by Jack Wallace
J.T. heard the beat of horses' hooves as he walked from the barn up the hill to his farmhouse. He stopped in the path and watched two riders appear in the late twilight of the spring evening. The horses were breathing heavily, their hides white with dried sweat, their legs speckled with mud.
"Hello," he called out and raised his lantern high. As they drew closer, he saw the riders' pants and their long duster coats were wet.
The riders stopped about ten feet away and dismounted. The shorter man had his hat pushed back above his haggard face. The taller rider seemed to almost stagger from exhaustion as he held onto the saddle, leaning against his tired horse. His hat was pulled low and his face was hidden as he looked at the house, then back towards the barn. Both men wore dirty clothes.
"Can a man have a place to bed down tonight?" The shorter rider asked. "We've ridden a long way and our horses need some rest."
"I reckon we can take care of you and your horses overnight," J.T. said. "You might need a little nourishment, from the looks of you. I'll check with the wife to see if she can warm up some beans."
J.T. led them toward the barn. His farm sloped away from the Mississippi River, with his frame house on the high ground and the fields in the river bottomland. The rich black soil produced a good crop of corn, cotton, and tobacco unless the spring floods wiped them out.
"You can put your horses in the pen next to the barn. There's water in the trough, and you will find some hay in the barn. Here, take this lantern."
"Much obliged," said the shorter man.
J.T. turned and continued up the rise towards the simple whitewashed farmhouse. He saw Martha silhouetted by the lantern light inside as she stood in the front doorway. Jimmy's head was poking around the edge of the door.
"Are those two men staying the night?" she said as J.T. stepped up on the front porch.
"They asked to." He stomped to knock off the dirt from his boots.
"I suppose they need something to eat. The beans are still warm. I can heat up some more greens." Martha turned to go to the kitchen at the back of the house and J.T. followed her.
"Who are those men?" asked Jimmy. "Where are they from?"
At age ten, Jimmy was curious about the world outside the boundaries of the farm. Visitors were not a common sight. The closest neighbor was at least a mile away, and the nearest town, Hornersville, was two hours' ride to the northwest.
J.T. sat down with Jimmy on the bench next to the kitchen table as Martha went out the back door to fetch wood to throw on the fire in the wood stove. The lantern on the table cast their shadows large on the board walls of the kitchen. Across the table, J.T.'s mother, Mildred, shelled peas in a tin bowl and little Sarah gathered up the hulls in a tin plate. They all listened for his answer.
"Well, I don't rightly know where they came from, son. They did not say. They look tired and hungry, so they've probably ridden a long way today."
Although there were few towns in the Missouri Bootheel, travelers often moved through the area by horseback or wagon between Memphis and Saint Louis. They usually sought lodging from farmers closer to the main road a mile further inland.
"They can sleep in my room. I'll sleep with Sarah up in the children's room," his mother said. Sarah smiled a sleepy smile and leaned against her grandma.
The steep stairs leading from the kitchen to the children's room were getting harder for his mother to negotiate, but she was not willing to admit that. Each year she seemed to get thinner and smaller, her back bent a little more.
J.T. stood up as Martha came into the kitchen with a load of split logs and sticks, kicking the back door shut with her foot. "I'll go see if the men are ready to come up for some supper."
"Can I come with you?" Jimmy asked.
"You need to stay right here. I need you to go out to the well and fetch a bucket of water." Martha said. Her face was red as she bent over the open door of the wood stove feeding the wood into the fire.
J.T. read the disappointment on Jimmy's face. He paused for a moment, then said, "After you fetch the water you can wait on the porch, son."
Jimmy's eyes lit up and he grabbed the pail and headed out the back door.
The lantern sat on a fence post near where the riders were brushing down the horses. As J.T approached the corral, he saw their saddles thrown across the rail fence and their saddlebags and gear on the ground nearby.
"Did you find enough hay?" he called out as he opened the gate.
"Yep," said one rider as he ambled over to J.T, brush in hand. He was the smaller of the two men and appeared to be younger and more talkative as well. "Those are two fine-looking horses you have in the barn." He leaned against a fence post, pushing his hat back to scratch a scab above one eye.
"I just bought them this year," J.T. replied. "My boy and I was getting tired of using the mules to get to town."
"What did you have to give for them horses, if you don't mind me asking?"
"Don't mind. I paid twenty dollars apiece."
"Seems fair enough."
"Well, it's a bit much, but good horses are hard to come by around these parts."
The other rider ambled over and leaned against the fence a few feet away, listening to the conversation.
"If you're ready, the wife has some beans and greens for you up at the house. Gather up your things and I'll put those brushes away. You can stay the night in the house."
J.T. grabbed the lantern off the fence post. As he walked in the barn, his horses nickered softly in their stalls, hoping for another ear of corn. The two mules looked through their stall doors at him without any response or movement other than the flick of an ear.
As he shut the barn door and walked back to where the men stood with saddle bags and rifles, he noticed for the first time that they both wore Colt revolvers in worn leather holsters belted around their waist. Jimmy had wandered down from the porch and was sitting on the top rail of the pen, studying the men as they gathered up their gear.
"Those saddle bags look heavy. Do you want me to carry one?" J.T. asked.
"No, we'll manage," the younger man replied as they turned to follow J.T. to the house.
Jimmy's eyes were big as he followed his father and the two strangers. "Where did y'all come from?" he asked as they neared the front porch.
"We were up river a piece." The reply from the younger stranger seemed deliberately vague.
"Jimmy, put this lantern in your grandmother's room," J.T. said. Then he turned to face the two men. "You can leave your rifles out here on the porch."
The older man said, "If it's all the same, we will keep them with us." J.T. didn't know what to say, but he began to feel uncomfortable with the men.
They followed him in the front door and through the front room to Mildred's room. J.T. pulled back the worn curtain that hung on a wooden rod across the doorway. He showed them a wash basin and towel. His mother had placed a pitcher of water on a stand. They dropped their saddlebags with a heavy thump in a corner and propped their rifles against them.
* * *
"Who are these men?" Martha asked in a harsh whisper when J.T. entered the kitchen. "Jimmy said they were wearing guns."
The table was cleared of the peas, and Mildred sat in a corner chair holding Sarah in her lap. Sarah was small for her six years, yet her grandmother's lap seemed hardly big enough to hold her. J.T. glanced over at Jimmy, and just as he suspected, the boy was trying to hear every word and tone.
"They did not say."
Martha placed a bowl of beans on the table. "Jimmy said that their horses were wet and muddy. Do you think they swam them across the river?"
"I doubt that. There are strong currents in that river. Not many men or horses can swim across. I would guess they went in the river on this side, then swam downriver a bit."
Before J.T. could say more, the heavy footsteps of the two men approached the kitchen.
J.T. stood by his wife as the two men walked in. He noticed they had removed their guns and holsters and washed the grime from their face and hands. Their dusty hats were tipped back on their heads. He drew Jimmy near him and rested a hand on his shoulder.
"This is my wife, Martha, and my mother, Mildred, and my daughter, Sarah. You met my boy outside, but I don't think I said that his name was Jimmy." He waited for the two men to respond, but they just nodded at his wife, mumbling an acknowledgment and tipped their hats towards his mother.
"You can sit here at the table." J.T. gestured towards the narrow table with two benches in the corner of the kitchen, across the room from his mother and Sarah.
J.T. saw the younger man take another furtive glance at Martha as he sat down. His wife had taken the time to pull her hair back in a bun. Her gingham dress showed off her full figure. She's a fine-looking woman, even after two children, J.T. thought. He realized that he hadn't looked at her that way in quite a while.
Martha filled two plates with beans seasoned with pork fat, added turnip greens still steaming from a pot on the wood stove, and a slice of cornbread. The two men removed their hats, showing a white strip of forehead above dark, unshaven faces. As they hunched over their plates and proceeded to eat, Jimmy edged over near them to sit on the lower steps of the stairs.
"Did you ever shoot anybody with those guns?" the boy asked. The two men paused and looked at him and then at each other.
"Jimmy, that is not a polite question. I'm ashamed of you." Martha quickly scolded.
The shorter, younger man grinned at the exchange. "It's alright ma'am. Any boy would want to know."
"My granddad and my two uncles shot some northerners in the war before they was kilt." Jimmy, now emboldened, went on to tell.
The younger man said, "I'm sorry to hear they was kilt, but I'm glad to hear that it was for the southern cause."
J.T.'s mother spoke up from across the room. "They fought in that awful battle at Franklin Tennessee, back in '64. I was told they all died there and was buried nearby." Her quavering voice still carried her pain even after seventeen years. "My youngest boy, J.T. there, he wasn't old enough to fight in the war so he stayed to take care of the farm. He became a man right quickly. I don't know what I would have done if he had gone along with them and been kilt too."
