Another tale of the "wild west" and the characters that lived in that exciting time.
Life was simpler then; a time of stark contrast, a world of black and white. But there were a few gray areas.
This is a story of one of the men who lived in that world between black and white, between good and bad, and between the law and the outlaw.
Constructive comments, critiques, and emails are much appreciated and most welcome.
Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on this story. I hope you enjoy it.
"Mr. Lowell?" The young man asked. It was an April morning on a cool but sunny day in 1960. The young man had started out from New Braunfels at 7:30. He got lost a couple of times and it had taken him an hour and a half to find the ranch and this man. When he didn't get a response for the elderly man he asked, "You are Mr. Clint Lowell, aren't you?"
"Who wants to know?" The old man asked as he stood up. "And why is it any of your business?"
The old man had been sitting in a rocking chair on the porch of a modest home. The house sat on just over two acres in the hill county outside of New Braunfels, Texas. It had once been in the middle of a good size cattle ranch but most of the land had been sold off over the years.
"I'm Sam Reybern Mr. Lowell," the young man answered. "I work for National Geographic Magazine."
"National what? Oh yeah, that's the magazine with the pictures of the natives with no clothes on." The old man laughed hard and then coughed for a several seconds. "Seen them pictures a time or two."
"We do print pictures of other things sir. You know landscapes, cities, vegetation and..."
"Never paid attention to anything but those naked natives," Lowell interrupted the young man. "You tolt me who you are but why are you here boy."
Sam looked at Clint Lowell and could picture the young man he had been. Even at his advanced age, Clint stood straight and tall. He's about 6 feet and 180 pounds, Sam thought. Lowell's hair was mostly white but still had a few streaks of dark brown running through it but the walrus type mustache was pure white. Those blue eyes could likely bore holes in you if he got angry, Sam observed.
"I'm doing a story about range wars and feuds in the old west sir," Sam replied. "Mostly in the middle to late 1800s. One of the range wars I've done research on is the Pleasant Valley War in Arizona. I know you were involved and hoped you would tell me about it"
"Not much to tell sonny. I was only "involved" as you say for about a week."
"But Mr. Lowell, you were actually there. As far as I can tell, you're the only living person who was involved in any of those wars and feuds. It would be exciting to hear the story first hand."
Clint didn't reply and stared off at the hills in the distance. Sam had the good sense not to push the old man. He knew from talking to people in New Braunfels that he'd have to go slow or Lowell would tell him "get the hell off my property".
After several minutes of silence, Clint came back from wherever he had been in his mind. He smiled at Sam and said, "This is God's own backyard boy. Clint swept his arm around at the rolling landscape. "Not good for raisin much sides cattle and kids but it suits me."
Sam really looked around at the countryside for the first time. Searching for the Lowell place he hadn't really paid attention to the scenery. He saw a country of rolling hills mostly cover in cedars and junipers with grassy valleys in between. From where he sat he could see a lake in the distance. Sam understood Clint's reference to it being God's backyard. It almost took your breath away.
"Yes sir, I can see what you mean. It's real pretty country," Sam said. It never hurts to compliment a man's home, he thought; although he was sincere in his appraisal of the area. "Will you talk with me, Mr. Lowell? I mean about the Pleasant Valley War."
Clint stared at the young man for several seconds. He can't be more than 25, maybe 30 Clint thought. Know he's educated cause he's a writer but he looks like a cowboy that got dressed up in his Sunday go to meetin clothes. I knowed many an Indian who would have thought his reddish blond hair would make a fine scalp. Boy's got spunk to come out and brace me.
"C'mon up and have a seat," Clint suggested. "Reckon I don't have anything else to do right now. Might as well spend it talkin with your son." Sam quickly stepped onto the porch and sat in the second rocking chair.
Reaching down beside his rocker, Clint picked up a bottle of Jack Daniels and two half pint Mason jars. "Care for a taste?" He asked Sam. "Gonna have a touch myself. Talkin makes me thirsty." Before Sam could answer, Clint poured three fingers of whiskey into a jar and handed it to him. He then filled the other Mason jar to almost overflowing.
"I don't normally drink this early in the day Mr. Lowell," Sam finally got out after taking a sip.
"You some kind of preacher or do-gooder boy? Clint took a big drink, sighed, and said, "Okay now I can start my tale." Settling back in his chair Clint rocked back and forth for a minute waiting for Sam to take a real drink. When he did, Clint started his story.
