Excerpts from Harper’s Weekly Magazine – September, 1877
Titled: THE LADING OF A SHIP
“The longshore-men are among the most ignorant and brutal of men. Their work is very laborious, but requires little skill; their surroundings and associations are all such as tend to degrade them; their pay is smaller than that of almost any other class of workmen, and their prejudices are easily excited. It thus happens that debauchery and murderous fighting are constant among them; extensive strikes against reduction of wages or some fancied imposition are of frequent occurrence; and some of the bloodiest riots New York has ever seen, originated among them. Intemperate and brutal in every respect, yet hard workers, and consequently muscular, no class of men gives the police so much trouble as the longshore-men.”
(Several pages later in the article, the tone changes from contempt in the
previous paragraph to one of awe at the ability of the longshoremen to
move heavy cargo... )
“The ease with which exceedingly heavy bodies are handled by the stevedore’s men is remarkable. The hatchways are often just large enough to let the package through, and frequently the space between decks is so circumscribed that men have hardly room to move, yet by skillfully landing the hogshead, or boxed piano, or granite monument, or huge piece of machinery, as it is lowered to them by tackle, by bringing it up and twisting it over with iron bars, pulling it with cotton-hooks, and pushing with brawny hands and shoulders, sitting down four and five in a row, against a bulkhead shoving with their feet, they slowly work the unwieldly mass into a corner and brace it firmly by wedges; until its successor is placed.”
(Originally posted at: http://www.maggieblanck.com/occupations/Longshoremen.html )
During the Victorian era of the mid-to-late 1800s, New York City was rocked by an epidemic of gang violence. Crime was especially rampant in the Manhattan neighborhoods of Five Points, Hell’s Kitchen, The Fourth Ward and The Bowery, where back alleys and crowded tenements were infested with hustlers, thieves and street thugs. These groups trafficked in everything from cocaine and heroin, to robbery, prostitution, and murder. The names of the gangs could strike fear into the hearts of even the most crime-hardened city dwellers. From river pirates to knife-wielding adolescents, Manhattan’s Lower East Side was ruled by notorious street gangs.
Leonard Jerome Vagassé, my father – God rest his soul – was a longshoreman on the Red Hook Docks in Brooklyn for twenty-odd years until his untimely death at the hands of the street gang, The Whyos.
As I recount the story of my younger years, from weakened remembrances – it was this act of violence which set my life onto such an evil path. The journey in itself nearly bringing a brutal end to me, such as the one my father – God rest his soul – suffered.
“Leo, ye can be anything ye wan’ta be in this land if ye’ll work at it. Ye can be a merchant, a tiller of the lands, a butcher, a baker, a policeman, or a barrister in the courts ... Yet there’s one thing I ne’er wan’ta hear of ye doin’ and that’s bein’ a longshoreman or a stevedore on the docks of New York. Ye’ve always been damn good with your schoolbooks. Ye can talk with the educated men on any subject and ye can figure numbers in ye head as well as a politician. Use ye God given talents and abilities and not ye broad back ta make a dollar.”
My father, a large, big-boned man of German and Irish descent, could lift a buggy horse into the air with all four of its hooves clear of the ground.
The first time he came home from work and saw me with a black eye and a bloody nose, he took me to the boiler room in the basement of the apartment building. Then each day until the day he died, he gave me lessons in how to defeat a man with my hands, fists, elbows, feet and head. He never called if self defense, or even fighting – he called it learning to survive.
My father – God rest his soul – could defeat any man who confronted him on payday, as they oft did many working men in our neighborhood. The one thing he could not do, was defeat more than two dozen of the street gang, The Whyos. They killed him at our front stoop, stabbing him ten times in his kidneys, heart and lungs. They took his pay and took his gold watch and chain which his father had given him for good luck on the day he and my mother sailed for America.
I was twelve years of age at the time of his death.
Born on Delancey Street in the Bowery neighborhood of Manhattan’s Lower East Side on January, 25, 1900, I was destined to either die violently on the streets, or learn to survive.
My mother – God rest her soul – a sickly woman all the years I knew her, died of pneumonia within a year of my father’s death. I was alone and I needed a job. I took to the streets to make my living and I made a damn good one at it. I paid the rent, the utilities and kept the two room apartment up by working the streets.
