For your reading pleasure (I hope), here are the 1st. three chapters of my latest Historical Novel/Western, Crossing The Dead Line. You can buy it for the very low price of just 99 cents by clicking
1875: Crawford County, AR.
Bass Reeves, the man on the large red stallion named Blaze after the white blaze on its forehead, nudged his horse gently and they trotted up to meet a very familiar figure riding on horseback towards Bass’ farm, U.S. Marshal James F. Fagan. It was still early in the morning, and wisps of fog clung tenaciously to the lower parts of Reeves’ farm.
“What’s got you to come all the way out here from Fort Smith this foggy mornin’, Jim?” Bass asked. “Is it my Jennie’s delicious cookin’? She’s a mighty fine cook, but I daresay you can find a fillin’ enough breakfast without travelin’ this far to get it.”
“Yeah, I suppose so, Bass,” Jim Fagan replied, “but not one that’s any grander or that’d stick to my ribs any better.”
Smoke coming from the chimney of the eight-room house Bass Reeves had built by hand for his wife and ten children, five boys and five girls, wafted the enticing scents of breakfast to the two men. His wife’s name was Nellie Jennie, but she usually went by just Jennie. Reeves and Fagan could smell bacon frying, and eggs, and the aroma of biscuits was like a Siren call to their rumbling stomachs.
“Well, come on in, then; what’s one more mouth to feed—the more the merrier. But, still, I don’t think that the prospect of breakfast is the only thing that brought you to Van Buren today. Fess up; tell me the real reason for your visit. Is it that you have another job scoutin’ for me to do, is that it? The extra money sure would be appreciated.”
“After breakfast, Bass, if you don’t mind. I do have some business to discuss with you, but I’d rather tell you with some grub in me first, if it’s all the same to you.”
The two men went into Reeves’ house and stood awkwardly around the kitchen table. They removed their hats, and Bass said to his wife: “You remember Marshal Jim Fagan, don’t you, Jennie? He dropped by to talk about some business, and I invited him to breakfast with us.”
“Talk?” Nellie said. She wore a blue-and-white gingham dress. “It looks more like he’s here to eat. No offense, Marshal. The good Lord’s blessed us with an overabundance, so pull up a chair and dig in! There’s plenty to go around.”
“Thanks, Ma’am. Sorry to barge in unannounced on you,” Fagan apologized.
The two men then took seats at the already crowded breakfast table. Jane asked one of her sons, Bennie, to say the Grace before the meal, which he did, despite seeming a little embarrassed to be doing it in front of company.
“God is great, God is good, thank you God for this food. Amen,” he concluded, with everyone then saying “amen,” after him.
Reeves and Fagan were a study in contrasts. Bass Reeves had been a slave, but had been made free by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. He’d lived for a time in the Indian Territory, learning the languages of several tribes there, after high-tailing it out of Texas. He had used his massive fists to pummel his owner following a dispute over a card game. The Indian Territory, one of the last refuges for people trying to escape the law, seemed the best place to hole up for awhile. Other than his fleeing his past owner to escape to a new life and freedom, Reeves was known to be a very honorable and trustworthy man, and he was fluent in several Indian tongues he’d picked up while living in the Indian Territory.
Physically imposing, Bass stood six foot two inches tall. He was a crack shot with both pistols and his Winchester carbine rifle, and liked to carry his Colt .45s butt-first in his holsters. This made is easier for Reeves to cross-draw his Colts, and he considered this method to be the fastest way for someone to draw on an opponent. Besides his imposing height (he was a good three inches taller than Fagan) and his frame of 180 pounds of lean muscle, perhaps Bass’s most noticeable feature was his large, bushy black mustache.
U.S. Marshal James F. Fagan was a tough but kind man, unless you got on his wrong side. Shorter and weighing less than Reeves, at around 165 pounds, he was nevertheless an excellent fighter and a very good shot, as well. He had a full beard and mustache, much like President Ulysses S. Grant. Grant had appointed him, Judge Isaac C. Parker, and the judge’s Prosecuting Attorney W.H.H. Clayton to help bring justice to the Wild West and make it a bit less wild and more civilized.
After the meal, punctuated by lively banter between Reeves’ children, curiosity got the better of Bass and he asked Jim once again what the business was that had sent him riding out to his farm.
