April, 2021

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Issue #139

Welcome, Western Fans!

Looking for free, tantalizing Tales of the Old West?
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Read this month's Tales and vote for your favorite.
They'll appear in upcoming print volumes of The Best of Frontier Tales Anthologies!

A Higher Law
by Dick Derham
The end of the Sioux War opened Wyoming to profit-seeking entrepreneurs. But hundreds of thousands of cattle running free invited two-legged predators. Wyoming ranchers knew that only Texas law could vanquish the rustlers.

* * *

The Ballad of Beeve Wellington
by Peter Ullian
Determined to go straight, Billy the Kid and his friend "Alias" take a job protecting a prize stud bull, Beeve Wellington, at the Three Rivers Ranch. But criminal gangs working for competing cattle interests are determined to stop them at all costs—unless Billy and Alias can stop them first.

* * *

The Ballad of Santa Rosa
by Chris Platt
Will Coogan's wild gunslinging years were behind him. These days he busied himself running his ranch just outside Santa Rosa. Then trouble came to town. Would he have to go back to his wild ways?

* * *

Four Days from San Francisco
by Gavin Gray
Hui, a young Chinese immigrant, begins his new career as a bounty hunter in eastern California. In the course of detaining a wanted murderer he learns a harsh lesson in the value of frontier loyalty, although unbeknownst to his enemies he has also learned the tricks of the trade.

* * *

Point of Order!
by Charles Shotwell
The young lawyer knows how murder trials go, coming from Harvard and all. Yet, he is soon to find out, Harvard couldn't prepare him for Rio Lobo, Arizona. There, trials aren't all papers and verdicts, they involve men too. And these men don't take kindly to being found guilty.

* * *

White Killer
by Brian Gabriel
Young Pete Teyssou flees his father's whippings and his Louisiana slave plantation for newly independent Texas, but after he is double-crossed and traded to a tribe of Wichita, he adapts to his new family, learns to kill, and vows revenge.

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Want all of this month's Western stories at once? Click here –

All the Tales

The Ballad of Beeve Wellington;

or, the Large and the Short of It

An Authentic Tale of the Western Frontier,
Faithfully Recounted by William H. Bonney
and Set Down by His Own Hand

by Peter Ullian

He stood somewhere between four and five feet when I first saw him, the first night I walked into Beaver Smith's Saloon. The Regulators had broken up by then, after we'd pretty much lost the Lincoln County War, and gone off in a million different directions. Only a few of us—Tom O'Folliard, Doc Scurlock, Charlie Bowdre, Jim French, Dave Rudabaugh, Fred Waite, and me stuck together and went to Fort Sumner, where we were told we would be welcome, because the town was mostly Mexican, and the Mexicans liked us for taking on the Murphy-Dolan House and the Jesse Evans Gang, who were cruel to Mexicans, mostly. I was fine with settling into a Mexican town, white as I were. It reminded me of growing up in Silver City before my mother died, when I used to hang about in the Spanish part of town and dance with the Spanish girls, and learn their dances and their music and their tongue. I was older now, but I still liked Spanish music and dancing and girls.

Anyway, I don't drink much, but we went to Beaver Smith's that night, and there he was, not four foot and a half, if that, manning the door with a stick about as wide as my thigh and nearly as tall as he. I couldn't see how a fellow as small as him could handle drunks and cowboys and such, but when he instructed us to leave our guns with him before entering the facility, he didn't sound like he meant to negotiate, so we did as he told us. I didn't mind much. I didn't have no enemies in Fort Sumner, not as far as I knew. Not then.

