The year was eighteen eighty-four and I had just ridden out of Bismarck, heading toward Lawrenceville, North Dakota, which was a good day’s ride. I had been appointed sheriff, as their previous one had a heart attack… as a result of it being filled with lead. Actually, there had been a string of attacks on my predecessors and I would be the fifth sheriff in the last two years.
My superiors had finally understood the challenges faced by the town, which was why they looked for someone with my skill set. I was very young for a sheriff, barely twenty-one years old and relatively inexperienced but I was eager to prove myself.
It was early in the evening when I rode into the small town and I made my way to the little sheriff’s office where I found deputy Eugene Looney, sitting on a rocking chair and smoking a cigarette. Eugene looked to be about twenty-three, lanky, bow-legged and not particularly motivated. That was my impression as he barely even looked at me while I tethered my horse, Snake-eyes to the water trough.
He eventually stood up as I walked to the office door.
“Can I help you, sir?”
“Yes. I’m Daniel Colt, the new sheriff just in from Bismarck and you are?”
I responded. Eugene removed his hat and scratched his head then said,
“Golly… You look young, sheriff… I mean, we were expecting you tomorrow. Do you want me to introduce you to the mayor?”
“That’ll be great, deputy.”
He escorted me toward the only saloon in town and pointed out the various stores and businesses on the way.
“On this side of the street, there’s the general store, the barber, the butcher, the Post and Telegraph office. Over yonder, is the boarding house, where you’ll be staying, the bank, saloon, stables, the carpenter, blacksmith and the mayor’s office. There are homes in the town as well.”
We entered the saloon and found a group of men playing cards, a few at the bar drinking whisky and talking to one of the ladies of the night. A bartender was polishing glasses and an old guy was playing an even older piano.
The mayor was one of the gentlemen playing cards. He was a short, chubby may with a rosy complexion and a permanent smile on his face. Mayor Horatio Quimby noticed me and Eugene step into the salon and was immediately intrigued. Eugene and I removed our hats, then he introduced me.
“Mayor Quimby? This is sheriff Colt from Bismarck. He’s replacing sheriff Johnson; may he rest in peace.”
Horatio was smiling but he seemed a little confused, then he asked,
“Excuse me, son. Did you say that you’re a sheriff? You don’t even look like you shave yet!”
Then he and his friends laughed. I expected that response but what I didn’t expect was the swarm of hornets that were about to be released.
“Here’s my papers, mayor. I’ll just spend the rest of the day at my office, then have a bite to eat here a little later. Could I please meet with you at nine in the morning?”
The mayor and his party were surprised at the maturity and professionalism that I had demonstrated then he agreed to meet me.
“Can I buy you a whisky, sheriff?”
“No thanks, mayor. Not on the job… Good day, gentlemen.”
I said, then walked slowly back to the sheriff’s office with Eugene in tow. I discovered that many of the townsfolk, had come out of their places of business or their homes, to have a look at the stranger. The rumor mill had already started.
I just smiled and tipped my hat as I walked by, before Eugene and I stepped into the dusty old office. The place was a mess and although criminals weren’t deserving of fine linen, a cluttered and dirty work area wasn’t conducive to an efficient office.
There were two desks, filing and gun cabinets as well as two jail cells. All the available surfaces were covered in newspapers, plates, wanted posters, glasses and dirty silverware.
“That’s your desk, sheriff.”
Said Eugene then I decided to take a seat and have a good look around. Eugene just stood and watched me, then I decided that it was time to set expectations.
“Eugene, please grab your chair and bring it over.”
He did as he was asked and sat in front of me.
“Now I know that this is a little town, but the law is the law, whether it’s in the Badlands or New York city. Do you agree?”
“Also, the office of the sheriff has to be a serious place, so first thing tomorrow, you and I are going to clean this place up. Our office, the way we dress, the way we carry ourselves, is a reflection of this role. Understood?”
I then looked at what Eugene wore, which were dirty ‘bib and brace’ overalls, undone on one side, a ripped shirt, a worn-out hat and mismatched cowboy boots. While I wore a long woolen coat, woolen pants, vest, a cotton shirt, tie and pocket watch. I also wore black riding boots and a wide brimmed Stetson.
“We’ll go by the general store tomorrow and buy you… a uniform.”
I didn’t want to insult Eugene and thought I’d take a delicate tack, but he asked me,
“A uniform, sheriff?”
“Yes! Clothes that you wear when you’re on the job, so people will know who we are.”
I tried to explain,
“Heck, sheriff! I know everyone in this ol’ town and they know me!”
He responded with a little confusion, so I tried to explain the best I could.
“Sure, they know you Eugene, but we want to introduce them to deputy Eugene Loony. Someone that they will respect, rely on and fear.”
