I'm out here riding on the deserted prairie heading to Texas and a new beginning. Things were moving along smoothly. I was living in Fort Smith, riding with the McGlinn brothers, piling up some cash, until things went bad in Potter, Kansas. Alone on the trail with these vast stretches of prairie land all around me, I have a lot of time to think how I got here,
I was only eight years old when my daddy dragged us from Remington, Ohio, all the way to Missouri. In Ohio he worked for a wealthy farmer near Remington and as I remember we managed to live fairly comfortably. Before the war, a land agent came to our church in Remington and convinced my daddy that there was cheap land near St. Louis. My daddy then uprooted my mom, my little sister, and me and moved us to Missouri where he managed to buy a small spread and tried to grow corn and soybeans. It turned out to be harder than he thought to own his own place and we struggled to get by.
It was also tough for us in Missouri before the big war. Mizzou was a slave state and most of our neighbors were reb sympathizers but my daddy was a Yankee to the core; third generation Ohio. He couldn't see keeping a slave and he couldn't keep his mouth shut about it. It wasn't easy for a small boy like me being the only Yankee in a one room schoolhouse. I quickly learned how to fight.
When the war started Daddy enlisted right away for the blues with no thought to us or to how we would survive without him. Six months later he was killed at Wilson's Creek, his first and only battle.
Mama couldn't keep the farm going by herself so she sold out to the bank and moved us to St. Louis where she found a job as a hotel maid. We lived in a shack in Shanty Town. Every city back east that I'd ever been in had a Shanty Town, a bunch of shacks for the folks just getting by. St. Lou was no different but it was a bigger town so its Shanty Town was bigger. Mama made enough so that we had food to eat, but my sister and I were left pretty much to ourselves. I got to be tough but shrewd. I would fight if necessary but I knew with all the rebs around to keep my mouth shut. Shanty Town in St. Lou gave me quite an education in how to take care of myself.
We stayed in St. Lou for two years and then drifted further west, first to Kansas City for a few years and then on to Fort Smith, Arkansas. While the war was being fought, Fort Smith was a boom town filled with soldiers and outlaws When the war ended it was the last stop before heading onto the prairie and out to the open west. Back then it was last semblance of real civilization. Most everyone in Fort Smith was also a reb and didn't believe that the war was over and they lost. I learned to keep my mouth shut, although I never understood the war. For the folks around me in Fort Smith, the Confederacy was everything, and the Union was the devil. Jessie James had started his raids and I grew up listening to all of the stories about him. By that time I was also an outlaw so to me he was just another bad guy taking what he could. To the locals though, he was a true patriot, the Robin Hood of Mizzou. His being an outlaw was a way to keep fighting the war; make the blue devils, running Arkansas under Reconstruction, unhappy and uneasy.
In those years, Fort Smith was a tough place. While Mama worked, I was on the streets and got in with the wrong crowd; drifted into being an outlaw. The Spencer Street boys was the first gang that I ran with. A bunch of street kids from Fort Smith's Shanty Town, we came together and pictured ourselves as younger versions of Jessie James. We would roll the drunks that came out of the saloons and steal whatever we could. I picked up a big old Bowie knife off of one of the drunks we rolled and I became a terror with that thing. I was mean and had learned to fight and I wasn't afraid to use that knife. I killed the first time with it in a fight in a saloon on Lee Street. The Lee Street boys were a rival gang that worked out of the Happy Slipper, a tough saloon. I didn't think much of it when I walked into that place to get a brew. I had the Bowie knife strapped to my side. I was known as one of the Spencer Street crowd and they circled around me by the bar. "Hey, you got a lot of nerve wandering in here, Dog" one of them said. I was trapped so I sipped my beer and said nothing. They were younger and one of them pushed me and I pushed my glass into his face. He fell backwards and one of the others pulled a small knife on me. He thrust the blade forward but I had unsheathed my bowie knife and it quickly found his gut. He fell to the floor bleeding and his friends scattered. None of the other bar patrons did anything; these fights were common, so the death of one of the kid criminals meant nothing.
As an outlaw I grew up fast and I grew up mean but I always had one advantage over most of the guys I ran with. I had my wits about me and always thought out what I was doing. Whatever I stole I kept. Most of my bandit pals would drink or gamble away all they made. If they had any left they'd spend it on a girl. Broke all the time, they were always looking for the next score. Me, on the other hand, I'd play cards and drink, take a whore or two but never out of control.
