Saddlebag Dispatches—Autumn/Winter 2019

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contents AU T U M N / W I N T E R 2019

columns out of the chute by Dennis Doty ...................................... heroes & outlaws by Velda Brotherton .............................. indian territor y by John T. Big gs ..................................... let’s talk westerns by Terr y Alexander ............................. shortgrass countr y by John J. Dwyer ................................ best of the west by R od Miller .........................................

short fiction somebody else’s gold by Anthony Wood ............................... eye for an eye by Jordie Skinner .......................................... grandfather ’s henr y by Michael McLean ............................ the deadman’s hand by Marlon S. Hayes ............................ the last rider: part one by J.B. Hogan ................................ trouble in lonely valley: part one by D.N. Sample ................ the murder of pauline purple by Terr y Alexander ................. the last photograph by John T. Big gs .................................... black joe by R od Miller ...................................................... the wrong end of a bullet by Sharon Frame Gay ..................... .

4 6 10 168 174 176

18 33 41 49 62 100 121 131 139 157

poetry so white by J.B. Hogan ......................................................... long may it wave by Rod Miller ............................................. what matters by K allista Markotich .................................... cactus charlie’s obituar y by Mike Dailey ...........................

16 60 110 166

features another look at ned christie by R eg ina McLemore .............. the movie that never was by Terr y Alexander .................. los hermanos y la ultima verónica by Carmen Baca .................. destination parris by Velda Brotherton .............................. top hand by R od Miller ....................................................... the legendary george ross by James Osborne ........................... true grit by R .G. Yoho ........................................................

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SUBMISSION GUIDELINES We are now taking submissions for our Spring/Summer 2020 issue. This issue is due out in early-July, 2020. DEADLINE IS FEBRUARY 1, 2020 Galway and Tiree Press are Oghma Creative Media’s western and historical imprints, and Saddlebag Dispatches is our semi-annual flagship publication. We are looking for short stories, serial novels, poetry, and non-fiction articles about the west. These will have themes of open country, unforgiving nature, struggles to survive and settle the land, freedom from authority, cooperation with fellow adventurers, and other experiences that human beings encounter on the frontier. Traditional westerns are set west of the Mississippi River and between the end of the American Civil War and the turn of the twentieth century. But the western is not limited to that time. The essence, though, is openness and struggle. These are happening now as much as they were in the years gone by. QUERY LETTER: Put this in the e-mail message: In the first paragraph, give the title of the work, and specify whether it is fiction, poetry, or nonfiction. If the

latter, give the subject. The second paragraph should be a biography between one hundred and two hundred words. MANUSCRIPT FORMATTING: All documents must be in Times New Roman,

twelve-point font, double spaced, with one-inch margins all around. Do not include extra space between paragraphs. Do not write in all caps, and avoid excessive use of italics, bold, and exclamation marks. Files must be in .doc, or docx format. Fiction manuscripts should be in standard manuscript format. For instructions and examples see Submit the entire and complete fiction or poetry manuscript. We will consider proposals for non-fiction articles. OTHER ATTACHMENTS: Please also submit a picture of yourself and any pic-

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


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ERE AT SADDLEBAG DISPATCHES, we’re excited to present to you our Autumn/ Winter 2019 issue. Unfortunately, that excitement has been dimished somewhat in the face of recent events. Our loyal readers may notice that this issue is about two weeks later than normal. There’s an unfortunate reason for that: we lost one of our own. Richard Howk, an associate graphic designer with us for the past four years, was killed in a tragic automobile accident two days after Christmas. For those of you who didn’t know him like we did, Richard was a brilliant, humorous, fun-loving guy with a big heart. He was a talented writer, graphic designer, bathroom and kitchen designer, and a great friend. A real-life Peter Pan, Richard was always the life of the party, the guy you wanted to hang out with to toss back a few beers and sing some karaoke. He was also always there when you needed a shoulder to cry on. He was just 44 years old. Hard upon the heels of the loss of our dear departed Ranch Boss, Dusty Richards, only two years ago, this was a blow to the entire Saddlebag Dispatches/ Oghma Creative Media family. We ask that you keep his family—and that of the other driver killed in the accident—in your thoughts and prayers, and thank you for your patience while we’ve grieved his passing. In spite of the circumstances, though, we really are proud of the issue you now hold in your hands, and both Dusty and Richard would be, too. Let me tell you why. More than two dozen individual writers

have contributed their immense talents and western knowledge to the Saddlebag cause. Not only do we have more writers, but we have a greater diversity among the authors found in these pages than ever before. Just as in the Old West, the authors in this issue run the gamut of age, gender, and ethnicity, and we’re proud of all of them. The stories and articles featured here range from the deserts and mountains of New Mexico to the open prairies of western Canada, from the hills of the Ozarks to the Hollywood Hills. Lawmen and bad men, cowboys and cattlemen fill these pages with interesting facts and fascinating fiction. Here you will find the stories of real-life heroes, outlaws and stars of the silver screen. Read about the latest honor bestowed on rodeo legend Ty Murray or the legacy of the late great Bob Norris. Read the history of the legendary U.S. Marshals out of Fort Smith or visit the beautiful and historic Taos Pueblo. Share with us the stories of murders and kidnappings, of harsh landscapes, and restless spirits. So, pour yourself a cup of cowboy coffee, pull up a stump or a box to sit on, and share the amazing talent represented here. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we have putting it together for you. And Richard...wherever you are now, this one’s for you. Happy trails, partner, and Godspeed. —Dennis Doty Publisher

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ANY OF THE MOST cherished images of the Old West are of the lone lawman pursuing and ultimately apprehending criminals. The image has been exploited effectively by novelists and filmmakers. In fact, such is the influence of fictional accounts of lawmen in the West that the truth, though no less interesting than the fiction, is not well known. The romanticized image of the federal marshal, riding out in search of a desperate, evil criminal does not begin to show the complexity of the times or the disparate influences that the men who became deputies brought to the job. The history of U.S. Marshals and their deputies has its roots in the Judiciary Act of 1789. One of the first pieces of legislation passed by the first Congress, the Judiciary Act, created the federal court system and the office of U.S. Marshal. Appointed by the president, a marshal served each of the newly created federal district and circuit courts. These men were broadly empowered to carry out all lawful orders issued by judges, Congress or the president. With the U.S. Marshal acting as the administrative head,

it was the deputy marshals that carried out most of the work The marshals’ principal function was to enforce orders and decisions of the federal courts. They served subpoenas, summonses, writs and warrants, and other processes issued by the judges and magistrates. They made arrests and handled all of the prisoners confined by the courts until final application of sentence. They also distributed money, paying the fees and expenses of the jurors and witnesses, and contracting for the feeding of prisoners. The marshals were also responsible for renting spaces for the courts and jails, and they hired bailiffs, criers and janitors. As American settlement moved west, the U.S. Marshals went with it to uphold the law in remote, sparsely populated territories. The Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas was created in 1851 and, until 1896, held jurisdiction over 13 Arkansas counties and all or parts of the Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma). This vast area was home to the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks and Seminoles, removed from their

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homelands in the Southeast by the U.S. government during the 1830s. Treaties in 1866 reduced the territory of those nations as a result of alliances of at least some portions of each tribe with the Confederacy. This resulted in the relocation of additional Indian tribes in the territory, as well as increasing pressure from whites to open the lands to settlement. The treaties also granted the railroads access, creating a transportation

federal court in Fort Smith. The Western District of Arkansas derived its uniqueness from the authority to handle cases between Indians and those who were not tribal members. The court, unlike most of its federal counterparts, handled an extraordinary criminal caseload, with most of this activity erupting after the Civil War. Until 1875, when Judge Parker arrived from Missouri, the court’s reputation for justice was poor.


link that enhanced the possibility of huge profits in cattle, lumbering and mineral mining. With these opportunities for wealth, the overlapping jurisdictions of the U.S. government and independent Indian nations, and the vast acreage and distances that made avoiding justice easy, the Indian Territory became a chaotic refuge for the lawless. Responsibility for policing this area fell to the

Parker’s predecessor had resigned under the threat of impeachment; the past five U.S. Marshals had all left under similar clouds of scandal; and the deputies had a history of using perjury and bribery for their own ends. In his 21 years at Fort Smith, Parker would restore the court to respectability. He gave much of the credit for his success to his deputies, once commenting that “without these officers, what is the use of this court?”



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THE POSSE WHICH KILLED NED CHRISTIE. FRONT ROW L-R: CAPT GIDEON S. WHITE, CHARLES E. COPELAND, PADEN TOLBERT, HECK BRUNER AND DAVE RUSK. BACK ROW L-R: TOM JOHNSON, BILL SMITH, JOHN TOLBIT, ABE ALLEN AND WES BAUMAN. The deputy marshals who served the Fort Smith court came from a variety of backgrounds. Some were Civil War veterans. Most deputies knew a great deal about the Indian Territory and were independent, self reliant and willing to take great risks. While the majority of deputies were white, the law enforcement force working in Indian Territory was probably the most integrated on the frontier at that time, having its share of both Indian and African American members. The use of these officers was an efficient and effective way of carrying out the work of the federal court because of the multicultural population in the jurisdiction. As one historian has noted, “A deputy’s authority to a great extent depended on his being accepted and respected by the Indians.” African American deputies held a decided advantage here because of the Five Tribes’ history of slaveholding. Unlike white deputies, many African American officers had lived with the Indians, understood local customs and possessed knowledge of tribal languages. Deputies could arrest for any crime committed in the 74,000 square miles of the federal court’s jurisdiction.

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A set of instructions issued by the U.S. Marshal’s office in Fort Smith give an idea of the crimes and problems involved: “U.S. Deputy Marshals for the Western District of Arkansas may make arrest for: murder, manslaughter, assault with intent to kill or to maim, attempt to murder, arson, robbery, rape, bribery, burglary, larceny, incest, adultery. These arrests may be made with or without warrant first issued and in the hand of the Deputy or the Chief Marshal.” It was an occupation fraught with danger and over 65 deputy marshals were killed in the line of duty during Judge Parker’s tenure, a testament to the difficulty of the job and the bravery and ability of the marshals. One would think the financial reward would be substantial, but most deputies did not earn more than $500 per year. This was due to the fee system that would not be reformed until 1898. A deputy received $2 for making an arrest and could receive 6 cents per mile for going to the place of arrest and 10 cents per mile for himself and a prisoner returning to court. If a deputy failed to make an arrest, he received no payment. If he killed a suspect while attempting an arrest, the deputy had to bury the dead man at his own expense unless he was fortunate enough to find relatives to claim the body. In that case, the deputy could collect $1 for the time and money he would be out in making that arrest. Serving subpoenas, finding witnesses and other routine court business earned 50 cents per service. A deputy could receive 6 cents per mile for going to the place of service, but nothing for the return trip. After totaling the fees for a trip, the U.S. Marshal deducted his 25 percent before the deputy received payment. Despite the risks and uncertainties of the job, conscientious deputy marshals did much to curb the disorder in rampant in the Indian Territory. These men enforced the law and established the idea of justice in the region. Their history remains one of the most colorful chapters of America’s story. —Velda Brotherton is an award-winning nonfiction author, novelist, and a founding partner of Saddlebag Dispatches. She lives on a mountainside in Winslow, Arkansas, where she writes everyday and talks at length with her cat.



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EONARD PELTIER HAS BEEN called a modern-day warrior and a martyr for the indigenous cause by Native American special interest groups. He’s been called a political radical, a liar, and a murderer by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He’s been the subject of a best-selling biography, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, and an awardwinning documentary, Incident at Oglala. He’s been convicted of two murders and has spent more than forty years in federal penitentiaries. Petitions have been circulated all over the world demanding his release and every president since Jimmy Carter has considered and rejected his plea for clemency. There hasn’t been a Native American surrounded by this much controversy since the end of the Indian Wars and resettlement of the indigenous peoples on reservations, but if you’re a mainstream EuroAmerican you probably have very little idea what all the fuss is about. WHO IS LEONARD PELTIER? On September 12, 1944, Leonard Peltier was born into a family of thirteen children on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation near Belcourt, North Dakota. He is a citizen of the Anishinabe and Dakota/ Lakota Nations. His parents divorced when he was four years old and he was raised by his paternal grandparents until he reached the age of nine. That’s when a government car came and took him

to a Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school at Wahpeton, North Dakota. “I consider my years at Wahpeton my first imprisonment,” Leonard Peltier wrote in his book, Prison Writings—My Life is my Sun Dance. “And it was for the same crime as all the others: being an Indian. We had to speak English. We were beaten if we were caught speaking our own language.” That was his first brush with government authority, but it was not his last. A fairly large minority of the world population thinks he shouldn’t be there. His supporters include names that won’t surprise anyone—Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, Willie Nelson— as well as a number of individuals and organizations that aren’t quite so predictable—Oliver Stone, Amnesty International, The National Congress of American Indians, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, and Coretta Scott King. Leonard Peltier also has a number of supporters who don’t typically take positions on political matters within the United States: Robin Williams, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., William Stryon, E.L. Doctorow, the European Parliament, the Belgian Parliament, the Italian Parliament, The Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, Tenzin Gyatso (the 14th Dalai Lama), Ramsey Clark (former U.S. Attorney General), and Daniel K. Inouye (the late Democratic Senator of Hawaii). Numerous petitions have been circulated

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demanding the release or retrial of Leonard Peltier. By 1995, 750,000 Americans and 25 million people worldwide had signed them. So many are circulating today that they are almost impossible to tabulate but the numbers are staggering. Peltier’s case is complicated. There are legal transcripts and FBI documents going back as far as 1973 and historical issues that go back much further. But the crime that led to his sentence to two consecutive life terms began on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. It has come to be known as The Incident at Oglala, after the award-winning documentary that deals with the case. BEFORE THE INCIDENT AT OGLALA Two years before Peltier’s life changing ‘incident’, there was a seventy-one-day standoff between traditional members of the Oglala nation on the Pine Ridge Reservation and Federal agents, including U.S. Marshals, the FBI, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. A couple of hundred traditional Sioux along with some AIM (American Indian Movement) activists occupied some commercial buildings in the little town of Wounded Knee to protest the actions of Tribal President Richard Wilson. Wilson had already organized a paramilitary organization who called themselves the GOONs (Guardians Of the Oglala Nation) to put down political dissent and keep members of the American Indian Movement off the reservation. The FBI considered AIM to be a radical organization similar to the Weather Underground and the Black Panther Party, and threw their support behind the GOONs. They armed the vigilante group, deputized them, trained them and gave them tactical support. After the standoff ended, courts ruled U.S. government operatives had no jurisdiction to come onto the reservation to settle political disputes.




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radio-exchanges the vehicle was described as a red and white van rather than a red pickup truck. This was significant because Leonard Peltier had been seen on the reservation driving a van of that description. Williams radioed they’d be killed if reinforcements did not arrive soon. He next radioed that he was hit. FBI Special Agent Gary Adams was the first to respond to Williams’ “THEY SHOWED THE JURY A RIFLE THEY CLAIMED WAS THE call for assistance. He MURDER WEAPON AND STATED IT BELONGED TO LEONARD also came under intense PELTIER. THE FBI LATER ADMITTED THE WEAPON COULD gunfire and was unable to reach Coler and Williams. NOT BE CONNECTED EITHER TO THE MURDER OR TO When the gun battle LEONARD PELTIER.” ended, both men were found dead. Later that day hundred people went missing. Most were never found authorities used teargas and stormed the Jumping and were presumed to be dead by the tribe. In response Bull houses. Most of the AIM activists had scattered to the violence, the government once again increased but agents recovered the body of a Native American, its presence on the reservation, but they were perceived Joseph Stuntz, who had been killed by a BIA rifleman. by traditional tribal members as being aligned with Stuntz was wearing Coler’s green FBI Jacket. The government quickly fixed the blame for the the GOONs. During their stay on Pine Ridge, federal agencies did not actively investigate the paramilitary killings on four AIM members: Jimmy Eagle, Darrelle group’s role in missing tribal members other than to (Dino) Butler, Bob Robideau, and Leonard Peltier. All search for mass graves. That two-year period is still these men were in the Jumping Bull Compound at the time of the shooting. All of them were armed, and all known as ‘The Reign of Terror’ among the residents. Traditional Sioux requested AIM come to of them were firing weapons. Leonard Peltier was already wanted by the the reservation to help them. Seventeen people, including Leonard Peltier did. Those defenders and FBI. He had jumped bail for attempted murder of a their supporters set up a so-called tent city on the policeman in Wisconsin in order to come to Pine Ridge and had crossed state lines to get there. It property of Celia and Harry Jumping Bull. It was on should be noted that the attempted murder charge the Jumping Bull property the ‘incident’ occurred. against Peltier was dismissed when he finally came to trial. It was determined he had been set up by two off TWO FBI AGENTS WERE KILLED On June 26, 1975, Special Agents Jack Coler and duty policemen, one of whom, Ronald Hlavinka, had shown a picture of Peltier to his girlfriend and told Ronald Williams entered the Jumping Bull compound driving separate unmarked cars. They were searching her, “he was going to help the FBI get a big one.” There is no doubt the FBI wanted to build a for a red pickup truck that belonged to Jimmy case against Leonard Peltier. He had participated in Eagle, an AIM member, who had allegedly stolen a the takeover of Ft. Lawton, an abandoned military pair of cowboy boots. The agents reported seeing a suspicious truck enter the property. Soon after his installation in Seattle, and had gotten off with a initial report, Williams radioed into local dispatch trespassing charge. He was among the AIM activists that he and Coler had come under high-powered rifle who occupied BIA headquarters in Washington D.C. fire from the occupants of the vehicle. In some of the during the Trail of Broken Treaties protest. While Federal agents disarmed the traditional protestors before they withdrew but left the GOONs’ organization intact and armed. During the two years that followed there were sixty murders on the sparsely populated reservation (approximately 20,000 tribal members). More than three

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they occupied BIA facilities, AIM activists conducted what has been described as the biggest document heist in history, including the names of FBI informants and proof of forced sterilizations of Native American women. Peltier was never charged in those incidents, but his name was circulated among government agencies and local police departments. Charges were dropped against Jimmy Eagle for lack of evidence, but AIM activists Butler and Robideau were taken into custody. They were charged with first degree murder and tried together in federal court in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Both defendants were found not guilty by reason of self-defense. While all this was going on, Leonard Peltier fled to Canada where he hid out in a supporter’s cabin in Alberta. Had he been captured and tried along with Butler and Robideau, there is little doubt he would have also been found not guilty. Instead, he was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List. A COMPLICATED LEGAL PROCESS Peltier was extradited based on FBI documents that Canada’s Solicitor General would later state contained false information. Witness statements proved to be incorrect, and forensic data was presented as conclusive when it was little more than speculation. Those things are more typical than they should be in extradition proceedings, but in Peltier’s case the FBI also provided testimony by a woman, Myrtle Poor Bear, claiming she was Peltier’s girlfriend and that he had confessed the murders to her when she was at the Jumping Bull compound. In fact, Myrtle Poor Bear had never met Leonard Peltier and was never at the compound. She later claimed she was pressured by the FBI to testify. When it appeared her testimony might actually support Peltier’s case at his trial she was excluded on the basis of mental incompetency. Peltier was tried in Fargo, North Dakota, rather than in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where the other two men charged in the murders were found not guilty by reason of self-defense. Trial judge, Paul Benson, made public prejudicial statements against the defendant before and after the proceedings and did not permit Peltier’s attorney to use the self-defense strategy that had been

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successful in Cedar Rapids. The jury was all white (ten men and two women) and were sequestered, which gave them the impression the defendant was a danger to them personally. Peltier was charged with two counts of first-degree murder. The prosecution team presented ballistic evidence which was later found to be fabricated. They showed the jury a rifle they claimed was the murder weapon and stated it belonged to Leonard Peltier. The FBI later admitted the weapon could not be connected either to the murder or to Leonard Peltier. Prosecuting attorneys told the jury Peltier killed both agents at close range and in cold blood, based on evidence provided by the FBI. After the trial, the agency admitted they had no idea who actually killed the agents, or what weapons were involved. No evidence of the hostile conditions on the reservation at the time of the murders was permitted as part of the defense, nor was the acquittal of the other two defendants in the case. Subsequent appeals were unsuccessful, even though the government changed its prosecutorial theory to ‘Aiding and Abetting’ rather than ‘Premeditated Murder’ after the guilty verdict. Years after the trial, the U.S. Parole Commission stated there was lack of direct evidence Peltier directly participated in the killings. In spite of this, he is still serving the two consecutive life sentences based on the original charges. PRESIDENTIAL CLEMENCY Leonard Peltier was last eligible for parole in 1993. He will next be eligible in 2024. His supporters have brought petitions for pardons or clemency to every president since his incarceration. Each one has been denied. It was widely believed that Bill Clinton was giving serious consideration to pardoning Peltier during the last months of his administration. Whatever his inclination, he denied clemency after he was visited by the former governor of South Dakota, Bill Janklow, and after hundreds of FBI agents marched in front of the White House protesting the possibility. Two groups representing 15,000 active and former FBI agents wrote an open letter to Clinton,

warning him that Peltier is “playing on sympathy. Don’t let him get away with it.” SHOULD LEONARD PELTIER BE RELEASED? We know for a certainty that Peltier was at the Jumping Bull Compound on the day special agents Williams and Cole were killed. He has admitted being armed and to firing his weapon. What we cannot know, and what the FBI now admits it does not know is whether he had anything to do with the actual murders. Federal prosecutors did not try Leonard Peltier on the charge of Aiding and Abetting. It is doubtful they would have achieved a verdict of two consecutive life sentences if they had. The government excluded from the trial any mention of violence on the reservation at the time of the incident. It introduced evidence which has proven subsequently to be false. It prevented Peltier from offering self-defense as a defense strategy. Government agencies have intervened in his attempt to take his case to the president of the United States. Former U.S. attorney Ramsey Clark wrote the following statement in the preface to Peltier’s Prison Writings: “I think I can explain beyond serious doubt that Leonard Peltier has committed no crime whatsoever. Even if he had been guilty of firing the gun that killed two FBI agents—and it is certain that he did not—it would have been in self-defense and in the defense not just of his people but of the right of all individuals and peoples to be free from domination and exploitation.” The late senator Daniel K. Inouye wrote in a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno in July of 1993: “As long as the {FBI} misconduct issues in this case are left unresolved, it will be difficult for Native Americans to trust that the U.S. judicial system will accord them with the same justice it accords to other citizens.” Inouye has since endorsed clemency or some other legal mechanism to gain Peltier’s release, such as reducing his sentence to time already served. I have to agree with him. —John T. Biggs is the author of six novels and hundreds of short stories. His writing is so full of Oklahoma that once you read it, you’ll never get the red dirt stains washed out of your mind. John lives in Oklahoma City with his wife, and they travel extensively throughout the world with their family.



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SA D D LEBAG poetry On the hills of greasy grass down the coulees to the land across the river, where the people waited to be left alone, waited for the past to return— they came. Hundreds shouting, shooting, water splashing beneath steel hooves, smoke rising into the blue sky, fear rising, men mounting, the battle joined, led. Across the river, up the coulees to the hills of greasy grass, they rode to fight, to kill, to win. In the late day, in the still air, the women moved among the dead to cut off their hope for the next world cleaning their ears so they could hear the people better. “Oh, see,” the old doctor said later, scanning the cold, bloody field, at the defeated, at the pieces left there, at the bodies piled against each other: “How white they are, how white.” Previously published in The Rubicon by J.B. Hogan


RANDPA’S DARK OAK casket divided the family at the front of the church poised like two opposing armies. Two sets of pallbearers still as statues stood on each side in chaps with hands resting on pistols—ready to ride, ready to fight. Nobody moved. We all knew what it would lead to if someone did move. Suspicious eyes remained opened as Pastor Moore searched for an ending to his final prayer. He rambled aimlessly and grunted like a man straining in the outhouse. I peeked from underneath my mop of blond hair to catch men watching each other from corners of their eyes. As Pastor Moore read Psalm 23, a heavy darkness shrouded Grandpa’s passing over the Jordan River. This was no celebration of a life well lived, no telling of old stories to make us laugh, no words of wisdom handed down for succeeding generations. Pastor Moore never even mentioned Grandpa’s name for sticking to his canned sermon with highfalutin words most of us didn’t understand. Grandpa wouldn’t have cared. He didn’t like Pastor Moore, anyway, except that he preached what Grandpa told

him. Besides, Grandpa didn’t want any favors. Being preached into heaven would’ve been the last thing he’d want at his funeral. I don’t believe Grandpa would’ve gone through the pearly gates if the preacher talked St. Peter into letting him in. Grandpa said he’d get in on his own, or cut cards for it. The day was dark as the black clothes we wore in the dimly lit house of worship. Menacing clouds filled the sky but there was no smell of rain in the air—just dry, dusty wind choking throats and blurring eyes. There’d be no dinner on the ground afterwards and no flowers planted on Grandpa’s grave this day of reckoning. I stood by Grandpa’s casket wondering, What’s fixin’ to happen? Grandpa finished his race—no more debts to settle, no more trouble to stir. But he hoped the feud he’d created between his twin sons, Jacob and Esau, would continue long after he was gone. I could almost hear him laughing. But there was no laughing that day. Tension filled the church house like a bronc about to be ridden for the first time. All hell could break loose any second. I couldn’t resist. I peered over into the ornately carved oak box with shiny brass handles.


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A deep furrow creased my Grandpa’s forehead. He ain’t at peace, even now. Grandpa pioneered this part of west Texas just after the Mexican War. He built a cattle spread the size of a small country out of the wilderness with his own two hands, boasting that the only thing the Lord did to help him was get in his way. Grandpa loved the Lord, but not his teachings.

gave nothing in return. He often crowed, “Ain’t worth havin’ if you can’t have it all!” He lived by the philosophy I will take it with me when I go! Not literally, but through whichever son beat the other out of the inheritance. Grandpa was a simple man whose only guilty pleasure, besides the moonshine he made and hoarded for himself, was watching Jacob and Esau fuss and fight over who

Grandpa’s very presence created greed. He even brought Pastor Moore from back East to become the family reverend in this church house on his land. Grandpa controlled the Lord’s Word and the man who spoke it. Pastor Moore preached on the expectation of riches and blessing in this life from the Lord. He too had caught the greed disease hoping he’d cash in on Grandpa’s death somehow. Grandpa expected nothing from anyone and

was Grandpa’s favorite son, meaning who’d get the ranch and the riches after he died. When Pa and Uncle Esau were just boys, Grandpa made them work all week like everybody else. Come Saturday, he’d pay his hands wages owed. Not his sons. He’d circle the ranch hands in a ring, throw a week’s pay in gold in the center, and let his sons fight over who’d get paid. Grandpa didn’t teach Jacob and Esau to share, only to compete and let greed rule their souls.

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The sun was going down and Pastor Moore looked up from his Bible. He could delay the inevitable no longer. “And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever, amen.” That final amen prompted the fight that would bring the feud to a head. There surely was no goodness or mercy following this bunch. Both sides of the family wanted to care for the casket because both knew what was in Grandpa’s vest pocket. Both

back and side arms gleaming. Pastor Moore stood between them with his only weapons—Scripture and prayer. But that power was lost long ago to his not so secret sin. He stepped back, just as likely to get shot for his interest in Grandpa’s fortune as anyone in the room. Before he died, Grandpa converted ownership of his railroad stock, land holdings, cattle herd, and even

offered to dig the grave and lower the box because both wanted to sneak the legal parchment holding the entirety of Grandpa’s wealth. Both wanted Grandpa covered up quickly to cash in on his riches. Uncle Esau stepped forward. “Me and mine’ll take the casket in the wagon up the hill. Don’t need your help.” Pa barked, “The hell you say! We’re takin’ it!” Both sides threatened the other with coats pulled

his ranch house into a will that guaranteed ownership to whomever presented the legal document to his lawyer. One page of parchment held the wealth of the world for this family—easy to grab, simple to cash, and certainly didn’t carry the weight of the gold it represented. That burden would be for the presenter of the document to bear and it’d take a wagon to carry it away. Grandpa set it up that way to ensure his legacy of greed continued. And, that a fight would decide



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ownership and his sons forever would hate each other. Pastor Moore held out his arms to keep the opposing sides at bay. His cross-like posture brought no healing. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil.” Pastor Moore’s words meant nothing to men whose hackles stood on end. He discreetly searched for a place to hide, fearing the evil in this house of peace. I spied a spot under Grandpa’s casket. Twilight stole the daylight and coal oil lamps were lit. No amount of Pastor Moore’s persuading convinced either twin to compromise. This truly was a story straight from the Good Book, except there was nothing good in this. Then the wrong words came from the wrong mouth. Uncle Esau snickered, “Pa always thought you were too weak to run the ranch, boy.” My pa replied by skinning his Colt .44 quicker’n a rattler strike. Pastor Moore dove behind his pulpit. Guns blazed, women screamed, and children ducked. The casket flipped over, spilling Grandpa out and knocking me to the floor. A lamp broke and coal oil spilled in every direction making the floor slippery as greased glass. Flames leaped across the room and the smell of pine resin thickened in the blinding black smoke. The crowd fought tooth and nail to get out with no regard for young children and old people. Pistols ceased and knives were sheathed. Like cattle herded into a holding pen, they pushed and shoved to get out like Grandpa taught—every person for himself. Pa and Uncle Esau hesitated. For a second, I thought they’d become brothers again. Uncle Esau reared back to punch my pa in the jaw. Pa ducked and head-butted his brother in the stomach. I watched the struggle as flames singed my hair and scorched my clothes. I didn’t know what to do.

Then I saw them—Grandpa’s eyes drawn open, blankly staring at me. His evil grin sent chills through my body like somebody had poured ice water down my back. Then there it was—the source of this worthless feud. I snatched the document out of Grandpa’s coat pocket and stuffed it in my shirt. I looked back. Grandpa’s eyes had closed and his smile relaxed. I shuddered like big spiders were crawling all over me. I saw Pa and Uncle Esau locked in a wrestler’s hold but with eyes glued on me. Neither could speak for choking on smoke. Neither could move for the grip each had on the other. But they saw I had the paper containing the wealth of a lifetime. I didn’t know what to do, but they did. They tussled around on the burning floor like two kids kicking ashes and cinders from smoldering chunks of wood. Spilled coal oil soaked their clothes and burst into flames. Both screamed like mountain lions but kept up the fight to get to me and the document. Rafters and roofing fell in a fiery smash. I didn’t want to look, but I did. Jacob and Esau were dead. Twin brothers killed for a birthright neither would ever enjoy. Suddenly the flames found a stream of coal oil that slithered toward me like a fiery serpent. I’m a goner! I pulled the half-opened casket over me leaving a small crack for air. The heat was unbearable but there was nowhere else to go. I spied Grandpa just outside the casket turning black. I screamed, “You left me no way out of all this!” More charred rafters landed on church pews and the casket. I didn’t know if it was fear or the choking smoke that took the breath from me. I covered my

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mouth with the handkerchief my mother made me carry to church. My eyes burned and my chest ached. My nose bled and my pants smoked. My hair withered and my ears burned. I couldn’t breathe. Am I gonna die? Then, everything went dark. A burst of dawn sunlight blinded me and I yelled, “Heaven?” According to Pastor Moore, you could never know until you died. Am I dead? Voices called out searchingly. Are they angel voices or demons? In this place, it could be either. Pastor Moore heckled, “No son, this ain’t heaven. But of anyone here, you’d be the first to go.” His words rasped across my blistered ears, “Are you alright?” With Pastor Moore asking, I wasn’t sure of anything. “Just hold on a bit. They’re comin’ to get you.” He didn’t want to blacken his hands to free me from the charred rafters piled on the casket. I guess his hands were dirty enough already. He squatted down, careful not to let his pants touch the burnt wood. His gold chain sparkled in the dawning sunlight. His nickel plated pepperbox pistol wiggled inside his vest as he reached for my hand. I turned away. Grandpa lay next to me, his wicked half smile returned. Pa and Uncle Esau lay charred like used up charcoal. I looked back at the gleaming gold watch chain. Pastor Moore reached to take my hand again. I shook my head. A thousand memories flooded my mind—

the fights, the hateful gossip, the fake religion, the threats, the ruination of all things good in our family. Then I remembered. The parchment! Pastor Moore smiled like Satan as I pulled from inside my shirt the document that contained legal ownership of everything Grandpa had accumulated on this earth and the source of all things evil in our family. He knew well the value of what I held in my hand. Pastor Moore’s whisper crackled like the burning of a thousand timbers, “You can have it all. I will help you, son.” For a second I thought I saw devil horns. I clutched the paper close to my chest. Pastor Moore squinted, pondering my intentions. From the corner of my eye, I caught the flicker of a small flame behind me. Pastor Moore’s eyes bulged like when he preached hellfire and damnation. He snatched, but I was quicker. He growled like a demon crawling out of Hell, until the left side of the smoldering church house wall creaked as it swiftly caved over. Pastor Moore stood straight up to watch it fall but not before he turned to me with the eyes of a man who knew he had only seconds to live. “Purgatory for all my sins, Father, please…” The wall collapsed. Pastor Moore was no more. The breath of the falling wall snuffed out the remaining flames. The casket pinned me even tighter against the hard pine floor. Trapped, I cradled the document against my chest.

