Copyright© 2010 by Kingkey
As we headed off toward town, I tried to think of what might have happened. We soon had to slow to an easy lope as the light was failing. We didn't want the horses to be injured by stumbling in the near dark. That would make it just that much longer getting there.
The arrival of dusk took me by surprise. Where had the day gone? I knew the girls had let me sleep late to start with. Then I became so absorbed in what I was doing, I guess I never noticed the passage of time. I only vaguely remembered stopping to eat. I realized it must have been well after supper when the kid showed up.
Instead of ruminating on how time flies when you're busy, I had other concerns. As we rode, I put the questions to the messenger boy.
"Who was shot? What happened? How did they get shot?" I demanded.
"The judge – but it's not bad – just a crease!"
"Do you know who shot him, or why?"
"A bunch of miners got all drunked up and was tryin' to break out the Baxter brothers. The claimed they had been put in jail for nothing. There was a big argument. Suddenly there was a shot and the judge was hit in the right arm."
As the boy finished his tale, we came to the edge of town. In the distance we could see torches around the courthouse steps. We rode closer. In the half light of dusk and flickering torchlight I was able to make out about 20 miners. They were shouting abuse at a man standing on the courthouse stairs holding a shotgun. Seeing the nature of the mob, who as yet seemed unaware of our arrival, I spoke to the boy.
"Thanks for coming to get us, Son, but you should maybe stay back now. It could get real ugly. Besides, I might need a messenger again, and you wouldn't do me any good if you was in the thick of things gettin' hurt."
The boy hesitated, then as he reined in his mount he called out. "You're welcome Marshal! If you need me again, just holler for Jimmy!"
Grandpa and I rode on until we came to the mob. Without a second thought, I spurred my horse into the surging mass of men, forcing them to part like the Red Sea to allow us passage. I didn't need to look behind to know that Grandpa was with me. We forced our horses to the front of the crowd. The sudden appearance of mounted men in their midst startled the crowd. There was a brief lull in the racket. I vaulted off my horse and onto the courthouse steps.
I spun to face them and roared, "Just what the hell is going on here!"
"They got our pals, the Baxter brothers, locked up in there for no reason, and we want them out!" claimed the largest and dirtiest of the miners.
"It was me that arrested your so-called pals and locked them up for robbery and murder! They're the ones that have been robbing and killing and making it look like Indians did it!" I declared.
"What makes you think it was them and not some dirty stinking Indian?" He responded.
I was really did not feel like explaining the how and the why of the Baxters' crimes. And I certainly resented explaining myself to a mob of drunks, especially this bigoted fat slob. However, for the sake of justice and law and order, I persevered.
"That's really quite simple when you know what to look for, or know what you're looking at when you see it." I explained as if to a slow child. The sarcasm was obviously lost on him, but I continued with my more-or-less patient exposition.
"First, they used Crow arrows instead of Sioux. Crow arrows are marked with black and blue bands. Sioux arrows are marked with red and yellow bands. Because the Crow and Sioux are enemies, the Crow would not be found around these parts, as the Sioux would immediately attack them.
"Secondly, the bodies were found robbed of all their gold and other valuables, stuff Indians would not take. They don't have any use for money or gold. Indians would've wanted their horses and guns. They were even dumb enough to leave boot tracks instead of moccasin tracks!
"Thirdly, when I arrested them, and told them why, the oldest brother tried to draw on me – I had to kill the dumbass. He didn't declare his innocence or demand why they had been accused. He just started to draw. If he was innocent, why did he do that?
"Finally, after I arrested the other two, we searched their rooms. We found the evidence we needed – a small bow with about a dozen Crow arrows, several pokes of gold, money and other valuables that can be traced to the dead miners.
"With all that evidence, I'm sure that your so-called pals are the ones what have been doing all this robbing and killing around here. I was sure enough then that I locked them up, and still am, and they're gonna stay locked up until their trial. Didn't it seem even a little strange to any of you that they seemed to have all this money for their drinking and partying, yet they hardly ever went out to their claim, let alone work it?"
I hated having to justify my actions to these jackasses. The more I told them, the more angry and bitter I got. Because of that, I ended my tale more like a rant than a reasoned, detailed description of events and evidence.
