Western Fiction posted May 21, 2010


Exceptional
This work has reached the exceptional level
Railroad near Tucson, Sonora desert, 1881 (Long!!)

Josey's story

by fairydancer

He pulled and strained to release the sand that had once again gathered in the rags he had tied around his frayed socks; a piece of sackcloth he had found lying on the ground. It scratched and itched, and opened the blisters underneath, which were now bleeding through.

"That's the first thing you got to do, Josey boy," he said aloud. "Find something else to use as socks."

How he now wished he had not tugged and picked at the loose stitches on the uncomfortable leather shoes he was given for this journey. Even before he got off the ship from England, the uppers had been separating from the soles, and for the whole of the long journey on the intercontinental railroads they had been slowly but surely disintegrating. Shuffling his shoes on the walls of the railcar had been his only salvation from the monotonous boredom, but it had done him no favours.

He was in agony now, walking through the desert, the ground scorching and shredding his feet. But, once again, he carefully replaced what was left of the shoes and tied the extra strings tighter through the holes he had made with a nail he found on the stagecoach they travelled on, for what should have been the last part of their seemingly never-ending journey to Tombstone. He knew he could not be far now, the Southern Pacific Railroad had deposited them at Tucson, and they had been on the stagecoach for nearly two days, stopping for periods at the staging posts, before he found himself on this wretched walk.

But now he must rest again, the sun was so hot and his skin was red raw. He found some rocks to shelter behind and as he lay down his once white shirt got even browner and his dark blonde hair became more matted with sand. As his bright blue eyes closed he thought of his mother, but quickly put it out of his mind; he must rest...

...He first became aware of his eyes; they were itching. As he slowly woke up and rubbed them, he could feel they were swollen. As he opened them and his vision came into focus, it felt like his heart dropped through his chest when he realised that he was not lying on his small, lumpy horsehair mattress, in their old home in Lancashire... dreaming again.

Oh how soft that horrible thing seems now! He mumbled to himself.

He pulled his aching body up to sitting as he started to remember, yet again, what had happened, but this time he could not stop himself from recounting every distressing detail. Tears rolled down his face, stinging the parts that were still hurting, still burning from the rail tracks, as well as the sunburn; but he forced himself to get up and carry on walking. 

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He remembered how he and his mother, and their six fellow travellers had stretched their legs for a while next to the stagecoach, just before all this hell started. The constant motion of the coach had made him feel really sick, and he was relieved to have another break. After a short while they noticed dust rising on the horizon behind them and heard strange noises. He grabbed his mothers' arm tightly. The driver removed a large revolver from his gun belt and ushered them back into the stagecoach. The shotgun messenger with his Sharps coach gun constantly broken over his elbow, now loaded it, snapped it together and cocked it.

"Riders, behind us Ma'am, and we don't know who they are just yet, best you put the lad in the coach and hide him under the seats."

Josey had glanced at the riders as he climbed back inside, but he could not see much for the dust cloud. They were approaching fast with strange yelps, howls and whoops. He realised straight away they must be... Indians. They had been warned about the Apaches in Arizona, who were fiercely defending their territories.

His mother frantically moved the small trunk from under the seat and put it into the bandbox above their heads. Then she quickly guided him under the seat and covered him with some blankets, and a couple of their travelling companion's coats. He could still hear his mothers' voice, as calm and loving as it ever was:

"Now I want you to be quiet as a mouse Josey, no matter what happens. You might hear shouting and screaming, you may even hear gunshots, but you stay here, and you don't move, and do you know why you shouldn't move?"

"No Mother, but..."

"There is no need for you to move, my sweet darling" she gently cradled his head in her hands. "Right now, the Lord is looking over you, and he knows what to do" she whispered before she kissed him on the cheek. "He will help you, you will see. Now, quiet as a mouse, mind! Shhh!"

She withdrew the finger she had used to reinforce the 'shhh' sound, from in front of her mouth as she put the final coat on top of him. Josey heard a sharp intake of breath and mumbled "God protect us" that she tried to conceal as she left the coach, and an unexpected tear trickled down his nose; he shook it off and shut his eyes tight.

