(Artwork: “Confederate Reconnaissance” by Keith Rocco)
This is an original work of historical short fiction by The Tactical Hermit. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in this short story are entirely fictional and are of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or organizations of persons living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
(Author’s Note: This story is a homage to the famous Texas pistoleer John Wesley Hardin. Hardin is a near mythical figure here in Texas, and is considered by some, including myself, to be one of the finest, if not the best Pistoleer of the 19th Century).
“Man never has really loved humanity all of a piece— all its races, its peoples, its religions—but only those creatures he feels are his kin, a part of his clan, no matter how vast.”
-Camp of the Saints by Jean Raspail
Fannin County Texas, 1867
I had just turned sixteen years old when I buried a hatchet into the head of a red headed yankee soldier who was trying to have his way with my widowed mother. I will never forget how calm mama was afterward as she told me me to strip off all my clothes which were covered in the bastards blood. She promptly did the same with her house dress and the yankee’s uniform and burned it all in a pit in the back forty. She then gave me his rifle and pistol belt and told me to wait until nightfall and then go and throw them all in the Sulphur river. I tossed that Springfield but could not bring myself to get rid of that .44 caliber Remington Army! Damn she was a beauty! When I returned home mama had already chopped up the yankee’s body and fed it to our hogs. I must have sat there for over an hour watching our big sow devour that yankee bastard piece by piece. Did you know a hog can crack a man’s head open like a pecan? They must really love the brains because they all fought over them something fierce!
The next day a squad of yanks came around the house asking questions about a missing soldier. Mama said one of them walked over to the pig pen and nosed around, staring at our big sow for a while. She said it made her kind of nervous until she realized that the red headed bastard was nothing but a pile of pig turds. Mama told the Lieutenant she had heard rumors of a red headed soldier going around town telling folks he was going to go down to Galveston to catch a steamer ship to South America or was it Australia? Mama had a real knack for bullshiting folks, especially lawmen or yankees. It was a skill I always admired about her.
Life was tough in Texas during this time which that bastard Andrew Johnson in Washington D.C. had the nerve to call ‘Reconstruction’. Just to be clear: I never saw any kind of construction while the yankees were here. In fact, If a yankee wasn’t trying to steal it, he was damn sure trying to fuck it, you can bet on that. After daddy was killed at Gettysburg three years ago proudly fighting with General Hood’s Texas Brigade, I quit school to go to work for Mr. Clyde Hopson’s Lumber outfit. Daddy had worked for Mr. Hopson before joining up and when it was announced that Daddy had been killed in the Dallas newspaper, Mr. Hopson rode out to the house personally to offer me a job and also give mama twenty dollars to help out with expenses which was a small fortune in those days I don’t mind telling you. I never forgot Mr. Hopson’s kindness to my family for as long as I lived.
Every morning I took my younger brother Jefferson Davis to school on the way to work, not trusting him to walk by himself past the yankee’s garrisoned in the hotel in town. There had been reports of soldier’s “interfering” with young boys all over the county. Pete Sanders youngest boy, Tom said a group of drunk yankees tried to snatch him up while he was night fishing out on the Red but he was too damn fast for them and escaped into the woods. He said they were all yelling about how they would have “first dibbs on that pretty little pink asshole.” Poor Tom said he never ran so fast in all his life after hearing that.
One of the biggest issues Texans had with this “Reconstruction” business was how the Federal Army allowed nigger units to march around town like they owned the place. This caused several altercations to include a shooting last month when one uppity yankee nigger decided he would just go in the General Store and buy himself some candy. Well, this did not sit well with the owner, Mr. Jacob Landry, who promptly pulled a Navy Colt from beneath the register and told him to get his black ass out of his store. Federal soldier or not, niggers were not allowed. When the nigger soldier mouthed back about having Federal “jurisdiction” Mr. Landry promptly shot him in the arm. Later at the military hearing, Landry said he was only sorry his aim was not better, he intended to kill the black son of a bitch, not just wing him. After a long discussion amongst Mr. Landry’s lawyer and the three officers overseeing the hearing, all charges were dropped and Mr. Landry was sent home. It seemed the Blue Belly brass was not ready to back nigger soldiers as so-called “equals” just yet. We all knew why the niggers were down here: to satisfy the wealthy abolitionist up north that “progress” was being introduced into the “backward” Southern states. It was all window dressing horseshit, and just another prime example of the kind of condescending moral indecency these Federal bastards were good at.