I saw that the few cogs in Eugene’s head were slowly turning.
“Gosh, sheriff. You’re really smart, ain'tcha! I’m not too bright. My mama must have dropped me on my head when I was a baby. I can’t event read!”
He seemed a little ashamed of himself and I told him of my plan for the office.
“I bet you’re smart too, Eugene and I’ll teach you how to read. I want us to be a team and always have each other’s backs. If I say something to someone and you don’t agree, I don’t want you to argue or contradict me. Think of it as playing cards… Hold them to your chest then when we’re in private, you can tell me if you have a problem. Got it?”
He seemed really motivated in doing what I asked and then I took it a step further.
“I’m going to teach you everything I know then one day; you can be the sheriff!”
“Gee, thanks sheriff. Hey, It’s six o’clock so it’s quittin’ time. Will I see you at the saloon?”
“Sure! I’m going to take Snake-eyes to the stables, check in at the boarding house and meet you over there.”
Eugene headed off and I locked up once I left. It started getting dark pretty quickly and I walked Snake-eyes over to the stables. A grey-haired man was brushing down one of the horses and he turned when heard me approach, then said,
“Can I help you son?”
“Yes. I’m sheriff Colt and I want to keep my horse here. What do you charge per month?”
“Gee, son! You’re kind of young, ain’tcha?”
Asked my new friend. I didn’t get offended as so many people ask me that same question. His name was William O’Hare and he told me the going rate, then added.
“And that’s in advance, son.”
I retrieved a thick bill fold and gave him six months in advance. His opinion of me changed right quick but before I left, I grabbed my saddle bag and said,
“I’d appreciate it if you referred to me as ‘sheriff’ Mr. O’Hare. Have a good evening, sir.”
Then I tipped my hat and made my way to Boarding House, which seemed nice and clean and I found a pretty young woman behind the reception counter. She had red braided hair, wore a light blue gingham dress and had a pretty smile. She seemed to be about eighteen and stood at attention as I approached the desk.
“Can I help you, sir?”
“Yes, my name’s sheriff Daniel Colt and I understand that you’re expecting me?”
Before she responded, a man emerged from a back office, looked me up and down before demanding,
“Let’s see some ID, son!”
The poor guy probably had to deal with a lot of men who made advances toward his daughter, so I didn’t give him a hard time. His name was Jacob Wilson, a widower since last Winter and his daughter was an only child.
I moved my left lapel to the side, so they could see my badge and they also had a glimpse at my brand-new Colt forty-five in my holster.
“That’s some serious firepower that you have there, sheriff.”
“I know… and I have a twin.”
Then I moved my right lapel. He then regarded me differently from that moment on. I paid for six months boarding in advance and he reacted like he won the lottery.
“Sheriff Colt? Your board includes complimentary breakfast which we serve from seven in the morning, just in that room right there. My daughter Clementine will show you to your room, sir. Have a great evening!”
I tipped my hat and said,
“Same to you, Mr. Wilson.”
I followed Clementine to my room, but she didn’t seem to be in any hurry about it, then she turned to me and asked,
“Where are you from, sheriff?”
“Well, I had spent some time in Bismarck, but I grew up in Texas.”
My father was a Texas ranger and an absolute legend. He taught me how to shoot, fight but most importantly, how to mind my surroundings, the people around me and how to be a good judge of character.
She opened the door for me and led me into a sparse but neat room that contained a bed, a dresser, a nightstand and a chair. I dropped my saddle bag onto the chair and Clementine said,
“We also serve dinner at seven o’clock, sheriff. Tonight, I made meatloaf, bread and baked potatoes!”
“That sounds truly delicious, but I have business at the saloon, this evening.”
I responded. I did like the sound of dinner, but I had to make an appearance at the saloon, to set the tone as to what the town was to expect from me. Little did I realize that the whole town was already buzzing with some strange gossip. As each story was passed from one person to the other, it was altered or embellished on. Eugene was telling James the bartender,
“And, he used to be a teacher! He’s going to teach me how to read, would you imagine that!”
The mayor was also talking about the new sheriff.
“Old Bill O’Hare told me that he had a bag full of gold and his stallion cost a thousand dollars! He has a black Quarter horse named Snake-eyes because it’s been taught to kill snakes!”
James then added to the gossip.
“I heard that he killed six men at one time. He didn’t kill any more as he ran out of bullets!”
Other stories included that I was a pastor, I was in the Army, a card shark, a leader of a gang. The list went on. The moment I entered the saloon, everyone stopped talking and even the piano player stopped. ‘Here we go’ I said to myself.