“I was going to tell you alone, but this concerns you, too, Ma’am,” Fagan said, addressing Bass’ wife, “and really your entire family. You see, I’m on a mission to hire two hundred new Deputy U.S. Marshals, Bass, and I and Judge Isaac C. Parker want you to be one of the two hundred. You know the Indian and Oklahoma Territory as well as a cook knows her kitchen, and you can communicate with the Indians in their own languages. What I’m sayin’, Bass, is if you want it, you can have one of the new jobs.”
“Oh, c’mon, Jim,” Bass replied, “You really want me? I’d be likely the first black lawman ever in this area. You think people would show me the respect of the office, or just take one look at the color of my skin and either laugh in my face or cuss me when they see me?”
“There’re a lot of changes in the air, Bass, and people, in general, in this state have already gone through more changes than they ever thought they would in their entire lives,” Fagan said. “They’ll accept you, especially when they see that you’re helpin’ get rid of the outlaws that descend down on us from the Indian and Oklahoma Territories.”
“Maybe so, Jim, but the goin’ won’t be smooth, at least not ‘til folks get used to the idea of a black man bein’ a lawman. But, aside from that, I think you’re holdin’ back on me, Jim. What else does the job entail, and what’s the pay like?”
“Well, I’m not gonna lie to you, Bass, you bein’ what I consider to be a friend, and not after I’ve sat down to such a great breakfast, for sure. There are plenty of dangers, like the possibility of bein’ ambushed by the very outlaws you’re searching for, and shot, or getting’ strung up by them. They’ve done it to lawmen before, and with you, and the other black men we’re intendin’ on hiring, some of the outlaws will want to get you just because you ain’t…’cause you ain’t got the same color of skin as they do.”
“I would show them the same treatment as anyone else who I’d catch breakin’ the law. The Civil War’s over, whether some want to live in the past or not. They’d either get arrested and cuffed, or if they tried to go for their guns, they’d get dead.,” Reeves said.
“You’ve go a decent idea of what it’d be like, bein’ a U.S. Deputy Marshal, already, of course, ‘cause of your years spent scouting for us and translating the Indians’ languages. You’ve helped save lives and reduce misunderstandings considerably. But, you know, the saying’s true: ‘No Sunday West of St. Louis, No God West of Ft. Smith.’’
“Travel eighty miles away from Ft. Smith, headed West or towards the Oklahoma and Indian Territories,” U.S. Marshal James F. Fagan continued, “and you hit an invisible line, one you can’t see but that the outlaws are very well aware of. It’s got a name, the ‘dead line,’ and if you cross over it, you become fair game.”
“You tryin’ to scare me away from acceptin’ the job now, Jim? You think I’m not up to doin’ it? Is that what you’re sayin’?”
“No. I just want you to know what you’re in for. You’ve got definite skills with guns, and that will be one factor that might keep you alive long enough to become successful. How many Turkey Shoots is it that you’ve been banned from enterin’ now, Bass? Six, or is it seven, maybe?”
“I lost count, and I don’t bother tryin’ to keep a record of such things,” Bass answered. “It’s been more ’en five, and I guess less than a dozen, not that it really matters.”
“That’s mighty fine shootin’, but the turkeys don’t shoot back at you, of course. I’ve seen you draw, though, when you’ve acted as a scout, and you are one of the fastest I ever did see, Bass.
“You asked me about the pay,” Fagan went on. “You ain’t gonna become a rich man actin’ as a Deputy U.S. Marshal, but the pay’s not that bad, neither. And, though you have to ride a round-trip circuit of over eight hundred miles, and you’d be away from your family for months—that’s why I felt it was important to include your wife in on this, so all of you will know both the pros and cons of takin’ on this duty and also wearin’ the badge of a lawman—you do a good job, and bring in the outlaws you get sent out after, then you can earn several hundred dollars when you return.”
“What’s it profit a man to gain the world but lose his soul?” Jane interjected to her husband. “What’s a few hundred dollars if it costs you your soul, or your life? And, what’re we supposed to do, with you gone for months at a time? It’s a chore and a half to keep the farm goin’ even when you’re here every day.”
