This is another departure from my normal type of story. I hope the readers will receive this tale as well as they did my prior story in this vein, The Trail West.
As always, constructive comments, critiques, and emails are hoped for and appreciated.
This story is loosely based and greatly inspired by the song Winterborn by the Cruxshadows. I'm not usually into Grunge Rock but I've been haunted by their song for over a year. I just had to write a story incorporating the ideas told in this song.
You can see the video and hear the song on YouTube.
And in the fury of this darkest hour
We will be your light
You've asked me for my sacrifice
And I am Winterborn
(by the Cruxshadows)
Dillon Gallagher had been a 20 year old junior at Virginia Military Institute planning a career with the United States Army when Confederate troops attacked Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. Virginia's secession from the Union followed on April 17th and he knew that his plans were dead. He left school and returned home. Two months later he heard that the First Virginia Cavalry was being formed in Winchester; so he equipped himself and rode north to join up.
Before he left his father made it clear that he thought Dillon was being foolish. "You've always said that slavery was morally wrong and a financially inefficient way to farm. How can you go fight for something you think is wrong?" Samuel asked.
"I did say those things and I still believe them. You'll notice that I hired immigrants, mostly Irish, to work the place that Grandpa left me. It costs less than running slaves and it also lets me sleep at night," Dillon said.
"Why would you fight to preserve owning slaves if you're so set against it?"
Dillon looked at his father for a few seconds before he answered. He knew his father wouldn't understand or approve his reasoning. Sighing he replied, "I'm going to fight to preserve state's rights, Father. I don't believe that the Federal government has the right to dictate to each state how we should live. It's as simple as that."
Samuel thought about what Dillon had said for a minute or so. "You know if you fight for the Confederacy you'll hurt the bank."
"What?" Dillon asked not believing his father's main concern.
"You've said yourself over these last few weeks that the South can't win the war against the Union. Right?"
"That's what I said. The Union can put a superior number of soldiers in the field and they have the industrial machine to better supply them. The Confederacy can't overcome that with bravery," Dillon replied.
"If you're right, and I think you are, when the Union wins there'll be hell to pay for Southern sympathizers. If my son fought for the south, I could be thought of as a Southern sympathizer and lose the bank." Samuel paused for a bit and asked, "Why can't you stay home? Run your farm or help me here at the bank or take a trip to California."
"Don't you understand Father, I have to go. If I stay home, I'll be branded a coward and couldn't live here after the war anyway. And I won't fight against my friends here in Virginia, even if I don't believe completely in their cause. That leaves joining the army of the Confederate States of America. Besides, Virginia is my home and I can't stand by and see her destroyed."
Dillon thought for a minute and then muttered in a low voice, "Winterborn."
"What's that you said? Winterborn?" Samuel asked puzzled.
"It's a very old poem I read while at school. It pretty much sums up our situation here," Dillon answered. He hesitated a few seconds and then quoted:
"So bury fear, for fate draws near
And hide the signs of pain
With noble acts, the bravest souls
Endure the heart's remains
And in the fury of this darkest hour
We will be your light
You've asked me for my sacrifice
And I am Winterborn"
"What the hell does that mean Dillon?"
"Winterborn is a religious legend from the Middle Ages that says that people born during December are sort of a lost breed. Those people or groups were often asked to sacrifice themselves for a cause; similar to what Jesus did." Dillon paused with his head down, "Even if it's a lost cause." Lifting his head he added, "That's what the soldiers of the CSA are being asked to do; Sacrifice themselves, they can't win this war."
"I don't understand. All I see my son being a young fool."
Dillon smiled for the first time and said, "You know Grandpa Flynn always said that a man has to believe in something; even if it wasn't smart to do so he has to believe in something. I guess you believe in this bank and money; a sorry thing to base your life on."
The young man stood and gave his father a sad look. "Good bye Father. Tell Mother I'll write when I can." Dillon turned, left the office, and started his journey to join the First Virginia Cavalry.
For the next four years, Dillon rode through hell. The First took part in several large battles and Dillon was at all of them. The First, commanded by J.E.B. Stuart, helped General Thomas Jackson earn his nickname of 'Stonewall' at First Manassas in July of '61.
Dillon was wounded at Second Manassas in August of '62. He was shot through the meaty part of his leg but missed the bone and he recovered quickly. The First were continuously in battle with little down time for the entire war. Dillon had at least five horses shot out from under him, but was never wounded again.
The only good thing that's come out of all this is my new pistol, Dillon thought. The First had conducted an early morning raid on the Union Army's flank and over ran them. Dillon saw a Yankee Lieutenant riding hard to escape and followed slowly behind him. The Lieutenant came to an abandoned barn and rode his horse into the structure. Dillon found him hiding in a stall, tending to a gunshot wound in his leg.
Slowly entering the barn, Dillon with his LeMat pistol drawn, was able to capture the Lieutenant. The Yankee weapons, a repeating rifle and a sidearm were confiscated. Standing orders stated that captured weapons were to be turned over to the company commander for distribution to the company; supplies, especially weapons were getting harder to supply.
Dillon saw that the young Lieutenant's sidearm was a Remington New Model Army .44, an extremely fine pistol. One advantage of the Remington was that you could load extra six shot cylinders and change them out quickly when you emptied one. In addition, the bullets and caps for the Remington were easier to come by than supplies for his LeMat so Dillon decided that he would keep the pistol.