My close friend, Lucky Luciano, took me to task and taught me the ropes, beginning at age thirteen. His biggest contribution to my livelihood, was introducing me to his friend, Al.
By my fourteenth birthday, I was as tall and broad-shouldered as my father had been when he died, tipping the scales at one hundred and eighty pounds. I was also well schooled in survival on the streets around The Bowery.
Al’s biggest contribution to my life on the streets, was my first brass-knucks. They were his and he gave them to me the day he put me to work. They were bright and shiny and the knuckle points were deadly.
Though Al had a notorious reputation, he was the one who eventually helped turn me away from my life of crime.
Alphonse Gabriel Capone, took a liking to me the day we met. He knew of me, but I had never seen nor heard of him before. He was a year younger than me, but he was the smartest, yet meanest-minded man that I ever knew. He always had a big roll of money in each front pocket and he showed me how to make more money than I ever dreamed of. He had connections with City Hall, the police, the politicians and the shop owners up and down the streets of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. He also recruited me into Paul Kelley’s, Five Points Gang.
“I’ve seen you fight even without the knucks, Leo. There’s not five men on The Bowery crazy enough to take you on with their bare fists, one at a time – or all at once. I need a good man like you at my side and at my back.”
For the first time since my father died, I had a friend, I was friend, and I belonged.
At age fourteen, I started out as a bouncer at a whorehouse ran by The Five Points Gang. Al would come by and check on me regularly, slipping me an extra hundred dollars, telling me that he had a good run of luck the night before.
The one thing I remember most about Al Capone – he always had a plan. He never did anything without planning ahead – eliminating obstacles before he put his plan into action. No matter how big or how small, Al planned the events of action down to the smallest detail. “Never take a chance on things going right, Leo. Make your plans ahead of time, then make sure things happen the way you planned them.”
It was at the whorehouse that I lay with my first woman – My first fifty women if the truth would ever be learned about me. Over the next five years, I became known as a hired killer, a bruiser and a striker on the streets – thanks to Lucky and Al. They made sure I was well trained in handguns and long guns. We had many wild-west shootouts on the streets of Manhattan with our rival gangs. I learned to plan my attacks just the way Al had taught me. As young as I was, I was the leader of the pack, simply because I was prepared for whatever our enemies threw at us.
I had my revenge on The Whyos during those fights. Then later, The Whyos gang broke up and the stragglers were inducted into the Five Points Gang. From one of the members, I took back my father’s watch, after I killed him with my bare hands. Broke his neck, I did. Snapped it like a broom handle. He was a fool to pull out that gold watch and chain in front of me. Just before I turned his head around to face backwards, I made known to him, my name and my father’s name ... The man he killed to take the watch.
I made thousands of dollars a week, in the ever growing murder-for-hire business, and as a striker and a bruiser. In the first year I made over a hundred and fifty thousand dollars.
For beating a man until he agreed to pay his debts, I would earn fifty dollars. For beating him to death using my brass-knucks, I was paid seventy-five dollars. For the big one – assassination – I was paid one hundred dollars.
By 1921, the public was screaming to the politicians and the politicians were screaming to the police about the violence on the streets of Lower Manhattan. The police were coming after us. The gang was no longer fun and money was playing out.
The day Al Capone left for Chicago, he came to see me at the whorehouse, at 4:00 in the morning. He was in a bitter mood and though he smiled when he set a heavy suitcase beside my feet, he looked me in the eye and handed me a train ticket.
“Be on this train, Leo, or I will come after you personally. You are a better man than I am. A better man even than our friends, Lucky Luciano and Johnny Torrio. Get the hell out of New York and get the hell out of crime. I’m headed to Chicago myself to get a clean start on a new life. There’s not room for a good man the likes of you in that evil town.”
“Al, why the sudden change? I thought we were friends.”
“We are friends, Leo. That’s the reason I’m telling you to get the hell out of this place and go make a new life for yourself.”
I looked down at the train ticket to see the destination.
“This has Yuma, Arizona on it... Why would I want to go to a place in the desert and start a new life?
