I heard about my friend's marker, that an ungrateful town left him. The town almost burnt to the ground and
all its people were nearly killed but for the actions of my friend and all they could think of to put on his marker was "BEN – DIED FOR THE LOVE OF AN OLD WHORE." He did indeed love that old whore but you would have thought they'd mentioned that he saved the town in the process. The way they treated him was dreadful.
I remember first hearing about the so-called Bisbee giant. As I rode my territorial assignment as U.S. Marshal for the Arizona District, I kept hearing of a giant miner outside of Bisbee, the tales seemed so exaggerated that I had to see for myself. Finally, I found myself in the area and decided to ride over and have a look for myself. I expected to see a big man but nothing to validate the ridiculous rumors I'd been hearing.
* * *
I rode up on my well-lathered black mare that was more than happy to lap up a little water from the trough outside the worker's accommodations.
Looking down the brim of my hat I could see a fat man hurrying over in a waddling gait; I was guess'n he was the foreman, too fat to do any real work. This is a private mine mister he said as he presented himself. At the time I was leaning over dipping my neck rag in the water to cool off. I straightened up in my saddle and the badge caught his eye.
"Oh sorry, Marshall, I didn't see your badge. What can I help you with?"
"I came to see that big fella you got working here."
"Oh, you mean Ben."
The Irish mine workers called him Ben, short for Benandonnar, a giant of their folklore. He knew very little of the world outside the mine. His tongue was a mixture of Gaelic and broken American English. The mine foreman called on him to meet Me, and as he stepped into the light, my good steady mare wanted nothing to do with that situation and was so flustered I had to slide off and pull her head to my face and tell her to relax. I could not blame her. He was frightening in size and caused me to rest my hand on my colt, my natural reaction to danger. Without realizing it, I found myself leaning back and losing my footing a little. He was shielding his eyes from the bright Arizona sun as he gazed in my direction. I never dreamed such a being existed in these times, the bible spoke of Giants but seeing Ben for the first time, it felt a little biblical. I was so astounded that I began to ask dozens of questions all at once.
"Where did he come from, how did he get so big, how much does he weigh, how tall is he?"
The Foreman told me "He was bought for seventy dollars as a boy and he just kept on growing, as for his weight, they never scale-weighed him but figured him close to the pounds of a good stud horse and so tall, he has to bend over near halfway to enter the mine."
"Is he dangerous?" I said.
"No." said the Foreman.
"Then why do you have a crew with clubs guarding him?"
"So he doesn't escape."
"Escape, This is a free country, you can't keep him here if doesn't want to be here!"
"He's indentured." Said the Foreman.
"For how long?" I asked.
"I'm not sure but he's not done."
"I'm gonna have to see his contract," I said.
"What for?" Said the Foreman.
"Just show me the contract!"
The Forman took me up to the office to meet the Bossman, another person living a life of abundance; his neck was so fat his head nearly disappeared. "He wants to see Ben's contract."
"That's none of your business, Marshal." The Bossman said.
I quickly drew two 44s, one for the Bossman and one for the Foreman. "It sure is," I said.
The Bossman opened his safe and handed me the contract.
"This man has been here since he was ten years old and looks to be thirty or so. This contract is only for ten years"
"So what, he has no place to go." Said the Foreman.
"He's going to go wherever he wants to go," I said, nudging the end of my barrels up and down.
"Ok, mister Lawman he's all yours take him, I kinda felt bad keeping him all these years anyway."
"And, you owe him twenty years back pay and another ten for keeping him a slave, right?"
"Now wait a minute Marshal." Said the Bossman.
"Right!" I said as I cocked his hammers back on my colts.
"Sure Marshal, anything you say."
"And he'll need a wagon and a strong horse."
"Get him a wagon." Bossman gestured to the Foreman.
"Damn it, my best worker." Mumbled the Foreman as he walked away.
Ben had long exceeded his indentured servitude in the copper mines, the giant of man broke mountains of rock and ore over the years, and his strenuous existence only added great strength to his massive size. Twenty years of slavery on a contract that should not have gone beyond ten. Sold by his starving family, a boy not quite eleven years of age grew up to be something mythical.
The giant of a man was reluctant to leave, the mine was his home and he was shocked when the Foreman motioned him off.
"Go on Ben." Said the Foreman.
Years of stooping had rounded his shoulders and his apparent sadness at leaving added to it as he moped his way over to the wagon. I tied my unenthusiastic horse to the buckboard and told the giant to get in the back. The buckboard was near level with the back of his knees so he just sat down as the wagon moaned in compliance while my mare set about trying to kick everything in sight. He waved goodbye to the only family he really ever knew while we wound down the trail.
