It’s finer than Texas

Chapter 1

John  Henry knew something was about to happen. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up like signal flags in warning.  Cautiously, he eased his right hand over to the Henry rifle in its leather scabbard and drew up reign to listen. He was partial to that particular gun for a couple reasons. First, it was a gift from his dear Anna and second, ever since he had found out its inventor, Benjamin Tyler Henry, was a distant relative, he took extra pride in it. He was often heard to say, “Nothing like supporting a family member in his budding business”.

He had been riding with heightened caution for he had been warned the Ponderosa pine forest of the Colorado Plateau east of the Mogollon Rim in Arizona held perfect cover for robbers and other no goods. Murdering the unwary for their belongings was a common occurrence and John Henry wasn’t about to be caught with his pants down and boots off if he could help it.

His travels had taken him from Texas through the New Mexican territory and into Arizona where he hoped to re settle and start anew in the high altitude of Flag Staff. He rode alone now but for the last eighteen years his wife Anna had been his beloved partner. Less than three months before, she had given up the ghost after a short but painful bout of brain fever. He buried her alongside the creek she loved to play in as a child. Her parents, a twin sister and an older brother rested nearby to keep her company.

When John Henry married Anna, both her parents were alive and the small cattle ranch they owned was prospering. Folks in the early days of the West had rough lives and when both parents came down with Typhus, Anna traveled to her old homestead to care for them. Unfortunately, she too contracted the disease and succumbed shortly after her parents had passed.

In his grief, John Henry sold off the parent’s ranch along with his own small spread and left to escape the painful memories Texas held for him. With one last longing look, his eyes took in the placid scene of the graves dug in safely alongside the creek and knew he was right in leaving. It was a place for the dead to sleep at and wasn’t a place for the living to mourn in wakefulness. Saddling up his favorite mare, he mounted and rode out leaving the dead to rest.

Having survived unscathed to date, the further north he got the more he began to relax. The hand drawn map he carried said it was only a few more days to his destination in Flag Staff

The trip took longer and more out of him than he had hoped. Reaching the tall pine forest a week previous, he decided he and his horse needed a good rest.

It was during that rest that he met and immediately disliked Sean O’Leary.

John heard O’Leary making his way through the forest long before he caught sight of him. Reaching for his Henry rifle he waited until the object of all the racket appeared.

Something about the set of the man, how he packed his mule and the noise he made traveling drew red flags of warning. John waited for the man to ease up and declare his intentions. When the familier yell, “Yo the camp!” never came, John jacked a cartridge into the Henry’s chamber and stood up to better show himself.

Seeing the rider was aware of John and the camp but still no shout of greeting to the camp came, John yelled at the forest rider, “Stay where ya’ are an’ state your business mister.”

Stopping a hundred feet from the camp, the rider threw his arms up in feigned surprise and yelled back in a heavy Irish accent, “ Ach, tis just me, Sean O’Leary. A traveler I am and a weary one at that… and hungry to boot! I could no more deny the scent of your cook fire than I could tell the sun is not shining. Ach, The smell is like that of me own dear mothers cookin’, God rest her saintly soul, an’ here’s  me with my belly shouting  a plea sayin’ it’s been a wee bit a time since I paid it any mind. “

John Henry heard the false friendly tone in the man’s voice.“Mister, that don’t tell me your purpose, just that you ain’t ate and you want my grub! Only a fool enters another man’s camp without permission! Ain’t you ever heard of a shout or do you really think you’re immune to getting yourself blowed out of the saddle for your ignorance?”

Paying no mind to the question John asked, the Irishman dismounted without permission.  O’Leary led his mule by the reigns toward Johns cook fire, dropped them and stood alongside the mules pack. “If you could spare a few beans or a potato, you would surely have my eternal gratitude.” Seeing the Henry rifle lift up and center on his belly, O’Leary stopped his advancement and added. “I bet you are now saying to yourself, now how could a man travel such a distance without even a single potato in his sack? Now before you answer, let me be tellin’ you. I was happened upon by a gun slinging galoot named Marcus along the trail the day before. When that hoodlum rode away, he had relieved me of any food I might be havin in my sack. And here I am just a lone Irishman, a babe in the woods if you will. I’d be behooved if I could at least sit a spell and share in your coffee. ”

John Henry lifted the barrel higher up into the face of the lying Irishman. “I didn’t invite you to eat or to stay. I don’t like your looks mister and I don’t believe a word of your story either. Now just you get back on that mule and ride on out’a here. “

John Henry was no fool. He had ridden the Texas trails half of his life and could sniff out a bandit like a horse does a water hole. He had already looked at and decided the man and his mule were a set up for murder or at least a robbery. The story of a robber known as Marcus was bullcrap. John was always aware of his back trail and who was on it. In the past week, no one was within ten miles behind him. Therefore the Irishman had not come from behind him but had swung around the camp from the front to make it look so. John suspected with the limited supplies that were more for show than for survival, and the man being a lone rider in a bandits paradise, it could only mean one thing… the man had accomplices waiting somewhere nearby.

With the tip of his Henry, John then pointed to the mule pack behind the old saddle. “I bet if I threatened to shoot your mule, you’d find food aplenty in that pack. It sure looks like that bacon slab you got in there is staining it” Besides the large dripping pork fat stain, John had noticed an older but well oiled Springfield rifle untied alongside the mule pack and within easy grabbing distance.

Realizing John Henry was a bit more adept at figuring the truth out than he originally took him for, the Irishman decided to make a face saving retreat before any lead flew. “And to think I had it in mind to offer you good coin for some of those beans and coffee!” Reaching down, he grabbed up the mules reignsl. “Never you mind then, I’ll just be on my way.”

As the Irishman was speaking, John Henry could not miss the narrow eyed glances the mule rider was giving his Henry rifle. It wasn’t a look of fear but of covetousness and it made him uneasy.

As the Irishman turned his mule back to the trail, John noticed the Irishman glanced into the forest and gave his head a quick, “No” shake to someone in hiding.

That evening, John Henry bedded down after dowsing the fire. He normally would have left the glowing coals to burn out by themselves but tonight he felt safer having no fire to light up his campsite. He wondered whether the Irishman would return with his gang to kill him for his belongings. To be sure, John knew the man was lying.

He slept that night with one eye open waiting for the Irishman and his cohorts to show up.

The next morning found John still alive and in ownership yet of his rifle and belongings. John lay awake in the early dawn listening to the forest sounds. For the last half hour while he listened, no man sounds could were heard. He felt safe enough then to stand up and show himself. After a quick meal of coffee, biscuits and bacon, he set out heading to the small town of Strawberry.  The town sat just north of the East Verde river near Sunset Canyon. From Strawberry it was less than a two day ride into Flag Staff. As much as he looked forward to a hot meal, a soft bed and a glass of whisky, John decided to pass on through the town without stopping. Being this close to the end of his journey, his desires for comfort could wait another day or two.

He traveled unmolested along the forest trail. John began to believe the Irishman and his band of no goods had decided he wasn’t worth the fight and found himself beginning to relax.

The smell of wood smoke lifted his nostrils to the wind. Pulling out the hand drawn map again, he decided the smoke was coming from the town of Strawberry up ahead and not from any bandits.

By noon, he came upon a sharp overlooking bluff on the trail. From there he could see over the tree tops down to the town of Strawberry not two miles ahead.  It lay not in the forest but outside it where the desert stretched as far as the eye could see.

The strange beauty of the desert held Johns gaze. Here on top of the bluff within the shade of the dense forest a cool breeze blew and the trees kept the harsh sun from reaching the ground. In less than a mile ahead though there was no shade, no breeze and no trees, unless one called a Joshua tree a tree.

He sat there on horseback overlooking the panorama before him when the hairs suddenly stood up on the back of his neck like red signal flags of warning.

Chapter 2

Sounding akin to a bee in flight, the bullet tore into the top of John Henry’s well worn Stetson.

John flung himself from the saddle but in his haste, he landed awkwardly and fell flat faced to the ground. Rearing in panic by Johns sudden movement, his mare then sped off down the trail towards the town of Strawberry.

Realizing his trusty Henry rifle was still snug in its saddle scabbard, John felt his hip to make sure that at least his Navy Colt was still secure in its holster. It was.

Seeing a single clean hole driven into his hat, he grabbed it and plopped it back onto his head.

Cautiously scooting off of the trail into the brush, John Henry lay hidden. Without his horse, he was easy pickings and the moment he stood up he’d be a target of whoever had shot at him.

John had no doubt it had something to do with the Irishman. He figured there were at least a couple more siding with him. “Damn bushwackers, I shoulda’ shot that damn Irishman the moment he stepped into my camp.”

John Henry lay there within the dark shadows of the forest and brush until he felt whoever had shot at him wasn’t going to check on their shot. He crawled parallel alongside the trail until the brush became so dense he could not continue. Reentering the trail, he stood for a few minutes listening to the forest sounds. Nothing seemed out of place.  Flitting birds, ground squirrels and other critters continued to make their usual noises. No alarm warnings are sounded. Figuring whoever shot at him was more interested in what was on his horse than him personally, john started down the trail to Strawberry.

After a mile or so, the trail joined up with what John took to be a wagon road into town. Deep ruts and fresh horse apples said the road was fairly well used. By the time he entered the outskirts of Strawberry, there were long shadows being painted along the dusty street.

Something didn’t seem right to John Henry. While the town was far from any ghost town he’d seen before, he was surprised the street was empty of animals and people.

Making his way into town by walking dead center down the street, John Henry glanced right then left as he walked.

Glancing about he noticed the wooden frame buildings looked in good shape, no broken windows or collapsed awnings. Nothing to say it was a deserted ghost town. The street, while dusty was without trash. There were some dried and even a few fresh looking horse apples laying about.  The horses water troughs seemed to have fresh water in them and the hitching post seemed strong and useable.

No store was open no people were seen. A dress shop window had a recently arrived dress from New Orleans advertized in the window. A tobacco shop had meerschaum pipes and silver cigar cutters in the window, expensive items all left untouched.  .

John Henry could not make out the other end of town clearly but he figured with the desert alkali dust and heat waves radiating off the dirt street that it should be expected. Not pondering on that, he made his way to the center of town.  Once there, he stopped and scratched his head. “What the dickens is going on” he thought, “have I lost my mind or are these folk all out somewhere?”

One way to find out was to see the Sherriff,” if I can find him,” he mused.

As he made his way to the Sheriffs  office, he slowly walked  past the towns  bank. Looking into the windows as he passed, he didn’t see anyone moving about inside. Reaching for the banks front door, he turned the handle and was taken by surprise to find not only the bank unoccupied but all its doors were left unlocked.  “Oh hell, this ain’t right!” He loudly exclaimed.

Turning from the bank, he made swift headway to the Sheriffs office.

Approaching the jail, began to wonder if there could be a celebration or maybe a town function of some sort going on. He could recall as a kid the entire town he lived in at the time turning out for a horse race in a field outside of town. Then another time the entire town showed up to see the reformed town drunk get baptized in the creek nearby. There were reasons for people to go somewhere, maybe this was one of those times. “I bet that’s it, they’s just all gone off somewhere, they’ll be back soon.”

Arriving at the Jailhouse John Henry turned the door knob. The door swung inward on a set of squeaky but well maintained hinges.  Hesitantly, he stuck his head inside the Sherriff’s office and shouted.

“Hey, anybody home?” He yelled, “Sheriff, you all in here?” Silence was the response.

John Henry could figure nothing further so he stepped inside to wait for the Sherriff to show up. Feeling a strange tiredness, his drooping eyes took in the jail cells. They were also empty.

Yawning, he opened the cell door and stepped inside the confined area. A single cot was all the jail cell had within it. Making his way over to the cot, he sat down to rest. His head began to ache and the strange desire to sleep started overwhelming him, he lay down on the cot, and fell into a strange fever  like sleep.

John Henry heard familiar sounds as he lay deep in sleep. Like phantom wraiths they ghosted in and out of his dreams. The sound of horses clopping past, the front door of the jail house opening and closing, men talking within the jail and outside on the wooden walkway. There was the sound of a wagons squeaky, grease starved wheel hub as it made its way down the street. Boots thumping on the wooden walk outside said people were out and about. All the normal sounds for a normal town.

Morning broke through the jails single iron barred window in the cell. Streaking downward and in motion, it finally crawled onto John Henry’s face and eyes.

Abruptly, he awoke and sat up.

Wiping his hand across his eyes in order to sharpen his focus, he stood up and looked into the jails office. Remembering the sounds he heard during the night within the jail, he was surprised no one had wakened him to question why he had put himself in jail. The cell door was still unlocked so he pushed it open and walked into the office.   No one greeted him. The place was as empty as the night before. Spying a coffee pot he lifted it up to see if it contained any brew. While empty, it seemed too warm to be room temperature. Tipping the lid back he saw there was a scant amount yet in the bottom. He swirled it and saw grounds moving within the swirling wave. Someone had made coffee while he slept!

He quietly opened the front door, peered outside then stepped onto the wooden walkway.

Back out in the street, silence and emptyness once again greeted him. “Aw c’mon now” he complained, “What in Sam Hill is going on here?”  Starting up the street he stepped into a pile of horse dung, fresh horse dung. “How in the hell did that end up here if they ain’t got no horses here about? This is plain retarded!”   Swinging around in a full circle and near panic, he again saw a completely deserted town. No horses, only dung, no wagons, just tracks, no people, just unlocked doors.

“This is not right, not right at all” He loudly told himself. John Henry then decided to find a saloon. If anyone was in town, that’s where they’d be.

Seeing a building with a tall false front and a set of batwing doors he walked toward it. The sign over head claimed it was the Dusty Bone Saloon. It advertized food, drinks and the most beautiful woman to be had west of the Mississippi. Thinking of how many months some Cowboys was on the trail without seeing a woman, he figured whoever had named the place had hit the nail on the head.

Stepping up to the saloon’s wood plank walkway, he clomped up to the batwings door. He cocked his head before entering it to listen for any sounds coming from inside.  He heard nothing.

Slowly he swung open the doors and looked into the gloomy interior. Entering the dimly lit room, he took in the place as he walked up to the gaming tables. Cards lay about, even coins! Drinks had been half drunk and left sitting.

“Hey! Anyone in here?”  He glanced at the stairway leading upstairs to the whores rooms and took to the stairs two at a time. Reaching the hallway, he pushed open the first door he came to. Empty. Each room was the same. He turned and ran.

Time seemed to play tricks on him. As he ran from the saloon, he noticed the deepening shadows crawling up the dusty street. Wasn’t it just morning?

Feeling the strange sleepiness coming on once again he headed back to the saloon again and to the whores rooms to nap. Hunger had not seemed to be a concern nor even thirst. He didn’t quite understand, it was as if he was experiencing a brain fog. Reaching the step to the wooden walkway, he took the time to look down the street to the end of town. Once again he could not quite make out the details of the buildings or even the road. The end of town just seemed to blur into a smudge. He shrugged and entered the Saloon again. As he made his way to the stairs, he noticed new glasses had replaced the old ones at the table and bar. A few whisky bottles sat like unmoving pillars among the glasses.

Rubbing his aching head, he climbed the stairs to the whore’s rooms. One room stood with its door open so he stepped in and lay down to rest. Again sleep came upon him as if he had been drugged.  The last thing he thought of before he blinked out was that tomorrow he’d get on out of this strange place. Something just wasn’t right here.

Chapter 3

Again the night sounds came. This time he heard voices clear and distinct. Sometimes it was the huffing, puffing and grunting of cowhands and whores, other times it was sounds in the street. He dismissed the whores even in his sleep for somehow he remembered where he lay and assumed somehow it was being acted out in his dream. The street sounds interested him though. One in particular was the sound of many horses arriving along with cheers and congratulations. John Henry tried to discern what was being said above the din. Something about finding some no goods, a vigilante posse and hanging were some of the words he clearly understood. Then it all faded back into his sleep as a crowd began cheering. He slept until sunrise.

Dawn came abruptly. Jumping up from the bed, John Henry grabbed his hat and tore down the steps into the bar. Again he saw no patrons or bar tender. This time he was not surprised that the glasses and bottles had changed again. Stepping outside into the morning sun he started down the street to the end of town  where he swore in his dream he heard a crowd cheering. By now he was no longer concerning himself as to why there was no one about. He had put that out of his head because just as soon as he could, he’d head out of this crazy town, horse or no horse. Once gone, he figured things would return to normal.

Heading to the end of town he had heard the cheering he abruptly stopped and stood staring slack jawed at what he saw.

There, hanging from one of the few trees in town twisting in the breeze were three men. One of who was the Irishman. Removing his hat as if it would help him see better, John Henry cautiously approached the hanging figures. Black tongues stuck out of their gaping mouths. The two he did not recognize had pissed their drawers and the Irishman had included crap his. It was not a pleasant scene to stare at.

It was then that he realized he was at the end of the town he had not been able to see before. Due to sand being blown or heat wave he did not know, but being as close as he was he figured the end of town would be clearly visible now. It still wasn’t.

A  blur of fog was still preventing him from clearly seeing the end of the street, now only a hundred feet away. So intrigued was he that he turned from the three rope dangling figures and walked towards the end of the street.

As he approached, it seemed the end of the town ended in a blur of light. As he slowly walked towards it, he saw the light becoming more intense.  By the time he stood within feet of the last building the light was brighter than the morning sun. It wasn’t the brightness though that held him in a trance like state but the figure he saw within the brightness. It was his love, Anna.

Slowly, he approached the vision of the love of his life, his mind reeled in disbelief. “Anna?”  His voice cracked, “How? What is going on? That cain’t be really you! I buried my Anna back in Texas!”

In the brightest of light, Anna Smiled at him and spoke. ”My dear Jonathan Dickson Henry, who else would I be?”

Hearing his name spoken forced John Henry to his knees. There was only one person in the world besides his dead parents who knew his middle name, and that was his Anna.

Anna reached out her hand to him, “Come to me John Henry, it’s time now to leave this place. I have been waiting for you .”

“What do you mean, waiting? How did you know I was in this town anyway?”  Looking up in confusion John Henry quietly asked her. “What’s goin’ on sweetheart? Why am I being punished like this. I know you’re not really here.  Tell me, why am I here an’ you there? Have I gone mad?”

“No, you have not gone mad” Anna answered, “Do you remember the Irishman you met and took a dislike to on the trail?

