The Last Ride
Exploring the World of the Whateley Academy
The Last Ride of
"Black" Jack Kingston, United States Marshal
And His Immortals
by E.E. Nalley
Being a True Account of the Eureka County Mine War - Carlin, Nevada 1874
as told by James Howard "Gentleman Jim" Hallowell
September 1st, 1874
The Crystal Palace Theater and Saloon, Carson City Nevada
Looking back on the days of my misspent youth, and the passions that are the want of young men, I find myself in continuous marvel to have lived to see if not the autumn of my life, at least late summer. And desiring of nothing more exciting than an interesting hand of poker to allow my wallet to continue to fund the lifestyle to which I have grown accustomed, a wiser man would likely have known that fate would arrive to settle accounts at such a moment.
So in September of the Year of Our Lord eighteen hundred and seventy four I found myself a customer of the fine hostel The Crystal Palace Saloon in Carson City Nevada, engaged in a lively game of my profession with a thespian eager to part ways with his cut of the evenings box office draw, a pair of cattlemen fresh with their pay from a drive who fancied themselves card players and the owner of the local chronicler of journalism the Daily Nevada Tribune.
Now poker is a game of odds, those interested in the newly forming science of prognostication, or statistical prediction, note that out of a deck of fifty two cards, the chance of getting any specific combination both increases and decreases with the number of cards in play in any given hand. Thus, if one has any kind of a head for numbers, one can calculate the strength of a given hand not only in its ranking vis-a-vis the rules of the game, but against the statistical likelihood that any of the other players has a combination capable of besting said hand. Likewise, if one is a student of the subtle motions and expressions of ones fellow players, a fair living can be made at the game, and I possess, if nothing else, a fair head for numbers and a keen eye of observation.
So it was that I should be holding three of the four ladies of the deck when in through the front door strolled an old war horse and law dog of my acquaintance, 'Black' Jack Kingston. Now, there are to my knowledge at least a dozen dime novels and God Himself only knows how many Penny Dreadfuls and lurid pulp magazines all scandalously sensational fabrications if not out right fictions about my friend Jack Kingston, but if ever a man could be said to be larger than life, he most certainly qualified. He was a mountain of a man, better than six and a half feet in his boots as he slowly entered, appraising the room. He still wore his union mantled frock coat, much faded now from his cavalry days.
Our eyes met as he walked slowly to the bar, pulling off his riding gloves and I had a thrill down my spine that had nothing to do with the ministrations of my lady love across my shoulders. His haggard face was even more weathered from the road and travels from who knew where, though he still affected that walrus of a mustache that twitched in recognition of me as I refreshed my glass of Glenlivet, my own personal bottle, and requested two cards of the dealer. Alas, despite the many advancements of civilization, for a decent bottle of scotch, requires mail order purchase and an eager wait of several months for a shipment from Scotland.
One of the cattlemen beamed at his cards and promptly raised the already precipitously large pot by a hundred dollars. His fellow merely cursed and returned his cards to our bastion of journalism with more force than was strictly needed as he was the dealer presently. I took a sip of my scotch while the thespian continued to stare at his cards, doubtlessly wishing they would change of their own accord before they too were returned to the newspaper man. He bid us good evening and withdrew, most of his daily earnings in my stack.
I picked up my new cards finding the queen of hearts and the ace of spades staring at me. “Well,” I said, raising my head to admire the lovely face and breathtaking decolletage of my companion. “A one hundred dollar raise, my Nubian Princess, how ever shall I compete with such stakes?”
Her smile shined out of her dusky skin as she looked at me askance for tormenting my fellow players, a weakness of mine, I must confess. “I'm sure you'll manage,” she replied with more mirth than her gaze might allow.
Turning back to my fellow players, I declared, “Gentlemen, forgive me, for I am aroused to the game! As the poets all confess, all that is truly required in life is the love of a good woman.” The cattleman blinked in confusion, but I had long ago determined that he was not over burdened with an education in the classics, but then all that was required of him at the table was his over full wallet. I picked up five twenty dollar gold pieces and tossed them into the pot. “However much of a peach your hand must be, sir, I simply must call.”
Our Journalist dealer folded, leaving only the two of us. “I got you this time, city slicker!” the boy enthused as he all but slammed his cards to the table. “Full house! Aces and duces!”
“My word!” I replied, then laid down my own four queens and his missing ace. “Ain't that a daisy?”
The joy melted off his face like the last snow of winter before a spring sunrise as a fearsome snaggletoothed snarl set upon his features and an equally fearsome Bowie knife appeared in his hand. “Cheat!” he shouted, his eyes darting between the cards, myself and my companion. “She's cheating for you, the dirty Nig...”
My young table mate did not continue as my nickel-plated peacemaker, the fruit of the skilled craftsmen of Colonel Colt's employ appeared as if by magic in my hand, its business end firmly pressed against our beef eaters forehead. Coldly, I told him, “That is one misstep too far, sir! Accusations against my honor I might entertain, but I will not abide that word used to describe my companion.” I ratcheted the hammer back which was loud in the suddenly quiet room. “Now then, I must insist on your most sincere apology to the lady, sir, or I fear I must make a horrible mess on this lovely room with your underused gray matter.”
The cattleman's fellow looked between his friend and myself, the designs of mayhem painted upon his simple features, but before he could reach for his own pistol, he felt against his temple the cold steel of the lovely little birds head .38-40 revolver, also of Colonel Colt's manufacture, I had bequeathed on my lady this Christmas last as an aid in the keeping of her virtues. Her habit of the defense of my own back chief among them. “If your hand touches metal, cowboy, it will be the end of you,” she told him in a matter of fact tone that set aside all doubts of her truthfulness in his mind.
“Your answer, sir, or mine, if you please?” I prompted.
His mouth opened and closed a few times before his will could command his vocal cords to stutter, “Ma'am, I am powerful sorry and God as my witness I swear to keep a civil tongue.”
“See that you do,” she commanded him as I walked him a bit towards the door.
“Now, that wasn't so hard, was it?” I asked as I heard behind me my lady clearing the table of valuables. “So! We're all friends again, and I think as friends we should bid you boys 'fare thee well.' Cards don't seem to be your forte.” The two backed out of the saloon, hands at their shoulders until they were through the saloon doors and into the night. I kept my pistol in that direction for a moment, but the ringing of their spurs fading in the distance was my only reward for my vigilance. I eased the hammer slowly back to its safe position before I returned it to the holster under my left armpit and adjusted my linen jacket over it once more.
Feeling the eyes of the establishment on me I tipped my felt hat to the crowd. “Ladies and gentlemen, your pardon for the late unpleasantness.” I reached into the bag and produced a fifty dollar note. “By way of apology, please allow Mr Franklin and myself to found a round of drinks...” A cheer arose from the patrons and the piano player struck up a lively tune as I proffered my currency to the bar man so my lady and I could make good our discreet exit. Though we got only as far as Jack's end of the bar before he stepped out a bit, beer glass in his off hand.
“Jim Hallowell,” he greeted in his gruff, commanding voice. “You're still making a profession of getting into trouble I see.”
“Nonsense, Captain Kingston!” I replied. “Trouble is a traveling companion I ever endeavor to part company with!” Remembering my manners, I turned to my lady and with a gesture to my friend continued. “My dear, allow me to introduce my former captor in the Late Unpleasantness, Captain Jack Kingston of the Seventh United States Cavalry. Oh Captain, my captain, it is my eternal pleasure to present the light of my celestial lantern, Jasmine Hallowell.”
His eyes darted between my missus and myself for just a moment before he remembered his manners and half bowed, tipping his hat to her. “Madam, it is my singular pleasure.”
“James,” she drawled in that tone of voice that warned me her mercurial temper was eager to let slip its leash. “Kindly inform me of your relationship with...this gentleman?”
The bar man attempted to present me with the leftovers of my fifty, which I dissuaded him of in deference to his discretion in the matter, and a pint glass of the local brewer's best, which I did accept. “You must forgive my Nubian Princess, Captain,” I told my friend. “She has something of an aversion to men wearing the color blue. My precious, in the Late Unpleasantness young William and I were taken prisoner by the Captain.”
He chuckled roughly. “They only reason I took them prisoner was my gun had bullets and theirs didn't,” he opined into his glass before his drought.
Taking a sip myself, I said to my lady, “Often I have thought, my darling, logistics was the fundamental bane of our cause.”
“You are friends with this...gentleman?” she demanded.
“Don't hold his former allegiance against him, my sweet,” I assured her. “The Government of the United States has dealt with him nearly as shabbily as they did with us. Or so I have read.” Jack grunted at my reference of his fame and made a dismissive gesture even as he guided us to one of the empty tables with a splendid view of the front and back door, a fine brick wall to sit against and the virtue of being next to the saloons side door. “Never the less,” I told her as I helped her into the chair, “Captain Kingston was an honorable captor, even after the cessation of hostilities and more than an honorable man.”
Jack removed his duster and hat and placed them below the table in the empty chair, out of sight in deference to the lady, revealing him to be dressed like an undertaker in a plain black suit of severe cut and lacking style, his only adornment the silver star of a United States Marshal. “Ma'am, whatever injustice you have suffered under my fellows in arms, please accept my apology for.”
“Apologies do not wake dead mothers, nor return them to life, Captain,” she said icily, then added a phrase in her mother's native Amharic I knew to be a curse of particularly nasty invective.
“Come now, my princess,” I scolded her. “Captain Kingston has offered no offense to be so abused; contrary wise he has been nothing if not a gentleman.” Her eyes narrowed a bit at me, then she gave a little nod to the Captain.
“I beg your pardon, sir.”
“No, ma'am,” he retorted. “It is I that begs yours. While I came to this hostelry in hopes of renewing my acquaintance with your husband, had I know these old rags would offer offense, you may be assured I would not have worn them.”
She accepted the glass of wine the bar man had brought and nodded her thanks. “You are very gracious, sir. You have my thanks for your indulgence.”
Once again, my former adversary's eyes darted between myself and my better half, that great mustache bristling under his rugged nose. Soothing it with one hand he worked up the temerity to ask, “Jim, forgive my curiosity, but I can't think of any state or territory of the Union where nuptials between a white man and a Negress, however charming begging your pardon, ma'am, would be legal. In what state did this happen?”
