Jocko took a few tentative steps towards the just closed front door of Our Blessed Mother Orphanage. Sister Beth stood behind him.
Tears streamed down his face in a silent cry over his mother's last words. "I'll always love you, but I just can't care for you and your three little sisters too. You're a good boy and strong. The church will take good care of you. Please forgive me." With a quick peck on the cheek, she was out the door.
Sister Beth guided him into the dining hall where all the other waifs sat at long tables behind bowls of oatmeal. Jocko looked at them and they all stared back. Tommy, a boy a couple of years older than Jocko, pointed at him and laughed, as if to say, "new meat." Other kids giggled, and Sister Mary Joan scowled as she smacked the table with the long wooden spoon bringing the orphans back to their sullen continence. Jocko took a place at the end of a bench as his food arrived.
With all that happened that day his stomach was not ready for food, but he had not eaten all day, so he picked up his spoon and dug into the gruel because he had no idea when he would eat again.
Days in the orphanage were much the same. Morning Mass before breakfast, bread and jam, then to classes where the Nuns taught the 3Rs. Afternoons were for work. The girls did things like making rosary beads, mending, and laundry. The boys were farmed out to local tradesmen to do menial work.
The orphanage was overcrowded, so Jocko had to share a bed with Tommy, who usually stole the covers. Even so, Jocko did not mind as Tommy took Jocko under his wing as a little brother.
After a few months a rumor burned though the orphanage, "Mercy Train," as the Catholic church called their orphan trains. The arrival of four new Nuns sent the whole place went into a tizzy. The Sisters made sure the children were washed especially clean. New clothes appeared that were better than the hand-me-down rags they usually wore, and meat accompanied the gruel.
Mother Superior stood before the assembled school and addressed the children. Behind her stood the four new Nuns. "As you have heard, the Bishop has granted Our Blessed Mother Orphanage forty seats on the next Mercy Train." The orphans buzzed with whispers about the train.
Mother Superior pointed to the four sisters and continued, "These are Sisters Joanne, Marie, Bridget and Margaret. They will be taking you on the train and placing you with your new families. Most of you have already been placed, but for the rest the Sisters will surely find good Catholic people to take you in."
Within a day each child got a small duffle. They lined up and walked to the train station eleven blocks away. For a few hours the Nuns herded them into a great gaggle until they boarded.
Tommy and Jocko stood together with a slight girl about four years old. The boys did not notice her at first, but wherever they went she was there, never saying a word. Jocko saw his little sisters in her face and Tommy schemed. "I heard that they like to keep families together. So, let's say we are brother and sister. The Nuns don't know the difference. We can say we must be placed together or not at all."
Jocko trusted Tommy's ideas and Grace knew no better, so it was set. They were the Calvin family—named after a Father Calvin who once befriended Tommy.
The train trip was exciting, with the kids running about as the Nuns tried to keep order. Tommy led them into every hidey hole on the train and even managed to visit the engineer and got to shovel coal.
The first stop was Emporia, Kansas. The Nuns tied tags to the children's clothes with their names and other information. This included Grace. Good Catholic families, accompanied by the parish priest, waited on the platform of the station to claim their new children. The Nuns matched children with families, but Tommy cut Grace's tag off and hid her until the train pulled out. By the time the Nuns discovered her it was too late to return to Emporia, and it did not matter to them as they would place Grace at the next stop.
A similar event happened in Flagstaff, but Sister Marie kept track of Grace and she was placed with a family. Tommy and Jocko snuck off the train and kidnapped her back. It took two days before Sister Joanne discovered her. This time it took all four women to watch the trio.
When the train pulled into Kingman station there were only the three Calvin children left. On the platform were several families who hoped to take Grace home. However, the boys stood straight and tight together with Grace in front. Each boy had a hand on her shoulder as she pronounced the words Tommy taught her. "These are my brothers and I will not be placed without them." No matter how the Nuns tried to dissuade her, the tough New York street kid would not budge. One by one the prospective parents dispersed until there was a lone Mexican couple.
"We will take them," Mama Rojo said, and the deal was done.
