by Bill Williams
The dusty breeze gave no relief to the heat in Temple, Texas. It was a hot, sticky July afternoon in 1887 and the sun had been beatin' down for weeks. There were no clouds in the sky, just a haze that seemed to hold the heat in. My horse had thrown a shoe a few miles out of town, so I guess I was lucky to find myself here. To make matters worse, the town's blacksmith was laid up with the gout and wouldn't be able to shoe my horse. I wanted to get to Waco before tomorrow and the last stage didn't leave 'til four o'clock, so I would be killin' time in Temple.
And Temple wasn't much of a town to be killin' time in. There were several small hotels and saloons, the livery stable, the post office, a couple of general stores, the telegrapgh office, and the sheriff's office. The houses at the edge of town were weather-beaten, in much need of paint, and showed few signs of being occupied, although I was sure the town folk must live in 'um. Every house had a broken down fence, dead shrubs, and no sign that grass had ever grown in the yard. Beyond the houses were shacks and tents thrown up by the workers on the Santa Fe Railroad, which had founded the town a couple of years back.
As I crossed the dirt street headin' for Blacky's Saloon and Hotel, a stiff breeze picked up the dust, stingin' as it blowed across my face where it stuck to the sweat, makin' me feel even more gritty. The wind brought with it the musty, earthy smell of the dry sagebrush that surrounded Temple for miles. Sagebrush, dirt, and rattlers were all I'd seen for days. I'd been down to San Antonio to deliver Johnny Biggs, a bank robber and murderer with a $3,000 bounty on his head.
As bounty hunters go, I'm a pretty good one. I ought to be after nearly 15 years at it. It's a decent livin' if you can stay alive. Most outlaws wanted for murder don't mind killin' again. That's why their bounty is high. And if they're wanted dead or alive, I usually take 'um back dead. Easier to tie their body to their horse than to guard 'um and feed 'um on the trail.
As I entered the saloon, the squeakin' door, a familiar sound to the locals, made everybody stop and look me over. Obviously, Temple didn't get many strangers. It got real quiet as I was eyed head to toe by the bartender and the few old drunks seated around the room. The place smelled of whiskey, cigar smoke, and sweat. The bar runnin' down the left side of the room was empty 'cept for one old codger standin' at the back nursin' a beer. The floor was clean for a saloon, but the three spittoons in the place had not been accurately utilized in Lord knows how long. At the rear was a staircase leading up to the rooms.
Order the Kindle edition
A hard rain had moved through Temple, Texas, replacing the dusty streets with mud and standin' water. Then wagons and horses had made the mud into a terrible mess. Now I understood why the town's nickname was Tanglefoot. The combination of whiskey and muddy streets makes it hard for a body to cross the street. I'd taken the stage down from Waco to pick up my horse at the livery stable where I had to leave it last week. The ride had taken almost twice as long as normal because of the mud.
I tied Copper to the hitchin' post outside Blacky's Saloon and Hotel, and walked inside. The place hadn't changed since I was here last week. Jerry was at the bar.
"Howdy, Jerry. How's business?"
Hi Dillon! Business ain't changed none. You back to git your horse?"
"Yep. How 'bout a beer?"
"Comin' right up."
"Should be up stairs. You want I should git her fur ya?"
"No, that's OK. I need to git back on the road."
"You still plannin' to go after O'Brian?"
"Yep. With any luck, this rain went across the state and will make my trackin' 'im a lot easier."
"I thought I heard Dillon Smith down here." It was Lola standin' at the foot of the stairs.
"Hi Lola. I thought I might run into you here."
"Where else would I be? So you're goin' after O'Brian?"
"Sure am. I'll start out in Abilene and go on from there."
Lola walked over and stood next to me at the bar. "You be real careful and remember what I said."
"I'll remember. When I git 'im I'll come back and let cha know. Could take quite a spell. I 'spect he doesn't stay in one spot too long."
"Well, when you come back with good news, a steak dinner will be on me."
"Sounds good. See ya then."