“Because you will end up dead if you don’t leave straightaway. My man at city hall sent word to me an hour ago, that the police are coming for you at daylight Leo. They know your name and they know where you live. There will be over one hundred of them coming to hunt you down like a wharf rat – dead or alive. You will either spend the rest of your life in prison or be killed. I don’t like those odds for you, Leo.
“When you get to Yuma, look up a land agent by the name of Luther Street. Last I heard of him, he was still living there. Let him know you are a friend of mine and he’ll help you buy a small piece of land to build a house and raise a family.
“Here is your new name with an official certificate of birth showing you were born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. Go now or I will personally put what’s left of your bloody ass in a sack, tie it in a knot and throw you on that train myself. The train leaves the station in thirty minutes, Leo. Be on it ... I’m saving your life.”
“Les Savage?” I asked as I opened the envelope and saw the papers.
“The night clerk at city hall helped me change the spelling of your name from Vagassé to Savage. I like the sound of, Savage. It fits you well. But, you had better learn to be less savage when you get to Arizona or I’ll come hunt you down like a rat, myself.”
“I’ll need to go pack a few things first, Al.”
“You have everything you’ll ever need in that suitcase, Leo. Don’t you dare go to your apartment ... they are waiting for you. Don’t you even dare open that suitcase until you’re in a hotel room in Yuma ... alone.”
On May 2, 1921, I left New York City by train. I was twenty-one years old.
I was alone again without a friend to call my own. I knew all along that Al was right. He was always right when it comes to his connections at city hall. Al Capone always had a plan, and now, he had a plan which would save my life.
Five and a half days later, I stepped off the train in Yuma, Arizona, and it looked as if I had walked right into the middle of a Tom Mix cowboy movie set.
I saw two Ford cars parked on the street, and nearby was a beat up Ford truck with a ragged tarpaulin top. There had to be at least twenty wagons pulled by teams of horses or mules. I saw twenty-odd, one seat and two seat buggies hitched to horses. There were saddle horses tied up everywhere. I mean – everywhere.
On my way to the hotel, I heard a sound like small animals suffering in severe pain. Many, small animals, and they were behind me.
I had seen pictures of a sheep once in a magazine, but I had never seen a live one. For sure, I’ve never heard that pitiful bleating sound before. I walked up the steps of the hotel and stood on the boardwalk, watching an old man and a young woman herd the sheep past me.
The man and woman looked up at me as they passed slowly by, following their sheep.
I had never in my life seen such a look of forlorn sadness in anyone’s eyes as those two had. Not even on the street bums of The Bowery. Both of them looked at me as if they were silently pleading for help.
When they passed me by, I walked out into the street and watched as they herded their sheep into some pens near the railroad. I was still looking down that way when the young woman stepped back out of the gate, and looked up the dirt street to where I stood.
She hung her head before walking to the corner of the pens, then she looked back one last time before she walked out of sight around the corner. I stood looking that way for a few minutes. I couldn’t get the sight of her and the old man out of my mind. She was young, she was dark and she was very pretty.
When I turned to walk into the hotel, I stepped into a pile of sheep shit and it stunk worse than anything I had ever smelled in my life. I wiped my shoes, scraping them on the steps, then scuffed them in the dirt, and even then, I still smeared sheep shit all over the steps when I stepped upon the boardwalk again.
I needed a room and I needed a bath in the worst way. But first, I needed to buy some clothes. All I brought with me was the clothes I wore, and the suitcase Al had given me, which I had yet to open.
I did have, in my pockets my brass-knucks and all the money I’ve saved over the years. The only reason I had it, was because I always carried my knucks with me and I learned early in life, carry every last penny of my money with me if I was to keep it. That was the only way a man like me could keep his money safe. I’d earned all this money the hard way, on the streets of Lower Manhattan.
I stepped up to the man at the hotel desk and spoke to him as he looked at me in disgust.
“I need a room, Sir.”
He was holding a handkerchief over his nose as he told me, “You, Sir, need to go out and wipe your feet. You have sheep manure on your shoes and you are causing a terrible stench in my hotel.”
“I wiped them until I couldn’t see any more, uh ... manure.”
“Then please, leave your shoes near the door until you’ve had a chance to wash that terrible odor off them.” He was pointing to the front door when he spoke.