"I reckon it was gonna happen no matter what we did," the old man began. "I mean getting involved, as you said, in that damn feud. It was '86, I'd just turned 17 and...."
"Excuse me Sir," Sam interrupted. "Would you mind telling me about yourself before that time? You know sort of like a biography."
"Well...what do you want to know?"
"Where were you born... and when? How old are you?"
"I was born in 1869, that makes me er...What year is it sonny?"
"It's 1960 Mr. Lowell," Sam answered.
"Well that makes me, let's see...Damn I'm 91 years old," Clint said in a surprised voice. "Never thought I'd live this long." He paused for a bit, chuckled and added, "At times I didn't think I'd make it to 30."
"Mr. Lowell where were you born? The records from back then are a little sketchy."
"Sam, puttin a shirt and tie on a cow pony don't make him a Mister. Clint will do just fine. I was born on a hard scrapple little ranch just outside of Pleasant Valley, Arizona; I think they changed the name to Young sometime ago. My Ma was what is now called a single parent. My father left town when he found out she was going to have me. I thought my father had died until I was older and Ma told me the truth. I guess all those that called me a bastard later on were right." Clint laughed so hard he started coughing. After several seconds he caught his breath and continued.
"Jolly Rollins was a drifter who stopped at the ranch to water his horses on his way south. Never did find out where he was headed or where he came from. It didn't make much difference because once he met my Ma he never left. Did find out his given name was Jerrod but he hated to be called that. He and my Ma raised me; Jolly treated me like I was his own.
"My Ma and Jolly never got married. A piece of paper and some fancy words didn't matter to them. They loved each other somethin fierce." The old man got quiet for a bit.
"Don't really remember a lot about Ma, she died of the fever when I was ten. What I remember most was she always smelled of fresh baked bread and apple butter; and she always had the time to give me a hug and a kiss. After she passed it was just me and Jolly tryin to make a living on the damned ranch. His real name was Jerrod Rollins but everyone called him Jolly because he was always smilin, laughin, and playin jokes on you. He never laughed and seldom smiled after Ma passed; the joy went out of him.
Jolly almost went crazy from grief when Ma died. I was diggin her grave when he came back to himself. He hadn't been able to look at Ma and it was left up to me to get her ready to be buried." Clint got quiet and stared away at the hills. "Hell of a thing for a ten year old boy to have to do but I got it done."
He sort of shook himself and continued, "Jolly took over the diggin when I went to see to Ma. I wrapped her in one of the quilts she'd made and we put her in the ground. For two days Jolly sat on our front stoop and stared at her grave. I took care of the stock and fed myself. Finally Jolly stood and went to work."
Clint had been looking out over the valley below his home as he talked. He turned to Sam and said, "You know the Pleasant Valley area is about as pretty as a picture. It's just below the Mogollon Rim and has mountains, high country pastures and valleys with grasslands and lots of water. Our little ranch had one of the best springs in the area. It never went dry and had a good output of cool, clear, sweet water. It was called Sweet Water Spring because the water tasted so good.
Jolly never said what he'd done before he came to our ranch. But from the way he taught me how to handle a pistol I'd say he'd been a gunfighter. He showed me how to shoot accurately, and then he taught me to pick my target, draw, and shoot real quick like. By the time I was 17, I was a better than average hand with a pistol. Jolly also taught me how to shoot a rifle.
For the next seven years we did okay, gettin by and even put a little money aside. But sure as the world if we got to livin too good something would knock us right back down. We'd start to build our herd and some of the cattle would get killed by cougars, or wolfs or just plain disappear. Rustlers I expect. Our barn burned down twice; no reason that I could see but it did. But we hung on. We never went hungry and we had a nice cabin to shelter us. I guess I'd still be there to this day if that damn feud hadn't started."
"How did it start sir...err I mean Clint?"
"It was mostly bout property lines, water and grazin rights. At least that's what the two sides claimed. The cattle men just plain hated the sheep men. And the sheep herders didn't like the cattle men any better. There'd have been trouble anyway. The big he bull who backed the sheep men had been a cattle rancher hisself. And now those two families hated each other. If they hadn't fought bout cattle and sheep it would've been somethin else."
