A Letter to Quinn
by Jesse J Elliot
Part 2 of 3
"Iragene, I would like your permission to court Cassie." Iragene's relief and joy were almost palpable. Cassie was like an adopted sister who had come to New Mexico with Iragene, her brother Daniel, and Daniel's wife Prudence. She had slavery in her distant past but resembled the hacienda owners in the area. Like Dr. Stein, she could have passed for a number of different groups formerly living here and those now coming to the United States. Cassie was an amazing healer, midwife, and cook. She was beautiful, forgiving, and talented. She had even won the trust of Iragene's sometimes-difficult sister-in-law after delivering a very challenging birth with both the baby and the mother coming out of it just fine.
* * *
Though Cassie had only known Dr. Stein for a few months, their similar interests made them a perfect couple.
"Dr. Stein, you don't have to ask me. It's Cassie you have to ask, but I do want you to know you have my blessing," and she smiled at him and even hugged him.
Her happiness was contagious, and he smiled as he told her his plans. "I can't get out to the ranch to see her, but I heard she's coming to town for the dance and the celebration. Do you think she would be interested?"
"If she's not, she's crazy!" Iragene knew Cassie was attracted to the doctor. She brightened up every time she saw the doctor, and
lately he had been taking Cassie with him on his rounds. They were both healers, both people persons, and both researchers—always
trying to learn new ways of helping their patients. Iragene was elated, and she felt that finally happiness would find its way into
Cassie's life. She too had lost her fiancé after the gunfight last year. Esteban was Alejandro's brother, but unlike Alejandro, he didn't
die, he broke his engagement with Cassie because his mother insisted that he marry into a traditional Nuevo Mexicano family. He was now
the sole male and, she said, he owed it to his family.
"Well, I appreciate your enthusiasm," he smiled. "Now I think I'd better get back to my notes."
Iragene exited the doctor's office, and an immediate wave of euphoria washed over her. Finally the pain of the last year was in the past. Cassie had a chance at happiness, and maybe, so did she as she thought about the handsome cowhand in his cell. She almost skipped over to the hotel where she went up the stairs and into the room where the shooting had taken place. She slowly and carefully turned the handle on the door, and it opened into a room with a large bloodstained carpet.
She looked around and began to focus on the walls and ceiling, looking for any bullet holes that might have been shot from Fenton's gun. Finding a hole wouldn't be decisive, but it would at least indicate that Fenton had discharged his gun. She picked up the gun that remained on the carpet and looked at it. It hadn't been fired, though it was possible that the siblings drew faster. The fact that the gun was out indicated an effort to shoot his alleged victims or defend himself, but she was missing something. Of course, she hadn't gone through Fenton's pockets for information. She had been so involved in the discussion with the doctor that she had forgotten to go through Fenton's pockets.
She stepped out of the door and saw that Finn was now sitting in front of Clara's door. "Anything new here or with the Miller crew?"
"I talked to the lady inside, Sheriff, she doesn't want any food, and she's just moping with the curtains closed. As for the Miller crew, they should arrive any minute. They got the payroll out, and the men have been paid. The town's eighteen bars will be busy tonight."
"And, unfortunately, so will we," she answered. "But now I need to find Fenton's clothes and gear before the cowboys get to town." She bade him farewell and went down to the front desk. She approached him.
"Did the man who was killed have a room here?" she asked the clerk.
"No, I'm not even sure if he had a room in town, Sheriff."
"So he wasn't carrying a bag or his gear?" she asked.
"No, Ma'am. He asked to see the sign-in book, but I refused to open it to him, but he looked over and saw Miss McCarthy and her brother. I don't think they saw him, and he thanked me and followed them up the stairs after a minute. We got real busy about then, but by the time I alerted Mr. MacDonald, we heard the shots."
"Anything else you can think of?" she looked at the young clerk.
"No, Sheriff, but I'll let you know if I think of anything."
"Thank you, Charles," and she turned to leave. She walked back over to the doctor's office. She knocked and then entered. He looked up at her, surprise on his face. "How can I help you, Sheriff?"
"Dr. Stein, I'm sorry to bother you again, but I got so caught up with your autopsy information and your intention to court Cassie, I forgot to get Fenton's clothes."
"They're over there on the chair, Sheriff. I have to say, they are very expensive, and I am just a little envious," he said lightly.
"Well, Doctor, I guess you'll have to switch professions—you'll have to start taking lives instead of saving them."
"Too many years of training, I suppose. I don't want to have to start all over," and he smiled at her as she left the office.
She walked into the office with the dead man's clothes and laid them down on her desk and told Cruz where she'd been. Cruz looked at her, surprise on his face. "Sheriff, you're not able to concentrate today. You've doubled your work by having to retrace your steps. Are you feeling all right?"
She looked at Cruz and then she looked over at the handsome cowboy relaxed and sleeping in the cell. Inside she felt a flutter, but she turned her head to Cruz and said, "Just a lot of things on my mind, Cruz, don't worry. I'm fine." Her words were cut short when a dozen rowdy cowboys came riding down the street, shouting, shooting, and hee-hawing. "Come on, Cruz, the fun is over, time to get down to work. Miller's men have arrived."
Both officers put on their guns and checked their rifles. Quinn never moved, and the two walked out the door to protect the town from the raucous cowboys.
It was late before Iragene collapsed on her bed in the house that the town provided its sheriff. She washed her face, brushed her teeth with tooth powder, jumped into bed, and only then remembered that she hadn't eaten since breakfast over eighteen hours ago. Then, she closed her eyes and only opened them almost eight hours later.
* * *
Iragene jumped out of bed, washed up and pulled a brush through her hair. She changed her riding skirt and put on a clean blouse. Her stomach made music as she walked down the street to the office.
Luckily Cruz had already gotten green chili and eggs wrapped in tortillas for everyone, including the prisoner. He had a pot of coffee on the stove and a pitcher of milk for Iragene's coffee. As usual, she could have kissed this amazing man. They sat contentedly and ate without saying anything.
Iragene had felt light headed without the food, but now she felt herself, and she turned and looked straight at Quinn and wished him a good morning. Surprised, he returned her salutation and asked her about her evening out.
"What can I say?" and she looked over at the five cowboys passed out in the cell next to his. "Some of the others we couldn't
even find. Only half of them rode out of town. Some are at Mrs. Browns, oh . . . "
"Sheriff, it's quite all right. I can assume what Mrs. Browns is." He smiled and Iragene was delighted to see beautiful, white teeth. But his face turned serious as he asked about his sister. "How is Clara doing?"
Finn looked up. "I took her down to breakfast and then took her back to her room. Mr. MacDonald left a bartender outside of the door so I could catch some sleep. I'll be back over there about 3:00, mister. We'll look out for her for you," and he left to get some sleep.
Cruz stood up and grabbed his rifle. "I'll be out checking on those left-over cowboys and making the rounds, Sheriff." He left the room, and the door closed behind him.
"Sheriff," Quinn said, "I see you have Fenton's clothes. Did you get a chance to look through it for the letter?" He was standing up now, impatient to find the letter that could release him and his sister from being falsely accused of murder.
Iragene reached over to the suit. She picked up the jacket and felt in the pockets. She pulled out a wallet with money, receipts, and tickets. A clean handkerchief sat in his breast pocket. She looked over at Quinn who was beginning to sweat. She felt all around the jacket for any secret pockets but found none.
She picked up the vest and checked out all of the pockets. No letter was found. She looked toward the cell at Quinn. "We'll check the pants. Don't get discouraged."
Quinn stood up in the cell as close as he could to where Iragene was. She was now looking through the pants, every pocket, front and back. She was just about to give up when she found a second pocket behind a front pocket. Reaching inside she felt some paper. She pulled it our and found an envelope with feminine writing on it—addressed to Quinn McCarthy.
"You found it! Iragene, you are an angel. You never gave up on us. Is the letter inside?"
"Yes, do you mind if I read it?"
"No, no of course not. Go ahead."
I am fleeing for my life. I witnessed a murder ordered by Brook against his partner, Arthur Jury. His right hand man, Robert Fenton shot him right in front of me!
I am buying a ticket tonight for a stage to La Madera, New Mexico. I will be staying at The Hotel on Main St. I'll be taking meals in the room and staying out of the public's eye. Quinn, I don't know what to do! I can't believe the man that I thought I loved was such a monster. Quinn, he struck me!
I know that together we can figure out what I should do. Right now I am so afraid. Please meet me as soon as possible. I have enough money for both of us.
Your loving sister, Clara
"Why that son of a gun!" Iragene exclaimed. "He did take it from your room." The two looked at each other. "Can I exchange my suite for another room, Sheriff?" Quinn smiled and looked into Iragene's eyes. Their smiles and relief were contagious.
"I think that would be a good idea. We may have others in line waiting for that suite," and she opened the door to the jail cell. Quinn gathered his things, then set them down on the desk and lifted Iragene up off the ground. He whirled her around and she put her head back and laughed.
"Okay, Mr. McCarthy, put me down. You're free to join your sister, but you're not to leave town."
"Thank you, Iragene. Thank you for everything." He set her down and looked into her face. He looked at her closely, noting that her blue eyes and rich brown hair with mahogany highlights went perfectly with her face. She was beautiful in a wonderful and unique way. He stared at her, thinking about kissing her, and then he smiled and walked quickly out of the office into the street. She watched him walk away, and she wondered if his walking out was the beginning of something or the end. She sighed and smiled a bit as she gathered her things and walked over to the telegraph office.
"Got anything for me, Gus?" she asked the telegraph agent.
"Got one message for you, from the Charles Goodnight! Here it is Sheriff!"
"Thanks, Gus, I'll get the paper work back to you as soon as possible," and she walked out into the sunlight to read the telegraph.
Goodnight didn't seem to mind that the telegraph was costly as he described Quinn in great detail and then discussed the letter Quinn had received from his sister. Iragene's telegraph was timely as he was just about to set off to Colorado. He wished Quinn and his sister good luck, and said if needed, he would be at the Colorado ranch in a couple of weeks.
Iragene held the telegraph as if it was a letter written on gold leaf. The description of Quinn that Goodnight had described was perfect, and his comments about Clara's letter made it obvious that it was the same letter Iragene now had in her office. Now she had only to wait to see if Arthur Jury's body had shown up and if Fenton's bullets matched those in the dead man. Of course there was always a chance the body would never show up, but Iragene now felt confident that Quinn and his sister were telling the truth.
Iragene walked back to the office. When she walked in, Cruz was just letting out the cowboys they had put in the cells the previous night. He was giving them back their guns, all which were empty. When the final hung-over cowboy staggered out of the jail, Cruz took two buckets of soapy water and tossed it into the cell where the men had spent the night. He then took a mop and washed down the cell.
He never turned around but addressed Iragene. "Entonces, Sheriff. What did you discover at the telegram office?"
"In my hand I hold a telegram sent to me from the famous Mr. Goodnight. He verified McCarthy's identification and the information in his sister's letter."
He turned around, hoping to see Iragene's expression as she spoke. For the first time he saw happiness emanating from his boss. He was relieved to see that the shadow of the last year had disappeared.
"Now we can sit back and relax. No cattle crew arriving anytime soon, no new murders, and no new shoot-outs. Maybe we should think about some days off. I know you've wanted to visit my nephew and help pick out a horse for him. What do you say about taking off for a few days?" she asked her deputy.
"I'd like that very much, but I'll be back Friday at noon."
"Why so soon?"
"Because, and I guess you forgot, Friday is the beginning of the 25-Year Celebration of La Madera. There's a dance Friday and
Saturday, a chili contest, a rodeo, and I forget all else. I think you could use a third person here. Besides, I'll be bringing
Cassie back with two picnic baskets. Remember, you're participating in the auction where some lucky man is going to bid for your
fine company and Cassie's fine cooking—hmmmm, I might bid on that myself," and he scratched his almost hairless chin.
"Not bad company and oh that food!"
Iragene laughed and normally would have encouraged Cruz to bid, even given him extra bills to go into the town's building fund, but this time she held off for another possible bidder. Yet even if he wasn't even interested, at least, because of him, a great sadness was able to heal, and she now felt an unbearable weight had been lifted from her.