If I turn it in, it will probably end up being carried by some real echelon office, Dillon rationalized. He'll strut around Richmond or Savanna telling stories about how he took the weapon from some Yankee officer. I think I can put it to better use right here.
The First took part in their last battle of the war at the town of Appomattox Court House in April, '65. When General Lee went to the home of Wilmer McLean to surrender to General Grant, Dillon didn't stay around. He had an idea of what would happen after the surrender; the Union would run rough shod over the southern states to punish them. Dillon didn't want to witness the coming punitive actions. He rode west, out of the war zone and away from his beloved Virginia.
Dillon had left Appomattox making his way from Virginia southwest through the war torn southern states to New Orleans. He dodged both Union patrols and the remnants of the Confederate Army along the way. The Confederate States of America may have surrendered, Dillon said to himself but I haven't.
It took him most of six weeks of drifting to get to DeWitt county Texas in. He met and worked for Creed Taylor, a former Texas Ranger, for a while. Taylor was the one that showed Dillon how to really handle a pistol. Dillon had worked for Taylor for about a year and then move on further west. Leaving Dewitt he made his way to nearby San Antonio.
There he met several fellow "Johnny Rebs" who had stayed in the west rather than going home; several skirmishes between the North and South had been fought in the area. Most of the gray coats were just trying to make a living and get on with their lives but some had become petty thieves, road agents, and bandits.
Two of these thieves tried to steal Dillon's horse late one evening. He'd been sleeping in the hay loft of the stable when he heard the men talking as they attempted to steal his horse and gear. Dillon climbed down from the loft, pulled his pistol, and approached the two men.
"I think you fellers made a mistake. That's my horse and gear you're takin. I suggest you put them back," Dillon said.
One of the men turned pulling his gun but before he could bring it to bear, Dillon shot him in the chest. He heard another gunshot and felt the impact of a bullet as it grazed his left arm. Dillon fired and hit the second man in the belly. Walking over to the pair lying on the floor he kicked their guns away. Dillon examined one man and saw he was dead. He turned back to the wounded man, but there was nothing he could do for him; the man was gut shot. Before Dillon could go for help, the second man died.
Bill Swanson the middle aged stable owner rushed into the area carrying a double barreled shot gun. He saw Dillon standing over the dead men and asked, "What happened?"
As Dillon explained Swanson inspected the two men. Turning to Dillon he said, "Son you better ride out. That's Sam Wade and Jerry Carter you shot. Their friends of Jake Stewart, the town marshal."
"Why should I run? It was self defense."
"Don't make no difference. Stewart will hang you as sure as your standing there. You better ride boy." Seeing the blood on Dillon's shirt he continued, "Let's take a look at your wound and then you need to get on the trail."
The gunshot had sliced a furrow through the muscle of Dillon's upper arm. Swanson cleaned and bandaged the wound; it would be painful but not life threatening. He handed Dillon some trail supplies and helped him saddle his horse. "You need to go and go fast. I'll wait for a bit before I go find Stewart."
"Thanks Mr. Swanson, I'll not forget your kindness," Dillon said as he mounted and headed out of San Antonio. He headed south deciding that Mexico would be a good place to head for. Dillon made it to Laredo and then across the Rio Grande to Nuevo Laredo. At least there weren't any Union troops on the Mexican side of the river.
Dillon spent several months in Mexico, learning the language and hiring out as a payroll guard from time to time for the mines in the area. He'd been shot at several times but his skill with his pistol saved his hide and the payrolls he guarded. Sitting in a cantina one evening two days after his latest run in with bandits, three rough looking men approached him looking for trouble.
The men had the look of former soldiers; two wore the yellow striped grey pants of the Confederate Cavalry and the other wore a Union jacket and cap. The leader of the pack reached across the table and took Dillon's drink. Knocking back the tequila; his look dared the young man to say anything. Dillon didn't react which made the man angry.
"You're the one that rode guard for the mine payroll a couple of days ago, are ya?" Dillon didn't speak and just nodded. "You shot up my cousin in that gun fight."
For the first time Dillon spoke. "He got what he deserved mister. If he hadn't tried to rob me I wouldn't have shot him." Under the table he loosened his Remington .44 in its holster; he was expecting trouble with from this group.
The large man roared and went for the pistol stuck in his belt. Before he could get it out Dillon stood, drew his own gun and fired. The two other men went for their guns at the same time but Dillon was much faster and fired two more shots in quick succession.
When the noise and smoke cleared there were three dead men lying on the floor of the cantina. Dillon holstered his pistol, walked to the bar and tossed a few coins to the bartender. "Sorry about the mess senor," he said. Turning he left the cantina, mounted his horse, picked up his gear from his cabin, and rode out of Nuevo Laredo.
Dillon thought about his life and travels since the end of the war. Has it really been over three years now? Maybe I ought to head home, he thought. Seems all I'm doing out here is getting shot at or shooting people.
After three years away from home, Dillon headed back to Richmond. Maybe I can make peace with Father, he thought.
