Western Short Story
Bronco Dubbins, in Strange Pursuit
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

Broccin Mac Dubbacin was his given name, all its historic way from the 12th century Gaelic Scotland, every hoot and holler of it, until his father brought him and a sister, and his wife, across the Mississippi River in a move from Scottish hills afire with torments to a section of Kansas, called Baxter Springs. It was sometime before the war of the states, the boy then a robust 13-years old. In short order, in saloon odds and ends and stories galore, he was introduced, this boy at his father’s side come hell or high water or trouble of any sort, as Bronco Dubbins. His name spilled from his father’s mouth at the first card game at a saloon table in a newer town in the territory, also looking for a proper name and found it as Baxter Springs.

So named is our hero and our locale.

At that moment the small town in the lower part of Cherokee County was called Baxter Springs, a small but somewhat friendly and calm chunk of the Kansas Territory before it was organized as a state later on, in 1861. The year of their arrival was in the 1850’s, and torment still looking to be the family inheritance.

Big Mac, as his father was called by the locals (“them sho’ders a his’re big as plow horses,”), was handed a sheriff’s star practically at arrival, at least after his first round of stories about his homeland caught up in its own fire, like much of that running around Baxter Springs, and it needing a man like Big Mac right smack in the middle of things. He appeared to be the needed type, a family man looking for the better life, and guaranteed to protect what was his family and his new piece of property, “won by gosh in a wild poker game endin’ in hurried dispute and quick death of the loser whose inside straight, all them cards red too, was not good enough to keep his property, and made him draw on the Scot and die at his hand.”)

Some men, in this new part of the new world, are brought to fame’s door by the simplest actions of a good draw at either the cards or the pistol spouted at the hip. Such men, as it happens, often as not, also bring their sons on their fabled journeys, exampled as here presented.

That rough and tumble Gaelic warrior, Big Mac survived nearly 20 years of service to the small community as it grew into its surrounding shadows, the low hills, the cattle-favoring land, as his son, the aforementioned Bronco Dubbins, grew with him, the community, and the same kind of being his father was, but fiercer on wild horses needing training and keener and deadlier with pistol and rifle.

Those early toys became tools in his hands.

As war progressed, came within ear shot of the small Kansas town, the Fort Baxter Massacre took place in 1863, and the boy, Bronco Dubbins, then a galvanized hunk of man on foot or horse, knew how the oats worked him, even as he was heading toward home and heard the shooting coming from the fort under fire from Southern sympathizers under the leadership of outlaw William Quantrill, not more than a kid in his own right.

It was there that a young lieutenant, James Burton Pond, from his actions, was awarded a Medal of Honor in the on-going battle against an element of Quantrill’s Raiders, but his senior officer was captured and was being tortured roadside by the raiders when the then 18-year-old Dubbins rode his fire-eating stallion into the midst of the raiders torturing the captured officer, whose screams had raised the skin of those within hearing distance.

Those hearing the screams included young Dubbins.

Heedless of his own safety, it was said immediately thereafter, he rode his fiery-hearted stallion, black as Hell itself, perhaps an original version of a Jayhawker, into the midst of Quantrill’s men, pistols in hand, hooves of his mount slashing away at command, driving off the overpowering unit, until he was able to hustle the officer onto his stallion and brought him to safety.

To the country, only Lt. Pond was so highly treated, and written about, but locals began to tell the real story of Bronco Dubbins, so that it began its own history, having its own patronage when locals gathered in later years, just as they did for long months after the war was over. New shadows came calling.

Heroes, of a certain, have their own foes, enemies, doubters, in all walks of life, love and battle, so Bronco Dubbins, later wearing the star his father wore for those 20 years of service until shot from behind by an unknown sniper, no follow-up boasting, murmurs or whispers, no stable or bar talk, for the ensuing quiet years after the war had ruptured the land.

That was so, until a nocturnal visit was made to a grave, plainly marked for a Scott’s grave, as Broccin Mac Dubbacin, Sheriff. The grave was on the land once owned by Dubbacin, then by his son, Bronco Dubbins, who sold it to a young couple, Joseph and Miriam Phersain. Joseph brought to Bronco a note left at the gravesite: “Near the 20th year when I put this man down from near 100 yards.”

Wild and wooly Bronco Dubbins, Sheriff, for his own 20 years, did not scream or swear vengeance as perhaps he might have wanted, but sat in his office chair a whole week at thought. Never once did he venture to the saloon, the barbershop, the general store, to inquire if any new faces with old names had recently been seen in town, nor ask if a lost face had been seen one single time since his father’s murder, or a cowpoke who came back to collect a debt or some pay owed him.