“Yes, I remember seeing him. I didn’t cotton to him right off but I never saw his pards I just guessed he’d have some hidden away somewheres. I take it that’s ‘em hanging over there next to him? For what was they all hung for?”

Anna answered, “It is them, and they were hung because of what they were and what they did to you.”

Did to me? You’re tellin’ me it was them that shot at me an’ put a hole in my favorite hat? While I ain’t partial to havin’ my hat shot off my head, that ain’t no call to hang ‘em. Why they hang ‘em for that?”

“My dear John Henry, He didn’t just shoot the hat off your head, he shot the hat off through your head!”

“What???”

“That’s right, he killed you. Your body was found laying on the trail shortly after some of the town’s folks investigated after hearing the shot.  Your horse has been stabled in town since then. They caught up with those three last night in the forest, brought them back and hung them from that tree.

“Well if I’m dead then how come I’m standin’ here talkin’ to you.  Wouldn’t I know it if I was dead? Besides that, I’d be layin’ in a grave somewhere an’ I think I’d know if I was layin’ dead in a grave somewhere. Wouldn’t I?”

“It’s true John Henry, you are lying in a grave, right over there on the hill. You can walk over and take a look at your grave but I think you’ll believe me without having to take a look.”

John Henry looked over towards the hill, where sure enough, a new grave had been dug and filled. “How come I cain’t see no one except only  them that shot me?”

“Because they are dead. You can no longer see the living. Each time you fell asleep your spirit edged closer here to the light. I was sent to guide you.

The sounds you heard where those of the living. I know you noticed the changes each day. I saw you looking at the glasses and bottles yesterday. You saw they had changed. “

“How come I don’t see nothin’ move?”

“Because you only see a tiny slice of time, less than a blink of the eye, not unlike a painting captures a moment in time.”

John Henry’s mind began to make sense of it all. Rubbing his chin, John Henry looked to his beloved Anna. “So it’s for real then? I’m dead? Huh, maybe that explains why my horse took to the trail without me. She musta knowed I was a goner ‘cause she never woulda’ left me otherwise.”

“She did. I was delighted when she ran towards town for I did not want the Irishman to claim your Henry rifle. I know how much that rifle means to you.”

“It weren’t the rifle itself that meant so much to me Anna. It was ‘cause I knowed how long and hard it was for you to save up that much money to buy it for me without me knowin about it. Yup, I guess I’ll have no need for it now that I’m dead. Say Anna,  this may sound a bit queer but was you watchin’ me the entire time after I was kilt?”

“I’ve been able to see everything, yes.”

“I slept in the whorehouse, you knew that?”

Anna started chuckling, “Yes sweetheart, I watched as you slept and the whores came and went and plied their trade in your bed. It did look a bit crowded at times John Henry, I wish you could’ve seen it!”

It started out as a chuckle but grew into a full belly laugh for the two of them. John Henry slapped his thigh and shouted “Oh my word!” He cried, “that sounds like perfectly horrible sight.”

After a minute, the two stopped their laughing and chuckling. John Henry looked soberly at the town around him. True, the only thing that moved was the slow twisting of the dead men as they hung. He pondered the events and it all fit together too perfectly to be anything but the truth. He then turned his eyes back to his beloved Anna and told her.” I always wondered how I would go. Funny thing is, I never even knew it when I did go. I guess that explains why I ain’t touched no food or ever got thirsty either, huh?”

Instead of answering immediately, Anna reached her hand out to him. “Come home now with me John Henry, it’s finer here than even in Texas.”

Jonathon Dickson Henry closed his hand over hers and told her, “I loved you so darn much that sometimes I wondered if I could live without you after you passed. I guess I couldn’t huh?”

Anna smiled at him.

Together, hand in hand, they turned and walked away from the town and into the sun bright fog.

Anna and John Henry slowly began to dissapear from sight.

“Finer than Texas you say?”

“Yes John Henry, as hard as it is to believe, it’s finer than Texas!”

The End

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Meet up in Lambey

Chapter 1

Sheriff Jeffery Osborn of Lambey Arizona , known as Ozzy by the townsfolk, sat sleeping open mouthed at his desk with his head thrown back. Every few moments from under his large bow shaped mustache came the discharge of a turbulent snort followed by a long sonorous snore. Ozzy was truly enjoying his afternoon nap. There was nothing wrong in doing that, in fact most townsfolk wouldn’t have it any other way. For the last nine years he had been their protector in a frontier that didn’t give a hoot to most law and order.

Sheriff Ozzy had spent much of that time wearing out the old oak chair with his behind. Now fifty two years old, Ozzy stood six feet four inches tall and had a hard time finding a horse that would gladly carry his two hundred and eighty pounds any distance. Ozzy wasn’t fat, not really anyway. He was just big. He was one of those guys that looked more like he was made of boulders rather than flesh and blood. Next to his wife Jessica, who was a perky little brown eyed woman and the love of his life, he was a towering giant. Jessica believed he had a heart the size of his presence.

He carried the long barrel Colt Peacemaker. While the short barrel pistol was quicker to the draw, the longer barrel was more accurate. Although well armed, Ozzy found the best way to come out on top in a gun fight was to talk the other guy out of it before the lead flew. With the huge shadow Ozzy cast, he had little trouble convincing drunks and other no goods that a physical altercation would not be in their health’s best interest. A gun was the great equalizer or so it was thought. When push come to shove though, most trigger happy drunks came to the conclusion that a night in jail sure beat pushing daisy’s up from the grave the next morning. And so being the Sheriff of Lambey was pretty uneventful for the mustached Sheriff.

Most times being a Sheriff of a small town meant months of drudgery followed by a few minutes of crap and pee your pants action. If Ozzy knew what lay down the road for the next couple of days, he would’ve stayed snoring at his desk or at least brought himself an extra change of pants.

Over in Wickenburg, just a day’s ride west of Lambey, Sheriff TJ Lewis finished unchaining the three Bartell brothers from the jail tree. Now Wickenburg was a growing town but even with it’s all its rowdiness it still hadn’t got around to building a real jail yet. An old mesquite tree and chain served as the jail and as it turned out, was one of the few places of decent shade in the entire town.
Once freed, the brothers cast ‘I’ll kill you next time we meet’ looks at Sheriff Lewis.

Throwing the chain over his shoulder he warned the three brothers.“Now you boys just ride on out of here peaceful like. Head anywhere you want but around my jurisdiction. You give anyone any lip or hard time on your way out and you’ll be chained right back up here. We don’t cotton to mistreatin’ women around here. Soiled dove or house wife, it don’t matter. You end up back here an’ I’ll let you rot in the sun until the Federal Marshal makes his way back here to pick your dead asses up. You understand what I’m telling you?”

A grumble from one brother, a nod from the others. “Good, now I already took the money from your belongings to pay the Mexican boy over at the livery for the feed and care of your three nags.”
Then remembering something that made him chuckle he continued, “Oh, I left him a nice tip ‘cause I figured you’d be too cheap to give him one.” Pointing down the road he warned them “ You got ten minutes to disappear from my site, now git!”

The three brothers, Carl, Roy and Jerome Bartell rode as free men out of the town. It wasn’t the fight that folks knew about that proclaimed their evilness, but the paid for murder they performed that no one was aware of yet. They had been paid a hundred dollars each for the killing and they thought the job was performed perfectly. It wasn’t. It would be sometime later that the body of mine owner Clarence Dickson and his near dead wife would be found. By then though, the Bartell brothers would be long gone from town.

Roy spoke up as the left the outskirts of town on horseback, “That was too dang close for comfort! Jerome, what the hell made you think you could manhandle that whore like that back there in the saloon without half them poke starved miners jumpin’ your ass and pounding it silly?”

Spiting some old bloody snot onto the ground, Jerome looked at his two accusers, “You two coulda’ at least shot a few of ‘em to get ‘em off a me! My damn face looks like a mule danced atop it for a while. Lost me a few more teeth too. It’s getting’ mighty hard to chew.” Jerome opened his mouth at the brothers and grinned, showing fresh gaps in the uneven set of rotted teeth.

Roy snorted, “Yup, that right there is why you don’t do the thinkin’ here little brother. You really think we coulda’ shot our way to freedom? Crap, we’d be pig feed right now if we woulda’ pulled iron on that crowd. Miners is like hornets when they’s got the scent of a woman near ‘em. If you pull somethin’ stupid like that again, I’ll blow your brains all to hell an’ be thanked for it. I ain’t never gonna’ let you risk my life ever again over your cravin’ to poke your damn carrot into anything wearin’ a skirt. Carl and I shoulda’ just let ‘em all just tear into you. Good thing for all of us that the Sheriff showed up when he did. He did us a huge favor by placin’ us under arrest for the night. Sometimes it’s safer bein’ in jail than bein’ free. Ain’t nothing worse than a vigilante crowd. On the other hand though, what woulda become of us if they’d found the Dicksons while we was in that saloon or chained up? I’m just glad we’s outa’ there!”

Chapter 2

Once on the trail heading south east towards the Aqua Fria River, Roy mulled the situation over, then he spoke up. “Let’s keep headin’ south east for about sixty or so more miles, we can lay low for a spell in the hills outside of Cave Creek town. There’s some god awful rough territory there about and I can’t see any posse trailing us that far. Wickenburg ain’t got no real posse, just a bunch of drunk miners that are lookin’ for some excitement. They’ll get bored after they sober up an’ turn back.”

It was just after deciding they could hole up at Cave Creek when Jerome’s horse lost a shoe on the rocky trail. “Hold up fella’s, I think she threw a shoe back there.” Dismounting, he checked and found out she had.

Pointing up ahead, Jerome continued speaking, “Lambey’s on up ahead just a few more miles. I passed through there some years back before we all took to the owl hoot trail. It weren’t a big town then but I know they had a livery, saloon and a whore house. I’m purty sure they had a smithy there too.”

Shaking his head, Roy looked over at his brother and told him, “Figures you’d know all about that saloon and whore house now wouldn’t ya? I swear, that ol’ bean pole in your pants is gonna be the death of ya’ yet!” Let’s just hope they don’t find them dead folks back there and form a posse before we get your nag shod.”

Thinking about it a minute, Roy decided. “ We should have a few days at least. It weren’t like there was paid workers to show up for work at that mine the Dickson’s worked behind their place. By the time the shoeing is done, it’ll be getting’ dark. Still, we should be alright if we spend the night since no one was even aware we was headed this direction.”

The three rode into Lambey not knowing they’d never see the hills of Cave creek.
Pointing, Jerome told them. “There’s the Black Smith over there, let’s drop my horse off and head on over to that there saloon down the street.” Trying to muster up a spit, he continued, ” I got that dang Arizona alkali dust dryin up my throat somethin’ fierce. God how I hate Arizona”
Back in Sheriff Osborn’s jail house, Bassa, the Sheriffs dog of dubious origin woke up, stretched out full length and loudly farted.

Suddenly both Bassa and Ozzy’s eyes flew wide open. In one quick motion Ozzy ran to the door, opened it and loudly exhaled his held breath. Turning back to the dog, which didn’t seem to mind the change in the jails aroma, Ozzy yelled insults and futile threats to the mutt which the Sheriff vowed was now smiling at him. “I swear, why I ever took you in is beyond me, I should’ve never kilt your owner. Seems I did him a favor…” His tirade drifted off to vague remarks of the dogs origin as he noticed the three men wearing their holsters low slung and untied making their way on foot down the street to the saloon.

Backing slowly into stinking doorway, Ozzy found cover to observe the men. Looking behind him, Ozzy voiced his concerns to Bassa. “I don’t like those fella’s looks Bassa, why don’t you get on out there and see what how they handle you sniffin’ at ‘em.”

As if Bassa completely understood, He rose up, stretched again and wandered out the door. Crossing the street, the dog, whose appearance was best described as a wolf that someone had carelessly thrown a worn out bear skin rug over, meandered on an angle until he came up on the men.

As if on cue, Bassa lowered his head and sniffed loudly at Carl’s boot. Carl’s reaction was a swift kick that missed by an inch, “Get the hell outa’ here ya’ ugly assed mutt! Dang thing looks like it got skin diseases!”

Watching from the doorway, the good Sheriff figured if anybody was mean enough to kick an innocent animal, even one as shaggy and unkempt as Bassa, then he sure don’t want ‘em hanging around his town. Dogs, especially Bassa he had discovered, were a pretty darn good judge of men.
Stepping into the street, Ozzy made his way unnoticed behind the men while Bassa returned to the jail’s porch for a well earned nap

Chapter 3

Waiting until the men had settled down to their drinking, Ozzy slid in quietly through the saloons batwing doors and immediately stepped to the right. This allowed him to observe the men as he stood in the shadows. It wasn’t long before the trio’s whiskey brought out their true colors. It started by arguing quietly amongst themselves but soon escalated to raised voices.
From what he overheard, the Sheriff figured something bad had gone down over in Wickenburg . The word ‘posse’ was spoken just once but it was enough for Ozzy to take some action. Casting his gaze over the crowded saloon, he soon saw his friend and part time deputy playing a game of poker. Catching the Deputy’s eye, he tilted his head towards the rear door and walked out.

Once meeting outside, the Deputy asked what was going on.

“Tom, did you notice those three men that walked in? They sure ain’t ranch hands or preachers the way they was wearin’ them irons low like. I got a feeling they did something bad up Wickenburg way. There ain’t a reason in the world for the likes of them to be here unless they’s up to no good. ”

The deputy agreed,” Yup, I think we got some bad ‘uns here Ozzy. What you thinkin’ on doin’ about ‘em?”

Ozzy leaned his powerful frame against the wall, “ I need something done real quick. Consider yourself drawin’ Deputy pay as of right now. I want you to high tail it over to Wickenburg and talk to Sheriff Lewis there and see if they caused a ruckus of any sort that they might have the law lookin’ for ‘em. I overheard them talking about Wickenburg and something about a posse. Ride hard ‘cause I need answers mighty quick.”

“Shoot, I’ll be there by midnight and back by morning.” With that, Fred was off to the corral behind the jail. A few minutes later Ozzy heard the pounding of hoof beats leaving town.

Not knowing whether the trio was spending any time or just passing through, Sheriff Osborn kept his eye open for any trouble within the saloon. It was soon obvious that the one named Roy was the leader and the other two Carl and Jerome or maybe all three were brothers. Ozzy had noticed there’s a difference between family and non family when folks drank and argued. Non family arguments usually brought out irons spewing lead to settle a disagreement. Family just fought with their fist or knives. Jerome and Roy soon proceeded to prove the Sheriff right. The fist started flying between the two.
Jerome woke with even more missing teeth and Roy’s left eye swelled shut. Carl had a couple of knots on his head from an upset patron who lost his drink when Carl fell into him. The patron lost the rest of his whisky when his bottle broke across Carl’s forehead. Jerome spent the night in the whore house. Carl and Roy had slept with their horses in the stable.
The predawn light found Ozzy kissing his wife Jessica goodbye at their doorway and told her not to worry. He had told her of the three who rode into town the day before.  He tried to lighten her mood by joking, “I got Bassa backing me up.” Then he added softly, “I love you Jessica, there ain’t no one gonna keep me from coming back home to my sweety at the end of the day.”

Jessica leaned against his powerful frame and wrapped her arms around him.

Ozzy had been her savior and true love from day he rode into a saloon in Santa Fe nine year earlier. While enjoying his drink, Ozzy noticed the young dark haired, big brown eyed soiled dove watching him from the other end of the bar. Being a man, and being intrigued at why such a good looking girl would be in the employ of the saloon as a whore, he approached her. It only took a minute of small talk and the two left for the privacy of her room. That night was the first of five nights straight. He was her only customer and it had run him near broke.
In those five days of privacy, Ozzy had found out much about the girl. She had been a mail order bride who’s man was found shot to death in Santa Fe two days before she arrived from Sandy Run South Carolina. With no money, no job and no future, she was left with no option but to do as many women of the day were forced to do. Sell the only thing they had worth selling to survive. Themselves.

Ozzy checked his funds the last morning and saw that they had been depleted to the point that he could no longer even spend one more night with her. It wrenched his heart for he had fallen hard in love.

Ozzy wanted to tell her of his love for her but figured such a pretty girl had most likely heard that same thing from every other cowboy visiting her room. The morning broke and Ozzy spoke of leaving.

“I am supposed to be in Arizona in another week. I took a job of Sheriff at a small mining town. It ain’t much but it’s an honest job. I don’t want to leave here, I’ve grown to…”

Without warning, Jessica threw herself at him and begged, “Please, take me with you! Don’t leave me here, this isn’t what I ever planned for in my life and I swear I would rather kill myself than feel another man atop me again!” By now Jessica’s streaming tears had found their way to the floor as they dripped from her little chin. “I will do anything for you, I’ll clean, cook, wash you and your clothes three times a day…anything! You don’t have to marry me even! Just don’t leave me here, please take me with you!” Jessica had collapsed against him and let herself bawl like a calf.

When Ozzy rode out that afternoon, he was a bit cramped on the saddle even though his Jessica was such a tiny thing.

She still was. As he left her that morning and walked down the street to the jail with Bassa following behind, she couldn’t help but feel her stomach knot up. She was expecting in a few months and began to worry about Ozzy’s safety. In the past nine years, trouble came and went and she had her worries but not like this. Something else was in play and she couldn’t put her finger on it. Shrugging off the unpleasant feeling she felt, Jessica went back inside to finish her morning chores before heading to the China Laundry. Since she announced her pregnancy, Ozzy wouldn’t let her wash clothes anymore. Secretly, she hoped it would continue that way after she delivered.
True to his word, Deputy Tom showed up at first light at the jail house with the news. “It seemed that the three are suspected of a killing for hire. The owner of the Smiling Lady gold mine, a Mr. Dickson, had been murdered and his wife near beat to death. She recovered enough to tell the Sheriff that three men had entered their house and kilt her husband to death over the gold mine. She overheard them while she lay there playing dead that they was paid to do the killin. It seems whoever hired ‘em had plans for the mine when the claim ended with their deaths.” Taking a break to spit on the ground, Tom then said, “They’s wanted over there all right Ozzy, what we gonna do?”

Ozzy’s plate was filling up mighty quick with problems. First was how to safely round the men up. Second was how to legally settle the issue of their freedom since they hadn’t committed a crime in Lambey yet. Thankfully, figuring out who ordered the killings was up to Sheriff Lewis.

