Chapter Four: The Shooting of Marshal Fred White
The day suddenly turned into a dark night.
“What happened?!” exclaimed Luke.
“Think of this as a guided tour through history,” said the Swamper, “and on this journey it may be daytime one minute, and nighttime the next. On this stop, I want to show you something very important that happened in our town. It’s the very early morning of October 28, 1880, and...”
The Swamper was suddenly interrupted by the sound of gunshots ringing in the night air.
“What was that?!” asked Luke and Jenny at the same time.
“Look over there, Jenny,” said Luke, as he pointed to the gunfire flashes. They saw a group of men about a block away. The men were pointing their guns in the air and laughing and shooting.
“Someone else heard it, too, Luke,” said the Swamper. “Look behind you. Here comes Wyatt Earp himself.”
They turned to see Wyatt Earp running out of a nearby saloon. He ran past them as he followed the sight of the gun flashes up the street.
“Follow me,” said the Swamper, running behind Wyatt Earp.
They heard more shots and saw more gunfire flashes in the night sky. They followed Wyatt as he met up with two other men who were crouched behind a building. The Swamper explained, “Those two men are Wyatt’s brother, Morgan, and their friend, Fred Dodge.”
“Morgan, I’m unarmed,” said Wyatt to his brother. “Can you loan me your pistol?”
“Sorry Wyatt, I can’t,” replied his brother. “I may need it.”
“That’s a brother for you,” said Jenny.
“Here Wyatt, you can borrow mine,” said Fred Dodge.
As Fred Dodge handed Wyatt his pistol, they heard another voice in the darkness say, “I’m an officer of the law. Give me your weapon.”
“Over here,” said the Swamper, motioning Luke and Jenny to follow Wyatt. As they came around the building, they saw that Fred White, the Tombstone town marshal, had caught up with one of the Cowboys on a vacant lot.
“That’s Curly Bill,” said the Swamper. “He and his friends spent a little too much time in a saloon tonight and they’ve had too much to drink. When they left the saloon, they thought it would be fun to shoot at the moon and stars. Now Fred White is going to try to arrest Curly Bill.”
Curly Bill had drawn his gun and pointed it at Marshal White. Wyatt Earp snuck up behind Curly Bill and threw his arms around him. As he did, Fred White grabbed the barrel of Curly Bill’s gun and shouted once more, “Now, I told you to give me that pistol!”
Luke suddenly realized that the vacant lot they were standing in was where the Bird Cage Theater now stood. Then he remembered the sign he read in front of the Bird Cage—he knew what was about to happen.
“Oh no!” he exclaimed as he reached over to grab the barrel of Curly Bill’s gun and pull it away. But when he grabbed it, he saw his hand go right through as if the gun barrel wasn’t really there. Then Marshal White jerked on Curly Bill’s gun, which went off, hitting Fred White and setting his clothes on fire.
“I’m hit!” he yelled as he fell to the ground.
Wyatt Earp immediately hit Curly Bill over the head with his borrowed pistol, knocking him to the ground. He reached down and grabbed him by the collar.
“Get up!” he curtly ordered, yanking Curly Bill to his feet. When Curly Bill got up, he appeared dazed and confused.
“What have I done?” he asked as he stumbled around trying to get his footing, “I haven’t done anything to be arrested for.”
In the meantime, Morgan and Fred Dodge ran up and Wyatt told them, “You two put out the fire on Marshal White’s clothes.”
Other townspeople quickly gathered around the scene. A few of them picked up Fred White and carried him to the town doctor, while Wyatt and his other brother, Virgil, took Curly Bill away. After everyone left and the street was empty, Jenny started to cry.
“That poor man,” she said, “What’s going to happened to him?”
“Well, it’s a sad story, Jenny,” said the Swamper. “Marshal White dies a couple of days later. And the people of Tombstone, in honor of their fallen marshal, passed a city law that forbids anyone other than an officer of the law to carry a loaded gun in Tombstone. And do you know what? That law is still in effect, even in your time.”
“I saw what was going to happen,” said Luke. “I tried to pull the gun away so it wouldn’t hurt Marshal White, but I couldn’t. It went right through my fingers.”
“I know you tried to save Marshal White, Luke. But that would have changed history, and that you cannot do,” said the Swamper.
“That Curly Bill is a horrible, horrible man!” exclaimed Jenny. “I hope they hang him for what he did.”
A voice behind her said, “You’re right Jenny. I did a lot of very bad things in my time. But you have to believe me when I tell you that even though it was all my fault, it really was a terrible accident.”
Jenny turned around and saw Curly Bill standing behind her. But he looked different. He had that same strange white glow about him that the Swamper had, and, just like the Swamper, she could see right through him. She looked over at the Swamper and said, “I thought you said none of them could see us.”
“We can’t see you in life,” explained Curly Bill. “But I’m speaking to you in your time. I guess that makes me a spirit person, too.”
He looked at Jenny and saw that she had been crying. He reached into his vest pocket to find a handkerchief, but couldn’t find one. He checked his other pockets and still came up empty. Looking up, he said, “I can’t find my handkerchief. Fred, do you have one?”
“Sure do. Right here.” said another voice.
Jenny turned to see the ghost of Fred White. He smiled and gave her his handkerchief. Then he looked at the Swamper and said, “Why don’t Bill and I take it from here?”
