Nothing much was happening in the town of Gunnison Gorge and hadn’t for the last two weeks, so Marshal Thompson was sitting in a chair on the porch of the marshal’s office that June afternoon. The snow had melted in the passes and the gold miners had all come down, stocked up, and headed back to their mines. Gunnison Gorge was again the sleepy little Colorado town Barthomew Thompson had liked when he got there and now loved.
He looked down the street and smiled. The new boardwalk that ran in front of the general store, doctor’s office, barbershop, hotel, and the marshal’s office had been a good change for the town. Women didn’t have to hold up their skirts now in order to walk the muddy street. They were able to stroll casually down the boardwalk between those businesses while talking to each other instead of keeping a wary eye out for mud puddles or piles of horse manure.
This summer, the men of the town would build another boardwalk on the other side of the street to provide a clean walk between the undertaker’s, the claims office, the saloon, and the empty storefront between the undertaker’s and the claims office. Walking on the dirt street would still be required to reach the blacksmith’s and the livery stable, but only men usually went there and they didn’t have skirts to lift.
Bart, as he preferred to be called, waved his hand as Maddie Wilson drove her buckboard up the street. She saw him and waved, then reined the two horses to a stop in front of him. Her low alto voice was soft and smooth.
“Good morning, Bart. How are you doing.”
“Morning, Maddie. I’m doing fine. What beings you to town today?”
“Oh, I needed a few things. Maria says we’re about out of corn meal and flour, and the last time I was in the general store, Wallace said he’d ordered a few of those new Winchester rifles. I thought I’d see if they came in yet.”
“I happen to know they did because the town bought two for the marshal’s office.”
“Well, I’d better go have a look then. You take care, Bart. I’ll be seeing you.”
As Maddie drove off toward the general store, Bart chuckled. He thought Maddie had her eyes on him as a prospective husband because she was friendlier to him than she was to most other men. Maddie had been married once, but was now a widow. She had a lot to offer a man, but he wasn’t really interested.
Maddie’s full name was Madison Eleanor Jameson Wilson, and she was the daughter of one of the original ranchers in the valley. Her husband, Thadeus Wilson, had thought it his duty to enlist in the Union Army when the Civil War broke out, and had been assigned to the 1st Colorado Infantry Regiment. His military career was a short one. Thadeus was killed during the Battle of Glorietta Pass in New Mexico. It was a year after Maddie became a widow that her mother had passed on. Her father followed his wife six months later. Maddie had inherited the ranch and now ran it by herself. The man who married her would also marry that ranch and the income it provided.
Bart thought it was a shame she wasn’t married already, but he understood the probable reasons. It wasn’t that Maddie was a plain-looking woman. The long, blonde hair she kept up in braids under her hat framed a pretty face with a small nose, eyes as blue as the Colorado sky on a clear summer day, and a wide, sensuous mouth. Maddie was just not a very feminine woman as women went.
The dress Maddie wore that day accented her figure, but Bart knew she only wore dresses when she came to town for something. Every other day she wore the same trousers and shirt most men wore, and she ran the thousand acre cattle ranch her father had started in the valley. She also wore a Remington New Model Army revolver strapped on her right thigh when she was at the ranch, and was known to be a good shot. There were rumors among the women in town that maybe Maddie was a woman who wished she was a man.
The cowhands who worked for Maddie said she was a stern boss who didn’t put up with many of the things most cowboys thought was only normal. Maddie demanded a hard day’s work for a day’s pay, and any cowhand caught loafing on the job was paid off and sent on his way the very same day. Maddie didn’t mind her cowhands drinking when they weren’t working, but they dare not show up drunk or they’d suffer the same fate.
Maddie also had one other rule about her cowhands. Maddie’s husband had been killed by a Confederate and she hated the former Confederacy and anyone who had been associated with it. She would not hire any man who had worn a gray uniform. That rule wasn’t difficult to implement in Gunnison Gap, for most people in Colorado Territory had sided with the Union. She always asked any man applying for work where he’d been born. If it was in any of the states that had seceded, she’d tell him get off her property before she shot him.
Bart liked Maddie, but he figured Maddie would be just as tough on any man she married so he was polite, but careful not to give her any idea he thought of her as anything more than he did any other woman.
After the clerk from the General Store had loaded Maddie’s buckboard with her purchases, she climbed into the seat and drove back past the marshal’s office on her way out of town. Bart waved as she went past, and wondered if she’d ever get over the war and losing her husband. The war had ended two years before, it looked as if Colorado Territory would probably become a state of the Union, and most people had put the war behind them. Maddie couldn’t seem to do that.
Bart was still thinking about Maddie and how she treated him when a one-horse wagon with a canvas covered top stopped in front of him. The man on the wagon seat touched the rim of his bowler hat.
“Mornin’ Marshal Sir.”
Bart figured the man was just another prospector on his way to the gold fields, but it was his job to protect the people in Gunnison Gorge. He did this by knowing who lived in town or the ranches in the valley, who was in the mines outside of town, and who was just passing through. He stood up and touched his hat.
“Morning. I don’t recollect seeing you in Gunnison Gorge before. Where you headed?”
The man grinned.
“Right here if there’s work to be done.”
“I don’t know if anybody in town needs any help. What can you do?”
The man grinned again.
“Oh, I’m not lookin’ to work for anybody. I work for myself. I’m part blacksmith, part cabinetmaker, and part tinker. I’m a gunsmith, and I need a place for a shop. I sort of liked what I heard about Gunnison Gorge in Denver City and I hoped I could stay and set up my business. I figured with all the mines and ranches around here, folks would need a place to get their rifles, shotguns, and revolvers repaired. Do you already have a gunsmith?”
Bart smiled, but he didn’t believe everything he was hearing. His gut said he should find out more about this man.
“No, we don’t. I don’t know as we really need one though. Denver City’s only a day away by stage and they have three gunsmiths there. You know, it seems like you can do a lot of things for a man so young. You say you can, anyway.”
“Oh I can do what I say I can. My daddy was a gunsmith and back home a gunsmith made his own parts, so he had to be part blacksmith to make the iron parts and part cabinet maker to do the stock work. Tinkerin’s not much different than blacksmithin’, just the metal is softer. Our little town wasn’t big enough to have a tinker, so Daddy did that work too.”
“Where was back home?”
The man paused and looked at Bart.
“Why does that matter?”
“Gunnison Gorge is a quiet little town most of the time and we like it that way. I just don’t want any thing from the past to change that.”
“You mean the war?”
“Yes, I mean the war.”
The man smiled.
“I’m from Trenton, Kentucky and I didn’t fight for either side. I figured they’d sort it all out and after they did, I’d just keep livin’ like I had been before. Besides, when I was sixteen, I broke my leg. It healed, but it didn’t heal right. One leg’s shorter’n the other and I have a limp. Couldn’t have enlisted because they wouldn’t have taken me.”
“What brings you all the way to Colorado Territory?”
