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New American Western
Saddlebag Dispatches




Western Short Story
Black Stetson
L. Roger Quilter


Western Short Story

1. Gunshots in the Dark.

The thundering sounds of two horses galloping at breakneck speed shattered the twilight silence above the canyon’s rim. Two men leaned over their mounts’ necks oblivious to the foam streaked flanks and labored breathing of the animals.

Texas Ranger Jim Hill reined up at the edge and flung himself from the saddle, grabbing his lasso as he dismounted. Meanwhile, Mike Williams, aged twenty with red hair and a slim build also got off his horse and yelled, “Right here, Ranger, this is where my sister fell. I know she’s alive because I heard her; must be on a ledge or somethin’.”

Mike sported a huge black Stetson which was held in place with a leather strap under his chin. He looked outlandish, especially with his skinny frame and youthful appearance. Blue eyes that seemed ice-cold and thin lips in a white face, with the cheeks pockmarked with acne, showed immaturity.

Calling for quiet, Hill listened intently after he shouted, “Hellooooo!” The expected echo was muffled by the fog. There was no answer from the mist shrouded depths. Repeated calls failed to elicit any response either.

Behind him the seemingly unarmed Mike removed his Stetson, and withdrew a small two barrel Remington derringer cached inside. Leveling the pistol he pulled the trigger, twice.

The two shots disturbed the peaceful tranquility of the valley. Hill felt only the pain in his back as he slipped over the canyon rim. After tumbling several feet down the steep slope his fall was stopped by a tree, somehow growing from the rocky ground. His head struck a branch, causing severe pain in his skull. He felt his senses diminishing and he passed out. Then there was no more pain.

Mike Williams rushed to the edge and glanced over; in the gloom of descending night he saw nothing. The Ranger must have fallen over two-hundred feet to the bottom of the canyon. Williams knew he now had a reputation; Jim Hill, the fastest Ranger was no more, and he had shot him. Already his mind formulated a story to show how he had braced Hill and beaten him to the draw.

2. A New Identity.

Hill regained his senses several days later and noticed a strong smell of wood smoke. Opening his eyes, he glanced around and discovered he was in a tepee laying on some trade blankets. The embers of a smoldering fire provided heat and the door opening was closed. His clothes and gun belt sat on a small, rickety table at the foot of the bed. Feeling his face, he was surprised how much his beard had grown, and he wondered how long he had been unconscious.

He dozed off and awakened when a shadow fell across the opening and in walked an elderly squaw carrying hot food.

“Ah, you awake, good,” she said, “Medicine man say you wake today.”

She squatted down by Jim's bed and spoon-fed maize into his mouth. Hill was starved and ate every speck of food. When he finished he tried to get up, but his legs felt like logs, stiff and unresponsive.

“Back swollen, you walk by ‘n by. Now rest.” She picked up the dishes and left, leaving Jim wondering how bad he was hurt.

As it was, it took more than a week before Hill could walk unaided. Little Bird, the elderly squaw, nursed him back to health aided by a young brave, unable to talk due to a severe injury to his throat; White Owl was Little Bird’s son.

Jim learned they were a breakaway group of Shoshone parted from their tribe during the Indian wars. There were about two dozen members who drifted across the plains and hills for survival.

Jim listened as Little Bird explained how the two of them chased a wounded hare that disappeared over the edge of the canyon. Little Bird spotted Jim caught in the tree and White Owl lowered himself to the stricken Ranger and tied a rope around his body.

The pair managed to rescue Jim and carry him to his horse, which was still standing where Jim had left him, contentedly grazing the sparse grass.

Their camp lay several miles away, and when they reached it the tribe’s medicine man removed both bullets from near his spine, then dressed his wounds.

To repay his affable hosts, Jim managed to chop some wood, with difficulty, and shared the makings from his tobacco pouch.

