Saddlebag Dispatches—Winter 2020

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contents W I N T E R 2020

columns behind the chutes by Dennis Doty ......................................


six-gun justice by Paul Bishop ........................................


let’s talk westerns by Terr y Alexander ................................


indian territor y by John T. Big gs .........................................


short fiction boy witch by John T. Big gs ..............................................


losing lillian gish by Richard Prosch ...................................


north star by Sharon Frame Gay .........................................


dixie’s mettle by Ben Goheen ............................................


grave circumstances by Julie Eger ....................................


the last rider: part three by J.B. Hogan ................................


a cowboy ’s dream by Kyleigh McC loud .................................


prickly pear by Michael McLean ..........................................


sotto voce by Neala Ames .................................................


jedediah’s passport by Dennis Doty .................................


not so long in the tooth by Anthony Wood ........................


poetry shadows & dust by Marleen Bussma ....................................


whispering west by Richard Manley Heiman .........................


features the one and only kirk douglas by Terry Alexander . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


maur y ’s mustang by Don Noel ........................................


colt classic: paul colt by George “C lay ” Mitchell ....................


exlusive preview of friends call me bat by Paul Colt ...........


the outlaw and the man: tom starr by Regina McLemore .......


SUBMISSION GUIDELINES We are now taking submissions for our Summer 2021 issue. This issue is due out in early July, 2021. DEADLINE IS FEBRUARY 1, 2021 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 We are looking for previously unpublished short stories, serial novels, poetry, and non-fiction articles about the West. These will have themes of open country, unforgiving nature, struggles to survive and settle the land, freedom from authority, cooperation with fellow adventurers, and other experiences that human beings encounter on the frontier. Traditional westerns are set west of the Mississippi River between the end of the American Civil War and the turn of the twentieth century. 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 any pictures related to your

manuscript. All photos must be high-resolution (at least 300 dpi) and include a photo caption and credit, if necessary. Manuscripts will be edited for grammar and spelling. Submit to, with your name in the subject line.


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ELL, FOLKS, HERE IT is, the Winter, 2020 issue, and it may well be our best yet. We’ve got cowboys, lawmen, Native Americans and mountain men. We offer wild horses, pickup trucks, buckboards and wagons. The only question is which adventure do you want to dive into first? In this issue, we have the third exciting installment of award-winning author J.B. Hogan’s serial novella, The Last Rider. If you missed the first two parts— or just want to catch back up on them again—you can find them among our back issues at www. But don’t you dare stop there. In a non-descript western town and in Civil Wartorn Texas, young men come to manhood while facing down the local bully. A small-town boy’s obsession with a movie star, turns him into a stalker and a murderer, while a young cowboy falls for yet another movie star and bears the burden for life. A witch is loose on the Navajo reservation, and ghosts walk and ride the hills from New Mexico to Montana. There’s a murder mystery in the desert and a romance among the prickly pears. Rustlers strike a cattle drive, and a lawman is born from tragedy. Ride along on a quest to capture a wild mustang. After you finish with our award-winning short fiction, though, there’s still so much more. Turn the

page and find what has fascinated some of our great nonfiction writers this time out. Learn the real story of Tom Starr with author Regina McLemore and how he came to be branded an outlaw. Read an excerpt from the fantastic new biographical novel, Friends Call Me Bat, then get to know it’s author, the talented and equally down-to-earth Paul Colt, as he sits down for a talk with Saddlebag Dispatches Feature Writer George “Clay” Mitchell for our Winter, 2020 cover feature. Mosey on down Memory Lane with popculture columnist Terry Alexander as he recounts the classic Western silver screen moments of Linda Cristal and the immortal Kirk Douglas. It’s all here, wrapped in a big ol’ bow, just for you. If there’s something we missed, or something that you’d like to see more of, feel free to drop us a note at While 2020 has been a long and arduous year, we wish you all a safe and prosperous 2021 and hope you all enjoy reading our magazine as much as we love bringing it to you. In the meantime, look for our Summer issue in early July. Thanks for visiting us at Saddlebag Dispatches. Pull up a log, a rock, or a camp chair, pour yourself a cup from the camp pot, and enjoy.

—Dennis Doty Publisher

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VER THE YEARS, I’VE read a lot of Westerns, and I’ve listened to a lot of Westerns via audio books. I’ve also watched a lot of Westerns made for the big screen. And, with the rise of Western specific cable channels, I’ve caught up with a lot of TV Westerns I missed when I was younger. As a result, I’ve obviously developed a list of my favorite Western wordslingers and Western movies and Western TV shows, but the biggest surprise to me is the number of potentially great Western writers and their sagebrush tales still in my

to-be-read pile and the large number of potentially great Western movies and TV shows I still have to view. It’s clear, I have a long way to go before I run out of Wild West entertainment. Last month, I discovered Gordon D Shirreffs’s Manhunter series as well as his excellent novel Rio Bravo, which was made into the forgettable 1957 B movie Oregon Passage. In preparation for the SixGuns On The Radio episode of the Six-Gun Justice Podcast, I was enraptured by a fistful of old time western radio shows I’d never heard before. And for the first time, I watched Major Dundee starring Charlton Heston and Sergeant Rutledge—with an amazing performance from Woody Strode—both top notch films in my opinion. For me, reading, watching, and listening to Westerns is not only a great pleasure but always seems to lead to another genre discovery, another rabbit hole of curiosity to fall down in pursuit of the interconnected threads of western tales. What led me to the film Sergeant Rutledge was the novelization of the film by James Warner Bellah (who co-wrote the screenplay). What led me to Bellah’s novelization of Sergeant Rutledge were his brilliant cavalry related tales (originally published in The Saturday


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Evening Post) and later reprinted in the collection, Reveille (Fawcett/Gold Medal, 1962). What led me to Reveille was finding out at least two of the stories in Reveille—“Big Hunt” and “Command,” along with a third story, “War Party” reprinted in Massacre (Lion Books, 1950)—formed the basis for John Ford’s movie She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, which I was led to while researching a cavalry related feature for yet another weekly podcast episode. You get the idea.... Having discovered James Warner Bellah’s work in both screenplays and novels, he quickly registered on my personal scale alongside Clair Huffaker. If you don’t know Huffaker, you should. Many of his lightning-fast novels were made into successful films such as War Wagon, Seven Ways To Sundown, and Rio Conchos, for which he also wrote the screenplays. His final western novel, The Cowboy and the Cossack, is perhaps the greatest non-traditional/ traditional Western ever written—and anyone who has read it will totally understand that seemingly contradictory statement. Like Huffaker, Bellah was equally at home writing screenplays or novels. Unlike Huffaker, however, Bellah did much of his finest work in short stories. His tales appeared regularly in The Saturday Evening Post, the distant and condescending second cousin twice removed to the pulps. It was Bellah’s terse Saturday Evening Post stories of Indian fighting cavalry life that brought him to the attention of director John Ford. The honest heroics and moral dilemmas were well-suited to Ford’s style of filmmaking, providing the heart and soul of his iconic cavalry trilogy—Fort Apache, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, Rio Bravo—which continue to influence the modern perception of the United States Cavalry during the Indian Wars. According to Bellah, his story “Massacre,” on which John Ford’s Fort Apache was based, was inspired by the cavalry stand with Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn and the Fetterman Massacre, in which a small group of Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors (including Crazy Horse) lured a detachment of U.S. cavalry under the command of Captain William J. Fetterman into an ambush—killing all 81 soldiers. Ford looked to three of Bellah’s stories—“Big

Hunt,” “War Party,” and “Command”—when making She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, which is arguably a bit disjointed because of it. The stories speculate on cavalry actions in the wake of the massacre at Little Big Horn. However, as with almost all of Bellah’s work, while history underlies the action, it is the psychology of the characters and their relationships which the focus strips bare. Bellah’s “Mission With No Record” provided the basis for the third movie in Ford’s cavalry trilogy, Rio Grande. The original short story was loosely based on another historical incident—the campaign expedition of the 4th Cavalry Regiment under Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie in Mexico in 1873. Bellah would go on to write an unsuccessful 1958 TV pilot titled Command based on She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, which starred Everett Sloane and Ben Cooper in the roles of Captain Brittles and Lieutenant Cohill. Despite its title, Command, the pilot had nothing to do with the 1954 movie Command, which was based on Bellah’s novel, Rear Guard.



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After Ford’s cavalry trilogy, the director and writer continued to work together. In 1960, they came together for the aforementioned film, Sergeant Rutledge. Bellah co-wrote the screenplay for Sergeant Rutledge with Willis Goldbeck. Two years later, they would team up again to write the script for the Ford directed The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. The movie was based on a 1953 short story by Dorothy M. Johnson. However, as with Sergeant Rutledge, Bellah would go on to novelize his screenplay for The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, which expanded on the original short story. Bellah served in both WWI and WWII. In World War I, he enlisted in the Canadian Army and served as a pilot in the 117th Squadron of Great Britain’s Royal Flying Corps. During World War II, he served in the United States Army, leaving the service with the rank of Colonel. In between the wars he worked as a journalist for the New York Post. Bellah was the author of 19 novels, including The Valiant Virginian, which was adapted for the 1961 NBC television series, The Americans. His short story “Spanish Man’s Grave” has been mentioned as one of the finest American Western stories ever written. But his work wasn’t without controversy. In his

last script, A Thunder of Drums—another cavalry themed story—his depiction of the Apache is considered realistic by some and vehemently protested by others. Through his powerful short stories and his work with John Ford, Bellah was christened the Kipling of the U.S. Cavalry. At the time the Saturday Evening Post and his Hollywood scriptwriting paid far better than the pulps of the day or the burgeoning paperback original market. As a result, his output was mostly novella length or designed for short serials. This is somewhat ironic because had he written for the lesser paying but collectable pulps, instead of the high-paying slicks and movies, he would most likely be much better known, and his work would still likley be in print. But as I discovered, Bellah is an amazing Western writer whose work is worth the effort to seek out. And while you do so, I’ll head down another rabbit hole in search of another new-to-me Western genre discovery. —Paul Bishop is a novelist, screenwriter, and western genre enthusiast, as well as the co-host of the Six-Gun Justice Podcast, which is available on all major streaming platforms or on the podcast website: www.sixgunjustice.



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t s u D


poetry by

Marleen Bussma The country road is fading, but the mem’ries hover clear. They circle ’round then settle at the farmyard waiting near. The barn now stands exhausted with a sagging roof that’s weak. A busted door hangs open wide as if inclined to speak. The endless years without a paintbrush add to its decline.

Worn, weathered wood’s been pummeled to a polished, pewter shine. The horse stalls stand abandoned. Faint smells linger in the air with ties to thoughts of names that were good friends and times we’d share. The wind has never left. It stayed behind where it grew old. It peels the land and shapes it with a heartless hand that’s cold.

SA D D LEBAG poetry

A gust resuscitates the windmill from its lethargy. It squeaks an old familiar greeting then it gyrates free. The lonely stock tank stands nearby. It offers only scum. It waits to serve the thirst of cattle that will never come. A nearby hay fence to the west has staggered to its knees. Gray rotted posts released the wires that reach out to the breeze. Our dreams were drained here; still we saved tradition and our roots. Courageous hearts and toughness found a better life that suits. Our story’s carried on the wind. It wails and sounds bereft. The next storm will take down failed hopes that generous time had left.


AVAJO CLERKS AT THE Circle Ks wouldn’t look Danny’s way if he took a couple of hot dogs from the rotisserie. They’d let him take big pretzels too, even the ones dripping with cheese and jalapeno peppers. He could have all the fountain drinks he wanted and flavored coffees with names like French Vanilla, Mocha Latte, and Pumpkin Spice Cappuccino—white man names. He could probably take cigarettes if he wanted them, but he didn’t like the way they smelled, and he couldn’t sell them because no Indian on the Big Rez would buy smokes from a boy who might be a witch—not even Marlboros. Danny liked to pace himself, steal from different convenience stores so his invisibility didn’t wear thin, but the Rez was pretty big, and Circle Ks were kind of far apart. He didn’t have a car, so some of the clerks got so they could see him pretty well. He brought his own big green plastic sack borrowed from the trashcan outside his mother’s Airstream Trailer. Twenty-gallon size, lots of room for chips. The big Fluffy Cheetos were his favorite, but he liked Fritos and Doritos too, especially the ones that tasted like BBQ sauce. He took cans of Starkist

tuna, two-liter bottles of Mountain Dew, and tins of Vienna sausages for Queenie. Who’d have thought a gray Timber Wolf would like Vienna sausages? Danny watched the clerks ignore him as he loaded up his grocery sack. They weren’t talking about witches now, but they would as soon as he was gone. Danny knew, because sometimes he’d hide and listen. That’s how he found out he was a witch. The locals figured it all out after Nathan Balance disappeared. “He didn’t want that boy around no more,” is how the conversations always started. Then nobody saw Nathan anymore. Nobody saw his truck either, but lots of people saw wolf tracks, and lots of people saw Danny Riley roaming the desert after the sun had set. Dark spirits looked for company. That’s how a twelve-year-old Laguna Pueblo boy becomes a witch on the Navajo Reservation. His mother’s no-good diabetic boyfriend chased him into the desert without thinking about his insulin and then couldn’t find a way back home. Put that together with Queenie and you’ve got


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yourself a full-fledged mystical phenomenon—Indian style. Nothing magic about Queenie. She was one of the gray wolves a bunch of white college students released on the Rez a few years back. Those kids probably learned a lot in college, but they never learned how to say thank you or please. They just sort of naturally knew that timber wolves would get along with Indians.

Circle K, so blended with the desert no one would see her until she moved, and she wouldn’t do that until the time was exactly right. Danny stepped toward the cash register. This one wasn’t closed up behind bulletproof glass like some. His invisibility would fall away as soon as he made his move, because Indian magic didn’t work

Never mind if they ate the Indians’ sheep. Never mind if they ate an Indian child or two. Everything was unofficial and done with the best intentions and without asking the locals what they thought. That’s how white people did things on the Reservation. Some good came of it anyway. Now, Queenie belonged to Danny Riley. The wolf did what Danny wanted without ever being told, following some kind of secret witch language made up of scents and gestures. Today, she’d wait outside the

on money, not even food stamps. The minute he put a finger on the cash register, the two clerks would come for him. Danny’s meandering shoplifting path through the store seemed random, but every step he took required a step by the clerks so they could keep pretending he wasn’t there. Ignorance is the first line of defense against witchcraft. Don’t look at anything too long or think about anything too much, and never put your thoughts into

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words where something dangerous can hear. That’s how Indians keep goblin seeds from taking root in their minds. Ignore a witch, and sooner or later, he’ll probably go somewhere else. As long as he stays away from the cash register. Danny kept the clerks busy looking the other way. Just two of them, and they were good friends who

Came out of nowhere, standing on a few stray bills and coins Danny dropped when he made his turn. He didn’t wait and see what happened next. Like most magical things, all the really cool special effects happened out of sight. Just by standing there, Queenie slammed the Navajo Clerks’ attention so hard, Danny seemed to

didn’t mind standing close together. Get them into a corner by the frozen goods, as far from the front door as possible. Time to make his move. He had a clear path to the door and a double handful of Circle K money in addition to the plastic sack filled with stolen merchandise. Six steps toward the gas pumps and a sharp left. He could hear the clerks behind him. They still weren’t calling out for him to stop. And they wouldn’t. Because that’s when Queenie showed herself.

disappear. That’s how they’d tell the story in a day or so. The boy vanished—poof!—and in his place, a great gray wolf. They wouldn’t even notice Queenie was a girl-wolf. In a week, every Indian on the Reservation would know that Danny Riley was a skin walker, the most dangerous kind of witch that everybody wants to leave alone for as long as possible. Danny hoped that would be a long, long time, because when Indians decide they can’t ignore a witch anymore, they come with rifles.



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— IT’S A DELICATE THING being a boy witch, especially if you love your mother. Especially if she’s young and kind of pretty and likes to spend time with men. Nelva Riley never had been choosey. She tried to change her ways a hundred times. Made promises. Broke them in a little while. Said she was sorry and tried all over again. “Edison Wauneka is coming here tonight,” she told Danny. “You said to let you know.” “Can’t you go to his house?” Danny couldn’t be around when Nelva’s boyfriends came to visit, what with the witchcraft rumors and all. “His wife wouldn’t understand,” Nelva said. “You know how it is.” Danny knew all right. There was barely a road to Nelva’s Airstream. The nearest town was Tonalea. Lots of desert in between, but not much cover. If boyfriends started driving around Nelva’s place, it wouldn’t be any time until somebody ran onto Nathan Balance’s truck, or even Nathan Balance’s body, and then some of Nathan Balance’s family would get drunk enough to decide that justice couldn’t wait another minute, and they’d come to kill a witch. It happened all the time. So, when Edison Wauneka came to spend the night, Danny hid underneath the trailer and listened to the conversation. Indians are supposed to have quiet ways, but Nelva’s boyfriends all talked a lot. “Your boy a witch?” Edison asked. “He ain’t,” Nelva said. “But he don’t live around here anyway.” That was the story Danny and Nelva settled on. He’d gone off to live on the New Mexico side of the Rez. Probably somewhere around Crown Point, but Nelva couldn’t be sure. “He don’t come around?” Danny heard Edison open a beer can. He figured Nelva would get him down to the business of adultery pretty soon, and he’d lose interest in her missing son, and that probably would have happened. But Nelva said, “Well, sometimes he does. You know... a boy and his momma.” Nelva Riley never learned to tell a lie. Danny

knew that was a problem with most Indians. Words have power. Words make spirits notice you. The only lies Danny’s mom could tell were the ones she believed herself. Her words would have Edison out the next morning looking for things—wolf tracks, Nathan Balance’s truck, Nathan Balance’s body. And he’d find all of them if he looked hard enough. Then the Navajo police would come around and sort of investigate, and when they were done, it would be the Balance family’s turn. At least Danny could make things inconvenient for Edison Wauneka. He rolled out from under the Airstream trailer. He let the air out of Edison’s pickup truck tires—even his spare. Not all the air, just enough to make it difficult to drive on the almost-road where Nelva parked her trailer. A man gets discouraged when something happens to his truck. Even a little thing like four low tires can change his mind about how often he ought to come out and see his new girlfriend or how much he should look into her witchy son. Danny thought there was an outside chance Edison would go away and not come back again. But like most outside chances, this one didn’t happen. — THERE ARE LOTS OF bodies on the Rez that never get found, or sometimes people find them a hundred years too late to interest anyone. But pickup trucks are another matter. Maybe Danny should have driven Nathan Balance’s old truck off into a wash somewhere, covered it with brush and dirt. His only excuse was it didn’t seem like the right thing to do at the time. Leaving a man to die from lack of insulin in the desert weighed heavy on Danny’s mind, and the idea of taking off in Nathan’s truck while the vultures were still circling was just too much. So, Edison Wauneka found the truck where Nathan left it. He didn’t find the body, but everyone— including the Navajo Police—knew it was out there somewhere. They could find it if they really looked, but Danny thought they wouldn’t, because Navajo



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didn’t care much for dead bodies, and if there was a murder on the Rez, the FBI would be all over the place real quick. If there was one thing Navajo disliked more than dead bodies, it was white men from the government. Danny hid under the Airstream and listened to a woman cop tell Nelva Riley, “Maybe Nathan will turn up later, you know. Just show up at a cousin’s house with a pocket full of money and a lot of wild stories.” “Truth is they’ll be happier to see that truck than Nathan anyway,” the cop said. “No one’s even reported him missing.” Nathan’s family wouldn’t talk about him. Wouldn’t even mention him by name, in case his ghost might hear and come to visit. Everybody knew the good part of a Navajo went to the next world in four days, but his bad part could stick around and cause a lot of trouble. Since Nathan Balance was mostly bad, it might take a long time until his ghost was all used up. Danny figured he had a month before Nathan’s relatives started thinking about revenge. Time enough to round up supplies, steal some money, and make plans about leaving the reservation. He was pretty sure his witchcraft wouldn’t work once he got beyond the sacred mountains, but that was okay. Witching wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. — THINGS HAPPENED JUST THE way Danny thought they would, only they happened a lot sooner. Three trucks showed up around midnight. They split up and parked at different locations with their headlights pointed right at Nelva’s trailer like it was a deer they were about to poach. They might have opened fire and asked questions later if Edison Wauneka hadn’t been there, but even men on a witch hunt think twice about killing a nearly innocent man. One of the pickups almost ran over Danny while it was getting into its best position. Equilateral triangle. Danny remembered that from the reservation school he attended sometimes when Nelva insisted. He didn’t know if there was anything

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magical about equilateral triangles, but that’s how these Balance relatives placed themselves. The driver nearest Danny concentrated so hard avoiding rocks and ruts and pointing his headlights exactly right that he didn’t notice Danny sleeping in his bedroll twenty feet away or the gray timber wolf at Danny’s feet. No passenger. Danny was lucky there. If his luck held, he could fetch his cache of supplies and money and be away, too hard to find by morning. The driver’s name was Leonard Balance. Barrel-chested, bow legged, pock marked skin, hair done up in a Navajo bun, and thin sunburned lips that couldn’t hold a smile. Leonard looked almost like a bear with a Winchester rifle as he stepped out of his truck and searched the darkness for potential enemies outside his high beams. It’s dark in the Tuba City sector of the reservation. No lights except the moon and stars, and Leon-

ard’s high beams made it hard to see behind his truck where he really needed to look. Danny slept with a large broken cottonwood branch at his side. It was as thick and heavy as an old-fashioned wooden baseball bat, and it still had char marks where it was struck by lightning. He walked barefoot across the sand and gravel hardpan holding the cottonwood club over his shoulder like he was waiting for a fast pitch to come across the strike zone. Five steps away from Leonard Balance... four, three, two.... Danny swung the club as hard as he could at the back of Leonard’s head. It made a hollow sound, like a watermelon dropped on a concrete floor. Leonard dropped his rifle. He fell to his knees, put both hands on his head, and shouted, “Shit! That hurts!” Not what Danny expected. Leonard was already back on his feet, and even in the desert darkness he looked mad as hell. “You little bastard!” Leonard didn’t seem to mind



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that Danny still had the club. He moved fast for a bow-legged man with a head injury. Danny swung again. It felt slow and feeble and missed Leonard’s face by inches. Leonard took a step back. His lips moved while he formulated and rejected plans. “This cottonwood’s been struck by lightning,” Danny told him. “It’s magic,” he said, in case Leonard didn’t know. “Deadly magic.” He took another swing, so weak and off target it turned his threat into a lie. “Looks like lightning don’t strike twice.” Danny hadn’t noticed the tooled leather holster hanging from Leonard’s belt. It held an old-fashioned cowboy pistol. Nobody used those anymore, but Leonard was about to. He drew it slowly, not like the gunfighters in the cowboy movies. He pointed it at Danny like he had all the time in the world, which he did, because Danny’s lightning struck club wouldn’t be much good against a bullet.

He cocked back the hammer. Danny remembered that was called a single-action. It made a pistol shot more accurate because the shooter didn’t need much pull to drop the hammer. Queenie fell on Leonard like an eighty-pound sack of fury. Not before he could fire but soon enough to throw off his aim. She went right for Leonard’s throat, but he didn’t have much of a neck, and he was pretty good at covering up. Her teeth closed on his chin and came away with most of his lower lip. She tried for his neck again, and this time she got his cheek and part of his ear. Leonard made less noise than Danny thought he would, and he hoped maybe Queenie finally got a hold of the man’s windpipe. But when he heard another gunshot he knew that wasn’t so. A muffled shot, like the ones made by silenced pistols on satellite TV. Muffled by a wolf’s belly. Then

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another shot and a yip from a wolf that couldn’t hold her pain in any longer. Queenie fell off of Leonard Balance. She hit the ground like a bag of wet bones and spilled a pool of blood on the ground the shape of Alaska. Leonard rose to his knees holding his torn face in one hand and the pistol in the other. Danny took a step forward. He swung his lightening charged club at Leonard’s gun hand. The pistol discharged as he struck it filling the space between them with a basketball-size bubble of fire. Then Danny put the club back on his shoulder. He put his left foot forward, but kept his weight centered on his right. He understood about the strike zone now, and all the mechanics of baseball’s heavy hitters even though he’d never played a game. It took two swings to bring Leonard down. He was ready for a third, but he could tell from Leonard’s breathing that it wouldn’t be necessary. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Danny couldn’t decide if he was crying because he’d killed a man or because the man killed Queenie. He’d have to make his mind up later, because the other points of the equilateral triangle around his mother’s Airstream were moving his way. Edison Wauneka poked his head out of the trailer door, and when no one shot at him, he moved in Danny’s direction, too. No time to do anything but run. Away from Nelva’s Airstream trailer. Away from Nathan Balance’s brothers and cousins looking for their revenge. Away from a dead man and a dead wolf that would keep the Navajos whispering for a long time about the boy witch who disappeared one night without a trace.


John T. Big gs


ohn T. Biggs describes himself as a regional writer whose region is somewhere west of the Twilight Zone. literary style and frequently includes Native American mysticism. Sixty of John’s short stories have been published in magazines and anthologies that vary everything in between. Some of these stories have won regional and national awards including Grand Prize in the Writers Digest 80th annual competition, third prize in the Lorian Hemingway short story contest, Storyteller Magazine’s People’s Choice Award, and two OWFI Crème de la Crème Awards. John has published four novels: Owl Dreams, Popsicle Styx (Oklahoma Book Award Finalist) Cherokee Ice (Oklahoma Book Award Finalist & OWFI Best Published Fiction Book of 2015), and Shiners (OWFI Best Published Fiction book of 2017), as well as a linked short story collection, Sacred Alarm Clock, which includes the OWFI Crème de la series of post-apocalyptic novellas, Clementine: A Song for the End of the World.



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FTER GRADUATION, I LEFT town to work on my uncle’s Wyoming ranch where the wind never stops blowing. When I came back to Oklahoma, a year later, Pep O’Hara said Lillian Gish used to go to school with us, but I didn’t know who he meant. Pep and me were pals in high school, class of 1912. During our junior year, we did everything together. “Pep and John Mark,” they’d say, “two peas in a pod,” but in a sad sort of way, like nobody expected us to stick together, and I guess they were right. When Pep latched onto the topic of this girl, I wasn’t exactly surprised. He was always going crazy about one thing or other. That summer, the weather in Shawnee wasn’t all that different than in Wyoming, and it was funny how I’d gotten to think of that rugged mountainous state as my home, even though I grew up on the flatland. The sky was big in both places, but in Wyoming, it was polished clean like a looking glass crystal so blue it made you your eyes water to see it. Oklahoma always had a perimeter of dust kicking up at the horizon, and the whitewashed clapboard buildings downtown were a bearcat to keep clean

The summer after I got back from the ranch, I worked in the downtown, first at the haberdashery, steaming cowboy hats and denting the crowns just so, then at the constable’s office where I first got to wear a star on my flannel shirt. It was gawdawful dry that summer, which didn’t help the dirt problem, and hot enough to fry grasshoppers on the sidewalk—which isn’t even much of a fib. I seen it. To cool off, we’d go to this little drug store called Alderman’s where a few of us would buy ice cream or sodas after we got off work at night. Pep and me would walk across the railroad track from Main Street, and some of the boys would ride in from the farms on their horses. Sometimes they’d bring a girl or two, usually their sisters. There was a little nickelodeon next door with a hitching rack out front. Once in a while—maybe on a Friday night—we’d go see a show. One night I missed the show and met Pep afterwards at Alderman’s. He sat there with his ice-cream melting into a puddle, slender fingers drumming on the table, his watery blue eyes fixed on


saddlebag dispatches

the ripples he made. When I slid into the booth across from him, he didn’t say anything. “I’m starting work in the constable’s office,” I told him, just to say something. “Snub Buckner is my dad’s cousin. He recommended me to the job.” “That makes you a cop?” he said, just like that. I didn’t know why he should be upset. Pep had a solid carpentry job with the railroad making signposts and hewing replacement ties. “I’ve never liked cops,” he said. “That’s all.” Pep was good at woodworking. Everybody thought he’d go into business for himself someday, maybe building cabinets or doing baseboard trim, but he never did. Then he said, “Up there on the screen, tonight. It was our Lillian.” “I don’t know who you mean,” I said. “She’s the one sat in front of me in Geometry. Our winsome, blonde angel.” Already when he talked about her, he was possessive. “I guess I never really knew her,” I said, not really knowing what winsome meant. Pep said Lillian was friends with Gladys Gilbert, who Jeb Saunders liked, and he thought it was out to his ranch where she first rode a horse, but maybe not. “Lillian lived with her aunt and uncle in Shawnee, didn’t she?” I said, remembering a little more. “Her dad was in the hospital.” Pep nodded. “She wanted to stay here in Shawnee, even after her dad passed. Gladys said Lillian didn’t want to go back east. But they made her do it. You understand? They didn’t give her any choice.” “I hadn’t heard any of that,” I admitted. The nickelodeon played two or three pictures each night, often the same one over and over again. You paid your coin, and if you had some left over, the lady behind the counter served coffee or lemonade, both the same temperature. I usually had a lemonade. One time, Pep snuck in a flask, and the old lady read him the riot act and made him dump it out. So, we’d go behind the curtain, and Mr. Wyatt, the projectionist, would always be tinkering around with his machine. One time, I just happened to be carrying a screwdriver, the type he needed. It wasn’t much of a place, to be honest.

saddlebag dispatches

After enough folks got in there and crowded in on the little wooden benches, Wyatt would shine the light up on a white bed sheet that was stretched over a big hunk of lumber. The flickers—what we used to call them—were pleasant enough, but I still preferred books. My imagination had color and sound. “She’ll come back, John. Believe me. Nobody respectable makes flickers. Lillian’ll sow some oats, then come back and raise a family here. It’s what she wants. You can see it in her face,” said Pep. “There’s a scene in this current story where you can see her true self.” “How many times you seen this show?” I said. “Three times.” “Well, she’s an actor isn’t she?” I said. “How do you know what her true self looks like?” “She isn’t an actor at all,” he said, shaking his head. “She never was. She’s just a poor, scared girl.” I kind of thought maybe he was pointed in the wrong direction there, but I didn’t say. “This show is called The Battle at Elderbush Gulch. Lillian plays a young mother, and if you saw it, you’d see the glow on her face. With that baby in her arms, it’s clear that’s right there where she wishes she could be. I mean, that’s the real Lillian. A baby in her arms.” “Your ice cream is melting,” I said, but he ignored it. “I think I’m going to ask her uncle about her,” said Pep. “Next time I see him.” “You know her aunt and uncle?” He admitted he wasn’t well acquainted with the couple, but in a small town with one main street it wasn’t too odd to occasionally bump into someone. Or orchestrate a meeting that seemed accidental. Later on, I saw that Elderbush Gulch movie and didn’t like it. Lillian did well enough, but her name wasn’t given. I guess it was her. The bad part was all these typical English fellows pretending to be foolish Indians. I didn’t think anyone could ever believe it. “Isn’t there one thing you love more than anything else in life?” said Pep. “Something you’d rank above everything?” This was a few weeks later, when me and Pep were both on the tar crew, coating the roof of the Lutheran school that sat way out on the empty prairie. We were way out there, far west of sin, and the question sorta hit me off guard. I had to chew it a while. I almost said that the most important thing to



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches

me was family, meaning Mom and Dad and Sis, but it seemed immature to say so, and I didn’t think that’s what he meant. Finally, I said, “Maybe dime novel stories,” because I dearly loved to read. Right away he said, “I don’t know what you see in them.” “Well, they’re exciting,” I offered. “There’s one I just read the other day about a British lord who got raised by apes in the jungle.” “Them stories aren’t about real people,” he said, like that made them bad. Like they were from the devil or something. That’s how I took it, judgmental like that. Maybe, because it was a church school under our feet. Pep was especially irritable on that job. I guess we all were. It was hard work pulling buckets full of hot tar up two stories by rope. Also, Pep had lost weight since high school. “What is it you love more than life itself, Pep?” I asked, but he didn’t answer. A day or so later, I got an earful from one of the boys on the police force. Snub Buckner was a big ol’ fella with a pickled nose and a heavy mustache half full of dry soup. He used to ride this big speckled bay around town. “Hey, John Mark, are you friends with that Pep O’Hara?” he said, cornering me one day with that bay. Talking down to me from the saddle. “I know him,” I said. “What’s he doing over at the Gish place every night?” said Snub. For a minute, I thought he meant the nickelodeon. “Naw, I mean old Grant Gish’s house,” said Snub. “Pep O’Hara sits in the driveway late at night. Just loitering around afoot or sitting on his horse. Nursing a flask, I suspect. You see him, you tell him to knock it off or somebody’s gonna get on him.” When I asked Pep about it, he said he was waiting. “Lillian’s coming home,” he said. “I got a New York letter from her that says so. That’s where she lives, New York. That’s where American Biograph is, the company that enslaves her.” That’s what he said—enslaves. I figured there was no letter. I never saw one if there was.

