BW was sitting on his horse, Stupid. He was letting him walk as slow as he could, which was mighty slow. He'd seen Stupid walk slower but that was when he was sleeping. BW owned the only horse he knew of that walked in his sleep. It was a hot day and BW was about to drift off himself.
Suddenly, Stupid did a little dance and skipped sideways. BW found himself sitting on air. Hitting the ground knocked the breath out of him. He sat on the ground wheezing, trying to get some air back into his lungs. BW felt something hit him on the back of his head. Whatever it was spun him around hurting him. Hearing the gunshot he knew what it was. Someone shot him.
BW ducked as low as he could and touched the back of his head. Touching the spot caused more pain. Then he looked at his bloody hand. Somebody shot him but it only grazed his head. He felt the valley across his scalp. He wondered why someone shot him. The war was over, he wasn't wearing a uniform and didn't know anyone around here. He watched little puffs of dirt jumping up around him, realizing he was still being shot at. Ducking even lower, he crawled on hands and knees toward a rock by the the side of the trail. He wished the rock was bigger but it was the only one around.. He slipped behind the rock and rubbed his head again. He judged the wound was made by a .30-30 caliber bullet, The report of the rifle sounded like one also. He was glad the shooter didn't hit him with a .45-70 caliber rifle like the one he carried. "Probably would have blown my head off," he mumbled.
Somebody continued shooting at him. The rock barely had room for him behind it. He made himself as small as he could. The cactus behind the rock made it harder for him to do, but he was glad to have the rock, cactus and all. Besides he thought, cactus would be even harder to hide behind.
Stupid was doing what he was best at, standing there looking stupid. All BW had on him was an old .32 revolver he won in a poker game. The player thought BW was bluffing and all he left to call him with was this old .32 pistol. BW flipped his pair of queens over his pair of jacks and stuck the pistol in his belt. He asked the guy if he had any more ammo and he said he didn't, "but it shoots good," he said.
BW had never fired the pistol not wanting to waste the only bullets he had. If he wasn't able to convince Stupid to walk over to him, that would be all he had. In a scabbard on the back of his horse hung his Springfield .45-70 trapdoor. That'll even things up, he thought. BW called, "Stupid, come here", giving a little cluck. Stupid's ears went up and he looked at BW with a look that said, you come here. BW called again and reached into his shirt pocket like he was getting something out. Jiggling the two pebbles in his fist he said, "Come on boy, I got some sugar." Stupid perked up and walked over to him.
BW reached up and pulled his rifle out of the scabbard, then his canteen. He threw pebbles at Stupid to shoo him away. The look Stupid gave made him laugh. "You're the one who dumped me, I should shoot you," BW whispered to him.
Whoever was doing the shooting must have a lot of bullets, they sure were wasting them, BW thought. Pulling the hammer back, he got off a shot where he thought the shooter was hiding. He waited several minutes but no more shots were fired. "Must have scared them off", BW said to Stupid. Slowly getting up, BW moved from cover to cover making his way to the ledge the shooter was using for cover. Pulling out the old .32 pistol he yelled, "If you're in there, I'm gonna blow you out Dadgum it. Come on out."
When nothing stirred he went closer. BW could make out a pair of boots sticking out from under a Mesquite tree. He moved even closer, hoping his pistol would work if he needed it. When he was close enough, he saw the body. Dang, he thought, I must have hit him with a lucky shot.
Sure enough the bullet BW fired hit the cowboy on the top of his head and traveled downward. BW felt the body was lying on the ground firing down at him. That's why the bullet struck the top of his head. This boy never knew what hit him.
Not being the first man he killed didn't make it any easier. He lost track of the number of men during the war. He wasn't sure of the number anyway. The chaos of battle made any count guess work. BW fought for the South, being from Mississippi. He ran off to find his three brothers when he was sixteen years old. He told them he was older so they wouldn't send him back. He never found two of them and watched one brother die never knowing he was there.
BW searched the body, looking for anything that would tell him who he was. All he found was a cheap pocket watch inscribed "To Josh from Mom With Love". So this kid was probably Josh or Joshua, BW decided. He had no money, just a new Winchester '73. Probably cost him all he had, in more ways than one, BW thought.
BW's family didn't own any slaves because they were dirt poor. Even though cotton was grown around Jackson, slaves were too expensive for his family. Slaves were usually owned by wealthy plantation owners and rarely by everyday folks.
