A LONE STAR RANGER.
By William Jones
The Harvard Monthly, 30 June 1900
He was a runt of a man, youthful
looking as a boy and, as a sheriff in
By and by he became one of the Texas Rangers, and got to riding up and down the Red River with that band of jolly horsemen, raiding here a den of horse thieves, wiping out of existence there a nest of road-agents, and now and again pushing over the River into the Indian Country, hot on the steaming trail of whiskey-peddlers and cattle thieves. And wherever went the fame of that Winchester of his, that little saddle carbine, there he became known as Joe-Bill, a man who in good old Ranger fashion "stayed with his man" till he got him; and if he "quit his man," it was because, as friend and foe well knew, human strength and pony strength and powder had failed him. Joe-Bill bumped into trouble one day, he bumped his head hard. It was in this way.
He and eleven other Rangers one morning at sunrise rode upon Bud Terry's gang of cattle thieves just as they had crossed the River into the Chickasaw Country. There were five in Bud's gang; and all that saved them from a nasty mix-up with the Rangers there on the open bottom was a stampede of the cattle at the moment the "fireworks" got to cracking behind them. They scattered like a bunch of quails, each man "pulling his freight" straight through the herd and in a whirl of sand that the cattle kicked up in their flight.
The stampede ended at the foot of a sand hill that loomed up on the edge of the bottom-land. The hill split the herd into a V, the left wing of which veered off up the River, while the other swung back into the valley and, in broken bunches, bolted for the ford. The Rangers halted to let the wind roll away the dust and sand that hung in the air. In less than a minute the view of the plum bushes on the slope as well as those on the ridge was as clear as ever; but nowhere could Bud Terry or any of his gang be seen.
The Rangers were thrown clear off the track for the moment. Not even finding a single sign of a pony track, they were puzzled which way to turn. Besides it was hard travelling for the ponies. At every step they sank up to the knee in sand, and the prickly burrs of the sand hill snarled the tail into a bludgeon of needles.
One of the Rangers--Tony Owens it was, a lanky sheriff of Marysville--said afterwards that Joe-Bill was for turning back. Indeed, he had faced his pony toward the ford when instantly both he and Tony caught the flitting glimpse of two horsemen shooting like a meteor over the bank of the River a half mile down stream.
"Stay yar, Tony!" yelled the little Ranger at the top of his piping voice, his eyes flashing. "An' the rest o' you boys go like yeller hell for the ford an' head 'em off 'fore they get over the River to 'em hills and black-jacks!"
The men were off in the snap of a
finger; and in five minutes
"Ha! ha!" chuckled Joe-Bill merrily at the sound of all that, "Reckon, Tony, we'll smoke 'em this time." and then the two Rangers rode a bee-line for the bank down which they had seen the horsemen vanish. Within a hundred and fifty yards of the place, a bare-headed man a-foot with a carbine in the hand popped over the bank; and, not seeing Joe-Bill and Tony coming up on his left, ran, crouching as he went, for a dense growth of plum bushes on the slope of the sand hill.
"Whoap! whoap!" yelled the two Rangers, riding at full speed, pumping their Winchesters as they came, and digging up the sand all round him.
He jumped behind a scraggy cottonwood and dropped on a knee. He fired once, and that one time he broke the neck of Joe-Bill's pony, tumbling the animal nose first into the ground and spilling the wiry little Ranger in a double heap beyond. Tony instantly jerked his pony back on the haunches, bouncing it stiff legged in a shower of sand as it stopped. Then he pitched the reins over the pony's head and leaped from the saddle. And as he stood erect in front of Joe-Bill, who was then pulling himself together from the throw, he waited, carbine in hand, for the outlaw to poke his head from behind the tree for another shot.
But as soon as Bud Terry threw the shell of the cartridge from the carbine, he suddenly spun on the knee and as quickly jumped to his feet; for behind him came the other Rangers, scrambling over the bank, and covering him with their guns as they swore and yelled, "Throw up! throw up! Quick, quick!"
Surrounded and the odds heavily against him, and seeing nothing else to do but follow what the Rangers bade or be riddled with Winchester forty-fours, the bandit threw the carbine in the sand at his feet, and flung up both hands. As the Rangers drew near, he backed against the tree, and shot fiery glances at them from his clear blue eyes.
