Cowboy Days

Jack was a good old guy. He never complained when things got rough. Seems we were on that old trail for near six months. I got saddle sores and the worst case of toe crude I’ve ever had. Jack and me go back a long ways. Why I remember the first time we met during a cattle drive. The year was 1861 and Jack was just a young man of 17 years. Him and I took to friendship right off. I wasn’t much good at roping but I could shoot a quarter off a fence at 50’. It wasn’t that we wanted to be outlaws, but times was bad, and we couldn’t see no way to survive otherwise. It was kind of scary at first, but exciting at the same time. Jack and I spent the night hunting for squirrels and rabbits just out side of Laredo, Texas. By nightfall I had got a good size rabbit and we both sat down by the campfire to roast up that meal, when Jack said, “tell you what, I’ll bet we could ride into town tonight and get us a hot bath and a comfortable nights sleep in a real bed!” “ I don’t know Jack, we’re near busted and if we don’t be careful we could get arrested for vagrancy come sun up.” Jack pondered a bit and said ok lets ride in for a poker game then. We may get lucky. Yea, ok but let me play for both of us, so we’ll have enough betting money to cover the game. Jack agreed so we pulled up our camp and rode towards town. Along the way we saw 3 cowboys sleeping under a big pine tree. They suddenly jumped up due to us startling them. They seemed a little nervous. I yelled out,” no cause to stir my friends, as we’re just passing through. They settled down as we rode by. Seems I’d seen one of them before, but I couldn’t recollect where. As we approached the edge of town, I could smell the flavor of fresh bacon being cooked, and it made my stomach start groaning. Boy Jack, maybe we ought to get some home cooking first. Ok, replied Jack, long as it don’t cost more than .50 cents. The closer we got the hungrier I got. The aroma was bursting with flavor as we rode up to the town saloon.

You could just tell that bacon smell was going to mean flapjacks too. Just as we hitched our horses, I looked up on the saloon step to catch a glimpse of a tall booted gal that I could’ve swore I had seen back in Montana when Jack and I was working as cowhands on old man Barker’s Rocking T Ranch. She was a might slim with long dark hair that must of run down passed her waist by a good 6”. As we turned to go into the saloon she winked at me and said, ”Howdy strangers, what brings you boys into town?” Jack just kept going towards the door and paid no mind. I on the other hand felt compelled to reply. “ Why miss we’re just down from north Texas looking for a job. My partner is plumb hungry and he’s kind of shy. Its nice to make your acquaintance. Maybe we’ll see you again ,”, Then I strolled into the saloon with Jack. We walked up to the bar and noticed just about everyone there was nervous and were all watching every move we made. To break the silence, I said “ my what good smells are coming out of here. Me and Jack would be much obliged if you could serve up some of those vittles you got here. “ The barkeep nodded, and walked into the back room. While we were waiting, I noticed the man standing next to us was a U.S. Marshal. He turned and said. “Where you boys headed ?” I don’t rightly know as yet, we just got into this area and we’re looking for work. With a half grin he turned and said. “You best keep riding after supper, as we don’t like strangers in our town, and you could wind up in my jail across the way if I see you cause any trouble. “Why marshal we don’t aim to cause trouble, nor stick around we’re just here to have supper. With that, the marshal walked away and went outside. Just then, three shots rang out. Jack, and I turned around to the door just in time to see the marshal fall flat on his back with guns drawn and blood all over himself. He looked like he was dead when he hit the floor. The rest of the saloon customers ran towards the back room. Jack, and I looked at each other and both realized we better get out of there pronto. As we turned towards the back of the saloon to exit, I could see two riders come right through the swinging saloon doors riding their horses. Guns drawn they proceeded to shoot up everything in the place. Jack, and I made haste and slipped out the back.

Just as we came out the back door of the saloon, another rider rode up from the alley with guns drawn. Hold it right there or I’ll plug you full of holes he said. Jack and I froze in our tracks. Just then both the riders in the saloon came out and dismounted. “Say your prayers, you two, as you’re about to meet your maker”. Said the third rider. I heard all three guns cock, and they took aim right at us. I closed my eyes, as I didn’t want to see it happen. Even though it was just a few seconds that passed by, it felt much longer. All of a sudden the shots rang out. I started to fall from shaking so bad, but realized I hadn’t been shot. I opened my eyes, and was face to face with those same three cowboys that we had rode by on the trail just out of town. One of them walked closer and said, “I don’t have any quarrel with you two pokes, it’s the town’s people I’m after. They hung my brother last week and I intend to get them for it. He was accused of stealing a horse, but I know it wasn’t him because, I stole it! Where you from?” Well, I’m originally from Wise county, Texas,, and Jack’s from Kansas, I replied. We’re just looking for work! The gunfighter looked mean, and desperate, but you could tell he had a mild side to him as well. “You two want to ride with us?” O.k. I replied, but what do you do? The tall gunfighter said,” we rob banks, and trains. Fearing the worst I was afraid to say no. “Yap, sounds good to me, I said.” What’s your name asked one of the gunfighters? “ I’m Charlie Bryant, and my friend is Texas Jack. Who might you fellows be I asked?” Why, we are the Dalton brothers. I’m Emmett, he’s Bob, and my other brother is Grat Dalton. Brother Bill Dalton is back on the trail waiting for us, so we best skedaddle out of here.

