Page 1


contents winter 2016

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

8 12 14 70 128 132 140 144

short fiction the rusty badge by R achel Fawn ........................... the main event by Dusty Richards ....................... line shack skunk by R andall Dale ......................... old law by Pamela Foster ......................................

19 35 57 109 125

features will rogers medallion winners ....................... fear the ears by Patricia Rustin Christen ................. ghosts of fort humboldt by Pamela Foster ............... bender, part II by Michael & D.A. Frizell ................... straight shooter by Velda Brotherton .................... the arizona cowboy by Kelly Henkins ....................

10 26 48 74 98 118

photo by Patricia Rustin-Christen

the act of god mule by Terr y Alexander ...................


Submission Guidelines Galway Press is Oghma Creative Media’s western imprint, and Saddlebag Dispatches is our quarterly magazine. We are looking for short stories, serial novels, poetry, and non-fiction articles about the west. These will have themes of open country, unforgiving nature, struggles to survive and settle the land, freedom from authority, cooperation with fellow adventurers, and other experiences that human beings encounter in the frontier. Traditional westerns are set left of the Mississippi River and between the end of the American Civil War and the turn of the twentieth century. But the western is not limited to that time. The essence, though, is openness and struggle. These are happening now as much as they were in the years gone by. Query letter: In the first paragraph, give the title of the work, and specify whether it is fiction, poetry, or non-fiction. If the latter, give the subject. The second paragraph should be a biography under two hundred words. Manuscript formatting: All documents must be in Times New Roman, twelve-point font, double spaced, with one inch margins all around. Do not include extra space between paragraphs. Do not write in all caps, and avoid excessive use of italics, bold, and exclamation marks. Files must be in .docx format. Submit the entire and complete fiction or poetry manuscript. We will consider proposals for non-fiction articles. Other attachments: Please also submit a picture of yourself and any pictures related to your manuscript. Manuscripts will be edited for grammar and spelling. Submit to submissions@saddlebagdispatches.com. Put Saddlebag in the subject line.


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

Dusty Richards

Bestselling Western Author


B

y the time this issue reaches you we will have a new president to suit or not suit us. The votes were cast and the count is over. This is our United States. Let’s get back to getting along and build on our democracy and make it a better place to live than last year for all of us. As you can see by our cover, bestselling author Craig Johnson is in the starring role in this issue, and his stellar reputation as a Western storyteller continues to grow with each new novel he writes, and every episode of the popular television series modeled on them. I met Craig in Utah a few years ago at a cowboy gathering and learned he was a real Wyoming rancher who checks his cattle each morning before facing the computer. He’s a man with deep connections to the land of the West, and it shows in everything he does and writes. This became even more clear to me during the Will Rogers Medallion Awards banquet in October, where one of his Longmire mysteries—Dry Bones—won the Gold Medal for Best Western Novel for the second straight year. This is a man with a lot on the ball. Our own Velda Brotherton was lucky enough to catch up with him for a few minutes during the Western Writers of America conference in Cheyenne, Wyoming

last June, and has turned in a superb profile on one of the writers most responsible for bringing the Western genre back into the American entertainment mainstream. Speaking of the Will Rogers Medallion Award, my own novel, A Bride for Gil, won the Silver Medal in the Best Western Romance category during the same awards banquet in Fort Worth, Texas, and I couldn’t be more humbled about it. I’m particularly grateful, as are many others, to Charles E. Williams for his leadership and his development of this prestigious series of western awards, and to the Board of Directors for their hard work and sacrifice. While we’re including a list of all the winners on the next page, I was particularly proud to see such truly great authors like Tammy Hinton, Randall Dale, Sherry Monaghan, and Chris Enss recognized for their work. Keep up the good work, everybody. In addition to our profile of superstar Craig Johnson, we’ve put together another great issue for you this quarter. While he may not be on the cover, we have a firstrate story on country music legend Rex Allen by gifted staff newcomer—and new Marketing Director—Kelly Henkins. Our old friend Pamela Foster will also be checking in


saddlebag dispatches with an in-depth look at historic Fort Humboldt near her hometown of Eureka, California. Last but certainly not least, Chief Photographer Patricia Rustin Christen has filed a great rundown on her particular livestock favorite, the versatile and venerable old mule. Among our regular columnists, our resident weapons expert, Darrel Sparkman, takes a look at the legendary— and massive—old punt gun in You Don’t See That Every Day; Velda Brotherton shares her historical knowledge of storied outlaw Texas Jack in her Heroes and Outlaws; Chet Dixon waxes poetic with another entry in his Beyond the Trailhead, John J. Dwyer checks in from The Shortgrass Country with a look at the history of the famous Chisholm Trail; Terry Alexander talks about the various portrayals of iconic US Marshall Wyatt Earp in classic film in Let’s Talk Westerns, and Rod Miller profiles award-winning Western musician Mary Kaye as another entry in Best of the West. If it’s fiction you crave, we’ve got you covered there, too. In this issue, you’ll find the second installment of the controversial new serial graphic novel, Bender. You also won’t want to miss Line Shack Skunk from Will Rogers Medallion Gold Medal-winner Randall Dale, The Act of God Mule by Terry Alexander, The Rusty Badge by children’s author Rachel Fawn, Old Law by Pamela Foster, and The Main Event by Yours Truly, Dusty Richards.

9

With our fourth issue in print, we’re very pleased with the continued growth and development of our magazine, and judging by the increased circulation of late, so are you. When we sat down with our staff last year, they asked us what kind of things we were looking for to go between this magazine’s covers. My co-founder, Casey Cowan, grinned and looked at me. “Tell them your idea, Dusty.” My words were this: “Whatever fits under a cowboy’s hat.” We all had a good laugh, but we also agreed that it was a great goal. We wanted a good mix of fiction and history. We wanted stories showing current events, like the National Championship Chuckwagon races we featured back in Summer, and photo tours of the great travel destinations of the West. And, most of all, we wanted to highlight folks who wrote these things. People like bestselling western romance author Jodi Thomas, who graced the cover of our last issue. I think we’re hitting our stride, but really, that’s not for me to judge. That, my dear readers, is on you. You’re part of our ranch crew. If you want to give us some pointers, or even just pass on an “attaboy,” shoot us an e-mail at feedback@ saddleabagdispatches.com. We’d love to hear from you. So until next issue, keep your horse’s head up so he doesn’t buck you off. Have fun, stay safe, and God Bless. And may you and yours enjoy the greatest peace and blessings during this holiday season.


H

ave you ever felt like a speck of dust when observing our awesome universe and been awestruck by towering mountains surrounding you? That’s one reason why remote places of the world draw adventurers like magnets. They seduce you like an addiction. You grow to crave their beauty, solitude and unpredictable challenges. Most people know me as a lover of mountains and wildernesses of the Western States and remote areas of the South American Patagonia. I love these places not only for their beauty and wild nature, but for what they teach me. Every time I park my truck at a trailhead, put on my pack and take a trail up to high country, I become more thrilled and nourished the higher I go. It never fails to lift my spirit. It always provides indelible lessons and memories. Being a poet, I write about my journeys because I have a need to share the lessons learned. One occurred on a solo trip deep into the Flat Top Wilderness of northern Colorado. A dangerous storm hit my camp with ferocious lightning, strong winds and hail. It was frightening because I had never felt so vulnerable to the changing moods of nature. It taught me that you always enter the wilderness on its terms, and you go there prepared to accept its nature. Then, only one hour after the storm had passed, stars began to sparkle like glitter and a full moon began showering

the mountains and valleys with a soft friendly glow. Across a small field near camp, a pale light cast eerie shadows from spruce and fir trees. On up beyond snowy slopes, the starry universe was not only breathtaking, its quietness was deafening and indescribable. It was a wilderness moment to last forever. After the harsh storm had passed and in the afterglow of pure beauty these words seemed so appropriate to write. I sat outside my tent deep into the night basking in the beauty and wild nature of the flat top wilderness. The ferocious storm that had threatened my well-being contrasted with the quiet and peaceful night that seemed like manna from heaven. It taught me that “change” can challenge us in all walks of life. There will be times when we must face good and bad, happiness and sadness, winning and losing, beauty and ugliness, or brokenness and healing. Sometimes it would be easy to say, “I’m tired and I want to stop this life.” But one must move on down the trail and fight through the storms. Bad times are never wanted, but going through them can help us grow stronger.

How marvelous is the earth and universe That Your hands have perfectly madeAnd given free Nothing great will equal or compare With this treasure in view That You graciously gave to me.

—Chet Dixon is a businessman, philanthropist, and published author of multiple works, including the recently-published collection of poetry that shares its name with this column. He resides near Branson, Missouri, but his heart lives in the western wilderness.


saddlebag dispatches 13 Life is feeling a cool breeze after a summer day viewing a thousand vistas from my feet to the distant horizon hearing chirping birds in fields and along my bluff observing children playing in the heat of competitions seeing soaring eagles and vultures floating in updrafts watching the red and grey foxes eagerly searching for a meal feeding friendly deer and turkey then watching them and falling to sleep as raindrops play music on a tin roof This is part of life Life is feeling the pain of a deceased, long–lasting friendship seeing a wildfire ravage a stand of virgin pine and fir feeling helpless as snow and ice melt and seas rise hearing a baby’s cry when its mother cannot return feeling the earth violently shake beneath your feet and anxiously anticipating aftershocks hunting for a lost plane somewhere on land or beneath the sea listening for a call for help but unable to bridge the gulf to rescue and watching war dismantle and destroy the lives of young men and women This is part of life Life is accepting risk as normal but growing to fear it being a strong caregiver to being cared for as a child knowing where light is shining but unable to walk out of the dark moving from proactive, to reactive, to inactive, unwillingly realizing the necessity of lifelong choices then finding it easy to ignore them giving up control and power to a growing desire for safety and security being praised for excellence then relegated to something old, outdated and obsolete and living with purpose being persistent and patient to becoming unsure, weak and dependent This is part of life Life is having courage and hope and facing sunshine or storms when you know the deck is stacked against you—you never stop putting hope in the place of despair and defeat giving help without knowing the who or why or how teaching what you know to others so they can grow beyond you writing and talking about honorable values and virtues and walking unclear trails to provide safe passages waiting for the sunrise to cure the aches of dark times fighting the fear of losing while struggling to hear the victor’s song praying with no doubts that your prayer is heard and submitting to the call of your heart and honoring your time and space on earth. This is part of life Life is joy, comfort and beauty it is pain, fear and disorder it is created new then grows old and it has a spirit born of courage and hope that can transform the torn and worn body and ravaged soul to live and forever journey forward All this is part of life


W

hen he wasn’t farming, or fishing, my grandpa liked to hunt. For the most part, he didn’t do it for sport. He did it for meat. The weapon of choice was his old Winchester pump shotgun, circa 1897. I inherited that gun, and then sold it when we needed money for the kids. I still feel queasy when I think of that. Maybe he’s shaking his finger at me. Don’t ask which one. Now, when I said he was a meat hunter I wasn’t kidding. By farming, I have to include activities like feeding cows, milking cows, grinding down feed, plowing, planting… well, you know the drill. So, he didn’t have a lot of time. If we got a threeor four-inch snow, he’d go quail hunting. In our neck of the woods, we still had the northern bob whites that stayed in a covey, which means you don’t need a bird dog. They wouldn’t fly unless you got close and jumped them up. And no, he did not want them to fly. He was providing for a whole slew of us, so fifteen or twenty birds all in a bunch was just supper, and maybe dinner the next day.

Oh, I know. It’s not sporting. But, it was on his own land and he was careful to leave wide fencerows for habitat. In that day and time there were lots of quail and he didn’t hunt for fun. Granny had chickens, but those were mostly for eggs— with an occasional Sunday dinner of fried pullet with all the fixins. Then there were rabbits, squirrel, quail, prairie chicken, ducks, and geese... they all went into the pot and glad to

“Why did they need such a monster shotgun?”

get it. I usually hunted with my trusty singleshot .22 rifle. I

really, really didn’t like to bite into buckshot. We were prairie folk, so larger game didn’t really figure into it back then. Hogs and cattle could fill that niche in the food chain. We weren’t starving by any means, just supplementing


saddlebag dispatches 15 the food chain. Nowadays, we’re practically combing deer out of our hair, but a quail is hard to find—unless it’s that little Mexican quail. Grandpa was a little late to the game if you consider the nineteenth-centur y industrial meat hunter. You have to wonder how Grandpa’s eyes would have lit up if he saw a punt gun. What’s a punt gun? It’s a shotgun with a two-inch bore and firing about a pound of lead. These monsters were anywhere from five to thirteen feet long and were known to kill up to fifty birds with a single shot, usually on the water.

As a young man, I once shot a 10-guage Long Tom turkey gun almost straight up trying to bag a squirrel. Never again. I’m thinking it stunted my growth and I had to step up to get out of the imprint my shoes left in the dirt. They called them punt guns for a reason. A punt is a small boat or skiff. Hunters would mount this gun on the bow, or forward section, and use the front of the boat to aim the weapon. Nighttime was best to catch the greatest number of birds on the water. Of course, a modicum of stealth and good night vision would be a plus. That is… before the shot. Afterwards, I’m thinking all you’d see is a big ball of fire implanted on your retina, like looking into the sun. Maybe for days. Talk about losing your night vision…. Ahoy there, matey. Nice and quiet now. A little to the left. Steady... steady…. Boom! Meet the commercial meat hunter of yesteryear. These hunters would go out with a fleet of several punts to get the job done. The conservation-minded reader might ask the question, “Why did they need such a monster shotgun?” The simple answer is food. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the booming immigrant populations

These monsters were anywhere from five to thirteen feet long and were known to kill up to fifty birds with a single shot.

I can’t imagine the two of us lugging that cannon up to the pond, but I suspect we’d have tried. To get technical, these flintlock and custom made guns were listed as two- or four-bore, with the most popular being the two-inch—just a tad larger than 50mm. I’ve read that the definition of a military cannon starts at 20mm, so you can see these things could put a serious bruise on your shoulder.


16

saddlebag dispatches in larger cities were starving during the winter. The new and rising food service industry needed large numbers of birds for consumption. The hunters provided that. Nearly as great as the need for meat was the need for feathers. Yep. You guessed it. Fashion rules. Feathered head coverings and dresses often defined nineteenth century women’s fashion. Punt guns in the United States were once synonymous with the watermen of the Chesapeake Bay, who made their living hunting with the big punts. James Michener’s novel Chesapeake, though fictional, makes a very accurate representation of the Chesapeake Bay punt gunners. The use of punt guns continue into the twenty-first century in the United Kingdom, though laws limited bore size to 44mm, as opposed to the more common 2”/50 mm. Ever since Queen Victoria’s 1897 Diamond Jubilee, there has been a celebratory punt gun salute over every English coronation and jubilee. United States Federal law banned punt guns and market hunting by the 1920’s after the wild bird population was decimated by overhunting. Obviously, conservation has had its share of ebbs and flows through history. Now, at least in my mind, we have too many deer... and way too many geese. I’m betting some local row-crop farmers might wish they could bring back punt guns. They already use repellants and sound-cannons in order to scare away the birds. Several thousand geese on a winter wheat field can destroy anywhere from twenty to one hundred percent of that crop. Not only do they pull up the succulent green shoots of the wheat, the pitty-pat of their feet does even more damage by packing down the ground. Just think of several thousand fifteen- to twenty-pound birds stomping around on wet earth. Packed ground means no air. No air means no root growth. No root growth means no crop, and that means hundreds of thousands in revenue lost and a whole lot of bread missing from the shelf at the local grocery store. For some interesting reading and demonstrations, just fire up Google and have fun with the info. There are some great videos on YouTube firing this type of gun. Now it’s time to give credit where credit is due: Wikipedia, Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management, http://beforeitsnews.com/r2/?url=http://www.guns. com/2014/02/05/one-pound-lead-50-ducks-one-shotpunt-gun/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_ campaign=one-pound-lead-50-ducks-one-shot-punt-gun —Darrel Sparkman resides in Missouri with his wife. He served four years in the Navy, including seven months in Viet Nam as a Combat Search & Rescue helicopter crewman. His column, You Don’t See That Everyday, is regular part of Saddlebag Dispatches, and explores all sorts of Wild West weaponry and topics related to its manufacture and usage.


W

hen are we going visit my mother?” Wanda implored as she stared at Steve across the breakfast table. Her husband took a bite of biscuit and bacon and chased it with a slug of coffee. “Told you, we can go fer a couple days when I get the crops in the ground.” “I sure don’t understand why we can’t go now. My maw’s getting old. She won’t be around forever. I miss Blue Springs. I hate it out here. I want to see my friends and go to a dance.” “You knew I was a farmer when we got married.’ Sides need them mules fer plowing.” “You said that we’d have a good life when I became Missus Rainey. When’s it going to start?” Her palms pressed down on the table. “Seems like all’s you do is plow, or cultivate, or something. You spend a lot more time with them mules than you do me.” “Them mules is our living.” Steve rose from the table. “If they die, we might as well give up and walk to town.” He made his way to the door. Dust from the dirt floor puffed around his foot at each step. He grabbed the battered hat hanging on a wall peg by the door and jammed it on his head. “I’ll be back later.” The plank door clattered shut behind him. The chickens scratched in the dirt around the barn, scattering the mule droppings and searching for seeds on the inside. Steve paused and threw a handful of corn on the ground. The yard birds immediately converged around his feet. “I expect to find some eggs when I get back.” He grabbed a rope and feed bucket just inside the barn.

Marching through to the back door, he emerged in a small pasture he used for the draft animals. “Essie, Cyrus, get up here now.” A loud bray answered his call. Two long-eared animals raced toward the barn. The larger black’s longer legs gave it an advantage over the heavier, stockier gray. He dumped the feed into crudely made trough. The black slid to a halt. Its open mouth trying to devour as much feed as possible before the gray got there. Steve stood patiently as the gray arrived and settled down to eat. “Ain’t gonna be a lot of feed fer awhile. We’ve got to get this crop in.” He scratched the gray between the ears. “When we get through planting, I promised we’d take Wanda to see her maw.” The black mule raised his head and snorted. “That’s the way I feel about it too, Cyrus.” Steve nodded. “Old Hazel hates me with a blinding passion.” He glanced toward the wood and sod cabin. “I’m beginning to think her daughter feels the same way.” He walked over and glanced in the bare feed trough. “Sure didn’t take you two long to finish that.” He looped the rope around the neck of the smaller gray mule. “Come on, Essie. It’s your turn today.” The mule snorted as he led her inside the barn. He tied her to a post and quickly outfitted her with the harness. Taking up the reins he led her out the door toward the field. The cool of night quickly vanished with the morning sun. He hitched Essie up to the single plow and began to break ground. Within


saddlebag dispatches 21 an hour his soaked shirt stuck to his back. He pushed his hat back and sleeved the sweat from his forehead. He licked his lips and realized that he left without his canteen and lunch. While the thought of a cool drink held a lot of appeal, listening to Wanda’s constant complaining had the opposite effect. Besides, if he went back to the house to get his water, it would only give her more things to complain about. He jiggled the reins above the animal’s back. “Come on, old girl, get in there.” It always amazed him that the mule seemed to pull the plow harder after she received a few words of praise. They made it to the end of the row and circled to start the return trip toward the house. He pulled her to a stop under a tall elm at the end of the row and stared at the figure coming toward them. Wanda walked the plowed ground to protect her bare feet. Her faded blue dress had lost most of its color and looked drab and gray. “You went out of the house without your lunch and water.” “Thanks, but you didn’t have to bring it.” He moved the knotted plow line from its customary spot over his shoulder and under the other arm and tied it to the plow. He accepted the canteen and removed the lid and took a long drink. “Sure appreciate it though. I was getting a little dry.” He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“I made you some lunch. I figured we might talk a little bit while you eat.” “I had something else in mind.” He tugged at her apron. Her face reddened. “Maybe tonight.” She nodded. “Do you think you could take a day off from plowing and things and we could go into town and visit my mother? We could go to the dance and I could wear my wedding bonnet. I haven’t had a chance to wear it since we got married.” “Damn it, Wanda. Not that again.” He shook his head and hung the lunch from a low-hanging tree limb. “I told you, I’ll take you to town soon as I get the crop planted. We can spend a couple of days there if you want.” “I ain’t seen my mama in six months.” A scarlet blush colored her face. “We only live twenty miles from town. We can be there late tonight and come back sometime tomorrow.” Wanda waved her hands in the air. Essie snorted. Her eyes bulged, showing white as she crowhopped to the side. “Calm down, Wanda. You’re scaring the mule.” He rushed forward and caught her elbows. “I promised. I’ll take you to visit your mama after I get the crop planted.” She kicked his shin. “All you want me for is to cook and clean and spread my legs at night. That’s all I am to you.” She twisted away from his grip and walked toward Essie. “You


Coming Soon in ok! Audiobo


saddlebag dispatches 23 think more of this damned brute than you do of me.” She swatted the mule on the rump. The raised voices and sharp blow panicked the frightened mule. Essie sucked in a deep breath and brayed, her hind feet kicking straight up in the air. “Essie, settle down.” He dropped his canteen and ran to catch the mule by the bit. “Damn it, Wanda. You’re scaring the hell out of her.” “I don’t care. You baby these mules too much anyway.” She lashed out a second time, her blow catching the animal just above the tail. Essie shifted her weight to the side, her hind feet kicked out. The left hoof struck Wanda high in the forehead while the right hoof struck her nose, shattering it and smashing her lips to pulp. Wanda took two unsteady steps backward and fell, the back of her head bounced off the hardwood shaft of the plow. She rolled to the ground, blood pooling in the dirt around her head. “Oh no!” Steve shouted. “No, damn it, no.” He cradled his wife’s head in his arms. Blood flowed from the split in her scalp at the back of her head and welled from the hoof print on her forehead. Blood drained rapidly from her ruined nose and lips. “Be all right, please be all right.” He removed his sweaty shirt and wrapped it tightly around her head, placing his hat under her head for a pillow. “Hang on. I’ll go get the wagon. I’ll get you to town to the doctor.” He worked furiously, unhooking the singletree from the plow. He jumped up into the animal’s back, drumming his heels on her sides. Essie broke into a canter on the way to the barn. He rode the mule up to the wagon and backed her into place beside the tongue. “Cyrus, where you at ya lop-eared critter? We’ve got to get Wanda to town.” He raced into the barn and grabbed the other set of harness. The mule’s heavy footsteps sounded near the rear door. “Come on, fella, Wanda is counting on us.” He opened the door and looped the reins around the mule’s neck. “Wanda’s in a bad way.” He placed Cyrus next to Essie. The animal stood frozen as a statue as he got the harness in place. After both animals were attached to the wagon’s doubletree he climbed in the wagon seat and popped the reins. The team surged into the collars. He snapped the reins a second time and they picked up speed. The wagon bounced over the plowed ground. He pulled the animals to a stop, placing the wagon as near to Wanda as possible. “You two stay there, now.” He tied the reins to the hand brake. “Just be a second.” He hopped to the ground and crouched at Wanda’s side. He worked his arms under her body at the shoulder and at the knees. He strained to lift her and managed to struggle to his feet. A ragged gasp, more like a moan of pain, passed her lips. “Come on, Wanda. Hang on. We’re going to town. We’ll find Doc Cole. He’ll make you right again.” He staggered

to the back of the wagon bed and placed her on the rough boards. He climbed up beside her. Fitting his hands under her shoulders, he managed to move her head up to the headboard behind the spring seat. “You just hang on now. We’ll be in Blue Springs before you know it.” He climbed into the seat. Freeing the reins, he popped the leather. “Get up there, now.” The mules moved out on command. He circled the house and found the faint trail. “Git up thar,” he shouted, urging the mules to greater speed.

