Western Short Story
November 1, 1870 – “On to Abilene”
Jack thought back on his trip from Amarillo. It’d been mostly boring and tiring but had a couple of memorable events. Meeting Sarah and her kids had been enjoyable in a way, but mostly sad. He admitted to himself that he was thinking about her more than he was comfortable with.
Killing the red-haired would-be gunfighter between Snyder and Sweetwater left him bone-tired and depressed. He’d killed quite a few men and except for a few he’d shot on raids into Missouri he figured most got what they deserved. Truthfully, the kid named Clay got what he deserved too, but killing somebody for being dumbass stupid was still depressing. He thought that keeping the fellow from hooking up with crazy Bill Longley might have saved a few semi-innocent souls from being shot down. Still, the killing and thinking about it had made him tired. He hoped he could take a short break from the trail in Abilene.
2:00 PM – November 1, 1870 – “Can’t outrun the north wind.”
Jack drove the wagon down the main street of Abilene, Texas. A cold wind was blowing hard from the north, kicking up dust on the dirty street. He stopped in front of a general store and walked inside. Behind the front counter, he saw some new and old guns for sale and noticed several he might be interested in.
The store keep walked over and asked, “Can I help you?”
“I’ve got a Sharps buffalo gun that I don’t need anymore. You got any interest in doing some swapping?”
“Maybe? Bring it in and let me take a look.”
Jack went to his wagon and opened the locker he had built behind the seat. He removed the blanket wrapped Sharps and a pouch containing some bullets along with a bullet mold. He closed the lid of the locker, put the lock through the hasp, and snapped it shut. He carried the heavy rifle into the store and laid it on the counter. The owner unrolled the blanket and closely examined the big rifle.
“You hunted them wooly beasts did you?”
“That was one of the things I’ve tried and quit.” Jack didn’t want to tell the man any more about his past than he could help.
“I might be interested in a swap. See anything that strikes your fancy?”
“Let me take a look at that old scattergun.” He pointed to a short-barreled side-by-side shotgun. The gun had a rawhide wrap around the front hand-guard and another on the butt-stock behind the trigger guard. There were designs etched into the rawhide. The butt-stock had been decorated with brass tacks hammered into the wood in an interesting pattern. The gun also had a sling made from braided horsehair. There was no doubt in Jack’s mind that this gun was once the prized possession of an Indian warrior.
The owner said, “It looks like that old ‘thunder stick’ belonged to an Injun.”
“Maybe,” Jack said as he broke open the action and looked through the barrels. He tried both hammers and triggers and everything seemed to work right. The gun showed age and use, but also much evidence of care and respect. The wooden butt-stock was slick and shiny and looked like it had been polished often with either beeswax or bear fat, or maybe a combination of the two. As he was holding the weapon Jack could see in his mind an Indian brave riding his pony at full gallop beside a buffalo cow getting ready to harvest the animal with the gun Jack was now examining. He was sure whoever sold the weapon to the store owner didn’t get it by trading with the Indian owner; this gun was bought and paid for with blood. Jack laid the weapon down carefully on the counter. He knew, one way or the other, he was leaving with the gun.
“Let me see that Smith and Wesson there.”
The man handed him the S&W Model 2 revolver. The cylinder held six .32 caliber rimfire metallic cartridges and looked like it would work pretty well as an easily concealed weapon. After his fight with the red-headed stranger, Jack didn’t want to be unarmed again.
After some hard bargaining, Jack got the shotgun, the revolver, and bullets for both in exchange for the Sharps. He was positive the store owner got the best of the deal but he didn’t much care. He was done with buffalo hunting and didn’t need the big rifle.
“Is there a barber in this town?”
The man pulled out his pocket watch, snapped open the cover, and checked the time. “Nope, not right now there ain’t,” he said as he slid the watch back into his vest pocket.
“You had to check the time to tell me there ain’t a barber in town?”
