The Hangman Comethbywoodmanone©
Copyright February, 2013
Another Western Adventure from my demented mind.
It's been a spell since I've posted a story. Life seems to have interfered with my writing time. Now I want to get back to writing more short stories for posting on this site.
As usual your constructive comments, critiques, and emails are appreciated and most welcome.
Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my work. I hope you enjoy the story.
The swinging doors of the Leona Saloon were pushed inward. Sheriff John Smalley, Jim Couch the bartender, and two other customers at the bar looked up as doors to the saloon swept back. It was April of 1875 and the bright mid day sunlight in the small town of Uvalde Texas was behind the figure and no one could see the man's face.
"You the Sheriff?" The figure asked in a deep voice.
"Yep, I'm Sheriff Smalley. Who are you?"
The man stepped forward into the saloon and the men at the bar could see him clearly. He was taller than most at 6' 3 and whip cord thin. His blue eyes flashed from his tanned and weathered face.
"Your deputy said I'd find you here."
"Well here I am," Smalley replied. "Who you be and what do you want?"
"I'd like to talk to you about your prisoner," the tall, dark man answered.
"Mister, nobody sees my prisoner until I know who they are. Now who are you?"
"I didn't say see him, I said I wanted to talk about him."
"And I asked who are you?" Sheriff Smalley asked again, this time in a stern voice. He pushed off the bar and stood up straight; trying to be an intimidating presence.
Some fine figure of the law, the stranger thought. Smalley was barely 5'6 and his big belly hung over his gun belt. His clothes were tight in some places and slack in others. The man's hands were soft looking, like he'd never done a hard day's work in his life. All and all not an impressive figure to the stranger.
"The Hangman?" Jim Couch questioned.
"I prefer the term executioner," the man in black answered.
"You're the one Jack Malone hired," Smalley said. Now I understand why he's dressed the way he is, the Sheriff thought to himself.
Josiah was dressed from head to foot in black. His hair was black and hung almost to his shoulders beneath a wide brimmed flat crowned black hat. The long frock coat, his leather vest and the Sunday go to meeting type pants and shirt were black as was the string tie he wore. Even his boots and his gun belt were black.
The Colt .45 with the nickel finish he carried was the only thing not black on the man. In spite of the heat of late spring, the stranger looked cool and collected.
"Once the trial was over and the sentence passed, Mr. Malone contacted me by telegraph and requested my services," the hangman replied.
"Hell, he didn't have to hire you. I coulda hung the boy." Smalley seemed put out that Mr. Malone would bring in an outsider.
"I can't answer to that but I have been hired and I will do my duty." Josiah rubbed a finger across both sides of his black mustache. "What did the convicted man do?"
"Seems young Rawlings came into the saloon and saw Bob Talbert squiring Molly Stewart; Molly works here at the Leona. She's sort of a waitress but she isn't one of the saloon girls," Smalley explained. "Rawlings got all upset because he was sweet on the girl too. He walked over to the table and challenged Bob to fight for the girl."
Smalley took a drink of his beer and continued. "A fair fight would have been okay, but Rawlings never gave ole Bob a chance to stand up. He shot Bob as he pushed back from the table."
Josiah heard a snort from the bartender as the sheriff finished his beer.
"Why is Mr. Malone so interested?" Josiah asked. "My fee is not unsubstantial you know."
Bob was Malone's foreman; I think I heard they were cousins too. "None of my business, but what do you charge for a hangin Mr. Reading?" Smalley asked.
"You're right, it isn't your business but I'll tell you. Mr. Malone had paid me one thousand dollars to hang this man Rawlings."
"A thousand dollars," the sheriff echoed, shaking his head. He was thinking what he could have done with a thousand dollars. "You're sure right when you said your fee was substantial." He paused and shook his head again. "Well, I got some business to attend to and I'll be back at the office around 3. You can come by and talk about Rawlings then if you've a mind to, Mr. Reading," Sheriff Smalley suggested and left the saloon.
Josiah watched him go and turned back to the bar. "I heard you snort when the Sheriff was explaining what happened. Why was that Mr...."
"Name's Jim Couch Mr. Reading; I own the Leona." He pulled on the draft handle, drew a beer, and set it on the bar in front of Josiah. "Reason I snorted is that it didn't exactly go like the Sheriff said."
"What's the truth of the matter Mr. Couch?"
