Memories of A Gunfighter by ZoeyT

Word Count 3,111

Dear to me as the Lancers are, I have no rights to them. I always wonder when an episode like The Kid is over what happened long after―how it was remembered and told later. This is my version of how it might have been decades later.

Thanks to Margaret P. for being my ever-patient beta. That was a few years ago and I made quite a few changes before posting this update for the Lancer 50th Anniversary celebration. Therefore, consider all the good parts hers and all the mistakes mine.

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“Tell us a story, Grandpa!” The six-year-old owner of the shrill voice climbed into the old man’s lap.

The man shifted slightly in his comfortable chair, surveying the scene before him with satisfaction. The weather was perfect, the food had been delicious, and now he could sit back and savor the most precious fruits of his life. Each year the extensive—and expanding—Cutler clan gathered to celebrate the nation’s birthday and enjoy each other’s company. With dinner over and the smallest children down for naps, the ladies sat in small groups chatting, plying fans, and sipping lemonade. The men were gathered well away from their womenfolk, smoking and sipping whiskey while they discussed business and politics. Around them, a bevy of children played in the shade of the live oaks surrounding the house.

 “’Bout cowboys!” chimed in a slightly older boy.

 “Indians!”

“Outlaws!”

The man was quickly surrounded as children ranging in age from fifteen to four responded to the cries. The youngsters settled onto the grass, eyes bright with anticipation. Adults also began to drift closer. Grandpa spun a good yarn and, if they suspected his stories were a bit more colorful than the actual events, they were, after all, stories.

The old man chuckled. “Well now, I don’t believe I know a story with cowboys, Indians, and outlaws. Maybe we should take a vote.”

“Do you know a story about gunfighters, Grandpa?” asked one of the older boys. “I’ve been reading about them. Did you know Billy the Kid was the fastest gun that ever lived? Even faster than Jack Slade or Wild Bill Hickok?”

Thick gray eyebrows arched upward. “Clarence, have you been reading those dime novels again? You know your mother doesn’t like that.”

The boy swallowed hard, but nodded. “Aww, Grandpa, it don’t hurt nothing. Besides, the stories are a lot more exciting than anything they give us to read at school. Did you ever know any gunfighters, Grandpa?”

The man slowly shook his head and a smile twitched his lips. “I used to read those kind of books myself. We called them ‘dreadfuls’. I remember when you father and uncles found my old books where I hid ‘em in the barn. Near gave your grandma a stroke.” He sobered. “Just you remember that they are stories. The men that write ‘em don’t know diddly squat about what life was really like back then. I also want you to remember… all of you…” his stern gaze swept boys and girls alike, “that most all those gunfighters and outlaws were bad men; cold-blooded killers, they were.”

“But Wild Bill was a lawman!” Clarence’s younger brother, Glen, chimed in.

The mottled head, with its fringe of gray hair, nodded. “Yes, he was. There were exceptions, but not many.” The old man fell silent, considering. His smile returned. “Truth to tell, I did know a gunfighter. And he was a good man; saved my life I reckon. Would you all like to hear about him?”

“Yes!” was the loud response from his audience.

“Andrew Cutler, are you sure about this?”

Bard and audience turned toward the voice. The woman’s face was still striking, although lined with age and her gray hair was swept up in a neat coil. A daughter stood close by, ready to lend support, but the woman’s back was straight and her head held high despite walking with the aid of a cane. Beside her another silver-haired woman moved more easily.

“Virgil, Teddy, fetch chairs for your grandma and Nana Dorrie.” Andy’s eyes shifted from his wife of forty-seven years to his sister.

“Yes, Dorrie, I’m sure. It’s time. We’re here celebrating the history of our country. This is part of it―the history of our family. This is what happened. A whole lot of it wasn’t pretty, but its part of our past and these stories should be passed down so we don’t forget those that went before and the legacy they left us.”

A long, considered moment later, a gentle smile crept across Dorrie’s face. She nodded and seated herself behind the circle of children next to her sister-in-law.

