just— leave them?” “They won’t leave Joseph.” In the dark, Jack noticed that Avaline called the driver Joseph and not ‘that German.’ He said nothing and continued to listen. Port’s voice said, “If we leave them without saying anything, they’ll all die. We’ve got to hold this wing.” “I know, but the odds are poor, and I’d rather be somewhere else. We’ll hold the ground.” Jack came closer and spoke from the dark as if he’d heard nothing. He told them to be ready for a rush from the ridge behind them. “We’re going to be short a rifle. I have to make sure they don’t return to the mesquite, and from over there, I’m out of range of the ridge.” Jack returned to his outpost stopping to talk to Matt and the kid. The kid had an idea. “If they’re so afraid of the dark, why don’t we sneak into their camp and light ‘em up, like Joshua and the Midianites in the Bible?” Jack smiled despite himself. “Because they’re wily devils. We’d be halfway through their camp before we knew it. They sleep spread out and hidden. It’d be a right hornets’ nest with us in the middle.”



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches

In the dark, Free heard the others gathering stones to make their parapets just a little higher. He marveled that none of them shot at “ghost Apaches” in the dark or fired at noises. The German continued his one-sided conversation. Free answered him softly, certain Joseph wouldn’t make sense of what was said but hoping calm words might soothe him. “Our companions are calm and steady. I’m proud of them. I’d half expected the others to depart and leave us alone. Jack Wilson is a frontiersman. Even alone, he’d make it to Mimbres Station in the dark. He’s tough as they come. I don’t know if you’d heard, at Apache Pass Station he killed a Mexican in a knife fight. That one was held captive by the Apache when young, but they trained him, and he was one of their best warriors. Jack took him down anyway. Any weapon will do for Ol’ Jack.” In the dark, Free continued. “I don’t know Port so well. The man can be stiff without no back up. He doesn’t back away from fights. But that don’t mean he’ll stay and fight Apaches. I don’t want to worry you none, but Port has a price on his head, and going back to Cooke’s Spring puts him closer to the Confederates that want him. $200. You ever think you’d be fighting alongside a man with a price on his head?” Free took a breath and thought a while. “Who knows if the kid has ever faced a crisis? When crisis comes, and the kid is really frightened, will he hold or run? If anything happens to Matt, the kid might panic. But, for now, they all seem calm and steady. Good men. The best.” Matt made his way over to Free’s position. “How’s the German?” “About the same.” Matt nodded without complaint. “Kid and I need food, water, and ammo.” “Powder or paper cartridges?” “Paper cartridges. Didn’t use the pistols much, but we need caps.” “Matt, we’ve enough water for tonight and tomorrow. After that . . .” Free trailed off. “And Matt, would you mind resupplying the others.” “No problem.” The false dawn came, and with it Jack’s voice. “Wake up. Matt, are you and the kid okay?”

“We’re good.” Free’s voice was heard. “I’m good. Joseph is very bad, but he keeps talking.” Then Port’s voice was heard. “We’re ready.” In the gray light that knew no color, dark figures came over the ridge. Five rifles cracked, and twelve figures hit the ground so many ‘possums playing dead. The next volley was fast but ragged. “Matt,” cried M, “which are hit and which are just playing? Can you tell?” “Dunno. If it moves, shoot it again. Keep an eye out for the ones that fall out of sight.” Free held the weak center, loading and firing as fast as he could. His pistols lay on the ground in easy reach. If the Apache got close, he’d use them. The Apaches had a long downhill approach to get to him, but coming downhill, they tended to fire high, while his shots were ripping into their legs and bellies. Jack watched as a dozen braves approached the copse of mesquite shielded from the view of the others. He loaded and fired methodically, hitting a man with every shot. He was firing four aimed rounds a minute, and the warriors would have to cross 200 yards of open ground to get to him. They broke and ran before they got within fifty yards. Some fell where he couldn’t see them. He could hear the furious fight behind him, but he couldn’t participate. He’d have to watch carefully so that no warrior suddenly rose from the dead when he wasn’t looking. If he got a chance, he’d take a pistol and make sure each was dead, but that was dangerous work. On the flank near the trail, Port and Avaline were closest to the ridge. The Apaches were hidden until they were scarcely 120 yards away, almost in range of their poor guns. The pair loaded and fired rapidly and calmly. Port looked at his friend, sure both of them were terrified. “Avaline, you got the poker face. You sure can run a bluff.” The Apaches closed, and Avaline drew both pistols. Port jumped to his feet and did the same. Between them, they fired twenty-four shots in under ten seconds, each at least wounding a warrior. That broke the advance. Daylight shone on a field littered with Apache.



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches

Free spoke loud enough for the others to hear. “Don’t get up. Don’t expose yourself. Some may be wounded, others just playin’. Stay alert. Reload.” Port stood surveying the ground and reloading his pistols, a long, slow process, one pistol at a time. He measured powder for each of six cylinders, and then found a ball for each, and one by one, drove them home. Port reached for the tiny caps, which had to be fitted to the nipple on the back of each cylinder. Just outside the circle of rocks, an Apache leapt up lance in hand. Port drew the hammer back, and it clicked on a capless cylinder. He tried again as the Apache drove the lance into his belly. Rising, Avaline drew his knife and slit the warrior’s throat. Blood sprayed all around as the brave twisted and died. Port fell to his back. “Port!” “Yeah, Avaline. Pull it out. It hurts.” Avaline looked at the lance. “You’ll bleed to death.” Port chuckled and groaned. “I won’t do much better with it where it is.” “It’s gonna hurt.” Avaline pulled. The lance stuck. Port screamed and passed out. Avaline saw his friend was still alive although the spear was still stuck in his belly. He made Port as comfortable as he could. The wound wasn’t bleeding. The spear saw to that. Avaline went back to loading all of their weapons while watching for Apaches he could kill. Nearby, an Apache moved. Avaline walked to him and with his Sharps inches from the dark head fired. The result was unpleasant. The gambler returned to his friend. From over the hill came the sounds of a large number of horsemen. The sound slowly receded into the distance toward Cooke’s Spring. “They’ve left,” yelled the kid. “Get down!” Matt ordered. A lone horseman appeared atop the ridge. The tall, well-made Apache with grey-shot hair looked down on them. “Cochise,” said Free. The sun rose hot, steaming yesterday’s rain from the moist earth. High overhead, clouds began to gather. On the ridge, a few Apaches, with long guns

gathered, began to fire down on the men in their useless shelters. Most shots went long, a problem for men firing down a steep slope. A bullet struck Free in the shoulder, and he yelped and fell backward. “Lord, that stings like the devil!” He pulled off his shirt finding only a bruise that bled slightly. “It didn’t make a hole.” Jack answered. “They’re out of range. Their bullets are falling at random without much power behind them.” Before long, Cochise understood as well and called his men back. Noon came and went. Jack noticed a “dead” body was much closer than it had been. He put a bullet into its head. The dead man groaned and died again. Avaline looked at his still unconscious friend and started shooting into all the bodies he could see. Behind him Port mumbled. “Save your ammo. You might need it.” He groaned. “Port, how are you? Are you okay?” “How do you think I am? I’ve got a lance in my belly. Why didn’t you take it out?” “It’s stuck. I was afraid I’d drag your guts out with it.” Port nodded. “I’m dying. If you get a chance, go with the others, but make sure my weapons are loaded and in reach first.” He coughed, groaned, and went silent. Avaline thought his friend had died. “Avaline.” It was a pained, hushed voice, barely a murmur. “Avaline, write me a letter to my family. I want them to know what happened to me.” “How can I deliver it?” “Put it under a stone and hope someone will find it.” “Port, I don’t write so well.” “Then tell Free what I say, and he can do it.” “Port, I won’t leave you.” And then the arrows came, fired by men standing on the ridge. Jack’s voice came clear. “Slow, easy shots, gents. Drive them off the ridge. Let them know we have range on them.” Avaline, Free, Matt, and the kid began firing. An Apache fell. The others withdrew from the ridge, but the arrows still came now from archers firing blind from beyond the ridge. They were still deadly but no longer coming quite so close.



saddlebag dispatches

“Matt, I don’t like this,” said the kid. Matt saw he was shaking. “Might as well accept it, Emmett. Nothing we can do about it.” The kid gritted his teeth. “I don’t know how you can be so calm about it!” “It’s easy, M.” Matt smiled. “I got on my best new hat. Those arrows ain’t got much force behind ‘em. They’ll stick in my hat.” A warrior appeared suddenly on the ridge and loosed an aimed arrow. The range was much too long, 200 yards, and the weapon designed to work at twenty-five. Matt couldn’t get off a shot in time, but he was able to knock the arrow out of the air as it passed close by. The kid laughed. Matt thought he heard the edge of hysteria in it but said nothing. The afternoon passed. Clouds gathered but were weak and distant. At Cooke’s Canyon, they didn’t build into thunderheads. The sun beat down hard. Archers popped up and fired from different positions, never the same place twice in a row. Matt

kept trying to get off a shot, but he couldn’t anticipate where they’d appear and was slow coming on target. At 200 yards, his aim would have to be perfect. And so, the Apaches spread a kind of terror that denied the hot and tired men any rest. Free made his way to Avaline and Port. Port sat with his back against stone, lance in his belly, eyes open. Free felt Port’s forehead. “He’s cold.” Avaline nodded. “Good. I’m burnin’ up in this sun.” Free looked at the gambler. “Avaline, Port’s not breathing. He’s gone.” “No, he’s not. He’s my friend. He’ll stay with me. He said so.” Free spoke softly. “He’s dead.” Avaline’s eyes cleared, and he looked directly at Free. “I know. He gave me a message for his family. Can you write it down if I tell you?” “Sure. Why don’t you come back with me?” “No, I’ll stay with my friend.” Back with Joseph, Free found a scrap of cardboard and began to write.

saddlebag dispatches

To the family of John Portall. John wanted you to know he lived and died like a man. He was a boon companion. He said he was sorry he couldn’t send any money. We’re surrounded by a large force of Apache. Some of us are wounded, and we haven’t much water. We’ve killed a great number of the enemy. Our names are Freeman Thomas, John Portall, Jack Wilson, Emmett Mills, Matthew Champion, Joseph Roescher, and Robert Avaline. Remember us. The Apache will. He set the cardboard under a stone where he hoped it would stay dry. A shot rent the air. Matt cursed. “Damn, I missed.” The kid laughed. “Stop it, kid! I’ll get one.” Matt didn’t know if the edge of anger showed in his voice. He hoped not, but he was angry. He didn’t like a one-sided fight, especially when he was on the wrong side. Having watched the Apache for hours, he thought he saw a pattern. He aimed carefully at a particular spot and waited. Chance or pattern, an Indian popped up at that spot and loosed his aimed arrow. Matt squeezed the trigger carefully. The Sharps roared. Matt watched and waited. Even traveling express, a bullet would take time to reach its target at this range. A small red hole appeared in the Apache’s forehead. “Got him!” Matt roared. “Did you see that shot? I got him, by damn!” The kid said nothing. “M, did you see that shot? I got him!” Grinning Matt turned to face the kid and find out why he wasn’t cheering Matt’s champion shot. Matt’s patented Champion shot, Matt thought. He looked at M who lay on his back without expression, a few feathers sprouting from a twig in his chest above his heart. “Kid, I got him for you.” A tear dripped from Matt’s eye. He wiped it with a dusty, sunburned arm and then folded Emmett’s hands across his chest above the arrow. The sun sank, and the gray light of dusk crept over the land. “Psst, Free. It’s Matt. Can I come in? I can’t stay there with Emmett’s body any longer.” “Sure. Avaline won’t leave Port.”

“Port’s dead? How’s Joseph?” Free felt for a pulse. “Weak. He’s stopped talking.” “How’s Jack?” Free looked in Jack’s direction. “Still in his outpost.” Matt looked up toward the sky and saw a rider on the ridge watching them. He aimed his Sharps carefully. The man must have seen, Matt thought, but showed no fear. Matt fired. The rider flinched turning abruptly to one side. Then he and horse disappeared from the ridge. “Dang! You got him! That was Cochise.” Matt blushed unseen in the gray light. “Only winged him.” Time went slowly in the gray twilight. Eerie screams came from Avaline’s direction. Matt had been looking toward Jack’s position now barely visible. Before he could turn toward Avaline, there were flashes of gunfire all around Jack. Matt saw him silhouetted by gunfire, firing first his rifle and then his pistols. He was surrounded and his attackers were close. The range was great, and there was danger of hitting Jack. Matt turned toward Avaline, who was now firing his pistol at enemies close at hand. Matt and Free provided supporting fire whenever they could pick out a target. Free’s second pistol clicked on an empty cylinder. Matt threw down both his pistols and grabbing his rifle started loading. Silence fell like thunder in the dark. “Avaline, you okay?” Silence answered Free. Matt called out to Jack. Silence. Matt started to rise to go and check on his friends. Free grabbed his arm. “No. You’ll get yourself killed. They’re probably gone, but there might be one playin’ ‘possum.” Matt saw the wisdom in not trusting “dead” Apaches to stay that way. “Free, how much water we got?” “‘Nough to last the night. No more. Tomorrow will be hot and dry.” Matt thought a while. “What about ammo?” “We’ve plenty for the pistols but not more than twenty paper cartridges for the rifles.” “Free.” Matt wanted support. He wanted a leader. “What are we going to do?”



saddlebag dispatches

“We can’t leave Joseph. They’ll torture him.” Matt pondered this for nearly an hour. “Free, you think the German is in any condition to know he was being tortured?” “Matt, I’m not sure.” That satisfied Free’s companion for a long while. “We could kill him.” In the dark, Matt sounded embarrassed to even suggest the idea. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.” The stars danced and twisted across the sky. Perhaps beyond the hill the Apache danced, too. Matt thought he heard drums, but it might have been someone’s heart. The night was that still and dark. Matt wasn’t much given to introspection, but now he thought about life and death, about morals and what a man ought to do and what he ought to be. Matt prayed asking for help for his remaining friends and for forgiveness for his sins. Funny, they’d seemed like a good time when he’d committed them. He’d die well if he had to, Matt thought, but he’d rather go on living. Still, it wouldn’t be right to desert Joseph.

