A Short Story on the Website of
the Red Dirt Writers Society

Put Your Hands Up
by Rosemary H. Eskridge (Oct 2011)


Samuel Smith, a grizzled sixty-five year old rancher, stepped down off his horse, and drew his Colt Frontier 1878 forty four-forty pistol from its well-worn holster. Holding his gun in his dark brown right hand, Smith rubbed his backside with his left. The Sun and weather had turned his hands and face into almost leather while the skin on the rest of his body was as white as a dead fish. It had been a long day riding all the way over to the Mountain Fork of the Brazos River where a natural spring made a perfect spot for overlooking the river. He mumbled to himself, “I’ll show those dang squatters a thing or two right now.” As he passed the squatters wagon he noticed the two fine Morgan horses grazing and a gun belt hung on the brake lever. Holstering his own gun, he stopped by the wagon. Chuckling to himself, he pulled the Remington Army 44 handgun from the holster. He unloaded all six bullets and stuck the empty pistol back in its holster, but stuffed the stranger’s bullets in his left pocket. Redrawing his own pistol he marched into the woods headed for the laughter he heard coming from the river side.

John had tied Quixote and Poncho the two dark brown Morgan horses to a scrub oak tree then took off his gun belt and hung it on the buckboard’s brake. Things had been pretty settled for a while and the thought of the fried chicken, boiled potatoes, and homemade biscuits with fresh churned butter and oatmeal raisin cookies for desert had his mouth watering. John carried the great smelling basket to Lucy. With the cloth spread out Lucy unpacked the food from the basket onto the table cloth under the huge pecan tree that provided a wonderful shade for their picnic. John and Lucy sat in the shade of that tree on the bank of Mountain Fork of the Brazos River quietly reminiscing many of the events leading up to their anniversary.

Their marriage in 1894 had been the talk of the town. Numerous parties had been given in their honor. Rotan, Texas, was a fast growing cross roads town made up of miners, railroad people with lots of farmers and ranchers. John’s position at the wagon yard enabled him to know everyone in town and they had all been eager to share in the infamous romance brewing between John and the bosses’ second daughter, Lucy. The dances and the chivalry had been fun but John and Lucy would never forget the generosity of the pounding. The town’s people had come to her father, Robert Graham Maben’s home to share pounds of ether beans, corn, flour, sugar, salt or seeds. “Oh, Oh my goodness, what a pounding,” Lucy exclaimed. The traditional pounding had furnished the young couple with so much of what they needed to start their marriage. “A pound of nails, a pound of pickles, a dozen eggs, twelve chickens, and a cow from her Uncle Lorenzo’s family; each of the givers remembering the expertise of John as he had planned and manufactured each special wagon. Everyone had heard of the famous letter that John had written to Lucy’s father asking for her hand in marriage and chuckled as the details were repeated at dinners and town gatherings.

Dressing up was fun, and Lucy’s mother, Sallie, had made sure that Lucy and her sisters were known as the gentile ladies, like those she had associated with at the Louisville College for Women. Lucy’s mother, Sallie Lester Wilson had studied for four years at Louisville College. She had shared her knowledge of astronomy, literature, mathematics and all of the sciences, plus Latin with her sons and daughters. Sallie also had seen to their domestic skills, teaching her daughters to cook, sew, quilt, and grow both vegetable and flower gardens. Lucy, on the other hand was a great challenge for her brothers and her father. She worked hard to finish home chores and then would be off on her horse to take her father lunch where she often showed up at the wagon yard making suggestive comments on their work and offering a competitive challenge for a horse race or shooting contest after work.

Lucy was the second daughter of Robert Graham Maben of Fisher County, Texas. She had been just barely seventeen and John Clinton Horn, already twenty years old, when they were married. John who was a little over six foot tall with coal black curly hair, was the second oldest of eleven children. He had come to Central Texas, with his father, William Wallace Horn, a merchant and business owner from Alabama. John and his father William had heard of Rotan’s wide variety of fertile soils, making it possible to grow almost any crop of fruits or vegetables. There was plenty of grassland with water for cattle or crop irrigation, a moderate climate with ample rainfall and plenty of wild game. Rotan’s location, near the center of sparsely settled counties of Kent, Stonewall and Scurry, would provide a wide trade territory for the wagon yard and Mercantile Store they planned to operate.

It’s no wonder; the whole town was intrigued with the couple’s romance. Her kindness and thoughtfulness endeared her to everyone and John with his good looks and business sense made him a great catch.

