Into a lawless town rode a hero named John Henry Sixkiller. Only William W. Johnstone with J. A. Johnstone could tell a tale of violence and vengeance so real, so raw, it outdoes the legends of Old West justice that inspired it.
On The American Frontier, History Is Written By Bullets
It was there for the taking: $75,000 in gold bullion, the combined payrolls of three productive gold mines, just waiting to be stolen from under the noses of a bickering sheriff and city marshal. Billy Ray Gilmore and his band of kill-crazy outlaws have a plan to do it, too--that is, until Sixkiller comes to town. Hiding his badge to conceal his identity as a U.S. marshal, Sixkiller goes undercover to smoke out the culprits before they strike. But in this town full of two-legged rattlesnakes, deadly surprises lurk behind every saloon door. To keep from being bitten, Sixkiller will have to lay a few traps of his own. Lucky for him, what this town lacks in law, it makes up for in guns--and dynamite.
About the Author
Being the all around assistant, typist, researcher, and fact checker to one of the most popular western authors of all time, J.A. Johnstone learned from the master, Uncle William W. Johnstone.
He began tutoring J.A. at an early age. After-school hours were often spent retyping manuscripts or researching his massive American Western History library as well as the more modern wars and conflicts. J.A. worked hard--and learned.
"Every day with Bill was an adventure story in itself. Bill taught me all he could about the art of storytelling. 'Keep the historical facts accurate,' he would say. 'Remember the readers, and as your grandfather once told me, I am telling you now: be the best J.A. Johnstone you can be.'"
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Sixkiller, U.S. Marshall: Day of Rage
By William W. Johnstone, J. A. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2012 William W. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
"Sixkiller! John Henry Sixkiller, is that you?"
At the sound of that friendly voice hailing him, John Henry turned around. He was in Tahlequah, the capital of the Cherokee Nation in Indian Territory, and had quite a few friends here.
And some enemies as well, because the two men who had come up behind him weren't nearly as jovial as that shout had made them sound.
In fact, if the guns they were pointing at him were any indication, they were downright hostile.
The man on the left wore overalls, work shoes, a homespun shirt, and a battered, floppy-brimmed hat. Definitely a farmer by the looks of him. He clutched a shotgun and had the twin barrels leveled menacingly at John Henry.
His companion was better dressed, although not by much. His town suit was threadbare, and he had a derby perched on his head and a pistol in his hand.
Both men were Indians, and John Henry saw a resemblance between them. Brothers, he decided.
It wasn't unusual to see men carrying guns in Tahlequah, but the sight of weapons being pointed at somebody like that was enough to make folks yell in alarm and scurry to get off the street. That was fine with John Henry. The fewer people who were around, the less he had to worry about a stray bullet hitting an innocent bystander.
Because there were going to be bullets flying pretty soon, no doubt about that.
For the moment, though, John Henry put a smile on his face and asked, "What can I do for you fellas?"
"What can you do?" said the man with the derby and the pistol. He was sort of short and scrawny, but the gun in his hand meant he couldn't be taken lightly. "You can die, that's what you can do! Just like our brother Doyle done when you shot him, you ... you damn lawman!"
John Henry lifted his left hand in a conciliatory gesture and said, "Now hold on. It's true enough I'm a lawman. Chief sheriff of the Cherokee Nation, in fact, and a deputy U.S. marshal to boot. So, in which capacity was it that I shot your brother?"
"What in blazes does that matter?" the man with the pistol yelled.
"Well, seeing as how you boys have the drop on me and it's mighty unlikely that I'm going to survive the next couple of minutes, I'd really like to know why I'm about to die. What was your brother's name?"
"Doyle Hilltop, that was his name, you no-good, badge-totin' —"
"Doyle Hilltop," John Henry repeated in a musing tone of voice. "Sure, I remember him. Held up a stagecoach and shot two people dead, as I recall." He shook his head slowly. "I surely do hate to speak ill of anybody's kin, especially after they've passed on, but your brother Doyle was not a good sort. When I went to arrest him, I told him that he had a choice. He could surrender and come back with me for trial, or I could shoot him dead. His pick. Obviously, you know what his decision was."
The Hilltop brother with the shotgun said, "Caleb, are we gonna just stand here and let him run his mouth, or are we gonna shoot him like we said we were?"