Nothing moved on the dirt streets when the exhausted mules walked into the tiny village of Blue Springs. Dust puffed up from their hooves as they stopped in front of Doc Cole’s office. Steve tied the reins to the brake lever and hopped to the ground. His numb legs nearly buckled under him as he limped to the stairs going to the small cubicle above the saloon. “Doc. Doc Cole.” He pounded on the door. “It’s me, Steve Rainey. I’ve got Wanda in the wagon. She’s hurt bad.” He listened and presently the sound of shuffling steps came to his ears. “Just a minute. Got to get the old body moving.” The footsteps grew silent at the door. “Blasted latch.” The door slowly creaked open. An old man stood on the far side of the threshold, his hair gray and disheveled, sticking straight up in the back and over to the left in the front. He stood there in a nightshirt, with dirty socks on his feet. “Where is she?” He turned to light a candle on the nearby table. “Outside in the wagon. I started this way right after it happened.” Steve scratched at the whisker stubble on his chin. “Let me get some shoes on.” Doc lifted the candle and retraced his steps to his bedroom at the back of the office. “Shore wish folks would get hurt during normal working hours.” He fumbled in the bedroom and returned, sporting a pair of ankle-high lace up boots. “All right, lead the way.” Steve turned and hurried from the doctor’s office. His boots banged the wooden steps on the way down. “She’s right here, Doc.” He leaned on the rear wagon wheel. “You gotta help her.” “What’s going on here?” A pot-bellied man wearing longjohns with a gunbelt wrapped around his middle approached. He carried a pistol in one hand and a lantern in the other. “Fella brought his wife in, Sheriff.” Doc Cole grabbed Steve’s arm and slid across the rough wagon boards. He palmed the iron-rimmed wheel and struggled to his feet. Steve nodded to the law officer and turned his attention to Wanda and the doctor. “Come on, Wanda. Open your eyes. We made it to Blue Springs. Doc Cole is right here.” “Ain’t you the couple lives out by Brewster’s Creek?”


24

saddlebag dispatches The sheriff holstered his pistol and ran a hand through his thinning hair. “Yeah, that’s where we live.” Steve nodded. “She’s gonna be all right, ain’t she, Doc?” Doc Cole planted a hand on his hip and straightened. “’Fraid not, Son. She’s already expired. ’Spect she passed somewhere on the ride into town.” “Guess I’ll go wake the preacher.” The sheriff turned toward his office. “Gonna get some clothes on first though.” “Wanda, you can’t be daid.” Steve took her hand. “You can’t be. Come on, open yore eyes.” Tears pooled in his eyes and threaded through the dust covering his face. “Please, Wanda, open yore eyes.” “Sit down there next to her, Son.” Doc Cole steered him toward the wagon bed. “I’ll stay with you until the preacher comes.” “What if she’s still alive? What if she’s just restin’ her eyes?” “She’s gone, can’t nothin’ bring her back.” Doc Cole nodded. “How did it happen?” “She got too close to Essie and swatted her on the rump, scared her somethin’ fierce. The mule kicked her in the head and then she hit the plow tongue when she fell.” “I’ve brought the preacher and we went by Wanda’s Ma’s house and woke her. Hazel will be here in a few minutes.” Sheriff Talley draped his forearms on the wagon’s sideboards, letting the light shine down on Wanda’s body. The preacher held his lantern above his head. “I’m Reverend Jones. Did the deceased have any favorite scriptures that you’d like me to recite?” Steve stared at the him, mouth open in surprise. “I don’t know. Haven’t had time to think about it.” “Where is she? Where’s my little girl?” Hazel hurried up the dirt street wearing a worn threadbare housecoat. A scarf held her wild hair in place. Her right hand wrapped around the handle of a bull’s-eye lantern. “I knew Steve Rainey couldn’t be trusted to take care of my girl. Now, he’s went and killed her.” She paused at the wagon, tears welling in her eyes. “My baby. My baby girl.” Her eyes went to Steve. “You killed her. I know you did.” “Hazel, I listened to his story. I believe it was an accident.” Doc Cole placed his candle on the wagon bed and grabbed the rear wheel and slowly stepped to the ground. “No!” Hazel shouted. “He murdered her.” She jumped back from the wagon. “Sheriff, I want him arrested for murder.” “Hazel.” Reverend Jones placed his lantern next to Doc’s candle and took her hand. “You know that Doc Cole is an honorable man. If he said it was an accident then it must have been an act of God.” “An act of God.” Spittle flew from her mouth. She jerked away from the preacher. “God wouldn’t take my daughter away from me like that. I know he wouldn’t.” “Hazel, I’m going to have to side with the preacher and


saddlebag dispatches 25 Doc Cole on this.” The sheriff wrapped his big arms around her waist and lifted her from the ground. “Look at the poor girl’s face. You can see the shoe marks on her.” “Damn you, Bart Talley.” Tears burst from her eyes. Her lantern and the sheriff’s banged together. “Don’t you ever come by my home looking fer a free meal again.” “What’s all the racket?” A thin man with stringy hair wandered into the group. “What’s going on?” He stifled a massive yawn. “Nothin’ fer you to see. Go back to bed,” Talley shouted. “Why is everybody yelling?” A fat portly man waddled up to the wagon. “Man can’t get any sleep with folks talking and yelling.” He glanced at the body. “What in the world happened to Wanda?” “An act of God,” Reverend Jones announced solemnly. “An act of God directed through this mule.” He laid his hand on Essie’s rump and quickly moved away when he realized what he’d done. “I’m going to take Hazel on home.” Sheriff Talley said. “Doc, you and the Reverend get Wanda down to the undertaker’s. We need to get her in the ground tomorrow.” “All right, Sheriff.” Doc Cole nodded. “I figure he’ll have her ready by tomorrow afternoon.” Doc Cole grabbed Steve’s arm. “Come on, son. The undertaker’s down on Pryor Street.”

Steve sat on the front row in the church the following afternoon. His glassy eyes focused on the coffin holding his dead wife. The church was filled to overflowing and several men stood at the back and packed the aisle. The shouted threats of hellfire and brimstone barely penetrated the fog swirling in his head. At the end of the service he stood by the casket with his mother-in-law, accepting the hugs and condolences of the women and the firm handshakes and pats on the back from the men. Reverend Jones stared at Steve as he whispered with each man and woman that came past the coffin. The preacher approached while the undertaker’s men nailed the casket lid down. “I’m curious, when the women spoke to you, you nodded and when the men spoke to you, you shook your head. What did they say?” “The women all told me how pretty Wanda looked in the white dress we bought for her at the General Store.” He paused. “And the men?” “They all wanted to know if I wanted to sell the mule.”

Terry alexander

T

erry Alexander and his wife Phyllis live on a small farm near Porum, Oklahoma. They have three children, 13 grandchildren and

1 great granddaughter. Terry is a member of The Oklahoma Writers Federation, Ozark Creative Writers, Tahlequah Writers, and 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. The Act of God Mule is Terry’s first short story for Saddlebag Dispatches. He has also been published in various anthologies from Airship 27, Pro Se Press, Pulp Modern, Big Pulp and several others, and has won multiple awards for his work. He also writes a quarterly column entitled “Let’s Talk Westerns” where he shares his voluminous knowledge of classic Western pop culture, entertainment, and esoteric trivia nobody else could possibly know... and it’s likely he made up. Find it

a

right here in every issue of Saddlebag Dispatches.


FEAR the

EARS Hardier than horses, larger and often more tractable than donkeys, the standard mule is the equivalent of today’s three-quarter-ton pickup with a 4-wheel drive and GPS navigation package.

Story and Photography by Patricia Rustin Christen


SA D D LEBAG f e at u r e


28

saddlebag dispatches

EVERYONE LOVES A GOOD ASS JOKE, RIGHT? I’m no different, but imagine my surprise as a long-time trail rider when I actually attended a mule event and was carried out of the myth and into the reality of mules.

O

ften portrayed as obstinate and stubborn, the mule is one of the often unsung heroes of taming our country. Hardier than horses, larger and often more tractable than donkeys, the standard mule is the equivalent of today’s three-quarter-ton pickup with a fourwheel drive and navigation package. Put a team together and you had the makings of a capable freight company. One of the original designer hybrids championed in the United States by George Washington, exalted by Darwin for their hybrid vigor, and mentioned over seventeen times in the Hebrew Bible, the benefits of crossing a donkey and a horse are hardly lost on history. The type of horse helped to predict the size of the offspring, but to those in the know the donkey’s size and temperament was and is also a factor in the long-term capability of the predicted protégé.

The history of the mule is longer, more respected, and more involved than common clichés would have most of us believe. Yes, their ears are funny and even adorable to some. Yes, they are often mislabeled stubborn when in reality they’re usually smarter than their owners and therefore misunderstood by those who believed in breaking a horse. You don’t break a mule. You train it, and then hope like hell it trains you in the process. I have heard it said by several well-respected mule trainers that if all horses were trained with the patience it takes to train a mule, the equine world would be a safer place. Why? Because you don’t take shortcuts with mules. They rarely tolerate it and will shortcut you back at a later and often vindictive date. Like any good working relationship, the mules who trekked across the west were more than beasts of burden. They were partners.


saddlebag dispatches 29


30

saddlebag dispatches


saddlebag dispatches 31

The history of the mule is longer, more respected, and more involved than common clichés would have most of us believe. Even today you can go to pack stations all over our beautiful state parks and be regaled with stories of pack mules who sat down and would not cross the ice because they knew it was weak, or of a lead mule saving the string because it knew the footing through the pass had washed out and was camouflaged under a fine layer of debris and soil from the last thaw or storm. Literally being thicker-skinned, better-hooved, hardier, and more naturally disease-resistant than horses, mules have packed, mined, pulled, logged, plowed, fed, and helped carry our nation into unknown territory. Once they arrived,

they continued through their versatility to help tame the land our forefathers claimed. Our military still uses mules in harsh environments— including combat zones—to pack supplies where modern machinery can’t traverse or survive. Modern day packers still utilize mules to carry guests through the back country, and the forest department and park services find that mules still have a place in our park management systems. The modern mule has been coming back into favor with baby boomers that not only happen to adore their


32

saddlebag dispatches


saddlebag dispatches 33

“You don’t break a mule. You train it, and then hope like hell it trains you in the process.”

unique looks, big soft eyes, intelligence, and often devoted personalities, but find the mules’ instinct for self-preservation to be a caveat in their best interest. The back of a steady mule is often considered the best, therefore safest, seat on the trail. Quite simply, the surefooted mule will rarely ever spook into hurting itself, therefore its passenger will rarely be taken on an unexpected ride through a fence or worse. Hunters attest to more than a mule’s surefooted bushwhacking abilities and steadiness. The mule’s ability to jump fences and obstacles from a standstill on the trail is a valuable asset to tracking game trails, and contests are often held at various equine events to test just how high a mule can jump from a standstill to cross over a fence or barrier Modern mules are now bred for versatility and the conformation to compete in events once considered exclusive to horses. It is not unusual to see the same mule at a national event

such as Bishop Mule Days competing in cross-disciplined events such as reining, hunter jumper, hack, roping, cutting, western dressage, English dressage, trail, packing, farming equipment, speed, and Gymkhana events by riders from 2 to 92. At the end of the day those long, beautiful ears are flags to the testament of fortitude, diversity, and versatility that make our country a great nation. —Patricia Rustin Christen is a longtime trail rider, mule enthusiast, and professional sports and event photographer who shoots under the alias of Porch Pig Productions, LLC. She not only serves as Chief Photographer for Saddlebag Dispatches, but also as a contributing photographer for Mules & More Magazine. When she’s not traveling the country shooting Western-themed races and events, she’s a short-haul trucker and makes her home in Southwest Missouri.


T

he morning sun cast a shadow over Tristen’s shoulder as he shuffled down the sidewalk. He kicked an empty pop can he’d spotted in the grass a couple blocks back. It was a good way to let off some steam. His younger twin brothers were driving him bonkers. Brats in stereo. Seriously, they had their own room, why were they always in his? And always in his stuff? Today was the worst. They barged into his room and headed straight for his science project. The one he’d been working on for a month. That’s when he blew his cool. “Get out!” he’d yelled, grabbing Caleb and Eric and shoving them into the hall. They never left easily, and he wasn’t taking no for an answer. But as usual, their fighting and screaming had brought Mom in on the scene. “Tristen James!” And she’d said it with that tone. Why was it always his name she called out? It should be obvious that they were the troublemakers. He knew what would follow. The same old speech she always gave. “They just want to do what you do. They love you. They want to spend time with you.” Blah, blah, blah. Followed by, “You need to calm down and find a way to work with them instead of fighting all the time.” “Awwgg!” Rage bubbled inside. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do about it. It’s not my fault! Tristen’s ears burned as the anger came alive again. If they loved him so much, why didn’t they just leave him alone?

He gave the aluminum can an extra-hard kick. It soared across the street and onto Amber Avenue, bouncing again before rolling to a stop under the tall glass window of a little shop. He followed, edged up to the can, and pulled his foot back to give it another shot, when his eye caught a flash of light reflected off an object inside the building. It was blinding at first, like someone had taken his picture, and all he could see was a big bright spot. He stepped back and blinked a couple more times. Finally able to see again, he read the etching on the window: Ms. Vashti’s House Of Secret Treasures. Curiosity stirred. The possibilities of what might be inside lured him. Cupping his face with his hands, he peered through the window. Everything imaginable appeared to have found a home inside the four walls. His eyes swept over the room until he spotted the thing that had caused the flash of light. Forgetting about the pop can, he ran through the front door, rushed to the glass counter, and examined the metal piece. It was a genuine sheriff’s badge. It looked just like the ones he’d seen in the black and white western movies, the old ones that were shaped like a star. Not one of those fake imitation plastic kinds. This badge was real, and even tarnished and rusty from use. He closed his eyes and could almost hear the hoof beats of wild horses drumming across the open land. “Is there something I can show you?” A lady’s voice interrupted the scene playing out in his head. He jumped. “Do you work here?” She didn’t look like a store clerk. No uniform, not even a name tag. The red scarf she had wrapped


saddlebag dispatches 37 around her head looked more like something a pirate would wear. But she had a nice, friendly face. “Yes dear, this is my shop. I am Ms. Vashti.” She stuck her hand out for him to shake. He shook it and hoped she wouldn’t call him dear anymore. “Was there something you wanted to see?” “Uh, yeah.” He pointed to the badge. “Could I see that star?” “Yes, indeed. It is a very interesting piece.” She pulled out a ring of keys, fumbling through them until she found a small silver one. With slow movements, she inserted the key and released the lock. The glass door slid open, and she reached in, taking hold of the sheriff’s badge. His heart beat faster from anticipation as he watched her carefully lift the star from its home and place it in his hand. His fingers closed tightly around the metal. It was heavier than he had thought it would be. He took a deep breath and could almost smell the Old West—cowboys on horses and a sheriff leading the men in pursuit of the bad guys. He studied the badge. This was exactly what he’d wished for since he was five years old. That’s when he’d heard the first story about his great, great, great, great grandfather. One of the first sheriffs in Logan County. “How much is it?” he asked, not wanting to give it back, and unable to take his eyes off the prize. Just holding it made him feel important, like he had a connection with his ancestor. It was as if he was under a spell. “It carries a lot of responsibility,” she replied. “Are you sure you’re ready for that?” What kind of question was that? All he cared about was taking home the treasure he was holding in his hand. Wonder what Uncle Joe will think about it? When he looked up, he found her studying him intently. Maybe she was waiting for him to answer her question. He didn’t even remember what she’d asked. Was it something about being ready to own the badge and responsibility? “Ah, yeah, I guess.” Time to change the subject. “You know, my great, great, great, great grandfather was a sheriff. We have a picture of him at home.” Ms. Vashti smiled. “I think this badge looks just like the one my grandfather had.” He turned the star over and examined it from both sides. “He’s wearing it in the photo we have.” “Really?” She asked, looking intrigued. “I would like to see that picture of your grandfather sometime.” “It’s my great, great, great, great grandfather.” Tristen corrected her. “Maybe next time I come by, I’ll show it to you.” Ms. Vashti smiled again. “I’d like that.” “So….” He crossed his fingers for luck and used his best pleading tone. “Can I buy this one? Please?” He remembered that there were only a couple of crumpled dollars left in his pocket. Would it be enough? The rest of his allowance had been used to buy snacks at the skating rink yesterday. “Well….” She seemed to consider the request. “How much do you think it should cost?”

That was the dreaded question. Slowly he reached into his back pocket and pulled out a slingshot. Good grief. “Sorry, wrong pocket.” Shoving the handmade weapon back into place, he slid his hand into his front pocket. His fingers quickly folded around the crinkled money jammed inside. He held it out to her. Without un-wadding the bills or even bothering to count them, Ms. Vashti winked, “This will do just fine.” “Really?” Was she kidding? She hadn’t even counted it. “You really mean it? It’s mine? I can have it?” Ms. Vashti nodded her head, causing the dangling earring she wore to swing back and forth. “Yes!” His feet sprang from the floor, before he could remind himself that he was not a five-year-old. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” He clutched the star and dashed out. All he could think about as he raced home was the family photo album that held the picture of his hero, Sheriff Boyce, wearing the badge. Now Tristen had a star just like it. He knew this one was special, too. He could feel it. And to the best of his memory, he could swear this one looked exactly like the one in the photo. The minute he got to the house, he was going to check it out. His mind wandered back to the first time he had heard about the famous sheriff being his relative. Dad and Uncle Joe had been watching a TV show about the history of sheriffs. One of the names mentioned was that of Jasper Boyce. Dad had called out, “Look there, Tristen. See that sheriff? He’s your great, great, great, great grandfather.” Tristen had stared at the television with the picture of a man that had lived a hundred years ago. The man with piercing eyes, wearing a badge—this was his grandfather? He couldn’t wait to hear about all the sheriff’s adventures. He was proud to think that the blood of that hero ran in him too. The whole family had always liked western movies, but Tristen’s devoted interest shot up. He had made Dad and Uncle Joe tell him everything they knew about the famous relative. Even if he heard the same stories told over and over again, it was never enough. How many times had Mom gotten after him for staying up late, listening to his dad and uncle when he was supposed to be sleeping? His favorite legend was about the capture of Rattle Ray Owens, the meanest, most vicious outlaw Logan County had ever seen. He was known to come into a peaceful town and destroy it. Fighting, robbing, and killing was always the end result. But it would start off with him mouthing off, using every cuss word known to man. He’d rattle off such offensive language that it made the townfolk want to wash their ears out. At least that’s the way the story went. According to legend, Rattler Ray Owens was fiercely ugly, due to some explosion gone wrong during a bank robbery. His face was so badly scarred, it could scare you to death. Besides being spiteful, Rattle Ray had a quick and rotten temper. He must have had a complex too, because it was reported that he had shot more than one man just for looking his way.


38

saddlebag dispatches

But none of these details stopped Sheriff Jasper Boyce. When the outlaw came into town and started his routine, Grandpa had taken him on, tracked down the bandit, and got the drop on him by using a lasso. Old snarl-face Rattle Ray was brought in without having to fire a single shot. What other sheriff could have done that? Yep, that was the story that started it all. From that adventure on, it was all about the Old West. Every book or movie Tristen could find. He even practiced his quick draw in the mirror when no one was looking. But none of that was as real as what he now held in his hand. The badge. That was a real piece of the Old West, and he wished it could talk. Rushing through the front door, Tristen dove for the family photo album, stuck down in the bottom of a basket mom kept by the sofa. Plopping down, he put the book on his lap and flipped page after page. A photo of mom and dad in a porch swing. Pictures of him and his brothers just before they’d given each other a black eye. A chubby picture of Aunt Ruth who delighted in referring to him as a cute little guy like he was still in grade school. Finally, there it was. Jasper Boyce, his great, great, great, great grandfather, standing proudly, big as life, posed with a dark cowboy hat on his head. His right hand held his gun, while the left grasped the vest next to the famous sheriff’s badge. A shiver of excitement ran down his spine when he held the star close to the old photo and compared them. In the

center of both medallions was the word “sheriff” with a circle encasing it. Designs etched in the silver went in all directions. At the end of each point of the star was a small metal ball about the size of a BB. “No way.” Another shiver. The badges looked identical. Had all sheriff’s badges looked the same back then? If not, was it possible that this was the same one? Tristen took a deep breath and tried to imagine what it must have felt like to have been a sheriff and wear that badge. Proud to be able to pin the star on, his fingers followed the daydream and attached the star to his shirt. He rubbed the metal with his thumb. Out of nowhere, a dust storm rose up and engulfed him. Churning and swirling, it tousled his cropped hair, tossed up dust, and burned his nose before settling back down. He coughed and rubbed his eyes, trying to remove the grit. Gone was his brick house with the Jeep in the driveway. Missing were the other fifty or so houses in the subdivision with their green lawns and paved roads lined with sidewalks. Somehow, in an instant, a moment in time, a whole Western town had been tucked into what used to be his neighborhood, replacing the new homes with dirt, tumbleweeds, and ramshackle old buildings of weathered wood. •


saddlebag dispatches 39 This can’t be real. Tristen rubbed his eyes again. Was he dreaming? He couldn’t remember even being tired. Across the road stood a row of old buildings. One was a dry goods store. To its left was another shop, this one with a broken window and a hand-painted sign hanging over the entrance reading “Henderson’s Hardware.” Further on, Tristen saw swinging doors under golden letters marking The Gold Nugget Saloon. And at the end of the street was the Logan County Jail. He smirked. How convenient not to have to travel far to put the crook in jail. Around him, people of all ages went about their daily tasks. Men had cowboy hats, boots, spurs, and chaps. Some even carried guns in leather holsters. The women wore crazylooking bonnets and long dresses that almost brushed the ground. There were some little kids playing, moving in and out of the shops as if everything was normal. Everything except him. How had he gotten here? It was weird. He brought his hand to his head in disbelief, only to touch something soft and unfamiliar. A hat. Tristen whipped it off and looked at it. A cowboy hat! But how? A friendly horse tethered to a hitching post neighed and rubbed her nose against his arm. “Hey, girl,” Tristen reached out to pet the bronze-

colored animal with the dark mane. “Were you wanting some attention?” The horse leaned in, and he rubbed the curve of her jaw, “You’re awesome. Who do you belong to?” He had always wanted one, but his dad would remind him that you couldn’t park a horse in the garage. That was true, but it had never taken the desire away. He stroked the animal’s long neck. In the distance came the sound of approaching hooves. “Sheriff! Sheriff!” A sheriff. Finally, he’d get to see one in person. Turning quickly he watched as the horse and rider skidded to a stop beside him. “Sheriff!” The rider called again. “Come on. I got the posse rounded up like you asked.” Was the rider talking to him? Tristen looked around. There was no one else close by. Did this guy seriously think he was the sheriff? Where would he get such a kooky idea? Tristen glanced down. There on his own chest rested the badge he had pinned on earlier. It gleamed in the sun as if it were new. Holy cow! Somehow, some way, he had become the sheriff. Not sure just what to say, he studied the rider, who had his own badge that read deputy. “Come on,” the deputy insisted, breaking into his thoughts. He pointed to the animal Tristen had been admiring. “Grab your horse and let’s go. The posse’s ready and waiting.” Up to now everything he had seen or read about cowboys


