After I wrote the original story, I received some comments and several emails that asked or suggested that I continue the adventures of Tyler Rawlings, his younger brother John and John's wife Molly.
I just reread my tale and have decided that maybe those characters haven't completed their story. Because of the suggestions and because I wanted to write another western, I've decided to add a bit more about the lives of my friends and characters.
I recommend that you read the first installment of The Hangman Cometh; it will introduce you to the characters and events that flow to the conclusion of that story and will help you better enjoy this story.
As usual, constructive comments, critiques, and emails are very welcome and much appreciated. I hope you enjoy the story.
John Rawlings sat on his horse on a high rise overlooking his ranch house and out buildings with his left leg thrown over his saddle horn. It was late spring and the morning sun was burning off the mist rising from the stream that ran past the place. With a practiced glance he looked at the sky and knew the weather coming over the mountains several miles to the east would boil down into the valley in late afternoon.
"It's been a good four years Buck," he said to his horse. John and his wife Molly had bought their ranch a half day's ride east of Santa Maria, California in 1877 in the foothills of the San Rafael Mountains.
They had fled Uvalde, Texas in 1875 where John had been accused of gunning down a man; he had shot the man but it was in self-defense. Molly worked as a waitress in her uncle's saloon and John had been talking to her. Bob Talbert was sweet on Molly and became enraged when he saw John and Molly together.
Bob kicked John's chair over and while John was on his back, pulled his gun and tried to kill him; drunkenly he missed. John pulled his own pistol and returned fire and his shot was true. Bob Talbert was killed instantly. Talbert was a cousin of Jack Malone, the big he bull rancher in the area and Malone wanted John executed. John had been scheduled to hang when his brother, Tyler Rawlings, had rescued him.
A professional hangman named Josiah Reading had been hired to execute John but Tyler took Reading's place and freed his younger brother while he was standing on the gallows. Then Tyler held the Sheriff, his deputies, and all of the people that had come to watch the hanging at gun point while John and Molly rode away.
Tyler Rawlings was a pistolero; well known in Texas, New Mexico and parts of Louisiana. Some said he was as fast, mean and unforgiving as John Wesley Hardin or Clay Allison; not many men wanted to face an almost certain death going up against Tyler Rawlings.
The young couple struck out across the arid land west of Uvalde toward California. The first night on the trail, in his saddle bag, John found $1000 in gold Double Eagles and paper currency along with a note from Tyler. The note read: Malone paid a thousand dollars to hang you. Only fittin that you and Molly use it to get a start in California. Take care of yourself Johnny and stay out of trouble.
They made a point of staying off the main trails and avoided any towns that had telegraph wires leading into them. In a little Mexican village just north of El Paso, John and Molly were married by an old priest. "Lot of ways to get to California Molly and even if that Sheriff telegraphs ahead they won't find us this way."
By horseback, stage coach, and train the young couple made their way to California. They moved around for two years, not settling on the banks of the Sisquoc River near the small community of Santa Maria until they were sure no one was following them. After exploring the area for a month, John paid $700 dollars for 600 deeded acres of prime grazing property.
That was the beginning of the ranch. John and Molly called the place the Double B Ranch which stood for big brother, in honor of Tyler, and they branded their stock with the upper case letters BB. The owners on the deed were listed as John, Molly and T Rawlings; they didn't dare list Tyler's full name because of his reputation as a gun fighter. They had been able to add another 300 acres to the ranch in the last four years of its existence.
John had to smile as he watched his wife Molly trying to saddle the big buckskin horse she had adopted. The animal was almost 17 hands at the shoulder and the small young woman had trouble getting the saddle onto the horses back.
Several weeks ago they were returning from a supply run into Santa Maria, which was ten miles or so from the ranch, and had come across the animal tied to a tree with his apparent owner lying in his bedroll nearby; the man had been dead for several days. If they hadn't taken a different way home they wouldn't have come across the bad scene.
The animal had a rope noose holding him to the tree and he had chaffed his neck badly trying to get loose and get to the water of the stream that flowed about thirty feet away. When John and Molly found the buckskin he stood with his head down and looking as if he would die at any minute.