She was right. There was shouting, then screaming, and then shot after shot, cracking and echoing, echoing and cracking; then excited yelps and faint rolls of laughter. His breathing became strained and erratic as every nerve fibre in his skinny body, which now found its way into a ball, wanted to cry out! But he remembered what his mother had told him, and  somehow slowed his breathing and quietened his sobs. Suddenly he felt the coach quake, and the clothes above him shake. He had been quiet as a mouse, but now a loud sigh expounded without his meaning it to, as a large foot landed by his head, pinning his hair to the floor. As he looked, he recognised the boot the foot was wearing, it was American army issue. He had seen some on the feet of soldiers in New York harbour, and dozens more on soldiers on the railroads.

He thought now how strange it was, Indians wearing army boots? Perhaps they had stolen them off one of their victims? His thoughts now divulged on to all those stories of the Colorado war, from over a decade earlier. The tales were more rife now than ever, and his travelling companions, as well as some of the passers-by he had met throughout their long journey , had filled the poor boy's head with more and more outrageous scare-mongering. Even his dream times saw no escape from the shrill noises they teased him with, and the images of sun-shrunk scalps they had left him with.

Urgggh...His thinking returned to the boot ripping his hair out at the roots as he desperately tried to wrench himself away from it, to no avail; and all his struggling had now alerted his captor to him. A large calloused hand wrenched his hair harder as it pushed his face into the wooden floor, then some kind of material was over his face and tight around his neck. He remembered his knees bumping and scraping along the floor boards and then his legs crumple under him as he hit the desert sand, but the hand relentlessly dragged him along it.

Suddenly... bright light, as the cloth was removed from his face and he caught a glimpse of the sun. It had not lasted long, soon he could not see anything as the pressure around his neck caused his vision to black out. The laughter slowly faded to silence, and no pain now, just a feeling that his head was twice the size it should be, swollen with trapped blood having no where to go...throbbing of veins, strange peace, not at all what he had imagined...

...hot, burning, aggghh, must move my head, ahh, my head, can't see. He had put his hand on something hot, and hard like iron. It was iron... the rail track, he was lying on the railroad, and it was burning his face...must move, owww! His neck was sore and stiff. Bright light shocked his eyes once again as he rolled on to his back and saw the sun directly above him, blinding him. He put his hands over his face and then suddenly remembered...

"Mother!" he screamed, and then coughed, his mouth was so dry. How long had he lain there for? He transferred his weight slowly, first onto his bottom, and then onto his legs as he carefully stood up.
He looked around and saw his mother, lying on the ground; the look on her face so plain. Her eyes just staring, nothing moving and her arm so heavy as he tried to move it. Grief-stricken, he had frozen to the spot as the heart-ache welled up in him. Then everything started to shake, his arms and legs; and the feeling rose in him to run, but he still couldn't move.

A scream came out of his mouth and as it finished he did not recognise the sound as his own. Slowly control returned over his body and he dropped onto his mother, crying uncontrollably. Again he grabbed her arm, and pulled it, trying to get her to sit up, but she was too heavy and she fell back down, this time slumped over her arm, her eyes still glazed over and staring where her head pointed. He started screaming at her. He had not known what else to do.

"Get up! Get up, please get up" He pulled at her clothing, and shook her.
"Please Mother, get up, please, get up, for me!" He jumped up, as anger now grabbed hold of him. He started pushing at her with his foot, but his movements got harder and faster, and before he knew he was kicking her, still yelling and screaming. He kicked her so hard she rolled over onto her back, just staring up at nothing again. He backed off, shaking and tears rolling again.

He remembered seeing the others too, all the same, scattered like seeds on the ground around him. They had died where they had fallen.

At that moment, a thought had entered his head. He became aware of a moist feeling on his top lip as his whole body went numb and his vision tunnelled. He felt light headed and knelt down on one knee as he realised he might pass out.

That was when it hit him, the thought that he was alone, completely alone. He had looked around, the landscape was so bleak, so hopeless, so bare; just sand and a few rocks, the mountains on the right of them for many miles now, and the railroad constantly on the left. His tears then started again.

'Surely no-one would live in those mountains?' He had heard himself say aloud. I don't know how far Tombstone is, or where? The best thing must be to go back the way we came. If I back-track it should be easy, just keeping those mountains to the left of me, and the railroad to the right. Tucson was a long way back now, but at least he knew it was there. If he went in any other direction he did not know what was there.