Samuel Gallagher looked at his son; Dillon as he sat across the desk from him. The two hadn't seen each other since Dillon left home to join the 1st Regiment Virginia Cavalry in July of 1861. The elder Gallagher still owned the largest bank in Richmond, Virginia; the former capitol of the Confederate States of America. He and Dillon were in Samuel's plush office on this early morning in September '68.
Dillon's been gone for 7 years Samuel thought as he appraised his son. He found the change in Dillon remarkable; the boy's matured during his long absence, Samuel said to himself. Maybe now he'll understand my position.
Dillon had left Richmond a little soft; he had been 6 feet tall and weighed 225, with a pale complexion. Dillon took after his mother with blue eyes and very dark hair which he wore unfashionably long. He returned whip cord slim and strong; now weighing no more than 190. His face was sun burned to a deep tan which made his blue eyes seemed to jump out at you.
The older Gallagher also saw a change in Dillon's personality. He was no longer the almost naïve, argumentative, angry young man that had left home. Now he was quietly confident and seemed older than his 27 years.
"Where have you been?" Samuel asked. "Lee surrendered in April of '65. It's been better than three years since then."
"I decided I didn't want to be around for the aftermath of the surrender, so I headed west for a while," Dillon replied.
"No matter, you're here now. We'll get you cleaned up and tomorrow I'll take you to the Capitol building. You can take the Oath to the Union and we'll get on with our lives," Samuel said. "Of course your farm was confiscated, what with you being a Confederate officer. I tried to stop it but couldn't do anything." Then almost to himself, "I hope you're service doesn't have an adverse effect on the bank."
"Wouldn't mind cleaning up a bit, but I can't take that oath." Dillon stared at his father and said, "Also I don't believe you tried very hard to keep them from taking the farm; it might have put you in a bad light with your Northern friends."
Samuel stopped and looked at his son. He saw the conviction in the boy's eyes and the set of his chin. "Can't or won't take the oath?" He didn't address Dillon's comment about his efforts to save the farm.
"Take your pick, either way I'm not swearing an oath to the Union," Dillon replied returning his father's hard stare.
"Why in the world not? If you're going to live here you have to take that oath."
"I already took an oath; to the Confederacy. Reckon a man's only good for one oath at a time," Dillon said with a grim smile.
"But the wars over; Lee surrendered," Samuel almost pleaded.
"Lee surrendered, I didn't."
"If you don't swear that oath, it could cause me and the bank a lot of trouble. I've managed to hold on by helping the Union representatives down here. Do you want me to lose it all?"
"You haven't changed, have you Father? Our views haven't changed since our last talk either. The only thing you believe in is money and profit. The only difference is now you're a toady for Northern Reconstruction," Dillon said sadly.
Samuel angrily responded "I think you're just afraid to admit you were wrong to join the Confederacy. I never thought I'd see my son be too much of a coward to do what's good for the family."
Dillon stared at Samuel with a cold anger; his eyes blazing. "A coward! If you weren't my father I'd shoot you where you sit," Dillon said, his voice quivering with rage. His hand had moved to the butt of the pistol at his hip. "I won't be staying; I'll drop by and say good bye to Mother before I go."
"You and your mother are two of a kind. She moved to her sister's in Boston two years ago," Samuel said.
"Good for her. I'm glad that at least one of my parents shows some sense. Good bye Father, I doubt that I'll ever see you again." Dillon stood, looked at his father one last time and left the office.
Outside the bank, he mounted the big buckskin stallion that had carried him for hundreds of miles and rode to his father's house; there was a room over the carriage house where Dillon lived before the war. Hidden behind a false panel were several of his things that he wanted to take with him.
He pushed open the panel covering his treasure trove and sorted through the contents. One of the things he wanted was gold and silver Hunter cased pocket watch with a heavy gold chain and fob. The watch had belonged to his maternal grandfather James Dillon Flynn. He was a crusty old man that had never been impressed by Samuel Gallagher and his wealth. In spite of Samuel's objections, Dillon's mother, Sarah, had named her son after her father. It was the first but not the last act of independence and rebellion by Sarah.
Inside the case of the watch was a picture of Dillon's mother; taken just before Dillon left for college. The watch had been left to Dillon when his grandfather Flynn has passed away. Along with the farm and watch he received sixty $20 double eagle gold coins worth $1200 dollars from the old man's estate.
There were several other items that Dillon wanted to take with him. One was a Bowie knife and sheath, also left to him by Grandpa Flynn. It had been made by the same blacksmith, James Black that had made the original knife for the famous Jim Bowie. Flynn and Bowie were friends and cohorts in the early 1830s and after covering each others back in saloon fight in a small Texas town, Bowie made a gift of the knife to his friend.
The other items Dillon took were two books of poetry. While attending Virginia Military he became interested in certain poets and poems; these were two of his favorites. One was a collection of the works of Shelley and the other the works of Lord Byron. Some people will think I'm a dandy from the east if they see these, Dillon thought. It doesn't matter what they think, I want them with me.
Riding to his old room and now as he was leaving he could still see the aftermath of the devastating fires that ran through Richmond in April of '65. The fires had been set by the retreating Confederate troops trying to destroy any supplies that the invading Union army could use.
The fires had gotten out of hand and burned over 25 percent of the buildings in the city. The Union soldiers put out most of the fires as they advanced and captured the city. In spite of what many of the city's residents thought it was the Union army that saved Richmond from even greater destruction.
