I've ruined my life, he thought. Oh, what will Momma say? as he kept running. He knew his only chance was to make it to the Deep Fork slew: a place nobody would go on a night like this, or anytime unless you were in a boat, or skiff. He shuddered at the thought. Soon he would be in neck deep water that was full of snakes and snapping turtles, and who knew what else?
* * *
Jaboe, as his family called him, had gone to the Kendrik Store; a little place about 10 miles North of Davenport, another small town in Indian Territory. He had been told to stay away from the store because he might run into the Smiths, a family his family had recently had an altercation with. Jaboe had a sweet tooth and a boring Saturday night in front of him. He thought if he went early he could buy a root beer and a candy bar from his 25 cent earnings from the butcher shop and not run into anybody that would cause him trouble. Boy, was he wrong.
* * *
Everything looked clear at the store until he went in. Standing there was Mrs. Smith with her hands on her hips glaring at him. Jaboe almost lost his lunch when he saw her, knowing she had seen him. He should have turned and left but his pride wouldn't let him. Let the old heifer choke on her tobacco, he thought. I got as much right here as she does. That is, until Hoss came in. He was the oldest of the Smith boys and was fairly easy to get along with, but when he was mad he could tip a wagon. Some said he picked up a horse one time by himself, but Jaboe doubted that. Anyway that was how he got the nickname and no one wanted to mess with him.
Jaboe slid slowly around the aisle so he wouldn't be in Hoss' sight. After talking to his Mom, Hoss turned quickly in Jaboes' direction. Jaboe knew he was in trouble now.
* * *
Less than a week ago the Smiths had almost killed his brother John by hitting him over and over with cue sticks. The fight started over money allegedly won by Jaboes' brother John, the oldest. Jaboe knew he wouldn't cheat anybody and his family knew this too. He figured one of the Smiths lost and wouldn't pay up; so John held his ground until all the brothers jumped on him. When they had enough of him, John was a bloody mess.
A neighbor, who was at the store, loaded him in his wagon and brought John home. The local Doctor said he had never seen such severe wounds and warned them he might not make it. His Momma stayed by his side until he regained consciousness, two days later. He still looked like death warmed over and had to be fed by a spoon. Momma went into town and pressed charges against the Smiths. If convicted Hoss and Joe Smith would go to prison due to many earlier charges. The Smiths sent word by the preacher that if the charges weren't dropped they would finish the job on John. The charges were not dropped, and the Smiths always did what the said, as far as revenge went.
Jaboe considered old man Smith a worthless drunk, who sat by the fireplace and chewed tobacco. He wasn't known to lift a hand to help, or support the family. He just sat there, drank whiskey and spit into the fireplace. Old lady Smith was a hellion. She never forgot a wrong done to her or her boys. You could call her the leader of this clan. She was just plain old and ugly with an uglier disposition.
Jaboe would turn seventeen next week, if he lived that long. Skinny and long legged, he could run like the wind. He won the County mile run just before Christmas and he didn't even try. He was sure trying now. Jaboe looked back at what happened and knew life as he knew it was over. His Momma was a Christian and so was he. He knew how hurt she would be when she learned her youngest son was a killer. Right now, however, he was praying for speed.
* * *
At the store Jaboe backed around a corner and faced Arthur Smith coming out of the bathroom. Arthur smiled when he saw Jaboe, saying, "Well what have we got here? Another stinkin rat of a Pate?"
Jaboe froze on the spot. If Arthur yelled out the others would come runnin and Jaboe would be a dead man. He grabbed for Smith to shut him up. As he did, the youngest Smith pulled his knife and tried to stick in into Jaboe. Jaboe pushed the knife to the side and threw his arm around Arthur's' neck. Jaboe turned him around and took him to the ground as his best friend Jim taught him. The move worked and the two combatants hit the floor. Arthur let out a grunt and went to shaking.
When Jaboe looked, Arthur's knife was sticking out his belly and his eyes were rolled up in his head. Jaboe couldn't believe what he saw and stood up. Just as he did this, Momma Smith rounded the corner. When she saw her son bleeding on the floor, she let out a scream. Jaboe heard the clomp of boots headed his way, and knew who they belonged to. If he stayed they would kill him; make up some story about self defense, or some other nonsense.