“Well, first things first, let’s head over to the livery and see if they stabled their horses there. I figure I can legally hold them in our jail since you said that Sheriff Lewis told you he had issued a warrant for their arrest. We got to keep it legal like if this ends up having a Federal marshal involved. It seems every time a Federal Marshal shows up, a posse of lawyers is on his tail waiting to foil him at every turn.”
Ozzy pulled out his long barreled pistol and spun the cylinder. “when I go to arrest them, make sure you’re ready to draw quick like Tom, that group looks like they know how to use them tied down Colts.”

It took only a minute for Ozzy to find out the two brothers Carl and Roy, had spent the night in the hay in the livery and had recently left. “well, I think when we find the third man we’ll end up finding all three at once. I want you to head over to Mary’s Diner and see if they’s stuffin’ their chops with grub, they gotta eat sometime. I’ll be watching ‘em from next door inside the mercantile through the curtained window.”

Chapter 4
After leaving the stable, Roy pounded on the upstairs door the saloon owner said Jerome had spent the night in.

In reality, most rooms were rented by the minute, not the night. Women deprived cowboys spoke loudly of their ability to make a soiled dove swoon but if you were to ask her, she’d tell you she got about as excited as finding a new hole in her lace stocking. Many cowboys after being on the trail for months, discovered that their manliness had either got up and left ‘em or took to an embarrassing early exit. This ended up making room available only minutes later for the next customer. Jerome was not one of these. The soiled doves he frequented back in Santa Fe had complained they lost money when he showed up so they began to charge him extra. That was alright with Jerome since any money he had was either stolen or ill earned anyway. It wasn’t like he actually worked for it.

Roy’s pounding finally ended with the door opening and Jerome’s sorry black and blue face peered out. “Git your clothes on Jerome. Let’s head on over for some grub and cut on outa’ here. I’m getting antsy.”

The three Bartel brothers ordered their breakfast and sat impatiently waiting for their food. Jerome’s face still hurt from the pounding Roy had given it the night before in the saloon. Rubbing his jaw he looked over at Roy. “Dang it Roy, why’d ya go an’ punch me in my mouth, you know’d I just had it punched up the night before by them miners! I got so many teeth missin’ now that a whole biscuit’ll fit right between ‘em.”
“Then behave yourself ya idiot!” replied Roy. Seeing the food was about to arrive, he ended saying, “Soon as we finish eatin, lets head over to the livery and get back on the trail.”

Not knowing Tom was a Deputy, the three paid no attention to the slender looking cowboy as he entered the diner behind them, grabbed a menu and sat down at a vacant table nearby.

Rushing through his breakfast, Roy leaned back, whipped his mouth with his shirt sleeve and loosened his belt a notch for comfort. “well, anytime yer ready, I am.”
Carl set his empty coffee mug onto the table. “I got a bad feelin’ myself now Roy. I wish now I hadn’t left my long gun with the horses.”
As they stepped outside, Jerome stopped dead in his tracks and pointed.

“Well damn my hide, look over yonder there! I know’d that girl anywhere. She was a whore over in Santa Fe some years back.” Strutting like a peacock, he boasted, “ I had her a bunch a times myself!”

Then before the others could stop him, Jerome swiftly scooted himself across the street to intercept the dark haired girl carrying a load of laundry. Timing himself to catch her between buildings, he caught up and shoved her violently into the shadowed alley. Before she could react, Jerome was on top of her trying to stifle her screams of help. Insane anger welled up in Jerome as memories of her laughed at him.

“Hey bitch! Remember me? I know who you are, you uppity whore! You refused me over an’ over no matter how much money I threw at you back in Santa Fe. And you a stinkin’ whore thinkin’ you was better’n me!”

Jessica fought hard against his attack but Jerome had already pulled his pants down to his knees and climbed on top the knocked down girl, trying to force her legs apart.

Tom heard the screams from inside the diner and ran to the door. Stopping behind the stunned brothers, he realized the screams were of a girl being accosted in the alley across the street. Forgetting his duty to watch the brothers for Ozzy, he ran flat out across the street pulling his gun from its holster.

Being experienced shootist, both Carl and Roy reacted to Deputy Tom reaching for his gun by pulling theirs in a blur.

Not aware yet that the would be rapist was one of the brothers, Tom didn’t look behind him as he ran. Suddenly Tom felt a tug on the back of his flapping wool vest and afterward heard the gunshot. Caught between trying to stop the attack and save himself, Tom dove headfirst into the dirt and fired backwards at the two brothers.

Another bullet plowed its way past Toms head, kicking up dust and blinding his right eye. Recognizing the form trying to rape the girl as Jerome, Tom took as careful aim as he could and using his left eye, fired high on the form on top of the girl.

Two things happened at once. Jerome jerked up, having had a bullet drive its way from Toms gun into his bare ass and up to and out of his shoulder an inch under the skin. It wasn’t a deadly shot, but it sure drove the pain scale to a ten.

The next thing that happened was Ozzy had entered the fight.

Watching the brothers leave the diner from the mercantile and having heard Toms original shot, Ozzy bolted out the door into the street with his gun drawn.

Hearing the scream, he realized it was Jessica’s.

Seeing Jerome lift up off of his wife and begin to jerk and twist from the intense pain of Toms shot, Ozzy remained calm, pushing the rising panic behind him, he aimed carefully and pulled the trigger of the long barrel Colt 45 at the flopping figure. Jerome’s head exploded in a red mist of brains and bone, leaving Jessica to run free.

The two brothers separated making it harder to take them out. Tom had made his way behind a water trough but Ozzy still stood exposed in the street behind the brothers. Lifting his head over and into the horse’s water trough to clear his right eye of dust, Tom barely finished when two bullets punched holes into the wooden planks protecting him. Seeing the water pouring from the holes in front of his face, Tom let the stream flow over his eye, finally clearing it of dust.

Roy swung around and fired from the hip at Ozzy as Ozzy’s barrel spewed a deadly stream of lead and fire into the left arm socket of Carl. Carl’s arm flew backward blown out of the long sleeve shirt and fell to the ground.

Roy’s shot caught Ozzy’s holster belt alongside his hip and harmlessly exploded some of the cartridges from it. Tom had by now regained his sight and composure and began throwing lead once again. Not wanting to hit the buildings or people within them behind Roy and Carl, he aimed low at their feet.

Carl was screaming and holding his pistol against his shoulder trying to halt the fountain of spurting blood from his empty arm socket. Suddenly the heel of his right boot disappeared, then his ankle took on a new angle as a bullet plowed into it.

Roy was still firing at Ozzy. Ozzy felt a jerk at his sleeve as a bullet passed through it plowing a groove up his arm. A second bullet punched clean through his thigh. Knowing it was only a matter of seconds before a deadly load would find it’s mortal mark, Ozzy steadied himself and fired the last of his cartridges into Roy’s chest.

Jerome lay blown to pieces, Carl was out of action, missing an arm and a foot. That left only Roy standing there looking with deadly hate at Ozzy. Slowly blood began dripping from between Roys lips and down his chin. Then as if he had just thought of something funny. He chuckled, coughed up more blood and said, “I told him his bean pole would be the death of him.”

Roy suddenly felt tired, very tired. It seemed his legs could barely hold himself up he was so tired. Then slowly his vision started angling sideways and then stopped as his head lay against the hard dust. His eyes closed and being tired beyond help, they never opened again.

A bit shot up but not to the point of dying, Ozzy limped over to his wife who was now running across the road to meet him.”Are you alright? Did he hurt you?” He shouted.

She flung herself at him crying but not for what had been done to her but for the pain Ozzy was going through. “No, I’m alright,” she cried, ‘ just bruised up a bit and in need of a new dress…” Suddenly her face crumpled and tears flowed.

“I’m so sorry Ozzy, it was my past coming back to haunt us. He recognized me from Santa Fe. It’s going to happen over and over, I just know it, Oh my God, I am so sorry Ozzy, and now you’re all shot up too! You came within inches of being killed because of me” She buried her head in his good shoulder and bawled like a baby.

Ozzy reached his good arm around her and pulled her to him. He could feel her swollen tummy against his. “I love you Jessica, I told you before, there ain’t no one gonna keep me from coming back home to my sweety at the end of the day.”

Glancing around at the dead, Ozzy softly told her, “When I saddled you in front of me and we rode out of Santa Fe, I knew days like this might come up. Then and there I decided you was worth it. I ain’t regretted it yet an’ never will.”

Ozzy looked at the blood soaking his shirt sleeve and pant leg. “C’mon sweety, let’s get me bandaged up.”

Heading towards Doc Simmons place, Ozzy felt a nudge at his feet. Looking down he saw Bassa looking sullenly back up at him. “Big help you were ya’ old flea bag!”

Bassa would have taken offense but he noticed the smile that Ozzy couldn’t suppress as he said it.

As the three made their way down the street, Back where the bodies lay Tom was heard to say. “Well, I better ride on back to Wickenburg and tell Sheriff Lewis he ain’t gotta worry about haulin’ these here no goods in anymore. Hmm, I never asked if they was a reward out on em… wouldn’t that be nice?”

This is the actual ‘Jail Tree’ in Wickenburg, AZ

The lesser of all evils

In response to one reader’s thoughtful advice, the story originally titled, “The loathsome Sheriff of Arapahoe Junction” has been renamed, “The lesser of all evils”. Thank you my dear friend for your valued suggestion. This story is dedicated to you.

Prologue

For some reason the good Lord puts people on this celestial ball that by all rights and means shoulda’ never been placed here. Sheriff Maurice Du Bois was one of these.

Poking the evening cook fire with a stick and stirring the embers until flames gave new life to the campfire coals, John, the trail cook settled the blackened coffee pot back onto the rekindled flames. Sitting there tilting, it boiled up a fresh pot of coffee. He continued his tale to the group of cowhands and told them of the territory they were now passing through.

“A couple decades ago, These parts had folks livin’ around here. Hooking his thumb over his right shoulder he told them, “ Beyond that rise out there, was a small mining town called Arapahoe Junction. There’s nothin’ left there now but a few snake infested dilapidated buildings and the bones of mostly innocent folk.”  Stopping to pause, The cook’s eyes took on a tired sadness as the memories came flooding back to him.

“ I rode through there a few years back. I needed to see what remained. Other than some leaning building frames and sun bleached planks lying about, there’s nothing that would ever say it was my home or anybody else’s.  As towns went, it wasn’t a bustling one but it weren’t no tent town either. We had a dry goods store, livery, saloons, a couple of bordello’s book ending the town. It coulda’ grow’d into a real nice town ‘cepting for the Sheriff.  Yes Sir, that was one evil man. He needed killin’ something real  bad. I ain’t ashamed to say that my brother, me and a few others took to doing it. It’s kinda’ ironic actually. In trying to save the town, we ended up killing it!”

Chapter 1

Known to be a gambler, a womanizer and a low down skunk, Maurice Du Bois took pride in being all three. Born in France, he and his parents had relocated to New Orleans after being accused of counterfeiting French bank notes. The Gypsy telegraph (word of mouth between thieves) warned the family of an impending arrest and they made their escape by ship to America that night.

Stepping down from the freight hauler where he had hitched a free ride, Du Bois grabbed his carpet bag from the wagon’s bed and stood there taking in the sight before him.

Six months earlier, the New Orleans Bee had run a front page story about the gold strike at Pikes Peak out in Colorado. Knowing the easy gold was in a miners pouch and not in the earth, he immediately made plans to acquire as much gold from the hard working men as he could.

The freight wagon’s muleteer had lost badly at Du Bois crooked card game back in New Orleans.

Feigning sympathy for the unfortunate driver, Maurice Du Bois offered to trade the debt owed by the Muleteer in exchange for his free passage out west. Having been thoroughly schooled by his Gypsy parents in the art of sleight of hand, Maurice Du Bois packed his marked cards, loaded dice and said Au voir to his crooked parents. Curses and insults were thrown after him by the old couple as the freight wagon carrying their golden egg and hoped for source of retirement income, began its slow motion westward to the gold fields without them.

Having traveled for weeks, the freight wagon last stop was only thirty miles south east of Pikes Peak. There at the promising town of Arapahoe Junction, Du Bois ended his journey.

While many of the buildings were still large canvas tents whose wooden fronts imitated real structures, there were enough solidly built structures being built to convince Du Bois that plenty of real money was being dug out from the nearby hills in the form of gold.

Taking in the town as he walked toward what he was told was the least expensive hotel, Du Bois kept his eyes peeled for saloons that would cater to a gambler such as himself. Stopping first into the barber shop he paid for a shave and had his black coat brushed clean by the man’s wife. After his cut and shave and smelling of Bay Rum astringent, he straightened the ruffles on his French cuffed shirt and placed his black flat brimmed hat neatly onto his head with a tilt. Looking at his reflection in the barber shop mirror, He smiled showing his teeth. Satisfied he was the gambler extraordinaire he walked on out.

Reaching the end of the town he spotted a bordello whose twin mirrored itself at the other end of town. Next to this one sat the Nugget saloon.

Entering the Nugget, Du Bois spotted a game of Faro in progress. Instead of heading to the gaming table, Du Bois sidled up to the bar.

“What’ll it be friend?” Asked the middle aged, mustachioed  bartender

Placing two bits on the bar, Du Bois responded, “Whiskey, just a glass of it.”

The bar tender filled a glass partway and slid it over to Du Bois and pointed to the quarter dollar piece on the bar.  “It’s fifty cents.”

With a silent look of disgust, Du Bois reached into his money pouch and removed a silver fifty cent piece. Laying it down he reclaimed the quarter dollar. “For fifty cents this better not be snake juice.”

“It ain’t the best but I’ve sold worse. It’s a mining town friend, like it or lump it, that’s the way it is.”

Du Bois remembered thinking back in New Orleans that it was going to be easy to skin the miners of their cash by gambling. He decided if that’s all he did here, he’d never get rich. But right now he needed a nest egg to do what needed to be done and some pocket money.

Making his way over to the faro game, he waited until an overweight, balding  man dressed in a conservatively cut wool  suit stood up and tossed his cards down. “I’m done for Gents, Lady Luck isn’t looking my way today.” Then, leaning over to the man holding the deck of cards and pointing to the pile of cash, he quietly told him. “Wilkins, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to get my rent, that’s it there laying in that pile in front of you.”

Wilkins nodded but before he could answer back, Du Bois grabbed the chair by the back, pulled it out and slid into it before the portly man had barely cleared the table. “Games still open Wilkins? Names Maurice, Maurice Du Bois, I’m fresh out of New Orleans.

The gentleman named Wilkins, spoke up as he reached for the cards. “Well?  What game is it Mr. Du Bois? Five Card Monte? Faro? You name the game we’ll play it.”

By five in the morning there was only one player left at the table besides Du Bois and he was fighting against the ropes. All the other players had thrown in and went home to upset wives or next door to the soiled doves. Fueled by a night of high stakes adrenalin and whiskey, Wilkins concentration began faltering with each new drink. The once swollen pile of cash in front of him now consisted of just a few coins.

Chapter 2

“You’ve got a hell of a lucky streak mister, I’d be fool to call you a cheat but danged if I can see how you did it. You’re good, real good. I know all the tricks, or thought I did until now. If I would’ve caught you even once, I’d have blown you outa’ your chair.” Pulling a sawed off shot gun with its stock cut like a pistol  from under the table, he laid it in front of him. “No need to fear Du Bois, like I say, it would’ve all ready happened. But to satisfy my curiosity, play me one more game, this time a hand of Poker, no raising, just a straight hand with a two card draw. I haven’t the cash left, but I do have a deed I’m willing to put up. I’m so convinced you somehow fixed these games that I’m willing to bet this deed that I was right.”

Normally, Du Bois would have feigned offense to the insinuation that he was a cheat but his own curiosity was now peeked.

With a chiding chuckle Du Bois asked, “What’s the deed to? Your ramshackle cabin on a spread of tumble weeds? A played out gold mine? Your Mama’s house?”

Sitting back in his chair, the gambler who had invited Du Bois to the table smugly remarked, “No Mister Du Bois, it’s the deed to over half this town.”

“The town? What the hell do you mean, the town?” “

“Just that Du Bois, you see, I own the majority of the land this town sits on. Sure, I’m in negotiations to sell it to the town committee who wants to legally annex it for the town, but until that time comes, it’s still mine to do as I please”

“I never heard of such a thing, what do I have to put up in exchange?”

With whisky induced confidence, Wilkins replied, “All the cash you cleaned out of those sucker’s pockets tonight. So what do you say Du Bois, are you game?”

Du Bois knew it was make or break time. Cheating was out of the question. The simpler the game was, the harder it was to find ways to cheat. “You deal and I’ll cut”

The game was quick, too quick for Wilkins. In his hand he held three deuces, on the table in front of Du Bois lay three kings. To Du Bois own amazement, he had won fair and square.

Wilkins sat stunned. His anger and bravado ebbed away as he realized what he had just done. Slowly he unfolded the deed to the town in front of him. “Worst luck I’ve ever had. What was I thinking.”

“Do you always carry that deed around with you Wikins?”

“No, I was to meet with the group earlier tonight that wanted to buy my property. Instead, I sat here all night and played card games.  Dang, I lost it like a green horn.”

Du Bois reached over and studied the deed and some legal papers attached to it. “These papers say that while you owned the land, the buildings here are individually owned and the owners of those buildings pay you rent for the land that they sit on.”

Flipping the pages back and forth, Du Bois realized on the first day of each month every person in town had to fork over their rent. As best as he could figure, it amounted to almost a thousand dollars a month. He let out a slow whistle.

With a laugh Du Bois told Wilkins, “I was going to head on to Pikes Peak to seek my fortune but I think I just struck gold right here and now!”  Kissing the deed, he looked across the table at the very ill looking Wilkins.

“We can get all the legal work done in a few hours when your attorney is open for business, yes?  Is he located in town here.”

‘You took his seat over when you came in Du Bois, he’ll be open in a few. Meanwhile I’m tired and need to think on some things. If you wish, I’ll be back here at ten this morning, we’ll go over to see him then.”

Chapter 3

At first nothing changed but the deeds owner. Then as the months went by, Du Bois began raising rents on business owners he didn’t like or he wanted gone. He continued to dangle the deed in front of the group that had wished to purchase the land. But now the price had doubled and the group found it on the edge of being unaffordable.

For the first time in his life Du Bois was in a position of real wealth and power. A good man would not have let this alter their life, but Du Bois was not a good man. He became even more boastful and began drinking heavily. Where once he respected women enough to be cautious and treat them with respect, he now cursed openly and became lewd around them. When the beating of the whores started, many of soiled doves left for greener pastures.