When I returned to the desk in my stocking feet, I signed his ledger and asked where I could find a men’s clothing store.
He was still looking at me like I was a bum, when he spoke, “There is a men’s haberdashery in the building next door. You’ll find men’s clothing there more suited for this climate, and this less modern part of the country – than those city clothes you’re wearing.” He spoke to me as if he was looking down on a street beggar or a drunken wino.
I had about all I could take of his snotty attitude, even if I did track sheep shit into his hotel. I had already paid him for my room and he’s about to piss me off. I told him just what I was thinking too.
“Mister, all I needed from you is a room and a hot bath. I have paid you for both, and though I’m an outsider here, I’ll not take a tongue lashing from you or anyone else while I’m in this town.”
He took a step back from his desk, then looked down at the register before he spoke a little more politely, “I apologize, Mr ... uh, Savage. Perhaps I spoke a bit rude to you, but you did track sheep manure into my hotel. If you like, I can have your bag carried to your room while you make your clothing purchases next door.”
“No need to bother, I’ll keep it with me ... And, I accept your apology, Sir. I’d like to offer one of my own for tracking sheep shit into your hotel lobby. I want to make a better impression upon you and your town than I have so far. I’ve decided to stay in Yuma and make a life for myself if there’s an opportunity here for a young man from St. Louis to do so.”
“By all means, Mr. Savage. There are plentiful opportunities for a young man’s future in our town. Would you be looking to purchase real property? Or, are you looking to start a business?”
“I’m only looking for a small parcel of land to begin with, I suppose. I haven’t really decided.”
“The reason I asked was, there will be a real estate, livestock and farm auction beginning at noon tomorrow in front of the courthouse. Here is a listing of the land parcels which will be sold. Here’s a map of Yuma County also, showing where each property is located.” He handed me two sheets of paper and I was glancing down at them when I slipped my stinking shoes on and walked into the clothing store next door.
When I entered, an older man walked through a curtain from the back and greeted me with a smile. “Good day, Sir. How may I help you?”
“I’m in need of a change of clothes and I’d like something other than a broadcloth suit. I plan to stay and make my home in Yuma, so I’ll need work clothes also.”
“Sir, if you don’t mind, would you please remove your shoes and place them at the door. You seem to have stepped into some sheep manure and the smell is worse than fresh cat shit.” Then he told me, “I’ll never understand why those smelly animals are even allowed on the streets of Yuma.”
“Then I’ll need to buy a pair of good work shoes and throw these stinking shoes of mine into the garbage dump,” I told him and tossed my shoes toward the door. Just as my shoes hit the floor and tumbled through the doorway, a young woman about my age strolled in, looking down at my shoes as she passed them – while holding her nose.
The man called her by her name when he spoke, “Here you are, Catherine. I was hoping you would return to help me outfit our new customer.
“Sir, this young lady is my granddaughter, Catherine Sprague. She will take your measurements and we’ll have you fitted in no time.”
“Ma’am, it’s nice to meet you,” I told her, looking her over as I spoke. I’ve never had a pretty woman of class look me directly in the eye at such close range, and it unsettled me to the very pit of my stomach.
“And your name is?” she asked, still looking directly into my eyes, as she smiled.
“Les ... uh, Les Savage, Ma’am – From St Louis, and I’m here in Yuma to seek my fortune.”
“Fortunes are seldom made in Yuma, Arizona, Mr. Savage. But if a young man is willing to work hard and bide his time, a fair living can be made easily enough,” she spoke, her eyes dancing as she smiled.
“Well, Ma’am, about all I’ve ever had was a fair living and I’ve worked hard at it my whole life.”
“I see ... If you will remove your suit coat and stand over here next to this step-stool, I’ll take your measurements so grandfather can start fitting your new clothing.” She removed her shawl as she spoke and turned to toss it over a display rack behind her. I had to wonder if her grandfather fitted her clothes for her. They sure fit her well. Especially across her prominent bosom.
Standing with my back to the stool, I felt the fingernails of her left hand as she held her tape to my shoulder. Then I felt her other hand as she stripped the tape through her fingers, across my back to my other shoulder. I knew I was very broad shouldered, so was my father and my mother. But, then I had never been measured for clothing before this.