I chuckled, not that he was perplexed, because for all his valor Jack Kingston was a fairly simple man of action. Staunch morals, courteous words and Final Judgments from Judge Colt and his jury of six were his stock in trade. He had never been taken with the books or studious ways of the scholar, despite which he was a very bright man with a cunning intellect. I smiled to show him I had not taken offense at his inquisitive nature and replied, “Why, in the only nation that matters, sir, the Kingdom of God Almighty, under the auspices of the Common Law of Man.”
“Do you have issue with our marriage, Marshal?” Jasmine inquired in the flat tone she employed when her temper might get the best of her. “I am afraid you missed your opportunity to 'speak now or forever hold your peace.'
The mustache twitched once more and as a curtain on opening night pulled up to reveal his self deprecating smile. “Only one of envy, Madam, that this ex-Confederate scoundrel should have laid claim to the most beautiful woman in the state.”
“Flattery will not buy you into my good graces, sir,” my Princess told him, then favored us both the dazzling smile that had changed my boyhood affection to the wound of Cupid's arrow. “But it is an excellent down payment.”
He sighed heavily and dug into his breast pocket to remove a somewhat dog-eared, yellow Western Union slip that he passed to me. “Then I shall consider myself mortgaged, madam, for I shall need a great share of your good grace presently.”
I shared a glance of worry with my beloved ere I opened the slip to read:
Marshal Jack Kingston, Nucleus Hotel, San Francisco
Urgent. Depart at once to Carlin, Navada [STOP]
US Marshal Edwin Hooker murdered [STOP]
Investigate murder and possible corruption of claims office [STOP]
Ben. Bristow, Solicitor Gen. Of the United States
I must confess to being pleased by the look of surprise on my friend's face as I passed the slip to my loving bride to read for herself. “I take it all is not well in General Grant's newly minted Federal Department of Justice. Perhaps the various states resent the presence of so-called Federal Law Men usurping their sovereign powers and authority? One should be careful, folks might get the wrong idea about the activities and aspirations of our Federal Betters...!”
Kingston frowned. “Are you trying to be funny, Hallowell? I could never tell when you were serious or putting me on.”
“Oh, not I, sir!” I affirmed. “The lesson of the absolute rule of our Federal overlords was thoroughly Reconstructed into me, sir, let me assure you!”
He drained his glass of the local brewer's finest and returned it to the table more forcefully than might have been warranted. Still, the glass was up to the rigors of saloon hall service and was not bothered by rugged use from rugged men. “Damn it, Jim, your pardon, ma'am, a man is dead! There's a huge gold rush going on south of Carlin around the Eureka and Elko Counties, and you know where there's gold there's greed, corruption and all manner of bad men doing bad things!”
I toasted his health with a raised glass of beer and took a swallow. “I am aware, sir. I am making an excellent wage relieving miners and cattlemen of their sweat and toil gotten gains as they fancy themselves card players.”
He turned in his chair and raised his empty glass. “Barman!” he shouted, then turned back to me. “That's why I need your help, Jim. I need men I can trust at my back.”
“Your pardon, sir, but I believe I have missed the portion of your government's dilemma that makes it of consequence to me.” I took another sip of the admittedly excellent brew and fixed my most piercing gaze on my old friend. “Allow me to remind you, sir, lest you have forgotten, we met because I took up arms against this exact sort of feudalistic nonsense from the District of Columbia.”
He leaned forward, intent and fixated on me. “This isn't about the Federal Government in Washington, Jim, it's not about whether or not you or I think there should be Marshals, or any other infringement on State Sovereignty, a man has been murdered and its my job to see his killers come to justice.”
I sense that some of my readers might be rolling their eyes at the naivety of my friend Jack, but had you known him you would understand this was exactly his character. While others might be looking to ingratiate themselves to far away masters in the Colombian swamp, or perhaps to squeeze some graft from the well-heeled locals eager to be left alone, to Jack Kingston it was as simple as a man was dead and justice needed to be done, and by God Himself he would do it. It is this rather charming simplicity of moral character that attracted loyalty from men who followed him. “You have no idea what kind of snake pit we may be riding into,” I warned him. “Do you think you, I and my blushing bride are enough to cower a gold rush boom town?”
The mustache twitched in confusion. “You'd bring your wife to...?”
Jasmine leaned forward so she could take part in the conversation and I must admit that crimson Chinese silk and ebony French Chantilly Lace when appropriately applied over the flawless chocolate skin of my darling wife is a sight to behold on par with the seven wonders of the world. And if I was stopped speechless, who was intimately familiar with the truth of those promised lovely curves, poor Captain Kingston had no chance of coherent thought, let alone the completion of his sentence. “I am not parted from my husband, Mr. Kingston. And you may rest assured I bring ability more than capable to your needs.”
“Well?” I prompted him with a wink to my bride for her timely application of feminine wiles. “Who else do you plan to invite to your quest, Sir Percival?”
Jack beamed realizing he had all but won me over to his cause and returned my toast with his new glass. “From here, I was going to recruit Two Feathers.”
For the first time of the evening, I frowned in misunderstanding. “It will be a month each way to go to the Dakota,” I protested. “Let alone God only knows how long riding around the reservation looking for Two Feathers.”
“No, and no,” the Captain replied smugly. “I know exactly where Two Feathers is and we won't have to go riding around the Dakota hunting for him.”
“Alright,” Jasmine replied, evidently full to bursting with womanly annoyance of the manly banter between myself and the Captain. “Where is this Two Feathers?”
“Down the street in the city jail,” Kingston replied. “I'll need your help to break him out.”
Now, forgive me, gentle reader, for at this point in my narrative a bit of explanation is in order. As your humble scribe is well aware of the efficience of such expository passages, they lack a certain flower and disrupt the flow of the narrative, however they do impart glittering nuggets of understanding that shall allow you to more readily follow my tale. I shall endeavor to be brief. How the Captain and I first made the acquaintance of Benjamin Two Feathers is a tale in and of itself, however there is not time nor pages for its retelling in this work. In summary of the salient points after my belligerent duties for the 11th Georgia Cavalry Regiment were suspended due to my capture by Captain Kingston, I along with a goodly number of my men were denied Honor Parole to return home to wait for formal prisoner exchange.
Instead, most of my company were pressed into Federal Service and sent west to suppress the uprising of several bands of Sioux under the war chief Little Crow. As you might imagine this violation of the conditions and terms of civilized warfare did not sit well with any of us and we left under protest after retaining the services of a local Lawyer to sue on our behalf in the Federal Courts. Arriving at the Minnesota River, we were met with a Lakota Native Scout, Benjamin Two Feathers. For those uninformed in the subtle differences between tribes of the plains they may hold the notion that 'Indians' were a more or less monolithic block of people, all possessed of similar predilection to violence and hostility to Americans.
This could not be further from the truth as they are as diverse and varied a people as we who descend from Scots, Germans, French or the other storied nations of the Continent and British Isles. The term 'Sioux' is actually a loose alliance of several bands who share a similar dialect, history and nomadic lifestyle of which the Dakota band that were uprising and the Lakota origin of our scout Two Feathers both are members. There are many who were and are as solidly loyal and faithful as any recent American formally of some Old World Nation now swearing allegiance to the United States.
That a goodly number of one band should actively despise the others should surprise no one with a passing knowledge of European history.
In the interests of brevity Mr Two Feathers impressed both the Captain, and myself acting as Captain Kingston's lieutenant in our little press ganged company as a sturdy fellow, as loyal as a Samoyed and as dependable as the rising morning sun.
And so it was that, while my better half hied herself to our rooms to be certain of our luggage in anticipation of a precipitous departure, the Captain and myself strolled down one of the main thoroughfares of this desert metropolis to the city jail. This bastion of Sheriff Shubael T. Swift was a fairly sizable structure of brick, though not nearly as imposing as the Nevada State Prison, some distance beyond. It boasted twenty cells and deputies on staff the clock round as behooved our sprawling center of civilization in the Nevada bad lands.
I should note for my younger readers, since the advent of the motion picture the cliché genre of presentation known as the 'western' has given rise to all manner of lamentable stereotypes. Most notably that 'western' towns of the period were one street affairs with perhaps a few dozen inhabitants. However, I point out that at that time, Carson City boasted a population of around five thousand souls, two hundred men alone worked the state prison. Both the Virginia & Truckee and the Southern Pacific had stations not to mention the fact of Carson City being the State Capital.
While I do refer to the City as a 'metropolis' with more than its due share of irony, it was, in fact, quite a lively place at the time. In some ways, perhaps a bit too lively, as shall be illuminated presently.
Jack opened the door of the jail and walked in without benefit of so much as a cursory knock and that was also very much in his character. Blunt, as a word, falls short of its office in regards to my friend Jack Kingston. “United States Marshall,” he announced, much to the annoyance of the deputies on hand. The senior among them looked up from the stimulating game of Klondike he had laid out on the desk.
“You, again?” he demanded and in disgust threw down the card in his hand. “Look, I told you Marshall you have to talk to Sheriff Swift in the morning. I am not releasing my prisoner to you, or any other humped up son of a...”
Now, men of action, of which I must confess to being marginally a member, merely by right of the sometimes unpleasant ending of card games, most frequently for the winner as luck would have it, note in other men of action a certain predictive subtlety of motion in the muscles about the shoulder and arm. So our upstanding Deputy trailed off because I rebuked him with a scornful comment of, “Language, sir! Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?”
That and the fact my nickle plated pistol was under his nose.
I had drawn mine because I knew Jack was in the process of drawing his, to likewise discourage the other deputy who was in the process of warming his cup of the dreadful smelling coffee on their Franklin stove from any action one might consider rash. “You wanted to do things the hard way, so here we are, sunshine,” Jack abraded him, urging his fellow to join him at the desk. “Lets have those gun belts, nice and slow.”
The senior stood slowly and both of them carefully removed their gun leathers and curled them onto the desk. That accomplished we were led in procession by them to the cells, much to the amusement of the Jail's sole occupant, Benjamin Two Feathers. Benjamin himself was as rugged a man as the Black Hills that he hailed from; standing like a Sequoia well over six feet with his black hair in a pair of braids at each shoulder. The two feathers of his name sake hung from the beaded leather strap that held his braids. Once the deputies had traded places in the cell with their prisoner, he blinked in surprise and held out a hand to be shook. “Gentleman Jim Hallowell,” he drawled as a smile broke across his weathered face like the dawn of the first day of spring. “I had never thought to see your face again, Georgian.”
“I always endeavor to be unexpected, sirrah,” I assured him.
