The modern day Western film has a lot to answer for being so inaccurate as to how life really was. Take the gunfighter they portrayed. Two gunfighters facing off in the main street is nothing more than Hollywood myth. Men did not go around looking to enhance their reputations by beating the next man as if it were a darts match down the local pub. They were mercenaries, hired guns who had managed to keep themselves alive. If they lived long enough, they gained a reputation. The last thing they wanted was to come up against one of their own, particularly if there was no money in it. They killed for cash. The title gunfighter is a misnomer. They weren’t fighters. They were killers.
They were law enforcement officers, contract killers or psychopaths. They did not shoot to injure but to kill. Many who found they had a natural ability to shoot accurately became outlaws or bounty hunters, as the money was better than law enforcement. The quick draw did not exist. Fights were seldom random with a professional gunfighter. They were carefully staged with everything possible in the gunfighter’s favour. Professional gunfighters avoided each other. Public gunfights were typically more spontaneous, a fight that turned deadly when one side reached for a weapon. These rarely involved professional gunfighters.
In most cases the gunfighters were not the chivalrous, stand alone men, filled with integrity and honour as portrayed in the films. They were more likely cold, calculating, anti-social, callous, individuals who only displayed emotion for appearances sake.
They were revengeful killers who used their prowess with a gun for profit and personal gain. They displayed no misgivings for what they did to their victims, believing they were only dispensing justice and right was on their side.
Dodge City, Kansas 1876.
The Long Branch saloon was situated between a Chas Rath & Co. General Outfittings and Geo. M. Hoover's Wholesale Wines, Liquors, & Cigars on Front Street. Even though there was a five-piece orchestra playing, Floyd Rollins wasn’t listening. All his attention was being given to the man standing at the end of the long bar. The gaming tables were full and the noisiest patrons were those that were losing. Floyd had been on and off his trail for twelve weeks, since he broke away from the raiding parties in Nebraska.
The reward could be collected in any city that had a United States Marshal and that was one of the reasons Floyd had followed him here. Many times before, he had called off his hunt because the fugitive had wandered too far from a destination that would honour the reward. This time, the information he had received and his own gut instinct told him that it was at Dodge City where he would find him. The villain had to be brought in alive. They wanted him back on the reservation.
Dodge City was packed with itinerants, travelling to the goldfields of California. Perhaps his victim thought he would be safe in numbers, perhaps he was going to try his luck in prospecting, although this would be the first honest day’s work he had ever done in his miserable twenty-eight years. He had killed children, destroyed property, robbed, bashed, murdered, tortured and raped. It was for the crime of gunning down a lawman that brought the reward of five hundred dollars.
He had watched Snake Eyes walk into the saloon and Floyd followed him shortly after carrying his rifle, loaded and ready. He positioned himself at the far end of the bar and although he was sure that Snake Eyes had not seen him, many rogues could smell the bounty hunter on him and instinctively moved away. They stayed there for two hours, in which time Snake Eyes had consumed more than ten whiskeys. He staggered slightly when he turned to leave, then steadied himself and made his way to the door. Once outside, he went round the back to relieve himself. It was whilst he had his proudest possession in his hand that Floyd called him.
“Snake Eyes, stay where you are, I’ve a rifle on your back.”
“I’m worthless to you dead though, aren’t I?”
With that he dropped to the ground rolled over and went to pull his gun from its holster. Floyd waited until the gun had come clear and was making its way to point at him, before he fired. He aimed for his right arm which was holding the gun. The bullet went through his upper arm and smashed the bone, sending bone splinters to poke their ends out of his flesh. The gun fell from his grip.
This was the first time Floyd had seen him in the flesh and now, gazing into his eyes, he fully understood the reason for the nickname. A cold and deadly stare came back at him, full of hatred and, surprisingly, determination. A crowd had started to gather when they heard the gunshot. It was keeping its distance behind Floyd.
