The stagecoach rocked as it slowed to a stop. Edward Sutherland stepped into the Arizona sunshine and donned the wide-brimmed Stetson he had purchased in Abilene three days before.
Gunfire erupted to his right and left, bullets whistling by. He dived to the wood walkway. On the street to his left, a cowpoke in leather chaps was crumpling. A six-shooter dropped from his right hand, and he fell crashing to the bare earth. At Edward's right, a band of horsemen turned and skedaddled down the street in a cloud of dust.
A fine way to start a job as assayer, he thought. Long and lean, he got to his feet, located his dented hat, and brushed dirt from the knees of his tight-fitting worsted suit. A pair of sodbusters snickered.
"Welcome to Silver City," a hairy bearded old man, said. "You will love this place," said the next man, wearing a battered kepi-styled Confederate cap.
"What was that all about?" Edward asked.
"The miners don't like the cowmen and the cowmen don't like anybody," the old man said.
Edward nodded, collected his gear, and headed for the hotel, Casa de Plata. His two leather bags weighed him down. Clothes were packed in the light-colored valise. The dark bag contained his Colt Model 1871 Holster Pistol, a cartridge belt, .44-caliber ammunition, and his personal assessor equipment. The desk clerk called himself Diego and carried the heavier bag to a room that overlooked the street of shops and saloons.
The room was a familiar haven reminding him of his boyhood room in Cincinnati. A wide bed occupied the center, a crucifix hung on the wall. A washstand bearing a marble top, a pan and jug, sat between two open windows to the street. Warm winds disturbed the flimsy, plain white curtains.
Well, I made it, he said to himself. The long trip covered more than 1,800 miles, riding on five coaches. He observed terrestrial transformation from leafy green and flowing waterways to yellow and blowing dust. He was not dressed for the occasion, wearing a suit, a vest, and a tie. He loosened the tie and poured water from the jug into the pan. The cool water splashing on his face was invigorating. He looked out the window to the busy street and located the shop where he was expected, Mason's Gold & Silver Emporium.
At the Emporium's broad counter, Mason stood behind balance scales, a trademark for his work weighing metals from local mines. As he entered, Edward detected the familiar acrid odor of a smelter, the tool of his labor as assayer. He introduced himself and lifted his heavy bag on the counter.
"Glad you are here, Sutherland," Mason said.
He was a man about fifty years old, bald on the crown of his head and dressed in an apron over a collared shirt and tie. Edward guessed Mason's attire encouraged a degree of professionalism for his emporium where accuracy and honesty played dual roles.
"Let's talk," Mason said.
He moved to a roll top desk and motioned for Edward to sit on the chair beside it.
"I've hired you to test the real value of the metals coming from miners and Arizona Mining Company, the big operator here. I have a suspicion the company is selling me as much lead as silver. I've got the smelter, but I just don't know how best to work it. So, I use it for some blacksmithing."
"Lucky for us," Edward said, "precious metals don't oxidize or react to chemicals like the base metals. Given time and tests, I should be a good help to you. No sense paying silver prices for lead."
"You can start right now."
Edward hauled his heavy bag to a large room where a coke fire smoldered and blacksmith metal instruments hung on the wall. He withdrew six cupels, his own versions of the sturdy and fire-resistant bowls that contained metals for high-temperature tests.
"Here's a bunch of samples," Mason said, heaving wood boxes containing ore on a table. "Owners' names are on the boxes."
Edward took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. He numbered the samples, identified them with their owners, and noted them in a journal.
"I don't mind a little clerical work," he said to Mason. "My true love is this process called cupellation. It separates the precious from the base metals. I learned the process from a neighbor in Cincinnati. He was a relative of Annie Oakley. He taught me how to shoot and gave me my first gun. He felt sorry for me after my parents died from cholera. Thought I needed a way to defend myself and make a living."
"Sounds good to me," said Mason.
Edward stirred the fire and the orange coals in the smelter turned white and red. He thought about the first time he had heard about Mason's emporium in an article in the Cincinnati Enquirer. A reprint from the Phoenix newspaper, the article told how the silver from local mines had become local currency, displacing greenbacks after a local bank went under. At issue was the true value of the silver used in business transactions. The confusion had caused fistfights and shootouts.
