Authors: Dan Arnold
I found Ed Baxter sitting on one of the bunks in cell four. He had the space to himself because of his injury. He was reading a book lying open in his lap. He turned the pages with his right hand. His left sleeve was tied in a knot below the stump of his severed arm.
“Howdy, Ed, how are you?” I asked.
“Howdy, John. Or should I say, Sheriff Sage?”
“You can call me John. I’d like to think we could still be friends.”
“Why? I nearly killed you.”
“You didn’t try it out of hate. You didn’t even want to do it. You thought you were doing what your job demanded.”
“That’s right. I ride for the brand.”
“You did, but you don’t anymore. Coltrane is locked up in Denver. He’ll only come back here to stand trial for the murder of Sean Murphy. You understand, you no longer ride for the Bar C Bar?”
“No, I guess I don’t. Not anymore. Not since this.” He indicated his injury.
“I’m sorry about that.”
“It could’ve been worse. I could be dead. I guess I will be, in a couple of weeks.”
“Listen, about that, I’d like to help you out.”
“What, you’re going to let me go?”
“No. You’ll have to stand trial, but you don’t have to hang. I think I can help keep you alive. You’ll have to do some time, but you’ll be out in in a few years.”
“How does that help me? I figure I’m better off dead.”
“Why, because of the arm?”
He nodded silently.
“Come on, Ed. You’re a top hand in anybody’s outfit. Sure, you lost an arm, but you can still rope and ride.”
“I don’t know, maybe.” He shrugged and then he focused on me. “I didn’t lose my gun arm.”
“And you didn’t lose your savvy. You know cattle, horses and men, better than most cowboys ever will.”
“Is there some point to this visit, John?”
“You’re too good a man to end up swinging from the wrong end of a short rope. If you testify against Coltrane, you won’t hang for the murder of Sean Murphy—Coltrane will.”
“You told me once you never believed Sean Murphy stole cattle from the Bar C Bar. Is that still true?”
“Murphy was a good man. All our cattle ran together on the range. Murphy didn’t rustle any cattle. I’m sure of it. I would’ve known if he did.
“Did you have something personal against Murphy?”
“No, nothing personal. Like I said, he was a good man.”
“Was it your idea to lynch him?”
“No, I was against it. I tried to talk Mr. Coltrane out of doing it.”
“That’s my point, Ed. You never set out to kill Murphy. No reason you should hang for something Coltrane cooked up. He’ll try to pin the whole thing on you. Are you going to let him get away with murdering both Murphy and you?”
Ed closed his eyes and twisted his neck as he considered his options.
“I’ll let you think about it, Ed. Coltrane didn’t deserve a good man like you. He’s a bad man and he has no respect for you. He’ll throw you away as quick as he would a used corn husk in the outhouse. He has no honor”
I walked away.
"I sure am glad to see you, John.” Tom said. “Things are moving fast on the completion of the orphanage. The county commissioners approved a budget three days ago. They expect to see it staffed as soon as possible. Here, take a look at the newspaper.” He pushed it across his desk toward me.
I was relieved to see there was no direct mention of me or my department. It seems my being away had broken the cycle of abuse normally heaped on us.
The headline was about the saw mill coming to North Fork. Below the fold, was a simple story about the establishment of the orphanage.
County orphanage to open its doors
This reporter has learned that Alta Vista County will soon have a facility for the care of orphaned children. A special meeting of the Commissioner’s Court approved a budget and the immediate hiring of staff for the orphanage. The facility, which will house and feed as many as two dozen children, is situated in the town of North Fork on twenty five acres donated to the county by a local business person.
In related news, construction of a new church has commenced on land adjacent to the orphanage. This reporter has learned plans for starting a school in that community are also being discussed.
“Well, Tom, I call that progress.”
Tom grinned at me.
“Yep, it sure is. The new preacher up there stopped by here to tell me about the plans for the school. At first, it will meet in the church house. He says he figures they’ll have at least twenty five children the very first day.”
“A saw mill, a new church, a school and an orphanage all happening at once, aint that something? Who would’ve ever figured North Fork would become civilized so fast?”
“Times are changing everywhere. It’s getting hard to keep up.”
“Yep, it sure is.”
“So, how are you feeling, John? You sure look healthy. Did you learn anything useful down around Yellow Butte?
I grinned back at him.
“Yes, Tom, I sure did. Lora and I are going to adopt Jake and Sarah.”
“Capital, that’s just capital. I’m so happy for you. I can’t wait to tell Becky.”
“I imagine Lora’s already told her.”
“Well let’s all get together tonight and celebrate. What do you say?”
“I say that sounds capital.”
