Sin of Omission
by James A. Tweedie
11:27 p.m., Tuesday, November 22, 1881.
After all these years I can still remember the exact day and time I boarded the train heading west from Topeka. The night was as black as the coal the Fireman was stoking in the front-end locomotive. As the water converted to steam, sparks spewed out of the smokestack like fuzzy stars, smudged by the invisible smoke that carried them upward into the dark, foreboding sky.
I put my travel bag on the seat next to mine and when the Conductor punched my ticket I asked him to wake me before the train reached my stop in Newton.
Tired as I was, the clacking, creaking and swaying of the train kept me awake until Burlingame, where four men climbed into the car. They entered together but sat in four different places. The youngest, who looked to be around sixteen years old, chose to sit in the seat facing mine.
I greeted him with a nod and he returned the greeting with an almost imperceptible sideways twitch. His blank, unfocused eyes were as wide open as the prairie we were crossing, and his face, lit by a dim kerosene lamp and framed by a red bandana around his neck, was sallow and pale. The cloth bag he held on his lap looked as if it was empty.
After several minutes of silence, curiosity got the best of me.
"Where you headed?" I asked.
"Nowhere, I guess," he stammered. "Somewhere . . . I don't know . . .
His voice drifted off and the silence returned.
"Sounds like you're either traveling on a real cheap ticket or a real expensive one," I offered with a smile.
If my comment was meant to be bait, the fish forgot to bite at it. So, I tried again.
This time I reached out my hand and said, "I'm Robert . . . Robert Graves."
The boy opened his mouth to reply but hesitated, as if rethinking how he should answer.
After a time, he swallowed, placed his cold, sweaty, limp hand in mine and croaked out the words, "James . . . James Wheeler."
For the first time, his eyes locked on mine.
"And you?" he asked. "Where are you going?"
He had taken the bait and it was time to set the hook.
"Newton," I said. "And then a fair ride north to Menno."
For the first time the boy seemed to actually be interested in hearing my answer.
"I'm a preacher," I said, hoping the revelation wouldn't bring the conversation to an abrupt end. "A circuit rider of the Methodist persuasion. Six congregations . . . including my wife and five children."
There was silence again.
"My mother died and I just buried her in Topeka," I added as an afterthought.
Over the years I've found that most folks don't want to talk to preachers. Maybe they feel nervous because they're guilty of something and don't want to be reminded of it. Maybe they're just put off by religion in general or maybe they're afraid I'm going to launch into a sermon and spoil the rest of their trip.
James, on the other hand—or whatever his real name was—seemed eager to continue the conversation.
"So, Preacher . . . " he whispered as if unsure what to call me. " uh . . . I mean, Reverend Graves . . . can I ask you a question?"
I nodded and he began talking.
"Can a person hang for not doing something?"
"I'm not sure what you mean," I said. "If you're asking if innocent men are ever hanged then I suppose the answer would have to be, 'Yes.'"
"No," he said, "I don't mean that. I mean, can a man be guilty even if he didn't do anything?"
"Well," I said, "there is something called the sin of omission, which is when someone should have done something right and good, but didn't."
"You mean like someone falls down a well and you know it but you leave him there and don't pull him out?"
"Yes," I said, wondering if he was confessing to something that had actually happened to him. "That would be a good example of a sin of omission."
There was another long pause as the train screeched, squealed, stopped, and then clacked, clanged, and swayed its way through Emporia.
"No," he said at last. "Not that, either."
I sat and waited until he was ready to start talking again.
We were half-way to Florence by the time he picked up where he had left off.
He leaned forward as far as he could without falling out of his seat.
"It's like this," he said. "What if someone was going to do something bad . . . and they planned to do it and they were drunk but they agreed to do it and were willing to do it . . . "
"But," I cut in, "they didn't do it? Is that it?"
The boy nodded and stared at me as if his life depended on my answer.
"Well," I replied, after chewing on the question for a bit. "Jesus said that thinking about doing a bad thing was just as much of a sin as actually doing it."
As I spoke, the boy's head sagged and his eyes drifted off into another blank stare.
"But," I quickly added, "I don't think that Jesus meant that there wasn't a difference between the two. Both are sins, but doing the bad thing is always a more serious sin than not doing it."
The boy's head lifted a bit and his eyes locked back on mine.
"The Bible says that?" he asked as if hope had been rekindled somewhere deep in his soul.
"Not straight out," I said, "but it makes sense to think of it that way. After all, doing the deed causes harm that must be atoned. But the thought alone, if one repents of it, can be forgiven."
"But that's the Bible, right? What about the law? God might not hang me but a judge or a mob might do it . . . right?"
I could see sweat beading up on his forehead.
The Conductor's voice interrupted my answer.
"Florence, Kansas," he bellowed. "Next stop, Florence, Kansas."
As the train clattered to a stop, the boy grasped my arm with a strength and urgency that startled me.
"Preacher," he said with tears forming in his eyes, "you've got to get off the train . . . now . . . here . . . in Florence . . . now!"
When I hesitated, he stood, pulled me out of my seat and began to drag me off the train. Not knowing what to do, I grabbed my bag and followed him through the nearest door and onto the station platform.
"Run!" he ordered. "Follow me."
Numb with confusion, I ran and followed him out of the station, across an empty street, and into the cold, dark night.
After several minutes we stopped and stood, gasping for breath, puffing steam in the stillness of the pre-dawn chill.
"Whatever you do," he wheezed, "do not get back on that train! Promise me you won't get back on that train?"
He stood like a spectral shadow with his eyes burning like two pieces of coal in the darkness.
To my surprise I heard myself answer, "Yes, I promise . . . "
He was gone before I could ask him, "Why?"
As I stepped forward, I stumbled over his cloth bag.
Later, after finding a room over a late-night saloon, I opened the bag and found a loaded Colt .45 and a scrap of paper with the words, "Stay where you are. This is a stickup. Put your money, jewelry and other valuables in the bag and no one will get hurt."
As it turned out, the train wasn't robbed that night; probably because the rest of the gang got cold feet after the boy pulled me off the train and left them behind.
Today, fifteen years later, I received an unsigned letter in the mail addressed to "The Reverend Robert Graves."
"Mr. Preacher," it began. "You don't know me, but fifteen years ago on a train you saved my life. It has taken me a long time to track you down. I just want to say, 'Thank you.' I am a farmer, now. In Missouri. With a wife and three children, two boys and a girl. The oldest boy is named Robert."
There was no return address.
James A. Tweedie is a retired pastor who has lived in California, Utah, South Australia, Hawaii, and Long Beach, Washington, where he and his wife continue to enjoy life on the beach. As founder of Dunecrest Press, he has published six novels, three collections of poetry and one collection of short stories.
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A Prairie Nightmare
by Paul Grella
Faro Bantry was never close to his old man so he traveled west as far as his finances could take him which wasn't far enough. But if notions had it, anywhere was far enough as long as there no buildings higher than a tent. He found himself in a pile of dust called El Cisco, Texas. Looked around, liked it, and called it home. He had one innate fear, though, that this wasn't a decent place where he could whet his lips with a little joy juice. He didn't blink twice when a swinging door opened and a figure came flying out, head first into the sun drenched, dust manicured street. He landed unceremoniously at Faro's feet.
"Hey, buddy! These shoes. You killed the shine." Faro screamed as onlookers snickered at the fallen, undulating mound of flesh and the figure stomped his feet. It lay there for a moment, pulsating, puking, cursing. Until it got courage enough to apologize. The mound arose on wobbling stilts, wavered slightly and threw out a hand for the dumbfounded Faro to shake as green tinted vomit gushed forth and painted Faro's astonished form.
What the youngster from New York didn't know was that it was a cementation of a friendship that would last until the cows came home. Oh! There was a dog named Chitoh that came with the vomitous evacuation.
"All free," said the salty form laying comfortably on the street. "Names River. River Rapids. Pure bred Choctaw. Mebbe a little sumthin' mixed in. Whuts yours? amigo. Never mind the mutt tryin' to hump yer leg. He does that to everybody he likes" He rolled to one side and blurted officously, "Chitoh, you horney cur. Get down. An' stay down."
Faro gave the Indian a hand to lift him up. He shook himself off, straightened his bolo and mused as he took in Faro's form. Together, the two formed a bond which would last until one or the other was six feet under full of lead. Faro assumed the Indian would go first. The Indian, however was sure a city boy like Faro would be first.
Strangely enough the twosome proved its worth. After Faro's debacle during his drive he made a vow, and cemented it with River, to become a traildrivers aid society.
So the city boy, with a face like cold cream, and an Indian with a sole-hardening core, took it upon himself to deliver some sort of justice to rustlers who were ravaging drovers and causing mayhem on the Chisholm Trail although his first try was mighty brutal. These guys, he found when he took on the task, were decidedly a different breed and needed a different kind of penalty. His horse swiveled nervously as his mind devised a plan. Thunder rolled and the sky darkened, as he called the group he formed together.
"I want Bash, Mariano, Pickles and Breadwinner to mount up and follow me and River and we'll all follow that friggin' mutt. I want the rest of you guys to do me a gigantic favor. I want you to dig eighteen holes like you was gonna bury a Western Union pole in each. Make 'em about six feet deep and spread 'em out over the middle part of the Chisholm trail about twenty yards apart in some kind of random pattern. Got it?"
"Got it," Faro said as S.O.L. and his group rode out of camp. A roundly confused look contorted his face. His sore ankle was throbbing with pain. He, Francisco and Stu got their shovels and went out to the trail and began digging.
The group raced across the barren Chisholm trail to the heavily forested region on its west side, following Chitoh and River. The sky was ominously overcast. Frightening tentacles of lightning sliced through black clouds followed by the deafening roar of thunder. As the group reached the western forest rain began to pelt down, torrential at first but slackening quickly to a gentle drizzle.
