Land Feud at Silver Rock

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Westerns  |  House: Booksie Classic
One man called it a square deal while the other called it a swindle. Tempers flair when an once-in-a-century rain floods the plot of land, the barn, and the house, drowning the livestock.

Submitted: December 01, 2018

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Submitted: December 01, 2018

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October rains broke the hot spell that had dug its heels into August as if it planned to stay all winter. Clouds arrived with daybreak from the south, swirling, reaching skyward in dark billowing shapes. By noon, darkness had spread across the land. At first, the rains were gentle but turned torrential, Biblical some said, and the winds upended anything not securely anchored. With the ground baked hard from months of unrelenting sunshine, soil rejected water’s attempt to soak in, and it had nowhere to go but to the lowest places. Every creek and canyon stream gushed to overflowing. Low-lying fields that hadn’t seen flooding in recent memory were now under water. The year 1892 would go down in the Oklahoma Territory record books

Sheriff William Duggan, thirty-eight, paunch, and medium height, was enjoying a beer and talking with Sally Higgins, thirty-five, shapely, red hair, green eyes, over done make up, and owner of the Lavender Rose saloon. A couple of customers were hanging at the bar. Rusty finished playing a tune on the upright piano and spun on his stool.

“Should I keep playing, Miss Sally?” he asked.

“No. Take the day off, Rusty. Not much use in playing to an empty house.”

Rusty gathered his belongings and stopped for a beer before leaving. “I have a short one, Shorty.” He chuckled at the pun he tried to make, but it fell on deaf ears.

John “Shorty” Perry, forty-three, broad-shouldered, midnight-black hair, was anything but short. He stood six-foot one and was a force to reckon with if you caused any trouble in the Rose. He and Betsy, the sawed-off shotgun he kept behind the bar, maintained order when rowdy cowpokes packed the place. Some figured he got his nickname because of an anatomical limitation but no one had the courage to ask.

“Sure is quiet for a Friday,” said Sally. “Every cowpoke must be fighting the floods. I doubt tonight will be any livelier.”

“I guess they have to get the herds to higher ground. Cows are too dumb to do it on their own. And if they up and stampede, no telling how many would drown.”

“In any case, I won’t make enough today to keep oil in the lamps.”

“You’ll manage, Sally. Most nights, your place is hopping.”

“You’re right, Bill.” Sally extended her hand toward his but stopped short. “But I get tired of running this place by myself. I could use a strong man standing beside me. And the older I get, the colder it is sleeping alone.”

Duggan stammered. “Well... Err... Sally... When you find the right man, let me be the first to congratulate you.”

“Come on, Bill. I already found him, but he’s not ready to settle down yet. I’ll wait.”

Duggan slid his chair back, stood, and cleared his throat. “Uh... Nice having a beer with you, Sally, but I gotta make my rounds.”

“In the rain?”

“I’m not made of ‘sugar and spice’. So’s I won’t melt.”

“No... You ain’t all ‘sugar and spice’ for sure. But you still take care, Bill.”

Turning toward the door, he stammered. “Sure... Okay... I will.”

#

It was not that warm, in fact, it was cooler than it had been for weeks, but Duggan was sweating. Outside the Rose, he leaned against the building, took off his hat, and wiped his forehead. He took a deep breath. Few things scared him, but Sally sure did. She was hunting for a husband; her sights were on him, plain as day, and he knew it. It wasn’t Sally herself that put the fear in him, but the thought of settling down, worrying if the next drunken cowpoke might leave her a widow. A sheriff’s better off single until he retires, then he can settle down. And who better to settle down with than Sally? Nobody. But will she wait forever?

Duggan shook off his meandering thoughts--that’s how you get dead real quick and reason enough not to settle down yet--and dodged the rain the best he could as he made his way to the Golden Nugget saloon. The downpour kept everyone off the streets, except for two cowboys riding into town. Standing at the Nugget’s swinging doors, he watched them stop, hitch their horses, and dash into the saloon.

“Gimme a beer, barkeep,” shouted the first cowboy. “I ain’t never been in weather like this before.”

“One for me, too,” yelled the other. “That rain’s washing everything away but my thirst.”

Duggan stepped inside and looked around. The barkeep was getting two beers ready. The two rain-drenched riders were leaning on the bar, waiting. Two men were sitting at a table off to the right. The piano in the corner was silent. Other than these five men, the place was a ghost town.

“Howdy, Sheriff,” said Stu, the barkeep. Steward Stalwart, forty-seven, tall, husky, and a face that would put the fear of God in you, had been the Nugget’s barkeep since it opened ten years ago. Nobody messed with Stu. A few tried, and all had regretted it.

“Not much going on, eh Stu. Could shoot off cannons in here and not hit anyone.”

“That’s an old one but still a good one to describe this place today. Want a beer?”

“Thanks, but I just finished one at Sally’s. Since everything’s quiet, I guess I’ll go over and see what’s happening at the Guiled Lily.”

“In all that rain?”

“Why’s everyone worried ‘bout me walking in the rain? First Sally, now you. My ‘sweetness’ won’t melt in the rain!”

“I didn’t mean nuthin’ by it, Sheriff. Just bein’ cordial.”

“Don’t mind me, Stu. I didn’t mean to bite your head off. All this weather’s got me cranky. I reckon you won’t be expecting much business tonight either. Doesn’t look like this rain’s gonna let up anytime soon.”

“Doubt it. If it was up to me, I’d close, but it ain’t my place to say.”

The voices at the table drew louder.

“You swindled me! That land is under near on to three feet of water,” said the first man, raising his voice. “I lost my house and barn and everything. Livestock drown, too.”

