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Calendar >  Retribution And A Reckoning -Thomas Calabrese

Retribution And A Reckoning -Thomas Calabrese

By   /  May 15, 2021  /  12 Comments

You’ve Got Some Burying To Do

Thomas Calabrese –Shane Denbow grew up in Henderson, Tennessee, the third son of simple immigrant farmers. When a group of marauding blood-thirsty Yankee soldiers killed his family and torched the house and land, the fourteen year-old boy who was badly wounded in the raid joined James Ewell Brown ‘Jeb’ Stuart’s cavalry unit after he recovered. He rode with the legendary Confederate unit until the end of the Civil War.

With nothing to go back to, Shane drifted from one job to another as he headed west. When he reached Dodge City, Kansas, Shane got a job as a deputy sheriff for U.S. Marshal Matt Tillon. The legendary lawman stood six foot eight inches tall and weighed 280 pounds. He wore a patch over his right eye after being blinded from an outlaw’s knife that hit him in the face. With the blade still protruding from his eye socket, Tillon still pumped five shots into his assailant’s chest.  After wrapping a bandana around his head, he rode 15 miles back to Dodge City, where Doc Chesterfield disinfected the wound.

Shane’s fellow deputies were Sticks Masterson and Smed Butler.  Marshal Tillon was partners with Misty Russell in the Short Branch Saloon. It wasn’t unusual to see the Marshal, Sticks or Smed running a faro game or playing poker when they weren’t on duty. It was common practice for lawmen in those days to have a side job to supplement their income. On the other side of town, Kam Newson and his gang operated several saloons and gambling establishments. They were also involved in cattle rustling and horse thievery. It was only natural that Marshal Tillon and his deputies would come into conflict with the outlaws. The tension was so thick in Dodge City that townsfolk expected a showdown at any time.

Gunfights between the deputies and members of the Newsom Gang were a regular occurrence. Kam inflamed the situation by ordering his men to provoke and antagonize at every opportunity. He was a cunning man so he didn’t do any hanging offenses in Marshal Tillon’s jurisdiction. As for the men killed by Tillon and his deputies, Newsom snickered, “When they’re on their own time and git liquored up, ain’t nothing I can do about that. If you have to kill ‘em, then do what you gotta’ do, Marshal. Most of them are just drifting trash anyway.”

Marshal Tillon snarled, “You’re a beef-headed bamboozler who’s full of balderdash.”

            “Newsom raged, “That’s mighty big talk for a one-eyed law dog.”

            “Anytime you feel the itch, go on and scratch it. Get those irons a barkin’, skin those smokewagons, bushwhacker!” Marshal Tillon encouraged.

Newsom thought about drawing his pistol but was too much of a coward for a fair fight. He sighed in resignation, “Another time.”

            “You mean a time when my back is turned,” Marshal Tillon said.

Shane first saw the blonde-haired beauty at Botkin’s General Store. She had only been in town a week and was looking at women’s clothing when Deputy Denbow approached her, “Howdy Ma’am, I’m Deputy Sheriff Shane Denbow and if there is anything I can do to help, don’t hesitate to call on me. This town can get a little ornery at times.”

“The woman introduced herself, “I’m Belle Hart and I just arrived from Kansas City a few days ago.”

            What brings you to Dodge?” Shane inquired.

            “Mr. Kam Newsom has hired me to sing at the Blue Horse Saloon. He paid for my travel and has gotten me a room at the Dodge House. Do you know Mr. Newsom?”

Shane decided to be evasive for the time being, “Our paths have crossed.”

Belle smiled warmly, “I’d like to invite you to one of my shows.”

            “That’s mighty nice of you, Ma’am,” Shane said.

When Shane told Marshal Tillon about the woman, he replied, “Newsom promises these women all kind of things, they sing for a couple weeks then end up working in one of his saloons or even worse.”

Shane rubbed his chin and looked off into the distance, “Ummm.”

            “I know that look,” Marshal Tillon commented.

            “What look is that?” Shane asked.

Marshal Tillon sighed, “That look that says you’re going to help this woman and make yourself a bigger enemy of Newsom then you already are.”