It was sometime after I killed that Lee Street kid that I met up with Roddie Grant. He was a bit older and had been in and out of jails since he was fourteen. Roddie knew his way around. At twenty-one he already had a hardened face that scared most people off. He had a fierce look with a big jagged scar that ran all the way down his cheek. He carried a real nice Colt .45 and also a big Bowie knife like mine that he wasn't afraid to use. Roddie bought me a gun, not as good as his, but he taught me to shoot and I became quite a gunman. I was steady and calm and not afraid to die. The two of us earned quite a reputation in Fort Smith as tough guys and some outlaw gangs hired us. We rode with Mac Strasser up to Missouri and Kansas to the farms. The prairie up there was like an empty ocean with the farms placed like little isolated islands. The farmers always kept a little bit of cash on hand so we'd come down on them and clean them out. Occasionally we took advantage of their wives or their daughters if they were old enough. Most times that didn't set right with me so I didn't join in but Roddy enjoyed a good hefty farm wife, especially with the farmer held down outside screaming. One of the farmers described Roddy to the law. Roddy was easy to remember with that big ugly scar on his face and his face wound up on a wanted poster. He didn't seem too worried about it and wouldn't think of hiding out or keeping out of sight.
The McGlinn brothers, Bobby and Tommy, were a tough local pair who put together a gang. Tommy told us that the banks along the railway line in Kansas were easy pickings and he convinced Roddy to join. I fell in line along with Willie Crowther and Zeb Jackson. We'd drink at Irish Jack's Saloon in Fort Smith and Tommy McGlinn would lay out a map and point out the places that he planned to take down. Anyone could hear us and see the map but McGlinn wasn't concerned. Fort Smith was open like that.
Roddie wasn't afraid to die but he was a hothead. One night at Irish Jack's Saloon in Fort Smith he got in an argument at a poker table. He accused a well-dressed thin fellow with a deep Georgia drawl of cheating. "Get up you fucking cheat," Roddie scowled at the fellow. When the fellow wouldn't stand up, Roddie pulled out his Bowie knife. As fast as lightning, the fellow whipped out some sort of small saber and sliced Roddie's neck from ear to ear before Roddie could even jab at him. He fell bleeding and dying onto Irish Jack's floor. The McGlinn brothers were there and they were friends of Roddie's but no one moved. The thin fellow just shook his head at the people standing over Roddie's body and said in a slow drawl, "might sorry about your friend here" and tipped his hat. He then put the saber away and sat down as if nothing had happened. I was told that the fellow might have been the famous gunman Doc Holiday, but I don't know. Roddie was dead and I was alive so I took that good Colt of his and paid to have him buried.
After Roddie was killed, Tommy McGlinn convinced me to stay with his bunch. I rode with them through Kansas and we knocked off a bunch of banks in the eastern part of the state. Most of the time, it was easy pickings. The towns were nothing special; tiny little hamlets near the farms. They all had a bank, a hotel, a feed and grain store and the sheriff's office. Most of the sheriff's were locals who were worthless with either a gun or protection. We'd ride into town, and Willie and I would watch the horses while Tommy, Bobby and Zeb would go inside. They'd draw their guns announce very calmly "This is a robbery, fill some bags with cash". The tellers and the bank officers always complied—the McGlinn's were known as killers and from six or seven of these small towns we walked away with nice piles of money. In between jobs we'd ride back to Fort Smith and they would play cards, drink and enjoy the fancy girls. By the time we were set for another job the four of them were usually broke. I held onto my cash and spent it sparingly. I knew in my mind I wasn't going to wind up dead at twenty-three years old like Roddie.
We heard that there were wanted posters for the McGlinn gang all over eastern Kansas but that didn't seem to faze any of the gang but me. None of them talked about being careful about being spotted and Bobby and Tommy McGlinn were busy plotting our next bank job. This was to be in Potter, a little bigger town further north in Kansas. Potter had a railroad depot that hooked it up with both Wichita further west and Kansas City to the south so Bobby and Tommy assumed that it would hold more cash than the others. With the wanted posters out and everyone in Fort Smith knowing what we were doing, Potter didn't sit right with me. Our good luck had to run out sooner or later. Still, I was with the bunch when we set out for Potter.
We rode into Potter just like every other town we'd been to but it seemed bigger. Same buildings were along the main street but the Potter Hotel was bigger than most and the bank had a stone façade. Still there was no presence of the law and it looked as easy as every other bank job. As before, Willie and I had the horses outside ready for the getaway and Zeb, Bobby and Tommy walked inside. They announced it was a robbery but before any teller could hand over cash an older bank guard pulled out a gun and tried to shoot it out. He fired three times and winged Zeb in the arm. Bobby McGlinn was never one to use his head. He shot and killed the old man. Tommy and Zeb then cleaned out the bank cash. Like before, we took what we got and started first to ride back to Fort Smith.
Bobby killing that guard set us up to hang if we were caught, so I thought it was a good idea to part ways with the McGlinns. This time Tommy and Bobby thought it would be wiser if we didn't go back right away to Fort Smith so we changed direction and the gang headed west towards Dodge City. We heard that Dodge was an open city and that there was good gambling and good girls. However I was nervous about hanging so I made up my mind on that ride, to leave the gang. As we got close to Dodge, without telling any of the others, I left them and headed south. My plan was to go to Texas where my name wasn't on a wanted poster. I figured that I find something in Texas. There were always opportunities for a man who could handle a gun and knew his way around. Besides, I had a good pile of cash to live on for a while and you didn't need much to survive in these small prairie towns. San Antonio became my new destination.