He found egotistical  pleasure at humiliating those who fell behind in their rent. Especially pretty women.  When the woman who owned the café could not make full rent, he demanded one half the business as collateral until she could pay the balence. Two days later the woman was found raped and strangled in her bed.

The town folks became scared. The smart ones began moving out, the others hesitantly stayed too scared in forfeiting  all they owned.

It was then that the remaining members of the Committee that had attempted to purchase the original deed from Wilkins met in secret.

None of the group was a shootist or even handy with a gun. A lawyer, the Doctor, a saloon owner, two merchants and blacksmith rounded out the group. There wasn’t even a Cowboy among them. None had ownership of a gun and only a few had ever shot one. They were for the most part, city bred folk.

A decision was made that night. They would hire a shootist to remove Du Bois. That would leave the towns land deed open for the courts to decide its fate. Most assumed the courts would grant the town committee the rights to the deed so the annexed land could then be filed with the State. The call went out. A one hundred dollar offer was made.

The weeks passed but no shootist arrived. Meanwhile, Du Bois had run off the towns volunteer sheriff and took over his job. It wasn’t the job he wanted but the prestige and power that went with it. He had plans. His black riverboat gambling attire now sported a bright silver Sheriffs badge on its lapel. He became Judge and Jury, jailing and charging fines to line his pockets. Behind his back, the town folk began calling Arapahoe Junction, “Hells Junction”.

Wilkins and his lawyer, Henry banks, called for a secret meeting of the committee members.  Wilkins introduced the brothers, John and James to the committee members. Most everyone knew James as he was the Nuggets bartender. John on the other hand was less known because he spent most his time driving cattle to market as a cowhand.

Wilkins then told them that John had found out that “Sheriff Du Bois” ( as he now called himself), had been stealing explosives by having his men rob the freight wagons headed to Pikes Peak. Du Bois would then resell the explosives to the Pikes Peak miners at an exurbanite rate. Because the mining companies could not operate without the explosives, they grudgingly bought it.

Both the mustachioed  bartender James, and his brother  John, had fought in the war of the States. John for the Confederate States, James for the Union. Before the war, both had been coal miners living in north western Virginia. Their mining jobs had dealt with explosives, so had both their military careers.

James explained that his brother had seen the cell next to his filled top to bottom with crates of explosives when Du Bois tossed him in jail for being drunk, a minor offense but carrying a hefty fine of ten dollars. “I was just clearin’ the trail dust from my throat, I hadn’t hardly started drinkin’ for real yet but I guess the Sheriff don’t take kindly to bein’ called Ma’am. Can I help it that he dresses in frilly shirts?”

He told them that inside the next cell, a large tarp had covered the crates but his curiosity got the better of him. When Du Bois left for the night, he reached through the bars between the cells and lifted the tarp. Reading the words “Explosives” painted across the crates face, he then lowered the tarp and returned to his bed to think.

“So, this is what I’m thinking” says Wilkins, “Who needs a shootist when we can just blow him all to high heaven in his office with his own explosives!”

With little discussion and no argument, the committee disbanded and awarded John and James the duty to figure out the details of ridding the town of Du Bois..

A week later word went out to the committee members to meet at the livery at midnight. It was then that the brothers John and James divulged to the others of their plan to rid the town of Du Bois. One by one the door slid open a crack and a committee member quietly eased into the darkened livery. A single oil lamps low burning wick gave just enough light for the members to make each other out. John spoke.

“I’ll need some financial backing here because I need to get myself tossed in jail again. I’ll cause a drunkin’ ruckus of some sort, Du Bois hates drunks and he don’t care for me none either after what I called him.”

“ In order for things to go as planned, I need to be bailed out of there by evening. I have no idea what Du Bois is gonna’ set my bail at, but since I was just in an caused him grief, it ain’t gonna’ be cheap. I would figure on getting at least Fifty dollars together for bail, maybe more.” The others nodded saying they could get that amount and more together. It was decided that Henry Banks, the lawyer, would handle the bail proceedings.

“I also need at least forty feet of explosive fuse and one pound of black powder in a canvas sack. I’ll wrap the fuse around my waist under my clothes and stick the sack down my pants. I’ll pour some water on my pants like I pissed ‘em from drinkin’. That’ll pretty much guarantee Du Bois wont go feeling around my drawers for a hidden gun or anything else.  Since there are only two jail cells, he has no choice but to put me back into the cell next to the explosives. One thing I know, come dinner time, Dubois ain’t gonna hang around the jail. He’ll head on up to the saloon for dinner and drinks like he did before. When he’s gone, I’ll reach through the bars, lift the tarp and plant the sack of powder within the crates then lower the tarp again after setting the fuse.  I’ll trail the fuse out the back window where it can be lit later on.”

A murmur of agreement met the brothers ears.

“ I need someone to hang around out back near the window so you can hear me yell. When you hear me, that’s the signal for Banks here to run up to the saloon and insist that Du Bois take the bail money and let me out. He’ll complain and refuse at first, but play up to him by buying him an expensive bottle of whisky for his troubles, but make sure he takes it with him to the jail when he leaves.

Even though he could afford to buy his own distillery now, he’s so cheap he’ll still jump at the chance for a free bottle!”  That brought a quiet laugh of acknowledgement from the group.

“After he lets me out, everyone get out of there. James and I will set the fuse when we’re sure Du Bois is settled in for a spell with his bottle at his desk.  He’s too cheap to share it and once he starts on that bottle, he’ll take the time to finish it off.” More murmurs of agreement.

“The explosion should take out most of the building and along with it, Du Bois. It’s been a while since my brother and I used explosives. I hear they’re making a nitroglycerin based explosive called dynamite. It packs a wallop!  There’s no way to tell if there’s any dynamite  in these cases or not since they’re just marked ‘Explosives’,  so just in case nobody hang around the place. The businesses on each side of the jail will be closed that time of day so we don’t have to worry about any innocents bein’ blowed up.”

The lawyer Banks then spoke up nodding in agreement,” If everything goes well and we are all in agreement here, the morning after Du Bois is gone, myself and some of the committee members will travel to the State Capital to file for annexation of the land. Is this to everyone’s approval?”

Again, a quiet murmur of agreement was heard. “Then it’s settled.”

James spoke up now, “Let’s plan on this Friday, the day after tomorrow. That way I have time to purchase the powder and fuse.” He turned and asked the Lawyer, “How long will it take to gather up the money Banks?”

“Not five minutes, I’ll gladly foot the bail. In fact, here’s five dollars. Take it and go ahead and purchase the fuse and powder with it.”

 

Chapter 4

Friday morning’s sun peaked over the mountains to the east. Sun streaked into the curtained window of Maurice Du Bois.  If he had consulted a soothsayer, a medium or a fellow gypsy with a crystal ball, Maurice would have never gotten out of bed. Knowing you’re about to die can change a man. It can bring repentance or like Ebenezer Scrooge amends might be made. But Maurice Du Bois had no idea he would be charged in front of his maker before the day was over, so there was no change in him.

Rising from the bed, he stumbled to the wash basin and plashed the stagnant smelling water onto his face. With his head pounding in pain, he selfishly blamed the sleeping whore for amplifying his hangover by supplying him the night before with rot gut whisky. Making his way back to the bed, Maurice glared at her large bare rump jutting from under the blanket, lashing out like a spoiled child, he kicked it.

Descending the whore house stairs in a huff, the whore house owner and visibly upset Madam stepped into his path. “What’s my girl upstairs screaming about Du Bois?”Shoving the big woman aside Du Bois told her, “She woke up on the wrong side of the bed! Now get out of my way bitch” If the weight of sins added go your torment in hell, Maurice Du Bois just tipped the scales.

His day started off badly and got worse as it went on. While in the café eating lunch, a local drunk started a fight and knocked Du Bois food to the floor. In a fit of anger, the Sheriff dragged the poor man down the wooden walkway, stopping to kick him from time to time. By the time they reached the jail down the street, the man was knocked half senseless.

Using his foot to propel the prisoner forward, the drunk was sent crashing into the back wall of the cell. Du Bois locked the cell, slammed the front door on his way out and retreated to the saloon for a drink.

John lifted his black and blue face towards the small barred window in his cell. “You out there yet James?”

A voice answered in the affirmative. “Yup, how you doing, I was almost ready to step in and stop it when he started kicking at you.”

Trying to put on a good face with laughter, John replied, “I’ll live, I sure earned my wages though , didn’t I? Tell you what brother, it’ll be about an hour before I get this set up in here to blow. Come back and check on me then, OK?”

Uncoiling the fuse from his waist then removing the sack of black powder from inside his pants, John went to work. It only took half the time as planned so John laid down on the cot to give his sore body a rest.

“Pssst, John, you ready yet?”

“Sure am, go tell Banks to bail me out’a  here!”

Fifteen minutes later, an angry Sheriff Du Bois carrying a unopened bottle of Tennessee whisky and the overweight lawyer clomped down the wooden walkway to the jail.

“Come on Du Bois” Banks pleaded, “There isn’t reason in the world to set bail at a hundred and twenty dollars! Why bail for a murder charge is less.”

“You want him out so bad Banks, you can pay what I set bail at.”

An hour later found Du Bois halfway through the bottle when the jail’s front door banged open.  In strode Du Bois three amigos in crime. “Boss, we just come from Pikes Peak, they’s chompin’ at the bit for them there explosives. We need to get’em  loaded an out’a here pronto! I told ‘em the price went up to twenty a crate, up from ten last time. They grumbled a lot but we got ‘em over a barrel. They’ll pay up.

While this was going on, one of the three had walked back to where the cases were stored. A strange look came over his face and he yelled to those up front. “Hey y’all, I smell something burnin’ back here, I think the place is on fire!”

Before Du Bois could get up out of his chair, three things happened in rapid order. The first was that the cases of explosive had in fact, turn out to be the more powerful dynamite, exploded.

The second was that the cell door in front of the yelling Amigo became a giant egg slicer and cut the shouting man into multiple pieces as it was blown through him.

The third, was what those folks standing outside on the street beheld. Ahead of the intense fireball exploding from the now shattered jail house was a wheeled armchair being blown across the street, with Du Bois, or at least part of him, still sitting in it. If the shock of the concussion had not knocked everyone down, they would have observed Du Bois and the chair were blown completely through the wooden front of the dry goods store across the street. Once inside, the chair and the torso that belonged to Du Bois rested it’s travel against a shelf of womens unmentionables.

Freed from the resistance of any walls, the explosion concussed into the street. The nearby buildings took on a permanent backwards lean as their fronts were violently sucker punched. Standing tent buildings stood no more. No window survived the blast and even the saloons occupied outhouse blew head over heels. The Devil stood in the middle of the chaos tallying up the evil souls he had claim to. Angles administered to those innocents who found that life continued on, in a much more beautiful place than Arapahoe Junction.

Chapter 5

Until it was legal and annexation granted, loans to rebuild the town were put on hold. The town stood as if frozen in time. True, some of the wooden planks and debris had been removed from the street, but the repairs needed to reclaim the town’s buildings, even those not owned by Du Bois, were not started.

One month later to the day, the annexation committee members that had traveled to the State capital returned.

The ringing church bell clanged in its damaged steeple, calling all those remaining to gather around.

Wilkins and Banks stood together facing the crowd.

Wilkins spoke first. “Folks, here’s the situation. We applied for annexation on the deceased Du Bois land most of this town sits on. The State Judge determined that if we had a signed purchase agreement, we could continue our application  to apply for the annexation. We don’t have one. We thought with Du Bois no longer in the way, we could apply for it as it would be vacated land that had no living owner. The problem rest this way. While we got ourselves rid of Du Bois, and I am not going to feel guilty about that, he left two living relatives to inherit his property. His parents!

A groan was heard.

“That’s right folks. We sent a cable off to the Sheriff over in New Orleans and he verified the two are still alive and causing trouble. I guess it’s true what Du Bois used to say about his parents. ‘If you think I’m a bad one, you should meet my Ma and Pa!’

Banks stepped in front of Wilkins now and spoke. “We have a choice. And none of them will please you. We can notify the parents of their son’s demise, but legally we also have to inform them of the inheritance he left them. Knowing those two, they’d light a shuck out here just as fast as they could. Once here, they’d also find out how there tyrannical son met his maker. Eventually they’d find out and take vengeance on all of us, maybe even call in the law on us.

The crowd didn’t sound pleased.

Someone else called out, “What’s the other option Banks?”

“Folks, we had us a good town started here. We tried the legal route but was derailed by Du Bois. The law won’t back us, no way.”

Tears started down the chubby cheeks of Banks the lawyer.” I already spoke to my wife. We are not willing to live under another Du Bois. We’re calling it quits here, we’re moving to Boulder. It’s far enough away that what happened here won’t follow us”

The stunned crowd stood there blinking in the bright sun.

Slowly without a word the crowd dissipated.

 Epillogue

John, the camp cook removed the coffee pot from the fire and poured himself a cup. Looking at the cowhands starring at him he spoke softly. “Some towns die when the gold or silver runs out. Some die when the railroad passes ‘em by. Arapahoe Junction died because we tried to save it!”

Finishing his coffee, he tossed the cups grounds  into the fire, He shook his head and said, “Who’d a thunk!”

One Cowboys honor by JW Edwards

One Cowboys honor

Chapter 1

Clancy sidled his horse up next to his friend Potato. At first, neither spoke as the two riders looked over the gathered cattle at Morgan’s Creek. The large Morgan ranch was home for almost five years now for the two who were employed as permanent ranch hands.

Morgan’s Ranch lay nestled between Fort Laramie and Cheyenne thirty miles east of the Powder River.  When it came time to drive the cattle to market, Clancy and Potato would be left behind to continue handling the chores a large working ranch presents at each sunrise.

At the ages of twenty, best friends and trail pards, Clancy and Potato had left Texas soon after the War between the states had ended. Texas had been placed under a cruel form of retribution by the Union known as Southern Reconstruction for their siding with the Confederate States.   The financial outlook for the State of Texas and its populace seemed so bleak that many devoted Texan’s were forced to look elsewhere for their survival. The two, having followed the Goodnight trail north into Cheyenne where they found work and signed onto Jethro Morgan’s trail drive.

As cattle drives went, it wasn’t a difficult or prolonged one. Instead of driving the herd to the railway at Cheyenne, they continued the drive southeast using the Western trail to Dodge City. This saved the cost of sending their stock over four different railroads to their destination at Kansas City where the buyers waited. Having been raised on ranches and used to working for forty and found, the two were ecstatic to be chosen after the drive to stay on as full time paid hands on the ranch itself. This was a cowboys dream come true. Positions like these were usually filled by wranglers too old or busted up to ride the trail anymore. A cowboys years of experience on the trail was not to be wasted. A wise ranch owner found work for these older cowhands breaking horses and gathering another herd together for market. Still, there is always the need for young strong backs to handle an ornery herd and to do the grunt work in branding young calves on the ranch.

Potato, named for the lumps left on his head after being trampled as a child by his father’s spooked herd asked his best friend, “So you ever gonna tell me what’s on your mind Clance?”

Clancy let out a deep breath and looking down and shook his head in the negative. “I wish I could pard, but this is something I got to deal with all by myself. I don’t mean to shut you out but it’s no one’s business but mine. You gotta understand just this one time, let it alone, OK?”

Knowing Clancy had approached Mr. Morgan a couple days back to ask for his daughters hand in marriage,  Potato assumed this was what was causing Clancy’s concern.“Well,” put in Potato, “asking for Sally’s hand in marriage sure complicated things a might. Not that I blame you! The two of you have had eyes for each other for five years now. Everyone on the ranch figured the day’d come when the two of you would confront Mr. Morgan about it. Heck, she’s a beautiful girl and her Daddy’s rich to boot! If I thought a woman could get past my looks, I’d a made eyes at her myself.”

“Aw come on Pot, don’t get goin’ on about your looks. You’re a better man than any I ever met. There ain’t a female that wouldn’t  be happy to have you at her side.”

With eyes smiling, Potato replied, “Maybe, but all the same, I’m happy just being single. Livin’ on the ranch with you as my roomy is about as much cultivation as I can stand. I was secretly hoping you all would get married so I don’t have to put up with your dang snorin’ anymore!”

Clancy chuckled at the thought, “It ain’t me that keeps the windows shakin’ at night  my friend. You all got the snores down so well tuned, you’d think I had a set of bagpipes as my pard…and that’s the truth!”

During the ribbing, Potato had sat higher up in his saddle watching the herd. “Look at them two,” pointing at two shorthorns snorting and butting heads. “I better go an break them two up before one looses an eye or worse.”  Having rode down range to the herd below, Potato began wacking his lariat on the aggressive beeves rears, driving the two apart.

Clancy settled deep in his saddle. He sat atop the rise watching his friend manage the beast below and pondered the decision he alone had to make. What Clancy thought would be either a simple acceptance or rejection of his asking Mr. Morgan for his daughter Sally’s hand, had instead been answered in the form of a question… and a challenge to his upbringing.

Chapter 2

Two weeks earlier, Clancy had finally built up the courage to speak his mind to Sally. It truly had been love at first sight for the both of them. Sally, whose fine reddish blond hair and powder blue eyes took second place only to her quirky wonderful smile, looked anxiously at the stammering young man sitting next to her on her father’s ranch house porch.

Holding her delicate hands in his, Clancy knew the two loved each other but the divide between them could not have been more evident.

She was a product of culture, having been sent East to Boston in her formative years for schooling. He, while attending school at his father’s demands, had only a one room schoolhouse’s education.

She was slender and finely boned. He was built thin at the waist but had a chest and arms wrapped in hard muscle.

She was to inherit a fortune someday. He would probably never own his own spread.

Still, with all the differences between them, they continued to fall in love.

“Sally, I know we are mountains apart in how we was raised. I haven’t a spread to offer and hardly have a savings to claim. Still, I just can’t shake the notion that somehow things would work out for the two of us if we was married.”

“Are you asking or telling me?”

“Oh, Gee, I guess I’m  not real good at this Sally, let me start afresh here.”

Sally smiled and said, “Continue then Clancy, I’m listening.”

Clearing his throat, and twisting her fingers within his own he started again, Sally….”

“Owww,” She suddenly exclaimed looking at her fingers, “Clancy dear, there’s nothing gained in breaking my fingers off, is there?”

