I was just coming home from school when the shit started to fly (oops, Ma would skin my hide if she heard me talk like that). I was kind of unusual to still be in school, after all, I was 11 years old, and that's old enough to hold a full time job in Texas in this spring of 1871. I had been going to school, off and on, for nearly five years, so I knew enough to teach about as well as the school marm.
It was three miles from the school building to my house, so I was riding our old mule, Jehoshaphat, and not pushing too hard to get there. I had plenty of time to do my chores before supper, so I was kind of day-dreaming and admiring the beautiful day. I got close enough to hear the gunshots, and that woke me up right quick-like. I urged Jehoshaphat into a faster walk, which was all that poor old mule could manage.
We went on for a little ways, but Jehoshaphat just couldn't move fast enough for me, so I jumped off and started running as fast as my legs could carry me. I sure was glad that I was carrying my .44 caliber Starr DA (double action) pistol in a cross-draw holster on my left hip instead of tied down to my thigh. Hell, who am I kidding? That pistol was so heavy that I couldn't carry it there without it pulling my pants down! Anyway, with that pistol in its position on my left hip, I could run a whole lot faster than I could have with it on my thigh.
I ran up close to the house and saw Pa lying dead in the front yard and four men firing their pistols at the house. There was a lot of shooting coming from inside the house, so I figured that my two older brothers, John and Henry, were shooting with Ma and Martha reloading for them.
The men attacking the house were sheltering behind the well and some other stuff in the front yard. There was a little draw crossing in front of the house, so I ran to that and jumped in. It was only about three feet deep, but I was only about 5 feet tall so I had no trouble bending over far enough to be protected from the flying bullets. I ran down the draw until I was as close to the attackers as I could get and still be in the draw.
I leaned against the side of the draw and drew my pistol. There were four men less than 15 yards away, and I had five shots. I was supremely confident as I got ready to shoot. The recoil from that .44 caliber pistol was a caution, so I always held it with two hands. Since it was double action, I didn't have to worry about cocking the hammer—all I had to do was pull the trigger.
I lined up on the first galoot and pulled the trigger real gentle-like. I'd done a lot of shooting to learn how to handle that pistol, but this was the first time I had shot at a man. That gun was old, but it was smooth as a woman's cheek, as my Pa used to say. The trigger came back and the hammer rose. At the proper moment, the hammer fell on the cap, and the gun fired that lead ball into the back of the head of the bastard shooting at my family.
I paused only long enough to see that I did not need a second shot at that target and swung the gun to point at the next man in line. He had not reacted to my shot, probably because he had not noticed it among the other shots being fired that afternoon. Still holding the gun in both hands, I let if fall from the recoil position to point at this man's head. As soon as I was sure of my line, I again pulled the trigger. This bullet also ran true and hit the galoot in the side of his head behind his right ear. Scratch another of the bastards!
The third man finally noticed something when he was hit in the hand by several drops of blood and maybe some splattered brains. He turned to look in the direction of the dead man, and it was almost comical to see the look of surprise on his face when he realized that his companion was dead. Well, that was the last of my head shots. The man had turned far enough now that he had exposed his chest as a target. Pa had drilled into me that I should shoot at the biggest target, since a man never knew if his bullet was going to fly true. With this admonition in mind, I took aim on the center of the man's chest and let fly with my third shot.
He died quickly, and I was left with the fourth man. However, this was not as clear cut and straight forward as the first three men had been. The fourth man jumped around to get some protection from my shot, and he jumped too high. He was caught in the body by two lead balls and killed soon enough. Now, the shooting could stop. I shouted, "DON'T SHOOT, PLEASE! IT'S ONLY ME, TOM!"
An answer came from the house, so I climbed out of the draw and inspected the four bodies to make sure that they were dead. That was another of Pa's admonitions, namely, always make sure that your enemy ain't faking death.
By this time, Ma, Martha, John, and Henry were seeing if there was anything that could be done for Pa. I could tell by the tears from all four of them that there was nothing to be done—that Pa was already dead! Of course, I started to cry at that realization, and I wished that all four of the bastards were alive so that I could put another lead ball in their guts.
It was hard to do through my tears, but I followed another of Pa's admonitions to reload my weapon as soon as possible—you never knew who or how many more enemies might be sneaking up on your back.
