Western Fiction posted December 15, 2013


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Things get out of hand when a mob takes control.

The Lynch Mob

by pickthorn

The news of Black Dog’s death and the demise of the other renegade Apaches spread throughout the Southwest. The farmers, ranchers, and settlers in Oklahoma Territory breathed a sigh of relief at the unexpected news.
 
After the funerals of his family in Cache Creek, Corley made preparation to move two hundred fifty head of cattle he inherited from his father to his farm outside of Shawnee. The cattle drive lasted ten days and Corley was pleased with losing only twenty head on the drive up from Ft. Sill.
~*~
 
The years passed quickly for Dan. By the year of 1880, Corley had one of the largest cattle ranches in Western Oklahoma Territory. He married a local school teacher in1881, named Rosemary Plunkett. They were blessed with a baby boy and named the child, Daniel Beauregard Corley.
 
When Dan’s daughter, Rachel, was 21, she married her best friend and closest neighbor, Billy Paschal.  Billy had done well in life, thanks to the financial help he received from Dan. He had bought a  nice ranch and stocked it with cattle, which provided a comfortable living for his family.  Dan could not have picked a better son-in-law. He loved visiting with Billy and talking about old times.
 
Dan, ‘the Snake’, was now 58 years old and no longer sought the life of a frontier lawman. His interest in bringing law and order to the West had run its course. He looked forward instead, to the daily peaceful life of a cattle rancher. As far as he was concerned, his gun-fighting days were over.
 
Though he hated to admit it, Dan sometimes missed the danger of the life and death situations he often faced when he was a federal marshal. His mind occasionally drifted back to the daring adventures of his younger days.
 
One summer afternoon in 1895, Dan was feeling a little melancholy as he sat on his front porch, smoking his pipe and reminiscing about days gone by.
 
He was reliving the time he was in pursuit of Black Dog and his renegade Apaches when his reverie was broken by an approaching rider on horseback. The man waved his arms as he galloped toward Dan’s house, shouting, “Snake! Snake! We need you in town!”
 
As the rider came closer, Dan recognized the young man as the sheriff’s son, Jake Malone. Dan could see that Jake was frantically trying to convey an urgent message.
 
“Mr. Corley! Pa’s out of town and the Sledge boys are gonna lynch Rufus Millweed. That ol’ nigger ain’t done nothin’ to be hanged for! Can you come an’ help us…please?”
 
Rufus was an elderly black man who worked at the livery stable in Shawnee. Dan knew him well and knew that he was a harmless old man, about seventy years old. Corley also knew of the Sledge brothers. He knew they were ruthless and had the reputation of being fast and deadly with a gun. They were also known to hate Negroes and Indians of every tribe.
 
When Dan received the news that a lynching was imminent, he hesitated for a moment and considered what could happen if he became involved. After pondering the question for a few seconds, he realized he had no choice.
 
“Let me get my guns, Jake. I’ll see what I can do.” When Dan went inside and took his gun belt, with his two colt 44s, down from where they hung by the fireplace, his wife, Rosemary, became frantic.
 
“Dan! What do you think you’re doing?...You’ll be killed! Don’t go! You have a family to think about now!”
 
Dan strapped on his gun belt and checked to see if each chamber of his guns were fully loaded. He tried to reassure his wife that he knew what he was doing.

“Don’t worry, Rosie. I’ll be all right. I got no other choice. I gotta go.”
 
Back in town, the Sledge brothers had incited the lynch mob to a fevered pitch and they were heading for the jail. Rufus Millweed was being held there for trespassing on Widow Simpson’s property. Rufus told the sheriff  he just wanted to get a drink of water from the widow’s well, but Mrs. Simpson told the sheriff she was in fear for her life. “That nigger wanted to rape me,” she told the sheriff.

Rufus looked out the window of his jail cell and could see the lynch mob coming down the street. "Lawdy, lawdy!  Dem folks is sho 'nuff g’wine to hang ol' Rufus. Oh, help me, lawd."

Jack Sledge approached the sheriff's office, holding a long rope with a noose on the end. Sledge’s foreman,Tom Donlevy, a hired gun who had reportedly killed thirteen men during the range wars down in South Texas, walked beside Jack. About thirty townsfolk accompanied them, and they were all ready for a necktie party.
 
"We want the nigger!  Bring him out here, and no one will get hurt."
 
From behind the bolted door, Jess Edwards, the 18-year-old deputy, replied, "I can't do that, Sledge. Y'all get on out of here. Rufus is going to stand trial. The law will see that justice is done."

"Damn the law! We gonna make sure justice is done! Okay, boys…let's break this door down."
 
Jess was helpless against the angry mob. Within minutes, they had Rufus and were heading down the street toward the hanging tree. Jess could hear Rufus pleading, crying, and praying; all at the same time. "Lawd, help ol' Rufus. Don't let 'em hang me! I ain’t nevah done nothin' bad."
 
When the mob reached the hanging tree, one man tossed the rope over a lower limb, and six other citizens of Shawnee volunteered to hoist Rufus skyward.
 
The widow Simpson was part of the lynch mob. She urged the members of the mob to do their duty. "Alright, get on with it! I want to see that nigger swinging in the breeze."
 