He crossed his massive arms over his equally massive chest, both only just encased in what was likely the largest bib shirt I have ever seen in any color, although his was a royal blue in the new denim fabric that was all the rage among working men. “I see you are still working for this walrus.”
“Under protest, as always,” I assured him as I made sure of the cell door being locked and followed them back to the office.
“And you're as ornery a cur as I remember,” Jack told Two Feathers as the pair shook hands.
“It is well you can grow that lip ferret, a face as ugly as yours is good for nothing else,” Two Feathers replied with a grin. “Do I want to know why the two of you have liberated me from the custody of the Carson City Sheriff?”
“I need your help,” Jack told him. “I'll explain on the way.”
Two Feathers grunted as we exited the jail and I paused to lock the door and then drop the key ring into the horse trough out front. “It is amazing how things never change.”
“Why change is the only constant in the universe, Benjamin!” I scolded him. “I shall have to amend my calling card to reflect my new profession of jail breaker. Something clever I should think! How does 'Have Gun, Will Travel,' strike you?”
“You're still not funny,” my Lakota friend observed as we made good our escape back to the hotel to collect my better half.
They do say that alacrity is a virtue of married women, and young girls looking to become married, in which regard I am fortunate to be blessed by the very embodiment of the trait in my fulsome bride. Not only were we to find our bags packed upon our arrival back to my erstwhile domicile, but my Nubian Princess awaited us, outside, with our horses saddled and her birds head pistol in hand. Truly, what can a man not accomplish when he is completed by such a woman?
Introductions were made between Benjamin and my blushing bride whereupon we encountered our first problem of the evening. While the Marshall of course had his horse, and I have noted already the readiness of my own equine companion as well as my wife's own mare of course. The issue being that our newest partner in this delightful dance of skullduggery had no horse, and it being the middle of the night, there was no stable where one might be bought. In the interest of keeping horse thieving from being added to our resume next to the entry on jail breaking, I led our little clan of law breaking law men to the northern edge of the city and there to find the station of the aforementioned Virginia & Truckee Rail Road.
Thanks to the booming silver trade going on in our arid state, the Virginia & Truckee boasts of being the most profitable Rail Road in these United States, even for a short line such as it was. Indeed, it was said that the Virginia & Truckee was so well off, rather than fixing an engine with a mechanical problem, they simply bought a new one to replace it, thus the desert was littered with sidings on which stood parked locomotives and rolling stock awaiting some future repair.
Upon our arrival at the station we discovered God smiles upon fools as there was a train, in the station, taking on water. The Marshall's badge commandeered us a passenger car to be added to the strong car of silver bricks on their way from the smelter to the Bank of California, with a box car to stable the horses as well. With a short blast of the whistle atop the locomotive Empire, we were on our way to Reno.
Wrong direction, you protest? Well, round about, certainly. In Reno, the Virginia & Truckee linked track with the Central Pacific Rail Road. There, we would be able to book passage on their line all the way to Carlin, which was our destination. Which was still something of a vigorous journey as Carlin was over two hundred miles as the crow flies, but over three hundred by the tortuously circuitous route the terrain demanded of the Central Pacific. It would take the better part of a day to make the journey, which, at the time, was blazingly fast.
Had we ridden our horses, it would have taken five days of riding.
In Reno, a twenty dollar gold piece persuaded the Central Pacific conductor to be of a more liberated mindset concerning the accommodations of my lovely wife and myself, and we retired to the Pullman car to enjoy the journey in repose.
There are few pleasures in this life that rival those of a man happily married. The burdens of life, made easier by the equal yoke of man living in the intended way of life of his Creator, comforted by she that was taken from his rib. And while the idylls of the flesh tempt many a bachelor into wantoness, a young man cannot describe himself as worldly until he has experienced those same idylls not in the flaming, temporary fires of amorous lust, but the warm, long suffering comfort of love. Thus can the narrow and thin mattress of a rail road sleeper car become a throne of repose fit for a king when shared with the love of one's life.
Yes, being a man well-married, I cannot recommend it highly enough.
In the morning, our motley band of press ganged do gooders broke our fast in the dining car still more than an hour from our final destination. The train having only the single car for the purpose, my nickel-plated masterpiece, the glower of Benjamin Two Feathers and the ringed star of the Marshall's badge silenced any complaint among the other diners in our choice of companions. Our service accomplished, we endeavored to make good our plans for the pacification of Carlin over eggs Benedict and excellent Colombian coffee delivered fresh from the docks of San Francisco.
My dearest had anticipated a day of riding in our future and so had decided to dress haute école in a very fetching riding habit of gray felt whose matching bifurcated skirt or Culottes as they were coming to be known at the time were all the rage in Paris, but something of a sensation here in the somewhat remote south west.
A matriarch at another table frowned her displeasure, either at our casual mingling of ethnicities or my darling wife's choice of apparel I neither knew nor cared which.
For myself I laid out my least favorite suit of worsted wool, anticipating action of a different sort, along with my father's pocket watch whose value was strictly sentimental. Colonel Colt rode as was his habit under my left arm pit with the other six members of his regiment in a second wagon in the small of my back. Yes, I am aware of the rising fashion of the low worn gun belt in the cinema, but few men who took the preservation of their skin as seriously as I wore their pistols so.
Surprise and discretion are the watch words of the true gun fighter.
Marshall Kingston and Two Feathers were traveling lightly, and thus had pressed their suits into a second day of service, with the unpleasant realization there would likely be more. Our bellies filled with the delightful Hollandaise sauce, our cups refreshed with the excellent coffee, I decided to ask of my friend, “So, Marshall, do we have any further information to base our actions on, or do we intend to arrive like the Greeks at Troy, confident of quick victory only to be stalemated for ten years?”
Jack's mustaches twitched and bristled in irritation. “You have an uncommon gift for hyperbole and metaphor, Mr Hallowell.”
“I beg to differ, sir,” I retorted, deeply amused by poking fun at him. “I employed the word 'like' in my hyperbole and thus am rendered safe from flung accusations of metaphor!” It had all the charm of poking a bear with a stick, and was about as dangerous, but as has been noted I could not help myself.
However, before I could try my luck further, Two Feathers bristled for a bit and somberly declared,“I have news, and you all must heed my words. Last night I walked the heavens and Wakan Tanka sent Coyote who spoke to me, warning me that I had begun to track a great evil, an evil for which there are not words or songs or understanding. That this evil kills not foolishly as the white hunters who kill buffalo from trains when they do not hunger, and leave the carcass to rot in the sun. This evil kills to devour, like a hunger that does not know satisfaction. And though I am a warrior of many battles, and a hunter of many dangerous pelts, I trembled, for Coyote did not speak in riddle or puzzle, but the Trickster spoke plainly. Even as I speak now to you. That which is the cause of this will devour our flesh and spirit should we fail.”
Jasmine turned to me, her normally colored face pale. “Trickster?”
“It is actually quite fascinating, my dear,” I replied. “In the Lakota pantheon, the Spirit Coyote plays the part of the outsider of the tribe, living on scraps and playing pranks on those that despise him. Yet the Shaman hold him in reverence as a teacher and spirit guide. But, like, Loki, or Prometheus, you can never be truly certain of Coyote's real intentions or aims. And there are many who do not survive his lessons.”
He leaned forward earnestly. “Jim, you cannot take your tȟawíču into...”
“I beg your pardon?” Jasmine demanded, but was mollified by my hand on her arm.
“Wife, Benjamin?” I inquired, receiving a nod of understanding when I hugged her. “There, you see my princess? Merely a...”
Her chin came up. “Husband, I do not take exception to an error in translation, rather the assumption my presence has no benefit to this party. An assumption I mean to dispel this instant!” She raised her hand over her water glass and here, I may find some of my readers somewhat dubious as to the next happening in our trip. It is a natural reaction to anyone who has not seen it, but there are stranger things under heaven, as the Bard tells us.
Even now as the Great War rages in Europe we see more and more beings the like of my Nubian Princess and her lamented mother. These biblical figures, these 'Mystery Men' to use the common sobriquet, are merely able to defy science and her half sister sorcery and accomplish that which cannot be accomplished by mere mortal men. For I tell you with the certainty of having seen it more than once with my own eyes, the Will of my blushing bride reached down into the glass and the water flowed up into her hand and formed itself into a knife.
She took up the paper doily from her saucer and the liquid blade she had made in her hand sliced it in half as though the water was as finely sharp as any barbers razor. Then she opened her hand over her glass and it flowed back, leaving not so much as a drop on her gloved hand.
Two Feathers swore in Lakota, just as Marshal Kingston exclaimed, “Mother of God!” Turning to me, he demanded, “Where and how did you meet this extraordinary young woman, James?”
The jig, as they say, being up, I only chuckled. “Meet? My dear fellow, I grew up with her!” The mustache bristled and I became certain my simple answer would not appease him, and so endeavored to keep the retelling as brief as possible. “Marshall, you of course remember young William taken prisoner with me? Well, William, Jasmine and myself were all blessed with mothers who were great friends of each other. William, the son of the planter upon whose plantation my own father, a humble wainwright, was employed. Jasmine's parents were the Planters Butler and Head of Household respectively.”
“May they rest in peace,” my wife whispered and I gently squeezed her hand in comfort.
“Now, Jasmine's mother, Martha, was the, and forgive my clumsy tongue for despite my beloveds best efforts, Amheric is still largely something of a mystery to me. Martha, as I was saying, was the yewiha met’ilek’īya, or water witch I beleive is the translation in the Queen's english, of her village and was kidnapped by moslem slavers plying the North Atlantic route. She arrived in Georgia, as luck would have it the day Mr Archer was buying field hands and was so impressed by Martha he bought her as well. Martha and Mrs Archer and my own mother, God rest her soul, were as thick as thieves in short order. Martha married Toby, Mr Archer's Butler and as God would will it all three of us were born on the same day.”
“You are having me on,” the Marshall declared through his twitching mustache. “This is another of your elaborate practical jokes, isn't it?”
“You wound me, sir!” I protested. “I never make light, practical or otherwise, on the subject of history, it is far too important a subject for levity!”
“You don't talk like a wagon maker's son,” Benjamin accused pointedly.
“Fair point,” I acknowledged. “Young William was always a bit high strung and more often than once earned the scorn of Mr. Archer, where as, I found favor in my father's employer's eyes and he was a second father to me. When he dispatched Young William to attend the University of Georgia, Mr. Archer graciously paid my own tuition and expenses in recompense for keeping an eye on my childhood playmate and likewise out of scandal too large to be winked at as the exuberance of youth. So William and I set out as Menelaus and Odysseus to Athens to prostrate ourselves to the higher minds of Professors ensconced there for our betterment. Alas, I was the more studious of our pairing, returning just in time for the Late Unpleasantness with a Bachelor's degree in the Fine Arts.”