“Good,” said the Swamper. “I need to go check on their mother. I’ll be right back.” The Swamper vanished into thin air.
“That is so totally awesome!” exclaimed Luke.
Fred White said, “Come here, Luke and Jenny. Let’s sit down on the boardwalk for a few minutes. Curly Bill and I want to explain something to you about what the two of you just saw.”
Luke and Jenny sat down on the boardwalk between Curly Bill and Marshal White. Jenny looked up at Fred White, who sat next to her, and noticed how young he was. She said, “I’m so sorry that you died so young.”
“That’s what we wanted to talk to you about, Jenny,” said Marshal White. “I let my temper get the best of me that night. The Cowboys were causing trouble and I got angry. And because I was angry, I wasn’t thinking right and I did something very foolish. Bill’s gun was pointed right at me when I reached over and jerked it. It was a stupid mistake, and I paid for it with my life.”
“But it was my fault too,” added Curly Bill. “Luke, Jenny, I want you to believe me when I tell you that what you saw really was an accident. My friends and I had way too much to drink that night. When we came out of that saloon, my friends thought it would be fun to try to shoot the moon and stars. I didn’t think so and I tried to stop them, but I couldn’t. We were all too drunk, and no one was listening to anything anyone else had to say. By the time the marshal here caught me, I didn’t know what I was doing. You just saw it. When my gun went off, I really didn’t know what had happened. You do believe me, don’t you?”
Bill looked at Luke and Jenny, and they both nodded.
”Wyatt took me to jail that night, and a few weeks later, a hearing was held for me in Tucson. You know, I could have been hung if I had been found guilty! But only one bullet had been fired from my gun that night, and that was the one that accidentally hit Marshal White.”
“And I signed a deathbed statement saying that the shooting was an accident,” said Marshal White.
“But that still doesn’t mean that I’m not responsible for what happened to Fred here!” said Curly Bill.
Bill paused for a moment, as if he were in deep thought. He sighed and began to look very sad. “There’s something else I need to say to you as well.” He paused again, trying to find the right words. “You see, we’re all human, and we all do things we know are wrong. But some of us go way too far, and we do things that are very, very wrong! That’s what I did. I stole from people, and I even murdered people! But at the time, I was arrogant enough to think that I could get away with it! Then I found out, the hard way, that you can never get away with it! When you set out to do wrong, it always catches up to you. And because of the all the mean and rotten things I did to people while I was alive, I’m not at peace now. So I’ve decided to do something about it. I can never go back and erase the wrongs I’ve done. But I can do whatever I can now to help the living. Like coming here and talking to the two of you about my mistakes. This helps me on my journey to make up for all those bad things I did in the past. Then, someday, I’ll find peace.”
“Well, I’m back,” said the Swamper as he appeared in the darkness. “Their mother is still busy shopping, and I’ve plenty more to show them.” He looked at Curly Bill and said, “I think I’ll start with how you celebrated after you were set free from the killing of the marshal.”
“Oh no!” exclaimed Curly Bill, “Not that!” “Yes, that,” the Swamper gleefully told Curly Bill as Luke and Jenny laughed.
“I’ll bet this is going to be good,” said Luke.
“Oh, it is,” replied Curly Bill sheepishly.
“By the way Bill, a baseball game’s about to start on the television set at Big Nose Kate’s,” said the Swamper.
“Who’s playing?” asked Bill.
“The Texas Rangers and the Oakland A’s,” replied the Swamper.
Curly Bill jumped up. “How about that Fred?” he said as he slapped Marshal White on the shoulder. “Just like old times! Texans against Northern Californians.” He looked down at Luke and Jenny, tipped his sombrero and said, “It was a pleasure meeting the two of you. Enjoy your visit with your grandparents in Dallas.” He looked over at Fred White and asked, “Would you like to join me in watching the game, Fred?”
“Don’t mind if I do,” said Marshal White. But before he got up, he looked at Luke and Jenny and said, “What happened between Bill and me is over and done with. I forgave him a long time ago. Now that Curly Bill is trying to make up for all the bad things he did when he was alive, I sometimes try to help him out.” He rose and stood up on the boardwalk, adding, “It was nice meeting you, Luke and Jenny. We must be on our way.”
“I’ll bet you two didn’t know that baseball was very popular in Tombstone,” said the Swamper. Luke and Jenny shook their heads.“Why, back in the days of the Old West, Tombstone had its very own baseball team.”
“Really?” asked Luke.
“You bet,” said the Swamper.
“By the way, we ghosts love television,” added Curly Bill. “And with all those cable sports channels we can watch all the baseball we want. And since none of you can see us we can sit right in front of the screen and yell at the umpires as loud as we want. I wish we’d had it in our time. Maybe we would have gotten ourselves into less trouble. Don’t you think so, Marshal White?”
“I seriously doubt that, Bill,” said Marshal White as he shook his head, “But if you don’t stop your yapping, we’re going to miss the opening pitch.”
The two walked away, slowly fading into the darkness. Jenny looked down and saw she was still holding Marshal White’s handkerchief.
“Hey wait!” she yelled, “You forgot this!” But it was too late. Curly Bill and Fred White were gone. “I guess I’ll have to give this back to him later,” she said as she tucked it into her backpack.
“So what was it that Curly Bill didn’t want us to see?” asked Luke.
"Thought you’d never ask,” said the Swamper as they suddenly found themselves in a church, with the preacher in the middle of a sermon.