"Now, calm down, Emma. We ain't  barbarians here. We gonna let Rufus speak his last words. Go ahead, Rufus…whatcha got to say?"
 
"Mistah Sledge, suh…I swear I ain't evah done no hawm to nobody…Miz Simpson, ma’am, I’z awful sorry I got watah from yo well, but I wuz powerful thirsty, Miz Simpson, ma’am. I sho wouldn’t hawm one little hair on yo head. Pleeze don’t let ‘em hang me.”
 
Widow Simpson, after taking a pinch of snuff, said, “Hang ‘im.”
 
"Okay, boys…let's get on with it," Sledge said, with a cruel smile.
 
The noose was placed around the neck of the trembling black man, and six citizens were waiting for the signal to hoist Rufus into the tree.

The crowd was alarmed when they heard two shots ring out in rapid succession. They looked in the direction of the gunshots. Sensing that lead would soon be flying in all directions, they scurried off to take cover.
 
Riding slowly toward the would-be lynchers, was Snake Corley. Dan was still a handsome figure of a man, with a no-nonsense, take-charge aura about him.
 
Only the Sledge brothers and their ranch foreman, Tom Donlevy, were left surrounding Rufus, who stood under the oak tree with a noose around his neck. His hands were tied behind his back with a strip of leather. The Sledge brothers and Donlevy stood their ground against Corley.

As Snake slowly stepped down from his horse, he holstered one of the two Colt forty-fours, worn at his hips. He never took his steely-gray eyes off the Sledge brothers.
 
Sheriff Malone’s deputy, Jeff Edwards, trembling with fright, came forward and took the reins of Corley’s horse. Before leading it away, he asked, “Do ya want me to stand with ya, Snake?”
 
“No, son, I can handle this…just take Scudder over there somewhere out of the range of fire.” Corley again turned to face the three gunmen.

Donlevy slowly took three steps to his left, staring defiantly at Snake, his right hand only an inch away from the pistol, slung low on his right hip.
 
"All right, you boys have had your fun…now take that rope off of Rufus and get out of here," Dan said, with grim determination.
 
"We gonna hang this nigger and there ain't a damn thang you can do about it, ol’ man! You ain't the law around here no more. You may live a little longer if you jus’ go on back home and mind your own damn business."
 
The old timers in the crowd of onlookers knew that someone was going to die in the next few seconds. There were no doubts that Dan Corley would ever back down from a fight, regardless of the odds against him. The tension and suspense were mounting with each second of the face-off. 

Corley had a look of impatience and disgust on his weather-beaten face as he glanced at Donlevy, then back to the Sledge boys. He slowly took two steps backward before replying.
 
In a calm, determined voice, he said, "I'm gonna kill you boys in about ten seconds unless you take that rope off Rufus and get the hell out of  here."
 
Out of the corner of his eye, Snake saw Tom Donlevy go for his gun. At the same instant, the Sledge brothers began their draw. Several women screamed as a volley of shots rang out in the next two seconds. When the smoke cleared, Jack and Bob Sledge lay dead on the ground. Jack had taken a bullet in both eyes and the back of his head was missing. Bob had taken one slug right between the eyes. Donlevy had taken a round in the belly and one near his heart. He lay writhing in pain as he took his last few breaths.
 
Snake had been shot once through his upper right arm, but the bullet missed the bone. One bullet had grazed his right cheekbone, taking off the lower part of his ear. Another slug had passed through his new Stetson hat.
 
He survived the shootout as he had many times before. With blood oozing from the wound in his arm and right ear, Dan walked over to Rufus and removed the noose from around his neck, then took his pocket knife and cut the leather strap binding his hands.
 
Rufus was in a state of shock as his eyes looked toward heaven, and he said, "I is alive! I is still alive! Lawd, Almighty! I is still alive! Thank ya, Mistah Snake. I'll be yo slave fo as long as I live."

"You ain't gonna be nobody’s slave, Rufus.Them days are gone forever. You go on back to work at the livery stable.Tell Luke to let me know if there's any more trouble down here."
 
Jake Malone and Jess Edwards helped the undertaker, Roy Barcroft, load the three dead men onto a buckboard. Jake watched as a stray dog with visibly protruding ribs, lapped up the warm blood from the sun-baked street.
 
The Widow Simpson came up to Corley, as Doc Spickard finished dressing the wound on Corley’s right arm.
 
 "Oh, Snake! I tried to stop them Sledge boys from hangin' Rufus…they just wouldn't listen to me. You know me, Snake...I ain't never had no bad feelings toward them nig...uh, black folks."
 
Dan climbed back in the saddle, looked down at the Widow Simpson and said, "Emma, you go on home now. You've caused enough trouble for one day."
 
With a tip of his hat and a twinkle in his eye, Snake turned Ol' Scudder around and headed back to his ranch.
 


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This is written as a possible epilogue to the novella I recently posted on FanStory, 'The Gunfighter', just tying up some loose ends.

The euphemisms and incorrect language used in the dialogue of this story are purposely written to depict the type of language used by the characters of the story and are not meant to degrade anyone because of the accents used by people of color or who live in a certain areas of the country.
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