“Why do you keep calling him 'young' William if you were born on the same day?” Demanded the Marshall, which brought out my loving wife's magnificent smile.
“My husband is a man of endless pretense, Marshall Kingston, and of our trio was born first, just past midnight, and I at the stroke of noon and by supper time, Mrs Archer had delivered William into the world.”
“Time does matter in these affairs, dearest,” I reminded my wife most solemnly, though I believe my seriousness was lost on the Captain.
Jack Kingston, however, only rubbed his chin in thought. “Well, my teacher always called me a simpleton, but explain to me, if your mother could do what we witnessed here, how was she ever made a slave?”
“My mother could do a great deal more than I have demonstrated,” Jasmine replied with all the patience of a saint. “Even as I can, but tell me, how many bullets does your revolver hold, Marshall?
“Six when I realize I am headed into trouble with only Colonel Colt and the protection of the Hand of God, madam,” he replied quickly. “Five for the regimen of day to day living, so the hammer may safely rest on an empty chamber.”
“And when you are set upon by twenty men, all armed thusly, what course of action have you?”
He nodded after a moment of thought. “I concede your point, madam.” He turned to Benjamin who sat at his right hand to inquire, “And you take the warning of this ghost seriously?”
“Spirit, ciye,” the big Native replied solumnly. “One of many, who were here in these lands long before The People, mine, or yours, and will be here long after we are gone. They carry out the will of Wakan Tanka and speak to us so our eyes are opened to the Great Mystery.”
Jack sighed and stared for a moment into his coffee before he finished it and sighed once more. “Then it is good that I sought out all of you. This is far worse than a simple case of Cain coveting the fruits of Abel's labor. But what can it mean? Why would something so evil this spirit would warn you of the dire consequences of our failure simply murder the local US Marshall? How concerned would something so celestial be with mundane affairs of men?”
“Men kill Coyotes by the hundreds to protect their cattle,” Benjamin replied evenly. “Just because most have their eyes closed to the Mystery, does not mean they cannot harm it. I suspect that Marshall Hooker learned something he was not meant to discover and was silenced for it. We must tread lightly on this trail.”
“Carlin,” called the Conductor as he entered the car from the forward heading aft. “Carlin City, next stop.”
“Let us tread lightly indeed,” Marshall Kingston advised us as we stood to collect our things.
Awaiting our arrival on the platform was the local constable, one Sheriff Buford Clements, a round faced fellow in a much used bowler hat, bib shirt and trousers whose dust covered condition rendered an approximation of their original hue impossible. His eyes were obscured by a perpetual squint either from sun or poor eyesight, or both, was anyone's guess and his prematurely gray beard was somewhat spotty. He had the look of a man put into a position he adamantly did not want yet saw no escape from.
I used the distraction of assisting my wife down the steps of the car to discreetly bring the second of my investments in Colonel Colt's artisans to my left hand, held in ready behind my back.
“Marshall Kingston,” the sheriff greeted, craning his neck to look up at the Marshall's face, two full feet above him. “I'm Sheriff Clements,” he said by way of introduction. “I have warrant by telegraph for that Injun you broke out of the Carson City jail and the fellow who helped you. Was that you, sir?”
I stepped in front of my wife, my hand still clutching my pistol behind my back. And before you think me more gallant of a gentleman than perhaps I have rights to claim, while I would gladly shield her from lead should the bullets take wing, this also had the added benefit of obscuring her and allowing her to fetch her pistol from her purse, should push come to shove. “Your servant, sir,” I informed the Sheriff.
“You'll have to come along with me,” he started, but the Marshall stepped forward, both intimidating the little fellow as well as placing himself between me and a clear line of fire at the sheriff. Alas, such things were as common in that day as this one.
“Let me be clear and frank with you, Sheriff,” Captain Kingston growled. “I didn't 'break' anyone out of Jail, I have a legal order of custody for Mr Two Feathers the Carson City Sheriff's deputies chose to ignore. So I deputized a responsible citizen and invoked federal privilege on the matter. If you have issue with that, you can take it up with the Solicitor General Of the United States.” He opened his duster and laid a hand on the butt of his own revolver. “So, no, sir, you will not be taking anyone from my party into custody today.”
Sheriff Clements blanched for even his eyesight was sufficient to see the threat he was under and took a step backwards from caution, most likely. Captain Kingston continued, “Now I hope we can conduct ourselves as professionals and all do our duty to see justice done, but I must inform you, sir, if you cannot allow us to pass in peace, then I tell you directly to skin your pistol and go to work.”
The round face was covered in a bead of sweat and I noted how empty the platform was suddenly of other travelers either embarking or arriving on the train. “Ther...” he stammered. “There's a law against guns in town,” he stammered. “You...you have to disarm...!”
Captain Kingston merely continued to stand, mute, staring down the other fellow, one hand on his pistol, a gleam doubtlessly in his eye as he was ready for mayhem. The beady eyes turned to me, as if taking my measure, while the round face was covered in a sheen of sweat that now I was certain had nothing to do with the heat. I smiled at him. “Say when.”
After a brief, emotional skirmish, discretion proved the better part of valor in the Sheriff's squinty eyes and he slowly withdrew, reticent to turn his back to us until out of sight. I recall being insulted to be considered one who would shoot a man with his back turned.
Benjamin sighed deeply and shook his head. “So much for treading lightly...”
“Well, now we know whoever it is we're up against has the local law bought and paid for,” Captain Kingston told us gravely. “So, we need to nip this in the bud right smart. Come with me.”
“And our destination, sirrah?” I inquired, causing the marshal to produce a vague gesture in the direction of town.
“Telegraph office,” he declared. “Two can play the document by telegraph game.”
My wife's gloved hand safe in the crook of my left elbow, I returned the Colonel to his holster and the appreciation gift of a silver dollar pressed firmly into the hand of the purser got our bags and horses taken to the local farrier for stabling.
Now, Carlin was hardly the metropolis of Carson City, but it was in the midst of one of the greatest gold rushes in history and there were fifty thousand souls crammed into a city of several hundred acres. Thanks to the gold rush, the rail road maintained an extensive switching yard in the city along with an attendant round house and machine shops where most of the line's up keep work was performed. There were the usual hotels, brothels and saloons one might expect in a boom town, but in addition there were a plethora of free standing restaurants, two competing theaters, four dance halls, a jewelry shop and photography studio.
To the north east of town proper was a lively China Town settlement, lodgings for the rail road workers, but based purely on the aroma there was likely a canteen at least serving their traditional cuisine which I hoped to make better acquaintance with as I had acquired a taste for the exotic gastronomy during a sojourn in San Francisco. There were not one, but two fire departments, one for the city itself, and a second maintained and manned by the rail road that was still dispatched to aid the city fire department in times of need.
Despite the boom, there were plenty of lodging houses with room and the diverse racial make up of the city between China-men, Expatriate Mexicans, local tribes of American Indians and even Buffalo Soldiers from nearby Ft Carlin, gave the added benefit that there was less fuss than I was accustomed to in acquiring living accommodations for myself and my wife. Bags, horses and rooms seen to, we strolled casually to the telegraph office on the heels of the Marshal.
He and Benjamin were loitering at the telegraph office, waiting for a reply while sipping beer from the tavern next door. I acquired glasses for myself and my wife as our little groups made the others aware of our separate adventures. “I have acquired us a pair of rooms at the Lodging House of Mrs Horton,” I informed the Marshal. “One for you and Benjamin and the other across the hall. Both of your saddle bags are there.”
“I have telegram out, government priority,” Jack informed us as he wet his whistle with the acceptable beer offering from the tavern. “But, just because it will put a stop to using the law against us doesn't mean who ever is behind this won't take things into their own hands.”
“We're being watched,” Two Feathers informed us from behind his own glass. “The four vaqueros across the street by the horse trough, their Ramrod, just up the street by the barber and the painted lady on the balcony over the dry goods store looks at us, then up and down the street in turns.”
I put my back to all of them, opened the head of my walking stick and dropped a twelve gauge shell into the concealed breech before closing it once more. “Well, Marshal, it would appear someone is most eager that your investigations be cut short.”
The Marshal took advantage of the sinful flesh of my body blocking the view of our would be assailants to draw his Single Action Army, move the hammer to its half cock position to free the cylinder and open the loading door. From his belt he removed a cartridge and brought the weapon to its maximum capacity, safety be damned. “Pistols and a scatter gun out in the open street,” he cursed under his breath. “Not how I was looking to spend my morning.”
“Do you aspire to immortality, Captain?” I chided him, straightening my own jacket and making my peace with God.
“Just my dotage,” he shot back, snapping the loading gate closed. “Fine, let's get to work.” We began to walk up the street, the Marshall's badge predominately displayed, towards the four vaqueros. Immediately, they became agitated, having noted that we had taken notice of them and their thoughts of ambush were now dissuaded. However, before we could close to a distance reasonable for pistol mayhem, a shrieking whistle broke the tense silence and announced the arrival of a dozen men on horseback.
They were a motley group, uniformly in need of a bath and laundry service, but all clutching either an immaculate Winchester rifle model of 1873 or side-by-side coach guns. It was apparent the vaqueros were acquainted with, in addition to being no friends of, the new comers and so hied themselves to more comfortable surroundings elsewhere. Even the painted lady had decided she had sunned herself enough and retreated indoors. The riders drew up short with us and their leader, a wild eyed fellow with a miner's pale complexion under the dirt and a magnificent beard of at least four inches that jutted out proudly from his chin, pushed back his cap for a better look at us. “Marshal Kingston?” he asked in a healthy baritone likely strengthened by frequent shouting.
The rider nodded and laid his hands over the saddle horn. “Jake Horton, at your service. Your man Solomon there and his Queen of Sheba rented rooms of my missus. You and yours have a pile of enemies in this town and damn few friends. If you'll come along with me, I'll explain.”
