"Do you think he'll make it? He was shot up real bad."
"Got 'im settled in my back room behind the store. Shot twice . . . in the thigh and in the chest, purty close to the heart," said Clem, the general store proprietor. "Doc's makin' 'im comfortable. Don't give 'im much hope though. "
Kevin O'Leary wiped the bar with his bar towel, and shook his head as if he were trying to erase the memory. "Them Corrigan brothers were a bad bunch. It started right here in the saloon." A muscular man with bull-like shoulders and tree trunk arms, Kevin walked with a limp, due to an injured leg acquired in charge at Shiloh, and earning him an early discharge. Lumbering out to the center of the saloon, he righted two chairs that lay scattered on the floor from the barroom tussle moments before.
Kevin continued, "The mean one, Colin, refused to pay Gerti, here, after she brought drinks to their table. I came around the bar, but Sheriff Robertson must have been passing outside, because he came in and dragged Colin out by his ear to the street. Course, the others followed."
"Scared the livin' daylights out of me," Gerti shuddered, still trembling in her fear. Now pale as a ghost, her rouge was streaked from tears and her blue taffeta dress now torn, exposing a white petticoat below, bore evidence of the altercation.
"Then, I heard the ruckus and looked out the door of the store," added Clem, trying to add his bit to the story. "Sheriff Robertson stood up to the three of them, out there on the street, told them to get out of town. Well Colin, he's near 250 pounds, he gets up like he's going to swing at the Sheriff, and then he just freezes, you know, a stalemate. Well, the others, they froze too."
Kevin picked up the story. "And then that hotheaded one, Darrell, he goes for his gun, and then there's a fast flurry of shots and there's the four of them, lying there bleeding in the street. Just smoke, 'n' dust, 'n' four bodies right there."
Four red circles could be clearly seen out the window. Drag marks showed which way the bodies were removed. The undertaker's wagon moved slowly down the street.
"Oh my, oh my," Gerti gasped, still unable to control her emotions as her friends relived the shootout. Her eyes glistened and tears dribbled down her cheeks again.
"Gerti, love, get that bottle and pour another round, on the house. It's been a tough day. Then I need you to wash those glasses in the sink," said Kevin, trying to keep his saloon girl busy so that her emotions would keep in check.
In the late 1860's after the end of the civil war, communities were trying to get back to the way it was before the war. And the people in the community of Uvalde, Texas, like those in other southern towns yearned to return to the old days. Trouble was, the south had lost the war and the union had imposed its rule, by sending northerners in to manage law and order. Carpetbaggers and profiteers had followed, disrupting the order of things in southern life. But, the western areas like Uvalde didn't experience as much of the reconstruction interference as the communities in the old deep south.
The regional military commander had appointed former Union army sergeant Chris Robertson to be sheriff of Uvalde. Robertson didn't talk much about his military experience, but it was known that he had a commendable record with the cavalry under General Sherman at Chattanooga and then promotion to sergeant and a leadership role in the march through Georgia to Atlanta and on to the sea.
A person of small stature, Sheriff Robertson quickly gained acceptance through a firm but even handed control of the disruptive elements that plagued western towns in the 1860s. Most problems centered on disputes and fights that seemed to begin after a hard day of drinking in the local saloon, and the tracking down of horse or cattle thieves. Robertson's cavalry experience was apparent to all in this little town. Though handy with a navy colt and the breech loading Spencer carbine, Robertson was more than likely to resolve problems with wits and common sense.
Clem's wife, Martha, a portly woman, had now arrived. Martha was clearly emotional as well, but trying hard to maintain control as she sat at the table with the men. The small group in the saloon began to regale each other with their memories of Sheriff Robertson.
"Ya know," said Kevin, "Chris wasn't a big man, but he sure made his presence known, and got the troublemakers to settle down. I never saw a lawman so quick with that navy colt, but didn't seem to have to use the gun. He'd say a couple of words, ya know . . . sharp insightful words . . . to put those boys in their place. Brings to mind how mother O'Leary used to keep her 8 children in line, even when we was growed up."
"When you're fast with the gun, it does the talking for you, I guess," added Clem, as he slugged down the last of his whiskey. "He was a crack shot with that Spencer, even while riding. I guess it was that cavalry experience showing through."
"For a man out here in the west," added Martha, "Sheriff Robertson was mighty kind to the tribulations of us ladies. More than just tippin' his hat and saying howdy ma'am. One time I was upset about a . . . a lady issue, I won't bore you gentlemen with inappropriate details, but Sheriff Robertson seemed to have observed the situation and understood my problem, and offered a practical suggestion."
Gerti had returned from behind the bar, calmer now, poured another round of drinks, and then joined into the discussion. "I agree with you Martha. Sherriff Chris was a special man . . . Oh dear! Listen to me. Speaking like he's already gone. I mean to say he is special, he understood the issues I deal with, you know, frisky men sparking at me. He offered some sure-fire ways on how to put a misbehaving man in his place."
The group laughed with Gerti, all recognizing that, as a saloon girl, she was often the object of overzealous affection by drunken cowboys. Gerti's husband had died the Siege at Vicksburg, and she now struggled as a single woman to make a living on her own.
"But, that Sheriff Robertson was a man I could cotton to," added Gerti, fingering the whiskey bottle as she talked. Her finger dabbed a drop of whiskey from the lip of the bottle and she put it to her lip, and then her tongue swished across her lips. An attractive woman of 38, the language of her body spoke silently and with greater clarity than the words from her lips. The others watched, in anticipation, knowing that Gerti had more to say.
"I mean, he was a protector and all. And not afraid of those big men, even when they're drunk. They scare me sometimes. But Sheriff Robertson, he just stood up to them, and put them in their place." Gerti paused again, and her finger seemed to find another errant drop of whiskey which was dabbed to her lips.
The others patiently smiled, as Gerti continued. "Ya know, I asked Sheriff Robertson to come back to my place one night . . . " Gerti blushed bright red as this secret was revealed. Clem glanced at Kevin and winked, as these two men silently observed Gerti's surprising disclosure.
Gerti's hand quickly covered her lips as if to try to pull the words back into her mouth. "But he was a gentleman and he turned me down," she said and then quickly turned and ran to the back room in embarrassment.
Embarrassed as well, Martha sought an exit from the discussion. "I'm going over to the store to see if there's anything I can do to help Doc."
Moments later, Martha returned to the saloon, her face ashen, tears on her cheeks. "Chris is dead. But, there was one final request. I . . . I don't know how to say this. Chris had a final wish, asked to be buried in the . . . the red gingham dress hanging in the window of the store . . . "
"What! What did you say?" asked Clem in amazement.
"It's true. Can't deny a person their last request," said Doc as he appeared at the door of the saloon, his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, with his hands and apron stained red with blood. "You see, Chris was short for Christine, not Christopher. I knew Chris during the war. Family lived in Gettysburg. Lee came through. Some Confederate soldiers, drunk, killed Christine's husband and child. After they was buried, Christine put on Yankee blue, fighting as a man, hunting Confederates until she found the ones that killed her husband and child."
"I'll be durned," said Kevin as he dried a shot glass and placed it on the shelf.
"Funny thing," added Doc. "Today, Chris settled that score. Corrigans were the ones what killed her family."
"Good to know I ain't lost it . . . never been turned down by a man before," deadpanned Gerti.