If only the railroad had been completed, he thought, then we wouldn't have taken this stagecoach, and maybe none of this would have happened...but at least it came this far, so he was able to follow it back. Tears trickled again but he defiantly wiped them away, knowing he would be dead too if he didn't pull himself together. His Mother wanted him to survive, which is why she had done everything she could to hide him.

The horses that pulled the wagon had been shot along with everyone else, except him? All the food and water they had with them had been taken. The mail and bank boxes, as well as their trunk and the trunks of their companions had been dragged from the roof and smashed; their contents stolen or ripped and trodden into the dirt. As he searched the coach, the only thing that he thought might be of any use was the smithies knife which had fallen out of his pocket as he had been dragged out of the coach. He found it still under the seat where his Mother had hidden him.

Tears still in his eyes, he started to walk away; trying hard to avoid seeing his mother like that again. He knew he must get back to Tucson as soon as he could, because he would not be able to survive in this sun with no food and water for long, and he did not want to spend a night alone in the desert. With that thought, he returned to the coach and grabbed two ripped blankets, tied them up with some string that had been wrapped around one of the trunks, making sure he formed an extra loop to put his arm through, so he could carry them on his shoulder. He remembered seing some of the travellers do that back at New York station. As he had thrown it on to his shoulder, he noticed a small cut on his arm and licked it; the taste of blood and salty sweat fizzing on his tongue.

He turned to walk away once again, but this time he could not stop himself from connecting with his mother's stare. More tears, he thought they would never stop; still stinging. As his vision went blurry again, he took a deeper breath than ever taken before and started his long walk, trying not to trip over the stones underfoot, until his crying ebbed enough for his full sight to return.

He walked for what must have been hours; trying to pace himself and not use up too much energy. His shoes became more and more uncomfortable as they rubbed and wore, and his feet became more and more sore. His face and hands were burning constantly now with the sun, and he was really thirsty. He had become uncertain of whether he would make it to Tucson before the sun, or lack of water and food killed him, and he became very afraid! His thoughts were racing as he started to wind himself up in his own head; imagining noises that weren't there, seeing movements that were nothing, to the point where he was almost too frightened to move.

He now realised how easily despair could have crept in, and stayed there!

But he knew he must keep moving, he must get back to Tucson, so to stop himself thinking all these bad thoughts, he forced himself to think about nice ones, wondering how long it would last.

He longed to see the green hills he so loved in England, before the ship, railcars and stagecoach had brought them to this land of sand and mountains. The little babbling brook he remembered passing as they walked to Church each Sunday morning. The big oak trees and the green meadows filled with yellow buttercups and then red poppies; red as the fresh blood still trickling from his feet and upper arm...

"Noooooooooooo! Aaaaaaaagh! I hate this place, I hate it, I hate it!"

He slumped down onto his bottom, and his knees became soaked with his tears as he sat and huddled them, trying to keep the world out.

After a short while, he had somehow managed to stop his sobbing again. As he got up and carried on walking, he sniffed and wiped his nose on his sleeve, then he realised that he stank - stale sweat! It had reminded him of his Father, belting his lump hammer at the anvil in his forge, back in England. The sweat dripped off him, turning to steam as it hit the red hot metal beneath. Josey had sweated there sometimes too, working the bellows that added the air into the fire to make it hot enough to get the metal white hot sometimes.

His father had worked so hard, all his life, a blacksmith by trade, when his brother had persuaded him to join him as a gunsmith in the new and rapidly expanding town of Tombstone. His uncle had built up his business from scratch, making a name for himself from sheer hard work and keeping the work in the family, employing other people only when necessary to fulfil new orders. When the gold rush hit California he had always talked about moving over there to take advantage of "all that new trade" but it had never been more than talk; but when silver was struck in Arizona, nothing could stop him. He had paid for the family's passage on the ship to New York, and then the railroads, a fact which his father had constantly moaned and groaned about.

"I will pay every penny back, of that you can be sure!" he had said every time he had seen his brother (but behind his back he had spoken of bitter resentment towards his brother from his childhood, and had even confessed that he felt this was the least his brother owed him.)