Matt heard the drums again before he recognized it as a heart beating in time to the drums. Boy, Matt thought, the night is still. “Still as the grave,” said Free. In the first flickering light of the false dawn, Free grabbed Matt’s arm. “Joseph’s gone. Now’s our chance.” Matt gathered ammo, guns, and water. There wasn’t much point in taking more. “Wait a sec.” Free pulled the piece of cardboard from its hiding place and added to its message. Just Freeman Thomas and Matthew Champion left. We’re going to try to make it to Mimbres Crossing. Out of water. The others are dead. July 23, 1861. He hid it away again. “Let’s go.” — Several days later, freighters Alejandro Daguerre and J.J. Thibault driving their wagons from

saddlebag dispatches

Pinos Altos to Mesilla stopped to rest at Cooke’s Pass. Their approach caused vultures to rise from their prey. “Whew,” said Alejandro, “there’s some bodies here.” Thibault was already off his wagon. “Two here. This one’s got a spear in his belly.” Alejandro found the next body in a circle of rocks shielded from the sun by a brush cover. “Apaches must not have liked them much. They stripped ‘em and cut their arms to the bone.” “There’s another one here. He’s young,” said Thibault. He noticed vultures flapped 100 yards beyond. “I’m gonna look over there.” Over there, he found another body. “This makes five. Whew-wee, they shot this ‘un to pieces and cut him up good.” “Just a minute,” Daguerre replied. “Maybe they left a message or something. Looking around the large circle, he saw a bit of cardboard sticking out from under a rock. He picked it up. “There were seven of them. You know some of them—Freeman Thomas, Matt Champion, Jack Wilson.” “I don’t see Champion or Free. Maybe they got away. We’d better go before the Apaches come. This was some fight. I think they lost a lot of braves.” Freeman Thomas and Matthew Champion were found days later not far downhill from their friends.


doug hocking


oug Hocking is an award-winning author and speaker as well as an independent scholar who has completed advanced studies in American history, ethnology, and historical archaeology. Doug, who served as an NCO in Military Intelligence and retired as an armored cavalry officer, grew up among the Jicarilla Apache and paisanos of the Rio Arriba (Northern New Mexico). His novels include Massacre at Point of Rocks, Mystery of Chaco Canyon, Wildest West, and Devil on the Loose. His work has appeared in True West, Wild West, Buckskin Bulletin, Roundup Magazine, Desert Tracks, and the Journal of Arizona History. He is a 2018 Spur Award Finalist from Western Writers of America and 2nd Place for the Co-Founders Award for Best Western History 2018 from Westerners International for Tom Jeffords: Friend of Cochise, and a recipient of the 2017 Danielson Award for Excellent Presentation from Westerners International. He is currently working on Black Legend, a history of the beginning of the Chiricahua Wars focusing on the Bascom Affair for TwoDot Press, and Terror on the Santa Fe Trail: Kit Carson and the Jicarilla Apache, a story of the military success of the Jicarilla which ultimately led to their destruction.



saddlebag dispatches

SA D D LEBAG f e at u r e

THE GUNFIGHT THAT CREATED A LEGEND The real events behind the legend of James Butler Hickock— better known as Wild Bill—are a bit more complicated than myth would have us believe. Michael Koch


The deceased young man was Davis Tutt. The survivor n a summer day in July 1865, two men arrived at was James Butler Hickok, better known as “Wild Bill” the dusty town square of Springfield, Missouri. Each man swiftly advanced toward the other Hickok. Although each had been in scraps before, this single incident soon made Hickok a legendary figure like a gladiator in a Roman arena. One combatant was a slender individual with short dark hair. He was of the American West, while Tutt faded from history. Davis Kasey “Little Dave” Tutt was born sometime a Southern sympathizer. The other man was slender and taller, with long reddish hair that blew slightly in between January and May of 1839 in Yellville, Marion County, Arkansas. His father, Hansford Tutt, was a the breeze. He was a proud Yankee. Town citizens had member of a politically influential family. In 1825, gathered to watch this expected gunfight. One can only Hansford married Mary Rose, and they had four imagine the adrenaline coursing through their veins, accompanied by the scents of sweat, dust and leather. As children. When Mary died in 1834, Hansford married the men approached one another, they stopped about her sister, Anne Rose. Davis Tutt was their firstborn male. By the late 1840s, Davis’s family became involved seventy-five yards apart, pulled out their pistols, and in the Tutt-Everett War, which involved two family blasted away almost simultaneously. When the smoke factions supporting opposite parties during the cleared, one man lay on the ground mortally wounded, while the other stood erect and unharmed. This face-to-face JAMES BUTLER HICKOK GAINED NOTORIETY AFTER A shootout would be the standard SHOOTOUT IN SPRINGFIELD, MO IN 1865. THIS EVENT WOULD for western accounts of gunfights BE THE GOLD STANDARD FOR LITERARY AND CINEMATIC and even motion pictures in the twentieth century. ACCOUNTS OF GUNFIGHTS EVER SINCE.


saddlebag dispatches

In 1857, Hickok acquired a 160-acre tract in Johnson County, Kansas. On March 22, 1858, he was elected as one of the first constables of Monticello Township. While there, he fell in love with the daughter of an early settler. But his family interfered when they learned the girl was part Native American, and shortly thereafter, Hickok left Johnson County. By late 1859, he became employed as a teamster for Russell, Majors and Waddell, a freight company, which was a parent company of the Pony Express. In 1860, while driving a freight team, Hickok came upon “a cinnamon bear and its two cubs” that were blocking the roadway. Dismounting HICKOK LIKED TO TARGET PRACTICE WITH HIS PISTOL AND his horse, he approached the DEVELOPED INTO A SUPERB MARKSMAN. BY 1855, HE FLED bear and fired a shot at its HIS FAMILY DUE TO A FIGHT WITH A MAN IN WHICH EACH head. The ball ricocheted off THOUGHT HE HAD SHOT AND KILLED THE OTHER. APPARENTLY, its skull, causing the bear to HE WASN’T A CRACK SHOT YET. become mad. It ran at Bill, clawing him, which severely injured him, but he managed to slash its throat with his large knife, killing the beast. In 1862, after the Civil War broke out, Davis enlisted in Company A, 27th Arkansas Infantry Regiment. He It must be noted that no documentation of this incident exits, but the legend has been repeatedly described fought for the Confederate States of America in the Trans-Mississippi Theater. It’s reported that he let his in articles and books, and it is said that Hickok was bedridden for four months as a result of the incident. enlistment expire, however, some historians believe he Meanwhile, Hickok’s employer had set up Pony may have deserted. At any rate, by the end of the war, Express relay stations, one of them in Rock Creek, Davis moved to Springfield, Missouri. James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok, folk hero of the Nebraska Territory. Russell, Majors and Wadell sent him to Rock Creek in March, 1861, after his recovery from American West, was born on May 27, 1837, in Homer his supposed injuries, as a stock tender. Whatever the (present-day Troy Grove), Illinois. His father, William, case, according to past biographers, he was “apparently was a farmer and an abolitionist. Some historians believe unfit for his normal duties.” his father used the family’s residence as a station for the Rock Creek was owned by David Colbert McCanles, Underground Railroad. William died in 1852, leaving who was not “a leader of cutthroats,” as some historians young James’s mother, Polly (Butler) Hickok, to support say, but simply “a local bully and ruffian.” and feed six children. At first, the company and McCanles agreed upon Hickok liked to target practice with his pistol and developed into a superb marksman. By 1855, he fled his renting the property, but soon, Russell, Majors and family due to a fight with a man in which each thought Waddell decided to purchase the land. The company, he had shot and killed the other. Apparently, he wasn’t after making several payments, took over ownership of the station. a crack shot yet. Nonetheless, Hickok seemed drawn to By late June, the company was in arrears, and McCanles the ruffian lifestyle. Subsequently, he decided to ride westward. Settling briefly in Leavenworth, Kansas asked about the lack of payment. Soon, McCanless ordered the men working at the station—including Territory, he joined an area vigilante group known Hickok—to leave. as the “Jayhawkers.” politically charged era proceeding the American Civil War. Around fourteen people perished during the gunfire between various members. Several Tutts died during the clash. Davis’s father was ambushed by a hired assassin from Texas called the “Dutchman” in September 1850. Upon Hansford’s death, the leader of the Everett faction, Jesse Everett, fled with another follower to Shreveport, Louisiana. Jesse soon died in a cholera epidemic. With both leaders of the feud now deceased, the families decided to stop the carnage and lay down their arms.

saddlebag dispatches




saddlebag dispatches

On July 12, 1861, David McCanles, rode to the “Red Rock Station office to demand an overdue property payment from Horance Wellman, the station manager.” According to his lady companion, McCanles was “a confederate sympathizer and had intended to cause trouble.” We must remember that Hickok was a Union supporter. Thus, there may have been an undercurrent of tension between them. Supposedly, McCanles threatened Wellman and/ or Hickok, who was hiding behind a curtain. Either Wellman or Hickok pulled out a revolver and fired, killing McCanles. Both employees, along with a Pony Express rider, named, J. W. “Doc” Brink, were apprehended, tried, and found not guilty, as “they claimed McCanles was killed in self-defense.” Brink’s role, if any, in this incident is not known. Thus, McCanles may have been the first man killed by Hickok. A reported act of kindness circulated that Hickok visited McCanles’s widow, “apologized for his death, and offered her $35.00 in restitution,” susposedly all the money he had at the time. The Civil War broke out in April of 1861, and Hickok soon left Red Rock to join the Union Army. “Records of the United States War Department, Office of the Quartermaster General, show that on October 30, he was hired as a wagon master in Sedalia, Missouri.” By the end of 1863, Hickok was employed as “the provost marshal of southwest Missouri as a member of the Springfield detective police force.” One of his duties was to “identify and count the number of troops in uniform who were consuming alcoholic beverages while on duty, verifying hotel liquor licenses, and


saddlebag dispatches


tracking down troops who owed money to the Union Army.” By this time, many soldiers, including Hickok, had gone for months without being paid. Similar records from the “Office of the Provost Marshal General show that Hickok served as a special policeman in the corps during March, 1864.” There’s no documentation of his whereabouts for the next year. One source claims he served as a Union spy in Confederate ranks during this time. It’s apparent that Hickok bounced around from one occupation to another during his life. In my opinion, this may have been due to a lack of discipline, which required him to constantly make changes in his life, or perhaps his services were no longer needed. Due to being broke, Hickok eventually took a position as a scout for General John B. Sanborn. In June 1865, Hickok mustered out and rode to Springfield, Missouri, where he frequented saloons for drinking and gambling. The book, 1883 History of Greene County, Missouri, describes Hickok as “by nature a ruffian…a drunken, swaggering fellow, who delighted when ‘on a spree’ to frighten nervous men and women.”

In Springfield, Hickok met Davis Tutt, and they became friends. This was somewhat strange as Hickok was a Union sympathizer, while Davis was a former Confederate soldier who had let his enlistment expire. It’s possible they became friends due to rumors that Tutt was a deserter. An unruly tone had engulfed the region after the war. “Loyalties in the border state of Missouri had been deeply divided,” during the war creating conflicts that “degenerated into a vicious brand of guerrilla warfare,” giving rise to “plunder, atrocity, and disorder.” Springfield had been controlled by Union forces throughout most of the conflict. Nonetheless, both Hickok and Tutt enjoyed each other’s company, drinking and gambling. For almost a month, they became familiar figures in Springfield gambling establishments. Nevertheless, their friendship soon turned sour. Hickok considered himself quite a lady’s man, and by the time he arrived in Springfield, he’d left a string of broken hearts. It’s been reported that he and Tutt had mutual affection for a woman named Sally from Arkansas. Mix gambling, drinking, and desire for the same woman together, and nothing but trouble usually occurs.



saddlebag dispatches

stood approximately seventy-five yards from each other when they blasted away. You might conclude that Hickok’s shot was either very lucky, or his reputation as a marksman was well deserved, but it must be noted that the Colt Navy Revolver Hickok used was accurate up to two hundred yards. Hickok was arrested under the name William Haycocke—the name he’d been using while in Springfield— on orders from Albert Barnitz, who was part of the troops assigned after the Civil War to perform policing duties in Springfield. He had witnessed the HickokTutt shootout. Barnitz’s version of the gunfight was recorded within hours of the event and corroborates much of an account that appeared in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in February 1867. Hickok was charged with murder, but the charge was later reduced to manslaughter. Davis Tutt was buried soon after the gunfight in the old Springfield cemetery on the outskirts of town. Later, his brother, Lewis Tutt, who had been born in servitude, purchased several plots in the Maple Park Cemetery, and in March 1883, reburied his brother (Davis) with dignity in a plot next to his own. Bail for Hickok was initially denied until July 22, when he posted a bail of $2,000 and was released. Barnitz noted, “Public sympathy seemed about equally divided between him and his victim.” Asked if he regretted killing Tutt, during an interview for the February 1867 issue of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Hickok replied, “I had rather not have killed him, for I want ter [sic] settle down quiet here now. But thar’s [sic] been hard feelings between us a long while. I wanted ter [sic] keep out of that fight; but GOSSIP CIRCILATED THROUGHOUT SPRINGFIELD THAT TUTT he tried to degrade me, and WOULD BE WEARING HICKOCK'S WATCH ON THE PUBLIC I couldn’t stand that, you know, for I am a fighting SQUARE THE NEXT AFTERNOON AND THAT HICKOCK SAID, "IF man, you know.” HE DID, IT WOULD BECOME A SHOOTING MATTER." During the trial, the names of the accused and the victim were amended to J. B. Hickok and Davis his fifth rib on his right side and exited through the Tutt/Little Dave, “little” being equivalent to the fifth rib on his left, passing through his heart. This indicated Tutt was standing sideways, in a dueling present-day “junior.” The case against Hickok began fashion, when he and Hickok fired. Based on testimony on August 3, 1865, and lasted three days. Twentytwo witnesses testified as to what happened at the and old city maps, it has been established that the men On the night of July 20, 1865, tensions reached their peak during a friendly game of cards in an upstairs room at the “Lyon House,” now the Southern Hotel, just south of the square on South Street. Here, Hickok and Tutt had a falling out. During the card game, Tutt reminded Hickok of his forty-dollar debt for a horse trade. Wild Bill promptly paid his debt. However, Tutt proclaimed that Hickok still owed him another thirty-five dollars. Hickok gruffly disagreed, pointing out that the debt was only for twenty-five dollars. Tutt, seeing Wild Bill’s pocket watch, reached over and “took his [Hickok’s] prize Waltham watch as security for payment.” Tutt proclaimed to everyone present that he would wear the watch on the public square the next day. With that, Hickok declared Tutt would die if he did so. Gossip circulated throughout Springfield that Tutt would be wearing Hickok’s watch on the public square the next afternoon and that Hickok said “if he did, it would become a shooting matter.” The next day, July 21, citizens swirled around, chatting and waiting for the two to possibly appear in the square. Finally, around 6:00 p.m., Tutt appeared, ignoring the obvious danger as he crossed the square wearing Hickok’s watch. Seeing this, Hickok briskly walked toward Tutt from the opposite side of the square. Hickok warned him not to cross the square. Davis’s response was to draw his revolver just as Hickok did the same. Each fired at almost the same time. Davis fell to the ground with a ball in his heart, while Wild Bill remained standing, as Davis’s shot missed its mark. Springfield’s local physician examined Tutt’s corpse and declared that a ball from Hickok’s gun entered at

saddlebag dispatches

square that day. Former Union military Governor of Arkansas Colonel John S. Phelps represented Hickok at the trial. Major Robert W. Fyan led the prosecution. The judge was Sempronius Hamilton Boyd. Hickok claimed self-defense. The most disputed fact at the trial was who actually fired first—Hickok or Tutt? Since the jury felt Tutt instigated the fight (by confiscating Hickok’s watch) and displayed the first act of overt aggression, and since “two witnesses testified he had drawn his pistol first, the unwritten law dictated that Hickok was justified.” Hickok was found not guilty, a verdict that aroused mixed reactions. Some locals felt Wild Bill was just a killer, while others thought Tutt was a lawless individual. The local press also displayed some controversy. A number of issues remain unanswered, even with the coroner’s findings. Just a day before the shooting, Tutt had been in court and was fined $100 for illegal gambling a few months prior. Unable to pay his fine, Tutt was jailed. Thomas Martin, Hickok’s scouting “mate” in the war, paid the fine, and Tutt was released. Thus, it seems that Tutt was in need of money before the fateful card game with Hickok. However, for some unknown reason, he didn’t tell Hickok of this fact. In view of their previous relationship, Hickok might have helped him, but instead, Tutt kept quiet, perhaps due to pride or for some other reason that now is lost to history. In spite of the cloud over his head, Hickok ran for town marshal in the September election, but he came in second out of five candidates. On September 13, 1865, Colonel George W. Nichols, a writer for Harper’s, sought to find this infamous gunman and conducted interviews of the men who witnessed the event, along with Hickok himself. In January of 1866, Hickok witnessed a shooting and was called upon to give testimony. In spite of this excitement, Hickok became restless with Springfield and wasted no time leaving for a job as a military guide in Fort Riley, Kansas. In the February 1867 issue of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Colonel Nichols described the Hickok-Tutt gunfight in detail. The virtually unknown Springfield became the talk of cities all over the United States. Wild Bill’s exploits, real and imaginary, soon spread like wildfire and were embellished by dime novels, thus



saddlebag dispatches

THE ICONIC "DEAD MAN'S HAND"—ACES AND EIGHTS—WHICH HICKOCK IS SAID TO HAVE BEEN HOLDING IN HIS HAND WHEN SHOT BY JACK MCCALL IN THE NO. 10 SALOON. shaping the popular image of the American frontier. The gunfight at Springfield had a major impact on the birth of the notion of two men standing face-to-face on a dusty street to shoot it out. In reality, this seldom occurred, as most victims were shot in the back. Many Western films still use the image of men having face-to-face gunfights in order to sell tickets. When television came along, it, too, joined the bandwagon to perpetuate this false image. After leaving Springfield and having the gunfight exploited in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Hickok’s reputation grew enormously, first, as a deputy U. S. Marshal, and later, as a scout for the 7th and 10th Cavalry regiments. When Ellis County, Kansas, had problems retaining its peace officers, Wild Bill saw his chance to gain employment. In August 1869, Hickok was elected sheriff of Ellis County, headquartered in Hays City. His next move was to the cowtown of Abilene, Kansas, where he was elected Marshal on April 15, 1871. During these stints as a lawman, Hickok disposed of several lawbreakers with blasts from his ivory-handled revolvers.

