Never Count A Man Out – Unless Your Sure

Cacti-birds-and-life-in-the-Sonoran-Desert-850x500

August 1885

The sun-scorched the three men as they walked through the Sonoran Desert southwest of Tucson. Their horses were dead and they survived for the first two weeks on their meat.

They were part of a group of men who were ambushed by hostile Indians that lived in the area. The three men had escaped, but ran their horses to death in doing so. Two of the men were from the east and had no survival experience. It was why they joined the group. The third man, Branch Older, was a professional hunter, who at 60 years-old, could still out drink, shoot, and chase whores better than any man…anywhere.

The easterners were brothers from Canton, Ohio. Against their father’s wishes they left the farm to go west in search of adventure. Alvin and George Sherman were husky farm boys and not afraid to work hard. When they joined the group they agreed to do the lowly chores of setting up and taking down camp everyday in return for experience.

They were a loose group of eight men who threw the fortunes together to survive the harsh country. Most had tried mining for silver with little success. Others hunted for pack trains passing through Arizona. The one thing they had in common was they were all getting up in age. The Sherman boys, at 21, and 22-years old, were the babies. Most of the rest were in their sixties. One was seventy-two-years old.

When the Indians hit their camp at sunrise everyone was still asleep but the guard, Pops Fargen. He had time to fire off a couple of shots from his Winchester rifle before being overwhelmed by attackers. Roused, the rest of the group grabbed their rifles and fought back. In the ensuring chaos Branch managed to get the Sherman brothers to jump onto their horses and the three rode off for their lives.

Three weeks later they were out of horsemeat and low on ammunition. Between them they had two rifles (both repeaters), one pistol, and three hunting knives. They each had a canteen with a little water that they found in a hidden spring two days ago.

Branch showed the brothers how to eat prickly pear cactus by using a knife to cut away the stickers. They grew among the giant Saguaro cactus that dotted the desert landscape. The heat stayed in the 100s during the day and dropped at night to freezing because of the altitude. The brutal weather took its toll on the men. Sunburned and blistered, they covered less distance every day.

At night they listened to el lobo, the Mexican gray wolf, howl for its mate. They sighted several cougars that didn’t bother with them. During the day they had to keep their eyes peeled for snakes. The most common were the Western Diamondbacks, with their dark diamond-shaped blotches along the center of their back.

The most venomous snake in the Sonoran desert was the Mojave Rattler, who was active at night. They hid near creosote bushes and bur sage, preferring open areas with grass. One night a Mojave rattler entered the men’s crude camp. While slithering over Branch’s leg he suddenly stirred and the snake was startled and bit him below the knee!

His howl of surprise and pain carried across the desert and a gray wolf joined in. The Sherman brothers panicked when Branch shouted “Snake! The son-of-a-bitch bit me! Quick! Cut it open and suck the venom out, he cried.

Alvin and George looked at each other dumbly. Both waiting for the other to move. George snapped out of it when Branch cursed again. He knelt down by Branch’s leg and cut open his trousers below the knee where Branch was pointing. He then took his knife, cut the wound open, and bent over and pressed his lips against it and sucked hard.

He instantly spit and tried again. After several attempts he noticed Branch was barely moving. He raised his head and tried to speak but only gibberish came out. The brothers hovered over him nervously, unsure of what to do next. Alvin threw a piece of wood onto the fire and they settled down by Branch and waited.

When morning came they couldn’t detect any life left in Branch. The two greenhorns dug a shallow grave and put Branch’s body in it after stripping off his clothes. They piled some rocks on top to discourage scavengers. George took his Winchester, and Alvin took his hunting knife.

They set out sadly. With no guide or experience, they didn’t expect to live much longer. But, as fate would have it, they came upon a road and a while later a stagecoach bound for Tucson stopped and gave them a ride on top with the luggage.

That night a hand thrust out from the desert floor knocking rocks aside. Then another. A head rose under the full moon and coughed. Minutes ticked by as Branch slowly crawled out from his crude burial ground. Despite all odds, he was alive but feeling like hell. He threw up a combination of bile and dirt. Shivering in the cold, he slowly stood up.