40

saddlebag dispatches

had been strictly secondhand. He had never gotten to visit the West, or even ridden a horse. How could he possibly go along with this charade? On the other hand, it was so very tempting. Would he ever have a chance like this again? The cowboy in him was screaming, “Do it, partner. It’ll be awesome!” With the enthusiasm of a greenhorn—a rookie cowboy— Tristen made the decision. He untethering the horse, and led her out into the street— —and paused. He couldn’t just walk alongside the horse. At some point he was going to have to get on it. How was the question. There had to be a way of getting into the saddle without totally embarrassing himself. Those old Westerns movies he loved played over in his mind as he tried to remember how the heroes always did it. Well, here goes. Swallowing hard, he grabbed the reins. Placing his left foot in the stirrup, he pushed off, threw his right leg over the animal, and planted himself squarely in the saddle, as if he had been doing it all of his life. Yes! He wanted to yell and high-five someone, but had never seen that done in any of the Western movies, so he dropped his hand. A heavy dose of adrenalin pumped through his veins from the excitement of the unknown. He tugged on the reins, turning the horse in the direction of the other rider. “Where’s the rest of the posse?” Tristen asked, wondering if it was just going to be the two of them. “They’re waiting for us at your office,” the deputy replied, pointing at the building next to the jail where several men with horses had gathered. He followed the deputy to the group assembled on the wooden sidewalk. “Sheriff,” one of the men called to him as he rode up, “Mad Jack is getting way out of hand. It’s time we put a stop to his law-breakin’.” A tall, lean man with long sideburns added, “Yesterday, it was a brawl in the saloon. Today, he shot the window outta my hardware store. What’s it gonna be tomorrow? All he does is disturb our peaceful little town.” “Yeah!” the others joined in. “He did more than just shoot out your windows,” another man angrily protested. “When he fired out that window, he killed my boy’s horse. That’s a hangin’ offense. Why, he’s lucky he didn’t kill my boy.” Tristen’s gulped. Maybe pretending to be Sheriff wasn’t the best idea. The men were all stirred up. The angry looks on their faces was scary, way worse than he had ever seen on his mom’s face. Even when she found out that he was the one that broke her favorite vase. “I say we get him and hang him from the highest tree,” another man shouted. The entire group of men joined in, all voicing their opinions. A hanging? Fighting with his brothers was bad, but these

guys were out to kill this Mad Jack dude. Being a part of a posse was one thing, but the thought of hanging someone for real made his stomach hurt. Someone better calm them down. Then he remembered he was that someone. As sheriff, it was his job to keep the peace. “Men.” Tristen had to raise his voice to be heard over those of the enraged mob. “Men!” He waited for them to settle down and listen. “I know you’re angry, really angry. It makes me mad too. So we’re going to get this guy, but let’s remember that we are not the judge. You don’t want to be guilty of becoming like Mad Jack, do ya?” There were a few grumbles in the group, but when no one spoke up, Tristen continued. “You want a peaceful town, not a lawless one. So let the judge decide how to handle Mad Jack, after we bring him in.” “He’s right,” several of the men agreed. “Besides,” one of the older men added, “if Judge Anderson gets the case, he’ll be hanged anyway.” There were nods all around. “All right, then,” Tristen said, feeling like a real sheriff. “Mount up. We’re going to go get Mad Jack.” A round of cheering approval rose, and the men climbed onto their horses to followed Sheriff Tristen out of town and toward the parched land that lay past the stables. Unlike the paved roads he was used to, the beaten path was dirt and rocks that had been rutted out from constant use of horses and wagons. He rode past the last building, a broken-down stable carelessly tacked together with weathered lumber. Large splintered doors stood lopsided and open. The fenced-in corral was in the same rough condition, an introduction to what lay beyond the little town. No luscious green meadows, only stark, open land with uneven terrain and wisps of tall dead grass thrown here and there. The blazing sun cast an orange glow on the parched earth. Dirt boiled up from the drumming hooves beating the ground. Hot, dry air mixed with sand slapped at his face. He coughed to clear his throat from the thick dust that had settled there, but could still taste the dirty grit. Yuck! How many hours of this bouncing and bumping he endured, he didn’t know, but surely his poor, sweaty horse was tired, too. Tristen’s backside ached from the beating it took with each stride of the long-legged animal beneath him. Beads of sweat formed under the rim of his hat, dripped down his face, neck, and back. He desperately wanted to wipe it away, but fear of letting go of the reins at this pace kept him holding tight. Falling off his horse was not an option. His hands cramped as he continued to clutch the leather straps, but despite the miserable conditions, he was determined to lead the posse in the painful pursuit. After all, Mad Jack had to be stopped, so on and on he rode with miles of country before him. Thankfully, the trail soon came to a junction. He tugged on the reins to slow the horse. The posse did the same.


saddlebag dispatches 41 Which way had Mad Jack gone? The path on the left led toward a dry river bank, an easier route that might offer shade. Tristen hoped that was the way Mad Jack had chosen, because the other choice was a rocky trail pointing toward the walls of a looming mesa. High terrain freaked him out. He turned to the deputy and asked, “Which way do you think he went?” The deputy shook his head. “That’s mighty hard to say. Hope he left us some tracks to follow.” He swung a leg over the saddle horn and easily slid from his horse. Grateful for a good excuse to dismount, Tristen joined the deputy and searched the ground for hoof prints. He pushed small bushes aside to check every mark, only to find more rocks cluttering his view. Impossible. Every place he looked was more of the same. It was blinding. Minutes ticked past before the deputy called out, “I think I may have found something, Sheriff.” “Really?” How was that possible? Tristen rushed over to join the deputy, who was squatted down studying a piece of ground. “See that?” Tristen leaned in, squinting against the glare of the sun. The deputy pointed to a half-moon shape imprint in the earth. “See that hoof print?” “Yeah. I really can see it.” It was an honest-to-goodness track. “Looks pretty recent, don’t you think, Sheriff?” “Sure does.” He wondered how the deputy knew if it was recent or not. “So now we know which way Mad Jack went, right?” “Yep.” Tristen’s eyes followed the trail as it stretched across the land and up toward the rocky mesa. He jerked his gaze away, telling himself not to chicken out no matter how high it was. The sun baked his insides. He grabbed a canteen from his saddlebag and took a much-needed drink. The water wasn’t cold, but it was wet and helped to quench the thirst and settle his anxious stomach. He removed his hat, wiped the annoying sweat oozing from his brow, and fanned himself, hoping to create a breeze. Glancing back, he found the deputy still crouched, studying the imprint. “Come on, Deputy. Let’s go.” Tristen placed the cowboy hat back on his head and rubbed his sore backside before slowly climbing on the horse. Settling into the saddle, he lifted his arm to signal the men and called out, “Let’s ride!” I’ve always wanted to say that! The land was again filled with the thunder of hooves as they rumbled across the dust-filled plain, heading toward a gorge cut into the mesa. The trail became steep and narrow, and they slowed to a brisk walk. The walls of the rising ravine pushed at them like bullies on the schoolyard, forcing them into single file. Each step made by the horses sent a handful of rocks plummeting down the path behind them. One stone rolled and bounced downward


saddlebag dispatches 43 and then out of sight. Tristen swallowed hard. Dizziness swept over him. Gripping the reins a little tighter, he focused straight ahead. Life in the West was a lot scarier than the way he had imagined it for his great, great, great, great grandfather. Crack! From somewhere overhead, a gun fired down on them. •

The deafening sound of gunfire filled the ravine, echoing off the rock walls. Men scattered for cover like flies avoiding the swatter. Tristen dove between two boulders. Where in the heck had the shot come from? He held his breath and waited. Listened. Nothing. Time ticked by. He couldn’t stand not knowing what was going on. Slowly, he peered out from around his stone wall of security. At this angle, he was able to see the deputy crouched down across from him, lifting his hat up on a stick so that it showed above his own hideout. Bang! The bullet tore through the crown of the hat, sending it flying off the stick. The deputy scrambled back behind his boulder. Return fire from the posse was immediate. Bullets were flying. Zip! Zing! Tristen threw his hands to his ears to stop the noise, wishing he had a volume button like on the TV remote. After a few minutes he pulled his hands back down. There were no bullets coming his way. He peeked out again. The deputy was still in view, aiming his pistol toward a target high above. Tristen glanced in the same direction. All he could see was a gray rock overhang. No wonder the bullets hadn’t come his way, he was protected from view. Mad Jack didn’t even know he was there. Yes! A perfect spot to stay until the gun battle ended. He waited. Bang! Crack! Bang! Still he waited, but the silver star pinned to his chest scoffed at him, calling him a coward. How could he sit there hiding out? It’s not what his great, great, great, great, grandfather would have done. Mad Jack still needed to be captured, and as sheriff, Tristen had a job to do. He wasn’t sure how he was going to do that just yet, but it had to be done. The old coot must be on the ridge above him, and that was a start. Shots flew back and forth. With an anxious stomach, he eased out from behind the boulders and pressed himself against the face of the rock, making certain to keep under the rim of the mesa and out of view from above. A sneak attack from the rear had to be the safest route. With slow and careful movement, he slid one foot and then the other, inching his way around the massive ridge on a ledge that ringed the cliff, ignoring the heights that loomed above and below him. With cautious steps, he made his approach to the back side of the cliff.

That hadn’t been too difficult, but scaling the ridge would be. Where was a ladder when you needed one? Swallowing hard, Tristen moved carefully, placing his left foot on the lip of a rock. Balance. Balance was everything. With his right hand, he grabbed ahold of the stone wall. Thump-thump, thump-thump, his heart pounded, echoing in his head. Right foot perched on a rock, left hand holding to the ledge. Inch by inch he crawled, right, left, right, left. Just think about getting to the top, right, left, right, left. His confidence growing, Tristen continued upward, inserting his hand between two pillars for support. Placing his foot on the next point, he felt a scaly reptile slither across his fingers. Choking down a scream, he jerked his hand back, which threw him off balance in the process. Losing his footing, he scrambled for something to grab hold of—something, anything. Luckily, a lone tree had somehow found a home on the side of the ridge, with the gnarled branch sticking out like a crooked finger. A lifeline! Grasping the branch limb with shaking hands, he stopped his fall, but dangled like a rag doll out over the dangerous rocks below. The floor of the gorge spread out below him in all its sinister glory, offering no safe landing. The jagged rock-lined casket waited with open arms. Fear pounded out its harsh rhythm, making his ears ring. Clammy hands found it hard to keep a grip. Don’t fall, don’t fall. I’m too young to die. He gagged with fear. How was he going to get out of this mess? He needed a plan, one that didn’t involve him plummeting to his death. The sweat washed over him again. His heart turned up the irregular beat, making it harder to breathe. Without warning, the branch swayed and dipped under his weight. He sucked in his breath, looking up, praying that it wouldn’t snap. There wasn’t an immediate crack that he could see, but there was another danger, worse even then falling. A huge, gray rattler lay coiled on the ledge before him, ready to strike. •

Panic clutched his gut, leaving the taste of spew in his mouth. Afraid he’d wet his pants, he squeezed his eyes closed. Get a grip, Tristen. Get a plan! His heart threatened to hammer out of his chest, and a familiar dizziness danced around his head. There was no way to call for help without alerting Mad Jack to his presence. He was on his own. The only hope he had was reaching the next rim over. That would put a large sandstone rock between him and the snake. That is, if he could reach it. He calculated his chances and swung his body back and forth until his feet were able to reach the ledge behind him. He stretched out his arms and grasped the next branch over with his right hand. Sprawled out like a pair of jeans on grandma’s clothesline, he glared at his left


44

saddlebag dispatches

hand. It refused to let go of the branch it gripped. Fear could sure do strange things at the worst times. Shots continued to ring out in the distance. His weary arms strained to hold him up. He should have stayed behind the boulder. Why hadn’t he? Oh yeah, the star, Mad Jack, and his great, great, great, great, grandfather. Was this then his life flashing before his eyes? Was he about to die? No! No way, he had to get out of here. Refusing to look down, he took a deep breath and willed his fingers to let go of the first branch and seize the life-saving, second limb. His feet kicked at the air before locating the rock ledge, safely away from the leering snake. I’m okay. I did it. I’m safe. Tristen laid his head against the hard stone and waited for his labored breathing to return to normal. He felt like crying. Tremors shook his insides. He sucked in a deep breath and then blew it out slowly. Toughen up. Mad Jack is up there waiting. How much farther? Three feet? Four? He didn’t want to think about it. It might as well be a hundred the way his shaky limbs felt. After all this, that scoundrel Mad Jack had better be up there! Making the final climb to the crest of the cliff, Tristen peered over the top. Yep, there was the outlaw, perched on the

edge, apparently engrossed with his targets below and clearly unaware of a visitor. A sneak attack was definitely a good idea. Throwing a leg on top, Tristen eased himself up. The rocky terrain welcomed him with a cloud of dust and poked at his knees when he used them for balance. He smirked as he positioned himself out of sight. All that was left to do was capture Mad Jack and be the hero. He’d practiced for this kind of part in his room a hundred times before—getting the drop on the bad guy, leveling his six-shooter, and uttering those timeless words… “Reach for the sky, you ornery varmint!” But today he would say . . . Six-shooter? Six-shooter! Holy Crap, I don’t have a gun! The realization hit him like a bolt from the blue. He’s going to shoot me dead for sure! After having survived cliff hanging, heights, fast horses, and a poisonous snake, this is how the Western ends? The hero gets shot? No way, dude! I am so outta here! He turned, ready to shimmy back down the side of the cliff. No, that wouldn’t do. Tristen sighed. He couldn’t leave, but he sure didn’t want to die, either… at least not without trying something first. He glanced at Mad Jack, afraid that the sound of his own pounding heart could be heard above the gunfire. But relieved to see the psycho was still distracted with target shooting. Safe for the moment, Tristen’s eyes searched the ground


saddlebag dispatches 45 for some kind of weapon. Nothing—only twigs and more rocks. The large ones were too big to pick up, and the smaller ones, well . . . he wasn’t sure what he could do with them, but reached down and scooped up a couple anyway. The movement must have caught Mad Jack’s attention, because he immediately turned his snarling, hideous, unshaven face toward Tristen and sneered, his red-rimmed eyes glaring wickedly. Tristen swallowed hard. This was it. The end. Like a fly in the web waiting for the spider. He understood now how David must have felt facing Goliath. While he watched in slow motion as his enemy struggled to stand, his own brain followed the thought of fighting giants, and an idea formed. He reached into his back pocket and snatched out the slingshot. Before the man could scramble to his feet, Tristen launched one of the stones. Smack! Yes! The rock crashed against Mad Jack’s skull. His blazing eyes grew wide in shock, then closed as he crumpled to the ground. Clutching the slingshot in one hand and a back-up stone in the other, Tristen bravely stepped toward the unconscious body, watching for any sign of movement. Was he breathing? He leaned closer. Yes. The outlaw’s chest moved in and out. What would happen if he kicked the outlaw’s boot? Would he stir? Nope. Tristen let out the breath he’d been holding and picked up Mad Jack’s rifle with extreme caution. It would be embarrassing for a guy to shoot himself accidentally after surviving all that he had today. Nervous about being mistaken for the gunman by the posse below, he decided to signal the men. Sitting down where he could keep an eye on the fugitive, he unlaced his shoe, and pulled off the white sock. Mimicking the act of the deputy earlier, he placed the piece of cloth on the end of the gun, and raised it over his head, waving it back and forth in the air several times. When he was sure it had been seen, he stepped out into full view of the men below. “I got him guys! He’s out like a light.” “Hooray,” came the cheer from below. “Hip, hip, hooray for Sheriff Tristen!” This was followed by whoops and hollers that echoed through the ravine. “Yes!” Tristen victoriously threw his arms in the air. When the men quieted down, he continued, “I’m going to need a couple of volunteers to help me. Be sure to bring a rope so we can tie this bad boy up and figure out a way to get him hauled back to town.” The deputy with the shot-up hat was the first to offer his assistance, “I’ll be right there, Sheriff.” The tall, lean man with long sideburns grabbed his rope and headed to the ridge, along with several others. “It was tricky getting up here,” Tristen warned. “And look out for the snake along the way.”

He watched the men like ants working their way up. The feeling of pride made him smile. He’d done it. Just like his great, great, great, great grandfather. His efforts had paid off, despite the dangers and obstacles. He had conquered the bad guy without firing a shot. Relieved, he sat down to put his sock and shoe back on while he waited for the posse. He was filthy. A thick layer of dirt and clay covered him from head to toe and hat to badge. With great care, he unfastened the star from his shirt and began to rub the dust off . . . and just as quickly as the story had unfolded around him, it ended. No horses and riders on dusty, dangerous cliffs. No more Mad Jack. Gone was the cowboy hat from his head. Tristen found himself once again sitting on the sofa in his living room with the family photo album opened in his lap and the badge in his hand. Had it all been a daydream? •

Tristen’s daze was interrupted when his brother Caleb bounded into the room. He was a little mischief maker, always stirring up trouble and then running off to tattle like a five-year-old. “I wanna see what ya got,” he demanded, pouncing on Tristen. “Knock it off, Caleb!” Tristen pushed him to the wood floor. “What do you have?” Eric joined in and made a grab for the badge. Tristen leaped to his feet, holding the star out of harm’s way, and shoved the boy. Caleb jumped up, screaming like a wild native, hands and fists flying. Eric had climbed on top of the coffee table and leaped onto Tristen’s back, joining the attack. The three were woven together like a yarn ball, bouncing across the floor, until mom stepped in. “Tristen James!” And there was that tone again… A week passed before Tristen was able to visit Ms. Vashti’s House Of Secret Treasures again. She smiled sweetly as he made his way to the counter. “I brought the picture of my great, great, great, great grandfather with his sheriff’s badge.” He pulled the photo from his pocket and handed it to her. “I’d have been here sooner but I was grounded for fightin’ with my brothers.” “Does that happen often?” she chuckled. “Yeah,” he answered honestly. Ms. Vashti smiled again. “It was thoughtful of you to bring this photo for me to see.” She took the glasses that dangled around her neck and perched them on her nose to study the picture. “Hmmm, the badge certainly does resemble the one you purchased the other day.” After examining the image, she added, “Of course, your badge is special, isn’t it?” Her eyes twinkled as she said it. Tristen nodded.


46

saddlebag dispatches

She laid the picture down and asked, “So how do you like your sheriff’s badge?” He fished the star out of his shirt pocket. “It’s the coolest.” He laid it down on the counter next to the picture. “Did it make you feel like a sheriff?” She gave a knowing look. “Man, it was awesome.” He’d been dying to tell someone about the adventure and how real it had all seemed, so he told her everything, leaving nothing out. Ms. Vashti listened intently, taking in every word with a knowing look in her eye. As he recounted the journey, she had turned the badge over and flicked away a piece of orange clay that had lodged itself into the face of the metal. “Sounds like you really enjoy pursuing Mad Jack and leading your posse,” she commented. “Oh, Ms. Vashti!” Tristen said. “It was just like I imagined. The only thing better would be if I could do that every day!” “It is possible,” she said, then changed the subject. “Tristen, did you know that the sheriffs were often referred to as peacekeepers in the days of the Old West?” “Umm. . .yeah, I’ve heard that.” Tristen answered. Her discerning eyes locked with his as her kind voice advised him, “Did you know that you can be a peacekeeper? Every day, if you want.” Tristen wasn’t sure how that was possible, but he knew he wanted to find out.

“For real?” “Of course. You see there was a young man, like you, who had brothers that picked on him too. His name was David, and he had this saying that I think you’ll like. I think it goes along with being a sheriff and having a posse.” “What was it?” He popped his elbows up on the counter beside her. “Tell it to me.” Ms. Vashti quoted, “Turn from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it.” “Turn from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it.” Tristen repeated, turning it over in his mind. “That does sound like posse material. But how would I use that today?” “Well,” Ms. Vashti prodded, “wasn’t it you that kept the mob from hanging Mad Jack?” Tristen nodded his head. “That’s turning from evil. And you had to use careful observation when you searched for evidence to know which way Mad Jack had gone. Correct?” Tristen nodded again. “That’s pursuing. And I know it couldn’t have been easy. In fact, it sounds like it took some hard work and more than a little courage. You met challenges you had never faced before. And despite the dangers of heights, rocks, snakes, gunfire, and Mad Jack, you obtained peace. Those same techniques can be used every day in pursuit of peace.”


saddlebag dispatches 47 Tristen considered what she had said. “So, like a sheriff, I’m a peacekeeper.” This time it was Ms. Vashti who nodded her headed. “And my posse is seeking peace,” he added. “That’s right,” she encouraged him. “Every day like a sheriff would do.” “Every day.” It wouldn’t be easy with his brothers. It would definitely have to be pursued; it sure wouldn’t just happen. But if he could climb up a steep ridge in order to make peace happen, then he should be able to work it out with his kid brothers. “It’s my job to figure out how to make peace . . . even with my brothers.” “I think you’ve got it.” Ms. Vashti applauded him. “Sounds like you are just the sheriff for the job of keeping the peace and pursuing it.” “Yeah!” Tristen agreed, gathering up his photo and badge. He smirked when he added, “I think I am, too.” Ms. Vashti chuckled as he moved toward the exit. “You’re going to make a great peacekeeper, Tristen.” “Yep!” He opened the door. “I am, ’cause I can seek it and keep it.” He laughed at the rhyme he had made and stepped out onto the sidewalk where he promptly put his badge on his chest, giving it a little rub. A dust storm rose up to engulf him, swirling around before settling back down. He rubbed his eyes, removing the grime, but when he looked up, it was a whole new scene.

a

rachel fawn

R

achel Fawn is the mother of three daughters and the grandmother of three girls and two boys. She was born in Cloverdale, California, but her family moved to Arkansas in 1971. She discovered a deep love for children early on and was inspired to teach Sunday School classes while still only a teenager. After several years, Rachel earned a promotion to lead the entire Children’s Church program for her church, which in turn led to an offer of a position as Children’s Director at a larger church. Driven by her creative lessons, characters, and skits, her program grew from forty children to over four hundred. Before long, other churches and schools from across the Southeast were reaching out to find out her methods for connecting with the next generation and apply them to their own youth programs. The “secret,” though, is simple. Children are imaginative and connecting with them comes only by a willingness to embrace their creative thought processes and speak their language. Inspiration is everywhere, just reach out and take hold of the fun of teaching kids. For her part, Rachel has taken on the task of reaching more children than she ever could before—through writing.


48

saddlebag dispatches

GHOSTS t d l o b m u h of

fort

A trip through time to visit the ghosts of one of

California’s most historic National Monuments

P A M E L A

F O S T E R


SA D D LEBAG t r av e l

IN RUINS Fort Humboldt’s original headquarters structure, circa 1875. The building, where the daily business of the post was conducted, no longer stands today.