After the war he came west with his family. He was the youngest of four sons and the only one that survived the war. They lost their farm with no one to work it but BW. His Pop was older by the time BW was born and the loss of three sons took the life out of him. Coming by covered wagon was hard too. His Pop caught pneumonia and died along the trail. When he and his Mom reached Spring Ridge near the Louisiana/Texas line, his momma passed, BW thought with a broken heart. He sold the wagon and all they had, hoping for enough money to buy some land and stock. It wasn't, so he claimed a homestead in west Texas. Now, he was a cowboy and nothing else.
His spread was between San Angelo and Cristoval. It took 4 acres per cow and calf to keep them alive here. He caught Long Horns because they were mean and tough. They had to be to survive in this part of Texas. It was dry with little grass and even less water. He tried to drive cattle along the Chisolm Trail once and nearly died on the trail and again in Dodge City. Sickness on the trail, bullet hole in Dodge City.
BW wrapped the body in his saddle blanket and headed for the County seat in San Angelo and the sheriff's office there. He travelled all that day and night, reaching the sheriff's office at day-break. He and Stupid were worn out but he had to deliver the body quickly. It was summer and getting hot. A body would get ripe pretty quick this time of year.
BW waited until he could smell the coffee and hear the door being unlocked. The deputy saw the body and went wide eyed. He was new to the job. BW said, "Not seen too many dead men have you?"
The deputy shook his head no.
"Had to shoot him cause he was shooting at me," BW told the deputy.
When a young boy walked by the Deputy pulled him aside and said, "Go get the sheriff, tell him to come runnin," giving the boy a penny.
The boy looked at the penny and took off running.
When the Sheriff arrived it didn't look like he had done much running in a long time. With a belly that met you long before he did, he asked the deputy, "What we got?"
The deputy just pointed at the body, saying, "That's him, ain't it?"
The sheriff looked and said,"Dang sure is." Looking at BW he asked, "How'd you get him?"
"Who'd I get?" BW replied.
"You mean you don't know who that is?" said the Sheriff.
"Nope, don't have any idea. Just know he was shooting at me so I was shooting at him. Got a lucky shot and here he is," BW answered.
"Well, you just brought in the Waco Kid," said the Sheriff, while slapping BW on the shoulder. "You just made $500."
"For what?" BW asked.
"The reward," the Sheriff said.
BW never saw that much money in his life. $500, that was a fortune, he thought.
"You'll have to wait till the bank opens to get your money," the Sheriff said.
BW said he would wait a lot longer for that kind of money.
Now that he had a pocket full of Union greenbacks, he couldn't think of many things he needed. He did a little shopping before starting for home. He wished his Ma was alive. He'd buy her a new hat. Never seen her wear a hat, he thought, just bonnets. He did consider a new horse to replace Stupid, but he didn't. Remembering his run in with the kid, BW kicked his horse in the side to hurry him up. "Sorry," he told Stupid. "Need to get home before dark." Carrying this much money scared him. They got home before dark.
The next morning he woke with a start. He heard voices outside the cabin. Grabbing his rifle he made for the door thumbing the hammer back. He opened it to find three cowboys still on their horses. All carried six shooters on their belts and, by the looks of their horses, had been riding hard. "Morning," BW hollered. They went wide eyed. BW was standing there holding his new rifle, naked as a jaybird.
"Where's Billy?" the oldest looking one asked.
"Don't know him," BW replied.
"Well, this is his place," the cowboy said.
"Don't know about that either," said BW. "Bought this place from the bank in Angelo about a month ago," BW said.
"Oh, he must of died," the oldest replied.
"Don't know about that either," BW said, "You boys want some coffee?" he asked.
Looking at the others the oldest said, "Sure do."
Pointing to a water trough, BW told them to water their horses and he would put the coffee on. "Might want to put some pants on too," BW announced.
They didn't say a thing about that, just turned their ponies for the trough.
BW, chuckling to himself, went back into the cabin and started a fire in the cook stove. "Gets them every time," he laughed.
BW was dressed and the coffee boiling. He was frying bacon when they knocked. "Come in," BW hollered.
The oldest peeked in and then told the other it was OK. He said to BW, "Good to see you dressed."
BW answered, "Ever cook bacon without any clothes on?"
