Top Ten Western Short Stories For December
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Western Short Story
The big ranger was dressed like all your waddies were except he had red leather stars on his boots and another one on his hatband. He was running a little bit to fat and a little bit to gray, but he sat his horse easy enough. He was clean-shaven and his clothes were clean, but close to worn out in places. His saddle and tack were in real good repair, though.
He dismounted, slipped a halter over his horse’s head and tied the lead rope to the hitching rail we had out there. I was glad to see that he didn’t tie the horse up with the reins; a horse can hurt his mouth bad if he shies when he is tied up like that. Lot of men do it, though.
Anyway the ranger came in and took off his hat. “How you doin’?” he said.
“Fine,” said Dad.
“Nice place you got here,” said the visitor. “My name’s Percy Hairyton, but you can call me ElPaso.”
Now I was like a lot of Colorado people, I was down on Texans. We didn't think they did things quite right. Give you and example. When my dad wanted me and a hired man to do something he'd talk to the hired man and say something like, 'Move the spare horses up to the south pasture. Take the kid.' And I was the 'kid' and standing right there and I was twice as smart as the hired man and I'd been around. That's jis the polite way of sparing the hired man's feelings. But a Texan...Well, there was a kid I knew, years younger than I was and didn't know much of anything. This Texan put him in charge of a bunch of grown men jis because the kid was a Texan too. One time I drove a bunch of hay up there and the kid told me where it went. I didn’t even look at him. Walked all the way up to the main house and asked the boss.
So I looked ElPaso between the eyes and said, “You a Texan?”
“Son,” he said. “You never wanta ask a man if’n he’s from Texas. If’n he is, he’ll tell you on his own. If he ain’t they’s no need to embarrass him.”
Dad grinned, I didn’t.
“Not only am Ah from Texas Ah had the honor to ride with John Bell Hood. And as everybody knows we was the finest troops in the Confederacy and that means the finest that ever marched. No troops anywhere that could hold a candle to us. Whenever General Lee wanted some hard fightin’ done, it was John Bell Hood’s Texans he sent for. If the Texans had been on the crusades, Israel would be the 49th State.”
“John Bell Hood,” I said. “Wasn’t he the man that got licked at the Battle of Atlanta?”
“It was because he hadn’t got no Texans with him, ‘cept for a little cavalry. And was outnumbered ten to one.”
“I heard it was two to one,” I said.
“An’ even outnumbered like that, John Bell jist about won. All he had was one brigade of Texas cavalry. If had had two he would of won.”
“My, my, my, imagine that.” I said.
Dad frowned at me and said. “It’s surely sound on the goose that Hood came within a whisker of winnin’ that battle and that the Texans were the best troops in that war. But what can we do for you?”
“Ah’m after some hard cases that are wanted in Texas and I heered they’d been seen up by Green River. Joined up with that bunch that killed the kid in Brown’s Hole. We're gittin' up a posse to go after them and I hear that your boy here is a man to ride the river with.”
"Well...,” said Dad.
"I don't do that kind of thing any more," I said.
"Wah Ah heered you was a real curly wolf," ElPaso said.
"All that soft solder'll get you nowhere," I said.
"You mean it’s all bosh," said ElPaso. "You ain't game at all."
"He's game," said Dad. "He jis feels real bad when he has to shoot somebody."
"Wah I wouldn't want nobody in mah posse that felt any differ'nt," said ElPaso. "There's a five-hundred dollar reward on each of them."
I tried to give him an argument, “Well, why don’t you take Buckshot Bale. He’s as good in a gunfight as I ever could be.”
“He’s got a ranch to run.”
“You mean if I owned a ranch and had a dozen lines of stitching on my boots you wouldn’t ask me to do this.”
“There you go,” said Dad, “You go along, you’d be jist that much closer to buyin’ your ranch. Then you get out of this kind of thing.”
I didn't say anything. I did need that money.
"Boy howdy," said ElPaso. "You can sure tell he ain't a Texan. A Dillo would do this jist for his morning exercise. Well Ah'mo get goin'." As he walked away he said to himself, but loud enough to hear. “Boy get out a Texas and it's all hat and no cattle ever time."
"Looks like you got to learn something," I said. "Lemme get my stuff and I'll come along."