"Damn, ah darn, I'm glad you reminded me about the celebration. I forgot all about the anniversary weekend. You're right. I'll give Finn some time off after the affair. I don't think I need to have a bodyguard posted on Miss McCarthy's door since her brother is now out of jail. Let's hope that Fenton's death is the end of that affair. I'm hoping that Blackhurst just gives up after not hearing from his hired killer.
"But, he did send Fenton out, so just to be safe, we should keep Finn making the rounds of the stable and the stage, looking for any newcomers. We'll get a description of Blackhurst from Clara and pin it up around town," she paused in her thinking.
"Bueno, but Sheriff, don't forget you can send the Murphy boy to get me. Besides this Blackhurst fellow there are other concerns, the miners, the famers, and the occasional drunken cowboy."
Iragene began to laugh. "You're right, Cruz. La Madera is a potential powder keg with all those saloons. I promise I'll keep a vigilant watch. Come on, let's treat ourselves to a good lunch over at The Hotel restaurant before I send you out to the ranch." She put her rifle into the rifle cabinet and locked it up. Cruz put on his holster, and they walked out of the office together.
"Breakfast was excellent this morning, but it's only a memory now. I'm starving," she exclaimed.
"You're always hungry, Sheriff, and yet you remain slender and fit. I am not sure how you do it. Just the amount of cream you put in your coffee should put the pounds on you."
Iragene laughed again and began thinking about the possibility of meeting a certain hotel guest she hadn't seen for a couple of hours. In her mind she replayed his joy at being released and lifting her up and twirling her. Because she hadn't felt so light spirited in so long, the event played over and over in her mind.
The maître d sat them and gave them the menu for the day. The first time Iragene brought Cruz into the swanky restaurant, the same maître d almost refused to give him a menu, assuming he couldn't read and didn't belong there. Cruz not only proved he could read, but could speak several languages, sometimes serving as a translator for this same waiter. Cruz seemed to pick up languages as easily as dogs picked up fleas.
Both sheriff and deputy were concentrating on the menu when Clara and Quinn came in and were seated across from them. Iragene looked up and saw them at the same time they saw her. "Would you care to join us?" she said without thinking.
"We would love to join you," Clara responded, and the young maître d moved their settings to Iragene's table. Small talk about the food followed, and then they ordered.
"I received a telegraph from Mr. Goodnight." Both siblings looked up quickly. Iragene focused on Quinn. "He verified your identities and your receiving Clara's letter. I'm now waiting to hear if Jury's body was found."
"I just wish this were all over and in the past," Clara moaned holding her head. "I feel as if I've been running for half my lifetime." Quinn looked over at his sister and rubbed her shoulders, saying some soothing words in Gaelic.
Iragene almost smiled when she saw Cruz's ears perk up at the new sounds. If the siblings were going to stick around, Cruz would surely corner them about their language.
Their food arrived, and again small talk ensued. They discussed their families briefly, the good food and excellent coffee at The Hotel, and finally the upcoming anniversary of the town.
"So, Sheriff, tell us about the celebration this week-end. Are out-of-towners able to attend?" Iragene hoped she wasn't blushing from sheer joy. She waited a second and then explained the upcoming events, including the picnic lunch and dance.
"Did I leave anything out, Cruz?"
"No, except the fact that you had forgotten the entire event was even going to take place."
"Really?" Quinn asked. "I can see why, you're quite a dedicated officer of the law. If we had been in any other town, we would both be sitting in jail with more dire consequences facing us."
"Thank you, but Cruz and I were just doing our jobs. Now how about some dessert?"
The waiter brought the dessert tray around. On it were flan, apple pie, biscochitos, empanadas, Mexican Hot Chocolate, and red chili pumpkin pie. The siblings ordered apple pie while Iragene and Cruz ordered red chili pumpkin pie. They all ordered coffee.
"I'm interested in bidding on a lunch on Saturday, Sheriff," Quinn said, feigning seriousness, "are you going to submit a picnic basket on Saturday?"
"I am, and it will be delicious."
"You're a good cook?" he continued with the banter.
"Oh, no, I'm a terrible cook. My friend Cassie always cooks up my picnic basket."
"So you're not a good cook?" he asked.
"No, Mr. McCarthy, I'm a terrible cook. Alejandro used to laugh and say . . . " and then she caught herself. Cruz looked at her, realizing she never mentioned the man's name to anyone but him and her family. She jumped up and said, "I really have to be going, I forgot I have so many things to do before Cruz leaves. If you'll excuse me, please." She awkwardly smiled and left the dining room.
"Oh, dear," said Clara, "did we open up an old wound?"
Cruz knew he really had no right to discuss Iragene's past, but a year had passed, and Iragene appeared to have turned a page on
her past and opened a new one with this cowboy sitting across from him. He looked at the man and then said quietly, "Mr. and Miss
McCarthy, I have never shared this with anyone—it was not and it still isn't my place to do so, but the sheriff has opened
up to you in a way she hasn't done with anyone. Alejandro was her fiancée. They both investigated a family of land grabbers, run
unknowingly by the old sheriff's wife and her brothers. This family murdered families and innocents in horrible ways, thinking
they could make it rich because they heard the railroad was going to come through here. The biggest irony is the railroad had
changed its plans due to lack of water and rerouted." He paused and looked at his listeners. They hadn't moved a muscle.
"When it appeared we would get no help from the sheriff, Iragene, Alejandro, and I got some ranchers together and we went after them. We thought we had them, but the brothers grabbed Esteban, Alejandro's brother. In order to take a difficult shot, Alejandro stood up, and the brothers shot him."
"Oh my God," Clara cried out and stifled her reaction with a sob. "How horrible."
"It was horrible. Iragene fell apart emotionally, but not before she killed one brother, emptying her rifle into him while he still held Esteban as a shield."
Quinn looked at him with amazement on his face. "You say she shot and killed the man while still holding this Esteban? She must be an remarkable shot."
"She's truly a sharpshooter. She'd been shooting since she was a girl."
"And did she shoot the other evil brother?" Clara asked with a touch of excitement in her voice.
"No, I did," Cruz modestly and quietly stated.
"Oh God, that poor women, and here I am feeling sorry for my situation," Clara said. "She is special." She turned toward Cruz. "Thank you for sharing this information. You know we shall be discreet."
"Thank you, I am trusting you to be so. I have to go back to the office. I'm leaving for a few days, and I don't want Iragene inundated with paper work." He got up to pay, but Quinn got up too.
"Please, for all you've done for us, please let me at least pay for your lunch. You and Iragene have gone out of your way to make us feel safe here." Quinn reached his hand across the table, and Cruz obliged by shaking his hand.
Cruz walked out of the restaurant feeling good about this man and his sister. Not every Anglo treated him, a small Indian looking Mexicano, with respect. He appreciated a man who recognized him for his strengths and held no bias against him for his background. Men like this, unfortunately were few.
The week passed by without any major incidences besides the usual fight or drunk having to be admonished or taken in to the jail to cool off. Iragene got all the paper work completed and felt relieved going into the weekend. She watched the wooden dance floor and the stands and tables being set up for La Madera's 25th Celebration. She had received a telegraph from the sheriff in El Paso. Yes, a body resembling the description of Arthur Jury had been found. When the officers went to the home of Brook Blackhurst, the maid let them in. They found blood on the carpet and the walls. They sent the size of the bullets in his chest so Iragene could compare them to the bullet size in Fenton's gun. They matched. Blackhurst was nowhere to be found.
Iragene contemplated telling the McCarthys all this information but hesitated. Perhaps they weren't in danger. After all, Blackhurst had apparently absconded with the company's money, so why should he risk coming to the same town where his hired gun had been fatally shot? And yet something niggled in the back of her mind. She decided to wait until Cruz returned. She would just continue to have Finn watch the hotel, stage station, and stable, making rounds every few hours. She neither heard from nor spoke to the McCarthys.
Friday morning arrived with a dark blue sky suggesting the slightest white build-up of the monsoon clouds. Thankfully the day was cooler than usual, settling into the low 80s and not the intolerable 90s of June. Iragene had just finished her flour tortilla with green chili and cheese. She was just wiping the last flakes off her mouth when two familiar voices were heard outside the door. She jumped up.
"Cassie, Cruz! Hallelujah, you're back. I have really missed you both, and she hugged her adopted sister."
Cruz stepped forward and smiled, then asked about the office. "Sheriff, how was your week? Do we know anything more about the El Paso situation?"
"I have all the information on your desk, Cruz. The new warrants are already up, and all the paper work for reimbursements has been submitted. So just relax and maybe practice your dance steps a bit. I hear Maria is coming to town and expects a certain someone to bid on her picnic basket and dance with her and not step on her toes."
Cruz played at being indignant, but he failed utterly and merely laughed. "Okay, Sheriff, I can tell you haven't had your coffee yet, so why don't you and Cassie get over to The Hotel and get some coffee and cake. I'll cover the office."
The two young women walked out arm and arm and headed toward The Hotel while trying to avoid the construction going on in the main street.
"Okay, tell me what's going on at home, Cassie? How is Alexander, my perfect nephew? He must be crawling by now. Cruz went out to help pick out a horse for him, but I think that's a bit premature."
"Maybe not now, but soon. He's trying to walk already, the rascal. He pulls himself up and drags himself around the room. Daniel wants to build him a play area to keep him in one spot instead of throughout the house."
"So tell me, what's been happening in town, lady? Cruz started filling us in on the excitement, but I want to hear it from you. I think he's leaving some of the good parts out."
"Well, I'm not sure what you mean by good parts, but I did have a request from a certain handsome, young doctor."
"Oh?" Cassie looked at her with curiosity, hoping that this news would be good news for her. "Tell me," trying not to sound too eager.
"Hmmm, how shall I say this . . . ?"
"Iragene, get to the point!"
"I was in Dr. Stein's office, looking at someone's grey brain sitting in a bowl with a bullet lodged in it when he asked me something," she deliberately paused, "he asked me if he could court you."
"Oh, what an image, thanks for the brain description," Cassie said feigning disgust, then paused before she asked, "what did you say?"
"I said, he has to ask you . . . but he had my blessings."
"Really?" she just sat there with a dreamy expression on her face. By now the coffee arrived and they had to choose a cake from the tray.
"I'll take that one," Iragene pointed to the pastry with jelly. Cassie chose the same.
Iragene took a bite out of her pastry and then asked, "Well, Cassie, what are you going to say to Dr. Stein?"
Cassie looked at her friend and smiled, "I think I'll say yes. What do you think?"
"I think you'd be crazy if you didn't say yes! You're perfect for each other! You both love people's insides, their sicknesses, their skin infections. Oh I could go on and on."
"Iragene I know he was interested in you when he first got here. Are you sure you're not interested? Or, is there someone you are interested in?"
"I really don't know, Cassie. I did meet someone. He was involved in the situation we had here, I'm sure Cruz said something to you about the fatal shooting by the brother and sister."
"He alluded to something about that. How do you feel? It's been a year, Iragene. Alejandro wouldn't want you to act like a grieving widow the rest of your life. You know he loved life and you too much to condemn you to a life of emptiness and celibacy. He was too passionate a man."
"Well, I don't even know how Quinn feels, that's his name. Maybe he'll ask me to dance tonight."
"Oh yes, the dance. Iragene, I not only brought a picnic basket for you, I brought your party dress."
"My party dress? Why I haven't worn that since the last baille we attended with . . . with Alejandro and Esteban.
I don't think I could wear that dress again, Cassie. I'm sorry. I hope you didn't go to too much trouble, but . . . "
"Now just a minute, Iragene. Before you say no, listen. This dress isn't the party dress you wore, that's way out of style, according to Prudence's mother, so she sent each of us a new dress. The colors and styles are in fashion. They're beautiful; the overskirt swoops up, leaving the underskirt exposed. They're so stylish. In addition to the dresses, she sent each of us a lace shawl. Iragene, I can't even begin to describe them. I gave the maid at the hotel the dresses to freshen up, so they should be back in the room by now."
"Prudence's mother? Why she didn't even approve of either of us, what happened?"
"Alexander happened. Pru's mama realized that you and I have been there for her and their grandson, also she wants to make sure that his aunt and his adopted aunt reflect well on Pru and her family."