Turns out though, there had been more movies from American Biograph. Pep saw them all. The Green-Eyed Devil. The Battle of the Sexes. The Quicksands. While Pep moped around, Lillian was keeping busy. Saturday night after Thanksgiving, cold and damp, Snub Buckner sent me over to the Gish place. A fine mist of ice was coming down when I hitched up the wagon, and I was thankful for the old buffalo blankets Snub kept handy. Main street was mostly dark with a few electric lights punching through some of the storefront windows. Most places were still lit by coal oil lanterns like the metal one I carried on my wagon. When I rounded the corner to the Gish house, all was dark, but I saw an outline of a horse in the lane. I plucked the lantern from its hook on the sideboard and walked across the road. Sure enough. Pep’s horse. Walking around the front of the house I couldn’t see anything inside, but when I got to the porch, the banging screen door made me jump, and I saw the front door was open. The wind blew, gusting the door open, then it pulled shut with a bang so loud it made me jump and wish I had a revolver, but I was unarmed. Thank you, Snub Buckner. Sending me out while he sat fat and cozy in front of the fire. “Pep? You in there?” I said. I wondered where Lillian’s aunt and uncle were. “Mr. Gish? Mrs. Gish?” I knew the uncle’s name was Grant. “Grant Gish?” No answer, but I was sure I heard something scuff a floorboard. I pushed open the door and went into the room. A figure reclined in a chair on the far side of the house. I lifted the lantern and saw him there by the chimney, pink wallpaper behind, a hat rack above, a mirror that shined back in my eyes. Pep stared at me without saying anything. Was he dead? “Pep? Are you alright, boy? What are you doing?” He stirred then, moved as if seeing me for the first time. “Look what I made for her, John,” he moved his arm. On the table beside him were a dozen small wooden boxes.



saddlebag dispatches

“I carved them for her, John. One for each story I’ve seen her in. One for each so she can remember them later.” “Where are Mr. and Mrs. Gish, Pep?” He shrugged. “Out. This was my first chance to leave my gifts for her.” I’ll admit, for an instant, I worried some sort of foul play might’ve befallen Mr. and Mrs. Gish. “Tell me again,” I said. “Why are you here?” Pep stood up and stretched like he was waking up from a Sunday nap. Like he owned the place. He walked right up and talked to me in the dark. “I made them boxes for Lillian,” said Pep. “For when she comes back.” “What if she doesn’t come back?” I said. “Don’t say that, John. Don’t ever say that.” Never had I heard such anger in my friend. “I’ll make sure she comes back.” “Let’s go, Pep. Let’s go have a drink.” “Too cold for ice cream,” he said. “You take back what you said, about Lillian.”

“Okay Pep. I take it back.” “I made these for her.” “They’re nice,” I said. “Real nice.” “She’ll see them when she comes back for the funerals.” A thousand frozen ants climbed up my back. “What funerals are those?” I said. I didn’t have a revolver, but Pep did. He pulled it then. The ants sorta spread all over me. “The Gish funerals,” said Pep. “It’s them that made her leave. Now, I’ll make her come back. She’ll have to come back for the funerals.” “And then she’ll see your gifts,” I said, figuring out his weird logic. “When she sees how much I love her, she’ll stay. And it’ll be like the Battle of Elder Gulch. It’s all going to be okay.” Just then, I heard a wagon pull up outside, and my stomach hugged my backbone. I couldn’t let him go through with his plan.

saddlebag dispatches

“Drop the gun, Pep,” I said. But he wouldn’t. So, I swung out with the metal lantern, and he moved. Instead of his arm, I hit his head, and he fell over. There was an awful lot of blood. Head wounds bleed the worst. I got him out to the porch, and the wagon wasn’t the Gish’s but Snub Buckner, who helped me load Pep onto the wagon. He died right there, and a couple weeks later, I quit the wide-open Shawnee range and went back to my uncle’s ranch on the other side of the Laramie Mountains. Three years to the day, and I became sheriff of my Wyoming county. And the wind hasn’t stopped blowing since that night in November. Sometimes still, all these years later, I think about Lillian, the girl we once knew. I still don’t truly remember her, but I recollect the other gals, and I recall school well enough, how the future was spread out in front of us all, how anything was possible in the new century ahead. I was going to my uncle’s ranch to be a cowboy, and Pep was the best wood carver around, and one of the girls would go on to become a movie star—though we couldn’t comprehend such a thing then. When I think back, there was a time when I was overly concerned with folks and their problems, and I got in the middle of things without knowing what was what and who was who. Sometimes, I think it might’ve been better if we all had let it lie, just taken jobs at the livery stable or the mercantile or at least not pushed so hard to climb up the various pedestals we aspired to. Sometimes, I can’t help but think that, when we lost Lillian Gish, we lost the best parts of us. I don’t know if I can forgive her for that. While here in Wyoming, at least the sky is clear. And for that, I’m grateful.


Richard Prosch


ichard Prosch grew up planting corn, tending cattle, and riding the Nebraska range in a beat-up pickup and a ’74 Camaro. He worked as a professional writer, artist, and teacher in Wyoming, South Carolina, and Missouri, while amassing enormous collections of

With his wife, Gina, he created “Comics and Buyers Guide newspaper and spawned ten issues of creative endeavors, developing licensing style guides for several cartoon properties and working with Tribune Media Services and the Hallmark Channel. In the 2000s, Richard built a web development studio while winning awards for illustration and writing (including a Spur Award from the Western Writers of America). His work has appeared in novels, numerous anthologies, True West, Roundup, and Saddlebag Dispatches magazines, and online at Boys’ Life.



saddlebag dispatches


THE ONE AND ONLY KIRK DOUGLAS 2020 witnessed the passing of one of the greatest actors

Terry Alexander


N FEBRUARY 5TH, 2020, one of the greatest actors of the golden age passed away. Kirk Douglas was born on December 9th, 1916, and was 103 when he passed. Kirk had a great and varied career. He was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor on three occasions, in 1950 for Champion, 1953 for The Bad and The Beautiful, and in 1957 for in Lust for Life but never won the gold statue. He did receive an Honorary award in 1996. He won a Golden Globe in 1957 for Lust for Life and was given the Cecil B. DeMille Award in 1968. He has been honored and received several awards for his lifetime of work in films. During his career, he stared in several westerns. He starred in his first western in 1951, Along the Great Divide, directed by Raoul Walsh. Kirk shared the screen with Virginia Mayo, John Agar, and Walter Brennan. He portrayed Marshal Len Merrick. He and his two deputies saved a cattle rustler from a lynch mob led by a local cattle baron. The Big Trees followed in 1952. His co-stars were Eve Miller, Patrice Wymore, Edgar Buchanan, and Alan

Hale, Jr. Kirk played Jim Fallon, a timber baron trying to take a forest of sequoias from a group of Quakers. The Big Sky was also made in 1952. Arkansas native Arthur Honeycut was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the film. The other co-stars were Dewey Martin, Elizabeth Threatt, and Hank Worden. Kirk played Jim Deakins. A frontier trapper and a group of men ventured up the Missouri to get a large load of furs. This was Elizabeth Threatt’s only film. He also made two westerns in 1955. The first was Man Without a Star, directed by King Vidor. A wandering cowboy and a green kid hopped a ride on a north bound train and became involved in a range war at their destination. Kirk played Dempsey Rae. His costars were Jeanne Crain, Claire Trevor, Richard Boone, and Sheb Wooley. The second western was The Indian Fighter. Kirk played Johnny Hawks. He shared the screen with Elsa Martinelli, Walter Matthau, Lon Chaney, Jr., Alan Hale, Jr., Elisha Cook, Jr., Frank Cady, and Hank Worden.


saddlebag dispatches

A scout leading a party through hostile Indian country became involved with the daughter of a Sioux Chief. Kirk played Doc Holliday in 1957 in the classic a retelling of the classic gunfight. He appeared with Burt Lancaster, one of seven movies he made with Lancaster, Rhonda Fleming, Earl Holliman, and Dennis Hopper. Kirk was nominated for a Golden Laurel for his performance, but Lancaster won the award. They teamed again, in 1959, for the Devil’s Disciple. A Revolutionary War tale of a local minister and a coward who discovered their true vocations during war time. It was a difficult film to place, not a true western, more of a frontier movie. The actors teamed up seven times in movies, the other five are I Walk Alone in 1948, The List of Adrian Messenger in 1963, Seven Days in May in 1964, Victory at Entebbe in 1976 and Tough Guys in 1986. He co-starred with Anthony Quinn in Last Train from Gun Hill in 1959, directed by John Sturges. Kirk played Marshal Matt Morgan who was after the man that raped and killed his Native American wife, which turned out to be Quinn’s son. The movie also starred Earl Holliman, Carolyn Jones, and Brad Dexter. Quinn was nominated for a Golden Laurel award for his performance.

Kirk was Brendon O’Malley in 1961 for The Last Sunset. O’Malley was on the run from a persistent lawman. He fled to Mexico only to encounter an old flame and her family and chose to help them with a cattle drive back into Texas. Then lawman Dana Stribling showed up and decided to go along. Rock Hudson, Dorothy Malone, Carol Lynley, Joseph Cotton, Neville Brand, and Jack Elam rounded out the cast. Kirk was nominated for a Golden Laurel award for his role as O’Malley. The screenplay for this movie was written by Dalton Trumbo who, as one of the Hollywood Ten, had been blackballed by the Senate Subcommittee on Unamerican Activities in the forties and couldn’t find work. Kirk said that the 1962 film Lonely Are the Brave was his favorite movie that he’d made during his career. It was a modern day western. John W. Burns was unwilling to accept the world the way it was and wanted to return to the days of the old west. The movie also starred Gena Rowlands, Walter Matthau, Carroll O’Connor, and George Kennedy. Kirk was nominated for a BAFTA for his performance. After a five-year gap, The Way West was released in 1967. The movie co-starred Robert Mitchum and

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Richard Widmark, Jack Elam and Harry Carrey, Jr. Kirk portrayed Senator William J. Tadlock, who put a wagon train to Oregon together. The movie centered on the strain of leadership and the suffering and hardship on the journey across the country. This movie was the film debut of Sally Field and Katherine Ross. The War Wagon was also released in 1967. Kirk’s only western with John Wayne. They had appeared in two films previously. Wayne was Taw Jackson, a man cheated out of his land when gold was discovered on the property. A wealthy land baron had him arrested on a trumped-up charge and sentenced to prison. Kirk was the gunfighter Lomax, who once shot Jackson, and was hired to protect him until Jackson can bring his plan to rob The War Wagon to fruition. The movie also starred Robert Walker Jr., Howard Keel, Keenan Wynn, Bruce Dern, Bruce Cabot, Terry Wilson, and Sheb Wooley. The film won a Bronze Wrangler Award. Kirk’s next western was in 1970. He played Paris Pitman, Jr. in There was a Crooked Man. Pitman was a thief, who was captured and put into prison. He had a fortune in stolen loot waiting for him on the outside and devised a plan to escape confinement. Henry Fonda was the prison warden who chased Pitman after he escaped. Hume Cronyn, Warren Oates, Alan Hale, Jr., and Victor French also appeared in the film. This was the only western film ever directed by Joseph L. Markiewicz. In 1971, Kirk co-starred with Johnny Cash in the movie Kirk played Will Tenneray. He and Abe Cross are aging gunfighters, together they devised a plan for one of them to get rich. They rented a bull fighting arena and planned to stage a gunfight and charged admission to anyone who wanted to watch. The movie also starred Jane Alexander, and Karen Black. Kirk’s son, Eric Douglas, made his first movie appearance in this film as Tenneray’s son Bud. This was also the first movie appearance for Keith Carradine. Posse, released in 1975, saw Kirk as Howard



saddlebag dispatches

Nightingale, an ambitious marshal with political motivations. He’s chasing after an escaped convict that he helped to set free. This movie co-starred Bruce Dern, Bo Hopkins, James Stacy, and David Canary. Kirk returned to the western genre in 1979 in the western comedy The Villain. The movie co-starred Ann-Margaret and Arnold Schwarzenegger and was like a Road Runner cartoon with Cactus Jack as Wile E. Coyote. Jack Elam, Paul Lynde, Foster Brooks, and Ruth Buzzi also appeared. This was the final theatrical released western in which Kirk would be given star billing. It was also the final film project for Paul Lynde. In 1982, Kirk played the dual role of Harrison and Spur in the Australian western, The Man from Snowy River. The movie starred Tom Burlinson and Sigrid Thornton. Harrison was a rich landowner from the United States trying to keep his daughter and the man she loved separated. The movie was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film. Kirk’s final western was released in 1984. An HBO

western, Draw co-starred James Coburn and Alexandra Bastedo. Kirk Played Harry Holland, an old bandit released from prison who faced down a drunken sheriff. Linda Sorensen received a Genie Award for Best Performance by a Supporting Actress. To call Kirk a prolific and talented actor would be an understatement. These films are only the tip of a very large iceberg that includes other such classics as Spartacus and The Final Countdown. Whatever your genre, though, Kirk Douglas was truly one of the great ones. —Terry Alexander and his wife, Phyllis, live on a small farm near Porum, Oklahoma. They have three children, thirteen grandchildren, and four great grandchildren. Terry is a member of The Oklahoma Writers Federation, Ozark Creative Writers, Tahlequah Writers, Western Writers of America, and the Western Fictioneers. If you see him at a conference, though, don’t let him convince you to take part in one of his trivia games—he’ll stump you every time.

saddlebag dispatches



NO LONGER FOLLOW that old North Star. It floats in the sky, filled with betrayal, swallowin’ up the light and hope of a lot of folks. I figure that’s what makes it burn so bright. I counted on it every night, riding across the Panhandle atop old Rusty, thinkin’ it was leading me to a better place. If there’s a better place for old cowboys like me, I haven’t found it yet. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been sittin’ on a horse. I don’t like how feet feel on the ground, rough pavement scuffing the bottom of boots, the earth hanging on to my soles. My skin looks like leather, burnished to a fine patina from all the sand that blasted it over the years. This old face is dark as a berry, my stomach white as a trout’s belly. The hat’s seen better days, too. It’s a Stetson, bought with hardearned money, brown as the Texas hills and broken in just so. Fits like an old friend. Everyone calls me Lanky, though the name my Momma gave me is Milton. Ain’t no cowboys around named Milton, and Lanky kinda fits, because I’m lean and spare as a fence post. I grew up on a farm outside Carthage, Missouri.

We had an old mare named Trudy, and I rode her out to the pasture every day to bring in the milk cows for my daddy. She was slow as a spring thaw, but we got the job done, my short legs sticking straight out across her broad back, flicking a rope back and forth and hollerin’ at the cows. They were heading for the barn, anyway, their udders full and throbbing with milk. I rode Trudy to school every day, too, until the 6th grade. Daddy figured that was all the learning a farmer needed. I was plucked from the schoolhouse and set down in the barn, forking hay and mucking stalls. You’d think I’d seen enough cow shit in my day, but when I grew up, I had a keen interest for the West and cowboys. It was the late 1920s. The country was already startin’ to change. Cars and trucks replaced the trains and wagons as people made their way west. Newly carved roads lead all the way to California, the land swollen with promise. I heard about big ranches in Texas and Wyoming. Spreads that covered hundreds of square miles, churning out beef cattle by the thousands. They needed wranglers. So, I hitch-hiked my way from Missouri to Texas, gaping at the miles of dust and ravines,


saddlebag dispatches

scrub grass and barbed wire fences as far as the eye could see. Once in a while, there was a road with a tall pole sign, the ranch name carved into the wood. In the heat of an April day, I was dropped off near a cattle guard below a sign that said Sweet Canyon Ranch. I threw my duffle on the ground, made a little nest for myself, and waited for any signs of life. It was well into the next morning before a truck picked its way over the hill and rolled to a dusty stop in front of me. A weathered cowhand got out and walked over. He cocked his head. “Are you lookin’ for work, son?” “Yes, sir,” I said, jumping to my feet. “How did you know?” “Why the hell else would you be sitting here on this devil’s half acre if you had something better to do?” He spit into the dirt and looked me up and down. “Can you ride?” “Yes, sir. Been riding since I could walk.” “But you ain’t got no horse, I see, or saddle neither,” he grumbled. “Well, I hope to buy a saddle after I earn some money, and I was hoping you had a spare horse I could borrow.” He snorted then, even grinned a little. “I guess I can find some old plug and a used saddle for ya. Hop in. I’m headin’ into town.” I did as I was told, and we drove back down the road that delivered me. “My name’s Les Harper,” he mumbled around a jaw full of tobacco. “I’m Milton Briggs, but everyone calls me Lanky.” “Makes sense,” he said. The rest of the ride was silent. Les, it seemed, was a man of few words. He used them like gold, buying only the ones he needed and saving the rest for some other time. I contented myself looking out the window and watching the landscape go by. In town, I helped him run errands, picking up supplies and tossing them into the truck. Then we drove back to the ranch. It wasn’t as large as other spreads but big enough. There was a bunkhouse the size of a barn, dozens of cowboys and hundreds of Hereford cattle dotting the landscape. Their white faces were like snowflakes, all different, but all the same, too.

saddlebag dispatches

Les lent me a sorrel cow horse to ride named Rusty. Over time, I scrimped and saved and bought him from the ranch. The day Rusty became mine was one of the happiest days of my life. That horse was my best friend. Cowboys learn to love beef in every way possible, whether we’re given a bit of flank steak, chili, or meatloaf. I figured, over the years, I had enough iron in me from all the red meat that I could be used as a magnet. But I have to say, I never tired of it, even after riding behind my dinners all day long on the range. We lined up the herd and marched across miles of scrub, bringing them to pastures or enormous feed lots. The cattle ate and bred and were born and died in an assembly line to the chopping block. I felt sorry for them sometimes, as we loaded them into stock cars, and they bawled out to their friends as they pulled away. I kind of wished they believed in God or something, so when they died, they went to meet their maker up in some kind of cow heaven, instead of into an oven with a bunch of taters. Days melted into each other. I was as satisfied as a young man could be out there on the ranch. — ONE EVENING, RIGHT BEFORE supper, a car snaked down the dirt road and stopped along a barbed wire fence I was mending. A man got out and waved. “Hello there!” he shouted. He was portly and wore city clothes. His vest was a little too tight around a lazy middle. Sparse hairs stood up on his head like a porcupine. “My name’s Callister. John Callister. I work for Ennis Studios. You know, the movie studio?” I nodded. I’d heard folks were filming a movie around here. “How can I help you?” I asked, settin’ my wire cutters down and walking over. “Well, son, we’re looking for cowboys to hire on as extras and teach our actors how to ride a horse.” “Already got a job.” “Ennis pays good wages. Six months-worth of work. We might even bring you back to Hollywood with us.” He bared his teeth into a smile. It reminded me of an old coyote I shot when it tried to kill a calf.

He quoted big money. A week’s salary was more than I made in a month on the ranch. “All I ask is you ride over to Indian Springs on your day off. Look around and see if it’s something you might like.” He reached into his pocket, took out a business card and placed it in my hand. I stuffed it in my jeans and nodded. A couple of cowboys at the ranch thought they’d ride over to the movie set on Sunday, so I tagged along. It was about ten miles away, so we piled into an old feed lot truck and took off. The set was bustling with cowboys—Indians, too—looking for work. I was gawking at everything when Callister walked over. He stuck out his hand, and I took it. It was soft as a cow’s udder. “Kid, you’re the type we’re looking for. Handsome and tall, a genuine cowboy.” I flushed at the compliment. “We need somebody to teach Miss Lily Bruce how to ride.” “Miss Bruce?” I asked, peering around the lot. “Only our leading lady! Come along.” Callister turned and walked toward an outbuilding away from the cameras. I followed him like a speckled pup into an old shack. It was lit with candles and electric lights, so bright I had to squint. There, in the middle of the room, was a woman. She was sitting in a chair, her back to me. Long blonde hair rode over her shoulders in soft waves. “Miss Bruce, this here’s Lanky,” Callister said, then took a few steps back as if he was talkin’ to a queen or something. She stood up and turned around. I fell into her eyes like a rabbit in a pond, only I didn’t thrash to get out. I just kept swimming around in ’em. There were freckles that danced along her cheeks and nose, and I wondered if I could kiss them clean off. I stared down at my boots, because I couldn’t look at her without burning up the way you would in the sun without a hat. “Pleased to meet you,” she said, and I wanted to grovel at her feet. She was tiny, her head barely grazin’ my chest as she peered up at me. She reminded me of one of those sparrows I’ve seen nesting in the barns. Only she was as colorful as a rainbow, and there was no space to breathe. She took up all the air.



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches

“John, is this the man who’ll teach me to ride?” “Yes,” we said in unison, and I blushed. Then I remembered I was wearing a hat, pulled it off, raked my fingers through my hair, and blushed again. “When can you start?” she asked My mouth made noises I hardly recognized. “I, uh—tomorrow.” “Great! I look forward to seeing you then, Lanky.” To this day, I will tell you that there is such a thing as love at first sight. It was easier to quit the Sleepy Canyon Ranch than I thought it’d be. But then again, I was ridin’ on the wings of excitement. The angry words Les threw at me slid down my legs and puddled around stubborn feet. “You’re gonna regret this, Lanky,” he spat. Then he turned his back on me and walked away. I said farewell to the other cowboys and asked for my pay. It didn’t seem so hefty in my pocket now that I’d quit. The ranch manager said to take Rusty and clear out. He saw no reason for me to spend the night, so I traveled down the road in the darkness, the only sounds the grinding of Rusty’s bit in his mouth and a few coyotes howlin’ to each other. I was too excited to sleep anyway, so we rode until the sun came up over the movie set. I tied Rusty to a post and followed the voices to my destiny. Miss Bruce walked up to me in a riding skirt, fringe jacket, and boots, and my heart slithered out of my chest and threw itself in her shadow. I helped her into the saddle. Showed her how to hold the reins, how to lay them against the horse’s neck to turn, pull back to stop, nudge with the knees to go forward. I snapped a lead rope on the mare and walked her ’round in a circle while Lily practiced. Then, Rusty and I led her out of the corral. We took

a little trip through the scrub and dust, Lily chatting away. I smiled and nodded, happy as a dog who found shade under a porch. Lily tilted her head and looked at me from under her hat. “So, Lanky, what does a cowboy do out here in the middle of Texas?” Somehow, ridin’ with her away from the others, she seemed more like an ordinary person. I warmed to the subject. Told her about ropin’ and branding cattle and driving them to the railroad. I talked about the nights around the campfire, stars flinty as diamonds, and the moon risin’ over the hills like a giant’s head. Lily sighed. “That sounds lovely. So peaceful and nice. I see why you like it.” We stopped the horses amid a blooming sea of Bluebonnet flowers. A prettier sight I’d never seen. They danced in the wind, the same breeze that stirred Lily’s hair. I squeezed my eyes shut real hard, so I could capture this picture forever. Even now, years later, it comes back to me in my dreams. The sky was so blue and the sun so high, it seemed like the world stopped breathing for a moment, just so we could inhale every bit of it ourselves. “What’s it like in Hollywood?” I asked. Lily gazed off in the distance, a smile playing across her lips. “It’s wonderful, Lanky. People bustle everywhere. The city is full of smells. Restaurants, orange blossoms coming down from the hills, and ocean breezes with salt air, fresh as rainfall. And the sounds! Why, there are car engines, the grinding of trains as they ease into the station, children laughing, folks talking. The movie studio is magical. I can walk along and see a pirate and a princess or a villain or maybe even the King of England! They’re all actors, of course. But I’m telling you, it’s like living in the middle of your favorite book!”



saddlebag dispatches

I nodded. It sounded as pretty as she was. But I couldn’t imagine a day without the open sky, the sound of cattle bawling, or the smell of a campfire. Lily was full of stories. Every day we rode out behind the movie set, and she made me laugh or sometimes feel sober as a judge. She wove a spell so deep and silky I figured I’d remember her voice forever. I didn’t miss the ranch. Not at all. In the eyes of the movie makers, I was a real cowboy. The actors marveled at my roping skills. One time, the director

stand by while they filmed, ready to wrangle a horse if it got rowdy. One day, I took her farther out on our ride and surprised her with a picnic I’d packed in my saddlebag. We sat in the prairie grass, and she giggled like a little girl. Without all the fancy makeup for shootin’ movies, she looked younger, more carefree. “Lanky, this is the best food I believe I’ve ever tasted!” she said, and I reached over and brushed a crumb from her mouth.

put me in a scene, looping the lasso over my head in the background, while Lily and the others acted up a storm. Those days were the best days of my life. I woke up every morning with a smile plastered on my face and couldn’t wait to fetch Lily for another lesson or

Things got serious then. She stilled like a fawn— her eyes wide. I leaned over and wrapped my hands around the red bandana she’d tied around her neck and pulled her face toward me. Then lightly touched her lips with mine. She reached up and stroked my jaw, then kissed me back.

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Lily broke away first, leaving me breathless. “We should go.” I nodded, my mind whirling. She packed away the leftovers in the saddlebag. I went about tightening Rusty’s girth and tugging on the stirrups, all the time stealing glances at Lily. We hardly talked as we rode back to the movie set. She dismounted before I could even get off Rusty and come around to help her. Her eyes were serious as she stroked the horse’s nose. “Thank you for a lovely picnic, Lanky.”

were shooting important scenes in the saloon. They’d let me know when they needed me again. I nodded and walked away, feelin’ lonesome and empty. A week went by. The studio hired me to ride as an extra during the big scenes. Sometimes I caught glances of Lily as she walked in or out of the saloon, bringing sunshine with her, then taking it away like a cloudy sky before it rains. One morning, I heard a car honking like it was tryin’ to capture everyone’s attention. I ambled out with

I smiled and started to say somethin’, but she turned and walked into her tent, pulling the flap behind her. When I saddled her horse the next morning and led it up to the set, a woman appeared and told me that Lily wouldn’t be riding that day. Or the next. They

the rest of the folks and saw a long black sedan drive right down the middle of the set. People were clapping and hooting, so I joined in, even though I had no idea this would upset my applecart in such a way that I might never recover. The car stopped in front of the saloon. A tall man



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got out and waved at everybody. “Who’s that?” I muttered. “Who’s that?” said an actor. “Why, that’s Armand Du Bois, only the greatest actor in Hollywood!” He took off his hat and wiped his forehead, then stubbed out a cigarette with a boot. “He’s the star of the movie with Miss Lily.” I took a hard look at him. Mr. Du Bois was handsome, I admit to that, and looked as arrogant as a range stallion, head up and nostrils flaring. He wore brand new cowboy boots, the kind you’d never wear on a ranch. They were black and white leather, tooled with a bit of turquoise in ’em. His shirt had pearl buttons down the front, shining in the sunlight as though stars fell from the heavens and landed on his chest. Blond hair curled around his ears, and he sported a handlebar mustache that reminded me of a longhorn steer. Lily came bounding out from the costume shack. Golden hair billowed around her face in disarray, and she wasn’t wearing shoes. Her face lit up like a lightning strike, and she looked about as joyful as I’d ever seen her. “Army!” she cried and ran into his arms. He bent over her and kissed her mouth the way a bird stuffs a worm down a fledgling’s throat. She wrapped her arms around his neck, and he half carried, half dragged her into a tent. The actor standing next to me felt the need to explain. “That there’s Miss Lily’s fiancé,” he said. “They’re gonna get married when the movie’s done and they go back to Hollywood.” I wished there’d been a chair out in the middle of the road, because it was hard for me to take the news standin’ up. Harder still to keep my face from giving away all the feelings that swept over me. I grunted something, then turned and walked off and into the fields, where I kicked at the dirt for a while. Then I slunk down to the corral and leaned on the fence until sunset. In the dusk, I wandered over to the sleeping quarters and fell into bed with a thud. A few days later, I saddled Lily’s horse and one for Mr. Du Bois. They were shooting a scene that morning where they’d race across the prairie with Indians chasin’ them. I was nervous. Lily was still learning to ride, and

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horses can spook. I cinched the saddles extra tight and stood waiting by her tent. Lily and Du Bois came through the flap at the same time. She smiled at me, then looked down and blushed. Du Bois’s eyes narrowed when he gazed at us, and he scowled. He took the reins without even saying thank you and mounted in one quick motion. I walked over to Lily and helped her into the saddle. “Now, Lily,” I warned,” remember the horse can feel it if you’re nervous. Be sure to keep your feet deep in those stirrups and don’t be afraid to hold on to the horn when you gallop.” She nodded. There was a thin sheen of sweat on her face, and she looked skittish. I touched her hand, and she settled a bit. I smiled up at her and winked. “Wrangler, come along for the shoot. We want you to make sure the horses are okay,” said the director. I followed the parade of cameras, actors, and horses out behind the set. There was a small watering hole alongside an old wagon trail, and above the trail on a hill were about ten Indians mounted on ponies, smoking and laughing, waiting for the cue to race down the hill after Lily and Du Bois. Du Bois raked his hands through his hair and tweaked his mustache, then looked back at the director and said he was ready. He and Lily trotted toward the Indians, then stopped and turned around about halfway up the hill. The director yelled “Action!” and everybody moved at once. Lily and Du Bois dug their heels into their horses’ sides and took off toward the cameras in a fury. The Indians galloped down the hill, hollerin’ and shaking spears and such. Lily’s horse wasn’t interested in being chased by ten angry Indians. His eyes rolled around in his head, and he did a little crow hop. Lily grabbed hold of the saddlehorn, terrified. My heart chugged in my chest. The horse bolted and veered to the right. It ran straight for the watering hole, then balked at the last second. Lily flew over its head and landed in the water. I was up and running before anybody else, jumped in the pond, grabbed Lily by the arms, and brought her up. She was coughing and gagging. Dirty water streamed down her face. I wiped her mouth with my hand and pulled her to my chest. Then I bent down and kissed her. To this day I will never know why

I did it. Impulse. Anger. Relief. But the next thing I knew, somebody grabbed me by my hair, drew my head back, and clipped me on the chin. I shook my head and blinked. It was Du Bois. I gathered my fist and hit him in the gut, and then we were rolling around in the muddy hole, trading punches with each other. Lily screamed “Army! Lanky! Cut it out!” but we kept at each other like rutting elk. Two Indians pulled us apart. They held me with my arms behind my back as Du Bois climbed out of the pond. He snarled from beneath his dripping mustache. “Don’t you ever touch my woman again! Get out of here and never come back.” He didn’t look near as high and mighty as he poured water out of his fancy boots. I jutted my chin out and pulled against the Indians, but they wouldn’t let go. The director got right up in my face and hollered. “You’re fired, you idiot! Get outta here!” I turned to Lily, who stood there in wet clothes with tears and mud running down her cheeks. She looked at the two of us, spun on her heel, and left. I started after her. “Lily!” But she kept on walking. Callister huffed over and said to get my things and leave. As I saddled Rusty, he brought over an envelope with my last wages. Then he handed me a packet tied with yellow ribbon. “From Miss Lily,” he said. I nodded, stowed it in my saddlebag, and left. A few miles down the road, I turned into a field and let Rusty graze while I opened the parcel. Inside was her red bandana. I groaned and held it to my face. It smelled of Lily, Texas, and sunshine. Underneath the bandana was a folded piece of paper with the words “I’m sorry.” My jaw clenched. Why didn’t she say more? Why didn’t she see me, talk to me before I left? Hurt and angry, I stomped over to an old Cottonwood tree and tied the bandana around a limb, dug a hole with my boot, and placed the note there, then covered it with dirt. Now that I’m an old man and can whittle away at love, I think those two words said it all. A fella can tuck them in the side of his cheek and talk around it, and nobody can tell if he’s chawing on tobacco or heartache. But on that day, those words seemed dry as a shallow well, and the bandana a flag of surrender. I



saddlebag dispatches

wish sometimes I’d kept that bandana, wore it around my neck ’til it fell into tatters. At least kept that much of her. I wonder if it’s still tied around that old tree limb. And if it still smells of sunshine. — IT TOOK A HELL of a lot longer for Rusty and me to travel back to the ranch that day. Les saw me coming and shook his head. “So, Lanky, ya here for a visit or because things didn’t work out?” I hung my head and twiddled the reins in my hand. It was time to eat some crow, and I knew it weren’t gonna go down easy. But I was man enough to look him in the eye and took the first bite. Swallowed hard. “Les, I sure could use my job back. I know it was foolish of me to leave, and I hope you know I learned my lesson. I’m sorry.” Les must have taken pity on me. He flattened his lips and nodded, then turned on his heels, talking over his shoulder about young fools. Each word stung. “Go on down to the bunkhouse and tell the boys you’re back to work.” “Thank you,” I said, but he just waved his hand like slapping at a mosquito and walked away. All that was left from eating crow was its feet. That was saved for the bunkhouse and the ribbing I got from the other cowboys. After a week or so they

quit calling me “Hollywood,” and things settled down. It took a lot longer for my heart to settle. Lily would never be mine. She’d fetched up with that stallion, and there was no place at their table for me. Sometimes, I wished I could wash away those days like a cloudburst, pretending it never happened. Now that decades have gone by, I’m glad time didn’t clean out the memories, because I cling to ’em in the dark. — I’D BEEN BACK AT the ranch for four years when Les walked up with a telegram from my mother. My Daddy died from the influenza. She needed me home to run the farm. I quit my job for the second time at Sweet Canyon Ranch, and it wasn’t any easier. Worse yet, I couldn’t bring old Rusty with me. I had to catch a train and couldn’t afford his passage to Missouri. Les bought him and my saddle for twenty bucks and gave me a ride to the train station. I stared out the dusty windshield and thought of Lily’s sweet face and Rusty’s soft muzzle as I told him goodbye, him not understanding anything at all, and me understanding way too much for such a young man. After the train pulled away from the station and night fell, I pulled my Stetson over my face like I was sleeping and let myself cry until morning. I don’t believe I’ve ever cried again, except the day Mama passed away,

saddlebag dispatches

many years later. After my mother died, I stayed on the farm, as there sure wasn’t anywhere else to go by then. I never did find a wife. Lily was all I ever wanted. Sometimes I’d see her face on the movie screen in town, her eyes looking in the camera the same way they stared up at me in the field of Bluebonnets. Over time I bought another horse. A fine Tennessee Walker, with a gait so smooth it felt like we were waltzing through the meadow when we turned the cows back to the barn each night. I named him Rusty, to honor my old friend left behind in the Texas dust. Sometimes, I take Rusty out on the road for a little exercise. He glides along, and I sit tall, the way I did when I was young. I look up at the sky and pretend we’re wading through the prairie, prodding a herd of Herefords along under the North Star. My bones ache after only a mile or two, and we turn back for home. One day we were trotting along the road when a neighbor waved at us from his mailbox. His little boy was standing there with him. “Joey, look. That’s Lanky Briggs. He was a real cowboy who worked out in Texas on a cattle ranch! Had a job in a movie, too, with Indians and everything!” Joey’s eyes sparkled as he watched us go by. Tapping the brim of my Stetson, I touched Rusty with my spurs, and we loped off. I’m not sure, but I reckon right then and there, that boy got some dream dust sprinkled on him, and his thoughts turned toward the Great West. I suspect he might go there someday. There’s no going back to Texas for me. The only dreams I have now are old man dreams, the kind that fall asleep in a chair after supper. But every night when I wander out to the barn, smell the cows and hear Rusty nicker, my heart takes me back to that field of Bluebonnets. Then I tuck the memories away for the night until morning, when I stir them into my coffee and swallow ’em down, the yearning as honest as daybreak.