“Well, like I said, Trenton is a little town and Daddy was still doin’ business there. There wasn’t enough work for two gunsmiths. I heard about the gold strikes in Colorado Territory and figured the miner’s got to have guns. Guns always break or their parts wear out, and I can fix guns. I thought it would be easier getting’ my gold by fixin’ guns than by digging in a mine.”
Bart relaxed a little. If the man was up to no good, he’d have shown it somehow, but he smiled and he didn’t try to dodge the questions Bart had asked. Gunnison Gorge probably didn’t need a gunsmith, but it would be good to have a tinker. Bart walked to the side of the wagon and stuck out his hand.
“I’m Marshal Bart Thompson. I don’t know if you can make a living in Gunnison Gorge, but there is an empty store available. The town owns it. Used to be the jail before we built this new one. I’m sure Mayor Williams would rent it to you. He owns the general store just down the street.”
The man grinned as he shook Bart’s hand.
“Jacob Cunningham’s the name. Would the Mayor be in the general store now?”
Maddie urged her team to a trot as soon as she left the edge of town and then let the reins go slack. Jim and Jack, the two bay geldings would take her to her ranch without any guiding. She was free to think, and thinking was something she did a lot of.
Most of Maddie’s life since her father had passed had been consumed with running the ranch. Her cowhands had already moved the herd of six hundred cows and twenty bulls to the holding pens near the ranch house in preparation for the spring work. The brood cows had started dropping their calves and while they were still small, the calves needed to be branded with the “J” inside the diamond that was the brand of the Jameson Ranch. The bull calves also had to be castrated.
Last year’s steers and the heifers she didn’t need to keep would be ready for market, so they’d have to be cut out and driven to the rail yards in Denver City. Once that was done, her cowhands would break the herd of brood cows and their calves into several groups and move them to the pastures in the foothills of the mountains. A bull would go with each group to make sure each cow was bred again and would produce a calf the next year.
Today, as Jim and Jack pulled the buckboard down the rutted road, she was thinking about her future.
Maddie was twenty six, and wanted a husband to help with the ranch and to give her children. She could manage the ranch by herself, but having a man would make that easier. She couldn’t have children by herself, and she’d promised her father he’d have grandchildren to keep his ranch alive and prosperous.
Maddie had thought she’d found that man in Thadeus. Her father liked him and her mother had said Thadeus was a good man who would care for her. When he’d asked her to marry him, Maddie hadn’t thought about it. She just said yes.
They’d been married just a month when the Confederacy fired on Ft. Sumpter, a month of getting used to being a wife and a month of wondering if she’d made the right decision. Maddie liked Thadeus but she hadn’t found the bond she saw between her other and father. It was like she and Thadeus were very good friends rather than man and wife.
They shared a bed in the small house her father had built for them on the ranch, but she didn’t feel toward Thadeus as her mother said she felt toward her father. When she told her mother that, her mother just patted her hand and said that feeling would come after a while.
She’d understood when Thadeus enlisted at the start of the war. One of the things she’d liked about Thadeus was his sense of what was right and what was wrong. She’d also liked his confidence. Thadeus had told her the Confederacy in Texas was just a rabble of men who weren’t really an Army and didn’t know how to fight. He’d spend his year with the Union, stamp the Confederacy into the ground, and then come back home to the ranch.
She’d liked many other things about Thadeus as well. She’d liked him as a man, liked him as a partner, and liked him as a confidant. A month after he left to join up, she realized that while she liked Thadeus a lot, there was no love between them. When she received word that he’d been killed, Maddie thought she should have been as stricken with grief as Rachael Meyers. Rachael’s husband had been killed in the same battle.
Rachael had worn black for six months afterward, and it was only last fall, a little over five years after the Battle of Glorieta Pass, that Rachael had started seeing another man. What Maddie felt was more relief and looking forward to starting over than anything else.
Maddie still had emotions about Thadeus’ death even if she didn’t grieve for him. They were the emotion of hatred for anything having to do with the Confederacy that had killed Thadeus and the emotion of outrage that his killers had gone unpunished. I didn’t make sense to her that all Confederate soldiers had been paroled after the war.
Maddie knew the town folk thought poorly of her because she wore the black dress and veil of a widow for only a month. She found it a little hypocritical that they whispered she wasn’t seeing another man now because she wasn’t like other women.
Those rumors were wrong. Maddie was just as much a woman as any other, and she had the same hopes and fears. She dressed as she did on the ranch because it would have been impossible to work in a dress. She carried the Remington revolver as protection against snakes, both the kind that slithered over the prairie and the kind that rode horses and said nice words to her but only wanted her ranch. There had been more of the latter than the former.
As Jim and Jack made the turn from the road to the lane to Jameson Ranch, Maddie smiled. On this trip to town, Bart had seemed a little friendlier. Maybe he was thinking about her right now. Maddie liked Bart and she knew he wasn’t looking to take over her ranch. He’d told her he was no farmer and wouldn’t know what to do. Maddie didn’t know if she felt as much for him as she hoped he felt for her, but like her mother had said, maybe it would come in time.
Jacob’s talk with Horace Williams, the Mayor of Gunnison Gap and the owner of the general store, was more than he’d hoped. Horace welcomed the addition of a gunsmith to Gunnison Gap because if someone broke a lock spring, he couldn’t help them other than to sell them a new rifle. He did sell percussion cap nipples for rifles, shotguns, and revolvers, but if the customer had no way to install them, he couldn’t make the sale.
Since he’d gotten in his order of Winchester rifles, many men had asked about making a trade in hopes of lowering the price. Horace understood this and was willing to do so, but he had no way of making sure the older rifle was in good shape or any way to repair it if it wasn’t.
Horace offered to rent the empty storefront to Jacob for ten dollars a month on the condition he wouldn’t sell new guns and that he’d buy any parts Horace could order from the general store. Jacob was happy with that arrangement, paid Horace with ten one dollar gold pieces, and took the key.
The next two weeks, Jacob made a few changes to the old marshal’s office. He hadn’t brought much with him from Kentucky because his wagon was just a small farm wagon he’d rigged with bows and a canvas top. The largest items were his workbench and tool rack, a small forge, a small anvil with a hickory stump for a base, his bed, and one chair. Besides those items, he had a wood crate that held his small tools, another wood crate for his spare clothing, and a longer crate with his personal firearms.
In back, where the two jail cells had been, Jacob set up his living area. The bars were gone and the room was large enough for his bed and the crate with his clothes. Under the bed he put his personal firearms. It wasn’t likely he’d need them, but they would be easy to get if he did for some reason.
In the front of the building, Jacob set up his workbench and tool rack. Once the tool crate was empty, it became a chair with no back and sat beside the potbellied stove in the front corner of the building.
In the back of the building was a small lean-to where the marshal had kept his horse. Under this lean-to Jacob put his forge, anvil, and the small sack of forge coal he'd brought from Kentucky. Jacob then retrieved the sign from his wagon and hung it over the front door. “Jacob Cunningham, Gunsmith and Tinker” was now in business.
Business wasn’t long in coming. On the second day he was open, the Mayor brought him a Springfield trap-door rifle with a broken hammer.