Beaver Smith's weren't much to look at, just a frame structure made of unfinished wood and a bar made out of a door nailed atop some wooden barrels, the whole place smelling of tobacco and whiskey and beer, but the music was sprightly and the Senoritas would dance with you for a nickel a dance, and it brought me right back to my younger years in Silver City, only now I was nineteen, almost twenty, and not fourteen no more like I were then. So, dance I did, and dance and dance and dance, and that was where I first met Paulita Maxwell. She weren't a dancing girl, she was just a girl, the younger sister of Pete Maxwell, the rancher who lived next door, and so she didn't charge for dancing, she only danced with a fellow if she wanted to dance with him, and I guess she wanted to dance with me, because she did and I hadn't been so happy in some long while. Paulita Maxwell didn't belong to no one, not even her older brother Pete, even though she weren't older than seventeen. She was willful and she was brash and she was just about the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. I won't say she got me to forget my former sweetheart, Sallie Chisum, who qhad left behind Lincoln County—and me—when her Uncle, John Chisum, had recently moved his cattle operation to the Texas Panhandle—but she came close. I always prided myself on being able to dance with some agility, and I guess Paulita agreed, because dance we did, the rest of the night, together.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, because my story with Paulita is really another story other than this one, and this one is a story about the short fellow and the giant Longhorn and Susan McSween and the Three Rivers Ranch. So, anyway, getting back to that story, later on that evening, some saddle tramp from somewhere who looked like he hadn't slept under a roof in a long time, nor taken a bath in even longer, got a little too familiar with a Senorita, and the small man at the door marched right up to him, struck him in the gut with his huge stick, causing the man to bend over, and struck him again on the back of his head. The man fell flat on his face. He was out cold. The bartender, a slim and hugely tall man of at least six feet four inches with one of the most impressive mustaches I had ever seen, dragged the fellow out into the street by the collar. I didn't know it then, but that bartender was Pat Garrett, who would later become Sheriff of Lincoln County and try to hunt me down, but that's another story for another time.

I told the small fellow I admired his facility with the stick, and he asked me my name, and I told him Billy Bonney, and I asked him his, and he told me "Alias" and I said, "Alias what?" and he repeated "Alias." So, that's when I met Alias. He seemed a pleasant fellow, and one could not help but admire the way he handled himself with that stick, using the disadvantage of his stature to his advantage by hitting the saddle tramp low and bending him over to get a good shot at the man's skull. Anyway, later that night I sang "Turkey in the Straw" with the musicians, and our performance were greeted warmly by the customers at Beaver Smith's. I followed that up with "Silver Threads Among the Gold," which had been a song I had sung many times to my mother when she lay dying of consumption, it being her favorite song. To my surprise, Alias joined in, and he had the voice of an angel, a high tenor, like an Irishman's, and I wondered if maybe he was a leprechaun, but I put that thought aside, because it were a dumb thought and even I knew there ain't no such a thing. By the time we had sung the song together, we had the entire saloon weeping. So, we followed with a sprightlier tune to raise everyone's spirits, "Goober Peas," a song which was always an assured pleaser of crowds.

This led to regular appearances at Beaver Smith's, where I sang and danced Irish jigs, and Alias sang and danced Irish jigs, and Doc Scurlock recited poems that may or may not have been his own. Other than the stealing of poems, the former Regulators refrained from thievery of any other kind, such as cattle or horse rustling, during this time, which is why, I supposed, that when Pete Maxwell wanted someone to escort his prize stud bull named Beeve Wellington to Susan McSween's Three Rivers Ranch in Three Rivers on the far side of the Sierra Blanca, near the reservation, he asked us. Mrs. McSween had been left widowed and destitute by the Lincoln County War, but cattle baron John Chisum had gifted her fifty heifers, and she wanted a prize stud to breed them. Pete Maxwell was selling off his remaining stock, intending to retire and live off the proceeds, which were considerable, while renting out his prize bull, a service for which he charged a handsome fee. I don't know how Mrs. McSween, poor as she was, afforded Beeve Wellington, even to rent, but the deal had been made, and Maxwell wanted a team to escort the prize stud to Three Rivers in a hurry, because some of the heifers were already in heat, and Susan McSween wanted to strike while the iron was hot, so to speak. We were to stay at the Three Rivers Ranch for however long it took that prize stud bull to complete his Longhorn duty, which was likely going to take at least two or three months, then escort him back to Pete Maxwell.