“All right, then,” Andy began. “I was about your age, Clarence, and there was trouble in McCall’s Crossing. The two biggest ranchers round about were running out the homesteaders and quarreling with each other to boot.”

“Why, Grandpa?” asked Lillian from her perch in Andy’s lap.

“They were afraid so many homesteaders would come, they’d lose their ranches. I didn’t understand that until Johnny pointed it out. ‘Course, he was a rancher, too, so he understood.”

“Who’s Johnny?” interrupted Helen.

Andy chuckled again. “Don’t run ahead of the story, missy. Just you wait. Like I was sayin’, there was trouble, and one day some of those ranchers came to our farm and told me and Nana Dorrie that our pa was dead. They said it was an accident and they were sorry. They gave us the deed to this place and some money and promised they wouldn’t bother us no more.

Well, I was dead certain they was lyin’. They’d killed Pa because he was tryin’ to organize the homesteaders. The nervous-Nelly sheriff in McCall’s Crossing wasn’t any help. I had some money saved up so I snuck off one night and took the stage to Sacramento figurin’ to get the real law after those murderers.”

Andy sighed. “But I had no proof so the marshal in Sacramento told me there was nothing he could do. Boy was I mad. And broke. Had a dollar and thirty-seven cents left to my name and I was a long way from home. So I started walkin’. Some folks along the way gave me rides or let me work for food and a place to sleep. I didn’t know where I was goin’ except that I aimed to hire me a gunfighter to get the men who killed my pa.”

I was walking along, so tuckered I’da sworn my legs were an inch shorter than when I started. I hadn’t eaten in two days and my belly button was gnawing at my backbone.” He poked Lillian, eliciting a giggle.

Then I saw this horse standin’ in the shade. He was bright as a twenty-dollar gold piece and had a white mane and tail. And there he stood, all alone, swishin’ flies. I figured his rider was around somewhere so I snuck up real quiet and, sure enough, there was a cowboy clearing out a creekbed. He was wearin’ a gun, but I got the drop on him with Pa’s old shotgun; made him toss his gunbelt up on the bank.” Andy chortled. “Dadgum good thing for me he didn’t know the firin’ pin in that old gun was busted.”

“Andy, mind yourself!” Vinnie Cutler chided her husband.

Andy shook his head, gazing into the past. “I was real desperate. I wasn’t gonna hire no gunfighter with a dollar and thirty-seven cents so I decided I’d take that horse and sell him and then I’d have plenty of money. Now mind…” He glared around the circle of children, his finger emphasizing the point. “Mind, I told myself I wasn’t really aimin’ to steal that horse. Stealin’ is wrong. But, being as young, and dumb, and desperate as I was, I figured I could hire a gunfighter, get justice for Pa, then pay the cowboy back for the horse when Dorrie and me got the farm goin’ good.” He snorted. “Dumb don’t hardly cover it. Back in those days, there wasn’t much law. I knew if they’d caught me, I’d most likely be dead right then and there.”

The children gasped at that awful possibility.

“Anyhow, I took off with that horse knowing that, by the time that cowboy climbed out of the creek, I’d be long gone. Cocky young…” Vinnie shot him a warning glance… “kid, I was. That feller whistled and yelled somethin’—couldn’t make out what—and that horse stopped so sudden he all but sat on his haunches. I was kicking him for all I was worth but the cowboy whistled and hollered again and that animal started to buck. Next thing I knew, I was flat as a flitter on the ground with the wind knocked plumb out of me.”

“Did he shoot you, Grandpa Andy?” asked Glen.

Andy smiled. “No, Glen, he didn’t. Matter of fact, he asked me if I was all right. No, I just stood there, mad as a wet hen, and probably lookin’ as stupid as I felt, while he unloaded my shotgun, tossed it back to me, and mounted up. Law, you should have seen him ride! Loped past where I’d left his gun, leaned out of the saddle, and snatched it right off the ground!”

A chorus of amazement swept the group.