Chitoh snaked his way through the high weeds and patches of weathered and aging trees. River's shrill whistles held him in check if he got too far ahead of the riders. The forest became a parade of rolling hills, each one looking like the other. Chitoh alternately ran like the wind then stopped. He poked his black nose in the air to catch a familiar scent.
The riders were about a mile inside the forest. It had stopped raining but it remained cold and damp. Chitioh stopped to shake off the rainwater then he continued, but for just a few steps. He stopped and, like a hunting dog, set his point. He became as still as a statue.
River reined up the men and told them to tie up their mounts. They crept slowly and cautiously toward the pointing Chitoh. River went ahead and was able to crawl toward where Chitoh was pointing. He crawled back shortly. "The opening to the cave is just below that juniper there," he said softly as he pointed to a full blooming tree growing along the side of a hill.
"Sounds like they're all inside. There's about twenty-six horses tethered just outside the opening and two buckboards. We can use them as a shield if gun play starts." River thought for a minute. "But if we sneak up on 'em from above where that juniper is we might be able to get the jump on them." River whispered to Chitoh to back off his point and told him to start grabbin' strange pieces of flesh and tearin' it apart.
"Jest a sec," S.O.L. whispered. "If there's eighteen of 'em and six of us, not countin' the dog, then we got to take three apiece. Should be just about an even fight. I think we should all try to get to the entrance, draw our guns, start shootin' at the ceiling and ram into the cave screamin' our friggin' lungs out. Surprise is a great weapon if you use it right."
"Come on, then. Let's get going before somebody hears us," River said.
They were able to crawl to within six feet of the cave entrance. It was a huge hole at least twelve feet wide and eighteen or twenty feet high. From where they lay they could hear constant chatter coming from inside the cave. It sounded like most were playing cards or gambling of another kind.
S.O.L. whispered so all could hear. "When you hears a loud cheer, run in guns blazin' but at the ceiling. I want them sons-of-bitches all to be alive and healthy. And try to hit some of those icicles hangin' from the ceiling. Maybe we can drop some on them. If, for nothin' else, it'll disrupt them."
He no sooner finished what he was saying then an enormous roar echoed from inside the cave. The six of them were inside in an instant with their guns blasting at the high, dark roof of the cavern. They pounced on two groups of men. Both were near the entrance to take advantage of the light. One group was playing cards, the others were rolling dice.
Several of them got over the initial shock quickly and drew their guns and began firing instantly. Bash went down with a thud. One of the highjackers dropped like a gunny sack, knocked out by a stalactite that hit him directly on the head. It embedded itself in his dome but broke immediately, leaving a piece big enough to look like an arrowhead had struck him. S.O.L. was winged in the shoulder but didn't stop firing until he had the six card players lying face down on the dirt cave floor.
Mariano cornered four between an outcropping of rocks and they fired back and forth. When they were convinced that Mariano wasn't kidding, they came out of their corner with their hands high in the air. Pickles, who said later that he didn't want to waste good bullets on bad asses, walked right up to one after another and knocked them cold with the butt of his gun or by simply knocking their brains cockeyed with a right cross to the chin.
When the last three saw that they were sorely outnumbered, they threw up their hands and gave up. S.O.L. raced to the fallen Bash. He knelt down over him and turned him face up. His shirt was a mass of blood. He had been hit squarely in the heart and died instantly.
S.O.L. received a painful and bloody bruise on his arm from a bullet that just winged him. Mariano and Pickles were untouched. But Amos Breadwinner ate two slugs, one tore a hole in his forearm, the other caught him squarely where the sun don't shine. It took Mariano several minutes for him to extract the slug from the kid's hairy ass with his pocket knife.
River got himself cornered by two of the desperados but Chitoh came quickly to his rescue by tearing one's nose off his face and sinking his teeth deep into the other's shooting hand.
In all, the skirmish lasted just over a minute. S.O.L.'s element of surprise played an enormous factor in the speed of the action. When the smoke cleared S.O.L. ordered the desperados to stand, facing him, against a cave wall.
"Amigos," he said with as lustful a sneer as he could muster. "You finally met your master. That's me. These guys are just helpin' me do the dirty work. But they love killin' much as I do." He smiled again, walking slowly up and down, nose to nose, with his shaking prisoners. "Know who I am? My name's S.O.L Boyd. You know what S.O.L. stands for?" One of the desperados shook his head in wonderment. "S.O.L. means shit outta luck. That's what you guys are. Shit outta luck. An', gee whiz, today ain't gonna wind up bein' yer lucky day."
His tone changed dramatically. "Which one of you shot our man in that cottonwood?" No one answered. "Which one of you shot our man in that cottonwood?" He shouted louder and more authoritatively. No one answered.
River and the rest stood in back of S.O.L. and let him do the talking but each was itching to cut every one of their captives in bite sized pieces for Chitoh who would have been just as happy to have eaten each of them whole.
"Well," S.O.L. snorted like he was breathing fire. "Our man didn't shoot himself. If none of you is gonna confess, you're all gonna have to pay the price." Still none answered. "Everyone of you, you greasy, no good fuckers!!" He shouted at the top of his lungs and kicked one of his captives as hard as he could in his balls, doubling him over in pain. "That means all of you if you can't understand my English. Take everything out of your pockets and put it on the ground in front of you. Everything, I said!" They followed his order. "Pickles, put all that shit in this here saddlebag. " Now take off every stitch of your clothes. You're not gonna need 'em any more."
Several began to undress. When one didn't, S.O.L. shot him in the stomach, making sure the shot was not fatal. He undressed faster than the rest. "Put all your clothes in a pile in back of you. Kiss 'em goodbye." He noticed that one of the captives had kept his boots on. S.O.L. shoved his pistol into the man's quivering mouth. "I thought I said for you to take yer boots off didn't I?" With his pistol still stuffed into his mouth the man was able to nod. "Well, then, please, sir, will you kindly take yer boots off." The man struggled to get his boot off. When he did, S.O.L. shot his big toe off. "Now you can kindly put yer boot back on. I don't want this place bloodied up too much."
"Mariano, I wish you and Pickles would wrangle all the horses and hitch up a team to one of these buckboards so that we can take Bash back to bury him. I sure do appreciate it."
"O.K., let's mount up. We're gonna follow River," He winked at the smiling Indian. "And have a nice walk back to our camp."
One of the captives yelled, "Hey, you don't mean we're gonna have to walk all that way. I ain't gonna do it." He sat down. S.O.L. shot him right through his left hand that he had raised in protest. He got up instantly and slid into line.
With Faro supervising, the boys had dug all the post holes S.O.L. had asked for. The rain had made the prairie as soft as butter so digging was a snap even for even a crippled Faro. One of the digging crew looked across the vast open trail and suddenly saw the ludicrous sight emerging from the forest. For the moment it was laughable.
S.O.L. came riding ahead and faced Faro. "Well, look what we found." He said. "But we lost poor Bash in the battle. I feel so bad about that, almost as bad as I did when poor little Jed got it."
"I'm sorry, Mister Boyd," Faro said. "Real sorry about Bash. He was a good cowhand and a right bright kid." He leaned on his shovel. "We got all your post holes dug. What in hell are you going to do with them?"
"Just watch." He turned around to Stu and Francisco, "I want you to take each one of these decrepit mother-sucking sons-of-a-bitchin' bastards and drop him, facing south, into each of the post holes right up to his mother-sucking neck. Then fill the hole with dirt so only his mother-sucking head is showing."
"Dio mio," Calderone said. "Such a cruel way to die." But he and Stu did what they were told.
""Now, my friends, all the fun you had is over. Remember all that pogey you had stashed? It's gonna be a gift from you to us, how's that? Pray that the cows do a good quick job on you because there are about ten herds coming right behind the one that's just down the hill."
They were all stricken with fright but made no resistance. When the boys were finished burying them they all strode about fifty yards away. S.O.L. laughed a hearty laugh.
"I wish poor Bash could see this," he said. They looked like grave stones in some long-ago abandoned cemetery, all knowing that soon they would be meeting their maker. Some were screaming for their life. Others just stared at the great red plume they could see in the distance that would soon descend upon them. Before the next moon the herd of over five thousand cows would have stomped their heads like a hammer would do to a watermelon.
S.O.L. called the group together. "In that cave is more money and other valuable shit that any cowboy would give his erection for, 'sept maybe Pickles. It's all yours. Go and get it. We'll wait for the herd to come through and ride along with them jest to spread the good news that their problems is over. Faro, I sure hope I meet up with you and River again. We made a great team. Take all those horses, saddles and wagons, start yerselves a business. Guys, listen up. Between you and us, none with hardly a brain in his head, rightly saved this little piece of the west. And what would we have done without little Jed?" he paused to wipe a tear from his eye and to clear his throat.
"Gosh, S.O.L., you and that God blasted cur, Chitoh, were a salvation to the Chisholm trail. You're the one who deserves all the credit." Faro said, loud enough for all to hear. "And, by the way, all that booty is yours. You go take it. River and I are doing just fine the way we are," Faro said to S.O.L.
'Just a friggin' minute, white man. You might be doing just fine but what about your cerise tinted brother. I ain't got a sink hole to piss in," River sobbed falsely.
"You whiney little crybaby. Try to think beyond that hook you got for a nose. Then come complaining to me," Faro laughed. The others began to jostle River jokingly.
"If that's the way you want it, that's alright with me. These boys sure deserve it. We'll hit the cave on our way up the road to Blackwater. But you should still keep the horses and buckboards to carry all those good saddles in. They'll bide you well some day." S.O.L. said solemnly.
