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.

* * *

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

Wild Bill: Dead Man's Hand
by W. Wm. Mee

Deadwood, 1876

Dakota Territory

The original interview between gambler/gunman/adventurer James Butler Hickok and reporter/novelist/bullshitter Ned Buntline took place in the frontier town of Deadwood. At that time Deadwood was the Sodom and Gomorra of the 'Old West'; a lawless and godless gold mining town in the Black Hills of the Dakota Territory. As fate would have it, on August 2nd, 1876, just a few weeks after the interview, Hickok himself was killed in Nuttal & Mann's No. 10 Saloon; shot in the back of the head while playing poker by a cowardly little shit called Jack McCall. The cards he was holding at the time were aces and eights, all black—ever since then called the 'Dead Man's Hand'.

Ned Buntline, using a great deal of imagination and considerable 'poetic license', later went on to 'immortalize' the gunman's words and deeds in a series of dime novels that were a great success with, as Bill himself would have undoubtedly put it, those 'fancy dressed assholes back East'! What follows is a short exert from one of those dime novels.

* * *

Wild Bill's voice was gravelly from too much whiskey and too little sleep—yet his piercing blue eyes were still clear and bright and had had not yet started to deteriorate due to Glaucoma.

"Ya see, Mr. Butt-line, it don't really matter much if a feller's got one gun or two, or how fancy his pistola is or even how fast he clears leather with it," Wild Bill leaned closer to the reporter and fixed him with that famous steely stare. "What really matters, sir, is does the aforesaid shooter have the balls to actually stand there n' take proper aim while the other feller's shootin' at him!"

Bill held his glass up to a vagrant shaft of sunlight that had somehow trespassed into the dimly lit saloon. The amber liquid seemed to catch fire. "And it is my experience, Mr. Butt-line, that very few men have the balls to do so."

Buntline, his whole obsession with the 'fast draw gunfighter' having suddenly been shattered, somehow managed to ask. "But—but isn't the fastest man always going to win?!"

Bill downed his drink and poured another before answering. As he did so those piercing blue eyes automatically scanned the room for any sign of trouble. As was his want, Wild Bill sat with his back to the wall, facing the salon doorway whenever he could. "Ned . . . ," he said, running the back of his hand over his ample moustache. "May I call you familiar, sir?"

"Why—I'd be honored, Mr. Hickok," Buntline replied, blushing slightly, his pencil poised.

"Well, Ned, it's like this. A fella that draws too fast is in an awful rush. His heart's poundin', his palm's sweatin' n' his breathin's bad. Most time he shoots low the first shot n' high the second. By the time he's ready for his third, I nail the bastard dead center."

"Right between the eyes?" Buntline asked, knowing his audience would love the gore.

Wild Bill downed his drink and smiled. "Hell no! Ned, only a damned id'jet tries fer a head shot when bracin' a fella intent on killin' him! No—I go for right here," he said, tapping himself in the center of his chest. "Either that or the gut. I leave the 'fancy' shootin' to fools, farmers—n' dime store novelists like yourself!"

"But, Mr. Hickok . . . ." Buntline said, still in shock.

"Ned," the long haired gunman said while refilling his glass: "Kindly favor me by calling me Bill."

Buntline nodded. "Bill? Certainly Mr. Hickok! But what if—Bill—the fastest man doesn't miss?!"

The twinkle was once again back in those piercing blue eyes. "Well then, Ned, I guess this big novel yer fixin' to write 'bout me will be a much smaller book."

Just then the saloon's double doors swing wide and two determined looking men burst in—both with weapons in their hands.

As Buntline was later to learn, these two were Frank and Cyrus Slatter from Dodge City, Kansas. The Slatter brothers were hard, mean, no-goods who consider themselves to be 'gunmen'—and often hired out as such to anyone willing to pay their price—which, as rumor had it, was none too high. Frank and Cyrus also had a younger brother named Albert. Now Brother Albert considered himself to be a true 'sporting man' and favored cards over guns—along with good whiskey and bad women. Unfortunately, during a friendly game of poker a week or so earlier, a fifth ace had miraculously turned up. A dispute arose, guns were drawn and Wild Bill had been forced to dispatch young Albert then and there. Witnesses said that Albert drew first, but that his shot went wide. Bill's however obviously hadn't. Apparently the Slatter brothers considered their younger sibling's death to be nothing short of murder and had rode over from Dodge seeking revenge.

