June, 2023

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Issue #165

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!

Dodge City
by Lily Tierney
When a group of gunslingers meet up to rob a bank, whatever can go wrong does. There is no honor among thieves, and they all knew that too well.

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Red Valley
by Erin Donoho
Seeking water on his way through the California desert, Ross soon finds himself, along with another traveler named Al, at the mercy of two mysterious women. But when Al hears of nearby gold, his friendly intentions seem to change, and Ross knows the women are in grave danger.

* * *

Prairie Rose
by Clay Gish
In a swirl of dust, three riders bore down on Mary's stagecoach. "Hellfire damnation!" With the bandits charging fast, Mary aimed her shotgun and blasted the closest rider. She had to protect the mining company's payroll and her precious cargo—the bishop of the newly minted state of Montana.

* * *

The Funeral Suit
by Bobby Mathews
Madge witnessed Cullen Grayson's ritual every year: On his birthday, the old man donned his best—and only—suit, and waited to be challenged to a gunfight by someone new. But this year the custom endangered Madge's one chance at love so it was time for the game to end—one way or another.

* * *

Wild Bill: Dead Man's Hand
by W. Wm. Mee
The notorious gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok was sitting with well known dime novelist Ned Buntline discussing the details of Bill's "latest book." Abruptly, the Slatter brothers burst through the door with their guns drawn. The crowd scattered as Bill slowly stood up to face his fierce-eyed attackers.

* * *

The Rememberer
by Ralph S. Souders
Ben Watson observes a cowboy standing at the other end of the bar and he looks familiar. Ben has seen him before, but where or when? Something about the man makes his hackles rise. Ben must try to remember who the man is.

* * *

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All the Tales

The Rememberer
by Ralph S. Souders

The summer heat had arrived early in Colorado that year. The crops were already sown in the fields and the first plants were beginning to sprout. These gave the farmlands a soft, green tint when observed from the area roadways. This color would become darker as the growing season progressed and the plants grew larger. The rains to date had been more than adequate and Ben Watson was hopeful that this trend would continue. This was his first summer working his small farm south of Wide River. His property was leveraged at the bank, and he was hoping for a strong harvest to begin reducing some of his debt. Farming is a finicky business as even the best farmers are totally dependent on the weather, a force totally outside of their control. Ben was optimistic that the good weather would extend through the growing season. He was also a realist. He planned to continue working hard and hoped that he would have plenty of grain in storage come autumn.

Ben Watson had been in Wide River on business that morning. He had met with the bank to discuss a small, second loan to purchase some cattle. The property to the north of his farm was a small ranch owned by Will Dickerson, a middle-aged widower with no plans to remarry. Will's major focus in life was his property which he had named the Diamond D Bar Ranch. He had worked hard to make it prosperous. Will had recently offered Ben the opportunity to graze some cattle on the Diamond D Bar. Ben's cattle would carry a separate brand to distinguish them from the Dickerson herd. Ben was interested in this proposition, and he had prepared a short business plan for submittal to the bank. The bank seemed generally receptive to the idea. Ben was by no means fully leveraged with them and he anticipated their positive decision in the near term.

Following his meeting at the bank, Ben left his horse tied to the hitching post in front of the bank and walked up the dirt street to the Northern Lights Saloon. There he stepped onto the boardwalk before walking across it and entering the saloon through the swinging, wooden doors. He continued across the barroom floor until he reached the long, wooden bar located against the back wall. He felt excited and optimistic following his meeting at the bank and he was planning to celebrate with a couple glasses of whiskey before returning home. The bartender had seen him enter the room and was already positioned to pour him a drink.

"Afternoon, Charlie," said Ben. "Rye whiskey."

"Sure thing, Ben," he replied. Charlie immediately placed a clean glass on the bar and poured the drink. Charlie liked Ben. He gave his friend a generous pour.

"Thanks, Charlie," quipped Ben. "You're gonna empty that bottle right quick if you ain't careful."

"Don't worry," laughed Charlie. "That's a house pour. The top shelf bottles pour slower."

Ben smiled, enjoying the bartender's humor. He had already decided that he would limit himself to either two drinks or thirty minutes of time, whichever came first. He had promised his wife that he would return in time to complete a couple of projects on the farm that day. He liked to keep his promises.