saddlebag dispatches




saddlebag dispatches

Cheyenne, Wyoming. Following the ceremony, the couple traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio, for a two-week honeymoon. They agreed to return west, as Wild Bill had heard of the discovery of gold in the Black Hills, Dakota Territory, now South Dakota. Once he made his strike in the gold mines he planned to send for his wife, and they would begin to settle down. Wild Bill and a party of three other men arrived at Deadwood, Dakota Territory, on or about July 12. Hickok’s presence in TRAGEDY STRUCK WILD BILL IN OCTOBER 1871, WHEN HE Deadwood aroused much ACCIDENTALLY SHOT AND KILLED HIS SPECIAL DEPUTY interest, mostly by those MARSHAL, MIKE WILLIAMS, THIS EVENT HAUNTED HICKOCK who had read about his FOR THE REMAINDER OF HIS LIFE, AS HE NEVER USED HIS heroic deeds. Hickok delighted in practicing daily GUNS IN A VIOLENT ACT AGAIN. with his pistol, to the cheers of crowds. He also wrote to his wife, back in Cincinnati. Tragedy struck Wild Bill in October 1871, when Her last letter from him would be dated August 1. Deadwood had grown in size due to the lure of gold. he shot and killed a saloon owner who fired a couple of This offered quick profits and easy pickings off the rounds at him. Hickok shot back, killing the man. But unsuspecting folks who flocked to Deadwood. Pimps, while standing off a crowd, he heard a man running toward him, turned, and blasted away, killing his special gamblers, and prostitutes, among them Calamity Jane, were eager to relieve the unwary of their hard-earned deputy marshal, Mike Williams, who was only coming to his aid. This event apparently haunted Hickok for “dust.” It didn’t take long for citizens wanting law and the remainder of his life, as he never used his guns in order to spread Wild Bill’s name as a possible candidate for marshal. But time ran out for Wild Bill. a violent act again. During the afternoon of August 2, 1876, Hickok sat By the fall of 1872, Hickok had returned to Springfield, staying at the St. James Hotel until August 1873, when he in on a poker game in Nuttall and Mann’s Saloon No. 10, with his back facing a door. Around 3:00 p.m., “a traveled east to join Buffalo Bill Cody’s theatrical shows. small nondescript individual entered the front door, Growing tired of the theater, Hickok moved back to the West early in 1874. His movements were obscure, meandered up to the bar, and then eased himself behind Hickok.” A shot rang out, and the man shouted, “Damn for only scattered articles of Hickok appeared in the you, take that!” A lead ball fired by a coward, named press. Almost the entire year of 1875 is cloaked in mystery. The only reference to Hickok is found on June Jack McCall, struck Wild Bill in the back of his head, 17, when he was charged with vagrancy. A warrant killing him instantly. McCall, a laborer, had lost at cards with Hickok the for his arrest was issued, but the case never went to court. No documentation of the reason for the charge previous night. On the morning of his murder, Hickok insisted on lending McCall money for his breakfast. is known to exist. Perhaps his reputation as a violent Upon his capture and trial, McCall explained to the man contributed to the charge. By 1876, at only thirty-nine years of age, his eyesight court that he had killed Hickok out of revenge for killing was weakening and his health was failing. Hickok’s his brother in Hays City, Kansas. Although there was never any proof presented by McCall’s defense counsel, world changed when, after years of courtship, he the jury found him not guilty, and he was released. and Agnes Lake Thatcher married on March 5, in When the Hippo-Olympiad and Mammoth Circus came through Abilene in July 1871, Bill met it’s proprietress, a thirty-eight-year-old widow, Agnes Lake Thatcher. Wild Bill seemed impressed with her business sense, and they became friends. For the next five years, they corresponded, but saw each other infrequently. She later told her family that she had loved James for three years.

saddlebag dispatches


Some historians believe McCall had been in a drunken stupor and just attempted to do what others had failed to do—kill Wild Bill Hickok. Today, it’s still unclear why McCall killed Hickok. History does make it clear that McCall killed Wild Bill in the usual cowardly style, shooting him in the back instead of facing him as in the Hickok-Tutt gunfight. In the end, Jack McCall got his just reward. He was arrested at Laramie City, Territory of Wyoming, due to talk of perjury, and “because Deadwood was an illegal town on an Indian reservation.” A United States commissioner ruled that since the Deadwood trial was illegal, McCall would have to face trial in federal court. His trial was held at Yankton, Dakota Territory, where McCall was found guilty on December 6. On January 3, 1877, he was sentenced to be hanged, and on March 1, a rope was placed around McCall’s neck. As he dropped through the trap door, a single choked cry was heard. “Oh God!” He now joined his victim in death. Through his frontier exploits, James Butler Hickok has been immortalized in popular television shows and movies, as well as in books and magazines. This has solidified Wild Bill Hickok as one the greatest legends of the Old West. —Michael Koch has penned two nonfictional books. He’s a member of The Tulsa NightWriters, Ozark Writers League, Ozark Creative Writers, and the Oklahoma Writers’ Federation, Inc. His short stories have been published in Echoes of the Ozarks, Mysteries of the Ozarks, Frontier Tales, Wicked East Press, and the Southeast Missouri State University Press. Mike has also written several short stories for anthologies in Full Moon Books and Static Movement. His latest short story was published in a Tulsa NightWriters anthology called A River of Stories. He lives in Coweta, Oklahoma.


Photo Credit: powerofforever/


saddlebag dispatches


ardy! Where the hell are you!” Frank Knowles hollered for the third time as he approached the rear of the arena’s back pens where the animals would be kept. “Hardy! Damn it man, we need some help.” Hardy Prescott secreted the bottle in its spot and moved into the alleyway. “Alright already, you don’t have to shout. What’s the problem?” The older man walked toward him with a noticeable limp and a scowl on his face. Knowles was the assistant arena director and was charged with making sure all the contracted stock for the evening’s rodeo events were unloaded, placed in their holding areas, and had water available. He was also responsible for just about anything that went wrong. He knew, like a lot of others working the rodeo, how many times a person could break a leg before not being able to walk right. “I’m a man short and need someone to help the stock contractor who can handle the roughstock. You up to it?” he asked, knowing the younger man’s ways. “Reckon so,” came the reply. “Lots of time to get ready for my work.”

“Okay. Just so you know, one of those bulls we’re about to unload is downright mean. He’s the big brindle-colored one. Bullriders say he’s rank ‘cause he’s only been ridden once in his miserable life, but I’m telling you he’s mean. It’s in his eyes. So, you watch yourself,” Knowles cautioned. An hour later all the roughstock had been unloaded from the stock contractor’s trucks. He finally had a few minutes to himself before he had to start to get ready. Knowles had been right about the brindle bull. He was a handful just to get unloaded and into the holding pen. He didn’t envy the rider who would draw him. — “What are you doing?” Prescott jumped, startled by the loud question. He glanced around quickly looking for the source. Then he looked down and spotted the kid standing next to a steel fence panel only a couple of feet away. “I was minding my own business and taking my cough medicine,” he fired back, quickly replacing the brown


saddlebag dispatches

pint bottle in a hidden recess where two of the arena’s support beams came together. “What are you doing here? This can be a dangerous place for a kid”, he said gruffly. “What’s your name?” “My name’s Judd. I was just looking around to see if there were any cows or horses,” he looked down with a dejected expression. “Not quite yet, the calves and steers will be here in about an hour. They’ll be used for the team roping and steer wrestling events,” Prescott softened and squatted down to be more eye to eye with the boy, who nodded his head in understanding. He took in the cowboy boots, shirt and hat. “You here with your folks for the rodeo? It’s going to be quite a show.” “My mom brought me. It’s what I wanted for my birthday. I’m ten today,” he proclaimed proudly. “Well, happy birthday, Judd. That’s a real special mom. Where’s your dad?” He could see in an instant it was a bad question. The youngster’s eyes went wet and tears started to roll down his face. “He went away in the Army and never came home,” he sniffed and hung his head. “Aw, Judd, I’m real sorry. Here,” Prescott pulled a blue bandana handkerchief from his back pocket and handed it to him. He put a reassuring hand on the boy’s shoulder and stood up. “Let’s see if we can find your mom. She’s probably wondering where you’re at.”

The woman approaching them was thirtyish, slender and pretty, except for the frown. “Judd, where have you been? I hope he hasn’t been a problem, mister,” she said with a scolding tone directed at Judd. “Oh, no, ma’am. He was just curious and wanted to see some animals. I used to do the same thing myself. He’s just being a kid and liking rodeo stuff,” he smiled, and her frown melted a bit. “Hardy Prescott,” he introduced himself as he removed his hat. She studied him for a moment then stuck out her hand. “Amanda Trask, and I see you’ve met Judd.” Her handshake was firm. “Yes, I did, and I just wanted to tell you that I’m sorry for your loss. Judd told me his dad passed away while in the Army.” “Sort of,” she replied, with a look of sadness. “He was contracted by the military to debug a new detection system that would help spot the enemy easier. Three soldiers were assigned to escort him through a supposedly secure area in Afghanistan, but their Humvee ran over an IED. “Now it’s just Judd and me. He loves the rodeo. His dad used to team rope and do a bit of steer wrestling. He really likes the animals,” she stopped to brush something from her cheek. “You’re here early,” Prescott offered. “It’s what Judd wanted for his birthday. How could I refuse?” she locked eyes with him as a bit of a smile returned. “Thanks for helping him.” “It’s been my pleasure. Hope you enjoy the rodeo. Maybe I’ll see you out there” “I think we’d like that,” she said in almost a whisper. “Hardy! Better get a move on.” Prescott sighed. Sometimes Frank Knowles could be downright irritating. “Got to go, Amanda. Was sure nice to meet you. Take good care of your mom,” he encouraged the boy. “Yes, sir!” Judd replied as he watched the man walk away. Knowles came up to the pair and watched as Prescott headed somewhere in the back of the arena. He turned to Amanda and their eyes met. “He’s a nice man, Miss, and has a good heart. But, he packs a lot of baggage around that he can’t let go of.” Knowles shook his head.

saddlebag dispatches

“What do you mean?” she asked. “He drinks a lot and just doesn’t care much about anything anymore. Three years ago, he was sitting at number one in the bullriding standings. Near the top in bronc riding, too,” he paused and sighed. “I don’t understand.” “He was in Las Cruces, New Mexico, riding against some really tough professionals. His wife and daughter were driving over to watch him compete. Was supposed to be a surprise,” Knowles added. “They never made it. An eighteen-wheeler crossed into their lane outside of El Paso doing close to eighty. Driver was high on meth and texting to boot. Hit ‘em head on,” he watched as a look of shock and grief transformed the woman’s pretty face. “Hardy’s world ended that night. He never rode again.” “I’m so, so sorry. I can’t imagine.” Knowles simply nodded and mentally kicked himself. Damn, he shouldn’t have told her all that. “Well, ma’am, I got to get going, but I have to tell you, I’ve never seen him take a shine to anybody like he did your boy this afternoon. Hope you two enjoy

the rodeo,” he said, forcing a smile as he turned and limped away. — Scared. He was scared for the first time that he could remember. The arena lights were almost unbearable. Of course, it was the first time he had done this without finishing off at least a pint of whiskey beforehand. He looked across the arena’s dirt floor at his partner, steady as always. The announcer was introducing the first bull rider and bull for the evening’s show. Everybody loved to watch bullriding but him. Shoving all the thoughts aside, he made ready. The chute gate swung open and out came the bull, twisting, spinning and bucking. The rider didn’t come close to making the eight second buzzer. The next rider did a bit better and covered his bull, earning a score. The third rider had the best ride of the three and performed a respectful dismount. Prescott felt his jitters fade after running around a



saddlebag dispatches

bit, protecting the riders and hazing the riderless bulls through the arena exit gate. The announcer stopped the action, taking time to give credit to some sponsors and make some announcements. Prescott spotted Amanda and Judd in the front row of the bleachers and made for them. “Howdy, you two,” he announced loudly. “Glad to see you!” “Mr. Prescott!” Judd jumped up and leaned against the railing. “Who’s that, young feller? My name’s Short Pants and that there’s my partner Long Johns,” he retorted, pointing across the arena at a man dressed in red flannel from head to boots. “You’re a rodeo clown!” Prescott watched as Amanda shook her head and laughed, letting the interaction between the two continue without interference. “Oh, nay there, Judd. We are professional rodeo protection athletes,” he said hooking his thumbs into his bright orange suspenders and pushing his chest out, “or rodeo bullfighters to the less cultured. Keepin’ those riders safe is a big job, you know?” The boy nodded vigorously as the announcer focused on him. “Hey, Short Pants, you about ready to get back into the game?” The crowd laughed and applauded as Short Pants Prescott ran back to his position and leaned on a protective barrel with a big beer advertisement on it. He waved at the crowd then gave the announcer a thumbs-up. As he stood there, in his oversize cut-off denim jeans and baggy shirt, the crowd didn’t see the expression of deep concern remake his painted smile. The next rider was ready, but the bull was pure evil. It was the brindle bull. His name was Abaddon. The name was that of a demon and meant destroyer, or angel of death. The chute swung open. The first second ticked by mostly as expected with the bull trying to brush the rider off as he sprang from the chute, but then, it all went to hell. In the next two seconds, the bull faded, moving backward while at the same time spinning and bucking. The rider went down in the well, as riders called it, as the force of the spin pulled him down the side of the bull in the direction it spun.

