Basin River Gorge
"Boy, you take care of your ma and sister. I'll be back as soon as we get them damned Redlegs and Jayhawkers beat back over into Kansas where they belong, ya hear?" Ezra Crow told his son Eli, as he saddled his horse in the barn while the other men waited for him in the barnyard.
"Yeah Pa, I'll watch out for them good 'til you get back. Just be careful out there. Judd Baron said his pa told him there are some bad riders out there nowadays," Eli cautioned his pa.
"You know how to use that old scattergun and my old Colt's in the drawer in the kitchen. I done showed you how to use all them firearms, so you watch out for any bad riders, ya hear?"
Ezra Crow and all the able bodied men in southwestern Missouri had been called up by the Missouri State Guard to ride with the militia and run down the outlaw gangs that were still out marauding, stealing, and killing after the war.
Though Ezra Crow was a peace loving man in the later part of his life, his temper always had roots that were tied to a short fuse. He had a family now and he tried hard to keep his anger under control. He wanted better for his son Eli; he for sure didn't want him saddled with an ill temper like his own.
He had met and married a Cherokee woman half his age and they had two children. Their daughter, Rose Elizabeth, was thirteen now and Eli was twelve.
Ezra had even preached in church a few times on Sunday and tried to show good manners most of the time, until some sonofabitch made remarks about his 'squaw woman and his two half-breed heathens'.
Though leaving his family, Ezra felt at ease about joining the state militia. The command he was assigned to would be sent to patrol the western and southern boundaries of Missouri. They'd not be more than a few days from their homes at any one time.
Eli Crow had fed the few chickens, their old mule, and one cow. He carried the water for his ma and sister to do the washing and then helped hang it on the line. His chores done, he headed down to the Basin River where the water came through the gorge out of the Ozark Mountains. The fishing was good there and they needed food to keep from having to kill and eat the last of the chickens, which was about the only thing left to eat.
He had just baited his two hooks with grub worms when he heard a shot fired off in the distance. His first thought was that his ma had shot at a coyote or a chicken hawk. When he heard more shots, he threw down his fishing poles and headed back toward the cabin in a hard run. He just knew bad things were happening.
He was too late. His ma was dead in the yard, lying in the dirt with her buckskin dress ripped apart and her privates all bloody, her teats carved up and nearly torn from her body. Her throat was cut and her head was bloody where she'd been scalped, something he'd heard white men did to squaw women when they were through with them. He looked the place over, calling for his sister, Rose Elizabeth. He knew the men must have taken her with them. He'd heard his pa tell of what happened to girls and women that were taken captive by the raiders. They had even killed the old mule and milk cow.
Eli got a shovel and buried his ma out on the hillside where she'd always sat and told him and Rose of her life on the Indian Reservation, and the stories of her forefathers in their home camps back in North Carolina. Eli wept as he covered his ma with the cold damp dirt. He took his hat off and spoke a few of the words that he'd heard his pa speak on Sundays. He didn't know what they meant, but his pa believed in them.
He went to the house and looked in the big drawer in the kitchen; there was the old Colt. He sat at the table, crying as he loaded the Colt's cylinder with caps, balls, and powder. He went to the cupboard and there stood the old scattergun. He took the ten long brass shells from the sack hung over the double barrel of the scattergun and shoved them in his pockets. Stuffing the Colt in his waist band, he grabbed the scattergun and slung his sack of powder and extra pistol balls on his shoulder. Eli took the big knife his ma told him had once belonged to her own pa, strapping it on his hip as he set out to find his sister Rose.
He followed their tracks for three days and came close enough to hear them talk twice. He heard his sister scream in pain and he almost ran to her, but he knew he'd be killed before he got to her. On the fourth day, he was right on their tail as they stopped to pillage another homestead, raping and killing two women and taking two more girls.
That very night, he crept into their camp and cut the throats of four men as they slept, then hid under some deer hide blankets until he could catch more of them asleep.
When morning came, there were only two of the nine riders that woke up. Eli had taken his sister Rose and the two girls during the night and hid them in some willows, after making backtracks and false trails all around the camp. One of the bad riders came through a briar thicket, his arms over his head to keep the briars out of his face. He died standing up with his throat cut, just like Eli had found his ma.