As the bartender moved away to serve another customer, Ben noticed three cowboys standing together at the end of the bar. He had seen them in town previously, usually together but sometimes one or another would be by himself. He had never paid them much attention, but today he found himself focusing on one of the three, a taller man standing between the other two. The tall man's associates were gruff looking characters, both wearing dark clothes and black hats, and both in need of a shave and a haircut. The tall man was also wearing dark attire, but he was clean shaven, and his hair had been recently trimmed. His hat was a grey Stetson. All three men wore relatively new boots on their feet and .38 caliber handguns on their hips. Ben assumed that their horses were tied out front. Ben had never previously more than glanced at their faces. However, in taking a longer look today, he suddenly had the eirie feeling that he knew the tall man from somewhere. He was certain of this, but he could not immediately recall from when or from where. He began pondering this thought in his mind.

Before too long, the bartender returned. Ben quickly swallowed what remain of his first drink and watched as Charlie poured a generous refill. Charlie certainly knew how to take care of his friends.

"Thanks again, Charlie," said Ben. "I'm much obliged."

"It's nothing," replied Charlie. "It's great to see you. You should come around more often."

"Yeah, I wish I could," Ben agreed, "but my little farm keeps me busy. There's always something that needs doing. It's hard for me to get away."

Charlie nodded his head in understanding. He had never lived on a farm, and he could only imagine how much work was required in operating one. He admired the dedication that the area farmers showed in managing and maintaining their properties.

"Let me ask you something," said Ben, changing the subject while lowering his voice. "Who's the three cowboys drinking at the end of the bar? Do you know them?

"Not really," replied Charlie. "They come in here most afternoons. They don't talk much to anyone, just among themselves. They'll usually have several shots of whiskey and then they're on their way. Seems I heard they live on a ranch somewhere west of here, but I don't know exactly which one. Why do you ask?"

"Just curious, that's all," replied Ben. "Seems like I know the tall one from someplace, but I don't remember where. I'm probably mistaken. This wouldn't be the first time."

Charlie could tell by Ben's facial expression that his friend did not really believe that he was mistaken.

"Tell you what," said Charlie. "Let me poke around a bit and see what I can find out."

"No," admonished Ben. "That's not necessary. They don't appear to be the friendliest bunch. No need to stir up trouble. Leave it be."

"Don't worry about me," Charlie replied with a smile. "I'm good at this. It goes with my job. Come back here later and maybe I'll have your answer for you."

With that, Charlie walked away, needing to serve a couple of riders who had just entered the bar. Ben finished his drink and set his empty glass on the bar. He placed some money beside his glass. He waved good-bye to Charlie as he turned and headed toward the door.

"Thanks, Charlie," he called to his friend. "I'll try to stop by tomorrow. See you then."

Charlie nodded in affirmation as he prepared to pour the two riders their drinks.

Ben left the bar and walked back down the street, untied his horse and climbed onto the saddle. He pointed his mount in a southerly direction and rode out of town toward his farm. They would be home in thirty minutes. As the horse trotted through the countryside, Ben continued to think about the tall man in the saloon. There was something about him. If only he could remember.

That evening after completing his projects and eating dinner, Ben sat with his wife, Miriam, on the front porch of their small farmhouse. He was enjoying an after-dinner whiskey with a couple of hand rolled cigarettes. She was doing some sewing, repairing some of Ben's summer work shirts. She would begin making his winter shirts before too long. As they sat there in silence, enjoying the warm summer weather, Ben contemplated the tall man he had seen in the saloon that afternoon. It was a strange feeling, being certain that he recognized the man but not quite knowing where he had seen him. Upon retiring to bed that evening, he slept well but while awakening twice from a deep sleep, the first thoughts to enter his mind were of the tall man in the saloon. He was quickly becoming weary of this. Come morning, his inability to recall this detail was beginning to aggravate him, thus trying his memory further.