B

y the time Dad woke up enough to understand that Mom was in labor and got his only shoes— work boots—laced, I was nearly born on the bench seat of his green and black 1932 Chevy. We did, in fact, make it to the old Saint Joseph’s hospital before I made my appearance. Three days later I was bundled up and carried, in the same truck, with a glaring and equally bundled Grandma in the open rumble seat, to the home where I would live the first eighteen years of my life. That little Pierson house was directly behind Fort Humboldt. From the time I was old enough to be allowed out of Mom’s sight, the fort was my playground. I explored the spruce trees and heavy brush that grew to replace the redwood forest that had originally surrounded the fort, and pushed my way through tunnels that formed mazes in thick soap bushes. At the fort, I always played at being an Indian. Like most white children, I was mostly a pioneer woman in my youthful fantasies. But at Fort Humboldt I became an

American Indian girl-child learning to be a gatherer of acorns, a maker of baskets, and a scraper of hides. Last week, on an assignment for Saddlebag Dispatches, I parked in front of my old house and strolled through the midst of nostalgia. Sucking deep draughts of air infused with the very dirt of home, I followed the narrow path through the gulley at the dead end of my old street and strolled up the bluff on the old familiar path to Fort Humboldt. I stood on the site where I had played at being an Indian. The same breeze swept off the ocean and roared up the thirtyfive foot bluff and across what had once been the fort’s parade grounds. I became again the child who loved to pretend to be a gatherer of mushrooms, a dryer of salmon, a baker of fry bread. There, wind in my ears, I read about the genocide of the Wiyot in that very spot. Until that moment I had not known, did not understand, did not even suspect the truth about the people who lived along my beloved Humboldt Bay, when my ancestor, Merritt Curtis Foster, arrived


50

saddlebag dispatches

For Native Americans, in particular the Wiyot, the place is a genocidal site, known as Jouwuchguri—the place of lying down and drawing up your knees.” around 1852. Like many others, four times greatgrandpa Merritt came to Humboldt County for the gold and stayed for the trees. Logging giant redwoods turned out to be far more lucrative for far more people than did gold mining. I grew up playing at being an Indian, believing our local Indians were peaceful, that my ancestors and their white compatriots treated the indigenous peoples more or less fairly. Honestly, if I gave it any thought at all, I believed the two peoples had more or less ignored one another. For me, Fort Humboldt was a fine childhood playground. Historically the fort was where Ulysses S. Grant suffered through a few cold, rainy, and desolate months as quartermaster. For Native Americans, in particular the Wiyot, the place is a genocidal site, known as Jouwuchguri—the place of lying down and drawing up your knees. Gripping a pamphlet I’d picked up at the tourist center, I envisioned the round eighty-foot corral with its twelve-foot plank walls where in order to “protect the Indians from beatings, killings, and rapes” Lieutenant Colonel James M. Olney of the California Volunteers imprisoned between two hundred and

five hundred Wiyot. Wind in my ears, I relived my childhood game of playing Indian, thought about how my tiny feet had tread on the very spot where over two hundred actual Native Americans died under the protective custody of men who I strongly suspect were very much like my own kinsmen. In 1853 two companies of soldiers under the command of Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Robert C. Buchanan left Plattsburgh, New York. Their mission was to make their way to the farthest western point in the United States, Eureka, California, to establish a fort and to restore order between the Indians and the newly arrived whites, many of whom were committed to exterminating the native population. White men had passed through the area before the 1850s, but earlier American, English, and Russian woodsmen were fur trappers. Their trade did not compete significantly with the Native Americans who lived communally along the coast and along the area’s six rivers. But in 1849 gold was discovered on the Trinity River a hundred miles inland from Humboldt Bay. Coming on top of the earlier Sutter’s Fort strike in 1848 three hundred miles to the south, gold fever brought


saddlebag dispatches 51 AN ISOLATED STATION When the post was established in 1853, Eureka, California was nothing but an encampment in the middle of the wilderness on the furthest Western point of land in the United States. approximately three hundred miles, where they boarded a ship and sailed to Panama. In Colon, they disembarked, loaded pack mules and, armed with machetes, cut their way across the isthmus to what is now Panama City. This leg of the journey took them through triple canopy rainforest, over mountains, and across swampy coastal plains. The soldiers and their families may well have encountered thick clouds of mosquitos and both poisonous vipers and boas as long as their mules and as big around as the men’s thighs. Early mornings and dark nights would have been punctuated with the howl of jaguars, the screech of monkeys, and the throaty grunts of crocodiles. Once they reached the Pacific Ocean, the group boarded another ship, possibly a Pacific Mail hundreds, and then Steamship Company thousands, of men to vessel, and sailed Humboldt Bay with up the coast to San hopes of striking it Francisco. By the time rich. Like Grandpa they arrived in that Merritt, the whites city by the bay, more came for the gold, A FAMILIAR FACE than two hundred of but it was the ancient Before he became head of all Union forces during the them had died, mostly redwoods that kept Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant was a lonely junior officer of cholera, though them in the region. posted to Ft. Humboldt. I cannot help but The two cultures, speculate that some white and Native may have simply lay down on the rolling deck and given American, were set on a collision course. Between 1851 and 1864 a partial record shows at least fourteen up in utter exhaustion and despair. The soldiers were allowed to rest long enough in San hundred Indians killed in the Humboldt region. It bears noting that in the same period of time approximately Francisco for a young quartermaster, Ulysses S. Grant, to attempt several schemes in an attempt to raise the thirteen whites were reported killed by Indians. One can only hope the two companies of soldiers money necessary to bring his own wife, Julia, to join him who left New York bound for Humboldt Bay in 1853 did on the west coast. Bitterly lonely and desperate for his not know what awaited them. Some brought their wives wife’s company, Grant tried floating ice from Alaska and children. Thirty percent of the men were recent for sale in San Francisco. The ice melted. He bought immigrants, not yet citizens of the United States. The into a mercantile business. The store went bankrupt. group marched from Plattsburg to the Atlantic Ocean, Having distinguished himself in the Mexican-American


52

saddlebag dispatches

War, Lieutenant bluff to the site of Grant was driven what would be the to escape the new fort by pack boredom and mule. Living in loneliness of tents or sleeping a peacetime directly on the army by seeking wet ground, the the comfort of men set about whiskey. constructing a From San hospital and sick Francisco, bay and building Colonel Buchanan barracks. marched what Lieutenant was left of his Grant wrote his two companies wife, “You do SICK BAY along with not know how The effects of the restoration of Fort Humboldt can be seen clearly in their wives and forsaken I feel comparing photos of the post hospital. Above (in color) is the building children aboard here! I do nothing as it appears today, and (inset) as it appeared circa 1875, after the the Goliath, a but set (sic) in my army had fled the post five years before. rickety steamship, room and read for the winter and occasionally voyage three hundred miles north to Eureka. After a take a short ride on one of the public horses.” rough crossing of the bar at Bucksport, the ship entered Grant also spent a good bit of his time in this Humboldt Bay and came ashore. desolate place of swirling fog and near-constant rain There were no roads of any kind awaiting the in the drinking establishments of Bucksport, the tiny soldiers. Not even a wagon could be driven in the dense community directly below the bluff on which Fort redwood forest that marched all the way to the shoreline. Humboldt was situated. Life wasn’t completely without All supplies had to be transported from the dock up the entertainment. On cold evenings, the men gathered to lift


saddlebag dispatches 53

a glass or two and elk were plentiful enjoy the tales of inland. Salmon mountain man were thick in Seth Kinman. The the local rivers. local hunter spun Native peoples stories of his had little reason encounters with to war amongst grizzlies, and told themselves. of his expertise The Humboldt at trailblazing. County region, for Kinman is these small, selfreported to have sufficient groups, played a fiddle was truly a land crafted from of plenty. the skull of his With the SAWBONES’ HAVEN favorite mule, discovery of gold, Other than the hospital, the only remaining historic structure on the Dave, though all this changed. post grounds is the restored Surgeon’s Quarters, shown (above, in I suspect this It soon proved to color) today, and (inset) as it appeared in the 1870s. Today it stands magnificent be impossible for instrument may the small camp fully-refurbished, inside and out. have only been of soldiers at Fort brought out on special occasions. Humboldt to protect the Indians from the whites who The Wiyot, Yurok, and Hupa peoples, as well as the continued to flood into the area and who saw themselves dozens of other Native American communities who as the rightful heirs to the land and every morsel of riches had lived in Humboldt and Trinity County for over a they could dig from the dirt or wrest from its forests. thousand years, had well-established food sources and In 1855, Major General John E. Wool, commander shared celebrations. The Wiyot lived along the coast and of the Department of the Pacific noted, “It is worthy feasted on a huge variety of food from the sea. Deer and of remark that nearly all the difficulties which occur


54

saddlebag dispatches

with the Indians in this department originate with the whites who seem bent on carrying out their threats to exterminate them.” With the start of the Civil War, the regular army at Fort Humboldt had more pressing matters to attend than the protection of what remained of the local Indians. California Volunteers replaced regular army units at Fort Humboldt in 1861. Since the stated purpose of the Humboldt Volunteers under Captain Wright was to “kill every peaceable Indian—man, woman, and child” it is no surprise that the group finished what they had begun in February of 1860 when the county experienced the most well-known Indian massacre in Humboldt County.

they crept from camp to camp, slaughtering the Wiyot in their sleep. These men, thought to be members of Captain Wright’s Humboldt Volunteers, butchered old people, nursing mothers, and babies. Between eighty and two hundred and fifty Wiyot died that night. My grandfather told of stories his grandfather told him of that massacre. In 1860, great-great-grandpa lived on First Street. On the night of February 26th he was awakened by gunshots from across the bay. At the time, I suspect my ancestor simply rolled over and went back to sleep, but when news of the massacre was reported, the white community was indeed shocked, and Grandpa may have shivered a little thinking of

On February 26th, 1860, the Wiyot GARDEN VIEW had concluded their yearly ceremonies A garden now sits beside the old hospital, a oasis of peace in a place in Humboldt Bay. The power of previously known for barbarity toward the local native population. this and other ceremonies lay in the geographical location as well as in the rituals offered each year. The Wiyot had been coming what had been taking place just across the water while to tiny Duluwat Island for at least a thousand years to he lay warm in his bed. perform these same ceremonies, say these same prayers, Whites, however, hoped the incident would be offer these same thanks and blessings. Tired after a day forgotten. And it might well have fallen into the crevasse of feasting and celebrations, the women and children of history written by the victor, except that a twentyslept while most of the men rowed to shore to gather three-year-old reporter would not let the story die. The supplies for the next day’s festivities. young man, Brett Harte, wrote, “We can conceive of no In the hours before dawn, six or seven white men wrong that a babe’s blood can atone for.” Harte was run rowed quietly to the island. With axes, knives, and guns out of town and the killers were never officially identified


saddlebag dispatches 55 or brought to justice. In fact, it is reasonable to assume of mules, the blare of a bugle, laundry snapping in cold, that some of those murderers moved into the fort, along gray air. with their wives and children, when the regular US Army I turned my back finally and walked back to my car, troops left Fort Humboldt the next year in order to fight sat with the windows down, and stared back at the old for the union in the Civil War. parade grounds. Humboldt County is a part of me, the In 1862, Lt. Colonel James M. Olney of the California land itself embedded in my molecular structure in a Volunteers imprisoned what remained of the Wiyot in way I cannot explain but which is nonetheless true. The an enclosure thought to have been on the grounds of Fort history of this place, good and horrid, is mine as well. As Humboldt. A round corral with sides constructed of a novelist, I do my best to capture the truth in a tightly planks twelve feet high, and about eighty feet in diameter, woven net of lies. Sitting in my car in the parking lot of several hundred Wiyot were forced to live in deplorable Fort Humboldt, salty breeze in my face, I remembered conditions. Prevented from gathering food or from a quote from Bigfoot Mamas, thoughts from inside the hunting, the mind and heart people were of a fictional fed hard tack young woman, with which Samantha, they were while she unfamiliar contemplated and unable to the treatment tolerate. of another When I group of people finished my in Humboldt research for County. “I’d this article, I like to think drove across my ancestors town again were part of the and walked up tiny percentage the bluff to Fort of the white Humboldt, population stood on that that spoke out parade ground against this on the site atrocity, but of the corral I’ve got no basis where two to whatsoever for three hundred this hope. It’s far LEST WE FORGET Wiyot died more likely my Dedication plaque recognizing Fort Humboldt as a registered State u n d e r kin were part Historic Landmark and the historical significance of the site. protective of the pigtail custody. As cutting, gold always on stealing mob that day, wind swept up the bluff from Humboldt Bay that ran the Chinese out of town once the railroad was and hummed a constant salty tune in my ears. I thought completed. My family has been in this area for eight of the Wiyot, a people who for a thousand, maybe two generations. Every single event in my life is layered thousand years, traveled freely throughout this land with a shimmering, variegated veil of past mistakes that my ancestors and I came to love. I saw these people and hopes and triumphs.” crowded together in a filthy corral, guts torn by sparse and unfamiliar food, knees drawn to chests, defeated by —Pamela Foster is an award-winning novelist, educator, the white man’s greed. I thought of the first soldiers to veteran’s advocate, and world traveler. Born and raised arrive at this gray bluff, men just barely arrived in our in Eureka, California, she brings a unique and powerful country, who joined the army and set off on an adventure perspective she writes, and is a regular contributor to from which many would not return. I heard the braying Saddlebag Dispatches.


The posse that brought him down pose proudly with the corpse of Ned Christie, (middle, mounted to door).


T

hey brought two of them Larson boys in all shot up in a farm wagon. Stella Larson drove it to Doc Harris’s house and those bays horses were sure lathered up. She musta ran them ponies all the way to the Luperville. Stella was one tough lady. Once she horsewhipped a man who accused her of stealing one of his horses. It turned out later the horse was found. But when they asked him if he’d go back and apologize, he shook his head. “Not no, but hell no. That woman’s a bulldog.” “Where in the hell is that damn sheriff?” She bailed out of the wagon with a show of her petticoats. “Handle them boys of mine easy.” “Who done this, Stella?” “That bunch of pig farmers. The Kanes.” Her blue eyes looked black and she cut around like she was still looking for a lawman. “What happened?” someone asked. “That whole Kane family came over armed to the teeth and started shooting. Said we’d ate one of their calves.” “Did you eat one?” “Hell no.” Hands on her hips, if looks would kill—all those Kanes would have been dead. Then she hurried in Doc Harris’ house after the second stretcher. “Doc,” she shouted. “Arnold is the worst shot up. Kenny is wounded but not as serious.” Doc was already standing over one of them on the operating table. Three of the other Larson family was

there. they’d rode in with her. Teal Larson, her brotherin-law in his thirties, Nickels, her youngest son. And her sister’s boy, Clett Thompson. She went out on the porch in the growing darkness. “Someone send for the sheriff?” “We did,” one of the curious bystanders, said. “Wonder where he is?” She had her hands on her hips again. Aside from being somewhat overbearing, she was not an unattractive widow woman. She had her first son at age fourteen. He was born on the trip when her late husband hauled her, four Texas cowboys and a few hundred longhorn cows to Arizona from Texas. Nathan Larson was twice her age and had died about five years earlier from gunshot wounds fighting Mexican bandits at their ranch in the southern Arizona Territory. Her tall, willowy frame, straight back and braided blonde hair piled on her head would have been attractive. But a coiled up diamond back rattler looked polished too and they’d kill you. My name’s Colby Singleton and I’ve got a ranch south of town. I figured she’d give the lawman a piece of her mind for not being there for her beck-and-call. But I could tell her Drew Rounds was not easily shaken by much of anything, except he hated law breakers, rustlers, back shooters and had little patience with drunks. •


58

saddlebag dispatches

The sheriff Drew Rounds sat in the captain’s chair with two kings in his poker hand. He waited for someone to raise him in the cloud of cigar smoke that ringed the large table by other card players. Overhead the candles flickered and he felt good enough, he had won about thirty dollars so far that evening. The Panther Saloon had the usual weeknight crowd. The saloon girls were lounging around, their business was slow that evening. Drew paid Kathryn fifty cents to play some songs on the tinny piano. She was taking a break. A big buxom blonde from the North Country, she had an accent that was not from the south. But she could really play the ivory keys, and sang about half way good enough to listen to. The last player folded. Drew threw his cards in face down—none of their damn business. He could have had a royal flush for all they knew. Then he raked in the pot. Someone busted in the batwing doors. “Sheriff, Sheriff. They shot up Stella Larson’s boys. She’s got them over at the Doc’s and wants you over there right now.” “I guess she can want me all she wants. It’s too dark outside to go looking for shooters. Tell her to check with me in the morning.” “I ain’t telling that bitch anything.” “Wise decision.” He tossed in his two-bit ante and laughed. “What was the shooting about?” he asked the message bearer. “She said the Kane’s were mad ‘cause she ate a calf of theirs.” He looked at his new cards. Nothing. “Well I’m going to fold. Better go see what the lady needs.” “You know, Drew,” Charlie Hackett said. “I’d take that hellion to bed if I could gag her. She ain’t half bad to look at. But damn that mouth of hers needs a rag stuffed in it most times.” Drew nodded. “Aw, she’s just worried people won’t take her serious and run over her if she ain’t even half way tough as she appears.” “Half tough? Drew we ain’t talking about the same female.” “Oh, Charlie, we’re talking about the same one. I better go see what I can do.” “She may kick your ass.” “She won’t get a virgin at that.” They laughed and he pocketed all his winnings. Then he gave them a salute. The summer night was warm. Stars really sparkled and he could see the mountains shape in the nightlight. He neither dreaded nor feared the tall blonde, just another matter to handle in his job as county sheriff. That’s what they paid him for at the rate of forty a month plus expenses. He also ran the county assessors office and got ten percent of the county taxes collection for doing that. Unlike most territory sheriffs, he didn’t use his sheriff deputies paid by the county to do law enforcement. He had an office and five people hired to do that. He spent money on the cost of doing business that few others did, however he made fifteen thousand the year before over his expenses.

Another good year and he’d have enough money to buy a well-watered ranch. That was his ambition and he was growing closer to doing that. Arizona Territory had treated him well. He only had received two bullets since being elected, both of course proved non fatal. Both shooters were planted in the ground When he approached Doc’s lighted house, there was a crowd still in the yard. Sitting on the porch’s edge looking haggard for her was Stella. She stood up and reset the waist on her dress. “About time you got here.” “My dear, I have been coming since I heard your request.” He put his arm on her shoulder and guided her inside the brightly-lit room. “Tell me what’s happened?” “Those damn Kanes—” He leaned his head in closer. He knew his arm made her uncomfortable but he had her restrained. “I’m sorry, Drew,” she had lowered her voice. ‘Two of my boys are shot up. I never ate their calf. It made me so mad, I’d strangled the whole lot of them.” “I understand. Now who shot first?” “I shot over their heads with a shotgun.” “Now you shot first. Stella what did you expect them to do?” She straightened like she wanted to him take his arm off her shoulder. But he acted like it should be there and wanted to confide to her in close contact. “Maybe it was wrong—to shoot, but they made me so mad accusing me—you know what I mean?” “I do, but if your life isn’t in danger, don’t shoot at people. They shoot back.” In his soft voice intended for her alone, he said, “Now a jury is going to say, she shot first. Them Kanes had to fire back.” “I don’t—” she lowered her voice. “Drew what could I do?” Her eyes were wet with tears. “I hope my boys don’t die.” “What’s doc said?” “Oh, they’d probably make it.” “That’s good. Now I bet we can go in the back and have some coffee. He always has coffee made when I come up here.” “Sure. I’m glad you came. I don’t know why but you remind me so much of my late husband. I could be mad enough to kick six guys’ asses in and he’d say, Stella rest easy.” “He must have been a great guy.” “He was Drew. He really was and I know if he’d been here he’d had me calmed down just like you’ve done.” “Stella, I want you to meet me at the Cactus Ridge School house next Saturday night. They’re raising money for Able Ponder’s widow. What color box will you have for your supper we’re going to share?” “What makes you so all fired certain I’d meet you there?” Then she tried to see if anyone in the room heard her out burst. But his arm over her shoulder restrained her from doing much more than be in their private huddle. “’Cause it is a respectable place to court you?” His finger on her lips silenced her having an outburst.


saddlebag dispatches 59 “Court me? Why I—” His finger silenced her again. “I am not a bum. I have some money. I’m single. Never been married, but I want to know you lots more. Now before you have a hissy fit let’s see how your boys are.” They both straightened. He silenced her once more. “Nothing here to get mad about. Be easy. I hope they’re fine, and I bet they‘ll heal. Let’s go drink coffee after you talk to the doc again about your boys.” A short while later, they discussed what the doctor’d said about her boys condition and sipped the fresh made coffee. Doc had to leave and deliver a baby with a woman having trouble. “What were you doing?” she asked. “Playing poker. And winning. You play poker.” “You made me remember I played poker with my husband a lot when we were first married and I lost a lot.” He could see some amusement in her small smile at the recollection. Then she shook her head and touched her hair. “I didn’t know if I have my head on.” “You look very nice. I am sorry we met like this under such unfortunate circumstances.” “What ever made you think of that box supper auction?” “You.”

She actually blushed. “It will be your toes get stepped on if we dance.” “You have never danced with me.” “How old are you?” “Thirty two.” “You’ve never been married?” “No one would have me.” “That’s a lie and I know it.” “How?” “Any one that can turn my fire down, and me not get madder has to be well acquainted with women.” “Did I turn your fire down?” “Well I am not ranting and raving at you am I?” “No and I appreciate that. But Stella you’re an attractive woman. I knew if I could ever got inside the loud fence you throw up I’d find the real lady you are.” She was chuckling in her throat. “Only one man ever did that to me. God rest his soul. But I’m thinking God must have sent you—Drew I feel silly as I was when I met him that first time in our ranch house yard.” “That sounds good. Now I intend to settle this war between you and them.” “Pig farmers,” she said under her breath. “We all have to make a living.”


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


saddlebag dispatches 61 She made sure they were alone in the kitchen seated at the table. “You won’t change me.” “Oh, Stella you need to be more generous to people. No one’s all there. Few think as fast as you do.” “You’re serious about that box dinner deal?” “Does that worry you?” “You? Yes.” “Why?” “Well I guess I’d have to think about something to wear. Do you like my hair up?” “I guess I’m asking you for a secret.” “Secret? Most guys would want to know what color my box was so they’d not to have to eat with me.” “There you go. I asked for that information.” She nodded. “I’m not a bit sure why you’d do that.” “Trust me.” “I guess I am going to have to. Red ribbon on it in a bow.” He finished his coffee and wiped his lips. “Is anyone here to take you home tonight?” “Why no. I didn’t know how long I would be here and sent them three home on the horses they brung to be sure no one burned me out” “I’ll get a horse and drive you back.” She shook her head. “I’m sorry, but I have no fears going home alone.” “I do.” “Why?” “Do I need a substantial reason?” She smiled, shook her head. “What ever does that mean?” “It means do I feel you need some protection. I do.” “I have been by myself since he was killed—five years ago.” “Time you considered it as unhealthy.” “Who are you?” “A person who has an interest in your well being.” “I’m a loud mouth—” His finger on her lips silenced her. “You are a very strong woman. I like that.” “Where did you come from? He chuckled. “Trust me. I am an admirer.” “If I let you see me home. What do you expect?” “Nothing.” She shook her head and looked away. “Stella. I’d like to convince you to trust me.” She drew a deep breath up her nose. “If you want to see me home. I accept your gallant offer.” “Thank you. You need anything?” “I hate to go that far away tonight and not get back up here in the morning to check on them two.” “It won’t look very good but you can stay at my house here in town.” She considered it. “I really don’t give a damn what people think about how I run my life.”

“Fine. I have a bedroom upstairs.” “That will be alright and I can be back here then early in the morning. Thank you.” So they had her team put up at the livery and walked under the stars two block to his residence. “I suppose tongues are clacking already.” “Oh, yes, we are having such a lusty time. Stella I don’t give a damn.” “You’ve never had a wife?” she asked as they strolled. “No. I was a ranger in Texas. That’s not exactly conducive to having a wife.” “My, my. You use words I’ve never heard before in my life.” “I’m sorry. Means there is no place for a wife. There.” “I bet that was right. You might improve my conversations if you don’t get tired of me asking dumb questions.” Ahead of her he opened the yard gate and showed her the way on to the porch. He opened the door and let her inside. “I’ll put on a light. Wait here.” He struck a match for the lamp on the table. Then he blew the match out and turned up the flame. “You have a nice house.” “I have a house keeper.” “She does a nice job.” Stella was admiring things in the living room. “Yes, I am very pleased with her.” “If I was impulsive, I’d turn out the light and hug you for being so nice to me tonight.” He spun her around and hugged her. “I don’t need a lamp turned off to hug you.” She put her face on his shoulder. “It feels strange. I never imagined I would be in another man’s arms ever again.” “Maybe you’ve missed something?” “I believe a widow needs to honor her husband’s death.” “Five years is plenty.” “You confuse me.” “No. I am who I am. You should be who you are. We are grown up people and life is for the living.” She nodded. “I don’t know—what I want to do. One says kiss him. One tells me I’m a dumb fool.” His hand raised her chin and he kissed her. “Thank you.” She buried her face in him. “You feel foolish?” “No. Give me time.” “I have lots of time.” She sniffed. He found his handkerchief and handed it over. “I didn’t do that to break your heart.” With care she wiped her tears. “I know.” “How hard must I work to break down that armor of yours?” She shook her head. “I may be hopeless.” “The bed is upstairs on the right. The linen is fresh. You can lock the door with a bolt.”


