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(Tombstone, Arizona Territory, 1880)

Silver spurs jingled on the clapboard sidewalk, stepping into a dusty street. Boots, polished, pointed towards a drunk man waving a pistol 80 feet away. Crowds of curious onlookers gathered at the spectacle, torn between fear and morbid curiosity.

“You cheated me! There’s no way there’s that many aces in a deck! You lowdown, yellow-bellied, egg-suckin dog!”

Eye squinting, a hand-rolled cig firmly in the corner his mouth, he drew a match quickly against his denim; it flamed to life. Hands cupped, he drew a puff, then two, tossing the smoking stick onto the street, flipping back his poncho, exposing a six-shot, Colt 45 Peacemaker. Broad-rimmed hat shading his steel blue eyes, Lighting-Draw Clyde shouted, “Was a fair hand, Barret,” moving forward.

What’s all the rukus?

People on either side of the street, drawn by the ruckus, moved indoors fearing the crossfire. One man, though, leaning against a post, didn’t move an inch. A passing lady with a parasol said, “I do declare Mister, you’d better come inside with us!”

Grizzled, eyes lined with crow’s feet, he rolled a paper lined with tobacco, “Ma’am, ain’t no call for doin’ that, no one’s gonna get shot today, ‘less by pure accident.”

Wide-eyed and pretty, she said, “How would you know that, Mister?”

“Well, for one thing, Barret’s drunker than a skunk and couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn if he tried.”

Beyond them, Barret yelled, slurring his words, “That’s close ‘nough! Draw your gun, cheater!”

The other thing, Ma’am

The lady’s fingers grabbed the cowboy’s arm in fear as he explained, “The other thing, ma’am, is Clyde gave me his spectacles to keep ’til after the shootout, and he can’t see nothin’ without ’em. Thinks it makes him look ‘book-weak’ if he wears ’em. Can’t see past ten feet.” He finished, “Believe me, no one gets shot today ‘cept by accident.”

Clyde kept right on approaching Barret, squeezing off a couple of rounds, missing the drunken man by a country mile.

“Stop, you dad-burn fool! That’s close enough!” the card player yelled, firing back, also missing his ponchoed opponent, accidentally shooting the chain holding one end of a shop sign, sending it banging against the wall.

Clyde steadily put one boot in front of the other, squinting harder, struggling to make out where Barret was, the drunk beginning to back up.

“Stand your ground, coward! Face me like a man!” Clyde shouted.

“Ain’t fair, you being so close!” the frightened Barret yelled as he backed up still further.


With that, four remaining shots smoked from Clyde’s pistol in rapid fire. All four bullets went wide, but the fourth struck a brass bell on the fire department, ricocheting, felling the hollerin’ man into the street.

Women screamed, and a few men exclaimed, “He’s been shot!”

“You shot me in the ass!” the felled drunk screamed. “You shot me in the ass!” Barret, feeling sorry for himself, grabbed the nearest man’s ankles, sayin, “Don’t put that on my tombstone, it ain’t right!

The shot man cursed as he bled, complaining loudly, “It ain’t the way a man should die! Oh God, my whole lifes passin between my eyes!”

“Passin before your eyes, you durn fool!” A bystander admonished.

Crowd gathering round, the town doctor pushed through. Cutting open the man’s pants with a pocket knife, looking at his bleeding rump, Doc Goodfellow said, “Barret, your backside’s ugly as sin, that’s gonna cost you extra to have me patch you up down there.”

Barret grabbed the doctor’s arm, sobbing “Tell me true! Doc, am I gonna die?”

Standing back up, dusting off his pant legs, the doctor said, “No, you’re not gonna die, Barret. Your butt’s a long way from your heart.” He motioned to some men standing nearby, “Carry him to my office, press this hand towel on the wound so the fool doesn’t bleed out.”

By accident

“Told you so,” the grizzled man leaning on the post said to the lady, gently removing her fingers, which dug into his arm, “by accident.”

Another onlooker smiled, saying loudly, “Well, you know, that’s a real pain in the butt!” causing general laughter and a few groans.

Clyde, holstering his firearm, standing at least an inch taller, approached his grizzled friend, who handed him his spectacles, which he put on.

“You know, Clyde, vanity’s gonna get you killed one of these days.”

Clyde flipped his poncho down over his six shooter and walked into the saloon.