Andy went on. “Johnny—that was the cowboy’s name—took me back to his ranch and his family fed me and got me cleaned up. And let me tell you, I hollered about like Glen here when he has a bath. I’m surprised they didn’t hear me clear back in McCall’s Crossing!” Everyone laughed and fingers pointed at Glen.

“Johnny tanned me too.” Bulging eyes and a ripple of giggles and snickers greeted that admission.

Andy nodded decisively. “Yep, tanned me good for givin’ everyone such a hard time. Said he was gonna teach me some manners. Not that I learned any—then. “Bein’ so determined and not havin’ the sense God gave a goose, I climbed out a window that night and took that golden horse again.” He peered around the group, eyes gleaming with the building suspense.

The children hung on every word. Engrossed in his tale and his memories, Andy was only marginally aware that his audience had grown larger.

“Well, Johnny caught up with me and he was all sorts of put out! Thought he was gonna tan me all over again.” Andy chuffed. “He did cuff me a time or two, but then he fed me, and explained that, without a bill-of-sale, I couldn’t get enough for that horse to buy any kind of hired gun worth the name. But Johnny said he’d help me.”

Now, one of the ranch hands had told me that Johnny used to be a gunfighter, and he was real good, but didn’t hire out no more. Besides, I wanted a real good gun and I’d never heard of a gunfighter by Johnny’s name.” His eyes sparkled as he paused dramatically. “Little did I know…”

Eyes sparkling, Andy surveyed the listeners, drawing out the moment.

“Imagine my surprise when I learned I had hired Johnny Madrid.”

“He’s in my book!” Clarence crowed. “It says he may even have been faster than Billy the Kid! He had eyes like cold fire and was so mean he’d laugh at the Devil himself.”

Clarence wilted under his grandfather’s glare. “Like I told you, Clarence—all of you—the men that write those books weren’t there. They’re just repeatin’ stories told by folks that mostly weren’t there neither. And, just like I told you, mostly gunfighters were cold-blooded killers. But Johnny wasn’t. Oh, he scared folks right enough. And I reckon he did kill some men. But he wasn’t no murderer. You remember that! Now then, where was I?”

“You just found out Johnny was Johnny Madrid,” Glen prompted.

“That’s right! Well, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather when Johnny told me who he was. When we got back to the farm, Dorrie wasn’t at all pleased with what I’d done and she ran him off.”

“Nana Dorrie ran off Johnny Madrid?” Clarence gulped.

Andy shot an impudent grin at his sister. “Yes, Clarence, she did. Lucky for us, he came back. Lucky for all of us in McCall’s Crossing as it turned out.”

All eyes turned to Dorrie. “Weren’t you afraid, Nana Dorrie?” asked twelve-year-old Helen.

Dorrie’s lips twitched. “No, I wasn’t. My rascally little brother introduced him as… well, he didn’t tell me who he really was until later. By then, I knew he wasn’t going to hurt me.” Her soft laugh echoed the young woman she had been. “Of course, it helped that he was ever so handsome and could have charmed the rattles off a snake.”

Helen’s eyes glowed with adolescent romanticism. “Really, Nana Dorrie? He was handsome?”

Memories flowed across the wrinkled face. “Oh, bless me, child, he was handsome! Silky black hair, and dark blue eyes, and a face like an angel, he had. And a soft, drawling voice that could make a woman weak in the knees.” Dorrie looked down at Helen. “And his smile… he was the most handsome man I ever laid eyes on—except, of course, for your grandpa, God rest him.”

Laughter rippled around the gathering.

“And he did help us. Most likely kept Andy here from getting himself killed.”

Andy burst into laughter. “Oh, I tell you, Johnny was as smart as he was fast with a gun. For about two weeks he cut fences, and took potshots at those ranchers, and got up to just about every kind of deviltry you could think of. Never hurt nobody, but he sure did get everybody stirred up. Rode into town, bold as brass, and sat on the hotel porch in a rockin’ chair every day. And practiced his shootin’. I’d go to the saloon and collect empty bottles and set ‘em up for him to practice.”