I don't know what Pete thought when only me—a skinny kid of nineteen, five eight and barely a hundred and thirty pounds, and Alias, halfway between four and five feet and weighing I don't know how much but less than me, I'd guess—took him up on it. The rest of the Regulators knew the Murphy-Dolan House and Jesse Evans Gang would want to stop us if they could, not wanting the widow of Alexander McSween to compete with the House in a new cattle venture. Murphy himself was dead by then, and the House, as the Murphy-Dolan gang was called, was in debt up to their earlobes, and close to ruin, I had heard tell. This cattle competition could force them into bankruptcy, so they'd be desperate to stop it. They had thought, now that Chisum had moved his operation to the Texas Panhandle, that the cattle business in the area was all theirs, and they would not want to be proven wrong. That was what made the assignment attractive to me, however. I still harbored resentment towards the Murphy-Dolan House and Jesse Evans Gang for beating us in the Lincoln County War. And I don't like to lose.

So, we set off, just me on my painted mare and Alias sitting as tall as he could manage in a custom-made saddle atop a Spanish Mustang sixteen hands high. He used a small step-ladder to get up there, which he then pulled up and lashed to his saddle. I was armed with two pistols on my belt and a Winchester in a saddle scabbard. Alias was armed with a pair of Colts at his sides. His arms were short, but his hands were bigger than mine, so he could grip a Colt as well as anyone. I asked him why he didn't take his huge stick with him, and he said because you can't hit a cattle rustler at seventy-five yards with a big stick, and I asked him if he could hit a cattle rustler at seventy-five yards with a Colt, and he said, no, not with a Colt, but with a bullet fired from one, sure, every time. Beeve Wellington, easily the largest animal I had ever seen at a good six feet tall and I have no idea how many pounds, was, thankfully, docile and cooperative. Maybe he knew that if he did not make trouble, he would find himself in the midst of a fifty-heifer-harem, which must have been extremely tempting for a Longhorn stud. It was the smallest cattle drive in history, I imagine, but with the biggest bull. I don't know what we would have done if he'd bolted. We could have chased him down and roped him easy enough, but then what? I didn't like to think on it.

As we rode along, we spotted first a Western Meadowlark, its bright, showy yellow breast gleaming in the sun as it bounced along the prairie grasses. We next spied a young Mule Deer buck, its antlers sitting atop its head like a fuzzy crown, eating grass by a brook that ran into the Pecos. The Mule Deer chewed, and the running brook glistened. We saw Tiger Swallowtails flitting about from plant to plant, drinking in the nectar. We saw a Spruce Grouse and her chicks pecking through the scrub; we saw five Desert Bighorn Sheep grazing together, looking with their massive horns for all the world like they owned the place; we saw a Stellar Jay perched on a tree branch, its Union-soldier-blue plumage framed against the gray bark; we saw Mountain Chickadees and Juncos; we saw a Pygmy Nuthatch and a Hairy Woodpecker; we gazed at cholla and cactus flowers, deep purple, more purple than the sky at night; we gazed at prickly pear cactus blooms, yellow and orange like exploding suns; we saw a gray-coated, white-muzzled, golden-brown-eyed coyote, who looked right at us, even though he was far away; and we saw a diamondback curled up in the dust, having a snooze, whom we watched cautiously as we rode by. Once we passed the diamondback, Alias asked me out of the blue if I knew the poems Doc Scurlock recited in our performances at Beaver Smith's weren't Doc's own compositions, but poems by other better-known poets, such as Edgar Allan Poe and William Wordsworth. I told him I'd suspected as much, as our mutual friend and my former sweetheart until her uncle moved her along with his ranch to the Texas panhandle, Sallie Chisum, had once called him out on it. Alias asked me if I were the Billy Bonney who also went by the names Henry Antrim, Kid Antrim, the Kid, and Billy the Kid. I said no one had ever called me "Billy the Kid" before, but I was the fellow who belonged to the other names. He asked me which one were my true name, and I told him I no longer recalled. This was not entirely true, because I well knew I had been born Willian Henry McCarty, but that name seemed to belong to another life, a life I barely recalled, a life spent living in a stinking New York Tenement in the Five Points with the smell of gunpowder from the Draft Riots outside our window until at last we moved to the wide-open spaces and fresh air of the Western Frontier. My mother had said we were chasing a dream, but I guess I forgot to ask what precisely the dream was we were chasing, and she died before telling me.

Alias said he'd had so many aliases as well that now he couldn't recall his original one and he just went by "Alias" so as not to get all of his various identities confused.