After reading the article, Edward telegraphed Mason that he could solve the problem of value by refining the silver. Having no family to keep him in Ohio, a trip to Arizona for Edward had the taste of adventure. The shootout when he arrived served as a good opening act.
The front doorbell sounded. Edward heard voices, one that had a bird-like quality.
"You must be Mr. Sutherland. I'm Marian Mason, the daughter. My, it is getting warm in here."
Edward was immediately attracted to the dark-haired beauty. She smiled and looked spritely in a blue gingham dress.
"Please call me Edward."
"Edward it is. Nice meeting you. You are the firebug Daddy was telling me about."
"I couldn't do without a good fire. It's going to be an answer to the silver value problem. At least I hope so."
"Wonderful," she said, and turned to leave.
Edward heard more bird-like spoken words and the doorbell rang again.
Mason came to the smelter room. "You met my daughter. Her mother, a Spanish lady from El Paso, died when she was just three years old. Raised her myself."
"Thanks. One more thing. I know a newspaperman here. I'd like for you to talk with him. He can do a story on this process. I think a good honest story might help the situation."
"I don't mind."
Edward added wood and wielded bellows to build the fire's temperature. He had a while to go before the fire reached proper temperatures. He remembered what the old neighbor had taught him. Lead melts at 620.6-degree F, and silver at 1760-degrees. In the process, lead leaks away and deposits pure silver in the cupels.
The newspaper reporter, John Greene, watched as Edward poured ore samples in a cupel and merged it with the fiery coals producing a burst of tiny fireworks. Edward answered his questions. He asked the reporter about the shooting.
"He was one of the Carter boys, the youngest named Willie, from a ranch near the hills. He had an argument with a miner about a girl in the saloon. They settled it alright. He died on the spot. Big trouble."
At the time their conversation ended, Edward completed his first test. The original sample at three pounds weight had declined to two pounds of pure silver. He relayed to the reporter the test's outcome.
"According to the initial test, it appears that actual value of silver used in transactions was about one third less. I can understand why people have been skeptical and upset."
Greene's article wrote about the process and suggested that cupellation would answer the town's problems.
* * *
A day later, Sheriff Bill Kline, a star pinned to his open vest, entered Mason's Emporium with brown-robed Father Joseph Ross, pastor of the Franciscan mission at the end of the street. Their faces betrayed confidence that a solution to the town's problems was in sight. Steve Gillespie, owner of Arizona Mining Company, came in right behind them, followed by a young man. Gillespie was determined and distressed, the young man, languid and indifferent.
"You know my son, Harvey," he said.
The others acknowledged Harvey, who stood to the side. He wore boots and a casual white shirt, open at the collar, and a wide-brimmed hat. A long piece of straw poked from his mouth. His right hand rested on the butt of a holstered revolver.
"Where's Marian?" Harvey asked.
"At the school," Mason said. "She is teaching there."
"Let's get right to it," Gillespie said.
He cornered Mason. "If all the silver is refined now, what do we do about the buying and selling for the last year. We've been using polluted silver as currency. Every cowboy in town will be filing lawsuits. Miners will grumble. You, Mason, are the only one to gain from this fiasco. Your smelter will be the busiest fire in the entire West, refining silver. You might as well mint your own coins."
"The polluted silver is the big problem. We've got to return to basics here," Mason said. "Even if the bank does reopen and bring back paper money, we will still have the problem of unrefined silver. We've got to settle this once and for all."
As Mason spoke, a herd of cattle meandered toward the stockyards, Carter's men letting go with sharp cries. Animals diverted into alleyways and spaces between stores, their long and pointy horns scaring women and forcing sourdoughs to find safety.
"Carter's going to want to be paid for his cattle," Gillespie said. "With what!" he shouted and left the Emporium to make his way through the herd, his son Harvey in his track.
"That man can be trouble," the sheriff said. "He hasn't paid his workers for three months. He feeds them but there's no pay. He says he's waiting for the bank to reopen."
"I hear he wants to issue silver certificates," the priest said. "They might work, for employees anyway. It raises a question, though, will paper money be recognized?"
"I don't have an answer for that," Mason said. "I'd just like a bank to start up again. I'm doing my best to clear up the questions raised over the value of silver."