“Oh, I’m so sorry Sally, I’m making a fool of myself. Did I hurt you much?”

Looking somewhat solemnly at him she replied “No dear, now… you were going to ask me something?”

Starting one more time Clancy made sure not to crush his loves hands anymore. “Sally, I am going to ask your father for permission to marry you.”

Sitting there hand in hand, staring at each other for a good ten heartbeats Clancy finally said, “Surely you knew someday I’d ask you. Don’t you have anything to say to me?”

She continued to look at him darkly but the small turn of her lips and slight glint of a smile in her eyes spoke differently . “Shouldn’t you ask me first?

Looking down ande shaking his head he replied.“ I’m so stupid, of course! Sally Morgan, I want you as my forever wife…I mean my wife forever…shoot Sally, you know what I mean. I ain’t the best romantic speaking man but I will be there for you, loving you and trying my best to make each one of your days as happy as they can possibly be.  Sally, will you marry me?”

“My dear Clancy, I could not ask for a more romantic proposal, and Yes, I will marry you, providing Daddy gives you his blessing.”

Noting the sweat beads that had formed on his forehead, she took her hand and gently wiped his brow with her fingers. Trying her best to calm the flustered lover, she told him. “He really likes you Clancy, I think he’ll give his blessing but one can never be sure. We do have as you say, ‘a mountain of difference between us’. It’s something to seriously consider. My family goes way back, across the ocean and back many, many generations in a country where honor and wealth were earned only by the strongest of men . Even so, my father is a fair and just man. Go, ask him and we will see what he says.”

The next night found Clancy dressed in his Sunday best knocking gently at the Morgan’s ornately carved wooden and frosted glass door. Marie, the Mexican house keeper let him in and said she would let Mr. Morgan know he was there to see him.

Standing in the large dark wood paneled  foyer, spinning his hat in his hands, Clancy nervously shifted from foot to foot.  Hearing heavy footsteps approaching, Clancy straightened his appearance as best as he could by licking his hand and plastering down his hair with it.

“Clancy! Come inside boy. Let’s sit down in the parlor, there’s a couple comfortable leather  chairs in there.  Let me light a lamp first.” Pointing to French provincial chairs against the wall he continued, ”I’m not too taken with those  skinny French made chairs. I told Hanna when she brought ‘em back from Paris that they were too fragile for someone of my girth!”

Hanna was Morgan’s wife and as many women in those days let the man of the house entertain his own guest. Like many wealthy families,  women traveling to Paris or London with her family was not the exception, but the rule. Hanna Elizabeth Morgan loved Wyoming as did her daughter now, but couldn’t quite accept the heavily built furniture that was so common in the West.  Thirty years earlier in Boston, after taking the advice from an influential friend of the two families Jethro and Hanna were married. It was a marriage of convenience. Combining the two family fortunes, the Morgan’s moved west and purchased a number of smaller connecting spreads and their livestock.  This made the Morgan ranch the largest in all of eastern Wyoming.

“What’s on your mind boy? Sally tells me you wanted to speak to me in private.”

“Mr. Morgan Sir, I’ve been working for the Morgan Ranch for over five years now. I’ve been blessed with the position here at the ranch and my gratitude for all you’ve done for me has not been unappreciated. What I’m about to ask of you and the answer you give me, may be the end of all this for me, so I need to tell you it hasn’t been easy on me coming here. “

Morgan resituated himself in his chair as if he was suddenly uncomfortable. “Son, then let’s get it out and say what’s on your mind.”

“Well Sir, as you know Sally and I have become close friends over the last few years. I’ve practically become family with all the outings and meals she’s invited me to. Why, I couldn’t imagine my sitting at church on Sunday without her being next to me in the pew.  I’ve grown to have deep feelings for her. So deep Sir that I am asking for your blessing that we would marry. I know being just a hired hand may be an insult to your idea of who your daughter should marry, but I could not live if I had not risked everything I have in order to gain what I desire the most.”

Morgan sat with his fingers church steepled under his chin not speaking.  Slowly closing his eyes as if resting, Clancy thought for a second that Mr. Morgan may have fallen asleep.

“You’re not the first to come here asking me for her hand. Did she ever tell you that? No? Well, she may not have even known because I never told her. A fellow Sally had met back east a few years back had his eyes on her. A rich boy, spoiled as sin but he had potential. He came all the way out here just two weeks ago to get my blessing. I sent him away.”

“I did not know that Sir.”

“Son, I’ll make you a deal. I’m in some dire straits financially. I’ve made some errors in judgment and all that I have I may losing if I can’t come up with the cash to repay a loan I secretly brokered with a pretty rough group back east.  As you’re aware, the next herd to be driven to Dodge is being assembled and should be ready to hit the trail next week. Now I’ll make some cash from the sale but not enough to cover my loan repayment. What I need though is $60,000 in cash more than the sale will bring in. I have a way to get it, but it means riding hard for the brand.”

“I ride for the brand now Mr. Morgan, what more can you ask of me?”

Leaning forward in the great leather chair, Morgan told him. “I want you to hook up with the Flying T’s herd while on the trail, and run your beeves along with theirs. When you leave here with the herd, I’ll make sure the timing is right so that you’ll meet up with the flying T near the ford on the North Platte. When you get to Dodge, I want all the Flying T’s cattle under your riders control. My lawyer drew up a phony bill of sale. You hand that bill of sale to the Flying T’s trail boss when you first meet up at the ford, he’ll have no choice but to hand over the herd.”

“The flying T would normally load their herd at the railway in Cheyenne. But in this case I want you to drive the entire mix of herd on to Dodge. By the time you have reached Cheyenne, I’ll make sure Phil Tollard of the Flying T is dead and gone. He has no known relatives and with the phony bill of sale, there’ll be no questions asked about the money I gave him for the herd. The authorities will just assume it all burnt up in the house fire that killed Tollard. In fact I may start a rumor that he was despondent and had spoken of ending it all when he sold me the cattle.”

Morgan strode over to a small box atop a delicate French vanity. Opening the box he removed a cigar. He took his time nipping the end and lighting it. Satisfied it was well lit, he blew a cloud of rich aroma scented smoke at Clancy. “You ride for the brand and Sally’s yours, you don’t ride, then I suggest you pack up and get on out. So what’ll it be son? Ride for or ride against. The choice is yours. You have one week to give me your answer.

Chapter 3

Clancy left the Morgan house feeling ill. He could not believe what Mr. Morgan had proposed. He needed to think.

After a sleepless night,  he asked Potato if it would be alright if he didn’t  join him rounding up strays for a few days. Clancy told him he needed to ponder on some things and wanted to be alone to think ‘em out. Potato agreed readily thinking it had to do with Sally. It did, but it wasn’t what  Potato thought.

Riding north till he hit the Powder River, he found a place to set a spell and rest. He pondered, prayed and ran every possible scenario through his head.

The whole act of stealing a herd and taking part in the death of Tollard just couldn’t be defensible. Even with Sally’s love at stake, he couldn’t bring himself to take another man’s life for money, no matter how badly it’s needed. Anyway he turned it, it was still murder.

Thinking back to his childhood and the times his Pa sat talking to him, Clancy dug through the attic of memories and what his Pa had told him about being a man, a husband and a father. Could he bring his own sons up as being trustworthy men knowing he had been able to marry Sally only because he cheated a man out of his stock and his life? Could he be that hypocritical? And what of sally? Could he really walk away from her? Was he that self righteous that he could deny her the opportunity to finally marry the one she loved? Could he ever forgive himself for walking away leaving her alone?

What about his Church upbringing? Truth be told, he had only started going again to be next to Sally. Yet even while he may have attended for the wrong reasons, what was spoken from the pulpit had still sunk in and slowly confirmed the truths he had learned from his mother when she read the Bible to him as a child. If he did what Morgan wanted him to do, he might as well become a man of evil through and through.  Once a man started down that path, he knew there would be little reason to stop.

Inside he had juggled enough in his head to know what he must do but he could not at this point in time admit it to himself. Somehow he imagined, things would work out and all would be claimed as a big misunderstanding. He just could not fathom the kind, generous and fair boss he so much looked up to, asking him doing this.

But the subject was approached, it was real and he knew he had to decide one way or the other.

Returning to the ranch, Clancy dove into his work to escape the torment of choosing between his dear Sally or his honor. He ate little and to those around him, said even less.

Potato gave him the space to think on things, figuring Sally’s father had turned down the blessing. Sometimes a man just needs to be alone he figured.

Chapter 4

The week crawled by. Any slower and time itself would have stopped. But the day did come and Clancy was called to the ranch house by Sally for a dinner invitation.

Once again arriving dressed in his Sunday best he walked up the steps as a man does going to the gallows.  In fact, he felt that may have been an easier choice.

Not bothering to slick down his hair this time, he approached the door and knocked. Sally opened it herself.

Staring wide eyed at Clancy’s appearance she blurted,“Why Clancy, you look absolutely morbid!” She commented,  ”has father been working to too hard?

“No, I’m alright Sally, I just have a lot on my mind. “

Before any further conversation between the two could continue, a booming voice behind Sally bellowed, “Clancy, come in boy, get out of the chill. Sally, take the young man into the parlor, he and I have something to discuss before we sit down to dinner. We’ll be joining you shortly.

Stepping in the parlor behind Clancy, Jethro Morgan closed the two glass pained French doors behind him.

“Sit down Clancy, I hope you’ve come to the right decision. “

“Sir, Mr Morgan,I believe I have, but if you don’t mind, I feel the need to stand up. ”

With a wave of his hand as if dismissing the offered chair, Morgan sat down in his own and returned a hard stare at Clancy asking, “Well? Spit it out boy!”

Clancy cleared his throat and wished he were anywhere but where he was. “Sir, before I give you my answer I have to tell you that I have given this some deep and agonizing thought. Never before have I been given a choice like this. I could have everything I want by cashing in my honor and all that my parents and church taught me or I can ride away with the memory of Sally’s love eating me like a cancer in my bones until death finally calls on me. It was a hard deal you offered. “

Stepping closer to Morgan now, Clancy continued. Mr. Morgan Sir, I am walking away from your deal. There is no one I will ever love and cherish more than your Sally, but what kind of man would I be to her? How could I raise our children to be honest and proud of their heritage if they knew the truth of what their heritage really was? How could I ever be trusted by Sally, you or anyone else? In the end when I stand before my maker, how could I tell him I did it out of love? I was raised by a Quaker, did you know that? Truth and honor meant something to my Dad and he passed that down to me. I could no more steal a mans goods and murder him as I could raise my hand in anger against Sally. No Sir! I refuse to commit to your deal. I find it reprehensible to my being.”

Jethro Morgan sat for a minute, then yelled in a loud voice for Sally and her mother to come into the parlor. The look he was giving Clancy caused his stomach to churn. Clancy knew he was about to be shamed in front of those he had grown to love. Leaving Sally was unbearable but now he knew he would leave broken too.

Morgan continued to stare at Clancy as they waited for the women to arrive. When they did, Morgan spoke directly to Sally..

“I told your young man I was in a financial strait, that we needed cash and explained he would have to steal the Flying T’s herd. In return I would give him my blessing to your wedding. He refused me!” Turning to his wife, he continued in a loud voice.” He would rather have his so called pride and honor instead of our beautiful daughter here! “

Turning to face only Clancy now, he walked slowly, coming up to him almost nose to nose. “Son, I told you another man asked for Sally’s hand and I refused him! Why did I do that? He was rich, he had connections in Washington, he had potential! Why I ask again, did I refuse him, can you answer me that Clancy?”

“Because he wouldn’t do it either?”

“No Clancy, because he said he would!”

Clancy blinked, “What?”

“Son, the man who marries my only daughter will inherit all that my ancestors up to myself have worked hard for. He will rule over the only child my wife bore. His children will have enough money to be used for good or evil, depending on how they are raised.”

Still facing Clancy, Morgan placed his hands on the young man’s shoulders and looked deeply into his eyes. “It was a test Son. We had to know if you were good enough to rise from the saddle to the throne by honest means. You’d be running this place in a few years.  If you would have cheated a man out of his life and his cattle, could I trust you not to do the same to me? No Son, trust comes by hard, it’s earned not given. You have earned our family’s trust and love Clancy, Welcome to your family Son, you have all of our blessing.”

“You mean it was all made up? Mr Tollard won’t die and I don’t have to steal nothing after all? Tarnation! I’ve been worrying myself sick this past week and all along it wasn’t real”

“You’re wrong on that account Clancy, it was real alright. If you had decided to go ahead and make that deal with me, you’d be saddling your horse right now and Sally would have been cut out of your life forever. But you passed. We all prayed you would. Sally here wouldn’t give up on you. She said you’d never take the deal. It seems she knows her man pretty darn well.”

Putting his arms around the young man’s shoulder, Morgan guided the family out of the parlor into the dining room. “Now, since we have all agreed that you and Sally can marry, from now on son, you eat your meals with us. After Clancy pulled the chair out for the waiting Sally, he began to seat himself next to her.

“No Clancy, a man’s place is at the head of the table, Pulling out the head chair for him, Morgan smiled and said, “Sit here Son, you might as well get used to it!”

The storm of the century

The storm of the century

As told to writer JW Edwards

Our barn at the beginning of the storm

 

In the pages of my recipe book ( Maw Maw’s recollections, observations and recipes ) where I talked about Baptist fried chicken, I had made mention of the Great Appalachian flood of 1950. I remember it as well yet as you younger folks remember Hurricane Katrina. In fact, it was our Katrina. On Saturday, the 25th of November a freak early winter storm hit our area like a brick going through a window.

On Thanksgiving morning of the 23rd, it was cold, too cold for West Virginia for that time of year. Over the radio, we was warned a severe cold wave was approaching.  Henry and I made sure all the cracks in our wood frame house had been stuffed up with rags. It was a heck of a way to spend Thanksgiving day! Rags had to be stuffed into the uneven spaces between house and the top of the block walls in the basement. A year previous, Uncle David and Henry had dug out under the house and laid in a clay block basement. Not being bricklayers, the rows of bricks ended up looking like sea waves or a roller coaster, but I wasn’t going to complain. We then purchased a deep freezer and an extra refrigerator along with rows and rows of shelves for all my canned goods.

No longer did we need to cut and haul ice from the pond anymore. Henry turned the room under the barn floor into a room for him and his Paps hobby. Cheese making. When he did, however, he hired on a couple tile layers from Hinton to do the job. Henry installed a dumb waiter for hauling up and down milk and cheese products and replaced the steps with wider ones made of steel.

The old walls had a new white ceramic tile laid on them along with a smooth concrete floor.  Stainless steel tanks and tables would be put in along with other cheese making stuff.

It was a paying hobby that in just a few more years would have to move from the barn to a real building. Their hobby would become a true business. The cheese making facility would be housed in a building they’d have built for it up in Princeton. Henry’s Pap retired from the logging business due to bad hips that year . When Henry approached him about moving the cheese making facility up to Princeton and having his Paps run it, his Paps readily agreed.  For the last couple years, they had been producing some fine cheeses in that barn room but without a bigger facility they couldn’t grow any more. The move would give the company the room it needed. Within six months of moving they would have seven employees and their own delivery truck.

But in November of ’50 that building wasn’t even an idea yet and I had Henry home with me tearing up and stuffing rags into our home to keep the pipes from freezing.

We had no television yet. It wasn’t until the 60’s that the Television signal was made powerful enough to be caught by a set of rabbit ear antenna in our neck of the woods.

Until that day came, AM radio was our window to the world.

The radio warned of the freeze coming that night but by noontime on the 23rd, the sky looked angry and dark. In the summertime I would have made for our new basement with a good book to wait out the storm. But this was November and storms of any consequence were rare if not unheard of in our area. Most we ever got was a long cold drizzling rain spell. That night we all enjoyed a hearty Thanksgiving dinner and many of the recipes I used in that meal will be told to you..

The next morning on the 24th, frost was on the ground but we stayed warm and cozy inside the house. The weather report on the radio said there was a low pressure area developing down in South Caroline and was headed up to Virginia.  Other than the cold, it didn’t look too bad. By dinner time it had begun to snow.

The kids sure enjoyed the sight of an early snow and asked if they could go outside to play in it for a bit.  I felt ill at ease there for some reason. I felt there was something ominous about the weather and I spoke to Henry of my concerns.

He’d had his ear glued to the radio waiting for any word about the storm.  Paying attention to his own gut feelings, Henry said we should secure the barn and put out extra feed so’s the animals could get a boost of energy to stay warm. We let the boys outside to play just until we got back from barn chores. On our way to the barn, bolts of lightning started to light up the falling snow. That added to an already uncanny feeling that we were in the first stages of something terrible. We both quickened our steps.

Inside the barn, the animals seemed agitated and skitterish. We laid out two more days supply of hay and extra feed in the troughs. Henry carried water in and filled the big round cattle buckets. We put out extra feed in the chicken coop and made sure each animal was given few moments of attention to help in calming them down before we left.

When we got back to the house, the boys had made a mess of the new fallen snow out front in their fun, but was more than obliging when we told them to get inside. They were soaked with melted snow and froze to the bone. I had the kitchen wood stove fired up from making dinner yet but added even more wood to cut the chill that begun settling in. Henry went down and stoked the wood burning “boomer” gravity feed furnace we had installed in the basement. The house got so warm, we all took our shoes off and enjoyed Henry’s reading a story book to us in our socks by lamp light.

When it came time for the boys to get on up to bed, Henry turned the radio back on. The man on the radio was giving warnings of severe cold for the next day but didn’t mention much else. Now we had heat only on the downstairs floor at that time. Large open cast iron heat grates had been put in each upstairs room’s floor. This way, the  rising heated air would make it’s way from the first floor into the second floor above.

Many houses built in our area used he same method of heating the second floor. It wasn’t until we converted to an electric fan driven coal furnace that heat pipes were installed in every room.

I decided the boys would be warmer if they got their bedding and camped out on the living room

floor. They made a fun time of it and I knew it would be a late night with them staying up from all the excitement.

Their happy faces changed to worried ones when the wind began blowing in gust so hard it ripped the screen door clean off it’s hinges. Henry made a sharp comment regarding not latching the hook when Earl, our youngest, reminded him that he was the last one inside.  Shortly after that episode, something (most likely a branch) slammed into the side of the house with such a bang we all jumped. By now Henry was saying that this weren’ t no regular storm and wanted to check on the animals once again in the barn. He was afraid a latched door or hay loft window may have blown open.

