Wednesday, March 28, 2018

An Oklahoma Gunfight (An excerpt from the book)

So much had happened since the dawn of the new century. John Cannon remembered the stab of pain that he had felt when news reached him of his mother’s death. He could still feel the jolt of the wagon as it rolled over the rocks and ruts of Indian Territory on his way to Oklahoma Territory. A change of scenery would be just what his grieving father needed.
2 This southwestern corner of Oklahoma was all Greer County then. There was no Beckham or Harmon County in those days. In fact, there wasn’t a lot of anything in those days except prairie. A man could easily get swallowed up in all of that vastness.
3 Nevertheless, the hardy few who had settled here had worked hard and accomplished much in the years since then. John had presided as judge in the little town of Erick and was loved and respected by his neighbors. Oklahoma became a state in 1907. Harmon County was created in 1909, and the railroad came to Gould in 1910.
4 There had, however, also been loss and heartache. John’s wife had died giving birth to their only daughter in 1909. Martha’s parents had helped with little Mattie, but they couldn’t fill the hole that their daughter’s death had left in his life. Whiskey had helped a little, but it only provided some temporary respite from the loneliness that haunted him now.
5 His friend, William Hamilton, had recently been sworn in as the new deputy in Gould. He was eighteen years younger than John, but he was a solid family man.
6 “Congratulations Will!” John had roared as he slapped his friend on the back that day. “Thanks John, I appreciate that,” he replied. The very serious and thoughtful new deputy even permitted himself a brief smile as he shook John’s hand.
7 William and Etta Hamilton had eight children together. Lettie and Velma were a handful sometimes, but the couple clearly knew that Almighty God had blessed them in just about every way. William gently placed his hand on young Edgar’s head as he walked out the door and finished buckling the belt that held his holster around his waist.
8 It had been a fine December day – cold and windy, but clear and sunny. John had been in the saloon for several hours by that time. He hadn’t eaten very much that evening, but he had downed a lot of whiskey.
9 Although the alcohol had numbed the pain, it had not improved John’s mood that evening. The loneliness and sense of loss were biting hard tonight, and John was waving off all attempts to console him.
10 Tom, the bartender, had seen his friend in this condition on a couple of occasions before tonight. This wasn’t good.
11 “Why don’t you go on home John and get a little rest?” his friend suggested. “I think I’ll sit right here and drink a little bit, thank you very much!” John shot back with a snarl. “And you can tell those two loud mouths over there to shut the hell up!” he added.
12 Tom nodded to his wife and headed for the door. He hated to disturb the new deputy at such an hour. He knew that Will and his household would be relaxing and getting ready for bed, but he also knew that John could be very difficult to deal with when he was like this.
13 He was already back in the saloon when Will arrived. John was even more annoyed when he saw the deputy enter the room, and he gave Tom an angry look.
14 “How’s it going John?” Will asked as he approached John’s table. “Why just fine, Will. Why are you out so late?” John asked as he downed the shot glass in front of him.
15 “Don’t you think you’ve had enough for this evening?” asked the deputy ignoring John’s question. “Not just yet,” John replied. “Well, I’m afraid you have,” Will said without blinking.
16 The two stared at each other for a moment, and the saloon was quiet. “Well, I don’t need this shit!” roared John as he staggered to his feet and grabbed the bottle in front of him.
17 “You go to hell, Tom!” the judge offered as he headed for the door with Will following close behind.
18 John Cannon walked slowly down the dusty Main Street of Gould toward the town’s only drug store where he paused and took another swig from the bottle of whiskey he had grabbed when he left the saloon. Will calmly walked around him and faced him on the street. His piercing blue eyes looked at his old friend with disgust and cold determination.
19 It was a little after 7 p.m. and the street was dark and deserted. The only light spilled from the windows of the saloon they had both just exited.
20 “John this is embarrassing. How can you shame yourself like this in public?” the deputy demanded. “I haven’t done a damn thing to shame myself. What in the hell are you talking about Will?” John retorted.
21 “Look at what a state you’re in. I’d be embarrassed to be in such a state in a public place,” Will insisted. “Nobody wants to see you like this,” he pressed.
22 “I haven’t done anything, and I’m not done drinking,” the old judge protested. “You’re acting like a drunken fool!” the deputy retorted. “You take that back God dammit, or I’ll kill your ass!” John demanded.
23 At that instant, both men drew their guns and fired several times. The deputy collapsed on top of the judge as Tom and the others rushed into the street. The saloon keeper could see that John was dead as soon as he reached the men. Then he knelt down and cradled Will’s head against his stomach.
24 “Quick, get the doc!” Tom shouted to his wife. “Is John dead?” Will asked. “Yes,” he answered matter-of-factly. “That’s too bad,” the deputy offered seemingly oblivious to his own wounds. “Dead, dead, dead…” he trailed off as he stared blankly into the night sky.

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