“This man is wanted by the law. I’m taking him in.”
“Is there a bounty?” A voice called out.
Floyd froze. He knew the question was not an innocent one. He could either stay with his original intention or tackle this new threat. He turned just in time to see two men had drawn their pistols and were taking aim at him. One fired. It was off target. With no time to think, Floyd let off four shots. All of them hit home and the two men dropped to the floor.
“Self defence.” One of the onlookers shouted. “Saw it all.”
The crowd murmured their agreement and someone yelled to go and get the sheriff. Floyd turned to find that Snake Eyes had gone. He had to stay behind and wait for the sheriff to be sure that a bounty was not put on his own head.
An undertaker arrived first with his cart and two coffins. He loaded the bodies, with some help from by-standers, and made his way back to his yard. Floyd noticed the helpers made sure they inspected the men’s pockets before loading them into the temporary coffin. Their guns mysteriously disappeared too. Floyd wondered how much of their clothing would be left by the time they were finally put in the ground. The boots, as worn as they were, would certainly find new owners. The undertaker would have to rely on the good graces of the sheriff and the public purse to try and get some help towards the cost of the burial, as there were few enough pickings left on their bodies.
The sheriff finally arrived and there was a rush to tell him the story. Eventually he got round to Floyd.
“What’re you doing in Dodge?”
“I was following Snake Eyes. You’ve a notice on him for five hundred dollars. I was hoping to collect. These two spoiled it for me.”
“Where is he?”
“Gone, when these two decided to join in.”
“You a bounty hunter then?”
“At the moment, that’s what I’m doing.”
“You a hired gun?”
“Come back to my office.”
They were two blocks away, about to cross the road, when a shot rang out. A splinter of wood flew from the timber siding of the hardware shop on Floyd’s right. He spun round and raised his rifle to where the puff of smoke was disbursing. His attacker was waiting for it to clear so he could see if his shot had struck home. Snake Eyes had the pistol in his left hand and was half concealed by the building he was using as cover. As soon as the image of Messer appeared, Floyd let off two shots. Messer howled in pain and dropped to the floor.
“Have you killed him?” The sheriff asked.
“I hope not. Come on. Give me a hand.”
They rushed over to see that two bullets had hit home. One in the shoulder and one in the chest. He was still alive, just, by what Floyd could make out. They picked him up and scrambled with him to the Sheriff’s office.
“Fifty fifty?” The sheriff asked through his laboured breathing.
“Sure, if we make it.” Floyd said. The sheriff kicked the door open and a deputy who was sweeping the floor looked up, saw who it was and stopped what he was doing. They pushed papers on the floor and put the body on a desk. The Sheriff examined him.
“Come over here Francis.” He called to his deputy. “Confirm he’s still alive.” After a preliminary examination, Francis confirmed that the victim was indeed, still alive.
“Go and fetch the doc and be quick about it.” Five minutes later the deputy returned with the doctor who was carrying a black bag.
“Confirm he’s alive doc, will you?” The doctor examined him and said he was, although only just.
“Bounty?” he asked.
“Yes, this fella.” Pointing at Floyd.
“He’ll die if I don’t remove the bullet.”
“Will you do it free of charge?”
“Can you write out the certificate that he was alive when you examined him?”
“Drag him to a cell and leave him.” He instructed Francis. Snake Eyes was already dead.
“We need to sort this nice and clean. You know I can’t officially claim the bounty, don’t you?” the sheriff said.
“We had an agreement. I’ll give you your share in cash when I get paid.”
“The marshal should be coming by in the next couple of days. He’ll pay you then. I’m Charlie Bassett.” He held out his hand.
Elm Grove, Missouri, 1865.
The wagon train master went up to Horton Rollins as he was greasing the axles of his wagon yet again. Horton replaced the grease pot on its hanger on the rear axle. The master had a slip of paper in his hand.
“You Horton Basil Rollins?”