Years before, in 1877, soldiers at Fort Hauchuca, upon hearing that a man was going to prospect over on goose flats, “Injun” territory, laughed that the only thing he’d find there was his own tombstone. That man, named Edward Schieffelin, undeterred, did strike silver and named one of his claims ‘Tombstone’ in honor of their jest. It turned out to be the richest silver strike in Arizona history, creating a boom town, which also came to be known as Tombstone. Thousands flooded into Cochise County, nicknamed ‘Helldorado’, bent on finding their fortune in the hills. Cattle rustlers ferried stolen cattle from Mexico at cut rate prices, and no one complained. Saloons opened with sportin’ ladies, brought in from all parts, even some from abroad.

Today, a piano man played a jaunty tune, slightly out of key, as multiple shots rang outside the saloon, no one paying much attention. “Must be a gang of cowboys just come off a cattle drive,” one of the old card players mumbled, as he anted up. At least once a week, a large, dusty group of cow hands rode into town, some throwing their hats to their painted ladies of choice on the second floor railing above, coming back to claim it later, after they’d cleaned up and downed a few rounds.

Inside, Lightning-Draw Clyde sat, cozied up to the bar, with his pocket knife out, whittling on the handle of his Colt revolver.

Ya didn’t kill him

Looking at him, his friend Amos commented as he sipped his whisky, “Yah didn’t kill him. They patched him up. Heard that Doc Goodfellow said it ain’t pretty, but he’ll live.”

Flipping the chamber out, Clyde made sure there were no bullets in it, then laid the gun flat on the bar to continue putting the second notch on his pistol, “Any gunfight you walk away from is a win, so far as I’m concerned.”

Shaking his head, Amos said, “Sure, if you say.” Then, pointing at the bottle of mineral water on the bar next to Clyde he added, “Folks ain’t going to take you seriously as a gunslinger if they catch you drinkin’ that.”

Eavesdropping on their conversation, a woman in a low cut dress and ample cleavage walked over and began giving Clyde a back rub as she leaned in, “Pay that fool no mind, I thought you were brave. Hero, why don’t you and I get upstairs and become better acquainted?”

Smiling, all five feet, four inches of Lightning-Draw Clyde stood with his spurs jingling, and, holstering his 45, adjusted his hat, saying to Amos, “Finish my water, if you like.”

Fort Huachuca

At Fort Honcho, a few days earlier, a heavy-set woman walked into the government compound, saying, “Howdy, boys.”

The soldiers answered, “Howdy, Ma’am,” with great respect.

Her eyes set close, square German face in a permanent downward frown gave her a constant scowl, except when she smiled with a missing front tooth. Heavy, French perfume lingered long after she’d passed.

“Where is she?” the madam demanded.

Shown into a small room, she spotted a young Caucasian woman in Apache dress and beads.

“We found her when we routed the village, Ma’am. She ain’t hurt, but she won’t talk. Don’t know if she can.”

“Make her stand,” the heavily perfumed madam demanded. The man coaxed her up. “Can you speak, girl?” the woman asked, looking her over.

Brown eyes, full of fear and bewilderment, looked back at the white woman who studied her. The thin young lady, long brown hair curling at the ends, said nothing.

What’s your name?

The gruff woman’s speech seemed uncivilized, coarse, no melody – no respect. “What’s your name?”

She stared back, defying the fat, white woman’s demand. The square-faced woman looked like she’d eaten a whole buffalo.

Raising her hand to slap her, the matron shouted, “I came all the way from Tombstone to give your sorry ass a chance! I’ll beat you to within a inch of your life, Missy, if you don’t answer me,” as the girl turned away, putting her arm up.

“Fallon,” she said in a halting voice.


“Fallon Abigail Ryan.”

“That’s better,” said the red-faced madam, lowering her hand. “How long you been with those Injuns?”

“I…I don’t know exactly. About three winters, I reckon.” Her speech had an odd way about it, like opening a rusty door as it complained.

She’s too skinny, the madam observed, but she’ll fatten up. The braves probably rode her more than their horses…no matter. She’ll do. “I’ll take her. If she doesn’t work out, I’ll be sending her back.”

Peacemaker for sale

A dog sniffed, a man snored. The mangy animal neared, taking the strap in it’s teeth, pulling on the saddle bag, sniffing jerky. In a flash, the man awoke, guns drawn and cocked, as the startled mutt yelped, scampering away.

Dark eyes with patches underneath, looked around the alley. Moving slowly, grimacing from the aches and pains, he sat up with difficulty. Derek lifted his hand, holding the cold pistol to his pounding temple. “Damn,” he said, “I’s drinks too much,” as the sledgehammer in his head repeatedly slammed down. Sitting up, he propped broad shoulders, along with his Winchester, against the building in the alleyway.