62

saddlebag dispatches

“Why would I do that?” “To feel comfortable.” “I understand one thing, you’re on a mission and I am flattered. Kind of scared, I have scared off most men who even showed an ounce of interest in me. But you caught me tonight unaware.” “Come now.” He shook his head. “In the past five years, you haven’t had one man come by you and he made you stop and measure him?” “I don’t recall one.” “Never had an affair in your married life?” “No.” “Well, I won’t hurt you.” “I never looked at another man in my life. Nathan Larson came down the road to our place buying horses in Texas when I was twelve. I married him the next year. My mother bawling her eyes out ‘cause not only was he marrying me but taking me to Arizona. I never got to see her again. He was the only man in my life.” “And that was the story of your life.” “Yes, it really was.” “So life goes on. We can talk more at the box supper.” She nodded. “In case you’re keeping score. You are the number two man to ever kiss me as well.”

Her words made him smile. “I called that taking liberties.” She laughed. “I called that me being off guard. I can’t say I didn’t like it. But you shocked me.” “I liked doing it.” “A man would wouldn’t he?” “Yes. I had an attractive woman in a situation where I could kiss her and I liked it.” “You’re a strange man, Drew Rounds.” “I’ll fix breakfast about sunup.” “I don’t aim to be any bother—” “See you then.” “Thanks any way.” He watched her go up the stairs. “You need a light up there.” She looked back. “I can find my way.” He waited until she shut the door. Then he blew out the lamp, went to his back bedroom, undressed and went to bed. Round one was over; it might be a full fifteen round fight to get her head turned around. But after this one he felt he might have found her worth the whole fight. He’d see. He’d have to see how her boys got along and then go see the Kanes. Folks had to learn you reported crimes to the sheriff, not take them in your own hands. Him and his men answered questions and resolved things. They’d sent several convicted felons off to the new territory jail in Yuma. But it


saddlebag dispatches 63 had to be handled by the law and judges. Hard for some folks to get use to the system. She would have been nice to share his bed with, but he had plenty of time. He rolled over and went to sleep. Must of been the smell of his Arbuckle coffee brewing, brought her down the stairs. She hardly looked awake. “Morning Stella. You get any sleep?” “Some. You look fresh.” She took the steaming mug from him. “You get up like this every day?” “Most days. I don’t sleep much.” “I have to thank you. I thought about the supper auction too.” “You change your mind?” “No, you can die from my bad cooking if you like, but I must warn you I don’t think I could have another family.” “Did I—” “I just wanted you to know if you were stuck on having a family, I‘m damn sure a poor candidate.” “Never crossed my mind. I really don’t care.” “Well, I wanted you to know that.” “Good.” He was chuckling as he filled her plate with fried taters, sausage patties and scrambled eggs. “What is so funny?” She was amazed looking at the platter of food. He was getting some golden brown-topped biscuits out of the oven and slid them on a platter.

“Come what may.” “What does that mean?” “Eat while it’s hot. Did you think that would bother me?” “I wanted you to know the truth.” “I won’t buy a baby bed then.” He took a seat and broke open two steamy biscuits to butter. “Now you’re picking on me.” He rose up. “Look at me.” When she did he kissed her on the mouth and sat back down. “Now I am the second guy kissed you twice.” She was laughing by then and shaking her head. “You are a funny romantic guy.” “Keep thinking like that.’ “I bet you’ve broken a lot of girl’s hearts.” “Maybe the other way. I came back home twice to see nice young ladies who I planned to ask them to marry me and they’d gave up and married some other guys. Both told me I thought you’d be a ranger till I was an old maid.” “How old were they?” “Oh, sixteen or seventeen.” “Don’t laugh. I thought that about him when I was twelve.” “He write you letters that year?” “He had his sister write me letters and she answered mine like he had written them when he was off horse trading. Oh


I thought he was neatest guy in the world. Some time while I was waiting it was springtime. Those dang blue bonnets made spreading carpets that year and I figured any guy that could describe them like she did was alright.” “How did you find out he never wrote them?” “Day we went to the JP to get married and he was about to sign the marriage certificate. He elbowed me. “Read that I don’t have my glasses.” “That’s how you knew?” “Why he never had any glasses. And he explained on our honeymoon that he paid his sister fifty cents to write me every two weeks.” “I never wrote those two but maybe once a month. But I wrote them.” “You want a job?” “Doing what?” “Cooking breakfast. I’d hire you. Boy you really are a good cook.” “Look at me.” “No, I’m going to stand up and hug you too. It is so damn good.” That time we really kissed and she felt wonderful in my arms. I thought she was also getting into this kissing business. Ring the bell timekeeper I outscored her in round two. “I need to get over and see about the boys when we get through—ah, kissing and eating.” They sat back down. He could have sworn she was blushing. She was awful intent on eating his food. One more cup of coffee and he walked her in the cool predawn to the doc’s place. He went inside with her. The assistant told her both were resting and they had no problems except getting over their wounds. “I am going to wait around here until they wake before I go home,” she said. “I’ll go see what’s wrong at the office if there is anything. I’ll see you Saturday night.” She checked and the assistant was gone. She walked him outside on the shadowy porch and hugged him. Dawn was only pinking the eastern sky, and then they kissed. “Thanks for all you did?” “Nothing. But we will have more time together.” She closed her eyes. “I wished those boys hadn’t been shot—but they kind of brought us together.” “Yes, I had a chance to slip up on your blind side.” “Oh go on. I saw you coming and was not one damn thing I could do to stop you.” “Stella, you’re lovely.” “Keep that badge polished and your head down.” He waved and left her. He could of ran to the office, but he’d probably got tangled up in his spurs and flopped on the ground. Whew, there was lots of woman there.


saddlebag dispatches 65 •

Saturday, he had some things to resolve in his office. Two of his own men had an altercation and he wanted it straight. He had both deputies seated in his office and was behind his desk in the swivel back chair “You two get in a fight over at Kelly’s Saloon last Thursday night?” They both nodded. “Was it over a dove works there?” “Yes.” “Now, doves are not wives. They work for everyone right? So neither of you has a brand on her ass, do you?” He stared at them hard. One gulped. “No sir.” “Then make up your minds. If you are going to work for me, then you have to stop arguing over them. If you had been doing your duty, and two guys got into it over her, you’d arrested both of them. I don’t have a head count of all the ladies we have working in the two houses and the saloons in this town, plus some more working out of row houses, but surely to God one of you could find another woman.” “Yes, sir.” “I’ll fire you both if I hear about it again. We set examples for the citizens as lawmen. Fighting over a whore in public or in the alley is not what my deputies do.” “Yes sir.” “I’m going to that box supper auction tonight. Both of you are on duty Saturday nights for a month. I don’t expect to hear any more about fighting. Now get the hell out of here.” They left, and his chief deputy Ray Allen came in. “They tell you who she was?” “I didn’t give a damn I told them they fought over one more, I’d fire them.” “Her name is Claire.” “Good, she can go on down the road too if she’s involved in any more trouble.” “What did the Kanes’ say about the shootout?” “They had been mad. I told them mad or not they must come in pay a fine for their disturbing the peace and if anyone died, they’d all face manslaughter charges. And I’d jail them for six months if they didn’t come to town the next time. Report the crime to us so we could handle it. I was tired of this vigilante business.” “You get your bluff in on them.” “I think so. I’m going to the box supper auction.” “You got one picked out?” “Have to see how high they will go.” “Have fun. I think we have a lead on the guy shot the cowboy over at Evens Town.” ‘Who’s that?” “Bradley Stovall. I’m checking to see if he’s in Tucson.” “Handle it. I won’t be back until in the morning some time.”

“Have a good time.” “I’ll try.” He went by the livery and took out his horse, curried him down. He looked good enough saddled to ride over there. His bedroll and hobbles tied on, he headed in that direction. Several folks would already be camped over there so he had no worries about finding lunch. The bay horse was a little frisky when he swung up on him. But he kept him in close check riding out of town. Traffic was beginning. Folks coming in like usual on Saturday to get supplies and other traffic like the guy brought the mail out of Tucson in a buckboard waved. Some freighters had yoked up after camping beside the road and were ready to move on. He arrived before noon and after watering him he hobbled the bay horse at some distance north of the white washed schoolhouse. His saddle on its horn and the bed roll with it, he hitched his six-gun and walked over to the parked chuck wagon marked with the Bar 66 brand. Lassiter McCall was lounging in a canvas chair under a canvas fly fluttering some in the wind. The mustached rancher had a tin cup in his hand. “Coffee or whiskey neighbor.” “Coffee’s fine.” He wore his metal cup on his belt and handed it to his black man Cousey who was McCall’s cook and handy man. “You sure you don’t want none of his fine whiskey, mister sheriff?” “Coffee will do. Thanks.” “How are things going? You still working on our bet?” “No big problems. I still have six months on our bet. Ain’t had a horse stolen report in two weeks.” “Hell that’s slow business then.” The black man brought his cup back steaming with coffee. “You don’t take nothing in it do you’s sah?” he asked him. “I just drink coffee.” “Thanks.” “You looking for anyone up here?” “No business today.” “Something must be up. You ain’t drinking free whiskey.” “I’ll be fine. How’s your livestock?” “We’ve got some rain along. They’re doing good. Always use more.” “That’s the Arizona national anthem, more rain.” Coffee was still too hot to sip, “It wasn’t any wetter in Texas. I’d been smart I’d moved up in that blue stem country in Kansas. But them folks were still fighting the civil war. Me and Cousey decided it would be too damn hard to live amongst them.” “Dey sure wasn’t over dee fighting back then.” “I saw that too. Shame, on those first trips to Abilene there was grass for a million cows up there.” McCall shook his head. “Honyockers came and plowed most of it up.”


66

saddlebag dispatches

“Well, folks are pulling in for tonight. You got here early?” “Some of my hands are coming this evening. Cousey is cooking some roast for us for tonight. I‘m about to have him cut us off a slab. You can eat now can’t you?” Drew made a face. “I didn’t come to bum a meal.” “But by God you’ll eat some of his mesquite wood cooked prime beef.” “Yes, I will.” “Cousey serve him some.” The white whisker stubble black man asked, “Will that dat get us out of jail free?” “Any time you need a pass, let me know.” McCall shook his head at them. “Hell us two old farts aren’t getting in jail any more are we?” “No sah, we dee be over dee hill bunch.” Then he laughed putting the big browned chunk of roast on his block of wood to carve. He cut a slab off on a plate and set it on the table. Then he did another. Juices ran out of it while his sharp knife slipped down it. Drew could imagine how mouth watering good it would be. Next he had some French bread that he tore off chunks for them eat. “Now you two dig in.” “Ain’t you going to eat with us?” McCall asked his man sounding disappointed. “No siree, I don’t be hungry yet.” They didn’t talk much. The rich food was so damn good. Between bites, Drew said, “I see why you came early this is powerful good.” After he ate until he was full, thanked them, he went on and visited others. Her and a bandaged boy showed up. Drew didn’t want to disrupt her visiting around the camp, so he sat back. But he got a good look at the red bow when she put it inside the schoolhouse where women were busy setting things. The day moved fast and soon Colonel Tom Ralston was telling everyone the auction was starting. The schoolhouse was loaded. The auctioneer and his helpers were on the stage and the bidding was good. One of the workers brought the bidder a ticket he had to pay before he got the box and then he learned who he had to sit with. They picked on some, running them up so their suitor had to dig deep to eat with her. Some lost. When the worker held up Stella’s box supper, the colonel asked what would they give. “Twenty dollars,” Drew said. That was twice the going price and the Colonel couldn’t get a rise. “It goes for a good cause. Our Sheriff bought this dinner. Give him some applause.” They did. Some smart ass asked him if he knew who’s he’d brought and Drew never answered him. The helper gave him a ticket and said, “It’s for twenty dollar.” “Thank you. I can pay it.” “Yes sir.” He stood in line, paid for the box and started off with it. She got up and joined him. “Where are we going to eat it?”

“You pick the place.” “Over there is room.” She pointed to a spot. “Fine.” “You know you shocked some folks?” “Not you?” “Of course not. I never told my son, who’s here either. He said, do you know the sheriff bought it?” “Nice joke, but I am glad you could come.” “I wondered if you were even here till I saw you.” He nodded. “You had friends to meet and greet. I didn’t want to be an anchor.” “That was very nice of you. I guess it was something new. I understand now but I was afraid I’d scared you off.” “Telling me we wouldn’t have children?” She quickly nodded. “I can’t help some things. I will just blurt them out.” “It was kind of you.” “No it wasn’t it was rude. It simply was in the front of my mind. He needs to know.” “That’s good. You’re thinking about the two of us.” She looked up and closed her eyes. “I have not been able to think. There are so many ifs in my way. I hope you like chicken.” “I like chicken.” “You’d like anything tonight.” “Stell,” he said, “We’ll simply have fun here. Stop being so serious. Let your hair down.” “I’ll try hard.” “Good.” They ate her food and he loved her chocolate cake. She got them lemonade to sip on. “Here, try this.” She set his cup of it down. “Mrs. Lemon asked me the old biddy if you were announcing our engagement tonight.” “Should I?” She put her hands on him to hold him down. “I said you had not even asked me.” “Music’s starting. It’s a waltz.” He stood up and she did, too. They waltzed away. If there was anyone else in the schoolhouse they didn’t know and they didn’t care. They went swirling around floor oblivious to any and all. She was so easy to turn and keep up. He could not believe his good fortune in finding her. She finally closed her eyes. “Am I going easy enough to suit you now.” “Perfect, my dear you are better than any ballerina.” She frowned at him. “Where did you ever see one of those?” “I paid well in Dodge once to see them whirl on their toes.” “I am really jealous all I have ever seen is pictures. But I am not a ballerina.” “You are to me.” “What a weak mind you have.” “Better to love you with.” They whirled around and she looked at the ceiling for


saddlebag dispatches 67 celestial help he decided. No matter she was his and he loved ever moment of it. Polkas they really went full steam and the square dances the same. They went outside in the starry warm night and in the shadows, they had their foreheads pressed together. “Where will you sleep tonight?” she asked. “In my bedroll.” “Do you have two?” “No, but it is big enough for two?” “Ever tried it for that many before?” “Not in years.” She kissed him. “How many years?” “I have forgotten.” “After tonight, I would have forgotten every thing in my past also. Oh Drew, how did this turn into such a magnetic force. Do you feel it?” “I felt it at my house holding and kissing you.” “I felt it in that bed. Why were we sleeping apart? I never felt like that in my life except prior to my marriage to him.” “I didn’t come up here to ruin your reputation. I came up here to win you over to me.” “I finally realized that. Now I am the one wanting and you have this cool way about you.” “I would love to hike you out there and share my bedroll

with you. But I want you to be without your conscience slamming you tomorrow.” “Let me find my son and tell him my plans. How will I get home?” “That bay horse ride double?’ “I haven’t rode double on horseback in years.” She kissed him hard, then walked away. He leaned back against the schoolhouse. Round three was won. Ring the bell judge. She returned swishing her skirt and looked up at him. “I found him. I told him.” “What did he say?” “Fine. That was it.” “He really knows?” “What we are going to do? Yes.” He fit his hand in hers and they went across the grassy flat. The horse threw his head up and then went back to cropping grass. “I need to unbutton my shoes. Can I sit on top of it? I should of worn boots. I can dance in them too, but I thought well it was more lady like to wear shoes. More ladylike to sleep in your bedroll too, huh?” He lay on his belly and chewed on a grass stem. “I’d say it was fine.”


68

saddlebag dispatches

She gave him a push with her shod foot. “Oh I have forgotten all about how men act. Of course it is fine, if they get their way with a woman.” He rolled over on his back and stared at the stars. “You learned at an early age.” “About what men wanted?” “Yes.” “I was young. My mother’s advice on my wedding eve was, ‘Endure it darling. I have to.’” The last shoe off, she unhitched her long silk stockings and peeled them off. Unbuttoning the front of the dress, she halted. “You haven’t kissed me for a while.” “I didn’t want to disturb you undressing.” She crawled over and kissed him while he was lying on his back. “Then disturb me.” He did. They both were giggling and the dress open, he raised the slip and softly kissed her breasts. She shivered beneath his touch. He screwed off his boots. Rising up on his knees, he unbuckled his gun belt while she unbuttoned his shirt. Then she finished undressing and slipped under the covers, giving him only a hint of the beauty of her body. Pants and underwear gone, he wormed his way under the covers, too. They were side by side. He closed his eyes and slowly felt

her hips, stomach. They kissed and kissed until she whispered. “Take me I am yours.” He did. They fell into a whirlpool and eventually swam out, exhausted and holding each other tight. He was not sure theirs had been a heaven-made affair exactly, but it was the most exciting encounter he’d ever had and far exceeded any expectation he could have dreamed. “You know I could cry. We could have done that in a real bed three nights ago?” “No, anticipation built in the both of us. That put a better light on a more savory conclusion out here on the prairie.” She shook her head ruefully. “Now what in the hell did you do to me for that?” “We had good sex.” “No, you were right. It was a lot more complicated than that. Now I imagine you want to ride off in the sunset.” “Stella, I am not leaving you. We’ve only just found each other. Haven’t we?” She pulled his face down on hers. “Oh, yes. I find it hard to believe you found all this in me.” “I think we’ll have lots of fun.” “No doubt. Now that you have me, where will we live?” “As long as I’m sheriff, I need to live close to that office. And I won’t always work the most regular of schedules.”


saddlebag dispatches 69 She sighed. “Fine, those durn boys are going to learn how to run that ranch. When do we get married?” “When do you want to?” he asked. “You tell me.” “No, getting married a woman has to set that date. My mother taught me that.” “Two weeks. But I want to have you between now and then. You won’t be baggage to go around with me and I won’t be in your way.” “I can do that. McCall and his cook are fixing breakfast for us tomorrow morning.” “Why is that?” “Six months ago, I told him I wanted to get involved with you. He bet me ten to a hundred I couldn’t ever get to you. He’ll buy your wedding dress.” “How much time did you get?” “A year. And six months comes soon.” “Oh, Drew... I’m the happiest woman in the world right now. It feels so—so unreal.” He smiled in the darkness. “I know how you feel. I can’t tell you how happy I am, too.” They fell back in each other’s arms, gazing up at the vast night sky and the carpet of twinkling stars above. Why had it taken so long for him to find someone? In the end he decided that the old adage must be true—the best things happen when you’re not looking for them. It was a lesson he was happy to learn now.

a

dusty richards

D

usty Richards grew up riding horses and watching his western heroes on the big screen. He even wrote book reports for his classmates, making up westerns since English teachers didn’t read that kind of book. But his mother didn’t want him to be a cowboy, so he went to college, then worked for Tyson Foods, announced rodeos, and auctioned cattle across the country when he wasn’t working as a radio announcer or television morning news anchor. But his lifelong dream was to write the novels he loved. He sat on the stoop of Zane Grey’s cabin and promised that he’d get published. In 1992, his first book, Noble’s Way, hit the shelves. He’s published 153 since, including the nine books of his bestselling Byrnes Family Ranch Series from Kensington Publishing, and The Mustanger and the Lady, the first of his novels to be optioned for adaptation to the silver screen. Dusty had another long-held dream, however— creating a publication dedicated to returning the West in all its glory (good and bad) back to the forefront of the modern American mindset. In 2014, he co-founded Saddlebag Dispatches, a magazine committed to doing just what he’d hoped. The proof of that dream you now hold in your hands. If he can steal some time, he also likes to fish for trout on the White River.


