Western Short Story
The Hunter Creek Incident
Christopher Scott

Western Short Story

Justin Bradley and his younger brother, Bill, were heading into town. It was early Saturday morning, but the sun had been up for several hours.

They were on their way to the Winfield General Store to pick up their good friend, Ellis Pratt. The three boys had planned to spend the day at their favorite fishing hole. The air was crisp and cool, and the cloudless sky assured the boys it would be a beautiful, warm and sunny summer day.

As the two boys rode down Main Street, they could see the sheriff off in the distance.  He stood in the street with the Banker and a few other men. They had gathered in front of the Winfield Bank building just across the street from the store. They were too far away to hear the conversation, but from the loud tone of their voices, they could tell it was something serious.

As they were hitching their horses in front of the store, Ellis burst through the door with the news of the day. “Somebody robbed the bank,” he exclaimed to his two friends with an air of excitement in his voice. “My dad had a meeting with Mr. Wills at the bank this morning. As they went inside, they discovered someone had broken into the safe. They got away with a bunch of money and some gold bars.”

Really,” declared Justin, with just enough emphasis to not sound too unconcerned. “That’s too bad. Are you ready to go fishing?”

With the news duly reported, Ellis dropped the subject. After all, fishing was what the boys had planned for the day.

You bet," replied Ellis. “Meet me around back, I still need to saddle up.”

As soon as Ellis finished saddling his horse he mounted up. The three friends were finally off to their favorite fishing hole along Hunter Creek. They laughed and joked with each other as they rode.

Their favorite spot along Hunter Creek was about an hour’s ride, but well worth it. The fish were big and always put up a good fight. And the grassy clearing allowed just enough sunlight to hit the water at just the right time of day.  The combination made for some great fishing.

The ride was easy and the conversation light hearted. As the boys rode up the last small rise before they hit the creek, Ellis slowed to a stop. He lifted his nose skyward as he sniffed the thin morning air, “I smell smoke,” he remarked.

Justin did the same. But before he had a chance to reply, the sound of gunfire broke through the trees and echoed off the nearby hills.

That sounded like it came from the creek!” they remarked to each other.

Justin and Bill were eager to get to the top of the rise to see what was happening up ahead, but Ellis was a bit more cautious. “Wait,” he called out. “We don’t know what’s up ahead. We could be riding into something dangerous.”

The three boys agreed that riding ahead might be a foolish idea, so they decided to dismount and tie the horses. They then hiked the short distance to the top of the rise, staying low for the last few feet. They hid themselves behind a couple of large boulders. Peering over the top, they looked toward the creek and the scene below.

In a small clearing next to the waters edge they could see a smoky campfire. Two horses were tied close by and two men were in the clearing. One was digging a hole and the other lay still on the ground.

I think the one on the ground is dead and the one doing the digging is going to bury him,” exclaimed Bill.

That’s a mighty small hole for such a big man,” remarked Justin.

The three boys watched as the man doing the digging stopped and walked over to the horses. Pulling a sack from one of the saddlebags, he removed some of the contents. He then placed the sack back into the saddlebag. Walking back over toward the hole he had dug, he took the sack and dropped it into the hole. 

He refilled the hole and placed a large stone over the top of it. Then walked back to the fire, picked up a cup that was setting close by and gulped down its contents.  

He was quick to gather his supplies, and wasted little time to mount his horse and ride off. He left the body where it laid. And as for the man’s horse, he left it saddled and tied to a tree
“Do you think he’s coming back?” inquired Bill.

He packed up his supplies, didn’t he,” replied Justin. “He’s not coming back.”

But what about the horse. You can’t just leave a horse tied up like that,” complained Bill.

You can if you don’t care." retorted Justin. From what I can see, this fella’ didn’t care much about the man he shot, so why should he care about what happens to that horse.”

So the boys decided to play it safe. They waited a few minutes just to be sure the killer wasn't planning to come back. And once they were sure, they headed back down the trail toward their horses.

They were soon heading down the hill toward the clearing. The first thing they did was check on the dead man. He was laying on his stomach so Ellis turned him over to get a good look. To his surprise he found the man was still alive, although just barely.

He’s alive,” shouted Ellis. “And I think he’s trying to say something.”

All three of the boys drew close to the injured man as he whispered his final words.
“Drake Tapper shot me.” His voice trailed off as he gave up his last breath and went limp.

Drake Tapper shot me,” repeated Ellis. “Did you hear that, we need to get this news back to town.”

Not so fast Ellis." stated Justin. "We’ve got some time. Let’s see what ‘Drake Tapper’ buried.” He began to work at moving the rock from off the freshly filled hole.

Bill and Ellis jumped in and gave him a hand. Once they had the rock off to the side, all three worked at scooping out the loose dirt. They soon reached the contents. Justin grabbed at what he believed to be a canvas bag and struggled to pull it free. It was indeed a canvas bag and whatever was in it was heavy. There was writing on the outside.

Bank of Winfield,” exclaimed the three boys, in unison.

Justin tipped the bag upside down and several bars of gold spilled out onto the ground. The bright sun reflected off the gold, and its brilliance must have blinded the boys’ sense of reason. They began to devise a plan on how they could keep it for themselves.

Drake Tapper must have taken the money,” Justin thought out loud. “The three of us are the only ones who know that he didn’t take the gold as well.”

Just what are you saying Justin,” inquired Ellis.

I’m saying, we could keep this gold for ourselves and no one would be the wiser.”

We could hide it,” agreed Bill. We could break it into pieces and whenever we needed money we could get some of it.”

I could always use money,” stated Ellis.

The three boys continued discussing how they would rebury the gold and what they would spend it on.

Finally, Ellis spoke up over the other two. “Wait a minute. We can’t do this,” he boldly stated. “This is wrong. This gold doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to the bank, to Mr. Wills and to the people of Winfield, including my pa. We can’t steal this. We have to do the right thing and return it to its rightful owners.”

Justin thought about it for a minute before picking up the gold bars and replacing them into the bag. “You’re right Ellis, we have to do the right thing. We need to load up this gold along with this body and haul them both back to town.”

Bill agreed. 

The three of them lifted, pulled and tugged until they had the body strapped across the man’s horse. Then together they headed back to town.

It was several days after the Hunter Creek incident. The Winfield sheriff received word that their was a bounty on the head of the dead man. He also heard that Drake Tapper had been apprehended. He still had most of the cash from the Winfield Bank in his possession. Mr. Wills was so thrilled to get most of the banks money back, he gave each of the boys a reward for their honesty. 

So the bounty was split between the boys for bringing in the body. And to top it off,  Mr. Wills gave each of the boys a brand new, bright and shiny, twenty-dollar gold piece.