Western Fiction posted October 18, 2009 Chapters:  ...23 24 -25- 26... 

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Judge Langley hands down his verdicts

A chapter in the book THE TOUGH BREED

The Verdicts

by c_lucas

The Peralta Land Scam created hostilities between early settlers and new arrivals to the West. This is a fictionalized account of one incident. The story begins in 1895.

Leland, shocked by the judge’s clarification, did not resist when the sheriff removed his shotgun and pistol.

Sheriff Graham set the weapons on the bar. He did the same thing with Slim’s arsenal. “Both of you, consider yourself under arrest and go to the bench.” He turned toward the other men the judge named.

Rebel attempted to resist. Pete got his attention by firing his barrel of rock salt into the roof and then pointed the deadly load of the shotgun at the three men.  They came to the bar and surrendered their weapons.

Judge Langley rapped on the table. “Gentlemen, I have in my possession  an affidavit from each of you.” He laid out the papers. “Please confirm that these are the statements you turned in to Sheriff Graham.” He spied Pettigrew smiling … “Mr. Pettigrew, you’ve continued to mock my court. I am raising your amount of Contempt of Court charges to five.”

“What did I do?”

“Make that six. Speaking without permission.”

Pettigrew glared at the judge.

“That looks like a threatening glare… seven, eight, nine.”

Pettigrew quickly changed his facial expression.

Judge Langley, satisfied with Pettigrew’s new facial expression, turned his attention to his five new prisoners. “Gentleman, once you have accepted the statements as yours and confirmed your signature, please return them to me.”

After he had the papers back, the judge arranged them on his table.

“Mr. Thomas, you were in charge of the posse?”

Coffee nodded. “Up until the first ambush was broken up.”

“What made you give up your lawful position?”

“When Tea and Leland arrived, Leland was in charge. He is foreman of the K-Bar and responsible for getting the stolen horses back.”

“Wait right where you are while I question the next prisoner. He turned his attention toward Tea.  “Mr. McKenzie, did Sheriff Graham deputize you?”

“No Sir, Your Honor.”

“Why were you with the posse?”

“The horses were delivered to the K-Bar by my crew. I felt a responsibility for them.”

“Did you attempt to usurp Mr. Thomas’ authority as leader of the posse?

“No sir, but I did make some suggestions.”

“Mr. Thomas, were you required to follow Mr. McKenzie’s suggestions?”

“I make my own decisions, Judge.”

“Mister Pickens, were you ever a lawman, an officer of the court?”

“I did a spell with the Texas Rangers for a few years.”

“Are you familiar with the duty of posse members?”

“Texas Rangers don’t need posses. One Riot, One Ranger.”

“My apologies, Mr. Pickens, I forgot about the Ranger’s Code. Did you accept Mr. Thomas as the leader of the posse you were in?”

‘I had no reason not to.”

“Was it Mr. Thomas’ decision to drag a wounded prisoner to death?”

“No, sir, I volunteered.”

“Did you offer your services to Mr. Thomas?”

“No, sir.” Rebel closed his mouth and stared, pokerfaced, at the judge.

Judge Langley stared at his prisoner. “Who did you volunteer to?”

“I did it and that’s all there is to it….”

The judge interrupted by rapping his table. “Please answer the question I presented to you.”

Rebel stared at the judge. “I would prefer not to.”

Mr. Thomas, “Were you present when Mr. Pickens volunteered?”

“Yes, Your Honor.”

“Who did he offer his services to?”

“I would prefer not to say, Your Honor.”

Judge Langley looked at the two men, secretly admiring their loyalty. “Mr. McKenzie….”

Tea interrupted, “I would prefer not to say, Your Honor.”

Judge Langley pretended to be frustrated and ignored the murmur in the spectator section. “Mr. Richards, were you present when Mr. Pickens volunteer his services?”

“Yes, Your Honor. He offered them to me.”

“To you? When did Mr. Thomas turn his authority of leadership over to you? Were you deputized by Sheriff Graham?”

“He didn’t and I wasn’t. I took it on myself to make the decision.”

“Did you make the decision to send the other prisoner back to the K-Bar with Mr. Sheldon?”

“Yes, sir.”

“How did this come about?”