Today, four years later, 1898 Lucy was just as lovely at five foot eight inches tall and she had maintained her tiny 18 inch waist. Lucy had long dark brown hair pulled back in a bun at the nape of her neck and cool blue eyes placed above high cheek bones separated by a cute nose. She was wearing a lovely sky blue and stark white checked gingham dress with a high collar and a large bow tied at her back. Just above the first button she wore a solid gold double circled broach. Fearing a raid by the Yankees during the Civil War the 24 caret Gold brooch had been along with other family heirlooms placed in a small 4 by 12 inch box, wrapped in oil cloth, and buried in the chicken yard by her Grandmother Maben. She reached up and touched the broach just to make sure it was still in place.

Sunday afternoon had finally come, the twenty-fourth of May, 1898 and the weather was beautiful. It was about seventy-two degrees, just perfect for a picnic and picking berries in the county. Lucy had looked forward to Sunday all week as John had suggested that they take a drive and have a picnic on the Mountain Branch of the Brazos River. The wagon business was so busy that John and Lucy’s brothers could rarely take off for any time with the high demand for new wagons to meet the railroad marketers bringing supplies for the many families who had purchased the Public School Land Grants that had been made available in this area. Lucy looked out the window and expressed gratitude for the good soil. For some strange reason, it held moisture better than other surrounding counties and the seeds were planted with John looking forward to a wonderful harvest in early summer and late fall. Lucy thought, “Today, would be a great break from planting, hoeing, building, just everything”.

This was to be a special day. Lucy had lost her first two children in childbirth and now she was anxiously awaiting a special moment to tell John that she was expecting another child. So John’s idea of a picnic was going to provide more exciting news than John was anticipating. Lucy packed the fried chicken, boiled potatoes, and left over breakfast biscuits. Fresh lemonade filled two Ball canning jars to the brim and John’s favorite oatmeal and raisin cookies, wrapped in an extra layer of waxed paper to keep them especially fresh, were placed into the wicker basket that had been given to her by her grandmother as a wedding present.

John with a loud whistle came quickly up to the house in the buckboard pulled by his matched Morgan wagon team of Quixote and Poncho. John’s sense of reading humor was reflected in all of his names that he gave to the animals they owned. He patted Quixote on the back side and pulled Poncho’s ears as he headed for the house to escort Lucy to the seat beside him. John kissed Lucy quickly on the cheek, took the basket Lucy was carrying, picked up his W.W. Greener shot gun, and headed for the buckboard. John‘s hand gun holster hung from his belt and was tied down to his right leg with leather straps. He wrapped his shot gun in the blanket Lucy had laid under the buck board’s seat to keep it from being bounced around as they followed the bumpy road to the river. Traveling near the river, John almost always found some wild life, deer, antelope or rabbits also coming to the river for the fresh water.

John and Lucy traveled past her father’s and her brother’s home also purchased land grants being given by the State of Texas to raise funds for Public Schools. Their corn and wheat crops were standing tall and she felt a great pride in knowing that she and John were successful in raising their own share of food for their family. Many hours were spent at the wagon shop so getting the crops planted had taken everyone in the family helping late into the night to get the seeds planted before the spring rains.

Then her thoughts returned to the picnic. The rains had made the Brazos River flood some of the nearby areas but the small uprising they were headed for enabled one to look over the river and provided places to picnic in the shade of large Pecan trees. Blue berries and sand plums were growing along the river and Lucy wanted to fill their basket with them before they returned home. Lucy loved these Rolling Prairies. Both sides of the dirt road were still muddy but just off the road the land featured medium-height to tall grasses, mesquite, and cacti. Cedar, cottonwood, and pecan trees also grew along the Mountain Fork of the Brazos River where they planned to eat.

Many species of wildflowers were blooming, including daisies, buttercups, tallow weed, Indian blanket, baby's breath, prairie lace, wild verbena, belladonna, and hollyhock. Lucy had brought a small shovel to try to transplant some of the wildflowers to a place near her front door. She knew the place where the Texas bluebells thrived in low places near the river and hoped to find some blooming.

John and Lucy had enjoyed their meal. John had made positive comments about her great cooking. The view of the river and the wildflowers was as peaceful as a painting. Just as John and Lucy started to eat the oatmeal cookies, out of the trees stepped a stranger with a gun in his hand. “All right you two, put up your hands!” he said with a lifting motion of the gun in his right hand.” Both Lucy and John put down their half-eaten cookies, stood up and raised their hands. John started to question the stranger with the raised gun but was quickly silenced with a “Shut up you, no talking, just start walking up that hill toward your wagon.”

