Growing up in Ohio in the 1860s, brothers Bill and John Cole dream of going west and becoming gunfighters. They have no intention of following in their father's footsteps and working the land, spending their days as farmers.
At eighteen, Bill is the first to leave and become a deputy. He cleans up the town of Amber Walls, Texas, and is believed to be the fastest gun of his time. But there's one faster-his brother, John, who rides into Abilene, Kansas, on his bay mare and leaves his mark on this western town as a deputy sheriff. He becomes known as the "left-handed gun." All those who challenge young John Cole end up six feet under in Boot Hill.
The Left-Handed Gun follows the trials and fortunes of Bill and John Cole as they tackle the challenges of the Old West. They learn that all who take the way of the gun will sooner or later end up on Boot Hill.
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THE LEFT-HANDED GUN
By Tony Monte
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Tony Monte
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJOHN HEADS WEST
Young John Cole rode into the town of Abilene, in Kansas. The day was hot, very hot. The year was 1879. His bay mare was as tired and worn as he was. He spoke softly to his horse, "It will not be long now Amber, and you can rest and get some oats". To his right were the stockyards, a sign read Joseph G. McCoy Proprietor. There were a number of water troughs along the fence. John dismounted next to one and let Amber have a drink, while he splashed water over his hot and dusty face. A young boy was playing in the road with a stick and his dog. "Boy where is the stable?" The boy looked up, "Crenshaw's, down at the very end of the street and to the left" he said. John mounted and gave a slight jab with his spurs. His horse plodded forward, the horse must have smelled the stable, for it picked up the pace on its own. John looked around at the buildings, a hotel and a bank that looked as if you could break into it with a crowbar. John turned left down the first rutted dusty street; He saw the stable on the left and the saloon across on the right. He stopped in front of the open door of the stable and dismounted, He looked at the dirty old man sitting in a chair. "Are you the stableman?"
"That be me sonny, Crenshaw's the name."
John asked "How much to board my horse Crenshaw?"
"Two bits a day" grunted Crenshaw. John flipped him a quarter, "Grain, and rub him down."
"You are somewhat young to be barking orders," Crenshaw said. Cole gave him a hard stare. The old man looked at the tied down gun, "Ok I will take good care of him." Cole looked around, saw the Buffalo saloon, and walked across the rutted street, stepped up onto the porch and pushed open the batwing doors. Cole waited for his eyes to adjust to the dark room; he walked over to the bar and laid a nickel on polished wood, "Beer." There were two men on his left at the bar and an old man to his right. Behind the bar there was a mirror on the wall and a shelf with whiskey bottles. Looking in the mirror, John saw some men sitting at tables staring at him. Turning his head around, John said, "A man does not like to be stared at when he is drinking." John noticed they looked at his tied down gun, and then looked the other way.
The man at the end of the bar said, "You don't look old enough to drink." Cole picked up the glass with his right hand, took a sip of the warm beer, stared at the man, and then said. "And you might get older if you mind your own business." "Just making talk young man, did not mean to rile you." Cole finished up his beer. He turned back to the bar. "Where can I get a bed?" Cole asked the bartender."
"Go left out the door, across the street and four doors down. Gus said; "The Abilene Hotel."
Cole picked up his saddlebags, and tossed them over his right shoulder, then picked up his dads' old rifle, and left the bar. He then walked to the hotel, looking over the town as he went, entering the dimly lit hotel; he again waited for his eyes to adjust. Cole walked over to the desk clerk. "I want a room facing the street."
"That will be two bits a day. Room two, on the right." Cole gave him two bits, signed the register, picked up the key and turned towards the stairs. Cole walked up the stairs, and walked over to the room marked 2, he tried the door, it was unlocked, with his is left hand on his gun, He pushed the door open with his right hand, looking around to make sure no one was in the room. He entered the small shabby room, locked the door, and looked around. It was a typical hotel room. It had a bed, small washbasin, kerosene lamp, old curtains hanging limply on the one dusty window and a pitcher of water on the worn old table. He dropped his saddlebags on the floor and rested his rifle against the old dresser; He took off his gun, laid it on the bed, and then lay down close to it. He closed his tired eyes, and thought back of his family. He thought of his Mother and Father, and his older brother Bill. Who already had a reputation as the fastest gun alive, But John knew there was one faster..
Chapter TwoWAGON'S WEST
John thought back to the small farm they had in Ohio, He had sold the few cattle, about ten head, it was a farm and ranch combined, about a hundred and sixty acres. Though he was only fifteen, he had to do a man's work, for his father and mother; both in their seventies were sick and not long for this world. John thought back to his Father telling how they came to Ohio.