He had a fever and was delirious, but some lizard part of his brain made him take a step…then another. He’d survived the many life challenges he faced since he left home at ten-years-old. Six decades qualified him as a true survivor. He took another step and el lobo howled at the moon.

Two weeks passed and Branch was still alive. His face and hands were bloody from the stickers off the prickly pear cactus pads. He also ate kangaroo rats raw when he was lucky enough to catch one. He grimly kept walking and plotted what he was going to do when he found the brothers. They left him for dead. It was unforgivable.

He nearly ran out of strength when he saw a cabin. The old man who lived there was drawing water from a well when he saw Branch fall. He hurried over and dragged Branch inside the cabin. He tried to give him some water but Branch was unconscious. A week passed while the old man nursed him back to health.

During that time Branch told the old man his story and how his partners had deserted  him. The old man outfitted Branch and gave him a six-shot Colt Walker. When Branch protested it was too much, the old man insisted he take it with a box of ammunition.

“Where you’re going, your going to need one,” he said, spitting out a plug of well-chewed tobacco on the ground. “I’d give you my mule, but he’s all I got. Town is about five miles yonder. Shouldn’t take you too long to walk there.”

“Thank you. I’ll repay you some day.”

“Don’t worry about it. Just being neighborly.”

Is was noon when Branch walked into Tucson. The first place he looked for the brothers was the local saloon. They were playing poker at a table and didn’t notice Branch walk in. He came up to the table and pulled his revolver out.

“Remember me boys?” he asked.

As It Stands, as Western fans know, a man was hard to kill back in the Wild West.

The Mail Order Bride

Mail order brides were a common occurrence in the Old West, so when Hank told his friend Logan he’d sent for one, they celebrated in the Bucket Of Blood saloon until they were kicked out by the bartender who was closing up.

Logan had married a lady from Boston last year, when she replied to his ad for a bride. Seeing his friend so happy, Hank decided it was time to seek martial bliss himself. It was pretty lonely at the miner’s camp in Big Gulch, Nevada.

He’d saved up money that he earned hunting for meat and furs for the miners, and felt confident that he could support his new wife.

Unlike Logan, who worked hard everyday at the gold mine owned by the Loman Brothers, Hank was a free spirit who didn’t want to be tethered to anyone, or business.

Gold was first discovered in the vicinity of Carlin in Eureka County, Nevada, in the 1870s, and by the time Logan and Hank arrived from Ohio, it was a thriving business in Jackass Junction.

Hank was a good hunter, and the fur that he cured was easily sold to miners. He also made arrangements with other small mining towns like Jackass Junction, to bring them meat in exchange for coffee, tobacco and liquor.

Once he decided to get married he built a log cabin away from the boom town, and filled it with crude wooden furniture he made himself. There was a bed, kitchen table, four chairs, and several wooden shelves on the wall near a wood-fired stove he bought in a 1887 Sears catalogue.

There were still very few women in the area, and when one arrived in town it was a big occasion for the men, who gathered on the street to greet them. As soon as word got out a newcomer was there to meet her husband, most of the men lost interest and went about their business.

Hank purchased a buggy and two roan horses to pull it. When the day came around for his new bride’s arrival, he joined Logan and the other men in town, lingering around at the saloon.

“What’s her name again pard?” Logan asked.

“Annabel Lee,” Hank cheerfully replied.

There conversation was abruptly terminated when someone shouted, “Coach is here! The stagecoach is here!” The men poured out of the saloon like lemmings to get a look at the new arrivals.

It was a bumper crop of brides, with five women inside. Turned out that only two were brides, and the other three were “soiled doves,” to the absolute delight of the women-starved miners.

Annabel Lee stood out from the other sun-tanned women, because she was so pale. She wore a black dress, with a matching hat and veil, and carried an umbrella. Hank couldn’t help notice some men staring at her oddly.

The stagecoach driver was pulling down Annabel Lee’s luggage when Hank approached her timidly.

“Might you be Annabel Lee?

“You are Hank then. You’re much more handsome than in the photo you sent me.” she said matter-of-factly.

Hank blushed under his recently trimmed beard.

“Thankee mamI’ll take care of your luggage.