"No," the cowboy answered.
"Me either but it could get a little dicey with the grease poppin and all," BW said.
They quickly agreed.
BW apoligized he didn't have any eggs. "The coyotes ate up my chickens so I quit buying em. Ain't out here to feed coyotes them expensive chickens," he said.
They shook their heads in agreement while shoveling bacon and bread into their mouths.
"You boys look like you been on the road for a while," BW announced.
Swallowing his bite the oldest said, "I'm the marshall in Fredericksburg. Been chasing the Waco Kid for a week."
"Thought you was the law. Sorry to tell you but I killed him a couple days ago," BW said.
So BW told them the tale.
The marshall, after hearing the details, said they would continue to San Angelo to identify the body, then head back to the Hill Country. The bank set a $100.00 reward and once they verified the body, BW could ride back with them and claim it, they told him.
"No, you boys collect the reward, I already got mine. I'll write up a piece of paper and give it to you so they won't think you were cheating them. Besides, you earned it," BW concluded. They each thanked him. This added up to over $30 apiece, about a months' salary, BW thought.
He had the paper written when they finished eating. "Sheriff, give these boys the reward money as I got enough already." He signed it BW Smith. It wasn't his real last name but nobody would know that.
They thanked him heartily and headed North toward San Angelo. Last he ever saw of them.
When he finished his chores and cleaned the dishes, he sat in the shade on an old rocking chair, trying to decide what to do with all that money. He could use a new pair of pants, maybe new boots, a better pistol for sure. He had a new rifle, thanks to the "Kid." His tack was old, but in good shape. He owned Stupid and would keep him. He could buy more land because it was cheap, he thought. Maybe I will, he decided, if he could find water. That was the problem. West Texas was dry. It seldom rained and when it did, it was usually a deluge, then it would stop as quickly as it started. Next time he was in town he would ask about windmills.
This went on for days. When BW realized he was losing money sitting on his tail, day dreaming, he decided to restart the round-up he started before the shooting.
It was too late to hunt cows so he decided to stay busy gathering what he needed for the trip. Throwing his pack over a corral fence, he threw in extra rope, a bean pot, his large skillet, then the small one. Knowing he should make a list, he went for paper and a pencil. He was a man of substance now and from here on he would do things right.
He sat down on a hay bale and made notes about what went in his pack. This, he felt, would keep him organized because that's what rich men did, organize. He added bullets, salt, some chili peppers and coffee. He had some sugar and added that to the pack and a little bacon. Ordinarily, he wouldn't have added this much but remembering he was rich, he did. Then, an extra tarp, kerosene lamp, extra blanket. He stopped and decided he would buy some extra fitted horse shoes for Stupid. He would need some eventually. When he totaled what he thought the price would be, he started taking things back out. "I ain't that rich," he stammered. Paring things down to what he ordinarily took, all he needed was coffee and bullets. About $1 at most.
The next morning BW was up and about by sunup. He and Stupid could be seen riding along creek beds looking for cows and calves. By noon he added five cows
to the herd, three heifers and two calves. He found the third heifer but never did find her calf. BW was afraid wolves or coyotes got it.
Leading the pack mule, riding on Stupid, he left a few days later. They were heading for the railroad at Big Spring to sell his cows. He'd been there before. Never saw so many people at one time, he thought. Must have been 4,ooo people just to watch one man hang. He had never seen a hanging either. This one was pretty well messed up. He remembered they gave the man too much rope. When the trap door opened, the man fell almost to the ground before the rope ran out. He fell so far he got too much speed. When the rope stopped hard, it pulled his head off. Women screamed, some fainted. Men got sick watchin the fella jerk around on the ground with no head. BW heard they fired the hanging crew out of Dallas. The judge promised to jail the sheriff if this ever happened again. BW figured it didn't make the dead fella much difference, dead was dead. He probably never knew about his head.
It was a five days ride to Big Spring. BW was so mad at the calves he could have shot them all. If he wanted to go right they went left, their mommas chasing after them. He sold all fourteen head at the railroad junction. Later he heard the army post at Ft. Sill, where Geronimo was jailed, needed beef and was buying at a premium.
His cattle sold for $12 a piece, even the calves. They paid him $168.00 in Union script. He took the paper straight to the bank and changed it into gold and silver coin. He remembered what Confederate script was worth.