As it turned out, Alias and me had some things in common. We'd both been on the stage, as actors in travelling Shakespeare shows in our younger years. We were both good at cards, and with horses. We both spoke Spanish, and we could both shoot a cactus flower off a cactus while running our mounts full speed and hanging off the side of the horse. We both liked to dance, and we both liked dancing with the Senoritas. But whereas my adventures had mostly occurred in the Southwestern states and territories, Alias had been all over, and his ranging had involved whole legends worth of stories, which he shared with me on our journey:

"I suppose my story really began," Alias said, "when I joined the Union Army during the War to do my part to put down the Southern Rebellion. I knew they wouldn't take me as a proper soldier because of my diminutive stature, so I lied about my age and joined as a drummer boy. I was still young enough and my face was unlined enough that I could pull off such a deception. At the Battle of Shiloh I survived shrapnel that went right through my drum, and at the Battle of Chickamauga, I shot an enemy colonel dead, so they promoted me to sergeant, even though they thought I weren't no more than eleven years old. After the war, I ranged around a while, and took up cards, for which it turns out I have a fair degree of aptitude. I found I could make a good living at cards, but I also found not everyone too kindly disposed towards my success. There seemed to be a general feeling among some that I encountered that a person of such small stature as mine should not be successful in cards or at war, and although I had proved my capacity at both, it turned out I had to keep on proving it, over and over again. The first such proving ground was in the town square of Springfield, Missouri, outside the Lyon House, where a drunken gambler name of Davis Tutt Junior took exception to losing to me and challenged me to a gunfight. Although peaceful by nature, I do not shrink from a fight, as hard experience has learned me the lesson that a fellow of my size has to be willing to fight back or else become the world's punching bag. Tutt Junior made the—in his case—fatal mistake of thinking that because I am small, I cannot shoot, but I can shoot, and, it turned out, I could shoot a lot better than Tutt Junior, who ended up dead. They don't call the Colt the Equalizer for nothing, I guess. The next time I had to fight a fellow who didn't approve of my success at cards, it was in Sausalito, California, when a man named John Soto took exception to the hand of cards he'd been dealt, and then dealt his own, so to speak, when he tried to shoot me right there at the card table. He was drunk, though, and he couldn't quite manage to rise and clear leather at the same time, so I made for the door and got out into the street before he came after me, armed with a pistol in each hand and another in his belt. Soto kept shooting at me, and I kept running, and weaving, and dodging, and he kept missing, until, at length, at about one hundred yards, I turned to face him and, with dust from missed shots kicking up all around me, I raised my pistol and took careful aim and fired and put one through his forehead. The next time I had to use my Equalizer in self-defense was in the town of Dodge City in Kansas, in the Long Branch Saloon, when a gambler by the name of Levi Richardson objected when I drew an Ace of Hearts and he drew a Jack of Spades. He rose and commenced firing at me right there at the table, emptying his pistol in the process, but in this case my diminutive stature proved a blessing, as his bullets all sailed above my head as I drew my own six-shooter and put one bullet in his chest, another in his side, and one more for good measure in his arm. He fell dead and the coroner's inquest ruled in my favor. There's been a few more scrapes since, but those are the most noteworthy I can think of at the moment."

When Alias finished, I asked him if those stories he had told me did not, in point of fact, involve individuals by the names of Johnny Clem, Bill Hickok, Harry Morse, and Frank Loving. He readily conceded that they did, claiming those were all previous aliases of his. And after all, he added, was not the Western Frontier but a dream, anyway, a vast expanse of landscape and imagination wherein a fellow could try on, discard, and try on again a variety of personages until he found the one that fit him like a second skin? Until he found the right dream? The dream that best suited him? Was not, he said, the West big enough for everybody's dream, even his, who, small though he was, could dream as big as any man, could even dream as big as Beeve Wellington himself, if stud bulls could dream. I did not know what he meant by any of this, but although I had never heard that these events of his telling, widely recounted and shared on the Western Frontier at that time, involved a fellow of diminutive stature, nor had I ever heard that they did not, and so I chose not to question Alias's history.