Jaboe hit the back door of the store like a man possessed. He was running as hard as he could, but the Smiths had horses. If he didn't make the swamp, they would catch him. Jaboe thought of all kinds of death he could receive from them. All ended up with him sunk in the mud, wrapped in chains, never to be seen again.
He was almost winded when he heard the unmistakable sound of running horses. How had they got on his trail so fast, he wondered? Jaboe knew it would be close; so he veered right, intending to run through a patch of cedar bushes, hoping to gain some time. He thought it worked until right in front of him a tall dark horse reared into the air. On it was Hoss Smith twirling a lasso, intending to rope Jaboe, and probably drag him to death.
As the rope curled through the air, Jaboe dove under a cedar. This caused the rope to miss and a series of cusses from Hoss. Hoss pulled the rope in and turned his horse in the direction Jaboe had gone. He was close now, just a few more feet and Jaboe would be in the slew. His heart was pounding so hard he was sure they could hear it, he prayed for more speed.
Jaboe heard the rope over his head and dove head first into the slew.
Hoss was still cussing, telling him, "You are dead meat Pate, you and your whole family."
Jaboe didn't have time to reply because he was now neck deep in the slew, watching for snakes or anything else. He had passed by close to here a week ago on the Sac and Fox Road. It was early morning and he had been sent by his Pa to buy eggs so his Mom could bake his birthday cake. The road ran by the swamp and Jaboe had to find a limb, to force the snakes off the warm road, so he could pass.
The snakes were there to warm themselves from the cool night. He hated snakes and feared them, but not as much as he feared the Smiths. Jaboe wondered which was better, let the Smiths kill him or let the snakes? Now that he was in the slew which way should he go? If he turned for home, he would be caught and killed. He would also put his family in danger. With John still barely hanging on, his dad and brother Art wouldn't stand a chance against these types. His dad was a God fearing man once his Mom put him to right. He could still cuss and fight, but preferred not to, he told Jaboe one day when they were plowing. Art could hold his own in a fair fight, but Jaboe knew he couldn't take on the Smiths. All the hard work they had done getting their place built would be wasted; Jaboe wasn't going to endanger them anymore than he had already.
The only place he could think of was his friend Jim. He and Jim were the same age and often went hunting together. One day Jim brought a pipe and some tobacco with him as they started hunting. It took them an hour of hard work getting a fire started so they could smoke the pipe. Jim took the first puff and Jaboe watched to see how it was done, after all, Indians smoked peace pipes and Jim was an Indian, full blood Kickapoo. As Jaboe watched Jim started squirming a little. Soon he was almost green, but wouldn't give up the pipe. When he stood up and ran for a bush, Jaboe tried the pipe. Pretty soon they were both arping into the bush, sick as dogs. When they recovered a little, they swore off tobacco, vowing never to try it again.
Jaboe turned West, intending to travel as far as he could from his home. Maybe, he thought, Jim would put him up for the night. It would be a long cold night before Jaboe reached a small town called Sparks. It was a place he could get out of the swamp and make his way to Jim's. Before this, however, he had to know if the Smiths figured out which direction he went. Jaboe's plan was to listen and scout the little town before he made his move. It was known as a liquor stop for the tribes. The government wouldn't let any whiskey on tribal land, so it was full of tiny whiskey stores and they were doing a good business, even late at night.
Not being sure, Jaboe decided to wait for daylight. He spent the time shivering and pulling off leeches from the slew. He knew better than to light a fire for warmth even if his matches were still good, which they weren't. Pulling sod and leaves around him for warmth, he fell asleep, still shivering. The squawk of a Blue Jay woke him up as the eastern sky became slowly brighter. He had never wished more for a warming sun than he did now.
Still wet, cold and tired, Jaboe crawled around the town searching for any sign of the Smiths. When he was satisfied they weren't here, he came out. As he did, he spied a dark horse far down the road. He had to give them credit, they didn't give up easily. He feared their little brother had died causing them to keep going until they caught him. Backing into the trees, Jaboe hid the best he could. He couldn't stand going back into the cold, wet, snake infested slew, so he took his chances that Hoss wouldn't see him where he was.