“My wife’s right, Jim,” Bass said, “as usual. But, our children are getting’ older, and bigger, Jane, and they’re pullin’ their weight and doin’ chores and, well, what’s a few months when the money I’d earn is more than I’d be able to make in over a year if I stayed? Raising and selling horses like we do earns us more money than our crops and livestock do, but still, all of it together wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans compared to what I could earn as a Deputy U.S. Marshal. When you need my decision, Jim?”
“I hate to be pushy,” Fagan said, “but, now. If you’d like the job, I’d want you to ride back with me to Ft. Smith, so’s you can get sworn in as soon as possible and get your first arrest warrants from Judge Parker. I’ve got a lot more people to visit, and minds to convince, so I really need your answer now.”
“It’s an opportunity I can’t let slide by. It’s risky, and I appreciate that you told us about the risks; but, then again, what in life ain’t risky? I’ll take the job.”
Just like that, with one momentous decision, the lives of Bass Reeves and his family changed forever. He’d agreed to become one of the two hundred new U.S. Deputy Marshals. “What have I gotten myself into?” he thought to himself more than once on the ride back to Ft. Smith. He’d have many other occasions in the coming years throughout his career of over thirty years as a lawman to think the same thing.
Sept. 3, 1875: Fort Smith
“Bass,” Fagan said as they hitched up there horses outside of the Fort Smith Courthouse, “This is your lucky day.”
“I reckon it is, and I’m goin’ to do my best, Jim. I’m a little worried about meetin’ Judge Parker, though. What kind of man is he? He easy to get along with?”
“Oh, he’s okay when you get to know him. But, he’s already gettin’ a reputation as bein’ tough on criminals, especially murderers. He ain’t like the corrupt son of a bitch that came before him, Judge William Story; no, not like him at all.”
“I’ve heard he’s determined to be tough on crime and send a message to outlaws that their days of killin’ folks without any worry of gettin’ their necks stretched are over. More than a few men since he came to town in May must be sweatin’ bullets and quakin’ in their boots.”
“Yes,” Fagan answered, “and that’s really why I said that today’s your lucky day, ‘cause six men are scheduled to swing today. You’ll get the chance to see what will happen to some of the worst outlaws you catch. One thing’s for sure—the six that’ll be hung today won’t be terrorizin’ people and killin’ anyone else.”
“It just don’t seem possible, six at one time,” Reeves said.
“The gallows have been specially designed to hang twelve men at once, if Parker ever desires to do so. Eight were supposed to be hung today, but it’s been brought down to six.”
“One was shot tryin’ to escape, and the other’s sentence got commuted to life in prison, ‘cause of his young age. Still, it should be quite a show. It’s goin’ to be a grisly spectacle, but there’s sure to be a crowd, and maybe it’ll make people think twice ’fore they get it into their heads to murder someone.”
Five thousand gathered to watch the six outlaws led to the gallows. Entertainment was often hard to find, and people flocked to it wherever they found it, no matter how macabre. Some people brought their entire families in wagons and had blankets and picnic baskets with them. Preachers holding Bibles shouted God’s Holy Words and urged any sinners there to repent while they could.
“Judge Isaac C Parker,” one yelled to the crowds, who seemed largely to be trying to ignore him, “sentenced the six men today to be hung by their necks until they’re ‘dead, dead, dead!’ But, there’ll be a much more terrible fate that awaits them afterwards, when they’re cast into the pits of Hell! If you don’t want to join them, friends, repent now, while it’s not too late to save your immortal souls!”
“You’re the one who needs to ‘repent,’ Preacher!” a man said, and punched the preacher’s jaw, sending him staggering backwards.
“I’ve got no quarrel with you, friend,” the preacher said, holding his hands in front of him, palms towards the man who’d assaulted him, who was apparently drunk. The drunken man held a half-full bottle of whiskey in his left hand, which he then swung at the preacher’s head, who ducked just in time to avoid being struck by it.
“Getting my wife with child, and at least four other men’s wives! And you stand here, talkin’ about everybody else’s sins but your own!”
He reached for his holsters, but Fagan hurriedly restrained and handcuffed him before the drunk could draw his pistols.