“I’m Cyrus Foster, wagon master. You travelling with your wife? Where’s she?” Horton shouted for his wife to come down from the wagon. “What about kids? You have a daughter, Saphrona Biddy with thirteen years. Where’s she?”
“Over there, tending the two horses.”
“Your eldest, Floyd, where’s he?”
“With the four oxen.” He pointed.
“Oxen or bullocks, as some overseas folks call ‘em, are a good choice to pull your wagon. Much stronger than the horse. Floyd’s what, twelve? What about the little ‘uns?”
“Yes, Floyd’s twelve and here are the little ones. Lorena and Lily, six and four.”
“You got one wagon, four oxen two horses, four cows. Is that right?”
“That about sums it up.”
“We’ll be leavin’ day after tomorrow. Grass is up and it’s time to go. Take about half a year to get there and an agent will show you your land when we arrive. Got any problems, come and see me. Okay?”
“Everything’s just fine, thanks.”
“Just in case, can you use a rifle or pistol?”
“I can use both so can Floyd. He’s a crack shot with his Spencer repeating rifle. Pretty good with the Colt too.”
“Well, let’s hope he only needs it for game, shall we?” With that he walked to the next wagon in line.
Looking back there were wagons everywhere. Some said there were over seventy wagons with three hundred and fifty people. Once underway, there were nearly two hundred oxen and cattle bringing up the rear. The pilot of the expedition was a Methodist missionary, Ignatius Snider, who had made the trip the year before. As the wagon train captain visited more and more families, the realization that they would soon be on their way caused much excitement and revelry. They’d just finished dinner when two strangers appeared at the Rollins table out of the night.
“We’re called Sam and Aralda Peterson,” the man announced. “We’re in the next wagon and thought we’d introduce ourselves.”
“D’you want some coffee?” The children moved off their stools to make room for the newcomers. Horton noticed a group of children standing in the background.
“Is this your family? Bring them forward.” Three boys and a girl came out from behind the wagon.
“This is Myra, my oldest with ten years, then Louanna who is nine, William is seven and Tom is six.”
“Now, if you don’t mind me saying, you and your wife have the names of the Latter-day Saints movement, yet your children don’t carry them.” Horton remarked.
“That’s observant of you and you’re correct. Although both our parents were of the calling, Aralda and I didn’t see it the same and we became ordinary Christian folk, nothing special. Our children therefore bear the names of ordinary Christian children. I do a bit of preaching and I’m hoping I can get involved in a church along the ways and I don’t care if it’s Methodist, Protestant or Catholic, I’m just proud to spread the word of the Lord. Amen.”
“Amen to that,” the Rollins and Peterson families echoed in unison.
“Have some coffee, it’s fresh.”
As Sarepta was getting the coffee and two fresh mugs the children started to mingle.
“Why don’t you all go over and see to the horses and oxen. Make sure they’re tethered right for the night. Wouldn’t want to lose them now, would we?” He laughed as he finished.
“Sounds like you’re well prepared neighbour,” Sam said. “Much better so than we.”
“I’m sure there’s all sorts travelling with us. Look at the massive herd that has been gathered. Only four of ‘em are mine so who owns all the rest? Must be some wealth scattered amongst us. Makes us a temptation for those not inclined to an honest day’s labour.”
“Well, some say there’s over seventy wagons and I dare say a goodly number of guns scattered among them too. I reckon we’ll give a good account of ourselves.”
“You shoot a gun then, Sam?”
“Sure thing, so does Aralda and we’re teachin’ the young ‘uns how to shoot too.”
They chatted some more then took themselves off to bed to get some rest for the start of their long journey the next day.
There was hustle and bustle long before the sun poked its head over the horizon. The children were up, excited by the unknown. The adults and teenagers were paying more attention to wagons and stock, making sure everything was ready for the off. Horton greased his wheels again and showed Saphrona how to do it.
