American Crime Fiction

The Half Breed

She was tall and moved in such a way that those watching her approach understood she was to not be meddled with. Part Cherokee Indian and part Mexican, she walked with catlike assuredness. Our small outpost of Graham’s Gulch was not a place that attracted many outsiders since the gold seam was mined out a dozen or so years ago. Strangers, especially lone young females, were greeted with a mixture of fear and curiosity. Fear held the upper hand as curiosity could lead one to a freshly dug plot in Boot Hill on the edge of town. Before she rode past the aforementioned Boot Hill, Harry Bradshaw, owner of the local “cathouse” and saloon, had already run to the Sheriff’s Office to forewarn deputies of the stranger's approach.

It was exactly noon when Ella, the stranger, tied the reins of her horse to the hitching post outside Bradshaw’s saloon, casino and “cathouse”, the aptly named Lucky Strike. The saloon was the only two-story building in town. It provided welcome shade for Ella’s large, black and uncut stallion. The upper floor of the Lucky Strike housed the cathouse, which at full capacity, catered for twelve working girls at a time. Ella Langton gave the stuttered windows of the cathouse a cursory glance as she expertly dismounted from Judge, her stallion. Noon was too early for working girls to be awake or out of bed. Ella was dressed head to toe in black leather, and even the dust of the trail could not conceal its quality. As she slid to the ground, her heavy trench coat flapped open, briefly revealing a pair of holstered Smith & Wesson guns in a gun belt. This did not go unheeded by those who witnessed it. Word quickly spread; a gunfighter was in town. After paying for Judge’s livery and slaking her thirst in the saloon, Ella paid Sheriff Donald Cartwright a courtesy visit. Sheriff Cartwright was a no-nonsense gruff veteran of the Indian wars. He was an extreme right-winger in his political outlook and believed a woman’s place was only in the kitchen or the bedroom. He instantly disliked Ella from the moment she rode into town. But he had no reason to run her out of town as long as she kept her guns holstered.

After a short, tense meeting with the sheriff, Ella left to search for some lodgings. She found a room at Thornton’s lodging house, run by Adele Thornton, the sister of the lodge owner Samuel. With both herself and Judge liveried, Ella set off for the Lucky Strike again. This was merely an information-gathering exercise rather than any need for company or more alcohol. At twenty-eight years old, Ella had long ago embraced a solitary lifestyle; people and their messy emotions held no thrall for her. Her upbringing had been harsh. From an early age, she had been subjected to regular and sadistic beatings by her alcoholic and sexually abusive father. All of this was witnessed by her timid and cowering mother, who never tried to intervene. Ella had despised her mother’s timidity and vowed to herself to become strong. She only stayed home to try and shield her much younger brother Jamie from his dad's drunken rages. It was only when Jamie died, following a particularly savage beating from his dad that Ella, aged fourteen, decided to strike out on her own. She had been more or less on her own ever since. A drifter and loner, becoming ever harder and more determined in trying to rid herself of her demons. Why did she arrive in Graham’s Gulch? Chance, happenstance, call it what you will. There was no plan, no agenda; it was just the next town she happened upon. Once there, however, Chance dealt a different hand, and Ella had never walked away from a fight since she was a young child.  

Graham’s Gulch was a nothing event of a town fifteen miles from the Mexican border. The land was dry, rocky, unforgiving, and unsuited for livestock ranching. The town was founded after the discovery of some near-surface gold seams along the banks of the small stream that struggled through the region. After twenty years of the gold boom, the seams ran dry, leaving the town slowly dying. This was the town Ella happened upon in the scorching summer of 1883. After a couple of long boring days in town, which Ella mostly spent sleeping in her lodging room, she decided it was time for some fun. Something that had been mostly missing from her life recently. Putting on her gun belt and checking to ensure her Smith & Wesson’s were fully loaded, she headed for the Lucky Strike just as the sun was setting.