With over a years wage in his pocket, he settled his bill at the saloon and boarding house, picked up his pack mule and headed home. Three days later found him asleep in his own bed.
Another knock on the door woke him up. It was just turning dawn, he could see the Eastern sky getting pink. What an ungracious time to wake a fellow up, he grumbled. Picking up his new Colt .45 and nothing else, he threw the door open. An African American woman stood there. They both screamed. He opened the door clothed like last time. Something she wasn't expecting and neither was he.
BW ducked back around the door while she jumped off the porch. Averting her eyes, she said, "Mister, we're broke down on the road. Can you help us?"
BW, red as a beet, asked, "What's the matter?"
"She answered, "We broke the axle and the mule went lame from pullin' a lopsided wagon. Don't have another axle or mule," she said, still averting her eyes.
BW said, "I'll be out in a minute."
"Take yore time, Mister," she said.
She was standing under the shade tree when he came back out. When she saw him dressed she breathed a sigh of relief and walked toward the cabin. She waited while he saddled Stupid and walked him to her.
BW said, "Ma'am, you ride and I'll follow. He's real gentle so you won't have any trouble."
"Thank you sir, but I'll walk. I never learned to ride," she said.
Apologizing, he decided they would both walk. He didn't feel right riding while she walked, he had better manners than that.
At the wagon she introduced her husband, Reverend Roman Washington. Under the wagon were two wide eyed children, a boy and a girl. She introduced her children, Lazarus and Rebecca Washington. The boy aound eight years old, the girl, six.
He asked "Where they going?"
The Reverend said El Paso.
BW shook his head saying, "Never make it in this wagon. It's finished."
The Reverend hung his head, his wife had tears in her eyes.
"All of you come up to the house. Carry what you can and I'll hitch your mule and bring mine back to get the rest," BW said.
"We got no money," she said.
"I'll keep that in mind," said BW with a smile.
At the cabin BW said, "I'll fix dinner. Hope you like it."
They started to protest so he jumped into the cabin, shutting the door. He handed out a water jug and dipper, telling them there was a clear, cold, spring just east of the cabin. "watch out for snakes", he said and ducked back in.
BW had a salted ham he had been saving. He decided this was as good a time to eat it as any. Building a better fire in the old stove, he washed the ham and doused it with
molasses. He knew this was the best he had to offer. When it was ready, he pushed it into the old oven hoping he wasn't going to ruin it. Taking 4 apples out of his root cellar he set them outside the door. Next time he looked, the apples were gone. Good, he thought.
Thinking, I'm using the oven, might as well take advantage of it. BW kneaded some dough for biscuits.. The entire cabin heated up even more. West Texas summers were bad enough. He couldn't see how women could do it. He wasn't a good cook, just adequate. Since he was a terrible gravy maker, he didn't make any. His biscuits were good, that, he could do. He learned from his Mom. She made great biscuits. He planned on several being on the table tonight. When everything was ready, BW called them in.
The two kids raced for the door, smelling the ham and biscuits. Their parents didn't run, but they walked pretty fast. When all were seated, BW dived in until he saw the family setting with hands folded. Looking sheepish, he put his fork down and folded his hands.
"Dear Lord, we are truly thankful for what you have provided," Reverend Washington prayed. He had a deep voice that carried throughout the cabin.
When he finished, BW thought, now that's a prayer, and dived back in.
After dinner, he heard Rebecca say, "There wasn't no gravy Ma." Her mother kicked her under the table.
BW couldn't help laughing saying, "You don't know how blessed you are girl. My gravy has been known to kill," and started laughing again.
After eating the family cleaned the table and dishes not letting BW do anything. They sent him outside, where he sat with the Reverend. It was cooling off, becoming a beautiful Texas night. The kids eventually came out and chased lightning bugs, giving everyone another laugh.
The Reverend asked, "Who'd you fight for?"
BW said, "The 8th. Mississippi."
The Reverend said, "We met you at Danners Pass. That was a bad one."
"Yep", BW replied.
"Took a mini-ball there. Didn't kill me though," said the Reverend. They both chuckled. He pulled up a pant leg to show BW that a hunk of his calf was gone. "They
wanted to cut it off," he said, "but, I wouldn't let them. They figured I'd get gangrene and die anyway. The Lord had other plans. Who did you lose during the war?"