Eli took his scalp and dragged the man back to the camp. There he took all the men's scalps and strung them from two poles above where the dead men lay. Eli had gotten a good look at the last man. He'd remember his face long enough to track him down and kill him like the others.
He took four horses, one for himself and one for each girl. He also took the guns, powder, and lead balls along with what little money and coins the men had.
Eli knew he'd never forget what had happened to his ma. He and Rose talked about it some, before he left her with the preacher's family.
"Eli, stay with me, please don't leave me. You're all I got and I know I'll be safe if you're here with me."
"Rose, this is just something I gotta do. I can't let the last of the men that killed our ma get away with it. You'll be safe here with these people. There's enough good folks here to fight off the raiders if they come again."
"Eli, do you think Pa will ever come back?"
"It's hard to say, Rose. He may be dead already, or he may be killed in this damned militia fighting. It's just hard to say."
"Eli, I wish you wouldn't talk hard like that. Ma tried to teach us better. You scare me when you talk hard and look off into the dark and never even look at me. You've got that look Pa always had when a man talked down on us and Ma. You've already killed enough men to have revenge on Ma's death. Let it go, Eli."
"Rose, I reckon I'll never rest 'til I know that last man is dead with his throat cut like I found our ma. Killing those eight men felt like what I was supposed to do. Sister, don't hate me for doing what has to be done; she was our ma. No matter if she was Indian, she was a good woman and she was our ma. I'll come back one day, when all this fighting and killing is over and we'll go over to Kansas and start a new life."
"I hope you do, Eli. I love you, brother."
"I love you too, sister."
Eli left his sister Rose and the other two girls with the preacher's wife and the women and men of the church as he rode west into Kansas.
Boones Crossing, Kansas
September 15, 1872
Boones Crossing, Kansas was situated about 90 miles north and west of Kansas City, Missouri. It was just a small crossroads town that sprang up when the first ATSF Railroad laid a few miles of tracks out on the prairie.
Town Marshal Dal Hopkins sat on the front boardwalk of his office and town jail on a sleepy early fall day and watched the tall skinny kid ride his horse slowly up the street. He could tell the kid was a half-breed and he could see his big Colt pistol hanging down his leg, tied just above his knee.
The kid was tall, maybe even taller than he was, Dal figured. His own son would have been about this kid's age, had he not been killed during a raid on the local bank a few years back.
Dal remembered it like it was this morning. He'd been tipped off about the raid and had been waiting when the men ran from the bank. He was shot in the side of his leg from behind and fell to the dirt street.
His own son ran to him when he saw his father had been shot. His son was killed as he bent over him, shot in the back.
Dal shot two of the men as they rode by, before taking another bullet in his side.
Dal watched with keen interest now, as the kid rode right up to the hitching rail in front of him, looking down from his horse and grinning before dismounting.
"You'd be the marshal, I reckon?" the kid asked, in a quiet, slow easy voice that sounded much older than his years.
"I'm the marshal; what can I do for you?"
"I'm looking for honest work and I figured you'd be the first to know of anyone needing a hired hand," the kid drawled with the hint of South Missouri in his voice.
"Have a seat, the sun feels good and the talk is free. Tell me about yourself and I'll help you find work, or at least a job that'll pay room and board."
"Yes Sir, and thank you," the kid said with a smile as he sat in the cane bottom rocking chair beside the Marshal.
"Where ya from kid and what brings you here?"
"I'm from over in southwest Missouri and I'm looking for a man," he said, as he squinted his eyes in the morning sun, speaking again in his slow easy voice, not a whisper, but almost.
"Would you be meaning to do harm to this man you're looking for?"
"Yes Sir, he would be the last man alive that raped my sister and my ma. They killed my ma, cut her throat and took her scalp, they did. I aim to kill him."
"You said the last man, does that mean you already killed the others?"
"Yes Sir, I did. Cut their throats and took their scalps like they did my ma."
"Kid, that would make you an outlaw in some folk's eyes, taking the law into your own hands like that."