We make our plans, but God alone knows what a day may bring forth. I had no idea my trip to Yellow Butte would be the thing that put me right. I haven’t had a nightmare since the day I rode down there.
The snow will soon be falling, another year starting not long after.
I hope this letter finds you feeling well, Mother, and enjoying the weather in California. Lora sends her love, as do I.
May God bless you and keep you.
I remain lovingly your son,
Turn the page for an Excerpt from:
An excerpt from:
By Dan Arnold
Jim Scroggins was a careful man. He prided himself on it. Trying to ambush the Indian in this high country was not the sort of thing a careful man would do. On the other hand, crossing Zeb Fletcher was even more dangerous.
Scroggins figured he’d have a little look around and go back to camp empty handed. Fletcher would be angry, but it was a risk he’d have to take.
From up here on the edge of the mesa he could see for miles. If the Indian was moving around below him somewhere he would be easy to spot. The thing was the savage might not be below him. He could be up on the mesa with him.
He cussed to himself. He should’ve thought of it before now. The sneaky bastard was here and somewhere close.
Scroggins cocked his pistol, listening. Nothing moved, except a flight of crows far off in the distance.
The blow came as a complete surprise, knocking his pistol out of his hand, now broken at the wrist.
He reached across his body to pull his knife, but another blow from the rifle stock slammed the wind out of him and sent him toppling over the edge of the cliff. He bounced off a couple of boulders before landing in a heap forty feet below, dazed and barely able to see.
Bending over the white man where he lay sprawled on the rocks at the base of the cliff, Yellow Horse observed two things. The man’s body was broken, but he was still alive.
One eye was open watching Yellow Horse, the other eye destroyed by the crushed bones surrounding it.
“You damned injun. You’ve done for me.” He said, through broken teeth.
“Not yet.” Yellow Horse said. “First you will tell me where the woman is.”
“No I won’t. I aint tellin’ you nothin’.”
Yellow Horse nodded and began gathering small twigs and leaves from the ground. He placed them in a pile and widened his search, returning with larger sticks, which he placed next to the pile of smaller material.
“What are you doing?” The man asked.
“I’ll make a fire. Nights get cold this high up.”
Yellow Horse walked away. He was gone longer this time. When he returned he carried limbs nearly as thick as his arms, broken off from dead pinõn and mesquite trees.
“Where is the woman?”
The man slowly shook his head.
“By now, the shock has worn off. The pain is setting in. I won’t let you faint. You are hurt badly, but not fatally. Although many bones are broken, you are not paralyzed. Even the smallest movement will be horribly painful. You can’t stand, probably can’t crawl. In time you would starve or freeze to death here in these rocks, but not tonight. Tonight we will talk. Tell me where the woman is.”
“You go to hell.”
Yellow Horse sighed and began building the fire.
When he’d arranged the loose leaves and twigs as tinder and built a small box around it with other twigs, he popped a match and lit it.
As the flames began to consume the twigs he added larger ones to it, then sticks. Now the fire was burning well, without any visible smoke. He remained squatted down facing the injured man on the other side of the fire.
“It’s getting dark. Tell me where the woman is.”
Yellow Horse stood and walked over to the white man.
“Unless you tell me, I will hurt you.”
“Go on, do it. I’ll never tell.”
“You will. I’m going to burn you until you do.”
The man closed his eyes, shaking his head.
Yellow Horse bent and grabbed one of the man’s feet, yanking his leg straight.
The man screamed and nearly fainted, breaking out in a sweat.
“Where is the woman?”
The man was panting for breath
“Why do you care?”
Yellow Horse pulled on the man’s boot, ignoring the screams, until he pulled it all the way off. There was no sock. The exposed foot was pale, nearly white, like the belly of a fish.
Returning to the fire, he squatted and set the boot down beside him. He waited until the man was breathing normally again.
“She is weak, can’t survive here without help.”
“What’s it to you?”
Yellow Horse pulled a stick about as thick as his thumb out of the fire. He stood and blew on the smoldering end until it glowed, cherry red.
He walked back over to the injured man, grabbing the exposed foot.
He blew on the stick again.
“No, don’t do it. It aint Christian.”
“No, it aint.”
“Wait, wait. Aieeegh!”
Yellow Horse barely wrinkled his nose at the smell of burning flesh. Dropping the foot, he turned back to the fire and squatted again.
He watched the white man where he lay whimpering. Once he’d settled down enough to hear and understand, Yellow Horse answered his question.
“I know her. She is a good woman. What you call a Christian, Not like you and me,”
Pulling another stick from the fire he blew on it and said, “We can do this all night. Tell me now. Where is she?”
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