Surprise at Harmony Junction
Harmony Junction was a nice little town pretty much out in the middle of nowhere, if you can call Central Texas "nowhere." The town was big enough to have a marshal, and that marshal was my husband, John McCall. John was a stickler for being able to protect yourself, so he made sure that I could handle a revolver, a rifle, or a shotgun as well as any man.
Now, I have to admit that I have a larger than normal bosom and I did wear a dress most of the time, so some compromises did have to be made. John fixed me up with a holster that I could wear on my left side under my bodice. I came up with a clever design so that the opening to my gun was hidden by a fold in the cloth. I practiced with that gun until I could draw it about as fast as any man could draw his gun from a holster tied to his hip.
I had a little extra edge, too. I used a reworked Smith & Wesson Schofield top-break revolver in .45 caliber. The reworked part was that a real sharp gunsmith in town, Mr. Schmidt, had converted it into a self-cocking action, also known as double-action. That way, I could pull the gun and fire it without having to cock the hammer. On top of all that, it had a special pin device rigged so that the hammer couldn't fall on the cartridge unless the gun was held in my hand. That meant that the gun wouldn't fire even if it fell to the floor and landed on the hammer. In other words, I had a true six-shooter.
I am a rather large woman, so I have no trouble handling a .45 caliber pistol. Likewise, I am quite comfortable with my Henry "Yellow Boy" .45 caliber rifle and my Winchester lever-action 12-gauge shotgun. In my riding boots, I am 5'-10" tall, so that I tower over any other women I am around. In fact, I am as tall as most of the men in the neighborhood, and taller than some. In fact, in our more intimate moments, John has been known to tease me that he could mistake me for a man if he didn't know what I carried on my chest and hid between my legs. I find that a little embarrassing, but I don't mind it coming from John, whom I love beyond all understanding.
We have no children, yet, even though we work on the problem very diligently. I simply don't know what could be wrong with me, since I have my monthlies as regular as clockwork. I guess that all we can do is keep working on it, but I would like to start a family before I hit 20 years old.
It was a bright summer day in June, and John had asked me to come into town. It was my 19th birthday, and John had suggested that we celebrate the occasion by having supper in the hotel restaurant. I thought that was an excellent idea, and I was looking forward to the opportunity to eat a meal cooked by someone else. Their food was good, though it was definitely not inspired, but I appreciated John's thoughtfulness so much that I would have eaten in a saloon if he had asked me to join him there.
I had gone to his office at the jail, but he wasn't there. I had just sat down to wait for him when I heard the sound of shots coming from somewhere toward the middle of town. I knew that if there was shooting in town, John would feel honor-bound to look into it, so I decided to meet him there. I had assumed that the noise was from some shooting by one of the drunken cowboys that frequent the saloons on Saturday night.
The town fathers of Harmony Junction had recently passed an ordinance preventing people from openly wearing guns within the city limits. The purpose was to prevent just the sort of disturbance that I was sure John was currently quelling. The usual procedure was for a cowboy or other person to ride into town and head for the nearest saloon. When he walked in, before he was served his first drink, he had to surrender his gun and gunbelt to the bartender. The bartender would hang the belt and gun on a series of pegs behind the bar and keep the gun until the owner was ready to leave town. The saloons never closed, so this was no hardship on either side.
Anyway, I headed toward the center of town to meet my husband, but I heard two more shots, slightly muffled. That was really odd, since it was difficult to muffle the sound of a gunshot. Several people were rushing toward the Golden Nugget saloon, so I hurried in that direction, too.
As I got close, I heard gasps of surprise and dismay from the people looking through the windows and the open doorway. When I stepped onto the sidewalk in front of the saloon, people looked at me and moved away from the door. I don't know why, I suppose it was simple curiosity, but I looked through the door and, to my horror, saw John lying on the floor in a pool of blood. He was obviously dead!
Strangely, I did not faint, nay, I did not feel the slightest tinge of giddiness. Instead, I felt a sharp and overriding anger! There was a man, a cowboy, standing near John's body and brandishing a revolver at the people in the saloon.
For some reason I could never explain, I boldly stepped into the saloon. Now, that was something a lady of culture and refinement would never do. I knew that the only women in the saloon would be prostitutes, and I never had any dealings with them. Nevertheless, I walked into the saloon and asked in a calm, but commanding voice, "Who shot my husband?"
The bartender, a man of stature in the community with no reason to lie, pointed to the man with the gun and said, "He did. He shot the marshal in cold blood without giving him a chance."
Everybody in the saloon reported later that my eyes flashed fire and my face turned nearly that red as I turned to the gunman as said, "You are under arrest for murder. Surrender now, or you will regret it."
The man turned to me and even pointed the gun in my direction. I could see that his thumb was on the hammer, but the pistol was not cocked. He said, "Shut up, you whore, or I'll blow your fucking head off!"