Dillon looked at the burned out areas of the city that even three years later hadn't been cleaned up or restored. This is why I didn't come home he thought. This and the overbearing attitude of many of the managers, officials and representatives of the Union government. If I stay, I'll end up killing some carpet bagger. Time to leave; for good this time.
Taking one last look, Dillon didn't replace the panel to cover the hiding place. Doesn't much matter now, he said to himself. He took his 'treasures' down to his horse and placed everything in the saddlebags. Mounting the big animal and turning its head west he said, "Time to go West Buck, this isn't my home anymore."
His plan for right now was to head back to Dewitt county Texas. His friend and sometimes mentor, Creed Taylor and his brothers were involved in a battle with a man named William Sutton. Sutton was part of the State Police and along with Union soldiers were enforcing the laws concerning Reconstruction in Texas. Dillon had recently heard of the Sutton-Taylor feud and thought he might go give his friend Creed Taylor and his brothers a hand in that ongoing battle. It didn't matter to Dillon if Creed was in the right; they were friends and that's all Dillon needed to know.
After the disastrous confrontation with his father, Dillon headed to Fort Smith. Dillon and Buck took all most two months to travel the close to twelve hundred miles from Richmond to Fort Smith Arkansas. He dodged Union patrols most of the way. Fort Smith had been known as "Hell on the Boarder" during the Civil War. It wasn't quite as wild in November of '68 but still not a place to let your guard down.
He had a reason for going to the Arkansas town. Fort Smith was far enough outside the control of the Union that he could get on a train bound for Texas. Dillon made a deal with the station master for him and his horse to ride in an empty box car on a train headed south to Houston, Texas. When he got to Houston he would continue on horseback south west to DeWitt.
He rode to Creed Taylor's ranch and found his friend sitting on the front porch of the ranch house with one of the new Winchester repeating rifles across his lap.
"Mr. Taylor, are things that bad?" Dillon asked pointing at the rifle.
"Damn boy, it's good to see you," Creed replied. "Yeah, thing are pretty bad right now. Get down and I'll tell you all about it."
Dillon hitched his horse to the rail and joined his old friend; leaning against the porch rail. "Heard about the Suttons and y'all back home. Thought I might come out and give you a hand," he said offering his help to Creed.
"Those damn Suttons are with the State Police. They're running rough shod over southern Texas and there's gonna be more bloodshed," Creed explained. As he was talking a young man rode up and dismounted in a hurry.
Stepping onto the porch he faced Dillon and said, "Who's this drifter Cousin Creed? Is he bothering you?"
Dillon stood up from his spot at the rail and faced the man. The youngster was primed for trouble and Dillon didn't want to be at a disadvantage.
"Settle down John," Creed ordered. "This is Dillon Gallagher, a friend of mine." He turned to Dillon and said, "This is my wife's cousin John Hardin; he came out to give us a hand with the Suttons."
"John Wesley Hardin?" Dillon asked. He'd heard of this youngster; some said he was the deadliest gun hand in the west. "I've heard of you."
Hardin smile didn't reach his eyes. "Creed told me about you too Dillon. Sez you're about as fast as he's ever seen." Turning to Creed he asked, "Who's faster Creed, me or Gallagher?"
"You boys pull your horns in, hear?" Creed looked at the two young men for a few seconds and then said, "Don't know for sure who's faster. You might be a touch quicker John, but I for damn sure wouldn't want to bet my life on the difference. Y'all come in for supper." Creed stood and led the way into the house.
Dillon was awake at daybreak; a habit he picked up in the army. He decided to take a short ride around the ranch to get a feel for things. Breakfast was ready when he got back; he cleaned up and joined Creed and Hardin at the table.
"What you been up too, since you left from here?" Creed asked over a last cup of coffee.
Dillon told him about his adventures and the trip back home. When he talked about Richmond Dillon's face got hard and his eyes blazed. "Wasn't much reason to stay so I reckoned I'd come back here and give you a hand."
"Don't want you staying Dillon. This ain't your fight and besides the last thing you need is to cross paths with those Union soldiers that the Suttons are running with." Creed held up his hand to stop Dillon's reply.
"There's paper on a man that fits your description from San Antonio and those Yankees would love to get their hands on you. There's even talk about a shoot up down in Mexico. Seems like a Union soldier from Laredo got shot in a cantina south of the boarder; no one talks about what he were doin there. But the Yankees are a mite upset at some payroll guard. I think you'd better ride on son," Creed finished.
"Maybe your right Creed, but I sure hate to leave you in a bind."
Creed smiled at Dillon's obvious concern and said, "You're not son. The other ranchers around here are southern boys many who served in the war and they're not too happy with the Suttons either. There's a passel of us upset with those bastards. Before this is over I intend to see that there's a several less Suttons around to bother us."
"I'll see to it," Hardin added.
Dillon looked at the youngster, smiled, and asked, "How old are you John?"
"I'm old enough to be damn good with his hog leg," he answered. "Want to try me out?"
"Wasn't questioning your skill or your courage John. I was just curious." Dillon wasn't afraid of the young pistolero but saw no need to push things. He didn't want to cause his friend more trouble; turning back to Creed Dillon said, "I'll leave now Creed. I wouldn't want to cause you another problem if they found a wanted man being harbored on your ranch"
"It's been good to see you son. Come back after this ruckus is over with and we'll have a drink or two and tell lies to each other," Creed replied with a big grin. "Take care of yourself boy."