“I took this old rifle in trade on a new Winchester. I only took off five dollars from the price because it would only be worth about ten if it was working. If you can fix it, I’ll sell it for that.”
Jacob dug into his box of small steel pieces and over the course of a day, made a new hammer for the Springfield. He then drove his wagon out a ways from town and fired three balls through the rifle. It seemed to work fine except the trigger was a little jerky. Back at his shop, Jacob took out the lock and saw the reason. A few strokes with a small stone removed the burr on the sear lever and the rifle worked like new.
When Jacob explained what he’d done, the Mayor smiled.
“I said I’d ask ten dollars for this rifle, but now, I’m going to ask fifteen. That’s still less than half the price of a Winchester. Good job, Jacob. How much do I owe you?”
Jacob said two dollars and the Mayor grinned.
“Good work at a fair price. I’ll be recommending you to my customers from now on.”
The Mayor was good to his word, and Jacob began seeing a steady, if somewhat small, trickle of firearms into his shop for repairs. Most people didn’t know how to take their rifle or shotgun lock out of the stock, so several only needed cleaning and oiling. Jacob charged half a dollar for this work, and after the first few, had several a month.
“Just clean ‘er up and give ‘er a good oilin’”, would say the customer. Once Jacob had done that, the customer would work the hammer and trigger and smile.
“Just like she was when she was new. Much obliged, Jacob.”
There were actual broken guns as well. Flat springs tended to fail after a time, and Jacob made and installed several in rifles, shotguns, and revolvers. He bored out three shot out barrels of rifles that had been used during the war and then later made their way to the gold fields. Their owners liked the larger ball and were impressed at the accuracy the re-bored barrel could achieve. He also repaired a few rifle stocks.
He was a little surprised the day Maddie walked into his shop. Maddie was the first woman customer he’d had and Jacob hadn’t expected to have any women asking for gunsmithing work. Women didn’t carry or use firearms, so they had no reason to bring one to his shop.
Jacob smiled when Maddie asked if he was the gunsmith.
“Morinin’ Ma’am. I’m Jacob Cunningham. What can I do for you today.”
Maddie laid a cloth wrapped bundle on Jacob’s bench and then unwrapped it. Inside was a Remington New Model Army revolver that showed signs of holster wear. Maddie looked at Jacob and frowned.
“I heard the gunsmiths in Denver City can make a Remington shoot the same cartridges as the new Winchesters, but they charge almost as much as for a new revolver. I was wondering how much it would cost for you to do it.”
Jacob picked up the revolver, checked to make sure the cylinder was empty of powder and balls, and then worked the action a few times. While the blueing was worn on the outside, the action was still tight and the cylinder locked up just as the hammer reached the full-cock position. He knew of the conversion and also knew it only worked if the revolver action was in good shape. He looked up at Maddie.
“Ma’am, your husband must not use this revolver much. I can tell it’s been carried a lot, but the action feels like new.”
“I’m not married, and it’s the revolver I carry every day. I bought one of those new Winchester rifles at the general store, the one that uses cartridges and I like it a lot. The problem is now I have to carry cartridges for the rifle and balls, powder, and caps for this revolver.”
“Oh, I see. Well, I can do the conversion, but it’s a lot of work. I’d have to charge five dollars because I’ll have to make a new hammer and do a lot of work to the cylinder.”
“That’s a good deal less then the twenty dollars a new revolver would cost. How long will it take?”
“Oh…about a week I think.”
“I think that will work out just fine. I’ll be back in a week to pick it up.”
“I’ll start on it this afternoon. Uh…I do need your name, Ma’am.”
“Well, Miss Wilson, I appreciate your business. I’ll have it done by the time you call again.”
As Maddie closed the door to his shop, Jacob was lost in thought. He’d never known a woman to have a revolver, much less carry one, and this Remington had definitely spent a lot of time in a holster. He couldn’t understand why a woman would need to carry a revolver or how she could while wearing a dress.
Maddie seemed to be a very strong woman and he liked that. Jacob hadn’t known many who were. She’d talked to him like a man would have spoken. Most women he’d known would have been embarrassed to admit to carrying a gun of any type. Women just didn’t do that, well, except for that one woman from Nashville who had him fix her derringer. She was a woman who ran a house for public woman and carried the derringer in a holster strapped to the inside of her thigh. Maddie didn’t look like a public woman at all. She just looked like a pretty and well-shaped woman.
Jacob began disassembling the revolver and thought he might ask Marshall Thompson about the woman if he got the chance.
When Maddie left Jacob’s shop, she went to the general store and purchased ten boxes of cartridges for the Winchester rifle she carried under the seat of her buckboard. Maddie needed those cartridges for a reason, and she wanted her Remington revolver to fire the same cartridges for the same reason.
Two weeks before, her cowhands had driven some steers to Denver City to sell. When they returned, they brought a story about several other cowhands they’d met there. Those cowhands had asked if there was work on any of the ranches around Gunnison Gorge because they didn’t want to stay working for their current employer.
Maddie’s cowhands asked why, and were told their ranches had been bought by a man who didn’t want to pay a fair wage to the men who worked them. They went on to say the man had threatened the ranch owners so they would sell at a low price, and when one refused, he was found shot dead out beside his barn. There were no witnesses, but the rest of the ranch owners understood the message.
The rancher’s wife sold the ranch then, as did three other ranchers, but the price the man paid was only about half what the ranches were worth. Once they took ownership of the deeds, the two men told the cowhands they had a choice – they could work for half their former wages or they could leave. One cowhand had said that wasn’t fair and he was going to go to the marshal in Denver City.
The cowhand started for Denver City the next morning. His horse came back to the ranch about half an hour later. His fellow cowhands found him just a mile from the ranch. He’d been shot through the heart.
Maddie figured it was only a matter of time until the two men reached Gunnison Gorge, and she didn’t have long to wait. A week after her cowhands told her the story, two men rode up to her house. One was dressed in the same type of suit a businessman would have worn and had a belly that stuck out over his belt. The other was dressed more like a cowhand, although his vest was studded with silver and his two revolvers had a pearl grips instead of wood.
The man in the suit tipped his hat and smiled.
“Good morning, Ma’am. I’m Samuel Riggs and this is my associate, James Rowe. We’re from Denver City and I am looking to buy a ranch near Gunnison Gap. We were riding by your house and I liked how the place looked. I was wondering if you would consider selling.”
Maddie noticed the man called James didn’t smile, and he kept his right hand resting on the butt of the pearl-handled revolver in the holster on his thigh. It was obvious to her James was there to intimidate her. She wasn’t a woman to be intimidated, but she wasn’t ready for a fight. Maddie smiled.
“Well, I don’t know. I suppose it would depend upon the offer.”
Samuel smiled again.
“I’m sure you can understand that before I can make you an offer, I need to learn a little about your ranch.”
He asked Maddie several questions about how many acres the ranch covered, did it have water available, and how many brood cows she was running. She answered his questions honestly, but was pretty sure he already knew the answers. He then made Maddie an offer.