"Well, Bud," sneered Joe-Bill, limping up and planting himself in front of the bandit. "Sorter in hot water, et: Where'd 'em pardners o' yourn skoot to? Quick! Spit it out!:
Not a tremor twitched between the thin hard lips of the outlaw as he pressed them together as tight as a vice.
"Whar'd 'at tother man go, the one that rode down the bank with you?" Joe-Bill put in impatiently, on finding the man would not answer the first questions.
Again there was no reply. Nor was there a reply to any of the questions which the Rangers put to the outlaw. Not a whisper did he "squeal" of his men, not a sign did he make of the direction in which they went; and not for one single thing did he open his mouth, not even when the Rangers were strangling him by the neck with a lasso as they pulled him up a low limb of the cottonwood. On being let down he simply coughed and spat; and instead of giving the confession that was expected, he stared fixedly at the captors. And in a little while the smooth but sharp, red-tanned features regained their wonted color.
Joe-Bill was not quite the kind to sit there on the grass with him and argue and coax the questions out over a bottle of Bourbon and a cigarette. He quickly wound the business up with a "neck-tie party." Then leaving Bud swinging by the neck to the limb of the cottonwood, he whipped out his six-shooter and slid down the bank at the head of him men to track up the outlaw's mate.
The Rangers had no more than reached
the sand bar at the edge of the water when pah! cracked a
"Hold up, boys! Look out!" shrieked the little leader, dodging; and as he dodged, he fired twice up at the log a second before a slouch black hat had ducked behind. At the last shot, the person of the slouch hat slapped both hands over the forehead and, with a scream, hunged face forward over the log.
"My God, boys, what in hell's 'at!" drawled Joe-Bill, standing amazed in his tracks as he beheld the back and shoulders of a figure dangling limply over the log on its belly, and the flood of loose brown hair that had crowded off the hat obscuring the head from view.
"Recon you've winged the she-one by the looks o' the feathers." remarked a Ranger in a tone of disgust.
"She-one!" gasped Joe-Bill, mumbling immediately after an oath and something else to himself.
"Yes, a she-one!" repeated Tony, gritting his teeth.
"Then it's all up if that's the case," sighed Joe-Bill. "But look what the jack-pot wuz," the Ranger added, slapping the barrel of his six-shooter on the hip and then pointing it in the direction of the cottonwood; "Texas's got one reward on that feller, Arkansas's got 'nother, the Injun Country's got 'nother--three of 'em--an' all on that Bud Terry swingin' yon'er. An' we wuz the boys to get it, yes, an' on Bud Terry, the man what's put more marshals an' sheriffs to sleep 'an any man in these parts in a good long year. An' 'at calico," jabbing his six-shooter in the air towards the log, "has to spile the whole dam' game!"
"WEll, it's done bin did, an' thar ain't no use o' slobberin' 'bout it now," grumbled Tony, twirling his sandy moustache as he started toward the log. The Rangers scrambled after, with Joe-Bill lagging behind, his sombrero pulled far down over his tea-cup face. The Ranger leader joined the men as they were laying the woman out on her back. She was of medium size with coarse waxen features. She had on a pair of cowboy boots. They were wet, and her white calico basque and skirt were drenched through and through.
Joe-Bill was a bit startled for an instant at the sight of the blood that had spattered as big as a silver dollar over the left eye and was then oozing from the bullet hole.
"Wait a while, boys!" he pleaded, in a tone that for him was unusually troubled, as he beheld the Rangers starting to go. "Wait 'll I come back from the River."
They waited, some seated on the log and on the sand, while others stood and walked about. He returned in a few minutes from the River with the crown of his sombrero full of water. The men rolled cigarettes and smoked, but whispered never a word while their leader knelt beside the woman he had slain and washed the clotted blood from her hands, from her face and from her hair. With his own red bandana handkerchief he wiped her dry, and with it he tied up her head, covering the bullet hole.
"Now, boys, gi' me a lift," he asked in a voice somewhat relieved, as he rose to his feet. "An' let's take her to her ole man swingin' in the tree yon'er."
They responded readily, lifting her up without letting him take hold. Joe-Bill came behind, looking now at her hat that he held in one hand and then at her Winchester that he held in the other. And when the Rangers laid the woman on her back, it was in the thin shade of the cottonwood; her head they rested near the place where the toes of Bud's boots were slightly bending over the tops of the grass. Joe-Bill came up pale. The men were then off down the bank, going to their horses across the River. He stopped only long enough to cover gently, very gently, the face of the woman with the slouch back hat.