September 2nd, 1874
Horton Boarding House, Carlin, Nevada
Mrs Horton, a lively woman of early middle years, kept a fastidiously clean house and an immaculate parlor furnished in the Queen Anne Style of polished cherry wood upholstered with a white with green paisley fabric. A parlor she absolutely banished her husband from until he had bathed and changed his clothing that she entertained us in with a delightful Earl Gray and shortbread cookies while he did so. My wife and Mrs Horton discovered they were both music lovers and my associates and I were privileged to be entertained by the ladies. I felt quite proud of the angelic soprano my wife graced us with, her voice soaring through the overture of Emile Pessard's La Cruche Cassée, accompanied by Mrs Horton on her piano.
Here I must admit to my own bias whereas I truly enjoy any chance to listen to my darling wife sing, or speak, in the language of love.
Afternoon serenades not withstanding, it was not long until Mr Horton was presentable for polite company and joined us in the parlor, and with our applause in appreciation of the efforts of the ladies as he did so. Mrs Horton asked my beloved to assist her in the kitchen so the ladies withdrew, leaving us to have our conference with our erstwhile savior. “Ed Hooker was a friend of mine,” he began, shaking hands with all of us firmly, with the look of an honest man in his eyes. “I want to do everything I can so his killers get brought to justice.”
“That's why I'm here,” Jack assured him. “What's happened?”
“Gold was discovered, that's what,” Mr Horton replied as he helped himself to a cup of his wife's tea. “I own the Yankee Eagle Mine and we were pulling copper, nothing like what's coming out of Bingham Canyon, but we're doing well enough for all this,” he declared with a gesture at the house around him. “Not too long ago I started getting turquoise, and not just chips, good sized stones. I didn't think anything of it at first, just figured it was good fortune. That all changed when we struck gold.”
“Death metal,” muttered Two Feathers in disgust.
Jake shook his head. “You're not wrong,” he agreed. “After word got out about the strike this town swelled up fit to bursting. Along with 'prospectors' who've never set foot in a mine we got every manner of vice and sin merchant a man can damn himself to Hell with; gambling, girls, booze, opium, you name it and you'll find someone selling it here. Then came the thieves and outlaws looking to plunder the sin merchants and honest miners alike. Ed was making a difference, rounding up the outlaws and keeping the worst of the sinners away from decent folk. That all changed when The Colonel showed up.”
Marshall Kingston frowned. “Colonel?”
“Edgar Goodkind,” Jake declared, with the desperate look of a man wanting to spit in disgust and unable to due to circumstance. “Some New York tycoon who bought himself a commission in the War. The Devil Himself walking the Earth if you ask me.”
Being possessed of a curious mind compelled me to ask, “Tell me, sir, what to your mind enlists this Mercantile Soldier into the legions of the damned?”
Mr Horton's glance that he favored me with was none too kind, though given what he had been through such unkind gaze could be forgiven. “Well, I won't say all our troubles started when he got here, we had troubles aplenty before and will after he's gone. But I will say our lot took a decided turn for the worse since he got here. Carlin is a rail road town and we can be rough, a man looking for a brawl can usually find one here without too much trouble, but in the ten years I've lived here I could count shootings and murders on one hand, and always trouble brought in from other places. Since the Colonel arrived we've had ten shootings in six months. Town Council passed a disarmament law in the city limits, over many an outraged voice mind, and still Marshal Hooker is dead.”
“As one of my professors at my alma mater was fond of quoting, 'correlation does not equate to causation',” I replied. Mr Horton nodded and took a sip of tea.
“I'm no scholar, and I can't swear on the Good Book about it, but it does make a man wonder.”
“You must have something beyond coincidence to consider this fellow such a villain,” the Captain stated before indulging in a bite of Mrs Horton’s shortbread.
“The Colonel settled himself at Ft Carlin, taking over from Major Winifield,” Jake told us. “The early scuffles were all instigated by soldiers, but like a sickness spreading out from the fort other folks, steady, decent sorts, started turning mean and vicious out of all season and character. If ever a man could be said to have a wife that doted on him, it was Sam Pritrichard's Molly. Four months ago we found Sam in his bed, cut open like a river trout and some of his innards missing. Molly was hanging next to the bed from a rafter, her hands and mouth bloody, like maybe she had...” He trailed off and shuddered. “Molly worked as a maid and laundress up to the fort. First of the town folk to fall under this spell.”
“It was not soldiers setting up to ambush us,” Two Feathers rumbled from his perch next to the fireplace. Mr Horton shook his head.
“No, those were Juan Ricardo's men,” he said with considerable disgust. “Juan owns the Nuestra Señora de la Buena Fortuna Mine, the most profitable of the new comers. He came up from Hermosillo with a couple of hundred men, down on their luck vaqueros, laborers, and vagrants mostly. He staked a claim next to mine and has done everything he could to try and run me out.” He took a sip of hot tea to cool his anger. “As if that weren't bad enough, 'Colonel' Goodkind not only hasn't lifted a finger to stop it, it's been stirring the pot constantly, keeping me and 'Don' Juan at each others throats.”
“Senor de Molina may take umbrage to the sobriquet,” I murmured as I soothed my goatee back into place. “Have you attempted to bury the hatchet with Senor Ricardo?”
Mr Horton shrugged. “Sure. Not so much a fool that I can't see paying men to keep armed watch instead of mining is bad for business, but every time I tried to make peace with Don Juan something always seemed to happen.” He paused, overcome by emotion for a few minutes before he forced himself to admit. “That's how I got Ed killed. I asked him to look into things between me and Ricardo.”
“Now we come to it,” the Marshal declared as he put down his tea cup and saucer on the little table beside him. “What did you ask him to look into and where was he when he was shot?”
“Ricardo and I have been feuding over the claim stakes between his mine and mine. They've been moved, but he swears he's innocent and the assayer's office is at the Fort.”
“Why would the assayer's office be at the Fort?” demanded Kingston.
“This is all Federal land,” Horton replied. “Held as a possible Indian Reservation if needed. I paid for my claim to prospect for minerals and have to pay a royalty to the Federal Government for what I mine by the ton. Goodkind has control of the Assayer and I'm as certain as hell is below us Ed Hooker found that stakes were moved, and the Colonel had him killed for it.”
“Well,” I chuckled darkly as I took the measure of Marshal Kingston as his face was as grim as mine. “Colonel Goodkind sounds to be a magnificent host! We shall have to pay him a visit! Is your social calendar free, Marshal?”
“You're still not funny, Georgian,” Two Feathers rumbled.
September 3rd, 1874
Ft Carlin, Carlin, Nevada
After a blissful night spent in the Land of Nod on Mrs Horton's most excellent bed in the arms of the love of my life, we enjoyed a rousing breakfast of eggs, flapjacks and bacon. Homely fare, but well made with the obvious joy of a woman providing for the surrogate family she has adopted. The meal was even graced with Vermont maple syrup, once the height of luxury for anyone outside of New England, the nation wide rail road was moving goods and people at a break neck pace all throughout America. Now, this former staple of the diet of rich men was a set piece without thought on the humble table of Nevada boarding house keeper.
Miracles never cease.
Our horses recovered from the stable, and a pony purchased for Two Feathers against the Marshall's contingency account for expenses, we 'enjoyed' a half hour ride out to Fort Carlin. Most of my readers will likely think of Nevada as one continuous cactus desert, tumble weeds blowing in the wind, with scrub grasses and stunted cottonwood trees, these of course are images of the Mojave Desert and the Sierra Nevada due to their relative desolation and closeness to Hollywood. While the state can be quite arid, it is also quite green, more so than perhaps my reader's mind's eye can imagine.
Not a garden, by any stretch, but far from the bad lands of Hollywood make believe.
While on the subject of myth not representing fact, I would be remiss if I did not comment on the weather; which was clear and somewhat warm, likely somewhere near eighty degrees of mercury. People tend to think of the desert as a sweltering oven, to be endured by wet, dirty men drowning in their own perspiration, but the dryness of the air is second only to its coolness in startling the newly arrived as at night the mercury can fall to the freezing point. As it were, my bride employed her parasol to shade herself as we rode.
Once far enough from town to not cause alarm we did stop to allow Two Feathers to test the sights of the Model of 1873 I had bought for him from our host, thinking the inclusion of a rifle to our meager collection of fire power to be of some merit. It was chambered in Winchester's own .44 Winchester Center Fire cartridge. Two Feathers found the rifle to shoot slightly left and down of his aim point, but assured us he could compensate.
Fort Carlin commanded a promontory about five miles as the crow flies from town, around which, peninsula-like flowed the Humboldt River. Unlike the image that without doubt forms to your minds eye, there was neither fence, nor stockade around the fort. Likewise, there were no permanent structures at all, at leastwise, none that were complete. A stable and barn were in the process of being raised and there was a roped off paddock for the horses. A cluster of tents defined the center of the forts, the largest of these were near a house several dozen buffalo soldiers were currently laboring to construct. These semi-permanent tents consisted of timber walls to shoulder height or so and canvas roofs thus granting them all the woes of a tent, and none of the virtues of a wood shack.
As you might imagine, our arrival did cause something of a stir in the camp and the hackles were up on my neck like a sheep trying to whistle his way past a den of wolves on bravado alone. Nor was I alone in my trepidation of this outpost of the Federal Government, all of our horses, even Jasmine's Nifasi an animal of singularly calm disposition, was skittish and uncomfortable; ears and heads up, with much glancing about for the danger they sensed. The assayer's office was one of these half timber tents, with a 'Closed' sign hanging on the door.
We had not even time to dismount when we were approached by a sergeant with a corporal and several troopers, all of them armed. “You'll have to leave, sir,” the Sergeant informed us. “The fort is closed.”
“I need to speak with your Commanding officer,” Marshall Kingston declared, but no soon had he shifted his weight to dismount, the Sergeant's hand found the butt of his pistol and his men adjusted their rifles from off to our right, to over our heads.
“You'll have to leave, sir,” the Sergeant repeated. “The Fort is closed.”
My walking stick was loaded #6 bird shot, which would expand out like a cloud and certainly envelop the Sergeant and his followers; just the thing to discourage a highwayman, but hardly a weapon of a war. Even though we were armed with a lever action Winchester and four pistols giving us the advantage in rate of fire, the weight of numbers fell to the four hundred troopers and their trap door Springfields. Not pleasant odds to consider which the Marshall took into account. “Very well,” Kingston told the Sergeant. “We'll be on our way.”
As you might imagine, none of us were eager to put our backs to these anxious fellows and their doubtlessly eager trigger fingers, nevertheless we were without options and so cautiously reversed our horses and pointed them towards town. I do not mind admitting these were very tense minutes as we rode, ears straining for the first sounds of gun fire, backs itching in anticipation of the white hot agony of a bullet strike. After what felt an eternity on our hearts, we arrived at the base of the mesa the fort sat atop and judged ourselves out of rifle range, and well out of ear shot. It was Two Feathers who spoke first.