It was cold, so I put on two suits of wool unmentionables, a wool shirt, a pair of good wool pants, my sheepskin, a pair of Angora chaps with hair on the outside, and a pair of wide boots with two pairs of socks. I got two wool bandannas. One for the back of my neck and one to hold the brim of my hat over my ears. Most people don't know it, but a felt J.B. Stetson makes good earmuffs if you wear it like that.
The posse filled me in as we rode. There was this kid, Willie Strang, who was real good humored and he was allus pulling pranks and laughin'. If somebody pulled a prank on him, he'd even laugh harder. He was of good family and a good worker and well liked.
He was working out to this ranch with another kid, a real quiet kid with Navajo in him by the name of David Lant. There was a third guy out there, Pat Johnson, and he wasn't so well liked. This Johnson was allus asking to borrow money. They usually gave it to him because people that turned him down would sometimes disappear. Trouble was, the people that asked him to pay back the loans disappeared even quicker.
Well any way, this Johnson was really hung over one morning and went to get a drink of water and Willie Strang hit the bottom of the dipper and slopped water all over Johnson and ran off laughin'. Pat Johnson pulled his gun. David Lant said, “You aren't going to shoot him are you?"
Johnson said, "No I'm just going to scare him." Only when he shot, he hit the kid and killed him.
Pat Johnson lit out because he knew there would be a Texas Cakewalk for him if he didn't. Lant went with him. Lant wasn't guilty of anything, but he figured, being a breed, they would hang him too jis for good measure.
ElPaso wanted to take them in. Some of the others had different ideas and they had brought along plenty of rope. What made it worse, the Thumpsow brothers came along. There were two of them, Nevil and Elrod. They called Elrod 'Ell so you had Devil and Hell and it was the truth.
I remember one, I think it was Devil, sayin', "Boy I'll sure be glad to catch up with that David Lant. I'll hang him real slow. He's a Nancy-Boy. You can tell by his pretty little face."
The other one said, "I hate them kind. He'll sure get what he has comin’ from us. Like that other one we caught up to above Denver. You remember him, Devil?"
"Yep. Cried like a baby.”
Well they went on and on about what they were going to do to Lant and all the other Nancy-Boys they knew about. They kept up that kind of talk too long and the rest of the posse stopped grinning. Finally this heavy-set old guy with a pepper and salt beard, he was Caporal of a fairly big ranch, turned around and said, “You know most people only run into four or five Nancy-Boys in a lifetime. You seem to see that many in a week."
"We look for them," said Devil.
"You keep it up, a body might start to wonder why you do that."
"Now what do you mean by that!" said Devil.
ElPaso pulled up, "Now you looka here. They ain't nobody having a hissy fit on this posse. And not only that, when we catch up with them outlaws we're going to take them back to jail and that's all. Now Devil and 'Ell you ride up with me and no more jaw jackin. Otherwise you got the choice between ridin’ back or shooting it out with me! It's time to paint your hind end white and run with the antelope. You hear me?"
We all got his drift and the Thumpsows pulled in their horns. They both had notches on their guns all right, but they never started any kind of trouble unless they had a big advantage. That caporal had a few of his hands with him, hands would ride for the brand.
Afterwards I fell in beside the caporal. "Afternoon," I said, "Snakeskin Anderson."
"Matthews," he said.
"I don't know about those guys," I said nodding toward Thumpsows.
"You ever been around when the Oh-be-Joyful was being drunk you'd know all right," Matthews said. He wasn't talking as softly as he usually did.
“Well," I said, and I was talking quietly, "look how mean they are."
"Lot of times guys act real mean to cover up something," said Matthews.
"Like what?" I said.
Matthews grinned in his beard, "Oh, different things. Sometimes it's just being short and sometimes it's...something else."
The back of the ElPaso's neck looked aggravated. "Yeah," I said, "Doc Holl...a guy I know in Leadville is like that. He's no bigger than a twelve-year old kid and he'll go for a weapon if you jis look cross-eyed at him. People are real careful around him.” I waited a minute and asked Matthew real quiet, "How come they brought them along?"
"Dead shots," he said.
After about four days, we were getting close. Spent the night at a ranch house fairly close to the canyon. Mid morning we went over to the canyon and looked around. We thought we saw smoke upstream so we rode into the canyon and started upstream. It was easier riding on the ice and we figured they were less likely to see us coming. That afternoon, we looked around a corner and saw them setting 'round a campfire like they hadn't a care in the world.
