January, 2018

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Issue #100

Happy New Year!

Looking for free, tantalizing Tales of the Old West?
You're at the right place.


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

by Ronald Miller
Claude Brite's days as a gunslinger and soldier with general Sherman were over. Now he just wanted to spend time with his girl Mary. But Claude's long gone brother Bo, along with a killer from Mary's past, combine with the money-hungry Mr. Watson to bring that past violently into the present.

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by Dave Barr
Del Norris was a deaf designer of farm windmills who was riding a stagecoach when it was held up and the guard killed. Now Dell found himself walking across west Kansas with a strange girl, searching for help. Things looked grim, and then the pair met up with the outlaws who robbed the stage in the first place!

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A Close Shave, Part 1 of 2
by Brandon Abbott
For barber/gambler Redmond Graves, every day is a wager or gamble? in Widow's Rest, Arizona. When a hired gun rides into town, the stakes get even higher. Deep in debt and down to his last card, Redmond goes all in. But this is one bet that could cost him more than he's willing to pay.

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Riding the Border
by Dick Derham
What was it like to actually be there, that late summer morning when history came to Lawrence, Kansas? Men wanted to know and bloodthirsty "Old Man" Barnes was enthusiastic to relive his days of glory.

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The Cottonwood Incident
by Mickey Bellman
Bert just wanted to get past Great Falls without being noticed. But Comach noticed, and so did four night riders.

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Cross' Justice, Part 2 of 2
by Sam Grym
When the Comanche are wronged, and the whole town—Sheriff included—stands idly by, U.S. Marshal Lancelot Cross thinks turning deputy sheriff Silas over for his crime will be easy. But outnumbered and outgunned eleven-to-one after discovering a shocking secret, Cross will stand—undaunted by the odds—all in the name of justice.

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Want all of this month's Western stories at once? Click here –

All the Tales

Riding the Border
by Dick Derham

In the West of old, the progression of the seasons dictated the rhythm of life. For some men, spring was for roundup and branding; the long hot days of summer for riding bog; fall for driving the annual harvest of steers to market; and the short, cold days of winter for mending tack and rebuilding energy against the demands of the year to come. For their part, farmers faced a succession of plowing their acreage, sowing seed, praying for rain and, in the years their prayers were answered, harvesting their crops. Even in the towns, the seasons drove the economic life which revolved around changing needs.

For a certain kind of enterprising man, profitable visits to stages and banks were best planned for the warm days of late spring and summer, when extended sunlit days and dry trails served the needs of long-distance travel, outdistancing horseflies, chiggers, and busybody posses. The advent of fall and the cold nights of winter invited such men to congregate with others of their profession for conviviality, relaxation and enjoyment of their year's earnings.

One place many in the trade chose to winter was in the remote fastness of the Chiricahua Mountains where the narrow, twisting defiles a horseman must navigate to penetrate to Parson's Den promised any foolhardy lawman a loud—and satisfactorily lethal—welcome.

Inevitably, as whiskey warmed men's bellies, talk turned to reminiscing about their past exploits. And those old enough to have shared in the mid-century adventure which formed a nation and taught men unexpected skills always had good stories to tell—not least those who had reached a premature manhood along the Missouri-Kansas border.

* * *

On one mid-winter night, the men split into their usual groupings, several men passed out the poker chips for an evening testing their skills at the pasteboards—only sheep to be sheared talked of luck; others sat drinking alone or with a companion. The central table had several young outlaws, eager to lap up tales of the glory days at the feet of their elders. It was the man pumping up his own military credentials who got the discussion started. "Heard a lot about the Border War," Sarge Turnbull said. "What was it really like?"

Old Man Barnes, him being near forty, flashed a quick glance around the table and preened himself for an appreciative audience.

"At first, me and my folks didn't pay much attention to the ruckus old Abe Lincoln started," Barnes said. "Pa ran the general store in Osceola, way back from the state line, so we exulted in tales of Price's resistance to the blue-coated Federals but didn't give no care to Jim Lane and his damn Jayhawker vultures stealing from good true Missourians along the Kansas line. Should have known better. One morning, there was Lane and his boys riding into town, sitting tall in their saddles and proud as Napoleon's Frenchies ever were. They spread out around town, visited all the businesses and the houses, paid for what they wanted from Pa's store with a single bullet, and left him bleeding on the floor when they fired the place. When they rode out, stores, warehouses, barns and houses were all smoking and our horses and mules were on the road to Kansas. They say Lane even carted someone's piano all the way back to Lawrence. With Pa dead and the store burned, there was nothing left in Osceola for me, so I rode off looking for some hard-fighting Bushwhacker outfit. Once I linked up with Anderson, I knew I was in for a good time."