"We'd like to see the assayer at his work," the sheriff said.
He and Father Ross made their way to the warm area around the smelter and probed Edward with a dozen questions. Edward responded to those he had answers for, mostly providing temperatures that separated elements. As he spoke, he gave the visitors a sense of confidence that the ancient science might help solve some of the town's problems.
A clang of the doorbell sounded the entrance of the Confederate sourdough who shouted, "There's going to be a big fight at the corral." He left in a hurry and Sheriff Kline headed for the door listening for the sounds of gunfire.
The corral was anything but quiet. Three dozen steers stamped the ground and shifted from side to side, bellowing loud. The mine owner and son had made their way to the corral filled with cattle. Gillespie had grown up on a ranch and knew the changing tempers of a herd. They seemed to understand when trouble lurked. He felt for the Derringer pistol in his side pocket.
"Them Carters oughta be taught a lesson," Harvey said. He fingered the handle of his six-shooter.
A sudden wind blew through the stockyards. The herd moved aside as if on command. Wilson Carter, head of the clan, a stern fifty-year-old veteran of Phillips' Legion from Georgia, walked on as if an actor in a play. He turned toward the Gillespies, his body a perfect silhouette from the light behind him.
"Your men killed my boy. What are you going to do about it?"
Gillespie did not answer.
Harvey sneered. "Nothing!"
"I want my pound of flesh," Carter shouted. He drew his pistol and opened fire. From the barn in quick succession, rifle shots rang out. Gillespie dropped, taking two fatal bullets in his chest. Harvey, slow on the draw, toppled over, wounded.
Sheriff Kline arrived with his forty-five aimed at Carter, who fell after bullets punctured his chest. He rolled over in the dust. From the barn, rifle shots took out the sheriff. A slug hit him in the left shoulder. Kline fell to his knees dropping his pistol and grasping at the wound.
Father Ross had followed the sheriff to the stockyard. He said prayers over the dead, Carter and Gillespie. Harvey moaned in pain from a bullet that tore off the top joint of his little finger. Another bullet creased his left pants leg.
Harvey rasped, "I'll get those bastards if it is the last thing I do."
Gunfire had agitated the herd. A half-dozen steers broke down barriers and headed west. Carter's men in the barn climbed on their horses and chased after them.
Edward and Mason watched the gunfight from the Emporium's porch. The shootings lasted less than a minute. Edward had never felt helpless before except on the day when his parents died. He shook his head at the waste.
Anguish was inscribed on Marian's face when she entered the Emporium, quickly closing the door. Gunfire had caused children to scramble to windows and dash out of the school. They were so excited she closed school.
"It worries me, all this shooting," Marian said. "It's not good for the children. Polluted silver and having no bank causes some of our problems, but I think there is a lot more behind what is happening here. Some people want everything they can get, and they want it now."
"We need order in our daily lives. It is necessary if this town is to grow," Edward said.
"You're right about that," Mason agreed.
* * *
The smelter fire reached maximum heat. Edward piled stones around it to retain high temperatures. He labored ten-to-twelve hours a day filtering pure silver. The shooting motivated him to work harder as if refining silver was levying a positive impact.
Mason hired an old miner to do chores, maintaining the fire, storing silver in wood boxes, and loading lead in containers. Wood was scarce in that part of Arizona. Mason and the miner drove wagons a day away to a forest where they collected fuel for the fire.
Heat grew so intense in the smeltery that Edward had to go outside into 95-degree temperatures to cool off.
Edward usually stopped working at dinner time. He walked to Mason's house to enjoy food and the company of Marian and her father. On most days she cooked Mexican cuisine. Edward took delight in the exotic spicy taste and texture of tacos and tamales. He couldn't stop looking at Marian, charmed by her magnetic beauty. She had a sparkling personality and possessed an even temper, teacher competency, and a quick wit.
"Everything you have is doubly hot," she said to Edward, "your work, your food and the outside temperature. We're going to send you up to Flagstaff to cool off."
Father Joseph came frequently and took notice of the growing admiration the young people had for one another. After dinner on walks as the sun set over Carter's hills to the west, Edward began to confide in the priest. He told him of his esteem for Marian, "like a flower," he said, "blooming in the desert." On a buggy drive one Sunday after Mass in the mission chapel, Edward expressed his love for her. She allowed him a warm and loving kiss.