The older man spoke for the first time. His voice was deeper and raspier than the younger man's. "It was an awful war. We southerners are still paying a heavy price to this day."
Nothing much else was said as the two men finished their plates of food, thanked Martha, and left the kitchen.
"I don't have a good feeling about them, J.T. They are up to no good. I wish you had told them to sleep in the barn." Martha said in a loud whisper after the men entered the front bedroom.
"That's not the way we should treat travelers. I remember Dad always fed strangers and gave them a clean, dry place to sleep. He felt it was his Christian duty." J.T. kept his voice low, not wanting the two men to hear.
"Your first Christian duty should be to protect your family," Martha said.
"It's done, and we will let it be," J.T. replied with a forceful tone.
"I will sleep on the floor in the children's room tonight. We are all counting on you to keep us from harm," Martha said as she walked toward their bedroom to gather blankets for her sleeping pallet. J.T. didn't look at his mother and children across the room, but he felt their silence and fear.
After his family had settled in for the night, J.T. went into his bedroom and lifted the shotgun down from the pegs in the wall. He checked to be sure both barrels had shells in them. He used the shotgun to hunt ducks along the riverbank, and sometimes to chase a varmint away from the chicken coop out back. The most excitement had been when a bear had wandered down from the Ozark Mountains and stirred up his mules by prowling around the barn. J.T. had to shoot the bear with both barrels to kill it. But he'd never shot at a man.
He stuffed some clothes under the blanket on the bed to make it look as if he were asleep. He then took a bench from the kitchen and sat in a corner behind the door, shotgun across his lap. He blew out the lantern and readied himself for a long night, listening carefully for any creaks from the bare pine floorboards.
He must have nodded off, but the slow creak of the door stirred him awake. He sat up and grabbed the shotgun to his shoulder. The door eased open a little further and J.T. could make out the outline of a head poking into the room beyond the door.
He cautiously lifted the shotgun to his shoulder and pointed it at the door. Should he shoot the intruder when he came into the room, or challenge him first? His arms were shaking as his finger tightened on the trigger.
"J.T.?" a voice whispered.
He lowered the shotgun. "Good lord, Martha, you gave me a scare sneaking into the room like that."
She turned to peer at the corner of the room where J.T. sat holding the shotgun, now pointed at the floor.
"I think they may be gone. I thought I heard them stirring, and then two horses rode off a short while ago. Will you check Mildred's room?"
J.T. walked quietly into the front room, still holding the shotgun. He saw that the curtain was pulled back from the doorway. The bed was empty.
"Yep, they have left.," he called back to Martha.
"Maybe we have managed to come to no harm," Martha said as she approached the bedroom.
"Look, they even spread the cover back over the bed. They do have some politeness," J.T. said, still defending his decision to let them spend the night.
"They probably thought that we didn't have anything worth killing for," Martha retorted. She turned towards the kitchen. "I'll stoke up the fire and put on water for coffee. The cornbread is still in the skillet from last night."
"I'm headed down to the barn," J.T. called over his shoulder. He lifted his coat off the peg by the door and shrugged into it as he walked out on the porch.
There was a faint light in the eastern sky. Even in the dark of early morning, J.T. could see the white mist rising off the river below the fields. It looked to be a good start on a nice day. He had plowing and planting to do.
As he approached the barn, his eyes widened. He could see the two horses that belonged to the riders were still in the pen. He hurried over to the barn and pulled back the door. The doors to the stalls for his horses were open.
J.T. slammed his fist into the barn door. The reverberation startled his mules into snorting and flinging back their heads.
"Goddamn horse thieves," he muttered.
J.T. walked back out to the pen and studied the horses that were left behind. He could tell they were still exhausted from the hard ride of the day before. Maybe with rest and good grain, they would be acceptable saddle horses.
He brought the two tired horses into the barn and put them in the empty stalls. He gave them more hay and ears of corn. He led the two mules out to the pen so they could drink from the trough, and threw some fresh hay over the fence for them.
He walked slowly up to the house as the eastern sky began to lighten towards sunrise.
"What's wrong?" Martha said as she studied his face. His mother was easing down the steps to the kitchen, careful so as not to disturb the children. She stopped to hear his response.
"Those men are the worst kind of thieves. They's horse thieves!" J.T.'s voice was not loud, but it was emphatic.
"Oh no, J.T. Not our horses we just bought."
"That is what they did. They left their horses behind." J.T. slapped his hat on his thigh, frustration etched on his face as he looked at the floor.
"Are their horses any good?" Martha asked
"I guess they'll be good enough once they've rested and been fed well."
Martha stood with her hands on her hips, glaring at him. "I wish we had the forty dollars back we spent on those horses. We could use that money."
She had questioned his decision to buy the horses. She thought that they should save the money in case their fields were flooded this spring. They would need the money for extra seed and supplies for the farm.
His mother spoke up. "The Lord will protect us. Even if we did not have any horses, we are still better off than most."
Martha turned as if to give a sharp retort, then seemed to think better of it. "Mildred, do you mind checking your room to make sure they got all their things and did not take anything else?" Martha asked.
After his mother left the kitchen, J.T. sat down at the bench and table, resting his face in his hands. Martha poured him a cup of coffee.
"J.T. you were brave to sit up all night in that chair with the shotgun. I hardly slept for worry." She stood next to him and placed her hand on his shoulder.
J.T. looked up at Martha, not sure how to respond. He didn't want to tell her how close she had come to being shot by her husband. The thought of it still scared him. He stood up and put his arms around Martha, something that he hadn't done in a good while. After a moment, Martha wrapped her arms around his waist.
Before J.T. could come up with something to say, his mother called out.
"J.T., Martha, come look at this."
They hurried to the front room and found Mildred standing by her bed, the cover pulled back. She held a note and stared at something in her hand.
"I found these in the bed." She turned and handed two heavy coins to J.T.
He examined the coins. "These are twenty-dollar gold pieces!"
J.T. reached for the note in his mother's hand, but Martha, being the better reader, snatched it away first. She read it through, her lips moving, then her face turned pale.
"Oh lord, J.T." her eyes slowly rose to stare at him. "You will not believe this."
"Read it out loud, Martha," he urged.
She started reading in a whisper. "We did not steal your horses, we bought them from you." She paused, then looked up and said, "It is signed Frank and Jesse James."
My grandfather grew up in Finley, Tennessee, along the banks of the Mississippi. He told me this story when I was a boy and said it happened to his uncle who had a farm across the river in the Missouri Bootheel area.
* * *
Jack Wallace holds degrees from Gateway College and from the University of Tennessee. He's written stories for many years about growing up in the "Christ haunted" South and has one published novel.
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"I write about flawed characters, not heroes. I'm drawn to those who observe, the ones who seek to avoid conflict, who prefer to leave well enough alone. When events force them to make a choice, I like to examine what influences their choice, and how they deal with the consequences."
Jack lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with his wife, Joanne, and his red Lab, Lucy. He also spends many long weekends at his cabin in Flat Rock, North Carolina. He is most at home on a trail or fishing a stream somewhere in the mountains of North Carolina or Tennessee.
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The Last Appaloosa
by Perk Perkins
The winters of 1896 and 1897 were harsh and bitter monsters in Northern Idaho. At the foothills of the Bitterroot Mountains, a large band of Nez Perce Indians had settled, and hundreds of teepees and lodges could be seen from a great distance. For many miles in all directions an abundance of wildlife roamed the land and fed the Nez Perce, along with the many settlers in close by towns and communities which continued to expand.
The unforgiving winter of 96 killed off thousands of elk, caribou, moose and deer. They either froze, starved, or feeling the effects of both, became easy meals for the wolves, who kept their population intact as wolves usually do.
But the following spring, there were few female animals of any species to procreate and enforce their numbers. So, the following winter of 97, with temperatures often at 20 degrees below zero there were also continual snowstorms dumping several feet of the deadly, white powder over the land. This put all creatures, animal and human, in peril of starvation.
In the early part of the winter of 97, the Nez Perce revived a practice that they were known for in the earlier part of the century. They would sneak into white settlements, under the cover of the darkness and steal their horses. These horses were rushed back to their village, quickly butchered, and fed to the starving tribe.
The communities got wise after a few weeks and posted sentries in their corrals and stables. They had to find another way to feed their people. There were several wise chiefs in this large band, and they gathered one afternoon to work on a solution. After many hours of discussion, they could find only one possible option. The large population of wild appaloosa horses, hidden throughout the canyons in the Bitterroot Mountain range, must be hunted and harvested.