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“Anybody here?” I reached my slightly burned hand out to pat the ashes. Immediately boards were shoved aside and the casket was carefully raised. Hands pulled me by the shoulders from underneath the charred oak box. I’m alive! “You all right, Cousin Abel? Just know’d you was dead!” I breathed in fresh air that stank of burnt flesh. I shook the ashes from my clothes and dusted my hair. Except for a few burns and scrapes, I was fine. “Better now that I see your ugly catfish face, Cousin Cain! Thanks for rescuin’ me.” “Don’t mention it, frog head.” We stumbled over the remains of our fathers and their church to sit on the front steps. We didn’t look back. Men sifted through the ashes and burnt wood to find Grandpa, Uncle Esau, and my pa, Jacob. I didn’t want to look but I had to—nothing but ashes and bones of lives gone. Ashes to ashes. Hmph, bet Pastor Moore has a new understanding of that verse. They left the preacher where he lay. I guess he needs a little hellfire and damnation before they pull his carcass out. Cain handed me a dipper of water. I drank half to cool my parched throat and splashed my face with the rest to wash off the smoky darkness of Hell. When no one was looking, I pulled out the legal document that held the wealth of our world. Cain snatched it so no one could see. “Do you realize what you got here?” I nodded. For two boys whose fathers hated each other, Cain and I had been best friends since we both could remember. Cain grinned and winked, “You thinkin’ what I’m thinkin’?” We each took a corner of the legal document that possessed the wealth of our small world and held it over a small flickering flame in the dry grass by the church house steps. The parchment went up in smoke, and with it, the gold of somebody else’s world. Cain picked a weed to chew on and leaned back on the steps. “Cousin Abel, what’ll happen to Grandpa’s railroad stock, bank money, cattle, and ranch now that he’s gone?” I put my arm around his shoulder. “Well, Cousin Cain, I guess we’ll just have to share.”


Anthony Wood


nthony Wood, a native of Mississippi and a new writer on the scene, resides with his wife, Lisa, in North Little Rock, Arkansas. He ministered many years in inner city neighborhoods among the poor and homeless, inspiring him to coauthor Up Close and Personal: Embracing the Poor about his work in Memphis, Tennessee. Anthony is a member of White County Creative Writers, Gin Creek Poets, Turner’s Battery, a Civil War re-enactment company, and Civil War Roundtable of Arkansas. When not writing, he enjoys roaming historical sites, camping, kayaking, and being with family. Anthony’s historical fiction series, A Tale of Two Colors, about life during the Civil War is scheduled to be released August, 2020. Two prequels are in the works about his ancestors coming to America in the 1600s and the Great Migration that followed. “Somebody Else’s Gold” is Anthony’s first short story to appear in Saddlebag Dispatches. It won first place in the Dusty Richards Memorial Prose Contest Award at the 2019 Arkansas Writers’ Conference.



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A single night of drinking led Ned Christie from the respectable life of a Cherokee statesman, to a five-year war with the U.S. Marshals and infamy as a notorious outlaw. Regina McLemore


HE WAUHILLAU COMMUNITY LIES at the edge of the Ozark Mountains in what was once called Indian Territory, in Adair County, about fifteen miles east of Tahlequah, Oklahoma. According to Gene Norris, Senior Genealogist of Cherokee Nation, Wauhillau, Cherokee for eagle, was named for respected Cherokee elder, Katie Eagle Goback. She was the mother of Lydia Thrower Christie, wife of Watt Christie. Watt Christie, a survivor of the Trail of Tears, served as a Cherokee Nation Senator and was a well-known member of the Wauhillau community. His son, Ned Christie, and his battle with Judge Parker and the U.S. Marshals, would bring unwanted fame to the Christie family and to the community named for his grandmother. Like his father, Ned was a blacksmith, as well as being a gunsmith, and like his father before him, he served his people as a Cherokee Nation Senator. He was a close advisor to Chief Dennis Bushyhead and was known for his fiery speeches against the encroaching whites and attacked their plans of building railroads

across Indian Territory. He resisted the idea of allotment and strongly supported Cherokee sovereignty. Some Cherokees still maintain that Christie’s outspokenness against the whites and their ideas made him a ready target for elimination. He was generally well-liked, and many favorable comments about Christie from those who knew him can be found in the University of Oklahoma’s “Indian Pioneer Papers,” an oral history collection that spans from 1861 to 1936. Further study of these interviews and other sources reveal that Ned Christie was no saint. He was known to have a hot temper, especially when he was drinking. Christie was charged with manslaughter in the liquor-related 1885 death of a fellow Cherokee, William Palone. The tribal government in Tahlequah tried and acquitted him. Christie’s taste for whiskey was the catalyst for his trouble with Judge Parker. Although newspaper and other accounts of what happened on that day of May 4, 1887, vary, common facts can be found in most of them. Ned Christie rode to Tahlequah that day for an


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would hang him if he turned himself in, Christie rode off to Wauhillau to hide out near his home. He didn’t know that one suspect, Bud Trainor, a well-known local criminal, had testified that Ned Christie was the man who shot Deputy Maples. A five-year war between Ned Christie and the U.S. Marshals soon ensued. At times, Ned seemed to toy with the marshals. With his reputation as a crack shot, he could have shot to kill many times but limited himself to shooting the hats off their heads or to blowing holes in their hats. William Winder, a white man who lived in the Wauhillau community, described Ned as “a very honest and honorable Indian.” They were on friendly terms, and Ned sent a messenger to bring Winder to his place. According to Winder, Ned wanted him to warn the new Deputy Marshal, Curley Creekmore, who had sworn he would catch Ned. “I don’t want to hurt him, but he better stay out of these woods and stay with his loving wife and children.” During this time, Christie repulsed numerous attempts by the U.S. Marshals—including the legendary Heck Thomas and Bass Reeves—to capture or kill him. Christie’s widespread network of family and friends alerted him when lawmen were in the area and supplied him with provisions. Even though Thomas failed to bring Christie in, he came very close to killing him. He wrote an eyewitness account of the encounter in a letter to his superior, Marshal Yoes, which was printed on October 4, 1889, in The Fort Scott Daily Monitor. …” Myself and Deputy United States Marshal L.R. Isbell, accompanied by three men as posse, attempted to capture Ned Christie…” He went on to tell how when CHRISTIE WAS SOON BLAMED FOR EVERY ROBBERY AND UNSOLVED C h r i s CRIME IN INDIAN TERRITORY. HIS EXPLOITS BROUGHT HIM NOTORIETY, tie’s dogs AND HE WAS FEATURED IN DIME NOVELS AND OTHER PUBLICATIONS raised an AS A BLOODY OUTLAW WHO TERRORIZED BOTH WHITES AND INDIANS. alarm, they all rushed the house, calling on Christie to surrender in English and Cherokee. They ed States Marshals had issued warrants for him and some other suspects. Saying, he knew Judge Parker heard him moving in the loft of the house, and a shrill overnight stay before he was expected at a Cherokee Council meeting the next morning. That evening, he, and some companions visited one of the local bootleggers, Old Lady Shell, who sold Christie a bottle of whiskey. Since she didn’t have a cork for the bottle, she tore a piece from her dress to use as a stopper. Sometime during the evening, Christie’s companions left him, passed out, asleep in the bushes by a branch which flows close to the town of Tahlequah. That same day Dan Maples, Deputy United States Marshal, and one of his men, George Jefferson, were on the job in Tahlequah, investigating the growing illegal whiskey operations in the area. After a day of searching for possible suspects, Maples and Jefferson headed back to where they had camped for the night. As they crossed the branch, Jefferson caught the glint of a gun, hidden in the trees. He shouted, “Don’t shoot!” But the assassin fired. Maples got off a few shots before he fell, after being struck in the chest. One shot broke a whiskey bottle, located on the person of his killer. The bottleneck fell near a tree, where it would be found later. Jefferson, assisted by others who heard the shots, took Maples to a nearby residence where he was treated but died the next morning. When Christie awoke, some friends told him he was a suspect in the murder of Deputy Marshal Maples. They advised him to leave Tahlequah until things had settled down. Killing a white man was punishable by death. Claiming his innocence, and saying he didn’t even have his gun with him the night before, Ned refused to leave. When the Cherokee Council met that morning, Ned attended but was soon informed the Unit-

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war cry rang out, accompanied by gun shots leveled at them through a hole in a gable. After returning the fire, Thomas tried to talk again. “We then told him to come out or we would burn his house, and he replied by opening fire on us. We then fired a small workshop near the house, hoping the smoke would drive him out….While waiting for the smoke to drive Christie out, Isbell exposed his shoulder, getting a ball through it, shattering it very badly….I then told him to get behind a bigger tree, and I fired into the house rapidly to get Christie’s attention….” Believing a running figure was Christie, Thomas called out for him to hold up, and, getting no response, fired. The figure turned out to be a boy, whom Thomas had shot in the lungs and both hips. The boy crawled away in the high weeds as the main house caught fire. Thomas made a decision to leave because…” we had been here two hours and momentarily expected to be bushwhacked. We could not leave Isbell, who was very faint….”

Thomas learned later that Christie was in the burning house when they left, shot in the forehead, the ball entering into the brain cavity. After sharing this information with Yoes, he concluded by saying, “I have Isbell in a hotel in Tahlequah, but it is not safe to leave him alone. Christie has five brothers left, so it may be some time before I can see him safe.” Author Ken Frates in the article, “The Atonement of Ned Christie,” discussed the conflicting information a writer encounters when researching Ned Christie. Although most Cherokees believed he was innocent, in the eyes of the law, he was a wanted criminal for killing one marshal and wounding another. Christie was soon blamed for every robbery and every unsolved crime in Indian Territory. His exploits brought him notoriety, and he was featured in dime novels and other publications as a bloody outlaw who terrorized both whites and Indians. Historical accounts vary as to which family members and friends were present at different attacks upon


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Christie. Some believe his son was the boy who was wounded during the house burning. Others, like Frates, believe it was Little Arch Wolf, his nephew. When his friends carried him from his burning house, unconscious, having been shot through the bridge of the nose and through one eye, they took him and Wolf to a safe place. Both Christie and Wolf survived with the help of a local white doctor and a Cherokee medicine man. After a short respite, a new two-story Christie house went up. This one was more fort than house and stood on top of a hill in a position which afforded a clear view in all directions. The structure soon gained the local name “Ned’s Fort,” and withstood more assaults from the marshals. They seemed to decide more militant measures were called for, so they brought in heavier weapons ordinarily reserved for the military. When twenty-five lawmen arrived at Ned Christie’s home shortly after dark on November 1, 1892, they brought rifles, ammunition, black powder, several boxes of dynamite—and a field cannon. Author Julia Galonska paints a vivid picture of what happened during the last battle between Christie and the United States Marshals in her article, “The Death of Ned Christie.” Gunfire was exchanged between Christie and the marshals for over twelve hours, amounting to some 2,000 rounds of ammunition. The air was thick with cannon smoke after 38 rounds were spent but did little damage. They tried doubling the powder charge to blast out a wall, but this only split the barrel of the cannon, and put it out of business. Shortly after midnight, they came up with a plan that would work.


The men fashioned a rolling oak-plank shield to allow one deputy to approach the cabin, and when close enough, to run forward with six sticks of dynamite. The dynamite blew out an entire wall of the fort and

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ignited a fire that completely engulfed the structure. When Ned Christie leaped through the burning house and ran out, with his two .44s blasting, they shot him down. Eli Whitmire, an acquaintance of Ned’s and a fellow Cherokee Senator, told what happened after Ned’s death. He said the deputies strapped his corpse to a door of Ned’s house and carried it to their camp for pictures. They hauled the remains to Fort Smith where Judge Parker offered his thanks. The body was propped up near the Fort Smith Courthouse so that spectators could gawk at it and take more pictures. It stayed on display until the corpse was placed on the train to Fort Gibson where Watt Christie collected his son’s body. Ned was laid to rest in his family’s cemetery in the community named for his grandmother, Wauhillau. On June 8, 1918, in The Daily Oklahoman, it was revealed that former slave Richard Humphrey had witnessed the murder but had waited many years to tell his story out of fear of the murderer. On his way from work that night, Humphrey saw Bud Trainor stoop over Ned Christie, who was passed out in the bushes. Trainor took off Christie’s jacket and put it on over his clothes. Humphrey watched as Trainor stood behind a tree and shot Maples. After the shooting, Trainor ran to Christie and threw the coat over him. He tried to rouse Christie, but he only walked a short distance and fell over asleep again. Trainor ran away. The day after the shooting, some men found the broken neck from the whiskey bottle near the tree where the assassin had hidden. Tied upon the broken neck was a strip of cloth from Nancy Shell’s apron. A short distance away, they found Christie’s jacket with the shattered remains of the bottle in the pocket. A small strip of material and a few pieces of glass. How little it takes to ruin a man’s reputation and end his life. —Regina McLemore is a retired educator of Cherokee heritage. Her great, great grandmother, Susie Christie Clay, survived the Trail of Tears in 1839. Traveling in another detachment was Susie’s cousin, Watt Christie, destined to become Ned Christie’s father.



HE WAY THE HANGING man’s eye sockets had been pecked clean, Bill figured he had been strung up for some time. It always perplexed Bill when a town’s sheriff left a body up like that, no matter what the dead man’s crimes were. And what was this man’s crime, wrong place at the wrong time? Hell, how was any of it—stealing, whoring, killing—justification to let a body rot at the end of a rope at the edge of town? Just didn’t make no sense. But, then again, figuring out the rationale for such things wasn’t high on Bill’s list. The sun was high when Bill rode his horse, a simple beast named “Chuck”, through the dusty town of Casper, Montana. Casper had the usual trappings of a frontier town. The wooden sidewalks creaked under foot, and the clapboard buildings sported signs advertising “Casper Apothecary” and “Brown’s General Store.” Bill secured Chuck to the hitching post outside the Silver Dollar Saloon. Two swinging doors opened in comforting uniformity as the town drunk, or what Bill took for the town drunk, came stumbling out. The man was dressed in a white shirt, that had not

been white for some time, and a leather vest that was also severely scuffed and stained. His skin had a yellow pallor, which was a shade lighter than his stained teeth. The smell that emanated from the inebriated miscreant was akin to that of the eyeless hanging man. “Liquor and the noose make slobs of us all,” thought Bill, as he side-stepped away from the drunken man’s stumbles. The drunk burped loudly, then cast his bloodshot eyes up at Bill. “Say, fella,” the drunk said, “you wouldn’t happen to have a few extra coins, would ya? I could—” The man interrupted himself with another uncouth burp, the stale fumes practically visible in the hot sun. “I’m afraid I don’t,” said Bill, tipping his hat up, so the brim moved away from his ice-blue eyes. “But I hope you find the help you need.” Bill turned back toward the saloon doors, leaving the drunk to totter down the wooden sidewalk. Bill pushed the two doors back and entered the dimly lit bar. To no surprise of Bill’s, the Silver Dollar was practically empty. He had heard that Casper was a


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small town with quiet folks. A quick scan of the room showed three people. Behind the bar was a man with a striped shirt, greasy comb-over, and smudged glasses. Bill figured he’d been pouring whiskey and cleaning up vomit at the Silver Dollar his entire life. The other two were a well-dressed man and a scantily dressed woman. The well-dressed man, outfitted in a black coat, black hat, and gold star on his lapel, was sitting at a round table, feet up on an empty chair. A half-drunk beer was in front of him and beads of sweat clung to the curves of the glass. The woman, wearing a black and red corset, black stockings, and a lot of rouge, was leaning against the player-piano tucked in the corner. She played solitaire while a fan slowly spun above. Bill noticed on her left eye a dark purple bruise that was concealed poorly with make-up. All three heads turned toward Bill. Outwardly ignoring the man in black and the woman by the piano, he strolled to the bar. “Well, hello there, Mister,” the bartender said. “What can I get for ya?” Bill smiled, showing rows of gleaming white teeth. “Just a beer, if it ain’t too much trouble,” Bill said. “Cold beer on a hot day, just what the doc ordered,” the bartender laughed, causing his dirty spectacles to slide down his nose. He adjusted them and grabbed a heavy mug off the shelf. Bill turned to face the room and leaned back with his elbows on the bar. The two patrons were still watching him. “Here ya go, fella,” the bartender said. “Now, I never caught where you—” Beer in hand, Bill stopped listening to the bartender and made his way over to the table where the man in black sat. The man tilted his black hat up and regarded Bill with cold, dark eyes. “Howdy,” said the man in black. “Hello,” said Bill with a smile. “Mind if I join you?” The man thought about this for a second or two, sat up and removed his boots from the empty chair. Bill nodded his head in gratitude and took a seat, placing his beer on the table. “Seeing as I was here first, I’ll begin the introductions. I’m Sherriff Moody, and who might you be?” Moody stuck out his hand.

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“Name’s Pete.” Bill reached out to grab Moody’s hand. “Pleased to meet ya, Pete,” Moody said. Moody picked up his half-full mug and hoisted it in Bill’s direction. Bill did the same, and the two glasses met with a high-pitched clink. The two men each took a swig and produced harmonious sighs of content. “Not too bad,” Bill said, eyeing the golden liquid. “Sure beats a glass of horse piss,” Moody said, then slapped his knee and produced a loud laugh. Bill chuckled along, but kept his clear blue eyes on the sheriff. “So, Pete,” Moody said, “What brings ya to Casper? Other than the scenery?” “Oh, just passing through. Have some family up by the Yellowstone River that I thought I might pay mind to. It’s been a while.” “You don’t say. Well, family’s important. Out here, you gotta rely on who you can, and family’s about as good as any, I reckon.” “I reckon the same.”

Both men took another drink. Bill’s eyes flicked to the woman by the piano. She had not stopped looking at him since he’d arrived. “You said you’re the sheriff?” Bill asked. “That I did,” Moody said with a grin. “The long ‘dick’ of the law.” Another burst of laughter from the sheriff, followed by two more knee slaps. Bill, again, chuckled along, watching as Moody wiped away a tear from his weathered face. “Say, this seems like a sleepy little town,” Bill said. “It got enough to keep a lawman busy?” Moody smiled under his black hat. “Oh, it can get ghost-like from time-to-time” he said, “but I’d say my wages are earned.” Moody leaned forward and smiled again. The smile reminded Bill of a crocodile, with gaps between each tooth. Some teeth seemed filed to a point. “What direction you come into town from, Pete?” Moody asked.



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“East,” Bill said. “Then you saw my work on display,” Moody said. “You talking ’bout the man on the rope?” “Why, yes sir, I am.” “I was wondering about that. Why keep him up for so long? The birds have gotten at him.” Moody’s eyes narrowed at this. “You suggesting I do my job different?” “Not in the slightest, just curious is all,” Bill said, his gleaming smile returning, seeming to cool Moody. “Well, I keep him up as a warning, I suppose. A man is less likely to act up when he’s reminded what acting up might get him.” Bill nodded his head, considering Moody’s point. “Fair enough,” Bill said, “Would you mind if I asked what the hung man did that constituted ‘acting up’?” Moody pursed his lips at Bill’s question, then smiled his crocodile grin. “Oh, I suppose not, considering it’s a hot day and you’re my only drinking companion.”

Moody turned his attention to the woman by the piano. “Charlotte, darling, come over here,” Bill turned and watched the woman in the red corset walk over and take the last remaining seat at the table. She had a shakiness about her, like she was having trouble warming up. She didn’t make eye contact with either man, her hands resting on the tabletop. “See, Pete,” Moody said, “Charlotte here is our resident…now, what would you call yourself Charlotte?” Charlotte did not reply, just continued to sit like a scared mouse, hoping the heel of a boot wouldn’t come down. Up close, Bill could see that Charlotte was prettier than he had initially surmised, the abundant rouge on her cheeks and the dark bruise on her eye only marginally detracted from her beauty. “Hmm, Charlotte?” Moody went on. Again, Charlotte did not reply. After several quiet seconds, Moody slapped the table hard with his hand, causing the beer mugs to rattle and Charlotte to flinch

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like a beat dog. Bill did not make a move, other than slowly bringing his right hand to his hip. “Cat got your tongue,” Moody said with a laugh. “See, Pete, I don’t know what you call em’ in your hometown, but here, Charlotte is known as a ‘whore.’” Bill looked at Charlotte, who now seemed on the edge of tears. “And a whore’s sole purpose is to make money for the establishment,” Moody said. “So when Charlotte finds herself tying up her corset but her purse is empty, then someone’s getting cheated. But, hey, maybe the fella was too good looking to charge. Was that it Charlotte? Were you taken by his blue eyes? Tommy Holt did have pretty eyes, didn’t he?” Finally, Charlotte replied in a low whisper. “I loved him,” she said. “What was that?” Moody said. “I loved him,” Charlotte repeated, this time a decibel louder. Moody looked at her for a split second, then burst into another fit of laughter. Fat tears rolled down his

cheeks. “Love! Love, she says. By God, that is funny. Pete, you ever hear of a whore in love?” Bill did not chuckle along this time. His mouth remained a cold, hard line across his face. Charlotte noticed the absence of mirth. Moody did not. Bill turned to Charlotte and placed one of his calloused hands on hers. Her skin was soft. Charlotte looked up, and their eyes met. She was still scared, but there was a look of recognition now on her face. “Did he love you, too?” Bill asked. Moody, clearing his throat, noticed Bill’s hand on Charlotte’s. “Now, Pete. You know you’ll have to pay for the pleasure.” Bill ignored him. His ice-blue eyes stayed locked on Charlotte. “Did he love you, too?” Charlotte nodded her head. “Now, hold on,” Moody barked. “What’s the meaning of all this? The man didn’t love her. He just got into her cunny for free! As far as I’m concerned, in my town, that’s theft. And thieves hang!” Moody’s voice was getting louder. His face was turning crimson.



saddlebag dispatches

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Bill’s eyes went from Charlotte to Moody. He stared at the man in black for a good long time. “Look here, Pete—” Moody began. “My name ain’t Pete,” Bill said. “It’s Bill. Bill Holt.” When Sherriff Moody heard Bill’s real first name, followed by his last, and stared into his ice-blue eyes, the same eyes he watched go wide at the end of a noose, everything clicked for Sheriff Moody. A look of recognition, not unlike the look Charlotte had sported just a few moments ago, flashed across Moody’s tanned face. But by that time it was too late. Bill had drawn his gun and pulled the trigger. Moody’s crocodile teeth blew out the back of his head. Charlotte kicked back from the table and released a high-pitched scream, loud enough that Bill could hear Chuck whinny outside. The greasy bartender, who was previously cleaning a glass with a dirty rag, reached for the shotgun he kept by the moonshine, but his reach was cut short by a bullet to the head, completely removing his comb-over. Charlotte kept screaming. “Hey,” Bill said. Charlotte cowered on the floor. “Hey!” Bill repeated. Charlotte’s eyes snapped up at the gunman. “I’m not gonna hurt ya,” Bill said, reaching into his pocket. He took out a small leather pouch and tossed it on the table. A metallic rattle sounded from the bag. “There’s enough in there for a new life. You hear? One far away from here. You don’t need to be doing what you’re doing no more.” Charlotte’s breath came in hard, sucking sobs and her body shook. Bill holstered his gun and turned back towards the saloon doors. He walked out into the harsh bright sun. Chuck, still tied to the post, was clearly agitated. Bill put a comforting hand on his nose. “Easy, buddy,” Bill said. Bill untied the horse and hopped on. With a pull of the left rein, he spun Chuck back the way they’d come. “Let’s go cut him down.”


Jordie Skinner


ordie Skinner was born and raised in a small Canadian town called Portage La Prairie. Thus, he is no stranger to driving down the main drag, turning around, and doing it again. After high school graduation, with his handme-down Plymouth packed to the roof, Jordie headed to Brandon University to complete a Bachelor of Science. After that, he went on to earn his Master’s degree in School Psychology at the University of Manitoba. Currently, Jordie works as a child psychologist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. His work involves supporting students, parents, and teachers in a local school division. His years of helping children and families has given him insight into the essential and nuanced roles that family and relationships play in our lives and in our art. In his free time, Jordie enjoys traveling with his wife, being active outdoors, reading, and writing stories about ghosts and gunslingers.



HE TRADING POST WAS at a wide spot on the wagon road winding down the west side of the mountains separating the Pecos River from the Rio Grande. Surrounded by trees, it was frequented by ranchers, Indians, miners, and travelers passing along that route through southern New Mexico. The owners, a middle-aged couple, had a reputation for being honest, charging fair prices for merchandise, and most importantly treating everyone the same. That reputation made the gruesome sight that greeted Deputy United States Marshal Ben Carter all the worse. The bodies of a man, woman and two children were grouped about the entrance to the trading post. By dress and appearance, Carter figured they were local, from the Mescalero Apache reservation, and it seemed as though the man had died trying to shield his family. They had all been shot several times. Inside, if possible, it was worse. He encountered a cloud of black flies as he entered. The husband was tied to a post supporting the roof. Undoubtedly, he had been made to watch his wife be repeatedly raped and then murdered. Her naked body was spread over a counter.

She had been stabbed multiple times and her throat was slashed. There was blood everywhere. The man had been shot at close range, the black residue of gunpowder evident on his clothing. His throat had also been slashed. Ben Carter had seen war and a multitude of murders, but nothing like this. He cut the man loose and laid him out on the floor. Grabbing blankets from a shelf, he covered the woman then the man. He felt sick as he made his way out of the trading post and covered the family outside. There was nothing more he could do but pursue the monsters who had done this. They had to pay. — THERE WERE FOUR OF them and they rode as men without a care. He caught up to them late in the afternoon the next day. An unusually cool wind was blowing when he spotted their camp at the entrance to a rocky canyon where the desert met the mountains. Glad to have a heavy leather jacket, he ground tied his bay gelding upwind and made his way


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toward the camp, moving slowly through a jumble of large boulders. Carter held his trusted Winchester carbine ready for action and could feel the weight of the loaded Colt pistol in its holster at his side. Smoke rose from a fire and he could hear their loud voices. It was clear to him they had been drinking. Stepping out from behind a boulder, he leveled the carbine at three men who were passing around

“Deputy U.S. Marshal Ben Carter. You’re all under arrest.” Still seated, the two remaining men just glared at him. Then came a mirthless laugh—from behind. “That include me, Marshal Carter?” Carter spun around toward the voice. The laughing man fanned his pistol twice in rapid succession. Carter felt himself slammed backward

a bottle of whiskey. Two empty bottles lay on the ground next to the fire. Eyes darting about, he looked for the fourth man. The trio spotted him. One of the men staggered to his feet and immediately drew his pistol. Carter shot him square in the chest, slamming him to the ground. He chambered another round. “Where’s your partner?” he demanded. “Who the hell are you?” one of the men asked in a surly tone.

into the dirt by the double punch. Blinking, he looked up into the grinning face of pure evil. The face of Zeke Kingston, a notorious outlaw and killer. Then everything went black. Slowly he opened his eyes. It was still light. With every bit of strength that he could muster, Carter rolled over and struggled to stand. His chest was on fire and the coppery smell of his own blood engulfed him. Except for the lifeless body of the one he had

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shot, they were gone, along with his Winchester. He staggered toward the gelding. Thankfully the horse was still there. Moving the animal toward a group of smaller rocks, he used one as a step up and struggled into the saddle. Quickly, he lifted the horse’s head and dallied the reins around the saddle horn. He was desperately tired as he looped the lariat around his back and tied himself to the saddle. The pain from the gunshot wound was excruciating, but the bleeding had slowed to an ooze. They had to move and find water. He squeezed the horse with his legs and felt the animal move forward as the darkness returned. — SLUMPED OVER THE SADDLEHORN, the rider was motionless except for movement caused by the steady plodding of the bay horse toward an unknown destination. It was hot, but the horse kept moving. It smelled water on the slight breeze blowing toward it and kept the pace from years of experience. Four pairs of eyes scrutinized horse and rider winding through stands of mesquite and islands of acacia in the desert. “Let’s kill him and take his horse.” The voice belonged to a youth of fourteen seasons. He had watched the rider and muscled horse moving through the desert below with keen interest and growing impatience. His eyes wandered to his grandfather’s Henry rifle that was never far from his reach. The old man, who intently studied the landscape as well as the horse and its passenger, spoke without looking at the boy. “Tell me Nyol, are you threatened by him? Does his presence make you afraid?” “No—never! I am strong and brave.” He looked at the old man and spoke with the bravado of the young. “He would be easy to attack.” “Maybe. Maybe not. Are you going to eat him?” The youngster recoiled in disgust. “Of course not. He is a man.” “Since the death of your father, who was a good, brave man, it has been my responsibility to guide you in the ways of life. I want to help you learn its many lessons, but I do not want you to have to make the mistakes or experience the sorrows that I have.” He

turned to the boy and their eyes locked. “So, you would kill that man, if he is not already dead, but you do not fear him. You would not be defending yourself. And,” he paused making sure he had the boy’s full attention, “you are not going to eat him?” There was confusion in the young man’s eyes. He considered the elder’s words for several moments before speaking. “I don’t understand. He is a white man. They have been our enemy. Victorio is dead, and Geronimo still resists the soldiers.” “You assume that he is white. He could be Mexican or a black man, you can’t know from this distance. It is possible, that he might also be a friend. Until you see that person’s face and can look into his eyes, you do not know much about him at all.” Nyol weighed the possibilities. “You are right, Grandfather. Your words are wise.” “Then we ride down and find out what the truth is. It does not matter if we like it or not. Our world is changing, and we must change as well if we are to survive. I am told there are many of our people to the east who are friends with white men. They are neighbors and help each other. You must learn to judge others by actions, not by what they look like.” Without another word, the old man urged his horse down the hillside on a course that would intercept the lone rider. His grandson, Nyol followed in silence, pondering his grandfather’s view of the world. In a jumble of rocks higher up the hillside, two pair of grey-brown eyes scrutinized the activities below. Patience was their strong point, but they never killed. Others did that for them. Nonetheless, the powerful aroma of blood on the air from below held their attention. They could wait a bit longer. The shoulders and mane of the bay were covered with blood. Its rider had tied himself to the saddle horn to keep from falling off. The stranger was unconscious and made no movement as the old man and boy quietly approached. The horse was a gelding, which was good. A stallion might be a problem and do something unexpected. It turned its head toward them for a moment but showed no sign of fear. The old man spoke softly to calm him as he reached for the nearest rein and brought him to a stop while quickly assessing the situation. Both horse and rider were almost done in.



saddlebag dispatches

Briefly looking around, the old man noted their location. There was a spring with good water in a canyon a short ride away. At this point, nothing could be done except to keep going toward water. He explained to the boy the location of the spring and what they must do. The gelding would follow. It was the way of horses. From rocks on the ridge above, two shapes lifted into the air, powerful wings pushed them into warm currents of air. Circling high above the desert below, they felt no disappointment at having lost a potential meal. Hunger was always a powerful motivation. The small cluster of humans and horses below forced them to keep searching. That was the way of the turkey vulture. — LONG SHADOWS STRETCHED ACROSS the landscape as the sun neared the western horizon. The canyon was completely in shadow when they untied the man and lowered him to the ground. A pool of spring-fed water beckoned the thirsty horses, but they remained still. Nyol removed saddles from the horses. The stranger’s saddle was nice, made with a lot of leather compared to theirs, which were lean and lightweight. Saddles off, he led them to the water and unbridled them as his grandfather tended to the injured man. After caring for the horses, he quickly returned to his grandfather’s side. The unconscious man’s heavy leather jacket had two bullet holes in the chest area. The old man pulled it back and reacted in surprise. A round silver badge with a five-pointed star at its center was affixed to a blood-soaked shirt. One of the bullets had struck the badge’s star and dented it. The other hole had done more damage. The stranger was taking shallow breaths and the bleeding had mostly stopped. Together, they rolled him onto his side while peeling back the jacket. The old man studied the man’s back. As he had hoped, there was a wound where the bullet had exited. It was a good sign that the bullet had passed through his body and he was still alive. “Get the small bag from my saddle, and

the bedroll from his,” he instructed the boy, who responded immediately and was back in seconds. “Start making a fire and get some larger rocks to direct heat toward him. We must keep him warm if he is to live.” Pointing at the badge, he spoke again. “He is a lawman. Bad men did this. Remember what I said about appearances?” “Yes, Grandfather. I will make a fire. We must find out what happened.” The old man went about pulling small pouches from the bag Nyol retrieved. With care, he measured and mixed contents of the pouches on a patch of supple deerskin creating a sticky poultice. After washing and drying the wound in the lawman’s back, he applied half of the poultice and covered it with a scrap of clean cloth. With flames from the boy’s fire providing light, they rolled the man onto his back. The elder repeated the procedure on the chest wound, then covered him with the leather jacket and bedroll blanket. Looking upward to a multitude of bright stars overhead, he spoke a few words aloud to Usen, god of the Apache. The stranger’s fate was now in the hands of a higher power. — THE SMALL FIRE FLICKERED while an unseen sun rose in the east turning the sky slowly to a pale blue. Shadows blanketed the canyon as tendrils of piñon smoke wafted through the makeshift camp. Nyol surveyed everything from a position high up on the canyon wall. The horses were quiet and grazing on grass surrounding the life-giving spring. His grandfather sat close to the stranger, observing in silence as the man held onto life. Suddenly, the wounded man coughed as a light breeze pushed smoke across his body. He gradually opened his eyes and moved his head slightly. He remained motionless as the weather-beaten face of an old Indian loomed above. Dehydrated from loss of blood, he tried to speak, but his mouth and tongue refused to work. The old man disappeared and returned in a moment, pressing wet fingers to his lips. A few minutes later he was finally able to take a sip of water and speak. “Where am I? Who are you?” “I am called Cuchillo Coloradas, Red Knife in

saddlebag dispatches

your language. My grandson Nyol is on the hillside above. We found you and brought you here to water. We are Apache.” “My horse?” The man’s eyes opened wide as he tried to look around. “Do not worry. He is grazing with the others. I see your badge, you are lawman, and you have been shot. What is your name?” “Ben Carter. I’m a Deputy U.S. Marshal.” He coughed and clutched his chest. Red Knife moved to the fire and returned with a battered tin cup. “Drink this. It will help give you strength.” Carter took a sip of the warm liquid. It was bitter and tasted terrible. He forced himself not to spit it out. He slowly emptied the cup and handed it back to the old man. The sound of someone approaching from behind made him tense. A young man came into view. He held up two dead rabbits by their hind legs. Red Knife looked at him and nodded his approval.