We got between them and their horses and ElPaso hollered for them to throw up the sponge. Instead, they and ran into the rocks up the canyon wall. There were a few shots fired, but nobody even came close. There were out of sight pretty quick. We were all for going up after them but ElPaso hollered, "Hold up."
"They'll get away."
"Hang fire a minute and listen," said ElPaso, “that canyon wall is pretty rough. We go up there, we'll walk right into an ambush. We'll be like gnats in a hailstorm. Look, they got no horses, they got no blankets, they got dang little food, and they got no rifles. Look at their saddle scabbards. They cain't get away without they get food and horses. And where can they get them? There's only three places. The Basset ranch and two sheep camps. If we go back to the ranch, they'll have to cross the flat to the sheep camps. They do that, we ride them down and catch them in the open they'll have to give up. If they don't, we stay out of pistol range and mow them down. Think about it."
I will admit I kind of took against that ranger at first, him being a Texan, but he was making a lot of sense now. I said so.
"You're just scared," said Devil.
"Do you want to get shot?" I said. “Is that your idea of a good time, getting your head blown off?"
"Boys," said ElPaso, “we go back to the ranch we’ll get some hot truck and sleep warm and in the mornin’ we'll ride them down on the flat, prob'ly. If not tomorry, the next day. They'll get tired of freezin’ and starvin’ real quick."
Well, it was getting dark and cold and the idea of hot food appealed to everybody, so we went back. We took their horses and everything else, of course.
Bassett had two daughters, dreadful pretty and boss cooks too. Fixed us dinner that was fine as cream gravy: roast beef and all the fixings. After dinner old Basset and ElPaso went off to talk about shooting difficulties that might be coming up between Bassett a local cattle baron and dang if those two pretty sage hens didn’t bring the rest of us a bottle of the Oh-be-Joyful. What’s more, they had a drink or two themselves.
They were having a great time showing us how a lady shows an ankle jumping up on to a streetcar and how to catch her if she falls off, when their daddy walked in. That stopped the party.
Next morning the girls fixed us a boss breakfast. Hen fruit and hot rocks, that’s eggs, and biscuits, for breakfast. That was quite a treat. Your waddies hardly ever get hot biscuits. Your pot rustlers serve them cold; I guess so the waddies won't eat so many. And the Arbuckle’s was strong and good. They must of washed the coffee pot once a week, almost. We all thanked them as well as we knew how. We were in fine fettle starting out. Maybe too fine, though.
We got back up to the canyon, we found out that the guys we were after had had gone down the river on the ice and then came back and hid up in the canyon again. Well, we left about half the posse to watch where they were probably hid and the other half went down the canyon jis to check. Me and the Thumpsows were with the bunch that went down the canyon. Soon as we got away from ElPaso and Matthews, the Thumpsows started going on about Nancy-boys again. The rest of us didn't say anything, but kept a good lookout. After we got down canyon a couple miles we hit some rapids that weren't frozen. It was pretty easy to see that the outlaws had give up and gone back when they hit the open water. So we turned around and went back, too.
We were none of us paying much attention on the way back, but when I was riding along I kind of got the feeling I'd missed something. So I looked around and saw a little dirt and dead pine needles at the base of a steep cliff. I was about to ride on, figured a coyote or something had kicked it down, but then I noticed a line of shallow holes going up the rock. Your old cliff dwellers did that. They'd take a rock and chip holes in a cliff until they'd made themselves kind of a rock ladder. When I saw that, I figgered there was a cliff dweller house up there, yes and somebody in it, too. I saw jis the one boot track so there probably wasn't mor'n one man. And that one man was probably Lant; he'd know about those rock ladders. From what I heard, he wasn't any kind of a hard case like the rest of them were. He'd probably hung back and took his chance of getting shut of them. It made sense. He'd have shelter up there and we'd seen plenty of bighorn tracks. He could pistol a sheep, wait a while, and maybe get away. If he didn’t have his own matches, he’d probably know how to make a fire without them, being part Navajo.
