Nov 3, 2014

First Draft
Chapter 3


Superintendent Waters, Alverez Kelly, and Nathan stood together in front of the Superintendent’s house watching passengers and baggage load the El Paso Coach. Kelly loved to talk and tell tall tales. As Conductor helped each person in the coach, Kelly would comment on why he guessed the person was going to El Paso.

Technically, the stage was traveling first through the Indian Territory to Colbert’s Ferry, then, it would across Texas to Fort Chadbourne on the Pecos and finally south to Franklin and El Paso. Among the seven passengers, there were five men and three women. Two of the men were newspaper reporters from Dallas. They told the Station Agent they were in Fort Smith to cover the hangings. However, Kelly claimed they never left the nugget saloon. The reporters and another man, Cutler Hansen, who said he was a Texas banker, would leave the coach at Fort Belnap and take a different coach line to Dallas. Kelly took one look at Hansen, and declared the man a fake. 

“He might have been a bank clerk,” said Kelly. “But, he's running from something.”
Most men Kelly to according were criminals or villains of one sort or another.  

The other two men, Willis Frank and Quentin Kale were dressed as businessmen, in suits and wearing city hats, but according to Kelly, they talked and smelled like ranch hands.

“I talked to Amos Davies about these two. They came up to the ticket window together and then played some kind of game in front of Amos making out they lived in El Paso but had never met. The thing is, they have similar new suits and travelling bags and they purchased their ticket with a fifty dollar gold piece. I am certain they are villains.

The two women were as different as night and day. Elizabeth Chandler was a young stick of a girl from Ohio on her way to teach reading and writing to the Indian children at the school in Fort Chadbourne.  The other woman was in her thirties. She had come in on the stage with Nathan. Nathan knew her name was Ruth Manchester. According to Kelly by way of Amos Davies, she said very little on the trip from Tipton except she was from Illinois and on her way to Mexico.  Alverez speculated she was a Mormon.

When all the passengers, baggage, and mail was aboard, Amos Davies and a second man, Conrad Kliest carried the strong box out and placed it under the seat in the box. Neils Johnston stood guard during the transfer. When they were finished, Davies and Kleist walked around the coach with Kelly checking cinches, buckles, and ties. Kliest would take over as conductor for the trip. He would ride inside the coach.

Satisfied all was in order, Kelly and Neils Johnston climbed up into the box.  Following, Nathan used the hand rails to climb past Johnston where he wedged himself between bags of mail while holding on to the rail with one hand and his new shotgun with the other. Behind Nathan, a Choctaw Indian named Joe Red Feather (Shikoba humma) sat at the back of the stage facing the rear. He was riding the top as far as Geary Station on North Boggy Creek. Joe’s sister Lucy was married to the station master, A.W. Geary. Joe had gone to the Indian School and spoke American better than Neils. He was the twenty-five year old second son of a Choctaw chief.  

Exactly at three in the afternoon, the Wells Fargo Overland  Stage for El Paso rolled out of Fort Smith with Kelly driving the team through town at a slow walk. Kelly was one of the best Whips in the west and loved the looks of envy the townspeople showed when he drove the brightly painted red coach on another journey.

On their way out of town, Neils Johnston intently watched the road and the throng of people on Garrison Avenue. Even with a second guard and a new shotgun, Neils never stopped watching for armed men or Indians. Because they were leaving late in the day, Neils and Kelly had on cream-colored dusters.  The day was warm and sunny, but the nights could be cold and rain was always possible at harvest time.

Immediately out of town, they stopped at the first of a dozen ferries and river crossings. By now, Nathan was used to the routine. He had already crossed the red river once into Fort Smith and as Kelly explained it, they would cross the Red twice more. For safety the passengers existed the coach while Kelly drove the team and wagon onto the ferry. Neils told Nathan to stand at the back with his shotgun at the ready and guard the boot. He took a position by the right front wheel. Kelly stood at the front talking to the lead horses.

One of the newspaper men walked up to Nathan. He was short and fat, a man in his forties, with thinning gray hair.

“Did you see the hanging?” the man asked.

"I did. Did you?”

“I got there late. I was really too far back to see or hear much. My names David York. I write for the Dallas Gazette. I’m not sure what I will write.”

“I am sure you can make something up.”

Seeing six men die all at the same time had an unsettling effect on Nathan. Nathan was no stranger to death or killing. At Gettysburg, he’d seen dozens of men blown to bits by cannon shot; men dying together in the same instance. At Cold Harbor, he shot five men, dropping each man two or three steps after the last. No man getting any further than the time it took him to cock his Army Colt. He gutted a sixth Reb, with his bayonet. The difference was life and death in war were random. These deaths were planned and the men killed by something like a machine in a factory.

“Look, it would be worth a buck to me if you would tell me what you heard and saw. What did it feel like? I mean, did they twist and die slow or snap and it was all over.” The fat man snapped his pudgy fingers.

“One of the men said there were folks in the crowd more guilty than him.”

“He was probably right. What did the others say?”

“One said he was glad to leave this world. Another broke down and cried that he was innocent. Then this minister got up and read a letter one of the boys had written. I can’t remember much because it made no sense to me. When they finished, a marshal put a noose and hood on each and then pulled a lever. It was over in less time than it takes to drink a whiskey.”

“What did you think when it was all over?”

“I remember thinking that I hoped I would never find myself on that crowded platform claiming I was innocent.”

“Anything else.”

“You owe me a dollar.” Nathan gave the man a hard look and then smiled as the man pulled out his pocketbook.

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