“Every time we stop, you put some grease on the axles like I just showed you. It’s important, Saphrona. We got to keep the wheels turning smoothly else we’ll wear out the oxen. Sometimes you may have to do it while we’re on the move, so you’d best look lively then or you might end up under one of ‘em.”
Sarepta once again checked the provisions they had packed including cornmeal, bacon, eggs, potatoes, rice, beans, yeast, dried fruit, crackers, dried meat. There was also a small portable stove secured inside and a large barrel of water tied to the outside of the wagon. Spare axles were taken, as breaking an axle without a spare meant abandoning the wagon. Tools included saws, hammers, axes, nails, string and knives. Sarepta’s kit contained cloth to sew, needles, thread, pins, scissors, and leather to fix worn-out shoes.
Riders were going up and down the line telling the pioneers to get ready to pull out.
“We’ll form up as we pull out. Keep your places, it might save your lives.” Horton’s turn came and he was ushered out to join the train. Horton led the oxen on one side, Floyd on the other with Serepta and the children walking alongside the wagon. Soon a pattern emerged with the oxen finding their rhythm and keeping a safe distance from the wagon in front. Saphrona and the two smaller children moved to behind the wagon, Saphrona continually checking that the wheels were well greased. The cowboys were gathering the herd together to place them behind the last wagon.
From out of nowhere, a wagon appeared on Horton’s right. It was coming right at them and only started to turn at the last minute. It was obviously trying to join the train. In doing so the driver was pushing Horton over to a swampy area where he was afraid he would get bogged. He did the worst thing he could in the wagon master’s eyes. He stopped his wagon. This caused a heck of a commotion behind them as wagon drivers started shouting and hollering at the inconvenience that was being caused by them having to pull up short. It didn’t help Horton, for the wagon coming at him kept coming and their front wheels locked.
Cyrus Foster, the wagon master came galloping up. He was furious. Two cowboys were close behind.
“What’s this bloody mess then?” Looking at the two wagons. He looked over to Horton.
“Rollins, what did I tell you ‘bout stopping? Can you see what you’ve done?”
“He came at me and was pushing me over into that swamp. I’d be bogged down proper if I’d kept going. As it is, we’re locked with our wheels. Look.” He pointed at the two interlocked front wheels of the wagons.
“Pull ‘em apart,” he shouted to his cowboys. One of them leaned over and grabbed the lead horse’s halter and started to guide it back.
“Let go of my horse,” the owner of the wagon shouted, as he stood up on the running board. The cowboy took no notice and with the help of the other one started to lead the wagon away from the train.
“I told you to leave my horses alone,” he shouted again.
This time he picked up his whip and lashed out at the cowboy holding the halter. He caught him across his back and the side of his face. The cowboy dropped the rein, turned in his saddle, drew out his revolver and fired at the man. He hit him square in the chest area. He toppled over, dropping his whip and fell to the ground. The woman next to him screamed. The cowboys continued to lead the wagon away until it was well clear.
“Now, get on and join the others, Rollins. Catch ’em up.” Turning to the cowboys.
“Clean this up and then come and help me form the train.”
Horton headed back on the trail and took up his original position. Meanwhile, the cowboys dismounted and went to check on the man. A thud was heard and they looked up to see the woman and a girl had dropped a trunk out of the back of the wagon. They climbed down and carried the trunk over to the side of the trail, pleading with anyone to take them up. The cowboys took the dead man by the arms and legs and carried him into a copse until they were hidden by trees. They soon returned without their bundle, remounted and went back to join the wagon master.
It wasn’t long before the wagon belonging to the Petersons came along and without hesitating, helped the woman hoist her trunk onto their wagon and she and her daughter fell into step beside the wagon. No one spoke for quite a while, then Aralda Peterson said.
“I’m called Aralda, my husband is Sam.”
“I’m called Mariah. My daughter is Alice.” There was no mention of her husband, if that’s who he was. They walked on in silence, Alice staying close by her mother all the time.
