Another tale of the turbulent times during and following the Civil War.
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"He was a hell of a man in his day," Marshal John Tillman motioned toward Elwood T. Sloan who was slowly walking down the opposite side of the main street in Prescott Arizona. As the early morning heat was building, friends, Marshal John Tillman and Lawrence Edwards, sat in heavy wooden chairs tilted back against the shaded wall of the Marshal's office. The men were drinking coffee and basically waiting for the business day to start; it was a morning ritual between the friends.
"Don't look like much," Edwards replied watching the sad looking figure.
Sloan had been tall in his younger days, topping 6' 2: but time, age, and a hard life now caused him to limp and stoop as he walked; Elwood was in his late 60's. As the saying goes, he'd been rode hard and put away wet; his body showed the effects of the years of hard work, hard riding, and truth be known hard drinking. The deep blue eyes had faded a little but still held your gaze when he faced you. He wore his almost entirely gray hair long, down to his shoulders.
"Don't let looks put you off; he was a real curly wolf at one time. Even now, there's others I'd rather face than him. He's had a real hard life, Elwood has," Marshal Tillman said. "He was one of the most feared pistolero's in the west in his day. Some say he was faster than Hickok or John Wesley Hardin. Story goes he faced down gun slinger Clay Allison over to Elizabeth, New Mexico. That was four years back in '69 when Elwood was 64. Even at his age, Sloan is a man to reckon with.
"He's still carrying a gun at his age," Edwards remarked in surprise.
"They'll get his gun when they kill him," Tillman said. The tone of his voice carried his admiration for the aging gun fighter.
Turning to his friend Edwards said, "You sound like you respect him John."
"I do respect him, maybe not his line of work, but he never shot a man in the back or from ambush. He always faced the men he was after. And he always kept his word; not all can make that claim."
Elwood Sloan's hearing was still very good, in spite of his age and he'd heard the Marshal talking about him. John's right, he thought. I stood eye to eye with each man I went after. Some didn't deserve it, but I called them out and gave them a chance. Coming to where his horse was hitched, he slowly mounted and rode out of town. He wasn't going anywhere in particular but it was a fine spring day and he wanted to see the wild flowers that had blossomed after yesterday's early morning shower.
He was about five or six miles outside of Prescott, riding at a canter along an old logging trail, surrounded by tall Ponderosa pines, when his horse stepped in a gopher hole and threw him over the animal's head. Elwood was thrown about six feet and landed on a short thick branch in a deadfall left behind by the loggers.
The branch pieced his midsection; it was like one of the Indian lances he'd face in his day. After several minutes, Elwood recovered and with a great deal of pain, slowly pulled himself off the branch. He collapsed next to it, exhausted by the effort. Elwood tried to move and found his legs wouldn't work; guess I broke my back too, he thought.
Elwood could see his horse on the ground, screaming and thrashing in pain. He slowly pulled his Remington .44; the effort almost made him black out. Gathering himself he took aim and put a bullet into the head of the injured animal; the shot ended the horse's agony. Elwood fell back, still holding his pistol. Might have to do the same thing for myself, he thought.
Elwood didn't know how long he'd been there; he kept fading in and out of consciousness. During one of his aware periods, a stranger knelt down beside him. "Take it easy old timer; I'm gonna help you," the man said to Elwood. He held a canteen to Elwood's lips and after taking a few cautious sips of water, Elwood passed out again.
The next time Elwood awoke, the stranger sat staring at the old man. He had stripped the gear from Elwood's dead animal and used the saddle as a pillow for Elwood's head. "You're Elwood Sloan," the man said. "The famous gun fighter."
"Yep I'm Elwood Sloan, though I don't know about the famous part," Elwood replied. "And I've been called a gun fighter, shootist, and a hired gun. Some called me a bastard; not many of those lived to tell about it though. Who'd you be?"
"I'm Luke Donaldson from over to Chino Valley. Was on my way into Prescott when I saw a couple of buzzards circling overhead. The higher the sun rose and the warmer it got, more vultures joined the first two. I rode over to see what had died and found you." Luke held the canteen to Elwood's lips again. "I'll tend you the best I know how old timer, then I'll go to Prescott and get help."