Red Knife turned back to the marshal as the boy started to prepare the rabbits to eat. “Who did this to you? Tell us your story.” “Four men attacked and robbed a stagecoach out of Santa Fe. They killed the driver and two passengers. I was ordered to go after them, no posse, just me. I found their trail and followed them for five days. That’s when I found the trading post they visited. Murdered the owner and his wife, after they had raped her, and killed an Apache family—including two little kids. “I caught up with them a day later and got the jump on them. I figured they were all drunk, and they were, but I made a big mistake. Their leader, Zeke Kingston, surprised me from behind. And, here I am. I’d probably be dead if you hadn’t found me. I’m very grateful.” The aroma of rabbit roasting on the fire was good. The boy sat on the ground, his attention split between the rabbits and the men. “This is Nyol, my grandson,” Red Knife said. “One day he will be a leader of the Apache. Now, he is learning about life. Our people



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must live together in peace, as brothers. Bad men who do evil are enemies of all. If you can ride, we want you to come to our village to rest and heal. It is a day’s ride from here. You will be safe there.”

Red Knife rose and walked away a few steps. When he turned around, he held out his prized Henry rifle to Nyol. “You answered as I hoped you would. This is yours now. Go help Marshal Carter.”

EIGHT DAYS PASSED QUICKLY. Whatever Red Knife and the village women did to him worked wonders. Carter turned in his saddle and waved at the group as he rode out of the village. He hoped to return one day and repay their kindness and generosity in some way. Nyol had spent time talking with him each day as he healed. Carter thought he knew a lot about life, but both had learned much. Nyol sat with his grandfather, sharpening his knife. “He is a good man and may need help. I want to go after him.” Red Knife sat and listened to the young man’s words—and how he spoke them. Nyol had grown in spirit and wisdom. Although young, he was no longer a boy. “It would be very dangerous. There are three very bad men, maybe more.” “I know. But Marshal Carter is only one. I am a good tracker and hunter.” “If I forbid it, would you go anyway? Nyol looked at the ground. His expression reflected turmoil within. Finally, he spoke. “No Grandfather. I would respect your decision.”

ALTHOUGH SEVERAL DAYS HAD passed, he was able to pick up their trail without difficulty. The outlaws left grief as markers. A Mexican man and woman had been senselessly killed at La Luz. A bit further south at Mesilla, a store and saloon had been robbed, the store’s owner shot repeatedly. Strangely, they had only beaten the saloon’s bartender. Carter figured they were out of control and headed to El Paso, or maybe even Juarez, Mexico. He also had the odd sensation that he was being watched as he rode further south. It was twilight when he found their camp next to the Rio Grande. The Franklin Mountains rose out of the desert to the east. The area was desolate and off the well-traveled El Camino Real between El Paso and Santa Fe. Cautiously, he scouted their camp. There were only three horses and by their loud voices, the men were drinking again. Making his way back to the gelding, he made a plan. He would wait until dawn. When the sun rose above the Franklin Mountains and first touched their camp, he would move in. There was no mercy in his heart, it was personal now. Sitting on a rock in a flat area just east of their camp illuminated by moonlight, he watched the flicker of their campfire in the distance. Carefully, he wiped down and loaded the new rifle he’d purchased in Mesilla. It was Oliver Winchester’s New Model 1873, chambered for a .44-40 caliber round. It was powerful and deadly. The mistakes of the last encounter would not be repeated. He froze. The same odd feeling of being watched swept over him and then was gone. Dawn arrived. The sky was lavender as he moved toward the camp. Once again, he ground tied the bay and walked toward their camp. This time he kept to the foliage that lined the river, while keeping the sunlight at his back. All three men were awake and huddled around a pot of coffee. “Howdy, boys. Time to pay up.” The three men sprang to their feet, immediately

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grasping for their pistols. Carter fired, cocked the Winchester, and fired again. Two men went down. He was cocking again and swinging the rifle toward the ringleader when the bullet hit below his right shoulder, spinning him to the ground. Zeke Kingston was on him in a heartbeat, slamming him with meaty fists as he struggled to stay upright. His good arm useless, he swung with his left as Kingston backed up and then stepped in again, slamming Carter’s chest where he knew he had shot the marshal in their first meeting. Carter went down but struggled up once more, swinging with a left jab that caught Kingston in the crotch. The killer bellowed in pain but remained upright. He charged again, throwing a wicked punch at the marshal. Carter ducked and tried to get up, but Kingston kicked him in the chest, opening the gunshot wound. The marshal fell back in agony. He was done. Zeke Kingston looked down at the helpless man with a combination of arrogance and malice. “So, here we are again. Good fight but you seem to be a slow learner, Marshal. You should have died last time. You was real lucky then, but your luck has run out. Now, you die for good.” The outlaw smirked as he cocked his pistol and pointed it at Carter. A deafening boom sounded from behind. A large caliber bullet caught the killer in the throat, nearly tearing his head off. Dead as he fell, his pistol dropped harmlessly to the ground. Carter pushed himself up onto his knees with his left arm and looked at the dead man. The sound of approaching footsteps made him turn. The young man cradled his grandfather’s .44 caliber Henry rifle in his arms. Nyol looked at the dead man then to the marshal. He walked forward and extended a hand, helping Carter to his feet. The two faced each other with eyes locked, then Nyol spoke. “Grandfather is very wise. From him I have learned to trust a man by his actions. I believe you are my friend— I hope you will be my brother.”


Michael M C L ean


native of western Colorado's high country, Michael McLean has packed on horseback in Montana's high country wilderness, mined gold and silver thousands of feet below the earth's surface, fly-fished Yellowstone Park's blueribbon waters, and explored the deserts of the West. Through personal and professional experiences he has collected a wealth of information to develop story settings, plots, and characters. His work has been published in New Mexico Magazine, Rope and Wire, and The Penmen Review. His story “Backroads” was the winner of the 2012 Tony Hillerman Mystery Short Story Contest. McLean believes the less travelled and often lonely back roads of the West offer intimate access to the land, its people, and their stories. A mining engineer by profession, McLean also has technical publications to his credit. He now works in New Mexico's oil and potash-rich Permian Basin and lives in Carlsbad, New Mexico, with his wife, Sandie. “Grandfather’s Henry” is his fourth short story to appear in Saddlebag Dispatches.



OBODY EVER DAYDREAMS AS a kid about becoming a professional gambler. It’s something one just drifts into, by luck and by chance, and I have to admit, I lead a fascinating life. I grew up in Kentucky, the second son of a farmer who didn’t have much to his name, except that small farm. I hated cows, pigs, hay, and everything else associated with a farm. I guess I was lucky to be the second son, because I would have hated to be stuck on that farm my whole life. I didn’t begrudge my older brother his birthright, and I knew I’d have to make my own way in the world. I guess it started with horses. Horse races were exhilarating and exciting to watch, and there were scheduled races and impromptu races happening every other week it seemed. I won a dollar on a race where I’d only wagered on the horse because I liked the way it walked. It was the first money I’d ever won wagering, and I guess I fell in love with the whole prospect of games of chance right then. My father had named me Chancellor for some odd reason, and I guess it was prophetic, because everyone called me Chance. After those first few times

betting on horses, I became a young man who would generally bet on anything. Cockfights, the races, cards, dice, hell, I’d even bet on which bird would take flight first. As soon as I could, I left the farm and got a job on a riverboat on the Ohio, which led me to the Mississippi River. I learned how to gamble for real in places up and down that river, and I won more than I lost. I fell in love with the idea of being a free-floating gambler, and as cow towns and mining towns sprang up, I started floating West from St. Louis and I never looked back. I’d learned with experience to be on the lookout for scam artists, stickup men, and sore losers. Men who sat down at the poker table with shiny watches on, or illfitting long sleeves made me even more wary of how I bet, because more than likely, they were cheating. I watched a man get bludgeoned almost to death by the men he was gambling with, because his four aces were duplicates of the aces found in the hands of his rivals at the table. Cheaters never prosper. As things got better and better for me, I had to devise ways to carry huge sums of money on me without visibly giving away the fact I had that kind


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of money on my person. I bought a beautiful, sturdy horse named Ginger, and I had her saddle custom made with a hidden compartment. That helped a lot. My boots were made with an extra inch on the heel and pockets on the inside for more hidden space. I bought a money belt as well, which I used as a last resort for carrying money because it was quite obvious to any onlooker who cared to look. I had a life of highs and lows, more highs than lows to be quite honest. I stayed in the best hotels and rooming houses, dressed quite well, and I was beholden to no one. In short, my life was exciting, financially rewarding, and I’d been able to see more of this country than I ever thought possible when I was growing up on a farm in Kentucky. I’d been lucky enough to reach my manhood in the ashes of the war, and not in the kindling. I should have been happy and content, but lately, things seemed to be slightly offkilter, making me question my plans and decisions. As exciting as my life was, it was rather lonely most of the time. I was surrounded by fellow gamblers, sporting girls, dusty cowhands, surly drunks, gunfighters, buffalo hunters, and other people who wouldn’t have been invited to eat off my mother’s good plates. I found myself yearning for simpler things, such as a wife and a house, and I didn’t know where or when, but I wanted to settle down. There were gamblers all over the West who had removed their boots from the road and settled down. They’d opened their own gambling dens or they had a stake in an establishment, and they’re able to lead rather normal lives. It had been a fleeting thought, but after a recent trip to Deadwood, it has been at the forefront of my mind. Sometimes we hold onto a losing hand when we should have just folded and walked away. I’d journeyed to Deadwood on a mission to maybe invest in a gambling hall and get an overall feeling for the area. The experience had been pretty bad, leaving a nasty taste in my soul, and I did my best to bury the entire adventure from my mind. I’d ridden into Dodge City three days ago, and I found the town rather exciting, with plenty of opportunities for a man like me. The cattle trade, the opportunities the railroad offered, and there was a need for gambling and carousing. There

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was land available nearby, and if I chose to, I could settle close by. This could be the place for me. Ginger was stabled at a nearby livery, the compartment in her saddle containing about $2000. My boots contained another $1000, and whatever I gambled, whether I won or lost, would come from the money belt. The first night I entered the saloon, I couldn’t lose. I played faro and poker, winning about $900. I was loving Dodge City and when I returned to the rooming house where I was staying, I sat for awhile trying to calculate how much money I had in my possession. I emptied the money belt, counted its contents, and realized I was traveling with around $6000. I decided I would look around for a place to buy a stake in. I walked into the same saloon as the night before, carrying about $1500 in my pockets and money belt. I felt pretty good, and as the first hand of poker was dealt, I admired the ambiance of the establishment. There were painted ladies hovering about, a full bar, and plenty of customers enjoying themselves. This was the type of place I’d like to own, but smaller, and I could do without the sporting girls. I sat at the poker table, daydreaming about owning my own saloon, and maybe I could have live entertainment once a week. It didn’t have to be a booming joint, just a safe, steady income. If I couldn’t get a place like that here, there were other places. I’d heard good things about San Francisco, and I thought it might be worth investigating. The game was five card stud, and my hole card was the queen of clubs. I called the bet, and received my first up card, the ace of clubs. Two high clubs with three to go, and I had the highest card showing. I bet $20 and the other four men at the table called my bet. It was shaping up to be a pretty nice pot. My second up card was the eight of clubs, giving me three cards towards a club flush. It wasn’t a made hand though, so I simply called the $40 bet made by a bearded teamster with a pair of fours showing. I could afford to be patient with my betting, just in case my hand turned out to be worthless. The dealer dealt me my third up card. It was the eight of spades, giving me a pair of eights, but ruining my club flush. Looking around at the hands of the other players, I realized my pair of eights was the best

hand showing. There were two other players with pairs showing, the aforementioned pair of fours, and a pair of sixes. There was only one card left, and the players with no pairs showing either had a matching card in the hole, or they had their fingers crossed that their last card would give them the winning hand. Since I didn’t want anyone to get lucky on the last card, I bet $50, hoping to get a couple of players to fold. The gentleman with the pair of sixes raised it another $50, causing two players to fold. There were three players left in the hand, and I simply called the extra $50. There was at least $700 in the pot, and it could be mine if I got another eight. The dealer flipped over my last card, revealing the ace of spades. Two black aces and two black eights. I felt bile rising within me, and the smells of blood and gunpowder filled my nostrils. I’d been dealt “the Deadman’s Hand.” My brain went instantly to a poker game in Deadwood at Nuttal’s and Mann’s Saloon. I’d been watching the game while I stood at the bar calculating how much money the place took in on a nightly basis. I was also intrigued because I’d been informed that the long-haired gentleman at the table was none other than Wild Bill Hickok, a reputed gunfighter of some renown. I turned away from the game to order another whiskey, wondering if the owner would be willing to talk with me about maybe investing in the joint. It seemed like a prosperous place. A gunshot boomed out and I instinctively ducked. I saw a man with a gun held in his outstretched hand, smoke still curling from the barrel. The unmistakable odor of blood was in the air, and the famous man himself, Wild Bill Hickok, lay slumped over the poker table, blood splattered on the cards he’d been holding, two black aces and two black eights. The Deadman’s Hand. I quit the Deadwood area the next day, my thoughts of settling and prospering there gone in an instant. I’d seen some things in my life that may have brought chills, but there hadn’t been anything as blood curdling as that man standing there proudly with his gun still smoking over the dead body of Hickok. In the chaos which followed afterwards, I made my exit. Since then, the scene had haunted me because of its coldblooded nature, and I never sat with my back to



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches

the door again, which had been Hickok’s fatal mistake. Now those same cards were lying in front of me, and I didn’t know what to do. My soul urged me to just get up and leave, to walk away from the hand. Black cats, the number thirteen, and other harbingers of bad luck were things I avoided as much as possible. I looked around the room to make sure no one was walking towards me or ogling me overmuch. Then I looked at the huge pile of cash in the middle of the table, and I made the decision to wait and see what would happen. If one of the remaining players made too large of a bet, I would fold my hand. Maybe they’d caught the card which would give them three of a kind, and I couldn’t beat that. Another thought intruded, reminding me that each man’s destiny is different, and one man’s trash might be another man’s treasure. I thought of former sporting girls who’d married cowboys or farmers and completely changed the course of their lives. There was a lot of money in the pot, and just because the hand hadn’t brought good luck to Hickok, did not mean it would be the same for me. I exhaled, threw caution to the wind, and made a $100 bet. The remaining players folded, and I pulled the pile of cash towards me. The so-called ‘Deadman’s Hand’ had been a lucky one for me, and I scoffed at my earlier thoughts. I stuffed money in my pockets, put some in the money belt and my boots, surreptitiously, of course. I dumped the next three hands, planning my exit. I felt that it was time to leave while I was ahead, but losers are often surly and sore when a winner leaves the table with their money. I didn’t want any trouble. My stomach roiled in an unpleasant way, and I knew how I would make my escape. I would simply

excuse myself and promise to return after I visited the outhouse. Then, instead of coming back, I would make my way back to my rooming house and lay low for a couple of days. It sounded like a good plan. I pushed away from the table. “Gentlemen,” I said. “I need to step away for a moment. Nature is calling.” They were so engrossed in the hands they were playing, they simply nodded at my statement. I walked away from them, thinking about San Francisco, where it sounded as if things were booming. It might be worth investigating. Maybe my mood was a bit dark, or maybe my last winning hand had done something to my frame of mind, because suddenly I longed for quiet spaces, rolling hills, and peace. I wondered if Kentucky was still the same? I hadn’t felt nostalgic for home in a long, long time. It was dark outside, and the thunder I heard made me walk a bit faster. No, there was no chance of rain. The storm was coming from within. I spied the outhouse and sighed in relief. Everything would be alright. I opened the door, using the light from the moon to guide me in my quest. I made myself comfortable and started thinking of places where I could find happiness. Maybe even a wife and children. Maybe it was time for Chance to take a chance. I giggled at myself, sitting in the darkness daydreaming about sunnier places. The door burst open and the silhouette of a man was outlined. I heard the click of a gun being cocked and my blood ran cold. “Hands up, or it could get bloody,” my assailant whispered. He had the drop on me and there wasn’t anything I could do to either stop him or fight back. I slowly put my hands in the air, wishing I’d had a pistol on



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches

me. At least I’d have had a chance to defend myself. The thought crossed my mind to grab for his pistol, when he swiftly clouted me on the side of the head with it, eliminating all thoughts of fighting back or anything else. I was semi-conscious in the darkness, and I felt his hands on me. I must have made a noise in protest as he removed the money belt, and he whacked me again, knocking me out. I don’t know how long I was unconscious, but the odors were the first things I noticed. There was the smell one would expect in an outhouse, but there was another smell which mystified my slowly waking brain. I opened my eyes slowly, hoping my assailant was not still there. The door was open, and the moonlight streamed in. I touched my face, feeling the stickiness of my own blood, and something else, something soft. I plucked the unfamiliar thing from the area by my mouth and I brought it closer to my eyes. It seemed to be a piece of a potato and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how a piece of potato ended up on my face. I sat up, tasting blood in my mouth. He’d clouted me pretty good. Shakily, I rose to my feet, putting my clothing back in place. The money belt was gone, as was the money I’d had in my pockets. The robber hadn’t looked in my boots and he had not killed me. I still had some cash and there was still breath in my lungs. I was battered and bruised, but not beaten. I didn’t know if I would stay in Dodge City, though. Maybe it was time to head home to Kentucky for a long overdue visit home. Maybe that would be a welcome change from the life I’d been leading. One thing that I did know for sure, was that I would never play or bet a poker hand with two black aces and two black eights. If I’d folded, maybe I would have never come outside and might have avoided being robbed. Maybe it would have happened anyway, but a gambler knows better than to wager on bad omens. The ‘Deadman’s Hand’ hadn’t been lucky for Wild Bill, and it had not been lucky for me either…


Marlon S. Hayes


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



saddlebag dispatches

SA D D LEBAG f e at u r e


John Wayne and Sammy Davis, Jr. were unlikely friends who’d hoped one day to share the silver screen. Terry Alexander


VERYONE HAS HEARD OF John Wayne. Brown and Peggy Castle, Richard Jaeckel also had a To most people in my age group he was co-starring role. He appeared in Frontier Circus in the episode Coals of Fire on 1-4-1962, with Chill Wills, always the big man on the horse. Wayne made between 142 and 175 movies during his career John Derek, and Richard Jaeckel. He also appeared in two episodes of The Rifleman in 1962, with Chuck (the number varies depending on which website you get the information from). He shared the screen with Connors, Paul fix and Johnny Crawford. Two Ounces some of the most famous actors and actresses of his of Tin on 2-19-62 and The Most Amazing Man on 11time. Maureen Ohara, Katherine Hepburn, Lauren 27-62. He also appeared in The Wild, Wild West in the episode The Night of The Returning Dead on 10Bacall, and Angie Dickinson were some of his leading 14-66, with Robert Conrad, Ross Martin, and Peter and James Stewart, Dean Martin, Rock Hudson, Kirk Lawford also had a co-starring role in the episode. Douglas, Richard Boone, Robert Mitchum, Henry He made three western films during his career. Fonda, Ricky Nelson, Ward Bond, Ben Johnson and Sergeants 3, which co-starred Frank Sinatra, Dean many others shared screen time with the Duke. Martin, Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop in 1962. John Sammy Davis Jr. loved cowboy movies. He was known in Hollywood as the second fastest draw. He Wayne loaned Sammy the hat he wore in this film, appeared in several western tv shows during the early OFF-SCREEN PALS JOHN WAYNE AND SAMMY DAVIS, JR., 60’s, among them Lawman in POSING TOGETHER WHEN THE DUKE LOANED SAMMY THE 1961 in the episode Blue Boss WELL-WORN COWBOY HAT HE’D WORN THROUGH ALL and Willie Shay. The show featured John Russell, Peter THREE OF JOHN FORD’S FAMED CAVALRY TRILOGY FILMS.


saddlebag dispatches

one he wore in the Calvary Trilogy directed by John Ford. Even filled with padding, the hat fit loosely on Sammy’s head. In 1971 he starred in the tv movie The Trackers with Ernest Borgnine, Julie Adams, Jim Davis, Arthur Hunnicutt, Leo Gordon and Norman Alden and Gone with the West in 1975, which starred James Caan and Stefanie Powers. Originally, the movie had the alternate title of Little Moon and Jud McGraw. John Wayne and Sammy planned on making a


western movie together. They talked about it and discussed it many times. After his death, letters found in Wayne’s files verified the two stars wanted to work together. The project was supposed to be The Trackers. John Wayne was supposed to play the Ernest Borgnine part of Sam Paxton with Burt Kennedy directing the film for a big screen release. Unfortunately, Wayne couldn’t fit the film into his busy schedule and had to pass on the film. The script was rewritten, Ernest Borgnine was cast in the roll of

saddlebag dispatches

Sam Paxton, and Earl Bellamy was hired to direct. It was released as an ABC Movie of the Week in 1971. In the television version, Sam and Dora Paxton return home to find their son murdered and their daughter missing. Paxton immediately informs the authorities. The local sheriff can’t seem to find the kidnappers nor the missing girl. Paxton informs a friend, a US Marshal. He can’t come and instead sends his deputy, Ezekiel Smith (Davis). The movie explores racism in a critical way. Paxton doesn’t trust Smith because he’s black. He slowly mellows toward Smith only after he witnesses the treatment the marshal receives from other white people on their trek to find the kidnapped girl. At the end of the movie, the girl is reunited with her mother, and Paxton and Smith share a grudging respect for each other and the beginning of a friendship. I’ve watched The Trackers. It’s a good film, especially considering it’s an Aaron Spelling production and a made for tv movie. It’s good but not great. With Wayne and Davis in the movie, it had the potential to be a real standout hit. This also proved to be the last western movie made by Julie Adams. On a side note. John Wayne and Sammy Davis Jr. were truly good friends. After Duke’s appearance at the 1979 Academy Awards, Sammy met him backstage and gave him a hug. He worried later that he might have hurt Duke in his fragile condition. He was later told that the Duke wouldn’t have missed that hug for anything. —Terry Alexander is a western, science fiction and horror writer with a vast number of publishing credits to his name. He’s also a connoisseur of all things related to the Hollywood Western. He and his wife, Phyllis, live on a small farm near Porum, Oklahoma.



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches

SA D D LEBAG poetry

The Star Spangled Banner inspires all manner Of feelings in folks when it plays— Every bareback bronc veteran feels a rush of adrenaline Long after his rodeo days. The Anthem’s first sound brings the Chute Boss around Yellin’ “Pull ’em down boys! Let’s rodeo!” And you straddle the chute, ease down onto the brute, Grab your riggin’ and stretch latigo. Then the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air Grow distant; seem to fade into dim. Rosin squeaks in your handhold. The horse shivers as if cold. And, for eight seconds, there’s just you and him.


saddlebag dispatches



CHILL RAIN FELL LIGHTLY, steadily. Mose Traven rode with his head down, water dripping and blowing off the broad brim of his worn, dirty hat. His thick-backed pony ambled along the mud-gravely path surrounded by scrub brush and young oak and elm trees. It was late afternoon although nearly as dark as dusk and he hunched in the saddle, wet and tired. There was no sound save for the soft thudding of the horse’s hooves on the soggy trail and the animal’s occasional snorting breath. Slogging along, he let his mind drift, fill up with images of the recent past, and so he didn’t hear the first sound in the trees beside the narrow, beaten path. The noise was like heavier rain hitting the leaves, harder, closer, then followed by the cracking of what could have been mistaken for thunder – thunder rolling fast after the electrifying flash of nearby lightning. The leaves splattered nearby. The air boomed. “Hellfire.” He cried out, understanding at last the meaning of the loud rain that snapped twigs on either side of him and caused his buckskin pony to snort in fear and jerk forward on the reins. With a sharp jab of his spurs against the horse’s solid flanks, he drove the animal to the lead it sought on its own. “Go, Buster. Get up.” He needn’t have admonished the horse, for it galloped now in that horse’s way of escaping a leg- or side-biting predator. It breathed heavily, ears pricked, legs pounding the earth with strong, powerful strides. In moments, rider and horse were far down the trail. Coming out of thick foliage and into a clearing populated by several large gray boulders, he spurred Buster toward the largest of the rocks and reined him in on its back side. Leaping down, Mose pulled a rifle from beside the saddle, worked the lever to cock and load it, and

edged around the side of the rock to see who or what was behind. A round hammered the stone near his face and he pulled his head back just in time to avoid a spray of loosened gravel from the rock surface. To one side, he saw a thick scrub bush and quickly tied the horse tight to it. The last thing he wanted was for the animal to bolt in fear and leave him out there alone, on foot. “Easy, boy.” He patted the horse. “I’m just going to go around this other side and try to see who’s doin’ the shooting. You take it easy, now.” The horse snorted low and looked a little wild-eyed but settled down some at the quiet talk. Slowly, Mose moved up to the back side of the rock beyond the horse. Never give a shooter the same shot, he remembered his old sergeant from the 3rd Missouri Mounted Infantry saying right before the battle of Westport when he had just been a boy – a boy conscripted into an army and a war he shouldn’t even have been a part of. Easing himself around the boulder, he took a quick look in the direction from where the shots had come. He could see nothing in the gloaming. It was getting darker and he didn’t want to be caught out alone come nightfall. It was probably a Kiowa hunting party or, he hoped not, marauding Comanches. They seldom made it this far north and east, but there had been a big ruckus the past year between cattle drivers and the Indians out in west Texas so he had tried to stay on his toes about the trouble and did his best to avoid Indians. He had no individual quarrel with Indians and no designs on their land, but he understood they wouldn’t know that and might view him as just another thieving white man. As a personal policy, he skirted the tribes and their territory as best he could.



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches

When there hadn’t been a shot in several minutes, he began to think that whoever was out there might be trying to sneak up on him. He took a moment to survey his surroundings. Behind was more bushes and a couple of smaller boulders and beyond that a small drop off. It might provide enough protection so he could make a run in that direction and then swing back in a mile or so over onto the Ft. Smith trail. Just as he was about to go back to the horse, he had a funny feeling, one that caused the hair on the back of his neck to stand up. Without warning several shots suddenly rang out and rock chips and dust flew all around him. “Son of a … .” He pressed his body close to the boulder and waited silently. His breath came shallow but not fast. He had seen too much in the War Between the States, as he’d seen the not so distant hostilities recently referred to in a newspaper, to panic over a few stray shots. He just wondered who it could be. Certainly not the Bluebellies. They would have no reason to be following a lone white man all the way into Indian Territory. It was probably some part-renegade Indians, or some desperado thieving for a horse or a saddle, or both. He doubted that it would be Jack Hart. Mose waited. And waited. It was completely quiet again. He waited. Ten minutes, fifteen. Finally, he carefully peered around the boulder again. Nothing. No shots. Nothing. It was as if there had never been anyone there to begin with. He waited ten minutes more. Cautiously then, he untied Buster and mounted him slowly and smoothly. Still nothing. With a low clucking sound he moved the horse away from the boulder, toward the bushes and the drop off behind. He only looked back once. When he reached the bottom of the drop off, he reined the horse tight and dug in his spurs. With a snort the animal bolted, ran hard. He guided Buster across the wet ground, through scattered small bushes to the original trail. Still nothing. On the smoother ground of the trail, he slowed the horse to a canter and then finally to a walk. Whatever or whoever had been out to get him no longer seemed to be there. There was a phantom-like quality to the experience that made him shudder in the

saddle. Spurring Buster on briefly to hurry around another blind bend in the trail and to get himself completely out of rifle range, he continued on to Ft. Smith. — THE DIRT STREETS OF Ft. Smith were empty and cast in shadow when Henry Hallow saw the rider come into town. The man first appeared at the head of the muddy main street and, between sessions of puffing up his billows, Henry tracked his slow progress toward the livery stable to the side of which Henry maintained his small blacksmith shop. As the man neared Henry’s place he saw the livery stable sign and headed his mount toward it. “Good evenin’, young man.” Henry smiled when the man pulled up in front of the stable. “Evenin’.” Even in the fading light, Henry could make out the man’s features and noted a countenance that bespoke long months on the trail, a life – like so many of late – of deprivation and little human contact. The rider was a man of mid-twenties appearance, medium height and build, light brown hair – too long not cut – and a face highlighted by high cheekbones, a ruddy complexion hiding under the stubbly growth of a week or so, and light, pain-filled eyes. Henry guessed in a moment that this was a man who had seen more than his share of experience in his young life. As befit a man of the trail, the stranger wore weathered but quality chaps over his dusty pants and above his well-worn boots. He had on a gray shirt, tattered at one shoulder, a dirty, once blue dust kerchief around his neck, and a big brimmed, cowboy hat. “You the stable man, too?” “Yes, sir, I am.” Henry paused in his work. “Needing to put your hoss up for the evening are you?” “I am. There some place around here a man could bed down?” “Well, sir, the only place for that is over at the hotel across the way and down a couple of buildings. See there by the sheriff’s office?” “How much for keeping my horse overnight?” “Fifteen cents?” Henry wasn’t sure what a fair price was. His wife



saddlebag dispatches

Mary always admonished him to charge “twenty-five cents for the horse and a dime for oats, never less,” but Henry believed in basing the price on the appearance of the person asking. This fellow didn’t look like he would have a lot of money, though you never could tell. “How about a place to eat?” “Hotel again, but they charge four bits for supper. Or, you know, you could just eat with my missus and me. If you wanted to. We have enough to share.” “I wouldn’t want to put you out none.” “Mary would be happy to add another plate.” He didn’t know if she really would or not but there was something about this young man, in the way he held himself proud but humble somehow at the same time, that made Henry think he was not an outlaw, not a bad man. “Join us, please. I’m ready to quit for the day anyway.” “It would be right neighborly of you.” “Well, come on then. Let’s get your buckskin set up and we’ll see about getting’ something to eat.” “Thank you, sir, Mr. ....” “Hallow.” Henry wiped his right hand on the black leather apron he wore before extending the hand in greeting, “Henry Hallow. Pleased to make your acquaintance.” “Moses Traven.” The young rider introduced himself. “Of Missouri, and other parts. My pleasure to meet you, too. And you done met Buster here. We’ve traveled a fair piece together the two of us.” “I suspicioned as much. I reckoned that you had.” — AFTER A BIG SUPPER of beef, beans and biscuits, Mose made his hosts accept two-bits from him just for their kindness. “Oh, no.” Henry protested, but Mose could see the missus didn’t mind. Spending money was hard to come by, so he left the coins on their kitchen table. Henry insisted then that he spend the night free in the stable. There was a decent spot up in the loft and plenty of clean hay. He took the blacksmith up on the offer. “You might stick around a bit.” Henry suggested as the men walked back to the stable.

