This story was suggested by an actual incident in Nevada during the 1880s. I have adapted freely from what little I know of the situation.
Jane and Bill Austin had what some people would call an idyllic relationship. He was a successful lawyer, and she was a dedicated homemaker. They loved each other with undying measure and spent as much time as possible with each other. This all came to a crashing end one night in 1886!
Bill Austin had gone to meet a client at the Double Eagle saloon where they talked business and drank a couple of beers. While they were sitting at a table toward the back of the saloon, Curly Johnson, who was almost too drunk to stand, came up to the table and started making trouble. He launched into a tirade about how Bill had cheated him out of $100 that he had paid to be represented in a law suit that he had lost.
Bill was embarrassed that his current client had to listen to this tirade, so he stood up and asked Johnson to step to one side where they could discuss this without involving anyone else. Johnson lost what little control he had left and pulled his bowie knife from his belt. He jammed the knife to the hilt in Bills abdomen and ripped up as hard as he could pull. Not only did this rip Bill's intestines asunder, but it tore his diaphragm so badly that Bill immediately lost the ability to breath. He fell to the floor with Johnson's knife still wedged within his body and he died in about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, Curly Johnson sobered up enough to pull his pistol and threaten everyone in the saloon while he hurried outside; whereupon, he disappeared.
A doctor was called, but arrived much too late to do anything but pronounce Bill Austin to be dead as the result of a knife wound. The town marshal showed up about the same time and agreed to the cause of Austin's death. He talked to several witnesses and concluded that the deed had been done by one Curly Johnson in an unprovoked attack; therefore, he said that he intended to arrest Curly Johnson for murder.
The marshal went to tell Mrs. Austin of the untimely death of her husband and did it with no care or consideration at all. Mrs. Austin fainted and the marshal panicked; he summoned the doctor, who recognized the situation and called in a widow who had done some nursing for his patients. The woman put Jane to bed and stayed with her all night. Jane was so disturbed by the situation that it was several days before she could function well enough to be on her own. The nurse took care of Jane for the first few days and checked up on her each morning for the next week.
Ten days after the murder, Jane went in to see the marshal to determine what he was doing about arresting Curly Johnson. The marshal stalled her for a few minutes, but finally admitted that he was doing nothing to bring Johnson to justice. His excuse was, "Mr. Johnson is no longer in Silver City, so he's out of my jurisdiction. I have written ta the sheriff at the county seat an' asked 'im ta do what he could ta apprehend Mr. Johnson. Beyond that, there's nothin' that I kin do."
Jane spit in his face in disgust and stormed out of the office. She wrote a letter to the sheriff asking what he was doing to find and arrest Curly Johnson, but did not get a satisfactory answer. Jane realized that, if Curly Johnson was to be brought to justice, she would have to do it, herself. Therefore, she contacted some of her husband's former less savory clients for guidance. Invariably, she was told that no sane person was going after Curly Johnson; he was mean as a bear with a sore tooth and liked to hurt people. She answered that she was going after him and asked what she needed to accomplish this.
Jane was advised to acquire a shotgun of the largest gauge that she could handle and learn to shoot fast and reload fast. She visited the local gunsmith, who lent a sympathetic ear and advised her to select a sawed off 16-gauge double barreled shotgun. He further suggested that she have the stock modified into a pistol grip and learn to fire it without ever removing it from its carrying strap at her waist.
Jane was a rather large woman with big hands, so she could manage the shotgun rigged this way, but she was going to need a lot of practice. The gunsmith converted a shotgun to the necessary specifications, and a saddle maker made her a carrying strap. It was sort of a "Sam Brown" belt with a wide belt around her waist and a crossover shoulder strap running between her breasts and over her left shoulder to help distribute the weight of the shotgun hanging a little in front of her right hip.
The first time Jane fired this rig, it knocked her down with the recoil. She simply was not expecting such a heavy kick, even though she had been warned. However, she practiced with the gun religiously until she could control the recoil of both barrels fired at the same time. Furthermore, she became quite accurate with it and could bring the gun to bear faster than most men could draw their pistol.
The necessity of the gun's rig forced her to adopt man's attire, and she was commonly see around town in the type of shirt and trousers commonly worn by the local cowboys. The gunsmith recommended that, if she was truly going out into the world dressed like that, she also needed a pistol and a rifle. Jane was quite strong for a woman, so she could easily handle a large pistol. She settled on a cavalry model Schofield .45 caliber pistol and a Henry rifle in the same caliber. Her right hip was already occupied by the shotgun, so she wore the pistol in a shoulder holster under her left arm in a cross draw arrangement.
