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Chapter XXXI With a Gang of Outlaws

THAT morning I opened my ears and eyes in a new world. Around me were farmyard noises and the bustling back and forth of the men at their early tasks.

There was nothing in this country life for me.

I had little real knowledge of civilised ways. The highest type of culture with which I had come into contact, was that of the semi-civilised tribes of Indian Territory. I could not call cultured a large percentage of the soldiers with whom I had associated. They were of the lowest stratum of civilisation.

I gravitated to the edge of the underworld. In time I went to the bottom of it.

The Denison saloons invited me. The day soon found me among their idlers. They were very kindly disposed when they found I had money. My clothes belied the fact.

I loaned my two months’ pay to my easily-made friends. They promised to pay it back the next day. The next day never came.

Money gone, friendship vanished, and no one to give to me either!

The night noises of the town bothered me. The roar and shriek of a train, the rattle of a wagon, even footsteps on the sidewalk would awaken me with a start. So way out of town I found a camping place.

Came there always numbers of travellers with their wagon outfits. They readily offered me the hospitality of their kind. To accept this, I soon became a regular visitor.

One night I was talking with a Choctaw Indian when he spoke of the notorious outlaw—Tom Starr.

I vividly recalled the time I tracked him and his gang and he got away.

His permanent rendezvous, the Choctaw told me, was in the Creek Nation, east of Eufaula, only a few days’ ride from Denison.

I now became obsessed with the idea of meeting the bandit of whom I had heard much.

With this end in view I went with the Indian when he left for his home. I travelled with him for several days, then struck out alone in my search.

I learned that any stranger seen by Starr in the vicinity of his home would probably receive very ungentle treatment. But as I felt in constant danger of arrest, I reasoned that no matter where I was or in what company, my situation could be neither better nor worse.

I presented neither a formidable nor a creditable appearance. I wore an old suit of clothes much too large for me. I was penniless and unarmed.

This, I reflected, might be in my favour should I meet the much feared man.

I had no difficulty in finding food. It was given me by the poor but kind-hearted Indians whose houses I visited on the road. A gourd of osaufkee—a food made of corn—was the usual offering.

Arrived at a place in the Creek Nation called Hickory Ground, I met with a large gathering of Indians.

The occasion was the whipping of a horse thief. According to his promise, the culprit was on hand. He had been free from the day of his sentence to that set for punishment. This was a privilege not unusual among the Creeks.

The crier called out that the time had come.

The culprit stripped to the waist and took his place on the spot indicated by an officer.

He drew himself up proudly and called out so all could hear;

“Hononwah do-e-escha!” (I am a man.)

He would show he could suffer as a man should.

The officer then gave him twenty-five hard lashes with the thonged whip. It brought the blood, but he did not so much as flinch or shrink under the punishment.

This seemed to settle the matter entirely. Having paid the penalty, he regained his standing among his fellows.

I had reached the vicinity of Starr’s place when I was taken sick of a fever.

At a little distance from the road I lay down under a tree and became unconscious.

When I awoke I was lying on a blanket in a house. A short man with long straight hair and face black as charcoal, was cooking something in a big iron kettle which hung in the fireplace.

When he found I was conscious, he told me how I came there. He had found me. Tom Starr had brought me to the cabin. My utter helplessness had appealed to the outlaw. I was in Tom Starr’s house.

The desperado proved to be entirely different from what I had imagined.

He was of fine appearance, spoke to me kindly, and did everything he could for my comfort. He asked me no questions about myself.

I volunteered the information that I was from the West and was just wandering through the country when I was taken sick.

Starr would often be gone from home several days. Sometimes when he returned he would have a new horse; sometimes two—always good ones.

When I grew strong enough to go outdoors I began to yearn for the saddle.

The black man—Kahjolustee (Blackberry)—told me there were good horses all around us; if I wanted one to go and get it.