“That’s enough, Sexton!” Fagan said to the drunken man, who suddenly looked abashed and ashamed at having broadcast his wife’s infidelity to the world. “C’mon, Reeves, help me get this guy to the jail, where he can cool off for awhile and get sobered up.”
Bass and Fagan were on either side of Sexton, who had suddenly gone limp, not wanting to be taken to jail. He didn’t so much resist, as drag his feet on the ground, as he was forcibly escorted to the jail, which was conveniently located underneath the courthouse.
“That blowhard had it comin’ to him!” Sexton protested. “You can’t do this to me! I’m the one who was wronged; you know that, Fagan! If anything, that preacher, Grant O’Keefe, should be the one you put in jail, not me!”
“That might be,” Fagan said, “but he’s not the one who was publically intoxicated and startin’ a fight—you were. You can tell the judge your story tomorrow, after you have cleared your thinkin.’ If you apologize, and pay the court fees, he might even dismiss the case, provided O’Keefe doesn’t press any charges.”
“Damn,” Sexton said, as Fagan locked him in a cell, “that preacher’s makin’ me miss the hangin’, too! When I get out of jail, I’ll—”
“You ain’t gonna do anything,” Fagan replied, “or I’ll have to come lookin’ for you, and you don’t want that, now do you?”
“No, I guess not,” Sexton said, as the key turned in his cell door. “Tell me what happens, though! Tell me how long they jerk, ‘fore they just hang there, won’t you?”
“Yeah, Sexton. I’ll do that for you; why not?”
The six men were led to the gallows in chains and shackles and had nooses put around their necks. They awaited the punishment for their crimes, each standing upon a trap door. The gallows were state-of-the-art, the latest and most efficient method for dealing with murderers.
“That man over there, Bass,” Fagan said, gesturing towards the person in question, “with the cigarette, is George Maledon, the hang man for Parker. “He’s got to have perfect timing, so as not to disappoint the onlookers and ruin their fun.”
Maledon yanked on the lever that opened the trap doors, and the six men fell in unison, kicking and spasming, the sounds of their necks snapping clearly audible in the sudden silence. There were random cheers, cat-calls, and sporadic clapping. The deaths were quick and brutal, six lives snuffed out as easily as one snuffs out candles. The crowds packed up their picnic baskets, folded their blankets, and slowly dispersed, many lingering to talk over the juicy details of the murders, the trials, and the hangings. A few stayed longer than the others, hoping to get their pictures taken with the corpses once the undertaker had positioned them in their coffins.
“C’mon, Reeves. Let’s not keep the judge waitin’ for us,” said Jim Fagan.
“Think he’ll have me start right away?” Bass asked.
“He’s been chompin’ at the bit, pushing me to hire the two hundred new deputies as soon as possible, so I’m guessin’ the answer to that would be a ‘yes.’”
Bass and Fagan met Judge Isaac C. Parker in his office at the Commisary. After Reeves was duly sworn in, Parker said to him that: “he would be in a position to serve as deputy to show the lawful as well as the lawless that a black man was the equal of any other law enforcement officer on the frontier.”
“Oh, yeah,” Parker added, shaking hands with Bass, “I’ve got your preliminary stack of arrest warrants, Reeves, and if James Fagan is correct about you, and if my initial impressions about you prove accurate, I have no doubt you’ll make one of the best U.S. Deputy Marshals there ever was.”
As they walked back towards their horses. Fagan asked: “What did you think of Parker? You still up for the job, Reeves?”
“I reckon he’ll be as good of a boss as any, but he don’t seem to have much of a sense of humor. I guess he wouldn’t, though, bein’ a judge and all, and havin’ a reputation to maintain. As for the job, I believe I can handle it. I haven’t backed down from hard work ever in my life, and I’m not goin’ to start now. But there’s one thing, Jim, I ain’t told you yet…”
“Is it somethin’ I need to know, Bass? Somethin’ that might stop you from bein’ a lawman?”
“That depends on your point of view. I ain’t afraid of anyone nor anything, and this stack of warrants, to me, is more men that’re goin to find themselves in prison or dead sooner than they think. The fact is, Jim—I’m embarrassed to say this—I never learned how to read nor write.”