"Marshal, where we lived back there, there was no law and if I didn't bring them to justice in the eyes of the Lord, no one else would have. My sister would have been killed sooner or later; I had no choice. If that makes me a bad person, then so be it," the kid said with the same easy, slow voice, just above a loud whisper.
"So you rode after them and overtook them and killed all of them?"
"I had no horse, but Ma taught me to read trail sign and I followed them on foot, day and night. I listened to my sister scream and wanted to run to her, but I knew I'd be killed. I waited and snuck into their camp and cut the throats of seven of them as they slept. I made all sorts of tracks around their camp, after I took my sister and two more girls younger than her. I killed one more man when he came tramping through the brush looking for the girls. I dragged him back to camp and took all their scalps and hung them on poles above their heads, so their spirits couldn't escape into the heavens. I saw the other man's face and I'll know him when I see him. I've been lookin for him for most of 4 years now. I won't quit 'til he's dead."
"I could rightly lock you up, just on your own confession, but I'm not. Just don't be telling that story here in Kansas. Start you a new life and let the dead lie in peace. You've done more than most grown men would've done as it is."
"Thank you, Marshal. I knew you looked like a man that would listen to my story and offer me just a little help. I don't need hand-outs. I need a hired hand's job and pay, if there's any to be had."
"How old are you and what's your name, kid?"
"I'll be 17 in a week or two; my name's Eli Crow. My pa's name was Ezra and my ma's name was Little Deer, but pa called her Doe 'cause she had big black eyes like a doe deer."
Dal Hopkins listened to Eli talk in his easy, soft voice and was reminded again of his own son. He wanted to help this kid, someway, somehow.
"I'll let you clean my office and scrub the jail cells where the drunks have puked and pissed on the floors. I'll talk to the bartender at the saloon; I know he needs his place cleaned. I'll talk to Sam Connor over at the general store and he'll let you work some, just on my say so. It's not much, but by then I'll have figured out something for you. Can you use that single action hog leg tied to your hip?"
"Thanks, Marshal. I just knew you'd be a man that'd help. Like I said, I don't need handouts, I'm asking for work. Pa taught me to handle a gun. I took this fancy Colt pistol from one of the men I killed and I reckon if I was pushed to it, I could keep from getting myself killed."
"I bet you could, Eli Crow. I just bet you could," Dal Hopkins said as he looked at this kid and knew he'd just made a friend for life. This was a good kid.
Eli got a bucket of water, a big scrub brush and a bar of lye soap and scrubbed the floors and even the walls and iron bars of the jail cells, then the floors and walls of the Marshal's office too. The place hadn't looked nor smelled this good since the day the Marshal moved into it new.
They walked over to the saloon and Dal introduced Eli to Hank, the bartender/owner of the Crossroads Saloon. They made a deal for him to let Eli clean his place up. They crossed the street and went to the general store and met Sam Connor and made the same deal.
Marshal Hopkins liked his new friend more and more as he got to know him better.
"Let's get some food at the hotel, Eli. I'm hungry and I hear your belly growling; this one's on me."
"Yes Sir, I'm hungry, but I'll have to pay you back."
"You bet you will, Eli Crow. You just bet you will," Marshal Dal Hopkins told him and smiled.
Eli slept in a jail cell free for a week and Marshal Hopkins bought his meals all week for the cleaning. He cleaned the saloon for two days and when he was through Hank made new rules for all patrons. He had signs made and put them on the front door and on the walls inside the saloon. 'No Spittin On The Floor'; 'No Pissin in the Corner'.
Hank paid Eli a half dollar a day for the fine job he did and Sam Connor paid him three dollars for cleaning the general store and repairing the boardwalk in front.
Eli Crow had five dollars in his pocket, more money than he'd ever seen, let alone ever had in his own pockets. He felt good about his new start and found it easy to smile at the townspeople when they greeted him.
Dal Hopkins had seen some of the quiet anger and hatred begin to seep out of Eli in the week he'd been here. He was hoping the young man could get this out of his head and begin to live a life of his own and not feel so hell bent on revenge.