At length we arrived at the Three Rivers Ranch. Susan McSween, attended by her one-armed lawyer, Huston Chapman, was happy to see us, and ooed and ahhed over her new bull. The bull meekly submitted to her flattering caresses, and I was beginning to wonder if the bull had enough spirit to do a proper bull's job. Susan McSween even went so far as to examine the bull's testicles, announcing herself delighted with their dimension, which were considerable. "Here is the fount of my dreams, boys," she declared, indicating the stud's bollocks, "all my dreams are contained inside this beast's ball-sack." This caused me to blush, but she went on about how it was those testicles with which she would start her cattle dynasty, which would rise up from the ashes of the Lincoln County War and avenge her husband's murder by bringing down the Murphy-Dolan House, and I had no cause to doubt her. Her ranch was not large, but she had good pasture, and about half a dozen men, cowboys and vaqueros both, who seemed to know their business. She handed Beeve Wellington off to one of her ranch hands, who led the bull to a large paddock, where there waited a heifer in heat, and then let the stud bull do what nature intended, which Beeve and the heifer immediately commenced to do.

It seemed Beeve Wellington did indeed have the requisite spirit for the task.

A few months previous, the night when Mrs. McSween got widowed, me and her and her then-still-living husband, Alexander McSween, and about a half a dozen Regulators were besieged by the Murphy-Dolan House and Jesse Evans Gang in her house in Lincoln, with the US Calvary camped nearby doing nothing at all to preserve order because their commander, Colonel Dudley, was just as crooked as the rest of the Murphy-Dolan House and Jesse Evans Gang. We'd repelled attacks for days, but they eventually set fire to the house. As the fire burned, taking one room at a time, we moved Susan McSween's piano from room to room ahead of the fire, and Susan McSween played it, and we sang songs to keep our spirits up, while firing back at the enemy.

Eventually we had to make a run for it, leaving the piano to burn. That's when Alexander McSween was gunned down, along with four Regulators. But now, living in Three Rivers, Susan McSween had a new piano, and instead of a stand-up piano, it were a full grand piano, quite a luxury for her nice but modestly-proportioned house, taking up as it did most of her sitting room. To celebrate the successful delivery of Beeve Wellington, and, presumably from the sounds going on among the heifers-in-heat outside as they were delivered to the stud waiting for them in the paddock, the commencement of the successful insemination of the Three Rivers stock, Susan McSween played her piano and we sang and Alias sang too, and he made me a little jealous, I admit, because while I am somewhat renowned for the quality of my voice, Alias, as I have earlier indicated, sang like an angel, and don't think I didn't notice that Susan McSween noticed, too.

Susan McSween, I should mention, was only about thirty-five years old at this time, and while I had never given much amorous thought to her when her husband was still alive, I will confess to noticing for the first time, now that she was a widow, what a handsome lady she was, and a fairly young one at that, although fully fifteen years my senior. I hoped to get an opportunity to dance with her, but when it came time to dance with her, I was the only one beside Susan McSween herself who could play the piano, although I had only limited skill on the instrument. Even so, I played, and Alias proffered a courtly bow, and, despite his diminutive stature, took Susan McSween by the hand and danced with her most expertly and with considerable sprightliness throughout the evening. When it came time to bunk down for the night, before I knew what had happened, Alias and Susan McSween had disappeared into her bedroom and I was left alone in the sitting room, where I stretched out on the couch and listened to the sounds of what I assumed to be successful animal husbandry outside, with occasional cries and sighs of pleasure from Susan McSween's bedroom, inside.

We stayed with the Three Rivers Ranch for several months, me sleeping in the bunk house, and Alias, that rascal, sleeping in the main house in Susan McSween's bedroom, night after night. Alias and me worked as ranch hands, helping to round up heifers as they came into heat and bring them to Beeve Wellington's paddock. Beeve Wellington would do his due diligence with the heifer, whereupon we would round up the next one and bring her to Beeve Wellington and he would do his due diligence all over again. The bull stud, even-tempered as he was, was also indefatigable, and I understood why he were such a prized stud bull.

