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Back East, they told tall tales about Marshall Clay Halser, the fearless Civil War veteran who became known as the “Hero of the Plains” for his daring exploits in the Wild West. But the truth, as revealed in his private journals, is even more compelling.
A callow youth in search of excitement, Halser travels to the raucous cow towns of the frontier, where his steady nerve and ready trigger finger soon mark him as a gunfighter to be ...
Back East, they told tall tales about Marshall Clay Halser, the fearless Civil War veteran who became known as the “Hero of the Plains” for his daring exploits in the Wild West. But the truth, as revealed in his private journals, is even more compelling.
A callow youth in search of excitement, Halser travels to the raucous cow towns of the frontier, where his steady nerve and ready trigger finger soon mark him as a gunfighter to be reckoned with. As both an outlaw and a lawman, he carves out a legendary career. But fame proves to be the one enemy he can never outdraw–and a curse that haunts him to the bitter end . . . .
Praise for Journal of the Gun Years, Winner of the Spur Award:
"The best novel I read last year."
“The best western of the season!”
“The author gives his story a credibility and honesty unusual in the genre.”
“Breathtaking . . . first-rate . . . impossible to put down. Mr. Matheson has done something remarkable: with a single novel he has placed himself in the front rank of Western novelists.”
--Richard S. Wheeler, author of Virgin River
“A novel filled with remarkable surprises . . . a fine and unique book.”
--Ed Gorman, author of Sleeping Dogs
“A remarkable western novel. It strips the romanticism from the old West, but retains the blood-and-guts violence, as well as the high excitement of the frontier. Clay Halser’s journals are the stuff of myth.”
--Norman Zollinger, author of The Road to Santa Fe
“Journal of the Gun Years is a three carat diamond. Read and enjoy it without delay.”
--Max Evans, author of For the Love of Horses
“Some of the best damn writing Matheson’s done in his spectacular career.”
--Loren D. Estleman, author of Gas City
It is my unhappy lot to write the closing entry in this journal.
Clay Halser is dead, killed this morning in my presence.
I have known him since we met during the latter days of The War Between The States. I have run across him, on occasion, through ensuing years and am, in fact, partially responsible (albeit involuntarily) for a portion of the legend which has magnified around him.
It is for these reasons (and another more important) that I make this final entry.
I am in Silver Gulch acquiring research matter toward the preparation of a volume on the history of this territory (Colorado), which has recently become the thirty-eighth state of our Union.
I was having breakfast in the dining room of the Silver Lode Hotel when a man entered and sat down at a table across the room, his back to the wall. Initially, I failed to recognize him though there was, in his comportment, something familiar.
Several minutes later (to my startlement), I realized that it was none other than Clay Halser. True, I had not laid eyes on him for many years. Nonetheless, I was completely taken aback by the change in his appearance.
I was not, at that point, aware of his age, but took it to be somewhere in the middle thirties. Contrary to this, he presented the aspect of a man at least a decade older.
His face was haggard, his complexion (in my memory, quite ruddy) pale to the point of being ashen. His eyes, formerly suffused with animation, now looked burned out, dead. What many horrific sights those eyes had beheld I could not—and cannot—begin to estimate. Whatever those sights, however, no evidence of them had been reflected in his eyes before; it was as though he’d been emotionally immune.
He was no longer so. Rather, one could easily imagine that his eyes were gazing, in that very moment, at those bloody sights, dredging from the depths within his mind to which he’d relegated them, all their awful measure.
From the standpoint of physique, his deterioration was equally marked. I had always known him as a man of vigorous health, a condition necessary to sustain him in the execution of his harrowing duties. He was not a tall man; I would gauge his height at five feet ten inches maximum, perhaps an inch or so less, since his upright carriage and customary dress of black suit, hat, and boots might have afforded him the look of standing taller than he did. He had always been extremely well-presented though, with a broad chest, narrow waist, and pantherlike grace of movement; all in all, a picture of vitality.
Now, as he ate his meal across from me, I felt as though, by some bizarre transfigurement, I was gazing at an old man.
He had lost considerable weight and his dark suit (it, too, seemed worn and past its time) hung loosely on his frame. To my further disquiet, I noted a threading of gray through his dark blond hair and saw a tremor in his hands completely foreign to the young man I had known.
I came close to summary departure. To my shame, I nearly chose to leave rather than accost him. Despite the congenial relationship I had enjoyed with him throughout the past decade, I found myself so totally dismayed by the alteration in his looks that I lacked the will to rise and cross the room to him, preferring to consider a hasty exit. (I discovered, later, that the reason he had failed to notice me was that his vision, always so acute before, was now inordinately weak.)
At last, however, girding up my will, I stood and moved across the dining room, attempting to fix a smile of pleased surprise on my lips and hoping he would not be too aware of my distress.
“Well, good morning, Clay,” I said, as evenly as possible.
I came close to baring my deception at the outset for, as he looked up sharply at me, his expression one of taut alarm, a perceptible “tic” under his right eye, I was hard put not to draw back apprehensively.
Abruptly, then, he smiled (though it was more a ghost of the smile I remembered). “Frank,” he said and jumped to his feet. No, that is not an accurate description of his movement. It may well have been his intent to jump up and welcome me with an avid handshake. As it happened, his stand was labored, his hand grip lacking in strength. “How are you?” he inquired. “It is good to see you.”
“I’m fine,” I answered.
“Good.” He nodded, gesturing toward the table. “Join me.”
I hope my momentary hesitation passed his notice. “I’d be happy to,” I told him.
“Good,” he said again.
We each sat down, he with his back toward the wall again. As we did, I noted how his gaunt frame slumped into the chair, so different from the movement of his earlier days.
He asked me if I’d eaten breakfast.
“Yes.” I pointed across the room. “I was finishing when you entered.”
“I am glad you came over,” he said.
There was a momentary silence. Uncomfortable, I tried to think of something to say.
He helped me out. (I wonder, now, if it was deliberate; if he had, already, taken note of my discomfort.) “Well, old fellow,” he asked, “what brings you to this neck of the woods?”
I explained my presence in Silver Gulch and, as I did, being now so close to him, was able to distinguish, in detail, the astounding metamorphosis which time (and experience) had effected.
There seemed to be, indelibly impressed on his still handsome face, a look of unutterable sorrow. His former blitheness had completely vanished and it was oppressive to behold what had occurred to his expression, to see the palsied gestures of his hands as he spoke, perceive the constant shifting of his eyes as though he was anticipating that, at any second, some impending danger might be thrust upon him.
I tried to coerce myself not to observe these things, concentrating on the task of bringing him “up to date” on my activities since last we’d met; no match for his activities, God knows.
“What about you?” I finally asked; I had no more to say about myself. “What are you doing these days?”
“Oh, gambling,” he said, his listless tone indicative of his regard for that pursuit.
“No marshaling anymore?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Strictly the circuit,” he answered.
“Circuit?” I wasn’t really curious but feared the onset of silence and spoke the first word that occurred to me.
“A league of boomtown havens for faro players,” he replied. “South Texas up to South Dakota—Idaho to Arizona. There is money to be gotten everywhere. Not that I am good enough to make a raise. And not that it’s important if I do, at any rate. I only gamble for something to do.”
All the time he spoke, his eyes kept shifting, searching; was it waiting?
As silence threatened once again, I quickly spoke. “Well, you have traveled quite a long road since the War,” I said. “A long, exciting road.” I forced a smile. “Adventurous,” I added.
His answering smile was as sadly bitter and exhausted as any I have ever witnessed. “Yes, the writers of the stories have made it all sound very colorful,” he said. He leaned back with a heavy sigh, regarding me. “I even thought it so myself at one time. Now I recognize it all for what it was.” There was a tightening around his eyes. “Frank, it was drab, and dirty, and there was a lot of blood.”
I had no idea how to respond to that and, in spite of my resolve, let silence fall between us once more.
Silence broke in a way that made my flesh go cold. A young man’s voice behind me, from some distance in the room. “So that is him,” the voice said loudly. “Well, he does not look like much to me.”
I’d begun to turn when Clay reached out and gripped my arm. “Don’t bother looking,” he instructed me. “It’s best to ignore them. I have found the more attention paid, the more difficult they are to shake in the long run.”
He smiled but there was little humor in it. “Don’t be concerned,” he said. “It happens all the time. They spout a while, then go away, and brag that Halser took their guff and never did a thing. It makes them feel important. I don’t mind. I’ve grown accustomed to it.”
At which point, the boy—I could now tell, from the timbre of his voice, that he had not attained his majority—spoke again.
“He looks like nothing at all to me to be so all-fired famous a fighter with his guns,” he said.
I confess the hostile quaver of his voice unsettled me. Seeing my reaction, Clay smiled and was about to speak when the boy—perhaps seeing the smile and angered by it—added, in a tone resounding enough to be heard in the lobby, “In fact, I believe he looks like a woman-hearted coward, that is what he looks like to me!”
“Don’t worry now,” Clay reassured me. “He’ll blow himself out of steam presently and crawl away.” I felt some sense of relief to see a glimmer of the old sauce in his eyes. “Probably to visit, with uncommon haste, the nearest outhouse.”
Still, the boy kept on with stubborn malice. “My name is Billy Howard,” he announced. “And I am going to make …”
He went abruptly mute as Clay unbuttoned his dark frock coat to reveal a butt-reversed Colt at his left side. It was little wonder. Even I, a friend of Clay’s, felt a chill of premonition at the movement. What spasm of dread it must have caused in the boy’s heart, I can scarcely imagine.
“Sometimes I have to go this far,” Clay told me. “Usually I wait longer but, since you are with me …” He let the sentence go unfinished and lifted his cup again.
I wanted to believe the incident was closed but, as we spoke—me asking questions to distract my mind from its foreboding state—I seemed to feel the presence of the boy behind me like some constant wraith.
“How are all your friends?” I asked.
“Dead,” Clay answered.
“All of them?”
He nodded. “Yes. Jim Clements. Ben Pickett. John Harris.” I saw a movement in his throat. “Henry Blackstone. All of them.”
I had some difficulty breathing. I kept expecting to hear the boy’s voice again. “What about your wife?” I asked.
“I have not heard from her in some time,” he replied. “We are estranged.”
“How old is your daughter now?”
“Three in January,” he answered, his look of sadness deepening. I regretted having asked and quickly said, “What about your family in Indiana?”
“I went back to visit them last year,” he said. “It was a waste.”
I did not want to know, but heard myself inquiring nonetheless, “Why?”
“Oh … what I have become,” he said. “What journalists have made me. Not you,” he amended, believing, I suppose, that he’d insulted me. “My reputation, I mean. It stood like a wall between my family and me. I don’t think they saw me. Not me. They saw what they believed I am.”
The voice of Billy Howard made me start. “Well, why does he just sit there?” he said.
Clay ignored him. Or, perhaps, he did not even hear, so deep was he immersed in black thoughts.
“Hickok was right,” he said, “I am not a man anymore. I’m a figment of imagination. Do you know, I looked at my reflection in the mirror this morning and did not even know who I was looking at? Who is that staring at me? I wondered. Clay Halser of Pine Grove? Or the Hero of The Plains?” he finished with contempt.
“Well?” demanded Billy Howard. “Why does he?”
Clay was silent for a passage of seconds and I felt my muscles drawing in, anticipating God knew what.
“I had no answer for my mirror,” he went on then. “I have no answers left for anyone. All I know is that I am tired. They have offered me the job of City Marshal here and, although I could use the money, I cannot find it in myself to accept.”
Clay Halser stared into my eyes and told me quietly, “To answer your long-time question: yes, Frank, I have learned what fear is. Though not fear of …”
He broke off as the boy spoke again, his tone now venomous. “I think he is afraid of me,” said Billy Howard.
Clay drew in a long, deep breath, then slowly shifted his gaze to look across my shoulder. I sat immobile, conscious of an air of tension in the entire room now, everyone waiting with held breath.
“That is what I think,” the boy’s voice said. “I think Almighty God Halser is afraid of me.”
Clay said nothing, looking past me at the boy. I did not dare to turn. I sat there, petrified.
“I think the Almighty God Halser is a yellow skunk!” cried Billy Howard. “I think he is a murderer who shoots men in the back and will not … !”
The boy’s voice stopped again as Clay stood so abruptly that I felt a painful jolting in my heart. “I’ll be right back,” he said.
He walked past me and, shuddering, I turned to watch. It had grown so deathly still in the room that, as I did, the legs of my chair squeaked and caused some nearby diners to start.
I saw, now, for the first time, Clay Halser’s challenger and was aghast at the callow look of him. He could not have been more than sixteen years of age and might well have been younger, his face speckled with skin blemishes, his dark hair long and shaggy. He was poorly dressed and had an old six-shooter pushed beneath the waistband of his faded trousers.
I wondered vaguely whether I should move, for I was sitting in whatever line of fire the boy might direct. I wondered vaguely if the other diners were wondering the same thing. If they were, their limbs were as frozen as mine.
I heard every word exchanged by the two.
“Now don’t you think that we have had enough of this?” Clay said to the boy. “These folks are having their breakfast and I think that we should let them eat their meal in peace.”
“Step out into the street then,” said the boy.
“Now why should I step out into the street?” Clay asked. I knew it was no question. He was doing what he could to calm the agitated boy—that agitation obvious as the boy replied, “To fight me with your gun.”