Jane spent 6 months practicing with the shotgun and the pistol to the point that she could have hired out as a successful gunslinger. However, she was still dedicated to finding Curly Johnson and bringing him to justice for the murder of her husband. Finally, she felt that she was ready to leave, so she had her hair cut in the fashion of a man and took on as many other male characteristics as she could. She even adopted the name "Jim Austin" to use in her male persona.
Jane had spent as much time as she could tracking down the whereabouts of Curly Johnson and had a report of him being seen in Holliston, about 25 miles away in the next county. She sold her house and other belongings and packed her saddle bags for her mission. Jim (Jane) loaded her remaining belongings on her horse and left for Holliston.
She rode into Holliston a sundown and registered in the hotel. The clerk remarked that Jim looked awfully young to be traveling by himself. Jane made some noncommittal remark and took her room key. She left her kit in her room and went for supper in the hotel restaurant. The meal was passable, but not something you would make a special trip to sample. From the restaurant, she went into the saloon, figuring that would be the most likely place to find Curly Johnson.
She walked up to the bar and ordered a beer. The bartender looked at her kind of funny, but served her, since there was no minimum age for customers. She was not used to drinking beer, but even she could tell that this was not a good brew. She frowned as she sipped from her mug. When there was a slow point in business, she asked if Curly Johnson was still around. Jane claimed that she owed him $5 and was ready to pay him the money.
The bartender could believe that somebody as young as Jim would want to pay a debt to Curly Johnson to keep him from being mad. The bartender said that he had not seen Curly for about 2 months and thought that he had left town, probably for Poke City. Jim cursed mildly and thanked the bartender for the information.
Jane visited the other saloons in town and received much the same information in each place, so the next morning, she left for Poke City. She had ridden 4 miles when she was accosted by a road agent. The bandit stepped out from some rocks and pointed a pistol in her direction. "Hands up! Give me all yer money or I'll blow ya ta Hell!"
Jane raised her hands and stared at the pistol. This was the first time that anyone had pointed a gun in her direction, and she was thoroughly frightened. However, she realized that she had to be able to control her feelings if she was going to face Curly Johnson. She had an idea! She screamed, "RATTLER!" and pointed just to the bandits left.
The bandit couldn't help looking, and when he did, she twisted around and blasted him in the gut with both barrels of her shotgun. He was standing about 15 feet away from her, and the shot had very little chance to spread by the time it got to the bandit. He was nearly cut in two by the shot! That many .32 caliber balls can make quite a mess of a man's body.
Her horse had been trained to be calm with shots going off near him, but Jane had not been trained, yet, in killing. She managed to turn her head before she vomited, so she missed her clothes and her horse, but she made a mess on the ground. Once she had a chance to calm down, she considered what to do. Eventually, she concluded that she should take the bandit back to town and turn him over to the marshal.
She brought the bandit's horse from where it had been tied back in the bushes away from the trail, and, by dent of some very hard work, managed to get the body hoisted on the horse. She figured that there had to be an easier way!
It was nearly noon by the time she had reached the town jail. She went inside, and, looking as manly as she could, said "Marshal, I got a dead road agent tied on his hoss jus' outside yer door. What cha want me ta do with 'im."
The marshal went outside and looked at the man's face. "Shit, Mister! Ya done killed Shakey Jack. We been after 'im fer over a year. How'd ya do it?"
Jane gave a quick rundown of the incident, and the marshal shook his head in wonderment. "Well, there ain't no doubt that ya're eligible ta collect the reward. There's $50 on his head, dead or alive. I'll give ya a receipt, and ya kin collect yer reward at the county courthouse down the street."
"Well, I'm much obliged, marshal. I had no idee that I wuz goin' ta make some money outa this."
"Shit, man, ya've made a good start toward bein' a successful bounty hunter. Why don't ya git a set of reward posters while ya're at the court house an' look fer some more possibilities?"
"Thank ya, marshal. I think I'll do jus' that."
Jane went through the motions of getting her reward and a supply of wanted posters. She went through the stack and just took the ones with pictures; the descriptions without pictures were often too vague to be useful for a positive identification. She thanked the clerk and went to find a hotel room for the night. She realized that she needed to be able to spot the object of a bounty without a lot of fumbling around, so she wanted to memorize the pictures to make recognition easier. She spent the evening in her hotel room pouring over the pictures until they were committed to memory.
