Skinner and Wild Shot in Marshallville 2
“Hey Curly, did you hear the news? Curly,” Ben shouted, “did you hear the news about that Reb general Lee, he surrendered”
“What? When was that?”
“I dunno, five, six days ago.”
“Oh man, I dun kilt five more of them Jonny Rebs after the war was over, damn.”
“Heck, you are the best sniper in the troop. What you gonna do now Curly?”
Well, there ain’t no work in the south for a black boy wearing blue unions and not much goings on in the way of job openings in the East either so I guess I’ll head West. I heard tell of a cavalry outfit in Colorado, since my only job for past few years is soldiering I best head that way.
In 1866, Curly joined the 9th cavalry Buffalo soldier unit in Colorado. A year later Curly mustered out reasonin’ it ain’t right fightin’ and enslavin’ the redman after fightin’ for years to free the blackman.
Losing his $13 a month pay check put a feelin’ of urgency in his empty gut to find some work. After drifting around a few tent towns that had sprung up around some mining claims in the mountains, he hooked up with a couple of prospectors working a stream using a sluice box. Your color don’t matter much if there’s hard shoveling to do. Putting a little dust in his poke but a big ache in his back meant moving on to the next town.
One never knows when a chance meeting can turn your life on a dime. Providence was smiling on ole Curly that day. While leaning on a bar made of some long planks resting on a couple of barrels in a tent saloon, his old union buddy, Ben, saw him and waved him over to his table. Ben and a couple other union boy were talkin’ to some buckskinned trappers. The trappers eyed him cautiously but Ben told him to grab a chair that he might want to hear what the trappers was sayin’. One grizzly old boy spoke up, “These boys were asking bout trappin’and I was telling them the beaver were running mighty thin in the streams but Buffalo hides were sellin’ good. Plus thars millions of them shaggies standin round for the taking.”
“Say Curly, you still have that Sharps 50 you had in the war? Oh Curly here was our best sniper. I’ll bet he could knock down a few of them buffs. Curly, this here trapper fella is looking for a partner to go buffalo hunting.” “Names Alfred Packer” the trapper said, “you any good with that Sharps, we can make some money.” Curly thought bout the irony (he didn’t know it was called irony) of going from Buffalo soldier to Buffalo hunter, and gave a little snort with a head shake about the humor. “Let’s get us some hides,” Curly agreed.
Curly teamed up with Packer, also known as Skinner. With his last $13 dollars and some dust he panned out of a stream, he bought a wagon, two yoke of oxen and with his Sharps, he and Skinner went hunting. Working primarily in New Mexico, they sighted large herds of the American Bison. The sharps was a powerful rifle. Curly Bill would set up on the side of a hill and position his Sharps on a tripod and drop bison after bison. He did have a few mishaps while adjusting his rear site and Skinner got to calling him ‘Wild Shot.’ Once he missed so badly he hit one big bull in the rear and it took off running taking the herd with him. On another occasion things went terribly wrong (reinforcing the name ‘Wild shot’). Firing at a large, male, bull, the bullet glanced off the bull’s head knocking him out but not killing him. When Skinner grabbed a leg to start skinning him, the bull sat up snorting and glared at Skinner. Yelling “Shit” and soiling his pants, Skinner took off running with the bull on his tail. Just as the bull was about to stick a horn up Skinners rear, he stepped into a prairie dog hole, stumbled and fell on his face. Stunned, the bull got up, shook his head and trotted back to the herd. Skinner was spittin’ mad, cussed and yelled at Wild Shot about another wild shot, screw-up.
It was hard work, 10 or 12 hours a day, skinning, and scraping, and drying out the hides . After several months they had a wagon full of rich buffalo hides. With hides stacked up high on their wagon and two yoke of oxen doin’ the pullin’, they rambled by Marshallville on their way to Denver. Seeing a lively town with saloons, stores, a hotel and a bath house, they agreed to come back after the sale of the hides. A few weeks later, hides, oxen, and wagon sold, they rode their newly purchased horses back to Marshallville. The bath house was the first place they entered.