H

e was born Nathaniel Reed in 1862 in Saint Paul, Arkansas, a small, tightly knit community in Madison County deep in the wilderness of the Boston Mountains. Much later he would write his own autobiography. Today we would call it his memoirs. As with a lot of historical fact, it’s difficult to know how much is truly fact. But we’ll go with what we have. In his book, The Life of Texas Jack: Eight Years a Criminal—41 Years Trusting in God, he readily admitted that he was the notorious Texas Jack, who for eight years rode the outlaw trail. If you google Texas Jack you’ll find it was a rather popular moniker adopted by several men out west after the Civil War, a war that pushed many otherwise lawabiding men across the line between riding the outlaw trail or living a respectable life. According to this outlaw turned preacher, Nate wasn’t born bad, he sort of fell into the life by being in the wrong places at the wrong times. Like many youngsters born in the Civil War years, he had a rough childhood. Two years after he was born, his father died, a casualty of that bloody conflict. His mother remarried William Cochran and had several more children. Nate had one full-blood brother, William Elijah. His stepfather was said to have been kind to him until after Nate’s mother died and he remarried a woman with thirteen children. Then he turned cruel. Sort of understandable, when you think about it. At the age of thirteen, a miserable Nate left home, stayed with his aunt a while, then with his grandmother for four years. Soon after he turned eighteen, he went to Missouri to be with his brother William. So far he’d remained law-abiding, but he was about to make a decision that would send him on the outlaw path. He worked on a farm where he heard lots of tales about the wonderful adventures and great opportunities

in the far west. Not yet twenty years old, he took off in search of his dream. The spring of 1883 found him roughing it out on the prairie near Pueblo, Colorado, where he worked on a horse ranch drawing $40 a month. Unhappy with that job, he quit and caught a train to Colorado Springs. From there he moved on to Cheyenne, Wyoming, where he got a job driving a ten-mule-team military freight wagon. He was to drive three hundred miles to deliver supplies to Fort Arnold. The Indians caused a lot of trouble and the soldiers had several skirmishes with them. It took six weeks to make the round trip back to Cheyenne. One round trip and he’d had enough of that life and drew his pay. Over the next year he worked in a coal mine in Rock Springs, Idaho making $3.65 a day, but left after he got into a squabble with a Chinaman who called him a vile name. Nate hit him over the head with a lump of coal. That upset the Chinese workers so badly that Nate feared for his life. His employers hid him out until dark, provided him with a disguise, and put him on the train for Denver. Step by step he continued to move ever closer to the life of an outlaw. He worked on a cattle ranch until the spring of 1884, then backed out of a deal where he would have to join a Mexican gang and steal some horses, and went to Texas where he helped drive a herd of cattle into Oklahoma. Sometime in 1885 Nate was finally led astray. He was working for the Flying V Ranch near El Reno, Oklahoma. Thirteen of the ranch hands were picked to leave camp and go on a roundup. He was one of them. They took two days’ rations, but after the food ran out they were still riding away from camp and no cattle were being rounded up. On the evening of the fourth day, the crew was lined up at gunpoint, given ammunition, and assigned their duties in a planned robbery of the Santa Fe Express. According


saddlebag dispatches 71 to Nate’s autobiography, he was forced into his outlaw ways and had little choice. His job was to stand on the rear platform of the last coach, kick on the door, shoot, and yell. He claimed that only the safe was robbed and all the passengers were allowed to keep their valuables. Back at the camp, he was given his share: $6,480.00. That was a lot of money, so he was terrified at having committed such a large crime. He quit his job, a guilty conscience chasing him to a small out-of-the way place called Corbin, Kansas. He deposited $6,000 in the bank at nearby Caldwell and hunkered down, determined to remain out of the outlaw life. Sure enough Corbin provided a respite for this outlaw. He married, went into the livery business, and made friends. He appeared to have shrugged off his past. In July of 1886, a man rode into the livery stable. He was on his way to Wichita to see if he could help Tom Colley, who had been arrested in connection with the Santa Fe Express robbery. He threatened to turn state’s evidence if he didn’t get out on bond. And he was about to out Nathaniel as one of the robbers. When Nate found out that Colley hadn’t made bond and was set to name all the participants of the robbery he had to act fast. Terrified of going to prison, he left his young wife weeping

and rode away. But he missed her so badly that three months later he sneaked back into town to gather her up and they relocated to another state. He only managed to escape the outlaw life until 1888 when a messenger found him once again and gave him an ultimatum. Join a gang of outlaws or be snitched on. He would go to jail for the Santa Fe Express robbery. He’d been found and saw no way out. The gang was short of men because some of them had been killed. He figured he could join them and maybe later escape their clutches. That was not to be and the gang committed robberies all over the west. A stage in Colorado, and a train near Phoenix. He went to Tennessee for the winter. By spring he was in Dallas, Texas, then rejoined the gang in Michigan, where they managed to stay out of sight for about a year. Then the gang planned and executed a robbery, and as they rode away, Reed was shot by US Marshal Bud Ledbetter. On the run and suffering unbearable pain from his wound, he was left behind by his partners. He gave them some of his loot, and kept the rest of it in a sack to use as a pillow. He lay on a blanket huddled under a rock ledge until he was found by an Indian woman. She nursed him back to health. After the American Express Company offered a reward of $250 for the arrest and conviction of each member of the


72

saddlebag dispatches

gang, a huge manhunt ensued. US Marshals George Crump and S. Morton Rutherford led a large group of deputies into Indian Territory. They set fire to the cane-breaks in the Verdigris bottoms and a deputy discovered the burnt remains of Reed’s saddle. The deputy threatened to destroy the crops of local residents if they didn’t turn over the gang. According to Nate’s book, this type of act was considered legal and was authorized by Hanging Judge Isaac Parker. Despite that, people in the Cookson Hills of Indian Territory weren’t much in the mood to turn in the outlaws so no one ratted them out. Too many of the people living there either had an outlaw past or were hiding from the law themselves. It was a good place to hide out. Even so, when Reed found out about the search, he decided to leave the territory as soon as his wound healed enough for him to ride. He rode to Seneca, Missouri, where Bill Lawrence took care of him. Lawrence must have been a former member of his gang. He doesn’t say. In 1895 he returned to Arkansas and stayed with his brother, who had moved back to Madison County. Worn out from running and touched by a new calling, it was time to retire from the outlaw life. He wrote to Judge Isaac Parker and offered to testify against the man who planned the latest robbery if he could get probation. Parker agreed to

the deal. One of the gang members disappeared, but US Marshal Newton LaForce tracked down two others. Both fugitives were killed in a gunfight with LaForce and his men on December 4, 1894. Parker didn’t keep his promise of immunity and Reed was sentenced to serve five years in prison. Before his own death in 1896 Parker granted Reed a parole, so he served less than one year. During the remainder of his life Reed preached the gospel and spoke often about the rewards of living a respectable, lawabiding life. Just in case, he continued to carry around the parole signed by Isaac Parker. During that time he also toured with a series of Wild West shows and wrote his memoirs. He died in 1905 at the age of 87 and was buried in Saint Paul, Arkansas in Brashears Cemetery. And buried with him are the truths, the part of history that is never passed on down. What we have is what Nate shared in his books, plus some scant and scattered records preserved by the law of the time. Not nearly enough for any definitive judgments to be made of the man. —Velda Brotherton is an award-winning nonfiction author, novelist, and a regular contributor to Saddlebag Dispatches. She lives on a mountainside in Winslow, Arkansas, where she writes everyday and talks at length with her cat.


74

saddlebag dispatches


saddlebag dispatches 75


76

saddlebag dispatches


saddlebag dispatches 77


78

saddlebag dispatches


saddlebag dispatches 79


80

saddlebag dispatches


saddlebag dispatches 81


82

saddlebag dispatches


saddlebag dispatches 83


84

saddlebag dispatches


saddlebag dispatches 85


86

saddlebag dispatches


saddlebag dispatches 87


88

saddlebag dispatches


saddlebag dispatches 89


90

saddlebag dispatches


saddlebag dispatches 91


92

saddlebag dispatches


saddlebag dispatches 93


94

saddlebag dispatches


saddlebag dispatches 95


96

saddlebag dispatches


H

e’s so much like the hero of whom he writes. Walt Longmire is a soft spoken, determined sheriff who keeps law in Absaroka County, Wyoming. While he lives in the modern west, he solves mysteries the old-

fashioned way by running down clues, studying the people involved, and being well informed about everything that goes on in that small fictional county. When it’s absolutely necessary he borrows a cell phone. Otherwise he lives outside the realm of the digital world that surrounds him. This gives his books the feel of the Old West while dealing with the problems of modern living. Sometimes what makes a great writer is a combination of a terrific imagination and an unusual life. Johnson is blessed with an abundance of both. It is evident that he lives and writes about where his heart is.


100 saddlebag dispatches

Just another day on the ranch. Even after writing a dozen New York Times bestselling novels, Craig Johnson keeps his home in Ucross, Wyoming, where he still owns and operates a real working ranch.

He comes from a family of storytellers and feels that

he taught me a lot about the trade. Younger cowboys

being able to tell a good story is a valuable talent. Tony

get kicked out to pasture and older cowboys stay on the

Hillerman once told him, “A good storyteller knows not

ranch year round. What I learned from my grandfather

to let the writing get in the way of telling a good story.”

gave me the ability to be able to keep a job.”

Johnson is firm about his approach to writing in first

As a young man he wandered for a while around

person. “It’s almost as if you walked in the Busy Bee Café

New Mexico and Kansas, and after he got out of college

and Walt sits down beside you and says, ‘Let me tell you

landed in Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado. Then he

about what happened to me.’ You don’t use tag phrases

discovered the small town of Ucross, Wyoming. That

because it takes the reader right out of the book.”

was just what he’d been looking for.

You don’t have to read more than a few pages of

“I came here thirty years ago and knew this must

any of his novels to see he practices what he preaches.

be it. I bought property, open pasture land at the base

His childhood experiences influenced not only his

of the Big Horn Mountains where Clear and Piney

life, but his writing.

Creek run together. A beautiful area.

“As a kid we moved around a lot and I learned that if

“I’d met my wife in Philadelphia. She was a New

you’re going to be a cowboy you’d better have multiple

England girl and I said ‘We’re moving to Wyoming.’ It

talents as well. My grandfather was a blacksmith and

was my greatest coup, getting her to move here.


saddlebag dispatches 101

“I had bounced around thinking where I wanted to be and who I wanted to be. Building the ranch myself

“The thought makes me laugh. The only time I’ll leave is when they carry me out of here.” Talking to Johnson it’s easy to slip once again into

helped me to realize that this was it. “You write about a place you love, it demands

the belief that I’m speaking with Walt Longmire. He draws me in much as

honesty.” His love for the place comes through clearly

“It’s almost as if you walked in the Busy Bee Café and

in all his work. Books

Walt sits down beside you and says, ‘Let me tell you

like The Dark Horse, A

about what happened to me.’”

Serpent’s Tooth, and Hell

he does when I open the pages of one of his books. It’s true what he says. It’s a talent. But he also lives the

is Empty make the place as much a character as the

life. The ranch house, the pasture lands, working in the

people who live the stories.

shadow of the Big Horn Mountains, all add to the words

After twelve novels in the Longmire series, a couple

he writes with such ease. Based on this he’s invented a

of novellas, and some short stories, plus five seasons

fictional Absaroka County, a small place with a sheriff,

on television, he’s often asked with all those awards,

his deputy Victoria Moretti, a friend Henry Standing

when is he going to move to L.A.?

Bear, known to Walt as The Cheyenne Nation, and an


102 saddlebag dispatches


saddlebag dispatches 103

A small town in Wyoming plays a big part in Johnson’s books... as does a certain beat-up green truck.


104 saddlebag dispatches

It’s important to approach each book unto itself. Step out into the deep end of the pool and don’t get so comfortable that it gets rote.

occasional deputy who wanders in and out of the stories. Walt might be caught on foot in a blizzard high in the mountains, chasing or being chased, pursued or helped by spiritual characters. The stories wander far from the ordinary, and often involve Indian spirits who lend a hand, yet he is able to make the reader believe and walk with him through the most wildly exciting tales. Being fascinated by small historical facts, Johnson is apt to include them in a book, like the novella, The Highwayman, told around the legend of a trucker trapped in a highway tunnel and sending out a call for help on his CB. That tunnel really exists, as does the legend told and retold. And so he had to write it in his own way with that added connection, the suspense and reality that makes a believer of readers. He feels strongly about the history of the Cheyenne who live on the “rez” adjacent to Absaroka County. “My kind of people have only been here a couple hundred years. They’ve been here for thousands and it’s important to respect their beliefs.” The Indians—who prefer that reference rather than the term Native Americans—and their culture play a role in many of his stories. Not only their presence, but the spirituality

Australian actor Robert Taylor, the perfect fit

and legendary beliefs fit themselves neatly

for Absaroka County’s Sheriff Walter Longmire

into Johnson’s western tales, a look into the lifestyle, the humanity, and what makes humans do what they do.


saddlebag dispatches 105 Asked how he keeps his writing so fresh and real, he has a good answer. “It’s my love of this place, but I don’t romanticize it. It’s important to approach each book unto itself. Step out into the deep end of the pool and don’t get so comfortable that it gets rote. It you can touch bottom you need to go deeper. Characters evolve and change. That’s the essential part of any kind of series. Don’t get comfortable with the formula. That’s deadly. You’re in that rut.

“Many writers write a good book and it sells well, so they are put under pressure to write the same book again and again until they develop a formula.” This is something that will never happen with Johnson’s writing because he says he will not allow it. Book number thirteen, An Obvious Fact, is way different from some of the others. But thinking about it, they all are different. That’s what makes the Longmire series so popular. It never ceases to surprise. “I moved things around a bit. It’s a small county and you can’t have somebody getting killed in every book. It’s a challenge. How can you deal with it honestly? Well, Walt has a growing reputation and he gets a lot of invitations from other places to come and look into things.”


106 saddlebag dispatches

Ready for a Wyoming winter’s worst. You can’t be too famous to cut your own wood, after all.

In the latest of the series Johnson takes Walter,

This came about when, as Craig Johnson, he

Victoria, and Henry to a small town at the base of

attended the 69th reunion of the Doolittle Raiders.

Devil’s Tower to answer the call for help from its lone

They were sitting around telling little stories, not

lawman. There he involves some of the fifty thousand

the big stories most are familiar with, but small

bikers descend

who

pieces of history. His

yearly

upon

the

Sturgis, South Dakota

“I realized early on that [television writing] is a

Motorcycle Rally in a

different art form. You can’t expect them to do

story that he admits

the same things. So you have to do the hardest

turned out to be the funniest

book

he’s

thing in the world. Leave them alone and don’t

written.

tell them what to do.”

“If you know about lawmen, they use humor to deal with the terrible things they have to deal with.”

feeling that unknown bits of history should be written about before they

are

forgotten

convinced him to bring back an old friend— former sheriff Lucian Connelly—to live this

WWII epoch, a memory recaptured in novella form. “As you write you get more of a feel of what stories

One of my favorites is Spirit of Steamboat. I was going

will work and what won’t. Like a horse handicapper

along reading the stories from his series about bad guys

you start to judge stories so you know if it will go

who don’t always wear black hats so sometimes you

the full length or a novella or a short story. This one

don’t know them right away. Then I opened the pages of

became the first state read for Wyoming and required

this novella included in the Longmire series, and Johnson

reading for many high schoolers.”

did precisely what he spoke about earlier. He stepped in the deep end by writing a surprising tale.

The fifth season of his series about the famous lawman was released September 23 on Netflix. How


saddlebag dispatches 107 much influence does he have over the actual script

who really know their county, the people, and human

of the show?

nature. They’re artists, that’s what they are.”

“They send me the scripts. They sit down and talk to me over what they have in mind. I’ll tell them what

Those artists are Craig Johnson and Walt Longmire. That’s who they are.

I think and we’ll agree and disagree. I realized early

I first watched the series on A&E before reading any

on that this is a different art form. You can’t expect

of his books. After two or three episodes, I ordered them.

them to do the same things. So you have to do the

Couldn’t put them down. Unlike many books made into

hardest thing in the world. Leave them alone and

television shows, these hold true to the heartfelt feeling

don’t tell them what to do. They are experts at what

Johnson inserts in every story he writes.

they do and you have to let it go. They know what they’re doing.” So where did he come up with the character, Walt Longmire? His wife has the best answer to that.

That’s because he has a hand in creating the onscreen version of Walt and Victoria and Henry. “They write the script then I take it home and read it to make sure it’s true to how I see the stories.”

“He’s where Craig wants to be in about ten years only he got a slow start.”

—Velda Brotherton is an award-winning nonfiction

Craig laughs at her explanation, but adds his own.

author, novelist, and a regular contributor to Saddlebag

“He’s actually samples of a lot of sheriffs that I’ve

Dispatches. She lives on a mountainside in Winslow,

interviewed. Today there is a transition between old

Arkansas, where she writes everyday and talks at

school and new technology. There’s the old school kind

length with her cat.


1933 The Blue Wilderness, East Central Arizona

H

ello, the house,” came the call from outside as the middle-aged couple stacked the last of the homecanned beets on the shelf. It was fall in the high country and that meant getting ready for winter. There was ranch work to be done, but the fall canning took precedence because they would be living on the vegetables from Mrs. Fritz’s garden. Besides, the cowboys hadn’t shown up yet for the fall roundup to move the cattle from the mountain pastures to the lower country. Freddy, the ranch owner, stepped out the door of the log cabin that was the ranch house for one of the biggest ranches in Eastern Arizona. He looked at the four cowboys, sitting comfortably on their cow ponies. The horses were lean and tough as were the scruffy and unshaven men with their longish hair hanging over their collars, except for the youngest, whose hair was too curly to hang. Instead, it only curled over his ears and under his hat. Their clothes were dirty and worn from life on the range, but their saddles were oiled and well cared for. “Howdy, men.” Freddy smiled. “I was beginning to wonder if you were going to make it. I thought maybe Newell and Carson got throwed in jail like last year for being drunk.” Newell and Carson grinned at the teasing, looking down at their saddle horns. Caleb, the oldest of the bunch and self-appointed spokesman of the crew, chuckled, then pointed to the youngest man. “It was Butch this time.”

Three of the cowboys laughed long and hard, joined by Freddy on the porch. Butch hung his head, embarrassed. “Well, I’m glad you’re here. We was just finishing the last batch of canning for the day and I was planning on unloading and splitting firewood from the wagon. Put your horses in the corral and your blanket rolls in the bunkhouse. We’ve got work to do.” The next morning, the four cowboys and the ranch owner saddled their horses and left the split and carefully stacked firewood to ride deeper into the mountains, climbing in elevation until they reached their destination, ten miles from the ranch house. It was a line shack the four hired hands would work from as they pushed cows and calves to the lower country that wouldn’t get as much snow. The men tied their horses to the hitching rail at what they called the barn, which consisted of four stout log poles with a tin roof butted against a solid rock cliff face. Caleb was first to make his way to the line shack, which was nothing more than four walls and a roof with a plank floor held off the ground by four ponderosa pine logs. It hadn’t changed from last year, he decided, as he stepped up on the rough floor. As he opened the door he noticed the mattresses from the bunks, rolled and hung from the ridge pole to keep the mice out. They seemed to be in good shape, other than the thick layer of dust that covered them—and everything else in the one room shack. The four cowboys went to work, cleaning with a broom that had seen better days. Most of the dirt fell through the


saddlebag dispatches 111 spaces between the planks on the floor. Freddy brought the pack mule close to unload the supplies his hired hands would need while they stayed there, then telling the men to be careful, he mounted for the return trip home. By the end of the day the cowboys were settled into their home away from home and had a roaring fire in the stove. It was colder here than the lower elevations, and they each knew from experience that winter would be there any day. The next day they would hunt for a good-sized elk to hang at the barn for their winter meat. Between that and the provisions brought up by Freddy, they would be set. For the next week the cowboys made good progress gathering the cows and driving them off the mountain. Their rawhide-tough cow ponies handled the hard work well, as did the rawhide-tough men. Real winter came on the eighth day. The cowboys had a large bunch of cows and their big calves moving off the mountain at a good pace. By noon, a cold wind was blowing and by four o’clock, when the men left the cows and started toward the line shack, the snow was three inches deep and growing deeper with each mile. At their arrival, the cowboys took care of their horses, then made their way to the shack for the night, each carrying an armload of wood from the huge stack at the barn. Butch leaned down, balancing the armful of firewood as

he turned the knob to open the door. The rank, skunk smell hit him immediately. “Awww!” he exclaimed, as he entered and dropped his wood into a corner of the shack, close to the pot belly stove. The reaction of the other men was the same. They squinted their eyes and tried not to breathe. The next morning, riding through the snow on the ground on their way to push the next bunch of cows off the mountain, the men discussed what to do. “I think we ought to shoot the little bastard,” said Carson, patting his lever action .30-30 in its scabbard under his leg. Butch looked up, shaking his head. “If you shoot him under the shack, he’ll stink for the whole month we’re here. We can’t stand a month of nights like last night. We couldn’t even eat our supper for the smell.” “You’re right about that,” agreed Caleb. “It’s too cold to be outside and too stinky to be inside. We’ve got to do something.” “Do you think we could get him out, then shoot him?” asked Butch, scratching over his ear where the hair curled. Caleb looked at the youngest cowboy. “You volunteering to go in and get him?” Butch thought. “No, I don’t suppose I am. But we have to do something.” “Maybe we could trap him.” Newell had been silent until then, listening and thinking.


saddlebag dispatches 113 “Now, there’s an idea,” Caleb said, warming to the thought. “There are some coyote traps at the barn.” “Those wouldn’t work for a skunk. He isn’t heavy enough to trip the pad on one of those leg traps. But I have an idea. When I was a kid, my cousin and I would trap quail in a peach crate. You know, the kind with twisted wire and thin wood slats. We’d bait the trap with corn, then prop it up with a stick and a string. We’d wait for the quail to go in, then pull the string.” “That’s the dumbest damn thing I ever heard of,” Carson said. “How many quail did you catch like that?” “To be honest, not many. They’re too smart—but unless you’ve got a better idea, I think it’s worth a try.” “Me too,” Butch said. “Then let’s do it,” Caleb said. “We’ll get home early enough tonight to get ready, then you can go in and set the trap.” “I think you’re all fools,” Carson said. “The skunk’ll spray Newell while he’s in there setting the trap. You think it stinks now with him just living under there? Wait till he sprays. I still think we ought to shoot him and be done.” “No shooting,” Caleb said. “At least not until we get him in the trap.” The foursome returned early that afternoon, three of the four anxious to see if the trap idea might work. At the barn they found an old peach crate. Two of the wooden slats had been broken, so they quickly repaired those with wire.

Carson was leaning on a corner post at the barn, soaking up the last of the afternoon sun, watching the preparations of the other three men without offering to help in any way. Finally, he mocked, “What are you going to use for bait? Do you even know what a skunk eats?” Caleb and Butch looked from Carson to Newell, hoping the cowboy with the trapping experience had thought of that. “I’ve been thinking on that.” Newell smiled. “You’re right. I don’t know what skunks eat, so I’m going to try lots of things at once. We have a bag full of pecan nuts. Mice love them if they’re shelled and a skunk is kind of like a big mouse. We have corn. Coons like corn and a skunk is kind of like a small coon. And we have eggs. I don’t know of a critter that doesn’t like eggs. I’ll mix ’em all up in a tin cup and see what happens.” “You’re plumb loco.” Carson spat a long stream of tobacco juice in the snow and walked to the shack. It was his turn to cook, though if last night was any indication, none of the hands were going to be very hungry. Newell shrugged and grinned at the two remaining cowboys. “It’s worth a try. What’ve we got to lose?” Caleb and Butch grinned back. Butch asked, “What else do you need to be ready?” “Thirty foot of string.” “We ain’t got no string that I can think of,” Caleb said. “Would a rope work?”


saddlebag dispatches 115 “I’m sure it will.” Caleb looked toward the shack. Carson was inside. “Butch, you go get Carson’s rope off his saddle. He ain’t done nothin’ to help. He can supply the rope.” A supper of elk meat and beans was eaten in the cold breeze outside the shack. It was almost dark when Newell scooted on his belly into the space under the floor boards. They had seen the skunk moving when they peered down through the spaces in the floor—they knew he was in the middle section. Careful and slow, Newell made his way toward the back of the crawlspace. Three sides were closed in by boards, but the front was open. When the crate was set, the trapper slid back out the way he came. When he was able to, he stood and walked into the shack. “It’s going to be too dark under there to see if the skunk goes in. We need to light all the coal oil lamps and set them on the floor. I’ll climb in about halfway and wait. Y’all are going to have to be still if we expect the little cuss to try for the food.” “D’you hear that Butch and Carson?” Caleb asked. “Yes sir,” Butch said. Carson only looked at the older man, then retreated to his bunk for the night. The coal oil lamps were lit and placed on the floor over the biggest of the cracks. Newell belly-crawled halfway into the crawlspace and waited. Soon, the only sound was the snoring

of the three men in the shack. Newell waited patiently, but as the night wore on, he too became sleepy. He closed his eyes for just a second’s worth of rest, then woke suddenly as a mouse ran across his arm. He jerked, hitting his head on the floor boards. Cursing silently, he settled in again, watching the trap with the intensity of a circling eagle. At length, he thought he could hear movement toward the trap. He strained his eyes. Suddenly he saw the foul smelling creature, close to the trap, but not quite inside. He gripped the rope, ready to spring the trap the moment the skunk went in. He didn’t have to wait long. The skunk ambled under the box directly to the cup with the gruel mix. He jerked the rope, the stick was away, and the skunk was trapped. “I got him. I got him!” He shimmied out of the crawlspace as fast as he could. He ran into the shack, but the three men were snoring, dead to the world. “Humph,” he remarked to himself, “Big help y’all were.” Carson was the first one up since it was still his turn to cook. He started the fire in the pot belly stove, then rattled dishes in his cooking. The other three men stirred. Butch sat on his bunk, pulling his pants over his long-handle underwear. He noticed Newell, still in bed but leaning on his elbow, a big smile on his face. “Did you catch him?” asked the young, curly haired man.


