Read this month's Tales and vote for your favorite.
They'll appear in upcoming print volumes of
The Best of Frontier Tales Anthologies!
From This Tree I Hang
* * *
by Joshua Britton
A bungling gunslinger narrowly escapes two hangings while taking advantage of his lifelong
friendship with Dusty. Dusty would like to leave behind these life-risking adventures and
take care of his mother and the family farm, but will his selfish buddy let him?
A Shivaree for Goldilocks
* * *
by Tom Sheehan
How do two ornery and smelly mountain men, used to each other but nothing else, handle the
discovery of an abandoned baby they dub Goldilocks because of her golden hair? Will unaccustomed
tenderness mixed with the tenacity and rage of a wounded grisly do?
The Great Train Robbery
by James Dickman
On June 2, 1899, Butch Cassidy, and his "Hole-In-The-Wall-Gang" hold up the Union Pacific Overland
Flyer transporting gold and valuables. But Butch doesn't expect a second train carrying soldiers minutes
behind. With time running out, will Butch have to fight it out?
* * *
The Walking Man
* * *
by Francisco Davila
Mr. Walking Man walked out into the middle of the street and pointed his rifle at the three
hardcases. They rode right at him. Mr. Walking Man yelled out real loud, "I ain't dying alone,
you border scum."
The Blue Tinted Specs
* * *
by Ray Dyson
At the trading post, a gambler wearing blue tinted specs dealt cards to several infantrymen.
Bannon instantly saw the tinhorn was cheating and called him out. The entire room froze as a
lanky gunman stepped up behind the tinhorn. This game of poker was about to turn deadly.
Off the Beaten Path
* * *
by Alexander J. Richardson
Gunhand Thomas Burns finds himself caught up in the wild claims of a newcomer at the saloon.
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All the Tales
The Walking Man
by Francisco Davila
I can't rightly say that I can recollect all the things that happened during my growing up years in Largo, Texas. Some things stick in a man's mind more than others. Some things got value and some just plain don't. A man tries his best to keep the good memories. He places a value on them and those memories have a value more than a wagon full of gold.
I recollect the dirt streets and the hot sun. All the wood houses never seemed to be built to last. Back then most folks built their houses out of wood and nails and prayers. Those houses didn't last forever. Either the heat ate them up or the rain wore them out. There weren't but a few places that was built with brick. Brick cost money and most folks lived day by day and hand to mouth. Times were hard and most people lived their lives with spit and grit. We all were living hard and praying for the good Lord to help us keep what little we had. The good Lord gave us strong backs, stubborn pride and high hopes.
Largo, Texas was a border town. It wasn't no more than a good hard spit from Largo right into Mexico. There was a time when our little scrub town had been full of hard cases and no accounts. Border towns were like that back then. Being so close to the Mex border was a sure cause for trouble for our town.
Mexico had no real law back then and in those times many a man with a fast horse and a need to move quick came into Largo looking to ride into Mexico one step ahead of the law. A man on the dodge don't give a good Billy damn about nothing. Many a desperado would ride into Largo a hurrahing and shooting. More than a few innocents paid the price for getting in their way. Those hard cases would ride into Largo and try to tear the town right off its roots. Some of them even got the notion to try to burn the town down.
There was no real law in Largo. The law didn't pay us a never mind because we were just a little scrub town with no more than forty folks in the whole town. No badge toter was going to stand up against those hard cases and no accounts. They just didn't think we were worth dying for. Largo was too small for a Marshall and too poor for a sheriff. Largo wasn't much of nothing and those that stayed in Largo stayed because they had nothing and there wasn't anything anywhere else that was any much better.
We didn't have but one main street and it was no more than twenty houses long. The street was dirt hard and dusty. Sometimes a good wind would whoosh out of nowhere and blow all the street dirt right up into the air and damn near cover the whole town. I swear that dirt could damn near cover a man from head to toe and make him look like he was a ghost.
I recollect the good and the bad about Largo. The hard times and the lean times. Most of my Largo memories have gotten foggy. I suspect it's because they weren't meant to stay clear. There is that one day that comes into my mind as fresh as the morning sun. The whole damned thing that happened that day didn't take little more than a full turn of the clock but it had a meaning and it had a value and that value ain't lost a damned thing.
I recall that I was no more than a month from my tenth birthday and it was early July. I was sitting on my Pap's porch when I caught sight of a man walking his horse into town. Back then a prideful man never walked when he could ride. The walking man must have walked his horse for more than a little while because his horse and him were both covered in Largo dirt. They both had the look of the dirt ghost on them.
The walking man wasn't a real large man but he had a wideness about him that made him appear bigger than he was. The walking man had a tough, durable way about him.
The walking man was leading an old dun horse that had seen some better days. The dun kind of had the same tough durable way that the man had. The walking man had him a full thick beard that covered more than half his face and an old felt hat that covered the other half. He had him some rough and ready clothes. His boots weren't fancy toed Texas cowboy boots. He had him some round knobby boots like he had done some work on a railroad. His shirt and britches hadn't been new for a long time but they were serviceable. He wore a tan jacket that had been stitched in more than a couple of places, but it looked it could still keep the cold out.