“We better soap up at the bath house Skinner, folks don’t cotton ta no smelly, dusty, roadies. I remember seeing a young cowboy stepping into a saloon after a month on the trail, getting tossed right back out the door by a couple of men trying to enjoy a beer. “We don’t need no foul-smellin’, grubby looking, stank weed standing next to us having a beer”, they yelled. So we’ll scrub our hides, pick up a few new duds and then get us a beer, make ourselves ta home.” “I don’t know, Wild Shot, I’m more at home in a stream somewhere than indoors at some fancy, dancy, soapy, bath house.” “Give it a shot Skinner, you won’t believe how a long soak in hot water make ya feel. You can skip the lavender water if ya want.”
Miss Kitty ran the bath house in Marshallville. She had two retired ‘upstair’s ladies’ working with her and one large bouncer. The bath house was a large tent with half dozen tubs lined up around the walls. There were two private rooms, curtained off at one end. Short clothes lines stood next to each tub with a sheet hanging over the top line giving a tiny place for privacy and blocking the view from the outside and the working ladies. Two large signs hung on one wall.
No Profanity or Rudeness Allowed
First offense, a smack in the head with the broom.
The second offense you get thrown out and no refund.
Seeing a gun holstered high on Miss Kitty’s hip along with the bouncer gave pause for concern and usually a willingness to follow the rules.
The second sign listed the prices:
Hot water, 1st in, soap, towel, lavender water, private $1
Hot water, 2nd in, soap, towel, lavender water .75
Hot water, 3rd in, soap, towel .50
Cold water, 1st in, soap, towel, .50
Cold water, 2nd in, soap, towel, .25
Cold water, 3rd in, soap, towel, .10
There was a third sign for the Chinese laundry, The Fu King laundry (with an arrow pointing next door) hung by the door out back. The Fu King laundry was owned by a man named Wang. He would pick up your clothes while you bathed and wash them out, and hang them up outside, near a stove. During rain or winter, he had an inside tent available.
His prices were listed:
shirt, drawers, pants, socks, bandana all .50
If you wanted them ironed .50
Hats, coats brushed and dusted .25
Out back of the tent, Miss Kitty had a large stove going with metal water tubs sitting on top. The well was out back as were two privies. The ladies had a wheel barrow to haul the water from the well to the stove then to the tubs. Strickly speaking, the ‘hot’ tubs weren’t all that hot but a couple of buckets of water right off the stove took the chill off the well water. There were drain pipes running out the bottom of the tubs that ran downhill to an old dried up streambed. After the third wash, the tubs were drained, wiped out and refilled. Miss Kitty ran a clean operation and the men loved it. From 3:00 to 5:00 every afternoon, it was ladies only. The tent covers were tightly closed and the bouncer stood outside keeping all men away.
Cleaned up with the $1 special for Wild Shot and the .50 special for Skinner, the boys went to the Rocky Mountain café for dinner. After chowing down on the $2 steak dinner with all the fixin’s, the boys went to the Short Keg for a beer. Over the beer, Wild Shot made an observation to Skinner. “You know, I like this town, and I don’t like killin’ and skinning. Let’s take stock of this town for a while and see what comes up.” “I’m not real used to being round town folk, replied Skinner, but I’m also bout done with skinnin’ and sleeping in the cold. Maybe I could find us a cabin just outside of town for us ta hole up whilst we look things over.”
They made friends with the owner of the bar, also named Short Keg, while having a couple of beers. Chatting with Short Keg about the cavalry and buffalo hides and looking for work, Short Keg made mention that the town lacked a good barber and butcher. “You know, Wild Shot” he said, “with your skill at skinning hides, you should be able to skin a few whiskers off a man’s face without hurtin’ nobody. And Skinner, cuttin’ up some deer or beeves into chops and steaks is right up your alley.”