Completely baffled, Lucy and John started up the small hill wondering what had upset the Rancher who had so rudely interrupted their anniversary picnic. As they neared the wagon, Lucy went to the left and stepped to the far side of the wagon and John grabbed the reins of the horses who acted just as uneasy as the young couple. As he neared the wagon, he saw his gun in its holster, slung on the buckboard brake and quickly decided to risk grabbing the gun and firing it at the Rancher. As John turned with gun in hand and pulling the trigger, he was astounded to hear the hard click of an empty gun. The bullets had been removed which now gave the Rancher the opportunity to fire his gun at John. John tried to slide around the wagon but was shot in the right shoulder as he tried to flee. John immediately fell to the ground with blood seeping from the gunshot wound.

The Rancher heard the click of Lucy’s W.W. Greener double barrel shot gun that she had pulled it from the blanket laid under the seat of the buckboard as she cocked back one of the guns hammers. He looked up to find the shotgun pointing straight at him. Angrily, Lucy shouted at the stranger, “Drop your gun and raise your hands or I’ll cut you in half.” The rancher with a startled look heard Lucy cock the hammer of the second barrel and grudgingly dropped his gun knowing that at this point blank range she couldn’t miss. “Now kick your gun as far as you can,” demanded Lucy. The man unwillingly kicked the gun as he was asked.

In a fury, Lucy commanded the attention of the stranger, “Mister, you’ve made a grave mistake. There is no way that I can lift my husband as I’m not big enough and I’m going to have a baby,” she said as she climbed into the back of the wagon carefully still pointing the shotgun at him. “But, you are going to lift him into this wagon,” she said. With that insistence, the man lifted John into the back of the wagon near to where Lucy was still standing. “Now,” she ordered, “Get into the wagon seat, pick up the reins and drive us into town to the doctor.” Lucy sat down behind the drive and with a gouge in his back from the barrels of the shot gun, she told him, “You better drive like your life depends on it because if John dies, you die, too.” She set the gun across her body pointing toward the driver and pulled John’s body toward her where she tore some of her petticoat to plug up the hole in his body. She covered his body with the blanket that had covered the shotgun.

Samuel, the disheveled rancher, convinced that Lucy would kill him, started for town as fast as he could manage. Rounding a rough and bumpy curve at the breakneck speed, John and the shotgun slid slightly away from Lucy and Samuel took the opportunity to dive out the right side of the buckboard and try to outrun Lucy’s range. Lucy quickly grabbed the reins that amazingly were still within reach and pulled the horses to a stop. With that done she retrieved the shotgun turned and fired one barrel of the shot gun at the old rancher who felt some of the buck shot graze the top of his head. He was having difficulty running in the muddy roadside with his fancy boots. He immediately squatted and mumbled to himself, “Yeah, I know, put up your hands.”

At her exacting request, he climbed back into the buckboard, took the reins and once again drove rapidly toward town. His thoughts were, “Who is this woman?” But, he decided against asking such a question to the fuming young lady who was holding the shotgun so near his back. At the edge of town the Livery Stable owner saw his niece Lucy and yelled for them to stop. He took her shotgun and gave his helper an order to get the Sherriff. People came from everywhere to help the young couple. John was rushed into the doctor’s office and in a matter of minutes was having a 44 Caliber slug removed from his shoulder. The Sherriff held his gun on the Rancher and said “Put up your hands,” “Now march,” and he did until he was marched safely into the jail. The Sherriff looked at Samuel and said as he locked the cell door behind him “Do you know who that is?” The rancher was still shaking his head wondering how the events had taken such a wretched turn. “No,” he said. “That’s one of our towns leading citizens and you are in big trouble,” warned the sheriff.

Lucy was at John’s side as he awakened from the surgery. She told him the story of how he managed to be in the town’s doctor’s office. He stared at her pondering how she had convinced the reluctant old rancher to drive the buckboard into town. Later, back at their home, Lucy’s brothers and her mother and father stood around the bed talking with John. As darkness fell, Lucy insisted that John needed to rest. She expressed her gratitude for all of their help and her family took the hint that she was more than ready for some quite time with John. After everyone had left, she sat on the bed holding John’s hand and leaned over to kiss him. Instead of a kiss, she made a nervous giggle and whispered into John’s ear. “John,” She said, “I’m so glad you are ok, because you are going to be a father.” And before he could say anything, she planted a loving kiss on his lips.

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