The walking man looked like he was a drifting man. Folks in Largo had seen many a drifting man in their time. Drifting men was mostly considered shiftless. Nobody much cared to see them come into town and most everybody said "good riddance" when they were gone.
The walking man walked his horse real slow like he was gentling his horse. It was a funny thing but that old horse he seemed to match every step that the walking man took. I swear it was like those two had a kind of an understanding. Those two must have rid some long miles together. A man and his horse don't get to know each other like that unless they shared some miles and some years together. They had a history. They were partners.
I sat on my Pap's porch and watched the walking man as he walked his old horse right to the blacksmiths shop. My Pap's house was the nearest to the blacksmith. The man that ran the Smithy shop was named Mr. Strebor. Mr. Strebor was horse strong and wolf mean. He wasn't sociable, but he was the only Smithy in Largo. Most folks just kept a distance from him unless they had a need of his services. I walked a few feet behind the walking man and his horse.
The walking man walked right up to Mr. Strebor and didn't waste any words.
"I'd like to stable my horse. He's been rid hard, but he didn't slack up not even for a second."
The walking man had a deep-down heavy way of talking. Mr. Strebor didn't take but a short moment to look at that old dun and then he locked eyes with the walking man. I had the notion he was trying to get the walking man's goat.
"Mister, that horse looks right haggard. He needs to be put out of his misery."
The walking man he held Mr. Strebor's hard look and he didn't flinch.
"We've came a far ways together, and we ain't done just yet. Me and him has seen the mountains and crossed the Llanos. He's got stay and he's a sight better company than most folks I've come across."
Mr. Strebor was banging on a wagon wheel rim and he just stopped his hammering. Like I said, Mr. Strebor was wolf mean and he had him a bad temper. He didn't take guff from no man. He held onto his hammer and he gave the walking man another look. Then Mr. Strebor walked over to the dun and he felt his front and back legs. That old dun stood stock still and wasn't a mite skittish. Mr. Strebor looked up at the walking man and he just nods his head. It was like he took a better look at that at the man and the horse and he could see the value in them. Mr. Strebor, had a deep respect for a good horse. The truth was he didn't respect too much else.
"He's got muscle and bone and stands real proud."
The walking man nodded right back at Mr. Strebor and walked his dun over to the water trough. Both of them were covered in dirt but the walking man takes out a handkerchief out of his back pocket, wets it in the trough, and wouldn't you know he goes and wipes that old horse's face. All the while he's talking low and gentle to that old horse. He gave the dun some water and oats, unsaddled him and wiped him down. The walking man had some big hard hands but that horse didn't shy away from him not a bit when the walking man rubbed his head. I watched him show all that kindness to his horse and it made me feel good and proud. I got a warm feeling for the walking man. He had quality.
Mr. Walking Man took a few minutes tending his horse and then he scooped up some of the water from the trough in his two hands and washed his face in it. I had the notion that he was pushing toward sixty but when the dirt got rubbed off his face, I could see that his beard was mostly white and when he took off that old felt hat his head hair was just as white as his beard. His skin was sun burnt and weather worn and had more than some wrinkles. He surely had seen sixty come and go and he was more than likely closing in on seventy. He wasn't a spring chicken but he stood rooster proud.
Mr. Walking Man shucked his saddle in the barn corner and he yanked his Springfield rifle out of the scabbard. He wiped the dust off the Springfield and cradled it in his hands like it was a little bitty baby. Mr. Strebor didn't go back to his hammering. He just kind of kept eyeballing the walking man. He looked Mr. Walking Man up and down more than few times and then went back to hammering on that wagon wheel rim.
Mr. Strebor waited till Mr. Walking Man started walking past him and he tells him.
"You can get a hot meal at the saloon. It ain't the best, but it'll warm your belly."
Mr. Walking Man just shook his head and he tells Mr. Strebor.
"Ain't got the extra money for a meal. It's best that I just give you your money now."
Mr. Strebor just up and he walks over to that old dun and wouldn't you know he puts his hand real gentle like on that old horse's head and he starts rubbing it.
A man like Mr. Strebor he didn't get pushed. He was the one always doing the pushing, but he was his own kind of man. I can't say that anyone in Largo ever had the wants to call him a sociable man but he wasn't a contrary man either. Mr. Strebor had a fairness about him. He looked over to Mr. Walking Man and tells him "a dollar will do." Mr. Strebor had a set price for stabling and feeding a horse. That price was two dollars but he only asked Mr. Walking Man for only one dollar. I can't rightly say that I ever had a fondness for Mr. Strebor, but he didn't have any petty ways and that is the god's honest truth.
