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Get off
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drink your milk!

George H. Lafferty


(Episode 2)

A sharp pain shot through my leg as I stepped out into the dusty street from the front of the Harshaw Bros. Saloon. It was just a few weeks ago that I was able to get off the crutch and if I step wrong, it still hurts like all get out. A bad thigh wound from an Apache bullet. I took another in the side but it just cracked a rib and made for a really sensational scar along my side. The rib has healed enough not to bother me much but my leg is a different story.

I think I will postpone leaving town for awhile and give this leg a little more time to toughen back up. I have been planning on heading up toward the canyon. I've heard a lot about this huge canyon up north but I have to go see it for myself to believe it.

I managed to get hired on by the town council here in Harshaw, as a deputy Town Marshal, but it ain't ever gonna make me rich. About the best I can say for it is, it gives me a place to sleep and something to eat, without staying at the hotel. These mining towns are pretty much alike. Here today and gone as soon as the silver thins out.

I couldn't hold down much of a real job anyhow, with this leg, but I can still haul in a drunk or break up a fight with a scattergun. Though this is the first time I ever pinned on a badge, I have a head start. My pa has been a lawman for years, back in Missouri, and I sort of grew up with it.

I have just been drifting for the last few years. Taking on a job long enough to keep the wolves away, but mostly just trying to see some more of this great country. I usually work cattle but this time I am too stoved up to handle my end and I believe in giving a fair days work for a fair days pay.

It ain't hard to get along out here in the west, as a mans reputation sort of moves along with him. Develop a reputation as being a good hand and a man who rides for the brand and a fella doesn't usually have too much trouble finding work. On the other hand, once you get a reputation as shiftless and lazy or none too honest, you may have to ride the owlhoot trail. My pa taught me a lot of things and two of them were never to cross the law and always make good on your word no matter what.

Why, not living up to your word would be near as bad as someone thinking you were a coward. That kind of reputation will get you either killed or sneered at, until you can't even look at yourself in a clear water hole.

Pa had a strict way about him and not much use for cowards, card cheats or thieves. He didn't put up with a lot of nonsense either, so when I was seventeen and getting a little swelled up with myself, he did two things. First of all, he whupped the tar out of me to show me I wasn't near as tough as I thought I was, then he sent me packing.

Pa was a half breed, my grandpa spent a few winters trapping up north and had

himself a Cheyenne squaw to keep him warm for a couple of winters. My ma was pretty as could be, blonde and blue eyed. Me, I take more after ma, blonde, with blue eyes and big like her side of the family. I am six-two in my socks and haul two hundred pounds around on a pretty lean frame. I got nicknamed the Kid while I was seventeen or eighteen and with my last name being Irish, they started calling me Kid Irish, and it sort of stuck, though people here in Harshaw just know me as Rusty.

Pa told me I was welcome to come back and visit every couple of years if I took a notion, just to let me know there were no hard feelings.

Looking around the Marshal's Office at some of the wanted posters sort of brought back memories from Missouri. Pa never came up against some of the boys with the big reputations, at least not as far as I knew, but he was sure in the right location to run into them. Southwest Missouri had its share of visits from fellas like the James and the Youngers, along with the Daltons. Put that together with some of the war's hard cases, such as the Kansas Redlegs and Bloody Bill Anderson and you had enough excitement to keep you pretty busy.

Top all that off with plenty of good old boys, who could and would kill you just as dead, without worrying about how big their reputation was. Pa was still alive and doing his job five years or so ago, when I left, and that speaks for his being quick and tough.

Bragging aside, I am panther quick with my Colt Peacemaker, and Pa really frowned on wasting bullets by missing what you took a notion to shoot at. With my saddle gun, I can hit damn near anything I want to, right down to a rattler from horseback on a spooked horse. I been in several scrapes since pa decided I should leave home and though I am sporting some nice new scars, at least I am here to show them off. This last time is mostly thanks to an old Navajo Medicine Man, if it weren't for him those Apaches would have had my number for sure.

The old Indian came across me while I was unconscious and fevered and kept me alive. If it hadn't been for the poultice he put on my leg, I probably would have lost it. The sawbones in town, when I finally got here, debated on whether or not to take it off as it was.

I've seen enough crippled veterans from the war to know I would rather just go on and die and get it over with, than be crippled for life. Those boys have a hard row to hoe and my hat is off to them, they have more courage than I do.

If the town council knew why I was out there in Apache country alone, they might have had second thoughts about hiring me, but I doubt it. This isn't exactly a sought after job, or a healthy one, for that matter, in a raw mining town, like this one.

I wasn't breaking the law really; I was just playing poker. The fella thought I was bottom dealing, which I wasn't, and drew on me. Enough said, I'm here, he ain't, but I did decide I had worn out my welcome in Tombstone.

I do not have a reputation as a gunfighter or a gun for hire and I don't want the first and won't be the second. I've seen too many young fellas, my age and even younger, with tied down guns and looking for a chance to try out one of the big named gunhands. I hate having to take a life, problem is I would hate losing mine even more.

Pulling out my pocket watch told me it was time for the first round of walking the town. My pa always said a marshal would never know his town if he stayed in his office until he was called upon. A good marshal, he said, will walk his town, check in with the business owners and after they close the saloons and such. You can stop a lot of trouble before it goes too far but you have to be there to see it brewing first.

Even in the late morning hours just before sunup, you can walk the town and rattle the doors on the businesses. I would rather catch a thief in the act than try to solve who it was. Even if I don't catch him, I would rather find what he has done and inform the owner than have the owner send for me to report he was broken in to. Shows him I was there trying to do my job anyway.