The town folks were beginning to accept the tall half-breed kid the Marshal had taken a liking to. All the store owners and shop keepers would speak to Eli when he walked in their store or passed by their front door.
Late on the second Saturday Eli was in Boones Crossing, he was walking back from the stables where he'd helped the livery man unload fresh hay into the barn for the winter. Sam Connor was standing on his front boardwalk, talking to Frank Martin and his wife as they loaded their goods into their wagon. He looked up to see Eli walking up the street toward him and smiled. He was about to comment about him to the Martins, when Eli was stopped by two young men a few years older than him.
Sam couldn't make out what they were saying, but he could tell that it wasn't a friendly conversation when one of them shoved Eli to the ground and spit on him. The other boy kicked him in the head and stood over him with clenched fists.
Sam sent a young boy to fetch Marshal Hopkins. He knew this was about to get out of control when Eli came up from the ground in a low crouch. With one swing of his fist, he knocked one of the young men out cold. Then he jumped the other one, knocking him to the ground. They rolled and tumbled and fought and scratched until they were nearly in front of the general store.
Eli was bleeding from a cut over his eye, when he stood to protect himself from another kick to the head. He caught the young man's foot and twisted hard. Sam heard the snap of the leg bone from the porch and so did the Martins.
The young man rolled over in pain and pulled a handgun from his belt, aiming it at Eli as he fumbled to thumb the hammer back. Eli stepped in quickly, kicking the gun from his hand, then kicking the man in his mouth. Teeth and blood splattered all over the ground as he rolled over unconscious.
Eli was bent over him, pounding his face when Dal Hopkins ran up to him.
"Eli, for the sake of God, stop, he's beat, '' he yelled and Eli turned to see his friend, Marshal Hopkins standing near him.
Dal Hopkins had never seen a look like that on any man's face before in his life.
Eli was like a cornered animal, he was ready to lash out at anything that moved.
"Eli, it's me, Dal Hopkins," he pleaded.
"Dal, the two jumped Eli. He was just defending himself, they started the whole thing. I saw it all," Sam Connor said as he ran out to Marshal Hopkins.
"We saw it too, Marshal," Frank Martin confirmed.
"Eli, tell me what happened here," Marshal Hopkins said.
"It don't matter none, Marshal. I'll get my belongings and be gone shortly," he spoke quietly, but firmly.
"No you won't. I'm not going to let you run from this and become an outlaw because someone said bad things to you," the marshal told him.
"They called me names, Marshal," Eli said as he sobbed a deep breath. "They called my ma a bitch dog and me her bastard cur. They called me a squaw girl and a dirty half-breed. I took all that, until they spit on me and kicked me. Then I just let loose on them, Marshal. I wanted to kill 'em then and I would've too," he said as he sobbed once more, then gained control of his breathing.
He stood tall and skinny in the dirt street and looked around at all the people that had come to see what was happening to the half-breed Indian kid.
"You men help me get these two over to the jail. Sam, will you send a boy over to fetch the Doc?" Marshal Hopkins said as he pulled Eli over and put his arm around his shoulders, leading him away from all the onlookers.
"Sam, I sure wish you'd get Eli cleaned up some. Put some clothes on him, too. These are all torn and just about to fall off him. Put it all on my due bill," Dal Hopkins said as he led Eli into the general store and hugged the boy to his chest.
Eli cried openly and grabbed Dal Hopkins, holding him so tight he had problems breathing, but he held the young boy and let him cry it out.
"Eli, come back here in my living quarters with me and let me help you get cleaned up some, then my wife will help fit you in some decent clothes. Come on son, we all want to help you," Sam said as he eased Eli away from Dal Hopkins and to the back of the store.
Eli looked at Marshal Hopkins, then at Sam Connor. He smiled at Dal and with his head down, followed Sam through the curtains into the back of the store.
"Eli, this is my wife, Gladys and you've met my daughter, Mary. They'll help you while I get the tub and bring water in."
