September, 2017

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Issue #96

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Read this month's Tales and vote for your favorite.
They'll appear in upcoming print volumes of The Best of Frontier Tales Anthologies!

A Letter to Quinn, Part 2 of 3
by Jesse J Elliot
Confronted with the death of a stranger by two supposed siblings, Iragene Jones, sheriff of La Madera, must decide if these two are cold-bloodied con artists or the innocent brother and sister they portray.

* * *

Dutch Creek Hideout
by Zeke Ziemann
Walking along a Dutch Creek on his way home from school, a young boy accidently stumbles onto a vicious gang of outlaws on the run. The boy hides but is trapped. Will his father find him? What will the outlaws do if his father comes looking for him?

* * *

Hell and High Water, Part 1 of 2
by William S. Hubbartt
Rancher Douglas goes through hell and high water to track and save his wife Anna when she is kidnapped from their Texas plains homestead by Comanches.

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Cochise County Justice
by Dick Derham
Three men lay dead in the vacant lot behind the OK Corral. Was this the end of the Cochise County troubles? Or the beginning?

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Picnic at Fort Smith
by Judith Emerson
Two young brothers sneak off to observe the hanging of six prisoners in Fort Smith on September 3, 1875. Three of them are white men, one a black farmer. One is a half-breed and the sixth is a Cherokee who speaks no English.

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Bounty Hunter
by Mark Hinton
Time and miles cannot take away memories of killing a man, even a bad one.

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All the Tales

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.

Giddyup!

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.

“Lord! Lord!”

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.

The End


No biographical information available.

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