"Do not worry about that" his brother had said, "There will be plenty to go round, you wait and see, the country round about has plenty of silver mines, and therefore plenty of jealous miners guarding their claims" he laughed, "and the hills are full of Indians..."

Josey knew his mother liked her brother-in-law as a person, she had often said how charming and funny he could be, but she did not like his business and she certainly did not want to move to America. But Josey's father had put his foot down and that was that.

His mother had not talked about his father for the remainder of their journey, after it had happened. It was all so quick, one minute his pride seemed to fill the whole ship they travelled on from Southampton, the next he was laid on a straw mattress, burning hot and sweating from an infection which killed seventeen of the fourth class passengers, and five of the third class during the voyage. Josey always knew his Father would survive.

"He is that stubborn!" he had said to his mother.

But he did not. His mother had not shed a tear, not one. She had merely resigned herself to the fact that they had no choice but to complete their journey to Tombstone. She then carefully explained to Josey that she could not afford return tickets to England, and she could not yet contact her brother-in-law as he was probably on the Southern Pacific railroad by then, making his own way to Tombstone with his family. She knew that he and his family would happily put them up for a while, until she could find a job and home of their own. She was a very competent and efficient seamstress and felt sure that a new 'boom town' would have need of such talents. Who knows, perhaps in a few years time, she would have saved enough to buy tickets back to England (although secretly she doubted it.)

Josey had overheard his cousin, in England, saying that his parents' marriage was purely for convenience, although he thought then that the convenience must have been on his father's side.
He had often heard people say to his mother:

"You are so lucky, Mary, that your husband does not drink"

Whenever he heard that, Josey always thought that his father did not need to drink to be nasty. His father spoke infrequently, but when he did you could smell the angst coming from him like electricity in a thunder storm.

"Your mother tricked me into having you!" he had thrown at him one evening "...and I have to put up with that, but I don't have to like it, now off to bed with you before I tan your hide!"

Josey knew that his father had not wanted children, just a wife to look after the house. He had made no bones about that. Josey thought he was arrogant, proud, and had to be in control. He had always managed to manipulate situations and people to get the outcome he wanted, and he didn't seem to care who got hurt.

Did Josey shed a tear when he died? He did not. He wanted to, he would have really liked to a way; a way that said he loved his father and his father loved him. But he did not even like his father. He respected him like he did all his 'elders and betters', but he did not like him, and that was that.
His mother was a different story though. She had always said they were like 'two peas in a  pod' although he was never totally sure what that meant. All he knew was that he missed her more than the water he now so desperately craved and needed.

Josey then realised that he must rest again for a while, so he had crouched in the shade of one of the huge cacti they had seen through the stagecoach window. His throat was now so dry that he kept retching each time the breeze blew the sand his way, and the sunburn on his face made his mouth feel like it was covered with more blisters than the ones forming on his feet. He knew he must carry on, this sun was going to kill him even quicker than the lack of water! Yet, there he sat and continued to sit, he was so tired already.

He was used to heat, back at the forge, but only for short periods, as his mother had always rescued him, claiming him for 'house jobs' and errands, which he much preferred.

Now, he knew he really needed water! His eyes kept closing involuntarily, but he forced them open again and shook his head to try to wake himself up; inevitably though, he had lain down in the shade, staring at the sky above the cactus, his eyelids waning again. Just then, he was startled by a flap of wings above him. He had not seen any birds for so long now, and yet there it was, clear as day; its white wings glinting in the sun as it landed on the cactus. How could it sit there? With all those sharp prickles, he thought. He watched as it flapped again, when something wet landed on his face. It was so cold he was almost glad of it, but wiped it off with disdain. As he looked though, it was not poo as he had first thought. It was sticky and...sweet smelling.

He put his hands down to help himself stand up and as he stepped back to look at what the bird had been doing, he noticed green fruits at the end of each stem, but they were all so high up. He looked around at other cacti nearby, when he noticed one which had a couple of fruits, maybe only four feet high. He managed to grab two of the oval shaped fruits and as he slashed at one with his knife, juice and seeds dripped from it. His mouth was wrapped around it, before he could think about it, sucking and pulling at the red flesh inside. Owww! The blisters on his lips throbbed and stung as he ate, but he didn't care. Oh God! It was good. Ummmm! Ahhh! As his left eye shed a tear in joy, he was surprised he had any tears left, he was so thirsty! He sat down in the shade again and ripped open the other fruit, devouring it with as much gusto as the first. He just sat there for a moment, overtaken by the ecstasy of the wet sensation down his throat. He laughed. He couldn't believe he was laughing; sat in the baking sun, in the middle of nowhere, but he couldn't stop!

