A Quiet Little Town
Thomas Calabrese -Hardy Gault moved from Stillwater, Oklahoma after his wife Belle died from a virus that she caught during a particularly harsh winter. His son, Lucas was only 11 years old at the time when they headed west in the spring of 1881 to start a new life. They stopped in the small border town of Blanco Verde, California for supplies. When Hardy saw a sign in the Marshal’s office window advertising for a deputy, he consulted with his son, “What do you think?”
“I reckon this place is as good as another,” Lucas said.
“We’re running a little short of cash…nuthin’ says we gotta’ stay if we don’t like it.”
Marshal Jeb Callahan cautiously evaluated the tall and lean Midwesterner then warned him, “This is mighty dangerous work, my last two deputies were killed by outlaws. Are you still interested?”
“How much are you paying?” Hardy inquired calmly.
“Seventy-five dollars a month and room and board.”
Hardy stated, “I’ve got my boy with me. Is that going to be a problem?”
“If you don’t mind taking the chance that you’ll make him an orphan, I can move in another bed. Do you want the job or not?”
“I reckon I do,” Hardy said.
The one room shack was located behind the jail and for the next two years Hardy learned a lot about fighting bad men from one of the toughest peace officers that ever strapped on a pair of Colt .45’s. The Harris Gang led by ‘Cackling’ Katala Harris, a ruthless woman with a nervous laugh killed Marshal Callahan in an ambush then escaped over the border and out of U.S. jurisdiction. Since Hardy had no legal authority to follow them, he resigned his job and told his son, “If I don’t make it back, take the money we’ve saved and move on.”
“I can shoot and I can fight and if we came this far together, I reckon we should go the rest of the way,” Lucas said, “Don’t forget, Marshal Callahan was my friend too.”
“A man has got to do what he’s got to do…I respect your decision,” Hardy said, “We ride for hell at dawn.”
The father and son loaded up extra ammunition and guns onto the pack horse and headed to Tecate, Mexico. It wasn’t difficult to find the Harris Gang because they made no effort to hide, figuring they were safe in Mexico. Hardy instructed his son as they stood across from the cantina, “I’ll go in first and you follow in two minutes. You’re carrying four pistols and you’ll know when to start shooting. When you’re out of ammunition, don’t waste time reloading, run to the alley where we hid the other loaded guns. If anybody is still alive, they’ll probably follow us and we’ll be waiting for them.”
Lucas said, “Sounds like you got everything all figured out.”
“Except for the part where we don’t get killed,” Hardy smiled.
Hardy entered the saloon and sauntered up to the bar. He recognized Cackling Katala from her distinctive laugh and most of her gang from their wanted posters. Hardy sipped on his beer and waited for his son to enter and sit down at a table by the door before making an announcement, “I’m here for the Harris Gang.”
Katala looked over, “What do you want with them?”
“I’m here to kill them all,” Hardy said calmly.
“That’s mighty big talk. Why do you want to try something crazy like that?” Katala asked.
“You killed Marshal Callahan and he was a friend of mine,” Hardy said.
“Vengeance makes people do stupid things…like coming in here by yourself,” Katala said, “The only thing that happens now is that you will join your friend.”
Before the outlaw queen could say another word, Hardy drew his pistol and shot her in the forehead. That was the signal for Lucas to open fire. Bullets started flying and men started falling. Eight of the gang were quickly killed and Hardy and Lucas ran out of the cantina to their pre-designated spot and picked up double barreled shotguns and waited. They fired four blasts and three more outlaws went down as they entered the alley. Hardy and Lucas dropped the empty rifles, picked up two loaded pistols and went back into the cantina and finished off the wounded. Hardy explained his son. “No reason to take the chance that the survivors will recover and come after us.”
After the killing was done, Lucas asked his father, “What do we do now?”
“We take everything of value; horses, saddles, money and guns. We pay the townspeople to bury this scum because worms and maggots have to eat too,” Hardy said.
“Stealing from dead people?” Lucas was amazed, “Ain’t we sinking pretty low?”