"We're gonna shoot him, of course. We said we wanted him to see it comin' and know why he was dyin', and now he does." Caleb Hilltop jabbed the pistol dramatically at John Henry. "You've run your mouth long enough. Time for you to die, lawman!"
"Now hold on, hold on," John Henry said. The street was almost clear. A teamster who'd been coming along behind the Hilltop brothers had stopped his wagon, piled off the seat, and was about to disappear inside a store. "There's just one more thing."
Caleb sneered at him.
"What is it?" he asked. "You gonna get down on your knees and beg for your life, Sixkiller?"
"No," John Henry said. "I'm going to offer you a choice. You can put those guns down and let me take you to jail peacefully, or I'll shoot you dead. Up to you."
"You son of a —"
John Henry took that for his answer.
The Colt on John Henry's hip came out of its holster with blinding speed. He went for the shotgunner first. Caleb's pistol was fairly small in caliber; the odds of surviving a hit from it were a lot higher than those of living through a shotgun blast.
John Henry triggered twice, using the revolver's recoil to help direct his shot. The first bullet went into the shotgunner's chest, the second right between his eyes. Even so, he was still able to jerk the scattergun's triggers, but he was already going over backwards and the double load of buckshot went up into the air at a sharp angle, completely missing John Henry.
Caleb rushed his shot, so John Henry didn't have to worry about whether he'd survive a wound from Caleb's gun. The Colt roared and bucked again in John Henry's hand, and Caleb was knocked halfway around by the impact of the bullet striking his skinny chest and ripping through his left lung.
For a moment, Caleb was able to stay on his feet. He struggled to raise his pistol again. He rasped, "You ... you lousy ..."
"Don't blame me," John Henry said as a wisp of smoke curled from the muzzle of his gun. "I gave you boys a perfectly reasonable choice."
Blood gushed from Caleb's mouth. He dropped his gun and pitched forward on his face.
The other Hilltop brother — John Henry didn't know his name — lay on his back. John Henry checked him first, sliding a boot toe under his shoulder and rolling him onto his side enough to see the gaping hole where the bullet had blown out the back of his skull. Dead, all right, no doubt about that.
The other man was still alive when John Henry got to him, but he died without regaining consciousness, his last, blood-choked breath rattling grotesquely in his throat. John Henry looked around, didn't see any other bodies lying in the street. That was good. He punched the two empty cartridges out of the Colt's cylinder and replaced them with fresh rounds.
This time the shout wasn't meant as the prelude to an ambush. John Henry recognized the voice and holstered his gun as he turned around. He saw Captain Charles LeFlore of the Cherokee Lighthorse, the tribal police force, hurrying toward him, trailed by a couple of other policemen.
"Hello, Captain," John Henry said with a faint smile. "I reckon you heard the shooting."
"Tahlequah's not so big that the sounds of a gun battle go unnoticed," LeFlore said. "Who'd you shoot now?"
"You mean who did I have to shoot," John Henry said. "I gave them a choice, but they didn't give me one."
"Uh-huh." LeFlore looked past John Henry at the limp, motionless bodies. "So who are they?"
"The smaller one is Caleb Hilltop. The other one is his brother, but I don't know his name."
"Any relation to Doyle Hilltop?"
"He was their brother."
LeFlore nodded and said, "That explains why they threw down on you, then. You killed Doyle, as I recall."
"That I did. In the line of duty."
"Sure. Same as these two killings." LeFlore paused. "John Henry, how long you been in town?"
John Henry glanced at his horse Iron Heart, tied up at a hitch rack a few feet away, and said, "Oh, about five minutes, I suppose."
"That's sort of what I thought," Captain LeFlore said dryly. He motioned for the other policemen to take care of the bodies, then went on, "Were you headed to my office when these fellas interrupted your day, by any chance?"
"I was," John Henry said.
"Well, let's head on over there, then. I'll walk with you. I needed to talk to you anyway."
Captain LeFlore had been John Henry's boss, the one who had recruited him into the Cherokee Lighthorse in the first place so John Henry would have the legal standing to go after the murderer who had killed his father. Now, with John Henry being chief sheriff as well as a deputy U.S. marshal, the two men were of roughly equal standing. If anything, John Henry outranked his old boss, although he wouldn't have felt comfortable giving orders to Captain LeFlore.
