Western short Story
The Black Stallion Brigades
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

Dawkins Harold Embross, first called “Dawk” then called “Doc,” finally agreed he was “Doc,” degree or no degree, because his fetish, need, personal rage, was black stallions that he could raise and rate, and the blacker, the stronger, the better off he felt. Every cowpoke on his huge ranch in Idaho rode black stallions. Every member of his small band of thieves rode black stallions, but ranch hand and thieves had no interplay, none of one knew any of the other. Doc knew where his breads were buttered.

Stories, though, tend to grow, associate one way or the other, try to get melded. Whisperers do it, suspecting council members share their thoughts with friendly cohorts but not everybody; it did not pay to rile Doc who started and owned the bank at Devil’s Hill, had captured in devious and outright ways, control of huge amounts of real estate, such that the B-SBR (Black Stallion Brigade Ranch) covered a good chunk of Idaho plus a decent hunk of neighboring Wyoming.

“Doc,” as they might have said, “has got it made.”

Chuck Hogue was Doc’s ranch foreman with full control of all orders, duties and personnel responsibilities, down to the last detail. He was on top of every job, every task, every man, and worked himself like a machine, never finding himself short of energy, short of sight. His men knew that he had a grasp on all the trade from A to Z “Duke,” he once said to a ranch hand whose wife was expecting the birth of a child, “why don’t you go stay with your wife until that baby sleeps some night in your arms. We got things covered for you.”

He was Aces with his crew, the whole lot of them, and to new hires who quickly sided with him and his ways and turned-to in a hurry, all for the good of the crew.

Those words of Hogue’s went through the ranks and from one end of the bunkhouse to the other. A number of toasts were raised on high because of that temporary leave for a mere ranch hand.

On the other side of the coin, twists and turns, all mingling without order, ran rampant in the thieves’ end of Doc’s other command, the other end of him, which was run by a three-time escapee from western prisons, all his convictions on a combination of bank robbery, murders of bank employees or customers not heeding curt demands to lay down where they stood. He hired only men who had been through much of the Hell he himself had seen, or fomented.

That brutal gunner’s name, running heavy black in tons of wanted posters, warning people of his runaway style, was the one and only Mule Mullins, no other name ever known, ever printed, or ever admitted to as being a birth name. It made some folks say that Mule Mullins was never born of woman, but was cast up from Hell on the backside of an ornery mule also bent on getting out of Hell. He enjoyed telling the connecting stories to any new hire, to all the old members of the gang, some of them as bad as Mule but who never boasted of that feeling openly among each other, lest there be instant correction—by gunfire.

It had happened before: it would happen again; it was guaranteed.

Sheriffs, constables, wardens all heard how Mule shot husband and wife during one bank robbery when the husband tried to shield his wife; they ended up on the floor in their last coupling. The story gathered tons of weight and drive in the legal world.

Whenever Mule Mullins got his comeuppance, by whatever measure, there’d be a statewide parade, a territorial celebration.

Doc Embross had decided to rob his own bank at Devil’s Hill and had much earlier forbade any of his thieving gang to enter Devil’s Hill for any reason of their own, like a night on the town, women chasing, casual passage. He’d make sure their faces were not known there; there were better things to do, like “stiff” his own customers. Mule Mullins made sure that order was upheld. When the expected robbery date arrived, Doc directed his thieves to enter town singly or in pairs, so as to pose as strangers on the trail waiting to wet their lips at the saloon.

At the same time, he directed Chuck Hogue to take his men for a long holiday spree at another town, at least ten miles away from Devil’s Hill, with a half=price bar. Hogue thanked his boss for the gift and they set out for Grog Hill, the receptive town. But on that move from the ranch, a rear rider hustled up to Hogue and advised him, “Chuck, there’s two horses won’t make the trip to Grog Hill, shoe trouble.”

Hogue, thinking things over, decided loudly, “What the Hell, might as well take the short run to Devil’s Hill to get them shoes fixed. Their ride slowed somewhat, they arrived in Devil’s Hill, made arrangements to get the horses fixed and let his men amble off to the saloon. As soon as Hogue entered the saloon, he noticed a host of strange faces spread through the crowd, saw some converse with others on the way past the end of the bar and at a few tables. There was a definite connection between the odd faces, a couple of them as ugly as sin itself, like a common curse held in their mouths.

It set him into sharp alert, and he continued to watch from a far corner. There was, in his mind, enterprise of one sort or another in play, and he did not think it was for the good. He alerted his men to slip outside one by one, or an odd pair at loud jokes, and they gathered behind the local horse barn to hear a strange message.

“Listen close to what I’m going to say. There’s a bunch of unknown and weird critters in the saloon and I’m sure they’re up to no good. I think the only thing they’re thinking about is the bank, so form an unseen ring across the street from the bank. Keep hidden. Protect yourselves. If it comes to shooting, aim good. Watch out for townspeople on regular business. You can spot them easy enough. They are not part of those strangers gathered in the saloon. Be careful. Doc will not forget what we can do for him.”

Hogue never spoke truer words.

When strangers came idly out of the saloon, some gathering horses scattered about, some entering the bank, the fireworks soon started. It was later stated that Mule Mullins shot the bank president, then a clerk, and finally, the clerk’s wife when she started to scream, as callous a move ever made in a robbery.

The loot was grabbed from the open safe and from two teller’s places at the counter. It was thrust into three bags, and the four robbers rushed out of the bank.

To this day, Devil’s Hill’s citizens could well describe they sight they saw, as the robbers were met by a stream of gunfire from a near unseen cordon of shooters across the main road. Several went down, some dead and some to their knees, and the loot fell onto the dusty road of Devil’s Hill.

The sheriff arrested and took away some of the robbers, left the wounded lying in the dust, sent a rider to fetch Doc Embross, who loudly expressed his dismay at the sight, only reacting to Mule Mullins’ pointing his wounded fingers at Doc and saying, “He sent us. Said it would be a ‘a cakewalk.’’’

To this day, Hogue’s ranch, the Clear-Cut Edge, C-CE, is home to many descendants from both the winners and the losers of the Devil’s Hill robbery attempt. One of them remembered his grandfather saying, “That day I saw more black stallions than I ever saw at one time in my whole life. It was near miraculous.