Jim wiped down the bar with a towel and looked at Josiah. Man's got the south in his voice, Couch thought. Not a Texas twang, maybe he lived in Georgia or Alabama; but he's from the south for sure. Course there's still a lot of those southern boys drifting through Texas; even now, ten years after the Civil War.
"Sheriff's right about the shooting, cept it were the other way round," Jim answered. "Young Rawlings was the one sittin at the table with Molly when Talbert came in. Talbert yelled at the boy and Molly, then pulled his gun; he didn't give Rawlings a chance."
Jim gave Reading a smile. "Problem was Talbert missed his shot. The boy fell over backwards in his chair. He was on his back on the floor when he pulled his own pistol and drilled Talbert. That boy sure knows how to handle a gun." Jim noticed the hangman's eyes get cloudy and seemed to turn from blue to gray to go along with a grim smile on the his face.
"A couple of Malone's men grabbed Rawlings and held him for the Sheriff. Interesting thing though, Molly left town before the trial, so she couldn't testify one way or the other. Supposed to have gone to visit her ma in Dallas."
"I can understand the young lady being upset and needing comfort," Josiah said.
"Thing is Mr. Reading, Molly's an orphan; folks died a couple of years ago. That's when she came to Uvalde." Jim polished a couple of glasses. "I tried to protect Molly but Malone must have got to her. Word is that she was paid a lot of money to leave town. Some say that she would have been killed if she didn't go. I wouldn't put it past Malone to pull something like that."
"Wasn't any one else in the saloon willing to speak up? Weren't you?" Josiah finished his beer and Jim pulled a fresh one for him.
"I tried to tell the Sheriff what happened but I was shouted down by the Malone crowd and Smalley wouldn't listen to me. Hell, even the judge told me if I didn't shut my mouth, he'd fine or jail me for contempt of court. He sure had that right, I had nothing but contempt for the whole group. After that, didn't make much sense to object; Smalley was going to do what Malone wanted no matter what I said and so was the judge.
Most people round here don't go against Malone too much. He owns most of the land and cattle and money in the county; he's the big he bull in this area." Couch stared at the bar for several seconds.
"Why wouldn't the judge listen to you? Why wouldn't he want the truth?"
"Well, Judge Stevens is Malone's sister's husband. He owes Malone a lot. Before Stevens became Judge, he couldn't hold a job and was livin almost hand to mouth. His wife talked to her brother and Stevens was appointed to the court. Now the Stevens live high on the hog."
"You don't seem to be afraid of Malone."
"Well I tell ya, the Leona is the only saloon for fifty miles so Malone doesn't push me too much. His crew, the other ranchers, and the townsfolk wouldn't like it if I shut the Leona down and moved on or if I suddenly weren't here to run the place. And I always have a friend with me." Couch reached under the bar and brought a 12 gauge double barreled coach gun from hiding. "Anyway, you and I are just talking; nobody here to overhear our conversation. Sides, you don't impress me as the type of man that runs off at the mouth."
"Thank you Mr. Couch," Josiah replied and took a coin out of his vest to pay for the beer.
"No sir, beers on me Mr. Reading. See ya again sometime." There's something off with that man, Jim thought as he watched the hangman leave the saloon. Yes sir, somethin don't fit. Be interesting to find out what.
Josiah walked down the street to a café and had a meal. After eating, he sat on a study wooden chair in front of the café, leaned it back against the wall and read the local newspaper, the Uvalde Courier. Spring weather is nice, he thought. Too early for the real heat yet, but the Texas summer will make up for the nice days. At 3 o'clock he stood and walked to the sheriff's office.
"Sheriff," he greeted as he entered the office.
"Right on time I see," Smalley responded. What do you want to know about Rawlings?"
"Hanging a man is a mite more than just putting a rope around his neck. I need to know his height and weight so my noose can do a proper job." Josiah hesitated a moment and added, "I also like to say a prayer for the soul of my charges."
"Heard you was some kind of preacher as well as being a hangman," Smalley said.
"Executioner." Josiah corrected with a stern voice.
"Sorry, no offense. Yeah that's what I meant; executioner." Smalley stood and walked toward a heavy wooden door with a window opening covered with iron bars. "Rawlings is back here," he said, pointing through the window. "You want to see him?"