“Why come?” “Hanging. Judge Corey’s gonna hang some boy from the Territory come over and killed a drummer. It’ll be a big crowd for that one.” “Never seen a law-caused hanging.” “Stay a spell. You’ll see one.” When Henry went back to the house, Mose climbed up to the stable loft, found some dry hay, and spread his bed roll down. It was comfortable, a heck of a lot more so than the ground that had been his bed during the cattle drive he’d just left. Lying there in the stable, gazing through a hole in the roof at the star-filled night sky, he recalled the events that caused him to leave the drive with a month left before they reached the Baxter Springs trailhead. It was that Jack Hart caused it all. Hart was related to Charlie Wilcox, the cattle owner and trail boss, and even though he was just a flank rider, he thought he was in charge of the herd all the time Wilcox was out front scouting for water and the night’s bedding down spot. In particular, Hart bullied one of two teen-aged boys that rode drag on the mixed herd of ragged Mexican cattle and free ranging Longhorns that Wilcox had scrounged up down around San Antonio. Mose joined the drive at its beginning in San Antone, a fool’s venture taking the old Shawnee Trail —which was being used less and less—up past Dallas, through the Territory to the trailhead at Baxter Springs. Wilcox knew it was a tricky proposition, what with the concern for Texas tick fever, unruly Indians, and the trails all running to the west now, but he figured it was worth at least one more shot. Following a couple of years in Mexico with Jo Shelby and his Confederate Iron Brigade escapees down on the Hacienda Carlota, and several more roaming Missouri, Arkansas, Texas and the Indian Territory, Mose knew all about last shots. He was glad to sign on for a dollar a day—even riding drag for a couple of weeks until Wilcox moved him over to a flank. Hart tried to bully Mose at first, too, but that didn’t play. Not after he threatened to crack his .36 caliber Navy revolver over Hart’s head. Instead, Hart took out his natural meanness on the two boys eating dust behind the herd. He especially singled out Tommy Robison, an even-tempered, hard-working boy.

saddlebag dispatches



saddlebag dispatches

By the time they had got near to Dallas, Hart was making the boy’s life miserable. He would shortchange Tommy on watch, bark at him for things the kid hadn’t even done, and just generally push him around day and night. When Wilcox let several of the crew go into Dallas to blow off a little steam, Hart took his bullying to the breaking point. About a half dozen of the boys, including Mose, the two teen-aged boys, Chuy the Mexican cook, a couple of other cowpokes and Hart, went to a saloon to loosen up a bit and knock off some trail dust. Mose was sitting at a table, joking with the young boys, when Hart tried to start a fight with Tommy Robison. “Get up, you soft-headed piss ant.” Hart growled at the bewildered boy. “I don’t know why you on me so much.” “Stand up.” “No, sir.” “On your feet or I’ll bust you where you sit.” “Ease up, partner.” Mose intervened. “Have a drink with us. We’re all on this drive together.” “Ain’t talking to you.” Hart wouldn’t look at Mose. “Shut your hole and stay out of my way.” “Best walk a bit easy there.” “You don’t like it, get up.” “Suit yourself.” Mose slid his chair back. “Don’t, Mr. Traven.” Tommy reached out his arm. “It’s all right, Tommy.” “You gonna regret this, Traven.” Hart said. “Could be.” Hart made a move as if he might go for his sidearm, but before he got anywhere near his belt and holster, Mose drew his .36 and backhanded the barrel against the side of his head. It made a loud, thwacking sound. Hart went down in a heap. “Let’s get him out of here and back to the herd.” Mose told the boys. “He ain’t likely to be none too happy when he comes to.” From that day, Hart seethed with anger toward Mose. So much so that he had to watch his back all the time he worked the herd. Once, he nearly snuck up behind him, but Mose sensed something and turned around in time to draw down on his adversary in a Mexican standoff. Then, after the drive had crossed the Red River

and were up into the Territory, they had it out. Head to head, fist to fist, around the campfire just as Chuy was getting supper done. It was a bitter fight and he took his lumps, but he got the better of Hart. The next day, Charley Wilcox let him go. “I’m sorry, you’re a solid man, but I can’t have this on the drive. Jack is family, even if he’s trouble, and I gotta go with that. I hope you understand.” He took the sixty dollars Wilcox offered him and with a quick goodbye to the crew, turned east and headed for Fort Smith. “This ain’t over, Traven.” Hart pointed at him. “Good luck.” Tommy called out. Mose waved his right arm in farewell. Remembering the unfortunate end of the drive, he finally drifted off to sleep in the stable beside Henry Hallow’s blacksmith shop. Before he even realized he had slept, something woke him. A sound in the stable below. He lifted himself up on his elbows and peered over the loft. It was still dark but there was a slight hint of the first gray of pre-dawn. Buster snorted and moved nervously in his stall. Mose thought he saw the figure of a man down below. “Who’s that?” He called out. “What is it?” The boom of a sidearm was his answer and before he could move, the loft slat next to his bedroll exploded upwards, spraying bits of wood all around. Grabbing his .36, he returned fire but could only shoot at the shadows below. Two more rounds ripped into the floor of the loft and he replied again, then moved away from his bedroll. Feeling for his boots, he picked up the right one and moved to the back of the loft where he could peer down into the stable. All was silent for a moment. With a slow motion, he heaved the boot onto the loft floor. It landed with a solid thud and the shooter below fired off two rounds in the direction of the sound. Mose saw the flash of fire from the attacker’s pistol and fired two rounds above and slightly to the left of the flash. There was a low moan, then silence again. He waited a full moment, continued to peer down into the shadowy stable. Nothing. He carefully climbed down the loft ladder, heard the sound of people coming toward the stable, walked cautiously toward the front of the building. Even in the graying

saddlebag dispatches

light, he could hardly see and bumped into a heap on the floor. It was a man. As he bent down to the man, someone opened the door of the stable and let in enough light to identify the shooter, who now lay in a pool of his own blood. It was Jack Hart from the cattle drive. He had tried to make good his word. He had tracked him down and tried to kill him. Mose shivered to think how close his adversary had come to fulfilling that task. “Lower your sidearm, son.” He heard a voice from behind say. “Step back from there and drop it.” He looked up to see a man wearing a marshal’s badge. The marshal held a long-barreled .44 pointed right at him. He laid his pistol down and stepped back. “Get your gear. I gotta take you in.” — JUDGE COREY WAITED TO hear Mose’s case until the day of the scheduled hanging. Wanted to give him a fair hearing, he said, learn the particulars of the case. Liked to give everyone a fair trial, thought the sound of the gallows would be likely to produce the truth of the case. He gave his side of the shooting. The judge listened with something that was maybe like interest. Half the time, Mose wasn’t even sure what the judge was talking about, wasn’t sure his honor was all there, all the time. He was sure the judge could do as he darned well pleased. “I ought to hang you for murder. For murdering your partner.” “He tried to kill me and we wasn’t exactly partners.” “This man ain’t no killer.” Henry Hallow interjected from out in the crowd. The judge rapped on his table with a wooden mallet. “Did you see the shooting?” “Uh …, no, sir.” Henry admitted. “Then shut your mouth or I’ll throw you in jail, too.” Henry shut up. “Marshal.” The judge switched his focus. “Is the defendant indigent.” “W—what?” “Does he have any means of support?” “I don’t catch your meaning, sir.” “Does he have any money, for crying out loud?”



saddlebag dispatches

“You got any money?” The marshal turned to Mose. He thought of the twenty-dollar gold piece stowed in a little pocket at the back of his saddle that his Mexican girlfriend Maria had stitched up for him. There was also another twenty in paper bills under the wornout sock in his left boot. He had about seventeen dollars and some change in the pocket of his pants. “Some.” “Produce it.” The judge ordered. “What?” “Let’s see it. You frontier types are really dense.” When he was slow to “produce” his money, the marshal reached in his pockets for him. He handed the money to the judge. “This is all? Seventeen dollars and three bits? I ought to hang you just for this insult.” A man standing to one side of the judge leaned over and spoke quietly in his ear. The judge grimaced. “I know. I know. We have to get on with the real hanging.” “All right.” He addressed Mose directly. “Let’s finish this up. I fine you this seventeen dollars and such for … for discharging your weapon inside the town limits. Case dismissed.” “You’re takin’ my money?” “I suggest, cowboy. That you should count your lucky stars I’ve got more work to do today than bother with a two-bit cowpuncher like yourself. This is your fine, now get out. Go. You’re free to go. Get out of my courthouse. And let this be a lesson to you.” Without another word, the judge rose and stomped out of the courtroom. The marshal led Mose outside and walked him back to the stable. Henry Hallow tagged along beside. “You’re clear to go, son.” The marshal held out his hand. “I recommend you get your gear together and ride on.” “I take your meaning.” Mose shook his hand. “Good luck to you.” “Whew.” Henry whistled when the marshal was gone, “that was a close one.” “They took my money.” Mose straightened a saddle blanket on Buster. “They didn’t give a damn that somebody got killed one way or another.” “Yep, that’s how old Judge Corey works.”

saddlebag dispatches

“Well.” “You ain’t gonna stick around even for just a bit? There’s still that hanging later on.” “Hell, if that crazy judge don’t decide to rob me instead of trying me.” Mose cinched the saddle down. “It could be my neck getting stretched up there today, too. And for killing a lowdown scoundrel what was gonna kill me.” “I could use some help with the blacksmithing.” “I appreciate that, Henry, and you and your missus’ hospitality, too, but I don’t believe this place is right for me. I best be moving on like the marshal said.” “Where to?” “Don’t know. Sedalia maybe. If there’s work.” “Well.” Henry looked at his grimy boots. “I reckon it’s goodbye, then.” “I reckon so.” Mose lifted himself into the saddle. Buster snorted and tossed his head back. He was ready for the trail. With a gentle heel to the horse’s flanks, Mose turned the animal to the left out into the dirt main street of Ft. Smith. “Take care.” Henry called after his retreating figure. Mose waved his right arm in goodbye. With a light tug of the reins, he guided Buster to the north, toward the Boston Mountains, and Fayetteville beyond, on to the Missouri border. He’d had all he wanted of Ft. Smith. He doubted he’d be back. TO BE CONTINUED....

J.B. Ho gan


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



saddlebag dispatches


SA D D LEBAG f e at u r e

LOS HERMANOS Y LA ÚLTIMA VERÓNICA A locked, wooden box enticed a young woman’s interest all her life. The day the box revealed its secrets, her heartfelt fears warred with her desire to know the truth. What she learned confirmed her suspicions and opened a bittersweet understanding of the religious brotherhood of Hermanos Penitentes. Carmen Baca


HEARD THE FIRST mournful rise of my fatherʼs voice echo down the valley. It was joined by the others almost immediately after, the blending of twelve menʼs baritone, bass, and tenors sounding almost discordant yet harmonic, a distinct trait that made their singing dismal, doleful, even funereal. I’ve heard some compare los Hermanosʼ alabados to Gregorian chants, but I have to say the only characteristic they share is the somberness. The combined voices of los Hermanos in the blackness of the still nights in our little canyon made the hairs on one’s head stand on end—that is how mournful the timbre of their singing struck us listeners. It didnʼt matter that this occasion of their singing occurred at four o’clock in the afternoon. The time made it less frightening though the mystery of their brotherhood still caused an emotional response in me. The tenor matched the words of their alabados, the hymns passed down from generations. Every song reminded us of Christ’s plight on earth at the hands of mankind, and as Lent was a season for reflection on His life,

the words contributed to the overall solemnity and sadness of the forty days before Easter. Listening to the men as they walked in solemn procession from the morada to the capilla on those Lenten Friday afternoons is one of my most precious memories of the brotherhood. Known as los Hermanos Penitentes de la Fraternidad Piadosa de Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno (The Penitent Brothers of the Pious Fraternity of Our Father Jesus of Nazareth), los Hermanos had been a part of my life since before my earliest memories of them. I didn’t realize until later that they were our leaders, the descendants of the all-male religious brotherhood who left Spain due to religious persecution. Their cofradía—confraternity—began when their forefathers settled in northern New Mexico in the 1500s. My fatherʼs membership began in the mid-1920s and lasted until the mid ’80s when they disbanded. They were the caretakers of our community, offering spiritual guidance to the inhabitants of the Cañoncito Valley since they lived far from towns and churches.


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They ensured that the people lived pious and moral lives. They also provided help to those less fortunate or who suffered adversity. My father and his brethren were the final members of their society. With the coming of the ’50s, the brothers had all moved into the nearest town where they found employment. The wives enjoyed the luxuries of electricity and what modern appliances they could afford, and we children went to the city schools. But the weekends were spent at the ranch. We all returned on Friday nights and stayed through Sunday in the adobe houses the brothers or their fathers or grandfathers had built. With no indoor plumbing and no electricity, those rustic yet cozy casitas welcomed us all back as though we’d never left. The men and their sons worked the land for the livestock they still kept, and the women and their daughters planted and then tended to their gardens and orchards, assuring all the plants and trees would produce food aplenty for drying or canning and preserving to last ’til the following year. Men and women were eager for the Lenten season, the most active time for both societies. We Verónicas—the female counterpart to the men’s— cleaned the prayer house and the church from ceiling to floor. Every inch had to be scrubbed the week before Lent and kept clean during the forty days because both structures were used every Friday and each day of la Semana Santa, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter. We also prepared the food for the brothers to take and eat in the seclusion of the morada since we were forbidden to go there when they held their meetings and performed their private rituals. We were only allowed to join them when invited to participate in their processions and prayers. I had barely started THE MORADA, THE THREE-ROOM PRAYER HOUSE school when my mother LOCATED AT THE END OF A LONG ROAD OPPOSITE began including me in doing the quehaceres of the THE CHURCH.

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the altars I designed. If I couldnʼt be one of them, I sisterhood, and las Verónicas welcomed me into their wanted to do something that made me feel like I was. fold as the only child among them. I did not know back then that I was already becoming My fondest recollections are of cleaning the morada, a Verónica. the three-room prayer house located at the end of a I couldn’t remember at what age I began begging long road opposite the church. The house had three my father to allow me to join his cofradía only to rooms—the spacious kitchen, a smaller storage room be told again and again that because I was a girl, it in between, and the largest, the prayer room. I was five could never be. He was Hermano Mayor, the Elder when I was assigned to work in the kitchen and the Brother, the leader. I knew his word was the last. prayer room. “Mira, hija,” my mother instructed me in That shake of his head never became a nod, and the how to do the chores they assigned me for the rest of “No se puede” never turned into “Yes, you can.” But I my life as a Verónica, “look, daughter, see how I use the felt I was one of them when I sat at the wooden trestle butter knife to scrape gently at the wax on the candle table of the cocina, the kitchen where the brothers holders. This way you do not take off the paint on the took their meals, as I performed my tasks before and wood ones or scratch the glass ones. You have your traduring Lent. With a newspaper section open to catch bajo cut out for you. Don’t put too many in the cajete at the wax as it fell from the candle holders, I took my a time when you wash them, either.” The laborious task included the black wooden crucifixes each Hermano made for himself. The men carried their crosses and their prayer books from the morada to the capilla in the processions and back when the church ceremony was over, and they returned in solemn rows of twos. I took special care with those crosses. I was assigned the decorating of both altars, so I had the honor of arranging the altar cloths, the curtains and the paper and plastic flowers that graced the ceiling and the sides, the many candleholders, the statues of the Blessed Mother and the saints, every artifact that went on the altars of both morada and capilla. All were my responsibility for the next twenty-sixyears . Doing so gave me such HANDMADE CRUCIFIXES USED BY LOS HERMANOS. a satisfaction that los HerACCORDING TO TRADITION, EVERY MEMBER OF THE manos would be praying at BROTHERHOOD HAD TO CRAFT THEIR OWN.



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responsibility seriously because every relic I handled belonged to the brothers. Then I washed each piece carefully in the warm dishwater of the metal washtub set on the floor. I dried them just as delicately. The Verónicas cleaned the rooms, sweeping the cobwebs from the vigas, the logs that held up the ceiling, and sweeping and mopping the wood floor. Every dish and utensil was washed, every piece of furniture cleaned—except a padlocked, wooden box beneath a tall table in the storage room. I never saw anyone touch that. I was thirteen the day my mother and the vecinas, tías y comadres accompanied me on the solemn occasion when I committed myself to being one of them. I had to accept that, because I was female, I would never accompany my father into the morada after the Stations of the Cross, I would never participate in whatever the brothers did in solitude, and I would never satisfy my curiosity of what exactly did go on there as the rest of us slept. I had to be content to

belong to the auxiliary society. What I did not realize then was that I was already beginning to take my place as the last surviving member of the Verónicas because I was the youngest, and it turned out, the last to join. I was to bear a new responsibility later in life, one which I cling to now with a new understanding that comes with age as the last of my kind. When the brotherhood disbanded in the mid-1980s, so did the sisterhood. The last two remaining Hermanos, the few Verónicas, and I gathered for the last time to empty the morada and capilla of the religious artifacts to prevent them from getting stolen. Many abandoned prayer houses and churches were being vandalized and the relics sold by the thieves by then. The question of where to put them arose. All eyes turned to me. My mother asked me formally if I would house them, knowing, as the youngest Verónica, I would be able to keep them longer than anyone else present. By this time, my husband and I had built our house on the very property where my parents’ first home

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was, and I had room for everything—minus la Muerte, the skeleton effigy. I refused to offer her sanctuary because of my fear of what she represented. I was ashamed though and relieved she was shrouded in a black cloth. I did not need to see her physically to picture her in my mind, so familiar was she after so many years of my being around her. Under the material, I knew her skeleton face peered out of the black shawl one of the Verónicas had placed around her head and shoulders. She perched on a stand, her dark dress reaching almost to the floor and covering her misshapen bony feet and the thin sticks that were her legs. The hollow black holes where her eyes should be were so dark they stretched into her skull like endless tunnels. The first and last time I had looked into them scared me so with their empty darkness that I was filled with a hopelessness I hadn’t felt before. I was five. The realization that she represented the end of life for all living beings hit me full force and began the decades-long fear of her that I harbored. Would any sane parent want to bring the personification of death into the house? With two small children who feared my first walking doll— still residing in my closet—I could not ask them to accept that Death would be joining us. Of course, now that she and I are good friends and she no longer frightens me, I regret not offering her a safe haven. Oone of the elder Verónicas took her in, and her daughter cares for her still. I fought tears the day I saw her last because I also bade the last of los Hermanos and Verónicas goodbye. We were never all together again.




saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches

When we parted ways and I returned home, I reality of what being an Hermano entailed hit me with washed the relics and artifacts and the santos. I arranged profound emotion. I know I cried for the end of an them on an old chest of drawers I use as my own home era of the most personal and precious moments of prayer I will never experience in the same way again. altar, just like those of my foremothers before me. Then I remembered el Hermano Mayor’s words when I once my attention turned to the worn and weathered box, asked if he feared death. He said being an Hermano the one that had been locked all my life, the one for showed him that Santa Muerte would carry him in which only the Hermano Mayor had the key. That box had held my curiosity for all those her carreta upward to his heavenly home because of years as any forbidden territory would for anyone how he had lived in this life. Eternal rest awaited him who wanted to know more about the secrets of any in the next and was therefore welcome, not feared. That was the day I began to change my own group to which one is excluded. I watched in silent anticipation as my husband carefully broke the lock relationship with Santa Muerte, aka la Muerte, Doña Sebastiana, and by many other names—the shrouded and opened the heavy lid. He removed each item one at a time and handed shell of the woman who accompanies my days now as I, too, welcome the time she determines I will take every piece to me reverently. I sobbed again that day like I hadn’t in a long, long time. Each implement the brothers JUST AS MY FATHER WAS THE LAST OF HIS BROTHERHOOD, used for performing I AM THE LAST OF LAS VERÓNICAS DEL CAÑONCITO DE LAS their penance in the MANUELITAS. I DO NOT FEAR DEATH. MY FAITH IN ETERNAL privacy of the prayer LIFE GIVES ME COMFORT. house, each shocking relic I had only seen in pictures and books about los Hermanos Penitentes was right there—I was that final journey by her side. I have felt her beside me holding them in my hands. The horsehair whip from time to time. I feel her presence as I rise with the sore muscles and cracking bones of age, giving and the leather cat ’o nine tails, the other tools my thanks to the God who rules over us both for the father and his father and all the past Hermanos used to express their pious and heartfelt sorrow for their life I am allowed on this plane. I wonder sometimes when she will take me with her, but I do not dwell sins and to beg forgiveness from the Christ whose life they strived to emulate in their own—the box on the thought. Just as my father was the last of his brotherhood, I am the last of las Verónicas del revealed them all. Cañoncito de las Manuelitas. I do not fear death. My Their book recorded the names of officers and their duties, the dues they collected and what they faith in eternal life gives me comfort. were used for, starting at two cents and becoming —Carmen Baca taught a variety of English and history fifty cents with the passing of time. And the most important information I had wanted courses, mostly at the high school and college levels, over to know for all those years—the rules which governed the course of thirty-six years before retiring in 2014. their brotherhood—they were in that box. Dated Her command of both English and Spanish enables her 1850, they revealed the truths my father kept from to write with true story-telling talent. Her debut novel El Hermano, published in April of 2017, and became a me as a true, devout Hermano who was sworn to keep NM-AZ Book Award Finalist. She has also published two all they did within the Brotherhood. I cried for all that my father endured as the leader of more books and twenty-three short pieces in online literary his brotherhood, I think I may also have cried because magazines, women’s blogs, and anthologies. Her fourth and now I was no longer innocent of their truths, and the fifth books will publish this year as she works on her sixth.



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inning down New York Times bestselling author Parris Afton Bonds to an interview is like trapping a whirlwind. She is always on the verge of a happy dance. It proved challenging to rein her in long enough to talk about herself. She told me her dream as a child was to be a ballerina, a nurse, or a flight attendant, not necessarily in that order. Then it occurs to her that when she was five she wrote her first story. Three pages. “But I didn’t think it was any good. My mother knew I had the talent, so she kept it.” She would be 26 years old and staying home with the children before her mother’s belief would come true. “We moved to Old Mexico and I sold my first article there, but no one knew but me and my postman. I interviewed a secretary at the American

Embassy and sold the article to Modern Secretary. I was bored and thought, why not write? It was too cool to get patted down by the guards at the Embassy.” She says she got lucky when she sold her first book, Sweet Golden Sun. “When I look back on it now, it’s not very good.” Because of her husband’s job Parris has traveled around the world, probably more than once, and when you read one of her books you can bet on the realism of the locale. From Australia to Scotland, from early America to the historical west and locales in between, her stories ring true. She has a way of telling even the strongest fiction as if it really happened and it’s easy to believe it did. This portion of a forward from Tame the Wildest Heart explains why her stories convince the reader they very well could have happened.

velda brotherton

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SA D D LEBAG c ov e r s to ry

My life is so good, if I keeled over right now in front of you, I’d be happy.



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches

“My great grandfather was an Indian Scout under General Sheridan. Later in life he owned a blacksmith shop in Tucson. Among the incredible adventures on the frontier was his rescue of two white girls who had been taken captive by the Indians, one of whom later wrote a book about it, mentioning my grandfather as one of her two rescuers. At 92 with an arrow-straight back he was still performing saber drills As children my mother and her brothers and their friends would listen spellbound to my great grandfather’s

there. When her son went off to college leaving her nest empty, she sold her house in Texas and bought one in New Mexico. There she absorbed herself in the past, in the lives of people like Mabel Dodge, a woman with many lovers who finally met and married Antonio Lujan, a Pueblo Indian. Shocking all her friends she continued to live a wild life among other characters of the time such as D. H. Lawrence, artist Georgia O’Keefe, Ansel Adams, and Gertrude Stein, along with people like the founder of analytical psychology, Carl Jung, to name only a few.

Money’s not going to make me happy, but writing

what I love will.

spine tingling stories about the Indians. This story Tame the Wildest Heart is for my great grandfather Albert Kit McAlester.” To write one of her recent books, When the Heart is Right, she sold her house and moved to Taos. There she absorbed herself in the life. The story is set in the 1920s and the atmosphere and way of living is cleverly absorbed in this romantic tale that captures the heart. There’s a story behind this story, though. Visiting Taos with a friend, Parris fell in love with the area and knew she had to set her next book

Mabel Dodge was a huge part of the Taos scene, quite a character, and an important woman. She was good-hearted, and often donated clothing and money. She had a lot of lovers, but married a man who didn’t care about her money. The two lead characters in Parris’s book are loosely based on Mabel and Antonio Lujan. It was in this la querencia, atmosphere among the Pueblo Indians that made Parris feel secure and safe, that she wrote her latest book. Much as her spirit loved Northern New



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Mexico, her heart pulled her back to her family and Texas once the story was finished. When she’s not busily researching and writing, Parris can be found roller-blading, playing tennis, or water skiing. Or if you can’t find her there, she might be in her son’s office, where she works four days a week. She told me that he just thinks she’s working for him. In reality, she’s writing another book. I promised to keep it a secret.

With five sons, ten grandchildren and one great grandson, she is one busy lady who celebrated her 75th birthday recently. I would have guessed mid-fifties, which made her blush. How does she feel about her accomplishments? Grateful, she says. “My life is so good if I keeled over right now in front of you, I’d be happy. I’ve lived all over the world, had a full life—an exciting life—and I’m never bored or lonely.”

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I’ve lived all over the world, had a full life... I’m never bored or lonely.




saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches


Even if a writer doesn’t have a pen in their hand, they’re still writing...


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saddlebag dispatches


Discussing all those books, Parris shrugs. “They say you make more money if you keep a brand, but I would be bored. Money’s not going to make me happy, but writing about what I love will.” Along those very lines, we spoke about her recent decision to publish with Arkansas-based Oghma Creative Media. I asked about that since her previous books were published by other companies. She told me that she was so impressed by what Oghma President and Chief Executive Officer Casey W. Cowan is doing that she decided to jump in. To show just how committed she was to this new adventure, she offered the up-and-coming publishing house her latest labor of love, the new five-book western historical romance series The Texicans. The first book in the series, The Brigands, was released last November. The sequel, The Barons, is due to hit stores this April. So how does she go about turning out so

many books? “With five children, I learned early on to write moment by moment rather than scheduling. Sitting in the bleachers at football practice. Or anyplace they had to be. I still do that. Even if a writer doesn’t have a pen in their hand, they are still writing, still engaging their imagination.” She kept asking me questions about my own life, so her total absorption with other people’s experiences tells a lot about her. She told me nothing would make her happier than to go to bed with Johnny Depp... or Jason Mamoa. “You can put that in,” she jokes. “Maybe one of them will read it someday and make me happy.” Interviewing Parris is sort of like trying to capture that whirlwind I spoke about. She was so curious about me and my life that steering her back proved a bit like driving a wild mustang into a corral. When I finally did, she soon kicked her way out to go on to another adventure.



saddlebag dispatches

SA D D LEBAG f e at u r e

THE PBR TY MURRAY TOP HAND AWARD Seeing Ty Murray’s name engraved on an award is not unusual. He has bushels of belt buckles, stacks of plaques, and rows of trophies all etched with his name, commemorating countless accomplishments. Rod Miller


HE LATEST HARDWARE TO carry Ty’s name, though, the Professional Bull Riders— PBR—Ty Murray Top Hand Award, is different. While it honors the rodeo legend with the use of his name, the award is bestowed on others. PBR created the award in recognition of the organization’s roots in rodeo; to honor outstanding rodeo athletes who were not bull riders. “PBR wanted it to be comparable to their highest honor, the Ring of Honor, but for guys not eligible for that award because they’re not bull riders,” Murray says. “PBR’s roots and heritage trace back to rodeo, and the opportunities bull riders have had come from there. It’s a good, natural thing to do, to remember how deeply rooted we are in rodeo.” Bestowed during the PBR Heroes & Legends celebration during the year-end world finals in Las

Vegas, the Ty Murray Top Hand Award joins other PBR honors: Ring of Honor, Brand of Honor, Jim Shoulders Lifetime Achievement Award, and Sharon Shoulders Award, all of which recognize substantial contributions to the sport of bull riding. The Ty Murray Top Hand Award swings a wider loop, its purpose broader in scope, honoring the best of the best rodeo cowboys who were or are not bull riders. Initial recipients, honored in 2018, are the late Lewis Feild, three-time All-Around Cowboy, twotime champion bareback rider, three-time winner of the Bill Linderman Award, and the first roughstock rider to surpass a million dollars in winnings; Tom Ferguson, roper and steer wrestler, winner of six consecutive All-Around Cowboy championships, and first rodeo cowboy to surpass a million dollars in winnings; and Trevor Brazile, world-record holder



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of 23 rodeo championship titles in timed events and as All-Around Cowboy, and still active on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association circuit. “I was flattered when PBR asked to name the award for me,” Murray says. “To honor cowboys who’ve succeeded in the arena and accomplished a lot outside of it is a good thing to do. It’s not just a ‘good guy’ award, but one that recognizes those who truly make a difference.” Beyond what it represents, the award itself—the hardware that would carry his name—is important to Murray. “Cowboys of the caliber that will win this have every kind of award you can imagine. It was hard to find something different. There are eight million belt buckles, guns, knives—you name it.” To create an award that is different, even unique, PBR decided a pair of spurs should be the focal point. During the development process, Murray chose his favorite pair, crafted for him decades ago by legendary horse trainer and tack designer Les Vogt. Murray says, “This one will stand out. The guys that are going to be getting the Top Hand Award have won every award there is, so we wanted this to be unique, with something a little bit special poured into it.”

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saddlebag dispatches


PBR approached several accomplished Western artists and designers, seeking proposals for the form and design of the award. A committee of PBR officials, in consultation with Murray, evaluated the ideas in meticulous detail to choose the proposal that best captured the spirit of the award, both conceptually and artistically. The intensive process led to the selection of Utah sculptor and former rodeo cowboy Jeff Wolf. “I didn’t know Jeff at all,” Murray says, “but his design for a bronze sculpture really stood out. You could tell he put a lot of work into it, and really cared.” For his part, Wolf says the commission to create the award is the most significant of his career. “Over the years I have been fortunate to sculpt some very prestigious awards, but none has been a greater honor than creating the Ty Murray Top Hand Award. That my hands were selected to sculpt an award recognizing the greatest athletes in the world’s greatest sport is an honor that will not and cannot be surpassed. Being a part of an award named for Ty Murray, what this award represents, and being affiliated with the PBR are tremendous honors.” Wolf’s winning design features spurs from a point

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of view not often seen. The spurs stand on the narrow ends of their bands, the shanks pointing skyward as if reaching for greater heights, topping out with the rowels flaring like twin suns. The straps, too, are integral to the design, providing horizontal balance for the upward reaching spurs as they fan out in opposite directions, reflecting the bands and building a strong, stable foundation for the sculpture. “The design actually came to mind instantaneously,” Wolf says. “I wanted to create and present a design that was unique and that would show off the spurs with the best possible viewing potential; something elegant in a classical artistic manner.” Wolf did not actually see the spurs at the heart of the sculpture until long after the completion of the award. Murray says, “Jeff had me send pictures of my spurs, and I sent about twenty photos from various angles. He did not see the spurs in person or hold them in his hands. But even though they’re bigger than normal on the trophy, Jeff made an exact replica of them.”