"I hear you was in the shindig at Lawrence," the young Jack Wells said. "What was that like?"

"We had us a real fandango," Barnes remembered. "The Yankees were wrong calling us thieves. 'Course we cleaned out the banks, emptied the gun shop, got new duds from the stores, before we fired them, just part of a day's work. But we didn't come just to loot. We was fighting a war, case stay-at-homes hadn't noticed. We came to burn and kill. Biggest operation of the whole border war: Quantrill's men, us Bloody Bill boys, Younger's group, Todd's crew, even some southern recruits on their way to the Missouri militia, 450 of us there was to tree a town of 3000.

"We crossed the Kansas border and stayed away from folks, riding at night," Barnes remembered. "The birds was just starting to tweet their morning song, most folks still abed and everything peaceful, when we clattered into town. We wasn't just a ragtag band; Quantrill ran a first-rate military operation. We all had our jobs, most important being the Kill List of Union lovers, Kansas militia members, and Jayhawkers and we was told to show them what men of the South thought of Abolitionist trash. One team headed right away to the house of old Jim Lane, but he got wind of us and skedaddled off into the woods." Barnes leaned his head back and laughed. "Still in his nightshirt, he was, scampering through farmers' fields as fast as his beanpole legs would take him." Barnes waited for the laughter to subside. "Most of the others wasn't so lucky, so the day got off to a good start.

"Gregg's squad found some 14th Kansas trash, new recruits not even issued their rifles yet, so they couldn't fight back. The Bluebelly pups was just scrambling out of their tents as Gregg rode in. Our boys killed seventeen of them, most still pulling on their britches when they died." Barnes sobered for a moment. "But our boys was careless. Five more was only wounded."

"Paying a morning visit to an Indian camp sometimes went down that way," Sarge Turnbull remembered.

"The squad I rode with surrounded the Johnson House where we thought we'd kill us some Redlegs. There was fourteen men inside, but nary a Redleg in the whole scurvy bunch. We told them to surrender." Barnes laughed. "Once we got us a good bonfire going, we marched them out into the street, let them donate all their money to our good cause, and finished the chore. I guess we downed them all.

"When we was done there, we fanned out in small squads and went hunting for them on the Kill List, but once we left Johnson House no one was paying much attention so we could do whatever pleasured us. I turned my horse down Kentucky Street, lots of houses there to burn; I stopped any time a house looked like it had money in it. Took anything else I liked, burned their houses and left the men folks like they deserved. You could hear pops going off all around town, and every one a dead man.

"One man, his name was on the list, offered me $1000 to let him be," Barnes remembered. "While he fumbled for the money, I trained my pistol on him, waiting patiently like a good fellow for him to hand it up." Barnes pointed his index finger at Wells' chest, dead center, pantomiming his action. "As my left hand took," Barnes' wrist bucked sharply, "my right hand killed.

"I had just finished torching my second house, and started to the next house, a big three-story mansion with picture windows that must have been carted in from Boston, ornate carvings on the stair posts, and everything, when the owner came out. He begged me not to burn his house so I took pity on him, said if he found the kindling and coal oil and did my work for me on the rest of the block, I'd pass his house by. It sure gave a man a warm feeling to watch one of them Abolitionists get a good blaze going in five of his neighbor's houses."

"So that's one you let live," Wells said.

Barnes guffawed. He held out his hand. "See this ring. After he was down, I chopped it off his pinkie." Wells and Turnbull chuckled. "But I kept my word. I left his house for Stafford's squad.

"One fellow near got clean away. I come to this house, a big one, but no one was to home and I thought I wouldn't get my fun. Me and the boys went through it, cramming all the silverware and jewelry we could find into a pillow case, then made three heaps of bed clothes and mattresses. Just as I started to match the first pile, I heard a baby crying. Come to find out this German had took his brat in his arms and lay low out in the corn field back of his house. I shoved the brat's head aside with my pistol barrel and splattered the German's brains into the ground. I'd say the brat killed him."

"And the women," Turnbull prompted. "Got to be some hot stories there."