"Cassie, you sound so cynical! You're not like that—I am." Cassie just looked at her and sipped her coffee. Then she responded, "I think this year has opened my eyes to what people are capable of doing, robbery, murder, betrayal."
"Yes, I understand, but I don't want you going into a good relationship carrying the past with you. Cassie, you have a new start!"
"You're right. Let's finish up and head for our room." They got up and paid and walked up the stairway. On the second landing a door opened and shut and Iragene heard two familiar voices.
"I don't understand why you need another shirt, Quinn. You already have a good, clean one. You could wear it tonight and tomorrow."
"Sorry, Sis, I want to have a clean one for tomorrow, and the General Store will be closed. You know you don't have to come with me."
"Of course I have to come with you, Quinn, you have terrible taste."
End - Part 2 of 3
Jesse J Elliot now writes about what she has loved so much to read about—the Old West—except her stories always have a strong female protagonist. She's published four short stories in Frontier Tales Magazine, and three of these will be published in The Best of Frontier Tales, Volumes 5, 6 & 7. Another short story, "Lost in Time," appeared in the A Mail-Order Christmas Bride anthology, December 2015, published by Prairie Rose Publications. In her previous life she taught K-6, community college, and Educational methods at the University of New Mexico. In her free time, she reads, travels, C/W dances, and visits her family ranch in New Mexico.
Iragene Jones Published Short Stories in Frontier Tales:
"Roberts Rules of Order"
Prairie Rose Publications
"Lost in Time" in A Mail-Order Christmas Bride anthology
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Dutch Creek Hideout
by Zeke Ziemann
The instant that the teacher rang the three-thirty dismissal bell, Bert Lonigan and Davey Canby bolted for the school house door. The sixth graders leaped down the front steps of the one room school and dashed to the end of the schoolyard. There they picked up the pitchforks that stood against a tree. Bert’s fork once had five tines, but one was missing. Davey’s was a four-tiner, but the handle had been broken off about two feet above the tines.
* * *
Bert and Davey’s Pa’s allowed the twelve year old boys to take the old forks to school that Friday, so they could walk along Dutch Creek on their way home and try to spear a trout. In late May the creek was full of carp and an occasional trout swimming upstream.
Bert, small in stature, but well muscled like his father, seldom reacted to any situation rashly. He calculated, made a decision and then acted. His friend, Davey, was tall and wiry. He leaped into action instinctively, usually not considering possible consequences.
Taking the West Verde road that ran by their respective farms, was shorter and quicker than following along the creek bank, of course, but as long as they got home in time to do their chores, things were fine. Nothing could beat the fun of spearing fish in Dutch Creek.
Dutch Creek meandered through open pastures near the road for the first mile from the school, then it turned south and made a horseshoe-like U-turn through a dense thicket. After leaving the thicket the creek zigzagged back north, then turned west again, passing under a bridge near the lane that led to Lonigan’s farm.
Tall cottonwoods, clumps of oaks, box elder trees, milk weeds and brush surrounded ahidden, grassy, quarter acre clearing in the middle of the thicket. To get to the clearing, the boyshiked a narrow path along the creek bank, or walked in the water. If on horseback, they couldenter this hideaway only by riding in the stream. Bert and Davey often met there on Sunday afternoon, speared carp, and had “shootouts” with imaginary Indians or bandits. They called this secluded spot their “Hideout”. It was a mystical, country boy’s paradise.
Davey could follow the creek for about one mile before he reached the driveway that led to his house. Bert could keep following the creek through the thicket, or stay on the road for about another mile until he came to the lane that led to his home. Five miles beyond the Lonigan farm, lay the town of Verde.
The boys walked slowly along the banks of Dutch Creek, one on each side, carefully watching for ripples in the small stream; ripples that might mean a trout was swimming by. The boys were free! Chores were two hours away, and Bert and Davey could imagine a huge trout dangling at the end of the fork.
“There’s a carp!” said Bert.
Davey dropped to one knee on the bank and made a lunging stab at the fat, yellowish, scaly, fish with his short-handled fork. In the process he lost his balance and his right foot slipped into the water, soaking his shoe, sock, and bib overall up to the knee.
“Got him!” Davey said as he pulled his muddy foot from the water. “I’ll take him home to the hogs.” But he forgot that the fork had no barbs, and the slippery fish slipped off of fork. Fortunately, it landed on the bank and Davey speared the flopping fish once more before it could gain the stream.
Bert looked at Davey’s soaked leg and laughed. “You’re all wet! Your Ma will be mad.”
“So what,” said Davey. “It’ll dry out.”
“Wish you’da got a trout. I’m mighty partial to trout. Ma fries ‘em up and boy they’re good,” Bert said. “You can’t eat carp . . . but I guess the hogs like to root around with ‘em.”
Fifteen minutes later they reached Canby’s lane. “You gonna follow the road or go through our hideout in the thicket?” Davey asked.
Bert squinted into the late afternoon sun. “I got enough time. I think I’ll go through the thicket. Might be a trout in there.”
Davey shook his wet foot, then turned up the half-mile graveled driveway that led to the house, leaving a wet footprint with every other step. “Okay. Gotta go. I’ll see you Sunday at church.”
Bert waved to his friend, walked along the bank for another ten minutes and then took the narrow path into the thicket. He stepped softly, watched the water, and wondered if fish could hear. He came to a sudden stop. He listened. I hear voices. Voices! Then quiet.
* * *
The muffled whinny of a horse broke the silence.
“Dammit Oney, keep those horses quiet,” came a mysterious utterance from the hideout. “You want some dumb sodbuster to find us here?”
“Why ain’t we movin’ on?” said Oney. “Hell Jarvis, ain’t nobody gonna look in these brambles.”
“We wait until dark,” said Jarvis. “Ain’t that right Bob?”
“We come nigh to fifty mile,” muttered Bob, in a low sober tone. “We play it safe and wait 'til dark. Two more full night’s ride and we’ll reach the border.”
Bert slinked backward slowly and softly. A dry twig snapped under his foot.
“I think I heared something,” said Bob. “Oney take a look-see on the other side of that creek . . . but stay out of sight.”
Bert froze. Crouching low, he eased back a few more paces.
“I din’t hear a damn thing,” said Oney. “Bob, you been hearin’ things ever since we robbed that Holbrook stage. Anyhow, if some sodbuster does find us here, we’d have to shoot him. That’d cause some fireworks.” Following a drawn out, subtle, silence, he added, “All right Bob, all right. I’ll take a look-see.”
“Any sodbuster comin’ in here is a dead man. That’s for damn sure.” said Bob.
Bert looked for a place to hide. Behind him, about six feet away stood a tall cottonwood tree. He crept to the back side, grabbed a low branch, and started to climb. Remembering his fork, he reached down and took it with him. About fifteen feet in the air, the huge tree divided into two branches with a large limb bending away from the main trunk. Bert crawled on it, and lying on his stomach, placed the fork next to him. He wasn’t sure if anyone standing below the limb could see him.
Oney walked right under him. A tall gaunt man, he wore high boots and a torn plaid shirt. Seeing the six-gun tucked in the waistband of his dirty trousers sent a shiver down Bert’s spine. “There ain’t a damn thing ‘cross the creek,” Oney announced as he headed back toward the hidden clearing.
Bert was trapped. He had heard his folks comment on a stage robbery that had taken place near Holbrook, but the Verde Weekly reported that the posse chasing the three robbers headed east, toward New Mexico, not down here in Verde Valley. He struggled to remain calm when he remembered that the robbers had murdered the stage guard.
Bert knew his folks would worry when he was late. Then it struck him. Pa will come lookin’ look for me. He’ll walk right into these killers.
The leaves of the cottonwood shimmered in the slight breeze. Bert peered through them and could see that there was about an hour, maybe two, of daylight remaining. Pa will be here before sunset.
Bert froze on the limb. By 5:15 Ma will start to worry. Pa will just be mad. He’ll think I stopped at Davey’s house. By dinner time Pa will start to worry too. Then he’ll come looking for me.
Bert knew he should do something. But what? Should he try to get down and run? They were too close. They’d hear, and shoot me sure. Wait until dark. He stayed quiet, and listened.
“Why don’t we divvy up now and then I can ride out?” asked Oney.
“No you fool!” Bob demanded. He sounds like the boss. “You’d spend yours at the first saloon. Then the law would back track you and all of us would get shot.”
“Hell Oney,” added Jarvis. “Just wait. It’s only a couple of hours ‘til dark.”
“Aw damn,” Oney moaned. “Jarvis, toss me that bottle.”
“Quit pullin’ on that jug. Yer gonna drown yer brains . . . what little you have,” threatened Bob.
“Where is that boy?” asked Sarah Lonigan as she dried her calloused hands in her apron. She pushed back her silver-streaked dark hair and turned to Hank, who wiped his boots on the door mat as he entered the kitchen. “He’s way late. Shouldn’t you go looking for him?”
* * *
Hank hung up his straw hat, wiped the sweat off his balding head with his sleeve, and poured water in the basin. He grabbed the soap, washed and dried his hands, using the towel that hung on a peg. The towel hung limp in his hands. “The boy’s gotta learn some responsibility. I just done his chores.”
He glanced at the clock that hung between the cupboards. “Good heavens, is it nearly supper time? He’s never been this late.”
Sarah’s motherly intuition leaped to full alert. “Something is wrong. Look for him now, before it gets dark. Take the buggy and go look for him!”
Hank forgot his hunger and the anger subsided. Concern, fatherly love and instant courage replaced it. “I’m going to ride over to Canby’s. He might’ve took sick there or something.”
Sarah’s forehead wrinkled with worry. “I’m going along.”
Gus, Davey, and Betty Canby had just finished the evening chores and entered the house, when Hank and Sarah rode up in their buggy.
* * *
Betty opened the screen door. She wore her customary man’s bib overalls and held three potatoes and a paring knife. Davey and his Pa stepped outside to greet the visitors. “What brings you over? Care to take supper with us?”
“I’m looking for Bert,” said Hank. “He hasn’t come home from school yet, and I—”
“What?” interrupted Davey. “He said he was gonna go through the thicket when I left him. He should’a been home an hour ago.”
“I didn’t see him on the road when we rode over. I was hoping he was here,” said Hank. “He must have followed Dutch Creek into the thicket then.”
Gus Canby did not hesitate. A tall, strong, burly man of action, he donned his straw hat, covering up a huge shock of coal black hair. “Let’s go. I’ll help you look for him Hank.”
Gus took down the double barreled ten gauge shotgun from over the fireplace and grabbed a few shells. “Never can tell, Bert might have been treed by some wolves or javelina or something.” Then he hurried to the barn and hitched up the buck board.
Betty climbed in. “Maybe we can help.” Then watching a teary-eyed Sarah, she said, “Gus, ride in the buggy with Hank. Sarah, Davey, come ride with me in the buckboard.”
Hank slapped the reins and urged the horse into a trot. Puffs of dust rose behind the buggy. The men rode in silence as the shadows lengthened and cool evening temperatures arrived.
Sarah looked toward Betty with anxious eyes. “Tain’t like him, Betty. He’s been late before when he stopped to play at your house, but never this late.”
Betty put the reins in one hand and patted Sarah’s forearm. She hid her own concern with resolute words. “He’s an able lad, Sarah. Don’t you fret. Gus and Hank will find him. He’ll be alright.”
The buggy and buckboard hurried down the lane, turned up the road for a half-mile, and stopped where Dutch Creek coiled into the thicket.
Hank secured the reins and got down from the buggy. “The brush is dense. Keep a sharp eye. Sing out if you see him.”
“I’ll hurry around and walk in from the other side. That way we’re sure not to miss him,” said Gus. “Davey, you and Ma stay here with Sarah.” Reluctantly, Davey obeyed.
Lying on the limb, Bert whispered a prayer when he heard the outlaws saddling their horses. Maybe they’ll be gone before Pa gets here.
The setting sun created a dusky amber glow in the thicket. The breeze waned. The hue and calmness created an eerie atmosphere. The only noise came from chirping crickets.
Suddenly a familiar voice shattered the silence. “Bert, Bert. Where are you son?”
Bert sat up on the limb, but remained mum, afraid to reply.
“Who the hell is that?” said Bob. “Oney, you and Jarvis walk upstream and take a look. Somebody’s comin’! Don’t shoot unless you have to.”