Short Pants and Long Johns were running full speed toward the bull as it got worse. The rider, a tough and talented young man that Prescott respected a lot, was hung up. He couldn’t free his riding hand from the bull rope. Shoving any trace of fear aside, and with arms extended forward, Short Pants yelled and ran straight into the bull’s twisting head. — Slowly, an awareness returned. Heaven wasn’t supposed to smell that way. He guessed hell wasn’t either. He kept his eyes shut and listened to rhythmic electronic beeps and chirps that surrounded him. Slowly, very slowly, he forced his eyes to open slightly. The overhead lights were dimmed, so he opened them wide. His side hurt, but it wasn’t agonizing. He was thirsty but felt reasonably good. It only took a few seconds to realize he was in a hospital bed, somewhere, with a bunch of tubes doing something. A door opened, and a Hispanic man entered dressed in dark blue medical scrubs. “You’re finally awake. That’s good, we were getting concerned. I’m Sam Moreno, your shift nurse. We keep the whiteboard on the wall updated so you know who’s who,” he pointed at the board with his name and the doctor’s printed out along with other information. “How do you feel on a scale of one to ten, with ten being a happy face?” “I guess about a nine,” Prescott replied. “That’s the morphine. You’ll be off that soon, but we’ll try to keep you ahead of the pain. We should also be able to get rid of most of those tubes” “What happened? All I remember was charging a big, ugly bull at the rodeo.” “Can’t tell you what happened, but I can tell you that you have a gouge in your side. It missed the important stuff. Then, there’s four broken ribs and to top it off, a concussion. But, we’ll have you out of here tomorrow or the next day,” Moreno handed Prescott a plastic tumbler of water with a lid and flexible straw. “Depends on what the doctor says. She’ll be here in about half an hour. There are some folks outside that would like to see you if you’re up to it. But only for a few minutes. Here’s the call button if you need anything.”

saddlebag dispatches



saddlebag dispatches

“Thanks, Sam. Go ahead and let ‘em in.” Frank Knowles was first through the door followed by Hardy’s partner, Eddy “Long Johns” Willet. “Damn it, man!” he took Prescott’s right hand and was going to really shake it until he saw a grimace pass over his face and let go. “You’re a hero. It’s all over the news. You saved that kid’s life for certain. That was the most heroic and downright stupid thing I’ve ever seen anybody do. What were you thinking?” “Just doing my job. At the moment, it seemed like the only thing to do.” Eddy Willet stepped in closer. “What the hell, partner, I never seen nothing like that. Everybody thought you was dead. You hit that bull so hard he lost his balance and went to his knees. But not before hookin’ you with a horn. Tossed you a good ten feet, he did. Like Frank said, you’re a hero,” Long Johns practically beamed. “Team effort. You must have helped the kid to safety and kept ol’ Abaddon from killing me,” Prescott said with a questioning look. “Like you said, team effort. You’re the one who shook hands with the devil. The gate man helped the kid to safety and the latch man and I managed to haze the bull out. I think you stunned him,” Willet said, shaking his head with a big grin. “We’ll have a few drinks with the other hands tonight and toast your speedy recovery. Come on, Frank, let’s go. He’s got other company and surely seen enough of us for today.” Prescott watched the two men leave and the door close. A minute passed and then another. Slowly, the door opened again. Two figures hesitantly entered, one small and the other pretty. Judd Trask walked slowly to the side of the bed and cautiously touched his arm. The boy’s eyes were red and looked like he had been rubbing them a lot. “Are you going to be okay, Mr. Prescott?” “That is my sincere intention, Judd. Don’t you worry about Short Pants. I’m just banged up a bit,” he said reassuringly. “Looks like you did your job and took good care of your mom.” “That he did,” Amanda spoke softly. “We take care of each other. I couldn’t believe what we saw you do. You hit that bull and then it tossed you into the air like a rag doll. That was a hard landing and you

just laid there not moving. Judd couldn’t hold back his emotions. People around us were speculating that you were dead. It was almost too much for either of us. You were still unconscious when the ambulance came in and the EMT’s bundled you up and left. I found out where they were taking you, and here we are,” she shrugged her shoulders. “Hope you don’t mind. We were both scared.” “Not at all. I’m glad you’re here,” he reached with his fingers and she took them in her hands as the door opened again. “Hi, I’m Dr. Rios. How are you doing?” Amanda let go of his hand and started to move Judd toward the door. “Oh, you don’t have to go. Family is always allowed to stay.” Amanda looked into Prescott’s eyes and he nodded. She smiled sheepishly and thanked the doctor, keeping Judd at her side. She watched as patient listened and doctor talked, explaining that they had been able to clean the wound from the bull’s horn and there should be no problems. The concussion and healing of the ribs would take time, with absolutely no strenuous activity. She finished by telling him that he could leave the next day if his vitals and blood work were all good . . . and if he promised to stay down and had adult supervision. Turning toward the door, she winked at Amanda. “I’ll see you all tomorrow.” After the doctor left, Judd took a place in one of the visitor’s chairs and watched television until he finally fell asleep. Prescott and Amanda visited for another three hours, interrupted only by Sam Moreno checking his vitals and pain level. The conversation turned to his future. Was being a rodeo bullfighter what he wanted going forward? Since that horrible night he had never given it much thought. There was no one else in his life to give any consideration to. Before he had become addicted to bull and bronc riding, he had been a certified welder. Amanda pursued that for a while. In their part of the country, oil and gas were expanding with no sign of letting up. There were opportunities galore for welding talent. He pondered that for a bit, but she saw the uncertainty in his expression. Maybe there was hope there. Maybe.

saddlebag dispatches

Prescott explained that he had sold everything. He owned a diesel pickup and two-horse trailer. The trailer was his home and office. The stalls had been converted to store a bit of memorabilia and support his clown paraphernalia. He was an independent contractor, drifting from rodeo to rodeo, fortunate that guys like Frank Knowles would hire him. Being a clown seemed just right for his place in life. Maybe, fool would be a better title. Amanda took his hand in hers and squeezed it hard. “Look, you’re smart and either very brave or bent on self-destruction, and I know why. Mr. Knowles told me. But, you need to know that there are people who care about you and where you’re going. I’m just an administrative assistant for an energy company. We live on that and a bit of insurance from my husband’s accident, but I also have a little boy that needs someone,” she choked out the words as tears began flowing down her cheeks, “and so do I.” Prescott closed his eyes and fought to control his

own emotions. . . and demons. “You and Judd need to go get something to eat and get some rest,” he paused to regroup. “The doc says I need rest and adult supervision. You think you’re up to it?” Amanda rose abruptly and leaned over him. Their eyes locked and held for a long moment. Then, she bent forward and kissed him. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” — Amanda’s home occupied about five acres of mostly desert with large cottonwood trees surrounding a Santa Fe ranch-style house. A bit away from the home stood a fairly new metal-clad building that looked like a shop with two big rollup doors. Next to the building were a few covered but empty stalls, a round pen, and a metal postand-rail fenced arena. She watched as he took it all in. “When you’re able, you can get the grand tour. Jimmy liked to tinker. I think you’ll like the shop. It’s



saddlebag dispatches

got just about every tool imaginable, cutting torches, a plasma something or other, and one big diesel Lincoln welder. Something to think about. For now, it’s the guest room for you and what appears to be long overdue adult supervision,” she laughed. “Come on.” Days melted away as he healed. Frank Knowles had his truck and trailer delivered to her place. Every day that passed, he felt stronger and considered the Short Pants logo painted on the side of his trailer. Hardy Prescott was on his own emotional bull ride and the seconds were passing slowly. Amanda continued going to work, making sure that he had everything he needed for the day. She’d rush home every evening to tend to him. Judd helped him all that he could when he returned from school, and the bond between them grew stronger. One day, he asked the boy about the empty stalls and arena. His reply sealed Prescott’s future. “My dad was going to get horses and some calves for us. He was going to teach me to ride and rope.”

A week later, Prescott started going to the shop when Amanda and Judd were away. He cleaned out the horse trailer and piled everything in a corner of the shop to deal with later. The trailer needed some work first. On a Saturday morning three weeks later, he made an announcement after breakfast. They were going to drive to Canutillo, Texas, to look at something he needed for his trailer. Amanda gave him a questioning look but agreed. Judd was always ready for a trip, so he quickly rushed out to pull his boots on and grab his hat. It was scorching hot when they pulled into the wagon yard of the large ranch. A little over a stone’s throw away from the Rio Grande, the ranch was well known for its quality horses. A slim man emerged from one of the stall barns and waved a greeting as Prescott pulled in. After introductions, the man suggested they get down to business. He whistled and waved toward the stall area. A minute later, a Mexican ranch hand led a handsome bay horse out

saddlebag dispatches

of the building toward them. The gelding stood about fifteen hands high. Ears forward, he studied the group with curiosity. Prescott looked at Judd. “So—what do you think of him, kid?” “He’s awesome!” The handler halted the horse, which immediately stuck its head forward, looking directly at Judd. Standing beside the boy, Prescott looked into the horse’s eyes as Judd let it sniff his outstretched hand. The eyes were kind and gentle, just as the owner had described. Amanda watched in complete amazement as Prescott handed the man an envelope. The two men walked to the front of the truck. Using the hood as a flat surface, the owner produced some papers for him to sign. Walking back to Amanda and Judd, the boy asked, “Who’s horse is this?” Prescott looked at Amanda, then down at Judd. “He’s all yours now.”

michael mclean

— Prescott opened the back door of the pickup and watched the boy excitedly scramble up into the seat and begin fastening his seat belt. “Good job. Always fasten that seat belt, even if someone tells you it’s okay if you don’t. Got it?” “Yes, sir!” He surveyed the back seat one last time and closed the door. He got in the driver’s seat, fastened his own seat belt, and smiled at Amanda. “Can’t be too safe.” She smiled back and grabbed his arm as he started to shift the truck. Pulling him to her, she kissed him. “Never.” He glanced at the boy in the rearview mirror. “Ready, partner?” He watched as the youngster enthusiastically nodded his head, a wide grin on this face. His cowboy hat accentuated the response. Hardy Prescott shifted the truck into drive. “Let’s take him home!”



native of western Colorado's high country, 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 blueribbon 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 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. McLean believes the less travelled and often lonely back roads of the West offer intimate access to the land, its people, and their stories. A mining engineer by profession, McLean also has technical publications to his credit. He now works in New Mexico's oil and potash-rich Permian Basin and lives in Carlsbad, New Mexico, with his wife, Sandie. “Short Pants” is his second short story to appear in Saddlebag Dispatches.



saddlebag dispatches

nowhere rodeo POETRY BY ROD MILLER An unsung hero of professional rodeo is the wife left behind to keep the home fires burning. “Nowhere Rodeo,” by award-winning poet Rod Miller, takes a look at what it might be like for a lonely young wife who got more (or less) than she bargained for, contrasted with the man’s experiences in rodeo arenas as he follows the circuit without much success.

Scopin’ out cowboys from bleacher seats, Feelin’ the rush in a racin’ heartbeat. Lookin’ for love in the buckin’ chutes, Huntin’ a hero in high-heeled boots. Checkin’ ’em out at the rodeo dance, Makin’ my choice, takin’ a chance; Mesmerized by tight-fittin’ jeans, Fallin’ in love, not knowin’ what it means. It’s hang and rattle, it’s twists and turns. It’s bearin’ down, it’s feelin’ the burn. It’s travelin’ light on a hope and a prayer Down a rodeo road that’s goin’ nowhere —A rodeo road that’s goin’ nowhere. Eight long hours at a job in town. Horses to feed as the sun goes down. Scratch out lonely with a currycomb, Then an empty night in our empty home. It’s mac and cheese, the TV and me, An endless night in twisted sheets. Up with the sun to do it all once more, Rowin’ upstream with only one oar. It’s jump and kick, it’s leaps and bounds. It’s gettin’ air, it’s hittin’ the ground. It’s travelin’ light on a hope and a prayer Down a rodeo road that’s goin’ nowhere —A rodeo road that’s goin’ nowhere.

SA D D LEBAG poetry

Credit card bills from cheap motels. Long-distance calls, long farewells. Mailman says there’s bills to pay, Banker says there ain’t no way. Turn out the lights, turn down the bed, Pull up the covers, bury my head. Tossing, turning, reaching out, Longing, loving, going without. It’s turnin’ back, it’s duck and dive. It’s an adrenaline rush, it’s feelin’ alive. It’s travelin’ light on a hope and a prayer Down a rodeo road that’s goin’ nowhere —A rodeo road that’s goin’ nowhere.


saddlebag dispatches

SA D D LEBAG f e at u r e

WHO WAS PRAIRIE ROSE HENDERSON? She made a name for herself during the golden age of rodeo as a champion bronc rider. She became a fierce relay racer, dazzling crowds not only with her daring feats in the arena, but also with her fasion sense and flair for beautiful and inventive performance costumes. Tom Correa


here are those who say "Prairie Rose Henderson" her date of birth as 1880 and the year of her death as was born Ann Robbins. They say she was from 1939. Both dates are wrong. And while the museum lists her as Prairie Rose Henderson, they don’t list her a ranching family in Wyoming and she was raised breaking horses for her parents and neighbors. real name. They also don’t say she was one of the first They say she made quite a name for herself as a top women allowed to compete in rodeo. They left out how she was the "First Woman to Win A Trophy At horse trainer by the late 1880s. While that would be great if it were true, it's not. Cheyenne Frontier Days—1906." Her being the "First Woman to Win A Trophy At The person rodeo history knows as "Prairie Rose Cheyenne Frontier Days—1906" is right there on Rose Henderson" was born Rose Gale on February 5th, 1875, Coleman's gravestone. She used the stage name Prairie in Bristolville, Ohio. Her parents were Ezra Gale and Melvina Ina Ormsby Gale. Her father died when she was Rose Henderson while performing in rodeos. Rose started in rodeo at Cheyenne Frontier Days in around 8 years old. As was not unusual for the times, her mother married another Gale family member by 1899. A few years before that, in 1897, a Union Pacific the name of William. After their marriage, the Gales Railroad passenger agent by the name of Frederick W. Angier watched a few cowboys play hell trying to get picked up and moved to Nebraska. While they may have been farmers, Rose was not a bronc stomper or a few head of unbroke range horses into a freight car. horse trainer growing up. Rose is an inductee in the PRAIRIE ROSE HENDERSON, THE FIRST WOMAN TO WIN Cowgirl Hall of Fame at the National Cowgirl Museum in A TROPHY AT THE GRANDADDY OF 'EM ALL—CHEYENNE Fort Worth, Texas. Her bio lists FRONTIER DAYS, 1906.


saddlebag dispatches

ROSE WAS KNOWN FOR HER FAMOUS RIDING CLOTHES, DUBBED "TURKISH TROUSERS." IN REALITY, THEY WERE BLOOMERS SHE MADE INTO A COSTUME. Angier supposedly said words to the effect of, "There's people who would pay to watch that!" He passed his idea along to the Cheyenne Daily Sun-Leader Edwin A. Slack. Slack and local businessman Warren Richardson wanted to start a festival in Cheyenne similar to Greeley, Colorado’s Potato Day Festival. They called their festival "Frontier Day." Most agree it was hashed out over whiskey and cigars in the Tivoli Saloon at the corner of 16th Street and Carey right there in downtown Cheyenne. It started as being about testing a working cowboy's ranch skills. Among the events in the early days was bronc riding, steer roping, and a few others including

quarter, half, and one-mile long horse races, and relay races. There was a mock Pony Express reenactment, as well as a stagecoach holdup to entertain the crowd. While bullriding certainly wasn't a ranch skill, there were those cowhands who would challenge each other to see who had the guts to ride a bull. After that, the challenge became who could stay on one the longest. Out of that, we have bullriding. As for bronc riding, there’s the old adage, "there’s never been a horse that couldn’t be rode and there’s never been a cowboy that couldn’t be throwed." Well, even back in the day, many a young cowboy proved that adage true—especially when it came to riding rodeo rough stock.