William Cole was born in 1808 along the Hudson River, In the Eastern Kaatskil Mountains. At the age of eighteen, he married his lifelong girlfriend, Mira O'Leary. Not being able to make a decent living, William took his new bride and headed west with all his possessions. Two horses and a pack mule, loaded with all the food they could carry and his old Flintlock rifle and pistol. Not being a talkative man, William did not tell his sons much about the trip to Ohio. When Bill was 13 and John 10, they were sitting in the cabin at the dinner table. The cabin had two rooms with a loft, where the boys slept. John asked; "Pa on your way here from New York, did you have to kill any injuns?" Even now he could hear his father talking to him.
"John, killing another human being is not a good thing, but sometimes a man has to do things, he does not like. It is not the way of the Lord, to kill. I will tell you of one instance. After making camp one night, we ate our meager dinner of bread and beans, and then we turned in for the night. Sometime close to morning, I was woken, by the braying of the mule. I pulled off my blankets and grabbed my rifle." Young John with both arms on the table, mouth open, listened intently.
"I saw someone leading the mule away; we could not afford to lose the mule. I had no choice! I brought the rifle to my shoulder and shot the man. I took my powder horn, and shot pouch and reloaded my rifle. I did not know how many were around. Lucky for us it was one, lone Indian. I wondered why he was trying to take the mule, and not the horses. Later I found out they like mule meat. There were a few more problems along the way. About a week later, I saw smoke off in the distance, fearing it might be Indians, I told your mother we would make camp and lay low for the rest of the day. The next morning we had a cold breakfast, I was afraid to attract attention to ourselves. As your mother packed the mule, I saddled the two horses and we headed where we saw the smoke. After climbing a rise we saw a burnt out wagon, near the wagon we saw three forms, I knew right away what they were. "When we got close enough where I could still keep an eye on your mother, I told her to stay back with the mule. I could smell the stench of death and so could my horse, as he became hard to control. I dismounted and ground hitched him, taking my rifle with me I approached the bodies. There was a man, woman and a young girl, all were dead, and had been mutilated. It was all I could do not to lose my cold breakfast. There was not much of anything left. The Indians took almost everything. I saw a Bible lying next to the woman, it was in bad shape, but I could make out the family's names. Cian Moore, Shannon and Erin Moore and their birth dates, I can't remember the dates, but the young girl was only ten that I will always remember. There were still some scraps of clothing thrown around, so I gathered what I could and wrapped the bodies in them the best I could, as I did this I realized how foolish I was to try and make this trip alone. But it was too late to turn back now, I did not fear for myself, but I feared for your mom."
"After I had the bodies covered, I waved for your mom to come to me. I found a piece of board that I could dig with and started digging, your mom rode up and dismounted and helped me the best she could, we had to bury them all together, we did the best we could. Your mom prayed the "23rd Psalm, "Yea though I walk through the valley of death I fear no evil, for thou art with me." We then walked the horses all over the grave; packing the earth so no animals could find it and dig it up. As we were doing that I thought, "I hope no one will be praying over us." "Then I heard riders coming, fearing they were Indian, I hid your mom under the burnt out wagon covering her with anything I could find. I then waited behind my horse with my rifle over the saddle, four men came over the knoll, I thanked the Lord they were white men. I lowered my rifle and they rode up and dismounted. They said they were from a wagon train about two miles away, seeing the smoke they came to see what it was. I believed they were friendly, so I went and got your mom. They told me I was crazy to try and reach Ohio alone and said we could join the wagon train. That we did, I wished the Moore's could have been as lucky as we were. I helped your mom on her horse, mounted mine and with the mule behind me on a lead rope we followed the men to the wagon train. Upon reaching the wagon train, one of the men introduced us to the wagon master.
"Mr. Murphy this is the Cole family, heading for Ohio, I told them they should join us."
"Howdy folks, Craig Murphy is the name, where is your wagon". "Pleased to meet you Mr. Murphy, we have no wagon."
"Mrs. Clemons lost her husband a ways back, I'm sure she would welcome your help driving her wagon". We followed Mr. Murphy to the wagon train, where he introduced us to Mrs. Clemons, She was a pretty lady but she seemed kind of frail to me. It made me wonder why a man would take a woman like her west. As I later learned, Mr. Clemons should have stayed in the east also; his death was an accident, but a very stupid one. After making camp one night, he decided to practice with his new rifle, it appears he put the cap on the rifle first, and then cocked the hammer, and with the butt of the rifle on the ground, he poured the powder down the barrel and tamped the ball home. Well the hammer let loose and the ball took Mr. Clemons in the head. Some people have no common sense and should never touch a gun. Sad to say Mr. Clemons was one of them. I looked her wagon and mules over; everything looked in good shape, but having one more would not hurt. You're Mom and Mrs. Clemons got along very good. This made the trip much easier for your mom and me. "Well boys that is enough, the rest of the trip was not that exciting, just a lot of hard work and that's what is planned for us today, a lot of hard work.