Oney and Jarvis worked their way through the undergrowth until they were nearly under the tree where Bert hid. Oney looked a foot taller than the squat, bowlegged Jarvis. Jarvis was old. His long, dirty white hair hung out the back of his old floppy hat. When Hank appeared, Jarvis drew his gun. “Keep coming stranger. What the hell are you doin’ in this brush?”
Hank took a step back as he looked at the pistol pointed at him. “I’m lookin’ for my son. He didn’t come home from school.” His answer was direct, calm.
“We ain’t seen no kid,” said Jarvis. “Oney get Bob. You, Sodbuster, stand where you are!”
Bert stayed quiet. Maybe they’ll just ride out.
Bob came up leading three saddled horses. He had a long scar across his forehead and a huge black beard. He appeared plain-old mean, and straight-out ugly. “What the hell is this?”
“Sodbuster came through the brush lookin for his kid,” said Oney, pointing at Hank with with his gun. “But there ain’t no kid around here nowheres. What’ll we do with this plow pusher?”
“Can’t have no witnesses that we was here,” said Bob. “You two get mounted up and I’ll take care of him. Then we ride out fast!”
When Oney and Jarvis were mounted, Bob drew his gun and walked toward Hank.
Bob stopped under the tree where Bert was hiding. Bert grabbed the fork with both hands, aimed, and threw it as hard as he could down at Bob’s gun arm.
“Eeeyahhh!” Bob yelled in pain as two tines of the fork went clear through his forearm.He dropped the gun; fell to his knees, then pulled the fork from his bleeding arm. He tried to rise, but Bert leaped from the tree and landed on Bob’s back. With his bloody arm dangling, Bob got up and spun around, but Bert clung to Bob’s neck, riding him like a cowboy on a bucking bronco.
Hank charged Bob like a raging bull, driving his head into Bob’s stomach. The three of them flew backward and splashed into Dutch Creek. Hank rose and his fist hit Bob’s jaw like a sledge hammer. Bob flopped back into the water and didn’t move.
Oney’s mount squealed and reared. He desperately tried to calm the horse. Jarvis recovered his wits, drew his gun and pulled the hammer back. He peered through the tall reeds and attempted to get a clear shot at Hank. Paying no attention to Jarvis, Bert and his Pa dragged the unconscious Bob from the creek.
They dropped Bob to the ground, and moved out in the open. Jarvis was about to squeeze the trigger when suddenly the roar of a shotgun erupted from the bushes. Jarvis screamed and grabbed at a gaping wound that had ripped open his side. His startled horse reared and Jarvis tumbled backward and lay twitching in a pile of leaves that reddened with his blood.
Gus emerged from the brush and pointed the shotgun at Oney. “I’ve got one shell left for you if you want it. Throw down your gun or expect the same.”
“Don’t shoot,” Oney said throwing his arms in the air. “Bob did all the killin' . . . twern’t me . . . was Bob.”
Bert looked up and saw his Ma, Davey, and Betty, running down the narrow trail. Sarah ran to her son and hugged him.
The isolated calm of the thicket slowly returned.
“Who are these bad men?” asked a wide-eyed Davey.
“They’re the robbers who held up the Holbrook stage and killed the guard,” said Bert. “I heard ‘em talkin’ about it when I hid up in that tree.”
Hank took a deep breath of relief and directed a smile toward his wife and son. “You know I read that there is a $1000 reward.” Then he whispered a few words to Gus who grinned and nodded.“Boys,” said Hank. “When we get the reward money, how would each of you like a real fish spear, one with barbs and a strong handle?”
“Yippee!” said Davey.
“Maybe then I’ll get a trout . . . huh Pa?” said Bert.
Davey laughed. “Guess this’ll teach outlaws not to come fiddlin’ around in our hideout!”
Zeke earned a Master's Degree in Mathematics and coached sixteen years. His athletic career earned election into three Halls of Fame.
He entered the financial services industry eventually serving as the Compliance Supervisor for the Arizona office of a Wall Street firm.
He uses his vast library of Western magazines and biographies, and membership in the Wild West History Association to make certain that the settings, language, and conditions of the time are accurately represented.
Zeke's stories can be found at Frontier Tales, The Western Online, Rope and Wire, and Author's Stand. Three of his anthologies are on Amazon.
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Hell and High Water
Part 1 of 2
by William S. Hubbartt
“Hello, the ranch!”
* * *
Douglas turned quickly, his hand instinctively moving towards the heavy colt that rested on his right hip. He cursed to himself for letting his guard drop while he fidgeted with the cinch as he saddled the dun. While the winter had been quiet, memories of the Comanche great raid of 1840 through central Texas a few short months ago lingered fresh. Inattention, even for a moment, could give the stealthy Comanche warriors the upper hand.
“Hello, the ranch,” repeated the lone approaching rider, his right hand in the air as he halted his horse some fifty yards out. It was a customary precaution to announce one’s presence and friendly intentions.
“Jake. Is that you?” asked Douglas. He now recognized the rider as a Ranger, one of the defenders employed by the Republic of Texas to patrol the plains against the criminal element as well as Indian threats.
“Yep. Headin’ back to Austin for the next assignment. You fixin’ to ride to town?”
“Howdy Ranger Jake. Do you have time to stop for some coffee and fresh bread,” asked Anna, Douglas’ wife. A petite 19 year old with blonde hair, Anna stepped out the doorway of the two room mud and log shelter that was their home on the Texas prairie. “Or were you just planning on spiriting my husband away to go carousing in town?”
Jake smiled and touched his hat. “Morning Ma’am. Appreciate the offer. Captain’s orders to get to Austin. Next time I pass through.”
The 25 year old rancher kissed his wife good bye and then the two men headed east along the Colorado River trail towards Austin where Douglas intended to purchase a horse and supplies, and return the next day. The young couple had moved to Texas to take over operation of the ranch after Anna’s brother, Thomas, had died fighting Comanches at the battle of Plum Creek the previous fall.
Anne busied herself with sweeping out their dirt floor prairie home, and then, working at a small outside table, she began cleaning and skinning a wild turkey that Douglas had shot earlier in the morning. The feathers were making a mess, so she stepped into the house to find a small bag. Feathers blew across doorway as she stepped out again. Suddenly from behind, a firm hand grabbed her by the mouth and jerked her back and she felt the sharp point of a knife at her throat. The smell of a sweaty body and the feel of a firm uncovered chest and copper colored muscular arms about her meant that she had been captured by an Indian.
* * *
Little Bear, so named because of his short stocky build came around the corner of the log house, with a turkey feather dangling from his headband and one in his hand. On seeing the yellow-haired white woman tightly held by his tall lean companion, Running Horse, Little Bear gave a joyful yelp. He reached out with the feather to tickle the nose of the woman. Anne squirmed to turn away and gasped from the effort. Little Bear then grabbed at her dress.
Anna kicked at his reaching hand and then tried to twist out of the tight grip of the tall Indian. Running Horse squeezed the petite woman tighter, and she screamed when the knife nicked the skin under her chin. Now afraid for her life, and even more dreading the humiliation of being ravaged by the Indians, Anna swung her arm at the Indian in front of her and stomped her shoe onto the toe of her captor and squealed a grunt of effort as she broke free and ran. Running Horse dove after the fleeing woman, catching her long dress, which partially ripped away in his hands. She stumbled, losing her shoe, and the bottom hem of dress tore free exposing her white ankles and calves as she fell, cutting her knee on a rock. The Indians laughed as they tackled this yellow haired woman with spunk.
It was late afternoon the following day when Douglas approached the ranch, newly purchased horse in tow packed with supplies. Fluffy clouds hung in the sky and shadows stretched across the yard as the sun approached the western horizon. The log house and yard seemed surprisingly quiet. A crow cawed, and Douglas saw a flutter of wings as two black birds hopped about arguing over a morsel on the outdoor cutting table. A straw broom lay angled across the doorway threshold.
* * *
Douglas reined his horse to a stop, as the hair on his neck tingled. Watching for any movement, he reached for the Colt and cocked the hammer. The crows continued their tussle. Small white feathers drifted along the ground in the breeze near the cutting table.
“Anna . . . Anna . . . are you there? Are you all right?”
Dropping the lead for the supply horse, Douglas nudged his horse ahead cautiously. He circled towards the cutting table at the side of the house and saw a few scraps from the turkey he had shot the day before. Ants swarmed over the table and short feathers were scattered across the yard. Something was wrong, Anna would never leave a mess like this.
“Anna . . . Anna . . . are you there?”
Douglas quickly scanned the yard and the horizon, seeing only empty Texas plains. He dismounted and crept stealthily towards the doorway. Silence hung in the air. A lonesome wind blew, fluttering the curtains Anna had used to decorate the kitchen window. Anticipation and fear grew. Could she have walked down to the creek? Could she be hurt? He spun quickly into the log home, gun first. Their few belongings were tossed about, and the Kentucky rifle was not in its normal corner. He felt goose bumps of fear on his skin.
Douglas rushed out of the house and circled the small log and mud structure, freezing instantly after three steps. There on the ground, lay a torn fabric, the hem apparently ripped from Anna’s dress. Then he saw a rock stained brown with blood, drag marks in the dirt, and a few yards up, Anna’s shoes lay carelessly about. He followed the drag marks to the back of the house where he saw hoof prints. Unshod ponies! The Comanches have taken Anna!
Fear raced through his mind. Douglas recalled the story of how the Comanches had taken little Cynthia Parker, several years before. The little girl had never been found; rumor was they had raised her as their own. And there were stories about how the Indians ravaged and mistreated the white women they captured. The pony tracks lead northwest, towards the Comancheria, the Comanche homeland. Anger and determination swelled within, Douglas ran back to pack supplies. He would track these red devils and bring back his wife.
Running Horse had tied Anna’s wrists tightly with a strip of rawhide, mounted his horse and dragged her along like he was leading a stubborn mule. Angered by the death of his brother at the battle of Plum Creek, this young brave was anxious for revenge against the white man.
* * *
Little Bear followed along, laughing and taunting her, as she tried to run along keeping pace with the Indian pony. Her shoes had fallen off quickly and now her feet were becoming bloodied, running barefoot across the prairie. When she stumbled and fell she was dragged until Running Horse stopped his pony to let her stand. The prairie tall grass cut her legs as she ran along and then scratched her face and arms when she fell. She cried, begging them to stop, but the Indians laughed and kicked their ponies to continue. It had only been a mile or two, but to Anna, it seemed to be forever. She was weakening, and falling more frequently, and then she twisted her ankle and fell hard screaming in pain, cutting her knee on a sharp stone, the wound bleeding onto the dry ground.
“Just kill me,” she cried, and then, in anger, she grabbed a stone with her bound hands and tried to throw it at Running Horse.
“She still has fight in her,” said Little Bear, in his native language.
“Yes,” laughed Running Horse, replying in the Comanche tongue, “but we have three suns ride. I don’t want to leave all that fight here on the prairie. I will show my prize to the elders, and bring a slave for my wife. I will let yellow hair ride for a while.”
Running Horse yanked on the rawhide binding, and pulled Anna up to his horse. He reached down and lifted Anna up like a small child, placing her on the horse, in front of him. In a flash, he had his knife at her throat.
“Ride now . . . no fight,” he said in heavy accented English, gesturing threateningly with his knife. Anna nodded submissively.
The afternoon sun had moved behind cloud cover. Dark storm clouds loomed in the distant western sky ahead.
Douglas quickly packed supplies needed for a week on the trail including balls, powder food and coffee. He checked for and found his two flintlock pistols that were stored in a hidden cubby in the bedroom. He stored the remaining supplies and then stepped out, to ready the horses, but cursed to himself upon seeing that the sun had dropped below the horizon, leaving barely a half hour of dusk remaining in the day. There was a crescent moon rising in the east; it would be too dark to follow a track. Reluctantly, Douglas decided to delay his departure until morning when he could see the trail.
* * *
He led the horses to their stalls in the covered shelter, rubbed them down from the day’s ride and then let them settle in for the night, so that they would be fresh for riding in the morning. He forced himself to eat some dried beef, washed down with coffee, as the thoughts and fears in his mind raged in a tug-o-war between plans for finding Anna and fears for her well-being. Though sleep was desperately needed, he likely would not sleep tonight.
