Western Short Story
The Big Booms
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

When Sgt. Montgomery “Monty” Reventer was discharged from the Union Army at the end of the Civil War, in May of 1865, he stripped off all his uniform and released his army gear to a mostly grumpy quartermaster. Thus freed from war, and its overlords, he headed west, an unemployed munitions expert, on his own in a small wagon, but with four cases of dynamite stashed under cover of canvas, dynamite he had smuggled from a previous station and kept hidden in a secret cave for due cause and circumstance, as he might have explained it, knowing what Alfred Nobel had accidentally loosed on the world as this man’s toy, his bombastic future for some new cause now in the hunt..

Monty’s dreams, of course, were loud if not clear, some future action being played out for him in his due role as hero of the hour: that he figured, the way life has its ups and downs, should be enough for any mortal man, already on his way to sudden brevity, quick fame, and surely a sudden and unknowing death.

His first stop, several days later, was drawn by the sight of a wagon train, in a gully for the night’s rest, and gathering up for its trip West. It was exactly what Monty needed. He was, from service learning, a reader of men and recognized at a distance the wagon master by his performance and activity practically at all hours. He watched the man in daylight activity and again at night by the light of several campfires as he checked out his nightly rounds as wagon master, boss and be-all at the head of a wagon train due for distance, personal demands, heroics by the ton, trouble, and whatever else lay out there ahead of them, waiting for all participants in the merge westward.

Monty sought him out the next day; the wagon master’s name was Stirling Moses, 6 feet of energy, a handsome wide face with an indeed strong jaw and piercing eyes, and an accompanying directness showing to one and all who was boss, who has last word as well as the first word, man responsible for life and limb as far as he could get them along the intended route.

“Sir,” Monty said in a direct approach, “I am Monty Montgomery, late of the Union army and the war, a munitions expert, who desires to head West, knowing that I can’t get there alone and I need some energy and abilities around me. I’m a hard worker, good at some things, capable at all efforts needed for a venture this size.” He spread his hands to include the whole wagon train.

“By Gawd, Monty, you make a great case for yourself and it’s my pleasure to invite you to be a working member of this unit. I’d be proud to bring aboard another veteran of the war. I was there, on your side, before an injury took me off the lines. We have several in our midst, all good men, and I’m sure you’ll be at tales before long. In fact, I was a member of the 1st Company Massachusetts Sharpshooters. And we were largely kept near General Benjamin Butler, one crazy-assed general who paraded on the front lines like a damned fool and needed the good eyes of us sharpshooters to save his ass on a number of occasions. We were good at it and from long range, too. Some days he didn’t know if he was winning or losing a battle until a messenger from another general advised him. Grant, I suppose, or Sherman, in the big buddies league with him.”

The pair of men shook hands, the wagon master and the munitions expert/dreamer, and, as we know, one of them being a purloiner of Federal supplies, and dynamite it was, to boot.

A few days later, wagon master Stirling Moses snapped his hand in the air and yelled, “Head ‘em out!”

They were on their way west, nobody knowing what they’d run into, but what waited on them in shadows, mountain passes, cliffs and gullies, the wide plains with sunken low spots where terror might hide in wait. It wasn’t just Indians that were the peril, but roving gangs of white thugs looking to stuff their pockets with stolen values of any sort.

Monty kept his eye on his smaller wagon, letting two boys take the reins to his team of horses on alternate days, paying them with odds and ends when he could, and sworn promises otherwise. Once he caught one of them trying to uncover the tightly-bound canvas on the dynamite crates.

“What the heck you got on their, Monty? It’s hard as rocks or lumber.”

“Oh,” Monty said, “It’s stuff for friends at a special time and we can’t tell anybody about it or it’ll spoil the surprise. When the time comes, you’ll get a big hick out of it, but you can’t tell a soul about it. I’m going to swear you into a club secrecy that makes you bounden to silence, a holy silence.