I had walked the town earlier, just before most of the businesses closed for the day. I try to speak to as many of the shopkeepers as possible, so they will feel easier about approaching me if the feel they need to. Now, at this time of the evening, it is down mostly to the saloons and the restaurant in the hotel.

I will combine business with pleasure and have dinner at the hotel while I make this set of rounds. I get a bag of groceries every week in the marshal's office, and since I cook better than Steve does, the Marshal, I do most all the cooking, but Saturday night I usually try to eat at the hotel. Steve usually stays out on the street somewhere, especially on Saturday afternoons and nights. This is the liveliest time in town and also the busiest for us.

As luck would have it, Steve was at the hotel before me and had just sat down to order, when I walked in. He is a bigger man than I am at about six four and a good two sixty. I have never seen him draw but he has been marshal for nearly eight months and that means he has to be fairly good at it. If he wasn't he would probably have been run out of town by some of the rougher element or killed outright. Being able to brag that you sent the law packing seems to be a real big thing in some of these trails end or mining towns

True civilisation, meaning churches and schools and true police departments, hasn't reached these raw new towns yet and never will get to most of them before they become ghost towns anyway. These towns spring up over night, either at tracks end where they are building the railroad, at the town at the end of a trail drive, or in whatever forsaken place a rich vein of ore of some kind is found. They attract the people looking to strike it rich, one way or another. Some want to find a bonanza, some to sell enough goods to retire, some to win at gambling and still others who will try to steal it.

My pa always said it takes a town tamer to last very long in one of these places. There is a Town Marshal name of Earp, who together with his brothers, is building quite a reputation for himself as a town tamer.

Me, this is just a temporary thing for me, and I don't need or want people talking about me. All I want to do is see this beautiful country I live in and then maybe earn enough to start me a small spread, where I can raise some fine horses. I haven't found exactly the place I want yet. Who knows, maybe I will even find that certain someone to raise a family of my own with. As Steve and I were walking out of the hotel, we heard a series of three or four gunshots ring out down at the Harshaw Bros. Saloon.

Running down the street, I took off down the side road nearest the saloon and then cut up the alley, so as to come in the back door. Steve stayed on the street, slowing down to give me time to get around back.

Coming in the front door, like he did, Steve was first to confront the combatants. He yelled 'Marshal' to get their attention, then told them to drop their guns. It didn't appear as if anyone was hurt yet. The boys had been drinking all afternoon and weren't doing their best shooting. Hoping to keep this at a drunk in public level, Steve had not drawn his gun yet. This was probably a mistake as the boys were in a killing rage. They both decided they could finish their personal business later and swung their guns toward Steve.

'Drop em,' I yelled, stepping in from the back, then drawing fast and firing at the cowboy who had swung and fired at me. There was the expected confusion of shots and return fire and when the smoke cleared both cowboy's were on the floor. One dead the other hit hard and dying. Unfortunately Steve was down too and it didn't look good. I was okay and thanking God the cowboy who shot at me had missed as the bullet hole in the bar beside me was right at thigh height and on the same side as my bad thigh. Seems like everyone is out to make sure I don't get to keep that leg.

Steve was hit bad all right, but there was a fair chance the Doc might be able to help him. The wounded cowboy wasn't that lucky and was dead before the Doc, hurriedly summoned by the bartender, arrived.

After Steve had been carried to the Doc's office and the bodies had been carried down to the town undertakers place, I tried to find out what had happened. It seems the boys had bumped into each other and each had accused the other of being a clumsy jerk.

One thing led to another and they both thought it had gone too far to settle without a fight, with guns, of course. The worst part of it was everyone in the bar thought I should resign and head for the horizon as the one I had killed, Bob Gibson had four brothers headed this way. The fact that I was a Deputy Marshal, acting in the line of duty, and shot back only in self defence, didn't seem to convince them that the brothers wouldn't be after revenge.

I spent two days considering what I should do and then it was too late. See, Steve was going to make it okay but he would be laid up for awhile. My leg is better but I don't relish the idea of life in the saddle with it hurting even this much and let's face it, I don't have a whole lot of rabbit in me to start with. Maybe I ain't real smart but I took the job in good faith and I guess I figured I should just stay and do my best. Anyway, before I could reason it out in a way I could live with, they were here. The Gibson brothers, that is, all four of them.

I knew going up against all four at once was suicide, so I had to get them apart somehow. I had made some friends in town, at least good enough to get two of them to go up to two different brothers, and tell them the story that I was waiting for them on two different ends of town. They did as I hoped and two went one way while the other two came my way.

I made sure they had time to get to opposite ends of town, then stepped out in front of the two who had come my way. I tried to talk to them and explain that I had only been doing my duty but they cut that short by starting to draw. I drew as well, but as I dropped to the ground. I don't think they were expecting that as they both fired too high to hit me, while I let them each have two rounds apiece. I scored with all four rounds and two of the brothers were down. I knew I had to get out of there and choose my own ground again. It was the only way I had a chance of living through this insanity. Reloading as I ran, I made sure I had a full cylinder to meet the remaining brothers with. They were running toward where all the shooting had come from so it wasn't too hard to get behind them. As soon as they were past me, I yelled 'Hold it right there.'

They stopped and spun around. I hoped they would see the hopelessness of drawing on me as I had the drop on them, but some people are just stubborn I guess. I popped a round at the closest one, just as they both cut loose at me, then did a drop and roll to the side. I rolled on my bad leg and Jesus it hurt, but I managed to get two more rounds off at the second one before he could adjust to my new location.

All I can say, is it is getting harder and harder not to build a reputation as a gunhand. Especially when you kill four men in a gunfight in Harshaw.

( 1998 George H. Lafferty