"Hello Eli, we like the way you made our store look and smell so clean. As you can see, I can't get down on the floor like I used to and Mary has so much to do here that we've let it go much too long. You did a very good job, Eli and now Mary and I want to help you. Your hands are bleeding and while Mary tends to them, I'll get this torn, bloody shirt off you. We'll need to wash your face and see if you need stitches over your eye too," Gladys Connor told him as he looked at the short woman, whose back was bent and her body twisted.
Eli looked at Mary as she worked on cleaning his bloody hands. She glanced up and smiled and she looked pretty to Eli. She reminded him of his sister Rose and his mind went back, wondering where she was and if she was alright. Was Pa alright, was he even alive?
"Eli, here's the tub and I'll be right back with some water. I'm afraid we don't have any water heated on the stove, but this isn't that cold," Sam said as he placed the big metal bathing tub in the middle of the floor and hurried out to get some water. He was back quickly with two large metal buckets of water and went right back for more when he had emptied the first two. Sam made four trips out back and the tub was over half full.
Gladys had Eli's shirt off him. He was cut and scratched all over his back and arms.
"Eli, Mary and I will turn our backs and you can get in the tub and sit down, then we'll finish up washing your cuts and have a look at your eye while you're low enough for me to get a good look," Mrs. Connor told him.
He was used to bathing in front of his own ma and once when he had broken his arm, Rose had helped bathe him. He felt a bit awkward at first, since he was older now and these women were strangers. He gave in and stepped naked into the tub of cool water, sitting with his knees up and his butt and feet in the water. At least his manhood was covered and Pa always told him to be sure it was covered around strangers.
Mary couldn't resist the urge to look at the tall half-breed boy when he turned to sit in the tub.
Her throat locked up and she wasn't able to breathe as she looked his smooth brown skin over, from his feet to his shoulders and back.
She sucked her breath in quickly when she saw his brown buttocks. Her mother looked up at her, but Mary was looking downward and facing the back door when she did. Mary was trembling, she wished she had gotten a better look.
"Eli, tell Mary and me where you're from and what brings you here?" Gladys Connor said, making conversation to keep his mind off being naked in a room with two strange women.
"From over near Basin River Gorge, in Missouri. I just come over this way to get out of Missouri and see the west," he said, remembering Dal Hopkins telling him not to be telling his real story here in Kansas.
"Yes'sum, they're all back there in Missouri," he said, thinking again of his ma buried out on the hillside and wondered again about Rose Elizabeth and his pa.
"How old are you Eli, I'm 16 now," Mary said with her soft voice right near his ear as she washed the cut over his eye, the dried blood and water running down his face.
"I'm 17 in a few days," he said, never speaking more than it took to answer them. Mary was a pretty girl and his age too. Eli wondered how it would be if he wasn't a half-breed and met a pretty girl that liked him.
"Let me look at that cut, Mary. It may need some stitches," Gladys said and shuffled over to look at Eli with the lamp held close and his head tilted back.
"Go get my sewing box and a spool of that waxed thread up front. We'll put a few stitches in that cut or it'll swell out and leave a bad scar when it heals." Gladys told her daughter.
"Yes Momma," she said and stood quickly to run through the store.
"You're a good boy, Eli. Marshal Hopkins really likes you; we all do, I reckon. We've done grown accustomed to seeing you and having you around. You reckon you'll be staying on?" she asked.
"Thanks, Ma'am. I'm just not sure what I'll do. I need to find a good paying job and settle down somewhere I reckon, that is if folks will let me be."
"My Mary's a pretty girl isn't she, Eli?"
"Uh, yes'sum she is, I reckon she's real pretty."
"It doesn't bother Sam and me that you're half Indian, Eli. It doesn't bother a lot of folks around here. I know it doesn't bother my Mary one bit. I just wanted you to know that, just in case you stay here in Boones Crossing."
"Yes'sum and I really do thank you for that too. I think all of you folks are about the best I ever come to know, outside my family that is."
"Thank you, Eli, I'm going to have to let Mary sew your eye. She's real good at sewing and she'll do a good job. My back is about to give out, stooping like this. You take care now, Eli, and come back and let me see how your stitches are. I know Mary can do a better job than ol' Doc anyway."