“Ma’am, I know it must be hard on a woman such as yourself running a ranch. I’m prepared to offer you two dollars an acre and a dollar for each cow. I know that being a woman, you’re probably worried about your cowhands. It would be my pleasure to continue their employment should they choose to stay. You can move to town and live like a woman should live.”
Maddie knew the offer was the last she would hear, but tried to stall for time. She smiled at the men.
“Well, that is an interesting offer. Might I have some time to give it the consideration it deserves?”
The man smiled a smile Maddie knew was put on.
“Certainly. I would never pressure you into such a large decision, and I have other ranchers to call on that will occupy my time for several days. Shall we say I’ll call on you again in a week?”
Maddie said a week would be enough time. Both men left then. Maddie watched them ride down the road toward the Richardson’s ranch. She was happy they were gone. It had been difficult to continue smiling after Samuel had made his offer.
The land occupied by her ranch was easily worth five dollars an acre because it had a mountain stream running through it. Her brood cows would be worth twenty dollars a head if she sold them and each of her ten bulls were worth at least fifty. Samuel had offered to pay her less than half what the land was worth and only about ten percent of the value of her cattle. She wouldn’t have sold the ranch for any amount of money. Samuel’s offer was an insult and it had been difficult not to tell him that.
The next morning just as Maddie was finishing her breakfast, a galloping rider skidded his horse to a stop and ran up to the door of Maddie’s house. He didn’t bother to knock. He just threw open the door and yelled out Maddie’s name.
“Mrs. Wilson, Mrs. Wilson, I gotta talk to you.”
Maddie walked to the door and saw Timothy Ward, the foreman of the Richardson’s ranch standing there.
“What is it Timothy?”
“Mrs. Wilson, Mr. Richardson’s been shot and I seen it happen. Mrs. Robinson thought you might be able to help since you know Marshall Thompson real well.”
Maddie motioned Timothy to a chair.
“Slow down, Timothy and tell me what happened.”
“These two fellers come to the ranch yesterday. One was dressed real nice like a banker but the other, well, Ma’am, he looked like a hired gun if you ask me. I seen ‘em ride up and go in the house. It weren’t long afore they come back out and Mr. Richardson was yellin’ at ‘em not to come back.
“When they left, I asked Mr. Richardson what’d happened. He said they wanted to buy his ranch for half what it was worth. Well, you know how Mr. Richardson is. He told ‘em to git off his ranch and to not come back.
“Well, this morning, Mr. Richardson said he was goin’ to town to talk to Marshall Thompson ‘bout them two. I needed to go check on some cows that were in one of the pastures on the way, so we rode together for a while. Mr. Robinson was mad as an old wet hen, and said he’d see both of ‘em in jail afore he was done with ‘em.
“I turned off to the pasture and found my cows. They was all right, so I started back to the ranch. I’d just topped a hill when I seen Mr. Robinson talking to another man. That man was the hired gun from yesterday. I know it was him because of them pearl handles on his revolvers. I was gonna ride down and see if Mr. Robinson needed help, but afore I could do that, the hired gun pulled his revolver and shot Mr. Robinson, and then took off ridin’ as fast as he could for town.
“When I got down the hill, Mr. Robinson weren’t dead, so I took him back to the ranch. Mrs. Robinson said the bullet went all the way through his shoulder but didn’t hit anything important and he’d be all right. She’s taking care of him now. She said I could come warn you about them and asked if you could do something to help.”
“I know them. They were here before they went to the Robinson ranch. Timothy, did the man see you?”
“No Ma’am, I don’t think he did. I’d just topped the hill when he shot Mr. Robinson and he was riding away from me after that. He was around a bend in the road by the time I got to Mr. Robinson.”
“Then you have to go tell Marshall Thompson what you saw and I’ll tell him about what the two men are up to. That should be enough to get them arrested.”
Timothy took off his hat, scratched his head, and then put it back on.
“Ma’am, I’ll go, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to take the road into town. That feller might be just waitin’ to see if anybody found Mr. Robinson. He’d likely kill us too. I’ll be going over the hills to get there, and your buckboard wouldn’t be able to make the trip. You better stay here where it’s safe.”
“Timothy, I can ride a horse just as well as any man. You go tell my foreman to saddle my buckskin gelding. I need a few minutes to change clothes and then we’ll be off.”
Timothy had heard the cowhands who worked the Diamond J ranch talk about how Mrs. Wilson dressed when she was working, but he still didn’t believe his eyes when Maddie walked out of the house carrying a Winchester rifle in one hand and a box of cartridges in the other.
In order to find trousers small enough to fit her small frame, she’d bought boy’s trousers. They fit loosely everywhere except the seat because Maddie’s hips were wider than most boy’s. Those hips filled the seat of the trousers and didn’t leave much to Timothy’s imagination. Her shirt fit the same way, loose everywhere except over her breasts. There, she’d left two buttons undone and the material under those was still stretched tight. A wide-brimmed Stetson hat covered her head, and she wore the same boots as any cowhand would have worn.
Maddie smiled at Timothy as she slid the Winchester into the saddle scabbard, put the box of cartridges in one saddle bag, and then mounted the buckskin gelding.
“Timothy, let’s go get this over with.”
The going was slower than the road would have been, but the distance was a little shorter. The sun was just overhead when they saw Gunnison Gorge in the distance. They rode toward the end of town nearest the Marshall’s office.
Bart listened intently to both Timothy’s tale and then to Maddie’s, then frowned and stood up.
“I know of the two men. They’re staying at the hotel. I’ll go pay them a visit and see what they have to say. You two stay here until I get back with them. While I’ gone, you write down what you just told me.”
Bart checked his revolver, then walked out the door. Maddie and Timothy sat in the chairs in front of the Marshall’s desk. Maddie wrote both their statements, signed hers, and then handed Timothy his to sign. After that, they sat in the chairs in front of the desk, listened to the clock on the wall tic away the seconds, and waited.
Half an hour later, Bart came back with the fat man Maddie recognized as the man who had asked about buying her ranch.
Maddie pointed at the man and said, “That’s him, Marshall. He’s the man who offered me less than half of what my ranch is worth. Where’s the other one, the one he called James?”
“I don’t know. He wasn’t in his room. One of the men at the livery stable said he rode out of town a little after I got to the hotel. His room was next to Mr. Riggs here and I figure he heard what was going on and lit out. I’ll form a posse to look for him, but it’s getting pretty late to follow a trail even if he left one. You two might as well go home. When we catch the other one, I’ll send word so you can come to town and identify him.”
Bart locked Mr. Riggs in one cell and then went to form a posse of the town’s business men. He’d rounded up six other men and was talking to James Driggle, the barber, when Timothy rode back into town and stopped his horse in front of the doctor’s office. Since Bart and James had been outside on the boardwalk, they both saw the red stain and the blood dripping from Timothy’s right arm. Bart helped Timothy off his horse and once on the ground, Timothy explained what had happened.
“Marshall Thompson, me and Mrs. Wilson was about a mile out of town when he jumped out from behind a bush and stopped us. I started to draw my revolver, but he shot me in the arm before I could get it out of the holster. Mrs. Wilson was reaching for her rifle, but he said he’d shoot her too if she tried anything.”