Molly jumped out of the wagon, untied the horse and led him to the creek. "Be carefully Molly," John warned. "Don't let him drink too much at one time."
"I know how to take care of a horse John Rawlings, ' she replied. "You tend to the man."
There wasn't any type of identification on the dead man except a letter addressed to a Sarah Young in Chicago telling of his dissatisfaction with his nomadic ways and a promise to come home; the letter was simply signed Thomas. John buried the man off to the side of the trail and later took the letter to the Sheriff of Santa Maria. They never heard from the woman in Chicago.
John had just pulled his leg down and put his boot back into his stirrup when he saw a rider stop his horse at the pump and watering trough in front of the ranch house. There hadn't been any trouble in the last week or so but John wasn't too fond of strangers.
Molly turned as the man rode in but the sun was behind the stranger's back and she couldn't see his face. She tied off the buckskin to the top rail of the corral, picked up a Winchester rifle and walked to meet the rider. Molly could see that the man was leaning over to one side and as she got closer she could see the blood on the man's left side.
"Hello Molly," the man said. "Don't think you'll need that Winchester."
"Tyler," she almost yelled as she recognized John's brother and their savior. Then in a worried voice asked, "What happened to you?"
"Never you mind girl; it's just a scratch. I want to get some water for my horse and maybe for me as well if I'm allowed."
"Well I do mind sir," Molly answered in a stern voice. She was going to help her family and wouldn't be put off. "Y'all can't just ride in here after four years and then ride out again. John will want to see you and I aim to tend to that 'scratch' as you call it."
"Best I don't stop Molly. I got men on my trail and they don't need to find me here."
"You can't ride like that Tyler. Please let us help you."
From up on the rise John saw Molly place her hands on her hips and spread her legs to shoulder width. "She only does that when she is upset or as mad as a hornet," John told his horse. "Reckon we better get down there Buck." He kicked his horse into an easy lope back down the rise toward the ranch house. As he hit the flats, he pushed his horse into a gallop.
Before Tyler could argue with Molly, he heard a rider coming at them at a gallop. Turning in the saddle, as much as his wound would let him, he saw John riding hard. His brother pulled his horse to a stop and a small cloud of dust rose from his horse's hoofs. When John saw who the rider was he jumped off his horse.
"Tyler. Damn it's good to see you."
"Hello little brother. I was just askin Molly if I could get some water."
"John, make him stay," Molly pleaded. "He's been shot."
"Might as well give in Tyler," John said with a smile. "Nobody bests Molly once she gets her mind set."
"Really can't stay John; sorry Molly. Like I told Molly, there are men on my trail that y'all don't need or want to get to know. Let me water my horse and I'll ride on."
John knew his wife could be stubborn at times but he also knew that his big brother Tyler could give lessons to a Missouri mule. He took Tyler's horse by the bridle and led the horse to the watering trough. "Give me your canteen and I'll put fresh water in it."
As Tyler leaned down to hand his canteen to John, his face went slack and he continued in a slide out of the saddle. John caught him and eased him to the ground. "Looks like you won out Molly. I don't think Tyler is going to be riding out any time soon. Go get the front bedroom ready and we'll do what we can for him."
John's face showed his worry for his big brother. He picked Tyler up and held him in his arms like you would a child. At 6'1 John was 2 inches shorter than Tyler but he had filled out to 200 pounds. Tyler was still whipcord thin and having been on the trail for a spell couldn't have weighed more than 175. It wasn't an easy job but John got the injured man into the house and onto the bed.
Molly came into the room with cloths and a wash basin of hot water. "Get his shirt off so I can look at his wound," she ordered. After cleaning the area with the hot water, Molly felt around and decided that the bullet had passed through Tyler's side no more than a couple of inches into the muscle. From the position of the wound she was sure that it hadn't hit anything vital. Tyler had collapsed due to blood loss.
"Hold him up while I get a bandage around him," Molly ordered. With John holding Tyler in a sitting position, Molly put a compress dampened with coal oil over the hole both front and back. Then she wrapped a long bandage around Tyler's body to hold the two pieces of cloth in place.
"John, get him shuck of those britches so I can clean him up a mite. You need to peel him out of those long johns too. He ain't had a bath in a spell and we don't want him to get infected."
