Western Short Story
Jack’s last recorded journal entry while in Amarillo:
6:30 AM. October 21, 1870 – “Gettin’ cold. Time to get agoin’ or get a better coat.”
Jack closed the hard-covered journal and went outside to load his wagon. He didn’t own much anymore that he had to move. The Indians that raided his farm in Kansas pretty much took care of that. While he was loading his few remaining possessions and the supplies he was taking with him, Hank was getting his two horses hitched up to the wagon. Jack liked the big gray horse the Indians had stolen somewhere and used to transport his huge wife. The horse wasn’t branded so there was no way to find out who it belonged to. Jack favored him because he was big and strong and had a good disposition. Bucky was still his main saddle horse but he had ridden the gray gelding some and he was comfortable and well mannered. After the team was hitched up Jack walked Bucky over and tied him behind the wagon.
Hank and Jack shook hands and the old man said, “If your new place don’t suit your fancy, you can always come back here.”
“I appreciate that Hank, but if I come back this way I ‘spect I’ll have a posse on my tail. I’ll miss you though you old fart.”
Jack climbed into the wagon and popped the reins to get the horses moving. He waved at Hank and then headed south. Hank was the closest thing to a real friend he had and he was going to miss the old man’s company.
Jack would’ve rather headed southeast from Amarillo toward the small cow town of Clarendon. The problem was, that route put him closer to the upper end of the Palo Duro Canyon and the Comanches who had a large encampment in the bottom of the canyon. Jack decided he’d had his full share of the redskin killers and took what he hoped would be the safer route and headed due south out of Amarillo across the barren flat Llano Estacado toward the small town of Lubbock. Being fall, the buffalo should have all migrated further south reducing the chances of him running into Indian hunting parties.
“6:30 PM – October 25, 1870 – “A hungry mama hen, two starving chicks, and a dried-up milk cow
The trip was windy, dry, and boring but at least Jack didn’t meet up with any Indians that wanted to murder and scalp him. He only saw a few other travelers on the trip. Along toward sundown, he was still a ways north of Lubbock when he saw a little hard luck homestead off to the left. Jack steered the team toward the shack.
From a distance, he saw two little kids and a skinny woman who was holding a long double-barreled shotgun. Jack pulled back on the reins and stopped the team out of range of the gun.
He took off his hat and ran a hand through his tangled mess of hair. He’d meant to get to a barber in Amarillo but it never happened. He reset the hat and then gave a friendly wave to the three people watching him.
“Do you mind if I step down, Ma’am? I mean you no harm.”
“Are you armed?”
“Yes, Ma’am.” Jack opened his coat so the woman could see his pistols.
“Leave your guns in the wagon and walk up slow.”
Jack wasn’t happy about taking off his Colts but from her point of view, he could see the logic in the demand.
He had been in the wagon all day and was stiff, tired, and moving slowly. When he got closer Jack could see the two kids were dirty and very skinny. The lady looked like she’d missed a bunch of meals too. It seemed like he’d stumbled onto a starvation plantation.
“Ma’am, do you have a place where I can keep my animals for the night? I can pay you and I’ve got my own feed for them.”
It looked like the woman was chasing the problem around in her head. Finally, she said, “I want a dollar and I want you to feed my old milk cow.”
Jack reached in his right front pants pocket and came out with a silver dollar. He held it out toward the woman but she pushed the little boy forward. That was a bad move and if Jack had meant the family harm he could’ve easily grabbed the boy and forced the woman to put down her gun. Instead, he put the coin in the child’s filthy hand. When the boy passed the money to his mother her hand closed so tightly around the coin that her knuckles turned white.
Jack looked at the little boy and girl standing sadly by their mother. The scene brought back bad memories he couldn’t outrun on the fastest horse alive. He knew exactly what they were going through because he had been hungry a lot when he was their age. He thought hard before speaking but finally said, “Ma’am, I don’t want to be talking out of place but it looks like it’s been a while since those kids have eaten. I have some food if you need it.”
