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Snake River SlaughterMatt Jensen, the Last Mountain Man
By William W. Johnstone J. A. Johnstone
PINNACLE BOOKSCopyright © 2010 William W. Johnstone
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSweetwater County, Wyoming
The Baker brothers, Harry and Arnold, were outside by the barn when they saw Jules Pratt and his wife come out of the house. Scott and Lucy McDonald walked out onto the porch to tell the Pratts good-bye.
"You have been most generous," Jules said as he climbed up into the surrey. "Speaking on behalf of the laity of the church, I can tell you that every time we hear the beautiful music of the new organ, we will be thinking of, and thanking you."
"It was our pleasure," Scott said. "The church means a great deal to us, more than we can say. And we are more than happy to do anything we can to help out."
"We'll see you Sunday," Jules said, slapping the reins against the back of the team.
Lucy McDonald went back into the house but before Scott went back inside, he looked over toward the barn at the two brothers.
"How are you two boys comin' on the wagon?" Scott called toward them.
"We're workin' on it," Harry called back.
"I'm goin' to be needin' it pretty soon now, so you let me know if you run into any trouble with it," McDonald replied, just as he went back inside.
Harry and Arnold Baker were not permanent employees of the MacDonalds. Theyhad been hired the day before for the specific purpose of making repairs to the freight wagon.
"Did you see that money box?" Harry asked.
"You mean when he give that other fella a donation for the organ? Yeah, I seen it," Arnold replied.
"There has to be two, maybe three hunnert dollars in that box," Harry said.
"How long would it take us to make that kind of money?" Arnold asked.
"Hell, it would take the better part of a year for us to make that much money, even if we was to put our earnings together," Harry said.
"Yeah, that's what I thought," Arnold said. "Harry, you want to know what I'm thinkin'?"
"If you're thinkin' the same thing I'm thinkin', I know what it is," Harry replied.
"Let's go in there and get that money."
"He ain't goin' to give up and just give it to us," Harry said.
"He will if we threaten to kill 'im."
Harry shook his head. "Just threatenin' him ain't goin' enough," he said. "We're goin' to have to do it. Otherwise, he'll set the sheriff on us."
"What about the others? His wife and kids?"
"You want the two boys to grow up and come after us?"
"No, I guess not."
"If we are goin' to do this thing, Arnold, there's only one way to do it," Harry insisted.
"All right. Let's do it."
Pulling their guns and checking their loads, the two brothers put their pistols back in their holsters, then crossed the distance between the barn and the house. They pushed the door open and went inside without so much as a warning knock.
"Oh!" Lucy said startled by the sudden appearance of the two men in the kitchen.
"Get your husband," Arnold said, his voice little more than a growl.
Lucy left the kitchen, then returned a moment later with Scott. Scott wasn't wearing his gun, which was going to make this even easier than they had planned.
"Lucy said you two boys just walked into the house without so much as a fare thee well," Scott said, his voice reflecting his irritation. "You know better than to do that. What do you want?"
"The money," Harry said.
"The money? You mean you have finished the wagon? Well, good, good. Let me take a look at it, and if I'm satisfied, I'll give you your ten dollars," Scott said.
Harry shook his head. "No, not ten dollars," he said. "All of it."
"I beg your pardon?"
Harry drew his pistol, and when he did, Arnold drew his as well.
"The money box," Harry said. "Get it down. We want all the money."
"Scott!" Lucy said in a choked voice.
"It's all right, Lucy, we are goin' to give them what they ask for. Then they'll go away and leave us alone. Get the box down and hand it to them."
"You're a smart man, McDonald," Arnold said.
"You'll never get away with stealing our money," Lucy said as she retrieved the box from the top of the cupboard, then handed it over to Harry.
"Oh, yeah, we're goin' to get away with it," Harry said as he took the money from the box. Folding the money over, he stuck it in his pocket. Then, without another word, he pulled the trigger. Lucy got a surprised look on her face as the bullet buried into her chest, but she went down, dead before she hit the floor.
"You son of a bitch!" Scott shouted as he leaped toward Harry.
Harry was surprised by the quickness and the furiousness of the attack. He was knocked down by Scott, but he managed to hold onto his gun and even as he was under Scott on the floor, he stuck the barrel of gun into Scott's stomach and pulled the trigger.
"Get him off of me!" Harry shouted. "Get him off of me."
"Mama, Papa, what is it?" a young voice called and the two children came running into the kitchen. Arnold shot both of them, then he rolled Scott off Harry and helped his brother back on his feet.
"Are you all right?" Arnold asked.
"Yeah," Scott answered. "I've got the money. Come on, let's get out of here."
The next day
Matt Jensen dismounted in front of the Gold Strike Saloon. Brushing some of the trail dust away, he tied his horse off at the hitching rail, then began looking at the other horses that were there, lifting the left hind foot of each animal in turn.