Chapter ThreeBOYHOOD DREAMS
The next morning William looked at John. "I have taught Bill how to shoot. I think John; it is time for you to learn, the west is a very dangerous place. You can trust no one you don't know." "Tomorrow, after your chores, we will do some shooting; it is about time you learn." John was so excited he could hardly sleep. He was up before the dawn. Grabbing his clothes and boots, being as quiet as he could John climbed down the ladder and got dressed. He walked to the door and went out. He looked towards the east; the sun was just starting to rise. He went over to the corral, pitched hay to the horses and the mule, grabbed the bucket, ran to the pump and filled the bucket with water. John then brought the bucket to the door of the house, he ran to the barn opened the big door, grabbed a bucket and a stool, sat down and milked the cow. Hurrying to the house John carefully put the milk near the door. All that was left of the morning chores was to chop wood. John grabbed the ax and started splitting wood. His father walked out the door. "John," his father said; "How many times do we have to tell you to use your right hand?" Without saying a word, John switched the ax to his right hand, Left, right, either hand made no difference to him.
Bill walked out the door. "Well Bill" his father said; "looks like you got lucky this morning, young John did all the chores. Go get the rifle, pistol and shot pouch." Bill had shot the guns and hunted with them so many times that he was in no hurry. After a few minutes, that seemed like an hour to John. Bill came out of the house with the pistol in his belt and shot pouch hanging over his shoulder and the rifle in his hand. John was walking in the lead. Father and sons walked to the back of the barn. There was a big rock, about fifty feet away. Cans were lying all around the rock, where Bill had done his shooting. "Bill" his father said; "put up some cans." He then handed John the pistol. Bill hollered; "Wait till I get out of here."
John raised the pistol with his left hand. His Father said; "How many times do I have to tell you to use your right hand" John started to switch hands, His father said; "Forget it shoot with the hand that is more comfortable for you." "Shooting is a serious thing, if you can shoot better with your left, then its better you use it."
It took John five shots before he could hit the can. John reloaded the pistol. Bill took the pistol from John, whipped around brought the gun up, cocked it, fired and hit the can. "Ok let John try the rifle" his father said. "The rifle is loaded; always remember to reload after you shoot." John raised the heavy flintlock to his shoulder, pulled back the hammer, took aim at the can and squeezed the trigger. Wham, it kicked back against his shoulder. The next thing John knew, he was sitting on his ass. At ten John was a small boy. His father and Bill were trying not to laugh. "Well boys, I think mom has breakfast ready." John used his right hand to eat breakfast, without being told to, for his left shoulder hurt like hell.
That night while in bed, Bill and John talked about how exciting it would be to go farther west. Bill told John: "I am saving every penny I can get my hands on, to buy a pistol and holster, I carved a gun out of wood, and I practice every chance I get. Someday I am going to be the fastest gun alive."
"I would not let dad hear you say that."
"I won't, and don't you say anything. I plan on heading west in a few more years." "Can I go with you?" John asked
"No you will be too young, and Mom and Dad will need you here." John gritted his teeth and said, "I'm not going to be a farmer all my life either." Bill told him, "When the time is right you can join me, we will be the feared, Cole brothers." They both fell asleep dreaming of the west and of being gunfighters.
Chapter FourBILL HEADS WEST
Bill Cole said goodbye to his mom, dad and brother John; He had just turned eighteen, he was already a year behind his boyhood dream to head west and become a famous gunfighter.
Being true to what he told his brother John; he had saved every penny he could get his hands on. It was time to buy a gun and a horse. Keith Morgan was the closest rancher and always had horses for sale; it was a five-mile walk.
Upon reaching the Morgan Ranch, he could not help being envious of the spread, and all the horses in the coral, he looked them over as he headed for the sprawling ranch house, then he started worrying he would not have enough money for a horse and a pistol.
As Bill was stepping on the porch, Mr. Morgan came out the door,
"Hello Bill Cole, what brings you here?"
"Hello Mr. Morgan, I would like to buy a horse, if I can afford one."
"Well Bill I have three that are getting on in years, still good horses, You can take your pick for thirty dollars and I will throw in a bridle."
"I would like that Dapple Gray."
"Well he's yours then."
Bill reached in his pocket and took out thirty dollars and handed it to Morgan, "Thanks Mr. Morgan."
"Can I ask where you are heading Bill?"
"I have wanted to see some of the west for a long time now, Mr. Morgan; I have been saving every penny I could get my hands on."
"You don't seem to be too well outfitted, Bill You don't even have a gun, and there is a lot of danger out there."
"I know, I am going to buy a gun and supplies in town, my dad did teach me how to shoot, but he only has the one pistol."
"Well I have an old cap and ball pistol, and holster for it, I could let you have it for, say five dollars."
"If you have some powder, shot and caps for it, I will buy it.
"Sit tight I will get it for you."
A few minutes later Morgan came out with the gun. "Here you go Bill, it is still in good shape and shoots true, just be careful with it." Bill thanked him and counted out the five dollars.
Excerpted from THE LEFT-HANDED GUN by Tony Monte Copyright © 2011 by Tony Monte. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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