Clint took another drink. "Reckon you studied about other feuds and such haven't you Sam?" The younger man nodded. "Reckon you looked at the Earp's Vendetta Ride in '82."
"Yes sir, I mean Clint," Sam answered. "When Morgan Earp was killed in March of '82, Wyatt and his brother Warren went on what now is called 'The Earp Vendetta Ride' killing the men that had a hand in shooting Morgan. Doc Holiday, Turkey Creek Johnson, Sherman McMasters, and Texas Jack Vermillion made up the rest of their "posse".
"I heard the story while I was still in Pleasant Valley. Don't pay to mess with a man's family," Clint said. "Guess you read about the Lincoln County War over to New Mexico in '76; that's the one where Billy the Kid was involved."
"Yes sir." Young Sam just couldn't help addressing the older man as "sir". It was part of his upbringing.
Clint smiled and nodded his head. "You heard about the Sutton-Taylor feud down in Texas right after the Civil War too?" Sam nodded. Clint went on, "There have been a passel of others over the years but none were as bloody and costly as the Pleasant Valley War. The last cattleman was killed in Tempe, Arizona in 1902. He was killed by the last of the sheep men. That damn feud destroyed both families."
The old man got quiet again for almost a minute. "I wished they'd stayed fightin each other and left us alone."
Now it was Sam's turn to stare out over the hills and the valley in front of the house. "Would you tell me what happened Clint?"
"Jolly and me were bringing about a dozen cattle back to the pasture closest to our cabin and were jumped by three men. We fired back at them and ran them off. No one was shot so we never thought too much about it. Thought they were rustlers. But the next mornin the same three came back to our cabin."
"Pretty bold for rustlers," Sam commented.
Clint nodded. "Yep it would have been bold for rustlers. Jolly was sittin in front of the cabin repairing a saddle when they rode up. They said they worked for the big cattle rancher in the area and they were going to take over our spring. Not so much because they needed the water but to keep the sheep herders from using it, they said. Jolly told them 'over his dead body' and the three pulled their pistols."
He stopped, looking up as if trying to remember something. "Could've been the other way around. Coulda been the sheep men wanting to keep the cattle ranchers from using our spring. It was a lot years ago and I don't rightly remember. Don't make no difference, the result was the same."
"Where were you Clint?"
"I'd been out hunting that morning and came up behind them as they pulled their guns. One of the cowboys saw me and said something to the ramrod. I don't think they expected me and as they turned to look at me, Jolly pulled his own pistol. They yelled and started shootin at him. I fired my scattergun at one of them but didn't kill him; he rode off holdin his shoulder and leaning forward in his saddle. Found his body about a mile toward town the next day; buried him on the spot. Jolly kilt the other two but he was hit during the fight." Clint stopped talking, remembering back to the day that changed his life.
"I ran to see how bad hurt Jolly was," Clint continued. "He'd been hit in his shoulder and his leg. But the one that kilt him was in his stomach. Jolly said he was gut shot and wouldn't make it until morning. He told me to drag the dead men away from the cabin. Said he didn't want his last view of the ranch to be those two bastards laying there."
"Couldn't you get a doctor for him?" Sam asked.
"I was going to but Jolly said a doc couldn't do anything for a gut shot man. He asked me to dig his grave next to Ma's after I'd drug the bodies away."
"And you were 17 at the time," Sam offered. "Hell of a thing for a teenager to have to do."
"Never thought about it that way," Clint replied. "It was just something that had to be done." After a few seconds the old man said, "Anyway I sat with Jolly until he died. He'd told me where he kept the money and told me I'd probably have to leave. Can't stand up to both sides by yourself he said. He died late that evenin."
"What about the law? Couldn't the Sheriff or Marshal protect you?"
"Nope. The Sheriff was with the cattlemen and the Marshal was on the sheep men's side. Either way I wasn't gonna get any help from the law."
"What did you do?"
"The Sheriff and two men came out to the cabin the next morning lookin for me. I hid my horses in a holler and hunkered down in a cave in the hill behind the cabin. They looked around, saw the new grave and rode off. Later that morning the Marshal and two deputies came lookin for me. That's when I decided to light out; I couldn't stand up to both sides."
Sam was torn. He needed to get back to town and call his editor to let him know he'd found Clint and was talking to him, but he didn't want to leave. Right now the old man was in a talkative mood but he might not be tomorrow. Finally he had to make a decision.