A jumble of inarticulate sounds, along with some hasty movements of his hands on their shoulders and atop the hearts, set the mystical stage for the youngsters bound to silence forever about the secret. Not another person tried to climb onto the small wagon.

A small party of Indians was driven off with no losses of wagon people, but two men were killed by a gang of thieves that rode in at night firing every which way, and Monty Montgomery dropped two of them from their saddles, his two shots unerring in the aim. Stirling Moses was pretty well proud of him, saluting him in a military fashion in the dawn of the next day.

Monty felt the first stages of his old dreams coming true. And one wagon daughter seemed to be stuck on Monty, hanging around whenever she could, unabashed at her openness.

The wagon train moved on, into Kansas territory, when one of its scouts reported to Stirling Moses that a large band of prairie thief’s had set up a large emplacement that lay ahead, which snagged the trail between the river on the wagon train’s south side and their emplacement on the north side.

Moses held a meeting with several of his men. He started out saying, “They’ll try to get us to send out a large party to roust them, but we’d be cut in half, at least. So, there’s no way we’re going to rush them. We’ll just have to stand fast for a while, see what happens. If they rush us, and I have no idea how many men they have, it’ll be tough. They probably have an impressive force.”

There were neither interjections nor suggestions, but Monty Montgomery knew his time had come. By all that was holy, the time was now! Monty hustled two crates of dynamite and firing cord off his wagon and put them on one of his mules, and out onto the grassy plain of Kansas, having no worries about the bandits being on any kind of alert, not afraid of the docile wagon train sitting between them and the river; it would be like squeezing a sponge, rushing the wagon train having nowhere to run.

The grass was mostly at a foot tall, perfect for his plans, and he dispensed the dynamite sticks in two rows, stepping off a precalculated distance for each stick and for each row, the cord lying practically unseen near the grass roots, and all sticks, in both rows, attached to two separate lines of cord.

His dreams rushed back over him, with each step, each endeavor, in perfect agreement. He couldn’t miss! Time was ripe. Time, all of it, had been waiting for him. It must have touched the girl back at the wagon train who favored him above all others. Wait until she hears about this.

Back at the wagon, he explained everything to Moses. “What we must do, for it to work, is to show them we are coming at them in force. Make them come at us. That’s all we need.”

His pause was dramatic. He was into this all the way and he had to have Moses with him in it. The pair agreed, orders issued, horses mounted, a show of force visible to the whole Kansas plain. It was a formidable force of men, and it was impotent when deeply measured against the task. Some men, not aware they were playing games for show, belly-ached, grumped, openly cursed the odds, but stayed on their mounts.

There was activity on the headlands as some gang scouts had observed the mass of men mounting their horses. He galloped to spread the alarm. And they rose as a massive force, every man of them, ready to rush the wagon train, get their share of riches, goods, women. It would be a fiery blaze before they were through and a pile of bodies with not a word spoken in their behalf.

To this day, some folks talk about that rush of devils against their weaker prey, how the rushed forward in the attack, half a hundred of them armed to their teeth, bent in death, destruction. darlings in the mix.

They came past the first line of dynamite, unseen, hidden in or by the grass, screaming, firing their weapons in irregular batches of bullets rushing through the air, the sounds of a horror show at work, when goods purloiner, thief, dreamer, touched off the second if his lines of cord, just as the mob of bandits reached it.

Boom! Bang! Bong! The sticks of dynamite blew up in their midst, tossing them and their horses and a ton of debris and animals and bodies in the mix of air and explosion, a line of it across the Kansas prairie. Those left on their mounts, or able to run on foot, scrambled to return to their campsite.

Most of them did not make it, as purloiner of Federal goods, munitions expert, army veteran of the Civil War, one Montgomery “Monty” Reventer, set off the second line of dynamite sticks across a length of Kansas prairie.

The air carried a sudden stillness. A young lady placed her hand in a young man’s hand, a wagon master heading west, saluted another veteran of the Great War.

They held their joy in check. until the night fires began to flicker.