“That does present a problem, Reeves. Want me to tell Parker you can’t hack it? If you can’t, you can’t; nobody will think any less of you,” Fagan said. He paused a moment, lost in thought; then he said: “There may be a way, still. How good would you say your memory is? I figure it must be pretty good, considerin’ how you’ve been able to pick up so many different Indian languages.”
“Yeah, if I hear somethin’ once, I remember it forever.”
“Well, then, Mr. New Deputy U.S. Marshal,” Fagan said. “Ride with me over to headquarters, and let’s see how long it takes you to memorize that stack of warrants. I’ll test you on it, when you think you got them memorized, and if you pass the test, Parker doesn’t have to be the wiser. I’ll help you with the reports, too—just dictate to me what you want included in them, and I’ll write them for you.”
“If this works, Jim, I’m gonna name my next boy after you!”
“Next? Ain’t five enough for you?”
“It is, yeah,” Bass said, “but don’t you think that ‘James,’ would be a silly name for a girl?”
“There’s thirty arrest warrants in this stack, Bass,” Jim told his friend at the main U.S. Marshal’s building in his office. “And we’ve gone over them just two times. You sure you’re ready for me to give you the test?”
“One time would’a been fine by me. The second was just to make sure. Don’t everyone memorize things every day?” Bass asked.
“Yeah, that they do. But not thirty arrest warrants. That kinda thing just ain’t done, least not by anyone I’ve ever known. But, if you’re positive you don’t need me to read them to you again—”
“I’m positive. I wouldn’t tell you I was if I wasn’t.”
“How about this warrant, then,” Fagan asked, holding one towards Bass so that he could see it briefly. “Who’s it for, and why?”
“That’d be for the half-breed, Cherokee Dan, wanted for stealin’ horses and the armed robbery of stagecoaches.”
“You sure you didn’t read that just now, when I showed the warrant to you?”
“I done told you, I can’t read nor write. I just sees different marks, or symbols, on the paper and use them to remember, kinda like when I read signs or recognize marks the Seminoles or Creeks leave on rocks, or when I can tell what animal has left certain tracks. I gets a clear picture in my head, a whole story sometimes.”
“Okay. I don’t know why, but I believe you, Bass. But, let’s go over the rest of this stack, if it’s all the same to you.”
“Why not? I don’t want to show off, though, or take up too much of your afternoon.”
“Believe me, Bass,” Fagan replied, “It ain’t a waste of my time. I ain’t seen many miracles in my life. If you can tell me what’s on these other warrants—”
“I been called a lot of things but never a ‘miracle.’ You ain’t a-funnin’ with me, are you? Raisin’ my hopes up, just to make a joke at my expense?”
“No. My wife says I got less of a sense of humor than even Judge Parker. She hasn’t left me yet, though, despite that.”
“You must be doin’ somethin’ right, yeah? Maybe in the sack?”
“I wouldn’t say that, but I ain’t got any complaints yet.—Now, how about this warrant, Bass?”
The two men went through the entire stack of warrants with Reeves being able to answer every one of Fagan’s questions about them. Then, Jim chose some randomly, mixed them up face down on his desk, and still the result was the same: Bass didn’t get one answer wrong.
“Did I pass the test, Jim?” Bass asked.
“What do you think? You know you did, without me tellin’ you. You ride out tomorrow, Reeves. Tonight, you can sleep in the bunkhouse with the other s. There’s only ten ’sides you—I still need to hire more men, and some I already hired are on the trail of the outlaws on their warrants and ain’t expected back for at least a month.
“Oh, and Reeves, I got something else to give you—this badge,” Fagan said, reaching into his shirt pocket and revealing to Bass the shiny badge he had in his hand. “Wear it proudly, and don’t dishonor it. It represents more than you and I combined.”
“Never the Same Again”
Reeves was introduced that evening to the man who would be his posse-cook, William or Bill Leach. Leach would serve as both a member of a posse, if necessary, and also prepare and cook the meals on their round-trips after outlaws. Leach had already purchased the supplies they’d need and had their wagon stocked with essentials like potatoes, flour, coffee, sugar, sacks of dried beans and rice, a couple of chickens in cages, and dried jerky. He cooked the supper that night for everyone in the bunkhouse, a hearty beef and vegetable stew with biscuits to sop up the gravy.