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 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. as "Sharon Frame Gay-Writer" on Facebook, and Twitter as sharonframegay.




ET IN HERE, DIXIE. Supper’s on the table.” “I’ll be there in a minute.” After I sank the broadax into an oak stump next to the woodpile, I glanced around at the culmination of a week’s work with more than a little pride. Course, I still had to stack the wood in the lean-to shed, but the pile would get us off to a good start when Old Man Winter comes a’calling in a couple of months. But it weren’t easy. Cutting up three dead falls on the riverbank to a size that old Sass could snake ’em up the hill to the cabin would get a feller thinking about goin’ south with the geese. “Get a move on, Dixie,” Mary Alice shouted. “Pa is getting impatient.” “Aw, he’s always getting impatient about something or another.” I ran my calloused hands up and down my cord trousers as I pushed through the back door. Mary Alice and Pa were seated at the kitchen table. I’d hoped Pa had already sent his rambling message up to the

Heavens, although I had my doubts. He always figured his long-winded prayers weren’t meant only for God but for us sinful earthlings, too. Five minutes later, we dug into the boiled taters, carrots, and salted pig-meat. Mary Alice was two years younger than me but had been doing a fullgrowed woman’s work since Ma passed. I felt bad for her not being able to do girly things like going to play parties with some of our neighbor’s girls. Still, she rarely complained ’cause she knowed it would fall on deaf ears if’n she did. My given name is John Dixon Burch, although I’d been called Dixie as far back as I can remember—and my memory is pretty danged good. Pa says I’m sixteen years old, but I’d bet a gold horseshoe, if’n I had one, that I’m seventeen. That’s ’cause I remember my mother telling me how old I was when I reached my fourth birthday. That was way back in 1850, the year she died when we lived in the Kentucky hill country. Pa called it consumption, but as I thought more about it over the years, I’d say she died of worry and the strain of trying to feed a slothful husband and two children off’n the proceeds of a rocky hillside farm.


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He was a stern man, my father, with definite Calvinistic religious beliefs. His idea of work was to put on his wire-framed spectacles, flop down in a rocking chair, and read the Bible from dawn to dusk. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not agin’ readin’ the Good Book, no siree, but readin’ don’t help grow taters, feed the hogs, or cut firewood. After supper, Pa returned to his work in the rocking chair. Mary Alice and I cleaned up the kitchen and sat down for an extra cup of coffee. “Are you going sparkin’ with Annie tonight?” she asked. “Might.” “You’d better watch out for them Bascom boys, then. I heard Rad is taking exception to you and Annie meeting down at the river. Lucy said she’d heard him make some threats agin’ you. She said he aims to take Annie away from you. You might oughta take the rifle with you in case he shows up.” “That old squirrel gun wouldn’t make a scratch on Rad Bascom’s hard head.” The squirrel gun was a long-barrel rifle we used to put food on the table when all else failed. That became my job when I came of age—and I gotta say I got danged good at it, too. By the time I was seven, I could bark a squirrel from the highest hickory tree with a single shot, and by nabs, I could pick off a rabbit at fifty yards just as easy. “It ain’t no gun to defend a body with, Mary Alice.” “You could always use it as a club.” I laughed at my little sister’s serious expression. She brought to mind the one picture we had of Mama. Dark curly hair, wide doe-eyes, and a hint of sadness. Mary Alice was the one who cried for a week after we left the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. If’n it had been left up to her, we’d still be living on that rocky hillside slowly starving to death. Pa had heard a traveling drummer tell about all the available land in a faraway place called Texas. He took it to be a sign from Heaven. After days of fervent prayer, Josiah Burch loaded all our meager belongings in our rickety mule-drawn wagon, and the three of us headed west. Two months later, Pa found a place near a running stream where we started life again in East Texas. Even though I was just eleven years old, and

saddlebag dispatches

Mary Alice nine, most of the work fell on our shoulders. Pa had his own work to do. The work weren’t no easier in Texas than it had been in the Kentucky hills, but the rewards were a far sight better. Once we got a spot of ground cleared for a garden, we ate better’n we ever did back in the hills. We came to count on the big vegetable patch, and the few hogs we kept penned behind our cabin. In our second year, we traded for a milk cow, and the following year, we traded for a coop full of chickens. I gradually grew taller and broader through the shoulders as time passed. To my way of thinkin’, the Burch family was livin’ high on the hog. Then the Bascom family moved into an abandoned house down the road which changed everything. Them two Bascom boys, Rad and Quincy, and me clashed often over the four years we’d been neighbors. Me being smaller and younger when they arrived, I always got the worst end of it. I couldn’t count the number of times I hid from Pa and Mary Alice in the smoke house with bloody lips and a bloody nose. But that never kept me from chargin’ back at ’em, bloodied or not. I vowed I’d never let the Bascom brothers end a fight with me running away. Never. — ONE COOL FALL DAY, me and Pa drove our wagon into the nearby town of Caddo Corners to stock up on supplies. Like I done said, I was in my seventeenth year according to my reckoning. I hadn’t been feeling too chipper for a while since Annie had taken up with that piker, Lon Saylor. I surely missed those nights with Annie down on the riverbank. “What’s all that noise, Pa?” I asked as we got close to town. “It sounds like a bugle.” When we reached the center of Caddo Corners in our mule-drawn wagon, I saw a crowd of people gathered at the town square. Pa halted old Sass and Bob near the crowd where a grizzled old man leaned against a post. “What’s going on here?” Pa asked. The man spat a stream of tobacco juice at his feet



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and said, “A rebel colonel has come to town trying to recruit soldiers. He’s got a bunch of them young’uns all fired up marching up and down the street and telling them what a great thing it would be to fight against them Yankee devils.”

came a’runnin’. Rad was a stocky, muscular boy of nineteen years with a perpetual frown pasted on his square-jawed face. He strutted over to our wagon like a full-growed rooster and stood before us with his hands on his hips.

“War and killing,” Pa mumbled with a shake of his head. “Come on, Dixie, let’s get on about our business.” I was taken in by all the hoo-rah and not ready to depart just yet. I didn’t know much about the war that was goin’ on back east, but I figured the sounds and sights takin’ place in Caddo Corners was worth another few minutes of my time. “You go on, Pa. I’m gonna stay around here for a bit. I’ll be over directly.” “No, you come now. This is ain’t no place for you.” Lookin’ back, that was sure enough a poor time for us to dawdle. Rad Bascom done spotted us and

Rad pointed toward the Confederate recruits drilling close by. “Come on, Dixie Boy. How about you get your skinny tail outta that wagon and join up with a fighting outfit like the rest of us. Or, are you too scared?” I started to answer, but Pa quickly jabbed a sharp elbow into my ribs. “Leave us be,” Pa said. “We want no part of this.” “Maybe he’s really a Yankee, Rad,” said his brother, Quincy, who had joined us at the wagon. Quincy stared at me and added, “Don’t let that name Dixie fool you. I’d bet he’s got nothing but Yankee blue blood running through him.”

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“Naw, little brother, I’ve seen too much of his blood spurting outta his nose and mouth over the years. It’s bright red alright, but that don’t mean he ain’t got Yankee leanings.” Quincy was a year younger than Rad and considerably smarter than his brother. But being smarter than Rad could be said of a rotten fence post. Even at that, Quincy was likely to follow his older brother’s lead. I knowed Texas was a secession state, whatever that meant, and that the people of Caddo Corners had little tolerance for those who didn’t share their secessionist views. Pa had told me and Mary Alice that Kentucky was a border state, neither Yankee nor Rebel. Course, that didn’t mean a lot to neither one of us. But, now, here on the town square, it kinda seemed important. I expect no one in Caddo Corners knew where our allegiance stood. Rebel or Yankee? It didn’t matter none to Pa. He wasn’t going to have any doings with either side. Thou Shalt Not Kill. I could see that Rad’s loud mouthing had pulled in a sizable crowd, and that served to egg him on. Rad suddenly reached up and grabbed me by the shirt. Before I could spit, I flew off the wagon and hit the dusty ground hard. When I landed on my back, I saw the look on Pa’s face. It were a look I had never seen before. His face had gone from pale white to sun red. His jaws had tightened, and I saw that his hands were clenched into fists. I was scared he was going to jump off the wagon and tackle Rad. Rad had seen the expression on Pa’s face, too. Rad kicked me aside and turned his full attention to Pa. He now had bigger game to tackle. “I’ve got me a real good idea, old man,” Rad said. “You’re always singing some sad mountain song. Let’s hear you sing a real song. What do you say, Quincy? Wouldn’t you like to hear a real good song from Burch?” “Yeah, and I got one picked out. A real humdinger.” While I lay by the rear wheel of the wagon struggling to catch my breath, I was a’wishing I had brung along the squirrel gun like Mary Alice wanted. I knowed Pa hated violence of any kind, and I was shocked, but proud, at his reaction to Rad’s mouthing. At the same time, I feared that things were about

to get out of hand in a hurry. I looked around at the bystanders and realized they weren’t going to interfere with Rad, so I had to get off my butt and do something, but what? Before I could move, Rad kicked me in the stomach and said, “Get over there with your old man and sing us a rousing chorus of ‘Dixie.’ After all, that’s your name, ain‘t it?” Rad moved closer to Pa and said in a low menacing voice. “Now sing, Burch.” I watched as Pa drew his thin, six-foot frame up straight, looked Rad in the face, and said, “I will not sing ‘Dixie,’ and furthermore, I will not sing any other song for you. Now get out of my way.” Rad’s face turned into an ugly snarl as the crowd had seen this old man openly defy him without any fear. I figured Rad had to act now before Pa could turn away, or he would lose his edge. Rad quickly slapped Pa across the face and gave out a low growl. “Dammit, old man, I said sing.” He pulled a knife from under his shirt and pointed it at Pa’s chin. “And I mean right now.” Pa stood his ground and refused to move. The crowd had gone deathly quiet as they watched Rad Bascom turn into a raving lunatic right before their eyes. He’d become obsessed with forcing Pa to sing “Dixie.” While all the attention was fixed on Rad, I saw my chance. I noticed a pistol in the belt of one of them Rebel recruits. I slipped over to the Rebel while his attention was fixed on Rad and Pa. I grabbed the pistol from the recruit’s belt and ran straight at Rad. I jumped in between Rad and Pa and pointed the pistol squarely between Rad’s eyes. “Rad,” I said slow and easy. “I’ve got a mind to blow your head plum off. And believe me, I will do it with pleasure if’n it comes to that. We have taken all the bull from you we’re gonna take.” I saw Rad’s body begin to quiver. Sweat popped out on his forehead. His hands started to tremble. Rad glanced at the crowd, then at Quincy, who stood beside him all slack-jawed and wide-eyed. Rad’s shoulders suddenly slumped as he dropped the knife and took a quick backward step. As he stepped backwards, I stepped forward, keeping the gun in his face. “How does it feel, Rad? Huh? How does the cold



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches

end of a gun against your head feel? Tell me. Want me to pull the trigger, Rad? Huh? Do you?” “Dixie... I— I was just funnin... I— I didn’t mean nothing by it.” “Now it’s your turn, you filthy, good for nothing snake. I’ve got a song for you to sing now. You, too, Quincy. And I want it sung loud for everyone in Caddo Corners to hear.” Pa laid a hand on my shoulder and said, “No, Dixie.” I reached up and gently removed his hand from my shoulder. “Go get the supplies, Pa. I’ll be over to help in a bit. There are things that need to be took care of, and I intend to take care of them here and now.” He looked into my eyes, and I ’spect he saw something in me he ain’t never seen before. And, in his eyes, I saw a touch of sadness mixed with a softer, gentler expression. He gave me a slight nod. “I’ll wait for you at the general store, son.”

Ben Goheen

— JOSIAH BURCH CLIMBED INTO the wagon and drove toward the general store, his back straight, his head held high. He never looked back, but a slight smile creased his lips when he heard two trembling voices behind him singing “John Brown’s Body.”



en Goheen is a former secondary-school teacher and human resources manager in the chemical industry. He is a graduate of Murray State University and currently lives in Western Kentucky, near Kentucky and Barkley Lakes. Ben’s novels of the old west are Echoes of Massacre Canyon, which won the 2016 Peacemaker Award as Best First Western, and his follow-up novel, Mabry’s Challenge. A third western novel entitled The Cowboy and the Scallywag is due to hit the shelves within the next few months. Several of his short stories have made it into print, as well. Ben took particular pleasure in writing his nonWith Shirttails Flying. It is a true, exciting Hoosiers-like story of the Kentucky high school state championship basketball team of which the author was a member. When not writing, Ben spends much of his time whacking a golf ball around the picturesque courses of Western Kentucky with his buddies and spending time with his son and four granddaughters.



saddlebag dispatches


MAURY’S MUSTANG mustangs roaming west-central Nevada’s Fish Lake Valley, and catching one was easier than you might think. Don Noel


VEN THOUGH THIS IS ancient history, presumably far beyond any statute of limitations, I have changed some names to protect the guilty. What follows is otherwise my best recollection. In the middle of the last century there were maybe fifty mustangs roaming west-central Nevada’s Fish Lake Valley, and catching one was easier than you might think. Despite its name, the valley—twenty miles long and skinny, narrowed by tall-shouldered mountains— had no lake, let alone fish. Apart from dug or bored wells on ranches, there was only one place where water pooled to the surface and a wild horse could drink, a shallow pond hardly ten yards wide. Keep the mustangs away from that water for a couple of days, and they would be thirsty enough to overcome fear or even horse sense. Maury was a kid from Los Angeles who wanted to be a cowboy, which meant he ought to have his own tack and his own horse. He could borrow a beat-up saddle and bridle long enough to make some money and

buy his own. But even best friends didn’t lend horses, and ranches didn’t always have a spare he could ride, so he needed to catch one. The marriage of hungry kid and thirsty horse was just a matter of planning and patience. Most mustangs were descendants of the steeds that got away from the Spanish conquistadores, having been brought from the Iberian peninsula where Don Quixote would have recognized them. The word is derived from the ancient Spanish mustengo, which meant maybe “feral” or “ownerless beast.” Strictly speaking, all the mustangs in the American West weren’t, and still aren’t, ownerless. They belong to the BLM, the federal Bureau of Land Management. In those days, the numbers were manageable, but the feds were spread thin and had only a vague idea how many horses they were overseeing. Or under-seeing. Poaching a mustang was a crime unlikely to be noticed. The first step was to build a temporary corral around that watering hole, making it a trap. Conveniently, the scene of the action was near the foot of


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Gilbert Pass, which carried us over from our Swinging T Ranch, in the valley to the south. It was a few miles east of the Oasis Ranch at the lowest point in the valley. The conventional wisdom said one could just string some barbed wire on stout posts, but the result would have been a lot of bloodied mustangs, maybe some infections and perhaps some BLM attention. Maury took the advice of Scotty Jones, our ranch manager, that time spent on some stout wooden rails at chest height would be worthwhile. The horses would be skittish about going into any enclosure, Scotty said, but a good thirst would drive them into a wood or wire corral, either one, so long as the opening—there wouldn’t be an actual gate—wasn’t too narrow. There was, at that time, ample raw material for a wooden fence. A railroad had run the length of the valley for an over-optimistic decade in the late 1800s before Silver Peak, a mining enterprise and town, gave up. Wood doesn’t rot on bone-dry desert land. There were still railroad ties for the taking, stout enough for posts and rails that even wild horses couldn’t break— reinforced with just enough barbed wire to remind them that trying was painful. Maury persuaded José, another would-be cowboy, that he too wanted a free horse, and the two of them spent two weeks at the job, borrowing a pickup from our ranch. They used bolts and baling wire rather than

nails, which meant the fence would have some give to it when panicked mustangs slammed into it and also meant they could take it apart easily when or if the time came. It wasn’t long before the tracks in the dry desert floor suggested a lot of unshod horses were milling around outside the new enclosure and then—almost single-file, presumably following their leader—risking the enclosure to slake their thirsts. The boys enlisted Eddie Washburn to come inspect. Eddie, our Paiute cowboy, had an amazing ability to read tracks. He confirmed their reading that the mustangs were still skittish about this new structure. Insisting that they had to observe the herd when it was actually there, he led them to a cluster of piñon pines perhaps a quarter-mile from the corralled waterhole. They proceeded, at his insistence, to spend the rest of the day and the whole of the night unfed and in utter silence—a lesson in patience for the two boys, and a gift from Eddie’s people who had been here before the Spanish and their horses. The mustangs came at dawn the next day, only hesitating a moment before trotting in to bury their muzzles and drink. Eddie sized them up. Not all great specimens, he whispered to the boys, directing their attention to flaws. Some were old and spavined, perhaps products of too much inbreeding. Some stallions showed the scars of fights with sharp hooves and teeth. He didn’t like the idea of breaking a stallion anyway—

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time healing from castration would delay breaking towed them over to Fish Lake, parking in that copse of piñon pines. They led their horses out and tightened them to ride. up the cinches of their saddles. He pointed out a couple of very young mares, though—looking three or four years old, still fillies—that THE WORD MUSTANG IS DERIVED FROM THE ANCIENT looked promising. A coppery SPANISH MUSTENGO, WHICH MEANT MAYBE FERAL OR sorrel with a thick mane and a white blaze the length of her STRAY HORSE OR OWNERLESS BEAST. nose—and a darker one, almost chestnut, with white stockings All horses take a deep breath and puff up their and a banner of a white tail. He had the boys look well, chests when being saddled, so it’s wise to wait a few to be able to pick them out in a herd at full gallop. At length the horses, tanked up, drifted away. Eddie minutes until they relax, then tighten the cinch again. and the boys got into the pickup and drove back to the This morning they would be roping some vigorously resistant mustangs and dallying their lariats—snubbing ranch for a late breakfast. “Today’s Tuesday,” Eddie said. “Tomorrow you’re going to start keeping them them—on the horns of their saddles. The last thing you thirsty.” Maury would ride over and station himself wanted was to have a mustang pull your saddle out on horseback in the wide mouth of the makeshift cor- from under you. The three men waited and re-cinched twice, then took ropes in hand and called the two boys ral, prepared to shout and canter around if the herd came for a drink. José would ride over in the afternoon over from the throat of the corral. “You stay back here until we call you,” Eddie told to spell him, and they would take turns sleeping and them. “It’s going to be hairy for a few minutes, and blocking for three days. your horses could get a little twitchy. Don’t want you By Friday afternoon it took both of them patrolling the opening to keep the herd from thundering past getting thrown and trampled. We’re going to try to rope those two fillies and a third if we can, and then them and into the corral, but they persisted, and the we’ll have you come heel them.” mustangs spent another dry night. The mustang herd was already right there, nervous Early Saturday morning, Eddie joined by Scotty and dying of thirst. Within a few minutes of the boys’ Jones and Slim, another cowboy, put their horses— all three rode good quarter horses—into a trailer and retreat to the piñons, the white stallion leader whin-



saddlebag dispatches

nied loudly and charged into the corral, followed by the whole herd. A good quarter horse can do a short burst at almost 50 miles an hour. In less than a half-minute, while the mustangs were jostling each other to be muzzle-deep drinking, all three men were in the opening. Scotty stayed there to slow the exodus. The other two rode in, lassos swinging open, each looking for one of the filly targets amid a sudden melée of rearing, flailing horseflesh. They roped the targeted fillies. Scotty tried for one more as the herd thundered out and away into Fish Lake Valley but missed. That left two captives thrashing around at the end of lariats trying desperately to join their departing pals. At Eddie’s direction, the boys came down from the piñons. Heeling cattle was everyday work—one cowboy roped a steer’s head and towed it gently away while his partner threw an open loop—the rope stiff enough to briefly stand vertically—ahead of the rear feet. One step forward, snatch the loop tight, dally the rope on the horn and back up your horse, and you had the animal strung out head-and-heels for whatever work was needed. Mustangs proved a helluva lot harder to heel than cattle, but they finally had the two fillies stretched out, shivering with fear but subdued, apparently resigned to being caught. One option was to topple them to the ground, truss them thoroughly, and drag them to a truck, but Eddie and Scotty thought it wiser to just lead them over Gilbert Pass. “They know they’re caught,” Eddie said. “I’ll ride with you, so we’ll have three horses to crowd them if we need to.” It was a three-hour ride, but the mustangs were surprisingly docile, and before suppertime, they were safely ensconced in a small corral at the ranch with water, hay, and oats. Maury and José had a good meal and went back to the corral to talk to their new acquisitions—“Talk to ’em all you can,” Eddie had said. “Get ’em used to your voices.” —and then get a good night’s sleep. The rest was just a matter of time and patience. In the morning they roped the fillies, snubbed them to a stout section of corral, and put halters on them. They didn’t like that and stomped around for a while.

saddlebag dispatches

When they were subdued again, the boys put beat-up old pack saddles on them, cinched them up tight, and turned them loose to buck, jump and roll, trying in vain to get rid of the unaccustomed encumbrance. When they stopped fighting the saddles, the boys took them off for a while, offered a canvas bag of oats, let them rest, and did it again. After two days of that, it was time to put on a real saddle and break them to ride. Maury, who’d claimed the one with the blaze, went first. Scotty and Eddie both advised a larger corral, making it less likely she would mash his leg against a fence post or rail. They and José all saddled up, ready to pinion the filly if need be, or rescue Maury if he were thrown. It was a wild ride, but he stayed aboard. After a while, Scotty and Eddie rode up on the flanks to settle her down and make her circle the corral twice before Maury dismounted and rewarded her with more oats. José repeated the identical routine with his chestnut filly. They did that twice every day, a longer ride every time. After a couple of days, Scotty and Eddie decided the two boys could handle the project alone. After a week, the boys cautiously rode out beyond the corral each day and finally went for long rides together out into the desert range. That was it, almost. For most of the next two years —and occasionally even later—both horses started the day’s work with a little bucking performance, enough to loosen up the joints but easy enough to ride through. That was inconsequential—routine even with some of the other cowboys’ mounts. Every one of them was, after all, descended from forebears who had carried conquistadores into the New World. If they wanted to complain a few minutes in the morning about setting out to herd cattle, who could blame them? —Don Noel gave up cowpunching in favor of wordmassaging midway through college and looks back at life in the saddle fondly but without regret. He took an MFA in

for publishers. He has returned often—in word and in the



saddlebag dispatches


HAT’RE YOU SO SKITTISH about?” Will Fletcher studied Jasper Clintock. “Steady boy, you’re cooling down real nice.” Jasper kept his voice low as he wiped the frothy sweat from his horse with a wet rag. Will couldn’t help but notice a trickle of blood ooze down the back of Jasper’s hand. Just then a thundering of hooves broke open the quiet day. “It’s little Mary and Lacey, the Dalton twins. Why, the two of them put together—it’s hardly enough to make one whole girl,” Will said as a huge mule galloped past them, two girls glued to its bare back, their blonde hair flying, dresses hiked past their knees, bare feet pounding against the animal’s ribs. Mary had her head buried in her sister’s back, arms wrapped tight around a waist no wider than a fence post. Lacey clung to the mule’s stiff mane with both hands, leaning forward with her chin bouncing along the side of its neck. She pulled hard on the mane and rounded the mule toward the jail. “Whoa, Jack!” she called out. Will Fletcher took off running, his rifle held tight to his side. “Now what has Dunbar Dalton done?

Drinkin’ again, I bet. It’s bad enough he thinks his old mule talks to him and his rooster tells him when to plant corn.” Lacey pried her sister’s fingers from her waist. “Stay put, Mary. I got to talk to the sheriff.” Lacey slid down the side of the spent mule, tears streaming down her dirty face. She sucked at the dusty air, arms pumping at her sides as she ran up the steps of the boardwalk. She banged both fists on the jailhouse door. The sheriff poked his head out, his eyes taking in the scene before him, the tips of his handlebar moustache pointing toward the clear Sunday sky. “Lacey Dalton?” “Yes, sir.” “Why, what’s the matter, girl?” The sheriff knelt and gripped Lacey’s arms with his leathery hands. “Pa went to do the milking while Mary and me set the table for supper. Mama went to fetch Pa. After a while Pa came in. Mama didn’t come back, so I went to fetch her. I found her—sitting next to the water trough—soaking wet. I quick fetched Pa. He scooped up Mama, carried her in and put her on the bed. He


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set to slapping her hard across the face, said it would wake her up.” Lacey sobbed so hard she could scarcely finish. “Pa was still slapping her when me and Mary left. We jumped on Jack to come get you, fast as we could.” News traveled fast in Mandan City. Men poured out of the saloon, the church, the mercantile, and ran toward the jailhouse. Jasper Clintock was at the front of the line. Mary Dalton’s eyes scanned the men from her perch on old Jack’s back, her little fingers digging into the faithful mule’s sweaty spine as the sheriff jumped to his feet. The sheriff shouted out to everyone within hearing distance, “Saddle up boys, we’re heading to the Dalton place.” Lacey tugged at the sheriff’s sleeve. “Pa’s got his big gun.” Sheriff Bridger swore under his breath. Lacey tugged again. “Doc Hawley?” Just then, Doc sprinted around the corner of the livery with his black bag in his hand. Will Fletcher was hooking Doc’s horse to his buggy. “All set, Doc,” Will said as he helped Doc up and threw the reins in the old man’s lap. Doc called out, “Lacey, git on over to my place. Martha will take care of you and Mary until we get this sorted out.” By the time Doc smacked the reins on the horse’s back and took off after the makeshift posse, the sun was setting low in the sky. When the posse arrived at Dunbar Dalton’s spread, they found Dunbar there, standing knee deep in a freshly-dug grave. There was no shovel in sight. In fact, no shovel was ever discovered. Dunbar’s shotgun was propped against the rail fence. All Dunbar had to do was reach out and grab it. Sheriff Bridger, at the front of the posse, tipped his hat. “Howdy Dunbar, what’re you doing?” “Old Jack has gone and dug a grave for two from this family, and it’s my job to fill it.” “I see.” The sheriff looked around. “And where might Ester be?” “Yonder.” Dunbar tipped his head toward a long, low building.

saddlebag dispatches

Doc climbed down from his buggy and headed into the cabin. He came back and shook his head. Dunbar snatched up his shotgun, quick as a rattlesnake, and aimed it at the sheriff. “You best leave here right now.” In one easy motion Dunbar pulled back the hammer on the shotgun with his thumb. Jasper Clintock drew his pistol at the same time Will Fletcher pulled the trigger on his rifle.

Julie Eger

— EVERYONE IN MANDAN CITY turned out for Ester Dalton’s funeral, she being a fine, upstanding woman in the community, always ready to lend a helping hand. Pearl Beckwirth frowned in the direction of little Mary and Lacey, who were decked out in their best Sunday dresses, as she leaned in toward Mabel Barnes. “Did you hear? There were scratches under the water inside the trough—and blood. There were slivers of wood found under Ester’s fingernails from when he held her head under….” Pearl couldn’t go on. Mabel glanced over her shoulder as she whispered, “Yes, I heard. What I don’t understand is why Dunbar said his mule had dug a grave for two, and Ester’s the only one in it.” Pearl raised one eyebrow and gave Mabel a look that answered the question in a way she didn’t have to say anything.. Mabel gasped. “Ruby Baker said Dunbar’s rooster told him Ester was not to have any more children.” “Seems Dunbar’s rooster forgot to mention that to Jasper Clintock. If Will Fletcher hadn’t figured it out everyone would have thought….” “... Dunbar did it.” “So that’s why, tomorrow, they’re lynching a wounded man.”



Lawdring, and Copper Rose, perforates the edges of the page while writing, and believes anything is possible for those who believe anything is possible. Julie lives in Wisconsin with her husband and a black Golden Doodle. She has raised two sons and has been accused of playing well with others.

author of the month prize in November of 2018. She placed in the top three stories for The Great Clarendon House Writing Challenge in 2019. Julie names) include eighteen anthologies at Clarendon House Publications and numerous online journals and other anthologies. She also understands there really is something about pie. You can connect with her at https://


saddlebag dispatches


FTER THE NARROW ESCAPE from the mob in Nopal, Mose drifted back north into Indian Territory, crossing the Arkansas River southeast of Ft. Gibson. Frazzled, hungry, dirty, and trail-weary, all he had to his name were the clothes on his back, his bedroll, and the old pistol and twenty-dollar gold piece the Nopal smithy’s wife had stolen and pressed upon him when she engineered his jail break. For days he lived on water and whatever small game he could get—a scrawny rabbit here, a bony squirrel there, anything he could capture or shoot. The old .44 black powder pistol the smithy’s wife had given him worked all right, after a fashion, but only five rounds had been loaded into the cylinder. One of those misfired when he tried to bring down a fat possum that crossed his and Buster’s path one hungrier than usual afternoon. He cursed but didn’t fire at the possum again. He figured he better save his ammunition for other kinds of trouble. “We ain’t got much, Buster.” He patted his horse. “Nothing but this old pistol with two shots left, if they fire even, and… wait a minute.” He reached into his shirt pocket and felt the twenty-dollar gold piece. “We ain’t quite done yet, old hoss. If we can just get to Fort Gibson. I got an idea.” Just as he had hoped, south of Ft. Gibson he found a gunsmith shop. It was in a little town, actually more a collection of shacks used for businesses serving the soldiers from the fort rather than a real community. He tied Buster to a railing outside and, knocking the dust of the trail off his pants and shirt, walked inside. “Good day to you, young fella.” A friendly old man working behind a counter in the back of the shop greeted him. “Howdy.” He took off his wide-brimmed hat and nodded to the old man.