“I didn’t tell you there ain’t a barber here. I checked my watch to see what time it was to know how drunk Joe is. Early in the morning, he has the shakes so bad you don’t want him close to your neck with a razor. By about noon he’s drunk enough that his hands are pretty steady and he’s OK with a razor and scissors. But by around 2:00 he’s drunk too much and there ain’t no telling what he may do to your head or throat. It’s after 2:30 and I’d avoid him if I’s you.”
“Well Hell! OK, how about looking at your watch again to see if there’s any sporting girls in town.”
“Hell, Mister, I don’t have to look at my damn watch to tell you that. Our last three good whores left town this morning on a stagecoach heading to Mobeetie. There’s only two sportin’ women left in town and one of them is dying of consumption and the other one don’t like bathwater worth a damn. I’d avoid both of them if I’s you. Leastwise, that’s what I’m intendin’ to do.”
“Damn, you’re just full of good news ain’t you?”
“Good news is mighty hard to come by in Abilene these days. The town has too few whores and too many low-life gunslingers and outlaws.” The man pointed at his front window and said, “You see those three fellows looking over your wagon?”
“Yeah, I see ‘em.”
“Them three fellows would steal the paint off the side of a church and kill the preacher if he tried to stop them. And, you know what’s worse, there’s other sonsabitches here that make those three outlaws look pretty tame.”
“By the way, when you leave town you might oughta take the road behind the store. There’s less chance of gettin’ shot on accident or on purpose that way.”
Jack paid for a few other supplies plus a warm coat. He loaded the Smith and Wesson pocket pistol and stuck it in his pants at the small of his back under his new coat. He also dropped two 10 gauge shells into the scattergun and several more into his coat pocket. As he headed to the door he said, “Much obliged for the swap and the information. I reckon my stay in Abilene’s goin’ be shorter than I’s hopin’ for.”
Jack carried his goods outside and put most of his purchases into the wagon bed. He put one sack and the shotgun in the floorboard by his feet. The three men standing by his wagon didn’t say anything to him but he could feel their hard stares on his back.
He popped the reins to get the team moving. Jack was pretty sure the men had mounted up and were intending to follow him. He didn’t know the road south out of Abilene but knew of a good spot to stage an ambush on the road he’d just come in on. Jack turned right at the first cross street and glanced back to see the men easing along behind him. He took a right turn at the next two corners and then a left back onto the main street. Now he was heading back north into the chilly wind thankful for his new coat.
One of the things Jack had bought at the store was a hand mirror. He’d also got a pair of scissors. He intended to use them to cut his own hair but now he was using the mirror to check behind on the men following him. They were pretty far back but he was sure they were up to no good.
Jack figured they would follow him until he stopped for the night and then move in to kill him. At least that’s what he hoped they were plannin’ on doin’. He had seen a spot a few miles north of Abilene where he could sure spoil their plans. While the wagon was moving along Jack turned around and unlocked the lid of the cabinet behind him. He removed the pistol belt and Winchester he had got when he killed the red-haired would-be gunfighter. He also got some extra shells and put them in his coat pockets. He strapped on the gun belt and then removed the big Smith & Wesson revolver from the holster. He worked the action several times and sighted down the barrel. The pistol felt good and he was happy to have something more modern than his Colt cap and ball revolvers.
Jack had stopped in Abilene hoping to get bathed, barbered, and bedded but missed out all the way around. Now here he was, cold, lonely, dirty, and disappointed. To make matters worse, he was likely heading to another gunfight. At least his sorry situation took his mind off the depressing shortage of barbers and whores in Abilene.
5:30 PM – November 1, 1870 – “Killin’ Paint Thieves”
Jack had timed his travel about right and got to the spot a little before sundown. He parked the wagon and unhitched his team. He moved the animals out of sight, and out of the way of any stray bullets. After hobbling the horses, he gave them some oats.
He walked back to his wagon and got out two bags of oats and put them on the ground near the wagon and covered them with a blanket. He laid his Henry rifle on top of the cover to make it look like he was under the blanket and put his hat on top to complete the scene.