A look of relief softened the firm look on the woman’s face and tears fell from her eyes making two muddy tracks down her dirt-caked cheeks. When she could talk she said, “That’s mighty neighborly of you and I’d be foolish to turn down your offer.”
The lady hesitantly leaned her shotgun against the shack and followed Jack to his wagon to get the food.
“Where’s your man, Ma’am?”
“I don’t know and don’t much care. I don’t expect he’ll be coming back this way”
“It kinda looks like you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. Do you have any kin you can go to?”
“I’ve got family south of Lubbock but no way to get there.”
“I’m going that direction anyway; I can give you a ride if you want.”
The lady gave a short, humorless chuckle and said, “You sure don’t look like an angel of mercy but I’ve heard that the Lord moves in mysterious ways. If you’re serious, I gratefully accept your offer.”
The woman took some foodstuff and rushed to the shack to start cooking. Jack got back on the wagon and drove to a dilapidated structure that he figured was the barn.
A bone-thin cow stood in a stall and looked at Jack with sad hopeful eyes. He figured she needed food more than his horses so he poured some oats in a rusty bucket and fed her first.
Jack walked to the well near the shack and started cranking the handle. What was coming out of the ground looked to be about equal parts of mud and water. He walked back to his wagon and got out a small tub. He started dumping the muddy water into the tub hoping that the sand and mud would settle to the bottom, leaving some clean water at the top. He was starting to see why the woman and kids looked so dirty.
When the tub was full he got Bucky and walked him over for a drink. When Bucky was finished Jack refilled the tub and brought the other two horses over. After they were done he took a bucket of water to the cow.
Jack wet a rag with the semi-clear water and cleaned his face and hands as best he could. Just as he finished, the woman stepped out of the shack and waved to him.
A steaming pot of what looked to be cornmeal mush sat in the middle of a small, roughly built table. Jack didn’t much like mush anytime and based on how dirty everything was, he sure wasn’t anxious to eat any of this batch. He took a small helping just to be polite. As soon as he’d finished his portion Jack got up and walked outside but the woman and the kids were so busy eating they probably didn’t notice him leaving.
He was glad he had been able to do something to ease the family’s hunger but watching them wolf down the food was taking him back to a place he didn’t want to revisit.
After he checked on his animals he spread his bedroll out in the wagon and tried to sleep. Bad memories and troubling dreams finally drove him from his covers well before daylight. He found enough wood to make a small fire so he could boil a pot of coffee.
Just after he had poured his cup Jack heard the woman approaching his fire. He could see she was carrying a cup in her right hand.
“Good morning. I’d sure appreciate a cup of coffee if you have a little extra.”
Jack picked up the hot pot in his gloved hand and filled her cup.
The woman squatted by the small fire and took a sip.
“Oh my, that tastes wonderful. I haven’t had coffee for weeks.”
“Do still want to ride with me to your kinfolk's place?”
“Are you sure your family’s still there?”
“Worried you’re going to get stuck with us?”
“Some, I reckon. I ain’t looking to become a family man.”
“Don’t worry, they’re still there.”
“I’d like to be leaving pretty soon. How long will it take you to pack?”
“I’m packed; there’s not much here worth taking. Can we take the cow? I wouldn’t feel good about just leaving her.”
“We can take her but she don’t look very healthy. I’m not sure how she’ll handle the trip.”
“I know, but she’ll die for sure if we leave her.”
When they had finished their coffee Jack said, “I’ll feed and water the stock while you put your stuff in the wagon.”
After tending to the animals, he got the team hitched up and tied Bucky and the cow behind the wagon. The last thing the woman loaded was her two sleeping kids. She said, “Last night was the first time in weeks when they haven’t gone to bed hungry so they finally got a good night’s sleep. I’m much obliged for your kindness.”
“Glad to help. I’ve been hungry more than a few times myself.”
“My name’s Sarah, by the way.”
“I’m Jack Parker,” he lied as he popped the reins to get the team moving.
6:30 AM – October 26, 1870 – “Panning for gold and other tall tales”
He hadn’t been looking for passengers for his trip and had just as soon not got involved with the woman and her kids. But after seeing the shape they were in Jack didn’t see where he had any choice but to take them someplace better. The ride turned out not to be too bad. Sarah didn’t prattle on like some women he’d known but talked just enough to cut the boredom some.