saddlebag dispatches


As for bulldogging, also known today as “steer wrestling,” like bullriding it was not a part of cowboy skills used on a ranch. Fact is, it didn’t come about until the late 1890s when black-cowboy Bill Pickett rode his horse next to a runaway steer and jumped on the critter to catch it. Pickett grabbed the runaway by the horns and twisted it back to wrestle it to the ground. Pickett bit the steer on the lip while wrestling it. Yes, he bit its lip! Among cowboys at the time, it was known that a bulldog could catch a stray steer by biting the steer's lip to gain control. It's said that Pickett figured he could do the same thing. So, he practiced his technique and each time Pickett would bite the steer in the lip while wrestling the steer to fall backward. Bulldogging hasn't changed much, but modern-day steer wrestlers don't have to bite a steer's lip anymore. Of course, most are happy about that. As for women in rodeo, they did it all. They busted broncs, steer roped, and even bulldogged. They raced horses, did trick riding and rope tricks, jumped over automobiles, and did several other stunts. Some were bronc riding and horse race champions. The gal who was born Rose Gale—and later used the stage name of Prairie Rose Henderson—married Arthur Columbus Clayton in Nebraska in 1892. The newlyweds moved to Bristolville, Ohio, and almost immediately she had two children, May Cora and Henry Arthur. After a few years, they relocated to Wyoming. That's how Rose first became acquainted with the state. In Wyoming, Rose and PRAIRIE ROSE HENDERSON (CENTER) POSING WITH FELLOW Arthur competed in the first RODEO PERFORMERS KITTY CANUTT (LEFT) AND RUTH ROACH Cheyenne Frontier Days in (RIGHT) DURING THE PENDLETON ROUNDUP 1899. Most reports agree that she won the first Cheyenne Frontier Days horse race for women. Her prize was a $45 silver saddle. While a $45 saddle might not sound like much today, $45 in 1899 is equivalent in purchasing power to $1,304.98 in 2018. So really, a $45 saddle was nothing to laugh at. Soon after that, Rose joined the Irwin Brothers Wild West Show. She became an instant sensation, famous for her riding clothes dubbed "Turkish Trousers." In reality, they were her bloomers which she made into a costume. She was known for making all her outrageous


saddlebag dispatches

of the first annual Los Angeles Rodeo. We know that costumes. From attaching ostrich feathers and leather Rose won the saddle bronc riding event at the second fringe to her outfit to her wide-brimmed hats and knee-high bloomers, she was a vibrant personality. annual Los Angeles Rodeo in 1913. While in California, her daughter Mary Cora met a And while her smile alone was enough to win over an young man and was married. Soon after that, her son audience, she was an extremely talented cowgirl. In 1904, The Denver Post newspaper donated a Henry met his future wife. Her name was Ann Robbins. In 1914, Rose met and married Homer E. Corwin. He trophy cup which would go to the annual winner of a women’s cow pony race. It was called "The Denver Post was supposedly a trick roper. They moved to Arizona Championship." It was a three-horse-change relay race. when he had a chance to act in silent movies in the early westerns being filmed there. At some point, while She entered that race using three borrowed horses. She won that race, narrowly beating out Joella Irwin living in Arizona, Rose was hired for the New York who was a top competitor at the time. The newspa- Stampede held at the Sheepshead Bay Raceway in 1916. With a crowd of over 24,000 people in attendance, pers loved Rose, and they saddled her with the handle "Prairie Rose" Clayton, “Sweetheart of the Rodeo.” It the New York Stampede was a contest between the was about that time when she started using the stage champions of rodeo. Those competing there were rodeo legends Yakima Canutt, Art Acord, Fred Stone, Sam name “Prairie Rose Henderson.” As for “Henderson” Garett, Chester Byers, Tommy Kirnan, Floyd Irwin, and where it came from? That’s a mystery. As with other women rodeo performers, she Harry Walters, Leonard Stroud, Clay McGonigill, competed against men on their level. That's important Dorothy Morrell, and Prairie Rose Henderson. because many are under the misconception that women in those days ROSE CLAYTON COMPETED IN THE FIRST CHEYENNE FRONTIER were fragile as pieces of DAYS IN 1899. MOST REPORTS AGREE THAT SHE WON THE FIRST porcelain. Not hardly! Rose CHEYENNE FRONTIER DAYS HORSE RACE FOR WOMEN. HER PRIZE competed on equal terms WAS A $45 SILVER SADDLE. SHE STARTED USING THE STAGE NAME with cowboy bronc riders. "PRAIRIE ROSE HENDERSON" IN 1904. And though Rose competed in relay racing, flat racing, performed rope tricks and After that Rose returned to Cheyenne, where she trick riding, she was primarily a bronc rider. In 1906, won the bronc riding championship sponsored by she took home the Gold Cup after winning the very Union Pacific Railroad in 1917. She was awarded a first official Cowgirls Saddle Bronc Event. That trophy large silver buckle with her name on it. That buckle is mentioned on her headstone. would have a big part to play in the legend of Prairie She had a reputation as a great competitor. But sadly, her competing took a toll on her marriage and Rose Henderson later. In Arizona, she remained married to Corwin until soon she found herself a divorced single mother of two teenagers. On her own, she knew her responsibility they divorced in 1926. A couple of years later, while still in Arizona, she met her last husband Charles Coleman. was to support herself and her children. So, from her taking a job as a cook in a Utah mining camp to packing After a year, they married in 1929, and immediately up everything and moving herself and her children to she talked him into going to Wyoming and buying a California, she took jobs wherever she could to support ranch near Rawlins. Almost as soon as they arrived in Wyoming, Rose and feed her family. Some say she went to California to work as a stunt rider for the first motion picture studio retired from performing. There are those who say in Hollywood which opened in 1911. Others say she she retired simply because she was already 54 years went to California because she got an offer to be a part old and worn out from the physical abuse of being a

saddlebag dispatches

bronc rider for so many years. Others say she retired when women's bronc riding as an event was stopped in rodeo. Women's bronc riding came to a complete halt right after rodeo performer Bonnie McCarroll was killed. While giving a bronc riding exhibition at the Pendleton Round-Up in September of 1929, she was thrown, and her horse stomped her spine. She died and that was the end of women’s bronc riding. As for Charles Coleman, he’s said to have been quite the hombre. At the age of 34, he got into a fight and killed a man. Supposedly he broke the man’s neck. He was arrested and charged with manslaughter. The charges were dismissed due to lack of evidence. Although, some say he intimidated the witnesses into not testifying. As for his troubles in Wyoming, it’s said Rose blamed herself for that since she felt guilty about getting them to move there. Of course, things not working out for him in the way of ranching didn’t make it any easier. By then, the stock market had crashed, and the Great Depression was tough on everyone. As for him being an abusive husband or not, there are a couple of references to his hard drinking and beating Rose when he felt like it. It’s believed she was thinking about moving to California to be with her son for safety. In February of 1933, Fremont County Sheriff James W. Thompson drove to the Coleman ranch in the Green Mountains. He was there to arrest her husband for cattle rustling. Charles swore up and down that he didn’t do it. After a while, he admitted to it saying, “We’re hungry.” Sheriff Thompson met with Rose before taking Charles off to jail. Later, he recalled how he apologized to her for having to take him in on such a horrible night with a blizzard taking place. Thompson also said how he had remembered her from her early days in rodeo. He was surprised when he saw Rose that night. He said she looked old and tired, hunched over a little, and she had been crying when he drove off that night with her husband in the back seat. Rose is said to have watched Sheriff Thompson drive off. At that moment, she had no idea that Charles would be found guilty of butchering a steer, or that he wouldn’t return home until after serving a sentence of a



saddlebag dispatches


year in state prison. At that moment, with the blizzard coming down harder than before, she knew she needed to bring in her animals. She knew they needed to be out of the bad weather. At the sheriff’s office, Thompson grew more and more uneasy about leaving Rose there alone in the middle of such weather. So, when his deputy showed up for duty that night, he sent his deputy back to the Coleman home to pick her up and bring her back to town. By the time the deputy finally arrived at the Coleman’s, snow was coming down worse than it had been all day. While the deputy’s thoughts were about picking her up and not getting stuck in the snow getting back, he searched and found no one was there. Blinded by the snow, he found his search useless. So, he gave up and later returned to the station to give his report to the Sheriff. It’s said Sheriff Thompson was not happy when finding out that the old woman who he remembered so well as a young rodeo star was missing. The next day, Sheriff Thompson and a search party returned to the Coleman ranch to look for Rose. Among the searchers were neighbors who found Rose's dogs safely locked in a shed, safe and warm. With the mountain country blanketed in deep snow, it became

evident very early on that the search was in vain. With little hope of finding her, search parties kept at it. It’s said they searched for what was seemed like miles around the Coleman ranch. They found nothing. There was no trace of her. She had simply disappeared. Rumors spread saying, with her husband Charles locked up, that she used the opportunity to get out from under him and escape. Other rumors went around that she changed her name and was living alone in this place and that depending on the rumor. Newspapers reported that "Prairie Rose Henderson" had died in that snowstorm. The reports that Prairie Rose Henderson and not Rose Coleman had vanished angered her son, Henry, who was notified of her disappearance. He wrote newspapers to correct their omission of not noting her real name. He tried to tell them that her real name was Rose Clayton-Coleman, or simply Rose Coleman. It didn't matter to the papers and they continued to list her by her stage name. It's a sad commentary to say that no one listened to Henry. It's sad to think that the story of the death of the famous rodeo star with the stage name Prairie Rose Henderson seemed more important to the newspapers than that of the death of Rose Clayton-Coleman, but it appeared that way.

saddlebag dispatches

In 1901 at Cheyenne Frontier Days, she went to the judges and said she wanted to ride a bronc. It was apparent that she wanted to because she believed she could. Rose was already well known as being headstrong and determined. She demanded she be treated the same as any other contestant there and be allowed to ride a bucking horse. At one point, she went so far as to tell the rodeo judges, "If you can’t produce a rule that forbids me from riding, then you have to let me have a spot in the contest!" The judges were completely confounded. There were no such rules which forbid women from competing with men in an event. And while the judges couldn't figure out why a woman would want to be a bronc peeler and ride such a fire-breathing beast, they let her ride. That’s who Rose was. She was special in that she was a great in rodeo’s early days. Looking at her for what made her who she was, all in all, Rose was a true American Cowgirl. She was strong-willed, resilient, adventurous, tough, but still good-natured, loving, kind and responsible. She was known by all who competed against her as a tough competitor and straight shooter, but also friendly and a help to all who knew her. Yes, Rose Coleman was a true American Cowgirl. SHE WAS KNOWN BY ALL WHO COMPETED AGAINST HER AS —Tom Correa is originally A TOUGH COMPETITOR AND STRAIGHT SHOOTER, BUT ALSO from Hawaii where his fondest FRIENDLY AND A HELP TO ALL WHO KNEW HER. memories are those of growing up on his grandfather’s ranch. Tom served in the Marine Corps, has degrees in Criminal Justice and Inspection Technology. Because of time, the elements, and scavengers, there really wasn’t much left of her when she was found. Legend He traveled a great deal working around the country, during which time he took every opportunity to research says she was identified as "Prairie Rose Henderson" American history. After retiring to Glencoe, California, because she was wearing her Union Pacific Railroad where he lives with his wife Deanna, cares for rescue championship buckle when her body was found. horses, target shoots, and volunteers at the local American Some have reported that there isn’t a coroner’s report and that she didn’t have a funeral. That’s not true at all. Legion Post, he started a blog, The American Cowboy The official coroner's report identified her remains as Chronicles where he shares his research of the Old West while celebrating our American heritage. As a writer and 57-year-old Rose Coleman. Her cause of death was listed as, "Exposure to the elements." Her son, Henry, had his blogger, he has provided research material to other writers and organizations. While his work has been published mother buried in Lakeview Cemetery in Cheyenne. Besides friends and neighbors, many of the old timers online and is referenced in Wikipedia, he is now working on a book dealing with his research of the Old West. http:// of rodeo showed up to pay their respects to the woman who they called one of the true “Sweethearts of Rodeo.” On July 17, 1939, almost seven years after her disappearance, a wildfire broke out in the Green Mountains near her ranch. One of the people battling the forest fire that day was a sheepherder by the name of Martinez. He stumbled on a partial skeleton which was exposed during the fire. The sheepherder reported finding bones mixed in with some blue clothing and what was said to be "a barely recognizable human being in torn trousers." Sadly, it was all that remained of Rose Coleman. Along with her, just to the right of her body, was the remnants of a leather halter. Speculation being what it is, it's believed that snow was falling extremely heavy when she figured she'd bring her pony into their barn for safety. She had put her dogs in their shed and headed out toward their barn for a halter. The leather halter found with her body was recognized as being the pony halter she was known to use. After setting out with the halter, she must have become confused and lost in the blinding snow which by then was coming down heavy. It's speculated that she became disoriented in the blizzard, in the whiteout conditions, and had wandered in the opposite direction of where she needed to go.



saddlebag dispatches



rowing up without roots, you never fully bloom. You may find the sun, rain, or wind on your face, but it only burns, wets, and batters. Nothing takes hold, burrows into a community, blossoms out of purpose. That's how I came to be here. I'm no more than a dandelion seed, standing in the middle of the road in a small town in South Dakota, ready to blow away on the next breeze. It doesn't matter. Not a bit. One town looks the same as another after a while. There's always the sheriff's office, a saloon, a boarding house and mercantile. The roads are rutted and muddy. It's what's behind the walls, the swinging doors, the metal bars that make the difference. I was born in the back of a painted wagon. My parents were actors, emoting in town after town, placing me backstage in a wooden box with a sugar teat to suck on, the noise of the crowds my lullaby. After the show, they left me to sleep in their dressing room or the wagon, while they visited restaurants

and saloons, rubbing up against the locals, pitching the next play, the next job. Father was classically trained, a vagabond from London who came to America on a whim, or so he said. I think he was invited to leave England by a constable, and the next ship leaving port was for New York. My mother came from a good family in Philadelphia. Mother went to college, and along the way fell in with the actors and artists who filled the hallways of higher learning with lofty ideals. She met Father when he performed in a play in New York, and the rest, as they say, was history. Mother was beautiful. People said I looked just like her. We shared the same bright red hair and deep green eyes. It was exciting when our wagon rolled into town. People were eager for laughter and drama. They paid to sit on wooden benches in makeshift theaters or saloons, so they had something to carry out the door with them when the evening ended. I can't describe what it felt like to lose both my parents to the Russian Flu that swept through America in 1890. I survived with nothing more than a raspy throat, only eighteen years old, and orphaned.


saddlebag dispatches

After I buried them, all that remained was the show wagon and a sorrel horse named Clyde. In the wagon were trunks of costumes, a few pots and pans, not even a penny left over. There was nothing to do but keep moving, so I did. In each town, I looked for a saloon or small theater to perform my one woman show. I played the piano, sang tunes, danced a little, and hoped to earn enough money to feed myself and Clyde. Acting was easy. Becoming real was not. One day stepped on the heels of the next until eight years had gone by. No longer was I the frightened girl kneeling by two ragged crosses in a potter's field on a lonesome hill in Kansas. Things had changed. — I stood outside the doors of the Sleeping Lady Saloon in Webster, South Dakota. It was early yet, not quite noon. All was quiet in the bar, but the doors swung open, so I stepped inside with a smile on my face. It was important to make a good first impression. Convince the bartender or owner that putting on a show in his saloon for a night or two was a good idea. I tossed my head, squared my shoulders, hips swaying, and strolled across the floor in my finest green wool coat. In the light of day, the saloon looked weary. Shafts of sunlight poured over the swinging doors, stirred up dust motes that swirled in the air. A long wooden bar was chipped and notched, rubbed smooth from the elbows of many strangers. An old man was sweeping the scuffed floor in lazy circles with a broom. I asked him to point out the boss, and he jutted his chin towards a table where a dark-haired man sat. The bartender raised his head, rose from a table

scattered with paperwork, and smiled. When he took my hand in his and felt my soft palm draped in a delicate lace glove, I knew I had his attention. I dimpled and introduced myself as Molly Blake. We spoke of a one woman show. His dark eyes followed me as I wandered around the saloon, then pointed towards an old upright piano. "I can perform right there in the corner by the piano. I won't charge the saloon, not even one cent for my services, Sir. The customers will pay for the entertainment." I explained. "After the show, I pass a hat and ask for contributions. What goes into the hat is mine. Everything you make at the bar is yours." I gestured around the empty room. "People love entertainment. They buy more drinks, stay later, and if I may say so, they are generous in their donations." He seemed interested, so I touched his arm, stepped in closer. His skin smelled of fresh soap, his collar clean but frayed. He had not shaved, and dark stubble bristled on his jaw. Dark eyes stared deep into mine. Encouraged, I placed my hand back on his arm, let it linger, gazed up at him. "My show lasts about an hour or so. I have a few playbills we can post outside to draw in the customers." He bobbed his head up and down like my old horse Clyde when flies pester him. He held my hand a little longer than was necessary and caressed my palm. "You've got the job, Miss Blake," he said. "The saloon is open for customers after six o'clock, but I would suggest you start a little later." "Yes. Maybe around seven or eight? I'll set a few things up now, then return this evening. I won't be any bother. It'll just take me a few minutes." He nodded, stepped back to the table. "Well,

saddlebag dispatches

then we'll be seeing you tonight." He hesitated, those stormy eyes lingering on my face. "Might I ask where you are staying during your time here in Webster, should we need to contact you?" "Right down the street, Sir, at Sarah's Boardinghouse, in room 4." I tacked a mural of a western scene on the wall and smoothed out the canvas. Covered the top of the piano with a red velvet runner, along with a large brass candlestick and candle. Then placed posters by the swinging doors outside, and a few up and down the street. After that, I headed toward the boardinghouse, removed my clothes, and crawled under the sheets in my camisole and petticoat to rest until evening. It wasn't long before I heard steps on the stairs, down the hall, the light tap on my door. I rose with the sheet bunched around me, opened the door. The bartender fell inside with eager hands, smothering my mouth with kisses. I hadn't expected such impatience, and pretended to resist a little, then let him walk me

to the bed. He lowered me to the mattress, covered my neck and breasts with kisses. I spread my legs, and he entered with a sigh as though on his way to heaven. I moved with his grunts, arched my back, as he poured himself into me. After one final thrust, he rolled off, collapsed on the mattress. My chest was damp with his sweat, a male scent. I cried, like I always do. Silent little hiccups. He sat up, alarmed. I put my head in my hands and gave in to pitiful sobs. This was the part I liked the most. How I played off of him. How he appeared to believe my act. He said he felt terrible. Forgive him, he begged, for he had misread me, and my intentions in the saloon earlier. He took advantage of my gentle nature, and mistook my innocent flirtation, he confessed. What could he do to make it right? I sniffled as he tucked a lock of red hair behind my ear, wiped my tears away with his thumb. I hesitated, then looked up at him as he stood and fumbled with his trousers and pulled on his boots.