Just as we were mounting our horses, the deputy sheriff came around the corner. Bob raised his Winchester, and shot him right in the stomach. The deputy fell back toward the street and fired his six shooter on the way down to the ground. He was dead before he hit the ground. We mounted our horses, and rode as fast as we could out of town in a hail of bullets shot by the town’s people.

It seems we were riding near an hour when suddenly Bob who was leading stopped.” We’re here” he said. “Now ride easy less we scare brother Bill who usually shoots first, then sees what’s coming.” Just then I saw the brother walk up the trail with guns drawn. “Hold it” yelled Bill. “ Its us, and we got some new partners.” As we dismounted I noticed Jack was limping. “ What’s wrong Jack? “ Jack didn’t say a word. He just dropped to the ground. We all rushed over. Jack was bleeding awful bad from a back wound. We brought him over to the campsite and pulled off his shirt. Grat the educated brother, who helped the doctor in his home town pushed us away to get a clear look. About five minutes of digging with a pocket knife, he managed to retrieve the bullet. I was terrified. Grat turned to me and said. “I’m not sure he’ll make it. He’s lost a lot of blood. I’d known Jack since we was teenagers punching cows on a cattle drive. I had a lump in my throat when I walked over to Jack. He just looked up and grabbed my hand. “Charlie, If I don’t make it, I just want you to know I’ve loved you like a brother. Please let my sister back in Kansas know I love her too!” My tears started to stream as my face began to tighten. Just then he dropped his head and closed his eyes. I had no time to tell him how I felt about him too! There was so many things left unsaid. He will never again be there for our good times, or hardships that we always shared together. I began to wail and grabbed his arm. “Don’t die, you can’t die. Jack don’t die, I love you too! The other men just stood there in silence as I wept. No amount of comfort or talk, or excitement can stop the pain I was feeling that night. Jack was all I had. He was my family. I’ll never forget him. One of the Dalton’s tried to console me, but I just couldn’t stop crying. I finally walked over to the campfire and sat down, and drifted off to sleep. As the sun came up over the mountains in the distance we all began to wake up. I looked over to Jack, but he was gone. I jumped up and screamed “ where’s Jack?” Bill walked over and pointed at a grave marker by some large rocks. “We didn’t think you could do it during your grief, so we all pitched in and set him to rest. Lets say a few words and mount up.” Just as he said this, I looked up and saw off in the distance a cloud of dust coming right at us. “We best get out of here screamed Emmett, or we’ll all wind up like old Jack.” There must have been fifty riders coming very fast straight at us. We mounted and rode west as fast as we could. By noon we had lost them in a canyon area that had a lot of large gullies and turns. We all wanted to stop for a rest, but we knew unless we got a good distance between us and the posse they’d finish us off. Around late afternoon we rode into a canyon with a stream and we spotted a small town not too far off. Emmett said “ Lets ride into town and steal some new horses and get some rest and grub. We felt pretty good about out running the posse so we all agreed. When we arrived, the town was having a celebration of some kind which made it easy for us to fade in. After a good hot meal and bath, I decided to check out the town. Just as I was walking by the livery stable, I saw the most beautiful bank I ever laid eyes on. Quickly I ran back to Emmett. He said, “ yea we could use some excitement. First thing in the morning we’ll plan a hold up.”