Stu chimed in," I'll tag along with S.O.L. if you don't mind. Faro, Riv, hope you don't mind if I leave you two here all alone," he said apologetically.
"Ah, gee. I didn't wanna hear that Stu. You made up a great part of our little team. Riv and I will really miss you and don't forget where we live. Paramour. Got that?" Faro stammered as he spoke. We sure enjoyed having you with us even though you were a low-life Brooklynite. Both laughed and hugged each other.
"I sure hope so," Stu answered. "Then you can tell me again about steps one through four."
"You horny piece of condemned matzos," Faro said. "I love every bone in your kosher body, including the one you can't get up any more."
"What the shit do you mean, I can't get it up any more. My sheer Kosher Hebrew will shall make it rise to ever greater heights. And if Miriam is around, forget it."
"Stu, you could change the rotation of the moon and I would believe you. Adios, amigo. If there was one more Stu Mulligan on the earth the world would be twice as great a place as it is now." Stu put his arms around Faro and then River. They wept unabashed. Stu refused to say goodbye. He just mounted his big, mud splattered roan mare and rode north in a quick gallop. He stopped and turned when he was about two miles away, took off his Stetson and waved it high in the air.
"Sometime the world is the cruelest friggin' place that ever was," River spat out as he wiped the tears from his eyes.
"Cruel just ain't a good enough word, I'm afraid, River. After all that fussin', look, it's just you, me and that blasted cur." Faro clasped River's hand and held it tightly. He stared as long as he could still see Stu. When he disappeared over the horizon, he turned to S.O.L. and the boys.
"We'll be pullin' out shortly, Faro. We'll jest clean up the mess we made in camp. We can wait for the herd out here on the edge of the trail. I kinda wanna see how this little show turns out. If it works, I can use it again. There's a gang of bad men doin' the same kind of highjackin' on the Western trail. Reckon I can have an encore." S.O.L. leaned down off his saddle and shook Faro's hand roundly. River gave him a cuff on the arm. Both smiled broadly. Their eyes were riveted to each other.
"Maybe Bash would like to be buried close to the trail," S.O.L. said. "How about under that spread-eagled mesquite over there?"
Mariano, Calderone and River cleared a large space and began digging. When they decided the grave was deep enough, River got the buckboard with Bash's body in it and road it to the grave. They covered Bash with his yellow slicker and lowered him down. S.O.L. covered him with dirt.
"Well, Faro, we're gonna make some kind of a preacher outta you. How 'bout a prayer fer good old Elvin. He was the first kid I met on this blasted trail. He had good blood and a great shootin' eye."
Faro removed his hat. "Here we are again, Lord, almost too soon. But life plays painful tricks on us poor drovers. Here's Bash. Now he's in your hands. Could you please take him up to where Jed is so he can teach the kid how to shoot? We thank you, dear Lord, for everything good you do for us. Keep us all close to you. We're not a mean bunch. We're just plain drovers." He cleared his throat. "Amen."
"Thanks, Chum," S.O.L. spun his mount around. The other boys sputtered their goodbyes and followed S.O.L. to the edge of the trail. The highwaymen were still screaming and shouting although two or three of them looked dead. "What a shame," S.O.L. said to himself. "They got the easy ride home."
Faro and River rode the short way to their camp with their heads hung into their chests. Even Chitoh appeared in low spirits. The rain that had pelted down through the early part of the day had dampened the forest so that there was a sweet smell of freshness about it. Neither Faro nor River cared.
River lit a fire. It was not a good fire but River didn't give a rat's ass. He hunched over on a fallen log and watched it as it threw red sparks into the forest night. Faro, too, sat low in a clump of dirty blankets, almost as though he was about to meet the hangman's noose.
Suddenly he leaped up out of his lethargy and ran to his saddlebag. He pulled out a bottle of dubious character. It was full and had a pale yellow tint.
"River, you asinine, imbecilic excuse for a decent human being, it would be my distinct pleasure if you would join me for a drink of this thirty-day-old rotgut."
River, ever the adventurer accepted. From that moment both he and Faro got drunk to the gills, alternately swilling and puking until the bottle was empty and so was their innards. They finally fell asleep. River snored Choctaw music. Faro dreamed.
Paul Grella is a graphic designer and writer, now retired. He is proud to have created the 'Fiesta Bowl' logo among his other accomplishments. He lives in Scottsdale and has for the past 60 years, generating interest about the only "real" cowboys, the drovers. There were forty thousand of them.
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Flat Rock's First Cigar Store Indian
by Tom Sheehan
Jacob Bessemer, tobacconist, retailer, gunsmith on the side by necessity, received a letter from his brother in Baltimore saying he had purchased a wooden Indian, almost 6-feet tall, to stand at the entrance of his tobacco store on a main street of the city. "It attracts people, it brings customers, and it paid itself off in 6 months, the cost of having it carved by a local artist. Think about it, out there where there are real Indians. The curiosity fact would be a real customer grabber for you."
As a command of sorts, it sent Jacob Bessemer scurrying to find a suitable carver to do the same for his shop, a wooden Indian to stand in front of his shop. It was novel. It was good business. He said to his wife Rachel, "My brother Herschel is the best businessman in the family. He said to me in the letter, if we got enough of them, stores with wooden Indians out front, we could start a chain that would run across the country." His wife believed every word he ever said.
Flat Rock, Nevada, at the foothills of The Rockies, was nestled into place between a river, a cliff announcing the higher Rockies, and a stretch of good grass that finally ran out of breath at the edge of town. It had a population of 800 or so people that included townsmen, ranchers, hunters in the hills, and the local business covey. Bessemer was the town spokesman on many matters. The town was also on its third sheriff in the 12 years of its formal existence as a town, which was above and beyond its status as "a settlement of sorts. Two of the sheriffs died wearing the badge of office; the third was retired but two days and his successor was due in town, attracted by the opportunity.
The year was 1873; Flat Rocks was nearing a quarter century of being, from the first cabins built against the foothills and along the river, to the spread it now enjoyed. The ranches, too, had widened their grip on the land. Also, the hills were alive with hunters and trappers: "I tell you, Jacob," one trapper said on his second visit in six months to Bessemer's store, "It's getting damned crowded up there. I seen three of the boys in one week a month or so ago. Could open a store up in there for trading, you could. Hides and skins for tobacco and sundry smoking matter. Yes. Sir, sure could," said the trapper, Harry Blackstone, once of Boston, New Haven, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and a few stages stops prior to settling near Flat Rocks. He was remembered as saying to a few townies about his settling in the area, "The topography out here grabbed me wholehearted." He admitted, "I just loved the view that stretched three ways at least."
The pause in his words stretched out his vision: "Nothing like a good smoke by yourself beside the fire of a night . . . and no busybodies poking around to mess things up proper." His adaption to the area was about complete.
When he heard about the proposed wooden Indian out front of the store, and the search being underway for a carver, Blackstone said, "You ought to look up a feller I met once. His name's Josh Gregory. Lives down in Newfield." That was the last of the conversation, as though his word was the final one on the matter.
Lloyd Winslow, Flat Rock's doctor for ten years, and Bessemer's good friend and best cigar customer, "those specials from your friend's field in ole Viginny," said the same thing that same evening. "I think it'd be a decent attraction for you, Jacob. We haven't had an Indian in here in a few years now. It'd make people stand up and pay attention." His following silence was a statement that Jacob Bessemer fully understood.
The Doc's eyes were often dark and showed brooding over some internal discomfort or idea. A serious man, Bessemer liked him immensely because he did not just pass the day with folks; it was understood, by those even slightly alert, that Doc Winslow was a man of deep and solid ideas, as well as a doctor who had saved many lives in the town.
He paused a bit further as though a whole passel of commas had been introduced into the conversation. And the pause said something else was coming, something weighty or significant: "Course, this thing's got to be a piece of art in itself." That was a solid qualification from the doctor, a man of many parts. He nodded several times as if he was a judge passing sentence, and added, "And I think I know a man for the job. He's Scots-born, now from Newfield on the river, below us a ways. Saw some of his carvings while visiting Doc Houndshell down there a few years back. Boy has a talent in wood shaping. Sure does. He's never carved an Indian that I know of and an Indian would be a most welcome task for him; he has feelings for the first Americans." He raised one eyebrow that made his own personal statement on the Indian situation. The doc was one man who'd admit that white men were the intruders in the land.
True to his own feelings, and his aspirations for the store, and his family at length, the storekeeper told his wife one morning that he was riding down to Newfield to see the Scotsman who carved wooden things. "You and young Jacob and Paula take care of the store. I'll be back in the morning." He was off with the sunrise.
A pleasant man, the Scotsman said, "I fully understand what you want, Mr. Bessemer, and how big you want it. How tall it has to stand, to have a commanding look about it. I will make him a great chief, as best as I can. Feathers, tomahawk, bow and arrows, quiver; they'll all have their places." He thought a bit and added, "It will be as though he has been sent off by his family with all his worldly goods at hand. At least, his tools of survival."
They struck a deal and shook hands, with Josh Gregory's promised that he'd ship the finished product by a local freighter when it was carved and painted.
Bessemer was home by noon the next day.
Gregory spent two weeks on the task, seeking advice, suggestions and ideas from friends and acquaintances that had a variety of experience with Indians. Great interest consumed him as he worked, finding pieces of Indian ways, which he had only heard about and never fully understood, making their way into his work.
As a result of all the input, and Gregory's own passion on the job and his artistic talents, the Indian resolved itself out of a huge block of wood that took several men to raise into position as the first order of work. The chisels flew, the saws worked, the hammers pounded away. And the skill and artistry of Gregory, loose at a great challenge, dug in and carved out a monument to a single Indian.