On the long ride over they shared several jars of Kentucky moonshine they had brought along to both ward off the chill and shore up their courage. Now, standing in the muddy thoroughfare just outside of Nuttal & Man's No. 10 Saloon, they finished off the last jar. Both men had several weapons about their person, but each brother's preferred firearm was already in their hand as they entered the saloon.

Brother Frank carried a fairly new but poorly cared for .45 caliber Scofield Top-Break pistol that he'd taken off one of his victims. Brother Cyrus, always content to let Brother Frank do the 'up close killin', favored a Sharp's .50 caliber buffalo rifle for those longer, and considerably safer, shots. This time, however, Cyrus was both impatient and drunk, ('Never a good combination when any killing was planned,' Bill was later to remark). The elder Slatter, his massive rifle held ready, brushed by Brother Frank and into No. 10 Saloon.

* * *

Another factor that Wild Bill considered important about being a 'shootist' was distance—as in how far away you were from your intended 'target'. For Bill, who, in his 'latter days' was rumored to have suffered from failing eyesight, the closer the better.

"Ya see, Mr. Butt-line," Bill had told the eager young reporter at an earlier interview back when Bill was marshal of Abilene, Kansas: "Most fellers not only rush their shots n' don't aim proper, but they start shootin' from too damn far away!"

Bill's hand moved slightly and was suddenly filled with one of his legendary ivory handled Navy Colts. Like a slight of hand artist walking a silver dollar across his knuckles, Bill half cocked the long barreled revolver, rolled the fluted cylinder up his other forearm, twirled the gun twice in a glittering silver arc and, uncocking it, lovingly laid the weapon on the table before him.

"Most pistols, Ned, no matter how well made, are good for twenty, maybe thirty yards at best. After that, their accuracy goes all to hell. At fifty yards, most folks can't hit a barn door painted red. Now some fellers will claim they can shoot glass balls n' such when tossed in the air, but their either full of shit or they're usin' birdshot. Probably both!"

Nervous about offending Hickok, Buntline had licked his lips and posed his next question as delicately as he could. "I'm sure my readers back East, ah, would be interested to hear about what you . . . ah, consider your 'best shot'—ah, if you don't mind, sir."

Bill suddenly leaned in close and smiled. "You askin' 'bout my 'best shot', Ned, or my 'longest' one?"

"Well, ah—would they not be one and the same?"

Bill shook his head, his long blond curls framing his weathered face. "No, sir, Ned! They are not the same thing t'all! I believe I made my longest shot back during the civil war. I was giving what little comfort I could to a wider lady when I heard a ruckus from out back in the henhouse. Lookin' out the winder, I saw that some lowlife rebel scum was stealin' the lady's chickens! I yelled at him to leave the foul be, but he foolishly chose to ignore my warning. It were fifty-six yards from that lady's bedroom winder to her chicken coop. The rebel thief, a bird under each arm, was attemptin' to climb over the back fence, so he was a might further. I needed three shots to bring him down—but bring him down I did!"

"You mean, Mister Hi—, er, Bill, that this 'feller' was unarmed and running away from you when you shot him?"

Bill downed his drink, flicked his trigger finger over both sides of his considerable moustache, and poured himself another drink. "He had a pistol on him but he was too occupied at the time to use it. However he was told to 'desist his thievery'. Besides, Ned, everyone know that a person who will steal a chicken will also steal a horse—n'a horse thief is the worst kinda feller!"

Buntline was scribbling furiously when Bill downed his drink and launched into his next tale.

"Now my best shot was just outside the Bore's Head Saloon in Hayes City, Missooua. That'n was well under thirty yards. Probably closer to twenty. I'd been playin' poker all night n' was goin' out fer a Sunday mornin' ride with a local lady when a mule skinner, drunk as a skunk n' twice as smelly, started shootin' at me right there in the crowded street! He was blastin' away with a big ol' Colt Dragoon, all the time yellin' 'bout how I had 'killed his little brother, Lenny.' I don't recall shotin' no Lenny, but then, ya never know—seein' as how there's been so many. Anyway, the damn muleskinner had already hit a stray dog, wounded two pedestrians and killed my horse—a beast that I had come to love n' cherish! Well, I'll be damned if the poor thing didn't fall right on me, pinnin' me to that muddy street! So there I was, my legs stuck under my dead horse, my pistol drawn, just waitin' for that sumovabitch to show his-self!"