Abilene was a decent enough little town, with the Texas and Pacific Railway runnin' right down the middle. Most of the commercial development was on First Street runnin' along the railroad, and on Pine Street runnin' north. There was also a school house, a church, and two thrivin' lumber yards.
I headed for the sheriff's office to try and learn what I could. The Wanted Dead or Alive poster was still there, the reward now up to $5,000. Sheriff Parker said the latest he'd heard was that two weeks ago O'Brian had robbed a bank in Midway Station and killed the bank manager when he'd refused to open the safe. It looked like he was movin' west.
After a quick stop in Big Spring west of Abilene to give Copper a rest and to fill my canteen, I headed for Midway Station, another settlement on the T&P Railway. Railroad towns were notoriously wild and lawless, so O'Brian was proven' to be a smart outlaw by stickin' to them. But, that also made it easier for me to anticipate his movements.
I stopped in Midway Station to eat and spend the night, then moved on to Odessa, which wasn't much more than a water stop and cattle shipping point on the T&P. There were two saloons in town, so I spent some time askin' around if anyone had seen Mad Dog O'Brian. The bartender at the Longhorn Saloon said that O'Brian had been there last week and spent a couple of days threatenin' and scarin' folks. Odessa wasn't big enough to have its own sheriff, so nothing could be done to git rid of 'im. He said that Mad Dog well deserved his name and had finally robbed him before runnin' out with a crazy scream and firin' his gun in the air.
I was beginnin' to build a picture in my mind of Mad Dog. He was smart in some ways that counted, but very unpredictable and unstable in others. That's a dangerous combination in an outlaw. But I might be able to use his instability against 'im. I had some ideas forming in my head that could help me take 'im down.
Order the Kindle edition
After leavin' Temple, I went home to Waco to spend time with my dad. I had plenty of money now, so I didn't need to work for a good spell. However, I did keep myself informed about the current outlaws and their rewards.
When my dad passed away of consumption in the summer of 1888, I figured it was time to get back to work. After taking care of my affairs in Waco, I headed west and stopped for a spell in Abilene, a town I had come to like a good bit. The T&P Railroad passin' through the town made travelin' easy. Home construction was keepin' the two lumber yards busy and wealthy, and Sheriff Parker kept the place under control.
"Howdy Sheriff. I thought I'd stop by and tell ya that I got Mad Dog O'Brian last year."
"Did ja now! Where'd ja find 'im?"
"I tracked 'im all the way to Las Cruses in New Mexico. He wouldn't let me bring him in alive, though."
"Too bad. Although I won't lose any sleep because of it."
Pointing to a new poster on the wall, Sheriff Parker said, "Just got that in a couple of days ago. Call themselves The Arapaho Gang. There's four of 'um, and seems one is an Arapaho Indian by the name of Runnin' Fox. The others are Carl and Lloyd Jackman and their apparent leader, Vince Coffin. They've been robbin' banks and stages all over Colorado. Even robbed a train and killed a couple of guards. They're wanted dead or alive for $6,000 each."
"Really! Sounds like a tough bunch. Mind if I have that poster?"
"Sure." Reachin' into his desk drawer, he pulled out another poster. "Here, take this one. You thinkin' 'bout goin' after 'um?"
"I'll give it some serious thought. It'll be gettin' cold in Colorado before long. I hate snow, so if I'm goin' at all, it should be purtty soon."
"Well, if you do go, I know the U.S. Marshal in Denver. Name's Clarence Taylor and he's about the only town official that you should trust. Soapy Smith has everybody else on his payroll, including the Police Chief and Mayor."
"Yep. He's a con man and the self-proclaimed boss of Denver's underworld crime empire. He's into small and large scams including fake stock exchanges and lottery offices. I'd steer clear of his Tivoli Saloon and Gamblin' Hall if I was you. I hear tell it's a rough place."
"I'll do that. He sounds like a real bad gangster."
"This Soapy Smith any kin of yours?"
"Don't see how he could be. I don't have no livin' relatives, 'cept for my cousin Matt Dillon. He's the Deputy U.S. Marshal up in Dodge City, Kansas."