Of the nine tribal chiefs only one, the youngest named, Chief Smohalla, fought the decision vehemently. The appaloosas were sacred to the Nez Perce and part of their tradition. It was said the Nez Perce were the first to discover this beautiful, speckled species in the 1700's. They captured them, tamed them, and trained them to do many things other horses couldn't do. They possessed greater intelligence and much more power, speed and stamina than other breeds. 'And now it had come to this,' Chief Smohalla thought.
"Listen to me great chiefs. I know I am the youngest among you. I have the least experience in life and have not seen the great challenges that you have. But my fathers and uncles taught me our traditions and sacred teachings about the land and its animals. I learned well from them . . . I remember them . . . I practice them . . . and I will not abandon them." He spoke with a powerful fury that alerted the other chiefs that he had a wisdom of his own.
Chief Smohalla had a special relationship with the appaloosas. He caught them in the wild and he had a unique way to break the animal for riding. It didn't involve any of the common ways like hobbling the legs or using the whip or frightening them in any way. There was something hypnotic or some said, magical, in his voice. It soothed the wild beast and within a matter of hours the animal welcomed a rider and could be trained to do anything the chief asked.
Many of the chiefs in front of him now had brought their, unrideable, appaloosas to him for his special training and had come away amazed. No one knew how he did it, but there was no doubting the fact that the ponies were sacred to him, and he was sacred to the ponies.
"We have heard your words and we have seen you act proudly in the traditional ways of our people." The oldest chief stated, "But, if we do not sacrifice the appaloosas, something horrible will happen to our people." The other chiefs nodded in agreement in a show of support.
Chief Smohalla sighed deeply and thoughtfully. "You are wrong great chief. You are all wrong. Your experience and high positions have jaded you to what is right for the Nez Perce. If you DO sacrifice our sacred appaloosas, something very, very horrible will happen to us! I will not be a part of it. As for my tribe, I will tell them your mission and they may stay and participate if they wish. But me and my family, we are leaving in the morning."
Though they tried to speak with him, he had no ears to hear them anymore. He jumped on his beautiful appaloosa mare, Kimmela, and galloped away. And true to his word, the next morning he left with only a dozen family members and the Nez Perce never saw him again.
At about four-thousand-feet elevation, there was a large meadow where the sun was brightly shining. The snow had melted down to only a couple inches and a stunning appaloosa stallion was pawing at the snow, uncovering a few rare, tasty clumps of grass. He looked up from his snack to survey over one-hundred wild appaloosa ponies, all digging for grass as well. This powerful horse with the golden glint of the sun in his eyes was their leader, the head stallion and the most magnificent of them all.
He was on high alert and his ears twitched to attention at every slight sound. Two months ago, their numbers were three times higher than now. But the Nez Perce had seen to their destruction. More recently, hunting groups from the townsfolk of Hamilton, Stevensville and Salmon, who were now starving as well, had raided and slaughtered much of their population. This intelligent stallion had found this hidden valley a few days ago and so far, all was peaceful. But it was always tranquil in the mountains, until it was not.
The stallion's hindquarters were mostly brown up to his muscular chest where white was the canvas and brilliant brown patches were painted. His proud head was raised high, displaying the brown mask that covered his eyes like a bandit. As the shadows of the mountain tops grew long in this hidden valley, he rounded up his herd into a tight bunch. They were more protected from wolves when the herd was tight, and the stallion constantly circled them in a protective patrol.
Just as the sun threatened to disappear behind the western ridge, the earth shook beneath the ponies. They all whinnied and cried out as the scene that had repeated itself all winter was once again upon them. The Nez Perce had found them and two-hundred hunters' road hard through the gorge into the meadow with their loud, trademark, battle cry.
The stallion bit the hindquarters of several mares to wake them from their stunned fear and gallop away. As the herd thundered off with the stallion in the lead, the ground quaked in front of them as well. A giant cloud of dust blinded them as almost five hundred of the townsfolk from Hamilton and Stevensville were charging straight at them.
The towns were starving, and people were dying daily. They voted to eliminate the competition for the horsemeat and had been hiding up the mountainside all day, waiting for the Indians to attack the horses.
The bloody scene was one the town folk would never forget. An evil black mark on their history forever. They tried to console themselves with the idea they were taking revenge on the Nez Perce for stealing their horses months ago. But in reality, it was two factions of humans who had lived together peacefully for years, until they didn't. Starvation drives creatures insane and strips them of their morals.
The gruesome outcome was as one would think, knowing that the Native Americans were so outnumbered. Appaloosa blood mixed and melted with the Nez Perce blood, which flowed into the town folks' blood, where it all congealed together and pooled into a sinful, red lake of fire over an acre in size. The setting sun cast an eerie orange glow to the bloody lagoon and reminded one of the boys from Hamilton of what hell must look like.
Of the appaloosas, only one remained now. The whites and the Nez Pearce had destroyed the once vast population of the sacred creatures. The speed and power of the stallion allowed his escape back out the gorge and he scrambled up and towards the other side of the mountain.
Several weeks later, with springtime supplying all the fresh pasture grass and tender bush leaves needed, the stallion had made it to the other side of the mountain. He meandered down an elk trail with the warm sun making him feel happy and a bit lazy. The sparking glint in his eyes had returned and he felt as powerful as ever. His only sad thought was the harem of mares that had died in the carnage. He was happy and almost content, but lonely.
As he continued down the trail towards the bottom of the mountain, he scanned the horizon. The land flattened out to a huge, green pasture. He saw something in the distance. It was a cabin with smoke rising from the roof. Having a well-earned distrust of humans, he almost turned the other direction. Then his nostrils flickered . . . 'That smells familiar.' He thought.
He trotted cautiously toward the cabin. He felt confident he could outrun any human on horseback that came after him, so he picked up the pace. As he got closer he noticed a small barn and a coral next to the cabin. Now the scent was strong, burning into his nose and he galloped toward the coral. His nose was leading him and he had no choice but to follow. He galloped up in a cloud of dust and stopped just short of the fence. He whinnied into the air and after a few seconds, he was answered with a like response.
He pawed the ground in anticipation and just then from out of the barn came an appaloosa mare. She raced to the high wooden fence and stuck her heard between the crossbars. The two ponies sniffed and licked and whinnied loudly to each other, both obviously happy to have made a new friend.
The noisy creek of the cabin door opening interrupted the introduction. Chief Smohalla stepped off the porch wearing a big smile and shaking his head curiously. Though he was in shock to find a wild appaloosa stallion standing outside his coral, he walked slowly and cautiously toward the pair.
A passing wagon train had told him that all the appaloosas and all the Nez Perce men had been wiped out. And yet, here is the most striking appaloosa stallion he had ever seen, standing boldly right in front of him.
"Easy there Kimmela." He softly spoke to his mare. "Let's not scare this beautiful beast away."
Kimmela trotted over to the chief and led him slowly to the stallion, as if wanting to make the introduction herself. The human fearing appaloosa took several steps backwards, away from the tall coral fence.
"Easy big boy . . . easy . . . I am not your enemy." The chief's voice still had the magic. The stallion stepped closer. "You are the last of the sacred appaloosas. You have nothing to fear here." He stepped even closer to the fence as did Kimmela and the chief.
"You will always be safe here; no harm will ever come to you. And you and Kimmela can have many fine colts together. Because you, the last appaloosa, have been sent here by the spirits to repopulate the sacred appaloosa line that man tried to destroy."
Chief Smohalla offered his hand to the stallion, the last appaloosa, and he laid his large head in the chief's hand in offering. He nuzzled his way up the arm and laid his head on the chief's shoulder, gazing with his eyes that held the glint of the sun, into his new friends' eyes.
A deal had been struck and slowly Chief Smohalla walked over to the gate to the left to open it for the stallion. "We welcome you sacred pony, the last appaloosa."
As the gate slowly swung open the horse backed up quickly some fifteen feet, as if maybe he changed his mind and was about to bolt off into the wild again. Kimmela whinnied to him and the stallion whinnied back. Like a bolt of lightning, he ran to the fence and on his powerful haunches rocketed over the six-foot high fence with ease. As he landed Kimmela ran to him and they nuzzled each other and rubbed their necks together.
An excited Chief Smohalla ran to greet the happy couple. 'What an incredible miracle this is.' He thought. He rubbed the neck of his mare lovingly and the stallion allowed him to do the same to him. Then he reared up on his hind, two feet and snorted at his new girlfriend. As if she was given a direct command, she bolted for the still open gate like a runaway freight train with the stallion close behind.
The chief stood dumbfounded as he painfully watched them race out of the corral and across the prairie for the Bitterroot Mountains far in the distance. Soon a small cloud of dust was all that could be seen of the last two appaloosas. A birth of a smile broadened as the chief nodded. "Yes . . . it is better this way. This is how the sacred appaloosa will live on . . . it is how they MUST live on.