Word was passed down the train that they were stopping for sustenance and drivers should look out for suitable pasture for their animals and pull out of the train if necessary. Horton spotted a perfect place to his right and pulled over. A message was sent that there was water beyond the dell and they shouldn’t neglect giving it to their beasts. Mrs. Peterson didn’t hesitate to include her two newcomers with their food and, as they sat down to indulge, the captain rode up.
“We had no right to take the wagon for ourselves and two of my men have brought it this far. You have some choices and also some obligations. What are you called?”
“Mariah and Alice Walton.”
“Who was your man?”
“He was Calep Walton.”
“Well Mrs. Walton, there are two gentlemen that are prepared to help you with your wagon. They’re travelling alone. One is a Frenchie, Louis Theroux from New Orleans. He’s got a wife and four children back there in New Orleans and will send for them when he’s made his mark. The other is a man from Utah, his wife and children all fell to the cholera. Although he’s a bit of a melancholy fellow, I believe he has a good heart. He’s called Harvey Barnes. My advice is to take both their offers. With the two of them, I think your person will be safer.”
“What do they expect in return?” Mariah asked.
“They expect you to do their cooking and washing, sewing and mending and they’ll do all the man chores.”
“Where are they?”
“They’re waiting by your wagon for an answer.”
“I’ll go and meet them.” Mariah said getting to her feet.
“I’ll come with you,” Sam volunteered and he also rose. They all walked back to the end of the train and Mariah and Alice met the two men.
“This is the lady I was telling you about. Mrs. Mariah Walton and her daughter Alice.”
“My daughter and I sleep in the wagon. You gentlemen will have to make your own arrangements, under the wagon if you like.” They both agreed this was acceptable.
“You’re not registered for this trip, Mrs. Walton.” The captain said. “These two gentlemen have said they’ll contribute their payment to the payment for the wagon. That’ll leave sixty dollars for you to pay. Do you have that? If not, you’ll have to take the wagon back to Elm Grove yourself. By the way, your man’s possessions, his gun and belt plus what was in his pockets has all been tied up in a cloth and put in the back of the wagon. There was no money.”
“I have money. Wait and I’ll get it.” She climbed into the wagon and after a short while emerged with the sixty dollars.
“I’ll do the paperwork and let you have it this evening when we stop.”
The new group introduced themselves to each other. “Bonjour madame, mademoiselle. I am Louis from New Orleans.”
“You speak English,” she said.
“Mais biensûr. Why, of course,” he answered. She looked across at Harvey.
“Harvey Barnes. I ain’t one much given to talking, though I’ll do my work.” He said.
“Have you gentlemen eaten yet?” Mariah asked. “I can rustle up something quick now but I’ll make up for it tonight.”
“You do that Madame,” said Louis, and we’ll fetch water for the horses. Do you have pales?”
“She told Alice to get pales from the back of the wagon. Sam, being assured everything was in order, returned to his own wagon at the same time as the captain left them. Louis and Harvey set off on foot to find the stream.
“I’ll get Louis and Harvey to collect my trunk later. Thank you Sam,” Mariah said as he was leaving the group. His wife was anxious for news when he returned and was delighted that a solution had been found for the two of them.
“She never once spoke about her man and didn’t seem sorry he’d been dispatched. What do you make of that, husband?” she said.
“I make nothing of it. Come, Myra and Louanna, we have to fetch water for the horses.”
The wagon train soon got back into its stride of about two miles an hour. The horse drawn wagons could have gone quicker. The oxen drawn ones were holding them back. The pioneers were excited and gazed on this new land with intense curiosity. Because of the slow pace, they were able to go off and explore the many mounds and hollows that presented themselves. In the distance, beyond the vast prairie, they saw bluffs of immense size and peculiar shapes, all formed by nature.