“What man? Who was he?”
“The same man I saw shoot Mr. Richards. He said he knowed we told on him and caused his brother to get arrested. Marshall, he’s got Mrs. Wilson now, and he told me to tell you if you don’t let his brother go, he’ll kill her.”
“So they’re brothers, not just two men. Where did he take Maddie?”
“There’s an old cabin ‘bout two miles off the road where he got us. He said he’ll be there until dark. If you don’t bring him his brother by then, he’ll kill Mrs. Wilson. I believe him, Marshall. He’ll kill her for sure if you don’t let his brother go. He said the only reason he just shot me in the arm was so I could deliver his message. He laughed and said I wouldn’t bleed to death if I rode fast.”
Bart frowned, then turned to the men who had gathered in front of the doctor’s office.
“I’m going to get Timothy to the doctor’s office and then we’re going to go get Mrs. Wilson. I’ll need all of you who can carry a rifle, so go get saddled up.”
Doctor Harrison looked at Timothy’s wound and said he’d be sore for a few weeks, but there wasn’t much damage done. Bart walked out of the doctor’s office and started for his own office to pick up a rifle. There, sitting on the chair in front of the Marshall’s office was Jacob Cunningham. In his lap was a long, leather rifle case. He looked up at Bart.
“Marshall, I heard about Mrs. Wilson, and I want to go with you.”
Bart shook his head.
“No, Jacob. You can’t move fast enough if there’s any shooting.”
“You’re right about that, Marshall, but I don’t intend to be that close. From what I heard, you won’t get that close with all these men either, not if you want that lady to not get shot. As soon as you ride up, he’ll put a bullet in her and ride off.”
“Then how can you help?”
Jacob’s face was stern.
“Marshall Thompson, I sorta lied to you about my leg and about bein’ in the war. I knew folks here was Union and wouldn’t take kindly to any Confederates bein’ in town. My Daddy was a gunsmith like I said, but we lived in just across the Kentucky line in Tennessee. I was a Confederate sniper in the war. One of them Union boys got lucky and bounced a minie ball off the rock I was hidin’ behind. Busted my knee all to hell and back. My leg healed, but it’s stiff now. I limped out of the hospital and went home for the rest of the war, but I took Myrtle here with me.”
Jacob untied the laces of the gun case and pulled out a single shot, muzzle loading rifle. It had a telescopic sight that ran almost the length of the barrel.
It looked a little like a Sharps, but Bart knew it wasn’t. It was a Whitworth rifle, and he’d seen what they could do. He’d spent a lot of time hiding behind trees and rocks while the snipers of the Confederate Whitworth Sharpshooters killed one Artillery man after another.
Artillery men had to stand in the open to load their cannons, and that made them prime targets for snipers. A man would stand up to swab the cannon bore after the last shot. There would be a thud, the man would fall over, and a second or so later, the report of a rifle that was over five hundred yards away would be heard.
Jacob stood the rifle on his knee, then looked back at Bart.
“The way I figure it is you’re sort of between a rock and a hard place. You can’t go ridin’ out there with a bunch of men and expect him to give up. Mr. Robinson probably ain’t the first man he’s killed, so he’s got nothing to lose by killin’ Mrs. Wilson, and he’ll do that just as soon as he sees your posse so’s he can get away before you catch him. I figure you already guessed that, so you’re gonna ride out there, leave the men a ways away, and try to talk to the man. You and I both know that won’t do no good lessen you got his brother with you, so you’ll take him along.
“That man ain’t going to let Mrs. Wilson go even if you give him his brother. He knows as soon as they ride off, you’ll telegraph their descriptions to every Marshall within a hundred miles. They’ll get caught the next town they come to, and Mrs. Wilson can identify them both. As soon as he sees his brother, he’ll shoot Mrs. Wilson and shoot you too. They’ll be gone by the time your posse hears the shots and comes to see what happened. If you’re purty good with that revolver, you might get him before he gets you, but Mrs. Wilson will still be dead.
“It’s like in the war when both sides was hidin’ in trenches because showin’ yourself meant you’d get shot. If he lets her go, he figures you’ll shoot him. If you give him his brother, you figure he’ll shoot you and Mrs. Wilson.
“What I can do, well, what me and Myrtle here can do, is shoot that man before he can do anything to that lady. All you have to do is get me within a thousand yards of him and a little higher than he is, and then keep him talking for a few minutes so I can get a shot.”
Bart shook his head.
“You’ll only have one shot. If you miss, he’ll kill Maddie.”
Jacob patted the stock of the rifle.
“Me and Myrtle don’t miss, Marshall Thompson. You ever hear about Spotsylvania Courthouse and that Union general who got himself killed there?”
“Yes, I heard about General Sedgwick. He was killed by a lucky shot from a sniper.”
“‘Tweren’t no luck about it. That was me and Myrtle, a little over nine hundred yards away from where he stood tryin’ to get his men to charge the Confederate line. I had to respect a man that brave, but he was dumb to stand out in the open like he did. He stayed in one place just long enough for my shot to hit where I aimed. That’s all I need this man to do – just stand still for about five seconds.”
Bart shook his head.
“Even if I believe you, and I’m not sure I do, he’ll have Maddie close to him. You might hit her instead.”
“Thought you might say that. Let’s go out behind my shop and I’ll prove I’m telling the truth.”
As the group of men rode out of town, Bart hoped he’d made the right decision. In reality, it was the only decision he could have made that held a possibility of rescuing Maddie, but he was still worried.
Jacob had been everything he’d said. The rock sitting on the ground almost a thousand yards from the back of the gunsmith’s shop was about the size of a man’s head. If it hadn’t been painted white, Bart would have had trouble picking it out of the rest of the ground. Jacob loaded the Whitworth, then sat down and put the barrel in the fork of the rifle rest he pulled from a pouch on the side of the rifle case. He’d sighted for a few moments and then pulled the trigger.
A little over two seconds later by Bart’s count, a puff of dust appeared just in front of the rock. Jacob reloaded the rifle, made an adjustment to the telescopic sight, and fired again. This time, the rock bounced as the heavy bullet impacted it in the center. Jacob turned to Bart.
“The sight must have been bumped a little on the way out here. Fixed that on the second shot and Myrtle’s back on target now. That convince you?”
Bart had no doubts now that Jacob could do what he said, but there were still a lot of things that could go wrong.
Bart knew the location of the cabin and the area around it. He planned to put Jacob on a small, brush-covered rise about a third of a mile from the cabin. That part was easy to do. The rise was far enough away the man probably wouldn’t see Jacob getting into position. Bart would then leave his posse around the bend in the trail to the cabin and take Riggs with him to the cabin. His aim was to get Rigg’s brother outside and standing still long enough for Jacob to kill or wound him.
There was a high probability the man wouldn’t come outside unless he released Riggs, but Bart was going to insist on seeing Maddie first. The man would probably agree to do that once he saw Bart was alone, but he would probably keep Maddie in front of him as a shield. The rise was off to one side so the man would be at least a little exposed on that side, but Jacob’s aim would have to be dead on. Bart didn’t want to think about what would happen if Jacob missed.