"Sir, I have to go call my boss and let him know I met you. May I come back tomorrow and talk with you some more?"
Clint stared at the young man for a minute or so. He liked this youngster. The boy was polite, had a bit of Texas twang in his voice and seemed to really have a feel for his work. "Where you from boy?"
"I live in Los Angeles right now but I was born not too far from here in Tarpley."
"How'd a Texan like you end up in Los Angeles?"
"I went to the University of Texas and got a degree in journalism. That's how I ended up working for National Geographic." Sam smiled and added, "I had a job offer from a couple of newspapers but I would have been sitting at a desk most of the time. This job lets me spend more time outside."
"Tell you what Texas Longhorn," Clint said with a smile. "Use my phone to call your boss and I'll provide lunch for you and we can talk some more. Suit you?"
"Yes sir, Sam replied.
After he finished his phone call, the youngster joined Clint in the kitchen. There was a steaming pot of beef stew and fresh baked biscuits sitting on the table.
"Hope you like beef stew son," Clint said as he ladled the stew into two big bowls. "Sit down and dig in."
After eating Sam helped clean up and Clint led him back to the rocking chairs on the front porch. "No need to waste a pretty day sittin inside," he said.
Back in his rocker he poured whiskey into the Mason jars and handed Sam his. "Now where was I? Oh yeah."
"I left our ranch with two good horses and Jolly's guns," Clint continued his story. There was a Remington 1875 .44-40 caliber handgun and a Winchester repeating rifle in the same caliber. Those items and five Double Eagle $20 gold pieces were all I had to show for our ranch. More than I could expect ifin I stayed around."
A smile came across Clint's face. "I rode southeast for nine or ten days and the first place I lit was Deming, New Mexico. It was a railroad town, a little rough around the edges that had ideas of becoming a big city. Dangerous Dan Tucker was the Deputy Marshal for that region and kept the peace in Deming."
"I've read about Marshal Tucker," Sam said. "Some say he was the most underrated pistolero of the Old West."
"Don't know about that. But he sure didn't put up with any foolishness in Deming. Anyway I tied up at the rail in front of the general store and saw a woman being pushed around by a short, pudgy man. He was yelling that she'd cheated him and she was yelling right back at him. The man hauled off and backhanded the woman knocking her off her feet."
Clint paused and asked, "Why do men do that? I mean hit a woman, way I was raised you just didn't do that." Taking another drink Clint continued. "I couldn't abide a man beatin on a woman so I stepped over to him, tapped him on the shoulder and when he turned around I backhanded him. Hurts don't I said as he looked up at me from his back. He started to reach for his gun. I pulled my pistol and told him to go ahead if he wanted to meet his maker."
"That's about enough boys," Marshal Tucker told us. "Don't want no gunplay on Main Street you know."
"I put my gun back in my holster. Didn't want no trouble with Dangerous Dan Tucker. No siree."
"Bob you head on home before you get into trouble. If you had been at home with your wife you wouldn't have to worry about a lady cheating you," Marshal Tucker ordered the man on the ground. Bob got to his feet and quickly walked away
"You alright Miss Lorena?" The Marshal asked turning to help the woman to her feet and helped gather her packages.
"Am now, thanks to this young gentleman. Bob was about to get real nasty."
"What are you doing in my town?" The Marshal asked me.
"Just passin through. Thought I pick up some supplies, camp outside of town, and be on my way in the morning."
"Not staying in town tonight?" Miss Lorena asked.
I hemmed and hawed and admitted I didn't want to spend the money for a hotel room or boarding house. "I don't mind sleeping on the ground, been doing it for ten days or so."
"Well Mister...." Miss Lorena started.
"Sorry I'm Clint Lowell ma'am," I replied tipping my hat.
"Well Mr. Lowell, I'm Lorena Dunston. I run a fancy house and would be pleased to offer you a room, lunch, and supper if you've a mind to. It's the least I can do for your help."
"A fancy house ma'am?" I asked. I was a young boy who'd never been to a big town before and didn't know what Miss Lorena was talking about.
"A bawdy house," she answered. Seeing that I still didn't understand she smiled and added, "A bordello Mr. Lowell."
I was still confused and the Marshal whispered in my ear, "A whore house son."