Hank helped her up to the buggy seat and went after her luggage. Left alone for a moment, she raised her veil slightly…and hissed, as she surveyed the townspeople.

Hank returned after loading her luggage, and hopped nimbly up onto the buggy seat beside her. He took the reins and gently tugged them. The roan’s took off in a steady pace as they headed to the cabin.

After a few cursory questions the conversation died down. Hank had never felt more awkward in all of his life. His only experience was with a prostitute in the nearby boom town of  Hell’s Half-Acre. Once.

When they got to the cabin he helped her down and unhitched the horses. He led them over to a water trough as she stood silently in front of the cabin. After securing both horses near his stallion, he came back and opened the front door.

“C’mon in,” he said with as big a smile as he could muster.

She didn’t comment on any of the furnishings while Hank started a fire in the woodstove.

“Built this place m’sef,” he offered, by way of conversation.

She took off her hat and veil, and appeared paler than before.

“Very talented,” she softly replied. “What else can you do?” she asked coyly.

“Well…I’m a pretty fair hunter, and a decent shot with a Colt .45. Been riding horses since I was five…

She studied his face as he spoke. He seemed like a nice guy. She knew he would provide good cover for her being here.

He was her complete opposite. She was a traveler who had seen many cities in her long lifetime. He was a country boy out of his league right now. She spoke 22 languages. It was apparent to her that he hadn’t even mastered one, with his accent.

She was tired of the east coast, and when she heard about mail order brides it encouraged her to go on another adventure. So, she answered Hanks letters for a proper period of time, and then made arrangements to come out west and get married.

It had been over 30 years since Edgar Allen Poe immortalized her. She, in turn, encouraged him to pursue his tales of mystery and the macabre. He was the last man she lived with for a while.

The intervening years were spent single, roaming the streets of eastern cities in search of new blood supplies. Unlike novice vampires, Annabel Lee had evolved over the centuries to the thing she was now. The sun was no longer fatal to her. Just something to be avoided.

“I just can’t get over what a handsome man you are Hank! Please forgive me. I know I’m being forward and we aren’t married yet.”

Awwww shucks mam. I set it up with the preacher so we could get hitched tomorrow.

“How thoughtful,” she said. “Come here Hank…”

The next morning while they were riding to town, Hank felt an itch on the side of his neck. When he scratched it, he got a little blood on his fingernails. Not overly concerned, his thoughts quickly returned to getting married.

Most of the miners in town were working when they got there. The preacher was waiting in the saloon for them.

“Sorry mam!” the preacher said, “We don’t have us a church yet. This will have to do.”

Annabel Lee smiled sweetly and declared, “Oh, that’s all right reverend. I’m ready to marry this fine man anywhere.”

After the five-minute ceremony the bartender bought the bride and groom a drink. He set two beers down on the bar for them. Hank tossed his beer down without hesitation.

Annabel Lee looked at hers, and then at her new husband, “I’m so sorry. But I don’t drink any kind of alcohol. Not that I mind if you do though. It doesn’t set well with me,” she explained.

Months later, a dozen miners grew so weak they could no longer walk. The local doctor, between bouts with John Barleycorn, had no idea what was wrong with the men. He told anyone who asked that they were sicker than anything he’d ever seen. He knew it wasn’t consumption.

Hank and Logan were having a beer at the saloon one afternoon when Logan asked, “What do you think about what’s happened to those men? I ain’t never seen anything like it. The doc says the same.”

“Not sure pard.

As Hank rode his horse back to the cabin he was troubled. He knew Annabel Lee was sneaking out at night when she thought he was asleep in the wee hours. He decided that he had to find out what was going on that night.

The moon was at its fullest when Annabel Lee stealthily got out of bed. He marveled at how quiet she could be, then rolled off the bed, and pulled his trousers on and his boots. He slipped on a shirt, and leather jacket.

After a slight pause he strapped his gun belt on. One ould never be sure in this wild country.

Hank followed her trail on foot. It wasn’t easy. She barely disturbed the ground she walked on. As a hunter, he learned long ago on how to track prey. As he followed her a growing uneasiness told him this wasn’t normal.