WORKING THE LINE “Nice weather for a change.” The old man wiped off a glass top in the middle of the main counter behind which Mose saw various separate parts of firearms, mostly pistols, laid out on several small tables. “Been cold of late, stormy. Sunny and warm feels good. You bet.” “I reckon so. I been riding mostly these days, doing my best to stay out of it.” “A wise course. A wise course, indeed. Yes, sir.” Mose let the conversation die out. Inside the shop he saw that the old man had several pistols already converted to the new cartridge-firing cylinders that were catching on all over the region. He hoped there might be a Navy .36 like the one the marshal back in Nopal had taken from him. There had been no time to recover it in his hasty escape from the vigilante mob’s noose. “Needing you a new sidearm, mister?” The old shop owner saw him eyeing the display of pistols beneath the glass-covered portion of the main counter. “Yes, sir, I am. I have this older one here, but I’d like to trade up if you got a newer one and the price is right.” “Well, sir, maybe we can do us a little bit of horse trading here.” Mose produced the black powder .44, took the firing caps off the two remaining rounds, and then handed the pistol, butt end, to the shopkeeper. The old man took his time checking out the weapon. He tried the action, looked down the barrel at the sights, turned the cylinder. “Old, but serviceable. Not much demand these days what with the new cartridge shooters and all. What are you willing to swap it for.” “You got maybe a .36 Navy that’s been changed for the new cylinders?” “Don’t see one. Wait. Here’s something close.”



saddlebag dispatches

The old man reached into the case and pulled out a long-barreled revolver. “A Griswold .36. Is that close enough?” He reached the pistol across to Mose, who tried it for weight and balance. It felt good. Comfortable to hold, easy action, smooth-turning cylinder. It would do. “Might work.” “Comes with a free box of cartridges.” “How much with the trade?” “Well.” The old man scratched the back of his neck. “How about eight dollars?” Mose grimaced. “Seven?” “I don’t know. I only got ….” “Six. That’s as low as I can go.” “I’ll take it and that box of cartridges.” “Comin’ right up.” Mose paid with the twenty-dollar gold piece, leaving him fourteen dollars—in coins. He knew that wouldn’t last long, but he was so tired of being hungry all the time he decided to stop at the first hotel or eating place he found and get a good hot meal and then, later maybe, treat Buster to some oats. — AFTER FILLING HIS GULLET with a big steak, potatoes, bread and butter, and a grand piece of apple pie—all with a cool, satisfying glass of milk—he bought several pieces of thick jerky for eating on the trail and a small bag of oats as a treat for Buster. He headed north into the country away from Ft. Gibson, away from people, away from trouble—he hoped, for a change—looking for a place just to rest for a while. He found a smooth place under a big oak tree beside a small, clear running stream. Letting Buster forage along the creekside, he spent the daylight hours casu-

ally catching small fish for his meals and simply sitting beneath the big oak doing nothing more than chewing on a piece of straw and absorbing the restful beauty of the unspoiled environment. It was a pleasant idyll and a needed respite from his recent spate of troubles. Within a couple of days, though, he began to feel the familiar tug of the trail. There was something in him that longed for movement, that needed to follow the unknown road, to find the next thing up ahead. With that restlessness mildly gnawing on his insides, he saddled Buster and headed up the old cattle trail toward Baxter Springs. It was a warm clear day, perfect for easy, steady riding. He didn’t push Buster but let him take his own lead much of the time, only reining him in if the dependable cayuse strayed too far off the trail in search of the perfect stand of grass. About mid-day, with the sun directly overhead, he saw several riders heading down the trail toward him. Instinctively, he felt for the Griswold tucked behind his belt on the left side for a crossways draw. It was a slower draw, sure, but the pistol rode steadier there and more comfortably. As the oncoming riders drew nearer and nearer, he rested his right hand on the butt of the .36, at the ready. When he was still some distance from the approaching riders, he heard one of them call out something. One of them waved. Then they all began waving and shouting. “Well, I’ll be a son of a gun. I never.” “Mose. Mose!” He heard his name called. It was Tommy Robison, the waddie he’d defended from Jack Hart, the lousy rat he’d killed in Ft. Smith. He could hardly believe his ears or eyes. Chuy the cook was with the others, too, and another young drag rider named Braddock who’d eaten trail dust

saddlebag dispatches



saddlebag dispatches

with him and Tommy, and Charlie Wilcox—the trail boss and Hart’s kin. Mose slid his hand back onto the butt of the Griswold. “What do you say, boys?” He halted Buster in front of Wilcox’s bay horse. “No need for that, Traven.” Wilcox pointed at the Griswold. “We heard about Ft. Smith. We know what you done, and we know you had no choice. Jack Hart was a hard case, and kin or no kin, I reckon he had coming what you give him.” “No other way. He didn’t give me no choice.” “Fair enough.” Wilcox reached his hand out. Mose shook it. Tommy, Braddock, and Chuy happily gathered round. “What’cha been doing?” Tommy smiled. “Where you headed?” “Just drifting, I reckon. No place particular.” “There’s a way station back just a mile or so.” Wilcox pointed. “Why don’t we ride back and have a meal together. Me and the boys ain’t in no hurry to get back home. What do you say?” “Well.” “C’mon, Mose.” Tommy said. “You can tell us all about your adventures.” “Yeah.” Young Braddock chipped in. “It’ll be like on the trail again, except there’ll be real food and not that chuck wagon stuff.” The boy glanced quickly at Chuy, who pretended to be offended. “You’ll think chuck wagon stuff the next time we go on a trail drive.” Chuy caused general laughter. “I’ll cook you a prairie dog pie and flavor it with vinegar and salt.” “Yum, yum.” Braddock laughed. “My favorite.” “C’mon, boys.” Wilcox turned his mount back to the north. “Let’s go get some grub and celebrate seeing Mose again.” “Yee haw.” Tommy and Braddock waved their big trail hats over their heads and spurred their horses on. “Last one there’s a no ’count waddie.” After the trail riders treated Mose and themselves to steak and eggs and listened intently to the stories of his recent travails—minus the specifics of the jail break—with the sun reaching mid-afternoon level, they gathered by their horses for a final farewell. “You boys take care of yourselves now.”

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“You, too, Mose.” Tommy spoke for the group. “Come see us sometime.” “Sure enough.” “Traven.” Wilcox reached in his pocket. “Me and the boys did well with the drive, and we made a bit more than we thought we would.” “Well, that’s great.” “We agreed that since you was with us over half the way, you ought to share in some of our good fortune.” “Ahh.” Mose looked down at his dusty boots. “Sure, Mose. You deserve it. For sure.” “Mighty decent of you to say so, Tommy.” “Here, Traven.” Wilcox held out some bills in his hand. “Enough jawin’. Each hand kicked in a dollar for you. Take it with our blessing. You earned it.” “I don’t know about that.” “Take it.” The others insisted. “Come on.” “You all is mighty good fellas.” Mose looked at his boots again. “I don’t know what to say.” “Say you’ll take it.” Wilcox pressed. “We want you to.” “I truly thank you, boys. I’ll always remember this.” “We’ll always remember you, too.” Tommy said. “One more thing, Traven.” Wilcox added. “If you’re set on heading north, there’s a ranch up along the Territory border, up where it runs close to Kansas and Missouri and Arkansas. The Rocking H Ranch it’s called. Tell the boss there I recommended you for work. Name’s Ben Carson. You get up in that area, just ask anyone about the Rocking H and Ben Carson. They always need good hands. He’ll treat you right. Tell him I sent you.” “Thank you kindly, Wilcox, boys.” Mose mounted up. Buster snorted. He was ready for the trail again, too. “See y’all down the line.” “So long.” The cowboys raised their hats in salute. “Good luck.” Mose spurred Buster gently and gave the excited animal a controlled lead. To the sound of his old trail mates’ cheers behind him, he waved his right arm and rode on to the north, on toward the far end of the Territory. —

BEN CARSON, OWNER OF the Rocking H Ranch, hired him on the spot. He needed a line rider. Especially would need one during the coming winter. Was glad to hire anybody that Charlie Wilcox recommended. He could start right away, taking a spare pack horse and supplies enough for a few weeks ahead. Might as well get right to it. No time to waste and plenty of stray cattle to find and drive back to the main herd out in the grassy rolling hills of the Rocking H. Lots of fence to repair and restring. Plenty of work to do. Mose thanked the stocky, voluble Carson, met a few of the Rocking H boys, and, with little ceremony, loaded up the pack horse and followed a narrow but clear trail out to the line rider cabin nestled at the base of several hills near the four corners border in the far northeast section of the Territory. The cabin itself was not much more than a oneroom shack. It looked like it had been thrown together out of scrap wood by men in a hurry to get the job done. His first order of business, after unloading the supplies and settling Buster and the pack horse in a small corral out back of the cabin, was to find a hammer and some old nails and reattach several slats on the roof and side of the shack. At least the place would keep out the rain and wind for the time being anyway. Inside, it was basic living at best. The place had a dirt floor, which helped keep the inside cool—a benefit in warm weather for sure. There was one chair and a little table, and on one side of the room, a bed, more of a cot really, with a thin mattress and thinner down pillow. On close examination, both the mattress and pillow were bug-free, and he considered that a considerable blessing. There was a small pot-bellied stove for heating the place and a little flat one for cooking, with enough pots and pans to fry some meat, prepare biscuits and the like. In one corner, there was a place dug down and covered with burlap that he figured was used for keeping apples and such, and there were open, partial boxes of sugar and salt and a little wooden container of pepper. From the Rocking H larder, he was given a sack of flour, a tidy supply of salted meat and jerky, coffee, beans, several tins of vegetables and two of peaches.



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches

He looked forward to trying those peaches some evening after a tough day out mending barbed wire. For the fencing, the supply boss at the ranch had handed him a bag with a roll of bailing wire, a sack of staples, a fence tool, and some grease. He was told to cut his own sticks of wood for repairing small breaks and to replace broken fence posts with whatever tree limbs he could find for the purpose. There was a shallow, clear creek nearby, ample small game in the area and, supposedly, wild berries and such to supplement his diet. With all that and a decent place to stay out of the weather, he figured he could make do just fine in between supply runs to the Rocking H. And for the first month he did. It was a bit lonely sometimes and the job could get downright boring, fixing broken barbed wire all day. Occasionally, he would find a lost stray, and that broke up the monotony somewhat. Overall, it was a simple existence, one he felt was suited to him and his solitary nature. One day, about mid-morning, as he was fixing a small break in a stretch of barbed wire, he heard the sound of a rider approaching. Cocking his ear to catch the direction, he saw one of the boys from the ranch pop out from behind a small hill and head toward him. As the man got closer, he could tell it was a young poke called Meador who he had seen before on a supply run. The cowboy reined in his horse a few feet away. “Morning.” Mose tapped the brim of his hat. “Boss wants to see ya.” “He say what for?” “He just says for you to get back down to the ranch right pronto.” “Let me finish up this break, and I’ll ride on in.” “Suit yourself. I done told you what he said.” “All right.” He wasn’t particularly pleased with Meador’s terse conversational skills. “Better get to it.” “I got the message.” “Don’t make no never mind to me.” “None to me, neither.” Meador spurred his horse. The animal jumped and broke into a fast trot. In a moment, rider and horse were out of sight beyond one of the nearby hills.

“Dumbhead.” He spoke in the general direction Meador had gone. “What was eating him?” — HE TIED BUSTER TO a post in front of the cowpoke bunkhouse and walked casually toward Ben Carson’s big white house that was the centerpiece of the Rocking H Ranch. After grabbing a quick bite to eat back at the cabin, he had taken his time riding in. By the sun, he guessed it was going on one thirty in the afternoon. “Come in.” Carson met his new line rider out on the front porch of the house. “How do you do, Mr. Carson?” Mose removed his hat. “’Preciate you riding down.” “Yes, sir.” The two men stepped inside the big house, which, despite the heat outside, was cool and dark. Mose took a deep breath, smelling the pleasant odors of cooking and such that were so different from the smells of his little ramshackle cabin up in the hills at the far end of the ranch. “I suppose you was wondering why I called you in?” Carson guided him further into the house. “I reckon I didn’t really know.” He hoped he wasn’t getting the axe already. He was just getting used to working at the place. “I have someone here to see you.” Carson led him into a large living room filled with heavy, ornate furniture. Mose pulled back like he was about to step on a Texas rattlesnake. He instinctively reached for his sidearm and began to draw it from the holster. “Whoa, there.” A familiar voice called out from across the big room. “No gunplay. I ain’t here to arrest you.” Mose stopped with his pistol half drawn. It was the marshal from Nopal, Texas. The one who had locked him up on the false murder charge. The one whose jail he had busted out of. “Take it easy, Traven. It’s all right. I’ve got your belongings and money. Your pistol, too.” “I don’t reckon I understand.” He let the pistol slide back down into the holster.



saddlebag dispatches

“Marshal Dacus is here to exonerate you of all the charges down there in Texas, son.” Carson explained. “Marshal Dacus?” He wasn’t quite able to get his mind around the new information. “I’m awful sorry, young fellow.” The marshal held out a small burlap bag. “Here’s all your stuff. That nice Navy .36, too.”

“I don’t get it.” “You’re a free man, son.” Carson told him. “The marshal has rode all the way up here with your things just to let you know.” “I appreciate that. But how did I get free. I swear they was getting’ ready to lynch me when I got busted out of there.”

“That’s right decent of you, sir, but what happened? The way I lit out of there, I figured you had to be here to take me back. Even if I didn’t do what they was charging me with.” “We know you’re innocent, son, and you’ve been acquitted in absentia.” “In ab… what?” He rubbed his chin. “In absentia, it means you was freed even though you weren’t in our custody no more.”

The marshal elaborated. “What happened was that a fellow who was a passenger on that stage what was robbed came forward and described the robber that shot and killed Bert Carey. Fellow named W. C. Hunter testified a few days after you busted out and the description was nothing like you at all. Me and my boys caught the real shooter. He’s locked up waitin’ on his own real trial right now.” “Thanks to Heaven.” Mose let out a deep breath.

saddlebag dispatches

“And I’m awful sorry ’bout the way I busted out of there, but that Carlton fellow and that Enoch, I was sure they was gonna lynch me.” “All charges against you are dropped. You are free. And, by the way.” The marshal reached into his shirt pocket. “Here’s your $20 gold piece, too.” “And my paper money?”

“Yeah?” “That Enoch, the blacksmith what turned on you?” “Uh?” “He’s dead.” “Dead you say? What happened?” “After his wife helped you get away, Enoch took to beating her, beating her hard. I went to stop him one

“Sorry, needed that for the finding of you.” “Fair enough.” “No hard feelings?” “No, sir.” “Well, there you go, boy.” Carson grinned. “All’s well that ends well.” “I reckon.” “One other thing you might want to know.” The marshal said.

day, and he come at me with a hot smithy iron. I shot him dead. Nearly cost me my job, but I’m cleared now. As for me and you, we’re even.” “No, marshal, I owe you this one, and I won’t forget about it. I appreciate what you done for me.” “Well, good luck, then.” “Thank you kindly, sir, and good luck to you, too.” —



saddlebag dispatches

ON THE WAY BACK to the line rider shack, he kept twirling and spinning the Navy .36. He didn’t realize how much he had missed the pistol until he felt its balanced weight in his hand once more. It felt comfortable and made him feel relaxed and safe. He liked the Griswold fine, but there was nothing like his own, original .36. It was the best damn pistol he’d ever owned. When he was maybe a half mile or so away from the cabin, just as he entered a draw that led through some low, scrub-covered hills, he thought he heard something and reined in Buster. “Whoa, boy.” He cocked his head to one side. Definitely someone up ahead. And it sounded like they were in trouble. He spurred Buster lightly, jogged him along the trail—not too fast, not too slow. Coming around a bend in the draw, the sounds got louder. The cries of a woman. The rough shouts of men. By a stand of sycamores alongside the creek that ran near and beyond the shack, he saw two cowboys bent over a figure on the ground. Digging his spurs harder into Buster, he rode fast toward the men, his Navy .36 in hand. “Let her be.” He galloped up to the scene. The cowboys had been so intent on their victim they did not realize he was coming until he was practically on them. One man turned, hand reaching for his sidearm. Mose leveled his Navy .36 at the man. “Don’t try it, mister.” The terrified woman, an Indian, scrambled into the brush beside the creek, her leather dress ripped on one side at the hip. When the other cowpoke turned around Mose was shocked to see it was Meador from the outfit. “Let that woman be. Right now. Both of you.” “You the ‘Indun’ police I suppose?” Meador laughed. “Maybe he just wants to join in.” The other cowpoke leered. “You boys ain’t got no right jumping that woman like that.” He kept his pistol trained on the first cowboy. “What’s the matter with you.” Meador made a production out of tucking his loose shirt back into his pants. “Me and Fuller here was just having some fun with a squaw. What’s that to you?”

“Yeah.” Fuller squared up. “And pulling your sidearm on white men. Boy, you got yourself out of whack here.” He took a step forward. “Stop where you are.” “Come on, Traven.” Meador intervened. “Stop acting like a preacher or something. It was nothing but funning.” “You boys saddle up and git. This is my territory.” “You ain’t the boss.” “Here on the line I am.” “Git down off your horse, mister.” Fuller growled. “We’ll see who’s boss.” “Step back.” Mose kept his left foot in the stirrup until he was carefully onto the ground. No sooner had the toe of his right boot touched soil than Fuller went for his own pistol Without hesitation, Mose fired the .36. The shot, loosely aimed—and luckily so for Fuller—hit the cowboy in the fleshy part of his left thigh bringing him down immediately. Fuller dropped his weapon. “You shot me.” Meador rushed then, grabbing Mose who struggled, fought back, managed to lift the .36 and with a short, hard swing cracked the pistol across the side of the cowboy’s head. Groaning, Meador fell in a heap beside Fuller. Mose stood over the two men with his pistol still trained on them. “You shot me.” Fuller repeated, holding his leg. The wound was bleeding some but not bad. As for Meador, he held the side of his head and continued to moan. “You boys get up on your horses and git. Now.” “We’ll get you for this.” Fuller vowed, when the two cowboys, wounded and beaten, drug themselves up onto their saddles.” “You had no call.” Meador clenched his teeth in pain. “It wasn’t none of your business.” “You’re a dead man.” Fuller said. “You hear me?” “Maybe. You all just go on.” Just to be safe, Mose kept his pistol aimed at the two men until they were not just out of range but out of sight. When he was sure they were gone, he went in search of the girl. He found her not far away, hiding behind some scrub brush beside a dry creek bed.

saddlebag dispatches



saddlebag dispatches

“Come out of there.” He holstered his pistol and reached out with his right arm. “I ain’t gonna hurt you.” The girl grunted something that he took to mean no and retreated further into the scrub. “C’mon.” He cajoled. “You’re safe now. C’mon out.” He walked over to Buster, who had sidled back up after the fight, and reaching into the saddlebags came up with a big chunk of beef jerky. He unhooked his canteen from the saddle pommel and walked back to the girl. After several more minutes and many entreaties she finally came out of the bushes. “Here.” He offered her the jerky and water. The girl grabbed them like he might be a tricky rattlesnake ready to strike. “Easy now. Nobody’s gonna harm you. Eat and drink. That’s good.” After the girl downed the jerky and drank half the canteen of water she calmed down. He took the canteen from her and hooked it back on the pommel. “Do you speak English?” He prepared to mount up. The girl shook her head. “But you understood that?” He lifted himself up onto Buster and settled into the saddle, then reached his left arm for the girl. She flailed her arms and jumped back. “Suit yourself, I’m going on to my cabin.” He softly popped the reins, and Buster took off at a slow gait. He kept the horse at that pace for several minutes before looking back. The girl was following. She was about fifty yards behind him on the trail. She stayed there all the way to the shack. Back home, he unsaddled Buster, watered and fed him, combed him some, and then put him in the corral with the pack horse at the back of the building. The girl kept watch on every move he made but from a safe distance. “You still hungry?” He called to her when he was through seeing to Buster’s needs. “I got me some scrawny rabbit stew left in the pot. Won’t take long to get the fire goin’ and heat it up. You’re welcome to join me.” The girl looked at him stone-faced. “Do as you please.” He got some kindling and some small sticks of wood and in no time had the stove fire going and the rabbit stew heated up. He didn’t bother to check on the girl, but he got two plates and spoons and, after

saddlebag dispatches

wiping the room’s little table off, set them out. He poured clean water from a bucket into two metal cups and sat down to eat his leftovers. About two bites into his meal, he heard the shack door creak open, and the girl stuck her head inside. “Come in.” He didn’t look up. “Got plenty for ya.” The girl pushed into the cabin and came up to the table but wouldn’t sit down. Ignoring the spoon, she lifted the plate and pushed the food into her mouth, drinking the stew juice as she went. All the while she simultaneously fussed with the tear in her clothes. “I got some pins you can fix that with.” He stood. The girl raised the plate up in one hand. “Easy now. You are a feisty thing. I’m just going over here to get you some pins to hook up that tear.” He pointed at the rip in her clothes and the girl seemed to understand. “Now we’re getting somewhere.” He found a couple of pins in a little dish sitting on a small shelf near his bed and brought them over to the girl. She immediately backed away from him. He raised his hands as if in surrender and then held out the pins for her to see. She quickly grabbed them from him and hurriedly fixed the tear in her leather dress. “Be careful you don’t poke yourself.” She felt the edges of the pins. “Now don’t get all fidgety, I got a tool here that’ll bend those over so’s they won’t cut you.” Somewhat reluctantly, the girl let him use the fencing tool to bend and crimp the pins so that they wouldn’t stick her. “See, I ain’t such a bad feller after all.” “Feller?” He thought she might be thinking that was his name. “Me?” He pointed to himself. “Not feller. Mose. My name is Mose.” He said his name two or three more times. The girl seemed to catch on. “Mo... se,” she said haltingly, then, “Mose.” “Yes. What’s your name? Who are you? Are you Cherokee?” “Aniawi.” The girl pointed to herself. “Aniawi. He repeated. “Mose.” “Yes, I’m Mose. You are Aniawi. Good.” “Good.” “You do speak some English, then?”

“Some English.” “It’s getting dark now. You can stay here. You can have my bed.” When he motioned toward his little cot, the girl became extremely agitated again. “Oh, no, no, just for sleep. For you.” The girl pointed at the depressed area in the dirt floor where apples and such had perhaps been stored. “Sleep.” “Okay, you sleep there. But I have an extra blanket for you. You use that.” The girl took the blanket he offered her. — HE WAS COMPLETELY SURPRISED to find the girl still there when he woke the next day. He figured she would have slipped off in the night or early morning, but she hadn’t. After he washed the sleep out of his eyes, he made flapjacks with blackstrap molasses for them both, and the girl was still hungry enough to wolf those down fast. He figured she must’ve gotten separated from her people somehow and been lost for at least a couple of days when Meador and Fuller had come upon and tried to assault her. When they were done eating, he got his gear and started out to saddle up Buster for the day’s work. The girl followed him to the door but stopped before going outside.



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches

“You can stay here if you want.” He didn’t know how much she was understanding. “I won’t be far. Them boys won’t likely be back to bother you none for a while anyhow.” He fixed wire until early in the afternoon but thought about the girl all the while he worked. He worried about Meador and Fuller. Maybe they would come back—to get him or her, or both. About 2 p.m. he decided he’d better get back to the cabin and check, just to make sure. To his surprise, once again, the girl was still in the shack. They ate an early supper, and this time the girl helped with the preparing and cooking. She seemed more relaxed around him now, and he kind of liked having someone there—even if she didn’t speak often. They exchanged a few words in English now and again, and she occasionally spoke Cherokee to him. She repeated the word Aniawi several times, and he decided to shorten that and start calling her Ani. When she wasn’t looking, he admired her long, deep black hair that fell nearly to her waist in back, and he liked her brown skin and brown eyes. She was thin, what he’d heard people call lithe, and her buckskin dress couldn’t completely hide her pleasant shape. At bedtime she took her blanket and again slept in the recess on the cabin’s dirt floor, but she slept watching him. He fell asleep in his cot facing her. The next morning after breakfast, which they cooked together, he went out to fix wire again and just a few hundred yards from the cabin looked back to see the girl following him. He walked Buster slow, and the girl stayed behind them all day long, hanging a few feet away when he got down to work on fences. He quit early once more, and when he offered his arm to the girl, she took it, and he pulled her up behind him on Buster. Back at the cabin, she took his boots and dusted them with a rag she found in a corner of the room. At supper she did all the preparing and cooking of the food while he gathered wood and kept the fire going good. On the third morning, she again went with him to work, this time riding out and back behind him on Buster. In the cabin, they exchanged bits of English and Cherokee until they were beginning to actually

communicate to some degree. For such a short time and from such an unusual beginning, he felt like they were nearly becoming domestic, a couple as it were. After so much time alone on the trail, it was not an unpleasant sensation. “More coffee?” Ani asked after she had made breakfast for them on their fourth morning together. “Just a little.” He indicated the amount by holding up his thumb and forefinger. When she poured the coffee into his cup, she brushed against him. He restrained an impulse to reach out and take her by her slender waist. She smiled at him—a sweet, unoffended smile. He went ahead and put his arm around her waist, and she did not pull away. It had been so long since he had felt the affection of a woman, he simply laid his head against the side of her hip and rested it there. She ran her hands through his tousled hair. “Work today?” “Yes.” He admired her face. “Work today.” “Go with you?” “Oh, yes. Go with me. Please.” With Ani nearby all the time, the workday flew by. Late in the afternoon, with shadows lengthening on the rolling hills around them, they headed back to the cabin. At home they gathered firewood, collected water from the creek, and made a satisfying supper of beans and cornbread. They even broke out a can of peaches as a special treat for the evening. They visited, in their own manner, until it was dark and time for bed. On the cot, with the light of day now gone, he was restless. He couldn’t stop thinking of the girl just feet away from him there on the dirt cabin floor. He tossed and turned, pushing his blanket away from his legs. He tried to calm himself but to no avail. He could hear her moving in her blanket across the room. Then he heard another sound. The sound of her moving about. He held his breath, for an eternity it seemed. Then he heard her voice beside him in the dark. “Mose. I sleep by you.” “Yes.” His voice caught as he turned to allow her into his cot. “You sleep by me.” —



saddlebag dispatches

HE WOKE TO SUNLIGHT, knowing he had overslept but didn’t care. He felt good, tired but good. It was a rare experience in his young, often difficult life. He took a deep breath, luxuriating in the laziness of not getting up right away and heading out to ride the line. He rolled over to share his good feelings with Ani and was surprised, though not alarmed, that she was already up and gone. Because the door was slightly open, he guessed she was out scavenging for firewood to get breakfast ready. Slowly sitting up, he pulled his pants over his long handles and slipped into his boots to go help her. Smiling again to himself, he exited the cabin and walked right into the middle of a group of Indian men. “Whoa.” He cried out, as one of the Indians pushed a rifle directly into his gut. He raised his hands and backed up. The man with the rifle jabbed it toward him again. Two other men moved toward him. “Easy, boys.” He slowly dropped his hands to his waist. He had no weapon. Nothing at all to defend himself with. “Stand still.” The man with the rifle ordered. “Point that rifle somewhere else.” The man raised it higher, aiming it at his chest. “You don’t move.” One of the others, a heavy set, thick-muscled man commanded. “You got the drop on me, boys, but this ain’t settled yet. Who are you?” “We are Aniawi.” The heavy-set man spoke again. “Cherokee. Aniawi.” “What have you done with Ani?” Mose did not understand. “Where is she?” “Stand still.” The man with the rifle aimed it at him. “Go to hell. Where is Ani? Who are you?” The Indian men moved, and Mose dove into the one with the rifle, knocking him to the ground. But in a heartbeat, the other men pulled him off and with a flurry of punches sent him reeling backwards. The big man pulled a long knife and menaced him with it. He reached down and came up with a big rock in his right hand. “Come on.” “You come.” The big man held up the long knife.

Just as they were about to fight, a familiar voice cried out from behind the group of Indian men. “Stop. Stop now. Don’t fight.” “Ani.” Mose pulled back. At the sound of the girl’s voice, the Indian men also backed off, and they parted to reveal her standing behind them. She was being held by an older, graying man. “What is it, Ani?” “My people. My father. My people. Aniawi. Cherokee.” “Your people. Aniawi?” “Yes. They come for me.” “Come for you?” “I must go. They are family. To home.” “You’re going?” “Must go.” Tears welled in Ani’s eyes. “This is your father?” “Yes, father.” The old man released his grip on his daughter’s dress. “But….” “Have to go. To home.” The old man signaled to the others, and they began to back away, although the rifleman and the one with the knife kept their weapons pointed at the forlorn cowboy. “Good… bye.” Ani struggled for the words. Mose didn’t reply. There was nothing to say. Her people had come for her. She was going back to them. That was only natural. It was the only way things could be. It was all there was to it. That was that. He turned to go back into the cabin. There was nothing else for him to do. At the door, he paused briefly to look at Ani one last time. She was being led off by her father and the others and she, too, turned back toward him with a final, sorrowful look. A look painfully sad to him, a look that seemed to say she would have rather stayed with him but could not. After a moment, he broke eye contact with her and went back into his empty shack. In the days after Ani left, he tried not think about her. He tried to throw himself into his work, but from time to time, he could not concentrate at all. At those times he would ride Buster hard through the distant

saddlebag dispatches



saddlebag dispatches

countryside, going nowhere, pushing the animal until it and he were both nearly exhausted. At night, he tossed and turned in his cot, remembering Ani’s warm presence beside him, the gentle feel of her long, deep black hair. And those thoughts often mingled with a memory of Old Mexico. Specifically of the Hacienda Carlota where he had known a Mexican girl that, like Ani, he could not have either. A girl also protected by her family and one kept away, pulled away from her contact with him, a gringo. One morning he rose late and slow, saddled Buster, and rode back to the ranch to see the boss. He traveled in silence, barely aware of his surroundings, lost in an unexpected haze of melancholy. At the big house, he walked straight up onto the porch and knocked on the front door. His boss, Ben Carson, greeted him. “Howdy, I been expecting you. Thought you might’ve come in before this.” “Yes, sir.” “I heard of your trouble, son.” “I would imagine.” “Was a squaw, was she?” “What?” “A Cherokee?” “Yes.” “Well, I don’t reckon it coulda worked out for you.” “No, sir.” “Well, that’s neither here nor there. No concern to me. The other thing, though, is a problem.” “The other thing?” “With Fuller and Meador.” “Oh.” “Son, I had to stop the law from coming after you on that one. You shot Fuller, for God’s sake, and beat the tar out of Meador.” “They had it coming.” “That may be, but I can’t have that kind of bad blood on my ranch. You understand, don’t you?” Mose nodded. “You’re the newest man and the most trouble we’ve had. Even if you didn’t cause it. It may have come with you and not all be your fault, I won’t argue that. But I have to let you go.” “I figured.” “I have your pay here.” Carson produced a sealed envelope. “It’s your letting go money.”

saddlebag dispatches

“Yes, sir.” “I’m sorry, son, but you better move on, get out of the Territory. I won’t be able to keep those boys away from you forever. They’re after payback.” “Let ’em come, it don’t matter none to me.” “I know it don’t, but you watch your back anyway.” He took the pay envelope and without another word turned and walked off the porch of the big house. Carson followed him down. “Good luck to you, son.” He climbed back up on Buster and took the reins. “Your pack horse is still in the corral up at the shack.” “We’ll get him. You watch out for yourself.” “I will.” Mose guided Buster away from the house and waved goodbye with his right hand. He headed Buster to the northeast at a slow trot, heading for the last miles of the Shawnee Trail that would lead him out of the Indian Territory and into southern Missouri. Along the way, he would pass by his original home outside Carthage, not stopping, and on into the state, past the little communities and villages of central Missouri, on to the old trailhead city of Sedalia. He had last seen Sedalia when he’d been a teenage soldier in the Confederate Army. He had liked the town then. He would try it again now. TO BE CONTINUED....

J.B. Ho gan


. B. Hogan is an award-winning author, poet, and local historian. A veteran of the U. S. Air Force Security Service and Tactical Air Command, he holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from Arizona State University (1979). For many years he worked as a technical writer in Arizona and Colorado. To date, he has published over 270 stories and poems, as well as ten books. Among his books, all published by Oghma Creative Media, are Time and Time Again, Mexican Skies, Tin Hollow, Living Behind Time, Losing Cotton, and Fallen. His first two books, The Apostate (fiction) and Angels in the Ozarks (nonfiction baseball history) have been acquired by Oghma Creative Media and will be re-released in the near future. He has served as chair and a member of the Fayetteville (AR) Historic District Commission. He also has served as president and board member of the Washington County (AR) Historical Society which in October 2019 honored him with its Distinguished Citizen Award. He spends much of his time researching, writing, and giving tours and lecturing. He also plays upright bass in the family band East of Zion, who play an eclectic mix of bluegrass-tinged Americana music.



saddlebag dispatches

COLT CLASSIC Award-winning western and historical author Paul Colt moseys on over for a candid conversation on life, history, rodeo, writing... and even a little football.


ROWING UP, AUTHOR PAUL COLT’S experiences were typical of the time. He drank out of the garden hose, rode a bike without a helmet, explored nearby woods, would leave the house in the morning with a sack lunch and come back home in time for dinner. “All those things rooted my western leanings,” Paul said. “I have been writing my whole life. We had the golden age of TV Westerns, and I read the books. I worked at a stable. I would clean the stalls for free rides, but it also gave the horses some exercise. “All things considered, I had some adventures, and you write what you know… I knew about horses, so Westerns seem like a good fit.” Paul pens two kinds of westerns, historical dramatizations and detective stories. “The historical stories don’t come along every day,” Paul said. “I would work on one for years with research and studies. I’ll take trips, visit museums, visitor centers, go through the archives, and find the right trails they may have traveled along. The detective series are light fun and interesting stories. “All great westerns have a basis in fact, so I try to find that.” Paul’s first novel, Grasshoppers in Summer, was a Western Writers of America Spur

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

story by

GEORGE “CLAY” MITCHELL photos courtesy of Paul Colt and family


saddlebag dispatches

Finalist in 2009, and has just been re-released in paperback and eBook through Tyree Press, the historical imprint of Saddlebag Dispatches’ parent company, Oghma Creative Media’s. He’s also written six other historical fiction novels starting with his first one, Boots and Saddles: A Call to Glory (2013) to Friends Call Me Bat (2019). Boots and Saddles is the tale of George Patton as a staff officer for General John J. Pershing’s Punitive Expedition into Mexico to track down Pancho Villa. Friends Call Me Bat covers the life of Bat Masterson, and Paul took a different approach by changing it to a first-person perspective. “I became Bat Masterson, and I’m telling my story, what he does, what he says, and what he cares about,” Paul said. “Jerry Eastman, a Masterson impersonator (since 1994) tells his stories. He read my manuscript and gave me a great blurb: ‘You nailed the character.’” He also writes the Great Western Detective series. All That Glitters was released last year, and Assassin’s Witness is slated for a 2021 release. Paul becomes his character in some ways as he goes on adventures for his novels, and his wife of 50 years travels with him. “I think that’s one of the advantages of my stories… I like to get my boots dirty on the ground. I would go to the places in my stories to survey the landscape,” Paul said. When not exploring, researching, reading, or writing, Paul and his wife are “religious Jeopardy watchers” where they will try to outguess each other on both the answer and the question for Final Jeopardy. Paul graduated with a degree in finance and has a background working with information technology in both banking and healthcare (neuro-imaging—looking for tumors and brain disorders). If you used an ATM in the late 70s and early 80s, there was a good chance he had a hand in the development. He would play around


saddlebag dispatches

The way I approach historical dramatizations… I guess the best analogy I can use is that I become an actor who is getting into character.



saddlebag dispatches

OBVIOUSLY NOT HIS FIRST RODEO... YEARS AGO, WHEN PAUL AND his family were on vacation on a ranch out west, he came out of nowhere to win the end-of-week rodeo competition... on a horse that he wasn’t even familiar with. “The horse’s name was Little Joe, and he had been “my” horse for the week—taking me on gentle rides up and down the mountains,” according to Paul’s daughter, Melissa. “When my dad showed up on my horse at the big end-of-week competition I had no idea my dad or Little Joe had the capacity to win a rodeo. Both became infinitely cooler to me in that moment.” Paul, however, added a little more context to the story about him and Little Joe. “I actually started the ‘event’ on a horse I had ridden all week. My horse decided we should have an impromptu ‘saddle bronc riding’ event. We settled him down short of eight seconds, so no time was recorded. We were then awarded a reride on Little Joe.” The rest, as they say, is history, but at the very least, it’s obvious Paul Colt knows his way around a horse. —Saddlebag Dispatches

saddlebag dispatches

with ideas during his two-and-a-half-hour commute (round trip). Later he would sit down “very early” in the morning to begin writing. His first series was based on events in the life of Ulysses S. Grant. “That was early in my learning years,” said Paul. Grasshoppers in Summer came out of that series. The more I looked at it, there was a story within a story, and it was a bigger one. When I thought I was ready to be published, I went to the WWA (Western Writers of America) website and looked at all the contacts. “I reached out to as many as I could saying I had a book looking to be published, and I was looking for any words of wisdom.” Esteemed and long-time western writer Dusty Richards answered Paul, and the fledgling author sent Dusty a few chapters. Dusty sent back a politely worded “not ready for primetime.” “We went back and forth a lot for a year. I wouldn’t be published today if it wasn’t for Dusty. He was very generous with his time. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to thank him in person.” Since he’s retired, Paul doesn’t have to wake up so early nowadays. He typically has two projects going at the same time: one he’s being creative, and the other he’s doing rewrites. “I do my creative work in the morning, and in the afternoons, I do my rewrites,” Paul said. “I also maintain my author page on Facebook with a weekly post. I do that in the afternoons as well. I try to build my following and respond to each comment if I can. Right now, I have about 11,000 followers, but I’ve been working on this for 10 years.” Paul will write every day, but there are days he doesn’t. “Generally, I’m over at my keyboard. I do all my writing on the computer,” he said. “I do use notepads for research notes as ideas come to me. I keep a notebook with any project I’m working on. My mother typed all my papers when I was in high school. I can get up to 120 words per minute, and I can overrun the buffer if I go fast enough.” Writer’s block?