Jacob hadn’t ridden from town with the rest of the posse. There was too much risk Riggs would see him leave the group and somehow alert his brother or that the other men of the posse would question why Jacob had left. Instead, Jacob rode by himself across country to the rise. Bart hoped his directions were good enough for Jacob to find it. Bart would only know if he saw Jacob’s horse tied at the base of the rise. If it wasn’t, that meant Jacob wasn’t there and Bart would have to contend with the situation as it played out.
They started for the cabin an hour later with Riggs handcuffed and with his hands tied to the saddle horn of his horse. Bart led that horse in front of the group of ten men from the town. They rode slowly and didn’t say much to each other. They were already in agreement that if anything happened to Maddie or to Bart, neither Riggs or his brother would leave Colorado Territory alive.
Half a mile from the cabin, Bart halted the posse and explained they were to stay where they were until Bart came back with Maddie or they heard shots fired. Bart picked up the rains of the horse Riggs rode and started for the cabin. He glanced at the foot of the rise, but didn’t see Jacob’s horse. Bart had a feeling this day wasn’t going to turn out very well for Maddie.
When he got to the ramshackle building, Bart stopped just out of pistol range and yelled, “You in the cabin. I got your brother with me. Bring Mrs. Wilson out so I can see she’s all right. If she is, we’ll talk about how to exchange them. If she isn’t, I got a posse with me, and neither you or your brother will have to worry about a trial.”
Maddie slowly appeared in the open door of the cabin with the man right behind her. He had one arm around her waist. The other held a revolver to her head.
The man stopped a few feet from the cabin and yelled to Riggs.
“You all right, Samuel?”
Biggs looked at Bart and grinned, then yelled back, “Yes, James, I’m fine.”
The man then yelled at Bart.
“You let my brother go and as soon as he gets to me, I’ll let the woman go.”
Bart shook his head.
“I don’t think so. You let Mrs. Wilson get to me first and then I’ll let your brother go.”
The man laughed.
“Yeah, so’s you can shoot me soon’s she’s out of the way. My brother goes first unless you want this pretty little lady to die.”
Bart figured Jacob had been right. As soon as Riggs got to the man Riggs had called James, the man would kill Maddie and then shoot him. He had to get Maddie out of the line of fire somehow if he was to have a chance at saving them both. He shook his head.
“Can’t do that. How about if you let her start walking toward me and I’ll do the same with your brother? That way we’ll both be able to make sure neither one of us does anything. I’ll warn you though, if anything happens to Mrs. Wilson, I’ll shoot you both.”
Riggs spoke then.
“James, what he said about a posse is true, and I heard them saying they’d just as soon shoot us both as take us back for a trial. Let the woman start walking this way. The Marshall won’t do anything until she’s safe beside him, and once she is, he won’t do anything for fear she might get hurt.”
“Yeah, and what if he does?”
Riggs looked at Bart and grinned again.
“You wouldn’t risk this little lady getting shot, would you Marshall? Wouldn’t do you any good anyway. James would kill you both before you got that revolver out of the holster.”
Bart looked Riggs in the eyes. He didn’t believe for a second that the man wouldn’t open fire as soon as Riggs was close enough to run to the cabin. Still, it was the only way to possibly get Maddie to safety.”
“No. Once Mrs. Wilson is safe, you two can ride on and I won’t follow you.”
Riggs turned back to his brother.
“Let her start walking as soon as the marshal takes off these handcuffs and I start. Just tell her to stay between you and the Marshal.”
Bart took off Riggs’ handcuffs and Riggs dismounted and started walking his horse toward the cabin. The man holding Maddie released her and she started walking toward Bart. Bart held his breath until she was about twenty feet from the man. He was getting ready to yell at her to drop to the ground so he could shoot James when he heard a whistling sound and then a dull thud. James dropped his revolver, fell to the ground clutching his chest, and then lay still. A second later, the loud crack of a rifle echoed off the mountains in the distance.
At the sound of the shot, Maddie ran the rest of the way to Bart’s side. Riggs ran to his brother’s side, knelt down, and then looked up at Bart and screamed, “You killed my brother”.
Bart drew his revolver, put Maddie behind him, and then told Riggs to stay where he was. He was putting the handcuffs back on Riggs when the posse rode up to the cabin at a gallop. Mr. Driggle dismounted, walked to where James lay, then turned to Bart.
“Marshal, what happened? We only heard one shot and figured he’d killed you. How did you manage to shoot him before he shot you?”
Bart stood up.
“I didn’t. Jacob did.”
“Jacob, the crippled gunsmith? He didn’t come with us.”
“Yes, he did. You just didn’t know it. If it hadn’t been for Jacob, you’d probably be finding both me and Mrs. Wilson laying here. He’s the one who saved us both.”
No one had seen Jacob quietly ride up to the group. He then dismounted and limped to James’ body, looked at it, and then limped back. He looked at Bart and smiled.
“I thought he’d never give me a clean shot. Thanks for getting Mrs. Wilson out of the way. He had her so tight I couldn’t risk it before he let her go. She’s all right, isn’t she?
“Yes, she’s fine. I’d given up on you because I didn’t see your horse.”
“Sorry about that. Once I got to the rise, the only place I could have tied my horse where you could see him could probably be seen from that cabin. That would have spooked the man and he’d probably have shot Mrs. Wilson. I tied him a bit up in the brush on the far side. There wasn’t any way to let you know.”
Mayor Williams approached Jacob and held out his hand.
“On behalf of Gunnison Gorge, I want to thank you, Jacob. Tell me, where did you learn to shoot like that?”
“Well, my daddy was a gunsmith, so I grew up shooting. Just comes natural like, I guess.”
The Mayor still hadn’t released Jacob’s hand but he wasn’t shaking it anymore.
“That rise is over a quarter of a mile from here. I only know of a few men who could make that shot. All of them were sharpshooters during the war. I figure you must have been one of them. Which side?”
Jacob took a deep breath before answering. He figured doing so would result in being told to leave Gunnison Gorge.
“Sir, I was Confederate. Now I’m just a man lookin’ to get on with my life, so please let me stay in Gunnison Gorge. The war cost me the use of one leg and I don’t want no trouble with anybody. I just want to be a gunsmith.”
Mayor Williams frowned.
“There are a lot of folks in town who wouldn’t like it that you were a Rebel. What should I tell them?”
“Just tell them the War’s over and I just want to be a gunsmith like I said. I don’t want no trouble with anybody over anything.”
The Mayor smiled.
“I think that might be enough for some folks. If you live up to what you say, the rest’ll probably come around in time.”
An hour later, Riggs was once again in a jail cell, his brother was at the undertaker’s, and Bart was sitting at his desk writing a report about what had happened. He was interrupted by the office door opening. He looked up and saw Maddie standing there.
“Afternoon, Maddie. What can I do for you?”