At nights he lay deep in thought; by now he would be considered dead or missing. Anyone searching for him would look in the wrong direction. He recalled everything leading up to when he was shot.

For three days Jim had followed the trail of an outlaw, until he lost it when rain washed away the tracks. He finally gave up the chase on the Edwards Plateau. Far from his headquarters in Austin, and tired of sleeping in the open, he settled in for the evening at a small hotel in San Angelo.

Williams must have spotted Jim entering town and hastily prepared his story. Allowing the Ranger to check in, he suddenly rushed into the reception area, yelling, “My sister’s fallen of the ridge above town. I could hear her, but I need help.”

After he listened to William’s plaintive plea for help, there was no time to tell anyone where the two of them were going; some ridge, somewhere.

“I’ll help you, son,” Jim said, “I’ll get my horse and we’ll ride.”

Jim strode outside and the two of them rode out of town.

Jim Hill a slim dark man approaching middle age joined the Texas Rangers twenty years before, riding to protect Texans from marauding bands of hostiles.

Lately he was sent on bringing outlaws to justice. Several had reached for their weapons to thwart being arrested, but Jim had calmly outdrawn and killed many of them

Never had he sallied on a rescue mission, so he looked forward to saving the girl, if he could. Hill knew now the lost sister story was a hoax. Hill’s first thought after he woke was to avenge this evil deed.

Being so fast and accurate with a hand gun, Jim was constantly sought out by would-be fast draw opponents. He was always on guard for sudden challenges, but now, discarding his revenge theory, he'd thought of a way out of his situation; the more he thought about it the better it sounded.

If people considered him dead, then he would remain dead. His facial features, hidden by his beard, would serve him in a new identity. As Tim Hall, he’d forge a new life with the money he’d stashed in an Austin bank account, saved over the twenty years service as a Texas Ranger. Captain Donaldson, Jim’s boss was the man to approach to withdraw that money. Somehow, Jim must reach him without being recognized by anyone else.

Several weeks after being shot, Jim saddled up his horse and left the Indian camp. He felt indebted to the Shoshone who had cared for him so well. Dressed in buckskin, his full beard and long hair flowing in the breeze, he looked more like a mountain man than Jim Hill, Texas Ranger.

As he slowly rode towards Austin he thought to himself. “I’ve been in too many gunfights. It’s time to hide my pistol.” Wrapping his gun belt and gun in deer hide Jim stashed the package in the bottom of his saddle bag. He added his Ranger badge to the package.

By changing his name and not wearing his gun, Jim hoped to avoid gunslingers trying to achieve a reputation. No more keeping an eye open looking for men sneaking up on him; no more back shooters.

Traveling by the loneliest routes, he entered Austin at dusk, dismounted outside the Ranger Headquarters and waited in the shadows under a huge tree.

An hour later, the familiar figure of Captain Donaldson appeared heading for home. Allowing him to pass, Jim mounted his horse and eased up beside him.

“Don’t look too startled, Captain, but your lost boy has showed up,” Jim smiled at the knee-jerk reaction, but Donaldson recovered and settled in at a lope.

”You’ve been in an injun camp Jim, I smell smoke,” Donaldson said, quietly, “Some young varmint claims he bested you in a gunfight, claims you started it and he finished it. Does the name of Williams mean anything to you?”

”Yep, he pulled a sneak weapon, shot me in the back, and left me for dead; and that's how I like it,” Jim explained everything as Donaldson listened intently.

Donaldson allowed Jim to hole up in the lonely cabin he called home while he collected Jim's money and effects. Leaving Austin before dawn, Jim waved goodbye to Donaldson, thanking him for his assistance in his plan.

“Keep in touch, Jim,” Donaldson said, “I can keep you posted if anything comes up. Good luck, pal. Look after yourself.”

3. Oneida.

Three days later the newly named Tim Hall drifted far to the north, away from any area he could be recognized. He was seeking a community where new growth showed promising signs of things to come.