Throughout the morning while working in his field, Ben thought about the former times in his life. He had been in Colorado seven years including this one year on his own farm. Until recently, he had never seen this man locally. Previously, Ben had spent his teen years in Minnesota where he had lived with his uncle's family following the death of his father. He had no recollections of the tall man being in Minnesota. Prior to that, as a young boy, he had lived near Ottumwa, Iowa, but again, had no memory of seeing the tall man there either. Ben was becoming increasingly frustrated, and he tried unsuccessfully to divert his mind to other things. By mid-afternoon, with his chores for the day finished, he decided to ride into town and visit with his bartender friend, Charlie, as he had planned. He was interested to know if Charlie had investigated and learned anything about the three men who had been in the saloon yesterday. Ben was not expecting to find that Charlie had been successful.

As Ben arrived back in Wide River, he tied his horse to the hitching post in front of the Northern Lights and went inside. The saloon was not very crowded, but it was becoming late afternoon and the evening crowd would begin to accumulate before too long. As Ben walked across the floor toward the bar, Charlie saw him and placed a clean glass on the counter.

"Rye whiskey?" asked Charlie, already grabbing a bottle from the shelf."

"Yeah, of course," replied Ben a smile. "I reckon that's one thing that'll never change."

The bartender smiled in return and poured his friend a drink.

"Thanks, Charlie," said Ben as he took his first sip. Ben loved the taste of whiskey, and he briefly savored the bite of the liquid before swallowing. His face contained a contented smile.

"So, Ben," said Charlie, "I tried speaking with those three cowboys yesterday. They're not the friendliest bunch. They seem to be in their own gang."

"I'm not too surprised to hear that" replied Ben. "What happened?"

"When they were ready for another round of drinks, I approached them with the bottle in my hand and offered them a round on the house since they've become regular customers. They let me fill their shot glasses but instead of acknowledging the drinks or saying thanks, they stood there and stared at me, leaving the drinks setting on the bar. The expressions on their faces were cold and it appeared that they wanted me to mosey along. It was awkward and I wasn't sure what to do.

"Did you move along?" asked Ben.

"No, I stayed there and tried to start a conversation. I asked them where they were from. They told me Kansas City. I asked them where they were staying around here. The tall guy interjected that I seemed to ask a lot of questions and that maybe I should mind my own business. He said that nosey people have tendencies to get themselves hurt or killed. He suggested that I might want to keep that fact in mind."

"Really?" asked Ben. "I wouldn't have thought that you'd get a reaction like that to such an innocent question."

"Nor did I," replied Charlie. "It makes one wonder if maybe they're not so innocent."

"Perhaps you're right," agreed Ben as he considered the words that the bartender had just spoken. Perhaps they are hiding from something.

Suddenly, Ben had a thought as to where he might have previously seen the tall man. He was surprised that he would remember this. Years earlier while still in his pre-teens, he and one of his buddies used to occasionally visit the sheriff's office in Ottumwa and look at the Wanted posters pinned to a bulletin board on the wall. The men on these posters were criminals wanted by the law for committing serious crimes. He wondered if perhaps he had seen the tall man's visage on one of the posters.

Remembering the time frame of when he had read these posters, Ben believes that it was during 1868 or 1869. The sheriff would leave the posters on his wall until receiving notification that the at-large criminals had been arrested or killed. Others would be removed when they became several years old, even though the criminals had not been reported as apprehended. By that time, all leads to the whereabouts of these men had become cold and the odds of receiving additional assistance or hints from the public were unlikely. The sheriff would not dispose of these old posters. He would keep them on file in his cabinet in case he might need them for future reference.

Ben finished his drink and then had another. By this time, the saloon was becoming more crowded. As he prepared to leave, he left some money beside his glass and waved goodbye to the bartender.

"Thanks, Charlie," he said. "I'll be seeing you."

"You too, my friend," replied Charlie. "Take care."

As Ben left the bar through the swinging, wooden doors, he walked across the outside boardwalk and stepped into the dirt street. He left his horse tied to the hitching post and walked across the street to the sheriff's office. Sheriff Larson was sitting behind his desk studying a map of some location in the general area. He stopped working as his visitor entered the office. He appeared pleased to be taking a short break from whatever it was that he had been doing,"

"Howdy, Jim," said Ben as he entered the room. "Do you have a minute."

"Sure thing," replied the sheriff. "What's on your mind."