“You don’t want to fight me,” Clay informed him. “You would just be killed and no one would be better for it.”
“You mean you don’t want to fight me,” the youth retorted. Even from where I sat, I could see that his face was almost white; it was clear that he was terror-stricken.
Still, he would not allow himself to back off, though Clay was giving him full opportunity. “You don’t want to fight me,” he repeated.
“That is not the case at all,” Clay replied. “It is just that I am tired of fighting.”
“I thought so!” cried the boy with malignant glee.
“Look,” Clay told him quietly, “if it will make you feel good, you are free to tell your friends, or anyone you choose, that I backed down from you. You have my permission to do that.”
“I don’t need your d——d permission,” snarled the boy. With a sudden move, he scraped his chair back, rising to his feet. Unnervingly, he seemed to be gaining resolution rather than losing it—as though, in some way, he sensed the weakness in Clay, despite the fact that Clay was famous for his prowess with the handgun. “I am sick of listening to you,” he declared. “Are you going to step outside with me and pull your gun like a man, or do I shoot you down like a dog?”
“Go home, boy,” Clay responded—and I felt an icy grip of premonition strike me full force as his voice broke in the middle of a word.
“Pull, you yellow b——d,” Billy Howard ordered him.
Several diners close to them lunged up from their tables, scattering for the lobby. Clay stood motionless.
“I said pull, you God d——d son of a b——h!” Billy Howard shouted.
“No,” was all Clay Halser answered.
“Then I will!” cried the boy.
Before his gun was halfway from the waistband of his trousers, Clay’s had cleared its holster. Then—with what capricious twist of fate!—his shot misfired and, before he could squeeze off another, the boy’s gun had discharged and a bullet struck Clay full in the chest, sending him reeling back to hit a table, then sprawl sideways to the floor.
Through the pall of dark smoke, Billy Howard gaped down at his victim. “I did it,” he muttered. “I did it.” Though chance alone had done it.
Suddenly, his pistol clattered to the floor as his fingers lost their holding power and, with a cry of what he likely thought was victory, he bolted from the room. (Later, I heard, he was killed in a knife fight over a poker game somewhere near Bijou Basin.)
By then, I’d reached Clay, who had rolled onto his back, a dazed expression on his face, his right hand pressed against the blood-pumping wound in the center of his chest. I shouted for someone to get a doctor, and saw some man go dashing toward the lobby. Clay attempted to sit up, but did not have the strength, and slumped back.
Hastily, I knelt beside him and removed my coat to form a pillow underneath his head, then wedged my handkerchief between his fingers and the wound. As I did, he looked at me as though I were a stranger. Finally, he blinked and, to my startlement, began to chuckle. “The one time I di …” I could not make out the rest. “What, Clay?” I asked distractedly, wondering if I should try to stop the bleeding in some other way.
He chuckled again. “The one day I did not reload,” he repeated with effort. “Ben would laugh at that.”
He swallowed, then began to make a choking noise, a trickle of blood issuing from the left-hand corner of his mouth. “Hang on,” I said, pressing my hand to his shoulder. “The doctor will be here directly.”
He shook his head with several hitching movements. “No sawbones can remove me from this tight,” he said.
He stared up at the ceiling now, his breath a liquid sound that made me shiver. I did not know what to say, but could only keep directing worried (and increasingly angry) glances toward the lobby. “Where is he?” I muttered.
Clay made a ghastly, wheezing noise, then said, “My God.” His fingers closed in, clutching at the already blood-soaked handkerchief. “I am going to die.” Another strangling breath. “And I am only thirty-one years old.”
Instant tears distorted my vision. Thirty-one?
Clay murmured something I could not hear. Automatically, I bent over and he repeated, in a labored whisper, “She was such a pretty girl.”
“Who?” I asked; could not help but ask.
“Mary Jane,” he answered. He could barely speak by then. Straightening up, I saw the grayness of death seeping into his face and knew that there were only moments left to him.
He made a sound which might have been a chuckle had it not emerged in such a hideously bubbling manner. His eyes seemed lit now with some kind of strange amusement. “I could have married her,” he managed to say. “I could still be there.” He stared into his fading thoughts. “Then I would never have …”
At which his stare went lifeless and he expired.
I gazed at him until the doctor came. Then the two of us lifted his body—how frail it was—and placed it on a nearby table. The doctor closed Clay’s eyes and I crossed Clay’s arms on his chest after buttoning his coat across the ugly wound. Now he looked almost at peace, his expression that of a sleeping boy.
Soon people began to enter the dining room. In a short while, everyone in Silver Gulch, it seemed, had heard about Clay’s death and come running to view the remains. They shuffled past his impromptu bier in a double line, gazed at him and, ofttimes, murmured some remark about his life and death.
As I stood beside the table, looking at the gray, still features, I wondered what Clay had been about to say before the rancorous voice of Billy Howard had interrupted. He’d said that he had learned what fear is, “though not fear of …” What words had he been about to say? Though not fear of other men? Of danger? Of death?
Later on, the undertaker came and took Clay’s body after I had guaranteed his payment. That done, I was requested, by the manager of the hotel, to examine Clay’s room and see to the disposal of his meager goods. This I did and will return his possessions to his family in Indiana.
With one exception.
In a lower bureau drawer, I found a stack of Record Books bound together with heavy twine. They turned out to be a journal which Clay Halser kept from the latter part of the War to this very morning.
It is my conviction that these books deserve to be published. Not in their entirety, of course; if that were done, I estimate the book would run in excess of a thousand pages. Moreover, there are many entries which, while perhaps of interest to immediate family (who will, of course, receive the Record Books when I have finished partially transcribing them), contribute nothing to the main thrust of his account, which is the unfoldment of his life as a nationally recognized lawman and gunfighter.
Accordingly, I plan to eliminate those sections of the journal which chronicle that variety of events which any man might experience during twelve years’ time. After all, as hairraising as Clay’s life was, he could not possibly exist on the razor edge of peril every day of his life. As proof of this, I will incorporate a random sampling of those entries which may be considered, from a “thrilling” standpoint, more mundane.
In this way—concentrating on the sequences of “action”—it is hoped that the general reader, who might otherwise ignore the narrative because of its unwieldy length, will more willingly expose his interest to the life of one whom another journalist has referred to as “The Prince of Pistoleers.”
Toward this end, I will, additionally, attempt to make corrections in the spelling, grammar and, especially, punctuation of the journal, leaving, as an indication of this necessity, the opening entry. It goes without saying that subsequent entries need less attention to this aspect since Clay Halser learned, by various means, to read and write with more skill in his later years.
I hope the reader will concur that, while there might well be a certain charm in viewing the entries precisely as Clay Halser wrote them, the difficulty in following his style through virtually an entire book would make the reading far too difficult. It is for this reason that I have tried to simplify his phraseology without—I trust—sacrificing the basic flavor of his language.
Keep in mind, then, that if the chronology of this account is, now and then, sporadic (with occasional truncated entries), it is because I have used, as its main basis, Clay Halser’s life as a man of violence. I hope, by doing this, that I will not unbalance the impression of his personality. While trying not to intrude unduly on the texture of the journal, I may occasionally break into it if I believe my observations may enable the reader to better understand the protagonist of what is probably the bloodiest sequence of events to ever take place on the American frontier.
I plan to do all this, not for personal encomiums, but because I hope that I may be the agency by which the public-at-large may come to know Clay Halser’s singular story, perhaps to thrill at his exploits, perhaps to moralize but, hopefully, to profit by the reading for, through the page-by-page transition of this man from high-hearted exuberance to hopeless resignation, we may, perhaps, achieve some insight into a sad, albeit fascinating and exciting, phenomenon of our times.
April 19, 1876
September 12, 1864
We are still here in this Valley, I think we will be here For Ever with those Secesh Boys keep us boteled up, the Sholder Strapps say we are at a Place called Al Mans Swich wer ever that is, I do not no, all I Do no is the Army of the Patomic is siting here, siting here and those Secesh Boys piking us of like Pigins on a log, I hate siting, siting, I feel tyd down like a prisner and I wish we just Go!! I hate to feel tyd down, by G————. I hate it! I think if we woud Go and Go Hard we woud thro those Jony Rebs back to Jef Davis Back Porch, that woud be the End of it, I rely feel that, Do it, Do it, dont just Sit Here like lumps, we her to suport the Artilery but all we are suporting our own rer ends while we Sit here!! Why think it all out, just GO!!!
My frend from New Jersy Albirt Jonson (I think that is a rong speling his Last Name) he took a Minie Ball in the rigt side this afternoon, it put him in grate pain, was holering and crying Some Thing awfil that I did feel sorry for him he was feeling so bad, it must have hurt like H————, poor Albirt. So a few of us Boys caried him Behind The Lines, we finily fond a waggin going North and placed him on it, caried him away poor fello, he was bleding Some Thing ferce, I hope he makes it—And as if that was not enogh the salt beef and patatos gave us last nigt made a bunch siker than Dogs, how we did “cast up acounts” over the Hill Side and down the Creek was Some Thing awfil! How Ever at the start I did not feel sik but as more and more my comrads got sik after a time I did to and went the same road.
It did not make me feel beter to get a note from Mother, you woud think I took a trip for pursonel plesur here in Vergina insted of figting a D———War! Why doesnt She leave me be not alway Scolding me as poring linamint into a sore with Ever Lasting Heranging, why did I leve the Farm when there is so much Work to do there, why did I enlist in the Army of the Patomic when there are lots of soldirs who can figt the War but No, no, no “Not enogh Good Men At Home” to help take care of ther Familes, My Lord She goes on and on and on, no wonder He went off to California (My Father) I think the Army of The Secesh less to face than Her, I mean I Rispect her and all but why does She never stop Heranging me, I am in a D————War for G———’s sake, not for pursonel plesure!! Well that is that and we had beter move soon or I take my Rifel and go at those Rebs all my self and mean so in Ernest!!
September 14, 1864
Yesterday, this time, I thought we would be here forever. The problem this way: the Secesh Army planted solid on the Heights and regardless how our batteries fired at them—our cannons burning hot!—were so much dug in it did no good at all. This is a “key spot” Lieutenant Hale said; the Rebels need to hold it At Any Cost and no matter what we did, they held.
We started rushing them, charging the heights, bayonets in fix position, but a volley of fire burned at us and we were forced back in defeat, half dead and wounded on the field. Only our artillery at them saved any at all though it did hit some of our boys too. It was a bloody attack that was no use. I had 60 rounds of lead pills which, when it was over, I was down to 17 and I do not know if I had hit a soul, the smoke so heavy you could not see through it the boys in Grey were hid so.
At three o’clock this afternoon Lieutenant Hale collected a group—eight in all—and led us up the far slope of the Valley to “harass” the enemy. He said, “Come on, boys! Today we have a chance to fight our way to Glory!”
He was right, we did! It was a battle out of H———but I came out without a scratch. I think my life is charmed because, when we charged up that slope, though it was far to one side, shot and shell ploughed up the ground in all directions; it was flying hot and heavy. Minnie Balls were buzzing all around us like swarms of angry bees! I felt the wind of them and some went by my ears so close they made me jump but not a one could touch me!
By when we reached the top, there was only three remaining, George Havers, me and some fat man from New York State that I had not met. (How he climbed that slope not being blown to his Maker I will never know!) We got behind a fallen tree and, from that point, through clouds of smoke, could see the Grey lines clear as day. I said to Havers and the fat man we must fire at the Secesh batteries, but they were none too keen to lift their heads as bombarding shot was fierce and Southern Sharp Shooters doing their best to kill us!
So I had to do it my self though Havers, to admit the truth, did fire a shot or two. Mostly, it was me how ever and the first time I got value from the Sharps I picked up last month from the body of a killed Confederate. Lord All Mighty, how that piece can do! I aimed first for the Sharp Shooters, those I could see, and it was like I could not miss. I had 30 lead pills in my sack and there were not too many wasted! I shot at Battery Crews I saw and they fell also; Rebs were going down like sitting birds! I lost count at twelve what with smoke and noise and being worked up, I fell in what you might say was half sleep. I kept firing and firing and Havers screamed, “God, boy, you hit another! God, boy, you hit another!”
When the firing at our lines grew thin, our boys came charging up and took the Heights and it was all because of me that we could whip them! Now they are on the run and I am happy as a clam at high water! I can say it if I want, no one will read this.
That is for now. I am glad I took this Record Book from a dead Rebel officer last week. I believe I will keep writing in it regular because …
Jim Brockmuller told me some boys have come across a Moonshine Still the Greys were running so there is going to be a lot of Liquid Joy tonight!
September 16, 1864
Early morning—the boys are sleeping off the battle for the Moonshine Whiskey Heights. I believe our officers were wise to let us drink after what we went through yesterday; anyway more fellows came to drink than expected—good news does travel fast!—and no one got enough to hear the owl hoot. It made our bellies warm though and our heads some light.
I can not sleep for thinking of the man I met last night. His name is Frank Leslie, a Reporter for The New York Ledger. He had heard about my part in the battle and came to ask questions to write about it in his News paper. I can not get over it. A story in a News paper read by thousands. About me. The folks in Pine Grove will be some surprised to read it, I imagine. Specially Mother: may be she will sing a warmer song now. And Mary Jane. It thrills me to think about her reading what I did. I would not show her this Record Book (or show it to any one) but if a News paper man wants to write about me I can not stop him. So long as I do not have to see or talk to all those people who read it; I want to be Private Halser all the way. But I do not object to a story in a News paper.