A tinge of gray shown on the eastern horizon as Douglas readied his horses for the day’s journey. It had been a fitful night, with occasional periods of sleep disturbed by dreams of wife Anna fighting against an onslaught of painted warriors. Douglas had awaken several times in a sweat, feeling his arms swinging at imaginary foes.
The tracks were clear in the sandy colored soil outside his door where it appeared Anna was dragged by the Indians, and around back to where they had mounted and then continued to drag her as she tried to run along behind two unshod Indian ponies . It was obvious that Anna had stumbled and fallen and was dragged by her captors. Soon there was evidence of blood, showing injuries to her feet as she tried to keep pace. His anger quickly boiled over from seeing the tracks showing the horrible treatment of his wife. Douglas squeezed the saddle horn with his right hand as he fought the urge to scream in an uncontrolled fury, holding back the urge to race his horse in pursuit. “I must be calm, in control. I will get her. I will get them,” the sound surprised Douglas as his thoughts transformed into words that came from his mouth.
He followed the trail for an hour, and finally, he observed that the dragging and bloodied foot prints stopped. Worried, he dismounted and walked around in a circle looking carefully, but didn’t see Anna’s body. Ahead the pony tracks continued, but one horse showed a heavier imprint, like that of carrying extra weight from riding double. Soon the ponies’ tracks stretched out to a canter, and likewise, Douglas picked up his pace.
The sunny sky began to turn gray as high clouds covered the sun. The wind had picked up slightly, and now smelled of dampness, of rain. In the distance, to the northwest, dark clouds roiled. There were flashes of lightning in the clouds, with an occasional bolt to the ground. The breeze rattled the tall grass, which was still yellow and dry from the long winter. His horse snorted and side-stepped slightly suggesting its preference to turn back rather than continue into the tempest brewing in the distance. Determined to find his wife, Douglas held the reins tightly and nudged his horse forward.
Douglas’ eyes caught movement ahead to the left. He put his rifle to his shoulder and sighted towards a running animal. There were two deer, they passed to his left with long bounding leaps. Then there was movement on the right; he swung his rifle in that direction, and in a moment, he saw four coyotes, running away from the approaching storm. His horse whinnied and turned his head to follow the coyotes. Not ten yards behind the coyotes, two jack rabbits, bounded along, seemingly chasing their natural predator. There was a gust of wind, and now the smell of smoke. A family of prairie dogs rumbled by circling wide around the horse and rider. As he watched the prairie dogs race away, he saw that his trailing horse had broke free and was running from the approaching storm.
When he turned his head back, he now saw a line of fire across the ground moving in his direction. The wind was now stronger and the smoke had intensified. Realization hit, a lightning bolt must have started a prairie fire. It was blowing his way. The animals were fleeing from the fire. The line of flames devoured the dry prairie grass and now spread across the horizon growing in size and, intensity. A flock of black birds raced overhead. His horse stamped and twisted again attempting to follow the other animals.
The wind now gusted. Sparks and firebrands blew past and the smoke thickened. The horse snorted in fear. The wall of flames threatened menacingly, its heat now being felt. Movement overhead grabbed Douglas’ attention. Coming over the blowing smoke, Douglas saw a dark line of heavy clouds that stretched in a broad arch from the north to south horizon, rolling overhead. Dampness filled the air. The clouds looked like a thick black shelf darkening the western sky and consuming the light overhead. Lightning flashed and thunder boomed.
A floating firebrand splashed on against them, and Douglas’ horse let out a human-like squeal and bolted. Douglas held on and let the frightened animal run. After nearly a quarter mile at a hard gallop, the horse began tiring. They had moved some distance from the prairie fire and the weather front. Douglas saw a dry wash and turned the horse into it, heading towards a lower elevation. It soon became a dry creek bed, and they stopped to rest under a sandstone overhang where flowing water had washed away the soil as it flowed to lower elevations.
Running Horse with his captive and Little Bear continued their trek in a direction that would lead them back towards the Comanche homeland. As the storm with its line of dark clouds approached, the Indians took shelter in a small cave along the Brazos River. Outside, the storm spirits sent forth the Thunder Bird in a show of anger; wind blew dark clouds across the sky, lightning flashed and the sky’s rumbled. Running Horse looked at his companion, and then at his captive and smiled arrogantly.
“Little Bear, you have nothing to show from our scout, but one weapon,” chided Running Horse in his native tongue. “I bring a prize to camp, the yellow haired woman. Perhaps you can use that rifle to bring us a deer.”
As a challenge to his companion, Little Bear walked over towards Anna who sat curled on the ground, with her knees protectively in front of her. Using the rifle barrel, he lifted the torn dress slightly revealing the woman’s scratched and bloodied feet and legs; he grinned wickedly.
Anna pulled away and pulled her dress back down. “My husband will track you, and kill you!” she spat.
“Husband is fool. He die,” Running Horse snarled in his guttural English. To his companion, he gestured with his knife towards the cave opening and said in Comanche tongue, “Prove you are a man, kill a deer, or bring back a scalp.”
End of Part 1
William S. Hubbartt is the author of non-fiction and fiction materials. his latest short story fiction placement is “Tara’s Torment” Heater – Fiction magazine.
Another recent placement is “Warehouse of Wisdom” in Wilderness House Literary Review. Other recent submissions include Western stories: “Redemption,” “Selling Out,”
“Donovan’s Dream,” “Death Sentence,” and others appearing in ropeandwire.com; and “Caleb’s Courage,” “The Spirit of Sonora,” “The Hunted,” “Fools Gold,” and
others placed at www.frontiertales.com, and “Soldier’s Heart” placed at thebigadios.com. He has earned a MS from Loyola University of Chicago. He is currently
employed with a government agency in Chicago.
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Cochise County Justice
by Dick Derham
A Cochise County Trilogy – Part 3
November 30, 1881
“Cold-blooded murderers,” Ike Clanton declared. “The Tombstone law will never touch them.”
* * *
Five angry men clustered outside the courtroom where Judge Wells Spicer’s month-long probing into the deadly shootout in the vacant lot behind the OK Corral had just concluded. Billy Clanton dead. Frank McLaury dead. Tom McLaury dead. “Murdered in the streets of Tombstone,” the Fort Worth lawyer who had come to assist the prosecution had thundered to the court, Will McLaury, an indignant man, defeated by what he called a “corrupt home-town judge.” Frank Stillwell and Pete Spence sounded almost vicious in their fury and passersby stepped wide to avoid their wrath.
The curly-black-haired man had remained silent as the others fulminated. But when Curly Bill Brocius opened his mouth other men always fell silent. His companions moved in close to hear the soft voice.
“The Earps’ll be watching for us to make our move. We get justice in our own time.”
For thirty days, the hearing in Judge Spicer’s courtroom had droned on as witness after witness testified what they knew, or claimed they knew, or wanted Spicer to think they knew, about the October gunfight.
* * *
Three men dead, at least one of them shot down unarmed and surrendering. "We was just talking, minding our own business when they strutted down Fremont Street and opened up on us." So maintained Ike Clanton. The encounter’s other survivor, Billy Claibourne gave solid corroboration of the unprovoked nature of the encounter when he added, “all we was talking about was getting Ike on his horse and out of town. When the Earps got to us, the Marshal said ‘You sons-of-bitches have been looking for a fight and now you’ve’ got it.’ That’s when they started shooting.”
Others told a different story. Ned Boyle testified that when he encountered Ike Clanton armed on the streets of Tombstone, Ike told him, "as soon as the Earps and Holliday show themselves, the ball will open." Julius Kelly said when he was tending bar in the morning Ike Clanton told him that when Doc Holliday had insulted him the night before he was not heeled. "But today they have to fight on sight." And Robert Hatch declared that the first words of Virgil Earp to the Cowboys were "I've come to disarm you boys.”
Finally, Judge Spicer had heard enough and delivered his ruling:
I find that Ike Clanton was about the streets of Tombstone, armed with revolver and Winchester rifle, declaring publicly that he intended to shoot the Earp brothers and Holliday on sight.
It is clear to my mind that Virgil Earp, the chief of police, honestly believed that the purpose of the Clantons and McClaurys was, if not to attempt the deaths of himself and brothers, at least to resist with force and arms any attempt on his part to perform his duty as a peace officer by arresting and disarming them.
I cannot resist the conclusion that the defendants were fully justified in committing these homicides—that it was a necessary act, done in the discharge of an official duty. There being no sufficient cause to believe Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday guilty of murder, I order them to be released.
With the inquest behind it, Tombstone settled back to its normal routine.
* * *
Winter meant short days and longer nights, but the change of seasons did nothing to interrupt the cycle of three shifts a day in the Contention Mine beneath the very streets of the town, for it was always night in the shafts. Miners came off duty still needing their whiskey; they still gambled; affairs went on unchanged by the three new mounds of dirt in the small cemetery outside town.
Townsmen accepted the judgment of the Tombstone Epitaph that a full legal hearing had produced substantial evidence; that Judge Spicer had ruled, and that the law had been served. In town, only the Johnny Behan faction, their voice magnified by the pages of the Tombstone Nugget, questioned the fairness of the outcome. But The Nugget had always hated the Earps.
And so the sad events at the OK Corral faded into history.
Or so it seemed.
Out on the open grassy range that stretched ninety miles from the Mexican border to the Galiuro Mountains, from the Whetstone Mountains east to New Mexico, the succession of seasons had its own rhythm. Shorter days meant less time for range chores. Cross-border night drives of cattle out-racing angry rifle-toting Mexican pursuers was never popular. But long nights meant more time to drink. And out in San Pedro Valley, at the small adobe structure Ike Clanton called his ranch, the conversation inevitably turned to the single subject Ike Clanton would not let subside.
* * *
"We got to do something," Ike always said.
"Last time I was in Tombstone, Virgil Earp was back walking the streets, but Morgan is still laid up," Pete Spence reported.
"Virg is the one we want," Frank Stillwell said. "He's the one who called the tune."
"Billy, Tom and Frank won’t rest for just one killing," Clanton insisted. "And I ain't waiting much longer."
No one took Ike Clanton seriously. No one respected a man who would run out on his brother in a gunfight, but as long as he poured the whiskey, they were willing to listen to his bombast knowing it would lead to nothing. The tone changed the day Curly Bill stopped over on his way south for a routine Mexican raid.
Curly Bill Brocius was already an institution in Southeast Arizona. The Texas posse that had pursued him contented itself when he crossed the state line and became someone else’s problem. A man in his early twenties has many options in his life and Brocius, with Texas foreclosed, soon found himself in Southeast Arizona where family and connections mattered not at all, where a man made his own reputation, and where troublesome lawmen seldom interfered with a man’s ability to live according to his own lights.
December 28, 1881
Other men sought a free life as well, some specializing in Wells Fargo stages, others on domestic cattle, but Brocius found his opportunities across the border, with Mexican ranchers who let their cattle range unrestricted just as Americans did, but whose unfamiliar brands were more easily marketed to butchers in Tombstone, Bisbee, Contention, and elsewhere.
More men than Brocius found Mexican cattle a good business opportunity, men older than Brocius, but without seeking it, Curly Bill quickly found himself recognized as a leader of the Cochise County Cowboys. There was a certain quality to him. Not prepossessing in looks among the hearty men of the saddle, never having honed his fighting skills with fists or guns, he had other attributes that drew men to him. When Curly Bill spoke, men listened. Men were not afraid of his anger; they were afraid of losing his respect.
And so, when he listened to Ike blathering about vengeance, and saw the glazed looks in the eyes of Spence and Stillwell and others, Curly Bill spoke up. “Tom and Frank were fine men. Billy too. But this thing is bigger than them. When the Earps murdered the boys, they declared war on all us Cowboys. Tombstone will never be safe again as long as they walk the streets.”
"They all got to go,” Clanton insisted.
“But not yet," Curly Bill counseled.
There had been threats—against Virgil, against Wyatt, against Doc Holliday, against Judge Spicer, even against Mayor Clum, editor of the Tombstone Epitaph. When Christmas came, and no assaults had been attempted, the threats faded in memory as just empty Clanton bluster.
