Chapter 24: Last Stands and Grand Stands

Parables of the Beautiful Country

by Jack E’Dalgo

Chapter 24: Last Stands and Grand Stands

“There was nothing in his soul but iron.” – Wyatt Earp about Doc Holliday

Law enforcement arrived at the roundhouse after nine the next morning. Unlike the day before, this mob had a distinct head. Three of them, in fact. The trio walked side by side, then fanned out in plain sight of the Santa Fe’s guns, an easy fifty men behind them, all armed with various long guns.

Holliday and Masterson stood next to the train at the west side of the roundhouse, and watched them come.

Holliday slid his watch back into his pocket. “They’ve certainly developed a leisurely approach ta law enforcement in this burg,” he observed.

“And here I was beginning to think they’d forgotten all about us,” Masterson said. “I’ve obviously been working the wrong towns. Pueblo keeps better hours.”

“Bat Masterson! Come on out! This is Pueblo county sheriff Henley Price! You need to surrender!”

Both Masterson and Holliday recognized Price as the man who had officially handed Holliday over for trial before Judge Hallett. Holliday cocked his head to one side. “For the resident tough SOB, this Desmond is keeping a low profile. Do ya see him? Or would ya know if ya did?”

“Desmond helped me capture Dutch Henry Borne last February. Desmond’s not a bad sort, just drinks too much from time to time.”

“Well, hell. Don’t tell me that. You’ll have me likin’ the man. Makes it harder to shoot him if it comes down ta it.”

“I beg pardon, Doc.”

“I said it makes it harder, Bat. Not impossible.”

Masterson was squinting. “I don’t recognize the third man, but Desmond’s the one standing to Price’s left. In the green plaid trousers with a shotgun. ”

“Shotgun like hell,” Holliday hissed.

Masterson heard the snick of metal on oiled leather as Holliday slid his .45 from it’s scabbard. Holliday did it slowly, his back to the room, keeping the motion hidden from the rest of the men. Holliday had laid one hand on Webb’s rifle, wordlessly keeping him from raising it’s barrel and alerting the roundhouse too early to Holliday’s suspicions.

“You recognize someone out there, Doc?”

“I’d recognize that Greener in the dark.”

“Desmond was the man you saw in the road?”

Price cut Holliday short by repeating his order and adding “We’re comin’ in! Disarm!”

Masterson swore. “What do you say, Doc. Shall I make like St John in the wilderness and cry out?”

“It’s your war, Bat. Far as I’m concerned, the fight has commenced. Get ta shootin’ or get gone.”

Masterson looked over his shoulder at the men positioned at the windows. This is what he had brought them all to. He barked as loud as he could and hoped he didn’t sound as tremulous as he felt at that moment. “The hell you’re comin’ in. Stand down or be met with force!”

Unbidden and locked in his own enthusiasm, Eichoff backed Masterson’s defiance with a demonstration. From the center of the roundhouse, the cannon belched and a whoop-whoop-whoop sounded through the air as black powder sent a load of king-bolts spewing over the roof and raining down white hot upon the crowd of men facing down the roundhouse defenders. A wagon jerked and caught fire and the glass front of the green grocers’ shattered, glass splintering for several feet against the backs of the scattering mob.

The unexpected show of arms had surprised Masterson but he’d be damned if he’d reveal anything but determination at this point. He waited for most of the howling to stop before bellowing. “I’m holdin’ this property under the law, for the Santa Fe Railway.” He pointedly did not say “we’re holding.” These men were here on his say-so. This was all his responsibility for better or worse.

Price responded with a near scream. “I am the law, Masterson. This is the property of the Rio Grande Railroad! You need to come out now, or we’re comin’ in!”

Price, however, didn’t sound as sure as he might have hoped he did. Beside him, Holliday picked up on that fact, too, and chuckled. JJ Webb, carbine in hand, elbowed Holliday conspiratorially.

The sun was warming the tin roof above them. The metal was contracting and groaned and popped at odd intervals. It let loose with a particularly loud pop at that moment and the men around them tensed, weapons ready to engage.

A handsome barouche pulled into view from up the road. It’s appearance seemed to startle Price as much as it did Masterson. The driver remained in his elevated seat but two men disembarked from the rig and presented themselves to Price and Desmond. One was of average height and simply dressed but with the bearing of a straight-back, no-nonsense military man. His co-conspirator was better dressed, a tall thin gentleman with a ridiculously tall stovepipe top hat.