Dillon packed up and rode away from DeWitt. Now where to, he asked himself? It was July of '69 and he decided to go to Amarillo to see the parents of some boys that he'd fought with at First Manassas in '61. He made the three day ride to Austin to get a train to Fort Worth. San Antonia was closer and had a bigger rail head but with the warrants out on him, Dillon didn't think it'd be too smart to push his luck.
Again he was able to make a deal with the agent to ride in a cattle car headed to Fort Worth; this time it took a little extra money under the table for the two day trip. Arriving in Fort Worth, he put his horse in the livery stable to pamper it a little. He paid for the horse to be rubbed down and fed with a grain mash. The animal had a long journey ahead and Dillon wanted him in top condition. He treated himself to a room in a small hotel; it was the first bed he'd sleep in for over a week.
The next morning at first light, Dillon started the long ride to Amarillo. It was close to 360 miles to his destination; he thought it would take a little over two weeks to get there; assuming he didn't run into trouble along the way.
He rode into Wichita Falls late in the afternoon of his fifth day on the trail. Dillon bedded his horse down in the livery and arranged to sleep in the loft over the stalls. The hay made a nice mattress after sleeping on the ground for four days.
Dillon went to a nearby saloon for supper and a beer or two. He'd just finished his meal and noticed the town marshal come in and talk to the bartender. Three rough looking cowboys came through the swinging doors into the saloon and saw the lawman at the bar. The marshal had his back to the door and the men quietly walked toward him. They slowly started to draw their pistols; it was obvious they intended to shoot the marshal in the back.
Yelling a warning to the marshal, Dillon drew his own weapon and fired at the cowboys. The marshal turned at Dillon's yell bringing a double barrel shotgun into play. Dillon dropped one man; the blast from the scatter gun killed another and seriously wounded the third. The marshal and Dillon both quickly looked around the rest of the room for any other gunmen.
Dillon holstered his pistol as the marshal checked on the three men. Turning back to the bartender the marshal ordered him to send for the doctor to treat the wounded man; the other two needed the services of the undertaker. He was sent for too.
The lawman stepped over to Dillon, "I'm Marshal Thomas Ryan," he introduced himself offering his hand. "Thanks for the warning. It could have been a mite nasty for me without your help."
"Dillon Gallagher, Marshal. I figured they were up to something when they tried to sneak up on you."
"Why'd you get involved? Did you have a problem with those three?" Marshal Ryan questioned.
"No sir, just don't like back shooters. Reckon if they'd faced you it was your job to handle it but since they didn't I thought I'd deal myself into the game," Dillon replied. He sat back down to finish his beer and the marshal joined him.
"Where you headed Mr. Gallagher? Or do you plan to settle here in Wichita Falls?"
"Name's Dillon, Marshal. Hadn't thought much about staying here. As far as where I'm goin, I guess I'm sorta on my way to Amarillo; not in any hurry though."
"I think I hear the south in your voice Dillon. Did you by chance serve with the Confederacy?"
Dillon looked at Marshal Ryan for a moment and replied, "Yes sir, I served with the First Virginia Cavalry. Is that a problem Marshal?"
"I reckon you've earned the right to call me Tom," Ryan said with a grin. "And no, it's no problem. Just makin an observation is all. I fought with the 2nd Texas Cavalry Company E myself."
"That was the Texas Ranger Company wasn't it?"
Ryan showed his surprise. "Yup it was. How'd you know that Dillon?"
"Friend of mine, Creed Taylor and some of his kin rode with Company E," he replied.
"Sure, I knew Creed and his brother Pitkin both," Ryan said. Then he smiled and offered, "It's almost like old home week, ain't it."
Dillon returned Ryan's smile, paused and asked, "Why were those three gunning for you Tom?"
Before the marshal could answer the doctor came in looked around and saw the men on the floor. "That one closest to the door is your patient Doc," Ryan said.
The doctor went to the wounded man and examined him. Looking up at Ryan he shook his head indicating that the man wasn't going to make it. "He don't need me he needs a priest and the undertaker," the doctor said
"What'd you shoot him with Marshal? He sure was tore up ... oh I see," he said as Ryan held up his shotgun. By the time the men with a stretcher got to the bar, the last of the three bushwhackers died.
After the doctor and his helpers had carried the bodies out of the saloon, Ryan brought another round of beer to the table. "Don't like havin to kill folks. It's a bad night all around," he said as he sat back down at the table.
"I'll ask again. Why were those three gunning for you Tom?"
"Two weeks ago I went to arrest their brother for rustlin cattle. He decided to make a fight of it and I had to shoot him. Guess the fact that he was breakin the law didn't matter to these three. It cost them dearly."
Dillon finished his beer and stood to leave. "It's been ... I was gonna say nice to meet you but I think interesting is a better phrase Tom. Maybe we'll meet again."
"You said you weren't in any hurry to get to Amarillo; would you consider working for me for a while?"
"Doing what?" Dillon was surprised at the question.
"My deputy, Bill Moore, had to go to Shreveport to take care of some family business. It'll be three or four months before he comes back; if he comes back. I need someone to replace him. You interested?"