“Depends on your point of view. I look at it this way, they can’t use it anymore and somebody is going to end with their stuff, it might as well be us.”
Two days later, Hardy approached his son to see how he was dealing with the aftermath of their violent altercation, after all this was the first time that Lucas had killed anyone, “You handled yourself well in Mexico, I’m proud of you…any regrets?”
“Actually I feel pretty good,” Lucas responded, “Once I gave it some thought and I calmed down, everything you said made a lot more sense to me. Our job was to avenge Marshal Callahan’s death, but there ain’t no law that says we shouldn’t take from the takers. We still have to live…right?”
“I’m happy to hear that you feel that way…want to do it again?” Hardy asked.
Lucas, “Don’t mind if I do…I think I might have a hankering for this kind of work.”
Hardy and Lucas tracked down the Kleiner Gang outside Borrego Springs and killed them in a gunfight. They found eleven thousand dollars in their hideout and brought the money back to Blanco Verde. Hardy suggested they distribute the money amongst the townspeople.
Lucas asked, “And your reason for wanting to do this?”
“Because they’re our neighbors and they need it more than we do, but we won’t give them anything if you’re against it,” Hardy answered, “We’re partners right down the line.”
“I think it’s a great idea. Any time we get the chance to help good people, we should take it. To quote proverb 28:27, those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses.’ We push our luck every time we go after outlaws and I wouldn’t want to get on the bad side of God by being greedy. I wouldn’t like those odds not one bit.”
Three months later, Hardy’s right knee was shattered by a bullet during a gunfight with some bank robbers in Tijuana, Mexico. From that moment on he walked with a cane and could only ride a horse for short distances. This effectively ended his career of chasing outlaws so he told his son, “I’ve always wanted to see the ocean before I die. This is as good a time as any for me to do that. I’d like you to go with me, but you’re old enough to make your own decisions so what do you want to do?”
“We’ve made this town safe for the people living around here,” Lucas added, “I can always come back on my own if a problem does come up. Where are you thinking about going?”
“San Luis Rey Valley in Oceanside,” Hardy said, “it’s only about 70 miles from here.”
“I’ll ride with you, but I won’t promise I’ll stay. I haven’t seen the ocean either so I might as well as have me a gander,” Lucas said, “if only to say I done it.”
“We’ve ridden the same trail for more years than most father and sons ever get a chance to do and I’m mighty grateful for that.” Hardy said.
“I didn’t ride with you all these years just because you’re my pa,” Lucas philosophized, “I admit it’s a part of it… a big part. I would have been on my way a long time ago if I didn’t see things the same way as you…at least most of time.”
“I knew that, what do you know about Oceanside?” Hardy asked.
“It’s by the side of the ocean,” Lucas shrugged.
Hardy and Lucas loaded up two wagons with their possessions, tied up their best horses and hit the trail. With the money they appropriated from the outlaws, the father and son bought a saloon, hotel, blacksmith shop and some land north of the city along the coast. Hardy’s leg continued to worsen so he could only work a few hours a day. After that, he could usually be found on the second floor balcony of the hotel enjoying the view of the Pacific Ocean…
Lucas on the other hand spent most of his time raising horses on the family ranch and occasionally helping out Quint Weaver at the blacksmith shop. Eventually, Hardy married Maria Del La Garza, a Hispanic woman and he settled into a new lifestyle.
Hardy and Lucas never mentioned to anyone what they did before arriving in Oceanside. Those violent times were in their past and they had no desire to repeat them or share their experiences. Early Oceanside grew at a phenomenal rate and on July 3, 1888 the city filed articles of incorporation. The population of Oceanside at the time was approximately 1,000 and Hardy and Lucas did very well in their business dealings. They were quiet and law abiding citizens, but that was all about to change.
Notorious Bill ‘Bloody’ Gore and his gang of killers that included gunslingers, Shifty Shafter, Banjo Bo Clanton, Bear Brodie, Big Ears Claiborne, Swamp Newsom and Jack Shoot-Your-Eye-Out Vermillion rode into town one morning. At the time Quint Weaver was in San Clemente to buy up two Morgan horses so Lucas was taking care of the livery stable during his absence.