I was about to say something but I thought twice. If it was Lant up there, the Thumpsows would hang him, sure and maybe skin him first. I didn't want to be a party to that. As far as I could see Lant had done nothing but be present at a more or less accidental shooting. I got to admit, too, that I was also thinking that if I played a lone hand bringing him in, I could collect the whole $500 reward for myself and not have to share it with those mudsill Thumpsows. So I didn't say anything.
When we got back there was quite a shindy going on.
"Why you dang fools," said the ElPaso, "they've had all day and all night to set up an ambush. You wanta get killed? Your getting all swole up, here. Full of yourself. The thing to do is to go back to the rainch agin."
The rest of the posse didn't want to do that. "You know what the problem is," I said. "It's those pretty sage hens back at the ranch. These waddies are afraid those girls'll laugh at them if they go back without a fight. Jis showing off. Playing to the gallery."
"Well," said Devil, "I ain’t agoing to let a shirt-tail kid tell me what to do. Not by the jugful."
Well, we talked ourselves blue in the face, but we couldn’t' make them listen. So finally, they went up the canyon wall, with me and the ElPaso trying to cover them from the back and sure enough, they walked into an ambush and one of Matthew's hands got shot. They grabbed him and slung him across a horse and started back for the ranch. Me and the ElPaso didn’t' say anything. We didn't have to.
Next morning we didn't even bother going back to where we'd had the gunfight. We knew they'd hit across the flat towards the sheep camps and they did. We cut their trails before noon. I say trails because they split up and left two trails. The posse split up, too. I went with the ElPaso and those mudsill Thumpsows didn't. Long story short, we caught up with them. It was jis like the ElPaso said. We caught them in the open and they had to throw up the sponge. The Thumpsows hung their man, of course. I didn’t feel too bad about that, since he was the one that shot Willie Strang. You can’t afford to have a man around that's that promiscuous with a gun. An’, like I say, he probably dry-gultched people for money. The men ElPaso caught were real scape-gallows, too. Believe they broke jail, but got hung years later in Oregon.
I suppose I better say that ElPaso changed my mind about Texans. He was a man to ride the river with. I suppose getting down on Texans because they put too much mustard on it when they're talking about Texas is like getting down on the Navajo because they put an 's' on the end of a lot of their words. It's only their way of talking.
But to get back to my story, we were one outlaw short and that was Lant. Well, everybody was wondering where he had gotten to, but I kept what I knew…guessed, really, completely dry. Didn't say a word. I did tell them there was a blizzard coming, a real sockdologer. And when they said that Lant wasn't likely to live through it, I didn't say anything about that either. My mommy taught me it was rude to contradict.
Well, we all waited out the blizzard at the Bassett ranch, figured out the reward money, and everybody headed home. Only I doubled back and rode up across the flat and headed for the rimrock over where I figured the cliff dwellings were.
It was one of those clear, sparkly blue days you get in winter sometimes. When you cross the little creeks you'd see frozen rapids shinin ' in the sun. I don't think there's a lot of things as pretty as that white snow on the red rocks and dark green trees. It sure looked like Christmas to me and I was fixin to get me a $500 Christmas present.
I dismounted and tied BettyBea well back from the edge and put on a nose bag to keep her quiet and looked over the edge and there he was. He must have been pretty good at stalking game because he'd shot a bighorn and was butchering it up. He was using a big ponderosa log for a butcher block, he'd set the head on it and was skinning a leg. I looked the situation over and figgered out what I was going to do. I saw he was wearing one a those Colt Peacemakers. They were sighted in at 25 yards and had broad sights so that hitting anything at any longer distance was a matter of luck. I backed off 75 yards and found a log with some branches I could wedge my rifle in. Not a breath of wind, so it was a good shooting day.
It didn’t seem right to jis shoot him, though, since he really hadn’t done anything, but I did need that money for my ranch. I sure didn’t want to end up like old Waco Edwards after 40 years of cowboying. Waco didn’t have a dime and was so crippled up he was looking forward to being hung. I did some hard thinking, but finally took careful aim, fired, and hit him right between the eyes. The bighorn that is. That sheep's head went flying back off the log and Lant jumped a foot. The crack of the rifle sounded extra loud on that still day. Well, Lant ducked down behind the log, pulled his pistol and shot once. Never even heard the bullet.
"I got the bulge on you, Lant," I said. "You’ll never be able to hit me from there with that pistol. You might as well give up."