Masterson watched an argument break out between the four men. Well, three of the four men. The soldier never spoke, glancing about and taking his time evaluating the scene. The two law enforcers seemed to have the worst of it. Masterson could almost hear the swearing across the distance just from the swing of shoulders and gesturing of arms. They did everything but snort and howl.

Regardless of whatever was said, however, once out of the carriage, the stovepipe had spoken and now simply refused to engage. Even from this distance, his face remained impassive and there was an air of deep unconcern that seemed to rebuff whatever debate the other two men were engaging in. This was a man accustomed to being obeyed.

From his perch atop their train, Creek Johnson sang out, “Say, Doc, who’s the big wig with the hat?” All four men had hats, of course, but there was no doubt which of them Creek was referring to.

“He’s either the lawyer or the accountant,” Holliday mused. “My money’s on lawyer.”

“I’m bettin’ accountant,” Creek declared. “Five bucks worth.”

“I’ll take that bet.”

“Bat Masterson!” His name was shouted from the huddle near the stovepipe hat.

“I hear you,” Masterson acknowledged. “Will you agree to a parley?”

Masterson let the question hang in the air a moment just to create the sense of reluctance on his part. He shared a look with Holliday who merely stood there with his hand on one of his Colts, watching Masterson. “Will you back my play, Doc?”

“Was that ever in question, Bat?”

“No, I suppose not.” Louder, Masterson demanded. “How many of you?”

There was a brief heated conference among Sheriff Price and Town Marshal Desmond. Before it was half done, Stovepipe man declared: “Four.”

He was given severe looks from the rest of the crowd, but was not contradicted. He was not Palmer himself, Masterson knew. He’d seen press-release photographs of Palmer and this man was far too thin.

Masterson ordered. “Put down your weapons and come forward. You’ll not be fired upon.”

None of Masterson’s crew contracted him, but they kept their weapons leveled and their eyes wary. Masterson remained under the shadow of the roundhouse roof. He’d holstered his weapon but he had no desire to make himself too easy a target for some trigger-happy underling unclear on his role in this democracy.

Once in speaking range, stovepipe man revealed himself to be Rio Grande’s construction superintendent Robert F Weitbrec. His traveling companion was one Charles B Lamborn, the Rio’s treasurer, which Masterson thought odd. Who in the deuce brought their accountant to a gunfight? The rest of the party was Price and Desmond who stood to either side, nervous and no doubt feeling disrobed without their weapons. Masterson and Desmond exchanged nods.

“You don’t know me, Marshal,” Weitbrec acknowledged. “But I’ve had my share of war. I served honorably under General Palmer in the war between the states although I can honestly say I disagreed with the north’s determination that they had the right to restrain the south from cessation. Lincoln acted against the constitution and I know many a man fought, not for slavery, but against government over-reach–”

Weitbrec ceased speaking as Lamborn cleared his throat discreetly. Masterson listened hard, but heard no shifting in Holliday’s stance or even in his breathing.

Weitbrec continued. “Well, I’ll get off my soap box on that subject. My point is that I’d prefer to think myself a sensible man who can see both sides of many issues. And, I honestly can say I see no benefit in risking further loss of life in this battle Royal. The Canyon has no concerns over the blood lost on its behalf. It is a great monument to the fierceness of Nature and will stand long after we molder in our graves and the rails rust. Someone will run a rail though it at some point, whether it be Palmer or Strong or Jay Gould himself. It will happen because America demands it happen. She must have passage thus she will have that passage. You and I are immaterial to the process.”

“I wasn’t old enough to enlist in the war between the states,” Masterson admitted. “And my understanding of the Constitution extends only as far as it represents the embodiment of justice and fair play in this world. I concede that the loss of life here has been grievous, but I can only hope that at some level it was necessary. No man likes to think his death counts for nothing.” He sensed a subtle shift from Holliday’s direction but did not glance over. “What do you suggest Mr. Weitbrec?”

Weitbrec asked permission to reach into his coat pocket. Masterson agreed. Weitbrec pulled out a blue edged piece of paper. “I have a legal writ from the court in Boston where this case is being tried. The judge has released the property of the Denver and Rio Grande from the control of the Santa Fe and returned it to the Rio Grande.” He unfolded and passed the paper to Masterson, giving him time to read it. Masterson passed the paper to Holliday.