* * *
Hoss's horse told him all he needed to know. The creature could barely walk, stumbling up the road. There was no telling how many miles he had covered to get here. Even Hoss rode with his head down, either tired or asleep. Jaboe backed a little farther into the trees. His heart was pounding again and he was sure it would be heard. He watched Hoss slide off his horse, not bothering to tie it up: he knew it wasn't going anywhere. When he did he tried to stand tall and looked around. Jaboe thought he saw him for a second, but made no move his way. After stretching, Hoss walked wearily into a whiskey shop.
Jaboe wanted to stand in the sun so bad he almost cried. Hungry, wet and scared, he finally did. He asked God what did he do to deserve this. No longer caring, Jaboe walked out of the trees and headed for Jims' house. If he was to die, let it be now, in the morning with the sun shining on him. Three hours later he stood at the gate of Jim's' house. He could tell they were up and it dawned on him this was Sunday. Jims' family was getting ready for church. Their dog knew him and didn't bark as Jaboe made his way to Jim's window. He knocked softly and Jim peered out.
With eyes as big as saucers, he said, "What in the world are you doing here?"
Even though he knew it was a sin Jaboe asked Jim to pretend sick and he would tell him all about it.
Jim rolled his eyes and said, "Okay, but I might have to go anyway."
Jaboe said, "I need your help real bad, please make it work."
* * *
Jim was able to convince his family he was sick, too sick to go to church at least. As Jim's little brothers hitched the wagon and horses for the trip to church Jaboe crawled into Jim's window. When the family loaded up and left for the hour ride to church, he began his tale.
Jaboe told Jim about the beating his brother John received from the Smith family; and their pressing charges against the Smiths.
Jim listened wide eyed. "You crazy white people will never learn that the law won't help anything," Jim said after listening to the story. "An Indian in this country knows the only way to get back at them would be to ambush the lot and kill them all," Jim stated like he was an expert on Indian justice.
"You're no help," Jaboe complained. "My family is not going to stand against anybody. Their going to let the law handle it, if they don't get killed first."
"That's just it." Jim said. "The Smiths will kill them first and pretend they didn't know anything about it."
"Well what would you do?", Jaboe asked.
"I'd head for Chandler because the County seat is where the US Marshals hang out. They ain't afraid of nothing," Jim spouted.
"US Marshal?" Jaboe asked.
"Yeah, because they got as much authority in Indian Country as any Sheriff, and they ain't afraid to go after anybody. Marshal Heck Tate is the toughest of them all. You remember my Uncle Cole that killed a man in Stroud?" Jim asked.
"Yeah," said Jaboe shaking his head.
"Well he was mean as hell according to my dad; so mean, in fact, the law wouldn't even leave town to arrest him. They told my dad to send him in. My dad laughed in their face and told them he might be his brother, but nobody could talk his brother into a jail cell," Jim proclaimed.
"Since it was an Indian killing a white man, the judge told Marshal Tate to go get him," Jim continued. "When Tate caught up to him my Uncle tried to draw on him. Tate cracked him over the head with his rifle; slung him over a saddle, and made him ride like that all the way to Chandler. Folks said by the time my Uncle made it to Chandler, the ride was so bad my Uncle was crying like a baby," Jim said. "My Dad still laughs about that, saying he got what he deserved. He's doing ten years in a prison in Kansas," Jim finished.
Jaboe said," Heck Tate, I'll remember that when I get to Chandler", and jumped back out of the window. He stopped and asked Jim if he could spare a few biscuits and some milk because he was starving.
Jim laughed and said, "You always look like you're starving," and went to the kitchen. When he came back to the window he handed Jaboe three big old cat head biscuits and a slice of smoked ham saying, "If you want any milk you're gonna have to milk it yourself," and wished him good luck.
* * *
On his way to Chandler, Jaboe got a ride from a peddler heading that way. The peddler kept trying to sell him something, but Jaboe kept telling him he didn't have any money. Just before they reached town the peddler pulled out a deck of cards and showed it to Jaboe. The boys' chin almost hit the seat when he saw what was on the cards.
"These women are in their underwear," Jaboe stammered. "My Mom would kill us both if she saw these."
The peddler just laughed and took the cards back figuring, if nothing else, he had taught the boy something about life.
