Western Short Story
The great horse lunged ever forward as its thundering hooves pounded the earth beneath its rider. The high-desert brush whipped at its forelegs as the surefooted beast raced with dangerous abandon through unfamiliar territory. Its massive chest heaved as it gasped for air. Its mouth was thick with froth and its hair glistened heavy with sweat.
The rider leaned into the horses’ shoulder, shouting for the animal to give more. Forcing him onward, pushing him for all he was worth, refusing to slow down.
To lessen the pace could mean his death, or even worse…capture.
The briskness of the pace had caused the rider to lose his hat. The wind had whipped it from his head and left it forever lost to the desert sage. There was no thought of a quick retrieval, for the moment was too serious and the time was too short.
The horses’ name was Rusty. He was a huge bay gelding, three years old, in his prime, and as sure-footed on the high desert as any wild mustang.
The rider went by the name of “Arizona Kid”.
He didn’t choose it. It was given to him as a moniker by seasoned newspapermen and young authors of dime novels from back east. He had never been to Arizona, but that didn’t matter, the name had stuck. It was written on the wanted posters that bore a crude, pencil-sketched resemblance of his face.
His real name was Chester Peabody, but ‘Arizona Kid’ was a much more ‘appealing’ name for a famous outlaw, or so the reporters and authors would have their readers believe. They took abundant liberties with the facts surrounding his crimes. They believed they had the authority to write whatever they wished as long as it sold more papers.
Chester didn’t consider himself an outlaw. He always thought of himself as more of a survivor. Only doing what was necessary to keep himself alive. Most of what he took, he sent back east to his wife and children who lived in Boston. They needed the money as much as he did, maybe more. They appreciated the money Chester was making in the gold fields out west. They never knew where it really came from.
Chester’s story started five years earlier. Chester B. Peabody, family man, accountant, 24 years old and very unhappy. His days were spent shuffling a mountain of legal paperwork for a company that protected the financial investments of the very rich. He was paid very little for his expertise.
His free time was spent with his head buried in the local papers reading endless stories of fortunes being made out west. Stories of gold, and of the men who found it. The papers claimed that a man could just pick it up off the ground by the bucketful. Make a fortune in a day without even breaking a sweat. The discovery of gold out west was real all right. But little did Chester realize, these stories were puffed up to sell more papers and didn’t hold much more than an once of truth.
Even so, the adventure of traveling west and the prospect of finding gold had consumed him to the point of leaving his work and family to go in search of it. On the day he headed west he told his wife and children not to worry. He would be back in short order and they would all be rich.
That was five years ago. And like so many other men lured to the west by stories of wealth and grandeur, it didn’t take Chester B. Peabody long to realize there was a lot more hard work and good luck involved in becoming wealthy from gold than the papers led him to believe. Like most of the men who were lured by the dream of fast and easy riches, he soon become discouraged.
With his money running low and an unhealthy disposition for long hours of manual labor, he tried to find work at what he knew best. But there wasn’t much call for accountants in the mining camps or small towns of the area. He had long since made up his mind. He wouldn't be returning to his family in Boston. His situation was becoming desperate and he needed to find a solution.
Finding an answer to what he could do to earn some much needed cash was taking too long. His financial situation soon forced him to take desperate measures.
Chester B. Peabody did what he once thought unthinkable. He robbed a bank. A bit of forethought and planning made it easier than he had expected. From that point on there was no turning back.
Soon after, he robbed another. With each successful robbery he became more emboldened and expanded his new way of life to include an occasional stagecoach. It didn’t really matter, they both carried money and he was more than willing to take it whenever necessary.
Chester had soon committed so many robberies he lost count. A close call from time to time came with the territory, but he never got caught. He attributed his narrow escapes to careful planning and his horse, Rusty.
He had purchased the horse from a wealthy rancher up in Wyoming a little over two years ago. He was gelded but still a little feisty. If there was one honest thing Chester was good at, it was horses. It came natural to him like breathing the desert air or soaking up the summer sunshine. He knew how to pick a good horses and he knew how to handle them.
As Chester had expected, Rusty proved to be fast, and long-winded too. He could outrun and out distance any horse that dared to challenge him. That is…until today.
Chester had planned another flawless bank holdup. His early morning timing was perfect. Only the bank manager and one lone teller were in the building when he entered. What he hadn't counted on was an astute old-timer who sat on his customary bench in front of the barber shop across the street. When Chester left the bank, the bench was empty. The old-timer was on his way to the sheriff's office, well aware of what was taking place at the bank.
The sheriff proved hard to find. Chester had dodged a bullet. A posse was formed as soon as the teller reported the news. Chester had less than a twenty minute head start.
Within the hour a determined posse was closing in on him. Chester saw them coming and spurred his horse into an all out run. He had been at full speed for close to fifteen minutes and Rusty was beyond tired. The way things were going, if lady luck refused to show herself, it wouldn’t be long before Rusty had had enough or the posse's lead horse would bring the Sheriff within shooting range.
Seems Rusty had met his match. Although most of the posse had lost ground, the sheriff was gaining on him. In what seemed like a heartbeat the sheriff was within range. A single shot ring out. Rusty stumbled and collapsed to the ground spilling Chester from his saddle.
As the sheriff approached the Kid, he found him kneeling on the ground stroking the forehead of his trusted steed. The horse lay quiet. No pounding hooves, no gasping for breath. The horse lay still as tears of grief rolled down Chester’s cheeks.
“You shot my horse,” he cried out in anguish.
“It would have been better for everyone concerned if I had shot you, and believe me, I was trying.” answered the sheriff.
He holstered his gun as the rest of the posse arrived. He dismounted and stepped up to the Kid. The others weren't so trusting. Their guns were out and ready for trouble.
“You had best stand up and drop that gun belt,” ordered the Sheriff. “I’m placing you under arrest for robbery and running from the law. This little chase you sent us on has winded all of our horses to the breaking point, and since you don’t seem to have one of your own at the moment, you’ll be on foot.”
The Sheriff cuffed Chester’s hands and tied a rope to them. The posse walked slow, giving their horses a much needed break as they towed the Arizona Kid back to town. He was paraded down main street like a trophy catch as they led him to the jailhouse.
Word traveled fast and the ensuing trial was sensational to say the least. Reporters and authors from across the country leaned on every word. They filled their newspapers and dime novels with sensational stories. The trial ended with the Arizona Kid being found guilty and sentenced to ten years of hard labor.
In prison, his way with horses became known and after several years he was put in charge of the prison stables. Upon his release he disappeared from sight. Blending into the fabric of society. He was never heard from again except for a brief moment in time many years later. A small town cub reporter out of Oregon was assigned to write a feature article on a little known stable in Kentucky that was making a name for itself. The stable had several prized thoroughbreds in its fold. They were all winning races and making a small fortune for their owners.
The article was published in a regional Oregon magazine. A couple of paragraphs mentioned an older man who worked as the head trainer for the stable. His name was Chester but he went by the name of ‘Arizona’. Nobody, including the reporter, made the connection. That was just fine with Chester, the ex Arizona Kid.