Surprise! I'm Left-handed
I had been a Federal Marshal for six years when it happened. Judge Allen sent me to pick up Jess McFarland in San Jacinto to transport him to Austin for his murder trial. Such a big deal was not usually made of a murder charge, but McFarland had murdered a Federal Judge. That got everybody stirred up. There was no question of McFarland's guilt because he bragged about it in very nearly every saloon in the county.
Anyway, I picked him up from the San Jacinto jail early one morning, and we set out on horses for Austin. That was going to be a trip of three days, and I had lined up jails to hold McFarland for me each night of the journey. Unfortunately, McFarland was smarter than me, and he had some friends ready to rescue him on his way to Austin.
About mid-afternoon, we were riding through a growth of trees with the trees pretty close to the road. As a sensible thing, I had McFarland riding ahead of me where I could keep an eye on him. A fat lot of good that did me! Suddenly, from somewhere among the trees, a shot rang out, and I was hit in the left knee by the bullet. I guess that you could say that I was lucky because the bullet only tore off my kneecap, but it looked like it had blasted my knee to smithereens.
The shock of the unexpected bullet was so severe that I fell from my horse and banged my head on the ground. That knocked me out, but it must have been obvious that I was not dead. Later on, I found out that three of Jess McFarland's friends had been waiting to ambush me. When I finally came to my senses, I was lying on the road naked, and my arms and legs were spread out and tied to stakes.
Now, in case you had not figured it out, McFarland was the vindictive type, and he was not going to let me get away with treating him like a common murderer. I still have trouble thinking in detail about what they did to me, but I will list the things because they are significant to the rest of the story. Specifically, the four men started discussing what would be the worst thing that they could do to me. Of course, I was aware of the conversation, and that was an intended part of the torture.
Anyway, they built a small fire on a flat rock they had put on my bare belly and heated the blade of my knife until it was red hot. They had decided to end my lawman days by cutting off the trigger finger on my right hand. I can understand their mistake because I normally wore two revolvers in a crossdraw rig at my waist. They assumed that I was right handed, so they cut off the first finger of my right hand, figuring that I would not be able to use a pistol in that hand ever again. God! That hurt when they cut off my finger, and they stopped the bleeding by using the same hot knife to cauterize the wound.
I now had what looked like a shattered left knee and a missing trigger finger, but McFarland and his friends were not satisfied. Originally, they were going to use the same hot knife to castrate me and cut off my pecker, but they decided against that because they were afraid that they could not keep me from bleeding to death. It was part of McFarland's torture that I should live through all of this, so he did not want to take a chance on my early death from loss of blood. They had tied a compression bandage around my knee to stop the bleeding there, and that was working according to plan.
When McFarland decided that castration was out, the four started discussing what they could do for an alternative. That was when it occurred to Shorty Schmidt to use the pin on my badge for the big joke. They took great pleasure in removing the badge from my shirt and pushing the pin slowly through my balls, pinning them together. They could not close the badge on the pin because too much of my balls were in the way, but that was a minor point. I was doing my damnedest not to show how much pain I was suffering, but I was not very successful.
As a final note, they used the fire on the rock on my belly to brew a small pot of coffee which they slowly drank. By this time, it was getting late in the day, so they figured that they had better leave before somebody came along and messed up their party. Ever the good campers, they made sure the fire was out by pouring the hot coffee left in the pot over it. I guess that the rock was so hot that I never noticed the heat from the coffee, but they left me for some passerby to find. Their hope was that I would be found by a human before I was found by scavengers, especially wild hogs.
Well, they were gone about an hour when a man and his son came by with a buckboard. They were kind enough to stop to help me. It was a lot of work for them, especially the boy who was about 13-years-old to get me loaded into the buckboard. About all that they could do for me right then was to pull the pin that was driven through my balls, but that, alone, produced a lot of relief.
Seth Johnson and his son Billy took me the two miles to his farm house where I was carefully transferred to a bed in their spare room. Mrs. Johnson took over as my doctor, and laced me with as much laudanum as was safe. That, combined with half a pint of moonshine whiskey knocked me out so that she could do everything possible for my messed up knee.