Edward's frequent contact with the father and daughter and dedicated city officials generated in him a fondness for the community. Pure silver he refined, and which Mason used for bartering, contributed to honest transactions. The ore's high value in bars was limited to buying and selling in big business dealings.
For small transactions and to pay employees, the Arizona Mining Company, managed now by Harvey, started issuing silver certificates. Miners flush with three months' back wages spent freely. Most merchants recognized the certificates as legal tender. Uncertainty prevailed, however, and owners held their breath that certificates would hold value when and if a bank reopened.
Certificates, known as silverbacks, eventually passed into the hands of dubious cowhands and the Carter boys.
On some evenings Edward visited saloons and talked with miners and cowpokes alike. Miners tended to talk more than the ranch hands. He liked the natural, unpretentious, and easy ways of the cowpokes. He found miners tended to be practical-minded and sure of themselves. Tensions between them remained high. They kept to themselves in bars and on the street. In their separation Edward saw the physical division as a reasonable caution to prevent conflict. He saw their caution as a possible opening to reconciliation.
Sheriff Kline remained under doctor's care for the shoulder wound. A deputy, Curtis Kincaid, took over. Curtis had a lackadaisical streak and adopted a different view of enforcement, defined by letting the boys have their fun, even some destruction of property.
"It don't do any harm," Kincaid told Mason. "Well, not much anyway. Better let the boys be, and nothing bad will happen."
"We'll see," Mason said.
For a week damages from cowpokes and grizzled miners amounted to a dozen smashed windows, a few broken noses, and complaints from offended women. A clerk in the hardware store was beaten by a drunken mob, he said indignantly, "because I was wearing a string tie."
Kincaid's theory came to a test on a Friday afternoon, payday for the Carter boys in the form of small bags of silver. Miners at the Arizona Mining Company received silver certificates. They came into town in droves to drink and gamble.
At the El Dorado saloon, they kept their distance. Carter's boys took up one end of the bar and filled chairs at several card tables. Miners occupied the other end of the bar. Harvey Gillespie, recovered from his wound, strode up to the open center.
"Whiskey for every miner in this saloon," he ordered. "I'm paying with my father's silver certificates."
Slade Carter, oldest son of the late Wilson Carter, eyed Harvey. The Winchester rifle he used to shoot Sheriff Gillespie lay in front of him. Only his upper half could be seen.
"We oughta burn every piece of that paper money," he said, loud enough for Harvey to hear it. "It ain't worth rolling it up for the outhouse."
Harvey turned to face Slade. Men at the bar stepped back. Harvey had his hand on his holstered pistol. Slade ducked behind the bar out of Harvey's sight. Another Carter son, Eldred, came into view with his six-shooter at ready and fired. The Carter's backup trick worked again. Harvey fell, knocking the spittoon clanging against the brass foot bar.
Miners rushed to Harvey's side. Cowpokes ignored them and continued drinking as if nothing had happened. Harvey was unconscious when miners carried him to the doctor's office.
The incident, so soon after the fatal corral gunfight, was widely reported in Arizona newspapers.
"These gunfights couldn't have happened at a worst time," Mason said. "We've got representatives meeting with territory officials right now in Phoenix. We are asking for help to attract a bank to the city. I learned today a bank might come here if we got serious about law and order."
Mason's declaration aroused Edward's conscience. He heard a voice humming in his ears that prompted him to important conclusions. Silver City, a decent town, had reached a crossroads. People had to stand up to the forces of ignorance and violence that threatened to destroy it. He as a young man had a stake in the community and saw a future for himself. His thinking was simple and honest. His conscience told him he was obliged to take a leading role in restoring law and order.
That evening at dinner he spoke to Father Ross about his vague plan.
"I don't want to kill anyone if I can help it. I've got to get involved."
A learned friar, the priest listened to Edward and advised him to pray hard, be rational about the situation, and seek a reasonable course of action. In the priest's mind he recalled his studies of Plato. The philosopher contended that an individual had a primary responsibility to his community, his family and himself. For Edward, Plato's instruction came innately to him. He understood he was obliged to follow his conscience and do what was right.