Andy whistled in remembered appreciation. “That man could shoot. Never missed. ‘Course, it was mostly for show. He knew folks would be watchin’ and they’d just keep gettin’ more nervous about him being there. Johnny had Dan Marvin and Toby Jencks, both thinkin’ the other had hired him.”

Several of the older adults who had grown up in McCall’s Crossing stared in slack-jawed amazement. One of Dorrie’s daughters asked, “The Marvin and Jencks kids we went to school with?”

“The very same,” said Dorrie. Their grandpas, they were.

“Anyhow,” Andy went on, “Marvin and Jencks each thought the other one hired Madrid to kill him, and were demanding that the sheriff do something.” A smile flirted across the old man’s lips. “Well, sir, the sheriff did the only thing he could do; he resigned. ‘Course, later—after it was all over and things were peaceful again—he got his job back. Couldn’t much blame the poor man. He had no idea Johnny was playin’ with him too, and there was just no way he could’ve gone up against Madrid and lived to tell about it.” The smile faded.

“Things finally came down to Marvin and Jencks facing each other on the main street of town. Johnny made ‘em explain what happened to Pa. And, believe me, they told the honest-to-goodness truth ’cause they both thought they were lookin’ Death in the face. Reckon they were in a way. Reckon we all were.

You see, Johnny wanted justice for Pa—like he’d promised me and Dorrie—but he also wanted to teach me something. I was all hot for revenge, and I thought I wanted those men dead, but Johnny made me see that was wrong. Turned out, they didn’t kill Pa—it really was an accident. But… Johnny made me see that vengeance carries a big price.”

Silence settled over the shady yard as those old enough to understand pondered Andy’s words and the young ones waited impatiently on the end of the story.

Long moments later, Andy shook off the memories and went on. “And so… the notorious gunfighter, Johnny Madrid, stopped a range war and taught all of us a lesson—then wouldn’t even take my dollar and thirty-seven cents. Said I should use it to help the farm. Folks talked about how fast he was. Some said he was a stone-cold killer and some said he was a hero. I reckon he wasn’t altogether any of those things. Remember that when you hear stories about anybody.”

Puzzlement plainly showed on the small, upturned faces. “Grandpa,” Clarence spoke up, “that doesn’t make any sense.”

Andy smiled on his grandson. “You’ll find, Clarence, that most folks aren’t altogether one thing or another. We all have good and bad in us. I’m sure some of those stories about Johnny are true or he wouldn’t have had the reputation he did, but…” His voice trailed off.

“But they weren’t all of him or even most of him,” Dorrie said quietly. We knew him; the man, not the legend. He was a good man.” Once more, considered silence descended on the group, but it was brief.

“I think it’s time for some more dessert, isn’t it, Mama?” asked a dark-haired man.

Dorrie laughed. “Yes, son, I’m sure it is.”

“Wait!”

Everyone turned toward Glen.

“What happened to Johnny Madrid, Grandpa?”

Andy exchanged a look with his sister. “Well, Glen, he went on home to his ranch and his family and that was the last we heard of him. I do hope he has grandchildren of his own to tell tales to.”

The daughter standing behind Vinnie’s chair spoke up. “Pa, why didn’t you ever tell us this story before?”

“Because Johnny asked us not to. I didn’t really understand at the time, but Johnny didn’t want to be a gunfighter anymore. He didn’t tell us the whole story, but the short of it was that the only way Johnny could have any peace was if folks forgot about him. Us tellin’ tales could have gotten him killed. But now… These children need to know about him; about what he did for this family.”

“I think you’re right, Pa,” put in another daughter. “We need to know these stories and pass them on. They’re part of us—of who we are.” She looked around at the assembled clan. “And I think we should all pray for Johnny Madrid. Pray that he did find the peace he was looking for.”

“I’ve prayed for him every day for near sixty years,” Dorrie said quietly. “It’s only right that the Cutler family remember Johnny Madrid for what he was―a good man.”

End

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4 thoughts on “Memories of A Gunfighter by ZoeyT

    1. Thank you, Charlene, for reading and commenting. I’m glad you liked my version of what happened along after.

      Like

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