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches

In a soft voice, I asked if he could lend a few dollars until after the show, then I would pay him back. There were things I needed before the play started tonight, I explained, peering up, clutching the sheet against my neck. He hung his head as though in shame. Reached into his pockets and gave me a fistful of money. Sometimes, the largesse was so good that long before the show was to start that evening, I was already miles down the road, old Clyde pulling the wagon on to the next town. I counted the money after he left. It wasn't as much as I had been given in other towns, so I decided to stay in Webster and do the show tonight, pass the hat, hope to earn a little more. At sunset that evening, I stowed the cash in my satchel and hid it under the bed. I walked into the Sleeping Lady, dragging a small costume trunk and a valise bulging with sheet music. A few customers had already trickled in, a woman at the piano pounding out a tune. The man behind the bar was not the same one I had spoken with this morning. He was older, balding, a handle-bar mustache covered most of his lower face and moved up and down when he talked. "Can I help you, Miss?" "Yes, Sir, I'm Molly Blake. I'm performing tonight. Where's a good place to unpack the props and stow my costumes?" He stopped polishing a glass, set it down, cocked his head. "I don't understand, Miss. What play?" I explained that earlier that day, a young bartender had hired me to put on a show tonight. Courtesy of paying guests, not a penny paid by the saloon owner. "I'm the owner," he said. "Jim Bridgeforth. This is the first I've heard of it. Joseph had no authority to hire you, or anyone else." I stepped back, confused, set the trunk down hard on the floor. "What? But... But he said I could perform tonight!" He looked worried then, scratched his head. "I just hired that young man last week. I never told him he could do anything like this." "Joseph!" he hollered. There was no answer.

"What the hell?" He excused himself, walked behind the bar and out through a door into a back room. Then I heard him swear. He came storming back, a shotgun in his hand. I cowered, ducked my head. The piano player stopped, all eyes turned towards the gun, then at me. The saloon went silent. Mr. Bridgeforth waved the shotgun in front of him, back and forth, his face red. "That son of a bitch cleaned out my safe! He must have taken off! I can't believe it!" He glared at me. "Just when exactly did you speak with Joseph?" "Sometime before noon. He gave me permission to set up the mural over there." I pointed a shaky finger towards the piano in the corner. He looked shocked, said he hadn't noticed it earlier. Pulled at his ears, bared his teeth in anger. Kicked at a table. "Shit," he muttered. "Where'd he go?" he looked up at the ceiling as though a voice would tell him. "What am I supposed to do now?" I asked, wringing my hands. "I need the work, and if I can't perform tonight, I must be off to the next town. I was counting on this." He pointed at a chair, scowled at me. "Stay right here, Miss Blake. Don't go anywhere. I'm getting the sheriff." He pushed through the swinging doors, and out into the night. I sat down at a table, chewed on the side of my fingernail until the sheriff burst back through the doors with the saloon keeper. Mr. Bridgeforth and the sheriff went behind the bar into the back room, then emerged a short while later. The sheriff had a frown on his face. They both walked over to my table, looked down at me. I answered their questions, listened to them as they talked about Joseph, the safe and the money. Then I cried. Said I needed the work. My words fell like bees buzzing around their heads as they talked about the robbery. Finally, they seemed to notice me. Mr. Bridgeforth shook his head and walked over to the table. He put his hand on my shoulder. "I'm sorry, Miss Blake. Looks like you were swindled, too. I guess you wasted your time here in Webster."



saddlebag dispatches

I thought of Joseph between my legs, the bed bouncing up and down on the second floor of that boarding house and sobbed into my handkerchief. The sheriff left, off to find Joseph. Outside, the sky opened with rain, spattering against the wooden walkway and leaking in under the swinging doors. The piano player struck up a spirited rendition of "Golden Slippers" and the customers resumed their drinking and laughing. In the end, I convinced Mr. Bridgeforth to let me perform that night. I told him the show might bring in more money to offset his losses, and I wouldn't charge him a penny. He agreed, I think, out of pity. That night, the saloon was crowded with curious townspeople. Word had gotten around about the robbery, and the young actress putting on a show. I recited poetry, played the piano and sang. The customers loved it. They were mostly men, so I remembered to flash my ankles, holding my skirt higher when I danced, my frothy petticoat rising and

falling to the songs I sang. When I passed the hat, people filled it to the brim with coin. Mr. Bridgeforth convinced me to stay for two more nights. Each night I sang different songs, recited new poetry. I tried to make it as special as I could. "Any luck finding Joseph, Mr. Bridgeforth?" I asked after the last performance, as we took the mural off the wall and folded it, packing it away with the candlestick and velvet runner. He shook his head, pulled at his mustache. "That bastard was gone for several hours before I checked the safe. The sheriff's still out looking for him, but he probably got away. There wasn't much money in the safe because I had gone to the bank two days before. A day earlier and he would have run off with a lot more." He slammed his fist down on the bar, rattling a bottle of whiskey. "If I find him, I'll kill him, that's for sure." I nodded, thanked him for the opportunity to put on my show, and turned to leave. "Wait, Miss Blake." he said.

saddlebag dispatches

I stopped. Turned around. He took my hand in his, opened my palm, and placed several dollars in it. "The Sleeping Lady did well the past couple of nights, thanks to you. Almost makes up for the money I lost. You deserve a bonus." He steered me to the door, swung it aside with a flourish, and I stepped out into the night. "Thank you. I'll never forget your kindness. I'll come back this way again, if you'll have me." He bowed, walked back into the saloon, shut it down for the evening. When I left the next morning, my satchel was bulging with money. I hid it in the wagon, in the false bottom of a trunk filled with petticoats and corsets. Then slipped a Derringer into my pocket for protection against highwaymen. A few of the ladies in the town packed a basket of cold chicken with fresh bread and cheese. They said it was the least they could do since I was gracious enough to continue with my show, despite the robbery and upheaval in Webster. They asked me to return any time. My act was the best thing they had seen in years. I thanked them from the bottom of my heart, climbed up in the wagon, and gnawed on a drumstick as Clyde made his way out of town. A month later, I stepped into a bar in Bismarck, North Dakota. It took me a while to find just the right saloon, but this was the place for me. The gentleman behind the bar lifted his head, took off his glasses, peered at me. "Can I help you, Miss?" I walked over, hips swaying, and told him I was looking for work, and it wouldn't cost the saloon a penny. I stepped closer, twisted a lock of red hair around my finger, patted his arm. When I finished the pitch, he hired me on the spot. Told me to show up after seven that evening. "Where are you staying, Miss, if I might ask, should we need to contact you?" "The boarding house next door, sir. Room 10." Joseph gazed at me with his dark eyes, winked and smiled, the sweetest smile he had given me in years. He kissed my hand, bobbing his head up and down, just like old Clyde.


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 as sharonframegay.


PrairieCen ter

Oasis of life in a land where death abounds, Bosom of the plains country, this sea of grass, Where the silver fluting song of the meadowlark Gives way at dusk to the haunting call of the owl And the wail of coyotes quavering on thin air.

Vast waves of earth, rumpling away for miles, Where ants and beetles, gophers and prairie dogs, Rattlesnakes, and badgers all live beneath the crust. Where overhead, in a sky so clear and blue That a boy lying on a haystack has no sense Of cities and machines, money, hate, or years— Just a sky stretching forever, across time, Here in a land where roundup wagons rolled, And Crazy Horse watched from a hill as bison grazed. Above the boy on the haystack, flapping wings, A snake trailing from the claws of a hawk, A golden moment of summer that never dies As he grows into this world so spare but rich, Where antelope come back in numbers every year, Dark eyes, tan coats, white flashing rumps and bellies As they wheel and run and turn, linking the years, Joining the boy on the haystack with the white-haired man Who has walked this land and ridden it, mourned its losses, And known it as the center of the earth. Where every life has a story, from hopes and dreams To the way things turned out to be. A young man, a horseman, Rose up and hit the teacher in the country school, Went on to work for the railroad, drove a cattle truck, His face turned florid, swollen cheeks, purple veins,

Smoke-tinted glasses, cloudy eyes, his days of work Long in the past, living in a rental house, Remembering horses, smoking his last cigarette. All stories end, but for the boy on the haystack, All stories are always taking place, never ending— His first deer, antlers glinting in the sun As scarlet dawn gives way to yellow sky, Walks out upon the hayfield, stops and turns. His first horse, a sorrel with a narrow blaze And two white socks, waits for him in the corral. The hawk is always carrying the snake, The young man is always punching the teacher And thinking of the horses he used to ride. The land and the sky and time all stretch forever Here in this world of grass and distant buttes,

Where deer walk down through clefts too narrow for cows, Browsing in the shade of ancient sandstone walls, Leaving their heart-shaped footprints in the sand. Where a coyote pads along, past weathered bones, Looks backward over his shoulder, never trusting, Then moves ahead, his tail streaming out behind As he trots in the phantom light of setting sun. Where a rabbit crouches in the shade of sage, Watching for the hawk’s shadow, his sense of fate Ingrained upon his mind from ages past, As he holds still in the heat of noon, ears flat, Then bolts away at the footfall of a horse. Where antelope drift among cows to drink From a stock tank as the windmill creaks and whirs And through the clear water, clean and undisturbed, The skull and bones of birds lie in the silt. Where chokecherry bushes grow in draws and canyons, Offering thin shade in summer for drowsy cows,

SA D D LEBAG poetry

t t i b s e N n h o J y b y poetr The small black fruit in August, when starlings come, And faint red leaves for the early sign of fall. Where grasshoppers click their wings and soar away As the boy from the haystack, now in middle age, Feels through the soles of his boots the heated earth As he walks across the field and counts the bales, Not the square bales that made a flat-topped stack Where a boy could loll and dream on summer days, But large, round hulks that dot the land for miles, Serve well as windbreak for a mobile home Or a perch for barnyard cats in morning sun. Back in his pickup, he rumbles on in dust, Where antelope cross the road in single file, Ignore the roadside cross in memory Of a young ranch wife who hit loose gravel and rolled On a sunny day as cows looked up from grazing And meadowlarks stopped their singing in mid-note. Where a pair of Kansas hunters doze in a pickup Parked on a warm October afternoon Outside the two-story country schoolhouse Where coats still hang in the cloak room, and blackboards wait Some fifteen years since children’s laughter rang. Where a man on a tarp-covered haystack slipped On an empty spot where he thought a bale should be, And he slid off into space—not far, but enough To change his life, so that he thought no more About cows and hay, but about his neck brace, And how he’d built a ranch to come to this. Where a man tethered to his oxygen tank Looks out the window and enjoys what’s left, Knowing he will never ride his horse again, Thinking of the best way to give away his guns, Hoping to hear the sandhill cranes once more. The boy from the haystack, now white-haired, gears down

As he turns the corner by the schoolhouse, drives two miles, Where Angus cows seek the shade of a railroad trestle, Where a tall, heavy man he knew, past middle age, Drove forty miles from town to end it all. He turns around at the trestle, counts the cows, And heading west again, can’t shake the thought Of a rope around the neck, snugged to a beam, And a body hanging for the world to see. Better to think of other times, when things went well, Like the stretch of years in his own mobile home, A hay-bale windbreak on the west, his horse corral On the east, for Pal to catch the morning sun. All the windows open in the summertime, Old western music on the stereo, A slice of antelope sausage with the eggs, And a jar of chokecherry jelly for the toast. A sense of years to come, enough, perhaps, To meet a woman whose ideas fit his. Or another time, October, when a buck climbed up From the mists of a canyon, found a level path, His antlers high as he walked through fog, appearing, And the boy from the haystack, now a man, crouched Behind a sandstone boulder, beside a bluff, Where the crash of the rifle echoed along the rocks. Or one fading November day, hunting alone, Waiting for the lead deer to jump the fence Between dry pastureland and sweet corn stalks, One good shot, piercing the thin, cold air, And a deer laid out at the edge of the stubble, Heat rising from a small red hole at dusk. All stories end, even when they last forever, Like the woman he used to meet on prairie nights In the gun-rack bench-seat saddle-blanket cab Where every minute counted and time stood still Until their time was up, and left alone, His engine silent, a cold, dark sky above, He watched her taillights blink and disappear.


By sundown on April 22, however, the entire country was settled, including the present-day towns of Oklahoma City, Norman, Stillwater, Kingfisher, and Guthrie, the latter designated as the territorial capital. More than twelve thousand pioneers poured into Oklahoma City alone, which that morning had been a quiet railroad station on the prairie, sporting less than ten structures near the dry banks of the North Canadian River. The “Run of ’89” was an international sensation. “Unlike Rome, the city of Guthrie was built in a day,” trumpeted Harper’s Weekly, the dominant periodical of the era in the United States. “To be strictly accurate in the matter, it might be said that it was “THERE’S NEVER BEEN ANYTHING LIKE IT SINCE CREATION. built in an afternoon. At twelve CREATION! THAT TOOK SIX DAYS. THIS WAS DONE IN ONE. o'clock on Monday, April 22d IT WAS HISTORY MADE IN AN HOUR—AND I HELPED MAKE [sic], the resident population of IT.” —YANCEY CRAVAT, IN EDNA FERBER’S CIMARRON Guthrie was nothing; before sundown, it was at least ten thousand. In that time streets had been laid When the shotgun fired, they thundered across the out, town lots staked off, and steps taken toward the line on horseback, mule, bicycle, and foot; in wagons; formation of a municipal government.” Mrs. Welling Haynes, daughter of a widowed, and even inside, outside, and on top of trains churning in from Texas and Kansas. Some got land, but most sharecropping Kansas mother and “’89er,” left this witness to the memorable day: didn’t. There were fistfights, shootouts, and court battles. Many sneaked in early and claimed some of the “We got in line ready to make the run when the signal best 160-acre tracts and town lots. These energetic was given. Then, real excitement began—everybody folks earned the label “Sooners.” ord rang out across the Western world that at noon on the 22nd of April, 1889, upon the sound of a shotgun fired by a U. S. cavalryman, anyone with the guts and wherewithal to do so could rush into the Unassigned Lands in the center of present-day Oklahoma and claim their own hundred and sixty-acre spread from two million acres’ worth of government-designated tracts. In a singularly American feat of bravado and imagination, fifty thousand people—including nearly a thousand African-Americans—from every state in the Union descended on the area to do just that.