Turning those photographs into a threedimensional sculpture involved multiple steps for the sculptor. “After scaling the measurements up to onequarter larger than life, I studied and drew the carvings and engravings on paper, then wood, then wax. I made individual blank molds of the bands, buckles, straps, shanks, rowels, and buttons. From those molds I made wax blanks, traced the patterns onto them and sculpted the patterns onto them,” Wolf says. Murray says, “I had no idea how much work and time and effort goes into making a bronze from start to finish, but it was important to me and Jeff to do it right. We spent a lot of time going back and forth and became friends through the process.” That “back and forth” collaboration resulted in an artistic detail Wolf did not anticipate in the design. During their conversations, Murray wondered if the rowels on the sculpted spurs would spin, as they do in real life. Wolf considered the complications in the casting and assembly that detail would involve,

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decided the realism worth the effort, and found a way to overcome the challenge in true “top hand” style. While creating the Ty Murray Top Hand Award satisfied Wolf for purely artistic reasons, he found the very nature of the award and its recipients inspirational as well. “A piece of my work will grace the homes of the greatest western sport athletes who ever lived,” he says. “It is a true honor to be recognized in this realm. Sculpting this award has exposed my work to hundreds of western sports fans who may not have known who Jeff Wolf is or weren’t familiar with my work.” Murray says, “We cared enough to want to make an award that will be special to the recipients.” His hope is that the award will become a valued tradition in Western sport. “An award design should never change. The Heisman Trophy has been the same since they first gave it more than 80 years ago, and my All-Around buckles are the same as the ones Jim Shoulders won. Awards carry that heritage with them, and it means a lot,” he says. “We want the Ty Murray Top Hand Award to build

that kind of heritage, to become a timeless award, as good 100 years from now as it is today, and for cowboys to strive to win the same award their heroes won.” Six-time World Champion All-Around Cowboy, twice World Champion Bull Rider, and all-time leading qualifier in rough-stock events for the National Finals Rodeo, Larry Mahan has been named a 2019 recipient of the PBR Ty Murray Top Hand Award. Also honored is Phil Lyne, the epitome of the allaround cowboy. He competed in bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, bull riding, tie-down roping, and steer wrestling. Lyne was twice All-Around and TieDown Roping Champion, Steer Roping Champion, and won the Bill Linderman Award four times. —Rod Miller is a four-time winner and six-time finalist for the Western Writers of America Spur Award. He is also winner and finalist for the Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award. Information about his fiction, nonfiction, and poetry can be found at


saddlebag dispatches


UNSHOTS BOOMED, ECHOING OFF looming peaks. Kate Martin ducked behind Beau’s neck as he galloped across the mountain meadow. A puff of smoke bloomed from the trees in front of her. A moment later the gallant stallion stumbled, tried to recover, and then fell beneath her, throwing her from his back. The tall grass did little to soften her landing on the hard-packed plateau—clumps and clods punched her ribs. King Blanchard’s men had found her! My fault. For a moment the meadow swirled around Kate. Shallow breaths kept time with her racing heart. Death felt imminent. Visions of her family filled her mind. They’d be all alone now. I should’ve…what? Abandoned Mary? Let her give birth alone? The anticipation of King’s assault had given her pause but Matt, her husband, insisted she help the O’Shaughnessy’s—insisted he and their children would be fine. So, she had bent for a quick hug and kiss for twelve-year-old Lizzie and eight-year-old Dusty, her own tears hidden behind the curtain of long auburn tresses draped over her face. Would she ever see them again? Rifle barks continued to echo. Fresh gouts of earth popped around her. Kate scrambled to take cover behind her fallen horse. Beau’s eyes found hers. Bubbly pink froth foamed from his nostrils with each labored breath. Her proud companion screamed as he struggled to rise as if aware of the danger Kate faced. White bone protruded like an obscene gesture from Beau’s fetlock. He whimpered as she patted his neck. “Stay down old friend.” Wetness soaked through her riding glove as she pulled her hand back. Blood covered the leather. She

THE ESCAPE peeled the glove off and slapped it to the ground. Tears pooled in her eyes, blurring her vision. “I’m sorry, Beau,” she said to him as she reached for the .38 Colt Army on her hip. With her left she patted his flank. As she cocked the hammer, the weight of the revolver she had fired hundreds of times before dragged at her wrist. She choked back a sob and squeezed the trigger, the hail of rifle fire temporarily forgotten. The massive stallion’s head jerked once and then he stilled. Kate dragged her hand across her eyes. There would be time to mourn her faithful friend later—if she survived. The rolling volley paused. Kate pulled her hat off and eased her head over Beau’s carcass to search for the attackers. Tall grass and mountain daisies stirred in the breeze. The tops of the aspens beyond the meadow swayed. She saw no one, but the silent tension hung like humidity, invisible yet palpable. “Where’d they go?” Kate whispered her question as if Beau were still alive. Reaching past the saddle, she hauled the new Winchester ‘73 from its loops. As the barrel cleared the final loop, three men, spaced well apart from each other, peeked from behind trees at the edge of the aspen stand. They steadied their rifles against the trunks, and opened fire. Slugs shredded daisies and kicked up dirt ten feet on either side of her. Kate levered the action of her Winchester and fired off three shots in quick succession. One of her attackers dropped, clutching at his thigh. “Serves you right,” she spat as another ducked from splinters of tree bark her slug spit into his face. Return fire forced her to dive for cover again. She crawled forward to Beau’s head and rested the rifle on his still snout. She muttered as she drew a bead on one of the riflemen, “They must be half blind or else the worst shots among King’s hands. I swear not even a tenderfoot could miss by that much.”



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches

“Or maybe they didn’t want to risk hitting their friend as he snuck up on you.” The deep voice behind her couldn’t mask the four distinct clicks of a Peacemaker’s cocking mechanism. Kate’s shoulders stiffened. “Take your hands away from the rifle. Real slow.” Kate complied, then held them away from her prone body. “Smart woman. Stand up very slowly. Keep your hands out wide.” “What do you intend to do with me?” she asked, her voice taut, as she climbed to her feet. She flexed her fingers and allowed her hands to drop a little. “Uh-uh. Get those hands up. That was a fair bit of shootin’ just now and I ain’t anxious to find out if you’re as good with that revolver as the locals say.” “I’d be happy to oblige if you were so inclined.” Kate paused.”Ain’t afraid of fightin’ a girl, are you?” “King says you’re fast as Hickock. I’d love to see that, but it’ll have to wait. Use your left hand and unbuckle that gun belt.” “You haven’t answered my question. What are you going to do with me?” “Shut up. Do what I told you.” Blood pounded in her temples as she reached to comply. Kate didn’t need him to answer. She knew. Greed for ever more land drove King Blanchard. Already in control of seventy thousand acres, he wouldn’t stop until he had wrested every last acre loose from the small ranchers in the territory. Ranchers who wouldn’t steal an unbranded calf lynched for rustling, whole families murdered, men back-shot tending their herds. In every case King moved his Bar KB cattle onto the newly vacant land with no one to protest. The lo-

cal sheriff lived in King’s back pocket and complaints to the governor went unanswered. No, she knew what the Bar KB men intended. She was to be bait. She couldn’t let that happen. “You just gonna steal a family’s home out from under them?”Her gun belt thumped on the ground. “Walk forward.” The barrel of his gun poked into her back.“You folks squatted on King’s land. Rustled his cattle.” “That’s a lie. Every head here is our own and we were here long before King ever came to Montana.” When she had taken four steps, he stopped her. “Not...,” the man hesitated, “not how he tells it.” “He’s a liar. Ask the—” “Shut up.” But his snap lacked conviction.”Don’t make me shoot you.” He called out, “Hank. Charlie. Shorty. Get the horses and come on up.” His loud yell drew a flinch from Kate. The three men, one limping badly, disappeared into the trees. “Hank’s gonna be madder than a hornet’s nest at you. Looks like you got him good.” “He deserved it. We moved onto that land a dozen years ago.” Kate had been pregnant with Lizzie at the time. Did the man know about the children? Did he know Lizzie and Mary O’Shaughnessy were alone? Bile bit at her throat. Kate turned to face the man. She was tall for a woman, but he stood over her like a horse over a pony. Blond hair fell from underneath his black gaucho-style hat to brush his shoulders. The Colt in his fist pointed at her navel. It never wavered. “I know you.” She stared into his pale blue eyes. “They call you Johnnie Bronco, don’t they?” He nodded, saying nothing. His eyes slowly raked over her before he locked gazes with her again. Kate shivered. His appraisal hadn’t been lustful—



saddlebag dispatches

she’d experienced that look often and recognized it for what it was. Johnnie’s, on the other hand, had been professional, sizing her up, determining whether she was as good as King said. If the rumors and stories about Johnnie Bronco were even half-true, he was a dangerous killer. Some

with a gun. He had been the deadliest of the Bar KB hands until King hired Johnnie two months ago. But Hank was still the meanest. And the creepiest. Raking rough fingers through Kate’s long black hair, Hank limped around to stand between her and

claimed he was fiercer than Wes Hardin. She’d heard he’d killed nearly as many as Cullen Baker. Dangerous indeed. A horse nickered behind her as the men from below approached. “You got ‘er.” Kate didn’t bother turning to look. She knew the speaker. Hank Crankshaw rode ramrod for the Bar KB when he drove the herd into the territory five years ago. Not a man to anger—more because he was ornerier than a hungry pole cat than because of his ability

Johnnie. His leer held all the things Johnnie’s hadn’t, but she refused to flinch. He lifted his .44 Russian and casually ran the tip of the barrel along her cheek, down the length of her neck, and circled the hollow at the top of her chest. “Very pretty.” He slipped the gun back into his holster. “Leave her be, Hank,” Johnnie demanded. Leaning in, Hank whispered, “We’ll talk later, when we’re alone.” His rotten breath made Kate want to retch. Hank turned to face Johnnie. “Just ‘cause

saddlebag dispatches

I brought you in on this don’t mean you can forget your place. You take orders from me.” “You never mentioned anything about women or children being involved.” “We take King’s money, we involve who King says we involve.”

Johnnie grunted and crimson stained his shirt above the hip as he fell away. Kate jabbed the gun in Hank’s spine. “Give me a reason to cripple you. Please.” He swallowed hard. “Not today. I know how good you are with that thing.” He nodded to the gunfight-

The two hard men glared at each other. Kate glanced at the horses. Charlie and Shorty had dismounted and stood with their backs to her while they stowed their long guns. She didn’t hesitate. Her hand flashed to Hank’s revolver and drew it almost as smoothly as if it were her own. It cleared leather before he could react. With Hank as a shield, she snapped a quick shot at Johnnie, who was already moving. The weapon was heavier than her own and not as smooth firing. Still,

er. “Don’t know of more’n a half dozen men could’a plugged him in similar circumstances. No, I’ll not make trouble. Least not right now.” Kate bunched Hank’s collar in a fist, and she pulled him back, keeping him between her and Johnnie. “Shorty, Charlie. Hands up or I’ll drop you both.” They looked to Hank, who nodded, then did as she instructed. With a jerk of her head she signaled them to move away from the horses. “Lose your hoglegs.”



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches

Their weapons thumped on the hard ground. “Shorty, pick up my guns. Carefully.” The tall man stumbled over his feet as he retrieved her belt and rifle. Bent over to pick up the Winchester, he sneaked a peek at her. He caught her eye and hesitated, his hand wavered above the stock. At last he grabbed it by the end of the barrel. “Put them on that horse.” She pointed to a roan mare. “Hey,” Charlie yelled. “That’s my horse.” “Should pick better company. Get on with it, Shorty.” Shorty looped her gun belt over the saddle horn. “What about Charlie’s rifle?” “Pull it out. Carefully. Throw it into the tall grass over there.” Kate indicated the direction she had come from. Shorty complied. “Now stow mine.” He slid the rifle into the scabbard attached to the saddle. Johnnie continued to lie in the grass where he landed, a pensive expression written on his face even as his eyes flicked between Shorty and Kate—but he made no move against her. “Now both of you go stand beside Johnnie. Johnnie, toss your hogleg over with the others.” “I don’t think so.” His voice was strained, but steady.”Go ahead and shoot Hank. Save me the trouble of doing it later. Course, then you won’t have your shield.” Hank growled at Kate, “You won’t get away with this. Kill all four of us and King’ll have eight replacements next week. And they’ll all be meaner and faster.” Kate didn’t respond. The weight of truth settled over her soul. Hank was right. King held all the aces— money, power, and influence. And he owned the law, both the sheriff and the judge. How do you fight that? But she had to try. She backed Hank with her to the horses and forced him to collect the five sets of reins. Five? Something niggled at her, but she couldn’t place it. Later. Now she needed to worry about Johnnie. And Hank. Johnnie hadn’t moved.

Why? I’m sure I only grazed him. “Stay with me,” she snarled at Hank. “And don’t drop any of those leads.” With deliberate, careful steps backward, the weapon in her hand stabbing her prisoner in the back, giving him no opportunity to surprise her yet keeping him between her and Johnnie’s deadly guns, she guided him and the horses out of easy six-gun range. Charlie and Shorty shot quick looks at Johnnie as if expecting him to do something. He did nothing. “You plannin’ on leavin’ us our horses?” Kate ignored Hank’s question and stopped him near the roan. “Take two steps forward. Stand there while I mount.” When she was settled in the saddle, Kate kneed the roan close to Hank. She leaned down and whispered, “Don’t move, not even an inch, or Johnnie won’t get the chance to kill you. Understand?” Hank nodded. “Hand me the reins. All of ‘em.” “You can’t leave us out here without horses.” “I can and will. Call it the spoils of war.” They could walk the ten miles back to King’s base camp. She almost wished she could hear King bluster when they showed up on foot and empty-handed. Raising her voice to be heard by Johnnie, she called, “You tell King I’ve buried three children on that land and I’ll bury him and a hundred of his men before I’ll surrender it.” In a loud whisper intended only for Hank she added, “Now, don’t move.” Kate lifted her leg high and dropped her heel on Hank’s right shoulder, driving spur points deep into the muscle. She dragged the wheel across the joint, leaving a dotted trail of blood in the spur’s wake. “Aaaggghh! I’m gonna kill you,” Hank screamed. “But not before I make you dig graves for the last two brats.” And she knew then what had been niggling at her. They set this up. These four waited for her. They had an extra horse ready for her. But the only way they could have known she would come this way was if they saw Lizzie ride over to the O’Shaughnessy’s to warn her. A cold sweat beaded on her forehead. That meant



saddlebag dispatches

they also knew Mary O’Shaughnessy was all alone... except for her new baby. And Lizzie.

easterner’s romanticized versions. These hard cases would kill a woman or child and think nothing of it. They rode for the brand. Kate made up her mind.

— KATE RODE HARD FOR the shelter of the aspen forest, turning to snap an occasional shot back at her attackers. She wasn’t trying to hit anyone, just hoping to keep their heads down long enough to escape. Angry voices followed her all the way to the edge of the meadow, but they seemed distant. Her mind focused on her next move. Fear draped a noose over her head and threatened to tighten around her neck. Should she go back to the O’Shaughnessy’s? Had King’s men already visited there? Lizzie could shoot, but she was only twelve and Mary was in no condition to help. King would have an army around Matt by now. Tough men. How many would he have? Twenty? Fifty? And forget the

— A BATTLE HAD BEEN fought—the half dozen bodies littering the clearing outside their cabin paid testament to that. There had been no movement from the cabin. Kate worried for Matt and Dusty. She thought about their parting, still felt Matt’s hand on her cheek wiping tears away, his strong jaw and gentle lips as they kissed, the stubble from his two-day’s growth. Was he still alive? High along the scrub and pine-covered mountainside, Kate had a good view of the area surrounding their home. One of the packs on the purloined horses contained an old pair of dented and tarnished field glasses. They weren’t as nice as hers, unreachable be-

saddlebag dispatches

neath Beau on the mountain meadow, but they served their purpose. She settled in to observe. Surely if Matt were dead or seriously injured King could have moved in to at least retrieve and bury his dead. Instead he had his army of gun hands and cowboys deployed surrounding the cabin. What help would she be to Matt against so many? What are they doing? Waiting. For what? For Hank and Johnnie to bring me? No sense in getting more men killed if I can be used to draw Matt out. Maybe King doesn’t know I’ve escaped. Not yet. A glance at the sun’s position and she decided Hank and crew could have made it back. A dry branch snapped on the hillside above her and a muffled voice shushed someone. Kate slipped deeper into the pines. These men couldn’t sneak up on a deaf steer in a thunderstorm. Over years of working the land by Matt’s side, she had learned every nook and notch for several square miles. The stolen horses were picketed in a cut well off the trail, with access to graze and water in case it was a while before she returned. They wouldn’t be easily found. And neither would she. A stream fed by the high mountains had cut a draw the valley’s entire length. Deep and fast, the water rarely froze over completely in the winters. Sufficient feeders kept it flowing all summer long, even in a dry year like this one. Often Matt and Kate let their herd graze yearround. With the constant supply of fresh water, high mountains on three sides to shield the valley from all but the worst of the winter storms, and a carpet of grass and clover fed by the rich loam beneath, Lonely Valley was an idyllic home. Little wonder why King Blanchard wanted it for himself. The grey, purple and pink of dusk arrived with the suddenness of a summer storm. Fires dotted the Bar KB camp. Kate knew what she had to do. She needed to settle this tonight. TO BE CONTINUED....

D.N. Sample


.N. Sample comes by his love of storytelling naturally. From his paternal grandfather, a Wesleyan Methodist preacher who sprinkled his sermons with stories only—cough, cough—mildly exaggerated, to his maternal grandfather—a crack shot who could shoot a dancing tick off the back of a racing deer at a hundred yards—exchanging fish stories with friends over a game of draughts, to Sunday dinners where the whole family gathered to enjoy Mom’s cooking and exchange humorous family anecdotes, he was raised to spin yarns and tell tall tales. Born in western New York, he moved his wife and young son to the Saint Louis area via Conestoga wagon— or a Dodge Shadow—in ‘93, where they still reside along with their two 70-pound pups of questionable heritage. Like many of the old west’s characters, Sample’s trails in life have been many. He shepherded a flock as pastor of a church, rode night herd over 250 rambunctious young men as a college resident hall director, corralled young soccer stars as both referee and coach, wrangled with the IRS as an Enrolled Agent, and rustled grub in his fifth wheel on the road with his sweetheart and the two grub-hogs.



saddlebag dispatches

SA D D LEBAG poetry

First remove a small bird, then chop the spiny saguaro, smash into woody ribs, heap like giant pick-up-sticks on the hot desert highway. Herd these javelina to some gulch or other run them off on peccary tiptoes, chuffing displeasure, feisty beasts, their sustenance of sand and fibre, They’re not picturesque anyway, up close. Those burros, do they matter? Somebody lead them off across the sand to some arroyo over there, into a stand of willows, into inky shade under a crumbly butte. No adobe roadhouse, no glossy braids, no turquoise bola ties, no dust-covered vaqueros with serapes and white teeth, surplus to our need, maybe some tumbleweed rolling along the scorching wind. So here’s what we have left now: father, after work in shirtsleeves, curved in a chair with a Louis L’Amour, a Zane Grey, passionate for the places he’d never been, releasing columns of tiny numbers into the tumbling tufts. Should we say if the chair is leather, or brown, or worn? Redundant, to say that we loved him.


saddlebag dispatches

SA D D LEBAG f e at u r e

THE LEGENDARY GEORGE ROSS Owner of Canada’s Lost River Ranch, a huge operation covering more than a quarter-million acres, Ross was much more than a simple rancher. James Osborne


BUCKET OF ROCKS BLOCKED my way as cattle operation they owned together. Their homes I climbed into the passenger seat of the light were 90 miles apart. George was showing me why two aircraft and plane. “Oh, I forgot about those,” the pilot chuckled. a dozen riders were needed to patrol the massive “Grab a couple and put the bucket on the ground ranch, founded in the late 1880s by his grandfather. He’d explained before takeoff that Lost River Ranch outside, okay?” Minutes later we were airborne in the two-seater covered a staggering 273,000 acres. It spanned a huge aircraft. Holding a rock in each hand, I couldn’t resist swath of land on the prairies of southern Alberta in western Canada, much of it immediately north of the the obvious question. “What’s with these, George?” I asked, shouting over border with the United States. Ranchers call it short the roaring engine as we gained altitude from the grass grass country—where annual rainfall is so limited the area is borderline desert. Most years, one hundred airstrip below. acres of prairie grass are needed to support just one “You’ll see in a minute,” he shouted back. A head of cattle. mischievous grin danced across his deeply tanned face. It was early afternoon and visibility from 1,000 feet George Ross banked the small plane and pointed it west across Lost River Ranch. His home was near GEORGE ROSS WAS HIGHLY RESPECTED BY RANCHERS the eastern edge of the AND BUSINESS AND COMMUNITY LEADERS ALIKE. HIS WIT, huge spread. His brother WISDOM, NATURAL LEADERSHIP, AND WRY SENSE OF HUMOR John, also a pilot, lived at the western end of the beef EARNED HIM THE NICKNAME, THE WILL ROGERS OF CANADA.


saddlebag dispatches

was good. Below, numerous ravines interrupted the undulating prairie. The rolling terrain looked much like long-legged centipedes wriggling their way down to dry creek beds. Water can only be found in those ravines after infrequent rains, and in the spring given enough winter snow. Right now, the bottoms of the ravines were covered with a mixture of brown and green grass, and scrub bush. Occasional groves of trees acted like magnets attracting cattle to their shade. The aerial view helped explain the ranch’s name. At the end of the last ice age 11,700 years ago, runoff from melting mile-high glaciers had formed enormous rivers that cut deeply into the terrain. These glacial rivers later disappeared leaving vast dry riverbeds many miles wide: thus

the term, lost rivers. One of these wide prehistoric riverbeds meandered down the heart of Lost River Ranch. “Are those your cattle?” I asked, pointing down to a herd grazing in a deep ravine. “Yup,” George replied. “At roundup time, John and I fly over those ravines. We find dozens of head that way. Riders on the ground can’t spot them. “That’s where the bucket of rocks comes in,” he said with a grin. Ah, hah, I thought, rolling the rocks around in my hands. Finally … here comes the answer. Now, before proceeding it’s important to note his story is set in August 1963, long before the introduction of affordable mobile phones. “Look in the pocket,” George said pointing to

saddlebag dispatches

the passenger side door. “You’ll find a notebook and a bag of rubber bands. When we spot some cattle, we write down the number and location on that notepad, tear off the page and wrap it around a rock. The rubber bands hold the notes in place on the rocks. Then we fly over the riders and drop the notes.” “Well I’ll be damned,” I said. “Ever hit anyone?” “Oh, no!” he laughed. “But, oh boy, I’ve been tempted a time or two. Truth is we’re careful to drop them well away from the riders. “I’ll show you,” he added. “You ever fly a plane?” “Nope,” I replied glancing at the dual control yoke in front of me, bobbing and swaying unattended. “Grab hold,” George instructed. “It’s just like driving a car. You’ll see. No problem.” He let go of the controls as I lunged for the yoke on

my side. The plane wobbled, and dipped up and down a bit, but regardless George concentrated on writing a note. My seat was too far back for my short legs to reach the foot controls … probably a good thing. George motioned for me to hand him one of the rocks I’d dropped hastily on my lap. The plane took another clumsy shallow dive as I passed the rock with one hand, my other clinging to the controls. Sweat formed beads on my brow. The door on his side had both the main window and a smaller window the size of a large envelope. George opened it and threw out the paper-wrapped rock. He took back control and circled sharply. We watched the white object drop quickly and then disappear into brown grass about 100 yards from two riders. One urged his horse to a gallop toward the spot.



saddlebag dispatches

“There you go,” he said. “Now they’ll know where to find those cattle we saw.” This ‘innovative airmail’ was my second surprise of the day… and just as educational as the first. Earlier that morning, after a crack-of-dawn breakfast of pancakes, multiple eggs and a small steak, George said he wanted to show me something in a corral a few miles from the ranch house. There, cattle were awaiting transport to market. As we left the house, I instinctively headed toward the well-worn pickup we’d used the day before, parked in front of the wide verandah embracing three sides of the house. George motioned me to a shiny pale green Cadillac. The luxury car was almost new. After instinctively brushing my clothes before getting in, I asked as he drove off: “Don’t you think we should have taken the pickup, George? It’s pretty rough out here.” We were heading cross-country over uneven prairie terrain littered with rocks, sagebrush and gopher holes.

“Naw,” George said. “After those drinks we had last night, my head’s a bit tender this morning. This here Cadillac sure does ride nice and smooth. And it has air conditioning. Just what we need, don’t ya think?” At the corral, George pointed to a steer and described why it would provide top quality steaks. Then he pointed to another. A ranch hand watched us. George explained the cowboy was sitting astride a cutting horse. He’d brought me there to see the horse and rider in action. George nodded and the cowboy guided the cutting horse with gentle movements of the reins into the herd of about 30 steers. Horse and rider headed for the first steer George had mentioned. The horse seemed to sense the targeted animal. A remarkable display of teamwork followed. The horse slowly walked toward the steer. As it got closer it began stepping gently to one side and then the other, gradually isolating the steer from the other animals. Occasionally, it would lunge quickly one way or the other as the steer tried to make a break for it.

saddlebag dispatches

The horse seemed to anticipate the steer’s intentions. Its eyes never left the steer. The cowboy barely moved. Finally, the cutting horse had separated the first steer from the herd over to one side of the circular corral. The rider dropped a lasso over the animal’s head and tied the rope to a rail on the corral. George explained that well-trained cutting horses need little guidance, at most requiring only subtle movements of the reins and pressure from the rider’s knees. The more experienced a cutting horse became the less direction it needed. The cowboy guided his cutting horse back into the herd toward the second steer. Once the horse had identified the targeted steer it was separated from the herd effortlessly, again with almost no guidance from the cowboy. He lassoed the second steer and tied it to the rail of the corral next to the first. “Wow!” I said. “The skill and intelligence of that cutting horse is mesmerizing. It seemed as if all the rider had to do was be in the saddle.” “Exactly,” George replied. “The rider let his horse know which steer to cut and horse did the rest. Dumb animals? Not hardly! “Those horses are specially bred,” he added in answer to the look of awe on my face. “And carefully trained. A good cutting horse is a pleasure to watch … and quite valuable.” During the ride back to the ranch house and to our flight over the ranch in his plane, George invited me to his annual barbeque. It would be held the following month. Fellow ranchers and other friends were invited. Some would fly to the event in their own planes, landing on his airstrip. Following our flight, George invited me to stay another night. It was the weekend and I was single. What the heck! Daylight came much too early the next day. I met George in the kitchen for a cup of the strong coffee he’d obviously made to combat our shared hangovers. His wife and their two small kids had the good sense not to rise at 5 a.m. like us. “Bring your coffee,” he said eagerly. “I’ve got something that’ll surprise you.” Out the back door he went. I scrambled after him.

When I caught up, George was standing at the top of a trenched walkway sloping down beneath a high mound of soil topped with grass. At the bottom, he pulled open a thick wood door and flipped on a light. We walked in and he quickly closed the heavy door behind us. We were in a cold room. Hanging on hooks suspended from the ceiling were four sides of beef. “You saw yesterday what good beef looks like on the hoof,” he said smiling at my surprise. “Here’s what it looks like heading for the supermarket.” He explained the sides were to feed their guests at the fly-in barbeque in four weeks. “The sides will hang to cure in this cold room until the barbeque. Right now, you have another job.” “What’s that?” I asked, still absorbing the experience. “You’ve got to pick your steak,” he said. “Huh?” I managed. George pulled a marker from the pocket of his jean jacket and walked over to the nearest side of beef. He looked it over carefully, top to bottom. “There’s a good one,” he said. “That’s one of the best steaks here.” He reached over, grabbed the side of beef and wrote my initials on a rib. A month later I arrived for the fly-in barbeque, trying not to be overwhelmed by the assemblage of famous ranchers, celebrities, politicians, neighbors and a few ‘just plain folks’ like me. “Come and get it!” George called out at one point. “Time to eat.” Crews had opened the pit barbeques, unwrapped the sides of beef and placed them on four tables covered with white vinyl tablecloths. On each were carving boards and knives. A fifth table, covered with a white linen tablecloth, held bowls heaped with green vegetables, mashed potatoes, gravy, salads, pickles and horseradish, along with other miscellaneous accouterments, side dishes and condiments. George’s guests lined up and carvers began filling their plates with enormous steaks. George walked over to where I was standing. “There,” he said, pointing to the second table. “Go have a look … get your steak.” I walked over. “One of these yours?” a carver asked. I shrugged, not sure where to look.



saddlebag dispatches

“What’s your name?” he asked helpfully I told him. He repeated my initials. “There you are,” he said. Sure enough, there were my initials on a perfectly cooked steak. When the enormous slice of meat landed on my plate, I almost lost control of it. The steak was cooked medium rare. Just the way George said it should be done. I’ll never understand why that gifted yet selfeffacing rancher made friends with this young man, but I will always be mighty grateful that he did. During numerous encounters before and after that visit and the barbeque, that remarkable cattleman was generous enough to mentor me about life and living. In the process, I learned why George was so highly respected by ranchers and by business and community leaders. His wit, wisdom, natural leadership and wry sense of humor earned him the nickname, the Will Rogers of Canada.

Before his short life ended in 1971 at the age of 48 from a heart attack, George’s impressive list of accomplishments included helping to found and lead major regional and national agriculture groups, develop successful business ventures, write an immensely popular column for a farm newspaper, and serve on several prominent community organizations including a university board of governors. —James Osborn is an international bestselling author whose varied career has included investigative journalist, college teacher, army officer, vice-president of a Fortune 500 company, business owner, and writer. His latest novel is the award-winning Secret Shepherd, an Amazon bestseller. The novel is his second book in a planned trilogy called The Maidstone Series, named after his award-winning novel, The Maidstone Conspiracy. Osborne has also written more than 120 short stories, some appearing in his short story collection, Encounters with Life, and others in dozens of anthologies and literary journals.

saddlebag dispatches



HE HAMMER CLICKED, THE cold barrel pressed against Clay Hamilton’s temple. “It’s awful hard to reach them pistols, when you’re taking care of business.” Clay shifted his head, gazing at the dark eyes of Zeke Bradshaw, one of the most dangerous bounty hunters working the frontier. “You don’t mind if I finish?” he asked. “Go ahead,” Zeke said with a grin. “It ain’t easy to choke back a turd. I knew if I waited long enough, I’d catch you with your pants down.” “You got any paper?” “‘Fraid you’re gonna have to use grass.” Zeke moved to the outlaw’s pistols, draped over his saddle. “You’re worth two hundred dollars.” He slung the gun belt over his shoulder. “Pull them pants up, and yank your boots off.” “You plan on taking me back to Fort Smith?” Hamilton lifted his pants and slipped the suspenders over his shoulder. He moved away from his leavings and tugged at his boots. “I ain’t hankering to see Judge Parker. He’ll hang me sure.” “Guess you shouldn’t have killed that farmer

over in Arkansas.” Zeke kept the .45 centered on the killer’s chest. “I heard you carry a hideout gun, just toss it on the ground.” “So you know about that,” Hamilton shrugged. “Oh well, in for a penny, in for a pound.” His hand darted to the blue sash around his waist, circling the smooth grip of the .36 derringer, as the .45 blasted a hole through his chest. Smoke curled from the hot barrel of Zeke’s pistol. “I told you to throw it down.” He cocked the hammer over a fresh round. Hamilton stared at the dark blood covering his hand. “Where did you learn to shoot?” He struggled for breath. “I think you hit a lung.” “I didn’t have time to aim.” Zeke holstered the pistol, scooping the derringer from the sandy soil. “I wanted to take you in alive. Now, I’ve got to carry your corpse back to Arkansas. That’s a four day trip. You’ll be stinking to high heaven by the time we get there” “Sorry for the inconvenience.” Hamilton blinked rapidly, as he slowly slumped to a prone position. “I hope you choke on that money.” He closed his eyes for a final time and lay still.


saddlebag dispatches

“At least you had a pot of coffee going.” Zeke sat before the fire, filling the battered tin cup to the brim. — “THAT’S CLAY HAMILTON ALL right. Didn’t figure you’d get him.” Sheriff Pitman released the dead man’s hair. The head bumped against the horse’s belly. “Looks like the state owes you two hundred dollars.” “Another day on the trail and the maggots would’ve had him. He sure was working up a powerful stink.” Zeke replied. “Come on in the office, and we’ll settle up.” The sheriff turned to a young boy at the corner of the office. “Roy, go tell old Meyers he’s got one to plant.” “The undertaker?” Roy asked, his eyes big as saucers. “Yeah, get going. This boy ain’t getting any fresher.” Pittman scolded the boy. “Come on, Zeke. I’ve got some coffee on the stove.” The bounty hunter nodded. He followed Pittman inside the dimly lit office. “Give me fifty dollars and deposit the rest in my account at the bank.” He collapsed in the wooden chair opposite the sheriff’s desk. “How much money have you got saved?” Pittman filled the battered tip cups with the strong brew. He placed Zeke’s cup on the desk and settled into his chair. “About twelve hundred. I need eight hundred more to buy that spread up in Yell County.” Zeke frowned at the bitter taste of the witch’s brew. “Damn, this coffee’s awful.” Pittman ignored the comment. “There’s a thousand dollar reward on Travis Stockbridge. If you bring him in, you’d have the place easy.” “Stockbridge?” Zeke’s face wrinkled in thought. “I’ve heard that name before. Can’t place where.” “Andersonville Prison.” Pittman answered. “He was a prisoner there during the war. Lot’s of stories came out of that hell hole about him.” “The cannibal? I thought he was hanged in Texas after the war.” Zeke frowned. “What’s he done now?” “Some folks say he’s a Wendigo.” “What? What are you talking about?” Zeke cocked his eyebrows staring at the lawman.