“People talk about writer’s block, but it may be because there’s trouble with the subject matter. I haven’t really experienced that,” said Paul. “One of the things I do is that I start with a plot outline. It’s like an outline but without all the formal formatting. My plot outline might include a word or phrase… a sentence… I may even write up a whole page of dialogue. “I know where I’m starting and where I’m going. The writing follows those nuggets, and if I struggle with a scene, I have something I can refer back to.”

I think that’s one of the advantages of my stories… I like to get my boots dirty on the ground.

After the first draft is finished, it’s all about the rewrites. “It seemed like Dusty never liked what I did, and he just kept telling me to do rewrites,” Paul said. “After a while it seeped into my brain, and I sort of had an epiphany. I emailed him back ‘I think I got it. I won’t bother you again.’ I rewrote everything based on this insight, and when I work with others, I try to give them the same feedback—Simple sentences. Present Tense. Active voice. “I try to tell people that most often they will fall into the trap of past tense and passive voice. Those are the sort of things which slow down the reader. You have to make things easy for the reader. If you don’t know much about past tense or passive voice… Run! Don’t walk to the nearest grammar book and start practicing.” One trick Paul employed is looking for the number of times he used words like “was” and “has been” in a story. “If I had to give advice to my younger self… I guess that would depend on how young, but if I wanted to be a writer, I would say ‘be nice to your parents,’” Paul said with a laugh. “You really need a thick skin. Learn from your mistakes and others and



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get better because this is how this process works. If you can’t take the criticism, you won’t improve, and the issues that remain with you won’t be resolved. That’s not to say take and use every piece of advice. But take each one and evaluate it. Not everything is right, but if you’re hearing it from multiple sources, you should consider it if you want to get better.” The axiom that a writer still reads is true for Paul. He’s a fan of the works of Robert B. Parker’s Cole and Hitch series—made popular from the “Appaloosa” movie—and Jeff Shaara’s historical fiction. “You can learn about dialogue from reading Parker. It’s good, and he’s so good at it. I try to make my dialogue as crisp as his… clean and clear. He always had very engaging characters, and Parker handles them so well,” said Paul. “Shaara’s historical dramatizations are good. It was one of his books that inspired me. There was a little throwaway line about Pancho Villa and (George) Patton, and that led to Boots and Saddles, the first book I sold, and it began my career. “On my table next to me I have Man-Hunters of the

Old West by Robert K. DeArment. He was the biographer I relied heavily on for Friends Call Me Bat He’s an excellent nonfiction biographer. The other book sitting close to me is The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson.” While Paul’s heart wanders out West, he resides in Wisconsin to be near his children and grandchildren. The family is also working on their fourth generation of season-ticket holders for the Green Bay Packers. “I was one of the 1.4 million people who attended the Ice Bowl,” Paul joked when he described how many people have made the dubious claim of attending the famed Super Bowl pitting the Packers against the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 31, 1967. At kickoff, the temperature was -15 degrees, and by current standards, the wind-chill factor was about -36 degrees. “That morning, my father-in-law attended the same church as Bart Starr (the starting quarterback for the Packers). Bart slipped on the ice outside the church, and my father-in-law caught him.” Colt’s love for the Packers runs very deep. “I think the one book that had a big impact on me was When Pride Mattered. It’s the definitive bio

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of Vince Lombardi (coach of the Packers from 1959- ranches in Arizona. Paul spent two years working on 67),” said Paul. “I must have loaned that book out it and had a draft ready to go but came across anothto a lot of friends. If you have any interest in that, I er work by someone who retraced the steps of Kino. highly recommend it. Just be careful when you get to Paul had to go back to work because the materials the last chapter. It’s when Vince is dying, and all his contradicted each other. old players are there to pay their respects.” “I wish I had a good answer about when to cut off Wait… is it like the ending to Brian’s Song? research,” said Paul. “I have so much research on the “It’s that kind of moment. Just don’t read it in public.” Lincoln County War, it would leave lawyers scratchHe revisited some books from his days in junior ing their heads to make sense of the legal stuff. high and high school. “I did enjoy rereading them,” “Sometimes the research is easy to do. I once got he said. “I also read the Hardy Boys books. Those to hold the order Bat made to the Colt gun manbooks taught me to enjoy reading and made a reader ufacturer on the custom gun he wanted, and I was out of me. I love those things.” able to include that description in my book. You One of his recent projects was about Padre Euhave to make do with what you can find and where sebio Kino, a Jesuit missionary, who came over to you can find it. With the Kino books, I wanted to the Americas and traveled throughout northern MexFAMILY MAN. WHETHER HE’S WORKING, WRITING, TRAVELING, ico and to what OR RIDING, HIS FAMILY IS AT THE HEART OF EVERYTHING PAUL would later be ArDOES. THIS INCLUDES HIS WIFE, TRISH (TOP FAR RIGHT), HIS izona. Kino also DAUGHTER, MELISSA, AND HIS GRANDAUGHTER, EMMA (TOP established the first MIDDLE RIGHT).



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get it right, and some of it wasn’t the best information. I had to do some major surgeries to correct the discrepancies.” In writing historical dramatizations, Paul said, you can’t wrestle away the facts. “With Kino, I wanted to animate him as a character, so I would include elements that were consistent with what was known about him and what he wrote in his diaries,” he said. “It took Kino nearly two years to get to New Spain from Germany, because he kept getting marooned. Now, since some of his sailing was off the coast of Barbary, I had it that he was attacked by pirates. Little is known, and it’s not mentioned he experienced these attacks which cause him to be marooned. It did make it entertaining.

I wouldn’t be published today if it wasn’t for Dusty. He was very generous with his time. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to thank him in person.

“When he’s traveling over here, he’s trying to learn the language, so he can communicate with the natives. As you know, hummingbirds go almost catatonic when they are caught. I crafted a scene where he catches a hummingbird. The folks around him think the bird is dead, but it suddenly springs to life, and that’s how Kino learns the word ‘resurrection.’ “Did the hummingbird phenomenon happen? Probably not. Sometimes you embellish to make a story work. That’s the objective and where I take liberties. You’re not misleading, and where the line is drawn is between facts and entertaining embellishments.” Paul doesn’t have rules in working with historical figures. “The way I approach historical dramatizations… I guess the best analogy I can use is that I become an actor who is getting into character,” he said. “I want to understand that character. What makes them tick? What are their motivations, and that will

come from the biographical treatments by the works of other authors. In ‘Grasshoppers in Summer,’ the characters cover a wide spectrum, and they all have different perspectives based upon their circumstances and other events which happened in their lives before they arrived at this point. “Like with Billy the Kid, was he a psychopathic killer or a boy drawn into unique circumstances? He’s just a complex character, and that’s how I set it in the story,” Paul said. “I make an effort to get inside the character’s head. With fictional characters, there’s a little difference. They’re made up, and they may have their own backstory and their own outlook, and as long as I’m true to those characters, they’re seen as they are. I don’t want to do things out of character. You have to know how they will react and when they’ll do it, which makes them believable.” Paul noted there isn’t an easy way to decide which historical, overlooked gem he’ll bring to life. “It’s just something I discovered. I really don’t give it much thought or go looking for it. A classic example for me is my take on the Billy the Kid story,” he said. “Pat Garrett didn’t kill Billy the Kid. Brushy Bill Roberts caused a bit of stir claiming to be the Kid but was proven not to be. There was a gentleman by the name of John Miller, who no one really talks about. He died in the 1930s swearing he was not Billy the Kid. If you look at Garrett’s account, you end up with a muddled set of circumstances. You have his word, the newspaper accounts, and his interviews. Those things don’t add up. Garrett may have killed the wrong man and covered it up. You just end up with a curious set of circumstances. It was controversial and got some blowback from the Garrett camp. I can’t prove it, and they can’t prove Garrett’s story. “If I stumble on one, I’m happy to run with it.” —George “Clay” Mitchell is an award-winning reporter and photographer, as well as a founding partner of Saddlebag Dispatches and its parent company, Oghma Creative Media.

saddlebag dispatches




ISTANT CHURCH BELLS MELDED with the muffled screams. Daniel paced in the barn before falling to his knees on the straw-covered floor. He folded his hands together. “Lord, please don’t take her.” Daniel stayed in his kneeling position. The Sunday morning bells had silenced, and still he prayed. His wife needed a doctor. If Tommy didn’t return with him soon… well, there ain’t no use thinkin’ that. God would save her. Minutes crawled into hours. Her screams grew fainter, and Tommy had not yet come with the doctor. “Save her,” Daniel’s voice faltered. His legs were numb, and his shoulders drooped underneath an invisible weight that increased with each passing hour. Hooves clopped outside. Tommy. Daniel pushed himself up from the hard floor. A pins-and-needles sensation rippled through his legs. He staggered. When Daniel balanced himself, he stamped against the floor. Tommy arrived through the barn’s doorway. No one else was with him. “Where’s the doc?” asked Daniel.

“I’m sorry.” “Sorry?” Daniel took a step forward. “Yer sorry?” “He was on another emergency call.” “You… you….” Daniel tilted his ear toward the door, straining for a glimmer of hope that his wife was alive. Her screams were no longer among the usual ranch sounds of cattle, horses, and men. “Betsy.” Daniel burst past Tommy and into the home he and Betsy had shared for the last five years. Blood cloyed the air inside. He halted at the sight of red-stained bedsheets and his lifeless wife. Water splashed. “I—I—I….” His sister, Hattie, furiously scrubbed the blood off her hands. Daniel whirled around and vomited. God had snatched his Betsy for the nighttime dots, like Mama always said. — DANIEL AND HIS HORSE stood at the bluff’s edge. Far below, twilight painted an ocean of silhouettes belonging to the grazing longhorns. Betsy would have


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loved the view. Instead, she lay in her grave not even a month. How easy it would be to walk off the ledge and join her. Daniel gripped the reins. He couldn’t, not until the job was done. A promise was a promise. A soft nicker came from behind him. Daniel stiffened as Tommy joined them on their lookout. “What you want?” “I came to relieve you of guard duty.” Daniel stared at the valley. Shadows lengthened into a black blob that devoured the land and all its creatures. The campfire’s flame flickered with each strand, shadows trying to outdo each other. Was this a version of hell? “You need sleep,” said Tommy. “I will, later.” “You hungry? I brought ya beans.” “Leave me alone.” Grass and rock crunched beneath Tommy’s boots, stopping near Daniel. “Eat the beans. Bets—” “You don’t get ta say her name,” Daniel snapped.

“I’m your boss, and I’m ordering you to eat.” Tommy shoved the beans toward Daniel. “I’ll not have my cowhand faint from hunger.” Daniel swung. The beans flew, and the bowl skittered along the ground. It teetered on the precipice. Tommy gave a quiet gasp. “The cattle….” The dish tumbled over, its tinny rattle reverberating across the valley. Longhorns bellowed. A thunderous roar claimed the land victim as the cattle ran together in one swift movement. Daniel and Tommy hurried down the bluff to help the others. — DANIEL WRAPPED HIS HANDS around a coffee mug and huddled near the fire. He ignored the empty feeling within his belly. Tomorrow would be another long day, beginning with rounding up the longhorns before they continued onward to Kansas.

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His stomach’s growls chanted food. Daniel gulped the cup’s contents to fill the hollowness of his gut. Someone shoved Daniel. “This is yer fault, darkie.” The ground’s cruel reminder that God was in charge made Daniel wince. Some God he was, treating his kind worse than dogs and for killing his Betsy and child. God should have taken him, too. The man spat, delivering a swift kick to Daniel’s stomach. “Leave him alone, Red!” shouted Tommy. The crackling flames illuminated Tommy’s hardened gray eyes. He edged closer, hand on his gun. “You touch him again, you’re fired.” Red scoffed, “Boss, why ya protectin’ the darkie?” Tommy helped Daniel up. “He’s my friend.” “The war’s their fault.” Red’s lips flattened in a tight line. “It’s been seven years. Let it go.” Red marched closer, towering over Tommy by three inches. “What if I don’t want to?” Tommy’s pistol slid out of its holster, cocked and pointed at Red’s chest. “I shoot ya and leave the scum you are for the vultures to pick clean.” The two men stared at one another. “Boss, I’ll set up me owns camp,” said Daniel. He would return to the bluff and keep watch on the longhorns. If he was lucky, he’d see heaven tonight. As Daniel walked away, Tommy spoke, “I’m comin’ with ya.” Daniel did not reply. He continued on to where his horse was tethered. Though Mr. Lincoln had freed them, seven years later Daniel had yet to feel free. Only his Betsy and the baby, she died bearing, knew freedom—in death. The moonlight guided Daniel to his perch above the valley. He hobbled his horse and removed his bedroll from the saddle. Daniel lay on his bedroll and cradled the back of his head with his hands. He gazed at the vast nighttime sky. Dots twinkled, as if to say hello. Mama always said them dots were angels. Betsy had to be among them, but which one? “Daniel?” asked Tommy. Daniel sighed. “I’m here.” “I brought coffee and beans.”

“Fine.” Daniel took the extended bowl. The ham hock and beans’ wafting aroma tantalized his rumbling stomach. He nibbled on a bean. “I loved her, too.” “Was youse that got her with child? No, it was me that kilt her.” Daniel set aside the bowl. Tommy slumped beside him. “She was my sister.” “Yer sister?” “I never told anyone, but I walked in on Daddy hurtin’ Abigail. Betsy was born some months later.” Tommy took a swig of coffee. “I swore to protect her from that life.” “We growed up together. Why you never tell me?” Tommy put down the jar of coffee and pulled off his shirt. He turned his back toward Daniel. Daniel gasped. Thick pink scars criss-crossed Tommy’s back, similar to his own. It answered why Tommy never took off his shirt when they swam as boys. “M-m-massa beat you?” “He hated me as much as he hated our slaves, probably more so, because none of Mama’s babies lived after me,” said Tommy, putting on his shirt. “Someday, I hope others will see your color like I do, that there’s a living soul in your body just as there is in mine.” “It ain’t supposed to be like this,” Daniel’s voice cracked. “Youse promised a better life in Texas. All theys see is we black.” “I shouldn’t have promised. I’m sorry.” “Betsy wanted ta keep goin’ west.” “It wouldn’t have mattered. You’d still have people like Red.” Tommy rose and went to his horse, searching for something in his saddlebags. A metal flask glinted in the moonlight. He drank from it and held it out toward Daniel. “Whiskey?” “Nah.” Tommy took another swallow and wiped his mouth. “You know what it’s like to love a woman you can’t marry?” “Hattie?” “Every night I dream where colors don’t matter.” Tommy raised his flask. “Then I’m marryin’ your sister.” “Why not now?” Tommy gave a dry laugh. “The pastor refused.” “In the mornin’, I’m gone.”



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“Please stay, Daniel. You’re my best friend, and I can’t do this without ya,” Tommy pleaded. A flash of brilliance streaked across the sky. Betsy. Daniel swallowed past the bludgeoning lump in his throat. She wanted him to stay with Tommy. Maybe someday Tommy’s dream would come true. Daniel wanted to be here if it did. He patted Tommy’s shoulder. “I will.” — SOMETHING SLITHERED OVER DANIEL’S chest. Rattler. Goose pimples prickled across his body, and his innards shivered. Death had come for him this morning. God couldn’t be this cruel as to kill him after taking away his desire to die. Daniel opened his eyes. Dark markings decorated the snake’s body. Daniel gulped. Without turning his head, he studied the serpent’s tail. No rattle. Daniel released the breath he had been holding. This lookalike rattler was not venomous. Tommy slept, occasionally letting out a snore followed by a mumble. The snake slid off Daniel and continued on its way. Daniel stood with a stretch. Sunrise had painted the sky with its brushstrokes of various shades of orange. He paused. This morning seemed different. No breakfast aroma permeated the air. There were none of the usual noises of the men and cattle.

Daniel peered below. An empty valley greeted him. “Tommy.” His friend muttered. “Wake up.” Daniel jabbed Tommy with the toe of his boot. “The longhorns and men are gone.” “Ow.” Tommy jerked upright, rubbing his side. He glanced at Daniel and blinked. “What’d you say?” Daniel snatched up his bedroll. “The cattle and men are gone.” “Gone?” Tommy scrambled to his feet. His felt hat dropped to the ground behind him. He shielded his eyes with a hand as he scrutinized the valley below. Tommy shook a fist. “Red.” Daniel climbed atop his horse. “Theys can’t be far.” Tommy grabbed his hat off the ground and jammed it on his head. He secured his bedroll on his chestnut-colored horse. “Do ya have your rifle?” “I ain’t shootin’ him. I’ll hang.” Daniel urged his horse downward from the bluff. Tommy retorted, “They’re thieves. You know what they do to thieves.” “I’m not takin’ the law in my hands.” Daniel and Tommy stopped at the chuck wagon’s tracks. Wheel ruts led to the northeast, the direction they would have taken anyway to get to Kansas. Tommy got off his horse and scouted the area for hoofprints. He wandered up and down, squatting and touching the tracks. “I think they split the herd.” “Why?”

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“To lead us on a wild goose chase,” Tommy grunted as he got up from the ground. “They’re meetin’ later somewhere on the trail.” “Which way you wanna go, boss?” Tommy’s jaw clenched. “We’re goin’ after Red.”

of a rattler. He was destined to die today, either by gunshot or snakebite. “Lord,” he whispered, closing his eyes. Red shouted, followed by a shot. Daniel flinched. Neither a bullet nor fangs pierced

his skin. He cracked open his eyes to Red dropping his gun on the ground beside the snake. Red clasped his hand over the top of the other. The rattler coiled, preparing for another strike. Several rapid shots whizzed by Daniel. The snake fell, and its body twitched a death dance. “Did….” Tommy collapsed onto his back with a wheeze. “I get it?” Daniel pressed against Tommy’s chest to stop the bleeding. “Ya got it.” Dust flicked behind Red’s boots as he stumbled toward his horse. He lifted his left foot into the stirrup

RED RAISED HIS REVOLVER at Daniel and cocked the hammer. “The boys and I took a vote about ol’ darkie here.” “Nooo….” Tommy leapt in front of Daniel the same time Red fired. He grunted before crumpling to the ground. The gunpowder’s acrid smell flittered through the air. Daniel knelt where Tommy lay when Red aimed his gun at him. A rattle shook nearby. Daniel froze. His heart raced at the familiar sound

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and missed, lurching forward. Red tried mounting again without success. “Help me,” he snarled at his gaping son, Lucas. Tommy coughed. Crimson droplets sprayed on his face and shirt. He grasped Daniel’s shirt sleeve and tugged him closer. “I have a confession.” “Save it for the preacher. You ain’t dyin’ today,” scolded Daniel. “I lied.” “About the doc? He refused ya, didn’t he?” Daniel straightened, slowly lifting his hand off the bullet wound. The bleeding had slowed. He clamped down on it again. “Get their horses,” Red ordered the young cowhand. Daniel snagged the pistol out of Tommy’s slack hand. If he had counted right, one bullet remained in the chamber. “Yer all outta bullets, darkie.” Red sniggered. Lucas paused. “Ya sure?” The pistol clicked. Daniel angled the barrel at Red, then at the teenage boy. “I reckon there’s one left. You willin’ to stake yer son’s life on it?” “They’ll hang you.” “No. Thieves are hung.” “Pa, forget about the horses. I’ll not see a noose around my neck,” said Lucas. “Listen to yer son. Youse already a dyin’ man.” Red jerked his head to the horse behind him and rode off. “Lucas, c’mon. Let’s go.” “Where you meetin’ the others?” Tommy rasped. Lucas pulled himself up on his horse. “Outside Ellsworth.” “You tell ’em I aim to report y’all to the marshal for cattle rustling,” said Daniel. The teenage boy’s shoulders drooped. He stuttered, “Yes, sir.” “Now git,” said Daniel. Lucas and his horse galloped off, trailing behind Red. Daniel laid the gun on the ground and slid an arm behind Tommy’s neck. “We gots to get you to Ellsworth.” “Just leave me,” Tommy groaned. “Get our longhorns back.” “I’m not leavin’ ya.”

“You and Hattie will need the money from the sales. Find the marshal.” Daniel rummaged through Tommy’s saddlebags, finding his canteen, whiskey, and an extra shirt. He bunched up the shirt and covered the bullet wound. Tommy took a swig of whiskey. “If I don’t make it, tell Hattie I love her.” “Tell her yerself.” Daniel seated himself in the saddle. “I’ll hurry back.” — THE CACOPHONY OF HIS horse’s hooves striking the ground and his rapid heartbeat roared in Daniel’s ears. Ellsworth came into view on the horizon. Daniel forced his tired horse to ride on, bridging the mile that separated them from the town. Raucous shouting and bangs flooded the town’s wilderness, drunken men fighting over women most likely. Daniel slowed. Ellsworth had swelled in size since last year’s cattle drive. How would he find Tommy’s longhorns and the men who stole them amongst this crowd? Daniel rode behind Main Street, staying close to the buildings. He couldn’t chance being shot. Tommy depended on him to round up his missing cattle. A man cleared his throat. “Don’t move.” “Please, mister. Where’s the marshal?” A lanky man stepped out from his hiding spot. “What you want with him?” “Cattle rustlers shot my boss.” “He dead?” The man tilted his hat upward. “Look around. You’ve arrived at an outlaws’ den. What makes you think a marshal will help?” “There ain’t much time ’fore they gather outside town. You know where he is?” Daniel begged. “Marshal Samuel Bass.” The stranger uncovered his pinned badge. He untied a black horse drinking from a trough. “How many men?” “Four or five.” “You any good with a gun?” “Best shot back at home.” Bass tugged on the reins. “Good. What happens next, you’ll need it, if you don’t wanna end up dead.” Daniel followed him outside of town. The other



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men didn’t seem like the type to steal Tommy’s longhorns. Had Red lied to them? Perhaps getting the marshal was a bad idea. “Not losin’ your nerve, are ya?” asked Bass. “No, sir. Mes was thinkin’ it seems strange that all the cowhands would steal Boss’s cattle. He only ever had trouble with Red.” “Is that them?” Bass pointed at the chuck wagon riding alongside longhorns. Daniel scouted the herd. They belonged to Tommy, but where was the other half? “Stay here. They ain’t all here.” Cookie waved from the wagon as Daniel approached closer. “How’s Tommy?” “What you mean?” “Red said boss was worried about losin’ the entire herd if we stuck together. That’s why he wanted to split up.” Daniel glanced back at Bass. “Tommy was near death when I left him.” Bass trotted toward them. “He took a bullet for me.” “Where’s the others?” asked the marshal. Cookie gestured to his left. “There.” The remaining longhorns and men headed for them. One rider led a horse carrying a dangling body. Red must have succumbed to his snakebite. “Daniel,” said Lucas. “You’re here.” “I’m sorry ’bout yer pa,” he replied. Bass climbed off his horse. Tobacco juice marked its spot in the dirt. “Son, did you steal these cattle?’ “We did.” “You’re gonna have to come with me.” “Wait,” said Daniel. “The boy was under his father’s thumb. He deserves to show what kind of man he is.” “Fine. Y’all drive them beeves to market.” Bass took the reins from Lucas. He watched them for a second, then spoke to Daniel. “You got a steady head on ya. Would you consider workin’ for me as a deputy?” “Me a lawman?” “I need someone not trigger happy. Too much death around here, and I don’t like it.” “Folks won’t accept a negro lawman.”

Bass pulled something out of his pocket. “They better start, cuz you a freedman like us.” He revealed a deputy badge in his palm. “Take it. If you wear it, come back and find me.” “Thanks.” Daniel took the badge, tracing its indentations. “You best git and make sure them boys don’t run off with Tommy’s money.” Bass nodded toward Ellsworth. “I’ll bring Lucas by afterwards, so we can bury his father.” Daniel nudged his horse around and left for the market. — DANIEL LEANED AGAINST THE porch post. Despite the usual evening ranch noises, it seemed empty without Tommy. He peered at the darkening sky. One at a time, those nighttime dots took their turn shining. Footsteps entered the porch. “You stargazin’ tonight?” asked Hattie. She stopped beside him and raised her chin. “Mama always believed that angels were watchin’ over us.” “She was wise.” Hattie faced him. “You sure about this?” Daniel traced the Deputy Marshal badge in his pocket. It had been Tommy’s dream to be a cattle

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rancher, not his. Daniel’s eyes drifted across the yard to his cabin. “Well?” Hattie put her hands on her hips. A burst of faint laughter whispered through the breeze. Daniel closed his eyes and clung onto Betsy’s memory. She had squealed upon seeing their cabin after he and Tommy had built it. Could he leave her and the baby? “He’ll leave,” said Tommy, bracing against the doorframe. “Tommy, what are you doin’ outta bed?” Hattie admonished. Her footsteps tapped fast as she walked toward him. Daniel glanced at his friend. “I expect you to come home now and then,” said Tommy. Hattie fussed over Tommy. Tommy shooed away her hands. He wrapped an arm around Hattie’s waist. “We’ll be fine without you. You’ve got your dreams, and I’ve got mine.” “Don’t know if I can leave Betsy,” said Daniel. “She’s up there,” Hattie replied. “You’ll never leave her, not when she’s among the stars.” Daniel blinked, wiping away the stray tears. “Travel west for her. Now pin on that star where it belongs.” Tommy nodded. Daniel retrieved his badge from his pocket and pinned it on his shirt. He gave it a last rub. “Take care of my sister.” Tommy shook Daniel’s hand goodbye. “I will.” “I’ma miss you.” Hattie sniffled. She embraced Daniel and squeezed. “Be careful,” she whispered in his ear. The porch floor thunked underneath his boots. Daniel continued down the stairs and to the barn. He saddled his horse. Wildflowers had grown over Betsy’s grave. Daniel knelt. “Lord, if yer there, please let Betsy and the baby watch over me as I venture into bein’ a lawman.” The dots twinkled silently as he rode away.


Kyleigh McCloud


orth Dakota native Kyleigh McCloud lives in Minnesota with her husband and fourteen-year-old cat. Writing has always

been in her blood. As a result, she attended Minnesota State University Moorhead and graduated with a BS in Mass Communications, emphasis in Print Journalism. Although Kyleigh enjoys reading a variety of genres, her favorite is historical romance. She has always felt drawn to the 1800s period. The Little House on the Prairie series introduced her to this era when she was in fifth grade. Ever since, Kyleigh has admired the people’s tenacity to survive back then. She and her husband love traveling the Midwest to visit historical sites. “A Cowboy’s Dream” is her first western short story submission to Saddlebag Dispatches. Aside from writing westerns, Kyleigh writes modern women’s fiction. Her Christmas novella, Her Mother’s Last Christmas Gift, will debut in November 2020. You can follow her on Facebook to learn more about her upcoming works.



saddlebag dispatches


FRIENDS CALL ME BAT An exclusive Saddlebag Dispatches preview of the new biographical novel by critically-acclaimed author Paul Colt.



NEW YORK, 1919

’D NEVER THOUGHT ABOUT telling my story this way. I never considered it much of a story. Some did. Magazine editors and a dime novelist or two created a little grandiosity with some of it. Newspaper editors more often had things to say, mostly hacking for some politician or reformer. Some were on my side but most on the side of those I opposed—like Otto Floto, that bloated bag of bovine flatulence. He never had anything good to say. Neither did I, of course, but that was personal. It all started when young Runyon began pestering me with those infernal questions of his. He was always looking for a story. Persistent as a fly you can’t shoo. I tried to ignore it. Mostly did, until that day I had lunch with Cody. He’d come to town with one of his Buffalo Bill Wild West Shows. I didn’t care much for the show. Tried talking me into appearing in it, he did. Can you imagine? A portly newspaper reporter, gambler, ex-gunfighter, lawman appearing in one of his reenactments. Not a chance. I even turned down his offer of two ringside tickets. I’d seen that show already. Seen it when the bullets were real. I didn’t

need a theatrical reminder. Not that old yet. Good to see Bill, though, alive and kicking after all these years. After all these years. Where have they gone? I suppose that’s what set me to thinking. Put me in mind of a little nostalgia. That, and we might have tipped one or two over lunch. Not many of our kind get to have reunions with old friends. Not many of our kind live long enough to be old friends. That alone cuts down on recollective sentimentality. Runyon finally caught me in a weak moment, and the stories just kind of tumbled along from there. I figure they deserve a proper introduction. This one might have to do. I was born, November 26, 1853, in Quebec, Canada. My folks were farmers. I wasn’t. We moved from Canada to Illinois and from there on to Kansas, where I’ll take up the story. I was christened Bartholomew Masterson. Never cared much for the name. Thought “Bartholomew” high minded and sissified. Nothing good ever ended in “mew.” I changed it to William Barclay as soon as I was old enough to get away with it. I thought it more dignified and less dandified than my given name. I went by the formal name W. B. Masterson most of my life, but friends... call me Bat.


saddlebag dispatches




BECAME PARTIAL TO favored haunts after coming east to New York in aught two. We settled in Longacre Square. Broadway suited the New York Bat Masterson like a pair of freshly shined shoes. When I wasn’t at my desk at The Morning Telegraph or covering a fight at the Garden, you could find me at the Metropole Hotel bar for a drink after work or Shanley’s Grill for lunch or a steak dinner. The Metropole had a Victorian elegance about it. The spacious bar attracted an interesting clientele—entertainers, gamblers, writers, sportsmen, underworld kingpins, and connected guys aspiring to appear legit. The Met was a place to see and be seen. Shanley’s knew how to turn a prime cut of steak. It, too, had an atmosphere, less formal than the Met. Relaxed elegance might best describe it, but it was no less appealing to denizens of the square. My office at The Morning Telegraph was in walking distance of our apartment. Truth be told, I seldom felt the need to stray too far from Longacre Square—that’s what they called it before the Times moved in and got the name changed. I never could decide if that was a good change or not. Those were exciting years. We watched as Mr. Edison’s electric lights slowly transformed Broadway into the Great White Way. Made me proud just to be a part of it. I admit to having become a creature of habit in recent years. Made it easy to find me if Emma or any of my pals needed to for any reason. Young Runyon settled into the crowd I call friends not long after he arrived in New York. He was from Colorado. A Westerner, I suppose, though the West hadn’t branded him quite like it had me. I’d met him when he was a kid in Colorado. He remembered it. I didn’t. That Bat Masterson made impressions on the impressionable. Still does, though more for what I was then than what I am now. These days I’m a little on the gray and portly side. In spite of that, the old reputation follows me like a shadow. I don’t mind. It’s come in handy more than a few times.