            “Oh, that look,” Shane said.

Shane knew better than to go to other the side of town where City Sheriff Billy Daunt had jurisdiction and was on Newsom’s payroll. Marshall Tillon had warned him enough times but Shane couldn’t resist the temptation to hear Belle sing. Halfway through her first song, Newsom’s men slowly began to encircle Shane and block his exit. The Deputy Sheriff quickly surmised that he was not going to make it out alive so he relaxed and enjoyed the rest of Belle’s song. Shane smiled and tipped his hat when it was over. When a cowboy blocked his path, Shane knocked him out with a vicious uppercut punch. A half-dozen men pulled their six-shooters and prepared to send Shane to Boot Hill. Suddenly the doors swung open and Marshal Tillon, Sticks Masterson and Smed Butler entered.

Sheriff Billy Daunt leaped up from his chair and protested, “You’re out of your jurisdiction, Tillon!”

Marshal Tillon replied, “I’m not here on official business, I’m looking for my friend. You got a problem with that?”

Billy Daunt sat back down without answering.

Marshal Tillon turned to Shane, “You ready to go?”

Before they could leave, Kam Newsom called out, “You never asked me if I had a problem.”

Marshal Tillon motioned to his deputies to spread out, then replied, “Frankly Newsom, I don’t give a damn!”

In a split second, bullets were flying. By the time it was over, Tillon was shot three times, Masterson was wounded in the leg and Butler caught a slug in the left shoulder. Eight of Newsom’s men were lying dead and four more were wounded. Newsom had escaped during the melee and Shane was unscathed.

Doc Chesterfield removed three bullets from Marshal Tillon’s body, “Dangblasted, Matt. How many bullets have I pulled out of you?”

Marshal Tillon grimaced, “I don’t keep track of those things.”

Doc Chesterfield dropped three bullets into a jar that already had eight slugs in it. “This makes eleven.”

Before the conversation could continue, young Joey Pendleton came bursting through the door, all excited and barely able to contain himself,” Kam Newsom gave me a dollar to come tell you something.”

Shane asked, “What is it, Joey?”

            “Him and his men are down at the Woke Corral waiting for you,” Joe blurted out.

Marshal Tillon, “What else did he say?”

Joe responded, “He said that you’re a bunch of chicken-hearted, white-livered sidewinders and scumguzzlers, and he’s waiting to give you what you got coming to you.”

Marshal Tillon attempted to get off the operating table and Doc Chesterfield pushed him back down with a stern warning, “You can’t even walk… you’re going to stay right where you’re at.”

Marshal Tillon sighed, “Sorry boys, it looks like you’re on your own.”

Since Shane was the only one not injured he volunteered to take the lead. With wounded Sticks Masterson and Smed Butler walking several steps behind, the trio arrived at the Woke Corral.

Kam Newsom asked, “Where’s Tillon?”

Shane replied, “He told us to take out the trash.”

Standing with Newsom were gunfighters and derelicts; Charlie Potatoes, Lee Goodman, Russ Moran, Chuckie ‘The Whiner’ Schubert, Slim Gillette and Yancy ‘The Frisco Snake’ Belosi.

Shane remembered what Deuce Postlewaite once told him, ‘Shoot first and don’t stop shooting until everybody is dead or you’re lyin’ dead.”

Shane walked up to the group of outlaws and without hesitation shot Charlie Potatoes in the forehead and the ‘Frisco Snake’ through the heart. Catching the men off guard, Shane emptied one revolver and pulled another. Stick and Smed began firing too.

Chuckie ‘The Whiner’ Schubert threw down his gun and started pleading for mercy, “Don’t shoot me!…I got no gun! I got no gun!”

Shane kicked Chuckie, “Either git to fighting or git out of the way.”

Chuckie ran off and grabbed a pistol from an on-looker and attempted to shoot Sticks in the back. Deputy Masterson turned around and shot the outlaw dead.

When the shooting stopped, Shane, Sticks and Smed stood over the dead bodies before them. Smed commented, “Where’s Newsom.”

Suddenly they heard a blast and turned around. Marshal Tillon was standing there with a shotgun. Off to the left was a fatally wounded Newsom.