"Never touched a one," Barnes told him. "Colonel Quantrill had a rule. Said he'd shoot personal anyone who molested a woman. None of the boys wanted to test him."

"Didn't the town folks fight back?" Wells wanted to know.

"Townies don't carry side arms and they locked up their militia weapons in the armory for safekeeping. They made themselves easy.

"By nine, most of the town was smoldering and me and the boys was drifting down Massachusetts Street out of town when I come to this gun shop with the owner standing in the doorway. He'd helped out some of the boys with their needs all morning, but now their business was done and he was just watching us on our way out of town. I went over to make his acquaintance, popped him a gentle one in the leg, tied his hands and set his shop on fire. When he crawled out, I tossed him back. Since he wasn't cooperating, I stood vigil until the screaming stopped and the fun was over.

"Figuring we'd taught them Federals a good lesson, we took our loot and rode for Missouri. They say we did two hundred men that day," Barnes continued. "I couldn't say. Bloody Bill claimed fourteen. Myself, I only popped eight or so after doing my share at the Johnson House, but you couldn't ride down any street without seeing that our boys had been busy."

"Two hundred men killed," Wells' eyes were wide as he did the arithmetic. "That's near a man a minute,"

"We should have got more:" Barnes said. "Sorry to say, some of the men got marshmallows where their manhood should be. They say Cole Younger stuck his nose in and stopped a dozen killings. Then there's 'big bad Quantrill.'" Barnes snorted. "He surrounded the Eldridge House, just like we did the Johnson House. After he talked them into surrendering, he burned the hotel to the ground. Then the damn fool posted guards to protect them as had surrendered so no one else could kill them either. No wonder his own men finally turned on him."

"How many did you lose?"

"Only one the townies got was old Larkin Skaggs, good boy to ride with. A Baptist preacher-man he was. He liked killing."

Barnes poured himself another drink. "Centralia was even better," he remembered. "We was just raiding this burg for supplies when a train steamed in, so we took it over, figuring to pay our respects to the passengers. In the rear car, we found 28 boys in blue suits heading home for discharge, not a weapon among them. Naturally, we was happy to give them a Missouri welcome. We liked surprising Federals by riding in blue ourselves, so we had them boys strip down to their Long Johns and lined them up like good soldiers in their clean white undies, and gave them their 'carbine discharge.'

"We wasn't but a couple of miles down the road when the 39th Missouri rode in. Guess seeing all them bloody Long Johns got their dander up, 'cause they decided they'd run us to ground, them outnumbering us."

"What happened?" Wells asked.

"Bagged us every one. Some of their horse-holders yellowed and scampered off to Sturgeon. Guess they figured we'd let them off if they got to town. Me and Frank James exercised our horses some. Brung down the last of them less than a hundred yards from the first buildings." Barnes laughed. "Got us a hundred fifty Bluebellies that day, near as much as Lawrence and we didn't have to share."

"And after the war, they wouldn't let you go back to your farm? Just like Frank and Jesse?" Wells asked.

"Most of the boys tucked their tails between their legs and hitched themselves to a plow, just like the Bluebellies wanted. Me and Frank talked about it after the romp at Centralia. We learned a man with a gun takes what he wants and don't have to touch his cap to no one. We decided a man ain't defeated unless he agrees, so after Lee tossed it in and Price lit out for Mexico, we kept riding free and living off them Northerners and their banks and railroads."

Author's note: Each of the events in Barnes' narration is documented fact. What is also documented is that some of the raiders ware so appalled by the carnage that they showed their unfired guns to civilians to demonstrate that they had not killed anyone. While one raider refused to allow a woman to remove the portrait of "my dear dead daughter" from her burning house, others helped move prized possessions out of the path of flames they had just kindled. That four hundred fifty raiders killed "only" at most two hundred men also suggests that the brutal killing was not pervasive or indiscriminate. For a properly chilling and detailed narration of the raid and the many killings in Lawrence that day, see Edward E. Leslie, "The Devil Knows How to Ride" (1996) pages 193-244 and Thomas Goodrich, "Bloody Dawn" (1991), telling the story from the perspective of Lawrence residents. A book that emphasizes the military nature of the raid from the Quantrill side is Paul Peterson's "Quantrill at Lawrence" (2011). Read together, these give a comprehensive study of what Peterson calls "one of the most daring light cavalry raids of the war." (Frank James' participation in the Centralia massacre is disputed.)

The End

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.

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