I spent six weeks with the Johnsons, and I can't think of a better set of Good Samaritans than that family. Of course, I had no way to pay them for their care of me because the McFarland gang had taken everything not permanently attached to my body. On a couple of occasions, Mrs. Johnson scolded me for not eating enough because I was trying to keep from taking any more from my new friends than I could help.
Oh, I forgot to introduce myself. My name is John Oakley, and I am from near Laredo. I am as average as you could imagine: 5'-8" tall and weighed 130 pounds before I ran afoul of the McFarland gang. My hair is dark brown, almost black, and my eyes are brown. My features are "regular," so I would be hard to pick from a crowd. My only distinguishing feature, I guess, is that I am left-handed in a world that finds that hard to reconcile with. That's why I still have my trigger finger.
Anyway, we were close enough to the same size that Mrs. Johnson was able to alter some of her husband's old clothes to fit me well enough. Seth had an old Colt Navy pistol that used cap and loose powder. Billy had his own Colt Navy converted to metallic cartridges, so he did not need the old one. Mrs. Johnson reworked an old holster to go on my right side in a crossdraw configuration, so I could now appear in public without looking completely naked.
Naturally, Judge Allen had fired me as soon as I failed to show up with Jess McFarland as ordered, so I had to look for a job. At least, I could still walk if I used a crutch or cane, but I was never going to mount a horse again for anything like a day's work. That kept me from trying for a job as a cow hand, so I had to look for something else. After about a week, I managed to land a job as the shotgun guard on a stagecoach line running from Hesper to the nearest railroad connection at Bowman.
The total run was about 46 miles, and almost every week there was a robbery. The schedule was for the stagecoach to leave Hesper for Bowman on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday were for the return trip. The coach always carried the mail, but the bandits were careful to leave that alone and to concentrate on robbing the passengers and whatever else the coach might be carrying.
The state of Texas was still in a deep economic depression following the end of the War of Yankee Aggression, even though that had been over for about 10 years. Yet, it was hard for the stagecoach line to keep shotgun guards because of the number of injuries and fatalities resulting from the robberies. That was why I was able to get the job. Nobody else would take it, and they had to have a guard or else loose the contract and the passengers. I had to be helped into the driver's box and back out at the end of the run, but I had no trouble functioning once I was in my seat. I did insist on a special cushion for my ass and back to absorb some of the shock of the rough road; however, that was blamed on my injuries, and I had no trouble with getting people to go along with me. Actually, I was more worried about my kidneys because so many of the stagecoach crews wound up pissing blood after a month on the job.
I had an ace up my sleeve on the job because I carried two shotguns, one had a regular barrel length and the other was sawed off. Most guards just carried a sawed off shotgun, and they had to have a target close by before they could deal any real damage. With my long barrels, I could work up to 75-80 yards and be equivalent to most pistols. I was not worried about rifle shots because most men were not very good shots at moving targets with the crude sights on the average rifle. Once we stopped moving, the story would change, but I was an excellent shot with anything I used, so I felt reasonably safe.
The job paid $6.00 per week, which was way above the going wage, but it was necessary to pay that much to get anybody to take the job. On top of that, the company paid a bounty of $25.00 for every dead bandit, so it was possible to make some good money at this job. I would just need help in salvaging the bodies, and I was willing to pay $1.00 for the help. Thus, the driver was on my side whenever I might need to stop to pick up a body.
The first week at the new job was pretty quiet. For some reason, there were no robbery attempts, so I had a chance to learn the route and to spot the most likely places for robbery attempts. Thus, I was ready when one finally happened. This was on a Wednesday, and we had a full load of passengers. There were four men and two women, the wife and daughter of one of the male passengers.
The women rode facing forward which put them almost even with the rear wheels. Supposedly, this was more comfortable than the seats facing to the rear. Personally, I couldn't see that it made any difference, but the passengers thought that way, so that was the way things were done.
The weather that day was beautiful with enough clouds to keep the temperature down to about 85° F, and that was cool for this time of year in this part of Texas. We had been on the road for a couple of hours and were making good time. However, about 10 minutes out of the most recent relay station where the mule team was changed, we were hit by six bandits. They had blocked the road so that we were forced to stop, and that was about the only thing that they did right.