"Yes'sum, it's alright and I thank you, Ma'am."
"Momma told me to sew you up, Eli. I hope it's alright. She hurts bad sometimes and can't be on her feet very long at a time," Mary said as she knelt beside the bathing tub.
"Yes'sum, she told me you were real good at sewing. I reckon that's good enough for me."
"You hold the lamp up close to your face so I can see good, Eli. It will burn some when I stick the needle in and when I pull the cut closed. It's started to swell already and we need to hurry."
"Yes'sum," Eli said and took the coal oil lamp, holding it close and feeling the heat of the lamp near his face. Mary took her hand and shifted the light just a little and he held it steady all through the stitching.
Mary started in the middle and pulled the cut tightly closed, then she sewed a stitch at one end and stitched her way back to the middle, cutting the first stitch when she came to it. She continued stitching Eli's eye until she had made eight small, tightly pulled stitches with the black waxed thread.
"I need to put some of this medicine on you, Eli. It's going to burn so help me keep it out of your eye."
"Yes'sum," Eli said as he cut his eyes up to see her drop some red liquid onto the corner of a cloth and then he felt her dab the cloth above his eye and down across his eyebrow.
It burned like hellfire and he squinted his eye closed tight.
"Are you alright, Eli?"
"I'll leave the room and let you wash and dry off. Father has some clothes laid out for you on that table over there. When you're dressed, please come see Father and me."
"Yes'sum and thank you, Mary," he said, leaving the Miss off her name this time.
Eli had never worn under britches and didn't even know how they went on him as he held them up and turned them all sorts of ways. He couldn't figure out the arms and legs and the button up flap. He laid them aside and pulled his pants up, then put his wool boot stockings on before pulling on his new boots. He liked the way they fit and his boot stockings felt good and snug on his feet. He'd always worn moccasins, but these boots felt good too.
He pulled his shirt over his head and shook his long black hair out over his shoulders.
He saw his image in a mirror and staggered backwards as he saw it was him. He hadn't seen himself in a mirror since he'd left home. His ma had a small one that his pa had bought for her. He and Rose loved to look in it.
'I'm a man, ' thought Eli as he looked at himself. He had still thought of himself as a boy, but here was a man standing in the tall mirror. He looked at himself and figured he was nearly as tall as his pa and though he was skinny, he was bigger than Marshal Hopkins.
Eli felt better about himself now that he knew he was as big as some men. He was just shy of 17 and he knew he had some growing to do yet. Eli wanted to be big enough that men wouldn't want to jump on him just because he was a half-breed.
He walked through the curtains draped over the doorway into the front store room. Sam and Mary were waiting on customers and looked at him when they heard the loud clomp, clomp of his new boots on the wood floor. He had his hat in his hand and his long shiny black hair was down his back. He looked bigger and more manly than he did when he went back there a while ago.
He stood taller and smiled a different smile when Mary and her Father looked at him like they'd never seen him before.
"Eli, you look much better and even taller with those new clothes on. Mary did a fine job on that eye."
"Yes Sir, she sure did. I thank all of you for helping me and making me welcome in your place. I reckon I'll go see Marshal Hopkins now."
"Eli, come back tomorrow and let me look at your eye. I mean Momma and me," Mary said and smiled at her father, then Eli.
"I will, Mary, and thank you for taking care of me. I've not had that since I was little," he smiled at her and headed to the door.
When Eli reached the Marshal's office, he heard him back in the jail with the Doc and the men that jumped on him.
He reached up and took his gun belt from the peg on the wall and strapped it around his waist. He pulled his Colt and spun the cylinder to look at the shells. It was loaded full and he slid it back in the holster and thumbed the loop over the hammer. Eli bent forward and tied his holster to his leg and slid his hat back off his head, letting the braided cord catch it. It was hurting his eye when it rested low on his forehead.
"Eli, is that you? My Lord son, I thought you were someone else," Marshal Hopkins said as he looked the boy over.
"Yes Sir, it's me. I reckon I do look a bit different in these clothes. I need to pay you for them."
"No you don't. You're a friend and you've done so much more for me in the last week or so. A new suit of clothes is the least I can do for you."