Women didn’t just get up in the middle of the night and go for long walks without telling their husbands. There was something about her that made him uneasy at times. He just couldn’t figure out what it was.

He was lucky to catch a flash of her skirt as it disappeared inside the tent set aside for the twelve sick men. Hank got down on all fours and crawled over to the tent. A candle flickered weakly on a table next to the woman who was asleep in a rocking chair.

A pitcher of water and partial loaf of bread were on the small table. Annabel Lee confidently moved from man-to-man, sucking on their sleeping necks! Hank who was peeking from underneath the tent flap, recoiled back in sheer horror when he saw what she was doing!

The thought of lying next to that monster who was sucking the poor men’s lifeblood away was too much. He was a simple man who knew very little about supernatural things. He heard a few scary yarns growing up in the Ohio Valley.

But nothing like this.

Hank crawled away from the tent until he was near the livery stable. He got up and made a mad dash for it. Inside, he found the preacher snoring loudly and still clasping a bottle of rot gut rye in one hand.

Hank plucked the bottle from his chubby fist and shook him hard, “Wake up! I need you!” he whispered. It took a pail of water and some slapping, but Hank got him to finally wake up.

Sputtering indignantly, the preacher demanded to know why he was so rudely awakened?

“Hush! Keep it down and listen to me. What kind of creature sucks folks blood?

The preacher’s eyes grew wide as saucers. “Why do you ask?

“That gal I hitched up with, is sucking men’s blood. That’s why those miners are so sick!”

This time the preacher crossed himself, “Are you sure?”

“Saw it with my own eyes a little bit ago,” Hank assured him.

“She must be a vampire!” he said, and crossed himself again for good measure.

“What in Billy hell is that?

“A demon of the night. They can only be killed by a wooden stake through their black heart, or cutting their head off!” the Preacher explained.

“You mean bullets don’t kill them?”

“I’m afraid not Hank. They also have supernatural strength, so don’t get in no wrestling match with her.”

Hank left the now very sober preacher and went back outside. He got back down to the ground and crawled over to the tent. She was still there, stroking the hair of the sleeping woman.

Careful not to make a noise, he headed back to the cabin as fast as he could. It seemed like he no sooner got there when the front door creaked and she slipped in inside beside him on the bed.

It took all the will power he had to lie still, and wait. It wasn’t long before he could tell from her regular breathing that she was asleep. The predawn quiet seemed sinister as Hank slipped out of the bed.

Without dressing, still in his long johns, Hank went outside to the woodpile and went through a stack of sticks that were trimmed off from his last load of firewood. He picked one that was sturdy and narrow on one end.

With a nearby hatchet he sharpened it. Then he got a hammer from the tools in his small shed. The hunter in Hank kicked in as he went back inside.

Before he chickened out he put the stake over her heart and thrust down! He hit the stake again with the hammer! It was over in a moment. Her body turned to ashes. There wasn’t even a skeleton left.

Horrified and amazed, Hank got dressed and rode into town. He went straight for the saloon and waited until it opened. The bartender shook his head when he opened up the saloon.

“Kinda early Hank.”

Nearly a bottle later, Hank was still standing but reeling awkwardly.

When Logan came in the saloon later that afternoon, after working at the mine, he found Hank three-sheets-to-the-wind. Logan patted his old friend on the shoulder and asked him about married life.

Hank started to say something…but started coughing so hard, he fell down to the ground gasping for air. He finally got air enough to moan, “Never again!”

As It Stands, whose to say a few bloodsuckers didn’t go west back in the day?

In The Dead Of Night

“Your got here just in time.

“Find yourself a comfortable place near the bonfire, because I’m ready to tell a story.”

“My name is Duke Masterson, and I’m the oldest resident in Weston… still able to talk that is. There’s old Charlie Dent, but since he lost his dentures no one can understand him. Truth be told, his memory isn’t as good as mine. 

“Any of you folks from Missouri?

Only one arm went up. The rest of the group was tourists from all over the country. One young couple was busy passing a bottle of Jack Daniels back and forth while keeping their eyes on Duke.