After he had introduced him self to me, Mr. Leslie said that several of the boys had “witnessed my heroic action” (as he put it) specially Private George Havers, Mill Town, Pennsylvania; that was nice of George, I thanked him later.
“He tells me that you turned the tide of battle almost single-handedly.” Those were his words. It happened that I shot down nineteen Rebels, killing eleven including two officers, “throwing such confusion and dismay into the Southern ranks that they began to waver,” as Mr. Leslie stated it. (I wrote down that hill of words soon after, so not to forget them.)
“Tell me, Private Halser,” Mr. Leslie said. “What were you feeling during that engagement?”
“I was not feeling any thing,” I answered. “I had little time for feeling.”
“You felt no fear?” he asked me with surprise.
“No, sir,” I told him. I explained that I do not know what that particular “emotion” feels like; he was even more surprised to hear that. May be I am odd, I fail to know. I was not even able to “build up” what I did. I suppose that was a dumb thing but I did not want to lie to him; not for a News paper. I had to tell him, in all truth, that I have had a lot of targets more hard to hit in my life. I agree they were not shooting back (which counts for something) but they were a H———of a lot smaller and moving faster.
“To what do you refer?” he asked. Lord, to talk so savory!
I told him when I was a boy in Pine Grove (that made him smile because I believe he thinks I look like a boy now, though nineteen) I had to supply my family with meat, my father being dead. (I did not reveal the truth about Father as I do not believe Mother would be pleased to see it printed in a News paper.) Any way, with five brothers and one sister plus Mother that was some degree of meat to provide. So I had to learn to shoot All Mighty Straight All Mighty Soon or we would starve to death once Father was gone. Specially with the cock-eyed Ballard I had to use; it drifted like a d———boat!
I told him how I learned to shoot when I was ten. He was right surprised by that. I can still see the expression on his face as he said, “Ten?”
“Yes, sir,” I answered. “I was small for my age and all the bullies in the country side had them selves a frolic on me. I was black and blue so much some people thought I had a unknown disease.”
I went on to tell him that, for Xmas 1855, my Uncle Simon gave me his worn out Maynard for a present and I made use of it first rattle out of the box. I practiced regular and it was some hard doing as well as my chores because I had to keep firing the same lead balls again and again. I did so, how ever, and in not too much time I learned to down a small bird on the wing.
“That was when I gathered all the bullies of the area to watch me shoot,” I said to Mr. Leslie. “After that, the black and blue spots started fading.”
We talked a while more and, at last, he asked what I planned to do with my self after the war was over. I told him I am not certain save one thing—I will not let my self be tied down but will live a fast, exciting life of some kind, that is for dead sure!
March 9, 1866
Another day gone off where ever days go when they end. It is some hard to recall when life had some excitement. H———, it is some hard to believe it ever had excitement. Here I am at home, the farm, the d———chores—when I do them—Mother at me all the time to do more, do more. I have got to get out of here soon, I mean it.
I am sitting by candle light, writing in my Record Book. It started good in the War but is some thing to make a man sleep now. I feel tied down with ropes. I want to get away but Mother tells me (enough times to bury me) there are things I must take care of, I am the man of the house, she needs me, the family needs me, may be if Father had not run off to California—words, words shoveled at me night and day.
I feel my life is wasted. I am stuck here on this d——farm in this d———community, I agreed to marry Mary Jane come Spring; I do not even know how that took place, I swear I never said the actual words, “Will you marry me?” but, some how, it has happened. I do not know where we would live; Mother no doubt expects on the farm. I would not want that but do not like the thought of trying to work in Pine Grove either. I mean I love Mary Jane and all but feel sick inside to see myself a married man and father growing old in this dead place. What else can I do though?
Well this: I am thinking of leaving Pine Grove to go out West. We hear each day, it seems, how much is going on out there. There are new chances and all manner of excitement. I have got to give it serious thought.
March 11, 1866
Just helped Ralph to bed. He is a good lad and I do not think will tell Mother what happened tonight at the Black Horse Tavern. It was good luck she was sleeping when we got home or I would be on the taking end of a “word hiding” right now I am certain; not to mention what poor Ralph would have to endure, being younger.
Ralph came to town to fetch me as Mother was angry at my absence all day and knew I was somewhere in Pine Grove drinking and playing cards as I do, so she sent Ralph to bring me back for a “good talking to” as she likes to call it—several hundred times a week.
I was playing Seven Up with several of the boys when Ralph came in. He walked behind my chair and said, “I have been looking for you, Clay.”
“Good, you found me,” I told him. “Now go home.” I had been drinking my fair share of whiskey and, what with losing cards, was feeling not to happy with my lot.
“Mother says she wants you to come home,” Ralph said.
“Tell Mother I will come home when I am ready,” I responded. “Now get out of here.”
The other boys piped in and said the same, for Ralph to clear out, he was ruining the card game.
Ralph is not easy to push, how ever, and kept on ragging me. Mother says the north field needs plowing out for rocks, you promised long ago to do it. Mother says the roof is leaking and one of the windows. Mother says we need meat and on and on.
Finally, he started pulling at my sleeve and riled me proper, so I gave him a shove and he slipped on a wet spot on the floor and landed on his elbow. I guess it hurt something bad for he began to cry even though he is sixteen. At which the boys at the table started jibing him for being a Cry Baby. I told them to “lay off” but they continued doing so.
At this, Ralph got all wrathy—he has the Halser temper like us boys all do—even though he is as skinny as a corn stalk. He jumped up and to the table where he slapped the cards from Bob Fisher’s hand, who had been the worst one, pretending to be Ralph and crying like a infant.
This got Bob Fisher good and mad so he got up and, when Ralph had a swing at him that missed, he punched Ralph on the nose and made it bleed.
I could not let that happen to my brother so I dropped my cards and jumped up. Bob turned just in time to get it on the jaw from my fist and go flying back, falling over Ralph.
This made Hannibal Fisher mad to see his younger brother hit so he jumped up and hit me on the head. I returned the favor, punching his left eye so he fell across the table we were playing on and knocked the cards and money all to H———.
Every one got wrathy then and I was fighting four of them. Ralph was on my side, I guess, but little help. Every time he tried to give me aid, I got an extra blow or two because he hindered more than helped. I did the best I could, gave my share of hits and bruises, but there were too many what with Ralph no help and soon the two of us flew straight out through the bat wing doors and landed on the street. Ralph had bleeding from his mouth and nose. My head was ringing but I tried to make him stay outside so I could go back in and give a better account of myself, but Ralph insisted he would go along and we would “clean” the place out. I decided it was wiser to forget it, talked him out of it. He is a good lad but a bad joke as a fighter.
It is sad when a tavern dog fight (which I lose) is the best thing I have known in months!
March 14, 1866
I have just come back from Mary Jane’s house and feel I have to say I am some low, fiendish being straight from H———!
That poor, sweet Angel of a girl deserves a better fellow than me. I love her dearly and admire her and she is ever kind to me—so why do I feel like a trap is just about to clamp shut on me? What is wrong with me? What is wrong with living here in Pine Grove for that matter? It is …
H———and brimstone, I can not even finish that remark! Pine Grove is the dullest, dumbest place on God’s Green Earth! I have got to go out West! I need to make my mind up—do it! I am not afraid to go, that is not it. It is because I do not want to make Mary Jane unhappy. Not to mention Mother who keeps talking of the wedding all the time now and how Mary Jane and me will share the farm and if I want to I can build a separate house and we will all be together—GOD! The more I think of it, the worse I feel!
Does Mary Jane complain how ever? No, not her. She is so sweet and understanding. She is an Angel and I know she had other offers. Why does she want me? She is such a fine person yet wants no more than to be Mary Jane Halser, make a happy home for me, bear and raise my children and live her span by my side. What is wrong with that?
I have got to resolve my mind soon. I can not do this to her. Am I the master of my life or not? Do I want a life of excitement or not? Am I going to go out West or not?
If only some thing would make up my mind for me.
March 21, 1866
I can not believe it, looking back. It came so sudden and without a hint.
I was in the Black Horse Tavern playing Seven Up with several of the boys. Also in the game was Scoby Menlo, son of Truman Menlo, owner of The Pine Grove Mercantile and Shipping. I had not seen much of Scoby since the War but heard he was a hot head and a scoundrel; several of the local girls were got “in trouble” by him and their families paid off by his father.
I soon found out the truth of the report about his temper. I am not the coolest head around but he was worse. I had enjoyed a winning streak and built my pile to more than forty dollars. I was feeling good, thinking Mother would be pleased to see the money; I would claim it was an old loan paid to me or unexpected money from my Army pay.
Menlo was feeling other wise from me. His face got redder as we played. He slammed his cards on the table when he lost, and cursed, and drank his whiskey down like water.
Finally, it came. He glared at me and said, “I think some body at this table cheats at cards.”
It did not take a college man to know he meant me since I was the only one who had a winning pile. I tried to ignore it though because I felt so good; I was some whiskey laden as well.
It did not end at that how ever. Shortly later, Menlo spoke again. “No one wins so much at cards unless they cheat,” he said.
I could not pretend I did not understand those words and felt a low fire catching in my belly. “If you mean me,” I said, “not only are you dead wrong but I want you to apologize for what you said.”
He made a snorting noise like that was some joke I had spoken. The fire in my belly rose, I looked him in the eye and told him, “I believe you heard.”
He stared at me, his cheeks a little redder now. I noted how his eyes reminded me of Beulah’s (our pig) and considered telling him so.
“Yes, I heard,” he said.
“Then do what I ask,” I said.
“Apologize to you?” he answered with a sneering smile. “A card cheat?”
“You say that one more time,” I told him, “and I will wipe the floor with you.”
His face looked white now; I recall how fast the color left his cheeks. “Wrong,” he said. His voice was shaking. “I am going to wipe the floor with your blood.”
At that, he unbuttoned the front of his coat so I saw the handle of a six-shooter under his belt. He started reaching for it.
As quick as thought, I knew all talk was ended for there was no point in telling him I was not armed because he meant to kill me where I sat. That so, I leaped up fast and dived across the table at him, grabbing at his right hand and, by fortune, getting it before he could pull the gun free. He fell back on his chair, me on top of him, and we began to wrestle on the floor, he trying hard to get the gun so he might shoot me dead. I said nothing as we struggled for the will to murder was as clear as writing in his eyes.
I do not know how it happened but the gun went off like thunder; still inside his trousers and he screamed in pain. I jerked back and I saw a red stain at his stomach, spreading on his shirt so fast I knew the wound was fatal. Menlo tried to stand but had no strength to do it and he sat down, weak, his right hand over his stomach. He made a sound like he was going to cry. “You b———d,” he said. “You killed me.”
Moments after, he slumped back on the floor, cold dead.
I stared at him, heart beating so hard it hurt my chest. I had never killed any one face to face and it was terrible to know I had.
No one made a move. I can not guess how long we stood, silent as a cemetery, looking down at Menlo and the puddle of blood around his body.
Then Donald Bell (the bar tender) said some thing about the Constable. At his words, I felt an extra blow of fright inside my heart because I knew Scoby’s father having so much power, he would see me hang for sure.
I turned and ran outside to jump on Kit. I rode home in a lather and told Mother what happened. She was no help to me, only saying, “I knew it. I knew it—” following me around the house while I gathered some clothes and my Record Book and flung them in a sack. I told her I had to take Kit but she did not seem to hear my words. She kept saying, “I knew it. I knew it—” like that would help me. I felt sick to hear her so uninterested in what happened and gave up trying to explain.
I did not want to wake my brothers or Nell so kissed their cheeks as they slept and turned away from them. I tried to kiss Mother but she pushed me off, looking angry though tears ran on her cheeks and saying those words again. I came close to tears my self at that. “Well, good bye then!” I shouted. “If that is all I mean to you!”
I wanted to stop at Mary Jane’s house to explain what happened but, near Pine Grove, I could see an armed pursuit preparing and was forced to pull the horse around and gallop for the Wabash River.
I have stopped to rest Kit for a while and write this down by moonlight; I will be an easy target if they see me.
God have mercy on me, it is done now. I am off the plank and have to swim alone. I wondered what will happen to me. Will they over take and capture me? Will I hang for Scoby’s try to murder me? Where will I go now?
D———! The answer is so clear, I feel a fool for even wondering.
July 12, 1866
I am in Morgan City, Kansas. I have only the dinero (which means money, I learned) to sleep tonight and buy some food but still feel good. This place is Alive! It may be just a dirty trail town but I never saw the like, so Pine Grove seems as far away as Russia!
There is one Main Street. On each side sit saloons, gambling houses, dance halls, cafes, theatres, stables, horse trade corrals, stores, hotels. Not one building looks like it will last a year, all give the feel of being built last week.
And the men and women! Every kind a person could imagine. Cow boys with their Ten Gallon hats, merchants in their white shirts, buffalo hunters in their bloody ones, gamblers in their fancy duds, the street seems never empty of them! Also women like I never saw in Pine Grove. Dance hall girls and actresses and “worse,” not many high tones here though you see a few. But I like them all and like this town! It took me long to get here, had to sell my saddle, then sell Kit, work at different jobs but here I am and mean to stay.
I know that I am going to find a life of excitement now!