As she finished she said, "There's no doubt you're brothers. Got the same features, same dark hair and the same piercing blue eyes. Nope, anybody can tell y'all are brothers."
Early the next morning Molly came into the kitchen to begin her day. She found Tyler sitting at the large table with a cup in his hand. He pointed at the big wood stove where the coffee pot sat on the side of the cooking area to keep warm.
"I made some coffee little girl," Tyler said and smiled. "Might be a bit strong for you and John though."
"You shouldn't be out of bed," Molly replied. She blushed a little thinking of the sponge bath she'd given him last night.
"Had to get up to saddle my horse. I'm pullin out right after breakfast. Course that's if y'all will feed me."
Tyler grinned at the young woman; amused at her embarrassment. "Where are my saddle bags; I like to at least put on a shirt that ain't stained red."
"You might as well eat cause you ain't goin nowhere," John said. "I turned your horse out in the meadow to rest up and graze a bit. He was damn near done in. Your bags are in your room, if you want to change." Tyler sat back with a troubled look on his face.
"I've never know you to run from nobody. Who's on your trail Tyler?"
"I was on my way to see you two and made a stop in a place called Bakersfield; it's a pretty big town east of here on the Kern River." John nodded to show he knew of Bakersfield. "Anyway there was a youngster who decided he wanted to be famous. He wanted to be the one that bested Tyler Rawlins. I heard later his name was Jacob Bedford." With a grim smile Tyler added, "He didn't get the job done. It's a sad thing when you don't even know the name of the men you kill."
"Is he the one that shot you?" Molly asked.
"No, it was his brother. Jacob wouldn't let me be, drew first and I killed him. His brother didn't care that the boy drew first so he shot me when I was lookin down at the boy on the ground. I had to kill him too."
John looked puzzled. "If you got both brothers why are you running?"
"There are two more brothers, their father and an uncle; all of them were a mite unhappy with me. They got on my trail a day after I left Bakersfield." Tyler waited until Molly refilled his coffee cup and continued. "I usually don't run. I stand and take care of the problem. This time was different."
"Because there are four of them," Molly said.
"No, four don't bother me much; they're just cowhands and such." Tyler took a long sip of his coffee looked out the door leading to the back of the ranch house. The sun was rising over the San Rafael Mountains to the east, driving away the cool morning spring weather. The feeling of family, being cared about and having someone to care about ate at him with regret.
"I'm tired of killin. That's why I was on my way to visit y'all. Figured maybe I could sign on as a hired hand and put up my gun. Then I saw em on my trail a few days back but I laid a false trail and lost em outside of a little Mexican village two days ago. I'm pretty sure they'll back track and pick me up again so I can't stay."
"You're a full partner Tyler," John said. "Deed says you're one of the owners, so I don't want to hear about no hired hand." He glanced at Molly and saw her nod. "As far as them coming here, they'll find there are three of us to greet them."
Tyler shook his head. "I can't drag y'all into this. No, I'll head out in the morning; Arizona maybe."
"Stay," Molly pleaded. "You're are our family and we care about you. Stay, at least until your side is better. Please?"
Shaking his head, Tyler smiled. "Never could refuse a pretty girl ... Okay, I'll stay a spell; at least until my side is good enough to travel."
After breakfast John and Tyler walked out to the barn and the corral. John had brought Tyler's horse in from the meadow and Tyler looked him over. "He needs a rest even if I don't." Tyler said. "Reckon it's a good idea to hunker down a bit."
That evening after supper John, Molly and Tyler were on the front porch just enjoying the cool late spring night. "Nice night," Tyler offered.
"Yep, this time of the year is nice," John answered. "Days are warm, usually sunny but it don't get too hot and the evenings cool right down." He chuckled and added, "But y'all wait for a month or so; it'll be hot during the day and we get the summer rains and thunderstorms at night."
John went into the house and brought back a clay jug with a thumb ring on the neck. "Apple jack," he answered Tyler's questioning look. "Made it myself last fall." He handed Tyler the jug and then took his own deep drink after the jug was returned to him.
"Don't you men forget about me," Molly protested and took the jug out of John's hands. After taking a small drink she sat it down on the porch by her rocker.