“Just a little history first. One of the things this town has always been proud of was our rich heritage built by beer and whiskey. There was a time, long ago, Weston was a main port for riverboats, but things changed.

I’m proud to tell you we have been drinking quality beer since 1842, when John Georgian built one of the first lager beer breweries in this country. Old John was a German immigrant who brought us a fine old world beer they we still enjoy today.

“Any questions?”

“Yeah! What time does that brewery open tomorrow?” a young man with a baseball cap that said “Booze Hound” asked. A couple of other tourists laughed. Duke waited until the laughter died down.

“I’m back to bragging again about liquor. We’re also home to McCormick Distilling Company, founded in 1856. For you history buffs, it’s the oldest whiskey distillery west of the Mississippi River that’s still in operation.

How about this; the Lewis and Clark Expedition stopped not far from here at today’s town hall. Remember reading about William Buffalo Bill Cody? He was a resident here for years.”

“Hey Duke! One of the men sitting on a lawn chair said, “Enough history. We’re here to listen to your story!”

Applause broke out as the group looked at the old man eagerly. Duke managed to muster up a smile. They were right. They wanted to be scared tonight. They wanted ghost tales that would tickle their fears.

He was happy to accommodate them.

“Back in 1840, before we had beer and whiskey industries, most folks were farmers. Hemp was a crop that grew well and exporting rope helped keep the town going. I think I mentioned that riverboats used to come here.

“One day a strange-looking fella got off one of those riverboats and caused quit a stir. He had tattoos all over his body. His bald head was painted blue. He had three negro servants and was wearing silk robes. You can imagine what a sight they made.

“The tattooed man hired someone to haul their baggage over to the old Frontier Hotel where he rented two rooms. Well, it didn’t take long for rumors to circulate about him being a witch doctor and his negroes being zombies.

When a series of strange things started happening around town, people started questioning the tattooed man. All of the cows stopped producing milk and the chickens stopped laying eggs. The owner of the hardware store went nuts and ran down the street frothing at the mouth!

The city fathers got together and held an emergency meeting. They decided that the tattooed man and his negroes were bad medicine. Tempers flared and things sorta got out of hand because they marched over to the hotel and pulled the tattooed man and the negroes out of their rooms.

The next thing you know, they hung them from all from a tree just outside town. Before they slipped the noose over the tattooed man’s neck he cursed them all…and their descendants!

Just before they liberated him from this world, he warned them that their town would become his at night from that moment forward.”

Duke looked at the group to gauge their reactions. They were quiet and subdued.

A wolf howled nearby. The bonfire sputtered and a sudden rush of wind put it out. As the group watched in horror Duke transformed before their bulging eyes. Gone was the old man. A tall tattooed man with a bald head painted blue drew a knife from the sash at his waist.

He roared in rage, and then plunged into the terrified group!

As It Stands, storytelling time in Weston is a hell of an experience!

A Monster in the Midst

Columbus, Ohio 1849

Conor O’Callaghan, and his family of eight children and a wife, left Ireland in a coffin ship bound for America.

They huddled together in the ship’s filthy hold with the rest of the impoverished Irish immigrants escaping the An Gorta Mor (The Great Hunger) in Gaeilge, Ireland.

When God’s wrath struck Ireland’s poor population in 1845, with a potato famine, it was devastating. The people’s only staple food, potatoes, were afflicted with a Blight that turned them black.

Starving peasants tried to eat them, but ended up vomiting.

When the O’Callaghan family arrived in Columbus, Ohio, they found a place to stay in the north side of the city. In the swamp flats where inexpensive land was available. Work was also available with the city.

Two years later, the Irish settlement spread to Franklin, on Naghten Street where the O’Callaghan’s had moved up in the world into a large six-bedroom house. Conor had gotten a job in the police force.

He was also an entrepreneur who sold whiskey, disguised as Dr. Talent’s Medicinal Tonic. He sold it on the sly, and never had trouble finding customers. After working out a deal with a local bootlegger, he produced enough product to ship to other counties as far away as New York.

The moral duality of Conors life never troubled him. He always saw it as survival. He’d do anything for his pack. It was that simple. He’d defied the odds, and provided them with a roof over their head, and food in their bellies.