July 14, 1866
Did not have one shin plaster in my pocket so have taken work in a saloon, The Red Dog. I am clean up man and—may be—relief bar tender. It is not what you would call a “fancy” position but beggers can not be choosers—as Mother liked to say—and I am in the begger group all right until I earn some dollars.
The regular bar tender is a tall, thin fellow, Jim Clements by name. He gave me a dollar of his own to find a place to live so I am going to take up in a boarding house run by a Mrs. Kelly, not bad.
I start tonight.
July 16, 1866
I can not believe it! I have seen it happen after only four days here!
I was talking to Jim Clements while behind the bar; just brought out a tray of glasses from washing them. I told him how exciting Morgan City was compared to Pine Grove and he nodded at my words.
“Yes, that is how it is in cow towns,” he observed. “All this H———raising is common because these towns are made so cow boys can blow off steam at the end of cattle drives.”
“I never saw so much going on,” I said, “not since the War.”
And that is G———d’s truth! Cow boys crowd the streets by hundreds, some big drive having ended. They fill saloons and gambling houses and what Jim calls “Pleasure Domes”; that is a funny name for crib houses.
“These cow boys have a lot of ‘pent up’ action in their blood,” Jim said. “They want to have them selves a blow out before riding out for more long months of hardship on the plains.” He reminds me, by his words, of that reporter in the War, what was his name? I will look it up, hold on.
Any way, we talked on and I told him that I like the West a lot but cow boy life did not appeal to me.
“No, a man has to have a taste for it,” Jim admitted.
We went on some more about Morgan City. Since its money comes from “walking beef” as Jim referred to them, and from the men who “walk” them, no one aims to see the town “domesticated” as Jim called it. Even the peace officer is told by Main Street owners not to step on cow boy toes.
His name is Hickok called “Wild Bill.” It seems I heard of him but I am not sure. Jim says he came out from Illinois and was the scout for a General named Custer. Jim says he (Hickok) has built him self a reputation as a man to be accounted for in any “show down.” Still he does not make efforts to preserve the peace except for may be outright murder. Which occurs a good bit here, Jim said. “A word and a blow too often turns into a word and a shot—” was how he put it.
And, of all strange things, he said it and—in seconds—that very thing took place in front of me!
A big, tall, ugly cow boy started arguing with some man Jim said (later) worked in a livery stable down the street. I could hardly believe what they argued about. Like this—
“And I say cows is stupider—” The cow boy.
“And I say horses—” The livery stable man.
“Well, what do you know?” said the cow boy. “I live with the G———d———stupid critters and I say horses can read books compared to cows!”
“Well, I take care of horses night and day and nothing on this whole wide world is dumber than those G———d———buzzard heads!” the other man replied.
I thought it all right and funny and was chuckling (so was Jim) when, in a flash, the two men started cursing at each other, then shoving, then the cow boy pulled his gun and shot the livery stable man right in the chest. There was a cloud of dark smoke but I saw the livery man knocked back on the floor. The cow boy fired his gun so close it set the dead man’s shirt on fire.
I admit I stood behind the counter like a statue. I know what killing is. I shot those soldiers in the War and, though not intended, had to do with Menlo’s death. But that was over something; Menlo called me a cheat at cards and made the threat of wiping the floor with my blood. This was over nothing , the brains of cows and horses for G————d’s sake! Still the livery stable man is no less dead than if there had been reason to it.
Jim has seen this kind of thing before, it was clear: he filled a stein with beer and leaned across the counter to dump it on the dead man’s shirt, then did the same again and put the fire out. All the time he did, the ugly cow boy was glaring around like daring any one to say him wrong.
Jim was first to speak. “You better clear out or you’ll likely be arrested, charged, and hanged,” he said.
The cow boy did not like to hear this; he looked like a red-faced savage, I believe the blood lust had got into him. “Don’t tell me to clear out,” he said.
“You better pull your freight,” Jim told him. His tone was peaceful and did not seem distressed but there was a look in his black eyes that did not mean well for the cow boy, I believed.
The cow boy did not see the look. “I am warning you, you skinny, no account b———d,” he said.
“Would you rather I sent for Hickok?” Jim asked.
“Sure, you yellow-livered son of a b———h,” the cow boy said. “Get somebody else to help you.”
Jim only looked at him. The cow boy had a mean smile; he was full of “forked lightning.” “If you had the guts of a pig, you would meet me outside, man to man,” he said.
“Is that what you want?” Jim asked.
“Come outside and I will meet you smoking,” was the cow boy’s answer.
Jim did not reply but reached beneath the counter and picked up a .41 revolver kept in case of someone trying robbery. The cow boy twitched, then stepped back, Jim slipping the gun beneath his waistband and, with no word, heading for the bat wing doors. The cow boy looked some stupid watching; I think he was amazed that Jim accepted him. Then he cursed, and spat, and said “All right!” and swaggered for the doors.
I hurried after them and got a spot outside the door.
It did not last long. Jim and the cow boy stood about nine feet apart on the street off the plank walk, looking at each other. The cow boy said, “You b———d! Die!” and grabbed down at his gun. Jim reached for his, the cow boy pulled first but was shaking, I believe. There was a roaring shot from his gun, then another from Jim’s and, for moments, I could not see clearly for the cloud of powder smoke. Then I saw the cow boy on his knees, thrown back. He made a sound of pain and fell to his right side, cursing, and dying.
Jim incurred a powder burn across the left sleeve of his shirt. He rubbed it as he walked past me, saying, “Never leave the counter untended.” I watched in awe as he returned to his spot and put the .41 away, started pouring whiskey for a customer. He is a chunk of steel and anyone who strikes him will strike fire, that is sure.
I could never be as brave as that.
August 9, 1866
It has been a slow few weeks. I am beginning to think excitement is not ahead of me after all. The job is boring at the Red Dog; there is nothing to it which I do not mind but it is dull. If Jim was not there I feel I would move on.
I like him though and believe I can account him as my friend. He does not say much of him self but I have learned he comes from Pennsylvania, fought in the Army of the Potomac, incurred a shrapnel wound at Gettysburg (has a scar on his back, he told me), never married, is a loner.
He is nice to me. I do not know how old he is (thirty-five may be) but he is like a sort of father. He has bought me dinner twice, gives me good advice on how to get by, and there was the day we took that ride together on rented horses I liked a lot.
Still, life in total is dull. I almost feel the way I did in Pine Grove. Morgan City is a wilder place but not that wild; that cow boy thing I saw is all there was. I am twice now to the Golden Temple but did not like the girls each time, they are too rough and out spoken for my taste, also one stole a dollar from me, I am sure. Jim says what can you expect from them?
August 11, 1866
Finally some thing different in my life.
Last night was my night off so I went to the Fenway Circus which has stopped in Morgan City. I was much pleased by the chance as I have not done much of pleasure since arrival having to collect hard money after taking part in that game of Black Jack I was lucky to come out of with my teeth.
Any way, I was excited and went running down the street to town edge where the circus was set up. In dashing on the grounds, I bumped into a tall man in a black suit and, as luck would have it, it was no man else but Hickok, a tall fellow with drooping mustache, not bad looking—but what a temper! I thought, first, he was going to shoot me, then kick or hit me but he settled for a “dressing down” my ears have not heard since that Sergeant, training for the War. Hickok has more than guns in his arsenal, he has cuss words in such number and array as few men possess and I believe he used them all on me at once.
I did not like it, made me simmer some but, after all, he is the Marshal and had two guns. I had nothing. If there had been a weapon in my pocket, I might not—H————, what am I saying? I would have “called him out”? Not likely for his pale blue eyes are not too pleasant as they bore at you, so I let him have it out and took it all without a peep. As said, I did not like it, who does to have your skin flayed off by someone’s tongue, still what could I do?
When he turned and stormed away from me, I took a breath; which was how I saw a woman nearby, smiling at me. I suppose she saw the whole event. I did not think what to do until she said. “Don’t let him bother you. He has a hard job and his nerves are rubbed thin.”
At that I smiled back and we introduced our selves. She said her name was Hazel Thatcher, she and her husband are performers with the circus, doing bare back riding. She was fine looking I saw, with a head of red hair very handsome. We had a chat, quite nice, then she held her hand out, said she hoped I would enjoy the show. She seemed to hold my hand a little longer than I would suppose but decided that was imagined.
Enjoy the show I did! Well worth each penny of the dollar and fifty cents though I have little dinero to spare. I confess I spent a good deal of the show looking for the arrival of Hazel Thatcher and, when she arrived, all the time she was performing staring at her in her costume which was less than eyes could believe! She is one grand figure of a woman, that is certain, every curve complete. Her costume, as noted, brief as law will bear and all the men went crazy over her, whistling and stamping; no louder than a certain party in the front row, initials C.H. She is graceful as a bird as well. She and her husband, Carl (mostly her, he seemed less lively), did leaps, and somersaults, and capers on the back of a galloping horse to much thunderlike clapping; my palms were red and stinging after they went off.
Following the performance, I sat a long time in the tent, not wanting to depart, savoring the show like some kind of feast I was digesting. In truth, I hoped (did not admit to my self at first) that Hazel Thatcher would appear so I might tell her I thought she was a fine acrobat and beautiful lady. She never did show up though and, at last, the workers told me to be on my way, they had to “strike” the tent.
I went outside, the grounds were dark and no one anywhere in sight. I strolled across them and, in walking around a wagon, of all things, came upon Hazel Thatcher and her husband. I saw then why his movements were not lively in the show—he was drunk, she leading him, one arm around him; I could smell his breath from feet away.
I felt embarrassed to come on them in that way but Hazel Thatcher seemed pleased to see me, asked right off if I would help her take her husband to their wagon.
I said I would be glad to, grabbed his left arm while she held his right. His legs were made of rubber it appeared and various times he almost fell. He kept muttering, “This is not necessary—” in a kind of dignified voice; but it was necessary since he would have toppled if we had not held him up.
“This is very nice of you,” Hazel Thatcher told me as we led her husband.
I still was embarrassed. “I am very glad to help,” I said.
“This is not necessary,” said her husband.
“He has been feeling pain from a broken leg which never healed right,” Hazel Thatcher told me. “That is why he drinks a little more than good for him.”
“This is not necessary,” said her husband as he almost fell again.
It took a while to get him up the steps of their wagon and I wondered how the man was able to perform in such a state until Hazel Thatcher told me he had started drinking heavily after the show was ended and I recalled that I had sat inside the tent long enough for a minister to paint his nose.
At last we got Carl Thatcher on his bunk and he went off to sleep, was snoring in a second. Hazel Thatcher thanked me and I said that I was pleased to be of service, started to back out of the wagon when she asked me to help her light the hanging lantern which I did.
I confess to being raptured by the sight of oil light on her face. Her skin is very white and clear, eyes green as jade with long red hair falling on her shoulders. I have never seen a woman so beautiful in all respects. I stared at her, she smiled and touched my cheek. “You are very handsome,” she said.
I had no reply, I felt a stupid boy again. Hazel Thatcher smiled (what teeth!) and asked if I would care to have a cup of coffee with her. Well, to tell the world I would have said “yes” if she asked me if I cared to have a cup of poison with her. “Yes, thank you,” I replied.
She told me sit down at the table (very small) and I did while she removed her cloak. She looked around then, I had made a gasping noise because she still had on her costume and the sight of her white shoulders and bosom tops caused me to catch my breath. She smiled at me, leaned over and kissed my cheek (she did!). “You are very sweet and young,” she said, those were actual words. I remember shivering though far from cold.
I did not hear her words too well as she prepared the coffee, I was too entranced in looking at her, I mean close up she was so remarkable to look at, she made me feel (the only word that catches it) hungry. I did not hear the snoring of her husband which was loud, I was so much fascinated by her looks, the truth is I have never seen the like, not ever.
What did she say? (I said nothing, a staring lump.) I think she said her husband once was a star performer in a Europe circus, drank occasional but not much. His wife was killed in an accident during a performance and he had lost interest in life, began to drink for real because he thought her death his fault. The circus let him go, then another, and he ended up in the United States where he took a job with another circus, his reputation as a bare back rider ahead of his reputation as a drinker, in this country any way.
He kept on drinking and that circus let him go and the next one hiring him was Fenway Circus where he met Hazel Moore (her previous name). They married and, for some while, he seemed better, taught her all the bare back tricks and things looked bright. But he started “hitting at” the whiskey vat again and now is hanging by a thread since he managed to be close to sober for performances and Fenway is a small circus any way. (I guess I did hear almost every word in spite of staring!) So it was not his leg he drank for, I learned.
Hazel Thatcher told me all these things without a single cruel word and I do admire her for that, not tearing at her husband who could not defend himself but being thoughtful of the reason for his weakness.
I would not say more if I was telling this to some one but this is my own Record Book and no one will ever read it being my private concern. So I continue and reveal that Hazel Thatcher (I feel dumb to call her full name as things are) asked me if I cared to have a “jot” of whiskey in my coffee which I said I would not mind. We talked and talked (I do not remember much of that, mostly she asked questions, where I came from, what I had done, what I planned to do) and it was not too long before she added coffee to our whiskey, then forgot the coffee all together.
By then, my head was numb, the wagon seemed to move some under me and, in the lantern light, I thought Hazel the most matchless woman in the world and told her so.
I remember she was holding both my hands on the table, tears in her eyes. “Oh, Clay, it is so hard to be without a man because my husband only cares for drink,” she said.