This was ranch country, no nesters in sight and only a few spreads with longhorn cattle in the vicinity. On his way in to a small town Tim noticed a lonely, log cabin with two derelict sheds in a small valley.

The place was deserted, and all the buildings were in poor shape. He took particular notice of the For Sale sign. The name, Bar X, painted on a weathered board gave the only indication of the previous owners.

It took Tim about an hour to reach Oneida. The dusty one horse town was expanding at a very fast rate. Certainly there were signs of decay in abundance – empty, boarded up stores with doors hanging off hinges and busted windows lined the few streets still showing life in the old parts. A hotel, a saloon, one or two hardware stores and a café remained open for business. A bank on a side street also showed signs of occupation.

Despite this, new buildings were springing up all around the area. Tim was not able to see in the future when this small town would be renamed, Abilene.

Tim rode up to the bank and tied his horse to a rail. Before he could dismount a man strolled up to him and greeted him, “Howdy, stranger. Got business hyar?”

Tim noticed the star pinned to the man’s shirt, but before he could reply, the middle-aged, tall sheriff added, “Name’s Bennett, I’m the local law hyar, and I make it my personal task to see nobody we don’t like stops without a good reason; nothin’ personal.”

“No offence,” replied Tim, “I’m lookin’ to buy a bit of range and noticed a For Sale sign on the way in; name’s Tim Hall.”

The two shook hands and appraised each other. Tim felt this sheriff was a natural for his job. Piercing eyes and an air of authority about him showed Tim that here was a man who stood no nonsense.

As for John Bennett, he noticed Tim's eyes; they looked like he was a hard case. No gun in sight, yet John instinctively knew this man could be dangerous. John wondered which side of the law this gent represented.

Despite his misgivings, John took a liking to the man. He looked confident and had an aura of trust about him. The fact he wanted to buy a spread showed John this man wanted to settle down.

“The bank holds the deeds on that property,” he said, “Reckon they’ll accept a lower price if shove comes to push. Tell you what, I’ll introduce you inside.”

Side by side they entered the bank, where a bespectacled clerk ushered them into the office.

Ben Walker, president of the bank, rose to greet the pair. Ben looked like a typical banker, around sixty, dressed in a frock coat, white shirt and tie with a paunch he tried to hide with a tight belt.

Introductions were swiftly made, and Tim immediately got down to business. Within an hour he had opened up an account, received a line of credit and paid a substantial installment on the ranch after dickering for a lower price.

Satisfied with the progress he had made, Tim departed. Before he reached the door the banker laughed and said, “Good luck, you have a lot of work fixin’ the place into shape. To sweeten the pot, there are about fifty head of longhorns somewhere on the range. Find steers carrying the Bar X brand and they’re yours.”

Outside, the sheriff shook hands with Tim, saying, “Welcome to Oneida, drop over for supper tonight, my sister Belle, is a good cook.”

He turned and entered his office, leaving Tim to remount and leave town to check out his new ranch.

For several weeks, Tim busied himself reconstructing the various building, with the help of several idle cowboys he found in town. These boys jumped at the chance to earn wages again.

His friendship with John and Belle strengthened as he often visited for supper. If the pair noticed the taciturn manner they said nothing. Tim was very careful what he said and, at times, felt uncomfortable in their company.

These visits relaxed the ex Ranger, working from sun-up to sun-down every day.

Besides rebuilding, his men rounded up his herd and corralled them after repairs to the fenced in area were completed.

John Bennett and Belle journeyed more than once to view how things were shaping up. While John gave Tim a hand, Belle busied herself cooking meals for everyone. The Bar X crew looked forward to the days she visited, as did Tim.

Nothing had been said, but folks noticed a growing relationship between Belle and Tim. For his part, Tim hesitated to ask Belle for a date; he knew his identity may be revealed by a chance encounter and he didn’t want the responsibility of a romance under these circumstances.