Trying to stand, he held the wall as the world spun around. His big hand reached down and took his hat off the dusty ground. Standing, willing his head to stop spinning, he took a piss then went find his mule, hoping it was still tied in front of the saloon. Finding the poor animal still there, Custer’s ex-scout stepped on to the plank sidewalk, moving through the townsfolk, all giving him a wide berth as much for the smell as for his rough appearance, as he entered the weathered door of a trading post. Standing for a moment to steady his gaze, he saw a long, crowded room full of sacks of corn, barrels of salt, wash basins and buckets hanging from the rafters, and carefully placed tinned sundries lining the wall behind the counter.


A man, turning from placing another tin neatly away, said, “What can I do ya for, mister?”

Derek, setting the rifle down, moved to the pot bellied stove, warming his hands. Back muscles showed through his dirty shirt, “I’s a pearl-handled peacemaker to part with, you interested?”

The clerk, cautious, said, “I’ll take a look, can’t say as I’ll buy until I see it.”

Thinking back to the pride he’d felt the day he bought the pair of pearl-handled pistols, Derek caressed the smooth handle. I’s used to be someone.

No longer the respected scout of Montana, he worked odd jobs, hard physical labor in the towns he’d drifted into as he headed south, his hands growing as calloused and pained as his heart. Digging ditches, breaking rock, unloading train cars full of burlap sacks until his back almost broke, he’d drink it all away by evening. I’s always movin, he thought, remembering his many drunken fights prompting one sheriff to say, “If you show you face around here again, there’ll be a lynchin. You better get while the gettin’s good.”

This morning, handing over one of his prized Colt 45’s from the crisscross gun belt strapped to his chest, he felt as if a part of himself died. He slowly placed the gun, pearl handle first, on the counter. “Paid 100 dollars for the two.”

Checking the magazine, the clerk tried the action. “It’s in good shape. I’ll give 20 for it.”

“It’s worth 40 if it’s worth a dime!” Derek said, irritated with the proprietor’s low-ball offer.

Making a face the man raised to, “$27.50, that’s as far as I can go. Not much call for a fancy-handled gun around these parts.”

For thirty dollars

Almost reaching out to take it back, in resignation Derek countered, “Thirty, and we’s has a deal.”

Drawing from that thirty dollars, later that evening he ate a well-done steak and fried potatoes in one of the local saloons, paying two bits for the meal and bath. Siding up to the bar after he cleared his plate, he leaned in, “Whisky.”

“Sure thing,” the mustached man, towel tossed over his shoulder, turned over a shot class and poured.

Derek slid coin forward, “Anyone hirin’ ’round these parts?”

“Vosberg’s sitting over there,” pointing to a table in the corner. “I hear he’s in need of a few good men. Ask him.”

Derek approached John Vosberg, who took one look at the black man’s size and muscle, and hired him on the spot. “Report here in the morning,” he directed, drawing a map to his silver mine on a crumpled piece of paper he pulled from his pocket. Derek thanked him, and studied the map as he walked back to the bar. He counted out his money and ordered another whisky.

Hostess of this fine establishment

The room changed, men quieted a bit and quit cussing, as a large woman walked down the stairs wearing heavy perfume and smoking a cigar, the two aromas fighting like two cats in a burlap sack. Siding up to Derek, “I be Frannie May Morten, hostess of this fine establishment.” A practiced, missing tooth smile said, “Howdy stranger, you new in town? Interested in some pleasurable company? Only cost you two dollars.”

Turning and looking, drinking the shot of rot gut in one gulp, he thought, that’s one ugly woman. Facing the bar again, staring into his now-empty glass, Derek said “I’s not in the mood, but thanks all the same. I’ll be workin’ in Tombstone Silver Mining Company by tomorrow.”

Looking at him knowingly, undeterred, she took his arm, “I’m a hell of a lot of woman to manage on your first go round. I’ll tell you what, I’ve a new girl that I’d let you try on for 50 cents. She needs breakin’ in” as she felt his rock hard bicep. “You like her, she could be your regular…what about it, sir?”

Whisky taking hold, jaw muscle flexing at the mention of ‘sir’, the big man turned and, laying a silver dollar down on the bar, said, “Sure.”

Giving the bartender a nod, the madam said, “Another for this fine gentleman.”

Downing the firewater, the big man climbed up to the second floor cribs, following after Frannie May, stairs creaking.