116 saddlebag dispatches “Sure did. That trap worked just like I told you guys it would.” “Well, I’ll be damned,” Caleb said. “That calls for a celebration.” “Sure does,” Butch said. “Let’s open a can of peaches for breakfast instead of waiting till Sunday.” The men dressed, then sat at the roughhewn table to enjoy flapjacks and peaches. Carson was mad that Newell’s idea worked and at all the attention he was getting. Finally, the cook said, “Okay, smarty britches, how’re you going to get him out from under the shack now that he’s caught?” Newell smiled, unperturbed by the man’s attitude. “I’ve been thinking on that. I’ll shimmy in to the peach crate and tie the rope on it. If we drag it out slow, he’ll have to walk along inside the crate.” “And just how do you figure to get the rope tied without getting sprayed?” Newell dropped his fork to the table, starting to lose his patience. He looked at the naysayer. “I heard a long time ago that a skunk can’t spray unless he can get his tail up. That peach crate’s low enough to the ground. I think it’s worth a try unless you know something better.” Carson wiped the skillet with an oily rag before hanging it on the wall. He glanced back with a scowl. “Just be warned

that if you get sprayed, you’ll have to sleep at the barn till the smell wears off.” Caleb stood, looking at both men. Then glaring at Carson, he addressed the trapper. “Newell, I say you get on down there and pull the polecat out.” Newell donned his coat, then stepped out the door and down to the ground below. In no time he was on his belly, slowly and deliberately working his way toward the skunk. The varmint hunched down at the back of the crate, facing Newell, beady eyes watching the man approach. The cowboy slowly tied the rope onto the wire of the peach crate, then backed out. Once outside he carefully pulled on the rope. All four men watched the crate slowly make its way to the light of day with the skunk reluctantly moving along inside. Newell pulled until the trap and the skunk were ten feet from the shack, out in the open area at the front. Caleb turned and said over his shoulder to Carson, “Now you can shoot him.” Carson was standing close, but he didn’t have a gun. Instead he held a can of coal oil. “Shootin’s too fast. He made life miserable for us, he’s got to pay.” He stepped forward, poured the coal oil on the skunk, then struck a match and threw it into the peach crate. The oil on the skunk quickly caught. He was running around inside the peach crate in a panic.


saddlebag dispatches 117 “That’ll teach the little no-account.” Carson looked at the rope. “Newell, your rope’s burning.” “Ain’t mine, it’s yours.” Carson looked wide eyed at his only rope. “You used my rope?” He grabbed the rope to get it away from the flames, but in lifting the rope, he also lifted the peach crate. The flaming skunk ran, terrified, to the only place of protection he could— under the line shack. The tinder dry kindling that had been collected by a packrat immediately caught fire and in just a few seconds the flames were licking at the floor boards. Within minutes the shack was completely afire. The men rushed through the smoke trying to save what they could. It wasn’t much. The four men stood at the barn, watching the flames leap skyward. No one said a word. Less than a mile away, approaching at a quick half-trot, was Freddy, the ranch owner. He had gotten an early start to come help the hands. He noticed the smoke and wondered what it might be. He rode into the clearing and stopped behind the men as they watched the burning building. The men, unaware he had ridden up, were startled when he spoke. “What happened?” Three of the cowboys stood with heads down, waiting for Caleb to speak. Finally, the older cowboy said, “We was just trying to get rid of a skunk.” Freddy shook his head, sitting silently, watching the flames. At length, he said, “Remind me never to let you dig a sliver out of my foot.”

randall dale

R a

andall Dale, winner of two 2016 Will Rogers Medallion Award Gold Medals for Western Fiction for Young Readers, grew up in a real-life ranching family. No stranger to long days in the saddle, Randall draws heavily on his ranch and horse experiences to write a new breed of modern-day western novels. His critically-acclaimed Pardner’s Trust Series includes four novels to date: Pardner’s Trust, Friends in Deed, Hidden Regrets, and A Good Man Gone. Randall is a graduate of the University of Arizona and while there was a member of the rodeo and livestock judging teams. He is a past Arizona champion of the United States Team Roping Championships and continues to compete when time permits. Randall is a devoted family man and successful businessman with a flair for writing, and an interest in all things western. He currently lives in rural Southeastern Arizona with his wife. They enjoy spending time with their children and grandchildren.


R E X

A N D

H I S

T R U S TY

S T E E D ,

K O K O

T H E

M I R A C L E

H O R S E .


SA D D LEBAG entertainment

REX a r i z o n a

A

K

c o w b o y

L

E

L

L

Y

L

H

E

E

N

K

I

N

N

S

From the nursery creepin’, a little boy came peepin’, shyly peepin’ through a golden curl… was my first introduction to the Arizona Cowboy, Rex Allen. I can still hear my mother sing “Take It Back and Change It for a Boy” to me as I drifted off to sleep. She was one of women all across the country who were drawn to the western singer’s velvet bass voice.

P H O T O S

C O U R T E S Y

O F

R E X

A L L E N ,

J R .


120 saddlebag dispatches Rex Allen, born in Wilcox Arizona in 1920, became known as the Arizona Cowboy. His gentle demeanor and charm courted respect by some to call him Mr. Cowboy. He was a multi-faceted talent that carried him from humble beginnings to stages and movie screens coast to coast. Over the course of his journey, he never lost sight of where he came from or the people that had helped him along the way. His father who played the fiddle, encouraged Rex to learn to play the guitar. He began performing at local events with his father as well A L as glee clubs and with church choirs by the age of twelve. After graduation in 1938 he lit out on the rodeo circuit, an occupation lasting two years and set him on a trail that would later earn him the Rodeo Man of the Year award. But the music kept calling him. He left the rodeo in 1940, taking a job at WTTM radio in Trenton New Jersey as the singing cowboy, Cactus Rex. He called the station home for the next five years, honing his skills before his first big break came along. The National Barn Dance began broadcasting in April of 1924 from WLS studios in Chicago. Originally created to balance out the format of the ‘high-brow’ music the station was known for, the National Barn Dance program served two

squeaky clean. Artists should act natural. There was no room for ‘hillbilly’ or ‘Hollywood’ acts. Rex Allen was the epitome of the image Butler had in mind – a representation of true Midwestern culture. In a recording on wlshistory.com, Rex Allen talks about some of the guidelines they had to adhere to. They were not allowed to sing some of the songs popular at the time, such as Divorce Me C.O.D. by Merle Travis or any song that mentioned divorce. Similar topics were also taboo. Smoke Smoke Smoke That Cigarette by Tex Williams or even one of Rex’s own songs, I Dreamed L E N of an Old Love Affair. He got away with it once before being forbid to sing the song ever again on their show. Rex signed his first recording contract in 1948 with Mercury Records. He would move to Decca in 1952 and also record with other labels, releasing a total of seventeen albums over the course of his music career, spanning forty-plus years and over three hundred of his own songs. A Top Ten hit Crying in the Chapel (1953) and Don’t Go Near the Indians were among his most notable recordings. Following in the boot steps of his predecessors, Rex Allen left Chicago in 1949 bound for Hollywood where he screentested for Republic Pictures. Republic, best known for Western series’ and movie serials was responsible for launching the

REX

Allen released a total of seventeen albums spanning forty-plus years and

over three hundred of his own songs.

Lean and tall was the recipe for a cowboy star and Rex carried himself with a humble pride in his ever-present white Stetson audiences; the rural farm audiences and the city-slickers who had come from those rural roots or had heard of the ‘good ole times’. The program aired during what WLS terms as the Prairie Farm years, when the station was owned by the magazine bearing the name. By the time Rex Allen joined the program in 1945, the National Barn Dance had grown from a weekly broadcast in their original offices to airing in front of a live studio audience, filling their new twelve-hundred seat facility and hundreds of thousands of listeners nationwide every Saturday night. Performers were thought of as family and a strict code had been put in place by station owner, Burridge Butler. The program and the entire station format were to be family oriented and

careers of Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and John Wayne. Rex Allen was in excellent company. His first movie, The Arizona Cowboy, released in April 1950 and the title became his moniker. He was later quoted saying that was the ‘most horrible thing ever made’. Republic released four more films with Rex Allen that year. From 1952 through 1966, he would appear in twenty-seven movies (nineteen with Paramount 1952 – 1956). He provides voice and/ or singing for fifteen additional movies as well as thirty-nine episodes of the television drama, Frontier Doctor (Dr. Bill Baxter). His career includes twenty-three soundtrack credits, mostly for performing. His character was also depicted in comic books.


saddlebag dispatches 121

R E X ,

H I S

W I F E ,

B O N N I E ,

A N D

S O N S ,

C U R T I S

A N D

R E X ,

J R .


122 saddlebag dispatches

R E X

W I T H

F E L L O W

S I LV E R

S C R E E N

C O W B O Y,

S L I M

P I C K E N S .


saddlebag dispatches 123 Every cowboy needs a trusty steed. Rex had Koko the Wonder Horse. Koko received equal billing on all movie advertisements and they performed regularly on the rodeo circuit. For a sample of their performance, I invite you to check out Rex Allen, Jr’s channel on YouTube. Look for ‘Koko, the Miracle Horse of the Movies’. Aside from Koko, Rex Allen had other sidekicks. In his early movies he worked with Buddy Ebsen and later, Slim Pickens. Lean and tall was the recipe for a cowboy star and Rex carried himself with a humble pride in his ever-present white Stetson. Audiences of all ages were enamored with Rex and other Western film heroes. While women swooned for him men and boys wanted to be like him. Children did pretty much anything, including sneaking into their local theater on Saturday afternoons to see him beat the bad guys. Many donning their own cowboy get-up complete with toy side-irons, ready to assist if the need arose. While I came too late to see original runs of his movies I still watch them on YouTube and am captivated by the great storytelling lost on much of Hollywood today. I was one of many children of the 1960’s-1970’s who grew up watching Walt Disney’s programs. Rex Allen’s comforting voice was the perfect ‘read-to-me’ tone Walt Disney wanted for his films. He provided voice as the narrator or announcer for many of their shows from 1957-1986, including narrating familiar classics such as Charlotte’s Web (1973) and The Shaggy D.A. (1978). He also wrote an episode (Run, Appaloosa, Run) for Wonderful World of Color. My personal favorites were the animal antic shows such as The Yellowstone Cubs. Some of the clips can be found on www.imdb.com. He did voiceovers for television commercials for Pure Oil, Campbell’s Soup, Purina Dog Chow and Tony Lama boots. Recognitions for his many achievements in the industry and his legacy of a true American Cowboy came in many forms. His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was dedicated on August 20, 1975, making him the 1,660 entertainment luminary honored by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. He was the first to receive the Golden Boot Award (1983), an award conceived by actor Pat Buttram to

be given to folks in the industry who ‘contributed so much to the development and preservation of the western tradition in film and television’ (www.goldenbootawards.com). Rex was one of twenty-three awarded that year including Gene Autry, Dale Evans, Clayton Moore, Lee Majors and Linda Sirling. He was inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame that same year for both the cowboy lore he personified through music and film and his rodeo accomplishments. In 1989, he joined Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Sons of the Pioneers, Patsy Montana, Gene Autry, Tex Ritter and Marty Robbins as the newest members of the Western Music Hall of Fame, an organization of which he was a charter member. A museum bearing his name opened in Wilcox, Arizona that same year. The Rex Allen Arizona Cowboy Museum and Wilcox Cowboy Hall of Fame in Wilcox, Arizona feature a collection of memorabilia, including photos, movie posters, some of the outfits he wore, records and musical instruments. A bronze statue of Allen stands in Railroad Park, across the street from the museum. His last movie, Down Laredo Way brought the end to an era. His son, Rex Allen Jr recorded The Last of the Silver Screen Cowboys (1982) honoring his father as well as the many movie cowboys of their day. Rex Allen, Sr. and Roy Rogers provide narration on the track. Not only was he the last of the greats to have a picture released, Rex Allen out-lived them. He died in 1999 at the age of 79. Rex Allen married and divorced three times beginning with his first wife, Bonnie Linder, in 1946. They had four children - Rex Jr, Curt, Mark, and Bonita. He had a daughter, Rexina with his second wife, Doris Winsor. Rex Allen, Jr continues to carry on his father’s musical legacy. I look forward to introducing him to you next issue. Until then… Country Blessings! —Kelly Henkins is a full-time writer and artist. She is the trusted on-line voice of Texas music and spends most of her daytime networking with singers and songwriters all over the country. She lives in the rural Ozarks. You can follow her at http://kellyscountry.blogspot.com or contact her at kellyscountry@missouri.usa.com


I

was three days in, hiking alone on the Bear Creek Trail, when I found the body. The sun split the clouds in a rare appearance and one dusty stream of light shone like a blessing through the branches of the trees, picked up the sparkle of a dragonfly barrette in blood-matted hair. The twittering of birds. Wind rattling the tops of the redwoods. The brush of my leg against sword ferns. Everything stopped dead. Breath stuck in my belly. Hiking boots halted midstride. Nothing existed for that moment but the flash of that cheap hair clip and the knowledge that, seeking solitude and communion with God, I’d stumbled instead upon His counterpart. Later, in session after endless session, Dr. Shaw pushed me to dig for the details of the scene, insisted I was repressing some black memory too painful to confront. How else, she asked, seeing only that one small flash of light, a glimpse of dark hair, could I have known instantly that this wasn’t the work of a bear or even a cougar? How could I have known, not suspected, but known on some cellular level that I was looking at the wanton act of a member of my own species? Again and again, I gave the good doctor the explanation I give you now. The air itself was empty, bereft, some invisible but essential part of each and every molecule absent. I stood in a dead zone, permeated with manmade evil. In a trance, I slipped the backpack from my shoulders, sat flat on my butt, and slid into the narrow, fern-wrapped

canyon. The orange spore my slide disturbed from the underbelly of a hundred ferns rose around me in a dreamlike cloud. Maidenhair brushed my face. My passing stirred the pure white of delicate trilliums. The child lay on her back, as though she’d fallen peacefully asleep. Her arms at her sides, sightless eyes stared up at streaks of sunlight through tall trees. It was crazy, of course it was, but the closer I inched to her, the more the air changed. I had the sense that, in a bubble around this dead child, evil had been pushed back. I imagined her at peace even as I looked on the ravages of death. Her small body was decomposing. Bone glared white at the shin and femur, cheeks and forehead. My mind scrambled frantically, desperate to make sense of what I saw. The dead and rotting body of a child lying under a blanket of carefully-placed ferns, the top fronds fresh, dark green, and tipped with the curling gold of a leaf still unfurling. The juxtaposition of evil with innocence trembled the air. She’d been there a while, lying alone in the woods, and yet no crow had pecked at soft tissue, no bear or coyote scavenged a free meal. A shiver took me, an icy finger that ran from head to toe. The police and later Dr. Shaw returned often in our sessions to the unlikeliness of me accidentally stumbling upon the body. I have no explanation for why I left the marked path that day. Cut cross-country for over three miles.


126 saddlebag dispatches Followed bear trails through meadow and wild salmonberry bushes. Slipped sideways down scree and jagged boulders, the pack on my back growing heavier with each step. Was I drawn to that narrow canyon, that thin border between good and evil, or was I driven? I have no answer. But I know without doubt or hesitation what led me deeper into that lush valley. I know with the knowledge of a true believer what turned me from the body of that innocent child and drew me farther into the narrowing canyon. A scuffling whisper, a shifting of the air behind me, and I rotated slowly in a half-circle. Even as I squatted, my back to the child, eyes darting from redwood tree to fern to the pinkish granite of the mountain’s exposed bedrock, some deep, long buried part of me felt… at peace, protected, safe. It was crazy and I knew it was nuts, but there you have it. Some presence prevented fear, dropped me into a state of calm. Dr. Shaw says what I experienced was shock. She insists my brain, unable to make sense of what I saw, simply shut down. I’ve spent six months trying to convince myself she’s right. But I’m telling you, that moment, standing in an ancient slash of rock, the decaying body of that child lying under her fresh blanket of green, some entity I recognized as though from a dream or another lifetime stirring the air behind me— in that moment, I experienced something outside this world.

I knew joy and hope, accepted without question that some long-forgotten creature was calling me to follow. Low grunts and soft footfalls pulled me deeper into the canyon. I moved freely then, into a bloody, gore-splattered, tree-lined, primal justice. The arm was the first body part I found. That’s the moment joy turned to terrified awe. Here the forest animals had been at work with sharp teeth and hard, curved beaks. The right hand lay open and palm up. A bloody arc splattered the forest floor from rat-gnawed fingertips to the curved blade of the skinning knife six feet farther on. The toe of a hiking boot protruded from a patch of bright red poison oak, led me to a denim-wrapped right leg. I jerked away. An arm’s length to my left, pressed to a soft-barked redwood, the headless trunk was impaled on a broken branch. The body, red flannel shirt shredded, hung limp in the sunless, suffocating crevasse. You know those dreams where something beyond imagination is chasing you? And your legs won’t move, and you’re trapped, caught. With the pursuer coming closer, and closer. And then you wake up. Well, I didn’t wake up. A shadow, wide and tall, like a floating boulder, moved in the brush to my left. I stood, rooted to the forest floor, tried to


saddlebag dispatches 127 remember how to breathe. A rock hit the ground at my feet, bounced, came to rest against the toe of my mud-splattered boot. The air was heavy, filled with spore and leaf mold and the smell of death and rotting life and I could not pull this thick brew down into my lungs. I panted, swayed, fell. When I came to my senses, I was alone in a deep gash of forest. The body still hung suspended from the tree. The arm, torn from its socket like a child will dismember a plastic doll, still lay abandoned behind me. I rubbed my hands over my face, twisted my fists into my eyes. But the scene did not alter. It took three days to hike out, another twenty-four hours for the sheriff’s department to organize a helicopter and forensics team. In the four days between that flash of light on a child’s barrette and when I led human law into that narrow gap between worlds, we had our first snowfall of the season. But, in that first moment, that surreal instant, when the hard truth of what I’d stumbled upon overtook me, claimed me for its own, in that living dream, I saw the truth of what had happened. A dragonfly, its wings the sheerest gossamer, lit gently on a small, wet depression at the base of a hollow, lightningburned redwood. My eye followed the darting electric blue of the insect. It was then I saw the footprint. Twice as long as my own, three times as broad. Big toe splayed wide as the creature pressed its weight into the mud, pushed upward, moved on.

a

pamela foster

T

wenty-one years ago Pamela Foster married her hero. The author’s husband is a disabled Marine, Vietnam vet, and a man who would walk through fire for her without ever acknowledging that he ignited the flames. Accompanying her hero on his quest to escape the dull gray of life-after-combat, Foster has lived in the redwoods of the Pacific Northwest, on the side of a volcano in Hawaii, in the Yucatan beside the Caribbean Sea, the stark desert of southern Arizona, the jungles of Panama, and the Ozark Mountains. Amidst these many adventures, Foster has found time to pen six novels, including Bigfoot Blues and Bigfoot Mamas, the literary Western Ridgeline, the Southern comic novel Noisy Creek and its sequel, Redneck Goddess and the psychological thriller, The Perfect Victim. She’s also published the hilarious travel memoir Clueless Gringoes in Paradise, and My Life With A Wounded Warrior, a heartfelt and brutally honest collection of essays chronicling her struggles as the spouse of a disabled vet. After over two decades of travel, Foster has finally returned to her hometown of Eureka, California, where she wakes each morning to fog draped redwoods, the ebb and flow of Humboldt Bay, and the comfort of finally being home.


W

hen white politicians wanted to guarantee an modified version of those words back to them in 1906 after Indian treaty would be good forever they always they had finished dissolving tribal lands. threw in a few words about it lasting, “as long Crazy Snake put the Creek case to the upper house of as the grass grows and the congress like this: “He (Andrew water flows.” Andrew Jackson Jackson) told us that as long said something to that effect as the sun shone and the sky is when he forced the Muskogee up yonder these agreements Creek to sign the Treaty of shall be kept. This was the first Cusseta in 1832. agreement that we had with the With an army at his back, white man. He said as long as the he made a pretty good deal sun rises it shall last; as long as for the U.S. government. the waters run it shall last; as long The Creek relinquished the as the grass grows it shall last.” lands they still held east of Chitto Harjo’s speech may the Mississippi and agreed to have embarrassed the politicians, be “voluntarily” removed to but it didn’t slow them down. their new homeland in Indian Territory starting in 1834. The Dawes Act of 1887 Two years of preparation The Muskogee couldn’t must have seemed like rushing have been surprised at how things to the Indians, who had things had gone. The Treaty lived in the American SE for of Cusseta was one of a long the last thousand years, but it string of offers white men had was pretty clear that Indian made that the Indians could Territory was the best deal they not refuse. Relocated tribes were going to get. had a longer run at sovereignty Jackson told them: “There than they probably expected. your white brothers will not It took Washington 53 years CHITTO HARJO (CRAZY SNAKE) trouble you; they will have no from the Creek removal until claim to the land, and you can they passed the Dawes Act of Crazy in this case meant courageous in battle beyond concern live upon it, you and all your 1887. This law eliminated tribal for his own well-being. children, as long as the grass lands and distributed individual grows or the water runs, in peace and plenty. It will be allotments to tribal members. yours forever.” The government had come to understand the drawbacks It must have been embarrassing to the U.S. senate when of maintaining indigenous sovereign nations within its borders. a Creek activist named Chitto Harjo (Crazy Snake) recited a The Sioux were causing them no end of troubles in their vast


saddlebag dispatches 129 reservation that spread over parts of North and South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado. The Apache were proving difficult to keep confined, and so were the Navajo. Since the Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole removal, Indian Territory along with Oklahoma Territory had become an island of unincorporated land surrounded by states. Oklahoma was sure to become a member of the union before too much longer and the

politicians were dead set against admitting another state that contained Indian reservations into the union, even reservations made up of the so called civilized tribes. Washington also had to deal with an ever-expanding number of white settlers (voting citizens) looking to homestead dwindling amounts of American land. The senate took care of both those troublesome problems with the Dawes Act. Not only did that law eliminate the tribal lands by dividing them into family allotments, excess property beyond those assigned lands could be seized and marketed to non-Indian settlers. Senator Henry Laurens Dawes of Massachusetts was the creator and champion of the legislation. He saw the act as a major step toward mainstreaming the American Indian population. With the reservations eliminated, he believed the Indians would engage in farming and ranching based on the European-American model. In a generation, maybe two, the Native American population would be lifted out of poverty. They would learn to read. With the help of federally controlled Indian schools, they’d integrate with the white population and leave their cultures aw well as their languages behind.

The problem was, a large number of Indians wanted nothing to do with the white man’s plan for their lives. They put up a struggle in the courts and exercised as much political influence as they could. They continued petitioning congress and posing legal arguments even after congress formed

MASS. SENATOR HENRY L. DAWES Author and champion of the Dawes Act. As a result of the Dawes allotments, Native Americans lost about 90 million acres of treaty land, or about two-thirds of their 1887 land base. Only Indians who had signed the Dawes Rolls were eligible for a household allotment. the Dawes Commission in 1893 to try and persuade the tribes to agree to the allotment plans. The principal chief of the Muskogee Creek at the time was Pleasant Porter. He was unenthusiastically in favor of going along with the United States government. He advised tribal members to sign up on the Dawes Rolls and accept their allotments, not because he thought it was best for the Muskogee Creek Nation, but because the cavalry was right across the Arkansas River, ready to ride into Indian Territory and put down a rebellion if it came to that. In 1898, the legislature took another step that sealed the fate


130 saddlebag dispatches of Indian lands. They passed the Curtis Act, which stripped tribal governments of virtually all their powers. Many Muskogee Creek were ready to go along with the federal government. They had seen what had come of resistance in the past. The blood bath at Wounded Knee took place in 1890 only three years after the

Principal Chief of the Muskogee Creek, and even went so far as to form a vigilante police force, known as the “Lighthorse”. The Snakes and their “Lighthorse” militia carried their traditionalist message throughout Indian Territory. Their influence clearly gained a lot of popular support. Chitto Harjo and his followers set up a separate Creek government—unrecognized by the United States—on the Old Hickory Ground. It didn’t take long for Harjo and the most influential members of the Snake movement to be arrested and sentenced to two years in Leavenworth.