Damon Runyon showed up at the Metropole one day, bellied up to the bar at my elbow, and introduced himself, or, rather, reintroduced himself. He claimed to have met me back in Denver. Like I said, I didn’t remember. Thin, long featured, and sober, he countenanced a dour expression as might be prone to crack if enticed to smile or provoked to rage. In truth, his disposition tended to jocularity, though he hid that when he wasn’t in the act of humor. Humor is probably what made us get along despite the difference in our ages. Humor and his insatiable appetite for stories of the Bat Masterson I once was. He might have made a modern version of that dime novelist Ned Buntline, except Runyon cared more for the truth. Buntline cared not a fig for truth. If the truth wasn’t sufficiently sensational for Buntline’s taste, he’d season it with imagination until it suited him. Runyon wore his hair—some indistinct dark hue— slicked back. He favored suits that made a statement, ties, too, with a gaudy gold stickpin. He wore round, wire-rimmed glasses framing pale-blue eyes. They gave him a phony professorial appearance. Never far from his trade, he carried a note pad and gold pen in nicotine stained fingers that sported a pinky ring. Yes, a pinky ring with some fake stone. Anyone who knew Runyon knew him for a man too tight fisted to have expended real bucks on his adornments. I thought the pinky ring pandered to the more ostentatious preferences of his connected-guy “associates,” as his hoodlum pals were known. I kept my opinions to myself, apart from the occasional admonition to avoid inadvertent self-incrimination. I had my drink. He ordered a cup of coffee to go with his cigarette, and we took a table. The kid—in truth he was forty-one—was a kid to me nonetheless. Came to New York from some small Colorado daily. Caught on with Hearst and did right well for himself in the newspaper business. Covers sports mostly. Baseball? I tolerate it. Worth a wager. Football? Spare me. Can’t for the life of me understand folks’ affection for that game. Hulky guys banging heads, covered in mud, battling for possession of a

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misshapen pig. Runyon covers it, too, along with the ponies. My game is boxing—the manly art of pugilism. Can’t get enough of it. That’s why the Telegraph hired me, and that’s what I do, as we shall see. I do stray off the fight game from time to time when one of my favored topics trips my fancy. I won’t bother you with those just now. You’ll find out soon enough. Runyon garnered my respect for his war correspondence. He went to Cuba with T.R., though attached to some Minnesota outfit. He went into Mexico with Pershing in ’16 on the hunt for Pancho Villa. He didn’t talk about it much, but between desert heat, mountain cold, every insect and serpent known to man—not to mention tainted food and water—Runyon thought Mexico a paradise. Near a year of that, and they never saw hide nor hair of Villa. I had to laugh. He was a bandit and a murderous revolutionary, but, try as they might, the U.S. Army couldn’t put a rope around him. It reminded me of Geronimo. You have to respect that kind of cunning.

The Punitive Expedition turned out to be the opening act for Runyon’s coverage of the Great War. I was already too old for either of those scrapes, but I admire the men who served. Don’t think much of those who went out of their way to stay out of the way. That starts with our pinhead Professor in Chief, Woodrow Wilson. He irked me and every other American with red blood in his veins. He was perfectly content to sit on the sidelines until he had no other way to take a prominent position on the postwar world stage other than joining the conflict. There was no shortage of yellow-belly dodgers in the fight game, either. I exposed more than a few of them in my columns at the time. More than a few, but Runyon wasn’t among them. It didn’t take long to figure out what the kid had on his mind. He was in the newspaper business all right, but that was just a day job to support his writing habit. He thought himself a poet. Poetry didn’t pay. Baseball and boxing did. He also wrote stories,



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fictional storiesthey were his passion. He was always looking for ideas. He got them from real life, he said. His search for stories led him to hang around with the city’s underworld crowd. That worried me some, but he managed to keep his nose on the clean side of the pavement. There was that bet on the Willard-Dempsey fight that troubled me, but that came much later. At the moment, I guess I looked like real-life fiction, too. He picked at me with questions about the old days in the West. I mostly just smiled and feigned an old man’s loss of recollection. I liked him in spite of it. He must have liked me, too. He kept coming around with his questions. Occasionally he even asked me for advice. Advice is about all an old man has left worth giving. I’d never had a son. I felt honored he’d ask. I gave what I could, and that seemed to be enough. Then Bill Cody came to town. We reminisced over lunch, and, next thing I knew, Runyon had me with his questions. Nostalgia. It’s a disease of the aged. I guess I’m infected. METROPOLE HOTEL FORTY-SECOND & BROADWAY LATE-AFTERNOON SUN MUTED to blue shadows in the city’s concrete canyons. Little more than a warm glow dusted the polished wood, glassware, and bottles arranged along the back bar. The after-work crowd lined the bar rail. I retreated to my usual corner booth. The first Tom Collins had just warmed my belly when Runyon made his entrance. He did make entrances. He signaled the bartender for his customary coffee. He’d become a teetotaler after being wrestled to near ruin by a personal battle with John Barleycorn in his younger years. I admired a man who could conquer his demons. “How was Buffalo Bill?” He pulled up a chair. “Still Cody. A little older. Bigger than life even on his own stage.” “I suspect he might say the same of you.” “I’m not given to the stage.” “It must have brought back memories.” I nodded.

“Care to tell me about it?” Right to his questions. He must have sensed weakness. The waiter arrived with his coffee. He lit a cigarette. “I’ll make it easy. I’ll toss out a subject—just tell me whatever it brings to mind.” I got the drift. He knew my public story well enough to send me off in any direction he wished to go. “If you know so much as to do that, what’s the point of adding my ramblings to your file?” “The public record, of course.” “Public record?” “Is it accurate?” “Oh, that. I suppose that is fair. Some of it has, shall we say, been embellished.” “Some of it?” I felt the witness subject to cross-examination. “Most of it in one way or another.” “And is it complete?” “I just told you. It’s been exaggerated.” “That’s not what I asked. Is it complete?” “The public record? No.” “There is the point to your ramblings, as you call them.” I took a drink in resignation. “Buffalo,” he said. My gaze drifted off to clear air, beyond the perpetual fog of tobacco smoke. Different haze. Dun dust rising against a clear, blue sky. I remembered.

saddlebag dispatches




WAS JUST SHY of eighteen. Built solid at five foot nine. Thick muscled in the arms and chest. The Almighty gave me the eyes. Mountain ice, I called them, with thick thatch for a brow. Ladies liked them well enough. Men I faced soon learned to respect them. Brother Ed and I left the Sedgwick family homestead and headed south to hunt buffalo. We headed south to Stone’s Store, where we signed on with a hunting outfit headed to Buffalo City in need of a couple of hands to finish out their season. We each had a Sharps big fifty and a sure shot to go with it. We expected to make our fortunes in buffalo hides. We were also kids. We soon found out you get started in the hide trade as a skinner. Nasty work skinning, but the work was steady and found kept your belly full. They put us to work running stock and skinning kills. The outfit was pretty typical. The hunter headed the crew and did the killing. The crew consisted of a lead skinner, stockman, watchman, and cook. Each man drove a four-horse hitch wagon. All of us, except the hunter, worked as skinners. I remember the first time we came onto a herd. We’d set off on a southwesterly course from Buffalo City.

Three days out, we’d seen nothing. Then one morning the hunter lifted his chin to the horizon. “There they is,” he said. Buffalo hunters didn’t make their living on grammar. I didn’t see any buffalo. About an hour later, you could see a thin, dun cloud, hugging the horizon like the lead edge of a storm. The closer we got, the higher and wider that cloud grew. We came to the base of a ridgeline. The sound of buffalo bawling filled the air. We rode to the top of the ridge overlooking a valley crosshatched in creek bottom. You couldn’t see the creeks. You could guess at them from where the trees grew. The valley floor was covered as far as the eye could see to the north and west in a thick carpet of wooly brown. I swear you’d run out of numbers before you got an accurate count on them. But what would be the point of trying to count when “endless” would do? Herds were like that in those days. This was but one. The herds were quiet and serene browsing at their pleasure. Not so when riled up. The buffalo is possessed of a natural mean streak. Bad enough by itself, deadly when spooked. I’ve never experienced an earthquake. Read about them. I got a pretty good sense I know what one feels like, though. You get nearby a buffalo stampede with one of those big herds, you think it’s an earthquake the way the ground shakes. A million pounding hooves will do that with a thunderous rumble that settles in a man’s gut. That’s your signal to get away, and get away fast. The herd this day made a picture of tranquility. We moved in for the hunt. The crew set up on a stand at dawn the following morning. The stand made killing brutally efficient. The hunter and others like him identified the lead cow in a herd. Buffalo are matriarchal. They go where mama goes. Once a hunter had a bead on the lead cow, he’d bring her down with a lung-shot. That shot would stop her in her tracks without killing her right off. The herd would mill around their fallen matriarch with no notion of flight. The hunters then systematically slaughtered them at their leisure. The business returned three dollars a hide at twenty-five cents a shot. The big fifties used a three-inch shell loaded for short, medium, or long range. If a new lead cow emerged, the



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hunter would bring her down in similar fashion to the first, and the slaughter continued. A competent hunter could bring down two hundred kills or more in a day. The skinners went in with the wagons when thirty or forty were down. The herd would move some distance away, followed by the hunter to some new stand. Skinning made for grizzly work. You scored the hide around hooves and neck, then slit the legs to the shoulders and hind haunches. You loosened the hide at the hump and shoulders until you had enough to secure a good grip with a rope. With that accomplished, a mounted stock man dallied the rope to his saddle horn and peeled the hide off the carcass. Hides were loaded into the wagons for transport to base camp at the end of the day’s hunt. There they were scraped clean and staked out to dry. The carcasses were left for carrion, with only the choicest meat, tongues, and an occasional hump taken for food. Eastern and European markets for buffalo hides grew with demand for warm robes, coats, hats, and gloves. Railroads encouraged hunting both for the hide freight it produced and the fact that vast wandering herds made mischief with train schedules. Get one of those big herds on the tracks, and you could lose hours to schedule. The army protected the hunters when necessary out of the belief the surest way to keep hostile Indians on reservations was to destroy their ability to live off the land, following the herds. They took that chapter from General Sherman’s philosophy of total war. He’d cut the Confederacy in half with it in the latter stages of the war of secession. In those days, as General in Chief of the Army, he meant to do the same to the plains tribes. It all made for a prosperous business until hunting and disease thinned the herds to near extinction. No one gave a thought to that at the time. The herds seemed numberless. By most mid-afternoons the wagons were full. We’d head for the nearest base camp, where we’d clean and stake our hides to dry. Base camps usually brought several hunting parties together. It was good for safety in numbers. Whiskey peddlers and wagon-bed saloons served the camps. A man could get himself a drink in a tin cup and count on finding a game of poker or monte to while away the evening hours. I learned card gambling in the buffalo camps. I learned to count cards and

study the men who play them—who bluffs and who could be bluffed, lessons that came in handy later in life. You got to know folks in the camps. That’s where I first met Billy Dixon and a young fella a few years older than me by the name of Wyatt Earp. Wyatt stood six foot and stretched one hundred fifty pounds over a lean, wiry frame. He had long, sun-bleached hair and a moustache in those days. Sober as a judge in countenance with cool, circumspect eyes near the color of my own. He’d already built some reputation for a competent man most would defer to out of respect. We got on right off. I liked him. That was easy. For some reason he took to me. He wasn’t a back-slapper by any means, but we found we had things in common like courage, loyalty, and resourcefulness. Who knew then what that friendship would become? We were young, alive, and doing for ourselves. Tomorrow was always just another day. Brother Ed and I did some serious growing up in the hunting season of ’71. By the time the snow fell, we headed for Buffalo City with a little money in our pockets to see us through that winter. METROPOLE HOTEL FORTY-SECOND AND BROADWAY I DRAINED MY GLASS. The blue shadow of late afternoon had brightened to evening street light. Runyon was still there. Funny me talking about Wyatt taking an interest in a young fella back then. Little bit like I’d taken an interest in Runyon. “I knew you and Wyatt went way back. I had no idea you went back that far.” “Long time,” I said. “Sounds like the beginning of a story.” “Your stories are short stories. This one don’t qualify. It’s a long story.” “A long story is nothing more than an anthology of short stories.” “You think you have an appetite for all that?” He nodded. I shrugged. “Let me know when you’ve heard enough.” “Deal.” You don’t know what you’re in for, son. Son. Don’t make too much of that.

saddlebag dispatches



saddlebag dispatches


TANDING NEXT TO THE truck, he looked up the road and examined the wooded area that crowned the ridge ahead into which the strip of blacktop disappeared. It was a dark forest of piñon pine, gnarled and misshapen, as if touched by some ancient blight. But, Gordy Mathis knew that this was the habit of piñon. That was the nature of desert country, to dry out and shrivel up most everything inhabiting it—people included. Often, it shriveled up more than just their bodies. The cell phone’s battery was dead, so he tossed it onto the passenger’s seat. He pulled his lanky frame up into the cab of the desert-worn Chevy pickup. Like him, it was well-seasoned with the effects of the environment readily identifiable. It had countless scratches along its sides from encounters with mesquite and acacia. His wounds were not so visible. The old Chevy pre-dated GPS systems by nearly two decades. The location app on his cell phone was now a moot point, so onward. He steered the truck back onto the blacktop. He loved backroads and had a fair mental picture of where he was and the location of the town of Arroyo. There was easier access from the

interstate, but the town itself was still in the middle of nowhere with mostly local traffic, except for one weekend a year. He had never been, but the state tourism department touted the Prickly Pear Festival as an event to experience. Off the beaten track, clever advertising hailed it as the Tuna Capital of the World. The tunas, he had discovered many years ago, were the purple-red fruit of the prickly pear cactus, or opuntia, and had nothing to do with fish. From that humble fruit, came a wide variety of prickly pear foodstuffs—beer, wine, ice cream, and even a prickly pear crème brulee came to mind. Finally, he reached the crest of the ridge. The gnarly forest blanketed the landscape in all directions. At least the road ahead was downhill. That was a good thing considering the position of the gas gauge needle. Driving slowly and in silence, he reflected on his presence in this place. A land surveyor by profession, Mathis had worked all over the West. He was a selftaught student of the desert. Many years back, he had lived in Montana and had been a student of the mountains. In this part of New Mexico, he could enjoy both. Knowledge of the physical environment


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had always been the initial challenge. That knowledge could mean the difference between life and death. Once he had discerned the complexities of the physical environment, his focus quickly expanded to plants and animals. Both mountain and desert had diverse flora and fauna. In many cases they overlapped. Once again, knowledge could be equated with survival. He thought about how nature and survival were often intertwined. But, for him, the sheer enjoyment of learning nature’s diversity was motivation enough. Most inquisitive people would have stopped there, but not Gordy Mathis. The physical world led to the history of the surroundings. Native peoples and their ways fascinated him. Their spiritual beliefs and collaboration with nature to survive were his real incentives to learn. Once, at the site of an ancient desert encampment, he had been engulfed by a whirlwind, or dust devil, as most people called them. The day had been hot, pushing above ninety. A slight breeze came out of the east,

hinting a change in weather might be in the making. As he hiked toward an interesting outcropping of rock, he began to notice small chunks of so called burnt rock, a common indicator of native encampments. Sure enough, as he looked around, he spotted small shards of pottery and broken tools used for grinding mesquite into edible flour. He had just reached down and picked up a nice pottery shard. It was a grayish white with a distinctive black geometric design. As he examined it, a wind suddenly swept the landscape and seconds later he was at the center of a large dust devil. Those few moments were the most unsettling of his nearly fifty years. As the wind swirled around him, he shielded his eyes, still clutching the piece of pottery. That was when he heard the sound of voices chanting in an unknown language. It was over in less than a minute. The wind died to a whisper, and then it was gone. Only the persistent heat remained—and a deafening silence. Mathis considered himself to be neither religious nor superstitious. If pressed, he would merely

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state that he considered himself in harmony with nature. The experience served to push him deeper into Native American spirituality. The fragment of pottery became his own sort of physical doorway to the ancient ones. Although he never experienced such an event again, hardly a day passed that he didn’t recall it. As he rounded a sweeping bend in the road, a pulloff came into view. His thoughts were stilled by the sight of a pristine 1973 Cadillac El Dorado parked in the wide spot. The magnificent vehicle was a deep burgundy with a white convertible top folded back to reveal a white leather interior. But what really caught his attention, were the sleek legs protruding from khaki walking shorts topped by a green tee-shirt. Mid-length brunette hair framed a pretty face, or at least he thought so at 30 mph. She was taking pictures with a cell phone of what might be called a “scenic view” for this road. At the sound of his approach, she turned and waved,

flashing a nice smile. He waved back over the top of the truck’s cab. He knew there was a reason he drove with the windows down most of the time. He looked back in the rearview mirror. She was taking more pictures. Damn, you sure don’t see that every day. Returning his eyes to the road, he mentally reviewed the previous ninety seconds. Suddenly, Mathis ducked and swerved as a black form swooped within inches of the windshield. Peering upward, he watched as a large crow flapped away into the pines. Although shaken, he quickly regained his composure. Steering through another bend in the road, a long gradual slope headed into the town of Arroyo, New Mexico. It was named for the canyon feature cutting through the desert west of the town. Due to just the right blend of minerals and seasonal weather, the rocky walls of the arroyo were lined with literally thousands of prickly pear cactus plants. The sky was a bit overcast, but there were wide patches of blue to the west. The sun would set in



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a couple of hours, and he figured there would be a colorful sunset. The Prickly Pear Festival would no doubt gear up into full swing after sundown. As he entered the town from the road very much less travelled, he was soon engulfed in traffic that bore witness to the popularity of the festival. He saw several license plates from Colorado, Texas, and Arizona. A gritty-looking tavern exhibited a twodeep row of motorcycles with a sign that advertised outside seating in the back, but a number of bikers spilled out the front door. After another five blocks, Mathis intersected the main thoroughfare appropriately named Prickly Pear Avenue. A traffic light controlled the intersection, and naturally, he was rewarded with red. First things first. The needle of the gas gauge sat on empty. He turned to the right and found a gas station only a few blocks away. Mission completed, he reversed his travel route as the sun dropped onto the horizon. Prickly Pear Avenue was lined with decorative flags, each with a cactus design heralding the festival. The center of activity was in a large park occupying a city block. As a backdrop, a two-story brick building exhibiting late 1800’s architecture rose up. A sign in front introduced it as the Arroyo City Hall. Mathis drove slowly on searching for a parking spot. After a few minutes, he gave up and moved his search over a couple of side streets. Three blocks away, he found success in the parking lot of a local bank. The lot was mostly empty. There would be no bank business, save for a drive through ATM. He secured the Chevy and headed for the action. He made for the park, walking the blocks in a zigzag pattern. Abruptly he stopped. Parked in front of a small fabric shop was a convertible 1973 Cadillac El Dorado with its white top up. Maybe he would get a chance to see the young woman close up. His relations with women had yet to work out well. But there was always a chance. In the middle of the block leading to the park, the Arroyo Bar and Grill caught his attention. It was brightly lit, noisy, and advertised cold beer. He could use one of those. Country and western music surrounded him from an unseen sound system. A mixture of tourists and townspeople were having a

good time. The first beer was as advertised, so he paid for another. Satisfied, the trek to the park resumed. The park was busy with people milling around. Kids had their faces painted, and parents looked weary. The sun was below the horizon, and music played as warm-up groups offered their talents. A banner announced a singer of some fame would start at nine. He glanced at his watch, over an hour to go. He started wandering around the vendor tents and food trucks. Passing a booth selling kettle corn, he stopped. There she was, twenty feet away, buying what looked like prickly pear peanut brittle. He waited as she put the bag into a small backpack and continued on. For the first time in many years, Gordy Mathis felt giddy. He moved toward her and offered a nervous hello. She turned toward him and asked if she knew him. He felt stupid, but he raised his left hand up high and waved. She laughed and asked if that was him on the road. He nodded. Their eyes met, and a burst of something electric coursed through him. She suggested that they check out the other booths. He agreed. After introducing himself, he followed, hoping he didn’t seem like a puppy. Her name was Samantha Ryan, but everybody called her Sam. They made their way along rows of vendors, some starting to pack up their wares in advance of the evening’s events. Mathis asked if she was hungry. Laughing, she let him know she was always hungry. A booth ahead offered street tacos. They both ordered three with colas. Finding two empty seats in an area with folding tables and chairs, they sat and chatted. Fascinated by the El Dorado, he couldn’t help but ask. It had been her father’s, and it was willed to her after he passed. She loved the car but only drove it sporadically. Her rig was a diesel Ram pickup that got her everywhere she wanted to go. Her father had been a rancher and raised horses up north, outside of Clovis. Sam had grown up pure country. With a degree in environmental conservation, she worked for an oil and gas company out of Artesia as a land management specialist. One of her primary duties was to watch over the company’s impact on cultural resources. Mathis nodded, listening intently as she spoke. Her voice was soft yet indicated that she was a nononsense person. He was about to pinch himself to

saddlebag dispatches



saddlebag dispatches

see if he was really awake when Sam suggested they dance. He looked at his watch and had no idea where the time had gone. The music was good, and after more than a dozen dances, the last a slow two-step, she told him she was getting tired. As they walked back toward her El Dorado, Mathis asked if she would like a nightcap. The answer was affirmative, a good idea. The Arroyo Bar and Grill was subdued compared to his earlier visit. They talked about a variety of likes and dislikes. Sam finally said she needed some sleep. Mathis informed her that he was sleeping in his truck. She asked if he would like a more comfortable bunk—like the back seat of the El Dorado. How could he refuse? Sam opened the trunk of the car. He could immediately grasp the woman’s understanding of the desert and what could be encountered in it. A very compact array of blankets, battery charger pack, tools, fire extinguisher, first aid kit, and water bottles impressed him. Two boxes of 9 mm cartridges didn’t escape his assessment either. She took out two lightweight blankets, closed the trunk, and opened the door. She’d take the front seat. Movement of the car woke him in the middle of the night. Sam was stirring around. Moments later, he realized she was climbing over the front seat into the back. She snuggled up with her back to him and pulled the blanket over them whispering that she was cold. The fragrance of her hair was intoxicating. He put his arm over her shoulder, and she sighed softly. As Gordy Mathis drifted off to sleep, he was surrounded by the sound of rhythmic voices chanting in a strange tongue. The sun was up. He blinked and looked around. Sam was in the front seat brushing her hair. She saw him in the rearview mirror and turned around with

a wide smile. Mathis sat up and flexed his body to rid it of the several tight places that came with sleeping double in a back seat. Sam told him it was about time that he was up because she was hungry and had to pee. He laughed and told her he was working on it as he struggled to push the passenger side seat forward, open the door, and remove himself from the El Dorado. His watch indicated it was only a bit after seven in the morning, but there was already a large group of people in the park. A large banner helped explain why. The local Lions Club was hosting a fundraiser pancake breakfast. Of course, prickly pear syrup was the main attraction. Sam looked at him with an expression that questioned that option. A café across from the park looked better, considering their need for breakfast and a restroom. In addition to the crowd gathered for the Lions breakfast, they observed vendors setting up booths to cater to all manner of festival goers. In one area, a group of obnoxious youngsters, mostly older teens, were taunting each other and any obvious tourists. Mathis didn’t think he and Sam looked much like tourists, but the group of unruly kids watched them as they crossed through the park. Sam reached out and took his hand in hers. They exchanged looks and she squeezed his hand more firmly. Halfway across the street, between the park and the Desert Blossom Café, two crows swooped down from somewhere directly at them, turning a mere second before contact. Mathis sprinted, pulling Sam behind him to the café entrance. Looking at her, he could see a hint of fear in her brown eyes. Up to this point, he wasn’t sure that was an emotion she possessed. They made for an empty booth in the back, heeding the Please Seat Yourself sign. The café was crowded with others who apparently preferred the Desert

saddlebag dispatches

Blossom menu to fundraiser pancakes. Sam immediately excused herself, muttering iced tea—unsweetened as she headed for the ladies’ washroom. In a few moments, a young server appeared with menus. Mathis ordered the drinks. A few minutes later, Sam re-appeared looking marvelous. He immediately headed toward the restroom sign. They both decided on bacon, eggs, and a waffle to quell their hunger. As a bonus, the café offered homemade prickly pear syrup. As they sipped their teas waiting for breakfast to arrive, Sam asked what was with the crows. Mathis frowned and asked her what she meant. Sam related an unsettling story to him. She explained that the day before, just after he had driven by in his truck, she wanted to take a few more photos. Walking back to the El Dorado, a crow jetted out of nowhere. Wings flapping, it barely missed her. Twice in two days was just too weird. Breakfast arrived, and they dug in. A few minutes later the pangs of hunger were gone. He sighed deeply, bringing on a look of concern from Sam. He pursed his lips, unsure if he should tell her. He ultimately decided they were now on a path together. Mathis related his own crow experience the day before in just about the same spot. It was definitely too weird. Mathis leaned back in the booth and considered his understanding of the desert and its denizens. Sipping refills, he explained to Sam that on the factual side, he had read that crows have the biggest brain to body ratio among all birds. They have a highly developed forebrain that regulates intelligence, and their brain’s anatomy was very similar to humans. Beliefs surrounding the crow’s spiritual side were more complex. Their color represented the onset of creation before there was any form. Crows were spirit animals that were associat-

ed with the mysteries of life and magic. They taught us to find our inner truth and possess the power to evoke deep inner transformation. The crow was supposed to know the unknowable mysteries of creation and was the keeper of all sacred law. As he talked, he was drawn into her eyes. An old soul lived inside that young body. Sam listened intently as he continued to explain that if a crow has flown across your path, it is a sign of change. The power of the unknown was at work, and something special was about to happen. He stopped talking and stared at her. She smiled that smile again. Sam and the crows, he suddenly realized, were real. Their appearance was part of something magical. It was about Sam and him. Exiting the Desert Blossom, they crossed once more to the park. The festival was in full swing. A musician with a guitar had started singing in the park’s central gazebo. Trees shaded many more vendor booths than the evening before, and the rowdy teenagers were nowhere to be seen. Sam wanted to see a few of the recent additions being offered, so he followed her. Eclectic was the only word he could use to describe the offerings. Craft wares with wooden cacti and boxes made from New Mexico license plates, tee shirts and caps, prickly pear candy, syrup and jelly. Prickly pear wine and beer was available in a special cordoned off area overseen by a private security team and a trio of sheriff’s deputies. He had to admit that it was quite an affair and as unique as the Hatch Chile Festival or Roswell’s UFO Festival. The town’s population of some five thousand souls had swollen considerably. Sam bought some jelly and hard candy. Mathis decided they should have commemorative tee-shirts and bought them each one.



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches

After circulating through booths, Sam requested they have a cold beer at the prior evening’s venue. Mathis readily agreed. His Prickly Pear Festival gauge was pegged at the max. She took his hand as they strolled out of the park, chatting about the diversity of things possible from the humble prickly pear cactus. The Arroyo Bar and Grill was as busy as it was noisy. They found a high-top table and ordered cold beer that seemed appropriate for the rising temperature outside. They visited like two old friends, each growing more comfortable as the afternoon slipped by. Curious about what the Sunday weather would be like, he slipped his cell phone from his pocket and instantly remembered the untimely death of its battery. Sam cocked her head, observing the look on his face. He showed her the dark phone, and she laughed. She stuck out her hand, and he passed the phone to her. Now what? He watched as she reached into the ever present back pack and removed what looked like an oversized tube of pink lipstick and an eighteen-inch cable, USB connection on one end and four different charging connectors on the other. Picking the correct connector for his phone, she plugged them together. She laughed again and told him he should be better prepared. Another beer later, his phone was completely charged with full service. Sam reached across the table and took his hands in hers. She had a plan. Sam would drive them to retrieve his truck, and he would follow her home, where she would make them dinner and contemplate Sunday activities. The establishment had filled considerably, and there appeared to be substantially more people present than allowed by the Arroyo Fire Marshal’s occupation capacity posted on the wall. Gordy Mathis stood up and felt Sam move close. As he turned to her, she threw an arm around him, reached up and gave him a hard, lingering kiss. It was time to go.


Michael M C L ean


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 ribbon waters, and explored the deserts of the West. Through personal and professional experiences he has collected a wealth of information to develop story settings, plots, and characters. His work has been published in New Mexico Magazine, Rope and Wire, and The Penmen Review. was the winner of the 2012 Tony Hillerman Mystery Short Story Contest. McLean believes the less travelled and often 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. “Grandfather’s Henry” is his fourth short story to appear in Saddlebag Dispatches.



HATE IT WHEN people come here uninvited. They always make crude comments about my house. It’s my home, not theirs, so why do they care? They laugh at my broken windowpanes, They cross over my splintered threshold and curse when they fall onto the packed earthen floor. So why do they even come? It’s the legend, I guess. These ghoulish tourists want to be frightened. They want to see the spot where the bones were found. They hope to find an overlooked fragment, to gawk at it, fantasize about it, hold the crumbling piece in their hands. They are mostly young people, barely adult, and are curious about their world. They bring red candles and sit on my floor, chanting nonsense. Though that is annoying, it isn’t really terrible. It’s the vandalism that disturbs me. When their chanting brings no results, and the copious amount of alcohol they’ve brought is consumed, they turn to amusing themselves by destruction. Such disrespect, such dishonor to us both! The ones who really disturb me, though, are those

from the realm of paranormal investigators. These people aren’t rude. They are very careful. They are so focused on their FLIR devices, their EVP’s, that they cannot see what is right in front of them. They ignore my home, built with such loving labor, so many glittering dreams. Why are they so interested in my non-corporeal being? It’s my life that is interesting, my life that has meaning. You know what death is? It’s a change, largely unwelcome, that comes to us all. We can’t ignore the laws of nature. What we can do, and try to do, is change ourselves inside. We do it by labor, by loving, by living. Not by dying. People value the strangest things. This expanse of sage and rabbit brush and Joshua trees, the stark volcanic mountains to the west, these form my reality. Speculation has run rampant for years about the reason I chose to prospect in such a bleak and forbidding area. The real reason was simple. I wanted to be far away from my fellow man. You see, I found that many human beings, especially male human beings, were wicked at their core. They were greedy, selfish, and often brutal.


saddlebag dispatches

My shack of stone was just right for me. I liked it. It was authentic, unpretentious. It provided me with shelter from the stinging dust devils and the scorching July sun, an orb so bright that it was capable of searing unprotected skin like meat over an open fire. A hundred yards away from my door was an arroyo that ran bank to bank during the summer monsoons. I carefully stored the water underground. I constructed a series of underground pipes to bring water from the arroyo to fill my hand-dug cistern. Even the sparse rain that fell during the rest of the year was collected and stored. Since I was only one person, the water lasted until more rain fell. I got by. Sally and I made the trip into Kingman twice a year to replenish my stores. Along the way I sang to myself and watched the buzzards ride the thermals high above me in a sky so blue it resembled a painted mural. My time in town was spent having a bath, shave, and haircut. Then I’d pick up my items from the general store, pack them on Sally’s back, and

return to my personal oasis. I interacted with as few townspeople as possible. I had a good life. All around my homestead swirled the noise and strife of what people call modern life. My isolation was a gift given thoughtlessly. I relished the abandonment that isolated me for months at a time. My shack wasn’t visible from the newly graded road a mile to my north. Sometimes the desert silence was disturbed by the grumble and cough of a passing automobile, but usually I lived undisturbed. I laughed at the jackrabbits in their play, watched the bobbing road runners chase lizards, and listened to the mourning doves while the last orange rays of the sun faded into purple twilight. I am not certain how it all changed, or even in what year. What I do know is, one day late in summer, a man approached me through the desert mirage. I paused in my digging. He was even more ragged than me, and his almost colorless eyes darted furtively from side to side restlessly.

saddlebag dispatches

His entire aspect made me wary. He greeted me politely enough. I tried to stay upwind of him, his rank odor inescapable in the nearly still desert air. “What are you doing?” he asked, eyeing the shovel in my hand. “Panning?” The arroyo contained a small running rivulet in the center of its course. I had been reinforcing the pipe bed from the flow to my cistern. The stranger, having noticed the shovel in my hand, wrongly deduced that I was searching the bed for gold. “I’m storing water,” I replied truthfully. Angrily the stranger advanced toward me. “Water? You expect me to believe you are in this arroyo scooping up water?” “That’s what I’m doing,” I said, my calm demeanor an attempt to diffuse his unexplainable anger. “Do you take me for a fool? This is gold country!” he shouted, balling his fists. “You’ve got a stash here somewhere. I know you do!”

“I don’t want any trouble. Look around. You’ll find no stash of anything but water.” My answer seemed to further ignite his rage. He rushed toward me. I backed away and got tangled up with the shovel still in my hand. The stranger loomed above me, blocking the sun. My vision was filled with his unshaven face, crusted with a dozen meals caught within the whiskers. He wrenched the shovel from my hand, raised it high above his head, and brought it down with such force that the blade sheared from the handle. I felt my skull cleave in two. An animal instinct took hold of me, and I crawled toward my little house, my refuge, my home. Though I was quickly losing strength and blinded by blood, I managed to pull myself across the threshold and push the door closed. There I lay while the sunlight faded into blackness. I lay alone in my little shack for decades. Finally, a road crew laying asphalt discovered me when they



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches

were seeking shelter from an incoming storm. The story of their discovery raced through all the mining camps in the western portion of Arizona. The Mojave County sheriff arrived and took my bones into Kingman. There was little doubt about the cause of my death. A furrow extended for six inches across the top of my skull. So much time had passed while I lay dreaming that justice could not be served. Stories circulated about me, each one embellished in the telling. Soon the curiosity seekers began to arrive. I have known no peace since. My shack is, itself, only a skeleton of its former self. We are a pair, the two of us. We know well the rattlers and the pack rats, the centipedes and the scorpions. Together we experience the heat, the blast-furnace dryness, the bone-chilling winter cold. We endure the occasional prying humans, waiting impatiently for their departure. With our silent voices we beg for peace.