“My, you are very broad across your shoulders, Mr. Savage. Twenty-four and one half inches to be exact.
“I’ll need to measure your neck also while I’m on the stool. Please stand still for me, and relax,” she said as I flinched when she touched my neck.
“MY GOODNESS. A twenty three inch neck is the largest I have ever measured.
“Now, please raise your arms and extend them so I may measure your chest. Please excuse my hands as I pull the tape around you.”
During my time as a bouncer at the whorehouse, I had done just about everything a man can do to a willing woman’s body while she lay naked. The things I wasn’t able to do to them, I asked them to do to me. Yet I had never in my life known a woman’s hands across my back and under my arms to cause such feelings. I had to wonder if she made all men feel this way when she measured them. Then, the thought came to me, I wondered if she made the women have such feelings as I was having.
“My, My, Mr. Savage. Fifty-six and one half inches around your chest. You, Sir, are a big man.”
“My father was a dock worker on the river all his life. He was a big, broad shouldered, barrel-chested man and I suppose I inherited my size from him.” I lied, but I wasn’t about to tell anyone here that he was a longshoreman on the docks at Red Hook in Brooklyn, New York.
“You have a thirty-four inch waist – now please step over to the doorway with your back to the door frame where the measurements are marked. We’ll need to know your height also.
“Five foot, eleven inches – as I said, you are a big man,” she told me as she looked me in the eye again from where she stood directly in front of me on her stool.
“Grandfather will need one more measurement, but I see he has stepped to the back room. I’ll take it for him if you will stand straight, with your feet spread wide apart.”
Not knowing what she was about to do, I spread my feet, just as she knelt quickly between them.
My own father told me when I was yet a boy, that I would grow up to have a sack full of balls when I was grown, that would put a bull to shame. I often thought of that, when the women would lay between my thighs at the whorehouse, cuddling my cock and balls.
Now this beautiful young woman, not even as old as my own twenty-one years, is fondling my balls and my cock as she pretends to measure the inside of my trouser legs.
“Miss Catherine?” I had to speak since she was holding my cock in one hand and my balls in her other, cupping them gingerly in her palms as they hung down loosely between my legs.
“Yes, Mr. Savage? OH ... I apologize – I am finished now,” she said as she gave both my cock and my balls a tender pat, then stood with her face red as coals in a fiery furnace.
“Will you be staying at the hotel until you can find permanent lodging, Mr. Savage?” Mr. Sprague asked as he bundled my clothes.
There was only one blue denim work shirt on his pre-sewn racks which would fit me. I bought four pair of blue denim work trousers of which Catherine kept three, to wash the stiffness out, for me. I bought four bleached denim shirts and three more dark blue denim shirts, of which had to be tailored and washed. I had never owned a shirt with stand-up, fold-down collar before. Now I had eight.
“Yes, Sir. I plan to attend the land auction tomorrow in hopes of finding a small property to build a home upon.”
“You’ll need to visit the bank and have a letter of credit in order to bid at the public auctions,” Catherine informed me.
“Then I’ll visit the bank today. I want to thank both of you for your help,” I told her as I pulled my new, slip-on boots onto my feet. I gathered the bundles of clothes under my arm and stood ready to leave.
Mr. Sprague spoke up just as I turned toward the door, “Catherine and I plan to dine at the hotel at 7:00 this evening, perhaps you would like to join us?” He smiled at Catherine, then me.
“Sir, I look forward to the company. Thank you both again for all your help.”
Catherine looked as if she were about to speak as she clasped her hands in front of her, again and again. She only smiled and nodded her head as I nodded before leaving.
At the door, I looked down to see my old shoes. I could still smell the sheep shit.
“I’ll dispose of those for you, Mr. Savage,” Catherine offered and I turned to nod once more without speaking.
This tall slender, big bosomed young woman unsettles me with her smiles and her darting, piercing eyes always looking into my own. She was a young woman of class and I had never met a woman of class before today.
In my room with the door locked and the curtains pulled, I opened the heavy suitcase Al had given me.