I am not sure just what triggered my next action, whether it was his crude remark or the gun pointing in my direction, but I acted without any real thought. In perhaps the fastest draw of my life, I pulled my .45 from under my bodice and shot the fool in the chest. He had not even had time to collapse before I put another bullet between his eyes.
The gunman collapsed and intense applause rang throughout the saloon. I even heard some cheering from the people outside on the sidewalk. I replaced the two spent cartridges from the ammunition I carried in my reticule and holstered my gun. The next thing I did surprised everybody—I gently rolled over my husband's body and almost reverently removed his badge from his shirt. I pinned it to the collar of my bodice and said, "I will wear this until the new marshal is appointed. In the meantime, I am assuming my husband's duties."
There was a general gasp of surprise, but there were no objections. My next action was to ask, "Was anyone else injured?"
At that question, the crowd parted, and I saw a dead woman and a dead man lying a few feet apart on the floor. That would account for the several shots that I heard at first. I turned to the bartender an asked what had happened. He answered, "Elspeth was talking to a new possible customer when this galoot (pointing to the man I had shot) said that he wanted her first. That other man (pointing to the dead man near the woman) objected that he would have to wait his turn.
"The man you shot said that he didn't wait on nobody, and shot the other man afore anybody knew what was going on. Elspeth started screaming and the galoot shot her, too.
"That's when the marshal came in and demanded the galoot's gun. The galoot gave the gun to him and the marshal turned to put it on the bar. When the marshal turned away, the galoot shot him twice with a double-barrel derringer hideout gun.
"That's when he snatched his gun off the bar and started threatening all of us. None of us was armed, so there wasn't nothing that we could do. You came in right after that, and I, for one, am very glad that you did. No telling who else that galoot would have shot!"
I think that was when it hit me that John was lying dead on the floor. I started to cry and cradled his head in my arms. I don't know how long I was there, but I was finally pulled away by some kind souls when John was carried to the funeral parlor. The other bodies had already been removed; I suppose out of respect for me, they had left John's body for last. The undertaker said for me to wait until tomorrow to come by to see him about the funeral. I thanked him and walked slowly back to John's office in the jail.
The next morning, I woke up, and I was still sitting in John's chair behind his desk. What woke me was five men coming into the office. It was the mayor and the four city councilmen. The mayor said, "Miz. McCall, we are all right sorry about what happened to your husband. Is there anything we can do for you?"
"I don't know of anything. I have not even made the funeral arrangements yet. I may have something then that I need."
"Miz. McCall, did you mean what you said about keeping that there marshal's badge until we found a replacement for your husband?"
"Yes, I did mean it. I think that I owe it to him to continue his legacy until a regular male replacement can be found. John was marshal for over five years, and I don't want to see his hard work go to waste."
"Well, Ma'am, we've been asking around, and we can't find anybody to take the job. We know it's plenty unusual, but we wondered if you would stay on as marshal until we can find somebody else from out of town. You certainly proved last night that you can handle the job."
"Mr. Mayor, I'll take the job for a little while to accommodate you. But you must know that I expect the same rate of pay that John got, plus the other little things that came his way as marshal. If you are willing to do that, I'll be your temporary marshal."
"Thank you, Miz. McCall. I want to say that you are doing us a prime favor and we appreciate it. Whatever you need, you just let us know." The members of the city council agreed to that and tipped their hats as they left the office.
Once they were gone, I began to cry, again, mourning John. I must have done that for an hour or more, but then I started to laugh. It wasn't a hysterical laugh, but an amused laugh, thinking of what a funny thing is was for a town named Harmony Junction to have a woman marshal.
As I thought about the situation, I figured that I would have a pretty easy time of it for a few days, maybe even a couple of weeks, until the word got around that the town had a woman keeping the peace. I expect that I will get pushed quite a bit by then by every so called tough guy in this part of Texas. I expect that they won't be able to resist the temptation to push a woman marshal around a little bit. Well, they just might be in for a surprise at Harmony Junction.
Well, my first test was a big one. "MARSHAL! MIZ. McCALL! MARSHAL! COME QUICK! THE BANK'S BEING ROBBED!"
I grabbed up my shotgun and a bandoleer of shells and ran for the bank. I had taken to wearing men's clothes, since it was easier to move around in them. I wore boots like what I call cavalry boots because of the heels that were lower than the regular cowboy boots, but high enough to keep your feet from slipping through the stirrups. That made it a lot easier to run, so I was at the bank sooner than I might otherwise have been.
Just as I got there, a man came busting out of the bank brandishing a pistol. He wasn't a local, so I knew he must be a robber. I didn't hesitate. I thumbed back the hammer on my shot gun and let him have a load of #00 buckshot from a range of about 10 or 12 feet. I was so close that all 10 of those .31 caliber balls hit him in the torso and nearly cut him in two. A sack of gold coins fell from his hand as he tumbled to the sidewalk. Temporarily, I ignored that as I levered another shell into the chamber and looked into the bank through the open door.