"If you don't mind telling about it, how did you become a gun fighter?" Molly asked.
Tyler shook his head and smiled at her. "I reckon you got a right to know about the family you married into." He hesitated and said, "Give me another from that jug of Who Hit John and I'll tell you the story."
"Who Hit John?" Molly said with a grin. "I've never heard it called that before." She handed him the jug, he took a long pull on it and sat back in his chair.
"It all started in late '65, right after the war. John you were too young to get into that damn war and it's a damn good thing. I was at Appomattox with Mosby's Raiders when Lee came in to surrender. Didn't hang around; we didn't like surrendering our weapons and such. Sides we wasn't beat just cause the army was so I headed out. The boys I rode with didn't surrender either but the Raiders were disbanded a couple of weeks later. I didn't know where I was headed but I took the road west."
Molly held up a finger and went into the house returning with a shawl against the cool night air. She nodded and said, "Please go on."
"Mosby's Raiders were part of the 43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry and we did just what the name said. We raided Union troops, supply trains and generally just gave the Yanks hell. We'd hit and run, advance and retreat; what the books call guerilla tactics. I was a scout for the Raiders and many was the time my life depended on how fast I could get a gun into my hands and how quick I could shoot. I learned to be fast and deadly.
"Was over to Nashville three months after Lee gave up and I ran into a couple of boys that knew I rode with Mosby. Guess they figured with the raids I was on with Mosby I had more money than them. They tried to bushwhack me and steal my horse; I had to kill them both. That was the start of it." Tyler looked over the valley toward the rising moon for a minute and listened to a whippoorwill's lonely call. John and Molly didn't interrupt him.
"Made it to Jonesboro and a drunk braced me at a saloon over a girl that worked there." Tyler looked at Molly. "Sorry Molly, but the girl worked the saloon; getting them to buy drinks and sometimes she took them up to her room."
Molly had to smile at how embarrassed Tyler was and said, "She was a soiled dove, a whore to be crude. Most likely just a girl trying to survive and no other way to do it."
"Yes em, but I didn't hold it against her. Name was Sarah and she was bright and pretty and full of life. She didn't care what other people thought as long as she was happy with her life. Anyway there was a drunk that wanted her and didn't want to wait until she was done talkin with me. He yelled 'draw' and went for the hog leg on his hip; I got to my pistol first."
Tyler took another pull on the jug. "That was the third man I had to kill. Then I traveled around for a spell, wranglin cattle, workin as a ranch hand and even as a deputy town marshal in Fort Smith."
"I heard they called Fort Smith 'Hell on the Border'," John said.
"They did and it was, at least in '68. The town was full of boys who had fought for the South. Hell, there was a lot of Yankees there too. Most were good people just tryin to make a livin and get on with their life after that damn war. But there were plenty that took the easy way and turned to robbin, rustlin and killin. It calmed down a bit after Judge Parker took over the Western District Court."
"Parker's the one they call the Hanging Judge isn't he?" John asked.
"Yes sir. He put together a group of Deputy U. S. Marshals and they had a lot to do with cleanin up the territory."
"Did you work for him?" This time it was Molly asking.
"No, I was gone by '75 when the government appointed Parker. I worked for the Town Marshal. Sort of funny how that came about."
Tyler started to reach for the jug again but stopped. Instead he stood went into the house, returning with three cups and the big coffee pot that was always kept hot on the stove. He filled the cups and handed Molly and John one. Then he sat back down.
"Don't need to hit that jug too much," Tyler said with a grin. "Like I said, I wandered into Fort Smith. By that time I'd gotten a reputation as a gun hand. The marshal there asked if I wanted a job. Said he wanted someone that could stand up to the rustlers, robbers, and wild cowhands and figured if I worked for him I wouldn't be causin him problems. I figured I might as well get paid for usin my gun, so I took his offer."
Tyler paused for some coffee. "Things got so bad in Fort Smith that I had to use my gun most every month; sometimes every week. People started talkin about how fast I was and such; I got a reputation. Then I started gettin men wantin to make a name for themselves by killin Tyler Rawlings. After the sixth man I had to put down, I quit the marshal's job and moved on down to Texas."