But anybody familiar with Texas history knows Texans don’t take shit like this lying down. Contrary to them lying yankee newspapers, the war of Northern Aggression did not end at Appomattox. Because of the Federal Government’s insistence on waging economic and cultural war on the southern civilian populace, guerilla outlaw gangs like the James Gang in Missouri, The White Man’s League in Louisiana and several other outfits in Texas continued to fight their federal oppressors with vigor and matched barbarity. Of course being young and full of piss and vinegar, I took an interest in these gangs despite mama telling me to steer clear.
“I already lost a husband to this God awful war, I am not losing a son too! You keep your nose clean John Wesley, you hear me!”
“Yes ma’am” I replied with respect even though I was itching to join them as soon as I could. As fate would have it, I would not have to wait long.
One evening at dusk I was coming back from fishing with a nice stringer of channel cat hanging from my horn when I saw five men with their faces covered with mask sneaking off into the woods with rifles. Being half curious and half stupid, I tied my mare to a tree off the road a ways and snuck over to investigate. The sun had just went down and in the low amber light I saw fourteen year old Billy McGuiness in a stand of thick pin oaks holding the reins of five horses. I let out a low fox whistle and when Billy turned his head my direction I whispered to him:
“Billy! It’s me Wes Hardin!”
Billy jerked his head in my direction with his eyes bulging like a scared deer.
“Goddammitt Wesley! You scared the shit out of me! What the hell you doing out here! You tryin’ to get yourself killed!” he replied in a high tenor voice.
I had to stifle a laugh as Billy was literally shaking in his boots.
“No, just wondering what the hell’s going on, that’s all.” I replied as I walked up out of the brush, smiling like a jackass.
“What’s going on ain’t none of your damn business! You need to haul ass out of here!” Billy replied, his eyes darting left and right with sweat beading on his forehead.
“Oh Bullshit Billy! I saw the men creeping in the woods earlier, what the hell is…”
Before I could finish my question the whole country side exploded in gunfire and I almost shit myself as I hit the ground with a dull thud with Billy following right on top of me. He strained and grunted as the horses began blowing and pulling away in fear.
“Oh to hell with this!” Billy shreiked as he stuffed the reins in my hand and then got up and ran off into the brush like a jackrabbit with it’s ass on fire.
Before I could think about it I was up on my feet calming the horses and whispering to them to be quiet. As soon as they had settled down several masked men exploded out of the brush with rifles in their hands and their faces covered with burlap mask.
“Who the hell are you!” One of the men asked covering me with his rifle barrel.
“Where’s Billy?” another man asked jerking the reins out of my hand.
“He got scared and ran off yonder” I pointed to the dark woods like a soft brain.
“Why don’t that just beat all!” The man replied laughing as he mounted up.
Before I knew it all five riders were gone in a cloud of dust with only the sound of galloping hooves echoing in the distance. I squatted down in the brush for a few more minutes, catching my breath and trying to piece together what in the hell just happened. The smell of gun smoke floated thick in the air and somewhere on the road up ahead I could hear horses snorting. I finally got up the nerve to sneak back to my horse and I raced back home so damn fast I lost my stringer of catfish and my buckskin mare Sally-Jean had a lather of sweat on her thick as shaving soap.
Walking in the house I was tackled by a hundred pounds of worried mama.
“Oh Thank God you’re alive!” Mama’s voice was trembling as she grabbed me and squeezed me tight. I could feel her body trembling and could see that she had been crying.
I hugged her tightly in return and told her I was fine.
“I heard the gunshots and I thought those damn yankees were on a killing spree in town!” she choked out, finally letting me go.
I considered telling her the whole story but I was so damn tired I just decided to stay quiet. Better not to worry her until there was a real need for it. Mama decided to keep Jefferson Davis home for the next few days until things calmed down and I am glad she did.
I could not believe the amount of activity as I rode into town the next morning. Armed union soldiers and cavalry were everywhere you looked, questioning people, searching wagons and shops and nailing up posters:
$500 Reward for any information that leads to the arrest of the individual(s) responsible for the cowardly ambush and murder of four union soldiers last night outside of town. Please report directly to Major William H. Standrich, U.S. Army.
I’ll be honest, I was scared when I saw that four yankee’s had been killed and I had been so close to it, but at the same time I was excited, I hated the bastards and wanted in on this fight.
As I made the turn off main street to go to the mill, a short and squat yankee sergeant with a blondish-red handlebar mustache stepped off the sidewalk and in front of my horse like he owned the damn street.
