"We like camping better!" --Raymond Alexander Kukkee

view of the north shore Critter Pond, KOA Canandaigua NY [c] 2009 jcb

One Mistake in a Frontier Town

Carl Duff was a bully, plain and simple. Well, maybe not so simple. He was the Sheriff, too. When Silver Creek was a newborn town, rough around the edges and growing quicker than the carpenters could build, the founders needed a man they could count on. They chose Carl. He was a big man, with a little education, and a decent shot with a Colt; and he was honest. No one was ever going to elect him mayor, but Carl was a man who could enforce the law (what little law there was) in a small and isolated mining town.

Maybe the townsmen acted too impulsively, or maybe acting the reliable lawman was one rung higher than Carl should have reached. There was blame enough to go around. Not to say that Duff was a bad Sheriff. He kept the peace, his way. If you didn't like it, you could leave. Not many chose to leave, though. Silver Creek had a broad main street, plank sidewalks mostly covered to keep off the rain, and loads of opportunities for ambitious frontiersmen. Three saloons offered a fine variety of food, drink, entertainment, and gambling.

Two merchantiles, one on each end of town, competed for business and kept each other at least mostly honest. There was a fine hotel in the middle, with decent beds and running water, started up by a wealthy Easterner who knew how things should be. Of course there were tents and shacks on the outskirts, while the hammers and saws ran dawn to dusk on the new-cut streets to put up houses for the swell of newcomers. There was plenty of money to go around, too. Silver was the currency, and it was there for the taking, for those who knew how to find it.

Carl liked to take advantage. That was the problem. He liked his coffee hot and strong, but he didn't think he should have to pay for it. Angela Thomas owned the only cafe so far, so she couldn't very well order Duff to take his business elsewhere. At least he paid for the eggs and bacon. Not that he ever left a tip. The only guy in town who could turn cowhide into boots had to figure on two or three free pair a year for the Sheriff, too. Duff never paid-up for feed or grooming at the stable, either. He figured all these things were perks that came with the job. He never lied to anyone, never stole a thing, never made an accusation he couldn't back with proof. He simply used his imposing size, the hard glint in his eyes, and the silver badge on his jacket as legal tender.

Oh, there were meetings, along with the expected grumblings from townsfolk. But what could they really do? Anyone tougher than Carl Duff was more likely to be on the wrong side of the law. That was a fact of life in small mining outposts all over the West. The bad guys always outnumbered the good ones. The fact that Carl was able to keep the peace within the city limits pretty much outweighed his petty selfishness. Things sometimes change for the better, just when you least expect it, though. And that's how Carl lost his cushy job.

It happened in the space of an hour on a blistering hot Tuesday afternoon. The road-weary stagecoach had make its once-weekly stop that morning. Four strangers had stepped off, booked a couple rooms at the hotel, and wandered over to the Starlight Tavern to chase the dust from their throats. Two tall men with two-day stubble and trail clothing, one middle-size fellow who could've been a lawyer, and a littler guy in vest and jacket: they looked a bit of a motley crew. Asked with ordinary curiosity, they replied as "just passin' through." They wanted whiskey, beer, and sandwiches; paid for everything in silver coin, not paper.

Hard to say, really, how the fighting started or even why. Accounts of the matter differ on important details. There were other hard men in town that day, as there often were; and nobody knew much about the passin'-through men, either. Regular townies, well-versed in survival strategies, hid behind furniture or departed by the back door as soon as voices were raised and chairs thrown aside. The first shot went right down into the oaken floorboards and didn't harm a soul. That one brought Sheriff Duff on the run, toting his Winchester for back-up.
Carl had a quick eye, and a fast hand on his Colt to go with it. That's how he kept order. He moved fast, he saw everything, and he responded quickly and decisively. Only Carl made an important error this time.

When he came trotting over to the scene of the brawl, he picked out the familiar lowlife types right off. Those he dismissed with snap-shots from his rifle, aimed at their feet, accompanied by his trademark glare. That left the four newcomers. Custom said to take the biggest and ugliest first, so Duff pistol-whipped the tallest one in about a half second. The second large man took the rifle barrel across his face during the other half-second.

Duff turned like an angry mountain lion and caught a swinging chair from stranger number three, the middle-sized fellow wearing lawyer clothes. One of Duff's big, free leather boots caught that one right where a man should never be kicked, and down went the lawyer-type in a groaning heap. What Carl didn't realize was that he'd already been shot, clean right through his gut, by the small well-dressed one who looked like a bank teller. Carl had put that one fourth on his mental list of priorities. By the time the little man had re-holstered his fancy chrome six-gun, gravity was dragging the sheriff to the dusty floor.

Carl didn't die that day, as he lay there in the saloon leaking blood into the sawdust. The town boasted one competent doctor who got him sewed up in time. A couple of capable locals rounded-up the out-of-towners and stowed them in the jail for safekeeping. The former sheriff spent the rest of his days using two canes to help him walk, serving as a lowly jail-guard for the new sheriff. The town fathers were much more careful hiring Carl's replacement. And Carl had to get used to paying a fair price for everything he needed.

copyright 2007 - all rights reserved

No comments:

Post a Comment