John stood, walked over to the jug, picked it up and shook it. He smiled but Tyler wasn't sure if he was smiling at what was left or at the amount they had drank that night. "Reckon its bed time for Molly and me," John said. "I've got to head up to Arroyo Grande in the morning to look at a breeding bull and a couple of horses." Molly took her husband's hand and led him into the house.
Tyler met John at the corral at first light. "I can go with you little brother, I know how to tend and drive stock."
John knew Tyler wasn't up to the better than fifty mile round trip. "Tyler, I wished you'd stay and watch over Molly and the ranch. There have been raids made on outlaying ranches just north of here. People are saying it's the Chumash Indians."
"Tryin to make me take it easy are you," Tyler replied with a grin.
"Maybe so but that don't change the fact that some ranches were burned out. I'd feel better if you were here just in case."
Tyler pulled the bridle over the horse's ears and set the bit. "Rest easy John; I'll take care of Molly."
"Thanks big brother. It's a bit over fifty miles round trip to Arroyo Grande. I'll push a little today and get there late afternoon. Coming back it will be slow if I buy the bull. It's starting to get hot during the day so I'll take it easy on the animals on the way back. I may be gone two and half or three days." John slid a Winchester into the saddle scabbard, mounted and put his horse on the trail.
Tyler spent the day doing chores around the ranch house and barn under the watchful eye of Molly. Two or three times she called out to him to leave what he was doing alone because she didn't think he was up to it.
He never gave her an argument and just smiled. "Yes em," he said and went on to another chore. That evening after supper, Molly brought a cup of coffee out to where Tyler was sitting on the front porch. The weather had cooled down as it usually did that time of the year and she wore a shawl. He had his back to the front wall and had tipped his chair up against it. Molly handed him the coffee and he leaned forward so the chair came back to the floor.
"Always sit with a wall at your back," Tyler said. "Old habits are hard to get rid of."
"Would you continue your story?" Molly asked as she sat in her rocking chair. Tyler looked a little surprised and she grinned as she added, "You did say I had a right to know what kind of family I married into."
Tyler nodded, took a drink of coffee and leaned back in his chair again. "Where was I, oh yeah, I left Fort Smith and headed down to Texas. Ran into a man named Creed Taylor, in Clinton, Texas. He was in the middle of a tussle with a bunch of boys from the North headed by a man named Sutton. I hired on for a spell as a cowhand but had to defend myself with my gun three times in as many months. Just the fact that I worked for Taylor was enough for the Sutton crew to come at me. The killin got to be too much for me again so left DeWitt County and I moved on. That was in late '70 or early '71.
Pulling a cigar out of his vest, Tyler held it up to Molly; getting permission before lighting it. After he got it lit and drawing to his satisfaction he continued, "Met a real interestin gent while I worked for Creed. Man called John Wesley Hardin."
Molly nodded and said, "I've heard of him. He's a famous gun fighter, like you."
"Well I hope I have a better name than Hardin. Anyway he wasn't famous yet when we met in Texas; he was only 18 or 19. Creed was havin a party and someone told Hardin I was as fast as him. He came over to me to challenge me to a shootin contest. We set some targets up, stood side by side, someone yelled go and we both pulled our pistols."
"Did you beat him?"
Tyler smiled for a few seconds before he answered. "I'm gonna tell you something I never told anyone before little girl. If Hardin and me had been fightin for real, I might have been a dead man. He said I think I got you and I said it was close. I told him I'd hate to have to live on the difference. Hardin smiled at me and said we'll have to see some time. He had a strange look in his eyes."
"Why didn't you admit Hardin won?"
"A man that lives by his gun has to believe he is the fastest. A man that only thinks he is the best is a dead man. You got to have that edge or you'll be killed for sure. A gun hand has to make everyone believe it too."
Molly went into the house and brought out the big ever present coffee pot. She refilled Tyler's cup and sat back in her rocker. "What did you do then?"
"It was time for me to move on so I just drifted around; hirin out my gun. I worked as a payroll guard, rode shotgun on the stage for a spell, even tried bounty huntin a couple of times; didn't like that much. A few times I hired out as nothin but a gun hand; always gave whoever I face an even chance, but it was killin for pay just the same. All the jobs had me usin my gun."