saddlebag dispatches


yelling, horses’ hoofs clattering, all in a hurry. Mother applied the whip and the horses started running. She didn’t try to guide them until we came to land on which very few people could be seen. She stopped the horses, jumped out of the wagon and stuck up her stakes. (This claim was one mile east of Crescent.) Mother then looked over her claim for a likely place to pitch our tent. She found a wide rocky canyon and a good spring of water.” INDIAN TERRITORY The Unassigned Lands Run of 1889 was only the first, and not even the largest, in a series of such epic adventures. It continued a chain of events that stretched nearly to the founding of the American republic which would soon close the American frontier and produce the forty-sixth state in the Union. To make sense of the Oklahoma land openings of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, one must explore the central role of the area in United States policy toward its aboriginal tribes during the preceding hundred years. As far back as the presidency of Thomas Jefferson at the dawn of the nineteenth ELIAS C. BOUDINOT century, the “InA MIXED-BLOOD CHEROKEE WHOSE ELECTRIFYING CHICAGO TIMES dian problem” had MANIFESTO “A CALL TO AMERICA” GALVANIZED THE 1880S BOOMER bedeviled a UnitMOVEMENT THAT HELPED SETTLED OKLAHOMA TERRITORY. ed States that was COURTESY OKLAHOMA HISTORICAL SOCIETY. advancing across the North American continent and with an exploding population comprised of peoples from around the world. The aboriginal American tribes migrated thousands of years before from Asia, shared neither the Christianity, Western culture and education, technological advancement, nor the social progress of the European immigrants who settled America. Numerous Christian missionary efforts went out to the hundreds of different tribes. Thousands of Natives embraced American culture and beliefs, and many assimilated into that society. The redoubtable Jefferson himself evinced a deep affection, respect, and concern for the Indians in numerous statements over many years. Yet his own words well


saddlebag dispatches


saddlebag dispatches



saddlebag dispatches


articulated the intractable problem: “inability of the 2 cultures…one greater, one weaker…to mesh…” The challenge was exacerbated by what Jefferson called “the interested and unprincipled policy of England,” which had “defeated all our labors for the salvation of these unfortunate people. They have seduced the greater part of the tribes within our neighborhood, to take up the hatchet against us, and the cruel massacres they have committed on the women and children of our frontiers taken by surprise, will oblige us now to pursue them to extermination, or drive them to new seats beyond our reach.” Thus, American policy evolved into persuading, pressuring, and sometimes forcing the many tribes east of the Mississippi River to the other side of that

great mid-continent divide. From at least 1820, “Indian Territory,” the area comprising present-day Oklahoma, except for its Panhandle, became the focus of government efforts—always reflective of American public sentiment—for the resettlement of the tribes. Trouble and sometimes tragedy ensued. The most infamous examples were the multiple Trails of Tears in the 1830s. These forcibly uprooted the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole) and cost thousands of Indian lives and untold suffering. Though the government often attempted humane treatment of the Natives—providing them free land, provisions, large financial payments, and military protection—again and again, its commitments to them faltered, though nearly always unin-

saddlebag dispatches




saddlebag dispatches


tentionally. It was a frustrating, frequently maddening coalescence of genuine benevolence and even the Christian missionary spirit with misunderstanding, insensitivity, greed, and violence. WHY THEY CAME The stream of American citizens pioneering west for land and destiny gushed like a tidal wave following the end of the Civil War in 1865. The unclaimed frontier land was disappearing in the face of this millions-strong armed migration. The largest portion of land yet remaining was Indian Territory. There, only around 100,000 people—perhaps 80,000 of them Natives—lived on less than 70,000 square miles of land. In comparison, the state of New York had around 4.3 million people living on 47,000 square miles. In the face of such need and opportunity, the burgeoning U.S. populace demanded that their elected officials open the vast, sparsely inhabited lands previously reserved for the Indians to settlement. Elias C. Boudinot and other progressive-minded Indians,

many of them mixed-bloods, urged their tribes to participate in, even excel at, the ways of the expanding American republic, rather than shrink from its inevitable primacy. Numerous other factors drove masses of American settlers west for a new, or last, chance. A decade of harsh and controversial post-war federal “Reconstruction” policies birthed financial over-speculation in the railroad industry, carpetbaggers, scalawags, robber barons, the Black Friday Stock Market Crash, the most corrupt presidential administration in U.S. history, the Gilded Age, the Ku Klux Klan, the Union League, and lasting enmity between the black and white races in the South. Black Friday, the financial Panic of 1873, the nationwide Long Depression of 1873-79, the Panic of 1893, and a growing monopoly frenzy generated ongoing social and economic instability and upheaval for huge numbers of Americans. Also, the citizenry caught wind of the corruption, bribery, and other misbehavior that fueled many of the colossal fortunes accruing in

saddlebag dispatches

the North and East, sections that had triumphed in the recent war. Meanwhile, in 1866, the United States confiscated most of the western half of Indian Territory from the Five Civilized Tribes to punish them for their widespread alliance with the Confederate States of America during the War Between the States. Then the government forcibly placed other, mostly Great Plains or “wild” tribes, who were more nomadic, violent, and resistant to American culture, inbounded reservations on this land. This spawned a series of bitter, bloody wars between American horse soldiers and these Plains Indians, particularly the Comanche, Kiowa, Cheyenne, and Apache. By the late 1870s, the Indians were pacified, though a multitude of outlaws and gangs had

rendered large swaths of Indian Territory a lawless enclave or “Robber’s Roost,” despite the Indian republics’ efforts to stop them. Thus, as the U. S. military gained the upper hand in western Indian Territory, American pioneers increasingly agitated for land ownership there. Many of them migrated west from crowded, crime-ridden northeastern cities, many others from Southern lands destroyed by rampaging Union armies during the war, or lands just worn out from overplanting. The Southern ranks included thousands of blacks, many of whom sought a fresh start out from under the grim, deadly serious post-war Reconstruction conflict between Southern whites and the federal government.




saddlebag dispatches


THE BOOMERS Some of these white and black pioneers, known as “Boomers” because they were “booming” or trumpeting the settlement of Native lands, urged the immediate opening of the vast, sparsely-peopled Southern Plains of western Indian Territory. The scion of a famous and controversial family in Oklahoma history rose up as their standard bearer. The afore-mentioned Elias C. Boudinot, an accomplished mixedblood Cherokee whose Cherokee father had defied the dominant powers of his tribe to bring thousands of his people to Indian Territory before the carnage of the Trail of Tears and suffered martyrdom for it, himself now defied the ruling powers of the whites and Natives alike. In early 1879, Boudinot fired a written shot heard round the world through the editorial pages of the large and influential Chicago Times newspaper. In it, he challenged the U. S. government to open to the American populace as public domain the lands it took from the Indian republics in 1866, as he claimed that federal homestead laws demanded. Galvanized by this electrifying manifesto, would-be settlers poured into southern Kansas and southwestern Missouri, as well as the Red River Valley of North Texas, preparing to stake their claim in what Americans increasingly called the “Oklahoma Lands” or “Oklahoma.” Choctaw Indian chief and Presbyterian minister Allen Wright coined the latter term for the area. It means “Red People” in the Choctaw language.

A swashbuckling Union Army veteran named Charles Carpenter who sported Custer-like long hair and buckskins rallied hundreds of Boomers around himself and served notice that the birth of a new state loomed—with him as its apparent leader. Government officials intimidated Carpenter into backing off in 1879, and the army burned out early settlements of Boomers near present-day Oklahoma City. As the 1880s arrived, however, a sea change roiled in Indian Territory. Gone were the buffalo—slaughtered by the millions to bring the wild tribes to heel in the Plains Indian Wars—and the rule of the Natives. Coming or already there were the U. S. Army, white entrepreneurs, a tidal wave of new Boomers, and the railroads, the colossus of nineteenth-century American industry. The government had subsidized the railroads with millions

saddlebag dispatches

of dollars to help spur westward settlement, and the railroads needed passengers and cargo-shipping customers to, literally, pay their freight. This demanded American settlement of Indian Territory. Maybe the government—earnestly attempting to honor its latest commitments to the Indians—could turn back Carpenter, and perhaps even David Payne, the more influential Boomer leader sometimes called the “Father of Oklahoma” who followed him. But U. S. industry and the American people now had their sights trained on the Oklahoma country. And history has shown many times that once that happens, for better or worse, there is no turning them back. TWIN TERRITORIES The year after the Run of ’89, Congress passed the

Oklahoma Organic Act, which legally divided Indian Territory into the Twin Territories. Oklahoma Territory now comprised roughly the western half of the original Indian Territory, that portion to the west of the five Indian republics’ lands and the smaller tribal enclaves to the northeast. The roughly eastern half remained Indian Territory. In response to settlers’ petitions, the Organic Act also established a republican form of representative government for Oklahoma Territory. It called for Republican President Benjamin Harrison to appoint a territorial governor, judges, and other officials, and for the people to elect a territorial legislature. And it designated Republican bastion Guthrie as temporary territorial capital. Farther west, the Organic Act also folded the roughand-tumble Panhandle (then variously called No-Man’s



saddlebag dispatches


Land, the Public Land Strip, the Cimarron Country, or Robber’s Roost), into Oklahoma Territory. A haven for outlaws and fugitives until cowboys, cattlemen, and settlers cleared them out, its law-abiding citizens had applied unsuccessfully for territorial status as the Cimarron Territory. Now the government opened it for settlement under the provisions of the 1862 Homestead Act. At this time, less than thirty thousand people lived in the entirety of unsettled Oklahoma Territory, an area larger than many American states. This helps illustrate why the American people demanded its settlement. Indian Territory, meanwhile, though Congress strictly regulated its system of land ownership and it possessed an advanced system of constitutional law unlike the Oklahoma Territory, suffered rampaging lawlessness that the tribal governments who still possessed local authority were unable to stem. Against this unsettled backdrop, the Unassigned

Lands (a title minted by Boudinot in his famed newspaper article) Run, enabled by the nation’s legislative branch through the Springer Amendment to the Indian Appropriations Act, sponsored by Illinois Representative William Springer, was roundly considered a triumph of historic magnitude. The stage was set for more of them, including the biggest in history. MORE LAND RUNS Through the 1890s whole new towns bustling with thousands of people rose up overnight from the Oklahoma prairie in a series of spectacular land runs, lotteries, auctions, and even a U. S. Supreme Court battle with Texas. In each case, the U. S. government apportioned members of the tribe that owned the land to be allotted their own quarter-section (160-acre) land parcel. Settlers received the remaining lands, for which the tribes were paid millions of dollars.

saddlebag dispatches


After the epochal Run of ’89 that settled the Unassigned Lands in the center of old Indian Territory came the September 22, 1891 land run immediately to the east in the Absentee Shawnee, Iowa, Potawatomi, and Sac and Fox country. Over 20,000 pioneers raced for land, but only 6,000 succeeded in securing it. These included William H. Twine, future African-American publisher as well as a political and legal chieftain in Muskogee. Perhaps as many as a thousand blacks, including many residents of the all-black Oklahoma Territory town of Langston founded the previous year from land opened in the first run, sought claims in the 1891 event. It opened present-day Lincoln and Pottawatomie counties and portions of present-day Cleveland, Logan, Oklahoma, and Payne counties. Just seven months later, on April 19, 1892, twenty-five thousand Boomers thundered over the 3.5 million acres of surplus Cheyenne and Arapaho country in the Great Plains of western Oklahoma. This sprawling charge encompassed an area larger than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. It remains as unique EDWARD P. MCCABE as it is forgotten. FORMER KANSAS STATE AUDITOR EDWARD P. MCCABE SPEARHEADED A The participants LARGE CONTINGENT OF BLACK BOOMERS INTO OKLAHOMA, HUNDREDS included a hot air OF WHOM GAINED PROPERTY IN THE OKLAHOMA TERRITORY LAND balloon and a sixhorse team pullRUNS. HE ALSO HELPED FOUND THE ALL-BLACK TOWN OF LANGSTON, ing a house. The NEAR GUTHRIE, IN 1891, AS WELL AS A “COLORED” COLLEGE OF THE well-known KioSAME NAME IN 1897 THAT FLOURISHES TODAY. OKLAHOMA TERRITORY. wa warrior chief COURTESY OKLAHOMA HISTORICAL SOCIETY. Big Tree, by now a Christian and leading advocate of peace between the Natives and whites, witnessed “as many (people) as the blades of grass on the Washita in the spring.” Government officials reeled when no one claimed nearly three million acres of this land. A long and devastating drought, absence of railroads or any other roads, harassment by cattlemen who wanted the range, lack of building materials, scarce food, poor water, the barrenness of the land for crop growing, and worry about the fierce—and sometimes still threatening—Cheyenne all contributed to this rejection of


saddlebag dispatches

free property. “About the only sure crop was the rattlesnake” went the saying. By the end of the decade, however, rugged pioneers of German, Irish, Scottish, Russian, English, African, and other stock had braved all challenges, often to the point of death, and carved their mostly forgotten names high in the annals of Oklahoma and American history to settle the area. CHEROKEE OUTLET RUN The greatest land run in history shook the earth across northern Oklahoma the following year, on September 16, 1893. One hundred thousand pioneers

for the tribe as part of their Indian removal package, the Outlet encompassed not only the sprawling lands the Cherokee leased to white cattlemen but also the small tribal enclaves of the Pawnee and Tonkawa, the latter numbering around seventy members. Two factors generated drama in the Cherokee Run of a magnitude not found in other Oklahoma land openings. One was its sheer size, double the participants of the next largest, the Run of ’89. The other was the tense context in which it occurred. Historian Alvin O. Turner well described how years of drought across the South and Midwest, inadequate agricultural prices, and a national depression—the Panic of 1893—brought thou-


poured into the vast Cherokee Outlet. It stretched from the main Cherokee country in northeastern Indian Territory to No Man’s Land, the present-day Oklahoma Panhandle. Reserved as grazing and hunting lands

sands of desperate Boomers to the region, many of them financially destitute and many others close to starvation. As the date of the run neared, the federal government required them to wait in line, often for days, in

saddlebag dispatches

scalding heat just to register for the right to participate. Boomers, suffering from thirst, hunger, and sunstroke fell ill, and some died in these lines. Twenty thousand still waited when federal officials closed down the registration booths. Many Boomers endured mistreatment and even violence at the hands of soldiers and deputies tasked with controlling the enormous throng. Others suffered injuries and a few were killed when a chain reaction of stampedes broke out just prior to the start of the run. According to historian Alvin O. Turner, “Countless individuals were injured in the frantic (Cherokee Outlet) races following the starting guns or when mobs fought to board the trains or individuals jumped from the trains as they neared town sites.” The great majority of the participants behaved well, and many displayed generosity and assistance toward one another. Enough did not, however, that the threat and sometimes the reality of violence hung over the entire proceedings like a dark cloud. As towns such as Ponca City and Blackwell sprang from the Oklahoma prairie within hours, cheating Sooners snatched many of the best claims, and most of those daring Boomers who made the Cherokee Outlet Run did not even get land. For those who did, the challenges had only begun, as Turner recounted: The chaotic process of settlement continued to affect the region's development long after the land run. Towns were over-built; farmers went broke on land unsuitable for farming . . . many claims were abandoned by the end of the year. There were, of course, success stories just as there had been instances of neighborly actions, generosity, even gallantry during the run. Yet even those who managed to secure good land soon learned that farmers’ opportunities were limited. The new towns, dependent on the farmers’ business, faltered in a changing American economy where the growth of industrialization had redefined the meaning of opportunity.” THE LAST RUN The final land run opened the Kickapoo country on May 23, 1895. This tiny tribe—fewer than three hundred members, possessing around 200,000 acres—

did not desire to be assimilated into white American culture. Their refusal to negotiate a treaty with the U. S. Government on allotment delayed the process for years. The Kickapoos could forestall the inevitable no longer than May 23, 1895, however, when ten thousand more Boomers and Sooners charged into the area to claim a homestead or town lot. Wellston and McLoud are among the present-day towns that emerged from this run. Once again, only a minority of the runners, which included numerous independent females as did previous runs, succeeded. More than ever before, though, due in part to a lack of race officials, Sooners foiled the Boomers. Perhaps as many as half the land seekers snuck in early, although scores were arrested and fined a thousand dollars apiece, an enormous sum in that day. Still, “Soonerism” had taken a large enough toll on the available land, triggered enough lawsuits, and generated such a wealth of anger and even violence that the government terminated land runs as a means of releasing the remainder of surplus Indian lands. The lottery and the auction would serve as the methods for future openings. One other piece of Oklahoma Territory, the long-contested Plains country in the far southwest corner, Greer County, came into the present-day Oklahoma fold in 1896. The U. S. Supreme Court ruled that the southern stream of Red River was its main course through the region—and thus was the original boundary of the Louisiana Purchase and now, Oklahoma Territory. This delivered the 1.5 million acres between it and the northern stream from Texas, which had claimed and partially settled it, to Oklahoma. Present-day towns such as Altus, Frederick, Hobart, Mangum, and Hollis would have been located in Texas had the verdict gone the other way. LATER OPENINGS Around 3,500,000 square acres of Comanche, Kiowa, Apache, Wichita, and Caddo land in southern Oklahoma Territory, along with nearly two million acres of Osage, Ponca, Kaw, and Otoe-Missouri land comprising the northeast portion of the territory, remained unallotted to individual tribal members and unapportioned to American settlers at the dawn of the twentieth century. Congress remedied this with several



saddlebag dispatches

more great land openings. Land runs, for all their epic historical drama, had proven to be logistical, administrative, and legal nightmares. The final land giveaways occurred through a lottery. In 1901 came the Wichita and Caddo lands around present-day Caddo County and the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache (K-C-A) lands around present-day Comanche and Kiowa counties. Over 135,000 prospective homesteaders and town citizens registered for 160acre property tracts, hoping to hear their names called among the listings of 13,000 lots pulled from large boxes. Following the awarding of these lots, sales of town lots in the new county seats of Anadarko (Caddo), Lawton (Comanche), and Hobart (Kiowa) commenced.