Jaboe jumped off the wagon when it went by the courthouse, yelling thanks to the peddler. Jaboe went in the front door of the marble courthouse. He had never seen a building this beautiful. He wiped his feet and asked a lady where the Marshal's office was. When he opened their door, two men were sitting on a desk spitting at a spittoon. "I win", one of them said and put a dollar bill in his vest pocket. He looked at Jaboe and asked, "What can we do for you young man?"
Jaboe got embarrassed but asked if Marshal Heck Tate was around.
"You're talkin' to him," he replied.
Jaboe asked if they could go somewhere private.
"Sure," the Marshal said, and led him to an office and offered him a seat. Grown men seldom treated Jaboe like this and he felt proud because of it.
* * *
Little did he know the Smith family was putting his home to the torch after killing his Dad and his wounded brother John. His Mom and brother Art held them off as long as they could, but with nothing more than a shotgun and .50 caliber black powder rifle, it was far from a fair fight. When the smoke from the burning house was thick enough, they made their escape out the back door and ran for the woods. They watched as the house burned to the ground, consuming the bodies of both father and son in the inferno. Thinking they had killed them all, the Smiths rode off feeling revenged for the death of their youngest brother.
Mrs. Pate was in shock with the death of her husband, son and the loss of everything they had come to Indian Territory for. She didn't know where Jaboe was or what had happened that sent him off. She was a lady of faith and that was all she had to lean on. She prayed her youngest son, Jaboe, was safe and that she and her middle son, Art, would remain so. Everything else was in His hands now.
* * *
That morning the postal rider slid in, crying for a Marshal. Jaboe was asleep in one of the cells and woke at the commotion. The rider barreled in the door and said, out of breath to Jaboe, the Smiths had killed a whole family.
Jaboe could hardly ask the question, "Who? "
The family living in the old Colter place," he said.
Jaboe sank to his knees feeling he had killed not only the youngest Smith, but his entire family. "Why, Lord?" he prayed.
Marshall Tate found Jaboe on the cell floor when he came in. The rider was still there so Tate asked what was going on.
"Making the rounds from Shawnee to Meeker this morning and saw smoke on the horizon. I rode over that way and found the Pate place burnt to the ground. Mrs. Pate and one of her boys came out of the barn and told me the Smiths had killed her husband and oldest son before burning the place down."
When Jaboe heard this, he stood up so he could hear the whole story.
"She said it was the Smiths?" the Marshall asked.
"Yep." The rider said. "Seems they was having a feud with them over pressing charges against the boys for nearly killing her oldest son, but now they did kill him, she told me, and her husband too. She said they might have killed her youngest, Jaboe, because he was missing," the rider concluded.
Marshall Tate wrote the information down and had the rider read and sign it. "If this goes to trial you will be called to testify about what you heard and saw," he said.
The rider nodded and left to complete his deliveries.
Tate knew Jaboe had heard all of it and told him to come out of the cell.
Wiping his eyes, Jaboe marched out of the cell.
"None of this was your fault," the Marshall told him. "Sometimes bad people do bad things. That's when I come in. This is about the meanest bunch of scum I've seen in a long time. I promise you I will either bring them in for justice, or send them up for the same. I'll let them choose for themselves, but either way, this is ended."
The Marshall went over to the gun wall and pulled a 45/70 Winchester rifle, a 10 gauge shotgun and several boxes of ammunition. He strapped his colt revolver around his waist with all the bullet loops already filled. He went into another room and returned with a canteen, bedroll and saddlebags. He filled the saddlebag with more supplies and looked at Jaboe.
"You stay here, do not leave. If another Marshal comes in, tell him where I've gone, but YOU STAY HERE," he said.
Jaboe nodded his head and kept his fingers crossed behind his back. There was no way he was going to sit here and let this Marshal get killed for his family, he thought.
As soon as the Marshal left, Jaboe was up to the window watching him ride off. When he was out of sight, Jaboe found paper and pencil to write a note telling anyone who cared what was going on. He went out the back door, jumping on the first horse he found that was saddled. Not only am I a murderer, now I am a horse thief, he thought to himself. The horse he picked was a young stallion, full of vinegar and jumpy. Jaboe called him Spook and took off for Jim's house first.