In his three years of police service he’d seen a fair amount of violence and broke up numerous fights. He built a reputation on toughness and the ability to get things done. He even solved a couple of murders after being promoted from patrolman to lieutenant recently.

Conor’s political and underworld contacts gave him an advantage over his fellow officers. He was both trusted and feared.

Conor and his wife Aingeal, avoided the social life in town, perferring to stay at home with their family. Neither were brought up with any social graces, and they didn’t attempt to assume them as their financial status in society improved.

Because of their desire to stay away from most people, the O’Callaghan clan was looked upon suspiciously by their gregarious countrymen. But Conor had the people’s respect, if not their love.

In one unseasonably warm night, as Conor sat alone on his porch rocking back and forth and puffing on a pipe, he heard the keening wail of a banshee! It pierced his ears and caused him to drop his pipe.

Like most of his peers, Conor was a superstitious man, and believed in banshees, fairies, and leprechauns. He knew that wail meant trouble. Someone was going to die that night. He picked up his pipe and relit it.

He heard about the murder before he even reached his office the next morning. A crowd of people, with patrolman fighting to hold them back, surrounded a body of a man sprawled out in front of the general store.

His neck and face were slashed to meaty ribbons, as was most of the rest of the body. The victim had bled out, and the drying pool of blood was attracting flies.

“Sergeant Whelan! Will you kindly cover up this body, and have it taken to the coroner’s office?”

“Yes sir! What shall I tell that reporter over there? He’s been waiting to talk to someone.”

“Tell him I don’t know a damn thing, and when I do, I’ll let them know,” Conor replied.

He didn’t like the way the day started and it was only going to get worse.

When he got back to his office he sent one of the patrolman out to bring in one of his public contacts – a drunken gadfly who knew everyone in the city. He was easily located in the nearby saloon.

Davin McGrath was an alcoholic who was well known in Columbus for spending most of his waking hours in a saloon. His keen ears picked up on conversations like a well-trained hound dog.

He knew who was mad, at who; and who was screwing someone else’s wife.
He heard many interesting conversations in the saloons confessional, presided over by the bartender, Tommy Shea.

His worth came in the form of collecting those drunken tidbits in order to get a good idea what was happening in the small community of 3,000 immigrants.

When summoned, he passed on this information to lieutenant, Conor ‘O’Callaghan.

“Right to the point today, McGrath. What have you heard about a murder on Naghten Street last night?”

He took a sip from the silver flask in his jacket pocket and regarded Conor, trying to judge his mood.

“Nothing yet, it’s too early,” he gingerly replied.

“Damn! No arguments at the saloon last night? No fights?”

“Aye, there were a few tussles, but nothing to take note of.”

Conor handed him two silver dollars. “Let me know when you do hear something won’t you?”

“Aye governor!” McGrath grinned happily on his way out.

In the following two months, two more bodies were discovered. Both were attacked on full moons. They were as badly mutilated as the first victim.

The pressure from the townspeople to catch the killer was becoming intense. Conor knew they were afraid and they wanted answers.

Worse yet, he knew who the killer was.

McGrath showed up at Conor’s office late one afternoon in a strange state.
It took Conor a moment to realize what it was, the red-eyed old man wasn’t drunk. He was dead sober and looked like hell roasted over. He wouldn’t sit down when offered.

“Gotta leave today lieutenant! I was wondering if you could float me a small stake for old times sake?”

His was trembling nervously, looking over his shoulder and around the room as he waited for a reply.

“Sit down mate. What’s the matter? Why this sudden rush to leave town?” Conor asked.

“I saw something I wish I hadn’t last night in the alley behind the saloon. I just want to move on now, and I desperately need some financial help.”

“Tell me what happen Gavin,” he said, using the other man’s first name to sooth him. Getting up from his chair, Conor came over to him and put an arm around his shoulder.

“You can tell me anything. If you have any knowledge whose committing these terrible murders it’s your civic duty to tell me right now.”

“I’m afraid,” the old man whimpered.

“What did you see last night? I must know!”

“Your son, Aidan,” he said, with cracked lips dry from fear.