If Belle discovered the former Ranger could be gunned down at any time, she might find herself in jeopardy, and Tim didn’t want that.

The more he thought about it, the more withdrawn he became. Both John and Belle noticed it, but only John was aware that Tim must have been a gunfighter. Neither man brought up the subject.

Every so often a social gathering was held at a ranch. Tim did his share of dancing, especially with Belle but, he made sure he danced with the other women. He grew fond of the Sheriff’s sister, but daren’t let Belle know his true feelings.

Belle and her brother often commented on Tim’s reticence. John opined, “He’s a good man, but he’s definitely got somethin’ in his past he don’t want us to know about.”

For almost five years, things went well in the Oneida area. Business grew as more cattle were required for the northern markets. The community entered a period of prosperity that attracted strong business people and, unfortunately, the greedy cattle barons, who used every means to expand their empires.

The most powerful of them, Bart Miller, bought up a large section of land and moved in with a wild crew of gunslingers. Five years after gaining his reputation by shooting Jim Hall in the back, Mike Williams turned up as Miller’s foreman.

Tim saw him entering the saloon, one evening. Angry as he was, he turned away, anxious not to expose his true identity. From that day, Tim avoided trips to town, sending one of his cowpokes to conduct business.

Things went peacefully for a few months, and then Miller wanted more land. To achieve this, he sent his men riding roughshod around the surrounding countryside, shooting animals, destroying property and generally setting up an aura of fear among ranchers and their families.

Visiting the victims, Miller offered to buy them out, but his offers were minimal. When the ranchers demurred, Miller increased the pressure, especially when there were wives and small children living on the ranch. Eventually three or four ranches accepted the offers and moved away.

Sheriff Bennett, hired several deputies, but they failed to intercept the roving band terrorizing the district. More barns went up in smoke and Miller issued offers that were extremely low. Still, another rancher sold his outfit and left, leaving Miller with control of half the range.

Tim's business thrived, and he hired a larger crew. His ranch tripled in size, and he ran large herds of cattle.

On visits to Oneida, now a bustling town, he met several men he’d arrested during his time as a Ranger. Tim offered work to three of them; men who had settled down after completing their sentences.

They bore the former Ranger no ill will; in fact they thanked him for hiring them on, as jobs were few and far between. The three of them were tough hombres, recognized as such by Miller, who left the Bar X alone.

Billy and Jake Calhoun, two brothers who found themselves broke following the end of the Civil War, robbed a bank, but were caught by Jim Hall. After serving ten year prison sentences they were released.

Arnold Hunt, also found post war Texas difficult to live in and turned to rustling. He felt lucky Jim Hall arrested him, because he had saved the Ranger’s life when other members of the gang attempted to kill Hall.

Hanging was the means of stopping rustlers, and Hunt’s gunplay helped him to escape the lethal end he dreaded.

All three were typical cowhands, slim, wiry, tough as nails and loyal to whom they worked for. Jim, as they knew him, or Tim, his new identity, hired them when work was scarce. Knowing their characters, he knew they were done with their short criminal careers.

“Keep my identity a secret, boys,” Tim asked, “Never let on who I really am.”

The crew kept to themselves, and nobody in Almeida was aware of their past. They were always tight lipped on pay nights as they drank a few beers and left town.

Despite the unsettled times, Tim refused to wear a sidearm as he tried to maintain his peaceable appearance. He knew that, ultimately, he would be forced to strap it around his waist again, because Miller was using brute force to get his way.

4. Trouble on the Range.

Miller, always on the lookout for young desperadoes, ran into the four youngsters two years after the Texas Ranger had disappeared. The wild town of Amarillo drew crowds of men seeking jobs, not always lawful, and the law seemed incapable of stemming the tide of robberies, murders and gambling. The only law lay in the speed of the gun.