My name is Perk Perkins (Yes, I know it's a stupid name like Zig Ziglar, but look at all the books he sold), and I began writing in the 90s.
My articles were published in many non-fiction magazines over the years. I then started writing spec movie scripts, short story collections and eventually landed my own weekly newspaper column.
My award-winning newspaper column, The Smile Factor, ran every week for 8 years in Southern Missouri, and occasionally was picked up by other papers.
Since then I have written many short stories, several novellas, a new humorous monthly column and of course the eBook crime novel everyone's dying to read, The Angels of Valley Junction. ??
My background as an entertainer, singer, speaker, professional smart aleck and comedian have influenced my writing and I think gives me a different voice readers enjoy, (and deserve).
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by Martin Suppo
"Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Arthur Breton and these are my jesters"
"Yes, we are!" Shouted the jesters. One of them shot his gun toward the train ceiling. It was a funny-looking kind of gun. It didn't have a round chamber and it didn't seem to need cocking. All of the jesters had them but Arthur.
"You are in the process of being robbed of your mortal possessions. Would you be so kind as to surrender them to my dear Jesters? Don't worry they won't bite"
"I will, ladies," said one of the Jesters leaning over two nuns.
"Bugger remembers your manners, we don't rape on Sundays"
Arthur Breton walked over to the next coach and stopped in one of the seats. In it, an old man was sleeping. A silver star shined on his jacket`s left breast.
"Sheriff! Wake up a robbery is taking place"
The old man woke up and saw Arthur standing over him with a large colt aimed at his star.
"So I see. You must be that Arthur fella. The Shakespeare actor gone mad"
"That I am Sir. You must be a man of discernable taste. You see we need some sort of opposition to spice the evening up"
"What kind of opposition?"
"We would need you to pull out your gun and try to shoot me. And then my loyal Jesters will kill you"
"Do I have a choice?"
"Of course, we can use you or this nice little thing here"
Arthur turned to his left and grabbed a crying baby from her sobbing mother. He held it in front of the sheriff.
The old man got up from his seat.
"All right I will be your opposition."
* * *
The jesters had cleared a field next to the train tracks for the showdown. All six of them stood over the roof of the train aiming their guns at the sheriff. They had locked the two coaches shut and its occupants watched the unfolding scene.
Arthur and the sheriff were standing in front of each other. The leader of the jesters had his back to the coach.
"How impolite of me not to ask your name Mr?"
"O`Grady. Theodore O`Grady, Sheriff of Colson County"
"Alright Sheriff O`Grady we need you to reach for your gun and yell "Sic Semper Tyrannis". After that we need you to shoot it at me."
"And after that?"
"My jolly Jesters will shoot you down."
"Yes, we'll do" Cried the Jesters.
"What happens if kill you, Mr. Breton?"
"Then my Jesters will shoot you down. Then they will proceed to utilize all the fine dynamite we acquired down in Amarillo and use it to blow this fine train to kingdom come"
"So either way I`m fucked."
"That`s right. Just imagine what the papers will write about this event."
The Sheriff looked at Arthur Breton and reached for his gun. He felt his skin against the rusty iron.
"Shoot away whenever you feel like Sherrif O`Grady. We have all the time in the world"
Sheriff O`Grady pulled out his gun and shot. The bullet when straight to Arthur`s chest. He fell back and knocked his head against one of the rails.
O`Grady threw himself into the ground and aimed his gun at Bugger. His shot failed.
The jesters aimed at the Sheriff struggling to get up. Bugger gave the order.
"Shoot the bastard!"
"What the hell . . . " Were Bugger`s last words.
O`Grady got up and shot quickly against the jesters. He took four out with precise shots to the neck, including Bugger who fell off the roof as held his bleeding wound. The remaining three scrambled to the other side of the tracks.
The Sheriff quickly grabbed Arthur`s fallen Colt and went after them. He stood in between the coaches, aimed, and shot.
The first one was hit on the back of the head as he was running. He fell without making a sound. The last one was about to run into the woods when O'Grady last shot caught him in the back.
The Sheriff walked over to him ready to arrest him. There was no use. He had already died.
As he went back to the train he heard a voice. The voice of a dying man.
It was Arthur. His head rested against the tracks. A pool of blood spread under him.
"I had to give you a fighting chance Sir. I got them the guns before the robbery. Made sure they had only one bullet in the chambers. I knew they would waste it early on"
"How did you know there would be a sheriff on the train?"
"There always is Sir. Always"
Arthur Breton pulled his head back and died.
I have always enjoyed Western films, comics, and stories. From time to time I try my hand at writing. I hope you enjoy them.
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The Rogue Cowboys
by Robert Collins
Standing on an outcrop, holding the reins to his horse, Jacob Wright took in the stunning sight. He was about five hundred feet above the valley floor, in the same spot he had stood dozens of times before and was still amazed at the beauty of it all. He and his wife Rebecca had a small spread about twenty miles north of Laramie and he had ridden out two days earlier. He was searching for any stray cattle that may still be alive. Over the last few days, he was able to round-up a couple dozen but also came across just as many rotting carcasses. Some of the strays were his brand and some from other ranches. He would sort it out later. He had built a temporary corral to hold them and this would be his last day before he herded them home.
The canyon was about two miles wide and extended two or three miles in length until it intersected with a river flowing from the north. Beyond the river was a mountain range topped in white; disappearing into the horizon. It was just after dawn and the trees glistened from the overnight rain and the sun slowly spread its luminous warmth over the valley. Spring was a welcome visitor after the dreadful winter of 1886. The snow had come in early October, and often. It accumulated in giant drifts and grew like small mountains throughout the Wyoming Territory. The weather was so severe that over fifty percent of the territory's livestock perished. In some areas of the territory the snow was over six feet deep with an outer layer of impenetrable ice.
Now most of the snow had melted but there were signs of the devastating winter everywhere. It was early March; there were frozen drifts of hard packed snow and ice on the shady side of the valley as well as the damage to the trees and plant growth. Some of the ice would still be there in May.
Jacob stood there for a few minutes, enjoying the warmth of the sun as it moved higher in the sky. What a lucky man he was, he thought. He was twenty-seven years old; had a wife and a ranch. He knew he worked hard for everything he had, including his wife, but was still in wonderment at his good fortune. Jacob was a little under six feet tall, slender with broad shoulders. He was wearing an old pair of boots, dungarees and a heavy canvas coat. He had a wool scarf around his neck to keep out the chill and an old brown Stetson that was his constant companion. He had dark brown eyes, high cheekbones and a straight nose. His hair was black as coal and hung almost to his shoulders. Some suspected he was from Cherokee stock. He wasn't considered a half-breed but there was no doubt there was Indian blood somewhere in his lineage. His beard was lighter in color but a three day growth gave him a weathered and worn appearance.
He had met Rebecca shortly after he staked his claim. She was the daughter of the owner of the general store in Medicine Bow, the closest town to his ranch. Rebecca was a tall woman, but shorter than Jacob. She had strawberry-blond hair, usually pulled back in a bun. Her blue eyes were bright and a few freckles dotted her face. She was the kind of woman that spoke her mind and was not generally liked by men. She was too head-strong for some but Jacob thought it was strength of character. He was immediately smitten with her. He knew right off she was the one he wanted to marry. He only hoped she felt the same and he would make every effort to win her over. He spent a day's pay to one of the foremen at the Crooked Tree Ranch, where he worked prior to working his own spread, so he could have the opportunity to pick up the supplies for the week. Apprehensively, he stood on the wooden porch, working up the courage to go in. He was nervous and awkward but found the strength and walked into the store and marched directly to the counter where Rebecca was standing.
"Howdy ma'am, I'm Jacob Wright.", was all that he could say.
Rebecca had seen him coming and put on a serious expression and looked him over. She had seen him about town a few times, mostly with other cowboys but occasionally riding alone on the street. He carried himself in a different manner than the other cowboys. It wasn't cockiness but more of confidence. He seemed like he knew what he wanted and nothing would interfere with accomplishing his goals. He was a tall lanky man; a little older than her. He was nervous and couldn't stand still and it seemed to her he had never talked to a girl before. He had a nice smile and he looked her in the eye. She liked that. Most cowboys looked at her all over but rarely in the eyes.
"Hello cowboy", she said. "What can I do for you?"
He handed her the list of goods. "These are the supplies needed at the Crooked Tree", he said.
"Are you new? I haven't seen you in here before?" She asked.
"I've been there since last summer, almost a year."
"They finally let you out for some errands. They must trust you."
"Yes ma'am, I guess they do". He said with a slight smile knowing that not in a million years would they ordinarily allow a young cowhand this responsibility.