“I’m sorry, I am sorry,” I told her.
She drew my hands closer to her self. it was a small table so I could lean further. “I am so lonely all the time,” she said, tears rolling down her cheeks.
“Oh, I am sorry,” I said. I wanted to say I would take care of her but even roostered as I was, I knew my self to be a clean up man in a saloon and no more.
“Thank you, my dear,” Hazel said. She lifted my right hand to her lips and kissed it. Then she kissed my left hand. Then she leaned forward at me. “Please,” she whispered.
What I was feeling at that time! I bent forward and her warm, red lips pressed to mine, I tasted her breath, then again and harder; I have never had a girl (woman) kiss like that.
I jumped a little as she pulled back, pushing up the table where I saw she hooked it up, then, with a sigh, fell against me and held my arms and we were kissing fierce, my arms around her and her lips came apart and—Oh, I must pause!
All right, to the finish. (I will burn this Record Book before a human soul shall read it!) We kissed and kissed and Hazel drew down her costume so her b———s were bared, all white and heavy and, before I knew it, we were on her bunk, both n——d as our days of birth. G———in Heaven, she is such a gorgeous female and her body is—well, private Record Book or not, I can not put it down what happened. All I will say is I lost my head and every thing and did not even care her husband was asleep and snoring only several feet away from us, the wagon rattling, rocking as we—did not even care!
I remained with her until the middle of the night and four times “claimed” her; or did she claim me? She is some fiery person, those two girls in The Golden Temple seem like dull goats. To be honest, it was the first time I could think of Mary Jane and not feel bad because I know she could not give me any thing what Hazel did because she is a different sort; I will not go into fine points but I will say Hazel—
(Here I must omit three paragraphs which, in their vivid clinical description, are unsuitable for the general reader. F.L.)
I returned to my room at nearly five o’clock and slept like two men in a grave yard. Now it is past one o’clock, afternoon, I have to go to work soon but must write down what I remember.
I suppose she is much older than me but I love her. I love Hazel Thatcher and can not wait ’til I see her again!
Later: same day. It appears that many things can happen at the same time.
When I went to work tonight it was to find the Red Dog burning. Jim was across the street, watching it so I walked over to him to ask what happened.
Much to my surprise, he told me he had set the fire him self! He said the owner of the Red Dog (Mr. German, I have not met) played poker with him last night and lost a pile but did not care to pay it honest there fore hired some trail bum to bushwhack Jim. The trail bum was stupid, missed, and Jim “took care” of him, then went to the saloon, threw down oil lamps, setting them ablaze. He said he would shoot Mr. German like the cur he is (if he could find him) but it would likely bring on wrath from Hickok who is paid by men like Mr. German so he set the saloon on fire instead.
I asked Jim what he meant to do now for employment. He replied he planned “returning to an earlier pursuit”—stage coach driving, said if I am half the rifle shot as I have told him (clearly he does not believe it) I could hire out as guard.
I might do it but for Hazel. I would rather have a job so I can stay nearby her. I admit the idea does appeal to me—being guard, I mean. But Hazel first and fore most.
August 12, 1866
What did I write the other day? Let me look. That many things can happen at the same time. What I meant—a person’s life goes on and on the same and then, no warning, every thing is changed.
Now another. I went to the circus to see Hazel, took a while to get her to my self because of Carl, he was not very drunk tonight. I told her about the coach guard job and said I did not mean to take it for I wanted to be with her, asked her to find out if there was some job I could do with the circus so we could be together when ever Carl is drunk or may be she might think to leave him some time if it worked out, her and me.
We were out behind the tents and Hazel was so quiet I wondered what was wrong and asked. I heard a sound of her swallowing in her throat, that is how still it was. Finally, she drew a long breath in and said, “I can not let you do that, Clay.”
I failed to know what she was meaning.
“Don’t you see how painful it would be for me to have you around when I am married to Carl?” she said.
I began to say again about her may be leaving Carl but she pressed hard against me, hugging me. “Oh, no, my darling,” she declared. “You have your own life to lead.”
I tried to answer but she went on. “You are much too bright to waste your life being a circus roust about,” she said.
“I don’t mind,” I told her. “It will be—”
“No, no.” She shook her head, then kissed me on the lips. “I can not permit it. You have a full life ahead of you.”
“Please, my darling, no,” she said.
“But I love you,” I told her. “I want to be—”
“And I love you,” she said, “with all my heart, Clay. That is why I can not do this to you.”
“For another thing, I am too old for you,” she said.
“No,” I said, protesting. “We could—”
She stopped my talking with another kiss. “No, no,” she said. “I could not bear to see you looking at me as the months went by and you began to see me as I am.”
“As you am?—you are?!” I asked; I was so worked up by then I could not speak a proper English.
She held me tight, I held her tight. “Just remember me as one who crossed your path,” she said.
“No, no,” she said, and kissed me once more. “Go quickly,” she told me. “And do not look back.”
She was the one who went quickly, with a sob, into the night. I stood there feeling sick. I wanted to run after her and make her change her mind but I was not able to move, I felt my legs were anvils.
I do not understand. She says she loves me and I love her; isn’t that enough? There is an aching in my chest; I wonder if hearts really break. Oh, G———, I feel so miserable! Is poor Hazel in her wagon now, crying? Does her heart ache too? She is doing this for Carl, I know it. She is sacrificing her self for him, so bravely.
I will never be the same again.
September 14, 1866
My hand is shaking as I write this, still weak from what happened but I want to put it down while still fresh in mind.
What did I say a few months back?—several times while writing in this Record Book, it seems. That I wanted excitement? Well, I have got it and double.
In truth, I never thought the like would happen. My writing in this book has been enough to put a reader (if there was one) to dead sleep. First it was exciting to ride the driver’s seat with Jim, armed with pistols and my new Winchester (I am glad I got it rather than carrying a shotgun as suggested by some including Jim), but soon the jolting on my backside and eating dust became a pain.
Also nothing happened, I mean nothing. We picked up passengers and shipment, carried them from place to place, stayed overnight at road ranches, or long enough for meals, changed teams at relay stations, traveled thirty-five miles about each eight hours and that was it. The closest to excitement came that time I thought a road agent was stopping us and got ready for action to find out it was a cow boy whose horse had stepped into a chuck hole and broke its leg so had to be shot leaving him afoot. That was my excitement since I started in August as noted in this Record Book.
Again, as in the Red Dog, if it was not for Jim I would have quit. But I have written endless of his skill and handling as much as eight “ribbons” at once, and skill at cracking the whip so close he can remove a small fly from a horse’s ear never touching the ear. Also have written endless of our talks, and how we know each other well, and are good friends so no more of that.
We were talking when it happened, coming down a grade from Black Rock Pass about seven miles from Fort Dodge. As I recollect, we were discussing Hazel. I was telling Jim I had recovered from the pain but still feel Hazel is a fine woman who is sacrificing herself for her husband.
“Yes, I know the kind,” Jim said and I could tell he understood.
I noticed then that he was glancing around. “What are you looking for?” I asked.
“Not for. At,” he answered.
I looked around but did not see a thing. “At what?” I asked.
“Twenty or so Cheyenne,” he answered.
I felt my heart bump at these words and looked around more carefully. I saw some movement in the distance; horses and riders it appeared.
“Did they just show up?” I asked.
“No,” Jim told me. “They have been trailing us all afternoon.”
I was amazed to hear that, which makes it certain I will never be a stage driver or guard of any value. I felt a fool to hear it but pretended not by asking Jim why the Red Skins did not rush us if they wanted to—they had us beaten in numbers.
“They will probably make their move before we get much closer to the Fort,” he said.
His words came true before another fifteen minutes had gone by. I felt myself shiver as the Red Skins started riding in at us, galloping their ponies. I raised my rifle but Jim said wait ’til they were closer which I did.
Soon the Cheyennes—twenty-one—were galloping across our path and moving in a line like a traveling circle which, in time, they started to draw in like a noose around our coach. I raised my Winchester again but Jim said not to waste my powder as the “breech clouts” were still not close enough to us. I thought they were; they were no further than those Secesh soldiers I was able to hit during the War, still it is true these targets were moving more.
“Pass down mail sacks to the people and tell them to barricade them selves,” Jim told me. He cracked his whip and the team of six (I wished there were eight) leaned forward in their traces, moving faster.
I put my rifle in its boot and started handing down the mail sacks to the four passengers, telling them—as Jim told me—to look to what ever weapons they might have as it was likely they were going to have to defend them selves.
Before forgetting, I must put down that, though this was the first time I have been in mortal danger since the War (the event with Menlo happened too fast for me to feel anything), the emotion I had in those long ago days came rushing back full force—no fear what ever; I felt keyed up and anxious for the battle to commence. It is only now I see how dangerous it was and find it strange I did not feel it as such.
Then I was all pitched up for the fighting. I remember shouting at those Red Skins as they rode in their moving circle, getting closer and closer. “Come on, you b———s!” I yelled. “We are ready for you!”
Finally, they did—with a series of blood-curdling “whoops”—and the battle was on! “Now start firing!” Jim shouted. “And show me how good you are!”
It was a fierce battle because those Red Skins do know how to ride and they can duck while riding which makes shooting at them not an easy task. They also shoot not bad for savages; I wonder where they got their rifles and who taught them.
Jim drove the coach as fast as the team could pull it, cracking his whip across their heads so that it sounded like the firing of a pistol. The coach creaked awful as we sped; there was a woman passenger inside who screamed in fright. The rocking and skidding did not help my shooting either, nor the shooting of the passengers; I do not believe their firing hit a single Red Skin.
So it was up to me and I must say I did all right! I kept on firing at those Cheyennes and that Winchester is some good weapon! No matter how those Indians galloped or dipped or ducked, I kept on hitting them one by one; I think it all took place in only minutes too, though noisy minutes what with the thunder of the hooves, and wheels creaking, and the woman screaming, shots and howling Savages, it was a scene straight out of H———! Yet even so I gave seven of the Red Skins one-way tickets to their Happy Hunting Ground, finally—I believe—impressing Jim with what I told him I could do but he had never seen me do. For he yelled and whooped him self and even laughed once which I hardly ever hear him do.
The last Cheyenne I got appeared to have a charmed life for he kept on riding at us with a lance to throw. I kept missing and the woman in the coach was screaming out of her mind before the Red Skin was only ten feet or so away and I was able to shoot him off his horse. He went tumbling and another Cheyenne pony trampled on him. After that, the Indians slowed down and gave up; may be he was Chief or some thing though he had no Head Dress on.
Speaking of charmed lives, mine held up; well, almost. In the War, despite the Minnie balls around me and many explosions, I was not touched. This time, with only twenty-one Red Skins, I took an arrow in my right leg underneath the knee which is odd because I never felt it ’til the Cheyenne left us be. By then, how ever, I had lost some lot of blood (my boot was full of it) and things began to swim around me so I almost toppled from the seat to my death, I am sure, under heavy wheels. Jim grabbed me by the belt and held me from falling while he drove. That is one I owe him as he no doubt saved my life.
He also may have saved my leg (the Doctor said) for, when the Indians had moved off, Jim stopped the coach to bind my leg and “cauterize” the place the arrow went in. He broke off the back part of the arrow, pulled it out, then opened a bullet and poured its powder into the wound. It is lucky for me I was almost “out” any way for if I knew what he was going to do I would have given him a fight. Because when he set fire to the powder. I had a pain as I have never known in all my life, and screamed just like that woman (I am not ashamed to tell it), and passed out cold. Jim put me in the coach, my leg wrapped with his bandanna and drove me to the Fort where now I am.
I am writing this from bed. The Doctor says my wound is not too serious but I will be “out of action” for a while.
September 19, 1866
Jim came in to see me, brought some candy and a news paper to read. There is a little story in it of the “Indian Attack On Stage” and how a “Mr. Cley Halsem” shot some of the “pursuing Savages” to help “save the day.” Give credit to that Cley Halsem, he is one fine shot, who ever he is.
Jim said the company has replaced me as guard on his run which does not please me but he said he talked them into giving me a post as helper at the Blue Creek Way Station. The work will not be hard, they told Jim, odds and ends, and when I have recovered from my leg wound I will get back my job as guard, I hope with Jim again; he says he will request it.
I start at Blue Creek next Monday so guess all is well for now.
Little did Clay know. F.L.
October 8, 1866
Another rotten day. Leg hurts like H———. Zandt knows I have been hit there by an arrow but does not seem to care a D———, has me on my feet constant, day and night. He woke me up last night after sleeping only two hours, said a coal oil lamp exploded in the Station house, wanted me to clean the mess. I tried to tell him I was tired having worked since six o’clock yesterday morning but he shoved me hard and said, “I vant it now, vare stayin?—(what ever that means) so had to rise to do it. He is a real b———d for certain.
October 10, 1866
I swear he did it on purpose, knocked that deck of cards all over the floor just to make me pick them up.
October 11, 1866
He yelled at me in front of all those people because some one had knocked the soap on the dirt instead of putting it on the dish outside as if it was my fault. I know he did it to “show off” in front of two lady passengers to make them think how big a man he is. I hate him.
October 13, 1866
I think my leg is getting worse. I limp more now than when I came and it aches some thing fierce, some times bleeds a little, cracking open. You think that means a d———to Zandt? “Vat are you, cripple, Halzer? Move!”—and shoves me on the back.