"You'll lynch me anyway,' he said.
"No I won't," I said, “I jis want the reward. Look, stay right there and I'll come around the rimrock and holler over the cliff and we can make a deal. I give you my word I won't shoot you until we're done talking if you'll do the same."
"Who are you?" he said.
"Snakeskin Anderson. I’m alone."
Well he thought that over a minute and hollers, "Come ahead."
So I walked around until I was right above him. I'd heard that he was a man to keep his word, I'd made sure of that all right, but I still didn't stick my head out to where he could see it. You never want to expose even the best of men to temptation.
"OK," I said, "can you hear me?"
"OK if you give up, we'll ride into Colorado and I'll turn you in there. I know a real good lawyer and he can get you what they call a 'change of venue'. That means your trial is moved to someplace else besides Utah. And if I know that lawyer, he can get you off. He sure got me off when I shot a couple guys.”
"Well, how'll I pay for that lawyer?" he said.
"I'll give you $30 out of the reward money."
"Yeah, but even if I do get off," he said, “them mudsill Thumpsows'll lynch me soon as I get out of jail."
" I give you my word," I said, 'I'll bed them both down permanently if they try. I'll let them know it too."
Well, after that, we started dickering. I came down and we cooked up some of that bighorn while we talked. I ended up promising him fifty dollars out of the reward and I had to show him how to pick locks and promise to hide the kind of clothes a drummer would wear where he could find them and give the turnkey a bottle of whiskey. I was pretty sure he wouldn't have to break out of the calaboose anyway.
The trial was fairly speedy and it seemed to be going pretty well. The lawyer had got Lant some skin lightener your colored people use and some bleach for his hair so he didn’t look like a breed. When it came to trial, the Thumpsow brothers showd up. That, I didn't like.
When the trial was adjourned for that day, I sent a telegram to Canyon City. There had been a fuss between the Santa Fe railroad and the Denver and Rio Grande. They were both trying to put railroads through the Royal Gorge where there was only room for one. They were tearing up one another’s tracks, rolling boulders, and finally shooting at each other. The guy I was sending the telegram to had settled that fuss pretty quick and I figured was looking for work. Then I went into Leadville that night and talked to a friend of mine up there.
When the Thumpsows came to court a couple days later, we were waiting for them. “Morning boys,” I said. “Don’t believe you know my friends here. This is Doc Holliday and this is Bat Masterson. This is Nevil and Elrod Thumpsow. Now listen boys I’d like to have a real short talk, if you don’t mind. When I brought Lant in, I gave him my word that, whatever happened, he wouldn’t get lynched. Now you know as well as I do that a man’s only as good as his word. Man that breaks his word might jis as well be a coward. Now if something happened to Lant when he gits out of jail, I jis wouldn’t take it very well. I wouldn’t take it very well at all. Now I hope you understand me.”
Devil said, “You Nancy-Boys really stick together don’tcha.”
I said, “I’m going to ignore that, though I’ll remember it. What you had better remember is that friendly warning you jis got.”
“If you will forgive an interruption, gentlemen,” said Doc Holliday, “I must be certain that you understand that a man who does not give an adversary a fighting chance will not get one himself.”
Jis about that time, the Sheriff walked up. “What’s the deal here?” he said. Nobody answered. “What’s the deal?” he insisted.
“Well these are the Thumpsow brothers...” I began.
“There will be no lynching around here,” said the sheriff.
The Thumpsow brothers didn’t say anythin', but walked into the courtroom looking sour. They were careful to touch their hatbrims politely before they went, though. We did too of course. Afterwards I paid off Masterson and Holliday. All I’d wanted them to do was stand beside me while I talked to the Thumpsows and then they could go about their business and not give it another thought. The Thumpsow’s didn’t know that of course. For all they knew, they’d have all three of us after them if they arranged a Texas Cakewalk for Lant. Holliday wouldn't take any more than expense money. He said he might need that kind of a favor himself someday. Of course I said yes. You need that kind of friendship out here.
Well, they didn’t acquit Lant, they gave him one year on some kind of a lesser charge that I never did understand. I think the idea was to get him off the range until things cooled down.