However, what I said must have gotten through a little, because the shouting to free the Baxters died down as the miners stopped to consider my words for a few minutes. However, the mob was not to be denied their entertainment. If they couldn't free their friends, then they were going to have an old fashioned lynching! How fickle the mob mentality! The rabble started hollering a different tune.
The big guy that had been doing most of the talking started it by shouting, "We need to string them up! We can't let someone get away with killing and robbing us!"
With his words, the crowd of miners' voices rose in anger and they surged toward the front steps of the courthouse again. I quickly pulled my cross-draw revolver and fired two shots into the ground in front of them.
"There is NOT going to be a lynching here tonight! Those men are locked up and will stay locked up! No matter what we think of them, they are going to get a fair trial! Any man that tries to take them from the law will either be shot or be arrested and stand trial himself!"
The big miner who was the spokesman for the crowd cried, "What law? We are the law around these parts! Only other law around here is a circuit judge that comes around every couple weeks! I say we hang them!"
I pinned on my badge so they could all see it, then I roared, "I'm the law around here! I'm the new deputy US marshal! And this is my area to cover! I. AM. THE LAW! Not a bunch of drunken miners! There will be NO lynching in my area!
"And while I'm at it – you men are not citizens of this town! You can't just go passing ordinances on you own! You don't have the right! If you think you want to have the right to pass ordinances, become tax-paying citizens and then run for Mayor or City Council! If I hear of any of you causing trouble for the local businesses, I'll lock you up so fast that your heads will spin!
"No more of this new so-called law that you made, that forces the local businesses not to serve Indians or anyone else you don't like under threat of being burned out! NO! MORE! I even hear the tiniest whisper that any of you might be thinking about burning out someone, I'll have you behind bars for conspiracy to commit arson and murder so fast you won't know what hit you!"
I was mad! The more I thought about it, the madder I got. I stopped to catch my breath and cool down a bit before I said something really stupid. Thankfully, someone else managed to change the tone and get me off that particular rant.
"I thought you were the new doctor not a deputy." One of the miners observed.
"I am the new doctor, but I'm also a deputy US marshal. Seeing as I'll be traveling between the local towns anyway as the doctor, it was decided that I could do both jobs because they both cover the same general area." I explained.
"Okay, I say let the law have them, but those Baxter brothers better get what's coming to them! They can't get away with all the robbing and killing that's been done around here! I still think a lot of it was those dirty stinking Indians! They're forever giving us problems around here!" another miner declared.
There was a general rumbling of agreement from the crowd. I had almost had my temper under control, but this idiot set me off again!
"I've had about enough of that kind of talk! I happen to be married to three Indians and have an Indian son. Dirty Indians indeed! I'll tell you right now, that they're ALL a lot cleaner and smell better than you do! You want dirty and stinky? Don't ever stand downwind of yourselves!
"And for causing 'problems'? YOU are the ones causing problems! By trespassing on their land! This land was given to the Indians by a treaty signed at Fort Laramie back in '68! It is still theirs! They turned down selling out last year because the land is sacred! They can't sell it!
"But! Even though they can't sell it because it is holy ground, they can still use it. Under the right circumstances, they can let others use it too. With that in mind we are trying to work something out with the Indians that will let you stay and work at your gold claims in peace. Regardless, you still can't just come onto their land and start cutting down all the timber and killing off all the game – because this is their land, not yours!"
"But you can't stop us! We got rights too! We're just here trying to get the gold that you say the Indians have no use for anyway!"
"You still don't get it, do you? While they may not have any use for the gold, they certainly do have a use for the trees and the game – resources that you seem to want to strip away or slaughter with absolutely no thought to what you are doing or who you might be endangering! They have every right to be angry and try to defend themselves and their land!
"Now, I'm getting tired of arguing with you people. I told you who the robbers and murderers are, and I told you the Indians are working on a way so you can use the land legally, but ... you ... won't ... listen!
"Break it up and go on home and sleep it off! Mayhap you'll understand better when your brains ain't fogged with drink! I've got an injured man in there to treat, and you have delayed me long enough! Go on home and let me do my job!"
There was grumbling and a slow movement away from the courthouse, but most of them still seemed to be hanging around for something to happen. The mob still hadn't satisfied its thirst for violence. They needed something else to focus that energy on. I glared at the crowd and let my rage and frustration go.