The Rojos loaded their new charges into a donkey cart and set off. They were not from Arizona, but from Nevada. It took several days to reach their small piece of land outside Calliope, Neveda. As constable for the town, this is where I met the kids for the first time.
Life went well for a few years. The Rojos taught Spanish at home, but the children spoke English in school. Being bilingual in the southwest was an asset.
Orphan trains were controversial wherever they went. Conflicts with religion, culture, and the conduct of some children all upset a part of the local populace.
Buddy Worth was a rabble-rouser kind of guy, picking fights that did not need to be fought. He had an ear for anything to draw attention to himself. Rumblings persisted among some in town that it was not right for the Mexican Rojos to be raising three white children and taking them out of their proper culture. Buddy started his disruption routine and spoke against the Rojos to anyone within ear shot. Nothing would have come of this but for Tommy.
The boy dropped back into his hoodlum ways. A flagrant truant, he often pulled Jocko with him, running the streets with the other young toughs of the town. Stealing, vandalizing, and drinking, they lead Sheriff Billy a merry chase.
Tommy ended up in jail, without Jocko. Buddy Worth used this to rail up a dozen or so townsfolk to ride out to the Rojo's and forcibly take the children.
Papa Rojo met the mob in front of the adobe house with his shotgun cradled in his arms.
"We can't have those kids living with you anymore. You ain't raisin' them right," bellowed Worth.
"Off my land," Papa responded and pointed his shotgun at Worth. With that the mob brandished their weapons and Papa knew he was not going to win this Mexican standoff.
Several men went into the house and tore Jocko and Grace from Mama Rojo's arms. The kids were screaming and kicking as the men drug them out and threw them in a buckboard. Mama rushed to the wagon, but a cowboy pushed her to the ground and they rode off.
In town, Buddy brought the children to a saloon and sent for the Sheriff and the Mayor. When they arrived Worth puffed himself up, thinking he had done a great service to the community.
"Worth!" yelled Mayor Procell. "What the hell have you done?"
"By what authority did you think this was right?" added Sheriff Billy.
Not expecting the negative response, Worth was stunned. "We fixed the Rojo problem."
"There was no Rojo problem. They are as fine a citizens and as sweet a couple as you can find. They took in those kids when no one else would," continued the Mayor.
"Ya, well what about Tommy?" Worth spit back.
"He's no worse than half a dozen boys that run around here. He's a hell of a lot better than your nephew Pete who will likely end up at the end of a rope," said the sheriff.
Buddy Worth had a talent for causing problems, but never solved any. Porcell took the two kids in for the night and called a meeting in the church the next day. The pews were only half full when he stood to speak. The three Calvins sat behind him. No one responded to his pleas for a white family to take them in despite a consensus they should not be returned to the Rojos.
A rustling sound came from the back pew and everyone turned to look. Dressed all in black stood a formidable woman well known to the whole community. "You all know me," Mrs. Teasdale started. "And you know my late husband, who helped most of you buy your land, homes, and businesses through his bank. Well, today I'm ashamed of every last one of you for not acting like decent folk should. Shame on you all." She paused as she stared down many faces in the crowd. "I have a grand house and there is plenty of room for these young people. I will gladly take them as my own." So, the deal was done again.
Things went on fairly well for the next few years. Tommy calmed down and the children assimilated to town life attending fairs and dances. That was until the year Grace turned fourteen.
Sadly, Mrs. Teasdale passed away but left her house to the children. Grace graduated the 8th grade and was hired by Mrs. Dorothy McCallian, the school principal, as a teacher of the young students.
Tommy, now known as Tom Calvin, grew restless. His old habits called him, and he was out on his own. He was well known in the cattle rustling and horse stealing circles and several robberies were attributed to him and the bunch he ran with.
Jocko, now called Jack, took odd jobs in town and on local ranches for a few years until he became an armed guard for Wells Fargo. There he burnished his reputation by thwarting two stage robberies and killing five bandits.
Grace attracted suitors like bees to a flower. She dabbled with a few of them, but with Mrs. Teasdale gone the boys had to pass through Jack if they wanted any time with Grace. This became even more intense when Jack returned to the Teasdale house. Eventually she settled on Hip Charles, a cowboy and part time range detective from the KN ranch. Everyone knew it was just a matter of time before they were hitched.