Rebecca looked over the list and handed it back to him. He looked bewildered.
"Something wrong?" he asked.
"Yes." She said. "What is the fourth item from the top? I can't read the writing?"
Jacob looked over the sheet of paper and said. "That says twenty pounds of coffee." And he handed the note back to her.
She took it and thought that at least he can read and write. That was a good sign. Most cowboys couldn't write their own name. She proceeded to get everything together and had Jacob pull supplies from the shelves and take them out to the wagon and they both recounted the supply's and agreed everything was there. Jacob signed for the receipt, thanked her for the help and waved good-bye as he whipped the team to move out.
"Nice meeting you Jacob. I hope to see you again." She yelled as he steered the team away from the general store. "By the way, my name is Rebecca."
Jacob could only look over his shoulder and gave her a nervous grin.
They were married in 1884 in a small ceremony with friends and her family and some hands from the Crooked Tree Ranch. She immediately fit into the life of a rancher's wife. She enjoyed the work and companionship of Jacob and looked forward to starting a family.
* * *
He climbed into the saddle and gave Betsy a gentle pat on her neck. She was a chestnut mare with a white diamond on her forehead. "Let's go, girl". He said. Pulling on the reins with a little kick in her flank, she nickered and headed down a worn path to the valley below. Jacob always rode her when there was a lot of work to be done. She was nimble in the mountain terrain and thrived on the exercise and was always willing to run; something Jacob enjoyed immensely. He swayed in the saddle and moved with the horse as if they were one being, resting one hand on the saddle horn and the other controlling the reins. He had a Winchester rifle and a 12-gauge shotgun slung on her right side in a scabbard he made himself and a slicker tied in the rear. He carried both guns for different reason. He generally used the shotgun for small game and the rifle for big game; and you never knew when they would come in handy for other reasons. He rarely wore a side arm but kept a Colt and extra shells with his grub in his saddle bags.
In a few minutes, he was on the valley floor and moving east towards the river. There were some tracks from several cattle headed in that direction. If he was lucky, he would find them on this side of the river as he was sure they would not cross on their own volition. As he was approaching the water he saw several cattle near the shore, about two hundred feet from where he was. He stopped and stood-up straight in the stirrups to get a better view. He saw two men standing on the other side of the cattle with ropes in their hands. He watched for a moment not moving, then pulled the twelve gauge from the scabbard and rested it across the saddle. He slowly approached the men without saying a word.
The two men noticed him at almost the same time. They pushed the cattle aside and both rested their hands on their side-arms and watched Jacob approach. There were about thirty feet between him and the men.
"Howdy", the taller of the two said. "Can I help you?"
Jacob looked them over knowing that he was in a better position with the shotgun in his lap. "I should be asking the questions. What are you doing here and who are you? Those are my cattle."
"Why nothin, mister. We was just gathering up these cows to return them to their rightful owner. Weren't we, Bud." He said to the shorter stockier one. "We was hoping for a reward."
The shorter one was about forty with dirty blonde hair. He was wearing worn dungarees and a plaid workman's jacket. He had mean looking brown eyes that were void of any emotion and a week's worth of beard. He didn't look like one to back down from a confrontation. The taller one was a little older and was dressed similar to his friend but with a dusty derby sitting on the back of his head. He seemed more reasonable and knew when to be aggressive and when to back down.
Jacob looked them both over. Bud looked mean and ready for a fight; the taller one seemed to sum up the situation and was thinking of his alternatives. Jacob said. "Well, you found the owner; see the JW brand. Those are my cows and I appreciate you taking care of them for me. I'll take them off your hands now."
"Well . . . you gonna give us a reward as we found them for you?" Bud asked.
"I wasn't offering a reward but I'll give you a dollar for your troubles."
The taller one was looking Jacob over; deciding his next move. "A dollar!" he exclaimed. "You should pay us five dollars for each cow." The taller one moved to Jacob's right and Bud moved to Jacobs left in an effort to flank him. Jacob moved quickly and raised the shotgun and pointed it at the shorter one, Bud.
"Stop right there and don't move your hand closer to your pistol." Jacob said. The man stopped in his tracks and made no effort to go for his gun.
"What are you gunna do cowboy?" the short one asked. "There's two of us and only one of you. I see your scatter gun but you can't get us both.
Jacob raised the twelve gauges and pointed it towards Bud. "You're right." He said. "I can't get you both. But I can cut you in half and see what you ate for breakfast."
"Yeah." Bud said. "But my friend Stokes over there will shoot you dead."
"He might" said Jacob, "But it won't much matter to you, will it? You'll already be dead. What would you like to do?"
Bud starred at Jacob contemplating his next move. Jacob had the shotgun pointed at his mid-section with an unblinking stare.
"Well, we was just testing you mister." He said with a laugh. "I think I might want to collect our dollar and be on our way."
With the shotgun in his right hand, Jacob went into his waist pocket of his jacket and pulled out a coin. He flipped it to Bud who caught it in the air. Jacob again had both hands on the shotgun and jerked it towards the taller man. "Move over close to your partner there and get in your saddles." He said, tilting his head towards the taller man. "And do it nice and gentle-like or my finger might get nervous."
Not speaking, the two men moved closer and mounted their horses.
"Now, both of you move out across that river and don't look back." Jacob said in a firm voice.
The two men hesitated and looked at each other and then turned their horses and slowly headed for the river bank. With their backs to Jacob, he raised the shotgun and let one round go into the air. Both men and horses were startled by the gunfire and the mounts jumped and took-off into the river. The men had to hang on as the horses staggered and jumped across the shallow water. They made it to the other side without falling from their mounts and turned and glared the hundred and fifty feet across the river. The short one yelled something and then they turned their horses and headed toward the far mountain.
Jacob watched them as they disappeared into the brush and trees. He sat there for a while to make sure they hadn't turned back. He was worried. He knew that the two men were scavengers and could be dangerous to anyone who let their guard down. He would need to pass the word to the other ranchers at the next meeting.
Jacob herded the half-dozen or so cattle two miles and had them in the corral before sundown. He settled in for the night and knew he needed the rest as he had a long day tomorrow. It would be a fitful sleep as he couldn't shake the image of the two men. He knew they would have killed him and taken his cattle if they had half the chance. Could he sleep tonight knowing they were still out there somewhere? After he made himself some supper, he got his sleeping gear and lay as close to the fire as he could. The evening was cool and the warmth of the fire soothed his aching body and he was asleep in an instant.
He woke to the coolness of the night as the fire burned to cinders and the only light was the glow of the embers. There was nothing to see; the night was dark with no moon or noise. He could faintly see the outline of the trees as they met the horizon. Jacob lay there awake and heard nothing but the swaying of the branches from the wafting wind. It was quiet, too quiet. His horse was silent tethered by the corral. Even the cattle were quiet; tired from the long drive. He pulled his boots on and put on his coat. He left his hat on his saddle and sleeping gear on the ground and grabbed his shotgun and moved about twenty feet from the fading fire. He sat on a rock and waited.
A half hour passed and he heard noise from near the corral. It was at first unidentifiable but then he heard footsteps and a low murmur from a cow. The footsteps stopped; then started again. Whispers were carried on the breeze and he felt the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. He had adjusted to the darkness and saw two hunched-over shadows approaching his sleeping area. They stopped and stood over his sleeping gear and a familiar voice broke the silence of the night.
It was Bud's voice. "Wake up sleepy. It's time you paid in full, not just that one lousy dollar." He was pointing a pistol at what he thought was Jacobs's body.
Stokes felt in control of the situation and was braver than he had been earlier in the day. "Get up mister. We've got some business to finish with you." He then kicked the blanket intending to roust Jacob from his slumber and he immediately realized there was nothing there but a sleeping roll and a blanket.
"Holy Christ." Stokes whispered as he realized there was nobody sleeping on the ground. He lifted his head and squinted into the darkness. Bud quickly looked around.
Bud softly said. "Where is he, Stokes?"
"I dunno. Maybe he went to piss."
"I think he's watching us." Bud said quietly. "Let's back out of here."
At the same moment Jacob walked out of the darkness pointing his shotgun at the two men.
"Drop those Colts or I'll put you both down!" Jacob said, startling the men. "I figured you boy's right; bushwhackers! Now drop'm."
The men froze. Stokes immediately dropped his pistol and raised his hands. Bud didn't move and though Jacob couldn't see his face he knew he was thinking of a way out of the situation.
Jacob lifted the twelve-gauge, pointing it at Bud's chest. "I think we've been through this before and I don't much care which way you decide mister. It's your call and I ain't got all night."