So I told him I’d put the kids down and he could go out and check the barn while I got them settled.

We had electric out in the barn but it wasn’t working when Henry tried to put the lights on. Clicking on his flashlight, He followed the wires outside until he found one hanging loose from the pole. It had been blowed down in the wind.  Fortunately, his tools was kept in the barn. He got the wires reconnected in the freezing wind and snow and thankfully, the lights came back on inside.

By now he was half froze through and his flashlight was on dim. He made a quick check of the latches to see if any had come loose and was satisfied that they was all tightly hooked. He made his way back to the house in the deepening drifts that were now forming. Once he got back inside the house, the boys had fallen asleep being curled up in a pile of warm blankets.

I hugged him ’cause he looked so cold and raw. I loved that man beyond what words could declare. I took his hand and led him upstairs into our bed. 4:30 am came all too soon.

The morning wind had not slowed down one bit, in fact it was worse. I left the boys to lie where they was while I stoked the stove fire back up and started first breakfast. By the time I set the bread on the stove top to make toast, Henry come down stairs. He had left the water running a smidgeon in each tap the night before so’s they wouldn’t freeze up. Good thing too because it was now  just above zero outside. It was November 25th.

The wind was now howling at a constant 60 miles an hour. Some of our tar roof shingles were being blown off. Henry had to go outside in the weather to close the window shutters that had only been closed once before on that house. He found himself in snow up to his knees. It may have been a blessing having the screen door torn off by the wind the night before. No way could Henry have opened it outward with the snow drifted up on the door as high as his waist.  With first light, Henry made his way to each window. What would have been a five minute job was turning into a job that made each trip outside last for a half hour at a time. He’d return each time to warm up before heading back out to continue closing the shutters. By seven am, Henry’d made his last trip and returned to the safety that was inside. All the shutters, high and low were now closed and we felt now more at ease.

Second breakfast had been waiting on Henry to come back in and the boys devoured it right quick when we finally sat down to eat.

Henry went on over to the radio to listen for any updates.  The farm news was on but it was interrupted time and time again with storm updates.

On the radio were stories of far away towns in New York State, Ohio and Pennsylvania reporting constant winds of over 100 miles an hour and very heavy snow fall. Snow fall in southern Ohio was so dense they said visibility was no more than arms length. They was callin’ it the storm of the century.

We worried over how the house would take the high winds. We had never had a sustained blow like this one was giving us. Every now an then we heard a brick or two let loose from the chimney and tumble down the roof. I feared for my own Mam and Paps place not a mile away, but it might have as well been on the other side of the earth. Thank goodness we layed up extra feed for the animals out in the barn. If a latch had gone and let loose, there was no fixen it now. We hunkered down keeping warm while the storms fury pounded the earth outside our little Ark.

For the noontime meal, I put  in a big chicken pot pie to bake. The smell was wonderful and gave us all a sense of peace within the confines of our home. Outside, it seemed the Devil himself was rippen’ tree limbs off and venting his fury on mankind. Some of the windows had jarred loose and snow was blowin’ past the shutters and through the window.

Once when I had gone upstairs to make up the beds, I had to brush a dusting of snow off my own bed! Again went the rags to the cracks.

Having the shutters closed gave the looks that we was in the night time. Just as I made the comment to Henry that I was thankful to the Lord for having the electric to see by, everything went dark. I found that later, over one million souls had lost electricity in West Virginia during that storm.

As the house went black, Henry’d asked if there was anything else I would like to mention seein’ as the Devil had forgot to put us all in the dark…that is, untill he heard me thankin’ God out loud.

By 8pm (close to our bedtime now) we was fearing the worst now. We could see earlier out the window on the door that snow had reached waist high in most places and had drifted more than 30 feet high in places. No longer could we see the barn doors at all.

Our beloved ’39 Chevrolet Deluxe had been left outside next to the house on purpose. Henry had moved it out of the barn just in case we needed it in an emergency. Well that ‘ol vehicle wasn’t being seen now! The snow had drifted well over the top of it.

It would be another week before we freed it up enough to move it.

That night as Henry and I laid on a make shift bed next to the boys in the living room, we all took turns thanking the Lord out loud for his protection then asking for our continued safety. I prayed special hard for our Mams and Paps and siblings. We didn’t have no phone back then either.

I fell into an uncomfortable and restless sleep as the storm continued to rage throughout the night.

The next morning brought more the same. Worry was eaten us like a cancer.

Fearing all our frozen goods was going to melt without electricity, Henry, the kids and I started the chore of moving the still frozen meat and such to bushel baskets and placing them outside the door. I wasn’t fearing an animal would eat the stuff as no animal could get around in that deep snow.

We emptied the deep freezer and put the refrigerated items in other bushel baskets in the attic. It was cold up there but not to the point of being frozen.

We had started a game of “Easy Money” and I was winning over the others when a tree limb the thickness of a mans leg came crashing through the side of the house into our Pantry. It was off our Black Walnut tree out back. With the limb poking through the wall, and snow blowing into the house, the smell of broken canned goods filled the house. Assessing the damage, Henry said the first thing was to cut out the stuck limb. Unfortunately, the saw, as were all the other tools , were in the barn. Henry had no choice but to brave the storm outside and try to make it to the barn. He told me that when he got into the barn, that he’d also care for the animals and I shouldn’t worry if he was gone for a spell. I got out Henry’s Bibbs, another set of Long Johns, more socks and a heavy coat. I kissed him inside the kitchen, opened the door for him and let him out into the still raging blizzard. I watched as he trudged like his feet were made of lead up towards the barn. I lost sight of him partway’s to the barn in the blowing snow.

I was thankful Henry’d mentioned taking time to care for the animals as it kept my worry down to a minimum when after an hour he still hadn’t returned. I was in the middle of pray’n that he was ok

when I heard his boots thump onto the stoop. He was so frozen his hand holding the saw wouldn’t release.  In his other hand he held onto a canvas satchel filled with other hand tools and nails. It took another hour to cut out the limb from the wall. Meanwhile the house was chilling fast. In order to patch the hole up, Henry removed some shelves in the basement holding more canned goods and nailed them up over the hole. We again had a sense of relief come upon us and the chill began to recede.

It wasn’t until Tuesday on the 28th of November, that the storm finally blew itself out. When it did, we woke up that early morning to a quiet that we had not heard in days.

Just because the storm had ended though did not mean we could get on with our daily routines as usual. True, my routine stayed somewhat the same. Cooking, cleaning, and keeping the boys from killing each other. For Henry, it was the start of many days of repairs that were being  made more difficult from the heavy snow fall.

That morning Henry and I both trudged out to the barn. The boys were left to themselves and were

given in clear terms what would fall their upon their backsides if they didn’t behave. They were given the chore of housekeeping. Amazingly, when we returned to the house, we found it to be spotless!

We made it to the man door on the east side of the barn where the drifting was at a minimum. While still outside we looked over the place for obvious damage. None could be seen but we noticed the power lines leading to the barn were nowhere to be seen. Fact was, the pole itself was gone too! Looking further down our entrance road, we noticed every one of those poles the co op had put in was left standing with a lean to them now. We was in for a long winter!

Once inside the barn again, Henry removed his gloves and headed to the feed room. There he took out feed for the chickens, poured some into a pail and handed it silently to me. I went and opened the chicken coop up and fed the chickens and gathered what few eggs was inside. Although the chicken coop was built outside the barn, Henry had made it so’s the one wall was also the wall of the barn. In that wall he had put a doorway so you could enter from inside or outside.

After I filled the feed and water trough I closed the door, thankful no chickens had froze to death.

Henry had finished filling the feed troughs inside and had pulled a few more bales of hay from the hayloft above. We began our inside inspection of our Civil War era built barn. Other than some tin missing from the roof, we could find no further damage. With wind no longer howling through the cracks, the animals seemed calm and back to normal. We cleaned up the manure, spread down more straw and headed back to the house. Later we would notice a great reduction in mice population after that storm. Whether or not the decrease was from being froze or eaten by the barn cats, it didn’t matter, we was still grateful.

Making our way back to the house, the sun come and through the clouds. Lit brightly for the first time in days, we could see what the storms fury had wrought upon us. Nowhere to be seen was the pasture fences, the drifts covered ’em all. The western side of the house had a drift going all the way up to the roof. It looked more like a white mountain had decided to place itself in our yard. Some of the tree’s had only the highest branches exposed. A small animal corral for the goats in the back yard was completely drifted over. I was thankful Henry had moved ’em into the barn when the storm started.

It would take weeks before we had electric strung up again. Even after we did, the main power lines heading to our property weren’t  restrung  until late December.

Repairs were slow going but one by one they were done. Henry had to make his way up to the finishing shed by the saw mill. That shed contained a big planer machine that made smooth a boards surface and made it into a desired thickness. We called it a shed but the fact was, it was bigger than our house.  There was other wood working machines in there too but I really couldn’t tell you what they did.

Anyway, Henry come back with some planks the same as the houses siding that was being stored in there. All day he worked on the hole in the side of the house  made by the falling tree limb. As the days wore on that first week after the storm, the weather improved greatly.

At first we considered it a blessing to see the snow melting away. When patches of grass and fence lines began to appear again, the radio began sending out dire flood warnings for the area. Seems the Bluestone dam in Hinton was causing more problems than was solving them. About twenty miles north east of our place was the town of Hinton. The Government decide it was a good place for a dam since the New River valley was sparsely populated and would provide some needed flood  controls. Work began in ’41 but wasn’t in full operation until ’52. Our storm hit in ’50. This meant the damn wasn’t ready yet for a flood like we got. Luckily, it could have been worse because they had lowered the river in anticipation of the spring thaws.

With the dam not able to handle the rising water level, creeks and such draining into the New River began to swell. Soon the New River overflowed it’s banks causing all the tributaries leading into it to over flow also. The Bluestone Dam never was much of a well built Dam. Constant problems plagued it over the years. Even today, the Government engineers decided that the Dam has the ability to literally move downstream in one piece if the water level rises beyond it’s present “Low water” level. Dang!

At first we only noticed the streams and creeks rising near our place. We see this each spring and it   was no cause for concern. But one morning Henry and the boys went to do morning barn chores and found a lake had surrounded our house!  It was only ankle deep but we had never seen the likes of it before.  Athens town was south.of us and on higher ground but the radio was saying even Athens was experiencing flooding. Now the bottom of the house started about two feet off the ground as it was laid on a foundation that was raised above ground level. It wasn’t the depth of the water so much as the power of the current that scared us. I feared the whole house (like some others we heard of ) would up and drift away in the flood.

Water was near to the top of the stoop by then. With only a few more inches to go before water poured into the house we began to remove everything we could from the basement and bring it upstairs. We kept the gravity furnace going on low heat fearing if the basement flooded, the cast iron insides would crack from the cold water when it became submerged.  Seems all we did from the beginning of the storm was work to survive.  Thankfully, we had no windows put in when Henry built the basement under the house. The original stone block foundation was built water tight.

Since the roads was too flooded for an vehicle to drive on, Henry fired up our gas tractor with a hay wagon behind it and drove on into Athens on it for supplies. Along route 20 there was a small amount of merchants springing up. These were pretty much a loss now. Henry’s tractor made it’s way along flooded low spots that sometimes forced him to lift up his feet. He later told me the water was so high in one spot that most the cooling fan up front was under water and sending out spray like a fire hose!

In town, he found the people there was pretty dry but the lower roads was flooded causing people to evacuate their places and head on into town for relief. The School had been turned into a shelter of sorts for those flooded out. We had nothing like that near us to fall back on accept our own churches…those that weren’t under water anyway.

Our own Baptist church was up on a hill so it never got affected by the flood. Those people displaced from the flood was staying in the recreation room out back. Until the bodies started arriving.

The  funeral home up in Princeton couldn’t handle but six bodies at any one time and besides that, most the roads leading to it on Greasy Ridge was still impassible.

The call went out for emergency space to hold bodies until they could be transferred to Princeton for embalming. No one was being buried ’cause the flooding. Our Pastor approached what elders he could locate and got permission to let any bodies not able to make their way up to Princeton to be stored in the recreation room with the doors open and heat off until the roads was passable  again.

Eighteen of the twenty six that lost their lives in our area ended up in our church’s recreation room. Those that had sought shelter there were now sleeping on the churches pews.  Grieving family members came and identified the dead but a few never found their loved ones at all. They was just listed as “missing” from then on. It was hearing of the dead children that drove me to my knees in tears. How I prayed for those who’s babies was gone forever.

Pastor held prayer services and passed the collection plate each night for the dead and suffering. Henry attended along with Uncle David each night. Henry and his siblings also donated all the fine cut maple boards from their mill so coffins could be made from them. Cabinet makers, Pete Haynes and his son donated all their labor in making the coffins at no cost. Few if any of the dead had insurance.

Uncle Davids ranch suffered only minor damage. No flood damage at all, just from the wind during the storm. My Mam and Paps place needed a new roof and one out building collapsed but none of the  animals lost their lives.

Henry’s Pap injured himself trying to re hang the barn door that got knocked off it’s track, but within a few days he was up and around again and doing fine. Our family was lucky in many ways. We sustained some damages, but nothing that compared to those who had lost everything.

Losing all your possessions and even loved ones was bad. But I truly think there was something lost that was worse yet. It was hope. Some folks had lost so much they couldn’t find the strength to start over again.

There was no FEMA or Government hand outs back then. If you couldn’t pull yourself up with your own bootstraps, even with help of neighbors, family and friends, you might as well just lay down and die. Some did just that. Suicides were a common occurrence for months afterward.  What the storm didn’t destroy, a gun or a razor did.

Today I can drive my vehicle and point out homes still standing and what damage they had had done to them back then. I knew the family’s living there and many I called friends.

They’s all but gone now. Most passed on, some in nursing homes. I’m not sure why the good Lord saw fit to let me live as long as this. I’m still quick in my thoughts and sometimes my mind forgets my bodies old and I find myself doing something an old lady like me shouldn’t do. Like driving maybe.

Still, I could be sad about all the friendships now gone and a loving husband no longer here to warm my bed and rub my aching feet at night. But still I rise up each morning like I did today and think, “what chores do I have to do today?” You got to stay young in your mind to stay alive. Back in the day,  we was the first to have indoor plumbing installed in our area. Today, I’m going Wal-Mart to buy a Kindle!

A garishly painted sign

A  garishly painted sign

 By J W Edwards

The garishly painted sign in the tall grass along the roadside read, “WELCOME TO POLITICO” and beneath that greeting in smaller but bold letters read “This is a no weapons town, all firearms must be relinquished to the Sheriff upon entering town limits.”

WELCOME TO POLITICO

This is a no weapons town. All firearms must be

Relinquished to the Sheriff upon entering town limits

 

Jasper Johnson, better known as ‘Jelly Roll Johnson’, hauled on the mares reigns stopping her a few feet from the sign. “What in blazes is this all about?” He thought to himself. This was West Texas.  The signs request amounted to about the same thing as asking all thirsty persons to drink only rain water that fell directly from the sky while in town. It was plain stupid.

“Well horse, I guess we’ll head on over to the Sheriff’s office to see just how serious they hold onto this notion of bein’ gunless.” Horse, his mare, snorted a quick agreement. With a slight flick on the reins, Horse continued on into town.  The town consisted of a dusty but hard packed  main street cross sectioned with maybe as many as six intersections. Most all the buildings showed little weathering from the harsh west Texas sun. In fact everything looked well taken care of and near picture book perfect.

Gazing about at the clean architecture and neat signage secured above each business in a precise and matching  height, Jelly Roll commented, “Dang Horse, look at this here place. Did we fall asleep while travelin’ and end up makin’ our way to Boston?” Jelly Roll spotted the Sheriff’s office ahead on the right.  A slight tug on the right rein along with a mild pressure from his right heel turned Horse  to the hitching rail out front.  With a creak that only a working cowboys old leather saddle can make,  Jelly Roll dismounted and loosened Horses cinch.

Removing his tattered slouch hat, he flapped it over his shirt and down his chaps causing dust to fly. Satisfied he would now be recognized as human and not a walking dirt clod, he stepped up onto the full block  wooden walkway.

A  brass bell attached to the door jingled above his head as he entered the Sheriff’s office.

Seeing an old man who was obviously asleep at a small desk, he loudly cleared his throat to awaken who he assumed to be the Sheriff.  A loud snort and a twitch of the mustache was all he earned from his attempt to wake the Lawman. “Hey, Sheriff?” he bawled. At that the old man popped one eye open which glanced at the man standing in front of him and then shut again followed by a long snore.

Jelly Roll stepped back to the door and with his hand slapped the brass entry bell multiple times until he finally saw the old man wake up.

“What the heck you makin’ all that racket for boy? I got ears if ya’ ain’t noticed.” Pulling himself upright in his chair and still grumbling, the old Lawman continued his half asleep tirade. “They should be a law against treatin’ an’ old man as if he was deaf. Sneakin’ up on a body should be against the law too. Now just who are you an’ what’s so dang important that you need to jangle that bell that a way.”

It was then that the Sheriff noted the Colt pistol tied low on the cowboy’s leg. Moving to stand up quickly but nearly falling backward trying to get out of his chair, the old Lawman tried vainly to loosen the flap on his holster. “Stand where ya’ are fella, an’ don’t touch your iron while I get my gun unloosed”.

If it weren’t so weird a scene, Jelly Roll would have laughed watching the old man’s antics at trying to pull iron on him. “Sheriff! Jelly rolled loudly yelled, “I  ain’t pullin’ no iron on ya’, I’m just passin’ through when I saw your sign alongside the road tellin’ me to surrender my piece.”

The old Sheriff finally gave up trying to clear leather and stood there with his hand shaking above the butt of the pistol. To Jelly Roll, he was now looking confused rather than frightened.

“What’s that you say? Sign? What sign? Speak up boy!”

“The one that says everyone has to turn his gun in when entering town, that one!”

Still standing there with the expression of a child caught peeing on his neighbors flower bed, The old man felt a bit foolish and replied, “Oh, yeah, that one.” Remembering the stranger still had his pistol he yelled, “ Hey! Get that gun belt off mister! Don’t you know this here’s a no gun totin’ town?”