His action seemed a little peculiar and some of pedestrians stopped to look over at him. What they saw was a man who was just a bit over six feet tall with broad shoulders and a narrow waist. He was young in years, but his pale blue eyes bespoke of experiences that most would not see in three lifetimes. He was a lone wolf who had worn a deputy's badge in Abilene, ridden shotgun for a stagecoach out of Lordsburg, scouted for the army in the McDowell Mountains of Arizona, and panned for gold in Idaho. A banker's daughter in Cheyenne once thought she could make him settle down-a soiled dove in The Territories knew that she couldn't, but took what he offered.
Matt was a wanderer, always wondering what was beyond the next line of hills, just over the horizon. He traveled light, with a Bowie knife, a .44 double-action Colt, a Winchester .44-40 rifle, a rain slicker, an overcoat, two blankets, and a spare shirt, socks, trousers, and underwear.
He called Colorado his home, though he had actually started life in Kansas. Colorado was home only because it was where he had reached his maturity, and Smoke Jensen, the closest thing he had to a family, lived there. In truth though, he spent no more time in Colorado than he did in Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, or Arizona.
At the moment, Matt was on the trail of Harry and Arnold Baker for the murder of Scott McDonald, his wife, Lucy, and their two young sons, Toby and Tyler. Before he died, Scott McDonald managed to live long enough to scrawl the letters B-A-K on the floor, using his finger as a pen, and his own blood as the ink. McDonald had hired the Baker brothers, not because he needed the help, but because he thought they were down on their luck and needed the job.
Matt had known the McDonalds well. He had been a guest in their house many times, and had even attended the baptism of one of their children. When the McDonalds were killed, Matt took it very personally and had himself temporarily deputized so he could hunt down the Baker brothers and bring them to justice.
One of the Baker brothers was riding a horse that left a distinctive hoof print and that enabled Matt to track them to Burnt Fork. That brought him to the front of the Gold Strike Saloon where he was checking the shoes of the horses there were tied off at the hitching rail. On the fourth horse that he examined, he found what he was looking for. The shoe on the horse's left rear foot had a "V"-shaped niche on the inside of the right arm of the shoe.
Loosening his pistol in the holster, Matt went into the saloon.
A loud burst of laughter greeted him as he stepped inside, and sitting at a table in the middle of the saloon were two men. Each of the men had a girl sitting on his lap and the table had a nearly empty whisky bottle, indicating they had been drinking heavily.
Matt had never seen the Baker brothers, so he could not identify them by sight, but the two men resembled each other enough to be brothers, and they did match the description he had been given of them.
"Hey, Harry, let's see which one of these girls has the best titties," one of the men said. He grabbed the top of the dress of the girl who was sitting on his lap and jerked it down, exposing her breasts.
"Stop that!" the girl called out in anger and fright. She jumped up from his lap and began pulling the top of her dress back up.
"Ha! Arnold, you done got that girl all mad at you."
They had called each other Harry and Arnold. That was all the verification Matt needed. Turning back toward the bar, he signaled the bartender.
"Yes, sir, what can I do for you?" he asked.
"I need you to get the women away from those two men," Matt said, quietly.
"Mister, as long as those men are paying, the girls can stay."
"I'm about to arrest those two men for murder," Matt said. "If they resist arrest, then I intend to kill them. I wouldn't want the women to be in the way."
"Oh!" the bartender said. "Oh, uh, yes, I see what you mean. But I don't know how to get them away without tellin' what's about to happen."
"Go down to the other end of the bar and take out a new bottle of whiskey. Tell the men it's on the house, you're giving it to them for being good customers. Then call the women over to get it."
"Yeah," the bartender said. "Yeah, that's a good idea."
Matt remained there with his back to the men while the bartender walked down to the other end of the bar. He put a bottle of whiskey up on the bar.
"Jane, Ellie Mae," he called. "Come up here for a moment."
"Hey, bartender, you leave these girls with us. They're enjoyin' our company," one of the men said. This was Arnold.
"We are enjoying your company too, sir," the bartender said. "You've spent a lot of money with us and you been such good customers and all, we're pleased to offer you a bottle of whiskey, on the house. That is, if you'll let the girls come up to get it."
"Well, hell, you two girls go on up there and get the bottle," Harry said. "And if you are good to us, why, we'll let you have a few drinks. Right, Arnold?"
"Right, Harry," Arnold answered.
From his position in the saloon, Matt watched in the mirror as the two girls left the table and started toward the bartender. Not until he was sure they were absolutely clear did he turn around.
"Hello, Harry. Hello, Arnold," he said.
"What?" Harry replied, surprised at being addressed by name. "Do you know us?"
"No, but I know who you are. I was a good friend of the McDonalds," Matt said.
"We don't know anyone named McDonald," Harry said.
"Sure you do," Matt said. "You murdered them."
The two men leaped up then, jumping up so quickly that the chairs fell over behind them. Both of them started toward their guns, but when they saw how quickly Matt had his own pistol out, they stopped, then raised their hands."