Bud stood more erect and his face slowly came from behind the shadow of his hat. Jacob instinctively knew what the man was going to do as soon he saw his eyes. Bud lifted his pistol to fire but Jacob was already pulling the trigger on the shotgun. Being only fifteen feet from the man, the buckshot didn't have a chance to spread and hit him square in the chest. The explosion lit up the campsite for an instant and Bud was lifted off his feet and landed on his back before the echo of the blast subsided.
As Jacob fired, Stokes dove to the ground to avoid the next shot and rolled away from Jacob into the darkness. As he rolled, he picked up the Colt and fired at Jacob. Jacob could not see Stokes until he saw the flash from his gun. He turned his body sideways hoping to narrow the target and he felt the slug crease the back of his shoulder and he fell to the ground. Stokes walked out of the shadows holding the gun on Jacob.
"You just kilt my best friend and I'm gunna kill–"
Stokes never finished the sentence. Jacob, lying on his back, fired the shotgun; the blast hitting Stokes under the chin. His face and front of his head disappeared in a wash of red and white. For a moment Stokes didn't move and then crumpled to the ground.
* * *
The next afternoon, Jacob was herding his cattle over a ridge when the ranch house came into view. He saw his wife, Rebecca, by the corral and they both waved. By the time Jacob had the cattle at the corral gate; she had it open and was prodding the cows through the opening. Once the gate was closed she rushed over to Jacob who was still on his horse.
She raised her arm and Jacob bent over and gave her a kiss. Looking up she said. "It's good to have you home. Everything go alright; see anything interesting out there?"
Jacob looked at her then lifted his head and looked to the direction he had just come from. "Yeah, let's talk it over at supper."
My name is Robert Collins, recently relocated from Connecticut to North Carolina. I have been writing short stories for decades and have had a few published. I mainly write about the old west but some of the more current west as well (post 1900's).
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The Dirty Stranger
by Katrina Young
Danger was approaching the one room schoolhouse and the young teacher inside would soon learn of the courage she possessed. Growing up in the city, Jennie had felt as though she had been sent to the end of the world when she came here to teach. She had shed many tears about leaving her life in the bustling city. It had taken three different trains to get here, and on each leg of the journey her heart had become more weighed down with all that she felt she was losing by moving to this small western town. When Jennie arrived, there were fields as far as the eye could see, with the small town seemingly plunked down in the middle. Yet, the road that led Jennie to teach here had seemed to be her fate.
As it turned out, Jennie discovered that teaching was her calling. She was surprised to learn how fulfilling the job was. She had fourteen students, and she could truly say that she loved each of them. At the same time, she had come to feel a part of this small town. The people were kind and hospitable, and they made Jennie feel welcome and needed right from the start. Although she continued to miss her family and the things she loved about city life, she also began to feel as though she belonged in this small community and in this lovely little schoolhouse.
Sitting on the benches and working on their reading lessons, the students, along with their teacher, heard footsteps landing heavily on the wooden stairs outside. They turned toward the direction of the noise and felt the breeze as the door was fiercely slung open. The stranger entered the schoolhouse. Jennie looked at the man and quickly discerned that he was a threat to her students. Her heart began to beat fiercely as her instinct to protect the children enveloped her. She must find a way to shield them from the imminent danger that had just walked into the room. She immediately called the students to the front of the room. She wanted to get them as far away as possible from this intruder while she urgently tried to form a plan to protect them. "Children, please get behind me," she instructed, her voice slightly quivering. The smaller children sat down against the wall, directly behind the larger students who were acting as barriers. Although the idea of a threat inside the building had never been discussed, the children seemed to know what to do hoping that Jennie would protect them. Jennie felt small hands grasping her skirts as the children standing behind her made themselves as inconspicuous as possible. She could hear several of them begin to cry from fear. The fear being displayed by the children sparked a fierce determination inside Jennie to protect them no matter the consequences to her own well-being.
Although the day was cool, perspiration was dripping down the sides of the man's face. The smell of the man wafted throughout the small room and hit Jennie, as she noticed his dirty appearance. His long hair was stringy, there were pieces of some unknown food in his beard, and his clothes were caked with mud. But Jennie's attention was drawn to his hands, which were holding a rifle that he had pointed at her. His hands were scratched and full of abrasions. His ragged nails were caked with dirt, and she noticed the gun shaking, as the trembling from his hands passed through it.
The man looked over the students in the room. His eyes landed upon eleven-year-old Elise. Her long blond hair hung down in two braids, the freckles on her cheeks covered with tears that streamed from her pale blue eyes. She was partially concealed by Jennie's long skirts, but he still saw her.
A gravelly deep voice announced, "I'll take that one," as his filthy finger pointed at Elise. Elise let out an audible gasp and tried to get further behind her teacher and out of sight of this horrible person. Jennie knew she needed to do something, but she couldn't surmise what would work to protect her precious students. She also knew she wasn't about to let this nightmarish person take young Elise. She realized she was not going to be able to stop this large man from getting to the children, she was too small to fight him off. She knew she may have to sacrifice her own safety and become a distraction to lure him away. She took a deep breath to steady herself and thought of her mother's resiliency and astuteness which also pulsed in her Irish blood. They had served her mother well and now she needed these characteristics to help her through this situation. She whispered to her students, "Stay here." She managed to release the hands from her skirts, smiling down at the little girls who had been holding onto her so tightly and giving their hands a little squeeze. "Sit down behind my desk," she said motioning to the children. The first part of her plan was to distract this man and to keep his gun pointed away from the children.
Then Jennie began to approach the man as she firmly said, "Why don't we get you something to eat?" He snarled and smirked, the gun still pointed at her torso. "That's not what I'm needing now." Jennie's stomach was in knots, and she hoped she wouldn't pass out from fear. But somehow, she managed to appear calm. She would not let him see her fear. She took another step towards this man, the smell of whiskey mingling with his body odor. She could see that the drink had taken hold of his senses and thought that maybe she could distract him from the idea of taking the girl or harming any of the children.
In her peripheral vision, Jenny realized that two large figures were moving stealthily towards the man. She recognized these figures as the Miller twins. The two large 13-year-old boys were often tardy or absent from school. They must have come up the road behind the stranger and snuck into the school building behind him. These two boys were fearless and could communicate with each other without using words. They must have perceived that something was terribly wrong when they saw the stranger enter the schoolhouse. And without thought for their own safety, they jumped to action.
Jennie realized that the students at the front of the room would be in grave danger and unwittingly become targets if the man lost control of his gun and it suddenly went off. With the gun still pointed directly at her, she moved steadily toward the window in the opposite direction of the Miller boys, causing the man to turn away from the students, his beady eyes now focused on her. She peered out the window and looked back at the man. "The road is clear, but soon people will be passing through to get to town. If you leave now, no one has to be hurt."
He laughed this time, his laugh caught in his thick throat. "Now why would I want to leave by myself?" Jennie shivered at this statement. Knowing that the Miller brothers were clever she surmised that they had come up with a plan. Noticing that the stranger was once again looking at the children, she quickly glanced at the Millers. It was in that instant that Jennie saw the signal from one of them. She clapped her hands to bring the stranger's attention back to her and as he turned back, she dropped quickly to the ground. The two boys seemed to appear from thin air as they tackled the man, his gun firing randomly, shattering the window above Jennie's head. Jennie instinctively covered her head, while small pieces of glass rained down from the windowsill. The blast reverberated throughout the schoolroom, leaving Jennie's ears ringing. The Miller boys had not only knocked the man to the ground, but they had also wrestled his gun away and now had it pointed directly at him.
The sound of the gunshot was heard throughout the town. The sheriff and several men were suddenly approaching the schoolhouse, the sound of rapid hoofbeats announcing their arrival. As the sheriff slid off the horse, and burst into the room, Jennie stood up, brushing pieces of glass from her clothing and hair. As she did so, she noticed the sheriff and the other men taking in the scene, looking at the young school teacher standing away from her students, while the Miller boys stood over a deranged looking man, their concern mixed with large grins on their faces. Suddenly Elise ran towards Jennie, her arms wrapping around her teacher with a fierce grip. She began to sob with relief and a sense of gratitude toward the teacher who had saved her, along with the two Miller boys. Little did she know that one day she would marry one of these hero twins.
The sheriff quickly took the man into custody. He handcuffed him, and grabbing him roughly by the arm, handed him to the other men in the room telling them to take him back to the jail and lock him in. Jennie knew he needed to find out the details of what had happened and make sure everyone was okay. Turning toward the Miller boys he thanked them, telling them he was proud of them and clapping each of them on the back while he retrieved the gun still in the hands of one of the boys. The sheriff then asked Jennie is she was alright. He seemed to understand that the teacher was pulling from deep in her reserves to appear calm in front of her students.
"I will be, Sheriff," she replied.