Ben informed the sheriff that he believed he recognized a man in the area who had been featured on a Wanted poster many years earlier. If this was the same man, then he was still at-large from the law. Ben expected that the sheriff would want to know this. He was not surprised to find that Sheriff Larson utilized a similar filing system to the one utilized by the sheriff in Iowa. He removed a stack of posters from a drawer in his filing cabinet and placed it in front of Ben.

"Have at it," said the sheriff. "If there's an open Wanted poster issued for this guy, it will be in this stack. If it isn't there, it means one of two things. Either a poster was never issued, or he has already been apprehended and served his time for the crimes he committed. If the latter is the case, the poster has been discarded." The sheriff sat back and watched as Ben got started on his project.

Ben quickly realized that the posters were stacked in chronological order with the oldest poster on the very bottom and the newest posters on the top. He immediately placed aside the more recent posters and within a few minutes, located the posters dated in 1869. He began to review these slowly and carefully, wanting to make certain that he would not overlook the poster that he was seeking. Sure enough, in less than fifteen minutes of time, he found it. It was dated February 15, 1869. The criminal's name was Nathan MacGregory. He was wanted for armed robbery, physical assault and homicide in both Indiana and Illinois. Among his murder victims were a bank teller and a security guard. Ben proudly removed the poster from the stack and handed it to the sheriff.

"Are you sure about this?" asked Sheriff Larson with a hint of skepticism in his voice.

"Am I one hundred percent positive?" replied Ben. "No, I'm not. But I'm probably ninety percent sure that the man who was in the Northern Lights is this same guy." He then informed Jim that the tall man had threatened Charlie, the bartender, for asking him where he lived. "That's awfully odd behavior, I'd say."

"Yeah, I agree," said the sheriff. "I reckon that I need to check this out. Thanks for bringing this to my attention."

"Just trying to be a good citizen," replied Ben. "He and his partners seem to be in the saloon most weekday afternoons. You can probably find him there then."

The sheriff nodded his head in understanding. "Good to know. I'll investigate this for sure. Thanks again."

With that, Ben left the sheriff's office and headed back across the street. A couple of minutes later, he was riding out of town and headed for home. He was pleased that his meeting with the sheriff had gone well. He intended to return tomorrow afternoon in time to follow the sheriff into the Northern Lights. Hopefully, the tall man and his sidekicks would be there then.

The next afternoon, Ben arrived in Wide River just before four o'clock. He tied his horse to the hitching post outside the saloon and took a quick look over the swinging, wooden doors to see if the gang might be inside. They were. He was excited to see them standing at the end of the bar. Confident that they had not noticed him standing outside the doors, Ben walked across the street and notified the sheriff. Jim had already prepared a plan for this eventuality, and upon being informed of the situation, he immediately began the process of putting his plan into action.

The sheriff went up the street and deputized two businessmen who typically assisted him in situations when he needed support. The deputies entered the Northern Lights and took seats at the poker table located nearest the bar, acting as though they were early arrivals for a card game. Ben was next sent into the saloon to discretely inform the bartender that the sheriff was coming within the next few minutes. Ben bought a drink and carried it to the poker table located nearest to the front doors where he sat down facing the bar. Charlie then subtly entered the manager's office and informed the saloon owner, Clint Meyers, of the developing situation. A minute or so later, Clint inconspicuously walked across the saloon and ascended the stairway to the second floor. Until now, the three men were paying no attention to the activity happening around them.

Once the sheriff's team was positioned, Jim Larsen entered the saloon and halted just a few feet inside the swinging, wooden doors. Holding his hand on the handle of his holstered gun, he located the three men standing at the end of the bar. They had turned their bodies toward the front doors and their eyes were focused on the sheriff.

"You three," called out Jim in a loud voice. "Take your guns out of your holsters and place them on the bar. Do it now!"

Simultaneously, Ben and the two deputies, sitting at separate tables, drew their handguns and pointed the barrels at the three men. Charlie pulled a shotgun from beneath the bar and aimed it at the men while Clint Meyers aimed a rifle at them from the second-floor railing above. At this point, the sheriff ordered everyone else out of the saloon, all of whom immediately exited through the front doors. The three men were in a hopeless position, both outgunned and surrounded. They hesitated for a minute.