* * *
As we rode into Bisbee, the town folk were stunned, some gasped and ran away. "What do you say we get us a whiskey?" I said.
Ben knew about whiskey from the Irish miners he called friends and seemed to perk up a little at the idea. I walked into the saloon and the bartender said. "Afternoon Marshal, what'll it be, hot damn what'd you bring with you?" He said in an accelerated voice just as Ben crouched down to get through the door.
"His name is Ben and he'll need a whiskey, a bath, and a room."
Ben apprehensively walked over to the bar as the floorboards beneath him complained with every step. The barkeep poured two bottles of whiskey into a pitcher that his hand dwarfed. "Marshall, I don't have a tub big enough for your friend not to mention a bed."
"Figure something out, he's got plenty of money," I said.
The bartender whistled for young helpers, and quickly a couple of teenage boys showed up front and center. "Go clean out that pasture trough and roll it over to the back of the bar and fill every pot and pan you can find with water to put on the fire."
Town folk were gathering in front of the saloon peering through the windows to get a glimpse of Ben. I could tell almost everybody wanted to ask questions about this spectacle but didn't have the nerve. Ben didn't much like being gawked at so he stood there turned away from the windows.
"Marshal, the stable will have to do." Said the Barkeep.
Ben had drunk nearly a dozen men's worth of whiskey when the boys called him to bathe, Ben had never had a hot bath, he always just showered under the water chute at the mine. It was funny to see him dipping his big toe the size of a turnip in the water to see how hot it was. I bought him the biggest cigar I could find but it still looked like a twig in his hand, even so, he enjoyed every minute.
Later, the bartender sent some sportin' ladies to the barn but they all ran out screaming.
Flora Mae Winters was an old whore seldom called on, most felt she was worn out; she was poor those days and could barely make her way, so any opportunity to make some money was worth it. She laughed at the young girls as they cussed at the bartender for sending them out there. She'd seen it all and walked toward the barn whiskey bottles in hand and no fear on her face.
She peeked in the barn and her confidence waned, she quickly returned to the bar and told the keep. "I'm gonna need a lot more whiskey!"
All the young girls were shaking their heads and giggling as she stuffed additional bottles under her arms and walked out, chin held high.
Ben never had a woman before so the experience was like a young boy's first time. Flora Mae found him kind and gentle and managed to get through the arduous task of satisfying him but not without a yowl or two they could hear from the Saloon.
Ben fell in love and called on her frequently, mostly just to enjoy her company. He made sure she was well taken care of and bought her nice clothes. The town folk often asked about him and not in a kind way, she would always tell them. "Ask him yourself." Something they would never do.
* * *
The town was unkind to Ben and Flora Mae so I never understood why he did what he did other than someone had to do it. As I heard it, a bunch of Ruffians rode in and took over the town, killed the Sheriff, herded the townsfolk into the church, and chained up the doors, while they burned and looted. When Flora Mae heard the screams of children in the burning church she ran to Ben crying "The babies are screaming She said, Ben do something!"
The kids were always nice to Ben and made a habit of hanging around the barn and keeping him company when Flora wasn't around. Ben, in fear for his little friends, ran out to the street. Right away he garnered the attention of a few marauders and they shot him numerous times but he still managed to rip the chained doors from their hinges as the town folk ran for their lives, by then The other marauders joined in, laughing, and shooting him, but even with eighteen bullets lodged in the big man he managed to get to enough of them to cause the rest to flee.
Carrying one of their bodies to shield himself from additional gunfire he left a gruesome scene, what he did to them when he got a hold of them was nothing short of brutal. The dusty street lay quiet in the end with blood and severed body parts scattered like debris in a dry creek after a flood. Ben was spewing blood as he staggered his way back, Flora Mae was doing all she could to help him back to his straw bed in the barn. Not a single person ran to give help.
She lay down beside him weeping as he stroked her body. The giant man took his blood-filled last breath, wrapped his arms around her, and kissed her goodbye.
They say it took a six-mule team and a dozen blocks and tackles to hoist him into his wagon; they boarded it into a coffin and rolled him into his grave. No words, no flowers, no thanks. Flora Mae stood alone asking God to forgive his sins and take him into the kingdom of heaven which he deserved.
* * *
When I finally got back to town and walked my heavy heart up to where they bury you, I slowly shook my head holding my hat to my chest, and pondered my friend's demise and the ungrateful retches he saved as well as the pitiful gravestone they left, I handed the stone carver a dollar to add what I thought was a more appropriate epitaph.
BEN – DIED FOR THE LOVE OF AN OLD WHORE
(AND SAVED THIS WORTHLESS DAMN TOWN IN THE PROCESS)