I was lying in the bunk house that night all them weeks later, wide awake, thinking of Susan McSween with Alias, thinking of Sallie Chisum, thinking of Paulita Maxwell, and thinking of Beeve Wellington and all his heifers, when I heard the sound of gunfire coming from outside. I had enough time to grab my pistols but not my boots and went outside to see what was amiss, and along the far side of the paddock fence I spied three fellows firing pistols at Beeve Wellington. I figured them for Murphy-Dolan men or Jesse Evans men, and as my eyes adjusted to the nighttime glow of the moon on the landscape of dust and scrub and prairie grass and fence and cattle, I could indeed make out three men I knew but had no love for: Tom Hill, George Davis, and Dick Lloyd, all of them from the Jesse Evans Gang. They were evidently trying to stop Susan McSween's dynasty before it started, to kill her dreams while they still resided inside Beeve Wellington's bollocks. But, of course, I couldn't let that happen.

Now, you may have thought, if you are a reader of them dime novels they have out East, that every cowboy in the West is a sharpshooter and every bullet hits its mark, but I am here to tell you, that ain't necessarily so. Why, I'm just about as good a shot as any, and I miss half the time if there's any commotion involved. So, the three pistoleers were shooting at the stud, and their bullets kept missing the bull and kicking up clods of dirt all around him, and so I started shooting back at them, and then they started splitting their time between shooting at the bull and shooting at me. Beeve Wellington just sort of stood there, seemingly unconcerned, bullets flying all around him, until I heard a loud snort and I turned and saw that the stud bull who had been so easy-going was now mad as a hornet, and he charged at the men at the paddock fence. Then I realized that Alias was riding atop Beeve Wellington. This was a remarkable thing. People of any size did not ride prize bull Longhorns. It was an incautious way to travel for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the temperamentality of the bulls in general. But there Alias was, riding on the bull's neck, shooting both his pistols at the attempted cattle-killers. I don't know what Tom Hill, George Davis, and Dick Lloyd thought, seeing this small person, too big for a child and too small for a man, rushing towards them atop the biggest bull in creation, but I suspect by their reaction that they were disconcerted considerably. They flailed about, redirecting their fire at the bull and at its rider and away from me, but Beeve Wellington did not slacken his pace, and Alias did not flag in his attentions towards sending bullets flying in their direction. I saw George Davis go down first as Alias demonstrated the deadliness of his aim, George's left eye blown out the back of his head in a misty spray of blood, bone, and brain. This caused Dick Lloyd to panic and try to flee, but his boot got caught in-between the fence rails, and while he struggled to get loose, Alias put two slugs in his chest, and Dick stopped struggling. Tom Hill, to his credit, never wavered, firing back at Beeve Wellington and Alias, and standing his ground perched on the paddock fence. Alias ran out of ammunition, but he just bent low on the Longhorn's neck and Beeve Wellington continued his charge, bullets flying past him, until the bull hit that fence, sending a rail flying a hundred yards, and skewering Tom Hill through the chest on one of his very long horns. Tom Hill, still alive although impaled by the horn, screamed and hollered and raised quite the fuss as Beeve Wellington began to buck and rock, flying into the sky, and kicking his back legs so that he was standing upright on his front ones. Alias held on to Beeve Wellington's neck for dear life until, at last, the bull gave his head a toss and Tom Hill went flying and screaming for about fifty feet from the corral, his arms flailing about as he flew in the air. He landed with an unpleasant crunching sound and did not scream or move or make any sound at all, if truth be told, following his return to earth. Beeve Wellington was calm again, and Alias smiled at me, and I was about to congratulate him on his shooting when I heard the distant but unmistakable roar of a buffalo gun and, like a giant marionette with its strings cut, Beeve Wellington went over, on his side, just like that, no fuss about it at all. Alias was thrown from the bull and went down hard in the dirt—and Beeve went over, harder, on top of Alias.

I could see no sign of Alias. The beast's huge carcass completely covered him up. Susan McSween's ranch hands hurriedly hooked up oxen to drag Beeve Wellington from atop Alias, but I quietly hoped Alias was already dead, because I knew there was no way they could move Beeve Wellington's corpse in time to free Alias before he suffocated under the Longhorn's weight.