Lying here, never more “washed out” in all my days. A spider crawling on my leg, I am too tired to brush it off.
October 14, 1866
Heard today, from a passing driver, that, before I came, there was a Mexican named Juan who was helper. Zandt made his life so miserable he took off one night without pay or belongings, never has been seen again. I can understand. I would leave my self but my leg is hurting terrible and I could not walk. I would not steal a horse, that is too dangerous out here, better kill a man than steal a horse. I do not have enough dinero to buy a stage ride out allowing Zandt would let me go. So what can I do?
He rags me some thing awful. Mother was a angel compared. He limps like I do but worse when I am around with people watching. If it was not for my d———d wound I would go at him full tilt. The way it is, I will be lucky if he does not ruin my leg for life.
I can not go regardless but if I could I do not think I would; that would be running from him and I will never do that from a bully.
Oh, the H———.
October 16, 1866
Too tired to write. Zandt has been at me all day. I have been working like a mule since five o’clock this morning, now is past eleven at night. I must sleep.
October 17, 1866
Some thing new, worse. I am ready to do some thing hard in return, I swear I am. Leg aches like a tooth ache but I can not pull it out like a tooth can be.
Today, when the afternoon run from Leonardville came by, Zandt grabbed me in front of every body and wrestled me, threw me on the floor. I landed on my left elbow which is swelling and now also aches. D———him any way! I wish I could pump lead into him like I did those Cheyennes! He is too big to fist fight. G———d———, he is a son of a b———!
October 19, 1866
I do not know how much more I can stand. I feel close to murder. Zandt is the worst bully I have known in my life. Menlo was a comrade compared. Zandt does all these things:
1. He over works me.
2. He under feeds me.
3. He makes fun of my limp.
4. If I feel sick or weak, he mocks me.
5. He shoves me around and hits me on the back a lot.
6. He rags me in front of passengers and wrestles me, knowing I am too weak to resist.
7. How to say this? There is some thing “odd” about him. When he is not ragging me or bullying and has a few drinks “under his belt,” he puts an arm around me, hugs me like a girl and says I am “a good-looking young fellow.” Once touched me in a certain spot.
I made it certain I will not stand for this. That only makes him wrathy and he throws me around some more. Today he flung me down so hard my leg wound cracked again and blood leaked out.
I am getting close to some thing and do not like what I feel close to. I will not run off no matter what, like some cur with my tail between my legs. Yet I am not strong enough to give him back his own “brand” of medicine.
Some thing has to break.
What Clay could not have known, which I have now established, is that Emil Zandt had been an officer in the Prussian Army and been dishonorably discharged for attempting “liaisons” with certain of the more youthful men in his command.
Additionally, it should be noted (since Clay does not), that Zandt was a giant of a man, some six feet four or five inches in height and weighing in excess of two hundred and fifty pounds. As stated earlier, Clay Halser was no taller than five feet ten and, at the time, because of his hampered convalescence, weighed at least a hundred pounds less than the hulking German.
Lastly, it is noteworthy to observe that Clay rejected the notion of retreat; typical of him. In retrospect, it seems that, surely, there was some way he might have backed off from the situation. As it turned out, although his consequent action is understandable (if not justifiable), it forged yet one more heavy link in the chain which was, one day, to hold him fast in its tangled length.
October 23, 1866
It is ended and I am not sorry. If I fry in H————for it, I will not say that I am sorry for what happened.
It started as the night stage from Stockdale came in so the passengers could warm them selves and eat some food. It was bitter cold with whistling wind and people came in quickly, stood before the crackling fire and warmed their bodies while I helped prepare the food and drink.
As always, Zandt began to “put on” for the passengers, the women mostly (there were two), showing them how he could rag me as he chose. He had been drinking all the day and put his hand on me once, which I knocked off so his face got red with anger; he was in a black mood.
He was never worse, pretending to the passengers he was a rogue and full of fun instead of the b———d he was. He kept punching my arm and slapping me on the back, knocking me off balance, being “jovial” as he said.
When every one was eating, he began to wrestle me and hold me tight to make me look the fool I was, so helpless in his arms. His face was red and white in patches, and his whiskey breath steamed on my face, and made me sick.
I got so mad I twisted hard and was able to break free which surprised him, I believe; he did not realize I was some stronger in spite of little sleep and food.
“Zo,” he said. “You are ze little worm tonight.” He laughed to show the people he was playing at a game but I knew he was not playing, not from the look in his red pig eyes, like Menlo. I had never noticed ’til then.
He moved at me and I backed off. “Zo,” he said. “You think you can outvit me.”
He reached for me but I slapped his big, fat hand aside. This made him frothy that I gave him back so much because it hurt his pride; he did not like to have me giving back what he liked “dishing out.” He kept moving at me and I told him leave off, I did not want any more.
That made him crazy, I believe, to hear me talking up in front of all those people, mostly the women. He lunged at me and I dodged side ways, knowing if he caught me he would do his best to hurt me and could squeeze so hard with me in his arms he might crack my ribs.
“Oh, leave the young man alone,” one of the women said.
That got all Zandt’s bristles up for sure. He did not pretend he was all jovial now. He looked as mean as he was feeling and that was much. He began to stalk me around the room, ignoring any one who said to stop.
He jumped at me, I side stepped but he stuck his leg out so I tripped. I fell down on my right leg and the pain was like the arrow sticking in there when it happened and the powder being burned there. I cried out and he laughed at that. “Vot’s the matter, little boy, hurt your self?” he said.
I pushed to my feet and he stepped in, started pushing me around, jostling me, and slapping me across the shoulders, “straight arming” my chest, and knocking me backward ’til I hit the wall. By then the pain in my leg was crazing me and, as he stopped in front of me, I made a fist of my right hand and hit him in the face as hard as I could.
That broke the dam. Jumping at me with a curse, he started squeezing me so hard I could not breathe and knew I would pass out. There was nothing I could do, so had to jerk my knee up at his———and hit him there as hard as possible. He cried out, backing off, and clutching there in spite of ladies watching. “Zon of a b———,” he muttered, “zon of a b———.”
He leaped at me but I jumped to the side and he fell on his knees, slipping. The pain of that was too much for him and he bellowed like a bull. Staggering up, he turned away from me, at first to my surprise, then cold dismay as I saw where he headed—to the counter where he kept his horse whip underneath.
Snatching it up, he shook it loose, glaring at me with his pig eyes, breathing heavy.
“Put that away,” the stage coach driver said. “There are passengers here.”
Zandt gave no attention to him, his eyes intent on me. I started easing toward the door but he was shrewd and cut me off, a mad smile on his lips. “Zo,” he said. “You want to run?”
I knew he had me and I wondered what to do. I can not say I was afraid but knew that he could cut me to shreds with that whip of his.
The stage coach driver moved at him. “Zandt, stop this,” he declared.
The next instant, Zandt had brushed him aside like a child and the driver was flying across the room to almost crash into the fire place.
“Now, girl man,” Zandt said, and began to flick the whip as he stalked me like his prey.
I did not say one word, knowing it was useless. I kept my eyes on him as he came nearer.
“Now I crack your crust, you little scum,” he said.
The whip end shot out, snapping like a pistol shot near my face.
“Stop it!” cried a woman which made Zandt the madder; now his face was closer to purple than red.
He started cracking out the whip end harder, snapping it closer and closer. I tried to grab it but it only tore a chunk of skin from my palm. The passengers were all up from the table now and backed against the wall, several calling for Zandt to stop which he would never do at that point.
Suddenly, the whip end lashed across my neck and I felt fiery pain.
“Got you, girl man!” Zandt cried; I never saw a look so wild, not even on the faces of those Cheyennes.
The whip end snapped again and tore a piece of shirt arm off me and the skin beneath. Fury made me crazy now and I began to hurl things at him, dishes, candle holders, fire irons, stools, any thing I could lay hands on. Some hit him, making him more angry yet. The whip cracked faster and faster, tearing at my clothes and body so it felt like slashes of a red hot poker on my flesh.
When the whip end caught me on the cheek and gouged out skin, I lost my mind, it made my right eye hurt so much. With a cry that sounded like some wounded animal, I raced across the room and dived across the counter. Scrambling down some feet, I reared up quick and grabbed the shotgun off the wall. Zandt thought me still where I had disappeared behind the counter and he cracked his whip there, ripping out a piece of log wall.
He was turning to me when I fired both barrels to hit him straight on in the chest and stomach so he fell back with the cry of some dumb brute and, I believe, was dead before he landed.
In the deathly stillness following, all the people stared at me. I did not say a word. I felt a little sick but I was glad that Zandt was dead and still am glad. I put down the empty shotgun and poured my self a drink of whiskey though my hand was shaking so much I could hardly manage.
I regret the need to kill another man who did not have a weapon—unless one thinks the whip such. But there was nothing else I could do, I had to save my self, he would have blinded and crippled me. Every one in that room said I had a right to defend my self so I do not feel worried over that. I will surrender myself to the hands of the law and feel certain of a fair trial under the conditions of what truly happened.
November 19, 1866
I have not been “up” to writing several days. It is not my Record Book was taken; I have kept it hidden under my shirt. No, the reason I have not been able to write is I am so shocked by what has happened all I did was sit and stare in dumb amazement at the wall.
I am to hang.
I can not believe it even now that I have put the words in my own hand. I sat in my cell day by day waiting for the judge to come so my trial would take place. No one (certainly not me) believed I was in danger. Even the Marshal—a man named Dolan who is kind to me—believed the trial would be short and in my favor.
The trial was short all right but not in my favor. I had no defense, it turned out. Not one of the passengers or driver or guard who saw what happened at Blue Creek that night were any where near, so all the judge could see was that I shot a “Un-armed” man with a double shotgun charge; so I was guilty—murder—now to hang.
I am still in a daze about it. My head feels numb, my stomach seems empty like hollowed out. In less than two weeks, the hang man will be here and I will drop, my neck will—J——s! It is not fair! I did not murder Zandt! If I had not shot him, he would have whipped me clear to death! That is no guess but certain! I am not the kind to kill a man in cold blood! I am not! I shot those soldiers in a War, I made Menlo shoot him self by accident (in self defense) and that is it! No murders. None. I was defending my self. Defending my self!
Oh, to H———with it! To G———d———H———with every body!
November 21, 1866
I have got a cell mate, a Texan near my age. His name is Henry Blackstone and he told me he has been “in jug” a lot of times. He was found guilty of robbing a store and murdering the clerk which he claims he did not do for the good reason he robs only stage coaches.
He also seems entertained by my anger. He says he has no bad feelings against me but finds my “distress an amusement” because I believed I would get a fair trial.
I was reading about the trial in the Riverville Clarion today, raging at the lies and half lies in the story. To read it, you would think I was a heartless brute who decided it would be a good joke to kill Zandt. Finally, I flung the paper off from me but Blackstone only smiled, lying on his bunk. “Do you really expect to find the truth in a news paper?” he asked. He shook his head. “You never will, old fellow.” That is what he calls me.
He seems so calm and easy going about every thing, it is hard to believe he is, also, sentenced to hang.
November 24, 1866
I talked with Henry today; he says to write in my Record Book to say Hello. To who?
Any way, he says we have no chance of beating the hang man’s noose so might as well “accept our fate.” He says that young men like us never have a chance because the world is against us. I never thought of it before but, when you think about what brought me here, it was not justice, that is sure. Coming west because of Menlo is another thing. Henry says it was a “bad break” as in a game of pool, nothing more. We are the kind of people who get bad breaks all the time, he says; that is just the way it is and nothing we can do about it. Even G———does not care what happens to people like us.
I hate to believe that but what else can I do? It seems to make sense when you think what has happened to me. The only thing left is to die “without a murmur” Henry says; show the dirty b———s we will not crack in front of them.
I think I would rather try to break free on the day they mean to hang me, force them to shoot me down so death comes fast.
November 25, 1866
No, I will not die without a murmur! I am going to scream out curses at the b———s! I will tell them what I think about their G———d———d justice!
November 26, 1866
Henry and I talked today of cutting our arms some how and cheating the hang man and “justice” but decided it was better to let them see how brave men can die.
November 27, 1866
I have decided not to make a sound, just stand there glaring at every body, showing how low I think they are.
But there is the hood. How can I glare at them … ?
November 28, 1866
I intend to scream at them, the stinking b—s!
November 29, 1866
One of the prisoners is sick (a Mexican) and there is fear that he has come down with small pox. There is a panic rushing through the town; we see them in the street talking of it. A small pox “epidemic” (Henry’s word) could wipe out the town. It would not be the first time such has happened.
I hope it does. That is what I would call justice. Let the whole d———town go with us!
November 30, 1866
I could not believe my ears when Henry offered to take care of the sick prisoner. He told the Deputy his father was a doctor so he knows what to do. The Deputy has gone to ask Dolan if it is all right. The Mexican’s cell is a mess, smells awful.
I suppose Henry feels if he is going to “swing” any way, he might as well die by small pox as by “strangulation” (another of his words). I think I would prefer the rope as faster.
“I thought you said your father was a cow boy,” I asked him a few seconds ago.
“I did,” he answered, smiling.
He is very odd.
Later. Still feel dizzy from the speed of it. I feel I may wake up and find it is a dream. I have had dreams like it every night lately which is why it seems unreal.