* * *
The Oriental Saloon on Fifth and Allen Streets was doing a good business on December 28. Wyatt and Virgil relaxed in convivial company. Shortly before midnight, Virgil stepped out the door into the coolness of the evening. No longer wearing a badge, he was not armed, but under Tombstone law, neither was anyone else. As he turned toward his room at the Cosmopolitan Hotel, just a few paces north on Allen Street, the normal rumbling of night sounds were suddenly outdone as a shotgun blast let loose its lethal spray and Virgil Earp fell to the boardwalk. Witnesses debated who the three running men were, but the consensus soon held the assailants to be Ike Clanton and Pete Spence. Virgil maintained he had seen Frank Stillwell just before the shooting.
In his over eagerness, the assassin had failed. He had merely shredded Virgil's left arm, amputation was discussed and refused, and survival seemed clear. "Never mind," Virg told Allie. "I've got one arm left to hug you."
When Curly Bill swung back from Mexico, and heard about Ike’s blundering attempt, his oaths turned the air in the cabin blue. “Shattered Virg’s arm,” he said, his withering scorn silencing Ike Clanton’s triumph for a moment. “Ain’t that just dandy. Now he’ll hole up where we can’t reach him.”
March 12, 1882
“They say he’ll never use it again,” Pete Spence maintained, as though that was a defense for failure.
“But not his gun arm,” Curly Bill pointed out. “You call that justice?” He turned to Ike. “Next time I do the shooting,” he said “And I do it sober.”
Pete Spence scuffed the soles of his muddy boots on the wooden scraper and swung open the door to the Clanton ranch house. Inside, he shrugged out of the sheepskin and moved toward the welcoming warmth of the wood stove.
March 18, 1882
"Didn't know I was moving to Montana when I left Texas," he grumbled. "Thought spring was supposed to come early in Arizona."
"A whiskey will warm you up real quick,” Clanton said. "What are them killers up to?”
“I made the rounds,” Spence reported. “Downed a whiskey at the Oriental, did the same at the Alhambra, and Hatch’s. Didn't see Wyatt or Doc Holliday running their gambling tables. At Hafferty’s, Sammy the barkeep told me they both sold out and the Earps are getting rid of their mining claims. Word is they plan to skedaddle as soon as Virg can travel."
"Then we got to move right away."
No one thought that Ike Clanton was a leader, not the way he ran out on his brother when bullets started to fly. Not the way he bungled a clear shot at Virgil Earp. It was Johnny Ringo who gave voice to what all men felt. "Curly Bill won’t be back with his Mexican gather for a week. He’d never forgive us if we did it without him.”
A week,” Clanton begrudged. “Billy won’t wait longer.”
The Earps were in a celebratory mood. Virg’s strength was coming back. He could leave his room for the first time in over two months. His left arm would never again be functional, of course, but California would present new opportunities. His biggest problem now was cabin fever and his brothers had a remedy for that.
* * *
In his own room, Morgan changed to a clean shirt for the night on the town, a visit to the theater, a quiet evening in a saloon, and the return of normal life. He hugged his wife as he prepared to leave but she held tight while she pestered him with what had become her recurrent theme. "I hate Tombstone, Morg. I wish we had never come."
"Now that Virgil can travel, it won't be long. We’ll be on our way to California before you know it.”
“Not too soon.”
“For me, either. I’d like it to be tonight.”
“Then why don’t we—”
“We’re a family, Louisa. We leave together.”
It was Saturday night. The new show at Schlieffelin Hall was good, with roars of laughter from the audience, but Morgan, Wyatt, and their newly-arrived youngest brother Warren took more pleasure from Virg’s enjoyment than from the play. And on the street again, they were unwilling to let the night end. An animated Virgil Earp breathed in the cool night air. "Not whiff of medicine," he said with pleasure. "Let's go to Hatch's."
* * *
Bob Hatch had just turned over barkeep duties to Phil Bascom as they entered.
"Up for a game?" Morgan challenged Hatch.
In the rear room devoted to billiards, they settled in as Morgan set up the rack for the first break. Men drifted in to watch the game, then drifted out as their glasses needing refilling while Morgan racked up the points.
No one in Tombstone paid attention to what they called Mexicans, never mind that Florentino Cruz had been born in Texas over a decade after Texas became a state of the union. He was as American as they, despite the bronzed skin that made everyone call him Injun Charlie.
But Curly Bill had always treated him right. Though he never joined in their illegal activities himself, they trusted him and treated him as an equal. They were his friends and so he shared their outrage at the murders of the McLaurys and Billy Clanton.
No one noticed when he slipped into the back room of Hatch’s billiard hall and watched the pool game as Morgan and Hatch jostled for points. No one noticed when he left to make his report to the men waiting in the shadows.
Back in the billiard parlor, Morgan, always the better player, won the first game and stood with his back to the window, watching as Hatch leaned across the table to make the break for the second game.
With no warning the glass shattered, spraying shards throughout the room. Morgan fell prone, his spine shattered, a bloody hole carved in his abdomen. Wyatt hit the floor just before the second bullet ground into the wall where he had been standing. In the alley outside, the footfalls of several men running away could be heard.
Inside, Wyatt knelt beside his favorite brother as life ebbed away.
“They’re cold-blooded murderers,” Wyatt Earp declared. “Johnny Behan’s law will never touch them.”
* * *
Doc Holliday had an answer. “We don’t need a crooked politician’s help to get justice.”
Before Wyatt could concern himself with justice, he had more immediate concerns. Morgan was dead, Virgil was crippled. Both needed to be transported to the Earp parents’ home in California. And so, on March 20, the Earps traveled to the railhead at Contention and boarded the train. At Benson they transferred to the Southern Pacific for the journey west.
* * *
With the rumors of an unwelcome reception in Tucson, Wyatt and Doc Holliday traveled that far with the mourning family. At Tucson Depot, the train stopped for an hour layover so passengers could take their meal at Porter's Hotel. As the train prepared to leave, Virgil, his wife and Morgan's widow reboarded. Wyatt and Doc boarded with them, and walked the train from one end to the other, searching for unwelcome passengers. When satisfied that the train carried only harmless travelers, they said their goodbyes and swung down.
The twenty-five-year-old Frank Stillwell had done many things since coming to Southern Arizona from his Iowa home—he'd worked as a Teamster, a saloon keeper, a liquor salesman, a livery man, and finally a partner with Pete Spence as a saloon owner in Bisbee. Only when the sheriff of the newly-created Cochise County named him deputy did people stop disregarding him as a shiftless drifter. But all that changed the day Wyatt Earp figured out who had stopped the Wells Fargo stage outside Benson. Now he had lost his badge and was out on bail awaiting trial. But in the process, he had made new friends. Ike and Billy Clanton, Curly Bill Brocius and others, and his grievance against Wyatt had become greater than personal when the Earps gunned down his friends. Now, Morgan had received what he deserved, but justice remained incomplete, and Virgil planned to escape it altogether. Tonight, Stillwell determined to prove his worth to his new friends. He'd never killed anyone by himself, but tonight he would show people he walked tall.
March 21, 1882
And so, in the shadows of the Southern Pacific station yard at Tucson, Frank Stillwell eyed the lighted passenger cars carefully, searching for the window where the hated target could be found.
"Long way from Tombstone, Frank."
Stillwell stiffened at Wyatt's challenge, his hand instinctively moving toward his hip. Even as he turned, he saw the iron already in Wyatt's fist. The click of the hammer being brought into position stayed Stillwell’s hand. He cursed his luck that Virgil would escape his justice.
“My hands are up, Earp. I’m surrendering.”
The darkness of night erupted in six yellow muzzle flashes.
Wyatt Earp’s vendetta ride had commenced.
An Earp no longer carried a Tombstone policeman's badge. Nor did any boast status with the Cochise County Sheriff's office. But Wyatt Earp still held appointment as Deputy US Marshal, and there were murderers at large.
March 22, 1882
With monies from “law and order” townsfolks, Wyatt Earp formed and outfitted his posse, dependable men like Turkey Creek Jack, Texas Jack Vermillion, Sherman McMasters, his brother Warren and of course Doc Holliday. Men he could rely on. Men more committed to justice than to the law.
Was Earp’s policy directed to the elimination of all the rustler element, of the smugglers who violated US tariff law, as perhaps U. S. Marshal Dake believed? Were all Cowboys at risk? Or was his attention focused on only three or four men? Only Wyatt Earp knew for sure. Perhaps the members of his posse did not care.
Hastily provisioned, their horses saddled and ready in front of the Cosmopolitan Hotel, Wyatt gave the signal, and the men led their horses into the street. As Wyatt assumed the lead, Johnny Behan turned the corner and started down Fifth Street toward them, waving a piece of paper, a telegram from Tucson calling on him to arrest the murderer of Frank Stillwell. It was only a piece of paper, not a warrant. Later, it would be held as insufficient basis for arrest. But Behan was not constrained by legal technicalities. Not today. Not against Wyatt Earp.
The sheriff stepped into the center of the street as the horseman approached. “I need to see you, Wyatt,”
“You may see me once too often, Johnny,” Wyatt replied as he swung to the saddle. “Get out my way or get ridden down.”
The wood cutter paused in his task as six horsemen appeared on the rise and began their descent toward him. Florentino Cruz knew what they wanted, what had brought them out here to the wood camp where he worked. He had heard about poor Frank Stillwell. Now they wanted his employer, Pete Spence. But they were out of luck; Spence had made himself scarce. Cruz laid down his axe, and let his muscles rest. It should only take a moment and they would be on their way.
March 23, 1882
"Where is he?" Wyatt demanded as the men drew to a halt. "You know who we want."
"Pete? I think maybe he went to Contention City to see about selling some firewood, Mister Earp." With arrogant men, Cruz knew to act submissive, to let them swear at him if that made them think they were better than him. Let them ride off, and he could get back to work. "Don't know how long he’ll be gone."
“Tell him he was lucky this time. You get that.”
“Yes sir, Mister Earp.” Cruz tried not to smirk at the killer’s frustration as Wyatt reined his horse’s head around to continue his journey. Wyatt was halted by what his brother had to say.
“He was there, Wyatt," Warren Earp declared. "I saw him in Hatch's back room watching us play.”
"So you're part of it," Wyatt accused.
“I didn’t do nothing. Mr. Earp. All I did was let the boys know you were playing.”
“Let who know?”
“Let’s see, there was Frank Stilwell. And Pete, of course, It was Curly Bill who paid me.”
“Paid you for what?” Perhaps the flat emotionless tone of Wyatt’s voice gave Cruz some warning, for he reiterated his innocence.
“Like I said, I didn’t do nothing. I just held their horses whilst they went down the alley to do their business.”
The week had gone well, Brocius reflected, as he squatted in front of the Sibley tent at his Iron Springs camp.
March 24, 1882
One of the killers dead; one maimed for life, and the third with his tail tucked between his legs scampering for mama out in California. The threat to a simple Cowboy’s refuge of pleasure in Tombstone was gone; overall, it was enough Cochise County justice to let a man get back to work down on the Mexican border
Brocius wasted few regrets on Frank Stillwell, the knockabout who had stepped above himself, trying an ill-considered play to prove his manhood. War has casualties.
Brocius glanced up as Pony Deal picked his way down the slope and swung to the ground. He listened with disbelief and then fury at the news from town.
“Charlie was a good-natured fellow. He never hurt no one,” Brocius said when Deal told of the discovery of the woodcutter’s bullet-ridden body. “Earp’s a mad dog. Guess we’ll put off our trip to Mexico until the business is finished.”
“Ringo,” he called to one of the men in the tent, “go find Behan’s posse. Tell him we’re in the hunt and he can drive them to us. Behan can have the credit, so long as we get the killing.
Henry Clay Hooker ran the biggest spread in Sulphur Springs Valley, which made him an enemy of any man who disrespected the cattle brands that marked out a rancher’s property. Therefore, Wyatt had known he would find welcome when his posse sought a change of mounts and more provisions that they had been able to put together in their hurried departure from Tombstone.
* * *
In the morning at first light Wyatt had his men were mounted and ready to ride.
“Where to?” Warren asked. “Guess we should head down to Ike Clanton’s place and arrest him,” he suggested. “Maybe he;ll do us a favor and resist.”
Doc Holliday smirked. “If I find him snoring in his bedclothes, he’ll be resisting arrest.”