"Sir, I really thank you and I thanked the Connors too for fixing me up and letting me bathe in their store.
"Marshal, how's the two fellers that jumped me out there?"
"One's got a broken leg, some broken ribs, and no front teeth; the other one's got a broken jaw and a broken nose. You sure did a job on them."
"I never meant to hurt them. They just kept on and then when they spit on me, I got really mad. I saw pa near bout kill a man with his fists once for spitting on my ma's foot. I reckon I got some of my pa's blood in me, Marshal."
"I reckon you do, Eli Crow. I reckon you got a lot of him in you," Dal Hopkins said, laughing.
Eli slept in the livery stable that night and at first light he led his saddled horse to the hitching rail in front of the Marshal's office, then sat waiting on him.
Dal Hopkins saw Eli's horse saddled and tied in front of his office before he reached the porch. He knew Eli had decided to move on and he felt his heart get heavy. He had hoped the boy would stay on and one day become a lawman here. He'd make a good one; he was so easy going and he never let anyone know his anger until it was too late.
"Eli, I see you're headed out. Have you got a place in mind or just riding on?"
"I reckon I'm just riding on, Marshal. I feel like I got a lot of growing up to do yet. I need to get out in the open and spend some time with myself, like ma taught me to do when I wasn't sure about things in my head. I sure do like you as a friend and I hope you know what I'm feeling."
"I sure do, Eli. You ride easy out there. There'll always be folks that will want to test you and make you lose your temper. Just watch your back and know your friends.
"I knew you'd ride on soon and I wrote out a letter for you. I hope you'll really think about getting into the lawman business. You'd sure make a good one. When you get to where you're going, look up the nearest marshal or sheriff and introduce yourself, then show them this letter. I want you to try your best to become a U.S. Marshal one day, Eli.
"Marshal, I really thank you for this. I had thought about maybe staying and seeing if you thought I'd make a lawman, but I knew I wasn't ready yet. I'm still kinda young."
"You may be young, but you're a man. Yep, you're much of a man, Eli Crow."
"Thanks, Sir. You're as good a man to me as my pa was. I'll be back and see you one day."
"Thank you, Eli, You couldn't have told me anything that would make me any prouder of knowing you. I always wanted my son to grow up and be like you are. I'll think about you a lot and I wish you well out there," Marshal Dal Hopkins said, tears filling his eyes as he grabbed Eli and they hugged like family.
"I reckon I'll stop by and see if the Connors are up yet. I'd like to say goodbye to them too."
"You like that pretty little girl don't you, Eli?"
"Yes Sir, I wish things were different."
"You'll have to change things, Eli. When you've changed yourself, things will be different then."
"I'll remember that, Marshal, see ya."
Eli rode to the back of the general store and saw lights on inside. He stepped off his horse onto the wooden porch and reached to knock on the door. Mary jerked the door open before he even knocked. She'd heard the thump, thump of his new boots on the back porch. She knew it was him.
"Eli, you're leaving," she said.
"Yes, Mary. I'm leaving and I wanted to come say goodbye to your ma and pa. But I wanted to say goodbye to you special. I'm not sure where I'm going or how long it will take me to get there, but I'll be back one day when I get things settled in my head. Marshal Hopkins wants me to be a U.S. Marshal, so I reckon I'll see what that holds for me.
"I really do like you, Mary, and I wish things could be different, but they're not. Marshal Hopkins told me I could change things, when I changed myself. I reckon I'm gonna go off somewhere and try to change myself some."
"I'll wait for you, Eli."
"Mary, I may not make it back. There's a lot of bad riders out there that don't like half-breeds. Don't wait for me, but remember me please. I'd ride easy knowing that you remembered me, Mary."
"Eli, I'll be here. Come back to me one day."
"I'll try real hard, Mary. Just don't wait too long," he turned to leave.
"Eli," she yelled at him and he turned to catch her as she ran to him. They hugged and she cried. Eli cried too, wishing once again things were different. He left her standing on the porch as he rode between the buildings and out into the street, digging his heels into his horse's flanks.