Sticks commented, “I thought you were too injured to move.”

            “I wasn’t quite as bad as I made it out to be,” Marshal Tillon smiled and fell over.

In all the excitement Shane didn’t realize that he was shot in the chest and he passed out too.

Three weeks later, Marshal Tillon and Shane had recovered from their wounds. Shane and Belle were married by Preacher Brayle Degler, two weeks after that. With the Newsom Gang destroyed, Shane and Belle agreed that it was time to move on from Dodge City, Kansas.

Belle suggested, “I’ve got family in California…why don’t we go there?”

Shane thought for a moment, “Californie is mighty big from what I hear.”

            “Ever hear about a place called the San Luis Rey Valley?” Belle asked.

Marshal Tillon gave Shane and Belle a thousand dollars as a wedding present. He shrugged it off, “I found it in Newsom’s house…since I don’t know who he stole it from, I reckon you might as well have it.”

As Shane and Belle were riding out of town, little Joey Pendleton came running after them, “Shane, come back…the Marshal needs you…Miss Misty needs you. Dodge City has got chores for you to do.”

Shane dismounted from his horse and walked back to the little boy, “Joey, I got to be moving on. A man has got to be what he’s got to be. Joey, I want you to grow up to be big and strong. You need to look out for Marshal Tillon, Miss Misty and Doc Chesterfield.”

As Shane Denbow rode off, the words of Joey Pendleton echoed across the Kansas prairie, “Come back, Shane, come back!”

Upon their arrival in the San Luis Rey Valley, Shane did his best to his change his lifestyle and settle down. He worked hard to provide for his family, but he just wasn’t cut out to be a farmer. The Denbows eventually had three children; Goldie, a girl born with a head full of blonde hair, Jeb, a son named after his former cavalry commander and another daughter, Lottie.

As Goldie got older, she did her best to help around the farm, but it was always a struggle. It only got worse when Belle Denbow caught a virus and passed away. Shane thought she may have gotten it from some immigrants who were working on the railroad in the area. Doris Ziffel, a shop owner said that they came from the Wuhan Province in China.

As the years passed, Shane Denbow’s health deteriorated and more responsibility fell on the shoulders of Goldie. She was helping around the farm, going to school and raising her two younger siblings.

Shane apologized to his oldest daughter, “I’m sorry that things are so hard for you.”

            “It’s ain’t so bad, I’m young, strong and I can handle it,” Goldie smiled.

Shane was immensely proud of his daughter, “I love you, Goldie.”

            “I love you too, Pa,” Goldie embraced her father.

Shane pulled out a deck of cards for some lighthearted diversion, “Up for a game of poker?”

Goldie quickly answered, “Deal.”

The main source of recreation for the Denbows was playing cards and Goldie became very proficient at games of chance after her father taught her everything that he learned from his time in Dodge City. Shane sighed in resignation after losing ten hands in a row to his nimble-fingered daughter, “You’re just getting too good for me anymore.”

Not long afterwards, Goldie took her considerable skills to Eleanor’s, a gambling establishment in Vista, California. She started winning regularly and Goldie used the money to keep the family farm going. She hired brothers Rufus and Buck Hennessey to do most of the chores and still had enough cash left over to bring in temporary help during the harvest season and renovate the worn wooden structures on the property.

The poker game went late into the night and ended at 2AM. Goldie was too tired to count her winnings so she turned to Eleanor, “Can you take care of this for me?”

Eleanor replied, “Like always,” and began stacking the chips, “Another good night for us.”

Goldie had an agreement with Eleanor to take a ten per cent cut of her winnings in return for setting up games, giving her a place to stay on late nights and most important of all, protection from bad losers. Goldie walked upstairs to her private room and went to sleep. She would ride back to the farm in the morning.

There were no outward signs that something was wrong, but Goldie’s sixth sense was seldom wrong. It was eerily quiet as she rode up the dirt road to the main house. Goldie instinctively touched the pearl handle on her Colt 44. When she saw Rufus Hennessey lying in the dirt, she knew he was dead. She dismounted and walked toward the front door with her gun drawn. Goldie heard moaning and entered. Her father was lying dead in the corner, Buck and her brother, Jeb, were both wounded on the other side of the room.