“What?” Conor let go of him and took a step back. “Are you sure?”

“I went outside to drain my pecker when I saw your son down on all fours and howling like a wolf! As I watched his body transform into a hairy horror, I must of passed out.

The next thing I remember was he was tearing into that man’s body!”

“You’re were seeing things. The liquor has finally turned your brain into mush.”

“Please lieutenant, I won’t say a word about this to anyone! I’ll disappear.”

Conor studied the old man, watching him tremble uncontrollably, with one hand out pleading. No one would ever believe his crazy story. Their family secret was bound to get out someday. But not today.

He opened a desk drawer and took out a leather wallet. Pulling out some paper money, he gave it to McGrath and wished him luck.

Shortly after the visit, Conor quit his job and moved his family out West to start over.

Aidan’s secret was forever guarded with the family’s new system to lock him up on full moons. They’d gotten careless in Columbus.

For decades the people of Columbus, Ohio talked about the rash of horrific mutilation murders. Rumors had it that the killings mysteriously stopped when the town drunk and a police lieutenant suddenly left town.

As It Stands, Conor was willing to do anything for his pack.

Revenge of The Kentucky ‘Coon’ Boy

cute-raccoon-taylor-momsen-zoo-Favim.com-114927Brownsville, Kentucky, 1869

Elijah Watson petted the big raccoon snuggled up against him on the porch.

He liked to sit out there most of the day while his big sister cleaned and cooked inside.

When someone went by, on horse, or just walking, he always waved and smiled at them. Most folks in Brownsville ignored his odd behavior. There were some however, who went out of their way to be kind to him.

Mr. Buell at the General Store always had a piece of hard candy for Elijah. It was common knowledge he wasn’t right in the head, but he was considered harmless by the townspeople.

According to the town elders, Elijah was six years-old when he saw his parents murdered by two Confederate soldiers who thought they were hiding a slave. They didn’t even notice the frail little boy huddled in the corner as they light the furniture on fire.

A neighbor who saw the smoke quickly gathered up the townspeople and organized a bucket brigade to keep the fire from spreading. It was Elijah’s sister Sarah who raced into the home and rescued him.

That was the last time he spoke. Months after the horrific event Elijah wandered away from their temporary tent home one night. He went into the forest and roamed around unafraid of animals.

At one point he discovered a raccoon caught in a trap. The cruel steel teeth were sunk into the raccoon’s rear leg. It was lying there exhausted from struggling. Without hesitation, Elijah summoned up all of his strength and pulled the trap open.

The startled raccoon managed to hobble away, but not before it sat there and looked Elijah in the eyes. A silent communication passed between them.

When Sarah found him the next day he was still wandering around aimlessly in the forest. After that Sarah kept a closer eye on him. One day she came out to the porch of their recently rebuilt home, and found him sitting next to a huge raccoon.

Her first instinct was that it may be rabid, out in the day like this, but the longer she looked it became apparent it was enjoying being petted by Elijah. She watched the unusual scene with interest for over an hour before it left.

When she questioned Elijah about his new friend he smiled. She hadn’t seen him smile since their parent’s violent deaths. She smiled back at him.

Since that day, the raccoon would come by at different times and snuggle up next to Elijah for a few hours on the porch. Folks got use to the odd sight after a while. One evening when Elijah went outside to get some firewood his raccoon friend showed up with six other raccoons.

On closer inspection Elijah could tell five of them were smaller and younger, and the other was nearly his friend’s size. It was his family. A delighted Elijah sat down on a log and took turns petting them as each one approached him.

After petting each of them they hurried off into the darkness. The biggest one, his friend, sat and looked at him for a while. He came up and brushed against Elijah like a big cat. Then he scampered away.

Meanwhile, Sarah was wondering what happened to him, and stepped out onto the porch calling his name. He appeared with some split wood a moment later, and grinned at her in that loopy way of his.

As fate would have it, the two men who killed Elijah and Sarah’s parents came though town one day. They tied up their horses and went into the saloon. Hours later the two men came out of the saloon staggering and drunk as lords.

They managed to make it to the boarding house across from where Elijah was sitting and petting the raccoon. One of them spotted him and started laughing. That brought the other back out and they stumbled across the dirt road to where he sat.