At the end of two weeks or so, the carved Indian stood supreme on Gregory's porch, his arm raised, and a lethal weapon in his hand. Dozens of people asked about the piece, made comments, went away shaking their heads in admiration. "The damned thing is almost alive," one local said. "Like he could swing that tomahawk and take the hair right off 'n your head. I bet it scares some of the kids, and probably some of the ladies, though it's been quiet here for some time."
The accolades leaped upon the Scotsman, and he prepared the finished product for shipment to Jacob Bessemer in Flat Rock, a decent ride up the river and closer to the Rockies.
Gregory called the local freighter, a sturdy man by the name of Chauncy Gibbons, who had hundreds of trips on the trail out of Newfield.
"Chauncy," Gregory advised, "this is my best piece of work. It cannot lie flat and has to stand upright in a wagon, and has to be held down proper so it won't fall over." His final word said, "And it has to be shrouded from the time you leave here until Jacob Bessemer in Flat Rock sees it first. He's paid for it already, and he's paid your freight charges. So, do it as I say and all will be okay." The nods passed between them, the Indian roped into place, the shroud dropped over him and his one raised arm, the tomahawk on high.
"Be careful of any trees that hang low over the trail, Chauncy. Don't be rushing through the tree line too fast. It could ruin everything."
Gibbons, a big, broad-shouldered man of likely confidence in tight situations, said, "No worries, Josh. I'll ride a man out in front checking the trail for me. Always make sure that happens. Part of the deal." They shook hands after the Indian was carefully mounted, roped, and shrouded to Gregory's satisfaction.
Gibbons drove off in his wagon, with a striker in the bucket seat with him, both of them armed, and a rider on a big, black stallion riding out in front of them.
Gregory, to celebrate the completion of his task, went to the saloon and had a couple of beers before he chomped the chisel into another block of wood. He was content.
Out on the trail, equidistant between Newfield and Flat Rock, Gibbons' advance rider nowhere to be seen, the wagon was suddenly surrounded by Indians. Gibbons recognizes them as Lakota Sioux. One leader or a chief of sorts pointed to the wagon and the horses. "We take. You go," he said in decent English. The message was clearly understood by Gibbons from the first word, even as rifles and loaded bows were pointed at them to be used if they did not obey the demand.
Gibbons turned in his seat, raised one hand in the gesture for peace, and whispered to his striker, "Pull off that damned shroud and show them what we got. Do it slow and easy."
The striker pulled off the shroud, which folded softly into the bottom of the wagon. The painted colors of the Indian leaped up, bright as a dozen rainbows. And the weapons were exposed. The raised arm and the tomahawk carried its challenge, threat or salute, and alert Gibbons, the wise old freighter, gestured at the carved wooden Indian and yelled out, "Iktomi! Iktomi! Dream Catcher! Dream Catcher!"
He yelled it again as the dumbfounded Indians did not know what they were looking at, what had suddenly appeared in front of them.
The Indian, fully dressed, was a warrior of the first order or a god from the blue sky above. His arm, held high, carried the dreaded tomahawk. In his other hand he held a longbow, made of ash and strung with rawhide. A quiver full of arrows rode over one shoulder as he appeared ready for battle, ready for war. Tall on the wagon bed, he stood supreme over every Indian sitting on a horse.
There was no mistake about his place in any Indian hierarchy. In the nation of the Seven Council Fires, he belonged. He had earned his place. His bonnet was a full chief's regalia, with eagle and hawk feathers and other plumes as colorful as one of their blankets. The lime green rode like a soft intrusion, the deep red stuck out like blood about to be spilled, the deep purple stood for misery to be shared in the coming battle, the fiery orange signified a new victory, the blue signified the endless sky that judges all men from on high, and the deep black in some feathers said night was coming as well as the end of some life.
The Indians, amazed, surprised, frightened, fled down the trail and out of sight.
For a few miles Gibbons drove the wagon with the wooden Indian standing as tall as life in the bed of the wagon. Well short of Flat Rock he instructs his striker to place the shroud back in place. They ride up to Jacob Bessemer's store with the shrouded Indian.
The whole town looks on as Bessemer takes off the shroud.
Bessemer feels blessed.
Doc Winslow is beside himself with the artistic result, and claps loudly and long as Bessemer gets three men to unload the carved Indian and place him on his porch. He gives special instructions to one man, secretly, to anchor it to the deck during the night.
Then he says to Gibbons, "I take it there was no trouble on your trip."
"Mr. Bessemer," Gibbons says, "why don't you and me and my striker here go down to the saloon and we'll tell you all about Iktomi, the Dream Catcher of the Lakota Sioux. It's one heck of a story."
As they walk off, he says, "And I'm real thirsty too."
And before the evening is over, they start the legend of the First Cigar Store Indian in Flat Rock.
Sheehan, in his 93rd year, has published 48 books, latest being Alone, with the Good Graces, and Jock Poems
and Reflections for Proper Bostonians (Pocol Press) and Small Victories for the Soul VII, (Wilderness
House Literary Review), and The Grand Royal Stand-off at Darby's Creek and Other stories. In submission process
are Beneath My Feet this Rare Earth Slips into the Far-side of Another's Telescope, Back Home in Saugus,
and Valor's Commission. He has multiple works in Rosebud, Literally Stories, Linnet's Wings, Serving House
Journal, Frontier Tales, Copperfield Review, Literary Orphans, etc. He was recently saluted in England for the
first writer with 100 pieces on the site, Literally Stories. He has 16 Pushcart nominations, 6 Best of Net
nominations with one winner, and other awards., He graduated from Boston College in 1956, served in Korea 1950-52
and retired from Raytheon Company in 1991.
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Mitchell and the Killing at Canadian
by Dick Derham
The January morning was fair and gave promise of a pleasant ride to town as Fred Hoffman saddled his horse on the homestead south of Lenora which he and his wife farmed the on her tribal allotment. As he mounted, his thoughts were already on the tasks that awaited him in his hardware store in Taloga five miles away and the productive day he would have.
The thirty-two-year-old Hoffman saw himself as a good citizen, former Sergeant in the U. S. Cavalry, married, farmer, small businessman, but more than that, elected county treasurer by his neighbors and dedicated to making a good life for himself, his wife, a family on the come, and for his neighbors and community.
Oklahoma newcomers like Hoffman and the prosperity they brought had been welcomed when the Cheyenne Arapahoe Indian reservation was opened for white settlement, with the caveat universal in small communities around the world that the newcomers respect local customs. Enterprising men like the Dalton Brothers, Bill Doolin and others of their professional attainment were welcome to spend their money at McFadden's Saloon or other local businesses in Taloga, so long as they earned it far away. For others, like homesteader and hardware store owner Fred Hoffman, they too were welcome so long as they respected the main cash industry of the area, the one represented by Doolin and the Daltons.
Tolerance of others is a requisite for any community of disparate interests. So, Hoffman's report to James Hume, chief detective for Wells, Fargo, which he had unwisely entrusted to the supposed security of the U. S. mails, violated the core ethic of western Oklahoma.
As Hoffman turned onto the main road, another horseman was just a few yards back. Hoffman recognized his frequent customer Dan Mackenzie and raised an arm in greeting.
"Going to Taloga, Fred?" Mackenzie asked. "Mind if I ride along with you?"
Having company would disrupt the thinking Hoffman had hoped to get done during the ride, but a merchant always welcomes his customers. "Looks like winter will be mild this year, Dan," he said. "Good day for a ride."
"Good day to get important work done, Fred." If there was a hidden message in the words, Hoffman failed to understand it.
At the Brand Crossing to the South Canadian they found the eighteen-year-old Al Son, offspring of another of Hoffman's customers, waiting. "Howdy men," Al said as he fell in with them.
They crossed the river and turned north toward Taloga. Hoffman made small talk, and listened to the others as they rode on. Then, a mile beyond the Crossing, Grant Pettyjohn, the editor of the Taloga newspaper sat mounted, apparently waiting for them. "Morning Al. Morning Dan," Pettyjohn said as his words of greeting. The other two men were riding to Hoffman's right, so perhaps it was natural that Pettyjohn swung in on Hoffman's left.
Mackenzie, Son, and now Pettyjohn. All three men normally had business in Taloga. But Hoffman had to wonder, was this meeting just coincidence?
Two miles outside of Taloga, where the road crested a rise in a stand of trees, waiting for them was Zip Wyatt, not a man Hoffman knew, though a man he knew about and, like the others, a man he had named in his last report to Wells, Fargo. Pettyjohn let his horse drop back to give Wyatt room by Hoffman's side. Riding unarmed among these four men, Hoffman tried to cling to the fading hope that their meeting was happenstance.
"Do much reading these days, Hoffman?" Wyatt asked, apparently innocently. Without waiting for an answer, he continued, "lots of interesting things being written. Things about people we know, even."
Wyatt reached inside his pocket and pulled out a paper. "Friend of mine runs the Taloga post office," he said. "Back East a Postal Agent would get himself in a heap of trouble if he took a letter from the mail slot and handed it over to a friend." His voice turned ominous as he continued. "But we got our own way in the territories, ain't that right Fred."
Fred Hoffman knew he would not see Taloga.
Wyatt's strong hand closed around the bridle of Hoffman's horse. "We'll do it down by the river."
* * *
In Denver, Wells, Fargo agent Dave Mitchell looked at his partner. "How come they waited so long to send for their crack team of investigators?"
"Killing a County Sheriff's local business. The scheme the robbers tried on Wells, Fargo didn't work, and was so sloppy, with three of them run to ground so fast. Mr. Hume figured it needed a local man, a man who knew the community, to turn up the mastermind behind it all. And this robbery has aspects to it I've never heard of before. We're going to earn our pay solving this one."
"So, what's the plan," Mitchell asked, "I remember everything I learned in Yuma Penitentiary and head down there to lie low and see the lay of the land?"