Jack knew when he decided to go to Texas he was going to have to change his name. He didn’t think it was likely, but the U.S. Army might be looking for him for desertion. The other thing was that he damn sure didn’t want any Johnny Rebs in Texas to learn he had been a Union Bluebelly because that could lead to problems. If they found out he rode with James Lane’s Fifth Kansas Cavalry, better known as Jayhawkers, it would surely lead to a gunfight.
The plan Jack came up with was to tell anyone that asked that he wasn’t in the Civil War because he had gone to California to search for gold. He had known a few men who had done that and he was pretty sure he could pull it off. Jack decided the trip with Sarah would provide a good chance to practice his lie.
He didn’t offer a lot of details and tried to make sure it didn’t sound like he was bragging. Mostly, he told Sarah about how hard a time he had as a prospector. He kind of laughed and admitted that the saloons got most of what little gold he found. Jack thought his story would pass muster and keep him from gettin’ in a bind with some hardshell Reb.
When they got to the small town of Lubbock Jack found a general store and stopped the wagon.
Sarah asked, “What’re you doing?”
“I need to get a few supplies,” Jack said as he stepped down from the wagon.
“Can I go in with you?”
He reached his hand up to help her down. As they started toward the door Jack took a leather pouch out of his coat pocket and untied the strings at the top. He fished five silver dollars from the little bag and handed them to Sarah. “Get something for you and the kids.”
Jack turned away and walked to the store. He didn’t want to see the woman’s reaction. She just stood there for a moment staring at the coins in her palm before the tears started. By the time she turned around Jack had disappeared inside the building. Sarah rushed back to the wagon and grabbed her kids’ hands and pulled them toward the store.
Jack was gathering up supplies and pretended not to be watching Sarah but it was hard not to see the smile on the three faces. Jack loaded the supplies he had purchased and was sitting in the wagon seat when the family walked out carrying several wrapped packages.
Unless Jack was on a drunken toot he was normally tighter than Dick’s hatband with his money and could squeeze a nickel until it squealed like a pig under a gate. Seeing the look on the faces of his passengers he didn’t regret his gift.
“I don’t know why you did that but I can’t tell you what that meant to us. You’re a good man Jack Parker and I thank you greatly.”
Jack looked at the woman and frowned. “No Ma’am, I’m not a good man. I’m glad I could help you and yours but that damn sure don’t make me a good man. The bad things I’ve done in my life outweigh the good by a hell of a lot.” He turned away from the woman and popped the reins to get the team moving.
She continued to look at him and then said, “You may be right but you couldn’t prove it by me.” She reached into a cloth bag at her feet and pulled out some fried mush cakes and gave both of the kids one. She offered one to Jack but he said he wasn’t hungry.
“You don’t much like mush do you?”
“I’ve eaten a bunch of it but it weren’t by choice and it sure ain’t my favorite.”
“Me neither but it was quick and easy and filled them up.”
They reached her kinfolk's place about mid-afternoon. An old man and woman were working in a vegetable patch that looked like it was hoping for rain. The place didn’t look like much but it was still a damn sight better than the place they’d left behind.
The older woman pulled off her bonnet and hugged Sarah and the kids. Jack could see the tears in the eyes of the two women.
The first thing Jack did was to untie the milk cow from the back of the wagon. He was surprised the animal had survived the journey. The man came forward and after introducing himself to Jack he took the cow and walked toward the barn.
Jack drove the wagon close to the well and started drawing water for his animals. While the horses were drinking Jack started carrying supplies to the house.
Sarah asked, “Did you buy that stuff for us?”
“Some of it.”
It didn’t take long to unload the goods he’d bought in Lubbock. When they were done Jack reached into his coat and pulled out a paper sack full of hard candies. “When I’m gone give this to the kids.”
“Why don’t you give it to them?”
“It’ll mean more to them coming from you.”
She frowned and asked, “Are you leaving now?”