Late one night four tired men arrived at the cabin in company with Kahjolustee, who seemed always to be on the watch.

The men threw their heavy saddle-bags on the floor for pillows, spread their saddle-blankets, and lay down in their clothes. They were soon asleep.

The next morning the men were up bright and early.

While they were cleaning the mud from their outfits, I walked up behind one of them. His sixshooter was lying on the ground. I picked it up.

Quick as a flash the man snatched it out of my hand and angrily asked what I meant.

I was so surprised I didn’t reply. I walked away wondering at his conduct.

Kahjolustee informed me I must be very careful how I acted when this man was around. He was a very great man—greater in fact than Tom Starr himself. The whole country everywhere was against him. Nearly everybody wanted to kill him.

His name was Jesse James.

I had never heard of this most notorious bandit of the United States. At the time he meant no more to me than any of the other riders of the crooked trail.

As I remember him, he was a rather genial fellow with a full beard of a reddish colour and very peculiar eyes that seemed to be in constant motion.

He and his men stayed with us for more than a week. I helped them break a rather wild horse, and one of them gave me a white-handled Colt’s six-shooter.

I soon became fully equipped with horse and saddle, and with my complete recovery from the effects of the fever, began to feel ready for anything.

Our visitors fully rested, went on their way to Texas. Indeed Starr’s ranch was a half-way place for such men, as they ranged between the north and south.

There were a number of visitors at the rendezvous while I was there. Among them was a Creek Indian by the name of Ed Grayson. I took a great liking to him. He and a cousin by the name of Tom Grayson, were “on the scout.,, Which means they were under the displeasure of the law, and were dodging around for hiding-places among their friends.

The Indians in this locality always did this, instead of leaving the country, although it was a pretty sure thing they’d be caught or killed some day.

One day I went with Ed Grayson to Eufaula. Several United States marshals were there looking for him, and the reckless fellow said he wanted to have some fun with them.

As we rode into the little town he advised me to wait at one of the stores while he rode around to find what he could scare up.

In a little while there were whoops and shots up the street. He had found the marshals lurking in some of the stores, and he was trying to get them started.

As he rode down the street he looked the incarnation of fearless manhood.

Tall, lithe and alert, he sat his clean-limbed sorrel horse, a part of it.

He came at an easy canter with his long black hair floating around his. square shoulders and whipping into his clear-cut face.

The bridle reins hung loosely on his horse’s neck.

He had a sixshooter in each hand. At intervals he fired into the air and gave his piercing yell of defiance.

This was his challenge to the marshals to come out into the open like men and try to take him.

Not one of them so much as made himself visible.

It was but a short time after this that Ed Grayson’s career came to an end.

We were in town one day when he spied an enemy entering Crabtree’s store. Drawing his gun from its holster he left me with the remark that he would go across and settle with him.

As he passed through the doorway, he cried out,

“I am ready to die right now!”

This was a challenge often used by the Creeks.

Grayson was an expert with the revolver. With the gun, he had a serious fault. Instead of bringing the muzzle upwards and firing at the same time, he had the habit of raising the muzzle, cocking the gun with the motion, and firing as he brought the muzzle downwards.

This time the fault proved fatal to him. It gave his foe but a moment’s advantage, but it was enough.

He fell with a bullet in his head.

That night Tom Grayson and the rest of us rode through and through the town shouting out our vengeful defiance.

Shortly afterward I saw Tom Grayson fall into the Big Sleep on the porch of Crabtree’s store. He went down under a charge of buckshot from a doublebarrelled shotgun in the hands of an enemy.

Well equipped with horse and guns, I began once more to lay plans. I told them to some of the young fellows of my acquaintance. I had vengeance to wreak on the man against whom I had a just cause. They agreed to go west with me to do this and— other things.

But one day there was a mix-up with the marshals, and one of our men was fairly riddled with bullets.

I counted myself lucky to get out of the Creek country afoot and as poor as when I went into it.

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