"I got a message for you from Judge Parker," LeFlore said in answer to John Henry's question. "He wants to see you in Fort Smith."
John Henry nodded and said, "That's where I was headed when I left here."
"The judge sounded like he was sort of in a hurry to see you, John Henry. I don't think I'd linger too long in Tahlequah if I was you."
John Henry grinned and said, "Why, if I didn't know better I'd say that you were trying to get rid of me, Captain."
"Well ... I guess it's good for the undertaker ... but the bodies do tend to pile up a mite whenever you're around."CHAPTER 2
Southwestern New Mexico Territory — several weeks earlier
The two men on the wagon kept glancing around nervously as the vehicle rolled down a fairly steep mountain trail toward the plains below, where the settlement of Purgatory was located. Four men on horseback rode with the wagon, two ahead and two behind, and they were equally wary.
They had good reason to be worried. In the back of the wagon, covered with canvas, was a cargo of gold bullion from the San Francisco Mine, named after the mountains that loomed above them and the river that ran through the valley to the east. The load was worth thousands of dollars and would be a tempting target for any outlaw or road agent.
They didn't have to be concerned about just any would-be thief who came along, though. In these parts, one group seemed to hold a monopoly on lawlessness: the gang of kill-crazy bandits led by Billy Ray Gilmore.
For months now Gilmore and his gang had been preying on the law-abiding inhabitants of this corner of New Mexico Territory. They had started out fairly small, holding up a couple of stagecoaches bound for Purgatory from Lordsburg, then robbing some freighters of the money they'd collected for some supplies they'd brought to the mining town. One of the freighters had taken exception to being robbed and tried to fight back, but he'd been gunned down without mercy before he could get off a single shot from his rifle.
As if that brutal murder had been a signal, the outlaws became even more ruthless and bloodthirsty over the succeeding weeks. They held up several gold shipments from the three big mines in the area, Jason True's San Francisco, Arnold Goodman's El Halcón , and Dan Lacey's Bonita Mine. If a driver didn't do exactly what the outlaws told him to, and quickly enough to suit them, they didn't hesitate to blast the luckless hombre. The same was true of the shotgun guards and the outriders sent with the shipments. Half a dozen men were dead as a result of the jobs that Gilmore's gang had pulled.
It had gotten to the point that not many men wanted the job of accompanying those shipments. The chore was just too blasted dangerous these days. Jason True had been forced to double the wages these men were going to collect for taking the gold to Purgatory.
Double wages wouldn't do a man any good if he was dead, though, and these guards all knew that. Beads of sweat stood out on their faces as they headed down the trail toward Purgatory, and that didn't have anything to do with the heat.
"They always hit in the mountains," the driver, Chet Simmons, said. "If we can make it to the flats, we'll be all right."
The shotgun guard next to him, Jack Whitfield, swallowed hard and tightened his grip on the double-barreled weapon he held across his lap.
"How much longer before we're down from here?" he asked.
"Twenty minutes maybe," Simmons said. "Can't rush those mules. As steep as the trail is, if we try to go too fast the wagon'll get away from us. Wouldn't want to run over those boys ridin' ahead of us."
"Don't want to get ambushed, either," Whitfield muttered.
His eyes roved constantly over the surrounding terrain. A steep, almost sheer mountainside rose to the left of them, while to the right the ground fell away in an almost equally steep slope dotted with boulders and clumps of hardy brush.
The trail itself, though, was nice and wide and there weren't any hairpin turns. Whitfield could see for several miles ahead of them. In fact, in this clear, dry air, he thought he could make out the settlement down in the valley, which was still a good seven or eight miles away.
Up higher, they'd had to travel through several passes that were prime sites for an ambush, and Whitfield's heart had been in his throat the whole way. Nothing had happened, and once they were past those places he'd begun to breathe a little easier. He was far from convinced, though, that they were out of danger.
Something made him turn his head and look up to the left. The slope in that direction ran upward for maybe a hundred feet before it leveled off into a narrow shoulder. A few pretty good-sized boulders perched on the edge of that shoulder.