Skinner did find a decent cabin just outside of town that suited them both. Wild shot found a small shop in town and put out his barber sign. Skinner found a shop suitable for butchering on the edge of town. Wild Shot and Skinner sharpened their blades and opened for business. It wasn’t long before they had established a steady cliental. Sheriff Cal and his deputy, Dead Eye Kid, stopped by to say hello, and welcome them to town. They were even invited out to Buck and Bull’s ranch for a bar-b-que. Wild Shot showed off his skills with his Sharps on a hunt with Buck and Bull, bringing down a big elk that Skinner skinned and quartered. They had a good meal of elk steak and beans at the ranch that day. Life was pretty good for the boys.
While Wild Shot and Skinner were at the ranch, they met two ex-lawmen visiting Bull and Buck. They, too, were looking over Marshallville as a place to retire. One carried a sawed off shotgun as his weapon of choice, named Levi. “Don’t need to aim much,” he quipped. He had it rigged across his back like a quiver of arrows. He was right quick about its draw. The other was a two-gun man, one set up for cross draw, the other on his left hip; he was left handed. Not surprising, his name was Lefty. He had a slick trick with his draw. He could pop the cross draw gun out with his right hand, catch it then shoot it with his left hand. “Confuse the rowdy folks,” he smiled.
Sheriff Cal was in the jailhouse early one morning and had just put the old banged up coffee pot on the stove. His deputy was looking at some wanted posters and talking about the coming days events. Cal was about to respond when the banker’s wife, Belle, ran into the sheriff’s office breathing hard. Belle had a frightened look on her face. “Whoa, slow down, take a breath, Belle, what’s wrong?”, asked Cal. “My husband is gone and the bank has been robbed. I woke up this morning like I usually do, at sun up. Frank was gone. I thought he must have gone to the bank early to work on the audit. It is the time of year when he makes a report to the other owners. So I figured he didn’t want to wake me so he tip-toed out of the house. I had some coffee, got dressed and went to the bank with a freshly made cup of coffee. That is when I saw the safe open and everything gone”. Sobbing, “Frank was gone too.” “You say that was about an hour after sun up”, Cal said, “that gives them at least a three-hour head start, maybe more. You go on home and I’ll get up a posse.”
Cal headed to Wild Shot’s cabin. Banging on the door he yelled, “Hey boys I need your help.” The door opened wide, Wild Shot and Skinner looked out. “What’s up sheriff.” “I am forming a posse and I need your help. I need a tracker and someone who can take the long-range shot. Some outlaws, I think it was the Chambers gang, have robbed the bank and took the banker as a hostage. I’ll deputize you boys and you can keep the reward money. If it is them Chambers boys, there is $500 reward on their heads.” Skinner and Wild Shot’s eyes nearly popped out of their heads. Nodding their chins up and down as fast as they could, they gathered up their kits and joined the sheriff. The sheriff and Skinner and Wild Shot took off for the Jones’s ranch.
As they rode into the front yard of the ranch, the men came out of the ranch house. “Levi and Lefty, I am forming a posse to go after the Chambers gang and I need your help. With you two, Skinner and Wild shot we should be able to catch them and bring them back. They have the banker as a hostage. Will you help?”
“We’re with you sheriff, how do we find them?”
“Skinner here is a tracker so he’ll look for a trail coming out of town, let’s go.”
After scanning the area around the bank, Skinner found some fresh tracks behind the bank.
“Look here sheriff, one of the horses has a chipped shoe leaving a distinctive track and I see five sets of fresh tracks. There must be four of them with the banker.” They followed Skinner from the back of the bank while he walked quickly along the back of the buildings then out to the main road.
“They went to the main road, sheriff, to hide their trail in among all the other tracks made yesterday, but they didn’t count on having a chipped shoe marking their way.”
They followed the tracks out of town for a few miles then the trail turned north toward the Rockies. Now the trail went cold, too many rocks, limbs and washed out stream beds to find that chipped shoe. The men spread out, walking their horses looking for any trace of the men. Occasionally they found a trace that kept them heading north into the mountains but the hours slowly drifted by.