“Those men were dead,” he declared with great conviction.
The Marshall, ever the pragmatist, took issue with him. “What fantasy is this, Benjamin?” he demanded. “Dead men do not walk, threaten, nor make use of fire arms!”
The big Lakota was unmoved. “They walked,” he agreed. “They spoke, but neither through their own will, even though their bodies were before us, their...wanagi, that which is them, but not physical were gone. They were no longer men, but bodies, moving by magic.”
“Zomibī,” whispered Jasmine, and while there is little that will cost my wife her courage, the thought of the dead walking had her hand over her mouth in fear.
At the confused glances of my fellows, I elaborated, “On the Plantation, over All Hallow's Eve, Jasmine's mother would terrify us with tales of evil shamans who could animate the bodies of the dead and command them to do their bidding. She told us that such a warlock had attacked her village and driven her into the wilderness, which, she claimed was how the slavers captured her.”
Benjamin nodded thoughtfully. “This is the evil Coyote warned me of.”
Jack looked at all of us, confounded and flummoxed at our ready acceptance of the supernatural. “You lot can call it what you like,” he declared stubbornly. “I don't believe in ghost stories!”
“Start,” Two Feathers advised him stoically. “You are in one.”
September 3rd, 1874
Horton Boarding House, Carlin, Nevada
It was Charlemagne, grandson of Charles Martel who stopped the Moslems at Tours, Conqueror of Belle Europa, Holy Roman Emperor who laid down the Laws of Magic, or rather, the legal framework by which magic could be used. Ask a magician about the Laws of Magic and you will possibly begin an apprenticeship! However, Charlemagne the Law Giver put pen to paper and produced the Codice Iuris which brought magic out of the shadows and made it a legitimate trade. It established codes of ethics, based on the ancient Oath of Hippocrates of Kos for Magic used for healing, it ascribed use of Magic in assault or murder to be no different legally than the use of a fist or sword and to hold the same penalties.
Most importantly, it laid out the Unforgivables, acts of Magic beyond the pale of fine or penance for which, a magician would be put to death. For the period, it was a short list, chiefly concerned with domination of the mind and the rule of others against their Will, but it did take note of Necromancy, if only in its absolute prohibition of the practice of death magic, reanimation of the dead, or attempts to corrupt or destroy the souls of the living. For those found guilty of such acts it proscribed death, by breaking; starting with the toes, every bone in the offending mages body would be broken until the shock and agony was too great and they succumbed.
It was the most gruesome form of execution, withheld for the worst of the worst.
And we were dealing with a Necromancer powerful enough to kill and animate an entire Fort of Cavalry Troopers. It was quickly apparent we needed every friend we could make. After my lecture on the reality of such magic by way of the history I had learned at school and the practical corrections of Two Feather's somewhat limited training as a shaman in his youth, on the return ride to Carlin, we at last convinced the skeptical Marshal of the dire seriousness of our current fortunes.
To his credit, once my friend Jack Kingston is made aware of a threat, his swift decisiveness is a cardinal virtue of the most scarlet. Our host was summoned from his mine and we spoke without benefit of Mrs Horton's parlor on his front porch. “What's this all about?” demanded Jake, in want of either the return to his labors below ground or a bath.
“Can you make peace with Don Ricardo?” Jake asked him earnestly, and given our situation, answering a question, with a question could be excused. “Do you have any reason to believe this Colonel, or whoever is behind what's going on with the fort may have control on him?”
“The man has a temper like a bull with a rattle snake up it's rear, but we've managed to be civil once or twice,” Jake informed us. “I have no reason to think whatever happened to Molly might be gnawing on his soul...”
“You send someone you can trust with a white flag to him,” ordered the Marshall. “Arrange a meeting between us, him and you, either here or somewhere neutral in town. We're all in it, and if we don't hang together, well, there are worse things than dying I'm discovering...”
Jake's face paled behind the mud and he nodded to one of his men he had brought with him who immediately got back up on his horse and rode hard away. To another he said, “Go back to the mine and pull out everybody.”
“Everybody!” Mr Horton ordered. “Get them here like the Devil himself is chasing them!” That accomplished, and knowing his wife, Mr Horton hied himself to his bath tub. If Don Ricardo wished to meet in his house, his wife would see it occur in her parlor, on her best furniture, and that required him to be clean.
Shortly after the master of the house had himself presentable for company, company came calling. Outside, the man Jake Horton had sent returned with a clutch of riders, the leader of which was a dark, handsome fellow in a magnificent Charro style suit in black with elaborate white embroidery and silver accents. Don Ricardo was a man of early middle age, clean shaven, but with a discrete, waxed mustachios and a manly chin. He wore a black, expertly tooled gun belt with a pair of pistols again with silver details. With him was a younger man who favored him sufficiently to be a close relative, and, somewhat surprisingly, another man between them in age who wore a Catholic Priest's cassock.
At their back were the vaqueros and their ramrod from the day previous, who were as well armed today as they previously had been. “I'm here, Horton!” Ricardo shouted without dismounting. “Come speak your piece!” While Mr. Horton made to go out, Marshall Kingston held him back with a heavy hand on his shoulder and instead stepped out the door, making sure his badge was prominent, as fearless as David descending into the den of lions.
For myself, I stood by the front window, my pistol in hand and a clear line of fire between the muzzle of Colonel Colt's smoke wagon and Don Ricardo's forehead should he offer violence against my friend. An uneasy murmur went through Ricardo's men at the sight of the Marshall, but they kept their civility. “Don Juan Ricardo?” he asked once the men were at conversational distance and the massive sombrero dipped in acknowledgment. “I'm Jack Kingston, United States Marshall. I've been sent by the President to look into matters here and restore law and order.”
“You are ill informed, señor,” Juan declared after a moment of taking the big man's measure. “Law and Order have never been suspended and thus are not in need of restoration.”
“I beg to differ, sir,” Jack replied evenly. “There is trouble enough for the entire state in this town and both you and Mr. Horton, are hip deep in it. If we don't work together, we all may find ourselves damned to a hell on Earth. If your padre there has a copy of the good book on him, I'll swear on it for your safety if you'll come inside where we can discuss things like civilized folk.”
After a long moment of thought, Ricardo replied, “If your host will conduct himself as a gentleman, I will break no peace as a guest.”
“You have my word, Ricardo,” Mr Horton declared from the doorway.
Don Juan dismounted, fixing his gaze on the young man that favored him. “Diego, wait here with the horses.”
The catholic priest and the swarthy Don were lead into Mrs. Horton's parlor, spurs, ringing on their Cuban-heeled high boots. I found Don Ricardo to be a man of smaller stature than I was expecting, which perhaps explained his temper and demeanor, still he was the very personification of machismo as he removed his sombrero and kissed his hostess' hand. “God bless all in this house,” he declared as he crossed the threshold, a bit of a glare for his rival and host. Still, Mr Horton took things in stride and once we were settled in the parlor, and my pistol was returned to its holster, our hostess served coffee with the able assistance of my blushing bride.
“This is Benjamin Two Feathers,” the Marshal introduced, “who has saved my life more than once and in whom I trust implicitly. I tell you this in hopes of saving time overcoming your skepticism that I wasted with him overcoming mine.”
“I do not claim to be learned,” the big Lakota declared to our wary guests, “nor do I call myself a wicasa wakan,that which in the tongue of white men is shaman. Many winters ago, before I became a warrior, I knelt at the bidding of Kicking Bird, who was the wicasa wakan of my tribe and wise in the mysteries that float unseen around us. It was from him I learned much and that which I am about to tell you. I have seen the soldiers at the Fort with my own eyes and I know the dead when I see them. They are men no longer, but the flesh that remains once the wanagi...the spirit...leaves. I was warned of a great evil here by the spirit guide Coyote and I have found it at the fort. You, Don Ricardo, and you, Jake Horton are turned against each other by a monster, who kills and raises the bodies of the warriors he slays to make slaves of them.”
The priest crossed himself. “En el nombre del padre, el hijo y el espíritu santo,” he whispered.
The Don's gaze lingered for a moment on the men in the room before he put down his coffee cup and stood to face his rival. “Is this what you've dragged me out here for, Horton? Ghost stories to frighten children?”
Don Ricardo's coffee rose up from his cup and flowed through the air to dance around my beloved's hands. “I would advise you most strongly not to dismiss the supernatural so casually out of hand, señor Ricardo,” she cautioned him.
His hand fell to one of his pistols, but I stepped between my wife and him before he could draw it. “Remember yourself and your oath, sir,” I ordered him. “Offer my wife violence at your mortal peril!” His face flushed in rage and he whirled back to our Host.
“I knew there were few depths you wouldn't sink to, Horton, but this...!”
“I have nothing to do with any of this, Juan,” Horton snapped back. “Other than to keep your men from bushwacking a US Marshall as soon as he steps into town! What's more, I don't think you have anything to do with this either! I think we're both being played for fools!”
“To what end?” the other demanded. “Ghost stories of the dead walking have nothing to do with our quarrel...”
“Except the assayer's records are in the hands of those walking dead!” Horton shouted back, nose to nose with his rival. “And if we kill each other, who gets both of our claims?”
Marshall Kingston stepped forward, his hands on the lapels of his frock coat. “Gentlemen, I believe this is exactly why Ed Hooker was murdered. Because as a neutral member of the Federal Government, he could examine the claims and settle your feud. I don't know if this Colonel Goodkind is the cause of this, or if that was merely coincidence, but what I do know is the father there needs to certify if these soldiers are in fact, dead men walking, and if so, we have to burn out that Fort!”
“Which is all well and good,” Ricardo replied, turning to glare at my wife. “But how do we know the cause of this isn't right here in this room?”
“Other than the fact I only arrived yesterday?” demanded my princess with her temper on a tight leash. The coffee flowed back across the room and into the Don's cup. “Have you a bible, Padre?” she asked. The priest produced his copy of the Good Book and Jasmine laid her hand upon it. “I swear on my love of God, and pain of my soul that I have nothing to do with the evil that afflicts this town, save for my desire to help that evil be destroyed. So help me, God.”
“Padre?” asked Ricardo.
The Priest shook his head. “El Diablo may quote the scriptures, Don Ricardo, but he cannot swear his innocence on them.”