Me, I went back to Dad’s trading post. Worked cows when I could. Then one day I got word that Lant was dead. I’d misjudged the Thumpsows. I guess they jis couldn’t miss out on the fun they wanted to have with him. They really loved that kind of fun.
I felt real bad about that...real bad. I am not ashamed to say I took on a little, shed tears.. I liked that Lant. I should of watched him closer. I felt like it was my fault. I’d given my word to protect him and I hadn't done it. Lot of people, too, would think I was a coward since I warn't with him when the Thumpsow's showed up. Out here you can’t have people thinking you're a coward. You jis can’t.
There was no way I could keep away from a shootout. It was a shootout that probably wouldn’t turn out too well for me. There were two of them and, whatever else was true, they could shoot straight when the bullets were flying. And I had to give them a fighting chance if I didn't want to get hung myself. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it at all. I couldn’t let it go though, so I headed north toward Beaver in Utah where the Thumpsows had a ranch where they hid the stock they stole.
Beaver looks a lot like Beeuny. There's a wide park with green hayfields down in the bottom. Above that, you get slopes loaded with that gray sagebrush and above the sagebrush you get tall hills with dark green juniper and piñon pine. To the northeast you have the Tushar Moun'ens that go way up above timberline. I came in about sundown and there was a storm blowing up. There was a lot of wind blowing dust and tumbleweeds. There were big thunderheads over the Tushars and you'd see lightning come down and bite, bite, bite the moun’ens like a rattlesnake in a campfire.
Before I got into town there was a lightning strike and a heck of a bang right ahead of me. It took a while for me to get BettyBea calmed down, but when we finally got up there, I saw a big pine lying in pieces with four or five dead steers lying around it. I touched up with my spurs and got myself and BettyBea off the flat and into town as quick as I could. It was candlelight when I got in there with a big half moon and fast-moving clouds. It would be as dark as pitch one minute and then the clouds would move and the moon would light up the buildings almost as bright as day except for the black shadows under the porches. All the signs were banging and creaking and the false fronts were jerking back and forth in the wind. I put BettyBea in the livery stable, I didn't want her out in the street with that going on, and went into the Green Parrot Saloon to get the lay of the land.
I wanted to talk with Maw Cheryl that owned the bar, but she was real busy so I sat down to poker with some old friends I knew from when I worked around there. Well, we hadn't played mor'n a hand or two when in walks the Thumpsows. Right away, Maw Cheryl pulled those sawed-off shotguns of hers out and set them on top of the bar. The Thumpsows thought that one over for a minute, sat down at our poker table without being invited. The other waddies looked at me, but I didn't say anything, so they dealt the Thumpsows in.
I figured I was in trouble. If I got up and left, they'd follow me and shoot me down. I wouldn’t of stood much of a chance against them both. 'Specially with only one gun. So I played bad poker and tried to think.
"One way you can tell a Nancy-Boy," said Devil, "he talks big but it's all blow. He never has the guts to do anything. Two cards."
"I wouldn't take it very well," said 'Ell talking in a high squeaky voice and fluttering his hands, "I wouldn't take it very well at all."
"There's some guys," said Devil, he stopped to cough a minute, then went on, "There’s some guys that got a lot of sand when they got Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, Pony Deal, Curly Bill Brocius and Mysterious Dave Mather to back them up. But if they don't, they back down every time. Yaller clean through. See that and raise you five."
"Yeah," I've seen guys like that," said 'Ell. "Meeting the boats down there in 'Frisco wearing ear-bobs and rouge. I’d like to bed them all down1. With a shotgun. Knock."
"Hah," said Devil, “remember that little Molly in Dodge? We shucked him down and tied his hands and put horse hobbles on him and let him run. We followed him with shotguns and rock salt. Wasn’t enough hide left on him to make a wallet for a baby boy when we got done." Devil started to laugh but went to coughing again.
"Kept squalling 'til they put him in the bone orchard. Blood poisoning." said 'Ell. "Shouldn’t of put gravel in with the rock salt.”
“Yeah,” said Devil, “Tore the blazes outta the shotgun barrel. Say whatcha want, though, us Thumpsows sure know how to have fun. Three jacks."