Weitbrec waited another moment. “As you may or may not know, your men, Marshal, are the last holdouts to the turnover of the Rio Grande properties. As part of the agreement reached in that document, WB Strong retains control of the Raton Pass and will, no doubt, blast his way through that pass to provide a safe and effective route through the Sangre de Cristo range in short order. He and General Palmer are in negotiations now for the Rio Grande to confine itself to the Colorado area and leave the rest of the nation to Strong and the Santa Fe. Strong, thus far, seems willing to acquiesce to the agreement.” Masterson’s poker face must have failed him because Weitbrec smiled.

Weitbrec continued, “One state in forty-one, is not a substantial loss for a man like WB Strong. Not to mention that General Palmer will be agreeable to not attempting to lay track within the bounds of any future states which may derive from this country’s existing territories.”

Masterson shared a glance with Holliday and Ben Thompson. Their faces gave nothing away, but Masterson had little doubt that they’d admit Strong would be a fool not to take such a deal. Especially with the Raton Pass already safely secured in his back pocket.

Weitbrec was still speaking. “As far as payment for your troubles, Palmer is willing to sweeten the pot, as it were, and it is my understanding that Mr. Strong remains committed to the payment upon which he has previously agreed to you and your men.”

“How sweet a pot are we speaking of, Mr. Weitbrec?” I

t was Lamborn who answered however. “I have here upon my person cash monies in the amount of forty thousand dollars which I am authorized to release to you personally. You may distribute it to your men as you see fit, or not.”

“Bribing a public official is a grievous offense, Mr. Lamborn.”

Lamborn flushed to the color of old liver. “I beg pardon, sir. I was given to understand that you were brought here outside your duties as a law enforcement official. I will not be party, of course, to bribery. Merely to a bonus for a dedicated employee.”

“Even if the employee is the agent of another company.”

“Especially if the employee is the agent of another company. A new habit we’ve acquired since Mr. Strong purchased our former chief engineer Ray Morley from our services without adequate notice of change of employment status.” Lamborn actually sniffed his displeasure.

Masterson smiled in sympathy. “Forty thousand dollars. United States currency. May I have a moment to confer with my lieutenants?”

Masterson turned to Holliday. “Whatdaya say, Doc? We keep fighting, or take the money and run?”

“Hell, Bat, you’re asking the wrong man. Seeing I can no longer run as fast as most, I have ta be the ornery cuss that would just as soon fight.” Holliday grinned, obviously enjoying the deflated looks on the delegates faces. “On the other hand, I am losing money just standing here instead of actually workin’ for a livin’.”

Masterson shook Holliday’s hand. “Ben? How about you?”

“I’m half willing to hold out with Doc here, but the other half is kind of anxious to get back to Austin before Neff sells out my gaming room. And if I get it, Doc, you come on with me to Austin. I’ll keep you hid out. We’ll make sure you leave Texas with a wad of cash.”

“That’s a temptin’ offer, Ben.” Masterson sighed. “Well, I guess I should get back to my duties as Ford County Sheriff before I get fired. It does seem rather fitting, though. Here we were fighting for millionaires and money wins out, after all. Seems a bit of an anti-climax, though.”

“Bat,” Holliday was squinting at him. “The lie that money won’t buy happiness is told by the rich to stop the poor from murdering them in their beds.”

Masterson raised his voice to be heard across the expanse of the roundhouse. “All right, gentleman, lower your guns! The war is over! Meet up at the Santa Fe roundhouse across town. We’ll pack and head back to Dodge!” There were a few disgruntled shouts and Masterson added, “Anyone who doesn’t stand down is gonna get shot. By me!”

Holliday muttered, “Promises, promises,” and gave him a mischievous wink.

Masterson accepted the cash from Lamborn, then turned to count out bonuses for Holliday and Thompson as agreed. Thompson counted his bonus and was pleased to discover five thousand dollars.

Holliday shook his hand. “Well deserved, Ben,” he said. Holliday had pocketed his own share without much fanfare, merely smiling broadly, and declaring, “Oh, Miss Kitty Kate will be pleased.”

Bat took his share and handed the rest to Webb. “You’ve been my deputy sheriff in Dodge, so I’m deputizing you as payroll master, JJ. There’s your share and three thousand three hundred forty-eight dollars in there to pay the men, three dollars a day for ten days.”