"Now!" repeated Jim Larsen. "Do as I say. Go for your guns and you won't live long enough to regret it."

The three men slowly removed the guns from their holsters and placed them on the bar. They then raised their hands above their heads. Charlie collected their guns off the bar. With the handguns of the sheriff, the two deputies and Ben Watson fixed on them, the captives were walked out of the saloon, across the street and into the sheriff's office without incident. Once inside the sheriff's office, they were herded into the jail cell and the cell door was locked behind them. They were in a state of shock, having had no inkling at all as to why this was happening.

"What's goin' on?" asked the tall man in an angry tone. "We ain't done nothin'."

"Yeah," protested one of the others. "This must be some kinda' mistake."

"We'll see about that," replied Jim. "I'll be talking to each of you separately in the morning. If you haven't done anything wrong, you've got nothing to worry about. Otherwise, I'll wire the U.S. Marshal in Fort Collins to come over here and fetch you. This will all be decided by this time tomorrow."

"What're the charges?" protested the tall man. "You can't jail us with no cause?"

"I'm holding you on outstanding felony warrants from Indiana and Illinois. Your friends are being held as suspected accomplices. It's all perfectly legal. Don't worry. You'll get your day in court."

"You're makin' a big mistake," warned the tall man. "You'll see."

"No, I believe it's you who's made the mistake," replied the sheriff. "You should've stayed out of my town. You three might as well sit down and relax some. I suspect you're going to be here a while."

The sheriff hung the jail cell key on the wall directly beside his desk, far out of the prisoners' reach. He also arranged to have guards monitor the prisoners around the clock. These three men would not be going anywhere any time soon.

It was now time for Ben Watson to head back to his farm. He had put off some chores today and he had some catching up to do. Nevertheless, he was proud to have assisted the sheriff in this matter and he believed that he had enhanced his profile in the town. He liked Wide River, and he was anxious to be a responsible member of the community.

The next day during his interviews with the prisoners, and after exchanging several telegrams with the U.S. Marshal, Sheriff Larsen determined that the tall man was, in fact, the fugitive, Nathan MacGregory. The other two men, Norm Larabee and Mack Keating, were career criminals with extensive records in Kansas and Nebraska. They had been riding with MacGregory for several months and their gang was suspected of several additional crimes. The U.S. Marshal planned to arrive in Wide River the day after next, when he would take possession of the prisoners. He planned to take them to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where they would face trial for the federal crimes that they had committed. While in his custody, the marshal was confident that he would be able to finally close several other open crimes that had been unsolved for some time.

That following week, Ben rode into town one afternoon and tied his horse to the hitching post outside the Northern Lights. Going inside, he walked to the bar. Charlie poured a glass of rye whiskey as soon as he observed his friend entering the room.

"Here you go, Ben," he said. "This one's on the house. I think you earned it last week."

"Thanks, Charlie," replied Ben. "That was some afternoon, wasn't it? That's the most excitement I've had in a long time."

"Yeah, me too," agreed Charlie. "This place is usually much more laid back.

Ben nodded his head. "Yeah," he replied, "I'm sure it is."

The saloon was not crowded. Charlie poured himself a drink, something that he seldom did, and the two friends stood on opposite sides of the bar and visited together. They enjoyed a good conversation before the late afternoon crowd began wandering into the saloon. It was then time for Charlie to get back to work. Leaving some money on the bar, Ben left the saloon and headed for home. The weather was beautiful, and the evening was going to be nice. He looked forward to spending it on the front porch of his farmhouse with his wife, Miriam. He would be meeting with Will Dickerson at the Diamond D Bar Ranch in the morning. He enjoyed being a gentleman farmer. Life was good.

The End

Ralph S. Souders is an American author of suspense and literary fiction. He has written three novels; Hans Becker's Family, Ursula's Shadow and Lost in the Water. He has also written a movie script and his short stories have appeared in Frontier Tales, Gadfly Online and The Penmen Review magazines. He is a graduate of the University of Central Florida. He is happily married to his wife of thirty-five years. They are now retired and live in Middle Tennessee. His website is www.ralphssouders.com.

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