Dawson himself had robbed a stagecoach and got away with a large amount of loose cash. Seeking to expand his wealth he bought land and cattle near the Mexican border, and made a fortune. Not satisfied with what he owned, he spread out to buy more land. The cost of pasture rose, so Miller devised his scheme to intimidate ranchers into selling.

In Amarillo, where he sold his herd, Miller frequented several saloons before finding the type of men he required to carry out his nefarious plans. Williams and his friends seemed ideal, so Miller sidled up to the bar and bought them a drink

Within an hour a deal was reached and the group saddled up and departed for Miller's ranch. The mayhem commenced the next day as two ranches suffered a loss of many cattle and buildings were set on fire.

Miller set fire to a small shed on his own ranch, and then spread the word that Mexican outlaws caused the damage. He led a posse of ranchers in a supposed pursuit to the border. Heavy rain fell all day and night, Miller explaining this was why the tracks were washed out.

With cool aplomb, Miller offered to buy several ranches at a low price, scaring the families with tales of how Mexicans tortured women and children and sold those that lived to the Apaches.

“I’ve no family and have a tough crew, so I can defend myself,” he claimed, “You have your loved ones depending on you.” He added that he was just a poor rancher and couldn’t afford to offer more money. The ranchers accepted and left the area.

Williams was elected foreman and turned out to be quite capable in this task. On three occasions, young cowboys called him out after drinking sessions in small towns on the border.

Mike's problem was his slow draw, but he had his own unique way of solving it.

He told his opponents, “Let's settle this in private. That way, nobody can interfere. If you beat me, you can carry my corpse to the funeral parlor. People can see you beat me because the bullet holes will show.”

His smooth talking and apparent acceptance of the challenges was more than enough for the youngsters to agree with his offer. Williams always suggested a remote spot and the two would meet at the appointed hour.

He seemed so calm as his opponents stood in front of him, readying themselves. Unfortunately for them, Williams didn’t give them a chance. Standing with a wide stance, he would quietly suggest, “I’d like to remove my Stetson, dang thing falls over my eyes, fair enough?”

Slowly raising his hands he removed his oversize, black hat and brought it down in front of his chest. He then thrust his right hand inside, drew the derringer and shot two holes in his opponent’s chest before the man was aware of what was happening.

Nobody commented on the small entry wounds caused by this gun and Williams always finished the conversation in town with, “The guy was driven backwards with my two forty-five bullets in him.”

He fastidiously cleaned his unfired pistols and made a show of reloading them.

Mike thought back to when he killed the Ranger. He was too scared to brace the lawman, so he stashed his guns in his saddlebag and made up the story about a fictitious sister. This plot worked well, but as the Ranger’s body fell over the edge, all hope of ripping the star from his shirt and taking his sidearm for proof of Hill’s death disappeared.

“He was fast, unbelievably fast, but I beat him to the draw,” Mike Williams related his epic gunfight to his cronies in the bunkhouse, “I thought he was a good man, but he threw down on me for no reason; wanted to build his reputation, I guess.”

It was all lies of course, but Williams tended to believe his own version about the back shooting he had perpetrated above the canyon. In any case he had to impress his cronies; Red Wilson, Tony Wills and Jasper Shaw, three ornery men with reputations of their own, listened intently as Mike spoke.

Despite their own quickness with a six gun, it was Williams who had bested the Texas Ranger, the fastest of the fast. The trio viewed Williams as a god, and for his part, Mike meant to keep it that way.

Miller’s greed surfaced later; he was never satisfied, so he cast his eyes further north. The town of Oneida had prospered in the last few months and Miller set his sights on profiting from the boom.

Drifting into town by himself, he struck up several conversations, passing himself as a lawyer seeking a practice. From these talks he planned his action to take over the district. The things that worried him were an honest sheriff, and a rancher by the name of Hill, whose crew, so he heard, was a salty bunch.

He paid top dollar for a small spread, isolated by a low range of hills. He figured his expenses would soon be repaid when his crew started their shenanigans.