“It’s an old Indian legend. When a feller eats another man, it does something to him. He wants more and more until he only wants to feed on people.” The sheriff paused to take a breath. “They call them Wendigos.” “He kidnapped Miss Pauline Purple on the Towson Road, when she was out for a buggy ride. Slit her driver’s throat and cut off part of his shoulder for a snack.” Pittman shook his head. “I swear it looked like a Chicago slaughterhouse, blood all over the rig.” “Pauline Purple?” Zeke rubbed his whiskered jaw. “Ain’t she the one that runs the Purple Palace?” “Yeah, she owns the local whorehouse,” Pittman nodded. “Her family posted the reward last week, a thousand dollars for her kidnapper and an extra thousand if she’s returned alive.” “I figure he’s already killed her.” “Bring the body back and you get five hundred, but if what I heard about Stockbridge is true, I figger he killed her right off.” “Any idea where he headed?” “One of the Meeker cowboys thinks he saw them over in the nations riding south.” Pittman sipped at his devil’s brew. “I’d bet silver money he’s going to them hills down there. Old Parker’s sending Bass Reeves down that way to take a look, see if he can get a lead on him.” “Reeves, huh?” Zeke stared into the coffee cup. “When did he head out?” “He’s bringing some prisoners back from the territory. Should be back in three or four days. Then he’s gonna head out.” Pittman pulled a sack of makings from his shirt pocket. His nimble fingers quickly fashioned a hand rolled cigarette. “Care for a smoke?” “Naw, I don’t use tobacco.” Zeke met the sheriff’s eyes. “Kinda unusual to put a Deputy Marshall on this feller’s trail this fast. Ain’t it?” “Turns out her family’s well connected back east. Her daddy’s a Senator.” A smile came to Pittman’s face. “Pauline’s real name was Myrtle Cunningham. Funny ain’t it, a Senator’s daughter running a whorehouse?” “Yeah.” Zeke pushed away from the desk. “I’m gonna get me a good meal and a night’s sleep, leave at first light.” Pittman nodded. “Figured you would.”

— ZEKE GLANCED TOWARD THE rough hills; he hadn’t seen another human being since leaving the Choctaw trading post three days ago. The owner, Zimmer, a transplanted German, liked to talk. He’d seen Stockbridge. The man picked up some coffee and beans. Zimmer didn’t see a woman. He pulled the canteen from the saddle, sloshing the contents. About half. Need to find a good spring tonight. He tilted the canteen to his lips, letting a swallow pass his lips. Bass Reeves is behind me somewhere. I need to find this feller fast. He recapped the canteen. Looping the strap over the horn, he touched spurs to the pinto’s flanks. He’d traveled a half mile, a south wind fanned his face. Zeke wrinkled his nose in disgust. The overpowering scent of carrion filled Zeke’s nostrils. Sweet Lord. Something dead up ahead. I know Stockbridge came this way. Sure hope it ain’t Miss Pauline. He steered the pinto through the scrub growth that snagged his boots and pants, steadily climbing. Zeke found Pauline Purple bound to a tree. Dried blood matted her blonde hair. Her signature purple dress, torn from her body, and fluttered in the wind. Bones glistened in the sunlight at her arms and thighs. The dried blood cooled to black on her skin. Bile burned in Zeke’s belly and climbed up to his throat. He managed to choke it down. Damn, I hope Stockbridge killed her quick, before he started cutting on her. Zeke knew the Captain’s reputation. He liked to make his victims suffer. From the look of the torn up ground, the madam put up a fierce struggle. “Are you after the man that killed this woman?” A young Indian stepped into the clearing. A cocked .56 Spencer centered on Zeke’s chest. “Are you the law, one of them marshals?” Zeke jerked at the sound of the voice. “You sure speak good English. Where did you learn?” He leaned on the saddle horn, keeping his hands away from his pistol. “What tribe are you?” “I’m a Choctaw, spent three years in a church school, back east.” The young man gazed into Zeke’s blue eyes. “You didn’t answer my question. Are you a lawman?” “No, no I’m not, kid. Name’s Zeke Bradshaw, I’m

saddlebag dispatches

after this fella, but I ain’t any law.” He swung his leg over the pinto’s back. “You mind if I get down?” The Choctaw nodded, keeping the barrel pointed at Zeke’s middle. “What’s your name?” Zeke asked, as his foot touched the ground. “My people call me Red Eagle. The preacher at the white school named me Charlie.” He stared down at the dead female. “Is this your woman?” Zeke shook his head. “She ran a whorehouse over in Fort Smith. Captain Stockbridge kidnapped her a little over a week ago. Her family put up a thousand dollar reward for the captain, warm or cold. They promised an extra thousand if Pauline was brought back alive. That’s shot to hell.” “What kind of a man does this?” Charlie lowered the rifle. “A bad one. Let’s take care of Miss Pauline. Then I’ve got to make up some ground on this man.” Zeke pulled a knife from his side scabbard, slicing through

the rawhide binding the cadaver to the tree. Charlie nodded. “I was digging her grave when I heard your horse. I was gonna bury her the white man’s way. You want to read over her?” “Naw, let’s just get her in the ground. but mark the grave. I’ve got to get her to Fort Smith. So her family can claim the body.” — “STOCKBRIDGE KILLED MY FATHER months ago. He came on him while he was sleeping.” Charlie leaned over the saddle, pointing at the tracks with his Spencer rifle. “He was coming back from the trading post with supplies. I waited an extra day, before I started looking for him. After I handled father’s funeral, I took out after his killer.” “He’s at least a day ahead of us.” Zeke scratched his whiskered jaw. “We need to gain some ground on him.” “The best we can do is follow him to his destination



saddlebag dispatches

and take him there.” Charlie straightened. “There’s a few scattered cabins on Blue Mountain, chances are he’s going to one of them.” “Only thing that’ll slow him down is the killing he does.” Zeke peered at the forest covered hillside. “If I get this fella, I can buy this place I’ve been admiring up in Yell County, Arkansas. Been setting my money back for over two years.” “I just want him dead. He has to die so my father can rest easy. As long as Stockbridge breathes, my father can never know peace. He can never pass beyond.” Charlie pulled the reins back on his piebald gelding. “The captain knows we’re following.” “Hell, Stockbridge could ambush us anyplace in this mess. He could have us in his sights right now.” “This man’s trying hard to hide his trail.” Charlie nodded. “He doesn’t want us to find where he’s going.” “Keep your rifle ready.” Zeke licked his lips nervously. “Captain Stockbridge is a hell of a dangerous man. Before the rebs captured him, he took his pleasure torturing confederate prisoners before he killed them.” “There’s a stream about five miles ahead. He’ll need water. That’s most likely where he’s headed. He’ll make camp and settle down to finish eating the woman.” Charlie scanned the trees. “He’ll be expecting us to follow and lay a trap for us.” The Choctaw scratched his head. “There may be a way to get around him, come at him from the back side.” Zeke scowled. “Lead the way.” He touched the pinto’s side, nudging him after Charlie. “What kind of a trail is this?” Zeke demanded, after several minutes. “A damn goat would have a hard time going through this.” “You white people complain too much. You shouldn’t worry on the things you can’t change,” Charlie said. “If this was a clear path, everyone would use it. The object here is to do what he doesn’t expect.” “I guess that’s the Indian way?” Zeke shook his head. “No, it’s the Choctaw way.” Charlie weaved the gelding between the trees and around the scrub growth. “You need to be quiet. We’re trying to sneak up on this man.” Zeke frowned. He rode in silence, mimicking Charlie’s every move. Hope this kid knows what he’s doing. I sure don’t relish being under the captain’s

rifle. Stockbridge was a crack shot during the war. Doubt he’s lost the skill. The pale sun descended in the western sky, throwing long shadows across the path. The pair had traveled over three hours in complete silence. “Are we getting closer?” Zeke whispered. “Be quiet,” Charlie kept his voice low. “Take a whiff of the air.” Zeke inhaled deeply. “That’s wood smoke, somebody’s cooking.” “Yeah, Stockbridge is preparing his evening meal. Now be quiet.” Charlie nodded. The bullet gouged a deep hole in the huge pine behind Zeke’s head. The loud report followed a second later. The bounty hunter bailed from the saddle, the reins wrapped around his fist. The spooked horse dragged him along the rough uneven ground. “Damn, that was close! He’d of had me sure, if I hadn’t moved.” “You people make too much noise.” Charlie led the piebald out of sight behind the close packed pines. “Now, we’ve got to take him the hard way.” Zeke gained control of the pinto, tying the gelding to a large pine. “Since he knows we’re here, we’ll have to go in and take him.” “One of us might get killed. You said yourself this man knows what he’s doing.” “You got a better idea?” Zeke demanded. “Let’s try a little stealth.” “What the hell does that mean? Did you learn that word in that fancy church school?” Zeke yanked his .45 from the holster. “The preacher used to beat the Indian children, if we didn’t learn the white man’s ways as fast as we should.” Charlie frowned. “He used to preach while he used a razor strap on our back, telling us he had to beat the devilish heathen beliefs from us so we could accept Jesus. He beat me many times.” “Sorry, I didn’t know, but we ain’t got time for your life history right now.” Zeke huddled behind the trees. “I’m going this way, see if I can flank him. I’ll try this stealth you talked about.” Tree limbs slapped Zeke’s face. Needle sharp briars pulled at his clothes, as he made his way through the thick scrub growth. The odor of roasting meat filled his nostrils. He belly crawled under the canopy of thorns, edging closer to the water hole.

saddlebag dispatches



saddlebag dispatches

“Best lay that pistol down,” a deep powerful voice said as the cold metal barrel pressed against the base of his skull. “Unless you’re ready to meet the Lord. I should go ahead and kill you now, but I want your partner too.” A thin gaunt man held the rifle in his knobby hands. His thin, translucent skin stretched tightly over his bones. “He ain’t my partner.” Zeke dropped the pistol. He scrambled to his feet and raised his hands. “You need one to do your thinking for you. Move slow and quiet. You try to shout, and I’ll blow a hole right through your middle.” “I’ve heard stories of you, Stockbridge.” Zeke walked slowly toward the camp. “How you killed those sick boys in Andersonville and made stew out of the meat.” “Shut up and keep walking. You’ve no idea what Andersonville was like. It was a hell hole, a pestilence in the eyes of God. I did what I had to do to survive.” He poked Zeke in the spine with the rifle. “I lived while hundreds died.” Zeke emerged into a small clearing. A cook fire burned near the stream. A large chunk of meat roasted on a spit over the flames. “Looks like you’re getting ready for supper.” “Get down on your knees and put your hands behind your back,” Stockbridge ordered. The bounty hunter kneeled on the uneven ground, placing his hands behind him. “Your friend out there knows I’ve got you. He may get foolish and try to save you before you die.” Stockbridge wrapped a short length of rawhide around Zeke’s wrists, yanking out the slack. “I’m going to put you by that tree yonder. And I’m gonna sit down and enjoy my supper. You make one move and I’ll kill you. Do you understand?”

A large hand fisted in Zeke’s collar, yanked him to his feet and shoved him roughly toward a large oak. Stockbridge wrapped a longer rope around Zeke’s chest and across his throat binding him securely to the tree. The tough hemp chaffed the bounty hunter’s skin. Stockbridge crossed to the fire with slow deliberate movements. He pulled a skinning knife from his waist and cut a slender piece of meat free. He blew on the hot chunk, before lifting it to his lips. “Would you like a piece?” he asked, sinking his teeth into the morsel. “Think I’ll pass,” Zeke said. “Nice and tender.” Stockbridge smacked his lips. “I’ll bet you’re as tough as old boot leather. We did that at Andersonville. Cut pieces off our boot and boiled them for food. Then Private Johnson died. He fell in the fire and no one moved him away. His arm cooked nicely. The smell, made my stomach growl. When everyone was sleeping, I crept over and enjoyed a quick meal.” Stockbridge swallowed. “It got easier after that.” He wiped his fingers on his pants. “Now why are you chasing me?” “That woman you’re eating, her family put a bounty on your head. Thought I’d try to collect.” “That painted-faced whore had a family?” Stockbridge shook his head. “And they actually cared about her. Will wonders never cease.” He ran a finger over the knife edge. “Time to call your friend to supper.” “He won’t come. He’s smarter than that. You’ll just kill him next.” Zeke twisted the rope around his wrists. “It doesn’t matter—it’d just make it easier for me. I’m gonna cut you into little pieces.” Stockbridge sliced himself another sizzling piece. “I think I’ll put your head on a stick. So folks will know where you died.”

saddlebag dispatches

“Go to hell!” Zeke spat. Stockbridge smiled “Hey, you out there, I’ve got your friend here. I’m gonna cut his ears off then maybe his nose. If you don’t come by then, I’ll take his credentials.” Stockbridge paused for a moment. “Sure hope he comes in.” Charlie turned to Zeke. “Told you he ain’t gonna waltz in here.” Zeke felt a bone handle fill his outstretched hand. He knew it had to be Charlie. His hand closed immediately, sawing at the leather binding his wrists. “The kid’s smarter than you think.” “Listen good, if you don’t come in I’m gonna start cutting. You ain’t got much time,” Stockbridge shouted. “Stay put, kid.” Zeke sliced his thumb, but the rope parted. “He’s trying to sucker you in.” “Charlie, I’m getting ready to take his ears.” Stockbridge walked to Zeke’s side, his empty hand fisted in his hair. “You’ve got the count of three.” The blade rested on the grizzled hunter’s ear. “Put the knife down or I’ll kill you.” Charlie magically appeared from the trees. Stockbridge slid the knife to Zeke’s throat. “Are you fast enough to get me before I bury this blade in his throat? Either use it or lay it down.” “Now, Charlie.” Zeke drove the blade through the killer’s boot. “Ahhhh, damn you,” Stockbridge shouted, hopping on his good foot. Charlie squeezed the trigger. Orange flame spit from the barrel. A blood spot appeared on the Captain’s chest. The knife fell from his hand, as his fingers explored the chest wound. “You move quiet.” He fell to his knees. “I never figured on this.” He dropped face down in the short grass and lay still. “Charlie, come on partner, cut me loose,” Zeke shouted. “We need to talk about the split. You see I’ve got this farm in Yell County I’ve been saving up for. You need to look the place over.” “I’d like to see this farm,” Charlie grinned.


Terry Alexander


erry Alexander and his wife Phyllis live on a small farm near Porum, Oklahoma. They have three children, 13 grandchildren and one great granddaughter. Terry is a member of The Oklahoma Writers Federation, Ozark Creative Writers, Tahlequah Writers, Storytellers of America (Ozarks Original Chapter), Western Writers of America and the Western Fictioneers. If you see him at a conference, though, don’t let him convince you to take part in one of his trivia games—he’ll stump you every time. The Murder of Pauline Purple is Terry’s fourth short story to appear in 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.



ANNY PUT A DAMP cloth on his mother’s forehead to cool her fever. It didn’t do much good. “You can’t stay with your step-daddy.” She struggled for air between her words. “Not when I’m gone.” She finished with a cough that took most of her strength. “Fever puts those ideas in your head,” Danny told her. “You’ll feel better when it breaks.” There were natural remedies to help with that—Indian remedies. Everybody in the Territory knew them. Danny burned sage, but it made her coughing worse. He brewed a tea of Cottonwood bark and yarrow, but she couldn’t swallow it. He drew the curtains and tried to talk her into sleep. When all else failed he gave prayer a try. “Lord please help Lucille Tinnin,” He kept it formal. Otherwise it sounded like he was whining, and he guessed the Lord wouldn’t care for that. “She’s suffered most of her life and ain’t done nothing wrong.” There ought to be more he could say, but all he could think of was, “Amen.” Lucille’s fever stayed the same, her cough got a

little worse, and she made a wheezing sound when she breathed. “The Captain’s gone for help.” Danny hoped that was true. He rode off early that morning before he even had a cup of coffee. Didn’t say where he was going, but it stood to reason. The nearest doctor was a half day’s ride away, but a Creek healing woman lived just south of Jack Fork Mountain. People said she had ways. “The Captain. . . .” Lucille’s eyes glazed over and for a moment it looked like her time had come, but she managed to fill her lungs with air again. “All I did was smile at him. That was my mistake.” Another gasp, followed by a short coughing fit, “Hugh Tinnin has needed killin’ for a long while now.” That was the first time Danny heard his mother call her husband by his name. First time since Captain Hugh Tinnin rescued her by killing the Black Seminole farmer she’d jumped the broom with at sixteen years of age. The Captain rescued Danny too, but only because he couldn’t scare Lucille into abandoning her half-breed boy. “The war ain’t never ended,” Lucille said. “Not for him.”


saddlebag dispatches

A portrait of General Robert E. Lee looked down on them from the fireplace mantle. A pair of crossed dragoon sabers were mounted over the door. The quilt that covered Lucille was stitched to look like a Confederate flag. She pushed it aside and showed Danny the little pistol she was hiding. “Waiting ‘til the time is right.” Another coughing fit, followed by a whistling sound that lasted as long as it took Lucille to fill her lungs with air. Danny recognized the gun, a little caplock derringer, exactly like the one John Wilkes Booth used to kill Lincoln. One of the Captain’s prized possessions. He brushed stray locks of sweaty hair from his mother’s forehead. The contrast of his coffee-colored hand against her pale complexion was striking. She was right, he couldn’t stay with the Captain, but if she were capable of killing him, surely, she’d have done it long ago. “You’ll be fine, Momma.” He knew it was a lie. Diphtheria would get the best of Lucille Tinnin. The

sickness had ridden into Indian Territory the way it always did, with wagons of relocated Creek and Choctaw. Locals called it Bull Neck Croup. It was easy to see why. Danny busied himself hanging strands of Prairie Bundleflowers around the cabin. They were supposed to “sweeten the air,” whatever that meant. He looped the last strand around Lucille’s swollen neck. She recoiled when the flowers touched her skin, but pushed him away before he could take them off. “That him I hear?” She turned the little pistol toward the door and struggled to pull the hammer back. “That him?” She pointed the derringer and argued with people only she could see, a string of feverwords that made no sense. She ended her gibberish by saying, “Frenchman,” plain as day. She took hold of Danny’s shoulders and gave him a violent shake. “The Frenchman,” she said, as if that made perfect sense. “Listen to what he says.” The worry left her eyes and her breathing got easier. Whether it was

saddlebag dispatches

the Bundleflowers or just the way of the sickness, Danny couldn’t say. “Won’t be much longer ‘til the Captain’s back, Mamma. An hour. Two at the most.” He propped her up on fresh pillows and fetched the latest edition of The Tip Top Weekly. Lucille didn’t care much for the stories, but she loved to listen to him read. He showed her the photographs that made the magazine different from the other dime novels. Real pictures of outlaws and lawmen alive and dead, taken by Mr. Jules Lion—the most famous picture man in Indian Territory. Mr. Lion wrote most of the stories too. This issue was all about Captain Hugh Tinnin, Hero of Honey Springs. The story hardly mentioned that the rebels had lost that battle to a union force made up mostly of Blacks and Indians. It concentrated on the exploits of the man Danny’s stepfather became after his side lost the war. The Captain put on a U.S. Marshal’s badge and collected bounty on wanted men in Indian Territory. Pictures of Hugh Tinnin and dead outlaws were scattered through the book. The story turned him into a hero but the truth showed clear enough in the photographs. Half-way through the first chapter, Lucille laid her hand across the page. “Fetch the Spirit board,” she said in her gravely voice. “I need counsel from the other side.” Danny’s mother took ghosts for granted. Most of the people in the Territory did. Talking boards were popular. Usually they were homemade, but Lucille Tinnin had a fancy one from Lilly Dale New York. It had a calligraphy alphabet and a thick coat of crystal-clear varnish. The Captain brought it home one night in a burlap bag along with a lot of other things. Danny and his mother put their fingers on the heart shaped planchette the spirits would guide across the board and settle on the letters that spelled out their message. The ghosts didn’t wait for Lucille to ask a question. The pointer trembled for a moment, then raced to the number row and stopped twice on the same one. “Forty-four.” Danny spoke out loud without meaning to. He’d never put much stock in the spirit world, but forty-four was the caliber of the little pistol

under his mother’s Confederate quilt. He didn’t think there was any way she knew that. The pointer made three big circles and headed for the alphabet. It jerked from one letter to another and spelled out FRENCHMAN, just like Lucille said earlier. She tried to carry on but the fever shook her so hard she couldn’t keep her hands on the board. Danny plumped her pillows and tucked her under her quilt. She talked with people he couldn’t see, all in whispers because her voice was practically drowned in phlegm. Danny made out, ‘Frenchman’ now and then, mixed in with a lot of other things he couldn’t understand. Finally, Lucille no longer had the energy to shake. Her whisper-talk faded away and she drifted off to sleep. The house went dead silent. No wind noises. No settling creaks and pops. Certainly nothing Danny would confuse with supernatural noises. He’d almost fallen asleep himself when the Captain walked in the front door. “Has Lucille passed yet? I brought someone.” A tall, thin black man followed him into the house. The first full-grown black man Daniel had ever seen so close to the Captain who wasn’t in custody. The stranger wore a pair of dress boots, and a suit that made him look like a reconstruction politician. The black man looked at Lucille and crossed himself the way Mexican cowboys did. His eyes found Danny’s and stayed there long enough to let the boy know there was a connection. “French-colored,” is how the Captain introduced him, a French-colored man who came from New Orleans to Indian Territory to take photographs after the war. “Best picture man south of Kansas City.” Hugh Tinnin started to put a hand on the black man’s shoulder but changed his mind at the last minute. “Name’s Jules Lion,” he added. The man who put the Captain’s story in The Tip Top Weekly. The only colored person Hugh Tinnin was likely to let into his house, except for Danny. Lucille’s throat had closed down so much she could hardly breath, much less talk, but she managed to squeak out, “Frenchman.” Danny figured that was his mother’s last word, but Jules Lion thought she had more to say.



saddlebag dispatches

“Go ahead, mon cher.” He put his ear next to her lips while she whispered something no one else could hear. When she was finished, he placed a hand over her face. When he took it away, her eyes were closed. “What did she say?” The Captain asked. “When the time is right,” The Frenchman said. “It’s best I tell you then.” — THE CAPTAIN STOOD IN the parlor with his arms crossed and watched the photographer set his equipment up. He didn’t object when the Frenchman put an arm around Danny’s shoulders. “Time fixes things. You’ll see.” Jules Lion’s words had a kind of melody to them. No one in the Territory talked like that. He encouraged the boy to investigate his camera. “She’s kind of an antique—you see—but no camera takes a better picture if you understand her moods.” He rapped his knuckles on the wooden case, checked the tripod for stability. “Pho-to-gra-phy.” The Frenchman stretched the word into something that sounded like a poem. “Cameras are simple things—you see—but taking pictures is an art, especially the very last photograph.” Memorial pictures were popular in the Territory, mostly because photographs were so expensive, ordinary folks wouldn’t spend the money until they

knew there’d never be another chance. It was an extravagance that families did for the cherished dead. Fancy people back east did it, even people in England. Jules Lion made a dramatic gesture toward Lucille as if he were presenting her. The last photograph didn’t usually capture the departed at her best, but Madam Lucille would be different. “Fever gives her a fresh look that can’t be duplicated by cosmetics,” the picture man said. “Her muscles haven’t stiffened so she’s easy to clean and dress.” He turned to the Captain, looked him directly in the eyes, something almost no one—much less a black man—would do. “There are things I need to do,” he said. “To prepare Miss Lucille—you know. Things she wouldn’t want you to see.” The Captain looked puzzled, but Danny understood. A colored man putting his hands on a white woman, even after she was dead . . . To give the Captain an idea what he meant, Jules Lion worked Lucille’s hands back and forth. He kept close watch on Hugh Tinnin because men like him didn’t spend much time thinking things through. The fingers of the Captain’s right hand closed around the butt of the pistol he wore on his hip. He pursed his lips as if he had a mouthful of tobacco juice he might need to unload soon. “I’ll get busy with the diggin’ and the carpentry. The dead don’t bury themselves.” He gave Lucille a last look and then backed out the door.

saddlebag dispatches

Danny started to follow him, but Jules Lion put his arm around the boy’s shoulders. “Stay with me. There are things your mother wants from you.” That’s all it took to hold him back. “I’ll show you how we make death look a bit more pleasing to remember.” He placed Danny’s hands on Lucille’s and showed him how to work them. “Fingers and hands are my first trick. Death turns them at angles that don’t please the eye.” It felt strange, but it didn’t feel wrong. Danny hadn’t thought about the derringer since his mother closed her eyes for the last time, but now he did. “Leave it.” Jules Lion seemed to read his mind. “The dead are good at keeping secrets. Let Madam Lucille do her part.” The photographer moved to the window overlooking the back yard and assured himself the Marshal hadn’t decided to come back inside. — THE FRENCHMAN INCLUDED DANNY in every phase of his mother’s preparation. “Useful things push regrets out of the mind.” “Check on your stepfather,” he said. “He might have to kill me if he saw this part.” Danny felt uneasy being in the same room while the Frenchman washed and dressed his mother, but Jules Lion treated her with respect. He took care with every button, and after she was fully clothed he applied rouge and paint as if he were restoring a damaged masterpiece. “The dead have pride,” the Frenchman said. “That’s the essence of memorial esthetics.” He posed her in a chair so she looked natural, asked Danny’s advice when he needed a decision. “Would she hold her arms like this? How would she tilt her head?” He shaped her lips into a faint smile, and worked her hair into an elaborate style Lucille never wore but probably would have if she hadn’t worked so hard. “Touching the dead can be dangerous work,” the Frenchman told Danny. “Especially those taken by diphtheria.” But it was the duty of a first-rate picture man, because he knew the importance of producing one final memory. He disguised most horrors with light and



saddlebag dispatches

shadows. He concealed others with strategically placed clothing. “Tricks like these take years of practice, and your mother’s death isn’t the proper place to learn” the photographer said. “But exposing images? Now, that’s another matter.” Jules Lion allowed Danny to remove the lens cap on his camera and count enough seconds so that every detail that remained of Lucille Tinnin was captured. Every crease in her face, the moisture in her eyes, as if she mourned herself. While the Captain dulled his grief with digging and carpentry, the Frenchman taught the boy to print images on paper with equipment from his buckboard—black drapes to make a darkroom, developing chemicals, a blood red lamp that wouldn’t leave a mark on the film. He was especially proud of his enlarger with a real Westinghouse battery powered electric light. Lucille’s death became part of a process that was half science and half art and resulted in a product that was beautiful and horrifying at the same time. Daniel couldn’t take his eyes off the image projected on the print paper. The picture man waved a piece of cardboard on a stick over the negative projection of Lucille’s face. He passed it over her hands, over her burying dress, to bring out details that would turn the memorial photograph into a work of very peculiar art. “Burning and dodging,” the Frenchman called it. He talked about photoreactive chemicals and exposure to light. He let Danny burn and dodge a print all by himself. Let him pick out which details he wanted to stand out and which ones he wanted to hide. The Frenchman looked like the devil in the red light of the dark room, but Danny wasn’t afraid. The photographer talked to him without making threats. His voice was full of sympathy. Kindness showed behind his every gesture. The complicated task of making the memorial photograph beautiful for his mother chased the memory of the derringer out of Danny’s mind until it was time for the two of them to place her in the Captain’s homemade coffin.

“You see how well Madam Lucille keeps her secret,” the Frenchman said. “Let her keep it a little longer.” — MOST FOLKS IN THE Territory had a service when they died. Members of their church served food. A preacher promised a place at the right hand of God. Relatives milled around the parlor making plans to meet again on judgement day. For Lucille there was only the Frenchman, her son, and Captain Hugh Tinnin, the hero of Honey Springs. Danny and Jules posed her graveside in the crude wooden box her husband made while the Captain prepared himself inside the house like a nervous groom waiting to see his bride dressed for the ceremony. The boy had plenty of time to fetch Lucille’s pistol, to see the powder and slug were in place, and the percussion cap was on its nipple. There’d be no second chances once Danny started putting his mother’s last wishes into action. When everything was set, Jules walked the Captain to Lucille. Hugh Tinnin wore his officer’s uniform complete with a light cavalry saber and the Beaumont-Adams revolver he once used to execute captured Negro Union Soldiers. The only thing missing from the ceremony was music, but there were mockingbirds perched on the cross, laying claim to the territories of other species. It seemed appropriate. The Captain’s eyes were fixed on the beautiful woman in the box, made even more stunning by the beam of light that fell through the clouds and illuminated her face. Tears that couldn’t quite bring themselves to fall added a shine to the eyes of the man who’d taken Lucille captive. “She looks . . . .” He wasn’t handy with soft words so the Frenchman finished the thought. “Like she’s closed her eyes for a few minutes of rest between dances at the cotillion.” The Captain held his hand over Lucille’s face as if he meant to touch her, but the Frenchman warned him, “The plague that killed her is still there,” and he pulled away. Danny stood close by the coffin, to show Hugh

saddlebag dispatches

Tinnin there were things that didn’t scare him and to hide the derringer-size bulge in his pocket. “What did she say?” the Captain said. “I must know her last words, Jules.” Reduced to a first name basis by the strain of the day, but it was understood familiarity only reached one way. “You shall, mon amie.” He moved Danny aside and crowded close to the Captain, wrangling him to the head of Lucille’s coffin without laying hands on his uniform. “She’d want you to stand here, monsieur.” Between the coffin and the grave. “What did she say, Jules?” A touch of spite in his voice, at having to ask a French-colored man more than once. The fingers of his shooting hand caressed the grip of his Beaumont-Adams pistol, probably an idle threat, but with Hugh Tinnin you could never be sure. “Danny knows,” Jules said. “Go ahead, my young messenger. Tell Madam Lucille’s husband what she wanted him to hear.” When the Captain turned back to his stepson, the boy had the derringer leveled at his chest. Hugh Tinnin flinched when Danny drew the hammer back, unsure of himself, but more indignant than afraid. “Go on boy, tell me what she said.” “Hugh Tinnin has needed killin’ for some time now.” The pistol jumped when Danny fired the shot. The Captain looked at the expanding red stain on the uniform Lucille had laundered and put away for him. He wiped at it as if it were something that might come off with a bit of soda water and elbow grease. He raised his gaze to the colored boy who’d just shot him and kept staring until he lost balance fell backwards into the open grave. His eyes were open but it was impossible to say whether he was alive or dead. “Go get the camera, my young friend,” the Frenchman said. “This is an image you’ll want to remember.” Danny hoped those were the last words the Captain heard.