But it was Wyatt who led the posse. “Ike’s a runner. He proved that when he skedaddled out of the shootout. We’ll never find him again in Cochise County.”
Cochise County covered 6200 square miles of mountains and arid grasslands, a large area to hunt for a few outlaws on the dodge. Larger still if you considered they might have crossed into Sonora. Vast uninhabited tracks of land could mean days of apparently aimless riding with no guarantee of success.
Wyatt led them west, toward the Whetstone Mountains. In Arizona style, they rode with their rifles or shotguns balanced across the pommel of their saddles, alert, ready. They moved at a deliberate pace, covering ground while saving their horses for a chase if they got lucky.
“We know all the water holes,” Wyatt said. “A man can’t camp in Arizona very far from water. If Brocius isn’t here, likely he’s already down raiding Mexico.” And so the men rode through the morning, through the heat of the day, into the still-sweltering afternoon, checking Mesquite Springs and Arrowhead Creek, and seeps too small even to have names. Finally, the sun was growing low.
“We’ll overnight at Iron Springs,” Wyatt told his posse, “then ride on to Skeleton Canyon and settle his hash when he comes back.”
Iron Springs was located several miles back in a narrow a canyon of the Whetstones. Into its mouth, Wyatt led his posse, eyes to the ground, looking for signs of recent passage. After a mile or two, with no recent hoof prints, the men knew they had the canyon to themselves. When Wyatt’s horse scented water, he loosened his hold on the reins, moving out ahead of the posse at his horse’s speed.
As the trail rounded a rocky shoulder, one hundred yards from the spring, Wyatt swung down and walked forward, reins gripped in his left hand, shotgun grasped loosely by the stock as his men trailed behind.
Curly Bill squatted beside the campfire, stirring the pot of beans when motion at the margin of his vision brought him alert. And so began a confrontation neither man had expected.
“Throw up your hands, Bill,” Wyatt directed. “I promise you Cochise County justice.” But even as Wyatt swung up his shotgun for business, Brocius’ hand was slashing for his pistol.
Pistols are more maneuverable than scatterguns. Curly Bill’s shots came first, the bullets tearing at Wyatt’s long black coat. But shotguns out-range .45s and even a hastily aimed shot spreads a cone of lethal lead. The second round left the curly-haired outlaw sinking to the ground, his blood soaking into the Arizona desert.
“It’s done,” Earp told the posse. “I’m leaving Arizona for good.”
Dick Derham, a native of Seattle, has been reading Western history and fiction since his teenage years. He seeks to combine
historical accuracy with an understanding of how real people dealt with the challenges of frontier life.
His first story, The Pride of the Apache, dealt with Geronimo’s interaction with the US Army was published in April, 2015. The
Cochise County Trilogy stories are the ninth, tenth and eleventh stories published in Frontier Tales.
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Picnic at Fort Smith
by Judith Emerson
How I come to watch Smoker Mankiller die is like this . . .
* * *
“Fort Smith!” My brother whispers across the room.
On Sundays we usually go on picnics after church out on the Barren Fork if the sun comes out and the wind don’t
blow. Fort Smith is a place I only heard about. Us young’ns ain’t been there before.
Daylight is coming through the window and my brother jumps out of bed and goes to dancing around the room. He’s still
got the pink eye and I figure we ain’t going anywhere today.
“I aim to go,” he says and fixes me with his good eye.
Outside the whippoorwills are calling and in the fuzzy blue light, here comes our neighbor Chicken Willie in his wagon.
It’s piled sky high with a bunch of things covered with a blanket, and when the coast is clear my brother and I sneak out the window.
Effie has got all kinds of food hidden in that wagon bed. It’s our Uncle Dreck who spends his time in Fort Smith. He is a peace
officer for the Cherokee Nation and Effie has made him a good wife.
* * *
Jars of molasses, loaves of bean bread, and baskets of fruit. It is hard to find a good spot in the wagon bed. I tip over a basket
of peaches and my brother puts his hand over my mouth and pulls that blanket down over us.
We hear them coming, Chicken Willie, Effie, and Pa.
The mules start to trot and up in front Effie sits fretting about Dreck cause Lighthorses like him got shiny silver badges and they
spend all their time over in Fort Smith.
“Hope I got enough bean bread for everyone.” Effie goes on to say, “Dreck don’t get to eat right when he’s way over yonder. Just salt pork and some wild onions, maybe.”
“They got Choctaw beer over there in Fort Smith,” Pa says.
And Chicken Willie says “All kinds of tobacco, too.”
Then they comence to talking about the corn and the cotton and that Dominicker hen of ours that disappeared last Sunday.
After a spell they get quiet again and Effie says, “Dreck aims to set Smoker free.”
They been talking about Smoker Mankiller for days now. Used to be a neighbor of ours. I only seen him once or twice. They say he killed a man.
“Dreck ain’t got nothing to do with it no more.” Pa says and Pa, he’s always right.
We get over into Arkansas and when me and my brother poke our heads out of the blanket, no one, not even Effie is
glad to see us. And Pa tells us he is going to wear us out when we get back over to Indian Territory. I don’t put
no stock in it. He ain’t never laid a hand on me in my whole life.
* * *
The big yellow sun is on my shoulders and Effie just keeps on saying oh, dear, oh dear, on account of little
children ain’t meant to see things they got going on in Fort Smith.
I look around and see this big old river and on it is a ferry boat coming our way. I ain’t never seen so many strangers
standing around in one place waiting for a boat.
“This ain’t nothing,” Chicken Willie says to my brother. “Wait till we get over there to the courthouse.”
I am squeezed in between white women with umbrellas and bonnets on and all these men with their hats and moustaches. They
got their newspapers and they’re all smoking and talking. I don’t see no other young’uns like me and my brother.
“Six of ‘em” a man says looking up from his paper he’s reading. “And they all got it comin’. Hope they got enough nooses.”
“How far is the drop?”
“Six, maybe seven feet.”
“They say he he oils them loops on those nooses just so so . . . ”
A big white woman with a real skinny mouth and little round blue eyes drops her head like she’s sad and she dabs her nose
with her hankie. “There ought to be another way to handle these things. That’s all I got to say.”
My brother grabs his throat with both his hands and rolls his eyes back in his head.
“Now, Mildred,” the man next to her says, “They got it comin’. You didn’t have to tag along, you know.” And Mildred, she
turns to the lady next to her and she says, “No way on earth I’d let my husband loose over in this wicked place on a day
like this.” The woman next to her clicks her tongue.
Then Mildred fixes her little blue eyes on me like she don’t like the idea of me and my brother being there at all. I want
to get back under that blanket and hide and long about then this ferry boat comes all the way up to the bank to take us all
across the river to the courthouse.
I hear his spurs jingling when Dreck comes over to us to kiss Effie and help us unload the wagon. His badge sparkles in the
sun. Effie says he spends half his life over in Fort Smith and she don’t cotton to it. She’s said it time and time again, but it don’t do her any good.
* * *
“Must be a million people here,” some man I don’t know says to Dreck and he starts in asking questions about someone named Sam Fooey.
Dreck’s badge is all shiny in the sunlight, and he sticks his chest out big like he always does and says “I never had nothing much
to do with Sam, and Smoker, well, you know how that story goes. No,” Dreck shakes his head, “it sure don’t look good for Smoker. I done what I could. I done what I could.”
He looks down at his wide, flat feet. And all the while my brother’s rubbing the handle of Dreck’s peacemaker he’s got in his holster and asking if he can hold it.
“Come on here,” a man with a camera says, staring at Dreck’s badge. “Bring that family of yours and let me take your picture. I won’t charge you nothing.”
Dreck waves him away.
Effie starts to spreading out a blanket and lays out all that bean bread and fruit baskets and my brother licks his
lips and starts cutting up. He likes picnics.
“I’m with the St. Louis Dispatch,” says a white man with black hair oiled down behind his ears. “I thought you might have
something to say about this fella, Smoker Mankiller?” He takes out his writting pen and a piece of paper. “Not a person here can get a word out of him.”
Dreck motions him away, too, and Pa who’s standing off by hisself all the while, he spits on the ground and he says
to the man from the St. Louis Dispatch, “You go to Hell.”
Now here comes the six men everyone’s been talking about and they line up together at the foot of that tall porch.
You can’t really see their faces cause they stand in the middle of a bunch of guards. My brother and I got to
crane our necks to pick out Smoker Mankiller.
On one side of all of the prisoners is the hangman that Pa’s been talking about.
He don’t look like he could do nothing mean. He ain’t very tall and he’s not very thick, but he don’t smile none and he
is grooming his long beard with his hand. Long about then one of the prisoners holds back like he is a horse that is about
to start bucking. The hangman has to lay a hand on his shoulder to steady him.
Over yonder a white woman on a blanket jumps up and starts running at the prisoner who is now stumbling on his feet.
She’s saying, “That’s my son, my son! Lord God, don’t hang my son!”
And a couple of men get up off the same blanket and they wrestle her around and start dragging her away.
It gets quiet again and I begin to understand what we really come here for.
These men, all six of them, is going to die.
We watch the prisoners with the guards behind them going up the steps. They get on that big porch where they all sit down on a bench together.
Chicken Willie tells us they are fixing to say their last words, these six men that is going to die right in front of us.
Two of them are Indian. Smoker Mankiller wears his black hair chopped off and got on this calico shirt. Looks like
he has a necklace with a pouch, the kind that our medicine man out at the Barron Fork uses to keep the evil spirits away. The other Indian is Sam Fooey.
Next to them is three white men, and one colored.
Pa don’t take notice. He is worrying over my brother cause he’s run off way over yonder where he is talking to some stranger selling
souvenirs. Then my brother comes a-running back with this big grin on his face and he shows me what he’s got in his hand. Don’t amount
to much. Just a little old piece of rope and he give two bits for it.
Effie is looking all around for that fortune teller everyone says is here reading folks’ hands. That’s when Pa puts his foot down and
he tells her to take me and my brother off somewhere so we can’t see.
Long about then, here comes this white lady over to my pa just like she knows him. She’s got the reddest hair you ever saw and her face is all painted up.
“Come to my place the day after the killing,” she tells him. “Drunker than a hoot owl! Oh, he done it all right. Bashed the brains
out of that poor man, and hardly remembered doing it.” She points to this little dried-up white man sitting next to Smoker Mankiller and shakes her finger.
The hangman stands on the porch with his arms crossed in front of him like he is important. He reaches up and strokes that long beard of his with his hand.
After a spell, a big, white man starts to reading the things these six prisoners done. And, well, they sound like awful mean men to me if
they done them. When he gets through telling on them, one of the prisoners, a white man, stands up in front of us and swears up and down
he ain’t done nothing wrong and when he gets that off his chest the one next to him stands up and says he done everything he was accused of.
“I shot that man deader than a doornail,” he brags. “And that ain’t all, I killed five other men, too and one of ‘em was a Mexican.”
His eyes go to searching all our faces like he is looking for someone else to kill and he goes on to tell us all that there’s even meaner men
than he is right here in Fort Smith today.
His eyes settle on Pa, and everyone in front of us turns around and looks at him.
Then when he sits down, the next prisoner stands up on wobbly feet and talks about the lord walking next to him. He ain’t afeared to die, he
tells us. He goes on and on like he won’t ever get it all said, and the hangman has had enough. He walks over and tugs on his shirt tail.
“Sit down, now,” the hangman tells him, “You’ve done said enough.”
Well, someone behinds us hoots and hollers and everyone turns and glares at him.
The next prisoner is too sick to make his talk. So the preacher who has taken his place on the porch reads us a long letter he wrote out,
then the colored man, he says his piece and it don’t take him long.
Smoker Mankiller is the last one. He stands up straight, holds his chin in the air and don’t say a thing, just rubs that medicine pouch at
his neck round and round in his fingers . . . and you know something? He seemed bigger than the other ones when he done
that even though he weren’t very big at all.
When the time comes, we all sing together In the Sweet Bye and Bye for the six prisoners going to die and the preacher tells us to
bow our heads and pray with him. Lots of the womenfolk takes out their hankies and blow their noses.
I bury my face in Effie’s lap and she holds me there real tight but I hear the sound. I hear the bump when they take that floor out from under them six bad men.