"Why would you trust me? You don't know me," Dillon replied.
"You already backed me up once, now didn't you? That took care of the trust issue. I can tell by the way you talk that you're an educated man. I went to Austin College up in Sherman; it'd be nice to have someone to talk to about something besides cows and crops. So want a job for a few months?"
Dillon had never thought about becoming a lawman. It's not that much difference than being a payroll guard, he told himself. He didn't have to work because of the money left to him by his grandfather; but that money wouldn't last forever. Might not be a bad idea to supplement my bankroll now and then, he thought.
"Okay, I'll take the job, but just for three months or until your deputy returns," Dillon said shaking hands with Marshal Ryan.
"Don't you want to know what it pays first?"
"Reckon you'll be fair and pay me what I'm worth," Dillon answered. "If I can't trust a marshal who can I trust?" Dillon grinned at Ryan.
"You'll get $50 a month and room and board over to Mrs. Boudreaux's. She runs the best boarding house in the county. That suit you?" At Dillon's nod Ryan said, "C'mon let's get your gear and I'll introduce you to Mrs. Boudreaux. This is Saturday so take tomorrow to get settled in and you can start Monday morning.
For the first time Dillon took stock of Marshal Ryan as they walked to the hotel to get his gear. Tom Ryan looked to be in his mid 30's with sandy colored hair and a big bushy moustache. He was about two inches shorter that Dillon and had a stocky build. He walked with a confidence that dared anything to get in his way. A hard man Dillon thought; a good man to have on your side but a bad one to cross.
While Dillon was taking stock of Tom Ryan, the marshal did the same thing with Dillon. Ryan saw a tall, slender, graceful young man. He had the look of a man that had seen his share of problems and had overcome or stood up to them. Ryan noticed that Dillon's eyes would sometime look haunted and troubled. That's a result of the war and its aftermath Ryan thought.
After gathering Dillon's gear from the hotel the two men walked the short distance to Mrs. Boudreaux's. Stepping onto the front porch of the large two story home Ryan explained, "Mrs. Boudreaux's a widow; her husband, Jackson, was killed at the Battle of Sabine Pass in '63. He was a foot soldier providing protection for the Confederate battery guarding the Pass."
Walking to the front door, Ryan knocked once, opened the door, and stuck his head inside. "Mrs. Boudreaux, its Marshal Ryan. You got room for another one of my strays?"
"Anytime Marshal, come on in," a voice answered from the dining room. It was just a couple of seconds when the owner of the voice came to the entry way to greet them. The woman that came into the room was not what Dillon had pictured when Tom Ryan told him she was a widow.
Mrs. Boudreaux swept into the foyer and shook Ryan's hand. "I've had nothing but good things to say about those 'strays' as you call them. I sure this young man won't be any different." She turned to Dillon offered her hand, and said, "I'm Emma Boudreaux, welcome to my home."
Dillon quickly removed his hat and took the offered hand. "Dillon Gallagher, Mrs. Boudreaux. I'm please to meet you. Thanks for taking me in."
She smiled at him and turned back to Ryan with a questioning look, inviting an explanation. Ryan grinned, "Dillon's going to take Bill Moore's place as my deputy. If you can find room for him, I'd appreciate it."
Looking at Dillon she replied, "I think we can put Mr. Gallagher in Bill's old room for the time being." She turned back to the marshal, "Same rates as before Marshal. Is that satisfactory?"
"Yes 'em it is. Just submit your bill to the town council; I'll see that it gets paid," Ryan answered.
"Have you had dinner Mr. Gallagher? I just put the food on the table; you can join us after I show you to your room."
"I'd appreciate a good meal, Ma'am. Been eating trail rations for better than a week," Dillon said. "No need to tear yourself away from your other guests; just point out my room and I'll join you shortly."
Mrs. Boudreaux smiled, "Top of the stairs, first door on your right. Bathrooms out back and there's a wash basin and pitcher in the room. Come join us as soon as you get settled. I'll say goodbye to you Marshal and return to my boarders." With a nod at Dillon she retraced her steps to the dining room.
Ryan smiled at Dillon and asked, "What do you think? She's something else, isn't she?"
"When you said she was a widow, I pictured a woman about my mother's age. Mrs. Boudreaux can't be more than 26 or 27," Dillon answered.
"She just turned 38, I believe," Ryan replied. "Come out to the house for supper tomorrow evening and I'll tell you all about her. More importantly, I'll tell you about your job. Our place is the big white house at the end of Main Street. See you tomorrow evening about 6."
Dillon found his room and stashed his gear, including his pistol and Winchester in his room. He had bought the Winchester Repeater, trading in his Henry, after talking to Creed Taylor about his Winchester. He washed up and joined the group sitting at the supper table.
When he stepped to the table, Mrs. Boudreaux introduced the three other men staying with her. "This is Bill Johnson on your left; he's a salesman that stays with me five or six times a year." Johnson nodded. She continued, "Sitting in the middle is James Randle. James is the land agent for the county. And on the left is Ralph Jacobs; Mr. Jacobs works at the freight office. Gentlemen, this is Dillon Gallagher, our new Deputy Marshal, so y'all mind your Ps and Qs."