Goldie asked, “Where’s Lottie?”

Buck gasped, “They took her.”

            “Who’s they?” Goldie asked.

            “Morgan Gilroy and his gang,” Buck replied.

Goldie did what she could to stop the bleeding on Buck and Jed’s wounds, got them in the wagon and rode into Oceanside to see Doctor Atticus Washington. It was touch and go for the first three days, but eventually Doctor Washington gave Goldie the good news, “It looks like they’re both gonna’ make it.”

Goldie sighed in relief, “Do whatever it takes…I’ll pay the costs,” and turned to leave.

Her next stop was Eleanor’s gambling establishment. No sooner did she enter the front door that her partner approached her, “I’m sorry to hear what happened to your family.”

Goldie replied, “Word travels fast.”

            “Especially when it comes to my business,” Eleanor said.

            “How is this your business?” Goldie inquired.

Eleanor explained, “We’re partners…what affects you affects my bottom line.”

            “You’re all heart.”

            “I can have a heart and still be a business woman,” Eleanor smiled.

Goldie got to the point, “I’m going to be gone for a while…you’ll need to find somebody to take my place.”

            “Morgan Gilroy is a cold-blooded killer. You go after him and you ain’t coming back,” Eleanor warned.

            “There’s things that gnaw at a person worse than dying,” Goldie responded.

Eleanor laughed, “I said what I needed to say and now I’m going do what I want to do.” She waved her hand and two grizzled looking hombres approached, “These two buckaroos are Louie Haggen and Dove Bailey, they’re ace-high, they’ll be going with you.”

Goldie snapped back, “I don’t need no help. My pa taught me to shoot well enough.”

            “They’re either going to ride with you or dog your trail…it’s your choice.” Eleanor’s tone of voice was a clear indication that there was no room for compromise.

Goldie glared at the two men with these instructions, “They’ve got a three day head-start. Be ready to ride and ride hard by sunrise,” then stormed off.

Louie commented, “She looks like a handful.”

Eleanor cautioned the two men, “Don’t under-estimate her. I’m paying you to bring her back safely, don’t disappoint me.”

Dove nodded, “Yes ma’am,”

Eleanor ordered, “Get whatever you need at the general store and stable and tell ‘em to put it on my account.”

The two men had three packhorses loaded with ammo and food and six more high quality horseflesh ready for riding by sunrise.

Goldie asked, “Why so many horses?”

Louie answered, “You said that you wanted to move fast…this way we can switch mounts when our horses get tired.”

Eleanor arrived moments later, “I sent out a bunch of telegrams and I got one back that Morgan Gilroy and his gang passed through Brawley two days ago.”

Goldie said, “Thanks for your help.”

As the trio rode off, Eleanor called, “Happy trails to you, until we meet again.”

The three rider headed east and it wasn’t an easy journey by any means. The Morgan Gilroy Gang left a path of death and destruction wherever they went. Goldie stopped off at Sheriff Shep Hocket’s office in Holtsville, California to inquire about the gang. The first question on her mind was about her sister, “Did they have a young girl with him?”

Sheriff Hocket replied, “He had six or seven young girls with him.”

            “And you didn’t think that was a little unusual?” Goldie’s tone of voice was more accusatory than inquisitive.

            “I’ve got one deputy and he came in with ten desperadoes. What did you want me to do?”

Goldie shook her head in disgust, “I wanted you to do your job. Did he leave with the girls?”

            “Look, when gangs come riding through here, they spend money and move on. If I start giving em’ trouble, then they kill me and a bunch of innocent people too, and will probably burn the town down. I did what was best for the people who hired me to do this job,” Sheriff Hocket said, “I had to make a choice and I made it.”

            “You gotta’ live with your decisions, not me. What about the girls…what happened to them?” Goldie demanded.

Sheriff Hocket hesitated, “They sold them.”

            “I’ll need a list of the people who bought ‘em,” Eleanor demanded.