Meanwhile the gang were at an old miner’s cabin they had found a week before. They figured they could hold up there for a week to let things cool down before they drifted into Denver. The cabin was tucked away in a natural crevice near a small stream with several dog woods growing near the stream; it was virtually invisible. They had stored some food and blankets in the cabin and now with a hostage they felt safe. The one thing they had not counted on was the return of the miner.
Skagway had worked the streams around the foothills for many years. He built his cabin as a place to rest up after several weeks shaking a gold pan. No one had ever invaded his cabin before so he was a bunch put out seeing squatters making themselves to home. He approached the cabin, shouting “Get out of my home, you are in my place now skeedadle.” The robbers looked out the door, seeing the old man, told him to ‘skeedadle’ and sent a 44 round near his feet to emphasize their words. The old man saw the dirt kick up by his feet, shouted an obscenity, turned tail, and headed downhill. As it turned out, Skagway was headed downhill as the sheriff and posse were headed uphill. Skagway was happy to see the sheriff and blurted out his story of invasion. The sheriff was happy to see Skagway because the trail had gotten lost in the tumbled rocks and dried runoff beds. Skagway told them where the cabin was located and how to injun up quietly to surround the place.
The sheriff and his men took up their positions around the cabin. Wild shot found a place facing the cabin door, laid his Sharps across a tree branch and sighted in the big gun. “Come out with your hands up,” shouted Cal, and fired a shot into the roof. After some shuffling and shouting, one robber came out of the door with the banker held in front of the man, gun to his head.
“Back off sheriff or the banker gets a trip to the holy land.” He pushed out four or five feet and shuffled sideways toward the horses. The other three man made a dash for the horses. Wild shot focused in for a head shot. When the other men made a break, the man with the banker stopped for just a second and took his attention off the banker. It was an easy shot for a bison hunter who had been sighting in shots five times farther than this one. The robber blew backwards, gun flying in the air, the banker’s knees buckled and he fell. The other three spurred their horses in a panic and took off out the back. Levi’s shotgun emptied one saddle while Lefty’s bullet obviously hit one causing the man to fling backwards but did not knock him off his horse.
The gang members had planned an escape route and the two were off before anyone could get to the horses and follow. Cal and Wild Shot run up to the fallen banker and helped him to his feet and into the cabin. Levi and Lefty followed the men into the cabin. It was getting dark so Cal, the posse and the banker settled in for the night. The cabin was stocked nicely so they started a fire in the stove, ate and bunked in until day break.
The wounded robber called out to his buddy to stop and help bind the wound. After looking at the wound, the man shook his head and told his accomplice he was on his own. There was a lot of cursing and yelling but after a gun was pointed at the wounded man’s head, he gulped down his anger.
“Hide yourself, I’ll leave you a few bucks but I’m riding out of here. You are wounded too badly to keep up.” With that, the last man took off through the woods. The wounded man tied off the bleeding. He then shooed away his horse and found a worn out area under a large boulder, dragged some downed branches in front of the depression and curled up for the night.
The lone robber figured he would travel through the night and work his way into Denver. It was a moonless night but he continued heading downhill carefully. His plan was working until his horse stepped in some loose gravel, lost his balance, and rolled over. They both slid down and to the left. Unknowingly, they had been walking along the side of a steep ravine. The horse recovered his footing but the man went over the side. He tumbled into and over several large rocks knocking him unconscious. Eventually he hit the bottom on the ravine. His slide down caused several loose rocks and stones to follow his path downward covering him under about two feet of dust and boulders. He laid there and died, covered from sight. His horse slowly walked away from the edge, found a flat area with some trees and stayed for the night.
The posse found both horses the next morning, one had the money in the saddle bags tied to the saddle. They did not find either man. Puzzled, they ended their search and headed home with the banker and two dead men tied to their horses. When they hit town, Cal dropped the dead men off to the mortician and bought his posse some breakfast.
“Thanks boys,” he said, “I hope I can count on you again if need be.” “Well,” replied Skinner finishing his third cup of coffee, “just don’t forget that reward money, I don’t work for free. Plus, I do work as a guide sometimes so if you hear of any folks needs a guide, you let me know.”