The buffalo gun cracked again and the top of the fencepost exploded into a million splinters and then I saw Susan McSween with a Winchester and she put her rifle to her shoulder and her eyes to the gun sight and took aim and fired back at the faraway man with the buffalo gun. A buffalo gun has a longer range than a Winchester, but a Winchester can hit a target at five hundred yards, which must have been far enough, because the man with the buffalo gun did not shoot again. I cannot say if Susan McSween shot him or simply scared him off.

We looked at the carcass of the former prize bull as the oxen strained to move it, knowing Alias lay crushed and smothered beneath him. Susan McSween remarked that she hoped the bull had done his work in the paddock those past months as diligently as Alias had done his in her bedroom, which caused me to redden from embarrassment, so I did not comment.

The oxen finally managed to drag the Longhorn's carcass from atop Alias, but Alias was quite dead by the time we excavated him. The doctor said later he'd broken his neck either when he hit the ground or when the Longhorn fell atop him, so there weren't nothing we could have done about it no how.

Susan McSween sent a rider out to the Army post at the nearby reservation to bring in soldiers for a proper burial service. The Army complied because they was scared to death of Susan McSween, for her advocacy had resulted not long past in the demotion of Colonel Dudley at Fort Stanton, for his role in the corrupt allegiance with the Murphy-Dolan House.

Another rider went to bring the Mexican priest in from the village. Susan McSween had the local undertaker make a casket just Alias's size, and offered up her own grand piano for the undertaker to use to make a casket big enough for Beeve Wellington. This all took some time. We did not bury Tom Hill, George Davis, and Dick Lloyd. Instead, we loaded them onto a cart and Susan McSween's one-armed lawyer, Huston Chapman, carted them into town to see the Justice of the Peace, with an affidavit attesting to the events of the night before.

After the departure of the one-armed lawyer, we dug the grave for Alias, first. Then we all set about digging the grave for the bull. Several men suggested we eat Beeve Wellington instead of burying him, but Susan McSween wouldn't hear of it. Digging that second grave took all day.

I rode out once the graves were dug but before either funeral, my heart broken for the loss of both my friend Alias, brave and dutiful man that he was, as well as my friend Beeve Wellington, brave and dutiful bull that he was. I couldn't bear to watch them both lowered into the ground, and I figured someone had better get word to Pete Maxwell pretty quick not to be expecting the return of his prize bull.

A bit of a ways from the ranch, despite my intention to skip out on the ceremonies, I halted my painted mare and turned and watched the funerals from there, from a ways off: first the little coffin lowered into the ground, with Alias inside of it, and then the big one, made from a piano, with Beeve Wellington inside of that.

I don't deny that as I sat there atop my mare, I wept, and wept bitter tears at that.

If you were to ask me which friend I wept for the more bitterly, I do not know that I would be able to tell you for a certainty.

* * *

I made my way back to Fort Sumner without incident. I reported the events as they transpired to Pete Maxwell and, unsurprisingly, he was furious and cursed me out considerable.

Feeling low, I went to Beaver Smith's, nodded politely to Pat Garret, now manning the door in Alias's absence, and ordered whiskey. I do not, in general, like to drink even beer, but, as I previously remarked, I was feeling low. I choked down the amber liquid, and just as I felt it hit my brain, a nickel rolled on the table in front of me.

I looked up and saw Paulita Maxwell, standing there looking at me, and looking just as fine as a young man could hope a young woman might look.

"You can keep that nickel if you give me a dance, cowboy," she said to me.

And dance we did, the whole night through, which brightened my spirits, considerable.

And I didn't even charge her one more nickel.

The End

Peter Ullian is the author of short stories that have appeared in Cemetery Dance Magazine, Hardboiled Magazine, and the DAW Books Anthology Star Colonies. His post-apocalypse, post-pandemic, near future neo-Western, The Last Electric House, is published by Swamp Angel Press. He was the 2019-2020 Poet Laureate of Beacon, New York, and his poetry has been published in anthologies and periodicals and nominated for the Rhysling Award and the Pushcart Prize. His work for the stage has been produced off-Broadway, regionally, and internationally, and published by Broadway Play Publishing, NoPassport Press, and Smith & Kraus.

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