I slowly looked at everyone in the room, straight in the eyes, then I tipped my hat before removing it and made my way to the bar.
“What can I get you, sheriff?
Asked the bartender. Everyone was intently curious as to what I was going to drink.
“You’re best whisky, please.”
“Coming right up!”
Said James, which seemed to satisfy everyone, and they went back to what they were doing. I was joined by Eugene who seemed a little bright eyed.
“How are you doing, sheriff?”
“Doing OK. What’s the food like in here?”
“Well… They have beans and bread tonight.”
“Have you had dinner, yet?”
“No… I’ll get something at home.”
He responded but he didn’t seem happy about it.
“Hey, If I bought you dinner, would you eat with me?”
The beans were surprisingly tasty, and the bread was fresh. I then made my way around the whole saloon and introduced myself to everyone there. It was getting close to closing when two strangers entered. They seemed a little rough around the edges and everyone stopped talking when they saw them.
“Don’t stop the party for our sake!”
Said the shorter of the two and they both approached bar. Once everyone started talking again, Eugene whispered,
“Those are the Jones bothers. There are actually three of them and… we think they killed our last sheriff! Maybe even the one before. They steal cattle, horses and apparently raped a woman in some other town but when we go and talk to them about it, something happens to our sheriff.”
I thought to myself that I was starting my assignment much sooner than I thought, so I went up and introduced myself to my new friends.
“Hello, gentlemen. I’m Daniel Colt. The new sheriff.”
They both turned around, looked at me and seemed amused, then the short one said,
“Well… well… well… Y’all got yourselves a new sheriff but this one’s barely gotten off his mother’s teat!”
The two men then laughed and just about then, Constance the local prostitute walked by, then the short guy named Douglas grabbed her and said,
“Hey perdy lady. Want to go upstairs and have some fun?”
“No thank you. You didn’t pay me for the last time you had some fun so get your hands off me.”
Responded Constance but she couldn’t get away from Douglas. She then turned to me and said,
So, I walked over and laid down the law.
“Fella’s. I don’t mind you having fun but if the lady says no, then it’s no.”
“This don’t have anything to do with you, little sheriff so go on back and drink your milk!”
Douglas was about five foot two, about thirty-five, while I was close to six-foot-tall so it would have looked a little ridiculous to anyone watching, especially when he grabbed my jacket. I quickly grabbed his hand and put him in a wrist lock, then let go of Constance. He didn’t like that and in a fit of rage, tried to punch me with his right fist then left but I ducked both. I then gave him a right uppercut and he took a nap.
His brother Cletus came to his aide and he too swung and hit nothing but air. Getting a right hook for his trouble and down he went but just then, the third Jones Brother, Ronald entered the Saloon and surveyed the scene. He was apparently the brains behind this brainless trio and wasn’t happy with what he saw.
“What’s happening here!”
He demanded so I walked up and said,
“These two men tried to molest a young woman then tried to attack me and in the process of defending myself, I had to… well… you see what I did. My name’s sheriff Daniel Colt and you are?”
“I’m about to send you to hell!”
Ronald then threw down his coat and stood with his right hand by his holster. You could hear a pin drop it was so quiet, but I obliged. I removed my coat and faced him but what he didn’t see earlier, was I had pulled back the hammer on both my guns, while they were still in the holsters. A little trick my pa taught me, as it gave me that slight edge when drawing.
Then I saw it…
He reached for his gun and a split second later, I went for my own, but I was quicker to the draw, shooting him straight in the head. All Ronald was able to do was shoot the floor.
I then twirled my gun before holstering it, then said to Eugene,
“Deputy Looney? Could you please assist me in taking these two fine gentlemen to our jail?”
Even though my heart was racing, I tried to look cool and calm.
We then got the two remaining Jones brothers onto their feet and locked them up. Once we returned to the saloon, we saw a man standing over Ronald’s body. He was apparently the town doctor and had a place in the back of his home that he used as a morgue.
“Sheriff Colt? My name is Doctor Samuel Smith and I’ll take care of this mess. I would like to thank you for finally putting an end to this reign of violence and thefts.”
Doctor Smith then shook my hand and we heard a cheer from the small crowd in the bar, which was essentially most of the town. I then turned and said,
“Thanks folks. I know a lot of people think and say different things about me, like I’m too young to be sheriff but I want to say this: While I’m wearing this badge… I am the law and will protect this town with my life.”
Funny how things had changed from that day. Eugene started dressing and more importantly, acting like a deputy. I eventually taught him to read the town had become a peaceful place to live.
I had also started courting Clementine, then one morning while having a cup of coffee, Deputy Looney entered the sheriff’s office and said,
“Mornin’, sheriff! Guess what I’ve heard?!”
You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.