Many ranches and livestock conglomerates formed extra-legal units called detectives to police the range in the interest of the large land owners. There were only two or three full time detectives around Calliope, but they employed regular cowboys to fill their ranks when needed.
Sherriff Billy had been in office for many years. He was well liked, respected, and had a tough reputation. However, time had taken its toll and he relied more and more on his deputies to handle the leg work. It was a natural fit for Jack to be asked to leave Wells Fargo and become a deputy. It did not take long for him to move up to Under Sheriff.
The Calvins never forgot what the Rojos had done for them and they returned to the adobe house many times during their growing up years. Mama and Papa were their family as blood could not improve.
It came to pass that Grace was spending a few days with Mama and Papa when Tom and several of his band arrived. No matter what Tom did, the old couple would take him in. "He's family," they would say.
Grace did not like Tom's life, but their relationship was strong and, like the Rojos, he was family.
Tom gathered his gang under a cottonwood tree behind the house to plan their next outing. "Old man Grayson's got this contract with the government to deliver fifty horses to the garrison in Carson City," Tom explained.
"And they're set to drive them to the rail yard in town on Thursday of next week. As soon as the boxcars arrive they are going to load them up," added Ace.
"We'll raid the ranch on Tuesday night. The moon won't be full, but there'll still be enough light for us," concluded Tom.
The horse thieves gathered behind the ridge overlooking the Grayson place and waited for moonrise. When it was right, they quietly rode over the ridge and down to the corral where fifty horses were softly whinnying and stomping around. There were no other sounds until the rifles roared.
From the barn, house, and outbuildings, muzzle flashes lit up the yard. The rustler's horses reared in disarray as the horse thieves pulled their pistols and returned fire as best they could. Several gang members fell right away as the crossfire ripped through them. Tom took a hit in the shoulder and another in his side but managed to escape by riding past the barn and out onto the road leading from the ranch.
The next morning the detectives told Sheriff Billy and his deputies about the raid and that Tom was on the run. All eyes fell on Jack.
"If you'd rather not ride out on this one, Jack," said Billy, "we'll understand."
"No," replied Jack. "I pretty much know where he's headed. I'll bring him in." With that Jack and two deputies mounted and road out to the Rojo's.
Papa Rojo met them in front of the house with his shotgun at the ready. He spoke in Spanish as he always did to the children. "What brings you out this morning Jack?"
"You know Papa," Jack returned sadly, in Spanish.
"This is family business, Jack"
"I wish it was Papa, and I hate putting you and Mama in the middle of this, but this is a matter for the law now."
Papa raised his shotgun, but Jack did not flinch. "Papa I'm going in the house now. I just hope you understand."
Jack dismounted and told his deputies to stand fast. He stepped though the door with Papa Rojo behind him. Mama was standing to his left by her stove, head down and weeping.
Moving through the main room, Jack arrived at a back bedroom where Tom was laid out on a cot, covered with a blood-stained blanket. His pistol was cocked and pointed at Jack. "You come to take me in, brother?"
"Eventually, once you've healed some. You're in no shape to travel." Jack was as calm as he could manage in light of the situation.
Tom continued. "Never thought it'd come to this, both my kin turning on me."
"Both, Tom? No one turned on you"
"You're a lawman, and my sister turned me in when she told Hip Chance and the detectives about my business."
"Grace wouldn't do that. Besides it was no secret that Grayson had those animals, almost anyone could have figured it out."
A long awkward silence passed between the brothers before Jack turned to leave. Tom pulled his trigger and the bullet pierced the extra bullets on Jack's gun belt, then through the leather into his hip. As he went down, he had the presence of mind to draw his gun and pivot. When he hit the ground, he was facing Tom.
Tom fired again but missed. They exchanged fire for a few more rounds. At the end, Jack was the brother still alive.
After Tom died, Grace lost interest in suitors and never married. She became a suffragette in her later years and was a confidant to all the women of Calliope. She lived in the Teasdale house until she passed in 1926.
Jack raised a family and became sheriff when Billy retired. He went back to New York to find his mother, but no one remembered her. He lost a son in WWI.