Collins rejected the idea with a firm shake of his head. "They killed one undercover man. They'll be expecting Wells, Fargo to send another. We got to handle this different.
"Besides," he continued, "the Hoffman killing was in Oklahoma Territory. And some of the men who tried to rob Wells, Fargo and killed Sheriff Mcgee are already nabbed and scheduled for trials in Texas. But Hume smells a fix. Let Oklahoma solve its murder case. What Hoffman was working on, and now us, was to figure out who the smart guy was who set up the fraud. That's the one Wells, Fargo cares about. He wants someone to monitor the trials and see if he can sniff it out."
Mitchell grinned. "And since I got the experience of sitting through two trials when I was the guest of honor, I'm elected."
Dave Mitchell, scourge of Wells, Fargo for three years before his incarceration at Yuma Penitentiary, but a man who had learned that a life of purpose beat the life of pleasure-seeking freedom, now brought his experience on the outlaw side to Wells, Fargo.
* * *
The past November.
In the early evening darkness, the AT&SF engine chugged to a halt at the depot in Canadian, a small settlement on the river of the same name located in the Texas Panhandle not far from the border of the outlaw-infested Oklahoma Territory, Bill Dalton and Bill Doolin and their gangs being only the best known practitioners of their larcenous art. From a bench seat in the rear of the passenger car, a small, unobtrusive man stood, reached for his war bag and prepared for his planned role in the scripted drama of the next twelve hours and his transformation from the poverty proclaimed by his worn and faded flannel shirt into a man with more wealth than he had ever imagined----nothing to match his brothers, of course. Not yet. But the morning would start him on his way.
George Isaacs was not a man on whom fortune had smiled. He had resentfully cowboyed in his twenties, got paid for freezing through Texas blizzards and sweating Texas summers, all for thirty-and-found, while his older brothers Will and Sam turned their labor into wealth beyond measure, becoming leading ranchers in the area around Canadian. In his own light, he was as good as his brothers, but fortune had left him behind.
What was a man to do? He'd drawn his time, moved across the line to Taloga and waited for an opportunity that would make him as rich as his brothers. For years, it seemed, nothing had come his way and he'd scratched out a living the best he could, and if sometimes he crossed the line that lawyers and lawmen drew in the dust to keep men like him on the bottom and themselves on top, he'd never been caught.
He'd talked to his neighbors, he listened to ideas, and finally a man had stopped by his cabin with a genius of a plan that would make him rich, at no risk to him, and no cost anybody. Anybody, except the blood-seeking easterners who controlled Wells, Fargo.
George Isaacs was a poor man as he stepped onto the platform of the depot that November night. By noon the next day, that would change, and no one would ever suspect the reason.
Isaacs avoided the Wells, Fargo office where the money packages already waited for him and trudged down the darkened street to the Sutherland Hotel. He ignored the sound of gunshots behind him. Drunken cowboys on a binge, no doubt. It had nothing to do with him. Who would expect that it was a robbery going on as planned? He played his part, got a good sleep dreaming of his new fortune and in the morning set forth to pronounce his lines in the next scene of the play.
But stage plays go according to script, with no ad libs, no improvisations, no change transforming a simple little comedy with a happy ending into a tragic whodunit.
By the time Isaacs presented himself to the Wells, Fargo office to make his claim, he already knew that the "simple robbery in a one-horse town" they had sketched out, had become complicated. The shooting he heard the night before had left the popular Hemphill County Sheriff dead. And lawmen across Texas take things like that personal.
Worst of all, the three hard-visaged robbers who bragged up their past accomplishments in McFadden's Saloon back in Taloga and in whom he had placed so much confidence had been frightened off by their own gunshots. The money packets had not been stolen and now constituted life-threatening evidence which he urgently needed to recover. If Texas lawmen take killing a sheriff personal, that compares not at all to the attitude of Wells, Fargo when someone tries to steal from them.
So, on that dark morning when George Isaacs called to pick up his money packets, instead of being told they had been stolen and inviting him to make his claim for $25,000, the packets themselves had been produced as if it were a normal delivery of freight. No problem. Or perhaps, no problem if a prominent wealthy rancher like Will Isaacs had been claiming such a vast sum of money, but a claim by ne'er-do-well George Isaacs for $25,000 within hours of a robbery attempt and murder raised suspicions.
"Open it," he was ordered.
When he finally was forced to yield to the combined pressure of the local Wells, Fargo agent and acting Sheriff Cap Arrington, the fraud became apparent, for each of the money packets labeled $5000 turned out to be stuffed with nothing more valuable than a hundred one-dollar bills.
And that made George Isaacs accessory to the murder of Sheriff Tom McGee.
Within days, the trio of would-be robbers themselves, third-rate Oklahoma outlaws, Joe Blake, his brother Tulsa Jack Blake, and Jim Harbalt had been arrested and scheduled for trial.
It seemed that the crime had been solved. But James Hume, Chief Detective of Wells, Fargo, was far from satisfied. None of the four men had the smarts to plan the complicated insurance fraud scheme against Wells, Fargo. "Look for discrepancies and incongruities," the agents were instructed. "I want the mastermind."
* * *
Before taking the AT&SF south to Quanah, Texas where the trial of George Isaacs was to be held, Mitchell, along with his partner, visited Kansas City where it had all begun.
In the small Wells, Fargo office at Kansas City's Union Depot, Mitchell listened to A. A. Rinehart as the Wells, Fargo agent explained the standard procedures he had followed the day Isaacs made the cash shipment. Yes, he remembered the transaction, the size of the money packets being so large. No, he didn't think the amount unusually suspect. "Large, it was, but they trail some big herds up from Texas these days."
He had little to say about Isaacs. "Puny little man for a herdsman, I thought." How had he been dressed? "Grubby, greasy cowhand trousers, with a shapeless sweat-stained Stetson. Looked like a typical down-and-out tramp, not a man with a fist full of money, but they all look like that after a month on the trail. That's all I can tell you."
Collins seemed to be having little more luck as he worked through the various stockyards. At market prices of three dollars to five dollars per hundred weight, a 600-pound steer might fetch twenty-five dollars. Isaacs must have delivered as much as one thousand head. That late in the season, someone would remember.
Or maybe not.
His conversation with the clerk at the Armour Packing Company stockyard began, and almost ended, in the standard way. "I'd remember a herd that size," the clerk told him. "Doesn't ring a bell."
Collins turned to leave when the clerk stopped him. "Isaacs you say the name was? Tiny little guy? Let me check." After searching his sales records for mid-November, he pulled out a sheet. "Not a big herd, like I said," he told Collins. "I've got a record of the sale to a George Isaacs but it only came in at $683. Mixed brands as I recall. Scrub cattle drove hard. Not worth much, but we could use them for ground beef."
The cashier at the First National Bank of Kansas City confirmed cashing the check. "Wouldn't take twenties," he told Collins. "That's why it stands out in my memory. He made me count out ones and twos."
That left a mystery in Kansas City. Where did the $25,000 come from to fill the money packets? Already Wells, Fargo had the evidence it would have needed to challenge the fraudulent claim had the packets been stolen and disappeared according to the Isaacs plan.
* * *
Quanah, Hardeman County, Texas
The lawyers for the men accused of murdering the popular sheriff known to all throughout his community had argued that they could not receive a fair hearing in Hemphill County where the jurors knew all the important witnesses. Since the District Attorney agreed that impaneling four juries would exceed the capacity of the tiny county, the trials of the four accused man were parceled out to neighboring counties.
Thus, the small town of Quanah saw an influx of witnesses from Kansas City to give "foundational evidence" that would link George Isaacs to a scheme to defraud in the course of which murder occurred. Though it was conceded that Isaacs did not fire the fatal shot, was not even present when the shot was fired, and that the killing was neither planned nor contemplated by Isaacs, a participant in a common scheme shares a common guilt.
Trials proceed by a uniform template. Start from the beginning, proceed in tedious, mind-numbing detail, leave no particular unproven, and lay out a trail that leads to only one conclusion lest a single juror latch onto a missing step and shout "reasonable doubt."
The Armour Packing Company clerk testified to the purchase of $683 worth of cattle from the small man now sitting in the dock, George Isaacs. Where did the rest of the $25,000 come from? He did not know. The First National Bank cashier testified to cashing Armour Packing Company's check and, perhaps more telling, to the unusual request for disbursement in one-dollar bills. "Never had anyone ask that before," the cashier testified. "But of course, we accommodated Mr. Isaacs."
The Wells, Fargo agent, A. A. Rinehart testified in detail about the process of shipment of money by money packets. "No, it wasn't unusual. A little large, but not out of line for a significant trail herd." Rinehart presented an empty money packet to be entered in evidence, little more than an envelope that could be marked with the Wells, Fargo hot wax seal when presented for shipment. He testified that he gave out the five money packets to be filled. "Then the next day, that man there," here he pointed at George Isaacs, "and another man brought the packets back to be shipped."
Yes, he was sure it was the man in the dock. No, he didn't know the other man. No, he didn't recognize anyone else in the courtroom.
Finally, the jury heard how Isaacs had first resisted opening the packets at Canadian, and the surprising discovery that the contents of each packet was a mere one hundred one-dollar bills, only $100, and $4900 short of what the packet claimed to be. And, as everyone on the jury could see, the total was close to the number of one-dollar bills the bank teller had counted over.
There was little more evidence produced, unless one includes the parade of Oklahoma outlaws who appeared to testify to the good character of the defendant.
The jury was out ten minutes. The verdict: George Isaacs was guilty of murder and would spend the rest of his life in prison.
Mitchell had sat through the trial, paying as much attention as the jurors, observing the skilled lawyers at work, and wondering what he was supposed to learn that would benefit Wells, Fargo.