Dillon nodded at the men and sat down. His mouth watered at the smell and sight of the food on the table. The fried chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans were passed to him one at a time and soon his plate was full. The others let him alone so he could eat. As he ate he examined Mrs. Boudreaux more closely.
She'll stand about 5' 8, tall for a woman he thought. Her dark almost black hair was worn up on her head leaving her neck free. The style was called a French bun; Dillon knew that because his mother often wore the same style. In the light thrown out by the lamps in the room, her hair shimmered in the reflected light.
He knew her age but it was hard to believe she was 38. She had a slender but strong looking body, big brown eyes that sparkled, and a no nonsense attitude that appealed to Dillon. Fine, strong woman, he thought. She's lost a lot but doesn't feel sorry for herself or let it get her down. As he finished his assessment, Mrs. Boudreaux noticed him looking at her and smiled. Guess she's used to men staring at her, Dillon said to himself returning her smile.
The next evening about 5, Dillon got his horse from the livery. Wichita Falls wasn't that big, he could have walked to Tom Ryan's house. But after nearly two days standing in a stall his horse needed to stretch and he wanted to look around the town.
Riding around he saw the normal businesses you'd expect to see; general store, bank, stage coach depot and such. What surprised him were the three saloons in a town that size. Dillon rode on to Tom Ryan's house. As he stepped up onto the porch the front door opened and Tom motioned him in. Dillon took off his hat as he entered the house and Tom pointed to a hat rack. When he turned around, just inside the door he saw a very pretty Mexican woman coming to greet him.
"Dillon this is my wife, Juanita. Honey, this is Dillon Gallagher. He'll be taking Bill's place for a few months."
He extended his hand but she pushed past it and hugged him. "Thank you for helping Tom the other night in the saloon. He would have been seriously hurt if you hadn't stepped in."
Dillon was a little embarrassed and looked over at Tom. Ryan stood there with a big grin on his face and just shrugged. "Honey, you're making more of it than it was. I keep telling you that it wasn't that bad."
"Nonsense. I talked to Charley at church this morning." She turned to Dillon and explained, "Charley was tending bar that evening." Juanita faced her husband again and continued, "He said that those three had the drop on you and that if Mr. Gallagher hadn't warned you, you'd probably be dead." She stared defiantly at Tom for a couple of seconds and then took Dillon's arm and led him into the dining room.
"Please sit here Mr. Gallagher she said showing him to one side of the table. "Is there anything I can get you before we start supper?"
"Yes em, you could drop the mister and just call me Dillon."
After finishing the meal, Dillon thought I could get used to this. Two great meals two nights in a row; sure beats the hell out of a cold supper on the trail. Tom held up two cigars and motioned for Dillon to follow him outside.
Dillon stood and gave a little bow toward Juanita. "That was an elegant dinner Mrs. Ryan. Thank you very much." He turned and followed Tom onto the porch.
"I notice three saloons on Main Street and a cantina around the corner. Isn't that a lot for a town the size of Wichita Falls?"
Tom had a grim smile when he answered. "Yep, it sure is. But they all get real busy when a cattle drive comes through."
"I've seen hands letting off steam in town after being on the trail for weeks at a time," Dillon said. "I know what you mean."
"The ranchers get price quotes by telegraph from San Antonio and from Abilene, Kansas; then they drive their herd to which ever has the best price." Tom chuckled and continued, "It's like throwing dice, one bad bounce and you've lost your stake. The ranchers are betting that the price will be the same or even higher after three to eight weeks on the trail. Sometimes they lose their bet."
Tom handed Dillon a cigar and said, "We get herds coming north to Abilene Kansas and herds heading south to San Antonio. And they all seem to lay over at least one night at our little town. Get's quite interesting sometimes."
After lighting the cigars, Tom explained the job to Dillon. "You'll work six days a week; Monday through Wednesday you'll have the night duty, 7 PM to 7 AM; there's a bunk in the office you can use to get some sleep. Thursday will be your day off. Friday through Sunday you work during the day, 7 AM to 7 PM. Any questions Dillon?"
He shook his head no and Tom added, "The only difference will be when the hands from a cattle drive are in town. We'll both be working until they're gone."
Dillon looked at Tom for a bit and said, "I do have one question. Why do you carry a shotgun?"
"Well ... I've run into a few that are a touch faster than me with a handgun but so far none of them could shoot straight. So I use a scattergun as an equalizer. It works better than a pistol when you face down more than one man too." Tom chuckled and added, "It sure puts the fear of God into someone that's looking down the barrel. Any more questions"
"Will you provide me with a scattergun or do I have to buy my own?" Dillon returned Tom's smile.
Monday morning at 7 AM, Dillon hitched his horse in front of the Marshal's office and went in. After saying good morning, Tom tossed a double barrel shotgun to him. Dillon saw it was Colt 12 gauge coach gun with 18 inch barrels.
"That's one of the few pieces of equipment that the town council will provide. They'll also provide loads for your pistol, Winchester, and that scattergun will be provided. Oh, I can get you a pair of shackles if you want. Personally I just use a tie down rope." Tom grinned and said, "Those damn shackles are too heavy to carry around with you all the time."
Dillon nodded and pick up a few shells from the box on Tom's desk and put them in his vest. He loaded the shotgun, put the weapon in the gun rack, and got a cup of coffee off the stove.