Tyler stared up at the full moon for more than a minute with a somber look on his face and then he smiled. "I was in a saloon in San Antonio and a man standin next to me got a telegram. He couldn't read so the bartender read the wire to him. That's when I heard he was Josiah Reading, a hangman. I also heard he was goin to Uvalde and who he was supposed to hang." Tyler chuckled, "y'all know the rest."
"Where did you go after Uvalde?"
"Well ... I tagged along behind y'all for a spell to make sure no one was on your back trail; followed you until you got on that stage. By then I figured people didn't want to come under my guns again and y'all were safe. I drifted around for about a year and a half and then got the bright idea to come visit you and John."
Tyler shook his head. "I was able to avoid any more problems until I got to Bakersfield. Y'all know how that worked out," he said pointing to his side and giving Molly another grim smile.
Time to head back to the house, Tyler thought. He was at the back of the barn repairing a section of the wall that an over excited horse had kicked in. His own horse and the guilty party were looking over the top rail of the corral. "Reckon Molly will have food ready," he told the horses.
As he rounded the barn he saw Molly on the front porch facing three mounted men. She looked angry and was talking at one of the men in what was an obvious heated manner. Tyler reached inside the barn door, took his pistol belt off of a peg and buckled on his weapon. He slowly walked to the end of the porch. The men hadn't noticed him ... yet.
"I told you we'd give you a good price for your ranch young lady." The man speaking looked to be about 40, sat his horse heavy due to his protruding belly. His right hand was on his thigh near his gun. "Be smart and take the money."
"And I told you, the Double B is not for sale. My husband will tell you the same thing when he comes home."
"Don't know that we want to wait until your man gets back." The other two leered and looked at Molly as if they were more interested in her than the land deal.
"Can we buy her too Billy?" The one closest to Tyler asked. "She sure am pretty."
"Shut up Tom," Billy answered. "You and Charlie keep your mind on business."
Billy turned back to Molly. "This is how it's gonna be Missy. You can gather your things and leave on your own or..."
"Or what?" Tyler asked and joined Molly.
"Don't deal yourself into this Mister," Billy warned. "This ain't none of your affair."
"That's where you're wrong Billy," Tyler replied. The name Billy was said with the same tone you would use to talk about a rattlesnake. "Molly is my sister in law and I'll not stand by and let her or my brother be run off their ranch."
"And who might you be to talk so big," Billy replied. "There am three of us Mister."
"My name is Tyler Rawlings."
Billy's face and those of his companions turned a sickly shade of gray. "The gunfighter?" Tom asked. "From Dewitt County in Texas?" Tyler nodded, his smile made him look like a big cat on the prowl and about to pounce.
"You're the one that faced down John Wesley Hardin," Charlie said with a bit of awe in his voice.
Tyler nodded again and let his hand hang down near the butt of his Colt. "I think you boys are about done here; ride on," he ordered.
"You can't get all three of us, ' Billy blustered.
"Yes I can," Tyler said in a hard voice.
"Ifin we draw on Tyler Rawlings Billy, he'll kill us," Tom said with a lot of fear in his voice.
Billy hesitated and Tyler asked, "Who do you work for?"
"Mr. Logan," Charlie answered. "He told us buy the ranch or run the lady and her husband off."
"Go back to Mr. Logan and tell him to leave my brother and Molly alone. If he doesn't I'll come into town for a chat," Tyler said. "And I don't think he'll like what we talk about." He stared at the men for a few seconds and added, "Now get while you can."
Billy, Tom and Charlie, turned their horses, bumping into each other in their hurry to get gone, and spurred their mounts to escape the deadly guns of Tyler Rawlings.
Molly and Tyler watched as the men rode away at a high gallop. Tyler put his hand on Molly's shoulder. "Why would this Logan want the Double B bad enough to send those men out here?"
"I don't know. We've got some good grazing land and pretty good water but nothing special. There are a couple of ranches in the next valley that have better. He did make John an offer for the ranch a month or so past but John just laughed in his face and left Logan standing there on the boardwalk in front of the bank."