After ten minutes or so, he lifted himself up, slightly refreshed and looked around for more of the fruits. After wrapping three more fruits in his blankets he carried on walking, resting only when really needed, as dusk started to settle in. He had been dreading the thought of having to spend a night on his own in this desert. He knew it would not get that cold but he was not sure about what might want to eat him. On the Southern railcar he had overheard a man talking about mountain lions:

"...giant cats that could wrestle a man to the ground..."

A short while later it had started to get dark and there had been no sign that he was near Tucson, or anywhere at all for that matter. He knew he would have to settle down for the night and that his priorities should be shelter and fire. He then realised that there would be no shelter in the desert, so he decided to see if he could find some rocks that were shaped like a shelter in the mountains he had been rigidly keeping at his left side, or maybe some sort of cave? He knew it could take him a good half a mile off his path, but he didn't want to stay out here. He headed towards the hills, looking for something to make a fire with, still clinging to his blankets.

The one good thing about trying to find firewood and kindling in the desert was that everything was dry; by the time he reached the mountains he had found more than enough. He climbed for what must have been half an hour and eventually found a shallow cave in some rocks. It was now quite dark and he quickly built a fire, lighting it using the matches contained in the in-built compartment of his Smithies knife, striking one against the special patch of rough surface on the knife's handle. His uncle had made it for him, and he loved that knife.

Now he thought it might save his life!

He had lit hundreds of fires back in the forge; it was second nature to him. That's one useful thing his father had done for him, he thought. He had positioned the fire outside the recess in the rocks, hoping it would ward off any wild animals. Then he had placed one of the torn blankets in the cave, but he found it afforded him little protection from the hard, bumpy ground as he lay down to try and get some much needed rest. Once again every little noise wound him up, as his thoughts went crazy about wild creatures springing out from every rock, but he was so tired that his swollen eyelids soon got the better of his paranoia.

He woke up in the morning with everything aching and stiff, but he had survived!

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Now, here he was two nights and nearly three days later; still walking, still trying to find his way back to Tucson, still living on cacti fruit. It seemed so much further walking, than it had on the stagecoach. Doubt kept creeping in. Could he be going in the wrong direction? But how could he be, following the rail tracks? The problem, he knew, was that he was going so slowly. His feet were now swollen and distorted out of all recognition; every step was agony. His legs were so tired they were reluctant to move, and his face and hands constantly burned from the sun.

"Sand, just sand, rotten stuff" he yelled.

His thoughts again, returned to his mother. He kept pushing them away when they entered his head, still trying to think nice thoughts, but every so often, he could not stop the constant flashing images of her still white body lying there; one arm over her chest and the other, fingers splayed, in the dirt, as he had first found her. And the others... he had never seen murder like this before, and he prayed he would never...

"...never, ever, never, never, never see it again! Oh Lord, please help me!" He screamed as his hands pushed at his sweaty forehead and then pulled at his hair.

At that moment he heard a familiar sound, like the one he had heard just before this nightmare started. Strange shouts and noises seem to surround him, and yet, they sounded slightly different to before. His body started to shake all over again, just like last time. But now, he was so fed up and tired that he just wished this exhaustion and hunger would end. He heard the thundering of hooves getting closer and closer. He almost wanted to surrender to it, as he closed his eyes and, still sobbing and shaking, curled up into a ball on the sand. He shut his eyes tight, and waited for what he knew would happen, to happen.

"Be over, just be over, please just be over" he said as he felt a horses nostril snort in his face.

"Don't let it hurt, don't let it hurt!" he whispered over and over.

He felt a large hand land on his back, and then again, accompanied by strange words, like nothing he had heard before.

"Please don't let it hurt, please don't let it hurt..."