Webb looked like a kid let loose in the candy store. “You fix my tooth when we get back to Dodge, Doc?”

“Oh, yeah. Won’t take a half hour. Then I’m off ta New Mexico.”

Several men had approached from the street meanwhile. They wore the brass buttoned uniforms of Pueblo police. Holliday fell silent and his hand restored itself to the butt of his Colt. Masterson took a step back.

The officers introduced themselves as officer Alvin Phippenney and officer Bilby.

As a lawman himself Masterson knew better to hang his hat on a peg of the law. Any man who did so could expect the hat to no longer be there when he got back. “Gentlemen, I am operating under federal authority by Frank Hall, Chief Deputy US Marshal for the District of Colorado. These men are here under my direction. If you let them remain free, I will surrender to a hearing–”

Phippenney, a genial-looking man who appeared only a few years older than Masterson, shook his head. “I am aware of your authorization, Marshal Masterson. I am not here to arrest you. I have no jurisdiction over you or over your men.”

Masterson was growing weary. He said, “I appreciate that, officer. Any damages to the town will be paid by either the Rio Grande,” he indicated Lamborn, or the Santa Fe–”

“I’m sure we’ll get the logistics worked out on all the broken windows,” Phippenney observed wryly. “Most of the damage seems to be Rio Grande inflicting damage to their own property so it’s hardly my concern at any rate. May I ask if you have had any deaths or significant injuries among your own men due to this… fracas?”

“We’ve had one death. Technically, not mine, per se, but a Santa Fe telegraph officer named Harry Jennings.”

“Shot in the back, no less,” Holliday offered.

“That charge will be added to these others, I am sure.” Behind him officer Bilby used a short stub of pencil to scribble something in his notebook. Phippenney turned to the Pueblo men as he spoke. “I am authorized to arrest Denver and Rio Grande engineer John A McMurtrie, Pueblo Town town marshal Desmond and sheriff Henley Price.”

Masterson glanced at Holliday and Thompson in surprise. They watched amazed as Phippenney and Bilby disarmed Desmond and Price and took the men into custody.

Weitbrec stepped back but asked calmly enough if he were expected to supply McMurtrie to the police station. Phippenney informed him that another set of officers already had McMurtrie in custody. Weitbrec took another step back, pulling Lamborn with him as Desmond and Price protested and struggled.

“Gentlemen!” Bilby barked. “I’ll take you in handcuffs if I hafta. But it won’t look good for either of you.”

Desmond hesitated and Price shrugged himself loose from Bilby, but stood meekly enough on his own. Desmond growled. “What could we possibly be charged with?”

“Murder and conspiracy to commit murder.”

Price screamed, “The hell you say!”

“The truth is that the three of you met and planned this attack on the Rio Grande roundhouse and depot. In that meeting you agreed to hand out weapons to men you purposely liquored up for the enterprise. The district attorney is bringing you before a grand jury–”

“But the Rio Grande hired us!”

Phippenney looked disgusted. “You don’t work for the Rio Grande, sheriff. You work for the county and the town of Pueblo.”

Price sputtered, but stopped struggling. As far as Masterson could see, Desmond seemed surprisingly resigned to his arrest.

Phippenney explained, “You’ll be given a hearing and allowed to clear your names, but for now, we have some hurting families who require answers, if not justice.”

Price fell silent at that statement.

Phippenney tapped his hat to Masterson. “Gentlemen.”

Desmond and Price allowed themselves to be lead away. Masterson took a moment to collect himself. “Well, Mr. Weitbrec. I assume you’ll allow a Santa Fe train to make a run to Grape Creek at least long enough for us to collect our gear and leave this fair state.”

“I understand the Santa Fe has a train being readied for your men at their roundhouse across town. It’s only a short walk. Getting the cannon out of our turn-table is likely to be the real issue. Can you tell me how you got it down there?”

Ben Thompson grinned. “Shoved it. It’s amazing what a hundred men can accomplish when they’re needing to work off steam.”

Weitbrec glanced from Thompson back to Masterson. Masterson shrugged.

Lamborn said under his breath, “How does Dodge put up with you all?” That brought a round of laughter.

“By the time we get back to Dodge, Dodge is going to be wondering why they let us back in,” Holliday admitted.


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