He walked over to Jennie and could see small cuts on her face and hands from the shattered window. "You are bleeding," he said, taking out his clean handkerchief to dab at the small line of blood running down her temple.
Jennie looked up at the man, appreciating the tenderness he was showing her.
The sheriff had been courting Jennie and had come to know how strong and resilient she was. The daughter of Irish immigrants, she was taught to be strong and independent, but he knew that even she had to be rattled by what had just taken place. Jennie wished that he could hold her in his arms and comfort her, but they both knew this wasn't the place. A look of fondness passed between the two.
The sheriff and Jennie went to the children to see if they were okay. Elise held tight to Jennie's hand as they went forward, still shaking with fear at the thought that the man had wanted to take her. This was a trauma that would stay with Elise for quite a while. None of the children were physically hurt, and Jennie sent up a prayer of thanks for them staying safe. Many of the children would have nightmares, and a couple of them would have behavior problems stemming from this incident. But over time, all the children would be fine.
The sheriff spoke once again with the Miller twins to hear their side of what had happened. The father of these boys was a hard-working farmer, and he knew the boys worked hard as well. They were large and muscular for their age, and the sheriff, with a smile on his face, expressed that he was grateful that they were once again tardy for school. Jennie dreaded to think of what could have happened to all of them if they hadn't been. The sheriff spoke for a short time to Jennie and the rest of the children, and then went back to process his prisoner. On the way out he promised Jennie he would return later.
After the parents came to gather their children and to thank their brave teacher, Jennie sat alone at her desk in the schoolroom. As she thought about what had occurred, she laid her head on her desk as she suddenly broke down crying. Somehow, she had managed to remain calm and composed during the very frightening incident. Now that she was alone, she could not control the river of tears as the stress so tightly holding her together, unwound inside of her. Suddenly, Jenny could hear her father's voice inside her head saying, "Ná caill do mhisneach," meaning, "Don't lose courage."
"I won't Daddy, I promise!" she said out loud.
Jennie had known that coming out west to teach would have many challenges. She just never imagined that the greatest challenge of her teaching career would be in the form of a dirty stranger.
Katrina Young has always loved stories. From a British knight to Irish immigrant pioneers, she has a rich ancestry. As a teacher, she used storytelling to enrich her lessons. Using family stories and personal experiences, she has written and published two historical fiction novels and a children's picture book. Her family is her greatest joy in life.
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Stampede, Part 3 of 3
by John R. Robinson
Part Three: A Delicate Constitution
El Paso del Norte, Texas. March 23, 1907
Secretary of State William Howard Taft arrived in El Paso during the spring of 1907. He represented President McKinley in a series of bilateral discussions with Mexican President Diaz and northern Mexican state governors. The official purpose of the meeting was to foster friendly relations. The real reasons were to expand American investment in Mexico, and assess U.S. border security in the increasingly uncertainty political climate in Mexico. Through Taft's pre-arrangement, Colonel Edward Godfrey and the U.S. 12th Cavalry were part of the American security presence. Several days into the conference, Godfrey received a message inviting him to an afternoon meeting with the Secretary. Godfrey arrived at the Hotel Sheldon and found Taft relaxing in the penthouse suite on the fifth floor, being assisted by a short-statured young man with a receding hairline.
Taft looked noticeably heavier than Godfrey had remembered him only two years before back in Washington. The men exchanged pleasantries, and Taft led Godfrey onto a balcony overlooking the patio.
"Would you prefer something other than bourbon?" asked Taft.
"Bourbon is fine, Mr. Secretary, thank you."
"The best alternative I've found is something called a tequila sour," countered Taft.
"A popular choice in the officers' club at Fort Sam Houston."
"Two tequila sours, Mashburn, if you please," Taft told the aide.
"Of course, Mr. Secretary," answered the short man.
Turning back to Godfrey, Taft began, "Colonel, you would seem to be well positioned to become involved in what may become the biggest foreign policy and military issue of the day."
"And what is that, Mr. Secretary?"
Taft looked at Godfrey squarely in the eye. "It involves the political instability of our southern neighbor. As you know, the northern frontera is a traditional breeding ground for Mexican revolutionaries. If the Diaz regime is challenged by one or more factions, that will put us in a delicate diplomatic situation. Meanwhile, we would obviously need to secure the U.S. border from any spillovers of warfare or revolutionary activity. In short, Colonel, what I understand you have led your regiment to do in South Texas is something that may have to be expanded over the entire southern border."
Taft then asked Godfrey a series of questions soliciting his views on the size and location of sufficient U.S. military border strengths, in addition to weaknesses. Pouring over several maps, their conversation stretched into two hours and three rounds of tequila sours, with Mashburn fastidiously taking notes.
Taking a break, Taft settled into one of the patio chairs. "Yours is a tough business, Colonel. Planning for the worst, and hoping for the best."
"Perhaps not that much different from diplomacy, sir."
"Well," Taft mused, "we both have to concern ourselves with costs and benefits of uncertain outcomes. Being a longtime jurist and a recent diplomat, I have mixed views of the situation here. On the one hand, Mexico has had more than its share of despots and dictators. Not the kind of system I would want to live under," said Taft, glancing at Godfrey who slowly shook his head in concurrence.
"On the other hand, the possibility of a widespread revolution down here makes me shudder - the violence and blood and chaos. I wonder if anything is worth that!"
Godfrey responded, "I judge the American Revolution to have been a good thing."
"Yes, well . . . we write hymns about the blood of patriots, don't we? But I suspect recorded history has discounted the real chaos and civil strife between Patriots and Tories," answered Taft. "More clearly bad in the French outcome. Nothing to show for all that bloody chaos but imperial dictatorship and the Napoleonic Wars. So what will come from a revolution after thirty years of the Porfiriato? Or after three hundred years of the Romanov dynasty? Now there's blood and chaos for you," said Taft, rolling his eyes.
Godfrey nodded while he thought about the Napoleonic Wars.
"As a diplomat, I deplore violence, but even more as a jurist, I despise lawlessness," said Taft, slurring one of those s's. "But then you have a man like Diaz who offers relative stability for longer than anyone can remember, in return for centralization of power, concentrated in the executive, and loss of individual liberty."
"Didn't our country make that choice in 1776?" asked Godfrey.
"In 1793," corrected Taft. "But those choices are still being made today, to a lesser degree."
Taft looked intently at Godfrey.
"I don't know your politics, Colonel, and I don't care. I myself am a Republican. Within my own party there are strong competing factions representing the reformist, populist view, and the conservative view. Or I should say, the conservative reformist view. I am of the latter camp."
"But my point was, there are self-styled populist reformers in my own party who appear willing to offer the trade-off of solving the country's problems in return for an expansion of executive power. Do you know of the current Governor of New York?
"Governor Roosevelt?" asked Godfrey. "Yes, he strikes me as an energetic personality."
Taft nodded. "He was a progressive reformer in Congress, and he ran for state office on a platform of reform. Indeed, there are surely things in New York that need reforming. But his attitude is, as Governor he can do whatever it not expressly forbidden to him by statute or his state's constitution. No doubt he would take the same stance as President. My view of the U.S. Constitution, and I might add, James Madison's view, is the opposite: the executive can only take those actions that are expressly authorized by statute or constitutional framework. That's not to say we shouldn't do things that need doing. We should, but in a way that will preserve checks and balances, and let all the populist energies find a safe outlet."
"Roosevelt," Taft continued, "will tell you that he is fighting for the common man. As Governor of New York he has promoted reformist policy by way of executive orders and bureaucratic regulation. This exposes the common man to the risk of what I call bureaucratic despotism. Roosevelt can afford this approach because rich elitists like him can protect himself from the regulatory process better than the common man. He is part of the establishment that writes the rules. He goes to dinner parties and summers in the Hamptons with the power brokers."
"You seem particularly focused on Governor Roosevelt," Godfrey observed out loud. "Does he have some competing ideas in the foreign policy?"
Taft paused. "Not in foreign policy. Not that I'm aware of, anyway, other than flip flopping on Cuba . . . The truth is, Colonel Godfrey, I am considering . . . being considered for the Republican nomination, with the encouragement of many leaders of my party. I'm sharing this with you so that in the unlikely event that I am nominated and elected, you could expect continuity in the border policies that we were discussing earlier."
"Oh, well, Mr. Secretary, I am not certain how much time I have left for active duty."
"Of course, of course. The future is always uncertain, for us as men, and for our country as well." At that, Taft began to laugh.
"Mr. Secretary, I hope that the future unfolds as humorously as you apparently forecast it." Or maybe it is just the tequila, Godfrey wondered.