Now the hand started to shake him, back to front, side to side, nearly rocking him off balance. Suddenly, he was aware that his pants were warm and wet. As he realised what had happened, he thought of the shame his father would feel if he knew he had wet himself - but why?
Then the hand stopped. Suddenly, he was being hauled upwards as three hands now grabbed what was left of his shirt and lifted him up, but he stayed in a tight ball. Another hand grabbed at his legs, pulling them down, trying to make him stand. As the hand felt his wet trousers, its owner stopped pulling, and laughter started to ring in his ears. For some reason his crazy curiosity got the better of him and Josey found himself opening his eyes to see, as he knew, Indians.

There were about 8 of them, all men, all laughing. One of the Indians offered him a pouch of water, but Josey was scared it was poisoned and he pushed it away. Then his new captors put him on a horse. He wriggled and struggled. The men laughed louder and tried to get him to sit on the horse, but when that failed they threw him over the back of the horse. Suddenly an anger rose in him like none he had felt before, like it had been lurking inside, just waiting for this moment to take its revenge on all that had happened, all he had seen, all he had heard...

"No, no, I have not walked for days, burned in this damned sun and suffered terrifying nights on my own, to die now. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

He bit his captor's arm, who grunted; a brief look of shock on his rugged face. Then the man laughed again and grabbed, and then bound Josey's hands. Another man grabbed and bound his kicking feet. He would not stop fighting and he would not cry, but as he realised his helplessness, a defiant grimace took shape on his sun blistered face. They threw him over the horse again and then tied a rope from his hands to his feet, under the horse, so he could not move.

Head tilted to one side, he shut his eyes tight and again saw his mother. He forced himself to remember again how much she loved him... how she had danced with him before he went to bed when he said he was not tired...how she sang to him when he laid down to sleep...how she used to tell him off in England, for giggling in Church, when old Mr. Langdale used to snore at the end of the pew, and how one Sunday he had taken a feather into the Church with him, and tickled him on the nose when he was snoring. It had the effect of producing a low grunting sound which made everyone turn around. His mother looked furiously at him.

'Josiah, you stop that right now, young man' she had said, just loud enough for everyone to hear it, and be happy that he had been scolded, he now thought. Mother only ever called him Josiah when he was naughty. Then, when he looked toward her apologetically a moment later, he watched as she turned her face away from him as it cracked with laughter. He really loved that about her, they always had such a similar sense of humour.

As he thought more and more about his mother he slowly forgot about his present danger, giving himself totally to his daydreaming.

It must have been several hours before they stopped, as once again it was dusk, when Josey felt his arms and feet being loosened from their bonds as he woke up. He was lowered onto the ground by two of the Indian men. Another man put a pouch of water in front of him on what he realised, was a path. The man was frantically pointing towards the top of the hill, on which they were now half way up. He was speaking very quickly in an almost musical way. Then they rode off, back into the desert, and left him all alone again.

Utterly weak and mentally exhausted, he turned and started to walk in the direction they had pointed. He was not even sure why? Then two thoughts sprang into his head 'if they were going to kill me, they would have done it by now'; and 'what choice have I got as I don't know where I am?' His agonised feet made the rocks feel like he was walking on broken glass.

Before long, Josey saw three men walking towards him, down the path. He froze as his vision was so blurry. The men started pointing at him and they quickened their steps to reach him. They were talking English! Josey saw that one of the men was carrying a pickaxe. 'Miners?' he thought as he collapsed to the ground, exhausted.

"Where the hell have you hailed from boy?" the man with the pickaxe asked him, laughing and staring at his dishevelled clothing and hole-filled shoes.

"I was travelling to Tombstone with my family when..." Josey whispered through the blisters in his mouth.
"Well, that would be about one half a mile that way", the man pointed up the hill.

"Here, I'll give you a hand" said one of the other men, reaching towards him.

Josey passed out as he felt arms lifting him up. He was safe!

                                                             ----------

A newspaper article in that weeks "Tombstone Epitaph", written by Samuel Founders, 1881, read:

 Stagecoach massacre of 26 August: another survivor found

" In last weeks issue, of 28 August, we reported that another stagecoach robbery had taken place between Tucson and Tombstone. This latest in a line of robberies took place on 26 August. In total seven people were killed: five passengers, the driver and the shotgun messenger. It was thought that only one person had survived, although the body of a young boy, thought to be travelling with his Mother, was never found.