PROPERTY TRANSFER Poster offering surplus Indian land (non-allotted tribal land) under the Dawes Act. After the allotments, about 90,000 Indians were made landless. passage of the Dawes Act, and the Muskogee Creek feared something similar would happen in Indian Territory. “The Ignorant Class” Crazy Snake was not so easy to persuade. He and other traditionalists wanted to take things a little closer to the brink. They formed The Four Mothers Society, an intertribal activist movement that supported a return to traditional ways and solidarity between the tribes that had been relocated from the southeastern United States. Pleasant Porter did everything he could to discourage membership in the group. He referred to Muskogee members of the Four Mothers Society as the “ignorant class” of Creek. White-owned newspapers supported Pleasant Porter in their editorial pages, but they didn’t go so far as calling his opponents the “ignorant class.” They chose, instead an equally inaccurate if less offensive label, “Traditional Full-bloods”. Eventually, because of Chitto Harjo’s colorful Creek name, everyone called the traditionalists the “Crazy Snakes”, or sometimes just the “Snakes”. The Crazy Snakes held a meeting in 1900 on the Old Hickory Ground (an area southeast of Okmulgee set aside for ceremonies) and declared Pleasant Porter deposed for having violated the Creek Constitution by cooperating with the allotment process. They declared Chitto Harjo to be the new

PLEASANT PORTER Principal chief of the Creek Nation from 1899 until his death in 1907. His paternal grandfather was adopted into the Creek Nation in 1814 after fighting against them with Andrew Jackson in the Creek war. Ironically, Porter’s Creek name, Talof Harjo, means Crazy Bear. These sentences were immediately suspended on the traditionalist’s promise to cease their anti-government activities. Most of the “Snakes” did stop but Harjo kept organizing opposition to allotment. He eluded arrest for ten months, but deputy marshals captured him in the spring of 1902. He and nine others were imprisoned at the Leavenworth federal penitentiary where they served their two-year sentences. Crazy Snake and a number of loyal traditionalists continued to resist the allotments after his release from the federal penitentiary. Members of congress attempted to enlist his aid as a political advisor and asked him to testify before the U.S. Congress in 1906. They hoped his honor and the potential


saddlebag dispatches 131

SEGREGATION All-Black towns like Boley (pictured above) grew in Indian Territory after the Civil War when the former slaves of the Five Civilized Tribes settled together for mutual protection and economic security. Allotments for black tribal members were often assigned around these towns. of being accepted as a member of the ‘loyal opposition’ would soften his position. It did not. His eloquent speech rephrasing Jackson’s figurative promise of a permanent home in Indian Territory (as long as the waters run it shall last) is often quoted but almost never attributed to the Creek traditionalist. Jim Crow Laws Come With Statehood When Oklahoma became a state in 1907 it immediately passed Jim Crow laws similar to those of the neighboring states of Texas and Arkansas. The allotment system encouraged African American migration to all black townships that segregated the former slaves (Freedmen) owned by four of the Five Civilized Tribes (excluding the Seminole, who never owned slaves). The future looked bleak for the Freedmen in the new state and seemed to be getting worse. In 1909 a group of blacks sought refuge on Chitto Harjo’s Old Hickory Ground. White settlers did not like the prospect of an alliance between Creek and Freedmen. Based on the claim that a piece of smoked meat had been stolen from one of the local white-owned smoke houses, the settlers organized a posse and broke up the black encampment. The Freedmen and some of the Creek resisted. One black was killed, one white man was wounded, and 42 Freedmen were arrested. Crazy Snake was not at the Old Hickory Ground at the time of the raid, but he was blamed for the troubles by the white settlers. When they dispatched a posse to his house to arrest him, a gun fight broke out. Two white deputies were quickly killed and several others were wounded. Chitto Harjo was wounded

in the hip— probably fatally— during the melee, but he and the other Snakes escaped into C h o c t a w country where they were helped by members of the Four Mothers Society. This gunfight became known as the “Crazy Snake Rebellion.” Oklahoma governor Charles N. Haskell ordered a militia to pursue the Creek conservatives and restore order in McIntosh and Okmulgee counties. The commanding officer found that whites were causing most of the problem and forced the disbanding of posses in the area. Crazy Snake took refuge with his friend, Daniel Bob, a Choctaw conservative leader. He was never seen again by any white men in the area, and none of the tribes were willing to talk about what happened to him. Rumors abound. Crazy Snake most likely died of the gunshot wound to his hip and was buried secretly by Daniel Bob or other tribal traditionalists. Some locals claimed Four Mothers Society members hid him out and eventually spirited him out of Indian Territory where he wouldn’t be recognized. The most colorful story claimed that Chitto Harjo and a group of hard core followers, including a number of Black Seminole, left the United States and established a secret Indian colony in Mexico. —John T. Biggs is a critically-acclaimed writer with four novels and over sixty published short stories to his credit. When not traveling the globe with his wife, he makes his home in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.


S

oon after the War Between the States concluded in 1865, one of the singular epics of American and world history rose up from Texas and thundered north across the hills, prairies, and plains of Indian Territory. Born in the wake of the war was the legendary western cattle drive and range cattle industry. Thousands of these physically-vigorous Texan men of the land left behind ranges uniquely suited by climate, terrain, and land ownership laws to prosper the growth of cattle—a particular sort of cattle.

The Texas longhorn cow emerged from the breeding of lean longhorns—which were introduced from southern Europe by the Spaniards—with bigger northern European cattle brought by Americans. The new breed evinced the best attributes of both its predecessors. It possessed size, strength, endurance, and apparent immunity to heat and hunger, as well as the durability to survive rough marathon treks across the endless Southern Plains. The beasts could rumble over sixty miles of badlands in heat or cold, with next to no water.

RUSH HOUR AT COLBERT’S FERRY G. N. Taylor’s rendering of Chickasaw Benjamin Colbert’s thriving Red River ferry business as it serviced post-war cattle drives headed north from Texas along the Shawnee Trail. Descended from both Scottish and Chickasaw ancestors, the entrepreneurial Colbert earlier built the southernmost Indian Territory stop of the Butterfield Overland stage route in present-day Oklahoma’s Bryan County. (www.gntayloroklaart.com)


saddlebag dispatches 133 So tough was this distinctive new American breed, in fact, that when thousands of Confederate soldiers returned to Texas after the war, longhorn cattle had multiplied by the hundreds of thousands across the state’s sprawling ranges. The free-market principle of supply and demand, however, meant that even prime fat beeves could draw no more than six or seven dollars a head in the Lone Star State. The same animals, meanwhile, commanded prices up to ten times that amount in the economically robust North, where European immigrants were pouring in by the millions. Those populous markets lay hundreds or even thousands of miles away, and the railroads that might provide their speediest transit had not yet reached Texas, or anywhere close. First Cattle Drives Visionary Texas cattlemen were determined to bring their beef supply to meet the Northern and Eastern hunger demand by driving their stock in herds to the closest railheads that could transport the cattle north and east. They wasted no time after the war, driving over a quarter of a million head north in 1866, mostly along what became known as the Shawnee Trail. They moved from

central Texas, through the present-day Dallas-Fort Worth area, across Red River, along present-day U. S. Highway 69 through the Civil War Indian Territory battle sites of Boggy Depot and Fort Gibson, to Baxter Springs, in the southeast corner of Kansas. This inaugural season of cattle driving proved disastrous to the cowmen. Every conceivable obstacle combined to create a “perfect storm� of misery and calamity for the Texans. They faced rain deluges, swollen rivers, steep hills, and even mountains. Natives demanded toll payments for crossing their lands, and stampedes were initiated by some of the same Indians, who then demanded more money for helping retrieve the cattle. White renegades plied outlawry in the unsettled and generally lawless postwar Indian Nations. And then there was the rough contrariness of the longhorns themselves. Their perilous adventure grew even worse when the Texans hit the Kansas (and sometimes Missouri) border. There, outraged farmers remembered the fever, mysterious but deadly to bovines, that was apparently left in the wake of small pre-war cattle drives into the area from Texas. Yet the longhorns evidenced no symptoms of the malady, so the


saddlebag dispatches 135 Texans felt unjustly accused. Later investigation revealed that the fever—variously referred to as splenic, Spanish, or Texas fever—afflicted Northern milk cows and shorthorns but not the tough Southern cattle, and was transmitted from the latter to the former by ticks. The Midwesterners had little concern for such technicalities, however. Their only focus was keeping the longhorns away. So, far from home, the outnumbered Texans endured beatings and shootings by self-styled vigilante mobs who would also kill portions of their herds, sometimes nearly the entire herd. The more heady drovers turned their herds west and led them across hundreds of miles more of open country to skirt around the Kansans and reach markets in Missouri or Iowa. Only a scant number of the hundreds of thousands of cattle arrived at a profitable destination for their owners. Chisholm Trail Facing a failure of monumental proportions, the Texans refused to give up, stubbornly driving more cattle north the following year of 1867. Their relentless and physically courageous determination finally paid off when twenty-nineyear-old Illinois cattle baron Joseph G. McCoy caught wind of it. He persuaded the new Kansas Pacific Railway to extend its line west beyond both Kansas settlements and Indian Territory communities, whose vigilante mobs continued to harry the Texas drovers. At that new railhead he built a massive cattle depot, shipping center, and hotel, a bustling center of commerce that developed into the town of Abilene, Kansas—future birthplace of U. S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Meanwhile, McCoy contracted with the Kansas Pacific to receive a percentage of all freight charges for Texas cattle shipped from Abilene to the bristling markets at Kansas City and Chicago. Finally, he sent a rider down Indian Territory cattle trails to find herds coming north and urge the owners to bring them to Abilene. Ranchers and cowboys drove cattle north through Texas over hundreds of trails, but most of them began to coalesce into one route that rolled north from Red River up through present-day western Oklahoma. History recognizes that path as the Chisholm Trail. It

JESSE CHISHOLM The most famous cattle trail in history appropriately bears the name of the man who founded it—Tennessee-born Jesse Chisholm, son of a Scottish merchant and slave trader and a Cherokee mother, famed Indian Territory frontier trader, and mediator between the Plains Indians and the Five Civilized Tribes, the Republic of Texas, and the United States.

JOSEPH G. MCCOY The original “Real McCoy,” was the visionary entrepreneur who pioneered the transporting of Texas longhorns—which had been driven up Indian Territory cattle trails to Kansas railheads—on ahead to the mass of Americans farther north and east.


136 saddlebag dispatches

CHISHOLM TRAIL RIVER CROSSING One can almost taste the red dirt dust and feel the earth shaking beneath thousands of cattle hooves in G. N. Taylor’s depiction. Millions of head rumbled north on cattle trails from Texas through Indian Territory to railheads in Kansas after the War Between the States. (www.gntayloroklaart.com)


saddlebag dispatches 137


138 saddlebag dispatches


saddlebag dispatches 139

DUNCAN’S STORE The rise of the Chisholm Trail, coupled with the advent of Fort Sill, spawned frontier stores that served cowboys and soldiers years before public land openings in Oklahoma. Some of them grew into southwest Oklahoma settlements. Ima Jean Scott’s painting depicts Scottish trader, intermarried Chickasaw, and pioneer William Duncan and his store, founded in still-dangerous country alongside the Chisholm around 1872. It sat on the eastern periphery of what would become Duncan, Oklahoma, eventual birthplace of Halliburton. emerged from a series of trading posts established by legendary scout, trader, cattleman, and interpreter Jesse Chisholm along the road to supply Confederate forces during the War Between the States. Ironically, the Scots-Cherokee Chisholm died in 1868, without having driven any cattle up the trail that made his name immortal. Beginning with Texan O. A. Wheeler and his partners in 1867, however, others drove plenty of stock up the trail that bore Chisholm’s name. Thirty-five thousand cattle were shipped to market from Abilene that year; thousands of them had rumbled up the Chisholm Trail. That was a drop in the bucket compared to succeeding years. By the end of 1871, over a million cattle had shipped out of Abilene, and by 1877, five million had. The Texans forged other famous trails to the west of the Chisholm (Great Western, Goodnight-Loving) and east (West Shawnee). The stream of cattle moving north from the Lone

Star State grew so massive that cattlemen began grazing them on the territory’s nutrient-rich blue stem and grama grasses. By the end of the 1870s, they paid the Cherokees a hundred thousand dollars a year for grazing rights to the forage-rich Cherokee Outlet in the northern part of Indian Territory. Thus was birthed the legendary southwestern cattle business, as scores of energetic cowmen established their own sprawling spreads in Texas, present-day Oklahoma, and surrounding states. —John J. Dwyer is an author, longtime Adjunct Professor of History and Ethics at Southern Nazarene University, and a regular contributor to Saddlebag Dispatches. He is former History Chair at a classical college preparatory school, newspaper publisher, and radio host. He lives with Grace his wife of 28 years, their daughter Katie, and their grandson Luke.

THE LEGENDARY CHISHOLM TRAIL The predominant path over which Texas cattlemen—many of whom became Oklahomans, New Mexicans, Kansans, or Coloradoans—drove their beeves north to Kansas, from where new railroads shipped them east to the mushrooming American public.


W

ith the recent passing of Hugh O’Brian, it seemed Earp served as technical advisor on the film. only fitting to look back at the character he played In 1939 the first talkie was made with Randolph Scott as on the small Wyatt Earp and Cesar Romero as Doc screen, along with all of Holiday, spelled Haliday for the film, the movies and people in Frontier Marshall. The movie also who have played the co-starred a young Ward Bond. Next character in the cinema. came Tombstone: The Town too Tough to Die Hugh O’Brian played in 1942 with Richard Dix as Wyatt and Wyatt Earp from 1955 Kent Taylor as Doc. to 1961 on ABC in The John Ford directed the Life and Legend of Wyatt 1946 release of My Darling Earp. He also played Earp Clementine which starred in a cameo in the 1959 Henry Fonda as Wyatt Bob Hope movie Alias Earp and Victor Jesse James. He portrayed Mature as Doc the man at a later age in Holiday. This was two episodes of the Lee the only film that Horsey western Guns had Doc Holiday of Paradise in 1990 and being killed during again in the TV movie the shootout. It also The Gambler Returns: The had Ward Bond in Luck of the Draw, starring the role as Morgan Kenny Rogers. He last Earp, and Walter played Wyatt Earp in a Brennan as Newman made for TV film Wyatt Haynes Clanton with COWBOY ORIGINAL Earp: Return to Tombstone in Grant Withers as his son 1994. This movie mixed Late actor Hugh O’Brian and the Western Ike. In 1955, Joel McCrea new footage with colorized icon he played more than any other man— starred in the film Wichita which footage from the original legendary US Marshall Wyatt Earp. concentrated on Wyatt’s early life in Kansas. series. No other actor was Gunfight at the Ok Corral was released in 1957 and more closely identified with Wyatt Earp than Hugh O’Brian. starred Burt Lancaster as Wyatt and Kirk Douglas as Doc, The first silent movie portrayal of Wyatt Earp was filmed in with Lyle Bettger playing Ike Clanton. James Garner took 1923 with Bert Lindley playing the role in the movie Wild Bill over the role of Wyatt Earp, the first of two films in which he Hickok. It’s ironic that Lindley played Earp while the real Wyatt played the famous lawman, in 1967 in Hour of the Gun. It co-


saddlebag dispatches 141 starred Jason Robards as Doc Holiday, and Robert Ryan as Ike Clanton. It also featured a young Jon Voight as Curly Bill Brocius. The story line strayed away from the previous entries in that Ike Clanton wasn’t killed at the classic shootout, but was later killed in Mexico by Wyatt Earp. Doc, released in 1971 told the story of the shootout through the eyes of Doc Holiday and starred Stacey Keach as Doc and Harris Yulin as Wyatt. This movie returned to the standard storytelling and had Ike Clanton dying in the

the gunfight and told more of the story about Curly Bill Brocius, played by Powers Boothe. Ike Clanton was played by Stephen Lang at the end of the movie he’s galloping away, removing his red sash and disbanding the cowboy gang with a single gesture. 1994 also saw the release of Wyatt Earp, with Kevin Costner in the title role and Dennis Quaid as Doc Holiday. The film also starred Jeff Fahey as Ike Clanton. Oddly the movie shifted after Wyatt Earp killed Curly Bill and ended with Wyatt and Josephine

gun battle. The film won a Spur award in ‘71 for the Best Western Movie Script. Sunset in 1988 told the story of Wyatt Earp in Hollywood in the early twenties and his friendship with Tom Mix. James Garner portrayed Earp for the second time and Bruce Willis played Tom Mix. The shootout at the Ok Corral was told in a flashback sequence. Kurt Russell played Wyatt Earp in the 1994 release Tombstone with Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday. It expanded on

on a ship bound for Alaska. Val Kilmer played an older Wyatt Earp in the 2012 release Wyatt Earp’s Revenge. Shaun Roberts portrayed a younger version of the character. Wilson Bethel played Doc Holiday. Kilmer is the only actor that played both Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday in the movies. James Stewart played Wyatt with Arthur Kennedy as Doc Holiday in a cameo in the 1964 movie Cheyenne Autumn. Will Greer played Wyatt in the Jimmy Stewart movie Winchester


73 in 1950. Cameron Mitchell played the lawman in an episode of Alias Smith and Jones with Bill Fletcher as Doc. Ron Hayes made four appearances as Wyatt Earp on the Bat Masterson Show, that starred Gene Barry. The crew of the starship Enterprise and first incarnation of Doctor Who have had adventures with Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday. Gerald Mohr played the gunfighting dentist in season one of Maverick and Peter Breck took over the role for seasons four and five. Jack Kelly, who played Bart Maverick on the Maverick series, played Doc in an episode of The High Chaparral in 1967. Randy Quaid played Doc in the TV movie Purgatory, making him and Dennis the only brothers to play Holiday. Willie Nelson played Doc in the TV movie Stagecoach. The actual gunfight took place on October 26th 1881 in the vacant lot adjacent to the Ok Corral’s rear entrance. The early movies all had Ike Clanton dying in the shootout with the exception of Hour of the Gun, which had Wyatt Earp killing him in Mexico. Ike Clanton was killed by a lawman while rustling cattle, six years after the gunfight at the OK Corral. Several movies have Wyatt returning to Tombstone years after the gunfight, this never happened. When Wyatt Earp left Arizona, he never returned to Tombstone. Very few people in the United States knew of Wyatt Earp until the first movie in 1923, and the Stuart Lake book that was written in 1931. Wyatt did attract national attention when he refereed the Bob Fitzsimmons and Tom Sharkey heavyweight fight on December second in 1896. Wyatt stopped the fight and awarded Sharkey the win after a controversial low blow by Fitzsimmons, that many spectators say never occurred. One report stated that Wyatt had bet a great deal of money on Sharkey. Wyatt had previously refereed fights under the London Prize Ring Rules but not under the Marquis of Queensbury rules. Doctor John Henry Holiday died in Glenwood Springs, Colorado on November 8th, 1887. He was 36 years old. Wyatt Berry Stamp Earp died in Los Angeles, California, on January 13th, 1929 at 80 years of age. Both of these men helped shape the west and their legacy lives on in movies and television. A persistent rumor concerns the final movie that Wyatt acted as technical advisor. It was Hangman House in 1928. A young John Wayne had his first on screen appearance in that movie and once told Hugh O’Brian that he based his walk and mannerisms in the movies on what he observed from Wyatt Earp. At the end of the movie Tombstone, narrator Robert Mitchum discussed Wyatt Earp’s funeral in Los Angeles. It’s true that William S. Hart and Tom Mix were among his pallbearers, and that Tom Mix wept. —Terry Alexander is a western, science fiction and horror writer with many publishing credits to his name. He and his wife, Phyllis, live on a small farm near Porum, Oklahoma


D

on’t confuse Western music with Country. It’s a whole outlaw Butch Cassidy, who got his start not far from Mary’s different genre, with songs celebrating cowboys, “little town” in Utah. Western history, and contemporary life in the West. Her career has allowed her the opportunity to expand You won’t hear about drinking or divorce or fluffy love songs her horizons and meet and mingle with numerous ranchers when Western singers take the stage or their tunes fill your and cowboys and other Westerners. Those acquaintances ear buds. This music is all about life, past and present, in the have inspired compositions with a contemporary flavor and iconic American West. deep appreciation for the Western way of life. Witness to that There’s a cadre of singer/songwriters who compose fact is her song “Ride a Wide Circle,” winner of the Western Western songs, and the best of them can carry a tune with Heritage “Wrangler” Award. The song, she says, any songwriter anywhere. The top of any list of Western is her “tribute composers and performers will always include Mary Kaye. Her work has been recognized with the Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, and the Western Writers of America Spur Award. Awards from the Western Music Association over the years include Best Female Performer, Songwriter, Song, and Female Vocalist, and the Academy of Western Artists named her Best Western Female Performer. She was recognized as Best Solo Musician by True West magazine and American Cowboy magazine named one of her tunes Top Cowboy Song. Many of Mary’s compositions are inspired by the rich history of the American West. “I’m one of those folks with a stack of history books on my bedside table at all times,” she says. “When I first started writing Western music, I had seen little of the world besides my little town and had spent years of my life in and out of maternity clothes. History was my first source of inspiration for songwriting.” That inspiration pays off. Her Spur Award-winning Photo by Neets song, “Any Name Will Do,” is about Old West


saddlebag dispatches 145

SINGER/SONGWRITER

Mary Kaye writes much what she records and performs, composing the music as well as the lyrics.


saddlebag dispatches 147

FAMILY BUSINESS

Mary rehearses with daughters Cecelia, Sophia, Emilia, and Adaline

You can’t really understand Mary Kaye without knowing about her family. She has raised—and is still raising some of—ten children.

to those fortunate few who are part of generational ranching and farming families.” Songwriting, and singing her own songs, are important to Mary Kaye but she also performs music written by other contemporary artists as well as singing classic cowboy songs. She says, “I will admit that even I get annoyed with some singer-songwriters who get so wrapped up in their own material that they forget the world of beautifully written music around them.” But, she adds, “The one thing I’ll never tire of is the songwriting. As much as I love singing songs written by others, it’s the songs that I write that make what I do challenging and worthwhile.” You can’t really understand Mary Kaye without knowing about her family. She has raised—and is still raising some of—ten children. A bunch of them are girls, and those still at home sometimes work with Mary on stage as the Kaye Sisters. Sophia, Emilia, Adaline, and Cecelia bring a passel of musical talent and neon-bright energy to a performance. Whether it’s her own words and music or the work of another artist, Mary Kaye’s voice has the range and emotion to do any song justice. From gentle melodies to powerful ballads to rollicking and rousing out-loud Western tunes that rattle the rafters, she gives every song she sings a personal touch.

To date, Mary has put together five albums: Ride a Wide Circle, The Dawn & the Dusk, No Wilder Place, Clean Outta Luck, and The Real Thing, as well as Cowboy Christmas, a collection of five original songs celebrating Christmas with a Western twist. Mary and her family make their home in a small town in Utah’s Sanpete Valley, where horses and sheep outnumber people—by a lot. But she’s frequently found on the road, gracing stages and electrifying audiences with a singing and songwriting style that more than merits her inclusion among the “Best of the West.” As she tells it in her semiautobiographical song “Girl Meets West”: Someday she’ll motor to your hometown, Tune up her six-string, throw some music down. Songs like bullets that will pierce your pain, Make you feel all back-in-the-saddle again. If you start feelin’ clammy, or shortness of breath She’s put you into cowboy cardiac arrest. —Three-time Spur Award-winning author Rod Miller writes fiction, history, and poetry. Find him online at writerRodMiller.com and writerRodMiller.blogspot.com.


148 saddlebag dispatches

“As much as I love singing songs written by others, it’s the songs that I write that make what I do challenging and worthwhile.”


Saddlebag Dispatches—Winter, 2016  

Welcome to Saddlebag Dispatches, Where Stories Of The West Come To Be Told. The Winter issue features our exclusive interview with New York...

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you