Triggerfingeritis – The Old West Gunman

Jim’s left hand nearly touched the gun pocket of his coat, and his right lay in reach of the other gun; but his slightest movement meant instant death.

“Heerd you come to hang my hide up an’ skin the town, but you’re under a copper and my open play wins, Black Jim! See?” growled McCarthy.

“Well, Mac,” coolly answered Jim, “you’re a bigger damn fool than I allowed. Never heard of you before makin’ a killin’ there was nothin’ in. What’s the matter with you and your gang? I’m after that bullion, and I’ve got a straight tip: Lame Johnny’s the bird that hooked onto it. If you’re standing in with him, you better lead me aplenty, for if you don’t I’ll sure get him.”

“Honest? Is that right, Jim? Ain’t lyin’ none?” queried McCarthy, relieved of the belief that his gang were suspected.

“Sure, she’s right, Mac.”

“But I heerd you done said you was comin’ to do me,” persisted McCarthy.

“Think I’m fool enough to light in diggin’ my own grave, by sendin’ love messages like that to a gun expert like you, Mac?” asked Captain Jim.

Whether it was the subtle flattery or Jim’s argument, Mac lowered his gun, and while backing out of the room, remarked: “Nothin’ in mixin’ it with you, Jim, if you don’t want me.”

But Mac was no more than out of the room when Jim slid off the bed quick as a cat; softly as a cat, on his noiseless stockinged feet he followed Mac down the hall; crafty as a cat, he crept down the creaking stairs, tread for tread, a scant arm’s length behind his prey — why, God alone knows, unless for a savage joy in longer holding another thug’s life in his hands. So he hung, like a leech to the blood it loves, across the corridor and to the middle of the trunk room that lay between the hall and the hotel office. There Jim spoke:

“Oh! Mr. McCarthy!”

Mac whirled, drawing his gun, just in time to receive a bullet squarely through the heart.

During the day Jim got two more scalps. The rest of the McCarthy gang got the impression that it was up to them to pull their freight out of Sidney, and acted on it.

U.S. Cavalry

U.S. Cavalry

In 1882 the smoke of the Lincoln County War still hung in the timber of the Ruidoso and the Bonito, a feud in which nearly three hundred New Mexicans lost their lives. Depredations on the Mescalero Reservation were so frequent that the Indians were near open revolt.

Needing a red-blooded agent, the Indian Bureau sought and got one in Major W. H. H. Llewellyn, since Captain of Rough Riders, Troup H, then a United States marshal with a distinguished record. The then Chief of the Bureau offered the Major two troops of cavalry to preserve order among the Mescalero and keep marauders off the reservation, and was astounded when Llewellyn declined and said he would prefer to handle the situation with no other aid than that of one man he had in mind.

Captain Jim Smith was the man. And pleased enough was he when told of the turbulence of the country and the certainty of plenty doing in his line.

But by the time they reached the Mescalero Agency, the feud was ended; the peace of exhaustion after years of open war and ambush had descended upon Lincoln County, and the Mescalero were glad enough quietly to draw their rations of flour and coffee, and range the Sacramentos and Guadalupes for game. For Jim and the band of Indian Police, which he quickly organized, there was nothing doing.

Inaction soon cloyed Captain Jim. It got on his nerves. Presently he conceived a resentment toward the agent for bringing him down there under false pretences of daring deeds to be done, that never materialized. One day Major Llewellyn imprudently countermanded an order Jim had given his Chief of Police, under conditions which the Captain took as a personal affront. The next thing the Major knew, he was covered by Jim’s gun listening to his death sentence.

“Major,” began Captain Jim, “right here is where you cash in. Played me for a big fool long enough. Toted me off down here on the guarantee of the best show of fightin’ I’ve heard of since the war  —  here where there ain’t a man in the Territory with nerve enough left to tackle a prairie dog, ‘s far ‘s I can see. Lied to me a plenty, didn’t you? Anything to say before you quit?”

Since that time Major Llewellyn has become (and is now) a famous pleader at the New Mexican bar, but I know he will agree that the most eloquent plea he has t this day made was that in answer to Captain Jim’s arraignment. Luckily it won.

A month later Jim called on me at El Paso. At the time I was President of the West Texas Cattle Growers’ Association, organized chiefly to deal with marauding rustlers.

“Howd’y, Ed,” Jim began, “I’ve jumped the Mescalero Reservation, headed north. Nothin’ doin’ down here now. But, say, Ed, I hear they’re crowdin’ the rustlers a plenty up in the Indian Territory and the Panhandle, and she’s a cinch they’ll be down on you thick in a few months. And, say, Ed, don’t forget old Jim; when the rustlers come, send for him. You know he’s the cheapest proposition ever  —  never any lawyers’ fees or court costs, nothin’ to pay but just Jim’s wages.”

That was the last time we ever met, and lucky it will probably be for me if we never meet again; for if Jim still lives and there is aught in this story he sees occasion to take exception to, I am sure to be due for a mix-up I can very well get on without.

From 1878 to 1880 Billy Lykins was one of the most efficient inspectors of the Wyoming Stock Growers’ Association, a short man of heavy muscular physique and a round, cherubic, pink and white face, in which a pair of steel-blue glittering eyes looked strangely out of place. A second glance, however, showed behind the smiling mouth a set of the jaw that did not belie the fighting eyes. So far as I can now recall, Billy never failed to get what he went after while he remained in our employ.

Doc Middleton, outlaw

Doc Middleton, outlaw

Probably the toughest customer Billy ever tackled was Doc Middleton. As an outlaw, Doc was the victim of an error of judgment. When he first came among us, hailing from Llano County, Texas, Doc was as fine a puncher and jolly, good-tempered range-mate as any in the Territory. Sober and industrious, he never drank or gambled. But he had his bit of temper, had Doc, and his chunk of good old Llano nerve. Thus, when a group of carousing soldiers, in a Sidney saloon, one night lit in to beat Doc up with their six-shooters for refusing to drink with them, the inevitable happened in a very few seconds; Doc killed three of them, jumped his horse, and split the wind for the Platte.

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