"We ain't drawin', Mister. We ain't drawin'!" Arnold said.
When Matt returned to Green River, Harry and Arnold were riding in front of him. Each man had his hands in iron shackles, and there was a rope stretching from Harry's neck to Arnold's neck, then from Arnold's neck to the saddle horn of Matt's saddle. This was to discourage either, or both, from trying to bolt away during the return journey.
Chapter TwoWithin a week of their capture, the two brothers were put on trial in the Sweetwater County Courthouse. Although seats were dear to come by, Sheriff Foley had held a place for Matt so he was able to move through the crowd of people who were searching for their own place to sit. Rather than being resentful of him, however, those in the crowd applauded when Matt came in. They were aware of the role Matt had played in bringing the Baker brothers to trial.
Matt had been in his seat for little more than a minute when the bailiff came through a little door at the front of the courtroom. Clearing his voice, the bailiff addressed the gallery.
"Oyez, oyez, oyez, this court of Sweetwater County, Green River City, Wyoming, will now come to order, the Honorable Judge Daniel Norton presiding. All rise."
As Judge Norton came into the courtroom and stepped up to the bench, Matt Jensen stood with the others.
"Be seated," Judge Norton said. "Bailiff, call the first case."
"There's only one case, Your Honor. There comes now before this court Harry G. Baker and Arnold S. Baker, both men having been indicted for the crime of murder in the first degree."
"Thank you, Bailiff. Are the defendants represented by council?"
The defense attorney stood. "I am Robert Dempster, Your Honor, duly certified before the bar and appointed by the court to defend the misters Baker."
"Is prosecution present?"
The prosecutor stood. "I am Edmund Gleason, Your Honor, duly certified before the bar and appointed by the court to prosecute."
"Let the record show that the people are represented by a duly certified prosecutor and the defendants are represented by a duly certified counsel," Judge Norton said.
"Your Honor, if it please the court," Dempster said, standing quickly.
"Yes, Mr. Dempster, what is it?"
"Your Honor, I object to the fact that we are trying both defendants at the same time, and I request separate trials."
"Mr. Dempster, both men are being accused of the same crime, which was committed at the same time. It seems only practical to try them both at the same time. Request denied."
Dempster sat down without further protest.
"Mr. Prosecutor, are you ready to proceed?"
"I am ready, Your Honor."
"Very good. Then, please make your case," Judge Norton said.
"Thank you, Your Honor," Gleason said as he stood to make his opening remarks.
Gleason pointed out that the letters BAK, written in the murder victim's own blood, were damning enough testimony alone to convict. But he also promised to call witnesses, which he did after the opening remarks. He called Mr. Jules Pratt.
"Mr. Pratt, were you present at the McDonald Ranch on the day of the murder?" Gleason asked.
"Yes," Jules replied. "My wife and I were both there."
"Why were you there?"
"We went to see the McDonalds to solicit a donation for the church organ."
"Did they donate?"
"Yes, they did. Very generously."
"By bank draft, or by cash?"
"Where did they get the cash?"
"From a cash box they kept in the house."
"Was there any money remaining in the cash box after the donation?"
"Yes, a considerable amount."
"How much would you guess?"
"Two, maybe three hundred dollars."
"Was anyone else present at the time?"
Jules pointed. "Those two men were present. They were doing some work for Scott."
"Let the record show that the witness pointed to Harry and Arnold Baker. Was it your observation, Mr. Pratt, that the two defendants saw the cash box and the amount of money remaining?"
"Yes, sir, I know they did."
"How do you know?"
"Because that one," he pointed.
"The witness has pointed to Arnold Baker," Gleason said.
"That one said to Scott, 'That's a lot of money to keep in the house.'"
"Thank you, Mr. Pratt, no further questions."
Gleason also called Pastor Martin who, with four of his parishioners, testified as to how they had discovered the bodies when they visited the ranch later the same day. Then, less than one-half hour after court was called to order, prosecution rested its case.
The defense had a witness as well, a man named Jerome Kelly, who claimed that he had come by the McDonald ranch just before noon, and that when he left, the Bakers left with him.
"And, when you left, what was the condition of the McDonald family?" the defense attorney asked.
"They was all still alive. Fac' is, Miz McDonald was bakin' a pie," Kelly said.
"Thank you," Dempster said. "Your witness, Counselor." "Mrs. McDonald was baking a pie, you say?" Gleason asked in his cross-examination.
"Yeah. An apple pie."
"Had Mrs. McDonald actually started baking it?"
"Yeah, 'cause we could all smell it."
"What time was that, Mr. Kelly?"
"Oh, I'd say it was about eleven o'clock. Maybe even a little closer on toward noon."
"Thank you. I have no further questions of this witness." The prosecutor turned toward the bench. "Your Honor, prosecution would like to recall Pastor Martin to the stand."
Excerpted from Snake River Slaughter by William W. Johnstone J. A. Johnstone Copyright © 2010 by William W. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission.
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