“Bill, you cook like this for every meal and I’ll come back weighin’ more than when I left!” Bass joked with him.
“Humph,” Leach said grumpily. “I hope you’re not as big of a greenhorn as you look.”
“Leach!” Jim Fagan said. “You’re talkin’ to a man who’s lived in the Indian Territory, who’s got experience scoutin’, blazing trails, and roughin’ it. He ain’t no ‘greenhorn.’ He’s likely camped in the wilderness more ’en you have!”
“That’s okay, Jim,” Bass said. “I got some experience, it’s true; but, it’s the first time Leach’s met me, and he’s is right that I ain’t never been the one goin’ after the criminals yet. I’ve just helped while you and other Marshals and Deputy Marshals did the hardest work, arrestin’ them. In some ways, I am a greenhorn.”
“Reeves,” Leach said, ladling stew into Bass’s bowl, “I’ll tell you what it’s like, crossing the dead line your first time, if you want to know. It’s kinda like havin’ relations with a woman for yer first time. You’ll never be the same again.”
“What would you know about that, Leach?” Fagan asked the cook. “If I was you, Bass, I’d keep my eye on the chickens, if you get what I mean.”
“I’ve had my share of women,” Leach said. “I’ve been around the block. I’m just tryin’ to tell Reeves here what he’s in for, as you apparently haven’t.”
“I’ve told him the dangers, and—“
“Don’t you worry about me, Bill,” Bass said. “I ain’t ran into any trouble yet that I couldn’t deal with. Now, how about you hold off on makin’ any judgments, at least ’til after a week or two’s passed.”
Fagan and Reeves ate their last meal together at a long communal table they shared with the other ten Deputy U.S. Marshals. They talked a little bit more about what Leach had said, and about what might lie ahead.
“Don’t let Leach get to you, Bass,” Jim said. “That wasn’t half bad, what you said to him about not makin’ any sudden judgments.”
“There wouldn’t be many surprises in life if everyone acted like others think they oughta act. I aim to change Leach’s opinion of me within the week.”
“You’re just one surprise after another, ain’t you, Reeves?”
“I’d still be back in Texas, the property of another man, if I wasn’t, I reckon.”
Reeves and Leach traveled three days before they finally made it to the dead line. They knew they’d reached it when they began to see notes carved into boards or written on small cards that outlaws had posted by nailing to trees. The notes were threats and warnings they’d left to scare and intimidate any deputies who might come after them. The names of Deputy U.S. Marshals who were hunting specific outlaws were included, with promises of killing them in painfully slow and graphic ways.
A further day’s ride, and the two men discovered the corpses of three deputies with their eyes either gouged out or pecked at and eaten by crows. They’d been used for target practice. Their bodies were riddled with bullets and they were fastened to the thick trunks of sycamores near a stream with barb wire.
“Leach, come over and help me bury these three men,” Bass said.
“They ain’t goin’ to get to Heaven any faster in the ground, Reeves.”
“Maybe not, but it’s the Christian thing to do. If the word ever reached the members of my church that one of its deacons came across the bodies of his fellow Deputy Marshals without buryin’ ’em proper and sayin’ words over them, why, I couldn’t set foot in the church again.”
“You, a deacon?” Leach asked. “A deacon and an armed killer. How you reconcile them two things, Bass?”
“Get two shovels from the wagon and start diggin’. Bein’ a deacon or bein’ a Deputy Marshal; it’s all God’s work, Bill, however strange that might seem to you. One’s saving men’s souls for themselves; the other is actin’ as God’s right arm of vengeance, and savin’ the lives of other men from outlaws by endin’ their careers, either by the gun or by the noose.”
Digging the holes was arduous, but Reeves felt better when they were done. He said a few words from the Bible he’d memorized, conducting an impromptu funeral. He’d removed the boots and badges of the men to take back with him to give to the families of the Deputy Marshals. Then, he place large stones by where the heads of the men where, to serve as rough markers of where they lay. At least, he thought to himself, he’d done what was right, and he’d also thwarted the attempts of whoever had killed the men at potentially scaring off anyone who might come after them in the future.
They decided to camp nearby for the night. At dusk, a farmer came riding up to their fire and got of his sorrel mare. Leach had supper cooking over a blazing fire, and Bass invited the farmer to stay for the meal.
