The Wee Hours – Thursday, July 16th, 1868 – The Black Swan Tavern, Naw’lins, Louisiana
It was the cryin’ I heard first. A young mother, wailin’ for her lost.
The “Sonora Explorin’ and Minin’ Company” was a silver minin’ concern what came out Arizona way in the late 50’s, settlin’ at the Heintzelman. The mine was in a fairly remote location: sixty miles from the presidio San Augustin del Tucson over dry, fodder-less terrain. No one thought that thieves would be an issue. The only reason we knew about the place was that it was a contributor to the war effort. Not that Texas was part of the Confederacy, mind – we’s just their strap-on teeth.
Then I saw how the smoke was wrong. It was suddenly just…everywhere.
The Spanish had set up missions all over the area, though, and some of the local peoples were friendly enough, includin’ a band of the Sobaipuri. Thier mission was a beautiful old Spanish mission, kept meticulously white-washed. No matter what I might have thought of them for abandonin’ the Old Ways, the Sobaipuri were wholly GOD’s children, and were a refreshin’ change from mountains, goats, mules, and complainin’ Rangers.
The clamor of the mission bell tolling, tolling, and then comin’ crashin’ to the ground really got my attention.
So, holdings bank(s) in the Cerro Colorado Mountains was a tough nut to crack, from an outlaw’s point of view. The company didn’t need the Law or even a lot of gun-men to protect the place. So long as the miners didn’t abscond with too much silver as a supplement to their pay, the share-holders didn’t care. It wasn’t as if they could fill up a coach with silver and go on a debauch like a body could in say, Deadwood.
Then the screaming came into focus, men and animals runnin’ by me…
The Broadus brothers – Mustafa, Cordell, and John, 1 were a special breed of outlaw. The kind that gets mentioned in a yearly publication – Fugitives of Justice in the Confederacy. They were known for claim-jumpin’, thefts, arson, and were suspected of the murder of a sheriff’s deputy in the Disputed Territories, which led to their inclusion in the book in ’62, back before we realized we’d have bigger fish to fry.
This time, they’d outdone themselves in savagery. The mission; the mission was ablaze and the doors blocked – with the Sobaipuri children inside.
White, red, black, messkin – it didn’t matter for those Hellish hours. Everybody dropped everything to pitch in an’ put out the blaze. We fought the fire beyond exhaustion while the screams and the smells and the smoke got worse. The Broadus boys had done their Devil’s work all too well. No one, clergy, teacher, or child – survived the blaze. Several almost died fighting it, including myself.
Before we could retrieve and attend to the dead, or even catch our breath once the fire was finally out – well and truly out, we had a new problem. Someone had robbed the bank. Oh, I know it was just a pay office – but it was a pay office for a mining company with almost a hundred thousand greybacks stored in it. Moreover, it was made of stone and guarded (most of the time) by grim men with guns. It was a bank, and we all knew who’d robbed it.
Because seven some-ones had stolen a carriage and high-tailed it out of the mountains with the payroll some hundred pounds of silver-rich ore. They had set fire to the mission as a distraction, flew out of town, and gotten away (almost) clean. We would soon learn that the bandits had been challenged at the edge of town, and one of the seven killed in the ensuing gun battle.
I formed a posse immediately from the survivors, and bolstered by emotion, we pushed through the exhaustion to chase the malefactors. Four days later at the base of the mountain, we found them. The Broadus brothers and three hired hands were shacked up in a cabin loudly rowing about how to divvy up their ill-gotten gains. There was a gunshot as we crept into position, and I feared we’d been seen. It turned out that one of the hired hands had lost the argument. Permanently.
Once we were in position, I called out for the outlaws to surrender, and come out peaceably. They were havin’ none of that, and the cabin glade erupted in smoke and gunfire. By the time the sun was setting, the hired help was dead, and a lucky shot had knocked over the cabin’s potbelly stove. The bandits were smoked out like vermin.
Thanks to the expedience of the carriage, the silver ore and all but a couple hundred greybacks were recovered (the blackguards had been playin’poker with it, and it burned up with the cabin). All the hired help was dead, as I’d previously mentioned, and sadly beyond man’s justice. The Broadus brothers, however, were In the Book. Bein’ at the head of the posse that brung ‘em in was a considerable feather in my cap.
Most of the Sobaipuri were dead, but the survivors wanted to bury the lost and move on. In the most striking example of faith I have yet to witness, the survivors forgave their assailants.
The miners and company men, on the other hand, wanted the outlaws hung on the spot. While I couldn’t blame ‘em, I knew that to Lynch ‘em here would be to deny folks elsewhere their justice. Besides, I was a civilized Texan. The men would be tried before they were executed.
Col. King said I’d earned my spurs that day. I told him I don’ wear ‘em. Hurts the animal, and same such. We arranged for the same carriage used in the heist to bring the Brodus brothers back with us to Texas, and it was a very long ride past Sweetwater down to Austin. The whole way, “witnesses” (that is to say, survivn’ mine-folk), passerby, and even some of my fellow lawmen gave the prisoners a hard way to go. None of that mattered, though. They only had eyes for me. I was the one who brung ‘em in. I was the one they hated.
Truth be told, I was feelin’ a little big for my britches, and told them boys a few things I shouldn’t – like how much I was goin’ ta enjoy watchin’ ‘em swing… you don’t taunt a bull if he’s already unhappy wi’tcha.
In due time, the brothers were tried, found guilty, and sentenced to hang by the neck until dead, dead, dead. We even had a special gibbet block set up so all three could go at once. I went out once a day to visit the boys while they watched it get erected. They were in various stages o’ scared, ‘cept the biggest, ugliest, meanest of ‘em. Mustafa, the elder brother. He was mad. Real mad. At me.
I tol’ him he needn’t worry about me, as he’d soon be to busy drownin’ in a river of boilin’ blood and fire, dodgin’ arrows to care about me … and he tol’ me he flat out wasn’t gonna die. That I aught to watch my back, because he was gonna get me and mine…
I laughed. I shouldn’t have. Laisser passer l’eau sous les ponts.
1. No, not that John Broadus. So far as I know, he’s still writin’ books to please the LORD.