Expelling a breath through clenched teeth, Jelly Roll slowly said, “That’s what I’m doing here Sheriff, relinquishing my gun like the sign out there says to do. I ain’t seekin’ no trouble, just a few drinks to clear the dust from my throat an’ a hot meal, that’s all. Just as soon as I can, I’ll head back out an’ hit the trail up Amarillo way. I hear a few spreads are lookin’ for wranglers an’ I plan to sign on if they’d have me.”

Extending a shaky hand, the old man calmed down a bit, “Well… you  gimme’ your gun then an’ come back and get it when you leave town. According to the law, I gotta’ put the thing under lock an’ key in this here safe with all the others.”

Jelly Roll unhitched his holster belt and wrapped it around the pistol then handed it over to the Sheriff. The Sheriff opened the top drawer of the desk and pulled out a ring of keys. Turning to the safe sitting along the back wall of his tiny office  he opened it.

Jelly Rolls eyes opened wide when he saw the vast assortment of guns packed like sardines all stacked up inside the safe.

“Dang,” Jelly Roll exclaimed, “Just how many guns you got in there Sheriff?”

“Never you mind, but when the law was passed, everyone in town had to turn in their irons.”

“Why’d they make a law like that?”

“Our Mayor come back from visiting Boston one year an’ said if we’s to be as progressive, then we all should follow suit.”

“Well don’t that kinda leave the towns folk at the mercy of no goods if they come in wearin’ a gun??”

“If they ride in wearin iron, then they’s breakin’ the law!  Besides, the Mayor insist that studies show if guns is outlawed, then only outlaws will have guns… ‘Course they had to pass a whole herd of other laws after that to cover up any flaws the first one had.  I guess you’ll find out what they are if ya’ stay here for any length a time.”

“Yeah, well I don’t plan on stayin’ but maybe a day or two to rest up, so I guess I ain’t gonna have the privilege of breakin’ too many of em’.”

“Huh, if you do, you’ll get to rest here in a cell rather than in any hotel bed. Judge Flavious Maximus don’t take kindly to lawbreakers in his town. He’s the Mayor an’ head of the town council too. I warn ya’ boy, if he don’t cotton to ya’ he’ll make up a law right then an’ there so’s ya’ come back an’ spend the night here with me behind bars. So be careful boy, I’m warnin’ ya’.”

 

Chapter 2

Leaving the Sheriff’s office feeling naked and vulnerable without his firearm, Jelly Roll shrugged it off, went and stabled his horse, then headed off to find the nearest saloon for a long overdue drink.

Halfway up the second block Jelly Roll found what he was looking for. A well kept saloon who’s bat wing doors never looked like they’d ever left their hinges from a fight. Stepping up he stuck his head in the saloon doorway and took the place in at a glance. A piano player was plinking away while a young girl standing next to him sang.  The tune sounded kind of familiar and he soon realized she was trying to sing an opera song he had heard once at a theater in San Antonio.

Each to his own,” he thought as he made his way to the bar.

“Bartender, give me a whisky, an leave the bottle will ya?”

Wiping his hands on a towel, the bartender strode over to him saying, “I’m sorry sir, we don’t have whisky, just wine and what the Mayor calls ‘craft beers’.”

“No whisky you say? What kind of saloon doesn’t serve whisky? What next? You gonna tell me you only serve lamb instead of beef?”

“No, no we don’t serve lamb here, that’s for sure. But we don’t serve beef neither, just chicken.”

“What!!? You gatta’ be pullin’ my leg, haw haw, haw! That’s a good one!” Still chuckling he said, OK, I got the joke,  now gimme my whisky and a plate of beef stew an’ I’ll be mighty grateful to ya’.”

“Sir, I was not pulling your leg. The Mayor outlaw’d anything but chicken an’ even that may soon be made illegal. I do have a fine bottle of  ’68 wine from New York State I could offer you though.”

Unable to endure the ill tuned piano’s plinking with that of the off key Italian wailings of the singing girl, he stepped away from the bar shaking his head. “Forget it. I can’t take this no more. I’ll find somewhere else to go to do my eating and drinking.”

Making his way towards the other end of town, Jelly Roll spotted a small diner across the street. Making his way inside, he saw a vacant table and pulling up a chair sat down. Grabbing up a menu he began looking it over. A cute but somewhat thin young blond haired girl wearing it piled atop her head approached him with a pad and pencil for his order.

Pressing his lips tightly together he let the menu fall to the table in disbelief. Looking up at the girl standing over him waiting for his order, he said to her. “Ma’am, I can’t make heads or tails of this here menu. It’s in French. Can I just get an order of coffee , steak an’ apple pie?”

“We believe the French language is just as important as English. We don’t serve Arbuckles here sir, the owner is now a vegetarian and he won’t order any coffee beans because they are dipped in egg whites to keep them from spoiling. I can give you a heavenly no egg noodle soup made with pinto beans, celery and onions served with unsweetened Chinese tea. We don’t serve meat or sugar because both rot your insides out”

“Geez lady, what kind of fool town is this? I can’t get no whisky, no meat an’ I bet a sweet slice of apple pie is forbidden too!”

Suddenly the girl broke out in a smile and said, “Oh, we have better than a sugary old apple pie sir, we have mock apple pie. It’s a recipe the Mayor brought back from his trip to England.

“What in the name of God is a mock apple pie?”

Rearing back from the waist up as if insulted, she exclaimed, “There’s no need to swear at me sir! We have a no swearing law in this town and I strongly suggest you  abide by it. Blah, blah blah…” Jelly Roll’s eyes began to glaze over.

“I think I’m having a nightmare.”

“…and if your through taking the Lords name in vain, I’d tell you that mock apple pie is made from crackers and spices instead of old dried up apples, butter and sugar! It’s much better for your constitution and keeps your movements regular!”

“My movements?”

She pointed to her small behind, “Yes, you know…your moooovements.”

Jelly Roll put his face into his hands and leaned forward as if in deep prayer.  Mumbling into his hands he spoke, “Jesus, take me right now, let a bullet come somehow flyin’ through this window an give me peace. Let the roof cave in on me Lord. Anything Lord! All I wanted was a shot of whisky an’ a hot beef dinner. Was that askin’ too much Lord? “

Interrupting him, she said, “Sir, I don’t mean to disturb your giving thanks to the Lord for your delicious meal, but wouldn’t it make more sense to order one first before prayin’ on it?”

Jelly Roll slowly removed his hands from his face and lifted his beleaguered eyes to the thin girl still waiting for his order. “I just lost my appetite Ma’am, an by the way, just who is this Mayor Maximus Ma’am everyone keeps yappin’ about? It seems to me this entire town is run more like his private property than a public town.”

With hands on her hips she told him, “ Mayor Maximus is the best thing that this town has had happen to it. Why before he come along, there was loose girls working in the saloon making men wobbly legged! There was gun shooting and brawls and drunkedness and swearing on the public walkways! He also got a college degree from Yale and was a rower in the famous Harvard-Yale regatta rowing race in which Yale beat Harvard! Why his middle name says it all, Acadamious.  Yes sir, when we need something we just got to call on Mayor Flavious  Acadamious Maximus for help. We couldn’t get by now without him.

Turning around she pointed to a well trimmed bearded man with long grey hair tied into a neat pony tail two tables away.  Soft, manicured hands delicately held a cup of Chinese tea to a face painted with all the honesty of a horse trader from Kansas City. “Our Mayor is sitting right over there listening to every word you’ve been saying, haven’t you Mayor Maximus?”

“Oh yes I have my dear Susan, oh yes I have.” Getting up from his own table he bullied his way past the other table and over to Jelly Rolls.

Standing over Jelly Roll like his dung don’t stink he asked, “You have a gripe here cowboy? Maybe you find our town too refined and civilized for your buffalo grunt taste. You do realize that putting another person in an uncalled for stressful situation such as your waitress Susan is now experiencing here, is against the law?”

The jail door slammed loudly behind him.

 

Chapter 3

As jails went, it wasn’t too bad at all. He flipped the blanket on the bed aside and didn’t see the usual scurrying of fleeing bed bugs or rings of old  pee stains.

An old man was in the cell next to him that wasn’t in there an hour before when he first arrived.

“What they got you in for boy?” the old man spoke through a raggedy beard trying it’s best to hide a set of picket fence teeth. “Judge Marcus got me tossed in today ‘cause I accidently spit on the street. No public spitten allowed here ya know. A filthy habit he says. Damn bug done jumped right in my mouth, ‘course I had to spit it out. I ain’t into swollow’n no bugs.

“Old man, I don’t wanna know why you’re in here or anything about your bug eatin habits. Ya could tell me though what kind of meals they serve here, I’m starvin’.”

“Well, that depends.”

“On what?”

“If ya got any money to pay for it.

“Pay for what?”

“If  you’re like me an’ havin’ no money, it’s whenever the Lady from the ‘Society for the Ethical Treatment of Prisoners and Other Bums’, better known as SETPOB gets here. It used to be ‘Prisoners Eat Terribly Awful’ or PETA,  but then some animal group complained they stole their initials an’ was all set to sue ‘em so they changed it to SETPOB.”

“So you’re sayin’ I gotta buy my own meals?”

“You should anyway, SETPOB meals is horrible stuff. Ain’t fit for no human, that’s for shore. Why last week when I was in here for not crossin’ the street at the marked road intersection, they fed me nothin’ but a slab of beef drenched in gravy over white bread!”

Jelly Roll perked up, “Damn! For real?”

“Yup, they figure if you get locked up, then you don’t deserve as good a meal as a decent folk would eat. Don’t expect no hot tea either. Just coffee! Tea’s for good folk “

“Well… Guess I’m broke then’” Jelly smiled pleasantly.

After a ‘terrible’ but very filling meal of butter made biscuits, pork sausage and coffee, Jelly Roll lay down and fell into a deep sleep on the jails recently purchased firm foundation mattress.

The old timer in the next cell sat complaining that his civil rights were being violated by being fed such a horrible meal.

Chapter 4

 

At 30 minutes after midnight The jail house door silently opened. A cowboy wearing a dirty bandana over his mouth stepped inside. The Sheriff sat in his chair sleeping. The intruder slowly lifted his greener shotgun and aimed it at the sleeping Sheriff.

“Wake up old man!

“ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ”

“Damn it, I said wake up!”

“ZZz..snort..ZZZZZ”

“He’s half deaf” yelled the old man from the cell next to Jelly Roll. “Jes’ tap him on the head with the greener, that’ll get him awake.”

Lifting the Sheriffs hat off his head with the greener, he brought the barrel down,  giving the slleping Sheriff’s  head a resounding bonk.

“What in blazes?” The Sheriff yelled as he fell backward grabbing his head and sprawling bodily onto the floor.

“Who did that?” He shouted as he fumbled through his vest pockets looking for his spectacles. “There’s  laws against whatever just happened!”

“Stand up Sheriff, an’ put your gun a top the desk then back away from it.”

From his cell, Jelly Roll watched the scene with interest. The old man in the next cell whispered to him, “That there is Blasphemous Bob Barkus, he used to be an actor in California. He helped Mayor  Maximus , whose real name by the way is Johnny Deep, set up this town years ago as an experiment in social living. Seems he left before the town was completed sayin’ he heard the call of the whale, or somethin’ like that. Anyway, he signs onto this here oriental whale studyin’ ship as a crew member and sails away. Only thing is, the only studyin’ that ship did was to study how better to harpoon the dang things. Seems bein’ three years at sea harpoonin’ whales did somethin’ to his thinkin’. Soon’s he landed, he come back here wanting a giant veal steak sautéed in a onion Rum sauce with pickled eggs on the side. The man had completely gone off the deep end… threw away everything he earlier stood for. I heard he died of a fat clot in his blood or somethin’ after he left to take a job at a Cajun restaurant in New Orleans.  I guess not though, cause here he is again, alive as ever without no clots!”

“What’re you two whisperin’ about there? Walking over to the cells Blasphemous Bob demanded. Pointing his gun at Jelly Roll he asked, “What’re you in here for cowboy? Murder? Rape? Bank robbery?

“I just wanted beef stew and a whisky.”

A look of shocked disbelief plastered Blasphemous Bob’s face, “What?!! Son, didn’t you know that’s illegal here?”

“I do now.”

“What in tarnation was you thinkin’ by comin’ here? Ain’t nothing normal nor desirable ‘bout this place. It took me 3 years to see what every Texan sees right off about what’s wrong with it. No real Texan like you could abide here, no way!  That’s why we settled it with college graduates, ex politicians, lawyers, bankers  and bums!  Didn’t you take the time to read the sign by the road?

“Sure I did.” Jelly Roll said, “It said to hand in your guns, that’s all. I saw nothing too unusual about that. I’ve known other places do that, like Boston.”

“You been to Boston? How’d you like their baked beans? I just love how they toss that big ‘ol hunk a fat back in there for flavor. That sure makes it Yummo in my book!”

“No, never been there myself, but if it’s anything like this here town then I don’t want to either. I like wearin’ my gun and eatin’ beef n pickled eggs an’ drinkin’ whiskey too much.”

Blasphemous  Bob shouted, “Beef n Pickled eggs? Here’s a man after my own heart!” Demanding the jail’s ring of keys from the Sheriff, he opened the cell door Jelly Roll was locked  behind.

“Get on outa’ there son, I commune your sentence to time served! Now you get on the nag you rode in here with an’ ride till you come to that fork in the road again. This time read the dang sign in it’s entirety.”

Walking over to the Sheriffs gun safe, Blasphemous Bob Barkus unlocked it and tossed Jelly Roll his gun. He then grabbed arm load after arm load of the towns peoples pistols and threw them out the door into the street.  “As for me? I gotta correct the errors of my ways. This here towns gotta go. No one should be forced to live like this…it just ain’t natural an’ shore ain’t Texan!”

Waking the livery boy, Jelly Roll saddled up and headed out of town.  Behind him, the dark sky began to brighten with a yellowish glow. Blasphemous Bob was correcting the errors of his ways by burning down the town that was not fit for any Texan.

Suddenly he remembered something and turned the mare around and headed back to town at a gallop. The town was fully ablaze. The townsfolk were all wandering about in the street watching their town burn down around them. Seeing their guns lying about they began to retrieve them and buckle them on once again, just in case. Heading up to the now flame engulfed diner, he scanned the crowd for the familiar face he’d met only hours before.

Finding what he searched for, he rode over to the cute although somewhat thin blond girl who’s hair was still hair tied atop her head even though she no longer had a waitress job.

She stood frozen as she watched her town quickly burn away around her. A hanky with prints of chickadee’s that matched those on her night gown, was busy wiping the tears that rolled down her pretty cheeks. She looked up as he approached her and he smiled down at her.

Patting the saddle in front of him he asked her, “Want a lift some where’s? I got plenty of room up here seeing as how thin you are and all. Why I bet you could ride all the way back to Amarillo with me an’ not even crowd me out once.”

“I was born somewhere near Amarillo.” She sadly replied, “When my parents graduated from college with degrees in Mime psychology and performing arts, they took up the Mayors offer to be settled here at no cost. They both passed on last year when they was poisoned by some paint they had purchased from a  Chinese paint company they wore in their Mime act.

I have nowhere to go now except back to Amarillo. Maybe I’ll find  my extended family, maybe I’ll just get married, settle down and have a whole passel of children as a result of keeping my man happy an’ wobbly legged. Sir, If you don’t mind a somewhat thin cute blond girl that wears her hair up riding there in front of you, I’ll take you up on your offer  because I have nothing to keep me here and besides, I have always wanted to eat a medium rare slab of beef with pickled eggs on the side.”

Jelly Roll reached down and hooked her up into the saddle in front of him with one swoop of his arm. “My, you sure are strong Sir.” She breathlessly told him.

He could smell the fragrance of patchouli in her hair and feel the heat of her body against his as Horse clopped down the road he had come in on. “You said you might look to get married an’ have a passel of children from the results of keepin’ your man happy and wobbly legged? What kind a fella you got in mind?”

As if deep in thought, she put her pointing finger to her lips and finally said,  “Well, he’s gotta be strong, like you are. He has to have his own horse of course, like you have. And if he’s going to live in Texas with me, he has to eat beef and drink whisky, like you do.”

Looking skyward, Jelly Roll said smiling. “Gee ma’am sounds like you an’ Blasphemous Bob should hook up!”

She turned in the saddle and kissed his ear, “I thought about it but he likes rum, not whisky…unlike you.”

As they passed the town welcome sign, he stopped and said to the somewhat thin cute blond girl who wore her hair up,” Blasphemous Bob asked if I’d read the sign before I entered town, I read it but didn’t see nothing written on it that would warn me of all the strange non Texan things about the town. Is there something on it I missed?”

She smiled and patted his cheek affectionately, “Look real close at the bottom my sweet Sir. It’s about covered by the tall growing grass but if you look close you can still read it.”

Jelly Roll dismounted and approached the sign with a lit match to light the way. Squinting his searching eyes, he brushed away the tall grass and was finally able to read what was hidden, suddenly he understood. There written in the same French Script MT as the name of the town was written in it said, ‘If you like San Francisco, you’ll love Politico’.

If you like San Francisco, you’ll love Politico

Jelly Roll shuddered. With a herculean hop skip and jump, he landed back in the saddle and spurring Horse into a gallop, Jelly Roll Johnson and the cute but somewhat thin blond girl with her hair worn atop her head fled into the night towards Amarillo. There they married, ate beef and pickled eggs three times a week and had a passel of kids as a result of her keeping him happy… and wobbly legged.

Texan by any name

TEXAN BY ANY NAME
By JW Edwards

A thin tendril of smoke drifting skyward off in the Sonora’s desert horizon was the only sign another human being occupied the cholla infested landscape. The lack of raised dust meant whoever it was had been there for a spell and hadn’t found any need to move on yet.
The scene disturbed the lone rider as he watched the smoke snake skyward. He thought it was a stupid move, having a fire like that. Without conscious thought, he worried the hairs on the mare’s mane between his fingers. Under his breath he mentioned this to no one in particular. “With that smoky a fire, that idiot might just as well be flashing a mirror about for all the savvy he showin’.”
Anyone who’s spent time in Indian country knew a small, short lived smokeless fire made of dry twigs was trail wise. This beacon in the wilderness was either a tenderfoots disastrous attempt at crossing the desert or like dung to a fly, it was used to purposely attract the eyes of greenhorn miners or Easterner do gooders making their way west.

He continued speaking but now it was aimed at his horse, “Dang it Snort, No man could a traveled this far bein that stupid an stayin’ alive this long out there. There’s a passel of mean ‘ol Apaches about an I ain’t even mentioned nothin’ ‘bout the group of white stage robbin’ hombres heard here about too.”
Snort only snorted like she understood and agreed.