Well, they went on like that. Real flannel mouths both of them. I didn't say anything. Jis played and tried to think. I sure wished I had a few Navajo friends down here. The only Indian around was that wooden Indian they put up in front of the cigar store. That gave me an idea. That statue was like most of your wooden Indians. It had a war bonnet, leggings and a loincloth and was holding out a three leaves of tobacco. This one was bigger than most, almost life size. That was good. The storm hadn't blown through and the light was changing every minute. This was the time, all right.
Now all I needed was patience. It didn't take long. Devil got a good hand and started betting it heavy. I raised him and he raised me back. Then I threw in my hand and headed for the door, walking as quick as I could. I knew Devil wouldn't follow me out. He wanted that pot. Soon as I was out the door, I ran to the stable, got a bridle on BettyBea, got aboard bareback, and lit out at a gallop.
I rode until I couldn’t hear them laughing in the saloon any more and I doubled back and walked BettyBea in through the back of the livery stable. "Hobson, you there?" I said.
"Yahsuh, Ise heah," he said, "what can Ah do you for?"
“Well now," I said pulling my Winchester out of the saddle scabbard. "Here's five dollars. I need you to take care of BettyBea and I need to borrow your shaving mirror and a long piece of string and this."
What you want wit dat? You going to go play Indians wit l'l Opie?"
"Something like that," I said. I grabbed a chip from the woodbox and whittled it into a smooth peg and cut a double notch at one end. I cut a notch in each side of the sole of my boot up by the toe. I remember thinking that I needed new soles anyway. I tied a long length of string to the wood chip, tied the mirror to the barrel of my Winchester and tied a short length of string to the ring on the side of that Winchester. Next, I went and got some soot outta the stove and blacked my face. Lucky thing I wore a dark shirt that day. I wasn’t worried about Hobson talking. He was blind, deaf, and dumb about this kind of thing.
"What de debble is you doing Misto Snakeskin?" said Hobson. I picked up all that stuff and left without answering. I wasn’t worried about Hobson talking. He was blind, deaf, and dumb about this kind of thing.
That wooden Indian must of weighted at least 200 pounds, but I don't remember it being heavy at all. I no more'n got it all fixed up the way I wanted it when two of my old friends came out of the bar: Big Greg and Little Harry.
I went over to them quick. "Hey boys," I said. They jis kept walking. Little Harry stuck his chest and his hind end out and went into a strut. Big blond Greg didn't change his easy saunter, but that's about the only time I ever saw him without a smile. I didn't blame them, really. You can’t afford to have anything to do with a coward, and that's what they figured I was. "Listen,” I said, hurrying to catch up with them. "Could you do me a favor and tell the Thumpsows..." They stopped and turned around. They both looked surprised at the way I looked but they didn't say anything. "Tell those Thumpsows," I went on, "that I'm waiting for them out here. And listen Greg, I'd take it as a real big favor if you could loan me that talking iron2 of yours."
"You want us to stand with you?” said Harry. He wasn't that serious about it.
"No, jis give me a minute or two and tell the Thumpsow's what I said. And look, if they come around the back, come out and tell me. Only stay out of the way of any stray bullets. It would help if you'd stand where you could see what happens. For when it comes to court. As long as you make sure you don't get hit. OK?”
"Yup," said Greg, handing me his pistol.
This pistol a yours still throw a little to the right?" I said.
"Yup," said Greg.
"Tell you what," said Harry, "I'll go up to Rosies and get in Mandy's room. I can see from there and be out of the way."
Big Greg and I waited until we saw Harry waving from the window and I went over to the cigar store, sat down on where the wooden Indian had been, fastened the string to my boot, and drew my guns. Big Greg went into the bar. A minute later he came out sayin, "They're right behind me, Snakeskin.” and dove down behind the horse trough. The Thumpsow's came out with their guns already drawn and stepped real quick to the side and out of the light from the bar room.
A second later Devil hollered, "OK Nancy boy..." and jis then the moon came out from behind a cloud.
I jerked the foot I'd tied the string to. The peg I'd whittled came out and the Winchester swung down towards the Thumpsows and hit the hitching rail with a bang. The Thumpsows saw a flash of light from the mirror I'd tied to the end of the rifle barrel. They both fired and hit what they were aiming at dead center. The wooden Indian. When the Indian didn't fall, 'Ell shot again. Then I opened up. One shot from each gun. Caught ‘em both in the right shoulder. It knocked them back up against the wall and they dropped their guns. 'Ell had a lot of sand and he reached and picked up his gun with his left hand. I shot again jis before he did. Caught him in the other shoulder.