Her Winchester he gave to a Ranger;
and when he rode away with Tony, it was on Bud Terry's pony that the men had
captured in the River. And when the
Rangers met on the
They turned in the saddle and saw a buzzard poise on the wing over the lone cottonwood across the River. They watched it circle and slowly descend and light upon the tree. A second buzzard drifted out of the steel-blue dome of the sky; and after that another, and still another, till presently the sky above the cottonwood was full of a whirl of them. Then they began to blacken the tree; and from the tree some dropped to the ground, strutting as soon as they lit along an alignment, round a circle, and now and again hopping upon a mound n the middle, upon a mound that lifted them a wing above the others.
"Ugh!" grunted Tony as the
men turned into the road that led to Wichita Falls. "Bud Terry might 'a' know'd
what he wuz a-comin' to
when we cornered him thar this mornin'.
The ride back to the Falls was hot and dry and dusty under the scorching sun. Not a blade of grass was astir. The Rangers riding two by two along the road were all the life to be seen over the broad plain. All the morning they rode and long past the hour of noon, with scarcely a mention of the event of the morning. And none was more silent about it than the little Ranger leader who went riding ahead by the side of Tony Owens, his old standby. Indeed, the only sound to break in upon the jingle of the rowels, the flip-flap of the saddle pockets, and the clatter of the pony dog-trot was now and again the hum of a cow-boy melody or a Ranger song of the Plains.
It was two by Joe-Bill's watch before the hungry Rangers rode within sight of the Falls. The distant roofs gleamed white through the shimmer of heat that danced quiveringly over the brown-parched prairie between them and the town. Then Joe-Bill drew rein and turned his pony about facing the men. When they were gathered before him he hung his head and fumbled for a while with the pommel. Then drawing a long breath, he began in that subdued tone of his,
"'Bout 'at reward on Bud Terry, boys, reckon you'd better count me out."
"What's up now, Joe-Bill?" interrupted Tony, looking surprised as he tipped back his sombrero.
"Nothin' much, 'cept I ain't a-wantin' no money out o' this game!"
"Ain't a-wantin' no money out o' this game!" laughed Tony. "Why, it's much yourn as ourn. Fact it's more yourn 'an ourn, 'cause you're the boy that smoked 'em."
"Maybe so," answered Joe-Bill, 'maybe so, 'cordin' to your way o' lookin' at it. Tain't 'at no how what's bothering me a heap. Well--don't know ez I can tell ef I want to. You recomember, boys that woman in the Lane Gang Gus Thomas shot last year. You know Gus got two hundred for 'at business. He wuz a good boy, 'at Gus, allus acarryin' his heart in his hand. But somehow he wuzn't same man after he killed 'at woman. His pardners, too, his best friends, sorter turned their backs on him. Now the night Gus got the money he settled into his bunk as well an' sound as any man yar. Gus never woke from 'at sleep, no he didn't. He jus' shut his eyes an' slept an' slept. An' you can bet your lie he'll be a-sleepin' too till hell freezes over."
Joe-Bill paused for a second and then continued in a slower voice. It's hard 'nough, boys, to have to kill a woman. But, no pardners, don't talk to me 'bout takin' money for it. O' course 'at woman this mornin' wuz a heller, she wuz, you can bet your boots. An' she wuz a-huntin' me too when she cut the star off my hat. But jes; the same I ain't a-takin' no money out o' this shootin' match. Now, boys," he closed, gulping in this throat in the attempt to control his feelings, "you ain't a-goin' back on me for shootin' 'at woman, is you? No, don't do it. I ain't a-goin' in 'at town with you, boys. Now gi' me your han's. I quit you to-day, an' it's for good. I ain't a Lone Star Ranger no more."
That was the last he said; and when he had grasped the last hand, he spurred his tired pony back into the road he had been riding ever since the morning. The Rangers looked at him for a moment and then turned their ponies toward the Falls. Again and again they looked back over their shoulders at the lone rider becoming fainter as the distance between them and him widened. Before they came to the town, they dispersed each in a different direction; and no one knew of their entrance.
As the days went by and the villagers missed Joe-Bill, they got to asking, "Where's our shorty?" "When's the boy comin' home?" "Why ain't he a-ridin' the Lone Star border no more?"
The reward is still on for Bud Terry, so they say along the Red River border. And no one has yet come to claim it.