Mr. Walking Man handed Mr. Strebor a silver dollar and then two of them just kind of ran out of words. Mr. Strebor went back to hammering and Mr. Walking Man started walking down the main street. He didn't go into the saloon. He just sat in an old wooden chair right in front of the saloon and just kept looking down the street. He looked up at the sun like he was telling the time and kept on looking down the street. He cradled the Springfield in both his arms and stared down that road like he had a good notion who was coming.
It wasn't even a quarter hour when these three hard cases come riding low and fast like the devil himself was hot on their trail. Mr. Walking Man got off his chair and walked right into the middle of the street. Right dead in the way of the three hard cases. Those three hard cases kept right coming right at him, but Mr. Walking Man just planted his feet down hard in the dirt and he don't budge an inch. The three hard cases had no doubt seen Mr. Walking Man standing in the middle of the street, but they still came charging at him.
Mr. Walking Man yelled real loud at them.
"I ain't dying alone you border scum."
The three hard cases came galloping and shooting right at Mr. Walking Man but he stood rock still. There wasn't any budge in him. He swung his Springfield right at the middle rider and shot him right off his saddle. The one to the left shot Mr. Walking Man on his right side, but Mr. Walking Man didn't give a never mind. He just kept shooting at those two hard cases and the two hard cases kept riding and shooting right at him.
The one on the left had a better horse than his partner and he got nearer to Mr. Walking Man. That was his undoing. Mr. Walking Man gut shot him off his horse. That was when the third hard case shot Mr. Walking Man right in the middle of his chest. Mr. Walking Man fell in the dirt. He didn't look likely to get back up but that third hard case jumped off the back of his horse and he shot Mr. Walking Man again. When the shooting had started, I ran under my Pap's porch. I watched that border trash just keep walking right up to Mr. Walking Man. It broke my heart because that border trash was fixing to shoot him again. I jumped to my feet and I yelled.
That border trash didn't but take but a quick look at me and then he aimed his gun right at the middle of Mr. Walking Man's back. Mr. Strebor had found a hand gun. He shot that border trash dead. Mr. Strebor walked up to Mr. Walking Man and turned him over slow and gentle. Mr. Walking Man had spit and blood coming out of his mouth but he was some stubborn about dying. I had a notion he was in intolerable pain but his words come out strong
"Those three drygulched my friend. Me and him traveled a long way together."
Mr. Walking Man looked right at Mr. Strebor.
"That dun is a good horse. He took me ahead of them. I ain't ever rode better."
Mr. Walking Man died right there in the middle of Largo's main street. Mr. Strebor found an old wagon tarp and wrapped Mr. Walking Man up in it. I had the belief that he didn't want to see Mr. Walking Man get any Largo dirt on him. Mr. Strebor had respect. He looked right at me and he tells me flat.
"Get here now, son. We got to get this man off the street."
I ran over and looked up at Mr. Strebor. I had a powerful fear of Mr. Strebor. He scared most folks but I had a question to ask.
"Mr. Strebor, was he your friend?"
Mr. Strebor didn't think for more than a few seconds. He put his hand on my shoulder.
"I didn't know him, but I've seen a scarce few like him. He was of a kind that the good Lord stopped making."
Mr. Strebor went and got his wagon and we put Mr. Walking Man in the back. Then Mr. Strebor got two shovels and put them next to Mr. Walking Man.
We took Mr. Walking Man to the edge of town where we had a small cemetery. Mr. Strebor and me dug a grave for Mr. Walking Man. Mr. Strebor did most of the digging but I stood right next to him and I did myself proud. Mr. Strebor stood over Mr. Walking Man and he said a small prayer. It wasn't a real long prayer but Mr. Strebor he took his hat off and he bowed his head while he was a saying it. A sadness came over me. Some tears ran down my face. We found some rocks and we piled them on top of Mr. Walking Man and then we grabbed our shovels.
It was then that I saw that the whole town of Largo had been watching us. They had stood off a ways and watched us put Mr. Walking Man into the ground. Not a one of them had come near. Mr. Strebor and me drove that wagon back to the stable. I had a prideful feeling riding back with Mr. Strebor. Me and him had done a man's job.
Mr. Strebor let me come by every day and tend to the dun. The old horse had quality. Me and him got to be good friends. When I got older, I went to cleaning stalls and helping out in the stable. Mr. Strebor taught me some blacksmithing. Me and him we worked some hard days together.
When I had grown up some I left Largo, Texas. I had a fancy to see a mite of the world. I traveled some and seen some. When there was a call I went to Europe and fought the Kaiser. I loved one woman and we raised up three boys. Those boys are grown and have spread their wings. My love she went to heaven and I hope to be with her right soon. I've done a few things and seen some others. Many a days I recollect the seeing and the doing. I recollect Largo, Texas and I recollect Mr. Strebor and Mr. Walking Man. Those two were both the same kind of man. They had value.
Francisco Davila, 71, is a husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, and Marine. He worked as a fruit picker, janitor, steelworker, special police officer, and hospital worker. He has a Bachelor's degree from Buffalo State College and is admirer of the American pioneers and the wild west.
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