"Three older brothers," BW replied. "Eventually my whole family," he added.
"You don't look old enough to fight." said the Reverend.
"I wasn't but I wanted to see my brothers so I lied. I watched one of them die but he didn't know who I was," BW replied.
"Damned bad war. Waste of too many good men," the Reverend said.
BW shook his head in agreement. BW asked where were they going to sleep?
The Reverend answered, "Under the wagon. We been sleeping there for the last three months."
"Not tonight," BW anounced. "Me and the kids will sleep in a little tent I got. You and the Missus get the cabin, at least for tonight." He smiled, giving the Reverend a wink.
He started to protest but BW walked away.
Stopping, BW turned around asking "What's her name?"
The Rev. Washington said, "Eve, just like in the Bible."
BW gathered the children and led them to the tack shed. Eve came back out asking, "Where are the kids?"
"In a tent tonight, you and me have the cabin all to ourselves, BW's staying with them," he grinned.
Next morning she looked outside asking, "What's that all about?" seeing her children wrapped in their blankets on the ground.
"Becka said they couldn't sleep for all the snoring." Rev. told her.
"Well I'll be", she said.
Eve cooked breakfast using the leftovers from the night before. No eggs, but she did make gravy for the biscuits and ham. They ate them all. BW showed Becka how to put molasses on one. She didn't like it, but Lazarus put enough on his to make it float.
"You are going to work that off helping Mr. BW," Eve said.
BW didn't know what to say, so he said nothing.
They worked on the wagon all day. BW had an old saw mill behind the barn. He put Reverend Washington in the wood lot telling him what was needed. He took off the old hubs, hoping they could be salvaged. Two could, two couldn't. BW went to work building new ones with Laz, his helper.
After lunch his Momma told Laz to fetch water for the afternoon. Laz caught Rebecca throwing scraps out the door and he kept after her until she agreed to fetch the water from the spring for him. Laz didn't remind her about snakes, afraid she wouldn't do it if he did. Grabbing the jug, off she went with Laz trailing behind, far behind. When Laz heard her scream he knew what happened. He ran to the barn telling the men "Rebecca screamed." The Rev. took off followed by the others.
When they arrived Eve was already there, she had heard the scream and recognized it as Becka's. She told them what happened. Becka went to the spring to fetch water because Laz was too afraid or lazy, she added. When Becka reached for the bucket snake laying next to it took exception to anyone moving his shade. It bit her hand and she had to shake it off.
Reverend Washington took her hand and examined it. He saw two puncture holes.
BW asked her what the snake looked like.
"It looked like a mean old snake," she said through her tears, "just like that one over there," she pointed.
BW acted first. Splashing through the water he grabbed the snake trying to hide in the grass. It was none too happy and tried to bite him. BW snapped it like a rope and the snake would never bite again.
Keeping the snake, BW climbed out. He held it to the light, opened its' jaw, even smelled it. Eve and the Rev. knew it was a diamond back until BW said, "It's OK, this one isn't poisonous."
The husband and wife walked over to him knowing better. When they informed him of that, BW started laughing.
"What was so funny?" the Reverend asked.
BW held up his free hand saying, "This is Texas, we have all kinds of critters here. This one is actually a Diamond Back water snake. They mimic the real snake to protect themselves. You can't see it now, but they can even form their heads into a triangle like a real one. They are mean and will attack if they feel threatened. If this doesn't work, they can give off a smell just like a skunk. Even smells the same. Smell it," he said, holding it out to them.
Eve shook her head no, but the Rev. went up closer to get a whiff. "It does smell like a skunk", he said.
Bw said, "Becka will be fine but watch for infection." Following him back to the barn, BW had Becka hold her hand out. He poured kerosene over it saying, "For infection." With the help of lanterns, they finished the repairs to the wagon. Calling it a day, they headed for supper.
The next morning BW made extra biscuits. They loaded the wagon to continue on their journey. BW harnessed his mule and brought it out. When they protested, he said, "Look, yours is crippled, but it will heal. I only use my mule once a month. Yours will be healed by the time I need it. You've got a long trip, I don't. Take the mule. When you get to your church say a prayer for me." Reverend Washington said they would.
He handed up the basket of biscuits saying, "These are for supper, not before." Slapping his mule on the rump they started. They waved, he waved back. Smiling, he said to himself, "Wait till they find that $20 gold piece."