There were many rivers to cross, some no more than streams, others requiring attention to make sure the wagons stayed on the firm bank that was intended for them. Many times poles were driven into the river bed to show the pioneers which way to cross. Most of the people, including children, were walking or, if lucky enough, riding a horse. Those on foot walked beside the wagon, as this was preferable to being tossed around inside as the vehicle traversed the rocky and uneven ground.
One afternoon, Floyd suggested he go look for game. There was no objection from his parents as he had often supplied them with the meat for their table and was quite capable of looking after himself. I’ll take a horse,” he said.
“Better ride up and tell the captain what you’re proposing,” his father advised. The captain gave him a bright yellow kerchief to wear around his neck. “If my scouts spot you they’ll know you’re with us,” he explained. “Keep the wagon train in sight at all times. If I can’t see you, I’ll send my cowboys to come looking, and then you’ll be confined for the rest of the trip. Understand?”
Suitably attired with his Spencer in its scabbard just in front of his saddle, he set off. Cyrus didn’t feel much optimism for his success. He only hoped that a lad of such tender years would not land in trouble by not doing what he had just been told, and getting himself lost. Cyrus kept his eye on him through his spyglass and was pleased he was true to his word and stayed within sight of the train at all times. He occasionally rode back to the Rollins wagon to report what he’d seen.
“He’s on the edge of the herd. Hope he doesn’t get too close. If he stampedes them when he lets off a shot, he’ll be in a heap of trouble.”
“He’s been hunting ever since he could ride. I’m keeping my eye on him too. I’ll shout you if I think there’s anything untoward.”
It was mid afternoon when Sarepta shouted to her husband to look to the west of the wagon. There was a speck on the horizon coming towards them. She had watched it form as Floyd grew smaller and smaller the further away he went. It never quite disappeared though and this gave her comfort and also pride that her son was being so sensible. The speck was now growing larger meaning he was making his way back. Horton took out his spyglass and studied the image for some time. When he was sure, he shouted.
“It’s him. It’s Floyd, and it looks like he’s got something.” He rushed up to tell Cyrus who took out his glass.
The figure he was observing was walking his horse and appeared to have something slung over the saddle. As Cyrus watched him, he saw another figure riding towards him. Floyd saw it too, although he didn’t slow his step and paid no further heed to it until he sensed the figure was heading directly for him. When it got closer, he could see it was a mounted native man and he was at full gallop. As he drew nearer, Floyd became concerned that the horse and rider were coming straight at him. He stopped. The rider kept coming and bowled him over with his horse, forcing him to let the reins of his horse go as he crashed to the ground. He was stunned and startled by the force at which the horse had hit him and his consequent collision with the hard earth.
When he had collected himself, he looked up to see the horseman leading his horse, with the young buffalo slung over the saddle, away. He picked himself up and grabbed his rifle that had dropped close by, raised himself on one knee and aimed the rifle at the fleeing figure. Steadying himself by resting his left elbow on his knee, he raised his sight to allow for the distance and slowly squeezed the trigger until a loud crash resounded in his ears. Through the smoke he looked to see the man fall on the neck of his horse and then onto the ground. The Indian’s horse bolted. Fortunately, Floyd’s horse only cantered off a short way, then stopped.
The sound of gunfire had alerted Cyrus, and he sped towards the scene with three cowboys close behind. Cyrus went straight to Floyd, the cowboys continued on to the man who had been shot.
“He stole my horse. It’s a capital offence, so I’d every right to shoot him.”
“Stay here.” Cyrus ordered and he rode over to his cowboys that were staring down at the body of the Native American.
“Is he still alive?”
“Any of you see what happened?”
“Looked like this no-good rogue brave stole the boy’s horse then ran off. The boy shot him. Hell of a shot, mind. Quite some distance and he got him fair and square between his shoulder blades.” Cyrus stood over him, took out his revolver and put a bullet between the Sioux’s eyes.