It went like this. The Deputy came back to say that Dolan had accepted Henry’s “generous” offer. Henry said (to me) he knew they would ahead of time because it would give them some chance to “isolate” the disease, as he said, where if they had to go near the Mexican them selves or leave his cell uncleaned, the small pox might spread.
The Deputy took out his gun and pointed it at Henry as he unlocked the cell door. Henry smiled and held his hands up in the air, saying, “I am not going to try to escape.”
“I know you are not,” the Deputy replied.
He took Henry to the Mexican’s cell and unlocked the door. Henry went inside the cell and leaned across the Mexican who was lying on the bottom bunk. The Deputy remained in the door way of the cell, gun in hand.
Henry put his palm on the Mexican’s brow and felt the skin. He made a humming noise and shook his head. He put his fingers on the man’s neck and prodded. Then he whistled softly and looked around at the Deputy. “Yes, it is small pox all right,” he said.
The Deputy got a look of dread and took a step back, lowering his gun.
The next instant, he was knocked back by the wooden slopbucket which Henry had, some how, got hold of and hurled through the door way. The Deputy cried out in surprise (and, I must add, disgust) and lost his balance, falling against the cell door on the other side.
Before he could recover, Henry leaped across the space between them like a panther; I have never seen a person move so fast who never seemed to want to move at all. Snatching up the fallen gun, he laid the barrel sharp across the Deputy’s skull and knocked him senseless.
He took one breath, then grabbed the Deputy’s keys, and ran back to our cell. He unlocked the door and flung it open, grinning at me. “Time to make tracks, old fellow,” he said.
I admit to being so surprised by what happened I could not move, staring at Henry.
“You want to hang?” he asked.
He did not have to say another word. Pulling on my boots, I shoved the Record Book under my shirt and left the cell. We ran to the Marshal’s office where, as luck would have it (for Dolan, Henry said), he was out at lunch. We each took a rifle, Henry a Sharps, me a Winchester, I pushed a Colt under the waist of my trousers and we went outside, Henry wearing the Deputy’s jacket, me a blanket wrapped around me for the cold.
There was a horse tied up down the walk and we took it, riding double out of town. I find it a joke now that I hesitated about stealing it, thinking it is bad to steal a horse out here. Then I realized I was supposed to “dangle” any way and could not be hanged twice, so rode the horse without another thought. By fortune (and the cold) no one much was outside in the street and we rode from town without a hitch, trotting the horse first, then galloping when we were out of town.
It was a strange feeling to be free and a wanted man at the same time. Still, the joy of having clean air (even icy cold) in my lungs and being in the open weighed over the bad. I had to laugh and seeing how my breath steamed like a kettle made me laugh harder. Henry asked me what was funny and I told him after all the trouble he went to getting us out, we might both die of small pox any way.
“He does not have small pox,” Henry told me.
“But I heard you say …”
“That was to trick the Deputy and turn him off from what I was planning,” Henry said.
“Then what does the Mexican have?” I asked.
“Chicken pox,” Henry answered. “People always get the two mixed up.”
“How do you know that?” I asked.
Henry smiled and told me that he rode once with a doctor who told him all about it. “Before I robbed him, of course,” Henry said.
May be it was not that funny but it struck me so and made me laugh until tears ran down my face.
Then I asked him how he could know it was chicken pox all the way from our cell. He said he couldn’t. “That is the risk I took to get a chance at breaking out,” he told me.
That sobered me so I asked him what if it had been small pox.
Henry smiled. “Old fellow, that is the game we play,” he said. “You never know what card you will draw.”
I write this in a hut we came across, thank G———because it is so cold outside. Henry is asleep. (He smiles in his sleep.) He says we might as well team up a while as both of us are “fugitives” from the sentence of hanging. I can not see a better idea. He saved my life so I owe him some thing in return.
Besides, he seems a steady person all in all.
One of the more ironic statements in the journal. F.L.
So began a new phase in the life of Clay Halser, his period of adventuring with Henry Blackstone.
Blackstone was a strange, young man, a unique product of his times. On the face of things, he seemed as lighthearted a person as Clay had ever known. According to Clay’s entries during this time, Henry Blackstone smiled almost constantly. (As noted, Clay even saw him smiling in his sleep.) Nothing seemed to bother him. Yet something festered underneath. The War and his background scarred him in some way Clay was never to truly comprehend. Behind the beaming countenance and pleasantries, there lurked a violent amorality.
Clay was witness to this in the first community they reached, and it is an interesting insight into his sense of values that he would not condemn Blackstone’s action, even though he clearly disapproved of it.
December 8, 1866
Henry killed a man today. I do not know what to make of it. He saved my life and he is certainly good company. Still, I feel uneasy in his presence.
Here is how it happened.
We reached this town at two o’clock in the afternoon.
It was terribly cold (still is!) and we were glad to reach some shelter. The town is called Miller’s Fork and I guess it is in Kansas although we have ridden far enough South to be in the Nations, I believe.
We had some money Henry had taken from the Marshal’s office when we escaped and we went to have a bath and get our clothes washed. We had a nice sleep in a warm bed, then a hearty supper of steak and eggs, then a few drinks at a saloon. Henry said that all our needs were now accounted for except for one and suggested that we make our way to the nearest w———house for an evening of “dalliance,” as he called it. I agreed and we asked the bar tender where to find one. He told us and, after one more glass of whiskey, we headed in that direction.
It was our misfortune—actually, it was the man’s misfortune—to run into a huge man coming out of the w———house as we were going in. He reminded me of that b———Zandt because he was so big and ugly in his manner.
“Well, what have we here?” he said. “Don’t tell me you two boys are going inside this place?” He blocked our way and looked amused.
Henry only smiled and asked him if he would kindly get out of the way.
“I don’t think that two young boys like you should go in here,” the man said, laughing. “I am going to tell your Sunday School teacher you are sneaking off to ‘cat cribs’ when her back is turned.”
“Get out of our way, please,” Henry told him.
“Oh, no. You are too young.”
Those were the last words the man ever spoke in this world. I did not notice Henry drawing. The first I knew, a shot was roaring in my ears and the big man was falling on the ground with lead in his chest. He twitched once and was dead.
Henry looked at me with a smile. “Let’s go in and find some women now,” he said. He did not seem concerned about the man.
I thought we should run for it but Henry gave three dollars to one of the w———s and she told the town Marshal that the man had drawn on Henry first and Henry had killed him in self-defense. Which may be the case, I suppose, in fairness to Henry. His eyes may be quicker than mine and maybe that man was just about to go for his gun.
We stayed at the w———house for the evening but I did not enjoy it much because the killing had disturbed me some. It seems to me that Henry shot that man without a thought and never gave a hint that he intended doing so. I owe Henry my life, that is certain. Still, I am a little restless about his way of thinking.
Later: I asked Henry before he went to sleep why he had killed that man. I was not easy about asking but had to know.
Henry was not disturbed by the question. “I asked him to get out of the way and he wouldn’t,” he answered.
He explained to me that he can be so cheerful all the time because he never lets anger stew inside him. He told me that, if he had been Zandt’s helper, he would have shot him the first day, in the back or in the front.
“Never bear a grudge, old fellow,” he told me. “If a stranger starts to rile you, kill him right away. That way you get it ‘out of your blood’ so to speak and are not poisoned. I am not talking about friends, of course.”
I was glad to hear that as I guess (I hope) I am a friend of his.
The entries in Clay’s journal through the winter and into the spring of 1867 are cut from the same cloth. Constantly in Henry Blackstone’s company, he began to manifest that infirmity of character which had turned him toward indolent pursuits instead of honest labor following the War. He never worked, drank a good deal, learned to play cards almost like a professional and generally caroused through the Indian Nations, Texas, and New Mexico. When things were lean, he was not above a crack at highway robbery, on at least two occasions assisting Henry Blackstone in stagecoach holdups.
None of this is stated as condemnation for he, later, more than compensated for these youthful digressions from the law It is merely noted to “flesh out” the picture of the young man he was at that point—becoming fully acclimated to the Western mode of life but yet to earn—or be given the chance to earn—the opportunity to prove himself a law-abiding citizen.
An illustrative entry follows.
February 22, 1867
Almost “bought it” tonight. The two of us have never been in such a tight before. How we got out of it, the Lord alone knows.
We were playing poker with some Mexicans on the outskirts of town. I don’t even know the name of it except to say we are in Texas.
Henry and I were winning like there was to be no end to it. It was after midnight when he and I began to realize (we think alike, it seems) that, short of some miracle, those Mexicans were not going to let us leave the game except with empty pockets and slit throats.
It was not a cheerful situation to be in, a sod hut on the high ground near a muddy river with the only light a candle on the table and our only “companions” five Mexican b——s who would steal pennies off their Mothers’ dead eyes.
Henry moved first. Fortunately, I know how he does things now so when he yawned and stretched, I felt my muscles snap to, ready for the play.
It came fast. Shooting out his hand, Henry doused the candle flame and flung himself to one side of his chair. I did the same. The dark hut was a scene of shouts and curses. Fiery gun explosions followed and I felt the hot wind of lead around me. Henry dove through the window opening a second before I did.
It was good luck for us that the moon was not in sight but bad luck that some s———of a b———had taken our horses while we were playing cards.
“The river!” Henry said and we legged it down that slope as fast as we could.
By then, those Mexicans were out the door and shooting after us. I discovered later, to my surprise, that those were the first shots they had gotten off. The shots inside were snapped off by Henry, trying to kill a few of them before we lit out. When I told him that the slugs almost got me instead, he laughed and reminded me that a miss is as good as a mile.
We reached the river bank a few yards ahead of the Mexicans and plunged into the current which was COLD!! I pulled out my revolver and fired off a few shots at the Mexicans but it was too dark and the river current very fast. I held my gun so I wouldn’t lose it and we fought our way to shore a distance down the bank, it might have been a half mile.
We found ourselves near the town and ran toward it to steal some horses to replace our own. Our clothes got stiff before we reached it and we moved like wooden creatures held by strings. Then, when we were cutting out two horses from the first house, a pack of hounds came at us. They tore at us insanely, ripping open our clothes and skins. The seat of my trousers was torn out and my rump bit hard. Henry shot one of the dogs and we got on the horses and rode, not bothering to look for saddles.
That was the most agonizing ride in the history of my life! My behind was bare and bloody, freezing cold and pounded to a pulp on that horse’s bony back. I think I picked a nag that had not seen a square meal for a month or else was ninety years of age for I felt every bone it had.
As if that was not enough, the Mexicans caught sight of us and took out in pursuit. They would have caught us too if a storm had not come up.
Lightning crashed and I saw clouds like black mountains in the sky. Thunder began and then more lightning. A tornado of wind commenced that not only almost blew us off our horses’ backs but almost blew our horses over as well. Finally, hailstones as big as peaches started pounding us before it started raining so hard that it was like riding underneath a waterfall. I swear I thought the Lord above was punishing us for the life we were leading.
Henry must have thought the same thing (though not as seriously as me) for he looked up at the sky and shouted, “Well, old fellow, about the only thing you ain’t seen fit to hit us with tonight is boulders!”
At that moment, we were riding through a draw and several boulders from above started rolling down at us. We barely managed to escape them. I was scared white but Henry laughed as hard as I have ever heard him laugh. He tipped his hat to Heaven. “Called me on that one, didn’t you?” he shouted.
We are taking shelter in a cave now, drying out our clothes over a fire. Henry is asleep as I write. I thank the Lord I keep this Record Book on my person now and did not leave it in my saddle bag.
What Clay refers to as a “bad chill” (probably pneumonia) plus complications from his still not completely healed shoulder wound compelled him to slow the frenetic pace of his schedule and take a job on a New Mexican ranch, first as cook’s helper, later as a cowhand. Out of friendship, Henry kept him company and the arrangement worked out reasonably well until late September when Henry shot one of the cowhands over a card game in the bunkhouse. Forced to flee, he left the ranch accompanied by Clay who had, by that time, regained his health.
September 22, 1867
I am on the run again with Henry. He killed Ned Woodridge last evening while they were playing poker. He said that I did not have to light out with him as it is his own trouble but I decided that I owe it to him still.
The chase was not too bad. We got away from the cow boys who were led by Baxter. (The ranch’s foreman. F.L.) We did get a shock as we were riding though. Suddenly, our horses reared back, terrified, as it appeared that we had galloped straight into an Indian witch!
It turned out to be a dead papoose. We had ridden into an Indian burial ground without knowing it. The papoose had been tied to a tree but the fastening had come loose and the body swung to and fro. It was a grisly sight with its face shriveled up and staring at us, looking very strange with all the beads and ornaments attached to it.
We rode another hour or so and came upon the campground of a group of men, outlaws as it turned out. To my surprise, Henry said hello to their leader Cullen Baker. They have ridden together in the past.
I have heard about this Baker. Everyone says he is a murderous “desperado” but he strikes me much like Henry. He does not seem aware of his renown and is affable. Like Henry, he smiles a good deal.
I do not know what to do now. Henry has declared that he intends to join forces with Bonney and ride with him again. I do not believe that I am up to living that kind of life again. It is exciting, sure enough, but hard to sleep, never knowing when John Law might pick you up. That time in jail, thinking I was going to hang, was enough for me. I do not want to be a cow boy or a cook’s helper, that is for sure. Neither do I choose to be “gallow’s meat.”