“Yeah, I’ve still got some daylight so I’m taking off.”
“If you ever get back this way I hope you’ll stop by to see us.”
Jack chuckled and said, “If I ever go crazy and decide to come back to the flatlands I’ll be sure to stop.”
She reached out her hand and squeezed his arm. “I don’t care what you say, Jack Parker, you are a good man and I hope to see you again.” She leaned in and kissed him on the cheek and then spun around and ran toward the house.
Jack was stunned by the kiss and it took him several moments before he could get his boots moving toward the wagon. He glanced at the house and saw the old man and woman standing there but Sarah and the kids were nowhere in sight. He gave a short wave and drove away heading south.
2:30 PM – October 27, 1870 – The Wolf and Wild Bill
He’d traveled several miles when he noticed that the big grey horse was favoring his right rear leg. Jack stopped the wagon and looked at the gelding. He saw that the shoe on that hoof was coming loose. He hoped that was all of the problems.
Jack saddled Bucky and rode on down the trail looking for a place he could stop for the night. He found a cottonwood tree close to a small creek. As things go in that country it was pretty damn close to the Garden of Eden. Jack rode back, unsaddled Bucky and replaced him in the team, and tied the big grey to the back of the wagon. Bucky didn’t like to pull a wagon and wasn’t at all happy about being in the traces.
When they got to the camping spot Jack unhitched the team and led all the horses down to the water. After they were watered he fed them some oats. There was a small patch of green grass near the creek so he hobbled the horses and let them graze.
Jack rustled up enough wood to have a small campfire. He put on a pot of coffee and placed a can of beans close enough to the fire to warm up.
After he’d eaten he spread out his bedroll in the wagon and settled down for the night. Sleep didn’t come easy. He kept remembering Sarah leaning in and kissing him on the cheek. He also thought about her invitation to come back to see her. Sarah was a fairly attractive woman who seemed easy enough to be around. Jack admitted to himself that he might like to see her again but he knew the sadness in the eyes of those kids was probably enough to keep him away.
When the sun came up Jack took a closer look around his campsite. He had camped at a lot worse places and decided to stay there another day to let the gelding’s leg rest and recover.
He decided to use the rest time to clean himself and his clothes. He got the tub and a bucket out of the wagon. He put the tub by the fire and filled it with water from the creek. He had bought a bar of lye soap in Lubbock. He stripped off his clothes and used the soap and a rag to wash his body. When he was done he dumped his dirty clothes into the tub and sat naked by the fire while the water washed some of the dirt and stink out of his pants and shirt.
After his clothes were dry he got redressed in case any travelers came by. Jack fished around in the wagon and got out his copy of The Last of the Mohicans and started reading. It was the only book Jack owned and even though he had read it numerous times, he still found it enjoyable. His thoughts drifted back to the old man and woman that took him in when he was a little kid. There was no doubt he would’ve died if it wasn’t for them. The old lady teaching him to read was one of the best things that ever happened to him. Every time he thought of the couple he felt bad about stealing one of their horses and leaving without saying goodbye. Like he told Sarah, he wasn’t a good man.
Along about noon Jack heard a wagon coming down the track. He decided that if he strapped on his gun belt he might look more frightening than he wanted but he didn’t want to be unarmed. He unholstered one of his Colt Army revolvers and stuck it in his pants at the small of his back. With his coat on, the weapon wouldn’t be noticeable.
Jack walked out toward the trail to meet the traveler. The big wagon was being pulled by four mules and was driven by a large man with a long grey beard. After making those observations the next thing Jack noticed was a huge shaggy dog trotting beside the wagon. Jack thought that anyone who meant harm to the wagon driver was going to have a serious problem with that animal.
Jack stood there with his hands in plain sight so as not to alarm the driver or the dog. The wagon stopped next to him and the driver asked, “Are you having trouble young fella?”
“Not so much. One of my horses has a loose shoe so I decided to take a little break to let his leg rest some.”
“How far have you traveled?”
“I left Amarillo about a week ago.”
“See any Injuns.”
“Nope and not much else either. How far is the next town?”