After the trial, he spent some time with the District Attorney trying to understand why it was necessary to lay out in great detail the evidence from Armour Packing, the Bank, and the Wells, Fargo. "Why not just show that the packet said $5000 but only had $100?"
That's when he learned how important a meticulous presentation can be. "Give a jury any excuse to find reasonable doubt and at least one juror will. Believe me all that testimony, boring as it was, was essential."
* * *
Clarendon, Donley County, Texas
Clarendon, like Canadian and Quanah, was a small settlement in the Texas Panhandle. It was here that Jim Harbalt was scheduled to have his encounter with the Texas justice system. The charge was the same: murder in the course of a scheme to rob and defraud. The evidence would be the same. And, of course, the result would be the same. But Hume said sit through another trial, and Mitchell prepared to sit.
At least the trial would be briefer. There would be no reason to sit through a slew of witnesses from Kansas City. Harbalt's lawyer had discussed streamlining the trial for matters not in dispute. "We'll save time if we just read in the testimony from the Isaacs trial, and let us get on with our defense."
Mitchell wondered about that, as he remembered how the District Attorney at Quanah had emphasized the importance of meticulous testimony. "Witness fees, travel expenses, they all add up" the Clarendon attorney told him. "We're a small county, and can't afford the expense."
It didn't seem to matter. The jury listened attentively, sought to understand the scheme, and was even more focused on the riveting testimony when men from Canadian took the witness stand, described the murder of Sheriff McGee and easily pointed to the man on trial as among the gang of robbers. "Yes, it was dark. But they could still see, couldn't they?"
The defense also seemed to follow the same plan. The parade of Oklahoma outlaws assured the jury that Harbalt was a fine man who would never, could never commit murder, just a simple, respected Oklahoma farmer.
One witness was new, Will Isaacs, respected Texas rancher, well known in the community, the older brother of George, the black sheep of the family who, Isaacs assured the jury, he had not seen for over a decade, and, more to the point, it turned out, Isaacs was the employer of Jim Harbalt. Harbalt could not have been present at Canadian, Isaacs testified, because "I hired him as part of a crew to dig irrigation ditches for my South range. Fact is, we were all together when we heard the news of the killing, the day after it happened."
This time, the jury took a little longer to reach its verdict, for the testimony of a respected cattleman had to be weighed against the dubious nighttime identification by Canadian witnesses who must have been mistaken.
Jim Harbalt went free.
* * *
Vernon, Wilbarger County, Texas
Jim Blake arrived at Vernon, a small town on the Red River, without the companionship of his brother and co-defendant Tulsa Jack Blake whose appointment with Texas justice had been interrupted by the guns of an Oklahoma posse. But the trial promised to be a repeat of the Harbalt trial. There would be the same reading of the Kansas City testimony from the Isaacs trial, the same Canadian witnesses swearing that Blake had been present at the killing, and, Mitchell expected, the ultimate exoneration when Will Isaacs took the stand.
But Hume had said to look for incongruities and maybe Mitchell had found one. He sent a telegram to Collins in Denver and told him what he needed.
The courtroom in Vernon was organized much like its counterpart in Quanah and Clarendon, with two tables for the rival legal teams facing a raised dais against one wall from which the judge presided, and twelve straight-backed chairs railed off to form the jury box. Behind counsel tables, three benches served spectators. On one of those benches Dave Mitchell sat and waited.
The trial began as before, the work of impaling a jury proceeded, the lawyers made their opening statements and the court recessed for lunch. That's when Mitchell approached the Wilbarger County District Attorney. "Call A. A. Rinehart."
"Don't need to," the attorney replied as Mitchell had expected. "We'll read in his testimony. I haven't even subpoenaed him."
"He's here," Mitchell said. "Call him. You may get a surprise."
The court reconvened and the afternoon session commenced with the reading of the familiar testimony of the Armour Packing Company clerk and the First National Bank cashier. As the court clerk was about to proceed with the next transcript, the District Attorney rose to his feet. "I call A, A, Rinehart."
Despite vigorous objection by defense counsel, A, A, Rinehart entered the courtroom, sat in the witness chair and faced the attorneys. As he was asked preliminary questions, there seemed to be a disturbance in the rear of the courtroom. The judge gaveled for order.
A large man who had been sitting patiently among the spectators throughout the day, had risen to his feet and was seeking to leave the courtroom but was being blocked by another man standing athwart the doorway.
"Take your seat, Mr. Isaacs. This may be interesting," Mitchell told the rancher.
When the judge pounded his gavel again and demanded to know the cause of the disturbance, Will Isaacs make his mistake. He turned to face the judge. "This man here's blocking me from leaving."
Suddenly, a voice rang across the courtroom. "That's him," A. A. Rinehart declared. "That's the man who came in with Isaacs,"
"Don't know what he's talking about," Isaacs protested. "I got work to do."
The District Attorney did not miss a step. "Judge, I ask Mr. Isaacs be held as a material witness."
And so, Joe Blake lost his alibi and before long George Isaacs was celebrating a family reunion in the state penitentiary at Rusk, Texas.
* * *
"What tipped you off?" Collins asked his partner as they relaxed in their favorite Denver saloon.
"I got me a partner who keeps drilling into me that it's not what you see that counts, it's what's missing. Hume told us to look for incongruities, and I spent both of the first two trials trying to find one."
"Incongruities," Collins said. "That's a Wells Fargo executive word for 'things that don't make sense.'"
"That's right," Mitchell said. "Both trials were simple and straightforward until you put them side-by-side."
Mitchell described his education in trial tactics from the District Attorney at Quanah. "He told me he had to show all the evidence to the jury or risk losing the case. So why would Harbalt's lawyer not require all the witnesses traipse down to tell their story again and hope one of them wouldn't show up? A defense lawyer just being nice? Helping the county save some money?"
Collins snorted. "Not likely."
"And why did Will Isaacs come forth as an alibi for a man we know is guilty, when he didn't even care enough about his own brother to show up at the trial? When I put those two questions together, I sent my telegram to you."
"Reinhardt was the key."
"The one thing we had no lead on, and the one thing Mr. Hume cared most about, was the man behind the plan. And there was only one place he slipped up, by not trusting George to get the money packets right without his supervision. Reinhardt was the only possible witness that could tie Will Isaacs to the crime."
"Except Harbalt or Blake . . . "
"Except Harbalt or Blake themselves. When he lined them up for the robbery likely he thought he was in control. But when they could turn him into a murderer, they had his tail in a crack. He had to stand behind them."
"He couldn't appear at George's trial and be identified by Reinhardt," Collins concluded. "But he had to give Harbalt and Blake convincing alibis or they would trade his name for a shorter sentence. So, he told the defense lawyers to work it out that Reinhardt didn't come."
"All we had to do was to produce Reinhardt."
"Would have worked, except for a smart Wells, Fargo agent," Collins concluded.
Mitchell raised his glass. "To justice."
Authors note: the attempted robbery in Canadian, Texas was well-planned, and poorly executed. The inept robbers were quickly arrested but the mastermind behind the robbery remained elusive, possibly because the three trials were conducted in different counties by different district attorneys and there was no one, like Dave Mitchell, to integrate the discrepancies. Not until Texas lawyer and historian Bill Neal conducted his own investigation in the early years of the twenty-first century, was the mystery solved. See, Neal, Bill, "Skulduggery, Secrets, and Murders,", Texas Tech University Press, 2015. As for the murder of Fred Hoffman, the four men named in the story were indicted, but never brought to trial. Neal's investigation suggests that the bought-and-paid-for murder was the work of "Red Buck" Waightman, a member of the Doolin gang who eluded his own rendezvous with Texas justice when he was posse-killed within a year of Hoffman's murder. Such was life, and death, in the most turbulent times of the American frontier.
Dick Derham, a native of Seattle, has been reading Western history and fiction since his teenage years. A member of the Wild West Historical Association, this is the tenth of Dave Mitchell's Wells, Fargo cases which have been reported in Frontier Tales.
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Fight to the Finish
by William S. Hubbartt
It was mid-day on the Santa Fe Trail, heading east with furs, pelts and a remuda of horses. Teamster Clint Carrigan reined in his team and held a hand up to stop the small train of wagons. He stood on the bench seat looking ahead, right hand shading his eyes from the sun. Wrangler Tom Smith nudged his roan up to Clint's wagon.
Clint looked out to the distance ahead, and shook his head. Then he saw a bit of a dust cloud, then momentarily, they heard the distant pops of gunfire. Fellow teamster Jake Owen nudged his wagon alongside. The distant pops continued sporadically and the dust cloud seemed to grow.
"Trouble ahead," said Jake over his shoulder. "Gunfire. Likely Comanches attacking travelers. Bunch the wagons, put the herd in the middle."
After the wagons were pulled together with room in the center for the mustangs, the horses were led in. Then, Jake called out. "Clint, you 'n' me saddle up and go see what's going on. Smith, check your guns. Stay with the wagons and horses."
Clint and Jake had saddled their mounts in minutes and were galloping towards the skirmish up ahead. As they neared, through the dust they could see a number of westbound wagons strung along the trail with a few forms huddled underneath, and a dozen or so warriors on horseback circling the wagons. Some warriors slid to the side of their running horses using the animal as cover while they shot a rifle or arrows towards the cowering settlers.
The pop of gunshots continued intermittently. There was smoke trailing from the lead wagon which appeared to have dead horses slumped in front, along with a couple of lifeless human forms. The warriors, focused on their targets failed to notice the charging riders.
"Comanches!" Jake called over his shoulder as he led his mount towards the right. Clint steered his charger to the left, observing a settler stand to aim his gun at the attackers but the man was suddenly struck by an arrow through the chest. The settler's gun discharged into the ground as he stumbled and fell, clutching the arrow sticking out of his chest.