About this time Jehoshaphat wandered up to the barn and started braying that he was ready to eat. Pa always said that a man should take care of his mount first, before his own needs, so I went to take care of Jehoshaphat. He had always been a faithful friend and companion, so I owed it to him.
John and Henry carried Pa's body into the house for Ma and Martha to start preparing him for burial. Once they had done that, they dragged the bodies of the four attackers into the barn. Jehoshaphat wasn't happy as soon as he smelled the blood, but the boys ignored him and went about the business of stripping the dead men of anything they had of value.
That's when they found out that the four men worked for Caleb Hopkins, a carpetbagger who was trying to buy up all of the land for miles around. Pa had refused on at least three occasions to sell our place to Hopkins, so, maybe, that's why his men murdered Pa.
I met my brothers in the kitchen where we drank coffee and discussed the situation. They told me that five men had ridden up to the house and called to Pa to come out to talk. Pa was always the polite sort, so he went out as requested. Pa had hardly gotten both feet on the ground from stepping off the veranda when all five of the men drew pistols and fired balls into his body from only a few feet away.
John had seen this from inside the house, so he grabbed up a loaded Mississippi Rifle that always hung on a rack beside the front door. John had shot at one man, but they had all ducked behind shelter before John could reload the muzzle loader and fire again. The man he shot at had been wounded in the arm, so he had climbed on his horse and ridden away. The battle against the other four men had commenced, and I was around for the end of it.
There was no question that one of us was going to have to "call out" Caleb Hopkins. As it happened to be, even though I was the youngest of the three brothers, I was the best shot and the fastest draw, so it was obvious that I was the logical choice to be the one who challenged Hopkins. Even Ma agreed to that when she came into the room after finishing washing Pa and getting him dressed in his best suit.
I planned to go into Edgar Junction and duel Hopkins the first thing tomorrow. First thing, we had to bury Pa before he started to smell too bad. The church in Edgar Junction didn't have a regular full time preacher, instead, a Methodist Circuit Rider came around every fourth week for a Sunday service that we were obliged to hold on Wednesdays because of his schedule. Anyway, he wasn't due for another three weeks, and Pa couldn't wait that long. Therefore, we were going to have to bury Pa without a preacher in attendance. Well, it wouldn't be the first time that a funeral in Hunter County was held without a preacher.
We already had a family cemetery, so it wasn't any mystery where Pa would be buried. The three of us boys went out and dug a grave before supper. We would hold the funeral tomorrow morning before I rode into Edgar Junction.
The funeral was just for the family. Sure, Pa had lots of friends, but it wasn't practical for them to drop everything and rush to his funeral. A body had to make a living, and that was tough in Southwest Texas in 1871. So we had the funeral attended by his widow, his daughter, his three sons, and his dog, Jakob. We dried our eyes, and it was time for me to go.
I figured that Jehoshaphat wasn't up to the long walk into town, so I saddled up one of the attackers horses and rode him. I took along the man's beautifully maintained Henry rifle. The man also had a Colt Navy which I fastened to my thigh as a kind of decoy. I figured that there was a chance that Hopkins would pay so much attention to that gun on my thigh that he wouldn't notice my real weapon at my left waist.
I rode the 11 miles into town at a fast clip because I hoped to get back home for noon dinner. It was pushing 10:30 when I got to Hopkins' office, so I didn't have much time to fool around. I dismounted and tied up the horse at the hitching post near enough to the watering trough. I'd ridden fast enough that I figured the horse might be a mite thirsty.
Hopkins wasn't in his office, so I guessed that he might be at the nearest saloon, which was the fanciest in town. I went there and found Hopkins sitting at a table with two toughs what I figured to be his bodyguards. Well, I hadn't figured on fighting three men, but I was sure I could handle it—now, four men would have been a problem.
I was careful where I stood when I said in a firm voice, loud enough to be heard in the whole saloon, "Caleb Hopkins, I'm calling you out for murdering my pa yesterday. Stand up and draw!"
Hopkins ignored my challenge, but the rest of the patrons didn't. They dove for the floor if they were in the line of fire, but everybody wanted to watch to see the fun. Some of them knew of my prowess with a hand gun, but most of them expected me to be dead in a few seconds. Nobody was sympathetic about my young age—I was a man if I carried a gun the way I did.