Several people were lying on the floor, but I didn't see any blood, so I figured that none of them were shot. I yelled, "IT'S ALL OVER, FOLKS! YOU CAN GET UP NOW!" As near as I could tell, there was only the one robber. I picked up the loot and walked into the bank.
Mr. Atkins, the banker, was just getting up from the floor as I walked in. "Bless you, Alice, uh ... Marshal! There was just the one bandit. I'm very glad to see you recovered the bank's money. Thank you very much!" Mr. Atkins was about 40 years older than me, and I've known him all my life, so I didn't complain about him calling me by my first name.
I made sure that everyone in the bank was OK, then I asked somebody to find the undertaker for me to take care of the body. The undertaker showed up a few minutes later, so I guess that he was expecting some sort of business real soon. He said, "Well, Marshal McCall, it looks like I can expect some regular business from you." He grinned at that remark, and I did, too. I appreciated the remark, because it was the kind of thing that he would have said to my husband, John. It showed that he acknowledged me as an adult capable of making rational choices, difficult as they might be.
Of course, I got some noise from some of the old biddies in town of both genders. Things like "Marshaling is no job for a woman" and "That marshal is no lady." Actually, those were the kinder remarks. Some of the other things that were said would probably have brought a challenge from John if he was still around. Well, I just ignored the remarks, since they made no real difference to my job or the way I did it. I guess that the remarks just went to prove that stupidity is no respecter of gender or age.
Well, except for the usual number of drunks that I put into cells to sleep it off, things were pretty quiet for a couple of more weeks. But things got real interesting when three men tried to rob the gunsmith. They weren't after money, they just wanted the guns, either to sell in Mexico or to the Indians, though the latter were not much in the market right now. They showed up late one night after Harmony Junction had pretty well shut down and rolled up the sidewalks. They drove a wagon up to the back door of the gun shop and broke in through that door. They weren't as quiet as they thought they were.
They woke up the gunsmith who lived, with his family, over his store. He looked out the back window and saw what was going on right away. One of the men was sitting on the driver's seat of the wagon while the other two were pulling unopened shipping cases out the back door and into the wagon.
Since they weren't regular customers he recognized, the gunsmith figured that they were up to no good. He, too, favored a shotgun which he kept ready to hand. I learned later that he had covered his rear by having his wife and 10 year old son stationed at the head of the stairs with their own shotguns.
Anyway, he quietly opened one of the rear windows in his bedroom and stuck the shotgun out. Taking aim at the man in the driver's seat, he let go with both barrels of his 10-gauge. He was using #0000 buckshot, so there was nothing left of the driver he shot much beyond a bloody smear on the seat. Of course, this scared the shit out of the horses, and they took off. The brake was set on the wagon, so the horses only dragged the wagon about 75 yards before they gave it up as a bad job.
I had moved from our small house, which I couldn't stand to be in anymore because there were too many reminders of my personal life with John. I had relocated to the one room so called apartment built onto the jail for use by the marshal if he wasn't married. I still was not sleeping very well so I came fully awake with that first shot. I jerked on my clothes and picked up my shotgun and bandoleer of ammunition. I ran to the middle of town and looked for the source of the trouble.
Somebody yelled to me from a saloon that the noise had come from the back of the gunsmith's shop, so I ran down a convenient alley to see what I could find. The first thing I found was that wagon with two confused and frightened horses and some of the loot from the robbery. A case had fallen in the wagon and broken open, so that I could see that it was full of rifles still in their shipping grease and wrappings. That told me where to look for the crooks.
I had already seen what was left of the dead man on the driver's seat, so I had a pretty good idea of what was going on. I ran the few yards to the shop and saw the gunsmith leaning out the window. I yelled so that he wouldn't shoot me and ran up close so that we could talk.
Mr. Schmidt told me that at least two men were inside his shop. They had been caught stealing guns. He and his family had them bottled up in the warehouse room, so they were not going anywhere. He suggested that I call them out through the back door, and he would cover me. I figured that was a good idea, so I called for the robbers to come out and surrender before they got killed. People with guns were already beginning to collect in the alley, so I knew that I would have a veritable army behind me in a few more minutes.
Well, after about 10 minutes of negotiation, the two thieves came out with their hands up and without their guns. I had plenty of help as I marched them to jail and locked them up. I'd fill out the paperwork on them in the morning.
I went back to fetch the wagon, but that had already been done, and several people were helping Mr. Schmidt get his stock moved back into the storage room. Once that was done, I took the wagon to a livery stable and had them put up the horses for the night. Again, I'd take care of the details in the morning.