I put a bullet through a bar window to keep anybody from getting too curious, shoved Greg's gun in my belt, holstered my own, and ran to the cigar store Indian. I grabbed my hat off his head, jerked my Winchester loose from where I'd tied it, ran back and picked up the peg I'd used to prop the Winchester straight up until I'd jerked it loose with the string. Then I headed for the livery stable. The string I’d tied to my boot toe caught on something and threw me flat. I got up, broke the string and kept going.
Ducked into the livery stable and sat down to untie the string from my boot. I started to put my hat back on, but I couldn't because I was still wearing Opie's war bonnet. I took it off and gave it back to Hobson. I untied his mirror from my rifle. It was broken and I offered to pay extra for it, but he said the five dollars would cover everthing. I wiped the soot off my face with some sacking and finished up with Hobson's soap and water. Wiped my shirt off. Then I went out the back door and around to the street where the Green Parrot was. There was the local sheriff and a small crowd of men with a lantern looking at the cigar store Indian.
Harry was talking. “I say it’s good enough. He gave them Thumpsows a lot more chance than they gave little Dave Lant. Or five or six other guys, if you ask me. If they going to wobble their jaw like they done and then get too drunk to remember to let their eyes get used to the dark, it ain’t Snakeskin’s lookout. I heard Devil say just before the shooting started, ‘OK Snakeskin’. Didn’t he Greg?"
“Yup,” said Greg.
“And Snakeskin let Thumpsows fire three times before he opened up. Three! Ain’t that right, Greg.”
“And ‘Ell said he was going to bed him down with a shotgun, didn’t he Greg?”
“Not plumb but pert near,” said Greg.
“Well gol-dang it, that’s what he meant,” said Harry.
“Yup,” said Greg.
"It looked plenty fair to me. Doesn’t it to you Greg?"
"Well, said Greg, "I might of hung a few guys, but I ain't no judge."
The sheriff was looking at the three bullet holes in the wooden Indian. Two in the forehead and one in the chest. “The Thumpsows fired four times,” he said and turned and went over to the cigar store and held up the lantern. There was another bullet hole in a porch post. Jis about then, Maw Cheryl showed up with that gangly swamper of hers. They were carrying some bandages and a basin. The sheriff looked at her. “Well?” he said.
“Doc don’t give Devil much of a chance. He wasn’t no more’n half over that pneumonia and the bullet touched the lung. Shouldn’t of been out of bed in the first place. ‘Ell’s a sure goner, though. One bullet in the shoulder, one in the lung, and about bled out. Won’t last ‘til morning. He’d never use either arm again anyway. Good riddance to both of them.” I hadn’t allowed enough for that gun of Greg’s throwing to the right. It didn’t sound like a Texas Cakewalk was building so I nudged Greg and gave him back his gun.
“Here he is,” said Greg.
The sheriff lifted up the lantern an they all turned toward me. Maw Cheryl squinted at my left arm. “You’re bleedin’ Sonny.” She called us all Sonny.
“Hunh?” I said.
“Hold still,” she said and reached for my leg. I winced when she touched it. “Big splinter,” she said. “Doc’s busy. Sit down on the box here and don’t move. Bring the lantern over and somebody get me some well water.” Well, she grabbed the splinter and jerked it out. It bled quite a bit. She drug up my pants leg and washed the wound down. She poured some whiskey into the wound and took some bed linen out of a basin where she had been soaking it in whiskey and slapped it on the wound and tied it in place. It stung quite a bit but I didn’t holler. “You better get over to the Doc with that,” she said. “Right after you pay me two dollars for my window.”
“Come by the office when you’re done,” said the sheriff, “I’ll release you on your own recognizance. Don’t forget.”
“I won’t,” I said.
Well any way, that wound healed up jis fine and did me no end of good at the trial. That was the end of that difficulty, but it jis led to another one…uhhh. I guess the statue of limitations has fallen over on that particular business so I can tell you about it. One evening I was making hatbands out of rattlesnake skin at my Dad’s trading post and in walks ElPaso again. We howdied and shook and shared a shot of the Oh-be-Joyful and got down to business. “We got a problem,” he said.