“You smell our supper cookin?” Bass asked the newcomer. “Sit with us for a spell, and grab yourself some grub and have a cup of coffee!”
“That’s mighty kind of you, sir—er, Marshal,” the farmer said. “Don’t mind if I do! But, the real reason I rode here is that I was hopin’ you were a lawman. I’d seen the Grainger brothers lightin’ from their horses at their mother’s house, not more than a mile from where you’re camped, and if I know them, they’re up to no good.”
“The Grainger brothers, you say? Hmm…” Bass said. “Elias, Trent, and Horace Grainger, wanted for horse theft, cattle rustlin’, and murder, if I recall from their warrants.”
“Yes, that sure does sound like the things that them boys would take to, like a duck to water, alright, Marshal—”
“That’d be Deputy U.S. Marshal, really. And you’d be?”
“Dave Munroe’s the name, but don’t spread it around, okay?” the farmer said. “I wouldn’t want anyone to hear I’d helped a lawman, ‘specially not the Grainger boys nor their mom. It might be bad for my health.”
“Well, then,” Reeves told him, “after your supper, Munroe, you’d better make yourself scarce, that is if you don’t want the Graingers to see you when I bring ‘em back.”
Midway through their supper, Reeves turned to speak to the farmer again. “You got any old covered wagons at your place I could borrow, and maybe some of your old duds? I got an idea….”
An hour later, driving Munroe’s wagon, pulled by two ancient plow horses, dressed as the farmer, and wearing a straw hat, Bass purposefully got the wheels of the wagon stuck up on the gnarled roots of a huge pin oak tree that was within shouting distance of the Grainger house. He got down and started yelling about his rotten luck, and acted like he was straining to free the wagon from where he’d “accidently,” entangled it.
Reeves removed the hat from his head, and swatted the nags attached to the wagon’s reins with it, shouting “G’up, dang it! I don’t want to be stuck all night!”
He was hoping the outlaws would be fooled by his disguise and act. A couple of minutes passed, and he heard the Graingers riding up on their horses. They got off them, and worked beside Bass, trying to get the wagon’s wheels unstuck. The very second they did, Reeves reached into the deep pockets of the coat he’d borrowed and pulled out his two Colt .45s.
“Thanks, boys! Now, come with me—I got arrest warrants for all of you!!”
One of them, Trent, tried to reach for his holsters. “I wouldn’t, if I was you,” Bass said menacingly. “You ain’t the ones what tied them three Deputy Marshals up with barb wire and killed ‘em, are you?”
“They had it comin’,” another of the brothers, Horace, said.
“How you figure that?”
“They been t-t-tied to that tree for four d-d-days,” said the brother who’d been silent up until then, Elias, who stuttered.
“Shut up, Elias!” Trent yelled. “He don’t need to hear any more!”
“We only n-n-needed the three horses,” Elias continued, ignoring what Trent had said. “There was another d-d-deputy. When we was through havin’ f-f-fun with him, we tied him to his horse, and s-s-swatted it. They’d come for us before you, but we got the j-j-jump on them.”
“Hands behind your backs, boys,” Bass ordered the gang. He cuffed them, left their horses and the farmer’s wagon where they were, and marched the Grainger brothers to where he’d set up camp.
“Three more for supper?” Leach asked upon Bass’ return. “I was just about to throw the rest of this food away. Waste not, want not, I guess.”
“Don’t bother; we done already ate,” Horace said.
“That’s fine by me,” Leach answered him. “Feedin’ this to you boys would be wastin’ it, really. I don’t feel like cleanin’ the pots, though—maybe I’ll just save it for tomorrow, and you can have supper fer your breakfast.”
Bass shackled the protesting Grainger brothers with brads. The shackles were passed through a ring in a long chain, and Reeves locked one end of the chain to the rear axel of the “tumbleweed,” or deputy’s wagon.
“Sorry I can’t offer you nice, soft pillows like you probably got back at your mother’s house,” Bass said, “but I got blankets if it gets too cold—all you have to do is whistle.”
“Screw you, nig—” Horace said.
“That’ll be Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves to you. And the song you can whistle if your asses get cold—I think ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’ will do.”