The ranchers who bought the girls were hard men, who skirted outside the law when it served their purposes or deviant desires. They weren’t inclined to give them back, especially after they paid money for them.

Goldie started at the top of the list that Sheriff Hocket gave her. The first stop was the Lazy L Ranch, “The girl you bought was kidnapped from her family. I plan on taking her back home.”

Steve Leach scowled, “I don’t know where she came from and I don’t much care.  I paid Morgan Gilroy 500 dollars. If you want her back, I’ll sell her for 700. A man has a right to make a little profit for his trouble.”

            “I’ve seen some low-down varmints in my time, but you crawl with the worst,” Goldie said with the utmost contempt.

Steve responded, “You might be a woman, but I’ll still shoot you like a polecat.”

Goldie challenged, “Make your play, Huckleberry.”

Before Steve Leach could clear leather, Goldie put a bullet through his right earlobe.  Louie and Dove drew down on the other cowboys to discourage their involvement. Goldie jumped down from her horse and grabbed Steve by the shirt, “Mount up, you’ll ride with us until we get the rest of the girls. This way if your men decide to warn the others, you’ll be the first one to bite the dust.”

Louie pulled out a bottle of whiskey from his saddlebag and poured some of it over the open wound to keep it from getting infected. Steve screamed out in pain and Dove tossed him a bandana to wrap around his head.

It took them a few days to find Lottie who screamed out in joy when she saw Goldie, “I knew you would come for me!”

The two sisters embraced as Louie turned to the rancher who bought Lottie, “These two are kinfolk, you don’t have a problem if we take her with us?”

The rancher thought about protesting, then made up a feeble excuse, “I was just holding her for safekeeping until I could find her blood. By gosh, if I hadn’t bought her, someone else would have.”

Goldie responded, “You’re a good Samaritan.”

Dove helped Lottie aboard one of the horses as the rancher protested, “What about my money? I paid four hundred dollars for her!”

            “We can pay you in lead if you want,” Goldie said.

            “Get off my property!” the rancher demanded, “and don’t come back.”

After they got to the fork in the road, Goldie turned to Steve Leach, “We don’t need you anymore. Ride on…if I see you again, I’ll kill you.”

Goldie and Lottie rode side by side for another mile without speaking, until finally the younger girl cried out, “They killed Pa and shot Jeb!”

Goldie responded, “I know…Jeb is going to be alright though. I gave Pa a good burial on the hill next to Ma.”

Louie rode up, “We’re being followed.”

            “Probably the rancher and some of his men,” Goldie responded.

When the rancher and six of his drovers rode up, they saw Goldie and Lottie sitting by a stream. The rancher boasted, “Nobody takes what belongs to Chauncey Riker and gets away with it. Where’s the two men that were with you?”

Goldie lied, “They rode ahead…looking for the other girls.”

Chauncey thought for a moment, “I could probably sell you both in Mexico for a tidy sum. Mount up!”

Goldie warned, “Don’t let your arrogance get in the way of your ignorance.”

            “What’s that supposed to mean?”

            “It means if you ride out right now, I’ll let you live,” Goldie said. The other cowboys had no skin in the game so they were naturally apprehensive, “Do you really want to die today?”

Chauncey threatened his men, “I’ll kill the first man that rides off…that’s a promise!” He then turned to the man next to him, “Drago, tie ‘em up and put ‘em on their horses.”

Louie and Dove stepped into the open from the hiding place behind a rock. When Chauncey reached for his gun, Dove shot him off his horse. Two other cowboys made the same mistake and Goldie and Louie shot them. The others quickly raised their hands to indicate that they wanted no part of the fight.

Goldie bent down next to the dying rancher, “You couldn’t let it go, could you? You’re a Nimrod.”

The rancher’s last words were, “I’ve been called worse.”

It took two more weeks to round up the rest of the girls and by this time they were in Arizona. Goldie put the rescued girls up in Ma Smalley’s Boarding House, then sent a telegram to Eleanor to let her know what had happened so far.

Dove commented, “I reckon it’s time to head back.”

Goldie replied, “Morgan Gilroy is still out there and I’ve got a debt to re-pay.”