I said, "Hopkins, if you don't stand and draw, I'll kill you just the way you did my pa. NOW, DO IT!"
Hopkins turned to one of his bodyguards and said, "Kill him!"
The man kind of leisurely got to his feet, not expecting a "kid" to be able to handle a gun as well as an older professional. Well, I was about to prove him wrong. He used the conventional thigh position for his piece, so he had to stand to draw comfortably. I let him get to a full standing position and start for his gun. I didn't want to give anything away, so I used the Colt Navy at my thigh. It was a pain in the ass to have to cock the hammer with my thumb, but I didn't forget.
I already had my gun drawn and cocked before he had completed his drawing motion. In a fit of bravado that Pa would have smacked me for, I shot him dead center in the belt buckle. It was no fluke, I was standing within 15 feet of the galoot, so he was well within my no-miss range. The lead ball hit him dead center on a fancy metal buckle and drove that into his gut ahead of the ball. The buckle tore a hole about the size of my fist on its way in, so I knew that I didn't have anything to worry about from him. He dropped in a bloody mess beside his boss, who now looked a little bit concerned.
The other bodyguard didn't wait for orders. He jumped to his feet and tried to pull his gun, but he was no faster than his companion. At this point, I quit showing off and shot him right where I figured his heart would be. That Colt Navy wasn't as powerful as my .44, but it was sure adequate to the job. At a range of only about 15 feet, the ball shattered his breast bone, and the combination must of made a hell of a mess, because he looked to be dead by the time he hit the floor.
Now, Hopkins was real scared! On the other hand, my emotions were taking a holiday. This was no more exciting or frightening to me than target practice had been. I was just going through the necessary motions with Pa looking over my shoulder ready to criticize if I screwed up.
Hopkins jumped up and pulled a derringer from his vest pocket. I think that he really wanted to run, more than fight, but he knew that he was caught and couldn't escape. I didn't want him to get off easy with this, so I shot him in the right shoulder. That forced him to drop his gun before he even had time to cock it. The next shot, I put into his hip. I wanted him to take at least a week to die, every minute knowing that it was about to happen. Of course, I had forgotten that he would be doped up on laudanum the whole time, so he wouldn't know much.
I looked around at the other patrons of the saloon, and they looked back at me. I don't know where it started, but, suddenly, there there was applause and cheers for my victory. There wasn't a man in town that didn't hate Hopkins' guts. I tipped my hat to the crowd and proceeded to go through the pockets of the three corpses. The two bodyguards didn't have much, but I found a money belt around Hopkins' waist that later turned out to have $950 in it.
The marshal came in and said, "Tom, ya better skedaddle. I saw the last part of the fight, an' I rule it as self defense, but ya better go home, just in case."
I thanked the marshal for his sage advice and left for home.
It was 17 days after the "duel" when the marshal came by the house. "Tom, we got trouble. Caleb Hopkins had some powerful friends, an' they managed ta get a federal warrant fer yer arrest. I got a telegram today ordering me ta arrest ya fer murder of the three men ya shot the other day. I'm gonna say that ya wuzn't home when I came by ta arrest ya, but I do need fer ya to light a shuck fer someplace else. I need this here job, an' I don't want ta lose it."
"Sure thing, Mr. Addison. I do appreciate your kindness in warning me. I'll be gone within the hour. Stay around for another cup of coffee if you like."
"No, thank ya. I'd better be goin'. I don't want ta know where ya're headed. By the way, I hope ya don't have a tintype lyin' around. We don't want them ta come up with a wanted poster with yer picture on it."
"Thanks for that advice. I'll talk to Ma about it, but I can't remember any."
I speak very good Spanish, both the cultured language of the hidalgo and the gutter language of the peon, so I figured that I should head for Mexico. My family helped me get the necessary stuff together. I took two riding horses and a pack horse. John and Henry needed the mules for plowing, so I didn't even think of taking them. We had four extra horses we had gotten from the attackers, so I took three of them and left the poorest of them for the boys to sell.
I took $100 in eagles and Mexican silver for my expenses. That should cover me until I could get a job somewhere. It was with a heavy heart that I left, but I had to do it to save my family way too much bother. At least, I would be arrested and put on trial, and, if Hopkins' friends were powerful enough, I would be found guilty of something. My best bet was to vanish for a few years, but I promised to check in with them as often as I could.