In his musings, Edward compared his thinking to the process of cupellation. He spent a hard night trying to refine his thoughts and work out a plan.
* * *
Edward's first job was to gain recognition as a lawman by city fathers and to work with Deputy Kincaid. He convinced Mason of this positive initial step. Mason spoke to city officials who expressed doubt. In desperation they later approved Edward's appointment as deputy. They felt better about him after watching a shooting display in the field behind the jail. Edward, armed with his Colt pistol, mowed down a row of milk bottles and shot tin cans out of the sky. In time they liked his plan to talk things out with the people.
The town newspaper heralded the appointment as a positive move.
"He's got the wherewithal to do what's needed to be done," Mason said.
Marian wasn't convinced. She feared for Edward's life and had visions of street gunfights with the Carters.
"I just gotta do this," Edward said one night after dinner.
Marian admired him for his courage and told him so. She thought about him and spent a sleepless night worrying.
"I don't like it," she told him. "I don't like it at all. But I think I understand."
Marian smiled at Edward and hugged him.
"Come back in one piece."
"I'll do my best."
Winning over Deputy Kincaid proved harder to accomplish. He regarded Edward's deputation as a move to boot him from office. He scoffed at Edward's plan to discuss issues with miners and ranch hands. "They got their own interests and to hell with everybody else."
"We've got to listen first and then show people that this town has a future."
"Well, go ahead," Kincaid said. He questioned whether Edward would last through one night.
By the end of his first week, the city provided Edward with a saddle and a horse, a chestnut stallion reared in Kentucky, her forehead marked with a white star. He named her "Copper" for her color and the symbolic star. He rode her every chance he had.
Edward sensed the miners' practicality offered a good group to start with. He sent a message to the mining company that he wanted to meet with employees on a matter of safety. Harvey, still recovering from his second gunshot wound, approved. A different man now that he had been shot twice, Harvey sent a letter to be read at the gathering. Edward read it and decided to hold the letter until the end of the miners' meeting. He hoped the tone of it would bring about the desired effect.
Mineworkers welcomed the time off. The more perceptive hoped for a return of good and safe times for Silver City. They gathered outside the main office eager to hear what Edward had to say. He detected a willingness to support law enforcement. He surprised the miners by walking on to the office porch dressed in a western-style shirt and wearing a badge and his Colt pistol in a big leather holster.
He knew he had made a good impression when a miner said, "Hey look, the assessor is one of us."
"You are darn right I am one of you. I love this city and want to do everything I can to make it safe."
A few miners cheered.
Several outspoken miners complained about the cowpokes' behavior and stressed the need for a judicial system. Edward spoke for about three minutes and ended with a plea. "What we need more than anything else is unity. Without it, Silver City will crumble and disappear. You can make a difference."
Then he read Harvey's letter.
"Boys," the letter started, "you know that I've not always been the hardest worker in this mine."
Edward stopped reading for those words to sink in with comic effect. After a moment of silence, the miners laughed. Edward laughed, too, and continued.
"I want to promise you here and now that I will be the hardest worker once I am free from the doctor's care. I've learned a bit about life having spent a couple of weeks nursing wounds. This violence and strife among people here will kill us all. Let's stand for unity and safety."
The gathering broke up. Miners strolled away talking among themselves. Edward had a good feeling about the session. Kincaid had expected the worst and said, "Lordy, I am surprised. I thought we'd have to shoot our way out of here."
"They looked like they want a safe town," Edward said, "but you never know when you are dealing with a lot of people."
That night Edward stood up on a chair in the El Dorado and invited all ranch hands to a meeting on the road leading to the Carter ranch. He noted that a few miners were mingling with the cowpokes. He hoped they were talking about the meeting at the mine and had a good opinion about it.
He wrote a letter to the Carters and to owners of five other ranches. Mason and several city fathers hand delivered them. The letters requested owners and ranch hands to meet under the Old Elm near the ranch road at noon on Saturday. Edward rose early that day and rode Copper to Kincaid's room near the stable. The deputy, impressed by his success with the miners, wanted to join in the effort.