“Where’s his pony?”
“Run off. Ain’t worth the bother of chasing.”
“You’re right.” Cyrus said and he went back to Floyd, taking the horse with the buffalo with him.
“Don’t make a habit of it. Get back to the train and be quick about it.”
The irritation in Cyrus’ voice was due to the fact that the last thing he needed right now was Indian trouble. Cyrus reappeared when Floyd had returned to his family’s wagon.
“What you going to do with the buffalo?”
“Make sure my family are fed, then I’m content to share it with the other travellers. I want the hide though.”
“That’s a mighty Christian thing to do. I’ll send Jacob over. He can skin it and cure the hide. We’ll cook the meat on a spit, make a festival out of it. There’s a place a couple of miles ahead where we can stop for the night. That okay?”
“Sure,” Floyd and his father, Horton, said together.
After the young buffalo had been collected and Jacob had removed the hide, he sought out the captain.
“Did you say the young ‘un brought this beast in?”
“That’s right. Shot him all on his own, so I understand.”
“No he didn’t.”
“What d’you mean?”
“The beast wasn’t shot.”
“How’d it die then?”
“Had its throat cut.”
The word soon spread through the train that they would be stopping for the night in a couple of miles and that there was to be a festivity that evening with a buffalo on a spit that was fetched by young Floyd Rollins. The Methodist preacher leading the wagon train signalled that they were about to turn off the trail. Cowboys took up positions to guide the wagons to form a large circle then set to building stockades in the middle of the ring. All the livestock was herded into this stockade which provided ample feed as the spring grasses had not yet been disturbed. Sentries were posted, even though Cyrus was not expecting any trouble. Although his scouts had reported no human activity within five miles of their camp, it paid to make sure.
The preparations for the night complete, many travellers wandered over to the buffalo cooking on the spit, for warmth and company. Cyrus was amongst them.
“We expecting trouble?” One of the travellers asked having noticed the sentries that Cyrus had posted.
“Not tonight, though we must keep up vigilance, ‘cause places we’re going ain’t going to be as friendly as this one.”
Some of the wives started to come over to join their men. The Rollins family came over too, and reunited with the Petersons and met Mariah and Alice Walton who were travelling with the Frenchie, Louis Theroux and the quiet man, Harvey Barnes from Utah.
There was chatter growing louder as introductions were made and Cyrus made his way over to the Rollins.
“Evening.” He said. “Tell me young fella, how come you got that young buffalo? Wasn’t the mother around? Why didn’t your shot scare the herd into a stampede?”
“I didn’t shoot the buffalo,” Floyd said. Those closest had eavesdropped on the start of this conversation and hushed as it progressed, interested in any gossip involving the wagon master. This awe extended through the crowd, until only those on the extreme outer were still talking.
“Son,” Cyrus continued. “You got me fair bewildered. How come you got this here youngster without a gun and without getting gored by its mother?”
“Tell him Floyd,” said his father, then turning to Cyrus and the listeners in general said. “You might’n believe what you’re about to hear. I been with him when he done it before, so he’s telling you how it happened. Go on, son.” He finished proudly.
“I spotted the herd and I was down wind of ‘em. I followed until I picked out a mother and her young ‘un on the outer fringes of the herd. I threw a rope round young ‘un’s head and secured it to a tree. Even though the mother spotted me, she wasn’t quick enough to catch me. It was done real quick. Although the mother fretted for it to follow her, it couldn’t. She kept walking away, enticing the other to follow. It was tied good and proper and wasn’t going anywhere. Eventually she walked away further and further hoping to let the youngster know he was going to be left behind if he didn’t up and follow. I took my chance and when she was away, I rushed up and slit its throat. She saw me of course and came straight at me, eyes blazin’. I jumped on my horse and he’s too quick for the likes of her and we made our getaway. She mused over her dead calf for a good half hour. Then, realizing it was gone, left it.”