Josiah glanced around the office. Behind the desk was a gun rack with two coach guns and a repeating rifle. Across the large room there was a table and two chairs. The windows had iron shutters that could be closed from inside the office; the shutters had firing slits cut in them that could be used to protect the jail if need be. Looks like a hundred other sheriff's offices that I've seen, he thought. The door to the cells also had an opening with iron bars. Josiah looked through the window into the cell block.
Through the door was a hallway that ran to either side of the entry. Along the opposite wall were three cells with large flat steel bars and strong doors with oversized, heavy internal locks. Each cell had a barred window to the outside through the back wall.
Be a bit cold in the winter, Josiah thought.
"There he be," Smalley motioned toward the cell in the middle. "Rawlings is bout 6'1 and goes 185 pounds or so."
Josiah wrote the information down in a small black journal and nodded. "Like to say a prayer for the condemned if I might."
"Y'all go right ahead," Smalley said and walked back to his desk.
Rawlings was on his back on the cot in the cell when he heard the praying. He raised his head and looked through the bars in the door. When he saw the hangman praying, his eyes opened wide, he swung his feet to the floor and sat up. Before he could say anything, Josiah barely shook his head. Smalley didn't see Josiah's gesture.
"I've said a prayer for your soul Mr. Rawlings," Josiah called back to the cell and turned back into the office.
That hangman sure is a preachin son of a gun, Smalley thought as the man in black came back to his desk.
"When is the hanging scheduled Sheriff Smalley?"
"Day after tomorrow, that's Saturday, at noon. Got to give people time to get into town and enjoy the show." Smalley had a grin on his face.
"I think I'll examine the gallows tomorrow and get it ready for the event," Josiah told Smalley. "Have to make sure the trap door works properly and get my ropes ready."
"Get your ropes ready?"
"I always set up a second rope incase the first one fails. And they have to be positioned over the trap door correctly."
Josiah walked across the dirt street to the hotel and got a room. The clerk was nervous and overly helpful until Josiah went up the stairs to his room. Gossip had spread around like wild fire that the hangman had come to town.
The next morning after breakfast at the café, Josiah walked around the jail to a large open space behind the low squat building. The open area was bordered on three sides by the walls of other buildings and the gallows faced an empty space that opened onto a side street.
The gallows was about six feet above the ground with a wide staircase leading up to a ten by ten plank platform surrounded on three sides by a railing. In the center of the platform was a trap door that was operated by a lever at one side of the flat area. Over head was a six foot tall wooden column with a braced arm extending out over the trapdoor. This arm was where the hanging rope was fastened with the noose hanging down about two feet. On an order from the Sheriff, the trapdoor would be sprung and the convicted man would be hung.
Never been this close to one, but it looks like every gallows I've seen, Josiah thought as he walked across the platform. Don't want to see another one.
Jim Couch greeted Josiah as the hangman came through the swinging doors of the saloon. "Have a beer Mr. Reading?"
"Bit early, but I would take some coffee if you have any made."
"Be right back," Jim said and went through a door at the end of the bar. He returned shortly with two cups and a pot of coffee. He poured the coffee, set down the pot, looked Josiah in the eye and said, "Know you're just doing your job Mr. Reading but young Rawlings don't deserve the hand he's been dealt."
Josiah nodded. "Not up to me to moralize the right or wrong of it." He paused and said, "But from what you told me, the boy is gettin railroaded." His eyes again turned from blue to gray.
"That's a fact sure enough," Jim replied. "Damn shame someone can't do something to stop it." Couch again had the feeling about this hangman. Something about the way he talks makes me wonder, he thought. Never saw a hangman wear a sidearm tied down low like that neither.
"Malone's been running rough shod over this town and this county for a lot of years," Jim said. "Nobody will stand against him. I tried and it almost got me jailed my own self."
He refilled Josiah's cup and walked to the swinging doors and looked out for a few seconds; then he returned behind the bar. Jim went to the door behind the bar, opened it and said, "Y'all come on out."
A young, attractive woman came to the door, looked around and joined Jim behind the bar.
"This here's Molly Stewart, Mr. Reading," Couch introduced the girl. At a look from Josiah he added, "Molly came to me when Malone first tried to throw a scare into her. I been putting her up in my back room during the day and the storm cellar when the saloon's doing business."
Jim smiled at the girl and continued, "She's got more spunk than sense if you asked me, but she wouldn't leave town. Don't know what she thinks she can do by stayin."
"Howdy Miss Stewart," Josiah greeted the young woman, taking off his hat. "It true what Mr. Couch told me about the fight?"