"I know you can handle yourself but I've got a little advice," Tom said. "We don't want to put too many of the cow hands in jail if we can keep from it. Settle em down and send them back to camp if you can. If not bring em in here and lock em up. Most time we can let them out in the morning so they can rejoin their outfit."
Dillon nodded again and replied, "Makes sense to me."
"By the way, we're expecting our first herd through here this weekend," Tom told him grinning.
The cow hands from the first two herds passing by Wichita Falls didn't raise too much hell. Dillon stopped a street fight that could have gotten ugly. He made the four men involved drop their weapons and head back to their camp. Dillon told them they could pick up the guns on their way out of town the next day.
At night after supper he took to reading the poetry books he'd brought with him from Richmond. Mrs. Boudreaux noticed him reading in the parlor one evening.
"What are you reading Mr. Gallagher?" It was interesting to her that this young man was actually reading.
"This one's a book of poems by Lord Byron," Dillon answered. Mrs. Boudreaux nodded that she knew who Byron was. "I have another one written by Shelley." She nodded again.
"Mr. Gallagher I have a small library down the hall there. You're most welcome to read anything you find there."
"Thank you ma'am, that'd be a real pleasure. You can only read so many two weeks old newspapers."
It became almost a nightly thing; on Dillon's nights off they would meet in the parlor and discuss poetry or other things that Dillon had read. On the days that he worked until 7PM, Mrs. Boudreaux would fix a plate of food for him and leave it in the oven. She took to joining him and they talked as he ate his supper.
One evening as she usually did, Mrs. Boudreaux asked him if there was anything else she could do for him.
"Yes ma'am there is. Could you see your way clear to call me Dillon? Mr. Gallagher makes me feel like an old man," he replied with a grin.
She chuckled and said, "I can do that Dillon and you must call me Emma."
As they talked that evening Dillon asked, "You're not from Texas are you Emma? I hear a southern influence in your speech instead of the Texas drawl like the folks from around here."
"You're very perceptive. I was born and raised in New Orleans," she answered.
"How'd you get to Wichita Falls, if you don't mind my asking?"
Emma had a sad little smile when she answered. "My marriage to Mr. Boudreaux, Jamie, was arranged by our families. We're Cajun and that's normal for the families back home. I was a frightened sixteen year old girl and Jamie was 26. We moved here right after we got married. Let's see that was almost 22 years ago."
"I'm sorry Emma; I didn't mean to bring up bad memories."
"You didn't. Jamie was a wonderful man and a better husband. He was very patient with me and I grew to love him very much. Then he was killed in the war six years ago."
"Did you ever think of returning home?"
"This is my home. Jamie ran a freight line and bought me this 'mansion' as he called it. After his death, I was able to sell the freight business and started a boarding house." She paused, smiled, and said, "It beats becoming a dance hall girl to make ends meet."
"Yes em, it surely does," Dillon agreed, thinking he wouldn't mind seeing her in one of the dresses those girls normally wore.
"I detect a bit of the south in your voice too Dillon," Emma remarked. "May I ask where your home is?"
"Richmond, Virginia is where I was born."
"If I get too nosey just say so," Emma said. Dillon shook his head and she asked, "Do you serve with the Confederacy in the war?"
"Yes ma'am, I rode with the First Virginia Cavalry. Seems like we fought every day for four long years."
"I'm sure you were glad to go home after the war ended," Emma said.
"Not really. The day that General Lee surrendered I headed west. I didn't go back home for three years."
"I guess some would say I was a coward because I didn't want to face the effects the war had on Richmond. So I just drifted for three years. Richmond was still a mess after all that time and the Union regulators weren't much help."
"You said you went home after three years. Why did you leave again?"
Dillon told Emma his reasons for leaving Richmond after a short visit; about the conflicting ideas and tension between him and his father, refusing to take the oath to the Union, and the Union confiscation of his farm. "My mother moved to Boston to live with her sister; there wasn't anything to hold me so I started drifting again"
"Now I'm the one that's sorry for bringing up bad memories," Emma apologized.
"Don't be sorry. The memories aren't bad or good, they just are.
Two weeks later on a Thursday morning Emma asked Dillon to take a ride with her. They rode to the cemetery outside of town. Dillon was a little puzzled at Emma's choice of destinations.
"Tomorrow is our anniversary, Jamie's and mine," Emma told him. "I come out here every year to spend a few minutes with him. This time I wanted someone that understood and had lost something in that damn war to come with me," Emma said. She got off her horse and took some flowers out of her saddle bag. Emma walked to a headstone and put the flowers on the grave and stood quietly for a several minutes.
Dillon waited with the horses and when she came back he saw tears in her eyes. She was smiling at the same time. "Thank you for coming with me Dillon." They mounted and rode back to the rooming house.
That evening they were in the parlor as usual. After the last of the boarders went to bed, Emma took Dillon's hand and led him to her room.
Dillon wanted nothing more than to go into that room but he had to say something. "Emma, I don't know how long I'll be here. I only signed on for three months, you know. I can't promise that I'll stay after that."
"I know. But tonight I want to be with you. You've lost a lot just as I have; we're like kindred spirits. Please give me, give us this night. We'll let the future take care of the future."
Dillon followed Emma into her bedroom and closed the door behind him.