Billy Oldham's War
"Oh, thank you, Sir. Those horrible men just killed my pa and were laughing about who was going ta be the first one to rape me. Ya were too late ta he'p Pa, but ya did save me from their clutches. I'll be eternally grateful. Oh, pardon me, my name is Maria Schnellcroft."
"Howdy, Miss Schnellcroft? My name is Billy Oldham. I'm sorry I wasn't in time ta he'p yer pa, but I sure am glad I could he'p ya. Do ya have any idea why them bushwhackers stopped y'all?"
"Oh, yes, Mr. Oldham. Please call me Maria. Surely ya've earned that right. It seems that the only reason them blackguards stopped us was for the opportunity ta rape me. As ya kin see, the wagon's empty, an' neither one of us was dressed like rich folks. Raping me was all they talked about; they never even mentioned anythin' else."
"OK, I kin believe ya. Men like that only think about themselves an' satisfyin' their own pleasures. An ya kin call me 'Billy.' I have ta think 'bout it every time afore I answer ta 'Mr. Oldham.' Where were y'all headed? I kin he'p ya git there. Ya sure don't want ta be ridin' by yerself, 'specially under the circumstances."
"Thank ya kindly, Mr. Oldham ... uh ... Billy. We was headin' fer the next town, Jones Ferry. Pa was supposed ta meet some man there to see 'bout buying a farm. He wanted ta put in a vineyard and raise grapes fer wine, but there ain't much point in doin' that now, since I don't know nothin' 'bout raisin' grapes." Maria began to cry. "I just don't know what will become of me, now, since Pa is dead. I ain't got nobody else ta take me in. I guess I'll just wind up bein' a whore, an' I don't even know exactly how ta do that!"
"Well, I know somebody that I am sure will take ya in. Let's git yer pa's body in the back of the wagon; then we kin decide what ta do." Billy loaded Mr. Schnellcroft's body into the wagon and took the time to gather what valuables the bushwhackers had been carrying. He figured to give it to Maria, thinking that she had earned it.
Billy selected one of the bushwhackers' horses to be his new mount and dragged his dead horse off the road. He tied the remaining horses to the rear of the wagon. Maria drove while Billy rode beside her. The closest town was Jones Ferry where they had been heading, anyway, so that's where they headed. Once in town, they arranged for the burial of Mr. Schnellcroft, and that's when Maria found that her father had been carrying $6,500 in gold in two moneybelts. This was a small fortune, enough to keep her in comfort for 10 years or more. Not only that, the bushwhackers had been carrying over $300 among them. She was overjoyed to find out that she was not as destitute as she had feared. Nevertheless, Maria found that she could not bear to be in a hotel room by herself, she was simply still too frightened to face being alone.
She and Billy slept in the same bed that night, both fully clothed. The next day, after her father's funeral, Maria and Billy headed back toward the Aikens' farm. Billy was sure that they would take in Maria, especially if she contributed to the expenses.
Maria much preferred to drive the wagon instead of riding a horse, though she could ride. Therefore, she drove the wagon and Billy rode beside her. Billy had hung the looted revolvers from the bushwhackers along the inside of the wagon's low wall in front of the driver's position. Maria was not much of a shot, but she did have plenty of protection with five Colt Navy revolvers, all loaded with five rounds and all hanging within easy reach. If they were attacked, it was her job to drop out of the driver's seat to the floorboards of the wagon and to shelter behind that wall, which would most likely stop any pistol rounds headed her way. She could shoot from there.
Billy remained mobile on his horse and would act accordingly, depending on the nature of the attack. The wagon was drawn by two mules and Billy still had his two pack mules trailing behind him, so they should have plenty of warning from the mules when they camped at night. For safety, though, they did maintain only one tent. They had a significant amount of living space by combining the tent with the wagon, so they were not in any way cramped while they were on the road.
The third day of their trip was the first one with an attack on the wagon. Billy's horse had picked up a rock in his shoe, and Billy had paused to remove it. This let Maria get about 100 yards ahead of him before he remounted. He settled into the saddle and looked up just in time to see four men ride out of the bushes toward the wagon.