She was not after alcohol but headed straight to a table where four men played poker. She joined them and enquired if she could be dealt with the next hand. Fully expecting a refusal, Ella was surprised when there was a general agreement to allow her to join the game. She suspected they might be thinking they could make some easy money off her. To this end, Ella deliberately threw her first few hands, and they took the bait greedily. Eight hands in one of the card players, Ely Hogget, suggested making the game more interesting just as Ella hoped. Ely’s suggestion was to raise the minimum bet to a dollar. He was backed by Franklin Tomas and Ray Downes. Jonny Taggert was non-committal but outvoted. Again, Ella allowed herself to be beaten in the first few hands. A small crowd had gathered to watch the poker game as Ella allowed the poker pot to build over a few games. Then exactly what she had planned for all along happened. The other gamblers started raising the betting stakes considerably. Nobody was paying any attention to Ella as no one expected her to win the hand. She did, though, and that was when it all kicked off. Ella had wisely chosen a chair at the poker table with her back against the wall of the saloon. This meant everything was happening in front of her. Quickly and with no one taking much notice of her, she gathered her poker winnings and fled upstairs to the relative safety of the cathouse. The bar room brawl was in full swing when Sheriff Cartwright and two of his deputies strode in with guns drawn. They were there to restore order, having been summoned by Harry Bradshaw. As this was happening, Ella had found refuge in the room of one of the working girls, fifteen-year-old Grace Arkin. Ella locked the door behind her, stashed her poker winnings beneath Grace’s bed and started to undress.

By the time Sheriff Cartwright and his men had gotten the situation downstairs under control, Grace and Ella were involved in an intense lesbian tryst. When the sheriff came knocking on her door, Grace surfaced long enough to inform him she was on her own and had come down with a highly infectious fever. The sheriff took the bait and left. If Grace thought she was in for an easy night with Ella, she was wrong. Ella was a serious dominant and one with a wide mean streak. She humiliated and abused Grace for hours before gathering her winnings, slipping out the bedroom window, and returning to her lodgings. Sleeping soundly, Ella was awoken late the following evening by a persistent loud knocking on her room door. Dressing quickly and grabbing her gun belt and guns, she cracked open her door to see the sheriff and his deputies standing there. The sheriff said he was sorry to disturb her, but one of the girls from the bordello had made a very serious allegation of sexual deviancy and rape against her. He wanted her fully dressed and in the jailhouse within the hour to answer to these allegations. He posted one of his deputies outside her door to guard her and left.   

Ella sensed she was in big trouble. She knew if she went down to the jailhouse as directed, she might not get out of it for a very long time, if ever. She also knew her stallion had the beating of every other horse for miles around. But how to get to him and get a head start over the sheriff and any posse in a dash to the Mexican border. She decided to play a wild card she hadn’t used in years. The deputy outside her door was young and callow. Ella was still only half-dressed, but putting on her best come hither voice, she enquired sweetly if the nice deputy might help a girl get dressed. The deputy hesitated, but only until Ella promised him in a voice dripping with honey that she would be ever so grateful to the kind deputy for his assistance. Less than thirty seconds after he entered Ella’s room, the young deputy found himself minus his guns and securely tied to Ella’s bed. She cautioned him against making any attempt to escape and then gagged him. Tying up the deputy and gagging him had turned Ella on, but she had no time to dally for pleasure.

Taking all her belongings, she left the deputy tied to the bed and quickly made her way under cover of darkness to the livery stables where Judge was quartered without being seen. An expert horsewoman, Ella had her stallion saddled and ready for the trail in less than two minutes. Walking beside Judge until he was fully clear of the stables, Ella mounted him. As she did, she heard the alarm being raised in the town and knew her escape had been discovered. Staying low on her horse’s neck, Ella gave Judge a smart lick of her riding crop and started her dash for the border. The sheriff and three of his deputies saddled up and gave chase, certain Ella would be headed for the border. Towards Judge, the sheriff and his deputies' horses were overfed and unexercised. Ella could maintain her advantage over the chasing posse without taxing Judge too much. Or at least she did until a chance gunshot from one of the riders behind her hit Judge in the withers, causing him to stumble and unseat Ella. She hit her head on a large rock in her fall and was knocked unconscious.

Coming to, Ella found herself disarmed, tied up and surrounded by the sheriff and his deputies. They had caught Judge, and they shot him dead out of malice. Unsaddling the dead horse, they forced Ella to carry Judge’s saddle while they walked her the eight miles back to town. Once back in town, she was thrown in gaol to await the arrival of the magistrate. In the next sitting of the local court, Ella was sentenced to the mandatory jail term of ten years for sexual deviancy, with another five years added on for aggravated sexual assault and rape.

June 28, 2023 23:32

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Michał Przywara
23:33 Jul 06, 2023

Definitely hits the theme! The townsfolk were right to worry about trouble when she rolled in, and foolish to underestimate her. There's a sad theme here, given her history and childhood, and the actions she now chooses to take. But she doesn't get away. There's something fitting about her horse being called Judge, and it quite literally being her downfall. Perhaps she was tempting fate there. Thanks for sharing!


Liam Murphy
22:39 Jul 18, 2023

Thank you so much Michal, Those insights were all on the button. There is nothing more gratifying for a writer than when a critic really gets your drift. I am honoured by your critique. Thank you so much.


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