The night was cold and rainy, the kind of Utah night that makes you want to stay inside. And that is just what the boys did, stay inside. To pass the long evening, they sat around the big pot-bellied stove and listened to the old-timer as he offered up one of his many tales. He was known for spinning a good yarn, the sort of yarn that helps you forget the weather outside.
BANKTON CRACKER COMPANY
"Sam Bankton was one ornery son-of-a-bitch, he was. You didn't want to cross him. Cross him and you just might end up dead. I seen him back down many a man."
At this, one of the members of the old-timer's wide-eyed audience jumped in, most likely speaking for every one of them. "Did he ever shoot anybody here in Dry Springs?"
"Don't really know. Let's say he was never caught. But some say he was a hired gun slinger, all right. He never worked while he hung around here. So we always wondered where he got his money. Always seemed to have money."
A grizzled old man sitting a way off from the rest proffered his opinion. "Maybe he was good at gambling and got it at the saloon playin' poker or black jack."
Regaining the floor with haste and an emphatic tone the old-timer deftly put his story back on course. "Couldn't be it. Oh, he might play a few hands now and then, but Sam was never a big winner. No, more likely he did some shooting for hire someplace and got paid a lot for it. Any way, he was sort of a saddle tramp, you know, never stayed any one place too long. Probably had to keep moving. He'd never said where he was from and nobody dared ask him outright."
The grizzled man spoke again as he pulled his chair closer to the small semicircle of eager listeners who were now looking back at the storyteller. "Well how do you know he moved around if nobody ever asked this man Sam?"
"Well you could tell by his outfit and his saddle that he had been in a lot of places." The old-timer sounded annoyed by the interruption of his story, but took up the challenge, nonetheless. "He wore a hat that was Colorado style. You know, medium wide brim, not too high, flat on top, with a braided leather cord around it. Sometimes he had on chaps made out of sheepskin. That says north, you know, Wyoming, Montana. Then his boots; they were Texas style."
Without elaboration about the boots, he paused and slowly scanned his audience, looking each man in the eye for a second or two. Then, as if making a big revelation, he narrowed his eyes and spoke slowly. "His spurs, they were pure Mexican. You know, with those big spiked rowels. And that big, wide saddle horn. Oh, he'd been in Mexico all right. And the gun he carried? It was cavalry issue! Now tell me that doesn't say a man who's been around."
No one there was conversant with such technical details, or if he was, he decided not to bother to debate either their accuracy or their force in establishing the conclusion that the old-timer had drawn from them.
So, looking pleased with himself, the story teller continued. "Some say he was on the run because of the shooting he'd done. Maybe this is why everybody sort of kept their distance—everybody but Lorrie, that is."
Now came the pregnant pause. Another slow look around the semi-circle of his small but eager audience. Sitting back on two legs of his well-worn ladder-back chair, and pausing with a look to the ceiling, he resumed.
"Lorrie was a new singer over at the White Horse saloon. She came from someplace in Kentucky according to 'Knuckles,' the piano player. She was a pretty little thing. Most of them Eastern women are, you know. And could she ever sing!"
As if he thought he had diminished his statement about her being pretty by making pulchritude too common, he went on in the previous vein. "She was just a little thing. Petite, you could say. And I mean no disrespect by sayin' she had curves, curves where God meant women to have curves. Her hair was long, most down to her waist, and the color of fresh straw. It had some wave to it so it bounced when she walked. Smelled good, too. When she walked by it was like fresh spring flowers. And what a face! I can't even describe it. I'd say it's the kind of face an artist would want to paint . . . or the kind of face a man would die for."
Such an image must have been almost too much for the old-timer to ponder, for he stopped, placed the other two legs of his chair firmly on the floor and for the first time since he started his story, took a long drink from the jug that had been patiently sitting next to him.
He winced. Putting a serious look on his face, and with a tone that would have done a history professor proud while delivering a lecture, the old-timer explained. "Sam met Lorrie in the saloon about her first night in Dry Springs. For the next couple a weeks he came there every night to see her. They'd laugh and talk, and Sam would buy her a drink. Then she would sing some and Sam would just sit and listen. You could see a little smile on his face. Now, beautiful women ain't too plentiful in these parts, but even so, no one wanted to throw any competition at Sam, what with his being so free with a gun.
"The folks in Dry Springs got used to seeing Sam and Lorrie together at the White Horse. But this stranger that drifted into town was another story. Name was Red, according to Knuckles. Red had his eye on Lorrie from the start. He stood at the bar, kind of leaning, and just stared at her. No one said a thing, but folks started watching Sam. He was play'n cards. Then it happened. Red, he called out to Lorrie. He said, 'Hey there, little lady.' The saloon got real quiet. Then Red, he said, 'Why don't cha come come over here and sing me a little song? I ain't been sung to for a long time.' Then he sort a chuckled and looked around at everybody. Lorrie stood quiet at the end of the bar and just looked down at the floor."
The old-timer now had his audience in rapt attention. He took his time in catching another swig from his jug. Wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his flannel shirt, he continued his story. "Sam stood up . . . real slow. Walked over toward Red, then paused. Then he gave an order, 'Stranger, finish your drink and be on your way. The lady doesn't want anything to do with you.'
"We'll never know whether he would have shot or not, but Red went for his gun. He was slow. That don't take anything from Sam, cause Sam was truly fast. Sam pulled that army shootin' iron off his hip and laid it square cross Red's face! Blood come out of Red's mouth and he hit the floor. He just lay there for a while, while everybody just stood quiet and watched. Then he sat up, face all red with blood. Sam walked out the door and we never seen him again.
"Now the funny thing was, Lorrie didn't show up to sing the next night. Or, the night after. When Sam and Lorrie didn't show up for over a week, we all knew Sam was a goner. Some of the boys went out to the shack where Sam was stayin', but it was empty. Ransacked, all broke up inside. They searched for a new grave, but nothing. Prob'ly never know where they buried Sam. We figured that Lorrie and Red must have gone in cahoots. Red got his revenge and Lorrie got a ticket out of Dry Springs. That conniving little Easterner and her new boyfriend knew Sam had money. We all knew that. We formed a posse and looked for her and her friend, but we had no luck. We rode miles and miles that next couple a weeks. Every road, every direction for miles. Not a sign of Lorrie or Red.
"That just goes to show you, you can't trust a woman, and least of all Easter women. We thought Lorrie and Sam were sweet on each other, but it seems we were wrong."
So ended the tale by the proprietor of the Dry Springs general store. He was quite adept at telling his version of the history of Dry Springs, but his powers of observation were, it seems, rather limited. On a barrel near the door, not twenty feet from where he sat, was a label that read:
Owned and Managed by
Sam Bankton & Sons