* * *
He rode the young stallion hard, but he didn't seem to mind; in fact the horse was enjoying the run, Jaboe thought. When he reached Jim's house the family was out in the field. Jaboe yelled and they looked his direction. Waving his hat, Jaboe tried to get them to hurry, but only Jim came running; the others had no idea what was going on.
Jim slid to a stop and asked, "What's going on?"
Jaboe filled him in by the time the others reached them. When his dad arrived, Jim filled him in on what happened. His father looked at Jim and then Jaboe trying to make sure this wasn't one of their jokes. The tears in Jaboe's eyes told him what he wanted to know.
Jim's dad told Jim to run to the agency and alert the Pony Soldiers what had happened and to meet him on the road to Jaboe's house.
Jim said, "The pony soldiers?"
His dad gave him a kick and told him to git.
Jaboe had heard many stories about these Pony Soldiers from Jim. These were the Indian Police and took nothing from anybody. They were all proven warriors and had the scars to show for it. They were responsible for keeping peace between the tribes, and between the tribes and the white men. Jaboe began to feel hope for the first time.
* * *
Marshal Tate slowed as he neared the Smith place. These were the types that would ambush you or shoot you in the back. He had learned a lot about outlaw tricks over the years. He continued riding until he reached the dilapidated house. With his hands freed from the reins, the Marshall let them hang at his side, each one by a weapon if he needed it. Giving a hello to the house, Momma Smith stepped out, wanting to know what he wanted. Then the gunfire started.
* * *
Jim's dad rode in front of the boys, knowing they would follow him no matter what he said. He hid in the woods and as they rode by; he rode out at full gallop, scaring both of them witless. "We'll have a long talk about this later," he said. As they rode on they began hearing gun shots in the distance. Jim's dad turned to Jaboe and asked what gun the Marshall carried.
Jaboe told him a Winchester 1873 in 45/70 and a Colt 45 pistol.
After hearing more shooting, Jim's dad said, "That's him in the Northwest. Sounds like the Smiths are trying to surround him. This time boys, I mean it. You two sit here and wait for the Pony Soldiers." With that he spurred his horse, pulled his rifle from the saddle, and let out a blood curdling war cry.
Jaboe' blood turned to ice. "I didn't know he could do that," Jaboe said.
Jim laughed and told Jaboe his dad was in the war as a scout; then a Pony Soldier himself when he was much younger. It was Jim's Mom that settled him down, he told Jaboe. "That's his way of telling the enemy he's coming and they are going to die," Jim finished.
The boys sat there for what seemed like hours listening to the battle and waiting for the soldiers. When they arrived, they were all in uniform; riding lathered up horses and passed the boys with a wave to follow.
You didn't have to tell them twice. They were on their horses riding for all they were worth, trying to catch the Pony Soldiers. They got outdistanced, but were close enough to hear the Soldiers when they let out their war cry.
Fearing to ride into the middle of a battle: the boys pulled up and walked their horses into the woods, dismounted, and walked toward the Smith place. They took several paces before someone said, "That's far enough." When they looked, it was old man Smith standing behind a tree with his shotgun pointed at the boys.
"What a lucky man I am," he spouted. "Got the runt that killed my boy. Hope you're ready to die," he said as he cocked the old gun.
Another voice said, "Over here, Smith, if you want to die. Leave the boys alone and turn toward me real slow." It was Marshall Tate, bleeding from a hole in his left arm. His right hand hung by his Colt that was still in the holster.
As Smith quickly began his turn, there was one loud gunshot that blew him backward to meet his Maker. The Marshall and Jim's dad stepped out of the trees with both of their guns smoking.
"I'd say it was a draw," Jim's dad said to the Marshall.
"Yeah, too close to call," the Marshall said.
There was some burying done and a month later, a hanging. Jaboe's family sold out and moved to Kansas.
* * *
About ten years later, a stranger saw a tall, thin, Marshall stop along the Sac and Fox road. He was met by the pride of his tribe, a Pony Soldier sitting his horse like he was King Arthur. They clapped shoulders with each other and shook hands. Anybody could see they were friends. After a few minutes they both rode off.
The stranger said, "That's not something you see everyday."