Nearly $750,000 from these sales financed construction and improvement of roads, bridges, and courthouses in these counties. At least two legendary Oklahomans—future U. S. Senator and anti-New Dealer Thomas P. Gore and famed lawman Heck Thomas—put down stakes as thousands of people raised the new town of Lawton up from the southwest Oklahoma plains on the day of its birth, August 6, 1901. The two men developed a close friendship. Though he was blind, Gore’s recollection of the signal experience, when he and Thomas at first lived in tents on the heretofore wild and dangerous prairie, provides an enduring window for future generations into pioneer Oklahoma:

saddlebag dispatches

I located at Lawton before there was any Law-ton. There were only two little shacks on the town-site when I located my tent on the Eastern Boundary which was then called ‘Goo-goo’ avenue. The bluegrass was waist high on most of the town-site, particularly where there were “hog-wallers.” The hard mesquite occupied part of the town-site. In 1904, much smaller portions of Ponca, Otoe, and Missouri lands were allotted to individual tribal members. Settlers purchased the remaining 51,000 acres. Osage and Kaw Indians received individual allotments of their tribal lands in 1906, with none left for settlers. At the end of 1906, the federal government

auctioned off 480,000 acres of K-C-A range along Red River through a sealed bid. This “Big Pasture” ranching country had served as a hunting and grazing reserve for these tribes since the 1901 allotment and sale of their remaining southwest Oklahoma lands. GOOD AND BAD Repeating a recurrent theme of American history, these memorable events spawned opportunity and thrilling history, as well as injustice, loss, and sorrow. Dust clouds billowed and the earth shook when thousands of horses, mules, wagons, and other vehicles thundered across the prairie toward new homesteads and the building of an American state during




saddlebag dispatches


the K-C-A opening. Yet Christian missionaries who had labored among the Comanche, Kiowa, and Apache on those enormous reservations, “lamented the high crime rates, drunkenness, unsanitary conditions, and diseases” strewn in these pioneers’ wake, according to historian Benjamin R. Kracht. Numerous white voices joined the Indians in opposing the K-C-A opening. They included Indian Agent James Randlett, Fort Sill Cavalry Commander Hugh Scott (namesake of Lawton’s Mount Scott), Texas cattlemen who grazed herds there, and Baptist, Presbyterian, Mennonite, Roman Catholic, and Methodist Episcopal, South missionaries. Kiowa Chief and Christian convert Lone Wolf (the younger adopted son of a famed warrior and chief Lone Wolf, the elder) mounted a brilliant, years-long legal battle with the federal government over the K-C-A

opening that roared all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court. That body ruled against the Kiowas, citing the Fifth Amendment of the Bill of Rights for their remarkable admission that “the power exists to abrogate the provisions of an Indian treaty.” Indeed, controversy attended the entirety of the U.S. government’s dealings with the Indian tribes of America from the 1600s onward, often with justification. Some Oklahoma schools have removed land run celebrations and even activities from their curriculum. Modern Americans, however, while studying the lessons of the past in an objective, clear-eyed manner, would do well to ponder the consequences had brutal tribes such as the Comanche—feared and loathed not just by white and black Americans, but by other Native tribes whose members they raped, tortured, murdered, and enslaved—won control of

saddlebag dispatches

Oklahoma and other states from Western and Christian civilization. As earlier alluded to, among the innumerable beneficiaries of Oklahoma Territory land openings were thousands of African-American pioneers. In an era of national segregation, discrimination, and racism against blacks, the Oklahoma country offered unparalleled opportunities for this struggling race. Courageous black visionaries and elected officeholders such as Edward P. McCabe, Green I. Currin, and Albert Hamlin spearheaded the founding of numerous all-black towns in the Twin Territories, as well as their own state-supported Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University. Now Langston University, the school remains the westernmost historically black college in America. Perhaps best of all, according to historian Jimmie Franklin, sourcing the U. S. Bureau of the Census regarding the 1910 census, blacks owned more than 1.5 million acres of land in future Oklahoma by 1905, much of it in the Oklahoma Territory. STATEHOOD The land runs, lotteries, and auctions that opened Oklahoma Territory launched a new chapter of drama for its pioneers. The farmers took hold of plains and prairie land, much of which was bereft of basic natural resources their counterparts possessed nearly anywhere else in America. These included water for people, stock, and crops; trees for materials for homes, outbuildings, and implements; and foliage of all sorts for wind, dust, and water breaks. By the end of the 1890s, nearly half the farmers in western Oklahoma who did still own their land—many of them striving to follow better agrarian practices—had mortgaged it. Despite these and innumerable other challenges and heartbreaks, however, between 1900 and 1910, over a million white, black, Indian, Hispanic, and Asian residents birthed, in the words of one of Oklahoma’s Founding Fathers, “not just a new state, but a new kind of state.” During the same period, one of the greatest oil booms in history gushed forth from the land loved by so many of those people. The American population mushroomed during this decade due to increased immigration and high

domestic birthrates. The nation’s vast frontier was mostly secured by the dawn of the new century, despite the fact that much of the South was still stymied by the devastation of the War Between the States and its aftermath. Thus, the sweeping tracts of free land, moderate climate, and opportunity to build new families and a new state alike gleamed like a beacon of last chance-hope and paradise to people across the United States and even other nations. Perhaps the dean of Oklahoma historians, Edward Everett Dale, who himself pioneered “Old Greer County” in future southwest Oklahoma with his family as a teenager, pronounced the most fitting benediction for this remarkable time and place, when men, women, and children thundered across the American landscape in pursuit of all which that iconic vision dangled before them: The pioneers who came to the West (sought) for that most precious of all human material possessions, a home. Largely speaking, this home seeker is the forgotten man in the annals of the American West… Yet he was by far the most important factor in the conquest and development of our American empire. His way of life has vanished and is largely forgotten by all but a comparatively few people. It is, however, a part of our social history and as such should be preserved and cherished. It was the pioneer settlers who won the West when the wooing was difficult and sometimes dangerous, and most of them now sleep in its soil. —John J. Dwyer has taught history at Southern Nazarene University in Oklahoma City since 2006. He is the author of numerous books, including the Will Rogers Medallionwinning The Oklahomans: The Story of Oklahoma and Its People, Vol. 1, and its upcoming second volume, War Between the States: America's Uncivil War, and the Will Rogers Medallion-winning epic World War II historical novel Shortgrass and its sequel, Mustang, which releases Memorial Day weekend 2019. He is a regular contributor to Saddlebag Dispatches. His website is



illiam M. Pickett was born on December 5th, 1870, near the Jenks-Branch community of Williamson County, Texas. He was the second of thirteen children, born to Thomas Jefferson Pickett (a former slave) and Mary ‘Janie’ Pickett. He had four brothers and eight sisters. He quit school in the fifth grade and took a job as a ranch hand. He watched the old cowboys work cattle with the help of a bulldog. He was amazed watching the smaller animal bite a steer’s nose and bring it to a halt. From his observations, he developed the art of Bulldoggin’, where a man would dive from a running horse, grab a bull’s head and twist it up and bite the nose or upper or lower lip and bring the animal to an abrupt stop. Bill and his brothers established the Pickett Brothers Bronco Busters and Rough Riders Association in 1888. They would travel around the southern states breaking horses for the big ranches. They also participated in rodeos, performing as far north as North Dakota and Wyoming. In 1889 he married Maggie Turner a former slave and daughter of a white plantation owner. They


saddlebag dispatches

had nine children. He performed at America’s most famous rodeo, The Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo, in 1904 and gave an extraordinary performance. In 1905, he appeared with Will Rogers at Madison Square Garden and performed before a packed audience. He even had to catch a bull that escaped and got into the stands. He joined Zach Miller’s 101 Ranch Wild West Show and performed under the moniker The Dusky Demon. In 1908 Miller, took the show to Mexico and nearly started a riot. Miller wagered $5,000 on Pickett’s ability to bulldog a Mexican fighting bull. Pickett held the bull for a full seven minutes and the crowd of over 25,000 became offended at what they perceived to be a desecration of their national sport, threw bottles, stones, knives and cans at Pickett and his horse. He managed to escape under military protection. During his career, he performed in the United States, Canada, Mexico, South America, and England. While working at the 101 Ranch he met Buffalo Bill, Tom Mix, Bee Ho Gray and, Zach and Lucille Mulhall. He appeared in two early silent pictures The Bull-Dogger and The Crimson Skull. He was billed as The World’s Colored Champion and The Colored Hero of the Mexican Bullring. He retired from the 101 Rodeo outfit in 1916, bought a small ranch of his own and eased into retirement. BILL WAS ONE OF THE FIRST MOVIE ACTORS OF COLOR AND STARRED IN TWO SHORT FILMS. THE BULLDOGGER IN 1923 AND THE CRIMSON SKULL IN 1924. A COPY OF THE BULLDOGGER IS AT THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS.



saddlebag dispatches


saddlebag dispatches

In 1932, he heard that the 101 Ranch was in financial difficulties and signed back on to help his former employers. He was kicked in the head while roping horses and lay in a coma for eleven days before he finally succumbed to his injuries on April 2nd. Humorist Will Rogers announced Bill’s funeral on his radio show. In 1971, he was inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. The Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame and Museum of the American Cowboy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, honored him in 1989. In 1993, The United States Postal Service created a stamp in his honor. The family informed the postal service that the stamp depicted Bill’s brother, Ben Pickett. In 1994 the postal service released a corrected stamp. Bill was inducted into the Texas Trail of Fame in 1997 and was honored by the National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum and Hall of Fame in 2003. In August of 2018, Bill was inducted into the Jim Thorpe Association’s Hall of Fame. Jesse Stahl was born in Tennessee, Texas, or California between 1879 and 1883 (no one is certain of his place or year of birth). His past was a blank slate, nothing was known about his childhood. He had a brother named Ambrose and both entered professional rodeo at the same time, but only Jesse went on to become famous. He rode a horse named SOME RODEO ENTHUSIASTS CONSIDER JESSE STAHL TO Glass-eye at The Salinas rodeo BE THE GREATEST OF ALL BRONC RIDERS. in 1912. He placed third in the event, although most of the caught on in the professional rodeo circuit and was spectators present thought the abandoned in the twenties. judges should have given him the top prize. He never Jesse performed across the United States, from finished better than third place in any rodeo in which he performed. He and his partner Ty Stokes came up California to New York and retired from professional with the idea for ‘Suicide Rides.’ They would ride a rodeo in 1929 and died in 1935 in Sacramento, California. He was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall bronc sitting back to back, or Jesse would ride the of fame at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage bronc facing backward or with a suitcase in his free Museum in Oklahoma City in 1979. hand. He invented the sport of ‘Hoolihandling,’ which is close to the sport of ‘bulldoggin’ or ‘steer wrestling.’A —Terry Alexander is a western, science fiction and horror writer with a vast number of publishing credits to his man jumped from a running horse onto a twoname. He's also a connoisseur of all things related to the thousand-pound bull and grabbed the beast by the Hollywood Western. He and his wife, Phyllis, live on a horns, overpowering the animal and rooting it to the small farm near Porum, Oklahoma. ground, tethered by the horns. The sport never really



ronc riding in rodeo these days can be summed up in one word: conservative. Whether saddle bronc or bareback, judges reward control. The more a man rides like a machine, the more restraint and discipline he demonstrates, the more likely he is to win trophy buckles and paychecks. It wasn’t always so. Time was, bareback riders tended to spur high, wide, and handsome, hang and rattle, flop and pop, spend every fraction of every eight seconds with the constant threat of eating dirt—yet somehow staying aboard in a dangerous dance accompanied by singing spur rowels. Saddle bronc riders exposed

to watch, and, with Mahan, always more likely to win money than not. And that’s not to mention his superior abilities as a bull rider. Bull riding is not an event that lends itself to the conservative, controlled approach currently the preferred style among bronc riders. It will always be a wild and wooly contest for cowboys willing to let it all hang out for the eight seconds between the rattle of the gate latch and the call of the claxon. And nobody knows that better than Larry Mahan. Twice (1965 and 1967) he was world champion bull rider. Six times he was named world champion All-Around Cowboy, using his talents in riding bulls and broncs to rack up the most annual winTHE MORE A MAN RIDES LIKE A MACHINE, THE MORE nings in all of professional roRESTRAINT AND DISCIPLINE HE DEMONSTRATES, THE MORE deo. Five of those All-Around LIKELY HE IS TO WIN TROPHY BUCKLES AND PAYCHECKS. championships (1966-1970) were consecutive—a record that stood for many years until brothemselves to danger with every jump, raking spurs ken by another rough stock champion, Ty Murray, and from maneline to cantleboard, balancing on buck rein again by timed-event master Trevor Brazille. and blue sky, throwing caution to the wind and putting Larry Mahan was the first cowboy to compete in a little wild in the Wild West sport’s classic event. three events at the National Finals Rodeo, and is still Such a bronc rider was Larry Mahan. the all-time leader in qualifying in rough stock events. Every trip out of the gate, he rode with flash and With ten successive days of competition, the NFR is a flair. No cautious, controlled rides for him—he acgrueling event for any cowboy. More than a few top cepted the challenge of the roughest horses and threw hands over the years have been unable to withstand the his best challenge right back at them. It wasn’t al- grueling pace, forced to miss go-rounds or drop out always pretty—but it was always exciting, always fun together owing to injuries. Ten of the world’s toughest

saddlebag dispatches




saddlebag dispatches

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

saddlebag dispatches


bulls in ten days takes a toll. Ten rank bareback broncs in ten days can rattle your teeth loose. As many saddle broncs as often will test the toughest cowboy. For years, Larry Mahan tripled the threat faced by most cowboys qualifying for rodeo’s biggest event, climbing aboard three lunging, ducking, diving, twisting, bone-jarring animals every day at the NFR. And it took an entire year of much of the same just to qualify to absorb that punishment at the Finals. It is impossible for anyone who has not ridden rough stock to realize just how painful and exhausting it can be. And, for those who have, it is difficult to understand how Mahan survived so much abuse for so long. Born in Oregon in 1943, Mahan started riding calves at age 11 and earned his first championship buckle and $6 prize money for winning the calf riding at a 1957 Redmond, Oregon, junior rodeo. By sixteen, he was competing against the pros. At his first professional rodeo at Klamath Falls, Oregon, he won the bull riding.

It would be difficult, probably impossible, to count the miles Mahan traveled over his rodeo career. To get to more rodeos and to win more money, he learned to fly and piloted his own plane, competing in multiple rodeos most weeks during the season—a season with few breaks. Like all rodeo cowboys, he paid his own entry fees, travel expenses, and medical bills, as there are no guarantees in rodeo—you live on what you win, or you roll up your chaps, hang up your spurs, stay home and get a job. Larry Mahan has accomplished much, much more in his life. But when I was of a tender age, strapping my rigging on bareback broncs and dreaming of gold buckles, he was my inspiration and my hero. And for all that, Larry Mahan ranks as the Best of the West when it comes to rodeo cowboys. —Four-time Spur Award-winning author Rod Miller writes fiction, poetry, and history of the American West and sometimes watches a movie.