"So Marshal Taylor is the man to see?"
"Yep. If you like, I'll send him a telegram to let 'im know you're comin'."
"I would appreciate that, Sheriff."
I stayed in Abilene for two days to rest up and to buy provisions, then headed west to Big Spring and turned north toward Lubbock. The weather couldn't have been better. The days were warm and the nights cool, so I was able to make good time.
This time of year there were a lot of travelers on the road. I passed a wagon train headin' north almost every day. There were three to four stagecoaches every day, headin' both ways. The Pike's Peak Gold Rush was long over, but there was some folks that always thought they'd hit another mother load.
Two days out, I came across a nice couple headin' north. Their covered wagon was loaded down with everything they owned, they were travelin' alone, and they had no idea just how dangerous a situation they were in.
Order the Kindle edition
Colin MacDonald entered the tent in a rush, "Let's pack up. We're leavin' tonight!"
Colin was the oldest of the five MacDonald brothers and, therefore, the head of the Clan. Their parents were Scottish immigrants, now retired and living in New York City. The brothers were con artists and tricksters, taught the game by their parents. Wanted for plying their trade in Arkansas, Kansas, and Oklahoma, the brothers were now working Texas.
Max was the second oldest and always at odds with his older brother. "What do you mean we're leavin' tonight! We've only been workin' Dallas for two days! We can clean up in a city this size!"
"No arguments! I was just in town and the sheriff and a group of town folk are lookin' to tar 'n feather us. If we were stayin' in town instead of out here, we'd be in jail right now. Everybody knows his job, so let's get to it."
The MacDonald brothers had been working their cons for five years and had never been caught because they never stayed in a town too long. Word of their scams always spread quickly, so Colin had to keep a close eye on the mood of a town and determine when to move on.
George said, "John and I will get the wagons ready."
"Murray, you get started with the horses,"
"I know my job assignment, Colin."
"We'll move on to Fort Worth for a couple of days."
In less than an hour they were gone.
Fort Worth had become a boom town since the arrival of the Texas and Pacific Railway, transforming the Fort Worth Stockyards into a premier cattle industry and wholesale trade center. Located on a bluff above the Trinity River, the town soon became home to Hell's Half Acre, the biggest collection of bars, dance halls and bawdy houses south of Dodge City, Kansas (the northern terminus of the Chisholm Trail), giving Fort Worth the nickname of "The Paris of the Plains."
As the brothers rode through town, Colin said, "We should do good here. What with all these bars and dance halls and all the cowboys, we should be all but unnoticeable. Let's find a place to make camp south of town, maybe on the river. We'll come back into town tonight."
The MacDonald brothers rode back into Fort Worth at around six o'clock and spent the good part of half an hour surveying the town. Most of the bars, dance halls, and gambling halls were on Main Street, Houston Street, and along Weatherford Street.
Max said with more than a little irritation in his voice, "For Christ's sake, Colin, let's stop somewhere and get started! We're wastin' time with all this ridin' around!"
Colin shot back, "Shut up, Max! We need to get the layout of this place first!"
Murray made his attempt, "Can we at least eat someplace? I haven't eaten since breakfast."
"None of us have, Murray. I saw several places on Main Street. Let's head over there."
After supper, Colin layed out the plans for the night, "OK, I'll do the soaps. George, you and John will be me shills. Max, you'll be me backup and lookout. Murray, why don't you go down on Rusk Street and run the shell game. Don't stay longer than half an hour."
Max said, "Why don't you let me run the soaps? How am I ever going to get good at it if YOU always do it?"
"You can run it tomorrow, OK? Tonight I'll start things off,"
Colin's team moved to the corner of Main and Second Streets, where he opened his tripe and keister (display case on a tripod). Piling ordinary five-cent soap cakes onto the keister top, he began expounding on their wonders. As he spoke to the growing crowd of curious onlookers, he pulled out his wallet and begin wrapping paper money, ranging from one dollar up to one hundred dollars, around a select few of the bars.
Order the Kindle edition