We come here all the way from Indian Territory and been waiting all day for this to happen. They told us it would be over before you could say Jack
Robinson but it wasn’t. I don’t know how long I kept my head buried in Effie’s lap.
Me and my brother ride back home in the wagon with pert near a million stars coming out over our heads. Up front they don’t talk much.
Everyone’s wore out ‘cept my brother who plays with that little old piece of rope he bought for two bits. He keeps making knots and
loops and showing out like that till its too dark to see.
Finally Chicken Willie says, “Well, it was done quick.”
“But not quick enough,” Effies says. “Didn’t you see him twist around and twitch? And that other fella . . . Lord! I
can’t abide it,” she says blowing her nose. “No, I can’t!”
“Dreck couldn’t do nothin’ anyway,” Pa says to Effie and his voice is soft. “It was all out of his hands.”
How come I want to say. How come Indians got to go all the way over to Fort Smith to get what’s comin' to them? We got a jailhouse
over in Tahlequah. It ain’t very big but sometimes they hang folks there.
Effie keeps on fretting. “I just hate that judge now. I hate him!”
What judge and How come, I want to say. How come when there’s this hunk of bean bread left, it’s my brother who gets told divy
it up and he gives himself a piece of it that’s a lot bigger than the one he gives me? He knows all his multiplication tables but my brother,
he don’t know the first thing about divying. I can tell you that.
No. I don’t ask how come. I don’t ask how come Smoker Mankiller had to die like that over there in Fort Smith in front of some
of us folks who knowd him and could do nothing about it?
When the hangman slipped that noose around Smoker’s head, he don’t got nothing to say. He don’t say he didn’t kill that man. He don’t brag
about it and he don’t talk to us about whiskey and the Lord. He don’t say nothing. He just keeps on looking at me like I had a whole bag of
candy and wouldn’t give him none of it, till they put that black hood down over his face and tied the rope around his neck. Looked at me
just like my dog done when he finally come out from under the porch. (Had those two big hunks of flesh taken out of his sides. It was a wolf
that got him but he got away.) Pa says when he got his gun and took my dog out to the field where they hunted rabbits, he got down low and
knew what Pa was fixin’ to do.
My dog. I couldn’t do nothing about that then, and I can’t do nothing now.
“Things like this, they come to pass,” Effie says and, me, I ain’t big enough to keep them from going on and coming to pass.
So, I don’t ask how come.
It ain’t right is all I know and it puts me clean out of the notion of going to any more picnics. My brother ate up all the peaches, too,
over there in Fort Smith just like he always does.
No biographical information available.
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by Mark Hinton
The bounty hunter was working his way down an old trail that crossed the Big Belt Mountains. A few generations ago, Blackfeet raiders had used the trail to raid Shoshone and Nez Perce hunting camps along the Missouri River headwaters. Over the years, the bounty hunter had used the all-but-forgotten route a few times to hunt raiders of a different kind.
* * *
The bounty hunter had first learned about the trail years ago trailing an old scout who had learned about it from an old Blackfoot Indian. After the Nez Perce wars were over, the old scout had taken to bank robbing to make a living. For a while, the old scout had done well hitting banks in Helena and Diamond City and Butte before disappearing into the Big Belts.
With each frustrated posse that returned, the bounty on the old scout grew until finally it seemed to one young miner that a man could make better money hunting robbers than he could panning for gold.
On the day that Cole Wells made that calculation, he sold his claim to a neighboring miner, rode to town, bought a Winchester and a pack mule, and rode toward the Big Belts. Two weeks later he rode back into Helena with the old scout’s body tied over the back of the mule. He collected his reward of $5,000, got drunk, and never picked up a shovel or pan again.
That was years ago. The old Blackfoot trail had grown fainter. But then again, he thought, so had he. And so had Montana.
Cole Wells was a tall man, thinner than his reputation. He was not the broad-shouldered hero of the dime novel that he had heard once had been written about him. He was now just an old man, gray and grizzled and as weathered as the trail he was following. Some mornings, after sleeping on the cold ground and before his first piss and first cup of coffee, he felt every one of his 55 years.
Earlier that morning, sitting by his small campfire in the cold mountain air and remembering his first trip down this trail it had occurred to McCall for the first time that the “old” scout he had hunted through this country years ago was probably about the age that he was now. When that thought occurred to him he stood up quickly, put out the fire, and started packing up camp.
He was riding a big roan and trailing a small paint. He wore a tan coat and a gray and weathered Stetson the color of the dirty snow that was still clinging to the north side of rocks and trees at the higher elevations. As the trail dropped out of a deep canyon and onto a broad ridgeline he stopped.
This was the place where he had run down the old scout all those years ago. It had been early morning and the old man had been so hungover and so busy making coffee that he had not heard McCall come out of trees next to the canyon. The night before McCall had seen the old scout’s small fire from the trail above and had worked all night to make his way down through the rock and trees to the treeline near the old man’s camp. It had been hard work, but the moon was full and the old scout had drunk enough whiskey that night that McCall could probably have just ridden right up to the the camp with a team of horses and the old man would not have known it.
The old scout had been leaning over and just pouring the first cup of the day when McCall had said, “Reach high.” The old man had stood slowly and done just as he asked.
“Now turn around,” the young McCall had said.
The Old scout turned around. He was hatless and nearly bald. There was a line high across his forehead that separated his weathered face from the top of his head that had seen little weather or sun.
The old man smiled.
“You want some coffee son?” He asked, indicating the pot at his feet.
“Not right now, old timer,” McCall said, coming forward keeping the Winchester leveled at the old scout’s belly.
“Mind if I drink mine?” the scout responded.
“Right now I just want you to stand there.” McCall replied still moving toward him.
“Son, I have to tell you right now, I’ve got no plans right now but drinking this coffee. If you want some, there’s another cup in my saddle bag there,” and he turned his back on McCall and finished pouring the cup. He set the pot on a rock next to the fire, straighted up stiffly and turned to toward McCall again. He took a sip and said,
“You just gonna stand there holding that rifle on me, or are you going to grab a cup?”
McCall kept the rifle on the Wells and moved toward the saddle bags.
“I’m just gonna sit down on this stump while I drink my coffee, if you don’t mind,” Wells said indicating with his head a stump a few steps from where he was standing, He sat down and took another sip.
McCall moved to the saddle bags. Keeping his eyes and rifle focused on Wells, he used his foot to move it in front of him.
“Son, you must think I am one deadly hombre if you think I am going to kill you with this cup of coffee,” Wells said, taking another sip.
“I ain’t your son,” McCall said, kneeling down slowly and reaching his free hand into the saddle bag and pulling out a battered tin cup.
“Well, you’re somebody’s son,” Wells said. “And somebody must be proud to know that you are holding a gun on an old man who is just drinking coffee.”
McCall stood up and moved toward the fire. He stood for a moment next to fire and the coffee pot holding the rifle still leveled at Wells and the tin cup.
“Hard to pour coffee holding a rifle, I suppose,” Wells said. “I could pour it for you.”
“Just sit there,” McCall said. He kneeled again and set the cup on a flat rock. He started reaching for the coffeepot.
“That pot is mighty hot, you might want grab it with your hankerchief.”
McCall stopped. “Shut up, old man.” He grabbed the pot and pulled his hand back.
“I told you,” Wells said, taking another sip.
McCall reached slowly behind him and grabbed his handkerchief, making sure the Winchester and his eyes were always on Wells.
“You’re a careful man, aren’t you,” Wells said.
“I said, shut up,” McCall barked.
Wells just shrugged and took another sip.
McCall wrapped the handkerchief around his hand and grabbed the pot. He poured the coffee and put the pot back next to the fire. He slowly put the handkerchief back into his pocket, grabbed the cup and stood up.
“There a stump there,” Wells said indicating a stump about 12 feet from the one one Wells was sitting on. “Sitting there you will be able to cover me and still drink the coffee.”
Wells moved slowly to the stump and sat down.
“Trouble with a rifle,” Wells said, “is that it is a clumsy thing. What you need to have is a sawed-off shotgun and a good pair of pistols. See, if you were holding a shotgun on me, that is easy to use one handed. And from where you are sitting, you don’t need to worry much about aim. You just pull the trigger and something’s gonna hit me.
“Now a pistol, a good pistol mind you, would be just as handy. Now I don’t know what kind of shot you are, son, nor even how many men you have killed, but even if you are a bad shot and your hand is shaky from being excited and a bit scared, you can at least throw six shots at me quite quickly. One of them is sure to him me.” He took another sip.
“You talk a lot, don’t you old man.” McCall said taking a sip.
“When you’re old,” Wells said, “talk is all you got. You young bucks have young women to take up your time. You got big ideas and dreams to chase. Us oldtimers got nothing but talk and memories.” He took another sip.
“You got the gold you took from Helena,” McCall said.
“Hell, son, gold ain’t nothing compared to what you got. You got your youth and time. Gold is nothing but pretty dirt you take out of the ground. But youth and time . . . they are, as the good book says, ‘fleeting things.’” Wells tipped the cup up and drained the last drop.
“Mind if I pour myself another cup?” he said, starting to stand up.
“Just sit there,” McCall snapped.
“Alright, son, you’re in charge. Just hate to see good coffee go to waste,” Wells said, settling down again.
“It ain’t good coffee,” McCall said.
“Well, that is probably true,” Wells shrugged, “But under the conditions, it is the best I could do.” He looked up at the high peak just turning pink in the early morning light. “What’s your plan? Ride me and the gold down the trail and back to Helena where they lock me up and hang me?”
McCall shifted uneasily.
“It would’ve been be easier if I would have drawn on you,” Wells said still looking off at the high peak. “Then you could have shot me and thrown my body over my horse. Hell of a lot easier to pack out a dead man from these mountains than to have to escort a live one out,” He turned and looked at McCall.
“You talk too much, old man,” McCall said draining his cup and tossing it on the ground.
“So I have been told,” Wells said.
McCall stood up. Then sat back down again.
“It is a hard thing to hunt men.” Wells said, looking back toward the peak. “I ought to know. I hunted them for years. Indians first. Then outlaws. Then anyone I was paid to hunt.” He took a long breath.
“I still remember the first man I killed. The first man I killed close, that is. I had killed some Indians before with a rifle in the middle of a skirmish. But that is something different. It is war and bullets are going everywhere and you are just shooting and praying. Men fall next to you and men fall in front of you.
“But the first time you are standing eye to eye with a man and you have to kill him. That is a weighty thing,” he turned back and looked again at McCall.
“I was younger than you. He was a boy from a neighboring town. Not much older than me, I guess. We were courting the same girl. Or at least we thought we were courting the same girl. Eyes as blue as a summer sky, hair the color of . . . ” He was quiet for awhile, staring at some point far away but between the fire and where he sat.
“I was out digging holes for fence posts. I had my back to the road and my shirt off and was enjoying the feeling of digging in the soft earth. He must have been going to town, maybe to see her.
“He called to me. Told me to leave Lily alone. That she was his girl.
“I said something. I forget what. It was probably something like, ‘go to hell.’ Funny I don’t remember . . .
“He jumped down off the mule he was riding and started yelling. At some point he started grabbing at a pistol he had stuck in his pants. A Navy Colt . . . Funny I remember the pistol but not any of the words . . .
“Next thing I know, my pistol was was out and I fired. Hitting him in the middle of his chest. He was dead before he hit the ground.”
“Every night of my life now, I dream of that boy. Of all the boys and men I have killed over the years. They never leave me now. No matter how much whiskey I drink.”
His eyes slowly came back into focus and he looked at McCall.
“It is a hard thing to kill a man,” Wells said. “But sometimes you have to do it. You will learn to live with it.”
Wells stood up quickly and started toward McCall. McCall started shooting.
The place hadn’t changed much over the years. There was no fire, but the ring was still there, and part of what may have been the stump that McCall had sat on. Wells’ stump had long ago turned to dust.
He sat for some time, staring at the old campsite and listening to something only he could hear in the high mountain air.
When the roan stamped a hoof impatiently, McCall shook his head.
“You were right about one thing, old man. You never do forget. No matter how hard you try.”
Mark Hinton grew up in California, Eastern Washington, and Montana. His short story “Cottonwood Death” was voted Fan Favorite
in December 2011. He has published poetry and short stories. He lives and works in Minnesota.
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