Billy Oldham's War
Billy returned to Bob and joined in the fire against the remaining two attackers. Bob appeared to have wounded one of the attackers, but there was some doubt about the other one. By this time, Billy's wounds were beginning to feel very painful, but they could still lose the battle if either one slacked off.
Billy decided that the only way to put a successful end to the battle was for him to try to flank those last two men and put them out of action. Billy limped back toward the dock so that he could follow the route that the enemy had followed. He figured that to be the easiest route to get behind the enemy. By stooping over, he was able to remain concealed as he made his way toward the opposition. He was slowed down by the wound in his buttock to the point that he was barely able to walk at his normal speed.
By the time Billy reached the site of the attackers' camp, they were already gone. Billy turned toward where Bob was lying and saw to his horror that one of the attackers was already squatting beside Bob and was holding a gun to his head. Billy moved to about 20 yards from the pair and shouted, "LEAVE MY FRIEND ALONE, AN' I'LL LET YA GO!"
The man holding the pistol to Bob's head shouted, "FUCK YA, YA SLAVER!" He then fired a bullet at point blank range into Bob's head! There was no question as to Bob's fate, as his head exploded from the shot. Billy exploded in rage and began pouring bullets into the murderer. The number of bullets that actually hit the murderer was problematical, since Billy emptied three guns into the man's riddled body.
Billy burst into tears and ran to his friend. Of course, there was no chance of saving Bob with a wound like that. Mercifully, he was already dead by the time Billy reached him. Billy cried steadily for the next 2½ hours. He finally came to himself and buried Bob on a little knoll above the dock. He put up a cross with Bob's name on it, but there was nothing else he could do for his friend.
Billy found that he was hungry after all of the excitement and strain of the last 16 hours, so he ate some pemmican and drank some water. Then, more because it was an ingrained habit than for any other reason, he searched the bodies of the dead raiders for anything of value. Billy collected guns, knives, and money before dumping the bodies in the river.
Billy discovered that he had really aggravated his wounds, so there was no way he was going to ride a horse until the wound in his buttock healed. He didn't have long to wait for a riverboat to stop for fuel, and he bought passage to Kansas City for himself and his animals. Fortunately, there happened to be a doctor on board who had some training in antiseptic medicine in Vienna, Austria, so Billy was saved from a terminal case of gangrene. Nevertheless, Billy was in considerable pain and consumed as much laudanum as the doctor would allow. They needed five days to reach Kansas City, and Billy was able to walk reasonably well by then, but he still could not ride a horse without too much pain.
He sold the livestock and took residence in Kansas City's finest hotel, such as it was. Billy spent most of his first week in bed letting his ass recover as much as it would from the bullet hole. That was his limit, though. He took a pillow with him to the Gentlemen's Lounge and found a poker game. The next six weeks were spent almost exclusively either playing poker or sleeping.
Billy had taken to heart what the last murderer had shouted at him just before shooting Bob, and he did some investigating of what the comment implied. All of this was in conversation over the poker table, but the information crosschecked and certainly seemed reliable.
Basically, there were four factions in Missouri at the time. Two factions, one supporting the South and States Rights, etc., and the other supporting the Union were somewhat passive and just wanted to be left alone. However, there were two factions, called "bushwhackers," engaged in outright warfare, one supporting the South from the counties along the two major rivers, and the other supporting the North from the western and northern parts of the state. Since the Missouri River essentially bisected the state horizontally, there were a number of Union supporters both north and south of the river.
Apparently, the gang that had attacked Bob and Billy had been bushwhackers supporting the North. In both cases, many of the bushwhacker gangs were really outlaws who were just out for themselves. In any case, most honest citizens would like to see the bushwhackers from both sides eliminated. The trouble was, they didn't know how to do it.
Well, Billy knew what to do. He was going on a personal vendetta against bushwhackers from both sides. He could never forgive that bushwhacker for murdering his friend, and he was going to do something about it, even if nobody else would!
When his buttock and other wounds had finally healed, Billy was ready to begin his war of revenge. He had asked around and found a decent map of the Missouri River area in the vicinity of Kansas City. He knew better than to trust banks, but he had to find a safe place to keep his gold, which was now close to $200,000. That was plenty to finance many years of hunting bushwhackers if he could just keep it in a safe place. He concluded that the only practical place to put it was in a hole in the ground. All he had to do was to find a suitable cave along the river, and local gossip claimed that there were many such caves. His first step was to find such a cave, and he planned to start looking immediately.
He bought a horse and two pack mules, both trained to follow without a leadrope. He was equipped pretty much as he had been when he and Bob set out for Kansas City, except that all of the weapons now hung from his saddle. With eight Colt revolvers and 12 extra cylinders, he was a virtual army in his own right. The load was heavy, and his horse complained, but Billy ignored the complaints. Eventually, the horse gave up his complaints when they produced no reward.
It was his second day along the south bank of the Missouri River that Billy found the cave he was looking for. It was comfortably above the flood peak and plenty large enough to provide a decent home as well as a hiding place for his gold. He took $200 working cash from the saddle bags and cached the remainder deep within the cave. Billy didn't bother to bury the bags of gold—he set them on a shelf of rock and pushed back far enough not to be easily spotted by the casual searcher. There was some dust on the cave floor, so he brushed out his tracks as he left that part of the cave.
It was only a matter of a few minutes to rig a rope corral for the animals in the cave. As nearly as he could tell, the cave had only the one entrance, so he was an adequate guardian to keep carnivores away from his animals at night. During the day, when he was "home," he would pen them outside so that they could forage for themselves. Billy also gathered enough firewood so that it would have plenty of time to dry before he needed it. That way, he would not have a lot of smoke signaling where he could be found.
There was no way to be sure where to find bushwhackers, so he was going to have to patrol for them. Initially, at least, he would ride a patrol line in the southern edges of the counties along this side of the river. Later, he would cross over the river and do a similar patrol on the counties on that side of the river. If he began to run out of bushwhackers, he would move to the Mississippi River counties. Gossip had it that he would have plenty of bushwhackers to chase if he stayed along the Missouri River.
It was now the spring of 1857, so he should have plenty of targets for his search.
Billy outfitted packs for both of his mules. He didn't really need that much carrying capacity, but he wanted the extra warning of trouble that two mules would provide. Besides, he thought that two mules would make a trail wide enough that the dumbest greedy bushwhacker could follow.
Fully prepared, Billy began his hunt. He headed about 10 miles east before cutting south in order to disguise his particular cave as much as he could. He had gone about five miles and was thinking of calling it a day when he saw smoke rising about a mile away.
Either some farmer had an accidental fire or some bushwhackers were at work. He didn't care which side they were on, to Billy, a bushwhacker was a bushwhacker. He picked up speed in an effort to arrive in time to do some good. That had to be the work of bushwhackers because he could hear the sound of gunfire. When he got close, Billy slowed down. He didn't want to be shot before he knew what was going on.
He found a burning barn with animals trapped inside, but nothing could be done about that, yet, because seven men were attacking the house. He saw one male body lying near the front door, but he had no way of telling which side it belonged to. He dismounted and tied his horse to a bush. He pushed all of his revolvers behind his belt and pulled his two rifles from their scabbards.
He moved to about 30 yards from the house and found a place to fort up. There was a lot of lead flying in both directions, but no hits were being scored. That was probably because everybody was shooting before taking good aim, something he did not plan to do. Billy leaned one of the rifles against a convenient tree and carefully lined up his sights on one of the attackers. A moment to adjust his breathing and to settle his muscles, and he fired. One of the attackers dropped in his tracks.