“You should’ve known when you purchase bottom land on a creek, it could flood,” said the other, calmly replying. “Ain’t my fault you greenhorn sodbusters don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout land. You could’ve build your house and barn on higher ground, not next to the creek, and you’d been okay when the floods came.” Pointing his finger into the face of the first man, he continued. “You got a fair deal for the land and shouldn’t have a beef with me.”

“I want my money back!” The first man slammed his fist on the table.

Shaking his head, the second man said, “Ain’t gonna happen, mister. Was a square deal. You got what you wanted and paid for it.” He rocked his chair back on two legs. “‘Tain’t my fault that once-in-a-lifetime rains came and wiped you out.” Slamming his chair forward, he said, “And that’s the way it is. Any court in the land will back me up.”

“This ain’t over!” said the first man, standing and glaring, fire in his eyes.

“Yes it is. Drink up, it’s on me.”

“Take your drink and drown in it. This... ain’t... over...” The first man turned and stormed out into the rain.

“What’s that all about, Stu?” asked Duggan.

“Seems, Ralph Murphy sold that there sodbuster, Homer White, a piece of land near Whistle Creek, where it bends and joins Canyon Creek.”

“Been there. It’s a pretty piece of land, good soil, plenty of water, and room for raising crops. There’s both high and lowland. Ideal setting under normal conditions, but when the rains washed down from the canyons and plateaus, water had nowhere to go but there. You ever hear of it flooding before?”

“Never heard of most places that are flooding ever flooding before.”

“I guess I see Ralph’s point--he can’t be responsible for the weather and Homer’s foolishness--but I see Homer’s frustration of losing everything to something he can’t control.”

“Maybe, he thinks he can control Ralph if he can’t control the weather.”

“Knowing Ralph the way I do, Homer don’t have a chance of controlling him. Hope this feud blows over, but I have a nasty feeling it’s not going to.”

#

Sam came running up to Sheriff Duggan just as he left the Rose’s dining room and entered the saloon. “Sheriff, you’d better come quick. Homer White and Ralph Murphy are fixin’ to have a gunfight at the Nugget.

“Tell me what happened,” said Duggan as they hurried to the saloon.

“Seems Homer came in with a rifle whiles Ralph was having a drink at the bar and called him out. But Ralph wasn’t armed. Homer told the cowpoke next to him to put his shooter on the bar. That’s when I come to get ya.”

Sam and Duggan stepped through the swinging doors. Homer was facing the bar, and Ralph was facing Homer.

“Pick it up,” said Homer.

“No, I won’t.

“You yellow as well as a cheat?”

“I’m not going to gunfight you over a piece of land I sold fair and square.”

Put the rifle down, Homer,” said Duggan, “Or I’ll end it my way.”

Homer lowered his rifle and turned to Duggan. “Ain’t there nuthin’ the Law can do?”

“Listen to me, Homer. The courts will back Ralph on this. The Law’s on his side. There’s nothing I can do.”

“I guess you’re right, Sheriff. Nothing left to do but wait for the bank to open tomorrow, withdraw what I got left, and take the train back east wheres I belong.”

“Do what you think best, Homer.”

Homer, nearly in tears, walked out into the rain.

“Thanks, Sheriff. I didn’t think Homer would back down so easy,” said Ralph.

“Maybe, too easy.”

“How’s that, Sheriff?”

“Oh, never mind.”

#

The following morning, the rains let up for a spell, and Ralph Murphy mounted his horse for the long ride back to his ranch. He reached Stoney Creek, which was now a small river and rising. He cautiously crossed the surging waters. When he reached the other side, he felt the sharp pain in his shoulder just as the sound of a rifle shot reached his ears. The impact knocked him off his horse, and he fell, hitting his head.

When he came to, Homer was standing over Ralph with his rifle pointing in his face. Homer had tied Ralph’s arms and legs to stakes sunk in the ground at the water’s edge. Dark clouds swirled above, and rain was again falling in buckets.

“What’d you meaning to do, Homer?”

“Let nature take its course. I can’t be responsible for the weather any more than you can.”

“Listen here, Homer. We can work this thing out.”

“No. I’ll let the Court of the Almighty decide this.”

“Homer, you seem like a reasonable man under normal circumstances. Surely, we can talk about this and come to an agreement of some kind.”

“Saw my prize bull struggling before he went under, and my herd of cows swept away without a chance to get to higher ground. My bride to be was coming next spring. Now I got nothing to offer her. Nothing. It’s all gone ‘cause your greed swindled me out of everything I had.”

“No. No. I didn’t. Believe me when I say I had no idea the land would flood. It never did before.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“You’ve got to, Homer. I swear to God. I didn’t know, and I’ll make it right.”

“Take it up with God when you see Him,” said Homer as he mounted his horse and led Ralph’s horse into the pouring rain and higher ground.

“Homer, don’t leave me this way! I’ll give your money back. Homer! Homer!”

Out of earshot, Homer no longer heard Ralph’s pleas. The downpour continued for most of the day and evening, and the river rose three and a half feet by morning. In time, the surging current loosened the stakes and dragged Ralph’s body downstream until it snagged.

Within the week, the waters receded, and the search for Ralph Murphy expanded.

“I found him,” shouted a townsperson.

Sheriff Duggan made his way to the grim scene. The waters had entangled Ralph Murphy’s body in a tree’s roots.

“It’s already decaying. So it must be nearly a week old,” said the townsperson. “And someone bound his hands and feet with bailing twine.”

“It’s the same kind of twine that Homer White used to hang himself.” Duggan shook his head. “I guess Homer ended this the only way he knew how. What a waste of two lives over a piece of land that in the light of Eternity don’t amount to nothing.”


© Copyright 2020 D Ray Van. All rights reserved.

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