Mr John Lansdowne, formerly of New York, had pretended to be dead until the perpetrators of this robbery, who he later identified as the 'Blackstone gang', had ridden away. He had then followed the rail track into the mountains, where it soon terminated, when he followed a hill path and eventually arrived in Tombstone, later that evening.

We have now received new reports that on 29 August, a young boy was found by miners from the Tombstone Silver mine, wandering alone about half a mile from the mine. Josiah Thomas, 11 years, formerly of Lancashire, England, had been travelling on the Tucson to Tombstone Stagecoach with his mother, Mary Thomas, also formerly of Lancashire, England.

The boy reported that he had been kidnapped by a band of Indians after surviving alone in the desert for 3 days. He believed his family and fellow travellers, had been killed by another group of Indians who had attacked their stagecoach and left him to die. He had woken up several hours later and decided to back track to Tucson, as he was unaware that he was fewer miles from Tombstone.
I  spoke to Mr Lansdowne last week when he informed me that members of the gang made noises which could easily be mistaken for those of Indians.

The boy had severe sunburn and has had to have two toes amputated due to an infection of the blisters and sores on his feet. He is now recovering well after being reunited with relatives who have recently moved to Tombstone. The boy's family had travelled from Lancashire so that his Father, Mr David Thomas, could take up a gunsmith post at his brother, Mr George Thomas's business, Thomas and Sons in Tombstone. Unfortunately, his father had died during the sea passage from England.

Shortly after this stagecoach massacre, a posse was rounded up in Tucson to bring the Blackstone gang to justice. Reports now confirm that they confronted the outlaws near Tombstone, on Tuesday 2 September. The gang comprised seven members and was led by James (whiskey Jim) Blackstone. The Blackstone outlaws have been connected with several stagecoach robberies in Arizona, as well as many killings, over the last two years.
The only survivor of the gang, William (Billy blade) Blackstone is now waiting to be sentenced at the Courthouse in Tucson. If found guilty, he will be hung.

                                                            -----------

It was just as his mother had said - God had protected him!



Strong Character contest entry

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Thanks to sirthomas1960 for use of his powerful artwork "Fading Time".

Although this story is fictional, I have tried to make the setting as real as possible, so:

Tombstone is a town in south east Arizona, founded in 1879, taking its name from the silver mining claim filed by Ed Schieffelin in 1877, in a high plateau called Goose flats. Tombstone is nearly 70 miles from Tucson.

"Arizona railroading got its start in 1877 when the Southern Pacific Railroad arrived in Yuma on its way to completing its line to Tucson in 1880. - American-Rails.com

Stagecoaches were so called because they could travel quite long distances in stages, between 'staging posts'. In England they were called coaches.

"The term "Coach gun" was coined in 1858 when Wells, Fargo & Co. began regular stagecoach service...and issued shotguns to its drivers for defense..." - Wikipedia
Coach guns were manufactured by Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company and many others.

The desert which encompasses Arizona is the Sonora desert. This is home to the Saguaro cactus, the state flower of Arizona. Desert USA web site states: "The 3-inch, oval, green fruit ripens just before the fall rainy season, splitting open to reveal the bright-red, pulpy flesh which all desert creatures seem to relish. This fruit was an especially important food source to Native Americans of the region who used the flesh, seeds and juice."
You can drink the water from the cactus stems but it is not recommended as they contain toxins. The Saguaro's main pollinator is the Whitewing Dove.

"Tucson summer...low humidity, clear skies and day time high temperatures that exceed 37 C. The average night temperature ranges between 19 C - 29 C." - Wikipedia

"The first "friction match" was invented by English chemist John Walker in 1826...The safety match was invented in 1844 by the Swede Gustaf Erik Pasch..." - Wikipedia

The "Tombstone Epitaph" is the actual name of a newspaper that was first printed in 1880 with the original press from Tubac, used to print Arizona's first ever newspaper: "The Weekly Arizonian".

...but, there was no such gang as the 'Blackstone gang', as far as I know...

Word count = 6,340
Sorry about the huge word count but I thoroughly enjoyed researching and writing this story, and I really got into it, so it grew, and grew!!! I would have divided it into chapters, but it is for a contest, so I could not.)
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