The Don chewed on what he had heard for some moments that streteched out like shadows in the late evening sun until finally he looked up at the Marshall and asked, “What do you want from me?”
Black Jack's face clouded over with resolve. “First, we have to be sure of what we're dealing with. Then, if that's so, it's war...”
September 3rd, 1874
Sacred Heart Parish Church, Carlin, Nevada
The little white adobe church of Father Hector De la Cruz became our de facto headquarters; not precisely neutral, but being a House of God, it soothed over the grumblings of the miners who had come at Mr. Horton's call. There, Two Feathers briefed the men on the dangers of fighting the undead, which I shall not divulge in great detail here as it neither furthers this narrative nor is it good for keeping the gullible out of mischief. Suffice to say it should not be undertaken by amateurs, no matter how enthusiastic and is not without a fair amount of work by Father De la Cruz as he blessed an imposing amount of weapons and ammunition.
Next, while a group of Don Ricardo's men went looking for a volunteer, Father De la Cruz consulted his copy of Rituale Romanum, the master work of Catholic Rituals. Thus enlightened by our spiritual betters, he gathered the needed items from their storage about the sanctuary and we made ready to receive our compulsory guest.
It was getting on to sundown when we were alerted to the return of our party by the cries of horses and men and the creak of a wagon. Father De la Cruz put his faith in the Lord and his hands on his tools and led the way outside. There, the party of men had been escorting a cavalry wagon, loaded with goods. There were a pair of troopers, trussed up in the back that were putting up the Devil's own resistance about being brought onto the grounds of the church. The ropes they were bound with were straining and there was a wild fear in the eyes and the foulest of language on their tongues as they cursed everyone around them.
Now, forgive me, gentle reader if this next passage seems a fantasy of the most imaginative sort, but I attest this work to be a True and Accurate account of the Mine War and what happened next I witnessed with my own eyes. Just as the Corporal, a wiry scarecrow of a man to begin with, began to break free of this bonds, Father De la Cruz rushed forward, his crucifix out before him and it was glowing. Not light from the dying sun reflecting on the polished ivory, or a halo of a lantern beyond the symbol of Our Lord upon the cross, no sir, the artifact itself glowed with the fervor of the Priest's belief. The Corporeal squealed in fright, rather like a pig being led to the slaughter house, as Don Ricardo's men struggled with him and Father De la Cruz spoke like thunder with all the authority of the Burning Bush itself, “¡El poder de Cristo te obliga! ¡Demon vete de él!”
What happened next, no matter how perfectly etched in my memory, is somewhat difficult to describe. Nor, am I entirely sure how much I should describe for fear of tempting those without the good sense most are born with. Having said that, something more horrific, foul and unspeakably hideous came out of both of the troopers and though the ground was not rent open, it became translucent as if the dirt, horse dung and scrub grass were somehow made of glass and they covered the sulfurous pit of Hell. Whatever had been cast out of the Corporal, and his accompanying trooper both fell back to the depths of the pit that spawned them and once more the ground was solid, opaque and wholesome once more.
We stood about, more than a little shocked at what we had seen, then one of Don Ricardo's men snapped us back to the present with a squeal of fright. He had been holding the Corporal and his fellow which he dropped both to the ground. The Ram Rod rolled the cavalrymen over, only to find what had been living men in apparent good health were now a pair of desiccated corpses, reeking with rot and decay, many weeks dead. Don Ricardo was pale, Father De la Cruz was shaking with what he had seen and done and the Ram Rod quickly retired behind the wagon to be sick.
I was grateful my wife had been spared what we had witnessed and was still inside the church.
Black Jack Kingston's mustache bristled as he spat into the dust and took charge. “You two,” he ordered, pointing out a pair of men and not caring who their previous allegiance had been with. “Run fetch the Sheriff and his posse. Bring them here full bore and ready for battle. You four dig these poor sods a grave and lay them to rest. The padre will say over 'em as needed.” He turned to Don Ricardo. “Don Juan, do you have a map of the area?” When the other man nodded, Jack continued. “Fetch it along inside. We have a battle to plan.”
Sheriff Clements was not exactly keen on being summoned by the Marshall, but that Don Ricardo with his men were present bolstered his flagging courage, we were all polite enough not to comment on it. Once he had been made aware of our suppositions and aims, he was entirely less keen on the matter, until he was shown the mortal remains of the corporal and his trooper, who as luck would have it, he had greeted in passing earlier that day.
Seeing a dead body of a man, weeks after he has departed this life, yet having spoken to him that day and knowing there was not sufficient passage of time for the body to be in that state is quite convincing. The somewhat shaken word of Father De la Cruz helped sway the Sheriff as well. Having united the feuding factions under his proverbial banner, the Marshall put on his General's star and commenced to laying out his plan of battle.
I shall not bore you with the back and forth that followed my friend Jack's plan. With egos the size of the men we were dealing with, everyone felt the need to have their say over trivialities or imagined slights. Further, it would do a disservice to otherwise virtuous and gallant gentlemen who merely felt the need that they not be upturned by a rival; lest he appear weak in the others eyes. While unpleasant to experience, it did have the virtue of taking most of the night which meant our wait for the dawn would be less.
No one felt the need to assault evil of the scale we had unearthed without the sun in the sky.
Still, we did need to move under the cover of darkness, and so at four in the ante-meridian we mounted our horses and set out. My beloved had donned her Culottes once more and were she not my wife, the sight of her perfect ankles encased in the supple leather of her riding boots would have me thinking thoughts of a most impure and unbecoming nature. Fortunately, in my case, she was my wife and my thoughts were entirely appropriate.
September 4th, 1874
Ft Carlin, Carlin, Nevada
The theater would have you believe that every cowboy worthy of his ten-gallon hat would find riding at night to be as easy as riding in the daytime. The reason, of course, for this is those cinema presentations are filmed in the day time, through a heavy filter over the camera lens to create the illusion of the darkness of night. Indeed, were they to attempt to film at night the results would not exactly make for high drama. There is little to recommend watching a black screen after all. The fact that there are those who find that illusion acceptable fills me with a wholly separate lament.
The growing popularity of Mr Ford's automobile already is displacing the horse as the primary conveyance of human travel, even as I pen this manuscript. My newspaper is filled with photographs of dead horses, machine-gunned down in the Great War currently raging in Europe. Doubtlessly, within a decade of this humble little book of mine's publication, perhaps even sooner the millennial long partnership of horse and rider will be confined to sport and amusement purposes, perhaps, not even that. My wife scolds me that I am a pessimist and that the beautiful, nimble and above all faithful horse will never be truly usurped as mankind’s preferred method of travel and I have not the heart nor the will to quarrel with her.
With that in mind, my gentle reader, you may not realize the difficulty that is riding at night. These were not roads in the way you may consider them of cobble or flagstone affairs, with drainage and a lack of vermin holes for a horse to step into and possibly break a leg. They were really more trails, paths that had their ground packed by frequent human travel in dirt and yes, they were littered with little vermin holes a horse could step into and possibly break a leg. It made for an arduous, nerve-racking journey.
Despite the hardships of our journey, we arrived at the base of the hill the fort sat atop just as the first hints of dawn began to color the eastern sky. It is a shame no one had done this earlier as, perhaps, this evil might have been rooted out sooner, for there were many tell tales all was not right for those who knew what to look for. Old Glory was still fluttering atop the flag pole, despite that neither Reveille nor To The Colors had been blown as yet. The pessimist my blushing bride insists resides inside me reflected that it would likely be a safe bet that Retreat had not sounded the night before either. Indeed, the sound of hammers could be heard as the dead continued their labors on the buildings they were constructing.
We dismounted and tethered the horses to a rope line, then crept up the hill side. This was the east side of the promontory, furthest from Carlin and with the sun rising behind us, we would have excellent visibility while, we hoped our adversaries would be hampered by the rising sun. Once every man signaled his readiness, I nodded to my wife behind the boulder we were sharing for cover.
She took a deep breath and reached out her hand with her eyes closed, her lovely face a mask of concentration of the highest order. Then, slowly at first, and over the hushed exclamations of disbelief of the men, the sound of the Humboldt River began to change. It changed because in a manner completely unbelievable, even to those as myself whose own eyes can attest to the sight of it, the river rose up out of its banks, off the ground entirely and flowed through the air to encircle the hill top fort roaring with the speed of its travel like the most treacherous and dangerous of rapids.
“Now, Padre!” shouted the Marshall over the roar of the rushing waters. Father De la Cruz crossed him self, muttering to himself in Latin to force his mind from his native Spanish and began to shout next to the stone he had brought with him.
“Domine Deus meus, ad liberandum! Domine, ad adjuvandum me festina ad me!” So began the rite of Sancta Missa the blessing of the corner stone to be laid in the consecration of a new church. While the dead troopers had taken no marvel of the wall of water that now caged them, the evil within them did note that the ground they stood on was in the process of being consecrated and that aroused them like hornets from a disturbed nest.
The first handful made to walk through the wall of water, but no sooner had they set foot or hand into it, the speed and force of the torrent yanked them off their feet and tore them apart like an enraged child might destroy a rag doll. The dueling miners cheered, thinking themselves safe and that perhaps the battle would be easier than they had been lead to believe. They were promptly disheartened of that hope as we found that whatever evil spirits had control of the bodies of these men also had access to their memories and abilities.
The dead troopers fetched their Springfield Trapdoor Carbines and when the first shots proved incapable of penetrating the water, they sought the altitude of their building works to be able to fire over it. Bullets began to fly and land around us, sparking and howling as they struck stones that resisted them and I was reminded of the horrors of the war I had fought some years prior in the defense of my native state. The miners returned fire, and with our lever actions against the single shot of the trapdoor Springfield, volume of fire was definitely on our side, but alas the water wall my amazing wife was exerting herself to create worked both ways and our bullets could not penetrate it either.
For a change, the Marshall's imposing frame was something of a detriment making him stand out as a target as he hunched over and joined my beloved and I behind our boulder. “Can she raise the water any higher?” he shouted over the thunder of the rifles all around us, but a glance at the look upon her face convinced me of the answer.
“The effort to create this is already extreme upon her!” I shouted back at him.
The Marshall looked at the priest, who was blessing the ground as fast as he could, but the ritual did take time. It was then that dead, in their own desperation, became creative. Seizing their fellows, a good dozen troopers were hurled over the wall of water with supernatural strength. The troopers landed like cats and each armed with a pair of revolvers began to advance on the Padre and the boulder the Marshall and I were shielding my wife with.