“A little place called Snyder is about five miles ahead.”
“Is there a blacksmith there?”
“Yeah, and he’s capable enough.”
“Is that a wolf?”
“Yeah. It’s a full-blooded grey wolf.”
“How’d you come to own him?”
The driver kind of laughed and said, “I don’t reckon I own him any more than he owns me. We travel together but I damn sure don’t try to boss him around. I came upon him caught in a trap. I don’t know why I did it but I decided to try to get him loose. I’d killed many a wolf before so I can’t rightly say why I didn’t do the same to him. It took some time to get a noose over his snout so he couldn’t bite and then I got his leg free. When I left, he followed along ‘bout a half-mile back. I weren’t real sure he wasn’t waiting to kill me. The first night I camped I just tried to ignore him thinkin’ he’d go away. He just kept on followin’ me and I started giving him some food and water. After ‘bout a week he started comin’ up to my fire and has been taggin’ along with me ever since.”
When he finished his tale about the wolf, the man said, “If you think your horse is rested enough you could follow along behind me to Snyder.”
Jack thought about it briefly. He decided he was starting to get bored so he said, “He’s probably ok. I’ll put my saddle horse in front to help pull. He don’t like it much but for a short way it’ll work.”
“While you’re getting hitched up I’ll pull my mules over to get some water.”
In about 15 minutes they were on their way to Snyder. When they got to the little settlement the wagoneer led Jack to the blacksmith shop and they both got off their wagons. The driver held out a big hairy hand and said, “My name’s Bill Elliott but some people call me Wild Bill.”
Jack took the offered hand and said, “I’m Jack Parker and I’ll just call you Bill if that’s ok with you.”
The man laughed and asked, “Do you know Hickok?”
“Not much, but I ‘spect I know him about as much as I care to, and I reckon one Wild Bill is more’n enough.”
The man laughed and then led Jack to a small café to get something to eat.
It was the first meal Jack had eaten in many a moon that someone else had cooked and he thoroughly enjoyed it. The cook was a heavyset older woman named Hattie who had a quick smile and a hearty laugh and Jack liked her immediately.
When he got back to the blacksmith the man had finished replacing the shoe on the gelding but he showed Jack that he had a cracked spoke on one of the back wheels. He told Jack it would take at least a day to fix and showed him where he could park his wagon under a roof in the unlikely event it rained. The men turned Jack’s horses out into the man’s corral.
Jack walked around the little town. There wasn’t much to it but what there was seemed alright. About 5:00 in the afternoon he walked back to the café to eat supper. Bill Elliott came in and joined Jack at his table.
“Where’s the wolf?”
“Out in the country someplace. He don’t much like people and most folks around here feel the same way about him. When I take off he’ll find me and follow along.”
It took the blacksmith longer than he thought to fix the wagon wheel but Jack was enjoying the food at Hattie’s café so the delay didn’t bother him much.
7:00 AM – October 29, 1870 – Headin’ south Fat and Happy
Jack was a little bit sorry to leave Snyder. Although he was anxious to continue his journey to Austin, he’d enjoyed his brief, if unplanned, stop in the little town. The people he met there were friendly and he liked Wild Bill Elliott the wolfman, and the café owner Hattie. He was hopeful that whenever and wherever he stopped to settle he could find some folks like them that he could get along with.
He was pretty sure the repairs to the wagon wheel were good and would hold up. He was a little more concerned about the gelding’s leg so he decided he would take it slow and make frequent rest stops.
Even though the land was starting to show hints of a more varied landscape the country Jack was traveling through was still mostly a flat, treeless, windswept, and generally unwelcoming place. Most of the grass was dry from lack of rain but when he chanced on a patch of green grass he would stop to let the horses graze. Other than an endless sea of tall grass, most of the other vegetation was prickly pear cactus, yucca, and scrub mesquite bushes. He figured the buffalo and the hearty longhorns could survive in this area but anyone settling these parts with the idea of farming was chasing fool’s gold in Jack’s opinion.