It wasn't until she was getting ready to depart the next morning for Poke City that she discovered that she had forgotten to reload her shotgun the day before. She cursed herself for her stupidity and promised herself that she would never make that mistake again.
She got to Poke City and registered in the hotel. After supper, she started visiting the saloons, inquiring about Curly Johnson. No luck! However, she did hear a rumor that he had gone to Centerville, so she left for there the next morning. Jane stopped off for lunch at a wide place in the road which had a saloon, of sorts. She was eating a lunch which she had paid 50 cents for and was barely able to choke down, but it did come with a beer, so it wasn't all that bad, when she was surprised to see Tom Foley walk in. He was on a wanted poster and worth $100, alive, or $50, dead. The difference was because he had stolen money from several banks, and they hoped that he would tell them where to find some of it if he could still talk after he was captured.
Hell, even $50 was a lot of money, so Jane began to figure how she was going to latch onto it. Foley had walked in with another man whom she didn't recognize, so she didn't know where he stood in relation to Foley. The two sat down to eat, but the unknown man threw down his fork after his first bite of the lunch and stomped out of the saloon. Foley ate all of his serving and some of the other one before he left the table. Jane watched him as he walked out and mounted his horse in preparation for riding away.
She came out of the saloon just in time to see him heading the way she had just come and the other man was nowhere in sight. Jane assumed that the other man was just a casual acquaintance encountered on the trail and of no further concern. Now, she was torn—should she follow Foley, whom she knew was wanted and where he was, or should she forget him and continue after Curly Johnson? She chose the "bird in the hand" solution to the question and followed Foley.
Foley was already out of sight by the time she came to her conclusion, but she was sure she could catch up to him in short order, so she set out after him at a fast lope. She had gone about 5 miles without catching sight of Foley, and she began to feel very uncomfortable. Where was he? She should have caught sight of him by now.
She had slowed down and her horse was moving at a slow walk when she heard hooves behind her as a horse ran up to her location. She was just turning to see who or what was behind her when she heard, "Put up yer hands, Mister. I want some answers to some questions."
Caught! This could be a lot tougher trap to escape than the last one—Foley was a known killer. Foley caught up to her and looked at her face. "Hell! Ya're jus' a kid! How come are ya following me?"
Maybe this would be her way out. Jane had raised her hands, but she had as near to a worshipful expression on her face as she could manage. "Please don't shoot me, Mr. Foley. Ya're famous, an' I wanted ta meet ya. I recognized ya back at that there saloon, an' I jus' had ta shake yer hand. All my buddies would be downright jealous of me ifen ya would do that. Please shake my hand, an' I'll ride off, happy as a jay-bird."
Foley broke down in laughter. "Ifen that don't beat all! I didn't know I wuz a hero like Billy the Kid, or sumpthin'. Shore kid, I'll shake yer hand an' then ya better be off afore sumpthin' bad happens."
"Yes, sir, Mr. Foley. Jiggers, this is my lucky day!"
Foley holstered his gun and held out his hand. Jane put on a wide grin and rode toward him. She got almost close enough to touch his hand and stopped. She whipped up her shotgun and said, "Now, Mr. Foley, ya raise yer hands, ifen ya please. Ya're under arrest. I'm a bounty hunter, an' I got a poster with yer picture on it in my saddle bag."
Foley reluctantly raised his hands and said, "Shit, I really fell fer that one! I guess ifen I'm that dumb, I outta be caught. OK, ya got me. Now, what?"
"First thing ya do is drop yer gunbelt. Then stick out yer hands soz I kin tie them to yer saddle horn."
Once that was done, Jane ordered him to take his feet from the stirrups while she tied his feet together with a rope under the horse's belly. Tied that way, Foley was not going to want to ride fast for fear of his balls getting crushed as he bounced in the saddle. When that was done, Jane patted him down for more weapons and found 2 knives and 2 derringers. "I knew ya wuz dangerous, but I never figured on so many weapons. Man, I wuz lucky!"
They rode back to Poke City where Jane turned Foley in to the marshal and got a receipt for a live prisoner. She stuck the receipt in her pocket and headed back for Centerville the next morning. She figured that if she rushed, she could make it before it got too dark.