Williams and his men rustled a few dozen head of longhorns and drove them to the Mexican border and crossed into a small town where cattle were bought, no questions asked.

Next, they turned their attention to burning barns and shooting at ranch houses. A few weeks of raids caused consternation in the area. Frightened ranchers sent their families into town for safety.

The ranchers, however, steadfastly refused to sell to Miller, so he upped the pressure, sending his raiding party to a remote part where a lone elderly bachelor, Bob Bancroft, had a small spread.

“Burn his cabin,” ordered Miller, “Scare him outa his wits.”

That evening, before it was dark, the attack took place. Despite gunfire from Bancroft the horsemen managed to saturate part of the cabin with kerosene. Dismounting, Mike struck a match and set the cabin on fire. The flames spread rapidly and engulfed the entire structure.

Bob kept firing, then, when the place got too hot, attempted to escape, but his cabin door jammed trapping him in the inferno. He had no chance to get out.

A scant half mile away two witnesses clearly saw the attackers in the firelight.
The death of the old timer, decided the issue. The two townsmen, on their way to visit the man recognized the attackers. Knowing they couldn’t do any good trying to rescue Bob, they turned their horses and sped off towards town.

Bart Miller was also in town and the two men, Sheriff and cattleman, eyed each other with naked hostility. That Miller was establishing an alibi by being seen away from any mischief was obvious. John listened as the man discussed various opinions on range management with a group of hostile ranchers.

“I wonder what his gang are doin’ right now,” thought John, “He’s making sure everyone knows he’s hyah.”

A sudden movement at the saloon door caused everyone to turn to see what was going on. Billy Horn rushed in and shouted, “Bancroft has been murdered; they burned down his cabin and he died in it. Miller's men did it, I saw them. That Mike with the big, black hat, he started the fire.”

John watched as Miller, highly agitated, raced out to his horse and rode towards his place.

Word of the diabolical attack spread swiftly in Oneida and John Bennett knew trouble was brewing. About a score of people discussed the matter over drinks in the saloon. It wasn't long before the inebriated customers gathered out in the street promising retribution against the cattle baron.

Tim rode into town and heard the news that Bancroft had been murdered and Miller's men identified as the culprits. Noting the frenzied activity, he knew it was time for Ranger Jim Hill to declare himself.

He drew the sheriff aside and spoke about things he’d buried for years. “John, it’s time I came clean about my past.”

After he told John the story of his life, he explained what he wanted the sheriff to do.

“I hate to be known as Jim Hill again,” Tim said, “Especially after all these years; I’ll be a marked man for sure. I reckon that guy’s gonna bring his crew into town. Better get ready, I think this situation is about to blow.”

“People around here like you, Tim,” replied the sheriff, “So when this thin is over we’ll all be looking after your welfare, besides, Belle may have something to say.”

“I never could be romantically involved with Belle,” mused Tim, “Because I‘ve been living a lie.”

“Let’s get started on your plan, fella,” said John, “Maybe we’ll rid this area of some varmints.”

5. Showdown.

Williams and his crew returned to the ranch and unsaddled their horses. Miller, so far as they knew, was still in town so the four punchers sat in their bunkhouse drinking beer.

“Silly old coot should have left after we set fire to his house,” Red opined, upending a bottle and draining it, “It’s not our fault he died.”

“Could be trouble over this, we'd better lay low for a while,” Tony seemed nervous, he didn't mind destroying property, but death was so final, “I thought I saw someone move up on the hill.”

Jasper remained quiet; he was scared and trembled in the dark cabin, lit only by the flames from a log fire.

“By the time the boss buys his ranch there won’t be too many ranchers left to worry about,” Williams, cool and calm, added, “Besides, when we get all the range the boss will move elsewhere.”