“I took the prisoner's boots off and told Pecos to make him walk back to the ranch. I told him to make sure he was healthy enough to answer questions before he hung him from the tree near the grave. I wanted the boys to see justice was done for their deaths.”

“Mr. Sheldon, is Mr. Richards telling the truth?”

“No, sir. I backed his decision to hang the son-of-bitch…."

“Please watch your language in my court room, Mr. Sheldon.”

“Sorry, Your Honor. These men murdered our friends….”

“Mr. Thomas, what were you doing at this time?” The Judge interrupted Slim.

“I saw no reason to interfere, Your Honor. Their conduct was well within the code of the range. The jailhouse and sheriff were over seventy miles away….”

Judge Langley rapped the table. “Enough has been said.” He took a drink from his cup.

“Mr. McKenzie, as a civilian observer, I find you innocent of all charges. Mr. Harris, you failed to carry out your duty as a temporary officer of the court. I fine you two dollars and order you to apologize for your actions.”

Coffee reached into his pocket. “I apologize, Your Honor.”

“Apology accepted. You can pay your fine later. Mr. Pickens, I fine you two dollars for your part and a dollar to Court for attempting to draw your weapon in my courtroom. Also, I expect an apology for your behavior.”

Rebel did not attempt to reach into his pocket. “I apologize Your Honor.”

“Mr. Sheldon, I find your loyalty to your boss highly commendable, but I fine you five dollars for your part in this matter. No apology is needed.”

‘Thank you, Your Honor.”

“Mr. Richards, you overstepped your authority by assuming leadership from a duly appointed temporary officer of the court. However, I find your behavior includes extenuating circumstances which were protected by the code of the range in that you were more than two days from the nearest judicial establishment. I fine you thirty dollars for your actions and demand an apology for your disregard of the legal section of this county.”

“I apologize, Your Honor.”

The Judge looked at Niles Thurmond and smiled. “Mr. Thurmond, I believe you are in the employ of the owner of the K-Bar-K.”

Nile looked at the Judge. “That is correct, Your Honor.”

“Then the Court orders you to settle up the fines of these men and to hold them in the back corner, while I take care of one more piece of business before taking an hour recess. Mr. Pete Taylor, please approach the bench. This court is in recess while Counselor settles his clients’ fines.”

Judge Langley reconvened his court and directed Niles to take the newly released prisoners to the back corner of the room. He also directed him to set up some tables for counseling and to keep order while the Court was still in session. He turned his attention to Pete. “Mr. Taylor, I couldn’t help but notice you fired your shotgun into the ceiling after I had ruled no more disturbances.”

Pete smirked. “That’s true, Roy.”

“What do you think about my fining you the beverage bill for your act?”

“Well, Your Honor, I hurt my wrist by firing the shotgun to restore order.” Pete lowered his voice drastically, “I may not be able to pour anymore drinks for quite a while.”

Madam Opal stood. “If it pleases the court. I would like to say something.”

“You may approach the bench.”

Opal approached the bench and winked at the judge. She spoke in a very low voice. “Your Honor, I fear my time and my gems’ time will be busy nursing Mr. Taylor back to health.” She turned and walked back to her seat.

Judge Langley rapped his gavel, “Mr. Taylor, I wish to commemorate your action in restoring order. This court will recess for one hour. I so rule that Madame Opal and her assistants aid Mr. Taylor in his duties. Mr. Taylor, I think you can recuperate while Counselor and I relate the finer points of the law to the deviants in the corner. Court is adjourned. The bar is open. Two drink limit. He rapped the table and holstered his gun.

“What about us?” Pettigrew yelled out.

The Judge nodded. “Very good question. Sheriff, have your original guards assume their duties and protect us from these ruffians while court is in recess. Afterward, you may join us in the back.”

Leland and Slim took over guarding the prisoners. Madame Opal sent one of her girls over to them, carrying two small coffee cups. She sent two others to the back of the room with a large serving tray.

Leland was at peace with the world as he sipped from his coffee cup.

Pettigrew looked agitated. “I have to take a piss.”

“Slim, go ask the sheriff to come over here.”

Sheriff Graham, holding his cup, didn’t look too pleased when he accompanied Slim back to the prisoners.

