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The Outlaw Josey Wales
By Forrest Carter
Dorchester PublishingCopyright © 2008 India Carter LLC.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe dispatch was filed December 8, 1866:
FROM: Central Missouri Military District. Major Thomas Bacon, 8th Kansas Cavalry, Commanding.
TO: Headquarters, Texas Military District, Galveston, Texas. Major General Charles Griffin, Commanding.
Dispatch filed with: General Philip Sheridan, Southwest Military District, New Orleans, Louisiana.
DAYLIGHT ROBBERY OF MITCHELL BANK, LEXINGTON, LAFAYETTE COUNTY, MISSOURI DECEMBER 4 THIS INSTANT. BANDITS ESCAPING WITH EIGHT THOUSAND DOLLARS, U.S. ARMY PAYROLL: NEW-MINTED TWENTY-DOLLAR GOLD PIECES. PURSUIT TOWARD INDIAN NATIONS TERRITORY. BELIEVED HEADED SOUTH TO TEXAS. ONE BANDIT SEVERELY WOUNDED. ONE IDENTIFIED. DESCRIPTION FOLLOWS:
JOSEY WALES, AGE 32. 5 FEET 9 INCHES. WEIGHT 160 POUNDS. BLACK EYES, BROWN HAIR, MEDIUM MUSTACHE. HEAVY BULLET SCAR HORIZONTAL RIGHT CHEEKBONE, DEEP KNIFE SCAR LEFT CORNER MOUTH. PREVIOUSLY LISTED WANTED BY U.S. MILITARY AS EXGUERRILLA LIEUTENANT SERVING WITH CAPT. WILLIAM "BLOODY BILL" ANDERSON. WALES REFUSED AMNESTY-SURRENDER, 1865. IN ADDITION TO CRIMINAL ACTIVITY, MUST BE REGARDED AS INSURRECTIONIST REBEL. ARMED AND DANGEROUS. THREE-THOUSAND-DOLLAR REWARD OFFERED BY U.S. MILITARY, MISSOURI DISTRICT. DEAD OR ALIVE.
It was cold. The wind whipped the wet pines into mournful sighing and sped the rain like bullets. It caused the campfires to jump and flicker and the soldiers around them to curse commanding officers and the mothers who gave them birth.
The campfires were arranged in a curious half-moon, forming a flickering chain that closed about these foothills of the Ozark Mountains. In the dark, cloud-scudding night the bright dots looked like a net determined to hold back the mountains from advancing into the Neosho River Basin, Indian Nations, just beyond.
Josey Wales knew the meaning of the net. He squatted, two hundred yards back in the hollow of heavy pine growth, and watched ... and chewed with slow contemplation at a wad of tobacco. In nearly eight years of riding, how many times had he seen the circle-net of Yankee Cavalry thrown out around him?
It seemed a hundred years ago, that day in 1858. A young farmer, Josey Wales, following the heavy turning plow in the creek bottoms of Cass County, Missouri. It would be a two-mule crop this year, a big undertaking for a mountain man, and Josey Wales was mountain. ALL the way back through his great-grandfolk of the past in the blue ridges of Virginia; the looming, smoke-haze peaks of Tennessee and into the broken beauty of the Ozarks; always it had been the mountains. The mountains were a way of life; independence and sanctuary, a philosophy that lent the peculiar code to the mountain man. "Where the soil's thin, the blood's thick," was their clannishness. To rectify a wrong carried the same obligation as being beholden to a favor. It was a religion that went beyond thought but rather was marrowed in the bone that lived or died with the man.
Josey Wales, with his young wife and baby boy, had come to Cass County. That first year he "obligated" himself for forty acres of flatland. He had built the house with his own hands and raised a crop ... and now this year he had obligated for forty more acres that took in the creek bottom. Josey Wales was "gittin' ahead." He hitched his mules to the turning plow in the dark of morning and waited in the fields, rested on his plow stock, for the first dim light that would allow him to plow.
It was a long time before Josey saw the smoke rising, that spring morning of 1858. The creek bottom was new ground, and the plow jerked at the roots, and Josey had to gee-haw the mules around the stumps. He hadn't looked up until he heard the shots. It was then he saw the smoke. It rose black-gray over the ridge. It could only be the house. He had left the mules, running barefoot, overalls flapping against his skinny legs; wildly, through the briars and sumac, across the rocky gullies. There had been little left when he fell, exhausted, into the swept clearing. The timbers of the cabin had fallen in. The fire was a guttering smoke that had already filled its appetite. He ran, fell, ran again ... around and around the ruin, screaming his wife's name, calling the baby boy, until his voice hoarsened into a whisper.
He had found them there in what had been the kitchen. They had fallen near the door, and the blackened skeleton arms of the baby boy were clinging to his mother's neck. Numbly, mechanically, Josey had gotten two sacks from the barn and rolled up the charred figures in them. He dug their single grave beneath the big water oak at the edge of the yard, and as darkness fell and moonlight silvered over the ruins, he tried to render the Christian burial.
But his Bible remembering would only come in snatches. "Ashes to ashes ... dust to dust," he had mumbled through his blackened face. "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away." "Ye're fer me 'er agin' me, said Jesus." And finally, "An eye fer an eye ... a tooth fer a tooth."
Great tears rolled down the smoked face of Josey Wales there in the moonlight. A tremble shook his body with uncontrollable fierceness that chattered his teeth and jerked his head. It was the last time Josey Wales would cry.
Excerpted from The Outlaw Josey Wales by Forrest Carter Copyright © 2008 by India Carter LLC.. Excerpted by permission.
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