The Old Elm stood twenty feet from the road and in sight of the main house of the Carter ranch. The white clapboard two-story frame building stood broken and dilapidated in the shade of ash and elm trees. Ramshackle outbuildings where the ranch hands bunked sat next to a weather-worn barn and corral where a dozen horses roamed. The Carter boys never married. Gossip in Silver City spoke of women living at times at the main house. Lately, the two brothers lived alone in the gloom of the old house. The burial site for old Carter was a mound of fresh earth.
The value of the Carter ranch was undisputed. It comprised ten thousand acres and adjoined other ranches in grasslands apart from the desert country.
Neither Slade nor Eldred Carter had responded to Edward's letter. Several other ranch owners sent notes back saying they planned to attend and bring their ranch hands. When Edward and Kincaid arrived on their horses, the crowd was scattered around the elm tree. Mason and a few city officials stood at the trunk of the elm. Mason hired a fiddler who played "Goodbye Old Paint, I'm a-leavin' Cheyenne," which aroused a few singers and a lot of foot tapping.
Edward looked over the crowd of fifty ranchers and cowpokes and immediately understood the audience differed from the miners. They were an independent lot, dressed in a variety of clothing. Some wore wide brim hats of various types and colors. Edward saw hats with huge ballooning crowns and even a few derbies. From past sessions in the saloon, he noted the cowpokes didn't talk much and gave no clues as to how they felt. Today was no exception.
As soon as the music died down, a ranch owner spoke up. "We're for anything that brings law and order to the city. I don't like taxes, but I feel this way. We've got to pay for a larger police force. Taxes are a good way to pay for better law enforcement. We need to let people know that we mean business."
A tall, stringy cowboy arose and said, "We don't get paid enough to do this job and the food is just horrible."
Edward asked for the floor at that point.
"Your salaries are a matter between you and your bosses. We don't want to drag that cat into our situation. Let's keep the subject to law enforcement. I like the idea the owner raises here. Hire more lawmen and pay them to keep the town safe. If a tax is needed, let's get it done."
City officials nodded to the suggestion. Mason said he would bring up the matter of more lawmen at the next meeting. With that, the gathering dispersed. Edward couldn't say for certain how the cowmen were reacting. Nevertheless, he had a good feeling about it. On horseback returning to town, Edward and Kincaid rode at a slow pace.
"The Carter boys stared at the speakers and hardly said a word to anyone," Edward said. "They left the meeting quickly. I don't know what to make of it. I don't like it though."
"If you ask me, they are the source of all the trouble. The old man was as mean as a cougar, and you couldn't trust him out of your sight."
"You are probably right. If we could get the Carters on our side—"
Edward didn't finish the sentence. A bullet struck Kincaid in the back at the left shoulder, another whizzed past Edward's head. Kincaid dropped from his horse as if he had been shoved. He lay on the ground exerting to remain conscious. Edward slipped from Copper and dragged the deputy behind a boulder as the horses scattered. Another two shots came from the same direction and ricocheted off the boulder.
The thunderous sound of a multitude of horses vibrated in the dry air. Two dozen men on horseback massed on the road. Mason and city officials were joined by miners and cowpokes volunteering as deputies. They dispersed into rock formations and behind scrawny trees, taking cover where they could. Edward watched the Confederate sourdough drive the riderless horses over a hill to safety.
Mason yelled, "Edward, you alright?"
"I'm alright. Kincaid is shot in the back."
Behind a boulder on the other side of the road the Carter boys crouched down and looked at each other. The sudden arrival of Mason and others scared them and put them on the defensive.
"We don't stand a chance," Slade said. "Let's make a break for it."
Eldred got up and fired toward Edward's hiding place. It was his last move. A cowpoke volunteer, nearest to the Carters, opened fire and dropped the pair where they stood.
Mason declared, "All clear!"
The horsemen rode into Silver City, the bodies of the Carter boys draped over horses. Kincaid rode next to Edward, still hurt but smiling that he survived.
"It's over," Mason said to a crowd gathered outside the El Dorado. "We've got volunteers to expand our law enforcement. More than that, I think we have the start of a unified city."
The people cheered.
Edward took off his badge, unbuckled the gun belt, and carried it toward the Emporium. Marian was waiting on the porch.
"Your father said it is over. I'm glad. I didn't have to shoot anybody."
"You're better off refining silver."
"Yup," he said, mimicking the response of a Westerner.