As Whitfield watched, one of those boulders moved, rocking back and forth for a second and then overbalancing, toppling forward to roll down the mountainside. It started to bounce, the WHUMP! WHUMP! whump! of the impacts sounding like a giant stomping toward them.
"Look out, Chet!" Whitfield yelled.
There weren't enough loose rocks for the falling boulder to start an avalanche, but it was a danger in itself. The two outriders in front of the wagon jerked back on their reins and wheeled their mounts, which was a mistake. One of the men barely had time to scream before the big rock hit him and his horse and carried both of them over the brink on the other side of the trail.
More rocks were already crashing down toward the wagon and the men accompanying it. The racket was terrifying and disorienting. Simmons brought the wagon to a halt, and Whitfield flung the shotgun to his shoulder.
But there was nothing to shoot at. Buckshot wouldn't stop a five-hundred-pound boulder. One of the falling rocks landed on the wagon team, crushing two of the mules to bloody pulp. Another was headed straight for the driver's seat. Simmons and Whitfield dived off the vehicle just in time to avoid being smashed as well. They landed on the hard-packed ground to the left of the wagon, which now sat at an angle because the weight of the boulder striking it had snapped the front axle.
One of the outriders behind the wagon suffered the same fate as his comrade up front. A boulder struck him and knocked him over the edge of the trail. More than likely he was killed by the impact, but if he wasn't, the fall would kill him.
Shots sounded from up the trail. Whitfield looked in that direction and saw half a dozen riders charging down at them with guns blazing. The remaining outrider behind the wagon was driven from his saddle by outlaw lead. Whitfield lifted the shotgun and Simmons clawed his revolver from its holster, but both men knew they were probably doomed.
Still, they were Western men, and they weren't going to give up without a fight.
It didn't last long. Whitfield felt the fiery lance of a bullet piercing his shoulder and dropped the shotgun. He went to his knees and scrambled to pick it up despite the pain in his arm and shoulder. Beside him, Chet Simmons grunted and rocked back as slugs punched into him. Simmons collapsed, blood welling from his mouth and from three wounds in his chest.
Whitfield heard rapid hoofbeats from the other direction and glanced over his shoulder as he fumbled with the shotgun. The lone surviving outrider was lighting a shuck, galloping away down the trail as fast as his horse would carry him. Whitfield felt a surge of anger at the man for abandoning them like that, then realized that he might very well have done the same thing if he'd been in that position.
He couldn't seem to pick up the shotgun. His muscles just wouldn't work well enough. Then dust swirled around him as the outlaws rode up. One of them dismounted, gun in hand, and strode over to where Whitfeild knelt beside the gold wagon. He put a booted foot on the shotgun's barrels just to make sure Whitfield couldn't use it.
Gasping for breath, sweating, bleeding from his wounded shoulder, Whitfield looked up at the outlaw, who smiled down at him and said, "Looks like you're out of luck, amigo." The man wasn't very big, but he gave off such an air of menace that he seemed larger than he really was. Whitfield recognized him.
Billy Ray Gilmore. Wanted in several states and territories for murder, robbery, rape, and other crimes, all heinous, before he'd brought his gang and his particular brand of villainy to New Mexico Territory. Just to look at him, he didn't seem like a monster.
But Whitfield knew that he was, and Gilmore confirmed that by saying, "So long," and thumbing back the hammer of his gun.
Whitfield heard the roar of the shot that sent a bullet smashing through his brain, but that was all.
* * *
"Billy Ray, this is too damn much like work," Duke Rudd said as he and the other men loaded bullion into pouches slung over the backs of the pack mules they had brought down the trail. "First, some of us have to sweat like field hands leverin' those boulders off the rim up there, and now we got to tote all this heavy gold. If the team hadn't got squashed, we could've just turned the wagon around and hauled the loot away in it."
"Unfortunately, you can't really aim a boulder too well," Gilmore said as he sat on the wagon's lowered tailgate, supervising the operation. Flies had started to buzz around the bodies of the dead men and mules, and they were getting on his nerves. He went on, "We knew we'd probably have to pack the bullion out. That's why we were ready."
Excerpted from Sixkiller, U.S. Marshall: Day of Rage by William W. Johnstone, J. A. Johnstone. Copyright © 2012 William W. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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