Bill paused and leaned forward, as though he was about to impart an important secret. "Ned, that mule skinner was indeed one cowardly bastard, 'cause when he did show his-self round the rump of my dead horse, he was usin' a town woman as a 'shield'! She weren't no frail little granny, neither, but a well fed, church-goin' woman of considerable girth! With her long skirts n' crinolines n' such, there weren't a hellova lot o' that mule-skinnin' bastard showin'!"

Bill reached out, and grabbed the half empty bottle, splashed some of the amber liquid into Buntline's already full glass and filled his own to the brim. Downing it in one gulp, his recharged his again and set the bottle down, his other hand automatically flicking over his moustache in the process.

Buntline, his own drink forgotten, asked the obvious question. "What—what happened next?!"

Bill's blue eyes twinkled. "I shot the bastard in the head, naturally! My first shot blew off his left ear. When he jerked away, I nailed him with the second one right betwixt his eyes."

"But Bill! You might have hit the woman! How could you possible take such a chance?!"

Wild Bill's blue eyes suddenly went ice cold. "Ned. The bastard shot my horse!"

* * *

(Comment by Ned Buntline):

Yet another point of interest must be noted here for all the readers who hunger for the tiniest of minutia dealing with the 'Wild West'. Bill Hickok favored the 1851 model Navy Colt.

In the late 1860's and early 70's, when most hand guns were being converted from the time consuming 'cap and ball' revolvers to the much faster, self contained, breach loading brass cartridge, Wild Bill stuck with his old pair of Navy Colts.

The 'Navy' is a lighter, smaller handgun in .36 caliber, and, in Mr. Hickok's opinion, (backed up by numerous 'documented encounters' by this reporter), a smaller, lighter weapon allows a faster, smoother draw and, more importantly, a more accurate shot. The 'cap n' ball' revolvers such as Colt's Dragoons, the massive Walker and the 1860 Army, as well as all Remington's are either .44 or .45 caliber and kick like a mule. The newer, breach loading handguns, including the famous, short barreled 1873 'Peacemaker', though much faster to load, are also all .45's and just as prone to being inaccurate.

As Wild Bill once put it to this reporter over drinks in Tombstone Arizona:

'My brace o' Navy Colts served me well 'nough durin' the War. Kilt me more'n my share of rebel scum n' then some! Don't see no need to change somethin' that already works damned good! Besides, a smaller caliber don't, kick like a bastard, spoil a feller's aim n' need a damned fencepost to rest it on!"

* * *

Now, back to Deadwood and the Slatter Brothers at No. 10 Saloon.

On that hot, dusty day in late July, 1876, a very angry and very drunk Cyrus Slatter burst through the saloon's double doors, spied Wild Bill sitting at the far end of the rather long, crowded room, raised his .50 caliber buffalo gun and fired. The report of the massive weapon, especially from inside, struck the ears like a thunderclap!

The waitress screamed, the bartender swore and half the men present dove for the floor, while the other half went for their guns! Bill, it seemed, was the only one to stay calm, even though the large slug had whistled by his golden locks. The heavy bullet passed through the plank wall behind Bill, traversed the narrow alley and continued on through both the rear wall and the upper chest of Deadwood's only lawyer, P.F. Daghurt of Wichita Kansas. The above mentioned barrister was killed instantly.

Back in #10, slowly, almost casually, Wild Bill drew one of his legendary Navy Colts, aimed and fired. This reporter later paced out the distance and found it to be approximately fifty-five feet across a crowded, smoke filled room!

Frank Slatter, close on his brother's heels, saw Cyrus stagger back, drop his Sharps, gasp out a last breath, then crumple on top of his discarded rifle. In a white rage Frank raised his pistol and started walking briskly towards Wild Bill, firing as he came. Having his Scofield already drawn allowed Frank to miss not once, but thrice before Wild Bill aimed carefully and shot his second attacker squarely in his black heart.

As Wild Bill had explained earlier, Frank's stolen Scofield was a .45 and did indeed 'kick like a bastard'—and as such, helped to spoil his aim while Bill's lighter Navy's hadn't.

"Be thee 'fearless under fire', Ned, and thee shall prevail!" Wild Bill had once told Buntline. "I learned that fightin' bloody rebels in the late war. 'Course," he said with a twinkle in his sky blue eyes: "it never hurts to be a little lucky as well!"

The End

Wayne Mee is a retired English teacher that has always loved writing. He has a number of his stories and a novel self-published electronically, but nothing in the older, 'traditional way.'

He hopes you enjoyed meeting 'his Bill'.

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