He knew he was going to investigate. “ I know this ain’t what I should do Snort, but dang it all, what if it is just a idiot numbskull out there? Why with that smoky blaze he just let it be known to every no good within ten miles that they’s a ripe peach for pluckin’… unless of course this be a set up for robbin’ a greenhorn good Samaritan. My gut says that’s what’s goin’ on out there Snort. We might as well get on out there an’ see for ourselves”.

It was an old Indian trick. Convincing a passing traveler that someone’s in need then robbing or killing them when they arrived to help.
Out here in the dry desert, it wasn’t unheard of to find captive white women being used to draw in the unsuspected traveler by loudly pleading for help. Knowing he was smarter trail and desert wise than even most Apaches, he edged Snort on towards the smoky tendril.
Slowly the rider made his way around in a large circle so he could observe the smoky camp from the west where he would be partially obscured by the brightness of the setting sun. He’d stay hidden in the desert brush until the ancient volcanic peaks cast their long shadows across the desert floor painting a confused collage of shadows, brush and cactus.

Securing his horse to a small greasewood branch behind a slight rise, he crawled through the brush as silent as an Indian imitating a snake. Reaching a small arroyo he slid down into it and after waiting a minute to make sure he was still unobserved he removed his hat and lifted his eyes above the rim.

What he saw appalled him. Scattered about was a mixture of clothes, personal items and bodies. The smoke was the result of a torture. Stretched tight over the fire, an old man was held firmly in place by having his hands and feet tied to brush at opposite ends of each other. His body had been cooked in half over the fire.

Noting the scuffed up desert floor around his feet showed he was alive when the fire was lit under him. An old woman lay naked and dead nearby. No longer having a nose and lips with her eyes gouged out she had died horribly. By the looks of it, she must have been the old man’s wife. Two younger men, maybe in their teens lay dead. One died swiftly having his throat cut, he was the lucky one. His body was away from the others as if he was on sentry duty for the camp. The other boy of maybe fifteen or so lay naked, thoroughly tortured and gelded. The buzzards had been just begun to settle down to a warm meal of innocents.
As much as he wanted to scare off the gorging buzzards, the rider knew to make no sound or expose himself. The fire was still too fresh and the deaths too recent and on top of that, there was no trail dust noted earlier to speak of their leaving. Whoever they were that did this were most likely still hunkered down nearby just waiting for the curious to arrive so they could attack and continue their fun with a fresh number of volunteers.

Chapter 2
The rider knew to be extremely cautious. Snort was tied off far enough away to stay hidden so that was good. It was his laying in the arroyo that worried him. He could be discovered if someone else entered the same wash from either end. Quick to reverse this situation, he silently backed up feet first until he reached the opposite side of the arroyo’s slope. Within a few minutes he again was hidden by the cholla and brush above the wash.

Keeping his ears alert for any sound that might announce their where abouts, he began scanning the desert floor with the eyes of an eagle for signs of disturbance. A broken scrub twig knee high and a fresh over turned stone the size of a gold double eagle gave the direction of their exit away. Looking beyond these signs he noted no further disturbances. This meant that whoever it was, they were laying wait in the scrub not more than fifty feet away from the grizzly scene. He counted his blessings when he realized how close he had been to being seen.

He lay still as a rabbit watching the desert return itself to normal. A lizard ate a desert spider, a bird flitted about under a mesquite tree pecking like a chicken at the beans lying underneath. If they were Apaches, they could silently out wait most whites ten to one. The rider in this case was the one, so it was going to be a long night. Guessing at their heritage, he settled down by tucking his arms under his head and getting some shut eye. He would need the rest.
Snort knew not to make any noise where he stood. The rider had trained him well. If his nose was rubbed before the rider moved out, it meant make no sound especially if another horse or human shows up. If the rider rubbed the spot above the eyes, it meant be quiet but silently alert me to any presence by scraping one hoof across the ground. A whinny meant “Forget the other two and get the hell out of Dodge, we’s bein’ set upon by no goods!”

Not hearing any warning from Snort yet meant the Apaches were not moving about but were still hunkered down in the brush waiting for the rider to make his move. He was sure they spotted him earlier when he headed across the flats of the desert after he noticed the smoke. It was such an obvious set up. The rider figured the Apaches had either thought he was a greenhorn traveler unable to read sign very well or that they were in fact a group of careless young braves bent on making hell on earth. Considering the carelessness of the scuffed earth and the broken twig, he rightly made out they were the later. Still, they were deadly and they weren’t going away by wishing it.

Chapter 3
Around two in the morning, the rider awoke refreshed, took a swig of water, stretched his legs and arms silently and began implementing the plan he had decided on. After an hour of scanning the very tops of the brush, he finally saw what he was looking for. The freezing nighttime desert temperature announced their position by exposing their barely visible wisp of frosty breaths. Since no horses or their vaporous breaths were visible, the rider knew they were then hidden out of sight beyond the rise. It was even a possibility they were held near where Snort was tied. He was fortunate the Apache’s horses hadn’t reacted to Snorts presence. It would have been over for him before he even started. As it was, he now knew the near whereabouts of their horses and the exact location of the waiting Apaches.
With the first grey light in the eastern sky, the desert breeze began its daily west to east travel. Already positioned west of the hidden Apaches, he reached under his woolen vest and removed his silver whiskey flask. With continued snake like caution, he made his way through the densest sections of brush while pouring a continuous line of whisky in the desert sand beneath the brush. When the flask was finally emptied, he had made a quarter of a circle around the Indians. He then lit a Lucifer ‘strike anywhere match’ and put the burning head to the trail of whisky still dampening the sand.

Meanwhile, six young Apache’s lay hidden in the desert brush. Keeping in contact with each other by eye contact only, they practiced the age old Apache tactic of silent waiting.

Suddenly not a hundred feet in front of them, the earth ignited in a stretched out fiery blaze and with the morning breeze the inferno started racing their way. Their night vision ruined, they tried their best to make it unseen back to their waiting horses but with little success. Within a minute, the whisky fueled desert brush was so ablaze it exposed the fleeing Apaches as if lit by Boston theater lights. Rising onto his knees, the rider aimed his Navy Colt and began firing at the fleeing no goods. Aiming carefully, he pulled the trigger six times. One after another went down until none was seen standing.

Not trusting each shot fired to be a killing one, the rider reloaded and made his way stealthily from one body to another. Only one remained breathing, the rest had in fact had been given death by lead.
Rolling the ailing brave onto his back the rider saw where his bullet had gone. It had not been an immediate death shot by any means. Staring down at the lone Apache survivor, the rider saw the young brave was barely in his teens. “Dang it boy, what’re you doin’ with this passel a no goods? Ain’t you a bit young to prove your manhood? I mean it ain’t like you’s a growed man yet.”

In response, the young brave only moaned. The bullets path had entered his upper left side, had traveled along the front of the rib cage and exited near his right nipple. “Yeah, I bet it do hurt a might, but without infection, you’ll live. “ The rider stood and stretched, then bent over him and removed the knife the brave had on him. Looking closely at the blade he said, “I got some stuff in my saddle bag that I can clean and bind you up with, long as you don’t be no fool an’ try an’ get at me, just lie still.”
“Go,” the young brave said gasping, “I no can get up to kill you anyway.”
“Well ain’t that mannerly of ya.” Turning as he walked back to retrieve Snort and his saddle bags the rider called back in disgust. “I shoulda’ just put a bullet through your skull an’ been done with ya’. Why I’m ‘bout to patch you up beats the hell outa me!”
By noon the young brave lay patched and medicated with a salve normally used on horse wounds. A slight fever had begun but the rider figured this was more from the pain of the wound and broken ribs that from infection. A day or two more would tell more about that. The boy slept.

Having found and retrieved the Apaches horses, he was pleasantly surprised to find no brand on them. Unbranded Indian broke horses brought a good price on the market, something his near empty pockets desperately needed. It made no sense to tether them together, they had nowhere to go anyway so he let them graze where they could.

Sun up the next day brought good news to the young brave. No fever and hungry as a starving bear. The rider had made his way back to the grizzly campsite and buried the bodies. Searching around for any items that he could himself use he found a pound of Arbaughs coffee beans, some canned food items, a box of mixed coins amounting to twenty seven dollars and a bottle of whisky. The Apaches were too young to have appreciated the taste for whisky yet so it went over looked or unwanted. Putting his newly found goods in his saddle bags, he then said a prayer to the Lord above for those now lying cold in the ground that they would now be at peace. Something their last minutes on this earth surly were short of.

Arriving back at his own camp, the rider saw that the young brave was sitting up. Dismounting, the rider strode on over to the sitting brave and spoke. “I just buried that family you all kilt. I ain’t gonna ask your reasons for doin’ what you did ‘cause I know the Apache way, but it pisses me off terrible that you chose a family as weak to the territory as they were. Did you believe killin’ a weak fightin’ family made you a big warrior, give you big medicine like your grandfathers had? You ain’t no more a man than you was last week. No difference than killin’ a rabbit then tellin’ everybody you fought a wild desert beast tooth an’ nail an’ kilt it with your knife.” Your grandfathers earned the word warrior by goin’ against something that by all rights shoulda’ kilt them right off. Ain’t no glory in what you did, just shame.”

“Why you help me? I should sleep with my brothers. You shame me by defeating me then not honoring me with death so songs could be sung about me. “

“Honor you? I’d rather honor a whole sack a horse apples than honor you. No siree, I’d not give you that!”
Rekindling the earlier night’s camp fire to boil some water for his found coffee beans, he turned again to the boy. “What name does your father call you, is it yet the name your mother gave you at birth? That’s what this was all about, wasn’t it? Killin’ all them honest unarmed folk just so’s you can get warriors names for yourselves? Well I got a name for ya’ and it starts with ass an’ ends with hole!”

“I have no name now, your swear name is more than what I have. When I tell my father I was ready to make a name, he only laughed. He tell me I was young fool. If I disobeyed and shamed him by sneaking out with the others, he would no longer say I was his son he would remove even my birth name. I want to show him I was warrior, not a boy. Now I am shamed and have no name. “
“Well, soon as you can ride we’ll head over to where your people camp. I’ll ride along until we get near your camp, then I’ll veer off an’ let you ride on in alone so’s you can straighten things out with your pa.”

“No, I no can go back, I would be laughed at by the women then beaten to death for shaming my father. No, you say you know Apache. You know I can no longer return to them.”

The rider was between a rock and a hard place. He knew the Apache youth hadn’t even seriously considered the reality of becoming a real warrior. To him it was the same as those kids back east reading a dime novel and thinking they would six shoot their way to fame by killing every cattle thief out west. He also figured the boy had no part in the thing since his knife was still clean when he removed it from him. If it had been dirty with blood, he would have shot him dead where he lay.

In burying the dead Apaches, the rider saw them to be in their late teens early twenties, plenty old enough to decide right from wrong…and accept the consequences there of. How could he blame the starry eyed youth? Wasn’t he about the same age when in search of adventure, he ran away from home? Of course that lasted until his Pa found him teary eyed, lost and hungry. With a good belt to the behind he put his foolish notions away and grew to be a man the way most men do…by getting older.

“So what now then no name? I suppose you can head Mexico way. You could make it there in a week or so if I give you back your horse. I heard Mex’s an’ Apaches get along somewhat. Maybe that’s the best place to go.”
“ You tell me to go, I go. You tell me to feed horse, then I feed horse for you. I have no family, no tribe, you own my life.”
Pouring a cup of hot coffee for himself he stopped and told the boy, “Now hold on there no name, I ain’t your owner and sure ain’t your Pa. You all just get better an’ leave me be an’ we’ll call it even up.”
The boy looked crest fallen. The rider knew he had just made things worse for the boy. He had rejected him even as a slave. At least being captured into forced slavery a boy could still grow up within his new adopted tribe and become a warrior. Now there truly was no saving face for the young brave.

“Aw crap! I didn’t mean it that way I said it boy. Even if I did, we got two different cultures here. Why hell, if you was a white boy, you’d still be sitting in front of a school Mar’m reading your ABC’s.”
The Apache youth looked baffled. He rider added, “Forget it boy, you wouldn’t understand.”
The day came when the Apache youth was able to ride. His wound just an angry red slash across his chest. Well, I figure it’s ‘bout time I head on back Texas way no name. I used to be a Texas Ranger before the big war between us whites happened. I got told a ways back they might be getting things together again with the new Governor they got. Maybe I can rejoin and earn a living. You can tag along if you wish. If not, I’d head on to Mexico way. Just stay out of trouble.

While the Apache boy did not understand all that was being said, he had heard of Texas before. “I ride to Texas, maybe lone rider like you need me. Not safe for white man here. Many snakes and creatures that sting along the way. Me teach.”
“Suit yourself, but when we get there ain’t gonna be no way you can tag along. Bein’ a Ranger is a job done mostly alone.” Or so he thought.

Chapter 4

Two months later and having sold the spare horses along the way they arrived at Fort Stockton near the Pecos River along the old Comanche war trail. True to his word the Apache kept a vigil eye out for snakes, scorpions and such. They had formed a partnership that could only be achieved in Texas. After being relieved of his Navy Colt and leaving the Apache boy at the gate, the ex Ranger headed over to the Ranger command center whose jurisdiction was all of south west Texas. There he presented himself to the Commander of the Rangers.
Recognizing his old friend, the Captain Commander smiled broadly and exclaimed in a gravel grinding voice “Well I’ll be damned, I thought for sure you was dead by now!“ You looking for work Mr. Lone? I sure could use you if you are. I got a hot spot over El Paso way that needs a few strong hands.”

“I came from the Arizona gold territory, I guess mining ain’t my callin’. I heard rumors while there that the Texas Rangers are gonna’ be reborn an’ financed by the Governor himself. I sure could use a steady income that’s a fact. So is what they say true?”
“In so many words they are, but paydays are still far and few but they always seem to eventually tally up. Rewards still can be collected if there’s a bounty offered, that helps, plus you get a stipend for your horse of four dollars a month. Food, odd sized ammunition and duds is up to you. Just like before the war except now we have the backing of the governor. Sometimes it now gives us an edge of authority over local sheriffs and such than it did in the earlier days. Still interested?”
“Yeah, I guess, but I got a favor to ask. I ain’t one to lean on an’ old friendship but I kind of got a responsibility as such now. I got me a trail pard.”
“Well hell, why didn’t you say so! Havin’ a partner to back you up is a good thing, right?”

“I got to tell you straight Cap, you’ll be findin’ out soon enough anyway. My pards an Apache. A young Apache. Don’t ask how or why it come about but it did. You know I never had a pard, I always rode alone. Maybe I got old or tired or soft, but this kid’s the only one I’d ever trust to cover my back. Take it or leave it Cap. You want me fine but you gotta let me have my pard trail with me.”
Looking downward as if studying the paperwork scattered on the desk in front of him, the Captain said, You do know taking an Apache out of Arizona territory is against the law don’t you. How could I cover something like that?”

“You don’t have to, he has no people, been disowned by ‘em. Only you know his bein’ an Arizona Apache, why He might be a Texas Mescalero Apache or maybe a Lipan Apache or even Jumano. Who the hell would know he’s from Arizona and not Texas?”
“Is he here? I mean at the fort?”
“He’s outside the fort waiting for me.”
“Bring him here. Give this letter to the guard at the main gate, he’ll get an escort here to my office. With the unrest we have with Indians, no Indian can just walk in unannounced. If you’ll agree to my terms, I’ll sign his paperwork. No pay for your partner, no stipend for his horse, he’s your responsibility, there’s no way I could get a Ranger pay draft for an Indian. If there’s a bounty reward offered on a posted no good, you can share it with him or not, it’s your decision. I signed him in as a Wichita. That tribe is hundreds of miles north east of here and unlikely anyone will question it. Now bring him in here, I’d like to see what you saw so grand in an Indian that you’d want him to ride with you.”

An hour later a knock at the Captains door announced the arrival the escort. “Come in”, the Captain called back.
The door opened and in stepped the rider with his young Apache. The Captain’s jaw hung open.
“You can’t be serious,” he balked loudly, “he’s but a boy! He can’t ride as a Ranger. ”
“A deal’s a deal Cap. Besides, I didn’t ask that he be a Ranger, just my pard” Grabbing the Apache now a Wichita’s paperwork off the Captains desk along with their orders, and before he could renege on the deal, he pushed the Apache youth out the door.
“Wait!” cried the Captain as he reopened the door, “what the hell’s his name, I gotta have a name for paperwork.”
Mounting their horses, the rehired Ranger yelled back, “When I figure one out I’ll let ya’ know!”

At the post main gate, an obvious born and bred Yankee scout (even though being dressed in western buckskins) was given the duty to clear the two. “ Your names and orders?” He asked while extending his hand outward to the paperwork being offered him. He went about signing them out, allowing the Ranger to retrieve his weapon.

Dismissing the Apache boy, the scout looked to the Rider, “What is the Indians name Ranger?
The rider fumbled about trying to think of something proper to call the boy for the scouts sake but before he could make one up, the young Apache stepped forward and announced boldly while pointing to the Ranger, “Me call him Kemo Sabe, you say, Lone Ranger. My name Tonto, good scout.”

Giving the two a bewildered look the scout just shook his head. After glancing over the Rangers orders , he replied, “Alright Ranger Lone, I’ll have Private McCleary here get your weapon for you. I see you’re headed out to the revived Ranger post out El Paso way. Seems you’ll be having some company along on the trail.” The guard turned to speak to Private McCleary, “Private, retrieve the Rangers Navy Colt from the guard shack an’ return it to him.” he then added, “On second thought, you might as well grab that silver Colt that New Ranger Hop-a-long something or other turned in, he’s the one wearing the black ten gallon hat that’s limping his way back over here. Seems these three are being stationed together in El Paso.”

As the three moved out of Fort Stockton on horseback, They could hear the Sergeant loudly comment to the private, “Ranger lone, Tonto and Hop-a-long…Thank God at the end of this month my duty in this man’s Calvary will be over. I’ll be heading east to Abilene where being normal is the norm. I swear upon my Pop’s grave Private, I’ll never understand why these Texans take on such fool sounding names, it’s like they always have to out do everybody else. They can’t just be average and fit in like everyone else. I’m glad my Mama had the sense to name me plain old James Butler Hickok that’s for sure!”

The End