Not one question from him for three days.

For three days he sat inert, some saying sadness finally had a grip on him.

Then, as if waking from a sordid dream, escaping old memories, he asked everybody concerned or apt to know, the names of those people once of Baxter Springs and the local area whom they had not seen in 20 years. There were not many takers, but some folks with good memories advanced their lists, and the combined lists were drawn into one non-repeating list of 33 names of men not seen thereabouts for about 20 years.

He went to see the mayor of Baxter Springs, Knute Fellows, a kindly sort, a twinkle in his eye, who once a month would walk into the saloon and grant a free drink to all at the bar. Some folks, seeing him enter would scramble for the bar and he’d make note of them, all in a joking manner.

“What can I do for you, Bronco? You have a set look on your face.”

Bronco told him what he had done, what was in his mind, how the mayor could help him. “just spread the word, Mayor, that I’m seeking out these men on this list. Sooner or later, wherever they are, and Ill track down every one of them, when they see me coming towards them, down a main street, across a trail campground, on a cattle drive anywhere, they’ll know what I’m up to, to hang the man who killed my father, long-range, like a coward, and they let me know one way or another if they are the guilty party.”

“By gosh, Bronco, I don’t know another man who could have put that together like you did. It’s priceless. I’d love to be there when the guilty party goes for his gun. But I’ll do as you ask with one favor: Don’t shoot to kill him but wound him and bring him back for his hanging. That’s all I ask.”

“That’s fine with me, Mayor, and you can appoint my deputy as sheriff because I’m starting my journey this day.”

Bronco Dubbins was out of the trail before nightfall working his way across three state borders, into dozens of towns and ranch sites out again. meeting up with many old faces. Some of them, it was a fact, had heard about his search, and some had not; some greeted him as an old friend or acquaintance, some spoke well of his father, some expressed their sorrow at his loss and at his necessary errand.

One man said, “I know it’s hard losing your father, I lost mine in a bank robbery. He was a teller at the bank and they got the man who shot him dead, but it’s sure a long journey you might be facing. I wish you luck and him whoever all the bad luck you’ve got in your saddlebag.”

Thirteen names on the list had been tracked down and faced, and none of them appeared to be the deadly sniper, as Bronco was convinced in each case, some admittedly after a hard study in nervous cases.

One cowpoke, now a foreman on a large spread way up on the cattle drive trail, admitted his long-held secret.” I always had suspicions about a couple of gents, whose names you may not want on your list, which a few folks have told me about. I think, if I was you, you’d rather not hear any names from me but get him just the way my cousin, Knute Fellows, advised me, almost said it word for word like I did. You sure made him sit up and take notice, and he has spread the word far beyond Kansas I’ll bet, up to the lakes and all down the big rivers. You really put this thing together after a lot of thought, didn’t you? Knute thinks it’s brilliant, but sure is calling for lots of time and travel on your part. Want to light here for a few days? No problem at all with the big boss ‘cause we already had a talk about you. We knew you were comin’ this way.”

He added, “That’s the big kick in all this, ain’t it? Scarin’ the hell out of somebody from as far away as you might be right now. Powerful stuff, Bronco. Pure powerful.”

He patted the lone searcher on the back in the manner of a salute well-earned.

Bronco had checked off 18 names, the first crack appearing in his own drive for justice, a middling kind of feeling he had for the first time, and was approaching Ellsworth, Kansas, after being in such places as Caldwell, Wichita, Newton and Abilene, much of the time on or just off the cattle drive trails on the routes north.

But always a name to check, a face to look at, eyes to look behind.

He dismounted at the outskirts, in front of the stable, and said to a young stable hand, “Treat him well, son. He’s been a great mount for me. His name’s Purple, and I’m looking for an old acquaintance name of Crate Smithers. You know him?”

“Heck, yes, mister. Old Crate himself just left here a few minutes ago and we was atalkin’ an’ ajawin’ a whole hour ‘bout practicly nothin’, way he is.”

He looked up the street, about halfway along a group of odd buildings, and pointed out a man just about to mount his horse in front of the saloon, and yelled, “Hey, Crate, an old pard’s here lookin’ for you.” He pointed at Bronco, near big as his horse about to be tied-off at the stable rail.

The man up the street jumped up on his horse without using the stirrups and headed, quicker than a rabbit runs, down the dusty road, out of town at a high gallop.

Bronco yelled at the young stable hand, “Better go get the sheriff, son, Tell him I’m a sheriff myself, after a wanted killer, and I’ll bring him back here after I catch up with him. Have a doc handy too when we come back.”

In a likened action, quick as he’d ever moved, Bronco Dubbins was in his saddle and in flight.