“I just wanted to thank you for getting me away from that man. He kept telling me he was going to shoot me so the rest of the ranchers would do what he and his brother wanted. He said shooting you would make them believe even if shooting me and Mr. Robinson didn’t. You saved my life.”
“Maddie, it’s not me you should be thanking. You should be thanking Jacob. He’s the man who got you out of danger.”
“I can’t do that. He was a Rebel, one of the Rebels who killed my husband. I can’t forgive him for that, much less thank him. I’m not sure I can even go back and get my revolver from him now that I know what he was.”
Bart motioned to Maddie.
“Maddie, I don’t like seeing you like this, and haven’t since I first heard how you feel. Come have a seat so we can talk a little.”
When Maddie sat down, Bart smiled.
“Maddie, I understand how you feel more than you know. I was a Union artilleryman in the war, and I saw a lot of men killed. One of those men was my brother, Isaac. He and I both enlisted at the same place and time, and served in the same artillery unit. He got killed in one of the first battles of the war, and that made me hate the Confederates. After a year, I started to understand some things about war that changed my mind.
“War is a terrible thing that turns men into killers who kill without any other reason than to stay alive. They aren’t evil men, they’re just men trying to not get killed. The officers probably have some idea about why they’re fighting, but I know firsthand, for the men doing the fighting it’s just fight to stay alive.
“I know that I killed a lot of men on the other side, either with cannon shells or with my rifle if they were close enough. I didn’t hate those men. It was just that either I killed them or they’d kill me. I’d expect most of the Confederate soldiers felt the same way.
Bart picked up two of the papers on his desk.
“These are wanted posters on Riggs and his brother I got yesterday from Denver City. It has some of Rigg’s history on it. He and his brother were jayhawkers in Kansas before the war. Their group killed several farmers and families who lived along the Kansas Territory/Missouri border because they were supposed to be pro-slavery. None of those families were slave owners. They were just farmers who came to Missouri from slave states. The jayhawkers killed them and burned or took everything they owned. Riggs and his brother laid claim to those farms once the people had been killed, and then sold them to free-staters. They were both wanted for that in Kansas. That’s why they came to Colorado Territory.
“The jayhawkers were formed to keep Kansas free. Riggs and his brother used that Union cause as an excuse to kill and steal. Does siding with the Union make those crimes excusable?”
“No, of course not.”
“So, just because a man was Union doesn’t mean he was a good man?”
“No, I guess it doesn’t.”
“Then why would a man who was a Confederate mean he’s a man you should hate?”
“But they killed my husband.”
“Yes, and he most likely killed some Confederate soldiers. Should their wives hate your husband?”
“No. My husband was just serving his country.”
“Don’t you think Jacob was doing the same thing – serving what he thought was his country once Tennessee joined the Confederacy?”
“I…I suppose he might have been.”
“Why don’t you go ask him and let him tell you himself. I think Jacob’s a good man who’s just looking to start over here in Gunnison Gorge. He wouldn’t have volunteered to go with me to get you if he was anything else.”
Jacob ran the cleaning rod down through the bore of the Whitworth rifle to clean the powder fowling from the barrel. The breech end was sitting in a bucket of hot water, and bubbles streamed from the nipple as the tight fitting patch pushed the air from the barrel. When the cleaning rod and patch bottomed out on the breech plug, Jacob pulled the rod back out slowly and let the hot water fill the barrel.
He’d done this six times when the door to his shop opened and Mrs. Wilson walked in. Jacob leaned the barrel against his work bench, wiped off his hands and stood up.
“Afternoon, Mrs. Wilson. I hope you’re feelin’ all right after what happened today. I’m sorry but I don’t have your revolver done yet. I’ll need a couple more days.”
Maddie tried to smile.
“I’m fine now, but I’m not here about my revolver. I’m here to talk to you about today.”
“I see. I don’t have any chairs except one in the bedroom yet, but you can have a seat on my box here if you want.”
Maddie shook her head.
“No, I’ll stand.”
Maddie took a deep breath.
“Mr. Cunningham, my husband was killed by the Confederate Army at the Battle of Glorietta Pass in New Mexico. Since then, I’ve hated anyone associated with the Confederacy. I was going to thank you today until I heard you were a Confederate. I couldn’t do that, so I went to thank Marshal Thompson instead. He wouldn’t let me and said I should thank you since what happened was all your doing. I told him I didn’t think I could do that. He said I should come talk to you and hear why you fought in the war, so here I am. He said you were from Tennessee. Did you have slaves before the war?”
Jacob shook his head.
“No, Ma’am. My daddy didn’t believe in havin’ slaves. He said it was against the Bible. Besides, we didn’t farm so we didn’t have no need for slaves. He was a gunsmith.”
“Then why did you fight for the Confederacy?”
“Well, when the southern states started quittin’ the United States and startin’ their own country, Daddy said it was so the rich people could keep their slaves and keep gettin’ richer. The man who ran the general store in Adams said it was all about states rights, that states should be able to make their own laws about things like slavery and how they sold their cotton and tobacco. Neither one made any sense to me because we wasn’t rich and we didn’t have no slaves, so I wasn’t going to be a part of it.
“When the Union captured Fort Donnellson and started for Nashville, it was like the locusts had come. The Union troops took everything the people had, chickens, hogs, cattle, horses, even the crops from their gardens. That made me change my mind about enlistin’. Most of them people didn’t have nothin’ to do with slaves and were just tryin’ to live the best they could. I figured if I enlisted, maybe I could stop some of it.
“When they saw I could shoot pretty straight, they put me in the Whitworth Sharpshooters and gave me a Whitworth rifle. I spent my time in the war tryin’ to keep them Union cannons from killin’ so many of our men. I guess I did that some, but it got me this stiff leg as payment. Wish I’d have stayed home now. All that killin’ keeps me awake some nights still.”
“You must have lost friends during the war. Don’t you hate the Union like I hate the Confederacy?”
Jacob shook his head.
“No, Ma’am. I can’t hate the soldiers I fought against. They were just trying to make it through the war. I don’t much care for the officers on either side. They kept sendin’ men out to charge through open fields knowin’ they’d be shot and killed. I suppose they were doin’ what they thought was right, but they shoulda taken better care of their men.”
“What about the government? Don’t you hate them?”
“Ma’am, my daddy read me a passage from the Bible when I got back home. He said he wanted me to think about what had happened and to not let that make me lose track of who I was and what I was going to do. Let me go get my Bible because I marked it and I read it sometimes when I’m feeling bad.”
Jacob stood up and walked into the back room. A moment later he came back thumbing through the pages of a well-worn Bible.
“Carried this Bible through the war from the day I enlisted and then all the way from Tennessee to Colorado Territory. Ah…here it is. 1 John 2:11. ‘But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.’
Jacob looked up at Maddie.
“See, Ma’am, what that means is if you start hatin’, you don’t see nothin’ else, not the good in the world or in other people or the good things that happen to you. You just stumble around hatin’ things. The Union won, and dwellin’ on it and hatin’ em wouldn’t do anything except make me feel bad all the time.”
“Why did you ask Marshal Thompson to go with him?”