After he had everything in place by the wagon he moved to a spot closer to where he thought the killers would stop first. He had to wait for about 30 minutes before he heard the first sounds of the men approaching. The creaking of saddle leather and the soft snorting of a horse put Jack on full alert. Soon he heard the shuffling of boots approaching in the dirt road. The full moon was coming up over the horizon giving Jack the perfect amount of light to see the three men approaching his wagon with rifles in their hands.
Jack had seen enough. He cautiously moved a little closer to the three assassins and knelt beside a large cottonwood tree. He sighted down the barrel of the side-by-side 10 gauge and pulled the trigger on the right-side barrel and then the left. The noise was deafening and the smoke and flames that shot out of the barrels blinded him for a moment. When his eyes cleared he could see all three men had been blown off their feet but two were moving and were trying to turn to face him. Three .44 caliber slugs from the Winchester stopped all movement. Jack reloaded the shotgun and rifle but didn’t move away from the protection of the tree trunk. He slowly counted to 100 before approaching the bodies. All three men were dead and pretty much torn to bloody pieces.
Quickly, Jack gathered up all of their weapons and put them into his wagon. Since he didn’t know anything about their horses, he got Bucky and began dragging the bodies to a nearby gully. After the bodies were disposed of he rode back to check on the mounts. He removed the saddles from all three animals and then the bridles. Jack kept the saddlebags and rifle scabbards but threw the saddles into the gully with the bodies. Finally, he smacked the horses with a quirt to get them running.
Jack hurried back to his wagon, put on his hat, and reloaded the oats, blanket, and rifle into the bed. Finally, he hitched up the team, tied Bucky to the rear of the wagon, and took off heading south again.
The lights of Abilene came into view about 11:00 PM. As soon as he was able, Jack turned off the main road and used the side street at the back of the general store to travel through town. He cleared the south edge of Abilene without being shot or even seen as far as he could tell.
2:30 AM – November 2, 1870 – “Campin’ and restin’”
Jack and his animals were exhausted by the time they reached a small grove of trees beside a shallow creek about 20 miles south of Abilene. He unhitched the team and took all of the horses down for a drink. There was a patch of green grass nearby so Jack tied the horses to a picket line so they could graze while he slept. He was so tired he didn’t even think about a fire. He just spread out his blankets in the back of the wagon and passed out as soon as he lay down.
The sun was up and shining bright before Jack threw off his blankets and climbed out of the wagon bed. The first thing he did was to water the closest tree. After relieving himself, he checked on his horses. They were grazing and looked alright. Jack looked around at his hastily chosen camping spot. It wasn’t bad except for being too close to the road he was traveling along. He figured there were sure to be some other travelers using the same route that might want to water or camp there. That was way too much company for Jack.
He thought briefly about hitching up the wagon and heading on south. He didn’t much like that option. He and his animals were tired and needed a break. The other reason he didn’t like it was that if the men he gunned down had been found and anyone decided to look for the killer, there was a good chance he could be caught on the road. He’d be outnumbered and would likely be killed. He doubted anyone cared enough about the three men to be looking for him but he didn’t want to take the chance.
Jack saddled Bucky and rode along beside the little creek for about a mile until he found a more secluded camping location. There was a small trail that he could use to drive his wagon to the spot.
After he had moved to the new location, Jack parked his wagon on the backside of a small grove of trees where it couldn’t be seen from the road. He tied the team and Bucky to a picket line so they could graze. There was ample firewood available and the creek flowed slowly over a rocky bottom providing plenty of cool, clear water. Jack was looking forward to resting at the site for several days.
He made a small fire, put on a pot of coffee to cook, and warmed up a can of beans. After eating he got his washtub out of the wagon and sat it on the coals and filled the tub with water. As soon as the water was sort of warm Jack got naked and scrubbed his body with a hard bar of lye soap until his skin was red. He jumped out of the soapy tub and dashed to the creek to rinse off in the cold water. He stood by the small fire until he was dry and then donned a new pair of long johns he’d purchased in Abilene.