“How’d you get it on your horse?” Cyrus asked.
“I’ve trained my horse to help me because I often go out on my own. I secured the rope to the buffalo and the horse dragged it along until we found a suitable tree. I looped the rope over a branch and the horse pulled the dead critter up in the air. I secured the rope and positioned my horse underneath. She’s trained to stand perfectly still. Took me months to do it. Anyways, when she was right, I lowered the buffalo down onto the saddle by wrapping the rope twice round a stump, so I could hold the weight. I held it in place while I rearranged it in the saddle, then tied it off and set back here. Somebody tried to take it off me and steal my horse. My horse is too valuable, so I shot him and got my horse back. The buffalo too, so we can all enjoy a good feed. Mister Cyrus helped me do that.”
The knowledgeable members of the crowd listening to this tale were awestruck and started to clap. Even those who didn’t know why, joined in, and soon there was a great hoop de hoop going on around the fire.
“I ain’t never heard nothing like it,” Cyrus said. “How old is you again?”
“Nearly twelve years,” Floyd said.
“Well,” rejoined Cyrus. “Ain’t you the strangest twelve-year-old I ever met?”
After supper, the instruments started coming out. A couple of fiddles at first, then guitars and penny whistles. Soon there was quite a band assembled comprising four fiddles, an accordion, two flutes and three banjos.
The pioneers gathered around and sang songs, danced, and told stories. At about nine, the gathering broke up and the merrymakers disbursed back to their wagons. It had been arranged that Sarepta would sleep in the wagon with Saphrona, Lorena and Lily whilst Horton and Floyd slept underneath. Before going to sleep, Horton said to Floyd.
“You did well today son. Made me right proud you did.”
He didn’t expect an answer. Floyd was never touched by a nice word or compliment. Never had been. Sarepta lay in the wagon with the girls who fell asleep straight away after the exertions of the day. Sleep eluded Sarepta. She was thinking of the events surrounding her son’s success with the buffalo. She just didn’t understand how he could do the things he did. Truth was she didn’t understand her son at all. He was a normal baby. Right up to the age of four or five he was normal. Although big for his age, he acted just like the others.
From that age he started to act differently. She felt she could no longer get close to him. She spoke to her husband about it and although he had the same experience, he told her they had a lot to be thankful for. He was no trouble after all. She couldn’t say he was unhappy. In fact, he didn’t appear to be anything. He had friends and they played together even though Floyd never showed any enthusiasm. Although he was quite popular, he was never the centre of the group. Always the reluctant outsider.
Horton bought him his first rifle when he was nine. That changed him. He loved that rifle and would spend all day cleaning and polishing it. When Horton said he would take him shooting his face lit up like she’d never seen it before. It became his passion and Horton said he was becoming a good shot.
He readily accepted they were going away when it was announced to the family. He was a great help in the preparations and never shirked when asked to do something, unlike some of the others that preferred to play rather than do anything useful. He did more than the rest of them put together. She still couldn’t get close. Neither could his father. Praise was wasted on him. He didn’t need building up, like he knew all about himself. He was confident, she gave him that. Much more so than when she was his age.
Some of his friends had found girlfriends. Floyd didn’t seem interested. He had three sisters and that was probably the cause, she thought. He paid little heed to his siblings, just wanted to hunt with his rifle. He did become excited again when Horton announced he was getting him his own horse. He’d have slept with him if he was allowed, she was sure. Floyd talked more to that horse than to his siblings or parents put together.
Now this. All the people clapping him, the wagon master telling him he had never seen the like and yet his mother didn’t even understand him. It was a worry, and with Horton under the wagon she had no one to talk to. Eventually sleep came. Her eyes were gritty in the morning and didn’t improve until nearly noon. Horton asked what was wrong. She just said it was the strangeness of it all that stopped her sleeping. Horton knew his wife better than that. He knew the escapade with Floyd and the buffalo was at the root of it.