“Oh Lordy! Look at the Coon Boy!” one of them laughed.

They saw a frail young man and easy prey. Inside the house, Sarah heard the commotion on the porch and grabbed her rifle and ran out the front door. The startled men backed up as she leveled the shotgun’s twin barrels at them.

She didn’t recognize who they were because she wasn’t in the house when her parents were murdered, but a grim glimmer in Elijah’s eyes told a different story. He knew who they were.

Threatening all kinds of retribution, the two drunks made their way back to the boarding house and to their bedrooms.

Despite Sarah’s pleading, Elijah wanted to stay outside longer. She finally gave up and went inside. He waited patiently. When the raccoon showed up he petted it, and asked, “Will you kill them for me?”

The next day the boarding house maid found the two bloody bodies in their beds. They were torn to pieces by wild animals the Sheriff said, after examining the corpses.

“Gotta tell you boys, I ain’t never seen these kinds of wounds. Looks like a bunch of varmits ganged up on ’em.” 

Sarah couldn’t believe her ears when Elijah asked for more milk that morning at breakfast. The rest of her life she made sure to tell everyone about the miracle.

As It Stands, one persons revenge can be another’s miracle.

The Headhunter’s Story

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1868 – Prescott, Arizona

Ex-Union cavalry officer, Captain Leander Lincoln kicked the saloon doors open and entered with both guns drawn!

“I’m looking for the Stuart boys!” he shouted.

Three men slowly stood up from the card table. The rest of the saloon was silent as the oldest spoke, “You found them. Now what are you going to do?” he asked as his right hand slithered down to hover over his Colt 45.

Lincoln, laughed and said, “I’m going to kill all three of you fools if you all don’t unbuckle your gun belts very carefully and let them drop to the ground.

“Here’s the thing. Your wanted dead, or alive. I’d just as soon shoot your sorry asses so you better make a quick decision!”

Three gun belts fell to the wooden floor.

The US Army drove the Navajo people from their ancestorial lands in Arizona Territory and Western New Mexico, and marched them on the infamous Long Walk to imprisonment in Bosque Redondo when Leander was still in the Army and stationed in Washington DC.

When the treaty of 1868 was signed the Navajo left Bosque Redondo, and were relocated to eastern New Mexico. That was the year Leander mustered out of the Army and went West to see his mother and half brother.

Hundreds of Navajo men, women, and children died on the Long Walk. The survivors were put on a reservation. The horror of the relocation was firmly embedded in their minds.

Some wanted revenge. The rest went on with their hardscrabble lives.

Hashkeh Naabah  greeted Leander warmly.

“What has my white son Ahiga brought me?” he politely asked.

Three more white men who won’t be missed. Your men are taking them off the horses and tying them to stakes as we speak.”

“No one will come and say we killed them then?” Hashkeh inquired.

“No. They are wanted men. They are yours now. I will continue to bring you white men as long as I can. As long as I live.”

“You are a lot like your mother, and my sister, Yanaha. He bravery inspired us all on the Long Walk. We still mourn her death.”  

“As do I, Uncle.”

“Come, let us go watch the squaws torture these white eyes. The big one looks like he may last for a long time.” 

The prisoners screams pierced the night.

Leander’s anger at the US Army, and what they did to his mother, burned his soul and left a charred husk of a human thirsting for revenge. Posing as a bounty hunter was a stroke of genius.

He knew he couldn’t start killing Union soldiers and hope to get away with it. In his mind he ceased being a “white man” and embraced his Navajo heritage. He was Ahiga, son of Yanaha. As such, he had no qualms about killing any white men.

After roaming from town-to-town looking for wanted men throughout the west he acquired a reputation. Folks knew Captain Lincoln never brought anyone back alive. Just their heads.

His hunt lasted two years, before he was shot to death in a saloon by a drunken ex-Confederate soldier who refused to believe the war was over.

The elders at the Navajo Reservation told Ahiga’s story to each new generation. It was a story however, that was never shared with outsiders.

As It Stands, historical fiction is a good way to tell stories that could have been true, but aren’t.