A hail of lead was loosed into them, but they shrugged off the bullets like an elephant is only annoyed at the bite of an ant. I decided to have my shotgun attempt to dissuade the closest of them to us and the blast at short range blew the trooper in half in a shower of viscera and intestines, but though in two halves, the dead trooper continued to crawl towards us with his hands.
“Mother of God!” the Marshall shouted as his pistol roared. The forty-four caliber ball struck the creature on its nose and exploded the skull as it exited the back. That, at last, was sufficient to stop its seemingly unstoppable advance. “The head!” he shouted. “Shoot them in their heads!”
One of them managed to get close enough to the Padre to raise his pistol, but with an undulating war cry, Two Feathers leapt to the priest's aid and sank his tomahawk blade completely into the skull of the trooper. The evil fled the destroyed body with a flash and again it was returned to its actual state of decay.
His victory was short lived as a bullet slammed into his bicep, throwing him to the ground in pain. The Padre made to stop his ritual to help him, but the big Lakota urged him to continue his blessing as Benjamin snatched the bandana from his neck and began to bind the wound.
The shout of how to destroy the creatures was carried up and down our battle line and the miners, fair shots all, quickly adjusted their aim and the invaders were cut down in the open.
A roll of thunder across the valley announced that the Padre had completed his ritual which brought about the most unnatural of wails of the remaining creatures, trapped on the now consecrated ground. They burst into a hot, white flame and the sound of their rage and agony haunts my dreams to this very day. While Herr Nietzsche may declare that 'God is dead', there are those of us who are well acquainted with the works of the Lord first hand who know better. With a final shriek of defiance, the hilltop shook and the creatures were burned away to nothing, cast back into the pit from whence they had come.
With a cry of relief, my beloved ceased her exertion and the water fell with a great clap upon the ground to flow back to the natural bed of the river.
We stood, a bit dazed in the light of a new day in our victory over an evil foul beyond words.
Jasmine and I went over to Benjamin to see to his wound, fortunately mostly a graze of a bullet that passed in and out of his arm without striking the bone. My hip flask of Glenlivet both eased his pain and added to it when I used a bit to clean out the wound. He swore mightily in his native Lakota, which would not at all look nice in print and he can be forgiven the exigent circumstances being what they were. We bound it tightly until we could get him to the Doctor's office back in Carlin.
That accomplished we stood to find the men clustered around the Marshall, congratulating him. A trio of cheers were cried and the big man had the grace to blush despite the annoyed twitching of that great mustache of his. We arrived just as he turned to Mr. Horton and Don Ricardo. “Gentlemen, are you both prepared to have your feud settled?”
Jake Horton rubbed his fleshy nose and looked his rival in the eye. “I don't know about you, Juan, but I feel a damned fool us being at each others throats while this was going on.” The diminutive man with the large ego nodded his head in shame.
“Si, Señor Horton. We have done our home a great disservice.”
“You were both used,” Marshall Kingston told them, “but you both allowed yourselves to be used. Now, let's go to the Assayers and settle this.”
“Half a moment, Marshall,” Horton replied. “Juan, your claim is the stake ends on the west side of the creek where the canyon wash joins it. I had been saying it was on the east side up by the boulder. What do you say we split the difference and say the creek is the boundary and the wash is the southern most of both our claims?”
Don Juan rubbed his chin in thought. “I will agree to that, if,” he said, drawing out his voice before a grin split his swarthy face. “If you and your lovely wife will be my guests for supper. We will have a fiesta and celebrate as amigos, no?”
Horton stuck out his hand. “Yes!” he declared as the two shook on it.
September 24th, 1874
Horton Boarding House, Carlin, Nevada
Well, I would assuredly like to report that all was well that ended well in Carlin, even as that wasn't even close to the end of things. Despite the supernatural that threads throughout my story, this was not, in point of fact, a fairy tale. Oh we all had a grand time at the Ricardo Hacienda that evening, eating far too many burritos and drinking more tequila than perhaps was wise, but all things in moderation as the Good Book tells us, even moderation every now and then.
Perhaps the most touching moment was seeing the softer side of Jack Kingston as he was introduced to Don Juan's eldest daughter, Rosetta. Despite the Marshall's bashful introduction and tongue tied beginning, the two of them got on like a cactus and the summer sun and spent the rest of the night dancing to the amateur musicians that worked throughout the estate pressed into service as a band playing lively traditional music. Yes, the Marshall and Rosetta got on very sweetly, but that's a story for another day.
Still, we spent days going over the remains of Fort Carlin, trying to find some clue as to what happened. The bodies we could identify we buried with all the dignity we could grant the departed, but less than half of the Forts assigned troops could be accounted for. Colonel Goodkind, we discovered, had not even been there, but had been away on leave, courting and marrying his new bride, the former Harriet Lumstock in the Arizona Territory. Though there was more than a little muttering about the convenient timing of his trip, he was reassigned back east, neither the Marshall nor I ever laid eyes on him in Carlin. Further, there was a distinct lack of evidence beyond the superficial of the coincidence variety that the Colonel had any part in what transpired in Carlin, but that did not keep the Marshall from advising his superiors back east that Colonel Goodkind bore watching.
Speaking of coincidence, I am advised by my attorney that pointing out the Colonel's financial fortunes were hitched to a particularly vigorous rising star during this period does not, in fact rise to the level of libel. As you may draw your own conclusions neither does my pointing out that both Don Juan and Mr Horton found the area they had been feuding over to have a particularly rich vein of gold, that was under Union control for most of that feud. However, as a Christian man it would be unseemly of me to suspect one had anything to do with the other.
Doctor Cooper, fortunately a subscriber to The Lancet, had read with interest the articles published by Sir Joseph Lister, Bt, and was an early convert to the Anti-septic and Sanitary Movement. His clean practice, body, and thoroughly sterilized tools meant that Benjamin had only a pair of scars to brag about his wound later in life and suffered neither amputation, nor even any loss of use of his arm.
Despite all of this radiance of Fortune smiling on us, it was still twenty days of back and forth telegrams to Washington before, spoiling the magnificent breakfast Mrs Horton was providing us, the Marshall finally decided to inform us of what had transpired. I was dressed in one of my favorite linen suits of light, robins egg blue with a red paisley vest I found particularly natty, in anticipation of my darling wife and I spending the day practicing my trade in my current favorite of the town's gambling halls.
Jasmine, well, my beloved is always beautiful, but she had just received from San Francisco a dress that, were its advertising to be believed, a magnificent dress was all the rage in Paris. It was crimson silk, with black lace accents along her decolletage and matching gloves that rose to her elbow. It was a straight line skirt, without bustle and clung to her in a manner that still sets my heart to beating. Even the Marshall's voice caught in his throat as his eyes fell on her and he doffed his hat to kiss her hand I felt just a touch smug and proud of my wife. “Madam,” he proclaimed, “were it not already burning, you would set the sun alight with jealousy.”
“Why Marshall,” she chided him. “Whatever shall your doting Rosetta say to your being so free with your compliments?”
“I do feel somewhat safe, madam,” he replied, “as you are already the wife of my best friend. I believe scandal can be avoided by all concerned.”
Benjamin, whose dower face was just a touch bemused as he had his arm free from the sling and was slowly using it once more as he buttered one of Mrs Horton's excellent biscuits. “What are you planning, you great walrus?”
While my friend Jack had many virtues, false innocence was not one of them and none of us were fooled by the act he aspired to. “I have received a telegram from the Solicitor General of the United States, Mr. Benjamin Bristow, who informs me both that my assignment here is satisfactorily complete, and approving of my request.”
“What request is that, pray?” I demanded, feeling every inch as wary as when originally press ganged into service with him.
“My request for a staff on retainer,” he informed us. “There is sufficient issues in San Francisco that I am assured I will not be sent roving again, and thus this is my last ride into the wilderness as it were. And as I am awarded a staff, I would like to offer all of you to come with me to San Francisco as my deputies.”
I stroked my goatee thoughtfully. “The Immortals of 'Black' Jack Kingston?” I demanded with a chuckle. “History would never be the same!”
“You're still not funny, Georgian,” Two Feathers informed me. He then looked up at the expectant face of the Marshall. “All of us?” he wanted to know.
“Indeed, Benjamin,” Jack assured him. “Not only do I have a Presidential Pardon for that misunderstanding in Carson City, but a steady wage and deputy's star for you.” He turned to my wife and bowed again. “And for you, Mrs Hallowell, if you'll have it. I need both you and your husband.”
Jasmine's crystal blue eyes turned to me and once more I felt Cupid's arrow pierce my heart. “San Francisco is a beautiful town, my love,” she told me needlessly. “I would think a quite nice place to raise a family.”
So, with great lament, ended my vagabond days of simple card playing. The four of us hied ourselves to the photography studio to take the portrait that adorns the rear of this book on our way to the rail station to book tickets back to San Francisco. While my vagabond days were ending, the adventures of 'Black' Jack Kingston, United States Marshall and His Immortals were only just beginning. But those are also tales, for another day.
* Finis *
About The Author
James Howard Hallowell was born on a cotton plantation near Madison, Georgia in 1845, along with his future common law wife, Jasmine. The son of a wagon maker employed by the plantation owner, James was educated at Franklin College which would become the University of Georgia, receiving a degree in mathematics. Returning home just in time for the Civil War, he served in the Confederate Cavalry and was taken prisoner where he was pressed into Union service and met his life-long friend, Jack Kingston. Returning to Georgia after the war he rescued Jasmine from the ruins of the plantation he had grown up on and the two headed west where they sought their fortune.
Falling in love, the couple exchanged vows before a missionary minister of the Church of England who held the anti-miscegenation laws of the time to be immoral. The Hallowells were founding members of the group that came to be known as the Immortals. Settling in San Francisco, Hallowell eventually retired from adventures and became a mathematics professor at the nascent University of California, Berkeley where he penned Hallowell's Proof, considered one of the founding theorems of Game Theory.
An author in his spare time, James wrote a series of 'pulp' books about his adventures with the Immortals and the legendary lawman 'Black' Jack Kingston. He died in 1921 at the age of 76 of natural causes, outlived only by a few minutes by his wife who it was said died of a broken heart. They were buried in the same casket, as inseparable in death as they were in life and are interred at the historic Sunset View Cemetery. In 1960, the mathematics department of Berkeley erected a statue of the pioneering couple, seated, on Faculty Glade, with a placard that reads:
Freedom is always a choice