Neala Ames

a N

eala Ames is a retired teacher who has loved to write since she was five years old. While on a family vacation she saw the Washita Massacre site in Oklahoma, and it affected her deeply. Growing up in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, Ms. Ames enjoyed all the television westerns, and the American West captured her mind. She loves writing stories about the American experience. Now a resident of Arizona, she is surrounded by the history she loves so well. She lives in the central highlands with her husband and her three dogs. Ms. Ames maintains a Facebook page where she keeps her followers updated on the short stories that find a home. She has recently placed stories with Soteira Press, Ariel Chart, Scarlet Leaf, and Wild Violet. Work on more short stories as well as a full-length novel occupies much of her time. She welcomes all new readers to join her established base. “Sotto Voce” is her second short story to be featured in Saddlebag Dispatches.



saddlebag dispatches


SA D D LEBAG f e at u r e

TOM STARR: THE OUTLAW AND THE MAN “I would rather meet the Devil himself than Ol’ Tom Starr.”

Regina McLemore


TANDING AROUND SIX-AND-a-half feet and weighing in at over 200 pounds, Tom Starr was a big, intimidating, mixed-blood Cherokee. There is also the story, that may or may not be true, about Tom sporting a necklace of human ears. The ears were supposedly from the men he killed. Tom’s father, James Starr, was a marked man because of trouble in the Old Cherokee Nation. When Andrew Jackson insisted the Cherokees’ only chance of survival lay in moving west of the Mississippi River, James Starr agreed. He soon joined the group that decided to work with Jackson, the Treaty Party. Under the leadership of John Ridge, Major Ridge, and Elias Boudinot, Starr, along with nineteen other Cherokees, signed an illegal treaty with the United States Government signing away all Cherokee land in exchange for new land in Indian Territory. They would also receive $5,000,000 for the tribe, $150 individually, subsistence for a year, and various other provisions. Despite vehement protests and continuous lobbying by Chief John Ross and Cherokee delegates, Congress, at

the insistence of Jackson, ratified the fraudulent treaty by a slim majority in 1836. As part of the favored Treaty Party, the Starr family left in 1837 before the forced removals, with a protective military escort, to their new homeland. Once there, they established a nice homestead for their large family, east of present-day Stilwell, Oklahoma, in the Oak Grove community of Goingsnake District. The peaceful atmosphere changed, however, when the starved, angry emigrants began arriving in 1838. The Old Settlers, who had come to Indian Territory years earlier, joined with the Treaty Party to oppose John Ross and his plans to replace their government with his party’s version. After a meeting called by Ross ended, some supporters and his son, Allen, stayed behind to have their own meeting. They activated the Cherokee Blood Law, which required the deaths of traitors at the hands of their clan members. After drawing lots, three parties of assassins were selected, and they set out to brutally murder John Ridge, his father, Major Ridge, and his cousin, Elias Boudinot.


saddlebag dispatches

Allen was assigned the task of keeping his father occupied while the assassins did their bloody work. When questioned later, John Ross claimed to have had no knowledge of the plans to murder the men and said he would have “saved them if he had known.” The assassinations threw the Cherokee Nation into an uproar, and some of the treaty signers, including James Starr, fled to Fort Gibson, where they asked for protection. According to Helen Starr and O.E. Hill, in their book, Footprints in the Indian Nation, young Tom Starr killed his first man the next year. Attending a foot race near the Arkansas line, he encountered a Ross supporter and one of his father’s enemies, David Buffington. Heated words were exchanged, and Buffington grabbed for his gun. Starr, known to be lightning-fast, let loose with his hunting knife, piercing Buffington’s heart. Buffington lay dead before his gun had cleared its holster. Starr immediately went on the scout for more targets. James Starr and his sons vowed to remove John Ross by any means possible. Tom soon formed a band, mostly consisting of brothers and cousins. Claiming that if they were going to be branded as “outlaws” they would act the part, the Starr band engaged in various acts of terrorism over the next few years. The Starrs were soon joined by other families, such as the Wests, the Riders, and the McDaniels. They were supported and aided by some Old Settlers, as well as some whites in Arkansas, who believed John Ross was responsible for the Ridge and Boudinot murders. When the gang fled to Arkansas to escape capture, they were supplied with shelter, food, and horses. Tom Starr stirred up a hornet’s nest when he and his brothers killed the respected white trader Benjamin Vore, his Cherokee wife, and a visitor to their home named Kelly in September of 1843. After robbing the house, they burned it. It is not known if they killed Vore for his support of John Ross, were after his money and possessions, wanted to intimidate white visitors to Indian Territory, or make bad press for Ross and his party. The motivation could have been any or all ON JUNE 22, 1839, A GROUP OF UNKNOWN CHEROKEE ASSASSINATED NEWSPAPER PUBLISHER ELIAS BOUDINOT OUTSIDE HIS HOME.

saddlebag dispatches


of these. Even though they were pursued by General Zachary Taylor and U. S. troops from Fort Gibson, the criminals escaped to Arkansas. Arkansas law officers apprehended them, but somehow, they escaped. The Ross party always said the officers allowed them to escape because they supported attacks on John Ross and his supporters. Author William McLoughlin in After the Trail of Tears, related the story of Daniel Coodey, a nephew of John Ross. Coodey decided to take the law into his own hands when the Starrs stole some of his horses and mules, as well as some of his neighbors’ horses and mules from the Tahlequah area. After forming a posse, they caught up with the Starrs in the Choctaw Nation and captured Bean Starr, who admitted that his brothers had stolen the horses. Coodey wrote to his uncle, “Eight of the recovered horses and mules were taken there by the three Starrs and their friends George Fields, Robin Vann, and Ta-ka ha-ka.” Bean revealed that “but for his (Tom’s) threats and the commands of his father, he would have some time since surrendered himself for trial… He declared that his father, James Starr and brother, Tom, were wholly to blame for his acts… Much anxiety was manifested … that we should not leave him because… the other two would be certain to kill him since his father had directed them to do so if he should ever leave them….” On Saturday night, November 2, 1845, a party of men, reported to be Thomas Starr, Ellis Starr, Washington Starr, Suel or Ellis Rider, and Ellis West, attempted to kill R.J. Meigs, the son-in-law of John Ross, at his home in Park Hill. Meigs escaped through the back door, and the next morning the bodies of two dead Ross supporters were found less than a mile from the house. One week later, on November 9, 1845, James Starr was sitting on his front porch when a group of Cherokee approached his house. Thinking they were the Cherokee Lighthorse Police come to question him again, he wasn’t concerned. They opened fire and shot him down on his porch. As he was dying, he called out “Run!” to his son, Buck, who was nearby. BOUDINOUT’S BROTHER, STAND WATIE, WAS ANOTHER SIGNER OF THE TREATY OF NEW ECHOTA AND WAS ALSO TARGETTED FOR ASSASSINATION.


saddlebag dispatches

Being crippled, he couldn’t run fast, and he was shot and badly wounded. Fourteen-year-old Buck died six weeks later. The three, frightened, young sons present were protected by the women of the family who shielded them in their laps. Mary Starr, the sixteen-year-old daughter, attempted to escape on horseback to warn others, but the men kept her from riding away. If Mary had escaped, she could have probably warned Suel Rider who lived one and a quarter-miles away. Instead, one of the men soon led him into the yard where he was shot seven times. Still trying to escape, Suel was chased down and stabbed to death, reportedly by a Cherokee named Big Stand. According to family history, Suel’s mother, Mary Rider, had to bury him herself because all of her male relatives had fled to Arkansas in an attempt to save their lives. On that same day, Bluford Rider and Washington Starr, a son of James Starr, were wounded by the same group of men but escaped. Tom and the older sons didn’t attend their father’s funeral out of fear of being shot or arrested. But it was said Tom swore a vow on his father’s grave to kill every man who was connected to the murders of his father and brother. He was already wanted for killing David Buffington and the Vores, so he was accustomed to striking at his victims and going on the scout. For the next two years, Tom and his gang killed one man after another, escaping across the Arkansas border whenever the Cherokee Lighthorse got too close. The Cherokee lawmen had no jurisdiction in Arkansas, and the Treaty Party had friends there. One of the first ones they killed was Big Stand in revenge for Suel’s killing. One of Tom’s men lured


saddlebag dispatches

Stand from a party with the promise of whiskey. Once outside, he was shot and stabbed by the gang, the same way Suel was killed. Starr was not only big and scary. He was smart. The Cherokee Lighthorse and white lawmen were hot on his trail several times, but he always managed to get away. His enemies found some fresh horse tracks and tracked him to a place where he had been hiding, expecting a gun fight. When they got there, neither Tom nor his horse were there, but they could see no tracks leading away from the place. His pursuers went away empty-handed. Tom revealed his secret several years later. He had put shoes on his horse with the front of the shoe to the rear so that it would appear that the horse was traveling in the opposite direction. Another time he escaped a posse by jumping in the Canadian River and staying under long enough for the men to think he had drowned. After they rode off, he emerged from the water and went on his way. In 1846, there had been so many killings of members of both the Ross Party and the Treaty Party that President Polk got involved. He threatened the Cherokees with dividing the territory—with the Old Settlers, the Treaty Party, and the Ross Party all getting a section. The Old Settlers and Treaty Party were agreeable to his proposition, but John Ross asked for a new treaty. Not only did the delegates from each group negotiate a new treaty with each other and the United States, they consolidated party divisions and agreed upon general amnesty. Five thousand dollars was to be paid to the descendants of the assassinated Treaty Party leaders, Major Ridge, John Ridge, and Elias Boudinot, and $100,000 was to be given to the members of the Treaty Party and the Old Settlers to compensate them for their damages and losses. John Ross and the National Party were forced to accept the treaty of New Echota signed by the Treaty Party ten years earlier. The Old Settlers and the Treaty Party had to agree to accept Ross’s leadership. John Ross and Stand Watie, the new Treaty Party leader, shook hands. The treaty had declared amnesty for the Treaty Party and a full pardon for Tom Starr and his band.

Starr boldly demanded his share of the $100,000 designated for the Treaty Party and the Old Settlers, and this was grudgingly granted. He and his followers returned to the Cherokee Nation but didn’t stay there long. The old hatred and feuds still remained, and the killings had resumed. Tom Starr continued his vendetta, traveling sometimes as much as a hundred miles to kill one of the men he had sworn to kill. In his later years, he stated, “There was thirty-two men that killed my pa. I got all of them except for a few that died in their beds before I could get around to them.” Starr supported the Confederacy during the Civil War and joined the First Mounted Volunteers. During the war, he served as a scout for General Stand Watie and met William Clark Quantrill and his guerillas, becoming friends with the Youngers. He eventually moved to the Canadian District, west of the Arkansas River, where he settled down and raised a big family. His place became a favorite hide-out of the Younger gang, so much so that part of it became known as “Younger Bend.” Tom had many friends, and his home was described as a place of hospitality. Cherokee Ellis West told an interviewer for the Indian Pioneer Papers, “When he was accorded treatment as man to man, he always proved to be a man among men.” An elder of the Starr family once said when asked about Tom, “We have no outlaws in our family, only fugitives.” It was said that all of Tom’s children were respectable, except for one. Sam Starr got tangled-up with a widow woman from Missouri named Myra Maybelle Shirley Reed. She would later become known as Belle Starr. The October 16, 1890, edition of the Guthrie Democrat featured the article, “Tom Starr, a Notorious Cherokee Outlaw Dies.” “He was once a terror to the Cherokee Nation but has been at peace with the world for over 20 years. He was perhaps the only man known in the world’s history to make a solemn treaty of peace and amity with the Cherokee Nation….” —Regina McLemore is a retired educator of Cherokee heritage. Her great, great grandmother, Susie Christie Clay,



HE INDIAN APPEARED IN the middle of the trail. At this distance, Jedediah couldn’t be sure, but to him, he looked to be no more than seven or eight summers old. He sat slouched on a pretty paint pony just watching Jed. Mountain man instincts sent out their alarms, and Jed drew up staring back at him. Cheyenne kid for sure, he thought, noticing the beadwork patterns by habit. Jed raised his hand palm outward in the sign of peace. The kid made no move but continued to stare. Jed nudged Hoss into a walk. The kid whirled his pony and rode off up the ridge, where he disappeared in the woods and snow. Jed fingered the beading on his buckskin rifle cover thoughtfully. Now, why would that kid show himself like that and then young wouldn’t be allowed to stray far from camp. That means there’s more Cheyenne close by. Jed pulled the buckskin cover back enough to get his gloved finger on the trigger. By the time Jed reached the part of the trail where he saw the kid, snow already covered the tracks. He looked hard up the ridge where the kid went but saw

nothing. He knew this country too well to try following an Indian in this weather. “I reckon the others will know we’re here now, old hoss. We better keep an eye out and look for a place to fort up if they come for us.” He moved on down the trail. Jed’s keen eyesight set his instincts to quivering like a rattlesnake’s tail when he saw movement in a clump of aspen up ahead. He pretended not to notice but wished hard for a cluster of dead-fall or a pile of rocks to crawl into. He didn’t like moving out in the open like this with hostiles about. Whoever it was had already seen him. No point in doing anything about it now. He held Hoss to a slow walk. If my time is up, it sure is a pretty day to die. A paint pony walked out of the aspen with a kid on its back. near to death to be that far ahead of me. Jed held Hoss to a walk, searching all the while for a place to make a stand. When he glanced back, he saw the paint pony’s rump disappearing up the ridge. Like sunlight breaking through clouds, it dawned on him. “Damn,” he said as he jerked his horse off the trail


saddlebag dispatches

and stopped behind some cedars. He studied his backtrail. Nothing moved, only the falling snow with an occasional soft thump as a clump of snow fell from a branch. That kid must be meant as a distraction. There ain’t no other explanation. Jed waited a full ten minutes while he watched his back-trail for any kind of movement that would mean someone was stalking him. Nothing. He turned his horse and rode back to the trail. The kid appeared again, just sitting his pony at the edge of the aspens like he’d never moved in the first place. Jed turned Hoss toward him and kicked him into a trot. When he got almost close enough to see the kid’s face, the kid kicked his pony and disappeared over the ridge. “Wal, I’ve had ’bout enough of this,” said Jed. He turned Hoss up the ridge to follow at a sedate walk. Hoss moved slowly, but Jed’s eyes flicked from left to right and back again looking for any sign of an ambush. A greasy queasiness settled in his stomach, and his scalp tingled like all the vermin in his hair suddenly scampered for cover. If this kid is bait, I need to spot the ambush before I ride into it. “Easy now, Hoss,” he said. “Slow and easy.” Jed couldn’t make out the kid’s trail in the falling powder. He walked Hoss up the slope, keeping off to one side of a game trail, and in as much cover as he could find. The trail led as straight as the terrain would allow, up and over the ridge. Jed stopped Hoss just before they crested the ridge so that only the top of his head and his eyes would show to anyone waiting on the other side. He searched the woods as far as he could see but found nothing remotely suspicious. Using every inch of cover, he scurried across the ridge. When he got far enough down the other side so he wouldn’t appear sky-lined to anyone watching from below, he stopped Hoss again for a thorough look around. He watched as a skunk meandered across a small clearing ahead of him. A jay called out for a mate. Everything seemed normal, but Jed was still uneasy. “Wal, if they’re down thar, I damned sure don’t see ’em.” Jed slipped the beaded buckskin sheath completely off his rifle and tucked it away. He checked to make sure he had a load in the chamber and powder in the pan.

“Alright, Hoss, here we go.” He followed the faint trail down the ridge. His eyes constantly swept the landscape and watched Hoss’s ears. If any danger lurked down there, Hoss would spot it first. Not a twitch. By the time he got down off the ridge, the trail disappeared completely. He stopped again before advancing out of the timber. have gone either direction. He felt a faint tingling in his nose, then nothing. Slowly, he turned his head back to the right. There. It was just the faintest whiff of smoke. He walked Hoss out of the timber and turned right searching for the source of the smoke smell. His path took him on a reverse course but one ridgeline over. The snowfall became light and scattered. As the smoke smell grew stronger, Jed grew more cautious. Smoke could only mean man, and out here, man meant enemy. The snow swirled in a gust of icy wind, and he saw it. Just a glimpse, but he saw a torndown lodge with a snow-covered mass in front of it. Cautiously, he pushed on. In minutes, he entered the devastated camp as a hint of sunlight began peeking through the overcast. It appeared to be a single lodge. The mass in front was obviously a body barely covered with snow. Three arrows stood up out of the snow like survey stakes. Jed slid off Hoss and dropped the reins. He eased back the hammer on his rifle and went to the body. He looked closely at the arrows. Absaroka. Crow. Traditional ene-

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mies of the Cheyenne, he thought. Jed hesitated, before turning the body over, knowing what he would find. He looked carefully around, but he saw no sign that the attacking party remained anywhere near. He saw no other living thing in the camp except himself and Hoss. He rolled the body over. Cheyenne, alright. Blood and bone shone brightly in the morning sunlight where the scalp was ripped away. The throat was slit from ear-to-ear. There was a reason the Cheyenne called the Crows the Cut-Throat People. There was another body with a light coating of snow near the lodge and two more a little further away. Jed went to the near one. He saw before he rolled her over that it was a woman. She was not scalped. The body and the tracks told the story. She started to run away and saw that it would be useless. Rather than be taken alive and raped repeatedly by the hated Crows, she slashed her own throat. She clutched a bloody knife tight in her frozen fist. She fell still wrapped in a buffalo robe.

Put off by what they saw as a cowardly act, the Crows left her where she fell, unmolested. The scalp of a coward held no power. Jed rolled her over face up. She was a beautiful woman, even in death. Her arm still clutched a bundle of furs she tried to save. The furs moved. There’s something in there. Gently, Jed pried her freezing fingers from the fur bundle. Inside was a baby girl. The sight of her closed eyes and blue lips alarmed Jed. He lifted her up and put his ear to her chest, hearing a very faint and slow heartbeat. She’s alive! Aw, hell. How am I gonna her warm again, poor thing. She’s ’bout froze to death. Jed held the baby close to him while he built a hat size fire from some mostly dry sticks and bark he found under a dead-fall and a couple of embers that still smoldered from the lodge fire. That’s where the woman was running to. She was gonna try to hide in that dead-fall. When he got his fire going, Jed scooped some snow into his coffee pot and more into his cook pot

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to melt and put them on the fire. He took his bedroll off Hoss and spread it out on the snow. He flipped the blanket back and laid the baby on the groundsheet near the fire, then checked her breathing. He couldn’t detect any, so he gently blew into her mouth, then pushed on her chest with his palm. He repeated this process three times, hoping that it was the right thing to do. The baby opened her eyes and mewled weakly. Jed scooped up a handful of snow and briskly massaged the baby’s arms and legs with it, getting fresh snow as needed. Having done enough to restore circulation and ward off frostbite, he rolled the baby in his blanket, dropped the corner flap over her face, and laid her on his ground sheet close to the fire. He took his knife and hacked some branches, then wove them into a rough lean-to over the ground sheet. He cut a piece of hide from the toppled lodge and built a reflector to throw back the heat from the fire into the lean-to. Finally, satisfied that there was no more he could do for the little girl-child, he added a couple of sticks to his fire and checked the last two mounds under the snow. The smaller one was a boy about the size of the one he’d seen on the trail. Two arrows protruded from his chest and another from his thigh. He held a small bow. Jed brushed the snow off his face. It was bloody and misshapen where he, too, was scalped and mutilated. It nearly turned Jed’s stomach. He moved to the larger mound under the snow and started brushing the snow away. It was a horse. No less than a half-dozen arrows stuck in it. It lay belly down, with its forelegs folded under. He continued to brush the snow off until he was sure. Out here, if a man saw a horse just once, he would recognize it anywhere. Yep. There it was—the splotchy paint coloring. it later. He drew his belt knife and cut into the pony’s haunch. He peeled back the frozen hide and cut a fistsized chunk of lean red meat free. With only a few quick motions, he gutted the pony and removed the still-warm liver. After biting off a chunk, Jed took the meat back and dropped it in the snow near his campfire. He went to his horse and dug around in the saddlebags, then returned to the fire. Jed moved the baby

as close to the fire as he dared, feeling its warmth on his face. He scrubbed the blood off his hands and arms with fresh snow. When his water began boiling, he took the coffee pot off the fire and added some coffee, then put it back, adding a few sticks to the fire. When it boiled again, he poured himself a cup, then pulled out his belt knife again and carved thin slices of horse meat and liver into the cooking pot. “This’ll prob’ly taste awful, but it’ll give you strength,” he said to the baby. “Help warm you up, too.” After boiling the mixture again he pulled it aside to cool. He pulled out one of his knit gloves from the pocket of his coat, dipped it in the pot, and held it dripping until it cooled to his satisfaction. He held the still dripping glove over the baby’s face. The baby eagerly sucked on one of the fingers. Wal, that solved that problem. He continued to feed the baby. When she had her fill, and refused more, he scrubbed the glove with snow and hung it near the fire to dry. Jed gathered a supply of firewood, then cut a large hide loose from the lodge and draped it over his little lean-to shelter. Having secured a water-tight shelter, he scooped most of the snow out from inside and covered the ground with fresh-cut pine boughs to keep it nice and dry. As he worked, his thoughts kept going back to the boy on the pony. He must have wanted to save his sister purty bad. Jed stood up and looked at the two distant mounds. Taking his ax, he walked off to a small cluster of young pines. He found four that he liked and set about clearing other trees and brush from between them and tossing it aside. He trimmed the lower branches off about a foot from the tree trunks and cut the other branches off close. When he finished, he dragged another hide from the lodge over to the trees and tied it between them as high as he could comfortably reach by standing on the lower branches. Then he trimmed a couple dozen small branches of fall foliage and cut them in four-foot lengths. These he laid along the suspended hide like a corduroy road. Finally, he gently placed the boy on another hide, rolled it around him, and tied it in place. This bundle he carried over and placed on the platform. He climbed down, and removing his hat, said a few words. “Father, I reckon yo’re kin to his Great Spirit. He



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was a brave boy what hadn’t ought to a died like this. He’s yours now. Take care of him.” He placed his hat back on his head, went back to the campfire, and poured another cup of coffee. When he looked up, three Cheyenne warriors stood at the edge of the clearing watching him. They wore paint, and all held spears or war clubs. Jed decided that the best course of action would be to let them make the first move. He could probably take out one, maybe two of them, but if they wanted him, he was a dead man. He reached carefully out in front of him and picked up his cup. Keeping an eye on the warriors, he squatted on his heels and drank his coffee. The warriors stood watching without showing any expression at all. One of the warriors stepped forward and spoke in what he knew to be Cheyenne. Jed didn’t understand a word of it. When it became obvious that Jed didn’t understand, the warrior turned and called out. A younger warrior came forward and joined him. The two came closer, and the leader spoke again.

The younger warrior translated for him. “Who are you?” “Jedediah Marcum.” “What you do in this land?” “I’m a trapper.” The warrior looked at Hoss with Jed’s traps tied behind the saddle. He nodded. “Je Die Uh—not like this name. I will call you Man Who Traps Fur. Me, Two Bull.” The young warrior translated. “You have coffee?” Jed reached slowly into his pack and pulled out his spare cup. He handed it to Two Bull and nodded at the coffee pot. Two Bull filled the cup and took a drink, then picked up the pot Jed used to dip the glove in. He looked, then smelled it. Two Bull wrinkled his nose at the mixture. Jed watched to see what he would do next. “No beaver here. Why you come?” Jed felt suddenly very uncomfortable. “The dead boy. He came to me.”

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“You lie. He no leave camp.” This was getting dangerous real fast, but Jed pushed on.“He came to me on that paint pony. I followed them here.” “He no ride pony of his mother.” “He did today, over that ridge there. You can check my tracks,” he pointed. “The boy and that paint pony showed themselves three times and headed back this way, so I followed him. He must have known that his sister couldn’t survive for long.” Two Bull stared hard, searching Jed’s face. Jed stared right back at him. “Where him sister now?” Jed slowly reached down and pulled back the edge of his blanket. The little girl looked at them and cooed. Two Bull called out again. A blanket-wrapped figure stepped from the edge of the woods and walked toward them. The figure approached, and Jed could see that, although she dressed as a warrior and wore paint, she was definitely a woman. He remembered another old mountain man telling him one time that, among the Cheyenne, women could choose to lead a warrior’s life. She held out her arms for the child. Jed picked the baby up, letting his blanket drop to the ground, and gently handed it to her. She clutched the baby to her breast, pulled her blanket around them both, and stalked back into the woods. “What was the boy’s name? He was very brave.” “We do not speak the names of the dead—but, we will honor him.” “Boy or ghost, I couldn’t say, but he rode like the wind to find help for his sister.” Two Bull nodded. “Go,” he signed. “This Cheyenne land. You go.” Then he stepped forward and placed his hand on Jed’s shoulder. He made the sign for friend. With the economy of movement learned from years in this harsh land, Jed gathered his belongings, tied his bedroll behind his saddle, and turned Hoss north toward the Tetons. Beaver were plentiful around Jackson Hole. It would be as good a place as any for a winter camp.


Dennis Doty


ennis Doty, a Southern California native,

stories spring from a vivid imagination, but most have a basis in his many life experiences, including growing up in a small town, the decade he served in the Marine Corps, and a multitude of 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 Saddlebag Dispatches, Dennis so impressed Publisher Dusty Richards that The Ranch Boss invited him to join serves as Publisher of the magazine itself and as 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



ONG TOOTH’S PISTOL LAY cocked on the hard dirt floor that smelled of tobacco spit and old bacon grease, but I couldn’t reach it. I blinked the dust from my eyes to see my death in his. A wicked grin crept across his jagged face as a small trickle of blood ran down his chin where the long tooth used to be. He struck at the revolver quicker than a rattler. Our hands reached the gun at the same time. Long Tooth Tom got his name for the wolf-like eye tooth that dropped down an extra half inch. If he glared at you, it’d hang over his right lip like a lawman’s hog leg pistol. I never liked Long Tooth, but I never had to. I avoided running into him as did everyone who walked the town’s lone street. He pushed aside old men, cat-called pretty women, and scared all the children. There was only one way a person could go if Long Tooth Tom walked out on the street—the other direction. Long Tooth owned nothing but controlled everything. He even changed the name of the town from Sweet Valley to Long Tooth after he shot the sheriff in the back. He declared the town “law free” except for

his law. He didn’t know it, but I witnessed the murder. There was no mistaking the early light of the moon flickering on his tooth that night. Long Tooth knew someone had seen him when I knocked a box over, bolting from my hiding place like a scared rabbit. If he’d known it was me then, I’d be dead now. Everyone in town knew he killed the sheriff but were too afraid to speak up. The next day, Long Tooth tacked a fifty dollar reward sign on a post outside Griffin’s Mercantile. “I want that murderin’ scoundrel found!” Long Tooth watched from a dark alley trying to figure out who had witnessed the murder. Few stopped to read the reward poster. No one showed up for the fifty dollars. When my pa died, Mr. Griffin gave me a job in his store stocking shelves, delivering groceries, and sweeping up. The four bits I made each day helped Ma make it week to week. Her sewing money only carried us so far. Working across the muddy street from the fanciest saloon in town, I witnessed the kind of law Long Tooth offered. It mostly depended on which side of


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the bed he woke up that morning, which usually was the wrong side. Once, a drifter in the fancy saloon across the street joked that Long Tooth was getting a “little long in the tooth.” Gray was starting to show a little in his beard, but Long Tooth still had the strength of a bear. In the

the undertaker. Long Tooth displayed the drifter’s teeth on a gold chain he’d taken from my mother not long after my pa died. To this day she never told me how he got it or why, but I suspected the worst. I couldn’t stop thinking about how he’d wronged my mother. I’m

knife fight that erupted, the drifter felt the full weight of his fatal jest. While Long Tooth held a knife to the drifter’s throat, he sank his long tooth into the man’s jugular vein. As the drifter grabbed his throat to stop the bleeding, Long Tooth spit and laughed as the man died on the floor. “Call me old, will you?” Long Tooth stepped over the drifter’s corpse on his way out of the door, but not before he took out the drifter’s eye-teeth with his knife. No one did a thing except take the body to

sure Long Tooth couldn’t stop thinking about the person who saw him murder the sheriff. I never told Ma it was me. The older I got, the more Long Tooth tried to befriend me. He’d pitch me a nickel or offer to take me fishing. I wouldn’t have any of it. I put more distance between us with each passing year. I suspected he might know that I was the witness he’d been looking for all this time. He was patient as a snake, waiting for the opportune time to strike his prey. Mr. Griffin mysteriously broke his arm the morn-

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ing I turned twenty-one. Mrs. Griffin asked me to come upstairs to their small apartment after I closed the store that afternoon. When I entered the upstairs bedroom, he asked Mrs. Griffin to get us some coffee. “Happy birthday!” With his good arm, he handed me a sack tied with a ribbon on it. “I know what happened, son.” I nodded at his arm in a sling. “So do I!” “I figured as much. I told Long Tooth I wasn’t paying protection money anymore. He broke my arm and took money out of the register, anyway.” I reached into the bag, and my jaw dropped. It was the 1851 Navy Colt I’d been eyeing in the store. He knew I wanted it. He even let me fire it out back when I could afford a few bullets. At twenty feet, I could hit all the tin cans lined up on the fence. Mrs. Griffin hummed up the steps to the bedroom with our coffee. Mr. Griffin shook his head. I stuffed the pistol into my pants and buttoned my jacket. As Mrs. Griffin poured the coffee, I could see the back alley saloon Long Tooth frequented. Cold chills snaked up and down my spine. Mrs. Griffin handed me a cup. “Sugar?” “Please.” Mrs. Griffin offered me a spoon. “Would you run the store for us until Mr. Griffin gets back on his feet?” I didn’t have to think about it. “Yes, ma’am. I’d be proud to help out.” “Tell your mother to bring her sewing and work in the stock room if she’s a mind to.” “That’d be just fine, Mrs. Griffin.” I drained my cup and took the pistol home. I carefully laid it under a floorboard underneath my bed. I got to the mercantile early the next morning excited to be in charge. Ma brought along her sewing for the day. I opened the door for business just as the blood red sun crept over the fancy saloon across the street. I stepped behind the counter when, of all people, Long Tooth stomped in as my first customer. I jumped, and he saw it. “Dang, boy, you look like you jest been struck by a rattler!” He looked around the store, and then his eyes shot straight at me. “Got it made now, don’t you, boy? Or should I call you a man, turnin’ twenty-one and all?” I stared into his eyes wondering how he knew.