"Yes sir. Johnny and me been talkin about gettin married and headin to California. Bob Talbert started botherin me and Uncle Jim made him stop; at least here in the saloon." Molly hung her head for a few seconds then said, "It happened just like Uncle Jim said. Talbert got riled up that I was sittin with Johnny and tried to shoot him; but got the worst of it."
Josiah listened to the girl and nodded. Molly, Jim, and Josiah got closer together and talked. They talked for most part of an hour and then some money changed hands; going from Josiah to Jim.
"Depending on you Mr. Couch. Please don't let me down."
Saturday morning was a warm, bordering on hot, day with no wind to help things cool down. At 11:50, Sheriff Smalley and his Deputy brought the Rawlings boy out of the jail and to the gallows. The hangman waited on the platform for the procession. The Deputy, carrying one of the coach guns from the Sheriff's office led the way up the gallows stairs to the platform, followed by Rawlings, with the Sheriff bringing up the rear. The prisoner's hands were tied behind him.
Rawlings was brought to the center of the platform, directly over the trapdoor with the noose hanging down behind him. Sheriff Smalley stood just to one side of the boy with the Deputy on the other side. The hangman stood between them and directly behind Rawlings.
Sheriff Smalley stepped to the front rail of the gallows and faced the crowd. "John Rawlings, you have been tried and found guilty of murder. The punishment for your crime is death; you will be hung by the neck until you are dead." Smalley turned back toward Rawlings and asked, "Do you have anything to say before we carry out your sentence?"
Young Rawlings seemed to gather himself. "I was protecting myself and y'all know it." He spit at the Sheriff. "Do your damnedest."
"Carry out the sentence," Smalley said to the hangman. His voice was tight in anger as he wiped the spit from his vest.
Josiah stepped to the prisoner. All eyes were on him as he reached for the noose. He moved closer to the prisoner's side where the Deputy stood, grabbed his shotgun with his left hand and hit him under the chin with his right elbow. Wrenching the gun away, Josiah swung the barrel toward the Sheriff and the people standing on the ground close to the gallows. The Deputy fell back against the rail and slumped to the platform.
"Smalley, drop your gun and step down," Josiah ordered. The Sheriff dropped his pistol and went down the stairs. "Now you Deputy, drop your sidearm and step down."
The Deputy was forced to follow Smalley down to ground level. A man standing in front of the crowd started to reach for his own gun.
"Hold it," Josiah said in a strong voice. He swung the coach gun toward the man. "I expect you'd be Jack Malone."
Malone nodded, dropped his hand away from his pistol and stepped back.
"The rest of you just stand easy," Josiah ordered. He stepped closer to Rawlings and still holding the coach gun on the crowd, pulled a knife from his boot, and cut the boy free. "Grab the Sheriff's pistol boy."
Turning back to the crowd, Josiah said, "Rest of you drop your gun belts and step back."
Malone hesitated and seemed to be thinking about fighting. "You can't get us all Reading," he said.
"No sir I can't, but I can get you first. Malone," the hangman replied. "With this scatter gun I can get the two standing with you at the same time."
"Think you're that good Reading?"
"Names not Reading," Josiah answered. "I'm Tyler Rawlings."
Malone seemed to shrink back into himself. "Tyler Rawlings, the gun fighter?"
"I've been called that, among other things," Tyler admitted with an evil grin.
When he told the crowd who he was most of the armed men quickly dropped their gun belts and pistols. A murmur could be heard going through the assembled people.
"Some say Tyler Rawlings is quicker than John Wesley Hardin," one man said.
Another man said, "Heard he was meaner than Johnny Ringo and Clay Allison."
"I don't want to be the one to tangle with him," a third man said as he dropped his sidearm.
Malone also let his gun belt fall to the ground and stepped back. "How'd you find out about this, and why are you gettin involved?" Malone asked Tyler.
"Well you see it's this way," Tyler replied. "I was at the saloon in San Antonio when Josiah Reading got your telegram Malone. Case you didn't know it Josiah can't read and the messenger boy had to read it for him. When I heard Johnny Rawlings was to be hung, I took Readings place." Tyler smiled and added, "I took the thousand dollars too."
"Readings dead then," Malone said, more a statement than a question.
"No reason to kill him. Tied and gagged him and put him in the hay loft at the stable when he went to get his horse. Figure someone's found him by now."