There, tightly packed around two pearl handled Colt .45 automatic pistols and a brand new set of brass-knucks – were bundles and bundles of hundred dollar bills. Compared to the twenty-five thousand in hundred dollar bills in my pockets, there must be a quarter of a million dollars in this suitcase.
I knew I’d never be able to deposit such an amount of money in the local bank without raising questions. I took one bundle of the bills from the suitcase and one of the Colt pistols, which I placed under the pillow on the far side of the bed. I needed to buy some .45 ammunition and a holster rig. I needed to ask about local gun laws also, if I am to be an upright citizen of Yuma, Arizona.
Before I stripped for my bath, I secured the door with a wooden straight-back chair lodged beneath the doorknob, and then checked the window locks.
I needed a shave and a haircut but I didn’t have a razor.
As I stood before the mirror dressed in my new duds, I looked exactly like what I was – an outsider trying to dress and look like a local.
When I walked, my new pull-on boots were so loud, it sounded as if I was stomping my feet with each step. The new denim trousers were so stiff, they scraped my knees and thighs as I walked.
I took the auction sheet and the county map, folded them and put them in the pocket of my shirt, then buttoned the flap. I took a pillow case from the bed and stuffed my twenty-five thousand inside. Then, split the bundle of money I’d taken from the suitcase and put half in each front pocket.
The man at the hotel desk never even looked up as I stomped past him on my way through the lobby and out the door. Maybe I do look more like a local than I thought.
Across the street from the hotel was the Bank of Yuma. As I made my way across the street, I was careful of where I stepped.
Inside the bank, I walked up to the teller’s cage and the young man looked up at me through his thick glasses, “Yes Sir. What can I do for you?” he asked, looking me up and down once more.
“I’ve just arrived in Yuma this morning and I need to make a deposit. I’ll also need a letter of credit from your bank so I’ll be able to bid on a land parcel at the auction tomorrow. I plan to make my home in your town now that I’m here.”
“Yes Sir, I can help you with that. I’ll need your name, age, and address for the account, and for the letter of credit.”
“My name is Les Savage. I’m twenty-one and I’m staying at the hotel across the street until I can find a permanent place to live. When I do, I’ll bring my new address to you.”
“That will be fine. Now, how much do you wish to deposit?”
“I have my life savings, plus what my father left me. A total of twenty-five thousand dollars,” I told him and placed the pillowcase on the counter.
“That’s quite a large sum of money, Mr ... uh ... Savage. I’m positive you’ll be able to purchase a sizable parcel of land at the auction tomorrow. Land values are down in this area at the present...
“It will take me a few minutes to count your money. If you like, you may step over here to the clerk’s desk and I’ll have her write your letter of credit.”
He handed the older woman the piece of paper with my name and address on it, then when I looked up, he was standing in front of a door marked, Bank President and Manager.
When the teller returned a few minutes later, he held the empty pillowcase in his hand. He was followed by an older man.
“Mr. Savage, I’d like you to meet our bank president and manager, Mr. George Thompkins,” he said, as the man reached out to shake hands with me.
“Mr. Savage, it is a pleasure to meet you. If there is ever anything we can do for you here at the bank, just let us know. We’re always proud to welcome newcomers to our town and new customers to our bank. We’re also proud that you plan to stay and make your home here in Yuma.”
“Thank you, Mr. Thompkins. I plan to attend the auction tomorrow in hopes of buying a small property to build a house upon.”
“I’ll be at the auction myself, as my bank has interests in many of the properties which will be up for auction. If you should find a larger property you’re interested in, I would gladly sit down with you and discuss the financing.”
“Thank you, but at this time, I’m just looking to get settled and make a quiet home for myself.”
“I see. Well, the offer still stands if you should change your mind. Perhaps I’ll see you at the auction.”
Two doors down from the bank was a gunsmith shop and I headed that way. When I walked in, there was a bell overhead that jingled. I saw an older man standing behind a counter across the room, looking my way. There was another older man leaning on the counter on this side and he turned to look back at me.
“Come on in, stranger. What can we do for you?” The man behind the counter spoke as I walked toward them.
“I was looking to buy a Colt .45 auto-load pistol and some ammunition. I need a holster also,” I answered him.