“Well, Ma’am, you was in trouble and to my way of thinkin’, there wasn’t much Marshall Thompson could do about it. If he rode in there with the posse, they’d have got the man, but not before he shot you and probably some of the others. If Marshal Thompson went just with Riggs and let him go, his brother would probably have shot you both. He needed somebody who could get the brother before he could do anything to either one of you. I knew I could do that.”
“I…I’m sorry you had to kill another man.”
Jacob shook his head.
“You don’t need to be sorry, Ma’am. Riggs’ brother needed killin’. He killed Mr. Robinson for no reason other than Mr. Robinson wouldn’t sell his farm. That weren’t no reason to kill somebody. Neither was him saying he’d kill you if Marshal Thompson didn’t give him his brother. Killin’ it is the only way to stop a mad dog, and that’s what Riggs brother was – a mad dog. I ain’t sorry for that.”
For the first time since she’d brought him her revolver, Jacob saw Maddie smile. It wasn’t much of a smile, just a little lift in the corners of her mouth, but it was there.
“Jacob, I guess I should…I guess Bart was right about you. It’s hard for me to say this but…thank you.”
“No need to thank me, Ma’am. I just done what any man who can do what I can woulda done.”
Maddie’s smile got a little bigger.
“You didn’t have to though, and I owe you for that. What can I do to pay you back?”
Jacob grinned again.
“Ma’am, all I need from you is to be a friend. That’s worth more to me than anything else you could give me.”
Bart kept Riggs in a cell for the week it took the circuit judge to get back to town. He did let Riggs attend the burial of his brother in the cemetery reserved for criminals, but he did so in handcuffs and leg irons. Because it was obvious that Riggs and his brother were working together to swindle ranch owners out of their land, he was tried for the murder of Mr. Robinson. The trial lasted only one day.
Maddie and Mrs. Robinson both testified that Riggs had tried to buy their ranches for much less than they were worth and that his brother, James, had been there to intimidate them. Timothy had recovered from being shot in the arm and had testified that he’d seen James shoot Mr. Robinson, that James had captured Maddie and also shot him. Mr. Robinson wasn’t well enough to attend the trial, but he’d written a statement that confirmed what the other witnesses said.
Riggs’ defense was that his brother had acted without his knowledge when he killed Mr. Robinson. That defense was countered by Mrs. Robinson’s testimony that when they had left the Robinson ranch, Riggs had turned to Mr. Robinson and said he'd be sorry he’d chased them away.
The jury took only half an hour to reach a guilty verdict. Riggs was hanged two days later and buried beside his brother.
Jacob finished Maddie’s revolver conversion, and after the trial she went to his shop to pay him.
“Jacob, you said it would cost five dollars if I remember right.”
“Well, Ma’am, it weren’t as big a job as I thought. Four dollars will be fine. There’s one think I been thinkin’ about, though. Why do you need a revolver and a rifle?”
“I needed it before because of men like Riggs and his brother. I guess I don’t now…since you seem to be looking out for me.”
“I don’t think you need much looking after, but I’m happy you think I am. Maybe you’d let me do some more things for you some day.”
“Well, I can do a fair job of tinkerin’. You got any pots or pans that need fixin?”
“I don’t know. You’d have to talk to Maria about that. She’s the woman who cooks and cleans for me.”
“I might just do that if you’ll let me come visit you some day.”
Maddie thought for a moment. A month ago, she’d have told him to stay away from her ranch or be shot. Now…well, Jacob seemed like a good man even though he’d fought for the Confederacy. He had saved her life but didn’t want any reward except for her to be his friend.
He hadn’t said anything when she told him she needed the revolver to defend herself from men like Riggs. Most men in town would have laughed and said what she really needed was a husband. Jacob had just said he didn’t think she needed looking after but that he wanted to do more for her. Maddie realized it was impossible to hate Jacob. He was too nice and too polite. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to let him visit once.
“You could come out now if you want. I’ll drive us out and bring you back so you don’t have to saddle a horse. Maria is fixing fried chicken for lunch, and I promise you’ll like it.”
A month after Riggs’ trial, Gunnison Gorge had settled back down to a sleepy little town in Colorado Territory again. Bart was sitting in the chair on the porch of the Marshal’s office when Maddie drove up and stopped.
“Good morning, Bart.”
“Good morning, Maddie. What brings you to town today?”
“Oh, nothing much. I need a few things. Maria says we’re almost out of salt and coffee, so I’m going to get some. After that, Jacob and I are going to drive out to my ranch. My foreman hurt his back and he’s the man who shoes my horses. Jacob says he can do it, so I’m going to let him try.”
Bart grinned as Maddie drove on down the street. She’d changed since that day. She still spoke to him every time she saw him, but it wasn’t the same. Her words were just the words two friends might exchange.
It seemed that Jacob was spending more and more time out at Maddie’s ranch. At first, it was just to fix a cooking pot with a hole, or so Jacob had told him. That seemed innocent enough, but then he went out to her ranch to fix a rifle for one of the cowhands. Maddie’s cowhands came to town almost every Saturday afternoon for tobacco and maybe to get a haircut and a shave. That cowhand could have brought his rifle in then. Now he was going out to shoe a horse for Maddie, even though Bart knew there were at least two of Maddie’s cowhands who could have done the job.
Bart was happy for Maddie and happy for Jacob. Maddie seemed a lot happier lately, and Jacob was always smiling. Jacob had already asked Bart if he thought Maddie would make a good wife, and Maddie often spoke of how much she liked Jacob. He figured they’d found something in each other they liked, and hoped they’d decide they belonged together.
As Bart sat there musing about the children Maddie and Jacob might have, he heard a woman’s voice.
“Good morning, Marshal. How are you this fine day?”
Bart looked up and into the smiling face of Rebecca Williams. Rebecca was Mayor Williams’ daughter. Bart thought it odd that she’d never said a word to him before that. Rebecca was nineteen, and had her mother’s flaming red hair and soft smile. He’d heard she also had her father’s sharp mind.
“Why, hello Rebecca. I’m doing fine. How about you?”
Rebecca fluffed her hair a little and smiled.
“I’m just peachy, Marshal. Daddy wanted me to come by and ask if you’d like to come to dinner this Sunday after church. Mama’s got a ham and is going to have some baked beans and cornbread to go with it.”
Rebecca paused and Bart saw her raise her eyebrows and grin.
“I’m going to make a cherry pie for dessert. Do you like cherry pie?”
Bart said he’d be happy to join them, and Rebecca walked off toward the general store. As he watched her walk away, he realized Rebecca wasn’t the young girl she’d been when he came to town. Five years before, when he was just twenty and Rebecca was fourteen, she was just another slender girl full of giggles. Now, she’d filled out a lot in some very nice places, and the way she spoke was soft and tender with none of her old high-pitched giggles. She talked like a woman who was…
Bart grinned to himself. Rebecca had talked to him like Maddie always had before Jacob came along. Could it be she liked him? He’d never thought about her before, but now…He’d have to think about that a lot before Sunday. Rebecca had turned into a very desirable woman.