All of his dirty clothes went into the tub for a good soaking. Jack poured off the muddy-looking wash water and added fresh buckets of clean creek water. After repeating that process several times, all of Jack’s clothes looked and smelled better. He hung everything from a rope tied between two trees to let the stuff dry.
While he was waiting for his clothes to dry, Jack took a look at the guns he’d collected from the three recent men he had killed. All of the weapons were serviceable and looked like what they were – tools of the trade for outlaws. He had accumulated a sizable arsenal on his trip from Amarillo. Jack knew the guns were like money in the bank that he could sell when he needed some cash. In the meantime, the weapons were a lot more valuable than cash money if things got dicey.
Jack spent three restful days camped by the little creek. He heard several groups of travelers pass by on the road but none of them appeared to be a posse looking for him. He finally decided it was time to head on south to Austin.
2:00 PM – November 7, 1870 – “Wagon trouble”
Nothing much happened for the next two days on the road but then Jack started to hear noises in the rear axle that didn’t sound right. He knew he was coming up on a little town called Bobbitt Springs. He hoped there would be a blacksmith there that could help him.
By the time Jack found the blacksmith’s shop the wagon was making quite a racket. The smith said he thought he could fix the problem but it might take a day or two. He told Jack where the hotel was located.
The next two days were enjoyable. The townspeople were friendly and Jack enjoyed the soft hotel bed and the good eats at the café. He was sort of disappointed when he saw the blacksmith at the café who told him his wagon was ready. Jack decided to spend one more day in Bobbitt Springs before continuing on to Austin.
9:30 AM – November 9, 1870 – “The Bank Robbery”
The next morning after settling up with the blacksmith Jack stopped at the café for one more good meal before heading south. He was concentrating on his plate of bacon and eggs when he heard the waitress say, “I think those men are going to rob the bank!”
Jack jumped to his feet and looked out the window just in time to see two masked men go into the bank across the street. A third masked man was sitting on his horse holding the reins of the other two mounts.
Without giving it a second thought Jack hurried to his wagon and pulled his short-barreled shotgun from the scabbard he had mounted alongside the wagon seat. In several long strides, he was beside the rider who was holding the two horses. The man was staring at the bank and didn’t see Jack until he was jerked off his horse. Before the man could get his balance Jack hit him in the side of the head with the butt of the shotgun. The bandit was knocked unconscious and fell to the dirt. Jack quickly grabbed the pistol from his gun-belt and then slapped the three horses until they ran off down the street.
He quickly moved to the other side of the bank door so he would be behind the robbers when they came out. No sooner had Jack got in place when two shots rang out inside the bank. He could hear men yelling and women crying inside the building. Suddenly the bank door flew open and the two holdup men ran out looking for their horses.
Jack shouted, “I’ve got you covered with a sawed-off 10 gauge. If you ain’t wantin’ to get blown in half get on your knees right now.”
One of the men looked over his shoulder far enough to see a tall man standing there with a shotgun pointed at him and his partner. In disgust he said, “Ain’t this a damn crock of shit,” then went to his knees. Without saying a word his partner joined him on the ground.
“Uncock those pistols and hold them up over your heads.” The men did as they were told and Jack quickly took the weapons from their hands. Several men rushed out of the bank holding pistols.
One said, “They killed George, we ought to shoot these bastards right now!”
Jack said, “You don’t want to do that. Let the law handle it.”
Just as he said that Jack saw a big, fat man rushing toward the bank. He recognized the man as the Town Marshal. He also noticed the lawman was pointing a pistol at him.
“Put down that shotgun before I kill you,” the fat man yelled!
It seemed to Jack that the man was acting plumb loco. Not one to take unnecessary chances Jack knelt behind the two robbers and pointed the shotgun at the man yelling at him.
The banker who was now standing beside Jack yelled at the lawman, “What the hell are you doing, Frank? This man stopped the robbery and captured the robbers. Put that gun down.”
The man didn’t put the gun down and seemed to be getting madder by the second. Jack decided that something about this was cockeyed crazy. Not sure why he did it, he took his left hand off the front handguard of the shotgun and pulled the bandannas down off the robbers’ faces.