September 23, 1867
It seemed today as if it wasn’t going to matter whether I decided to ride with Henry or not!
All of us were riding up a hill and I was thinking how to let Henry know that I was going to split up with him when we heard a noise in the distance that sounded like rolling thunder. The difference was it made the earth shake underneath us.
As we reached the top of a hill, we saw what was causing the noise. Hundreds of stampeding buffalo chased by several dozen Comanches. Seeing us, the Red Skins left off chasing buffalo and started after us. Deciding that caution was the better part of valor, we turned tail.
Those Indians rode too well for us, however, and it became clear that a stand would have to be made. Spotting a deserted trench house in the distance, we rode like H———until we reached it. Leaping off our mounts, we pulled them inside and slammed the door shut just before those Red Skins reached us.
I can not say if they were drunk or crazy or what but those Comanches sure did want our hides for supper! They kicked and hammered at the door and dove in through the window. Only our constant, accurate fire kept the battle on an even keel. There must have been twenty-five to thirty of them and they just kept coming at us like they were determined to kill us to the last man.
Once, in a lull that lasted a few minutes, I heard a bugle call and told the others, with excited pleasure, that the Cavalry had come to save us. They laughed and said it was an Indian doing it who had, likely, stolen the bugle from a dead Cavalry man. “They like to blow bugles,” Henry told me. “It fires them up.”
I guess it must have for the next attack came right away. It was a mean one. We fired our guns until they were burning hot to touch. Indian bodies were stacked all over. Our horses screamed and bucked, knocking their heads against the roof of the house. There was so much powder smoke that it was hard to see or breathe. The Comanches yelled, and pounded on the door, and jumped in through the window even though it just meant jumping into lead. I must have shot down seven or eight of them. You did not have to have good aim either. You could not miss them.
Finally, they had enough I guess and what was left of them rode off. (Which was a good coincidence as we were down to nine more shots between us.) Two of Baker’s men were killed and nineteen Indians, six inside and thirteen around the house. One of our horses was also killed but, I am glad to state, my “charmed life” has reported back for duty as I did not get so much as a scratch.
When we were leaving—Henry riding double with Cullen—I decided that it was as good a time as any to declare myself and told Henry that I had made up my mind to get myself another ranch job. This is not true but I did not want to tell him that his mode of living is not to my taste any more.
He did not take it hard, only smiling and saying, “Sure thing, old fellow. Good luck to you—” as he rode off. I thought our parting would make him a little sadder than that.
I am sad about it. Even though Henry is a strange person, he had always been a good friend to me and I am sorry I could never repay his favor by saving his life. I do not suppose I will ever have the chance now.
Adios, Amigo! It has been good fun but our paths go off in different ways now.
About a week later, Clay came upon the camp of an old man with a small herd of cattle. The man had been lying in his bedroll for three days and was close to death.
October 2, 1867
I buried the old man today. He did not have much of a chance to live, I think. I took care of him as best as I could and he seemed grateful. He said that I could have his herd of cattle if I would write a letter to his son in Missouri and tell him what had happened. I promised that I would. The old man’s name was Gerald Shaner.
Now I am a cow boy once again. I can not seem to get away from it. I hate those long horns like the plague and now I have to nurse a herd of them across the plains. I say “a herd” but there are only twelve of them! I say “I have to nurse” them but, of course, I don’t. I could let them wander off to live or die but that would not be smart. I can use the money they will bring me so I am going to drive them to Hickman which is about a hundred and twenty miles southwest of here and hope to sell them. That is my plan.
As indicated earlier—and a leitmotif throughout Clay’s account—his plans “gang aft astray.” Judging from a percentage viewpoint, one might declare that Clay’s plans were altered by outside influences more than not. This fact strengthens my contention that he was, indeed. a “product” of his times, being led with almost preordained inevitability toward his destiny. This is not to say that he did not have a mind of his own or make decisions on his own. Yet, caught up by the violent wave of the period through which he lived, he could do little more than “keep his head up,” swimming short distances in various directions even as the wave bore him on toward his appointment with fate.
The next entry of note occurs almost two weeks later as he nears Hickman with his herd of nine cows, two of them having been lost to Indians, one to a pack of wolves.
October 17, 1867
I came up on the camp at sunset yesterday, the men there working for a ranch called The Circle Seven.
Their foreman, a man named Tiner, was affable at first, inviting me to light and have some food. I accepted gladly and counted myself fortunate to have come this way. He told me that Hickman is just a day’s ride away and I decided that I was a lucky fellow to have made it.
Then he surprised the H———out of me by telling me that, since I was new to these parts and a “one-man spread” I only had to pay them ten dollars to move my herd across their range. He told me this was Circle Seven land and strangers were required to pay for its use.
I was angered by this and told him I did not have a one-bit piece to my name. This did not disturb him. He said that I could pay my way across with one of my cows.
“How can you rake me down like that?” I asked him. “You know that I can get more than ten dollars for one of those cows.”
He said that he was sorry about that but that, if I wanted, he could have the cow cut in half or thirds and take ten dollars worth of it for payment.
Something about the way he said that riled me good. I got up and mounted. When he told one of his men to cut out a cow, I told him to keep his d——d hands off. He paid no attention to me and sent the man to do what he had ordered.
I suppose I am crazy but I got so mad at this, I saw red. I told that cow boy to stay the H———away from my herd. He acted as if I wasn’t even talking and started after one of my cows. I pulled out my rifle and shot the ground up by his boots.
That did it royal. The next second, lead was flying and I was forced to ride for my life. I tried to drive my herd off on the run but wasn’t very far before they caught me and shot my horse out from underneath me. I had to leg it to a pile of rocks and take cover. It was almost dark by then and although I took a shot or two at them, I don’t believe I hit a single target.
Now it is morning and my herd is gone and so are all the Circle Seven men as well. I have no horse so it looks like a long walk ahead for me. If I ever run across those cow stealing b——s, I will let air into them so help me G———!
No further entry appears for five days. Clay’s walk across the New Mexican prairie must have been an arduous one. Cowboy boots are hardly designed for hiking (he knocked the high heels off the first day so he could move more easily), and Clay, though healthy, was not accustomed to walking great distances. By the time he reached the property of the Arrow-C ranch, his feet were swollen, blistered, and bloody. He was taken into the ranch by one of the cowboys, fed, and put up for the night.
The following day, he met Arthur Courtwright who probably had more to do with what Clay Halser became than any other individual.
October 20, 1867
I have decided to stay at the Arrow-C and work for Mr. Courtwright.
He is about the nicest gentleman I have ever met and I like him a good deal. He is British and has only been in this country for nine months. He is twenty years older than me but we talk the same lingo. He makes a body feel at ease and has charm enough to talk the birds out of the branches. He seems to have taken a shine to me, I am glad to state. I spent most of the day talking to him.
He told me that his family is a “venerable” one. (I think that is the word he used.) He said that they go back in English history and were, at one time, famous, and rich. Now, although the fame in history is still intact, their riches have faded. He took what was left of the money and “came to The New World to recoup the family fortune” as he put it.
A Hickman man—named Charles McConnell—who Mr. Courtwright met in St. Louis convinced him that this area was ideal for his purposes. Taking McConnell’s word at face value, Mr. Courtwright came here, bought this ranch and started a supply store with McConnell in Hickman.
Since coming here, however, he has discovered that the “path to wealth” is not to be an easy one. There is a man named Sam Brady who controls the entire range, holding the best springs, streams, water holes, and grazing lands which makes his ranch (The Circle Seven!) the most powerful around.
I asked Mr. Courtwright why the small ranchers did not join forces to break Brady’s “strangle hold.” He answered that, until he came here, Brady owned the only supply store in Hickman. Either the ranchers went along with him or they got starved out.
Now that Mr. Courtwright and McConnell have a “rival” store, the tide is changing but it is just beginning to change. Most of the small ranchers are buying their supplies from the Courtwright-McConnell store now and Sam Brady is beginning to hurt. Mr. Courtwright fears “a major conflict” some time soon. He hopes to avoid it but doesn’t know that it is possible.
I got the feeling that he feels a little doubt about his partner although he never said it in so many words. I don’t even know McConnell but I feel doubt about him. I mean, why didn’t he tell Mr. Courtwright he was sticking his neck on a chopping block by coming here?
I don’t know why Mr. Courtwright told me all these things. He said that he could trust me and asked if I would stay and help him. I said I would be glad to do so and would never stand back in a tight place. I would help him even if it was just because he asked, I like him that much.
But for a chance to get back at those Circle Seven b———s, I would take a situation in H———!
What Clay did not realize was that, by taking employ at the Arrow-C he was doing just that: taking a situation in H——.
So he began to work for the Britisher Arthur Courtwright whom he came. quickly, to revere. Clay never mentioned his own father or expressed any sense of loss at never having had a father-son relationship. It seems clear, however. that, in Courtwright—who, by all reports, was a man of infinite charm, patience, and wisdom—Clay found the father he had never had.
He also found, within the month, the young woman he was, consequently, to wed.
November 28, 1867
Mr. Courtwright was kind enough to take me with him today into Hickman where we had Thanksgiving dinner at the home of his partner, Charles McConnell.
I cannot say I like McConnell worth a d———although I would never say this to Mr. Courtwright if my life depended on it. I think McConnell is not to be trusted. I found out, to my surprise, that he was, at one time. Sam Brady’s lawyer! This is not what I would call a good “omen.” If a man can turn on one he can turn on another. If he ever proves to be false to Mr. Courtwright’s trust, I will kill him.
That would not be so easy to do however. I do not mean as a physical act. (McConnell is a weak tub of a man.) I mean it would not be so easy to do because of his daughter, Anne, who I met today.
I don’t trust myself any more where it comes to the heart but I have the feeling that I could fall in love with Anne McConnell very easy. There is something about her that reminds me of Mary Jane Silo. (It is hard to believe that it is getting close to two years since I saw her last!) She is very pretty and has a gentle smile that pleases the eye.
I must not let myself be fooled however. I thought I was in love with Hazel Thatcher. What is more, I have had many females since (all w——s) and may not have the ability to feel an honest emotion.
I do feel something though—and something powerful. I hope I am not fooling myself to believe that she feels something too. I can not believe, however, that the looks and smiles she gave me were without meaning.
I do believe that her father does not care for me. When I was looking at his daughter, I noticed him frowning. I guess he knows that I am only a common ranch hand and wants more for his daughter. Because Mr. Courtwright is his partner though and Mr. Courtwright likes me, McConnell can’t say anything right out.
I don’t believe that Mrs. McConnell noticed anything of what passed. She is Anne’s stepmother and seems very retiring in nature.
Clay’s ability at character analysis deserted him on this occasion as a later entry makes vividly clear.
December 14, 1867
God All Mighty, what a strange H———of an afternoon!
Mr. Courtwright sent me in to Hickman to deliver a message to Mr. McConnell. He was not at home but Mrs. McConnell was.
It is not often that you smell whiskey on a lady’s breath. A w——’s yes but not a lady’s. I smelled it on Mrs. McConnell’s breath however. Her eyes had a faraway look in them and she moved oddly.
I did not know what to say when she told me to come inside the house. I thought, at first, she meant for me to sit and wait until her husband got home so I could deliver the message to him personally. On second thought, that did not make much sense but, by then, I was already in the house.
Mrs. McConnell embarrassed me by offering me a drink of whiskey. I said no thank you and she had one any way. I sat on the sofa which she told me to do. I tried to be polite and make conversation with her but it was hard.
Too late I remembered Hazel Thatcher and that night in the wagon as Mrs. McConnell put her hand on me. I don’t mean on my hand either! I was so surprised I must have turned into a statue!
She started saying things to me that I can not put down even if this is a secret journal! I mean I never heard such talk from a female, not even a w———! I tried to get up and excuse myself but she wouldn’t let me. I know I was blushing because my face felt as though I was holding it a few inches from a red hot stove.
Then she cursed and pulled open her dress and buttons popped all over. She had nothing on underneath and I near to froze when she held her bare b——s in her hands and told me to———!
I couldn’t even speak I was so startled by the turn of events! She was grabbing me and telling me she wanted me to——her right there on the sofa in the full light! I swear to G———, fighting those Comanches was a sight easier than fighting off that woman.
To top it all, Anne came in just then! Seeing her, her stepmother cursed something awful, then ran upstairs and slammed a door. I stood dazed and looking at Anne, believing that she was going to tell me to get out of the house and never come back.
To my surprise, she asked me to sit down. She was blushing too as she sat across the parlor from me and told me that her stepmother is “ill” and that she would honor me if I would not say anything about what had happened as it would break her father’s heart. I agreed and, shortly after, left. When I did, she kissed me on the cheek and said that she was grateful to me and hoped that we might see each other again under “more pleasant circumstances.”
I take back what I said. I do love Anne McConnell. I believe that I must ask for her hand in marriage.
It is going to be d———d awkward though. I mean, for G——’s sake what am I supposed to say the next time I see her stepmother? It is such a dreadful problem, I can not even ask Mr. Courtwright what he would do though I am sure that he would give some good advice.
December 15, 1867
A few lines remaining in this, my first Record Book that I found on the belongings of that Confederate officer more than three years ago.
I am going in to Hickman in a few days to pick up some supplies for Mr. Courtwright. While I am in town, I will buy myself another Record Book.
Copyright © 1991 by RXR, Inc.