John T. Big gs


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



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches


HE DUN HORSE TROTTED in with flecks of foam floating off its shoulders like snowflakes. Sweat runnelled from under the skirts of the empty saddle down the flanks, dripping away with the horse’s every footfall. Thin streams of blood glowed red on the left hind leg, and a patch of hide the size of a five-dollar bill flapped and dangled above, peeled from the thigh. The horse slowed to a walk, favoring the right foreleg, the knee of which showed a slight swelling. Stopping at the corral fence, the gelding hung its head between spraddled front legs, sucking air and quaking like an aspen leaf. “Sonofabitch,” Andy Hill muttered under his breath. The other cowhands in the pen watched as Andy climbed the rails. The horse flinched when he dropped to the ground, his boots spitting out puffs of dust as he lit. He spoke low to the trembling animal as he grasped the cheek piece on the bridle. The other hand came back smeared with blood when he stroked the neck, the horse half-heartedly shying backward a step at the touch. “Sonofabitch,” Andy mumbled again. The blood staining his hand came from a long abrasion along

the neck. He pushed clumps of mane away, revealing droplets of blood oozing from flesh relieved of its hair and layers of skin, as if grazed by a farrier’s rasp. Andy sidled along the left side of the horse. Dangling askew in its leathers hung a crushed oxbow stirrup. Higher up, the saddle horn was smashed, leather was skinned off the swells, and skirts and fenders were barked and scratched. Crusted blood trimmed a gouge on the horse’s rump still leaking and clotting fresh gore. “What the hell happened, you think?” Andy heard, but did not comprehend the question. He turned back toward the corral and saw Brenn Nelson, leaning against, and elbows hitched over, the top rail. “Huh?” Brenn cleared his throat and spat. “What do you suppose happened to that horse? Better still, where’s Mister Kirkwood?” Andy shook his head. “Don’t know.” “Six bits says it’s that damn Black Joe.” “You’re probably right. We best be finding out.” Andy told the other hands to tend to Kirkwood’s horse and saddle a fresh one, then get on with the



saddlebag dispatches

branding. He led his horse out of the pen with Brenn trailing. Following a brief stop at the bunkhouse, rifles rode in scabbards hanging from their saddles and pistols nestled in belted holsters—Brenn’s at his waist, Andy’s secured to the saddle bow—as the men spurred their mounts into a long trot, the led horse following, onto the sage plain in the direction from which the battered horse had come. Duncan Kirkwood owned the ranch where Brenn Nelson cowboyed and Andy Hill worked as straw boss. The spread held title to only a few hundred acres along the broad banks of the river bottom as it meandered between bluffs cut into the high desert, but claimed grazing rights on a hundred square miles of sage-covered plains, juniper-studded hills, rockstrewn canyons, eroded arroyos, and dusty playas. It took a lot of acres to feed a cow in this country. Cattle scattered far and wide across the expanse, chasing grass a day’s distance from the occasional seeps and springs and thin streams that offered scant refreshment. The stock willingly shared the water and grass with roving pronghorns and wandering mule deer. Now and then a Basque or Mexican herder and his sheep might encroach on Kirkwood’s claim, but the wooly flocks soon caught the notice of Kirkwood’s cowboys, and were driven off under threat of gunfire. Also rustling for a living on the range was a band of mustangs. Wilier than the deer and warier than the antelope, the herd wandered unseen most of the time. The cowhands knew they were always out there— hoofprints around waterholes, hair clinging to thorn bushes, decaying carcasses, and dry bones all spoke of their presence. But the horses themselves were seldom seen, and even then, the glimpse was fleeting, often nothing more than flashes of color in a distant cloud of retreating dust, or a brief appearance of the band’s stud silhouetted on a ridge on the far horizon. Sightings often led to the laying of plans among the cowboys to run down the herd and rope out the best-looking of the horses. But mustanging was forbidden on the ranch. “No sense ruining good horses just to catch worse ones,” was the excuse Kirkwood gave for the order. Andy knew the real reason Kirkwood ordered his

hands to stay away from the wild band. That reason was Black Joe. One day last summer, Andy and Brenn were working outlying ridges on Kirkwood’s range, pushing cows and calves back toward the river. Shaded up from the afternoon sun in the shadow of a cedar tree, the men sipped from canteens and gnawed on bacon-stuffed biscuits when their ground-tied mounts started in to snorting, ears pointed across the draw toward the opposite ridge. A black horse appeared atop the slope, trumpeting his presence then scratching at the air as he reared up on his hind legs. “That’s that Black Joe stud,” Andy told Brenn. “Well I’ll be damned,” Brenn said. “Black Joe. I’ve heard some of the boys mention him. Say he runs a band of mares out here. Say they’ve wanted to round ’em up, but the boss don’t allow it.” “He sure don’t.” “Why is that?” Andy studied his partner’s face as Brenn studied the stud horse still making their mounts nervous as he paraded back and forth against the clear blue sky. When he finally spoke, Andy repeated the oft-told reason. “Well, Mister Kirkwood, he don’t think them mustangs amount to much in the way of horseflesh. Ain’t worth the wear and tear on ranch horses to run them down.” Brenn laughed. “Aw, hell, ever’body knows that. But that don’t stop nobody from chasin’ ’em now and then, if only for the sport of it. I’ve rode for outfits that made mustangin’ a regular deal—even caught some half-decent horses from time to time.” “Well, that’s what Mister Kirkwood says, just the same,” Andy said after a long pause. “I take it you don’t believe him.” Andy paused even longer as they watched Black Joe paw, snort, toss his head, turn tail, and trot away with tail and snout held high. Then, “It ain’t that I don’t believe him. It’s just that I know there’s more to it.” After another long pause and a sip of water, he spun the story. As Andy told it, Kirkwood had been out riding one distant summer day with his daughter. Fiona was eight, maybe nine, years old at the time, as Andy recalled. She rode a palomino mare Kirkwood had found for her, the

saddlebag dispatches

girl in love with the idea of golden horses with silvery manes—a notion likely picked up from reading about palomino ponies in books she devoured. They often rode together because the rancher doted on the girl. An only child, and a late arrival in a marriage that had long since despaired of the blessing of children, Fiona was a pleasant surprise. The very thought of the girl brought a smile to Duncan Kirkwood’s lined and furrowed face. Saddling the palomino mare and a mount for himself was a welcome chore for the rancher—one he took up at her every request. “Don’t know exactly why they went ridin’ that day,” Andy said, “but it don’t really matter. That girl liked to ride, and the boss was always happy to oblige. The thing was, that little mare was in season. Mister Kirkwood didn’t know it at the time, but he found out soon enough when the trouble started….” Andy drifted away on his thoughts, munching slowly on a bite of biscuit. Brenn held his peace, sipping water and flicking biscuit crumbs from his shirtfront. After a moment, Andy flinched, gave his head a shake, and blinked awareness back into his eyes. “Sorry. My mind drifted off the trail for a minute there.” He cleared his throat, then swallowed another mouthful of water from his canteen. “Anyhow, Kirkwood and the girl reined up atop them low bluffs above the river out by Twin Cedars. Them mustangs was feeding down in the bottoms. The horses hadn’t smelled them coming on account of the way the wind was blowing, but then that mare of Fiona’s whinnied. That stirred up the band. The lead mare bolted, and the bangtails followed her up the trail on the opposite bluffs. But that Black Joe stud pinned his ears back and came at the boss and the girl. “Kirkwood told Fiona, ‘Ride hard for the ranch!’, slapped that palomino mare on the rump with his bridle reins and watched her whippin’ up that little horse through the brush. She likely didn’t know what all the fuss was about, but she could see her daddy was scared and kept bangin’ that pony’s belly with her bootheels. “Meantime, Black Joe was clawin’ his way up that bluff and Mister Kirkwood met him when he reached the top—he rode hell-for-leather broadside right into that stud horse, knockin’ him back off the ledge and tumblin’ his own horse down after him.



saddlebag dispatches

“The boss said that stud would find his feet now and then as they slid and tumbled downslope, and when he did, he’d come after him. He managed to get his lasso unstrung from the saddle by the time they made the river bottom, and he used it to beat off Black Joe as much as he could. “Said he fought that stud horse for what seemed like an hour—sometimes from horseback, sometimes on the ground. “I guess Black Joe finally got tired of that rawhide reata larrupin’ him, or that sorrel horse kickin’ at him, but he finally left off and hit the river. He kicked up dust up the trail his mares took earlier. Mister Kirkwood said he stopped up on top of the bluff up there, turned around and give him one last look, then trotted off out of sight. “When Mister Kirkwood got back to the ranch, first thing he wanted to know was if Fiona made it back safe. Then he unsaddled his horse, stitched up the worst of the cuts, and rubbed his legs down good with liniment. “All this, he done in a shirt shredded in the back and missin’ one sleeve, and a hat with half the brim tore loose from the crown. Had a hoof scrape down the middle of his back that was oozin’ blood in places, and his neck and shoulders was all bloody from a gash on his head—but he wouldn’t take no help for hisself ‘til he knowed his girl was all right and his horse was tended to.” Brenn could only shake his head at the story. Andy took a minute to catch his breath from more talking than he usually accomplished in a day’s time. Then, “Well, I guess you can see why the boss don’t want us messin’ with them wild horses.” — THE OLD STORY ROLLED around in Brenn’s memory as they followed the backtrail through the brush. “You reckon the old man might have a different idea about chasin’ mustangs now?” “Maybe so.” “I’m willin’ to bet that when we find him, first thing he’ll want to do is get on the hunt for Black Joe.” “Maybe so—if it is Black Joe that he tangled with.”

saddlebag dispatches

“Ah, hell, Andy. You know damn well it was. Ain’t nothin’ else out here could lay that kind of hurt on a saddle horse. Lord only knows what he did to Mister Kirkwood.” The men rode on in silence, each painting his own picture of what they would find when they came to the end of the faint trail left by Kirkwood’s saddle horse. The track of the injured animal had traced a more-or-less beeline to ranch headquarters, maintaining the general direction as it flowed between low ridges, veered around outcrops, descended arroyos, and climbed out of ravines. A dry cow, three cows with calves, and a yearling steer loosely scattered and grazing the shady side of a low ridge told the cowboys they were near where Kirkwood had been, for the assortment of stock must have been gathered and driven there, or somewhere nearby, and left only recently to wander. These had to be strays Kirkwood meant to trail back to headquarters when interrupted in the chore. Andy and Brenn stopped and studied the cattle for minute. “Well, what do you think?” Andy did not answer at once, sitting with his hands stacked on the saddle horn, watching the cows watching them. Then, “That Flat Rock Spring ain’t far from here—just over that ridge. Was I Mister Kirkwood and unhorsed out here, I believe that’s where you’d find me.” “Could be. Could be he couldn’t of got there if he was hurt bad.” Andy thought on that for a time. “Maybe so. Still and all, I say we ride for the spring and if he ain’t there, we come back here and pick up the trail.” The cattle rattled off through the brush and cedar trees as the cowboys started up the low ridge. They topped out and the horses slid down the steeper slope on the other side on their hocks, at times the riders reining them into switchbacks down the face of the ridge, barren on this slope save bunch grass and sagebrush. A narrow, wandering watercourse, flowing only with sand and pebbles, threaded the base of the ridge. They followed it upstream as it gradually widened. Oak brush sprouted along the course, growing thick-

er and more tangled as they went. The horse’s hooves cut through the surface sand, overturning moist, dark sand beneath, and soon there were wet spots, then stagnant puddles, then a thin stream of flowing water that disappeared into the sand. They followed the meager but widening stream until reaching a shallow pool, no bigger than a saddle blanket, nestled in the shade of the oak brush. Water, seeping out of a patch of green on the sidehill, dripped off a flat rock overhanging the edge of the puddle, the source of the moisture as well as the name given the place. Duncan Kirkwood looked to be sleeping, head on chest, back propped against a shallow rock ledge beside the spring, legs stretched before him on the ground. His right hand lay on the ground, grasping a wet and bloodstained bandana he usually wore around his throat. The blood likely came from his left shoulder, which showed a seeping wound through the ripped shirt. The left arm, cradled in his lap, was swollen and bent at an odd angle. Andy squatted next to his boss. “Mister Kirkwood?” There was no response, so Andy reached out and gave the shoulder that wasn’t bloody a gentle shake. Kirkwood flinched and groaned. His head wagged slowly back and forth, then raised to look around, eyes blinking. “Andy….” “What happened, Mister Kirkwood? Where’re you hurt?” Kirkwood winced as he shifted his seat. “I am pretty sure my arm’s busted. Got a knot on the back of my head.” He grimaced and swallowed hard. “Ribs are pretty sore, and I don’t think the boot will come off my left foot. Ankle and leg are all swolled up in there.” Brenn stood by, looking the area over. There was no sign of disturbance around the spring save the usual assortment of cow tracks, those left by deer and antelope and assorted small animals and birds, and hoofprints of unshod horses. He did see drag marks in the ravine above the spring, left, he assumed, by Kirkwood. “Lord amighty, Boss. How’d you get here?” Kirkwood raised his head to look at Brenn, but said nothing. “I can see you dragged yourself here. What I mean



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches

is, where’d you come from? And what the hell happened? It was that Black Joe stud, wasn’t it?” Dipping the wadded bandana into the puddle, Kirkwood squeezed the water out of it then mopped his brow. He dipped it and wrung it out again, and wiped at the wound on his shoulder, cringing. “One question at a time, son.” The old man allowed as how he’d limped, then crawled, his way to the spring from the point of the low ridge his hands had just crossed. He told how he’d gathered a few strays—the cattle Andy and Brenn had encountered—and was starting for the ranch. “That Black Joe stud came down that ridge, neck flat, ears pinned back and teeth bared and barreled into the side of my horse without even breaking stride.” Kirkwood said it was a surprise, as there had been no sign of the stud’s band of mares. “Knocked my horse plumb off its feet and sent us flyin’. I hit the ground and my horse come down atop me amongst the rocks and brush—I reckon that’s what

put most of the hurt on me. But Black Joe was not finished. He wheeled around and came for us, reared up and came down scratching with his hooves. My horse had just got his front legs under him, but Black Joe took him down again, spun around and kicked him with both hind legs, then took another turn and come for me. He liked to have stomped me into mud, but I rolled away and got enough of me under a cedar tree to where he couldn’t get at me much—still, them hooves of his found me now and then, doin’ more of what damage you see. “That black devil finally left off and trotted away. My horse had long since quit the country. Don’t know how bad off he was or where he went off to, but I did not figure I could find him. I knowed this little spring wasn’t far away, so I hobbled along dragging this damn leg long as I could, then crawled the rest of the way.” “Lord above, Mister Kirkwood! That must be half a mile if it’s a yard!” Brenn said.



saddlebag dispatches

“Maybe so. It took a while, that’s for certain.” Andy slid the rancher’s vest off, then peeled the tattered shirt from Kirkwood’s back and tossed it to Brenn, telling him to stitch up the worst of the tears with mane or tail hair from the horses. While Brenn poked holes with the point of is knife blade and knotted stiff lengths of hair to close the gaps, Andy poked and prodded at his boss’s wounds. He used his own bandana to wash the dried blood and dirt and grit from the cuts and scrapes beyond Kirkwood’s reach. His fingertips pressed along the boss’s collar bone and found a ridge that should not be there. The old man winced when he touched it. That his forearm held a broken bone or two was clearly visible, given the kink in its length. Brenn tossed the roughly repaired shirt to Andy. “Here. Won’t win any ribbons at the county fair, but it’ll keep the sun off him ‘til we get back to the ranch.” “We won’t be going back to the ranch,” Kirkwood said, grimacing as Andy worked the shirt into position. “We’ll be going after Black Joe.” Andy stopped what he was doing to stare at the boss. “If you don’t mind my sayin’ so, Mister Kirkwood, you ain’t in any condition to be goin’ anywhere but to bed.” “My bed will still be there when we’re done. Just get me on that horse you brought. Tie me on, if you have to. But I’ll be trailing that black devil all the way to hell if I have to. You boys can come along if you like. If not, go on back to the ranch and fluff my pillow so it will be ready for me. But before you go, I’ll borrow one of those rifles you’re carrying. Pistol, too, if you don’t mind. Black Joe has fought me twice. There will not be a third time.” Brenn grinned. “Reckon I’ll ride along. Always had a hankerin’ to chase wild horses.” Andy shook his head, resigned. He took Kirkwood’s bandana, knotted it to his own and looped them around the boss’s neck to make a sling for his injured arm. “I guess it’s best to leave your leg be. I’d likely have to cut the boot off and we wouldn’t never get it back on.” Kirkwood nodded. “Leave it be. Long as it’s in the stirrup it will be all right. Now, help me up and get me horseback.”

Andy took Kirkwood by the right hand and pulled him to his feet. He wrapped the arm around his shoulder and supported the boss’s weight as he hobbled his way to the horse. “Don’t know how the hell we’ll get you in the saddle.” After debating the issue for a time, the men agreed on a method. Brenn stationed himself on the right side of the mount, holding the reins snug in case the horse shied in the unfamiliar circumstances. On the left side, Andy propped Kirkwood against the horse and the old man grasped the cantle on the saddle with his mobile right hand. “Here goes nothin’,” Andy said. He squatted behind Kirkwood and wrapped his arms around the boss’s legs and stood, lifting the old man. Once he had him high enough, he shifted his hands to Kirkwood’s buttocks and twisted him as he lifted. Brenn steadied the old man from the opposite side as he swung his right leg across the horse’s rump. It took two tries and some extra hefting from Andy, but Kirkwood somehow managed to grab the saddle horn, get his leg across, and land gotch-eyed in the seat. For a moment he lolled in the saddle as his body sought balance and equilibrium, like a man who had too much to drink. The sight only added to the cowboys’ amusement. “Quit your damn laughing,” Kirkwood said through gritted teeth. “Sorry, Boss,” Brenn said between snickers. “It’s just that I ain’t never seen no one get aboard a horse in that fashion before.” “Andy, see if you can get me into that damn stirrup.” Shoulders shuddering with stifled laughter, Andy shoved Kirkwood’s rump into the center of the seat then ducked his head and fitted the injured foot into the stirrup. “Someday you’ll laugh about this, Mister Kirkwood.” His smile held as he watched the boss heel the horse into motion with his good leg. “Maybe so. But just now it doesn’t seem the least bit amusing. Hurts like hell, for a fact.” The cowboys hustled to get mounted, then followed the rancher up the draw through the rocks and brush, following a narrow trail worn by cattle and wild animals on the way to drink at the Flat Rock Spring. They hadn’t traveled far when a pair of mourning doves burst out of the brush, thumping, clattering

saddlebag dispatches

and churring skyward and away. Kirkwood’s horse spooked at the outburst, shying sideways. A desperate grasp of his right hand found the saddle horn, barely keeping him seated, his all-but-useless left leg offering no support in the stirrup. Andy rode up beside him and studied the man slumping the in the saddle. “You all right, sir?” Slowly, Kirkwood raised his head and met his foreman’s eyes. “I’ll survive.” He shifted in the saddle, seeking a less painful seat. “I surely could use something to ease the hurt.” He looked at Brenn, a few yards behind, then back to Andy. “I don’t suppose either of you boys have anything in the way of whiskey in your saddlebags—for medicinal use, of course.” Andy shook his head. “Strong drink ain’t allowed on the ranch outside the bunkhouse. You know that, Mister Kirkwood.” Kirkwood nodded his head, then, “Brenn?” The cowboy’s face reddened, and he seemed at a loss for words as Andy watched him. Then, Brenn touched his spurs to his horse’s belly and rode up beside the rancher. “Well, Sir, I do sometimes carry a small bottle of spirits—but only to treat cuts I might find on the cattle, you understand…” he managed to say among the hems and haws. “Uncork it, son. As I said, it’s for medicinal use, which is in keeping with your purpose.” Brenn pulled a wad of sacking from a saddlebag, produced a half pint bottle of whiskey from among its folds and passed it along to Kirkwood, who fumbled around uncorking the bottle, took a small sip, grimaced, then tipped up the bottle and drained a good share of the liquid down his throat. He squinted his eyes and shook his head like a dog after watering, then held the bottle up and studied its contents. “If you’ve no objection, young man, I’ll keep this should the need once again arise.” Without waiting for an answer, Kirkwood stuffed the flask in his vest pocket and, with his good leg, spurred his horse into motion. Just around the point of the ridge, the riders reached the place of Black Joe’s attack. From the tracks, Andy could see the stud had come off the ridge at a run. His hoofprints then stirred into a soup of tracks left by the cattle Kirkwood was driving and the



saddlebag dispatches

tracks of his shod horse. The soil was disturbed over a wide area. Drops of blood darkened the dirt and scattered rocks showed crimson patches. A blood stain under the low limbs of a cedar tree showed where the rancher found refuge from the striking hooves and snapping teeth of the mad stallion. Andy followed the trail of the stampeded cattle for a few rods, then veered off and started a semi-circle back around the site of the skirmish. He stopped when he found the track of Black Joe’s leaving. “That stud came this way,” he said. After studying the landscape in the direction of the trail for a few minutes, he completed his round and rejoined Kirkwood and Brenn. “Can’t see no trace of his mares out there anywhere, nor no tracks. Did you see them, Mister Kirkwood?” “Nary a trace. Had I seen the mustangs, I would have kept watch for Black Joe. But I tell you, he came out of nowhere. He was on me before I knew it.” Kirkwood took another sip of whiskey and pushed the bottle back into his vest pocket. “You say he went that way, do you?” he said with a nod of his head in the direction of the trail. “We’d best be after him.” They rode for miles through rolling, brush-covered country strewn with outcrops of black lava rock and rugged, protruding hills that forced their path to meander some. At sunset, they stopped, lit a fire fed by sagebrush and dead cedar limbs, and settled in for the night. Kirkwood needed help dismounting, and then Brenn’s support as he hopped to a seat on the ground. His saddle served as a backrest and, later, as a pillow—the same accommodations available to Andy and Brenn. From greasy sacks in his saddlebags, Andy shared now-stale biscuits and cold, sliced roast beef he’d gathered at the bunkhouse kitchen on the way out the door earlier that day. The men had no blankets against the cold of the night and the chill crept up through the hip holes they wallowed in the stony ground seeking comfort. There was little talk that night, but when Kirkwood rousted his cowboys in the pale light of early dawn, he shared with them a plan devised between brief bouts of fitful sleep. “That horse can’t be far from here, and he doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to get anywhere.”

saddlebag dispatches

“I ain’t seen any sign of the rest of them mustangs,” Andy said. Kirkwood nodded agreement. “I have been thinking on that. Could be he’s not looking for them. That Black Joe is pretty long in the tooth. A younger stud may well have driven him off, and that harem is no longer his. No matter. Unless I miss my guess, we’ll be upon him soon, and here’s what we’ll do.” He pointed in the direction the stud horse’s trail had been leading. “Diablo Gorge ain’t but a few miles farther along. I figure if we separate, say put a quarter mile betwixt us, and ride on toward the gorge, we’ll push that devil horse to the rim. Then, he won’t have but two ways he can go on the rim, and at least one of us should be positioned to head him, either way he chooses. If we hold him there against the rim, one of us ought to be able to get off a shot.” “Sounds good,” Brenn said, “except for one thing.” Kirkwood studied the cowboy. “And what might that be?” “There ain’t only them two directions—there’s three. He could cut back and try to slip between us.” “That’s true enough, I suppose. My hope is that we will surprise him, and dispatch him before he has the chance.” Andy laughed. “You think he don’t already know we’re here?” After considering the question, Kirkwood allowed as how the horse probably was aware of their presence. “Still and all, it’s the best plan I can come up with. And unless one or the other of you has a better one, it’s what we will do.” The cowboys had nothing to offer. Kirkwood’s foot and ankle were less painful than before, able to bear his weight long enough for him to lift his right foot into the off-side stirrup and get mounted unassisted. With the most-likely broken arm still in a sling below the injured collar bone, he realized a long gun would be less than useless, so he borrowed a pistol each from Brenn and Andy. Kirkwood advised the cowboys to keep a sharp lookout and sent them on. After spreading out as directed, the men exchanged waves, and the boss motioned the thin line forward toward the canyon. Diablo Gorge confined the same river that flowed through Kirkwood’s ranch headquarters several miles

downstream. There, it was a lazy stream meandering along a wide flood plain bordered by low bluffs. Here, the river flowed fast and deep at the bottom of a narrow chasm cut through lava rock and sandstone over time beyond measure. For miles in either direction, the defile denied all hope of crossing. And, Kirkwood hoped, Diablo Gorge would prevent the escape of the devil mustang. The riders reached the lip of the gorge at more or less the same time. No one saw Black Joe, nor had anyone seen any trace of any horses, save the ones they rode. All three sat horseback near the rim, scanning the plain for any sign of the stud horse. A bugling, squealing whinny split the air. Black Joe trotted out of a shallow coulee—not deep enough to conceal a horse, Kirkwood had thought—and stood, head high and tail arched, less than two hundred yards from the rim. The rancher’s trail had taken him no more than a stone’s throw from the sly stud as he passed. Trumpeting again, then rearing and pawing at the air, Black Joe lunged into a furious gallop, eyes and course riveted on Kirkwood. Shock waves of pain shuddered through Kirkwood’s body when his feet hit the ground. Using the saddle seat as a rest, he unleashed shot after shot until emptying one pistol, threw it aside and thumbed back the hammer on the revolver borrowed from Brenn. Whether all the shots went wild or some found their mark, they had no effect on the charging stud. Along the rim in either direction, the cowboys could only watch. Brenn slid his saddle gun from its sheath, but knew it was useless at this range. Andy’s spurs gouged his horse’s belly and Brenn smacked his mount’s rump with the rifle barrel as the men set out in a futile race to reach their boss. Even at the distance, and over the sound of pounding hooves and streaming air, both cowboys heard the crash. Even more, they felt it deep inside. Black Joe never slowed. At a dead run, he smashed into Kirkwood’s mount. The force of the collision carried the mustang stud over the edge, pushing the saddle horse and the man before him. Andy and Brenn slid to a stop in the ravaged soil where Kirkwood took flight. The men’s breathing as labored as that of their horses, they could only stare



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches

at one another. After what seemed an eternity, Andy shook his head and stepped out of the saddle. Brenn followed suit.The men edged to the lip of the canyon and, with hands gripping knees, leaned into the gorge. Nothing, not even a ripple in the roiling river, betrayed the presence of the man or the horses. Andy thought he saw a hint of black horsehide roll to the surface and disappear, but he could not say for sure. The cowboys stood for long minutes without speaking, searching the water as it flowed away, scanning the rocks below for any trace of Kirkwood. Eventually, Andy spoke. “Sonofabitch.” After a time, he shook his head slowly. “Sonofabitch.” He led his horse away from the gorge and snugged up the cinch. He looked at Brenn and again shook his head. The two cowboys swung into their saddles and sat, staring at one another. “I guess we’d just as well head back to the ranch,” Brenn said. “I guess so.” “Ain’t nothin’ else to be done.” Andy shook his head yet again. He sat in the saddle for a few more eternal minutes. Then, “On the way back, we’ll pick up those stray cows Mister Kirkwood gathered.”


Rod Miller


our-time Spur Award winner Rod Miller writes regularly for Saddlebag Dispatches, recruited for the task by late, great, founding publisher, Dusty Richards. Miller has written numerous anthologized poems and short stories, history books, scores of book reviews, and many magazine articles. His books to date include the history book The Lost Frontier: Momentous Moments in the Old West You May Have Missed. The Death of Delgado and Other Stories, a collection of short fiction, the three novels of the Rawhide Robinson series for young readers, and the novels Gallows for a Gunman, The Assassination of Governor Boggs, and Father unto Many Sons. His next novel, Pinebox Collins, will be released in March, 2020. Rod is a member of Western Writers of America and received the 2014 Branding Iron Award for his service to the organization. Visit him online at:



saddlebag dispatches

SA D D LEBAG f e at u r e

TRUE GRIT Everyone loves classic westerns and there’s no better place to see them than on the silver screen. But one man’s trip to the theatre for a screening of True Grit was much more than going to the movies. R.G. Yoho


ECENTLY, FATHOM EVENTS, Paramount Pictures, and Turner Classic Movies, sponsored a Fiftieth Anniversary showing of the John Wayne film, True Grit, in movie theaters around the country. Naturally, I was drawn to the film, since it was something I first saw upon its release, when I was only ten-years old. Not only was this a chance to once again see John Wayne, a larger-than-life, Hollywood icon, back on the big screen, this film was also a chance to briefly relive my childhood, to become a young boy once again. Even my wife didn’t fully understand why I was so driven to see this picture, something she knew I had already watched on television dozens of times. However, I already knew this airing of the film would be different for me, in a way I couldn’t adequately explain. It was only later, after returning from the theater that evening, that I was able to fully articulate to her my many reasons for purchasing a ticket and driving twenty-five miles to the theater. My blessed mother passed away, much too early

in 2003, only about five years older than I am right now. She was a very old, sixty-five, eaten away by diabetes, a bad ticker, poor circulation, faulty eyesight, and weak kidneys. My father was taken from us only last November, killed in a farm accident, a young man of only eighty-one. I still miss the two of them greatly and Dad’s loss is still pretty raw in my heart. As I entered the auditorium and chose a seat, I sat there by myself in the darkened theater. But as I sipped my Coke and munched on my popcorn, I was certainly not alone. As the film’s opening credits rolled and Glen Campbell began to sing the first strains of the title score, I was immediately transported back to 1969. Dad and Mom were there with me, along with my two brothers and sister. We were all together in their old, station wagon, with the back seat dropped down to make more room. It was a warm, summer, Saturday night at the Jungle Drive-In, in Parkersburg, West Virginia. And if I looked really hard into the darkness, I could still see my dear parents there, sitting alongside me.


saddlebag dispatches

It brought back a flood of memories and I happily relived every one of them. Mom always brought pillows, along with blankets or sleeping bags for us, because we normally crashed out soon after the end of the opening feature. And, yes, kids, they actually showed you two films, for one price, at the local drive-ins, back in those early days of yesteryear. After their children drifted off to sleep, there is no doubt Dad and Mom enjoyed the second feature, the solitude they rarely experienced at home, and the albeit brief moments of rest from their tiresome labors on the farm. The next morning, the four of us children awoke to a bright, new day, safely tucked away in our own beds at home, after Dad had carried us all up to our rooms the night before. For those two wonderful hours, this aging grandfather was able to fleetingly become a boy again, to reenter a time when the world was much easier to understand, and life generally held no great concerns. It was also a chance for me to follow the Ten Com-

saddlebag dispatches

mandments’ teaching, to honor my father and mother. And that is what I did. For two hours, I wasn’t simply watching a nostalgic Western. It was more, much more. I was also honoring my late parents, their precious memory, and the teachings they instilled in me. I treasured every moment. Soon after Mattie Ross finally earned justice for her father’s murder, and Rooster Cogburn’s new horse jumped the four-rail fence, the closing credits began to roll and I was instantly ushered back to reality. Immediately, I became a grandfather again. The concerns of this world were once again mine to confront. Dad and Mom were still gone from my life and I was still a somewhat elderly orphan. But as I walked out of the cinema, heading to my pickup truck, all was not lost. John Wayne’s films survive. Robert Duvall, Lucky Ned Pepper, still lives. The Western isn’t dead.

And cowboys still ride among us. These mythical figures of a bygone era come to life every time I put their stories on paper. Perhaps that is the legacy my parents left me, fifty years ago, bringing the Old West to the heart and mind of a young, impressionable child, a boy who would eventually grow up and become an author. My parents taught me, like young Mattie Ross, that, even when they’re dead, I was to always see a task through until the end, not to let anything stop me, and perhaps most of all, to be willing to ride alone. “True Grit,” you say? True grit, indeed.feet

—R.G. Yoho is a West Virginia native with a passion for history and tales of the American West. I’m author of seven Westerns, including the five-book Kellen Malone Western series. In addition, he’s published a novel on the coal mine wars, plus three other non-fiction works.



saddlebag dispatches


ET ME START RIGHT off by telling you I’m not a righteous man. I’ve done my share of cheating and stealing, lying for sure, and a time or two, regretted it. For the most part, I didn’t repent, nor care much about the people I’ve hurt along the way. But I sure as hell didn’t deserve this. The sun’s so hot you could fry an egg on top of my head. The notion runs through my mind as I’m standing in a hole, buried in sand up to my neck. I can’t move, except turn my head from side to side, or stare up at the sky. When I was a boy, my mother told me angels lived up there behind the clouds. But not now. The sky’s as blue as a whore’s petticoat. There’s nothing between it and me but vultures circling above, waiting to feast on my face. The dirt is slowly crushing my chest, robbing me of breath. I’m praying to pass out soon, so I miss my death entirely. Tears trickle down my cheeks and dry before they reach my lips, though I try to catch them with my tongue. I need to bare my soul, before the sun steals it away.