As soon as their faces could be seen there were murmurs from the onlookers. Jack heard the banker say, “I’ll be damned!”
Jack couldn’t see the faces of the men and wouldn’t have known them if he could, but it was pretty apparent that everyone else knew the men.
A man standing on the street that Jack knew to be the town Mayor angrily shouted at the Marshal, “What the hell is this, Frank, your brother and your nephews are bank robbers? You’re fired, you son of a bitch!”
Jack wasn’t sure what was going to happen but he didn’t like that the man was still pointing a pistol at him. “Drop that pistol, Fatso, or I’m goin ‘to put you down!” It took a few seconds but the man eventually dropped his pistol to the ground. “Now the badge and belt,” Jack yelled.
As soon as the man removed his gun belt and threw his badge on the ground he turned and stomped off. Jack stood and said, “I reckon we ought to lock these outlaws up?”
No one spoke up or took any kind of action so Jack marched the two robbers to the jail. The town doctor had been examining the man that Jack had knocked unconscious. He was finally able to revive the man and several local men pushed him toward the jail also.
After the robbers had been locked in a cell Jack was preparing to leave on his journey to Austin. He had noticed the Mayor, the banker, and two other men had been having a quiet conversation in a corner of the room.
As Jack started to walk out of the building the Mayor spoke up. “Mr. Parker, could we have a word with you?”
Jack walked over and joined the four men. The banker said, “Mr. Parker, I’m very grateful for what you did today. If those men had made their escape, our town would have been badly hurt.” The man held out his hand and he and Jack shook.
The Mayor said, “Mr. Parker, we are in a bit of trouble here. As you saw, I fired the Town Marshal because it appears that he was probably involved in the bank robbery in some way. Truthfully, Frank Hart was worthless from the beginning and I’m glad he’s gone. But now we have no lawman in town when we really need one. We’ve been talking and want to offer you the job as Town Marshal. You showed great courage today and you seem to have the skills to do the job. What do you think, would you be interested?”
The job offer caught Jack flat-footed. He didn’t say anything and the Mayor quickly jumped in thinking Jack was getting ready to turn down the offer. “I know this is unexpected, Mr. Parker but we could sure use your help. The pay is $100 per month plus all of your meals will be free at the city café. There’s a nice room above the jail where you can stay at no charge.” The Mayor’s extra sales pitch had given Jack a little time to collect his thoughts.
After a little time to consider the offer, Jack responded. “Well, this is a surprise. I got to tell you my only experience with law enforcement came on the other side of the bars when I got locked up a few times for gettin’ drunk and fightin’. That was mostly when I’s younger. I’ve calmed down quite a bit since those days.” He left out the fact that he had enlisted in the Union Army under an assumed name to keep from getting thrown in jail and going to prison.
Jack continued, “I’d planned on leaving today to continue my trip to Austin. I don’t think I want to make a full-time commitment to the job, but I guess I could help you out for a while until you can find a full-time Marshal.”
The four men looked relieved and started slapping Jack on the shoulders and shaking his hand. The Mayor said, “That’s great news. Let’s get you sworn in.”
“Before you do that Mayor we need to discuss something. I heard some talk in the crowd about lynching these three fellows. If I’m your Marshal I don’t intend to let that happen. I expect they’re guilty as sin and will likely stretch a hangman’s rope out eventually, but I ain’t goin’ to stand by and let them be lynched. I’ve seen a couple of vigilante neck-tie parties and I ain’t anxious to see another one. As long as I’m on my feet and can fire a gun I’m going to protect these fellows. Now, if that don’t fit your plans we just better forget this here job.”
The Mayor said, “I think that was just mad talk. I don’t think it’ll go anywhere.”
One of the other men who Jack recognized as the owner of the general store piped up and said, “Roy, this man deserves to know the lay of the land. You need to tell him about the Harts and the Grahams.”
Jack’s ears perked up. “Is there a family feud goin’ on here?”