With the frequent stops, they didn’t make very good time and had to spend a cold windy night on the prairie. Because of the wind and dry conditions, Jack didn’t want to take the risk of having a campfire. He bundled up as best he could and tried unsuccessfully to sleep. Sunup came none too soon and Jack was chilled to the bone by the time he started south.
October 30, 1870 – “A day to forget”
Anyone looking at Jack’s journal would likely wonder about an entry like that. Jack often thought about it too, since it was a day that was burned into his brain.
Jack and his team of horses were about halfway between the small towns of Snyder and Sweetwater. The wagon just crested a small hill when Jack saw a man standing beside the dirt track. Paying close attention to his surroundings was something that came naturally to Jack and was probably the only reason he was still alive. At first glance, he noticed the man’s bedroll was rolled up long and straight. It looked like his bedding was wrapped around a rifle. That didn’t bother him. A man alone in this country ought to have a way to protect himself. Still, it was something to keep in mind.
As he got closer he could see the man was tall, skinny, and had a scraggly red beard. Jack stopped the wagon beside the young man and asked, “Where ya headin’?”
“Austin,” the traveler replied without offering any additional information.
Jack immediately decided that he didn’t want to be committed to taking this fellow all the way to Austin so he said, “Go around and get in. I can take you partway.”
“How about you sliding over, Mister? I sorta like to have my right hand free.”
“I ain’t moving over, Red. If you want a ride go around.”
The red-haired man just stood there like he was thinking it over.
“Suit yourself.” Jack snapped the reins and the horses started moving.
“Hey, hey, hold up,” the man yelled as he started running to catch the wagon.
Jack reluctantly pulled back on the reins to stop the team. The man crawled up into the seat without a word of thanks. Jack was starting to regret his decision not to strap on his pistol belt that morning. He did have his Bowie knife on his belt but a gun would have been better.
They rode without conversation for about 20 minutes before the young man started talking. ”My name ain’t Red, it’s Clay, like Clay Allison, the gunfighter.”
Jack thought the young man might be a little addled but he finally said, “My name’s Jack, like a jackass, the mule.”
A little more time passed and the redhead asked, “You know Bill Longley?”
“You mean the killer?”
“He ain’t no killer, he’s a gunfighter! He only kills people that try to kill him! I’m going to meet him and learn from the best.”
Thinking about it later Jack knew he should’ve kept his mouth shut but he’d never been worth a damn at doing that.
“Bill Longley’s crazier than a shithouse rat. He’s plumb loco all the time and drunker than a skunk most of the time. From what I’ve heard, most of the people he’s killed were shot in the back with a shotgun.”
“You’re a lying son of a bitch!”
Jack pulled back on the reins and was starting to set the brake when he saw the man’s right hand reach across his belly and pull out a big pistol. Jack immediately grabbed the gun with his left hand. He got his hand around the hammer so the gun couldn’t be cocked or fired. The two men started fighting for all they were worth with their free hands.
Jack was using his right hand to hit his attacker anywhere he could but none of the blows seemed to be having any effect. The man was twisting and turning to avoid Jack’s fist while using his free hand to try to pry Jack’s left hand off the pistol.
After a short, but violent struggle on the wagon seat the men toppled out and fell to the ground. They both landed hard but neither stopped fighting. It had become obvious that this was a battle to the death. Jack was the bigger man and had landed on top. He should’ve had an advantage but it was working out to be a mighty damn slim one. Since the blows from his fist didn’t seem to be affecting his opponent, Jack reached behind his back to get his Bowie. Somehow the damn knife handle had got tangled in his coat and wouldn’t come loose. The hammer of the pistol was digging painfully into his palm and he knew that he was mighty damn close to losing his grip on the gun. Jack looked around for anything he could use as a weapon and saw a big rock within reach. Desperately, he grabbed the rock and slammed it as hard as he could into the middle of the red-bearded face. As soon as it struck, the object he thought was a rock broke into pieces and Jack saw that it was nothin’ but a damn big dirt clod. Dust and sand covered the man’s face and filled his eyes. He started using his free hand to try to wipe the dirt from his eyes. Jack realized he still had a big chunk of the clod in his hand. He pushed it into the man’s open mouth and kept his hand over his lips so he couldn’t spit it out. Jack also pushed two fingers as far up into the guy’s nose as he could reach. The tide of battle turned in a hurry. ‘Red Beard’ let go of the pistol so he could use both hands to clear his mouth and nose. As soon as Jack felt his left hand released he brought it up to help cover the nose and mouth of his enemy. Jack pressed his body down on top of his hands to help smother the man he was trying to kill. The dying man continued to fight, but it was no use, he had already swallowed too much dirt and was choking to death. Jack could feel the man’s struggles weakening but he kept his hold until he knew the man was good and dead.