The next morning we all met at the saloon for breakfast. Emmett was late. Seems he was up most of the night drinking and nursing a touch of the gout. After breakfast, Emmett said, “ our best bet to rob this bank is at night while the towns people are all asleep.” He said he checked it out last night and there wasn’t any guards at the bank and the marshal wasn’t even sleeping at the jail. “they must be pretty lax on security, or they plum ain’t been robbed before”, said Grat. I suppose everyone thought it would be as easy as roping a calf., but as it turned out we were dealing with a lot more than we bargained for. About 9 pm, all of us met just outside the post office. Grat said, “ok, lets go in through the back door and get this thing going.” Emmett stood in front of the bank as a look out while the rest of us went behind the bank. Right off we weren’t sure which door was the bank. There were 3 doors on the back. The middle door was my guess, so we started prying at the lock. Just as we were getting the door open, somebody opened it from inside and scared us so bad we fell off the steps leading to it. Bill drew his gun but the stranger inside closed the door and locked it from the inside. “Now what do we do?” I screamed. Bill just stood there bewildered and said” Let’s go get Emmett”. We all ran around the side of the building to come face to face with a U.S. marshal. “What are you polks doing out here tonight?” asked the marshal. “Well, I paused, just looking for our friend Emmett. Have you seen him?” “Yea I did, but he left to go to the saloon. You best be moving on, as I don’t like strangers walking around my town at night.” “We’re going”. Grat replied. Bill said let’s go over to the saloon and see Emmett. When we walked in, Emmett was over in the corner throwing darts. Grat walked over and whispered to Emmett, “what are we going to do?” Emmett looked up and replied. We’re going to rob the bank. With that he set the darts down, and we all walked out . At this point Emmett was mad as a hatter. We all walked over to the bank and while the street was deserted and quiet, we broke open the front door, and snuck in. Bill having the safe cracking talent , went right for the bank safe and started to work on it. It wasn’t long and the safe was open. We loaded the money into our pockets, and made our break. Just as we mounted our horses, the marshal figured out what we did, and started shooting at us. I’d had enough of that and took good aim and shot him right in the stomach. He keeled over and fell in front of a buckboard. “ I am sure he’s dead “yelled Emmett. “ Lets get out of here.” We all raced out of town. It wasn’t long after that night that we found out that the federal government was after us because we killed a U.S. marshal. Bob said he had a girl friend in Pecos county, New Mexico that we could hold up for a while, so we all headed for it. When we arrived there it was late Sunday night and we were all very weary from riding. After a couple days of rest we got more relaxed and forgot about the law. Early Wednesday morning, Bob’s girl friend Freda went out on the porch to feed the chickens, and all of a sudden it sounded like a thunder of bullets were hitting the front of the house. Freda must have turned us in for the federal reward money, cause she disappeared from our view. The next thing we knew, the place was surrounded by federal agents. Emmett walked by the front window, and was shot at least fifty times. We decided to make a run for it but Bob got hit as he was trying to get out the back door. Grat, Bill, and I were able to get mounted, but as we turned the horses, 15 agents confronted us with guns pointed straight at us. One of the federal agents stepped forward and said,” you boys best get down off those horses peacefully, or we’ll shoot you where you sit. Not wanting to die just then, we all three stepped down. Dropped our guns and were taken into custody. The agents seemed very professional about the whole thing and quickly tied our hands and put us in a wagon. Just as we were leaving the place I caught a glimpse of Freda standing on the porch talking to one of the agents. I turned to Grat and said, “ well I was right as rain, she turned us in.” “Don’t worry Charlie, we ain’t done with her yet!” said Grat. We were on the trail for three days when we finally arrived at a federal outpost. It seemed a lot like a military fort with tall log walls, and a huge iron gate at the entry. Beings we were very tired and hungry none of us were sad the ride was over. The agents put us in a stockade house in the center of the fort. They fed us and pretty much left us there without incident. On the fifth day an agent came in and introduced himself as the head agent of an outfit called Pinkerton, and told us we were being transferred to Austin, Texas to stand trial for the murder of a federal marshal. He didn’t see much hope in us getting out of a hanging, but the law required that we go through the proceedings anyway. The next morning the three of us and at least a dozen riders took off for Austin. About noon we were in some pretty rough terrain and Bill managed to get loose of his ropes and jumped off the wagon. His leg bolted out from under him when he landed on a boulder. One of the riders saw him so he didn’t hesitate to draw his gun and plugged him right in the back. Soon as it happened I figured we didn’t stand a chance of surviving to Austin so I leaped out of the wagon too. I ran behind some rocks and hid pretty good. I was sure they would find me but they seemed to go right by without any notice of my presence. They looked for quite a while, then went back to the wagon and in cold blood shot Grat at least two dozen times. I waited in my hiding place until the next day. When I woke up they were gone.

It’s been fifteen years now, and I was sure it was all behind me. Most of the people who knew me back then are either buried or moved away. I got a job as a blacksmith in a small town called Virginia City. Nobody knew me nor my past, so I felt right comfortable there. One day I was cleaning up after fixing a broken wagon wheel and got a shock of my life. This same tall booted gal Jack and I ran into in Laredo, Texas, walked up and said,”I’ve got a shoe thrown on my Palomino, can you fix it?” “Why you bet I can miss!” She looked at me kind of funny for a moment and said,” I remember you, you were one of the strangers in town back in Laredo the night our marshal was killed and the bank was robbed!” “You’re right, but I was just passing through, and had nothing to do with it.” She looked at me and replied, “well it’s been a lot of years anyway, and I think they caught all of them. “ we were never properly introduced, my name is Annie Oakley, what’s your name?” With a big smile I replied, “Just call me Charlie”.

The end