When I stepped up to the counter, the man on this side turned to face me. He was smaller than me and he wore a Yuma County Sheriff’s badge.
“You’re new around here, aren’t you?” the sheriff asked.
“Yes Sir. Just arrived today, but I’d like to make my home here in Yuma if I can find a small property I like.”
“Where are you from and what’s your name?”
“I’m Les Savage and I’m from St. Louis. Born and raised there,” I stated, lying with a straight face, which I’m accustomed to doing in the presence of the law.
“Welcome to Yuma, Mr. Savage. William Collins, Yuma County Sheriff,” he said and stuck his hand out.
“Thanks, Sheriff,” I told him as we shook. Though he’s a small man, I felt his hand trying to get a better grip on my hand, and tightened my grip.
“What brings you all the way out here to Yuma to make your home?” This time when he spoke, he smiled.
“I read an article in the papers back home about Yuma and it struck me that I’d never been out west. I liked the article and decided I needed to make a change in my life, and headed this way.”
“You say you want to purchase a .45 auto-loader and ammunition. Are you experienced in the handling of firearms or just felt you needed to be armed since you’ve arrived in the wild west?” he asked, smiling again.
I know a sincere smile when I see one and his was just that, a friendly smile. I didn’t feel at all like I was being interrogated, but I answered his questions with caution, just the same. I sure didn’t want to get caught in a lie.
“My father was a gun fancier and he taught me to shoot and handle guns at a young age. We lived in the city and had to travel a ways just to shoot at targets. I’m in hopes of buying a small property outside of Yuma so I’ll have a place to shoot. I loved shooting with my father back then and I’ve always wanted a place of my own so I could shoot now and then.”
“There’s an auction scheduled for tomorrow morning at the courthouse. You should attend if you’re looking to buy land cheap. Most of what’s up for sale is mortgaged and will sell for whatever is bid, if the banker feels he can take the loss. A young man like yourself could pick up a nice spread for a few pennies on the dollar if he had money in his pockets or a line of credit established.”
“Thanks, Sheriff. I just left the bank and I have a letter of credit in my pocket. Mr. Thompkins has offered to finance me if I find more than a small home-place to buy.”
“Son, you talk a little different than we do out here, but you come across as a likeable and dedicated young man with a good head on your shoulders and a plan for your future. If you ever need any help around here, just look me up...
“Tell me, Mr. Savage, have you ever given any thoughts about getting into law enforcement?” he asked, and that caught me off guard like a blind-sided left hook to my jaw.
“Never have before, but when I get settled, I may think about it – if that was an offer.”
I had to wonder what Al, Johnny and Lucky would think if they heard me say that.
“Get yourself settled and come talk to me about it. A young man with your personality and with your stature, why, you could make a name for yourself in this county as a deputy sheriff.”
We visited back and forth for a while longer and I felt like I was actually being accepted by Sheriff Collins, the gunsmith – Mr. Cummings, Mr. Sprague and his granddaughter Catherine, and even the banker here in Yuma.
I bought my Colt pistol with six boxes of cartridges and a right hand belt holster. I thought about my two pistols Al had given me and bought the only complete double-holster belt rig Mr. Cummings had in stock, explaining that I may come back and purchase another pistol later.
Sheriff Collins turned to me as Mr. Cummings bagged my purchases, “Les, you do know that you’re not allowed to carry a gun on your person inside Yuma town limits, don’t you?” he asked.
“I meant to ask you about the gun laws here. All the more reason for me to find a small property outside of the town limits ... That made me think of transportation, Sheriff. Where could I buy a horse and buggy or maybe just an older, gentle, saddle horse that’s broken to ride?”
“Go down to the stockyards by the railroad. There’s always folks there with stock to sell. I’ll be heading down that way myself, after I check in at the office. I’d be glad to help you pick out a good saddle horse if you like.”
“Thanks again, Sheriff. I’ll be looking for you.
“Mr. Cummings, I’ll be back soon and take a look at some of your hunting rifles.”
“Stop by anytime and I’ll show you what we have in stock and the newer ones we can order from the catalogs.”
I sure felt better about the way things were going on my first day in Yuma, Arizona. I think I’m going to like it here in this peaceful, Arizona town.
Edited by: Amigo