Jack rolled off the body and lay on the ground panting for several minutes. When he could finally move he struggled to his feet and looked slowly around. He was relieved to see the horses hadn’t gone very far before stopping. He weakly staggered to the wagon and leaned against the side while he took a drink from his canteen. When he had regained some of his strength, he saddled Bucky and walked him back to the dead man.
He took ‘Red Beard's gun belt off and holstered the pistol they had been fighting over. Jack was pretty short on clothes so he took the man’s boots and pants. He tied a rope around the feet and then mounted Bucky and they drug the body about 100 yards off the road and left it for the critters back behind a big mesquite bush.
When he got back to the wagon, Jack looked up and down the dirt road but didn’t see any other travelers coming their way. He tiredly unsaddled Bucky. He knew he must look a sight so he tried to knock as much dirt off his clothes as possible. He got a wet rag and cleaned his face and hands and then climbed up onto the wagon and continued toward Sweetwater.
Killing wasn’t nothin’ new to Jack. He’d done in more than his fair share of men. Most, he had shot from a distance. Several he had gunned down at close range. He had even killed two men with knives. He was only about 13 years old when he killed his first man. The older man tried to use him like a woman. After a struggle, Jack used the man’s own knife to gut him. He emptied the attacker’s pockets and left town on the man’s horse. The second man he killed with a knife was another buffalo hunter. He and the other man got into a drunken brawl over something, but Jack had never been able to remember what the hell the fight was about. What started as a fistfight quickly turned into a deadly battle with knives. When he woke the next morning the other hunters were dividing the dead man’s goods.
Of all the ways he had killed men, using dirt to smother someone was the worst weapon he had ever used and he hoped like hell he never had to do it again. It struck him as particularly strange that the man he killed with dirt was named Clay.
Jack headed on south toward Sweetwater hoping he’d be out of the area before the dead man was found. Wanting to get as far away from the dead man as he could, Jack didn’t stop until he was well south of Sweetwater. There wasn’t much there to stop for anyway. He didn’t see many people and didn’t think many folks paid any attention to him as he passed through.
Once he was well past Sweetwater, Jack took time to examine the pistol that he and the would-be gunfighter had fought over. The barrel was stamped ‘Smith and Wesson, Model 3.’ It was a big revolver and held six metallic .45 caliber shells. There was a release on the side that allowed the barrel to tilt down and automatically eject the spent shells. Jack could see that it would be a lot easier and faster to reload. After his experience at the Canadian River when his Colt percussion pistols misfired because of moist powder he was glad to have a better weapon. He laid it on the wagon seat beside him and covered it with a blanket.
When he was about 20 miles south of the little settlement he found another small creek bordered by some wind-swept trees. Jack was exhausted from the wagon ride and his fight and decided to stop for the night and let the horses rest and graze. After tending to the animals, Jack made a fire ring from some rocks and got a small fire going.
After eating a can of beans and some hardtack, he unrolled the bedroll the red-headed man had carried. He was happy to find a nearly new Winchester Model 1866 rifle. It was nearly the same as his Henry but had a wooden forestock on the barrel. This was a big improvement over the Henry since the barrel offered no protection to the shooter’s hand and would get very hot after several shots. Jack felt a lot better armed now in case he encountered Indians or outlaws.
Early the next morning Jack and his horses were back on their way south toward Austin. He was pretty sure the next town he would hit was Abilene and he thought if it looked alright he might stop there for a few days before continuing his trip to a new life.