— I WAS BORN IN the sleepy part of Texas, on a piece of land that carried a grudge. My father stepped outside our shack that April morning and told his three daughters their brother Burke was born. That meant a little less food on each plate, so I doubt they jumped with joy. I grew up an ordinary boy in a dusty town, with a shock of red hair like a lit candle, skinny legs, and deep green eyes that folks said were my best feature. I think of these eyes now, a morsel in a buzzard’s beak, and cry again. It was Tansy Clark who changed the course of my life, the way a rainstorm turns a dry creek bed into a flash flood. I couldn’t help but notice the sway of her skirt, or how her breasts pressed against a hand-medown dress, leaving little to a fevered imagination. Tansy had eyes the color of a Texas Bluebonnet, and a smile that lifted my heart. She lived near a field of sunflowers, in a white house surrounded by Sycamore trees. Her daddy was the local undertaker, his barn lined with pine boxes, a silent reminder of the Hereafter.


saddlebag dispatches

I courted Tansy’s favor, fetched flowers from my mother’s garden, took her for picnics in our old buckboard. We stole time together as often as we could. It wasn’t long before I was fondling those breasts in that faded dress. Tansy’s heart beat like a wild thing beneath my hand. I longed to unlace her, reach in, capture the warmth, bring her to my mouth. What we were doing wasn’t right, but there was just no stoppin’ it. Tansy and I were going at it one afternoon in her father’s barn when we got caught. I was lifted straight up off her and thrown against the wall. Landed in a heap. Tansy pulled her skirt down and cried. “You’ll look at the wrong end of a bullet someday, Burke Hays,” her daddy said. Flecks of spittle ran down his chin, face flushed with rage. He reached for the pistol on his hip. When he took aim, I covered my privates with trembling hands, looked at all those empty coffins. “But for now, you’re gonna marry my daughter. Then we’ll figure

out if you deserve to live or not. Get the hell out of here, go home, and tell your folks you’re gettin’ married tomorrow.” His boot found my naked leg. There was a painful crack like a bone wantin’ to give up. I limped home, sat on the back stoop, and pondered what to do. To be fair here, I wasn’t the first young man to find himself in Tansy’s arms. Just had the bad luck of being the last one. Plenty of other fellas knew their way around her barn. I felt a prickle of resentment. I’d be tied down with a wife and stuck in this goodbye town forever. I didn’t want to do that. So, to my shame, but also my relief, I saddled my father’s horse, Hank, and left right then and there. I had nowhere to go, so we traveled west until the next village bloomed out of the plains. I stopped, looked for work. Now, ten years later, I’m buried up to my neck, waitin’ to die.

saddlebag dispatches

— A WHILE AGO, A diamondback wound its way across the sand and slithered right up to my face, tongue flicking in and out as it approached. My heart lurched and sputtered. I held my breath. Didn’t blink. Piss ran down my leg, soaked into the dirt. After what seemed like an eternity, it continued on its way to somewhere else, weaving a trail in the dirt, rattle brushing against my cheek in farewell. I know you think I got in this mess because I couldn’t keep my hands off some Indian gal, and you’re partly right. Only it wasn’t me who found her down by the creek and tore her clothes off. I swear on all that’s holy I didn’t do it. How many red-headed men are out here in the middle of the desert? I’m telling you there’s more than one, and I’m innocent. But maybe God doesn’t care, because I sure as hell did enough in my life to get banished from Heaven. I’m scared that no amount of prayin’ is gonna change

God’s mind. The Lord might see this as a good way to rid Himself of one of his sinners. You might as well know I’ve killed a man. So, I guess I’ve sinned in the worst possible way. Just like me, he wasn’t worth much. He was a mean old bastard, a card cheat, and damned good at it too. Not until I lost all my wages, did I realize he was getting help from the big bosomed woman at the table behind me. I noticed her when I walked into the saloon. Blond hair flowed down her back like a waterfall. Eyes so brown men dive into them but can’t swim out. She wore a tight red dress, and her breasts rose out the top like dough on a kitchen table. She smiled, said hello, fluttered a feather fan in the evening heat. Flattered by the attention, I tethered myself to the table in front of her, just to stay close. Perfume drifted over my shoulder. It smelled like roses from the garden back in Texas, and I wondered if, after playing cards, I might find a few petals under her skirt. Con-



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches

centrating on the game was hard. I figure that’s why I was so stupid and didn’t realize I was being taken until they cleaned me out. I turned around to give her a quick smile, and caught her waving the fan, once, twice, then six times, matching the cards in my hand. She froze, and I rose, angry as a hornet. I flipped the table over, grabbed the cheater by his grizzled neck and shook him the way a dog shakes a rat he finds in a haystack. “You crooked scum!” I hollered. He tipped over in his chair, landed on his back. I picked up as much money as I could off the floor and ran. I heard a click, reached for my gun and spun around as he fired. The slug grazed my leg. In a blind fury, I pulled the trigger. He fell over like an empty bottle and crashed on the sidewalk, half in and half out of the saloon, the doors above his head still swingin’. I dragged myself up on Hank and raced away, shoulders braced for a bullet in my back, but it didn’t happen. We rode into the night until the stars faded, then I reined in Hank and dismounted, checked the leg. It hurt like hell, tender and bleeding, but not bad enough to kill me. It was the same leg Tansy’s daddy kicked. That would have been funny if it weren’t so tragic. Twice now I’ve run from something and gotten away with it. But not today. Now I’m here in this man-made hell, and I’m not alone. Three coyotes trotted towards me in the searing heat, ears pricked, snouts to the ground. I shouted at ‘em. They startled, lowered their tails, looped behind me, making little noises in their throats to each other. I kept on yelling and shaking my head in hopes they’d stay away. The thought of them sinking their teeth into my neck or chewing off my ears made me shudder. They backed off, sat on their haunches and watched from a short distance away. We stared at each other as I ruminated about what put me here in the first place. — TWO DAYS AGO, I rode through the desert on my way to California. I planned to put my past behind me, open a small outpost in the mountains, make a better life. Truth be told, I was on the run. I’d robbed a bank.

It was easy as a morning in June. I’d been drifting for months, looking for work. A man at the local mercantile told me Four Bars Ranch needed wranglers. I rode out there and talked to the foreman. He hired me on the spot, sent me east to catch up with the herd. I fell in line with the other men, slappin’ a rope against my leg, pushing the cattle forward. On payday I collected my share and rode into town to celebrate. I aimed to trade my paper into coin, gamble at the local saloon. You’d think I’d learned my lesson about card games, but I was itchin’ for a little entertainment. The main street was quiet that sweltering afternoon. Two boys ran by pushing a hoop, kicking up dust that made Hank snort. A scrawny dog trotted along the wooden walk, then crawled under a porch. In the distance was the tinny sound of music from the local saloon. I tied up in front of the bank, glanced around and tossed my saddlebags over a shoulder. The whole town appeared to be taking a nap. An old woman was the only person in the building, standing behind a teller’s cage. My footsteps echoed on the wood floor. The sun streamed in from a window, dust motes danced in a shaft of light. The woman was writing, looked up when I walked in. She had white hair piled on top of her head and wore a silver locket around her neck. “Where is everybody?” I asked. “Well, Sir, my husband’s got the fever, and he’s home in bed. There ain’t no one else to help out today but me. It’s always quiet around here after lunch. Especially in this heat.” She fiddled with her hair, smoothed her blouse, looked at me with rheumy eyes. “How can I help you?” Without even thinking it through, I drew my pistol and said “Give me all your money.” I could hardly believe it when she did, trembling like a willow as she cleaned out the safe. “Don’t hurt me,” she begged over and over as I stuffed handfuls in my saddlebags. I backed away and out the door, just like I was dreamin’ the whole thing up. I was a half day’s ride away before I opened the bag and counted it out. Eight hundred dollars. More money than I’d ever seen. As long as I’m confessing, I’ll tell you I didn’t feel one bit of remorse.



saddlebag dispatches

If I’d used my brain, I might have wondered why there wasn’t a whole posse behind me as I drifted across the desert alone. It wasn’t until I was knocked off Hank as we picked our way through a gully that I realized this was hostile Apache territory. I was surrounded by Indians who didn’t look glad to see me. They stared at my head, and I wondered if my hair caught fire. I reached up to touch it, got kicked in the ribs. An Indian let out a whoop when he looked in my saddlebag, saw all the money. They tied a rope around my neck, forced me to walk behind their horses. I fell twice, the rope tightened, and I struggled to my feet, straggled after them. We traveled through a small canyon and into a village. The Apaches clustered around us, shouting, raising their fists. They brought a young woman out of a wickiup. She pointed at my red hair, nodded, and burst into tears. Through angry words and gestures, I figured out what happened. I took a step forward, shook my head. “I didn’t do

it!” I yelled, but they weren’t listening. Then neither was I, as someone hit me on the side of the head and my knees buckled. When I came to, I’d been trussed up on the back of old Hank, surrounded by warriors on their horses. We made our way through the desert until one of them raised his arm, and we stopped. The Indians slid off their mounts and dug in the sand with sticks, lances, and their hands. I didn’t figure out what they were doing at first. Then I squirmed and wiggled, tried to get Hank to move, but he was content to just stand there and watch them dig my grave. They dragged me off the horse, shoved me in the hole, filled it with sand and left. The sun beat down on my head right away. A bead of sweat rolled off my chin and trickled down my neck. It’s surprising how a person can pray for the simplest things, after a lifetime of wishin’ for something more. All I wanted right then was to scratch the itch on my neck or move my legs. The

saddlebag dispatches

blazing heat scalded my face, blistered the tips of my ears. I soon learned if I put up a fuss and tried to stretch my neck, or shoulder my way out of the hole, the sand poured in even tighter. The hours dragged by. I prayed for the sun to go down, even though I wouldn’t live past dawn. A stifling wind blew along the desert floor, picked up sand and tumbleweeds, dust devils that twirled like dancers. The grit hit my face, stung my eyes. A small bird flapped by, taken hostage by the whim of the wind, and I guess that’s me, too. Picked up by Fate and set in this damned hole. I heard hoofbeats from behind, stiffened in my smoldering grave. A horse came up alongside, then stopped in front of me. He reached out his neck, warm breath on my scalded cheek. I looked up at a red-headed man. He was about my age, fiery hair, eyes green and cool as a lake. There was a dark mole on his cheek the size of a Bluebottle fly. His hands were scratched and oozing, like he’d fought a wildcat. He spit a wad of tobacco juice through broken, yellowed teeth, and I wished like hell I could work up enough spit in my own mouth to even swallow. That alone made me hate him. “You raped that Apache gal!” I hollered, quivering with rage. Tiny grains of sand shifted, hugged me closer. I yearned to climb out of this hole, knock him off the horse, strangle him. His eyes were flat, the green lake frozen over. There was a hint of cruelty at the corner of his mouth, coiled like a sleeping snake. He cocked his head, squinted at me. “Could be. But it looks like you’ve taken the fall.” He spit into the dust again, reached for a canteen, took a swig. I nearly swooned. “Look,” I said, “I wasn’t there, and I don’t know what happened. But what I know did happen is that I’m here in this wretched hole because of you! Dig me out of here and we’re both free.” He gazed into the distance like he was weighing his options. I held what little breath I had left. “Sorry, I can’t do that,” he said, tightened the reins on his gelding, backed up a little. The horse

pawed at the ground. “I’ve been hidin’ out for days, waiting for a chance to escape this valley, and now’s the time. I won’t waste daylight digging in the dirt. Besides, I can’t trust you not to turn the tables on me.” He rubbed his chin like he was thinking. Those green eyes got colder. “But, I guess I can help you out.” He pulled his gun out of the holster. This will be a mercy, I told myself, bracing for the wrong end of the bullet that Tansy’s father said I’d see one day. Something flew over my head like a wasp. The red-headed stranger looked surprised, fell straight off his horse and landed in front of me. I stared into his face, inches from my own. An arrow poked out his back. Blood pooled on top of the desert, seeped into the sand. An Apache walked up, lifted the dead man’s head, stared long at his face. Then he let go, and it hit the ground with a thud. “There’s the man that hurt your woman!” I said, my voice barely a whisper now. “He’s the one who did it!” The Indian scowled. I didn’t know if he spoke English. If I still had Hank—or my eight hundred dollars—maybe I could bribe him, but now it felt hopeless. I babbled then. What was left of my tears leaked out and ran down my face. “Look at the scratches on his hands and arms!” I pointed with my nose and chin. “There’s your man!” The Apache took a step back. Stared at the body, then at me. He leaned down, lifted the head again, studied the stranger’s mole, the scratches on his arms. Pursed his lips. Walked over to the horse. He reached for the canteen, held it to my mouth, then let it flow over my head, cheeks, down my neck, me gasping and choking, swallowing hard. It hit my stomach like a lead ball. He emptied the last drop, tossed it on the ground. Then he vaulted onto his pony, wheeled around and galloped away. The dead man’s horse took off after him, kicking up its heels. I listened until the last hoofbeat, then closed my eyes, weary and spent. A fly landed on my face, explored an ear. I tossed my head and it lifted off, flew over to the corpse, crawled up his nose.



saddlebag dispatches

saddlebag dispatches

Sharon Frame Gay

THE APACHE LEFT A long time ago. It’s deathly quiet here. Even the birds wheeling above are solemn. All I hear is the impatient rustle of their wings as they bank and turn, come back around. The coyotes are sprawled in the shade of a Joshua tree, waiting for the sun to go down. I’m prayin’ the Indian rode back to the others, told them what happened. I hope the water he gave me was a good sign, that he’ll bring help so I might climb out of this hole and continue with my sorry life. Every hour that goes by, I get weaker. I’m fading like the sun as it slips behind a knoll in the distance. There’s nothing to do but wait and pray. I hope God hears me, even though I’m already halfway to Hell in my blistering grave. A wispy cloud rises from the edge of the horizon, makes its way across the desert. I stare up at the sky and wonder if the vultures above my head are the angels my mother told me about, coming to take me home.


haron Frame Gay lives in Washington State with her little dog, Henry Goodheart. She grew up a child of the highway, playing by the side of the road, and spent a lot of those years in Montana, Arizona, Nevada, North Dakota and Oregon. Interested in everything Western, and in horses in particular, she bought her first horse when she was twelve. Although she is a multi-genre author, she has a special fondness for writing Westerns. Her Westerns can be found on Fiction On The Web, Rope And Wire, Frontier Tales, Typehouse Magazine, and will soon be appearing with Five Star Publishing in an upcoming Western anthology.She is also published in many anthologies and literary magazines, including Chicken Soup For The Soul, Crannog Magazine, Lowestoft Chronicle, Thrice Fiction, Literally Stories, Literary Orphans, Adelaide, Scarlet Leaf Review, Indiana Voice Journal and others. She has won awards at The Writing District, Owl Hollow Press, Women on Writing, and has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. You can find more of her work on Amazon, or as "Sharon Frame Gay-Writer" on Facebook, and Twitter as sharonframegay.


Old Cactus Charlie passed on yesterday Way up in the mountains in his hide away He’d gotten his name from his poor riding skill And a fall into cactus that bothered him still He wasn’t a bad guy, just a little bit slow The law didn’t want him, but he didn’t know You see Charlie had lifted from old Marshal Tim A bright silver clip with some money within He feared he’d be hung for a crime big as that So he hid in the mountains with his mule and his cat But the marshal just thought he had lost that old clip And over the years from his memory it slipped Some years ago, he had even left town If Charlie had known, well, he could have come down But he found him a place with a jaw-dropping view And them that knew of it just numbered a few And he had some “buddies” that kept him well hid Could have told him, “No problem,” but they never did He worked and slaved for his “buddies” up there He’d have left them if told and so they didn’t dare So dim-witted Charlie, this “thought he was” thief Died all alone with his dreadful belief As for his ‘buddies” – now don’t get me started You see I’m a kin to the newly departed I’ll hunt them and trap them and when I am through There won’t be nothing up there but the jaw dropping view

SA D D LEBAG poetry


HE STILL-YOUNG AMERICAN nation had all but moved heaven and earth by the mid-1830s to force the southeastern Indian Republics and other tribes west to its new Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). The Southern Great Plains tribes, however, along with their own mortal enemies, the still-sanguinary Osage, remained oblivious to all the federal government’s best-laid plans.

The Plains tribes, which included the Comanche, Kiowa, and Wichita, thwarted the U.S. government’s promised plans of peace for the transplanted woodland tribes of eastern and southern Oklahoma by raiding and plundering them. The Osage, meanwhile, refused to move north to Kansas from Verdigris River enclaves in the heart of the Cherokee country as earlier agreed upon. They stole Cherokee and Creek horses, along with other property. All these tribes also imperiled the travel of American citizens traversing Indian Territory, whether to settle farther west or conduct other business. The presence of such small tribes as the Shawnee, Seneca, and Quapaw presented another lingering dilemma. They remained on land overlapping that of recently arrived groups such as the Cherokee. President Andrew Jackson appointed the three-man Stokes Commission, headed by North Carolina Governor Montfort Stokes, to address ARTIST GEORGE CATLIN’S RENDERING OF HENRY all these problems. This group DODGE, RENOWNED FOR HIS EXPLOITS IN BOTH THE succeeded in settling the tribal BLACK HAWK WAR AND INDIAN TERRITORY, AND LATER boundary disputes. Handling GOVERNOR OF AND U. S. SENATOR FROM WISCONSIN.

saddlebag dispatches

WAYNE COOPER’S WASHINGTON IRVING MEETING THE OSAGE. —Courtesy Oklahoma State Senate Historical Preservation, Inc. and Wayne Cooper.

the Osage and the fearsome, nomadic Plains tribes proved a greater challenge. Early outreaches to the Southern Plains tribes bore little fruit. This included an 1832 expedition on which the famed American author and historian Washington Irving (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Rip Van Winkle) traveled. Irving penned his acclaimed A Tour on the Prairies during the journey. A horrifying event the next year helped bring the Plains tribes to the treaty table. A war party of Osage followed a Kiowa trail to Cutthroat Gap in presentday northwest Comanche County, in southwest Oklahoma. There, lay a defenseless Kiowa village, its warriors away on a hunt. The Osage massacred over one hundred women, children, and old men— committing beheadings and other atrocities—and took away others as captives. AMERICAN SOLDIERS The next year, 1834, an historic expedition headed west across present-day Oklahoma from Fort Gibson to treat with the Southern Plains tribes. Federal soldiers

posted in rugged Indian Territory comprised most of this force. As with the tribes who traveled the Trails of Tears, this country proved new, difficult, and far from home for these American soldiers. They manned a series of new forts erected to protect various tribes at various times, and eventually, American settlers. The forts included Coffee, Gibson, Towson, Leavenworth, Washita, Arbuckle, and Cobb. These troopers’ frequently hazardous service during the pre-Civil War period proved indispensable in fashioning lands for the emigrant tribes that were much more secure than they would otherwise have been. It also restrained uncooperative whites and Indians. Perhaps no one has depicted the life of these men better than historian Odie Faulk: Duty at these posts was hard and dangerous for the soldiers. The men erected their quarters themselves, cutting logs or quarrying stone, moving these to the desired location, and erecting them according to plans drawn by their officers. They fought malaria and bilious fevers, ate government hardtack and bacon, escorted supply wagons, scouted new territory, and



saddlebag dispatches


saddlebag dispatches


sometimes fought Indians or white renegades—all for eight dollars a month. DODGE AND THE DRAGOONS The aforementioned westward column aimed to meet with the Comanche, Kiowa, Kiowa-Apache, Wichita, and other Plains Indian tribes. The assemblage included Stokes, as well as an imposing five hundredman column of dragoons, a newly-constituted formation of mounted infantry. It counted among its number a host of names now familiar in the pantheon of American historical luminaries. These included General Henry Leavenworth, who commanded the column; Colonel Henry Dodge (already a famous soldier who had commanded the first mounted U. S. Army Regulars in history); Stephen W. Kearney (“Father of the U.S. Cavalry”); Nathan Boone (son of Daniel Boone); David Hunter (well-known Civil War general), George Catlin (famed artist whose paintings first recorded present-day Oklahoma), and Jefferson Davis (future U.S. Senator, Secretary of War, and President of the Confederate States of America). All told, this expedition comprised the most

impressive American military force assembled to that date in Indian Territory. Their epic quest brought drama, glory, death, heartbreak, and a courage that helped write the history of America. By the time they reached the mouth of the Washita River where it poured into Red River, near presentday Lake Texoma, scores of soldiers—including Leavenworth—had been victimized by heat, typhus fever, and exhaustion. More than a hundred and fifty of them—again including Leavenworth, who suffered a bad fall from his horse—would die. “Perhaps there never has been in America a campaign that operated more severely on man and horses,” Dodge concluded. After Leavenworth fell, Dodge took command and led the column west. Riding through present-day Stephens County in southwest Oklahoma, a Sergeant Evans wrote of the “highly romantic and elevated prairies” and large herds of wild horses on Wildhorse Creek between present-day Marlow and Duncan. The dragoons continued into present-day Kiowa County, where they met with Plains tribes’ representatives at the Wichita village on the North Fork of Red River. The remaining contingent of soldiers greatly



saddlebag dispatches


saddlebag dispatches

impressed the Natives, as did their delivery of Kiowa and Wichita hostages from the Osage. This meeting led to another a few months later at Fort Gibson. There, Dodge and other American officials treated with delegates from the Plains tribes, the southeastern immigrant tribes, and even the Osage. All these tribes, and the U. S. officials, consented to peaceful relations with one another in Indian Territory. The Natives agreed to a treaty council in the buffalo country to the west in July of the next year, 1835, “when the grass next grows after the snows, which are soon to fall, shall have melted away.” That gathering, known as the Camp Holmes Treaty Conference, took place just north of presentday Lexington, south of Norman in Cleveland County, Oklahoma. Between six and eight thousand Indians gathered. Multiple interpreters translated the many speeches, and on August 24, 1835, the first treaty ever signed between the United States and the Southern Plains tribes was inked. All the major groups of the latter except the Kiowa signed. So did the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Quapaw, and Seneca who had come from the east. This landmark peace agreement was not kept inviolate, but two years later the Kiowa signed on. The Osage bands along the Verdigris, acquiescing to the might of American soldiery, retreated north into Kansas in 1839. An historic framework was thus established that gave hope, after so much suffering, for peace among the many vigorous peoples in the future Oklahoma country. —John J. Dwyer has taught history at Southern Nazarene University in Oklahoma City since 2006. He is the author of numerous books, including the Will Rogers Medallion-winning The Oklahomans: The Story of Oklahoma and Its People, Vol. 1. He is a regular contributor to Saddlebag Dispatches.



saddlebag dispatches


OBERT (BOB) C. NORRIS, the original Marlboro Man, died on November 3rd, 2019. Two stories have circulated on how Bob got the job of an advertising icon for Philip Morris. In the early fifties, advertising executives for the Philip Morris Tobacco company were scheduled to take photographs at Bob’s ranch in Colorado, as part of the new advertising campaign. The model they brought with them didn’t

fit the bill as a rugged cowboy. The members of the advertising team stomped on his outfit to give it the worked in look they wanted. Then they saw Bob. He was

dressed in his normal working outfit, but he fit the image the advertising executives wanted to a tee. He had the rugged good looks the ad executives wanted, and they promptly offered him the job. The executives took his straw hat, placed a felt hat on his head and a Marlboro cigarette in his hand, and advertising history was made. Prior to the Marlboro Man, Philip Morris Tobacco used the hand tattoo campaign in magazines, and a few early tv ads. A cowboy, police officer, or a construction worker was shown reaching for a cigarette, and a close up showed a tattoo on his hand. Most of the time it was an eagle on the web of flesh between the thumb and forefinger. The second story had the tobacco executives looking through photographs. They found one of Bob and John Wayne at a quarter-horse sale. They secured transportation to Colorado and visited the T-Cross Ranch. They found Bob working cattle and asked him if he was interested in making commercials. He told them he was busy, at the moment, but if they were serious, to return in a week and they’d talk it over. The executives returned and Bob became the Marlboro Man. Whichever story was true, Bob was the Marlboro Man, the face of the brand for a dozen years. He made tv commercials, and newspaper and magazine ads.

saddlebag dispatches

The Marlboro cigarette ad campaign was one of the most successful in history. Prior to the change in advertising and the creation of the Marlboro Man, the cigarette was designed for women and was even pulled from the market in the late 40’s. After the addition of the cowboy hawking the product, Marlboro became the best-selling cigarette in the United States, selling more that the rest of the top eight cigarettes combined. In early 1970, his son Bobby, asked him why he made ads for the sale of cigarettes but didn’t smoke and didn’t want any of his children to smoke. Bob ended the relationship with Philip Morris tobacco soon after. President Richard Nixon banned cigarette ads on TV on January 1st, 1971 at one minute after midnight. The televised ads continued to be shown in other countries, and other men assumed the role in magazine and newspaper ads until those were also discontinued. Bob Norris was born in Chicago, on April 10, 1929. He attended Elgin Academy at St. Charles and later attended the University of Kentucky where he played football and met Jane Wright. They were married in June of 1950 and remained married until her death in 2016, 65 years. Bob was the grandnephew of John W. Gates, an entrepreneur and salesman who convinced Texas ranchers that barbed wire could hold Longhorn cattle. Bob and Jane moved to Fort Collins, Colorado in 1953 and purchased the Rist Canyon Ranch. Bob was good friends with John Wayne. The Duke even offered him a role in the 1971 film Big Jake. Bob turned down the role. John Wayne bought several quarter horse geldings from Bob. Bob and his wife Jane were frequent guests during the Thanksgiving Holiday at Wayne’s 26 Bar Ranch in Arizona. When he arrived in Colorado, Bob looked for a registered brand he could purchase. He bought the rights for the T Cross brand for fifty dollars from a former rancher who moved to California. The T Cross was the historic first brand registered in Colorado. It’s currently the largest property in El Paso County, stretching out over 120,000 acres. The T Cross Ranch produced a long list of champion American Quarter-horses, including Poco Pico and Tee Cross which was an AQHA Champion with 53 halter points. Tee Cross was retired to stud and produced thirty

foals. He died at the age of thirty-six, a very full life for a horse. The ranch also raised registered Herford and Salers cattle and a cross of the two breeds. The ranch usually shipped five bulls a year to the Parker Ranch in Hawaii. During one transport, Bob was shipping eighty bulls and ten horses by air, the plane nearly crashed when one of the horses managed to kick out a window. In the late 1980’s, an ailing baby elephant named Amy came into Bob’s life. She was part of a group of elephants transported from Africa to be sold in the United States. Her owner rented stable space from Bob, enough to handle her and three others. A year later when the owner was preparing to move the orphans, Bob asked him how much he wanted for Amy. When the price was given, Bob wrote him a check on the spot. He kept the elephant and worked with her every day, teaching Amy to trust people. Eventually she grew too big for the ranch, and he took her to an elephant sanctuary in Florida. Bob’s relationship was chronicled in the book, A Cowboy and his Elephant, by Malcolm Macpherson, published in 2001. In 1988, Bob founded Roundup for Autism. The organization raised awareness and funds for the Autism Treatment Centers of Texas. He was also a member of the board of trustees for the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. There is a statue of Bob on horseback at the Shrine of Remembrance in Colorado Springs. His wife Jane is interred in the Gates of Heaven Mausoleum. The statue is placed so that he is looking at Jane’s final resting place. Bob took his last ride in 2017, but never sold his horse or saddle. His four children, thirteen grandchildren, and eighteen great-grandchildren are all involved with the operation of the T Cross. Bob passed away in his home on November 3rd, at the age of 90. He lived a long and full life and was a true cowboy. Bob set the bar for all the other actors who portrayed the Marlboro Man. He was the face of the best-selling cigarette in America for over a dozen years, and he didn’t smoke. —Terry Alexander is a western, science fiction and horror writer with a vast number of publishing credits to his name. He’s also a connoisseur of all things related to the Hollywood Western. He and his wife, Phyllis, live on a small farm near Porum, Oklahoma.



ODGE CITY. TOMBSTONE. DEADWOOD. Cody. Virginia City. Fort Worth. Bodie. Scattered across the map like a spray of buckshot, you’ll find towns and cities pivotal in the settlement and expansion of the American West. They’re fun to visit for the traveler, interesting to explore for the curious, and informative for the history buff. You can walk the streets where cowboys, lawmen, outlaws, miners, gunfighters, mountain men, cavalry soldiers, and other iconic Old West characters walked. Some of these places are ghost towns now. Others linger, with lonesome populations barely hanging on.




Some have been rebuilt and restored to cater to tourists. And some have been overwhelmed by the growth of the modern cities they have become. But there is still one place where life continues much as it did in the days commonly considered the Old West—and for hundreds of years before that time. When explorers under the command of Spanish conquistador Francisco Vázquez de Coronado y Luján, searching for the mythical seven cities of gold stumbled upon Taos Pueblo in 1540, the community was already hundreds of years old. Over the years, Spanish soldiers and Catholic priests wormed their way into the lives of Indians throughout the Southwest, often by





saddlebag dispatches


force, attempting to “civilize” the people they considered savages and infidels. By 1620, Catholic priest Fray Francisco de Zamora had built a church, Mission de San Geronimo, ruins of which still stand in the pueblo. The original church was destroyed in 1640 and again during the Pueblo Revolt around 1690. The third mission, rebuilt by Fray Juan Alvarez, lasted until destroyed by the U.S. Army in 1847, and was replaced by the present San Geronimo Chapel in 1850. Taos Pueblo includes two clusters of homes separated by a small river, Rio Pueblo de Taos. Dominating the Pueblo are North House, Hlauuma, and Hlaukwima, South House. Each rises several stories and contains numerous apartments, the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the country; North House also being the largest existing “high rise” Pueblo structure. The large adobe buildings housed numerous families in separate apartments. While windows and doors now penetrate the walls, originally, entry was only through the roofs, accessed by ladders pulled up for safety. Those same adobe walls still stand, preserved by constant care and refurbishing.





saddlebag dispatches

Spanish rule proved a burden too heavy to carry for the people in New Mexico’s nineteen pueblos, and in 1680 they rebelled. Popé, a San Juan Indian but living at the time at Taos Pueblo, planned and coordinated the uprising. Runners were dispatched to pueblos throughout the Southwest, each carrying a length of rope tied in a series of knots. One knot was to be untied each day, and with the untying of the final knot, pueblo dwellers were to attack and kill or drive away the Spaniards. Popé’s plan almost failed when the Spanish were warned of the pending attack with two days to spare.

But the clever Indian advanced the revolt a day, preventing the occupiers from preparing a defense. The bloody uprising led to some 400 deaths among the Spaniards; men, women, and children alike. Most of the Catholic priests were among the dead. Within days, surviving Spaniards were fleeing their ravaged villages, seeking safety in Santa Fe. Finding no safety there, the outcasts fled south along the Rio Grande for El Paso del Norte. The Spaniards came back years later to reconquer the pueblos, but neither they nor the Mexicans nor



saddlebag dispatches


the Americans whose rule followed ever displaced the people of Taos Pueblo. Today, the community controls a reservation covering nearly 100,000 acres, including tracts of the Sangre de Cristo mountains where the sacred Blue Lake lies. About 150 people live within the wall of Taos Pueblo today, with other tribal members living elsewhere on the reservation and in nearby communities. In keeping with tradition, the homes in Taos Pueblo are not electrified, and the only running water flows between the banks of Rio Pueblo de Taos. In 1960, the pueblo was listed as a National Historic Landmark by the United States government, and in 1992 the

United Nations declared it UNESCO Heritage Site— the only place in America to enjoy both distinctions. There’s the Old West. And there’s the even older West. Then there’s Taos Pueblo—the oldest Western community we have, which places it firmly among the Best of the West. —Rod Miller is a four-time winner and six-time finalist for the Western Writers of America Spur Award. He is also winner and finalist for the Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award. Information about his fiction, nonfiction, and poetry can be found at www.


Articles inside

Saddlebag Dispatches—Autumn/Winter 2019

page 1


pages 92-101

Cactus Charlie's Obituary

pages 168-169

What Matters

pages 112-113


pages 82-91

Long May it Wave

pages 62-63

How White

pages 18-19


pages 114-120


pages 74-79, 81

Out of the Chute

page 6

Best of the West

pages 178-181

Let's Talk Westerns

pages 176-177

Shortgrass Country

pages 170-175

True Grit

pages 154-157

Black Joe

pages 141-145, 147-151, 153

The Wrong End of a Bullet

pages 159-161, 163-165, 167

The Last Photograph

pages 133-139

The Murder of Pauline Purple

pages 123-125, 127-128, 130-131

Trouble in Lonely Valley: Part One

pages 102-103, 105-107, 109-111

The Last Rider: Part One

pages 64-65, 67-68, 70-73

The Movie That Never Was

pages 58-61

Another Look at Ned Christie

pages 28-33

My Grandfather's Henry

pages 43-49

Indian Territory

pages 12-14, 16-17

Deadman's Hand

pages 51-53, 55, 57

Eye for an Eye

pages 35-39, 41

Somebody Else's Gold

pages 21-24, 26-27

Heroes & Outlaws

pages 8-11
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