For one thing, they had forced us to stop, and moving at speed was our primary defense. But they screwed up by not using rifles against us. Apparently, they had thought that pistols would be sufficient, especially since the shotgun guard was a cripple. Well, I delighted in showing them what a crippled man could do when he was of a mind for it. To be honest, I did not see six bandits: what I saw was $150 staring me in the face.
Another thing they did wrong was to concentrate on my side of the coach. By being left handed, I put the shotgun stock against my left shoulder and fired across my body. That made it much easier to aim, and that was something that I was very good at. The bandits were only about 20 yards from the stopped coach, so they were well within the effective range of my sawed-off shotgun. The shorter barrel significantly reduced the weight of the weapon so that I was able to swing it into position almost as quickly as I could have done with a pistol.
Both shotguns were breech-loading 10-gauge double barrel shotguns with the latest in external hammers. I had given the matter some thought and decided against #00 buckshot because I wanted more balls in each shell. I was using #4 shot with 24 pellets in each shell. The pellets were about .24 caliber, but a pellet that size could kill if it hit in the right place, and I figured that would happen with so many being thrown at the same time. Anyway, whenever practical, I went for a head-shot, hoping to hit my opponent in the eyes. Even at a distance, a shot in the eye was going to put a man down for a few minutes, and it might kill him if I were lucky.
Anyway, I had a plethora of targets. Six heads were exposed, so I had no reason to hesitate. I shot at the two bandits at the greatest distances, and I managed to hit both of the fools in the face. That was two down, and I reloaded as quickly as possible. I think that it took me no longer than 15 seconds to get off those first two shots and be ready to shoot again.
The fools still had not caught on, and were still exposed when I fired my second pair of shots with the short shotgun. These two were a little closer, and I also hit them both in the head. Down they went, and I reloaded as quickly as possible. Uh-oh, the damned powder smoke was in my way. There was absolutely no breeze with us standing still, so I had to lean to one side to see around the cloud.
That probably saved my life because the remaining two bandits were both shooting at me exclusively. The driver and the four male passengers were also firing their pistols at the bandits, but I had no idea where the bullets were going. I figured that it was up to me to do what I was being paid for, so I leaned as far to my right as I safely could and fired through the outer wisps of smoke.
These bandits apparently did not have sense enough to come inside out of a shower of shit! They had not moved, but were still shooting at me from their original positions. I shot both of them in the head as I had done before, and we were suddenly free of incoming rounds. It took a bit before I could get everybody to stop shooting and to help me down from the driver's box.
Once down, I found that one of the bandits was still alive, so I shot him with my Colt Navy. Now that I was flush with money, $144.00 to be exact, I was going to switch to a Remington .44 pistol that used metallic cartridges. That was the gun that I had loved when I was a Federal Marshal, and I was anxious to replace my stolen guns. I liked the idea of loading the cylinder with six cartridges rather than the five that one used with the Colt or Smith & Wesson.
We tied the bandits to their saddles and hitched the six horses to the rear of the coach. The driver held the speed down until we got to the next relay station when we would have time to take care of the necessary paperwork. That was the scheduled lunch stop, so I had time to get receipts for the corpses from the station master and to search their pockets and their horses for anything else of value. The station master ran a private livery stable on the side, so he bought the bandits' horses from me. He paid less than I could have gotten in town, but I had no way to transport the horses, so I guess it was worth it.
After a beef and beans stew for lunch, we reloaded the stagecoach and headed out for Bowman. I was impressed by the driver, Eddy Smith, because he got us to Bowman almost on time. He had made up most of the time we lost because of the attempted robbery. I don't know what he was paid, but the driver always was paid more than the guard, so I guess that he was just earning his money.
Eddy knew that I would not get my bounty money until we returned to Hesper, so he did not give me a hard time about the $6.00 I owed him for helping me with the bodies. In Bowman that evening, Eddy did buy me a Mexican beer to show his appreciation for the way I had handled the bandits.
There were no bandits on our return trip the next day, and the company manager was startled when I handed him the receipts for the six bandits and asked for my reward. He was so tired of reports of successful robberies that he gave me a $5.00 bonus!