Bill ‘Bloody’ Gore snarled, “Take care of our horses.”
Lucas knew immediately that these were bad men, but he played his cards close to the vest, “Yes sir, how long you going to be?”
“We’ll figure that out later after we look around,” Swamp Newsom responded.
“Got a good hotel in this place?” Big Ears Claiborne asked.
“Down the street,” Lucas responded, “You can’t miss it.”
As the gang walked away, they pushed townspeople aside who crossed their path. Lucas turned to Josh Tanner, a worker at the livery stable, “Take care of these, I’ll be back in a while.”
Lucas went to the saloon and found his father, “We might have a problem.”
“What’s going on?” Hardy asked.
“A gang just rode into town. I’ve got a bad feeling…one I ain’t had in some time.”
“We’ll keep our eyes on them,” Hardy said, “If they don’t cause any problems, we won’t cause them any trouble.”
“You are an optimistic fellow,” Lucas smiled.
Marshal Claude Slater was a good man who took his job seriously so when the Gore gang started harassing some of the women in town, he had no other choice, but to confront the outlaws as they drank heavily in the saloon, “You fellas’ are causing a little ruckus in town. You’re welcome to enjoy yourself and partake of our hospitality, but you need to stop bothering the townspeople…especially the womenfolk. They don’t like it.”
“And if we don’t?” Gore asked, “What are you going to do?”
“There’s only two choices…run you out of town or arrest you.”
Banjo Bo Clanton snickered, “You think that you’re man enough to do that… mangy lawdog. Tougher men than you have tried and they’re pushing up daises on boot hill.”
“I reckon I got to try…it’s my job,” Marshal Slater responded.
“Dying is a tough way to make a living, lawdog,” Swamp Newsom commented.
Bloody Gore snarled, “No sense in putting off what going to happen sooner or later,” and stood up, “Skin your smokewagon yellow bellied bottom feeder ‘cause we ain’t leaving and you ain’t arresting us!”
Marshal Slater was no match for Bloody Gore who drew his pistol in a flash, but instead of shooting the lawman, he decided to viciously pistol-whip him. When Marshal Slater fell to the floor, Bloody Gore kicked him several times then said, “Drag him outside and show the decent law- biding folks around these parts what happened to anyone who calls us out.”
Banjo Bo Clanton and Swamp Newsom dragged the unconscious Marshal Slater into the middle of the street for all to see. Swamp called out, “Take a good look! Anybody else want to give it a try?”
Thirty minutes later, Lucas stood in the middle of the street with the sun behind him as the Gore gang came walking in his direction. He called out, “You said if anybody else wanted to try.” Lucas moved closer, “I’ll take that invitation. You got two choices, drop your guns and slither out like the snakes you are or try to get pass me…it’s your call.”
The gang squinted into the sun and Bloody Gore said, “If you want to die, we’ll be happy to oblige you.”
“Then oblige me, don’t be flapping your lips like a crow’s wings in the wind,” Lucas said.
Jack Shoot-Your-Eye-Out Vermillion suddenly recognized Lucas, “You’re the blacksmith.”
“Yup, I’m just a lowly blacksmith calling you out, “Lucas said, “Fill your hands cause I aim to kill all of you.”
Perched on the roof of the hotel was Hardy Gault and he was standing behind a Gatling gun. (The deadliest small arms weapon of its time and when fired properly, it could fire six hundred rounds a minute.) The Gore gang didn’t have a chance as Lucas fired his Colt .45’s and Hardy unleashed a barrage of gunfire from his elevated position. Bullets fell like deadly rain from the grim reaper cloud.
Two days later, Oceanside was back to being a quiet little town and there was no way anyone would have known what happened on Main street except for the faded blood stains in the dirt. Hardy was back on the balcony of his hotel and the sound of a five pound metal hammer could be heard slamming against an anvil. It was best to remember that the man holding this common tool might appear to be just a lowly blacksmith doing his job, but in reality he also possessed a lightning fast draw. Lucas Gault lived by a simple code, don’t go looking for trouble, but always be ready for it.