Clint sighted his Hawken on a feathered warrior streaked with black body paint watching from a nearby bluff in the background. He relaxed to match the stride of his horse and squeezed the trigger. The shot boomed and Clint yelled "Hee yaa! Yahoo!" The buffalo gun had found it's mark because the Indian jerked and his mount reared knocking the rider to the ground. I got one, he thought, I got their chief.
"He yaa! He yaa!" Jake yelled as he charged, now using his five shot Patterson Colt to sight targets. His first shot found its mark as a warrior paused to watch what looked like the leader falling from Clint's accurate shooting. Jake was within 50 yards as he fired at the surprised warrior and watched him spin awkwardly to the ground. There was a cheer from the men and women huddled under the wagon train. Jake immediately targeted and fired at another brave. Aware of the first two shots hitting his companions, this brave reacted quicker by ducking and kicking his horse to full speed around behind the wagons and riding low on the animal to avoid exposing his body as a target.
The other warriors quickly ducked and urged their horses away from the attackers. Several Indian attackers suddenly rose from hiding spots, firing a quick shot towards the wagon train. Then they began to retreat, and were scooped up by others on horseback. One brave warrior stood behind a clump of greasewood facing Clint's charge. He aimed his arrow at Clint as he rode by. A surprised Clint saw the brave seemingly pop up from the ground. The man's face and body were streaked with black paint with what looked to be hand prints on his arms and muscular body. Clint spun in the saddle to aim his Colt.
The arrow cut loose from the bow and Clint was momentarily mesmerized as it sailed towards him. Somehow his Patterson Colt jumped from the fired cartridge, just as the arrow tore through the shirt and cut into the flesh of his shoulder while the shaft and feather fletching slapped him in the face. Stunned and momentarily blinded, he dropped the pistol and hung tightly to the reins as his horse twisted and danced in a circle. The spinning motion was too much, and Clint felt himself sailing through the air. He hit the hard-sandy soil spotted with bunch grass and low succulents, rolling over a flat prickly pear cactus. Clint screeched in pain.
The warrior was knocked to his butt by the force of the shot, but seeing the falling pistol nearby, struggled to his feet, his fingers clutching the bloody hole in his stomach. Driven by the excitement of battle, he screamed a war cry and scrambled to recover the white-man's prized weapon. It would be a real coup. He would fight to the death.
The weapon lay on the ground between them. The first to get there had the advantage to kill the other. Clint caught the oncoming movement from the corner of his eye. Instincts caused his body to react, adrenalin pushing aside the pain, clambering to his knees, and then to his feet to race to the weapon. Just a few steps away, he was closer. But his shoes slipped on the sandy soil.
The warrior's eyes glared daggers as his knife was raised in attack, the war cry continuing like an excited song, his legs churning, pounding the soil. Their hands stretched, each reaching and clasping the gun simultaneously, one hand on the barrel, one hand on the handle. Each man grunted in exertion, squeezing and pulling, the effort turning into a shriek as if the loudest voice would win.
The smell of dirt and dust and sweat and blood filled the air between these two battling men. They rolled and tumbled, kicked and gouged, scratched and spit, reaching deeply to the basest animal survival instinct. To weaken, to give in, was to die.
Clint's mind somehow flashed to an image of the lovely Maria, that first dance together on the Dia de Muertos, then to her last kiss as they parted a week ago with her admonishment, "ten cuidado, be careful."
Reality returned when the Indian's other hand swung downward with the knife. Clint twisted away and the knife stuck in the hard-sandy soil. But the movement had weakened his grip, he could feel the weapon beginning to slip from his fingers. His thumb found the hammer and thumbed it back advancing the cylinder. His index finger found the trigger and squeezed, causing an explosive bang in their faces.
The warrior's eyes opened wide in surprise. Then a hint of a smile came to his lips as the man slumped to the ground, his last breath escaping.
William S. Hubbartt is author of "Blazing Guns on the Santa Fe Trail" from which this episode has been excerpted, "Six Bullet Justice," and "Justice for Abraham." Hubbartt is a writer of western tales who has placed other short stories on Frontier Tales.
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Vengeance Was She
by David A. Carrillo
Folks in town already took up a collection to erect a marker at the site of the shootout. The Riparian Irrigation Club wanted to proclaim the incident "The Capay Valley Stand-Off." Locals who traded at Black's Station called it a downright massacre. Big cattle had declared war against the homesteaders living on parcels where the sweet-grasses grew. Clashes over land and water rights took place throughout the winter of 1870. The struggle yielded no victors, only heartache.
Marshal Frank Kegan and seven men rode to the Kettner place situated in Hungry Hollow. The Kettner family came overland from Tennessee's Sequatchie Valley to claim their 160-acre parcel in California, where they a raised vegetable garden along with a few head of cattle bearing the "K Dot" brand. The Marshal was out delivering eviction notices petitioned by the Ramage Land, Water & Stock Company. Kegan did not realize he would encounter a funeral that dreary morning.
Mourners from Capay Valley and the nearby town of Esparto came to pay their respects to Liliana Kettner, daughter of Carl and Rebecca. The precocious ten-year-old was kil't in a stampede set off by the dynamite blast at the "Ames Ditch headgate." The ditch belonged to Jarred "Jake" Ames, who diverted water from nearby Cache Creek to irrigate his Chilean clover fields east of the Kettner's property. Ames suspected the explosions were part of an intimidation campaign waged by the Ramage Land, Water & Stock Company.
Parson Trimble and Ed Hooton from Black's Station were on hand to conduct the service. The President of the Capay Valley Anti-Riparian Club, Mr. Reardon, was also in attendance to offer his condolences. So were the other farming families of the valley—the Ames', the Berrelleza's, the Morton's, and the Scruggs'. The expressions worn on the attendee's faces were hard.
Ames' wife, Maggie, had come by earlier to help Mrs. Kettner prepare Lilly's broken body for burial. Lilly was laid out on the kitchen table. They wrapped a handkerchief under her chin and tied her ankles together before rigor mortis set in so she would better fit in her coffin. Rebecca Kettner bathed her daughter. Lilly's body was covered with cuts and bruises, her bones crushed in some places, her hair caked with mud. The grieving mother wiped away the dirt and dried blood with soap and water, cleansing every portion of the poor girl's remains.
After hunting through Lilly's cedar chest, Maggie returned to the table with a pretty dress adorned with a bow on its collar. She assisted Mrs. Kettner in rotating the body to clothe the girl in an eternal frock. Rebecca sighed. "Look, how long-limbed Lilly has become."
"I should have kept her closer," Rebecca lamented.
Recognizing a mother's suffering soul, Maggie endeavored to bring her neighbor back to the task at hand. "I wonder," she asked, "if we should do something special with her hair?"
"Lilly always disliked me fussing with it. But, I guess it don't matter now. No. Let her be."
"Why, of course, Mrs. Kettner. It looks pretty down."
Maggie put braided hair half pennies on the deceased girl's eyes and covered her face. Lilly was masked with a turpentine cloth, ready to join her sister in the great hereafter. This left Rebecca with an awful sense of finality. Her entire body convulsed in anguish. Only the year before, Rebecca and Carl buried her youngest daughter in the Nebraska Territory on the family's journey west.
"You should sit," Maggie suggested.
"I wish to meet those responsible," Rebecca said, with icy grey eyes. She believed her well-meaning neighbor could not possibly understand the spite and the vengeance she felt in her heart. Though the Ames family had undergone hardship and privation, theirs was still a charmed life. Mrs. Ames had yet to know the pain of losing a child, much less experience the wrongful death of her young'un at the hands of evil tyrants.
"I'll make us some tea," Maggie said, leaving the table to fetch a kettle and ease the rising emotions.
It came time to bury the child. Rebecca watched Jake Ames and the other menfolk lift the small, narrow box onto the buckboard. Carl Kettner had asked Mr. Ames to watch over his family while he was away in San Antonio. It fell upon Ames to fashion a proper coffin for the girl, cutting planks from local timber.
When Rebecca agreed to come west with her husband of 17-years, she did not foresee spending so many of her days on her own. She got along fine without him, no doubt, during his long absences from home. What if he gets himself kil't and never comes back? Rebecca hated the idea of being abandoned in California, which is why she sent her son, Caleb, to fetch his pa when Carl failed to show at Hall's Station.
True to his word, Mr. Ames lent a hand whenever he could. And yet, having another man at her disposal made Mrs. Kettner uneasy. He wore a muddy-colored ten-gallon hat and possessed a big-hearted, gregarious nature. Ames laughed at his own jokes in a high pitch like a boar ready to be dressed. That is when he wasn't raving about the quarrels he had with Mr. Morton over water rights.
Ames constructed his ditch with wealth hauled from Mother Lode strikes in '49, '51, and '52. He helped the Kettner's dig a simple system of trenches to flood garden furrows. James Morton, who owned the competing "Woodland Ditch" to irrigate his alfalfa on the Reardon Ranch in the Sacramento Valley, claimed there was not enough water for the farmers like him, downstream. The feuding neighbors set aside their differences to guard against another assault like the one made on Ames' headworks.
At eleven o'clock, the funeral procession left the K Dot and stretched out along the road. Mr. Ames took the reins of the horse harnessed to the wagon carrying Lilly to the burial site. Lilly was to be laid to rest beyond the Manzanita grove, a short distance from the farmstead. Mrs. Kettner walked next to Parson Trimble. For some months, the clergyman had prayed over Rebecca to quiet her melancholy. He held the Good Book above him for the flock to follow.