"No, it's just that I spent most of the train ride here developing the idea of future uncertainty into an essay contrasting constitutionally grounded reform with the so-called progressives within my own party. Would you critique a summary version?"
"I am your man," Godfrey answered, looking for any excuse to continue resting in his patio chair.
"It's probably not very interesting without the influence of tequila," smiled Taft. "But the general idea is to resist the temptation of empowering government institutions and politicians beyond their constitutional ordination. The country has had and will continue to experience difficult times - war, economic panic, plague, as well as technical inventions and new ideas that change the social order. Out of fear, the human tendency in such times is to seek out a savior figure. That is how the Roman Republic got Sulla, and he set the pattern for the Caesars."
"The challenges in our future will doubtless create populist clamor to do something. The temptation will be to empower politicians and pursue policies through executive fiat. But executive overreach, even to solve a serious problem, becomes a problem in and of itself. Not to the well-heeled tycoons and their Senators, but for the erosion of liberties of the populist masses themselves."
"How does it erode their liberties, Mr. Secretary?"
"In several ways," answered Taft, his face now rosey. "First, the implementation of policy via bureaucratic regulation is less transparent and less accountable to the people. It is also more possible to infringe on the rights of the minority. The common man's main recourse is his representatives in Congress, and the courts. Reform policies should originate as laws. LAWS! [Taft pounded the chair in emphasis.] Laws debated and voted on by Congress. Lastly, executive over-reach simply creates a precedent for more, as with the Romans."
"Can you give me an example from history?" asked Godfrey. "Not Rome . . . from our history."
Taft waved his cocktail glass in the air. "Oh, some say that Andrew Jackson used executive power to push the nation towards democracy. He definitely pushed the nation towards political factionalism, and maybe towards civil war. But the relevant example is the Bank of the United States. Jackson's populist demagoguery regarding the Bank, and his executive orders that destroyed it, clearly went against Congress' findings, contradicted Supreme Court rulings, and some say hurt to our currency and economy. So while Jackson claimed that the Bank was somehow bad for the common man, his actions eliminated the common benefits of the Bank's currency stabilization and economic growth that would have occurred, or so the finance people tell me."
"Then there is President Lincoln who claimed unprecedented war powers based on his constitutional role as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. In the process he defied the Supreme Court Chief Justice, suspended the writ of habeas corpus, declared martial law, allowed civilian trials in military courts, and proclaimed the emancipation of slaves. Perhaps this is necessary to win a civil war, but it set a dangerous precedent for the future. The next national emergency may not happen under a lawyerly Lincoln. What if it happens under a Jackson? Or a Johnson?"
Godfrey shrugged. "Jackson is your charismatic pied piper. President Johnson always struck me as a bit of a jackass."
"A stubborn bastard," agreed Taft. "Perhaps the Johnson Administration is an example of the proper functioning of the branches of government. The point is, we can't predict the next President, much less the next national emergency. But we can and should promote the ideal of an active legislature, a properly restrained executive, and an independent judiciary."
Taft set his empty glass down and let out a deep sigh. "Well, here endeth the lesson. Colonel, can I interest you in another . . . uh, cocktail?"
"No, sir, no thank you. I have enjoyed your hospitality and the conversation," said Godfrey.
"Hope I didn't bore you. I hate listening to a bore. Like that goddamned college precedent . . . uh, president. At Princeton. Met him on a lecture tour. A sanctimonious know-it-all, whom I hear may run for Philosopher-King of New Jersey," chortled Taft. "God help those poor bastards!"
Garryowen, Montana. June 25, 1926.
It had been a very long, hot day. Godfrey felt all of his 83 years. Ida had tried to talk him out of attending the reunion, but he had insisted. Now the reunion attendees were thankfully dispersing. Godfrey was grateful for the hospitality of one of the town's leaders who had offered a rocking chair under the porch. There he sat, sipping lemonade and enjoying the breeze.
It amazed him that that fifty years had come and gone. How could that be? So much of life and it had passed so quickly. This led to an oft rehearsed reflection: "Brief is man's life and small the nook of the Earth where he lives; brief, too, is the longest posthumous fame, buoyed only by a succession of poor human beings who will very soon die and who know little of themselves, much less of someone who died long ago." Godfrey sighed. Indeed, the instructor who had taught him Aurelius' Meditations was long gone. So were most of the troopers and fellow officers for whose benefit Godfrey had attempted his mastery of fears and passions. Had it all been worth it?
The man lingering across the picket fence caught Godfrey's notice again. He had seen the man earlier at the dedication of the historical marker. He was elderly, like Godfrey. He moved slowly, as if stiff with rheumatism, and now he approached.
"Good afternoon, General," said the man, with a faint accent that Godfrey couldn't immediately place.
Godfrey returned his greeting without rising.
"May I have a word, sir?" the man asked.
Godfrey smiled politely, and pointed to the other available rocker.
"Oh, thank you, sir. I'm afraid I've had a bit too much sun."
"As have I," answered Godfrey.
"As on that eventful Sunday," said the man with a smile.
Godfrey gazed more intently as the man settled into the rocker. Did he know him from before?
'Forgive me, sir, my memory is not what was. Have I made your prior acquaintance?"
The man's blue eyes blinked several times. "I'm Gibbs. William Gibbs. A private in your Cumpny Kaaaay."
Embarrassed, Godfrey pushed up from the chair and extended his hand.
"Gibbs! My apologies . . . Goodness, how are you, man? It's been . . . " Godfrey stopped because he had no clear recollection of how long it had been.
"No apologies necessary, General," said the man in a slightly shaking voice. He clasped Godfrey's hand with a slightly shaking grip. "I was discharged after the fight with the Nez Perce."
"Quite the ordeal," said Godfrey.
"Yes, as it was here."
"Yes." Both men retook their chairs.
There was an awkward silence. Godfrey couldn't think of anything else to say, so he asked, "And how was it that you were here, Gibbs?"
"I enlisted in New York City, and joined the troop in '75 in Louisiana."
"And before that?"
"Oh, I was a bit of everything, sir . . . farm laborer in England, immigrant, butcher . . . enlistee, a nurse at the post hospital and then a trooper. After my discharge, I went to California and clerked for several businesses. Not a career soldier like you, sir."
Taft's quintessential common man, thought Godfrey, or perhaps Roosevelt's. "Sounds familiar enough. I was raised as a laborer on my father's farm. Had a little schooling and then made a three month enlistment at the outbreak of the southern rebellion. I was under-age, so I applied for an appointment to West Point, but the Congressman already had somebody lined up. It was only when that fellow died at Second Bull Run that I got my opportunity. Otherwise I might have re-enlisted and probably stopped a bullet between Chickamauga and Kennesaw Mountain."
"I see," said Gibbs, who clearly had not heard of those places.
There was another lengthy pause. "Tell me, Gibbs. Was it all worth it?"
"The fight, sir?"
"The whole thing. Coming to America. Starting a new life."
"Well, as a practical matter, there was more opportunity here than in England. I saw and did things that I never would have in the old country. Otherwise, I just made a simple life for myself."
"Did you find more freedom here?"
"Oh, I don't know, sir. If I'd stayed in England . . . I don't know. I think the situation in England is better now for the commoners. Better representation in the government. That is the only benefit of the Great War that I can see."
Indeed, thought Godfrey, thinking of the European countries now suffering through post-war instability. What would Taft have said about that? At least Taft's neutrality stance had been mostly vindicated.
The conversation paused again as both men watched a passing party of Sioux. The tribal leader White Bull was among them, dressed in warrior regalia and an eagle feather bonnet.
"Do you think much about the Indians?" asked Godfrey.
"Them, sir? No, not really. I'm just glad we won our fight with them."
"You know, President Custer told me in the White House that he regretted the demise of the Plains Indians. He felt less free with the taming of the West."
"Well if you ask me, sir, General Custer had but one way about him, and that was soldiering. Not much use for a man like him today with nobody to fight."
Godfrey grunted. "Nor perhaps for me. I fought because it was both my duty and my job. Some said we were furthering civilization . . . Manifest Destiny. But I consider myself little different from White Bull there. His nation pushed the Crows off these plains to the fringes. And while the Sioux reigned, they lived the freedom and adventure of the open plains. My frontier experience gave me but a taste of that exaltation. But now the army and civilization have pushed White Bull's people to the fringes. And in the end both he and I are just two old men."
"Cadet Godfrey!" snapped the familiar inner voice. I know, I know, thought Godfrey. One must become an old man in good time if you wish to be an old man long.
"No, not that," said the inner voice. "You better leave now or you'll miss the train."
John Robinson is a Professor of Agricultural Economics and an Extension Economist at Texas A&M University. His formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees in Entomology and a Ph.D. in Agricultural Economics, all from Texas A&M University.
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