"If I find out who fired that shot, I'll track him to the ends of the earth and when I catch him, which I will, he'll hang for the attempted murder of a Federal Judge! And if you ALL don't break it up RIGHT NOW, I'll make sure the rest of you go to prison for a very long time as accessories and for conspiracy to commit murder of a federal official! Do I make myself clear? Now GIT!"
The ones at the front, the leaders, paled when they saw the rage and determination on my face. The threat to arrest and convict them all of fancy-sounding crimes that sounded suspiciously like treason had its desired effect. The yelling and rude remarks turned into fearful murmuring as they finally seemed to get the message. The fact that I held a loaded pistol on them, and Grandpa and the original guard backed me up with big ol' Greeners, both barrels cocked, and wearing evil grins, might have influenced them a little, too...
Some at the rear had already started to wander away slowly, but those at the front who could see and hear me clearly, now turned quickly and hustled away. In their rush to get away from a foaming-at-the-mouth deputy, and a maniacal shotgun-wielding Grandpa, they pushed their slower fellows before them. In a very short time all that remained of the mob were a few torches sputtering out on the ground.
I shook my head in disgust. I wondered to myself how the human race had managed to survive as long as it had! If these idiots were typical of the race, then our survival had been pure dumb luck! I grabbed my medical bag from my saddle and went in to check how badly the judge was wounded. After all, that was what I was summoned for in the first place!
I found the Judge in his office, resting comfortably. When I examined him, I discovered that the bullet wound was just a very small crease. It probably hurt like Hell, but it would not need stitches – just a good cleaning and a small bandage.
When I finished the treatment, I advised the Judge, "You will likely be left with a small scar, Sir. There shouldn't be any permanent physical damage as long as you keep it clean until it heals."
"Thank you, Marshal. I heard what you told those fools out there, and I agree. If you need to arrest them like you threatened, I'll back you 100 percent. Don't worry about this little scratch. My missus will make sure I follow your orders. Like any wise man, I'm more afraid of my wife's reaction than any mob!"
"Well, it's getting' late, Your Honor. I don't feel much like traveling home in the dark. It might be best if I stayed here tonight, anyway. Those damn miners are just stupid enough to get all liquored up again and start causing more trouble."
"Good thinking, Son. I'll probably be seeing you tomorrow. Good night."
"Good night, Judge. Uncle Henry, can you make sure the judge gets home? I'll meet you after I tend to the horses."
I left the judge with Grandpa. They were talking animatedly as they strolled away. I figured I'd probably end up looking for Grandpa. The Judge and he would be sure to get into some long conversation, and forget the lateness of the hour.
After I dropped the horses off at the stable and made sure they were set for the night, I headed over to the general store then on back to the cabins. As I approached them, there were lights in the windows and noise coming from all three. I went to the first one and knocked on the door. One of the miners who was in the crowd earlier answered my knock.
Already confident of the answer, I asked anyway, "What are you doing here?"
He answered politely enough, "We rented it for the night. Sorry, Marshal, if you're lookin' fer a place ta bunk, there ain't the room for even one more. I think the other cabins are full too."
I stifled my rising anger, because despite the mob scene earlier, these men had done nothing wrong. They rented the cabins in good faith.
"These cabins were supposed to be empty. Who did you rent from? And how much did he charge?" I demanded, just barely controlling myself.
"We rented them from Mr. Miller, just like we always do. He puts five of us in each cabin and charges us each three dollars a night." He replied.
"I think I had better go have a talk with Mr. Miller! The owner of these cabins told him three days ago he wasn't to rent them out anymore because they were not his to rent. They were supposed to remain empty so they would be available for the proper owners' use." I griped.
The poor guy was really worried. "Who's the owner? You? Will you be kicking us out? We got no place to go tonight. It's too late to head out to our claims and camp there."
"Yup! That's me and my Uncle Henry. But don't worry none. It's not your fault. You paid your money in good faith. I won't turn you or your friends out in the middle of the night. Go on back to bed and have a good night's sleep. I'll tend to this and find someplace else for us to bunk for tonight. Good night." I made sure the man knew he was OK for tonight then took my leave of him.
"G'night, Marshal. Hope you get it sorted out."