The Mayor said, “Feud might be a little strong. There’s been a few fistfights but no killings or anything. I think it’ll simmer down.”
The store owner said, “No killings until today you mean. Mr. Parker, the man killed in the bank was a member of the Graham family and the robbers are all part of the Hart family. Personally, I think there may be more to the talk than Roy wants to believe.”
Jack took a few minutes to consider what he had heard before saying anything. “Mr. Mayor, as I told you before, I ain’t goin’ to stand aside and let a mob kill me or those men. I’ve killed men in the past and if I have to I’ll do it again. If you can’t get the townspeople calmed down some of them are likely to die. The choice is yours.”
The Mayor and the three other men conferred briefly and then Jack was sworn in as the new Town Marshal. He unloaded most of the stuff from his wagon and moved it into the space above the jail. He took his wagon and horses to the livery stable. On his way back to the jail, he stopped at the general store and bought a box of rock salt, a tin can full of peppercorns, and a box of 10 gauge birdshot.
When Jack got to the jail he opened up the end of four of the birdshot shells and replaced the lead pellets with a mixture of rock salt and peppercorns. Most of the people in town seemed pretty friendly and he didn’t want to kill any of them if he could help it. Jack strapped on his pistol belt, shouldered his Indian scattergun, and walked to the café for his first free meal.
Some of the customers gave him a few strange looks but no one showed him any obvious hostility. When he got back to the jail he took a chair outside so he could watch what was going on. It looked like the saloon was doing a “land office” business. That worried him some; if men were riled up and drunk, the chances for trouble increased. As the day dragged on the noise from the saloon increased in volume and rancor. Jack loaded up both barrels of his shotgun with the rock salt and peppercorn mixture.
He wasn’t surprised when just before sundown, a crowd of about 20 men came out of the saloon and headed toward the jail. All of the men showed clear evidence of a day spent bellying up to the bar and three of them were carrying ropes. The men lined up in the middle of the dirt street abreast of one another. The leader, who was standing in the middle of the group angrily demanded Jack surrender the prisoners.
“That ain’t happening. Now get the hell out of here. If you come any closer I’ll blast you.”
The man who seemed to be the group leader yelled, “He’s bluffin’ let’s go get those killers!”
The group started moving toward the jail. Jack cocked the hammers back on the old gun and cut loose with the right barrel and then the left. The noise was as loud as a cannon and a thick cloud of black powder smoke filled the street. Most of the men in the lynching party started hopping around, slapping their legs, and cussing.
Jack opened the barrels, removed the spent shells, and dropped in two new rounds. “That was rock salt and pepper and I aimed low. The next two rounds are birdshot and I ain’t goin’ to be shooting low this time so if you don’t want to be diggin’ pellets outa your private parts you best get on outa here.” The truth was that Jack had never shot anyone with birdshot and wasn’t sure what was going to happen when he did. He was worried the damage might be more than he wanted it to be.
The men weren’t so drunk that they didn’t have some sense and backed off to the other side of the street out of shotgun range. The crowd started giving Jack a real good cussing. That was fine with him. He’d been cussed plenty of times and knew it didn’t hurt near as much as getting shot. If givin’ him a good cussin’ burned off some of their anger then he was happy to sit and take it. Jack made a show of leaning the scattergun against the jailhouse wall and picking up his Winchester.
The men yelled and cussed at him for a while but then the crowd started breaking up. Some of the angriest men headed back to the saloon but about half just sort of disappeared. Jack hoped the necktie party was over for the night. He sat down in the chair to wait and see what was going to happen.
In the end, Jack’s rock salt and pepper shots worked just like he hoped. None of the men shot were badly hurt, but no one wanted to test the mettle of the new Town Marshal again. Things settled down and two weeks later the circuit judge came to town and the men were hung all legal and proper like.
November 24, 1870 – “To Stay or To Go”
Jack’s time in Bobbitt Springs slowed to a boring routine and his thoughts were filled with questions if he should stay a while longer in the easy job or head on south to Austin.