Leland nodded at Pettigrew. “Says he needs to take a piss. A couple others claimed they need to, also.”

Graham gave Slim his cup. “Leave the cups at the bar and we’ll take them all out back. They can piss on the wall.”

When they were returning, Leland didn’t place any importance on Pettigrew tripping and falling. Graham yanked him to his feet and pushed him forward.

The hour was soon up and the sheriff responded to the judge’s nod and called the court back into session, announcing that the bar was closed.

Leland and Slim took their position at the bar with the sheriff. Tea, Coffee, and Rebel stayed at their table. He was outside when the girls replenished the coffee pot.

“Counselor, is the defense ready to proceed?”

"Yes, Your Honor." Thurmond forced himself not to finger his nearly depleted coat pocket.

“It has come to the attention of the Court that the names of the defendants are not in evidence.” The judge offered a pen and paper to Thurmond. “Please record their names and read them into evidence. Their truthfulness will be taken into account when it comes time to pass judgment.”

A few minutes later, Langley took the list proffered by Thurmond. “The prisoner will stand when I call his name. “Michael Ferguson.”  The judge checked another list lying on his desk as the prisoner stood. “Do you remember my warning about lying to my court?”


“Do you have anything you want to change, Mark?”

Ferguson’s face paled. "How do you….”

“Last chance, Mr. Haggerty.”

“My name is Mark Haggerty.”

“Two years in Yuma, I see.”

“Yes sir, Your Honor.”

“Alan Porter.” The frowning judge stared at the second prisoner to stand. The prisoner began to sweat.

“Allen Wainwright, Your Honor.” 

The third fake marshal stood before his name was called. “Hank Thorsby, not Henry Smith, Your Honor”

The given names were changed as follows:
Zack Ralston - Zack Wallace       
Quentin Sanders – Quentin Adams
Norris Green – Grayson Norris
Bartholomew T. Pettigrew – Horace H. Hornsby
“I find each of you in Contempt of Court for lying. Now let’s get down to business.”

“Mr. Haggerty, Mr. Thorsby and Mr. Wainwright, How do you plea to the charge of impersonating U. S. Federal Marshals?”

Haggerty stood. “Guilty Your Honor.” Mr. Thorsby and Mr. Wainwright entered the same plea.

The judge rapped his gavel. “I sentence each of you to two years in the Yuma Territorial Prison.”  Judge Langley looked at the three accused horse thieves. “I am convinced you three are not guilty of the murders of the three ranch hands. I am reducing the charge to the non-hanging offense of attempted horse stealing. How do you plea?”

Each stood and quickly pled "guilty".

The judge used his gavel. “I sentenced each of you to twenty years of hard labor at the Yuma Territorial Prison without parole.”

"Now for you, Mr. Pettigrew, or should I say, Horace H. Hornsby. The court can find no evidence that you encouraged the three men charged with falsely identifying themselves as Federal Marshals, nor has the court seen any evidence of you participating in the horse theft.” Pettigrew/Hornsby grinned widely. The judge ignored him and continued, “However, I find you guilty of ten counts of Contempt of Court and sentence you to thirty years of hard labor at Yuma Territorial Prison without parole.”

Hornsby jumped to his feet. “You can’t do that!”

“Funny Mr. Hornsby, I just did. You have the right to appeal my decision. I am remanding you to custody until you receive San Francisco’s decision. Your case should come up for review in two to five years. Court’s adjourned.” Langley rapped his gavel one more time and holstered his gun. He walked back to the table, carrying his mug and sat down.

Sheriff Graham, yelled out, “The bar is opened!”

Later that night, an inebriated sheriff drew his gun and ordered Pettigrew/Hornsby to empty the honey pot. Hornsby carried the pot out of the cell.

Hornsby stood and waited for the sheriff to holster his gun and lock the cell. He threw the contents of the honey pot into the Sheriff face. Graham staggered backward into the bars. Hornsby pulled the concealed rock from his pocket and struck the sheriff on his head. The prisoner freed the gun and hit the sheriff in the same spot with its butt.



The Prologue is the arthor's notes and contains the character list. My apologies to the "Consitutionists." A western judge had to travel several thousand square miles to cover his circuit. They often sought short cuts.
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