“Nothin’ gets past me, boy. I know Ole Grif’s made you chief store clerk. Who else would do it?” “What can I get you, Tom?” He didn’t like anyone calling him that. He preferred Long Tooth but said nothing about it as customers wandered in. “Gimme a plug of tobaccy, a box of .44 bullets, and I’ll take one of them licorice sticks.” He fished a piece out of a jar on the counter and gnawed it with his long tooth. “No need to charge me for this.” I put the bullets and tobacco on the counter. He stretched his neck to look into the stock room where Ma altered a dress. “How’s yer pretty momma doin’?” I pushed the items toward him with no reply. Long Tooth snatched up the bullets and tobacco. “You can put this on my bill, boy.” My face must’ve turned red as the blood in my veins. “No, sir, I can’t do it. Mr. Griffin is down, but you already know how that happened. He needs his money.” “You sassin’ me, boy?” “Ain’t about sassin’, Tom. It’s about you never payin’ up. I’ve seen the books. You ain’t paid in months!” Other customers drifted our way to catch how this exchange would end. They weren’t used to anyone standing up to Long Tooth. He looked left over his shoulder, then right. I was shocked when one man slid a hickory axe handle out of a barrel to study it as he eyed Long Tooth. I gained a little courage when another pulled his jacket back to scratch his ribs, revealing a derringer in his vest pocket. He didn’t move, and neither did I. I wasn’t going to avoid Long Tooth Tom. Not this day. “There now, no need to get upset!” Ma rushed from the back room but stopped short when Long Tooth winked at her, fingering the chain around his neck. “Good seein’ you, ma’am.” Long Tooth tipped his hat and scratched his lip with his long tooth. Ma wilted like a rose in the desert heat. She’d always been strong, even when Pa died. But something happened not long after his death—something that made Ma afraid and ashamed. She held that secret close to her chest. I stepped from behind the counter between Long Tooth and Ma, planting my feet as any good man would when faced with a challenge like this. Long



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Tooth raised his hand like he was going to hit me. I stepped forward though my knees wobbled. He could easily slap me across the room, but I didn’t back down. The surprised look on his face gave me courage. “I’ll get you, boy, when yer momma ain’t lookin’!” I shuddered, but I was in too far to stop now. “I already got you, Tom! You’re just too dang dumb to know it!” Long Tooth had never lost a word fight. He slunk out of the mercantile like a wounded bear, more dangerous now than ever. As he pulled the door shut, he winked. “Now, I know it for sure, boy.” He’d planned all along to smoke me out. Ma grabbed my arm. “Know what?” I didn’t answer. There was no mistaking now that Long Tooth Tom knew I’d seen him murder the sheriff. He would come for me soon. When Long Tooth left, I felt weak in the knees. Ma sat down hard before she fell down. Lady customers consoled Ma while the men patted me on the back. Ma wiped her sweaty forehead. “It’s what your daddy would’ve done, son.” I appreciated the words but knew I was alone in this fight... just like the sheriff years ago. “Ma, watch the store, I’ll be right back.” I sneaked out as Long Tooth stepped toward the ratty back alley bar where he drank and caroused. I knew he’d go there to lick his wounds and gather courage from a whiskey bottle to plan my murder. I hurried to our small house and pulled up the floorboard that hid my new pistol. I stuck the loaded gun in my belt behind my back under my jacket and returned to the store. The town lay quiet except for a mule braying down at the livery stable. Funny thing, it sounded a lot like Long Tooth’s voice. The sun set red as the blood ran cold in my veins. Ma sat worrying in the stock room, fumbling her needle and thimble, unable to concentrate on her sewing. I couldn’t concentrate on closing up the store for the picture in my head—Tom’s face with that long tooth. —

I FELT FOR THE pistol in my belt. Pa once told me when our chickens started disappearing one by one, “You can’t know when a fox will steal another chicken, but you can know where his den is.” The wisdom of my daddy’s proverb became clear—don’t wait for a fox to come after another bird. A single coal oil lamp lit two rough oak boards laid across two wooden barrels the saloon proprietor used as a bar counter. My eyes darted about the room over the batwing doors—dang, no Long Tooth. The owner polished a beer mug, “Who you lookin’ for, son?” He stopped polishing when I stepped into the dim light. “Oh. He’s in the outhouse. I wish he’d stay out there. He ain’t payin’ for his whiskey, and his bill is gettin’ longer than that ugly tooth of his.” Long Tooth kicked the backdoor open, buckling his gun belt. “Say what, Joe? You makin’ fun of my… well, what do we have here?” Long Tooth looked me up and down like he was about to skin a hog. “You’re a brave boy, ain’t you?” “I don’t have to be brave to face the coward who shot a good man in the back.” “It was you all along. I saw that in your eyes today.” He squinted. “You have the look of your father!” The barkeep fell to the floor as Long Tooth pulled his pistol. I ducked down behind a table, but I was too slow. Long Tooth fired, knocking the pistol from my hand but not before I pulled the trigger. The bullet ricocheted off a spittoon and struck Long Tooth in the mouth. He screamed, and we both fell to the floor with Long Tooth’s revolver between us. That pistol looked familiar. Blood dripped down his scraggly bearded chin. With his eyes glued on me, he spit out the long tooth that had made him famous. “Knew you’d come.” Long Tooth eyed the pistol and grinned. I wanted to scream when I glanced at the gun again. “Yeah, boy, I’m gonna kill you with your daddy’s gun.” I wanted to cry, and I wanted to kill him. I couldn’t do both. Long Tooth tried to fool me like a snake charming a frog as his hand crept toward the weapon. My

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hand shot at the pistol like a frog fleeing a snake. We reached it at the same time. His fingers slapped the end of the barrel around just enough for me to grab the pistol grip and pull the trigger. Blinding smoke filled the room. I didn’t move. As the smoke cleared, a hoarse voice cried out. “My tooth’s gone and you got me in the liver, boy. Oh, it hurts! Finish me!” I locked eyes with Long Tooth, pursed my lips, and slowly shook my head. “You made this town too miserable for too long, Tom. Now you’re just an old toothless hound that’s lost his bite.” Long Tooth reached for my daddy’s pistol one last time. I held it steady as I watched the light drift from his eyes. “Guess you ain’t so long in the tooth after all, Tom.” As the town gathered outside, I took my mother’s gold chain from Long Tooth’s neck and removed the drifter’s teeth. I put Tom’s long tooth in my pocket and left him dead on the floor. The next morning I put the Navy Colt back in the case in Mr. Griffin’s store. I didn’t need it anymore. Now, I carry my daddy’s pistol on my hip and his silver star on my chest.


Anthony Wood


nthony Wood, a native of Mississippi and a new writer on the scene, resides with his wife, Lisa, in North Little Rock, Arkansas. He ministered many years in inner city neighborhoods among the poor and homeless, inspiring him to coauthor Up Close and Personal: Embracing the Poor about his work in Memphis, Tennessee. Anthony is a member of White County Creative Writers, Gin Creek Poets, Turner’s Battery, a Civil War re-enactment company, and Civil War Roundtable of Arkansas. When not writing, he enjoys roaming historical sites, camping, kayaking, and being with family. A Tale of Two Colors, about life during the Civil War, is scheduled to be released Spring, 2021, followed by four additional novels. Two prequels are also in the works. short story to appear in Saddlebag Dispatches.

Memorial Award at the Arkansas Writers’ Conference.


g n i r e p s hi


poetry by

t s e W


SA D D LEBAG poetry

Your bed shakes softly just before the morning. You clutch the barren sheets, frozen and thin. Nightjars brush past the panes with mottled wings, while kisses like wet towels slide down your skin. A distant dog cries every moonless night, jerking you bolt awake from tortured dreams. No one knows where that dog hides in the daylight or why his howls sound like a lover’s screams. You listen close for echos in the canyon at dusk, when pale light lingers in the trees. Those cypresses the wrens have all abandoned— there where we’d make our careful plans, and dream. And then, a shimmering makes you turn and stare, but it’s just pale moon glow on my chair.


ER NAME WAS MARTA Victoria Monya Peggo Burges. She was born on February 23rd, 1931, in Rosario, Santa Fe, Argentina. Her father was Antonio Monya. He was a publisher. When she was five years old, he moved the family to Montevideo, Uruguay, after he ran afoul of the ruling elite. He had gotten on the wrong side of a political squabble. Both of her parents died of carbon monoxide poisoning, when she was thirteen, in what might have been a suicide pact. In 1950, she married Tito Gomez, but the marriage was annulled after five days. Thoughts of joining a convent and becoming a nun entered her head. Then in 1951, while vacationing in Mexico, she was discovered by Miguel Alemon Velasco and signed to a long-term contract. Marta adopted the name Linda Cristal and became one of Mexico’s rising stars. Her first two roles were uncredited in 1952’s Cuando Levanta La Niebla and 1953’s Forbidden Fruit. She made a string of westerns in Mexico, With the Devil in the Body in 1954, El 7 Leguas in 1955, La Venganza del Diablo 1955, Enemigos 1956 and El

Diablo Desaparece in 1957. Early in her career she set her sights on Hollywood and added English as her fourth language. She was fluent in Spanish, French, and Italian. Her first American film was in Comanche with Dana Andrews, Kent Smith and Mike Mazruki. Peace talks between the Comanche and the US Government are sabotaged by renegade Indians and a corrupt Indian commissioner. She had a small role in the movie as Margarita, and there were reports she wasn’t paid for her work. Her next Hollywood film was The Last of the Fast Guns in 1958. The film starred Jock Mahoney, Gilbert Roland, and Lorne Green. Gunman Brad Ellison traveled to Mexico in search of a missing man and learned that life is not simple, and everyone has a secret. Linda played Maria O’Reilly in the film. She played Ellen Hardy in the horror western, The Fiend Who Walked the West, also released in 1958. The movie starred Hugh O’Brian, Robert Evans, and Ron Ely. It was a remake of the 1947 movie A convicted bank robber serving his sentence and hoping to return to his family becomes involved with a deranged and homicidal inmate. 1958

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was a busy year for Linda elsewhere, too. She married Robert W. Champion on April 24th. They divorced on December 9th, 1959. She won a Golden globe in 1959 for Most Promising Female Newcomer for her role in the film The Perfect Furlough. John Wayne talked her into taking the role of Flaca in the 1960 movie The Alamo. The movie starred Wayne, Richard Widmark, Laurence Harvey, Frankie Avalon, Patrick Wayne, Chill Wills, and Ken Curtis. This was the grand movie the Duke wanted to make. An epic retelling of Davey Crockett and the men who died in The Alamo. On December 20th, 1960, she married Yale Wexler. They had two children—Gregory, born January 2nd, 1962, and Jordon, born December 13th, 1963. They divorced in 1966. In 1961, she played Elena de la Madriaga in the movie Two Rode Together, directed by John Ford. The US Army pressured a corrupt marshal into negotiating with the leaders of the Comanche Nation for the release of white captives. The Marshal later found that the reintroduction of former captives into society has consequences. The movie starred Jimmy Stewart, Richard Widmark, Shirley Jones, Andy Devine, John McIntire, and Ken Curtis. This would be her last western movie. Linda also made several appearances in a variety of television shows. In 1959 she appeared as Louise in the



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Rawhide episode “Incident of a Burst of Evil.” A crazed man came into camp for help. Rowdy investigated and found three hungry women and a boy. In 1967, she appeared with Dale Robertson in Iron Horse in the episode “The Passenger.” Calhoun was under orders from President Grant to transport Pierre Le Druc, an associate of deposed puppet Emperor Maximilan, to a secret meeting with his French countrymen. Linda played Angela Tecan, a passenger on the train who was more than she appeared. The role of Victoria Cannon, the wife of big John Cannon, on The High Chaparral would define her as

an actress. She played the role from 1967 to 1971. She was the second wife of John Cannon, a man carving out a cattle empire in Arizona. The series starred Leif Erickson, Cameron Mitchell, Henry Darrow, and Mark Slade. Linda won a golden globe in 1970 for Best TV Actress and was Nominated in 1971. She was nominated for an Emmy for Best Actress on TV in ’68 and ’71. The cast won a Bambi Award in 1970. AfterThe High Chaparral was cancelled, Linda appeared in Cades County in 1971. She played Celsa Dobbs in the episode “A Gun for Billy.” A convict on parole, suffering from mental illusions, took on the identity of Billy the Kid and was committing crimes based on the Kid’s history. This modern-day western starred Glenn Ford and Edgar Buchanan. Her last appearance in a western TV show was as Teresa in the 1971 episode of Bonanza titled “Warbonnet.” Little Joe found himself in the middle of a dispute between an aging Indian and the man that stole his warbonnet years before and was using it as a decoration in his saloon. Linda’s last big screen movie was in the 1974 film Mr. Majestyk. She played Nancy Chavez opposite Charles Bronson. A melon farmer battled organized crime and a hitman who wanted to kill him to keep him from getting his watermelons to market. Her last appearance of a western nature was in 1979 when she appeared as herself in the TV special When the West was Fun: A Western Reunion. She and Jeanette Nolan were the only women in the show. Nolan had the short-lived western series Dirty Sally. The special was hosted by Glenn Ford and featured appearances by over fifty TV stars who worked in western shows. Linda continued to work sporadically in television until she retired in 1985. She died in her Beverly Hills home on June 27th, 2020. Linda was eighty-nine years old. She was a great actress and a grand lady. She will be missed by all the fans of The High Chaparral. —Terry Alexander 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.

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HINGS HAD BEEN GOING well for Indian Agent Wiley Thompson since he’d been assigned to Florida. His mission was to get all the Seminole bands of Florida to agree to President Andrew Jackson’s plan to transport them to Indian Territory. If he could persuade Principal Chief Micanopy to go along, the chiefs of the smaller bands would follow suit, and Micanopy was an aging, pliable leader. Agent Thompson called a meeting of influential members of the tribe, to show them the major details for their removal. He spread an official looking document on a table for everyone to see even though none of the Seminole could read. Success seemed to be within the agent’s reach unless something totally unexpected happened. Naturally, it did. A charismatic young warrior pushed his way to the front of the crowd, drew a knife, and plunged the blade into the agent’s table, some say through the document. He declared, “The only treaty I will ever execute will be with this.” The rebellious young man’s name was Osceola. Everyone would remember it after the spectacle in Wiley Thompson’s office. Osceola had no official standing within the tribe. He’d been born into a faction of the Muscogee Creek Nation that had rebelled against white rule and were defeated by Andrew Jackson in the Red Stick War. But his friendship with Micanopy had grown strong over the years, and lately he’d become a close advisor.

Many Red Sticks had been assimilated into the Seminole tribe. They spoke the same language, had similar customs, and shared a strong moral opposition to enslavement of free people. Even though Osceola had no hereditary claim on leadership, the faction of the tribe that didn’t want to leave Florida would listen to him. Relocation plans for the Seminole were put on hold. — PRESIDENT ANDREW JACKSON HADN’T expected much resistance from the Seminole when he signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830 into law. As a general, he had crushed their fighting forces when their British allies pulled out of Florida after the War of 1812. U.S. troops had forced the natives into the swampiest part of Florida where they could hardly survive without government rations. White settlers had already seized all the Seminole’s productive land and had designs on their Everglades reservation. Jackson would have left the native population alone if they hadn’t opened their villages to runaway slaves. Plantation owners demanded the elimination of the tribe as a refuge for their enslaved workforce. And since the successful Haitian slave revolt of 1804, the thought of hundreds of armed, free blacks living among the Indians made white slave owners understandably nervous. The Indian Removal Act promised to transport

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all the Seminole, including black Seminole tribal members—not including verifiable runaways—to Indian Territory. It didn’t sound like a bad arrangement. The U.S. government arranged for tribal representatives to visit the promised homeland to see for themselves it was better than the Florida swamps. The trip did little to put the tribe’s mind at ease. Seven Chiefs and two black Seminole interpreters were taken under guard to Ft. Gibson in Indian Territory where the treaties were read to the tribe’s illiterate interpreters who then translated what they had been told to the chiefs. They were held for a month at Fort Gibson until they signed a treaty that not only committed them to removal of their tribe but agreed to merge the Seminole and Creek tribes. Black Seminole were terrified of this arrangement since many of the Creek already in the territory owned slaves and functioned as slave catchers for white planters in southern Alabama and Northern Florida. There was every chance the Creek would assert ownership of the black tribe members if given the opportunity. The Seminole might still have gone along with the removal if Osceola hadn’t shown them resistance was possible.

Osceola stalked Wiley Thompson. He interrupted the agent’s meetings. He insulted and even threatened him until Thompson ordered the warrior’s arrest. The Seminole firebrand put up no resistance when soldiers came for him. He went peacefully to jail and remained there only six days before he underwent a contrite transformation. Osceola apologized to Thompson. He meekly offered to emigrate to Indian Territory and volunteered to convince Seminole to do so, as well. White men making false promises to natives was a well-known strategy by that time, but Thompson had total confidence in Osceola’s sincerity. As a show of good faith, the Indian Agent gave the warrior an extremely fine rifle and told him to be at Tampa Bay on January 8, 1836, with as many volunteers as he could muster. Needless to say, Osceola didn’t keep his bargain.

— THE TRIBE BEGAN BUYING ammunition in alarming quantities. Selling bullets, gunpowder, or even lead to blacks was already prohibited, but Wiley Thompson proposed expanding that rule to include native tribesmen. Osceola made an uninvited appearance at an 1835 conference between Thompson, Seminole Chiefs, and black interpreters. The charismatic warrior announced in his typical larger than life fashion, “Am I a Negro? A slave? My skin is dark but not black. I will make the white man red with blood; and then blacken him in the sun and rain, where the wolf shall smell his bones and buzzards liven upon his flesh.” His colorful threat ended the conference on what Agent Thompson must have considered a very sour note. Eight chiefs and eight subchiefs agreed to go to Indian Territory, but the rest—including Principal Chief Micanopy—flatly refused.




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He used his new rifle to threaten Seminole who were selling off their livestock in preparation for leaving and even executed Charley Emathla, leader of the emigration faction. Osceola tossed the gold Emathla had received for his cattle in the dirt— “See! It is the price of your blood!” The U.S. government took pro-emigration Seminole into their protection in Tampa while they awaited transportation to Indian Territory. They also sanctioned slave catcher raids on Seminole villages and permitted them to capture and sell mixed race Seminole who had never been slaves. Osceola got plenty of opportunity to use the rifle he’d tricked Wylie Thompson into giving him. Clashes sprang up with loss of life on both sides, and lines between the government and the resistance hardened. — NEAR THE END OF December, 1835, the smoldering conflict burst into flame. Encouraged by Osceola and other outspoken members of the Seminole resistance, native and black warriors carried out carefully organized attacks on the region’s plantations. Local slaves swarmed to the Seminoles. Runaways painted their faces to demonstrate their new allegiance. Osceola had already declared a war of sorts against Wiley Thompson, and it didn’t take long for the Indian Agent to become the focus of hatred for all the antiemigration natives and the runaway slaves as well. An influential black Seminole warrior and interpreter named Abraham was called The Prophet by some members of the tribe because of his talent at divining the future. He predicted Wiley Thompson would be killed. Abraham’s prophesy wasn’t rich in details, but the prediction came true when Osceola and at least forty warriors ambushed Thompson and Lieutenant Constantine Smith while the two were taking an after-dinner walk. They riddled the men with bullets and scalped the corpses. While Osceola was bringing Abraham’s prophesy to fruition, Major Francis Dade was joining his troops who were in route to defend Ft. King. Dade was in the company of a slave-guide who spoke Seminole and was in all probability passing information to the

tribe. One hundred eighty natives and blacks led by Chief Micanopy hid at an ambush point with a plan to surprise the soldiers and kill off most if not all of their commissioned and non-commissioned officers. The Chief was so infirm he had to be carried onto the field of battle, but he fired the first shot, which hit Major Dade, and officially started the Second Seminole War. The native warriors killed or wounded most of the officers within the first few minutes of the battle. They were picking off the remaining soldiers one by one until fifty black Seminole rode in armed with knives and axes to finish the job. Their battle cry was, “What have you got to sell?”—a question lounging soldiers often asked black tribe members when they visited military posts. Only three of the soldiers survived. Major Dade’s guide could read and write, and in return for his captors’ leniency he translated dispatches and documents carried by the soldiers, giving the Seminole valuable strategic information. — THE VERY NEXT DAY, Osceola got word from sympathetic local slaves that General Duncan L. Clinch was leading a column of soldiers toward Withlacoochee River. The general had no idea what had happened to Agent Wylie Thompson or Major Dade. Indian guides led Clinch’s troops to a ford that was so deep the soldiers had to move their weapons across the river by canoe—a perfect point for a Seminole ambush. Many of the soldiers were swept off their horses by the current as they tried to cross, and others were occupied with keeping the boats carrying their arms from capsizing. It looked like the Seminole would have a repeat of their quick victory against Major Dade, but Clinch’s troops vastly outnumbered the attackers and managed to organize a strong resistance in spite of sustaining heavy losses. In the ensuing gunfight, Osceola was hit in the arm with a musket ball and was forced to withdraw. It was a costly battle for the army, but a government victory none the less. Osceola dictated a terse letter to a translator and sent it to General Clinch: “You have guns and so do we. You have powder and lead and so do we. Your men will

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has moistened the dust of this hunting ground.” After the battle with General Clinch, the Withlacoochee River became a boundary of sorts. General Edmund Gaines tried to cross it with a large number of solders on Feb. 27, 1835, but like General Clinch, he had to rely on black and Indian guides who gave him bad advice and passed his location on to the Seminole. Osceola and other war leaders pinned the general down until March 5 with constant sniping and guerilla attacks, until the soldiers were reduced to eating their horses. The warriors then sued for peace on the condition that they would be allowed to withdraw unmolested and Gaines would do the same. — THE SEMINOLE—BLACK AND native—were experts at guerilla tactics. Rather than try and hold positions against government troops, they attacked, then engaged in fighting retreats and disappeared into the swamps, leaving surviving government forces wounded, sick, and demoralized. On January 21, 1836, Brevet General Winfield Scott was sent with three divisions (4,800 soldiers) operating out of Fort Alabama, a hastily built garrison with timber palisades on the Withlacoochee River. His orders were to encircle Osceola’s warriors in the Cove of the Withlacoochee and crush them. It was estimated the renegade fighting force did not exceed 1,200 men. In spite of bad intelligence from local guides, and constant sniping and harassment from tribal warriors, General Scott managed to cross the Withlacoochee with 2,000 troops and artillery using flatboats. Osceola withdrew his warriors toward the cove so additional government forces could ford the river and move through the previous Seminole safe-haven burning villages that had been abandoned ahead of their attack. A group of warriors approached the soldiers under a white flag and requested a meeting to discuss




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terms of surrender. General Scott quickly agreed and halted his advance thinking his rampage through the Withlacoochee Cove had convinced the natives they could not win. But instead of sending representatives to meet with Scott, the native and black Seminole used the time to move their families into the surrounding treacherous swamps. When the women and children

resisting Jackson’s Indian Removal Act. The Seminole responded to his withdrawal by attacking and occupying all the forts on Tampa Bay. Osceola set up temporary headquarters in Fort Drane, which had been built on a plantation owned by General Duncan Clinch. Florida Territorial Governor Keith Call took over the campaign shortly after General Scott left. The


were safe, the warriors opened fire on the soldiers’ camp and staged a fighting retreat as they vanished into the swamps to join their families. Casualties among the Americans were heavy, and the soldiers gave up pursuit. As Scott ended his campaign, he ordered soldiers to abandon Ft. Alabama. They did so but left the magazine fully stocked with gunpowder and rigged a booby trap they called “The Infernal Machine.” About an hour after they left, it exploded. There were no reports on the numbers of Seminole killed or injured, but the American soldiers were ambushed later that day and took significant casualties before they managed to rally and disperse hostiles. Shortly after General Scott failed in his mission to crush Osceola’s warriors, he was recalled to Alabama to quell the resistance of a Creek faction that was also

Governor had served with Andrew Jackson in the first Seminole war and wasted no time in mustering troops for an attack. He set out with 1200 Tennessee Volunteers and 150 Florida conscripts to route Osceola from Ft. Drane. The warriors learned from plantation slaves and Indian guides a large number of soldiers were on their way and once again retreated across the Withlacoochee River into the swamps. The river was swollen by seasonal rains and even more dangerous than usual. Soldiers attempted to cross while native and black Seminole sniped at them from the opposite shore. Several men and horses were drowned in the attempt, but the river was not crossed. The Governor decided to wait until the river had receded and try again, this time after recruiting 750

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Creek auxiliaries to join his force. The native soldiers belonged to a Creek faction (Lower Creek) that had supported Andrew Jackson during the Red Stick and First Seminole Wars. They wore white turbans to distinguish them from the hostiles and were to be paid in captured blacks rather than money. The Seminole avoided the battle-hardened Creek as much as they could and concentrated their efforts on surprise attacks against the white soldiers. Eventually, they retreated into the swamp and gathered at a point where the attackers would have to cross an area that was so thick with black mud it looked impassable even though it was actually only three feet deep. The Creek mercenaries advised the army to cross and finish the enemy with a bayonet attack, but the white soldiers were exhausted and demoralized, and once again they withdrew. —

IN LATE NOVEMBER, 1836, Brevet Major General Thomas Jesup was sent in to replace Governor Call. His strategy was different from all the military men before him. He set his sights on capturing women and children and used those hostages as leverage against native and black guides giving him false intelligence. In a short time, he was able to raid Osceola’s camp in the Withlacoochee Cove and send him running into the swamp with only his family and three warriors. The native and black Seminole warriors who fled from the camp were captured or killed by small cavalry detachments within the next few days. Hidden villages in forests and swamps beyond the Withlacoochee Cove fell one after the other to American soldiers and Creek mercenaries. With every captive Jesup’s intelligence grew more accurate and his attacks more targeted, but still the Seminole did not sue for peace. Jesup was convinced the black Seminole were influencing the tribe to keep on fighting. Jesup wrote to Secretary of War Lewis Cass: only two Indian men have surrendered. The warriors have fought as long as they had life, and such seems to


councils—I mean the leading Negroes.” His plan was to dispatch a captive black Seminole to find someone who would hear and might accept his proposal. He managed to arrange a meeting with Abraham (The Prophet) who was respected as a mystic among the tribe partially because he had accurately predicted the death of Indian Agent Wylie Thompson. Abraham had been involved in war with the whites since the First Seminole War started in 1817. He was a respected elder, and both native and black Seminole would listen to him. Things went as General Jesup had predicted. Once the influential black Seminole were on board, the tribe (including Principal Chief Micanopy) provisionally agreed to a treaty. The agreement guaranteed freedom in Indian Territory for black Seminole as well as runaway slaves who had been allied to the tribe throughout most of the Second



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Seminole war. Unfortunately for General Jesup, a new Secretary of War—Joel Roberts Poinsett— took office while the negotiations were in process, and he had no intention of agreeing to those terms. Even before it became clear Washington wouldn’t support the treaty, critical terms had begun to slip. Under pressure from influential plantation owners Jesup backed away from his original promises and entered negotiations with Seminole bands to return at least some of their runaways to the plantations from which they escaped. This was totally unacceptable to Osceola. By fall, there was renewed fighting, but there was a significant faction of the tribe who were persuaded the war was unwinnable and were willing to agree to Jesup’s terms. Even some runaway slaves turned themselves in rather than continue the campaign. The general lobbied Washington for authority to negotiate further, but by the time he had arranged another meeting with the tribe, his bosses ordered him to abandon diplomacy and pursue the war by whatever means necessary. Osceola had already agreed to meet under a flag of truce to continue discussions. He rode with two warriors: Wild Cat, a legendary warrior who was the son of an important chief, and John Horse, a black Seminole warrior who was the brother-in-law of Principal Chief Micanopy. A number of other important band chiefs and black Seminole translators accompanied them. At a prearranged signal, two hundred Florida dragoons and militiamen surrounded the delegation forcing their surrender. Jesup quickly imprisoned them inside the five-foot thick stone walls of Ft. Marion in St. Augustine. It didn’t take long for word to reach the international press that a general in the United States military had violated a flag of truce. Secretary of War Joel Roberts Poinsett gave Jesup full credit for the act of treachery even though it was he who forbade the general from continuing negotiations. The circumstances of Osceola’s capture became a stain on Jesup’s career he could never quite remove. — THE MOST NOTORIOUS LEADERS of the Seminole insurgency were imprisoned collectively in

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an auditorium size cell with narrow barred loophole windows fifteen feet off the floor. Escape seemed impossible, but the tribe had been surviving against impossible odds since the Second Seminole War began in 1836. Within days they had worked out a plan. They boosted a warrior to one of the windows and secured a rope braided from strips torn from the canvas bags they used as beds. They used a file smuggled in by a sympathetic slave to cut through one of the two bars that secured the window, which allowed them to crawl through an eight-inch wide, five-foot long passage and drop onto a marshy hillside some twelve feet below. Osceola was sick, almost to the point of death with chronic malaria by then and did not attempt to escape. Band Chief King Phillip was too old and frail and stayed behind with Osceola, but his son, Wild Cat, and John Horse, escaped along with other members of the delegation. It was a legendary prison break that might have put John Horse and Wild Cat on equal footing with Osceola as new leaders of the resistance movement, but for most of the Seminole and their black allies, it was too late. Principal Chief Micanopy had met with John Ross, Princpal Chief of the already relocated Cherokee tribe, and had been persuaded to surrender. Many smaller bands followed suit. But Wild Cat and John Horse gathered four hundred black and native warriors and led them to Lake Okeechobee where they took up positions in a dense hummock across a nearly impassable swamp. Colonel (future president) Zachary Taylor pursued them with a thousand troops. The tribe followed their tried and true battle plan of slowing down the troops with guerilla attacks while their sharpshooters selectively killed officers. The insurgents were so effective, every officer in the sixth infantry and most of the noncommissioned officers were killed or wounded, and in one company, only one in four soldiers remained uninjured. Eventually the army’s superior numbers overwhelmed the Seminole, and one hundred sixty American troops reached the hummock. Again, the tribe resorted to their proven tactic of conducting a fighting retreat. This time, however, instead of disappearing into the swamps, they fled onto Lake Okeechobee in hidden canoes, and the soldiers could not follow. Zachary Taylor hailed the battle an American victory,




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even though seven of his own men were either killed or wounded for every Seminole casualty. — GENERAL JESUP WASTED NO time in getting Osceola out of Florida. In mid-December 1837, he put the notorious renegade on a ship and transferred him to Fort Moultrie on the Sullivan Islands outside Charlotte, North Carolina. The government tried to keep the transfer quiet, but it didn’t take long for the story to get out. International journalists had taken up the story of Osceola’s capture under a white flag. Members of congress joined in criticism of General Jesup’s “treachery,” and Osceola became a captive hero. While in Fort Moultrie, nationally famous artists, George Catlin, W.M. Lanning, and Robert John Curtis painted his portrait from life. Curtis’s image of him

inspired widely circulated prints and engravings and became the template for popular cigar store figures. Perhaps Osceola’s notoriety would have led to a release in Indian Territory, but he was gravely ill from malaria now complicated with an acute case of tonsilitis. In a matter of weeks he developed a peritonsillar abscess that proved fatal on January 30, 1838. He was buried with military honors at Fort Moultrie. Public rebukes from newspapers and the U.S. Congress had a devastating effect on the morale of General Jesup. He wrote to President Martin Van Buren: “In regard to the Seminoles, we have committed the error of attempting to remove them when their lands were not required for agricultural purposes; when they were not in the way of white inhabitants. My decided opinion is, that unless immediate emigration be abandoned, the war will continue for years to come, and at constantly accumulating expense.” Anticipating presidential approval, he used a black Seminole emissary to invite the chiefs who remained at large to another conference on Feb. 7, 1838. Jesup was convinced that resistance would be eliminated if he separated the natives from blacks. He issued an order “that all the negroes [who are] the property of the Seminole Indians in Florida, who separated themselves from the Indians and delivered themselves up to The black Seminole would not remain in Florida with the tribe but would be sent to a separate village in Indian Territory and be protected by the U.S. government. John Horse was not at the meeting but was specifically promised freedom in Indian Territory. Without a charismatic leader like Osceola, native and black Seminole did not have the will to continue fighting. They began turning themselves in immediately. A peaceful end to the conflict seemed in place, but once again, General Jesup was reminded of the limits of his authority. Secretary of War John Roberts Poinsett ordered the general to continue with the removal of the entire tribe to Indian Territory regardless of the difficulties. Jesup decided to seize the insurgents with a plan almost identical to the one that had led to his disgrace with Osceola. He summoned the Seminoles to a council to be held on March 20, 1838, and ordered his troops to surround them starting at midnight, March 21. By

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violating a second flag of truce, he captured almost as many warriors as had been taken during the past fifteen months of fighting. John Horse did not come to the council, but with the loss of so many warriors, he realized the war with the whites was unwinnable. He surrendered a few days later. — ZACHARY TAYLOR WAS PROMOTED to the rank of Brigadier General on the strength of his questionable campaign at Lake Okeechobee and was assigned to replace Thomas Jesup. Taylor never forgave Wild Cat and John Horse for orchestrating the Seminole escape by water that turned what should have been a military victory into a fiasco. His strong objection was understandable when Major General Alexander Macomb hired John Horse as a guide and interpreter to help arrange the surrender of the remaining insurgents. Taylor argued, “I believe [John Horse] to be one of the most artful and faithless of his tribe.” But the arrangements were made. John Horse shed his identity as a black Seminole warrior and quickly became a popular guide and translator for the officers. By 1840 he was destroying tribal crops and taking part in battles against insurgents. Rumors abounded among the Seminole that Indian Territory was another white man’s lie. Many were convinced the U.S. Government was simply loading tribe members aboard ships and murdering them at sea. John Horse suggested the army bring Seminole chiefs from the Territory to put those speculations to rest. The strategy was successful. Two hundred twenty members of the Tallahassee band agreed to relocate peacefully. The wisdom of using a black Seminole as a negotiator was established. John’s old friend Wild Cat was now the most influential chief still fighting the military. He couldn’t muster enough warriors for campaigns as legendary as Lake Okeechobee, but he caused a great deal of trouble for white settlers and businessmen. The army pursued him relentlessly, and although they couldn’t seem to catch him, they did capture his mother and his daughter. John Horse got word to Wild Cat that his family was being held at Fort Gardner and invited him to meet

with Colonel William J. Worth and negotiate for their release. Wild Cat had a flare for the dramatic. He and his warriors had recently attacked a company of actors near St. Augustine and plundered their wardrobe. When they came to meet with Colonel Worth, they were dressed as Shakespearian characters. The Chief himself took the role of Hamlet. Wild Cat’s daughter ran to him when she heard his voice. She put her arms around him, offering him affection while sneaking him packets of musket balls and gunpowder she had stolen while a captive. Wild Cat broke down crying. He consented to remain in the camp, and after talking with the colonel and John Horse, he consented to emigration. — IT TOOK SOME TIME for Wild Cat to become as committed to removal as John Horse. The tribal chief continued to steal weapons and ammunition for warriors he kept hidden in the swamps. But eventually John’s old friend threw his efforts behind the army and managed to convince all but a few hundred Seminole to emigrate to Indian Territory. John Horse, Wild Cat, and their families went with them. As promised, John was declared free. The Second Seminole War ended on August 14, 1842. The conflict cost over twenty million dollars, four times what the United States paid Spain for Florida. It was the deadliest of the Indian wars, with more than 1,500 regular sailors and soldiers lost, and the longest—over seven years. It was, in fact, the longest lasting of any war America fought until the Vietnam conflict. Hostilities ignited again in 1855 between the U.S. Government and the Seminole remaining in Florida— The Third Seminole War. Meanwhile, the rest of the tribe struggled for survival in Indian Territory. —John T. Biggs is the author of six novels and hundreds of short stories and the winner of the Reader’s Digest Grand Prize. His writing is so full of Oklahoma that once you read it, you’ll never get the red dirt stains washed out of your mind. John lives in Oklahoma City with his wife, and they travel extensively throughout the world with their family.