Two men grabbed the halters of the two mules pulling the wagon, and the other two rode up to Maria on the driver's seat. Billy was too far away to hear what was said, but it was obvious that Maria had yelled at the men to go away and leave her alone. The answer was also obvious. The man nearest to her reached over to try to grab Maria's shoulder, but she dodged out of the way and pulled one of the Colts from its holster.
Maria surprised herself in how fast she could pull the gun, cock the hammer, and fire a shot into the chest of the man reaching for her. That man fell back as his muscles reflexively contracted, and he dropped between the wagon and his horse.
The other man at the opposite end of the driver's box was so surprised at Maria's quick action that he had no time to react before she turned her gun on him. He was a little farther away, which was fundamentally bad luck for him. Maria fired before she was really ready, so that she hit the man in the lower belly rather than in the chest, which had been her intention. This meant that he did not die right away, but lingered in considerable pain until he could be disposed of later.
While all of this was happening, Billy was riding as fast as his horse would take him toward the wagon. He saw the two men fall before he reached the wagon, so he kept on going after the men at the front holding the mules. These men could not see clearly what had happened to their companions; all they heard was the sound of the gunshots. Since one Colt sounded like another, they assumed that their friends had shot the woman, and they were somewhat pissed about that.
Before they could do anything about it, Billy arrived with pistol blazing. He passed so close to the man on the right side that there was no question of whether or not his bullet would find its mark. Billy put his bullet into the man's chest, which caused him to fall to the ground, dead or close enough there to.
The fourth man was now finally realizing that he was in serious trouble. He released the mule he was holding and reached for his gun. Maria stood and took a shot at him, and Billy got off a shot as he rode into a turn to try to trap the bushwhacker. Who knows which shot was the fatal one, but both bullets scored hits on the man's chest, so that one will have to be written up as a draw.
Between the two, they had wiped out four bushwhackers, and they had reason to be proud of themselves. Though it had not started out that way, the encounter turned into a brilliant trap for the bad guys. Billy rode back to the wagon to be sure that Maria was OK. She had kind of flopped on the driver's seat and looked somewhat stunned by the whole episode. Billy moved from his horse to the wagon and sat down beside Maria.
She seemed to register that it was Billy sitting beside her, and she grabbed him in an embrace that might well have broken some ribs if he had not been so strong. She began to cry, but it was obviously in relief that the both of them had come through the ordeal unharmed. Billy returned the embrace, and that was enough to give Maria the reassurance that she needed at the moment.
After a few minutes, Maria sat back up and said, "Billy, I hope that I did not embarrass ya by my actions. I was so frightened when the men first showed up that I sort of lost control an' let my emotions guide me."
"Maria, ya were magnificent in yer defense. I believe that ya were doing so well fer yourself that ya really didn't need my assistance. Nevertheless, I was glad that I could he'p."
"Oh, Billy, I wish that I could do that ta every bushwhacker in this whole state! They are such vile people that I can't abide that they kin prey on innocent people the way that they do. Ya told me that ya was hunting down every bushwhacker that ya could find, an' I want ya ta permit me ta join ya."
"Maria, ya are a woman. Are ya sure that ya would want to keep up with the rough life that I live. I admit that ya have proven yerself to be a valuable partner, but I wonder ifen ya really know what ya're askin' fer."
"Oh, yes. I have thought about it, and I am ready to commit myself ta the life ya live. Please, I beg of ya, let me join ya. I promise that I will practice so that I kin become a better shot. I will always take yer orders, just like I would ifen I was a soldier under yer command."
"Well ... OK, we kin give it a try, but don't be afraid ta call it quits ifen it gets ta be too much fer ya. Now, let's see what valuables these galoots might have. At least their pistols and knives should be worth something. By the time it was over and done with, they had collected 11 Colt Navy revolvers, four bowie knives, four clasp knives, two derringers, and $153 in gold and silver, plus four horses with full tack.
The clothes of the bushwhackers were not worth saving, except for one pair of boots that Maria took a shine to. Her boots were wearing kind of thin, and these boots would fit her well enough, so she took possession of them. The boots fit loosely enough around her calf that she was able to drop a derringer into the leg of each one. Maria felt that the two derringers were all the weapons that she needed to carry, and Billy didn't have a strong opinion at the moment, so he did not argue with her.