"No need Luke. I'm done in. That damn tree branch stickin me is as bad as being gut shot. I'd never make it until you got back; lost too much blood. Sides that, my back is broke and my insides feel like mush." Elwood sighed. "I've had a good run though." Luke and Elwood talked for a bit; Elwood to keep his mind off his pain and Luke because he was interested in the old man.
After several minutes Luke said, "Heard you faced down Clay Allison down in Texas. He had quite a reputation too; almost as famous as you."
"Not a word of truth to that story boy," Elwood replied. "Allison came into the saloon and thought I was one of the Kennedy clan; they were a mite upset at Allison for killing Charley Kennedy. I told him I wasn't a Kennedy but if he wanted trouble that I'd oblige him. I cleared my slicker away from my gun to free it and stood waiting. The bartender vouched for me and Allison pulled in his horns. He apologized and bought me a drink. And that's the way it went."
The old man coughed and grimaced in pain. "Don't want to do that again," he said. Turning to Luke he said, "You know all that hogwash about gun fights?"
"What about gun fights?"
"All those stories the dime novel writers put out about men facin each other in the street at dawn or high noon is just plain bull crap. Most time men got shot from off a distance or were ambushed. There are two exceptions; Bill Hickok and John Wesley Hardin. They'd face down any man, given the chance."
There was three," Luke said.
"Three what?" Elwood asked.
"Three that faced men from the front. Hickok, Hardin, and you. I've heard the stories from men that were there and saw you do it."
"How about you Luke? You said Chino Valley but I hear a bit of the south in your talk."
"Born and bred in Virginia." Luke was quiet and had a faraway look in his eyes. "Couldn't abide what was happenin after the war so I left."
"You serve with the South?"
"Yes sir; First Virginia Cavalry, Valley Rangers, under J.E.B. Stuart. We rode and fought for four years." Luke got quiet for a couple of minutes, thinking back over those horrible, violent years of his life. He shook himself and looked back at Elwood. "Anything more I can do for you Mr. Sloan?"
Elwood shook his head and studied Luke; he liked what he saw in the boy. Luke looked to be about 30. He was tall and straight and carried himself with a quiet confidence, moving like a big mountain lion. Elwood sort of smiled and thought I used to move like that fore I got old. "Need a favor of you Luke." Donaldson nodded and Elwood said, "Got a wife and son down in Wickenburg; I've got something I want you to take to them for me." Elwood chuckled. "Don't look like I'm gonna be able to do it myself."
"That's three days hard ride, maybe four," Luke replied.
"Yep, sure is. What kind of work do you do Luke?"
"I'm a cowhand and wrangler when I can find work. That's why I was comin to Prescott; to see if any of the spreads around there are hiring."
"What's a hand get paid these days?"
"Usually $30 a month and found."
Elwood carefully reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out a rawhide, drawstring bag. "I'll give you better than 3 months wages to make the trip to Wickenburg. Hell, that's a lot of money for a week's work." Elwood counted out five $20 Double Eagle gold coins and handed them to Luke.
"I could take your money and run Mr. Sloan," Luke said.
"You could but you won't," Elwood replied. "You don't have that look about you." He nudged the bag toward Luke. "In the bag is another $800. I'm askin you to take the money to my wife. Last I knowed she was livin close by Grant's Stage Station. Tell her I rode my last trail and won't be botherin her again."
"How long since you saw your family Mr. Sloan?"
"Close to five years now. Caleb, that's my son, was near 17 last time I saw him."
"Why so long, if you don't mind my askin?"
"Have to tell about my history to make you understand and that's a long story; but I guess I'm not going nowhere." Sloan motioned toward the canteen and Luke held it up to his lips.
"I'm not going nowhere either Mr. Sloan. I'll stay with you and see you get a proper burial, when the time comes."
Elwood nodded his thanks. "I was born in Georgia back in '05; let's see that makes me 68, I reckon. Anyway my Ma died givin birth to me and my Pa was a drunk. He didn't have much truck with a youngster that had taken his wife from him, so I sorta grew up on my own. I was about 15 when I started running with a bad crowd. Went to a work farm for two years after me and some others were caught stealing pigs."
.... There is more of this story ...