The drumming of hooves traveling at a fast gait drew the men to the cabin door. Miller jumped off his horse yelling, “Somebody seen you burning that cabin; got a good look at you, too. We’re done if the town gets its back up. Saddle up, we have to settle this thing. First we shoot up the town; kill that sheriff and then we gotta raid Hill’s place. His crew is our real problem, now.”

Within an hour the five heavily armed men mounted, and rode towards Oneida.

An hour later Miller and his gang raced down the street and pulled up in front of a hostile crowd. Miller yelled, “Where’s the lying skunk who accused my men of murder?”

Tim admired the effrontery of the man.

John aimed a rifle at Miller and roared, “We don’t want you or your cowpokes, Miller, we only want Mike Williams.

“For what?” Miller’s reaction showed his surprise.

“For the murder of Texas Ranger, Jim Hill.”

Taken by surprise, Bart said nothing. An uneasy silence descended on the crowd until Williams, red faced and frightened, broke it.

He rode to the fore and screamed, “I killed him in a fair gunfight, He drew first and I beat him, fair and square.”

“I heard tell you shot him in the back,” replied the lawman, “Left him for dead after he dropped off a canyon edge.”

“You’re a liar, and I demand you and I have it out, right here, right now.” Mike dropped from his saddle and strode towards the lawman.

“Don’t blame me, there was a witness,” John said, “Claims you did just that and said you wuz a low-life, dirty, stinkin’, back-shootin’ coward. Guess you should get your story straight.”

Tim eased in between the two and Mike Williams noticed he wore a gun around his waist. He still did not recognize him.

Tim stared at the Mike and quietly said, “Sheriff's wrong, you can't be tried for murder, because there's no body.”

“Don’t matter, it wuz fair ‘n square,” Mike welcomed what Tim said, “Anyone who says otherwise is a liar.”

“You can't argue about bullet scars, though, can you?” he continued to stare at Williams, “The charge should be attempted murder because I'm still alive.”

Tim pulled two small caliber bullets from his pocket and flung them at Williams.

“Bet those came from your hide-out gun, didn’t they,” Tim said quietly, “If you submit to arrest you’ll be charged for attempted murder; maybe serve ten years. Trouble with that, there are many tough guys in for long sentences, and they can do awful things to young guys. Especially when they find out your reputation is flawed.”

William’s face turned white, but he quickly formed a cunning plan. He stepped forward to face Tim and said, “If you really are Jim Hill, then we should square off against each other; see who really is the fastest.”

“Seems fair,” drawled Tim, “But anyone who interferes will be shot from his horse, there are men armed with rifles aimed at every one of you from the roofs.

Several men waved their rifles and the horsemen withdrew with their hands in plain sight.

Tim called out loudly, “If he beats me fair ‘n square, let him go free,” He crouched and readied himself, “What’s your choice you lousy back shooter?”

Williams and the Ranger faced each other, ready for the final showdown.

Hearing the Ranger’s words about the inside of a tough prison Williams knew he had to kill him. Trusting in the ruse that decided many of his shoot-outs he said, “My hat’s loose, mind if I take it off?” He smiled, tightly.

“Go ahead,” offered Tim.

Williams, as he had done several times before, slowly raised his hands and removed his Stetson, lowering it to his chest. He rammed in his right hand and grabbed his derringer, and then he felt fire in his chest as Tim’s bullet struck him.

Mike’s Stetson slipped from his grasp, revealing his hide-out gun as it slowly dropped to the dusty street. He fell on top of it in an untidy heap, lifeless.

The members of Miller’s crew gazed in disbelief; the speed that this supposedly dead man showed with a gun was beyond their comprehension.

Miller drew his own weapon and died on the spot shot through the heart by Bennett.

It was over; the three remaining Meadow’s men raised their hands in surrender.

Belle rushed toward Tim and cried, “Tim or Jim, whatever your name is, I want you to know that I’ll take you as my man any day.”

Oneida resounded with loud cheers and Jim Hill felt at peace for the first time in many years.