“And just where in the hell are you going this morning laddy?” he asked in a thick irish brogue.
“I work at Hopson’s mill” I replied staring at him like he was something I found on the bottom of my boot.
He walked up to Sally-Jean and attempted to pet her on the nose but she jerked away and blew at him. I smiled and patted her.
“Your horse needs some manners!” the yankee said giving me his best go-to-hell stare.
“She don’t take to strangers. Can you move aside please, I need to get to work.”
Not waiting, I gently spurred Sally-Jean to go around him and the soldier quickly side-stepped and grabbed her by the halter. By this time three other haggard looking yankee soldiers had crawled out of the saloon and formed up on the sidewalk. Even though they were a good ten feet away I could smell the liquor on them like they were standing next to me.
“You ungrateful piece of trash! You’re gonna learn who gives the orders around here!” He stared up at me with bloodshot eyes as his right hand went to the top of his holster.
I remained calm, keeping my gaze on his right arm. I had that big .44 tucked into my belt under my jacket but I had already decided if he opened that flap on me I was going to spur Sally-Jean right over the top of the cocky son-of-a-bitch and not look back. Thankfully, one of the half-drunk soldiers broke the tension and called out from the sidewalk.
“Come on Sergeant, we’re late for muster!”
The drunk irishman shot a glance over at his cronies and then back up at me and then after thinking about it, let go of the bridle. As soon as he did I spurred Sally-Jean knocking him off-balance and onto his fat ass into the muddy street.
“You little peckerhead bastard!” the soldier yelled out from behind me in a rage as I dissapeared around the corner in a cloud of dust with a big shit eating grin on my face.
After work that day I avoided town and went straight home to where to my surprise was Sheriff Pete Slidell waiting on the porch with mama and Jefferson Davis drinking lemonade. I knew right away from Pete’s grin he wasn’t there on business.
“Boy everybody in town was talking about you today! How you knocked a yankee flat on his ass and rode out like one of them dime novel outlaws!”
I smiled as I walked up to the porch and shook hands. I had known Pete since I was a boy. He was a big barrel of man, built stocky and low to the ground with dark hair and eyes and a pair of hands like meat hooks. He had done some boxing in his youth and I remember daddy telling me there was nobody better to have with you in a bar fight than Pete Slidell. Pete got wounded early on in the War at a place called Round Mountain and came back home and joined up with the home guard regulators and after the war was over became a law man.
Me, Pete and Mama talked for a while about the Yankees stirring up a fuss in town until Mama got the hint Pete needed me alone for man talk. When she took Jefferson Davis inside me and Pete walked out to the barn out of ear shot of the house.
“So a little birdie told me you helped Billy McGuiness tend some horses the other night?”
My heart began thumping and my palms got sweaty and for a quick minute I considered running for it but then I saw Pete crack a smile and begin to do an imitation of me being scared shitless in the woods that could only mean he had been one of the masked shooters that night!
“He got skeered and ran off yonder…”
Pete busted out laughing so hard he had tears in his eyes and after a while I started laughing with him and could not stop. After we both regained our composure Pete put his arm around me and drew me in close.
“Your pa would have been so damn proud of you son!”
My heart swelled in my chest and at that moment I felt like I could fight ten men.
“Shit, I almost forgot! I got something for you!”
Pete reached into his saddlebag and pulled out a brand new leather belt and open top holster along with a box of paper cartridges for my colt.
“Figured you needed a proper holster for that hogleg you keep stuck down your pants like some jackass road agent. Besides, I can’t have you blowing your damn pecker off before you ever get started!”
We both had a good laugh as I tried the holster on and Pete showed me how to wear it low on the hip so as to make it easier and quicker to draw. He then showed me how to cock it while it was still in the holster. I worked it a few times and boy did it feel smooth!
“Damn, thank you Pete, I really appreciate it.” I was smiling and feeling as giddy as a little kid and then suddenly it hit me. What would I tell mama about all this?
I guess Pete was reading my mind because as soon as he saw my face he already had an answer.
“If you’re worried about your mama, You let me take care of her.”
My eyes narrowed as I stared up at Pete like a pissed off rattler. I wanted him to know I meant business when it came to protecting my mother, even though there was not another man in the world I would rather have courting her.
Seeing how serious I was Pete gave me a playful wink.
“Don’t worry, your mama told me how handy you are with a hatchet! You can be sure I’ll walk the straight and narrow, John Wesley!”