The girls were placed on a train with a Pinkerton Detective for an escort. Their destination was Vista, California, where Eleanor would be waiting for them. Goldie, Louie and Dove watched until the caboose disappeared around the bend, then rode off on the vengeance trail.

 Three months passed before they located Morgan Gilroy and his gang at their hideout near the Arizona-Utah line in a region called the Colorado Plateau, characterized by a cluster of sandstone buttes.

Goldie, Louie and Dove were more than ready for a fight. They had been on the trail way too long and they were bone weary and homesick.

Dove sighed, “This has been a long time coming.”

“A good day for retribution and a reckoning,” Goldie said as she felt the devilish hot desert sun on her skin.

They ambushed the outlaws as they rode out of the canyon, catching them in a deadly crossfire. When the shooting had stopped, only one young man from the Morgan Gilroy Gang was still alive. It was obvious from his baby-face that he couldn’t have been much older than 15 years of age.

The young boy looked up with forlorn eyes at Goldie and the two men and figured his time has come, “You going to kill me?”

Goldie asked, “How long have you been riding with the Gilroy Gang?”

The boy answered fearfully, “A couple weeks… I joined up with ‘em in Tombstone after Johnny Ringo and Curly Bill Brocius were killed by Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday. ”

            “What’s your name?”

The boy answered, “Yogi Baird.”

Goldie said, “You just missed the Big Adios by the skin of your teeth. When you come to a fork in the trail, always take it. Life is 90 per cent doing the right thing, one half is trying to figure out what the right thing is, and the last half is just plain old horse manure. You’re still a whippersnapper, knee high to a prairie dog and it ain’t over til’ it’s over. The devil has got a hold of your reins and he’s leading you straight into hell.”

            “I’ll remember those words, Ma’am, much obliged,” Yogi said.

“We don’t want the vultures to get sick so you got some burying to do,” Goldie said.

The End

***This is a fiction . While it may have some facts in it, the reader should realize that the story was created by the writer for entertainment purposes.


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  • Published: 5 months ago on May 15, 2021
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  • Last Modified: May 16, 2021 @ 11:56 pm
  • Filed Under: The Back Page

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  1. Joe Hancock says:

    That was a good read for first thing on a Sunday morning. As always, thanks for the story.

  2. Clyde says:

    This story brought back memories of old time westerns with with western slang and shoot em stories.

  3. wolf says:

    Tom’s story is a nice blend of GUNSMOKE, RIO LOBO, OPEN RANGE and SHANE.
    Goldie sounds very familiar to Kitty Leroy – Lady Gambler & Gunfighter. Belle may have been the first COVID death.

    Enjoyed it

  4. Tony says:

    I have enjoyed all of Mr. Calbrese’s Sunday stories in the Vista Press while drinking a cup of coffee. This Sunday’s story is no different although I must write that a good western takes me back to my youth. On Saturday’s a group of us would muster up the change we saved from cashing found soda pop bottles. Each bottle was worth 2 cents and once we all had the proper amount of money, generally between 15 and 20 cents right after lunch we were off the the movie house. Normally at least on western was playing from the double feature, cartoons and a Serial (Chapter) that enticed us to come back next week and see what happen the the “Cliff Hanger” ending for that week. The westerns where the favorite among our group of friends. Being intercity kids it took us out to the wide open spaces. Mr. Tom Calabrese’s story is no different. It brings me back to my youth and the fun we had watching the “Old Time” Westerner’s where everyone seemed to get shot but the producer and in the case of this story the writer. Very well down and thank you for the memories.

  5. Bill says:

    Very entertaining as usual, where do you come up with these names.

  6. Robert says:

    Another good Sunday morning story. Thanks for a good way to start the week.

  7. Larry says:

    I love a good western.

  8. John michels says:

    Love the names of the characters sort of deja vu all over again

  9. Jeremy says:

    I agree with everything Tony wrote…loved the ride down Western memory trail. Yiaaahh!

  10. Tamara says:

    Thank you for the short story!

  11. Dan says:

    You’re my Huckleberry, skin those smokewagons…classic!

  12. Mona says:

    I always love a good Western and this one was excellent! Thanks for the entertaining story…

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