When the mourners had all gathered around, the preacher led them in prayer. Mrs. Kettner felt a tightening in her throat and feared she might faint. "Weren't my Lilly worthy of the Lord's attention before it was too late?" she whispered. Mr. Ames heard his neighbor's utterance and steadied her with a hand placed on her shoulder to control the shaking. He provided words of encouragement. "Unto himself, the Lord receiveth your daughter this day." She sniffled, rubbing her nose with the back of her hand. The depths of her grief seemed bottomless. Ames offered a handkerchief, taking the liberty of wiping away the drips.
No man, not her father nor her husband, had ever done that before. Maggie Ames also took notice of the way their husband doted on Rebecca. Every time Mr. Ames smiled upon her, he revealed himself to his wife. Rebecca sensed the mixed emotions behind his Maggie's pursed-lipped smile.
After Parson Trimble's closing prayer, the fiddler from the Odd Fellows Hall commenced to playing "In the Sweet By-and-By." The assembly sang verses of the hymn until a thunder of hooves interrupted the dirge. James Morton was the first to recognize Frank Kegan's flat crowned black hat with the wide brim. A buzz telegraphed through the crowd of mourners faster than the Western Union. Though he wore a badge, Keegan was notorious for doing the bidding of wealthy ranchers. Mr. Ames warned the men to get their womenfolk and young'uns hid in the Manzanitas.
Mr. Ames was alarmed to find Mrs. Kettner still standing by the gravesite. Ames shouted for her to get down as the horsemen arrived. The grief-stricken mother was too troubled to sense the danger surrounding her. Rebecca stood behind the overturned buckboard, as the men readied their pistols. There were but a few weapons between them, not counting Parson Trimble's Bible and the shovel Ed Hooton brung with him to fill the hole.
The Marshal was the first to ride in, revolver drawn. Kegan wore a wine-colored serge coat and mean-looking mustachio. His eyes glinted about, assessing the gun barrels aimed in his direction. With two quick blasts of his six-shooter, Marshal Kegan fired on two townspeople, who, despite their best aim, could not hit the lawman atop his moving stallion. Both defenders crumpled to the ground behind the upturned wagon.
Mr. Ames signaled for the locals to commence firing.
Screaming horses reared up in the open volley of gunfire. One horse threw its rider, who got hung up in the stirrups and was drug by the roan for several yards.
Amidst the smoke and the dust and the lead flying in the air, a well-dressed man with a gold chain pocket watch waved his arms to stop the hostility. Rebecca recognized the man as the lawyer, Tennyson Beal, that called on her the week before, claiming she illegally squatted on her land. Rebecca aimed both barrels of her shotgun at the unwelcome trespasser to make it clear that she had no interest in what he came to peddle.
It struck Rebecca as odd that Jake Ames, on the day of the conflict, urged his neighbors to hang fire, allowing the man to plead his case. Wasn't this the scoundrel Mr. Ames warned against, the one that shouldn't be trusted? When the lawyer, Tennyson Beal, cleared his throat to speak. It was the same Tom Foolery as before: The Ramage Land, Water & Stock Company had put a lien on the land and reckoned to impose a levy on the farmers for the right to irrigate their crops. He had drawn up agreements in his saddlebags for everyone to sign.
Alonso Berrelleza, who raised 1,000 head of cattle in the valley, answered the lawyer with buckshot, spraying his boots with soil. Señor Berrelleza's cousin, Nemicio, was lynched while guarding his family lands one night in '56. Alonso wasn't about to let the Ramage outfit come in and steal his water in broad daylight.
Tennyson Beal warned anyone refusing to cooperate that they were defying a court order. He held up the writ to prove his point.
"The waters flow freely from the Blue Ridge. You have no right to sell us what you don't own." Sr. Berrelleza said.
"Better put them papers away," James Morton said, "before somebody with better aim puts a hole in 'em. And, you too!"
While the lawyer's arguments did not persuade, he did succeed in creating a lull in the action for a time. Frank Kegan and his men seized the opportunity to spread out and survey the Manzanita grove, discovering what lay hidden there.
Though Jarred Ames boasted fighting Ute Indians in the Utah Territory, he never had any formal military training. In his haste to send the women and children to safety, he failed to appreciate the tactical advantages of choosing the right ground. Mr. Ames allowed Kegan's raiders to come between the men and their families. More shrub than tree, the spindly Manzanita trees did not conceal even the smallest child.
A cold sheet of rain fell as women and children bounded and wriggled like rabbits, trying to escape the clutches of snarling wolves. Troubled as for what to do next, the menfolk panicked. Husbands and fathers wandered out from behind their fortifications and shot haphazard at the attackers, endangering loved ones caught in the line-of-fire. Rebecca watched the tragic turn of events in horror.
And still, the settlers of Capay Valley refused to relent. One of Kegan's men wandered on foot too close to a small outcropping of rocks. He was the unfortunate marauder who had been thrown from his horse. He was still missing a boot when Mr. Reardon stood up from behind the rocks with his .58 caliber Springfield Rifle and put the intruder out of his misery. Nearby, Ed Hooton hit a member of the posse with the blade of his long-handled shovel. The blow at the base of the skull stopped the wild-eyed intruder from carrying off one of Señor Berrelleza's niños. Laura Lee Morton rescued her four-year-old in the nick-of-time. A rider charged into the small clearing where she had retreated. Mrs. Morton was slashed by the rider's spur's rowel, as she bent down to scoop up her child. The women and the children shuddered with each concussion from the gun blasts. Maggie Ames huddled together with her four children. The frightened family seemed to melt into the ground in the barrage of bullets.
Mr. Ames waved his arms to stop the conflict. Ames challenged "the man in charge" to a duel to settle the dispute and prevent further bloodshed. Mrs. Kettner took stock of the stranger Ames had called out. His name was "Will Ramage." At first glance, Ramage was unimposing: smooth-skinned, short, and sufficiently plump. But he had the piercing eyes of a cougar. It was rumored he pushed aside his ailing father in a ruthless takeover of the family business. And Jake Ames suspected that the heir to the cattle empire ordered the dynamiting of his headworks. Rebecca could see the cruelty in Ramage's unblinking eyes. They were trained on Mr. Ames, fumbling to load shells into the cylinder of his revolver.
Mr. Ramage quickly agreed to the duel. He swung a boot over his saddle's horn to dismount. Parson Trimble forgot his station in life and pulled a Colt-Dragoon out from behind his Bible to cover his Mr. Ames. Ramage rolled his six-shooter and coolly laid out the preacher—pages of the Good Book turning in the wind.
Ramage leaped down from his horse and kicked the body sprawled on the ground, making sure God's avenging angel was dead. He put another bullet in the parsons' chest to make sure. Mr. Ames stood stupefied, his half-loaded gun hanging down at his side. He seemed to lose his nerve to fight on. How could he quit? Rebecca thought.
Satisfied he drained the life out of the uprising, Will Ramage holstered his gun and turned to retrieve his horse.
Rebecca rushed to the fallen man, clasping her hands over his. She quoted Revelation 12:9, "And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth."
Ramage whipped around to see a blast from the barrel of the Dragoon from ten yards away.
"That's for the underhanded way you kil't our preacher," Rebecca said, winging the cattleman in the shoulder.
The force of the bullet knocked Ramage to his knees. As the wounded man went for his pistol.
Again, she pulled the trigger of the multi-shot pistol, hitting the murderer in the throat this time. "And, that un's for my Lilly."
The cattle baron's blood pooled on the ground, like water flowing from the Ames Ditch. Frank Kegan holstered his revolver. "Mount up," he said to what was left of the posse. "The price has been paid." Kegan's terms were that he be paid in advance. Will Ramage was shot, the job was over.
The rain weighed heavily on everyone's will to fight on. Dazed family men wandered across the sodden knoll to reunite with survivors and search for their dead. James Morton carried the trampled body of his four-year-old from the grove. Alonso Berrelleza borrowed Ed Hooton's shovel to knock down the Manzanita branches to search for his missing niños.
Rebecca watched William Ramage twitch a spell before dropping her sights. Tennyson Beal rode by on his chestnut, hat in hand. "Begging your pardon, ma'am," he began.
Steely-eyed, Rebecca glared up at the man who had done the legal groundwork to cheat her family out of everything they owned.
"I am truly sorry for the devastation visited upon you and your neighbors today," he said.
Rebecca was not in a forgiving mood. In total, fourteen people were kil't that morning. The valley's inhabitants suffered ten casualties, four of whom were children. Maggie Ames mourned two of her children. "Repent! My God has answered," she told the lawyer. "You have not begun to feel His wrath."
The powerful men who coveted the K Dot farmstead had suffered a setback. Tennyson Beal checked his pocket watch. The hero of the Capay Valley incident turned her back on the fancy lawyer to console her grief-stricken neighbor's devastating loss. It was time to withdraw to the safety of his hotel room at the Rio Oso. He neck-reined his horse in the direction of Sacramento.
In Ed Hooton's judgment, the incident should have been commemorated as "Rebecca's Revenge," on account of the remarkable courage and fortitude she exhibited. Rebecca Kettner did what needed to be done, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. The station keeper, who witnessed her bravery first hand, lobbied all who traded at his store. Politics being what they are, the marker erected by the Anti-Riparian Club failed to mention Mrs. Kettner's deeds at Hungry Hollow or acknowledge her by name. In those days, the Suffrage Movement had not yet caught on, and women were subservient to the menfolk's unholy covenants and misguided actions.
David A. Carrillo lives in Northern California, a region
rich in frontier history and folklore. He writes fictional notices about the Old West in the online journal
Trail Post 1850. The story "Vengeance Was She" is based on an unpublished novel, entitled: "The Emergence: When Survival and Resistance Becomes a Family Affair." Another work of short fiction by Mr. Carrillo, "Harvest of Bittersweet Plums," was also selected for publication in an upcoming 2023 edition of Storylandia, put out by Wapshott Press.
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